Saturday, April 30, 2005


The difference between men and women, part I: Eyedar

As I have so wisely said in a prior post,
There’s not a lot of career advancement opportunity to be had from making sweeping generalizations about the differences between men and women.
However, in celebration of the fact that I was voted tenure this year by my institution, I will venture onto that dangerous, yet unrewarding, territory.

Here's a difference: Women have eyedar. Men do not.

What is eyedar?
Pronounced "Eye-dar" (or "I-dar"), with emphasis on the "eye," and suggestive of things like "radar" and "gaydar," eyedar is a visual tracking system. In a nutshell, women have an uncanny ability to track a man's visional direction when he is scoping an attractive other woman.

A typical example of eyedar occurs while on a dinner date at a restaurant. Sitting tete a tete, the man – let’s just call him “Oscar” – momentarily breaks off eye contact with his date/spouse,"B."

“Where's our waiter?” he says, looking around the room. The conversation hits a lull, and “Oscar” checks out the scenery. That raucus group over in the booth is ordering yet another round of drinks. Hmm, weird painting over on that wall. There's now something of a crowd in the lobby area -- glad we made reservations.

None of Oscar’s visual redirections prompt any reaction from “B,” whose gaze is likewise wandering -- from Oscar, to her plate, to the room, to the reflection on the convex side of her spoon.

Oscar sees that a waitress has arrived at the raucus booth to take that group’s drink order. Boy, is she hot!

B’s eyedar instantly deploys. She locks onto the direction of Oscar’s gaze, tracks it, and, turning her shoulders slightly, swivels her head to look over her shoulder, changing her own visual direction through a rotation of 120 degrees until she locks on target.
“She’s pretty,” B says with a mixture of mild amusement and less mild annoyance.
“Who? Who?” says Oscar.
You know who.”
Now I would not be so foolish as to claim that men are always subtle in checking out women. I admit, a wide-eyed stare accompanied by gaping mouth, a lolling tongue, and a large trickle of drool is not subtle. Saying things like “Check out that rack!” is not subtle. Yes, men can be totally gross.

But those are not eyedar deployment situations. Eyedar detects male visual scamming no matter how subtle. In the purely hypothetical example above, “Oscar” was looking just slightly off to the right of B’s shoulder. He did not move his head, or even shift the direction of his glance: the waitress just walked into his field of vision, I swear it! It was completely innocent!

Nothing escapes eyedar.

If she told you, she'd have to kill you.
How do they do it? Do we men have a “tell”? A slight dilation of the pupil, a slight reddening of the skin around the neck? A barely perceptible change in breathing rate? A telltale bulging vein? Or do women just have a sixth sense?

Whatever it is, men don’t have a clue. And women deny having eyedar, they deny deploying it, they play dumb when you try to call them on it. If you say, “There! How did you know I was checking that woman out?” the answer is always, “Well, duh, you couldn’t have been more obvious.”

How such a large group can maintain so impenetrable a veil of secrecy around such an important intelligence technology is itself a mystery. National security secrets are not so well kept.

It’s not just your wife or girlfriend.
Here’s the crazy thing about eyedar. It isn’t limited to your wife or significant other, or someone with a claim on your sexual fidelity. It can – and will – be deployed by any woman at any time. It can be your friend’s wife during a double date. It can be your colleague from the office. It can be your aunt. The point is this: “Go ahead, check out that woman’s behind. You can be as discreet as you like, but you will be busted.”


Friday, April 29, 2005


How uncool are you?

While I was busy taking the "what kind of American English do you speak" blog quiz and thinking, "a blog quiz! What a fresh and novel idea!", Jeremy was fending off requests to take such blog quizzes as "Which STD are you?" Okay, so how uncool am I? Let's see:

How Uncool are You?

1. Did you think that blog quizzes were cool and link to them on your blog before you even realized they were promoted on a web site called Blogthings?

[rolling eyes] That would be "no." Duh.

Er... well, yes, actually

2. You are___:

The first one to know about a new blogthing

Not the first one to know about a new blogthing

The last one to know that there even was such a thing as a blogthing and that there was a website called "Blogthings" which offers “cool stuff to put in your blog”

3. Which blog quiz would you rather take?*

What kind of American English do you speak?

What’s your seduction style?

Which STD are you?

4. It is most important to me to know my ____:*

Porn star name

Stripper name

Penis name

4. How cheap are you?

I would not pay money to “be the first to learn about a new blog thing” quiz

*Please note that I am not making these up!


Thursday, April 28, 2005


Meanwhile, in the real world...

While I'm self-indulgently goofing around with jokes about cyber-game capitalism, Mr. Bozzo at Marginal Utility intrepidly continues to respond to Bush administration BS in support of its Social Security privatization caper. The conclusion:
Shockingly, high earners will tend to benefit from the alternative [privatized] plans, according to a 1999 GAO analysis.
I've noticed that some have my readers have kind of glossed over irony lately, so let me be sure to point out that Bozzo was speaking tongue in cheak -- as in, "I am shocked, SHOCKED that their is favoritism toward the wealthy in this Administration!"

You must stay informed about this issue until the privatization dragon is slain!



Controlling (lack of) interest -- an update

My blog colleague Phantom Scribbler is a wholly owned (or rather 70%) subsidiary of Unframed Visual Effects, whose chairman, Mr. Hugh McDonald, jetted in from the United Kingdom to share the fact that actually reads very few of the blogs whose shares he owns.

Just as I suspected. These blogshares buyers are not like Victor Kiam, who bought Remington Rand in 1979 claiming "I liked their electric razor so much I bought the company." Instead, they're T. Boone Pickens-style corporate raiders who have little interest in the blog, and probably plan only to raid the pension plan for cash and sell off the blog for spare parts.



Take a B.O.W. -- Blog O' the Week

I will commit myself to featuring a new (to me) blog each week in my newest sidebar feature.

What's my motivation? Three parts celebrating the creativity of others to one part shameless, self-promotional trolling for links.

Moral Turpitude, my inaugural Blog Of the Week, is not only funny, but funny with funny pictures. For instance:
I'm pretty busy trying to finish my take-home exam that's due tomorrow. I did find the time to photoshop the head of our nation's 9th president William Henry Harrison onto the body of Axl Rose.
And she posts it -- here.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005


Controlling interest

Corporate warfare here at Columnist Manifesto

Rising Jurist is an entertaining blog by a second year law student. It not only has one of the cooler layouts -- a sleek, uncluttered look adorned only with late 19th century caricature sketches of the legal profession -- but also features great quotes from classes. Check the archive here and scroll down to the posts between 2/18 and 2/28 for a taste.

