Thursday, December 30, 2004

2004 - My Year in Film (Well, Video, Actually)

Going through my Netflix history for the past year, it shows that I've seen more than 60 movies since I joined in March. Damn, I've become quite the DVD slut, haven't I? Anyway, here are (in no particular order) five flicks I saw this year that really struck me in some way.

The Battle of Algiers (1965): I've already written pretty extensively about this documentary-style flick, so I won't say any more about it here.

The Barbarian Invasions (2003): This French-Canadian flick (yes, there are subtitles) is one of those films that manages to be incredibly depressing and uplifting at the same time. It tells the story of a crusty old American history professor (which makes for some interesting observations) who is fighting a losing battle with cancer. His estranged son returns to Canada from the UK and rescues his dad from the bureaucratic nightmare that is Canadian healthcare, greasing the wheels to get him a private room in a closed-off portion of an overcrowded hospital. He then gathers his father's old friends together, to revel in their lives together. The son also secures a supply of heroin, to ease his father's pain. As the inevitable approaches, the whole bunch moves to a secluded lakeside house for, essentially, last rights. It's a very poignant film, dealing directly impending death and dying with dignity, but leaves you with a more hopeful outlook than you might think because of the love that is shared by these people in the old man's final days.

Blood Simple (1984): One of the ways I fleshed out my queue at Netflix was by putting in films by my favorite directors that I hadn't seen yet, most of them from early in their careers. Without a doubt, the most impressive of those flicks was the Coen brothers' first film. It's a perfectly executed Southwest film noir - made me jump right off the couch at least twice. You can see some of the same ideas (namely, a "professional" crime that goes highly wrong) they later used in Fargo here.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004): This is popping up on a lot of "10 best" lists right now, with good reason. In the best tradition of real sci-fi, it uses a scientific idea (being able to erase your memories) to explore deeper issues of memory and human nature. There's some very funny stuff going on as those memories are being erased, but I think in the end it all comes down to this: can we exist as fully formed people if we lack memories, even painful ones, of what has already happened to us?

Ararat (2002): I wrote a little bit about this Atom Egoyan flick when I first saw it. It's not the best of his flicks (I'd give The Sweet Hereafter that honor), but it does deal with some very interesting issues of history and (again) memory. On the surface, it's the story of the making of a film chronicling the Armenian genocide committed by the Turks in 1915. But it really gets deeper than that and asks about the way history is remembered and how stories are told. Not only that, but equally important is how we listen to the stories of others and recognize the importance of those stories to them. The film really made me think, which is never a bad thing.
So that's it for 2004. On to 05 - Happy New Year, everybody!

An Assemblage of Stupid Crimes

I sometimes pass along a news story or two detailing stupid crimes and/or stupid criminals (they're not always the same thing). Now, the fine people over at CourtTV have collected a bunch of those stories from the past year in one place for your reading pleasure. My personal favorites involve a guy who called the police after he'd been shorted on a microwave-for-crack transaction and a woman who tried to shoplift a sizable marital aid from a shop after having just filled out an application for a job there.

Beware the Airbag Police

The New York Times has an interesting article today on a recent federal crackdown on folks who take the airbags out of their cars. The targets, at this point at least, tend to be high profile "car makeover" TV shows like MTV's Pimp My Ride. Apparently they sometimes replace the OEM steering wheel (with airbag) with an aftermarket piece that has a TV/LCD screen (WTF?!?!) in place of the airbag. It's against federal regs to take the airbag out of your car, so the shops that are doing these mods are being hit with fines of up to $16k. No one, apparently, is concerned about the TV screen directly in the face of the driver.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

2004 - My Year in Tunes

As the year draws to an end, everyone is busy putting together their "best of" or "retrospective" lists for 2004. Who am I to buck that sort of trend? So here is a sampling of my favorites from my year in tunes.

