Friday, April 12, 2002


Thursday, April 11, 2002

Photodude links to Bill Biggart's final photo, a jaw-dropping shot of the 22-story Marriott (Three World Trade Center) right before the North Tower's collapse.

Wednesday, April 10, 2002

GARY FARBER learns of a $273,000 grant to a youth-outreach program in Missouri designated to fight "Goth culture." He comments:
Surely more should be spent to fight the fearsome threat of clove cigarettes, and really really pale people? Perhaps a goth version of "Up With People!" should be formed: "I'd Be A Vampire, But I Suffer Ennui." No exclamation mark, of course: too much effort.
LOUIS RUKEYSER seems to have gotten the last word in his battle with PBS.
ROBERT MUSIL HAS some interesting commentary on the latest Enron suit here and here, which deserves some answers, which I'll provide as a devil's advocate.

1) Law firm opinion letters are frequently signed in the name of the partnership, rather than by a particular partner. In any event, the Andersen individuals are probably being sued as individuals because Lerach isn't sure he can hang the shredding allegations on Andersen as a whole; the Enron individuals are being sued because they have assets that Enron doesn't and, no doubt, are being accused of insider trading. There's no dispute that law firm partners were acting on behalf of the law firm and no accusation that individual bankers profited individually from Enron. So any failure to name individual partners or bankers is almost certainly not a result of deal-cutting. If the plaintiffs have any hope of reaching Robert Rubin's pockets, then they'll be able to reach the deeper pockets of Citibank, and there's no tactical reason to put the individual in the dock, as opposed to a solvent Enron executive who has a better chance of being held culpable.

Of course, the existing complaint is far-reaching without precedent in who it does name. The failure to name individual lawyers and bankers may just be a function of lack of creativity, and future securities cases may find plaintiffs' lawyers with a greater willingness to name the kitchen sink as defendants.

2) There's nothing disingenuous about arguing that Enron inflated its share price by inflating its earnings or assets. Even at the height of the internet boom, stocks fluctuated madly on the sense of a penny here or there above or below expectations in losses. That Enron was never entirely valued by traditional means doesn't mean that its accounting practices didn't affect the stock price. Whether those accounting practices were illegal is another matter, of course; too, Musil's more general point that the run-up in Enron's stock price can't be entirely attributed to the accounting statements will no doubt be a source of contention amongst the top-notch and not-so-top-notch economists calculating damages figures for the various parties at either trial or settlement negotiations. Contrary to Musil's accusation, however, there's a chart in the early going of the complaint comparing Enron's stock price with that of an alleged "peer group" of stocks, providing precisely the context he says is lacking. The accuracy of that characterization will be another source of battle of economic experts at trial.

3) One fascinating thing I haven't seen anyone mention: William Lerach claims a copyright in the complaint! Unfortunately, trying to read the complaint in any detail crashes my computer, so a more interesting analysis will have to wait, though what I have read isn't going to make Hemingway quake any time soon.
JORN BARGER SHOWS TRUE COLORS. An explanation for why Robot Wisdom so frequently attacks Israel might be found by a couple of recent links by Barger to bigots Kevin MacDonald and Steven Silbiger, who posit that "Jews collectively and knowingly try to manipulate scientific discourse in an attempt to deny the salience of human genetics" to control Gentile opinions. MacDonald, whose books argue that Judaism is a conscious strategy of eugenicism designed to maximize Jewish intelligence, and that anti-Semitism is therefore justified, testified on behalf of Holocaust-denier David Irving's libel trial against Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt. (Here's a Slate piece enumerating the various white-pride and other anti-Semitic sites that similarly trumpet Kevin MacDonald.)

Here's one of many refutations of MacDonald. They're hard to find on the Web, because of the vast number of supremacist sites citing to MacDonald, and the few scholars willing to waste time on him. As Steven Pinker says:
The suggestion that scholars "can't ignore bad ideas" is a nonstarter. In science there are a thousand bad ideas for every good one. "Doing battle" against all of them is not an option for mere mortals, and doing battle against some of them is a tacit acknowledgment that those have enough merit to exceed the onerous threshold of attention-worthiness. MacDonald's ideas, as presented in summaries that would serve as a basis for further examination, do not pass that threshold, for many reasons:
1. By stating that Jews promulgate scientific hypotheses because they are Jewish, he is engaging in ad hominem argumentation that is outside the bounds of normal scientific discourse and an obvious waste of time to engage. MacDonald has already announced that I will reject his ideas because I am Jewish, so what's the point of replying to them?

2. MacDonald's main axioms - group selection of behavioral adaptations, and behaviorally relevant genetic cohesiveness of ethnic groups -- are opposed by powerful bodies of data and theory, which Tooby, Cosmides, and many other evolutionary psychologists have written about in detail. Of course any assumption can be questioned, but there are no signs that MacDonald has taken on the burden of proof of showing that the majority view is wrong.

3. MacDonald's various theses, even if worthy of scientifically debate individually, collectively add up to a consistently invidious portrayal of Jews, couched in value-laden, disparaging language. It is impossible to avoid the impression that this is not an ordinary scientific hypothesis.

