Thursday, July 29, 2004

Racial Identification, and Words Spoken to Children

Two very interesting items from the same article in Sunday's Washington Post:
Think you can spot an Arab American? If so, guess again. Most Americans are notoriously bad at identifying people by their race or ethnicity, asserts Jeremy M. Weinstein, an assistant professor of political science at Stanford University.

"In a climate where discrimination against Arab Americans is on the rise, people are often getting it wrong," said Weinstein, who conducted the research with colleagues James Habyarimana of Georgetown University, Macartan Humphreys of Columbia University and Daniel N. Posner of UCLA.

That's an understatement. In tests conducted on the campuses of USC and UCLA in Los Angeles, nearly 100 study participants were shown a series of photos of young people and asked to guess their race or national origin. The images were selected to be a representative sampling of facial types of Asians, blacks, Caucasians, Latinos and people of Middle Eastern descent.

These students were able to correctly identify the ethnicity of Arab Americans only about 27 percent of the time.

The students did better with the Latino photos, successfully matching the face with the correct ethnicity about 58 percent of the time. African Americans were correctly identified 81 percent of the time, Asians more than nine out of 10 times.
I'm not surprised that people are so bad at identifying Latinos and Arabs. But what explains the finding that people identified blacks only 81 percent of the time? The only thing I can think of is that the study classified individuals as "African-American" who have a good deal of white ancestry. One particularly famous example is Walter White, who headed the NAACP starting in 1929, but who reportedly was only 1/64th black. (Why was he considered "black"? Because of the one-drop rule.) I have friends from Nigeria and the Sudan, and it would be absolutely impossible to confuse them with non-Africans.

Then there's this:
What explains the differences in the scores of black and white students on various tests designed to measure reading and math levels? There are lots of suspects, including racist teachers, culturally biased tests or instructional materials and resource-strapped schools, says sociology professor George Farkas of Pennsylvania State University in the latest issue of Contexts, a journal published by the American Sociological Association.

But Farkas suspects there's another reason: the Word Gap.

Researchers know that being raised in a word-rich environment creates vocabulary and language skills that are the building blocks of education. The problem is that many poor parents don't have the time, the language skills or perhaps the energy to converse a lot with their kids, which puts their offspring at a disadvantage even before they begin preschool, Farkas said.

Farkas reported that working- and middle-class parents spoke about 20 million words to their children, while parents of low-income children said only 10 million. He based his conclusions on insights first published by developmental psychologists Betty Hart and Todd Risley of the University of Kansas. These researchers spent an hour each month in the homes of 42 families, transcribing and then counting the words spoken to the children.
Aha! I've posted about this study before, and noted how utterly implausible it was that anyone actually spoke that much to their children, as it would require non-stop, auctioneer-style speaking for every waking minute of every day. So it turns out that researchers came up with the 20 million figure by spending one hour in families' homes. I can only assume that they extrapolated from there. But any bets that the parents realized that they would look better in the study if they spent that one hour talking intensively to their children as opposed to turning on a video of Boohbah*?

*Boohbah is a PBS kids show that makes the Teletubbies look like Masterpiece Theatre.


Wednesday, July 28, 2004

My Whereabouts

I'm in Bozeman, Montana this week. The classical guitarist Christopher Parkening has taught a master-class here every summer for 30 years now. I played for Chris's class a couple of times in the early 1990s, back when I was at more of a professional level. I thought it would be fun to come back for the 30th anniversary class, not to mention visiting Montana. Highlights include seeing my old teacher John Sutherland, and attending the class picnic at the Deer Park Chalet up in the mountains 15 miles from Bozeman. This Saturday night Chris is playing a duet concert with the baritone Jubilant Sykes.

Chris is as gracious and warm as always, and even asked why I wasn't playing for his class again. I had to tell him that given the stroke I had in March, I'm still not quite back up to speed, at least not at a level where I would feel comfortable playing for the class.

My first contact with him was at age 14 or so. I wrote him a fan letter, and in response, he sent me a nice letter along with two of his tapes -- for free. Later, I wrote to him asking if there was anywhere that I could buy a published version of his arrangement of Bach's cantata "Withstand Firmly All Sin," which he had recorded with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra. In response, he had all of the hand-written parts photocopied and sent to me, again for free.

I don't know any other musical superstars, but I can't imagine that there are many who would be so generous and helpful.

Inter-racial Adoption

I've been reading a lot of books about race and adoption. One book that was especially informative was In Their Own Voices, by Rita James Simon and Rhonda M. Roorda. Each chapter consists of an interview with an adult (usually black or bi-racial) who was adopted interracially (mostly in the 1970s).

Virtually all of the adoptees speak positively of their experience. But the thing that concerned me was that almost every single one of them mentioned that they had faced criticism from other blacks for "acting white," "talking white," "being white," or just for having white parents.

There's no guarantee that my son will ever face these sorts of comments, of course.  Still, the book interviewed adoptees from all over the country, indicating that the "you're too white" criticism might be fairly widespread.  This bothers me, but I don't suppose there's anything I can do other than tell Jonathan (if the need ever arises) to ignore any such comments.

Monday, July 26, 2004


You might wonder how my wife and I came to adopt a black baby.  Interracial adoption isn't all that common, after all.  While I've seen lots of white couples who adopted a Chinese girl, I've never seen or even heard of a white family adopting a black child, with two exceptions (a homeschooling family that my mother knows, and a federal judge who I clerked for).

It came rather suddenly.  My wife had called an adoption attorney, just looking for information.  He called back a few days later with the message that a black woman who was 8 months' pregnant had called him, and he didn't know any couples willing to adopt a black baby.   We didn't have to think about it for long; we had considered adopting a girl from Haiti a few years ago, but couldn't afford it. 

So things took off.  We met the birth mother, an attractive woman about 24, who already had two daughters from another man.  She didn't think she could handle another child, and she thought that he might be an obstacle if she tried to get back together with her daughters' father.  As for the baby's father, he had urged that the baby be aborted, and then had disappeared from the mother's life. 

Interestingly, she never even mentioned the fact that we are white.  We had expected that she would at least ask a question or two: "Are you prepared to have an inter-racial family?," or the like.  But never a word.

