Friday, July 30, 2004

How Far Can Fiction Go?

The Christian Science Monitor has an interesting article about a sure to be controversial new book. Checkpoint, by Nicholson Baker, is a short novella in which two characters argue about whether to assassinate the President. Not a non-name, fictional President, mind you, but one George W. Bush. The book appears to present the would-be killer (doesn't say what the outcome is) as unbalanced and not at all rational. Still, right-wingers are bound to get pissed about it.

Alabamians Can Sleep Safely, Again

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals has once again made Alabama safe from the scourge of sex toys. The court reversed a lower court's decision that the US Constitution contained a right to privacy that included the use of sex toys in the privacy of your own home. To be fair, the court pointed out right up front that they were not dealing with laws regulating the possession or even use of sex toys, only the "commercial distribution" of them. And not even that, really, if you read between the lines. As with the notorious Texas prosecution that was recently dismissed, the law would seem allow the sale of sex toys as "novelties" or "action figures" or anything other than aids to sexual gratification.

Is this a great country or what?

A Shortage of Lawyers?!?

No, it's not the Chamber of Commerce's wet dream, there really is a lawyer shortage, at least when it comes to representing indigent criminal defendants in Massachusetts. As a result, the Supreme Judicial Court has decreed that defendants who are held for 7 days after arrest with seeing a lawyer must go free and those who are without counsel for 45 days have their charges dismissed. Court appointed counsel (private attorneys who handle indigent criminal cases, not PDs) in the Bay State make a whopping $30 an hour for their services. That pales in comparison to what they could charge in the private sector for almost any conceivable service. Hell, that makes a PD's salary look pretty good!

Thursday, July 29, 2004

So, God Is Like a River of Red-Hot Liquifying Goo?

I'm in the market for a house, which means that I do a lot of exploring into neighborhoods I've never seen before. While poking around greater downtown Poca this afternoon, I saw a sign advertising a local church's upcoming vacation bible school. It was billed as "the hottest VCBS ever!" and called "Lava Lava Island." The tag line: "Where Jesus's Love Flows!" I bet it does.

Wiccans Beware

A local couple is suing the state Department of Health and Human Resources for harassment that resulted in the loss of their jobs and children (briefly). The reason? The couple are Wiccans, which prompted DHHR to assume they were Satanists who would eventually sacrifice their four children. One social worker gave them $300 and suggested they leave the state! Wild and wonderful, indeed.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Back to the Beginning, Again

Just when you thought the whole Blakely mess couldn't get more convoluted, the State of Washington has filed a petition for rehearing with the Supreme Court. Washington wants the Court to reconsider its ruling based on the Court's flawed assumption about sentencing procedures at the time of the nation's founding. Conventional wisdom says that sentences in those days were tied directly to guilty verdicts and left judges with no discretion (i.e., you get convicted of grand larceny you get 10 years, no mercy, no probation, etc.). Washington points out that several of the founders helped draft the initial U.S criminal code that included discretionary sentencing (i.e., at least 5 years, given the judge discretion to sentence anywhere between 0 and 60 months). Interesting historical point, but I'm not sure it invalidates any of Blakely or its theoretical underpinnings.

Wonder if She's Democrat or Republican?

In Minnesota, a candidate for the state's supreme court will likely be taken off the ballot because she has previously been found incompetent -- twice. That's right, in court proceedings relating to charges of vandalism and violating a restraining order, she was found not competent to be prosecuted. Prosecutors failed in attempts to civilly commit her. I wonder which party is looking for a hasty replacement in November?

A Congressional Back Door on Gay Marriage

While the GOP-sponsored anti-gay marriage Constitutional amendment is apparently dead, members of the House of Representatives have approved another possible measure to block the spread of gay marriage across the country. As Findlaw columnist Joanna Grossman writes today, the Marriage Protection Act would strip the Supreme Court and other lower federal courts of the jurisdiction to hear cases relating to the Defense of Marriage Act. DOMA, passed a few years ago and signed into law by Bill Clinton (thanks, Bubba), allows states to not recognize gay marriages performed in other states. The constitutionality of DOMA is uncertain, given the Constitution's Full Faith and Credit clause, which requires one state to give effect to the legal judgments of all the other states. As Grossman points out, there are arguments on both sides that DOMA will pass constitutional muster. Nonetheless, the GOP apparently isn't willing to take that risk. The MPA, thankfully, looks to fail in the Senate and be unconstitutional to boot.

