Saturday, January 31, 2004

Georgian Education Goes from Bad to Worse

Hot on the heels of Georgia's banning of the word "evolution" from the classroom comes an examination of the history portion of those same guidelines. It seems that the Civil War has been banished from the classroom as well. Even keeping in mind that the Civil War is probably as controversial in Georgia as evolution, how any school system can think that skipping over the most significant event in the nation's history. Of course, they'd probably teach it so poorly that it would not be of great use to the kids, anyway.

Daytona Prototype Confessions

As I sit here watching the first few hours of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, I'm forced to say that some of the new Daytona Prototype cars look pretty damn good. The Crawfords, in particular, remind me of the old GTP days. The Rileys (what happened to Scott?) are still but ugly - like someone designed the rest of the car and then plopped the square greenhouse on top. Either way, it's nice to see 15+ of them out there running. They're not as exotic or fast at the LeMans Prototypes (even the LMP2s, probably), but they do their own thing pretty well.

Oh, and props to Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who is currently lapping in the rain!

The Dangers of One-Size-Fits-All Nation Building

An article in today's New York Times ponders the problems that can be caused by American "democracy and free markets for all" foreign policy. While no one argues against those ideals, the article points out that sometimes forcing those concepts on societies that aren't ready for them is a recipe for problems. An interesting read.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Album of the Day

Adrian Belew: Desire of the Rhino King. Adrian Belew is a neat guy. After gaining recognition working for folks like Frank Zappa, David Bowie, and the Talking Heads, Belew launched a long term career as front man and leading light of King Crimson. He's also a prolific solo artist. Desire of the Rhino King is a compilation of material taken from Belew's first three solo albums. The first two thirds are seriously off kilter pop tunes. They all have their moments, but "Addidas in Heat", "The Rail Song", and "The Perfect Woman" are favorites. The last third of the disc, taken from the album Desire Caught By the Tail, are instrumental solo guitar (and percussion) tunes. More "prog" than the rest, they're equally good.

An Interesting Read

No commentary, really, on this article from today's Washington Post. It's about the Federal Public Defender office in the Eastern District of Virginia, which has been in the news a lot recently for its representation of folks like Zacharias Moussaoui and Yassar Hamdi. While my office doesn't have any clients of that magnitude, the general vibe that comes across in this article feels familiar.

Yes, Your Honor, I Did Vote for You

In a column in today's Charleston Gazette, state senator and attorney Larry Rowe argues against a "merit" selection system for judges in West Virginia. West Virginia elects all of its judges in full-bore partisan elections. They are, for the most part, incredibly useless.

Judicial codes of ethics prohibit judges from speaking out on cases that are currently in front of their court or may be in front of their court in the future. Well, that covers just about everything. That's good, because we don't want any judge to make up his mind about an issue before hearing evidence and arguments from both sides. But it makes for meaningless campaigns. Unlike legislators, whom we elect because they will do something for us, judges cannot make such promises. At least in WV we still have the party identifiers to go on (some states have "non-partisan" elections).

Rowe's main concern seems to be the excessive politicizing of the process which would be spurred by Senate confirmations. First, that ignores the fact that the process now is inherently politicized, as evidenced by the national power brokers getting set to wage an election battle over Supreme Court Justice Warren McGraw. Second, while the US Senate certainly has its share of nasty political fights over judges (and presidential sidesteps), most nominations sail through with little or no controversy. Thus, it seems to me that any concern about excessive politics is misplaced.

Another concern voiced by Rowe is that the process, as proposed by one bill, would isolate the electorate from their local judges. I happen to think that can be a good thing, as the judge will feel less swayed by the passions of the public than by the facts and the law. However, there are other means of merit selection, such as retention elections after a certain period of time, that can allay any fears of a local disconnect.

I'll be the first one to recognize that a merit selection system doesn't take the politics completely out of the judicial system. The best we can hope is that judges who are insulated in some meaningful way from actively being politicians will be better judges. Federal judges, for the most part, show that to be true. It's time the people of WV got the same quality in their judicial system.

Yeah, Well, Girls Smell Bad!

Findlaw reports about the controversy caused by a company that sells a line of clothing with anti-male slogans, including "Boys Are Stupid - Throw Rocks At Them." The target market for these is apparently young girls. Now, I'm not thin-skinned enough to get upset about such things. I'd just like to point out that had the shirts read "Girls Are Stupid - Throw Rocks at Them," various women's groups would be up in arms and Gloria Allred would be looking for someone to sue. Just something to think about - equality does mean treating everybody the same way, after all.

They'll Come for the Globes Next

In West Virginia, we have a saying: "thank God for Mississippi." The point being, when WV is at the very bottom of damn near every national statistic, we can sometimes count on Mississippi do be even worse. Well, now, we can say, "thank God for Georgia." The educational powers that be in the Peach State have removed the word "evolution" from the state's educational guidelines. The guidelines also streamline biology requirements to not emphasize evolution. Presumably, the Biblical theory that the Earth is flat will lead to the removal of globes from the schools in the near future. At least in WV, we try to teach science correctly!

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Does Anybody Actually "Parent" Anymore?

USA Today reports today about the growing battle over violent video games. The specific target of contempt at this moment is the Grand Theft Auto series, which takes the whole "shoot 'em up" genre one step further by letting the player be the bad guys (I think - I've never tried it). Buried in the story is the stat that 90% of games are bought by adults, not kids. Which makes sense, given that a new Xbox game costs about $50. I certainly didn't have that kind of cash to throw around as a kid - hell, I had to take days to convince myself to spend that kind of cash on the 2004 version of FIFA Soccer!

The point is - where are the parents in all this? It looks like, for the most part, they are the ones buying the games that their kids play. If so, then let's keep the courts and the government out of it and leave the policing of these games to the parents.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Album of the Day

Tony Banks: Still. If there was any justice in the pop world, the breakout solo artist from Genesis would have been Tony Banks, who was infinitely more responsible for the band's commercial success than Phil Collins. Granted, Tony has the electrifying stage presence of a wet dish towel, but what do you expect from a keyboard player? Still is the only Banks album I own, and it is what you might reasonably have expected from a Genesis man in 1992 - decent synth-heavy pop with a couple of real high points, but not much else. Given the fine collaborators Banks has along for the ride of some tracks (Daryl Stuermer, Vinnie Colaiuta, Fish), it's a shame Banks's synth sheen doesn't break a little more often than it does. Anyway, "Red Day on Blue Street" is a good jaunty political tune (particularly appropriate at the campaign season hits high gear) and "Another Murder of the Day", co-written with vocalist Fish, gives some indication of what Genesis's Calling All Stations could have been had the big Scotsman taken over behind the mike.

