Thursday, March 31, 2005

Album of the Day

Suffocating the Bloom, by echolyn (1992): This was the second album from the Pennsylvania proggers who went on to score a major label release just three years later. It's a clear step forward from the first album (which is still really good). It's divided into (roughly) two halves. The first half has 10 tracks, including the classic "Memoirs from Between" and the Willy Wonka. . . inspired "A Little Nonsense." The second "half" is the nearly-30 minute "A Suite for the Everyman," inspired by the runaround the band got from record companies when they shopped around their debut release. It finishes with the beautiful acoustic title track that sets out the band's commitment to not sell out "for those that want to buy." A true classic.

Terri Has Left the Building

OK, I said I wasn't going to say any more about the Schiavo saga. But on this day of her officially assuming room temperature, I couldn't pass commenting on two things.

First, Crime & Federalism has this brilliant post about how the "Schiavo Wars" have just begun. Are we in for years of legislation and policy based on "God's will" while those of us who are "the heterodoxical too dense to consent to redemption" (great phrase), are left in the dust. Let's hope not (there is some hope that this latest fundie overreaching may split the GOP as the true conservatives get pissed), but I won't hold my breath.

Second, on hearing of Terri's passing, Dubya said this:

Bush urged those grieving to 'continue to work to build a culture of life where all Americans are welcomed and valued and protected, especially those that live at the mercy of others.'
How can he say that with a straight face? The man presided over the most efficient death row in the country (and one of the worst in the world) while governor of Texas - those folks lived "at the mercy of others." And what of the poor folks condemned to death by Dubya's signing of a Texas law allowing a hospital to pull the plug on a patient over his/her wishes and those of his/her family if they can't keep paying the bills? Or, in a typical spasm of Bible-thumping literalism, are there caveats to this "culture of life?" After all, it covers "all Americans," even the poor and convicted. I will not be surprised if Dubya and his followers fail to recognize the hypocrisy.

Here Comes the Sun

Ever wondered exactly why we do the daylight savings time switcheroo every year? USA Today has a review of a new book that tries to answer exactly that question. Turns out that the idea dates back to Ben Franklin and gained widespread acceptance during the World Wars and the energy crisis of the 70s. All I know is that I can't afford to give up another hour of sleep.

Two Strikes . . .

A report today from a presidential commission investigating the Iraq war called the WMD intelligence that led to our expedition over there "dead wrong" and said it was a "major intelligence failure." One wonders what reaction this will bring from Dubya. The man responsible for the last major intelligence failure of his administration - 9/11 - was given a medal, so who the hell knows what Dubya has up his sleeve this time. Maybe a new job as the lead emissary of the "culture of life?"

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Album of the Day

Images and Words, by Dream Theater (1992): If there is a paradigmatic statement of prog-metal, this is it. DT's second album, and the first on a major label by a new prog band in forever, took the complexity and long arrangements of traditional prog and melded it with the "balls 'n' chunk" of metal. "Take the Time," "Under a Glass Moon," "Metropolis (Part I)," and "Learning to Live" are all classics and do a good job of mixing up solo instrumental workouts with tight band work. In the past few years, DT has devolved into a group of heavy riffing wankers who shred simply for the sake of it. That's a shame, because this album (and it's successor, Awake) show that they can actually write and arrange some great stuff.

When Not to Consult a Higher Authority

On Monday, the Colorado Supreme Court narrowly reversed a convicted killer's death sentence because several jury members consulted a Bible during deliberations. It's axiomatic that jurors are to consider only the evidence introduced in court, not outside sources. However, one juror brought a Bible, along with selected relevant quotes, into the jury room and discussed them with other jurors. The quotes were the traditional "eye for an eye" concept from Leviticus and, more importantly (IMHO), a blurb from Romans commanding the faithful to obey "civil authority." The civil authority in this case was, of course, the State of Colorado, which was asking for death. To "obey" that wish without evaluating the evidence would be a complete dereliction of a juror's duty.

You can access the court's decision here.

Hell on Wheels (Literally)

The Sunday Times of London this past weekend contained this chilling story about the latest in Chinese execution techniques. Apparently the authorities have decided to follow a model pioneered by the Nazis and bring the execution equipment to the condemned, courtesy of vans driven to the courthouse. As a result, some convicts are put to death less than 15 minutes after conviction. So much for appeals.

