Archive for March 2006

Changed Trackback and Comment Process

In the last three or four days, the blog-bots have found me.  Believe it or not, I have had over 500 spam trackbacks in the last couple of days.  For those that don't know, these trackbacks are coming from automated blog generators that interlink each other and send spam trackbacks all over the place.  The blog generators use random text generators combined with marketing pitches and random news stories taken from RSS feeds.  They are yet another evolution in the attempt of bottom-feeding marketers to take advantage of the search engine impact of a blog without the effort of, you know, actually writing a blog.

I have turned trackbacks off for a while on new posts, and I have modified my setup so I have to manually approve comments and trackbacks.  I will only be filtering for spam -- so far, I have not had any problems with my commenters getting too far out of line, even when they disagree with me.  You will therefore see a small delay before your comments appear, but please do not stop commenting!  I will be sad if trackbacks become a thing of the past due to this spamming, since they are right at the heart of the blog model, helping readers link not only to the sources a blogger is using but to the bloggers who are commenting on that post in turn.

Free Speech Rights Should Not Depend on the Content of the Speech

From the Washington Square News, campus paper of NYU:

American media outlets did not utilize their freedom of speech rights
after they chose not to reprint the George Bush cartoons that negatively
depicted the US President, panelists said last night at a
discussion held at the Kimmel Center.

The event, titled "Free Speech and the Bush Cartoons," displayed
easels with blank panels instead of the cartoons after NYU demanded
that the cartoons be removed from display if the public was admitted....

"Realistically, one can have a discussion on smallpox without actually
handing out the the live virus to the audience," university spokesman
John Beckman said. "Any institution has a responsibility that events on
its grounds go smoothly and without disruption."

The panelists expressed concern that all American publications, with
the exception of three, were unwilling to reprint the Bush cartoons....

Bostom said it is healthy to question a politicians, and Republicans should be
able to handle the publication of cartoons that parody them.

"The cartoons were a healthy dose of direct criticism [toward conservatives]," Bostom said.

Schwartz said fear was behind the media's motivation not to reprint the images.

"The New York Times claims not to run the pictures because of the
matter of taste," Schwartz said. "But, in fact, everyone knows they're
perfectly willing to offend people who they don't fear will have the NSA wiretap them."

NYU's decision to bar the public from seeing the cartoons illustrated
an apprehension towards free speech, and its actions were chilling and
absurd, Lukianoff said.

"If you want to talk about an image, you might want to show them," said
Lukianoff, who later pointed behind him at the blank easels and yelled,
"This is censorship!"

Lukianoff said people easily feel harassed by ideas contrary to their own.

"Nobody has a right not to be offended," Lukianoff said.

Midway through the discussion, Republican students who had gathered outside
to protest, unfurled a white banner with red letters that said,
"Freedom of Speech Does Not Equal Freedom to Hate."

Leaf said it is unhealthy for the academic community to avoid discussing sensitive issues.

"Part of being in a modern world and part of being in a university
means being able to talk about these subjects seriously," Leaf said.

People are afraid to talk and publish the cartoons, and we shouldn't
have to worry about dancing around sensitive issues, Leaf said.

During the discussion, Schwartz criticized conservatism, saying
that it forces its followers to imprison themselves in dogmatic
traditions.

"The philosophy I subscribe to is objectivism, which believes reason is man's only knowledge," he said.

Schwartz said that the violent uprisings were motivated by partisanship and not reason.

"Partisanship is blind obedience in rejection of reason," Schwartz said. "If
you base your arguments on partisanship, then it leaves no room for your
argument. It leaves you with no other option but force."

Schwartz said the attacks were not just in defense of Conservatism. 

"This is an attack on the free, rational mind," he said.

CAS junior James Ferguson said it was unfair that so much time was spent on attacking conservatism.

"To demonize a political party is not going to help anything," Ferguson said.
"When did free speech turn into a hateful generalization of conservatism?"

CAS junior Muniba Hassan said the panel will provoke hatred of conservatives,
which has caused many of her Republican friends to be afraid to walk home
at night.

"They used free speech as a way to hide their partisan agenda," Hassan said.

OK, I may have substituted a few words to make a point about the bankruptcy of NYU's censorship, and the double standards they hold since they clearly would not have made the same decision with the alternate facts I have inserted.  Real article here.  Here is a hint to prospective college students:  Distrust any college whose administrators equate exercising first amendment rights to spreading a deadly virus.  More here at FIRE, which continues to do great work.

PS-  If you have not seen the Danish cartoons, spend 10 seconds clicking here.  You will not believe how bland they are.

School Choice for the Legally Savvy Parent

It appears that at least one group of students in California get a school choice program:  Those with irritating but legally savvy parents willing to exploit special education programs  (Hat tip to Overlawyered)

In Sonoma County, for example, a family recently enrolled its child in an
out-of-state boarding school, then billed its district not only for tuition,
but airfare, car rental, hotel, cell phone calls, meals, tailoring, new
clothes, an iBook computer, stamps, tolls, gas and 13 future round-trip visits.
Total tab: $67,949.

How?  By having their child declared a special ed student and then shamelessly exploiting the legal process to force such settlements

Since 1993, the number of students in public special ed programs rose 27
percent, to 681,969 from 539,073. But special ed students placed in private
schools at public expense rose nearly five times faster  --  128 percent, to
15,926 from 6,994....

Gross described the law's
myriad requirements as "150 points of potential mistakes" for school districts.

Missing even one step can cause a district to lose its case if a
hearing officer finds that a student's education suffered as a result. 

"There isn't an attorney who can't find us making a mistake on one of
those things," Gross said.

So who is qualifying as "learning disabled"?   I bet you aren't thinking of this boy, who got special education funding from the state to go to a private boarding school:

"He was not offered the classes that I thought he needed," the mother
said. "If my son didn't get what he needed, my fear was that he would drop out
of school.'' 

She acknowledged he had never been a discipline problem. The hearing
records describe him as a "young adult who is likable, friendly, energetic and
highly motivated. He is physically active, plays lacrosse and soccer, and
enjoys wakeboarding and snowboarding."

"He's a model child," she said. "However, his frustration and anxiety were
so high that I could see that this is the type of person who, out of
frustration, turns to drugs or something that he shouldn't be doing."

And, uh, what learning disability does this describe, except perhaps the general category of "teenage boy?"  This is a clear case of the most irritating parents with the most aggressive lawyers getting over on the rest of us.  Read it all.  My guess is that most everyone will be irritated, perhaps most of all those with a child with a true learning disability that really needs special help.  And make sure not to miss the state funded "dolphin therapy".  (Update:  Last year we spent a fortune for our kids to swim with the dolphins in Hawaii.  Do you think I can charge that back to my local school district?)