It's not that she was shy about discussing matters of skin color.  At one point, she expressed bemusement at the fact that her son's father was "dark, really dark."  She said, "I usually go for the light-skinned guys.  I'm a yellowbone."  (I can guess what "yellowbone" meant from the context.  I presume that it is associated with the terms "yellow" or "high yellow" used to denote light-skinned blacks.)

Anyway, we adopted Jonathan, and couldn't be happier with our decision.  So far, we have received nothing but positive comments from numerous strangers in public places.  More so, it seems, than when either of our two natural children were newborns. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Plural verbs

My daughter -- 2.5 -- is a veritable fount of linguistic curiosities. Of late, she has evidently become aware that something is different about a sentence in which the subject is third-person singular. In normal English, the verb adds an "s" most of the time: "I want to go," but "He wants to go."

But for my daughter, the extra "s" attaches to the subject rather than the verb. "Hes want to go," or "Its make me happy," to quote two of many examples that I've recently heard from her. She has never heard anyone else do this, so it can't be that she's repeating something she heard. And I'm sure she'll quickly grow out of it, as her brother did. But it's still fascinating to see how grammatical rules begin to formulate in her mind. (Actually, what's interesting is when rules malformulate, to coin a word from "malformed.")

Sunday, July 18, 2004

Nader on Taxes

In this interview that Ralph Nader did with Pat Buchanan (strange bedfellows there), Nader's overall tax plan seems more sensible to me than our current tax structure.  (What's more, he actually agrees with Bush's cut in the marginal income tax rates!)  A quote:
PB: Can we move on to taxes? Reagan cut the top tax rate from 70 percent to 28 percent in terms of personal income taxes. Clinton raised it to 39.6. Bush has cut it back to 35 percent. What do you think is the maximum income-tax rate that should be imposed on wage earners?

RN: Zero under $100,000. Now you got to ask me how I am going to make —

PB: What is the rate above $100,000? What is the top rate?

RN: Then you have a graduated rate. Thirty-five percent, in that range, for the top rate. It comes down to the loopholes. When it was 70 percent, did you ever meet anybody who paid 70 percent?
Now, where would I make it up? This is where the creativity comes in. I would move the incidence of taxation, first, from work to wealth. So I would keep the estate tax, number one.

PB: You restore the estate tax to 55 percent?

RN: That is a little extreme.

PB: That is where Bush has it, 55, and he is cutting it down gradually to zero. What do you think it should be?

RN: Again, 35 percent.

PB: Would this be on all estates?

RN: No. Estates above $10 million.

PB: Ralph, you are not going to raise much money with this tax.

RN: There will still be a tax on smaller estates. I think all estates over, say, $500,000 should pay some tax. The estate tax as a whole raises about $32 billion a year, but the thing is the loopholes. Buffett, as an example, won’t pay because all of it is going to his foundation.
I think we should have a very modest wealth tax. I agree with the founder of the Price Club, who thinks it should be 1 percent.

PB: One percent of your wealth each year would be turned over to the federal government?

RN: Right. Then the third shift is why don’t we tax things we like the least? We should tax polluters. We should tax gambling. We should tax the addictive industries that are costing us so much and luring the young into alcoholism and tobacco and drugs. And we should tax, above all, stock and currency speculation.

PB: A short-term capital gains tax?

RN: Like a sales tax. If you go to a store and buy furniture, you pay 6, 7, or whatever percent. You buy 1,000 shares of General Motors, you don’t pay anything. So what we are doing is taxing food and clothing but not the purchase of stocks, bonds, derivatives, and currency speculation. A quarter-of-a-cent tax will produce hundreds of billions of dollars a year because of the volatility. You remember the days when 3 million shares on the New York Stock Exchange was a big day? Now it is 1.5 billion shares.

The point is this: work should be taxed the least. Then you move to wealth, and then you move to things we do not like. And you will have more than enough to replace the taxes of under $100,000 income and to provide for universal health insurance and decent public transit and to repair the public-works infrastructure.
I don't know about the percentages, but the idea seems absolutely right to me: Lower taxes for things that we like (work), higher taxes on wealth and things that we don't like. 

UPDATE: My good friend Brian Fitzpatrick, who clerked for J. Scalia, points out by email that a wealth tax would be unconstitutional without something akin to the 16th Amendment, which authorized the income tax. Good point.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Health Care Costs

Kieran Healy displays a chart purporting to show that health care expenditures per capita are the highest in those countries (especially the U.S.) that have lower expenditures by the government. Here's the chart:

Healy says:
As you can see, health care in other advanced capitalist democracies is typically twice as public and half as expensive as the United States. . . . There’s not much evidence that the quality of care in the U.S. is twice as good as everywhere else.
Well, one wouldn't expect twice the expenditure to deliver twice the quality of any good. Price and quality are not linearly related. In any endeavor in life, more effort and expense is spent to make the last 1% of improvement than the first 1%. It is far, far easier for a 12 minute miler to reduce his time to 11:50, than for a 3:50 miler to reduce his time to 3:49. The increase in quality between a $5,000 car and a $10,000 car is probably more than the increase in quality between a $50,000 car and a $100,000 car.

If we spend twice as much per capita on health care -- so what? What does this tell us about the increase in quality that we should expect at the margin? I don't know.

Indeed, I suspect that the situation is worse in trying to analyze health care. One person's healthcare might feature a higher price and a worse outcome -- but without any malfunction in the healthcare system itself. Compare two hypothetical people: Person A in Country A spends $100 on an office visit where the doctor tells him to eat healthy and non-fatty foods. Person B in Country B spends the same $100 on the same office visit, but decides to eat unhealthy foods anyway. Sometime later, he ends up spending $40,000 on heart bypass surgery, and ends up dying anyway. If you just look at the figures and the outcomes, you might be misled into thinking, "Gee, Country B spent $40,100 where Country A spent $100, and the mortality rate was still higher." But -- in this hypothetical -- there is nothing inadequate about either country's health-care nor about their systems of expenditure. The only difference is due the Person B's lifestyle choices.

That's not to say there aren't important differences in health care and expenditures across various countries. It is just to say that there may well be choices in lifestyle and diet that have a huge effect on how much health-care a country has to provide. Unless you control for those factors, the mere level of expenditures says little.

