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Monday, January 31, 2005

Bill Moyers and the Politics of Delusion



Bill Moyers' new column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune is stunning for both its mean-spiritedness and for its departure from elementary standards of opinion journalism. In brief, Moyers argues that the American government has been taken by right-wing Christians who believe in the imminent Rapture, and for that reason look forward to environmental catastrophe. (In a "rapture", faithful Christians would be suddenly transported from earth to heaven, thereby avoiding the awful events on the earth during the apocalyptic disasters that will take place at the end of time.) Therefore, according to Moyers, right-wing Rapturists actually promote policies which they intend to harm the environment, since destroying the environment will hasten the Rapture.

After a lurid and hostile description of the beliefs of Christians who think that a Apocalypse/Rapture might occur soon, Moyers declares, "we're not talking about a handful of fringe lawmakers who hold or are beholden to these beliefs. Nearly half the U.S. Congress before the recent election - 231 legislators in total and more since the election - are backed by the religious right."

Moyers falsely conflates "being backed by the religious right" with believing in imminent rapture. This is nonsense. To cite just two examples, plenty of the "religious right" voters and leaders are Catholics and Orthodox Jews who are against abortion and gay marriage, and who rarely if ever think about the Apocalypse.

Moyers rails against the 59% of Americans who believe that "the prophecies found in the book of Revelations are going to come true." But thinking that all the prophecies in the Bible will come true--eventually--is hardly the same as believing that all the prophecies will be fulfilled in the next few years, or in one's lifetime. Moreover, at least some of those Americans who believe in the prophecies have actually read the "Book of Revelation." I suspect that Moyers did not bother to do so before writing his screed against "delusional" Bible-believers--or else he would not have twice given the book the incorrect title of "Relevations." Would you trust a writer who couldn't even give the correct title of the book he was denouncing? A writer who complained about Muslims who believe in the "Koan" or Jews who believe in "the book of Jobs"?

Moyers writes: "The only Democrat to score 100 percent with the Christian coalition was Sen. Zell Miller of Georgia, who recently quoted from the biblical book of Amos on the Senate floor: 'The days will come, sayeth the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land.' He seemed to be relishing the thought." To put things bluntly, it appears that either Moyers lied, or he made the claim about Miller without bothering to check if it were true.

Miller did quote Amos--on Feb. 12, 2004--not "recently." To be precise, Miller was quoting Martin Luther King quoting Amos. Miller was lamenting a metaphorical "famine" of moral values. And so was Amos, in the original. As quoted by Miller: "The days will come, sayeth the Lord God, that I will send a famine in the land. Not a famine of bread or of thirst for water, but of hearing the word of the Lord."

Miller (like Amos) was complaining about a decline in moral values. The words used by Amos (and quoted by King and Miller) have nothing do with a literal famine (or any other environmental issue). No reasonable person could read Miller's speech as pertaining to an imminent, literal, environmental famine.

There are plenty of self-righteous and angry fourth-rate talk show hosts, on all sides of the political spectrum, who rely on inaccurate sources which fit the talkers' bigoted preconceptions. Moyers begins the column: "One of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal." The sentence may be more self-referential than Moyers realizes.

"If you don't take a job as a prostitute, we can stop your benefits"

From The Telegraph: "A 25-year-old waitress who turned down a job providing 'sexual services' at a brothel in Berlin faces possible cuts to her unemployment benefit under laws introduced this year."

Update:

Tom has some interesting Rants on the implications of this.

Update:

A was forwarded a bit of different report on this issue, a translation from a Berlin report on the same story. The translator adds the observation that "there is less to the story than meets the eye" and that the Berlin newspaper in quesstion is a bit tabloidish as well. I don't speak German, so can't personally vouch for the translation. Thanks to Xrlq for the translation and pointer.

Update:

A very useful clarification and commentary on the entire story, which casts serious doubts on the initial story from the Telegraph is reported here. Conclusion: "The article in the Daily Telegraph seems to have been cobbled together from several German sources."

A Problem and A Solution:

The Problem:

First Amendment no big deal, students say Study shows American teenagers indifferent to freedoms

The Solution: The Bill of Rights Institute

I am the Chair of the Academic Advisory Committe, Eugene is on the Academic Advisory Committee, and David has lectured at programs for the Bill of Rights Institute. It is a very worthwhile organization that was founded specifically to educate high school students about the Bill of Rights and to help them learn to be educated and engaged citizens. Indeed, working with the Bill of Rights Institute and seeing it blossom has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my professional career. Eugene and I are just two of several members of the Academic Advisory Council, which also includes Sandy Levinson, Alex Johnson, William Galston, Richard Epstein, Gordon Wood, Pauline Maier, and Dick Howard (just to name a few). As you can tell, we have tried to assemble a group of academics of varying perspectives and of unparalleled integrity and commitment to civic education.

For those with high schoolers, and especially high school teaders, who are concerned about their knowledge and commitment to American ideals of liberty, I encourage you to check out the Institute.

Update:

Nice commentary and graph on Crooked Timber about this story.

Master Keys Vulnerable:

I was doing a bit of last-minute research for my Crime-Facilitating Speech paper, and found — using a Google search for "master keys" — a paper that purports to show a huge vulnerability in many master key systems: If someone has a nonmaster key that opens a particular lock, then he can easily create the master key which opens that lock and all the other locks that are on the same master.

