February 29, 2008

Obama Advertising On Rush Limbaugh

In Texas, at least. And why not? Limbuagh and his ilk have done little but to bad-mouth McCain since he took ascendancy, and there are no viable Republican alterantives to him. And Limbaugh listeners will never be convinced to vote for Hillary Clinton, who they've heard demonized on that show for the past sixteen years.

So that leaves them nowhere else to go but to Obama (or to stay home). And despite being unabashedly liberal, Obama's charisma seems to transcend even ideology; even conservatives look at the the guy and think, "Yeah, I kind of like him." So there may be some votes to be got for Obama even amongst the family of Limbaugh listeners, given the bizarre new world emerging from this election.

Today Is Brought To You By Julius Caesar

The Julian calendar had 365 days, with an extra day added to the end of every fourth February. This lighthearted article suggests that Caesar's idea for the Julian calendar was taken from his sojourn in Egypt. That makes sense, given that Egypt had the world's best astronomers at the time, and they had likely figured out that a year was 365 and a quarter days from observing the sun carefully over many years. Caesar was looking to reform Rome's political system, in which the calendar was subject to more or less arbitrary modification by the college of priests and the result was years which lasted more than 400 days followed by years of about 200 days, because the priests favored this consul over that one or the augurs needed to insert an extra month into the year when birds flew into the temple window on a particular day (really).

In fact, it is entirely possible that they figured out that a "year" was the amount of time it took a round earth to orbit the sun, not the other way around. Now in fact, the earth rotates on its axis 365.242374 times as it completes an orbit around the sun, which means that every twenty-fifth leap year, you don't have leap year, except for centennial years that divide equally into 400. So 1900 was not a leap year, 2000 was a leap year, and 2100 will not be. And the rotation of the earth is slowing, at an unknown but detectable rate. It remains to be seen whether the rotation of the earth will slow down enough by the year 4000 to require someone to have to decide to make that year not be a leap year to make up for it. But that's not exactly a problem we need to address today.

Famous people born on Leap Day include singer/golfer Dinah Shore, serial murderer Richard "the Nightstalker" Ramirez, motivational guru Tony Robbins, rapper Ja Rule, and lawblog king Eugene Volokh. Wikipedia claims that people born on February 29 can call themselves "leaplings" but I suspect that someone just made that up because I've never heard that term and it sounds pretty dorky. On February 29, 1504, Christopher Columbus accurately predicted a lunar eclipse and thus awed Native Americans into supplying his men instead of killing them.

February 28, 2008

A Victory For The Defense

I was wrong to be as anxious as I was for my mock trial kids. They were a little bit unpolished, but obviously far superior to their opponents tonight, and that's what counts in this round. Yes, they could have made better objections than they did. Yes, they could have delivered smoother opening and closing arguments. And yes, they could have been more aggressive with a team of younger kids who didn't really know how to conduct cross-examinations (well, one of them did, and she did a pretty good job). But somehow, they found a new student to come in at the very last minute to play the role of the defendant, and she did a marvelous job. She must be one of the aces of the drama club or something, because she absorbed the role and projected credible emotion on the witness stand. The "not guilty" verdict was a foregone conclusion (I don't think the facts will get to a guilty verdict if there is even a halfway competent defense team in place) but that's not the point -- the point was that to my great relief, the kids stepped up and did what they needed to do. They'd have held their own against even a strong prosecution team. I'm proud of them.

Update: The results were announced Friday, Feb. 29. Not only did my kids win, they wound up seeded #3 overall. That puts them in the championship bracket, and their semi-final round has them again representing the defendant. Their opponent is the Catholic high school from which I graduated twenty years ago. This is going to be fun!

She's Got Us Pegged

Stuff White People Like.

Is it racist? I don't think so because it's generally okay to make fun of white people. And the teasing here is pretty gentle and obviously not written from a place of hatred. The author seems to just think that her white friends are generally kind of odd and amusing, in a harmless, non-patronizing sort of way.

For me, numbers 1, 19, 23, 24, 28, 29, 35, 42, 44, 50, 51, 52, 53, 56, and 76 strike close to home. That's quite a lot of them. I must be really white.

See also Rock Songs Black People Like (a post allegedly written by a real Black person).

How To Be A Better Husband

Ten tips in this article. Here's my self-assessment:
  1. Take an interest in something your wife is really passionate about. The Wife's hobby is stamping and I just cannot summon the interest to involve myself in it. She is excited about her education, though, and I've tried to find ways to talk with her about statistics and to engage with her intellectually about that.
  2. Put the kids to bed. If by "kids" this means "the pets," I think that duty gets spread around more or less equally between us, and the article seems to assume that she's bearing an unequal weight of a daily domestic task. Jordan's been hiding from me very well in the mornings, though -- I think she's found a way into the box spring.
  3. Learn to apologize. I think I'm pretty quick to fall on my sword when I don't think the disagreement is worth it. It seems better, though, to try to figure out what she wants me to do and behave so as to not need to apologize at all.
  4. Thank her for putting up with you. Oh, I think this every day! I still can't believe my wild good fortune in finding a woman who can put up with me. But I probably ought to announce this thought out loud to her more often than I do.
  5. Clean up after yourself. I'm getting better here, I think. I'm putting her breakfast dishes in the dishwasher as well as my own.
  6. Make time for just the two of you. I try to take her out on a date once a week, not just once a month. Maybe for couples with kids that's a bigger challenge.
  7. Groom yourself. I think I've got that one figured out.
  8. Get away from the family. Maybe I need to do this more. I go to a dinner with friends from the firm and around town once a week, and she doesn't usually go along with that, but aside from that I don't have a lot of "guy" things that I do.
  9. Deal with your side of the family. Check. Her side of the family gets equal dignity when we're making plans, and that's making vacation plans complex again. Still, the price is worth it because we are our own family unit now, and the vacation is intended to maintain relationships with our respective families. It would be great if we had enough money and flexibility with our time to visit everyone in their homes, but that's just not possible. So, elaborate negotiations must take place before we can make those arrangements, which feels burdensome but once we get everything figured out, it'll all be good.
  10. Don't lose your dating manners. I can brush up on this more; mainly in the arena of opening the car door for her. It feels a little silly doing that while we're out running errands but then again, what I think of as "running an errand" she may think of as "quality time spent as a couple."
Hat tip to Andrew Sullivan, who notes that his husbandly duties may not be co-extensive with my own. Different circumstances, I guess.

Just What We All Needed -- The Date Of The Apocalypse

Time to short-sell all those five-year bonds.

Turns out the world will end on December 21, 2012. At least, at that point we'll have gone off the Maya Long Count Calendar, an ingenius system for measuring epochal spans of time devised by the cryptic Mesoamerican culture. Apparently there are going to be all sorts of disaster movies made over this year and next that will be based on the end of the world on that date. Return of Quetzalcoatl sounds like the best title.

Wingnuts: Are You Going To Ignore Karl Rove, Too?

Bill Cunningham, the conservative talk radio host from Cincinnati who repeatedly invoked Barack Obama's middle name of "Hussein" in a warm-up speech for a McCain campaign rally, complains that he got "thrown under the Straight Talk Express" by the candidate. So, Cartman-like, he's going away and joining Ann Coulter and a few other right-wing kool-aid drinkers in their pretzel-logic support of Hillary Clinton. Thing is, McCain deserves praise for trying to focus the debate on the merits of the various candidates rather than scurrilous rumors, innuendo, and outright lies. Throw Cunningham under the bus, gain points in my book.

What's more, no less a right-wing political icon of kidney-stabbing attacks than Karl Rove has warned conservatives to not demagogue about Obama's middle name. Rove rightly perceives that simply making fun of Obama's name will do nothing but perpetuate the myth, that moderate voters are perfectly ready to buy into if they see any evidence for it, that conservatives are bigots. Suggesting that Obama is anything other than what he has proven himself to be -- a devout Christian and an American who has dedicated his life to public service of the nation -- is a very dangerous game that in all probability will end badly for Republicans.

