Thursday, December 29, 2005

2005 - My Year In Film & Video

My Netflix addiction continued unabated this past year - the records show 82 discs viewed in the past 12 months. Damn, even I didn't realize it was that bad. Here's the cream of the crop.

25th Hour (2002): One of the thing's I've done this year is work my way through some of the Spike Lee flicks (um, excuse me, "joints") that I'd overlooked in the past year. Of the bunch, 25th Hour is by far the best. It's basically traces the last day in a man's life before he reports to prison to serve a long sentence. It doesn't sugarcoat the guy's crime (victimless - he's a dealer), but it focuses on the shattered relationships with his family, friends, and loved ones that he leaves in his wake. Lots of people who don't interact with criminal defendants on a regular basis don't know about those effects, but they are very very real.

The Triplets of Belleville (2003): French, animated, and largely free of dialogue - how's that for an interesting basis for a film? This was one of the most original flicks I've seen in a long time, visually rich and exquisitely surreal.

Annie Hall (1977): I was not familiar most of Woody Allen's classics before this year. Like 25th Hour with the Spike joints, Annie Hall was the best of Woody's bunch. A terrifically developed romantic comedy, where the guy doesn't get the girl in the end and it still feels like a happy (in a realistic sort of way) ending.

City of God (2002): I put this Brazilian flick in my queue two years ago because it was on several 10 best lists from 2002 and forgot about it until it popped out of my mailbox. Given that situation, I was a completely clean slate when I watched it. I haven't been so overwhelmed by a film in a long time as I was with City of God, a sprawling epic set in the Rio slum of the same name. As violent, compelling, and moving as any of the great American mob epics.
I even saw a few flicks the old fashioned way - in the theater!

Serenity (2005): I am a huge fan of Joss Whedon's defunct TV sci-fi/western Firefly, so it was only natural that I'd go see the big-screen version when it came out. As such, I'm probably not the most neutral observer, but I think it was the best sci-fi I'd seen on the screen in a long time. Much better that The Phantom Menace, even. Sadly, it went underappreciated and any chances of either film franchise or return to TV are dead and buried. Oh well.

Syriana (2005): Although it has sort of a Traffic-lite feel (given the parties involved, that makes sense), this is nonetheless a great grown-up thriller with serious ideas behind it. And if you have a thing against George Clooney, this is the flick for you!
Well, that's it for 2005 here at the Ranch, folks. Another long weekend beckons, so I'll be back in 2006, hopefully after a successful WVU bowl game.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

2005 - My Year in Tunes

As the year draws to close, it's hip for people to put together their "best of" or "retrospective" lists for 2005. Who am I to buck that sort of trend? Here is a sampling of my favorites from my year in tunes.

New Releases in 2005

Porcupine Tree - Deadwing: PT's major-label followup to the brilliant In Absentia was firmly in the same vein, but equally impressive. As such, there's plenty of crunchy guitar backed up with more mellow, acoustic passages. And the extended Floyd-type stuff is there, too, most strongly on the excellent "Arriving Somewhere But Not Here." It's not a concept album, but was inspired by a screenplay co-written by band leader Steven Wilson. Supposedly the band was recorded for a DVD release on their recent tour. A live video document is about the only thing they lack at this point.

echolyn - The End Is Beautiful: After you produce Mei, a massive 49-minute epic, what exactly do you do for an encore? If you're echolyn, you re-recruit a wayward bass player and get back to work, producing an album that takes your sound to places it's never been while still being unmistakably yours. While a very dark album, lyrically, it's very vibrant and diverse musically (I didn't know the "P" in "P-Funk" stood for "prog" until I heard "So Ready"). More proof that echolyn Mach II is one of the most interesting bands on the planet.

Adrian Belew - Side One / Side Two: I think the original plan for Belew was to release three short albums in 2005, each different in approach and style. It looks like Side Three won't make it out until the new year, but if it's anything like these two, it will be worth the wait. Side One is the heavier and more direct of the two, featuring a manic power trio of Belew, Daney Carey (Tool), and Les Claypool (Primus) in addition to the Grammy-nominated "Beat Box Guitar." Side Two is a little more experimental and employs more electronics in the sonic palette.

New-to-Me Releases in 2005

Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention - Freak Out! (1966): For some reason, I resisted/ignored the earlier Zappa/Mothers for a long time, but I finally broke down and picked up the debut disc this year. While it's not all my cup of tea, I can see why it caused such a stir back in the 60s. It reinforced my theory that Brian Wilson's Smile, originally conceived around the same time but delayed until 2004, is overrated, at least in terms of being "groundbreaking." Freak Out!'s mix of pop, weird doo-wop, modern orchestral music and musique concrete is so much more interesting.

Umphrey's McGee - Anchor Drops (2004): I knew nothing of this Chicago band until I saw a news blurb that they had signed to the Inside Out label in Europe. I/O is mostly a prog label, so I was intrigued. I saw this disc at the local Border's and picked it up sight unheard. Very glad I did. Definitely in the American jam-band tradition, but with strong song writing, nice instrumental interplay (dual guitars - very nice), and cool harmonies. Definitely need to explore their stuff some more in 2006.

The Tangent - The World That We Drive Through (2004): The Tangent are another in the long line of prog "all star" bands, for which I generally have little use. I got their debut due to the presence of Van der Graff Generator's David Jackson in addition to the "younger" guys, curious as to the kind of music that might produce. I liked that one so much that when I found the this, their second, album, I picked it up even though Jackson has moved on. The music is firmly backwards looking symphonic prog, with Canterbury flourishes here and there, but it's very very good, in a less bombastic way than, say, Transatlantic was.

OK, that's it for tunes. Film tomorrow.

The Fourth Amendment: 24 Hours a Day, 7 Days a Week, 365 Days a Year

I was going to set this week aside for "year in review" posts, but I just couldn't let this one go. In today's New York Times, two former DoJ lawyers engage in a pretty weak defense of Dubya's NSA-led domestic spying operation. What I'm particularly surprised/disappointed about is that two lawyers would repeat this talking point from the Dubya defenders:

The president has the constitutional authority to acquire foreign intelligence without a warrant or any other type of judicial blessing. The courts have acknowledged this authority, and numerous administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have espoused the same view. The purpose here is not to detect crime, or to build criminal prosecutions - areas where the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirements are applicable - but to identify and prevent armed attacks on American interests at home and abroad.
I have no idea where people get this idea. The text of the Fourth Amendment is abundantly clear:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated . . .
There is not qualifier in the Amendment. It doesn't say "the right of the people against unreasonable searches and seizures during criminal investigations shall not be violated." Nor is there, to my knowledge, any Supreme Court case so restricting it. True, the Fourth Amendment most often is discussed in terms of a criminal proceeding, in which the fruits of an illegal search can by excluded if the Fourth Amendment was violated. However, any person who has been victimized by an illegal search can file a civil suit seeking compensation for that injury.

Dubya's NSA shenanigans may not violate the Fourth Amendment, but it won't be because the Amendment's protections are limited to criminal investigations.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Merry Xmas, Blogosphere

The Ranch is going to shut down for a few days while Xmas proceedings take place. While I'm not a believer, I enjoy the season and think that any holiday that promotes renewal, peace on earth, and goodwill towards men is a good thing. So, I leave with the words of a child, from whom so much wisdom often comes:

Christmas is a time when people of all religions come together to worship Jesus Christ.

