Sunday, October 31, 2004

Political Treatises

A great post on the demise of the political treatise.


Over a year ago, Rod Dreher told me some ghost stories that he had personally experienced. Now he wrote them up for the Dallas Morning News in this lengthy article.
The first time I met the exorcist, he and his helpers were off to clean out, so to speak, a haunted house north of New Orleans. I went with them, saw bizarre things I could not explain, wrote a newspaper story about it, and figured I'd never see those people again.

Two years later, in August of 1994, I phoned the exorcist myself. "Can you come to my mom and dad's house?" I asked. "We buried my grandfather a couple of days ago, and some strange things are going on."

"Day after tomorrow," the exorcist promised. "When we get there, don't tell Shelby your grandfather died. We don't want to lead her in any direction."

I have never been able to forget what happened next. I've thought a lot about it over the past decade, and am no closer to solving the mysteries at the heart of those events. I can say this for certain: the barrier between the world of the living and the realm of the dead is permeable, and the refusal to recognize the reality of the paranormal and supernatural can lead to our own destruction.
* * *
Worth reading.

Great New Education Blog

I've blog-rolled a new education blog called Professor Plum's Relentless Rants on Eduquackery. Looks like a lot of outstanding stuff, such as this post:
* * *
The huge gap in school achievement and later quality of life between minority and white students is usually explained by things that are largely irrelevant --culture, "race," family structure, the percentage of minority children in a school, socioeconomic status, students' self-perceptions and teachers' expectations. I’d like to think that focusing on the wrong things is simple laziness--a person looking for keys under a streetlamp; it’s the easiest place. But now I think it’s more because “social reformers” are happiest dealing with vague abstractions—their “big picture” of how “society oppresses the poor.” This enables them to conjure up gaudy schemes (which elicit hormonal secretions. The bigger the scheme the more important they feel.), to get long-running grants and high prestige positions, hire friends, write articles, and end up with nice retirement annuities.

Let’s get serious about improving achievement. You aren’t going to change anyone’s “race” or culture. No “program” is going to raise children’s self-esteem and children’s and teachers’ expectations—for very long. And we aren’t going to “make the distribution of wealth more equitable or equal” — even if we knew what that meant. These sorts of efforts to create a “new man” and to revolutionize society almost always yield disaster. [Think “Soviet Union.”] But by then the reformers are long gone. Besides, their kids are in private schools. But don’t tell that to the reformers. They’ll get testy. After all, you're taking away their stock in trade — the false promise of edutopia — if we’d only give them power, money, our kids, and all the time in the world.

Reformers almost never consider the obvious. What is closest to student learning is not race, social class, culture, school size, and all the other factors the reformers tout, but communication with the teacher — organized as instruction within a curriculum. The reason poor kids don’t learn much in school is that they come to school less prepared and because most schools use curricula that are horrible (superficial coverage, illogical sequences, little built-in practice) and teaching methods that miscommunicate information — as discussed here.

And there are tons of good data showing that well designed curricula and logically clear instruction can override the effects of social class, minority group status, and family background.

In the mid 1960’s, President Lyndon Johnson’s administration created Head Start—a large number of preschool programs primarily for disadvantaged children. After a few years he also funded Follow Through, to see which Head Start models (curricula) yielded the most beneficial change. Pretty rational. Find out what works best and promote it. Find out what fails and dump it. That’s how they do it in medicine, engineering, and other serious professions.

That’s NOT how they do it in education.

Read the rest.


Prescription Drugs

Via Marginal Revolution, I see that Malcolm Gladwell has an article on prescription drugs. Gladwell is one of my top two or three favorite writers of all time; check out his website, his book The Tipping Point, and his forthcoming book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, which was the subject of a very interesting lecture on C-Span recently.

Anyway, here are a couple of quotes from the article:
Throughout the current debate over prescription-drug costs — as seniors have gone on drug-buying bus trips to Canada, as state Medicaid programs and employers have become increasingly angry over rising health-care costs, and as John Kerry has made reining in the pharmaceutical industry a central theme of his Presidential campaign — the common assumption has been that the rise of drugs like Nexium is entirely the fault of the pharmaceutical industry. Is it? If doctors routinely prescribe drugs like Nexium and insurers routinely pay for them, after all, there is surely more than one culprit in the prescription-drug mess.

* * *

The perception that the drug industry is profiteering at the expense of the American consumer has given pharmaceutical firms a reputation on a par with that of cigarette manufacturers.

