Thursday, January 30, 2003

We hear a lot in the media about disloyal Muslim immigrants. To demonstrate the opposite phenomenon, let me quote an email from my wife's uncle Mir, who grew up in Afghanistan and immigrated here a few decades ago. In his email, he makes the following unsolicited comment:
-I hope we go there and hang Saddam Hussein in Baghdad downtown. Sooner or later we have to get this #^&%^ ousted. If not now when?
I got quite a kick out of that.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

A religious reference that many people might have missed in Bush's State of the Union speech:
Our fourth goal is to apply the compassion of America to the deepest problems of America. For so many in our country--the homeless, and the fatherless, the addicted--the need is great. Yet there is power -- wonder-working power -- in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people.
No, not the word "faith." It's the term "wonder-working power." I don't know whether Bush or his speechwriters came up with this, but it's a quote from the 1899 hymn "There's Power in the Blood," the blood in question being that of Christ. The chorus to that song goes like this:
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb
I wonder how many people caught this reference, outside of the relatively few who go (or went) to churches that sing old country hymns regularly.
UPDATE: Well, I now see that at least two other bloggers picked up on the reference independently: Susanna Cornett and Mark Byron.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

After watching the State of the Union address, I think that Fox News should 1) hire someone else to type in the instant summaries at the bottom of the screen, or 2) quit the practice altogether. It was so distracting, what with misspellings, incomplete sentences, inaccurate quotations, etc. The worst part came after Bush made two points -- that America fights reluctantly, but that we in the end are fighting in order to preserve peace. What did Fox News put at the bottom of the screen? I quote verbatim: "This nation fights reluctantly for peace."

Saturday, January 25, 2003

Human Cloning
A concise explanation of why we must prohibit all forms of human cloning. Written by Leon Kass, chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics.

Monday, January 20, 2003

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

"I HAVE A DREAM that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are CREATED EQUAL." - MLK 8/28/63

Saturday, January 18, 2003

Can DNA be translated into music? Apparently so, although I'm a bit skeptical of the artistic merit of the results. I'd also like to know how the choice of translation algorithm affects the outcome.

Thursday, January 16, 2003

Hugh Hewitt has an excellent column in the Weekly Standard about the media bias against West Coast pundits. He cites two examples: John Eastman of Chapman Law School and Eugene Volokh of UCLA (and the blogosphere). I know John and Eugene, and I couldn't agree more as to the merit of putting them on television to comment on legal affairs. And what do you know -- I just got an email bulletin from the Claremont Institute that reads as follows:
Eastman to Appear on Fox News Channel's "O'Reilly Factor" Tonight

Dr. John Eastman, Director of the Claremont Institute's Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, will appear on Fox News Channel's "The O'Reilly Factor" tonight. He will be discussing current court cases, including the Pledge of Allegiance controversy in California and Ten Commandments case in Alabama. Tune in at 5 PM/8 PM Pacific, or 8 PM/11 PM Eastern.
Check it out; I'm sure it will be well worth watching.
In the Eldred v. Ashcroft case (involving the Copyright Term Extension Act), Justice Breyer once again showed that of all the Justices, he is the one who best understands the economics of regulation. That should come as no surprise; regulatory economics has always been his area of expertise, both as a law professor and before (he worked on airline deregulation for the Senate in the 1970s). My favorite passages from his dissent:
What copyright-related benefits might justify the statute’s extension of copyright protection? First, no one could reasonably conclude that copyright’s traditional economic rationale applies here. The extension will not act as an economic spur encouraging authors to create new works. * * * No potential author can reasonably believe that he has more than a tiny chance of writing a classic that will survive commercially long enough for the copyright extension to matter. After all, if, after 55 to 75 years, only 2% of all copyrights retain commercial value, the percentage surviving after 75 years or more (a typical pre-extension copyright term)–must be far smaller. * * * And any remaining monetary incentive is diminished dramatically by the fact that the relevant royalties will not arrive until 75 years or more into the future, when, not the author, but distant heirs, or shareholders in a successor corporation, will receive them. Using assumptions about the time value of money provided us by a group of economists (including five Nobel prize winners), * * * it seems fair to say that, for example, a 1% likelihood of earning $100 annually for 20 years, starting 75 years into the future, is worth less than seven cents today. * * *

What potential Shakespeare, Wharton, or Hemingway would be moved by such a sum? What monetarily motivated Melville would not realize that he could do better for his grandchildren by putting a few dollars into an interest-bearing bank account? The Court itself finds no evidence to the contrary. It refers to testimony before Congress (1) that the copyright system’s incentives encourage creation, and (2) (referring to Noah Webster) that income earned from one work can help support an artist who “ ‘ continue[s] to create.’ ” But the first of these amounts to no more than a set of undeniably true propositions about the value of incentives in general. And the applicability of the second to this Act is mysterious. How will extension help today’s Noah Webster create new works 50 years after his death? Or is that hypothetical Webster supposed to support himself with the extension’s present discounted value, i.e., a few pennies? Or (to change the metaphor) is the argument that Dumas fils would have written more books had Dumas père’s Three Musketeers earned more royalties?