But here's a surprise: Rising Jurist owns my blog!

That's right. Over, the past week, as reported here by BlogShares, Rising Jurist has purchased a net of 3500 shares of Columnist Manifesto, thereby aquiring a controlling 70% interest.

What is BlogShares, you ask? I'm not sure I can explain. It seems to be some sort in web game that rates Blogs, like the TTLB ecosystem, but does so by analogy to the stock market. Unlike the ecosystem, it is interactive, and you can buy and sell shares of blogs.

Weird? No more so, I suppose, then finding what bizarre Google searches produce CM at the top of the search results.

But here's what is weird. As far as I know, Rising Jurist has not linked to me more than once. So why the interest in my blog shares? Some theories:
1. I am about to be fired, and will be replaced as author of Columnist Manifesto by some hack writer more congenial to corporate headquarters over at Rising Jurist.

2. I am about to receive a memo on Rising Jurist letterhead directing me to stop using the word "butt," and to stop making fun of President Bush.

3. I am about to receive a memo on Rising Jurist letterhead expressing concern about my recent obsession with “slapping” and directing me to meet with the new Employee Assistance Program to deal with it.

4. I am about to learn that Columnist Manifesto has been shut down, and that my space on blogspot, my blogroll and my archives have been sold off.
It’s been many years since I studied corporate law – Gordon, Christine, help me out here: what do I do? Do I need a White Knight? A poison pill?

UPDATE: Rising Jurist -- or should I say, One Blue Sun, Inc.? -- seems to be a holding company that owns controlling interests in SCOTUSblog and The Blog of Nate, as well as substantial minority positions in several other blogs. I will also add that, since he has begun acquiring CM shares, the price of CM has skyrocketed from $1.65 to $116. Finally, my investigation has turned up, not only the portfolio of this corporate raider of the blogosphere, but also the secret identity of the Rising Jurist himself.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005


My new hobby

Overhearing undergraduate conversations!

It's delightful. These undergraduates are all over campus. It's like observing wildlife, except they're capable of higher order reasoning and speech. Like this:
My parents are like, "Whatever! Shit happens!"
The context for this very interesting remark was a conversation about dropping a course. Apparently, this young woman felt compelled to clear that decision with her parents who were, like, totally okay with it.

I was deeply impressed. My parents were so not like "whatever, shit happens," that I could hardly believe my ears. Maybe its a generational thing, the parenting style of the former 1970s youth. Will this "shit happens" style of parenting survive when the kids of the next crop of parents -- the soccer moms and hockey dads and play-date organizers -- reach college?


Monday, April 25, 2005


Some thoughts on bitch-slapping

It was just a couple of years ago that I heard the term "bitch slap" for the first time. It was on TV, and it was clear from the context that it was supposed to be hip and funny. It was either a still-slightly-edgy-but-well-established comedian, or an HBO sitcom or a rerun of West Wing. (This clearly places me in the eighth circle of unhipness, but there it is.) I now hear "bitch slap" fairly often – not every day, but perhaps once every week or two – and it's always said in a sardonic context, the speaker trying to be funny, satirical, hip(ish).

I'll admit having cracked a smile when I heard Mandy, the female political consultant in the first season of West Wing, threaten to "bitch slap" the Jed Bartlet re-election effort or when I heard people say something like "John Kerry bitch-slapped Bush in the first presidential debate." I suppose the humor is in the incongruity of applying the language of trash-talking to a presumptively high-brow context, or perhaps in messing around with gender.

When you think about it, "bitch slap" in these contexts is being used metaphorically, though that is difficult to pin down, since you have to know the literal meaning of a word or phrase in order to see its metaphorical use. I suspect that the meaning is in fact somewhat obscure. Most of us eighth circle of hipness dwellers, for example, are too shy to admit we're hearing some hip new (or formerly new) lingo for the first time in order to ask, "and what exactly is ‘bitch-slapping'?" Instead we try to guess at its literal meaning from context and act like we know what it means.

Two or three "literal" meanings have occurred to me. One is a slap administered by a "bitch" (i.e., a woman), either to a man or another woman. Another is a man slapping "his bitch," suggesting either spousal abuse, or a pimp asserting dominance over his "ho" (another word that has made the comedy rounds lately, which perhaps I'll post about soon), or perhaps we're supposed to think about a macho prison inmate dominating his male prison "bitch."

Urban, a kind of living slang dictionary in which readers provide the definitions, has a range of definitions of "bitch slap," but the consensus seems to reflect a dominance-humiliation thing, the "unmanning" of the slappee:
To open handedley [sic] slap someone. Denote disrespect for the person being bitch slapped as they are not worthy of a man sized punch.
I'm not particularly notorious as a politically correct language cop, and my friends generally seem to credit me with a halfway decent sense of humor, but help me out here. When you get right down to it, why is "bitch slap" funny and why is it okay to say on TV?


Sunday, April 24, 2005


Sample this!

Apparently, instead of studying for and taking his final battery of law school exams, at Michigan Law School, blogger Samples Connection is goofing around with interesting web-based tests, like this one to determine your regional linguistic profile.

In another post, Samples Connection features one of the coolest maps I've ever seen. It's a U.S. map that apparently shows, county-by-county, the prevalent generic term for carbonated soft drink.

Check out test, the map and the blog!


Saturday, April 23, 2005


Am I being unfair?

It's been some time since I've seen a picture of Justice Scalia, so I was a bit taken aback to see the photo of Scalia in yesterday's NY Times from his interview with Tim Russert. He looked surprisingly like....

Well, you be the judge. But you haven't ever seen Justice Scalia and Jabba the Hut in the same place, have you?

Left: Scalia. Right: Hut.


Friday, April 22, 2005



On the same day that I wrote about the marketing advantages of "a well placed reference to a dog or a cat" or even better, "a picture," Accident Prone posted this fabulous photo. Since it had no obvious literal connection to the blog post, I assume it was placed there as a marketing tool.



Roe redux

On yesterday's NYT op-ed page, highly overrated pundit David Brooks parroted the argument that Roe v. Wade, by taking abortion out of the political arena by constitutionalizing the issue, did liberals no favors: It mobilized right-wing opposition and de-mobilized liberals, shifting the complexion of politics on a range of issues beyond reproductive choice.

While not original,* the revisionism or contrarianism in Brooks's op ed is insightful as history. But it's worse than useless to make current policy based on hypothetical "could have been" history. Althouse makes the point superbly.