- Bart Simpson
Amen, Bart. :)

If Virginia Is For Lovers . . .

. . . then Canada is now for fuckers, particularly of the group grope type. Yesterday the Supreme Court of Canada handed down opinions in two cases that, according to the Toronto Globe and Mail "redefines obscenity." Basically, the Court, with two dissenters (both French-Canadian, for whatever that's worth), concluded that two private sex clubs could not be convicted of violating obscenity laws. As the parties involved were all consenting adults there was no "harm" that could rightfully be criminalized. Sounds like logic right out of On Liberty to me, which is not a bad thing. May it cross the border undetected, like so many other things.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

A Bad Day

You know, given his recent troubles, I almost feel sorry for Dubya. Today was another bad day for the man who would be King. First, one of the judges from the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court resigns, apparently in protest over Dubya's secret domestic spying program. Then Bruce Fein, a conservative constitutional scholar writing in the right-wing Washington Times says this about you:

President Bush presents a clear and present danger to the rule of law. He cannot be trusted to conduct the war against global terrorism with a decent respect for civil liberties and checks against executive abuses.
Ouch! And, to top it all off, this report from UK's The Guardian shows how the Iraqi elections of last week, Dubya's great triumph of late, is shaping up to be a crushing failure. It's enough to make you hit the sauce.

ID Smackdown, Day 2

A day after a federal judge laid down a six-pack of whup ass on the "Intelligent Design" movement, the various parties are pondering their next move. As this New York Times article shows, the ID folks are undaunted:

Richard Thompson, the lead defense lawyer for the school board, derided the judge for issuing a sweeping judgment in a case that Mr. Thompson said merely involved a 'one-minute statement' being read to students. He acknowledged that his side, too, had asked the judge to rule on the scientific merits of intelligent design, but only because it had to respond to the plaintiffs' arguments.

'A thousand opinions by a court that a particular scientific theory is invalid will not make that scientific theory invalid,' said Mr. Thompson, the president and chief counsel of the Thomas More Law Center, a public interest firm in Ann Arbor, Mich., that says it promotes Christian values. 'It is going to be up to the scientists who are going to continue to do research in their labs that will ultimately determine that.'

Talk about burying your head in the sand. But meanwhile, as this Salon article demonstrates, teachers all over the country are being forced to deal with ID, in one way or another.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

ID Unmasked

On tonight's season finale of FX's Nip/Tuck (it's a guilty pleasure - sue me), we are to learn the identity of "The Carver," a serial rapist/mutilator, in a last-minute reveal worthy of the original black and white version of Phantom of the Opera. Alas, it will not be the most dramatic unmasking of the day.

In Harrisburg, a federal judge issued his decision in the Dover school board case involving the injection of "Intelligent Design" into science classes. In a whopping 139-page opinion, Judge John E. Jones, III completely ripped ID apart, concluding that it is not science and has no place in a public school science class. This was no bland application of settle law to found facts. This was a completely intellectual destruction of ID, which Jones unmasked as simply being Creationism with a new mask. The entire opinion is filled with great quotes, but one of the concluding paragraphs (on pages 137-138) sums it up:

Those who disagree with our holding will likely mark it as the product of an activist judge. If so, they will have erred as this is manifestly not an activist Court. Rather, this case came to us as the result of the activism of an ill-informed faction on a school board, aided by a national public interest law firm eager to find a constitutional test case on ID, who in combination drove the Board to adopt an imprudent and ultimately unconstitutional policy. The breathtaking inanity of the Board's decision is evident when considered against the factual backdrop which has now been fully revealed through this trial. The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.
The emphasis is mind. Just in time for Christmas!

The King Is Nekkid

While I rarely agree with him, I've always liked George Will because he is a principled conservative. When so many others on the right just ape the party line and fall in to defend Dubya and his cronies, Will does call him out when appropriate. So, in one sense, it's not surprising that Will is chastising Dubya for his domestic spying program. Will asks the question that most have but the administration has yet to answer - if FISA was not properly set up to handle warrants in these kinds of situations, why didn't they go to Congress and get the statute changed? After all, after 9/11, Congress could scarcely say no to Dubya (witness the PATRIOT ACT). Was it just arrogance? Will speculates:

Charles de Gaulle, a profound conservative, said of another such, Otto von Bismarck -- de Gaulle was thinking of Bismarck not pressing his advantage in 1870 in the Franco-Prussian War -- that genius sometimes consists of knowing when to stop. In peace and in war, but especially in the latter, presidents have pressed their institutional advantages to expand their powers to act without Congress. This president might look for occasions to stop pressing.
Wow, a conservative lashes out at Dubya and cites the French as a positive example - that's a sign of the apocalypse, right?

Racing's Heart Skips a Beat

Motor racing lost one of its true pioneers today with the death of Keith Duckworth. Duckworth, along with fellow Lotus engineer Mike Costin, started Cosworth Engineering. Cosworth would go on to develop, among other things, the DFV V-8 that dominated Formula 1 for nearly 20 years, collecting 156 grands prix and 12 championships. A turbocharged variant, the DFX, enjoyed similar success in Indycar racing in the United States. In addition, cars up and down the club and professional ladders enjoy Cosworth power.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Rex Tyrannus

One of the best parts of Mel Brooks's History of the World is the bit covering the French revolution, in which Louis XVI does a series of unseemly things and justifies them by turning to the camera and announcing, "It's good to be the king." It's a funny running gag when Brooks does it in the context of a broad historical farce.

It is not funny when the President of the United States essentially does the same thing. Dubya's "yeah, I broke the law, what are you gonna' do about it?" attitude towards the NSA's spying on Americans as part of the "War on Terra." Of course, it fits Dubya's tenure in the White House perfectly. He has consistently showed no regard for the rule of law when it interferes with his acquisition of power. And while I don't buy the argument that the NSA scheme is justified by the 2001 Congressional authorization of force that kicked off the War on Terra, I do believe that Congress abdicated its responsibility in the past several years to reign in King Dubya. Somebody needs to step up.

He Is the Central Scrutinizer

I suppose this isn't actually a huge surprise, but the president of Iran has banned Western music in the country. How might this affect the Iranian media?

Songs such as George Michael's 'Careless Whisper,' Eric Clapton's 'Rush' and the Eagles' 'Hotel California' have regularly accompanied Iranian broadcasts, as do tunes by saxophonist Kenny G.
Interesting choices. It is, of course, a huge violation of human rights to suppress speech that happens to be music, even if it's Kenny G. After all, wasn't it Voltaire who said, "I may not agree with your enthusiasm for awful white-bread elevator music Jazzac, but I will fight to the death for your right to listen to it."

Friday, December 16, 2005

A Visit from Saint Dingell

The War on Christmas has reached it's zenith. A Virginia Congresswoman introduced a resolution in the House yesterday "expressing support for 'the symbols and traditions of Christmas.'" Such a mindbending waste of time and taxpayer dollars could only be confronted with the absurdity of poetry. And so it was, by Democratic Congressman John Dingell of Michigan:

Twas the week before Christmas and all through the House
No bills were passed ‘bout which Fox News could grouse;

Tax cuts for the wealthy were passed with great cheer,
So vacations in St. Barts soon would be near;

Katrina kids were nestled all snug in motel beds,
While visions of school and home danced in their heads;

In Iraq our soldiers needed supplies and a plan,
Plus nuclear weapons were being built in Iran;

Gas prices shot up, consumer confidence fell;
Americans feared we were on a fast track to…well…

Wait--- we need a distraction--- something divisive and wily;
A fabrication straight from the mouth of O’Reilly

We can pretend that Christmas is under attack
Hold a vote to save it--- then pat ourselves on the back;

Silent Night, First Noel, Away in the Manger
Wake up Congress, they’re in no danger!

