Thursday, October 28, 2004

Fahrenheit 9/11

Last night, I finally managed to get around to watching Fahrenheit 9/11, Michael Moore's Cannes award-winning attack on Dubya. Let me start by saying that I am anti-Dubya (as regular readers have no doubt figured out) and a fan of Moore's prior work. Having said that, I can't say that this is Moore's best work. There are some very moving bits, particularly once he shifts to the Iraq war and the carnage it is causing. This is particularly true about the parts with a woman from Moore's hometown of Flint, Michigan whose son was killed in Iraq. And there were a couple of good laughs, too, including the photo montage of Bushes shaking hands with Royal Saudis to the tune of REM's "Shiny Happy People" and the answer to Moore's question "what is the administration protecting us from" being footage of John Ashcroft behind a non-descript DC lectern "singing" a patriotic "song" he wrote all by himself. But overall, I don't think Fahrenheit 9/11 works as well as either Roger and Me or The Big One. Moore's at his best dealing the irony and absurdity of the big money or big power targets of his scorn and bringing them down to size. Something about the subject here just doesn't fit his style.

As for the accuracy of the film, there are no doubt parts that are not 100% accurate - no documentary ever is. Dubya haters are going to have their feelings confirmed by the film, while Dubya fans aren't going to be persuaded by it. I think the overall story Moore tells is probably more true than false, however.

Thank You, Yanks and Cards

Back when the baseball playoffs started, I pleaded with the parties involves to let the Red Sox win the World Series so their fans would stop their bellyaching about the "curse" they labored under for decades. Apparently the Ranch has some readers at Yankee Stadium and Busch Stadium, so I'd like to publicly thank the Yankees and Cardinals for rolling over and letting the Sox have their way. Now the nation's collective sports conscience can move on to more pressing matters, like the MLS Cup playoffs.

Close the Blinds, Please

Presented without comment, from the Great White North:

"Supreme court to hear case of living room masturbator"
My cases are rarely this interesting.

Champ Car, I Don't Think This Is Going to Work

The CART Champ Car series was, for the longest time, one of my favorite types of racing. Fast cars powered by many kinds of engines, an international cast of drivers, and a diversity of tracks made the series unique among the world's top racing circuits. I even tried to hang on here over the past couple of years as CART withered and died, to be replaced by OWRS and its spec-motor, thin-fielded, tape-delayed Spike TV coverage. But I've had enough. According to Robin Miller over on, Champ Car will dump two of the prime road courses in the US, Road America and Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, and replace them with street races, apparently in Argentina and Korea. I've got nothing against going to other countries to race, but the 2005 schedule now has a grand total of ONE permanent US road course, Portland, which is back only because the IRL asked for too much money. And I know the crowds have been small at Road America and Laguna this year, but that probably has more to do with poor OWRS promotion than anything else (ALMS didn't have any problems going back to both tracks next year, with Laguna adding the GrandAm series).

So that's it - I'm done. Street races a hideous parades, made even worse by OWRS's mandatory pit windows, "push to pass" button, and rotating qualifying schemes. I hope the folks involved return Champ Car to profitability, but I'm off to the (comparatively) greener pastures of sports car racing, where at least they know a classic road course when they see one.

Those Hollywood Values

A few years ago, a documentary called Hell House explored the phenomenon of evangelical churches that used Halloween style haunted houses to rail against sin. Instead of using vampires and ghouls to scare kids, these houses scare them with scenes of drug abuse, abortions, and heavy metal. Leave it to those in Hollywood to find the humor in all this, without changing a thing. A group of Hollywood theater producers bought one of the "outreach kits" sold by the Rev who came up with the concept and have been running the show in LA with luminaries such as Richard Belzer and Bill Maher playing the part of Satan. It plays as parody without changing a bit of dialogue or scene direction, apparently. You gotta' love them Hollywood types!

Here Come Da Party Judge

A trial judge in Texas is in hot water for greeting a condemned man with streamers, balloons, and cake when he appeared for her to impose a life sentence. The man in question had been on the lam for a year and was convicted of assault in absentia. The judge threw the party supposedly to celebrate the capture of this wily criminal. While justice is certainly served by the incarceration of fugitives, it's sad that a supposedly impartial judge feels no shame at expressing such joy at sentencing a man to life in prison. A life in prison is a heinous existence for anyone, including convicted felons. Sure, he's a bastard (apparently). That doesn't mean he isn't human and isn't entitled to a little respect from the government that's taking away his freedom.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Was Freddy Ready?

