Saturday, January 1, 2005

Does Bush Need a Secretary of Symbolism?--

1. The criticisms against Bush for not speaking sooner and for the US's announcing too little at first were mostly premature, given that the admittedly small US governmental sum first committed for aid was not the final word. But some of the milder criticisms were partly merited, primarily because a quicker statement would have been more politic.

2. Bush is not "Big Daddy." I've noticed that George W. Bush, while his ego is certainly oversized, doesn't always try to make everything about him. There is no doubt that Bill Clinton enjoyed the Bully Pulpit more than George W. There have been several moments when I noticed that Bush was content not to score political points when other Presidents would probably have made themselves a bigger part of the story (e.g. Jessica Lynch's homecoming after being held in an Iraqi hospital). Bush sometimes thinks that the president doesn't need to be in front of the parade. That has both advantages and disadvantages.

When I lived in New Haven and watched the New York TV news, I was struck by the different assumptions about city problems in NY compared to Chicago. In Chicago, the mayor takes the credit and blame for everything, and the news media assume that the mayor should stop every major strike, even private sector ones. In Chicago, the mayor is "Big Daddy." While one, of course, sees some of the same in New York, there is still a significant difference of degree. New York being less provincial than Chicago, sometimes the news media actually assume that New York City departmental personnel are responsible [or treat major local events as being outside the local government's scope of responsibilty].

3. Duane Delacourt, Secretary of Symbolism. This brings me to my main point: a larger first promise of money and a quicker expression of concern by Bush himself would have been politically wise for Bush (and the US)--if not in substance for the afflicted, then at least as symbolism for the rest of the world. Thus, I am proposing that Bush bring back Duane Delacourt, President Jimmy Carter's Secretary of Symbolism, whose exploits were covered in a series of Doonesbury strips that started on March 21, 1977 (go to this site, select March 21, 1977, and then page forward through them). [I revised this post to omit the Donnesbury strips themselves, which came from between March 24, 1977 and April 18, 1977.]

Note to VC readers under 40: Yes, Doonesbury was once funny, or at least genuinely clever and insightful.

4. Scrappleface makes a related point (tip to Betsy).

UPDATE: My daughter Katie informed me that Doonesbury has been running a recent series of strips about a Bush Administration Secretary of Toady Affairs. For example, see this Dec. 2004 strip. [I also added a bracketed clause above.]

Thursday, December 30, 2004

"Kerry's Contest To Lose":

A smart-sounding and persuasive political item from Mickey Kaus (paragraph breaks added):

I've obsessively sniped at ABC's The Note for its declaration on August 11 that it was "Kerry's contest to lose." This might not seem fair--maybe it was Kerry's contest to lose and he lost it? Didn't The Note just guess wrong in a close election?

Answer: No! The whole point of ABC's Note is that its put out by the smartest, most knowledgeable and nuanced political insiders around, which it is. And the whole point of it being "Kerry's contest to lose" was that these experts were telling us that the underlying dynamic of the campaign favored Kerry because of Bush's "poisonous job approval, re-elect, and wrong track numbers."

But we now know that this considered judgment of the smartest, most knowledgeable insiders was wrong--it was Dem wishful-thinking spin. Kerry in fact did pretty well in the final months of the campaign. He won the debates. He didn't commit many gaffes. He raised tons of money and successfully turned out record numbers of Democratic voters. And he still lost. Why? Because the underlying dynamic of the campaign didn't actually favor him at all. It favored Bush, despite the supposedly tell-tale "wrong track numbers." The economy wasn't that bad, and voters knew it. Terrorism, and support for Bush on that issue, remained strong. And . . . Bush had a far more sophisticated campaign organization. . . .

How could brilliant genuine experts like Mark Halperin & Co. get it wrong? Because at some level they were conned by their peers and their Dem campaign sources (who were probably conning themselves) in a way I doubt they could be conned by Republican sources. . . .

Go to Mickey's column for more.

Republicans Need to Show Some Class in Washington State Defeat.--

The Republican candidate for governor of Washington State, Dino Rossi, lost a close recount to the Democratic candidate, Christine Gregoire. Now Rossi is calling for a new election (tip to Kos).

This is not the way to conduct elections. It didn't work for Al Gore in 2000, whose image was tarnished for a run in 2004. In South Dakota in 2002, on the other hand, John Thune rejected advice that he challenge the election (which he lost by about 500 votes) because of some allegations of vote fraud on Native American reservations (which were hotly denied by Democrats). Thune did the right thing for the system, accepted defeat, and came back to win in 2004. In the interim, the state also adopted some anti-fraud measures for voting (picture IDs).

Rossi should have tried to do the same; if he doesn't accept defeat gracefully, then the Republicans in Washington should choose someone else next time. There should be a limit to one man's political ambitions.

UPDATE: More on the Washington race at Amish Fight Club.

2D UPDATE: In a set of posts, Stefan Sharkansky is pointing out problems with the final recount, so go to Sound Politics if you want to follow the continuing questions about possible vote fraud.

Now I Know Skydivers Are Insane:

Not only do they jump out of perfectly good airplanes — they name parachutes and skydiving schools after Icarus. I'm staying on the ground, thank you very much; and not driving around in any Volkswagen Phaeton, either. For more, including Amelia Earhart luggage and Magellan Travel, see my Trojan Doctrine article.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Another Trojan Doctrine Example:
  2. Now I Know Skydivers Are Insane:
A Cool Experiment: Larry Lessig has announced that he will try to update his book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace using a Wiki. He writes:
I'm extremely eager for the book to gain from the collective wisdom of at least part of the Net. No one can know whether this will work. But if if does, it could be very interesting.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

More on Verve:

I was revising an old draft, and came across this sentence:

The problems of yesterday will not recur in exactly the same way tomorrow, but they may recur in related ways.

