Wednesday, May 31, 2006

"But This Is Different"

The bloggers of Pajamaline (f'rinstance; f'rinstance) seem to be giddy over the fact that a Gulf War vet and his wife have sued Michael Moore over a clip from NBC News that was used in Fahrenheit 911:
Damon is asking for up to $75 million because of "loss of reputation, emotional distress, embarrassment, and personal humiliation."

In addition, his wife is suing for another $10 million because of the "mental distress and anguish suffered by her spouse."
Back in the days before he was going to sue anyone, Damon's objections were detailed in the Army Times.
In [the clip], Damon is seen sitting on a gurney just before going into surgery. The remains of his arms are swathed in heavy bandages, and he is describing phantom-limb sensation and the phantom crushing pain that doctors have relieved with a steady flow of anesthesia into each limb.

The original Oct. 31 interview with NBC Nightly News was about the anesthesia and the work being done at the hospital with other amputee soldiers. Damon and his anesthesiologists considered it a positive piece that showcased the hard work being done for wounded soldiers.

But, Damon notes, the 10-second clip in "Fahrenheit 9/11" is sandwiched into a segment of the movie that describes the supposed plight of hapless soldiers sent to Iraq, many of whom, Moore asserts, have joined the Army to escape poverty.

"For this guy to put me in a movie and say, 'Look at all these poor fellows,' it makes us look like we all came from the same background as the people in Flint, Michigan," Damon said.
Damon has appeared in two films denouncing Moore and Fahrenheit 9/11, but I guess people still think he's from Flint.

There seems to be no end of right-wing applause for the lawsuit, but I have yet to find even a single critical peep from the "tort reformers"... presumably because it's Michael Moore, which means "it's different". And as it's not a lawsuit against their corporate masters, so why would they care if he faces a lawsuit of dubious validity with an absurd demand for damages. But then, we haven't yet heard from Volokh's Dave Kopel. After all, he would be the first to tell us that just because you don't like the defendant, it doesn't mean that the plaintiff should be awarded millions of dollars. Right?

Update: Another Pajamaliner chimes in: "I have no idea if the case has any merit, but I do like the idea of Michael Moore being sued." How, um, conservative.

Your Next Promotion... Courtesy of Immigration

John Tierney is good enough to explain, using manicurists as his paradigm, how immigration leads to better jobs for English-speaking Americans:
Some Americans gave up their licenses, but the turnover wasn't much higher than it had been before the Vietnamese arrived. The chief effect of the competition was to discourage young Americans from entering the business, so over time the number of American manicurists dwindled.

"The Vietnamese didn't so much displace Americans as gradually replace them," Krynski says. "Some Americans stayed in the business in upscale salons, and others probably went into other occupations offering higher wages, like being a hairdresser."
Tierney himself prefers the upscale spas, comparing his experience getting a manicure from a Vietnamese immigrant who charged him $8, and a Beverly Hills manicurist who charges $150 for a house call.
Nguyen couldn't compete with Harris in ambience or conversation - I barely got her to utter her name. Harris spent half an hour working on my right hand, gently using compresses infused with tangerine and peppermint as well as a hazelnut and menthol scrub. Nguyen did my left hand in 10 minutes without explaining what she was doing.
(I understand in his next column he shares his experience test driving a Lincoln Navigator and a Toyota Yaris, and how surprised he is that the Navigator was more luxurious.)

A few days ago, Tierney suggested that we need immigrants to staff the assisted living centers and nursing homes of the future - "As the population ages, it’s going to get harder to find young people to do those jobs unless the Republicans in the House go along with the Senate’s plan to add legal immigrants". Not a peep, though, about how many people who would otherwise have become nursing home aides have upgraded their career plans to nurse, doctor, or administrator.

I'm not going to argue that workers in relatively low-skill, low-wage service jobs can't find alternatives, and perhaps can even take an extra semester or two at beauty school (or the equivalent) to become licensed to both do nails and cut hair. I also think Tierney's argument is a red herring, as the real risk to workers is not so much the loss of jobs or increased competition for jobs which must be performed by local workers, but the loss of jobs which can now be performed in other nations. When a worker who is supporting her family on a middle class income has her position eliminated, or when he is told that his wages are being slashed as part of his employer's reorganization, the possibility of "retraining" as a hairdresser or computer technician has limited appeal - they would become entry level workers competing with a pool of much younger, equally qualified job candidates.

These aren't issues that we can easily address, nor are they trends we can easily reverse. The more reactionary proposals, such as retreating from globalization or closing the borders to immigration, would likely do more harm than good. But to the extent that we can do something, I don't think it is particularly helpful to pretend that the well-documented divergence of wealth in this country does not result, at least in part, from the loss of job and income opportunity for ordinary workers. Or, for that matter, to pretend that there is not a problem because California manicurists seem to have done okay for themselves.

"Did I Mention That He Walks On Water?"

Robert Moffitt of the Heritage Foundation praises the wondrous Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts who single-handedly brought health insurance to the masses. (Next up for delivery, fish and loaves.) Okay, we get it... he's running for President.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Making Email Safe For Work

The Guardian tells a tale of email filter overkill:
Commercial lawyer Ray Kennedy, from Middleton, Greater Manchester, claims he sent three emails to Rochdale council complaining about his neighbour's [house extension] plans.

But the first two messages, which contained the word "erection", failed to reach the planning department because the software on the town hall's computer system deemed them offensive.
That reminds me of why, years back, I turned off grammar checking on Word because (among other problems) it kept declaring (whatever the context) that the word "broad" was potentially offensive.

