Saturday, September 14

Trying to Remember Johnny U.

The NFL has blown it again by rejecting Colts quarterback Peyton Manning's request for a waiver of the league's uniform policy. Manning wanted to wear black hightop shoes in tomorrow's game as a tribute to Unitas, who died Wednesday. Because the Colts currently wear white shoes, Manning needed permission, and the league denied it.

It's been suggested that this ruling was necessary to maintain consistency, given that in 1999, when Chicago Bear great Walter Payton died, the league denied several requests from players throughout the league that they be allowed to wear uniform number 34 in Payton's honor. But even if the league was right in 1999 (and I think they were wrong there, too), the present situation is distinguishable. Not only does Manning play quarterback, the same position Unitas did, but he plays it on the same team for which Unitas starred. Granted, the Colts played in Baltimore when Unitas led them, and Unitas never reconciled himself to the team's 1984 move to Indianapolis. But still, the Colts are the Colts, the franchise whose career passing records Unitas holds, the team that still wears essentially the same uniform Unitas donned in the 1958 NFL Championship Game. And while Unitas was bitter about the club's abandonment of his beloved Baltimore, he nevertheless apparently had a good relationship with Manning, the best Colts quarterback since Unitas himself. Manning should be allowed to wear the hightops.

Update: Eric McErlain suggests that a player in Manning's position should just go ahead with the tribute and then ask forgiveness, rather than asking permission beforehand.

Catching Up: Laptops in the Classroom

Awhile back, in a post devoted mostly to an interesting discussion of international law, Garrett Moritz noted that his international law professor had banned laptops from the classroom. That set off a number of the other lawschool bloggers. Alice at A Mad Tea-Party wrote: "I'd seriously drop the class if the professor banned laptops. I pay too damned much not to be in control of my educational experience," and fellow bloggers Nikki, Esq., and JCA of Sua Sponte added comments to Alice's post. Each admitted (or at least strongly implied) playing computer games during class. Alice said she only did this occasionally, however, while JCA said that similar distractions were available even without a computer.

As laptops have become more common in the classroom, there has been a lot of discussion about whether their net effect is positive or negative. Some of this discussion has centered on law schools. Ian Ayres of Yale Law School wrote an op-ed in the New York Times describing his request that students use their laptops only for note-taking, and the outraged response that his request elicited; the op-ed generated further controversy within the Yale community. An additional exchange on the subject among law professors at various schools, focusing on internet access in the classroom, appears at JURIST. While there are exceptions, on the whole there seems to be a split between professors and students, with students favoring laptop use and professors eyeing it warily.

Put me in the wary category. I'm not so much worried about the possibility, noted by Garrett's professor, that note-taking on laptops amounts to stenography rather than the kind of active filtering and engagement that occurs when taking notes by hand. Particularly in a discussion-based law school class, stenography would be a remarkably ineffective way of taking notes, as I'm confident most students would recognize in short order. My bigger concern is the misuse of laptops as an entertainment device—their use for game playing and internet surfing during class. If I'd ever been naïve enough to think that this didn't occur, I would have had my eyes opened by my experience on the first day of Evidence class.

Student responses to the classroom use of laptops for games and internet browsing tend to fall into two categories. The first, typified by Nikki's comment at A Mad Tea-Party, is that playing computer games and using the internet is no different from doodling, working on crossword puzzles, playing connect-the-dots, and other pen-and-paper distractions that existed back in the dark days before laptops. I don't buy this. I've been know to do the New York Times crossword occasionally (although never in class); sometimes I even finish it. And back in my student days I did sometimes doodle in class. But the appeal of such diversions pales in comparison to the allure of computer-based entertainment. I've never spent hours on end doodling or working on crosswords, but computer Boggle is enough to put an afternoon at risk, and I've lost entire days to Civilization II (which is why I don't dare buy Civiliation III). And of course I spend hours absorbed by the internet (maintaining this site doesn't help in that respect). Computers have many uses, but among other things they are remarkably appealing toys. And to the extent that a laptop is being used as a particularly appealing toy, it doesn't belong in the classroom.