Blecch; all those prepositional phrases, the needless abstraction and complexity of the "way"'s, and even the slight fustiness of "recur" leach the life out of that sentence. A bit of work produced:

Tomorrow's problems won't be identical to yesterday's; but they may be similar enough.

Not perfect, and I'm not sure how great a minor sentence like this can be. But better than the original, I think.

UPDATE: Several people suggested "History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes," attributed to Mark Twain; that quote is actually the very next sentence in my article. Why the repetition, you may ask? In academic work, I tend to try to stay literal, rather than figurative -- and when there's a great figurative phrase that captures things well, I try to express the matter clearly but literally first, and then say it figuratively. The downside of using both locutions is redundancy; the upside is precision and clarity, though I realize that the trade-off here is controversial.

Weak Attack on Blog by Journalist:

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune's Nick Coleman has a pretty poor attack on the PowerLine blog (which had apparently criticized him in the past on many occasions). Consider a few snippets:

These guys pretend to be family watchdogs but they are Rottweilers in sheep's clothing. They attack the Mainstream Media for not being fair while pursuing a right-wing agenda cooked up in conservative think tanks funded by millionaire power brokers.

This makes no sense. First, you can be "fair" and pursue a conservative agenda; presumably many on the Left, for instance, think that they're fair in their pursuit of an agenda.

Second, there's nothing reprehensible about opinion sites having a political agenda (whether "cooked up in conservative think tanks funded my millionaire power brokers" or not); PowerLine is clearly such an opinion site, as is the Conspiracy. Likewise, liberal columnists are perfectly entitled to have a liberal agenda. But when the ostensibly nonpolitical, objective news organizations within the media are politically slanted in their coverage of the news, that does merit condemnation — not because they're being opinionated, but because they're pretending not to be.

Or consider this:

Powerline is the biggest link in a daisy chain of right-wing blogs that is assaulting the Mainstream Media while they toot their horns in the service of ... what? The downtrodden? No, that was yesterday's idea of the purpose of journalism.

As Evan Coyne Maloney aptly points out, this is quite a remarkable admission by Mr. Coleman: Yesterday's idea of the purpose of journalism, which it sounds like he prefers, was to serve the downtrodden. Shouldn't the purpose of news journalism be to tell the truth, rather than "serve" one group or another? Shouldn't opinion journalism include a wide range of opinion from a wide range of sources, not just that on the "serve the downtrodden" side?
Extreme bloggers are so hip and cool they can make fun of the poor and the disadvantaged while working out of paneled bank offices.
By way of background, consider that earlier in the story Mr. Coleman had "A story: In 1990, I reported that this newspaper's endorsement of DFL Gov. Rudy Perpich was decided by then-publisher and Perpich crony Roger Parkinson. He had quashed the decision of the newspaper's editorial board, which had voted in favor of the Republican challenger, Arne Carlson. The truth got out, the Republican won and the public was served. If Extreme bloggers, who know nothing that happened before last Tuesday, had the same commitment to serving the public, I wouldn't have a problem. But like talk radio, they are dominated by the right and are only interested in being a megaphone without oversight, disclosure of conflicts of interest, or professional standards."

My question (and, I think, Maloney's): Wouldn't "professional standards," which Mr. Coleman seems to claim to adhere to, call for some evidence that the PowerLine people are indeed "mak[ing] fun of the poor and the disadvantaged"? I mean, if you're a journalist — even an opinion journalist — and you're making factual accusations about supposedly bad conduct by someone, shouldn't you back them up? No such evidence appears in the column.

There's so much more to criticize, but let me close with two particularly striking items:

1) "It's totally unexpected," Johnson, the banker, told the newspaper after Powerline won "Blog of the Year."

But the Aw Shucks Act doesn't fly. Powerline campaigned shamelessly for awards, winning an online "Best Blog of 2004" a week before the Time honor. That online award was a bloggers' poll, and Powerline linked its readers to the award site 10 times during the balloting, shilling for votes.

Wow, they won an online poll! And they wanted to win it, and tried to get their readers to vote for them. Therefore, they're lying when they say that they didn't expect being named Blog of the Year by Time Magazine. The penetrating logic astounds me. And finally, this:

2) "We keep it very much separate from our day jobs," said Hinderaker, meaning the boys don't blog at work.

But they do. Johnson recently had time at his bank job to post a despicable item sliming Sen. Mark Dayton. . . .

Here's the quote that I suspect Mr. Coleman was alluding to, since it's the only such quote I could find on LEXIS, and it appeared in the Star-Tribune itself: "Despite the honor, the trio have no plans to leave their day jobs, Hinderaker said. The economics of the Internet don't make it worthwhile, though they have begun running ads that bring in a few thousand dollars a month. 'It's like being a golfer,' Hinderaker said. 'We keep it very much separate from our day jobs.'"

Where exactly in this quote do they say that they "don't blog at work"? (The analogy to golf, it seems to me, is simply an indication that blogging, like golf, is a hobby; in any event, it surely isn't something that can be fairly characterized as "meaning the boys don't blog at work," especially given that many professionals' work time is seen as at least somewhat available for occasional personal activities, so long as they get their work done.) Where are those professional standards when you need them?

