Thursday, June 30, 2005

Album of the Day

Dog, by The Mike Keneally Band (2004): Dog just about shares its birthday with Blakely, but it's held up much better over the past year, IHMO. The Keneally Kommunity wasn't quite as effusive in praise for Dog as for prior albums. True, it lacks the epic sonic palate of the previous band album (under the now sadly defunct Beer for Dolphins moniker), Dancing, and isn't the intimate headphone experience of Wooden Smoke. But, damn, if this stripped down rockin' version of MKB doesn't kick just as much ass. Mike's amazing ability to write off-kilter, complex, and downright catchy tunes shines on Dog, especially the first few tracks. Hell, I even like the patchwork epic "This Tastes Like a Hotel."

For My Brother

My (card carrying GOP voting) brother and I have been Emailing back and forth about Kelo the past couple of days. We both think the result sucks, but I've been trying to convince him that it's not quite as bad as the mainstream media has made it and really wasn't that much of a surprise, legally. Along those lines, Jonathan Adler's column over on National Review Online (hardly a liberal mouthpiece) today talks about Kelo and the other property cases from the Court's recently completed term and comes to largely the same conclusion about Kelo.

Is Tomorrow Finally Here for ALMS?

For years it seems that the American LeMans Series has been running on the hopes of cars and teams that would materialize the next year. Lots of things fell through and some ended up being smaller programs (Sebring and Petit LeMans only, usually). ALMS fans have learned not to get their hopes up. But still, Robin Miller's tidbit over on today makes things look rosy for next year. Honda, hot on the heals of Toyota's IRL pullout, is apparently looking for some more competition and will launch a LMP2 program in ALMS next year. In addition, some of Honda's "factory" IRL teams, Rahal/Letterman and Andretti/Green, may run the cars. Combine that with the recently unveiled Penske-run Porsche LMP2 program, at least one category of ALMS looks like it's about ready to take off.

This may be sacrilege, but if the LMP2 class blossoms quickly, should we ditch the relatively thin LMP1 class?

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Album of the Day

Think Like a Mountain, by Ritual (2003): Most of the Swedish prog I've heard is in the symphonic vein, from Angalgaard and Anekdoten to The Flowe Kings and Valinor's Tree. I got this album thinking it would be similar, but there's a deep vein of folk influence to Rituals music. Lots of interesting folk rhythms and non-standard instruments (bazouki, hammered dulcimer) really bring it out. That makes it fairly unique in my collection.

A Few More Thoughts on the 10 Commandments

Over at Findlaw, Marci Hamilton has a column that does a pretty good job of explaining how the Supreme Court came up with a split decision in the two 10 Commandments cases that came down this week. I don't particularly care for Breyer's "nobody complained about it for a long time so it must be OK test," but I don't have any real problem with the way things came down in these cases. It's fun to watch the various sides spin the outcomes to their favor. The most honest assessment I've heard was from Jerry Falwell's attack lawyer, Jay Sekulow, who said that these cases will be determined on the discreet facts of each case.

Meanwhile, I pass along this interesting quote from Thomas Jefferson, for the fundies to consider next time they try and paint him as a Bible-thumping Christian:

I have examined all the known superstitions of the word, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth.
Find that quote and many others here and here.

And I Thought Federal Courts Moved Slowly

The verdict is in, at least as far as FIA is concerned, in the USGP fiasco. The guilty parties, apparently, are the seven teams that run on Michelin tires, but not the manufacturer itself. All seven teams were found guilty of "failing to provide suitable tires and wrongfully refusing to allow their cars to start." Apparently, the FIA can't go straight out and get Michelin because the French company does not have a contractual relationship with FIA (like the teams do) which was violated. Still, it seems awfully harsh to penalize the teams for taking the safe route out of a bad situation that was not of their making. Oddly, the punishment won't be announced until September. In our district it only takes about 60 days to get sentenced after guilt is established. The teams, of course, plan on appealing.

Keeping the "Open" in Open Cup

Some countries, in addition to regular professional soccer leagues, have a season-long knockout tournament that's open to teams of all levels from all over the country. The most famed is the English FA Cup. But almost equally historic is the US Open Cup. Until about ten years ago, the Open Cup was dominated by semi-pro sides drawn largely from ethnic enclaves in various cities (the old North American Soccer League didn't take part in the Cup). With the advent of MLS, only pro clubs have won it since 1995. But the semi-pro clubs still enter the competition, hoping to make the run of their lives and knock off some giants along the way. USA Today has a good article about those teams today.

What's Next - The Baby Snatchers?!?

You know civilization is going to hell in a handbag when frail old ladies are going around beating up defenseless young men. A local 75-year old woman has been charged with battery after an altercation that ended with her beating on a 260-pound 27-year old man with an umbrella. It apparently stemmed from a verbal altercation regarding the guy's family business and trouble it's been having with the neighbors (of which Miss Whacker is one). Things got out of hand when "profanity reared its ugly head." One wonders if an Eric Idle-narrated documentary is in the works about the situation.