*The argument has been made many times in recent years. See, e.g., Jack Balkin's op ed on the same pages, January 25, 2003. I'm guessing you can also find it on Balkin's blog.



Slap it smartly

The delightful world of recorded books

I love recorded books. You can get reading done while driving, dining alone, doing mindless household chores, or just while sitting there, but your eyes and hands are free -- to drive, eat, fold clothes, or whatever. And being read to is a pleasure in itself.

However good the book may be, a recorded book requires a good reader -- otherwise, it may not be worth plowing through. Authors often do a good job of reading their own work, but interestingly author-read recorded books are more likely to be abridgements, whereas I prefer unabridged versions. The entire series of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels (on which the movie Master and Commander is based), all 20 of them, are beautifully narrated by a talented actor named Patrick Tull, whose performance reflects one of the best examples of an actor thoroughly understanding his text that I've ever encountered. These recordings got me through three years in which I had a trying car commute of nearly an hour each way.

There are two companies that seem to dominate the production of unabridged recorded books: Recorded Books, Inc., which apparently has been bought out by Borders Audio; and Books-on-Tape. Recorded Books/Borders on the whole seems to have a better stable of actors doing the narrating.

Books-on-Tape does a couple of really quirky things in their narration. They want you to have the same experience as if you had the printed book in your hand, I guess, so they actually read you the dust jacket liner notes, the dedication and acknowledgements. I just started a book which included this acknowledgement:
Finally, I am grateful to my wife Ruth, whose eye for the wrong word and talent for finding a better one has greatly improved the readability of this book.
(I guess the author should have had Ruth read over the acknowledgements so she could have ditched "readability.")

Where does "slap it smartly" come from? Unlike Recorded Books, which keeps its introductory material to a minimum, Books-on-Tape gives you a lengthy set of instructions about ordering the tapes, returning them, rewinding them, and then this one on how to deal with a casette tape that is not working:
Place the tape in the palm of your hand and slap it smartly against a hard, flat surface.
Can you hear this without immediately thinking about getting jiggy with the casettes? You should hear this actually read, usually by someone with a British accent. Way, way kinky.


Thursday, April 21, 2005



Possessions and experiences

Marketing people say that you can attract customers with a well placed reference to a dog or a cat. A picture is even better. Having lured you to my blog with a post about cats, and a picture of dogs looking at a cat, I will now give you a free gift.

I’ve called this post “zen.” I use the word zen very loosely, and probably misuse it more than the average person does. What I mean is that I want to give you what I think is the closest I’ve come to discovering a secret of life.

It’s about perceiving the difference between possessions and experiences.

We all know what possessions are. They’re our stuff. But experiences are often things of value in some of the same ways. We pay good money for many of our experiences: A great restaurant meal. Travel. A thrill ride. College. Even if we don’t pay money directly, we go to great lengths to have a lot of experiences. A party, a reunion with friends. A relationship. Sex. Even experiences that are completely unplanned or random can be things of great value to us. Experiences are fleeting, though, and we seem to be able to accept that.

Okay, duh. So what are the words of wisdom? I think we can make ourselves a lot less crazy by thinking about more of our possessions as experiences.

On a small scale, this insight can help you with your spring cleaning. Don’t keep some old junk just because you associate it with an important relationship. Let it become part of the experience of that relationship, and let go of the junk.

Maybe it can help on a larger scale. I sometimes think about people who have had, and then lost, material wealth: war refugees, businesspeople who’ve gone bust, victims of fire or flood. A lot of people in that situation move forward and start their lives over. How do they cope with the loss?

If we can think of some of our grandest possessions as the experience of pleasure or satisfaction we got from them – as for example a particularly great night – it might be easier to let them go. At the end of the day – or more to the point at the end of our lives – aren’t all our possessions, right down to our bodies, mere experiences?


Wednesday, April 20, 2005


"Unorganized Cat Lovers" make a feral case out of it

Public misled by cat hunting advocates, opponents say
Advocats play fast and loose with polling, math

If you want some insight into why The Onion started in Madison, Wisconsin, you should delve into the Wisconsin Feral Cat Hunting controversy. Start with Jeremy's take on it, and then go to Don't Shoot the Cat, which self-identifies as "A non-violent campaign of WisconsinCAT Coordinating resistance to Question 62," and which has a bunch of informational links, most of which are of the "truth-is-better-than-The Onion" variety.

"Question 62" is an is an initiative that would
define free roaming feral domestic cats, as any domestic type cat which is not under the owner's direct control, or whose owner has not placed a collar on such cat showing it to be their property. All such defined free roaming feral domestic cats shall be listed as an unprotected species.
This seems literally to make it "open season" on such cats, at least during hunting season. Cat lovers construe question 62 as proposing a statewide "shoot to kill order" on all cats found outside the home. Certainly, they have a point that the definition of "feral cat" is broad enough to include collared domestic cats let outside by their owners.

Outdoor enthusiasts approved the feral-cat-hunting proposal 6,830 to 5,201 earlier this month at hearings of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress, a citizens' advisory group.*

On the other hand, Question 62 does not propose to override general restrictions on firearm use, so I'm guessing that you couldn't go around shooting cats on nieghborhood streets within city limits. Don't Shoot, however, suggests that this simply means that Question 62 would allow people in, say, Madison, to capture pesky "feral" cats and drown them.

Don't Shoot links to this post from the Alliance for Animals, called "Public Misled by Hunting Advocates":
“We feel that if 88% of the population of Wisconsin does not hunt, the voice of that 88% should be at least as loud as the voice of the small minority that does hunt,” says Alliance for Animals Executive Director Lori Nitzel. “The DNR and the Conservation Congress are charged with representing the interests and concerns of all of Wisconsin's residents, many of whom have cats. This process, in which only 0.2% of the state's population had a voice on this issue, leaves many unorganized cat lovers without representation.”
If you read this quickly, you'd think that the population of Wisconsin was divided into "unorganized cat lovers" and "people who hunt" and that Wisconsin's total population adds up to 88.2%. And I'm guessing some of those non-hunting people are not actually cat lovers and probably wouldn't mind if the neighbor cat were shut up indoors so it no longer used their flower bed as a litter box.

I know that's really not what she meant, but Lori Nitzel does confirm my long-time suspicion that cat lovers are generally unorganized people and that if you stay over at their place and take a shower, you invariably step out onto some cat litter with your bare feet, making you feel like you want to shower again.

I realize that this is no justification for a law that would essentially require all cats to live indoors at all times or else to get outside only for walks on leashes, like dogs. But cats were not put on this earth for our convenience, and it would be inhumane to force them to give up roaming in favor of leashed walks -- as compared to measures such as declawing and spaying (which would likely be the fate of many former outdoor roamer cats who would become shut-ins).

