Friday, October 31, 2003

Corporate Contributions

The Center for Public Integrity has made some news with its "study" supposedly revealing that contracts for Iraq's reconstruction are going predominantly to corporations that have donated to Republicans. Several bloggers have already pointed out various problems with this "study." I'll point out one more:

The press release from the Center claims that the "companies donated" money to George W. Bush's campaign. Portrayals of the study in the media have included similar claims. For instance, the Dallas Morning News' article stated:
Halliburton and others on a list of those with contracts for reconstruction and security in Iraq and Afghanistan have been large political contributors, mostly to Republican candidates, Mr. Lewis said.
* * *
"Those companies contributed more money to the presidential campaign of George W. Bush – over $500,000 – than to any other politician over the last dozen years," Mr. Lewis said.
But it's illegal for corporations to donate money to candidates for federal office, and has been so since the Tillman Act of 1907. Is the Center for Public Integrity really claiming that all these corporations are blatantly violating the campaign finance laws? Or is the Center merely calculating how much money was given to Bush's campaign by the various individuals who happen to work at those companies?

UPDATE: If you look carefully at the Center's press release, it appears that they are claiming that (individuals who work at) 70 companies donated a grand total of $500,000 to Bush's 2000 campaign. That's not very much money spread out over 70 companies, especially when you consider that just one of the companies on the list -- Halliburton -- has about 100,000 employees by itself, while Bechtel has 44,000 employees. Even if Halliburton and Bechtel were the only companies on the list, only 500 employees out of 144,000 would have to give the federal maximum (which was $1,000 in the 2000 campaign cycle) in order to reach $500,000 total.

Estate Tax

After reading Daniel Drezner's post on the idle rich, I was reminded of the Bush administration's temporary repeal of the estate tax. I oppose that repeal wholeheartedly, at least given my current understanding of tax law (which admittedly isn't all that great).

It's not that I favor taxation per se; given the shadow cost of public funds, I'd rather have taxes be as low as possible across the board.

But the reality is that the federal government is going to tax something. It doesn't just print the money it spends. And as long as taxes exist, estates might as well be taxed as any other form of income.

In fact, I'd rather tax estates than income, comparatively speaking. After all, income is earned, while inheritances are not. Why penalize productive activity (work) while rewarding the accident of birth? Talk about distortionary effects.

Imagine two people who receive money during the year 2003. Harry Hard-Worker works hard at his law firm job, and receives $100,000, much of which goes toward paying off his law school loans. He faces a federal tax burden of approximately 35%, once you include the 15.3% payroll tax. Richie Rich receives $100 million in stocks, bonds, and other investments, from a rich grandfather who passed away. Thanks to the estate tax repeal, Richie Rich pays no federal tax at all on his receipt of money. Why should Richie Rich pay less tax than Harry Hard-Worker? Both of them are receiving income, and the only difference is that Harry Hard-Worker actually earned his.

As for the argument that the estate tax is "double taxation," this is complete baloney. (I try to avoid harsh language, but it's unavoidable here.) Our tax system generally taxes any transfer from one person to the next. Money comes into a corporation's hands -- it's taxed as income. Money flows from the corporation to a salaried worker -- it's taxed as income. Money flows from the worker into the coffers of Wal-Mart or Neiman Marcus or what-have-you -- it's taxed both via sales tax and ultimately as income to the corporation. And so on. Just about every time money changes hands, the government takes a bite. (And that includes gifts as well.)

The estate tax is no different. Yes, the dead guy probably paid income tax during his lifetime (although -- critically -- that wouldn't be true for unrealized capital gains). But so what? That doesn't make it "double taxation" when the money is transferred to another person. If the dead guy had decreed that all his estate be spent at Wal-Mart, the sales tax would still apply, because that would be another transfer. So when the estate is transferred to the dead guy's children, that too is another transfer to which federal taxes ought to apply. If this is "double taxation," then so is every other form of taxation.

Thursday, October 30, 2003


Annie Lennox is singing the theme song for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Why, oh why, do film companies always think they have to insert a pop-style "theme song," no matter how out of place it might seem? Particularly in a movie like this one? Why not stick with an appropriately solemn symphonic score?

Political Compass

Various bloggers are posting their results from the "Political Compass" test, which purports to chart your political preferences.

So here's the chart that supposedly represents my results. It puts me almost right smack in the middle, which I found a bit surprising.

I have to object to some of the statements, though.

For instance, the first statement is this: If economic globalisation is inevitable, it should primarily serve humanity rather than the interests of trans-national corporations. Well, what about those of us who take a more nuanced and sophisticated view, i.e., that the interests of humanity and the interests of trans-national corporations might at least occasionally coincide? After all, trans-national corporations aren't staffed by robots or Martians. A sizeable portion of humanity either earns a living by working for trans-national corporations, or buys the products of such corporations.

Or this: Taxpayers should not be expected to prop up any theatres or museums that cannot survive on a commercial basis. What does that mean? What if I think that the taxpayers should be able to vote to do whatever they please in this regard? If they vote to fund theatres or museums, more power to them. If not, then that's fine as well. I don't have any general expectation as to what the right result is for every particular case.

Or these:
Everyone has their rights, but it is better for all of us that different sorts of people should keep to their own kind.
Making peace with the establishment is an important aspect of maturity.
Both of these are exceedingly vague.

Or these:
When you are troubled, it's better not to think about it, but to keep busy with more cheerful things.
Abstract art that doesn't represent anything shouldn't be considered art at all.
What do these have to do with politics?

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Dear Judge,

You're reading this because I'm unable to speak for myself and some kind soul tracked down this archived Internet post to help fend off some publicity-seeking lawyer who wants me dead.

First, I don't want my ex-spouse to be my legal guardian. If my spouse has another child with another man, lives with the other man, and has yet another child with other man, I don't want anyone to suffer her claims to be my spouse. She's not my spouse. She's my ex-spouse. And I don't want my Ex to be the one who decides whether I live or die.

Second, I grant veto power to my parents, wife and children on the question of removing me from life support. If any of them think I should stay plugged in, keep me plugged in.


Matthew R. Evans
October 30, 2003

What I'm Reading Now

In the past three weeks, here are the books I've ordered, mostly from Amazon:

Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind

Daniel Dennett, Brainchildren: Essays on Designing Minds

John Searle, Mind, Language, and Society: Philosophy in the Real World

Stephen Pinker, Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language

Tim Kasser, The High Price of Materialism

David G. Myers, Pursuit of Happiness

Ronald Dworkin, Life's Dominion: An Argument About Abortion, Euthanasia, and Individual Freedom

Charles Murray, In Pursuit of Happiness and Good Government

D.G. Newcombe, Henry VIII and the English Reformation

Eric Jacobsen, Sidewalks in the Kingdom: New Urbanism and the Christian Faith

Neil Postman, The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School

Douglas Wilson, The Case for Classical Christian Education

Aristotle, Politics

Jerry Mander, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television

Neil Postman, Building a Bridge to the 18th Century: How the Past Can Improve Our Future

John Taylor Gatto, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling

Ken Craycraft, The American Myth of Religious Freedom

J. Budziszewski, What We Can't Not Know: A Guide

Carson Holloway, All Shook Up: Music, Passion, and Politics

Mark Gavreau Judge, If It Ain't Got That Swing: The Rebirth of Grown-Up Culture

John Lawlor, C.S. Lewis: Memories and Reflections

Keith Robertson, The Money Machine

Robert McCloskey, Centerburg Tales

I've got to control myself with all this book-buying. Otherwise, I won't have any time to keep up with all the latest news about the Schwarzeneggar administration, the new TV season, celebrity divorces, etc., etc., not to mention all the even more important questions being addressed by other bloggers, such as whether it was the White House or the Navy that hung a sign saying "Mission Accomplished," or what Howard Dean meant when he called himself a "metrosexual."