Mother Russia, Who Fences For You?

Wow, things must be worse in Moscow than they look if Russian president Vladimir Putin has taken to lifting jewelry from visitors. Seems that when New England Patriots / Revolution owner Bob Kraft showed his newest Super Bowl ring to Putin, the Russian pres pocketed it and walked away! It may have been a gift, but it's not really clear. If not, look for it at a pawn shop near you soon.

Album of Yesterday

View, by Bryan Beller (2003): Beller is best known as bass player extraordinaire with Mike Keneally's various groups (Beer for Dolphins, Mike Keneally Band, etc.). In 03, he showed off his own talents when it comes to running the show with View, a collection of mostly instrumental tunes that include some serious workouts and killer melodies. Helping out on the project are lots of Keneally guys (and gals), but it's Beller's show all the way. Living proof that a bass player can make a great album all by himself!

Monday, June 27, 2005

Album of the Day

Vapor Trails, by Rush (2002): This was Rush's "comeback" album, after the death of both Neal Peart's wife and daughter (in separate events) and Geddy Lee's time doing a solo album. It continues the back to the power trio sound of Test For Echo, but is even more direct. I didn't really much care for it at first, but after living with it for a while (and seeing some of the tunes in the excellent Rush in Rio DVD), it's really grown on me.

Way to Resolve a Controversial Issue, Supremes

It was probably asking too much of the current Supreme Court for them to produce two well-reasoned interlocking opinions that would clarify the relationship between the state and expressions of religion. Instead, the Court's two 10 Commandments decisions, one from Texas and the other from Kentucky, hardly settle the issue. In two 5-4 decisions (with shifting majorities, Booker-style), the court held that displays of the Commandments in two Kentucky county courthouses violated the Establishment Clause, while the Commandments monument on the grounds of the Texas state capital is OK.

Having scanned the opinions, a few things. First, the Kentucky counties really stepped in it from the beginning in terms of their display. First, it was the Commandments alone. Second, it was the Commandments surrounded by some other documents, all of which emphasized Christianity. And third, a revised display that was, in effect, even worse. As Justice Souter wrote for the Court (pp. 24-25:

Nor did the selection of posted material suggest a clear theme that might prevail over evidence of the continuing religious object. In a collection of documents said to be “foundational” to American government, it is at least odd to include a patriotic anthem, but to omit the Fourteenth Amendment, the most significant structural provision adopted since the original Framing. And it is no less baffling to leave out the original Constitution of 1787 while quoting the 1215 Magna Carta even to the point of its declaration that “fish-weirs shall be removed from the Thames.” App. to Pet. for Cert. 205a, ¶33. If an observer found these choices and omissions perplexing in isolation, he would be puzzled for a different reason when he read the Declaration of Independence seeking confirmation for the Counties’ posted explanation that the “Ten Com­mandments’ . . . influence is clearly seen in the Declara­tion,” id., at 180a; in fact the observer would find that the Commandments are sanctioned as divine imperatives, while the Declaration of Independence holds that the authority of government to enforce the law derives “from the consent of the governed,” id., at 190a. If the observer had not thrown up his hands, he would probably suspect that the Counties were simply reaching for any way to keep a religious document on the walls of courthouses constitutionally required to embody religious neutrality.
Of course, that all implies that had the county officials been more clever in designing and implementing their displays, it would have been OK. As for the Texas case, Chief Justice Rehnquist's opinion doesn't exactly show a lot of heavy lifting in concluding that the monument, one of 17 in 22-acre area, was part of a broader cultural/historcial display.

As for Scalia's dissent in the Kentucky case, which Jack Balkin smashes to bits over at Balkinization, I will give it one thing: Scalia is right that a principled application of the majority's test would remove a lot more religious stuff from public life. He also quite correctly assumes that most justices (both now, before, and after) lack the stones to follow that principle to its results. But as for Scalia's own arguments - why is it that Mr. "Originalist" has to resort to such blatantly political bullshit as Thanksgiving Day Proclamations to come up with the meaning of the plain language of the Constitution? As Balkin concludes, it shows that Scalia is willing to cast aside his judicial philosophy to reach the result he wants.

For lots more commentary on these cases, in much more depth and with greater intellect than I can provide, head over to the discussion that SCOTUSblog is hosting.

Talk About Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

When Malcom Glazer bought out Man United last month, several hundred fans stomped off in a huff, vowing to not support the club as long as Glazer owned it. To their credit, these guys have decided to try and return something vaguely like the ManU name to glory on their own, forming a new club called United of Manchester. The team held tryouts this weekend and looks to being play at the very bottom of the English football ladder. Of course, the great thing about European footy is that if the team catches fire and gets good enough, it could slowly climb up the ranks towards the Premiership. Wimbledon AFC, formed after Wimbledon was moved to Milton Keynes, is already on the verge of breaking into the Football League. So it can be done.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Album(s) of the Day

"Nothing but fuckin' epics!" -- Mike Portnoy

Today I managed to listen to three fairly different albums that each contained the kind of epic material that progressive rock is favorite for. They each did it a different way and with varying degrees of success, so I thought I'd do a compare and contrast thing.