Bloggers v. Journalists, part I

USA Today has an interesting article about the mixing of bloggers and "real" journalists that have descended on Boston for the Democratic convention. There's some tension, apparently, between the old-school journalists and the nouveau bloggers, who frequently make no pretense of being objective (sound famiilar?). Look for similar skirmishes at the GOP convention in New York later this year.

Hooray for US

The United States recorded a dubious honor this week as the number of Americans in prison or on probation reached an all time high. Almost 7 million adults are in the service of the state and federal governments. That's 3.2 percent of the U.S. adult population. Put another way, that's more than three times the population of my fair state. That's really something to be proud of.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Where Have All the States Rightsers Gone?

As I've said many times in this space, the conversion of conservative Republicans from champions of states rights to devotes of Federal power - once they had the ability to wield it, of course. has an interesting column about that very subject. It explains why conservatives, rather than embracing the Supreme Court's revamped federalism jurisprudence (starting with US v. Lopez), have run away from it every time they get the chance. While I'll admit that it's correct in pointing out that the conversion of liberal Democrats away from Federal power is equally two-faced, I think it too easily overlooks the "simple hypocrisy" argument.

Med Mal Politics Writ Large

John Kerry's selection of a running mate sent some doctors in this country into a tizzy because of John Edwards' career as a trial lawyer who made a lot of money doing medical malpractice work. That promises to make the whole issue of malpractice costs a national issue over the next few months. Now, just in time for the Democratic conviction, Findlaw's Anthony Sebok explains why doctors really have nothing to fear from Edwards. Sebok does a good job of examining the multitude of factors that have driver up malpractice costs and shows that large jury verdicts are a very small part of the equation.

What Next, Apple Pie?!

The Chinese have recently been "rediscovering" some pretty substantial achievements of their ancient ancestors. The most controversial is probably the theory that it was the Chinese who discovered the Americas. On a much smaller scale, they are now laying claim to inventing soccer as well. Or at least that's what FIFA President Sepp Blatter is saying these days. Sepp's track record on these kinds of pronouncements isn't really strong and he is no doubt kissing up to a emerging soccer market (China is currently hosting the 2004 Asian Cup finals). Still, it's making for some awfully pissed of Brits (as the linked article demonstrates). I take comfort in one thing, however, if the Chinese claims are true: it will forever put to rest the endless bickering over Americans calling the game "soccer" instead of "football," as it was called "cuju" in the first place.

Blakely in the Fourth Circuit

The Daily Press of Hampton Roads, Virginia, had an article yesterday about US v. Hammoud, which is the case the Fourth Circuit has chosen to be its en banc test case for Blakely and the Sentencing Guidelines. Going solely on my gut feeling, the facts don't present a great case for our side:

The appeals court in Richmond will consider the impact of Blakely in the case of Mohamad Hammoud, who was sentenced to 155 years in prison after being the first person convicted under a federal law that bars aid to terrorist groups. Hammoud led a North Carolina cigarette-smuggling ring that funneled money to the militant Lebanese group Hezbollah.

While a 155 year sentence for smuggling smokes does sound like the sort of "absurd" result Scalia warned against in Blakely, I have a hard time seeing the Fourth giving the benefit of the doubt to an alleged financier of terrorism. I would love to be proven wrong, tho'.

Friday, July 23, 2004

Have Your Say!

Due to popular demand (OK, I got one Email - but somebody is reading!), I've enabled the commentary feature here at the Ranch. That means that you, dear reader(s), can now talk back to yours truly. Be gentle.

NP: Marillion, Shot in the Dark (DVD) (the "Bell in the Sea" bonus cut, actually)

Bad Poetry is Not a Crime

The California Supreme Court handed down a decision yesterday that will sadly blunt the nation's ongoing war on bad angst-ridden adolescent poetry. The case involved a high school student who showed some other students some really bad poetry. Not only was it bad, it was about stuff like death and evil and made reference to the then-ongoing stream of high school shootings. The readers promptly reported it (Ashcroft would be so proud!) and the William the Bloody in training was arrested and charged with making threats. He fought the case to the California Supreme Court, which held that the poems were not actual threats. As anyone who has ever taken an English lit class can tell you.

