Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Editor’s Obsessions
SCOTUS set a new rule yesterday for civil litigation, i.e., that punitive damages cannot be based on the totality of harm that may be caused to people who are not parties to the lawsuit. Thus, the court called attention to perhaps the most idiotic, least defensible drift of Anglo-American jurisprudence: that a major world economic engine (whether Ford or Microsoft or, in this case [sigh] Philip Morris) can theoretically be nearly mortally wounded by what six people of ordinary ignorance in Ketcham, Idaho, or Starke, Florida, or wherever, think. And, compounding the problem is the idea that if the company should have to give up enormous assets in penitence, the smart thing to do is to give it all to a single resident of that city (er, to share with his or her lawyer, of course). Though ordinarians are obsessed with looking at this as big business versus injured consumers, that is absolutely beside the point. Yr Editor has no objection to awful companies paying through the nose, nor to a litigant/whistle-blower being compensated for his losses plus his suffering and inconvenience plus his lawyers’ fees. But if we go further than that and actually punish a very bad company, that punishment should be decided by a broadly democratic and intelligent panel (say, Congress or an agency governed by due process, not six jurors who, though earnest, are hardly up to the task of evaluating science, engineering, and the world economy). And if we sock a company for big bucks, the money should go to a national do-good fund rather than be handed to a single winner of a virtual lottery. (NOTE: The business-vs.-consumer argument seems particularly inapplicable in this case, since the Supreme Court dissent had the two most liberal justices joining the two most conservative.) Anyway, when you hear extreme wailing on this issue, know that it’s coming directly from personal-injury lawyers, especially the ones who haven’t yet been able to afford private jets.

NOTW Daily is now available by e-mail if you join Google Groups. See "Housekeeping" entry on Tuesday’s [2-21-2007] post (below) for details, advisories, etc.

Below The Fold
Long-time Israeli yoga instructor Miri Harovi has decided to start freelancing on Tel Aviv buses to get passengers to relax and stop worrying about what easy targets they are . . . . . Say what? Finland’s power company Fortum was ordered to pay higher compensation (equivalent of about $500, up from about $150) to a customer whose frozen foods spoiled during a power outage (and yes, the outside temperature in Finland was about what you think it was) . . . . . All hail British inventor Michael Killian and his new bicycle that you sit on and pedal facing (for example) north to make it go east or west . . . . . Almost as clever: The Netherlands produces sort of a "Denver boot" for humans (prisoners): a knee brace that you zap with electricity, rendering leg muscles immobile . . . . . Recurring Theme (though usually happening in Texas): Kettle Moraine School District became the latest in Wisconsin to simultaneously budget-cut its programs yet upgrade a football field (by $460k, though it’s community money, but on the other hand, "the community," if it wanted, could tax itself a liiitttttle bit more for programs) . . . . . Bishop State Community College in Mobile, Ala., is experiencing a massive tuition-abuse scandal, by insiders, including one staffer who got his 67-yr-old granny three athletic scholarships (even though she didn’t use them, in that she soon died) . . . . . The Administration, right on schedule: The President orders his new czar of intelligence to, hey, go hire people who speak Farsi and Arabic (The State Dept. had six full-time, according to a recent count) . . . . . A Los Angeles librarian and author of an award-winning children’s book sends other librarians into a tizzy because, in the book, a rattlesnake bites a dog on the (and I quote) "scrotum."