I'm not a locksmith, but the claim sounds quite persuasive, and the author (Matt Blaze, a former AT&T cryptographer, and now a computer science professor at Penn) seems smart and credible. If you're responsible for a building or department that uses master keys, keep this in mind. Blaze claims that some kinds of locks aren't vulnerable to this problem, so replacing all the locks may fix the problem. Naturally, this might not be cost-effective in some situations, but it may be quite cost-effective indeed if the stuff you're securing is important enough.

UPDATE: Thanks to reader Chuck Jackson for pointing out that Blaze, whom I first identified as an AT&T cryptographer, is now a Penn professor. By the way, doesn't he sound like someone from a comic book? "Matt Blaze, scholar by day, safecracker by night."

FURTHER UPDATE: My former student Dave Price writes:

I can confirm that Matt Blaze's master key privilege-escalation attack works: I saw him demonstrate it at a conference in 2003. He could do it in about two or three minutes, and he guided a graduate student through the process in five or six. All it requires is a few key blanks, a handheld punch that lops off pieces to change the keys, and a non-master key plus access to the lock that it opens during the attack.

Blaze has brought a computer security approach to analyzing the traditional products and methods of physical security. He's become a thorn in the side of traditional locksmiths and safe manufacturers, most of whom still hold to a security-through-obscurity credo. He's also published a paper on safecracking and an essay about the reactions of locksmiths to his work. In that last, he raises the prospect of having his research temporarily silenced through spurious DMCA takedown notices.

Bankruptcy Reform--Once More Into the Breach:

The Commercial Law League of America ("CLLA") is reporting brewing activity on the bankruptcy reform front for the--get this--7th consecutive year. The non-issue of the dischargeability of debts related to abortion-related torts remains the sticking point. It is a non-issue because established case law already uniformly finds these debts to be nondischargeable as intentional torts or violations of the law and thus as "willful or malicious injury" to person or property. The CLLA remarks that the issue is freighted with "symbolic significance" (symbolic of what, I'll let you decide). The bill has typically garnered 75-80% support in both houses of Congress when it has been voted on, and President Bush has indicated that he will sign it if it gets to him.

You can find my analysis of the political economy of bankruptcy reform here (the essay was published in the Michigan Law Review last year, but does not appear to be available on line yet).

The Underreported Dark Side of the Iraqi Elections:

BoiFromTroy reports (thanks to Mickey Kaus for the pointer):

Voter Turnout falls 28% in Iraq; country more divided than ever

News out of Iraq should send chills of distress around the world. As voting ended, turnout was estimated at 72%. Although Andrew Sullivan may or may not consider that a success*, it reflects a 28% decline from voting in Iraq'[s] last election. Furthermore, the unity that marked Iraq's 2002 election has been dissolved by the Bush Administration's divisive policies. The consensus which marked the last election has fallen apart to the point that one party may not even gain a majority. . . .

What a disaster! Why isn't the media pointing this out? (Note that the turnout is now being estimated at a more USA-like 60%, rather than at 72%, or at a Worker's-Paradise-USSR-like 100%, but this is beside the point for purposes of this item . . . .)

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Yup, He Figured Me Out:
  2. The Underreported Dark Side of the Iraqi Elections:
Anything:

My post about the term paper mills — and the thought that some algorithm concluded (perhaps rightly) that students who are looking for books on how to write papers might settle for a site offering plagiarized papers instead — reminded me of a joke about academic success and academic ethics. It works better when spoken than written, but here it goes:

A beautiful student goes to a male professor's office and says, in a breathy voice, "Professor . . . . I'd do anything to get an A on your exam."

"Anything?," the professor asks, conspiratorially.

The student leans closer. "Anything," she says.

The professor says, "Would you . . . study?"

More on Intellectual Diversity at Dartmouth:

Last week I posted an article by a current Dartmouth student providing his personal criticism of the lack of intellectual diversity at Dartmouth. There was an interesting follow-up letter in today's issue of The Dartmouth, the traditional college newspaper by a recent Dartmouth graduate. I have expressed this view privately in response to emails from a numer of readers as to what I see as what should be the goal of a teacher. But I like the way that this fellow states it:

The problem, as I see it, is not that there are too few "conservative" professors in the system. To approach the problem from this perspective serves only to create an academic environment of segregated bias and segregated allegiances.

By and far, the most fruitful and later-beneficial learning experiences I had as an undergraduate came from those professors whose political/ideological leanings I was never able to put my finger on. They had no hesitation in presenting and criticizing poor reasoning used by authors who shared the same end conclusion as themselves. I can count on one hand the number of professors who represented all sides equally.

I know in my own classroom, this is the goal I strive for, and I think it is the most valuable way for students to learn. I'm sure that I don't always succeed, but I try to present all arguments fairly to the best of my ability. (I guess you would have to ask my students to find out whether I succeed!). As the writer of this letter observes, "These professors reserved their personal opinions and leanings for discussions over coffee or during office hours. By not introducing bias to the classroom, they made clear that bias would not be rewarded in written work."

