Friday, April 26, 2002

SURE, we may have dodged the "brutal Afghan winter," but look out for the dangers of the Afghan spring and its improving weather!
LINK FROM Professor Reynolds = >2000 hits

LINK FROM Mickey Kaus = 30 hits

LINK FROM The American Prospect = 15 hits

Advantage: Instapundit!
IN OTHER NEWS, former members of the O.J. Simpson criminal jury condemned the recent rush to judgment in Massachusetts. "I saw the entire trial on Court TV, and the prosecution didn't present one shred of evidence that Michael McDermott didn't actually travel back in time and kill Hitler."

AND IN NEWS YET TO HAPPEN, on the afternoon of August 3, 2002, tourists to the Empire State Building were surprised when a time portal suddenly opened and hordes of heavyset bearded men came through and started shooting at everyone.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Best of the Web incorrectly implies that a Texas auto-parts store that unilaterally decided to stop dealing with Israel is violating American anti-boycott laws.
Texas Automotive Export, a car-parts dealer in the Austin suburb of Dripping Spring, is boycotting Israel, Arutz Sheva reports. An Israeli customer received a fax saying "that the company is unwilling to sell him the parts he was seeking for his Isuzu jeep because at present, they are not dealing with Israelis. The fax stated the response was a decision taken due to Israel's actions vis-à-vis the PA. The fax was signed by company representative John Harris, who called on Udiz to pressure his country to 'stop the offensive on the Palestinian people,' adding that 'your country has lost the respect of the civilized world.' "

There's actually a law against American companies boycotting Israel; the Commerce Department has an Office of Antiboycott Compliance to enforce it. We hope it'll look into the actions of Texas Automotive Export.
This misstates the law. A company cannot agree to boycott Israel (as many contracts with Arab League nations require). But I'm not aware of anything in U.S. law that requires an entity to deal with Israel if it does not want to on its own.
§ 760.2

(1) No United States person may: refuse, knowingly agree to refuse, require any other person to refuse, or knowingly agree to require any other person to refuse, to do business with or in a boycotted country, with any business concern organized under the laws of a boycotted country, with any national or resident of a boycotted country, or with any other person, when such refusal is pursuant to an agreement with the boycotting country, or a requirement of the boycotting country, or a request from or on behalf of the boycotting country.
(10) This prohibition, like all others, applies only with respect to a United States person's activities in the interstate or foreign commerce of the United States and only when such activities are undertaken with intent to comply with, further, or support an unsanctioned foreign boycott. The mere absence of a business relationship with or in the boycotted country, with any business concern organized under the laws of the boycotted country, with national(s) or resident(s) of the boycotted country, or with any other person does not indicate the existence of the required intent.
Intent to participate in the Arab League boycott is the critical component.

A unilateral decision independent of the participation in the boycott would seem to be protected by the First Amendment. (Compare and contrast: a public business cannot refuse to deal with individuals presently in its store because of nationality. That does not create an obligation for Eddie Bauer to ship to Botswana.)

Of course, another activity protected by the First Amendment is protesting such wrong-headed decisions. The address for Texas Automotive Export can be looked up on many Internet search engines if one wanted to contact them and politely (politely!) express disagreement with their corporate policy.
SIMILARLY, NO ONE challenges this chat with an innumerate Palestinian professor who claims that 10,000 Palestinians were killed in the first intifada. Even though he's been under curfew for twelve days in Nablus, he confidently declares that 70% of the population of Jenin has had their houses destroyed, a fact contradicted by aerial photographs of Jenin.

I'd link to a Washington Post chat giving the Israeli side of the story, but one wasn't listed in the "West Bank Eyewitnesses" listings.
AN Oxfam worker takes sides on Jenin. (1) "Scores" are searching for dead relatives (2) because the bulldozers supposedly came without warning (and since each dead civillian has dozens of relatives, you do the math for the probable death toll), but (3) "thousands" have been left homeless. So which is it? It's tremendously implausible for more than two of these three statements to be true.

Needless, to say, it's Israel's fault that Palestinians turned a refugee camp into a war zone.

Look out for the new urban legend claiming that Israel booby-trapped the camp.