Album of Yesterday

Union, by Yes (1991): This shotgun-wedding of a "reunion" album was actually cobbled together from two separate albums-in-progress. Most of the tracks came from what would have been the second Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe album, while the remainder came from the Trevor Rabin-led YesWest quartet. Jon Anderson crossed over to sing on the YesWest tracks and Chris Squire added some backing vocals to the ABWH songs (but Tony Levin still played bass) and - voila - Union. So, regardless of the video for the single, "Lift Me Up," the assembled masses didn't actually assemble until the tour. While the tour receives some pretty good reviews from the Yes faithful, Onion (as it's known) itself is generally panned. In reality, it's not that bad, but it fails to live up to its promise. And to a prog-starved youth in 1991, it was still a Yes album.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Album of the Day

The Sky Is Crying, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble (1991): Jimmie Vaughn put together this posthumous collection shortly after his brother was killed in a helicopter crash. It's mostly unreleased tunes from various sessions. Having said that, most of it smokes ("Little Wing," in particular) and it doesn't seem like a collection of stuff that shouldn't have been released in the first place. The most poignant tune is "Life By the Drop," with just Stevie and an acoustic guitar, about old friends and what they once had. Given the circumstances of this release, it hits me the same was as Kevin Gilberts "Song for a Dead Friend" (from Thud).

Be Wary of Those Who Rush to Support You

As of this writing (at least), it appears that the Schiavo saga has turned a corner, with the Schindler’s effectively conceding over the weekend that their legal options (never all that strong to begin with) have been exhausted. They’ve retreated from the field of battle and look likely to allow their daughter to pass on without any additional attempt at delay. The same cannot be said, however, for the throng of supporters they have (at least implicitly) cultivated over the past week. The pro-lifers, who have been engaging in such holy activities as having their children arrested, snubbed the Schindler’s request to disperse yesterday (to be with their families on Easter – what a concept!) and vowed to continue the struggle in DC. And now Congress, having gotten its feet wet last week in the area, is considering broader legislation to provide federal court access to all patients in Schiavo’s situation.

<>On a similar note, between halves of the US-Mexico World Cup qualifier yesterday (speaking of mercy killings) I caught Larry Klayman (sp?) of Judicial Watch intoning about Jeb Bush’s power to step in under the “right to life” set forth in the Florida constitution. That right, according to Klayman, cannot be “given away” (I think that was the term, it might have been “forfeited”) by anyone. Presumably, that means Klayman and his clan will be banging on Jeb’s door to do away with Florida’s death penalty any day now. <>

On what I hope is my final Schiavo note, over at FindLaw Michael Dorf discusses how the Schindler’s legal strategy in the federal courts blew up in their face. In his opinion, they might have had a shot had they taken a bit more care in crafting the issues.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

That's MVP Pittsnoggle to You, Pal

Today's New York Times has a nice article on WVU center Kevin Pittsnogle in the run up to today's regional final matchup with Louisville. Pittsnogle is the only native West Virginian on the WVU roster. Sadly, I can't say that the article will do wonders for the state's image:

'People think anybody from my state is a hick,' Pittsnogle said. 'They think we're all hillbillies. I can't say it doesn't bother me sometimes.'

He grew up in a trailer park in Martinsburg, W.Va., to parents who dropped out of school when they were in the seventh grade.
Oy. And is Pittsnogle really that weird of a name in this day an age?

Friday, March 25, 2005

Proud of My Team, Embarrased By a Few Idiots

WVU's improbable roll through the NCAA tournament continued last night with victory over Texas Tech down in The Pit (and the WVU women advanced to the NIT Final Four, knocking of Wake Forrest [again]). However, it was only a matter of time before a few idiots in Morgantown took the opportunity to "celebrate" by being destructive. Motown police reported at least 50 small fires, including one using an overturned car, were set last night after the win. I've never understood the urge to break shit when you win something (shouldn't be the other way around, at least?). At the very least, it makes the school and the state look a little bit more like the bunch of classless hicks that many Americans think we are. So please, reveling Morgantonians - fight the desire to burn and break stuff when we beat Louisville. You're not doing the team or the alums any favors.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Album of the Day

Holidays in Eden, by Marillion (1991): Holidays was Marillion's attempt to get back into the commercial big time after Steve Hogarth came on board. As a result, it's one of the band's weaker efforts overall. Still, it contains two bona fide Marillion classics, "Splintering Heart" and the "This Town" trilogy. "Cover My Eyes" and the title track are decent up tempo rockers and "The Collection" is certifiably creepy. But I can pretty much live without the rest. Still, even a bad Marillion album is better than most rock/pop stuff, as evidenced by the next album in the rotation, the woeful Word of Mouth by Mike and the Mechanics (which ironically, or coincidentally, shares the same producer, mixer, and masterer as Holidays).