A complex issue....


*This picture was neither from Dont't Shoot the Cat, nor The Onion, but from the California State Bar Journal, of all things, in an article not about cats, but about juries. The caption is mine.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Black smoke looked white at first

This is actually my third papal succession vigil. Those of us old enough to have followed the news in 1978 may remember the brief reign of Pope John Paul I, who died shortly after succeeding Paul VI in 1978. (See list of popes here.) John Paul II was the the second choice for 1978.

I can't prove this without exerting myself beyond a quick Google search, but I'm pretty darned sure that every time a pope has been selected in my lifetime there was a news report like the one I heard today on the radio:
Watchers thronging in St. Peters Square reported seeing white smoke emerge from the Vatican, but that the smoke changed to black.

"I could have sworn I saw white smoke at first," said a disappointed vigilist.

Cheering erupted among the crowd, believing that the successor to the late Pope had been selected, but it slowly died away as the smoke darkened to an unquestionable black. Despite the disappointment, the determined crowd continues its vigil.
Do you think the guy in charge of the smoke does that on purpose? While it certainly would be a hilarious bit of Vatican humor to use color-changing smoke, I think it has more to do with human nature. Consider this story that could be, but is typically not, reported in every weekday morning's New York Times:
Commuters Disappointed but, Determined, Wait On

Thousands of area commuters reported this morning that they "could have sworn" they heard the bus coming around the corner, only to discover that it was just a delivery van...


Monday, April 18, 2005


Aquafina – the private school of drinking water

When I was young, the idea of buying bottled water as one’s regular source of drinking water was absurd. Bottled water was for stocking a tornado shelter, or for driving across the desert, or for when the water-well pump for the family that wasn’t on the city water system broke down.

Americans’ water-drinking habits have undergone a relatively quiet revolution. Somewhere along the line, broad swaths of the American public lost faith in the quality of tap water. I’m included in this. I’m not sure what it was – rumors of pollutants in public water reservoirs, or of bacteria or metallic residue in plumbing? In any case, a huge percentage of Americans now get most of their drinking water from bottled water. Don’t ask me for figures – you know it’s true. The bottled drinking water industry has exploded.

What drove this home for me was not the ubiquitous small plastic bottles of Poland Spring, Crystal Geyser and the Coke-and-Pepsi products, Dasani and Aquafina, respectively. It was the baseball steroid hearings before Congress. At the witness tables, next to the microphones in front of Mark McGwire, Raphael Palmiero, Sammy Sosa and Curt Schilling were not the traditional pitcher-and-water glass, the prop of the nervous congressional witness. There were small bottles of commercial bottled water. Yes, I know professional athletes are product-placement whores, but these were the halls of Congress, for gosh sakes! Bottled water has taken over.

So what that a commodity delivered free to apartment dwellers and at a nominal cost to homeowners is now widely eschewed in favor of the far more expensive bottled alternative?

An environmentalist friend of mine makes these very persuasive arguments. Check the facts out for yourself, but I’m going to try to cut way down on bottled water.

1. Something else to drill for. In addition to depleting watersheds and springs, the bottled water industry creates environmental impact by giving private industry yet another monetary incentive to tramp into wilderness areas and extract resources. Apparently, unlike oil drilling, there isn’t really any regulation in place to slow them down.

2. What makes us think the bottled water quality is so good? There are no regulations in place to ensure that bottled drinking water is in fact any “healthier” than tap water. In fact, a lot of bottled water is tap water, though it may go through extra distillation. Home filtrations systems may be the best way to deal privately with concerns about the quality of your tap water.

3. I have one word for you: plastics. The bottled water boom has been an incredible bonanza for the plastics industry. The plastic bottles, particularly the smaller ones, are extremely wasteful of resources; though technically recyclable, only a small percentage of plastic water bottles are recycled, and even most of those we dutifully put in recycling bins end up as trash -- put in landfill or even incinerated, thereby releasing toxins into the air.

4. Privatization. A massive middle-class exodus from the public drinking water system may reduce our social commitment to public drinking water quality. Drinking water supply may become a candidate for budget cutting. Result: poor water for poor people. Hence the title of this post.


UPDATE: See the report at here for more details. (For the info on recycling, scroll down about 4/5 of the way to the heading "Big Footprint.")


Saturday, April 16, 2005


The difference between shocked and appalled

According to a soon-to-be released GAO report, "Security at U.S. airports is no better under federal control than it was before the September 11 attacks." CNN reports:
"A lot of people will be shocked at the billions of dollars we've spent and the results they're going to see, which confirm previous examinations of the Soviet-style screening system we've put in place," Rep. John Mica, R-Florida, told The Associated Press on Friday.
A lot of people, perhaps, but not me. I've always figured that this was security theater, a big show to generate false feelings of security while conditioning everyone to accept the right wing mantra that our personal liberties must take a back seat to security.

"Shocking" means an extreme form of unpleasant surprise. I'm not in the least surprised to have my suspicions confirmed that my security has not been improved by having the airport keystone cops paw through my briefcase and threaten to haul me into an interrogation room if I don't take off my shoes.

I am however appalled. If we have to undergo the long lines and indignities for significantly improved security, that would have been one thing. (I find the removal of my shoes particularly galling -- it's the classic power trip, a gesture of submission to authority in the primal sense of making oneself physically vulnerable to the authority figure.) But to do it as an unwilling participant in a vast propaganda exercise...

I'm likewise appalled, but not shocked, that the administration dumped this story in the Friday news cycle so it would be reported on Saturday -- the day of my (and MSM's) lowest reader/viewer -ship.


Friday, April 15, 2005


How unhip am I?

On the theme of lingo, it's not just academics who indulge in jargon, argot, lingo, slang, or what have you. We all do it in our ongoing quest -- a losing battle for most of us -- to remain plugged in to pop culture.

Think of a series of co-centric circles. At the very center are the actual creators of cultural reference points -- artists, hep cats, and whoever it is that originates slang, people who haven't been using the term "hep cat" in several generations. Then the next circle are the edgier people who breathe life into the slang by using it and while having whatever socio-cultural umph to give the slang a suitable degree of cachet. Most recently, perhaps, hard core hip hop culture (or is that already outdated?).

The next circle, moving outward, are the wannabes; then the culturally-attuned, have-some-edgy-friends-or-acquaintances. By now we've reached the cooler white people and the more obscure standup comedians.