This time of year we see Christmas every where we go,
From churches, to homes, to schools, and yes…even Costco;

What we have is an attempt to divide and destroy,
When this is the season to unite us with joy

At Christmas time we’re taught to unite,
We don’t need a made-up reason to fight

So on O’Reilly, on Hannity, on Coulter, and those right wing blogs;
You should just sit back, relax…have a few egg nogs!

‘Tis the holiday season: enjoy it a pinch
With all our real problems, do we honestly need another Grinch?

So to my friends and my colleagues I say with delight,
A merry Christmas to all,

and to Bill O’Reilly…Happy Holidays.

Thank you, Mr. Dingell! Or, as Barry Lynn put it, "[i]f they honestly think there's some kind of war against Santa Claus or the baby Jesus, they are just not getting out enough."

Sadly, the resolution passed, 401-22. Ho ho ho. :(

Why We Have a First Amendment

Orhan Pamuk, a Turkish novelist, is on trial in his country. His alleged offense? "Denigrating national character." Authorities charge that Pamuk committed this sin when he told a Swiss newspaper earlier this year that "30,000 Kurds and a million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody but me dares to talk about it." In other words, Pamuk is being prosecuted for spouting an opinion. This story in Britain's The Independent shows how Pamuk's trial, and Turkey's shaky record on human rights, may affect it's bid to join the European Union.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Oedipus Wrecked

You just cannot make this stuff up. One of the pitfalls of Internet dating is that when time comes to meet in the real world the person on the other end of you love connection is not what you thought they were. Maybe their shorter than advertised, or dumber, or something from another planet. But your mom?!? It happened to Daniel Anceneaux, who chatted with "Sweet Juliette" for six months before arranging a meeting on a local beach. Turns out that "Juliette" was actually Daniel's mother. How warped is this:

"Mom called herself Sweet Juliette and I called myself The Prince of Pleasure, and unfortunately, neither one of us had any idea who the other was," said flabbergasted Daniel.

"The conversations even got a little racy a couple of times.

"But I really started to fall for her, because there seemed to be a sensitive side that you don't see in many girls.

"She sent me poems she had written and told me about her dreams and desires, and it was really very romantic.

"The truth is, I got to see a side of my mom I'd never seen before. I'm grateful for that."
Are you sure?!?

UPDATE: If I'd read the byline more carefully, I'd have seen that this came from that paragon of journalistic integrity, the Weekly World News. I'd say that significantly raises the probability that it is, let us say, exagerated. Thanks to Concurring Opinions for actually reading it.

Echoes of Kelo

Six months after the Supreme Court's controversial Kelo decision, state legislatures are getting set to take up the issue of imminent domain. This article from the provides a good overview of the situation as 44 state legislatures get ready for new sessions. What's really interesting is that several states have already passed "reform" measures on the wave of post-Kelo outrage that really aren't reforms at all. It wouldn't be the first time that politicians had used public outrage to enrich their own powers.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

10 Years of Bosman

In 1969, baseball player Curt Flood challenged the traditional "reserve clause" in American sports contracts. Basically, the reserve clause put all the power over where a player would play with the club and prevented players from moving freely between teams once their contracts expired. Flood's legal battle (unsuccessful, but eventually forcing the negotiate end of the clause), up to the Supreme Court, marked a seismic shift in American sports.

For two decades after Flood's legal battle, a version of the reserve clause lingered on in European soccer. Players could only move between clubs if they were bought and sold, regardless of whether they were under contract. In 1995, a journeyman Belgian midfielder named Jean-Marc Bosman challenged that practice in European Court of Justice. Unlike Flood, Bosman won his case, instantly changing the face of European football. Not only did players become free agents once their contracts expired, but the Court ruled that UEFA rules limiting the number of "foreign" players in a team could not be applied to players from European Union countries. As a result, teams like English giants Chelsea and Arsenal have fielded teams without any English players.

BBC Sport takes a look at the effects of Bosman 10 years on.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Backlash For Snitches

Slate has this interesting column today about "the high cost of snitching for law enforcement." The starting point is a new fashion trend of shirts that say "Stop Snitchin'," set in a red octagonal sign. The column does a good job of showing how dependent on snitches law enforcement has become, particularly in drug cases. As it points out, the theory of using small fish to catch big fish is often turned on its head in drug cases, where the bigger fish have more useful information to puke up. The low level dealers, however, know almost nothing about the larger organization and end up getting the higher sentences.

The Lion, the Witch, the Wardrobe, the Controversy

When I was a kid, I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, along with a couple of other Narnia books. I enjoyed them, but not enough to get through the entire series. At no time did I feel that I was being preached to or that there were deeper meanings lurking between the lines. I went on to live a happy cynical life, with the only lasting influence of Lewis's works being two tunes in my CD collection (Steve Hackett's "Narnia" and echolyn's "My Dear Wormwood," if you're keeping track at home).

I guess that's why I'm so surprised about the holy war that's developing over the Disney movie version of Wardrobe. On the one hand, you have the evangelical crowd that are looking to use the film as a conversion tool. On the other, you have more secular folks who just want to enjoy the story and not have a particular interpretation shoved down their throats. I somewhat blame Disney itself, as it wants to tap into the mainstream Lord of the Rings crowd while also looking to cash in on the religious Passion of the Christ crowd. In doing so, they've niche marketed so intently to set up this clash of focus groups.

Nonetheless, the whole thing has produced some interesting writing. First up we have this piece by Polly Tonybee in UK's The Guardian attacking Lewis's series not just for being Christian allegory, but being bad Christian allegory. Then there's this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education by Michael Nelson (fresh from the Satellite of Love, no doubt) taking on some other criticisms of the Narnia books. Finally, there's this New York Times column that makes, I think, the most sensible point: read the books and see the movie(s) for yourself and make up your own mind.

Hat tip to Prawfsblawg for the Guardian and Chronicle links.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Regular Programming . . .

. . . will (should?) resume tomorrow. Had to help the parents get an Xmas tree tonight. At one point today I had a lot of stuff to say about various topics. Who knows if I'll remember it tomorrow.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

It Was Bound to Happen

Recycled creationists, meet your match:

Don Wise, professor emeritus of geosciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is the nation's foremost proponent of ID. No, Wise isn't getting ready to testify on behalf of the school board in Dover, PA. Rather, he advocates for a different version of the acronym: "incompetent design."

Wise cites serious flaws in the systems of the human body as evidence that design in the universe exhibits not an obvious source of, but a sore lack of, intelligence.
After all, who says the "designer" has to be good or smart (unless it's an omniscient white-bearded single father type)?

