Sunday, October 22, 2006
The press reports suggest the NY Court of Appeals based its decision on their conclusion that Catholic Charities and similar organizations were really social service agencies and not religious organizations, as if that is a coherent distinction to make. The ultimate consequence may be that Catholic social whatchmacallems will just stop buying insurance for their employees.
I don't feel strongly about contraception, but it is troubling that the State of New York thinks it should be able to tell religious organizations what they must pay for. Of course, if Catholic Charities could make a credible threat that they would just stop operating in New York, the SONY might suddenly see the light. But the State no doubt knows it can rely on the Catholics' charitable instincts, and use them to coerce them to violate their consciences in for now relatively small ways. It is always best to start with small violations of conscience. I can't say my expectations of the NY high court are particularly high. I hope Catholic Charities does appeal to the Supremes. At least it would not be a unanimous decision, as it was in New York.
I listen to the BBC World Service quite a bit, since it is on XM Satellite Radio. It is often good radio. Pefectly absurd, of course, that the British taxpayer should be subsidizing shows about number theory, for example, but I can't help that, so I might as well listen to it. But, it is quite true that the BBC is astonishingly anti-American, and whenever the discussion turns toward anything multi-culti, you can expect it to be taken to ridiculous extremes. Like the ectasy with which the BBC greeted the award of some prestigious art prize to a man who spent a great deal of time designing and shopping for his feminine wardrobe and constructing what sounded like his virulently anti-religious art. Boy, there's some art I'm really sorry to miss. And I learned a lot more about the London sexual underworld in that show than I wanted to know, all discussed as if recipes for plum pudding. What can I say. I find it hard to take men who wear dresses seriously. I know that makes my world smaller.
It is odd that media should draw so many people who despise the society from which they come -- the BBC is not exactly pro-British either. It made more sense when one could suppose that they were just doing their bit for the eventual triumph of socialism, or Mother Russia, but what exactly the London media intelligensia wants to accomplish now baffles me. Do they view the Islamic radicals something like the German Right viewed the Nazis in the 1930s, useful for now and later to be disgarded, or is it more some kind of universal nihilism and resentment, that it would be better for the human race if the West were to be brought to heel? And then there is the strangeness that even in the UK such views are a small minority, and yet hold a disproportionate sway among those who apparently speak for the country, at least on the radio.
This column explains how Norman Borlaug, the plant breeder known as the Father of the Green Revolution, probably saved the lives of millions. A great man, yet few know his name.
(I can't link to the specific column, so go to TCS here, and then click on the story "The Man for All Seasons.")
Saturday, October 21, 2006
A jury of his peers has convicted 89-year-old George Weller of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence--a felony. He could get 18 years in prison if he lasts that long. But not that many men live to be 107, particularly behind bars.
Weller, a readers may recall, plowed his 1992 Buick Le Sabre through a Los Angeles farmers' market in 2003, killing 10 people and injuring numerous others. There was no evidence that he did so purposely. He was not drunk. and his driving record up to that point was good. Instead, he appears to have mistaken the gas pedal for the brake. When the car lurched forward, he must have panicked. People do sometimes.
Pedal errors are not uncommon. Indeed, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, pedal error caused the controversy over the Audi 5000 automobile twenty years ago in which large numbers of drivers swore up and down that their Audi had taken on a life of its own. They were wrong. I pressed the wrong pedal once in the USD parking lot. Lucky for me no one was standing directly in front of my car when I did. (And yes, I reacted quickly, so the car moved only an extra few inches.)
The difference between my error and Weller's is that he panicked and hence didn't regain control of his car as quickly as most people would have. His age may have played a role. Or not. In any event, the car tore through the market. But is that really the kind of error that should be labeled "gross negligence" for the purpose of enhanced vehicular manslaughter laws? (The California Criminal Code also outlaws vehicular manslaughter that is not the result of "gross negligence," but the punishment is less severe.)
According to the trial judge, "gross negligence" is defined as "more than ordinary carelessness." "A person acts with gross negligence when the way he acts," the judge said, "amounts to a disregard for human life." If so, Evel Knievel would probably be guilty of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence if he were to attempt to jump over the farmer's market and fail, killing bystanders. Or a drag racer whose spins out of control and hits bystanders would probably be guilty. Those drivers made a choice to engage in a wildly dangerous activity. But it's difficult for me to see how George Weller could be found guilty. He didn't disregard human life. He panicked--i.e. he temporarily lost the capacity to decide how to best protect human life. (Since his driving record was good up to that point, he cannot be found to have disregarded human life just by choosing to drive.)
