Thursday, February 27, 2003

[Will, 8:25 PM]
Game Theory II:

I've just blogged the basic "Early Admission Game" as I see it, which is a financial-aid focused version of the book by Avery, Fairbanks, and Zeckhauser. But maybe we can do better than charging into the wilderness and getting lost there.

The standard goal, as I understand it, of the social planner, would be to help as many students as possible get into the schools they most desire, if they are qualified for them, and then to give those students enough aid so that they can afford to attend, but no more than they need. Schools would be assigned by ability (and desire), and finances by need. This approach has two problems. The first is that it ignores some of the desires on the supply side. Financial aid isn't free. The gains to the student are losses to the university treasury, and-- more importantly-- losses to all of the other student. $120,000 (about four years of tuition) to a poor kid from rural Indiana makes a huge difference in his life, but it could have made a huge differences in a lot of lives; that's a year of salary for a professor (or two or even three, depending on the university), or for university police offivers, or enough money to buy a hundred new computers, if they weren't quite state-of-the-art. Many universities probably have a fixed financial budget (how fixed, I don't know), so money spent on student aid couldn't have been spent elsewhere, but still, it's hard to say if that money is better spent on the kid who is the poorest or instead on pretty-needy-but-not-as-poor the kid who wouldn't have come to the university otherwise, and will go on to be student body president or change the way her classmates think. Can universities identify these kids ahead of time? To some degree, I think they try. And from some of my friends here, I know they sometimes succeed. At any rate, universities have goals too, and they shouldn't be ignored; this is why we cling to our complex system of individualized admissions and need decisions, rather than cycling everything through a centralized decision-maker as is generally done in Britain.

But there is another wrinkle with the standard "give em what they need" school of college aid. What is need? Suppose two applicants are both not-too-wealthy. One parent works, the other doesn't, there's a mortgage, but it's not fully paid-off, but the family does own two cars and live in a nice part of town. But one of the applicants is willing to work part-time throughout high school and in the summers, except all loans and no grants, get his parents to sell one of the cars, refinance the mortgage . . . in short, he's willing to stretch however need be, to go to this school. The other one would go if he could afford it, but isn't going to put himself out. So far as the aid office can see, the students are equally needy, and so far as the admissions office can see, the students are equally qualified, but wouldn't a system be preferable if it allowed the kid who was willing to sacrifice for his dreams precedence over the kid who wasn't?

This hypothetical might not seem interesting, but variations should make it more relevant (and more complex). Is grant money ever "needed" over loan money? (Students who will study in lucrative fields-- economics, law, medicine, and many others-- will easily pay off their loans because of the increase in their human capital, those who major in english might not.) Should a family be forced to mortgage its house? Should they be forced to move into a smaller house? Sell the cars? Financial aid offices have many answers to these questions, but I suspect they aren't entirely consistent in them, and any attempts to "improve" the system risk quickly running afoul of the product of years of expertise. The trouble is that financial aid offices will try to give away as little money as they can to each individual student, and they too are vulnerable to pressure-- Avery et.al. document several cases in which aid offices upped their original offer when a prize student threatened to walk away.

So what's to be done? My initial thought is this: what if all need-based grant aid were eliminated? Merit-based aid could be kept and used (as it is already) as a tool to "woo" star students, (or even -sigh- athletes) who might theoretically have positive externalities on their classmates. A university could offer to cover any student-- regardless of demonstrated need-- with loans. These loans could be low interest with various payment plans, and because of artificially low interest rates and the risk of default, the university would lose some money on them, but much, much, much less than it loses in grant aid. The needy students, on the other hand, would obviously be made worse off, but I suspect that most of them would be able to, over their later lifetimes, pay back what the education had cost them. And if they couldn't, perhaps that would be a sign that their college time would be better spent elsewhere.

I can already see reasons that this approach might not work; bankruptcy law probably creates problems, though it's not even close to an area of expertise for me; universities would still feel the pressure to compete for students, so nothing short of a governmental law could stop them from offering skyrocketing grants and the like to students, and since these wouldn't even be purportedly based on need, the result would likely be worse than the current system. Oh well. I'll keep thinking.

To recap, the problem is to try to find some way to distribute as many students as possible to schools they want to go to and are qualified for, while trying to help the schools get the best and most enthusiastic students they can, and somehow keep both student and school from going bankrupt in the process. Tangled up in this is the normative question of how much financial need and merit/enthusiasm ought to be kept separate. Tying them together allows universities to price-discriminate more than they do now. Breaking them apart results in deadweight loss and inefficiency.

[Will, 5:19 PM]
Game Theory:

I just finished reading The Early Admission Game, a book that researches the strategies of applying to college. They do an impressive amount of statistical work, and also some individual case studies. The end result is that applying early does tend to help you, both to early action and early decision programs, in varying amounts. And this should be no surprise. Or maybe it should be a surprise. If that surprises you, read the book.

They then go on to propose reforms, and-- and this is why the book is a good one-- to candidly evaluate the practicalities of the reforms they propose. Their end suggestions are a credible national database to determine applicants announced preferences, pressurizing U.S. News and World Report to ignore admissions and yields rates in ranking colleges, and (most importantly) wider dissemination of information about the process, which conveniently includes their own book.

[Full Disclosure: I applied to my first-choice school (The University of Chicago) and one other school (Harvard) Early Action, and went to Chicago.] Now the issue that the authors raise several times and then let drop is the issue of financial aid, and I think that poses the biggest dilemmas, positive and normative.

Students who have applied to a school early decision are at a disadvantage for financial aid; in the extreme case, the school need offer them barely any money, or at best can offer almost entirely loans and no grants, since it is now a monopsonist in the market. Even students who have applied early action are at some disadvantage, because the school knows that they have a strong preference for this school, so may not need to be "bought" for quite as high of a price. (This assumes that schools are trying to get by paying as little aid as possible; this assumption may not be entirely realistic, but given the stories I know about the subterfuge in admissions offices, the dealings between counselors and officers, and so on, I think it's fairly reasonable to assume that schools will be forced to compete relatively strategically).