Good Press for the Coach

As WVU prepares to take on Texas Tech and uber-coach Bobby Knight, both The New York Times and have nice profiles of WVU head coach John Beilein. I had no idea that Beilein's offensive scheme was so complex - that explains why it rarely works all that well.

Sanctity of Marriage, Huh?

Among the many angles to the ongoing Schiavo situation is this one - why are the Republicans so willing to toss away the "sanctity of marriage" when they don't like the husband? Dahlia Lithwick over at Slate elaborates on that theme.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Album of the Day

Toy Matinee, by Toy Matinee (1990): Toy Matinee was a collaboration between Patrick Leonard and the insanely talented Kevin Gilbert, although I have a hard time figuring out exactly what Leonard's contribution really was. Gilbert's supreme song writing and warped lyrical perspective are all over this album. With an assist from producer-collaborator Bill Bottrell (who worked with Gilbert on the equally brilliant Thud), Gilbert created a sophisticated pop masterpiece. Highly recommended, if you can find it.

Stop Whining and Win The Bloody Games!

The first knock-out round of the Champions League has left some of the usual suspects sitting on the sidelines for the rest of the competition. For the first time in a long time, no Spanish teams made it to the quarterfinals, which will also be without English giants Arsenal and Manchester United. You would think that the proper response to this by coaches would be to improve the squad and play better next year. Not quite. First Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, and now ManU's chief exec, suggest that something must be done to assure more "big" clubs make the quarterfinals. "It's not good for the big clubs, not good for TV and sponsors if there are no Spanish clubs in the quarter-finals," says ManU's exec. Notice that the teams that actually won in the last round (minnows such as AC Milan!) and the fans are left out of that equation. I've no doubt that ManU's bottom line would be better if they made the quarters (or semis or final), but that's not what competition is all about. And if smaller clubs are making it further into the competition, that only proves that maybe money isn't more important that raw talent.

The solution to this supposed problem would be a seeding system, similar to the NCAA tournament. Maybe Wenger and company would like to check with the likes of Wake Forrest (go Moutaineers!), Syracuse, and Kansas to see how well that works at keeping the "big clubs" in the big dance?

An American in F1 (Testing)

As I'd hoped since the Jag F1 team was bought out by Red Bull, American Scott Speed is set to get his first test in an F1 car this week at Barcelona. Speed is a product of the Red Bull driver search and will compete in the new GP2 series this year (and led testing in the series's first session two weeks ago). He is, by far, the best chance we have of getting an American into a decent F1 drive in the near future.

Dignity Held Hostage, Day Whoknows

So, apparently, the federal judge who got the Schiavo case didn't get the memo from Congress about their weekend adventure: don't just review the situation, make the "right" decision. Thankfully, he didn't. You can read the decision denying Schiavo's parents' motion for a temporary restraining order here (thanks to How Appealing). While this doesn't resolve the many issues raised by both parties, it shows just how high a hill the parents have to climb to get any relief, as detailed in this article from the Washington Post. Meanwhile, Dahlia Lithwick over at Slate takes the "activist" Congress to task for getting involved in the whole mess.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Album of the Day

Volume One, by Mastermind (1990): Mastermind sounds a lot like a late 80s / early 90s version of Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, only a little heavier and without those dreadful Lake ballads (but, then again, ELP never dropped a bomb like "Long Distance Love Affair"). But check the liner notes and you'll notice a lack of a keyboard player. Actually, the synth pyrotechnics are the product of guitarist Bill Berends's use of a MIDI guitar-synth. Sometimes, it's hard to tell the difference. The effect is to give the music a little more of a metallic edge.

The Power of Politics In Service of the "Culture of Life"

I was planning on coming home and ripping off a good rant about the weekend's developments in the Schiavo case. But then I found this post over at Crime & Federalism, which pretty much sums up my thoughts on the freak-show Congressional action of yesterday. So, rather than restate what has been said, let me make a couple of points that I haven't heard addressed yet (and pass on some helpful links).

