Thursday, May 02, 2002

I'VE BEEN BLOGROLLED by Charles Kuffner, who was one of the first people who accidentally stumbled across and linked to this here weblog thing. I'm classified as non-Texan, which makes me think that my Marvin Zindler autograph and six years mowing lawns in Houston's 90% humidity count for nothing, but them's the perils of anonymity.

Anyway, updates: Texas Automotive Export ended its Israeli boycott after some questionable legal threats; Jonathan Locker admits faking the Bachelor e-mail that I seem to have been the only one to identify as a hoax; and Virginia Postrel posted her superheroine image, as well as a tremendous amount of writing in the last two days. And I've been averaging ten millipundits of traffic. (While Eugene correctly identifies the milli-Helen as the unit of beauty required to launch a single ship, he fails to note that a single boulevard is equal to a trillion Pico Boulevards.)

I'm having dinner with Professor Volokh tonight, where I shall remind him of this oversight, and will generally be busy and posting only sporadically for a few days.

Wednesday, May 01, 2002

While the placebo effect refers to health benefits produced by a treatment that should have no effect, patients experiencing the nocebo effect experience the opposite. They presume the worst, health-wise, and that's just what they get.
The question, in my mind, is whether this is curable at all. I mean, can you warn people about it? "Dammit, hypochondriacs like me who fear the worst-case scenario of their surgery are far worse off than the sanguine. I'm really in trouble for my upcoming surgery."
A VICTIM OF THE LA RIOTS has Memento syndrome. Maybe he can get Jesse Jackson to ask for reparations.
JOE SHEEHAN ARGUES that firing managers in April, as a record four teams have done this year, is the sign of a bad organization. This was certainly true when Bill James pointed out in the 1980's the general case of teams that name the batting coach manager in the middle of the season. And it's certainly the case that bad organizations are more likely to fire their managers in April. But that's because bad organizations are more likely to get off to bad starts that make managers subject to getting fired. I disagree, however, that it's necessarily a bad thing. Sure: the decision you made in January about who your manager should be should be just as valid in April, and a small sample of games shouldn't change that decision. But in 21st-century baseball, when you have managers on the precipice of have-a-good-season-or-else, a bad start makes a manager a lame duck. The simple reality is that multi-million dollar players barely respect managers as it is. Larry Dierker was a successful manager who got fired because he lost control of his players; the same is true of Terry Collins to a lesser extent. A lame duck has little hope of preventing outright rebellion, and once it's clear that a manager is going to go, you might as well get rid of him sooner rather than later on the off chance that the new guy sparks a rally that turns the season around. Those games in April are only the the first sixth of the pennant race marathon, but they're absolutely the most important in determining attendance for the rest of the season. All else being equal, a team like the 2001 Minnesota Twins that starts off hot and finishes cold will outdraw a team like the 2001 Oakland A's that starts off cold and finishes hot. (Indeed: Minnesota attendance was 1.8 M, while Oakland attendance was only 2.1 M, even though Oakland won 15 more games and made the playoffs for the second straight year, while Minnesota went into 2001 with eight straight losing seasons.) A bad April start costs millions of dollars. You're going to see a lot more early-season firings in future years.
I MISSED THE TV documentary on the engineering behind the collapse of the WTC, but the Nova web sites are often better anyway.
TWO FLORIDA WOMEN run an effective scam using their natural assets. (via Obscure Store)
THIS WEBBY-NOMINATED SITE features 3-D rotations of unusual Lego dioramas.
BLACK HAWK DOWN'S Mark Bowden on Saddam Hussein.
I DON'T KNOW how I went this long without noticing Will Warren's blog, which is entirely in perfectly metered poetry. Here's Will with one verse of three on lie detectors:
Wouldn’t it be marvelous if there were a machine
By which the moral nature of a person could be seen?
To see pens making squiggles,
And markings dancing wriggles,
And needles doing jiggles,
And pixels drawing wiggles,
And by such means a person’s state of virtue quickly glean?
He does a mighty fine Gilbert & Sullivan pastiche, too.
I HEREBY demand a look at Virginia Postrel's secret superhero identity. I presume the Dyna-Mist wears sensible shoes.
I DON'T KNOW WHY I get so many Google hits for people searching for the Saturday Night Live ad for anti-Semitic French tourism, but here it is. It could be worse: Charles Johnson is getting dozens of hits for "nude Saudi women" as is Photodude. Other webbers have also had problems with Saudis.