The second response students usually give is that they are responsible for their own education, and that if they choose to spend classroom time doing something other than taking notes or participating in class, it's their business. To some degree, this is true. But I believe that the impact of laptop misuse extends beyond the individual student. There is always the potential for distracting classmates, whether intentionally or not. And more importantly, when a student who has been web browsing or playing games is called upon to participate in class, it usually brings discussion to a grinding halt, as the student struggles to reorient herself. This affects the learning experience for everyone, not just for the individual student.

Finally, students—especially first-year students—should not underestimate the impact that failure to pay attention in class may ultimately have. I'm now in my seventh year of teaching, and I've noticed that over time student comprehension of material covered in class has declined as laptop use has increased. In particular, the results of last year's exams showed that large numbers of students failed to grasp and retain points that I emphasized in class. Time after time, students memorized the so-called black letter law but failed to understand any of the subtleties of application. It's those subtleties that make up much of the practice of law, and it's those subtleties that provide fodder for classroom discussion. It's possible, to be sure, that I've become a worse teacher, although I like to think that's unlikely, given that both my command of the material and my comfort in front of the class have improved dramatically over time. More likely, I think, is that students simply aren't paying attention as they used to—and they're paying a price.

I'm not going to ban laptops from my classroom. That horse has already left the barn, and in any event I think that laptops can play a positive role in class if used properly. But my experience over the last couple of years should provide a cautionary note to students who pass the time in class playing games, perusing web sites, or sending email and instant messages: you may think that you're multitasking, you may think that you're still getting what's important from the class, but there's a good chance you're not. Best to think about this now, before your grades—and job prospects—are affected.

Friday, September 13

The Role of the United Nations

Glenn Reynolds compares my favorable review of the president's U.N. speech to Joe Katzman's response and suggests that, while we both liked the speech, we may not be on the same page as to why. Having read Joe's post, though, I'm not sure we're really separated by much.

Joe suggests that liberals have demonstrated a faith in the United Nations that is "religious in nature." Maybe some have, but not I. The U.N. is a deeply flawed body, as can be clearly seen in the recent nomination of Libya to head the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and the disastrous U.N. Conference Against Racism last year in Durban, South Africa.

That doesn't mean that the U.N. is useless, however—at least not necessarily. And that's why I think the speech yesterday was useful: its aftermath will clarify what role, if any, the U.N. can usefully play in the 21st century. The strongest case against Iraq, in my view, has always been based on that countries defiance of both the U.N. as a whole and the Security Council in particular. By comparison, the case for action against Iraq based on the threat Iraq poses to the United States remains quite weak, as the failure to tie Iraq to Al Qaeda and the recent misdescriptions of satellite photo evidence have shown.

If the strongest case against Iraq is based on the continued breach of its obligations to the U.N. under the Desert Storm ceasefire, though, it strikes me as entirely appropriate to insist that the U.N. confront the issue of Iraq's continued defiance. If the Security Council is able to act meaningfully, it will confirm the body's usefulness. If the Security Council continues to dither, as it has done ever since Iraq refused to readmit inspectors back in 1998, then the U.N. will stand revealed as toothless. Either way, it's useful and important to determine where the U.N. stands.

What I'd like to see come out of this is a regime of inspections with teeth: block inspection of a site, and it will be destroyed; attempt to remove material from a site before inspection, and it will be destroyed; no patience for game-playing or obfuscation. If Hussein refuses to accede to such a program, then he has sacrificed the rights granted by the Desert Storm ceasefire—which include the right to remain in power.

I can imagine a scenario in which Joe and I would diverge. It's the scenario that Kevin Raybould identified in his reaction to the speech: what happens if inspections resume, and the members of the Security Council and the administration ultimately come to different conclusions about whether they are working? I'm not sure how I would respond to that situation; it would depend, I think, on more details than I can imagine at the moment. But we're not there yet.

