Friday, May 28, 2004

Album of the Day

Frank Zappa: Lather. The story of Lather's birth, death, and resurrection is too long and convoluted to go into here. Suffice to say the only official release to bear the title, released after Zappa's death, is a 3-disc sampler of Frank's work. Almost every style he worked in during the 70s is represented here, from short rock songs to long jazzy instrumentals to bits of modern orchestral music. And doesn't even include the 20+ minute cartoon for the ears that is "The Adventures of Greggary Peccary." Or the interstitial weirdness that pops up between tunes. This would make a great Zappa starter kit. Take what bits you like and follow those paths into the Zappa wilderness. If you don't like any of it, chances are you won't like any of the rest of his stuff.

And with that, the 2004 edition of my A-Z run through my CD collection has come to an end. It began on 26 January and took four months to work my way through 567 albums spread across 635 CDs absorbing 23 days, 16 hours, 53 minutes and 5 seconds of my time. Tune in for more Albums of the Day, starting next January.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Album of the Day

Frank Zappa: Make a Jazz Noise Here. Of the three albums born of Frank's last rock tour in 1988, MaJNH is the most "musical," focusing on the instrumental talents of the band. Disc one is hit and miss, as it contains no fewer than three fairly long pieces that contain copious improvisation (or at least sound like the do). Disc two is tighter and really shows what a talented bunch this was. Too bad it all went bad before most of the U.S. got to see them.

Ah, the Joys of Censorship

A while back I wrote about a new DVD player being sold at Wal-Mart that "removes" material the viewer finds objectionable. At that time, I came down on the side of the consumers having the choice to view things the way they want. Well, that might all be moot. A review of the actual workings of the system in The New York Times shows that it doesn't really work all that well.

Poaching Footballers (In Reverse)

With the move last season of several MLS players to the English Premier League, a hot topic of discussion has been which players will go next. As it turns out, the next footballer to take a transatlantic flight might be English. Johnny Wilkinson is the hero of the English rugby team that won the World Cup last year. He kicked the winning drop goal in the final. He is exploring the option of coming to America to play in the NFL. The reason is simple, as the BBC pointed out: "Top kickers in American Football can expect to earn £2-3m per year, a figure that dwarfs Wilkinson's £250,000 salary at Newcastle Falcons."

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Album of the Day

Frank Zappa: Jazz From Hell. This is the only one of Frank's Synclavier albums I own (aside from bits and pieces here and there) and, to be honest, it didn't really do it for me for a long time. It all sounded too synthetic (as you might expect), except for "G-Spot Tornado," which I knew in another version. A couple of years down the road, I've really grown to like most of it. Time to search out a copy of Civilization: Phase III, I guess.

Federalism Fights Back

During the 1990s, one of the favorite rallying cries of conservatives such as John Ashcroft was states rights and federalism. They howled when federal courts would overturn state laws, particularly those enacted via referendum, because they violated the US Constitution. Locals should be allowed some leeway, they said. So what is one of Ashcroft's first major acts in office? He issued a directive interpreting federal drug laws that designated physician assisted suicide, as legally practiced in Oregon, not a "legitimate medical purpose." If Oregon doctors prescribed controlled substances for that purpose, they faced prosecution and loss of their ability to prescribe drugs (and therefore their livelihood). The irony of a "states rights" conservative doing this was apparently lost on Ashcroft. All this took place less than two months after 9/11, by the way.

Today, in the Ninth Circuit, federalism fought back. The court invalidated the directive because it exceeded the Attorney General's power and interfered with an area of law that has been left to the states. The 2-1 opinion, which you can read here, is surely now on its way to the Supreme Court.

Struggling With Faith and the Law

An associate justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Champ Lyons, Jr., has written a lengthy essay about the intellectual struggle he went through during the whole 10 commandments shenanigans last year. In particular, Lyons lays out very well exactly why he, and the rest of the court, was bound by the federal court orders to remove the monument, even if they disagreed with the result. The essay includes concurring thoughts from numerous right-wing figures who you assume would have continued to take Moore's side on the struggle. While I don't agree with Justice Lyons's view of the First Amendment, his behind the scenes essay is a valuable view of the deliberative process.

It's Not Just a Few Bad Men

The New York Times headline says it all: "Abuse of Captives More Widespread, Says Army Survey." So much for the theory that this was limited to a few bad apples.