Surprising Link Between Two of the Posts Below:

A while back, a coworker of mine who had been stationed in Guam while in the Air Force told me a surprising fact -- the name of the island Guam is not, as one would expect, a Chamorro word. (Chamorro is an indigenous language of Guam.) Rather, it turns out, that it's an acronym, for "Give Us American Money."

OK, I'm sure that's unfair in all sorts of ways, but I couldn't help myself. By the way, did you know that Iacocca isn't Lee Iacocca's real name? It actually stands for "I Am Chairman Of the Chrysler Corporation of America." True fact!


Spent a day on Guam during my honeymoon, wish it was more. Guam is an absolutely beautiful island, and within a few-hour flight of Tokyo and other Japanese cities (from where it gets most of its tourists), Cairns, and Manila. It's much nicer, though much further away, than Oahu. If I were a real estate speculator, I'd consider buying land on Guam; many areas with incredible views are occupied by cheap shacks, and I don't know of anywhere else where one can be in the United States of America and buy beachfront land so inexpensively. On the other hand, Guam is subject to Typhoons, the most recent of which devastated the island in 2002.

Collateral: Brief Movie Review:

Getting settled back in after a whirlwhind two-week honeymoon to Hawaii, Guam, Australia (Great Barrier Reef area) and Tokyo. Watched many movies on the long plane ride, most of them bad. The worst of the lot, and one of the worst movies I've ever seen, was Collateral, starring Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx. While I'm generally willing to suspend disbelief, the entire premise of the movie is so implausible, so insipid (ruthless killer hires hapless taxi driver to drive him to various murder locales, often leaving hapless taxi driver, who is aware of what ruthless killer is doing, alone in the cab for many minutes while committing the murders), and the plot flaws so obvious, that I watched it with my jaw consistently dropped, not believing it could get any worse, but consistently being proven wrong. For some reason, the movie was a critical favorite, as I learned when I checked when I returned home. Go figure.

Foreign Aid and "Generosity":

I've often heard the U.S. faulted for contributing less to Third World countries than other developed countries do. Of course, the U.S. is larger and richer, so it contributes more total dollars, but the charge is that we don't contribute as much as a percentage of our GNP. One standard response is that we do contribute more than other countries as a percentage of our GNP when you add private contributions.

Can anyone give me a URL for any authoritative figures that provide data on this? I'm looking for real data from reliable sources. This page which I've found, which seems to take seriously private giving, gives data that puts us near the bottom middle of the pack, if you exclude personal remittances from U.S. residents to their family members. The U.S. government aid, according to it, is at 0.14% of U.S. GNP; if one adds a wide range of private giving ($34 billion on top of the government $16 billion), that gets to roughly 0.45%; if one adds prviate giving minus remittances, that gets to roughly 0.28%. By way of comparison, Norway gives 0.92%, France 0.41%, the UK 0.34%, Germany 0.28%, and Canada 0.26%, though that doesn't include any private giving or remittances for those countries. Nonetheless, I have no way of gauging the author's credibility.

(I'm not sure whether remittances should be included, because while they are a measure of the degree to which America actually helps foreign countries, they probably aren't a good measure of American "generosity" generally, since spending money on one's family members -- and especially children -- tends to be seen as at least a different kind of generosity than spending money on relative strangers.)

Of course, one could still argue (1) that we have no particular obligation to be generous to other countries, either through our government or directly; (2) much aid is wasted and even counterproductive; and (3) the better measure of our helpfulness to the rest of the world, or our generosity to it, must include trade, security support, and so on. Any or all of these points may be quite valid. Still, since so much discussion has focused on whether we are in fact more or less generous than most other countries in terms of aid alone, with people making claims for both the "more generous" and "less generous" numbers given that metric, I'd love to see some solid data on this.

Is "The Constitution in Exile" A Myth?: In a book review in the latest issue of The New Republic, Cass Sunstein renews his claims that "[t]here is increasing talk [among conservatives] of what is being called the Constitution in Exile — the Constitution of 1932, Herbert Hoover's Constitution before Roosevelt's New Deal." Sunstein has suggested this a number of times before (see, e.g., here and here), and the claim has been repeated recently by The New York Times and by my colleague Jeffrey Rosen. The suggestion is that influential conservative lawyers express their goal for the courts as being the restoration of "the Constitution in Exile."

  The odd thing is, I can't recall ever hearing a conservative use the phrase "the Constitution in Exile." I asked a couple of prominent conservatives if they had ever heard the phrase, and they had the same reaction: they had never heard the phrase used by anyone except Cass Sunstein and those discussing Sunstein's claims.

  As best I can tell, the phrase "Constitution in Exile" originally appeared in a book review by D.C. Circuit Judge Douglas H. Ginsburg in 1995 in the course of discussing the nondelegation doctrine in the journal Regulation. As you can see from the article itself, the use of the phrase is not exactly prominent: it appears once, near the end of the introduction. In any event, the use of the phrase in Ginsburg's review inspired lots of critical commentary from legal academics, including its own symposium in the Duke Law Journal (you can read the Foreward to the symposium issue here). But my initial google and Westlaw research failed to uncover direct evidence — beyond the initial book review, which I just read today — that conservatives or libertarians have used this phrase to describe their goals.