New Releases in 2004

Marillion - Marbles: I definitely found my marbles this year - in addition to paying a pretty penny for the special two-disc edition of Marillion's latest opus, I also got to see the band live in Cleveland (on their first US tour in seven years) and rounded out the year with a copy of the two-disc Marbles on the Road concert DVD. I will admit that I wasn't overwhelmed by Marbles at first, and I still am not convinced that it is the the band's best work. Still, it has some bits and pieces that are classics and stand up to the best of the band's extensive repertoire ("The Invisible Man," "Fantastic Place," and "Ocean Cloud," particularly). I had hoped that some of the bits that didn't click for me on disc would work out better live, but only "Neverland" really got better (I still get no thrill from "Angelina"). More highs than lows overall, however. As long as the band continues to do what they want to do and properly exploit the marketing power of their fan base, they'll do just fine.

Mike Keneally - Dog and The Universe Will Provide: It was a busy year for Mikey. Dog was his first "band" album since 2000's Dancing, and the first for the current four-piece (sadly no longer named Beer for Dolphins) lineup. TUWP was the culmination of his collaboration with Holland's Metropole Orkest, an hour plus of music for guitar and orchestra. Dog hasn't gotten quite the fawning reception that some of his earlier albums have from the fan base, but I think it's brilliant, with one exception ("Gravity Grab" doesn't grab me, for whatever reason). It rocks, it grooves, it's clever, it's catchy - and that doesn't even take into account the weirdly wonderful collage that is "This Tastes Like a Hotel." What more can you ask in one album? TUWP is equally brilliant, but in a completely different way. Mike shows his skills as composer and arranger for a really large ensemble. It's modern, but not impenetrable. And it even rocks and grooves, too!

Tears for Fears - Everybody Likes a Happy Ending: I bought this largely on the reviews of those on various prog newsgroups (Spock's Beard and Keneally Band drummer Nick D'virgilio has been their touring drummer for years), but I'm very glad I did. It's shamelessly Beatles and XTC-influenced pop, but it's really really good at what it does (and it never gets too syrupy, as XTC can occasionally do). It's probably the best non-prog mainstream album I've bought in years.

IQ - Dark Matter: Solid neo-prog, as you'd expect from these guys. They don't break any new ground, but they do what they do very well. The epics hold up, and the shorter tunes show them indulging a few newer influences.

New-to-Me Releases in 2004

The Tangent - The Music That Died Alone (2003): Progdom has been rife with super groups for the past few years. Aside from the guilty pleasure of Transatlantic, I've steered clear of most of them. But I was drawn to this lower-key project, largely because of the involvement of Van der Graff Generator's David Jackson. VdGG's dark, brooding style and Jackson's stabbing sax lines wouldn't seem a direct fit with the kittens-and-sunshine outlook of Roine Stolt (the Flower King himself). The result it really quite good. While it's certainly derivative of what has gone before, the band seems aware of that fact and sounds like its paying homage, rather than trying to pass off something as "new." Jackson wasn't around for their second album, which I haven't heard yet.

Bubblemath - Such Fine Particles of the Universe (2002): I got this largely because of comparisons with As the World-era echolyn. I can see that, but Bubblemath seems much more consciously complicated and has a much more wide-ranging lyrical sensibility. When they hit on all cylinders ("TV Paid Off," "Doll Hammer," "Your Disease is Nicer"), they're really great. If something's off, however, it sounds contrived and forced. Still, it's really good more often than it's bad. Another group whose new album I'm looking forward to.

Peter Gabriel - Peter Gabriel (Car)(1977) and Peter Gabriel (Melt)(1980): Gabriel's music always seemed to work better live to me, with the forced interaction of live musicians. For a long time, the only studio album of his I owned was the fourth eponymous disc (Security), which seemed sterile and overproduced. But when Up came out in 2002, I really liked it and decided to explore his older stuff when I got the chance. So far I've picked up the first, Car, and third, Melt, of his early albums and I enjoy both a lot. Car, in particular, covers a lot of stylistic ground, which I always like. And Melt has "Games Without Frontiers," my personal favorite of his hits.
So, that's it. Maybe I'll cover movies/DVDs tomorrow.

