Monday, January 31, 2005


My friend who works in anesthesiology for the Army just sent an email about the election day:
I took care of a 22 year old female who had received a blast injury from a polling station. Apparently, she was very excited to vote, and even convinced her parents that this was their civic duty. Though reluctant, they followed their daughter's lead and went out to vote. I don't know if they got hit by a mortar, suicide bomber, or IED. Sadly, her mother died, and her father also had surgery, but will do fine. The gal sustained an injury to both legs, as well as a blast wound to the neck which communicated with the back of her throat. At the time of surgery, she had not yet learned her mother's fate. I salute these 3 courageous Iraqis, who did not take the gift of freedom lightly, but gave all they had for it. It really brings home how fortunate we are in America.
Stuart Buck

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Another Irritant

Well, this is not so much irritating as baffling: On magazine subscription postcards -- such as the one that I am currently holding from the most recent issue of The Atlantic -- you have to check one of two boxes: "Payment enclosed," or "Bill me."

How exactly does anyone "enclose" payment in a postcard? Does The Atlantic expect to find a 20-dollar bill duct-taped to the postcard? Or do they expect me to create a little pouch by using a supersharp razor blade to slice the postcard edgewise? Isn't the whole purpose of a subscription postcard to give people the option of subscribing while having the magazine "bill" them later?

Stuart Buck

A Crack in the Broken-Windows Theory

Here's a very interesting article discussing the "broken windows" theory. The study compared people's perceptions of their own neighborhoods with independent raters' perceptions of the same neighborhoods (as viewed on videotape). Oddly enough, both white and black residents claimed to perceive more disorder and decay in their own neighborhoods if there was a greater number of black residents, "even in neighborhoods that the raters had judged to be no more ramshackle than others with a smaller proportion of black residents."

Stuart Buck

Saturday, January 29, 2005

My Music

I figured out how to create links to my music files that will cause them to play automatically, as you can see here. (The title of each selection is now a link.)

I also added a piano piece that I wrote, and with my limited pianistic skills, recorded on a Steinway at the University of Georgia. It sounds to me like the sort of film music that would go along with something like Braveheart. You can listen to it by clicking here.

For convenience' sake, here are links that should make all the other selections play automatically:


Two things that irritate me:
  • I recently saw a television commercial for a CD called "Kidz Bop7," apparently the seventh installment in a series of CDs that feature children singing cover versions of the most current pop/rock/rap songs. That encapsulates just about everything that is warped about American culture.

  • The other day, I received in the mail an envelope that was labeled, "Important Tax Return Document Enclosed." Inside was a form that was obviously designed to look like a W-2 form, except that it was labeled "W-007." What was it? A notice that I was "pre-approved" for a car loan. I filed a complaint with the FTC.

Stuart Buck

Friday, January 28, 2005

Iraqis across Mideast vote

From a story on the Iraq election:
When a voter has cast his or her ballot, election officials will cross the person's name off the voter list and mark the thumb with indelible ink.
Apparently, Iraq's election procedures, as well as Afghanistan's, are more secure than the procedures in Wisconsin or Washington.

Stuart Buck

More Songs

I've digitized a couple more songs from an old tape, and put them on my website. Both are new-agey sounding songs that I wrote while in college. I recorded the keyboard tracks on a friend's keyboard, and then recorded the guitar tracks in a studio. Not the highest quality recording, I admit, but it was the best I could do at the time. Maybe someday I should record the other songs I've written over the years.

I also added two selections from my senior recital: Julio Sagreras's "El Colibri" (the "hummingbird"), and Duke Ellington's "Dancers in Love."

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

My Guitar Playing

I've recently figured out how to create MP3 files from some of my old cassette tapes of my classical guitar playing. (Basically, I hook up a cassette deck (a JVC TD-W354) to the line input on the computer, and then use the Audacity program to record the input and create an MP3 file.) So I set up a new website, with a download page where I'll be regularly posting musical selections. The first three are:

(1) A Gigue by Manuel Ponce, as performed at my 1995 senior recital at the University of Georgia.

(2) Invocation and Dance, by Joaquin Rodrigo, also from my 1995 senior recital.

(3) The UGA Mens' Glee Club performing the old spiritual "I've Got a New Name" on the 1995 spring concert. The soloist was my classmate Tommy Heaton, who had a soaring tenor voice of a far higher quality than anyone I've ever heard in the entire popular music industry (except perhaps for George Michael's younger days).

Check it out.

P.S. For some reason, the website makes you right-click on the MP3 files, and then save them on your computer. From there, you can listen to the files via Windows Media Player or RealPlayer or whatever your preference is. I'm trying to figure out how to get the MP3 files on my site to play automatically whenever you click on them.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

The Commerce Department

Baseball Crank makes a good case for abolishing the Commerce Department.

Stuart Buck


The guy who runs the "Iraq War Was Wrong" blog has apparently been emailing various pundits, and getting responses. His exchange with Jonah Goldberg is here; his exchange with Juan Cole is here; and his latest exchange with Paul Krugman is here and here.

Stuart Buck

Monday, January 24, 2005


There's a weird unreality to the whole debate on torturing Al Qaeda or Iraqi prisoners (sparked by the nomination of Al Gonzales to be Attorney General). We already put American prisoners in situations that are just as bad (or far worse) than the torture that is alleged to have happened at Guantanamo or Abu Ghraib.