[My view] finds empirical support in sources that underscore the wisdom of the Framers’ judgment. See CRS Report 3 (“[N]ew, cheaper editions can be expected when works come out of copyright”); see also Part II—B, supra. And it draws logical support from the endlessly self-perpetuating nature of the publishers’ claim and the difficulty of finding any kind of logical stopping place were this Court to accept such a uniquely publisher-related rationale. (Would it justify continuing to extend copyrights indefinitely, say, for those granted to F. Scott Fitzgerald or his lesser known contemporaries? Would it not, in principle, justify continued protection of the works of Shakespeare, Melville, Mozart, or perhaps Salieri, Mozart’s currently less popular contemporary? Could it justify yet further extension of the copyright on the song Happy Birthday to You (melody first published in 1893, song copyrighted after litigation in 1935), still in effect and currently owned by a subsidiary of AOL Time Warner?)
And this:
Finally, the Court complains that I have not “restrained” my argument or “train[ed my] fire, as petitioners do, on Congress’ choice to place existing and future copyrights in parity.” * * * The reason that I have not so limited my argument is my willingness to accept, for purposes of this opinion, the Court’s understanding that, for reasons of “[j]ustice, policy, and equity”–as well as established historical practice–it is not “categorically beyond Congress’ authority” to “exten[d] the duration of existing copyrights” to achieve such parity. * * * I have accepted this view, however, only for argument’s sake–putting to the side, for the present, Justice Stevens’ persuasive arguments to the contrary, ante, at 5—22 (dissenting opinion). And I make this assumption only to emphasize the lack of rational justification for the present statute. A desire for “parity” between A (old copyrights) and B (new copyrights) cannot justify extending A when there is no rational justification for extending B. At the very least, (if I put aside my rationality characterization) to ask B to support A here is like asking Tom Thumb to support Paul Bunyan’s ox. Where the case for extending new copyrights is itself so weak, what “justice,” what “policy,” what “equity” can warrant the tolls and barriers that extension of existing copyrights imposes?

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

A Story from the Supreme Court
At the beginning of the current Supreme Court term, a friend of mine who's clerking at the court invited me over for a behind-the-scenes tour. One of our stops was to a small room lined with books; I believe it was a library reserved for the justices and their clerks. (I'm uncertain whether it was in fact called a library, as it was quite small.) Anyway, it was only used by the justices and clerks. Along one of the shelves of legal reporters and digests I noticed that one of the books was out of alignment with others. There were colored bands on the books' spines, so when all of the books were together there was a long maroon band that spanned the shelf -- except for one book where the maroon band was toward the bottom of the shelf, interrupting the line's flow. That book was upside down. I stepped closer to see what it was, and upon seeing that it was volume 410 U.S., I shrugged my shoulders to my friend as if to say, "what's this about?" Without speaking he reached for the book and began to open it. I said, "I know what's in there. On page 113. Why's it upside down?"

"Apparently this has gone on for years. Someone turns it upside down, and someone else will put it back. But actually," he said, "it's not upside down. It's overturned."

He returned the book to the shelf as it had been.

Monday, January 06, 2003

I'll be too busy to post until Thursday at the earliest. Just so you know.

Sunday, January 05, 2003

The Boston Globe features this article on pronouns:
AMONG THE YAWNING GAPS in the English lexicon, we noted in passing last month, is a set of singular "common-sex pronouns" - words that would replace the pairs he/she, him/her, his/hers with a neater neuter. Into that breach leaps reader Adele Wick with a zippy (or xippy) suggestion for new pronouns: Xe(pronounced as in Xerox) would replace he and she, xem would mean him or her, and xers his or hers.

Why the x? "Willing to belabor the obvious, I note that x represents both the sex chromosome males and females share and the unknown in algebra and calculus," Wick writes. If xe were to replace she and he, a biographer could more gracefully write up the life story of one who's crossed gender; a friend could more safely wax enthusiastic about a bald baby dressed in yellow or green and named Courtney, Spencer, Dakota, or Morgan." And, of course, we could write "Every doctor must renew xer license," presumably to the satisfaction of those who find his inaccurate and sexist, his or her cumbersome, and their ungrammatical.

But as many a would-be reformer has discovered, language does not always abhor a vacuum; ours has been muddling along without a unisex third-person singular pronoun for a long time.

Says who? I can think of a unisex, third-person, singular pronoun that has existed in English from time immemorial: It. There's no need to experiment with ridiculosities like "Xe." If a non-sexual pronoun is so desperately desired, "it" should serve perfectly well.