Tell 'em What They've Won, Johnny

It appears that Open Wheel Racing Series has won the war for the rotting carcass of CART, fending off a competing bid from the Indy Racing League and Tony George. As a result, there will be some form of the Champ Car World Series in operation this year, starting at Long Beach in April. I've said before in this space that it looked like George was in position to kill CART once and for all. I sort of hoped he would, just so we could start from scratch and build a strong, diverse, unified open wheel series for North America. Since, for the time being at least, the IRL and ChampCar will exist apart from each other, I hope that the OWRS braintrust can pull the remains of CART out of their financial funk and restore it to health. Stability, not profitability, should be the immediate goal. Let's build slowly.

Let the Backpedaling Begin!

As expected, in the wake of David Kay's conclusions about WMDs in Iraq, President Bush is already backing away from the WMD justification for going to war. This should surprise no one, of course. It is just one more point of evidence that the Iraqi invasion was a done deal by the time Bush entered office.

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Album of the Day

Area: Crac!. Area is one of the classic Italian prog bands from the 1970s. Unlike, say, PFM or Banco, Area displayed more fusion than the symphonic tendencies. A song like the opening "L'enfante bianco" compares favorably with the likes of Mahavishnu Orchestra. A defining element of the Area sound is vocalist Demetrio Stratos, whose unique style is much less "out there" than I've been led to expect. But maybe that's just a factor of the other stuff I listen to! In fact, this stuff here is pretty accessible. "La mela di Odessa (1920)" breaks into a deep funk groove in the middle (complete with spoken word vocals from Stratos - rap?!?!), while "Gioia e rivoluzione" would be a great sing along tune if only I spoke Italian. Great stuff!

Once a Public Square, Always a Public Square?

There is an interesting dispute going on in Salt Lake City, as reported here and here. It involves a once-public park in downtown Salt Lake which the city recently sold to the Mormon church. The church has restricted access to the park, as private landowners generally have a right to do. But the ACLU has sued, arguing that the city's action in selling the land (for really cheap, IIRC) is a legal trick designed to let the church accomplish as a private landowner what the city could not as a public one. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Check Your Sex Toys at the State Line

So, the war on terrorism must be over, right? That's the only reason I can think of for the state of Texas to waste taxpayer money prosecuting those who sell sex toys. As discussed in this Findlaw column, a suburban mother in Texas faces criminal obscenity charges because she sold sex toys to a "couple" who came to her seeking her wares. The "couple" in question were undercover cops. That's right, the local fuzz have the time and resources to set up a sting operation to stop a housewife from selling sex toys.

Is this what law enforcement has come to? As the column points out, the Texas obscenity law doesn't criminalize the sale of sex toys, only the "promotion." So as long as you don't discuss them with your customers, you're all right. Conversely, I'm pretty sure you can talk to you local crack dealer about his or her products without fear of prosecution.

While the column correctly points out that the law itself is headed for the dustbin in the wake of Lawrence (see below), I still can't get right with the fact that the police set this woman up in the first place. It's not as if she was standing on a street corner in downtown Dallas waving dildos around. She'd need an NEA grant for that, of course.

Spatial Relations Are Not His Forte

Did you ever wonder if anybody ever tried to slither out between the bars of their jail cell? Well, read this. As reported by the Charleston Gazette, an inmate at the local region jail busted out the window in his cell and tried to slide out. The only problem is that the window in question is a whopping six inches wide! The inmate in question is 5'10'' and weighs 165 pounds. No word yet on the cunning theory he had developed to bend the very fabric of space itself to slip through the window.

Oh, and had he succeeded? "[H[e would have still faced fences, numerous layers of razor wire and the watch of guards and cameras." Whoops.

Hey, Scalia Was Right! So Who Cares?

In his scathing dissent to last year's Supreme Court decision overturning the Texas sodomy statute (Lawrence v. Texas), Justice Scalia employed that favorite rhetorical device - the slippery slope - to show the parade of horribles which would now be legal in light of the Court's ruling. One of those things was polygamy. Guess what? A lawyer from - wait . . . for . . it - Utah has filed a challenge to that state's polygamy laws, on the basis of the Lawrence decision.

Personally, I don't share Scalia's concern that one thing leads to another. Lawrence was about criminal punishments because of private behavior between consenting adults. Legalized polygamy, on the other hand, would require the extension of a government benefit - marriage - to 3 rather than 2 people. I think the ideas are conceptually different and the Court will be able to make that distinction. But on the other hand, who cares? If more than 2 people wanna get hitched, who is society to care? Assuming everyone is a consenting adult, of course.

Stories That Need to Be Heard

When I was in college I wrote a massive paper about the medical profession in Germany during WWII, including it's role in various nasty Nazi programs. The popular conception of the Nazis was that their ranks were made up of lower class working folk who "bought in" to the propaganda of a reborn Reich. In fact, party membership was highest amongst professionals, including doctors.

Part of the medical profession's involvement in the regime was conducting experiments on concentration camp victims. Now the stories of some survivors are being cataloged for posterity. It is horiffic to think about what one human being can do to another, particularly in the name of "science." The stories of those who survived this torture need to be remembered as a warning of just what kind of evil the human race is capable of.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Album of the Day

Every January I start a project where I listen to every CD I own while I'm at work, from All Too Human to Zappa, Frank. It's the only time I actually listen to some things I have. It's also a chance to rediscover a lost gem or two. So, while this is going on, I'll write a bit about one disc I listened to at work.

All Too Human: Forever and a Day. The beginning of my collection, this is a fairly average disc of prog metal produced by a band from Texas. I actually won it a couple years ago in a contest run by the Dutch Progressive Rock Page. It sounds mostly like Queensryche (to me at least), except for "Life Begins Anew," which is the best Caress of Steel-era Rush tune the Canadian trio never recorded. Good but not great. Sadly, it's by far the best of the 10 discs I got in the DPRP prize pack.

Face It, Tony's Won

The death of mutli-facet open wheel racing in the United States is just about here. Now that Tony George has put in a competing bid for some of the assets of the late CART series. Some of this makes sense from an IRL business stand point - purchasing the CART contract for the Grand Prix of Long Beach, for instance. It's sponsored by IRL engine supplier Toyota and is the second most successful open wheel race in the country, behind the Indy 500.

But why, Tony, the bid on CART's leased engines? The 2.65 litre turbo Cosworth powerplants are radically different from the IRL's normally aspirated 4.0 litre motors. It's not as if he's bidding on a backup in case of a massive string of engine failures. The only reason I can see is that without their engines, CART's successor OWRS will have no choice but to cancel the 2004 season and fold. Game set match Tony George. He is now in a place to throw his considerable funds around to kill off his competition.

For some other perspectives on this, Speed has Tony George's statement online as well as commentary from Robin Miller.