Perhaps, then, the McCain candidacy will be good for the Republican party in another way, in that it will provide a way for the most foul-tempered spewers of bile to be purged out. Some of the far right will go with them, and a degree of fanatical enthusiasm will leave the party as a result. But at the same time, the party can reach into the moderate middle, that growing segment at the top of the bell curve of American politics who yet have reservations about the neo-collectivism proffered by the standard bearers of the Democratic party and vote Democrat only because they are so very repelled by these fountains of vitriol who hold themselves out to be the spokespeople for a vast segment of conservative Americans. No one in the moderate middle wants to get in bed with Ann Coulter or Lars Larsen. But centrists can be persuaded to look again at Republican ideas if Republicans show themselves to be principled enough to police their own as well as others for minimal standards of human decency.

When even Karl Rove is suggesting that a measure of civility is to the conservatives' tactical advantage, that's as clear a sign as anyone should need that the rhetoric has escalated beyond a critical point.

Yesterday, I offered a brief eulogy for Bill Buckley, in which the focus of my praise was on his ability to bring erudition and civility to political debate -- and for which he was rightfully recognized as the paterfamilias of the conservative movement. I've no doubt that Buckley would have shied away from referring to the Democratic front-runner as anything other than "Senator Obama" or "Mister Obama" and would have been repelled at the idea of using the man's name (something he did not choose for himself) to imply disloyalty to America. Buckley would have been quick to concede that Obama was a faithful Christian and a talented politician with good intentions. But note that one can concede that Obama has dedicated himself to the service of the country, even if his policy ideas are not particularly agreeable to the person making that concession. Note that one can concede that he is a Christian even if one might not like some of the things his pastor has said in the past. That's what I mean about civility and that's why Buckley's passing at this moment in time is so poignant.

McCain scolded Cunningham for being out of line, and rightly so. Buckley would have scolded Cunningham, too, if he had thought Cunningham were anything other than an obnoxious insect who would be best ignored.

February 27, 2008

A Buck Fiddy

Today marks the first time that the Euro has traded for $1.50 in U.S. money. That's right, a buck fifty buys you only a single Euro. This is not good news for Americans planning to live abroad right at this exact moment. It also means that the dollar will need to strength significantly, or I will have to win the Lotto, before I can go visit my cousins in Italy again.

They, on the other hand, might be able to afford a trip here if they can only scrape together enough money for the airfare. After all, the exchange ratio works two ways, and to them, a dollar would only cost seventy-five cents. It would be fun to show the suddenly-rich Italians around Los Angeles, and good language practice for me. "Sì, questo è il luogo dove ha ottenuto un travestito en l'auto de Eddie Murphy." "Te piace il cane de Dodger?" "No, sarebbe scortese chiedere Signora Hilton per il suo sopra del' bikini. Non importa che lei è ubriaco. Dobbiamo invece avere alcune sushi."

Milk Spam

A friend of mine spammed me today with a video about how evil the big corporations Fox and Monsanto are because they're lying to the public about the dangers of recombined bovine growth hormone. My characteristically verbose response:
My view of this issue is more than a little bit ambiguous. Stipulated that the FDA is corrupt and lazy. That was amply demonstrated when the FDA approved Fen-Phen and Vioxx. Now, recombined bovine growth hormone (rBGH) has been in the news for years and Monsanto’s use of litigation to protect its product has indeed been unusually aggressive. The product is physiologically the same as a hormone that occurs naturally in the cow (bovine growth hormone), but the injection does increase the level of that hormone. Canada’s national health authority, which is less obviously corrupt than the USFDA, sees problems for bovine health but not human health, from the use of rBGH.

Another thing to keep in mind is that for a small dairy farmer (and unlike corn and wheat producers, there are still a lot of small but viable dairy farms out there) the use of rBGH can have a real economic impact on the business as a whole because it can boost milk production by as much as 10% -- so after about a week, each injection of the product essentially pays for itself in increased milk to sell to a processor. So were rBGH to be banned, that wouldn’t put large-scale corporate dairy farms out of business but it would mean that some of the smaller family-run dairy farms would have to sell out to the big guys. That may not justify the perceived health risk, of course, but it is a price that would have to be paid so it’s something that should be taken into account when making a decision about whether, and if so under what conditions, rBGH should be used or banned.

Testing and labeling is a tougher issue than it would seem at first glance. Monsanto’s lobbying against mandatory labeling laws has been based on the idea that it is impossible to tell from a sample of the milk product whether the cows that produced the milk were treated with rBGH or not. You can measure how much BGH was present in the cow based on the amount of an enzyme that resembles insulin, but because the BGH works in the cow’s bloodstream and then is metabolized, the hormone itself does not appear in the milk. The insulin enzyme is a byproduct of its presence, and it’s the same enzyme whether the hormone was naturally-occurring within the cow (BGH) or manufactured and injected (rBGH). So far as I can tell, even the anti-rBGH activists have conceded this point based on existing technology within the realm of reasonable cost-effectiveness. While in theory I would like the idea of a labeling law, it would seem that enforcing the law would require the inspectors to draw blood from the producing cows, so this could only effectively be done on a sampling basis and since producers sometimes sell to different processors, there would be no guarantee of accuracy by the time the product gets down to the consumer, rendering the labeling only a step better than guesswork.

Personally, I think I’d prefer to avoid milk produced by rBGH cows, although I would not go very far out of my way to do so. If milk I knew to be rBGH-free were ten cents more to the half-gallon than unlabelled milk, I might buy it, but beyond that I would become more price-sensitive than product-sensitive. Your tolerance may vary from mine. If you want to avoid rBGH in your milk, shop at Vons (they call it “Safeway” elsewhere), get your milk-based coffee drinks from Starbucks, and eat at Chipotle. I think you do at least two-thirds of that already. Ben & Jerry’s also only buys from rBGH-free dairies to make its ice cream. “Organic” milk basically means that it is rBGH-free; I don’t think there is really anything else “artificial” that can be done to alter the process of a cow eating grass and then turning it into milk and cow poop, so you can buy the more expensive “organic” milk. But just as there is no real way to enforce rBGH labeling, there is also no real way to enforce “organic” labeling, so enforcement would be very expensive and at the end of the day, you have to decide if you trust the seller to accurately represent their product to you as the consumer.

For me, the price difference between “organic” milk and the regular kind is greater than the minutely decreased health risk associated with someone claiming to be selling an “organic” product.

Now, my friend is a big health food nut and probably won't like the idea that I'm balancing a few pennies against my health and that of my wife when I buy groceries, and would be quick to point out that the small diary farmers only use rBGH because the big companies do, too, and that they'd all be on an equal footing if the substance were banned from use. But mainly, my friend holds a religious-like belief in the power of "natural" things being good for your health. "Wholesome" things, I'll buy into. But "natural?" Arsenic occurs naturally in the groundwater here. Just because it occurs in nature doesn't make it good for you.

And the health effects on humans caused by rBGH use are nebulous but opponents of its use get to invoke the scary phrase "cancer accelerant." Not being one to be readily frightened by such boogeymen, I want more data. It's not at all clear what drinking milk with a higher than expected insulin-like ratio is. Sounds like it would be good for a diabetic to drink milk like that, but that would be a big leap on my part to proclaim as a fact. What I feel comfortable with saying is that rBGH is chemically identical with the naturally-occurring bovine hormone. Whether the chemical is created in a cow's pancreas or in a laboratory in St. Louis, the effects of its use would be the same. If the chemical were harvested from non-dairy cows (say, from beef cattle shortly before it was slaughtered or from stud bulls) it would have the same effect.

The real issue is not the "artificial" origin of the chemical, it is the effect of increasing the amount of it in the animal. Here is where we run into the real problem. The FDA does not typically do its own studies, and relies on the scientific work of the proponent of a substance to prove its safety. Naturally, we might view that sort of data as not particularly objective or trustworthy. And the FDA is in kind of a no-win situation: doing its own work would be criticized as "over-regulation," "needlessly duplicative," and "dilatory." When people are literally dying for lack of medicine, a government agency that slows down the distribution of that medicine can be seen as evil. But at the same time, the FDA is criticized for "under-regulating" the entities it is charged with policing and being "overly deferential" to their data.