This is the first stage of the game. But poor or financially-sensitive students know they will be disadvantaged by the early application process so they often choose not to apply early. But since schools are likely to favor early applicants (those who are enthusiastic about the school), financially-sensitive students disadvantage themselves somewhat in the process. Stage two.

But then the colleges know that their early decision/early action pool is a more affluent group of students. Even if they avoid asking about financial need on the application, a school who's financial aid budget is tight can cut aid costs by admitting more and more students from the early decision pool, since they are students who have demonstrated that they will come "no matter what the cost".

Played to its extreme (games rarely are, but this information can be extremely illuminating), early decision (early action to a much lesser degree) becomes a group of unneedy students, and need-blind admissions have been effectively eliminated. Early action avoids this problem to some extent, but it still forces students to engage in a very complex game-- how much enthusiasm do they wish to reveal?-- revealing too much enthusiasm means that the schools won't try to lure them with attractive offers or merit scholarships, revealing too little enthusiasm means that the school might just reject them outright. This is, in fact, the same problem a Holly-Go-Lightly faces in trying to extract pricey tokens of affection from her suitors. The analogy between college and marriage runs deep.

These problems are somewhat mitigated if a university's financial aid office is made blind to the student's enthusiasm, and if the university doesn't offer merit scholarships, but this is where normative question rear their ugly head. Is it bad for a university to discriminate in admissions based on enthusiasm? Is it bad for the university to discriminate in aid offers based on enthusiasm? The standard answers are no and yes, respectively, but I'm not sure why that should be so-- I suspect it's the vestige of the impulse that education ought to be free (modified by our knowledge that the American university system would not be the envy of the world if it were). The Bush administration's amicus briefs in the Affirmative Action cases seem to push for a more formulaic style of admissions decision (indicating maybe the first question should elicit a "yes") and universities have very very limited financial aid budgets-- money they don't spend securing an applicant who is already coming is money they can spend securing another applicant they might lose to Harvard. And since so much of what a student learns in college is from his peers, those "bought" applicants can often bring benefits to the entire school, to the extent that the university is right to woo them.

This post is getting oppressively long and I have to get to class, so I'll pause my thoughts here, but I will be back. It might be illuminating to consider auction theory-- the method of creating "Incentive Compatible Direct Selling Mechanisms"-- as well as university tactics for recruiting grad students and faculty.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

[Will, 9:47 AM]
Bulgaria redux:

Maureen Dowd answers some of our previous questions about Bulgaria. One excerpt:
Sketchy facts about Bulgaria rattle around: It has a town called Plovdiv; it wants to become big in the skiing industry; its secret service stabbed an exiled dissident writer in London with a poison-tipped umbrella — a ricin-tipped umbrella, in fact; its weight-lifting team was expelled from the Olympics in a drug scandal in 2000; it sent agents to kill the pope.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

[Will, 4:19 PM]

From The New York Times:
Some call it leadership by consensus; others, co-opting. In any case, [Mayor Daley] has traded endorsements this year even with Helen Schiller, previously his most vocal critic on the City Council. With the results hardly in doubt, Tuesday is more a coronation than an election.

"This is a dictatorship, it's not a democracy," said Robert T. Starks, a political scientist at Northeastern Illinois University.
Hold on there. I'm not going to defend or attack Chicago's mayor. But this last quote seems like fairly awful hyperbole. Eugene Volokh is right that ex-temp comments shouldn't be held to the same standard as written work, but absent allegations of vote-rigging (and they are largely absent at this moment, all joking aside) Mayor Daley has been elected (and presumably will be) in a democratic election. He is powerful, universally supported, and crushes his opposition, but he does NOT use thugs, intimidation, violence, or force to do so, and he DOES stand for periodic re-election, with multiple candidates, secret ballots, and fair counting. That's a democracy.

Honestly, first people are complaining that there are too many campaign commercials and we need McCain Feingold. Now they're complaining that there aren't enough. Sheesh.

[Will, 3:59 PM]
The Marriage Talk:

I just got back from hearing Professor Case and a Methodist minister who's name I didn't hear talking about same-sex marriage. The substance of their talk was interesting but not particularly worth detailing-- separate the legal from the religious, and remember that legal marriages bear little resemblance to any traditional marriage, so why not scrap tradition altogether? (Sidenote, if I end up back here, I'm definitely taking a class with Ms. Case).

The more interesting bit was when the audience (mostly law students) got to ask questions. They made fools of themselves, really. (Full disclosure: I make a fool of myself regularly). I think there must be a law student instinct to immediately raise a counterargument to the professor, even if it is a dumb counter argument, and to continue trying to defend it even once the professor has pointed out why it was dumb. This must be what motivated the gentleman in the audience to advocate that marriages ought to be based on reproduction (why is why there should be no same-sex marriage) with exceptions for those who are too old, too impotent, or too sterilized to have children. To say that one has this conception about marriage and is therefore against gay marriage is, as Professor Case said, "to repeat oneself".

The second bad law school instinct is to answer one's own questions. Now I know that the students are doing this to try to appear smart, but frankly, I don't care. Given a one-time gathering of limited time, hearing mini-orations from the students is rarely useful. This isn't even a complaint against the time-honored tradition of academic presentation-- the counterargument phrased as a question-- this is sheer preenery. The former, the good kind, might be along the lines of "But Professor So-and-So, what do you think of the fact that The Supreme Court ruled that you were wrong in 1979?" or "Haven't you failed to consider the principle of blahblahblah?" No. This was a student who said something along the lines of, "what do you think of blah? I read your website, and it said you think blahblah. Do you?" (Note, blahblah wasn't contradictory to anything that the speaker had said). Now there may be a place for this, but to simply ask a speaker to repeat whether or not he believes what he's already said . . . seems a waste of time.

So to rising law students, including myself: Please, don't argue with the point unless you think it's arguable. And please, if you're going to ask a question, ask a question. My understanding is that there are no shortage of other opportunities in law school to make oneself look smart.