That's Awful Big of You, Too

Leave it to West Virginia to make headlines with a bigamy conviction. The defendant married his third wife before his divorce to Mrs. #2 was final (and repeated the cycle with #4!). His defense, as put forth by a former coworker of mine, was, basically, stupidity. He was "a good old boy who believes, for one reason or another, he's got to marry everybody he dates." Go figure.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Album of the Day

Frank Zappa: Roxy and Elsewhere: Of the many Zappa discs I own, if I were to be stuck on a desert island with just one, Roxy is it. I know some people prefer the Helsinki concert of (mostly) this band presented on You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Volume 2, but it doesn't work that way for me. The Roxy band is frequently bigger (horns!) and the material, on the whole, is better.

Singles of the World Unite

A column posted yesterday at The New Republic Online takes an interesting twist on the slippery slope arguments about gay marriage. The author claims that once gay marriage becomes entrenched the next group to demand marriage-like rights are single folks, of which the country has 100 million over the age of 16. While I'm not sure that's a completely valid guess, I do agree with one thing he says: the public benefits extended to gay couples will be paid for, by and large, by we singles. Which sucks.

Attack of the Misleading Headline

Several headlines dealing with the Supreme Court's decision in Nelson v. Campbell that I've heard and read are doing a great disservice to the public. Take this one in today's USA Today: "Death-row inmate allowed to appeal execution method." That makes it sound as if soon-to-be executed prisoners now have the right to challenge the electric chair, lethal injection, or whatever method of death will be visited upon them by the state. That is emphatically not what the Supremes said.

The condemned in this case is facing lethal injection. He has exhausted the challenges to his conviction and sentence, and indeed offered no resistance to the setting of an executing date. What he did challenge was the prison's decision to use a "cut down" to gain access to his drug-ravaged veins. They proposed to do this with only local anesthesia and without a physician. The prisoner filed suit to stop this as cruel and unusual punishment. Medical experts apparently agree (one testified that the only reason the prison would choose that procedure is because it is particularly painful) and the condemned offered several alternatives. In other words, he was not seeking, and the Court did not grant, to stop his execution.

But don't take my word for it, read the decision for yourself.

Let's Talk Fingerprints

By now most people are familiar with the plight of Brandon Mayfield, the Portland lawyer who was detained as a material witness in relation to the Madrid train bombings. Somewhat lost in the shuffle is the fact that his detention was based on a wrongly identified fingerprint by the FBI. Not only did the print not match Mayfield, it actually belonged to another person on the other side of the globe. In the recent litigation about the reliability of fingerprint identification, many courts have essentially given the government a pass on proving reliability (which has never been done) on the grounds that no one has yet proven fingerprint identification techniques unreliable. As the Abu Ghraib abuse is hopefully influencing the Supreme Court as it considers the detentions of US citizens in Cuba, I hope this incident will finally make courts force the government to prove the reliability of their evidence.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Album of the Day

Yes: Union. Ah, the wondrous things marketing can do. To the casual observer, Union was an all-star Yes album, bringing together damn near everybody who had ever played in the band. Visions of Bruford and White trading fills or Howe and Rabin bouncing riffs off each other filled the minds of impressionable consumers. The reality was quite different, as the album was basically made of tunes destined for a second ABWH album and a few YesWest tracks. The only cross over between the two was vocally, as Chris Squire sang backup on the ABWH tunes (with bass duties handled by Tony Levin) and Jon Anderson sang on everything! The resulting tour, which actually did have everybody playing together, was probably much better.

B Movies Have Better Production Values

Speed's Robin Miller opines today that yesterday's "Bump Day" at Indianapolis "was just a cheesey [sic] B movie." All due respect, Robin, I think most B movies have better production values than the guys who filled the field at the Brickyard yesterday. Is there any doubt that Tony George dipped into his own pocket to get some guys in the field to make it full? I have nothing against veterans such as Greg Ray or Richie Hearn scoring last minute rides - that's always happened. But Jeff Simmons or Marty Roth? C'mon. They've never driven a top-flight Indy Car in their lives (of course, to be fair, neither have any of the current IRLers who didn't spend time in CART) and their debut now comes in the 500?

