Friday, May 24, 2002


UPDATE FOR GOOGLE: twenty dollar bill world trade center
H.D. MILLER HAS SOME good links to an Asia Times first-person account of a pizza chef recruited to cook for the dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong-Il.
OF COURSE, sometimes anonymity is not enough.
"MAX" IS BECOMING an increasingly popular name after a several-decades long decline. Adolph dropped off the charts, though I'm surprised it took as long as it did; I'm not surprised that Franklin peaked in the 1930s, though I am surprised that Hillary became less popular during the Clinton years. But "Friends" must have resuscitated Phoebe and Chandler. It's not clear how much "Star Wars" accelerated a trend towards Luke. Ruth has dropped from 5th to 306th, barely ahead of Sasha.
THE NINTH CIRCUIT HELD 6-5 that a prisoner incarcerated for life does not have the right to artificial insemination. Judge Kozinski dissented, arguing that the decision was an ad hoc one made by the prison, and not by the legislature. This is curious. If Judge Kozinski's complaint is that the prison is violating state law by imposing additional punishment upon a prisoner not authorized by statute, the prisoner's remedy is a state-court suit, not a federal suit. If Judge Kozinski's position is that prisoners have a fundamental right to procreate, it's not clear that the decision of the legislature should change that. Moreover, this is a situation where the technology has outstripped the laws; California barred conjugal visits for prisoners with life imprisonment. I submit that that creates the default rule, and the creation of new technologies does not create new prisoners' rights. California prisoners are allowed to have televisions and to write letters, but can surely be barred from interactive digital cable and e-mailing over the Internet, regardless of the free speech implications.

Judge Kozinski's dissent has other interesting implications, as it implies a state can never ban artificial insemination: if a prisoner is entitled to make use of the technology of artificial insemination, how can a free person be barred from it?

The other obvious question: would Judge Kozinski hold that a woman incarcerated for life is entitled to artificial insemination by her husband? Neither the majority nor the two dissents address this fundamental question posed by the Gerber case. To me it seems straightforward: the prison system can bar (new) pregnancies within its walls; incarcerated men should be treated no differently than incarcerated women.

Kozinski's distaste seems to be that a low-level "bureaucrat" can make a decision with such impact on a person's life. But decisions are made by low-level bureaucrats all the time that have life-and-death implications. As such decisions go, the decision not to allow a prisoner incarcerated for life plus eleven years to procreate a child to be raised by a single mother seems to be one of the better ones.

Thursday, May 23, 2002

TONY PIERCE riffs on Miss Thailand 2002.
TWO WRONGS DON'T MAKE A RIGHT DEPT. Volokh points to the funny Iain Murray debunking of recent scare tactics. But an unfortunate side effect of these debunkings all too often is flip comparisons. It's one thing to say that the media has overemphasized a risk. But that doesn't justify equally misleading minimizing of that risk. To wit:
we do know that during the 1990s, falling TV sets killed 28 children nationwide. During that same time period, only five people were killed by shark attacks, the major public health scare of last summer. As the Statistical Assessment Service put it, loosely speaking, watching Jaws on TV is more dangerous than swimming in the Pacific.
The last sentence is a good sound bite (Volokh quoted it), but it's beyond loosely speaking, it's just wrong: A falling TV set is not necessarily a watched TV set. More importantly, the comparison is between "watching Jaws" (spending two hours in front of a tv) and "swimming in the Pacific": I would guess that in a decade, the average American has about 12,000 stints of two hours where he or she is in front of a television, and maybe twenty swims in the ocean. (Don't forget that many of these falling televisions are in Iowa, Montana, Kansas, Oklahoma, and many other land-locked states where residents may never have gone for an ocean swim.) Even if we conservatively overestimate the number swims/decade/American at 200, that's a 5.6:1 ratio of deaths versus a 60:1 to 600:1 ratio of incidents of potential death. As rare as shark deaths are, death-by-falling-tv is an order of magnitude or two less likely to happen, even if more common, simply because people have so many more opportunities to get hit by a tv than eaten by a shark. (And most people watch tv from across the room, where the tv isn't going to fall on them without a very violent tornado or earthquake, making the risk seem even more trivial.)

