Sunday, July 24, 2011

Michele Bachman did not confuse the birthplaces of John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy

Let me get this out of the way: I am not a supporter of Michele Bachmann.

But she is getting a raw deal. Most recently there was a ridiculous hullaballoo about her taking medication for migraines. This was such an obvious non-story that a backlash ensued. But it's not the first time that a story disparaging Bachmann has been concocted.

An earlier example is the meme (as repeated today by Frank Bruni in the New York Times) that she "confus[ed] the Iowa birthplaces of John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy."

No, she didn't. What she did is confuse Winterset, Iowa (the actual birthplace of John Wayne) and Waterloo, Iowa (where John Wayne's parents made their first home before he was born). So Bachmann did err, obviously, by mixing up two Iowa cities that contain eight or nine letters and start with W, both of which claim a connection to the Real John Wayne.

Maybe that's an embarrassing gaffe. I don't think so. But the reason it was news was because it just so happens that John Wayne Gacy (the serial killer) lived in Waterloo for a while and committed his first crime there (though he didn't murder anyone there). The idea was that Bachmann mixed up John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy. How hilarious! What a ditz -- she can't tell The Duke from the Killer Clown!

But anyone who believes this -- that Bachmann actually knew about John Wayne Gacy's connection to Waterloo, and even if she did that it was the reason she claimed it as the Real John Wayne's birthplace -- is too eager to believe the worst about her. Notably, the common charge (that, as Bruni put it, Bachmann "confus[ed] the Iowa birthplaces of John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy") is obviously false: John Wayne Gacy was born in Chicago. So if it were really true that somehow Bachmann had the biographies of John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy cross-wired in her head, then she would have had to claim Chicago as the birthplace of John Wayne.

Bachmann did not have the actual biography of John Wayne Gacy in mind when she made her claim about Waterloo. Nor is it remotely likely that she had an incorrect version of his biography (one in which he was born in Waterloo) in mind at the time. No, the answer the clear: she simply got confused about the birthplace of the Real John Wayne, and confused Waterloo with Winterset. The idea that John Wayne Gacy's adolescent residency had anything to do with this flub is just ridiculous.

I'm not the first to point this out. But the fact that the charge is still appearing in New York Times op-ed shows that this "confused birthplaces" idea is becoming one of those entrenched political fictions. Don't believe it! And be skeptical of any anti-Bachmann story you hear. Because whatever her merits as a presidential candidate, the press is out to get her.


In other news, Mother Jones reports that Bachmann has been all-but-murdering teenagers in her Congressional district.

This isn't exactly fair, but the Mother Jones article implying a link between Bachmann's politics and an "epidemic" of teenage suicides in her district made me think of another Mother Jones article I read many years ago, when I subscribed to the magazine, implying a link between childhood vaccines and the epidemic of autism.

Just goes to show that conservatives have no monopoly on the anti-science mindset.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Lots of people have lots of thoughts about law school

The New York Times hosting a discussion called "The Case Against Law School" in its current "Room For Debate" feature.  Some highlights:

Bryan Garner -- famous teacher of legal writing -- argues that law schools should teach more legal writing.

Our friend George Leef also makes an appearance, arguing again that law school would be better if going to law school were unnecessary: "if [law schools] had to compete against other modes of legal education, costs would fall and efficiency would rise."  It is unclear to me why the hundreds of law schools and 50+ different state bars fail to create for the requisite competition.

University of Chicago Law School Professor Geoffrey Stone counters that one cannot possibly "learn to think like a lawyer" without at least three years of formal legal eduction.  (Interestingly, according to his bio, Prof. Stone graduated from law school in 1971, then clerked for two years (including one year for Justice Brennan) and joined the U of C faculty in 1973.  Thus, clerking aside, it is not clear that he has ever actually been a lawyer with clients, though he is definitely the man when it comes to teaching people how to think like one.)

Professor Kevin Millard thinks that law school is just too darn practical. Rather than teaching people how to be lawyers (or even necessarily how to think like them), Prof. Millard thinks law school "should emphasize educated citizenship." Remember -- this is a post-graduate education. One wonders what high school, much less college, is for.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Another example of poor reporting from the lamestream media.

Slate. com has an article which asks the question, "why aren't the oldest living people getting any older?" The article claims that "In fact, eight of the last nine "world's oldest" titleholders were 114 when they achieved the distinction. Here's the morbid part: All but two were still 114 when they passed it on. Those two? They died at 115." The article goes on to posit that 114 (or so) is the age people can't live past; that the body simply isn't made to survive longer. Depressingly, the article suggests that predictions that people will one day live to be 150 are akin to predictions made in the 1950s that people in the twenty-first century would have flying cars.

As an initial matter, I am not ready to give up on flying cars. Also, my research indicates that the author is wrong about the last nine titleholders. Three off them, Edna Parker, Maria de Jesus dos Santos, and Gertrude Baines, were 115 when they died. Moreover, the author's use of the last 9 titleholders is an example of the tricks one can play with math depending on when one chooses to stop counting. If the author had counted the last 12 title holders (five of whom lived in the U.S.A.), the title holders would have had 6 people who lived to 114, four who lived to 115, and two who lived to 116. 114 doesn't seem so compelling if half the group lives past 114. I note that counting the last twelve only gets us back to August 2004. We are not talking about a very large sample.

In any event, the biggest problem with the article is that it fails to take into account the possibility that these deaths are all the work of a very clever serial killer. After all, each time a person assumes the title there is a lot of publicity for the person. Then, within a very short time, the person is dead. Are we to believe these deaths are age-based coincidences? According to the author, we are. However, if TV shows like "Lost," "Fringe," "The X Files," and the reportage of Nancy Grace have taught us anything, it is that the simplest explanation is often wrong. Until provided with definitive proof that these deaths are not the result of foul play, I remain unconvinced.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

UPDATED 7th Circuit issues preliminary injunction against Chicago's new gun law

UPDATE (7/6/2011):

Today the Seventh Circuit reversed Judge Kendall's decision (discussed below) not to issue a preliminary injunction blocking Chicago's new gun law, which requires citizens to train at a gun range to get a gun permit but simultaneously outlaws gun ranges.  In sum:
[T]he judge’s decision reflects misunderstandings about the nature of the plaintiffs’ harm, the structure of this kind of constitutional claim, and the proper decision method for evaluating alleged infringements of Second Amendment rights.
If this decision stands (i.e., is not overruled by the entire Seventh Circuit or the Supreme Court) then it will likely be back to the drawing board for the Chicago City Council.  It will be interesting to see what happens without Mayor Daley around...


Court denies motion for preliminary injunction in lawsuit challenging Chicago's new gun law

In McDonald v. Chicago, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment prevents states from passing laws infringing on the individual right to bear arms announced (or clarified, if you prefer) in District of Columbia v. Heller.  In doing so, the Supreme Court struck down Chicago's gun ban.  Chicago passed a new gun law just four days later--and less than a day after most alderman had a chance to look it over.  (As one alderman said, "The details don't really matter, I mean, it's not like we're selling off the parking meters this time.")