As Snake Told Sideshow Bob

"Dude, use a pen." (Credit:

An Interesting Pseudo-Law Firm SEO Site

I stumbled across a site called, which claims to be by somebody who has an interest in law firm SEO issues. The post, "Is Traditional SEO Dead" raises issues I have not seen on the blogs and sites of people who market themselves as law firm SEO specialists. The post suggests how difficult it can be to launch a new website, due to the evolution of the Internet and how search engines now treat new websites. It ends somewhat optimistically,
Traditional SEO may be dead, but it has been replaced by more traditional marketing ideas like i) offering visitors quality content they can use; ii) building of brand reputation & authority; and iii) the importance of developing an ongoing relationship with site visitors.
Yes, but.... great content of itself doesn't guarantee visitors any more, so with most sites a lot of the marketing and public relations effort needs to occur outside of the realm of search engines, to build interest, traffic and links which will ideally increase the site's importance and credibility as perceived by search engine algorithms. With most sites, that won't be easy.

The site itself reflects how SEO rules can change faster than even SEO professionals can keep up with them. Another post describes how search engines give better treatment to sites where the content appears at a higher location in the html code. This seemed to be true for a while, but no longer appears to be a significant factor. (Still, if you can do it, have your web designer rework your pages for clean code, a minimum of tables, use of CSS, and text instead of graphic links for navigation.) It is worth noting that the content on the website starts at line 186.

A quick note on things not always being what they appear: There's nothing on this site, other than perhaps the site owner's reluctance to identify himself, which shouts out "This guy isn't really a law firm SEO professional." He even critiques some law firm websites. So why am I skeptical? Well, the failure of the owner to clearly identify himself is a factor, as is the failure to provide any business contact information or details. The feedburner links are spammy. And the site owner describes himself as having interest in "hotel reservation/travel directory sites" - which he correctly notes are particularly challenging to place in search engines, but also are more consistent with somebody who is into marketing his own affiliate link-based sites as opposed to other people's websites. (Want to bet that that this is the same guy?)

Don't get me wrong - if I found an SEO who could effectively launch a travel affiliate website and get it to the top three search results on Google for a hot search term such as "New York hotel" or "cheap ticket", while using a long-term strategy and only "white hat" SEO techniques (those which search engines view, and are likely to continue to view, as appropriate and ethical), I would very much consider using that SEO to promote a law firm site. I'm just suggesting that with any SEO, before you hire, check under the hood and kick the tires. And if you hear somebody describe the hard and fast rules of SEO (a mistake this guy does not make), consider the probability that the person either doesn't understand SEO or stopped following search engine developments several years ago.

Monday, May 29, 2006

No, What He Said Was....

Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, the host is relentless in his flyspecking of Slate's Bushisms. (I have no real interest in reading the Bushisms themselves, let alone Prof. Volokh's dissections.) Perhaps, though, Prof. Volokh should stop worrying about what is happening in other online publications, and start looking at his own. As Prof. Volokh often notes, the Bushisms are meant as humor. This post by the relentlessly partisan Jonathan Adler was not:
How should one interpret Gore's statement that it is "appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is." Is this a call for environmental activists to exaggerate or stretch the truth? Or merely an argument for emphasizing certain facts? I'd be curious what readers think.
How about the possibility that he meant exactly what he said - that it is appropriate to keep hammering the facts because the issue is so important?

Adler defends his motives,
UPDATE: Some commenters below speculate about my motives for this post. Contrary to the suggestion of Kieran and some of the others, this was not an effort to ridicule or disparage Gore — various selections from his book or earlier interviews would have better served that purpose. I was pointed to the quote by someone who thought that it was quite damning. Unconvinced, I was curious to see what readers of this blog made of the quote when presented in context.
That's the sort of defense that, in my opinion, should be annotated with "[Bats eyes innocently]". (Crediting mythago for her many amusing uses of that particular annotation.)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Giving Away or Selling a Computer

If you ever give away or sell a computer, be sure to take all of your files off of the hard drive. Why? Let's ask this guy.

Thanks to David Brooks, It All Makes Sense Now

The wealthy of our society are able to hire nannies, who can love their children and teach them how to resist the temptation of marshmallows before the age of three. Children of privilege, having both the love of an nanny and the power of self-distraction inculcated within them by the age of three, will be all-but-guaranteed that a suitable personality in high school, and success in their future lives. Unfortunately, this may leave the nanny too busy for her own children, who will succumb to the temptation of marshmallows and thus fail to achieve the American dream. Because, darn it all, good child care is just too expensive to provide to people who can't afford to pay for it themselves.
When you turn your attention to human capital formation, you begin by thinking about job training and schools. But you discover that while learning is like nutrition (you have to do it every day), earlier is better. That's because, as James Heckman puts it, learners learn and skill begets skill. Children who've developed good brain functions by age 3 have advantages that accumulate through life.

* * *

Getting this right is tricky. Head Start produces only modest benefits, as a study from the Department of Health and Human Services has reminded us again. Small, intensive preschool programs yield tremendous results, but realistically, they cannot be done on a giant scale.

* * *

If there's one thing that leaps out of all the brain literature, it is that, as Daniel J. Siegel puts it, "emotion serves as a central organizing process within the brain." Kids learn from people they love. If we want young people to develop the social and self-regulating skills they need to thrive, we need to establish stable long-term relationships between love-hungry children and love-providing adults.
To the extent that Brooks wishes to argue that he's talking about love and not money, in recognizing the growing stratification of wealth in this nation he implicitly acknowledges that children of the very wealthy who rely upon people outside of the family to raise their children manage to do so with sufficient amounts of "love". Perhaps he means to say that love isn't really enough, and that children need the sort of emotional security that he does not believe the poor are capable of providing (or buying), save perhaps when working as child care providers and nannies. (But that's not what he says.)

The proposed solution appears to be to throw your hands up in the air in despair, and walk away from the problem.

Friday, May 26, 2006

It Took Them This Long To Figure It Out?

The egg came first, of course.

Getting To Know George Galloway

A few months ago, George Galloway and Christopher Hitchens were on Bill Maher's HBO show. Following some of Hitchens' trademark invective, this rather unimpressive exchange followed,
GALLOWAY : You have a rather unhealthy personal obsession with me. Can we talk about the issue instead of me?

HITCHENS: It's unhealthy – it's unhealthy to have to consider, Mr. Galloway, if you put it like that.