Quake Magnitude

The enormity of the earthquake in the Pacific Ocean has understandably been expressed in the staggering death toll of the resulting tsunamis (80k, at last count, and surely rising). But consider this as an additional indication of how powerful it was - scientists speculate that the Earth may permanently rotate faster as a result. OK, so it's only 3 microseconds faster, but that's still pretty spectacular. The quake also may have tipped the planet on its axis by about an inch.

Click here for the many organizations seeking donations to aid the relief effort.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

I'd Make a Shitty Marine

I finally settled down an watched Full Metal Jacket, Kubrick's Vietnam War flick, last night. If nothing else, it convinced me that I'd be a horrible Marine. The film is basically made up of a two not-entirely-related parts. The first part follows a group of fresh recruits through a hellish boot camp at Paris Island. What they go through convinces me that 1) I don't have the physique to be a Marine and 2) I don't think I could ever become a stone-cold killer. The fact that one recruit goes nuts and kills his drill sergeant (and himself) makes a lot of sense. The second half actually takes place in Vietnam, in and around Hue following the Tet Offensive, following two of the original recruits and a new bunch as they get deep down in "the shit" (combat). The combat scenes are pretty impressive, considering they were done in and around an old power station in Britain, rather than on location. And in the end, we find that even the best Marine recruit can't really be turned into a stone-cold killer. Yes, he does shoot and kill the wounded Vietnamese girl/sniper who killed his buddy. But he had to think about it. I think that means something.

Teaching Religion at History in Public Schools

Over at Findlaw, Vikram Amar has an interesting piece on a current school-teacher controversy in California. The teacher in question, who describes himself in legal pleadings as an "orthodox Christian" (which is presumably is different from an Eastern Orthodox Christian), wants to use selections from various American historical documents that mention God (Declaration of Independence, various state constitutions, writings of the Founding Fathers) in his elementary school class. The school has said no, on the grounds that the teacher is really going to preach rather than teach. The teacher sued, arguing that this treated violates his First Amendment rights. As Amar points out, that may not be a real issue anyway, as the school has every right to limit what teachers say in the classroom. The only real issue is whether the school is cracking down on this teacher in particular for mixing religion with his teaching, while allowing others to do the same.

Personally, I see nothing wrong with historical documents that mention God (or a Creator or whatever) in a history being used in (of all things) a history class. Examining those kinds of documents can be enlightening (even to fifth-graders) and I despise the censoring or redaction of historical documents used in such settings. But on the other hand, why is the teacher's religious preference relevant to the inquiry at all? The use of the docs should be the same regardless of whether the teacher is Christian, Hindu, or atheist. So why is it essential to make that fact prominently known in the complaint? To me, it says that there probably is an ulterior motive at work, that has more to do with saving souls than teaching history.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Fun With Primary Sources

Courts often deal with controversial items, but rarely do they put the whole thing in an opinion so the public at large can see exactly what the fuss is about. (On a related note, I hate it when courts censor statements made by defendants or witnesses by leaving letters out of words like "fuck" or "shit." C'mon, you're dooming some dweeb to years in prison, at least let his vulgarities survive unmolested!) Well, now you can, thanks to this site from the University of Minnesota Law School. It contains the objects of controversy in many famous First Amendment cases, including George Carlin's famous "7 Dirty Words" monologue (from the Pacifica case) and the infamous Hustler ad that caused Jerry Falwell some much-deserved mental anguish.

Strking a Blow for the Poor Lawyers

I spent about a year as a Legal Aid lawyer after I got out of law school before I made the lateral move to public defender. Legal Aid provides civil (as opposed to criminal) representation to poor folks. Most groups get their money from a federal agency called the Legal Services Corporation. I did family law (and related proceedings) for domestic violence victims, but other folks in my office represented people in landlord-tenant disputes, debt collection suits, and public benefits proceedings. Many of the more experienced folks pined for the good old days, when they (and other organizations) were able to represent a much larger group of people in more large scale "impact" litigation. But Republican restrictions of the 80s and 90s severely cut down on what LSC-funded groups could do. This week, a federal judge in New York City threw out part of those regulations, which required a group so have separate offices for its LSC and non-LSC funded programs. It's a small victory, but maybe it will lead to further rollbacks.