[Will, 3:51 PM]
Sikh and you shall . . .:
We are now one of the top ten google hits for sikh blog. Go on. Try it.

[Will, 9:59 AM]

For those in Chicago, there will be an ACLU/Law School talk this afternoon in the Law School, Room I at 12:15. The ACLU is providing free Indian food, and Professor Mary Anne Case, who I know somewhat, and somebody else, who I've forgotten, will be speaking about same-sex marriages. It should be a nice lunch.

Monday, February 24, 2003

[Will, 1:13 PM]
I Beg Your Pardon?:

From the New York Times:

Judge Stith, of the Missouri Supreme Court: "Are you suggesting, [that] even if we find Mr. Amrine is actually innocent, he should be executed?"
Frank A. Jung, assistant state attorney general: "That's correct, your honor."

Sunday, February 23, 2003

[Will, 7:57 PM]
Another Quote:

"Are they changing their mind? Can they hurry up with Iraq already, so they can get on with attacking us?"
Goli Ashfar, Iranian student.

Thanks to the L.A. Times

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

[Will, 7:53 PM]
Quote of the ___ 2:

"Mr. Asner said he can't imagine Saddam marching into Poland like Hitler. I don't think they imagined it, either."
Hal Bernson

(Thanks to Eugene Volokh)

[Will, 3:51 PM]
Quote of the ____:

[On federal judges confirmation hearings:] Well, what the hell are you supposed to ask? Who do you like to sleep with? Girls? Boys? Will you sleep with me? Of course you'll ask them how they'd rule!
Alex Kozinski

As Estrada's hearing wears on into tedium, I'm beginning to see some more of the Democrats' point. He's sworn under oath that he won't prejudge any cases that come to him, but Democrats don't believe him. It's not clear how they think they'll solve this by getting him to state his personal views, since Federal Judges can hardly bind their future decisions, even under a senate oath, but what are they to do? All they know is that Judges tend to maximize philosophical consistency (within very very very broad limits), so they'd like some sense of what philosophy he's going to try to be consistent to.

So the Democrats are (perhaps rightly) afraid that Estrada will let his personal politics run rampant on the bench. However, no amount of information about what those politics are, or what legal opinions he gave in the Solicitor General's office, are going to allay that fear.

[Will, 12:47 AM]

A reader points out a Google oddity. What do you get when you Google "the"? Oddly enough, the Onion, the Economist, the New York Times, the White House, the Hunger Site, The Guardian, weather.com and NASA.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

[Will, 10:34 PM]
Kill Duck Before Serving:

This correction from the New York Times is hilarious:
Because of an editing error, a front-page article yesterday about diplomatic developments in the Iraq crisis misidentified the Bush administration official who said about the weapons inspectors in Iraq, "At some point it will become obvious that it's time for them to go." It was an administration official speaking on condition of anonymity, not Condoleezza Rice, President Bush's national security adviser

The rest of the corrections are pretty amusing too, actually.

[Will, 10:32 PM]

I wish our t.v. worked. Then I could watch Jeopardy too....

[Jonathan, 7:01 PM]
I was relieved the other day to find out that all hope is not lost. For a while, I had been doing better than the people on Jeopardy. Granted, it was the teen competition, but still... Now, while I am no simpleton, I am nowhere near the ranks of Myron Meyer or Ben Sternberg (don't worry, I looked those up). My faith has not been shaken, though.

I realize a million different factors affect their performance, and that if I were up there, some of them would have lower scores, some of them would answer questions before me... but surely you've done it from time to time. Anyway, after that eerie week of success, I am glad to proclaim that I finished Double Jeopardy with a score of something along the lines of -$10,000.

[Will, 2:55 PM]

Eugene Voloh has a long and good post about understanding rationality. The gist: means can be irrational, but ends cannot be. I don't understand what he has against green peppers though. They're yummy, crisp, fresh, and relatively robust to mistreatment (which has considerable weight when you're buying your Winter produce on the south side of Chicago).

[Will, 2:50 AM]
Meta redux:

On the subject of self-reference, the ACLU is suing on behalf of students forbidden from forming an ACLU group at their Louisiana High School. The students challenge the school's requirement that they publish their membership, which seems like it could go either way (it probably depends on the facts, which I don't have in full), as well as requirements about the editing and publication of their minutes that seem somewhat bizarre. They also-- most interestingly-- challenge more generally the school's requirement for a voluntary faculty sponsor:
Although the ACLU has no objection to a faculty monitor being present at club meetings on campus to ensure compliance with the Equal Access Act, the ACLU said that the requirement that the monitor be voluntary is damaging to clubs that are looked upon unfavorably by school supervisors.

I think they have a strong case here. In this particular case, they allege, at least somewhat convincingly, that the principal is openly hostile to an ACLU group and has browbeaten teachers out of supporting them. I don't know whether the ACLU can get this as testimony at trial. If so, that seems like a victory as applied, in any case. But what a voluntary-faculty-sponsor rule is, is a supremajority veto power. If a group is unanimously opposed by the faculty of the school (or at least unanimously not supported), then it is gone. Teachers are agents of the school, so it's not at all clear they ought to be able to do this.

Finally, anybody who tries to deny the ACLU the right to assemble, publish, associate, or speak is just asking for it.

[Will, 2:42 AM]

While we're being self-referential and scary, but in keeping with our general principle of talking about Google (itself a form of net-self-reference), Google has bought Blogger. And I've noticed more trouble the past few days in accessing big sites, like The Volokh crowd or How Appeaking. (sigh). Hopefully this isn't a sign of what's to come.

[Will, 2:40 AM]
Moving up:

Hmm. We've been blogrolled by the ubiquitous How Appealing. The pressure is on. Granted this is true of 150-300 other blogs, but with 1,000,000 registered blogger users . . . the only problem is that I'm not very interesting. We need to make Jonathan post. Tell him so.