And You Think Your Job Is Stressful

USA Today has an interesting story today about Jurgen Klinsmann, coach of the German national team. Klinsmann was an ace striker during his playing days with Germany and several of Europe's biggest clubs. However, he had no coaching experience when he took over the national team in 2004. That might be enough for German fans to be nervous in the run up to next year's World Cup. Throw into the mix that Klinsmann lives in *shudder* California! But regardless of what the Germans think of Klinsmann, I like the guy:

The past several years, Klinsmann has played on a local amateur team, the Orange County Blue Stars, for fun and exercise. Unbeknownst to him, organizers gave him the pseudonym of Jay Goppingen — Göppingen is his place of birth — so initially most opponents had no clue who he really was. Hey, that Goppingen guy is pretty good.

So how's his game at age 41? "Slower," he says with a smile.

Anybody who's that into the game is OK with me. Doesn't mean I don't want to kick Germany's ass next year, of course!

Into the Lens

The editorial pro/con in USA Today today tackled the issue of whether cameras should be allowed in federal courtrooms. Arguing the "yes" side, predictably is the paper, while Judge Jan E. DuBois of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania argues "no." I've never been a fan of cameras in the courtroom, but I do admit enjoying the occasional audio from the Supreme Court or a Ninth Circuit on video. Given the mundane stuff that goes on in court most days, I can't imagine that lots of proceedings would ever get put on the tube. But still, I find a couple of the paper's assertions troubling, at best:

The world is witnessing an intense drama as the trial of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein unfolds live on television. People can tune in on TV or watch at their computers, via the Internet.

But if Saddam were on trial in a federal court in the USA, the viewing public would be shut out.

Sorry, that's just false. Saddam's trial (assuming no extra-Constitutional shenanigans by Dubya and crew) would be public and no doubt well covered by the press. The physical limitations of the courtroom would keep some folks from attending, but to say the public would be "shut out" is just ludicrous.

Americans, except for the few who can squeeze into courtrooms, pay the price for this aloof stance. Citizens are denied the ability to watch federal courts decide the people's most weighty disputes, from cases involving abortion rights to trials of those charged with the most heinous crimes.
A more realistic point of view would be that "Americans, except for the few who bother to actually go to courtrooms and see the process, don't much care what happens inside them." In my experience, whether in state court in Charleston or the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, nobody shows up to observe 95% of court proceedings. If the courtrooms were packed to the rafters on a regular basis, I'd be more inclined to buy that argument.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Fundie Funyons

I should have known that when I made fun of the Florida woman who found the Virgin Mary on her grilled cheese sandwich that eventually something equally nutty would crop up in my own neck of the woods. And so, today's Charleston Gazette reports that Crawley, WV man has auctioned off two Funyuns on eBay because they (wait for it) resembled Mary and Jesus. He found them under the seat in his car. Of course, the truly silly part of the story is that someone paid $609 for these things!

Church Closed on Account of Christmas

I understand that in years when Christmas falls on Sunday it creates some scheduling headaches for the nation's institutions. The NFL must hate those years, like this one. But you'd think that one group that wouldn't have any problems with it would by Christian churches. After all, they generally have Sunday services and what better day to have a service than the day on which they celebrate the birth of their savior? Well, apparently, folks just don't show up. That's why several "megachurches" have cancelled services for December 25. Of course, when you get into the details of these arenas of worship, it starts to make sense:

Cindy Willison, a spokeswoman for the evangelical Southland Christian Church, said at least 500 volunteers are needed, along with staff, to run Sunday services for the estimated 8,000 people who usually attend. She said many of the volunteers appreciate the chance to spend Christmas with their families instead of working, although she said a few church members complained.
Wow, that's quite a production.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Paging Dick Wolf (Again)

From Findlaw comes another story perfect for the Law & Order "ripped from the headlines" treatment. A man is charged with attacking his 11-year old stepdaughter. Sadly, that's not all that unusual in the world. What makes this case different is that the stepdaughter is now on life support and a battle is brewing over whether to pull the plug on her. What's even more unusual is that because of the family situation involved, the alleged beater may be the one to make the call. If he can keep her alive, he could theoretically avoid a murder charge (although the girl's legal guardian died under mysterious circumstances as well, so he may not be in the clear). Certainly this is the stuff of TV drama.

Speaking of which, I wonder where the "Save Terri" folks are on this one. They seemed like a pretty confrontational, fire-and-brimstone bunch who would probably be first in line to throw the switch to execute the attacker in this case if the girl died. But on the other hand, the "culture of life" requires them to keep her alive. What a pickle, huh?

Come Out of the Closet, Tom

Two weeks ago, South Park savaged both Scientology and one of it's most visible members, Tom Cruise. Parker & Stone (um, excuse me, "Smith and Smith") nailed the Scientologists by shedding light on the admittedly strange beliefs that underlie the religion. As for Cruise, he ended up in the closet of one of the Park kids and, well, just wouldn't come out. No matter how many times anyone asked him to "come out of the closet." And in the end, the Smiths practically begged to get sued. So could Cruise successfully sue South Park for libel? As Findlaw's Julie Hilden writes today, probably not. The First Amendment almost certainly would foil Cruise's suit. I do take exception to part of Hilden's analysis, however:

On this logic, the First Amendment gives breathing room to creative works even when they fail in their goals. Thus, here, the 'South Park' episode is protected even if its literalization of the 'in the closet' metaphor won't make a single viewer chuckle.

The point is that it was at least trying to make people laugh. And probably, the very silliness of the literalization -- the fact that it was the least creative thing the creators possibly could have done -- did indeed amuse some viewers. 'South Park's' appeal, after all, isn't its subtlety.

The emphasis is mine. I can only assume that Hilden's never laughed at South Park if she thinks that nobody thought the running "closet" bit was funny. I thought it was funny as hell, actually. But, it's a good thing that even bad comedy is entitled to First Amendment protection.

Monday, December 05, 2005

San Diego, (Not So) Super Chargers!

Back in 1972, San Diego mayor (and later California Governor) Pete Wilson hatched the phrase "America's Finest City" as a PR ploy. For more than 30 years, the city has continued to bill itself as America's Finest. Until recently for, as today's USA Today points out, things have gone downhill:

One of its congressmen admitted taking $2.4 million in bribes, the FBI has investigated City Hall, the mayor resigned, a $1.37 billion pension shortfall damaged the city's credit rating and fueled talk of bankruptcy, and two councilmen were convicted of taking bribes from a strip club owner.
In the face of that evidence, the current mayor has removed the slogan from the city's website:
'We couldn't stake that claim anymore,' said Gina Lew, the city's director of public and media affairs. 'We were taking too many hits.'
But leave it to San Dieagans to see the humor in all this:
The San Diego Union-Tribune recently asked readers to come up with a new slogan, saying 'America's Finest' had turned 'creaky.' Among the nearly 500 responses: 'Scandalicious,' 'An Eruption of Corruption,' 'All Major Unmarked Bills Accepted Here' and 'Bunglers by the Bay.'
I personally think that "All Major Unmarked Bills Accepted Here" would look dandy on a flag.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Rest of the Story

"There are three sides to every story: your side, their side, and the truth."
- Old Vorlon saying

You may remember the post-Katrina horror stories that came out of the Saint Rita's Nursing Home outside of New Orleans. The owners ignored orders to evacuate, thinking they could ride out the storm in safety. They were wrong. Trapped in the storm surge, at least 34 of the home's elderly residents were killed. Louisiana authorities have charged the owners with 34 counts of negligent homicide. But as today's USA Today cover story points out, the entire picture of what happened at St. Rita's is just beginning to emerge. A tragedy? Definitely. The result of a criminal act? It's not looking like it.

