Deep Blue, Metropolis, Big Sky, Greater Dixie

election.jpgThere are a lot of old faces leaving Congress, and we can expect many efforts to figure out what the Democratic wave meant. On one level, it may be all about “corruption [and] the Iraq war.” But a recent analysis by Stan Cox suggests some interesting possibilities.

Cox “compiled rankings of the 50 states for a range of characteristics, including wages, taxes, and energy costs from a recent Forbes Magazine’s survey entitled “The Best States for Business,” an environmental policy (“green-capacity”) rating by the Resource Renewal Institute, and government data on median income, income inequality, population size, and the number of Wal-Mart Supercenters relative to population.” He then divided “divergent states” into four categories based on their status: Deep Blue, Metropolis, Big Sky, Greater Dixie. He found that the more Democratic of these (Deep Blue and Metropolis) had median incomes “25% higher than in Big Sky and Greater Dixie.” Big Sky and Greater Dixie states also had far higher “Iraq war deaths per million residents,” lower minimum wages, and worse environmental policies (though they had cleaner environments, largely due to less population density).

I don’t agree with all the ways Cox interprets the data, but his organization of it is interesting. It’s a nice reminder to the MSM that rather than incessant coverage of the “horse race,” it might help to point out the huge disparities “in wages, business and environmental policies, income inequality, population size, racial and ethnic makeup, poverty, and military impact” of different areas. These disparities might explain a lot more about what went on Tuesday than the Limbaugh/Fox, macaca/misogynist, and Kerry “stuck in Iraq” feuds they fixated on.

Photo Credit: Flickr/Poor Yorick (“The 2004 presidential election as represented by population, by Mark Newman, Department of Physics and Center for the Study of Complex Systems, University of Michigan”).

PS: I forgot to mention a certain counterintuitive paper that suggests some legal uses of these results. Anup Malani has suggested that “The value of a law should be judged by the extent to which it raises housing prices and lowers wages. . . . Housing prices go up because more people want to live there. Wages go down because more people want to work there.” This type of data helps correlate things like wages and environmental laws.


Bread, Not Politics, Rules The Day

A day after a major election, what rises to the top of the New York Times’ “most emailed” list? Rumsfeld’s resignation? The power shift in the House? No. Instead, a delightful pair: The Secret of Great Bread – Let Time Do The Work and its companion Recipe: No Knead Bread. Perhaps this intense interest in baking is understandable. The election is over and everyone needs a break. What could be more soothing than preparing a delicious loaf of homemade bread, then eating it? Perhaps all of us – Dems and Republicans alike – should get together over a fat yeasty loaf prepared strictly according to the Times recipe.

I wonder how long this languid state will continue. Will tomorrow’s most emailed article be another feel good piece – island spa massages under the stars, perhaps? – a chirpy politics cum pop-culture article (Obama’s book hits #1 on the charts) – or an anxiety inducing review of the Supreme Court’s argument on partial birth abortion? I know that I’ll need a day or two to relax and return to my normal business. Lacking the time to engage a fabulous slow-rising boule, perhaps I’ll stroll over to Cosi and purchase a squagel. It’ll go perfectly with the morning paper.


Domino’s in the City

Over at Volokh, David Bernstein asks, “Really, in New York (outside, perhaps, Manhattan, where the pizza situation has become dire) you are rarely more than a few blocks away from at least decent New York pizza. . . . Why would anyone in Brooklyn, ever order the dreck they sell at Domino’s?”

It’s a good question. (There are indeed Domino’s and Pizza Hut outlets in the city.) A similar question arises here in San Diego. There are approximately fifteen thousand really good Mexican food joints in San Diego. There is an abundance of small mom-and-pop places, some high-end restaurants, and authentic chains like Rubio’s. Yet amidst this land of plenty, I also see the occasional Taco Bell, as well as its bastard cousin Del Taco.

What’s going on? Two things, I suspect.

First, there is some population that actually prefers Domino’s over real pizza, and Taco Bell over real Mexican food. What can I say? There’s no accounting for taste.

Second, though, is this legitimate concern: Domino’s and Taco Bell may set a pretty low bar, but it really can get worse. Both Domino’s and Taco Bell are consistently bland, uninteresting, uninspired. On a scale of one to ten, they’re a two, or a three at best.

But some of the mom-and-pop shops — the bad ones, not the good ones — can be truly awful. On a scale of one to ten, they’re worse than a mere two. They’re a one, or a zero, or into the negatives. I’ve had bad pizza from more than one corner pizza joint in New York that was truly nauseating — substantially worse than Domino’s. And I’ve had bad Mexican food here in San Diego that was similarly worse than Taco Bell.

Given that backdrop, the presence of Domino’s or Taco Bell provides a minimum baseline of quality — uninspiring, but unlikely to be truly, nauseatingly awful. If I have limited information about the restaurants in a location, and if I’m risk averse, I might rationally choose the relatively safe (but uninspired) option.