USA Today yesterday (I was on the road - sorry) has a nice story about DC United's young phenom, Freddy Adu, and his first year in MLS. As the article states, Freddy got off to a slow start, but ended up playing in every match in the regular season, scored a few goals, and learned alot over the course of the season. And props to first-time coach Peter Nowak for managing the whole circus as well as he did. DC had its best season in a long time and is on a roll heading into the playoffs.

Ironically, after playing in every game during the season, Freddy didn't see action in DC's 2-0 first leg playoff win against the MetroStars last weekend. I imagine he'll get some game this weekend during the return leg. Of course, as long as we send the Metrostars packing, I don't much care. :)

One Kidney for Sale - Slightly Used

Last week, a man received a kidney transplant thanks to a stranger he met on the Internet. For a fee, those in need can list themselves on the web site and solicit donors. Both men say that there was no payment from recipient to donor for the kidney - the donor has even volunteered to take a polygraph - but medical ethicists are concerned, nonetheless. To be honest, I'm not sure selling your body parts is such a horrible idea. People often get transplants from outside the waiting list - from friends, spouses, siblings, etc. Without an open market for donors, those with smaller families or groups of friends (or groups that don't match up) are essentially condemned to long-term health problems by accident of birth. Isn't it more just to allow them to buy the needed part from a stranger? Assuming everyone involved is a consenting adult, of course. We don't want it to turn into Dirty Pretty Things, of course.

Viva Zanardi

If you're looking for an inspiring tale of a man overcoming adversity in the post-Superman era, look no further than the story of Alex Zanardi. Zanardi is an Italian racer who came to the United States after some backmarker years in Formula 1. He settled in with Chip Ganassi's CART team and quickly became not only a top driver in the series (2-time CART champ) but a fan and advertiser favorite (along with teammate "Jeeemy" Vasser).

But in September 2001, at the CART race in Germany following 9-11 (which ESPN refused to show, thank you), Zanardi suffered a horrific accident. Leaving the pits on cold tires, Zanardi spun out onto the high-speed oval and wound up facing the wrong direction, nose of the car pointing towards oncoming traffic. Another driver, with no time to react and no place to go, hit Zanardi pretty much head on. The impact sheared off the front of Zanardi's car, along with his legs. But for the quick response of the CART safety team, Zanardi would have bled to death.

But there's a happy ending: Zanardi made a full recovery and has returned to racing, driving a specially modified BWM 320 in the European Touring Car Championship. You can read a bit about his recovery, in his own words, in this article.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Dubya Gets Bombed by . . . Pat Robertson?

Many sources (I've seen it in USA Today and the Charleston Gazette) are reporting that televangelist Pat Robertson warned Dubya of the risk of U.S. casualties prior to the invasion of Iraq. Dubya's response, according to Robertson, was "Oh, no, we're not going to have any casualties." Dubya's handlers, of course, deny he said any such thing and allege that Robertson misheard or misunderstood. I am loath to give Robertson any credibility given his prior idiot statements (the ACLU caused 9/11, remember?), but that statement from Dubya fits in pretty well with his current inability to realistically assess the situation in Iraq. If true, it's just another reason to vote Dubya out next month.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

A Dispute Only a Lawyer Could Love

Brent Benjamin, the GOP candidate for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, recently stated that, during his 20 year legal career, he had argued cases before the Court. Well, maybe not. As the Charleston Gazette reported today, Benjamin apparently has never actually appeared before the Court, although he has written numerous pleadings in cases dealt with by the Court. I'm not a Benjamin supporter, by any stretch, but I sort of feel his pain on this one.

See, the WV Supreme Court is one of the few state appellate courts that (1) is the only appellate court in the state and (2) has almost complete discretion over which cases is hears. As a result, lots and lots of petitions for appeal are filed by the court and then summarily rejected without full briefing or any oral argument. Some petitions go straight through to a full hearing, with briefing by both sides and full oral argument. Other petitions are heard by the Court as "oral presentations," where the party petitioning the Court gets a few minutes to try and convince the Court to hear the case. The other party doesn't appear for those presentations. So making it to the full Court hearing is not easy. As an example, in the two years I was a state PD I wrote about a half dozen petitions for appeal and only got one oral presentation (later rejected) out of them (I did win a summary reversal, tho'!). By contrast, next week I'll be appearing in front of the Fourth Circuit in Richmond for the fourth time since I joined the Federal PD two years ago.