Monday, February 17, 2003

[Will, 3:05 PM]
Quoting Ginsburg:

From Justice Ginsburg's dissent in Republican Party of Minnesota v. White:
In the context of the federal system, how a prospective nominee for the bench would resolve particular contentious issues would certainly be “of interest” to the President and the Senate in the exercise of their respective nomination and confirmation powers, [b]ut in accord with a longstanding norm, every Member of this Court declined to furnish such information to the Senate, and presumably to the President as well. [S]urely the Court perceives no tension here; the line each of us drew in response to preconfirmation questioning, the Court would no doubt agree, is crucial to the health of the Federal Judiciary. [T]he federal norm simply illustrates that, contrary to the Court’s suggestion, there is nothing inherently incongruous in depriving those charged with choosing judges of certain information they might desire during the selection process.

Sunday, February 16, 2003

[Will, 11:24 PM]

And indeed there will be time
To wonder, 'Do I dare?' and, 'Do I dare?'
Time to turn back and descend the stair,

For I have known them all already, known them all --
Have known the mornings, evenings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?

And I have known the arms already, known them all --
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
[But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!]
Is it perfume from a dress
That makes me so digress?
Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.
And should I then presume?
And how should I begin?

Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,
Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?
But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,
Though I have seen my head [grown slightly bald] brought in upon a platter,
I am no prophet -- and here's no great matter;
I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,
And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,
And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,
Would it have been worth while,
After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,
After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor --
And this, and so much more? --
It is impossible to say just what I mean!
But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:
Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
'That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.'

Friday, February 14, 2003

[Will, 7:07 PM]

A few quotes you might not have otherwise seen (these and many many others are stacked here):

[on eating in flight:] True, you still have the perfumed towelette: but this cannot be distinguished from the little envelopes of salt, pepper, and sugar, and so, after you have put the sugar in the salad, the towelette has already ended up in the coffee, which is served boiling hot and in a heat-conducting cup filled to the brim, so that it may readily slip from your seared fingers and blend with the gravy that has no congealed around your waist. In business class the hostess pours the coffee directly into your lap, hastily apologizing in Esperanto.-- Umberto Eco

"And are you married?" called Reg. . .
"Well, no, not married as such, but yes, there is a specific girl that I'm not married to."-- Douglas Adams

Let's be honest-- access to pornography is not part of the cost of the Internet; it's one of the benefits.-- Steven Landsburg

We spend more of our time doing dishes than making love, but which is more important to the story of our lives?-- Marge Piercy

In the history of the world, no one has ever washed a rented car.-- Lawrence Summers

I ought to just ignore her, but she's so very intriguing. Kind of like an eagle wearing a hat.-- Jonathan Baude

If I get really motivated, maybe we can do a quote-of-the-(time period) thing.

[Will, 6:29 PM]
Able, Ed:

Consider this passage from an unfinished novel by the late Douglas Adams:

He just gave the Melinda woman a cold look and said, "This is a respectable private investigation business. I . . ."

"Respectable, she said, "or respected?"

"What do you mean?" Dirk usually produced much sharper retorts than this, but, as the woman said, she had caught him at a bad time.

"Big difference," the Melinda woman continued. "Like the difference between something that's supposedly inflatable and something that's actually inflated.

This exchange makes the nicely precise point that the suffix "-able" is less selective than the suffix "-ed". We would much rather have our candidate be "elected" than "electable," and while it's nice to know that your dinner is theoretically "edible," it's not as satisfying as having it "eaten". (same principle). Okay. But what about doubt?

It is "undisputable" that the earth is round. Yet it is not "undisputed"; look at this Flat-Earth website, which is really quite frightening. What does this mean? That a proposition can be "disputed" without being "disputable". Odd, no? Maybe this is too literal, you complain. After all, if indeed the Flat-Earthers dispute that the earth is round, than it is, (by definition?) disputable. Maybe. But then all empirical (and even non-empirical) propositions are "disputable", which might please some skeptics but causes even logical positivists to cringe. And it doesn't get around the fact that people do mean something by the word "indisputable".

They mean, of course, that a thing cannot be logically, (coherently, persuasively, etc.) disputed, it's that hidden clause that creates the odd usage. But it is odd usage. Not all doubted things are doubtable (within our usual meanings of the words). When else is the "-able" narrower than the "-ed"? (Adams goes on to suggest unbreakable and unbroken: "Between something that's supposedly unbreakable and something that will actually surive a good fling at the wall," but I don't think he was serious).

[Will, 6:12 PM]
Poison Pills:

Suppose you're a mean legislator, and you want to see some popular bill quashed, but you haven't got the votes to keep it dead in committee, to have it voted down on the floor, or even to filibuster (that is, we're supposing either that you're in the house or that this is after 1917 or so, when the Senate first introduced debate-ending procedures). What do you do? The answer, some say, is to introduce a "poison pill" amendment, which is the word my teacher used today for the amendments you tack onto a bill with the hope that other people will find them so noxious that the bill will get voted down.

From the point of view of strict rationality, there are plenty of reasons to believe that "poison pills" don't happen very often, or don't work very often if they do. I'm pretty sure (correct me on this!) that it takes a majority, once a bill is out of committee, to amend a bill, so you'd have to "trick" people into voting for the amendment in the first place, but it would have to be the kind of thing so bad that your opponents wouldn't accept it even now that they'll lose the bill they do want. That is, it has to be something that your opponents will vote for by itself, but won't vote for even to get what they want. Hopefully you can see why coming up with such an amendment might be a little hard.

Now perhaps you're very good at trickery, or at passing legislation the day that all the other guys stayed away. Or . . . something. But it seems to me that actual poison pills ought to be incredibly rare (if introduced outside of committee; I don't know enough about congressional procedure to know how committees rewrite the bill). Does anybody know if this is so?

There are caveats of course; a poison pill package might make more sense in systems with separation of powers, like ours. Perhaps a majority of house republicans know the president will veto a campaign-finance bill if it also contains some provision about homosexuals. This would only make sense for reasons of political rhetoric though, because if a majority of the house is prepared to "poison" a bill, they could also simply vote it down. So, does anybody have examples of actual poison pills throughout history? I'm not sure how to study this rigorously, but it would be interesting to see how often those who "poison" bills end up swallowing a dose of their old medicine.