First up was Bridge Across Forever, by Transatlantic (2001), featuring the above-quoted Mr. Portnoy on drums. I avoided the initial album by this prog supergroup (featuring members of Dream Theater, Marillion, The Flower Kings, and Spock's Beard) because of the general sentiment that it was just a rehash of 70s cliches. But by the time this, their second and last album, came out, I had a gift certificate to spend and was surprised to find the album locally, so I went ahead and picked it up. It is a collection of 70s cliches, but done very well. Not groundbreaking, but good and fun for what they are. With the exception of a 5-minute filler ballad (which I skip religiously), the rest of the songs on the album weigh in at 13, 26, and 27 minutes long, respectively.

Next up was Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence (2002), a 2-disc opus from the aforementioned Dream Theater. This album completely lost me for DT, particularly the second disc, which contains on the 42-minute title track. It just seems to drag on and on! In addition, Jordan Rudess should be prosecuted for the horribly cheesy string patches he uses during the overture. Just makes you shake your head.

Finally, there was mei, by echolyn (2002). This album contains just one tune, which clocks in at just over 49 minutes. Still, at seven minutes longer than "Six Degrees . . .," it goes by much more quickly. "Mei" stands in stark contrast to the other epics, in that it features only bits of instrumental soloing here and there. The subtlety and musicality of the whole thing, however, is breathtaking. If I had to peg a "favorite album of the decade" here at the halfway point, mei is probably it.

Blakely, What Hath Thou Wrought?

As professor Berman points out over at Sentencing Law and Policy, today is the first birthday of the Supreme Court's Blakely decision, which set the world of criminal sentencing on its ear. Looking back at my post from this day last year, it's hard to believe that in one year we've come so far and gained so little.

I went back at work and looked through some of the Email that flew around the federal defender world in the days following Blakely. At the time, there was a palpable feeling that something really had changed that that, for once, our clients might be the recipients of good news rather than bad. Within days, district courts across the country (including my own in WV) were making the logical step of applying Blakely to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines. Although opinions differed about what to be done, many of us thought the brave new world of federal sentencing would be a good thing. There was hope that sentences enhanced by allegations of which a defendant was acquitted, where drug sentences were routinely jacked up by the use of unidentified jailhouse snitches and "ghost dope," and where federal defendants convicted of one crime weren't actually sentenced for state offenses for which they were never charged.

That great hope lasted through the holidays, as the Supreme Court first granted cert and then heard oral arguments in Booker and Fanfan. But in January, when the Court handed down its fractured decision in Booker, all hope was lost. The Guidelines were saved, thanks to the swing vote of Justice Ginsberg and the tortured logic of Justice Breyer. Yes, they are now advisory. But in effect, they operate as they always did, relevant conduct, ghost dope, and all. Some defendants have benefited from the new discretion given to the district courts, but some have faced harsher sentences, too. And to top it off, without waiting for a decent time period to pass in which to collect data, members of Congress and Dubya's administration are already beating the drum for more mandatory minimum sentences and taking away any discretion of judges to impose lower sentences (without taking away any discretion to impose higher sentences, of course).

If I sound pessimistic about this, I am. I vividly remember reading Blakely, and immediately tracking down my secretary (our appellate procedure guru) to find out what we needed to do to file a new brief with the Fourth Circuit addressing this new case. The client I thought of first was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He was sentenced, however, as if he was convicted of attempted first degree murder because of what he did with the gun (and for which he was already convicted and punished in state court). Blakely seemed manna from heaven - Scalia even used that situation as an example of the horribles of judicial factfinding. I should have known better - I don't believe in heaven, after all.

Berman asks on this auspicious day whether the sentencing world is better off now than before Blakely. I agree with him that the debate that Blakely and Booker jump started about sentencing is a good thing. And in the states, which seem to be more level-headed about sentencing reform, Blakely may have a heavy impact. But in the federal system, blunted by Booker, Blakely is a shadow of it's former self. In the end, it may make things worse if Congress overreacts to perceived "leniency" in post-Booker sentencing. Would that be worse than a pre-Blakely world? I dunno, but I imagine we'll find out soon enough.

A couple of months after Blakely, as the Guidelines seemed doomed to the dustbin of history, Berman put up this graphic of Godzilla (labeled Blakley) chomping down on a helpless commuter train (labeled Federal Sentencing Guidelines). I took it, added my own Zappa-inspired caption ("Bullets can't stop it! Rockets can't stop it! They may have to use nuclear force!"), and hung it on my office door. I took it down today and fed it through the shredder. Metaphorically, it seemed like the right thing to do.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Album of the Day

Karma, by NDV (2001): NDV is the alias of drummer/vocalist supremo Nick D'Virgilio, known for his work with Tears for Fears, Mike Keneally, and, of course, Spock's Beard. When I got this album, I bought it just out of curiosity to see what a guy who plays with two of my favorite groups (the Beard and Keneally's bands) would do on his own. The fact that Keneally, several of his bandmates, several Beard guys, and the late Kevin Gilbert appear on the disc was also neat. As it turns out, this was sort of a dry run for Nick before he took over the reigns of Spock's Beard. I like a lot of the tune on this disc - they're more straight forward than I'm used to, but they're well done. And, on reflection, it is a pretty good indication of what the modern Beard sounds like.