An Ironic Firing

The headline of this Legal Times article says it all: Law Firm Manager Alleges Firing for Serving Jury Duty

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Vegetative Persons

A fascinating article on what doctors find when they perform brain scans on people who are supposedly in "vegetative" states:
One morning just over a year after his accident, Rios was taken to the Sloan Kettering Institute on Manhattan's East Side. There, in a dim room, a group of researchers placed a mask over his eyes, fixed headphones over his ears and guided his head into the bore of an M.R.I. machine. A 40-second loop of a recording made by Rios's sister Maria played through the headphones: she told him that she was there with him, that she loved him. As the sound entered his ears, the M.R.I. machine scanned his brain, mapping changes in activity.

Several hours afterward, two researchers, Nicholas D. Schiff and Joy Hirsch, took a look at the images from the scan. They hadn't been sure what to expect -- Rios was among the first people in his condition to have his brain activity measured in this way -- but they certainly weren't expecting what they saw. ''We just stared at these images,'' recalls Schiff, an expert in consciousness disorders at Weill Medical College of Cornell University. ''There didn't seem to be anything missing.'' As the tape of his sister's voice played, several distinct clusters of neurons in Rios's brain had fired in a manner virtually identical to that of a healthy subject. Some clusters that became active were those known to help process spoken language, others to recall memories. Was Rios recognizing his sister's voice, remembering her? ''You couldn't tell the difference between these parts of his brain and the brain of one of my graduate students,'' says Hirsch, an expert in brain imaging at Columbia University. Even the visual centers of Rios's brain had come alive, despite the fact that his eyes were covered. It was as if his sister's words awakened his mind's eye.

To the medical world, Rios and the hundreds of thousands of other Americans who suffer from impaired consciousness present a mystery. Traditionally, there have essentially been only two ways to classify them: as comatose (eyes closed and responses limited to basic reflexes) or vegetative (eyes opening and closing in a cycle of sleeping and waking but without any sign of awareness). In either case, it has been assumed that they have no high-level thought. But Schiff, Hirsch and a small group of like-minded researchers are studying people like Rios and finding that the truth is far more complicated. Their evidence suggests that even after an injury that leaves a brain badly damaged, even after months or years with little sign of consciousness, people may still be capable of complex mental activity.
(Via Mark Shea.)

The Travails of Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher wrote an op-ed recently in which he criticized the Islamic Association of North America for its ties to Islamic extremists. The response from some in the Muslim community has been not to join in the criticism of extremists and terrorist sympathizers, but to call for Dreher to be fired.

Rod is a good friend, and I admire his courage. If you're so inclined, write his boss an email in support of him.

Claude Allen hearing

I've been listening to the hearing on the nomination of Claude Allen to the Fourth Circuit. Some observations:
  • Russ Feingold began by quoting Allen's praise of Uganda's successful anti-AIDS program for emphasizing abstinence. He then quoted a Ugandan AIDS activist as saying that there was more to the program than abstinence. Allen responded by saying that he had always acknowledged that there were several elements to the anti-AIDS program in Uganda.

    What do Allen's thoughts on Uganda's anti-AIDS program have to do with anything? Beats me.

  • A Senator (I think it might have been Reid from Nevada) asked Allen: If the Supreme Court issued a decision that you thought was erroneous, would you follow that decision or would you ignore it? What a no-brainer.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Operation GIVE - Sending Smiles and Hope to Iraq

I've spent the last month starting Operation Give, a grass-roots effort to collect toys and necessities for Iraqi children that Chief Wiggles will distribute.

A Maryland real estate developer has donated a large warehouse where we collect, inspect, sort, repackage and load donations on huge cargo containers bound for Iraq. Knowing the Iraqi people have suffered decades of tyranny, war and sanctions, Americans from all over the country are sending toys, school supplies, personal care products and clothing. Reading the messages on people's notes has been inspiring.

We make it easy for you to reach across the world and touch a child's life. Please send a gift, or a financial donation, or buy some toys at great values to send. We're really pushing groups to organize collection drives, and have received emails from schools, churches, employers, and civic clubs that are collecting toys. One club in Houston has arranged to have drop-off points at eight public libraries for the first week of November.

Please spread the word, through email, your website, and talk radio! Tonight we'll be featured on MSNBC's Scarborough Country at 10:00 EST, so be sure to check us out.

Oh, one more thing. If you're near Maryland, you can drop off donations directly at our warehouse in Columbia (about 10 minutes from Baltimore, 30 minutes from Washington). The address is: Operation Give Warehouse, 7155 Columbia Gateway Drive, Columbia, MD 21046.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Searchable Books

The Internet is buzzing with the news that Amazon is going to allow people to search the full text of books (or at least some books), with certain restrictions to keep people from circumventing the book-buying process altogether.

This excellent Wired article is emblematic of the news coverage -- full of praise for Amazon's initiative and full of eager anticipation over the wonderous aid to research that will result.

I do not disagree that much research would be easier if one could search the full text of books as easily as one searches the web. (Better yet, if one could do Boolean searches.)

Yet I'm worried about one small thing: The value of serendipity. I've found -- and I'm sure I'm not alone -- that some of the best and most useful books that I've ever found are ones that I wasn't looking for in particular, and that didn't turn up on a computer search. When I head into the library with a list of the books that turned up on a computer search, I often realize that the computer turned up books that were not what I was looking for. Instead, some of the most useful books end up being those on the surrounding shelves. And I never would have found them unless I took the trouble to stand in front of a physical shelf of books all afternoon and flip through one or two hundred books on the general topic.

There are several reasons why searching books electronically won't be as helpful as some may think. First, electronic searches suffer from two extremes: Make the search too broad, or use too-common words, and you end up with a glut of resources that are mostly irrelevant. Make the search too narrow, and you miss most of the relevant resources. Most people will err on the side of searches that are too narrow, thereby missing many useful books

Second, when you are starting to research an unfamiliar topic, you often won't even know -- yet -- the very terms that you should be searching for. Thus, you'll miss many books simply because you don't know exactly what terms to feed into the computer.

Third, the English language has many words, and writers have vastly differing styles. Even if you are familiar with the subject already, a computer search might miss many relevant books because the authors used slightly different words to describe the subject you're researching.

