Sunday, November 5, 2006

Posing with the suicide bomber.

People keep sending me this picture of University of Pennsylvania president Amy Gutmann standing next to a student dressed as a suicide bomber at a Halloween party. (She's dressed as Glinda, the Good Witch.) As you know, I hold people to account for the way they pose at festive events. But I am not going to slam Gutmann for this. Her mistake, only really visible in retrospect, was giving a costume party for students. The lesson of this incident is utterly clear: University administrators must never, never, never have a costume party ever again.

Once students are there and in costume, how could she single out one student to snub? If she had had time to think about it -- and now she says she didn't -- she might have considered that the young man would turn out to be a naive foreign student who meant well and was trying to get in the spirit of America's Halloween. Aren't you supposed to dress as someone evil?

By the way, it is exactly this sort of tolerance and unwillingness to offend a foreigner that Sasha Baron Cohen exploits in the big new hit comedy movie "Borat," which is apparently the funniest movie ever made or the greatest comedy of all time or something.

Bonus discussion question: How will "Borat" affect the election?

ADDED: Eugene Volokh defends Gutmann. (Evil characters for Halloween are the norm!) Glenn Reynolds responds. (Bet she wouldn't have posed with someone dressed as a Klansman!) Eugene responds to Glenn. Glenn "remain[s] skeptical." This interchange, which I read after I posted my observations, brings up the question whether university administrators are politically slanted in their tolerance. More important, I think if a student had arrived dressed as a Klansman, many guests at the party would have reacted vociferously. That student would never have reached the point where he could pose with the president. So what is notable in the Gutmann incident is not so much that she posed with the student, but that other party-goers accepted him into the group without protest. That says something about the political climate at the university.

A Harvard Law School seminar: "What to Wear in Winter Climates."

Seriously:
The seminar, requested by a student from Southern California, drew 62 participants, including students from Iran and India. Hot cider, hot chocolate, and snowflake cookies were served.
At the same link: Middlebury College, with funding from two anonymous donors, is naming a professorship for Chief Justice Rehnquist. There's some controversy over this, naturally:
"After all of Middlebury's talk of wanting to be more friendly and more aware of the needs and rights of minority rights, naming this chair was a big step backward, said Tamara Vatnick , a senior and co president of the Open Queer Alliance, one of several student groups that has protested. Rehnquist, while on the court, opposed affirmative action and supported the dismantling of school desegregation orders.

But:
President Ronald D. Liebowitz defended the professorship, funded by two anonymous donors, saying, "As a jurist, he was conservative, and his politics are not my politics, perhaps, but we are recognizing his great service."
And those great donors.

"People danced and cheered on the street."

Saddam Hussein receives the death sentence.
For many Iraqis, the verdicts represented a moment of triumph and catharsis after decades of suffering under Mr. Hussein's tyrannical rule.

In spite of an intense security clampdown that barred vehicles and pedestrians from the street, public celebration erupted around Iraq. People danced and cheered on the street, sounded car horns and fired guns into the air, a standard gesture of celebration here. Iraqi and American security forces were bracing for a violent reaction among Mr. Hussein's armed supporters, who constitute a significant corps within the Sunni Arab-led insurgency. Iraq's security forces were put on high alert beginning Saturday night and an American fighter plane continuously circled high above the city.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Touring the suite.

I give you a look at the scene of the interviews.

"You don't think my fat ass makes my fat ass look fat, do ya?"

Are you watching the new Roseanne Barr special on HBO?

UPDATE: Now, she's saying, "Bush blows! Bush f**king blows. I hate Bush. I hate Bush. I hate Bush," etc., with a big cheer from the audience. She says she's glad everyone agrees now, because they didn't use to.

"Hair barred from internationals."

Another incomprehensible -- to me! -- headline.

The rule against photographing the Prime Minister's profile.

Some high level vanity from Poland:
Polish press photographers were briefly barred from taking pictures of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, left, from the side. The rule was published by the Polish government’s press office, the newspaper Nowy Dziennik reported. There was simply no need to photograph Mr. Kaczynski’s profile, a government spokesman, Jan Dziedziczak, said, rejecting assumptions that full-face pictures might be better at hiding the prime minister’s double chin. Photographers at a news conference called by the prime minister on Thursday were forced to obey the pronouncement, and outrage quickly followed. The rule was rescinded yesterday, reportedly on the order of Mr. Kaczynski.