On the other hand, if Glenn Reynolds keeps doing the "Max Power porn star" joke, I'm going to get some interesting google-bomb results. The professor's deliberate provocation of the traffic effect, or "instalanche" if you prefer, not unlike Marty Feldman deliberately spooking the horse in "Young Frankenstein."

As long as I'm referencing Instapundit, Instant-Man passes along a blog's stunning revelation about "The Bachelor", but the fishy time-stamps sure set my urban-legend detector off. Looks to me like the first e-mail is real, and the second is a gag. But that's also what they would want you to think, so we're never going to know. Finally, the Professor beats me to pointing out that The American Prospect got their blog act together.

Monday, April 29, 2002

MR. SIMPSON, may I introduce you to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine?
O.J. Simpson asked a federal court to overturn a $33.5 million wrongful death judgment against him for the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife and her friend.

Simpson's petition, filed Thursday, contends that his civil rights were violated. It claims that jurors who found against Simpson in a lawsuit trial were ``inflamed by emotion,'' and the award to the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman was so large as to constitute ``cruel and unusual punishment.''
Compare, e.g., Maple Lanes v. Messer:
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibits federal courts from exercising subject matter jurisdiction over claims seeking review of state court judgments. See Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415-16 (1923); District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482-86 (1983). In assessing the applicability of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, "the fundamental and appropriate question to ask is whether the injury alleged by the federal plaintiff resulted from the state court judgment itself or is distinct from that judgment." Garry v. Geils, 82 F.3d 1362, 1365 (7th Cir. 1996). The injury of which Maple Lanes complains--the loss of the liquor license--stems directly from the state court judgment upholding the revocation of the license. Maple Lanes's effort to portray this injury as a federal civil rights violation is insufficient to overcome the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. A plaintiff may not circumvent the effect of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine simply by casting his complaint in the form of a federal civil rights action. See Ritter v. Ross, 992 F.2d 750, 754 (7th Cir. 1993).

UPDATE: Fritz Schrank was the first to point out Simpson's suit.
MAY I PLAY devil's advocate? Professor Volokh has done some fascinating quantitative work on how the current composition of the Supreme Court votes on what the Supreme Court characterizes as freedom-of-speech cases. To wit: he finds that the Court does not cleave on liberal/conservative grounds when it comes to free speech, and, in fact, the Republican members of the Court have voted in favor of "more" freedom of speech than the Democrats. The lack of a clean ideological ducks-in-a-row accounting pace Dershowitz is not a surprise to any regular Court observer; one with a smidgen of common sense sees distinct differences between Thomas/Scalia's and Rehnquist's views on freedom of speech and other libertarian issues (though, sadly, that smidgen of common sense is lacking in many commentators who simply lump the three together as some sort of unholy trinity, and did so long before Bush v. Gore, perhaps because of their continued refusal to accept the Roe v. Wade precedent). I have some nits to pick with Eugene's mathematical methodology, but it wouldn't change that basic result, and would bore the non-"quant jocks" to tears [everyone already clicked over to Kaus hours ago for the snappy repartee there -- ed.], so I'll leave that aside here.

The objection I wish to suggest is a more substantive one; I suspect by Professor Volokh's footnotes that it has already been anticipated by Cass Sunstein or others. But the objection (one that puts forward a view of First Amendment and corporate law with which I disagree) would go something like this.
It is true that Professor Volokh has neutrally included all First Amendment freedom of speech cases in his sample. But the disparate results he sees is because of an earlier selection bias. There is a strain of legal thought that holds that corporations exist as legal fictions created by the state; and a state, having created that fiction, is fully within its rights to restrict the activities in which corporations may engage: the greater power (to eliminate corporations entirely) includes the lesser power (to restrict the "speech" of corporations). Thus, it is a mistake to speak of corporations as having First Amendment rights. By including them within the ambit of the First Amendment, earlier Supreme Court decisions have laid the groundwork for the excessive power that corporations hold today. The "liberal" justices, when they vote to restrict the speech of corporations, do so in the name of the First Amendment out of respect for the legal doctrine of stare decisis, but what these debates are really about is the power of the state to regulate its corporations.