GALLOWAY : Nobody here even knows me. Why don't we talk about bin Laden? And talk about Al Qaeda; talk about issues.

HITCHENS: We're not going to talk about him as if he's our fault, Mr. Galloway, however slimily you put it.

GALLOWAY: You're a United States man now?

HITCHENS: We're not going to blame him for -

GALLOWAY : I thought you were here as a Brit.

HITCHENS: - we're not going to blame ourselves for -

MAHER: I love it when the British fight. [laughter] [applause]

KAY: But you still have -

HITCHENS: There's nothing British about -

MAHER: There's only one better fight, and that's a chick fight. I think we all know that.

HITCHENS: There's nothing British about Mr. Galloway. He's a fifth-column run from the Middle East in British politics.

While Hitchens could have fared better in that particular meeting of the minds, and by all reasonable measures should have fared better, it seems implicit within Galloway's comment, "Nobody here even knows me," that to know him is not necessarily to like him. He's right.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Prohibiting Bilingual Ballots

George Will's latest column, A Vote For English, advocates against bilingual ballots for U.S. elections. He sneers at Alberto Gonzales, who has the temerity to disagree with him on this issue:
The federal government's chief law enforcement official may need a refresher course on federal law pertaining to legal immigrants.
Will points out that in order to be naturalized, the law requires that you "demonstrate an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language." To Will, this means that any person who cannot understand a Ballot that is written in English should not have been allowed to become a citizen. And to Will it inexorably follows that ballots should only be in English, apparently such that voting privileges are reserved to those who "can comprehend the political discourse that precedes the casting of ballot".

Okay... But Will has forgotten a few things. First, not everybody who has weak English language skills is an immigrant. Will may not like this fact, but not every person born in the United States grows up in an English-speaking household. Second, not every election requires that you be a citizen to vote. Some local elections, such as Chicago school board elections, do not require citizenship for participation. Third, communities with large populations of non-English speakers may end up with bilingual ballots even in the abence of a legal mandate as, despite the possibility of Will's disapproval, voters may demand them. The effect of English-only ballots would be felt most significantly by citizens who do not have sufficient political clout to successfully lobby for ballots in their language, which would seem to have the opposite effect of bringing marginalized people into the nation's "political discourse". Fourth, ballots may be available in English, but that English isn't always easy to understand even to a native speaker. Fifth, even if a citizen has weak English language skills, if that citizen is going to vote anyway, isn't it better for everybody else in the country that the citizen understand the ballot?

Oh, but if only we could live in an ideal world, where everybody wears neatly pressed suits, speaks fluent Englsh, and writes for the Washington Post.

As I have previously noted, George Will is preternaturally unable to make even a slight criticism of a Republican without savaging a Democrat. No exception here.
It takes political bravery to propose pruning the Voting Rights Act, given the predictable charges of racism that are hurled so promiscuously nowadays. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, for example, has a liberal's reflex for discerning racism everywhere and for shouting "racist" as a substitute for argument
Demonstrating his firm grasp of the English language, Will asserts the narrowest possible construction of the term "race" and "racism":
Was his opaque idea - well, perhaps it is not opaque to liberals - of unintentional racism merely a bow to Senate rules against personal slurs? What "race" does Reid think is being victimized? Are Spanish speakers members of a single race?
A more astute follower of the nation's civic conversation might recognize that the term "racism" is frequently used in contexts where the speaker is actually referencing "bigotry". Which is not to say that Will doesn't have a point buried in his vituperation. After all, you shouldn't attribute to evil that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. Or, in the case of Congress, political opportunism.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why Americans Have More Children?

Robert Samuelson takes on the so-called "birth dearth" today, changing horses in midstream. First relying upon the work of Ben Wattenberg, Samuelson states,
Up to a point, we understand plunging fertility rates. Wattenberg reviews the usual suspects: improved incomes; health and life expectancies (as more children survive, parents have fewer babies); growing urbanization (families need fewer children to work the fields); women's access to education and jobs; contraception; later and fewer marriages; more divorces. But our understanding is only partial, because there's one big exception to low fertility rates: the United States.
It would have been interesting, had Samuelson presented some of the socio-economic data apparently considered by Wattenberg, but instead he tells us:
American fertility is roughly at the replacement rate, 2.1 children per woman. Nor does the U.S. rate merely reflect, as some think, a higher rate among Hispanic Americans. The fertility rate is 1.9 for non-Hispanic whites and about 2 for African Americans, reports demographer Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute. What explains the American exception? Eberstadt cites three differences with Europe and most other advanced countries: greater optimism, greater patriotism and stronger religious values. There's some supporting evidence. A survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago asked respondents in 33 countries to react to this statement: "I would rather be a citizen of [my country] than of any other." Among Americans, 75 percent "strongly" agreed; among Germans, French and Spanish, comparable responses were 21 percent, 34 percent and 21 percent, respectively.
That's the best he can do to support the thesis of "greater optimism, greater patriotism and stronger religious values" resulting in higher birth rates?

Now there is no real dispute that U.S. birthrates are declining along with those of the rest of the developed world - they're just declining a bit more slowly. Looking at Samuelson's data, you can see that he places the birth rates for both African Americans and non-Hispanic whites as below the replacement rate. While he suggests that the U.S. fertility rate isn't merely due to the birth rates of non-Hispanic whites, which I understand to be approximately 2.7 children per woman, there is little question but that birth rates among that demographic do help boost the overall fertility figure to the approximate replacement rate.

Samuelson, of course, provides no explanation as to why Hispanics have greater optimism, greater patriotism and stronger religious values than non-Hispanic whites. Nor, for that matter, does he explain why African Americans also have greater optimism, greater patriotism and stronger religious values.

My guess is that if he had stuck with Wattenberg's analysis, Samuelson might have found some interesting socio-economic and immigration-related fertility statistics which could explain U.S. birth rates. I haven't been able to find birth rates by socio-economic group, but it is my understanding that lower SES populations have higher birth rates than higher SES populations. It is also my understanding that immigrants from developing nations have higher birth rates than non-immigrants. Further, I understand that larger families are more likely to occur in rural communities than among city dwellers - it's more expensive to raise kids in a city. Of course, Samuelson might accept all of that but nonetheless argue that being an impoverished immigrant, particularly in a rural community, leads to greater optimism, greater patriotism and stronger religious values....

