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Saturday, July 24, 2004

NOTES FROM THE VAST WASTELAND:

The latest twist in Nipplegate is that CBS chief Les Moonves has been threatening to sue the FCC if it imposes fines against the network because of Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction." There's a backstory here, though, which is that this came from a response to a question posed during the TV press tour last week.

What's great about Les (we like to call him Les, because we like pretending that even though he's the co-president of Viacom and we're just a bunch of ink-stained wretches, we're pals) is that as a former actor, he realizes that a press conference is basically a performance. So he's always getting into a big swinging dick contest with someone for our benefit.

Now don't get me wrong — I like that in a man, especially in network execs at press conferences. I still remember how boring these were when the painfully circumspect Stu Bloomberg and Lloyd Braun were running ABC; you had to practically prop your eyelids open with toothpicks to stay awake. Les Moonves, on the other hand, is usually entertainingly candid. But some of what he says in public to reporters should be taken with a few tablespoons of salt.

At the last press tour (in January) Les got into it with Donald Trump, who'd called him "the most overrated executive in television, and unlike most people, I like Les Moonves" at NBC's press conference for "The Apprentice." Les responded at the CBS press conference a few days later that Donald must have been having an unusually bad hair day. So that was fun. (The bad blood backstory here is that Trump used to be partners with CBS in the Miss Universe contest, which then moved to NBC.)

But would Les Moonves really take the FCC to court? I suppose he might. But probably he's just posturing.

OK, this finishes my guest-blogging stint here and thank you all for reading. I'd also like to thank (as we say here in Hollywood) the lewder, cruder commenters from my own blog for staying away from this much classier one. I'd hate for Eugene to come back from vacation and find the place trashed!

Leaving for Germany: I am on my way to the airport for my trip to the IES "Europe and Liberty" summer seminar in Gummersbach. I am sorry I did not get a chance to reply to some of the interesting responses to my previous post on Libertarians on War, including a thoughtful message by David Beito. Perhaps I will get a chance to do so once I am there and over the jet lag. At any rate, I will be responding even slower than normal to email for the next few weeks.
Call for papers on Libertarianism at IVR: This announcement was forwarded to me by Professor Itaru Shimazu of the Faculty of Law and Economics at Chiba University:

Workshop on Libertarianism at the International Congress on Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy

The International Association for Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy (a.k.a. IVR) will hold its 22nd IVR World Congress in Granada, Spain on May 24-29, 2005. Japanese libertarian legal philosopher, Professor Susumu Morimura from Hitotsubashi University, Tokyo, plans to organize a special workshop on libertarianism at the Congress. He invites anyone committed to or interested in libertarianism to present a paper at the workshop. The paper should address some issue concerning libertarianism, and papers critical of libertarianism are also welcome. The workshop will present a great opportunity for us to discuss libertarianism in an international academic setting. Some younger Japanese scholars are already planning to present papers at the workshop, and there is some possibility that papers presented at the Congress will later be published by the organizers.

Contact:

Professor Susumu MORIMURA
Faculty of Law, Hitotsubashi University, Kunitachi, Tokyo 186-8601, Japan

His email is: cj00340 (at sign) srv.cc.hit-u.ac.jp
CIA and Bin Laden's Inner Circle: The Washington Post has a very interesting artice today on CIA efforts to infiltrate and destroy Osama Bin Laden's leadership circle. Some excerpts:
  The CIA has intelligence agents inside Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network — as it did before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks — but they are not within the terrorist leader's inner circle where key information about any future attack would be discussed, a senior intelligence official said yesterday.
  "They are beyond foot soldiers but not in the inner circle," the official said. The agents — Afghans, Pakistanis, Uzbeks and others recruited and run by CIA case officers — "are more senior than the agents [the U.S. had] three years ago who were on the periphery," the official said.
  Aided by these agents, electronic intercepts, satellite imagery, and extensive help from foreign intelligence services, the United States over the past two years has captured or killed two-thirds of bin Laden's top aides and broken up plots against U.S. embassies, U.S. and foreign aircraft, and ships and other targets worldwide.
  . . .
   This is the first time that CIA officials have publicly described with such specificity the placing of agents and other steps aimed at cracking al Qaeda — the sort of information that the agency generally guards very closely.
   . . .
   "We have busted plots repeatedly" that were undertaken by "serious al Qaeda players" involving both aircraft and ships — some in Northeast and Southeast Asia — one official at the briefing said.
It Takes Too, Baby

Every now and then I'll read a column on English grammar where the author or one of his readers is complaining about the unnecessary of in phrases like this:

too big of a job
The columnists that I've seen address this issue always stick very boringly to the tiny question of whether the of belongs or not. They never get into the questions I'd like to see discussed, so I guess I'll have to do it myself.

First, I need to distinguish between two ways of using adjectives. When an adjective follows a form of be (or a few other verbs which I don't want to talk about), it is known as a predicative adjective. For example:

Predicative adjectives
This movie is dull.
They were dead.
It's going to be incredible.

When an adjective modifies a noun (usually appearing right before it), it is known as an attributive adjective. For example:

Attributive adjectives
We saw a dull movie.
Dead puppies aren't much fun.
The incredible discovery made headlines.

The next relevant fact is that many adjectives take up more than a single word, as in the following predicative examples:

Multi-word predicative adjectives
He is jealous of everyone.
She is ready to get out of here.
These directions are really hard to follow.
This job is too big for one person to finish.

It's generally more difficult to make attributive versions of adjectives like these. First of all, they usually can't go before the noun anymore. For example, jealous of everyone and ready to get out of here become ungrammatical if you make them attributive and put them before the noun they modify, as seen below. Move them to after their nouns and they're pretty much OK.

Multi-word attributive adjectives
*I know a jealous of everyone guy.
*Three ready to get out of here kids are waiting at the door.

Those are the easy cases. Other times, to make an attributive version of such an adjective, you have to wrap the adjective around the noun, like this:

These are really hard directions to follow.
And some predicative adjectives, like those beginning with too, get really weird when you make them attributive. You don't put them right before the noun, or right after it; you do something like this:
This is too big a job for one person to finish.
You put one part not just before the noun (in this case job), but also before the determiner (in this case a).

What about the intruding of from the very first example? All I really have to say about that is: If you speak the "of a" dialect, you put an of between the too and the a. Well, that and a speculation that the of first came to be in those constructions by analogy with phrases such as too much of a good thing, or too many of our students. What I really wonder about is, why can't you have attributive adjectives with too when the determiner is something other than a?

*too big the job (i.e. the job that's too big)
*too big every job (i.e. every job that's too big)
*too big no job (i.e. no job that's too big)

And I also wonder what happens when you have a noun that doesn't need a determiner at all, for example mass nouns such as water, or plural nouns. I did a search for "too * of", and it looks like there are a few cases here and there of speakers who can do it, and put in of just as they might with a singular count noun like job:

  • a2ps using too big of paper on dj500, and magicfilter eats text
    link
  • Too Deep of Water
    (This one is suspect, as it seems to have come from a native speaker of Spanish, so there may be some influence from how Spanish treats cases like these.) link
  • Too small of rooms for the price!!
    link
  • Checkout/processing with too long of titles
    link
  • Too high of volumes for CORSIM
    link
I couldn't check for examples without the of , since a search for "too *" would have been just too broad. But I listen for them. If you hear someone say something like too deep water, too deep a water, too small rooms, or too small a rooms, I'd like to hear about it!