In other words, it is entirely possible for someone to "appear" before the state Supreme Court quite a bit but never do an oral argument. So there isn't really any great scandal here. Still won't make me vote for Benjamin, however.

Back to the Future

As I write I'm watching a rerun of last night's Daily Show. Do you know that not only is there a National Prohibition Party in the United States, complete with a presidential candidate, but that there is actually a competing splinter group also pushing the prohibition agenda, complete with presidential candidate? They're running a piece on the two parties now. Yes, they're real - just ridiculous. And who says we don't have legitimate third parties in this country?

Monday, October 18, 2004

Preach On, Brother Berman!

Sentencing Law and Policy, a blog maintained by Ohio State law professor Doug Bowman has been an invaluable resource in the post-Blakely world. In this post today, he seems to be letting off a bit of steam concerning what he calls "inside the beltway negativity." Basically, they argue that if the Supreme Court doesn't retreat from Blakely and preserve the Guideline status-quo Congress will likely unleash its wrath by setting up lots of new (and harsh) mandatory minimums and the like. In other words, a "win" for defendants in Booker/Fanfan would be short lived and a bit Pyrric. Professor Berman takes those nattering nabobs to task, pointing out (among other things) that if that situation comes to pass the blame lies with Congress, not the Court. Amen, brother.

A Ten Commandments Primer

As I wrote last week, the Supreme Court is set to deal with the constitutional morass that is public display of the Ten Commandments. Over at Slate, Rod Smolla does a pretty good job setting up the background of this dispute and showing how we got here. I agree with Rod that it is a delicate issue that requires a deft touch by the Court. Let's hope they use one.

At Least He Didn't Say "Shit" (or the Portugese Equivalent)

Many folks have been up in arms about NASCAR's docking Dale Earnhart, Jr. 25 points for dropping the "S-bomb" in a post-race interview. The theory goes like this: while Dale should have chosen his words more carefully, his linguistic slip-up had no effect on the race and, therefore, he shouldn't lose points. For some reason, the IRL has decided to take the opposite approach. Penske driver Helio Castro-Neves won the last race of the year this Sunday in Texas after jumping the final restart, which took place with two laps to go. Authorities have determined that Helio jumped the start - cheated, in other words. Surely this breach of the rules which had a great effect on the outcome (pretty much decided the race) would call for a change in the results, right? Wrong. IRL officials will let Helio keep his victory, but fined him $50k and 15 points (which didn't have any effect in the standings anyway).

How exactly is that just? I understand not wanting the crowd (such as it is at an IRL race) to go home thinking one driver won only to find out later that the second place guy actually won. That hardly justifies letting a driver get an unfair advantage at a critical juncture during a race and letting it slide. It's particularly hard to swallow given the IRL's willingness to second-guess what happened on the track when a CART driver might have won the Indy 500. Why am I not shocked?

Spin This, Bill

I haven't really thought too much about the whole Bill O'Reilly sexual harassment controversy, except to conclude that it couldn't happen to a nicer guy. But, to be honest, I've got no real emotion need to see Bill go down in flames. I watch Keith Olberman over on MSNBC, anyway. But, under the heading of "I Hate Hypocrites," marvel at this passage from an article in today's USA Today:

O'Reilly and Levinson sparred on The Factor in January while talking about Catherine Bosley, a CBS-TV anchor in Youngstown, Ohio. While on vacation in Florida with her husband, Bosley took part in a wet T-shirt contest, pictures of her surfaced on the Internet, and she was forced to resign.

Levinson says Bosley should not have lost her job. "People are entitled to have private lives. She should be fired if she failed to do something in performance of her profession. Cavorting in a bar late at night has nothing to do with that," he said at the time.

O'Reilly was incredulous. "Let's be realistic," he said, using words that could come back to haunt him. "Politicians, news people, clergy all have images and all depend on the trust of the public to succeed. … You do something like (Bosley), although it's not illegal, it embarrasses your employer because your employer operates on credibility."

Game, set, match, as they say.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Bring on the Hex!

As I write, Eddie Johnson has just scored his third goal (in 17 minutes) to polish off . . .

Scratch that!