But perhaps he would instead take a step back from his advocacy for a wall on the Mexican border, and realize that the population statistics he seems to believe will keep us more vibrant and competitive than Europe arise in no small part from immigration.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Democrats and Iraq

On a superficial level, Jackson Diehl makes some good points in his column, "Reclaiming the Democratic Agenda" - although the headline foreshadows its weaknesses. Diehl suggests that the Democrats should embrace an agenda to "win" in Iraq. Describing a book which outlines a possible agenda to bring some meaningful reform to the Middle East, Diehl laments,
Unfortunately, Pollack and his fellow Democrats acknowledge, no liberal policy in the Middle East will work if Iraq fails.
No liberal policy? Even having acknowledged "Bush's cynical policy of demanding democracy from enemy regimes such as Iran and Syria while tolerating the continued autocracy of such friends as Egypt and Saudi Arabia", Diehl provides no explanation for what type of policy (liberal, conservative, or other) would succeed in the Middle East if Iraq fails. No matter how cynical you may be, or even if you would view it as a sufficiently successful conservative policy, it seems unlikely that the next Republican presidential candidate will be pitching a "Replace Hussein with a good totalitarian despot" policy.
While Democrats differ over whether the invasion was right, notes an introduction by Marshall and Jeremy Rosner, both national interests and national honor demand that "we not abandon the Iraqi people to chaos and sectarian violence."
Maybe the candidate can pitch this new program as "victory with honor." That has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? For that matter, is it necessary to speak of both "national interests" and "national honor", other than as a rhetorical tool to trap an opponent? After all, if a policy advances "national honor" but simultaneously undermines "national interests", sometimes you have to swallow your pride and do what is right for the country.

But seriously, why is it that only the Democrats are expected to formulate an advance a plan, while the Republicans are given carte blanche to propose the meaningless choice between "sticking it out" and "pulling out now"? If as the book Diehl endorses suggests, "President Bush and his team have mismanaged virtually every aspect of postwar reconstruction", aren't we continuing toward a point where "sticking it out" will leave us with no choice but to abandon Iraq, whatever the consequence to our national interests and honor?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

News Flash - He's The Same Guy You Married

Richard A. Viguerie laments in the Washington Post ("Bush's Base Betrayal") that George Bush hasn't fulfilled his expectations of a "conservative" President.
In 2004, Republican leaders pleaded with conservatives -- particularly religious conservatives -- to register people to vote and help them turn out on Election Day. Those efforts strengthened Republicans in Congress and probably saved the Bush presidency. We were told: Just wait till the second term. Then, the president, freed of concern over reelection and backed by a Republican Congress, would take off the gloves and fight for the conservative agenda. Just wait.

We're still waiting.
It isn't that Bush didn't try to do some of the things that Viguerie-style conservatives desire - it's that he tried and failed. Think Social Security "reform". But I'm not going to argue very hard - there's very little about Bush which is truly conservative, unless you include as conservative his eagerness to subvert personal freedoms in the name of national security or religion.
The current relationship between Washington Republicans and the nation's conservatives makes me think of a cheating husband whose wife catches him, and forgives him, time and time again. Then one day he comes home to discover that she has packed her bags and called a cab -- and a divorce lawyer.
Try again. Viguerie is in the position of a spouse who, after years of marriage, complains, "My wife is exactly the way she was when I married her, and I knew what she was like when I married her, but I thought she would change."

Big Yellow Taxi as a Conservative Anthem

Now that I know how rock lyrics are supposed to be interpreted, I realize that I've been wrong all these years about Big Yellow Taxi. Let me explain. The Pretenders Song, My City Was Gone, is apparently a conservative song - the 13th most conservative rock song of all time:
Virtually every conservative knows the bass line, which supplies the theme music for Limbaugh’s radio show. But the lyrics also display a Jane Jacobs sensibility against central planning and a conservative’s dissatisfaction with rapid change: "I went back to Ohio / But my pretty countryside / Had been paved down the middle / By a government that had no pride."
Isn't that more or less the same as "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot"? Once I realized how I was supposed to interpret lyrics, I knew that I was supposed to take "They took all the trees, and put em in a tree museum / And they charged the people a dollar and a half to see them" literally - Joni is endorsing capitalism, and the preservation of forests through private enterprise rather than government regulation. Go Joni!

He also makes Sweet Home Alabama the #4 most conservative song,
A tribute to the region of America that liberals love to loathe, taking a shot at Neil Young’s Canadian arrogance along the way: "A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow."
News flash? And Godzilla?
A 1977 classic about a big green monster — and more: "History shows again and again / How nature points up the folly of men."
Is there even a conservative way to interpret that passage, even if you're completely ignorant of its anti-nuclear origin?

Read the list - it's mostly wonderful self-parody.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

It's In The Washington Times, So...

So what can you expect, right? Describing Liddy Dole's demand that Harry Reid apologize for suggesting that the push to make English the official language of the United States is racist,
Sen. Elizabeth Dole yesterday called on Minority Leader Harry Reid to apologize for charging this week that a proposal to make English the official language was racist.
The article later editorializes,
In the past, Mr. Reid has denied that racism has anything to do with the debate over immigration.
Sure, but we're talking about making English the national language, not immigration.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

"Values Voters" - Just Another Brand

Today, George Will asks, "Who Isn't A 'Values Voter'?" He complains,
This phrase diminishes our understanding of politics. It also is arrogant on the part of social conservatives and insulting to everyone else because it implies that only social conservatives vote to advance their values and everyone else votes to . . . well, it is unclear what they supposedly think they are doing with their ballots.
It's the marketing of a brand George, like being a "K-Mart Shopper". It's actually pretty good marketing - It let's an unthinking, bigoted voter feel better than you: "I hate gays, so I will be a 'values voter' by voting for a constitutional amendment which bans government benefits for same-sex couples, and sneer at everybody else as having no values."
It is odd that some conservatives are eager to promote the semantic vanity of the phrase "values voters." And it is odder still that the media are cooperating with those conservatives
The former is not odd - it's good marketing. The latter? Well, I'm sure somebody will find a way to hold it up as proof of "liberal media bias"....