So I worry that the realm of books will become Googlized. If the text of many or all books becomes searchable, people will think that once they've done a few searches, they have exhausted the knowledge that the world of books contains. And they won't bother to visit the library just to browse the shelves and see what else is out there. Instead, they will continue to gaze blankly at their computer monitors, oblivious to all the knowledge that lies just beyond their grasp.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Collection of 26 Beanie Babies from Ex-Wife

This one's probably making the rounds: An Ebay Auction titled "Collection of 26 Beanie Babies from Ex-Wife." It's absolutely hilarious.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Gender and Harvard Law Review

There's been a lot of debate at Harvard Law School lately over the fact that not enough women make it onto the Harvard Law Review.

According to this article, men make up 55% of the student body at Harvard Law, but 75% of the editors on the Harvard Law Review. Notably, however, the process of making law review is totally anonymous:
Applicants to the Law Review go through a "double-blind" process where applicants are judged without reference to their identities. This is done by assigning numbers to the applications in two phases before any editors sit down to read the applications.
Despite the double-blind nature of the process, some students have still claimed that the Law Review discriminates against women. This editorial claimed that there are "fifteen years of documented discrimination." Then, this guest column by fifteen former editors noted that "over the last eleven years (including 2003), 42.7% of each HLS class is female, compared with 33.4% of each Law Review class," and this proves that there is a "systematic denial of equal opportunity to join the Law Review."

The current Law Review President responded in a guest editorial:
We have spent literally thousands of hours over the past year trying to understand the reason our double-blind selection process - a process that hides identities of applicants from every single editor, including myself, until after new editors have been selected - has resulted in a lower percentage of female editors than comprise the Law School class.
And indeed, that's the question. For all the talk of "discrimination" and "denial of equal opportunity," the fact is that anyone at Harvard Law School can apply to be on the Review, and the grading is totally anonymous. It is inconceivable that any genuine discrimination could be occurring.

The only possible explanation that involves discrimination (of a sort) was offered by a couple of letter writers:
Remedying the imbalance requires institutions to change their standards of "merit" where those standards reward characteristics which are more likely to be displayed by men than by women, yet which fail to reflect the diversity of skills needed for good lawyering and scholarship.
Yet they never specify exactly what are those characteristics that men have in greater supply, nor how those characteristics differ from those that are "needed for good lawyering and scholarship." In my experience, the Law Review competition was fairly precise in measuring the skills that one would need as a Law Review editor, namely, writing and editing other people's writing. (Certain other skills were sometimes needed -- photocopying, checking out library books -- but I can't imagine that testing for those skills would eliminate any gender disparity.)

Whether the skills of writing and editing are coterminous with "good lawyering" is another question, I suppose, but they are most certainly relevant to the job of a Law Review editor. And I don't think anyone is seriously proposing that the Harvard Law Review competition should test other lawyering skills, such as rainmaking, schmoozing, or negotiating.

One possibility is affirmative action, but as another set of letter writers (including Sasha Volokh) point out, most women Law Review editors have historically opposed adding gender to the law review's affirmative action policy.

So if the men who attend Harvard Law School consistently happen to do better by a 10% margin on an anonymous test measuring the relevant skills, it's a puzzling question. I'm not sure what the solution is supposed to be, but it probably won't come through reckless and unsupportable complaints of "discrimination."

UPDATE: Sasha Volokh links to a new op-ed that he just wrote on the subject.

Amish Child Labor

I enjoyed this NY Times story on the effort by the Amish to get an exemption from child labor laws:
Over the din of a buzzing band saw, the Amish furniture maker complained that Uncle Sam was out to get owners of woodworking shops like his simply for trying to teach Amish youths a trade.

The Amish just want to be let alone, he said, but the federal government is meddling in their lives and livelihoods by fining Amish sawmills and woodworking shops that employ teenagers, in violation of child labor law.

"What are we supposed to do with them if they don't work here, have them stay on the street all day?" said the furniture maker, who insisted on anonymity. "I see what other teenagers do when I'm installing kitchens in people's homes. I see kids watching TV. They don't know what to do with themselves. Shouldn't they be occupied doing something worthwhile?"

Federal law has long barred children under 18 from working in sawmills and woodworking factories, because they are so dangerous. The Amish have upset opponents of child labor by pushing Congress for an exemption based largely on religious grounds.
* * *
"If we couldn't put our boys to work and they didn't do nothing until they were 18, they'd be absolutely worthless," he said. "We want them to be obedient and to learn a trade. If they don't, they'll be out and getting into mischief. Next thing you know, you'll have a bunch of them getting into dope and drinking and partying."

"Our kids don't do that," he said. "If you have a boy that goes to work, he feels tired and he don't want to go out howling around all night."
* * *
There's a famous Supreme Court case called Wisconsin v. Yoder, in which the Supreme Court held that the Constitution's protection of free exercise of religion required that the Amish be exempted from school attendance laws. My con law professor, Richard Parker, clerked for Justice Potter Stewart during the term that Yoder was decided. During the classroom discussion of this case, Parker said, "Justice Stewart told me that he was voting for the Amish because they were cute."

Wednesday, October 22, 2003


I bought a container of chocolate-covered peanuts yesterday. In all-capital letters on the label was this warning:
After all, if you had a really, really sensitive peanut allergy, you'd want to be sure that your chocolate-covered peanuts weren't manufactured at a facility in which other peanut products might have been manufactured.


Matthew Franck has an excellent article on the recusal issue:
[S]uppose we are as punctilious as possible about all this. Justice Scalia is already amply on record about the pledge and 'under God,' and in much more comprehensive ways than anything he said in Fredericksburg. Here he is, dissenting in 1992 from the Court's ruling against prayers at a high-school graduation:
[S]ince the Pledge of Allegiance has been revised . . . to include the phrase 'under God,' recital of the Pledge would appear to raise the same Establishment Clause issue as the [graduation] invocation and benediction. If students were psychologically coerced to remain standing during the invocation, they must also have been psychologically coerced, moments before, to stand for (and thereby, in the Court's view, take part in or appear to take part in) the Pledge. Must the Pledge therefore be barred from the public schools (both from graduation ceremonies and from the classroom)? In [the 1943 case of] Barnette, we held that a public school student could not be compelled to recite the Pledge; we did not even hint that she could not be compelled to observe respectful silence — indeed, even to stand in respectful silence — when those who wished to recite it did so. Logically, that ought to be the next project for the Court's bulldozer.
If Scalia has expressed such an obvious hostility to a judicial ban on 'under God' in an actual case, what on earth can be objectionable about the far-less copious remarks he made in January, when Newdow was only a remote possibility on the Court's docket? Only the most artificial distinction between on-the-bench and off-the-bench expressions of opinion can sustain his recusal.

* * *
To speak as plainly as possible, what we want in our federal judges are people who have strong opinions about the law and the Constitution. Do we really want to live by a fiction that says that their only opportunities to speak those opinions should occur on the bench in the decision of cases?