Why not simply point out that far more Americans have died driving to the beach? That's a nice 1-1 denominator correspondence. It provides the right comparison of danger: one is more likely to die in a car accident on the way to the beach than at the beach at the teeth of a shark. If you were willing to risk your family's life to make that drive, you're not putting them at much more danger by going for a swim. Just don't coat Junior's swimsuit with chum.
IN THAILAND, even a Buddhist monk carries an AK-47.
A MUSLIM STARTED firing a shotgun at the New Orleans airport, ostensibly because people made fun of his turban. Good thing no one pointed at his traditional floral-print shirt and flip-flops. The good news in the war against terrorism:
A Southwest Airlines customer and a Southwest employee wrestled Gott to the ground as he was about to pump his shotgun to fire a second time, Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee said.
We have some brave Americans out there.
IT'S NOT JUST legislatures rewriting the law to take on unpopular defendants. A court in Australia (pdf) has held a tobacco company liable to a plaintiff -- not because there was evidence against the company, but because there wasn't, and there wasn't, because the company had destroyed decades-old documents. Document destruction when there's an outstanding subpoena calling for the documents is one thing, and clearly illegal; document destruction when there's outstanding litigation that will likely call for the documents is another, though generally agreed to be illegal when done with nefarious intent, and at issue in the Andersen case now. But here the court held that British American Tobacco's destruction of documents with no litigation pending was illegal and sanctionable, because it was done in anticipation of future litigation against unknown parties that had yet to be filed!

The problem here is that this proves too much. All document destruction policies are in place, in part, to limit the expense of future litigation. If your company saves forty-year old documents, someday someone will sue you and want to look through those forty-year-old documents for evidence, and you'll need to hire lawyers and paralegals and copying services to manage all that potential evidence at a cost that, if I had to guess, works out to about a buck a page. Most companies automatically delete e-mails for just such a reason. (I'm a litigator in my day job. I've sat in a warehouse and looked at forty-year old documents. I've also spent days of my life leafing through executives' ancient personal e-mails because they were stored with their business e-mails.)

Meanwhile, BAT's "discovery abuse" was sanctioned by prohibiting them from introducing contrary evidence in defense of their case, and they naturally lost the one-sided trial, as the plaintiff pointed to the evidence destruction as the evidence of wrongdoing.

Now, it could be the case that this is an example of "tobacco companies always lose"; sui generis as the daintier Latin translation would have it. But opinions are precedents, and are meant to be argued as examples of how courts should act in the future. If this reasoning invades America, and is extended only slightly, companies may find themselves retroactively liable for innocent document destruction policies.

What American press coverage there has been has come from press releases by anti-tobacco activists. But the implications are much broader.

UPDATE: Charles Kuffner comments from an IT perspective.
IN COPPERWELD CORP. ET AL. v. INDEPENDENCE TUBE CORP., there were allegations of an anti-competitive conspiracy -- but the only conspirators the plaintiff demonstrated were a corporate parent and its wholly owned subsidiary. The conspiracy was thus entirely within one corporation, and not a conspiracy at all. The Supreme Court held that under federal antitrust law a corporate parent could not be deemed to be "conspiring" with its wholly-owned subsidiary. While there was some controversy over how far the majority pushed this obvious doctrine to the facts at hand, even the dissent (and therefore the entire court unanimously) agreed that
It is safe to assume that corporate affiliates do not vigorously compete with one another. A price-fixing or market-allocation agreement between two or more such corporate entities does not, therefore, eliminate any competition that would otherwise exist. It makes no difference whether such an agreement is labeled a "contract," a "conspiracy," or merely a policy decision, because it surely does not unreasonably restrain competition within the meaning of the Sherman Act.
Now, the California Senate is considering a bill that would repeal the Copperweld doctrine for purposes of California law.

Why? The obvious one-word answer: Enron.

Apparently, California is still having trouble finding something illegal about the profits made by companies that benefited from California's self-imposed regulatory debacle. So, it hopes to rewrite the law to retroactively permit recovery from energy companies, who, because of existing regulatory concerns, are almost always subdivided into subsidiaries trading amongst one another. There may not have been a conspiracy between different energy companies to manipulate prices, but there almost sure as heck were (harmless) intra-company agreements regarding such trading. If this bill passes, a lawyer will be able to point to the huge one-time profits, point to a few memos within the corporate entity, and the hometown jury will happily transfer wealth; the defendant can only sputter, because it won't be allowed to point out that the correct response is "So what?"