In fact, the complaint is only half true. The “intolerable” prices that Angell writes about are confined to the brand-name sector of the American drug marketplace. As the economists Patricia Danzon and Michael Furukawa recently pointed out in the journal Health Affairs, drugs still under patent protection are anywhere from twenty-five to forty per cent more expensive in the United States than in places like England, France, and Canada. Generic drugs are another story. Because there are so many companies in the United States that step in to make drugs once their patents expire, and because the price competition among those firms is so fierce, generic drugs here are among the cheapest in the world. And, according to Danzon and Furukawa’s analysis, when prescription drugs are converted to over-the-counter status no other country even comes close to having prices as low as the United States.
The complaint that I had heard about Bush and Congress's prescription drug plan is that it forbids Medicare from bargaining with drug companies for lower prices. Whenever I've seen this claim, it is never accompanied by any citation to the actual prescription drug bill. If what Gladwell says in the following is true, that charge may be highly misleading:
This is why increasing numbers of employers have in recent years made use of what are known as Pharmacy Benefit Managers, or P.B.M.s. The P.B.M.s draw up drug formularies—lists of preferred medications. They analyze clinical-trials data to find out which drugs are the most cost-effective. In a category in which there are many equivalent options, they bargain with drug firms, offering to deliver all their business to one company in exchange for a discount. They build incentives into prescription-drug plans to encourage intelligent patient behavior. * * *

There is no mention of these successes in “The Truth About the Drug Companies.” Though much of the book is concerned with the problem of such costs, P.B.M.s, the principal tool that private health-care plans use to control rising drug costs, are dismissed in a few paragraphs. Angell’s focus, instead, is on the behavior of the pharmaceutical industry. An entire chapter, for instance, centers on the fact that the majority of drugs produced by the pharmaceutical industry are either minor variations or duplicates of drugs already on the market. Merck pioneered the statin category with Mevacor. Now we have Pfizer’s Lipitor, Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Pravachol, Novartis’s Lescol, AstraZeneca’s Crestor, and Merck’s second entrant, Zocor—all of which do pretty much the same thing. Angell thinks that these “me-too” drugs are a waste of time and money, and that the industry should devote its resources to the development of truly innovative drugs instead. In one sense, she’s right: we need a cure for Alzheimer’s much more than we need a fourth or fifth statin. Yet me-too drugs are what drive prices down. The presence of more than one drug in a given category gives P.B.M.s their leverage when it comes time to bargain with pharmaceutical companies.

With the passage of the Medicare prescription-drug-insurance legislation, late last year, the competition created by me-toos has become even more important. The bill gives responsibility for managing the drug benefit to P.B.M.s. In each therapeutic category, Medicare will set guidelines for how many and what kinds of drugs the P.B.M.s will have to include, and then the P.B.M.s will negotiate directly with drug companies for lower prices. Some analysts predict that, as long as Medicare is smart about how it defines the terms of the benefit, the discounts — particularly in crowded therapeutic categories like the statins — could be considerable. Angell appears to understand none of this. “Medicare will have to pay whatever drug companies charge,” she writes, bafflingly, “and it will have to cover expensive me-too drugs as well as more cost-effective ones.”
Interesting. Similarly, the CBO's analysis of the prescription drug bill said, "The gross drug savings achieved by the Medicare plans would result from negotiating price discounts or rebates from drug manufacturers and pharmacies; controlling overall drug use; and changing the mix of drugs used."

Anyone know why the drug plan's critics all seem to think that negotiating with drug manufacturers was somehow forbidden? What are they talking about?

Back to Gladwell: One of the main problems with increasing drug prices is that people (doctors and patients) irrationally choose to use the most expensive new drug, ignoring the fact that a very cheap older drug might work just as well:
Among the costliest drug categories, for instance, is the new class of antiinflammatory drugs known as cox-2 inhibitors. The leading brand, Celebrex, has been heavily advertised, and many patients suffering from arthritis or similar conditions ask for Celebrex when they see their physician, believing that a cox-2 inhibitor is a superior alternative to the previous generation of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (known as nsaids), such as ibuprofen. (The second leading cox-2 inhibitor, Merck’s Vioxx, has just been taken off the market because of links to an elevated risk of heart attacks and strokes.) The clinical evidence, however, suggests that the cox-2s aren’t any better at relieving pain than the nsaids. It’s just that in a very select group of patients they have a lower risk of side effects like ulcers or bleeding.