4. The argument, as presented in the summaries, fail two basic tests of scientific credibility: a control group (in this case, other minority ethnic groups), and a comparison with alternative hypotheses (such as Thomas Sowell's convincing analysis of "middlemen minorities" such as the Jews, presented in his magisterial study of migration, race, conquest, and culture).
Of course I have not plowed through MacDonald's trilogy and therefore run the complementary risks of being unfair to his arguments, and of not refuting them resoundingly enough to distance them from my own views on evolutionary psychology. But in the marketplace of ideas, a proposal has to have enough initial credibility, and enough signs of adherence to the ground rules of scientific debate, to earn the precious currency of the attention of one's peers.
This isn't the first time Barger has done something this revealing on Robot Wisdom, and one can see him on Pakistani newsgroups doing the same thing. Next time you see Barger demanding divestment from Israel, you know why.

Tuesday, April 09, 2002

INSTAPUNDIT IS MAKING a big deal over Washington Post maps of Israel that show the West Bank in the same color as Israel proper. This is a function of the fact that the maps on the Web are colorized reprints of black-and-white newspaper maps, which can only show a couple of gradations of color, so can't take advantage of the four-color theorem, rather than any deep political message.
SOMETIMES I HAVE TO wonder how my life would be different if Ontario still imprisoned the incorrigible.
I HAVEN'T BEEN THE only person to notice a week without suicide bombing.
RIO THREATENS TO sue "The Simpsons." Perhaps instead they should do something about the kidnapping problem, one that continues today. gets it exactly right about the polling non-scandal.
Which is more cynical: a) Letting a poll tell you what you want to do, or b) deciding what you want to do on the merits and then letting a poll tell you how to sell it to a resistant public? I'd say a).
WSJ BEST OF THE WEB reads my mind:
The San Francisco Chronicle reports on Jewish-Palestinian "tension" at the University of California, Berkeley:
Jewish students coming out of worship services have been pelted with eggs and subjected to epithets, Oleon said. Last week someone threw a cinder block through the front windows and wrote "F--- Jews" in black marker on the Jewish Hillel cultural center's recycling bins. Some Jewish students believe that Berkeley professors, even those who are Jewish, have unfairly come down hard on Israel in lectures.

But Palestinian students say they too are harassed on campus--labeled as terrorists and as being anti-Semitic just for voicing their opposition to Israel. Some say Zionist students have tried to intimidate them by declaring their intentions to join the Israeli army after graduation.
Note how the Chronicle sets up a parallel between the experiences of the two groups of students. Yet in fact they are anything but equivalent. The Jews are subjected to physical assault for practicing their faith. The Palestinians' only complaint is that their feelings are hurt because others disagree with their political opinions.

Also, is there a bigger wimp anywhere than the Palestinian students who are "intimidated" by fellow Berkeleyites threatening to join the Israeli army? The West Coast is a long way from the West Bank, after all, and Israeli tanks are not going to roll into Berkeley--pleasing though that thought may be.
The SF Chronicle story in question runs three photos, one of Palestinian students, one of the leader of the Muslim Student Union, and one of a Jewish professor critical of Israeli policies.
LIFE IMITATES THE SIMPSONS: This advertisement surely rivals Mr. Sparkle. (via Emmanuelle and Tom Tomorrow)

(Update: Now that I've posted this, I see Tom Tomorrow also thought of Mr. Sparkle before I did. Mr. Sparkle is disrespectful to dirt.)
"THE COURT" got cancelled before I could watch it to make fun of it, but I'll certainly miss the opportunity to see Alicia Witt on tv.
DO NOT CONFUSE Lori Gottlieb's Inside the Cult of Kibu with the Cult of Kibo.

A person less charitable than myself might note the interesting juxtaposition between Ms. Gottlieb's Salon piece "Horrible Harvard" where she's critical of an interviewer who suggests that she's too Hollywood for medical school and Perseus Books' biography that notes that she's now a former medical student less than three years after she started at Stanford (during which she "took leave" for the dot-com gold rush). But if you ignore (or account for) the spin, she's an entertaining writer.

Monday, April 08, 2002

WOULDN'T YOU KNOW IT? My first Instapundit link and it's for a poorly-reasoned piece on Enron. Still, every blogger knows the joy of checking his or her hit statistics for the tell-tale Professor Reynolds IP address ( who knew?) and the tension of waiting to see whether the puff of white smoke appears from the Instapundit cathedral honoring you with a link and the increase in traffic of an order of magnitude. Still: links from Overlawyered, Kausfiles, Welch, and Instapundit. (Not to mention "Stone Pimp" status from Tony Pierce). All I need for the full collection is Andrew Sullivan (note to self: review his Shakespeare performance), and the collection of link-trolling will be complete.

While I was writing this entry, I got my 5000th hit ever (not counting the few hours a week the hit-counter's down), thus accomplishing in a mere two months what the Professor gets in a few hours.
ORWELLIAN IRONIES. Warblogger Watch calls himself "Eric Blair" and makes other Orwell references. The sad thing is the bozo is exactly the type of idiotarian that Orwell criticized (1) in his pre-World War II essays for being unable to morally distinguish between fighting against Nazism and Nazism itself and (2) in his 1946 essay "Politics and the English Language" for throwing around insults such as "Klan" and "Tom Metzger" to describe "people that don't agree with me", thus devaluing those terms' meanings.

