Thursday, January 27, 2011

Metasentence of the day

If the history of the American sentence were a John Ford movie, its second act would conclude with the young Ernest Hemingway walking into a saloon, finding an etiolated Henry James slumped at the bar in a haze of indecision, and shooting him dead.
-- Adam Haslett, via Bookslut.

He's reviewing Stanley Fish's new book How to Write a Sentence, which may be the first non-obnoxious thing Fish has written in 30 years. Recalling my failures as a teacher of Comp 101, I think if I did it over again we would spend the first couple of weeks just writing sentences.

... Notice btw how Haslett's sentence isn't just a sentence about sentences, it's a sentence whose style mimics the styles it discusses: the "finding" clause parodies James's syntax and vocabulary, contrasted to the Hemingwayesque conclusion, "and shooting him dead." Well done.

Death of an intellectual

He also predicted the rising importance of science-based industries and of new technical elites. Indeed, in 1967, he predicted something like the Internet, writing: “We will probably see a national information-computer-utility system, with tens of thousands of terminals in homes and offices ‘hooked’ into giant central computers providing library and information services, retail ordering and billing services, and the like.”
-- NYT obit of Daniel Bell, dead at 91.

He actually outlived the author of his obituary: "Michael T. Kaufman, a reporter at The New York Times, died in 2010. William McDonald contributed reporting."

According to the obit, Bell was the author, or at least a prominent source, of what may be my favorite Jewish joke:
Mr. Bell liked to tell of his political beginnings with an anecdote about his bar mitzvah, in 1932. “I said to the Rabbi: ‘I’ve found the truth. I don’t believe in God. I’m joining the Young People’s Socialist League.’ So he looked at me and said, ‘Kid, you don’t believe in God. Tell me, do you think God cares?’ "

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Pascal on chancery practice

Custom is the whole of equity for the sole reason that it is accepted. That is the mystic basis of its authority. Anyone who tries to bring it back to its first principle destroys it.
-- Pensées (Penguin ed. at 46).

... Pascal also has an observation that I could've quoted a dozen times over at the Volokh blog in threads on the constitutionality of the individual mandate:
It would therefore be a good thing for us to obey laws and customs because they are laws . . . But people are not amenable to this doctrine, and thus, believing that truth can be found and resides in laws and customs, they believe them and take their antiquity as proof of their truth (and not just of their authority, without truth).
Id. at 216. This is a distinction that lawyers find very difficult to convey to layfolk.

(Quotes taken from Slavoj Žižek's Sublime Object of Ideology, which somehow I did not read in grad school.)

Monday, January 24, 2011

"In tort system, cap screws YOU!"

Just in time for the Fifth Circuit's certification to the Miss. Supreme Court of whether tort damage caps are constitutional, Kevin Drum provides a useful post on med-mal caps in particular:
Medical malpractice cases are complex and expensive. Hospitals won't voluntarily admit to mistakes, and they won't voluntarily make their full records available unless they're forced to. They'll especially not do this if they know perfectly well that damage caps make it vanishingly unlikely that they'll have to deal with anyone but distraught family members who have no idea how to work the system. * * *

And just to address the obvious questions: No, there's been no explosion in medical malpractice suits over the past 20 years. Nor has there been an explosion in payouts. Nor are medical malpractice suits a major component of rising healthcare costs. Medmal reform is a good idea, but mainly to make it fairer. A reformed system that actually worked properly would cut down on frivolous lawsuits but would probably increase the number of legitimate complaints that never see the light of day under current rules. More here.
I think that's pretty much right. If anything, med-mal is a particularly *poor* target for damage caps: the defendants have many more protections than do ordinary tort defendants. Any caps should prevent only runaway verdicts that no one can really imagine being justified: $10 million, $20 million, something like that. A $500,000 med-mal cap (while twice that of California!) is hard to defend as policy. Whether it violates the Mississippi Constitution, of course, is a separate issue.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Your inspirational photo of the day


Check the index under "Commerce Clause, abuses of"

Political Wire reports that Eliot Spitzer will soon be publishing his new book, Government's Place in the Market.

Inasmuch as Spitzer lost his job due to government interference in the marketplace, perhaps he will have much to say on that subject.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Reynolds Price R.I.P.

Reynolds Price, whose novels and stories about ordinary people in rural North Carolina struggling to find their place in the world established him as one of the most important voices in modern Southern fiction, died on Thursday in Durham, N.C. He was 77. * * *

“He is the best young writer this country has ever produced,” the novelist Allan Gurganus said in an interview for this obituary. “He started out with a voice, a lyric gift and a sense of humor, and an insight about how people lived and what they’ll do to get along.” * * *

Except for three years he spent in Britain as a graduate student at Merton College, Oxford, Mr. Price lived all his life in northeastern North Carolina, and he would work his home ground in 13 novels and dozens of short stories. Inevitably he drew comparisons to William Faulkner, much to his annoyance, since he regarded himself as a literary heir to Eudora Welty. * * *

Mr. Price enrolled at Duke University, where Eudora Welty read one of his stories, “Michael Egerton,” and volunteered to show it to her agent, Diarmuid Russell, who took the young writer on as a client.