I firmly believe that the goal of education, whether law school or undergraduate, should be to teach students how to think, not what to think. I also try to ask exam questions that force students to articulate persuasively both sides of a relevant issue, rather than to just state one side. I also know that many academics reject this view as old-fashioned or counter-productive, and believe that the goal of education should be to inspire students to activism to change society to make it more "just" or "egalitarian." I personally just don't agree that this is good for education or for the maintenance of a free society.

I do believe that intellectual diversity is nonetheless a part of a valuable educational experience. There is value to an institution exposing students to a variety of starting points and intellectual perspectives. No matter how hard a given professor tries, he or she simply cannot be expert in all of the different perspectives that might apply to a given issue. Having a variety of perspectives, combined with a dialogue among these various faculty approaches, is a valuable educational tool. Moreover, faculty themselves benefit from having a diversity of intellectual viewpoints, so as to make sure that the arguments they are presenting from the "other side" are real, serious portrayals of counter-arguments, and not mere straw men. While professors should strive to zealously articulate all perspectives within their classroom, I believe that the institution itself should similarly strive to have vigorous debate at the college level as well.

Amazon Promoting Term Paper Mills:

I checked the amazon.com page for my Academic Legal Writing book, and what should I find near the bottom but:

Customers interested in this title may also be interested in:
Sponsored Links ( What's this? ) Feedback

* Research Papers
On any topic. Learn more.
askburris.com

When one clicks on the link, one sees pointers to a list of what are pretty clearly term paper mills (an ironic result given that my book, among other things, tries to stress the perils and impropriety of plagiarism -- though perhaps not unexpected, given that some customers who are looking for books on writing may also be looking for other, less ethical, ways of satisfying their writing obligations).

I suspect that the amazon ad selection mechanism is fairly automated, and may be done through a third party service; if I'm right, then I won't fault amazon for accepting the ad in the first place. But I do hope that the amazon people can be prevailed on to stop running this ad (they are surely technically capable of rejecting those ads that they find improper).

I sent a message to amazon about this using the feedback link that they provide alongside the link to the sites. If you're inclined to help push amazon in the right direction, you might want to send them feedback, too. (And if there are any Amazonians [or is it Amazons?] reading this, and can pass this along to the right people, I'd be much obliged.)

Legalese:

Reader Ethan Hahn points to a decision from the Ohio Court of Appeals that deals with whether "clear title" means "free and clear" title. A longish but readable (because vervy) excerpt:

III. The Normans Strike Again

Monfort contends, "Although a `clear title' is one that is not subject to any restrictions, the case at bar involved a `free and clear' title, which is the same as a marketable title." So, according to Monfort, a free and clear title is worse than a clear title. Say what?

Would that Harold had not lost the Battle of Hastings.

Free and clear mean the same thing. Using both is an unnecessary lawyerism. Free is English; clear is from the French clere. After the Norman Conquest, English courts were held in French. The Normans were originally Vikings, but after they conquered the region of Normandy, they became French; then they took over England. But most people in England, surprisingly enough, still spoke English. So lawyers started using two words for one and forgot to stop for the last nine hundred years.

So free and clear do not mean separate things; they mean, and were always meant to mean, exactly the same thing. Just as null and void and due and payable mean the same thing. All of these couplets are redundant and irritating lawyerisms. And they invite just what has happened here—an assertion that they somehow have different meanings.

The Norman Conquest was in 1066. We can safely eliminate the couplets now. . . . IV. The Normans Conquer Lorain County

Monfort cites Zilka v. Central South Limited, a Ninth Appellate District case that distinguished a clear title from a free and clear title in much the same way that Monfort now argues. "In short, while `clear title' cannot have any encumbrance or restriction whatsoever, `free and clear' title is a marketable title * * *." We are, thankfully, unable to find any case that has cited this aberration — the Norman invasion has not progressed any farther south in Ohio.

We may consider Zilka and give it the weight that we consider appropriate. And we consider it inappropriate to give Zilka any weight at all.

The Normans and Zilka have also corrupted an Ohio real-estate treatise — namely, Baldwin's Ohio Real Estate Law. In the section defining "marketable title," the treatise states, "Title that is `free and clear' is not the same as `clear title.' Rather, `free and clear title' means title that is unencumbered by any liens and is marketable." It then cites Zilka.

Before Zilka, we are sure that Baldwin's made no such claim. Another venerable Ohio treatise (published before Zilka) states it properly: "[`Clear title'] usually refers not to the title itself but to the absence of liens or encumbrances against the real estate. The term typically appears in the following context: The seller agrees to convey to the purchaser marketable title, `free and clear' of liens and encumbrances." So the sample used to define "clear title" used the term "free and clear" title. But Monfort argues that they are two different things. Is it any wonder that lawyers get a bad rap?

Nine hundred years later, courts in Ohio are still dealing with the consequences of the Norman invasion. We can only hope that some day logic will prevail over silly tradition. . . .

Great Working Paper on Duty To Disclose:

Over the weekend, I had the opportunity to read a terrific paper by Kimberly Krawiec and Kathy Zeiler on the duty to disclose in contract negotiations. The paper collects a huge database of cases involving claims of an affirmative duty to disclose and examines the various variables that have been argued by theorists that explain these cases. As anyone who has looked at these cases will know, they are a real thicket, and it is difficult to discern a coherent pattern. Krawiec and Zeiler do a marvelous job in disentangling all of the theories and developing ways of carefully testing each of them using their data set.