Longing for Concentration Camps

Of the more partisan blogs I read, I have always enjoyed Captains Quarters for being thoughtful and well-written.  Ed Morrissy is clearly as skeptical about open immigration as I am supportive of it, which  I am generally willing to put into the "intelligent people will disagree" category, until I found this bit a little frightening (emphasis added):

As I have written repeatedly over the past two years, we simply cannot
throw out 12 million people overnight, so some sort of guest-worker
program is inevitable, if for no other reason than to get an accurate
accounting of the aliens in our nation. Either that, or we will have to
herd people into concentration camps, a solution that will never pass
political muster even if were remotely possible logistically
. That
program could form a basis of a comprehensive immigration "reform", if
properly written.

Is the implication that his only real problems with American concentration camps for people born in Mexico are logistical?  When one typically says that an idea can't pass political muster, they generally are referring (with a wistful sigh) to what they consider a good idea that for whatever reason could not survive the legislative process.  Let's be clear: herding people into concentration camps based arbitrarily on their birth location is abhorrent, not logistically difficult. 

I haven't called myself conservative for over 20 years, but I thought that most good conservatives would agree with the following statement:

"Our fundamental rights, from speech to association to property, are not granted to us by any government, but belong to us as a fact of our human existence."

Do conservatives still believe this?  I know liberals gave up on it a while back - that is why I pay a transaction "privilege" tax in Arizona, which presumes that the ability to conduct commerce is a privilege that is granted by the government.  But I thought conservatives stood by this statement.  But if they still do, then on what basis can they argue that people not born within the US border somehow have lesser (or no) right to conduct commerce in this country, to buy and live in a home in this country, to sell their labor in this country, etc.?   The only rights or activities or privileges a country should be able to deny non-citizens are those rights and privileges that flow from the government and not from our basic humanity.  Which are.... none (update: OK, maybe one: Voting, since this is inherently tied up with government.  I have written before about why I think voting is one of our less important rights).

I understand there are good and valid concerns about government handouts and taxpayer-paid services flowing to recent immigrants, but to solve this narrow concern, "reform" discussion should be about setting minimum qualification standards for such services or handouts, and not about putting Mexicans in concentration camps.

Update:  A number of readers have scolded me for overreacting to the Morrissey quote, arguing that the quote is just dry understatement rather than any revelation of sinister plans.  Fine.  I have friends who are both legal and illegal immigrants her in Phoenix, as well as several who are in-between (i.e. are constantly battling to hang on to their visa status by their fingernails) so I have personal emotions in the game here that may make me overly sensitive.

I will admit to a huge blind spot:  I just cannot comprehend why Americans, none of whose families are native to this land, get so upset about high levels of immigration, beyond the public services issue.  And the more I think about this latter, the more I am convinced making everyone legal combined with some eligibility waiting periods (for voting, welfare, etc) would generate more tax revenue than it would consume.  In fact, high levels of immigration may be the only viable solution to the demographic bomb we have with social security and medicare.  (By the way, the public services issue is one reason the Democrats have, if possible, an even less viable position than Republicans.  Our Democratic governor has publicly supported continuing free government services to illegal immigrants but opposed allowing them to work.  This makes sense, how?)

I do understand there is "law and order" argument that goes "well, those folks are breaking the law, and we have got to have respect for the law."  Here's a proposal.  Everyone who has never knowingly violated the speed limit, never done a rolling stop at a stop sign, and never tried illegal narcotics in college are all welcome to make the argument to me about the need to strictly enforce every law on the books.  This same logic is used to send refugees escaping Cuba back to Cuba, and it sucks. 

Steven Groves

My father-in-law Steven Groves died today of injuries he suffered when his bicycle was hit by a car. 

Steve and I did not always agree politically, be we shared a lot of the same eclecticism in our interests.  I seldom found anything, no matter how arcane, that I found interesting that Steve did not as well (even if we might come to different conclusions about it). Steve had a scientist's passion for fact-based analysis, and was one of the very few people I have ever met truly willing to change his stance on an issue as he came to understand it better.  My enduring memory of Steve is of him listening and questioning.  He was always interested in learning more about... whatever it was that we were talking about.  I can't tell you how many of my best posts on this blog evolved from a discussion I had with Steve.

Of all the people I have ever know who were actively interested in political / economic / social issues, Steve was by far the most consistent in matching his behaviors to his beliefs.  A lifelong environmentalist, Steve was surely one of the few who eschewed dryers for clotheslines, power mowers for reel mowers, and cars for his bicycle.  Considering this last item, one could say he died for his beliefs.

Blogging will be light this week, as my wife is back home with her family and I am playing single parent.  I was working on a post last weekend in honor of my 44th birthday, to reflect on the fact that contrary to conventional wisdom that people's beliefs become pretty set with age, mine have migrated pretty far since I was 22.  I will still get to this post in time.

NCAA Pool Update

Congratulations to Gene Wright, who has a strong lead in the pool with 151 points.  Michael Gunter is in second with 143, and Bob Houk in third at 138.  For those playing, make sure to check out this page, which takes all the various possible combinations of future wins and losses in the tournament and calculates probability of winning.  This analysis gives Gene a 60.9% chance of winning it all, followed by Bob at 23.4% and Michael at 12.5%.  Don't worry, your faithful author Warren Meyer, despite being at 21st right now, is just lurking to give everyone a false sense of confidence.  I have a 3.1% chance of victory which depends on Texas taking it all.  Hook 'em horns!

Please Stop

Jennifer Britz, the Dean of Admissions at Kenyon College reports that she is sad to say that she is admitting boys who are less qualified than female applicants in order to maintain gender parity.

Had she been a male applicant, there would have been little, if any,
hesitation to admit. The reality is that because young men are rarer,
they're more valued applicants. Today, two-thirds of colleges and
universities report that they get more female than male applicants, and
more than 56 percent of undergraduates nationwide are women.
Demographers predict that by 2009, only 42 percent of all baccalaureate
degrees awarded in the United States will be given to men.

I have four reactions.

One.  Yeah!  Lets take a moment to celebrate a victory for women.  Its great to see us talking about "too many" qualified women flooding colleges, just a few years after feminists were still writing books about schools failing girls.

Two.  I finally get to say something that I have wished for decades to hear from members of various minority groups that have been the benficiary of affirmative action:  Stop giving us men a special break.  Boys in high school are falling behind girls in their achievement, and are not going to get the message as long as you keep taking less qualified boys instead of more qualified girls.  The colleges I attended 20+ years ago survived fine with 2/3 men, they can do the same with 2/3 women.

Three.  This just reinforces my advice I have been giving to Ivy League and other great schools: Find a way to grow!  The new challenge for the 21st century is not to spend an incremental 5% more on the same top students, but to recognize that there are so many more great, polished graduates that are Ivy ready than ever before.