The conventional example, (which may well be false) is the inclusion of women in the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Supposedly, Republicans in the house were sure the senate would never vote to give rights to women, so figured that adding women to the bill would be force the senate to kill it. As you probably know, this didn't happen. I've also heard that the Republican congress did something like this with U.N. dues during the Clinton years, adding various awful amendments to their resolutions to pay our U.N. dues (which I think are still outstanding). Yet the Republicans didn't seem to reap any particular political credit from this; Clinton hardly seems to have suffered in popularity from his refusal to pay U.N. dues (maybe because it was the least of his worries, popularity-wise).

So do poison pills happen? Do they work?

A final backfiring example, based in literature based (loosely) in history, from Tom Stoppard's The Invention of Love:

Labouchere: (The) Criminal Law Amendment Act is badly drawn up and will do more harm than good, as I said in my paper. . .

Stead: Item! The age of consent raised from thirteen to sixteen. . . Item! Girls in moral danger may be removed from their parents by the courts.

Labouchere: That'll be a dead letter.

Stead: But it was your Amendment.

Labouchere: Anybody with any sense on the backbenches was pitch-forking Amendments in to get the government to admit it had a pig's breakfast on its hands and withdraw it. I forced a division on raising the age of consent to twenty-one!, and two people voted for it. My final effort was the Amendment on indecent between male persons, and God help me, it went through on the nod-- (it had) nothing to do with the Bill we were supposed to be debating; normally it would have been ruled out of order, but everyone wanted to be shot of the business, prorogue Parliament, and get on to the General Election.

Stead: But-- but surely-- you intended the Bill to address a contemporary evil --?

Labouchere: Nothing of the sort. I intended to make the Bill absurd to any sensible person left in what by then was a pretty thin house . . . but that one got away, so now a French kiss and what-you-fancy between two caps safe at home with the door shut is good for two with or without hard labour. It's a funny old world.

[Will, 4:40 PM]

How Appealing is, apparently, pornography.

[Will, 2:50 AM]
Like My Father Before Me:

Oxblog and the rest of the world have gotten here first, but as a Star Wars nut, I have to join the fray: nearly 400,000 Brits declared their religion as "Jedi" on the last Census. That's more than the amount who called themselves Jewish, Sikh, or Buddhist. Is that cool? Or is that scary? Or both?

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

[Jonathan, 7:57 PM]
This site clearly doesn't have difficulty attracting the attention of innocent bystanders...

I wish I had something useful to say. Unfortunately, though, my life is not filled with exciting and new things.

Here's something mundane:

Maybe it's because I'm the kind of person who needs constant reassurance, but one thing that always makes me happy is when they pick my headlines in Optimist. It's all very silly, and they're all corny anyway, but - hey - whatever floats your boat, huh?

I've always preferred buoyancy, personally.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

[Will, 7:03 PM]

Weird people have been coming to the site lately. By weird, I mean people that don't live in Chicago or Bloomington. This is somewhat unusual (we're a modest affair here). Apparently they're looking for "Deborah cook chemicals" and "miguel estrada hearing transcript", and also "estrada and roe and blog", which is to say, the boring stuff. Clearly my brother should post more.

Also, for those of you out of the loop, I'm (tentatively!) going to be in Cambridge next year.

Monday, February 10, 2003

[Will, 10:56 PM]

This is from the 1816 Indiana State Constitution (thanks to Eugene Volokh):
That the people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the State, and that the military shall be kept in strict subordination to the civil power (1816). 25

Doesn't that sound a little creepy?

Sunday, February 09, 2003

[Will, 7:24 PM]

Let me just say that I do like the New York Times a great deal, and in the (relatively few) years I've been in charge of buying my own newspapers, the Times probably beats all other newspapers combined by a ratio of about 35:1. That said, I think their editorial page has been getting less and less coherent, or at least less trustworthy. Consider, for example, the following editorial, which reads in part:
Another, Deborah Cook, regularly sides, as a state judge, with corporations. In one case she maintained that a worker whose employer lied to him about his exposure to dangerous chemicals should not be able to sue for his injuries.

Now consider the case, Norgard v. Brush Wellman, Inc., 95 Ohio St. 3d 165, (thanks to the Beacon Journal for the lead). Cook dissents in a 4-3 OH Supreme Court ruling that the statute of limitations began ticking not when the wronged employee learned of his condition but when he learned the complete details of his employer's conduct. Now, I happen to be more convinced by the majority than by Cook, but the Times does terrible injustice to her for a few reasons. First, nearly any serious judge is going to have some dissents that favor companies over workers (and workers over companies). This is the nature of large caseloads and varying cases. Secondly, Cook's dissent is fairly harmless, and has almost nothing to do with corporations and workers. Here it is, in its entirety:

COOK, J., dissenting. David Norgard knew in August 1992 that he suffered from chronic beryllium disease, likely caused by his exposure to beryllium during his years as a Brush Wellman employee. Norgard was therefore aware of both his injury and its probable cause at that time. Accrual of a cause of action for purposes of the statute of limitations requires nothing more. See O'Stricker v. Jim Walter Corp. (1983), 4 Ohio St. 3d 84, 4 OBR 335, 447 N.E.2d 727, paragraph two of the syllabus. Because the cause of action accrued in August 1992, at the very latest, the lower courts correctly determined that Norgard's action was time-barred.