And to come to Alt's main point, do we want to live by the fiction that in examining nominees for the bench, we should express no curiosity about their opinions on constitutional law? Many of these nominees come before the Senate with long "paper trails" of articles, papers, even books on the subject. Michael McConnell, now on the Tenth Circuit, is one of the nation's most-distinguished commentators on the religion clauses of the First Amendment, with many publications on the subject. By Alt's reasoning, pushed to its logical conclusion, Judge McConnell should recuse himself from every case that arises under those clauses. Or is it that he should only recuse himself if any senator asked a question — and he answered it — that inquired about all those writings of his? To ask such questions is to reveal their absurdity.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Book Review

Notre Dame law prof Rick Garnett has a good review of two recent books on the death penalty.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Thank a Teacher?

Here's Eugene Volokh:
A bit more on bumper stickers: Apropos "If you can read this, thank a teacher" -- actually, my parents taught me to read (both Russian and English). In one sense, the sticker is still right for me: Because they taught me to read, they were by definition teachers, and my mother even worked (albeit highly unofficially) as an English teacher in Russia, teaching children of her friends as well as teaching me. But I don't quite think that this is what the sticker is referring to: I think it's meant to praise professional teachers, not just parents as teachers.

What's more, I think I should be thanking my parents for more than just teaching me to read. I should also be thanking them for taking the view that teaching their child to read is primarily their own job, and not just something to be left to professional teachers -- perhaps the opposite, in some ways, of the message the bumper sticker conveys. And while I'm happy to praise teachers for many things, I'm not sure the bumper sticker gets this matter quite right.
I too have seen this bumper sticker on several occasions, and it strikes me as rather sad, albeit representative of our times. The very premise of the bumper sticker is that parents are so universally delinquent or illiterate that their children will arrive at school having no reading abilities whatsoever, thus requiring the service of professional teachers to learn even the most basic words ("If," "you," "can," "read," etc.).

Perhaps I extrapolate too much from my own experience -- as we all are prone to do -- but I think that parents should teach their children to read long before school begins. The world would be a better place if that bumper sticker were more often false.


Janice Rogers Brown and the ABA

Janice Rogers Brown, a nominee to the D.C. Circuit and a sitting Justice on the California Supreme Court, has been given the rating Q/NQ (or Qualified/Not Qualified) by the ABA. (This rating is featured prominently in the Congressional Black Caucus's press release opposing her nomination.) This article explains:
Brown is the second sitting judge nominated by Bush to an appellate court who has received a partial “not qualified” rating from the American Bar Association.

The ABA’s Standing Committee on the Judiciary does not reveal a precise breakdown of its members’ votes. But it did disclose, pursuant to its guidelines, that Brown was rated “qualified” by less than two-thirds of the 15 members, meaning that at least six declared her “not qualified” and none said she was “well qualified.”
I'm not that familiar with Brown's judicial opinions, so I can't say whether the Q/NQ rating would be justified if it was what it purports to be: A non-partisan measure of objective qualifications.

The ABA, however, has a history of issuing ratings that don't correspond to any plausible non-partisan notion of "qualification." For instance, according to this National Review article, the ABA gave D.C. Circuit judge (and Clinton nominee) Judith Rogers a "well-qualified" rating. But the ABA gave the "qualified/not qualified" rating to such outstanding judges as Stephen Williams, Laurence Silberman, Richard Posner, Alex Kozinski, and Michael Luttig.

It's hard to take the ABA process even remotely seriously when it has classified Judith Rogers, whose judicial career has been fairly undistinguished, as more "qualified" than Posner, who is widely celebrated as one of the most influential and brilliant judges of all time. The most charitable explanation is that the ABA is simply clueless.

In any event, Janice Rogers Brown, with her Q/NQ, is in outstanding company.

UPDATE: Thanks to Jonathan Adler for the kind words. On the Corner, he writes: "[P.S. While it is not the most-update blog around, The Buck Stops Here is definitely one of the better law-blogs around.]" Not the most updated? OK, fair enough. Maybe that's because, unlike some lawyer bloggers, I have a full-time job. ;)

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Leaving Children Alone

From the New York Times:
Last Sunday, as her night shift neared, Kim Brathwaite faced a hard choice. Her baby sitter had not shown up, and to miss work might end her new position as assistant manager at a McDonald's in downtown Brooklyn.

So she left her two children, 9 and 1, alone, trying to stay in touch by phone.

It turned out to be a disastrous decision. Someone, it seems, deliberately set fire to her apartment. Her children died. And within hours, Ms. Brathwaite was under arrest, charged with recklessly endangering her children.

The investigation is continuing, and an arrest in the arson may soon overshadow the criminal charges against Ms. Brathwaite, who is not a suspect in the fire, investigators say. But she is now facing up to 16 years in prison for a decision that, surveys and interviews with experts suggest, cuts uncomfortably close to some choices made every day by American families.
My wife and I were temporarily in a panic last night. Our scheduled babysitter didn't show up, and we had to scramble to find a replacement so that we could go to a fancy dinner put on by the St. Thomas More Society here in Dallas.

After reading that story, I feel like the proverbial man who complained that he had no shoes, until he met a man who had no feet. (Actually, I'm more like the man who sat around whining that the shoelaces on his Guccis weren't quite the right color. Not that I would ever wear Guccis in real life, but you know what I mean.)

Friday, October 17, 2003

Height and Income

According to a story in Yahoo News, tall people earn more:
Tall people earn considerably more money throughout their lives than their shorter co-workers, with each inch adding about $789 a year in pay, according to a new study.

"Height matters for career success," said Timothy Judge, a University of Florida management professor whose research will appear in the spring issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology.

"These findings are troubling in that, with a few exceptions such as professional basketball, no one could argue that height is an essential ability required for job performance nor a bona fide occupational qualification."
As someone who is 6 foot 4 inches tall, I should be happy over this. But I'd rather the employment market not be affected by irrational characteristics like this.

Religious Speech

A high-ranking general has given rise to some controversy because of a few speeches that he made to Christian groups earlier this year:
Questions about Boykin, the new deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence, dominated a Pentagon news briefing after his comments were highlighted by NBC News on Wednesday and the Los Angeles Times yesterday, putting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Air Force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on the defensive.

Dressed in his Army uniform, Boykin told an Oregon religious group in June that radical Islamists hate the United States "because we're a Christian nation ... and the enemy is a guy named Satan." He told an audience in Florida in January that a Muslim Somali warlord was captured because "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real god and his was an idol."
What I find interesting is the reaction from a prominent Muslim spokesman:
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based civil-rights group, urged the Bush administration to remove Boykin from his post, where he is in charge of tracking down al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and other high-profile targets in the Muslim world.