Friday, July 23, 2004

Bleg to Volokh-reading lawyers

I'm looking, on a tight deadline, for Oregon lawyers with expertise in both criminal law and civil rights/ racial bias litigation, whether private practitioners or public interest/ non-profit attorneys. Any leads or contact information would be much appreciated; further details can be discussed via e-mail.

Civil Liberties and the 9/11 Report:

NPR's All Things Considered has a 4-minute segment available here. I make a brief appearance around the 2:10 mark.

Libertarians On War: I was pleased to see that my suggestion a while back that there should be a debate on the relationship between Libertarianism and foreign policy was taken up by some bloggers. Most recently by Brian Doss at the always thoughtful Catallarchy (The Problem with Libertarians Today). Some like David Beito considered this an invitation to debate the merits of the war in Iraq, but I was more concerned with the degree to which Libertarianism qua Libertarianism says anything about foreign policy. Because Libertarianism is essentially a philosophy of individual rights, I doubt it says much about what policies either individuals or collective institutions ought to pursue other than that they should not violate the rights of individuals in pursuing them.

Even if, as many Libertarians believe, governments themselves inherently violate rights, it does not follow (as some Libertarians appear to assume) that everything such an unjust institution does is a rights violation. Consider mail delivery. The post office may be an unjust monopoly (and unconstitutional to boot), but the letter carrier who coincidentally is walking up my driveway as I type this) is not violating my rights by delivering my mail. Likewise, even if the government of the United States is an unjust institution, this does not make everything (or anything) done by the U.S. Army a rights violation. This is why I found my friend Rod Long's comment on David's post unhelpful. One of the biggest errors made by Libertarian anarchists is assuming that because an institution is an unjust monopoly (because it confiscates its income by force and puts its competitors out of business by force), this makes everything such institutions do also unjust. The latter proposition simply does not follow from the former.

As for Iraq, there were a number of valid legal justifications for initiating the latest hostilities, but if I start to describe them here I will provoke a different discussion than I intend. Any such discussion would inevitably implicate international law or The Law of Nations, which I also do not believe follows from Libertarian first principles. Sometimes it appears to me that the governments of "nations" are simply assumed by Libertarians to have the same sorts of rights in the international sphere that Libertarians specifies for individual persons (which I think is what Rod Long is properly rejecting). Other times even these same Libertarians know better.

However legal or justified the war in Iraq may have been, though, this does not make its initiation good foreign policy (though I think it was). And this is my point. I do not think Libertarianism qua Libertarianism tells us much about what good foreign policy may be, any more than it tells us what good business or personal policies may be. As was well-expressed by Duncan Frissell at Technoptimist (in a post with which I have some disagreement):
Libertarianism qua libertarianism is only a political philosophy and lacks theories of esthetics, ethics, theology, epistemology, and personal behavior. Libertarians as individuals are perfectly free within their political philosophy to espouse white supremacy, pacifism, private ownership of nuclear weapons, Anglo-Catholicism, atheism, the worship of Shiva, vegetarianism, the Atkins' Diet, grammatical prescriptivism, progressive education, etc.
This claim is central to my recent paper The Moral Foundations of Modern Libertarianism. I am leaving for Gummersbach, Germany tomorrow to lecture at the Europe & Liberty Summer Seminar sponsored by IES Europe, so I may not be able to respond as speedily as I might to any responses to this post that may appear.

Update: I am a little surprised that no one has caught this so far, but the claim to which I meant to allude was that the postal monopoly was unconstitutional. The power to establish a post office and post roads is explicitly granted in Article I of the Constitution. In contrast, the power to grant a legal monopoly to its post office, though included in the Articles of Confederation, was omitted. This is the position defended by Lysander Spooner in the essay to which I linked. Spooner himself created a commercially successful private postal delivery service called the American Mail Letter Company that was driven out of business by disparate prosecutions for violating the express mail statute. Spooner unsuccessfully sought a legal forum in which to contest the constitutionality of this grant of monopoly.

WHY DO THEY HATE US?

I'm on CNBC's Dennis Miller tonight. If they let me float a segment (that is, choose a topic), like they've let my friend Jill Stewart do — she's also been on more than me, and gotten to hold the chimp, not that I'm competitive or anything — I'm going to talk about the ridiculous notion that instead of fighting terrorism, we should prevent future attacks by sitting down with the terrorists and finding out what they want. Haven't they made it clear enough what they want? They want the entire world to be an Islamic state, complete with Sharia law. I don't think we should want to meet them halfway here.

Speaking of modest dress requirements, I have some Orthodox Jewish friends who don't like it when I wear my usual sleeveless/low-cut tops on TV — sends the wrong message, they say, and I suppose they could be right. But ever since Sept. 11, I've become fonder of anything that offends the Islamofascists. "Step on a crack, break old Hitler's back," kids used to say during World War II. These days I sometimes think to myself: "Dress like a tart, break an Imam's heart."

***

Update: Well I'm back from taping Miller, and did indeed get to talk about the above topic, but wasn't as good as the last time I was on. And I was hoping to get to another topic, CBS's threat to sue the FCC if they're actually fined, but we ran out of time. A Zero Mostel-like comedian named Max Alexander, who was on the Varsity Panel with me, was very funny, though. I wish I'd thought to put pretzels in my pants!

24 Comments
Terrorism and the Supreme Court:

Here's a trivia question for readers interested in the Supreme Court and the legal system's response to terrorism. In what year did the following passage appear in a Supreme Court opinion?

We cannot avoid taking judicial notice that crimes such as airplane hijacking, kidnaping, and mass terrorist activity constitute a serious and increasing danger to the safety of the public. It would be unfortunate indeed if the effect of today's holding were to inhibit States and the Federal Government from experimenting with various remedies . . . to prevent and deter such crimes.

Is the answer: (a) 2004, (b) 2003, (c) 2001, (d) 1996, or (e) 1977?

(Click here for the answer)

Thursday, July 22, 2004

TIPS FOR HOW TO BECOME A LAW PROFESSOR:

Brian Leiter offers some advice on entering the law teaching market and links to his helpful essay on the topic. IHS also has a good booklet on this posted on the web, Law School and Beyond: The IHS Guide to Careers in Legal Academia. Although the IHS booklet was designed to help those with libertarian leanings, anyone who wants to be a law professor should read it. (It includes contributions by a few Conspirators, too.)

"Terror in the Skies" and the Carrot Top Connection:

The Syrian band behind Annie Jacobsen's story seems to have been discovered. Either this is a really, really clever disguise, or the band is legit. Thanks to Elliot Fladen for the link.

WATCH IT, FATSO:

As someone who believes your right to overeat ends where my airplane seat begins, I don't think that Medicare's decision last week to begin paying for obesity treatments is such a terrible example of nanny-state meddling. The thin already are forced to subsidize the fat anyway, via taxes and higher private insurance costs. Why not pay a little more in prevention now, if that will cut huge Medicare bills for obesity-related problems later? Plus, fat pride activists are appalled by the Medicare decision, which probably means it's a pretty good idea.

Which isn't to say that we shouldn't emphasize personal responsibility when it comes to obesity. Certainly losing weight is difficult; this doesn't mean it's impossible. My friend Greg Critser, author of "Fatland: How Americans Became the Fattest People In the World," argues that beltless pants and limitless refills are symptoms of modern American culture's general lack of boundaries and self-control. He also doesn't like the way upper-middle-class boomer parents, who lead the public discussion, are loathe to talk about limiting children's diets or making them exercise, lest kids end up anorexic or with damaged self-esteem.