He shares Ted Rall's fantasies of oppression.

On the Yahoo group, "Blair" denied anti-Semitism, claiming that he opposes all slaughters, be they Arab, American, or Israeli. I asked him what Israelis and Americans should do when faced with Arab slaughterers, both in response to past murders and in prevention of future ones. Needless to say, "Blair" is above such a response, one that refutes his claims to a higher morality, and prefers to toss around smug insults.
READING BETWEEN THE LINES of the penultimate item in this week's Grimaldi column, it appears that a Holland & Knight partner is accusing the former managing partner (and current Florida gubernatorial candidate) Bill McBride of running the firm into the ground. I can't find any other press coverage on the subject, though the standard Maoist apology is always entertaining.
"Unbeknownst to me, at the time the memo was written, the firm's management was engaged in initiatives on many fronts," Jaron wrote. "It is clear -- and I strongly believe -- that the firm has a strong plan in place for continued success."

FOR THOSE OF YOU who didn't find the attack on movie fonts too anal-retentive, here's a refutation of movie physics.
THE ENRON LAWSUITS expand to include Kirkland & Ellis. Here's the 503-page complaint.

Lead Plaintiff University of California mentions something on its website that makes me wonder.
An additional 478,000 shares were purchased as part of the University's Russell 3000 Tobacco-Free index fund, which reflects investments in the country's 3,000 largest companies. UC's shares in these 3,000 companies, including Enron, are managed by State Street Global Advisors. State Street's purchase of these Enron shares began on Nov. 2, 2000 (avg. $71.34/share) as part of the multi-company stock buys required to build up UC's new index fund.

Enron was not removed from the Russell 3000 index until Nov. 29, 2001, at which time State Street sold the fund's Enron shares (avg. of $1.52/share). These Enron losses totaled $34.4 million.

In other words, UC purchased Enron as part of a larger strategy to "hold the market" with a diverse portfolio of 3000 stocks (minus tobacco stocks, but we'll ignore that detail); its decision to purchase Enron was a side-effect of Enron being amongst the 3000 largest publicly-traded companies in America, rather than anything Enron said.

Is "fraud on the market" sufficient causation in such circumstances? If so, why limit UC's damages to the decline in the price in Enron, and not include the overall depressing effect in the market that the Enron collapse had? Proximate cause, I suppose.

But proximate causation has gone out the window in other situations, most notably, the infamous McDonald's coffee case. To recall: Stella Liebeck grievously injured herself when she spilled hot coffee in her lap. A jury found McDonald's responsible for serving hot coffee hot. Theory: McDonald's knows that some people spill coffee on themselves, and is responsible for insuring that they don't get hurt when doing so. Thankfully, other courts have shown more sense than the Phoenix judge in the McDonald's case, but you will find no shortage of normally sensible sources buying into this ridiculous theory of liability.

A question I've never had answered satisfactorily: why should McDonald's be any more liable than the maker of Stella Liebeck's sweatpants? Just as it's possible for a coffee-maker to produce cold coffee and prevent someone from scalding themselves, it's equally possible for a clothing manufacturer to produce clothing that protects one from the elements (such as spilt coffee) rather than absorbing the hot liquid and holding it close to the skin. If anything, the sweatpants manufacturer should be more liable: coffee is supposed to be hot, but clothes are supposed to protect one from the elements. If the answer is that one shouldn't expect a sweatsuit to protect oneself from a hot liquid, why doesn't that also satisfactorily resolve the case against McDonald's? What is the theory of liability that holds Mickey D liable but not the sweatsuit manufacturer or the Wal-Mart that sold the sweatsuit, knowing that some portion of sweatsuit purchasers would spill hot coffee on themselves and suffer worse injuries than if the sweatsuit had been made out of GoreTex? Every time I raise this question to someone defending the result in the McDonald's lawsuit, all I get are sputters. Any bloggers or lurkers have a better answer?
ON THE OTHER HAND, speaking of Ivy League schools, here's Reason #278 why I didn't go to Harvard Law School.

I wonder if professors like Nesson who are so proud of their refusal to grade on a curve realize that a mass of students indistinguishable by objective criteria such as grades will end up being distinguished based on subjective criteria such as the connections their parents have made or whether they've sucked up to a particular professor.
I HAD A HIGH-SCHOOL TEACHER a lot like this -- by coincidence, he also taught Russian history, along with American history, world history, Greco-Roman history, and European history. Working without textbooks, he taught college-level classes consisting almost entirely of powerful lectures -- and coached the soccer and swim teams on the side, plus took on all comers at lunch-time exhibitions of simultaneous chess. I can't imagine what bureaucratic hoops he jumped through or ignored to be able to teach the way he did in a public school system. I didn't have to work that hard again until I got to law school, which tends to make me think that that Yale recruiter who sternly warned me that I would stagnate! unless I passed up the scholarship money for the Ivy Leagues might have been on to something.