Talk About a White Christmas

Over the weekend, a small plane crashed near Wheeling (in the northern panhandle, call it Pennsylvania). No pilot was found in the wreckage, but his cargo was: 520 pounds of cocaine. Authorities, quite understandably, were searching for the pilot to "question" him. I bet. That much coke absolutely blasts a hole right through the top of the Sentencing Guidelines Table. Somewhere, someone is looking for a last minute Xmas gift substitution.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Sports Labor Unrest - In American Soccer?!?

Yes, it appears that the sport of soccer has finally hit the big time in the United States. The evidence? The U.S. Soccer Federation is engaged in a long-running dispute with the U.S. Soccer Players Association, a union that includes anyone who has ever suited up for the men's national team. The players have been playing without a collective bargaining agreement since 2002. Things came to a head this month when players refused to show for a training camp, forcing the USSF to cancel two friendlies in January. Looming in the distance is the first game of the last round of World Cup qualifying, in Trinidad and Tobago in February. If something isn't worked out soon, the USSF threatens to send a team of "replacement" players to TnT.

I tend to agree with Galarcep that the USSF may view this as the best time to make a stand, with our first two qualifies likely to only earn us 1 point (the second is away to Mexico, where we've never won a match) and that the use of a scab team therefore wouldn't hurt so much. That being said, I'd hate to see the USSF and the players piss away a lot of what has been built up in this country in the past few years around the game of soccer. Get this nonsense settled before any World Cup stuff is affected.

And, just for the record, as an uncapped USSF registered goalkeeper, I will not cross a picket line to wear the colors. Try and contain your disappointment.

Here Come the Right Wingers!

As we prepare for a new Congress and second Dubya administration, right-wing Republicans are readying to push through many pet pieces of legislation in the new year. Buoyed by their "mandate" from the election, conservative Republicans are even targeting issues on which they disagree with Dubya, like rolling back campaign finance reform (which is probably not that bad of an idea, anyway). My problem is exactly where do they think this "mandate" came from? Yes Dubya rode a wave of "values" (as defined by the GOP) voters to reelection, but further review of the election break-down shows that they weren't as overwhelming a presence as they make themselves out to be. And even if they constitute a larger chunk of Dubya's supporters than they are, that whole group still only adds up to a slim majority. The nation, unlike states in the electoral college, is not a winner-take-all proposition.

Gran and Gramps Get Ready to Roll a Doob

In one of the weirdest poll results I've seen in a while, an AARP survey found that a majority of older Americans support the use of medical marijuana. Nearly 75% support legalization for that purpose, as a matter of fact. Oddly enough, 69 percent of those over 70 support the idea, even though less than 50% believe that pot has medicinal benefits. I wonder what goes on in those old folks condos down in Florida?

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Livin' In a Hellhole

According to one of those national "tort reform" groups, the entire state of West Virginia is a "judicial hellhole." Apparently because the courts here don't let big business run over the little people quite as often as they do elsewhere. And how is the fact that two class-action suits were filed in Roane County last year contribute to the hellhole (there's no discussion of the actual merits involved)?

Anyway, this post is mostly an excuse to use a line from a Spinal Tap classic as a subject line. :)

Star Wars Won't Work

Dubya's vaunted missile defense system had yet another test yesterday over the skies of Alaska. Guess what? It didn't work. Again. As one critic puts it, the system "has no demonstrated capability to work," yet we continue to pump money into the damn thing. Of course, in this administration, lack of demonstrable success has never slowed down "progress." Hell, Dubya probably thinks it worked!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Talk About Wearing Your God On Your Sleeve

From Alabama, the land that brought you a Supreme Court Chief Justice who couldn't pass a ConLaw I final and recently voted against taking segregation language out of the state constitution, comes a new low in the church/state debate. A trial-level judge in Covington County came to the bench yesterday wearing a robe in which the 10 Commandments were embroidered. The president of a Montgomery-based atheist organization seemed to capture what was going on:

You've got to be kidding me . . . I think he's making a mockery of his office, the judicial system and the religion clauses of the U.S. Constitution. It's unbelievable and absurd.
Indeed it is.