As for the "will he or won't he" Tony Stewart saga, I feel one of two things to be true. The first possibility is that George staged the whole thing as a slight of hand to distract attention away from the fact that, for the second year in a row, there was on "bumping" on "Bump Day." Bring in an old IRLer, team him up with the legend that is AJ Foyt, then stand back and watch the press salivate. And it worked. The other possibility is that Stewart is such an egomaniac that he honestly thought he would waltz in and enter the race, in spite of the tangled legal web preventing such a thing. It looks like he was quite possibly talked down by his lawyer, of all things.

Regardless, the whole day was a farce, which is hardly a shock. Oh well, I have other plans for Sunday, anyway. Let's just hope George doesn't fuck up the US Grand Prix with such efficiency as he's demonstrated with the 500.

Fido, Esq.

A New York lawyer has been fined because he "barked like a dog at a witness during a deposition." I could not make that up. It's unclear what caused him to decided to get in touch with his inner canine during a deposition.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

Album of the Day

Yes: Relayer. At one point when I was a kid I took to taping good chunks of my brothers' record collections, even stuff I didn't really know all that well at the time. One day I was trying to tape Relayer, but my Mom put an end to that - "The Gates of Delirium" just had to be about drugs, she said. So that was that, until I got into college and started fleshing out my CD collection. When I finally got Relayer, I thanked Mom for stopping me earlier. Not because "Gates" really is a vicious appeal to drug use (it's about war, actually), but because it is so different from the rest of the Yes catalog that I'm not sure I was ready for it when I was younger. With more seasoned ears, I ate it up. It was the last great hurrah for the band.

Riding the Slippery Slope

The slippery slope is a time honored rhetorical technique: you argue that whatever your opponent supports, if it comes to pass, will result in a parade of horribles that nobody wants. Nowhere is the more evidence these days than in the debates over gay marriage. If legalized, the right wing says, it will surely lead to all sorts of nasty things. Today on Slate, Dahlia Lithwick examines that particular slope, including the possibility of "having sex with penguins outside JC Penney's." Penguin lust - nothing but oozes from hell!

Memorial Aesthetics

USA Today had an interesting article today about the critical response to the new World War II Memorial in DC. I knew there was great controversy over the location of the memorial, but I had no idea that the architectural elite have described it as "[l]ike something the Nazis would have built," and a "hodgepodge of cliche and Soviet-style pomposity." Poor choices for comparison, I think.

Time for a Cyber-Exorcism

When a group called The Church of Fools sets up a 3-D cyber church, can anybody be surprised when trouble makers crash the party? It seems that the Church has had to set tighter rules for the church after some folks raised cyber-hell, including one nicknamed "Satan" who "entered the pulpit and started to blaspheme." The solution includes "wardens" who have the power to "spite" misbehaving parishioners. I bet the Pope wishes he had that kind of power.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Album of the Day

Yes: Close to the Edge. Reading through the lyrics of the three songs on CttE at work today I was reminded of when I first got online back in college. At the time, most of my music collection was on cassette, taped from LPs that my brothers owned. Lyrics, therefore, were left strictly to my imagination. Once online, I discovered the many web sites devoted to various bands, complete with lyrics for every song imaginable. Including Yes. Once I found them, however, I had no great awakening as to what Jon Anderson was warbling about all those years. Even with the words right in front of my face, they make no sense. And the still don't. If any English prog band could get away with making an album in a foreign language, it would be Yes. But the music is great, so who cares?

I Knew This Was Coming

Largely overlooked in the wealth of information coming out of Iraq regarding the abuse of prisoners was the fact that Pfc. Lynndie England returned from Iraq pregnant. The Charleston Daily Mail is reporting that social conservatives have begun to bring light to that fact as ammunition for continuing to oppose putting women in combat positions. I expected as much - that bunch would never let a juicy sex scandal go unnoticed when it could distract people from the important issues of the day.

Looks Like I Picked the Wrong Day to Be a European Leader

What are the odds? In the space of 24 hours, two of Europe's most powerful leaders were targets of weird assaults. German Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder was slapped at a campaign rally, while UK Prime Minister Tony Blair was pelted with a package of purple powder while speaking in Parliament. Sometimes it doesn't pay to get out of bed in the morning.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Album of the Day

Webb Wilder: Doo Dad. Webb Wilder is, I think, a character created to front this band. I can't really be sure, though. It doesn't really matter, as the band itself is pretty cool. They pump out different sort of Southern rock, infused with a very weird lyrical sensibility.