  Why does it matter, you wonder? After all, some on the right do want the Supreme Court to bolster some constitutional doctrines that the Court deeemphasized in the post-New Deal era. Critics could decide that they think this agenda should be described as amounting to a wish to restore the Constitution in Exile. But if I understand it correctly, Sunstein's claim is different: the claim is that conservatives themselves use the phrase — "right-wing activists . . . talk about restoration of the 'Constitution in Exile'." The difference matters, I think, because describing something as being "in exile" suggests recognition of a revolutionary agenda. If a government is overthrown and the old leaders flee but remain intact, referring to the old leaders as "the government in exile" suggests that the old government is just biding its time before it can launch a counterrevolution. The rhetorical power of Sunstein's claim lies in its suggestion that conservatives see their own goals as truly revolutionary. If the phrase is not actually used by conservatives, but rather is a characterization by their critics, I think that makes a notable difference.

  I have enabled comments. I am particularly interested in uses of the phrase "Constitution in Exile" by conservatives that I may have missed. (This isn't my specialty area, so it's quite possible that it is in fact used and I just missed it.) Also, if the comment function isn't working, try leaving a comment here.

  UPDATE: Steve Bainbridge offers commentary here.

I just got back in town after a week-long vacation in St. Lucia in the Caribbean. I received Tom Wolfe's new book as a Christmas present to take with me on vacation. For those who still have some down time to do some reading over the holidays, let me strongly recommend this book to you. I'm still digging out of my backlog of everything, so I won't post much on it now, and will do so when I get more time to collect my thoughts. But I wanted to pass along the strong recommendation to anyone who was wondering whether to get ahold of it or move it up your reading list (which I'm sure is extensive like mine). This is definitely Tom Wolfe's deepest and most interesting book, but still has much of the Tom Wolfe sense of style and satire. It hits on many of the same themes as his other novels, especially A Man in Full, but does so in a more interesting and less heavy-handed way than in the past.

The only problem for me was that I read this book at the beginning of my vaction and it was so good that it drained all of the fun out of all the other books I read the rest of the week.

Also, in terms of natural beauty, St. Lucia may be the most beautiful place I have ever been. Absolutely spectacular. Takes awhile to get there, but it is worth the trip.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Not Helping Anyone:
  INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — Police said a 22-year-old man was charged with filing a false report about a hate crime.
  Floyd Elliott, of Independence, told police that on Dec. 14, two subjects attacked him in the parking lot of his apartment complex. He said the attackers cut him in the stomach, branded him with a hot knife, and attempted to carve the word "Fag" on his forehead.
  Investigators were suspicious about the report because the head carving was backwards, as if done while looking into a mirror.
  Later, Elliott admitted to police that the injuries were self-inflicted. He said he falsely reported the attack to increase the police presence in his neighborhood.
Hat tip: Powerline.
Juan Cole on Bin Laden's Latest Broadcast: An excerpt:
  It appears that Bin Laden is so weak now that he is forced to play to his own base, of Saudi and Salafi jihadists, some of whom are volunteer guerrillas in Iraq. They are the only ones in Iraq who would be happy to see this particular videotape.

  . . . The narrow, sectarian and politically unskilfull character of this speech is the most hopeful sign I have seen in some time that al-Qaeda is a doomed political force, a mere Baader-Meinhof Gang or Red Army Faction with greater geographical reach.
Let's hope.
Earthquake Death Tolls and the Blogosphere: Estimates of the number of dead from the enormous earthquake in Asia have reached 44,000 this afternoon, and continue to climb. The scope of the tragedy is simply unbelievable. You can donate money to help relief efforts here.

  Meanwhile, the New York Times finds a connection to the blogosphere (part of a trend I noted here) with this piece on blogs that offer first-hand coverage of the tragedy.

  UPDATE: You can find a more complete list of charities that are helping with disaster relief in Asia here. Please consider making a donation.
More on the Iraq-Vietnam Casualty Comparison: Phil Carter and Owen West offer their take on Iraq/Vietnam casualty comparisons in Slate. Their conclusion:
After factoring in medical, doctrinal, and technological improvements, infantry duty in Iraq circa 2004 comes out just as intense as infantry duty in Vietnam circa 1966—and in some cases more lethal. Even discrete engagements, such as the battle of Hue City in 1968 and the battles for Fallujah in 2004, tell a similar tale: Today's grunts are patrolling a battlefield every bit as deadly as the crucible their fathers faced in Southeast Asia.
Of course, this isn't exactly the issue that I looked into yesterday, but is somewhat related (and pretty interesting on its own, too).

Proximity Searches:

AltaVista, I recall, let you search for a word or phrase near another word or phrase -- but now that feature is gone. Can anyone recommend some search engines that have this useful feature, and that don't have huge countervailing handicaps?

If you have a specific (and verified) suggestion, please respond in the comments to this post. Thanks!


Monday, December 27, 2004

Karl Popper & Intelligent Design.--

Rand Simberg has a good post on Intelligent Design (ID) (tip to Instapundit):

How science works is by putting forth theories that are disprovable, not ones that are provable. When all other theories have been disproven, those still standing are the ones adopted by most scientists. ID is not a scientific theory, because it fails the test of being disprovable (or to be more precise, non-falsifiable), right out of the box. If Hugh [Hewitt] doesn't believe this, then let him postulate an experiment that one could perform, even in thought, that would show it to be false. ID simply says, "I'm not smart enough to figure out how this structure could evolve, therefore there must have been a designer." That's not science--it's simply an invocation of a deus ex machina, whether its proponents are willing to admit it or not. And it doesn't belong in a science classroom, except as an example of what's not science.

I've made my position on this subject quite clear in the past. ID, and creationism in general should be able to be taught in the public schools. Just not in a science class--they need to be reserved for a class in comparative religions.