"Feminists and liberals have transformed a legitimate medical issue of the poor into identity politics for the affluent," Greg told me, "which I find the worst kind of narcissistic behavior." But he also lacks patience with right-wing complaints about government intervention: "Those libertarians who have all kinds of problems with government programs about obesity are going to be crying their eyes out 20 years from now," he added, when a fat and aging population brings with it increased taxes and social burdens.

Greg is now fit and trim but used to be chubby. At school, he was called Blimpboy and Skipper, after Gilligan's hefty pal. He only took the weight off a few years ago, when a man yelled "Watch it, Fatso!" at him for opening the car door into traffic.

"On the one hand, he's a dick and I'd like to find that guy now," Greg recalled. "On the other hand, the social shaming worked."

28 Comments
The Moral Foundations of Modern Libertarianism: That is the title of a new paper I have uploaded to SSRN. It will appear later this year as a chapter of a book edited by Peter Berkowitz of George Mason Law School entitled, Varieties of Conservatism in America. The book will be published by Hoover Press. As Larry Solum says on Legal Theory Blog, you can "download it while its hot" here. This is the abstract:
Libertarians no longer argue, as they once did in the 1970s, about whether libertarianism must be grounded on moral rights or on consequences; they no longer act as though they must choose between these two moral views. In this paper, I contend that libertarians need not choose between moral rights and consequences because theirs is a political, not a moral, philosophy; one that can be shown to be compatible with various moral theories, which is one source of its appeal.

Moral theories based on either moral rights or on consequentialism purport to be "comprehensive," insofar as they apply to all moral questions to the exclusion of all other moral theories. Although the acceptance of one of these moral theories entails the rejection of all others, libertarian moral rights philosophers on the one hand, and utilitarians on the other, can embrace libertarian political theory with equal fervor. I explain how can this be and why it is a strength rather than a weakness of libertarian political theory.

Conservatives, neoconservatives, and those on the left who seek to impose by force their comprehensive conception of "the good" neglect the problem of power - an exacerbated instance of the twin fundamental social problems of knowledge and interest. For a comprehensive moralist of the right or left, using force to impose their morality on others might be their first choice among social arrangements. Having another's comprehensive morality imposed upon them by force is their last choice. The libertarian minimalist approach of enforcing only the natural rights that define justice should be everyone's second choice. A compromise, as it were, that makes civil society possible. And therein lies its imperative.

Update: I should probably mention that the paper is very short. Around 20 pages.

Further Update: Coincidentally, the copy-edited manuscript showed up today and I now know of many typos and other errors that require fixing. The copy editor and I have also tweaked the language in many places and, in one place, I tweaked substance as well. Please forgive these without comment as it is now too late to correct any more that the copy editor and I may still have missed.

And Carina at An Inclination to Criticize comments on and provides links to an essay critical of Libertarianism and a very thoughtful reply, both of which touch on many of the same issues raised by my paper. She provides the links.

Pow! Smash! Truncate!

Mark Liberman has an interesting post over at Language Log about the spelling of interjections and onomatopoetic words in comic strips. It brought back a memory of a Broom Hilda strip I read sometime in the 5th grade. Someone was getting beaten up, and the frame showed the standard cloud of dust with fists and legs sticking out of it. And of course, a few powerful words surrounding it. There was probably a pow!, maybe a smash!, but the one I remember most clearly was truncate! I'd learned that word only recently, when we'd done some geometry in school, so I could see how it made sense: Someone, we were to believe, was getting cut in half inside that dust cloud. But still, the word somehow didn't belong, and I finally figured out it was because when you truncated something, it didn't make the sound truncate!--it'd probably sound more like grind, snap, or ssssshhh, depending on what you were truncating. (Yes, yes, I laughed at the joke in addition to analyzing it.)

It's been years since I've seen any Broom Hilda strips, but I do get For Better of For Worse, and I've noticed that writer Lynn Johnston often has non-onomatopoetic words floating around in an action scene for humorous effect. For example, the mother in the strip was furiously cleaning the house in one frame, and floating around her were words like swish, swish, swish!, but also clean, clean, clean! and tidy, tidy, tidy! And it seems to me I also saw one where a character was laboriously chewing a bite of food, with the words chew, chew, chew, and masticate appearing overhead.

I wonder how long comic strip artists have been able to exploit this kind of humor. Comic strips have been around only a little more than 100 years, and in that time frame there would need to be three stages:

  1. Audience accepts that onomatopoetic words can appear somewhere in the comic frame to signify how something sounds.

  2. Audience recognizes that some of the onomatopoetic words appearing in the frame can signify actions that someone is performing--specifically, those that can be used as verbs: crash, smack, crunch, etc.

  3. Audience will recognize any verb, not just an onomatopoetic one, as signifying an action performed by a character when it is written in the same frame as the character.

Of course, as long as people are laughing at words like truncate or tidy floating around in comic strip frames, we're not actually into Stage 3. When the words are no longer funny just by virtue of being used this way, that's when we'll be there.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Read the Whole Thing: Mark Kleiman complains that the WSJ editorial page is "full of Bush lit" for suggesting that the Joseph Wilson controversy might have a legal bearing on whether the leaker of Valerie Plame's identity can be prosecuted. As evidence, he cites a news story in yesterdays WSJ which reports:
Whether or not it damages [Wilson] or not, the report, in strictly legal terms, should not have any effect on Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation into whether the White House violated a law that makes it a crime to disclose the name of a clandestine intelligence officer.
So the WSJ editorial page flubbed the story, right? Not necessarily. Just One Minute notes that the very news story Kleiman cites provides support for the editorial page's claim.
Prosecutors are still trying to determine who leaked Ms. Plame's identity and why. The question, says a law-enforcement official, is whether the individual had a security clearance that gave him or her access to Ms. Plame's identity — and also leaked her name to damage national security. "We still have to prove that, and it's not easy to do," the official says. "That's why nothing ever happens with these cases."
[Substantial excerpts of the story are available here.]

I don't know enough about the relevant statute to know whether intent might matter. But given the story in question, Kleiman has not substantiated his charge.

Update: Kleiman has now updated his post, citing the relevant statute. It suggests that any prosecution of the Plame leaker would have many hurdles, including knowledge that Plame was a "covert agent" and that the government was actively seeking to conceal her identity (a point Novak's account undermines), but that intent to damage national security would not be necessary to prosecute the leaker under subsections (a) and (b) of the statute. Fair enough. But Kleiman's original post excorciated the WSJ editorial board for misrepresenting the statute without acknowledging that the article upon which he relied makes the very same mistake by relying upon an expert source who claims intent must be proven.

As for the substnative legal issue, if the leaker of Plame's identity did not know she was a covert agent (as opposed to some other type of CIA employee) and did not know the federal government was taking active steps to conceal her identity (when it appears that it was not), then I am not sure why the leak was so egregious. I haven't steeped myself in the minutiae of this controversy, but it seems to me that the statutory language incorporates the elements that would make the leak an egregious act -- placing political considerations above an individual's safety and national security. Yet if Plame's identity was not, in fact, a carefully guarded secret, where's the damage? Thus, in the end, I believe that if the prosecutor can make his case, heads should roll. If not, because evidence of necessary elements is missing, I'm not sure why this is such a big deal (though I'll be happy to convinced otherwise.