But it's not just a one-time retransfer of wealth from Texas to California, which may or may not be grossly unfair depending on whether there really was an industry-wide conspiracy to manipulate energy prices. The real concern is that there's no telling what the unintended consequences of this bill, if it passes, will be to other industries doing business in the state who may find themselves, by a quirk of corporate structure, to be suddenly subject to expropriatory lawsuits.

Because the repeal of the Copperweld doctrine is attached to a bill allowing a monopolization action in California, the whole kit and kaboodle may pass; the California Attorney General is lobbying heavily for it. It's already out of one committee and read twice.

There's been absolutely no media coverage of this.
WELL, MAYBE Israeli soldiers can receive pizza. This story is awfully recent and implies only that additional security measures are needed. So does the original web site. Caveat emptor.
I'M SOMEHOW RANKED seventeenth, give or take, in the "sexiest male blogger" poll. Lord knows who's voting for me: they're not sending me fan-mail. But the Pejmans and Vodkapundits are campaigning, and perhaps even performing CAIR-like machinations, so I recommend that you protest this rank objectification of blogosians by exercising your God-given right to stuff the ballot box. So to speak. I could always use the publicity.
A lengthy recitation of major inconsistencies and plot-holes in the Star Wars series.
CATHY SEIPP runs into Oliver Stone at a party, with hilarious consequences.
IF I CAN'T BE Eugene Volokh or Glenn Reynolds when I grow up, Howard Bashman would be a pretty nifty alternative career path. And he's got an equally nifty blog, plus shares my fandom of Judges Easterbrook and Posner.

The Seventh Circuit in Chicago, where these two judges sit, has an exemplary web site. For example, if you want to follow Mr. Bashman's commentary about a recent contracts case, not only can you read the court's opinion, but also look up the briefs of the parties and listen to the oral argument.
AWFUL PUN OF THE DAY. But no doubt thought of by thousands of other lawyers: Are the attorneys representing the respondents in Eldred v. Ashcroft acting pro Bono?
PART OF THE APPEAL OF TIVO and perhaps other personal video recorders (PVRs in industry jargon, though the Times calls them digital video recorders) is that they can hypothetically use a model similar to the Amazon model to fill up a hard drive with forty hours of programming that consists partly of stuff you know you want to watch, but also stuff you might want to watch if you had preferences similar to others who watch the shows you like to watch. Given the option of this or of 200 channels that happen to be broadcasting this second, you're more likely to find preferable programming on the PVR -- some of the 200 channels might be in the middle of a movie or program, and there will be dozens of specialized channels that a particular viewer is almost never going to want to watch. The eventual culmination of this, if bandwidth and IP and pricing issues can be resolved, will be video-on-demand ("VOD") -- an advanced (and hopefully cheaper) version of what's in hotel rooms across the country now, except with thousands of choices instead of the few dozen in hotels or the twenty to sixty hours of choices on a PVR.

Maybe this is old news to other people, but: when it comes to music videos, VOD is already here., now an arm of Yahoo, will call up just about any music video (including some fairly obscure ones) on demand if you can find it in its search engine. Both Lileks and Treacher mentioned they liked the new Eminem video; I don't have MTV, but I discovered the site, called it up, and now I know what they're talking about. I can see the very cool White Stripes Lego video without having to sit through eight hours of MTV commercials.