I agree both with Simberg's view of Intelligent Design and (generally) with his view of science, though Simberg is talking about the older, traditional view of how science works (the Karl Popper view). More common these days is the Kuhnian view of science (anomalies, rather than strict falsifiability)--and there are still other views of science that are more akin to postmodernism. Much theorizing in the social sciences these days follows more or less Milton Friedman's simpler test of a theory--how well it fits the data. One occasionally sees other views, such as the plausibility or truth of the premises of a theory.

One thing that strikes me about Intelligent Design is that it must have been much more intuitively appealing before the failure of socialism. Socialism in the 1920s--1940s was in part based on the idea that the world had become so complex that central planning was necessary to deal with this complexity. Yet Von Mises was arguing just the opposite, that as the world became more elaborate, no one could plan it. ID seems to be based on an assumption that most conservatives reject in the economic sphere--that as the economy gets more elaborate, to work well it must be the product of the intelligent design of a master planner.

UPDATE: At Blurred Brain is an interesting post pointing out something that pro-capitalists have been saying for at least a century, that capitalism is all about planning--planning by millions of planners in an economy.

More at Rite Wing TechnoPagan, Catallarchy, and a Physicist's Perspective, who points out that not all science fits the Popper criteria, which is why I mentioned other theories of science and stated that I "generally" (not completely) agreed with Simberg. Imago Dei argues that "We can have knowledge of things without falsification." Ambivablog asserts:

But, Jim! The whole point is that "divine" intelligence, or whatever you want to call it, is everywhere at once and can be trusted. (Like Adam Smith's Invisible Hand?) Only humans would be stupid enough to come up with the idea of central planning!

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, Justice Ginsburg,

AND THE AGE OF CONSENT: [UPDATE: Since posting this, I have concluded that Justice Ginsburg was likely the victim of a drafting error, and the report's critics, including me, themselves erred in not seeing the error. More here.]

Several days ago, I ran across an allegation — one which has been repeated in quite a few places — that a 1977 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights report, co-drafted by then-Professor Ruth Bader Ginsburg, suggested that the age of consent be lowered to 12. That struck me as a likely myth or an out-of-context quote, so I decided to look into it.

To my surprise, the allegation seems largely accurate, though in the limited context of the federal territorial and maritime jurisdiction. (The report was referring only to federal law, and most sex crimes are covered by state law rather than federal law.) The report was Sex Bias in the U.S. Code, and it was prepared for the Commission by former ACLU lawyer Brenda Feigen-Fasteau, then-professor Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and 15 Columbia Law School students working under their supervision. The reporters went through federal statutes, identified various sex-based classifications and terms, and suggested ways to eliminate them. In the process, here's what the report said on p. 95 about the relevant statue, 18 U.S.C. § 2032:

Under 18 U.S.C. §§1153 and 2032, it is a crime for a person to have carnal knowledge of a female not his wife who has not reached 16 years of age. "Rape" is defined [as limited to female victims]. . . . The "statutory rape" offense is defined in these sections in much the same way: the victim must be a female and the offender a male . . . .

These provisions clearly fail to comply with the equal rights principle. They fail to recognize that women of all ages are not the only targets of sexual assault; men and boys can also be the victims of rape. In the case of statutory rape, the immaturity and vul[n]erability of young people of both sexes could be protected through appropriately drawn, sex-neutral proscriptions. The Model Penal Code and S. 1400 §1633 require a substantial age differental between the offender and victim, thus declaring criminal only those situations in which overbearing or coercion may play a part.

So far, not a proposal to generally lower the age of consent — it's a call for sex-neutral statutes, and for making the statutory rape rules turn on the difference in age between the parties. One can argue against this on various grounds, and it's not clear why the age differential vs. clear cutoff issue is relevant to the "Sex Bias in the U.S. Code" issue. Moreover, S. 1400 §1633 provided (at least in the version that I could find), that "sexual abuse of a minor" (essentially statutory rape) be limited to victims who are under 16, and who are "at least five years younger than" the defendant. This could be criticized, since it would allow 17-year-olds to have sex with 12-year-olds, which many people would treat as child molestation and not just young love. But at least it doesn't make 12-year-olds fair game for adults.

But here's the suggestion on p. 102:

18 U.S.C. §2032 — Eliminate the phrase "carnal knowledge of any female, not his wife who has not attained the age of sixteen years" and substitute a Federal, sex-neutral definition of the offense patterned after S. 1400 §1633: A person is guilty of an offense if he engages in a sexual act with another person, not his spouse, and (1) compels the other person to participate: (A) by force or (B) by threatening or placing the other person in fear that any person will imminently be subjected to death, serious bodily injury, or kidnapping; (2) has substantially impaired the other person's power to appraise or control the conduct by administering or employing a drug or intoxicant without the knowledge or against the will of such other person, or by other means; or (3) the other person is, in fact, less than 12 years old.

Under this proposal, it seems to me that sex with 12-year-olds and older would be legalized in the federal territorial and maritime jurisdiction, regardless of the age of the other party. This wouldn't be a "Romeo-and-Juliet" law aimed at preventing prosecution of young lovers — it would equally be a dirty-old-man-and-Juliet law. And while there are plausible debates about what the age of consent should be, it seems to me that simply lowering it to 12 would be quite a striking and unjustified change.

Now this all happened nearly 30 years ago; but I'm still curious about what was happening here. Am I misreading the proposal? Am I missing some important statutory context, such as other federal statutes that would have banned sex by adults with 12-year-olds even when this statute had been relaxed to allow it?

