Saturday, April 30, 2005


The First Lady to the President, on his notoriously early bedtimes:

"If you really want to end tyranny in the world you're going to have to stay up later."

Governor Schwarzenegger

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is now as unpopular in California as was his recalled predecssor Gray Davis. This development presents several possibilities for Californians:

1) Terminate him at the next election.

2) Have President Bush make him ambassador to Austria to determine exactly when and where the Soviet occupation of Austria occurred. (Credit to Ha ha hit him again for this one.)

3) Get rid of Arnold by launching a national movement to amend the Constitution to permit foreign-born presidents.

4) Recall Arnold and replace him with Gray Davis.

Friday, April 29, 2005

President Bush as role model?

President Bush held a press conference last night in an effort to revive his sagging efforts to reform Social Security. During the course of the question and answer period, which ranged across many topics, President Bush had the following to say:

Role of religion in our society? I view religion as a personal matter. I think a person ought to be judged on how he or she lives his life or lives her life.

And that's how I've tried to live my life: through example.

But exactly what sort of example has he set? All I can think of is that he hasn't cheated on his wife or lied under oath. Other than by comparison to Clinton's obvious flaws, I can't think of any positive examples that Bush has set for the rest of the country by how he has led his personal life. I'm interested in hearing what you think.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Communist capitalists

There are two popular epithets for Jewish people. One is that they are all communists. The other is that they are all capitalists. Goes to show that the Jewish people can't win no matter what they do.

Nonetheless, a communist capitalist, now that is something. It turns out that communist capitalism is exactly what the Chinese are trying to do, embracing a market system under the rubric of communism.

You tell me if any of this makes any sense.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The big bucks

Today, at 5 pm, the Office of Career Services is offering a seminar called: "They Have Shown Me the Money, Now What Do I Do With It?"

More to the point, do attorneys at big law firms even have time to spend it?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Reforming the course selection process

This week, we have to pick all of our courses for next year. The way the lottery is done, we rank our top 30 courses. The computer randomizes the order of students and then goes down the list, assigning each student the highest available course on his list. After each round, the computer rerandomizes, giving higher priority to those who placed low the previous round and perhaps did not get his or her preferred course. The idea is that doing the entire academic year in one shot is more equitable because it balances out over more courses; were the lottery to go by semester only, some students might be more likely to get lucky both semesters.

But doing the entire year in one shot means that some students can end up with more courses one semester than the other -- as happened to me last year, though I was able to balance things out a bit. It also means that students can end up with at least one course that they had no intention of taking. I ended up with a course on choice of law doctrine that was #26 on my list; after the first 15 courses, I had just picked the rest at random. Although choice of law doctrine is useful to know, it was not high on my list of interesting courses and I was able to switch out. This year, for fun, I listed a seminar on art law as #30 on my list.

Here's a better way to do it. Throw out the lottery system and institute a market system. Assign students a fixed number of points to bid. For example, students could be given 100 points to bid, and they can assign the points however they want. If a student really wants to take constitutional law with Larry Tribe and the course has 100 spots, he can bid 50 points on that course and get into the course if there are less than 100 other students who bid 50 points or more. In the event of ties, 3Ls could win out over 2Ls, and among students the same year, chance might have to do. If we wanted to further privilege students on the basis of seniority, we could assign 3Ls more points to bid than 2Ls. The market works for almost everything, and I don't see why it wouldn't work here as well.

UPDATE: I thought about this some more, and now propose that students see what other students have bid, so that they have perfect information about the market and can adjust their bids accordingly. The market would "close" at some predetermined date when courses would finally be assigned. Either that, or students would need information about how students bid for particular courses in past years. That would present two obvious problems: how to do this the first time around, and how to do it for courses offered the first time in later years. Although there is something to be said for uncertainty, I think that if students had access to the market information at all times, there would be more consensus that the system was "fair."

Monday, April 25, 2005

Pressing question

President Bush with the Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah, asking how much gas a gas pump could pump if a gas pump could pump gas, if only OPEC would allow it.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Silence on Connecticut civil unions

Last week, I blogged that the Connecticut bill recognizing civil unions for gay couples as a "huge triumph" for the gay rights movement because it was the first time that a state recognized some form of same-sex union without being forced to do so by its courts. I also noted in a comment following the post that there was surprisingly little media coverage of the historic bill, something that others in the blogosphere such as Angus Dwyer have also noticed.