"Everyone is entitled to their own religious beliefs, no matter how ill-informed or bigoted, but those beliefs should not be allowed to color important decisions that need to be made in the war on terrorism," said the council's executive director, Nihad Awad. "Gen. Boykin should be reassigned to a position in which he will not be able to harm our nation's image or interests."
Grant that Boykin's statements were imprudent, given his station and given the United States' struggle with various Middle Eastern countries. But on what grounds can Boykin's religious beliefs be described as "bigoted" or "ill-informed"? Doesn't that imply that his religious beliefs are, well, false? The Muslim spokesman's statement is all too typical, but is logically contradictory: It amounts to saying that a religious belief is false if it provides that someone else's religious beliefs are false. But if that were the case, then the Muslim spokesman's own beliefs would be false, because he stated quite clearly that he thinks Boykin's beliefs are false.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Book Sale

My pals over at Spence Publishing are having a book sale. For $5 apiece, you too can own Kenneth Craycraft's The American Myth of Religious Freedom, or The End of Democracy (edited by Richard Neuhaus), or John Lawlor's C.S. Lewis: Memories and Reflections, or several other interesting and provocative titles. Definitely worth checking out.

More on Media Bias

Below, I referred to the bias evident in CBS's stories on homeschooling. In this post, I offer a few more thoughts:

When I was at Harvard Law School, I took a seminar on Supreme Court litigation with Charles Fried, who was the Solicitor General for the United States during Reagan's second term. The twelve people in the seminar were divided into teams of two, and then charged with writing a brief for one of three cases. My teammate and I were playing the part of "Respondent" for our case, which meant that our brief would be written in response to the Petitioner's brief.

When we looked at the rules, it seemed that our brief did not technically need to have a "Statement of Facts" section. So we decided to rely on our opponents' statement of facts, and just open our brief with the Argument section, which we thought more important anyway.

Fried was horrified. In our first meeting with him, he refused even to discuss the brief with us. The Statement of Facts, he said, is one of the most important parts of any brief, and probably contributes 50% to the likelihood whether you will win or lose.

Why? you might ask. A Statement of Facts, after all, is just a recitation of what happened in the case. Ahh, but it's not that simple, he said. Most cases are complicated, and have lots and lots of "facts" that one can choose to write about. The Statement of Facts is the one section where you can win the trust of the Court, by presenting a piece of writing that is, by all appearances, perfectly neutral and objective and unbiased. Yet if, at the same time, you can subtly highlight and focus on all the facts that are most helpful to your client, while providing dispassionate explanations for any harmful facts, you can probably accomplish more for your client than if you wrote an argumentative screed.

That was Fried's view, based on litigating dozens of cases before the Supreme Court. What's essential to learn here is that an admittedly argumentative piece of writing may be, and often is, less effective at persuading people, simply because they know it's an argument and they are prepared to discount what you say. But a seemingly straightforward presentation of facts can be, and often is, more effective, simply because people are more likely to trust what you're saying when you appear neutral.

So that's one of the main reasons why I took offense at the CBS stories. They come across, to an unattentive viewer, as a straightforward presentation of pure "facts." But there are many ways in which the stories highlight the "facts" that help CBS's agenda, while minimizing any contrary "facts."

For instance, the second story presents a handful of anecdotes involve purported homeschoolers who murdered their children. This is all factual, but the choice of emphasis leaves a misleading impression that homeschooling parents are particularly likely to murder their children.

Then the story says:
Unlike teachers, in 38 states and the District of Columbia, parents need virtually no qualifications to home school. Not one state requires criminal background checks to see if parents have abuse convictions.
This is exactly the sort of straightforward presentation of "facts" that a skillful lawyer would write. No explicit argument has been made, but the viewer is left thinking, "Gee, why don't states have such laws? Maybe we should start requiring background checks, or minimum qualifications, etc." And this has been done while the viewer's guard is down, precisely because the piece was presented as "factual" rather than as argumentative.


Tuesday, October 14, 2003

CBS on Homeschooling

CBS News just did a two-part series on homeschooling. The first installment is called "A Dark Side to Home Schooling," while they managed to find an even more menacing title for the second: "Homeschooling Nightmares." (You can watch the video or read a nearly verbatim transcript at each of those links.)

The general theme is, as one might expect, quite negative. The first part focuses entirely on a single case from North Carolina, where a fourteen year old boy killed his brother and sister and then committed suicide. The family was living "in squalor" and, as it happens, claimed to be homeschoolers. Unbeknownst to North Carolina officials, the parents had been convicted of child abuse in another state. Although there was no apparent connection between the murder-suicide and homeschooling, per se, the point was made that homeschooling allows "persons who maltreat children to maintain social isolation in order for the abuse and neglect to remain undetected."

The second part expands the focus to murderous homeschoolers from other states. The infamous Andrea Yates is mentioned, as are a couple of other parents who killed their children while homeschooling. All in all, CBS claims to have "found dozens of cases of parents convicted or accused of murder or child abuse who were teaching their children at home, out of the public eye."

Seeing these two stories reminds me of all the reasons why I never watch TV news if I can help it. The stories, which pose as neutral reporting, are advocacy pieces from start to finish. The phrasings are designed to be misleading. For instance, in the quote above, CBS claims that "dozens" have been "convicted or accused of murder or child abuse." But CBS never specifies how many of those "dozens" were actually "convicted of murder," as opposed to how many were merely "accused" of "child abuse." And remember, being accused of child abuse could include any number of situations in which parents are falsely accused by a meddlesome neighbor and then cleared of any wrongdoing. In fact, some parents have been falsely accused of child abuse merely because they were homeschooling in the first place.

Nor does CBS explain why homeschooling necessarily played a causal role in any of these "dozens" of cases. It's impossible to say what would have happened, but I suspect that the North Carolina family, for example, would still have been living in "squalor" if they had sent their children to public school, and the 14-year-old might have committed the murder-suicide anyway. It's not as if public-schooled kids are never known to commit suicide or murder.

Then there is the very choice of subject matter. By singling out a few isolated instances of wrongdoing, CBS News makes it appear that these instances are more widespread than they are. I.e., CBS is taking advantage of the cognitive bias known as the availability heuristic: You overestimate the probability of a thing if you can think of a prominent example. (Read all about it in Tversky's and Kahneman's book Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases.)

Moreover, CBS doesn't even attempt to provide a comparative look at whether homeschoolers murder or abuse their children any more often or to any greater extent than parents with children in public school. And that's the relative metric. It could well be that homeschoolers abuse their children at half the rate of public-schoolers. But even if that were true, CBS could still paint homeschoolers as potential abusers simply by doing what it did: Cherry-picking the few examples of heinous behavior in homeschoolers, and neglecting to provide any comparison to the public school population.

This is why, for example, social sciences such as epidemiology always look at control groups. No respectable epidemiologist would produce a study that said, "Out of the entire country, we dug up 6 female users of Bendectin whose children turned out to have birth defects." Instead, the epidemiologist might compare women who used Bendectin to women who didn't, and then look at the comparative rates of birth defects after controlling for other factors.

CBS didn't even pretend to do any of those things.

This, by the way, is what people usually have in mind when they complain that the mainstream media has a liberal bias. Not that the mainstream media features liberal commentators identified as such (as Fox News might feature conservative commentators in its talk show programs), but that the regular news reporting often serves an agenda behind the pretense of objectivity. I mean, imagine CBS News producing a two-part series called, "Public School Nightmares," in which it cherry-picked 3 or 4 instances in which public-schooled children were killed at school -- say, Columbine -- all with the heavy implication that the very practice of public schooling in and of itself was somehow to blame. Unimaginable, isn't it?