The two poles of Professor Volokh's binary ones and zeroes should not be {more speech, less speech}, but, rather, {individual power to speak, corporate and government power to stop or drown out individual speech}. For example, though neither case is in Professor Volokh's sample, both sides in Pruneyard Shopping Center and the Lloyd v. Tanner cases had claims for the "more speech" position, while the alternative construction proposed in this paragraph would find that Lloyd was a ruling in favor of the corporate ability to use property to stifle speech while Pruneyard was a ruling in favor of the individual. Were the Volokh methodology be used on this alternative metric, one would see the Court lining up in a spectrum more consistent with the stereotypical "liberal" and "conservative", "Democrat" and "Republican" labels.
Bleah. I need a bath.
THE NEW YORK TIMES sounds the call for something that's going to be the next big financial scandal: pension-fund accounting. Except that the Times article is only the tip of the iceberg. Not only is Verizon able to turn a $3.1 billion pension fund loss into a $1.8 billion profit by "assuming" a 9.25% return, there are a whole host of actuarial assumptions behind its valuation of the pension fund versus future pension liabilities, all of which gets counted towards asset valuation, and, thus, profits and losses. Just as aggressive accounting hid problems at Enron, there is almost certainly aggressive actuarial assumptions being used to massage profits -- not least the assumption of 9.25% return for the foreseeable future in what should be relatively conservative stock-holdings of pension funds. If corporations were required to use realistic assumptions of long-term high-grade corporate bond yields, restatements of actuarial assets and liabilities would total in the hundreds of billions. And if the actuaries are pushing investment-return assumptions so hard, what other actuarial assumptions are being pushed hard to understate future liabilities?
MEANWHILE, IN OAKLAND, a domestic terrorism case is underway -- with Earth First! attempting to pin the blame on the FBI when two activists blew themselves up with a pipe bomb.
[The] plaintiffs' explosives expert, Sid Woodcock...testified that the car bomb was placed under Bari's seat. But early on, investigators said it was placed on the rear floor, which would have put the explosive in plain view while it was being transported by Bari and Cherney.

Sher, the DOJ attorney, asked the expert if he knew whether Bari was tall or short. That would have determined how the seat was adjusted, and it would have influenced Woodcock's theory, Sher said.

Woodcock appeared startled.

"Now, it seems important to me. Was the lady tall or short?" the witness asked Sher, prompting the judge to remind Woodcock that witnesses can't ask questions.
One can't tell a lot from a newspaper article, of course, but if this exchange is accurately reported, I don't see how he survived a Daubert motion to be permitted to testify. It seems the very definition of junk science to opine as an expert without even considering admittedly material facts.
YOU'D THINK THAT Rigoberta Menchu could take her Nobel Prize money and spring $10 to buy the blogspot ad off of her weblog. And shouldn't she have links to Steven Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin? Or at least Michael Bellesiles?
DEN BESTE reads my mind, and discusses clusters in the web. (I'd describe the A-list more like "Bay Area leftist" than "liberal," but I perhaps have a romanticized version of "liberal" in my mind.) Of note is the difference between the first generation of bloggers, for whom the technical achievement and design issues were key; and the second generation, who views those technical achievements as means to the larger end of writing, and who've gotten the most recent waves of attention, often without acknowledgment of the pioneers, who've been getting grumpy about it.

There are not only clusters, but sub-clusters. The Los Angeles warbloggers (who, to a great extent, have known each other socially for years) and the New York warbloggers (who are beginning to get to know each other socially) link liberally within themselves, but much less to each other. The LA group has a bigger reach because so many of them are journalists to begin with.

As Den Beste suspected, there is indeed a Jewish sub-cluster of warbloggers (one which overlaps quite a bit with the New York sub-cluster); in many ways, the Talmud was the first blog community, complete with sidebars, hyperlinks, superstar commentators, and self-referential debates within the community. It is perhaps that tradition that makes Jewish warbloggers such a disproportionate voice within the warblogging community--the Kesher list doesn't include me, or the Volokh brothers, or a number of other bloggers who seem to be Jewish as best I can tell, but aren't classified as such by Howard Fienberg. It's an interesting group: Fienberg is one of the few Jewish bloggers who focuses on Jewish religious issues; everyone else will write one or two big essays on what their Judaism means to them, especially in the painful context of so much overt planning for a Second Shoah, and that'll be that.