Politics and Performers

I have not lots a lot of sleep over the recent flaps about Whoopi Goldberg and Linda Ronstadt. They each lost a gig (a commercial deal and Vegas slot, respectively) due to either negative comments about Dubya or positive comments about agitators like Michael Moore. The outrage at their negative employment actions are well meaning, but overlook the right of the people paying the bills to not have their performers say something they don't agree with. Free speech works both ways, of course.

But in today's USA Today, a letter writer brought up another perspective: that of the paying customer. His point is that he (and most other paying spectators) don't appreciate their entertainment event being interupted for a paid political broadcast on behalf of some particular point of view. He cites a 1988 Jackson Browne concert he attended as an example of when that happened and it pissed him off, even though he agreed with the politics being spouted. The letter concludes this way: "I agree with the late Frank Zappa who said it best: ''Shut up 'n' play yer guitar.'"

This was written without any irony, as much as I can tell. Zappa, of course, was a very political perfomer, from his early Mothers days until his death. His last rock band tour, in 1988, had lots of political stuff as the Reagan era came to a close. Make a Jazz Noise Here and Broadway the Hardway show that he was registering people to vote in the lobby. Meanwhile, the set lists contained such political fodder as "When the Lie's So Big" (taking on the GOP), "Rhymin' Man" (Jesse Jackson), and "Jesus Thinks You're a Jerk" (the religious right), not to mention the numerous "Swaggart" versions of old classics. Broadway the Hard Way, in fact, is so politicized that my brother, a recent GOP convert, can't enjoy it.

So, whatever umph the letter had disolved in a fresh puddle of irony right there on the page of USA Today. Not that he is completely wrong, of course. I don't want to hear a disertation on globalization when Marillion hit the states this fall. But I wouldn't be surprised if more "activist" performers make it a regular part of the act. In any case, caveat emptor.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

You Can't Run a Town By a Book of Religion . . .

The Fourth Circuit handed down an interesting decision today in Wynne v. Great Falls, SC. The case involved a town citizen's challenge to the town council's practice of opening meetings with prayers. Not just any prayers, mind you, but ones that specifically supplicated to Jesus - no wishy-washy stuff here! The citizen, a Wiccan, tried to get the council to change its ways (at least substitute Jesus with God, which is an interesting Constitutional compromise), but only got abuse and scorn for her trouble. So, she sued. And, thankfully, she won.

The Blakely Train Rolls On

Two major developments in the past 24 hours indicate that the Blakely freight train currently blazing its way through the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines will frequently wind up in D.C. First, the Ninth Circuit weighed in, becoming the second Circuit Court to declare the Guidelines unconstitutional in the wake of Blakely. The Ameline decision is much more substantial than the Seventh Circuit's Booker decision and provides a good discussion of plain error review for Blakely issues (that I promptly inserted into my briefs). Second, the acting Solicitor General filed petitions with the Supreme Court seeking certiorari review of two lower court decisions. One is Booker, the other a district court case from Maine. If the Government gets its way, oral arguments would be scheduled for before the Court's traditional opening of term in October.

Welcome to Jail - Here's Your Bill

The Christian Science Monitor has a startling article about the growing practice of states and localities charging their prisoners for the costs of their incarceration. Aside from practical concerns - how are ex-prisoners, who are generally poor to begin with and nearly unemployable once released, going to pay these debts - this seems just downright wrong. These "guests" are there only due to the police power of the state to keep them there. If the costs of incarceration are overwhelming communities (as they seem to be), the better option would be to make greater use of non-incarceration sentencing, particularly for non-violent drug offenders.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

The Godless Are Growing

USA Today had an interesting article today about the slow shift in religious demographics in this country. The Protestant majority is nearly a thing of the past. Not only has new non-Protestant immigration started to swing things, but the number of people who claim "no religion" grew to 14% in 2002 (from 9% in 1992). I'm not sure, however, if that group includes only the atheists, agnostics, and secular humanists or if it includes those folks who are vaguely "spiritual" but don't subscribe to any particular creed.

Why Do They Come Back?

For the second time in recent memory, here is a news report of truly stupid inmate behavior. It seems that four jail inmates in Tennessee escaped (because the doors weren't locked!) from the pokey, went on a beer run, and returned to jail! For crying out loud, you idiots - once you escape from jail, you don't go back! At least they brought enough for everyone.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

That's A Lot of Nachos, Butthead

This story is presented solely for cheap laughs. It must be read to be believed.