The Florida Courts Did Their Job

The major motivation for Congressional action seems to be disagreement with the outcome of the extensive litigation among Schiavo's husband, parents, and the state of Florida in the state courts. Contrary to Tom "What Ethics Investigation?" DeLay, considerably more than one judge was involved in this case. In fact, no fewer than 19 judges have dealt with the case at some point and all of them came to the same conclusion.

It is, of course, DeLay's (or anyone else's) prerogative to disagree with that conclusion, but that doesn't justify Congressional intervention. Courts are set up to handle just this kind of situation: two private parties who disagree on a factual/legal matter. They present evidence to the court which, by definition, must resolve factual conflicts and reach a legal conclusion. A party that doesn't agree with that conclusion (or, less so, the factual resolution) can seek review from higher courts. Florida has two levels of appellate courts, in addition to the U.S. Supreme Court. So, even in a normal procedural situation, this case would received four levels of review. As it is, due to various factors, it's gotten even more than that.

And the courts all agree that Terry Schiavo would have not wanted to be kept alive using extraordinary means. The fact that her parents may want to cling to hopes of recovery are, quite frankly, irrelevant. She was an adult when afflicted, a married adult, at that. She has the right to refuse medical treatment and her husband, as her legal guardian, can exercise that right. This happens all the time without the accompanying public melodrama. And courts deal with it. Just like they did here.

Federal Criminal Habeas Review Is Irrelevant

One of the talking points from the GOP over the weekend was that the bill passed last night would allow Schiavo to have her day in federal court, just like Scott Peterson eventually will. This analogy is, quite frankly, a load of shit.

For one thing, there is a whopping difference in the states of mind between the two parties. While courts have consistently found that Schiavo would not want to be kept alive as she currently is (thus, wants to die), Peterson (and a vast majority of death row residents) want to live. Therefore, the issue is the exercise of the state's power to execute someone, not whether a terminally ill person's wishes regarding her medical care will be respected.

Second, Schiavo's case will get a much greater hearing in federal court than any state convict does. Back in the Clinton years, Congress passed (and Clinton signed - thanks, Bubba) the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA). The purpose of the AEDPA was to streamline the federal habeas review of criminal cases and speed up executions (although it applies to all criminal cases). In particular, federal courts under the AEDPA are very restricted as to how they review a case. Issues previously not raised are waived, and those issues resolved by state courts are entitled to great deference. Federal courts can only vacate a death sentence (or overturn a conviction) if a state court's decision on an issue is "clearly contrary" to established Constitutional law. That means that any even vaguely close issue is resolved in favor of the state. By contrast, Schiavo's case will be reviewed do novo, meaning that the federal court is free to disregard all of the findings and holdings of the Florida courts.

And Now Those Links

  • An article from Reuters, with experts opining that recovery from Schiavo's condition is "impossible." Particularly relevant is this observation:

    'To the families and loved ones, and to inexperienced health care professionals, P[ersistent] V[egetative] S[tate] patients often look fairly 'normal,'' Cranford said in a statement.

    'Their eyes are open and moving about during the periods of wakefulness that alternate with periods of sleep; there may be spontaneous movements of the arms and legs, and at times these patients appear to smile, grimace, laugh, utter guttural sounds, groan and moan, and manifest other facial expressions and sounds that appear to reflect cognitive functions and emotions, especially in the eyes of the family.'
  • A New York Times article discussing the machinations of Congress over the weekend.
  • A USA Today article discussing reaction to Congress's actions. On a similar ground, an ABC News poll shows overwhelming disgust for Congress's intervention.
  • Finally, a Knight-Ridder article examining some of the legal problems the new law might provoke.

Runnin' (Slowly) With the Devil

After Jesus showed up on a grilled cheese sandwich, it was only a matter of time before Satan manifested himself - but on a turtle? The loan survivor of a fire at a pet store, the sluggish reptile supposedly bears the face of The Great Deceiver on his shell. To be honest, I can't see it, but given my natural skepticism, maybe I never will. Why did Beelzebub go tortoise shell? According to the owner of Dora's A-Dora-ble Pet Shop:

'The marking on the shell was like the devil wanted us to know he was down there,' Bryan Dora said. 'To me, it's too coincidental that the only thing to come out unscathed would have this image on it.'
This kind of thing is meant to scare people, then?