I Spoke Too Soon

Last month I noted that the cancellation of The Simple Life had me questioning the non-existence of God. Well, apparently that crisis of non-faith has been resolved. E! picked the series up for 10 new episodes. Imagine my lack of enthusiasm.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Get to Know Me

Dima had this interesting little survey over on her blog today, so I'll play along:

Birthday:10 Nov 1973
Birthplace:Charleston, WV
Current Location:Scott Depot, WV
Eye Color:Brown
Hair Color:Brown
Height:6 ft 1 in, I think
Right Handed or Left Handed:Right
Your Heritage:Irish, English, West-by-god-Virginian
The Shoes You Wore Today:Brown dress shoes
Your Weakness:DirecTV, in all its glory
Your Fears:Death, dooming a client to prison because of my screw up
Your Perfect Pizza:Lots of dead animal flesh
Goal You Would Like To Achieve This Year:Survival
Your Most Overused Phrase On an instant messenger:Don't IM (I'm old)
Thoughts First Waking Up:Not now, I'm busy
Your Best Physical Feature:Legs or eyes
Your Bedtime:After _Futurama_
Your Most Missed Memory:How should I know?
Pepsi or Coke:Diet Coke
MacDonalds or Burger King:BK, I suppose
Single or Group Dates:Single
Chocolate or Vanilla:Chocolate
Do you Smoke:No
Do you Swear:Absofuckinglutely
Do you Sing:Yes
Do you Shower Daily:Mostly
Have you Been in Love:Yes
Do you want to go to College:Been there, done that
Do you want to get Married:Someday - maybe - probably
Do you belive in yourself:I believe I exist, yes
Do you get Motion Sickness:No
Do you think you are Attractive:Sure
Are you a Health Freak:No
Do you get along with your Parents:Yes
Do you like Thunderstorms:Yes, as long as the power doesn't go off
Do you play an Instrument:Yes - piano, etc.
In the past month have you Drank Alcohol:No
In the past month have you Smoked:No
In the past month have you been on Drugs:Only legal ones
In the past month have you gone on a Date:Yes
In the past month have you gone to a Mall:Yes
In the past month have you eaten a box of Oreos:Yes - one of those little travel cups
In the past month have you eaten Sushi:No
In the past month have you been on Stage:No
In the past month have you been Dumped:Thankfully, no
In the past month have you gone Skinny Dipping:No
In the past month have you Stolen Anything:No
Ever been Drunk:Not to my knowledge
Ever been called a Tease:Not tellin'
Ever been Beaten up:Only during soccer games
Ever Shoplifted:No
How do you want to Die:Quickly a long long time from now
What do you want to be when you Grow Up:Me
What country would you most like to Visit:UK
In a Boy/Girl..
Favourite Eye Color:Hazel/Green
Favourite Hair Color:Red
Short or Long Hair:Either
Height:Not taller than me, at least
Weight:Curves are good
Best Clothing Style:Easily removed :)
Number of Drugs I have taken:Who can count?
Number of CDs I own:676
Number of Piercings:0
Number of Tattoos:0


What does that all mean? Who knows.

I Didn't Need to Know the Odds

Over at Crime & Federalism, Mike has a disturbing post about the odds of success on appeal for various kinds of cases. According to Mike's source, the national average of reversals in US Courts of Appeals in 2002 was 9.5%. From criminal cases, that number drops to 5.6%. Or, in another way of putting it, your chances of success in a crimnial appeal are 1 in 18. And that's an average - I can't imagine what it's like in the Fourth Circuit.

In some ways, those number are frightening in that my clients have so little chance of success that I best not screw up whatever hope they might have. On the other hand, their also somewhat comforting, 'cause it means that no matter how skillfully I advocate in a particular case I stand a slim slim chance of winning.

The Founders, God, and the Constitution

One of the recurring themes of the right is that the Founders were inherently religious and would be shocked and appalled by the modern interpretation of the First Amendment's religion clauses. As this fairly exhaustive article from Mother Jones points out, that's pretty much BS.

Gimme a D! Gimme a R! Gimme a U! Gimme a G!

My brother sells drugs for a living. Cool your jets - he sells perfectly legal ones to doctors on behalf of one of the smaller pharmaceutical companies. Which made this story in today's New York Times jump out at me. It talks about how the drug companies are increasingly recruiting sales people from the ranks of college cheerleaders:

Anyone who has seen the parade of sales representatives through a doctor's waiting room has probably noticed that they are frequently female and invariably good looking. Less recognized is the fact that a good many are recruited from the cheerleading ranks.
Well, my brother is certainly not female or an ex-cheerleader (that I know of, at least), and I can't bring myself to say he's good looking, either (of course, I sort of look like him, so what does that say about me?). I guess that just means he has to work all that much harder. :)

The People v. Saddam, Part Deux

After a false start last month, the trial of Saddam Hussein got underway in earnest this morning in Baghdad - and promptly adjourned until next week. The only piece of evidence introduced so far was the videotaped testimony of the man who investigated the 1982 massacre that is the subject of this particular set of charges against Saddam. He testified via video taken before his recent death. The details aren't clear, but I wonder what type of video it was. Was it a simple statement by this man, or was it a full-fledged video deposition, complete with cross-examination? If the former, is that really a good way to get Saddam's trial started (one wonders if he's familiar with Crawford)? I know Iraqi justice isn't necessarily American justice, but unconfronted witnesses testifying from beyond the grave should give anybody pause.

The Limts of My Blog Designing Skills

Over the long holiday weekend, I had a grand plan to do a major redesign here at the Ranch. Part one was to seriously expand my links section. Part two was to change the look of the blog. As you can see if you glance to your right, part one came off without a hitch. Some of those links are other blogs (or blawgs, if you will), others are good ol' fashioned Web sites. Either way, they are regular reads of mine and so I recommend them, at least to some degree. Part two, as you have no doubt also noticed, did not take place. I was too gun shy to change anything for fear of losing all the work I did for part one. Guess I should have reversed the order.

Oh well, on to bigger and better things!

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The End of an Innocent

Death penalty opponents often point to the growing number of people freed from death row as evidence of the fact that the system is fatally flawed. Supporters frequently fire back that death row exonerations are actually a sign that the system does work and that no innocent person has ever been wrongly executed, at least since executions restarted in the 1970s. I've always been dubious of that claim - if hundreds of people have been wrongly convicted and managed to hold on long enough to be exonerated, surely someone has gone to their death for a crime they did not commit.

Well, the Houston Chronicle has found one. Ruben Cantu was convicted in a shooting that left one mad dead and another seriously wounded in 1984. He was executed in 1993, constantly protesting his innocence. In two stories that ran earlier this week, the Chronicle shows how Cantu was almost certainly innocent. The only eyewitness to the crime (the second victim) has recanted, and Cantu's alleged codefendant recently revealed that Cantu wasn't involved in the shooting at all. The codefendant escaped execution by pleading guilty and testifying against Cantu at trial. In other words, the guy who actually did it snitched on an innocent man and sent him to his death.

There are many reasons to scrap the death penalty completely on moral, ethical, and policy grounds. But first and foremost, shouldn't we be sure that we actually get it right when someone pays the ultimate penalty? If we can't even assure that the right people get executed, it makes a mockery of the entire justice system.

