From the monthly archives:

July 2005

Can’t-Wait-Till-Friday Fun Thread

by Ted on July 27, 2005

Nick Barlow (no relation) has our number.

Fafnir applies for a job at the White House.

It’s a week old, but the Poor Man’s Parchment Paladins is really something special.

I never did this, as the fear of 976- numbers was drilled into me from a young age, but I could have.

What’s in a frame?

by Ted on July 27, 2005

Sam Crane at The Useless Tree states well the pitfalls of the metaphor of “war” in the fight against terrorism.

We do not have to be as linguistically radical as Chuang Tzu to recognize the inadequacy of a word like “war” to encompass all of what goes into a movement like Al-Qaeda. It is a crude little word that forces our thinking into a narrow range of military options (apologies to Clausewitz who saw war as a broader range of options on an even wider continuum of politics). When we call it “war” we do not think of “police activity.” Indeed, war-mongers have continually mocked those who have argued that going after Al-Qaeda is more like a crime-fighting problem than a war-fighting problem. I guess General Myers will now be considered “soft” on terrorism, too.

Professional ethics

by Henry on July 27, 2005

Marty Lederman has an “extraordinary post”: at _Balkinization_ detailing “six memos”: from Judge Advocate Generals in the armed forces that have just been declassified. The memos make it quite clear that the decision to provide a legal opinion that whitewashed “extreme interrogation techniques” encountered considerable resistance from the armed forces legal services, who saw it as overturning longstanding US armed forces policies which committed the US to take the “high road.” The armed services’ opinions were sidelined, in favour of John Yoo’s memo, which seems to have closed the debate and cleared the way for the later abuses which did indeed take place.

There’s a strong case to be made that what happened at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, along with other abuses (the outsourcing of torture through “extraordinary rendition” and other legal dodges; the probable use of even more extreme techniques by the CIA) are war crimes. Under current political circumstances, there is no likelihood that they will be prosecuted as such. But one could also argue that administration lawyers who provided dubious legal opinions that were then predictably used to provide a spurious patina of legitimacy to illegal acts, were engaged in unethical activity. There was a kerfuffle a few months ago about lawyers who provided legal opinions that gave cover to dodgy tax-avoidance schemes; giving legal cover to torture seems in principle to be rather more problematic. Here’s my question (and I don’t know the answer to it). Does this kind of activity constitute the kind of ethical malpractice that can and should be sanctioned by relevant professional associations (i.e. bar associations)? My guess is that there’s a grey area here, but I would be interested to hear from those who have direct knowledge of how disciplinary sanctioning works in the law.

Update: A reader reminds me that Scott Horton of Columbia University Law School has argued that the relevant disciplinary authorities should investigate the authors of these memos.

In a June 8, 2004 “article”: (scroll down), Neil A. Lewis and Eric Schmitt of the _New York Times_ reported that,

bq. Scott Horton, the former head of the human rights committee of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, said Monday that he believed that the March memorandum on avoiding responsibility for torture was what caused a delegation of military lawyers to visit him and complain privately about the administration’s confidential legal arguments. That visit, he said, resulted in the association undertaking a study and issuing of a report criticizing the administration. He added that the lawyers who drafted the torture memo in March could face professional sanctions.

My reader, who wishes to remain anonymous, said that he consulted experts on legal ethics last year about the prospects for disciplinary sanctions. While there is mixed opinion on the scope of the relevant rules, and some doubt over whether the disciplinary authorities would take up a case of this kind in practice, there does seem to be at least a reasonable argument that the rules _could_ be interpreted to sanction this kind or behavior.

A Nutty Little Argument

by Ted on July 26, 2005

Sometimes I swear that Christopher Hitchens must be filming a boring PBS spin-off of Punk’d. What kind of a man responds to the exposure of a CIA agent by attacking the law that makes it illegal to expose CIA agents?