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Battle of Algiers

I spent a good portion of the weekend in front of the tube digesting the new 3-disc version of The Battle of Algiers. It tells the story of one portion of the Algierian revolt, spurred by the FLN, against colonial French rule after World War II (after they handed Vietnam off to us, they proceeded to fuck up northern Africa) that took place in the mid 1950s in the capital city of Algiers. The film, originally released in 1965, was ground breaking for a couple of reasons. First, it was shot completely on location in Algiers in a documentary style that influenced many films to come. Second, it created such an accurate portrayal of urban guerilla warfare, including terrorist and counter-terrorism, that it has used in the forty years since its release as instruction for both sides. Most recently, the film was screened for top brass at the Pentagon to see if any lessons learned from it can be applied in Iraq.

Criterion, as usual, did a superb job with the new DVD release. Disc 1 contains the movie itself, beautifully restored with easily read subtitles (the film is technically Italian, due to the director, but the dialogue is all in French and Arabic). Disc 2 examines the film's place in cinema history, including an in-depth "making of" documentary. Among other things, it tells you that the film was partially produced and was the brainchild of one of the leaders of the FLN, who was looking for a director to tell the story of his glorious revolution. It was largely because of his status (he played himself in the film, too) that the film was able to be made in Algiers itself, including the labyrinthine Casbah, where the FLN hid out from the French.

Disc 3 goes into the actual history and relevance of the film today, and provides some very interesting stuff. Most topical is a brief (25-minute) discussion with two terrorist/intelligence experts (Richard Clarke was one) about what it can teach about similar situations today. It basically boils down to the fact that military victory, once achieved, means little without a coherent political strategy that recognizes the long term outlook and goals of the other side (the French won the battle, but, literally, lost the war because the FLN just kept popping up).

Another terribly relevant extra is a documentary about the director's return to Algeria in 1992, about 30 years after he made the film. In the interim, the country had seen at least three governments (the president was assassinated shortly after giving an interview for the doc) and was the thrall of a rising tide of Islamic radicalism. The strident nature of those fundamentalists, and their attitudes towards Westerners -- all Westerners -- sounds a lot like the Middle East today. Given the time this piece was made, the director made an interesting observation about the first Gulf War. While most people in the region had no use for Saddam Hussein and condemned his invasion of Kuwait, many of them still rallied around Saddam once the West got involved. Not because they loved him, but because they saw the West's involvement as another in a long line of colonial and post-colonial interventions that have left the region so unstable. It's no surprise, then, that many in the region reacted in exactly the same way when the US invaded Iraq.

The other really interesting extra is a documentary that goes into the actual history of the Algerian revolution and the Battle of Algiers. It covers many things that are in the film, but most importantly covers what the film leaves out. The movie is frequently lauded for being "balanced" in its presentation of the situation. The French, while dominating colonialists, are not the two-dimensional thugs they would be in many (OK, American) films. The portrayal of the FLN, while focusing on the legitimate gripes of the Algerian people, does not gloss over the terrorist tactics used in their name. However, on balance, the French come out the worse, as there is never any real justification given by them for why they are in Algeria in the first place or why they'd fight to remain. Most importantly, it's the French (albeit unofficially) who being the bombing campaign, destroying several buildings the Casbah in retaliation for FLN attacks on police and army targets. The FLN's bombing campaign only begins from there.

The historical record seems to contradict, or at least complicate, that portrait. Outside of Algiers, the FLN was already well underway as a terrorist organization. In addition to massacreing French settlers in the countryside, there were violent purges of their Algerian political rivals as well. All that shows is that, while the FLN may not have started the attacks on civilians in Algiers, they didn't have to be pushed very far before they did.