UPDATE: Be sure to scroll up for another lengthy post on the CBS homeschooling stories.

FURTHER UPDATE: More on the CBS stories from Joanne Jacobs, Daryl Cobranchi (scroll down for lots of posts), Mrs. Dutoit, and Live from the Guillotine.



A couple of days ago, I put up a new email address over to the right. By today, I'm already getting spam (i.e., a Nigerian scam artist). I don't know how they do it, but I'm sure it was some sort of computer program. So I put the email address in reverse order. We'll see if that works.


I recently had a conversation with Vester Hughes, the name partner at my law firm, in which he was moved to recall a story from his law school days at Harvard in the early 1950s. He was taking a class with professor Austin Scott, who was then in his 70s and always wore a vest. One day, Scott responded to a student's remark by saying:

Inconceivable. Inconceivable. Well, actually, it IS conceivable, because you just conceived of it. But it SHOULD have been inconceivable.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

Jerry Lewis

One of the things that I love about the Internet is that you can find just about anything you ever wanted to buy. For example, I've always liked the movies Jerry Lewis made with Dean Martin, and have often wished that I could see some of their earlier TV shows. (For several years in the early 1950s, they performed live on the Colgate Comedy Hour.)

Thanks to the Internet, I've acquired several videos of a few of these shows. And they are absolutely hilarious, better than any of the Lewis/Martin movies. Jerry Lewis was simply amazing. Put together Jim Carrey's facial contortions and Robin Williams's lightning quick ad libbing, and then multiple it by two, and you start to have a glimmering of what Jerry Lewis was like when he was in his early twenties performing live. Comic genius.

Next on the list: Finding tapes of the Jack Benny Show.


What's the deal with all the attention paid to spectator sports, anyway? There are lots of TV channels that show sports of some sort, and every day there's a sports section in the newspaper. I take it that there are a lot of adults who think about, watch, read about, and talk about sports. It's odd, when you think about it, that so much time, attention, and brainpower are devoted to something so ephemeral.

It's not that I have anything against sports. I played basketball in high school and have lifted weights for ten years. And I used to watch basketball quite a bit, particularly when my hometown Arkansas Razorbacks were an early 90s powerhouse. But as a married man with two kids and a full-time job, I always seem to have things to do that are a lot more important than spending hours watching (or reading trivia about) other people playing games that generally consist of a lot of running to and fro while intermittently throwing balls in various directions. Who has the time?


What is the appropriate way to form the possessive of a phrase? E.g., is it, "I'm going over to a friend of mine's house," or "I'm going over to a friend's of mine house." The second way sounds worse, but they both look odd.

I know, you could say, "I'm going to the house of a friend of mine," but that sounds way too stilted. Or you could say, "I'm going to a friend's house," but that seems like cheating.

Type M Arguments

The Curmudgeonly Clerk deftly undermines the case, such as it is, for "Type M arguments."

Friday, October 10, 2003

Cloudy Days

It's a nice cloudy day here in Dallas. That makes several days in a row now. And I love it -- it's such a nice break from all the sunshine that we had been getting.

You may think I'm joking, but I mean it. In fact, I'd be much happier if overcast days (preferably with dark, threatening clouds) were the norm, and sunshine the rare exception. I've read that people tend to get more depressed in the winters because they don't have enough sunshine. In me, however, those biological or mental processes, whatever they are, seem to have been wired in reverse.

Well, not precisely in reverse. I don't get literally depressed when there's too much sunshine. It's just that sunshine is so boring and unromantic (I use that word in its artistic sense). Sunshine is like one of those relentlessly and oppressively cheerful works by Mozart (one of my least favorite "great" composers), while a dark overcast day is like the swirling chords of Sibelius. Cloudy days remind me of one of my favorite passages from C.S. Lewis's autobiography Surprised by Joy:
I had read . . . the words Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods. What I had seen was one of Arthur Rackham's illustrations to that volume. I had never heard of Wagner, nor of Siegfried . . . Pure "Northernness" engulfed me: a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic in the endless twilight of Northern summer, remoteness, severity.
Anyone else feel that way about cloudy days? Or am I the only one?

Thursday, October 09, 2003

Sticks and Stones

From the London Telegraph:
The pain of social rejection can be as real as a broken leg, reveals brain study

The heartache of rejection is just as real as the pain of a stubbed toe or broken leg, according to a brain study. Scientists have discovered that hurt feelings affect the same region of the brain as that which deals with physical agony.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

A Reader's Response

The gentleman about whom I posted below has responded by email. Actually, he emailed my co-blogger, as I don't have my email address on this site. (I had my email address up at one time, but I was getting too much spam as a result.) Here's his response:
Mr. Evans,

I tried to locate an email for Stuart Buck, but his bio will not load. As your email is listed at the top of his weblog, I would as that you please forward this email to him.

Whomever S. Buck is, his uneducated propaganda does a disservice to this country and to me. His 'OPINION' on the web log is entirely incorrect. I did not raise the 'interstate commerce' issue at all. That bullshit was brought up by the judge, not me, as nothing more than a distraction. Get my argument straight. My argument is also NOT that I am not obligated to pay income taxes, it is that ALMOST ALL AMERICANS are not obligated to pay income taxes because the law AS IT IS WRITTEN is specific on whom the tax is imposed. Only those that engage in the activities under federal jurisdiction and spelled out specifically in federal law are obligated to pay income taxes. Did you even READ the press release?

Second, I was not seeking a refund of income taxes paid for 2000 & 2001, that was more court & DOJ bullshit. I am seeking a refund two bonds that are being held unlawfully without assessment. They are NOT income taxes, as I do no OWE any income taxes for those years (nor any other years for that matter).

See ROSENMAN v. UNITED STATES, 323 U.S. 658 (1945) ttp://

But the Government contends 'payment of such tax' was made on December 24, 1934, when petitioners transferred to the Collector a check for $120,000. This stopped the running of penalties and interest, says the Government, and therefore is to be treated as a payment by the parties. But on December 24, 1934, the taxpayer did not discharge what he deemed a liability nor pay one that was asserted. There was merely an interim arrangement to cover whatever contingencies the future might define. The tax obligation did not become defined until April 1938. And this is the practical construction which the Government has placed upon such arrangements. THE GOVERNMENT DOES NOT CONSIDER SUCH ADVANCES OF ESTIMATED TAXES AS TAX PAYMENTS. They are, as it were, payments in escrow. They are set aside, as we have noted, in special suspense accounts established for depositing money received when no assessment is then outstanding against the taxpayer. The receipt by the Government of moneys under such an arrangement carries no more significance than would the giving of a surety bond. (EMPHASIS ADDED)

Third, the FACT that Congress cannot define the word income was stated quite clearly by the United States Supreme Court.