After graduating summa cum laude from Duke in 1955, he won a Rhodes scholarship to study at Oxford, where he wrote a thesis on Milton, and developed career-enhancing friendships with the poets Stephen Spender and W. H. Auden and the critic and biographer Lord David Cecil. He wrote about his years in Britain in the third installment of his memoirs, “Ardent Spirits” (2009).

Spender published the story “A Chain of Love” in the journal Encounter, a coup for Mr. Price, who was also offered a teaching position at Duke when he returned. He was turned down for military service after he stated, without hesitation, that he was homosexual.

His first class included a promising 16-year-old named Anne Tyler. “I can still picture him sitting tailor-fashion on top of his desk, reading to the class from his own work or from one of his students’ papers,” Ms. Tyler wrote in an e-mail. “He seemed genuinely joyous when we did the slightest thing right.”
-- NYT obituary.

"Never speak of it" was pretty good advice, actually

French premier Sarkozy got himself booed in Alsace:
Speaking to representatives of the agricultural industry, Mr Sarkozy said he could accept unfair competition between China and India, but not between Germany and France.

"I'm not saying that simply because I'm in Germany," he said, before correcting himself to say: "I'm in Alsace."
He immediately had to reaffirm his essentially French character:
The crowd immediately began jeering and then booing Mr Sarkozy, who appeared shocked by what he had said, putting his hands up in the air as if in surrender.
Maybe that "appeased" them.

5th Circuit asks MSSC to address damage caps

Philip Thomas reports a 5th Circuit decision certifying to the Mississippi Supreme Court the question of whether the statutory caps on noneconomic damages are in violation of the state constitution.

Thomas thinks that the 5th Circuit got backwards who requested and who opposed certification -- a strange error to make; presumably Thomas is relying on information from the plaintiff's attorney, Kevin Hamilton. (Whose improper remarks in closing argument escaped reversal on appeal, but not by much, thanks in part to Sears counsel's failure to object to most of them and to seek a mistrial.) Appellate counsel for Sears were Francis Citera, Gray Laird, and Gregory Ostfield, with Citera at oral argument. Laird is at Page Kruger; I don't know who Citera and Ostfield are, presumably Sears counsel.

The MSSC does not of course have to accept the question, but it would be a pretty blatant dodge of the issue. The case is a good one for reversing the caps: the plaintiff is a 19-year-old who can expect severe pain for the rest of her life.

... NMC has more.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

An imperial tomb, and a tomb-robber (UPDATED: or not?)

The lost tomb of Caligula has been found, according to Italian police, after the arrest of a man trying to smuggle abroad a statue of the notorious Roman emperor recovered from the site. * * *

Officers from the archaeological squad of Italy's tax police had a break last week after arresting a man near Lake Nemi, south of Rome, as he loaded part of a 2.5 metre statue into a lorry. The emperor had a villa there, as well as a floating temple and a floating palace; their hulks were recovered in Mussolini's time but destroyed in the war.
Thus the Guardian. Italy has an archaelogical police squad? Sounds like a premise for yet another NCIS spinoff.

Lake Nemi

is of course the site of the mysterious cult that inspired, and provided a name for, Frazer's Golden Bough. Caligula was aware of the cult's most famous figure, the King of Nemi: Suetonius records that because the poor fellow had held his post for some years, Caligula "procured a stronger man to supplant him." No hint of any connection to the tomb site.

... Non-police archaeologists are skeptical:
Caligula did build a luxurious villa at Lake Nemi, along with ships that are thought to have served as floating shrines. But archaeologists say there's no evidence that a tomb was ever built there. In an online commentary for the Times Literary Supplement, classical scholar Mary Beard wonders exactly why the authorities think the statue shows Caligula, and what it is that made them think that the statue marks his tomb. * * *

[Archaeologist Darius] Arya is skeptical as well. "Seeing's believing," he told me in a follow-up call. "Let's see the statue."
In comments, NMC joins him in this reasonable request.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Early influences

Via Bookslut, this online gadget will tell you the NY Times bestsellers for the week you were born, at least if you weren't born before 1950 (old folks just get annual lists).

# 1 in the week of TBA's origin were Portnoy's Complaint and a biography of Churchill's mom. Hm. Masturbation and British biography. ... No, not seeing anything here.

The fiction list is relatively distinguished -- Roth, Vonnegut, le Carré, plus The Godfather and Airport. Books were just better back then.