Four.
  In this article you can get a little peek at how the college admissions process has turned volunteerism from, well, volunteerism to a grim requirement.  Among eleven-year-olds in my son's class, I saw kids get turned down for an honor society despite having 4.0+ grade point averages, playing multiple sports at a very high level, and doing about 20 hours of community service over the year.  Apparently, this level of community service was not robust enough -- people with lower grades make it, people with no sports make it, people with no leadership activities make it, but NO ONE makes it without a lot more than 20 hours of community service - at the age of eleven.  Believe it or not, my son now keeps a log book of time spent on activities he can count as service -- we have better documentation of this work than we do of his grades!  Volunteerism has become nearly the one minimum requirement that of all the various components is never waived in college admissions.

Bush: The Worst Communicator

ABCNews is running a series on some interesting documents found among released Hussein-era Iraqi government docs.  I am not going to react to them in terms of how they affect the decision to go to war, in part because we have no idea how representative 6 or 7 damning documents are out of thousands that we have not yet been shown (a similar problem the Enron jury will soon face).  Also, for reasons below in the footnote**.

My main reaction to these revelations was "wow, how badly does the Bush administration suck at communication?"  After taking three years of criticism over exactly some of the issues addressed in these documents, and presumably others we have not yet seen, the administration just sat on this stuff and refused to release it?  Clinton's folks would have had one of these presented each morning of every day for a year to the press with a little bow around it.  I am flabbergasted that there are so many conspiracy theorists who think this administration has some special Karl-Rovian-mad-science to orchestrating events.  To me, their PR successes look more like Peter Sellers accidentally avoiding numerous assassins in The Pink Panther Strikes Again.

** In the end, I think the Iraq invasion will be looked at as "worth it" historically if its effects resonate beyond Iraq, e.g. it provides a beacon of democracy around which other democratic elements in the middle east coalesce and grow stronger.  If Iraq turns out to be just about Iraq, the world will be well-rid of a nasty dictator but the US will have spent a great deal of its available armed forces and treasure and influence and prestige on a single screwed-up dictatorship, while ignoring tens of others who also brutalize their people and who also support terrorism.  Against this definition of success, the recently revealed documents don't do much for me one way or the other.  They do, however, strongly effect my opinion of Russia.  Why Bush continues to give Putin a pass is beyond me.

Rising Economic Nationalism

A pair of news stories has me spooked tonight.  This first is via Instapundit, and is a story of human pettiness that would be funny if the stakes were not so high:

President Chirac and three of his ministers walked out of the room
when Ernest-Antoine Seillière, the leader of the European business
lobby UNICE, punctured Gallic pride by insisting on speaking the
language of Shakespeare rather than that of Molière.

When M Seillière, who is an English-educated steel baron,
started a presentation to all 25 EU leaders, President Chirac
interrupted to ask why he was speaking in English. M Seillière
explained: "I'm going to speak in English because that is the language
of business."

Without saying another word, President Chirac, who lived in
the US as a student and speaks fluent English, walked out, followed by
his Foreign, Finance and Europe ministers, leaving the 24 other
European leaders stunned. They returned only after M Seilière had
finished speaking.

That's the silly part, but the underlying issue that was being discussed is not so silly:

In the absence of his President, M Seillière gave warning about the
dangers of the "economic nationalism" being pursued by the French
Government. The summit, aimed at restoring confidence in the future of
the EU, has been overshadowed by a row over the tide of protectionism
sweeping the continent, with Tony Blair and Angela Merkel, the German
Chancellor, cautioning about the danger of raising barriers to foreign
competition.

What has me really worried is that the US, the only vaguely consistent defender of free trade in the world for the last 60 years, is having the same discussion, initiated not so much by the economic problems in Europe but by security issues.  As I warned earlier, Congress seems ready to use the events of the Dubai ports mess and the fear of 9/11 to clamp down on foreign investment (sorry, $ required I think):

Building on their win in the Dubai ports deal, U.S.
lawmakers are moving to gain leverage over a swath of foreign
investments in the U.S., an effort that business leaders and President
Bush's aides warn could harm the U.S. economy.

In the first serious legislative move, Senate Banking
Chairman Richard Shelby (R., Ala.) released the summary of a bill
Friday that would greatly expand the array of foreign acquisitions
subject to automatic scrutiny and would require the administration to
notify lawmakers as soon as it begins to review any foreign
transaction. The bill also would require the administration to rank all
countries according to their relations with the U.S. and their support
for weapons-control deals. Approvals would then depend in part on the
ranking of a company's home country.

The administration would have to report to Congress on
why it approved or rejected any transaction, but the bill wouldn't give
lawmakers the power to veto a deal, as many critics feared.

Business groups and Bush administration officials
expressed immediate alarm over several provisions in the bill, which
Shelby aides claim has the support of other members of the Banking
Committee. In a letter to Sen. Shelby this week, seven groups
representing the nation's top banks and finance companies warned that
legislative proposals making the rounds of Congress "would threaten
job-creation prospects for the U.S. economy" and "reduce U.S. economic
growth."

Building on their win in the Dubai ports deal, U.S.
lawmakers are moving to gain leverage over a swath of foreign
investments in the U.S., an effort that business leaders and President
Bush's aides warn could harm the U.S. economy.

In the first serious legislative move, Senate Banking
Chairman Richard Shelby (R., Ala.) released the summary of a bill
Friday that would greatly expand the array of foreign acquisitions
subject to automatic scrutiny and would require the administration to
notify lawmakers as soon as it begins to review any foreign
transaction. The bill also would require the administration to rank all
countries according to their relations with the U.S. and their support
for weapons-control deals. Approvals would then depend in part on the
ranking of a company's home country....

The administration would have to report to Congress on
why it approved or rejected any transaction, but the bill wouldn't give
lawmakers the power to veto a deal, as many critics feared.

Business groups and Bush administration officials
expressed immediate alarm over several provisions in the bill, which
Shelby aides claim has the support of other members of the Banking
Committee. In a letter to Sen. Shelby this week, seven groups
representing the nation's top banks and finance companies warned that
legislative proposals making the rounds of Congress "would threaten
job-creation prospects for the U.S. economy" and "reduce U.S. economic
growth."

This sucks, particularly in the light of a president who has at best been only a luke-warm defender of free trade and who seems to have entirely misplaced his veto pen.  It is an interesting statement on how far this president has wandered from his party's traditional roots that I would greatly prefer to have his predecessor Bill Clinton in office for this fight.  Clinton was certainly a mixed blessing for us anarcho-capitalists, but he was always a strong and articulate defender of free trade, even to the extent of opposing the strong protectionist wing of his party.

