Constitutional Foot Tapping

by Jon Mandle on October 27, 2007

Larry Craig, who has withdrawn his intention to withdraw from the Senate and now intends to finish his term, is trying to withdraw his guilty plea for disorderly conduct. According to this AP story, his lawyers intend to argue: 1. that “Minnesota’s disorderly conduct law is unconstitutional as it applies to his conviction in a bathroom sex sting”; 2. that “the judge erred by not allowing Craig to withdraw his plea”; and 3. that “the judge who sentenced Craig to a fine and probation never signed anything saying he accepted the guilty plea.” These last two seem pretty trivial, but the first point is serious. The AP story is never exactly explicit concerning the constitutional issues at stake, but it helpfully points out that “an earlier friend-of-the-court filing by the American Civil Liberties Union argued that Craig’s foot-tapping and hand gesture under a stall divider at the Minneapolis airport are protected by the First Amendment.” That sure seems right to me, but is that actually the argument that Craig is going to make? Recall that his explanation at the time [pdf] and (as far as I know) since has been that there was absolutely, positively, really and truly no speech involved – he just happens to have a “wide stance when going to the bathroom” and that he “reached down with his right hand to pick up a piece of paper that was on the floor.”

Facebook profiling

by Henry Farrell on October 27, 2007

Republican Internet consultant Patrick Ruffini “points”: to this “fascinating resource”: for figuring out the raw numbers of liberal, moderate and conservative Facebook users interested in a specific issue. Don’t try to create a flyer or whatever – just go to the “targetting” section, type the topic that you are interested in into the keywords section, and see how the numbers change whether you click Liberal, Moderate and Conservative (there’s further microtargeting of cities etc available too). For example, about 2,520 self-declared liberal Facebook users declare blogging as one of their interests, as opposed to 1,320 moderates and 1,100 conservatives. 5,180 liberals show the good taste to declare My Bloody Valentine as one of their favourite bands, as opposed to 1,120 moderates, and only 340 conservatives. Less obviously, the number of liberals (7,300) and conservatives (7,580) who like bluegrass music is about the same1. Obviously, treat these numbers with extreme caution; there is _no way_ that Facebook users are a random sample of the population 2, but still, this promises much idle entertainment.

1 It occurs to me on re-reading this post that I’ve phrased this in a misleading way – obviously, if you wanted to make a serious point about this, you’d weight the absolute numbers or provide the odds ratios or whatever.
2 For one, the liberal-conservative ratio is skewed to liberals among Facebook users as compared to the ratio in the general population – there are just over 2.8 million self-identified liberal Facebook users and 2.18 million conservatives. Most survey evidence that I am aware of suggests that there are considerably more self-identified conservative Americans than liberal Americans (although the numbers of self-identified conservatives is dropping).

Audiobooks, plus Miniscule

by John Holbo on October 27, 2007

We recently moved and I now have a long commute. I’ve discovered that I greatly enjoy expending enforced bus-time, listening to audiobooks. I’ve also discovered that Librivox is a rich source of free listening material. They are slouching toward the 1000 title mark, with 1000 volunteer readers doing the work. All the products are released into the public domain. I just finished the second half of Dracula – which was, I must say, touch and go in some chapters. A few of the readers were quite good; the lady with the Indian accent did not – as I feared – make van Helsing sound like Apu. She was quite good. (But there were some terrible van Helsings in the bunch, all the same. I could add to Henry’s post about bad accents, but it seems cruel to mock earnest volunteers, as opposed to overpaid Hollywood actors.)

Modeling myself on the aurally self-improving Mr. Boffin, I’ve started in on Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend. (Belle, like Mrs. Boffin, is more a ‘high-flier in fashion’, you understand, and correspondingly less inclined to listen to audiobooks.) I have got up to chapter 9, and the quality of the readers so far has ranged from commendably adequate to downright excellent. (Someone named Alan Chant is doing Boffin as Wallace, from Wallace and Gromit. Which works just fine.)

Does anyone have any special recommendations, audiobook-wise? I’m not averse to paying for good stuff, although so far I am gratified by the availability of high-quality free stuff.

In other late Saturday night news, the 3-year old certifies this as the funniest video in the world. It is pretty funny.

Dept of Truthiness

by Kieran Healy on October 27, 2007

Your clown show dollars at work:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s No. 2 official apologized Friday for leading a staged news conference Tuesday in which FEMA employees posed as reporters while real reporters listened on a telephone conference line and were barred from asking questions. … FEMA announced the news conference at its headquarters here about 15 minutes before it was to begin Tuesday afternoon, making it unlikely that reporters could attend. Instead, FEMA set up a telephone conference line so reporters could listen.

In the briefing, parts of which were televised live by cable news channels, Johnson stood behind a lectern, called on questioners who did not disclose that they were FEMA employees, and gave replies emphasizing that his agency’s response to this week’s California wildfires was far better than its response to Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

“It was absolutely a bad decision. I regret it happened. Certainly … I should have stopped it,” said John “Pat” Philbin, FEMA’s director of external affairs. “I hope readers understand we’re working very hard to establish credibility and integrity, and I would hope this does not undermine it.”