We should not be afraid of new techniques for making food. We should not be afraid of genetic engineering coming to the aid of food producers or of eating the food that is generated through such methods. These should be subject to reasonable review and analysis. What is "reasonable" will have to be determined on a case-by-case basis. Attempting to define what is "reasonable" in all situations in advance will never be possible. We need a regulatory agency that takes seriously its mandate to protect and advance public health while not obstructing the advancement of science or not permitting legitimate commercial activity to take place.

Is that really too much to ask for?

U.S. Mint Rejects D.C. Quarter

Turns out, the U.S. Mint took less than twenty-four hours to reject a proposed "state quarter" design offered to Washington, D.C. that included the city's official motto, "Taxation Without Representation." (Note, though, that the Federal District's official motto is "Justicia Omnibus"; while the city and the federal district are coterminous, they are overlapping and not the same level of government and the federal district's motto was put in place by Congress.) Apparently, the "Taxation Without Representation" issue, although a classic political "slow burn," is still too hot for the Mint to handle and they won't put it on our money.

"Bitch set me up" might still work, though.

Once More Because You Didn't Hear Him Clearly The Last Five Times He Said This

Michael Bloomberg will not run for President. His appeal would have been that of a good manager and successful businessman who could rise above partisanship and an advocate for policies that he thought were right regardless of which banner they were offered under. Given that the Republicans are on the verge of nominating John McCain and the Democrats are trending towards nominating Barack Obama -- both outsiders who have been soundly rejected by their respective parties' establishment -- it is clear to me that there is no particular need for an independent candidate.

Besides, Bloomberg was only polling around 15% nationally anyway, if the rumors were to be believed. Bloomberg wouldn't spend a billion dollars of his own money to get 15%. He might have spent it if he had a credible shot at winning. But a billion bucks, just to be a spoiler. He's no dummy and he can see how badly Mitt Romney got burned -- over forty million Romneybucks lit on fire so that Mitt the Flip would be on John McCain's short list of potential running mates. Not a good buy.

Vi Veri Vniversum Vivus Vici

Today marks the death of William F. Buckley, Jr., the intellectual progenitor of the modern American conservative movement. Though I despise some of the social excess that movement has taken on in recent years, for the most part I remain convinced that conservatives have worked a net benefit for the country.

Buckley wrote and published God and Man at Yale, which revealed the then-surprising truth that the American Academy was hostile to traditional notions of religion and morality. This set off a debate about the proper role of higher education and the extent to which a person's views should be influenced by their intellectual superiors. Buckley founded and published National Review, the flagship publication of political conservatives. It commented, as it still does, with dry wit and thoughtfulness on the issues of the day. Buckley created and hosted the public-affairs show Firing Line, which proved that erudite, intelligent discussion of a wide variety of issues could find an audience and political disagreements could be simultaneously fierce and polite.

That's not to say Buckley was always right about things. Although always an opponent of anti-Semitism, Buckley was not so quick to see the injustice of racial segregation, and as Ilya Somin points out at Volokh Conspiracy, his later recanting of his states-rights stance on the civil rights movement only mitigated that position.

Nevertheless, Buckley also labored mightily to reconcile libertarian thinkers with social and economic conservatives. The marriage always worked better for the economically-minded than the social types, which of course is the very fracture seen today in the Republican party, which no one yet has been able to heal. A son of privilege and wealth, Buckley was not content to merely enjoy his money and felt motivated by noblesse oblige to make the world better not just for those like himself but to do what he genuinely thought would make the world better for everyone. Thus, he was willing to break ranks with other conservatives and advocate the legalization of drugs (a distasteful position but an unavoidable one from both his principle and policy positions) and was one of the first major conservative figures to openly criticize George W. Bush for his handling of the Iraq War.

He set out and accomplished ambitious goals for himself in life -- he resolved to stem the tide of liberalism in academia by creating an environment where conservative thinkers would be deemed worthy of respect; he resolved to set in motion a political movement that ultimately culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan; and he put a friendly, intellectually-satisfying face on politics during a time when the rest of the people filtering the events of the day to the public were reducing their quotes to sound bites filled with invective. He was also candid about admitting when he was wrong, which is a lot more than most political figures can do even after his example. The world is a less colorful place now without him.

What Qualifies A President To Be President?

The survey results are in. A slim plurality of NAPP voters (4) agree with me that the best training available to be President of the United States is to be the Governor of one of the several States. Other (3 each) voters think that attaining a high academic degree, or having had service in the U.S. Congress, are the best available training. Other votes came in for success in private business (2), military service (1), diplomacy (1), and prosecutorial or crimefighting experience (1).

Personally, I think that legislative service is a relatively poor way to train someone for executive leadership. Legislative service is inherently a deliberative process. It involves seeking consensus and compromise amongst people who are more or less equals. Chairs of Congressional committees certainly wield great power, but they do so because they have the backing of their peers and therefore concentrate the power of the entire Congress into themselves, at least within their areas of speciality.

Being a legislator is great experience for learning how to make deals. It isn't a great way to learn how to delegate tasks, how to read peoples' abilities and how to pick amongst people for various jobs, how to set priorities. Executive power is taking the helm of an organization; it is not exercised by seeking consensus and compromise, but rather through personal charisma and the dissemination of a common set of visions, goals, and values. Ultimately, being President isn't about making deals, it's about taking charge. So I have to disagree with those among you who picked service in the Congress as the best qualifier for the White House. I'd have picked "Cabinet service" before "Congressional service." But that's just me.

I'm a little surprised at the emphasis put on the academic background by NAPP poll respondents. If you include a J.D. within the ranks of a "high academic degree" then certainly many of our Presidents have had that degree (or its equivalent) but certainly not all of them. The current President holds a Harvard MBA, and is the first President to have that degree. His predecessor has a Yale J.D. Before that, you've got to back in history a ways to find a President who held a degree more advanced than a B.A. or its equivalent. George H.W. Bush holds only a bachelor's degree in economics, although he did make Phi Beta Kappa. Ronald Reagan also only held a bachelor's degree in economics (and he doubled in sociology). Jimmy Carter holds a bachelor's degree in nuclear physics (from Annapolis, which couldn't have been easy).

In fact, the postwar era, we've had only four Presidents with postgraduate degrees: Bush the Younger, Clinton, Gerald Ford, who got an LL.B. (the then-equivalent of a J.D.) from Yale; and Nixon, whose J.D. was from Duke. If you want a President with an advanced degree other than in law, you've got to go all the way back to Woodrow Wilson, who got a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins in history and political science. I believe that Wilson is the only President to boast a Ph.D. and that he and Bush the Younger are the only ones to boast a graduate degree other than in law, but I haven't done the research to confirm those facts.

In fact, while many of our Presidents have been lawyers, many of them never got J.D.'s (or their then-equivalents) because until about the 1950's, attaining a J.D. was generally not a prerequisite to being admitted to the bar and before the 20th century, it was highly unusual for a lawyer to complete law school -- for the most part, law schools as we would recognize them today didn't exist, and most lawyers got their training by way of what could best be called "apprenticeships."

Harry Truman never even went to college.

This isn't to say that guys like Truman or Carter were dumb or that Lincoln was a bad lawyer because he never went to law school. These guys were really smart, and Lincoln was one of the best lawyers this nation has ever produced. It just means they didn't get all that much fancy education, for whatever reason. And other than a law degree, post-bacchalaurelate degrees have not been pursued by the men who became Presidents. So I would submit that educational achievement is probably not as significant a criterion for advancement to the Oval Office as, say, raw mental ability. We do want our President to be smart, that's for sure.

Of the major candidates remaining in the race for President today, John McCain holds a bachelor's degree from Annapolis (he was ranked 894th in a class of 899 graduates); Hillary Clinton was valedictorian in political science at Wellesley College and holds a J.D. from Yale; Barack Obama's bachelor's degree in political science is from Columbia and his J.D. is from Harvard, which was awarded magna cum laude. (This would be the time to derisively snort, "Oh, couldn't make summa, huh?" as if you could have possibly got better grades than he did.)