Why the silence? Gay rights opponents have long relied on the argument that court-ordered recognition was anti-democratic and that a constitutional amendment was needed to rein in out-of-control judges. Either their silence suggests that as long as legislatures and not the courts recognize same-sex unions there is no problem, or they simply don't know how to respond to the new bill and are hoping that if they keep quiet, no one will notice. Or maybe they're just chalking it up to Connecticut being in the Northeast, with a sort of 'what else did you expect' reaction.

Even if all those possibilities help to explain the silence, I'm still surprised because I would have guessed that Connecticut would have motivated gay rights opponents to redouble their efforts to enact a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman now that state legislatures apparently can no longer be trusted to hew the line. I'm genuinely puzzled by the lack of response, though frankly I welcome this silence because if Connecticut's bill is not challenged, it could set a precedent for other "blue" states to follow. Who said federalism was for conservatives only?

Musical chairs

The Boston Globe reports that William Weld, former governor of Massachusetts, is considering running for senator or governor -- of New York. Weld, a Republican who narrowly lost to John Kerry in the 1996 Senate election, has lived in New York since 2000. If he runs, he would face a formidable Democratic opponent against either Senator Hillary Clinton who is up for re-election or Eliot Spitzer, who announced earlier this year that he is running for governor.

Perhaps Governor George Pataki, who has served as governor of New York for 12 years, can move over to New Jersey? But then again, he wouldn't have lasted 12 years -- in the corrupt world of New Jersey politics, he would have been led away in chains long before then.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Filibuster showdown

Republicans are rapidly setting the stage for a final showdown on the filibuster. After having talked about ending the filibuster for some two years now, they may schedule a vote as soon as next week. Because Republicans have talked about this issue for so long without acting, the timing suggests that they either want to distract from scandals surrounding Tom DeLay or their failure to make headway on the rest of their policy agenda, or both. I would bet my money that if and when this vote takes place, we will have seen the last of the filibuster in judicial confirmation process because Republican leaders would not dare bring this to a vote only to suffer embarrassing defeat.

Democrats can howl all they want about the need for a more bipartisan process, and they're probably right. But as I've blogged about before here and here, the Senate confirmation process is about pure politics and riven with hypocrisy. If Democrats and Republicans switched roles, Democrats would be doing what the Republicans are doing now. They just never had the control of the Senate necessary to do it under Clinton.

However, in the final analysis, I don't think that ending the filibuster now will make all that much of a difference. President Bush already gets through a vast majority of his judicial nominees and the few that the Democrats have held up do not strike me as particularly different from the ones that have gotten through. And over the long run, this will come back to bite the Republicans because Democrats one day again control both the White House and the Senate, even if that doesn't happen again in our lifetimes. The filibuster, once gone, won't come back because what majority would want to restrain itself?

Embattled nominee

What do you do when your nomination to be U.N. ambassador goes down in flames? You put on your specs.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Random scholarship

A few months ago, three MIT graduate students designed a computer program to write a "scholarly" paper. The program used an algorithm that borrowed from existing scholarship and inserting buzzwords at random. Then they submitted the paper, and it was accepted at a conference. The paper was titled: "Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy." Its introduction begins: "Many scholars would agree that, had it not been for active networks, the simulation of Lamport clocks might never have occurred." (The conference withdrew its acceptance after the fraud was publicized.)

I bet the same thing could happen in legal scholarship. At least until recently, law reviews seemed to signal that the longer an article and the more footnotes it had, the better. I bet that a reasonably long article on an arcane subject with tons of footnotes would be accepted somewhere. In particular, I wouldn't be surprised if someone randomly generated a piece in the utterly indecipherable field of critical legal studies (I'm still not quite sure what it is) and the resulting paper were accepted somewhere. Actually, that may have been why critical legal studies died out -- no one could understand anything anymore and decided to just move on.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Civil unions in Connecticut

Yesterday, Connecticut passed a law permitting same-sex civil unions. Although not quite gay marriage and discriminatory in some aspects, the new law is a major step forward for gay rights. Although Vermont and Massachusetts recognize some form of civil unions or gay marriage, both did so only after their state courts ordered them to do so. In Connecticut, however, the state legislature passed the bill and the governor signed it into law, all without the prodding of the courts.