P.S. As for Kleiman's point that this is reason enough to vote against Bush, I'm also not convinced. Holding all else equal, I am not sure why I should be more against an administration that employs the Plame leaker than one that would employ Sandy Burglar. My vote -- which I expect to explain at a later date -- will be based on other things.
Climate: The More We Look, The Less We Know

That seems to be the implication of the "money quote" Daniel Drezner highlights from David Victor's CFR monograph on climate change policy.

Blakely and Lower Court Judges: I concur with Orin's post below that the ideological mix of judges on lower courts does not explain their response to the Blakely decision. Exhibit A to WIll Baude's argument is Paul Cassell. As an academic, Cassell was an advocate of the sentencing guidelines, yet he was one of the first federal judges to find the federal sentencing guidelines unconstitutional under Blakely.

I will, however, come to Baude's defense that the ideological composition of the lower courts most likely does explain the tepid reaction to Lopez and Morrison. Liberals, and even many conservatives, on lower courts are generally hostile to court-imposed limits on the commerce clause, so they've construed Lopez and Morrison narrowly. Liberals tend not to like the doctrine because it reduces federal power, while some (though by no means all) conservatives are simply less eager to invalidate federal statutes. Thus there is a distinct minority of judges on the lower courts willing to apply Lopez and Morrison in an aggressive fashion.
Blakely and the Selection of Lower Court Judges:

Over at TNR Online, Will Baude draws a connection between the lower court reaction to Blakely v. Washington and the ideology of lower court judges. According to Will, Blakely has caused an upheaval in the lower courts in part because lower court judges are ideologically sympathetic to the case and want to construe it broadly. Will argues that this highlights the importance of the appointments process governing lower court nominees.

Specifically, Will suggests that ideology can explain the difference between the tremendous impact of Blakely and the modest impact of federalism decisions such as Lopez and Morrison:

[I]t didn't have to be this way. The lower courts could have read the [Blakely] decision more narrowly; pointed out that it didn't necessarily apply to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines; and then, in the absence of a direct invitation from the Court, ignored the ruling's broad implications. Indeed, sometimes they do precisely that. When the Court decided a pair of cases that curtailed the power of Congress over states, no legal revolution followed, despite similar warnings by dissenters and academics: The logic that struck down a gun-control law (Lopez in 1995) and a statute focusing on violence against women (Morrison in 2000) could have been extended to federal laws dealing with arson, pornography, and marijuana--but lower courts have largely failed to take the bait. . . . . Blakely caught fire, and Lopez and Morrison failed to, because of the mix of judges on the lower courts. The majority in Blakely was an ideological blend--two of the Court's most conservative justices and three of its most liberal. On the other hand, Lopez and Morrison were decided entirely by the Court's more conservative wing. The lower courts, after President Clinton's presidency, are now a mix of the mostly conservative judges appointed by Reagan and Bush I and the largely pragmatic liberals Clinton selected. Blakely resonated among the lower courts, where Lopez and Morrison did not, in part because the ideologically mixed majority that decided it closely matched the ideological composition of the circuit courts that have started to implement it. That is, it requires a critical mass of judges sympathetic to the reasoning behind a High Court decision for any such ruling to catch fire in the lower courts.

I respectfully disagree. Will is quite right that the ideological dispositions of lower court judges matter, and are very important to the development of the law. The response to Blakely isn't a good example, however. If anything, the reaction highlights how legal reasoning can trump questions of ideology.

The problem with Will's argument is that Blakely is the latest in a string of Supreme Court cases, and the lower courts are responding to Blakely very differently than the earlier cases. When the Supreme Court decided the first of the cases, Apprendi v. New Jersey, back in June, 2000, the lower courts did pretty much what Will suggests. They "read the decision more narrowly; pointed out that it didn't necessarily apply to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines; and then, in the absence of a direct invitation from the Court, ignored the ruling's broad implications." Apprendi was a lot like Lopez; it was a modest step in the direction of major change, but left unclear whether it would be followed by a real revolution.

Anyone could see when Apprendi was decided that it might revolutionize criminal practice under the Guidelines. I was prosecuting a drug case in federal court in Virginia at the time, and I chose to submit the drug quantity to the jury out of an abundance of caution. But on the whole, lower courts treated Apprendi a lot like they treated Lopez. For the last four years, lower courts have been flooded with Apprendi claims. Those claims mostly have been rejected.

What makes Blakely different? Blakely is the first Apprendi case to involve a sentencing scheme quite similar to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Regardless of their views, federal lower court judges can read Blakely and see that its reasoning places routine federal court sentencing practices in doubt. Whether they think Blakely is right or terribly wrong, it's a hard decision for a lower court judge to ignore.

UPDATE: Eric Muller adds some interesting thoughts.
Center for Talented Youth:

Jacob writes today about his experience with the "CTY" programs of Johns Hopkins. Basically pre-college kids take college-like classes over the summer. I just did a parent-teacher interview there (as the parent). Yana, who is fourteen, took a class on the philosophy of mind. She just started another class on the French and Russian Revolutions. This is her third year there, she calls herself a CTY addict. The year before she did Latin. This time we had her for two days between sessions. I heard about modal logic, Newcomb's Paradox, and mind-body reductionism. Yana now knows why she believes in free will, and why she doesn't want to be an undergraduate philosophy major. She loves CTY, and so do we. It also seems that they enforce curfews, strictures against drugs, and so on. The instructors are smart and enthusiastic. Highly recommended, if you ask me.

OF GERBILS AND MEN:

My National Review column today is on Snopes, the indispensable urban legends debunker site. I became interested in urban legends several years ago, when for a while it seemed like that terrible tale of Richard Gere and the gerbil was all anyone was talking about. Gerbils aren't actually in the habit of burrowing up the rectums of movie stars — or anyone else, for that matter; I mean, what's in it for the gerbil? — but just try explaining that to the dozens of people here in Hollywood who kept insisting that their sister's/cousin's/uncle's friend worked at some local hospital and — swear to God! — had seen the gerbil X-rays.

People became very heated if you questioned the truth of their story. But gerbils, an exotic desert species that would wreak havoc on California agriculture if they were to get loose and breed, have always been banned as pets here. I remembered this fact from my pet-obsessed childhood, when I checked out every animal book in the library. So where would Gere have found that gerbil? Presumably a hamster or mouse would have served just as well. Obviously the story originated in some cold-weather state where gerbils are legal and migrated to California. And indeed it did: I tracked down a 30-year-old version about Jim Nabors.

And why would a celebrity go to an emergency room with such an awkward problem instead of calling a private doctor? These stories reveal as much about the personal frames of reference of the tale-teller as they do about anything else. Folklorists found the story fascinating: Norine Dresser wrote an article called "The Case of the Missing Gerbil" for the academic journal Western Folklore, which cited a piece I wrote about the story at the time for the gay magazine The Advocate.

"In my favorite version [Gere] went to Kaiser," Dresser told me. "And I just had to scream at the vision of him pulling out his Kaiser card."

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Too much:

Can we please not put all this weight onto the performance of Catwoman?

The first African-American to win an Oscar for best actress — for the 2001 film "Monster's Ball" — [Halle] Berry has now become the first African-American actress to headline an expensive, effects-laden production, this one about a meek graphic artist who turns into a vigilante with feline powers.

In the zero-sum calculations of the movie industry, Ms. Berry's bankability as a star will be judged largely on whether she can "open" "Catwoman," a Warner Brothers film — meaning whether she can make it a financial winner. If it succeeds, it will place her among a rarefied group of top-paid female stars, only a few of them established box office draws, and signify yet another achievement for African-American actors.