Thursday, April 25, 2002

SOME OF THE witnesses against Robert Blake have credibility problems. I hope the LAPD has physical evidence, also, though that didn't stop OJ from going free.
UPDATE (CONTINUED): Professor Volokh draws the analogy to a strict constructionist's view of the constitution, which would acknowledge that "jeopardy of life and limb" would be read by no one literally as limited to death and dismemberment. The analogy is interesting, because some of the first instances of textualism in Anglo-American legal tradition arose from the Protestant Reformation principle of "sola Scriptura"--Scripture alone. The Protestants devoted themselves to chaste literalism, attacking what they viewed as the corruptions of the Scripture's plain meaning made by the medieval Catholic tradition of interpretation that made use of many methodologies and authoritative human interpreters. It was denied that interpretation was even necessary: the plain Word was sufficient. This anti-interpretativism had ramifications in the political sphere; British reformers like John Selden and William Sheppard who called for a textualist approach to law and for clearly-written laws were influential among early Americans. For example, the Essex County Convention in 1778 rejected a proposed constitution for Massachusetts because of a feeling that it would allow the executive branch, too intermingled with the judicial branch, to make "artful constructions" of the laws.

See generally the work of H. Jefferson Powell.
UPDATE: Eugene Volokh, who's perhaps the only person reading this weblog who didn't come here from a google search for n00d photos of Bonnie Lee Bakley, e-mails to point out that the Bible quiz linked to below contains a lot of cheap shots, in that many of the entries are deliberate misreadings of clauses describing miracles, or rely upon inaccurate or overly literal translations. (Which, I suppose, isn't surprising; the entire website is chock full of cheap shots, such as an accounting of the wrath of the Old Testament God.)

On the other hand, the fact remains that there is a tremendous "creationist" movement undermining science education in this country because of insistence on a reliance on overly literal translation that conflicts with reality. Where does one draw the line? (This satire of creationists, using actual creationist arguments to justify writing I Kings 7:23 into law and making pi = 3, is a good example.) "Cloud" doesn't have to mean "cloud" in the the most narrow sense of the word, but then Genesis doesn't have to be read literally, either.
THERE'S A LOT HAPPENING in the Middle East--Bethlehem, Jenin investigations, Saudi machinations, and bogus press coverage of all of the above. But Charles Johnson has beaten me to the punch on everything I would be commenting on, with pretty much the same sense of outrage, so I'll point you to his site. I'll merely note that Bush's conference with Prince Abdullah today is a potentially history-changing moment. Today's the day we learn whether Bush is Neville Chamberlain or Winston Churchill. I could agonize over which is more likely, but time will tell us soon enough. Instead, another lawyer joke:
The partner at [insert name of large New York firm here -- let's just call it Flywheel Shyster & Flywheel] noticed that a mid-level associate had been in the habit of leaving his office around 5 or 6 o'clock in recent evenings. The first time he saw it, he figured it must have been a fluke, but he quickly saw a pattern of three consecutive days where the associate was in around 8 or 8:30, and gone by 6. So, when he was walking by the associate's office that Thursday evening a little after 5, and saw him with his jacket on his shoulder, getting ready to leave for the day, he resolved to speak to him about the work ethic at Flywheel.

"Young man, I can't help but notice that you've been leaving the office between five and six every evening lately."

"Back off, man! I'm on vacation!"
CHINA WILL PERMIT Yao Ming, a 7' 5" center, to play in the NBA, it looks like. The New York Times is shocked, shocked, that China has implemented "strict new regulations" that will require Ming to pay half of his salary to China.
The regulations say that the association will get 30 percent of any money he earns, while 10 percent will go to the central government's State Sports Administration and another 10 percent will go to the Shanghai government.
Of course, not including deductions, Shaquille O'Neal pays about half of his salary to the United States, California, and various local state athlete taxes. (His total tax rate depends on how much income he shelters and how much property tax he pays, but, at the margin, he faces about 40% income + Medicare taxes plus 9.3% California state taxes, and it's not clear to what extent he gets to offset that with visiting athlete taxes.) The language used could come right out of Samizdata on the income tax:
"Yao's latest potential hurdle to play in the United States"

"In The Shanghai Morning Post today [Yao] was quoted as saying, 'I have endured so much frustration, a little more won't beat me.'"
To the extent I'm a libertarian at all, I'm a sensible shoes libertarian at best, and have no moral objections to the income tax per se (though I think the United States would be a better place if more federal revenue came from a gasoline tax). But I look forward to the day when the New York Times calls my ~41% federal+state marginal tax rate "strict" and criticizes those in Congress who want to make it even more "strict."

(Okay, this isn't quite fair, because Yao also faces having to pay his current Chinese team a sum uncertain to liberate him to play in the NBA, plus an "agent" assigned by the Chinese government, so he's facing a tax rate greater than 50%. Plus, he won't get deductions, like he would in the US. But I would be stunned to discover that the payments to China wouldn't be deemed to offset his American tax responsibilities and, let's face it, if the Daschle Administration raised the top tax rate 20%, you wouldn't see the New York Times calling it a "hurdle" to the process of even thinking about beginning work, or asking executives if it would be a "hinderance" to getting hired.)
PAGING JEDEDIAH PURDY. At first, I thought the K and K Mime Ministries was a joke. Then it seemed real. Now I'm not so sure. It seems like an awful lot of trouble to go through for a joke, but, then, Ted Rall seems to be making a living.