With states like Connecticut now on the horizon, a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex unions would be decidedly anti-democratic. This turns the anti-democratic argument back against gay rights opponents, who had argued that court-ordered recognition of same-sex unions is anti-democratic. That is why the Connecticut law is such a huge triumph for the gay rights movement -- it sheds what was long their weakest point, that the courts seemed to be their only friend. But now that they are starting to get state legislatures on their side, their position suddenly looks a lot stronger.

The end of history

The popularity of The DaVinci Code and The Rule of Four suggest a fascination with medieval mysteries riven with religious implications. There is a prophecy concerning the popes that is just as fantastic and, if not an elaborate forgery, scary. In the twelfth century, St. Malachy prophesied the next 112 popes, and the new pope happens to be the 111th pope since. After the 112th pope, "Peter the Roman" would be pope during the Apocalypse.

Each pope in the prophecy had a short epigram that allegedly has been fulfilled. For example, the 110th pope -- John Paul II -- had the motto "de labore solis" which suggests solar eclipse. John Paul was both born and buried on days with solar eclipses. The 111th pope has the motto "gloriae olivae" or the "glory of the olive." Because the Benedictine order featured the olive branch as a symbol, the new pope may have fulfilled the prophecy by taking on the name Benedict (or may have consciously chosen the name for that purpose, an intriguing suggestion over at Balkinization). There are several other possible interpretations that also find the "fit" and I encourage you to read the two sites that I link to in this post for more.

According to one interpretation of the prophecy, "Peter the Roman" is Satan walking on Earth. Given Benedict XVI's age and the likelihood that the next pope would also be an older man, Satan could well be walking on Earth now. Any guesses that Republicans think his name is Ted Kennedy?

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The pope's Nazi past

Some commenters observed following my last post that the new pope, a German, was drafted into the Nazi army and was ultimately an American prisoner of war. However, there is evidence to suggest that he was drafted against his will and that he deserted the Nazi army. I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Benedict XVI must move swiftly to reach out to the Jewish community to make crystal clear that he denounces anti-Semitism and will work as a friend of the Jewish people. John Paul II made history as the first pope to set foot in a synagogue; hopefully this trend will continue under the new pope. It cannot be otherwise if Benedict wants to stamp out any concerns about his past.

Incidentally, April 20 was Adolf Hitler's birthday; although Germany was defeated 60 years ago, Nazism remains alive. This is all merely to observe that the concern about Benedict's past is no idle speculation but very real concern about what it portends for today's times.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The new pope

I watched the papal proceedings on television and there was a lot of suspense watching the window for any sign that they would soon come out to announce the new pope. My first reaction was one of disappointment when they announced it was Joseph Ratzinger. My second reaction wsa that at least he's not Italian. Ratzinger's selection of the name Benedict XVI gives some hope, though I'm not convinced that it means he will be a moderate.

From what I heard, Benedict XV tried to put an end to ideological divisions in the Church; though the announcers said Benedict XV was a moderate, implying that perhaps the new pope will seek to reach compromise, I can't help but feel that "putting a stop" to division will mean a crackdown on liberalism within the Church.

But it will take some time before we know for sure what kind of pope Benedict XVI will be. It may well be that he was enforcing the hard line because that was what John Paul II wanted him to do. Hopefully now that he is his own man, he will surprise us.

The white smoke

Monday, April 18, 2005

Senator Clinton

Either the years of fighting the vast right-wing conspiracy is finally taking its toll, or she missed her latest Botox shot.

Nuclear Option - For Popes!

As the conclave gets underway in Rome, POYS asked me to post a little something regarding the rules of election. Initially, it takes two-thirds of the cardinals eligible to vote in order to select a new pontiff. After eight days, however, if no pope has been selected, the margin shrinks to a bare majority. Sounds eerily simliar to what the Republicans are proposing in order to get President Bush's judicial nominees confirmed, doesn't it? Well, Cardinal Ratiznger - known affectionately on this side of the pond as the Tom DeLay of the Vatican - apparently has close to a majority locked up already. Needless to say, if his supporters hold out long enough for the "nuclear option" to be invoked, his election is assured. Perhaps the white smoke will go up in the form of a mushroom cloud?

Sunday, April 17, 2005

A direct hit

During the 1858 debates between Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas, "ha ha hit him again" was a popular crowd chant whenever Lincoln or Douglas scored a punch on the other. But I never thought that this phrase would come to incude what happened this weekend.

Last month, I passed along the news that Garry Kasparov, the top-ranked chess player in the world, had retired in order to focus on politics. Today, Sports Illustrated reports that Kasparov, in an attack that he calls politically motivated, was hit over the head with a chessboard.