“There are patients at high risk—people who have or have had an ulcer in the past, who are on blood-thinning medication, or who are of an advanced age,” Nease says. “That specific group you would likely start immediately on a cox-2.” Anyone else, he says, should really be started on a generic nsaid first. “The savings here are enormous,” he went on. “The cox-2s are between a hundred and two hundred dollars a month, and the generic nsaids are pennies a day—and these are drugs that people take day in, day out, for years and years.” But that kind of change can’t be implemented unilaterally: the health plan and the employer have to explain to employees that in their case a brand-new, hundred-dollar drug may not be any better than an old, one-dollar drug.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

Bin Laden Tape

When the bin Laden tape surfaced, I told my wife that there are people out there who are so crazy that they will believe that Bush was somehow behind it.

Close enough. Turns out that Walter Cronkite said that Karl Rove "probably set up bin Laden to this thing."

Tora Bora

Andy McCarthy takes on the "Tora Bora" charges that Kerry has been making:
TORA BORA BS [Andy McCarthy]

I realize that Tommy Franks, who was there, is pretty effective rebuttal to the inane Dem talking points (from Kerry, Holbrooke, et al.) about how we supposedly had Bin Laden cornered in Tora Bora but let him get away because we were diverted by Iraq -- a total non-threat . . . except of course for a few missing tons of HMX that are a galactic danger to mankind and that the "incredible incompetent," GWB, forgot to guard. But I really think contenting ourselves with the General Franks response misses a more important point.

In August 1998, the embassies were bombed, killing 257 people. This was a coordinated military attack on sovereign American installations. President Clinton, whom Kerry would emulate (as he reminded everyone in Philadelphia this week), lobbed a few ineffectual cruise missiles on a single day. Big rocks were turned into smaller rocks, but there was no meaningful effort -- none, zilch, nada -- to hunt down and kill Bin Laden even though everyone in the administration acknowledged that al Qaeda was planning more attacks on the United States.

In October 2000, the Cole was bombed, killing 17 American sailors -- a direct attack on the American military. It turns out, though, that by Cole standards, the embassy retaliation was robust. President Clinton did absolutely nothing -- not even cruise missiles -- to respond. Again, there was no Bin Laden manhunt and no disruption of al Qaeda's command structure at a time when everyone in the Clinton administration, and everyone on the Senate Intelligence Committee on which the Junior Senator from Massachusetts sat, knew that more attacks were being planned.

Against that background, the Tora Bora BS is not only infuriating but insulting to the intelligence. How dare these people suggest that BUSH hasn't done enough to hunt down Bin Laden. This war didn't start on 9/11. These people had YEARS to try to grab this guy -- while everyone knew he was planning atrocities such as the one that occurred on 9/11 -- and they never even tried. They were too weak to confront the Taliban. They were too weak (and too dug in to their non-proliferation pieties) to conduct a willful carrot-and-stick dialogue with Musharaff to convince him that we were going after Bin Laden and Pakistan could either go along with us or suffer the consequences. They didn't have the nerve.

President Clinton makes the vapid complaint that greatness eluded him because there was no great historical challenge to meet during his two terms. He could not be more wrong. Had he taken the embassy bombings as the call-to-arms that they were, had he used his unparalleled political and rhetorical skills to rally Americans to this great cause, we, as patriotic Americans, would have rallied around him, he'd have been remembered as a personally flawed but otherwise superb president, and we'd right now be grousing over next Tuesday's likely ushering in of the second Gore term -- although not that depressed because 9/11 would never have happened.

President Bush has failed the minor detail of actually capturing Bin Laden, who must live every waking moment in fear of his life, after the major accomplishment of shredding al Qaeda's capacity to project force. The last time the Democrats had the wheel, neither Bin Laden nor al Qaeda's infrastructure was touched even though the Clinton administration knew exactly what they were trying to do. Did Senator Kerry ever convene a congressional hearing to probe why the Clinton administration was not using the Defense Department to hunt down and capture or kill Bin Laden? Did he ever demand answers for why the response to al Qaeda attacks in 1998 and 2000 was so pusillanimous? I must have missed those.