UPDATE: A Google search for mime ministry shows that there is an entire subculture that gets its Christian inspiration through mime. Who knew? Why can't I turn on NPR without hearing about burkas but still haven't heard about this?
AN EDUCATIONAL QUIZ for your creationist friends on the Bible and science.

Wednesday, April 24, 2002

HEY! The American Prospect has a blog, though they don't call it a blog, and they don't have the common sense to keep it on a single URL that doesn't change every day so that other people can consistently link to it.

UPDATE: Let the record reflect that the above entry does not call the Prospect blog "stupid", as otherwise accused. There's clearly a niche for a liberal counterpart to NRO's Corner, which suffers from too much Kathryn Lopez. I'm merely expressing disappointment that I can't hard-code a link to the Prospect blog, and calling attention to the poor web-design choice it reflects. (The fact that a link from such a low-traffic site such as this one caught the eye of the Prospect is clear evidence that they're doing something wrong.) I similarly don't link to the ABC News weblog, because it only provides cut-and-paste URLs, and no hypertext links. (The best pre-September 11 weblog was the one Inigo Thomas did for Slate before they turned it into "Idea of the Day," then made it impossible to link to, and then just killed it.)
AIRPORT SECURITY. Some do-good organization was on the radio this morning, complaining about a recent study that showed that current security measures fail to detect guns 30% of the time. This bothers me. Not the 30% failure rate, but the fact that someone is concerned enough about it that they might take steps to make air travel even more inconvenient, while reducing the failure rate to 15-20%. As Malcolm Gladwell points out, no amount of "training" is going to help screeners who, simply put, are looking for the needle in the haystack on a straw-by-straw basis. Terrorist organizations aren't going to attempt to hijack a plane by hoping for that 30% chance to come their way. The September 11 hijacking came about because of four separate security holes that effectively gave terrorists 100% chance of success:
1. The porous border with Canada, and the lack of INS follow-up on student visas.

2. There was no prohibition on the carry-on of box-cutters and other sharp items that could be used as weapons.

3. There was no profiling, be it El-Al style or otherwise, of passengers who could be said to be more likely to have nefarious intent.

4. The learned response, over the last thirty years, was to acquiesce to hijackers' demands.
It took less than two hours for the fourth hole to close, as the passengers on Flight 93 quickly decided to fight back. The second security hole has closed with a vengeance, as grandmothers lose their nail-files across the nation. It's hard to know where we stand on the first hole (which was arguably only 95% open pre-September 11, given the capture of Zacarias Moussaoui); I presume we'll learn the hard way after the next terrorist attack that it's still open. And we're in a strange situation with the third hole, where everyone denies that such profiling is taking place (thanks in part to a gutless White House refusal to stand by such a common-sense procedure on political correctness grounds), but there are enough strange incidents of false negatives going on that one suspects a group of five Arab men with one-way first-class tickets paid in cash is likely to get some additional scrutiny.

I question whether 30% of guns are getting through, or whether it's that 30% of guns are getting through one round of screening. In any event, if 30% of guns are getting through now, at least that many were getting through in pre-September 11 days. But the September 11 plan was not to send 100 hijackers onto 100 planes and hope that 30 of them got through -- it was to take advantage of the parts of the security system that weren't guarded at all. The next terrorist attack isn't going to come because there was a breach of existing security procedures, it's going to come at a place where we don't have security in place. Even the Palestinians, who are self-satisfied when their suicide bombers blow themselves up at checkpoints two times out of three, prefer to find holes in the Israeli security apparatus (teenage girls are checked less frequently than men? start using teenage girls as suicide bombers). Instead of spending millions directly in federal money and indirectly in traveler inconvenience to making sure the barn-door is completely closed after the horses have fled and confiscating every last nail file, we need to be thinking creatively about where our weak spots are and what the next terrorist attack is going to look like.

What gives me nightmares: I have no reason to be thinking about this stuff, and I can think of numerous fairly catastrophic scenarios that me and my five most jihad-loving friends could pull off were we so inclined. How many dozens of people that are so inclined are thinking about this in more than fleeting moments? And how many of them were marching in my city this weekend?
IT'S FUNNY BECAUSE IT'S TRUE, PART TWO: From an e-mail, source undetermined:
A young man was crossing a road one day when a frog called out to him and said, "If you kiss me, I'll turn into a beautiful princess."