Friday, March 18, 2005

Album of the Day

Vigil in a Wilderness of Mirrors, by Fish (1990): OK, so it wasn't on the same level as Roger Waters leaving Pink Floyd, but in the wake of Fish "going solo in the game" from Marillion, there were doubters who figured both parties would never be the same. Commercially, that's true. But as Seasons End showed with Marillion, Vigil . . . showed that Fish could do well on his own. We the considerable help of guitarist Frank Usher and keyboardist Mickey Simmons, Fish cranked out a group of good (sometimes great) tunes that acknowledged his prog past but showed that he was interested in other areas.

What's a Self-Respecting Commie to Do?

You're the leader of one of the world's last bastions of old-fashioned Communism. You routinely proclaim the benefits of your workers paradise, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. And then you wake up one morning and find that you've been outed as one of the world's richest people. Cuban leader Fidel Castro found himself on Forbes's list of the world's wealthiest leaders (to the tune of $500 million plus) and is not happy about it.

Still Dancin' (Barely)

Well, I'm glad I stayed up late to watch the end of the WVU-Creighton game in the NCAA tournament. Tied at 61, Creighton held for an almost final shot. But that was blocked and led to a WVU fast break (WTF?!) that ended in a game-winning dunk. Damn, talking about leaving it to the last minute! I'm even more impressed we pulled that out, given that Creighton won four games this year on their final possession and 9 of their last 11 were decided by one point!

Bring on Wake!

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Album of the Day

Eat Me in St. Louis, by It Bites (1989): This is why I do the stem to stern journey through my CD collection every year. I got this album used (it's a promo copy, actually) a while back after hearing a few things about the band in prog circles (and after frontman Francis Dunnery was mentioned as a replacement for Phil Collins in Genesis). It didn't really do much for me - it was much more straight forward than I expected. But today, it hit me that this is actually pretty good. It's languished in my CD rack for a year or so, but it won't be that long before I take it out again.

Scalia Confounds

I have really tried to like Antonin Scalia a lot more recently. His opinions in Crawford and Blakely last year were very defendant-friendly, even if he couldn't deliver Ginsburg when it counted in Booker. And while I don't buy his originalist theory of Constitutional construction, the extensive discussion of history in some of his opinions fascinates me. But sometimes, he really drops a whopper. Witness this comment, made during oral arguments in the Van Orden 10 Commandments case (page 16):

JUSTICE SCALIA: And when somebody goes by that monument, I don't think they're studying each one of the commandments. It's a symbol of the fact that government comes -- derives its authority from God. And that is, it seems to me, an appropriate symbol to be on State grounds.
What the hell?!? For a man who professes loyalty to the intent of the Framers, one would think he would grasp the fundamental basis of our republic - government by the consent of the governed (by the people, of the people, for the people, etc.). The government getting its legitimacy from God is exactly what we were rebelling against. While the British monarchy at the time of the revolution was hemmed in a bit by Parliament (and therefore not as dictatorial as some continental kingdoms), the Crown still claimed a divine right to rule. It's the foundation of almost every monarchy.

I don't get it.

More Fair-Weather Federalism

The only thing more lifeless than Terry Schiavo at this point is the conservative commitment to "federalism" and "state's rights." Once again, a well-structure state legal process creates an outcome some right wingers don't like, so they set out to, literally, make a federal case out of it. Only a few years ago the Supreme Court refused to read a "right to die" in the Constitution, partly to leave the development of the law in that area to the states. But when the states get it "wrong" (as in Schiavo's case or Oregon's assisted suicide law), the GOP rushes to create a national fix. Bush and his handlers like to talk a lot about "principles," but their actions when their principles really get sticky show that they are just another set of political talking points.

Viddying a Bit of the Ultraviolence

There is a classic Simpson's episode where Marge, horrified by Maggie's wonking Homer on the head with a mallet, starts a crusade against cartoon violence. Her target is the ultra-violent "Itchy and Scratchy" cartoons. At one point, in defending his product, the producer of "Itchy and Scratchy" argues that cartoons can't cause people to be violent because violence was around long before cartoons as proven by the Crusades ("Tremendous violence! Many people killed! The darned thing went on for 30 years" - yes, I'm quoting from the DVD subtitles!).

Maybe he wasn't far off. has an interesting review of a new book, Savage Pastimes, that examines the history of violence in "media" (for lack of a better term) and the effect on the public at large. Actually, the theory seems to be that it doesn't have much of an effect at all. People have watched staged violence (in either fictional or real settings) for centuries and we've done OK for ourselves.