And so, if Catwoman flops, I guess that'll mean that either Berry in particular or black women in general can't be banked on to "open" a big-budget action movie, leading to both Hollywood decisions not to attempt such things and an indictment of the American moviegoing public.

But, of course, Catwoman might flop because it's going to suck. I don't know that for sure, of course; but it certainly looks unpromising. Cringe-inducing, actually. That has nothing to do with Berry's acting ability (cf Monster's Ball or Gothika) or her talent at action (cf Die Another Day). It has to do with the sort of dialogue that I'd hoped the Spider-Man and X-Men movies had cured superhero movies of. It has to do with the costume, and the impression that the movie's only purpose is to pour her into it.

The apparently-aborted Bond spinoff movie might have been a much better test for the "Halle Berry, summer action hero" hypothesis. So might a Storm-focused X3. So might a Catwoman movie that didn't have its natural base of supporters bracing themselves for a Dolph-Lundgren-as-the-Punisher level catastrophe. But this isn't going to be any better a test of her ability to headline than LXG was a test of Sean Connery's.

Update:

Roland Cooper e-mails a link to this review. I dunno how this reviewer got to see the movie early, but the review confirms all my prejudices about the movie.

Without pussyfooting around, I can state that Catwoman is a catastrophe. An amalgamation of bad clichés purr-loined from other, better superhero movies (not that there are many - if any - that can be considered worse), this motion picture is an embarrassment to all involved, from single-named director Pitof (whose moniker sounds like something often done to rice) to Halle Berry, who has by now thrown away all of the goodwill she gained from appearing in Monsters Ball. ...The Academy Award-winning actress is so awful in this film that words fail me. It's difficult to decide whether she's channeling Eartha Kitt or Pulp Fiction's The Gimp. And on those rare occasions when she attempts a one-liner, it is met with hoots of derision. (Part her delivery, and part the words she has to deliver.) Berry's performance might have been campy enough to enjoy on its own had the tone of Pitof's epic been less somber. The director seems to view himself as an auteur....As poorly written, ineptly directed, and hideously acted as Catwoman is, its biggest sin is that it's boring. This movie does not offer a single worthwhile, interesting, or exciting scene. The action is dull, predictable, and repetitive. Ever thought a catfight between Sharon Stone and Halle Berry could rival a dose of valium as an effective sleep-inducer? I suppose Pitof deserves a measure of respect for being able to achieve something I would have argued was not possible. Catwoman treads close to the so-bad-it's-enjoyable line, but, at least for me, it fails to cross over, despite a valiant attempt. As far as I'm concerned, it's just plain bad. Nothing redeeming here.

Square Root Camp:

This week's New Yorker has a mostly very good article by Burkhard Bilger about the summer residential academic camps run by Johns Hopkins' Center for Talented Youth-- "nerd camp," as he calls it in a move that would be cute two or three times but becomes kind of odd when he uses it every time. (The article's not online, but there's an online-only Q&A with Bilger about the article here.)

Unavoidably, I suppose, the article at least worries a bit about yuppie super-parents forcing their kids to become super-kids and try to get into CTY, and self-reinforcing social stratification. But Bilger has what seems to me the right attitude toward that worry.

I'm sure that some kids go to nerd camp just to please their parents. And for them the experience must be mind-numbingly boring: six hours a day in a classroom, in the glory days of summer, trying to cram a semester's worth of work into two weeks. But I didn't see many bored kids at Vanderbilt or Johns Hopkins. Most of them have what Ellen Winner, a psychologist at Boston College, calls a "rage to master." They were just naturally curious about the world and had an inner compulsion to use their minds. It's almost impossible to force that kind of focus and diligence on a kid—just try getting the average ten-year-old to practice piano for half an hour a day.

(From the Q&A, not the article, but the article expresses the same thought at greater length.)

In retrospect, my admission to and financial aid for CTY (math, 1984) provided a pretty tranformative experience for me, and one of the major mechanisms for my own social mobility. The other major mechanism was my scholarship to Exeter. CTY made me realize how desperately I wanted to go to an academically first-rate boarding school. Once I was through Exeter, my course was pretty well set; at that point there was effectively no chance of my not going on to a good college and beyond. Had I stayed in my medium-town New Hampshire public school system-- which was fine but nothing like the public-preps of wealthy suburbs-- I would have stayed pretty miserable and continued to get full-time negative reinforcement for intellectual excitement and curiosity. I wouldn't have understood the range of possibilities that were really open to me, and would have had my sights set much, much lower than they were ultimately set. And I do think I would have ended up internalizing (what I perceived to be) the hostility to nerdiness among my peers. It seems pretty unlikely that I would have ended up in nerd heaven, here at the University of Chicago. After CTY and Exeter excited me to possibilities I hadn't understood existed-- and that, it turns out, provide a path to significant social mobility.

But what I remember about it, rather than what I see in retrospect, has nothing to do with social mobility. It wasn't about what would come after education. It was the sheer joy and amazement at being around kids my own age who were not only not hostile to the desire to read and learn and think, but who shared it themselves. I didn't leave CTY thinking that continuing to go to places like that would earn me money someday; I left knowing that I'd been happier there than I'd ever been around kids my own age, and that it was possible for "smart kid" to mean something social other than "kid to get beaten up." (It wasn't an awful school system; really. I didn't get badly beaten up or get anything broken or turn into a Columbine Kid. But it was pretty consistently unpleasant.) There was geekiness as well as nerdiness to be had-- I played my first D&D at CTY-- but sharing cultural or recreational tastes wasn't as important as, well, the sharing a taste for spending one's summer learning algebra.

I never went back to CTY, though I seem to remember most kids going for multiple summers. Once I got into Exeter, all available funds had to go into the "family contribution" part of my tuition there, and my summer months were for grocery-bagging. (Neither the CTY nor the Exeter scholarship was 100%.) But once was enough to get a lot of other things moving in my mind and my sense of the world. I didn't end up in math or a particularly math-related field, either; a summer of algebra didn't provide me with any particular head start on my career. But, manohman, did it make a difference. I'm glad to see that CTY is still going strong, glad to read that its financial aid budget has been further bulked up, and glad to see some sympathetic, supportive coverage of it.

Appalling Aspects of Story on Terrorist Friends:

On Monday, the Washington Post carried this story about a group of seven friends from Jenin who had formed a theater troupe under the direction of an Israeli director in the early post-Oslo days. Only two of them didn't eventually become terrorists, and most are now dead.

The story has two especially galling aspects (beyond the fact that not a single one of the terrorists' victims is identified by name). First, one friend who stayed out of trouble, and now works as a stone mason, feels the need to apologize for not being a terrorist:

"I'm not different than them," Kaneri said, watching his 3-year-old daughter play with a kitten next to him on a living room sofa. "Resistance comes in many forms. Everybody chose to resist in his own way. Not everybody who resists becomes a martyr. It's not like the only condition is to carry a gun. Maybe helping your family is part of the resistance.

"I am the man of the house," he added. "I support the wife of my martyred brother, the wife of my wanted brother and their five kids, my mother, my younger brother, my wife, my two children. I built this house and moved them here. Don't you think that's part of the resistance?"

Second, the Israeli son of the director of the theater group is actually proud that he worked with the future terrorists:

"Some people ask me if my mother failed," Mer Khamis said on recent night, sitting at the kitchen table of his house in the Israeli port city of Haifa. "They say, 'She wanted to make actors of them and they became terrorists.' "From my perspective, it's a success that people stood up and fought for their rights," said Mer Khamis, who said he recently lost his contract to work in Israeli theaters because of his pro-Palestinian sympathies. "Arna told them to fight for their rights."