Will, who is preternaturally incapable of even mildly criticizing the political right without attacking the political left, deliberately confuses a politician's appeal to a voter's values with the politician's making an appeal to "values voters".
Hillary Clinton, speaking recently at the annual U.S. Chamber of Commerce convention, scolded "kids," by which she evidently meant young adults, for thinking "work is a four-letter word." She was said to be courting values voters.
She was said by whom to be courting "values voters"? By George Will? Here's how a self-appointed spokesman for "values voters" regards Hillary Clinton:
Hillary Clinton suggested that Democrats go to church for a time to learn the language. Who is stupid now? (Although they might benefit from spending some time in church.)

Do liberals really think that by being able to quote a bit of scripture or to understand Liturgy they are going to be able to win over the values voters? I guess she really thinks we are stupid beyond belief.
How about the bloviations of David Limbaugh?
I'll not address the curious context of Hillary's particular biblical references, as others have covered that subject well. But I will say that when certain famed liberal politicians, like Hillary and John Kerry, invoke Scripture, it seems transparently incongruous.

It's as if they're saying, "Look at me, Middle America, I am bilingual, too: I can talk Scripture as fluently as I can speak English, and I can interweave religion and politics as seamlessly as Roy Moore. So vote for me, Bible-thumpers."
Limbaugh is speaking directly to those who proudly wear the "values voter" brand.

Yes, George, if you presuppose that people who vote based upon their personal values are "values voters", your rhetorical question can be answered "Nobody!" But as you know, the people who have worked so hard to advance the "values voters" brand have something completely different in mind.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Law Professor Creativity in Law School Exams

This post over at the Volokh Conspiracy brought back memories, good and bad, about law professors' efforts to be clever in drafting their exams. To some degree, a clever hypothetical can interject a small dose of comic relief into an intense examination process. At the same time, it isn't particularly creative to set the hypothetical in the "State of Grace", "State of Ignorance" or "State of Anxiety". At least to me, such obvious jokes aren't particularly impressive, and aren't likely to help with a law student's State of Mind.

I had one professor who, well, was a lunkhead. He did use one of the obvious "State of" jokes for the context of his hypothetical, but then gave all of the various actors in the hypothetical meaningless, generic and extraordinarily similar names along the lines of the "Mr. Smith of the ABC Company," and "Mr. Jones of the CBA Corporation". The professor's personality left me with little doubt that he was looking for a "gotcha" - that he was less interested in grading the students on what they knew than downgrading them, for example, for mistakenly referencing the "ABC Corporation".

I don't mind the fact that law professors have the time to be creative in writing their examinations, as long as the time they spend being clever doesn't take away from their writing a clear, fair exam. But I am curious as to whether this type of exam-drafting creativity is commonly seen in any other graduate school context.

Monday, May 15, 2006

How Horrible That The Stripper I Watched Was A College Student

There has been quite a bit of commentary on the stripper from the Duke Lacrosse Team sexual assault case where a male editorial columnist or talking head will complain about how horrible it is that a woman would pay for college by working as a stripper. An example,
Now I’m going to be really harsh on her because she isn’t the only single mother in the country trying to get an education and I know way too many of these women who have actually gone on to promising careers WITHOUT stepping to pay for college. Yes folks I am saying that this young lady had choices and at 27-years-old she could have made some better ones. Yet the reality is that she did what she did to pay for school and that was her choice.
Another example,
A couple of basic questions tend to get overlooked. What's the deal with any group of college students thinking it's a perfectly normal thing to hire strippers for a party? What do their parents say when they see that charge on the credit card bill? For that matter, what's the deal with a college student, whatever financial pressure she might be under, thinking that working at night as an outcall stripper is a perfectly acceptable - and safe - way to support herself? It's not blaming the victim to ask if she couldn't have made better choices.
So the problem isn't that she was a stripper, but that she dared to both be a stripper and go to college? Or is it that no woman should be a stripper, and any woman who chooses to do so has obviously made bad choices.

If it's a judgment against all women who become strippers, I have yet to hear one of these commentators describe that they have never seen a stripper perform at a party. For that matter, I have yet to hear one state that he hasn't hired a stripper. I can almost imagine them interviewing strippers for a bachelor party. "I assume that this is a dead end for you - that you're a high school drop-out with no plans for the future. No? You're in college? You plan to get a degree then enter the traditional workforce? I'm sorry, young lady, I can't condone such bad choices."

You know what? Maybe there should be financial programs which help people go to college so they don't become sex workers to pay for their tuition, books, and housing. But doesn't the same hold true for students who work other jobs, such as food service? Why aren't these same people lamenting that students struggle to get by working too many hours in low-wage jobs? Is it that it's okay to wait tables for a fraction of the income, because it's not "immoral" to wait tables, even if the person judging the morality of your occupation has been content to financially support both career choices.

The Value of a High School Diploma

Back in the 1980's when I was hiring entry level food service workers on a regular basis, whether or not they had a high school diploma could be an important factor in whether or not they got an interview. I never asked about GPA, areas of study, or... well, really anything about the academic side of their diploma. The diploma correlated in my experience with a better set of core competency skills (for example, I would not have to explain to the employee how to measure 1/4 pound on a digital scale), and during times when there was a large stack of applications it was an easy way to narrow the pool of applicants under consideration.

Really, in today's era, what sort of job do you get on the basis of a high school diploma alone? If you choose employment over college, the range of job opportunities available to you narrows each year. Now yes, a prospective employer should be able to anticipate that a high school graduate will be able to translate fractions to decimals when selling sliced meats or cheese in the deli, but how many jobs which are available to high school graduates expect much more than that?