As I write, the US just scored again to bury Panama 6-0 at RFK. That clinches a spot for the US in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying - The Hex - from which at least three and possibly four countries will make the 06 World Cup. I like our chances to make it to Germany in two years time.


Starting Again

The cover story in today's USA Today documents the difficulties faced by people release from prison after proving their innocence. Regardless of how they clear their names, many in the public see them as criminals. The lack of modern job skills (the average time between conviction and exoneration is 11 years) also make it difficult for these folks to go out and get a job and begin to work their way back into society. Ironically, actual criminals get some follow-up and reintegration services when released. But if you were wrongly locked up, you're on your own.

First the Maldives, Then Iraq?

Law students in a seminar at Penn are tackling an ambitious project. They are attempting to rewrite the criminal code of the Republic of the Maldives, a human rights-challenged island nation in the Indian Ocean. The code is to move the Maldives toward a more Western concept of criminal law while retaining ties to the Islamic Shariah law adhered to by most folks on the island. While some observers are upset at the idea that a code respectful for human rights can be derived from Shariah, others are hopeful that if the project is a success it could serve as a model for other Muslim nations.

Killing Your Young

The Supreme Court today heard oral arguments in a case dealing a profound question: should we execute our children? OK, it's not quite that profound. The question is actually whether the execution of people who were 16 or 17 (anything younger is already verboten) when they committed their crime constitutes cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Since I oppose the death penalty in any case, this is an easy case for me. But I wonder if the Court might have some problems, given the horrific nature of the crime (kidnap / murder) and the apparent premeditation of the kid involved (according to an accomplice, he knew he wouldn't get the death penalty because he was only 17), sparing the guy's life.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Dubya Gets It Wrong - Again

Many folks were a bit confused when Dubya referenced the infamous Dred Scott decision as an example of "judicial activism" during the second presidential debate. As Slate's Timothy Noah explains, Dred Scott is code in the pro-life crowd for Roe v. Wade, so when Dubya hammers on Dred Scott, he's really taking aim at Roe. Aside from the code-talk, Dubya is, of course, wrong in his assessment of Dred Scott. Chief Justice Taney did not pull the holding of Dred Scott out of his ass - the Constitution is a document that, at the time, enshrined and protected the institution of slavery and the de-humanization of black people. Dred Scott is not so repugnant because it was a legal outlier, but because it was the logical end-point of the Constitution before the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments.

Not Very Clever, Becks

England captain David Beckham thought he had a fool-proof plan to make the most of his one-month hiatus from soccer due to a rib injury picked up this weekend against Wales: pick up a yellow card, his second of the current World Cup qualifying campaign, and serve the mandatory one-game suspension while injured, killing two birds with one stone. Brilliant plan, no? Yes, except he was dumb enough to admit to do it after the match! Such brilliance I have not seen since Dale Earnhart, Jr. admitted to intentionally spinning at Bristol to bring out a caution and keep from going a lap down. Sometimes, guys, it's better to keep that info to yourself.

Thou Shalt Resolve This Dispute

The Supreme Court has decided to wade into the contentious issue of 10 commandments displays on public property. The Court accepted cases from two Circuit Courts that reached conflicting conclusions on the issue. The Fifth Circuit ruled against a homeless man in Texas who challenged a stone marker in a public park (where he lived, presumably), while the Sixth Circuit barred two Kentucky counties from posting the commandments in their courtrooms. Hopefully, the Court will clear up this nonsense once and for all (by agreeing with the Sixth Circuit, of course).

Democracy In Peril (2000 Version)

The October issue of Vanity Fair has a very disturbing article about the shenanigans surrounding the 2000 election in Florida. The article, which you can download here thanks to the fine folks over at SCOTUSBlog, basically deals with three issues. Two of them, the disenfranchisement of African-American voters and the mechanics (so to speak) of various voting methods, are interesting and confounding in their own way. But being a lawyer, I was drawn to the first part, dealing with the machinations of the Supreme Court leading up to its 5-4 decision that ended the recounts and handed Dubya the election.

Anyone who was naive enough to believe that the decision rested on anything other than pure political motives needs to read this piece. Rather than berate the Court for it's internal dynamics, I'll just say this: the whole mess in Florida in 2000 demonstrated how fragile democracy really is. In 9 of 10 elections, the margin of victory is so big that the details really don't matter. When it gets close - really close, as the case was in 2000 - the system teeters dangerously on the verge of collapse. We should be able to do better.

