Sunday, February 29, 2004

Book Tour Schedule for This Week: This week, I talk about Restoring the Constitution in Southern California. All events are open to the public. Be sure to let me know that you read the Volokh Conspiracy.

Monday 3/1:
Chapman law school (noon)
Tuesday 3/2:
UCLA law school (noon)
Pepperdine law school (4:00pm)
Wednesday 3/3:
USC law school (12:20pm)
Loyola-Marymount law school (5:00pm)
Thursday 3/4:
Univ. San Diego law school (Grace Courtroom, Noon)

Full tour schedule is here
Next week: Northern California (Hastings. Stanford, and Santa Clara)
Only 48 years of piracy left for me.
Is the Volokh Conspiracy that Famous? This paper, which is discussed over at Crooked Timber, has the Volokh Conspiracy in its title [basic thrust: those on the left shouldn't read, for example, the Volokh Conspiracy, because we are not morally wise, and given their lack of expertise on the issues we are experts in, may lead them astray], but, oddly enough, never explains to the reader in the text what the Volokh Conspiracy is. I've spoken on behalf of the Federalist Society chapters at many law schools over the past several months, and even many of the chapter officers have never heard of the VC. Those of us in touch with the blogging world seem to sometimes forget that most people, at least most people over age 25, never look at blogs, and often don't know what they are.
Sunday Song Lyric: I doubt many Academy Award nominees have written songs defending capitalism. That makes composer Danny Elfman the exception. His original score for Big Fish is up for an Oscar tonight. Prior to becoming one of Hollywood's hottest soundtrack men - his credits include Batman, Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Good Will Hunting, Spiderman, and Men in Black - Elfman was the front man for Oingo Boingo, the LA-based cult rock band. In that role, Elfman penned occasional hits, such as Dead Man's Party, as well as the aforementioned Capitalism.

In support of Elfman's nomination - and because I'm still steamed about my car - I thought it appropriate to make today's song lyric Oingo Boingo's first hit, Only a Lad.
Johnny was bad, even as a child everybody could tell
Everyone said if you don't get straight
You'll surely go to hell
But Johnny didn't care
He was an outlaw by the time that he was ten years old
He didn't wanna do what he was told
Just a prankster, juvenile gangster

His teachers didn't understand
They kicked him out of school
At a tender early age
Just because he didn't want to learn things
(Had other interests)
He liked to burn things

The lady down the block
She had a radio that Johnny wanted oh so bad
So he took it the first chance he had
Then he shot her in the leg
And this is what she said
Only a lad - You really can't blame him
Only a lad - Society made him
Only a lad - He's our responsibility
Only a lad - He really couldn't help it
Only a lad - He didn't want to do it
Only a lad - He's underprivileged and abused
Perhaps a little bit confused

His parents gave up they couldn't influence his attitude
Nobody could help
The little man had no gratitude
And when he stole the care
Nobody dreamed that he would
Try to take it so far
He didn't mean to hit the poor man
Who had to go and die
It made the judge cry
Only a lad - He really couldn't help it
Only a lad - He didn't want to do it
Only a lad - He's underprivileged and abused
Perhaps a little bit confused

It's not his fault that he can't believe
It's not his fault that he can't behave
Society made him go astray
Perhaps if we're nice he'll go away
Perhaps he'll go away
He'll go away

Only a lad - He really couldn't help it
Only a lad - He didn't want to do it
Only a lad - He's underprivileged and abused
Perhaps a little bit confused

Hey there Johnny you really don't fool me
You get away with murder
And you think it's funny
You don't give a damn if we live or if we die
Hey there Johnny boy
I hope you fry!
Hey, why don't I get invited to the parties Randy gets invited to?
In case you check blogs before you check the new this morning: Aristide resigned.
A nonapology apology by Rep. Corrine Brown: Rep. Corrine Brown, who assailed United States policy toward Haiti as a "racist" policy concocted by a "bunch of white men" and later told a Mexican-American Assistant Secretary of State that "you all (non-black people) look alike to me": "I sincerely did not mean to offend Secretary Noriega or anyone in the room. Rather, my comments, as they relate to 'white men,' were aimed at the policies of the Bush administration as they pertain to Haiti, which I do consider to be racist." Rep. Henry Bonilla has accepted this "apology" and withdrawn his call for Rep. Brown to resign. But where is the apology? Brown has played the old "I apologize if I offended anyone, but I'm not backing down" trick.