Imagine that Al Gonzales had written a memo that said: "If we catch Al Qaeda members or Iraqi insurgents, let's allow them to be repeatedly raped over a period of years." As soon as such a memo became public, there would be an outcry over "legitimating torture," etc. Yet that's exactly what we already do right here in America to prisoners of all kinds, including minor drug offenders who haven't actually harmed anyone.

Stuart Buck

More on Theodicy

This columnist discusses the tsunami's effect on theodicy:
From the earliest days of the Church, believers have had to get used to the fact that terrible things happen in this world, for which theological explanations are very hard to find. The Earth's crust, the winds and the waves have carried on obeying the laws of physics, bringing indiscriminate suffering on the just and the unjust, newborn babies and blackguards alike.

Only a very fragile and dimwitted faith would be shaken by an event that was just the latest in a series of natural disasters - earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, hurricanes and tsunamis - stretching back to the dawn of time.

Who but an idiot would say: 'I could go on believing in God if the tsunami had killed only 10 people [or 2,000, or 20,000]. But, hey, it killed at least 150,000 - and probably a great many more. So there can't possibly be a God'?

Such idiots, if they exist, must be few and far between - and, as I say, I have yet to meet a single one of them. I reckon that all those priests, including Dr Rowan Williams, are just plain wrong when they say that the tsunami has shaken people's belief in God. If anything, it has had the opposite effect. Like so many natural disasters before it, it has made people more, rather than less receptive to the idea that a supreme being may exist.

When something as terrible as this happens, people look for an explanation of human life that transcends the basic biological facts of birth, reproduction and death. Most of us give barely a thought to God when the car is running nicely, the children are doing well at school and there is food on the table.

But then some huge wave wells up in the Indian Ocean and crashes on to the shore, snuffing out thousands upon thousands of lives in a matter of moments, and we all start thinking: is that it? Is there really no more to human life than this - one minute you are sunning yourself on the beach, the next you are dead, and it's all over, for no more profound reason than something to do with tectonic plates? At times such as these, most of us are much more inclined than usual to seek some deeper meaning to our existence, an answer to that age-old question: "What's it all about, then?"
Stuart Buck

Sunday, January 23, 2005


An interesting Scientific American article: Exploding the Self-Esteem Myth:
Consider, for instance, research on the relation between self-esteem and physical attractiveness. Several studies have explored correlations between these qualities, generally finding clear positive links when people rate themselves on both properties. It seems plausible that physically attractive people would end up with high self-esteem because they are treated more favorably than unattractive ones--being more popular, more sought after, more valued by lovers and friends, and so forth. But it could just as well be that those who score highly on self-esteem scales by claiming to be wonderful people all around also boast of being physically attractive. [Gee, you think?]

In 1995 Edward F. Diener and Brian Wolsic of the University of Illinois and Frank Fujita of Indiana University South Bend examined this possibility. They obtained self-esteem scores from a broad sample of the population and then photographed everybody, presenting these pictures to a panel of judges, who evaluated the subjects for attractiveness. Ratings based on full-length photographs showed no significant correlation with self-esteem. Head-and-shoulders close-ups fared slightly better, but even this finding is dubious, because individuals with high self-esteem might take particular care to present themselves well, such as by wearing attractive clothing and jewelry. The 1995 study suggests as much: when the judges were shown pictures of just the participants' unadorned faces, the modest correlation between attractiveness and self-esteem fell to zero. In that same investigation, however, self-reported physical attractiveness was found to have a strong correlation with self-esteem. Clearly, those with high self-esteem are gorgeous in their own eyes but not necessarily so to others.

* * *

People who regard themselves highly generally state that they are popular and rate their friendships as being of superior quality to those described by people with low self-esteem, who report more negative interactions and less social support. But as Julia Bishop and Heidi M. Inderbitzen-Nolan of the University of Nebraska–Lincoln showed in 1995, these assertions do not reflect reality. The investigators asked 542 ninth-grade students to nominate their most-liked and least-liked peers, and the resulting rankings displayed no correlation whatsoever with self-esteem scores.
Earlier social "scientists" had gone around asking students about their self-esteem, and then finding a correlation with the students' assessments of their own physical attractiveness or popularity. Apparently, it took a while for anyone to make the utterly common-sense observation that people who overrate themselves on self-esteem measures might also be overrating themselves as to beauty or popularity.

As for academic performance:
Modern efforts have, however, cast doubt on the idea that higher self-esteem actually induces students to do better. . . . Such results, which are now available from multiple studies, certainly do not indicate that raising self-esteem offers students much benefit. Some findings even suggest that artificially boosting self-esteem may lower subsequent performance.
Indeed, simply viewing the first episodes of American Idol last week showed that self-esteem is often inversely proportional to ability. The rotten singers usually showed up bragging that they were going to win, that they had the "complete package," that they personally would make American Idol a success, or some such nonsense. The best singers were usually more modest, diffident, self-deprecating.1

Again, common sense explains why this would be so. The best singers are usually perfectionists who have good ears, all of which makes them highly aware of any mistakes that they make. After ending a selection, they might think to themselves, "Well, that was decent, but I was a bit flat on the high note; I'll have to do better next time." But the worst singers are precisely the people who have no musical sense or standards whatsoever, and who therefore genuinely can't tell that their own singing is awful. Their high self-esteem is a sign of their pathological inability to be self-aware.