Goin' to the Chapel (and the Courthouse)

As the expected flood of gay marriages gets underway in Massachusetts, FindLaw columnist Joanna Grossman examines the legal minefield that awaits the newlyweds. She also discusses the invocation by Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney of an archaic marriage law to keep out of staters from exploiting the situation.

The Defense Case Begins

As a criminal defense attorney, I certainly know that your case is only as good as the facts you have to work with. So I don't envy the lawyers getting ready to defend the various American soldiers charged with prisoner abuses in Iraq. Today's USA Today has this look at their strategy for the probably hopeless cases.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Album of the Day

Victor: Victor. Victor was the name Rush guitarist Alex Lifeson gave to his solo project back in the mid 1990s. While some of it sounds unmistakably like Lifeson, he experiments a lot with different sounds and textures. Aside from the very Rush-like "Promise," none of the other tunes would really fit in the trio's repertoire. The result is probably the most interesting Rush-related release in the past decade. It is, however, very dark lyrically. For instance, the album name is taken from a W.H. Auden poem about a man who kills his wife. Get the picture?

Breaker Morant

A while back I mentioned Netflix delivering to my door a copy of Breaker Morant, a brilliant Australian film about a controversial court-martial in 1902 South Africa. I got a chance to watch it over the weekend and it is staggeringly relevant to the current Iraqi prisoner abuse situation.

The film tells the true story of three Australian soldiers (fighting for the British) charged with murdering prisoners of war during the Boer War in South Africa. Alone, that doesn't sound that remarkable - it's something easily condemned by most civilized people. The twist, if you will, is that the three Australians were part of a special unit formed to fight Boer guerilla fighters - kommandos - on their own terms. They were to travel light, work on surprise and hit and run tactics, and live off the land. The tactics were very successful. They were not, however, particularly amenable to the taking of prisoners. Throw in a commander killed and mutilated in an ambush, and you have a situation ripe for abuse.

What makes the situation in the film sound in modern times is the defense put forward by the three Australians: they were following orders. Not neatly defined written orders, of course, but unwritten rules enforced by a lack of correction from superiors. New rules for a new war, it was often said. It's amazing how much of that argument, made in 1902, is the center of dispute more than 100 years later.

Breaker Morant is a brilliant film, and I would have recommended it long before the abuses in Iraq came to light. But with that background, it's examination of the messy intersection of morality, law, and the realities of war is particularly relevant today.

Where's the Very Public Apology?

Many people may vaguely remember the name James Yee. A Muslim, the Army chaplain was arrested amidst great fanfare last fall as an accused traitor, accused of passing information to and from detainees at Guantanamo. He was held in solitary confinement for 76 days. However, as USA Today elaborates today, the charges against Yee quickly fell apart, to the point that his record has been completely cleared. The Pentagon claims the charges were dropped for "national security reasons," but that explanatory isn't working on many military law experts. Yee's saga has prompted outrage from, among others, former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr. Barr, as far right as you can get and still be a Republican, has correctly pointed out that this is "what happens when you've removed any judicial oversight over what the government is doing."

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Album of the Day

Van der Graff Generator: Pawn Hearts: VdGG is not the most typical of prog bands, as they never really went for the overtly complex "busy" style of prog. They were much more subtle, and relied very heavily on Peter Hammill's intense vocals and lyrics. Still, one would be hard pressed to look at Pawn Hearts whopping three tracks (including the requisite 23 minute epic) and think they were just another band. Of those three, the stand out is "Man-Erg", which has not only excellent (and sadly timely) lyrics but musters the band's musical forces in the most effective way.

Conservative Call For Change

A long-time friend of mine sent me this the other day under the heading "please forward." It is not political spam or some type of Kerry-coordinated scheme. He speaks from the heart.

For those of you who do not know me, I was the perfect Republican. I voted for George HW Bush in my first election, followed by Bob Dole and GW Bush. I was a member of the College Republicans, a regular reader of National Review, a fan of Limbaugh.

A few months ago, I officially changed my party registration and voted for John Kerry and in the Maryland Democratic primary. Some might say I left the Republican party. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, the Republican party left me.

First of all, I want to say I still consider myself conservative. Anyone who knows me, how I live, my values and my way of doing things knows that.