The next circle includes borderline mainstream media -- the editors of magazines whose marketing demographic includes people who wanna read about edgy people, standup comics appearing on late night talk shows for the first time, and Jon Stewart. The next circle includes slightly offbeat mainstream media, middle aged comedians clinging to hipness (Bill Maher), and anyone else who would impress a well informed reader of the New York Times as pretty hip or plugged in.

The next circle is that part of the public that can repeat Bill Maher's joke and still get a laugh from the reasonably well informed New York Times readers, most of whom have still not yet heard the joke. The next circle includes anyone who knows what a blog is.

We've reached me, way out in the eighth circle.

By this time, however, the original edgy, dangerous slang-creator -- that stone in the water that has sent out eight ripples -- has moved on to something else -- in fact, he moved on about 2 to 5 years ago.

Bill Maher will keep working the joke for another few months; then Jay Lenno for a year or two. Then, if it's not too crude, the sitcoms. Then, Tom Delay.


Thursday, April 14, 2005


Bullsh*t on Bullsh*t?

Phantom Scribbler posts a delightful review of philosopher Harry Frankfurt's On Bullshit here.

I needed this review in order to reach a judgment whether the tiny volume -- a bound essay harking back to 18th century pamphlet-publishing -- may well be worth the $6 or so price on Amazon and the prodigious effort of reading all 67 pages.

Phantom quotes her favorite paragraph from the book, from which I'll quote my favorite sentence:
"the phenomenon [of bullshit] itself is so vast and amorphous that no crisp and perspicuous analysis of its concept can avoid being procrustean."
Okay. I could imagine wanting to read a clear-eyed philosopher writing about bullshit as a social phenomenon, as a scourge of our civic mind, or some such. Am I to understand that Frankfurt has written a witty trifle, a mere pomo demo of bullshit? I sure don't want to spend time reading some philosophy professor's idea of a joke.

I tried to decode Phantom's review to get the answer to this question -- is Frankfurt just giving us some BS on BS? -- but ended up lost in a maze of irony.



Should I be worried?

CM has recently been visited by "The Dark Goddess of Replevin," who has been posting a fascinating law blog, The Dark Goddess of Replevin Speaks, since 2002. On TDGRS, whose links and archives I've only begun to explore, you can find such items as the "King County [Washington] Law Library Catalogue" and Bernard Cardinal Law's deposition transcript.

Although I hesitate to say this under the Dark Goddess's watchful eye, "replevin" is the common law remedy of seizing personal property ("chattels," we lawyers say) wrongfully held by another.

So what to make of all this? A new, far-flung reader of my blog? Or a supernatural figure who plans to repo my computer?



DeLay mayday?

Crackling signal over the radio: "Mayday, mayday. This is Majority Leader to Nation's Leader. Do you read, Nation's Leader? I'm going down..."

House Majority Tom DeLay, beset by the ethics scandal that won't go away and by the blowback from his own attacks on the independent federal judiciary that he won't let go of, may be in real trouble. Clue number one is this ringing endorsement, from our President (aka "w," "Blue-tie" or "The Smirk"*), as quoted in today's NYT:
"Sure," [White House spokesman Scott] McClellan said, when asked if the president considered Mr. DeLay a friend. He went on: "I think there are different levels of friendship with anybody."
Is it just me, or is this the kind of endorsement you hear from the General Manager of the last place baseball team when he says that "the manager's job is safe."

By the way, did you know that President Bush and I are friends? Our level of friendship is the one I have with people whom I believe are the worst president in U.S. history and whom, if I ever met them, I would probably find to be personally distasteful. Friends don't let friends drive the country into the ground.
*Courtesy of Jim at Moondance Press.


Wednesday, April 13, 2005


I know some people call it "law porn," but...

Today, I stepped onto the elevator after picking up my mail, pushed the button for my floor, greeted one of my senior colleagues already in the elevator, and chatted amiably while looking through the half dozen or so glossy brochures that had arrived that day.

"Oh, Penthouse!" said my senior colleague.

Eyes wide with alarm, I did a double take at the glossy four-color magazine in my hand: No, not Penthouse, merely Aspen Publishers Law School Publications 2005. The woman pictured on the cover was wearing a suit and studiously reading a law book.

Was this a witty reference to "law porn," the discreditable practice of barraging faculty in other institutions with glossy institutional self-promotional materials? Kind of racy for this senior colleague.

From the ensuing chit chat, it turns out he was quipping about the fact that my office is on the top floor....

Shows where my mind is(?).

UPDATE: Today (Thursday) I just received my Spring 2005 issue of Washington University in St. Louis alumni magazine!


Tuesday, April 12, 2005


No escape

Read your cell phone contract. There's probably language in there saying that you assume the risk to your health from using the cell phone. It may or may not refer explicitly to the evidence that the concentration of -- what? -- electromagnetic waves or something to your head from holding the cell phone up to your ear may cause an increased incidence of brain cancer. I'm not sure if I have my facts straight, but the assumption of risk clause is in there.

Anyway, following some advice on the subject, I bought a handsfree headset to use with my cell phone. It's the "ear bud" kind that fits in your ear like an iPod or Walkman headphone, and it has a little microphone built onto the cord at around chin level. It works quite well, and at a distance, is inconspicuous enough that when you're having a cellphone conversation walking on the street, you look like a crazy person talking to himself.

I just had this disconcerting experience today, while removing my headset from my briefcase. A paper clip was stuck to it. I let the earpiece dangle, and the paper clip continued sticking. The earpiece is a magnet.

Hmmm. Not sure I like that...


Monday, April 11, 2005



I learned about "terms of art" in my very eggheady law school. The phrase "term of art" is a slightly pretentious, slightly arty way of saying "technical jargon," in particular a word or phrase that may have a common meaning but that has a technical meaning within a particular professional enclave. Or perhaps the reconfiguration of common words into a slightly off combination that has such a technical meaning. "Brief" is a term of art for lawyers, meaning a written legal argument filed in court. "Filed" is a term of art for that matter, since it means lodged with the court clerk as opposed to the more commonplace stuck in a file cabinet. In fact, I think "term of art" is a term of art.

Yesterday evening, when I should have been blogging, I was instead having a work-related dinner with a party of academics. We were feasting an out of town speaker who had a presentation the next day. It was a charming group of people, and of course very intellectual, but I felt I was holding my own on the subject of where to get the best donuts in our town.

But then the subject wound around to academic stuff. I felt increasingly challenged to follow the conversation, a feeling which reached its apex around the moment when one of my dinner companions rolled out the world "totalizing."

