Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Web Design... by the Queen of Hearts?

Pretty much everybody has seen websites which, at particular widths or in particular browsers, do not display as the designer intended. Usually the problems are minor, and you may not even notice them. But sometimes they can't be missed. A case in point:

Narrow the browser window, and... "Off with his head!"

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


If you don't think McCain (like most of his Senate brethren) will pander to the more reactionary elements of American society, he and 65 other senators beg to differ.

Oh, isn't that special, Debbie. Maybe if Ned Lamont loses the primary race, he can come to Michigan and run against Stabenow.

I guess it depends upon what you mean by "margin of error"

If they mean in the opinions of the public, and not the poll itself, their margin of error should be, oh, 22 - 28% higher.
The percentage of Americans who say the president has "a clear plan for handling the situation in Iraq" has dropped to 31%, a new low. That's still higher than the 25% who say congressional Democrats have a clear plan for Iraq.

The telephone survey of 1,000 adults has an error margin of +/-3 percentage points.
Oh, I get it now - they mean "transparent".

David Bernstein Attacks Presidential Signing Statements

Bernstein decries signing statements as reflecting the attitude of, "Whatever. It's only a law." Well, not really. But if you're a Volokh reader you already suspected that.

Our Schools Lag Behind Those In [Insert Asian Country of Choice]

Today, behind the firewall, Nicholas Kristof warns us that our schools lag way behind those in Japan... I mean, China.
But kids in the good schools in Chinese cities are leaving our children in the dust. ... Yet, there isn't any magic to it. One reason Chinese students learn more math and science than Americans is that they work harder at it. They spend twice as many hours studying, in school and out, as Americans.
He also describes the intense pressures that Japane..., er, Chinese students face to succeed in school.
Yet if the Chinese government takes math and science seriously, children and parents do so even more. At Cao Guangbiao elementary school in Shanghai, I asked a third-grade girl, Li Shuyan, her daily schedule. She gets up at 6:30 a.m. and spends the rest of the day studying or practicing her two musical instruments.

So if she gets her work done and has time in the evening, does she watch TV or hang out with friends? "No," she said, "then I review my work and do extra exercises."

A classmate, Jiang Xiuyuan, said that during summer vacation, his father allows him to watch television each evening - for 10 minutes.

The Chinese students get even more driven in high school, as they prepare for the national college entrance exams.
Even more driven? I guess that means no more music lessons, and the end of the ten minute daily television interludes during the summer break? Kristof relates all of this to the U.S.:
I don't think we could replicate the Chinese students' drive even if we wanted to. But there are lessons we can learn - like the need to shorten summer vacations and put far more emphasis on math and science.
Oh, that's helpful.

By now you've figured out that, at least in my opinion, we've heard this all before, back in the 1980's when Japanese schools were described as superior to U.S. schools, with Japanese businesses on the verge of dominating the world. We didn't learn much then, so we won't learn much now. Our more recent education "reforms", such as mandatory homework policies, create more busy work for kids but I have yet to see even the slightest evidence that they improve school performance - is there any? Shortening summer vacations means a number of things - air conditioning buildings in the hottest months of the year (some of which don't even have air conditioning systems installed), paying to keep schools open additional hours, paying teachers to teach additional classes.... One of the reasons for the shrinking U.S. public school academic year is cost-savings.

Putting an emphasis on math and science ? That's not a new theme for Kristof. Yet between the Sebastian "We don't need no stinkin' science" Mallabys of the world, and the fact that we (as a nation) don't really care about maths and sciences (and cutting them from a school's curriculum can also save money), don't count on it.

Just look at another of the latest "school reform" bandwagons - capping funds which can be spent on administration. The astroturf organization which is spearheading that initiative classifies expenses to support the football team as educational - just like classroom instruction. A school library, librarian, library books? Isn't it obvious - administrative expenditures. Keep the football team but cut the library, and you're on the right track for education in today's America.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Same-Sex Schools

All the rage among some in Michigan who know (and perhaps also care) nothing about education, but nonetheless control the state legislature? Same-sex schools. Meanwhile, what do studies suggest?
Teaching girls in single-sex schools, long an obsession of many parents worried about their daughters being distracted by boys, makes no difference to their educational attainment according to one of the most comprehensive studies of the way children learn.
Go figure.