"Literally."

I normally resist the routine pedantry of pointing out the misusage of the word "literally." But this one's a lulu:
Anyone who had been diligently paying down a mortgage and others who had just sat back and watched their home appreciate in value were able to refinance and take out the difference between the value of the home and what was still owed, known as equity. Not only did they remove the increased equity in the home as cash, most people were paying lower monthly payments.

“People have literally picked up their house at the foundations and shook it upside down like a piggy bank,” said Ed Smith, chief executive of the Plaza Financial Group, a mortgage brokerage firm in La Mesa, Calif., near San Diego.

Detroit.

I don't know about you, but I'm in Detroit. But for $8, I'm able to get WiFi, so I'm happy enough. Time to catch up on all the email and to see what's bloggable.

Making the economy an issue.

The NYT reports:
Republicans seized on a drop in the unemployment rate to assert on Friday that tax cuts were invigorating the economy, highlighting just four days before the election an issue that party strategists are counting on to offset bad news about the war.
It's a last-minute issue, but it should have been a big issue all along.

Christopher Hitchens on botched-joke-o-gate.

(Or whatever it's called.) In the WSJ:
Regrettable though it might be for the United States military to become an untouchable "third rail" in American politics, there can be little sympathy for someone who keeps on brushing against that rail just to see what will happen. One could have assumed that Sen. John Kerry, who has reason enough to wake up whimpering and biting his knuckles when he reflects on past embarrassments, had learned this lesson. He's almost spoiled for choice in the matter--from the cringe-making "reporting for duty" to the sickly discovery that he had been part of a "band of brothers" rather than a bunch of killers, to the phantom "Christmas in Cambodia."

Yet of all the days that he might want to have back and do over again, last week's clumsy appearance in Pasadena must be the most whimper-inducing of all.

The senator's labored defense of himself is so lame that it has to be true.
Oh, why is Hitchens being so charitable to Kerry?!

Anyway, read the whole thing. He talks of the email he's gotten from soldiers in Iraq:
Many of my respondents agreed that his words may not have meant or intended quite what they first seemed to mean, but they also felt that the klutziness was Freudian, so to speak, in that the senator's patrician contempt for grunts and dogfaces was bound to come out sooner or later.

One thing I already knew is confirmed--there is a very great deal of class resentment in these United States. Another thing I wasn't so sure of is also confirmed--James Webb in Virginia is right to stress the huge rage felt by those of Scots-Irish provenance who feel that they have born the heat and burden of the day in America's wars, and been rewarded with disdain.
Those of Scots-Irish provenance.

Anyway, Hitchens has a proposal to deal with the race-class problem he perceives:
Sen. Kerry and his party should publicly demand that the U.S. military be allowed to recruit openly on elite campuses. And the supposed reason for the ban on ROTC--the continuing refusal of the armed services to admit known homosexuals--should be dispelled at a stroke by a presidential order rescinding the Clintonian nonsense of "don't ask/don't tell."

Washington, Day 2.

Hi, kids. Sorry for the light blogging yesterday. I was -- in my role as chair of the Appointments Committee -- conducting interviews from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Once again, I'm up early, alone in the cavernous suite at the Marriott Wardman Park, and later to be joined by five committee members and a stream of lawprof candidates. We rearranged the furniture yesterday so there are five armchairs and a sofa around a coffee table. We've got a nice high-backed, striped chair for the candidate and mostly dark blue, nondescript chairs for the committee. Today, we only go until 12:30. My colleagues arrive in 15 minutes, but I'll see if I can get some substantive posts up before then so you can have something to mull over and chat about.

(I've got some photographs of the set-up here, but I'll have to show you the pictures later, because I've forgotten the cord that connects the camera to the computer.)

Friday, November 3, 2006

"Can I ask you what your favorite commandment is?

"Really? That's my least favorite commandment!"



Part 2:



(Via Metafilter.)

"Ms. Forsman, can I ask you a personal question? Were you a moot court finalist?"

That's something Justice Stevens actually said during oral argument yesterday. When the lawyer, Franny Forsman, said "no," he commented [referring to a moot court he attended at her law school a while back]: "It was an awfully good moot court."

Presumably, that means: You do realize that you are bound to lose, don't you?