Moreover, buying more healthcare might worsen outcomes. More visits to the doctor or more days in the hospital is not necessarily a good thing. It also means more possible interactions with other sick people carrying communicable diseases, plus the risk of catching something from a nurse or doctor who didn't wash her hands. The CDC claims that 2 million people get infections from the hospital annually. An NYU doctor estimates that 50 million antibiotic prescriptions annually are completely unnecessary, and only contribute to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. If all of those prescriptions averaged $20 apiece, there's an expenditure of $1 billion that actually harms the nation's health.

Then there's the fact that some people experience adverse reactions to the medical treatment itself. One JAMA study theorized that the U.S. might incur 100,000 deaths per year due to adverse reactions to prescribed drugs. (Think about that next time a politician praises the federal government's new involvement in paying for prescription drugs.) Then there is medical error: According to the National Institute of Medicine, medical errors might account for 44,000 to 98,000 deaths per year. 

The moral is that it is very difficult to tell whether one country is getting more for its money than another. There are so many variables involved (including the patients' own choices), and so many ways that more health care could actually be a negative thing. How do we know what the "proper" level of spending is, and whether we're actually getting our money's worth?

* * *

Kevin Drum further discusses the chart here, and concludes:
Basically it shows that the United States has (a) much less public involvement in healthcare than the other countries and (b) much higher healthcare costs.

* * * Note that the chart doesn't really demonstrate any special trend, but it does show that conservatives who insist that national healthcare systems are nothing more than vast boondoggles that inevitably produce huge amounts of waste and higher costs just isn't looking at the evidence. As near as I can tell, France has a better healthcare system than the United States on practically every measure, and does it at half the cost.
The conclusion one is supposed to take from the chart isn't readily obvious. Drum seems to imply that it would be possible to deliver better care at half the cost. This seems implausible.

What might make one country spend half as much money on health-care as another? Various reasons spring to mind:

1) It might buy less health-care, i.e.,fewer surgeries and doctor visits, fewer tests, fewer drugs, etc., etc.  This is the most obvious explanation, and as stated above, less health-care overall might be a positive thing in many circumstances. 

2) Administrative costs might be lower.

3) Doctors' salaries might be lower.

4) People might make better lifestyle and dietary choices that result in less health-care expenditure per capita.

5) The country in question might free-ride on other countries' research into treatment.

6) The lower-cost country might be more productive (e.g., they can complete a given surgery with just one doctor and an anesthesiologist, as opposed to half a dozen people).

Any others?

In any event, the sorts of people who make cross-country comparisons of health care costs often seem to think -- for what reason, I don't know -- that the entirety of the explanation lies in number 2: Administrative costs. Thus, they'll argue that France or Britain has a more centralized system with lower administrative and paperwork costs, and if only we adopted their system, we too could provide healthcare to more people for half the money.

But I doubt that this could possibly be true. Administrative costs are significant, but I just don't think that administrative costs could be what explains why Britain spends $1500 per person on health care while the United States spends around $3600. Could paperwork and administration really account for $2100 per person?

I suspect that all of the factors are involved to some extent, which makes me skeptical of any claim that a mere change in the method of payment will result in a magical cure for all our problems: Greater health care for less money.  The situation has to be more complicated than that. 

Bush vs. Lincoln and Roosevelt

A Newsday essayist complains about the fact that Bush made a speech with religious overtones after 9/11, and compares it to the secularism of Roosevelt and Lincoln:

Like most Americans, I responded to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, with an immediate wave of anger and grief so powerful that it left no room for alienation.

Walking around my wounded New York, as the smoke from the ruins of the World Trade Center wafted the smell of death throughout the city, I drew consolation from the knowledge that others were feeling what I was feeling - sorrow, pain and rage, coupled with the futile but irrepressible longing to turn back the clock to the hour before bodies rained from a crystalline sky.

That soothing sense of unity was severed for me just three days later, when the president presided over an ecumenical prayer service in Washington's National Cathedral. Delivering an address indistinguishable from a sermon, replacing the language of civic virtue with the language of faith, the nation's chief executive might as well have been the Reverend Bush. Quoting a man who supposedly said at St. Patrick's Cathedral, "I pray to God to give us a sign that he's still here," the president went on to assure the public not only that God was still here but that he was personally looking out for America.

* * *

Bush's very presence in the pulpit represented a significant departure from the behavior of other presidents in times of crisis. Franklin D. Roosevelt did not try to assuage the shock of Pearl Harbor by using an altar as the backdrop for his declaration of war and Abraham Lincoln, who steadfastly refused to join any church even though his political advisers urged him to do so, delivered the Gettysburg Address not from a sanctuary but on the battlefield where so many soldiers had given "the last full measure of devotion."
She's technically right about the location of those speeches. But did Roosevelt and Lincoln shy away from using religious -- even explicitly Christian -- rhetoric? Here's a sampling from their public speeches:

Franklin Roosevelt, radio address, October 27, 1941:
Your Government was in its possession another document made in Germany by Hitler's government. It is a detailed plan, which, for obvious reasons, the Nazis did not wish and do not wish to publicize just yet, but which they are ready to impose a little later on a dominated world -- if Hitler wins. It is a plan to abolish all existing religions - Protestant, Catholic, Mohammedan, Hindu, Buddhist, and Jewish alike. The property of all churches will be seized by the Reich and its puppets. The cross and all other symbols of religion are to be forbidden. The clergy are to be forever silenced under penalty of the concentration camps, where even now so many fearless men are being tortured because they have placed God above Hitler.

In the place of the churches of our civilization, there is to be set up an international Nazi church -- a church which will be served by orators sent out by the Nazi government. In the place of the Bible, the words of Mein Kampf will be imposed and enforced as Holy Writ. And in place of the cross of Christ will be put two symbols -- the swastika and the naked sword.

A god of blood and iron will take the place of the God of love and mercy. Let us well ponder that statement which I have made tonight.

* * *

Today in the face of this newest and greatest challenge of them all we Americans have cleared our decks and taken our battle stations. We stand ready in the defense of our Nation and the faith of our fathers to do what God has given us the power to see as our full duty.
Franklin Roosevelt, radio address, May 27, 1941:
Today the whole world is divided between human slavery and human freedom -- between pagan brutality and the Christian ideal.

We choose human freedom -- which is the Christian ideal.

No one of us can waver for a moment in his courage or his faith.