Say that I end up in an unfamiliar part of New York City. On one corner, I see a sign for Bernstein Pizza; on another corner, Wenger Pizza; on a third corner, Solove Pizza; on the fourth corner, Domino’s. I have no information about any of these restaurants, other than Domino’s. Chances are that one or two or even all three of the other options will be good pizza, and if they’re good, they’ll be much better than Domino’s. But one or more of them might be awful, and I don’t have a way to know which that might be.

Now I’m personally not all that risk averse, and most likely to simply try my luck on one of the corner delis. (Hence my cache of stories about bad food.) But I won’t begrudge the risk-averse actor in that situation her decision to limit potential losses by choosing to eat at Domino’s.


America, The (Less) Exceptional

I have the sense that, for the past few years, people in other countries – and particularly Europe – have begun to see Americans as truly exceptional. And not in a good way. As the European public grew increasingly troubled by Iraq, many people across the pond wondered whether Americans were so cocky, so self-assured, that they were incapable of rational thought about our international affairs. How could Americans not understand the problems with American Iraq policies?

Well, we may be a bit slower to speak out – it is, after all, our war, and it is awfully hard to abandon (and, implicity, discredit) a policy for which so many Americans have sacrificed. But in the end, Americans are less exceptional than others around the globe might have thought. Our citizens have now spoken out, critically, about the Administration’s Iraq strategy. If nothing else, I hope this is reassuring to the rest of the world. We all have to play in the same sandbox, after all.


Borat’s Contract

Sacha Cohen’s movie “Borat” consists of a series of encounters in which the British comedian gets Americans to say and do all sorts of stupid things on camera by posing as a clueless — and often naively offensive — Central Asian reporter. (Heidi apparently liked the movie; given the presence of four-year-olds in my life I’ll have to wait for the DVD.) The BBC, which clearly relishes the prospect of an entire movie devoted to showing what morons the colonials are, reports briefly on the legal side of the gag:

They [Cohen’s subjects…victims?] would be told about the foreign correspondent making a film about life in the US, with the pitch tailored to each person’s specialist subject.

Then on the day of the interview, they would be presented with a release form at the last minute, be paid in cash and, finally, Borat would amble in, beginning with some serious subjects before starting his provocative routine.

I am very curious to see what is in that contract. It would be interesting to see the extent that it will hold up if Cohen gets to experience another aspect of trans-Atlantic barbarism: a good ‘ole fasion American lawsuit. (See the second to last paragraph)

[Update: Here is a copy of the contract via Slate]


Sacha Baron Cohen & Mark Twain

I knew very little about Sacha Baron Cohen before going to see “Borat” on Friday. (The full movie title being, of course, “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”).

I came out raving about the movie, essentially echoing the chorus of critics who call Cohen a brilliant social satirist. I think that New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis puts it very well when she says that Cohen, in giving racists, homophobes and misogynists just enough media rope to hang themselves unwittingly, more than realizes the goal that Jerry Lewis identified for comedians: “if the comic can berate and finally blow the bully out of the water, he has hitched himself to an identifiable human purpose.”

The scene that most stood out for me was a scene at a very large rodeo, in which Cohen, as Borat, gets the crowd to applaud wildly as he expresses violent, bloody sentiments toward Iraqis. It made me think back to a wonderful short story by Mark Twain that I’d read years ago called The War Prayer. I highly recommend reading the Twain story, and, of course, going to see Borat … (As for the parallel between the Twain story and the Iraq invasion itself – the parallel is less to that which we purport to be doing in Iraq, since we purport (sort of, when we’re not reciting other justifications) to be “liberating” Iraqis, and more to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi deaths deemed to have occurred as a result of the invasion, and the relative media and public indifference to those deaths).


The Law & Economics of Quaker Litigation

quakers.bmpI feel duty bound to write a post defending the honor of 17th century Quaker grandees. Their reputation has suffered enough. The Quakers had (still have?) a tradition of discouraging intra-Quaker litigation in the secular courts. In England, Quaker eschewal of litigation was founded in part on the religious inaccessibility of the courts. Courts required oaths, and Quakers, taking Christ’s admonition in the New Testament to “swear not” literally, refused to take oaths. Once the Quakers started founding settlements in America, however, this problem went away, as Pennsylvania law allowed for “affirmations” in place of oaths, an explicit religious accommodation that eventually found its way into the Constitution. Nevertheless, Quaker sermons and pamphlets continued to insist that Friends should resolve their disputes amicably before the Monthly Meetings of the Society rather than sue in the secular courts.

In his book Of “Good Laws” and “Good Men”: Law and Society in the Delaware Valley, 1680-1710, William Offutt compared the records of the Monthly Meetings with the local court records to determine the extent to which Quakers actually lived up to their own sermons. What he found was that despite the nominal threat of excommunication for filing suit against another Friend, Quakers were quite enthusiastic about suing one another. Looking at the records of the Monthly Meetings, in turn, he found that congregational leaders were more likely to “sue” other congregational leaders before the Monthly Meetings but that Quaker leaders were perfectly happy to sue ordinary Quakers before the secular courts. Offutt rather archly suggests that the reasons for this had to do with the (hypocritical) desire of Quaker elites to maintain their images with other Quaker elites. Economics, however, suggests a more charitable reading of the actions of Quaker leaders.