The End of the Tour

Back from a date with the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, my spring tour has finally come to an end. In the last three weeks (and one day), I've been in DC for a writing workshop, Charleston (SC) for a sentencing CLE, Indianapolis for an SCCA seminar, and now Richmond. That's 2903 miles over 8 states, in total (more than half of which I drove personally). Whew! I'll be happy to hang around the house for a little while.

Album of Tuesday

Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe, by Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe (1989): If Drama is regarded as not-quite-a-real Yes album due to the absence of Jon Anderson, then ABWH has at least an equal claim, boasting not only Anderson but three other long-time Yesmen. The missing piece, of course, is Chris Squire, who famously won the right to control the Yes name (as the only member on every album) in litigation following the formation of ABWH. His place is taken by the more than capable Tony Levin. The album certainly has its downsides (Bruford was going through his electronic drum phase for one, "Teakbois" for a huge other), but it also produced some tunes that could stack up with the traditional Yes canon. "Birthright," in particular, and "Brother of Mine" and "Order of the Universe" to lesser degrees.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Album of the Day

You Can't Do That on Stage Anymore, Vol. 2 (The Helsinki Concert), by Frank Zappa (1988): For all the live material Zappa put out, this may be the only album that contains a complete (almost) show. Recorded in Finland in 1974, it shares some personnel and tunes with the fabulous Roxy and Elsewhere, but the carryovers sound quite different and really don't occupy much time on the disc. Highlights include "Inca Roads," an extended "Pygmy Twylyte," and the "Wipping Floss" version of "Montana" (after an audience member requested the Allman Brothers classic - a request finally fulfilled on 1984's Them or Us).

Roper Bashing From the Left

Lots of the criticism of the Supreme Court's decision in Roper has come from the right, those who tend to support the death penalty in all its forms and are appalled by references to foreign laws. But this column from The New Republic roundly criticizes Roper from a liberal viewpoint. Particularly when it comes to dealing with foreign law, those on the left, as with those on the right, may not like where that could lead.

We're Dancin'!

For the first time since 1998, my alma mater is in the NCAA tournament. WVU made a nice run to the final of the Big East tournament and was rewarded with a 7 seed and a first round matchup with Creighton in Cleveland on Thursday. In 98 we made it to the Sweet Sixteens with wins over Cincinnati (coached by a WVU alum) and Temple (old rivals from the A10 days). If we knock of Creighton, that probably earns us a date with Wake Forrest (coached by a Wheeling native), where I almost went to school.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves - Let's Goooo Mountaineers!

Album of Last Friday

Vivid, by Living Colour (1988): Funk-inflected hard rock - how cool is that? This is one of those discs that I forget about for weeks on end and then pull it out and have my head ripped off. Why have I not gotten any other albums by these guys?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Album of the Day

Bring on the Night, by Sting (1986): This is the companion album to the documentary of the same name (that, criminally, is not available on DVD), although it is by no means a soundtrack. It's actually a fantastic live alubm recorded with Sting's band of jazz guys after the rehearsals chronicled in the film. In addition to getting the best of the tunes from Sting's debut solo album, The Dream of the Blue Turtles, the set is rounded out by reworked versions of old Police tunes. Particularly good are the smokin' "Low Life" and "I Burn For You."

I Don't Handle Cases This Interesting

Findlaw's Sherry Colb writes today about an odd case that only a lawyer could love. Man gets a BJ from a woman, who "saves" the result (not a swallower, apparently) and uses it (unbeknownst to the man) to later artificially inseminate herself. Does the man then have a legal duty to support the child? Read on to find an Illinois court's answer to that question.

More Proof Conservatives Want to Run Your Life (and Death)

I am not a fan of suicide. Given that I think a) life in generally is pretty cool (pain in the ass appeals notwithstanding) and b) once you're dead it's over, I generally think it's not a good idea to shuffle off the Earth prematurely. But, I also firmly believe that I have no right to foist that opinion onto anyone else. Right wingers, the supposed conservatives, appear to feel quite differently. Witness Mike Medved's screed in USA Today basically calling Hunter S. Thompson a pussy for taking his own life. Medved seems intent on convincing Thompson's family, who seem to be rather at peace with entire event, that they should be more upset about it. What right does anybody, must less a movie critic turned social pundit, have to tell the family of a dead person how they should feel about his means of snuffing it? For the love of your God, is this what you've stooped to?

The fact is, suicide is the ultimate means of self control. It's the only function that, if done correctly, leaves the person who did it completely beyond any consequence. And since nobody can be inside Thompson's head (or anyone else's), they have no right to criticize his decision. Let people live their own lives and deaths as they see fit. We'll all get along better that way.