In addition to the security issues involved, I have also tackled the overblown fears about trade deficits here, among other places.  For those of you in Arizona concerned about free trade, I know that Congressman Jeff Flake, one of the few remaining folks in Congress who understands free markets and small governments, shares some of these same concerns about rising protectionism.  I hope those of you in his district will continue to send him to Washington to serve us, and I would like to see where our other AZ Congresspersons stand on free trade.  I don't want to pre-judge, but this is one of those issues where I have no trust that McCain (for example) will land on the correct side of the issue.  I fear that conservatives are going to feel the need to flog the security horse right through the November elections, no matter what other principles get trampled in the process.

As a final note, I could add the current backlash against immigrants as
the third leg of this story on rising economic nationalism.  One of the
things that has surprised me the most in getting comments to this blog
is how many people who accept global free trade as right and beneficial
in turn support strong restrictions on immigration (Cafe Hayek comments on economist Robert Samuelson as one such person).
I see free trade and free immigration as having exactly the same
philosophic roots, based in the fact that our rights to trade,
associate, etc. stem from our humanity, not our citizenship.  I won't repeat my argument but you can read it here;
if you are pro-free-trade but anti-immigration, I ask that you give me
five minutes to make the case that no one else seems to want to make
today.  And even if you don't accept the philosophic similarities,
economicly open immigration and free trade are nearly identical issues,
each involving the free flow of labor, capital, and goods across
borders.  If you still can't see the similarity, here is a quick
example:  If I decide that my best sourcing decision is to subcontract
my tech support to Claude in France, I can do this equally well by
either straight outsourcing to Claude where he lives today (global
trade) or by encouraging Claude to move to the US to do the work for me
here (immigration).

 

Bankrupcy of Advocacy Journalism

I have never been one to wade much into the whole "media bias" issue.  Whenever I have discussed it, my main point of view is that journalists of whatever political stripe tend to suspend necessary skepticism when writing about an issue they are really passionate about.  That is why advocacy journalism can yield such crap.  I have never once dug into a strong advocacy journalism piece and not found any number of "facts" to be without attribution and often to not even make any sense.

Most people have now heard the origins of the now-famous "million homeless families" non-statistic, which was reprinted over and over but has been admitted to have been just made up by a leading homeless advocate.  And lets not forget Mary Mapes, who proudly describes herself as an advocacy journalist, and her now famous use of forgeries in her Bush-National Guard reports, leading to the classic "Fake but Accurate" meme.  People who believe in a cause, whether it be homelessness or GWB's fundamental corruption, suspend skepticism for "facts" and "statistics" that fit their point of view on the subject.  Usually they will shrug off challenges to the fact, saying "well, it may not be exactly X but we know the problem is a really big number."  In other words, fake but accurate.

Angela Valdez has a nice analysis of one such advocacy journalism effort, in this case the Oregonian's over-one-hundred part series on the "meth epidemic".  For example, she writes:

On Feb. 20 of this year, columnist S. Renee Mitchell wrote, without
offering data to back up her claim: "The number of meth addicts"”and the
crimes they commit to support their habits"”is exploding."....

In fact, meth use during the past four years has either declined or
stayed flat, according to two major national drug-use studies. The
National Survey on Drug Use and Health shows that meth use did not
increase at all from 2002 (two years before The Oregonian
started its carpet-bombing coverage) through 2004, the last year for
which there is data. The University of Michigan's Monitoring the Future
Study, which examines drug use among youth, actually shows a decline in meth use among high-school students from 1999 to 2005....

Despite The Oregonian's reliance on this figure, there is no good evidence that meth causes 85 percent of the property crimes in Oregon.

Portland State University criminology professor Kris Henning
says the number just doesn't make sense. Department chair Annette Jolin
says the unsupportable statistic has become "something of a joke"among
statistical researchers in the department.

For one thing, Oregon property crimes are much lower than they
were 10 or even 20 years ago, the time period of the supposed meth
"epidemic."

"If meth causes property offenses, and meth use has gone up,"
Henning says, "then property offenses should have gone up. And they
haven't. It's either that, or all the people who commit property crimes
have disappeared and been replaced by a small number of meth users."

I looked at the silliness of meth hysteria statistics here.  But my point is that this is not a meth issue - this is an advocacy journalism issue.  You could write the same article challenging any number of articles in the paper every day.

PS-  But on the subject of meth, I will make one prediction:  I predict that the meth hysteria will do more to create legislation and police practices that will undermine civil liberties than did 9/11.  In fact, much of the Patriot Act is already used more to fight the drug war than to fight terrorism.

More on the Health Care Trojan Horse for Fascism

Frequent readers will now that I have long warned of government-funded health care acting as a Trojan horse for micro-management of our personal lives, the logic being that if our lifestyles or behaviors make us less healthy, then the government that funds medical care may claim an interest in regulating those behaviors.  I often post examples of this phenomena, the most recent of which is here.

This installment comes via Reason, and looks at the NYC Health Commissioner Thomas Friedan's new fascism to prevent diabetes program.  I am not sure I even need to comment on the following for you to get the picture:

New York City is at the forefront of this new public health movement. In
January, city health officials began
requiring
that medical testing labs report the results of blood sugar tests for all
the city's diabetics directly to the health department. This is first time
that any government has begun tracking people who have a chronic disease.
The New York City Department of Health will analyze the data to identify
those patients who are not adequately controlling their diabetes. They will
then receive letters or phone calls urging them to be more vigilant about
their medications, have more frequent checkups, or change their diet....

So what could be wrong with merely monitoring and reminding people to take
better care of themselves?  New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Friedan
has made it clear that it won't necessarily end there. If nagging is not
sufficient to reduce the health consequences of the disease, other steps
will be taken. Friedan
argues
that "modifications of the physical environment to promote physical
activity, or of the food environment to address obesity, are essential for
chronic disease prevention and control." Friedan envisions regulations for
chronic disease control including "local requirements on food pricing,
advertising, content, and labeling; regulations to facilitate physical
activity, including point-of-service reminders at elevators and safe,
accessible stairwells; tobacco and alcohol taxation and advertising and
sales restrictions; and regulations to ensure a minimal level of clinical
preventive services."

The NYC health department starred in a previous post for their brave attack on restaurants that give patrons too much for their money.

Congrats to John Scalzi

Congrats to John Scalzi for his Hugo nomination for "Old Man's War".  I hope he wins.  I read a lot of science fiction including several of the other nominated books but Old Man's War was one of those instant classics, a book that 25 years from now could easily be included in a best of science fiction series.  I also have to agree with Glenn Reynolds on the accesability of his work.  If I wanted to get someone excited about science fiction, I would likely hand them "Enders Game", "The Foundation", and "Old Man's War"*.  I just finished Vernor Vinge's "Deepness in the Sky", which was awesome.  It and his previous book "Fire Upon the Deep" are beautiful and rich and deep and textured masterpieces, but I would never hand them to a SciFi first-timer.  SciFi needs writers who bring the general population back to SciFi, and Scalzi along with Card and a few others will certainly help.