Can I Have Your Autograph?

Washington Monthly has an interesting profile of Tommy Goldstein, one half of the DC law firm of Goldstein & Howe. Goldstein has, at the young age of 33, become a leading light in Supreme Court practice by aggressively pursuing cases from across the country. He did his first oral argument at the court when he was 29. Wow. Makes me feel like a bit of an underachiever.

Moving Into the 21st Century

In its next term, the United States Suprme Court is set to decide whether the Constitution prohibits using the death penalty on children. That's right, we execute kids in this country. A star-studded amicus brief was filed yesterday in the case. Those involved include Jimmy Carter, the American Medical Association, and the European Union. The brief points out that the United States is one of only five nations to have executed children in the past four years. The others: Congo, China, Iran, and Pakistan. Now that's proud company to be keeping.

Follow the Yellow Cert Road . . .

The DOJ's strategery for dealing with Blakely in the Supreme Court. Two cases have been selected by DOJ to head to the Supreme Court. One is the Fifth Circuit's decision knocking down the Guidelines, while another is a district court case from Maine doing the same thing. If all goes smoothly, the Court should hear the case(s) in its initial session in October. Of course, should the Court be so inclined, it could take up a cert petition filed by a defendant and review the whole thing under the plain error doctrine. I filed two petitions last week that would do quite nice, thank you.

Monday, July 19, 2004

That's Really Taking the Extra Crispy Thing Too Far

Being a sports car fan, I had high hopes that lots of NASCAR fans would tune in yesterday to see Dale Earnhardt, Jr. drive one of the GTS Corvettes in the ALMS race at Sears Point.  Unfortunately, an untimely spin in the morning warmup left Junior dazed, on fire, and, of course, out of the race.  I'm sure there are rabid Junior fans who are pissed beyond belief at the ALMS folks right now for risking their boy's career.  Hopefully they tuned away once informed of Junior's situation, as the race itself was quite a snore.  ALMS can only go on so log with three of its four classes on life support in terms of real competition.  And Champion running a second R8 is not the answer.
As for the media response to Junior's wreck, two things.  First, this was not an assassination attempt on the President or another Al-queda attack.  A race driver had a pretty nasty wreck and fire, but there was no need to interrupt regularly scheduled programming (the always exciting Speed World Challenge Touring race from Sears Point) or send one of the pit reporters to the hospital to stand vigil.  Calm down, guys.  Second, get your facts straight about what happened!  No,, Junior was not racing in Trans-Am or the Grand-Am series, and no, USA Today, he was not driving a "Corvette prototype" that he had raced earlier this year at Daytona (the 'Vettes, and anything resembling a real GTS car, were far from Daytona during the 24 Hours this year).  I know that the road racing situation in the US is chaotic sometimes (not Blakely world chaotic, but still), but at least do some research before you head for the keyboards.
And one more thing - is there any irony in the fact that the DEI spokesman who updated Junior's condition was named Crisp?

Interesting Definition of Integrity

According to, a man who had been on the lamb for 20 years recently gave himself up and received a 45 day sentence in federal court for his efforts.  The man pled guilty to drug smuggling in 1984 after being found on a boat loaded with pot.  Free on bond after his plea, he skipped town before being sentenced.  He spent the last two decades buidling lobster traps and picking vegetables in Florida until his daughter (with whom he recently reunited) convinced him to turn himself in.  The short sentence was motivated, in part, because the sentence judge was "moved by the man's integrity."  Interesting definition of integrity - skip out on your legal punishment for two decades and turn yourself in only after being convinced to do so by someone else.  Maybe those Sentencing Guidelines aren't such crazy things after all.
Speaking of the Guidelines, as another blogger pointed out, the judge was required to apply the law in effect at the time of the man's plea, which meant no Sentencing Guidelines (it was 1984, remember).  Is this a preview of the post-Blakley world?