Friday, June 23, 2006

A Bit Pricey For a Buffet Lunch

Oops - I guess that's Buffett.

Still, as investments go, I would probably instead pick up a few (and yes, for the uninitiated, even at half a million dollars I do mean a few) shares of Berkshire Hathaway.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Feminism and Child Care

I had mostly forgotten the reaction to Linda Hirshman's American Prospect article, Homeward Bound, in which she suggests that feminism is largely a failure, and that intelligent, educated women who stay home to raise children are wasting their potential, if not their lives. Hirshman's thesis to me seems a bit attenuated. Her admittedly judgmental position on the value of caring for a child seems to drive her conclusion - if you were to start by assuming that highly-paid positions in business and industry were beneath human dignity, it would just as naturally follow that women (and men) were wasting their lives by taking positions of power and influence. (She could even support this thesis by referencing the significant number of people who have publicly professed to be leaving their positions of power and influence "to spend more time with" their families.)

I also disagree with any suggestion that it is somehow a failure of feminism, or the fault of feminism, that where a professional takes time away from a traditional career, that person will often have difficulty later getting back on track in that career. The fact that men don't face the same pressure to take time off of work to raise families? Granted, that's true - so if we presuppose that feminism was supposed to erase that inequality, its perpetuation becomes a failure of feminism. But that seems like something of an overstatement of the case. Further, it is my impression that a father who takes time off for the "daddy track" would likely face greater obstacles returning to the workforce than a mother, so perhaps the problem is not so much one of "feminism" but of the fact that attitudes like Hirshman's - that child-rearing tasks are unworthy - are pervasive. Beyond that, it only makes sense that somebody who takes a few years away from a career will not get credit for the time they would otherwise have spent, the connections they would otherwise have made, and the experience they would otherwise have gained, in their jobs.

Where I do agree with Hirshman is that women who believe they would be wasting their lives if they stayed home with their kids should not be expected to feel guilty about either not having children or returning to work after their children are born. It similarly follows that women who attempt to stay home with their kids, but find that they would feel more fulfilled in returning to work (or are left with the impression that they are wasting their lives) should not be expected to feel guilty about returning to work. But by the same token, if a highly intelligent, highly educated, and highly capable professional discovers upon having a child that she loves staying home and caring for her child, people like Hirshman have no business trying to make her feel guilty or to suggest that she is somehow wasting her life. Get that? It's her life.

I also question Hirshman's attitude toward child care tasks as beneath professional women. There's a woman in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Gretchen Preston, who had a different attitude toward child care, and since the mid-1980's has built a small empire in the high-end child care business. I would venture that she earns more than most of the professionals Hirshman views as working in "worthy" careers - while providing them with the child care they need to continue in those careers. Would Hirshman nonetheless view Preston as having failed to meet her potential?

Monday, June 19, 2006

Evictions from a "Manufactured Home Community"

Under Michigan law, as is quite reasonable, landlords are granted immunity for damage which results to a tenant's property incidental to their executing a lawful order of eviction. Or, at least, that's the way I always read the statute:
(2) Any tenant in possession of premises whose possessory interest has been unlawfully interfered with by the owner, lessor, licensor, or their agents shall be entitled to recover the amount of his actual damages or $200.00, whichever is greater, for each occurrence and, where possession has been lost, to recover possession. Unlawful interference with a possessory interest shall include:

* * *

(b) The removal, retention, or destruction of personal property of the possessor.