Fight the Power

West Virginia is bisected by two major Interstates: I-79 runs north and south to Charleston, while I-64 runs east and west across the entire state. But to get from the southeast part of the state to the north, it's best to bridge the distance of those routes by taking Route 19 from Beckley to I-79 north of Summersville. It's not an Interstate, but it's four-lane and a fairly quick drive. There's only one problem - Summersville itself, where the speed limit quickly drops by 15 miles per hour and the cops and thick and running radar. The town is known internationally as a speed trap (it's the location of my only speeding ticket), but now one local businessman is trying to help unsuspecting motorists. Charles McCue, who owns the land on which the local Wal-Mart was built, has posted a sign to the south of town that reads:

'Summersville, The World's Largest SPEED TRAP 4 MILES AHEAD.'

And at the bottom of the sign, 'Compliments of Charles S. McCue.'

He's got plans for more:

And as for Mr. McCue, he's planning to put a billboard on the north side of the town to warn travelers heading south.

'I've already set aside the money," he said. "I just haven't had the time.'

Thanks for the warning, Chuck!

Monday, November 21, 2005

And the World Champion of Stupidy Is . . .

I've seen smokers huddle out in the cold on 10 degree days or brave a downpour just to get a blessed puff. But you've got to be jonesing really bad - or be titanically stupid - to try and open an airplane door while in flight in order to light up. Of course, she has a defense:

Defense lawyer Helen Shilton told the court Sellies was terrified of flying and had taken sleeping tablets with alcohol before takeoff.

Shilton said Sellies has no memory of what happened on the flight and that she has a history of sleepwalking.

Damn lawyers - they can justify just about everything! :)

I'm More of a Basset Hound

One good thing about being a public defender - you never have to worry about drumming up business. So I never have to sit in my office and ponder whether I should compare myself to a pit bull in my advertising. Which is good, 'cause apparently that just goes too far. So says the Florida Supreme Court. It wasn't just a simple comparison, however:

Ads used by the lawyers included a picture of a pit bull with a spiked collar beside the telephone number 1-800-PIT-BULL.
Now, if only they'd had one of the lawyers wearing a spiked collar in the picture, that might have made all the difference. After all, "[i]t's such a fine line between stupid, and clever," as a great man once said.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

21st Century Cliff Notes

I suppose it was only a matter of time. As this BBC report shows, people have started translating classic works of literature into text message formats. The story has examples of and Romeo and Juliet and Pride and Prejudice translated into one simple (?) paragraph of barely decipherable letters and symbols. Somehow, I think something is lost in the translation.

Monza est Morte?

That was my horrible attempt at Italian, by the way. It seems that for it's neighbors, the Autodromo Nationale di Monza - home of the Italian Grand Prix and one of the fastest and most famous race tracks on the planet - is just too loud. An Italian judge essentially shut the down the track until current noise levels are reduced. According to the judge, auto racing is a "superfluous, dangerous and socially useless activity with a big impact on the environment." Pretty big words from a man who makes his living in Ferrari country.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Consequences of Zero Tolerance

One of the big concepts in criminal justice, particularly when dealing with sex offenders, is that of "zero tolerance." All people convicted of sex crimes must be branded, ostracized, and marginalized from society, regardless of their actual conduct. As usual, that sometimes produces grossly unfair results. Over at Crime & Federalism, Mike posts a letter from a reader who pleaded guilty to statutory rape in Georgia years ago when the law did not require him to register as a sex offender. He was given probation and has lived an exemplary life. But in July, Georgia changed the law to require all sex offenders to register. As a result, the reader lost his job and had his home raided by police (to "inform" his room mates of his status - they knew).

He doesn't minimize his offense or that he deserves punishment. But why should he be treated the same as some guy who snatched a woman off the street and raped her at knifepoint?

We're All the Next In Line . . .

When somebody tries to break a world record for knocking down dominoes, strange things are bound to happen. But gunfire? In Holland on Monday, an organization was attempting to reset a record involving more than 4 million dominoes. As they were falling, like so many east Asian nations during the 50s and 60s, a "common house sparrow" flew into the arena. With about 200,000 dominoes left, the bird got involved and knocked down 23,000 of them. His punishment? He was "chased into a corner and shot by an exterminator with an air rifle." That's problematic because the "common house sparrow," contrary to its name, is an endangered species in Holland. Killing one is illegal unless you have a permit and there is danger to human life or a crop. Authorities are investigating.

How the hell does a "common" bird become endangered, anyway?

Paging Dick Wolf

I used to be a voracious Law & Order fan, until I actually started practicing criminal law. Nevertheless, Second Circuit decision from yesterday should form the basis of an upcoming episode. In Policano v. Herbert, the court affirmed a lower court's grant of habeas relief on behalf of a guy convicted of "depraved-indifference murder under NY Penal Law section 125.25(2)." The problem with the conviction is that the defendant argued at trial (and apparently proved?) that he didn't kill the victim due to "depraved indifference," but because he did so intentionally. The two charges, in NY at least, are separate and mutually exclusive. Therefore, proof of one will not support a conviction for the other. That's a hell of a defense.

Is Iraq Vietnam?

Not really, but public opinion about the war in Iraq is starting to resemble that of the Vietnam War in about 1970, according to this USA Today story.

Imagine What He'd Do If He Didn't Like Her

From San Ber'dino, California, comes this story of true love. Or at least true insanity. In June, 2002, Christian Lindblad (wonder if his head is shaped like a potato?) shot his girlfriend in the groin and then held her hostage for six days in his garage. In spite of the best "home remedies," she eventually needed real medical treatment. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison this week. And what was his victim's reaction? She plans to marry him:

'I love Christian today as deeply as I loved him before this awful thing happened to us,' Stebbins wrote in a victim impact statement. 'We are soul mates.'

She added: 'I want to tell you all that I have forgiven Christian. And I pray that Christian has forgiven me for failing him when he needed me most.'
Holy shit, what kind of "failure" could possibly result in being shot and kidnapped?!?

Well Done, Bruces!

For the first time since 1974, Australia qualified for the World Cup. The Aussies have the burden of being the very biggest fish by far in their region (sorry, New Zealand, you know it's true) that is otherwise very very weak and, thus, does not have an automatic berth in the World Cup finals. As a result, Australia has always had to play-off against a country from another region in a two-leg format in which, quite frankly, anything can happen. Finally, the managed to pull through, on penalty kicks after tying Uruguay 1-1.

Also on this last day of qualifying, Trinidad & Tobago became the fourth CONCACAF nation to make the finals, beating Bahrain 2-1 on aggregate. In Europe, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and Spain made it through to the finals.

So the field is set for Germany '06 - can't wait for the draw next month!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Because Sometimes the Government Gets It Wrong

The writ of habeas corpus is a cornerstone of Western law, often called "The Great Writ." Habeas corpus in Latin literally means "produce the body," and the writ requires the Government to justify its imprisonment of someone. It's often used by prisoners to challenge the conditions of their confinement or their underlying convictions on grounds not reviewable on direct appeal (in fact, most of the death-row "appeals" you hear about are actually habeas proceedings).