* Honestly, if you rank yourself as someone who hates or just doesn't read science fiction, give just one or two of these three a try.  Scifi is not all cute robots and Imperial Star Destroyers.  And for those looking for the next step beyond these books for more hard-core stuff I might suggest classics like "Mote in God's Eye", "Ringworld",  "Dune", or about anything by Louis McMaster Bujold.  After that, your ready for anything, from Charles Stross to Harlan Ellison (the latter if you want a good downer).

One Thing Every Employee Should Take Away from Enron, Quattrone, etc.

The recent government pursuit of Enron, Frank Quattrone, Arthur Anderson, and any number of other firms has established one "principal" being followed by the government in all of these cases:  They will let large corporations off the hook with fines but no criminal charges IF the corporation agrees to sell out all of its employees.  A large part of this deal, being cut all over the place (and for which Arthur Anderson was destroyed mainly for not agreeing to) is that the corporation will waive attorney client privelege for discussions between employees and corporate attorneys.  Frank Quattrone has been tried twice and will likely get tried a third time mainly based on evidence of emails he sent back and forth with corporate council.  Tom Kirkendall has other examples.

Ten years ago, I would have naively given the advice "don't break the law."  Still good advice, but nowadays in business its hard to tell just what is the law and what is illegal (antitrust is a great example).  So my new piece of advice is "when in doubt, don't use corporate council."  Get your own lawyer.  If the company will pay for it, all the better but do it even if it's out of your own pocket, because it is clear that corporate lawyers are NOT your lawyers, and they will cooperate with the corporation who employs them to put you in jail if that helps protect their real client who pays their salary.

Lawyer Tax on Workers Comp in Florida

First, a little background as I understand workers comp:  Years ago, government, workers and employers effectively made a deal that has worked pretty well for everyone.  In that deal, workers gave up the right to sue for workplace injuries in exchange for a program where employers were required to contribute to a workers comp fund and employees are paid by a government bureaucracy for their health care and lost time.  The system is "no-fault" to the extent that it does not matter if the worker is hurt because the employer had unsafe conditions or if the worker is hurt because he did something boneheaded in violation of rules - either way he gets paid the same.  The system avoids moral hazard at least on the employers side by charging higher premiums to employers that have higher claims rates  (based on an experience mod system explained here).  Employee moral hazard (ie cheating) is supposed to be policed by the bureaucracy, and one can evaluate how much cheating is going on by how high the rates in the state are.  California used to have very high rates and lots of cheating, but has cracked down of late and things are better.  Florida is the king of workers comp fraud and employee cheating, so much so that many national insurers won't touch Florida and our rates are twice as high (or more) in Florida than in other states.

Already frustrated with Florida over the high amount of cheating and high rates, two things I have seen here of late make me doubly depressed.  First, in the last year or so we have started to see claims paid where in addition to, say, $20,000 in actual compensation to a worker, there is an equal amount paid to lawyers.  The first time, I was irate.  Why are my workers comp dollars going to lawyers?  The whole point of the workers comp system is to substitute an administrative no-fault claims system for expensive lawyers and trials.

So this week I get my second surprise about Florida workers comp.  I am down in Florida, doing some business as well as visiting the in-laws (which is why blogging has been light) when I start to hear radio commercials by law firms that say "If you have been hurt at work, call us first before you claim workers comp."  The message is not even, "call us if you think the administrative decision was unfair" but was "get us involved with every little claim."  Does this mean that I am going to start seeing a lawyer 'tax' on every workers comp claim in Florida?  If so, Floridians must have passed some pretty dumb legislation somewhere along the way.  Now, I might understand this if this was a worker backlash in some state that administratively is over-tough on workers in filing their claims, but Florida has historically been the most generous already.  I am sure most of the employers in this state have experienced the "debilitating injury the day before I was going to quit,"  a tried and true Florida technique for supplementing unemployment insurance for a bit of paid vacation. 

Maybe some of the readers can confirm if Florida did something new legislatively over the past few years that opened this up.  By the way, and I apologize in advance to all my hard-working readers in Florida, but I don't think there is any other state with a larger population of searching-for-something-for-nothing freeloaders than one can find in Florida.  Something culturally seems to be wrong here, and I wonder if Florida might not be the next California, with businesses heading for the exits.

Indentured Employertude

Per the BBC News:

More than 160 people were arrested after clashes erupted
in eastern Paris following a day of largely peaceful demonstrations
across France.

Vehicles were set on fire and stores were damaged as masked youths clashed with police.

Twenty-four people, including seven police officers, were injured in the violence, which lasted about six hours.

So what is the provocation?  Are youth being drafted to go to war?  Are fundamental civil rights being taken away?  No, the reason for millions of people on the street and outbreaks of violence is...

Protesters are bitterly opposed to the new law, which
allows employers to end job contracts for under-26s at any time during
a two-year trial period without having to offer an explanation or give
prior warning.

The government says it will encourage employers to hire
young people but students fear it will erode job stability in a country
where more than 20% of 18 to 25-year-olds are unemployed - more than
twice the national average.

 Oh my god, its, its....at-will employment.  Head to the barricades!

In reality, what has happened is that Europe has invented a new type of indentured servitude that works in reverse.  If you remember you history, poor Europeans bought their passage to America in the 16th and 17th century by essentially enslaving themselves for a fixed but finite (as opposed to African slavery) period of time.  They got to come to America, but were forced to work for the same employer without the ability to quit for seven years.

The French have taken this same concept, and flipped it on its head.  If an employer hires someone, the employer is prevented by law from ever firing that person.  In effect, an employer enslaves himself to every employee he hires.  Which might just explain why unemployment is so high over there.  I call it indentured employertude. 

These recent riots also turn history on its head.  In the past, many countries with legalized slavery have faced devastating slave riots and uprisings.  In this case, though, it is not the slaves (employers) doing the rioting to be freed, it is the slave holders (ie the employees) rioting to keep the employers captive.

Is France a total loss?

Rising Tide of Protectionism

As a followup to this post on security as a Trojan horse for protectionism, I wanted to link this article in the WSJ($) called The Perils of Protectionism:

Fifty-six percent of the economists polled in the latest WSJ.com
forecasting survey -- conducted in the aftermath of a flap over foreign
management of U.S. ports -- say protectionism will lead to some
slowdown in U.S. growth over the next several years, and 8% predict
that the slowdown will be significant....

The ports controversy came at a time of growing concern about
protectionism around the world. It followed the blocked bid by China's
Cnooc Ltd. to acquire Unocal Corp. last year and emerged as European
governments angle to prevent high-profile utility deals within their
borders. The fear is that if governments take steps to shield their
countries' businesses, international trade and investment flows could
be reduced. Corporations will find it more difficult to reach new
markets.