* * *

(3) The provisions of subsection (2) shall not apply where the owner, lessor, licensor, or their agents can establish that he:

(a) Acted pursuant to court order ...
Many years ago I worked with a highly ethical manufactured home community, such that I was never asked to interpret the boundaries of this statute. But if asked, I would have indicated that to me the immunity extended only to damage incidental to the execution of a court's order. That is, nobody in his right mind would confuse an order of eviction with a court's grant of permission to trash a tenant's property, but if something were accidentally dropped, dinged, dented or damaged during the eviction process the landlord would be safe from a lawsuit. With a manufactured home, that would include damage incidental to the removal of the home from its foundation and utilities hookups, and which might occur during transport due to the contents being unsecured.

Boy, would my advice have been excessively cautious. You see, as it turns out (albeit by the terms of an unpublished and therefore non-precedentially binding decision) the landlord and his agents would enjoy absolute immunity for any damage they caused to the tenant's property, even if resulting in the total loss or destruction of the property.
Plaintiffs contend that nothing in the law provides immunity against the willful, wanton, or negligent destruction of the tenant's property. However, under the plain language of MCL 600.2918(2)(b) and (3)(a), a lessor and its agents are protected from claims alleging the unlawful "removal, retention, or destruction" of the possessor's personal property if the lessor and its agents acted pursuant to a court order. Although the alleged conduct in this case is disturbing and the disposition harsh, we emphasize that even under the process pursued in this case (as opposed to the arguably more proper mobile home proceedings), plaintiffs had notice and opportunity to avoid the misfortune that ensued.
(emphasis in original). First, as I read the facts outlined by the court, the Plaintiffs were not alleging negligent destruction - they were alleging intentional destruction (and conversion) of their property:
According to plaintiffs, defendants began using electrical saws to demolish a sun porch attached to the mobile home and were throwing shrubs, trees, and large pieces of wood from the porch through closed windows of the home, breaking the glass, while Annette Sickles was still inside the home. Plaintiffs asserted that they asked Stern Construction to stop damaging their home and its contents, but Stern Construction refused. Plaintiffs alleged that Hometown America was peeling off aluminum skirting and throwing it on a trailer with the intent of later selling it at a recycling center.

Plaintiffs claimed they again asked defendants to stop so they could retrieve some of their personal belongings, but defendants again refused to stop. According to plaintiffs, they stopped removing items from the home because those items were for all practical purposes destroyed; Annette Sickles then began removing personal belongings from a shed located on the lot. At that point defendants allegedly stopped destroying the home and immediately proceeded to "cut up" the shed, which resulted in its walls collapsing and destroying plaintiffs' personal property in the shed. Plaintiffs asserted that several of defendants' employees were laughing while they worked.

According to plaintiffs, on July 28, 2004, Stern Construction transferred the home and its contents to a dump. In alleged accordance with specific instructions from Hometown America, Stern Construction destroyed the home by bulldozing it into a hole and then covering it with garbage. Plaintiffs stated that everything they owned was destroyed except for a few items they were able to remove.
(emphasis added).

You see, to me the requirement that the landlord and its agents "Acted pursuant to court order" in order to gain immunity suggests that there is no immunity when the landlord and its agents engage in acts which cannot reasonably be construed as being a part of the execution of an order of lawful eviction. Intentionally destroying a tenant's property, stripping aluminum siding for resale, or having the remaining structure bulldozed into a landfill a day after the eviction is complete would fall outside of the scope of the eviction order, and would thus not be protected.

I'm not entirely sure that the Court of Appeals really intends to excuse this type of intentional misconduct - at least in future cases. If they did, presumably, they would not have characterized the alleged acts as "negligence". The acts described don't seem particularly different from a landlord's completing an eviction from a house or apartment by hauling the tenant's possessions down to the street, then selling them in a yard sale, selecting desired items to take and keep, or running over them with a truck. Negligence? (The Court of Appeals decision recited that the Plaintiffs' claimed conversion. Negligent conversion?)

As for the notion that the tenants brought it on themselves by not acting sooner? Of course they could have taken steps to avoid or minimize their damages - but it's the case any time a tenant is subjected to forcible eviction, so I'm not seeing how it is relevant to the court's analysis.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Misdirected Mail

I've received misdirected mail before but, as distances go, this is a new record for me.