The jurors seemed confused. One juror said, "It could have happened to anybody…. [But the evidence] convinced us that this was more than simple negligence." Does this mean the juror thinks everybody "disregards human life"? Or did he just leave out that part of the judge's instruction? It seems to me that the spirit of this definition is that not just "anybody" should be convicted of a felony, just those unusual persons who choose to disregard human life and hence deserve harsh punishment. Another juror said, "Mr. Weller was a good man, a good citizen. It's so unfortunate."
All of this sounds like a miscarriage of justice to me. No one is saying that Mr. Weller shouldn't have to pay damages for what happened. That's appropriate. But is any good done by sending this old man to prison for the rest of his life and leaving his elderly and infirm wife to live out the rest of her years alone?
Perhaps jurors were influenced by testimony that Weller said something like "Why didn't you get out of the way?" immediately after the tragedy. Weller denies saying it. But what difference should it make it any event? There's absolutely no allegation in this case that Weller did anything but make an ordinary error and then panic. Given that, it shouldn't matter if he said, "Heil Hitler!" when he got out of the car (and it may well be prejudicial error to allow the evidence in). People don't always say the right thing after they've been through a traumatic event. Jurors are supposed to know that. Eighteen years in prison seems a bit stiff for the "crime" of saying something stupid under pressure.
David Friedman has an interesting proposal:
How to make medical drugs for conditions such as AIDS available in poor countries? On the face of it, there should be an easy solution. Sellers want to make money; you cannot make money trying to sell someone something at a price he cannot afford to pay. One would expect drug companies to be happy to charge lower prices in poorer countries, as long as they get enough to more than cover the actual production cost of the drug.
The problem is resale. How can the drug company be sure that the drugs it sells at a cheap price in Zambia don't get resold in France or the U.S., reducing the quantity it can sell in those countries at a high price?
I have another solution. Let charitable donors in rich countries buy out the patent on the second best AIDS drug or combination of drugs and public domain it—let anyone who wants make it. Buying the second best drug should not be that expensive, since it probably is not making much money any more. And even if the same company owns the first best drug, it should not lose too many sales, since most customers who can afford the best drug will keep taking it.
Friday, October 20, 2006
This little video mocks the sexual harrassment/sexual consent views of some extreme feminists. Viewing what is not a new idea in this new format gives it quite a bit of power. (I must admit, though, that I didn't have the patience to watch it all the way through. ADD, you know.)
Warning: This video is R rated for the sexual content of the conversation -- perhaps it even goes beyond R -- but there is no nudity.
Interestingly, the video is not even on YouTube -- but it still shows we are in a YouTube world.
Victor Davis Hanson tries to explain it:
Why do Republicans drive leftists so crazy these days? Liberal democrats are beginning to sound like rowdy students on spring break, shrieking and exhibiting themselves on camera.
The Democrats have not elected congressional majorities in 12 years, and they've occupied the White House in only eight of the last 26 years. The left's current unruliness seems a way of scapegoating others for a more elemental frustration - that they can't gain a national majority based on their core beliefs. More entitlements, higher taxes to pay for them, gay marriage, de facto quotas in affirmative action, open borders, abortion on demand, and radical secularism - these liberal issues don't tend to resonate with most Americans.
The abstract of this paper provides an interesting explanation:
From the property rights perspective, large law firms are poorly suited to sustaining employment relationships because they have no enforceable means of controlling the firm’s key knowledge asset—client relationships. The up-or-out partnership systems that have evolved over time in these firms offer an awkward but workable resolution to this problem. By restricting partnership size to maximize surplus per partner and by making senior attorneys residual claimants, law firms limit the opportunity for sub-groups of partners to grab and leave with the firm's clients. This action, however, creates additional demand for inexperienced associates who serve as (imperfect) substitutes for their more experienced counterparts. The result is that more associates are hired than can be promoted into a stable partnership. Those associates who do not succeed outgoing partners will be dismissed before they acquire sufficient client knowledge to themselves pose a threat of grabbing and leaving. That law firms find it worthwhile to commit to the costly practice of firing qualified attorneys in order to retain control over client relationships points to the general importance of control over assets in more conventional employment relationships.
The property rights model, in contrast to other explanations, can explain the coincidence of up-or-out promotion rules and partnerships in large law firms. At the root of our model is the claim that law firms cannot rely upon legal mechanisms to establish control over client relationships. We demonstrate that this is, in fact, the case under U.S. law. In addition, the property rights model suggests two propositions that are supported by the available historical, institutional and econometric evidence: (1) up-or-out appeared first in large corporate law firms who specialized in delivering large scale, complex legal services to valuable, long-term clients, and (2) large law firms practice a style of law that limits contact between associates and clients. Finally, the property rights model can account for the otherwise anomalous absence of up-or-out personnel policies in government agencies and large corporate litigation departments.
Hat tip: Marginal Revolution
Thursday, October 19, 2006