None of them have any personal experience in government other than in legislatures, unless you count Hillary Clinton's quasi-cabinet level service in her husband's administration putting together a health care reform proposal that ultimately failed. So if you're going to pick among them based on their educational achievement, I would say that Obama's is the most impressive, followed closely by Clinton's.

I was ultimately attracted to Rudy Giuliani as a candidate because he seemed to best possess the inspirational and managerial qualities one looks for in executive leadership. Obviously, he's not an option any more. So of demonstrated executive experience, I like John McCain's record as a military leader best. He wasn't much of a leader in his early and middle military career, the part for which he is famous. But after he got back from The Nam, he turned around the largest air squadron in the Navy and made it the best. But I have to question whether military leadership translates into the ability to lead the civilian government; in the military, there can be real consequences to not following orders while in the government, it can be very difficult to persuade civil servants to do things differently from the way they have been doing them. And McCain's governmental experience, a third of his lifetime, has been in Congress.

Hillary Clinton's work in her husband's administration seems like Cabinet-level service to me, and it's clear that she's learned something from that experience. But she couldn't inspire a starving man to go to a buffet. Barack Obama has no executive leadership to speak of on his resume, but he possesses more ability to inspire than McCain and Clinton combined. That counts for a lot, but it's not the same thing as actually running something more complex than an Senatorial office with a staff of twenty or so people.

All told, it seems that we have a slate of candidates to choose from who do not have the kind of significant executive, managerial experience that I would like to see in a President. And particularly if McCain is elected (I know the odds are against it but November is a long way away) the choice of a vice-President will matter a lot. I would hope, then, to see someone with some gubernatorial experience in that slot, whether that person be a Democrat or a Republican.

Seventy Percent Solution

I felt about 70% of normal this morning, so I went to work. Still sniffling, sneezing, and coughing. You don't think about it much when you don't have to do it, but it seems to take literally every muscle in your entire body to cough. That's not good for sleeping. Or for sleeping spouses. Or for spouses who want to be sleeping but can't because you're coughing.

Anyway, I was mentally alert when I woke up, and that was good enough for me. I got the biohazard treatment from pretty much everyone at work and a lot of people were very solicitous of my status: "How are you doing, TL?" I assume they were asking out of a mixture of compassion (as my sneezing and coughing must have been clearly audible) and wariness (because they sure don't want this crud). As I understand it, for about the last day you have significant symptoms, you're expelling only dead viruses (virii?) that won't be viable even if picked up by a new host, so you aren't contagious. But that may just be a myth and maybe I should have stayed home today, too, even though I was going kind of stir crazy here.

Continuing Theme: Kids With Mohawks

Today's "kid with a mohawk" story is brought to you by way of Parma, Ohio, where a six-year-old has been suspended from a charter school for having the distinctive haircut. "I understand they have a dress code," the mother of the punished student said. "I understand he has a uniform. But this is total discrimination. They're singling out my son. They can't tell me how I can cut his hair."

This is exceptionally silly, and in my opinion the fault lies with the parents. While the kid says he likes the mohawk, he's six. Yes, a six-year-old is more than old enough to have preferences about things like that, but the barber takes his instructions from the kid's parents. And the kid probably wants to please his parents, so he says he likes the mohawk whether he has formed an opinion on the subject or not. So it's the parent's choice to have their kid's hair this way. And a mohawk is a haircut that is deliberately chosen for its distinctiveness, for its ability to make the wearer of the haircut stand out and call attention to him. (Or her, but we don't need to go down that path yet because I haven't noticed baby girls with mohawks. Yet.)

As for the school administrators, they most certainly can tell you how to cut the kid's hair. It's a charter school, meaning it has its own set of rules. If you accept that the school can impose a dress code, well, that includes the kind of hair styles the school deems acceptable. That means that you have agreed, in advance, to the school's officials deciding that a mohawk haircut is sufficiently out of the ordinary and distracting to other students that it's not appropriate in a classroom setting. However arbitrary that decision may seem to you, you've already agreed to live by their decision. What they can't do is force your child to attend their school at all.

To the extent that a haircut is protected First Amendment expression, I note that students neither shed all First Amendment rights at the schoolhouse door, nor do they enjoy the same level of free speech rights they would as adults in a public square. Their expression of free ideas must not conflict with the basic educational purpose of the school. I'm also not entirely sure what message a six-year-old is is expressing by wearing a mohawk haircut. A sixteen-year-old is expressing a message of defiance of authority, or at least one of advocating listening to punk rock music. I don't think that a six-year-old can be said to be doing the same thing. Now, I don't know exactly where the line gets crossed, and it's probably different from individual to individual. But it would be a very precocious six-year-old indeed who was able to formulate an anti-authoritarian or pro-punk rock concept.

And then there's the invocation of that bugaboo, "discrimination." You can "discriminate" based on a lot of different things, and not all of them are bad. The first thing we think of when the word "discrimination" comes to mind is racial discrimination, like whites-only drinking fountains in the South of the 1950's. No question that that kind of discrimination was bad. But if your employer requires a high school education for applicants to be eligible for a job, that employer is discriminating against uneducated people. Clearly, excluding uneducated people from a job that requires a certain level of mental ability is an acceptable form of discrimination -- and indeed, one that is probably necessary and beneficial.

So what's the difference? A law professor of mine put it nicely back when I was a 2L zygote-lawyer (maybe by second year you stop being a zygote and start being a blastocyst, but this is not the place for that kind of semantic quibble). A Black person has no choice about being Black. No ability to control it, or choose to be something different. But the high school diploma implies a certain level of achivement, something that someone can earn. What's more, only a minimal level of mental ability is needed to attain this achievement. So, someone without a high school diploma or its equivalent has in all likelihood chosen to forego that achievement. Perhaps that was a rational choice for them to make at the time. But that is a choice with consequences. That's why discriminating against people without high school diplomas is morally acceptable, while discriminating against people based on their race is not.

So, is the mohawk like race-based discrimination, or like education-based discrimination? That's an easy call. You have to go out of your way to get your kid a mohawk. The mohawk is a choice. So that means you get to live with the consequences of that choice, which includes other people disapproving of it.

What kind of a lesson does this teach the boy in question? Seems to me that it inhibits teaching him that society has conventions about what is and is not socially acceptable. Those lines are blurry enough as it is. It also teaches him that if he is somehow inappropriate in appearance or behavior, there will be authority figures who intervene on his behalf and attempt to make allowances for his benefit despite his breaking the rules. This can play out in all sorts of destructive ways.

Maybe not, we can hope. Sometimes a haircut is just a haircut and maybe none of this will matter in the future. Like I said above, this incident says nothing of importance about the child in question, who really does not have a lot of say in how this has played out, one way or the other. It has a lot more to do with his parents who thought that mohawking their six-year-old boy was a good idea, and the school administrators who have the temerity to say, "No, it's not." I'm siding with the administrators here.

UPDATE: A lawyer in the firm advises that when he was a kid, fifty-five years ago, he lived in a very rural, mountainous region of California, and his parents gave him and his brothers mohawk haircuts as a fun thing to do one summer. Apparently his dad was inspired by reading Last of the Mohicans. This hadn't occurred to me, because the mohawk haircut has taken on a meaning in today's world entirely different from the world in which my colleague lived as a child. I'd make a sizeable bet that the names "James Fenimore Cooper" and "Natty Bumppo" would not mean all that much to the parents of 95% of the kids walking around with mohawks today.

February 26, 2008


You know those juice boxes? The ones that have just the right amount of juice in them and are handy when you're sick because you can just grab one and sip on it while you're trying to comply with the bromide of drinking lots of liquids? And they're handy for kids' lunches, too. Yeah. Well, here's the thing.

You tear off the little straw and you punch the straw down into the box. After you do that -- this is very important -- do not squeeze the box.

Okay, that's our safety tip for the day. Let's be careful out there!