The Truth Shall Set You Free, Not Make You Happy

There was an interesting column in today's USA Today by Alan Webber that deals with a harsh reality of the modern world. It argues that the United States has already begun its slip from economic superpower, largely because politicians and business leaders refuse to acknowledge that fact. China and India are on the way up, not only because their people work cheap (that always helps) but because they are training kids for a new technological economy. The US lags behind, and thus isn't really planning for the future. Webber wonders which politician will be the first to be honest about things and take that message to the public. Whoever it is, he or she won't last long on the campaign trial.

This Is Cruel and Unusual Punishment!

Creative criminal sentences always grab my attention. A judge in Texas recently handed down a sentence for domestic battery than included a probation requirement that the defendant attend weekly yoga classes for a year. The thought is that it might help the abuser deal with his anger management issues. I wonder what the fundies who scream about yoga in school (as a "religious" exercise) think of this?

Weapons of Mass Whatnow?

The Bush case for invading Iraq continues to fall apart. Ex-chief weapons inspector David Kay said Sunday that his group found no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in prior to the invasion of Iraq. "I don't think they exist," said Kay. While he blames the intelligence community and shields Bush from fault, this certainly fits in with Paul O'Neill's claims that the invasion of Iraq was a done deal from the time Bush entered office. Maybe the intelligence community just told Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et. al. what they wanted to hear?

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Read "Harrison Bergeron" to These Idiots

An AP story appeared in today's edition of the Sunday Gazette-Mail describing the assault on school honor rolls and other traditional means of giving recognition to academically excellent kids. This particular story focuses on Tennessee, which seems to have multiple issues with such things. One is legal - the state's very broad privacy laws may prohibit the release of any academic information without the permission of the parents. That can be easily fixed by parental waivers or a change in the law.

More troubling is the idea that such honors should be scrapped because they might "become an apparent source of embarrassment for some underachievers." GOOD! I'm well aware that some kids have trouble in school for reasons that are not their own - learning disabilities, shitty home environments, etc. - but that is no excuse for punishing the kids who are excelling. Embarrassment can be a powerful motivator. Besides, if kids can be acknowledged for almost everything else they can do in school (i.e., athletics), why not for academics?

We must guard against the creeping demand for mediocrity under the guise of "sensitivity." For a hilarious example of just how far that can go, read Kurt Vonnegut's brilliant "Harrison Bergeron," a story of government forced mediocrity. It is, of course, satire, and thus exaggerates for effect. Nevertheless, I don't want schools churning out a steady stream of "average" kids. I want exceptional ones, too, because they will be the leaders of the next generation. They are there, if only the system doesn't squeeze the life from them in the process.

Knowledge v. Enjoyment

There is a very interesting piece in today's New York Times called "Why You Can't Learn to Like It" that struck a chord with me (so to speak). The thrust of the piece is that classical music education cannot by itself assure the commercial future of the music because merely knowing about something does not lead someone to enjoy it.

I see the inverse of that argument made all the time online. I am something of a fan of lost commercial causes, at least in terms of the United States. My homeland has little use for things like soccer, road racing, rallying, or progressive rock, all of which I enjoy quite a bit. In almost every forum where these things are discussed, a popular theory is that any one of them could flourish commercially in America if only people knew more about. The idea that Americans simply don't understand Formula One and thus dismiss it is an example. It's somewhat comforting because it both explains the sport's failure in the US and builds us up as fans. It's lack of exposure, not the fact the people just don't find it exciting or interesting, that holds F1 back. Conversely, because we fans do understand it we must be a cut above the ignorant rabble.

I think understanding helps, don't get me wrong. Why an F1 race has a standing start or how the teams employ different strategies to try and maximize their chances of winning would help someone understand the race. But they could still understand it and not feel compelled to watch it. Sport, like art, comes down to a very basic gut level "like / don't like" instinct. I don't like baseball - think it's terribly dull and the Phillies always suck, so what's the point - but I understand it from playing it (poorly) as a kid and because of its constant presence in American culture.

As a soccer fan, I cannot fathom that someone who could watch a 1-0 pitchers duel with gusto could then turn around and not enjoy a 1-0 soccer match because of the lack of scoring. It must be their ignorance of the beautiful game, right? No, there's just something about the game they don't like. And that's fine.

The key for we fans of marginalized things is to not give a rat's ass what anybody else thinks, anyway. Obviously, if nobody watches F1 or soccer or whatever they will eventually wither and die. So we need to support them as much ourselves as we can. But more likely they will survive as a fringe attraction in this country, but one that can be reveled in by the fans thanks to the recent explosion of the Net and cable TV. We should accept that and move on. On a day to day level, whether anybody else in the world cares for the album I'm listening to right now (Tea in the Sahara's 1994 release Boomerang, if you're curious) doesn't make any difference to me.

You cannot teach someone to like something. If fact, trying to do so is more likely to turn off some people than interest them, as it will come off as condescending and arrogant. A better strategy would be to be open and giving of your love for whatever it is you are passionate about and be willing to share that with those that might be interested in it, too.

Saturday, January 24, 2004

The Yanks Are Coming, Part II

There was a nice front page USA Today story about US goalkeeper Tim Howard. Tim developed into a starter and potential national team player with the MetroStars in MLS before being snatched away by Manchester United this summer. He quickly dispatched all other competitors for the starting job and has been a fixture in goal for United during their Premiership and Champions League campaigns. Wonderful to see the story on the front page (not the sports page) of a national newspaper, even if it did label the MetroStars as "little-known team in a sport little known in the United States." True, the MetroStars suck eggs (sorry, DC United fan here), but it's not like he labored in complete obscurity in the United States. He is definitely more recognizable on the streets of Manchester these days than he ever was in the swamps of Jersey.

Adios, El Diablo

As reported here yesterday, one of the original DC United greats has retired from Major League Soccer. Marco Etcheverry, the Bolivian midfielder whose devious passing earned him the nickname "El Diablo" called it a career, at least in MLS. Marco was offensive heartbeat of the United clubs that won 3 of the first 4 MLS championships. How important was Etcheverry's influence? US national team coach Bruce Arena, who coached Marco for the first few years of United's existence, came to DC to wish Marco well in retirement.

From a fan, both of DC and MLS, let me just say: gracias, El Diablo.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

The Yanks Are Coming!

As detailed at Soccer Times, no fewer than 3 United States internationals have signed to play with top division clubs in Europe. Carlos Bocanegra and Brian McBride have moved to Fulham of the English Premier League, while Clint Mathis is on his way to Hannover 96 of the German Bundislega. Bocanegra started in Fulhams 3-1 loss to Newcastle this week.