Protectionism is unambiguously bad," said David Berson, chief economist
at Fannie Mae. Indeed, the free flow of capital across national borders
is conventionally looked upon by economists as a long-term good, and
69% of those surveyed say foreign ownership of U.S. assets is positive
for the economy in the long run.

One example of why the protectionist arguments are short-sighted is demonstrated by this passage from the same WSJ article:

While the ports row has receded, the U.S.'s large bilateral trade
deficit with China, which was $17.91 billion in January, remains a
flashpoint. Some lawmakers complain the imbalance has been inflamed by
an artifically low exchange rate for China's yuan against the dollar.
Though Beijing modestly revalued the yuan last summer, allowing it to
float in a narrow range against a basket of foreign currencies, critics
have continued to lash China's currency policy and call for further
revaluation.

So the Chinese government is artificially subsidizing the US economy through reduced prices of Chinese goods via a low valuation for the yuan vs. the dollar.  And that's a bad thing?  If the Chinese government is holding down the exchange rate, then they are in fact taking their money and the money of their citizens and pumping it into lower prices for US consumers and lower interest rates on US government debt.  Ooooh, color me really concerned.

As far as the "well, we're going into debt to pay for our consumerism" argument, I and others have tried and tried to educate the world that the trade deficit is not a debt, and running a trade deficit is not bad.

George W. Bush: Champion of the Left

I've made this point myself, but David Boaz says it great:

So here's your challenge, lefty bloggers: If you don't like the
tree-chopping, Falwell-loving, cowboy president - if you want his
presidency fatally wounded for the next three years - then start
praising him. One good Paul Krugman column taking off from that USA Today story on the surge in entitlements recipients under Bush, one Daily Kos
lead on how Clinton flopped on national health care but Bush twisted
every arm in the GOP to get a multi-trillion-dollar prescription drug
benefit for the elderly, one cover story in the Nation on how Bush has
acknowledged federal responsibility for everything from floods in New
Orleans to troubled teenagers, and maybe, just maybe, National Review
and the Powerline blog and
Fox News would come to their senses. Bush is a Rockefeller Republican
in cowboy boots, and it's time conservatives stopped looking at the
boots instead of the policies.

And the Game is On...

We had over thirty entries this year for our bracket pool.  Good luck.  After three games, your host Coyote is in.... Last!  Woohoo.

Lawsuit Perpetual Motion Machine

A guy in Lodi, California seems to have discovered the lawsuit-equivalent of perpetual motion by suing himself (via Overlawyered)

When a dump truck backed into Curtis Gokey's car, he decided to sue the
city for damages. Only thing is, he was the one driving the dump truck.
But that minor detail didn't stop Gokey, a Lodi city employee, from
filing a $3,600 claim for the December accident, even after admitting
the crash was his fault.

Wow, up to this point, you needed an accomplice for this kind of thing, but now you can just do it yourself -- hop in the company car, run it into your house (or maybe the wife and kids for a really big payday) and sue the company.  Genius.

More Reasons to Fear the Patriot Act

There have been any number of stories about how provisions of the Patriot Act are used more routinely to proecute drug cases than to pursue, you know, terrorists.  Note, however, this provision in the Patriot Act that has nothing to do with national security (via Overlawyered).

Quietly slipped into the reauthorization of the Patriot Act:
first-time-ever authority for the Justice Department to engage in
wiretapping and bugging of private premises for purposes of going after
antitrust violators.

Given the fact the the feds regularly prosecute companies with large market shares for A) raising prices (i.e. monopoly pricing); for B) lowering prices (i.e. predatory pricing); and for C) keeping prices the same (ie price fixing), this becomes an open mandate to listen into any private conversation at any company with a non-trivial market share.  Have fun at your next staff meeting over there at Microsoft or Exxon. 

From the Incredible Bread Machine by G.W. Grant:

"Now let me state the present rules,"
The lawyer then went on,


"These very simple guidelines,
You can rely upon:
You're gouging on your prices if
You charge more than the rest.
But it's unfair competition if
You think you can charge less!
"A second point that we would make
To help avoid confusion...
Don't try to charge the same amount,
That would be Collusion!
You must compete. But not too much,
For if you do you see,
Then the market would be yours -
And that's Monopoly!

Coyote Blog NCAA Bracket Challenge

Note: This post sticky through 3/16.  Look below for newest posts.

As promised, we are proud to announce the first annual Coyote Blog NCAA Bracket Challenge.  Yes, I know that many of you are bracketed out, but for those of you who are self-employed and don't have an office pool to join or who just can't get enough of turning in brackets, this pool is offered as my public service.  In particular, I invite bloggers who are experiencing post-Weblog-Award depression to reignite the spirit of online competition.  I mean, why should NZ Bear have the monopoly on ranking bloggers? 

I don't know if we will get 1 or 100 entries, but all are welcome, so send the link to friends as well.  There is no charge to join in and I have chosen a service with the absolutely least intrusive log-in (name, email, password only) and no spam.  The only thing I ask is that, since my kids are participating, try to keep the team names and board chat fairly clean.

To join, go to http://www.pickhoops.com/Coyote and sign up, then enter your bracket.

Scoring is as follows:

Round 1 correct picks:  2 points
Round 2:  4
Round 3:  6
Round 4:  8
Round 5:  10
Round 6:  20

In honor of the Blogfaddah, we have added the special "Army of Davids" bonus scoring:  If you correctly pick the underdog in any round (ie, the team with the higher number seed) to win, then you receive bonus points for that correct pick equal to the difference in the two team's seeds.  So don't be afraid to go for the long-shots!

OK, so what about the prizes?  Well, fame and recognition on this weblog should be enough, but, for those who enjoy recreation, my company will give the winner a choice of 3 nights free camping at one of the public campgrounds we run, or a half-day jet ski rental at Lake Havasu, or a half-day boat rental at Burney Falls State Park in California, Blue Mesa Reservoir in Colorado, or Patagonia Lake in Arizona.

Disclaimer: I sincerely hope that there is something about this purely recreational activity that violates the ridiculous gambling laws we have in this country, because I feel the need to protest them at every turn.  For example, can any politician explain to me why gambling in many Midwestern states is moral on a boat but immoral and therefore illegal on dry land next to the boat?

Update:  We already had a number of entries in the first hour this was up, so it looks like it is going to be a lot of fun.  Go ahead, sign up, it just takes a few minutes.  You don't have to know that much about basketball -- last year our family's tournament was won by an 11-year-old girl.