Perhaps ha ha?

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Saint John Paul II

The debate over whether to make John Paul II a saint almost immediately after his death has garnered widespread coverage as cardinals prepare to pick a new pope. Under procedures established by John Paul himself, a person must be dead for five years before he or she can be canonized. Of course, rules are made to be broken since John Paul began the process just one year after Mother Teresa died.

Whatever the merits of John Paul as a saint, I do not believe that the process should be accelerated for him. I like the idea of a five-year waiting period because there can be an upsurge of emotions when a person dies and there is no doubt that this grief can color the decisionmaking process, perhaps causing people to exaggerate how wonderful a person was or to go about the canonization process in semi-irrational fashion. This is not to say that John Paul was not a wonderful person or that he should not receive consideration; only that the canonization process should follow thorough investigation.

The question of investigation brings me to another point; for a saint to be anointed, he must have performed a miracle. Perhaps the word 'miracle' could be used in its broader sense to refer perhaps to the miracle of a Polish pope that spoke forcefully against communism, but as far as I know, the Catholic Church is looking for real miracles in the biblical sense. Maybe it is just me, but if John Paul really performed that kind of miracle, don't you think we would have heard about it while he was still alive?

Friday, April 15, 2005

The inkblot of judicial activism

Over at Objective Justice, Sean Sirrine posts an excerpt from a judicial opinion that explains why the term "judicial activist" is utterly meaningless:
At the oral argument on this case, appellant referred, at times, to not wanting 'liberal' or 'activist' judges to overstep the will of the Minnesota legislature. Simply put, the term 'liberal/activist judge' is, in reality, a 'non-term.' Both parties to this debate recognize the truth. What one calls 'a well-reasoned conservative judicial opinion by a son or daughter of the founding fathers' means only that the judge ruled in your favor. When the judge rules against you and in favor of your opponent, on the identical facts and argument, you will now turn to the banal cliché that the judge 'is too activist' for me. The term is meaningless, self-defeating, and, worse, it actually weakens appellant's position.

On a related note, there has been nothing more absurd than House Majority Leader Tom DeLay calling the courts "activist" after they refused to order the reinsertion of the tube in Terri Schiavo's case. Not only was this term patently a political rallying cry to stack the courts with Christian conservatives, but also if he had it his way, then the legislation enacted giving the federal courts jurisdiction over the Schiavo case would really have been unconstitutional because Congress would have been telling the courts how to decide a case in violation of the principle of judicial independence.

Filibustering faith

Normally I follow the judicial selection process with great amusement, but the latest twist alarms me. The New York Times reports that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is set to use the religious stage on the issue. Specifically, Senator Frist will join a telecast featuring prominent Christian conservatives and which will portray Democrats as "against people of faith" for blocking President Bush's nominees.

First of all, this portrayal of Democrats as "against people of faith" is incorrect on two grounds. Although those who attend church regularly are more likely to be Republicans, many Democrats also have religious faith. Second, even if liberals like myself are agnostic, that does not mean that we lack faith. A faith in science and in humanity is still a faith that is worth respect. For Republicans to essentially demean all faiths other than the evangelical Christian faith is to show an utter lack of tolerance.

But that is really more of a technical issue than anything else. What really alarms me is that Republicans are explicitly linking the courts to evangelical Christianity, suggesting that the word of God should be the law of the land, not the Constitution.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Law schools

I'm on a Princeton listserv for lawyers. Every so often current students or those out of college for a few years and now applying to law school ask for advice about where to go. Yesterday, someone asked, allegedly on behalf of a friend interested in international law, whether to go to Columbia on a full scholarship or to Harvard without any aid.

The response was unanimous that the friend should take the free ride to Columbia, and I have to agree even though I chose Harvard over Columbia and would make that same choice again. Harvard has a slight reputational edge, but not a full scholarship better. Reputation is why they picked Harvard as the setting for Legally Blonde, but in real life, it is a distinction without a difference.

I say that because I believe that any scholarship considerations aside, it doesn't really matter that much anyway which school you attend once you're able to choose from the top schools. I might even make the radical suggestion that if Harvard and Columbia switched student bodies, no one would notice. Virtually all students, if not actually all students, would have the same exact career opportunities open to them. Columbia might actually even be a little better for international law.