More Day By Day Flak

A couple weeks ago, I gave up on Day By Day being funny ever again and took it off my blog. It seems, though, that after I did this, the author caused something of a shitstorm by analogizing one of Barack Obama's speeches to one given by Adolf Hitler. This has caused some controversy and criticism, and in the interests of clarity and facilitating the friction-free exchange of ideas on the internet, I offer this handy flowchart to help assist other people out on the Internets in their decisions about whether or not to use Nazi imagery in their blogs, online comics, or other publications:

Things Were Better In The Old Days

Back then, sleeping through this cough would have been a snap:

Building A Cathedral

I wouldn't have thought that a thousand-page long novel about a generation-long struggle to build a cathedral would have been interesting. But I was really fascinated by The Pillars Of The Earth and its depiction of twelfth-century life in England (and elsewhere) and I recommends the book highly.

Stand Up Guy

I gained another measure of respect for John McCain, or at least got a refresher in why Republicans ought to be willing to embrace him. He's a stand up guy, a guy who doesn't feel the need to mince words or call people on the carpet when that's the right thing to do. That includes, as it turns out, a speaker at one of his own rallies who went over the top with his criticism of Barack Obama.

There's plenty of things that Republicans will be able to find to criticize Obama about. McCain has made it very clear that he doesn't want that list to include personal attacks or making fun of the guy's name. If that means repudiating and offending a popular right-wing talk show host, he's willing to do that. This is a promising sign; it suggests we'll have a somewhat more civil campaign than we've been used to in the past.

Contrast McCain's approach to Hillary's.

Things You Don't Get Admired For

No one admires you when you're sick and show how dedicated you are to your work by showing up at the office and working through your illness. Their reaction is always, "Dude! I don't want what you've got. Go home!" So I've been staying home as I convalesce from whatever terrible thing seized my body Sunday and kept me up shivering in a heated house all night long. I slept for nearly 20 hours yesterday and no one will admire me for that, either. I don't feel rested at all from it, either.

Fortunately, I'm mentally aware enough today to get some work done remotely, and I can log in from home to do my work from here. It's not nearly as efficient as it is at the office but it's way better than nothing. No one admires you for missing deadlines, either.

February 24, 2008

Unmitigated Good News For John McCain

Of the population of voters who would even consider voting for Ralph Nader, exactly zero would divert their votes from McCain. Nader and his colossal ego will do nothing but drain Obama's base. The only question is whether Nader's impact will be:

A) at least as negligible as the libertarians and Transcendental Meditation votes; or
B) annoying like Ron Paul but otherwise not enough to have a meaningful impact; or
C) enough of a draw for "progressives" as as to spoil a critical state or two for the Democrats like Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Florida.

Whether the result is A, B, or C, McCain benefits.

February 23, 2008

February 22, 2008

Of Course Judges "Make" Law

Someone must have really pissed off wine afficionado Stephen Bainbridge about this ought-to-have-been-obvious point that so often gets dressed up in political rhetoric and trotted out to whore for votes. Money quote (for me, at least): "...the notion that judges find law that somehow was missed - like an explorer discovering some lost continent - is absurd. Judges make law."

When judges make law concerning the interpretation of securities regulations, or when they make law about the allocation of third-party indemnity in complex insurance disputes, effectively no one gives a damn and there's no reason for them to. When judges make law about whether tort causes of action are viable as between certain plaintiffs and certain defendants, or when they make laws like "delayed discovery" as a tolling on a statute of limitations, people should care, but don't. When judges make law about criminal procedure, like what a police officer has to do when arresting someone or when the officer can search a suspect's vehicle, people used to care, but do not seem to care any longer.

"What about education?" skeptical Readers ask. School prayer? Teaching evolution? Or teaching creationism (whether or not under the guise of "intelligent design")? Bussing? Yes, people got upset about those things. In the 1970's and 1980's. That's yesterday's news.

No, people only get mad about judges "making " law these days when the judicially-created law involves sex. What a state government can do to prevent or persuade a woman from getting an abortion; what kind of person can marry what other kind of person; consensual sexual intercourse between people of the same sex -- these are the only sorts of legal issues that courts handle which people get really upset about. They don't want judges "making" laws dealing with sex and issues that relate to sex in some way.

Aside from sex, I don't think anyone has lost any substantial amount of sleep over judicially-created laws for a generation.

I Didn't Think They Were Dumb

Seems that a lot of Democratic superdelegates who proclaimed for Hillary Clinton early are having second thoughts and may well renege on their commitment, despite whatever favors they may owe the Clinton machine. Faced with a Democratic party tearing itself up with the nightmare scenario of two candidates of roughly equal strength, many of these party elites are coming to realize that opting for the the one who seems to be gathering more public support is probably a better choice than the one whose best days appear to be behind her.

If Hillary continues to lose her advantage in the inside game like this, it really will be all over for her.

Waiter Saves Woman From Bad Blind Date, Or, Yet Another Reason Why You Should Be Nice To Your Waiter

You know when you're on a bad blind date. But you may not know how bad it can be. That's when you need to rely on other people to help you out. If you don't have a friend nearby, you'd better hope you've got an attentive waiter like this guy.

Hat tip: Megan McCardle at Instapundit.

Two Annoyances

1. The scores from last night's competition were published. My kids lost -- 49%-51% out of 100 possible points between the two teams. (Another set of teams tied, 50-50.) This very narrow margin of loss suggests rather strongly to me that the one public defender who effusively praised the other team's objections when they never made any probably represented the margin of defeat. I feel bad for the kids -- it's one thing to lose to a good adversary, but it's another thing to lose because someone wasn't paying attention or was biased. This just means that they'll have to dominate over their opponent next week to make it into the championship seed.

2. We figured out what to do about our vacation, and decided to go to Wisconsin to meet up with all of our families. My parents will be visiting there at the end of June for a wedding, so we figured we'd be out there at the same time and see everyone. But The Wife's flaky colleague had already put in for the time that we wanted to go, so now we need to plan our lives around this person's schedule.

Now I Know

Why did all my professors schedule exams and papers to be due the first day after spring break? Now that I teach every once in a while, I need to take inspiration from the professional academics.

We're Back In March

And in the meantime, there's what promises to be a thoughtful and insightful interview about how the legal and political issues that underlie the series. I'll be watching on streaming internet vision.

My Snippy Future

I didn't enjoy reading this. But if that guy made it through the procedure, so can I. I'm scheduled for two weeks from yesterday. I'll get through it, though, and now I know that I need to shave.

Hat tip: King Aardvark.

Nothing Sharpens The Mind Like An Imminent Trial Date

I thought my kids looked great last night. They were quick-witted, polished, comfortable with the facts, and persuasive. Only one serious mistake -- the student who made the opening argument tok too long, which did not leave enough time for a powerful closing argument and the student who did the closing panicked a little bit because she only had half as much time as she thought she needed. There were a few other minor issues, but nothing that we can't fine-tune with practice. I was very proud of them, especially as they were competing against the returning champions and (in my unbiased opinion) they outperformed them. It seemed three of the four scorers were impressed with them, too, and the fourth one was apparently watching a different trial than the rest of them, because he praised the other team for their masterful objections during a direct examination in which they made no objections at all. The mathematical results should be distributed later today and I'm now quite hopeful for a good result despite the one scorer's apparent abnormality. I'm also satisfied that the kids put their best collective effort into it. I'll meet with them again Saturday and see if we can't get their defense into the same kind of shape as their offense. If so, they'll go far in the competition.

February 21, 2008

Brace For Competition, Kids!

My kids on the mock trial team have their first round of competition tonight. They are on the prosecution side of this year's case, against last year's championship team. The seeding arrangements are quite complex, but the upshot is that they really only have to do about as well as the champs. I think I've got the prosecution side of my team in pretty good shape -- but it's hard to say what will happen until you actually go into the trial.

At this point, there's little I can do other than to show up, give them a last-minute pep talk, and watch them perform. Once they start competing, I can't communicate with them in any way and I have to sit back in the gallery and watch. I'll take notes, of course, so they can do better the next round.

Personally, I'm having fun with the whole thing. The kids are, right now, experiencing the strange mix of anxiety and excitement that comes before a big performance. That sort of thrill is long gone for me for a trial, but I can hope that at least one of them realizes that this is fun and maybe explores a career in law further.