This is a possible watershed moment for US soccer. There are plenty Americans plying their trades in Europe. However, most of them have either played their entire professional career in Europe (ala Claudio Reyna, currently with Manchester City) or are goalkeepers who are, fairly or not, generally considered not very "skillful" (goalkeepers as a whole, not just ours). By contrast, Bocanegra, McBride, and Mathis all developed themselves in Major League Soccer and will be the first field players to migrate from MLS to top leagues in Europe. Hopefully, they'll prove how for US soccer has come in the past decade and how valuable MLS really is.

The next few months should be very fun and well worth the digital cable bill for FoxSportsWorld. :)

10 Commandments Update

Just to follow up on my rant yesterday about the 10 Commandments stuff, word comes from Winston-Salem that the monument placed on the steps of city hall by a wayward councilman has been removed. Out of this whole mess comes these words of wisdom from a local reverend: "Separation of church and state protects the free expression of religion . . . If religion becomes an arm of the government, people will pray with the same enthusiasm that they pay their taxes."

Amen, brother.

Bail 101

When someone is arrested for a high profile (or even low profile) crime, one constant on the local news is someone complaining about the new defendant being released on bail. Most people simply don't understand what bail is or why it works the way it does. As a means of public service, I direct you to this column from Findlaw, which goes into a little of the history and purpose of bail in the criminal justice system. Those who really need this information won't read it, but what can I do?

Pot Makes You Stupid, Vol. 2

In another example of dumb stoner action, the Charleston Gazette brings you the story of Daricus Holliday. The young Mr. Holliday was called to the Kanawha County judicial annex to bail out a friend who had been arrested. Mr. Holliday did what any right thinking person does when the go to the courthouse - he took his weed with him. Once he saw the metal detector, he casually turned around, walked back out of the annex and tossed his weed into the bushes. The bad news - the deputy working the metal detector saw the whole thing. Mr. Holliday ended up arrested himself.

The truly stupid part of this, however, is that the weed in question was a whopping 17 grams of pot. Yet, Mr. Holliday is set to be prosecuted for felony delivery of a controlled substance. What a find use of police resources in the age of terrorism.

Has It Come to This?

Political discourse in this country is supposed to be a fairly noble thing. A fair airing of issues and candidates positions, with an engaged electorate making a well reasoned choice at the end of the process.

Of course, it doesn't work that way. Any idiot can vote, for whomever they want for whatever reason they choose (if for any reason at all). This is why Howard Dean's misguided rally speech he banged out in Iowa the other night (you know, the one that ends with "YEEAAAHHH!!!!!!!") may cost him the Democratic nomination. Does the fact that Dean got carried away in an attempt to rally the troops after a dismal performance in Iowa fundamentally change the ideas he has for the country? Of course not, but the media pundits are already writing his presidential obit. Why is it that 99% of the time the voters complain about how dull, lifeless, and similar all candidates are. When you get one who (gods forbid) speaks his mind or gets a little pissed off now and then, he's branded as "unstable" and thus not suited for the office.

I'm not saying that Dean is the guy, but if he isn't let's make that decision on his policy positions and his ideas for the country. After all, it's not like he ripped off a series of racial slurs or something.

Prayer for the Pornful

A rabbi in Jerusalem has come up with a prayer to help those who have been "afflicted" with Internet porn. I'll admit being a little confused as how this prayer works. As the article explains:

"The rabbi recommends that Jews recite the prayer when they log on to the Internet or even program it to flash up on their computer screens so they are spiritually covered whether they enter a porn site intentionally or by mistake."

And I thought Catholics had the market cornered on absolution after the fact.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

More Dumb 10 Commandments Tricks

One would think that after the then-Justice Roy Moore's folly with his 10 Commandments monument this summer that politicians would think twice about doing something similar. Oh, if only that were true. Sadly, low level politicos with delusions of adequacy all over the country continue to demonstrate that a working knowledge of the US Constitution is not a qualification for office.

In Winston-Salem, North Carolina, a city councilman snuck and installed a 10 Commandments monument on the steps of city hall early yesterday morning. He must have known the jig would eventually be up, as he made a complete end run around the council's procedures for erecting things in and around city hall. He claims ignorance of the procedures. Which either means a) he is a bad liar, or b) he has managed to serve six years on the council without learning how it works. I'll let you decide.

Meanwhile, in Maryland, Republican lawmakers are trying to put together a resolution in favor of the deposed Mr. Moore. The resolution would also call for Congress to "pass a law" protecting displays of the 10 Commandments. Showing, once again, that these folks just don't get it - the Constitution trumps everything, and the Supreme Court's interpretation of it is binding on us.

My main beef with Moore wasn't even his position on the Commandments themselves. He was wrong, of course. To claim that the 10 Commandments are the basis of United States law is to completely ignore English common law and Enlightenment philosophers that are really the basis of our law. Exactly which commandment demands the separation of powers? A representative republic? Two houses of Congress? Tell me when you figure this out.

Anyway, back to my main beef with Moore - his complete and utter inability to understand Constitutional Law 101. You see, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It trumps acts of Congress, presidential orders, and state statutes. It even, gods forbid, trumps Moore's blessed Alabama state constitution. If there is a conflict, the US Constitution wins. That's why slavery was illegal in Mississippi after the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment even though the state constitution still permitted it (until very recently). It's why West Virginia's public schools were desegregated after Brown v. Board of Education, even though the state constitution (again, until very recently) mandated segregated schools.

In the end, Moore embarrassed himself and his state with just about everyone. Except for ultra-conservative Christians, whom he no doubt views as an important constituency for his future political career. Let's hope they're number is not large enough to matter.

Choice Is Good

In recent weeks, I've read a couple of things questioning the value of have lots of choices to make. The latest is a review of a book called The Paradox of Choice: Why Less Is More. Based on the review, it appears that the author falls into the category of those who believe that too much choice is a bad thing because it increases the chances of making bad decisions which then make people unhappy.

I don't doubt that people make choices that in the end leave them miserable all the time. We all make bad decisions - confronted with an overwhelming number of choices at Blockbuster this weekend, I rented a bad movie. But does that invalidate the choices we had in the first place? At the extreme end of the kind of thinking indicated in the review lies some type of governmental regulation on the choices people make. That would run counter to the principles of freedom and personal responsibility that have underpinned Western society since the Enlightenment.

A better plan would be to improve decision making skills among the public. Real decision making, not just following trends and styles, requires a mix of traits that should be encouraged in schools - analytical skills, the strength to be different, etc. - but are largely overlooked in the pursuit of docile kids who do well on standardized tests. The process may be messier, but in the end we might produce people who are capable of making happy choices in their lives.

Dump Jesus In My Voicemail, Will Ya'?