So Columbia with a full scholarship is a no-brainer. Take it and enjoy the city!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Say It Ain't So, Bernie

Lest anyone think from what I just posted that I go after Republicans only, I'm happy to report that corruption and other various forms of cheating the people is a bipartisan sport.

Vermont's lone congressman is a Socialist who aligns himself with Democrats. A Vermont paper reports that just like Tom DeLay, he hired his wife and her daughter to do campaign-related work. Although I am sure that there were no legal improprieties involved, Sanders should have known better. And as a Socialist no less!

Deja vu again?

A few weeks ago, I mentioned the history of Republicans overreaching whenever the opportunity to crush Democrats is near.

True to form, evidence is emerging that Republicans have overreached or are about to overreach:

1) In the House of Representatives, Majority Leader Tom DeLay is under scrutiny for ethical violations that include but are not limited to coercing congressmen to vote in a particular way. There are early signs of Republicans breaking ranks and calling for an accounting. Cannibalism in the majority party is the surest sign of overreaching.

2) In the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist is contemplating forcing, sooner rather than later, a showdown over the use of the filibuster to block controversial judicial nominees. Democrats have threatened to shut down the government in response. It is not clear who would lose more in this public relations war: Democrats for obstruction or Republicans for their inability to get anything done despite running the show.

3) A vast majority of Americans opposed the Republican effort to intervene in the Terri Schiavo affair; even evangelical Christians, a core GOP constituency, split on the issue. And Republicans didn't stop there; after the judges held their ground, DeLay has all but called for their heads.

Will any of this translate into election gains for Democrats in the next election in 2006? Unlikely; voters have short memories and all this will be long forgotten by then. But does it signal a pattern of overreaching that could continue? All I can say is that I would not be surprised if there were more to come.


This blog is now syndicated with RSS feed available. For those of you who don't know what that is, don't ask me because I hardly know myself. Something about a program that alerts you when a blog is updated so that you don't have to come to this site to find out whether I have posted yet.

This took me a while to figure out how to set up and I'm sure that there are still some bugs. Please let me know if you have any problems.


Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Weapons for Peace?

This is JTerpsLaw, a 1L at the University of Maryland, guest-blogging for POYS today.

The Palestinian Authority has begun a new strategy aimed at removing guns from the hands of the Palestinian terrorists and giving the gunmen jobs within the Palestinian Authority instead. This is intended to prevent future attacks and the intended effect is that "the only legitimate weapons will be the weapons in the hands of the Palestinian Authority."

I find several fundamental flaws within this theory. In order to agree to this contract, the gunmen must sign a statement to the effect of promising "not to carry out any action that violates security and rule of law and agreements reached between the Palestinian Authority and any state or party." Interestingly enough, the PA originally brokered an agreement for peace between itself and Israel, yet this peace was allegedly breached (as Abbas declared) when the Israeli army shot several youths playing soccer a few days ago. I wonder if this is the proverbial loophole for the PA.

Another problem is seen in this question – how much disarming is really considered disarming? What is to stop a gunman from signing this statement and turning over his arms, then continuing to be associated with Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or whatever organization he was once affiliated with? Palestinians who believe that Israel is an oppressive force will never give up their arms as long as Israel has more power. What is to stop these gunmen from returning to their life of terrorism? The mere loss of a job won't be enough to faze these people. What are the repercussions of breaking the deal with the PA? This is more of a short-term theory rather than anything long term.

Also, doesn't anyone see anything wrong with inviting terrorists to join politics? These people may be making their statements in the political realm instead of through terrorism, but should the PA really be an instrument of propaganda, intended to disseminate the message of terrorists to Palestinians living in Israel? How much effect will these people have on the Palestinians? If the terrorists are allowed to join the Palestinian Authority, and if that organization comes back to power, then it may have devastating effects for the future of the Israeli-palestinian relationship. Since the nation of Israel will never concede major areas of Israel that the terrorists have pledged to obtain, what hope is there for allowing extremists to be part of the bargaining table? Moderation has been somewhat proven to work in the conflict, and this is certainly not an exercise in moderation.

Moreover, it is clear that these terrorists are corrupt and under the influence of other nations such as Syria and Iran who sponsor their efforts. What possible good can come out of inviting these foreign nations -- each with its own agenda -- to the table?