Aside: I find Rep. Brown's racial demagoguery on the Haiti issue offensive. I'm not so sure about the wisdom of Secretary Noriega's response that he resents being considered white. I'd preferred he criticized her on more general anti-racial demagoguery grounds. After all, outside the world of affirmative action categories, individuals of Mexican origin witha European appearance in the U.S. are generally considered, and consider themselves to be, "white", and they certainly are in Mexico, so there is something a little manufactured about Noriega's outrage at being lumped into the "white" category. How about a little outrage that Rep. Brown can't just say she finds the policy stupid, but needs to racialize her criticism?
The Night Before: So while in LA for the Southern California leg of my book tour, my wife and I attended the Second Annual "Night Before Party" at the Beverly Hills Hotel. It was an amazing scene, and hard to believe that so many A-list celebrities ever attended the same event. The pool had been covered up, and a tent erected over it. Reebok was giving guests their choice of shoes, and Krispy Creme served donuts covered with ice cream or topped with strawberries and whipped cream. Cell phones and cameras were not permitted, but security only stopped you from bringing in cameras--or camera phones. I did not hear a single cell phone go off the whole night, and only noticed a few people furtively using theirs. The celebrities dressed casually with a noteworthy lack of affectation--except of course for Elton John who sat surrounded by younger men. No one wore sun glasses at this evening event. All the celebs were gone by midnight.

It turns out I am very bad at recognizing even very famous actors in a crowd, but fortunately my wife is excellent at spotting them. Were it not for her, I would have missed most of the following (don't write me about misspelling their names): Sylvester Stalone (a little waxy looking), Tim Robbins & Susan Sarandon, Martin Short, David Spade, Ben Kingsley, Ben Stiller, Courtney Cox & David Arquette, Steven Speilberg, Will Smith (with body guards), Rene Zellweger, Christian Slater, Angelina Jolie, Patricia Clarkson ("Pieces of April," Aunt Sarah on "6 Feet Under"), Michael Chiklis (The Shield, The Commish), Kristen Davis (Charlotte on "Sex and the City"), Bonnie Hunt, Antonio Banderas & Melanie Griffith, Luke Wilson, Tom Arnold, Roma Downey ("Touched by an Angel"), John Spencer ("The West Wing," "LA Law"), Leonardo DiCaprio, Alec Baldwin, Pierce Brosnan, Clint Eastwood, Kevin Spacey, Bruce Dern, standing nearby his daughter Laura Dern, Tom Hanks & Rita Wilson (the only one we noticed smoking), Kevin Spacey (in a Kangol-style cap), Jill Hennessee (Law & Order), Camryn Manheim ("The Practice"), Ted Turner and Donald Trump (hair looking a little more like normal hair in person). It was very crowded, especially at the beginning, and we must have missed a lot more who were there. We know Tom Cruise left just before we arrived, and we somehow managed not to see Michael Douglas with Katherine Zeta-Jones though we were told they had stood in the same spot for nearly an hour.

Most of the males actors are much smaller, not just shorter, than you expect--especially Banderas--except DiCaprio who you'd expect to be small, but is really normal size and height. Alex Baldwin is a bit bulky of course, and Pierce Brosnan is a remarkably big guy, who is not shy about wearing grey stubble. The tallest was probably Tim Robbins, but taller than you'd expect were Tom Hanks and Kevin Spacey. Not surprisingly on the tall side were Ted Turner, Donald Trump, Will Smith, Bruce Dern, and Clint Eastwood.

I asked Eastwood if he was a libertarian, and he replied that he agreed with the libertarian philosophy, but had not changed his registration from Republican, though his wife had. Besides, he noted, that used to be the philosophy of the Republicans. Though it seemed like he was warming to the subject, I did not get to ask him what made him think so because Jeffrey Katzenberg of Dreamworks and one of the hosts of the party (and another little guy), just then interrupted to thank Eastwood for coming, so we moved on.

It was a pretty awesome to see in one night, in one place, and very informally, more prominent actors and actresses than we will ever see in our whole lives--except for on the Red Carpet later today at the Oscars. But that's another story.

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Geek heresy: May I confess something slightly embarrassing?

I'm not, deep in my heart, convinced that Return of the King and Peter Jackson deserve to win tonight.

Oh, I want them to win, mind you. It would be a gross injustice and blot on the Oscars' (anyways-spotty) record if the Lord of the Rings trilogy failed to bring home a Best Picture and Best Director award. I want to see the acceptance speechess. I want all the glory and vindication that's due for the trilogy.

But it should have already happened.

Two years ago, Fellowship of the Ring-- the finest overall movie of the three, and a beautiful, magnificent piece of work-- lost to the actively awful Beautiful Mind, a movie with very close to no redeeming value.