* * *

We reassert our abiding faith in the vitality of our constitutional Republic as a perpetual home of freedom, of tolerance, and of devotion to the word of God.
Abraham Lincoln, First Inaugural Address:
If the Almighty Ruler of Nations, with His eternal truth and justice, be on your side of the North, or on yours of the South, that truth and that justice will surely prevail by the judgment of this great tribunal of the American people.

* * *

Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty.
Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address:
Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Josh Marshall on the Plame affair

In regards to the Plame affair, where one or more government officials might have violated the law in revealing a CIA agent's identity, Josh Marshall asks:
If there's no legal case and no political problem, why don't the senior administration officials who leaked her identity just come forward?

If their rationale is a good one and they face no legal jeopardy, what's the problem?

It seems like a great opportunity to clear the air, settle the story, ascertain the facts and let the chips fall where they may.

Doing so will save much of the money being spent on the investigation Mr. Fitzgerald is running. They can save themselves a lot of attorneys' fees. And they can have a free opportunity to explain the rationale behind their decision and why they believed it was the right thing to do in the context.

I can only assume by their silence that they're rather less confident about the quality of their explanation and the degree of their legal jeopardy than their many voluble defenders in the conservative press.
As a practicing lawyer, if I had a client who was under government investigation for anything, I'd tell him that he would be crazy to think it would be a good idea to run to the press and tell all, even if he thought that he had a solid legal argument for his position. If there is even a 1% risk that the client might be wrong (i.e., that a court would find in the prosecutor's favor), no lawyer is going to let a client start talking publicly. Which is why it is absurd to draw any sort of inferences from the mere fact that someone hasn't talked to the press. One might as well say, "If the defendant accused of murder really had a good alibi, he would hold a press conference to announce it."

This is not to say that the subject(s) of investigation are innocent. But their reluctance to speak publicly is irrelevant at this point.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Certification to the Supreme Court

The Second Circuit has certified a question of law -- the validity of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines -- to the Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court, that is. Courts certify questions of law to state supreme courts all the time, when the state law question is unsettled and it would help matters if the state supreme court resolved the issue. But certifying a question upstairs to the Supreme Court -- well, it happens so rarely that Eugene Volokh, a former Court clerk, didn't know it was even possible.

Sunday, July 11, 2004


Avery Tooley has some colorful thoughts on color-blindness. He asks:
Is it really possible for an American to not-see race? I specify American, because I know what it's like here. People I know who have gone or were born elsewhere tell me that it's different in such-and-such, but I can't speak on that. Never been there. I know this place, though.

What got me on that question is this article in the Chicago Tribune (subscription required). The subtitle is "Mixed race couples find a world that's not colorblind." That got me thinking. Is there such a thing as colorblindness?

Personally, I don't think it's possible. That's like when I hear the old standby, "I don't think of you as Black." Well then what do you think of me as?

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Reverse of Plural

One of life's little coincidences:

The other evening, I was reading Steven Pinker's book Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language. Specifically, the passage I read included the following from page 192:
Alan Prince studied a girl who . . . was delighted by her discovery that eats and cats were really eat + -s and cat + -s. She used her new suffix snipper to derive mik (mix), upstair, downstair, clo (clothes), len (lens) sentent (sentence), bok (box), brefek (from brefeks, her word for breakfast), trappy (trapeze), even Santa Claw.
That same evening, my daughter Eva (2 years, 7 months) found one piece of leftover cereal on the floor. It was from some Kix that she had been eating earlier. She said, "That's a dirty Kick," holding up the single piece of cereal. Then she disappeared into the bathroom, and then came back out and said, "I throw the Kick in the potty."

Why Isn't There More New Urbanism?

Why isn't there more New Urbanism? Instead, most new developments seem to follow the old model: Suburban housing tracts, and strip malls. Why?

Three factors lead me to be curious about this:

1) Rich neighborhoods. Some of the most expensive neighborhoods in the country are dense urban areas where you might find street parking, a coffeeshop on the corner, etc. Think Georgetown, Manhattan, Cambridge, etc. Sure, a lot of people like to live in isolated suburban developments where every house is on 1/3 acre and you have to drive 15 minutes to an hour to do anything. But a lot of people obviously like living in dense urban areas, and at a high price too. Why isn't there more new development that resembles those areas?

2) Tourist towns. I've been to several small, touristy towns, like Eureka Springs, Arkansas, or Helen, Georgia, or Gatlinburg, Tennessee. They are all dense and urban. Small shops with storefronts abutting the street, limited parking, lots of people walking around. Or historic towns, like Williamsburg, Virginia, that have historic houses that are all close together, and that are mixed in with blacksmith shops or churches.

People will actually pay money and drive far out of their way just to walk around a charming little town. By contrast, no Wal-Mart or strip mall has ever been a tourist destination. Why is almost all new development of the strip-mall variety, when it only seems logical that a great many people would like to live in or near a place that resembles where they would go for a vacation?

3) Malls. Malls are just an indoor variant of the historic downtowns. You go inside a mall, and what do you see? Lots of storefront shopping, lots of people milling around, no parking lots in front of the stores, and so forth. Key differences: No one lives in or around most malls, so you don't have the "eyes on the street" that Jane Jacobs wrote about; plus, everyone has to drive there. And while malls are somewhat like dense, urban areas viewed from the inside, they are monstrous, big-box developments viewed from the outside.

But my point is still valid: People like the experience of shopping at a mall, walking around, etc. Since a lot of outdoor development is going to occur anyway, why doesn't more of it resemble the dense, urban, parking-in-the-back, pedestrian-friendly experience?

Conclusion: My perception is that there is a market failure here. Lots of people would, by all indications, like to see more dense, urban areas. Why doesn't more of it happen? The ill effects of zoning laws? Lack of imagination on the part of builders? A collective action problem (i.e., it's hard to come up with a dense urban area when you're only building one free-standing structure and everything surrounding is big-box)? What?

Friday, July 09, 2004

The Montamower

From my stats page, it appeared that someone had visited this blog by being referred from this page that features an old advertisement for the Montamower. No link is in evidence -- must be some glitch -- but the Montamower looks like quite an invention. Lileks material, I'd say.