Saturday, January 04, 2003

The National Post offers a resounding debunking of the "no war for oil" slogan.

Friday, January 03, 2003

I'm glad National Review featured such a positive review to one of my very favorite bands, Sixpence None the Richer. It's exceedingly rare that a band's fourth full-length album is its best (most bands peak on their first album), but that's the case here. It's also exceedingly rare that I can buy an album and actually enjoy all of the songs (most bands put out albums on which 1 to 4 songs are worthwhile and the others are filler).

If you like acoustic-tinged pop, tunes full of hooks, masterful arrangements, and lyrics that are intelligent and meaningful, then check out their new album Divine Discontent.

Here's the review from Amazon:
Pushing aside broken relationships in both their professional and personal lives in the last five years, members of Sixpence None the Richer are probably more relieved than anyone else to finally see the arrival of Divine Discontent. Yet true art seems to take its purest form when forged through turmoil, and this much-anticipated release is as pure as solid gold. The 12 tracks featured here are nothing short of a brilliant pop tapestry woven through Leigh Nash's airy and vibrant vocals and songwriter Matt Slocum's finely textured guitar work. While fans of "Kiss Me" will relate to the upbeat "Tonight" and "Breathe Your Name," no one should mistake the upbeat pop for shallowness. In fact, tracks like "Down and Out of Time," "Paralyzed," and "I've Been Waiting" display a rich lyrical depth centered on the human experience. Throughout Divine, Slocum showcases a prowess for offsetting Nash's lilting melodies against haunting, minor key choruses, creating a bittersweet melancholy that lingers well after each song. Perhaps the band does this no better than in the ending track, "A Million Parachutes," which captures that dull ache of longing for friends from afar. It's a feeling well known to those Sixpence fans who have waited five long years for this release. The wait was well worth it. --Michael Lyttle

It's so nice to hear Senator John Edwards announce that his campaign for the Presidency will be about being a "champion for regular people." "Regular people" is a term that most definitely includes me. At least since I started eating high-fiber cereal every morning.

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

Virginia Postrel links to Michael Fumento's piece purporting to debunk the Atkins diet. But while I'm no dietary expert, I'm not at all convinced by Fumento's piece. He begins by saying that believers in the Atkins diet have been sold a bill of goods, because the diet fails in two important ways:
One is the effect of the Atkins diet on weight loss. The other is its effect on cholesterol and triglycerides, a group of fatty compounds that circulate in the bloodstream and are stored in the fat tissue.
As to the effect of Atkins on weight loss, Fumento discusses a couple of studies that do, in fact, show that the Atkins diet helped people lose weight. But, says Fumento, this is "both unsurprising and meaningless" because "Atkins is nothing more than a low-calorie diet in disguise."

Well, so what? In the first place, Atkins himself has said that his diet helps people eat fewer calories because protein and fat are more satiating than carbohydrates. Sounds like the diet works just as promised. Plus, is Fumento implying that even if a diet helps people lose weight, it somehow doesn't "count" if the diet is low-calorie? I just don't follow that reasoning.

Next, Fumento says that too many people on the Atkins diet dropped out of the various studies, and "it's generally accepted that drop-out rates anywhere near this level completely invalidate a study because you don't know how all those drop-outs would have affected the result." This is a more substantive point, although the best Fumento can claim here is that it hasn't yet been conclusively demonstrated that Atkins helps people lose weight.

Moving on, Fumento attempts to debunk the Atkins diet as to its effect on triglyceride and cholesterol levels in the blood, where contrary to what people might expect, various studies have shown that the Atkins diet actually improves those levels. But this is not satisfactory to Fumento:
But what about the blood findings? Wasn't it a real shocker that Atkins dieters consuming heavy amounts of fat saw their HDL ("good cholesterol") levels increase by 11 percent while harmful triglycerides fell 49 percent? (LDL or "bad cholesterol" levels remained the same.)


"Often just losing weight alone will cause improvement in triglyceride and cholesterol levels," the president of the American Heart Association Dr. Robert Bonow told me. Since the Atkins dieters did lose more weight than those on the high-carb diet, it only stands to reason that by comparison their blood levels would also improve more.
I'm beginning to sense a glaring contradiction here. When the subject is the effect of Atkins on weight loss, Fumento urges that the evidence is insufficient because too many people drop out of the studies. But when the subject is cholesterol levels, Fumento turns around and says, "Well of course Atkins improves those levels, because people lose weight on Atkins." So which is it? Do people lose weight or not? If the reason that their blood levels improve is that they lose weight, then at least give the diet credit for helping people lose weight.

I usually like Fumento's work on "junk science," but here it looks like he was straining a bit too hard to debunk Atkins on every possible point.