"Conservative" can have many meanings, but for me it has always meant a respect for tradition, an understanding that history and society slowly evolve, and that what has been given to us by our forebears is the starting point for our own lives. In this sense, the Republican party is no longer conservative. It has become a party of revolutionaries who wish to remake our country and world into a social Darwinst, laissez-faire empire of American virtue and values based on their own narrow perspectives. Let me submit the evidence:

*There is nothing conservative about alienating our European allies and friends to start a war we didn't have to fight.

*There is nothing conservative about sub-contracting security operations in a war zone, something that has always been under the specific domain of the military.

*There is nothing conservative about running up our Federal deficit to unprecedented levels in the name of tax cuts.

*There is nothing conservative about adding on to the Medicare program, lying about how much it will cost, and having no way to pay for it.

*There is nothing conservative about loosening clean air rules that have been in place for 25 years.

*There is nothing conservative about opening vast amounts of our western parks and forests to everything from logging to snowmobiles, as has been done in Yellowstone National Park.

I could go on, but suffice it to say that I believe that the re-election of this president will irreparably harm our national prestige and reputation, our environment, our economy, our relationships with other nations, and quite frankly, our relations with each other.

When we were attacked on September 11, it brought our country together and our world behind us. NATO invoked Article V-the collective defense clause-and willingly went to our aid in Afghanistan. This president, by waging a needless war on an paper-tiger enemy with no realistic plan for follow up, has squandered the good will that we felt towards one anther and the good will the world felt for us. His unwillingness to carefully reason complex problems ("I don't see a lot of gray in the world") has led us into a fog with no clear solutions, and even conservatives are beginning to say that the best we may be able to do in Iraq is a military strong-man.

I am not here to say that John Kerry is perfect-his plan to balance the budget is not clear and I find his unflinching loyalty to the Democratic line on all social issues to be unfortunate. I am certain that he is better-infinitely better-than the alternative. He is a wise, brave, experienced man who does "see the gray in this world" and can heal our relations at home and abroad.

I am asking you to give him your moral and financial, if possible-now-so that he can win in November.

Are the Supremes Paying Attention?

FindLaw columnist Edward Lazarus writes today that Supreme Court justices considering the recently-argued Padilla and Hamdi enemy-combatant cases should be paying attention to the ongoing investigation into the abuse of Iraqi prisoners. As Lazarus puts it:

In light of the torture of Iraqi prisoners, it is now even more important that the Supreme Court definitively reject the Administration's claim of unbridled power. After all, the Administration's position always boiled down to the idea that the Executive could be "trusted" to handle the detainees fairly and appropriately.

That notion lies in tatters now -- rebutted by pictures so awful, we find them difficult to bear, and feel a national shame at the acts to which they testify. If the Court accepts the Administration's "just trust us" argument even after all the grisly instances of Executive Branch misconduct that have recently emerged, then it will be guilty of a moral as well as legal abdication of catastrophic magnitude.

Lazarus also points out that, during oral argument, Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement, in responding to a question from the Court, said that "our executive" doesn't utilize "mild torture" as a means of gathering information. That claim is false, at best, and a lie, at worst. While Lazarus seems to let Clement slide and place the blame for that on the Department of Defense, another commentator isn't so generous.

Regardless, it should be clear by this point that the administration that begs for the courts to "trust" it has obliterated any trust that ever existed.

Taking the Long View on Torture

Today's USA Today cover story was an historical and psychological overview of torture during wartime. In short, the experts are so surprised that we're surprised that it goes on. Whether that's a good thing or not, I'm not sure.

Raw Facts on Abu Ghraib Now Available

FindLaw has published the Taguba Report, which details the alleged abuses of Iraqi prisoners by American troops. Gory pictures not included.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Album of the Day

Tusk: Requiem for Ecstasy. Most of these selections are albums I really like, that I hope to maybe inspire someone to go check out. This album is not one of those. It is one of the two worst albums I own, I think. It's just poor, from stem to stern. Tusk is a German hard rock band (how I got this from a progressive rock contest I'll never know) without a firm grasp of the English language. But the music's so dull that the poor lyrics don't matter much anyway. Stay away at all costs.