The Kerry campaign has some nerve complaining about the failure to capture Bin Laden.
As Jay Nordlinger wrote, the charge that Bush deliberately short-changed the attempt to catch bin Laden just doesn't compute:
It takes a strange mind to suppose that President Bush is not moving heaven and earth to run bin Laden to ground. A senior administration official raises what he calls "a narrow, nasty, amoral political point: The capture of bin Laden is so obviously in Bush's interest — the crushing of al Qaeda is so obviously in his interest — I mean, why wouldn't the president be trying! Of course we are!"

The Electoral College

A plug for a new book by a friend of mine from Texas: Tara Ross, Enlightened Democracy: The Case for the Electoral College. The book's foreword is by George Will, and judging from the copy she just sent me, it looks well worth reading. Take a look when it comes out next month.

Friday, October 29, 2004


Well, so much for my theory that Osama had been killed or captured. If he can give a speech that mentions John Kerry as the contender against Bush, he must have avoided either of those fates (at least as of the time that the Democratic primaries had settled on Kerry as the nominee).

Smart Dog

Some dogs sure are smart: Washington Dog Phones 911 for Fallen Owner.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Black boxes

This is weird:
2 say they found 9/11 'black boxes'


Two men who worked extensively in the wreckage of the World Trade Center claim they helped federal agents find three of the four "black boxes" from the jetliners that struck the towers on 9/11 - contradicting the official account.

Both the independent 9/11 Commission and federal authorities insist that none of the four devices - a cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and flight data recorder (FDR) from the two planes - was ever found.

But New York City Firefighter Nicholas DeMasi has written in a book self-published by Ground Zero workers that he took federal agents on an all-terrain vehicle in October 2001 and located three of the four. His account is backed by a well-known Ground Zero volunteer.

Their story raises the question of a cover-up at Ground Zero - although's it's not clear why the government would want to keep the discovery under wraps.
* * *
More here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Law Reviews

Against the Law Reviews is the title of a recent piece by Richard Posner. The sub-title: "Welcome to a world where inexperienced editors make articles about the wrong topics worse."

It is a scathing article, much of it accurate. But I have a few quibbles. Take what Posner says about the rise of interdisciplinary scholarship:
Most articles by law professors today are still, as they were a century ago, rather narrowly, conventionally doctrinal. Typically, they criticize a key case or lines of cases as inconsistent with doctrine emerging from other cases. Good law students can evaluate and improve such articles today as always. But—and this is true not only at the leading law schools—many law faculty today have, for good or ill, broken the doctrinal mold.

Their work now draws very heavily on sources other than legal doctrine, whether it is economics, history, political or moral philosophy, psychology, statistics, epistemology, anthropology, linguistics—even literary theory. The use of insights from these fields in analyzing law has given rise in recent decades to a cornucopia of interdisciplinary fields of legal studies ("law and . . . " fields), ranging from law and economics (the largest and most influential) to feminist jurisprudence and critical race theory. Except for the rarefied set of Ph.D.s who go to law school for a J.D., the disciplines on which these fields draw are generally not ones about which a law review editor will be knowledgeable, except by accident.* * *

Submissions in "law and . . . " fields magnify the bad effects of the inexperience of student editors and their failure to use peer review to separate the wheat from the chaff.
* * *
THE RESULT OF THE SYSTEM OF SCHOLARLY PUBLICATION IN LAW is that too many articles are too long, too dull, and too heavily annotated, and that many interdisciplinary articles are published that have no merit at all. Worse is the effect of these characteristics of law reviews in marginalizing the kind of legal scholarship that student editors can handle well—articles that criticize judicial decisions or, more constructively, discern new directions in law by careful analysis of decisions.
I agree that (1) articles purely about the law are more likely to be handled well by student editors, (2) that student editors are likely to make bad decisions both as to the publication and editing of interdisciplinary articles. But I don't think that the inadequacies of law reviews have anything whatsoever to do with "marginalizing the kind of [non-interdisciplinary] legal scholarship that student editors can handle well." Rather, I think that interdisciplinary scholarship has arisen because of the demands and interests of faculty, who themselves provide many indications to law review editors that interdisciplinary approaches are "hot." If faculty members didn't write or expect to read interdisciplinary articles, that would be the end of that.
[Doctrinal] articles are of great value to the profession, including its judicial branch, but they are becoming rare, in part because of the fascination of the legal academy with constitutional law, which in fact plays only a small role in the decisions of the lower courts. Law reviews do extensively analyze and criticize the constitutional decisions of the Supreme Court, but the profession, including the judiciary, would benefit from a reorientation of academic attention to lower-court decisions.
Again, this is true -- and it has nothing to do with the characteristics of law reviews, but with the interests of faculty.
I have spoken thus far of the law reviews as publishers of scholarly articles submitted to them. But in addition, of course, they publish articles (usually and misleadingly called "notes" or "comments") written by the members of a law review's staff. The opportunity to publish provides valuable experience. This, plus the rising quality of law students, may explain the enormous increase in the number of law reviews—law schools that used to have just one now often have two and sometimes three or four. My only criticism of the student-written portions of the law reviews is that the students have a propensity to write about "hot" subjects, like partial-birth abortion, gay marriage, and capital punishment, to the neglect of equally important commercial subjects that cry out for informed doctrinal analysis.
Again, this is true, but it merely mirrors the fact that law professors themselves are more likely to write articles about "hot" topics than about boring topics. For some reason, people -- whether professors or students -- always seem to take more interest in subjects that are interesting.