Spider-Man Director

Spider-Man 2 is excellent. What I hadn't known -- until now - is that the Spider-Man movies have been directed by Sam Raimi, who directed 1998's film A Simple Plan. Very different from Spider-Man, but a wonderful film in its own right. Two brothers and a friend find a crashed plane full of cash, and then their lives spiral out of control as they fight with each other. It presents a long but seemingly inevitable descent into murder and attempted thievery. The film features Billy Bob Thornton in his second-best role next to Sling Blade. It also has some dark humor, as when Thornton's dim-witted character criticizes some crows in the woods for having a "weird job." (You can actually listen to Thornton's line in the last sound file listed here.) Highly recommended.

Cheaper by the Dozen

Despite what I said before, I gave in to my wife's wishes, and saw a video of the Steve Martin movie Cheaper by the Dozen, which is supposedly a remake of a classic film by the same title. I say "supposedly" because it has absolutely nothing in common with the earlier film beyond the mere fact that it featured a family with 12 children. And it wasn't nearly as funny.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Blog Stats

It certainly makes a difference when a blog is linked by National Review's The Corner (twice), Instapundit, and Slate, within about a day's time.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004


My wife and I recently adopted a baby boy: Jonathan Thomas Buck. Actually, the adoption won't be fully final and official for another 4 months or so, but we're past the period where the birth mother can change her mind. So I feel comfortable announcing it.

The New York Times on Welfare Reform

The New York Times, today:
[N]one of the shortcomings of the G.O.P.-controlled Congress are more confounding than its failure to renew one of the acclaimed successes of the past decade, the welfare reform law of 1996.

Much of the partisan angst and philosophical conflict that marked the original passage dissipated as the law sharply shrank welfare rolls by 60 percent and guided millions of recipients from the dole to low-income employment and career opportunities. In keeping with the law's emphasis, states and localities began exercising creative authority to tailor federal block grants to the particular child care, transportation and education needs of welfare recipients and the working poor. Renewal, with some moderate tinkering, seemed a no-brainer.
Renewal of welfare reform is a no-brainer, huh?

But back in 1996, the welfare reform bill was a "draconian" means of "punishment" that would throw "a million children into poverty." Not only that, it was "atrocious," "harsh," "extreme," "devastating," "not humane," "punitive," "odious," "shocking," and "arrogan[t]." If that wasn't enough, it was not "acceptable."

Thanks to LEXIS, here's what the New York Times said then:
The New York Times,
August 28, 1996, Wednesday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section A; Page 18; Column 1; Editorial Desk

HEADLINE: Screening for Homelessness

New York City's leadership is right to insure that families seeking shelter at city expense really deserve it. The draconian welfare-reform bill just passed in Washington, in addition to the declining Federal support for public housing, makes it especially vital to sort out the truly needy from those who feign homelessness to get better housing or move higher on the public housing waiting list.

* * *

The New York Times, August 25, 1996, Sunday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section 4; Page 12; Column 1; Editorial Desk

HEADLINE: The 'Nonworking Class'

Proponents of the draconian welfare reform just enacted in Washington say the bill will help the poor to exchange "welfare checks for paychecks." But this welfare reform will do nothing of the kind. It will terminate welfare benefits after five years -- throwing perhaps a million children into poverty -- while doing little to create jobs in distressed areas where work does not exist. Having revoked Federal support, the country has an obligation to find or help to create jobs.

* * *

The New York Times, August 1, 1996, Thursday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section A; Page 26; Column 1; Editorial Desk

LENGTH: 579 words

HEADLINE: A Sad Day for Poor Children

President Clinton's defense at yesterday's press conference of his decision to sign an atrocious welfare bill exaggerated its tiny virtues and ignored some large faults. His disappointing excuse was that the flawed bill was the last realistic chance to fulfill his campaign promise to "end welfare as we know it." Last chance? This conservative Congress longs to send him as many bills as it takes to cut welfare. . . .

This is not reform, it is punishment. The Administration's staff estimates that such provisions will throw a million more children into poverty. The President himself criticized the harsh cut in food stamps for families saddled with excessive energy and housing bills. Even worse, the bill would prevent unemployed workers without minor children from collecting food stamps for more than three months in any three-year period -- even if they work steadily, get laid off and can find no new job.

There are also extreme cuts in benefits for disabled children and impoverished legal immigrants. Mr. Clinton promised to work for reversal of some of these missteps after he signs the bill, but there is little chance that this Congress will raise taxes or cut other popular entitlement programs for the sake of poor immigrants.

The effect on some cities will be devastating, especially those with large immigrant populations. New York estimates that by cutting off parents on welfare for more than five years even if they have no job prospects, by providing too little money for job slots and by cutting off immigrants, the measure will impose hundreds of millions of dollars of costs each year on a city that can barely afford the services it currently provides. Besides, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani points out, the city has already aggressively pruned welfare rolls and put recipients to work under existing law. . . .

This bill provides no useful follow-up. It is not fair to cut parents off welfare unless they are provided an opportunity to work. It is not humane to remove a Federal guarantee of welfare aid and create the leeway for additional punitive cuts at the state level. A bill that creates child poverty is not an acceptable way to end welfare as we know it.

* * *

The New York Times, July 25, 1996, Thursday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section A; Page 22; Column 1; Editorial Desk

HEADLINE: Mr. Clinton's Duty on Welfare

President Clinton says he might sign welfare legislation if Congressional negotiators improve the House- and Senate-passed bills in a conference committee. He should stop shadow-boxing. The House's bill is odious. The Senate's is only slightly less so. The conferees will produce a compromise somewhere in between. That is not a place a Democratic President should stand.

The conferees will hand the President a bill that, like the bills they will work from, will hurl more than a million children into poverty. It will slice food stamps by an average of $600 for families earning less than $6,300 a year. It will strip legal immigrants, including some elderly, of health insurance. It will, for the first time ever, tell workers who lose their jobs after years of steady work that they cannot collect food stamps for their children. President Clinton will find no honorable reason, in his own promises of welfare reform or the history of his party, to sign such a bill. . . .

To find serious fault with the House and Senate bills is not to deny the need for reform. The welfare system discourages work, encourages dependence and can foster family breakdown. But Congress's arrogance in reshaping 61-year-old institutions is shocking. No one knows how time limits and many other provisions will work out in practice. Critics say they will pummel children and many innocent parents. The G.O.P. says that time limits will force recipients to take responsibility for finding work.

