Feb 10, 2013

Judging Dogs

The Times has an interest account of how dog show judges decide which dog should win.

Dog World magazine has described Moses as one of the industry’s best-known handlers, with “an inherent ability to pick one winner after another.”

Unlike figure skating, in which judges might have a past in the sport but are not competing, the power players in the dog world typically make money breeding as well as handling and judging dogs in the same year, although not at the same show, creating conflicts that draw criticism from rivals. In the case of Moses, he is a divisive figure among German shepherd enthusiasts, and his detractors say he often plays favorites, giving a win to a friend when a better dog should have won.

Moses, 67, dismisses the criticism about him, saying people who think his connections have influenced his judging are “crybabies” with inferior dogs.

“I know 90 percent of the people who show under me,” he said. “How can you remember all that? If your dog licks you in the face every day, how can you be objective?”


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Feb 10, 2013

Gun Insurance Mandate

I previously blogged about ideas to force gun owners to purchase “gun insurance” to insure against any possible harm that could result from the use of the gun. My friend and former classmate Andrew Grossman, along with David Rivkin, point out an important problem with this plan in WSJ:

But you wouldn’t know that from the current gun-control debate. Several states, for example, are considering gun-insurance mandates modeled after those for automobile insurance. There is no conceivable public-safety benefit: Insurance policies cover accidents, not intentional crimes, and criminals with illegal guns will just evade the requirement. The real purpose is to make guns less affordable for law-abiding citizens and thereby reduce private gun ownership. Identical constitutionally suspect logic explains proposals to tax the sale of bullets at excessive rates.

Indeed, an insurance policy that covered liability from intentionally using a gun to harm another would be a moral hazard. I recently explained the concept of a moral hazard to my students by using the example of Taylor Swift dating–she has a perverse incentive to break up horribly and write profitable songs.

No such policy could possibly exist, right?

Well there is–kind of. It’s called the Firearms Legal Defense Program. One firm in Texas advertises that for a flat yearly fee ($131 for an individual, or $240 for a family), they would cover  all civil and legal fees if you “use” your firearm as a weapon.

Our program covers you if you “use” your firearm as a weapon. Our members are covered under the Texas Law Shield Firearms Program any time our member displays a firearm for the purpose of using the firearm as a weapon to stop a threat, whether the member has to pull the trigger and discharge the firearm or not.

Now this won’t cover damages if you lose, but it does cover all fees (save expert witnesses).

There’s a market for everything.

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Feb 10, 2013

Can a “secular, for-profit corporations” engage in the “exercise of religion”?

Following up on my analysis of the Third Circuit’s recent contraceptive mandate case, Kevin Walsh offers a detailed analysis of why corporations should be allowed to bring claims under RFRA, and makes several important points about prominent free exercise cases that involved corporations.

Again, the claim is not that corporations cannot engage in exercise of religion. After all, corporations can, and do, exercise religion. Consider, for example, Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. or Corporation of the Presiding Bishop of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The claim, rather, is limited to “secular, for-profit corporations.” But the claim rests on a mistake about “exercise of religion” under federal law and a mistake about corporate action.

As to “exercise of religion,” it is plain that a religiously based refusal to do something otherwise required by law is an “exercise of religion.” Indeed, two of the leading cases on the meaning of the Free Exercise Clause involved individuals who refused, in the course of their employment (profit-seeking employment!) to do something. Because of their religious beliefs, Eddie Thomas refused to fabricate tank turrets andAdele Sherbert refused to work on Saturdays. These religion-based refusals were their protected exercises of religion.

A corporation’s religion-based refusal to engage in a particular action is also an “exercise of religion.” A corporation’s religion-based refusal to open its stores on Sundays, for example, is as much an exercise of religion as an individual’s refusal to  work on Saturdays. The involvement of a profit motive makes no difference. People work for money, and some choose not to work on certain days for religious reasons. Similarly, for-profit corporations operate for money, and some choose not to operate on certain days for religious reasons.

I agree with Justice Alito that some of the most prominent First Amendment cases (speech and religion clauses) were brought by corporations. In these cases, the Court paid scant attention to the corporate form.