It's also been used by people detained by the Government in the War on Terror at places like Guantanamo Bay. Which is why South Carolina GOP Senator Lindsay Graham last week introduced an amendment to a bill that would strip Gitmo detainees of the right to challenge their confinement, essentially overruling the Supreme Court's decision on the issue last summer. Why, you might ask, is it so important to allow these terrorists to have access to the civilian courts? Because, as attorney P. Sabin Willet points out in today's Washington Post, sometimes the Government gets it wrong:

Adel [Willet's client] is innocent. I don't mean he claims to be. I mean the military says so. It held a secret tribunal and ruled that he is not al Qaeda, not Taliban, not a terrorist. The whole thing was a mistake: The Pentagon paid $5,000 to a bounty hunter, and it got taken

Nevertheless, he continues to be held by the Government. This kind of thing should not happen in a country that values the rule of law and respect for human rights. And if Graham's amendment goes through, you can be sure the United States will no longer be one of those countries.

More Right Wing Sex Talk

Last week I noted the propensity of some right wingers to write bad porn in their spare times. Apparently if your a winger and not writing porn, you want to make sure that nobody else can ever read/watch/listen to it. Salon has this article (use the free day pass to get it all) about hearings on porn conducted by Kansas senator (and potential presidential candidate?) Sam Brownback. Well, it was more of an anti-porn hearing (not exactly "fair and balanced"), during which various experts opined on the evils of porn and the self-pleasuring activities associated therewith.

Brownback spoke for the country: I think most Americans agree and know that pornography is bad. They know that it involves exploitive images of men and women, and that it is morally repugnant and offensive . . .
Hmm, he has a funny definition of "most," given the huge money-making machine that is the porn industry in this country. I think the true motivations of these folks is found in these comments:
Sen. Orrin Hatch attended a portion of the hearing to voice his support for a clampdown on pornography. He compared explicit sexual material to high-fat food and secondhand smoke, saying this was a "problem of harm, not an issue of taste." "America is more sex-ridden than any country in world history," said Utah's senior senator, quoting a 25-year-old study.
"Sex-ridden?" Usually to be "ridden" with something is a bad thing (jokes aside, please), as in saying "Dubya's White House is ridden with scandal." Isn't it sad that those in power believe that sex is something that is inherently evil and must be stopped in our lifetime?

Lisbon Called for You . . .

It's nice to know that head-scratching judicial decisions aren't limited to this country. Consider this tale from the UK. A teen-age girl was charged with assault and put on bond. After violating a term of that bond, the prosecution requested that she be fitted with an electronic monitoring ankle bracelet (or "tag," as the Brits call it). Defense counsel argued against the anklet, on the grounds that it clashed with the girl's sense of fashion:

But David Taylor, defending, said that would interfere with her dress sense. He said: 'Unlike some young men who wear a tag as a badge of honour, this young woman dresses in a feminine way. She wants to wear skirts, not trousers, which would cover the tag.'
The magistrate bought that argument and did not impose the condition requested by the prosecution. As expected, the ruling has produced outrage (if not anarchy) in the UK. But, when you look at what the "violation" actually was, it seems like a whole lot of sound and fury signifying nothing:

She appeared in court on Tuesday and admitted breaching the terms of her bail curfew, which states that she must answer her front door to police whenever they call.

Magistrates heard that Hughes, of Worcester, did not answer the door at 2.35am and claimed she was asleep at the time.


[Taylor] said Hughes lived in a shared house with her bedroom at the back of the property and had not heard the doorbell.

Sounds like a reasonable argument to me.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Let's Go Revs!

Since DC United were unceremoniously bounced from the MLS playoffs a couple of weeks ago, I figured I'd be watching this weekend's tenth annual MLS Cup Final (3:30 pm on ABC) as a neutral detached fan of the game. Not anymore, as LA Galaxy coach (and mastermind of the infamous 3-6-1 debacle in France 98), has said this about his team (English translation courtesy of North American Soccer mailing list):

I give the orders to the team on the field, but it's God who guides me. It's not my hands that steer the Galaxy, but the hands of God. If he wants us to be champions then so be it, because only his power should prevail.
Well, that about cinches it then, doesn't it? Let's go Revs!

On a related note, am I the only one who is stunned that MLS has been around for 10 years? I know they've been celebrating it throughout the season, but I guess it really hit me when I heard young players from both New England and LA talk about how they "grew up" as Revs or Galaxy fans. Sure enough, for those young 21 year olds, they've grown up with a top-flight professional American soccer league. How kick ass is that?

Now That Looks Like Some Intelligent Design

I'm a little late to this (WVU playing Wednesday games will do that to me), but one of the most powerful election results from Tuesday came from the Dover, Pennsylvania school board race. That's the town, you'll remember, that is embroiled in a federal legal controversy over "Intelligent Design" and it's place in a public school science curriculum. All eight of the pro-ID folks on the board were defeated in the election. I'm not one to tout election results as evidence of people getting something right, but this does at least indicate that the citizens of York were sufficiently pissed off with these fundie nutjobs to actually vote in a school board election.

Of course, with the good news comes the bad - also on Tuesday, the Kansas State Board of Education voted (6-4, thankfully) to include ID in their high school science curriculum.

He Said, She Said, They Searched (Redux)

Yesterday's Washington Post had good coverage of the oral argument in the consent-to-search case I mentioned here. It sounds like the Court is at least split over whether the Georgia appellate courts correctly held that once one resident of a house says "no, you can't search my house," the cops can't seek another answer from someone else. Hell, even Justice Thomas asked a question this time!

Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick over at Slate has these thoughts on the case.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Powers of Misconceptions

Over at Crime & Federalism, Norm sets forth what he sees as several common misconceptions about criminal law. I'm largely in agreement with him, but I think he really hits the nail on the head with the last one:

6. Other people's problems. Until a loved one is accused or convicted of a crime, the criminal courts are dark places inhabited by fiends; criminal defense lawyers are little more than scum. Only when a loved one is accused does the perspective change. In such a moment, the full weight and power of random acts, assumption, pride, prejudice and all the human failings become apparent. In such moments, the state's power to destroy without feeling is apparent. In such moments, what looked like other people's problems suddenly become our own, and we see the need for defenders of people in trouble. That is the sum and substance of the criminal law, and I am proud of the fact that I can give my life, talents and energies to people in dark places.
Very true. And I, like Norm, am proud to represent people in dark places.

What Happened to State's Rights?

Long ago, when I was in law school in Morgantown, I paid attention to Pennsylvania politics (since our "local" TV stations were from Pittsburgh). I vividly remember Tom Ridge running for Governor hitched the Contract With America ideals, including the concept of shifting more power and responsibility to the states. He won the election and was quickly faced with a series of devastating floods. What does he do? Immediately beg the Federal Government for help and bitch and moan when it didn't come.

Why do I bring it up? 'cause history is repeating itself. GOP Representative John Hostettler of Indiana was one of only 11 Congressmen to vote against the Katrina relief package in the days after the hurricane hit. Perhaps it was a principled decision and he's not just a heartless bastard. But signs point to the second option. After his district was ravaged by tornadoes last weekend, what did Hostettler do? Beg the Federal Government for help, of course. What's changed? He's facing a tough reelection campaign in 2006.

Hard-core Politics, Soft-core Porn?

What is it with the conservative political operatives and their penchant for writing really awful quasi-erotic novels? The latest to be outed as a low-rent DH Lawrence is none other than "Scooter" Libby, who wrote a novel called The Apprentice: A Novel back in 2002. According to CNN:

Now out of print, the novel tells the story of an innkeeper apprentice in a bizarre coming-of-age story set in Japan in 1903. It is littered with edgy sexual material and strong language.