I started to write this before I saw Mike's post over at Crime and Federalism describing the abuse of accommodation of disability by law school students, which in turn leads to Walter Olson's implication that somebody will suffer harm if students who have successfully completed all of their coursework, but fail a standardized graduation test, get their diploma. The thing is, a high school diploma isn't worth much on the job market beyond signifying that you have successfully completed all of your coursework. The last time I saw an application form for a fast food restaurant, at the time Burger King, they included a math test for all applicants. Even in a different era, when a high school diploma was a requirement to get into a union job that could potentially pave your way to a solidly middle class lifestyle, you had to get through the interview. So who, exactly, is hurt if these kids get their diplomas?

(If it needs saying, I'm not arguing in favor of the status quo, and I favor improving schools to the point that it wouldn't occur to people that such a test were even necessary.)

Saturday, May 13, 2006

This Firm Has To Be Charging Copying Fees....

  • First motion for summary disposition with supporting brief - 19 pages. Plus about 500 pages of exhibits.

  • Second motion for summary disposition with supporting brief - 20 pages. Plus the same exhibits.

Both were filed at the same time.
  • Renewed first motion for summary disposition with supporting brief - 20 pages. Plus the same exhibits.

  • Renewed second motion for summary disposition with supporting brief - 22 pages. Plus the same exhibits.

Both were filed at the same time.
  • Revised renewed second motion for summary disposition with supporting brief - 20 pages. Plus the same exhibits.

If they're not charging the client a copying fee per page, the firm is wasting its own money. If they are charging the client copying fees, they seem to be intentionally burning through the client's money.

If it costs you 8 cents per page to produce the copy, and you bill the client 25 cents per page... unnecessarily reproducing 2,000 pages of documents generates an additional $340 in profit per copy. One copy for the client, one copy for the file, one copy for the court, one copy for the judge, one copy for opposing counsel.... $1,700. Charge 50 cents per page, and you've made about $4,200, just for hitting the print button a few extra times.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Take That, Freud!

At TPM Cafe, Mark Schmitt psychoanalyzes the President in relation to his treatment of his father's former agency:
I don’t have a very specific theory here, but it seems natural to wonder whether this almost inexplicable hostility to the CIA as an institution has some deeper roots in Bush’s complex relationship to his father.
I have a theory here, but it's not as much fun.

Imagine your father served for many years as an executive in a company, and later became CEO of its parent corporation. A decade later you are the CEO of the parent, and have discussed with your father not only the inefficiencies and absurdities of the subsidiary, but how his own efforts to reform it were unsuccessful. You have the power to impose significant change on the subsidiary, so you do.

Now let's assume you aren't very good at your job.

New from HUD - Subsidies for Bridges in Brooklyn

There has been some controversy over an account related by Secretary Alphonso Jackson of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, in which he related how he was going to award a lucrative contract to a person but changed his mind when that person expressed that he did not like President Bush.
"He had made every effort to get a contract with HUD for 10 years," Jackson said of the prospective contractor. "He made a heck of a proposal and was on the (General Services Administration) list, so we selected him. He came to see me and thank me for selecting him. Then he said something ... he said, 'I have a problem with your president.'

"I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'I don't like President Bush.' I thought to myself, 'Brother, you have a disconnect -- the president is elected, I was selected. You wouldn't be getting the contract unless I was sitting here. If you have a problem with the president, don't tell the secretary.'

"He didn't get the contract," Jackson continued. "Why should I reward someone who doesn't like the president, so they can use funds to try to campaign against the president? Logic says they don't get the contract. That's the way I believe."
Jackson doesn't deny saying it - he just says that it didn't happen, and he put the joke in the first person to make it funnier. Joke? That's what Jackson's spokesperson, Dustee Tucker, told the Chicago Tribune:
"You know when you tell a joke you put yourself in first person, for delivery," she said. "You say I was on this train and so and so did this even if you know it wasn't a train. The secretary was putting himself in that first person to make the story more effective...
Wow. He's a funny guy. This part of the explanation is more telling:
"So he was offering an anecdote to say, this is how politics works in DC. In DC people won't just stab you in the back, they'll stab you in the front. And so the secretary's point was a hypothetical, what he said was an anecdote. It did not happen."
Oh... so it didn't happen, but it could have happened had somebody been so foolish as to express disagreement with President Bush, and thus it was important to advise the members of the Dallas Real Estate group that they shouldn't disclose any dislike for Bush if they want government contracts.... with some other agency where this could happen (if things like this happened, but they don't). (Are your eyes rolling yet?)

According to that Tribune piece,
The main message Tucker wanted to leave me with was that Jackson didn't yank anyone's contract because he vehemently disagreed with the Bush administration. Several times she said Jackson had nothing to do with contracting. That was done elsewhere in the department.
And certainly it is impossible that anybody in the agency would be influenced by the position of the Secretary, let alone take instruction from the Secretary.

Does he need a better story? A better spokesperson?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Consequence of Social Promotion

It seems that the effect of social promotion policies in California, the state has imposed a standardized test on graduating seniors to see if they really deserve a diploma. A lawsuit has been filed, complaining that if students pass all of their classes they should get a diploma even if they fail the test. TChris at TalkLeft suggests that kids in poor schools, where the failure rates are the highest, probably don't get the same level of educational opportunity as kids from afflluent schools.

To me, the test and lawsuit highlight two problems: First, the problem of social promotion. Second, catering to the lowest common denominator. It may well be that students in poor schools need even more academic support than they presently receive - and if the state is serious about making a high school diploma mean something, it should seek to provide that support such that kids have the opportunity to do well - and fail kids who lack the aptitude or initiative to succeed.

"Oh," the lament goes... "if you fail kids you'll stigmatize them and make them more likely to drop out, then they won't get their diploma." Is it supposed to be better to have kids who function far below grade level sit through class after class, get "socially promoted", and then fail a standardized final examination such that they don't get their diploma anyway?