For All the ACLU Haters

The ACLU frequently is labeled "anti-Christian" or "anti-God" by those on the other side of whatever controversy is going on. The ACLU rightly says that it's only client is the Constitution, and that it fights for the individual rights of religious people as well as atheists and other non-religious folks. Here, from Michigan, is a perfect example of the ACLU taking "God's" side, if you will. It represented a high school girl who wasn't allowed to put a Bible verse in her yearbook.

The Naked (Video) Games People Play

Video games have long drawn fire from right wingers for having lots of violence in them. Guess what? Now we can add sex to the mix! It seems that a few new games will push the envelope of what has been acceptable in mainstream titles. One even revives the legendary Leisure Suit Larry franchise, which is never a bad thing.

Hard Time Is Getting Harder

A recent report documents the sharp rise in the number of people serving life sentences for various crimes. That number has increased 83% in the past 10 years, do to "three strikes" laws and various other initiatives. While I realize that life in prison is probably appropriate in some cases, my experience has taught me that throwing someone in the joint and giving them no hope of ever getting out is every bit as cruel and unusual as the death penalty. If we even pretend that prison should be more than a warehouse, we need to let every inmate have some hope of getting out, even if many never actually do.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Album of the Day

Timothy Pure: Blood of the Berry. Sometimes you buy an album, put it in the CD player, push "play", and it immediately knocks you over. Alternately, you sometime do the same thing and think "I'm never going to listen to that ever again!" With this album, I did neither. What it made me do was constantly go back and listen to it again and again, even though it didn't really work for me. Then, one day, it clicked. Blood of the Berry has ended up one of my favorite albums and a lesson in the delayed rewards some art can deliver.

This Is Not a "Scandal"

Almost every news story I see, hear, or read about the Iraqi prison abuse situation labels it a "scandal." The use of that word, in this context, seems to me to diminish and downplay the significance of what went on there. To me a scandal is something that embarrasses and disgraces people in power, but doesn't really have an effect on other people's lives. A president having an affair with his intern, for instance. Merriam-Webster Online seems to back me up on this, defining a scandal as "a circumstance or action that offends propriety or established moral conceptions or disgraces those associated with it." For my money, accusations of torture and sexual abuse rise well beyond offending propriety. But maybe I'm wrong.

There Were No Direct Orders - No Shit

Congress has begun digging into the issue of American treatment of Iraqi detainees, with a hearing today that included testimony from Major General Antonio Taguba. General Taguba was responsible for one of the first reports about what was going on at Abu Ghraib. Not surprisingly, he told the Senate Armed Services Committee that there were no "direct orders" to torture Iraqi detainees. No kidding! The question of whether the abuses perpetrated by some of our soldiers were committed with the approval of superiors is much more complicated than whether there were "direct orders" or not.

Yet Again More Government Fun With Biology

Hot on the heals of yesterday's New York court ruling that a poor couple weren't to reproduce further comes oral argument in the Ohio Supreme Court in a similar case. The Ohio case involves a father of six (or seven) children who owes more than $30,000 in child support. This "man" was ordered by an Ohio judge to take "all reasonable efforts" to not produce any further kids (or "victims," as the state put it). It will be interesting to see where the court comes out on this.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Album of the Day

3rDegree: Human Interest Story. After I first wrote a review of this album way back when, I got an unsolicited Email from bass player/keyboardist/song writer Robert James. As he was the only source from which a new copy of the album could be bought, he wondered where I got my copy. Somewhat regretfully, I bought it used (along with Kevin Gilbert's Thud, of which James was a fan), I told him. We went on to talk a little bit about the fate of the band that had no real home. Their music wasn't really out there enough for hard line prog fans, but was too "weird" for mainstream consumption. Which is a shame, because the album itself is a very good collection of "near prog" rock.

The Torture Never Stops has an interesting column today that ponders the question of when torture should be employed to get information from prisoners, if ever. I tend to favor never employing torture to get information, even in so-called "ticking bomb" situations. Aside from the moral problems, torture basically works equally well to produce accurate and false confessions, which makes any information obtained via torture suspect.

Let the Finger Pointing Begin (redux)

As I predicted last week, those close to soldiers in Iraq accused of abusing Iraqi prisoners have begun to aim the blame at those higher up in the food chain. Although the "we were just following orders" defense doesn't work (ask the Nazis), it's worth considering that the low-level MPs may have simply been doing what their superiors wanted. In a not completely ironic bit of timing, Netflix today delivered to my door Breaker Morant, a brilliant Australian film that deals with soldiers who committed horrible acts that were at least tolerated by their superiors, until they came to light.