Taliban at Yale, and Advice for Princeton

Everyone seems worked up about Yale admitting an official of the Taliban as a student.  While I find the guy in question pretty bankrupt, I'm not sure I am very excited about starting down the path of vetting potential college applicants against some political extremism standard.  I am sure there are any number of Ivy League freshmen whose beliefs I would find horrifying, but I don't feel the need to start culling them out.  I do find it odd that Yale would have recruited this guy like he was some kind of rock star, and celebrated his choice of Yale as if he was some prize. 

As I have written to my Alma mater Princeton on any number of occasions, I think that Ivy League schools are making a huge mistake which is tangentially related to Yale's Taliban student.  If the University of Texas had accepted him as one of 10,000 or so in their freshman class, there would not be so much outcry.  But this is an Ivy League school, with 20,000 or more kids competing for 1500 freshman spots.  Every parent tends to think, "so my kid with straight A's and a 1350 SAT and 200 hours of community service got turned down at Yale so a misogynist fascist with a 4th grade education can attend?"

Instead of arguing about admitting one less Taliban guy, I urge Ivy League schools to find a way to bring their higher quality of education to many more people.  Princeton, Harvard, and Yale each have endowments over $10 billion each, and they use this money every year to increase the education intensity to the same 1500 people per class.  Every time I go back to visit campus, I see more buildings, equipment, facilities, professors for the same 1500 folks.  Enough!  At some point there has got to be a diminishing return.  It is time for someone in the Ivy League to take the leadership to redefine their mission away from the current facilities arms race with the other Ivy's and towards a mission to broaden their reach in the country.  Instead of yet more molecular biology equipment for the same 1500 people per class, lets find a way to bring a Princeton education to, say, 6000 people a class.  Lets quadruple the size of the Ivy League.

Of course, the Ivy League conservatives (which means, in this context, everyone who graduated before this year and all of the faculty) fear this change.  The last thing the faculty, who we know to be in charge of the asylum from the whole Sommers affair, want is to have more students to teach -- they want the toys.  And alumni fear that somehow the "essential essence" of the university might be lost, though everyone made that same argument when these schools went coed and few today would argue to reverse this decision.   Administrators argue that the freshman pool would be diluted, sort of like the argument about pitching in baseball after expansion.  But one only has to look at admissions numbers to see that quadrupling the freshman class size would cause the Ivy's to lower their standards to... about where they were when I got in!  (If your SAT scores are in the 98th percentile you still have only a 10% chance of getting into Princeton or Harvard.)  The fact is that the pool of high school students in the upper echelons and Ivy-ready has grown tremendously in the past few years, causing Ivy's to narrow their admissions qualifications to near ridiculous levels, with average SAT scores in the stratosphere, hundreds of hours of community service, multiple sports letters, and consultant-aided choices of special activities to differentiate students from the crowd (e.g. bagpipes or falconry).

I understand that this is difficult -- just the issue of physical space is daunting.  But these are the leading Universities in the world.  Surely there is enough brainpower to figure it out if the mission is accepted.  The University of California has of late been doing a lot of interesting things to bring college education to the masses, and dealing with the fact that the number of people who can afford the cost and time of a college degree has increased exponentially.  I think the Ivy League needs to work through the same exercise at the top end of the bell curve.  They need to address a similar near exponential expansion in the number of students who are "Ivy-ready."

The Source of Wealth

I was stuck in the airport at Salt Lake City on Sunday for a bit due to a large snowstorm** and I was trapped watching the CNN airport channel (which certain airports make unavoidable -- you can't get away from the TV's in a way reminiscent of a variety of distopian novels).  Anyway, I heard some discussion about differences between poor and rich nations, and all the usual easy-to-prove-false memes came out to explain the differences.  Natural Resources:  So why do resource-rich Russia and sub-Saharan Africa do so poorly?   Colonialism:  How do you explain Hong Kong, Australia, and Canada?  Exploiting labor:  So why aren't the most populous countries the richest?  Luck:  How do countries like Haiti have so consistently bad luck for over 200 years?

So here is Coyote's First Theorem of Wealth Creation, first expounded in this post on the zero-sum economics fallacy:

Groups of people create wealth faster in direct proportion to the degree that:

  1. Their philosophical and intellectual
    culture values ordinary men (not just "the elite", however defined) questioning established beliefs and social patterns.  This is as opposed to having a rigid orthodoxy which treats independent thinking as heresy.
  2. Individuals, again not just the elite, have the ability through scholarship or entrepreneurship to pursue the implications of their ideas and retain the monetary and other rewards for themselves.  This is as opposed to being locked into a rigid social and economic hierarchy that would prevent an individual from acting on a good idea.   

China, for example, just by cracking open the spigot on #2, however inadequately, has gone from a country with mass starvation in three or four decades to one where the worry-warts of the world are scared of juvenile obesity.  To a large extent, this theorem is really just a poor restatement of Julian Simon's work.  Simon's key point was that the only relevant resource was the human mind, from which all wealth flows.  All I have done is break this into two parts, saying that to create wealth a society has to value the individual's use of his mind and has to allow that individual free reign to pursue the products of his thinking.

One of the applications where I think this is useful is to explain the great millennial hockey-stick curve.  No, not the temperature hockey stick, which purports to show acceleration of global warming, but the wealth curve.  The world's growth of per capita wealth was virtually flat for a thousand plus years, and then took off in the 19th and 20th centuries.  I previously explained this hockey stick using my wealth creation theorem:

Since 1700, the GDP per capita in places like the US has
risen, in real
terms, over 40 fold.  This is a real increase in total wealth, created
by the human mind.  And it was unleashed because the world began to
change in some fundamental ways around 1700 that allowed the human mind
to truly flourish.  Among these changes, I will focus on two:

  1. There was a philosophical and intellectual
    change where questioning established beliefs and social patterns went
    from being heresy and unthinkable to being acceptable, and even in
    vogue.  In other words, men, at first just the elite but soon everyone,
    were urged to use their mind rather than just relying on established
    beliefs
  2. There were social and political changes that greatly increased
    the number of people capable of entrepreneurship.  Before this time,
    the vast vast majority of people were locked into social positions that
    allowed them no flexibility to act on a good idea, even if they had
    one.  By starting to create a large and free middle class, first in the
    Netherlands and England and then in the US, more people had the ability
    to use their mind to create new wealth.  Whereas before, perhaps 1% or
    less of any population really had the freedom to truly act on their
    ideas, after 1700 many more people began to have this freedom. 

So today's wealth, and everything that goes with it (from shorter
work hours to longer life spans) is the result of more people using
their minds more freely.

The problem (and the ultimate potential) comes from the fact that in
many, many nations of the world, these two changes have not yet been
allowed to occur.  Look around the world - for any country, ask
yourself if the average
person in that country has the open intellectual climate that
encourages people to think for themselves, and the open political and
economic climate that allows people to act on the insights their minds
provide and to keep the fruits of their effort.  Where you can answer
yes to both, you will find wealth and growth.  Where you answer no to
both, you will find poverty and misery.