If I'm not mistaken or reading this out of context, then were many in the late 1970s feminist movement really in favor of lowering the age of consent to 12? Did Justice Ginsburg hold this view? Or was this something that was added by an overzealous student and not caught by her (of course she had the responsibility of checking everything produced by the people she was supervising or even by her coauthor, but mistakes happen)? Might it even have been an inadvertent drafting error? (As to 18 U.S.C. §1153 — which applied to Indian country — the other section mentioned alongside §2032 on p. 95, the report on p. 103 simply suggests that it be changed to the S. 1400, §1633 version.)

In any event, when I investigate improbable-sounding accusations and find them to be bunk, I like to post about that; so it seems to me that when they prove to be true, it's worth noting them. Again, I'm not sure what this says about Justice Ginsburg's past views, or for that matter her present views; but I'd love to hear any perspective that readers who are familiar with the late 1970s debate might be able to provide (preferably with details and citations).

The Vietnam Comparison -- A Closer Look At The Numbers: I am not exactly comforted by Jim's comparison of the number of U.S. deaths in Iraq and the number of U.S. deaths at the height of the Vietnam War. While the casualty rate in Vietnam is considerably higher than the rate in Iraq, Jim's comparison led me to realize that the differences are smaller than I would have thought.

  In 2004, the U.S. lost about 75 troops per month in Iraq out of a total force of about 130,000. When comparing this to Vietnam, you need to specify the year of the comparison; the scope of U.S. involvement grew gradually over a period of years. In 1966, the U.S. lost about 500 soldiers per month out of a total force that averaged about 300,000 troops; in 1967, the rate increased to about 1,000 troops per month out of a total force of about 400,000. By 1968-69, the war's peak, the U.S. averaged about 1,500 lives lost per month out of a total force of about 500,000. [All numbers rounded off. Iraq casualty stats are here; Vietnam stats here. Number of troops in Iraq are here, number in Vietnam are here.]

  Jim is quite right that the total number of U.S. deaths in Iraq so far is about the same as the total for a bad month near the peak of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam. But I think a more complete picture would be that the scale of U.S. involvement in Iraq is about 25-40% of the scale of U.S. involvement in Vietnam in the '66-'69 period, and that the chance that a U.S. soldier in Iraq will get killed is about 25% of the chance that a U.S. solider in Vietnam in '66-'69 would get killed.

  Obviously these comparisons are extremely crude. I grabbed my numbers from a few websites I found via Google, and eyeballed some of the numbers from charts. More importantly, the comparison sheds no light on how the two wars compare more broadly, or whether the decision to invade Iraq was right or wrong. But if we look only at the number of troops and casualty rate, the numbers are less far off than I would have thought.

  I have enabled comments. Remember the new comment rule, however: civil and respectful comments only. If you can't say it nicely, don't say it here.

  UPDATE: My apologies for the technical difficulties; we've been having server troubles today and the comments haven't been working. If you can't view or make a comment, try clicking here.

California Sex Offender Website: Criminal Appeal and Sentencing Law & Policy have posts up on California's new Megan's Law sex offender locator website. The website explains:
  As a result of a new law, this site will provide you with access to information on more than 63,000 persons required to register in California as sex offenders. Specific home addresses are displayed on more than 33,500 offenders in the California communities; as to these persons, the site displays the last registered address reported by the offender. An additional 30,500 offenders are included on the site with listing by ZIP Code, city, and county. Information on approximately 22,000 other offenders is not included on this site, but is known to law enforcement personnel.
  Once you have read and acknowledged the disclaimer on the next page, you may search the database by a sex offender's specific name, obtain ZIP Code and city/county listings, obtain detailed personal profile information on each registrant, and use our map application to search your neighborhood or anywhere throughout the State to determine the specific location of any of those registrants on whom the law allows us to display a home address.
Both Jonathan and Doug are puzzled by a particular misdemeanor provision in the California Code enacted as part of the law:
Any person who is required to register pursuant to Section 290 who enters the Web site is punishable by a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars ($1,000), imprisonment in a county jail for a period not to exceed six months, or by both that fine and imprisonment.
  Doug asks whether the law "breaks new ground simply by making it a crime for certain people to access a publically-available website." Unfortunately, probably not. The federal government and all 50 states have laws that prohibit "unauthorized access" and "exceeding authorized access" to computers. One of the big questions raised by these laws is whether they are triggered only when a user bypasses some kind of password gate, or whether they are triggered when a user uses the computer in breach of some condition of entry set up by the computer owner/operator. The former approach requires some kind of "breaking in" to the computer to trigger liability, but the latter does not.

  In a recent law review article, I argue that the former is the right interpretation, and that the latter approach may render the statutes constitutionally overbroad or void for vagueness (see p. 1658-60). At the same time, a number of courts have taken the latter approach in civil cases, even if none have yet had the opportunity to apply it to criminal cases. Because courts generally apply the same precedents in the civil and criminal contexts, however, there is at least some precedent for the view that any computer owner can make it a crime for anyone to access their publically-available website simply by setting conditions of entry accordingly. It's a bad rule, for reasons explained at length in the article, but unfortunately not entirely without precedent.
Libertarianism Illustrated: While it offers little if any substantive argument on behalf of libertarianism, this web page by Ken Schoolland and Lux Lucre provides an interesting graphical presentation of the libertarian position. For more information about the project of which this is a part click here. (Hat tip Brainwacker)
John Lott and the National Research Council's Report.--

I was away when the story broke about the National Research Council releasing its report on the effects of gun laws on violence, though I saw Stuart Benjamin's nice post on it when I returned. The focus of Stuart's comments were the report's criticisms of John Lott's work, though he also mentioned my role in investigating whether a 1997 study that Lott says he did was ever actually done. As those of you who have been following this might remember, I thought that Ayres and Donohue did an excellent job of data analysis on the issue of the effect of carry laws on crime rates.

