Friday, February 7, 2003


Howard objects to his local Rite Aid's policy concerning debit cards, which he considers too lax. Apparently, his branch (or, should I say, his ex-branch) does not require a photo ID for credit cards, including debit cards used as credit cards. I do not know if this is a chain-wide policy or a failing of his local store. My own experience with the story will not shed any light on that, as my debit card is also a photo ID.
In any event, it looks like a potentially lax credit card acceptance policy may be the least of my local Rite Aid's worries. Particularly damning, in my view, is the suspect's lawyer's vocal denials that the former pharmacy tech has any links to terrorism. Let's briefly review the track record of other events that have been widely reported to have no links to terrorism:
  • The wave of anthrax attacks following 9-11, still unsolved. For weeks on end, Tommy Thompson couldn't bring himself to utter a complete sentence about the anthrax attacks without throwing in a phrase like "very isolated" or "no connection to terrorism."
  • Richard Reid
  • That fat white guy with a ponytail who shot up an El-Al counter at LAX and yelled "Artie took my job!"
  • Oops, I meant to say, that non-white guy who just happened to be from Egypt, but who definitely had no connections to terrorism. I mean, c'mon, his victims may have been Jewish, but that was just a coincidence. El-Al's ticket counter was the most accessible; otherwise, he might just as easily have shot up a ticket counter for Qantas, Mexicana, Lufthansa, or any other airline that uses the Bradley terminal.
  • That white guy in a big white van, probably an NRA member or something, who picked off all those people in Maryland last fall.
  • Oops, I mean those two black guys in blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice, one of whom changed his surname to Muhammad "for religion purposes," but neither of whom could possibly have had anything to do with Islamic terrorists.
  • Columbia. Well, I guess they can't be wrong all the time.


Last night on Hannity & Colmes, USC law professor Susan Estrich repeated a popular lie about the status of abortion rights vis a vis Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). The most popular version of that lie, and the one which Estrich seemed to be advancing, is that the current U.S. Supreme Court is "one vote away" from overturning Roe. [A more egregious version of that lie, which appears to be beneath Estrich but not the L.A. Times, is that one false Supreme Court appointment would result in a court decision prohibiting abortions altogether. Estrich did not make that particular claim, but she did parrot the popular "5-4" lie closely associated with it.] Here's a verbatim excerpt of what she said about certain Democrat Senators' threat to filibuster Miguel Estrada's confirmation:
Look, Miguel Estrada ... he's kind of a very young guy, and he was a student at Harvard Law School when I taught there. He's obviously very bright. He graduated from Harvard in '86. He's very, very conservative, and the game here is all about the United States Supreme Court. If he gets appointed to the Court of Appeal, on the Court of Appeal you're bound to follow the law. That's OK. But once he gets there, with a year or two or three under his belt, he becomes ... he stands in line to become the first Hispanic on the United States Supreme Court.
Let's ignore the elephant in the living room, namely the possibility that Bush may appoint Alberto Gonzalez to the court in the interim. I'm more interested in the fact that Estrich appears to be casually assuming that Bush will still be President in 2005, 2006, etc. I tend to agree with this assumption, but that does not mean anyone should treat it as a foregone conclusion. At this stage in the other President Bush's first and last term, who in their right mind expected him to be voted out of office a year and a half later? On the flip side, at this point in Clinton's first term, on the heels of the 1994 election, I thought Clinton's chances of being re-elected in 1996 were as poor as my chances of getting into Boalt. Fortunately for both Clinton and me, I was wrong on both counts.
...and the fear is, he gets there, Roe v. Wade gets reversed, a whole line of 5-4 decisions [Colmes attempts unsuccessfully to interrupt] ... let me just finish ... get reversed, and my liberal friends are worried, honestly so, that he would reverse all those cases.
Estrich does not identify "all those cases," so it's a bit tough to evaluate that part of her statement. She does, however, identify one case, Roe, whose central holding has been upheld by 6 of the current 9 Justices. Will someone please explain to me how a 6-3 split among the Justices translates into being "just one vote" away from overturning abortion rights?
I am cynical enough to expect, and almost even accept, that people with an agenda - usually liberals or religious fanatics, but not always - will lie through their teeth if that's what they think they need to do to promote that agenda. Based on her prior appearances on the show, however, I expected better from Estrich. I also expected better from Sean Hannity and the other guest, Ann Coulter. Both are staunch conservatives who know better, but both failed to call her on it.
On a side note, I was rather amused that the group linked to for an example of the 5-4 lie calls itself the "Feminist Majority." If they're really so damned confident that their views represent those of the majority, then what are they afraid of? The worst that can happen on the Court (say, seven Scalias and two Thomases) is that Roe may be repudiated, and a woman's right to abort a fetus would end up in the same category as my right to own a cell phone, a PalmPilot, a case of beer, a bottle of gin, a pet bunny, or, in any circuit that hasn't yet found that mystery Amendment lodged in there between the First and the Third, a gun. Can your state legislature ban any of these things without having the courts strike the ban down as unconstitutional? You bet. But what are the odds they'd be foolish enough to try?
Last and least, this rant has reminded me of the fact that sometimes a spell checker knows more than you do. When I ran this post through Word's spell checker, the spell checker recognized the name Coulter, but not Hannity, Colmes or Estrich. As an alternative for Hannity, the spell checker recommended "sanity." Bingo. For Colmes, it suggested "calms." Also quite true; if anything, the guy's too calm. Take a wild guess what it suggested as a replacement for Estrich.