It’s a little rude to call arguments “self-refuting”, but I don’t know of a more appropriate term for this. It’s a terminally dishonest piece of work, and an embarassment to Slate. In the middle of sliming Wilson, Plame, and the CIA (“The CIA in general is institutionally committed against the policy of regime change in Iraq”), Hitchens forgets to offer an argument about why the law should be overturned. The reader gets no indication of what protections, if any, undercover CIA operatives are actually warranted. Hitchens just points to a few old New York Times editorials concerned about how the law would affect journalists, believing that Rove’s critics have somehow been hoist by their own petard.

I’d just like to bring one thing up. Hitchens believes that the CIA and Joseph Wilson are to blame, not Rove or anyone in the White House. After all, they failed to find evidence of Saddam’s attempts to buy Nigerean yellowcake, when, says Hitch, “(Niger’s) government, according to unrefuted intelligence-gathering from British and other European intelligence agencies, (was) covertly discussing sanctions-breaking sales of its uranium to a number of outlaw regimes, including that of Saddam Hussein.” But, of course, this intelligence has been refuted. The Iraq Survey Group had the benefit of the occupation of Iraq. They travelled anywhere they liked, interviewed anyone they liked, saw any document they liked. Their conclusion: “ISG has not found evidence to show that Iraq sought uranium from abroad after 1991 or renewed indigenous production of such material—activities that we believe would have constituted an Iraqi effort to reconstitute a nuclear weapons program.” So Wilson and the CIA deserve harsh punishment for failure to find evidence of a non-existent program. Sweet.

I know that I should just file Christopher Hitchens under “Boortz” and let it go. I will, soon. With that, I take you to the Fraysters, who are flaying Hitchens:

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The MBA approach to shooting people

by Daniel on July 26, 2005

Over on my other site, a further installment in the series “Everything I Know, I Learned in MBA School At Great Expense And My God Are You Lot Going To Suffer For It”. In this episode, I discuss what the theory of risk management and process control can tell us about the desirability or otherwise of shooting suspected suicide bombers.

Is Grade Inflation Real?

by Harry on July 26, 2005

I’ve been doing some looking around to find out what the evidence is on grade inflation, specifically in higher education in the US. I’m surprised by two things. First, that there doesn’t seem to be firm evidence of it. (It is interesting that Valen Johnson’s excellent book Grade Inflation: A Crisis in College Education, for example, is not about grade inflation at all, but about grade variation and student evaluations of teaching). Second, that so many people think that there is firm evidence of it. Certainly, it appears that if you ask people — faculty and students — whether there is grade inflation, they believe there is. But that is poor evidence, because the students don’t know anything abut what happened in the past, and the faculty have faulty memories. When you look at grades, it certainly seems that mean grades have been increasing within institutions over the past 25-35 years. The most frequently referred to site is Stuart Rojstaczer’s, which surveys a small number of institutions and finds increases in the mean grade in all of them over both a ten year and a 30 year period (much bigger in the private than in the public institutions). This is what people take to be firm evidence of grade inflation. But it isn’t, and I’m surprised that anyone thinks it is. Here’s why; within the institutions surveyed the students might have been gaining in achievement. Grade inflation consists in higher grades being given for similar quality work, not just higher grades being given. And no-one seems to have any data on the quality of the work being produced now or in the past.

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by Ted on July 26, 2005

A few links without much comment:

Ezra Klein on the energy bill:

Listening to them, you’d think Jimmy Carter was passing his dream energy legislation. That the reality has no increase in CAFE standards and was held up for a year while Tom DeLay tried to retroactively protect MTBE manufacturers from lawsuits is too perfect. This isn’t conservatism. And it’s only sold as progressivism. In reality, it’s modern Republicanism distilled, a perfectly pure mixture of incoherence and corruption publicly aimed at solving a serious problem but privately written to ignore the issue in favor of industry demands.