At least it wasn't something important, like... oh, a tax document?

Another Disaster Relief Scandal

CJR Daily congratulates the AP for covering a neglected story:
A disaster relief company that took supplies that were supposed to go to Sept. 11 rescuers at the World Trade Center escaped punishment after the government discovered its own employees had stolen artifacts from ground zero, once-secret federal documents show.

* * *

The FBI developed evidence from whistleblowers that the company had dispatched trucks to the warehouse and loaded hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of donated bottled water, clothes, tools and generators to be moved to Minnesota in a plot to sell some for profit, the records show.
Better a cover-up than a scandal, right?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

TV of the Future

In the future, will your TV viewing be of on-demand video, accompanied by commercials automatically selected to match your anticipated interests, perhaps also offered in custom lengths, formats, and at custom intervals? Quite possibly.

I'm not sure what that would mean for the Superbowl.

Leaving No Mossy Stone Unturned

In the resolution of her drug scandal, despite having been caught on tape, Kate Moss does even better than Rush Limbaugh:
Kate Moss will not be charged with drug offences following the publication of photographs showing her apparently snorting cocaine as there is no "realistic prospect" of conviction, the Crown Prosecution Service said today.
Why won't conviction be possible? Because, despite media reports that it was cocaine, the police determined that it is impossible to determine what substance Moss was snorting in the video.
"The film footage provides an absolutely clear indication that Ms Moss was using controlled drugs and providing them to others," [Rene Barclay of the Crown Prosecution Service] said.

"However, in the absence of any forensic evidence, or direct eyewitness evidence about the substance in question, its precise nature could not be established."
How much did it cost for the police and prosecutors to figure out that they didn't have sufficient evidence to bring charges? A mere £250,000 ($460,000). I guess pretty much every police officer in the country got to watch the video and bill the time to the investigation....

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Another Lost $Billion in Reconstruction Funds....

But this time it's not in Iraq.

The Bush Administration doesn't do many things well, but when it comes to graft, fund-raising, and outright incompetence, they stand head and shoulders above most prior U.S. governments.

Sticking To the Moral High Ground

Alan Dershowitz reminds me not that he's a world-class idiot, but that he knows exactly what he is doing in making his various disingenuous arguments on U.S. foreign policy. You know what, Alan? I like coming from a nation which has, although less frequently under the current President, often chosen to take the moral high ground, sometimes at its own detriment. You make it clear enough with your tortured advocacy for torture that there is no value of this nation you won't sacrifice in the name of your personal political causes.

Israel can and does make its case that its torture qua "moderate physical pressure" of Palestinians is necessary for its defense. If it believes that, and you believe that, fine. But in the torture debate you intentionally sidestep the political aspect - dare I say motive - for your argument. Instead of presenting an honest evaluation of the issues, your contrivances offer a fig leaf to those who don't much care about the externalities of torture. To the extent that the U.S. has engaged in torture (qua "abuse" and whatever we now call such acts of "interrogation" as waterboarding) in Iraq, authorized or not, there is clear evidence that the acts have severely diminished our status internationally and substantial evidence that they have set back our cause in the Middle East and Iraq. Is that what you wanted? Or is it that you didn't care, because your real goal is to undermine the ability of the U.S. and its citizens to condemn torture?

And now you play the other side of the coin. As a world-class hypocrite you are no doubt very capable in sniffing out even the slightest hypocrisy of others. But really:
When Israel targeted the two previous heads of Hamas, the British foreign secretary said: "targeted killings of this kind are unlawful and unjustified." The same views expressed at the United Nations and by several European heads of state. It was also expressed by various Human Rights organizations.