Since so many people criticized Bush for failing to mention any specific mistakes of his (when a questioner in the second debate asked for examples), let's remind ourselves of what the New Yorker said about Al Gore:
Gore remains engaged, serious, credentialled. It is still easy to imagine him as a good, if unloved, President. And yet one trait persists—and it is a trait that he shares with George W. Bush. He is extremely reluctant to admit a mistake, even a small one. Midway through our talks in Nashville, I asked him what was the biggest mistake he had ever made in politics. He paused, made false starts, paused again, and recalled that in the campaign four years ago he had a prepared response for just such a question. But he couldn’t remember what it was.
And as Baseball Crank points out in the middle of a lengthy post, Kerry doesn't admit mistakes either:
In any event, where, I would ask, is the evidence that Kerry is better at admitting mistakes than Bush? This is a guy who brought all sorts of political grief to himself by stubbornly refusing for three decades to admit that he was wrong to repeat false charges, under oath and on national televison, that smeared his comrades in Vietnam as guilty of pervasive war crimes. Has Kerry admitted he was wrong to oppose nearly every aspect of the foreign policy strategy that President Reagan pursused to great effect in the closing and victorious chapter of the Cold War? Has he admitted he was wrong to oppose the use of force to kick Saddam out of Kuwait in 1991? Maybe I missed something, but I don't even recall him admitting he was wrong for trying to slash the intelligence budget in the mid-1990s following the first World Trade Center bombing. Indeed, one of the most common threads throughout Kerry's behavior in this campaign has been his unwillingness to take any personal responsibility for mistakes, from blaming his speechwriters for things that come out of Kerry's own mouth to picayune things like blaming the Secret Service when he falls down on the slopes.

Police Video

Is this video for real? It's hilarious.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Canadian Drugs

Mark Steyn puts it perfectly:
Speaking of which, if there's four words I never want to hear again, it's "prescription drugs from Canada." I'm Canadian, so I know a thing or two about prescription drugs from Canada. Specifically speaking, I know they're American; the only thing Canadian about them is the label in French and English. How can politicians from both parties think that Americans can get cheaper drugs simply by outsourcing (as John Kerry would say) their distribution through a Canadian mailing address? U.S. pharmaceutical companies put up with Ottawa's price controls because it's a peripheral market. But if you attempt to extend the price controls from the peripheral market of 30 million people to the primary market of 300 million people, all that's going to happen is that after approximately a week and a half there aren't going to be any drugs in Canada, cheap or otherwise . . . .


I really, really wish that Primer were going to show where I live. Here's a summary of the plot:
PRIMER is set in the industrial park/suburban tract-home fringes of an unnamed contemporary city where two young engineers, Abe and Aaron, are members of a small group of men who work by day for a large corporation while conducting extracurricular experiments on their own time in a garage. While tweaking their current project, a device that reduces the apparent mass of any object placed inside it by blocking gravitational pull, they accidentally discover that it has some highly unexpected capabilities--ones that could enable them to do and to have seemingly anything they want. Taking advantage of this unique opportunity is the first challenge they face. Dealing with the consequences is the next.
Primer is an independent film made for $7,000. The guy who made it -- Shawn Carruth -- did just about everything: He wrote, produced, scored, and acted in it. The film has gotten all sorts of critical acclaim. This is no guarantee, as followers of BGUTMR know all too well, but the trailer looks more interesting than any film I've seen in the past year.