What I especially like about the paper is that this is an area where many scholars have generated large theories from a relatively small handful of evocative cases. By looking at an aggregate of cases, rather than just individual cases, papers like Krawiec and Zeiler's are useful in getting away from this micro-level analysis of particular cases that can be misleading in terms of recognizing overall patterns. I personally would like to see a lot more work like this.

Moreover, they are both very clear about what they are testing, and are responsible in the conclusions that they draw. This is atypical for empirical legal scholarship, from what I have seen. Much empirical legal scholarship rests on poorly-specified assumptions and hypotheses, using variables with a questionable relationship to the hypothesis being tested, and a tendency to draw sweeping conclusions that go beyond the limits of the particular test. Many have observed (including myself) that law needs fewer arguments and more facts. Unfortunately, arguments are cheap and data is expensive. Moreover, for whatever reason, law reviews often seem to prefer clever arguments to sound empirical evidence, creating a disincentive to produce good empirical scholarship. Finally, a lot of empirical research by law professors is, well, junk. A lot of research is being done by scholars who have not been trained and simply do not understand what they are doing. As someone who holds a graduate degree in economics, I understand how difficult it is to do quality original empirical work. I admire those who do it well, but I wish that others would show some caution.

Perhaps most amusing to me, having just served time as a senior government policy-maker, is the claim by many law professors that policy-makers are not interested in empirical analysis, or simply ignore it because of ideological predispositions. I think that those who believe this should recognize that, in fact, empirical studies are incredibly important and interesting to policy-makers. Based on my experience at the FTC, sound empirical analysis was especially important, because of its bipartisan make-up. As I said, arguments are cheap-- as a result, at the FTC, sound empirical evidence was extremely important in that it provides a common ground that cuts across ideological differences. At root, most policymakers are pragmatists, regardless of party, and want to know what will be the consequences of their policies. Both Democratic and Republican Commissioners could agree that evidence should be the common ground of their decision-making, even if they had very different views on the normative ends of competition or consumer protection. Of course, the evidence wasn't always unambiguous, but it was always relevant and always a first-line of analysis.

The problem, therefore, is not that policymakers are uninterested in empirical analysis; the problem is that the empirical analysis by many law professors is simply of very poor quality. One can only hope that the standards will be raised before Gresham's Law of Legal Scholarship kicks in and bad empirics drive out good. Whether this can be done within the traditional law review system is, I think, and interesting question. Peer-reviewed journals such as Supreme Court Economic Review, JLS, Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, and the like, may become crucial in the process of raising standards for empirical legal studies.

In the meantime, for students and general legal readers of the VC, I think Krawiec and Zeiler are an excellent example of interesting, professional, and useful empirical legal scholarship. Of course, there is plenty more out there (Kimberly Moore, Ted Eisenberg, etc.)--it just so happens that I Krawiec and Zeiler's article is in an area I know and is on a topic that is very, very useful, given the difficulty of trying to reconcile all these cases using traditional legal reasoning. This new knowledge will definitely change the way I teach that material next time in Contracts.

Supreme Court Nominations--It's Gonna Get Ugly:

From today's Washington Times, "Supporters of President Bush's judicial nominees have hired the same media firm used by Swift Boat Veterans for Truth for their efforts to defend the next nominee for any upcoming Supreme Court vacancy. The aggressive media style of Creative Response Concepts (CRC) will be met by a "war room" already set up by the liberal People For the American Way (PFAW) on the other side, indicating that the next Supreme Court fight is likely to be one of the nastiest in history."

Zywicki for Dartmouth Trustee:

After conversations with many readers and Dartmouth Alumni over the past few weeks, I have decided to run as an independent petition candidate for the Dartmouth Board of Trustees this spring. I apologize to VC readers who may not be interested in this, but for Dartmouth alumni who are reading this, I would like to ask for your help. To be on the ballot for the election this spring, I will need to submit 500 signed petitions to the Dartmouth Alumni Office by February 23. This year there are two open seats up for election. Regardless of whether you agree with my goals for Dartmouth, I hope you will be willing to sign a petition to allow me to be on the ballot.

I have set up a web site where you can: (1) Read my Letter to the Dartmouth Alumni, (2) Get a copy of the petition (note that it must be signed in non-black ink and returned by February 17 to make sure I have it in time to get it to Hanover), and (3) the address to which you can mail the petition.

Dartmouth is unique among its peers in its focus on undergraduate education and development of well-rounded students. I believe that Dartmouth should embrace this traditional mission, rather than retreat from it. If elected to the Board of Trustees, my objectives would be the following:

Rededicate Dartmouth to its mission of undergraduate education: Dartmouth should rededicate itself to this mission and resist efforts to transform Dartmouth into a research university at the expense of its traditional undergraduate focus. As readers of the Conspiracy are aware, I am especially interested in working to protect free speech at Dartmouth.