". it becomes essential to distinguish between what is and what is not 'income,' and to apply the distinction, as cases arise, according to truth and substance, without regard to form. Congress can not by any definition it may adopt conclude the matter, since it cannot by legislation alter the Constitution, from which alone it derives its
power to legislate, and within whose limitations alone that power can be lawfully exercised." Eisner v. Macomber, 252 U.S.189, 207 (1920) If you read through my web site you will see that THE IRS also sent me a letter confirming that Congress has NOT defined the word income.

Fourth, although I am disgusted with the dishonesty of the court, I am not frustrated. If you took the time to read all of the facts in this case, you would see that this is a HUGE propaganda loss for the government. AT NO TIME, did the DOJ argue that I owed anything. AT NO TIME, did the court rule that I owe any income taxes. And to enter a judgment in favor of the government, the court HAD TO FABRICATE LIES about the arguments that I DIDN'T MAKE, all the while ignoring the primary thrust of the case.

If Mr. Buck believes that I owe income taxes, I would challenge him to cite the laws and regulations to substantiate such a claim. Otherwise, stick to things you know something about.

BTW, thanks for linking to my web site, the more people that are exposed to the truth, the better.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Anti-Tax Litigation

For a little entertainment, read this guy's webpage and the links thereon. He filed a lawsuit in federal district court asking for a refund of his income taxes from 2000 and 2001 on the grounds that he wasn't obligated to pay taxes because his job (a pharmaceutical sales rep) was not "interstate commerce." (See the transcript of the hearing.) He also apparently argued -- his writing isn't quite clear -- that Congress does not have the constitutional authority to define the word "income" as used in the 16th Amendment.

Needless to say, the judge didn't buy his arguments, and issued an order to that effect on Oct. 3. Whereupon the frustrated litigant issued a press release, in which he describes the hearing:
“The hearing was very interesting,” said Evans, “it seemed to me that the judge wasn’t very familiar with the specifics of the case. Every time I brought up the issue of the proper application of Section 861 and Subchapter N (which contains Section 861), the judge would change the subject by asking me what appeared to be argumentative questions. It was if the judge was more of my opponent than was the Department of Justice. Plus, there were two law clerks observing the hearing. They were giggling like school children, not paying much attention while the statements were being given. It wouldn’t surprise me if the opinion was actually written by the law clerks, as is sometimes the case.”
I'll bet.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

Front Brake Lights

Why don't cars have brake lights in front? Think of how many situations in which this would be useful or even life-saving:

1. You're making a left turn at a stoplight, and have pulled out into the middle of the intersection. The light turns yellow. A car is coming towards you -- and you don't know if the driver is going to race through the yellow light or come to a stop. But if the car had a brake light in the front, you'd know.

2. You're driving down the road. Up ahead, a car faces you in the left turn lane. Suddenly the car's front brake light goes off. Thus, you know that the driver plans to turn left in front of you.

3. You approach a light that has just turned green. As you start to accelerate into the intersection, another car approaches from the right (or the left). It's hard to tell if that car is stopping, or if the driver mistakenly thought he could make the yellow light and plans to keep on going.

4. You are waiting to turn right out of a parking lot. A car is coming down the road towards you in the right lane. It has its turn signal on, but you can't tell if the car is going to turn into the same parking lot where you are, or before, or after. If the car had a front brake light, you'd have a better idea whether you could pull out to the right.

5. You're at a four-way stop. Three other cars are there at roughly the same time. Lots of hand signals are exchanged, but you don't know for sure who plans on pulling out first. If all the other cars had front brake lights, you'd know.

There are probably lots more situations in which front brake lights would be useful, but those are the ones that spring to mind.

So why don't cars have front brake lights? There oughta be a law.


For an excellent discussion (and evisceration) of Rawlsian-style "public reason" philosophizing, read Steven D. Smith's piece "Recovering (from) Enlightenment?" (Link via Larry Solum.) He offers several trenchant observations, such as this:
Modern theorists enthusiastically embrace the vocabulary of "reason" -- indeed, one sometimes wonders whether their word processors have been infected with a virus that spreads the word "reason" and its cognates through their writings like an epidemic . . . .59

59 See, e.g., Rawls, Political Liberalism, supra note 58, at li (". . . we must give them reasons they can not only understand . . . but reasons we might reasonably expect that they as free and equal might reasonably also accept.").
And this:
By excluding any "comprehensive view of truth" from the domain of public reason, theorists like Rawls and Macedo deflect the suspicion that they are simply hostile to religion. But they also make it clear that "reason," for all of its prominence in their positions, is no longer serving the function of guiding people to live in accordance with Truth. That sort of Truth, rather, is beyond the purview of reason, or at least of "public reason"; it is something for people to pursue individually or in private associations. Public reason is now seen as serving other, more political and social values such as "cooperativeness," "reciprocity," and "a common citizenship."

Indeed, it would be at most a slight exaggeration to say that whereas in the classical Enlightenment the purpose of reason was to orient discourse toward Truth, under the modern ideal the purpose of "public reason" is precisely to prevent the introduction of questions and claims about Truth from entering into public discourse.
And this:
In an essay called "On Equal Human Worth: A Critique of Contemporary Egalitarianism," Louis Pojman notes that an assumption that all humans are of equal worth is central to virtually all modern political theorizing.

But what is the justification for this assumption? The notion of equal worth is hard to square with the empirical evidence: "Take any capacity or ability you like: reason, a good will, the capacity to suffer, the ability to deliberate and choose freely, the ability to make moral decisions and carry them out, self-control, sense of humor, health, athletic and artistic ability, and it seems that humans . . . differ in the degree to which they have those capacities and abilities."

Pojman reinforces the point with almost gruesome vividness. Referring to an essay in which Gregory Vlastos imagines humans explaining to a Martian visitor that “the human worth of all persons is equal,” Pojman proceeds to imagine the Martian’s response:
He invites Vlastos to consider Smith, a man of low morals and lower intelligence, who abuses his wife and children, who hates exercising or work, for whom novels are dull and art a waste of time, and whose joy it is to spend his days as a couch potato, drinking beer, while watching mud wrestling, violent sports, and soap operas on TV. He is an avid voyeur, devoted to child pornography. He is devoid of intellectual curiosity, eschews science, politics, and religion, and eats and drinks in a manner more befitting a pig than a person. Smith lacks wit, grace, humor, technical skill, ambition, courage, self-control, and wisdom. He is anti-social, morose, lazy, a freeloader who feels no guilt about living on welfare, when he is perfectly able to work, has no social conscience, and barely avoids getting caught for his petty thievery. He has no talents, makes no social contribution, lacks a moral sense . . . .