One interesting thing is the French attitude towards torture during this time. There is absolutely no attempt by French commanders after the fact to hide the truth that French soldiers routinely tortured captured Algerians (many of whom had nothing to do with the FLN). One bonus feature even includes interview footage with the guy who was in charge of, in essence, making prisoners "disapear." In a way, this seems easier to accept that the US, "what, us, torture?" attitude in Iraq. The French, far from being the petite pussies of popular legend, pretty much stand up and say "we did what we had to do and aren't sorry for it." Of course, it didn't really work in the end.

But in the end, The Battle of Algiers is about more than that. It very dramatically emphasizes that the deaths of innocent civilians, whether French or Algerian (and, by extension, American or Iraqi), are equally tragic. It also demonstrates that inherent dangers of being an occupied force. The French no doubt believed they were doing the right thing in Algeria, at least at some point. They also, no doubt, stayed longer than they should and dug their heals in simply so as not to be pushed out. The powers that be in the US should learn from that lesson.

Christmas Can Kill You

In the brilliant Futurama, Christmas has been (1000 years in the future) replaced by Xmas, and Santa Claus replaced by a homicidal robot who punishes the naughty (which includes just about everybody). The point of the holiday, therefore, is simply to survive. We may be closer to that than we first thought. A new study finds that more Americans die on Christmas Day than on any other day during the year. But that just includes natural illness (stress-induced heart attacks, primarily) and not "violent" deaths like suicide or homicide. I'm not sure if including those would help or hurt the Xmas mortality rate.

This Is What Happens When You Give the Ref the Finger

Celebration can be dangerous. Just ask Paulo Diogo, midfielder for Swiss soccer club Servette. After assisting on his team's third goal of the day, Paulo jumped up on a fence in front of the team's fans to celebrate. Paulo the newlywed failed to notice, however, that his wedding band got caught up on the fence. Until he jumped off. And the finger didn't come with him. While people searched for Paulo's severed finger (which could not be reattached), the referee expressed his displeasure with the whole situation by issuing Paulo a yellow card - for excessive celebration. Ouch.

Becks Goes Down (Again)

You try and put together a nice pop-culture nativity scene and what thanks to you get? People go gunning for Joseph. At least, that's what happened with Madame Tussaud's wax museum in London. The Joseph in question, England / Real Madrid midfielder David Beckham, was toppled, along with Mrs. Beckham (aka Mary), by a protestor. No word on whether the attacker was clad in Barcelona colors. The display has caused a lot of furor in Britain, although for the wrong reason. How can anyone honestly put Dubya in as one of the three wise men?!?

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Trust the Real Lawyers

Anyone who has spent any amount of time practicing criminal law is familiar with the jailhouse lawyer. People in prison (or in jail awaiting trial) have little to do, so many of them dive into the law library with great abandon. Some actually learn a good deal about criminal law and are valuable quasi-lawyers inside the facility (my boss at my old job told me he knew a guy in prison who was good enough that he'd hire him as a paralegal, if he ever got out). Most of the time, however, the jailhouse lawyers know just enough about the law to be dangerous, to themselves or, in some cases, to their fellow inmates. As in Tennessee, where a guy nicknamed "T-Flake" turned down a plea bargain that would have netted him a 210-month (17.5 years) federal prison term, on the advice of jailhouse counsel. Bad idea. He went to trial, lost, and ended up with a 480-month (40 years!) sentence for his trouble.

The moral of this story? Listen to the real lawyers. That's why we have the diplomas on the wall.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Dumb All Over

I thought coming to the courthouse with your weed in order to bail out your buddy was the dumbest crook story of the year. Ah, no, leave it to the young and stupid in Florida, where a teenage couple called police to report a robbery. It seems their home was broken into and some valuable property taken. What property, you ask? Their pot, of course. And this wasn't just their property, it was their livelihood -- they told police they needed the pot back so they could sell it. Not surprisingly, they face pot distribution charges.