1 Down the road, of course, if good singers hear nothing but incessant praise and adulation for their wonderful voice, they might end up as a diva with bloated self-esteem. So it's not impossible for someone with genuine talent/ability to end up having high self-esteem. But the fact remains that such over-inflated self-esteem is harmful: It may prevent the diva from paying attention to valid and constructive criticism. No one is perfect, and the best people in any field are usually the best precisely because they are most aware of their own mistakes or inadequacies, enabling them to improve as time goes on.

Stuart Buck

Saturday, January 22, 2005

How to be Thin

According to the USDA, Americans spend $42 billion a year on diet programs/books. (That puts our contributions to tsunami relief or other foreign aid in perspective. While much of the world worries about finding enough food to survive, we spend dozens of billions of dollars on trying to figure out how to stop eating.)

I have an idea for how Americans could cut their annual diet-related spending by some $41 billion dollars: Give a mere billion dollars to me (no credit cards accepted) in exchange for my guaranteed, fool-proof plan to lose weight.

Here it is, the Stuart Buck weight-loss plan:

1) Eat moderate portions of healthy food. This means little to no sugar (including drinks and desserts), little to no processed flour (only whole grains), lean meats, fruits, and vegetables.

2) Exercise regularly. More specifically: Lift weights two days a week, and engage in strenuous aerobic exercise (running, biking, etc.) for 25-30 minutes the other 4 or 5 days a week. (Strenuous = gasping for breath.)

That's it. Anyone who truthfully follows those two guidelines will find it nearly impossible to become (or to stay) fat.

Stuart Buck

Friday, January 21, 2005

Education As Sideline

In response to the argument that top universities properly emphasize research over teaching, Matthew Yglesias pens a good response:
Most organizations don't exist in order to teach students. The American Prospect produces political commentary. The Urban Institute publishes analyses of social welfare programs. Harvard produces research into a variety of subjects. So far, so good. But of course only one of those three institutions invites 6,000 to study amidst its hallowed halls.

If you don't think your institution should take the education of 18-22 year-olds seriously as a mission, the obvious thing to do is to have your institution join the ranks of the many, many, many not-for-profit organizations that don't educate 18-22 year-olds. Perhaps more fundamental than the question about the mission of any one institution is the question of social design. If colleges don't really exist to teach undergraduates, and if they don't do a very good job of teaching undergraduates, then how much sense does it make for we, as a society, to have turned four-year colleges into the gatekeepers of the American managerial-professional elite. Maybe everyone should just go get a job when they leave high school.
Stuart Buck


The 2004 Vote

A University of Pennsylvania professor named Steve Freeman made quite a stir in left-wing circles by writing a short paper a while back proving that (a) there was a discrepancy between the 2004 exit polls and the actual outcome, and (b) after statistical analysis, this discrepancy could not "have been due to chance or random error." Such a result, of course, could have been due to systematic (i.e., non-random) error in the exit polls, but Freeman cited a few sources as supposedly proving that exit polls never lie. His conclusion was that the actual vote was fraudulent.

The exit polling firms involved -- Edison Media Research and Mitofsky International -- just released a report yesterday that refutes Freeman's conspiratorial analysis. Among their findings:

(1) Page 3: As one might have guessed by applying Occam's razor, the simplest explanation turned out to be true: The error in the exit polls was "most likely due to Kerry voters participating in the exit polls at a higher rate than Bush voters."

(2) Page 4: "Exit polls do not support the allegations of fraud due to rigging of voting equipment. Our analysis of the difference between the vote count and the exit poll at each polling location in our sample has found no systematic differences for precincts using touch screen and optical scan voting equipment. We say this because these differences are similar to the differences for punch card voting equipment, and less than the difference for mechanical voting equipment."

Stuart Buck

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Online Ads

I've noticed more and more ads on sites such as the New York Times. You click on an article, but have to watch an ad first before the article will come up. But what I don't understand is that the ads invariably have a tiny, little link up in the right hand corner that says "skip this ad" or something similar. Why does the New York Times offer you a way to skip the ad? How does that make sense from their perspective?

Stuart Buck

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


An interesting paper:
The Impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act on the Entry and Exit of Retail Firms

University of California, Davis - Department of Economics


Congress enacted The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 over the protests of small business advocates who claimed that the ADA would trigger a wave of bankruptcies. Although the profitability of firms may suffer from the costs of ADA compliance, no systematic review of the evidence has been done. This paper seeks to determine if the ADA had a measurable impact on both the entry of new firms and the failure rate (exit) of existing firms.

The empirical results are consistent with the hypothesis that the ADA negatively impacted the retail industry. There were fewer retail firms after the ADA was passed, and the drop was larger in states in which the ADA was more of a legal innovation, and in states that had more disabled people, more ADA-related lawsuits, and more ADA-related labor complaints. There is also evidence that employment and access discrimination suits imposed real costs on retail stores, encouraging exit. However, the exit of incumbents was partially offset by new entry. Overall, the number of food stores decreased 2-13% after the ADA came into effect, and at least a 1.4-2.3% decrease in the number of smaller stores may be attributed directly to the ADA, net of trends affecting larger firms.
Stuart Buck

Monday, January 17, 2005

Cert. Petition

Early last week, there was a petition for certiorari filed at the United States Supreme Court. The cert. petition was written by my good friend and classmate Mark Rienzi (who clerked for Judge Stephen Williams the year after me), Ed DuMont (a partner at Mark's firm, and a former Assistant Solicitor General), and me. Noted Supreme Court practitioner Tom Goldstein graciously had the cert. petition posted at his Supreme Court blog, where you can read the as-filed PDF version, if you're so inclined. The case involves a First Amendment challenge to a Massachusetts buffer zone law. The First Circuit's decision can be found here.