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The Athenian Model

redrope.gifThe USA Today reports that shirking jury duty is an worsening problem. In response, local registrars are becoming punitive:

Tulare jury candidates who fail to show are warned that they could be found in contempt of court. If they do not respond, a second letter is sent, warning that a warrant will be issued for their arrest . . .

In Danville, Ill., a 19-year-old woman was found in contempt of court and sentenced to 14 days in jail for failing to appear for jury duty.

In Topeka, no-shows have been fined up to $100 a day.

In Grand Rapids, Mich., warrants were issued recently for the arrests of 56 people who failed to go to court and explain why they couldn’t serve.

It’s a trend. A foolish one. Why are folks always reaching for sticks, when there are carrots near to hand?

Seriously, jailing citizens for failing to be civic minded is, I think, a bad way of encouraging compliance. Why not try shaming, as the Athenians did with their famous red rope?

But, backwards.

Jurors ought to be given a public reward that will encourage norms of civic engagement. Like, say, a bumper sticker (“I love my state so I served on a jury.”), a t-shirt (“I’m not too sexy for jury service”), a newspaper advertisement (“Pennsylvania salutes its jurors . . . “), or a red ribbon. Such small rewards will have the incidental positive effect of making people happier with the experience itself. Jail time, by contrast, will only reduce civic support for the jury system, and will be unlikely to be enforced at levels sufficient to really deter shirking. And, tangible rewards are better than the empty rhetoric that currently marks the legal system’s approach to the reward-punishment problem:

“Conscientious service brings its own reward in the personal satisfaction that an important task has been well done. The effectiveness of our system of justice is measured by the integrity and dedication of the jurors who serve in our courts.”

A Market for Flexible Law Practice

law firm.jpgI was glad to see a Boston Globe article today on some recent advances in law firm flexibility. Law professor Joan Williams has helped promote the movement by “author[ing] the balanced hours model adopted by Kirkpatrick & Lockhart and other progressive firms.” If firms could more easily monetize the value of stable employment, they’d realize the gains to be had:

Lawyers at top firms are expected to bill 1,800 hours a year but put in a grueling 2,100 hours or more of actual work. Part-timers are assumed to be bad deals because their overhead costs equal a full-timer’s. But look beyond such narrow measures, and the picture changes, says Joan Williams, a law professor at the University of California/Hastings. . . . Attrition is far more costly to firms than overhead, and turnover frustrates clients, says Williams, who argues that successful balanced hours programs benefit everyone.

The Project for Attorney Retention is doing a lot to promote this idea, and I’m all in favor: as Pope John Paul II memorably put it in his encyclical on work, “however true it may be that man is destined for work and called to it, in the first place work is ‘for man’ and not man ‘for work.'” (Here’s more on the relation of CST and law practice from the always-insightful Jeff Lipshaw.)

Unfortunately, it’s often hard to get information about firms’ flexibility policies. One of the main reasons I worked at Arnold & Porter a few years ago was their inclusion in the Fortune 100 Best Employers, but only a few law firms get into that survey. According to the story, “Deborah Epstein Henry created the ‘Cheat Sheet,’ a list of 75-odd benchmarking questions for students to determine about firms, such as what percentage of partners work reduced hours.” But I’d probably be too scared to ask questions like that at the interview stage.

Perhaps the ABA should require the disclosure of answers to questions like these, like the FDA requires nutritional labeling. As Russ Muirhead argues, “without due consideration of how we fit the work we do,” “our notions of freedom and fairness are incomplete.” Opponents of regulation may think a principle of caveat vendor should prevail, with the market for talent meting out punishment for digital sweatshops. But it’s hard to discern the signal through the noise of many unregulated clearinghouses for such information.

Photo Credit: Coffee Monster/Flickr.


Lies, damn lies, and statistics

The Senate race is all about the Supreme Court, my friends tell me. If you want one type of Justice, vote Republican; if you want another type, vote Democrat. They’re right, of course. The Senate will have to confirm any appointments that Bush makes in the next two years. But just what kinds of results can we expect from a Democratic versus a Republican Senate? A quick survey of recent justices (excluding Justices Roberts and Alito, who are too new to really judge) shows:

Recent Justices Nominated by Republican President and Confirmed by a Democratic Senate

Clarence Thomas

David Souter

Anthony Kennedy

William Rehnquist

Recent Justices Nominated by Republican President and Confirmed by a Republican Senate

Antonin Scalia

Sandra Day O’Connor

The results are clear, aren’t they? If you would like to see justices similar to Justice O’Connor appointed, then vote Republican. And if you would like justices like Justice Thomas or Chief Justice Rehnquist appointed, then vote Democratic. History doesn’t lie, does it? Based on past history, for example, you can accurately tell your friends that you’re voting Republican this year because you didn’t much like Justice Thomas and Chief Justice Rehnquist, and prefer Justice O’Connor.

I only hope this information doesn’t arrive too late to influence anyone’s political choices this election day.