Friday, October 08, 2004

President Gropenfuher

The U.S. Constitution limits the pool of potential presidents to those folks that are "natural born" citizens. That excludes millions of citizens who came to this country sometime after their birth and actually took the trouble to become citizens. That group includes, of course, action-figure-turned-governor-of-California Arnold Schwarzenegger, which has motivated some Republicans to propose removing that limitation from the Constitution. Over on Findlaw, John Dean does a pretty good job of laying out why the limitation should be consigned to the dustbin of history. I can't really argue with him, but I wish this movement came about because of a principled desire to right an historical wrong, rather than for political expediency.

Let the Sox Win the Damn Series, OK?

I make this plea to any and all baseball teams and fans involved in the current MLB playoffs: for the love of all that is holy, just let the Red Sox win the damn World Series! I, and I expect the large minority of non-baseball people in this country, am sick and tired of hearing about the woes of the Sox every single year if the make the playoffs. So they haven't won the Series since 1918. Big deal! Lots of MLB teams have never won the Series, and several more, the White Sox and the Cubs spring to mind, also haven't won a Series since before the U.S. obtained superpower status. Other sports have teams in the same or similar situations. My alma mater, WVU, has been playing football for well over a century and have never won a national championship. There are throngs of English soccer clubs older than any MLB team that have never won anythying. Hell, Charlton won their first trophy in one hundred years last season in the Carling Cup!

I guess my point is this: Sox fans, shut the hell up about the Curse and all your bad luck and "woe is me, I'm a Sox fan" nonsense. You're not unique. Of course, that isn't likely to happen, so, please, Mr. Steinbrenner, let the Sox win this year.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Anatomy of a Case Disintegration

The New York Times has an in depth article detailing how John Ashcroft's one great trial victory in the War on Terra came apart after the fact. It got so bad that the Government itself moved the district court to vacate the convictions (which the court did). Sadly, it appears that the case fits the administration's MO of puffing up charges in the beginning, complete with a splashy news conference, only to have them fall apart as the facts come out. Hey, where have we heard that before?

Not How to Request a New Lawyer

Criminal defendants frequently have conflicts with their attorney, especially if the attorney is a public defender or other type of appointed counsel (we're not "real lawyers," of course). If those conflicts are really serious, the defendant can ask the judge for a new lawyer, usually at a scheduled court hearing, but sometimes in a hand-written pro se motion. They generally do not, however, slash their attorney's throat with a razor blade. A defendant on trial for kidnapping in Louisiana did just that. Not surprisingly, the defense at trial was insanity (maybe 'cause he's named Barbette!). To his credit, the slashed PD kept advocating for his client:

"I've contended all along that this guy is nuts, and to be honest, this pretty much confirms it," Garraway said late Wednesday. "... what kind of rational person would attack his own lawyer?"
He's more magnanimous than I would be if a client tried to kill me in court. Or out of court, for that matter.

Republicans Have No Sense of Humor

Leave it to the GOP to get riled up about another Michael Moore stunt. Moore is traveling the nation's college campuses encouraging student to vote this November. As an incentive, he's offering "rewards" such as clean underwear and a package of Ramen noodles. As one might expect, the humor impaired GOP functionaries in Michigan are calling for Moore to be prosecuted for, basically, vote buying. This ignores two salient facts. First, Moore is not (as I understand) telling the kids who to vote for, only to actually get out and vote. Second, a person must receive "something of value" in exchange for his or her vote. Now, honestly, what's the value of one pack of Ramen noodles? 19 cents? That hardly counts, does it?

A First Monday Whopper

While I was on my way to Cleveland to see Marillion in concert, the U.S. Supreme Court hearing extended oral arguments about the future of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines. Over the course of two hours (covering two cases addressing the same issue), the Court hammered on several attorneys looking for answers. The Washington Post has a pretty comprehensive rundown of the action, while over at Slate, Dahlia Lithwick has a different perspective on the proceedings. The general consensus seems to be that (1) the Blakely majority will hold together and apply its holding to the Guidelines and (2) regardless of what sentencing looks like after the Court's decision, Congress will have something to say about it. The real speculation now is on just what the Court will tell lower courts to do with Blakely-ize Guidelines. Hopefully, we'll have a decision by early November.

PS: has a really excellent interactive graphic explaining how the Guidelines work, for the uninitiated.