Finally, I don't believe this would work out, simply because Israel will not accede to negotiations with terrorists. Israel refused to deal with Yasser Arafat. With this whole episode of extremist terrorists joining the Palestinian Authority, as I said earlier, the PA will merely turn into a mouthpiece for terrorist propaganda, and Abbas will continue to be a rubberneck Prime Minister. Thus, Israel will refuse to deal with the PA and will turn to more moderate elements among the Palestinians.

In conclusion, does this theory have any hope to succeed? In my personal opinion, this exact concept will not. However, there is hope for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Abbas has shown devotion to the peace efforts, and has made a valiant attempt to crack-down on terrorists. I can sympathize with him as I can imagine how hard it must be to negotiate with terrorists, and I feel that Israel's demands that Abbas commit to an immediate crack-down can never truly happen. But that's not to say they shouldn't be making those demands. Israel has every right to do so. The Palestinians have shown themselves to be duplicitious and Israel has followed most of the demands that were made on them, whereas the Palestinian leadership has not. The main problem at this juncture is that the extremists have too much power. The best way for Abbas to gain a true position of power and leadership is to do what everyone wants at first, until he has enough strength to make demands which will have the best results for Israel and for the Palestinian people.

Monday, April 11, 2005


Today at his Crawford ranch, President Bush met with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon. The Washington Post reports that Prime Minister Sharon agreed to remove all "unauthorized" settlements from the Gaza Strip and West Bank. However, he is also pushing ahead with a plan to add 3,650 homes to the largest settlement in West Bank that would connect that settlement to the rest of Israel but cut off Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. President Bush asked Prime Minister Sharon not to push ahead with this plan, and I agree with President Bush's condemnation here.

Removing settlements while adding others seems to undermine the both the symbolism and practical effect of withdrawal in giving the land to Palestinians to form their own state. For as long as I can remember, Israel has been removing settlements, but this seems to represent a Sisyphean effort with no end in sight. Israel seems genuinely confused over what to do about settlements, and the resulting inconsistent actions are probably a consequence of factional politics that pull at the coalition government from different angles. (Palestinians are also inconsistent in their actions for much the same reasons.) Prime Minister Sharon must recognize that this going back and forth does not help the peace process and he must take a forceful stand in making a complete commitment to fully removing settlements for the withdrawal to have any practical effect.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Wedding day

Camilla's hat nesting a royal egg of an affair.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Fallout from the funeral

As some commenters observed following my post yesterday, some leaders of otherwise unfriendly countries were chummy at the funeral. A little too chummy for the folks back home, it turns out.

News wires reported that the presidents of Iran and Syria both shook hands with the president of Israel. The day after, those two leaders began backtracking. From BBC News:
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has denied speaking to Israel's president at the funeral of Pope John Paul II.

Moshe Katsav says they exchanged words, but Mr Khatami told Iranian media the "allegations are false" and that they had not shaken hands.

Syria has confirmed that its leader shook hands with the Israeli president, but added that this did not change Syria's position on the Jewish state.

Iran and Syria do not recognise Israel. Syria and Israel are officially at war.

Mr Katsav, who was born in Iran, said he had exchanged words in his native Persian with Mr Khatami.

"These allegations are false... I have not had any meeting with a personality from the Zionist regime," the official Iranian news agency quoted Mr Khatami as saying.

In other words, the Arab leaders forgot their acting lines when it came to Israel. I've always suspected that the animosity towards Israel has very little to do with Israel itself (though Syria complains about the Golan Heights). This anti-Zionism is largely a ploy to distract from local problems at home. I would not be surprised if this erupts into a major scandal for President Khatami; a moderate, he has always been under pressure from the conservative clerics back home. It will also be interesting to see how this plays out in the rest of the Arab world.

UPDATE: The New York Times has a nice article on the politics of shaking hands at the funeral.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The pope's funeral

The occasion of the pope's funeral brought dignitaries from 138 countries around the world and provided for the following crowd. From the New York Times:
In the second row, the first American president to attend a pope's funeral, George W. Bush, sat next to his wife, Laura. Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain and Prince Charles, President Jacques Chirac of France, Mohammad Khatami of Iran and President Moshe Katsav of Israel all attended, along with kings and queens, as well as General Secretary [sic] Kofi Annan of the United Nations.

In Roman mythology, there is an incident where, instead of all-out war, a set of triplets fought another set of triplets. Perhaps a similarly proper brawl to settle all affairs as far as everyone is concerned?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Political actors

On the TV show, The West Wing, Jimmy Smits plays the part of a politician seeking the Democratic presidential nomination to succeed Martin Sheen's Jed Bartlett character. Excerpted from a CNN article about Smits' role on the show:

In a visit to a doctor's office recently, Smits was confronted by a man who recognized him from "The West Wing" and who "espoused the whole Republican thing to me."