Revenge Old Glory

Let's see: we're bogged down in an unpopular war without end in Iraq while next door neighbor Iran develops a nuclear program, one of our largest government programs of the last century is on the verge of bankruptcy that nobody seems able or willing to avoid, and the general tone of political debate is breaking down to the level of "yo' mama" jokes. So what does this country need to pull it out its funk? A flag burning amendment!

That's right, the perennial favorite of the "USA love it or leave it" crowd is back. A Constitutional amendment that would allow (but not require, to be fair) Congress to pass legislation outlawing "physical desecration" of the US flag passed the House this week and has its best chance in years of passing the Senate. The goal is to overturn two Supreme Court cases from 15 years ago that declared flag desecration was a form of speech protected by the First Amendment.

The Court was right, of course, and we should reject any attempt to mess with the First Amendment to deal with a non-existent problem. When was the last time you saw a flag burned in this country? It can be argued that the Supreme Court rulings actually decreased the instances of flag burning because it was no longer illegal and thus no longer a ticket to free publicity for the arrest.

And the folks who support the amendment can't bring themselves to be honest and admit they want to repress speech and political dissent. They go on about how it's not really speech, but then will go on at greater length about what seeing a flag being burnt effects them. Sounds like a pretty effecting speech act to me! We've long ago done away with the idea that speech and acts that communicate a message are separate things. Just fess up and admit you want to repress people, although probably a very very tiny group of people.

But if the amendment does pass, I'm going to petition the West Virginia legislature to criminalize all kinds of flag uses I find offensive. Politicians who stand in front of the flag at rallies while lying through their teeth? Desecration, as far as I'm concerned. Articles of clothing made from the flag? Desecration, especially if they're too-tight cutoff shorts. After 9/11 I actually saw patriotic diapers for sale with an Old Glory design on them. Letting your rug rat take a shit in the flag? Definitely desecration!

And what of burning other flags? I'm sure there are lots of first-generation immigrants from places like Mexico or Guatemala that are no happier about seeing their flags burned than the Stars and Stripes. Can we still desecrate those? What about state flags? A burning WV flag would probably piss me off a bit. What of the flag in the United States that provokes the most negative feelings, the Confederate battle flag, i.e., the Stars and Bars? Do you really want a Constitution that doesn't allow some completely out of the mainstream loony to burn Old Glory but allows us to freely fire up the Stars and Bars?

I'm no fan of flag burning. In spite of my generally cynical attitude, I actually take pride in the Stars and Stripes from time to time. I incorporated the flag in my autocross graphics scheme in the months after 9./11. When the US national team plays, I don my World Cup 2002-era replica jersey - red, white, and blue with the flag as part of the USSF crest right over my heart. And I yearn for the day when Scott Speed stands on the top step of an F1 podium after his first win, while the flag waives behind him and "The Star Spangled Banner" plays on. I'm just saying this isn't a problem that needs fixed and it sure as hell shouldn't be fixed by stifling free speech.

Homeowners, Beware of "Economic Development"

Ah, it's the middle of June and the big decisions are starting to come from the Supreme Court fast and furiously. Today, the Court, by a slim 5-4 majority, held that local governments have the power to condemn private property and redistribute it in the name of "economic development." The case involved the Connecticut town of New London, which plans to revitalize its downtown by developing several business in and around the town's waterfront. In order to pursue the plan, the town needs to move out several long-time residents who don't want to move. The town sought to use the power of eminent domain to condemn those homes and move their owners (paying them for the value of the land, of course). The issue in the case was whether this sort of broad "economic development" scheme constitutes a "public use" for which private land can be taken according to the Fifth Amendment.

The majority opinion is very very deferential to legislative actions in this area, so much so that there doesn't appear to be much left of the Fifth's takings provisions. Although, to be honest, the dissenters have to go back to the original intent of the Constitution to come to a contrary conclusion, bypassing lots of precedent along the way. I mean, if the Court in 1984 signed off on the wholesale redistribution of land by the state of Hawaii to remedy inequities in the local real estate market, how could New London not buy off a few homeowners? In other words, Thomas and his ilk may be right, but it looks like the boat on this issue sailed a long long time ago.

Of course, I practice criminal law, so what the fuck do I know?

Welcome Aboard, Eddie!

I was happy to see today that Leeds United, my favorite soccer team outside the US, has signed US international midfielder Eddie Lewis on a two-year contract. After its shameful relegation from the Premiership in 2004 and concurrent financial problems, Leeds ended up in 14th place in the Championship (second level of pro soccer in England) last year and got considerably better as the season progressed after a shaky start. Maybe with Eddie, who helped Preston North End to the promotion play-off final, prowling the left wing next season Leeds will bounce back into the Prem sooner rather than later.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Album of the Day

The American Standard, by Dreadnaught (2001): Listening to this today I rememeber just how hard it kicked my ass when I got it back at the end of 2003. There's just so many different influences coming in that it sounds completely different from anything else I own. I must get their new(er) one ASAP!