This is the sort of comment that makes one wonder whether post-Olso "peace" projects funded by European and American governments and philanthropists ultimately actually served to encourage Palestinian terrorism, by putting idealistic young Palestinians primarily in touch with Israelis whose ideological outlook was closer to Yasser Arafat's than to Yitzchak Rabin's.

I Hate the Boss of Me My Boss!

Here is something that my brother Glen never said to me while we were growing up:

You're not the boss of me!
However, he did say this on a number of occasions:
You're not my boss!
For the past few years, though, I've been hearing the first phrasing much more than the second one, and I don't know why. The of me makes it sound like the speaker is translating something from a language that doesn't have possessive pronouns. The primary place where I expect to see of-possessive in English is in partitive constructions, as in all/part/some/none/the rest of me. To indicate ordinary possession of some object, a possessive pronoun or 's possessive is the usual way to go, as in Neal's dog or our house.

Of course, my boss is not a case of ordinary possession, since only in the rarest cases does one own one's boss. It's a relational noun, which means that a possessive shows who the noun relates to. Even so, boss is the only relational noun I've seen where an of-possessive is OK (at least for some speakers). All the other relational nouns I know of show the relation with an ordinary possessive. For example:

  • the boss of me / my boss
  • *the doctor of me / my doctor
  • *the attorney of me / my attorney
  • *the father of me / my father (but: father of the bride)
  • *the wife of me / my wife
  • etc.
These examples hold good at least when the ordinary possessive is pretty short--I'd probably use an of-possessive instead of saying something like the a friend of a guy I used to work with's boss. (In fact, I'd have to, if I wanted to make it clear whether it was the friend's boss or the guy's boss.) So what is so different about boss that it deserves an of-possessive?

I did some Google searching on the phrase the boss of, and here's what I found out.

  1. They Might Be Giants did a song called "Boss of Me" that is mentioned in a lot of websites.
So I had to start over, adding "-giants" to my search. I found that there were hundreds of thousands of hits for my/you/his/her boss, there were at most only a few thousand hits of the corresponding boss of phrase; the most was near 7000, for the boss of me. Aside from that, obvious patterns didn't really jump out.

But I did notice one pattern after a little more searching: the boss of tends to occur in predicate nominatives--that is, in noun phrases after some form of be, as in You're not the boss of me. It can also appear as the subject of be, but I've seen that only in statements that are identifying who someone's boss is or isn't, as in The boss of me is me!

Outside of those two cases, I have yet to see the boss of X replace X's boss. For example, I got ~600 hits for I love my boss, ~2300 for I hate my boss, and ~290 for my boss is an idiot, but no hits at all for any of these strings when I replaced my boss with the boss of me. However, to really do this kind of search right, what you need is a corpus that's been annotated with parts of speech and at least a little bit parsed, so that you can ask for the boss of as the subject or direct object of any verb instead of just love or hate or some other specific verb. Since I don't have access to one of these, I tried the Linguist's Search Engine, which will annotate and shallowly parse customized Internet corpora, and then search them for you. So far, though, nothing has turned up.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Badnarik:

Speaking of Hit & Run, I notice a Badnarik for President blogad running there. (Right now it's the 3rd blogad down, in the right-hand column.)

The headline text is "A PLAN FOR PEACE." Superimposed on the image of Badnarik are the words "The Peace Candidate." And right below the image we get the words "Priority 1: Get the warmonger out of the White House. Priority 2: Don't put another one in."

"Well," thinks I, "this is interesting. If this is Badnarik's strategy, then we might for the first time see a Libertarian presidential candidate really running left rather than running right. I don't know how tactically sound that is, since it means he'll be competing with Nader for the Kucinich vote, whereas he's got the 'Bush is a big-spending protectionist' ideological space all to himself. On the other hand, Libertarians have been running the "Republicans are big spenders too" campaign since the year after I was born, to no great avail, so maybe this will pay off. Won't win my vote, but best of luck to 'em."

The ad made me wonder how Badnarik was going to describe his "Plan for Peace." So I clicked on thw ad to get transported to his campaign homepage... where the words "war," "peace," "Iraq," "terror," and so on are entirely missing from the site's front page. Instead, the first thing the enthusiastic Kucinich voter sees when clicking on the Peace Candidate's ad is "Today's Position Paper: Gun Control Means Being Able to Hit your Target."

This, um, might not be the best way to capitalize on those blogreaders who were attracted by the run-to-the-left PEACE message...

ACLU Summer Surveillance Campaign:

The ACLU has a pretty funny Flash movie up on its website about surveillance; the basic idea is to imagine what it would be like if you called up to order a pizza and the person on the other line knew lots and lots of information about you.

It's a clever idea, but there is something a bit fishy about the movie in the context of the ACLU's campaign: it seems that everything in the movie involves private-sector information gathering, and yet the "action" that the ACLU prompts you to take appears to be focused primarily on government datamining. Based on the ACLU website, it seems that the primary goal of the ACLU's campaign is to defund the MATRIX law enforcement database. Maybe I'm missing something, but it's not obvious to me what the connection is between MATRIX and what the pizza guy knows about you. Private-sector information gathering is quite different from government datamining: the former concerns restrictions on private parties obtaining information, and the latter concerns government agencies sharing and looking through the information that they have already obtained. I guess MATRIX didn't lend itself to a funny movie.

Thanks to Macondo Law for the link.

Around and about: Sports-writer extraordinaire Aaron Schatz has a new article up at TNR (registration required) about Kobe, Shaq, and class.

Liberty & Power bloggers David Beito and Charles Nickolls have an article at Reason that should (but of course won't) put the enduring infatuation of some libertarians with the Old South to rest once and for all. Hit & Run has set up a comments thread on the piece here, and while it's got some of the expected unpleasantness there are some very interesting posts as well.

Our guestblogger Neal has a very funny post up at his homeblog imagining Jeopardy if answers had to be in the form of the right question.

And Reason has posted a more complete version of the Julian Sanchez interview with my colleague Martha Nussbaum than appeared in print. Some very interesting bits and pieces for philosophy buffs got left out of the hard copy; Julian knows his stuff and knows the right questions to ask. (Contrast with this new piece in the Chicago Sun-Times about Nussbaum, or rather about how the reporter was in awe of her and couldn't manage to read any of her books. Unlike most articles about Nussbaum, Julian's (even the extended version) makes no mention of what she was wearing, and does press her on tensions among her various philosophical positions and commitments (see, e.g., the political liberalism question).
Interesting New Criminal Law Case:

Does tipping off a friend that he is going to be arrested constitute intentionally interfering with the official duties of an officer? A divided panel of the Ninth Circuit says yes, at least given the facts of the case before it and the language of the regulation in question. I'm not sure which side is right, but it's an interesting decision. Thanks to Howard for the link.

WHO'S SORRY NOW:

The twice-yearly Television Critics Association press tour (where I've been since July 8, and will be until Friday) is easy to mock: the occasionally oddball reporters with their bizarre questions; the endless network spin about new shows, most of which will be quickly cancelled; the "Lord of the Flies" atmosphere. But I find the TCA valuable and even sometimes fun. Seeing the network and cable presentations can be useful as attending a political stump speech; yes, they're dishing out what they want you to hear, but there's information to be gleaned from just that. Plus, execs, producers and stars are readily available for one-on-one chats. They may as well cooperate; they're stuck there with you anyway.