Rededicate Dartmouth to the recruitment and development of well-rounded students: Dartmouth traditionally has been a leader in focusing on the development of well-rounded students. I believe that Ivy League sports competition is part of that mission (for a contrary view, see Dartmouth Dean Karl Furstenberg's comments in "Dean Knocked Football Culture" from the Valley News).

Align Dartmouth's financial priorities with its core mission of excellence in undergraduate education: Dartmouth's lack of focus on its core mission has led to confused financial priorities. In recent years, spending on the administrative bureacracy has risen twice as fast as spending on academic programs. The confusion over financial priorities was evidenced by an editorial last week the official student newspaper, The Dartmouth published an editorial, that criticized the growth in class sizes and the inability of students to even get into certain necessary classes.

Improve College governance through greater openness and transparency:I will seek to improve College governance through greater openness and transparency, and will work to insure that all stakeholders are fully informed about what is going on at the College and will have a voice in the governance of the College. I will not just "rubber stamp" the proposals of anybody.

If you are a Dartmouth Alumna or Alum, I hope you agree with my goals for Dartmouth. Even if you don't, I hope you will be willing to sign and mail a petition to me so that I can be on the ballot and be part of the conversation this spring. Please also forward my web site to your Dartmouth friends and classmates, as I need a lot of petition signatures in a short amount of time. The Administration and Alumni Council have made it increasingly difficult in recent years to run as an independent candidate, and I hope you will support my effort to have a choice on the ballot this spring. The actual election among the qualified candidates will take place in March. You can help make me the first blogger to earn a seat on the Dartmouth Board of Trustees. Now, if I get on the ballot, maybe I can convince them not to list us all alphabetically...

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Zywicki for Dartmouth Trustee (Part II):
  2. Zywicki for Dartmouth Trustee:

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Dutch:

I recently listened to an abridged version of the Edmund Morris's controversial biography of Ronald Reagan, "Dutch." Based on my experience, I can recommend the abridged book-on-tape version as a very entertaining and interesting profile of President Reagan--indeed, I suspect that the abridged book-on-tape version is probably better than the book itself.

First, it cuts out all of Edmund Morris's narcissistic ruminations on himself. Seriously, what was Morris thinking about? I supposed he was trying to make some sort of point about how any biography reflects the life experience and perspective of the profiler, not just the subject. Ok, ok we get it--mention it in the preface and move on. Anyway, the abridged book-on-tape version has a narrator who briefly describes these interludes and then moves on.

Second, Dutch does something that has become one of my favorite things for books-on-tape--it contains actual clips from Reagan's speeches, including many things I had never heard before. I love this aspect of the technology of books-on-tape. Why block quote a speech when you can insert an actual audio excerpt? I suspect that this is the wave of the future, which I really like. Just as a movie is different from a play, a book-on-tape is a different media from a book.

The best example I have heard of using the book-on-tape technology to its greatest advantage is John Dean's book, "The Rehnquist Choice," which I didn't think was a very good book, but was a delightful book-on-tape because he clips in a bunch of excerpts from Nixon's Oval Office tapes and recorded phone conversations, including a hilarious conversation between Nixon and Goldwater, where both experess their enthusiasm for Rehnquist, even though neither of them can remember his name.

As for the accuracy of Morris's portrayal of Reagan, I can't speak to that very much. Morris makes clear--in fact this is the point as noted above--that his particular impression and portrayal of Reagan is highly idiosyncratic and personal. Regardless, I learned a lot new from the abridged book-on-tape version, and given that I never intend to read the full book, I got plenty out of it.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Iraqi Election News Clearinghouse,

from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.

"MONKEYS WILL PAY TO SEE MONKEY PORN":

I can't beat InstaPundit's summary of this story. And they'll pay to see even non-porn pictures of high-status monkeys, too. (I was about to say "nude pictures," but I guess most pictures of monkeys are nude. Or maybe they're just naked.)

New National Archives:

I had the opportunity recently to visit the renovated National Archives here in DC which recently reopened. In addition to the hall with the great documents, the Archives now has a terrific permanenent exhibit featuring the "National Archives Experience." The idea is that the archives aren't just the old documents, but rather is a trove of valuable research information, and so the purpose of the exhibit is to provide sort of a virtual research experience for tourists. So the exhibit features many of the different sorts of cool and weird things that someone could find in the archives, from video and audio of Presidents, to old Supreme Court briefs, to piles of immigration records. All very well presented. I recommend it highly the next time you are in town on a tourist trip.

I was especially pleased to see the high quality of museum because many of the same architects and designers have been retained for the museum project that I (and Eugene) are working on, through the McCormick Museum Foundation. Our museum, which will focus on American Freedoms and the First Amendment, is scheduled to open next Spring (Spring 2006).

Juan Cole, not an anti-Semite:

Just someone whose hatred of Israel in general, and more hawkish elements in Israel in particular, have driven him close to the edge of Lyndon Larouche territory. Check out this dishonest and dishonorable hatchet job* on Douglas Feith, the outgoing (Jewish) high-level Pentagon official:

Having a Likudnik as the number three man in the Pentagon is a nightmare for American national security, since Feith could never be trusted to put US interests over those of Ariel Sharon.

Feith does seem to be sympathetic to the Likud's positions, so I won't object to this use of the term "Likudnik." But "could never be trusted to put US interests over those of Ariel Sharon?" On what basis does Cole make what is essentially a charge of treason?