Talk About Justice Delayed

A special court in Washington state is readying to examine the guilt of a Native American put to death almost 150 years ago. Chief Leshci was executed after being convicted for murdering a soldier during the 1855 Indian War. If that sounds a bit off, it is - for one thing, you're supposed to kill the other side during a war (the Army refused to carry out the sentence following his conviction). But aside from procedural issues, there is also serious doubt that Leschi even killed the soldier in the first place. So the Chief Justice of the state supreme court is convening a "Historical Court of Justice" to try and determine Leschi's guilt once and for all.

On the one hand, I really admire the state for going through the trouble of rectifying an historical wrong and seeking the truth for truth's sake. But on the other, this is going to take time and money that might be better directed towards exonerating living people who have been wrongfully convicted or subjected to some heinous punishment. Leave the rehabilitation of the dead to the historians.

Naptster . . . Good?!

In what should come as a surprise to nobody, the first extensive poll of musicians about music and the Internet shows that they have a very different view of things than their corporate handlers. While a slim plurality thought that peer-to-peer file sharing systems keep artists from getting royalties, an overwhelming majority said that file sharing did not pose a threat to their commercial futures. And only 3% felt file sharing was hurting their control of their creative works (maybe because, in many cases, the artists don't control them anyway). So it appears that the RIAA's jihad against file swappers, done supposedly for the benefits of the artists, isn't really wanted by the artists in the first place.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Now That's Election Fraud!

Remember in 2000 when our quaint idea of election fraud was a confusing ballot that turned Florida into the home of Jews for Buchanan? Check out this list of observed horribles from the recent presidential election in the Ukraine:

Pens filled with disappearing ink. Hospital patients forced to vote in exchange for treatment. Students ordered to show their ballots to professors. Election observers say these were among tricks used to manipulate Ukraine's presidential runoff election.
Say what you want about these young ex-Soviet Bloc democracies, they know how to intimidate the electorate.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Litterary Gaydar

Fresh from victory in the November election, one of those "values" people in Alabama is gearing up for his next big trick: banning "gay books" from the state of Alabama. A state representative is proposing a bill that would block state funds from being used for "the purchase of textbooks or library materials that recognize or promote homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle." When asked about what was to be done with the fairly large stash of gay literature that currently resides in Alabama, he said "I guess we dig a big hole and dump them in and bury them." Which makes a Southern Poverty Law Center spokesman's statement about right: "It sounds like Nazi book burning to me." But, what else would you expect from a state that voted against removing school segregation language from the state constitution?

Can He Conjure Up a Defense?

An interesting development in the case of a man who killed six and wounded two in a hunting massacre last week. The defendant, an Hmong immigrant originally from Laos, is "a shaman who has called on the spirit world in trances that last up to three hours," according to those who know him. A hunting buddy said that, "Chai speaks to the other side. He asks the spirits there to release people who are suffering on earth." O.K. Wonder if he might cross over and apologize to the guys he gunned down?

Medical Marijuana Post Mortem

As I mentioned Monday, the Supreme Court heard a major case this week dealing, at least on the surface, with the issue of medical marijuana. From all the accounts I've read (except for one by an involved party), it did not go particularly well for the pot users. Over at Slate, Dahlia Lithwick provides her typically warped view of the proceedings. It seems to track what I've read elsewhere. Meanwhile, over at National Review Online, Jonathan Adler cuts through the surface pot veneer and gets down to the real issue (as I said the other day):

Despite its apparent importance to drug warriors, Ashcroft v. Raich is not about medical marijuana or drug prohibition. Nor is it about the wisdom, or lack thereof, of allowing chronically ill individuals to smoke weed for medicinal purposes. Rather, it concerns the limits of federal power under the Constitution. Federalism does not play favorites. It limits the scope of federal power to pursue liberal and conservative ends alike. If a majority of the Court remembers this lesson, Angel Raich will get to keep her medicine. More important, the nation will keep the constitutional limits on federal power.
Will the Court bite the bullet and follow through on its own precedents and not follow the anti-drug path? We'll see next summer.