This post-Citizens United kerfuffle about constitutional rights for for-profit corporations seems ahistorical.


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Feb 10, 2013

Four Inches On Sign Lead Homeowners Association To Spend $400,000 In Land Use Litigation

This is indeed a Homeowners Association “run amok.”

The feud that consumed Fairfax County’s Olde Belhaven would span four years and cost the community as much as $400,000, and it was ignited by one of the smallest of sparks: an Obama for President sign.

The modest placard Sam and Maria Farran planted in their yard during the 2008 election put them on a collision course with the neighborhood homeowners association. It was four inches taller than the association’s covenants allowed.

“Need I say more! This would lead to chaos,” a neighbor fretted in an e-mail about the precedent that would be set if the sign wasn’t removed. “Our property values would be put at risk.”

Such HOA disputes are as suburban as cul-de-sacs and two-car garages, but few metastasize into legal battles that spend years in the courts, break legal ground and bankrupt the HOA.

Most damaging of all, though, was a move probably unprecedented in area neighborhood feuds: The common area that is the literal and metaphoric heart of Olde Belhaven was put up for sale last year to settle its debts. It appeared that “the square,” as some called the neighborhood, would no longer have a square.

“It destroyed our community,” Maria Farran said.

I am utterly incapable of understanding why this happens. I recently told a fellow Professor, “I went to George Mason. I don’t care about aesthetics.” And it’s true. Such minutiae seem so trivial and unimportant to me. I can’t fathom why homeowners association pass–and ENFORCE–such draconian laws. Why would anyone spend years and so much money litigating this!


The battle lines in Olde Belhaven were starkly drawn. On one side, the Farrans said they were standing up to an HOA run amok. On the other, HOA supporters saw a couple that inflicted financial ruin on the association — and their neighbors — to make a point.

Both sunk costs.  I’m not a homeowner, and I can’t imagine ever living in such a place.

The notion of “maintaining property values” has led to some absolutely terrible zoning cases that I teach.

How about not making your HOA laws so batshit crazy that people won’t want to live there. This story was in the Washington Post. I’m sure people will think twice about moving there.

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Feb 10, 2013

Sheetz v. WaWa

sheetz-wawaPittsburgh and Philadelphia, though both within the same Commonwealth, may as well be on different continents. They are different politically, culturally, and perhaps most important, culinarily. You see, each city in Pennsylvania is ground zero for two warring convenience store chains.

In Pittsburgh, there is Sheetz (based in Altoona, right outside of State College). In Philadelphia, there is WaWa.

These are not regular convenience stores, like a 7-11. They are gas stations, shops, and 24-hour restaurants. They have  full menus, and can make really good food quickly, for a low price. And you order form a touch-screen, which has lots of options to customize your food. There is really nothing like it anywhere else in the country.

Among Pennsylvanians, there is a never-ending feud about which store is better. Even the New York Times dedicated an entire column to it!  The Times did have one funny line:

A political pollster in Harrisburg even surveyed Pennsylvanians on their favorite, though results were skewed because of Sheetz’s wider state footprint.

The colors of the dots on the map even work. Sheetz is from red-state Pittsburgh, and WaWa is from blue-state Philadelphia.

I am quite biased for Sheetz. I went to Penn State, and the founders of Sheetz were Nittany Lions. I also lived in Johnstown for two years, which had five or six Sheetz. Thus, I have something of a dislike for WaWa.

If you ever drive along the Pennsylvania Turnpike from one end of Pennsylvania to the next, you can judge where you are by the density of Sheetzs and WaWas.

Update: My friend Zak Slayback sent me a picture of a place in Johnstown where there are two Sheetzs across the street from each other. Zak said you can see the Sheetz from the parking lot of another Sheetz.


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Feb 10, 2013

“Les Militaribles”

The Korean Air Force deftly parodies Les Mis. I did like the recent Les Mis movie at all–I thought the singing was terrible (Russel Crowe, please do not do any mor musicals . I am a huge fan of the Broadway show, and was quite disappointed. This parody, however, made me smile.

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