Still, some TCA-ers can be fantastically defensive about their twice-yearly confab. It's not a junket, they insist; it's not, it's not, it's not! Even though the three meals a day are all gratis, and the hotel rate ($115 a night at the Century Plaza) is artifically low and obviously indirectly subsidized by the TV networks, which bring millions of dollars in business to the hotel with their presentations. TCA awards night banquet is described by members as a "gift from the hotel," e.g., it's certainly not paid for by the TCA budget, which charges just $50 a year in dues. Actually, of course, it's a gift from the networks.

And yet what a kerfuffle is going on right now because of that awards night! The problem, as reported by Scott Collins in the L.A. Times yesterday, is that the TCA accepted -- even solicited! -- network ads for the awards night program. Which led to a rancorous, three-hour TCA meeting Saturday morning. As Collins wrote:

Many members were outraged, believing that accepting network ad money gave the group at least the appearance of a conflict of interest.

The fact that their own newspaper and magazine employers of course accept and solicit ad money from businesses the publications cover seems not to have occurred to these outraged members. So they want the TCA to apologize to the networks and refund the money paid for the program ads.

Journalism's a funny thing: we don't have to pass any tests to work as reporters, and we can't be disbarred. So maybe that's why we so often overshoot (or undershoot) target guidelines for ethical behavior.

And then we all have our own little rules. I, for instance, felt I needed to see for professional reasons "Fahrenheit 9/11," but giving Michael Moore one dollar of my money violated my own personal ethical code. So when Showtime offered TCA members a free screening as the evening's entertainment last night, I took it. Problem solved!

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Monday, July 19, 2004

Can he mean this?

"The best thing that could happen to the environment is free-market capitalism. In a true free-market economy, you can't make yourself rich without making your neighbors rich and without enriching your community. In a true free-market economy, you get efficiencies and efficiency means the elimination of waste. Waste is pollution. So in true free-market capitalism, you eliminate pollution and you properly value our natural resources so you won't cut them down. What polluters do is escape the discipline of the free market. You show me a polluter, I'll show you a subsidy — a fat cat who's using political clout to escape the discipline of the free market."

I'm impressed if you guessed that was Robert F. Kennedy Jr. Here is full interview. Kennedy also shows an understanding of the tragedy of the commons, but not everything in the interview is reasonable.

Nuh-Uh!

Imagine that you're back in elementary school, having a discussion on the playground with one of your classmates. It goes something like this:

You: My dad can beat up your dad!

Classmate: Nuh-uh!

What is the proper response here? For me, it is and has always been, "Uh-huh!" But in the past few years, I've been hearing "Yuh-huh!" At first it was just in a few TV shows (I think I've heard it in "Friends"), and then I saw it written in a comic strip or two. When I really started to take notice was when my son Doug got to be old enough to have these kinds of conversations, and always said "Yuh-huh," never "Uh-huh." That was interesting, because he certainly didn't acquire yuh-huh from me (any more than I acquired uh-huh from my parents). He must have gotten it from his peers, which meant that they were all saying yuh-huh, too. To make a hasty generalization out of it, there seems to be a generational shift from uh-huh to yuh-huh.

I asked some people about this a few years ago, and got some anecdotal support of the hypothesis. For example, here's what Glen said:

I've noticed the gradual emergence of "yuh-huh" as the response of choice. It's often been used in Buffy the Vampire Slayer by Dawn, Buffy's 15-year-old younger sister. The younger someone is, the more likely they are to say "yuh-huh" instead of "uh-huh." But I'm old enough that I still prefer "uh-huh."

And another guy told me that he used to say uh-huh, but picked up yuh-huh from his kids.

When I did an Internet search, I found:

  1. several attestations of nuh-uh and uh-huh close to each other

  2. many more attestations of nuh-uh and yuh-huh close to each other, the oldest of which seems to be a 2000 episode of The Simpsons (though there are a couple of scripts from Friends episodes that might be older).

  3. no cases in which a person uses both uh-huh and yuh-huh in response to nuh-uh

  4. several cases in which a person uses both uh-huh and yuh-huh, but in these cases, uh-huh is always the conversation-continuing particle, not an emphatic affirmation

  5. an entry for yuh-huh (but not uh-huh) in a listing of (I think) Pittsburgh English vocabulary

The last item was interesting, since it meant that maybe yuh-huh was more of a regional thing, which was now spreading.

But the most intriguing hypothesis on the origin of yuh-huh came from a comment from my parents: Although I've been using nuh-uh since I was a little kid, even it seems to have come on the scene within the last two generations or so. Before nuh-uh, there was uh-uh (also written unh-uh or unh-unh) If nuh-uh arose as a blending of uh-uh and no, then maybe yuh-huh is just a delayed analogical blending of uh-huh and yeah. Schematically:

uh-uh — merge with no --> nuh-uh

uh-huh — merge with yeah --> fill in the blank

Analogy is known to be a powerful force in language change (see for example my previous posts on backformation, here and here), but as for whether the scenario above is actually what happened, I don't know.

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NURSE THE VOTE:

Associated Press had a story last week about a toy creator named Ken Hakuta (known as "Dr. Fad" to kids), whose Adopt-a-Vote campaign aims to give the underage set a real voice in this election:

According to Hakuta... children and parents [could] enter into an agreement pledging that the parents will vote according to their children's preference as long as the children have done their homework.

Right, that's what we need in politics: more pandering. It's bad enough MTV's Rock-the-Vote campaign frantically urges 18-to-30-year-olds, no matter how ignorant, to get to the polls.

Look, voting is a privilege as well as a right and if you don't vote, you should be ashamed of yourself. But the reason you should be ashamed of yourself is that not voting is lazy and idiotic. Should the lazy idiot constituency be encouraged to influence society even more than it already does? Should contemporary parents fool children even more into thinking that the world revolves around them?

In his book "The Vanishing Voter" (based on the Vanishing Voter project at Harvard), Thomas E. Patterson admits tht "in most locations, it takes about as long to drive to the video store and rent a couple of movies" as it does to vote. Yet he agrees with the theory of increasing voter turnout by coddling. Taken to the logical extreme, his solutions -- making Election Day a national holiday; eliminating the Electoral College; keeping polls open even longer -- might include assigning government workers the task of physically carrying citizens to voting booths and then singing them to sleep that night with politically informed lullabies.

Many things in life are hard; voting is not one of them, and parents promising to vote the way their children want in return for finished homework sends a message about as useful as school principals who eat worms if a class improves its grades. In the eternal words of Marge on "The Simpsons," "One person can make a difference, but most of the time they probably shouldn't."

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Bobby Fischer on trial?

Surely you have heard by now that Bobby Fischer was arrested in Japan, for violating U.N. trade sanctions against Yugoslavia/Serbia in the early 1990s. Here is the most detailed scoop I have managed to find.

Here is just one bit of this sad story:

If the United States had been serious about keeping tabs on the ex-champ to account for his 1992 felony, they had a good opportunity to start doing so in 1997, when he successfully applied in person for an American passport at the U.S. Embassy in Bern. Switzerland was not then a U.N. member, so Fischer could not have been detained on the American arrest warrant. But for six years he traveled around the world without impediment on that passport. If there was indeed a "hunt" for Fischer, it wasn't very careful or vigorous.

Even without a valid passport, he was entitled to return to the United States to face the federal charges against him, but this obviously wasn't his intention last week. Fischer writes of himself in the third person, "Bobby Fischer does not wish to return to the Jew-controlled USA where he faces a kangaroo court and 10 years in Federal prison and a likely early demise or worse on trumped political charges. Nor does he wish to remain in a hostile brutal and corrupt U.S.-controlled Japan."