Thursday, September 12

Looking Ahead

While I'm in linker mode, Andrew Edwards has some worthy thoughts on moving from September 11 to September 12. I just hope he's right about where we're going and what we're doing.

In a Land Before Time…

Asparagirl is back from vacation with an alarming post about the ship carrying radioactive material that's currently docked in Elizabeth, New Jersey. But Instapundit already linked to that, so I assume everyone's seen it already. Instead I'll focus on her link to what just may be the funniest movie trailer of all time (even though it says virtually nothing about the movie in question). I'll never hear "Mr. Voice" in quite the same way again. Quicktime 5 or higher is required, but you should already have that installed anyway.

Bush at the U.N.

It's no secret that I'm not a fan of George W. Bush. But this morning's speech before the United Nations made the case for action against Iraq plainly, powerfully, and with the internationalist perspective that has been so lacking in the administration's public statements over the past several months.

The administration bumbled through August with a series of weakly-supported rationales for action against Iraq—Hussein offered support to Al Qaeda (oops, we don't have all that much evidence, if any, of a link); he's about to acquire nuclear weapons (oops, those satellite photos might not show what we said they show); more inspections would be worthless (or maybe they wouldn't). But now, for the moment at least, the focus has shifted to Hussein's undeniable violation of the obligations he assumed at the end of the Gulf War, to his rejection, not of the United States' demands, but of the U.N. Security Council's demands. The case therefore has been put to the United Nations: enforce the terms of the ceasefire agreement that Hussein entered in 1991—or we'll do it for you.

The proper course against Iraq has been, or should have been, clear for awhile now—indeed, it should have been clear back in the Clinton administration, when Hussein refused to readmit weapons inspectors in violation of his obligations to the United Nations. It's a very simple proposition, really; basically, inspections with teeth. At the conclusion of the Gulf War, Hussein agreed—as a condition for stopping the advance of coalition forces short of Baghdad—to destroy weapons of mass destruction and to submit to a rigorous regime of inspections to ensure that his arsenal was destroyed. Almost immediately, he began violating those obligations—throwing up roadblocks, engaging in subterfuge, imposing conditions. Since 1998 he has refused to allow inspectors to reenter the country. There is no question that he is in material breach of his agreements with the United Nations, agreements that themselves preserved his position in power. He must now honor his agreements and submit to inspections, immediately and without condition, or he must pay a price above and beyond the economic sanctions that have failed so dismally.

The United Nations has dithered too long. Either it should take action—forcefully, and now—to enforce the terms to which Hussein agreed, or it should concede its irrelevance and step back. This course of action makes it clear that, when it comes to Iraq, the United States is not simply a unilateralist bully intent on eliminating foreign leaders it doesn't like. It involves the international community. And, strangely, it may actually decrease the likelihood of a full-scale invasion. As William Saletin writes today at Slate:

If you think that an American invasion of Iraq is unwise and that the world would be better off with unfettered U.N. weapons inspections backed by the serious threat of force, you're probably right. But if you get what you want, thank Bush.
Johnny U.

Eric McErlain pays tribute to Johnny Unitas, the former Baltimore Colts quarterback who died yesterday at the age of 69. Eric, a Jets fan, writes of the fear that he still feels when watching highlights of Super Bowl III, in which an injured Unitas led an ultimately unsuccessful charge to get the Colts back in the game versus the Jets: "I actually thought he was powerful enough to change history."

His Excellency

I'm listening to the president's address to the United Nations. He's only just started speaking, but already there's been a jarring note (albeit one for which he most likely is not responsible): the president was introduced as "His Excellency George W. Bush, President of the United States of America."

I thought we had resolved the issue of what to call the president during the first year of the nation's constitutional government. It's well-known that when George Washington became president, a lengthy debate took place in Congress about the manner in which he should be addressed. Although a number of florid proposals were considered—among them "His Mightiness" and "His Highness the President of the United States, and Protector of the Rights of the Same"—Congress ultimately settled on the straightforward "Mr. President." The plain title was meant to denote that the president, though elected as head of state, remained a citizen, elevated to office by his fellow citizens but possessing no greater inherent worth, no greater inherent rights, no greater inherent dignity than they did.