"I just say the lines, man," was the actor's nonpartisan response.

But that is what politics is in a nutshell. Politicians get in trouble only when they stray from their lines. President Reagan used to marvel how anyone could be president without having had acting experience. Recall the fire that President Bush came under when he said during the campaign last fall that the war on terrorism was "unwinnable." Although this was a (rare) moment of candor, he was forced to "clarify" that the war was in fact winnable after the Kerry campaign pounced. Democrats are also prone to forgetting their lines; House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi froze in her nationally televised rebuttal to the State of the Union Address last year, apparently unable to master the fine art of reading off a teleprompter.

What is so puzzling about all this is why the "lines" always seem to include scandalous subplots. I can't figure out on earth why House Majority Leader Tom Delay employed his wife and daughter, paying them with campaign contributions; even if no laws were in fact broken, he should have known that this would raise eyebrows given his prominent position. But at least it provides good comedy; there is nothing quite like a disgraced politician. Sometimes I think that the politicians do it on purpose so they can stay in the spotlight.

I think this is why I haven't watched the West Wing in years; the real is simply too spectacular. Who could have come up with the Dean Scream? Or the governor of New Jersey who resigned after admitting a gay affair? If the Bush administration did a reality TV show, now that would be something to see.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


In what promises to be another disastrous effort by liberals to take over the media, Al Gore is spearheading the launch of a new cable channel called Current. In a press release, the founders claim Current is the "first national network created by, for and with an 18-34 year-old audience." The network, apparently recognizing the short attention span of my generation, will offer short-form programming ranging from 15 seconds to 5 minutes in length.

In my view, the most interesting feature of the station is the news segments. From the press release:

"Google Current," built using samplings of popular Google search data, including from Google Zeitgeist, complements the free-flowing pod format with news updates each half-hour. Thirty seconds to three minutes in length, these segments buck conventional news practices by reporting not on what media editors decide is "news," but on the topics people are actually searching for right now. So news isn't what the network thinks you should know, but what the world is searching to learn.

All this brought to you by the man who invented the internet. Look for nonstop coverage of Britney Spears.

41 and 42

I've become great buddies with Clinton. Am I sure I feel all right?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Cyber-gaming law

Reuters reported last week that in China, a man stabbed to death another person who had sold a "cyber sword" that they had won together while playing an online game. The Chinese police had told the man that he had no recourse to the law because the sword was only virtual property.

As a preliminary point, property is a creation of the law; it exists only when the law recognizes ownership in a thing. If the law wanted to recognize cyber swords or points or whatever can be and is traded online for real cash, then it could do so, recognizing them as property protected by the law. I see no reason why such game weapons and points should not be treated as property merely because they are "virtual" only. An analogy would be to tickets that one can win at an amusement park but which are redeemable for a prize only at the park.

An interesting tangent is what happens when the theft occurs inside the computer game. What if I were playing you and I came up to you and stole your sword? Or going beyond property law, what if I hit you? The law of battery allows you to recover against me if I touch you without your permission. I'm inclined to think that the theft and battery examples should not give rise to legal claims for the simple reason that the game designers apparently created the game to allow those features. The best analogy would be to football games where players routinely hit each other without fear of liability.

But even in that football example, liability can occur if the contact is excessive even for the sport. What if you and I were playing one of those games where our online characters can "talk" to each other and I say deliberately hurtful things? In the real world, you can sue me for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Should you also be able to sue me if I said those hurtful things in the game?

I'm deeply confused about these puzzles, and I don't think there are any easy lines to draw when it comes to virtual reality. We could even push deeper and ask what is reality? Is virtual reality any less real than real reality? I just don't see any clear answers here.

Cheating the immigrants

The New York Times reports that illegal immigrants are a boon for Social Security; forced to pay Social Security taxes as a ruse to cover up their illegal alien status, they never collect when they retire. They may be pumping as much as $7 billion a year into the system, which would be 10 perecent of last year's surplus.

As someone in the article quipped, this could be "the fastest way to shore up the long-term finances of Social Security." My only quibble is why stop there? Might as well balance the budget while we're at it!