Friday, October 22, 2004

TNR on Justice Thomas

David Garrow reviews Ken Foskett's Judging Thomas: The Life and Times of Clarence Thomas in The New Republic. Worth reading.


If some Canadians have their way, the drug reimportation issue will be moot:
Canadians will find prescription drugs more expensive — if they can find them at all — unless the federal government stops Internet pharmacies from catering to Americans, a health coalition warns.

Several groups representing pharmacists, patients and seniors called on the federal government yesterday to ban fast-growing exports of Canadian prescription drugs before it's too late.

Demand from Americans, fed up with high drug prices at home, is already causing drug shortages in some areas, said Louise Binder of the Canadian Treatment Action Council, one of several groups in the coalition.

"We have had a growing sense of alarm that is turning to stark fear," Binder told a news conference, predicting "a full-scale disaster for this country" if the problem goes unchecked.

"Our system would quickly be overwhelmed and Canadians would pay the price for our government allowing the U.S. to raid our medicine cabinet."
* * *
The whole idea of reimportation strikes me as exceedingly odd. Who on earth would try to demand reimportation as to any other product? "I refuse to buy American automobiles directly; what I want is to buy an automobile that has been shipped to Canada and then back here." The idea makes no sense.

Except, that is, because Canada has price controls on drugs, while we don't. But when there are price controls, the natural economic consequence is shortage, as seen in the above article.

Religious Voting

This paper looks interesting:
Strategic Extremism: Why Republicans and Democrats Divide on
Religious Values

Harvard University
Department of Economics
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
Brookings Institution

Harvard University

Harvard University
Department of Economics
National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)


Party platforms differ sharply from one another, especially on issues with religious content, such as abortion or gay marriage. Religious extremism in the U.S. appears to be strategically targeted to win elections, since party platforms diverge significantly, while policy outcomes like abortion rates are not affected by changes in the governing party. Given the high returns from attracting the median voter, why do vote-maximizing politicians veer off into extremism? In this paper, we find that strategic extremism depends on an important intensive margin where politicians want to induce their core constituents to vote (or make donations) and the ability to target political messages towards those core constituents. Our model predicts that the political relevance of religious issues is highest when around one-half of the voting population attends church regularly. Using data from across the world and within the U.S., we indeed find a nonmonotonic relationship between religious extremism and religious attendance.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Where's Osama?

Like this fellow, I've wondered why it has been three years since Osama bin Laden has released a video that bore any signs of having been made contemporaneously. My hunch is that he's dead. Otherwise, such a lengthy silence would be entirely out of character.

That, however, raises the question: Why didn't George Bush or Dick Cheney even attempt to respond when Kerry and Edwards claimed -- in each of four debates -- that Osama had somehow escaped Afghanistan alive and unharmed? As has been said before, even if you think that Bush has the most venal and opportunistic motives for everything that he does, he would still have made every effort to capture Osama simply for the extraordinary political advantage. The charge is just silly, and should have been easy to answer, especially by the fourth debate.

So why did Bush and Cheney hold back on responding to that charge?

UPDATE: As pointed out in comments, it might be because Osama was killed long ago and Bush doesn't want to give any hints for fear of making him into a martyr.

This seems plausible to me. Another thought I had was that Osama has been captured -- perhaps even at Tora Bora -- and Bush doesn't want to reveal that fact because (1) Al Qaeda might then be motivated to threaten terrorist attacks to gain Osama's release and (2) Osama is providing valuable intelligence, even unwittingly.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Desktop Search

Google Unveils Desktop Search, Takes on Microsoft

About time. Like many, I've often wondered why Google can search a billion webpages in a blink of an eye, but it takes an eternity to search for a simple document on your own computer.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Stephen Carter on vouchers

The New York Times asked several prominent people what questions they would pose to Kerry. Stephen Carter's questions are scathing in their implications:
Back to Schools

By STEPHEN L. CARTER, a professor of law at Yale and the author, most recently, of "The Emperor of Ocean Park," a novel

During the long period it would take to carry out your plan to improve the public schools, would you, in the interest of racial justice, support a system of vouchers to enable the parents of poor inner-city children to pay for private schooling to cover the transitional years? Throughout the five or more years that your plan envisions, many inner-city children will continue to receive substandard educations, and to suffer in other material and spiritual ways.

If the answer to the first question is no, would you call on well-to-do Democrats to show their support for public education, and for the poor, by voluntarily sending their children to the schools that the inner-city parents are required to use? After all, a sudden influx of middle-class families might force a cure for many of those schools' deficiencies.