100 Years, 100 Specials

The folks at the American Film Institute have apparently decided to corner the market on "100 best" lists, checking in last night with the top 100 film quotes. The top? "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," from Gone With the Wind. I'm pleased to see several of my favorites on the list, from A Few Good Men ("You can't handle the truth!") and Dr. Strangelove ("Gentlemen, you can't fight in here! This is the War Room!"). But, of course, no list like this would be complete with some bitching on my part. Some overlooked gems:

  • "Care for a little necrophilia? Hmmm?" and "He's got away from us, Jack." from Brazil.
  • "I've met him. I wouldn't piss on him if his heart was on fire." Sid Hatfield, describing the owner of the Baldwin-Phelps agency in Matewan.
  • Along the same lines, "Goddammit, I'd piss on a spark plug if I thought it'd do any good!" from War Games.
  • The whole "Alms for an ex-leper!" bit from The Life of Brian, in which Jesus is described as a "bloody do-gooder." Oh, and "where's the fetus gonna gestate? In a box?"
  • "I don't swear for the hell of it. Language is a poor enough means of communication. We've got to use all the words we've got. Besides, there are damn few words anybody understands." from Inherit the Wind.
Then, of course, there are literally dozens from Kevin Smith flicks. I'll limit myself to three.
  • "You think the average Storm Trooper knows how to install a toilet main? All the know is killing and white uniforms." from Clerks.
  • Call: "I'm just, ahh... just havin' a little girl trouble." Response: "Bitch pressin' charges? I get that a lot." from Chasing Amy. Also, Hooper's entire rant on the racist overtones of Star Wars (including Bannky's "what's a Nubian?").
  • "Any moron with a pack of matches can set a fire. Raining down sulphur is like an endurance trial man. Mass genocide is the most exhausting activity one can engage in, next to soccer." from Dogma.
Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Oh Bernie, Come to the 21st Century, Will You?

As if Formula 1 didn't have a bad enough weekend. Bernie Ecclestone, technically the "commercial rights holder" for F1 (but the real power in the sport), made a really boneheaded statement this weekend about America's favorite motorsports curiosity, Danica Patrick. Asked what he thought of her performance at Indy only a few weeks before the USGP, Bernie opined:

Asked about Patrick's success, Ecclestone acknowledged her strong finish, but then made an assessment about women racing with men that caused a stir, saying, '[y]ou know I've got one of those wonderful ideas ... women should be dressed in white like all the other domestic appliances.'
Huh? Is Bernie a deacon in the First Church of Appliantology? To confuse matters even further, Bernie then talked directly to Danica, presumably to apologize, and repeated his statement! Danica was, as you might expect, confused:

'I can't believe that he would say it to me over the phone, not to my face, but directly to me,' she said. 'I was a bit confused. ... So I don't really know what to think about it.'

'I don't know if he was talking about someone else or the majority or what, I'm not really sure. Or, maybe that's his real feeling.'

Maybe Bernie should have the Michelin folks buy him a round of sensitivity training?

Our Special Relationship

Kansas City Wizard defender Jimmy Conrad had been writing a column for during the MLS season addressing various topics. Today, he tackles an issue that is near and dear to my heart: the relationship between a goalkeeper and his defenders. The basic question seems to be why does the keeper get all the (statistical, at least) credit for a shutout when it may have more to do with the defense in front of him than any brilliant saves? I suspect, as a keeper myself, that it has something to do with the keeper's role in organizing the defense. After all, the keeper has the best wide-angle view of the play on the field. Of course, I wouldn't go as far as 2004 MLS keeper of the year Joe Cannon, who told Conrad:

First of all, I have always made one assumption as a player: Every defender is as smart as a monkey (the most intelligent type) and you need to tell them everything about their position.
Heh! I think Matt Reis has the better answer: the keeper is the last line of defense and the solitary obstacle to a striker scoring if and when he breaks down the defense. Of course, sometimes a goal is just a matter of bad luck (witness the first Italian goal against the US yesterday). Like it or not, we keepers are the ones most likely to make the obvious mistakes the lead to a goal. Gods know, I made my fair share last season! Defenders can sort of huddle up under a group responsibility where they got beat, but nobody specifically screwed up. No man is an island, but keepers are at least an isthmus.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Album of the Day

Early Plague Years, by Thinking Plague (2000): Thinking Plague sort of "broke out" (in terms of the prog world, at least) with 1998's In Extremis, a slightly accessible version of the very odd RIO (Rock In Opposition) camp of prog. I got that album and loved it and wanted to hear more, so I ended up with this compilation of the band's first two albums, . . . A Thinking Plague and Moonsongs. Oddly, the Moonsongs tunes come first and are about what you'd expect, a more primitive version of what would become In Extremis. The . . . A Thinking Plague tunes, on the other hand, are really out there and owe more to New Wave than prog, IMHO.