I don't know whether the lack of discussion of religion is because American Judaism is for 90%+ of Jews such an individualized affair, filled with compromises to secular life, that it seems pointless to debate it; because of the "Seinfeld Syndrome" where one is reluctant to seem too Jewish for fear of offending a broader audience; or because Judaism lacks the sort of polarizing controversies from the politics of a central religious hierarchy that are currently riveting Catholics.

The interesting thing is what happens as blogging becomes more and more popular. I'm three months into this, and my 300-hit-a-day site is somehow viewed as "establishment" by newer amateur blogs who ask me for links. That list on Instapundit's site has over eighty links; Charles Johnson identifies over 150 "anti-idiotarians." (I'm tremendously honored when a Derek Lowe has only a dozen links, and includes me in that list. And I won't even make a no-hitter joke.)

Den Beste remembers the days when one could read the entire Usenet newsfeed. We're about reaching the critical mass of blogosity now whereby one can't keep up with all the bloggers, and not even with all of the good bloggers. Further specialization is bound to happen, because all but the best general-interest warbloggers are going to have trouble maintaining anyone's attention. It's not going to get better: there are far too many journalists/free-lance writers who like to write who don't have blogs--they're bound to realize the opportunities and the ease of entry sooner or later, which is going to make it even harder for amateur bloggers who are not well-established to make themselves heard.
THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES in action: big media mergers and vertical integration of content providers with electronics manufacturers and other media technology companies has created a divergence of interests among Hollywood studios, and has prevented the MPAA from having as effective a voice in Washington, between the lines of this LA Times story.
When [Senator] Hollings drafted the copyright bill last fall, his office provided the industry representatives with a courtesy copy, which was promptly leaked to the media.

Unsure whom they could trust among the jockeying lobbyists, Hollings staffers refused to release the final bill to most association members until after it was formally introduced in late March. But Disney and others were pushing hard for an MPAA endorsement to be included with the bill's introduction.

"I kept saying, 'Wait. How can we endorse this? I don't have a copy of the bill,' " recalled Sony Pictures' Hope Boonshaft, who heads lobbying from Los Angeles. "We weren't allowed to see it."

Some now regret their haste. The final version included some strong language allowing consumers to make personal copies of movies and music, a provision most lobbyists had not seen before and did not necessarily support.
WASHINGTON TIMES ON the first major league night baseball game in 1934.
DOUG PAPPAS GETS a long interview with Bud Selig, and doesn't get a word in edgewise, so is left with having to use his column to refute him point by point.
IN THE EARLY 1990's, the big Chicago stage trend was to do ironic re-enactions of 1970s tv shows: Saturday morning cartoons, etc. The biggest one of these, "The Real Live Brady Brunch," produced a couple of SNL regulars, who in turn did some interminable sketches. NBC is apparently developing the same concept, where the sole benefit seems to be saving money on writers.

It worked on a stage for a short show; the joke is the combination of the nostalgia and the juxtaposition of the faux seriousness of the intimacy of the theater with the most inane television of the 1970s. It works when you have relatively well-known regulars on a sketch comedy series do an even shorter sketch, where the joke is the laugh you get from seeing the familiar John Belushi dress up as an equally familiar Star Trek character. I just don't see it working, half-hour after half-hour, with a bunch of unknowns doing increasingly more obscure sitcom recreations.

Side note: Do you think Courteney Cox and Matthew Perry realize that they're going to be special guest stars playing the parents on some young thing's sitcom in 2025?

Sunday, April 28, 2002

THE RETURN OF THE Yugo: the ZMW, made in Serbia, priced between $5,000 and $10,000, from the fellow who first imported Subarus and Yugos.
MAYBE SASHA, or Joanne Jacobs, or someone else paying attention to the voucher litigation can help me on this one. What is the argument being made why it's problematic for vouchers to go to a Jesuit high school, when government money subsidizes education at such Jesuit colleges as Georgetown University? I was the beneficiary of a government pork program called the Robert C. Byrd Scholarship, and no one checked up on me to make sure I was taking purely secular classes.