An uncomfortably plausible letter (to me, anyway) printed by Mark Kleiman:

Thought experiment: if the USA just quit tomorrow, what would the insurgents do? The jihadis would have achieved aim ( b ); since aim ( c ) is suicidally impossible, they would most likely declare victory and move on. That would leave the secular Baathists. The Kurds would stand on the sidelines while the Shia militias crushed them with Iranian help. Ethnic cleansing of defeated Sunnis would be a possibility. End-state: de facto partition of Iraq into two (think Belgium or Bosnia), with an ongoing low-level Sunni terrorist movement (think ETA, IRA) preventing economic recovery in the Arab part but not strong enough to change the regime. US bases? Privileged access to oil? Cosy reconstruction contracts? Forget it. More likely demands for rendition of Abu Ghraib players to face trial on torture charges.

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Nobbled Savages

by Henry on July 26, 2005

“Brad DeLong”: has a go at the anthropologists at “Savage Minds” for “two”: “posts”: which in turn attack Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel”: I’m mostly in agreement with Brad, but think that there’s a more interesting question lurking in the background; the Savage Minds critiques seem to me to be less motivated by professional jealousy than by a wrongheaded understanding of levels of causation. Ozma, one of the Savage Minds bloggers suggests “in comments”: that while she thinks that Diamond is wrong on the facts, her more fundamental objection to his work is that it’s _the wrong kind of anti-racism._ [click to continue…]


by Chris Bertram on July 26, 2005

Calling British lawyers! In the wake of the London bombings the British government has moved to get the Opposition to agree to “new laws”: :

bq. … including bans on preparing, inciting or training for terrorism.

Aren’t all these activities already illegal under the law of conspiracy? Weren’t IRA bombers regularly charged, for instance, with “conspiracy to cause explosions”? Informed answers only please.


by Ted on July 26, 2005

Via Thomas Nephew:

The Senate might vote on Sen. McCain’s and Levin’s amendments to the Department of Defense authorization bill as early as today. These amendments would establish a bipartisan, 9/11-style commission to investigate stories of detainee abuse performed in our facilities. They would end the practice of holding secret “ghost detainees” who are not registered with the Red Cross, and would expressly prohibit cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody, no matter where they are held.

It would be tremendously helpful if concerned readers would call their Senators today to ask them to support the McCain and Levin amendments to the Department of Defense authorization bill.

Opinion polls

by Chris Bertram on July 26, 2005

Since the bomb attacks in London there have been a number of polls which, among other things, ask British Muslims whether or not they thought the attacks were justified. This then provides material for op-ed columnists and bloggers to scale up the number so as to argue that there are {insert large number} Muslims who are prepared to back the terrorists. Having looked at the detail of the latest poll, from “ICM as reported in the Guardian”: (pdf), I’m sceptical about any such conclusions given the strange combination of views apparently endorsed by respondents in Table 8.

Out of 500 Muslim respondents, 26 said the bombings were justified. Of those 26 bomb-justifiers, 7 declared they would vote Conservative if there were a general election tomorrow, 12 were potential Labour voters and just 2 backed the Liberal Democrats. Go figure.

Reading the small print

by John Quiggin on July 26, 2005

This morning’s email included one urging me to sign a statement headed “United Against Terror”. As the email said

The statement begins:

Terrorist attacks against Londoners on July 7th killed at least 54 people. The suicide bombers who struck in Netanya Israel on July 12 ended five lives including two 16 year old girls. And on July 13 in Iraq suicide bombers slaughtered 24 children. We stand in solidarity with all these strangers hand holding hand from London to Netanya to Baghdad: communities united against terror.

The statement ends:

We invite you to sign this statement as a small first step to building a global movement of citizens against terrorism.

Based on these extracts, I would have been happy to sign the statement, for what such gestures are worth. Having read the full statement, however, I decided not to, and concluded that the statement tended more towards disunity in the face of terrorism than unity. After reading some of the supporting statements on the website, I was very glad of this decision.