I'll definitely need to work with them over the weekend; next week they are representing the defendant, and that side of their case needs a lot more work. But I'll worry about that on Saturday. For now, I've got only moderate expectations, and I can just look forward to seeing the kids in action.

February 20, 2008

Good Show Tonight

I'm so often frustrated in my attempts to appreciate the skies. Clouds happen at inopportune times; I can't get out of the city during the right time to see something. So tonight I was very pleased that the thunderstorm that swept across our little valley blew away in time to appreciate the lunar eclipse. It was a nice one, with a clear line of the shadow across the moon's surface and a nice, ruddy red tint in the umbra.

I'm a little saddened to think that a lot of people probably didn't even bother to look up at it. But The Wife and I did.

Michelle Obama Is Proud Of Her Country, And That Shouldn't Surprise Her So Much

And she should be. Here are her controversial remarks, in context. It's clear enough to me that this was not an offhand comment, but one that at least a little thought went into. Very little thought, but more than zero:

Um... What's that again, Ms. Obama?

What we have learned over this year is that hope is making a comeback. It is making a comeback. And let me tell you something -- for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country. And not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change. And I have been desperate to see our country moving in that direction and just not feeling so alone in my frustration and disappointment. I've seen people who are hungry to be unified around some basic common issues, and it's made me proud.
This has generated quite a bit of controversy because she said "for the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country." This implies that she had not been proud of America before seeing the enthusiastic reaction to her husband's candidacy. So here she is, "clarifying" her remarks on Chris Matthews:

So let's think about this. We might ascribe the worst possible motives to this confluence of political statements -- Obama's wife and political supporters hate America and want to gain power to drag the U.S. of A. down to subservience to some as-yet-unarticulated concept of international social justice which will trump national autonomy and the Constitution. By extension, then, Obama himself believes these things and is asking for the leadership of a nation that he sees as sufering from a grave moral cancer. That seems unlikely to me. That does not seem congruent with a good-faith understanding of his message.

But if we discard the worst interpretation of this, then what's the best possible motive for this sudden confluence of political symbolism? I mean, what's up with Che? This was not a nice guy; sure, he looked handsome in that beret, but come on. The man was an international terrorist, a man who, along with the Castro brothers, deliberately thwarted the emergence of post-revolutionary Cuba as a democracy through the torture and execution of innocent civilians and democracy advocates who he labelled "enemies of the state."

The glorification of Che can only be the result of colossal ignorance. Whether that ignorance is innocent or willful remains a good question in my mind. I'm not saying that the pre-revolutionary Cuban government was a beacon of liberty and human rights or that Che's enemies (including the U.S.) acquitted themselves with the moral righteousness of comic book superheroes. But none of that justifies annointing Che as a hero. There is no shortage of documentation of Che's use of torture and human rights abuses and no doubt that he considered the United States of America his most profound and powerful enemy. This makes elevating him to be a hero of young Americans a highly questionable act.

So the best motives we can ascribe to the Obama machinery for these remarks are wide-eyed naïveté and political clumsiness. That would mean that these people are not ready for prime time. But they've put together a very sophisticated political machine; literally created it out of nothing over the past two years because the Clintons had closed off all avenues of access to existing Democratic party machinery. So while Obama himself has not held federal office for very long, it doesn't seem right to say this is simply the result of inexperience, either.

I exchanged an e-mail with a politically conservative friend today who, between this remark and the Che Guevara posters on the walls of more than one Obama campaign office, has abandonded his lukewarm willingness to live with an Obama Presidency and become very energized to work for McCain and Obama's defeat. Now, to some extent, I think my friend was looking hard for an excuse to set aside his dislike of McCain. And to some extent, the Che poster was enough. His wife is Cuban and, I expect, unimpressed that Fidel Castro is resigning to let his brother take over the day-to-day repression of her countrymen, including those members of her family who weren't fortunate enough to escape with her parents.

He suggests that the Che posters means that if Obama is the nominee, Florida will wind up being out of play for the Democrats. An exaggeration, but look at the truth it is an exaggeration of -- it's not just Cuban-Americans in Florida who will be viscerally offended by all of this. And Florida is absolutely critical to the McCain campaign.

It won't just be Cuban-Americans because most Americans think that America is a pretty special place. I agree with that sentiment. Now, that doesn't mean I'm looking at the country with rose-colored glasses. I am critical of many things that the U.S. has done and I think that real patriots don't relax their skepticism of what the government does just because it's the government; real patriots don't relax their motal standards just because a bad actor has wrapped himself in the flag. I can understand if the Obamaits are critical of some aspects of our culture. We are far from perfect and we can certainly do better.

If all that were going on here were that the Obamaites were trying to inspire themselves and other Americans to do better and to be better people, I'd think that was perfectly OK. After all, it is entirely possible to be proud of America and still critical of her missteps and moral lapses. But at the same time, the U.S. is a place to be proud of, warts and all. And the overall message from Camp Obama is that America is not a good country, or at least it hasn't been during Michelle Obama's adult lifetime. That is simply wrong.

We've (mostly) defeated communism -- which was a great evil, a great terror to hundreds of millions of innocents, and a great threat to the freedom of hundreds of millions more.

We've kept the world more or less safe and stable since the end of the second world war.

We've subsidized the redevelopment of our former enemies and now they are in many ways even more prosperous than we are -- prosperity which we would never even think of begrudging them, despite the fact that it was developed under the cloak of our military protection, for which they neither paid for nor bled. We did it for two generations and didn't even ask for a "thank you."

Not only have we kept the world safe, we've fed it. American innovations in agriculture and transportation are responsible for the delivery of wholesome food to formerly-starving people all over the world.

Our universities and colleges and research institutions still represent the very pinnacle of human knoweldge and scientific inquiry. Go ahead -- name the top ten research institutions in the world. I bet a majority, or more, of the institutions you've picked are in the United States.

When new nations are born, as Kosovo was this weekend, they look to the United States Constitution for inspiration about how to organize their own governments. They look at other nations, too -- the UK, France -- but their primary source of inspiration is the system of representative, republican democracy that our Founders created in the 1780's. That most American of icons (although it was a gift from France) is the Statue of Liberty and it, too, is emulated all over the world, to this day. There's a reason for that, and despite whatever misdeeds we may have perpetrated recently, there's also a reason that people want to come here from elsewhere, and it ain't just the money.

So the problem is not that Michelle Obama made a careless remark. That wouldn't be a big deal if it were really careless. But it casually dismisses the powerful history of America acting as a force for good. But it would have never occurred to most people not to be proud of America. It would never have crossed the minds of a lot of Americans to offer a communist guerilla leader as a heroic icon. This suggests a mentality that America suffers from a deep moral cancer; and that, at minimum, such will be the mentality of the people who surround President Obama.

America has flaws, to be sure. But we are also greater than our flaws. All of the good that America has done in recent history cannot be casually dismissed because we currently have a President who made a colossal geopolitical mistake with respect to Iraq, and was then too arrogant to admit it. It even ignores the fact that, belatedly perhaps, we are doing what is in our power to make things right there despite our refusal to admit that we erred. It seems incongruous with the Obama message that we should transcend the problems of the past. Dwelling on our past misdeeds and iconizing some of our most loathsome enemies will not move the nation towards a brighter tomorrow.

While You're Thinking About Good Customer Service

Some people really resist change. Like this guy.

There's an important customer service lesson to be had here. Don't f--- with the sausage.

Breathtaking Cupidity: This Month's PSA

One of the services I provide to my clients is assistance with trademark applications. The application process is not quite simple enough that a layman of average intelligence can do it right the first time, so some of my clients would rather not bother to learn how to do it and hire me instead. But once you've done a few, it's pretty easy and now I can get an application done online in a short, predictible amount of time. So while the fee charged by the USPTO for the application varies, I can charge a flat fee for my service.