But there's another nifty feature: you can program your own radio station. You can either base it off of a single band (in which case you'll get a mix of that band and similar bands), or you can go through a quiz and rank a bunch of bands, songs, albums, music genres and sub-genres. The music you say you like will be there; the computer will select other songs for you. If there's a song you hate, you can pretend to be Clear Channel and ban it from future radio-play on your station -- or just hit a fast-forward key and skip to whatever the computer dj selects. With very little effort, I got a radio station that was playing personalized music, and even introducing me to a couple of artists I wasn't previously aware of -- as well as selecting albums that I already knew I liked but had forgotten to list. And only a couple of minutes of commercials an hour. If there was a way to port it to my car stereo, it would be perfect, but I now have background music when I work at home. This is what the Internet is supposed to be about, and it's exciting times we live in.
MICHELLE BOARDMAN suggests that Amazon doesn't go far enough:
A friend once made the seemingly obvious but brilliant suggestion that Amazon merge its database of reader's preferences with an online dating service.
Now, perhaps I dreamt this, but a couple of months ago, I swear that I could click on a link in Amazon and come up with the wish-lists of people with similar purchases and interests to mine. It didn't work especially well (I'm far too promiscuous with my book- and CD- and DVD- purchases; Amazon doesn't distinguish between what I buy because it's cheap over the Internet (or as gifts for friends and family) and what I buy because I'm really interested unless I spend far more time than I do programming in my preferences), but it was a nifty option. I discovered Jonathan Lethem off of a friend's Amazon wish-list, for example; I could surely find other purchasing ideas from strangers. Either they're working the bugs out of it, or privacy advocates freaked out, because I can't seem to find the feature now.

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

DOWNER: IT'S NO longer possible to order pizzas for Israeli Defense Forces. Some 4000 pizzas had been purchased through the clever scheme (the vast majority from the US), but there was worry that terrorists would take advantage of soldiers used to receiving unsolicited deliveries.
I WAS ALWAYS AMUSED by the Taliban Singles page that was being e-mailed around last year. The real thing, on the other hand, is kind of disturbing.
SKULL FOUND in Rock Creek Park. Immediate speculation that it could be Chandra Levy.
HOW screenplays go bad. (The story waits until the third paragraph to go to the lede.) John Gregory Dunne has also written on the subject; his "life of Jessica Savitch" screenplay got pabulum-ized into "Up Close and Personal."

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

FOR EUGENE VOLOKH AND ADAM BONIN: Try this with a long gun.
GREAT FALLS (AP) - A 22-year-old Great Falls man shot off his right testicle Friday while stuffing a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun in his waistband, police said.

Officer Keith Perkins said the man, whom he declined to identify, was upset because a buddy had been cut in a bar fight and several friends, including the 22-year-old, were in a parking lot looking for the culprits in the predawn hours.

"When the group decided not to do what they were going to do, he decided he was going to take the gun back home," Perkins said.

The man, who had been drinking, shot off his testicle, injured his penis and put a hole in his right thigh, the officer said. A friend took him to the hospital.

The officer said police initially thought of ticketing the man for disorderly conduct but likely won't, under the circumstances.
(via Obscure Store)
TODAY'S QUIXOTICISM: a web site is leading an anti-contraction demonstration by encouraging baseball fans to vote for the Expos and Twins players in the All-Star game.
JONATHAN LAST makes a compelling case that we're rooting for the wrong side in the Star Wars movies. (via Dr. Manhattan)
The destruction of Alderaan is often cited as ipso facto proof of the Empire's "evilness" because it seems like mass murder--planeticide, even. As Tarkin prepares to fire the Death Star, Princess Leia implores him to spare the planet, saying, "Alderaan is peaceful. We have no weapons." Her plea is important, if true.

But the audience has no reason to believe that Leia is telling the truth. In Episode IV, every bit of information she gives the Empire is willfully untrue. In the opening, she tells Darth Vader that she is on a diplomatic mission of mercy, when in fact she is on a spy mission, trying to deliver schematics of the Death Star to the Rebel Alliance. When asked where the Alliance is headquartered, she lies again.

Leia's lies are perfectly defensible--she thinks she's serving the greater good--but they make her wholly unreliable on the question of whether or not Alderaan really is peaceful and defenseless. If anything, since Leia is a high-ranking member of the rebellion and the princess of Alderaan, it would be reasonable to suspect that Alderaan is a front for Rebel activity or at least home to many more spies and insurgents like Leia.

Whatever the case, the important thing to recognize is that the Empire is not committing random acts of terror. It is engaged in a fight for the survival of its regime against a violent group of rebels who are committed to its destruction.
However, I think he's too charitable towards Darth Vader's actions in Episode V: it's at least as plausible that Vader is hoping to use Luke to supplant the Emperor as it is that he's hoping to end the rebellion.

Monday, May 20, 2002

WHAT THE NETWORKS DON'T WANT YOU TO SEE. Not just Mulholland Falls (originally an ABC pilot), but also Heat Vision and Jack. (via Frank)