I'm always surprised at how easy it is to separate some religious folks from their money. The latest scheme was off and running in Finland, where a service would answer people's prayers by reply with a text message from Jesus. All this for $1.52 a pop (I wonder what Jesus's cut is?). The authorities shut it down as soon as they heard about it, although one wonders on what basis. False advertising, presumably.

Remember folks, "there's a big difference between kneeling down and bending over."

Monday, January 19, 2004

Does Iraq=Vietnam? Our Kids Won't Know

There was a very interesting column in USA Today today about the poor quality of history textbooks in this country. Specifically, it argues that most high schoolers are woefully unprepared to evaluate the current situation in Iraq and the comparisons being made between it and US involvement in Vietnam. The treatment of Vietnam is current textbooks is just woefully inadequate to equip them for the task.

I've always argued that the greatest disservice in history education in this country involves the Civil War, but just about any "recent" event gets short shrift as well. They suffer from a combination of being diluted of any real meaning to avoid controversy and of being crammed in at the end of the book for most kids. As a result, not only to kids leave school not knowing what they need to know about their history, but they are indoctrinated into the "history is just a series of boring dates to memorize" mindset that turns many of them off from every thinking about it again.

That does neither the kids nor the country any favors. It's trite to say that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. It's not quite that simplistic, in my opinion. However, what has gone before constantly shapes and effects what goes on today. Without the tools or the interest to analyze their own history as well as the history of others, the next generation will be at a severe disadvantage. And the country will suffer because of it.

And You Thought the Lawyers Were Bad

Just when you thought that the big-time media circus criminal trials could not get any more crass, consider this article from today's New York Times. It tells how local tourism officials are lobbying the trial judge in the Scott Peterson murder case in an effort to have the trial moved to their particular county. Yes, you read right: tourism officials. Aware of the fact that the trial would bring in ancillary dollars by the truck full, they are trying to make sure their burghs share in the windfall, bidding for the trial as they might for the Super Bowl. I sort of admire the brutal realism of their push - it will mean big bucks for whichever county hosts the trial of the century du jour. At least it also makes the various lawyers involved look not quite so bad.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Give It Up, Bob

West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, apparently in an attempt to have his name linked to something other than an embarrassing sex scandal that will drive him from office after one term, refuses to let the regional airport concept die the death it so richly deserves. A new bill introduced in the Legislature, and backed by Wise, would give the state Port Authority the power to jam the regional airport concept down the throats of West Virginians who neither want it or need it.

A little background: West Virginia's two largest cities (stop smirking, there are two cities in WV), Charleston and Huntington, are separated by less than an hour of Interstate 64. Back in the years after WWII, each city built an airport, neither of which is exactly "large." Charleston's Yeager airport suffers particularly from it's less-than-stellar location (straddling the top of several mountains). Nevertheless, both airports continue to serve the area well enough. In the era of hub-centric air travel, the possibility of flights from Charleston to about anywhere other than Pittsburgh, Charlotte, or Atlanta is a pipe dream.

In spite of that, years ago the idea was proposed to build a "regional" airport somewhere between Charleston and Huntington to serve all of southern West Virginia. Lincoln County, which is several hours from nowhere, was selected as the location for this "transpark." Since then, the idea has undergone countless studies and reviews. The ones commissioned by the Port Authority have been consistently positive about the need and benefits of a regional airport. Once those studies are reviewed by the FAA, however, they are carefully ripped apart and most of those glowing conclusions shown to be hollow.

One would think that with the FAA casting doubt on the benefit of building the new airport that the idea would simply go away. Oh, if only it would. Apparently unhappy that the only politician to have his name attached to anything in the state in the past three decades was Robert Byrd, Wise came out in favor of the regional airport before he ran for governor in 2000. He's been quite about it recently as the Port Authority's justifications for the project continually unraveled. Now that he has one last chance to establish some kind of a legacy, Cloggin' Bob is trying to slip the Port Authority the power to do the deed in his absence.

Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail in the Legislature. I kind of doubt it.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Yeah, But What Is Truth? - If You Get My Meaning

Recently, the LA Times ran an interesting story about legendary sports writer Frank Deford. From what I've heard and read of his work, Deford does indeed have a way with words. He is also, unfortunately, one of the first rate soccer bashers in the United States. A more genteel Jim Rome, I suppose. So it was nice to see Deford taken down a peg or two by the writer of this article who confronted Deford with numerous inaccuracies and contradictions in his writing.

At Least He's Honest

Responding to driver critics of NASCAR's new "playoff" championship system, chairman Brian France displayed an admirable honesty. He admitted that ''[w]e are in the entertainment business." To anyone who still believed otherwise, this is proof positive that NASCAR moved well beyond a true sporting contest years ago. I know that any sport needs butts in seats and in front of the TV to survive and that it is important to entertain fans. It just seems that the entertainment should come from the on track competition, without too much external monkeying around.

F1 had a resurgence of interest last season not because of rule changes (although that probably helped), but because Williams, McClaren, and Renault stepped up their game and made Ferrari work for the title. The entertainment of last season was seeing the likes of Alonso and Montoya battling it out up top with Schumacher. Had the on-track product suffered, all the rule changes in the world would not have saved it.

Such is NASCAR right now, relying on fiddling with the points system to bring more "entertainment value" to a series that has apparently lost it on the track.

Pot Makes You Stupid

From Findlaw yesterday, via the AP, comes a story of unfortunately not-so-rare criminal stupidity. Seems that a man going through a courthouse security check point accidentally tossed a bag of marijuana onto the table as he emptied his pockets. Once he realized his mistake, the man took off in an attempt to escape police, only to be foiled by a locked door. The truly stupid part? He was coming to court for a hearing on a drug and driving charge!

One summer while in law school I worked for a county prosecutor in West Virginia. It was the law students job to work through the minor cases in magistrate court during the afternoon. One recurring theme I witnessed shares a lot with the pothead in the AP story. People would come to court to deal with a charge of driving without a license, or on a suspended license, etc. - something arising from the fact that they should not be driving a car. Many showed up by themselves. How did they get to court? They drove. Thank you very much, sir - next case!

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Where Is Your World?

"Popular culture has always loved the criminal defense attorney, usually characterizing them as threadbare but plucky defenders of accused innocents. In contrast, prosecutors have long been depicted as overzealous, politically ambitious, and hell-bent on framing some poor marginalized defendant."

Thus begins a column from Findlaw yesterday by Joshua Marquis, a former prosecutor in Oregon. Please, can I come live in your world? In my world, criminal defense attorneys are about the lowest form of life on the legal food chain. Yes, my friends and family are proud of what I do (I hope), but in the back of every mind of every person I meet is that burning question: "How can you represent someone who X," where X equals any number of nasty things.