Now Great Britain is applauding the targeted killing of a terrorist who endangered its soldiers and citizens. What is the difference, except that Israel can do no right in the eyes of many in the international community. Surely there is no real difference between Zarqawi on the one hand and terrorist leaders from Hamas and Islamic Jihad on the other hand.
But wait a minute.... you really don't see a difference? As I've previously stated, I don't believe you are a world-class idiot, which... well, sorry to say it, means that you're not telling the truth. And in presenting your distortion, I think you undermine your case.

You see, a case can actually be made for assassinating the active leaders of terrorist groups - particularly a hierarchichal terrorist group. Such assassinations have, in the past, thrown terrorst groups into disarray. This makes the case for the assassination of a Hamas leader in some ways stronger than the case for the assassination of somebody like al-Zarqawi, as Hamas is much more hierarchical (at least in its political branches) than Al Qaeda. Although we can hope it does, it isn't immediately apparent that al-Zarqawi's death will reduce violence in Iraq.

But there are counterpoints. There is a possibility that the U.S. could have launched an armed raid on al-Zarqawi's hideout, perhaps capturing him alive and taking him into custody. But apparently, in what would be a perfectly reasonable assessment of the situation, military commanders determined that it was not worth the risk to the lives of U.S. troops. What did U.S. troops do when they found al-Zarqawi alive after the bombing? They administered emergency medical care. This, Alan, was a military operation, not what you would call a "targeted assassination" - while even Bush admits his words were crude, in his parlance we wanted al-Zarqawi "Dead or Alive".

I recall reading a Ha'aretz article a few years ago about a commando raid on a Palestinian man's home. He answered the door in boxer shorts. They confirmed his name (first and last) and then shot him dead. What you would deem a "targeted killing". Ha'aretz pointed out that the raid was apparently intended to kill somebody who had the same first and last names, but a different middle name. Nobody questioned the fact that the man could have been taken into custody. Nobody claimed he was a high level operative or "head of Hamas". While Israel did exercise due care to avoid killing people other than this particular man, and deserves credit for that, it nonetheless remains the case that they could have just as easily taken him into custody where issues as to his identity could have been resolved, and where he could have been put on trial in a court of law.

An Israeli newspaper found cause to question that particular killing, Alan. Perhaps you are just as critical of Ha'aretz as you are with those in Europe or the United States who take issue with the policies behind that killing, but this fact remains: You know about this type of incident, you know that there is an enormous difference between the attack on al-Zarqawi's hide-out and Israel's policies of "targeted killing", and you are being intentionally misleading.

You mention the killing of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin by Israel, in what was a relatively clean missile strike, but you make no mention of the strike ordered by Ariel Sharon on the Hamas military leader Salah Shehada. That killing was quite comparable in many ways to what happened to al-Zarqawi - a one ton bomb dropped on his suspected hideout, as compared to the two five-hundred pound bombs dropped on al-Zarqawi's. But Shehada was in a densely occupied civilian neighborhood, and the bombing killed fourteen other people, including nine children between the ages of two months and nine years. I know you remember that one, Alan, because it had to stick in your craw when the George W. Bush White House expressed through Ari Fleischer, "this heavy-handed action does not contribute to peace."

Now before you go nuts telling me that in criticizing you and your impassioned defense of Israel, I am somehow condoning terrorism or attacking Israel, let me cut you off. I am doing nothing of the sort. The fact that you drag Israel into these discussions does not make it the fault of others that they cannot respond to you without also addressing your points of comparison. Israel's making tough choices in a tough situation - I can disagree with those choices, and even believe that some of them are counter-productive, while recognizing that my preferred alternatives may well be no more productive in terms of either ending the conflict or advancing peace. But you? Your bloated posterior is ensconsed in a leather chair in your air conditioned office at Harvard, where you devote your time to presenting disingenuous arguments based upon intentional misrepresentations of fact. Personally, I think nations are better served by having sympathetic critics who urge them to stick to the moral high ground, than to have sycophantic dissemblers pushing them down the low road.

No offense.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Free Trade Meets Immigration?