Americans Abroad Laboring Obscurely

As a fan of sports that have little or no fanbase in this country, it's nice to see an American rise up the ranks, even if they won't get much love back home. As the alpine skiing season draws to a close this weekend, not one but two guys are vying to become the first American World Cup winner. The World Cup is awarded to the skier based on points earned in events in several disciplines (downhill, slalom, super G, etc.). It would be like if there was one auto racing title that took into account road racing, ovals, rallying and the like. Go get 'em, boys!

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Album of the Day

Tones, by Eric Johnson (1986): 1986 was a pretty good year for debuts (Hornsby's The Way It Is came out in 86, too). Although he'd been playing with other people for years (and being part of The Electromagnets), this was Johnson's first solo album. It's a brilliant showcase for his range and skill as a guitarist. Without a doubt, he can keep up speed-wise with any shredder out there. But his playing is so much more interesting that your typical Strat strangler. It's a shame it takes him years upon years to crank out a new album.

Be Less Than You Can Be

USA Today has an interesting article today about military counter-recruiters. Those are people who follow around military recruiters and provide another perspective to kids eager to sign up for service. Not only did I not know that people did this, I had no idea they were organized.

Hey, My Over-30 Team Is Available

MLS struggles every year with its all-star game. A traditional one conference v. the other tends to water things down when your 11 players on each team (plus subs, of course) are drawn from only 5 or 6 teams. The US v. The World thing they tried in 1998 posed similar problems (there were only 2 "world" keepers in the league - some all stars!). The most successful was the 2003 version, which pitted an MLS best 11 against Mexican power Chivas. The atmosphere was great, the game was actually a game (not a 11-8 farce), and it led to Chivas setting up a club in Los Angeles. Last year the league wanted to do the same thing with mega club Real Madrid, but reverted to the East v. West format when el Galacticos pulled out. Obviously trying to recreate the vibe of 2003, the league today announced that this year's all-star game, in Columbus, will pit an MLS best 11 against -- Fulham?!

Oy. I've got nothing against Fulham itself - it's a perfectly serviceable English Premier League club with a long history, but it's hardly part of the English elite. In fact, the team is struggling to avoid relegation at this point, although they're in better shape than most clubs in a similar situation. I know the allure of bringing US stars Carlos Bocanegra and Brian McBride back to the US has something to do with it, but how appealing is this matchup going to be? It's not as if Fulham has the stateside following that ManU, Liverpool, or any of the top Mexican teams would have. What if Fulham barely escape the drop (with McBride riding the pine, no less)?

A better question might be why do we even need an MLS all-star game, particularly during a year crammed with World Cup qualifying?

Monday, March 07, 2005

Album of the Day

Fugazi, by Marillion (1984): Fugazi is sort of the red-headed stepchild of Fish-era Marillion albums. It's neither their first album, nor most well known, nor the Fish-era finale. It does, however, mark a major transition with the addition of Ian Mosley on drums, a large step up in quality from the days of Script. . .. And while the album contains my least favorite Fish-era tune ("She Chameleon"), it's got some great stuff on it: "Assassing" (the lawyer's theme song), "Emerald Lies," "Incubus," and the title track (a Vietnam-era acronym for Fucked Up Gone Away Zipped In - killed, in other words).

More Roper Reaction

I've been intrigued by the reaction of the nation to the Supreme Court's Roper decision, which effectively abolished the juvenile death penalty in the US. What is interesting is that I've not read very many commentaries from people who agreed with the majority's reasoning (that there is a national consensus on the issue). Most fans of the outcome seem ready and able to concede the logical and legal problems with the opinion. Witness Edward Lazarus's column from Findlaw last week which lauds the result but criticizes the means by which the Court got there. Is that a good thing? Should we applaud the Court for getting it right, even if it can't convince us of that?

On the other hand, some folks are just plain pissed off, as evidence by this George Will column from the Washington Post.

Revenge of the Trial Lawyers!

Much has been made by the "tort reform" folks of placing caps on non-economic damages as a way of limiting damage awards in medical malpractice lawsuits. But as this story from yesterday's New York Times shows, that may not be the case. A recent study found that awards in states with caps were not significantly different from those with caps. Not surprisingly, the main factors influencing the size of jury verdicts are "the severity of injury, whether the judge in the case was elected in a partisan race and whether the state requires medical experts to screen suits." Some question the methodology of the study, but it shows that a) trial lawyers are a crafty bunch and b) a jury's sense of justice can work within whatever legal constraints you try and put on it.