Last year, Two Towers-- a somewhat lesser movie, though an even greater directorial accomplishment-- lost to the fine-and-fun-but-nothing-really-special Chicago. Considering how terrific the stage musical is when it's done well (I got to see it on Broadway with Marilu Henner and Bebe Neuwirth-- and Neuwirth was electrifying, amazing, orders of magnitude better than the fine-and-fun-but-nothing-really-special Catherine Zeta-Jones performance), the really noteworthy thing about the movie Chicago is how uninpired it was. It wasn't execrable like Mind, but it seems to me that it didn't even come close to measuring up to Two Towers.

Now it's the year for Return of the King-- a slightly lesser movie still, and noticeably fallen off from the standard set by Fellowship. And it's up against Mystic River and Lost in Translation. And I'm just not convinced that, taken on its own rather than as the representative for the whole trilogy, RotK is a better overall movie than, or Jackson's directing of it a more impressive accomplishment than Sofia Coppola's or Clint Eastwood's accomplishments in directing, River or Translation.

There's something really special about a movie that's pitch-perfect, one that sets an ambitious goal for itself and accomplishes it with no false notes, no real mistakes, one that somehow adds up to more than the sum of its parts. I thought Fellowship was such a movie. And I think River and Translation both are. RotK? Not so much.

What would probably make me happiest tonight is if the past two years' Picture and Director awards got revoked and given to Rings/ Jackson, and then River and Translation split the two 2004 awards. Sadly, that ain't how it's going to happen...
Saudi Embassy Denies "No Jews, Please" Policy:
Saudi Arabia is encouraging visitors to tour the country in order to better understand the Kingdom's society and culture. While everyone who enters the country must have a valid passport and appropriate visa, it is not the policy of the Kingdom to deny the issuance of visas on the basis of religion.

Yesterday, Rep. Anthony Weiner, a consistent critic of Saudi Arabia, issued a statement in which he incorrectly said that it is the policy of Saudi Arabia not to issue visas to people of the Jewish faith. He based this information on material posted on the website of the Saudi tourism board. Rep. Weiner's office was informed by Embassy officials that this does not reflect the visa policies of Saudi Arabia and the visa requirements are available through the Saudi consulates and are posted on the Embassy website. Further, the Supreme Commission for Tourism was informed that the information on the website was not correct and as a consequence the erroneous material was removed from the website.

According to Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan: "I am surprised that Rep. Weiner would issue a statement after his office was advised by officials of the Embassy that the concerns he raised were not the kingdom's policy. At this time, we should be working toward greater understanding and better relations between the United States and the Middle East. Rep. Weiner and his actions only serve to spread doubt and mistrust."
Foolish Rep. Weiner -- to trust tourism board officials over diplomats, who of course always give you nothing but the straight dope.

     Just one tiny follow-up question: What exactly was the nature of the error in the material? A typo? A mistranslation?

     OpinionJournal has more; thanks to Charles Chapman for the pointers.
Night of the Living Constitution: Kieran Healy at Crooked Timber has the plot outline. Dawn of the Dead meets Griswold v. Connecticut.
Foolishness of the Israeli Left: This piece in Ha'aretz by Yoel Marcus shows why the Israeli left has been discredited among the Jewish voting public in Israel. Two things stand out. First, Marcus's callousness toward the victims of Palestinian terror, dressed up as paternalistic concern that their suffering is being "exploited" for political reasons. Second, the following nonsensical line: "There is no power in the world that can stop a suicide bomber from entering Israel." Really? Then why has there been exactly one suicide bomb from all of Gaza (and that from British nationals)--safely cut off from Israel by fences, walls, and entry barriers--during the entire Second Intifada, compared to the dozens from the West Bank? Why has the number of suicide bombs decreased dramatically since Israel reclaimed security control of the West Bank? And why has the number of suicide bombs decreased even more dramatically near the areas of the West Bank where the security fence is complete? Surely, a military solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is an imperfect one. But the view that force can play no productive role in quelling a terrorist campaign is just incredibly stupid, not least because it is contrary to observed experience. Out of such delusions the Israeli left's continued electoral debacle is made.
Lawsuit over anti-Catholic sculpture: In January, I blogged this:
Washburn University, a public university in Kansas, is displaying an anti-Catholic sculpture. The sculpture apparently "depicts a Catholic bishop with a grotesque facial expression wearing a phallus on his head that is shaped like a bishop's miter" (a photo is visible in this news story, and apparently it's not clear whether any phallic connection was intentional), and the caption says "The artist says, 'I was brought up Catholic. I remember being 7 and going into the dark confessional booth for the first time. I knelt down, and my face was only inches from the screen that separated me and the one who had the power to condemn me for my evil ways. I was scared to death, for on the other side of the screen was the persona you see before you.'" The sculpture was apparently selected by "artists and art teachers representing Washburn's Campus Beautification Committee" for display -- this isn't some open forum where anyone can put up a sculpture -- and, as best I can tell, it isn't an obvious part of any broader display (as a painting might be in a museum).