Stuart Buck

Red States

A Washington Post writer documents his travels through several "red states." There's some purple prose scattered throughout, but on the whole the article is interesting. I was intrigued by this conversation with a Nebraska resident:
"I'm the village water officer," Stuhr explained. "For more than 100 years, we've lived with arsenic in our water. It is a naturally occurring element. It isn't contamination -- it's natural."

During the Clinton administration, the Environmental Protection Agency lowered the amount of arsenic allowed in water, from 50 parts-per-billion to 10. "Now all over Nebraska, villages are having to build new water treatment plants to remove a naturally occurring element," Stuhr said, which costs "millions of dollars."

Does Washington pay? I asked.

"They'll loan us the money," Stuhr answered. "And whose money is it to begin with? And once we get the arsenic out, why, then we have a hazardous waste problem, because there is nowhere to dispose of it."

Bush would like to restore the previous standard. You might recall that many Democrats howled that Bush was willing to poison people, but in these parts, Bush's proposal was greeted as simple common sense.
Stuart Buck

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Politics for Adults

Yale Law's Stephen Carter has some interesting thoughts:
When the Supreme Court sat down half a century ago to hear arguments in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, which ultimately did away with formal segregation in the nation's public schools, a legal team led by Marshall represented the plaintiffs. The defendants -- the states that wanted to keep the races separate -- hired as their lead counsel a man named John W. Davis, perhaps the foremost appellate advocate of his day. Davis, it turned out, was also a Southern gentleman who thought that segregation, all in all, was a good thing.

When I met Marshall many years after Brown, I asked him what he thought of John W. Davis. I expected him, in the fashion of the times, to respond with the sort of vicious and ad hominem assault that I no doubt would have selected. After all, the man was -- no point in sugarcoating it -- a segregationist. But Marshall surprised me. He said, 'John W. Davis? A good man. A great man, who just happened to believe in that segregation.'

The story captures Marshall's view of the world. He believed, always, in seeking the common human bond between himself and those with whom he had strong disagreements, even on the most divisive and important moral issue of the day. He sought God at work in others and usually found what he sought. He had opponents but never enemies. He did not much care what a man's politics were. Marshall's highest praise for a politician or activist? 'You could do business with him,' Marshall would say, meaning, at the end of the day, you could sit down and make a deal with him; and he would keep his end.

Indeed, many of Marshall's stories involved making deals with figures whom history treats as rabid segregationists. Certainly Marshall could have met them with the vitriol and hatred so common today. But, had he done so, he could never have, as he put it, done business.

* * *
And if Marshall could reach out across the divide of segregation and meet people on the other side with respect and even affection, and so make deals to move the country forward, is it really impossible to imagine the rest of us doing the same?

Imagine that: a politics actually worthy of adults.
Stuart Buck

Christianity Today weblog

The guy who runs the weblog at Christianity Today makes Instapundit look like a slacker. Today's weblog (each day has its own page) features 280 links, all to news stories with some religious aspect, everything from the latest news on Sudan to the report that Oxford plans to fund a study that submits people to torture to learn whether faith plays any role in easing pain.

Stuart Buck

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


The tsunami seems to have provoked a crisis of opinion over theodicy (see here, here, and here, for example). This is irrational. Everyone dies, most of them in painful ways; few die painlessly in their sleep. And hardly anyone lives a peaceful life completely free from any tragic events. The whole world is teeming with examples of pain, suffering, evil, disasters (major and minor), accidents, desperate circumstances, poverty, hunger, disease.

So, while a tsunami that claimed 150,000 victims might seem overwhelming to think of at once, that figure is about one forty-millionth [correction: forty-thousandth] of the world's population. If people were already prepared to maintain religious faith in the face of a 100% death rate (and all the lesser evils that already exist in the world), it is irrational to act as if the problem of evil has suddenly arisen simply because a minute percentage of the world's population faced death in one incident.

Stuart Buck


A new study on the efficacy of diets has come out. The finding:
U.S. researchers Tuesday said a review of popular diets finds that, except for Weight Watchers, there is little evidence to support claims they work.

The University of Pennsylvania study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, looked at Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, LA Weight Loss, Health Management Resources, OPTIFAST,, Overeaters Anonymous and Take Off Pounds Sensibly.

Researchers reviewed clinical trials and Web sites, talked with representatives and searched medical databases for information.

In looking at clinical trials, Weight Watchers had the strongest studies to support its claims, and one Weight Watchers diet was most successful of all diets studied -- with an average loss of 3.2 percent of initial weight -- or about 5 pounds -- at two years into the program.
The study's release led to predictable headlines: "This Just In: Most Diets Don't Work," says one Washington Post story.

The abstract from the Annals of Internal Medicine is here. The relevant portion says this:
Study Selection: Randomized trials at least 12 weeks in duration that enrolled only adults and assessed interventions as they are usually provided to the public, or case series that met these criteria, stated the number of enrollees, and included a follow-up evaluation that lasted 1 year or longer.