Update:  This article from Frank Moss, linked at Instapundit, takes these same concepts forward into the future.

What role will startups play in the future?

I see tremendous economic growth from startups from 10 years ago.
Entrepreneurs will go from the 1,000 startup ventures funded in the
last 10 to 20 years to ideas coming from people working together in
network-based environments, using computers to dream up innovations in
a way they never did before. It could be people in developing countries
with low-cost computers.

You talk about education and the bottom-up effect that millions
more people will play in societal advances. How do you see this
unfolding?

We will undergo another revolution when we give 100 million kids a
smart cell phone or a low-cost laptop, and bootstrap the way they learn
outside of school. We think of games as a way to kill time, but in the
future I think it will be a major vehicle for learning.

Creative expression (is another area). No longer will just a few
write or create music. We will see 100 million people creating the
content and art shared among them. Easy-to-use programs allow kids to
compose everything form ringtones to full-fledged operas. It will
change the meaning of creative art in our society.

We are already seeing early signs of it in blogs. The source of
creative content is coming from the world. That revolution will go well
outside of the written word to all forms of visual and performing arts.

 

** Kudos by the way to the SLC airport - when I drove in, I couldn't see 10 feet in front of me on the road due to the snow, and I was sure that I would be trapped for the day.  Living in Phoenix, where air traffic is backed up if someone sneezes on the runway, I didn't think any planes would be landing and taking off for hours.  In fact, operations continued right through the blizzard, and my flight was delayed less than an hour, including de-icing time.  Amazing.  Now if only the SLC airport could increase their security capacity - its only been, what, 4.5 years since 9/11 and most airports seem to have licked this problem.

Security as Trojan Horse for Protectionism

I can't help but suspect of late that the whole Dubai ports mess signals an intent by protectionists of many stripes to hop on the security bandwagon as a way to repackage protectionism.  One had but to observe the many Congressmen who up to date have shown very little interest in security issues suddenly becoming born-again hawks with on the Dubai issue.  Democratic politicians who up to this point had opposed any actions targeted at Arabs or Muslims as profiling and hate-based suddenly saw the light and opposed the deal based on absolutely no other evidence than the fact the owners were from Dubai.  I particularly laughed at the quote by Howard Dean lamenting that "control of the ports of the United States must be retained by American companies" (funny, since Dubai-ownership was taking over operations from a British company, not an American company).  The Dubai ports deal opposition was first and foremost protectionism, begun at the behest of a domestic company that lost a bid in Miami and a number of domestic unions.

Now we can start to see this bandwagon grow.  I was in the airport and saw one Congressman (Duncan Hunter, I think, but I am not positive) on CNN proposing new legislation to ban foreign ownership of any infrastructure deemed security-sensitive.  He specifically mentioned power plants, which told me that he was thinking pretty expansively. This is rank protectionism, pure and simple.  You can quickly imagine everything from power plants to oil companies to telephone providers - really just about anyone - coming under the auspices of a critical industry that should be all American.  Just check out the case of low-cost airline upstart Virgin America to see how this security dodge is being used to protect companies from competition and prevent consumers from getting more choices and lower prices (also see WSJ$).

Xenophobia, in terms of this protectionism and the new immigrant backlash, appears to be one of the few bipartisan issues that politicians from both sides of the aisle can get behind.  I fear a new McCarthyism in the works.

Soloman Ammendment Upheld

I must say I was not at all surprised that the Solomon amendment (requiring private universities that accept federal funds to also accept military recruiters) was upheld by the Supreme Court.  I predicted months ago that the left had made its bed on this issue with its strong support of Title IX.

Various law school faculties argued in the case that the Solomon Amendment unconstitutionally violated their rights to freedom of association (by taking away their choice of who can and cannot recruit on campus) and of speech (by forcing the university to support speech, such as military recruiting pitches, that it does not agree with).  I must say that I am both sympathetic and unsympathetic to their argument.  Sympathetic, because there are in fact free speech and association issues here.  The majority opinion notwithstanding, its impossible to make a razor-sharp distinction between prohibitions on "conduct" and prohibitions on expression.  I can't accept Robert's blanket statement that "unlike a parade organizer's choice of parade contingents, a law
school's decision to allow recruiters on campus is not inherently
expressive."  What if, say, Al Qaeda wants to set up a booth?  My accepting their booth would sure as hell be a form of expression, one that I am sure the Right would blast me for. 

I do understand that there is money involved, and the fatuous answer is that "well, they can just turn down federal funds."  Bullshit.  Like it or not (and I don't) the feds have made themselves so ubiquitous, particularly in certain research areas where they have crowded out all private funding, that it is unrealistic to tell them to take a hike.  Though I must say that it is interesting to see the left, which built this huge federal machine, hoist on their own petard.  Besides, the majority opinion said that the funding tie-in was not necessary to pass constitutional muster -- that the government had the power to just straight out compel private universities to accept military recruiters.

However, mostly I am unsympathetic.  Why?  Because these very same ivy league and faculty intellectuals have felt free in the past to step all over the free speech and association rights of the rest of us in similar ways.  As George Will asked in recent column, it would be fascinating to see what percentage of these same people who brought this suit in turn vehemently support, say, McCain-Feingold?  Or, public funding of election campaigns. 

As a business person, this ship sailed years ago.  Freedom of association no longer applies to business people.  The reason?  Well, freedom of association implies the reverse right of not associating with anyone you choose.  But there are phone-book-sized bodies of legislation today with detailed regulations telling me all the people and circumstances in which I cannot choose whom I associate with, or don't associate with (via employment decisions, for example).  For example, my business employs RV'ers who live full-time on the road and form a large transient labor force.  I have tons of applications every year from Canadian and Mexican citizens who would like to work for me, but I cannot hire them.  On the other side of the coin, I have had to actually go to court from time to time to justify why I chose not to hire or to fire someone who is a woman, or older, or handicapped.

And forced speech with which I don't agree?  My company has to, by law, maintain bulletin boards full of posters, messages, statements, etc. that I don't necessarily agree with but are legally required to post on my property as communication to workers.  And these bulletin boards have to be made a bit larger every year.  I don't have to accept any federal money to be absolutely required, at the penalty of heavy fines, to post these communications.

I would be a bit more enthusiastic in my support for these law faculty if I didn't suspect that they have been the very people out in the forefront of trashing my first amendment rights as a business person.

Postscript: By the way, is this even a problem anyway?  At Harvard Business School, the largest recruiters eschewed campus altogether, and conducted all their interviews at offsite hotels.  I would think the military could pretty easily work around these law schools prohibitions.