Hooks In You

Sometimes, the world is so strange you can't even make up better stuff.  Consider this headline from "Meat hook dangling craze mystifies police."  When I first saw that, I figured it couldn't possibly mean what first sprang to mind - people hanging from meat hooks impaled through their bodies.  Consider this scene:

They [police] found that five young people had erected a bamboo tripod and hung meat hooks from it. A young woman, her feet brushing the surface of the shallow water, dangled from the frame, hooks embedded firmly in her shoulders
Emphasis quite definitely added by yours truly.  As a wise boy once said, "Dude, this is pretty fucked up."  Truly, these kids need jobs, or hobbies, or better drugs.  Possibly all three.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Careful What You Tell Your Doctor

A Pennsylvania man has lost his driver's license because of his drinking habits. He told his doctor, during an appointment about an irregular heartbeat, that he drank six beers a day. The doc relayed that info to the Pennsylvania DMV, which promptly yanked the license. State law placed the burden on the driver to get the license back. It should be noted that the driver had a clean record for 23 years and there was no indication he ever drank and drove. Which makes the doc's actions all the more repulsive, given the theoretical doctor-patient privilege. I guess it's not so alive and well in Pennsylvania.

No More Slipping Out of Jury Duty

One of the things that frequently gets forgotten in the medical malpractice debate is that most egregious awards handed out to plaintiffs come from juries, not judges. Some of the more reasonable "tort reform" groups, therefore, emphasize that one way to have an impact on such awards is to actually serve on juries. It's an old American tradition, of course, to do everything possible to avoid jury duty ("Tell 'em you're prejudiced against all races and religions," is Homer Simpson's sure fire way off a jury). But a Findlaw column today discusses a new model law making the rounds in the states that would make it harder to skip jury duty. While I agree it's probably too easy to skip jury duty (I did it once by simply blackening an oval on the form), I'm not sure the act will really help. Of course, whether attorneys should be able to strike jurors from a panel at all is a topic for another day.

Let's Talk Senatorial Experience

Remember last week when the GOP apparatus sprang into action to paint John Edwards, a U.S Senator, as lacking the experience to be vice president? I'm not saying that it's completely on the same level, but I think Mike Ditka lacks the qualifications to be a U.S. Senator. Ditka is the leading candidate to replace GOP Illinois Senate nominee Jack Ryan, whose great sin was having the luck to sleep with Jeri Ryan for a while. Ditka's resume includes football player and coach, restaurant owner, and boner-medicine pitcher. No relevant governmental experience whatsoever. Nevertheless, his name recognition would make him a formidable candidate.

But, c'mon, GOP - do we really want Iron Mike "learning on the job" while the nation's at war?

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Confusion May Be Its Epitaph

It's been a while since I blogged about Blakely and its impact in federal court. Almost three weeks later, it's safe to say that no one really has a good handle on where this is going. summarizes the current situation pretty well. The Circuit Courts of Appeals have begun to get involved, with two coming to opposite conclusions as to Blakely's impact on the Guidelines. Another Circuit has, somewhat out of the blue, invoked a rarely-used procedure to present the question directly to the Supreme Court.

Today, the Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing on the issue, most of which I managed to see. The Committee members seemed eager to so something, viewing the current situation as a "crisis." Most of those testifying, on the other hand, urged caution and argued that, while things are a bit uncertain, the courts are dealing with the matter just as they do any Supreme Court directive. I'll admit, that rings a little hollow coming from a district court judge who just explained how the four judges in his district have come to four different resolutions of the issue.

As for options, The New York Times reports on the Kansas system of bifurcated trials and ponders whether that system would fly in federal court.

Lawyers In Love With Their Work

There are two abiding myths among the general public about lawyers. The first is that we do what we do mostly for money, while the second is that we're generally miserable while doing so. I suppose there's some karmic projection in those two misconceptions, but, thankfully they're incorrect. Not only do most attorneys not practice law only for the money, but 3 out of 4 of us are fairly happy with our jobs.

Speaking only for myself, I didn't go to law school because of the money and I certainly haven't practiced public interest law for the last five years to pad my bank account. I did it because I honestly enjoy the intellectual challenge that the practice of law brings on a daily basis. As for job satisfaction, definitely count me in the 75% who are happy with things. At least until the Blakely train comes off the rails.