From a cavernous hotel suite.

I'm in Washington, and I'm missing my New York Times. Say what you will about the New York Times -- as I did myself yesterday -- I still want the it on my doorstep in the morning. But, at least this is Washington, so I can get a real newspaper. I hear the papers flopping onto the floor outside the hotel room doors. Ah! The Washington Post! In person. That will be nice. But, no. What the hell? It's the damned USA Today! If I want colors and little boxes, I'll stay on the web, where the colors and boxes are lit up.

Our first interview is scheduled for 7:30 a.m., which is 6:30 a.m. Central Time. But my patterns are such that I'm up with more than two hours to spare, and I'm the one who doesn't have to go anywhere. I'm in the big suite that everyone else needs to rush over to. It's dead calm now, but it will be full of energy soon enough. Maybe you're one of the individuals slotted for a 20 minute session here later today or tomorrow, and you're picturing this place, trying to think what the interviewing will be like and whether this is the path to your future home and these are your new colleagues.

Thursday, November 2, 2006

Are you tiresome enough to say that listening to audiobooks is not reading?

Stephen King on audiobooks. (That link may require an Entertainment Weekly subscription.)
Some critics — the always tiresome Harold Bloom among them — claim that listening to audiobooks isn't reading. I couldn't disagree more. In some ways, audio perfects reading....

The book purists argue for the sanctity of the page and the perfect communion of reader and writer, with no intermediary. They say that if there's something you don't understand in a book, you can always go back and read it again (these seem to be people so technologically challenged they've never heard of rewind, or can't find the back button on their CD players). Bloom has said that ''Deep reading really demands the inner ear...that part of you which is open to wisdom. You need the text in front of you.'' Here is a man who has clearly never listened to a campfire story....

There's this, too: Audio is merciless. It exposes every bad sentence, half-baked metaphor, and lousy word choice. (Listen to a Tom Clancy novel on CD, and you will never, ever read another. You'll never be able to look at another one without gibbering.) I can't remember ever reading a piece of work and wondering how it would look up on the silver screen, but I always wonder how it will sound. Because, all apologies to Mr. Bloom, the spoken word is the acid test. They don't call it storytelling for nothing.
King lists a Top Ten and lavishes praise on the number 1 choice: Philip Roth's "American Pastoral," read by Ron Silver. I don't need any more convincing. I'm going right over to Audible.com to buy it. And I'm going to check out Stephen King's new book, even though he doesn't mention it. It's gotten high critical praise, you know. I'm buying it. (It's read by Mare Winningham.)

I love audiobooks, and not just because sometimes I want to rest my eyes and sometimes I want or need to walk somewhere. I love the meaning and feeling the reader gives to the book. If you're wondering which audiobooks I've been listening to lately, here's my current set of books, my reading list, if I can say that:
"The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid," Bill Bryson

"Don't Get Too Comfortable," David Rakoff

"Napoleon," Paul Johnson

"A Spot of Bother," Mark Haddon

Kerry's comments aren't a scandal, let alone a three-day scandal... But the startling deterioration of the NYT is a scandal... "

"... maybe," says Mickey Kaus.
With a week to go before a close election, the New York Times continues to move beyond Democratic cocooning (though it does some of that too) in the direction of flat-out misrepresentation.
Yes, I'm getting a bad feeling from the New York Times this week. The whole front page seems designed to orchestrate a sense of destiny and entitlement about the election.

Of course, it's not just the NYT. Anyway, if the Democrats don't win, everyone's going to wake up on Wednesday and wonder how that could have happened. I remember sitting down to watch the election returns in '04, entirely resigned to watching the news of the Kerry victory accumulate through the evening. At one point, I muted the TV to talk on the phone for about an hour and hardly noticed as the real outcome started registering.

"It's an attack on my character, and it's very embarrassing, and an insult."

Said Al Argibay, a corrections officer, who got escorted out of his gym for grunting. He joined a no-grunting gym. End of story! The fact that you're a corrections officer -- "after serving your community as a corrections officer, the last thing I want is to be escorted out of the gym by the local authorities" -- doesn't matter. The fact that a no-grunting policy seems absurd... doesn't matter. You joined the no-grunting group. You have to play by the rules you agreed to and that the other members paid to benefit from. I'll bet in your corrections officer role you enforce some rules against people who find those rules absurd and whose objections you find laughably irrelevant.