The Supreme Court has ruled that there's no inherent right to education, so it can't be that public elementary schooling is somehow "required" and higher education isn't.

The only difference I can see is that there isn't a politically-powerful union with a vested interest in secular higher education as there is with public schools. But perhaps I'm missing something else.
REAL belligerent women.
Candice was 5-4 and fashion-minded, with thick brown hair that she blow-dried, the kind of young woman who collected ceramic Snowbabies and kept an entire drawer filled with nail polish. She was fond of the movies "Cinderella" and "Snow White," her mother said, and had daydreams of a knight in shining armor. Her car had a pink steering-wheel cover that said "Princess."

"Not Candice!" family and friends responded at the news of her enlistment.
After Sept. 11, she felt the pull of "wanting to do something and help out."

Not until she signed the paperwork -- with a job specialty in legal administration -- did she even tell [fiance] Tony. "He was kind of in shock with everyone else," she said. Even in her job category, Marines could be deployed overseas.
The Washington Post focuses on the shock of contrast between girly-girls and Marines and Marine training, the differences between the "tea party" training for Marine women of thirty years ago and the real boot camps of today, and the drama as women take their rifle tests. But reading between the lines, one can see the impact that will be felt a generation from now:
Just hours after Candice Fleming, Shannon Desmond, Stephanie Flint and Sara Pujols arrived at Parris Island -- before they had a full night's sleep or a shower or a hot meal -- they were issued M-16A2, assault rifles designed for the rigors of combat.

For the next 12 weeks, the guns would become like another appendage to their bodies, slung over their right shoulders as they marched and hiked and even attended classes. At night, the guns hung from their bedposts, locked down for security.

The gun was the centerpiece of their new culture.

Some women went so far as to name their rifles, so close did the relationship become. In Fleming's platoon, one recruit dubbed her M-16 "Thomas," and another chose "Betsy."[...]

Each platoon gathered first for the creed recited by generations of other Marines.

"This is my rifle," the drill instructors started. "There are many like it, but this one is mine. My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. My rifle without me is useless. Without my rifle I am useless.

"I must fire my rifle true. I must shoot him before he shoots me. I will."
It's going to be hard to see women like this be part of the gender gap, if any, on gun control issues in 2020. Of course, there's another subtext to the article:
[Fleming] could lose her chance to graduate on time.

Then she might have to wait longer to see her family, whom she has missed more than she imagined. And she could lose a chance to see Tony, her fiance [and fellow Marine enlistee]. The two have not had a conversation, only letters, since he proposed marriage and she said yes -- and since he proposed she give up being a Marine and she said no.
Am I the only one who winced for the future of that marriage?
WHY THE HECK is Burger King introducing a veggie whopper that no one wants to eat? Three words (two of them hyphenated): mad-cow syndrome. No, it hasn't come to America, and there's no evidence that it has. But mad-cow fears have wreaked havoc on burger chains in Europe and Japan, and it's almost only a question of when the same will happen in the US and drive down beef sales 50% or more. (Remember the Alar scare?) Thus, the burger chains are diversifying more and more into chicken and non-beef fare in the contingency that beef demand suddenly dissipates overnight in this country. And that's why I still eat hamburgers, but don't invest in any fast-food chains: I'm more scared of the effects of a health-risk scare than of the ostensible health-risk. On the other hand, maybe I'm not worrying enough.
"It's true, I'm a rageaholic! I can't live without rageahol!"
LET THE RECORD reflect that on April 28, 2002, after eleven weeks of blogging, at approximately 5 p.m., my Sullivan number dropped to two in a moving and touching formal ceremony where I was awarded a commemorative nail-file that was promptly confiscated by airport security. For me and about thirty other people. (If I couldn't make Glenn Reynolds' list of top eighty recommended weblogs, it was time to hang it up anyway.) Let's see how long I can keep that coveted "caboose" position in the link list. (I'm the Zbigniew Zwiegel of blogging!)
BILL QUICK joins the legion of pundits comparing modern-day Islam to Imperial Japan. (via Instapundit)
This web site provides interesting background on the Nigerian scam spams, as well as contact information.
THE WASHINGTON POST on modafinil. Patients and doctors are working around the FDA refusal to approve modafinil for more than a narrow range of uses.