     The Thomas More Law Center is suing Washburn on the grounds that the display by a government-run university of an anti-Catholic sculpture constitutes disapproval of religion. Endorsement of religion (religion generally or a specific religion in particular), the Supreme Court has held, violates the Establishment Clause; but whenever the Court has said this, it has usually also said that disapproval of religion would be equally unconstitutional. (See here for citations.) Sounds like a pretty strong argument to me.

     If Washburn were allowing the sculpture as part of an open forum (anyone can put up a sculpture for a week), then people who were familiar with the open forum would realize that Washburn isn't endorsing the sculpture. If the sculpture were a work by a famous artist, or presented as part of an exhibition of art of a certain era, then again people would probably perceive that Washburn is just displaying the work for its historical or artistic importance (just as a museum exhibition of 16th-century Italian art wouldn't be seen as endorsing Christianity just because many of the great paintings of the time were on Christian themes). But as it stands, an observer seeing the sculpture, and knowing that it was specially selected for display by the University, would perceive it as the University's approval of an anti-religious message.

     I'm not sure that such lawsuits should succeed: It's not clear to me that courts should decide what works even a public university may display, and deciding what constitutes endorsement or disapproval is often very hard, especially when it comes to art (though in this case the message of disapproval seems pretty clear). But once the Court has started doing this as to art that endorses religion, there's a pretty strong case that courts should do the same as to art that disapproves of religion. It will be interesting to see how all this comes out.

     If anyone knows more of the story behind the sculpture, the artist, and the decision to put it up, I'd love to hear it.

UPDATE: Miter? Phallus? Both? Readers are split -- you be the judge; see here for a picture. In any case, even without the phallic link, the sculpture coupled with the title and the caption seems pretty anti-Catholic to me.
A federal trial court has just rejected the plaintiff's claim, reasoning that
[A]n objective observer would recognize that Washburn University displayed several pieces of artwork on campus each year as a part of its outdoor sculpture exhibition. In an environment of higher learning on a college campus, the court cannot conclude that a reasonable observer would perceive the university?s display of "Holier Than Thou" as an attack on Catholics. The fact that "Holier Than Thou" is a work of art, subject to myriad interpretations, further dilutes any religious meaning the sculpture may convey. The court holds that based upon the totality of the circumstances surrounding "Holier Than Thou"'s placement on Washburn's campus, a reasonable observer would not conclude that the university's display has the primary effect of conveying a message of disapproval towards the Catholic religion.
It seems to me the court is mistaken: This is a sculpture called "Holier Than Thou" -- a pejorative phrase -- and, coupled with the inscription, it seems pretty clearly anti-Catholic. (I'm setting aside the phallus question here, since the shape of the miter is indeed much more open to interpretation.) I assume the plaintiffs will appeal; it will be interesting to see what the court of appeals says. Thanks to TJ Lynn for the pointer.
Law and neuroeconomics: My colleagues Vernon Smith, Kevin McCabe, and Terence Chorvat have written a paper with the following abstract:
"As legal scholarship has come to rely more on economic analysis, the foundational questions of economics have become important questions for legal analysis as well. One of the key foundational elements of modern economics is the assumption of the rational utility maximizing individual. While this assumption has often been questioned, until recently, it was not possible to actually examine the brain mechanisms that individuals use to process the economic problems they face. As a result of the increasing abilities to explore the brain as individuals engage in economic activity, this article calls for a new approach to the study of law which incorporates the findings from the emerging area of neuroeconomics. We call this approach law and neuroeconomics. We argue that this research can help us understand what is occurring in the brains of the individuals and knowledge gained thereby can greatly aid both in understanding the process of creation and development of law as well as its effects on human behavior. The article discusses this research and begins the analysis of applying these findings the study of law."

Kevin McCabe hooks his experimental subjects up to MRI machines, to see which parts of their brains are processing decisions. Here is Kevin's nascent neuroeconomics blog.
The only time you're likely to see "Mel Gibson" and "JS Bach" used in the same sentence: Edward Rothstein, in today's New York Times, has what is for my money the most intelligent and well-reasoned discussion of the whole Passion brouhaha -- a comparison between Gibson's oddly medieval conception of the death of Christ and Bach's setting of the same story in the St. Matthew and St. John Passions. Worth reading.