In relation to those who are advancing this lawsuit, is it better that a functionally illiterate kid be "socially promoted' and never tested in any meaningful way before he or she receives a high school diploma?

In relation to proponents of this test, is it better to avoid setting any intermediate standards which might identify the problem sooner, as opposed to testing kids on their way out the door when you no longer have to take any responsibility for the failure of the school system by bringing the low performers up to standard?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Close enough for horseshoes, hand grenades, and law professors

According to Law Professor Eugene Volokh, a leading reason law schools have only one exam per course is, that's the way law students want it:
Most law school exams, to my knowledge, involve a single end-of-semester exam. Some comments in this thread argue that this is pedagogically unsound, and that having several exams — a final plus a midterm or two — would better measure people's knowledge. (It might also help students learn the material better.) I'm not sure that this is so, because I haven't looked into the research; but it seems plausible, and colleagues I trust have said that the research does support this. Let's assume then that this is right. Why then the single-exam format?

Some of the commenters identified one important answer: Professors hate grading exams, and would thus rather grade one exam than two or more. . . .

I think there's a lot of truth to this, but let me suggest an extra factor: I suspect that most students prefer the one-exam structure as well, so that there's little pushback against the professors' one-exam preference, and there would likely be some pushback against professors' attempts to shift to the "better" two- or three-exam format.
Well, then, let me propose that most students would prefer no exams at all, with everybody getting a guaranteed "A" or "A+". (Prof. Volokh describes the near-elimination of grades at Yale and Berkeley, and suggests that it is a school's market power which enables it to abolish traditional grading. That's probably true, but is an issue apart from what students would likely prefer.)

Granted, if everybody got the same grade some students would likely resent the students they perceive as having lesser ability getting "A's" just for showing up in class. (Or would you even have to show up? Students probably would also vote down a mandatory attendance policy.) Yet I've never heard students complain that a grading curve is too soft. No small number of law students pick their electives based upon a professor's curve from the prior year.

Speculation that additional exams might increase law student stress is interesting, but the fact is that in most law schools there are professors who hold midterms and I don't recall students wilting from the additional pressure.

Is it presumptuous of me to suggest that graduate school professors should care about which teaching and testing methods are the best means of advancing and measuring student comprehension and ability? That they should implement sound teaching and testing methods even if they prove less than popular with their students?

Professor Volokh speculates that employers don't much care about the accuracy of one grade or another, and presumes that "random noise in the grading probably averages out in considerable measure when you look at the student's entire transcript. Even if a professor views a law degree as nothing more than a rough equivalent to a "union card" which qualifies a student to get employment as a lawyer, I would still hope that the professor would strive to avoid adding "random noise" to a student's transcript.

Your Civic Duty: Go To The Movies

It is a strange era we live in when we are told that it is our "civic duty" to see a movie. Perhaps the stranger part is hearing that argument from George Will, who would presumably have heaped scorn upon somebody who made a similar assertion about Fahrenheit 911. (Beyond how they relate to Will's political philosophies, I neither mean to compare the two films nor to gloss over the various portions of Fahrenheit 911 which were in my opinion deliberately misleading).

George Will adheres to a philosophy that "you should not rely upon your government", but scorns the notion that you shouldn't trust your government:
After an astonishing 56 months without a second terrorist attack, this nation perhaps has become dangerously immune to astonishment. The movie may quicken our appreciation of the measures and successes - many of which must remain secret - that have kept would-be killers at bay.
Who cares that there is no evidence to support his faith in secret successes (based on secret measures). The important thing is to believe.His adoration for a commencement address given by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. further evidences his adherence to this version of "faith". Holmes wrote:
But in the midst of doubt, in the collapse of creeds, there is one thing I do not doubt, that no man who lives in the same world with most of us can doubt, and that is that the faith is true and adorable which leads a soldier to throw away his life in obedience to a blindly accepted duty, in a cause which he little understands, in a plan of campaign of which he has little notion, under tactics of which he does not see the use.
(A quarter-century before Holmes spoke, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, expressed a similar sentiment.) As we all could be "potential soldiers" in this war in which "the front can be anywhere", in Will's view we apparently all owe the government a soldier's trust in his superior officers and unquestioning obedience to its orders. (Unless, of course, Clinton is the President, in which case a bombing attack directed at Al Qaeda is meant "to distract attention from legal difficulties arising from his glandular life".)

The civics lesson, though, of United 93 can't be to have blind trust in the government. There were many points at which the government could have detected and prevented the 9/11 hijackings. (The question as to whether it would have been reasonable to expect them to put together the pieces in time to prevent the hijackings is subject to debate. The fact that various government actors held the information which, if pieced together, could have been used to prevent the attacks is not.) Will asks us to draw a different lesson:
The hinge on which the movie turns are 13 words that a passenger speaks, without histrionics, as he and others prepare to rush the cockpit, shortly before the plane plunges into a Pennsylvania field. The words are: "No one is going to help us. We've got to do it ourselves." Those words not only summarize this nation's situation in today's war but also express a citizen's general responsibilities in a free society.
That's great, George. The next time I fly I'll be sure to get the passenger manifest in advance, and screen it for suspected criminals and terrorists myself.

With The Exception of Yoko Ono, That Is

Perhaps now that the latest Apple v Apple trademark suit has been resolved in favor of the computer maker, the Beatles and their heirs can get back to making money the way they used to - by creating music.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Everything You Didn't Want To Know About David Brooks

(Sorry, although I'm not sure that I should be - the New York Times links are "behind the firewall".)

Even though I'm no fan of David "Babbling" Brooks, even after I was led to the piece by an email making fun of it, I gave him a pass last week when he wrote an editorial (Lunch Period Poli Sci) declaring that your social clique in high school defines your future. (Pass revoked.)