What the Fuck Happened at Indy?!?!?

I had an autocross yesterday (got beaten like a drum, too, but now is not the time . . .). As often happens, a lot of racing took place while we were racing and lots of us avoided any news of the United States Grand Prix in order to enjoy watching the race on tape that night. About midway through the day, one of my friends came into the timing trailer (I run the timing system in our region most of the time) and said that the race was one of the weirdest F1 races ever.

I knew about the situation with Michelin tires from watching qualifying on Saturday. And I had seen the story on the BBC website that broached the idea of a boycott by the 7 Michelin-shod teams over the safety of their tires. But, given the Machivellian political world that is F1, I expected it all to be sorted out by the time tens of thousand of fans, paying upwards of $85 a pop for the privilege, filed into IMS to watch the race.

I certainly had no idea that I would watch a "race" with a robust six cars taking place. It was a dark day for F1. The fans were understandably angry, although tossing junk onto the track was a classless and dangerous move that I last remember taking place at a NASCAR race - who says the NASCAR fans are that different from F1 fans?

In the wake of this farce, who is the blame and what happens next?

For my money, blame for the whole situation lies squarely at the feet of Michelin. Ironically, the day started out brilliantly for the French company, as their tires swept all four categories at the 24 Hours of LeMans. But they simply failed to do the job at Indy. There are numerous theories as to why, but I think that they tried to develop a tire that was quicker through the slow infield section of the IMS circuit at the expense of sidewall rigidity on the high-speed turn 13 (turn 1 of the IRL/NASCAR oval). The result was a tire that ended up not being capable of running the high-Gs in that corner over more about 10 laps.

While the blame for the weekend lies with Michelin (had they not fucked up there would be no problem), many are trying to figure out who has blood on their hands for the actual farce of a race yesterday. In the end, I can't think that anybody really does. I've thought hard about what was done and what could possibly have been done and I just can't come up with a better scenario than what actually took place.

What could have been done? Well, first, the possibility of letting the Michelin runners switch tires and run a new compound that was flown in from France is a moot point. Whatever flaw the Michelin tires that started the weekend had, the new tires had the same flaw. Therefore, some sort of tire-switch-with-penalty scenario simply wasn't possible.

How about FIA's suggestion, to tell the Michelin runners to simply driver slower through turn 13 in order to reduce loads on the tires? With all due respect, that's horseshit. F1 is a contest of SPEED. Unlike endurance racing like LeMans, where slower but more reliable cars routinely win out over faster but more fragile competitors (see LMP1 and GT1 this year), F1 is about the fastest driver in the fastest car winning the race. An event where six cars honked throughout turn 13 at full chat while 14 others puttered through considerably slower (20 mph? 40 mph?) would have been as great a farce as what actually took place. And that doesn't even take into consideration how you would enforce the "speed limit" or how long it would take for the racer's mindset to take hold and the Michelin guys try to run at full song.

So, then, what about Michelin's suggestion that a chicane be installed before (or in) turn 13 to slow the cars down? That's an equally bullshit suggestion. How, exactly, did they plan to alter the circuit? It's not as if there's a lot of room on the Indy oval to weave cars around. And what of the fact that there would be absolutely no practice on such a circuit before the race started. You think turn one at Monaco or La Source is a bitch on the first lap, what about that? And what of the Bridgestone teams, who did nothing wrong but are all of a sudden punished by not running on the circuit for which their equipment was designed and setup.

Neither solution was workable. There was a lot of talk about making one change or the other and making the race a non-championship event for which no points would be awarded. Again, that would be grossly unfair to Ferrari, Jordan, and Minardi - all they did was show up and race. Simply awarding points to those teams without a race (based on qualifying, for example) would have been unfair to Jordan and Minardi, who almost realized their dreams when Schumacher and Barrichello nearly took each other out. And besides, how hard would any team have been willing to push it for a non-points event? The F1 circus is in the middle of the meat of the season now and any injury to a driver would destroy his championship chances.

What happens next? A damn good question. Some are speculating that not only is F1 done at Indy or the United States, but potentially altogether. This column from the BBC explains how what happened yesterday was public result of the private power struggle that's going on for control of the sport. Of course, it also comes hot on the heals of Max Mosley's radical proposals to cut costs and put drivers back in control of the cars in 2008.

No doubt, it was a shitty situation. And no doubt, there will be long-term consequences. I'm just not sure it could have been any better.

The Importance of History

In last Friday's L.A. Times, David Geletner wrote an interesting column about the amazing laxness in history education in this country. I agree with his overall point - in the hierarchy of classroom subjects, history frequently gets shunted aside for math and the sciences. I'm still amazed that friends of mine made it through college without taking a history class. In addition, it's largely thought of as a dry recitation of dates and facts that can't possibly relevant to modern life. To the contrary, the past informs most (if not all) of what happens in terms of international and national politics and culture. So we definitely need to do a better job of teaching it.