It may well be United Nations practice to introduce heads of state as "His Excellency" or "Her Excellency." I don't know. Even so, hearing the words rankles. This is not a partisan issue. Bill Clinton was not "His Excellency;" John F. Kennedy was not "His Excellency." And neither is George W. Bush.

Reflections

I wasn't writing yesterday, so I couldn't link to others who were. I won't offer a compendium of what other bloggers wrote on the anniversary—N.Z. Bear has already done that more thoroughly than I could—but Ted Barlow's essay in particular resonated with me, so I wanted to note it here.

Tuesday, September 10

Remember

Nothing I am capable of writing is adequate to the memory of what happened a year ago. I'll return on Thursday.

Photo by J.C., August 1984.

A Badly Needed Laugh

This is a somber day. As James Lileks notes, it feels like the anniversary, because last year September 11 fell on a Tuesday, and each day of the week has its own character. Certainly I feel a massive hole in the pit of my stomach today.

Which is why the following was so welcome. Lileks, contemplating the difference between blogs and newspaper columns, imagines a blog by New York Times columnist William Safire:

A newspaper can launch a columnist, but it takes a while for the column to work its way into the consciousness of the audience. And perversely, the more successful a column becomes, the less connected it becomes from the reader. The Great Columnists assume oracular status; they become machines that issue well-pondered remarks at regular intervals. You never, ever see on the edit page the following:

Screw This
by William Safire

Do NOT mix gin and Jack Daniels, no matter how good looking the bartender is. My head feels like the last stake in the Transcontinental Railroad, hammered in place by fifty guys who had to have their picture taken swinging the hammer and swinging it hard. I need a hamburger.

posted by krusty bill 2:47 pm (permalink)

Thanks, James. I needed that.

Hallowed Ground

Dave Barry, of all people, has written a powerful column honoring the passengers of United Fligtht 93.

(Link via Charles Johnson).

Job Security and Homeland Security

A thought prompted by a Nick Denton post, which Glenn Reynolds cited yesterday, about the failure to overhaul the security agencies despite their obvious failings both before and after September 11: The president's insistence that employees in the proposed Department of Homeland Security should not have civil service and collective bargaining protections, so that they can be fired as needed, would have a lot more credibility if he would actually fire a few of the higher-ups with responsibility for the domestic security and counter-terrorism bunglings of the past year. As long as all those folks remain on the job, the Homeland Security proposal looks like union-busting, pure and simple.

Monday, September 9

Political Courage

Glenn Reynolds wrote a response this morning to the post by Kevin Drum that I highlighted yesterday. Kevin's post responded to two earlier posts by Glenn—the first linking to Matt Welch's National Post piece mocking the notion that dissent was being crushed in America, the second wondering why Democrats weren't criticizing the lame counterterror efforts by the FBI and CIA over the past year. Kevin commented that the reason Democrats were unwilling to criticize the FBI and CIA was precisely because, in the months following September 11, even modest criticism of the administration provoked Republican officials and the conservative commentariat to fill the air with cries of "Why does Tom Daschle/Dick Gephart/insert-Democratic-politician's-name-here hate America?" The Democrats' general reticence, he suggested, represented an understandable instinct for self-preservation. Dissent perhaps wasn't being crushed, but it sure was being discouraged.

Glenn responds, forcefully and quite appropriately, that, particularly in times of national crisis, the desire to prolong one's political career isn't a particularly laudable reason for failing to ask needed questions:

When you get elected to Congress, you're supposed to say what needs to be said, and you're supposed to have enough courage to respond to critics. (This is a long-term problem: I remember watching Ollie North's attorney Brendan Sullivan bully Daniel Inouye. If I were Inouye, I would have had Sullivan removed from the room for his absurd outbursts, which were totally out of order.) What CalPundit is really saying is that the Democrats place love of office ahead of love of country. Not very impressive.