I'd seen the word "totalizing" in a law review article a couple of years ago, and after briefly stuggling to figure out what it meant, I decided that if I ignored the word, perhaps it would go away and I would never have the misfortune of seeing or hearing it again.

As best I can determine from context, "totalizing" means something like "stereotyping," ignoring individual traits or circumstances in favor of sweeping generalizations based on characteristics attributed to a group. Anyway, totalization is plainly something bad, and the speaker was very emphatic on this point, saying the word again, for emphasis: "It's just so.... so... totalizing." I was morally certain that she was fighting back the urge to say that it was just "totally totalizing."

We academics face the difficult life choice about whether, when and how far to go down the jargon road. Sometimes the term of art picks up some connotations and becomes handy among those in the know -- "more nuanced," to use another term that has become popular in academic circles in recent years. Sometimes the term becomes a kind of code, a secret handshake among intellectual fellow travelers to signal that they are all pursuing the same scholarly subspecialty. Because we gain the academic equivalent of street cred by raising our profiles within these small hotbeds of specialization, the lure of lingo becomes ineluctable. Saying the word "totalizing" struck me as flashing the intellectual gang symbol for a set of shared ideas and intellectual commitments I'm only dimly aware of.

I don't claim to be above all this. But I think it's fair to say that I don't really move in the totalizing circles.


Saturday, April 09, 2005


Saturday news cycle

Just like the newspapers, my readership drops sharply on Saturday. (Check this sitemeter graph -- all the big dips are on the weekends.) I'm glad that you all have better things to do on the weekend than read blogs. Well, by "you all" I mean those of you who are not reading this post.

Like the newspapers, this is probably the day that I should post all those items in my personal news and comment cycle that I want to bury. Arguably I shouldn't post them at all -- but that's one of the great mysteries of blogging.

Here's something I'm not particularly proud of. I'm tired of pope coverage. Yes, he was the leader of a great world religion, and millions of people around the world are mourning his death. Yes, of course it's news. So will it be news as they discuss and then vote on the successor, with all the black smoke, white smoke stuff. I just wish it didn't have to basically preempt the entire front page above the fold. Couldn't they have a special pope section inside the paper?

Ironically, it took me about 6 months to deal with my grief over the 2004 election, a grieving process that included a personal news blackout, and I had just gotten back into regular newspaper reading when, lo and behold, the news cycle is taken hostage by the Terri Schiavo case and then the pope's death -- the kinds of news coverage that, while news, and while great for newspaper circulation, don't make me feel more well informed about the world.

I think what bothers me about stories like Schiavo and the pope is the kind of "mass mind" quality, the idea that everyone is (or should be) feeling and thinking the same basic thing in reaction to the story. We should all be enthralled with every detail of the pope's funeral; we should all agree that whether Terri Schiavo lives or dies is a question of great moment for our national public policy that we should all care deeply about. It was the same after 9/11 -- we should all be mind-numbingly "patriotic" in the wake of that disaster and unite behind President Bush's "leadership" and say that each and every last cop and firefighter in the entire country is a "hero" and put American flags on our lapels and car windows.

It's at times like these that I turn to The Onion. I will never forget how the first "news outlet" in the country to return to a critical-thinking framework after 9/11 was The Onion, which was issuing pertinent satire two weeks after the terrorist attacks.

The Onion is particularly good this week. News in Brief: "Terri Schiavo Dies of Embarassment." And from one of their lead stories: "Congress Awards Itself Congressional Medal of Honor," and the text quotes Tom Delay as saying "We've done a very good job this past year." Right on.


Friday, April 08, 2005


How about them Nats!

I find myself strangely attracted to the Washington Nationals.

When you think about it, that's just weird. Last year, and indeed since 1969, they were the Montreal Expos, the team that should never have been in the National League. Montreal did have a AAA team in earlier days -- the Royals, a Brooklyn Dodger farm team on which Jackie Robinson played for a season before joining the Dodgers in 1947. But that didn't make the Expos worth rooting for. Nor did the amusing fact that you could pick up Expos broadcasts in French.

Also, I'm not terribly fond of baseball team relocation, and don't like to root for moved teams.

As you might surmise from the upper left corner of my blog, I'm a lifelong New York Mets fan. The Mets are an expansion team -- not a "traditional" one -- but they are compensation to the city of New York for the outrage of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants moving out of the city. I love the fact that the Mets uniforms are Royal blue, symbolizing the Brooklyn Dodgers, with an orange gothic (or whatever font that is) "NY," the same logo as that of the New York Giants (though the latter was orange on black).

Well, I guess the Nationals are compensation for the loss of the traditional Seantors franchise (to Minnesota) and the expansion Senators (to Texas). And although the city of Washington has switched leagues, there's something right about that. The old Senators used to be nicknamed the "Nationals" for some reason ("Nats" for short), and the new Nationals tap into tradition further by adopting the Senators bright red colors with the curly W logo. (The Nationals road uniforms are black.) An irresistable flashback to my DC area childhood.

I also love the fact that little 7-year old kids who start becoming baseball fans this season and after, will ask their parents whether the Washington Nationals are in some sense the "official" team of the National League -- not only do they share the League's name, but their road uniform Logo looks kind of like a National League All Star team jersey.

"Nationals" is not the easiest three-syllable word for broadcasters and, more importantly, fans to say: "Hey, how did the Nationals do today?" The name cries out for a one-syllable nickname and "Nats" is the obvious choice. I don't know if this has happened already, in this new season.*

There's another good candidate, if you don't object to collective noun team names like "the Utah Jazz" on the ground that they're "not baseball." How about.... "The Nash." This could be good, because the team is not likely to play well, and frustrated fans can morph that into "the Gnash."

So there it is. Although they are division rivals to my beloved Mets, I will also (secondarily) root for the Nationals. I'm a Mets fan, and a Nats fan (or "Gnash" fan).
*UPDATE: Either it has, or it's well on its way: the team is advertizing for people to join the "Nat Pack", the organization's cutesy name for its stadium workers!


Thursday, April 07, 2005


Schiavo Politics -- II

Court bashing or court packing?

The Republicans are trying to get a two-fer out of the Schiavo's family tragedy, playing it to lay the groundwork for their assault on the federal courts. Tom Delay, of course, has made outrageous comments to the effect that the judges in the Schiavo case "thumbed their nose at Congress and the president" for which they will be "held to answer for their behavior." The right wing punditocracy has been railing against the "judicial activism" of the judges who decided the case against Terri Schiavo's parents.

Tuesday's NY Times editorial rightly condemns these political opportunists for their vitriolic attacks and veiled threats toward federal judges, particularly so soon after "the fatal shooting of one judge in his courtroom and the killing of two family members of another."