The Washington Post describes the peculiar state of U.S. immigration laws, and the hurdles they place in front of a German physician who wishes to work in the United States. We seem to make it easy to come to the U.S. to harvest vegetables, and are on the verge of creating a "guest worker" program presumably so we can expand that immigration largesse to nannies, gardeners, construction workers, and similar occupations. Many of these workers and their families will pay substantially less in taxes than they consume in government services. Our President supposedly believes in free trade, and favors this liberalized immigration policy, so why is he advocating for immigration reform only at the bottom of the labor market?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Flint Passes a Budget

I read in the news today that Flint has passed a budget - $305.5 million for the next fiscal year. Less than $600 per minute? That seems kind of low....

Are Elections Won? Or Are They Lost?

In today's era, or perhaps in any era, how often does a challenger to an incumbent truly winan election? Controlling for an unexpected skeleton dancing out of a closet, how often does the challenger truly persuade the electorate that "The incumbent is good, but you should elect me because I'm better?"

Isn't it actually the case that where an incumbent loses an election, and even more the case when there is a statewide or national movement toward one party over another, that the incumbent politician or party is perceived as having somehow proved himself unfit to govern? And it's not so much that the challenger is necessarily better, but that the challenger is the only other realistic option?

I'm not trying to indict democracy or gerrymandering. I'm just having a hard time thinking of a political campaign where an incumbent lost, let alone where a party lost control of Congress or a Parliament, despite being viewed as effective on election day. Isn't this why negative campaigning is so effective? Why it is now preferred to have a Karl Rove secretly open his bag of dirty tricks rather than actually debating the issues?

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Filthy Rich? Propagandists? The Ignorant?

Playing an "us" versus "them" game, Senator Jeff Sessions states,
The estate tax -- or, as many of us prefer to call it, the death tax -- is a tax imposed on the transfer of assets or property from a deceased person to his or her heirs.
But for some reason he fails to define just who he means by "us".

A Flint Minute....

Okay... perhaps I'm beating a dead horse (or popping bubble wrap), but....

Leaving aside for the moment the fact that I didn't know that in "Chronicling the high cost of our legal system" Walter Olson had become a Canadian, I find his math to be interesting:
Federal Express drivers Edgar Rizkallah and Kamil Issa, both of Lebanese descent, say the nasty epithets from their manager went on for two years, which means the award works out to $15 million per epithet-year, $290,000 per slur-week, or $40,000 per imprecation-day.
Well, let's see... Michael Moore is being sued for $85 million over a ten second clip. That's $510 million per Flint minute, more than $30 billion per Flint hour, almost three quarters of a trillion dollars per Flint day, $268 trillion per Flint year.... All for the pain of having people think you're "from the same background as the people in Flint"?

Oh, I know.... It's different".

Friday, June 02, 2006

He's Going After Hillary?

Walter Olson is apparently so preoccupied with Hillary Clinton that the suit against Michael Moore somehow escaped his notice.

Online Debate

It's been said before, but I like the way this guy put it. Explaining why he chose not to participate in an online dissection of one of his columns, Charlie Brooker describes the mechanism of much online debate,
Stumble in, take umbrage with someone, trade a few blows, and within about two or three exchanges, the subject itself goes out the window. Suddenly you're simply arguing about arguing. Eventually, one side gets bored, comes to its senses, or dies, and the row fizzles out: just another needless belch in the swirling online guffstorm.

But not for long, because online quarrelling is also addictive, in precisely the same way Tetris is addictive. It appeals to the "lab rat" part of your brain; the annoying, irrepressible part that adores repetitive pointlessness and would gleefully make you pop bubblewrap till Doomsday if it ever got its way. An unfortunate few, hooked on the futile thrill of online debate, devote their lives to its cause. They roam the internet, actively seeking out viewpoints they disagree with, or squat on messageboards, whining, needling, sneering, over-analysing each new proclamation - joylessly fiddling, like unhappy gorillas doomed to pick lice from one another's fur for all eternity
Oooh. Lice picking.... Yummy!