Maybe so. But there is no evidence that time limits will work as promised. If they do not, it is the children who will suffer most. If Congress were serious about reform, and not waging ideological vendettas, then it would watch what happens when states experiment with time limits and other reforms. Wisconsin has asked Washington for permission to impose time limits on welfare benefits and guaranteed work opportunities. Before Congress sets up an untested system nationwide, it might at least see whether such limits work in Wisconsin, which benefits from a flush economy and competent state government.

The Republicans think they have cornered Mr. Clinton. Either he will alienate his liberal constituents by signing their bill, they think, or he will alienate a huge chunk of the middle class by vetoing it. Mr. Clinton vetoed two previous G.O.P. measures, contending that they would hurt children.

With November looming, Mr. Clinton is wavering. He stopped his staff from producing a new estimate of the Congressional proposal's impact on children -- an estimate that would surely have shown that the new legislation is only marginally different from the bills he vetoed. Even without those official estimates, he knows very well what the consequences will be. He should also know he will be harming children and blemishing his record of compassion if he signs the Congressional bill.

* * *
The New York Times, June 1, 1996, Saturday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section 1; Page 18; Column 1; Editorial Desk

HEADLINE: Who Stands for Children?

. . .
Poor children need better educational opportunities, better nutrition and health programs and communities where they can grow up free of guns and violence. Yet President Clinton and Congress have embraced welfare reform bills that could throw a million more children into poverty, and Congress has balked repeatedly at more meaningful gun control.
That's not counting the many op-eds that the New York Times ran lambasting the 1996 welfare reform bill at the time. Here are a couple of quotes from the understated Bob Herbert:
The New York Times, July 22, 1996, Monday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section A; Page 19; Column 5; Editorial Desk

HEADLINE: In America;
The Mouths of Babes


There is something very creepy about the welfare debate.

The politicians have gotten together and decided it's a good idea to throw a million or so children into poverty. But they can't say that. The proponents of this so-called "reform" effort have gone out of their way to avoid being seen for what they are -- men and women of extreme privilege who are taking food out of the mouths of infants and children, the poverty-stricken elderly, the disabled.

* * *

The New York Times, August 2, 1996, Friday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section A; Page 27; Column 1; Editorial Desk

HEADLINE: In America; Throw Them Out


They should have included, in this charade called welfare reform, instructions on how you actually get these useless elderly people out of their dwellings -- these blind people, and the men and women addled by Alzheimer's, and the ones disabled by strokes or cancer or heart disease. I'm talking about the elderly disabled immigrants who, by the grace of our President and a rabid Congress, are soon to be suddenly destitute. Paying rent will be out of the question, so they will have to be evicted. Do you get stretchers and carry them out of their homes and leave them at the curb, or do you wheel them out, or do you just drag them out?
Just to be clear, we should all change our minds, if need be, in the light of education and experience. But if the New York Times is going to say now that welfare reform is a "no-brainer," it would be nice if they included something like this: "Indeed, now that we realize the benefits of welfare reform, it makes us cringe with embarrassment to read the hysterical arguments that we regularly made at the time. Apologies to any readers that were misled by our lack of expertise."

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Powell on Media Ownership

I haven't posted about the media ownership debate in a while. Here are some excerpts from a recent interview with Michael Powell:
The Gartner Fellows: Michael K. Powell's Interview:


A message that seems to be finding traction is that the Commission doesn't seem to be consistently applying a competitive spirit to its undertakings, but now wants to regulate content. What's going on?


Here's the truth: the ownership debate is about nothing but content. Don't be fooled. I mean, this is my greatest warning to the American public. It's easy to go after every ill in society by claiming it's the media's fault. It's the American pastime, right? Anything you don't like, it's the media's fault.

What scared me in that debate is that it's not about the ownership rules at all. The vast majority of people don't even know what the rules say, to be perfectly candid. Name all six of them. Name what they actually do. Nobody can. They became a stalking horse for a debate about the role of media in our society. I can expect and understand consumer anger and anxiety about that. But the ownership rules are not the cause or the cure. It was really an invitation for people with particular viewpoints to push for a thumb on the scale, for content in a direction that people preferred.

The danger with that? It's easy to say, 'I'm comfortable with that when the government's doing it for something I like. But I get really scared when it's something I don't.' And what is juxtaposed against the media ownership debate? Indecency, which maybe is what you mean by content. Hollywood was happy to beat up on ownership liberalization because they want the government to intervene so we can promote more independent programming -- which is content. But the same Hollywood says the government can't say that Howard Stern can't say the F word, because that's censorship and inappropriate.


What's your response?


First of all, there's a separate response for indecency, since Congress has passed a statute and the Supreme Court upheld it. So I don't have any choice other than to believe that it is a constitutionally permissible restriction that the people, through their representatives, have imposed as a matter of law.

But if you're outraged by that, you've got to be principled all the way through. You can't pick when it aligns with your interest and then scream about it when it doesn't. We wouldn't have had as much steam in the media ownership debate if Rupert Murdoch hadn't come into the world. Conservatives were griping for decades about liberal media and nobody paid attention. Now, all of a sudden, one news channel has gotten a whole new community of people freaked out.

Marcus Aurelius

I just finished Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. It isn't terribly long, and consists of his advice on how to live a good life. A consistent theme is that we should live our lives according to reason and without regard for the thoughts of others, knowing that we will soon die. Bracing thoughts.

Some quotes:
Chap. III, para. 4:

Waste not the remainder of your life in thoughts about others, except when you are concerned with some unselfish purpose. For you are losing an opportunity to do something else, when you have such thoughts as: "What is such a person doing, and why, and what is he saying, and what is he thinking, and what is he contriving?" . . . We ought to check in the course of our thoughts everything that is without a purpose and useless, but most of all meddling and maliciousness. A man should train himself to think only of those things about which if you were suddenly asked, "What have you now in your thoughts?" -- with perfect openness you might immediately answer, This or That.

* * *

Chap. IV, para. 17:

Do not act as if you would live ten thousand years. Death hangs over you. While you live, while it is in your power, be good.

* * *

Chap. IV, para. 47:

If any god told you that you should die tomorrow, or certain the day after tomorrow, you would not care much whether it was the third day or the morrow, unless you were completely mean-spirited -- for the difference is too small to consider. So think it no great matter to die after as many years as you can name rather than tomorrow.