In concluding otherwise, the majority creates a new rule for employer intentional- tort cases. After today's decision, the statute of limitations will not begin to run until some unspecified time when the plaintiff determines that each element of an employer intentional-tort claim is present--notwithstanding that the plaintiff may already know that he or she has suffered an injury caused by the conduct of his or her employer. But a rule that rests the date of accrual on a plaintiff's recognition of his or her legal rights is fundamentally flawed. As the United States Supreme Court has observed in an analogous context:

"In applying a discovery accrual rule, we have been at pains to explain that discovery of the injury, not discovery of the other elements of a claim, is what starts the clock. In the circumstance of medical malpractice, where the cry for a discovery rule is loudest, we have been emphatic that the justification for a discovery rule does not extend beyond the injury:

" 'We are unconvinced that for statute of limitations purposes a plaintiff's ignorance of his legal rights and his ignorance of the fact of his injury or its cause should receive identical treatment. That he has been injured in fact may be unknown or unknowable until the injury manifests itself; and the facts about causation may be in the control of the putative defendant, unavailable to the plaintiff or at least very difficult to obtain. The prospect is not so bleak for a plaintiff in possession of the critical facts that he has been hurt and who has inflicted the injury. He is no longer at the mercy of the latter. There are others who can tell him if he has been wronged, and he need only ask.' " (Emphasis added.) Rotella v. Wood (2000), 528 U.S. 549, 555-556, 120 S. Ct. 1075, 145 L. Ed. 2d 1047, quoting United States v. Kubrick (1979), 444 U.S. 111, 122, 100 S. Ct. 352, 62 L. Ed. 2d 259.

By tying the accrual of the cause of action to the elements of a legal claim--rather than to the traditional concepts of injury and its cause--today's [*171] majority extends the discovery rule beyond the scope of its justification. I respectfully dissent.

[slight sarcasm]What a corporate shill.[/slight sarcasm]

[Jonathan, 7:22 PM]
Good god, someone say something.

Friday, February 07, 2003

[Jonathan, 11:25 PM]
I have finished Jennifer Government, the record will show.

It's good, in a you've-proved-your-point sort of way.

[Will, 3:13 PM]

The New York Sun is terribly wrong, and Eugene Volokh has pretty much said it all.

I'm used to arguing the nuances of permit laws, public fora, and subsidized speech, but I would have thought we'd gotten to the point where we agree that peaceful anti-war protesting, particularly with the goal of changing people's minds, is almost universally accepted as right. Apparently not.

One last thought: The Sun justifies its desire to quash the protest by quoting Thomas Friedman's claim that "we are one more 9/11 away from the end of the open society." The corollary to this is that we are still an open society. And we'd better try to stay worth of being protected.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

[Will, 10:54 PM]
Games and Fun:
People on the College Bowl team with me have discovered (I don't know how) an online game I've been playing for quite some time. Go. It's called Nation States. The creator of the page is a brilliant, brilliant man, Max Barry (or Maxx Barry) who constructed the game as a promotion for his new novel, Jennifer Government. The book is very good, though not as good as his first (and far too un-famous) novel, Syrup.

[Jonathan, 9:59 PM]
I'll make a quick post now, and then you can go back to my brother's witty, insightful, and socially-minded posts.

Our school is doing a production of Much Ado About Nothing, and tryouts were Tuesday and Wednesday. Being one of the any guys that tried out Wednesday, I got called back. I thought I did all right, and I heard she was going to put me in this pretty small part, but I didn't mind, because it was pretty cool. Now, though... it's... I don't know. I think she put me in this different, bigger part because she was desperate. Very interesting...

Here is where I stroke my imaginary beard, scribble something in my notebook, and charge you two hundred and fifty dollars.

[Will, 7:14 PM]

For transcript junkies, the Senate debate on Miguel Estrada's confirmation hearing is available here (follow How Appealing's instructions). Two long-ish thoughts:

In general, I'm nervous about attempts to ferret out the ideology and philosophy of a potential judge. In this case, however, I think it's slightly more appropriate, since the Democrats are probably quite concerned about the concept of Judge Estrada becoming Justice Estrada, and ideology and philosophy are, I think, okay criteria for picking a Supreme Court Justice (within limits). So I could understand the Democratic concern if Estrada were some kind of Bork, and maybe they have reason to think he is. But if he's just some kind of Scalia . . . I don't think that's so out of the mainstream that he ought to be kept out of federal court. [Full disclosure: I'm writing as somebody who has dreams of one day being appointed to the federal bench]

My other thought is annoyance with Senator Hatch, who was making perfectly respectable speeches in defense of Estrada, citing the wide support for Estrada, and then made a special speech laying into Mr. Bender, one of Estrada's chief critics. His principle criticisms of Bender were his "extreme" views on child pornography. These included:

1: Believing that child pornography should only include nude children, not simply "suggestively posed" ones (the case in question involved children in bathing suits and leotards, among other things; I certainly wouldn't want to be the trial judge deciding which children were posed suggestively and which simply happened to look that way)

2: His skepticism about the link between child pornography and child abuse

3: Believing that the usual statistics on pornography incidence are "much too high" (Hatch's retort: "Tell that to the millions of people who see child pornography all over the internet;" given the extremely harsh penalties for viewing actual child pornography, I'm skeptical.)

Granted, these are debatable points, but holding them shouldn't disqualify a lawyer from any ability to make public comment, especially about the qualifications of somebody he worked with. Hatch quotes Bender as saying one thing sort of disturbing and un-politic: "most kids who act in these films probably are doing these acts aside from the films anyway. ....." but Hatch deletes all of Bender's (presumed) evidence and argument, and the rest of the quotes don't mark Bender as a nutcase by any means.

I began the transcript in favor of Estrada's nomination, although fairly uninformed. Hatch, who I usually find quite persuasive, has made me a lot more nervous about this.

[Will, 6:29 PM]

The Supreme Court has posted more oral argument transcripts. Time to get cracking.

[Will, 12:49 AM]

Would I be less likely to post things here if anybody actually read them? And when will my brother post again? I'm boring.

[Will, 12:45 AM]

We made it! We're on Google! (Weirdly, a second unrelate site now also appears for the once empty "baudes blog" search). Guess these days are gone.

And a search for 'baude blog' (no quotes) brings up not only our site, but also our mention on How Appealing. Ironically, a search for 'amanda butler blog' (no quotes), brings up our site, and not hers.

[Will, 12:31 AM]

Via Amanda Butler, who's newly redesigned her blog in a rather attractive way: Ashcroft is telling New York and Connecticut prosecutors to seek the death penalty.