In my experience, it's the prosecutors who jurors believe completely and who judges rule in favor of 95% of the time. I've read transcript after transcript where the state's case was flimsy, to say the least, but jurors followed merrily along, not willing to believe the "plucky" defenders. By the way, the last word I would use to describe my colleagues is "plucky."

I don't condone some of the tricks the defense attorneys Marquis mentions in his piece. However, the fact that the defense attorneys are jackasses is no reason for the prosecutors to be as well. What happened to rising above the fray? Dignity before self aggrandizement? Can Marquis not see that treating a major rape trial as a source of jokes is bad stuff for either side? Most prosecutors are fundamentally good people and try and be just, but some recklessly pursue convictions at the expense of what's right. Likewise, most defense attorneys are good people trying to find justice for their client, but some will unscrupulously do anything for an acquittal. The excesses of either side should not be tolerated and certainly shouldn't be used to justify another's unethical behavior.

Is Rush on My Side Now?

Following up from yesterday's blurb about West Virginia's high illegal drug prices, apparently Rush Limbaugh is poking fun of the US Attorney who released the numbers. All this keeps the fact that West Virginia is a rich untapped market for a Wal-Mart type drug ring to come into the state. You know, open all night and cheaper than everybody else. That's for the advertising.

As the old saying goes - "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." So, do I own Rush a fruit basket? Or maybe a pill basket?

The Swedish are Coming!

Speed today confirmed that Volvo will enter a 4-car (!) factory effort in the Speed GT series this year. The brace of S60 Rs will be headed up by Derek Bell. It's not the turbo wagons of the old British Touring Car Days, but it's still a Volvo on a race track!

On a related note, is US sportscar racing about the turn the corner, so to speak? Usual discussions of road racing in the US are bitch fests about one thing or the other. But the Speed GT series has had several big announcements recently, the GrandAm Rolex series has a growing number of competitors for its top-tier Daytona Prototype class (even given their sluggish bad looks), and even the American LeMans Series - which was looking a little rough a month ago as we wait for the new rules package to kick it - is looking pretty good. With the economy (supposedly) on the rebound, are the good days truly ahead of us?

Jacques, Meet Karma

Apparently Rubens Barichello gets it. He commented that BAR-Honda's ditching of Jacques Villeneuve may be a situation where the former world champ was "paying a bit for the arrogance" he displayed earlier in the year. Gee, ya' think?!? Hey Jacques, next time you bad mouth your young teammate, you better make sure you're actually faster than he is!

Villeneuve's career should be object lesson to all athletes out there. Don't follow the money for the money's sake. Villeneuve stepped away from annual championship contender for the big bucks of the fledgling BAR-Honda team. The team has sucked and it dragged Villeneuve down with it. When the hungry young driver consistently outperforms you, maybe it is time to step away.

Taking the Party Back From the "Centrists"

USA Today has an article today detailing the potential rift in the Democratic Party between the remaining Clinton-influenced centrists and the more liberal wing, as epitomized by Howard Dean. While I voted for Clinton twice, I admit that he was way to far to the right for my tastes. Oval Office blow jobs aside, the man presided over a potentially disastrous welfare overhaul and the largest expansion of the Federal death penalty in history. All this in the name of beating the GOP by co-opting its issues. If that's "Democratic" then why on Earth do we need Republicans?

I've still not decided what I think about Dean (or any of the other hopefuls). I will say this for him, tho' - he's not afraid to actually be a Democrat. Unlike, say, Joe Lieberman. In the end, as a Democrat I'd rather put ourselves out there as we really are and get the snot kicked out of us rather than win at all costs.

This Comes As a Surprise to Nobody

The Institute of Medicine has released a study which concludes that the only real solution to the ongoing medical insurance situation is some form of universal health care. Remember the heady days of the early Clinton administration when this kind of thing was actually discussed? I'm not sure how the best way to do it is, but, let's face it, we've got to join the rest of the civilized world at some point.

On a related note, do you tort reformers know one reason why other countries don't have the same number of personal injury lawsuits that the US does? Because, largely, the costs incurred from an accident are paid for by the government via a national health care system. Why sue somebody if you're bills are paid?

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Is the NASCAR Bubble Set to Burst?

Scrapping for sponsorship dollars is nothing new in racing, from the grassroots up to the professional level. When the top teams in NASCAR have to go begging, however, things might be worse than they appear. According to USA Today, cars entered by Jack Roush and Dale Earnhardt, Inc. have not yet secured sponsorship for the coming season. Both Roush and DEI are top level teams. I agree with Ward Burton, driver of the unsponsored Roush car, who said (imagine the accent, now): "If the 99 car and Jeff Burton and Roush Racing can't find a sponsor, then the sport's got a problem." Just maybe.

One State for Sale - Lightly Used

Those kidders at Ebay! Apparently last night, someone decided to auction off the state of West Virginia. That's right, for only $99,999,999 you can own this little piece of America! The top bidder's quest for unchecked power was squelched by the powers that be at Ebay when the state was taken off the chopping block.

To be honest, even at almost $100 million I think the state was too expensive. Maybe the IRL was driving up the price?

Preach On, Brother Haught

I don't have much comment on this column from James Haught, editor of the Charleston Gazette. It lays out how most of what Dubya and crew have said to justify the invasion of Iraq was false.

At Least the Housing Is Cheap

Courtesy of today's Charleston Gazette comes some information from the local United States Attorney that might adversely effect West Virginia's tourist industry - we pay more here for drugs than people in most of the rest of country. Illegal drugs. That's right - don't come here for cheap cocaine, y'all. You'll pay more here than anywhere else in the country, except for some parts of Vermont, Virginia, South Carolina, North Dakota and Montana.

Hey, we're not last in the country in something!

Isn't This Over Yet?!?

According to USA Today, the latest twist in the downward spiral of CART is a possible buyout bid from none other than the Indy Racing League. According to one theory, the IRL is interested in purchasing some of CART's assets such as safety equipment for use in the IRL. The more sinister theory is that the IRL will buy the whole kit and kaboodle out from underneath Open Wheel Racing Series (OWRS), the supposed saviors of Champ Car racing. Paul Gentilozzi, one of the OWRS principals, vow to fight any takeover bid.

The great irony is that the real winners in all this may by CART's embattled shareholders. The interest from the IRL, regardless of intention, may drive the OWRS purchase price above the original $1.6 million bid.

Quick Hits

A few interesting / stupid news items for today.

The headline says it all: Traveler's Flute Causes Airport Evacuation. And she wasn't even playing it! Q: How do you tune two flutists? A: Shoot one.

Another good one is this story about a mother who was arrested for "disseminating matter harmful to minors." Her crime? The car she used to pick up her 8-year old from school had a stripper airbrushed on the trunk. The car, as expected, belonged to her boyfriend.