Mustaches. What are they supposed to mean these days?

A big NYT Style article on mustaches (which if you don't know already, you can probably guess I loathe):
ARE mustaches cool? Uncool? Or so painfully uncool they are actually kind of hip? It’s possible they are all three at once, depending on who is wearing one and who is taking notice. One thing is for sure: No other style of male grooming sends so many potent — and often mixed — signals.
So, achieve complexity through facial hair stranded on the one part of your face where it's most likely to collect filth and annoy women? Don't you want your image to resonate with these great hip icons of today:

Is Kerry obsolete yet?

Anything anyone makes says something about the person who made it, I said in the previous post. And that includes John Kerry's dreadful "stuck in Iraq" line. He said what he said, and it means something that he said it, whether it was what he originally meant to say or whether it was a slip up from something else. The mistakes you happen to make mean something, perhaps more than the stuff you plan out in advance or have composed for you. They way people take your statement and spin it says something about them. I, for example, have expressed my belief that Kerry meant what he originally said, and you ought to judge me for that.

We see something about Kerry in what he said after he heard how badly his original remark was received. His choice to go on the attack rather than to apologize strongly and clearly and his willingness to hog the public stage so close to the election say a lot about him. His "botched joke" explanation also means something, as does my own assertion that it was an outrageous lie. You can sharpen your thinking skills on all of that material -- though thinking about the actual candidates right now is probably a better use of your time.

Well, you can sharpen your thinking skills figuring out why your own attention is drawn to one thing and not another. When it's important to think about who should get your vote, why are you -- why are so many of us -- distracted by the Kerry story? Is it that we really want to get past next Tuesday and all these congressional races and talk about what really excites us, the next presidential election? Or is the fall of John Kerry an event of historic grandeur that commands us to stop and stare?

Let's see what Rich Lowry has to say:
Kerry embodies the old saw about the Bourbons, "They learned nothing and forgot nothing." He hasn't forgotten the Swift Boat attacks on him from 2004, but also has learned nothing of use from them - except the mistaken lesson that he should respond venomously to any and all criticisms.

Hence, his initial rant in response to the controversy, personally insulting Tony Snow ("a stuffed shirt") and Rush Limbaugh ("doughy") and lambasting his critics generally as "crazy" chicken-hawks.

Markos Moulitsas, the leader of the left-wing blogosphere from his perch at Daily Kos, pronounced himself much pleased: "Kerry responded perfectly."...
That's so wrong it's funny, but my judgment of Kos is that he was using his power to try to get people to think what he thought it would be useful to think. But, of course, he was wrong to think that.
Now, it is entirely plausible that Kerry was trying to make a joke about President Bush, for two reasons. One, typically of the humorless Kerry, it wouldn't have been funny. Two, typically of the arrogant Kerry, it would have reversed the usual convention, wherein politicians tell jokes at their own expense in their opening remarks. (Someone needs to take Kerry aside and tell him, "It's the hauteur, stupid.")

But Kerry's statement was also plausibly interpreted by people of good faith as a slam against the military. After all, he never mentioned the name Bush. And the fact that a lot of the Left believes exactly what Kerry seemed to be saying - that members of the military are cannon-fodder and boobs gulled into signing up because they have no other options in life.
Lowry's bottom line is a warning that the attitude Kerry "seemed to be" expressing really does represent the mainstream of the Democratic Party and that voters shouldn't fall for the moderate Democratic candidates because they are a device to leverage that Party into the majority. But what if you would like to see the Democratic Party renewed? I'd like to see a more moderate Democratic Party that is committed to national security. The only way for that to happen is if these attractive, new candidates win. They may have been put forward as a device to gain majority power, but once there, are they going to let themselves be treated as mere devices? Won't they hold great power from the center? Why wouldn't that work out quite well and hasten the obsolescence of guys like Kerry?

Fiction and politics.

In the Virginia Senate race, George Allen wanted us to see his opponent Jim Webb as some sort of deviant because of some images and characters he'd put in his novels. This inspires Victor Davis Hanson to muse about fiction and politics:
In this age of global, instant and technologically sophisticated communications, we are often left bewildered over what is true and what is made up. Cute postmodern sophistries asserting that ''there are no facts'' only make our confusion worse.

