Thursday, 31 July 2003


Jacob Levy and Matthew Yglesias have been having a discussion about taking attendance in class.

My general policy is not to take attendance, for a couple of reasons; one, it wastes time (particularly in a large class), and two (if you do the “pass around a sign-up sheet” method), it encourages petty fraud. However, in my intro class I do offer “virtually nobody showed up” extra credit a couple of times per semester (usually worth some small number of points toward the quiz average, generally only when attendance dips below 50%), and occasional announced quizzes. I have heard rumors of universities that have “swipe your ID” attendance systems for large lectures, but I’ve never witnessed one myself. My general philosophy is that if a student really doesn’t want to be sitting in my class, I don’t particularly care if he/she is there either. Call it mutual indifference. There is a strong positive correlation between attendance and grades even without a formal participation score, so I really don’t feel the need to compel attendance through grading policy.

I don’t take attendance at all in upper-level courses. I do keep mental track of the attendance record of students to help decide how lenient I want to be when they come begging for grade bumps, though. (Ole Miss doesn’t give plus or minus grades, except in the law school, so a few points can make a big difference in class grades.)

Making your opponents' points for them

Matthew at A Fearful Symmetry (via Michael J. Totten, where a good discussion continues in comments) notes the attempted war crimes prosecution being brought before the International Criminal Court (not to be confused with the International Court of Justice or the International House of Pancakes) by a group of Greek lawyers over the war in Iraq. The target? Not Saddam Hussein or any of his henchmen (you know, real war criminals). Instead, it’s Tony Blair.

As Michael writes:

Say what you will about the Iraq war. Say it wasn’t worth it if you must. Gripe about proceduralism if that’s what you care about most.

But liberating an enslaved people from a genocidal monster is not a crime against humanity. It put an end to crimes against humanity.

Placing bleeding-heart liberals like Tony Blair in the same moral category as Saddam Hussein and Pol Pot won’t garner a whit of sympathy from the United States for any court that might take such arguments seriously.

Meanwhile, Matthew is concerned that the court is just another forum for lefty whinging against Global Capitalism:

I don’t like the ICC for reasons like the scenario played out in the story above; as it stands now, too many leftists view international courts as just another protest venue. While some of them break storefront windows in Montreal, and others clash with police officers in Genoa, still others make themselves heard by issuing asinine charges of “crimes against humanity” against persons whose primary crime is disagreeing with the left-wing worldview. For them, the ICC is less a criminal court and more an International Illiberal Activities Committee, which begs the question, who are the McCarthyites now?

Now, the ICC statute (for all its faults) does have safeguards against gratuitous prosecutions, including allowing the U.N. Security Council a virtual veto over any prosecution by the ICC. And, as Kevin Drum points out in Michael’s comments, “If the fact that idiots can file lawsuits were enough to discredit a court, we’d be reduced to settling cases in the United States by peering at goat entrails.” (Of course, the fact idiots can file lawsuits has been one of the major arguments for “loser pays” and other tort reform proposals in the U.S.)

But, the safeguards have limits. If the ICC accepted a frivolous prosecution against a signatory state, and a U.N. Security Council member decided to veto a prosecution against one of its own citizens (for example, if Britain vetoed the Blair prosecution, or charges were brought against Jacques Chirac over France’s intervention in Cameroon and France decided to veto), people would legitimately be concerned about a “cover up.” So the bias of the court, and the Security Council, will be to pursue even the most frivolous prosecutions against Security Council members, so the court will retain the appearance of neutrality.

Perhaps the ICC will deny this particular prosecution on the grounds than U.N. Security Council Resolution 1441 authorized member states to take decisive action against Iraq. But if it does so, it risks undermining its credibility with its core constituency—the internationalist activists, like those who brought this prosecution, who genuinely believe that International Law (as decided solely by them; democracy be damned) can and will be made to justly govern nations.

Incidentally, Matthew’s been on a roll with a series of great posts lately. Go read them, now.

PATRIOT and bank accounts

When I went to open a bank account Tuesday here in Ann Arbor, a block of items on the giant contract in which you sign away your firstborn were described by the manager as being required by the PATRIOT Act. Specifically, it asked whether or not each account-holder was a U.S. citizen and for each account-holder to state their occupation (which, in my case, because the manager seemingly didn’t understand the term “teaching assistant,” became “teacher”). No proof of citizenship was required—in fact, they didn’t even ask me to prove that the SSN I gave was mine.

How exactly this procedure will prevent terrorism is something of a mystery to me.