The FCC has decided that "fuck" is right out on American television. Reversing an earlier decision, the FCC has changed its mind and concluded that Bono's phrase "this is really, really fucking brilliant" at last year's Golden Globes is verboten on the air.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

This Means Something

Frequently, the best hint that you're doing something wrong is when someone who should support you goes the other way. Such is the case with the whole detainee situation at Guantanamo Bay, as the Washington Post is reporting that Pentagon JAG lawyers are filing a friend-of-the-court brief in the Supreme Court challenging some rules of the proposed military tribunals as unconstitutional. Yes, they're JAG defense lawyers, but as one of them put it, "I bear responsibilities to protect my client's rights, and as a naval officer to support and defend the U.S. Constitution . . . I think I do both here."

It reminds me of a John Adams quote that hang on my file cabinet in my office: "[O]ne of the best pieces of service I ever rendered for my country." He said that after representing British soldiers charged after the Boston Massacre.

Listen up Dick and Don - this means something!

To the Moon, Dubya! Or Not . . .

Apparently the public's appetite for the space program doesn't match the President's. According to a poll reported on, the public is equally divided, 48% to 48%, in support of and against Dubya's plan to establish a base on the Moon as a jumping off point for a manned expedition to Mars. While I understand the main sentiment of those opposed - it's too expensive, particularly in these times of a bad economy and the occupation of Iraq - I think it would be a wonderful thing. Yes, we lack the technology to make it a reality today. But did we have the tech needed to get to the Moon when JFK proposed we go there? Nope. It could spur the next great technological age. Or it would be a huge boondoggle. Who know.

The most disturbing aspect of the poll, however, is the shift in support from Democrats depending on the label given the program. Democrats oppose a "United States" plan at just over 50%, while they oppose a "Bush administration" plan by almost 2 to 1. C'mon guys! Even a broken watch is right twice a day. :)

What Timing

A follow-up from yesterday's blurb about the Financial Times story about the Supreme Court. The Supremes handed down their decision today in the case which was the centerpiece of the article. They got it wrong, too. By a vote of 6-3, the justices concluded that stops at so-called "informational" road blocks were kosher under the Fourth Amendment. That's without any suspicion of wrongdoing on the driver's part, BTW. Before too long, we'll see these "informational" road blocks reinforced with drug dogs and other crime fighting technology, I imagine.

BTW, the court's opinion is in PDF format, so you'll need a copy of Adobe's Acrobat reader. Go get it. It's free and incredibly handy.

Spuds for Brains

A strange news story from Germany, courtesy of It seems that this gentleman was buy computers, taking them home, filling the insides with potatoes, and then returning them to the store. The store got suspicious when he just wanted his money back. The ingenuity of some people!

Who Exactly Killed Whom Here?

As a legal junkie, I love the Jehovah's Witnesses. They're dogged pursuit of their way of life - as strange as it seems to me - frequently winds up making good law in areas of religious freedom and freedom of expression. For example, it was Jehovah's Witnesses that fought the West Virginia requirement that all school children say the Pledge of Allegiance (in the good ol' pre-"under God" days) all the way to the Supreme Court in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943). They won, too. JWs tend to push the boundaries of the law and create some real head scratchers.

Such is the case of Carol Ferenz, as reported by Findlaw. Ferenz was stabbed by her mentally deranged son. Rushed to a hospital for medical treatment, she was told that without a blood transfusion she would die. Being a JW, Ferenz refused the transfusion and soon thereafter had assumed room temperature. That's left the local prosecutor a little confused as to how to proceed criminally against the son, mental problems notwithstanding. Legally, it actually fairly clear - you take your victim as you find her, and if she refuses life saving treatment it's your problem that she then dies because of it.

But should it work that way? Should the fact that the victim had a very good chance of continuing to live had she been of "normal" beliefs in some way mitigate the attacker's culpability? Consider this hypothetical: Instead of a mother and son, the victim is a bitter ex-husband and the slasher is his bitter ex-wife. Once at the hospital, the husband is given the choice of a blood transfusion or death. The ex-husband,being the bitter sombitch he is, decides to die - just to piss of his ex-wife and leave her in as much hot water as humanly possible. The hospital does as he asks and the ex-husband dies. The ex-wife is charged with murder. Should the fact that the victim in that case died out of spite rather than live make any difference? How is that different from the JW?

One gut reaction is that while the JW victim was acting on a sincerely held religious belief (regardless of how fruity), the ex-husband victim was not acting from any deeply held belief. But should that matter? Assuming that both victims are competent to make the decision in the first place, should we green-light the one made based on religious belief but not the other? To do so would be to, in effect, endorse the JW victim's belief - not necessarily to promote her "religion" specifically, but give it sanction as a valid basis of action. In essence to provide a government stamp of approval on her belief system. That bothers the hell out of me, personally. The state should have no real reason to get involved in what happens in my mind until it makes me act out against other people. To OK the JW's act and not the ex-husband's act is discrimination on the basis of (lack of) religion.

The other gut reaction is that the ex-husband victim is simply crazy and therefore not competent to make this decision at this time. But why is he nuts but the JW victim is sane? Spite may be a poor motive for suicide, but so, in the eyes of many, is a devotion to a vengeful sky-god who will send you to hell rather than allow you to save yourself. Where do we draw the line?

In the end, I think the responsibility for the deaths in both cases lie with the attackers. But for their actions, neither victim would have been in a situation where such a decision was needed. Still, it's a fun problem to think about.

Monday, January 12, 2004

Supreme Court Demystified - Somewhat

Patti Waldmeir wrote a fascinating column this weekend in the UK's Financial Times about the US Supreme Court. Based on the theory that the Supreme Court is "uniquely misunderstood in its own time," the story uses one pending Fourth Amendment case as a window into how the court works. If you've never quite figured out how the Supremes do what they do, this is a must read. If you know what they do, but want a fresh perspective on the Court, it's a must read, too.

To Playoff or Not to Playoff

As NASCAR gears up for its idiotic "playoff" idea, one commentator finally pointed out an obvious, yet overlooked problem with the concept. For those of you not familiar with the idea, traditionally race series determine their champion by accumulating points throughout the entire season. In order to combat sagging interest in the late season, NASCAR has decided in 2004 that the Nextel (formerly Winston) Cup will be awarded following a "playoff" system. After 26 races, the top 10 or so drivers in points will reset to zero. Those top drivers will then collect points in the final 10 races, with the top point winner of that bunch being crowned champion.

Speed's Ben Blake lays out a lot of the problems with that idea, but one in particular caught my eye. The powers that be in NASCAR are pitching this idea as being similar to the playoff system used in US stick-and-ball sports. As Blake points out, this ignores the fact that in, say, the NFL, once the playoffs start all the other teams stop playing! In the NASCAR setup, what happens to the 33 other guys who run every week? In addition, part of the allure of the NFL playoffs is "win or go home" - the Darwinian survival of the fittest that was in such great form this past weekend. NASCAR's system can't have that feature and, therefore, won't generate that kind of intensity.