Ashcroft argues that the move is necessary to get more consistency across jurisdictions. Of course, since no New York jury has returned a death sentence in over ten years, what are the odds that trying a few more capital cases will get any capital convictions? Not high. Especially if (though I assume not) Ashcroft's intervention can be mentioned during the course of the trial. Supposedly, though, Ashcroft wants one, perhaps for symbolic reasons.

Critics say that the way to get consistency is to reduce the number of death penalty trials, not to increase them. This is true for the reason mentioned above, but I worry about news stories like this. People tend to get all addled when talking about the death penalty, and I'm afraid of where this one will go. (The ACLU listhost here, which I realize I malign a lot, also was recently packed with calls for the abolition of the death penalty following Governor Ryan's move to commute all of Illinois's death row).

Maybe I'm an alarmist. But in general the principle of consistency in application of the death penalty seems like a perfectly laudable goal, although not a very federalist one. If Ashcroft fails to get his NY convictions, then his critics will be right that he chose the wrong method to pursue consistency. But if he gets his convictions, he'll be shown right, yet somehow I suspect that his critics won't apologize.

[Will, 12:01 AM]
Feminism and Common Sense:

So I spoke at tonight's University of Chicago panel on "What is Feminism?", and I'll send my remarks to anybody who's curious. But what I'm blogging about was the real focus of the event, which was our "mainstream" feminist's coup against our counter-feminist group, the "common sense" feminists. (Full disclosure, the mastermind of the coup, the president of the UC Feminist Majority, is my roommate).

The common sense feminists believe two things, near as I can tell. The first is that in America, women's battles have largely been won. The second is that one can be pro-life (or as my roommate prefers to call them, "anti-choice") without being "anti-woman".

Sarah Butler (the "common sense" feminist) was a particularly unfortunate choice of speaker since she is (or at least appears to be) an educated, well-off, blonde, white woman. My friend and co-panelist Noah Millstone lashed back with (paraphrasing) "Sarah says she doesn't have any problems. I'm glad she doesn't have any problems. But a lot of women do have problems..." Still, the Libertarians who I represented have remarkable common ground with her principles, if not her facts.

I think that we don't need many more laws to protect women than the ones we have, although I do think we need to enforce the laws we have, especially prosecutions for rape and domestic violence. The point the other panelists made, that a lot of women do have problems (very true) is really, I think, a collection of problems stemming from poverty and crime (especially the rape and domestic violence, not from a systematic oppression of women in other ways.

So I was a little sad that Sarah Butler came off sounding so silly since I think she had a decent point to make on that score, but then she compounded her problem by coming out against abortion. Worse, she didn't even really explain why, except to say that she thought unborn women were as important as born ones. Here, she and I part company.

I had my belief in abortion shaken somewhat by Steven Levitt last spring, but it's returned. Still, it is a question on which reasonable people can disagree, which is part of why I think it's so important to keep the government out of it. I would be willing to grudgingly consider, though, a movement to totally and legally recognize fetuses as human beings, if it were universally applied. I think this is wrong medically, but it's at least acceptable philosophically.

Anyway, a rant on abortion rights won't be very productive or helpful. Really, I just wanted to say that while I think Sarah Butler is wrong on abortion, and she definitely got killed rhetorically this evening, most of the massacre was in rhetoric. I know people care about rhetoric, especially in these political movements, but some of her substance isn't so abhorrent. In fact, a lot of it isn't. Of course, political debate between activist organizations may not be the best place to search for intellectual rigor, precisions, and honesty. I really wish it were.

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

[Will, 9:23 PM]
Why Bulgaria?

From William Saletan's excellent Iraq piece:
But on the question of deadlines, Powell comes up short. Only three of the 15 members support a specific deadline (the United States has already given up; Britain and Bulgaria want a decision by Feb. 14), and only two more favor an imminent deadline in principle, on the grounds that further inspections are pointless unless Iraq changes its attitude.

Britain, okay, I understand. But when did Bulgaria become our second closest ally on the security counsel? And why? And can somebody tell the Bulgarians I know?

[Will, 1:01 PM]
A 2-04-post (the archive button doesn't work) from Advocate's Devil comments:
...it is refreshing to see that the Chicago Tribune, a newspaper that is not exactly a shill for conservative causes, has published an editorial in support of Sutton's nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. A lot has been written for and against President Bush's judicial nominees, but most of those arguments break down along traditional fault lines of liberal and conservative. It is therefore significant when a liberal editorial page like the Tribune's breaks ranks with leftist orthodoxy.

(emphasis mine). Weird. Is he reading the same Tribune I read as a kid? Has the Tribune changed dramatically since then? I don't know. I can tell you that since 1988, the Tribune editorial pages have favored Bush I, Bush I, Dole, and Bush II over the Democratic candidates. A more careful analysis of the paper's politics is beyond my expertise, but in general, it's no shock when the Tribune breaks from "leftist orthodoxy".

Monday, February 03, 2003

[Jonathan, 11:24 PM]
Wow... fifty people... and a link from How Appealing. That's cool. And all thanks to William's, you know, having thoughts and all that.

It's all almost enough to make me wish I had opinions.

[Will, 6:51 PM]

Jonathan is back in action. And sorely needed. Fifty people came to see us today, thanks to How Appealing.

[Jonathan, 6:01 PM]
Typing in "Baudes blog" (with quotes) brings the suggestion that perhaps you mean "Bau des blog."

This does not turn up any results either.


Searching for one's last name is always an adventure. The search 'Baude blog' (without quotes) gets William's website first, and then the site www.legalmind.org, which is the blog of someone who - I'm assuming - has many thoughts on... legal... things. This includes the thought that the idea of a national license to practice law is a good one (which Dad discussed in his Fuchs lecture).

The rest of the results are all either references to Baudes we don't know or are those sites that Google always turns up that seem to have no purpose other than turning up on Google.

[Will, 3:35 PM]

How Appealing reports that it has become the number one hit for the word "appealing", and the number 19 hit for the word "how".