When Reuters published doctored photos from the recent war in Lebanon, unknowingly or not, they were disseminating computer-enhanced graphic art. That dark smoky sky over Beirut was not real photography. Recent journalistic exposés of the Iraqi war, such as Bob Woodward's State of Denial, might have been mistaken for histories. They aren't, since their footnotes reference the reader to anonymous sources that can't be verified.

And the problem isn't just that we are led to believe a film or book must be ''true'' when it is sometimes not. It's also that we often deliberately want to make something real that was never intended to be. Fury arose recently over the fictionalized docudrama ''The Path to 9/11.'' The charge was that it was not an accurate rendition of history, even though ABC issued multiple warnings of its fictionalized nature across our television screens.

And now we are supposed to believe that an imaginary story - and that is what a novel is - must be an accurate moral litmus test of its creator?
Hanson raises the question only to drop it. And he frames the question to make it more likely that we'll drop it too.

I wouldn't ask whether a novel is "an accurate moral litmus test" of its author, but whether it is useful evidence relevant to a question we want to think about. In the case of a political candidate who has written a novel, it might give us something to take into account even though it's not a specific and accurate test.

George Allen had an idea about the way to use his opponent's novels, but it wasn't a very good idea. The material wasn't strong enough to persuade us to think ill of Webb. In fact, it improved my opinion of Webb to learn that he'd written respectable novels and to see that he was an intelligent and thoughtful person who'd taken the time to think through his military experiences in the artist's mode. It also made me notice his military experience. And Allen ended up looking bad for extracting the sexy parts and making arguments that those passages did not support.

But we might imagine another case where a political candidate wrote novels that were quite bad and revealed shallow thinking and morbid obsessions and the opponent made crisp, fair arguments that helped us think about what kind of a person the author is.

We need to become adept at dealing with different kinds of materials, none of which are entirely true. Even an undoctored photograph frames a shot and represents the photographer's decision about what to include and exclude. Even a fully professional history or journalistic report structures the presentation and imposes editorial choice. We have wake up and think actively about how the creator of any image or text is trying to influence us, whether it's presented as fact, fiction, or something in between. And anything anyone makes says something about the person who made it. The trick is to get good at evaluating what it means and to become equally sensitive at detecting the distortions and manipulations of those who try to tell you how to evaluate it.

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Madison, Washington, Madison, Washington, Madison.

I'm usually pretty solidly situated in Madison. But tomorrow, I must fly to Washington, D.C., for the American Association of Law Schools recruitment conference. I'm the chair of the Appointments Committee here at the University of Wisconsin Law School, and I've got a lot of interviewing to do on Friday and Saturday. If you're interviewing with us, let me say, I'm looking forward to meeting you. If you're participating in the conference: good luck. I know how stressful it is for you and hope you keep your spirits up. It's a wonderful thing to be a law professor, and not a day goes by when I don't think consciously about how lucky I am to be here. May you all find a happy place.

I'll be traveling back soon enough, but then returning to Washington on Election Day to do that CNN thing I talked about here. I've been thinking a lot about what it will be like crowded into a lounge -- on camera -- with two dozen bloggers all watching the election returns. These folks -- from what I can tell from reading the blogs -- are deeply invested in the elections. Do I really want to see them -- in the flesh -- reacting to each new dose of news? Watching election returns in a party setting is conventional -- not that I've ever done it -- but it's quite abnormal to put people from across the political spectrum together. What will that be like? And all these people who are good at tapping out words from a distance... do they really know how to interact in a complex group setting? All I know is that I'm going to be observing and writing about them. I think I'll be the least outcome-oriented person there -- and also the oldest -- so I'm picturing myself as the ultra-cool observer of the scene.

But then I'll come back home and re-ensconce myself in Madison. The election will be over, and whatever is going to happen will have happened, and there will be job candidates to entertain and escort around Madison, as the semester slides to a close.

Worshipping the living goddess: Is it a violation of human rights?

An inquiry in Nepal.



A Kumari is typically chosen at the age of five to six years old, and is deemed ineligible after she starts menstruating around the age of 12 or 13....

Incumbents are cut off from normal life, and have limited contact with their families. They are not allowed to attend regular schools....

Similar "goddesses" are also installed and worshipped in other small Newari towns in the Kathmandu Valley.