I read through much of the report, including particularly chapter 6 that is critical of Lott's work, the dissent to part of that chapter by James Q. Wilson, and the majority response to that dissent.

From the portions that I have read, I found the report sober, impressive, and fair, though there are substantial parts of this literature that I am unfamiliar with. As to Lott's work, I actually thought that the Council's report was too generous to his research in spots. In particular, I thought that it failed to point out just how much Lott's results are driven by poorly executed demographic controls, a point that Ayres and Donohue make effectively in their Stanford exchange. While the Council's report raises a lot of questions about Lott's use of control variables in general, particularly in its Appendix D, the Report does not seem to focus on the degree to these questionable demographic controls determine some of Lott's results.

As usual, Tim Lambert has the most thorough coverage on the report.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. John Lott Responds
  2. John Lott and the National Research Council's Report.--
  3. Bad News for John Lott:
A Different Take on the Criticisms of AP.--

Frankly, I have been somewhat ambivalent in reading the criticism of the Associated Press (AP) for running photos of the killing of innocent Iraqi civilians by terrorists in Iraq. Much of the discussion has focused on how much of a tip the AP photographer had; if he knew of an assassination attempt before it occurred and went to photograph it rather than stop it, that would be wrong. Other criticism, of the sort that I wanted to comment on, goes to the more general question whether the AP or other MSM should be showing pictures of terrorist acts that the terrorists want shown.

Earlier in the war, the press was criticized for showing American atrocities (e.g., prison torture) and possible atrocities (e.g., the shooting of a wounded militant/terrorist in a mosque), but mostly refusing to show beheadings and other atrocities committed by terrorists. This even goes back to the aftermath of 9/11 when the media fairly quickly stopped showing pictures of people diving from the twin towers, probably to avoid stirring up the public excessively (but perhaps out of concern for families of victims).

In most prior wars, the home country press showed pictures of atrocities committed by the enemy, but downplayed or covered up atrocities committed by the home country. This war is unusual in several respects. First, at some times (though certainly not always), the US press has been more likely to show the home country's atrocities than the enemy's. This is somewhat explained by the US press having better access to US actions, both good and bad, but it is still historically very strange.

The other oddity is that the actions that the terrorists want shown are themselves atrocities. Usually, one side in a war would be proud to show its military victories, but ashamed to show its vicious killings of innocent, unarmed civilians. In Iraq, the terrorists want first to frighten, intimidate, and (yes) terrorize decent people who want democracy. Second, they want to recruit and embolden a small cadre of bloodthirsty people who would be attracted toward the cause of people who commit atrocities.

For these two reasons, we have the odd spectacle of terrorists who want their atrocities broadcast around the world, instead of being ashamed by them. The Belmont Club, which quite insightfully first raised questions about the AP, pointed out how the terrorists might be helped:

Although the Eddie Adams photograph [of the execution of Vietcong Captain Bay Lop by South Vietnamese General Nguyen Ngoc Loan] was widely used to illustrate the 'brutality' of the Saigon government, the photos taken by the Associated Press are unlikely to reflect badly on the electoral worker's killers. Press reports highlight the confidence and boldness of the insurgents. "Both of the victims shown in the sequence wore traditional Arab headscarfs. In contrast, the attackers were bareheaded and apparently unafraid to show their faces", suggesting that 'collaborators' must conceal their faces while the Ba'athists stride with impunity through the light of day.

So I can see some reasons for running pictures or video of atrocities committed by Iraqi terrorists and some reasons for not running them. In particular, if the press knew that the atrocity would not have occurred without the press as an audience, that would definitely suggest not covering it. But something like this problem arises in more ordinary situations. Park Dietz once estimated that for every product tampering extensively covered in the press (e.g., the Tylenol scare), there are a couple dozen copycat events, some of them fatal. Something similar has been argued for the press's covering mass school killings, but I know of no evidence for this.

The only tentative conclusion that I would draw is that it might be somewhat unfair to criticize the MSM both for showing atrocities that terrorists want covered (such as perhaps the AP story) and for not showing the beheading of hostages, which are also atrocities that terrorists want covered. Is the press (even if the US press had no goal other than to help the US war effort) supposed to show terrorist atrocities or not? Which policy actually helps the terrorists or the US war effort? Until the AP story, I got the impression in the blogosphere that most critics of the press thought that the press should be showing terrorist atrocities, even when the terrorists wanted them shown. Now after the AP story, I'm not so sure.

I should add that I am not accusing any particular blogger for being inconsistent (which is why I haven't linked most of the AP criticisms), both because I have no idea whether any have been inconsistent and because there are some good reasons to distinguish the two sorts of cases. Indeed, most of the AP criticisms, and in particular the brilliant and amazingly perceptive post from the Belmont Club that started all this, have focused on what the AP might have done besides just publicize an event that the terrorists wanted covered.

How Far from the Truth?

A New York Times article on how some Democrats are suggesting that the party de-emphasize abortion in its political message contains this quote:

And Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said Republicans had "been successful at painting the view of the pro-choice movement as abortion on demand — and nothing can be farther from the truth."

Really? To the best of my knowledge, the leading players in the pro-choice movement do indeed favor abortion on demand, or something very close to it. According to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, "abortion-on-demand" means "the right of a woman to have an abortion during the first six months of a pregnancy." As best I can tell, the views of leading pro-choice organizations, such as NARAL Pro-Choice America, are quite close to that.