Now, I have all the marks registered to my office. That's because I want to present the completed trademark (it comes in a nice cardstock folder with an official-looking Federal gold seal on the front) to the client and be a hero; and also because of stuff like what I got today. Once you register a trademark (or a patent, or a copyright) a bunch of "vendors" start sending you junk mail because the address is right there in a public record for anyone to see. They charge a fee for the "service" of informing you of things that the USPTO would inform you of anyway.

What's underhanded about this is that they all have official-sounding names for their businesses, like "United States Trademark Registry, Inc." or "International Trademark Clearinghouse Organization GmbH, North American Division." They make their junk mail and solicitations look like official government agency forms, although if you actually read them, you will see that they are really solicitations for services. Still, I can see where a lot of people would get these sorts of advertisements in the mail, be deceived into thinking that there are additional steps they need to take to protect their marks, and send money to these vultures. But today I saw one that really takes the cake; it appears to the left of this paragraph.

The sheer cupidity of the solicitation is breathtaking. At first glance, and even at second glance, it appears to suggest that my client's U.S. trademark will also be registered with the World Intellectual Property Organization (which is a real intergovernmental entity). If that were true, the service would actually have some value to some trademark holders, so that their marks are protected not just in the U.S. but in every WIPO nation (which is most of the countries a business would care about, except for China). I don't know that the amount of fee that is being charged (over $2,000) would be fair for this service but then again, I've never registered a trademark with WIPO (haven't needed to) so I wouldn't know if it's especially complex. But if you read the solicitation closely, you will see that the service that is actually offered is registry of your mark in this vendor's private database, which is published in book and CD-ROM form quarterly.

This is about the slickest "official" solicitation I've seen -- and the one asking the most money to provide a non-service. So while I've redacted out my client's identifying information, I've left the identity of the "vendor" ascertainable from the picture. If any of you get solicitations like this in the mail, read them carefully before sending money. Just because it looks official does not necessarily mean that it is so.

February 19, 2008

Undemocratic Democrats, or, Hey, Them's The Rules

The Clinton campaign is complaining that the Byzantine delegate-selection process in Texas is unfair. The argument is that the rules are so complex, and allocate delegates around districts unevenly, that they could easily produce a delegate result disproportionate to the popular vote -- indeed, it could create a situation in which Clinton could get a plurality or even a majority of votes, but Obama could get more delegates than her. The argument is that these delegate-allocation rules are undemocratic in principle and application; the Clintonistas hint that the rule they would prefer would be for delegates to be awarded in strict proportion to the candidate's share of votes.

Huh -- an undemocratic means of deciding elections. In Texas? Really!

Fact is, these have been the rules in Texas for quite some time and no one has bothered to look closely at them since the early 1970's because they haven't mattered until now. No, people only complain about the rules when they think the rules are going to make them lose and another set of rules that they could plausibly argue for would make them win.

Let's also not forget that Clinton is still attracting more of the "superdelegates" than Obama. No one elects "superdelegates" to the convention; they get to go because they are party elites -- officeholders, past officeholders, successful campaign managers, state party chairmen, and big-time donors and contribution bundlers. Whatever else one might say about the "superdelegates" used by the Democrats in their Presidential selection process, they are not chosen in ways that reflect democratic principles.

A look at the results so far shows that almost every state that has had a primary to date produces delegate allocations that are not proportionate to the vote. Clinton, for the most part, has been the beneficiary of the more undemocratic facets of those rules. I've crunched the numbers, and found that in states where the percentage of delegate allocation is different than the percentage of the votes to the point where it matters in terms of the number of delegates, Clinton has actually had a net gain in delegates by a combination of these quirks in the rules and Clinton's advantage in attracting "superdelegates":

Alabama223,096300,3212828Clinton +4
Alaska103302510Clinton +1
Arizona201,380167,5083527Clinton +1
Arkansas202,01077,970347Clinton +4
California2,361,7891,943,033229178Clinton +6
Colorado38,48779,3441323Clinton +1
Connecticut164,831179,3492332Obama +3
Delaware40,75151,12499Clinton +1
District of Columbia27,32685,5341217Clinton +5
Florida865,099571,13311270Clinton +12
Georgia330,026704,2742964Obama +1
Idaho3,65516,880318Obama +1
Illinois662,8451,301,95443101Obama +6
Iowa7379401820Clinton +2
Kansas9,46227,1721026Clinton +1
Louisiana136,959220,5882128Clinton +2
Maryland283,846479,1383846Clinton +7
Massachusetts704,591511,8874865Obama +1
Michigan327,419236,9558055Clinton +1
Minnesota65,875137,3942754Clinton +1
Nebraska12,39625,986820Obama +1
Nevada5,4074,8051414Obama +1
New Hampshire112,251104,7721112none
New Jersey602,576492,1867150Clinton +4
New Mexico68,08467,0101412Clinton +1
New York1,000,915696,34217694Clinton +17
North Dakota6,94811,625512Obama +1
South Carolina141,217295,2141426Clinton +1
Tennessee332,599250,7303927Clinton +1
USVI1491,77215Clinton +1
Virginia344,477620,9193558Clinton +2
Washington9,99221,6291829Clinton +3
Wisconsin377,852525,9352539Obama +2

A few notes on the table: Where applicable, pledged state-level delegates are substituted for votes in cases of caucuses being used in place of primaries (e.g., Iowa). Voting and delegate reports are incomplete as represented in the cases of Florida, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, and South Carolina -- because in those states, John Edwards earned votes above the 10% threshold for awarding of delegates. So although not illustrated, Edwards' votes have been considered for proportional delegate allocation in those states in determining whether Clinton received more, less, or exactly the right amount of delegates based on her proportional share of votes. Florida and Michigan are currently allocated zero seats for the convention by the DNC, and it's looking like that will matter. The votes and delegates counted for Obama in Michigan combine the "uncommitted" votes and delegates along with two "superdelegates" from Michigan who have announced for Obama.

But as the table demonstrates, in 23 states, Clinton has got more than her share of delegates. Obama has got more than his share in 9 states, and 4 states have given delegates close enough to the actual proportion that rounding the numbers up and down shows that the candidates got the delegates they actually earned in the primary elections.

The result of these arcane methods of allocation and selection of delegates is a net 63 delegate advantage for Clinton. It becomes a net 50 if Florida and Michigan are excluded, but as long as Clinton is cheating, she may as well cheat big and get those delegates added to the pot, too. The undemocratic rules of the Democratic party favor Hillary Clinton. (Even so, she's still be behind in the delegate count.)

These very rules, about which Clinton complains through her surrogates, have actually worked to her advantage for the past two months. Were the Democratic Party to have dispensed with those rules and adhered instead to a strictly proportional (above the 10% minimum) delegate allocation method, Clinton would have fewer delegates today than she does, and Obama would have more delegates today than he does.

This brings up some interesting questions. First, given that these are the rules, is it possible for her to win? Second, given that these are the rules, does she even deserve to win? Third, given that these are the rules, what principled reason exists to change them? (A principled reason is not "Because if they were changed, Hillary would win.") It's remarkably facile for her to suggest changing the rules in media res, too; she and her husband have dominated the inner workings of the Democratic party for fifteen years. In a very real way, she had every opportunity there could have been to re-write the rules before running for President -- something that she has to have known she was going to do for quite some time.

More than anything else I've seen in the campaign, this makes me prefer Obama to her as a potential President. Obama seems to at least be playing "fair" so far as that word has meaning in Presidential politics. He's playing far not just by way of skipping Florida and Michigan as he promised to do, but he isn't asking for the rules to be changed incrementally; instead, he's assessed the playing field as it is, and has figured out how to win on it the way it is. I'll still vote for McCain over either of them, but McCain losing to Obama will not sting nearly as bad as McCain losing to Clinton.

Unsatisfying Day Trip (Updated)

Yesterday, The Wife and I took a day trip to Santa Barbara. I came away from the experience unsatisfied and unrefreshed. I think I underestimated the toll that the just over 100-mile drive would take on me. I'd wanted to look aroud The Earthling, one of the last great independent bookstores -- but discovered that it was gone, gone, squeezed out of existence long ago by Barnes & Noble and Borders.