Missing the Point Completely

Over the past year, fabled Italian automaker Maserati stoked the dreams of sports car fans everywhere by producing the MC12. The car, essentially a reworked Ferrari Enzo, is a thing of beauty, but last week both FIA and the ACO (the group that runs the 24 Hours of Le Mans) rejected the MC12 for competition at Le Mans and in the FIA GT series. Some commentators are lamenting that decision, whining on about what a missed opportunity it was to bring some pizazz back to sports car racing. What they don't grasp (or conveniently overlook) is that the MC12 is different from traditional GTs, such as the Ferrari 575, Corvette, and Lamborghini Murcielago, because it has a carbon fiber chassis. That makes the MC12 much more like an Audi R8 LMP than a 'Vette. Allowing the MC12 into FIA GT or the Le Mans GTS class would raise the cost of entry so much as to kill the classes. FIA and the ACO made the right call.

Monday, July 12, 2004

They'd Probably Burn the Permit, Too

Let's hear it for red tape! A Bible-thumping church in Iowa had their plan for a good ol' fashioned book (and CD and video and . . .) burning scuttled by city and county ordinances that prohibit outdoor burning. The city of Cedar Rapids does not allow "burning rubbish as a recreational fire," (I'm not sure this qualifies, to he honest) but the surrounding county prohibits the transportation of materials out of the city into the county for public burning. Not to worry, thought police fans - the destruction will continue with the congregation throwing the offending materials into a dumpster while holding candles symbolic of the burning.

We Can Draft Hornsby or Weird Al

Have you ever really thought about the benefits of own a fine accordion? How about instant employment with the Air Force? It seems that the USAF has been without an accordionist for two years and is on the prowl for a replacement. The downside is that you still need to go through the full boot camp, but after a life of playing polka music I'm not sure that's all that much of a hardship.

Postponing Elections

Fresh on the heels of Tom Ridge's non-descript warnings about upcoming terrorist threats comes word that the administration is examining how the November elections could be postponed in the event of an attack. On the one hand, I understand the need for some sort of contingency in the event of a widespread terrorist attack of massive proportions. Seems only prudent (9/11, it has been pointed out, was an election day in New York). But on the other hand, given all the shit this administration has pulled to date, I sense an ulterior motive. After all, the country held regularly scheduled elections during the Civil War (with the Army of the Virginia at the gates, no less) and World War II. And even 9/11, as horrible as it was, only affected two cities. Hopefully, the debate will be entirely hypothetical.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

The More Things Change . . . has an interesting article about the 1954 World Cup final between Hungary and West Germany. At the time, the Hungarians were the major power and the Germans were a struggling soccer nation. The Germans won the final 3-2 in a huge upset that changed the course of each nation's soccer program. The West Germans went on to be a major world power for years to come (are they still? It's debatable), while the Hungarians slid into obscurity, assisted by the Soviet crackdown of 1956. Does all this have any bearing on the future of the Greek national team? Their Euro 04 win over Portugal was an upset, although not of such monumental proportions, and it was their first major championship (only their third Euro or World Cup finals appearance, I think). Is their star on the rise?

On a related note, check out the scores of the games in the 1954 World Cup. The 3-2 final was a veritable pitchers duel in comparison to the others!

The Campaign Is Officially Underway

With the Kerry/Edwards ticket now complete, the barbs are flying betwixt the Democratic hopefuls and the incumbents. Dubya, when asked how Edwards stacks up against Cheney tersely responded, "Dick Cheney can be president." Ooh, what a razor-sharp wit you have! Actually, according to the Constitution anyone "can be president" as long as they are a natural-born US citizen, at least 35 years old, and have resided in the US for at least 14 years. No experience necessary (but some opportunity needed). Which is, of course, how a failed oil and baseball exec with a robust six years of experience as a state governor made the cut.

Kanga Is Pissed and On the Prowl

This is a headline only Monty Python could love: Warning over killer kangaroos. Apparently the severe Australian drought is driving kangaroos into the cities, where they are having run ins with people and their pets.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

Try and Get My Good Side (If I Have One)

One of my professional goals is to have a nice sketch of myself in action in front of the Fourth Circuit or the Supreme Court. With that in mind, I stumbled on an interesting BBC story about their courtroom sketch artist. She brought the concept from California and, under British court rules, is not allowed to even briefly sketch anything in the courtroom. She takes notes and does the sketches in a press room.