Data Extraction: Data were extracted on study design, attrition, weight loss, duration of follow-up, and maintenance of weight loss.

Data Synthesis: We found studies of, Health Management Resources, Take Off Pounds Sensibly, OPTIFAST, and Weight Watchers. Of 3 randomized, controlled trials of Weight Watchers, the largest reported a loss of 3.2% of initial weight at 2 years. One randomized trial and several case series of medically supervised very-low-calorie diet programs found that patients who completed treatment lost approximately 15% to 25% of initial weight. These programs were associated with high costs, high attrition rates, and a high probability of regaining 50% or more of lost weight in 1 to 2 years. Commercial interventions available over the Internet and organized self-help programs produced minimal weight loss.
It's difficult to know whether this study examined people who stuck to a diet over the entire time period, versus people who tried a diet for a period of time and then quit. I bet the study is talking about the latter category. And that's an utterly crucial difference, right?

It would be one thing if the study found something like this: "People who stuck to the 'No Sugar Diet' initially lost an average of 20 pounds but then gained it back even though they still maintained the same diet/exercise patterns that enabled them to lose the weight in the first place." That would indeed be a startling finding. But I suspect the study found something more like this: "People who started out on the 'No Sugar Diet' initially lost an average of 20 pounds, but then gained most of it back when they quit dieting 6 months into the program."

If the study really means that people tend to regain weight when they quit dieting, why is that reported as a failure of the diets themselves rather than as a failure of people's own individual willpower? Would a study of exercise be reported the same way? Imagine a study that was reported as finding the following: "Jogging doesn't work, because people who jog regularly for 6 months but then quit jogging don't have any remaining health benefits after 2 years." Well, that's not surprising, but the problem isn't with "jogging." The problem is with people's inability to keep jogging regularly, year in and year out.

Now some diets are inherently easier to maintain over the long-term than others. A "diet" consisting of grapefruit juice and cabbage leaves might enable some people to lose weight over the first month, but no one could keep up that diet for the rest of their lives. So if you're considering whether to begin the "grapefruit and cabbage" diet, you should probably think to yourself, "There's no way I can keep up this diet, and it won't produce any permanent gain."

But for a more normal diet that consists mostly of reducing sugars and processed carbohydrates, eating more whole grains/fruits/vegetables, eating more lean meat, avoiding fast food -- well, there is no reason whatsoever that people would fall off the wagon after a month. If they do, the real reason is their own lack of willpower.

Stuart Buck

Fish and Religion

Stanley Fish has some interesting thoughts on religion in the academy:
When Jacques Derrida died I was called by a reporter who wanted know what would succeed high theory and the triumvirate of race, gender, and class as the center of intellectual energy in the academy. I answered like a shot: religion.
Stuart Buck

Monday, January 10, 2005

CBS Report

Lots of people will be talking about the independent panel's report on the CBS memo-fraud fiasco, which led to CBS's firing of 4 people who were involved. Some interesting tidbits from the report as to where Bill Burkett claimed to have gotten the memos:
From page 69:

Mapes told the Panel that Lieutenant Colonel Burkett informed her that the documents
came from Lieutenant Colonel Killian’s personal file and that he had received them in March 2004 after he had appeared on the MSNBC cable television program Hardball in February 2004. Mapes recalled that Lieutenant Colonel Burkett said that he had received them from someone who said that Lieutenant Colonel Burkett would “know what to do with [the documents] better than” he or she would. Mapes said that she did not press Lieutenant Colonel Burkett about the chain of custody during the September 2 meeting because her primary objective was to be allowed to take the documents with her, and she thought that Lieutenant Colonel Burkett might be offended if she pressed too hard at that time on source issues.

Smith told the Panel a different story about what Lieutenant Colonel Burkett said about the source of the documents. Smith said that Lieutenant Colonel Burkett claimed that he had received the documents anonymously in the mail. Colonel Charles also recalled hearing from Smith or Mapes that Lieutenant Colonel Burkett “had received the two documents in the mail from an anonymous source after he appeared on television in February 2004” and his recollection is consistent with his contemporaneous notes. Thus, Colonel Charles’ handwritten notes, apparently reflecting a phone call with Mapes or Smith on September 2, state “Bill B got them in the mail after going on TV” and “source anonymous.” Mapes told the Panel that she did not recall Lieutenant Colonel Burkett ever saying that he received them anonymously in the mail.

From page 89-90:

Mapes told the Panel that once she obtained the first two Killian documents, she pressed Lieutenant Colonel Burkett for information about his source, particularly on Saturday, September 4, and Sunday, September 5. She said that she discussed with him the importance of the chain of custody and that she needed to know “whose hands” were last on the documents. According to Mapes, Lieutenant Colonel Burkett eventually told her that Chief Warrant Officer George Conn, a former officer in the Texas Army National Guard and a long-time friend, had given him the documents. He told Mapes, however, that she should not call Chief Warrant Officer Conn because he would deny it. [How convenient.]

* * *

Mapes told the Panel that she believed that the confirmation of the content of the Killian documents was more important than finding the source to trace the chain of custody. [Talk about obvious.]

From page 91:

As discussed previously in this Report, Lieutenant Colonel Burkett by now had given Mapes and Smith at least two different stories as to how he obtained the documents – that they were sent to him anonymously in the mail and that they were given to him by Chief Warrant Officer Conn.