The problem with history, however, is that it is often inconvenient and doesn't fit with many interest groups' ideas of right or wrong or what should be. To that end, Geletner concludes:

There is an ongoing culture war between Americans who are ashamed of this nation's history and those who acknowledge with sorrow its many sins and are fiercely proud of it anyway. Proud of the 17th century settlers who threw their entire lives overboard and set sail for religious freedom in their rickety little ships. Proud of the new nation that taught democracy to the world. Proud of its ferocious fight to free the slaves, save the Union and drag (lug, shove, sweat, bleed) America a few inches closer to its own sublime ideals. Proud of its victories in two world wars and the Cold War, proud of the fight it is waging this very day for freedom in Iraq and the whole Middle East.
I think he oversells his point. Yes, there is a faction on the far left who see almost all of American (and, more broadly, European) history as a tale of dead, white, heterosexual males who were driven by racism, greed, sexism, and religious fervor to wipe all the other people off the face of the earth. On the other hand, there seems to be an equal, if not larger, faction on the right who think that Americans are always right and have always acted with the best of intentions, even if those intentions resulted in things like slavery and McCarthyism.

The truth, of course, lies somewhere in the middle and is a complex mesh of different strands of action by numerous different groups. But that's too complicated to teach in schools, most people think, so it gets simplified into either "American good" or "American bad" and the interest groups line up to fight another pitched battle in the culture wars.

Album of Friday

Kid A, by Radiohead (2000): You have to give Radiohead credit - they rarely do the same thing twice. After the critical acclaim of OK Computer (indeed, Spin magazine just name it the best album of the last 20 years and I actually own it, which freaks me out a bit), the band veered in a terrifically different direction with Kid A. In fact, it's hard to believe that a band that can marshal (so to speak!) three guitar players at once could produce an album so devoid of crunchy six-string work. I definitely have to be in the right mood to want to listen to Kid A, but it's really brilliant once I'm in the right frame of mind.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Album of the Day

The Joy of Molybdenum, by The Trey Gunn Band (2000): Trey Gunn came to "fame" as the Warr guitarist in the double-trio version of King Crimson (he held onto that position with the 4-piece band for a while, too). This is (I think) his second "solo" album (most tracks were co-written by drummer Bob Muller) and it shows a wider range that he exhibited with Crimson. Lots of Middle Easter influences and an underlying funkiness pervade the tracks.

Weight Matters

More Danica backlash. As things have cooled down, folks are starting to look a little more critically at Robby Gordon's comment that Danica Patrick enjoys an advantage over her male (and larger) competitors because (a) she weighs less than they do and (b) the IRL, in a change from almost every other motorsport, does not include the driver when enforcing the minimum weight requirement of the rules. Robby may not have a lot of tact, but he has a point. I know from experience.

This year and last I have autocrossed in the same class, STS (Street Touring Street tire), in similarly prepared small cars. Last year, in my current-generation Sentra, I struggled to crack the top three and was regularly 2-3 seconds off the winner. This year, in my 1st-generation Neon, I'm in the fight every event and within .5-1 second of the winner (unless I win, of course). The main difference between the two car? Weight - the Sentra weighs about 250 pounds more than the Neon. Not only does that help the same 145 horsepower go further in terms of acceleration, it makes the car brake better and handle better. I've even seen recommendations on autocross discussion boards that drivers lose weight in stock and near-stock classes as a way of becoming more competitive.

Now, the IRL braintrust might be correct that, on an oval, the weight differential doesn't mean that much. But still, if you can wait .1 of a second before braking coming into the pits or power back out of the pits .1 sec quicker than everybody else, that's an advantage. Is it unfair? No - Danica's in the same shape that a small male driver would be in. But any advantage is an advantage, PC politics be damned.

Be Careful What You Blog

Blogs are wonderful things (you'd expect me to say that, wouldn't you?), but they do not exist outside the laws and mores of traditional society. Which is why I'm constantly amazed that people are shocked when they are fired after badmouthing their job/boss/company on their blog. What is it about a blog that makes people think they're immune from retaliation? It may be no different in content than the steam you blow off with your buddies over a few beers, except that you're blowing off to the entire fucking planet! The chances that someone from your company will see what you write are higher than most people think. Just use common sense, people.

What Do You Know - Her Brain Was Gone

Lost amidst the post-Michael Jackson punditry today was the release of the results of the autopsy performed after the death of Terry Schiavo. Turns out that, just like her husband said, he brain was basically gone. In the words of the medical examiner:

'The brain weighed 615 grams, roughly half of the expected weight of a human brain,' he said. 'This damage was irreversible, and no amount of therapy or treatment would have regenerated the massive loss of neurons.'
In addition, there was no evidence of any sort of foul play on the part of the husband, as the fundie fetish-for-life folks were alleging in the last days.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Album of the Day

cowboy poems free, by echolyn (2000): cpf was echolyn's comeback album and I eagerly anticipated it. My first impressions weren't great. The hyper complexity that drew me into the band's earlier work was largely absent and I missed the presence of bassist Tom Hyatt. But albums have a way of growing on me and that's certainly the case with cpf. The complexity's not gone, it's just more refined and less obvious, and the songs themselves are so strong that they won me over. I was particularly struck today by the World War trilogy at the end of the disc ("67 Degrees," "Brittany," and "Too Late For Everything") and how unhappily relevant they are to our current national situation. Brilliant album, as I eventually came to realize.