In the end, NASCAR seems to have found an answer to a question nobody asked while ignoring the fundamental problems in the point scheme. But, they've got their fans by the short hairs, so who's to say what will happen when this playoff that a vast majority of fans don't want starts up. Maybe, just maybe (I'm dreaming), NASCAR fans will look around and discover all the other motorsport out there.

Separate the Art from the Artist?

In today's USA Today, Michael Medved pontificates on the evils of actors mixing politics in with their work. Specifically, he criticizes Viggo Mortensen for making the most of his new found celebrity as Aragorn from Lord of the Rings to protest the war in Iraq. Medved, who himself at some point parlayed his minor celebrity as a film critic into a prime role as conservative social commentator, claims that Mortensen's off screen antics "interfere with the entertainment value of creative work."

I guess Medved can't separate the reality of Mortensen's politics from his role on screen. That seems to be more Medved's problem than Mortensen. It's also the narrow-minded mindset that will keep people from recognizing Sean Penn's work in Mystic River because of his politics or burn their Dixie Chick CDs when one of them shoots their mouth off - regardless of the quality of their art. Artists frequently produce things that don't match their own world view or politics. Any artist who let his or her politics bleed into their art consistently would produce work that became tedious very quickly. So if the artist can make that distinction, why shouldn't the audience?

I Knew It, I Knew It

60 Minutes apparently had a bombshell interview with former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, which I learned about via this morning. Apparently O'Neill, who was forced out of Dubya's White House over tax policy - he dared question the Bush tax cut, apparently - has written a book about the inner workings of the current administration, and it's not pretty. Confirming many folks's impression of Dubya as slow-minded, O'Neill referred to him as "a blind man in a room full of deaf people." I'm fairly certain Dubya doesn't play a mean pinball, either.

Of far more importance - to me, at least - is the confirmation that the invasion of Iraq was hatched well before 9/11 took place. I've always thought that some of Dubya's handlers, led by Paul Wolfowitz, were intent on "regime change" from before the Supreme Court even put Bush in office. 9/11 was just a convenient rallying point and way to distract the country into buying the need for invasion. Regardless of what you think about the current state of the war in Iraq - I opposed getting in but recognize that to pull out Kucinich style now would be a disaster - it should be clear that the unprecedented preemptive invasion of Iraq had little to do with national security and even less to do with 9/11.

As expected, the GOP loyalists are now out to gut O'Neill's credibility. His ideas are "wacky," says one White House official. Note that these are the same folks who swallowed as completely true the ravings of a disgruntled CIA agent when he wrote his book about the Clinton White House. Different party in office, of course, means different truths.

I Love the ACLU!

Heard on NPR on the way home from work:

The Florida ACLU is getting involved in Rush Limbaugh's legal problems - on Rush's side! Apparently, the ACLU is going to be filing friend of the court briefs with the court dealing with whether to open Rush's medical files to criminal investigators. This should, once for all, prove that the ACLU's only real client is the constitution and that to protect it they sometime need to help out people who don't really deserve it.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

After the Perp Walk

The Alex Lifeson arrest saga continues to unfold in Naples, Florida. The county sheriff has fired back on the opinion page of the local paper. Nothing really new, but the fuzz are certainly being proactive in this instance.

For the non-Rush fans in the audience, Alex and his 33 year old son were arrested on New Years following an altercation with the local constabulary. Rush fans, as one might expect, took Big Al's cause up on this one. Hopefully, once all the facts come out, it will turn out to be much more police overreaction than anything else. Nonetheless, it's always disappointing to see one of your heroes act like a drunken idiot.

Life Without Cheap Labor

One of the more ingenious political moves of the recent past was Dubya's revealing this week of his plan to deal with the staggering number of "undocumented workers" - illegal aliens, in other words - in the US. Kudos to Karl Rove, et. al. for figuring out how to, in the same intitiative, reach out the an increasingly powerful minority group (Hispanics) and the GOP buisness base (the US Chamber of Commerce is on board).

A fascinating column in today's New York Times takes a good look at the entire situation. The bottom line is that if, somehow, we could rid ourselves of all illegals right now in some sort of O'Reily / Buchannon wet dream, our economy would damn near collapse. Well, we'd pay more for lettuce, at least, which doesn't honk me off very much, to be honest. While I think Dubya's plan is more about politics than practical benefits for the country, at least it deals with the issue in some way.

Turn Down That Clarinet!

An article in today's New York Times dealt with the emerging issue of classical musicians slowly going deaf. Apparently going to work everyday and sitting in front of the trumpet section is almost as bad for your ears as spending your nights in front of a Marshall stack.

The article goes into some detail about how orchestras, mostly in Europe, are trying to cope with European workplace guidelines for noise exposure in this area. There is some hint that more "modern" pieces might be dropped from the repetoire because they are too, well, loud.

Among the nifty bits of info tucked into this article is this observation, from a study about the effect of music on hearing: "It does, indeed, appear that pleasing noise causes less hearing damage than random noise, so musicians may be at less risk that is supposed. However, the studies also show that music which is disliked, or just plain boring, causes more harm than random noise." Which explains why just about anything on MTV gives me a headache, while the last King Crimson record makes me all happy!

BTW, you'll need to register at the Times site to read the article. Do it! It's free, painless, and gives you access to lots of great info.

Felons and Guns - from the Charleston Sunday Gazette-Mail

This article appeared in today's edition of the local paper. I actually stumbled on the oral presentation of this case a while back at work. Basically, a circuit court judge (trial level) found most of the WV laws stripping convicted felons of civil rights - to sit on a jury, possess a firearm, etc. - to violate the state and federal constitution. The WV Supreme Court is set to hear argument on the case shortly.

If the Supremes uphold the unconstitutionality of the gun statutes, it could greatly effect federal gun prosecutions in WV. The federal felon in possession statute is very deferential to state law, to the point that the state can essentially trump the federal ban on cons possessing guns. I'll be interested to see what the Supremes do with this - in an election year, no less.

Welcome to Infinity Ranch!

This blog contains the various musings and stray thoughts of one thirty-something West Virginia lawyer. Check out the bio for more about me.

What about the name? Years ago I saw a story on ABCNews about a popularity of "cowboy" vacations - where you live on a ranch and coral doggies and everything - with Japanese tourists. One such ranch was called the "Lazy 8 Ranch". The sign over the ranch entrance had the number "8" on its side - a lazy 8. Not being familiar with Arabic numerals, one Japanese gentleman called it the "Infinity Ranch". I thought that sounded cool. So there you have it.