Tuesday, February 4, 2003


Once again I encountered a situation where the correct answer to a question was 42. A couple of years ago, I was one of Jay Nelson's 1,700 e-dupes. I received a check a few months later from Lloyds of London, which underwrites eBay's Fraud "Protection" Program. The reason for the scare quotes is that once you read the fine print, you'll see that their coverage is actually rather piddly. The fraud victim eats the first $25 of the purchase price, anything above $200, and all fraudulent shipping and handling charges. Doesn't that make you feel safe buying things from strangers on eBay?
Long story short, Nelson was caught last year and pleaded guilty. Last week, I received a letter from the U.S. Attorney asking if I had any remaining claims against Mr. Nelson that had not already been paid by third parties. After dusting off all the paperwork, I learned that I'd originally paid Mr. Nelson a total of $116, consisting of a "winning" bid of $99 for a nonexistent DVD player, plus shipping and handling charges of $17. That meant that all I got from Lloyds was $74, leaving the remaining claim at ... well, you know.

Monday, February 3, 2003


Phil Spector has been arrested for murder. With any luck, he and Robert Blake will show the rest of Hollywood that getting away with murder isn't as easy as O.J. made it look.
UPDATE: Now it appears this alleged killer has allegedly been released for allegedly having posted bail. Here's allegedly hoping that no more allegedly dead alleged women will allegedly turn up allegedly dead in his alleged mansion before this alleged case allegedly goes to trial - allegedly.
Click here to learn more about Lana Clarkson, the victim.


Erin O'Connor has been following the story of Jendra Loeffelman, a teacher from Crystal City, Missouri who recently lost her job over some remarks she made made to her eighth-grade students concerning interracial marriages. Precisely what Ms. Loeffelman said depends on whose story you choose to believe. Both sides agree that Ms. Loeffelman told a group of her eighth-grade students that she disapproved of interracial marriage, and that she feared that children of such marriages would be persecuted. According to Loeffelman, that's pretty much all she said. According to some of her critics, however, Loeffelman also said much worse things than that.
Given the uncertainty as to what exactly Ms. Loeffelman said, and even under what circumstances (was it an innocent question, or a deliberate set-up by students who wanted to get her in trouble?), I can't pretend to know whether the school district's decision to fire Loeffelman was appropriate. Nor can I pretend to know whether they were acting within their legal rights in so doing, as I have not seen their collective bargaining agreement. I am a little troubled, though, by the efforts of some to constitutionalize this issue. Take, for example, this following quotation from the attorney of a fifth grade teacher who was fired in 1997 for straying from the curriculum:
Teachers don’t lose their First Amendment rights because they’re teachers. There’s not a special rule for teachers - not even fifth-grade ones.
Except that this is exactly what the lawyer is asking for: a special rule for teachers. The rest of us - probably including the lawyer himself - have no First Amendment "right" to continued employment with anybody. Most of us could get fired for expressing a constitutionally protected opinion that alienated our employers; this guy got fired simply for blogging, period. 

So why should the rule be any different for public school teachers? The easy answer is that public school teachers work for the government and the government, unlike a private employer, has to abide by the First Amendment. The not-so-easy - but more likely correct - answer is that this can't be right; governments make political hirings and firings all the time. This is because the First Amendment only requires viewpoint-neutrality when it comes to providing a forum where others can speak; it does not require such neutrality when the government itself is the one doing the speaking. Every time a public school teacher goes in front of a classroom, the government speaks. The only reason teachers cannot be fired for the same reasons that the rest of us can is that their union is strong and has managed to negotiate terms the rest of us can't (and probably shouldn't) get. 

To illustrate further why it's a bad idea to view this issue as a constitutional one, recall the discrepancies between the two accounts of what she said. Maybe Ms. Loeffelman merely stated that she personally disapproves of interracial marriages and worries that other people, not her, are likely to persecute their offspring, or maybe she said some incredibly inflammatory things, including a call for sterilization. If Ms. Loeffelman's situation is treated as an H.R. issue, that distinction could make all the difference. But it can't make any difference if the whole thing were reduced to the First Amendment, which provides just as much protection to a statement like "I support forced sterlizations of interracial couples" as it does to a more innocuous "I personally oppose interracial marriages, but who am I to judge?"