More Government Fun With Biology

A New York judge has become the latest in a string of jurists to impose conditions restricting the reproductive rights of litigants. In this case, the judge ordered the couple to have no more children until the ones they've already produced are no longer in foster care. While I agree with civil liberties advocates quoted in the article that the order (which has no means of being enforced, the judge recognized) is "blatantly unconstitutional," it's hard to muster a lot of sympathy for a couple who didn't even show up for the hearing.

Friday, May 07, 2004

Album of the Day

Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense. This is technically a "soundtrack" album of the Jonathan Demme-directed concert film of the same name. Of course, it is just a concert film, so the "soundtrack" was an essential part of the experience. I have the originally released CD version with only some (9) of the tracks in the flick. While I never really considered myself a huge Talking Heads fan, the concert itself it very good and covers the highlights of the band's career to that point. Clever quirky pop and a really big suit - what more could you ask for?

Words to Live By

As Donald Rumsfeld went before Congress today, I wonder if he paused to consider some of the "Rumsfeld Rules" he discussed with The Wall Street Journal back in 2001. As reported in today's USA Today, those rules included "If you foul up, tell the president and correct it fast. Delay only compounds mistakes" and "In politics, every day is filled with numerous opportunities for serious error. Enjoy it." Perhaps the most appropriate for today: "Be able to resign. It will improve your value to the president and do wonders for your performance."

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Album of the Day

Sting: Bring on the Night. Right after The Police split up, Sting did a pretty bold thing in putting together a band of jazz guys to record his first solo album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles. As good as that album is with its pop-jazz hybrid, the follow-up live album is just dynamite. The jazz guys get room to roam live and the re-engineered Police tunes are fantastic. The accompanying film (which doesn't appear to have made its way to DVD, which is a shame) is also great.

All About Porn

ReasonOnline has an interesting article entitled "Xtreme Measures: Washington’s new crackdown on pornography." It's far from a tedious discussion of DC politics, however. It's actually very funny, and it talks about a case that, I think, passed briefly through our office (I'll let you figure out which one). Be warned: if you're offended by poop videos or the idea of Cum-Kleen personal wipes, you best look elsewhere.

Waive Your Life Away

A column on FindLaw today tackles an interesting question: can a defendant in a death penalty case waive his right to present mitigating evidence? Normally in the penalty phase of a death case the defendant puts on evidence about his life and background as mitigation for his offense - in essence the "I've had a shitty life so please don't end it" defense. In a recent New York case, the defendant declined to put on such evidence, mainly because of the strain it would put on his family. The columnist lays out arguments on both sides of the issue of whether such a waiver should be allowed.

As the F1 World Turns . . .

Speed has more details on the agreed points during Monday's meeting of F1 power brokers in Monaco. Apparently manual gearboxes are out, as the current semi-auto setups actually cost less. Also, the 2.4 liter V-8 engine proposal may give way to continued use of 3.0 liter V-10s that would last for six races (!) rather than the two proposed by Max Mosley.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Album of the Day

Squirrel Nut Zippers: The Inevitable. Thanks to the gift-giving of my college room mate, I own not one but four Zippers albums. I'm not sure I can point to any one being better than the others, but that's not a bad thing. The band broke at the same time as the neo-swing thing was going on, and they got lumped in with that bunch more than often. Which is not really accurate, as the Zippers are more steeped in 1920s and 30s pop and jazz than true "big band" music. So they have horns, big deal (I wouldn't call Zappa's 88 band a "swing" band, would you?). Besides, the Zippers show a modern lyrical style that alternately clashes and seamlessly melds with their retro sound. Plus how can you not like a band that has a tune called "Lugubrious Whing Whang"?

F1 Changes Course, or So It Seems

F1 power brokers met in Monaco yesterday to discuss F1 president Max Mosley's radical ideas for how to reform the series. The result, according to Mosley, is agreement on most of his proposals, meaning they will kick in by 2006 rather than 2008. Those changes include smaller more durable engines, one tire manufacturer in the series, and a return to real manual gearboxes (with clutches!). At least one "senior F1 insider" case some doubt on Mosley's comments, noting that an agreement had been reached in principle but that, as always with F1, the "devil is in the detail."