"Genghis Khan/He could not keep/All his men/Supplied with sheep."

Robert Christgau, utterly seduced by Maria Muldaur singing Bob Dylan songs, says: "I got a whole new idea of what those sheep are for."

Uh, yeah, but officially the lyrics to "You Ain't Going Nowhere" are:
Genghis Khan
He could not keep
All his kings
Supplied with sleep
Christgau's smitten. Touting Muldaur's sexiness, Christgau is pretty insulting to the Byrds -- "anything but sensual" -- and Linda Ronstadt -- "an ambitious ingenue at best."

(And if those "You Ain't Going Nowhere" lyrics made you think of John Kerry... should I be mean and say (Christgauchely): you're anything but sensual?)

Anyway, I've loved Maria Muldaur since the 60s, when I had all the Jim Kweskin Jug Band records, played them constantly, and made my friends care about them. On the clip at the first link, you can hear Maria singing "I'm a Woman," from back in those days.

Christgau's review is too much about how Maria found so much sex in Bob Dylan's lyrics, as if Maria and only Maria knows the true depth of sexuality. It makes him seem a little silly, but she still sounds great.

Jim Doyle vs. Mark Green.

Wispolitics compares the two candidates for governor on a point by point basis. I haven't decided who I'll vote for yet. Feel free to try to prod me one way or the other based on this comparison.

Suing Borat, in Germany, on behalf of the gypsies.

Now there's this:
The state prosecutor's office in the northern city of Hamburg said the European Center for Antiziganism Research had brought the complaint accusing [Sacha Baron] Cohen of slander, inciting violence against the Sinti and Roma gypsy groups and violating Germany's anti-discrimination law.

"Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" premiered last week in London and is due to hit German cinemas Thursday.

Twentieth Century Fox of Germany, the film's distributor here, pulled television commercials and Internet advertising that featured tongue-in-cheek talks of running over "gypsies" with a Hummer military vehicle after complaints by the group.

The organization noted in a statement last month that violent crimes by right-wing extremists had risen this year by 20 percent and called it "irresponsible" to tolerate the racist jokes made in the film.

So the notion has to be: you can't lampoon racism with a racist comic character. Or is it just that the character can't be too funny and perversely lovable?

"It cannot be gainsaid..."

I don't know about you, but when I'm reading a judicial opinion and run into the phrase "It cannot be gainsaid..." I feel a sense of revulsion... almost dread. Why is the judge (or clerk) writing like this? Why the sudden desire to sound like a fusty old gasbag? I start mistrusting everything.

The one I just ran into is in Byrd v. Blue Ridge Rural Electric Cooperative, a 1958 opinion written by Justice Brennan: "It cannot be gainsaid that there is a strong federal policy against allowing state rules to disrupt the judge-jury relationship in the federal courts." What purpose do the first five words of that sentence serve (other than to annoy me)?

Supreme Court justices have only used the word 113 times in the entire history of the Court, but more than 70% of these were since 1950. It was only used 18 times before 1900. (There are also 59 occurrences of "gainsay.") I mention these details because they bear out my suspicion that this is sheer pretension, a modern person's idea of how to sound like you came from the 19th century. I'm irked that the modern Justices ever affect a 19th century tone, and I'm further irked that they lack an ear for it.

IN THE COMMENTS: Other irksome expressions that judges need to stop using: "it is beyond peradventure," "it is beyond cavil," and "obloquy."

"So Kerry's ridiculous elitism, burbling out of him as if he lives, as I suspect, entirely on a diet of lentils and club soda..."

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass lets the Kerry mockery rip.

"Please stop it. Stop talking."



Please stop it. Stop talking. Pleeeassee. Stop. Please. Stop. He will not stop!

ADDED: Here's the full 9:24 minutes -- if you really want more.

"We’re going to be in a kind of bog of mixtures of constitutional law, unclear Oregon state law... et cetera."

Justice Breyer fretted yesterday in the course of the oral argument in a case about the constitutional restrictions on punitive damages. The Oregon Supreme Court accepted $79.5 million awarded to one person, the widow of a man who smoked a lot of Marlboros and died of lung cancer. Her compensatory damages were only $871,000. Philip Morris argued that the court has essentially allowed one plaintiff's case to become “a one-way class action in which Philip Morris was exposed to global punishment by the jury without any of the protections of a class action.” But is that what the Oregon court did?
Finding the Oregon Supreme Court’s opinion insufficiently clear on this basic point, the justices would be unable to use the case as a vehicle for taking their consideration of punitive damages to the next level.