From page 200:

During this call, Lieutenant Colonel Burkett stated that Mapes had pressed him hard over Labor Day weekend on the chain of custody issue and that he had misled Mapes by stating falsely to her that he had gotten the Killian documents from a fellow Guardsman named George Conn. Lieutenant Colonel Burkett said this was not accurate and he explained a different scenario concerning how he obtained the documents. Lieutenant Colonel Burkett stated that he had repeatedly been in the news in February 2004, primarily pertaining to his allegation that President Bush’s TexANG files had been “scrubbed” or sanitized in approximately 1997-98.

Shortly after this media blitz, Lieutenant Colonel Burkett said, he received a phone call from a woman who identified herself as Lucy Ramirez. Ramirez indicated that she had some documents pertaining to President Bush’s TexANG service that she wished to provide to Lieutenant Colonel Burkett and asked him to come to Houston to get them. Lieutenant Colonel Burkett said that he and his wife were planning to be in Houston in early March 2004 for a livestock show. When in Houston, he called Ramirez at a pre-arranged Holiday Inn phone number and was told that he would be given the documents at the show. Thereafter, a man he didn’t know handed the six Killian documents to him at the show and disappeared.
Consider the journalistic cliche: "If your own mother says she loves you, check it out." What sort of journalist believes an admitted liar like Burkett without even trying to verify where the documents came from?

Stuart Buck

McConnell on List for Supreme Court?

So says the New York Sun:
With the news that Chief Justice Rehnquist will not return to the bench this week because of treatment for thyroid cancer, speculation has intensified that he may step down after President Bush's inauguration. On the list of potential Supreme Court nominees to replace him is Judge Michael McConnell, a jurist with bipartisan appeal who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit.
Stuart Buck

Saturday, January 08, 2005

New Baby

We had a new baby Thursday night: Helena Grace Buck. (Yes, that means we have two babies that are less than 8 months apart, due to our adoption of Jonathan last year --- right before finding out that my wife was pregnant.) It was an easy delivery, if I might venture to say so. Helena is 6 pounds, 4 ounces, and 20 inches long.1 We just came home from the hospital, and everyone is doing just wonderfully.

1Humans always seem to be curious about such statistics for some reason. Does everyone ask how heavy and long my 5-year-old is? No.

Stuart Buck

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

More on Thomas

An ERISA lawyer analyzes Senator Reid's comments, and adds this bit of praise for Thomas's opinions:
My own evaluation of Justice Thomas’ work is based primarily on his opinions in ERISA and employee benefits cases, the area of law in which I practice. It is a good test of jurisprudential acumen, for no member of the Court has much ERISA expertise. Ability to make sense when venturing into unfamiliar legal terrain is a vital skill for Justices, who are the final arbiters of all statutory and common law but cannot possibly possess antecedent mastery of the whole.

By this criterion, Justice Thomas is one of the Court’s best jurists. His ERISA opinions are, with rare exceptions, clear, pithy and accurately reasoned. I particularly recommend for perusal his majority opinions in Hughes Aircraft Co. v. Jacobson (1999), which swept away years of confusion about the meaning of ERISA’s exclusive purpose rule, Egelhoff v. Egelhoff (2001), which strengthened and clarified ERISA’s prohibition against state interference with employee benefit plan administration, and Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila (2004), which reduced the murkiness of the Court’s conflicting rulings on the scope of ERISA preemption, his dissents in John Hancock Mutual Life Ins. Co. v. Harris Trust & Savings Bank (1993) and Varity Corporation v. Howe (1996), and his concurrence in Raymond B. Yates, M.D., P.C. Profit Sharing Plan v. Hendon (2004), where he catches a fellow Justice in egregious circular reasoning and displays his talent for close reading of the statutory text. I don’t think that any fair observer, including one who disagreed with Justice Thomas’ conclusions, can deny that he argues well and writes forcefully. The contrast with many of his colleagues’ blurry, meandering forays into employee benefits law is striking.
Stuart Buck

Reid on Thomas

It was unintentionally funny that Senator Reid said that Justice Thomas is an "embarrassment" to the Supreme Court because his opinions are so "poorly written." Any educated observer of the Court instantly suspected that Reid must never have read a Thomas opinion. (True, Thomas doesn't write with the flair of Scalia, but neither do any of the other Justices. Moreover, Thomas's writing is less long-winded and/or pompous than the writing of some other Justices I could name.)

It was even funnier when Senator Reid confirmed his ignorance on CNN when asked for a specific Thomas opinion. His answer:
You take the Hillside Diary case. In that case you had a [dissent] written by Scalia and a [dissent] written by Thomas. There — it's like looking at an 8th grade dissertation compared to somebody who just graduated from Harvard.

Scalia's is well reasoned. He doesn't want to turn [stare decisis] on its head. That's what Thomas wants to do. So yes, I think he has written a very poor opinion there and he's written other opinions that are not very good.
As James Taranto points out, Reid's statement was wrong in every conceivable respect: (1) Thomas's short concurrence/dissent is not poorly written; (2) Scalia didn't even write a dissent at all in that case, which means that Reid was referring to a non-existent dissent; and (3) while Thomas's opinion acknowledges that he would consider overturning the "negative Commerce Clause," this doesn't distinguish him from Scalia, who has agreed elsewhere that he would do the same thing.

