Saturday, 5 May 2007

Television Notes

1. I’ve never watched Seinfeld. What’s it about?

2. My favorite miniseries of all time is Centennial (1978), which is based on a James Michener novel of the same name. One of the happiest days of my life was when I discovered it in VHS format. I’ve been trying to find it in DVD format for many years, to no avail. says it’s not yet available in that format. Today, I found this. Does it look like an official version, or is it something somebody made by copying VHS tapes to DVD? If it’s official, I’ll buy it in an instant.

3. I like the Geico lizard commercials, the caveman commercials, and the Sonic drive-in commercials where people talk to each other in the car. Which commercials do you like, and why? Which do you hate?

4. The only automobile race I care one whit about is the Indianapolis 500, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

5. I have a Dell 42-inch high-definition plasma television, and you don’t.

6. With high-definition television, you don’t want close-ups of people’s faces. This includes people you think are attractive.

7. There are too many cable channels.

8. If you watch golf on television, you need a life.

9. I can’t understand what’s being said on South Park. When I complained about this to a colleague, he said it’s because I don’t have kids.

10. I miss Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.


Pit bulls are bred to fight and kill. They are far more dangerous than any other dog breed. It is not irrational, therefore, for the law to prohibit people from breeding or owning them. See here. Please don’t say that this is also an argument for gun control. Guns don’t have minds of their own. Dogs do. My dogs and I have been attacked by a pit bull on more than one occasion. I have an inch-long scar on my hand as a result. Pit bulls are killing machines. Take my word for it.

The Second Amendment

If you enjoy constitutional law, as I do, then you’ll love this New York Times story. It is truly gratifying to see that there are still intellectually honest law professors. Many law professors, such as Brian Leiter, are little more than leftist thugs, bent on imposing their will on the American people.

Addendum: Here is Sanford Levinson’s essay “The Embarrassing Second Amendment.” I might add that I have never found it the least bit embarrassing.

From the Mailbag

Dear Mr. Burgess-Jackson:

I thought Garance Franke-Ruta’s proposal could be made even better with just one little tweak.

Take care,

Jon Swift

Twenty Years Ago

5-5-87 . . . Congressional hearings began today on the Iran-Contra fiasco. Briefly, here’s what happened. A handful of National Security Council employees and retired military officials secretly acquired and sold arms to Iranians (who are engaged in a war with neighboring Iraq), then used part of the money to fund the Contras in Nicaragua. The Contras are engaged in warfare against the communist-backed Sandinista regime, and the Reagan administration has been supporting the Contras both publicly and (as it turns out) privately. The hearings are televised, so I watched part of the testimony this morning. It’s interesting. Today’s witness was retired Air Force General Richard Secord, who engineered the arms sale to Iran at the request of administration officials. Having missed the Watergate hearings in 1974, much of this is new to me. I hope to tune in often during the next few weeks, especially when Marine Colonel Oliver North and Admiral John Poindexter testify. North and Poindexter were the leaders of the covert operation.

Shortly before the seminar began, as I was walking through the palm trees to buy doughnuts and coffee, I was struck on the head by bird shit. How disgusting! I wiped most of it from my hair with my handkerchief, but it was still matted. This is the third time that I’ve been so bombarded. It’s an occupational hazard.


Did you know that Americans now spend more than they earn? See here. Instead of making sacrifices for their future selves, people are robbing their future selves!

Addendum: Someone wrote to say that I misunderstand the essay. I do not. The author argues that your savings will be worth less later than they’re worth today. True, but if you spend them today, you won’t have anything later. Better to have something later than nothing later.


Here is Marvin Kalb’s op-ed column from today’s New York Times. Kalb argues for a series of nine 90-minute presidential debates during the run-up to the 2008 election. I like the idea. The only question is whether Americans can stand to hear Hillary Clinton’s voice nine times.


My favorite sport is on the verge of implosion. See here. The other day, one of the commentators on ESPN (was it former general manager Steve Phillips?) argued that Barry Bonds must be allowed to tie and break Hank Aaron’s all-time home-run record in his home park (in San Francisco), even if it means sitting him for several days. The reasoning is simple: If he ties or breaks the record on the road, he is likely to be booed and to have objects thrown at him, which would not be good for the sport. That Bonds would be booed (or worse) for setting one of the sport’s greatest records says it all. He has disgraced himself and dishonored the game that made him wealthy. I’m not suggesting that Bonds did anything illegal. Maybe he didn’t. But it’s clear to anyone who has observed his career that he used substances that were designed to enhance his performance. (Whatever happened to nutritious food, pure beverages, hard work, and clean living?) He’s not the only one, either; he’s just the most prominent. Thank goodness Alex Rodriguez will break Bonds’s record in a few years. I’ve never heard anyone say (or imply) that A-Rod is on steroids. A-Rod also has a better personality than Bonds, who is, to put it bluntly, surly.

From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Help, by the Book” (editorial, May 1) applauds the State of Washington for taking steps to hold down textbook costs and Rice University for making materials, written by a “consortium of writers,” available for free online use.

As a professor and textbook author, I wonder what kind of incentive you propose to offer the people who write these materials. Preparing a textbook entails extensive research and writing. Weekends and evenings disappear, as a writer tries to perform the day job of teaching and conducting research, while managing to write a quality product.

Most of us who write textbooks are pitching them to a fairly small audience. If every student in my area of expertise bought my textbook, I’d sell about 5,000 copies.

My royalty rate varies between 6 and 13 percent. If I did the math, which I try to avoid doing while writing to stave off discouragement, I’d realize that my hourly rate is probably four bucks an hour.

If you want students to learn from high-quality textbooks, someone has to pay the people who write them.

Nancy Murray
St. Louis, May 1, 2007
The writer is a research professor of otolaryngology at Washington University School of Medicine.

Note from KBJ: I have an idea. Let the market work!

Douglas Husak on Drugs

If there is a good reason to criminalize illicit drug use, we have yet to find it. We need a better reason to criminalize something other than predictions about how its frequency would increase if punishments were not imposed. These predictions are dubious both normatively and (in this case) empirically. Despite my uncertainty about the future, there is one prediction about which we can be absolutely confident. After decriminalization, those who use illicit drugs will not face arrest and prosecution. The lives of drug users would not be devastated by a state that is committed to waging war against them. Punishment, we must always be reminded, is the worst thing a state can do to us. The single prediction we can safely make about decriminalization is that it will improve the lives of the hundreds of thousands of people who otherwise would be punished for the crime of using drugs for recreational purposes.

(Douglas Husak, “Four Points About Drug Decriminalization,” Criminal Justice Ethics 22 [winter/spring 2003]: 21-9, at 29 [italics in original])

A Year Ago