Release the Hounds

It didn't take long after John Kerry's announcement of John Edwards as his running mate for the GOP to come out swinging at the would be Veep. Near the top of the list of talking points was the fact that Edwards is a big-time trial lawyer and is somehow in the pocket of the trial attorney lobby. Fine, I'll conceded that. The Dems hammered the fact that Dubya and Cheney were shills for the oil companies, without much effect, so I don't think that issue will get them anywhere.

More ironic to me is the chorus of GOPers harping on Edwards's lack of foreign policy experience. Now is not the time for him to learn on the job. That would carry a lot more weight had the current resident of the White House had any relevant foreign policy experience before he took office. Also, that seems to conveniently overlook that many recent presidents, including the source of all that is good and holy, Ronald Reagan, had no foreign policy experience to speak of when they took office, either (Bush the Elder is a conspicuous exception). But, then again, maybe they have a point - look how well the last amateur has done.

What surprises me is that the GOP attack dogs have to this point overlooked (or neglected to mention) Edwards's recent coronation as the Biggest Douche in the Universe. Probably saving it for after Labor Day.

So That's What Country Clubs Are For

I always figured that the perks of country club membership were limited to privileged tee times and the ability to look down on the common man. I had no idea that dining in the nude was one of them. A Louisiana court has struck down a men-only policy in the aptly named "Men's Grille" at a country club in Shreveport. Among the defenses put up to the impending invasion of the fairer sex in the Men's Grille was the fact that some of the men in the restaurant dined while "a towel or nothing at all." Oooooo K.

Monday, July 05, 2004

I Hope There's An Intermission

One must love John Cage, the minimalist composer known for his avant garde works such as "4:33" and, of course, the soundtrack for the South Park non-denominations non-offensive winter solstice show. But this really takes balls: in an abandoned church in Germany, Cage's newest work is playing out over 639 years. You read that right - 639 years. It's played on a church organ with weights holding down keys (Keith Emerson would have used knives). Every so many years, new pipes are added to contribute to the cacophony. The tune started out one and a half years of silence. Cage himself has been dead since 1992. This work, officially titled Organ2/ASLSP ("Organ squared/As slow as possible") was originally written for piano in 1985 and rearranged for organ two years later.

Next time anyone calls a prog band "pretentious" for daring to write a song that lasts longer than 5 minutes, I want them to think of this.

Friday, July 02, 2004

Ah, Politics (Redux)

I know Dubya's reelection efforts are getting desperate, but dredging voters from church registries is a new low. And just in case anybody thinks this opinion comes just from your humble non-religious narrator, consider the opinion of Rev. Richard Land, who handles ethics and religious liberty issues for the Southern Baptist Convention: he is "appalled." I'm not in favor of any politician stumping for votes in a church or any other religious building. But, I guess it's inevitable. Religion is, after all, the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Wasn't I Just Saying This?

Just last week, I was bidding a fond farewell to the Italians from Euro 04 after their staggeringly dull group play managed to produce a whopping 3 goals in 3 games. I hoped that this might mark the end of "take no chances" soccer and encourage teams to actually play for the win. Apparently, I'm not alone, as Beau Dure points out in his new column. His target is not the Italian national team, but rather the teams in MLS. Exhibit A, a comment from Freddy Adu last week after DC's 1-1 draw in Dallas that both teams were playing to "protect the tie" in the dying minutes. As Dure points out, this attitude seems prevalent in the league this year, partly because no team has any real incentive to sprint away from the pack.

An embarrassing 8 or 10 teams in MLS make the playoffs, making the regular season almost meaningless. Even home-field in the playoffs doesn't mean much, as the first round are home-and-home and the MLS Cup is on neutral ground (unless you're the Galaxy). Only the conference finals, held at the home of the lowest remaining seed, really give a team an advantage. Personally, I think MLS would be well advised to take a page from the NFL and make every round (except the final) a 1-leg knockout match hosted by the lower seed. Home-and-home series have their place, and the San Jose-LA series last season was really a cracker, but that place is not in MLS. Home-and-home series work in the Champions League precisely for the reason they aren't needed in MLS - because the two teams haven't played the same schedule it is impossible to declare one more deserving of hosting a 1-leg knockout. The whole of the MLS regular season is set up to make that determination, and then it's meaningless.

Personally, here's my system. Top 6 make it into the playoffs. Round 1 give the top finishers in the conferences a bye and play the other 4 teams in a 1-leg knockout match at the home of the lower seeds. The winners move on to the conference finals and from there everything works as normal. The regular season becomes more meaningful and you get a full month of intense knockout action (host the US Open Cup final the week after the MLS Cup final). Make sense to me!