In that column Brooks only found nuance when describing nerds as the only group which falls into two categories: the bad "liberal" kind who become "scuffed-shoed intellectuals who have as much personal courage as a French chipmunk in retreat", and the good "Brooks" kind who sneer at everybody else in the world - I mean "geeks who have decided their fellow intellectuals should never be allowed to run anything and have learned to speak slowly so the jocks will understand them." Right, David... adult jocks can't wait to listen to slow speaking, condescending, conservative nerds. And the only shift between high school politics and adulthood is a miraculous realization by the jocks that they need the intellectual leadership of people like Brooks. (I'm not making fun of him - he actually says that. How do you make fun of inadvertent self-parody?)

When Brooks says,
The nerds continue to believe that the self-reflective life is the only life worth living (despite all evidence to the contrary) while the cool, good-looking, vapid people look down upon them with easy disdain on those rare occasions they are compelled to acknowledge their existence.
One can picture Brooks in high school, picturing himself as "culturally and intellectually superior but socially aggrieved" and longing for the day when he finally got to sneer along with (and secretly sneer at) the cool kids.

Today in Marshmallows and Public Policy, he tells us about himself as a kindergartener - or at least how he remembers himself - sitting quiety, doing as he was told, and meekly waiting to inherit the earth. Everything he is he was in high school, but apparently it was forecast by his ability to resist temptation.

Brooks references experiments performed by Walter Mischen in the 1970's, testing whether four-year-olds could resist eating a marshmallow for fifteen minutes. If they did not, socio-economic data indicates that they were more likely to develop drug problems and were more likely to grow up to be bullies. If they did not, they were more likely to grow up to score significantly higher on the SAT, go to better colleges, and have better "adult outcomes". Brooks tells us that poor kids, statistically speaking, have less self-control than kids from middle class homes.

While I think it is safe to say that Brooks wouldn't have grabbed the marshmallow, I am not so sure that with somebody like Brooks it would have reflected intrinsic self-control - he seems more like the sort who would have resisted the temptation to avoid the reprobation of adults. Which, perhaps, is why he believes schools should start teaching self-control. That also perhaps explains why Brooks misses what seems to be the essential point of language he quotes:
What works, says Jonathan Haidt, the author of "The Happiness Hypothesis," is creating stable, predictable environments for children, in which good behavior pays off — and practice. Young people who are given a series of tests that demand self-control get better at it over time.
When you take kids for whom school is the most stable and predictable element of their lives, school isn't the problem. Nor is training kids to sit quietly in rows very much of a solution, even if achieved by training them to "distract themselves" by thinking about something other than what the teacher is saying. Brooks suggests that some New York schools adopted programs based upon Mischel's research - why isn't he describing their success?

Brooks also suggests,
Somehow we've entered a world in which we obsess over structural reforms and standardized tests, but skirt around the moral and psychological traits that are at the heart of actual success.
Wait a minute though - I thought we were talking tendencies here. It's one thing to take a study which confirms what is well known, that a person's essential personality forms at an early age, and it is quite another to say that a kid who grabs a marshmallow will not be a successful adult. When Brooks describes "people without self-control skills for whom "Life is a parade of foolish decisions: teen pregnancy, drugs, gambling, truancy and crime, is he not describing the behavior of an awful lot of people in government?

Besides, since when has it been considered conservative to attempt social engineering through the public school system?

Friday, May 05, 2006

Disney's New Position on Copyright - Full Reproduction is 'Fair Use'

Well, not really.

But it is funny to trace back from this comment, the author of which is a Supervising Web Producer for E! Online, within the context that E! "is owned by a joint venture between Comcast (50%), The Walt Disney Company (40%), and Liberty Media (10%)."

After locking a thread in which somebody suggests that E! Online might be sued for allowing forum participants to post the full text of articles cut and pasted from copyrighted sources, an E! employee expressed, "we are looking into a definite set of guidelines to address these types of threads." When challenged further, the E! employee asserted,
fair use anyone?
This inspired the retort, "Posting the entire article is hardly fair use."The E! employee countered,
im not trying to challenge anyone. im just saying its not that clear cut. but we'll leave that up to our legal team. for now, please hang tight. thank you.
Perhaps he should run it past this legal team:
Disney Enterprises Inc. and four other entertainment giants are suing two downtown Los Angeles produce vendors for allegedly selling pinatas bearing unlicensed cartoon characters.

* * *

Once, Disney sued a Florida day-care center that showed paintings of Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy on its outside walls. The school took down the pictures.
I'm not meaning to pick on E's staff here - I really mean to pick on Disney.

All Roads Lead To Gated Communities....

I am often amused when self-described libertarians engage in argument that really boils down to an abrogation of any sense of a social compact, particularly where they are the affluent progeny of affluent parents.

Because the rich can take care of themselves, the argument goes, the poor should be left to care for themselves. The externalities are ignored. Usually when you get a larger perspective on the speaker, you find an associated set of beliefs and values which speak not of libertarianism, but the notion that they and their wealthy peers should not have to pay taxes which inure to the benefit of people they deem beneath them. They can afford association fees which pay for the private roads of their gated communities. They assume the middle classes can form private associations to assume ownership of their own streets (and any gates they wish to install). And if they can't (or if they're poor), too bad, so sad. That's why God created dirt roads and tar paper shacks.

So when I read something like this,
Many commenters seem astonished by the idea of private streets. My parents have a house in a private, gated community, where the streets are indeed privately owned. Access to the community is for owners and their guests. The community functions quite well, as far as I can tell, and, among other potential advantages, there is virtually no crime. This may not be everyone's cup of tea, but there is nothing either radical or impractical about streets being privately owned.
I am left wondering if the speaker is truly expressing opinions which arise from libertarian notions of private contractual obligations taking the place of government ownership and maintenance of roadways, or if they have chosen libertarianism as the philosophy most consistent with their desire to avoid taxes, social responsibility, and exposure to people with different ideas or (gasp) who are poor.

Your Rabid Dog Lawyers?

I saw a Google AdSense ad for a law firm,
Smith Defense Team
Certified criminal law
specialists Free Consult -
Beyond Aggressive!
(I changed the name of the firm to something generic.)

How does "beyond aggressive" compare to, say, a "pit bull lawyer"? Is it roughly the same, or something more akin to a "rabid pit bull lawyer"?