'Wow, who would have thought that clean living, family values man Scooter Libby was capable of writing such filth,' said one reviewer on Amazon. Another Amazon reviewer noted its 'lavish dollops of voyeurism, bestiality, pedophilia and corpse robbery.'

Wow - now we know where Cheney's torture ideas come from! Libby is hardly the first winger to dip his, um, toe, into the area of cheesy erotica. Let us not forget Bill O'Reilly's Those Who Trespass (a "novel of television and murder").

Missed Milestone

Well, wouldn't you know it I swept right past my 1000th post without marking the occasion. And neither did the Philadelphia Eagles, which is really inexcusable (get my agent on the phone!). Looks like it happened back on October 13. Hooray for me!

Monday, November 07, 2005

Look Out, Germany

It's a foregone conclusion that Kasey Keller will be the number 1 goalkeeper for the US in next year's World Cup. Who will be number 2? Man United's Tim Howard, who conceded a goal to the other goalkeeper (off a clearance) in a reserve match next week? Let's hope not. My vote goes to Marcus Hahnemann, who plys his trade with Reading (along with fellow Yank Bobby Convey) in the Football Championship, the second level of English football. Reading is a favorite for promotion to the Premier League this season, thanks in large part to Hahnemann's stout work. At least that's what The Times thinks:

AS READING shoot for the stars, their aim fixed firmly on the Barclays Premiership, they could not have a better man protecting them. At 6ft 3in and 16st, Marcus Hahnemann, the American goalkeeper, cuts an imposing figure. Big and bald, a bad-assed bounty hunter kind of guy with attitude.
How can he not be on our roster next year?!?

He Said, She Said, They Searched

The Christian Science Monitor has an article today previewing an interesting Supreme Court case from Georgia that will be argued tomorrow. I can't think of a better setup than the article's opening:

In a case that could inject a new level of acrimony into failing marriages nationwide, the US Supreme Court is about to examine whether the police need the consent of one or both spouses to conduct a warrantless search of a home.
In this case the police were called to a domestic disturbance at the home of an attorney and his estranged wife. She alleged that he was using cocaine, he did the same in reverse. The police asked him for permission to search the house and he refused. They then went on to ask the wife for permission to search, which she granted. The search uncovered a small amount of cocaine and drug paraphernalia, which the police used to get a search warrant. Georgia appellate courts have held that the police could not "consent shop" in cases like this where both owners of the home are present. Georgia, of course, disagrees (as does the federal Government, via an amicus brief). Should make for an interesting argument.


Pirates - they're not just for Johnnie Depp movies or Emerson, Lake, & Palmer epics any more:

A violent attack on a cruise liner off Somalia's coast shows that pirates on the Horn of Africa are becoming bolder and more ambitious in their efforts to hijack ships for ransom and loot, a maritime official warned Sunday.
Who knew?

CSI-Richmond, Not So Much

Today's USA Today has an article about how a study of Virginia's DNA database and how it is not exactly producing TV-worthy results. According to the study, in only 1/4 of more than 3000 cases with DNA evidence was a match produced. None of this should come as a surprise to anyone, of course. DNA is hardly the magic bullet in criminal cases it is often portrayed to be. It can never solve case, only locate a person in relation to the scene.

And if you've had a bone marrow transplant, you might not even leave your DNA behind!

Thursday, November 03, 2005

I May Need to Kick Some Ass

Almost from the day I started my current job three years ago I had co-workers eagerly trying to convince me to buy a house. Among the many benefits they laid out were the tax benefits that came through being able to write off mortgage interest and local property taxes. Well, I didn't live in my house long enough last year to get the benefit of those things and now it looks like Dubya wants to take them away. Or at least reduce them, if he takes the advice of a tax-reform panel that was recently made public. What timing.

Brownie, What a Rugged Functionary

A Congressman from one of the areas of Louisiana that was particularly hard hit by Katrina has released lots of Emails from ex-FEMA chief Mike "Brownie" Brown. They certainly will not change anybody's impression of Brownie as a weak and untalented administrator who owed his position to being chummy with Dubya. For instance, in response to one Email on the second day of the disaster in New Orleans that described the situation as "past critical," Brownie wrote, "Thanks for the update. Anything specific I need to do or tweak?" Or how about another Email to a FEMA PR flack the day Katrina hit: "Can I quit now? Can I come home?" Way to show leadership, Brownie!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Can't We Have a Real Planet?

Over at Slate, Rod Smolla makes the timeless observation: "Prosecutors are from Neptune, defense attorneys are from Pluto." Smolla's point is that it seems to take a different kind of psychological makeup to be a prosecutor versus a defense lawyer. I agree with him. I don't think I could ever wield the power of the state to send someone to prison. At least not most of the pathetic souls who actually end up there. Similarly, most of the prosecutors I've dealt with don't appear to have the empathy to represent people charged with crimes. I'm referring here to long-term partisans on either side: prosecutors, full-time criminal defense attorneys, and public defenders. Anybody else is just a part timer.

Having said all that, can't we defenders at least get a real planet, not one who's very existence is the subject of debate? How about Jupiter? It's my favorite part of The Planets, anyway.

Forget Pot - Drink Tea

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments yesterday in a really interesting case that deals with the intersection of criminal law and religious practice. The case involves the small American branch of a Brazilian church called UDV. As part of their religious ceremonies, UDV adherents consume hoasca tea, which is made from two plants that grow only in the Amazon. The tea contains DMT, a hallucinogen that happens to be a Schedule I controlled substance in the United States. Use and possession of Schedule I substances, like pot, are completely prohibited (outside of a few Government research projects). The DEA seized a shipment of the tea, which the American branch of UDV imports from Brazil. UDV sued the Government and obtained an injunction prohibiting the DEA from any more seizures. The DEA has appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.

If this case sounds a little familiar, that's because it is. In 1990, the Court held that Colorado could punish the ritual use of Peyote by Native Americans because the law was generally applicable and was not designed to discriminate specifically against religious use. A coalition of religious leaders took umbrage at that and got Congress to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which requires courts reviewing such general laws that impose on religious expression to determine whether the Government has a "compelling interest" in enforcing the law against that particular religious group. That's a very difficult standard for the Government to meet, which essentially means that religious exceptions to general laws will be upheld.

The real issue in the case heard by the Supremes yesterday was how to apply the RFRA in this particular case. But the broader issue is should the First Amendment be interpreted to allow religious exceptions to generally applicable laws? I'm not comfortable with that idea, for lots of reasons. The major one is that it might lead to courts passing judgment on what religions are "sincere" enough to warrant the exceptions. That would seem to cause all kinds of First Amendment problems, as it puts the Government in the position of separating out "true believers" from phonies.

Another problem I have is that I see no compelling reason to limit the exception to religious groups. Why should I be deprived the benefits of this (or any other) particular drug because I don't have a church or cult to back me up? I know the cases are legally distinct, but compare this case with the Raich medical marijuana case decided last term. It's OK for a group of religious folks to break the law in order to better commune with God, but people seeking medical treatment under a state statute providing for such treatment are out of luck? What if someone started the Church of Medicinal Marijuana?

Either way, it appears headed for a pro-religion outcome, according to Lyle Denniston's report over at SCOTUSblog.

For more perspectives on this issue, check out the Legal Affairs Debate Club this week.