Monday, April 04, 2005

Papal diversity

As the cardinals gear up to select the next pope, they will certainly have many qualified candidates to choose from. What the term "qualified" means is open to debate and is an issue certain to feature prominently in the selection process. I do not know Catholic doctrine and cannot speak intelligibly on what the selection criteria should be, other than from a general sense that this next pope should be a charismatic figure who can present himself credibly as a moral force in international politics.

All that being said, I think it would be wonderful if the next pope was from a third world country, perhaps black or Hispanic. I say this because I have an intuition that a black pope could do wonders in eradicating racism in the United States and around the globe. As far as I know, up until now, all the major leaders in the West have been white; black leaders have mostly been leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. in that they led the civil rights struggle. A black pope would go up and beyond in being a particularly visible figure in a position held before only by white popes. This would be Jackie Robinson a hundred times over.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The nuclear option

The selection of the next pope promises to be interesting to watch, though I can hardly speculate about who he will be because I know nothing about any of the bishops. Nonetheless, there seems to be at least one interesting parallel to the process of selecting federal judges.

After the president nominates judges, the Senate must vote to confirm him by a majority; in recent years, Democrats have filibustered some nominees, raising the bar to 60 votes to confirm. Republicans have called for the abolition of the filibuster; this "nuclear option" has not happened yet apparently because Democrats have threatened to shut down the Senate (though I speculate that blowing up the filibuster would rob the Republicans of an issue on which they can accuse Democrats of stonewalling).

From what I've read, a "nuclear option" is apparently also available in the papal selection process. According to the New York Times:
It used to take a two-thirds vote to elect a pope. But under rules instituted by John Paul, if the process becomes stalemated, a simple majority of the cardinals could vote to waive the rule and permit a simple majority to choose the new pope. Under this system, a candidate who is unpopular with nearly half the cardinal electors could still become pope.

Again, I have no idea how the selection process will play itself out, but my guess is that if it is particularly divisive and the "nuclear option" is deployed, bitter feelings could linger among the cardinals who were outvoted. Though again, time heals all wounds and the next pope, like John Paul did, could serve for more than 25 years.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The changing of the guard

I've felt a certain sadness with the news that the Pope may soon pass on. Although I did not always agree with him on social issues, I thought he was a good pope and the early eulogies are that he will be remembered for his forceful condemnations of communism in the 1980s. He is also the only pope that I've known and it will be strange to see a new pope in his place.

Incidentally, if Chief Justice Rehnquist leaves the court, I'll also feel a little sadness even though I agreed with him on almost nothing. The same nine justices have been together for 11 years, a modern day record, and the fight over Rehnquist's replacement will be the first since I began observing politics regularly with bemusement. I recall the Anita Hill scandal when I was in fifth grade, but I didn't really understand what the fuss was over other than whether Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her. That issue was, of course, besides the point in what was an ideological war.

In any event, the anointments of a new pope and a new justice will be both interesting to watch and a learning experience for me.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Justice Clinton?

Conservative columnist Robert Novak reports a rumor that President Bush is considering nominating to the Supreme Court none other than President Clinton. Under this plan, President Bush would elevate either Justice Scalia or Justice Thomas to Chief Justice and the promise of Justice Clinton could be enough to entice Senate Democrats to stop blocking conservative nominees to the lower courts. An added benefit could be that a Justice Clinton would not be able to campaign for Hillary Clinton when she makes her probable run for the presidency in '08.

If I were the Democrats, I would take this deal in a heartbeat. Although Scalia or Thomas as Chief Justice might be a hard pill to swallow, the net result would be a trade of Rehnquist for Clinton. This would be an additional liberal vote on the Court that would slow or even stall the Court's conservative trend. As for lower court nominees, I never really thought that the particular judges that the Senate Democrats were blocking were any worse than the judges they were letting through.

In any case, I'd be shocked for obvious reasons if this actually happened. I'm not even sure if stranger things have happened!

No Senator Kennedy, Jr.

So much for a match-up between Senator Chafee and Patrick Kennedy; Kennedy has pulled out, citing among other things a belief that he could better serve Rhode Islanders as a congressman. This is as much a lie as the next because senators can do more than congressmen can for their states unless they head committees or are otherwise important; with Democrats in the minority, Kennedy was certainly not an important congressman. It's unclear to me what really motivated him not to run; it might be family issues (he is seeking legal guardianship over his alcoholic mother), or it might be any of a number of skeletons in his closet that we don't know about. In any event, we have one less political spectacle to look forward to!