The groups may say "before viability" rather than "during the first six months," and I suppose this might, depending on the state of a particular fetus and the progress of medical technology, be something of a difference — but not a very great one, given how close viability and six months tend to be (plus I take it the "six months" dividing line was chosen partly because it tracked viability during the time when the definition was being developed, so it was at least intended to reflect the viable/nonviable distinction). I suspect, incidentally, that most pro-choice advocates would insist that even post-viability abortions be legal when needed to protect the woman's life, physical health, or psychological health, with the latter category seeming like a pretty broad escape hatch. Also, while I'm not positive whether most leading pro-choice groups would allow any restrictions at all on minors' access to abortion, I'm pretty sure they oppose parental consent or even parental notificaiton requirements. So their position seems to be either abortion-on-demand or very close to it.

Now one may well argue that abortion on demand, or abortion on demand with these two narrow exceptions, is the morally, constitutionally, or pragmatically correct position. But it seems to me a mistake to deny that the pro-choice movement's view, or at least the view of many leading groups in the movement, is pretty close to that position — and even more of a mistake to fault people for being supposedly untruthful when they characterize the pro-choice movement's position that way.

Richard Posner is Guest-Blogging over at the Leiter Reports this week, and has asked for suggestions about blogging topics. UDPATE: Judge Posner will be covering jurisprudential and philosophical issues during his guest-blogging stint, so I assume that topic recommendations should be limited accordingly.
Kristol Predicts McConnell for Chief: FWIW on Fox News Sunday yesterday, Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard made his annual prediction: Michael McConnell to be nominated to succeed William Rehnquist as Chief Justice of the United States. He further predicted no filibuster. Given Kristol's sources, this sounds more like a trial balloon than misdirection.
Lessons of 'Anonymous Lawyer': Over at Stay of Execution, Scheherazade has a good post on the lessons to be drawn from Jeremy Blachman's ability to draw a great deal of attention with his fictional blog about life as a law firm partner:
[T]he three big lessons for me are: 1) the blog as a medium has an inherent credibility. 2) Humans in general, and lawyers in particular, are amazingly susceptible to status and heirarchy — Anonymous Lawyer's appeal was the perception of access to honesty from the upper stratus of the standard professional heirarchy, and the delicious way the author could make explicit all the power struggles and displays of status and power within a law firm. . . . 3) The profession really is draining talent, energy, and enthusiasm from a huge hunk of lawyers, which is a travesty. Anonymous Lawyer was fiction, but too many people recognized themselves in the mirror Jeremy held up.
Points (1) and (2) are also true for the academic twin of Anonymous Lawyer, the recently-launched Anonymous Law Professor. Fortunately — at least for us law professors — (3) doesn't seem to apply to the latter blog. While Jeremy's fictitious partner seemed real to many, the same character dressed up as a law professor was spotted early on as the creation of a law student (see here, here, and here).

Sunday, December 26, 2004

1300 US Deaths Would be a Fairly Bad Month in Vietnam.--

Ann Althouse reports on a man who walked around the Madison Capitol for six hours on Christmas Eve with a sign saying 1300, the approximate number of US deaths so far in the Iraqi War, which is not yet 2 years old. It is important to remember the lives lost, the families ruined, and the families saved. It is also important to place these losses in the context of other wars.

Just to put things in perspective, this would be a fairly bad month in Vietnam, but not unusual.

Consider this stretch of US deaths in Vietnam in 1968:







Or this stretch in 1969:







UPDATE: I am finding the response to my informational post on casualties interesting. My co-blogger Orin Kerr appears to take it in a political direction, as noted by Matt Bruce here.

I think that the Vietnam v. Iraq casualty number comparison is a bit like a Rorschach test ("The [Rorschah] test is considered `projective' because the patient is supposed to project his or her real personality into the inkblot via the interpretation.')--what people see in the comparison reflects more about them than it does about the facts or my post.

I was posting information because I think that one fact can be understood better in the context of another fact. I was not trying to "comfort" anyone. I am certainly not shy about expressing an opinion in my posts, whether it is a relatively definitive one (such as my recent criticism of John Lott), or a conflicted one (such as my recent highly contingent defense of AP). I was not making an argument in my post; I thought that people might be surprised and interested by the comparison (as many of my colleagues are, whether they support or oppose the Iraq War). If I were trying to defend the Iraq War in my post, I would have chosen World War II or the Civil War, not Vietnam. I was not.

Indeed, my view is that looking at numbers doesn't answer the basic question whether a war is worth the cost, and that the cost in lives for a war is not necessarily positively related to its benefits. I certainly didn't suggest this argument or any other in my post, but some people might have suspected this from the choice of Iraq and Vietnam for comparison.

Any substantial number of US lives lost in Vietnam was (I believe) unwarranted because the war was a failure and its goals questionable. If the Iraq War ultimately fails completely in the long run, then any US lives lost fighting it will have been wasted at least from an ex post perspective. And the huge US losses in World War II were justified by the justice of that war's goals and accomplishments.

MSM Finds Blogs: Many bloggers embrace the view that the mainstream media tends to ignore the blogosphere. "We're a threat to them," the argument runs, "so those old media elites are trying to pretend we're not here." Maybe that was true a year ago. If I'm not mistaken, however, in the last few months there has been a consderable shift: now the MSM seems far more focused on blogs than before, perhaps more than their influence actually warrants. The latest installments: the New York Times writing about blogger Jeremy Blachman, and The Weekly Standard writing about the blog Left2Right.