But Smith is proud of one thing: that he is "sacred," of "infinite worth," of equal intrinsic value as Abraham Lincoln, Mother Teresa, Albert Schweitzer, the Dalai Lama, Jesus Christ, Gandhi, and Einstein. . . . From the egalitarian perspective, . . . Smith is of equal intrinsic worth as the best citizen in his community. We could excuse the Martian if he exhibited amazement at this incredible doctrine.
So then what is the justification for saying that all persons are in some important sense of equal worth? Pojman argues that as a historical matter, the idea of human equality descends from a religious tradition. Often the justification takes the form of a claim that all humans are made by, and in the image of, God. The justification is also expressed in the imagery of family: "The language of human dignity and worth implies a great family in which a benevolent and sovereign Father binds together all his children in love and justice." And that rationale can be given more analytical form: Pojman identifies two principal justifications in the religious tradition, which he calls "the Essentialist Argument" and "the Argument from Grace."

But these are precisely the sorts of rationales that an Enlightened "public reason" seeks to filter out of public discourse and public justification. "What distinguishes most contemporary egalitarianism from earlier natural law modes is its self-conscious secularism," Pojman observes. "There is no appeal to a God or a transcendent realm." So Pojman examines ten leading secular arguments advanced by theorists such as Dworkin, Rawls, Kai Nielsen, Joel Feinberg, Thomas Nagel, and Alan Gewirth; and he finds all of these arguments wanting. Sometimes the arguments turn on demonstrable fallacies or on flagrant and unsupported discursive leaps; more often they do not actually offer any justification for equality at all but instead simply assert or assume it, or else posit that in the absence of any persuasive justification one way or the other we should adopt a "presumption" of equal worth.

Pojman concludes that egalitarian commitments are "simply a leftover from a religious world view now rejected by all of the philosophers discussed in this essay." Secular egalitarians are free riders, living off an inheritance they view with disdain.
And finally this:
It is as if a group calling itself the "Astronomy Society" gradually lost all interest in the stars but continued, largely for social or solidarity purposes, to hold conventions to collect and admire old telescopes that they find aesthetically appealing; and the group excludes particular telescopes (and their owners) from these conferences not because the telescopes don’t work, but because they are aesthetically unappealing. In short, telescopes continue to serve a function, but it is nothing like the same function for which they were originally developed; consequently, the rationale and criteria for approving some telescopes and disapproving others are wholly different than those that initially guided the society. By the same token, consensus is prized in contemporary liberal thought for its political not its philosophical or epistemic value. In this context, to say that a person, or moral or philosophical view, will not be counted because she or it is “unreasonable” is tantamount to saying not that the person lacks some epistemic capacity or that the view is false -- False relative to what? What would that judgment even mean? -- but rather that the person or view is offensive to the group that is running the discussion. In this way, the modern Enlightenment lapses into a sort of high-toned neo-tribalism.

Friday, October 03, 2003


If you ever wanted to read a long article giving the background on Marbury v. Madison, here's a piece in the Wilson Quarterly by Michael Glennon.

Thursday, October 02, 2003

Law School Admissions

In his earlier post, Stuart assumed the reason Harvard placed his application on hold despite his excellent LSAT and GPA was due to bias against state schools.

But there's another reason Harvard was reluctant to admit Stuart, and it has nothing to do with any doubt on their part that he would be an exceptional student. If Stuart went to another school after having been accepted at Harvard, Harvard's acceptance rate would go up because they'd have to accept an additional applicant to fill the spot initially held for Stuart. Schools want to keep their acceptance rates low because they're a factor in U.S. News' ranking formula.

I applied to seven law schools: Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Chicago, Columbia, Duke and Berkeley. Duke and Berkeley were my "fall back" schools: schools that were almost certain to accept me.

Rather than send me an acceptance letter, Duke called me on the phone to ask I'd enroll if they admitted me. I told them that because I'd been accepted and given a generous financial package elsewhere, I wouldn't commit to going to Duke without seeing something in writing. Several days later Duke called again. This time they asked if I would enroll if they gave me a generous financial package. I told them that I would have to see the offer before I could make a decision, but that I would definitely consider going to Duke.

I never heard from Duke again. No grant money letter, no acceptance packet, not even a rejection letter. Nothing.

As far as I can tell, the only reason Duke would go through the hassle of contacting me in person is to make sure they don't accept me, thereby increasing their acceptance rate, only to have me turn them down. I know they didn't do this for every applicant, as most of my friends never got phone calls, so I suspect that I must have matched a particular profile.

That said, during my last year at Harvard Law (2001) the school was considering ways to improve its performance. While I don't think it was ever stated explicitly, it was obvious that the fact that HLS had fallen to 3rd place in the U.S. News rankings ruffled lots of Harvard feathers.

Because Harvard's large student population is one of the factors that hurts it in the U.S. News formula, one of the options on the table was trimming the class size from 555 to 450 or 500.

When the school published their decision not to reduce class size, their explanation was that students from state schools would be most affected, and they didn't want to further limit the numbers of state students.

This is further evidence that Harvard's formula may disfavor state schools, but controlling for LSAT scores would be the clearest way to find out. Compared to the weight of the LSAT, I suspect the school attended is a negligible consideration. And state schools are benefitted by the rankings, as U.S. News only reports applicant's GPA, with no concern for the school the applicant attended. So for Harvard's purpose of preening before the U.S. News gods, my 3.8 at the University of Utah makes them look better than does an applicant with a 3.7 from a more competitive school.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Heads and Noses

In the movies, action heroes often use a particular move when fighting one of the bad guys: They slam their foreheads against the bad guy's nose. The bad guy winces for a moment, and then immediately delivers a flying kick to the abdomen, or jumps off a balcony, etc., etc.

I can now testify from personal experience how utterly unrealistic that is. This morning, I was lying on the floor as my daughter (age: 1 year, 10 months) bounced up and down on my chest. ("Horsie, horsie," she says, as she persists in confusing me with some sort of farm animal.)

Suddenly, without warning or even the slightest provocation, she dropped her forehead against my nose. It was inadvertent, I'm sure, although I have my doubts.1 It was excruciating. I was incapacitated for at least a minute or so. I was in no position to fight back, even against a toddler. I can't even imagine how much worse it would have been had it been an adult male doing it full force on purpose.

So there you go. Yet another way that movies fail to represent reality.

1She's had a glint in her eye for some time now.

Holy Sex - Christianity Today Magazine

From Christianity Today Magazine, Philip Yancey has a very interesting essay on sex. It begins thus:
A PHYSICIAN FRIEND OF MINE spent two months in a remote part of the African nation Benin. The airplane on which he traveled home was showing current movies, and after two months away from all media, he found them jarring. Each movie centered on sexual intercourse, as though this were the only significant topic in the world, whereas David had just been dealing with weighty matters—disease, poverty, hunger, religion, death—while relating to colleagues in a way that had nothing to do with sexual intercourse. When the plane stopped for refueling at the Brussels airport, David saw rows of magazines for sale featuring women's breasts in various stages of exposure. That, too, seemed odd, for he had been working in an area where women commonly uncovered their breasts in public, not for sexual arousal but to feed their children. Welcome back to Western civilization, he thought to himself.

Unsuccessful Searches

Among the unsuccessful searches that led people to this blog, I was struck by this one: "Professional Finger Painters." This deserves some further investigation. If there's anything to it, my four year old son might be able to start earning his keep.