But the Times editorial seems naive when it implies that these attacks are designed to drum up support for pending bills "to tell courts how to do their jobs" – e.g., to bar judicial reliance on international law principles when deciding constitutional cases (as was done to strike down the juvenile death penalty). Such bills are almost always just for show -- they are often proposed, virtually never pass, and are likely to be struck down by courts as unconstitutional if they did pass.

The real game is judicial appointments. I think the GOP wants to lock down the Christian right for the 2006 and 2008 elections by giving them some horrible, high profile judicial appointments. Republicans still fume over the rejection of Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court by the Democratic-controlled Senate in 1986. Other than Clarence Thomas (whose race neutralized objections to his extreme conservatism in the confirmation debates), Bork was the last strong conservative ideologue to be nominated to the Court. I think GOP strategists believe that Bork was rejected because public opinion viewed the Supreme Court as closely ideologically balanced, and feared a Justice Bork would push the federal judiciary hard to the right. Republicans are seeking to preempt another Bork debacle by convincing the public that the federal judiciary is "activist" and "out of control" and desparately needs an ultraconservative hand to guide it back to the center.

Anyone who has the least inkling about these matters knows that that's an absurd, Orwellian portrait of the federal courts. The federal judiciary has been conservative, and increasingly so, since the end of Ronald Reagan's first term in 1984, and the Supreme Court has had a conservative majority going back even before that. Although Clinton appointments balanced out the lower courts between Republican and Democratic appointees, the pendulum quickly swung back to the right, with Republican-appointed judges making a majority in 11 of the 13 federal appeals courts well before the end of "w" Bush's first term.

And by the way, the characterization of the judges in the Schiavo case as "activist" is just plain sick. All the judges did in that case was to apply the laws enacted by the Florida legislature, which required them to engage in factfinding as to what Terri's wishes were about prolonging her life in a vegetative state.

Judicial activism is more of a slogan than an idea, but if it means anything, it means judges striking down acts of the legislative or executive branches of government based on freewheeling interpretations of the law. Conservative judges, by the way, are every bit as disposed to such "activism" as liberal ones.

Ironically, it was Terri Schiavo's parents, the Schindlers, who went into federal court under the "Schiavo bill" with farfetched arguments that their constitutional rights had been violated. Basically, they argued that the Florida state court decisions were so unfair as to deprive them of their day in court in the Florida court system (and thereby violate their right to due process of law). The Schindlers litigated the case through three trips up to the Florida Supreme Court and three to the US Supreme court, and filed three successive federal suits; as many as a dozen different judges heard aspects of the case. (See the timeline here.) They repeatedly (successfully) petitioned to have new evidence considered. For the federal court in the most recent case to decide that the Schindler's never got their day in court would be not only absurd -- it would have required extreme judicial activism to grant the Schindler's position.

The GOP's shrill attacks on the courts count on the public not being able to understand this stuff. And the public has gotten precious little help from MSM talking heads.

Still, perhaps the Republicans are overplaying their hand. Like their "Likud Politics" on the right-to-die-issue, which has a chance of alienating crucial middle-of-the-road voters, they may find themselves facing a backlash over the judiciary, as Franklin Roosevelt did with his plan to pack the Supreme Court.


UPDATE: For a view that the present court-bashing is different from and worse than court-packing, see Matthew White's post here (and my response in the comments).



This post isn't about Google-searching, but about spelling (or maybe journalism)

Okay, so it started when I checked out a Google search on my referral pages ("what Maris family has to say about Mark McGuire" -- CM = 11th out of 3,420 results), but it quickly turned into something only slightly less trivial. First off, I never blogged about what the Maris family has to say about Mark McGwire; turns out that was in one of the comments on one of my posts. What this all made me wonder was whether my blog was relatively highly ranked in searches for "Mark McGuire" because that's a misspelling of his name. It's not spelled with a U, but with a W -- "McGwire" -- and I consistantly spelled it wrong in posting about steroid use. One of these days I may go back and correct this.

Interestingly (though not "importantly"), a Google search for "Mark McGuire" with a U does not get the helpful Google spelling message, Did you mean: mark mcgwire. What' more, the "Mark McGuire" search yields about 2.2 MILLION results, compared to only 596,000 for Mark McGwire spelled correctly. Apparently, there are (a) lots of people who misspell baseball baseball star Mark McGwire's name on the internet, (b) some real people who actually are named Mark McGuire with a U -- such as the Associate Professor of Medicine at the Central Clinical School at The University of Sydney, Australia.

So is this about spelling? It's not like you can look up McGwire in a dictionary, and if you could, it would reveal that (I'm guessing) it's a variant of the more common "McGuire." Instead, you have to go to a reputable information source about Mark McGwire -- and not, for example, to my blog. So perhaps the misspelling of the name of a person in the news is not an example of bad spelling but of bad journalism.

Huh. Weird.


Wednesday, April 06, 2005


Schiavo politics – I

Just how strong is the Christian right?

The GOP's cynical and manipulative politics in the Schiavo case raises some interesting questions about how its current strategy will play out politically.

Karl Rove's strategy for the 2004 election was apparently to mine the Christian right voters who sat out the 2000 election – some four million of them – on the theory that they would swing what would likely be a close election in 2004. He was successful, apparently, by mobilizing thee voters in key states by getting gay marriage put on numerous state ballots. Arguably, this voting bloc supplied the margin of victory to Bush.

It seems clear to me that Republicans jumped on the Schiavo case to add yet another wedge issue to energize Christian conservative voters – perhaps for the 2006 midterm elections. State legislatures are already making noises about rolling back state right-to-die laws.

The polls on this issue, showing somewhere between 75-80% of Americans opposing the Congressional and Presidential intervention in the Schiavo case, suggests that most people are pretty satisfied with current laws that allow us as individual to make these life-and-death decisions for ourselves. It also suggests that maybe the hard core of the religious right is smaller group than panicky democrats supposed when wringing their hands after the 2004 election.

Democratic strategists should take pains to figure out what exactly is going on. It may be that the current GOP strategy is to engage in Israeli-style Likud Party politics. They will make major concessions to a relatively small but focused group on the extreme right wing in order to acquire the margin of victory in an otherwise closely divided electorate.

So maybe what this means is that the Dems should not play for, or even towards, those voters – the equivalent of Israel's small religious right parties. And maybe it also means that, in the Schiavo case, the GOP has overplayed its hand and made the middle-of-the-road voters ripe, or at least riper, for the plucking.