I can't argue with Glenn's statement; indeed, as a lifelong Democrat, I myself have criticized the ineffectual hand-wringing that has too often characterized the congressional Democrats' response to administration policies and proposals. I suspect, though, that Kevin's ultimate point wasn't to defend Democratic silence and inaction but to suggest that Matt Welch (and, by implication, Glenn) were too quick to dismiss the impact on dissent in the wake of last year's attacks.

So, ultimately, both Kevin and Glenn are right—Kevin, that dissent is being met with the kinds of scurrilous attacks on the dissenters' patriotism that demonstrate the essential truth of Samuel Johnson's famous comment; Glenn, that public officials faced with such charges need to grown spines.

By email, Glenn also rejects the label of scoundrel (whose last refuge, as we know, is patriotism), insisting that he's really much more of a scalawag. Of course, one of the definitions of scalawag is not just a scoundrel, but a "deceitful and unreliable scoundrel." But I suspect that's not the definition Glenn meant to invoke!

(I think I may have just violated the blogging commandment to honor thy blogparent. You know I'm kidding, right, Glenn?)

Consistency on Iraq

Bull Moose, meet Josh Marshall.

The Bull Moose, echoing Stephen Hayes's article in the Weekly Standard, accuses Democratic senators of hypocrisy for expressing opposition to President Bush's planned attack on Iraq when, back in 1998, they fully supported President Clinton's confrontation with Saddam Hussein over weapons inspectors, many of them urging the use of military force. But, as Josh Marshall observes, there's nothing inconsistent in those senators' positions, because not all military interventions are identical. The military action contemplated in 1998 would have focused on neutralizing Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and re-establishing the system of inspections; full-scale invasion for the purpose of securing regime change was not part of the picture. So those senators who supported military action in 1998 but have questions about toppling Hussein now aren't necessarily engaged in a hypocritical change in policy for partisan reasons.

It's possible (though far from certain) that the Bush administration is right about the need to oust Hussein in the very near future, and that the administration's critics are wrong. So let's focus on the merits, and stop reaching back into the past for specious political arguments. The continued effort to discredit the administration's opponents personally, rather than to meet their objections head-on, can only raise questions about the strength of the administration's case.

The Wilding Lie

Jeanne d'Arc has a superb post about one of the signature crime stories of the late 1980s, the 1989 rape and near-murder of a Central Park jogger, allegedly at the hands of a group of "wilding" youths:

The story confirmed everybody's worst fears about young men, race, class, and urban life. It confirmed something many conservatives wanted to believe and most liberals were doing their damnedest not to allow themselves to believe -- that there were growing numbers of young men (most of them—oh, God, do we have to admit this—minorities) who had no moral center whatsoever. Animals.

Thirteen years later, there's one more detail that needs to be added to the story: It was a lie.

The large quantity of cases reversed by DNA evidence over the past several years ought to give us pause as the government seeks broad new investigative and prosecutorial powers as part of the war on terror. Much as I admire prosecutors (full disclosure: my wife was a deputy prosecutor in Indianapolis for five years), there is a tendency—not invariable, but nevertheless real—on the part of police and prosecutors to sink their teeth into particular suspects and hold on regardless of contrary evidence. Why should we be confident that prosecutorial abuses would be less of a problem in secret or military courts with secret evidence than they are in the public trials that produced verdicts that we now know were erroneous?

Atrios has further comments on the story.

Update: Armed Liberal (whose permalinks are busted) offers a somewhat different perspective.

What the…?

Rob Neyer at ESPN.com has come up with perhaps the stupidest idea yet about what to do with the Montreal Expos next year. Neyer's solution: make them the Tri-City Orphans, splitting their games between Washington, Portland, and Charlotte (and maybe Las Vegas) with an eye toward testing the viability of those locations as a possible permanent homes for major league franchises.