Nonfiction, we get Salisbury's 900 Days, Manchester's Arms of Krupp, and perhaps most significantly, a screed entitled The Trouble with Lawyers.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Recommended reading

Some novels are set in the war. With one exception none illuminates it. If future generations want to know what the second world war was like for English people, they can safely turn to Sword of Honour by Evelyn Waugh (1965), the greatest work of a great English novelist. Its admirers will be interested to learn that Trimmer married a Johannesburg Jewess and is greatly scared about his safety and fortune.
-- A.J.P. Taylor, English History 1914-1945, "Revised Bibliography" at 647.

... So I guess I'll figure that one out after reading the book. Haven't read any Waugh and vaguely feel as tho I should, so this seems the place to start.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Guns don't kill people. People armed with guns kill people.

The NYT has pictures (not from the scene!) of the six people killed at Arizona representative Gabrielle Giffords' town-hall meeting this past Saturday. Including Christina Green, "a 9-year-old girl born on 9/11."

Mark Kleiman wonders why a 31-round magazine for a 9mm pistol is even legal. I doubt the GOP-controlled House is likely to find the question worth entertaining.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

What about partial credit?

[Empson] belonged to and became president of a society called the Heretics, membership of which was conditional on a willingness to reject ‘all appeal to authority in the discussion of religious questions’. Visiting speakers were of the calibre of G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell, who told the meeting that the Ten Commandments were like an examination paper and should bear the rubric: ‘Only six need be attempted.’
-- Frank Kermode, reviewing volume one of John Haffenden's biography of Empson.

Five miserable books

Or five books about misery, as chosen and discussed by Renata Salecl, "Slovenian philosophy professor." That sounds like some serious misery credentialing right there.
I wanted to go against the presumption that happiness is the theme of today’s life. This ideology of happiness has actually produced more unhappiness than needed, since we’ve constantly been measuring our lives with regard to success, or self-fulfilment, or enjoyment. From a psychoanalytic point of view it’s been known for a long time that total satisfaction is completely impossible to attain.

The books I chose describe the most prevalent forms of unhappiness linked to the expectations that we have in today’s post-industrial capitalism. Those expectations are: long life, beautiful body, a sexually satisfied life, creatively satisfied life, an ideal of self-making. The idea is that we have the power to create this ideal life – and exactly these books reverse this presumption.
Via Bookslut.

... Hadn't realized she was once married to Slavoj Žižek. Misery indeed!

Monday, January 03, 2011

"Uh, thanks, John, I'm looking forward to reading it!"

So finding myself out and about during business hours, I drop by the Book Rack in Canton Mart Square, looking for the next in the cheesy Colleen McCullough series Rome: The Soap Opera (because the library is closed today, dammit), and while I don't find that, I do find a clean, tight paperback of John McPhee's Coming into the Country for $3. An old one, 1985 printing, but clearly unread, great shape.

Or I should say *almost* clean. There's the Book Rack stamp on the front page, and then there's some writing on the title page:
for David Fieselman
with all best --
on our trip to the Atchafalaya

John McPhee
Like, really?

It could be a fake, of course; McPhee's 1987 article on the Atchafalaya is well known, and while the autograph looks real, well, other people can google stuff too. But kind of a pointless fake, no?

There's a David Fieselman practicing medicine in New Orleans, and another D.F. in Madison, MS. I'm half tempted to call one of 'em up and ask did they really mean to get rid of their book.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

52-14, and another Big 10 debacle

I'm not sure I would've bet on Mississippi State's being on the top end of that score. What a strange team they are. Can they do it again next year?

The real shocker to me came in the Rose Bowl, when Wisconsin ran the ball 60+ yards to make it 21-19, needed the two-point conversion from 3 yards out -- and PASSED. Badly. Literally "throwing away" the game right there. WTF? That John Clay guy is a beast. He or Montee Ball could've carried that ball in.

TBA is happy to see that it's not the only nonplussed observer:
The Badgers inexplicably went to a shotgun formation for the 2-point conversion, and quarterback Scott Tolzien had tight end Jacob Pedersen open a step over the goal line. But Carder, who was stymied on his blitz attempt, leapt and knocked down the ball to seal the preserve T.C.U.’s lead.

“I just jumped up and swatted it away,” he said. “I can’t even explain it. It feels so good.”

The play left the Wisconsin coaching staff open to second-guessing. After a dominating drive in which the Badgers used their superior size to run the ball on 9 of 10 plays, Wisconsin went away from its strength, and its roots, by lining up in the shotgun and passing the ball.

“That was something we saw on film,” Wisconsin Coach Bret Bielema said, defending the call. “And obviously, the guy was open, but you’ve got to get the defender’s hands down in that situation. Hindsight is 20/20.”
Foresight appears to've been rather worse for Bielema.

The same article notes that the Big 10 "lost its five bowl games by a combined score of 204-102."