It seems to me that F1 is at a turning point in its existence. It has existed for most of its history as both the pinnacle of driving talent and engineering prowess. F1 cars have always been among the most advanced in the world. In the modern age, however, the push for higher technology has been slowly taking control of the car out of the hands of the drivers and into the hands of computers and automated systems. The problem, of course, is that this mirrors the rise of this technology in the rest of the motoring world. Traction control is a great demon in F1 (and other series), but it's becoming commonplace on street cars. The F1 paddle-style mostly-automatic gearbox is in line technologically behind radical new CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) units that are debuting in high-end luxury cars. Street driven sports cars now possess electronic suspension control.

My point is this: F1 can no longer have it both ways. The technology is moving to slowly replace the driver. If the series wants to remain the highest level of driving competition, it must cut back in certain areas to keep the drivers involved in the driving of their cars. Does that mean live rear axles, carburetors, and 4-speed gearboxes? No. But it means a letting go of the idea that F1 must be the engineering peak of the automotive world.

The Rise and Fall of Leeds United

Back in 2001, as I was just beginning to really follow English soccer, Leeds came to my attention by making a run through to the semi-finals of that season's Champions League. Compared to the big budget star-laden teams from Man United, Real Madrid, or Bayern Munich, Leeds seemed like a real team success story. A situation where the group of players playing as a whole was more important than any one player. So I took the team as my own and they became my favorite team in the Premiership - I even have the jersey and scarf to prove it. Last weekend, after a 4-1 loss at Bolton, Leeds are headed for relegation a mere three years after that magical Champions League run. BBC Online has a good interactive timeline of what went wrong for the team that, in 1992, won the top league crown in England. It's an object lesson in overreaching and unintended consequences. See you in the Nationwide next season, lads.

Judging the War, From a Distance

A columnist in today's USA Today makes a persuasive case for not judging the success or failure of the war in Iraq until it can be done from the perspective of history, rather than current events. As he points out, most wars contain numerous fuck ups, on all sides. The victors are usually the ones who recognize their mistakes and adapt the best. Which makes me hope that the powers that be in the Pentagon have a better "mistake detector" than Dubya.

Wow, It Really Is Just Like an Old Country Store!

Cracker Barrel yesterday settled a civil rights lawsuit brought by the Department of Justice on behalf of African-American patrons across the South. It seems that in keeping with its "old country store" theme, several stores practiced racial segregation, dumping blacks into "ghettos" apart from other customers. Servers were allowed to switch with each other to avoid serving black customers. Cracker Barrel, of course, denies any wrongdoing. And this after we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Brown?

Unintended Hybrid Consequences

As more and more gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles make their way to the nation's roads, they bring a new problem along with them: proper training and equipment for those who respond to car accidents. It seems that flying at a Toyota Prius with traditional extraction tools, such as the famous Jaws of Life, may be a profoundly bad idea. The batteries in such vehicles carry up to 40 times the charge of traditional batteries. Cutting into one, therefore, could kill a potential rescuer. Thus the higher costs of hybrids rest not only on those dedicated enough to pay twice as much for a Prius as the similar sized Echo but on those of us whose taxes pay to train EMTs and such who deal with car wrecks. That's not a bad thing, just an interesting consequence that I imagine was not in the minds of many hybrid buyers.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Album of the Day

Spock's Beard: The Light. Back in 1995 I happened on to the Beard's website and after listening to a few sound clips I knew I had to have the album. It took three mailings and a phone call from guitarist Al Morse (complete with a rendition of "Country Roads" once he realized I was in West Virginia) before I finally got my hands on it, but it was worth it. At times, I think The Light is still the best Beard album. At any rate, it's a milestone for modern symphonic prog.

Your Patriot Act at Work

In the debate about the Patriot Act it's supporters argue that it really isn't a great threat to civil liberties and gives law enforcement essential tools to fight the war on terror. For an example of the threats it does pose to fundamental freedoms, check out this column from Findlaw. It discusses a prosecution against an Idaho student for providing "expert advice" to terrorist groups for running a website.

Let the Finger Pointing Begin

The news over the weekend was dominated by the emerging details of American mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners of war. What began as an outrageous isolated incident so out of bounds as to have Dubya condemning it has begun to spiral into a much larger problem. Questions are being asked about whether this really is an isolated incident and whether this was closer to standard operating procedure that we'd like to believe.