The notion of testing community support before placing a franchise isn't absurd in the abstract. But this is no way to do it. And besides, of the cities that Neyer identifies as possible homes for the Expos, only Washington is really a viable candidate. Sure, both Portland and Charlotte have ongoing campaigns to attract Major League Baseball franchises, but, given baseball's ongoing problems with small-market teams, it's hard to see why either city would be an appealing candidate for relocation. Portland is one of the world's most beautiful cities (and I say that as someone who's been lucky enough to travel quite a bit), but it's the 22nd-largest metropolitan area in the country, it has only one major league sports franchise (the NBA Trail Blazers), and the relationship between the city and that team has recently been rocky. Charlotte is the country's 33rd-largest metropolitan area, and it has just lost one of its two major league franchises, the NBA Hornets, because of fan support issues and an unwillingness to build a new arena. Neither city has a major-league-caliber stadium ready for a team in 2003. While both Portland and Charlotte experienced rapid growth in the 1990s and may ultimately prove viable candidates for relocation or expansion, they're not there yet.

Washington, to be sure, has its own issues, chief among them the presence of the Baltimore Orioles thirty miles up I-95. But those issues pale in comparison to those presented by Portland and Charlotte. Neyer admits that the Tri-City Orphans idea would raise all kinds of complicated logistical problems for the one year it would remain in effect; given those problems, and the longer-term problems presented by Portland and Charlotte, why on earth would anyone even consider the idea?

I used to respect Neyer, but this year he seems to have lost a lot of credibility. And this column is just stupid—even if, as is entirely possible, he's just playing it for laughs.

Update: Eric McErlain notes that, while Charlotte is nowhere near ready for Major League Baseball in 2003, the large lines of credit that baseball's owners have with Charlotte-based Bank of America may lead them to favor that city with a team as soon as stadium issues could be resolved.

Sunday, September 8

Sick

The wine of the week has been selected—indeed, my wife and I drank it on Thursday—but a bug or something has come along to knock me off my feet this afternoon and leave me rather queasy at the thought of writing about anything consumable. So Wine of the Week is on hiatus for the moment. I hope it will return shortly—mostly because that will mean I'm feeling better. Ugh.

Demonstrating What Johnson Meant

Posts like this are why Kevin Drum's CalPundit has quickly become one of my regular reads.

What Not to Call September 11

Laurence Simon notes that President Bush, responding to an act of Congress, has called on all Americans to mark this Wednesday, September 11, as Patriot Day. I respectfully decline. Like many (perhaps most) Americans, I will spend Wednesday soberly reflecting on the horrific events of last September 11. But I will not refer to the date as Patriot Day, this year or any other year.

For one thing, as New Englanders know well, there's already a holiday called Patriots Day, commemorating the opening battles of the Revolutionary War at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. But more important, Patriot Day badly misdescribes what September 11 represents. Many of those who died on September 11 were American patriots, but surely not all—many were not even American. The bravery of the New York firefighters and police officers who died at the World Trade Center, and of the civilians who foiled the hijacking of United Flight 93, may have had a patriotic component to it, but it surely represented a higher and more complex heroism than is captured in the simple label of patriotism.

Sure, a certain amount of the defiant flag-waving and chest-thumping that passes for patriotism these days is a healthy response to the outrage that Al Qaeda terrorists perpetrated last September. But Patriot Day is a strangely bloodless, cool label by which to recall the bloody heat of the September 11 attacks. It seems, as Laurence suggests, calculated to direct our response to that dark day into safe, easy, and (God help us all) even commercially acceptable channels.

Samuel Johnson famously described patriotism as "the last refuge of a scoundrel." Johnson arguably went too far: love of country can be a great and powerful thing, and can lead to selfless and heroic acts. But he was right about the danger inherent in easy appeals to patriotism. Much mischief has been committed in the past year in the name of patriotism, most notably in the USA Patriot Act. The memory of September 11 deserves better.