I have a deep interest in googlestats, so here are a few more.

The Volokhs are, not surprisingly, the number one hit for "volokh" but also the number two hit for "conspiracy", and the number three hit for "law blog" (lawblog is the first, of course, although "bloglaw" turns up instapundit as the first hit).

How Appealing is also the 19th hit for "appellate".

Andrew Sullivan is the 6th hit for "political blog."

Finally, Instapundit is the number one hit not only for "tennessee blog" and "pundit blog" and of course "instapundit" but it is also the number one hit for "reynolds", and even "http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&q=glenn"!

Sadly, we are not on Google at all.

Oh. And am I the only person who wishes Google would just buy the name www.googol.com ? Maybe it's a math-major thing.

[Will, 3:15 PM]

For those of you at the University of Chicago or thereabouts, I'll be at a panel Wednesday evening answering the question "What is Feminism?" I'm to give the Libertarian perspective (or perhaps the libertarian perspective; unclear), and open to suggestions. At the moment I'm relying mostly on J.S.Mill's subjection of women, plus my own feelings about abortion rights.

It will be Wednesday Feb. 5th, 6:30 P.M., in Harper 130.

[Will, 3:09 PM]
More on License Plates:

Email has been pouring in from the ACLU listserv here at the University of Chicago, with the following interesting results:

All but one response has been solidly behind the ACLU's suit to stop the Virginia legislature from handing out "Choose Life" license plates to those who want them. (Of course, the suit hasn't been filed yet since the bill hasn't been passed, so this is all semi-hypothetical).

The most interesting argument I've heard yet for what's wrong with Virginia's position (and an argument that differentiates the "choose life" plates from Virginia's myriad of other political plates) is that this plate explicitly counsels against the exercise of a constitutional right.

This is an interesting political argument, although I don't think it's very compelling legally. Rust v. Sullivan, for example, held that the Federal Government can take a position on abortion, and it seems like states ought to have even greater liberties to do so. A later case, called Legal Services v. Velazquez has muddied the doctrinal waters a great deal, but I doubt it's enough. In general, the government can't use its subsidy power "manipulatively" but it can express opinions during controversy, which it does all the time.

The political, rather than the legal, argument is interesting, as I said, but I still don't think that it's compelling. The plate explicitly calls for people to "choose" life, not to coerce it, so it can't be said that the legislature is trying to coerce people out of exercising their constitutional rights. Finally, I would consider Justice Kennedy's words from Hill v. Colorado:
The Court now strikes at the heart of the reasoned, careful balance I had believed was the basis for the joint opinion in Casey. The vital principle of the opinion was that in defined instances the woman’s decision whether to abort her child was in its essence a moral one, a choice the State could not dictate. Foreclosed from using the machinery of government to ban abortions in early term, those who oppose it are remitted to debate the issue in its moral dimensions. In a cruel way, the Court today turns its back on that balance.

Private citizens ought to be allowed to take stands on moral matters. Surely nobody debates that. The fact that abortion is a constitutional right gives us freedom to engage them. It doesn't (and oughtn't) give us freedom from moral arguments against them. The KKK and the Nazis have a constitutional right to march in Skokie, IL. Must the government therefore be silent about their activities?

[Will, 12:32 PM]
The Things You Learn:

Maybe I'm behind the curve. Twelve U.S. States have no abortions. This is not because Roe v. Wade has failed, but simply because nobody in the state is willing to provide them. I wonder if that's a function of low demand or intimidation (or both). Anybody know which twelve states they are?

UPDATE: Amanda Butler has emailed me to say that she finds Planned Parenthood affiliates in every state except Mississippi and North Dakota. My fact-checkers are hard at work now. If you have any information, please write me.

Looks like this just isn't true at all. Looks like every state has abortion providers. Granted, North Dakota only has two, but two is a lot more than zero.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

[Will, 4:02 PM]

(Via How Appealing), the ACLU is suing to stop the government's attempt to create a voluntary license plate that says "choose life". The ACLU claims to have a federal judge in South Carolina on their side, and if so, he's dead wrong. So are they.

The ACLU claims that the license plates are unconstitutional since they "bac(k) a side in a political argument." So what? To paraphrase from the Supreme Court, when the government creates the National Endowment for Democracy to preach against dictatorship in foreign countries, it is not required to create an endowment for fascism. When the government erects the statue of liberty, it is backing a side in a political argument. And so what? Governments can speak. George Bush does it all the time, whether we like it or not.

There's the added issue here of whether or not liscense plates are personal speech or government speech. Wooley v. Maynard, the last big license plate case (doesn't it bother you that there is one) about New Hampshire's "life free or die" plate held that plates were not government speech. And if they're personal speech, which seems dubious, but is the current law, then . . . of course they're protected.


This issue has been flying around my college's ACLU listhost, and nobody else seems to agree with me. I've received a lot of mail to the effect that it's wrong for the government to selectively fund one point of view. I think this is legally wrong (Rust v. Sullivan controls a great deal here), and I think it's philosophically wrong.

More to the point, consider Virginia license plates. You can get an AFL-CIO plate, or an "Animal Friendly" plate, a "use clean fuel" plate, a "drive smart", a "united we stand", a "fight terrorism" and even a "freemason" license plate. In none of these cases does Virginia make available a license plate on the opposite side. There is no "strikebreakers" plate, no "microwave your cat today", no "screw the earth", no "drive fast", no "dissent is power", no "I love Al-Qaeda," and no Catholic plate. And should there be? Surely not.


Howard Bashman of How Appealing points out an article he linked to a week ago on the similar controversy in South Carolina. I'd be shocked if the ruling (that "choose life" plates are unconstitutional) stood up under appeal. Justin Ellis, who also goes to the U of C raised an interesting establishment clause argument to me, but I don't think it's controlling. I'd be interested in other thoughts, though.

Saturday, February 01, 2003

[Will, 2:46 PM]

I really can't deal with this. See Glenn Reynolds for information.


WWW baude.blogspot.com

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