He picked up the frog and put it in his pocket.

The frog spoke up again and said, "If you kiss me and turn me back into a beautiful princess, I will stay with you for one week." The man took the frog out of his pocket, smiled at it and returned it to his pocket.

The frog then cried out, "If you kiss me and turn me back into a princess, I'll stay with you and do anything you want."

Again the man took the frog out, smiled at it, and put it back into his pocket.

Finally, the frog asked, "What is the matter? I've told you I'm a beautiful princess. What more do you want? Why won't you kiss me?"

The man said, "Look, I'm a lawyer. I don't have time for a girlfriend, but a talking frog is kinda cool."
(It's not often that I get a lawyer joke I hadn't heard before...)
IT'S FUNNY BECAUSE IT'S TRUE, PART ONE: Modern-day press coverage of the Exodus.

As I feared a month before it happened, the Volokh Bros. blog is one of the best out there. Recently: Sasha does a sound analysis of the French election; Eugene is making debunking of the Slate Bushisms a recurring feature.

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

EUGENE VOLOKH notes that inflation-adjusted per capita education spending has increased from 1959-60 to today.

I have no doubt Professor Volokh's numbers are correct. I would suggest that there are at least two reasons why the comparison is one of apples to oranges.

Most notably, the 1959-60 labor market was a much different place than it is today. Educated women were disproportionately steered into the teaching profession because of discrimination in other fields. Education (and nursing) received the benefit of the resulting market inefficiencies by being able to obtain highly qualified candidates at well below their true market values. I daresay that today's teachers are both paid more and are, I strongly suspect, less qualified than those of 40 years ago: an educated woman now has a panoply of career choices available to her, and may not immediately choose teaching. Society as a whole is better off, but the effect is to make education more expensive.

Second, it would be useful to determine the increase in spending caused by the unfunded mandate of the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a good-intentions-but-damn-the-consequences federal law that did not exist forty years ago, but definitely creates burdens on the education system.

Sunday, April 21, 2002

STEVE KUHN CALLS the NFL draft socialistic.

There is, of course, a fundamental difference between the 32 NFL teams and law firms, in that the latter compete with one another for customers, while the former are 32 parts of a single enterprise competing for customers with other entertainment enterprises. The single enterprise of 32 teams wants to maximize the entertainment value of contests between the teams, and it thus behooves the enterprise to take some steps to equalize the competitiveness of each of the teams.

A better comparison would be between the NFL Draft and a single law firm that hires 100 first-year associates, and then parcels them out amongst the various departments within the law firm depending on those departments' needs, though even that analogy isn't spot on.

Certainly, the draft's creation of a monopsony (single buyer) situation serves to reduce player salaries, in part because there is only one football league, and most NFL players are already too specialized to take their talents to a competing sports league such as baseball or basketball. But the draft is one of many things that are the subject of collective bargaining agreements between sports leagues and their players' unions.
THE FIRST ROUND of nominations on the warblogging book have been posted.
READER E-MAIL. LAN3 from Seattle writes
Let's use the name "Oil Libel" for the absurd theory, often asserted as part of a more horrifying grand conspiracy theory, that the reason we're asserting military power in [insert Middle Eastern or Central Asian nation here] is that we want to keep oil prices low, to install a pipeline across said nation, or to install a friendly tyrant who'll assure a continued supply. Congresswoman McKinney is the most recent, most public example, but it's a well-worn saw for Nader, Moore, and so many others.
I like it. "No Blood For Oil" is bad enough as a knee-jerk slogan and blanket rule; it's worse now that it seems to have become "No Blood In Any Circumstances Remotely Related To Oil." Meanwhile, if, as Cynthia McKinney states, we need to investigate Bush's role in September 11 because of his oil interests, shouldn't we be investigating Rep. McKinney for receiving money from pro-Hamas supporters?

McKinney is in a different ballpark than Moore and Nader. The latter two are more culpable for their role in the Oil Libel, because they should surely know better. McKinney seems somewhat more insane. (Note that Slate hedges its bets by calling McKinney the nuttiest woman in Congress. That's because Rep. Traficant hasn't been thrown out yet. Trial description here.)

Anyway, if there's something you want to do about Rep. McKinney, the best hope is to get someone sane into Congress. A nationwide campaign got the previous holder of the most-insane award, Bob Dornan out of Congress. Judge Denise Majette is running against Rep. McKinney in the primary, and can't possibly be any worse. I might even be donating myself if she wasn't announcing March 12 "fundreasers" on April 17.
INSTAPUNDIT endorsing one of your posts = a lot of hits.

Instapundit comparing you to a porn star = a frightening number of hits.