If the answer to the second question is no, are there any sacrifices that you would call upon middle-class Americans to make for the sake of improving the condition of the worst-off among us?


Monday, October 11, 2004

Health Care

One thing that struck me as particularly odd about Bush's performance at the second debate is that he said this:
That's what liberals do. They create government-sponsored health care. Maybe you think that makes sense. I don't.
But very shortly before, he had said this in praise of his own accomplishments:
[I]n 2006 seniors are going to get prescription drug coverage for the first time in Medicare.
If you're going to brag about a dramatic expansion in government-sponsored health care, it would be wise to find something else to criticize about your opponent's plan.


Will Saletan says that in the second debate, Bush misspoke when he said that the military should be "more facile." A New York Times writer also characterized this statement as a mistake.

If you can't tell, I find it quite odd when people make such obvious screw-ups while purporting to correct a politician's "errors." True, one meaning of "facile" is "lacking depth." But "facile" has two other meanings that work quite well: One is "performing adroitly," while another is "eloquent" or "fluent," which works as a metaphor. These meanings also show up in the related noun "facility," in the sense of "adeptness," "readiness," "quickness," or "deftness." (I.e.: "The military performed with great facility.") In short, this wasn't a misstatement at all.


The Crescat gang got Doug Lichtman, a telecom professor at Univ. of Chicago Law School, to be a guest-blogger. Very cool.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Books on Supreme Court Justices

What is most interesting about this Washington Post series on Justice Clarence Thomas is that the authors apparently have a biographical book on Justice Thomas that will be coming out soon. From the description:
This series of articles on Justice Clarence Thomas is the result of more than two years of reporting by Washington Post staff writers Kevin Merida and Michael A. Fletcher. The two reporters published a Post magazine article about Thomas in August 2002. Their book on Thomas will be published next year by Doubleday.
I don't know of any full-length biographies of any of the other Supreme Court Justices (i.e., starting at childhood or before). There's one book that describes the rise of John Paul Stevens, another that describes Ruth Bader Ginsburg's career at the ACLU. There are also several books that analyze Scalia's or Rehnquist's jurisprudence, but they are not (as far as I've seen) biographical at all.

By contrast, there have already been three biographies of Justice Thomas (of widely varying quality, I should add): One by Andrew Peyton Thomas, one by Ken Foskett, and one by John Greenya. In addition, Thomas is reportedly penning an autobiography.

So if the new book is biographical as well, there will soon be 5 biographies of Justice Thomas alone, far more than of all the other 8 Justices put together. Maybe that's to be expected. After all, the story of how someone overcame the awful immorality of segregation is bound to be compelling. By contrast, Justice Souter: The Life and Times of a New Hampshire Bachelor would likely be a less dramatic tale.

But what about a few of the other Justices? Scalia seems like a colorful fellow, and I wonder what his upbringing was like. Or what about Ginsburg or O'Connor, both of whom did well in law school, but initially had trouble finding legal work due to discrimination? Isn't there an interesting biography there somewhere?

Friday, October 08, 2004

Win the Peace

In watching tonight's debate, I'm struck by this phrase: "Win the peace." It crops up constantly whenever Kerry and Edwards talk. "The President doesn't have a plan to win the peace." When did "win the peace" become part of the English language? Doesn't one usually talk about "winning the war," and then afterwards "establishing peace" or "encouraging peace" or some similar phrase? "Win" the peace? What's "win" supposed to mean in that context?

Wednesday, October 06, 2004


The human-ape gene comparison has always had me confused. I know next to nothing about genetics -- which may explain the confusion -- but I'm still puzzled over this:

People say that humans and apes (or bonobos or chimps or whatever) share 98% (or 97% or whatever) of their genes.

But this statement seems ambiguous. For example, say that humans and apes have exactly 100 genes. Which of the following would be true?

1. When you line up each of the 100 genes, they all match perfectly except for 2 of them. Gene 1 of the human perfectly matches Gene 1 of the ape. And so forth. But when you get to Genes 99 and 100, they are completely different. Thus, that is a 2% difference.

2. When you line up all 100 genes, they all differ from each other by a margin of 2%, give or take. Gene 1 of the human differs by 2% from Gene 1 of the ape. And so forth. Thus, there is a 2% difference, but that difference applies to 100% of the genes.