* * *

Chap. V, para. 28:

Are you irritated with one whose arm-pits smell? Are you angry with one whose mouth has a foul odor? What good will your anger do you? He has this mouth, he has these arm-pits. Such emanations must come from such things. "But the man has reason," you will say, "and he could, if he took pains, discover wherein he offends." I wish you well of your discovery. Now you too have reason; by your rational faculty; stir up his rational faculty; show him his fault, admonish him. For if he listens, you will cure him, and have no need of anger . . .

Sunday, July 04, 2004

What did Doe v. Bolton Accomplish?

Under Roe v. Wade, must states allow third-trimester abortions for virtually any reason under the rubric of "health"? Did the Supreme Court eviscerate its own trimester distinction by saying in Doe v. Bolton that "health" automatically encompasses "all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial and the woman's age — relevant to the well-being of the patient"?

So you would think from reading any number of countless sources. I've never seen any writings that explicitly disagree with this assessment. But I think it's probably wrong.

Ohio passed a law in the late 1990s that limited partial-birth abortion, but made exceptions for the woman's life or when the lack of abortion would create "serious risk of the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function." In Voinovich v. Women's Professional Medical Corp., the Sixth Circuit noted that "this definition appears to be limited to physical health risks, as opposed to mental health risks." The court then criticized the Ohio law for failing to abide by the definition of "health" provided in Doe v. Bolton (i.e., "[M]edical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors--physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age--relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.")

In dissenting from the denial of certiorari in that case, 520 U.S. 1036, 1039 (1998), Justice Thomas (joined by C.J. Rehnquist and J. Scalia) pointed out that Doe v. Bolton did NOT actually require such a definition of "health":
The panel majority similarly wrenched this Court's prior statements out of context in finding the statute's lack of a mental health exception constitutionally infirm. The panel majority stated that the question of whether a maternal health exception may constitutionally be limited to physical health depends upon what we meant in Casey by abortions "'necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.'" 130 F.3d at 208 . . . To answer this question, however, the panel relied on our conclusion in Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179 (1973), that an exception in Georgia's abortion statute for abortions performed when a physician determined, "based upon his best clinical judgment[,] [that] an abortion [was] necessary," . . . was not unconstitutionally vague because the phrase had been construed to allow physicians to consider "'all factors--physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age--relevant to the well-being of the patient.'" . . . Our conclusion that the statutory phrase at issue in Doe was not vague because it included emotional and psychological considerations in no way supports the proposition that, after viability, a mental health exception is required as a matter of federal constitutional law. Doe simply did not address that question. As with its void-for-vagueness holding, the panel majority's quarrel with the wishes of the Ohio Legislature on this score appears to be grounded in abortion policy, not constitutional law.
In other words, when Doe v. Bolton described the word "health" as including "emotional and psychological factors," it was merely interpreting what the Georgia statute meant in that case, NOT issuing an actual command that the Constitution now required such an interpretation of "health."

Looking at what Doe v. Bolton actually held, I think the conservative Justices were correct. Here is the relevant passage from the opinion, with some comments from me interspersed:
C. Appellants argue that 26-1202 (a) of the Georgia statutes, as it has been left by the District Court's decision, is unconstitutionally vague. [Note that it was the pro-choice side that was challenging the statute here as "vague."] This argument centers on the proposition that, with the District Court's having struck down the statutorily specified reasons, it still remains a crime for a physician to perform an abortion except when, as 26-1202 (a) reads, it is "based upon his best clinical judgment that an abortion is necessary." The appellants contend that the word "necessary" does not warn the physician of what conduct is proscribed; that the statute is wholly without objective standards and is subject to diverse interpretation; and that doctors will choose to err on the side of caution and will be arbitrary.

The net result of the District Court's decision is that the abortion determination, so far as the physician is concerned, is made in the exercise of his professional, that is, his "best clinical," judgment in the light of all the attendant circumstances. He is not now restricted to the three situations originally specified. Instead, he may range farther afield wherever his medical judgment, properly and professionally exercised, so dictates and directs him.

[Note that the next paragraph is directed at holding that the Georgia statute was not, in fact, too vague to be enforced.]

The vagueness argument is set at rest by the decision in United States v. Vuitch, 402 U.S. 62, 71 -72 (1971), where the issue was raised with respect to a District of Columbia statute making abortions criminal "unless the same were done as necessary for the preservation of the mother's life or health and under the direction of a competent licensed practitioner of medicine." [Note that the following sentence is purely about how to construe the statute.] That statute has been construed to bear upon psychological as well as physical well-being. This being so, the Court concluded that the term "health" presented no problem of vagueness. "Indeed, whether a particular operation is necessary for a patient's physical or mental health is a judgment that physicians are obviously called upon to make routinely whenever surgery is considered." This conclusion is equally applicable here. Whether, in the words of the Georgia statute, "an abortion is necessary" is a professional judgment that the Georgia physician will be called upon to make routinely.

We agree with the District Court, 319 F. Supp., at 1058, that the medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors -- physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age -- relevant to the wellbeing of the patient. [In other words, under the Georgia statute at issue, medical judgment "may" include all those other factors. But nowhere did the Court say, "The Constitution requires a health exception that includes all these factors."] All these factors may relate to health. This allows the attending physician the room he needs to make his best medical judgment. And it is room that operates for the benefit, not the disadvantage, of the pregnant woman.
UPDATE: So does the current Court interpret the right to abortion as encompassing a constitutional requirement of exceptions for "mental" or "emotional" health? The question still appears to be unsettled. In the Court's latest abortion opinion -- Stenberg v. Carhart -- footnote 21 of Justice Thomas's dissent said this:
21. The majority’s conclusion that health exceptions are required whenever there is any support for use of a procedure is particularly troubling because the majority does not indicate whether an exception for physical health only is required, or whether the exception would have to account for “all factors–physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age–relevant to the well being of the patient.” Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179, 192 (1973).
Also note that in the 1977 case of Beal v. Doe, the Supreme Court again suggested that Doe v. Bolton's definition of "health" was a matter of statutory interpretation:
In Doe v. Bolton, 410 U.S. 179, 192 (1973), this Court indicated that "[w]hether `an abortion is necessary' is a professional judgment that . . . may be exercised in the light of all factors - physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age - relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health. This allows the attending physician the room he needs to make his best medical judgment." We were informed during oral argument that the Pennsylvania definition of medical necessity is broad enough to encompass the factors specified in Bolton.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Virginia Law

This is why legislatures should hire skilled legislative drafters:
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- A legislative mistake that would require Virginia businesses to give employees Saturdays or Sundays off as a "day of rest" if they request it was blocked from taking effect this weekend by a judge Friday.