One is tempted to think that it's simply because Feith is Jewish, and that Cole is an anti-Semite. But Cole explicitly disclaims anti-Semitism later in his rant, and I'm inclined to believe him, or at least give him the benefit of the doubt.

Instead, reading between the lines, it seems that Cole's problem is that he thinks Ariel Sharon and associated political elements in Israel so evil, and sympathy with them so transparently immoral and stupid, that the only plausible explanation for a bright man like Feith to sympathize with Likud is out of a misguided ethnic loyalty. The very idea that a reasonable person could think that the Likud had a more realistic and practical view of the Palestinian Authority under Arafat than did more dovish forces (as the vast majority of Israelis, who have had to live with the consequences of Oslo, do), gets Cole unhinged.

Thus, Cole concludes his piece:

It is also important to underline that only a small minority of American Jews support the Likud Party or its policies, and that a majority of Jewish Americans opposed the Iraq war.* In short, the problematic nature of Feith's tenure at the Department of Defense must not be made an excuse for any kind of bigotry.

In other words, it's not Jews, or even Jewish supporters of Israel (as Cole also makes clear) that are the problem, but Jewish supporters of Likud, because the only plausible explanation for a Jew's support of Likud policies is ethnic loyalty.

Not that there is much sense to Cole's position:

It is important to note that what is objectionable about Feith is a) his playing fast and loose with the truth, producing poor intelligence analysis that has been shown to be completely false and b) his doing so on behalf of not only American nationalist aspirations but also on behalf of a non-American political party, the Likud coalition of Israel, which desired to destroy the Oslo peace process initiated by Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin (and which was therefore on the same side of this issue as the fanatic who assassinated Rabin).

It's not at all clear to me how the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which was supported by all Jewish political parties in Israel (which all also would have much preferred the U.S. worry more about Iran's nuclear capacities and less about Iraq), has anything to do with helping the Likud per se. And think about this reasoning: Rabin's assassin was against Oslo; Likud was against Oslo; therefore, there is some sort of moral equivalency between Likud and Rabin's assassin!

To get a further idea of what unhinges Professor Cole, he states, again in reference to Feith:

There is no objection to Americans having multiple identities or love for more than one country. Someone of Serbian heritage would make a perfectly good Pentagon administrator. But you wouldn't want a vehement supporter of Slobodon Milosevic as the number three man in the Pentagon.

So, in Cole's mind, there is a direct analogy between the democratically elected leader of Israel, who, in possession of one of the mightiest armies in the world, has, at his worst, destroyed a few square blocks of Jenin while hunting down suicide murderers who were acting with impunity from that city, killing a grand total of 46 people, mostly armed gunmen, and Serbian dictator Milosevic, responsible for widescale ethnic cleansing and the deaths of hundreds of thousands.

What I'm sure gets Cole especially agitated is how successful Ariel Sharon has been. Suicide bombs in Israel are now a rarity; Yasser Arafat is gone, and his successor, who has far less political support than Arafat had, is cracking down on terrorism, belying the view expressed by the Coles of the world that Arafat was (a) not involved in promoting terrorism; and (b) couldn't stop it if he wanted to. And Israel has committed itself both to the notion of a Palestinian state, and to beginning a withdrawal from the territories.

My question: when will NPR and other outlets that treat Cole as a respected Middle Eastern commentators consign him to the lunatic fringe where he belongs? I've enabled comments[they don't seem to be working]

*E.g., "Feith has been questioned by the FBI in relation to the passing by one of his employees of confidential Pentagon documents to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which in turn passed them to the Israeli embassy"; first, no one has claimed Feith was involved in, or even knew about, the incident in question; second, no one has been indicted or otherwise charged in the incident, which is still under investigation; third, the investigation strikes many, including me, as politically motivated and trumped up; and fourth, do you think uber-leftist Cole would have such faith in an FBI investigation if it was undertaken against, say, an Arab American or peacenik group?

**Cole adopts the loony-left view that Israel somehow pushed the U.S. into war with Iraq, apparently through a Likud/Jewish neocon conspiracy. Again, he seems to think that the policy was so stupid and evil that there must be a conspiracy behind it (neglecting the obvious fact that, even if one accepts his view of the Iraq war, governments around the world do stupid and evil things all the time without any provocation from "Likudniks" or other nefarious conspirators). The only evidence he cites to support this outlandish view is this article, which is not only a dubious source, but doesn't actually support his point.

More Cowbell:

"I got a FE-ver, and the only prescription . . . is more cowbell!" Blue Oyster Cult was in town last night (I did not attend, I went to a disappointing Jane Monheit performance at the Kennedy Center instead) and there is a hilarious article in today's Washington Post about the great Saturday Night Live skit a few years ago about a fictional recording session of "Don't Fear the Reaper." The article has a link to the SNL website where you can watch the skit itself. If you want to go straight to the skit it is at http://mknx.com/v/cowbell.wmv.

Update:

I got a FE-ver and the only prescription...is more links!

For those who can't get enough cowbell, herewith a smattering of related links from a reader:

You know what was missing from your "more cowbell" post?

More Links!