Let me add to the catalogue of Reid's errors: What does he mean by "8th-grade dissertation"? Isn't he aware that PhD students write "dissertations," not 8th-graders?

Stuart Buck


Tom Smith's analysis of Susan Sontag's death is spot-on:
A good essay on Susan Sontag. I haven't read anything by her since I stopped reading the New York Review of Books about 20 years ago, so I can't really comment on her evolution. What struck me about her death is how it marked the end of an era. The idea of people who live in New York or Paris and specialize in being intellectuals because they read so many deep books and are sensitive to many different forms of art seems antique now, like wearing goggles when you fly airplanes.
Stuart Buck

More Women Opting Against Birth Control, Study Finds

Check out this Washington Post article. The theme is that more adult women aren't using birth control: A recent government survey found that "the number of women who had sex in the previous three months but did not use birth control rose from 5.2 percent in 1995 to 7.4 percent in 2002." So betwen 1995 and 2002, all of 2.2% of women started having sex without using birth control.

Now the most obvious explanation is: They chose to do so. Perhaps they actually want to have children. But this explanation is barely even mentioned in the article.

Instead, the article is wholly written in an alarmist tone. It seems to assume that the natural state is for 100% of women (and/or men) to use birth control religiously, and if even a few percent of them do otherwise, there must be some sinister explanation.
The December report did not tabulate unintended pregnancies, though preliminary information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a slight increase in the birth rate in 2003, most notably in women older than 30.
The above contains a hint at a possible explanation, although the article doesn't pick up on it. Women over 30 -- and particularly over 35 -- have more trouble conceiving than younger women, and it is common knowledge that people are putting off marriage and childbirth later than ever.

So maybe when people put off childbearing until age 33, they then have to spend several years (on average) going without birth control in order to have any results (whereas if they had conceived earlier in their lives, they would have spent fewer years without birth control). Could be, right? And if the birth rate for the over-30 age group has risen, that might be because more women are spending more years going without birth control.

But who knows? The article doesn't explore that possible explanation at all.
It is possible, said Paul Blumenthal, that many more women are trying to conceive and thus have stopped using contraception. But the Johns Hopkins University professor said it is more likely that more women have found the cost of birth control burdensome.
That's the article's only nod at the idea that if 2.2% of women stop using birth control, it just might be because they were trying to conceive. But then the idea is immediately dismissed, because it is "more likely" (why? who knows?) that the "cost of birth control" is too high. This strikes me as unlikely. A month's supply of condoms costs about as much as a meal for two at Arby's or McDonald's. (Yes, condoms are relevant: The article mentions earlier that the government survey asked women about their partners' use of condoms.)

UPDATE: A conscientious reader found a link to the actual survey (PDF file). Lo and behold, it distinguishes between women who aren't using contraception because they are specifically trying to conceive (4.2%) versus women who just aren't using contraception (7.4%). So that undermines part of my analysis somewhat. Still, as the reader points out, it's quite plausible that a number of women are not actively seeking pregnancy, but aren't going out of their way to avoid it either -- by their own deliberate choice. Or perhaps a few women have been affected by recent reports that oral contraceptive use may increase the risk of breast and cervical cancer. (Another slight possibility: On page 49 of this Pew report, the percentage of the population that is Catholic went from 23% in 1996 to 24% in 2002 -- perhaps the extra 1% is made up of immigrants or converts who are more likely to adhere to Catholic teaching on contraception.) And it's still true that the piece's alarmist tone is very one-sided.

Stuart Buck

Monday, January 03, 2005

Aid to Asia

The latest news I've heard is that the rest of the world has pledged some $2 billion in aid to southern Asia. Indeed, with the way that donations and pledges are still flooding in, I wouldn't be surprised to see that figure double over the next several weeks.

Still, I wonder about the ultimate fairness of targetting so much aid to one set of victims. Assume that 1 million people are victims of the tsunami. Given that average incomes in that part of the world are merely a few thousand dollars a year (e.g., Thailand), $2 billion dollars (or more) is enough to give every single person 6 months' to a year's salary. Granted, all of that aid is desperately needed, and will hopefully be well-spent to buy food and water, rebuild towns and infrastructure, etc. But at the same time, there are people in Africa who desperately need assistance as well, and whose needs might be slighted now that everyone is focusing on southern Asia. (I recall that some charities complained immediately after September 11 that their donations fell off dramatically because everyone was focusing on New York.)

What I'm saying is aimed at myself as much as at others: I was moved to give money to a couple of charities directing their efforts at southern Asia. But how many people do I routinely ignore, whether in Africa or elsewhere, who have needs that are just as desperate?

Stuart Buck

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Interesting Articles

Two very interesting articles:
  • Virginia Postrel's latest NY Times piece, on the economic consequences of the 1960s race riots. She discusses two economics articles (The Labor Market Effects of the 1960's Riots, and The Economic Aftermath of the 1960's Riots: Evidence from Property Values) that compare cities with race riots to those without. Where race riots occurred, black income and housing values dropped by anywhere from 9 to 20 percent compared to elsewhere.

  • This New Yorker article on the fact that doctors aren't all equal:
    It used to be assumed that differences among hospitals or doctors in a particular specialty were generally insignificant. If you plotted a graph showing the results of all the centers treating cystic fibrosis—or any other disease, for that matter—people expected that the curve would look something like a shark fin, with most places clustered around the very best outcomes. But the evidence has begun to indicate otherwise. What you tend to find is a bell curve: a handful of teams with disturbingly poor outcomes for their patients, a handful with remarkably good results, and a great undistinguished middle.