Judge T.J. Markow granted an emergency 90-day injunction at the urging of several Virginia corporations.

The delay will give legislators time to correct the oversight, which alarmed a wide range of businesses with weekend or round-the-clock shifts to cover, such as factories, stores, utilities and restaurants.

* * *

The "day of rest" law was mistakenly enacted earlier this year when Virginia's General Assembly repealed the antiquated "blue laws" that once required businesses to close on Sundays.

Lawmakers unwittingly struck from the books a decades-old exemption for private businesses from Virginia's 17th-century day-of-rest law. The error went unnoticed and was signed into law by Gov. Mark R. Warner.

Some Thoughts about Writing

I just noticed Thomas Sowell's essay about writing. Some humorous segments:
In an essay that I wrote for The Weekly Standard about Cornell University in the 1960s, I referred to people there who “had entree to Perkins,” the university president at that time. An editor changed that to “had entry to Perkins.” In the last essay I wrote for the Wall Street Journal—I do not mean my most recent essay—some anonymous copy-editor changed “omissions” to “admissions,” even though the previous sentence referred to things that had been omitted and this sentence then referred to “these omissions.” For reasons unknown, some copy-editors seem to think that words with similar sounds are substitutes for one another. But there is a big difference between Londonderry air and London derriere.

* * *

But these are just two kinds of absurdities from the rich spectrum of the absurdities of copy-editors. Where Shakespeare wrote, “To be or not to be, that is the question,” a copy-editor would substitute: “The issue is one of existence versus non-existence.” Where Lincoln said, “Fourscore and seven years ago,” a copy-editor would change that to: “It has been 87 years since . . .” Where the Bible said, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” a copy-editor would run a blue pencil through the first three words as redundant.

* * *

British editors aren’t supposed to be as officious as American editors, but some bold genius at the well-known British publishing house Allen & Unwin changed “capitalists” to “workers” at one point in the British version of a book of mine—and published it that way, without even bothering to check with me. That’s not a small change, especially in a book on Marxism.

Despite airs of father-knows-best that seem to go with the job, many editors not only happen to be ignorant, but are necessarily ignorant, of many of the things that they tinker with. Not all are as grossly ignorant as the editor who changed “earnings” to “income” on some of my statistical tables to make them uniform with the headings on the other tables. But an editor for a major publishing house or a general magazine is certain to be editing material on a range of subjects far beyond anyone’s personal competence.

* * *

Obviously, if a copy-editor could be a successful writer, he would not be a copy-editor. This is not an occupation that can be accused of attracting more than its fair share of literary talent.

* * *

[He describes a struggle with refusing to accept the suggestions of an over-zealous editor.] Years after this episode, the editor of a nationally prominent newspaper very tentatively offered one or two editorial suggestions on an article of mine, saying, “Your reputation has preceded you.” That’s what a reputation is supposed to do.

* * *

Of all the reasons for intrusive editing, imposing a book publisher’s standard “house style” is the silliest. For a newspaper or a magazine, a case might be made that it is advisable to avoid jarring the reader with abrupt changes in writing styles. But for a book publisher? It is hard to believe that any reader knows or cares what their house style is. Can you imagine someone going browsing in a bookstore, thinking: “I’m in the mood for a book from Random House” or “This is my Prentice-Hall day”? Maybe the reader is in the mood for a book by John Kenneth Galbraith (I never am) or Saul Bellow or Danielle Steel. But it is hard to imagine that anyone goes looking for a book written in the “house style” of Doubleday or Macmillan or Alfred A. Knopf. What then is the point of having a “house style,” if nobody else really gives a damn?

* * *

The longest review any of my books ever received—several thousand words, spread over two consecutive issues of The New York Review of Books—contained not one word referring to anything past the first chapter of Ethnic America. The reviewer’s painful attempts to puzzle out the possible implications of this book would have been unnecessary if he had followed the more usual practice of reading the first and last chapters. The last chapter was titled, “Implications.” Ideological differences were involved in that case, but such differences are neither necessary nor sufficient to produce a non-reviewing review. An even worse example was a review in The Public Interest, with which I am usually in agreement and in which I have published articles of my own. This time the book was Migrations and Cultures, a history of migrations to countries around the world. Although this book covered everything from the Jews dispersing from Israel in ancient times to Germans migrating to Russia during the reign of Catherine the Great to people migrating from China to Southeast Asia during the era of European imperialism, the reviewer chose to represent it as a book about current immigration policy in the United States—a subject not even occupying ten pages in a 500-page book.

According to this non-reviewing review, American immigration history and contemporary policy were central to my concerns, though he noted in passing that the subtitle (“A World View”) suggests that my “focus is broader than the United States.” The fact that there were fourteen other countries covered in the book might also have suggested that—if he had read the book, though there was not a speck of evidence that he had. It so happens that contemporary American immigration policy was a subject that the reviewer had written about before—and apparently wanted to write about again, even if that meant making up a fictitious account of the book that he was supposedly reviewing.

* * *

In the broadcast version of the non-reviewing review, the talk-show host conceals his non-reading of the book by keeping the author on the defensive with a steady stream of cutting accusations, based on the author’s general reputation or previous writings. The writer may be accused of anything from political bias to personal dishonesty, or any other charge that will lead to a heated, time-filling discussion. The natural tendency to defend yourself against a low blow is what gets authors sucked into this game. . . .

Only after several talk-show hosts had played this game on me did I finally realize what was happening, and why. I counter-attacked on one of those long, night-time radio talk shows, when it became obvious that neither the host nor the critic on with me had read the book. At the end of the first hour, I announced to the listeners that we had now been on the air for one hour—and that neither of my questioners had yet mentioned a single thing that was actually in the book. Moreover, I predicted that neither of them would say anything in the second hour that would refer to anything in the book, because it was apparent that neither of them had read it.

Their indignant denials were followed by their addressing a new and more heated stream of general accusations at me, to all of which I replied serenely: “That’s not in the book, either.”