Instead, I realized that the businesses on State Street were becoming homogenized, with fewer interesting local shops and more national chains like Z-Gallerie, where we actually shopped becuase there is no such thing near us anyway. Upscale, nice shops, to be sure, but still the same ones you see in upscale malls everywhere. The only big advantage is that there aren't huge billboards and the shops are set up in nice-looking arcades with palm trees and mission-style architecture. Very pretty. And the density of the homeless population seems to have increased.

The Wife seemed to enjoy the trip, though. She did not seem to enjoy touring the mission; it seemed to me like she barely even glanced at any of the exhibits and practically sprinted through the church itself. Alas, The Wife does not enjoy a visit to a museum the way I do and I should not have been surprised that she would have zipped through the exhibits.

While the church at the mission is not a place of worship or devotion for us, it is something I found to have historic and cultural significance and I wanted to take some time to appreciate it. It occurred to me that the natives would never have seen anything as large as the building, and must have been astonished and overpowered by the Spanish settlers and priests who had it built. At the same time, particularly after first learning to communicate with the Spanish, they would have been mystified and perhaps horrified to learn the Christian gospel story, and to see the crucifix the friars would would brought with them, with the realistic-looking image of Jesus being tortured to death as the object of the Europeans' worship. The dissonance of the two cultures was something I found easier to think about while there and surrounded by the artifacts of the era and the structure itself. I also thought it was interesting that the family of Edward Ord, the famous Civil War commander, was interred there (General Ord himself is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, of course).

The Wife and I also disagreed about the weather there. I know from many years' experience that it can be cool and humid there, which it was, and I'd advised The Wife to bring something warm to wear, which she did. But she thought it was cold enough that she actually bought a scarf while we were there. As the afternoon wore on, I wished that I'd brought shorts as I would have been quite comfortable in shorts and a T-shirt. My only complaint about the weather was that it was too overcast to see the islands.

By the time we came home, I was simply exhausted; my back hurt from all the driving and I was beginning to wish that we'd just stayed home. But The Wife said that she had a good time, and that made it worth the effort. And I don't feel that way this morning; at least I got to be out of the area for a little while, to be somewhere closer to the ocean and in a place where the air smells good -- the salt of the ocean air and the fragrance of the eucalyptus trees perfumes Santa Barbara nicely. It would be great to live there -- although prohibitively expensive. The whole area feels a lot like the Italian cities where my grandmother comes from -- a thin strip of flat land between steep mountains and the ocean, graced with palm trees and good restaurants. Well, this is not to be -- the city itself is much more crowded than The Wife and I would like, even if we could afford to buy and live there, and the suburban peripheries of Goleta and Carpinteria are every bit as expensive as the city itself, but less interesting.

Update: I realize that I really ought to have no right whatsoever to complain about taking a day trip to Santa Barbara. But it really wasn't what I remembered it as being, nor was it what I hoped it would be. I'm usually a big one on trying to take places for what they are and not for some romantic expectation of what they should be. I expected a lot of expensive import shops and clothing stores and tourist-priced places to eat on State Street. We didn't go by the college, and that was OK with me, too, but it meant that I was not really around the part of town with most of my old hangout spots, assuming that many of them have survived, either.

February 16, 2008

This Can Only End Well

Kosovo is set to declare its independence tomorrow. This can only end well. No, no possibility of bad feelings on anyone's part. After all, an independent Kosovo has been the lynchpin of southeastern European stability ever since the Ottomans overran it.

Well, congratulations to the Kosovars. I hope it lasts for a while.

A Little Early

I'm thinking that maybe I've written the Clinton campaign's obituary a bit early. She's got double-digit leads in Texas, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, although Obama seems to be winning everywhere else. And given that there will be somewhere between 800 to 1,000 superdelegates, it's quite likely that the primaries will not actually determine anything. Most of the superdelegates are not committing to either Obama or Clinton, it seems -- and looking at the various counts from yesterday, Obama's lead, while significant politically, is not so great numerically. So it seems likelier to me upon more sober reflection that they will be within tens of pledged delegates of each other upon completion of the South Dakota primary.

So given that there are more unallocated delegates than either candidate has pledged or committed to either of them, and they've been breaking about 60/40 in each state for the winner, it's pretty clear that this won't really be decided until Denver, and while Obama will have the argument that he is both more popular (got more votes) and polling better against John McCain, Clinton will have the argument that she has more machinery available and more people owe her favors. I'm now limiting my prediction to a brokered convention, and I can't get a good read on who wins, or how many ballots it takes for the Democrats to figure this out. Maybe John Edwards and his 26 delegates really will be kingmakers.

February 15, 2008

Et In Arcadia Erat

Archeological evidence of sacrifical worship of a god in Greece before Zeus. Titan-worship, perhaps?

Burro Schmidt

I learned a bit of local history today. Back in the days when the major industry out here was gold mining, some guy with a claim out in Last Chance Canyon near Ridgecrest decided it was too much work and too dangerous to take his ore to the smelter in Mojave over the ridge on his two burros. So he spent thirty-eight years hand-carving a tunnel with a four-pound jackhammer through the mountain instead. Even after the railroad and a highway were built, he kept on making the tunnel.

This is an astonishing amount of work to even contmeplate. The guy levelled the floor of the tunnel (so you can run an ore cart on the tracks) using a bowl of water and his only light was a two-cent candle. In the process of building the tunnel, he removed sixty tons of granite, gold, iron, quartz, and other metallic ores, and because he used only the natural rock (mostly granite), he would not allow himself to try to pull out any of the gold or other ores from the veins he came across.

The Google Earth coordinates are 35° 24' 37.55" north, 117° 52' 26.80" west. I don't know if the idea of walking through a half-mile long tunnel is anyone's idea of a good time, but it's there and apparently quite safe to walk through.

Frog Pajamas and Centurions

That was my gift to The Wife for Valentine's Day -- a set of pink flannel pajamas with frogs (playing leapfrog and wearing pajamas themselves). She loved them. Better than the flowers and chocolates that I brought over to her office after court yesterday, and better than the pasta I made for her for dinner. She got me the DVD's of the first season of HBO's mini-series Rome, which is really good stuff. She chose well.

February 14, 2008

Romney Ends GOP Primary

Mitt Romney's endorsement and delegate pledge to John McCain effectively ends the GOP primary. Technically, McCain doesn't have enough pledged delegates yet to clinch the nomination, but the states coming up next -- Wisconsin and caucuses in three territorial caucuses -- do not appear to be winnable by the Huckabee campaign. So it's possible that before the next big primary day (Texas, Ohio, Rhode Island and Vermont on March 4) McCain would have a lock, or close enough to it that even little Rhody could put him over the top. I'll continue to monitor the delegates, but the Republican primary is functionally over.

The Democratic primary, however, is still an exciting horse race, even if the momentum has shifted decisively to Obama -- indeed, his come-from-behind advancement makes it all the more exciting. Stay tuned for more developments and events.

February 13, 2008

A Question For People A Little Older Than I

Is the guy on the left selling the same stuff today that the guy on the right was selling thirty-two years ago?

I wasn't really cognizant of politics back in 1976. I knew that "the President" was an important man and I knew that a lot of people were talking about politics and the government, and that people were happy that it was the bicentennial, which I learned was a word that meant "two hundred years old." So I don't remember what it was about Jimmy Carter that caught fire and propelled him to the Democratic Party's nomination and, given the prevailing political conditions of that year, inevitably to the Presidency. I know (now) that he tactically figured out how to game the Iowa caucuses before anyone else had ever done so and that really helped his candidacy, which was at the time a very clever political move. So clearly the guy had some ability, and despite Watergate and the bitter aftertaste of Vietnam, Carter only won by 3% of the popular vote and 57 electoral votes -- not a decisive victory.

Reading back over discussions of the race that year, I have to think that he was pitching honesty, transparency in government, racial unity, a "different kind of politics" from what Nixon had brought, and a healing process after a morally and strategically ambiguous war. Is that right? Is that the stuff that Carter was selling? If so, why should we think that Obama can deliver on that promise in the way that Carter could not?