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MSN Virtual Earth weirdness

by Eszter Hargittai on July 26, 2005

As you may have already heard, MSN Virtual Earth is now available for use. Although it is nice that you do not have to download special software to use it (unlike Google Earth), I did not find it nearly as fun and intuitive as Google Earth (granted, that was not the most obvious interface either). Moreover, I find it somewhat curious that Microsoft calls its service Virtual *Earth* when they cover so little of the globe in detail. When trying to zoom in on various parts of Europe, I could not get anything more than a regional view. That is a far cry from what you can get using Google Earth, or these days, even Google Maps.

What’s more curious, however, is their depiction of certain areas. The Register caught some of these reporting that the NYC photos still show the World Trade Center towers (compare to the Google Maps version, hybrid view). Also, there is nothing to be found of Apple’s Cupertino headquarters (see it on Google Maps).

[thanks – Note the interesting blog link loop. I am acknowledging a post that acknowledges me.:)]

Welcome, Sickos

by Kieran Healy on July 25, 2005

Over the past few hours we’ve had a little trouble with the server — apologies to our readers: it should be fixed now. In the course of trying to diagnose and repair the problem, I was looking through our log files and I noticed some search queries that made me feel a bit queasy. About a year ago, Belle wrote a post called “The La Perla Exception”:, which discussed the legal problems associated with drawing a line between pictures of naked children (e.g., canonical baby-in-the-bath-with-rubber-ducky photos) and child pornography. Just in the past 24 hours or so, we’ve had eleven hits on that page via google. According to “GeoBytes”:, the originating IPs for these searches were in places as various as Bangalore, Chennai (also in India), Rio De Janeiro, Burnaby (in British Columbia), Oscoda (Michigan), Cabot (Arkansas), Bridgeport (Connecticut) and Tampa (Florida). Of these searches, two appeared legitimate — “debate+child+pornography” and “what+constitutes+child+porn.” The rest were queries like “European+Child+nudity+pictures”, “child+models+nude” (several variants of that one), and “small+girls(12-15+years)+sex+pics.” Because the La Perla post is so old, I’ve no reason to think this trickle of sewage isn’t typical. The searches represent just under one percent of referrals to CT from distinct google queries in 24 hours. That’s pretty low, I suppose. But, then again, it’s not as if Crooked Timber has much in the way of content that would attract pedophiles. Imagine what many other sites — never mind Google itself — must be seeing.

Spreading Statistics

by Ted on July 25, 2005

Like Matthew Yglesias, I was a little stunned at this line from Sen. Rick Santorum in today’s kinder, gentler Washington Post forum:

One place the government does not help is through taxes. In fact in 1950 the average American family paid 2% in taxes. Today that average American family pays 27% in taxes to the federal government. Oddly enough the difference, 25%, is what the average second wage earner makes in America today. So you see, on average, the second wage earner is working simply to pay the increased burden the federal government has put on the family.

That’s a showstopping statistic. Can it be true? I’ve gone to the Tax Policy Center site, which has the most detailed information that I could find. This table, “Historical Combined Income and Employee Tax Rates for a Family of Four”, doesn’t seem to back up Santorum. The TPC chart starts in 1955 (not 1950), before Medicare. According to TPC, federal taxes (federal income, Social Security, and Medicare) for a family of four with the median income have risen from 7.35% to 14.36% between 1955 and 2001.

That’s a substantial increase, but isn’t congruent with Santorum’s description. If we managed to recapture the 1955 tax rate, it would have saved this family $4436 in 2001. $4436 is a pleasant sum to contemplate, but it’s not enough to replace the wages of many second earners.

If anyone else can find a source, please let me know. Maybe there was some major change in tax rates between 1950 and 1955; maybe he’s defining “average family” in a different way. I’ve called Santorum’s press secretary, and will update if they get back to me. If this figure is substantially true, Republicans ought to be screaming it off the rooftops. If it isn’t, the Senator really shouldn’t be throwing it around.