For example, http://morecowbell.net/ and http://www.dooce.com/archives/mastheads/09_07_2004.html

Rawk On, [Name]

Neither seems to have anything to do with Blue Oyster Cult or SNL (in fact, they are both a bit random), but consider this a public service for those who just can't get enough cowbell!

Update:

Yes-still more cowbell.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Tasty Universities:

My former student Kevan Choset, who's a puzzle buff, sent along this item:

What common food item is composed of two words, each the name of a very prominent University?

No need to e-mail me; the answer is below.

(Click here for the answer.)

Law Review Lara -- Little People in the Big Journals:

A reader writes, responding to Law Review Lara's offer of advice about all things law review:

I'm an aspiring law professor and hoping to publish another article this Spring and be at the "meatmarket" next Fall. I'm currently a clerk for a federal appellate court judge and have a few published works under my belt. My last article was published in a general law review, but one that is in the lower portion of the top 100 (using the [U.S. News & World Report] rankings). I'm hoping to do a bit better this time around, but am wondering if that is even realistic. So, these are my questions for you:

How high up the law journal ladder can a non-Supreme Court clerk really expect to publish?

Well, the answer is "depends on how appealing the article is." A quick search revealed that in 2003, the Yale Law Journal published an article by someone who wasn't a professor, Judge, or other legal celebrity: Daniel J. Sharfstein's The Secret History of Race in the United States, an article that seems to be about defamation lawsuits over allegations that someone is black. A few months ago, the NYU Law Review likewise published Camille Gear Rich's Performing Racial and Ethnic Identity: Discrimination by Proxy and the Future of Title VII.

Randy Kozel is having a piece on free speech and government employment published in the Northwestern Law Review; Nick Rosenkranz recently had a second piece accepted by the Harvard Law Review (this one on constitutional law and treaties), after having published another piece in the Harvard Law Review on statutory interpretation a couple of years ago. Kozel and Rosenkranz are Supreme Court clerks (future in one case, past in the other), but that probably doesn't make that huge a difference to law review editorial boards, though it might make some difference; and Sharfstein and Rich aren't Supreme Court clerks. And these are just the pieces Lara found with a few quick searches, plus her own knowledge.

Now this having been said, it's of course not easy to get a piece placed at a top journal if you aren't a professor -- but it's not easy to get a piece placed there even if you are a professor, either. The trick is to make your piece as appealing as possible, and not to give up hope (for instance, not to shortchange yourself by failing to submit to the top journals).

Which brings up the reader's next question:

What can an author do to appeal to, or even get the attention of, some of the more well-regarded journals (beyond playing the expedited review game)? For my last article, I was unsure if any of the top 50 journals were even giving my my piece a look after having over ten offers from lower ranked journals and requesting expedited review.

One top journal sent me a rejection letter seemingly before the piece could have even arrived at their door.

Lara's advice, which by sheer coincidence also appears in her friend Eugene Volokh's Academic Legal Writing:
  1. Include a cover letter that briefly pitches the article, and tries to persuade law review editors that this is an important, novel, and useful piece that will get lots of citations.

  2. Polish your article carefully before sending it out; even if law review editors don't know the subject matter well enough to spot the doctrinal flaws, they'll quickly spot the writing flaws.
  3. Especially polish the Introduction, which is the most important part of any article.
  4. Send the article as broadly as possible -- 100 journals, not 15 -- and shop it up aggressively.
And, most importantly, don't sweat the rankings too much. Most articles by most serious scholars aren't published in Top 20 general-interest journals, especially if the articles are on important but unsexy topics such as tax law, insurance law, corporate law, and so on. Law schools won't expect you to have Top 20 publications; and they'll pay much more attention to the quality and quantity of your work than to placement, which they realize depends on the fads and fancies gripping law review editors.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Law Review Lara Poses a Question to You:
  2. Law Review Lara Hears from Yale:
  3. Law Review Lara -- Little People in the Big Journals:
  4. Ask Law Review Lara:
Courage at Dartmouth:

A few days ago I commented on a very thoughtful article by a Dartmouth student commenting on the lack of intellectual diversity at Dartmouth and his view of the negative effect that has on his educational experience. I have received several interesting follow-up emails from current students and recent grads making similar observations (although a few have disagreed).

Nick Desai, a current Dartmouth undergrad sent me the transcript of a remarkable set of remarks given by Professor Meir Kohn of the Economics Department, introducing Daniel Pipes as an on-campus speaker at Dartmouth earlier this week. I was going to try to pluck out a few tidbits to whet your appetite, but every sentence and paragraph is powerful. So I just encourage you to read it for yourself on Nick's blog which you can find here.

OK, I will give you one little bit from the beginning:

Today, I have the honor to welcome Daniel Pipes to Dartmouth.

Before I tell you a little of his background, I would like to say a few words about the greater significance of Dr Pipes's visit here.

Because this is indeed a significant event-- a triumph over the intellectually deadening effects of political correctness.

Whether you agree or disagree with Pipes's views, I encourage to read Professor Kohn's brief remarks introducing him and his criticism. I once heard John McGinnis refer to political correctness as "shackles of the mind"--a sentiment that is reflected in Professor Kohn's thoughtful remarks.