Let the Show Trials Begin (Redux)

The day after Saddam Hussein's first appearance in court facing war crimes charges, his former subjects are not universally pleased. The depths to which some of these people are deluded really makes you wonder if something vaguely resembling democracy has any chance in Iraq. They don't deny Saddam's alleged crimes, but have easy justifications for them. Killing political and religious leaders and brutally suppressing a Kurdish uprising? According to one man, "[t]hose mass graves were all graves of looters and criminals." The 1990 invasion of Kuwait? Justified by Kuwaiti insults to the honor of Iraqi women (whom the Kuwaitis wanted to turn into prostitutes).

The idea of the rule of law does seem to be sinking in with some Iraqi's, however. A young doctor said, "[h]e tortured our people. He killed our people. He took our youth. Most of us suffered, . . .. He must be tried, and he must be tried fairly. . . . If he has a fair trial, maybe one day I'll have a fair trial." That is what equal justice for all is all about.

Supreme Court Recaps

Now that the Supreme Court has wrapped up for the summer (unless it reconvenes to deal with Blakely fallout), folks are starting to look back at the term as a whole. USA Today has an analysis that trumpets the Court's "protecting liberties" by taking "ideals from history" into consideration. While that's certainly true for cases like Blakely and Crawford, other decisions weren't quite so friendly to individual rights, such as the Ring retroactivity cases upholding hundreds of death penalty sentences, further erosion of Miranda (in Patane), and the "name thyself" Hiibel case.

For the most part, the three terrorism cases (Basul, Padilla, and Hamdi) have been regarded as victories for liberty and defeats for Dubya. Elaine Cassel argues differently on AlterNet. She fairly convincingly points out that the Court left the executive with lots of mostly unchecked (at least in reality) power.

As Long As We're Fixing Criminal Sentencing . . .

This article from Governing would be interesting enough in most times - it talks about the movement in the states towards alternatives to incarceration from criminal sentences, a movement being driven by Republicans - but it particularly interesting in the wake of Blakely. While it's good to see movement in this area, it's a shame that it was motivated (at least initially) by the bottom line rather than considerations of justice.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

As American as Apple Pie

Slate has a great column about that most American of sports - soccer! It examines the financial structures of European soccer leagues in comparison to American sports and rightly concludes that the dog-eat-dog system of promotion and relegation in Europe is much more capitalist in nature than the salary cap, revenue sharing, college draft system in American sports.

Blakely Hits Home

As the local papers report here and here, one of the judges of the Southern District has used Blakely to strike down portions of the US Sentencing Guidelines. Specifically, he resentenced a defendant who pled guilty to conspiracy to manufacture methamphetamine, dropping his sentence from 240 months to 1 year.

The judge knocked out all of the Guideline enhancements based on drug quantity (most of which came from second-hand snitch hearsay) and other specific offense characteristics. This approach differs from the one of a federal judge in Utah who threw out the Guidelines in their entirety. It's not beyond the realm of possibility that the local decision will be the test case for the rest of the country, depending on how the Department of Justice plays its hand.

Scalia and Thomas Are Not the Same

The New Republic has an interesting article that challenges the traditional notion of the relationship between Justices Thomas and Scalia. Traditional wisdom holds that Thomas basically just follows Scalia and shows very little original thought. The article points out that Scalia and Thomas frequently find different rationales for similar results and are even beginning to show up on opposite sides of the Court's decisions.

Somewhere, Roy Moore Is Smiling

In one of those truly head scratching decisions, the North Carolina Supreme Court has ordered God back into the state's courtrooms. A lower court judge had stopped opening proceedings with "God save this honorable court" and began having all witnesses affirm, rather than swear, to tell the truth (thus eliminating "so help me God").

Let the Show Trials Begin!

Everyone's favorite deposed dictator, Saddam Hussein (who I still see and hear as a lead character in the South Park movie), appeared today for a brief court hearing in Iraq. He was read some of the charges today, during a brief hearing at which he challenged the legitimacy of the proceedings. The Milosevic Defense, in other words. I have no doubt of Saddam's guilt (although specifically of what, I'm not sure), but I can't help but think that the proceedings against him are more political theater than true justice.