Fischer is not an admirable fellow, but there is much to the following:

The sad truth is that at 61, Fischer is right to question his own ability to survive a long stretch in prison. Most people with impairments like his don't live so long in the first place, and they certainly don't do well in jail. You can call him schizophrenic, or "bipolar," or whatever you like. Clearly some description of the sort is valid, whether or not these are illnesses or mere personality types.

Ten years is merely the maximum American penalty for his violation of U.N. sanctions, and a good defense lawyer would emphasize the absurdity of imprisoning a man for having aided and abetted a long-defeated regime in a country that, technically, no longer exists. Playing chess, after all, isn't quite the same thing as smuggling yellowcake.

Fischer was a boyhood idol of mine, now he has fallen so far. Thanks to Eric Crampton for the pointer.

Preneymoons:

I've coined a new word, "preneymoon." Nowadays, due to work schedules and other complications, many couples can't get away for their honeymoon right after their wedding. Some couples opt to delay their honeymoon until a more convenient time. Others take a nice romantic trip together within a month or two of the wedding, either to make up for a lack of a honeymoon, or because the actual honeymoon will be delayed for until many months after the wedding. I call this trip a "preneymoon." Feel free to use it!

Clarification:A "preneymoon" is a romantic trip taken by a couple before the wedding, in lieu of a traditional post-wedding honeymoon.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Being the worst at what you do best I was listening to one of our many kids' CDs in the car the other day. That's (many (kids' CDs)), not ((many kids') CDs), BTW. Anyway, it was from the Ralph's World series, and the first track is a really catchy song that starts off like this:
Everybody does what they do best the best
I usually dwell on this line during the rest of the song, and end up thinking about it several times in the few days after I play the CD. No, it's not the plural they with the singular everybody antecedent that gets to me—I got over that grammar issue years and years ago. What I think about is the 4-way ambiguity in this line, with two readings that are tautologies and two that are probably not true, but are interesting to think about. Allow me to explain...

When you say, "Swimming is what I do best," you could mean that you are better at swimming than you are at any of the other activities you engage in. I'll call this the Personal Best (PB) reading. Or, you could mean that you swim better than all the other people who swim. I'll call this the Better Than Everyone Else (BTEE) reading. And now, when you say, "Everybody does what they do best the best," you're doubling the ambiguity, ending up with four readings.

First, there's the PB-PB reading: The activity that you do better than any other activity is, naturally, the activity that you do better than ay other activity. Then there's the BTEE-BTEE reading: The thing you do better than anyone else, you do better than anyone else. These are the boring readings, but maybe Ralph just wanted to emphasize one of these two undeniable facts. On the other hand...

Here's where it gets interesting. (Well, more interesting, at any rate.) We have the PB-BTEE reading: The activity you do better than any other activity is also the activity that you do better than anyone else. That's quite a claim. Just think, no matter how mediocre or even downright bad you are at the activities you engage in, if you can just find the one that you are least bad at, it will turn out to be something you can do better than anyone else! It would also mean that no two people can have the same activity as their personal best. If swimming is my personal best activity, then I'm better at it than anyone else; but if swimming is also my friend's personal best activity, then he'd have to be better at it than anyone else, too. One of us would have to go. I'm guessing Ralph probably didn't intend this reading.

Lastly, there's the BTEE-PB reading: First of all, it kind of assumes that for each person, there does exist some activity that they do better than anyone else, and claims furthermore that this activity will also be the one that they do better than any other activity they engage in. So if you swim better than anyone else, it must also be true that you swim better than you play chess, get dates, tell jokes, or anything else. This is probably true for a lot of people, but it seems to discount those people who are so irritatingly good at everything they do—so good that you figure that there has to be more than one activity that they can do better than anyone else.

So where does that leave us? I still don't know which meaning Ralph intended, though I guess it's probably one of the boring ones. I'm sure I'll find myself thinking about it again pretty soon, though, since the CD does have some great music on it.
Elsewhere...

I've said it before and I'll say it again: one of my greatest blogospheric joys has been the chance to get introduced to the witty, insightful, and stylish writing of John Holbo. Over at "John and Belle Have a Blog" he's got an epic post about epics, myths, and comic books that's very funny and very thoughtful. Readers who (like me) have spent fanboyish time either generating continuity patches, arguing about published continuity patches, or arguing about continuity altogether should go read it. So should the rest of you, of course, but if you've never heard of Alan Moore or Crisis it contains references you will find obscure.

Meanwhile, at Crooked Timber, he's answered Orin's call (below) for a name "for when advocates on both sides of an ongoing debate switch rhetorical positions, and yet they insist on decrying the inconsistency of their opponents while overlooking their own inconsistency." The name's clever and yet right, and he has useful reflections on the underlying phenomenon as well.

Sunday Song Lyric - Moore v. Townsend Edition: Michael Moore sought to use The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again" in Fahrenheit 9/11. As Moore tells the story:
At the end of the film Bush says "Fool me once, shame on... me. I won't get fooled again." Clearly that moment demands that we hear Roger Daltrey scream, "Won't get fooled again!" That's how I had it cut. Pete Townsend blocked it, would not allow the song to be used. Word came to us that he is not a fan of Michael Moore's and in fact supports the war and supports Tony Blair and doesn't want the song used in any way that would make Blair look bad. Harvey [Weinstein] personally made an appeal to him to reconsider. And he wouldn't.
As with so much that comes from Moore, there is a kernel of truth, but ample reason to doubt the details.


Pete Townsend tells a quite different story. Moore was initially turned down by Townsend's publisher because Miramax offered substantially less for the rights to the song than is usually paid. At that point, Harvey Weinstein interceded in an effort to change Townsend's mind. According to Townsend, he was uneasy due to concerns about the accuracy of Moore's prior film, Bowling for Columbine. Nonetheless he said he would reconsider if he had a chance to see the film and how the song would be used, but he never heard back. Townsend says he has "nothing against Michael Moore," but he "greatly resent[s] being bullied and slurred" by him merely because Moore did not get to use the song.


Townsend also suggests that, despite its title, "Won't Get Fooled Again" might not have been the most appropriate song for the movie.

WGFA is not an unconditionally anti-war song, or a song for or against revolution. It actually questions the heart of democracy: we vote heartily for leaders who we subsequently always seem to find wanting. (WGFA is a song sung by a fictional character from my 1971 script called LIFEHOUSE. The character is someone who is frightened by the slick way in which truth can be twisted by clever politicians and revolutionaries alike).
Is "Won't Get Fooled Again" an anti-war song or not? It seems Conspiracy readers should make up their own mind, so here are the lyrics:
We'll be fighting in the streets
With our children at our feet
And the morals that they worship will be gone
And the men who spurred us on
Sit in judgement of all wrong
They decide and the shotgun sings the song

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again

The change, it had to come
We knew it all along
We were liberated from the fold, that's all
And the world looks just the same
And history ain't changed
'Cause the banners, they are flown in the next war

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
No, no!

I'll move myself and my family aside
If we happen to be left half alive
I'll get all my papers and smile at the sky
Though I know that the hypnotized never lie
Do ya?

There's nothing in the streets
Looks any different to me
And the slogans are replaced, by-the-bye
And the parting on the left
Are now parting on the right
And the beards have all grown longer overnight

I'll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I'll get on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
Don't get fooled again
No, no!

Yeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

Meet the new boss
Same as the old boss