Stuart Buck

Paper on Justice Thomas

Via Larry Solum, Angela Onwuachi-Willig of UC Davis Law School has posted this paper: Just Another Brother on the SCT?: What Justice Clarence Thomas Teaches Us About the Influence of Racial Identity. From the abstract:
This Article argues that, although Justice Thomas's ideology differs from the liberalism that is more widely held by Blacks in the United States, such ideology is deeply grounded in black conservative thought, which has a "raced" history and foundation that are distinct from white conservatism. In so doing, this Article examines the development of black conservative thought in the United States; highlights pivotal experiences in Justice Thomas's life that have shaped his racial identity; and explicates the development of Justice Thomas's jurisprudence from a black, conservative perspective in cases concerning education and desegregation, affirmative action, and crime.
What most interested me was footnote 12. After pointing out that some of the derogatory comments made about Justice Thomas echo the derogatory comments made about Justice Marshall, the author drops this footnote:
In fact, I was reluctant to write this Article because of the reactions I thought it would elicit. Many of my friends think it blasphemous to suggest that something about the late Justice Marshall reminds me of Justice Thomas. . . . As I worked on this article, I became more terrified of being called, much like Justice Thomas has been called, a traitor to my race. See Randall Kennedy, “Sellout”: The Problem of Betrayal in African American History (manuscript at 15, on file with author) (maintaining that “the problem with blacks deploying a rhetoric that accuses other blacks of being enemies engaged in racial betrayal is that such attacks are too powerful, too intimidating, too silencing” and that it “causes black thinkers and policymakers to censor themselves out of fear of suffering racial excommunication”); also Jacquelyn L. Bridgeman, Defining Ourselves for Ourselves, 35 SETON HALL L. REV. (forthcoming 2005) (manuscript at 6-10, on file with author) (same). . . .
Blasphemous? Traitor?

It reminds me of the introduction to Scott Gerber's book First Principles: The Jurisprudence of Clarence Thomas.
I would like to close this Introduction with a personal note about some of the reaction I already have received concerning this book. Inevitably, most of the reaction has been political. Some of the politics were fairly innocuous. What springs most quickly to mind in this regard is an e-mail I received from a law student who was scheduled to introduce me at a talk I was asked to give about my then work-in-progress. The law student wrote: "I have been asked to introduce you next week. Please provide me information regarding the substance of your discussion. Are you supporting Clarence Thomas? Are you against him?"

Conspicuously absent from this law student's way of thinking was a willingness to believe that someone might be writing a book about Justice Thomas because he finds him interesting -- nothing more, nothing less (more on this in Part III). Indeed, the law student's e-mail is a perfect illustration of the theme of this book: that almost everything about Justice Thomas, including how people view the debate surrounding him, is political.

More troubling is an e-mail I received from a colleague who has shown a friend's interest over the years in the progress of my career. Upon learning of my then work-in-progress, my friend wrote: "I think it is a very worthwhile venture, but one fraught with potential problems." What "potential problems" could there be? I asked myself upon reading this. After all, I had managed to secure a publishing contract with a top-tier university press and two sizable research grants on the basis of a brief prospectus. The "potential problems," my friend informed me, were that unless I write a "very, very critical" book about Justice Thomas, my "own career may be damaged by the Thomas curse!"

Has academe really come to this? Have academics become so political that we are now required to write partisan pamphlets rather than scholarly treatises? I surely hope not. Note that this does not mean that I am "supporting Clarence Thomas." It does mean, however, that I am not "against him."
If these scholars thought that the rest of academia was open-minded, intellectually curious, willing to debate the issues on their merits, etc., I wonder why they felt it necessary to include such earnest disclaimers. Obviously, I haven't read every bit of legal scholarship ever written, but I've never seen an analysis of Justice Douglas's work (or Brennan or Souter or whoever) that begins with an elaborate apologia explaining that the author does not necessarily agree with or "support[]" that Justice, much less expressing the hope that the author won't be considered a "traitor" or "blasphemous" merely for taking the Justice's jurisprudence seriously.

UPDATE: Onwuachi-Willig's conclusion is interesting in light of her disclaimer:
Most of all, what Justice Thomas’s story may teaches us is that the black community’s (or even more broadly, the liberal community’s) conception of blackness or “black voice” is far too limited. The fact that a black individual holds views in stark contrast with those of the majority of black community (or even those that are perceived as harmful to the black community) does not make his or her views or voice any less “black” (so long as there is expressed concern for the black community) or make his or her concern for black people any less sincere. * * *

Indeed, as I was researching and learning about black conservative ideology, I found myself (surprisingly) nodding in agreement with some of its concepts and understandings about the issues facing the black community, even though I disagreed with the ultimate route proposed for addressing these problems. Perhaps, this is Justice Thomas’s most significant lesson for us all, with his seemingly contradictory “black nationalist” and “Reagan conservative” views: not only that the voice of the black conservative can be “raced” in a way that the voice of the white conservative is not, but that the rift between the black conservative and black liberal is not so wide after all. Perhaps, black conservatives and black liberals would both benefit from listening to each other and taking the other group’s concerns seriously. After all, in spite of everything, Justice Thomas appears to be just another brother on the Supreme Court.
Stuart Buck