"What’s worrying me... is that we’re going to be in a kind of bog of mixtures of constitutional law, unclear Oregon state law, not certain exactly what was meant by whom in the context of the trial, et cetera."

And Justice David H. Souter, referring to the Oregon Supreme Court, asked Mr. Peck: “Isn’t perhaps the better course to send this back to them and say, ‘We don’t know what you mean?’ And let them tell us clearly.”...

“You don’t think that would confuse the jury if they are first told that they may consider the extent of harm suffered by others, and then the next instruction seems to say they can’t?” Justice Ginsburg asked Mr. Frey.

“The concept may be abstract,” Mr. Frey replied, insisting that there was a “difference between considering and punishing” that a proper jury instruction would have made “quite clear to the jury.”
So, it seems, this case could fizzle. But it has the potential to quite significant.
The United States Supreme Court has been deeply split on the punitive damages question, with three justices, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, rejecting the idea that the Constitution’s guarantee of due process places a limit on what states can permit juries to award.

With the departure of William H. Rehnquist, the former chief justice, and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, both of whom supported due process limits on punitive damages, the known margin of support for the court’s precedents fell to 4 to 3, with the views of Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. unknown.

ADDED: Dahlia Lithwick looks at the argument. Nugget:
Robert Peck represents Mayola Williams, and he achieves the distinction of eliciting the following admission from Chief Justice John Roberts: "I thought our cases clearly establish that you can consider the harm to others in assessing the reprehensible nature of the conduct." Roberts adds that the case law also prohibits punishment of the defendant for harms to others. In other words, he seems to be saying, the proposed instruction is confused because our precedent is confused. In which case, why not send it back for the Oregon Supreme Court to fix?

It's the Roberts Court's New Minimalism: We screw up the law, then ship it out to the lower courts to correct it.

Well, why not get the law straight now that you've gone to all the trouble to hear the case?

Trying the 92-year-old academic for writing about the history of the headscarf.

The country is, unsurprisingly, Turkey, and the story of the headscarf -- as told by Muazzez Ilmiye Cig -- is sexy enough to insult the people:
Muazzez Ilmiye Cig, ... a 92-year-old academic who specializes in Sumerian culture and history, went on trial on charges that she “insulted the people” and incited hatred in a book last summer in which she wrote that the head scarf was first used in religious rites by women who worked in Sumerian temples to initiate young men in sex, in order to differentiate them from women who worked as priests. Ms. Cig, who has translated about 3,000 stone tablets and published a number of books and papers, faces a prison sentence of up to three years if convicted of all charges.
Here's an article from last February quoting her, as an expert on the Sumerian language, explaining the oldest love poem:
"They did not have sexual taboos in love," she said. "Instead, they believed that only love and passion could bring them fertility, and therefore praised pleasures."

In the agriculture-based Sumerian community, she said, lovemaking between the king and the priestess would have been seen as a way to ensure the fertility of their crops, and therefore the community's welfare, for another year.

Ms. Cig said she worked with Professor Samuel Noah Kramer in 1951, and that he had identified the tablet, among 74,000 others, during years of studies in the Istanbul museum. Their translation of this tablet also shed light on the Song of Solomon in the Old Testament, she said, because some phrases are similar to poems sung during Sumerian weddings and fertility feasts. "This filled the missing link between religious texts of the different periods," she said...

As she held the transcription of the poem, Ms. Cig smiled. "After all these years, very little has changed," she said. "There's still jealousy, unfaithfulness and sexuality in affairs of love as in the times of Sumerians. I just wished whoever has written the poem could see how popular the tablet has now become."
Having written all that, I Googled for an update and see she was acquitted today!
In a trial that lasted less than an hour, Cig rejected the charges saying: "I am a woman of science. ... I never insulted anyone," private NTV television reported.

The court ruled in her favor on grounds that her actions did not constitute a crime....

The trial against Cig was initiated by an Islamic-oriented lawyer...

"We're going to design it around the feng shui and the energy of this particular spot."

How a skater built the world's largest ramp in his backyard. (Thrilling video (with commercial). Article.)