Friday, January 14, 2005

A judicial solution in search of a problem

According to USA Today, life tenure for federal judges is a problem. The nature and extent of the problem is a bit hazy, but the rationale for the complaint rests on the longevity achieved by modern American (including judges): "The reason is clear. Justices, like everyone else, are living longer. That makes life tenure a far weightier proposition than when the framers included it in the Constitution. The average age of today's justices is 70. The justices who have left the court in the past 35 years served an average of 25 years before retiring. By contrast, the justices who departed in the early years of the republic served an average of eight years."
"Legal scholars" have also complained that the justices of the Supreme Court serve too long. This is so because of life tenure granted by Article III of the U.S. Constitution, according to Section 1 of which extends "during good Behaviour," and not for a stated term:
"Serving 25 years or more is too long in a democracy," says Steven Calabresi of Northwestern University. Law professors Roger Cramton of Cornell and Paul Carrington of Duke also point out that none of the constitutions that have been written for nations worldwide in the past 150 years has given life tenure to top judges. Another argument they make is that supersize life tenure has raised the stakes of each appointment and made Senate confirmation more contentious."
What, one wonders, did the Framers think about all of this? In Federalist 79, the author states that the compensation provision of Article III was intended to assure independence for federal judges:
"This .e., the provision for no reduction in compensation], all circumstances considered, is the most eligible provision that could have been devised. It will readily be understood that the fluctuations in the value of money and in the state of society rendered a fixed rate of compensation in the Constitution inadmissible. What might be extravagant to-day, might in half a century become penurious and inadequate."
"Half a century." Hmmm. Looks like the Framers thought that federal judges might actually live and serve for quite a long time. The argument that we should adjust for longer lifespans, then, is not particularly convincing.
Mr. Calabresi's fiat, that "[s]erving 25 years or more is too long," is not quite redolent of facts and argument, dontcha think? Why, for example, does Mr. Calabresi not criticize Senators who serve so long? Or Representatives? [For all I know, he might have. The article doesn't say.] But this argument, turned on its head, would never be accepted. That is, if one were to assert that only "mature" people -- say those attaining the age of fifty --could serve on the Supreme Court, surely there would be an outcry. And why is 25 year bad but not 20? Or nineteen and an half?
As the Federalist authors note, federal judges may be impeached for misbehaving. And why, if a judge isn't misbehaving, should anyone want to get rid of him?
Mr. Calabresi's other arguments deserve short shrift. He claims that other countries have done things differently. Answer: So what? Shall we model our government on the failures in Europe or the failures in Asia? America is the world's oldest democracy (I think). It got that prestige using Article III judges, not Calabresian ones. Mr. C. also thinks that life tenure has "raised the stakes" in Senate confirmations. Talk about blaming the victims!
All in all, McPaper has met its mediocre standards with this article, advocating a mediocre idea with mediocre arguments and mediocre sources.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


8:00 p.m. eastern. Finished watching "Turbulence." Didn't care much for the movie; it was on in the background as we took down the Christmas tree (last day for bulk "holiday" pickup). The plot was fairly conventional, except for the hero. Actually, I suppose that the hero is following the new conventionality: the hero was a heroine, or rather, the "flight attendant." The bad guy was Ray Liotta, a wonderful bad guy. His problem was a sexual one. He liked to kill and ra*e women. Our flight attendant saved the day and was met at the end by the wonderful, slightly effeminate British-speaking captain who "talked" her down. Right now, more in the foreground for its dramatic effect, is "24." Turns out that Jack was fired by his boss, a woman. The head of the antiterrorist organization. Now, what are the chances in the real world that females (a) run antiterrorist outfits and , (b) that the last, say, twenty heroes of hijackings were women? Now, I have absolutely nothing against pretty women playing important parts on TV. I have nothing against working with women. Or (except in the case of lawyers) for women. But, why must everything on television be so far from the reality of American life? What's worse, the men in these stories are all he-men. And they uniformly lose fights to these wonder-women. I can't tell you how silly it is for little Annie what's-her-name tossing a right cross to Ray's chin and him crumpling like Martin Short in the ring with Mike Tyson. All I'm asking for is a little verisimilitude. Men don't have to be portrayed tossing women in the air, or ordering them to their rooms for, ah, er, procreative activities. All I'm asking for is a little resemblance to physical reality. Women make lousy firemen, cops and combat soldiers. They can't beat men in fighting, running, lifting or any other muscle activities. I don't really care what Clint Eastwood thinks. Can our lowbrow art forms are be free from propaganda? It's probably not something that's going to turn the world upside down, but whatever happened to respect for the truth? There are three genders in the workplace: men, women and women who imitate men. Why is this a good thing and why is it being cloned into TV?