A Few Thoughts on First-Year Law School Grades: 'Tis the season in which law school grades are announced, which means that tens of thousands of law students around the country are trying to figure out what their grades mean. The VC has a lot of law student readers, so I thought some comments about grades from the other side of the podium might be helpful. In particular, I wanted to address two questions that I suspect are on the minds of lots of law students: First, how important are first-year grades, and second, are law school grades random? Both are big topics that are hard to cover well in a blog post, but I'll at least try to touch on a few ideas and hope an incomplete answer is better than no answer at all.

  I'll start with a few thoughts on the importance of law school grades. Yes, 1L grades are important in the short term. There are so many law students and so many employers out there that employers tend to rely on proxies to to determine which law students will make the best attorneys. The most obvious proxies are an applicant's school and GPA, in part because there isn't much else to go on when the applicant is only a student. The basic problem is limited information: employers need an easy way to screen candidates down to a small enough group to interview, and the school/GPA combo is a quick and easy screen. Different employers look for different combos: some employers favor school A over school B, others B over A (generally depending on whether big shots at the firm went to school A or B). And some employers focus more on grades than others. In general, though, the school/GPA combo is used as a sorting mechanism by many legal employers hiring people out of law school.

  With that said, fall 1L exam grades are less important than most people think. This is true for a couple of reasons. First, lots of people find that their first-semester grades are pretty different from their later semester grades. It takes some students more time than others to get "the game" of how to answer a law school exam question, and when they do their grades go way up. Second, your law school GPA is much less important — and in many cases, completely irrelevant — after your first job. Once you're out of school for a bit, people care whether you are a good attorney, not your law school GPA. Third, the fact that a) judges are hiring clerks later, and b) law review at most schools is becoming less grade-based and more write-on based is tending to make 1L fall grades less important than they used to be. If law review at your school is based on a write-on competition, your grades don't matter for it; and if judges are hiring clerks based on more than their 1L grades, your 1L grades are comparatively less important than they used to be.

  Finally, it's important not to let lower-than-expected grades become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Recognize the psychological game going on here: many students expect their fall 1L grades to give them a lightning bolt of insight about their future in the legal profession. Grades don't do that, though: all they can do is measure how well you did relative to your classmates on a few 3-hour exams taken at a particular place at a particular time. Too many students think that grades are destiny, and begin to take steps to readjust their expectations to what they think is their destiny. Some students react to the sting of lower-than-expected grades by tuning out, by deciding law is dumb, and by concluding that they just aren't good at it. The problem is that it's just this kind of attitude that makes it less likely your grades will improve; by tuning out, you'll only make it more likely that you won't do as well as you should next time. My advice is to stick with it: get your old exams back, review them, and make sure you know what you did wrong. Then have faith in yourself and your smarts that you can improve your grades in the spring.

  Okay, on to the next question: Are law school grades random? Many students think so. They usually reach this conclusion after getting back their grades, and finding that they had better grades in the classes they hated and expected to fail than in the classes they loved and expected to ace. There's no rhyme or reason to these silly letters, the thinking goes; the profs must just throw them down the stairs and see where they land.

  Not quite. To be sure, different professors have different approaches when they grade. Some pore over exams for hours, others read them pretty quickly. Some use a point system that gives you credit for mentioning an argument, others focus more on how skillfully you make the arguments. Some take off points for incorrect answers, others just don't add any. Some care about how well you write, others don't. Given these differences, and the great difficulty (if not impossibility) of turning essay exams into a reliable and precise numerical score, some amount of the process will seem and in some cases be a bit random. The process requires judgment, judgment brings discretion, and discretion can be unpredictable.

  But there are two important reasons why grades may seem random when they are not. First, in law it's hard to know how much or how little you know. It's surprisingly easy to have a false sense of security, or a false sense of insecurity, about a course or an exam. Consider exams. Most law school exam questions are "issue spotters," and it's quite hard to gauge how well you answered an issue-spotter. If you miss all of the big difficult issues, you will think that the problem is easy for you and that you aced it. If you see all of the big issues, you will think that the problem is impossibly hard and consider yourself a failure for being unable to know for sure how to resolve all of the difficult questions. The more you know, the more you see the difficulties of the problem and the more you know how little you know. The same goes for courses, too: the more you understand an area of law, the harder it seems to be. Of course, the student who sees all of the hard issues in a course and on an exam and grapples with those difficulties gets a high grade; the student who misses the issues and wrongly thinks the hard questions are easy does not.

  The second reason grades may seem random when they are not is that grades are almost always curved. You are graded not on how well you did in an absolute sense, but rather on how well you did relative to everyone else in your class. This means that your grade won't necessarily correlate to how much you knew, or how well you answered the questions on the exam. If you totally clicked with crim law, but hated and never understood civ pro, you may get a higher grade in civ pro than crim because lots of other people in the class felt the same way and spent way more time mastering crim law than studying civ pro. (And as a crim law prof, I have to say, who can blame them?) Similarly, if the exam in a particular class was unusually hard, you may end up with a top grade in the course simply because you were less lost on the exam than most of your classmates. Again, perceptions of your performance won't always match the curve-induced reality.

  Anyway, I hope this helps. I have enabled comments, in case others have additional thoughts.

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