Tuesday, April 05, 2005


More fun with Google

If you have a blog, and a hit counter, a fun thing to do is to check the "referral pages" from time to time. The hit counter makes a record of the web page that was viewed by someone immediately before he or she surfed to your blog.

This can be particularly fun when the "referral page" is a Google search. Looking at my recent referral pages I learned some interesting things.

If you were to do a search for, say, "Larry David buddy icons," you would get 66,000 results. CM comes up fourth, thanks to my post "Life Imitates Larry David." (You don't know what a "buddy icon" is? Check here.)

I also see that someone came to my blog by a Google search string for the phrase "asterisks put on stats in baseball," which pulls up my post "Asterisks" first among 5,360 search results. The Washington Post comes in at number 3.

The Google search "has not won a world series since 1908" pulls up my post called "Curses" as the very first site among 180,000 search results!

Finally "big butt TV" pulls up my post by that name as the fourth of 1.51 MILLION search results. However, mine seems to be the only one that's not porn.


UPDATE: Okay, last one, I promise. A search for "wide ties" comes up with this CM post as the sixth search result out of... [drumroll] ... 7.36 MILLION!


Monday, April 04, 2005


Lip Service

In last Friday’s moving editorial on Terri Schiavo’s death, the NY Times glossed over a complex set of issues with this polite bow to the religious right:
[S]ome people hold religious convictions so heartfelt that they could not bow to public opinion or the courts and accept the conclusion that Ms. Schiavo should be allowed to die.
I don’t blame the editorial writers for settling for that particular half-truth, since an editorial can’t pursue every tangent. But loose references to “deeply held religious convictions” give too much credit to too many people in the Schiavo case, and I’d hate to see that become some sort of mantra in discussing public policy questions in which the religious right takes a strong position.

The idea of “strong religious beliefs” covers a multitude of sins in contemporary American public policy debates. Because religious beliefs are not grounded in scientific rationalism, it’s only natural that supposedly “faith based” policy arguments have a non-rational starting point. But it’s sloppy thinking to go from acknowledging religious advocates' policy arguments that are non-rational to excusing "faith based" arguments that are illogical, inconsistent or hypocritical.

For example, many faith-based advocates who opposed removal of Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube indulged in the rhetorical ploy of claiming that she was being “starved to death.” While that may have been literally and medically true, it disingenuously mushes together different objections that don’t hang together.

The “starved to death” argument derives rhetorical force from the implication that removing the feeding tube may have caused Terri severe and unnecessary pain and is therefore cruel. Wholly apart from the likelihood that palliative care could largely reduce the pain, the fact is that many of these self-same “sanctity of life” advocates would have opposed the use of medications to end Terri's suffering more quickly, and they have in fact opposed Death with Dignity laws that would allow terminally ill, suffering patients to end their lives. Indeed, the Bush Administration has been trying to shut down Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act since 2001. That issue is currently before the U.S. Supreme Court in Gonzalez v. Oregon.

Further, in focusing their outrage on the courts in this case, the hard core religious right seemed to be trying to widen its base of support by suggesting that Terri’s Schiavo’s feeding tube was going to be removed as the result of a flawed legal process. That too is an opportunistic distortion. The ultimate question in the legal proceedings involved a dispute about whether Terri would have wanted to be kept alive in a persistent vegetative state by means of intrusive life support procedures. But the religious right had no interest in honoring Terri Schiavo’s wishes per se. If in fact Terri's wishes ran against the religious right objectors' own views on death and dying -- categorical opposition to the cessation of any medical procedure that would prolong life -- they would have advocated disregarding Terri's wishes. Thus, the objection to the legal process is not that is was unfair, but that it reached a result contrary to their wishes.

Finally, do we have to accept as an article of faith that every position vociferously asserted by an organization purporting “faith based” ideals is indeed a “deeply held religious conviction”? To begin with, there is a marked tendency in our public debate to confuse so-called "family values" with "religious conviction." While there may be considerable overlap between the two, the desire of family values advocates to have the state control everyone else's family decisions may have as much to do with a misplaced desire to control one's own children (a desire that spills over into the public policy arena) as with any set of theological principles.

Related to this, strong emotions like rage and fear seem to be at work in many public policy debates in which one side drapes itself in the mantle of religion. One of the things religion does for people is to help control such deleterious emotions as rage and fear. There’s certainly a place for that in any society, but what makes me uncomfortable is the idea that rage and fear are perhaps being channeled by opportunistic political and even religious leaders toward some hidden public policy agenda. And if that’s what is going on, I don’t want to sugar coat it by calling it “deeply held religious conviction.”


Saturday, April 02, 2005


The tomato children who ate, or at least affected, Boston

Since yesterday's post about Justice Breyer's intriguing remarks in the Gonzalez v. Raich oral argument is dated April 1, I felt it important to clarify: THAT WAS NOT AN APRIL FOOL'S JOKE! It really happened. Checkthe transcript and scroll down to page 30.

To be sure, sometimes transcripts are garbled by the stenographer. But I thought the rest of the transcript looked very clear and ungarbled. Plus, I'm guessing the U.S. Supreme Court has a pretty darned good stenographer. Plus, the transcript is from the U.S. Supreme Court's own website.

At some point, we can hope that will post the streaming audio of the argument, and we can hear it for ourselves.


Friday, April 01, 2005


This is your Supreme Court Justice on drugs

In my Constitutional Law class, we are studying Gonzalez v. Raich, the pending U. S. Supreme Court case which challenges the power of Congress to define the growing of marijuana in one's backyard solely for personal use for treatment of one's own serious medical condition as illegal interstate drug trafficking. My students read through the transcript of the November 29, 2004 oral argument, reading the parts of the Justices and the advocates.

At one point during the argument on behalf of the marijuana-using patients, this interesting colloquy took place:
JUSTICE BREYER: Well, here, they say -- look, I take it you're using this because I was going to ask you. You know,he grows heroin, cocaine, tomatoes that are going to have genomes in them that could, at some point, lead to tomato children that will eventually affect Boston. You know, we can -- oil that's never, in fact, being used, but we want an inventory of it, federally. You know, I can multiply the examples --

MR. BARNETT: Well --

JUSTICE BREYER: -- and you can, too. So you're going to get around all those examples by saying what?

MR. BARNETT: By saying that it's all going to depend on the regulatory scheme, what the --

[Transcript, pp. 30-31]
When we were done with the transcript, I asked the class for its comments and questions. The student who read the part of Justice Breyer eschewed the cheap laugh (not "what was he smoking"), but instead asked in all candor: "Can you tell me what in the world I was talking about?"


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