Raingods (But Not Drivers) Dancing

The Formula 1 season kicked off this weekend in Australia. It marked the debut of yet another revision of the sport's qualifying setup. The current scheme (until Malaysia, at least) consists of two single-lap qualifying sessions, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. The starting grid is determined based on the best combined times from each session. The idea was the make the first session mean something again. Well, it certainly did this weekend. The first session started off with a drying track, but the rains returned about midway through. As a result, the grid was hopelessly spread out, with some drivers not even making it through their timed lap. This rendered Sunday's sessions largely meaningless, because nobody could really change their position from day one.

At least one driver, David Coulthard, has called this system "kind of farcical," which I think is being kind. Yes, it reshuffles the grid, but the lack of overtaking (still) prevents the great charges from the back that you might see in ChampCar or sports car racing. They need to return to the good ol' days of timed sessions, run as many laps as you like, fastest man sits on pole system that worked for years.

Props to Coulthard for calling this setup what it is, given that he benefited from it this weekend.

Bloggus Interuptus (Redux)

My spring tour continued late last week with a jaunt to the other Charleston (South Carolina) with the boss to take in a sentencing CLE. It was my first time in Charleston, and I liked it a lot. It reminds me of New Orleans, only smaller and less piss and puke soaked. Lots of interesting history, loads of good food, and the country's best minor league soccer team.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Album of the Day

D.S. al Coda, by National Health (1982): This album is the last of three chronicled in the 2-disc set. As such, by the time it rolls around when I'm listening to both discs I tend to give it short shrift. It came about approximately four years after the outstanding Of Queues and Cures under unhappy circumstances. Band co-founder and keyboardist Alan Gowen (who left the band and then rejoined at the end for the last tour) died of leukemia. His band mates, as a fund raisers to cover funeral expenses, recorded this album of (mostly) unreleased Gowen compositions. Almost entirely instrumental, it suffers a little bit in comparison to the two other National Health studio albums by sounding more "80s." But beyond that surface, there's some really good music and some excellent playing. A very fitting, if somewhat somber, cap to the band's career.

Stop Killing the Kids

Today the Supreme Court handed down one of the most eagerly awaited decision of this term, holding that executing minors violates the Constitution. In doing so, we now join a vast majority of the rest of the world in doing away with the juvenile death penalty. It's about fucking time.

By a 5-4 vote, the Court found that a national consensus had emerged against the juvenile death penalty since its 1989 decision OKing the death penalty for 16 and 17-year olds. The court also leaned heavily on its own sense of "moral proportionality" and a heaping helping of foreign practices, which raised the ire of a dissenting Scalia (not surprisingly). While I don't join him on either the result or his phobia of foreign law, he's not wrong when he points out that there doesn't really seem to be much of a change from 15 years ago on this area. A few states have done away with the death penalty for kids, but at least two have actually reaffirmed or reinstated it, even if no kid has actually been sentenced to death there yet.

And way, pray tell, should a constitutional right rest on a "consensus" among the populace to enforce it? If that test was applied to many parts of the Bill of Rights, they'd fail overwhelmingly. That seems an odd way to run a Constitution, but I know that's fairly well settled law. Read the decision for yourself here.

Those "Universal" Commandments

One of the arguments the fundies make for posting the 10 Commandments everywhere is that they simply state "universal" principles that most right-thinking people agree with. But, as this USA Today column and associated blurb point out, that's just not the case. Even among faiths that make use of the Commandments, different ones (and different sects therein) read them, interpret them, and use them in different ways. Heck, even "thou shalt not kill" isn't really universal - does that include self-defense? what about as punishment for a crime (or a sin)? does it apply only to other people or all creatures?

Just a little thought provocation ahead of tomorrow's Supreme Court argument.

I Want to Buy Some Cheese!

Some crimes are weirder than others, but this one ranks up there pretty high. A man pled guilty to burglary and other charges stemming from a robbery he committed last summer. OK, that's not that unusual. What is unusual is that he broke into a pool snack bar and stole nachos and cheese. In fact, when he was arrested he was naked. In addition:

to being naked, Monn had nacho cheese in his hair, on his face and on his shoulders, police said. He also had a strong odor of alcohol and was semi-incoherent.
Gee, only semi-incoherent? I wonder what he'd do if he was really ripped?