The chart at this Panda's Thumb post seems to imply the latter. Which is it? Or is it a mixture of the two? Or does the question even make sense?

Monday, October 04, 2004

Denial of Cert

Kevin Drum says, "The Supreme Court decided today that the Do-Not-Call list is constitutional. Hurrah!"

No, no, no! The Supreme Court didn't decide anything. It merely denied cert. as to a case upholding the "do-not-call" list. In fact, what the Supreme Court did is decide not to decide anything.

A denial of cert. does not mean that the Supreme Court approves of the result below. Indeed, such a rule would be ridiculously unworkable, given that the Supreme Court only grants cert in about 1% of all cases where a petition is filed. If a denial of cert meant that they positively approved of the result below, they would have to (1) grant cert in many times more cases, and (2) give immensely more scrutiny to the several thousand cases where cert would eventually be denied. They just don't have time to do that kind of work.

Two of the best explanations for this:
If we were to sanction a rule directing the District Courts to give any effect to a denial of certiorari, let alone the effect of res judicata which is the practical result of the position of the Fourth Circuit, we would be ignoring actualities recognized ever since certiorari jurisdiction was conferred upon this Court more than sixty years ago.

From its inception certiorari jurisdiction has been treated for what it is in view of the function that it was devised to serve. It was designed to permit this Court to keep within manageable proportions, having due regard to the conditions indispensable for the wise adjudication of those cases which must be decided here, the business that is allowed to come before us. By successive measures Congress enlarged the discretionary jurisdiction of the Court until, by the Judiciary Act of 1925, supplemented by the Court's own invention of the jurisdictional statement in relation to the narrow scope of residual appeals, the Court became complete master of its docket. The governing consideration was authority in the Court to decline to review decisions which, right or wrong, do not present questions of sufficient gravity. Whatever the source of these questions, whether the common law, statutes or the Constitution, other cases of obvious gravity are more than enough to absorb the Court's time and thought. Cf. Hamilton Shoe Co. v. Wolf Brothers, 240 U.S. 251, 258.

It is within the experience of every member of this Court that we do not have to, and frequently do not, reach the merits of a case to decide that it is not of sufficient importance to warrant review here. Thirty years ago the Court rather sharply reminded the Bar not to draw strength for lower court opinions from the fact that they were left unreviewed here. "The denial of a writ of certiorari imports no expression of opinion upon the merits of the case, as the bar has been told many times." United States v. Carver, 260 U.S. 482, 490. We have repeatedly indicated that a denial of certiorari means only that, for one reason or another which is seldom disclosed, and not infrequently for conflicting reasons which may have nothing to do with the merits and certainly may have nothing to do with any view of the merits taken by a majority of the Court, there were not four members of the Court who thought the case should be heard.

Brown v. Allen, 344 U.S. 443, 490-492 (1953)
And Justice Frankfurter wrote thus:
This Court now declines to review the decision of the Maryland Court of Appeals. The sole significance of such denial of a petition for writ of certiorari need not be elucidated to those versed in the Court's procedures. It simply means that fewer than four members of the Court deemed it desirable to review a decision of the lower court as a matter "of sound judicial discretion." Rule 38, paragraph 5. A variety of considerations underlie denials of the writ, and as to the same petition different reasons may lead different Justices to the same result. This is especially true of petitions for review on writ of certiorari to a State court. Narrowly technical reasons may lead to denials. Review may be sought too late; the judgment of the lower court may not be final; it may not be the judgment of a State court of last resort; the decision may be supportable as a matter of State law, not subject to review by this Court, even though the State court also passed on issues of federal law. A decision may satisfy all these technical requirements and yet may commend itself for review to fewer than four members of the Court. Pertinent considerations of judicial policy here come into play. A case may raise an important question but the record may be cloudy. It may be desirable to have different aspects of an issue further illumined by the lower courts. Wise adjudication has its own time for ripening.

* * *

Inasmuch, therefore, as all that a denial of a petition for a writ of certiorari means is that fewer than four members of the Court thought it should be granted, this Court has rigorously insisted that such a denial carries with it no implication whatever regarding the Court's views on the merits of a case which it has declined to review. The Court has said this again and again; again and again the admonition has to be repeated.

The one thing that can be said with certainty about the Court's denial of Maryland's petition in this case is that it does not remotely imply approval or disapproval of what was said by the Court of Appeals of Maryland.

Maryland v. Baltimore Radio Show, 338 U.S. 912, 917-919 (1950).