Monday, January 10, 2005

Who's Cryin' Now?

The environment. What would fit into a square hole cut out of remote Wyoming or Nevada (or any other suitable place) one hundred yards deep and thirty-five miles on each side? Give up? The answer is All The Garbage Generated By Americans in The Third Millennium. In “Recycling is Garbage,” an article published in the New York Times magazine in 1996, see, e.g.,, author John Tierney audits the claims of necessity and fear concerning the alleged landslide of landfills that environmentalists assert will dominate America’s landscape. This seems like the sort of question one could actually understand and quantify. After all, after a few years of paying attention, one should be able to determine whether or not the family’s waste, together with all of the waste in the neighborhood, added, for that matter, to all the waste in the city and state, is crowding out mothers and their babies, dogs, cats and playgrounds. A cursory look around suggests that, after a couple of centuries of post-Industrial-Revolution civilization and the detritus thus caused, Americans are still living in rather commodious digs. Imagine then one’s bemusement at the Local Paper’s trumpeting – on its editorial page – of the vasty dangers of accepting trash for cash. Apparently, outfits in Michigan are considering whether or not to accept trash from Canada for disposal. For a fee. Imagine. Canadian trash in Michigan landfills. Michigan landfills making money for Michigan taxpayers. [The cached version from Google can be found at ] You can almost smell the Local Paper’s position on this, can’t you? Needless to say, Fearless Editor was agin’ importing Canadian Trash into Pristine Michigan. Doing so would make folks cry for the lost beauty, ya see. In service to this opinion Your Editor impressed the memory of that noted Native American environmentalist, Iron Eyes Cody, the glycerin-teared icon of fell-good environmental television advertisements a while back. Ole Iron Eyes oughtta know what clean is. After all, until the Dirty White Men arrived, the land was preserved by the Native American Clean Ones. Trouble is, though, ole Iron Eyes Cody was really “Espera DeCorti,” an regular American of Italian descent. He didn't have any Native American blood in him at all (except of course in the non-PC sense). He was a fake. The editorial concludes by asserting that the importation of trash from Canada would somehow harm “Michigan’s landscape.” This assertion, however, is nothing if not counterintuitive. After all, the trash would be landfilled. In a currently existing, licensed landfill. In the same gull-infested areas that are currently receiving trash. The places that are so far out of sight that most people don’t even know when they drive by them on the highway. And so the Fearless Editorial from the Fearless Editor of the Local Paper had a sort of mock-solemn symmetry: both the main argument and the symbol for that argument were fakes. There is no garbage "crisis" and ole Iron Eyes is not a Native American. A Curious Reader wonders when – if ever – Michigan residents are ever going to get unbiased information from the Local Paper about the causes, the costs, and the relative value of trash, its disposal and its actual effect on the environment in a form that does not betray a religious belief in NIMBY (“Not In My Backyard”).

Saturday, January 01, 2005

website re Cho

The website I mentioned is The author makes the obvious point that Cho is not funny. What is interesting is how the Safety Culture is pervading comedy as pervades the rest of modern American society. You must wear seat belts, helmets and listen to PC two-fers. You may not laugh at things, people or animals. Only conservatives, preferably rightwing presidents who are always wrong, funny and dangerous.