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

Last night I pondered why the cops who busted up the nation's largest cock fight had to rescue the cocks in question by killing them all. Well, leave it to the Slate Explainer to come up with the answer. Seems that animals bred to fight can't be housed together or they'll kill each other and to house them separately would cost too much (the owners of the gamecocks in question didn't volunteer proof of ownership, apparently). So it was a matter of money, rather than hunger.

Hypocrisy, Thy Name is Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart has a pretty lengthy history of not selling books, music, and movies that they decide is not fit for consumption by right-thinking Americans. That's their right, even if it is the result of misguided paternalism. However, it pretty much results in the forfeit of any use of the specter of censorship of in your PR campaigns. A Wal-Mart PR manager in Arizona has resigned after a group funded entirely by Wal-Mart ran an ad in a local paper invoking the specter of Nazi book burnings in a debate with local anti-development groups. Sorry, guys, you just can't say that with straight face. If you can, you need a new job.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Album of the Day

The Hard Quest, by Univers Zero (1999): When I reviewed this album for Ground and Sky back in January 2003, I asked the question, "is this even rock music at all?" There's nary a guitar or bass to be found (except on one track) and the predominant tones are strings, winds, and percussion. It sounds, in lots of places, more like chamber music than rock music. Not that it really matters, of course. It's still pretty good and weird and rhythmic stuff. It's all the breadth and depth of my Belgian prog collection.

Let the Backlash Begin!

You couldn't swing a dead cat around Memorial Day weekend without hitting a news story about Indy 500 rookie of the year Danica Patrick. The ratings for the race were up (although well behind the CART glory days) and Danica (rather than race winner Dan Weldon) was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Someone must have done some digging because the mainstream sports media has now realized what we in the racing community have known for a while: she's got talent and a lot of potential, but Danica hasn't won a race in a long long time. She went two years in Toyota Atlantics without a win and has yet to crack the winner's circle in the IRL. So, here comes the backlash, from USA Today and But all the hype isn't gone. It appears that BAR-Honda may put Danica in one of their cars for some laps this Thursday in the lead up to the U.S. Grand Prix. Which, of course, will overshadow Scott Speed's debut in his home race the next day. Oh well - maybe he can talk about it with Weldon.

To Save You Must Destroy, Apparently

Authorities in Tennessee arrested 144 people over the weekend as they broke up what is thought to be the largest cock-fight in the United States. They meant business, too:

Several SWAT teams, helicopters and dozens of state troopers participated in the raid Saturday on the sprawling Del Rio Cockfight Pit. They seized about $40,000 in cash and killed more than 300 roosters.
Whoa whoa whoa! You swoop in like the Ministry of Information stormtroopers in the beginning of Brazil and arrest these guys who were forcing chickens to fight each other and then kill the fucking chickens?!?! Did they have a cook out? Christ, I hope these guys never have to defuse a hostage situation involving more sentient beings.

Cue Dana Carvey

Remember Dana Carvey's version of Bush I on Saturday Night Live and his refrain that something was "bad, it's bad!"? Maybe Dick Cheney's been watching the old reruns on E! or something. As he defended the quickly deteriorating situation at Gitmo this weekend, Dick actually came to this conclusion:

The important thing here to understand is that the people that are at Guantanamo are bad people.
OK, Dick - who exactly has made that determination? You? Rummy? Nancy Grace (she certainly thinks she has an inside line on the truth). A detached neutral judicial factfinder? I doubt seriously it's the third. If we even pretend to be a nation of laws and a champion of justice in the world, we cannot continue to detain people indefinitely without charge.

Obligatory Michael Jackson Comment

The verdict in the Michael Jackson case came down at the end of the work day. To be honest, I didn't pay a whole lot of attention to it over the weeks, aside from the stick-puppet theater updates on Countdown With Keith Olberman. Any molestation trial is tough, so congrats to Jackson's defense team. Have some Jesus Juice, boys - you've earned it!

After flipping through the cable news coverage of the verdict, I'm convinced that the "not guilty" is a good thing simply because it's making that jackass howler monkey Nancy Grace go completely apeshit. The jury got it wrong in her eyes, of course. Apparently the fact that he didn't testify means he's guilty (5th Amendment - what 5th Amendment?). She's not a big fan of the beyond a reasonable doubt standard, either. She also doesn't understand what an investigation is. She moaned about what are you supposed to do as a prosecutor if a kid tells you someone molested him? For Grace, you go straight to court. For most prosecutors and cops, I hope the first move is to investigate the child's allegations, just like you would anybody else.

I was really disappointed to see CNN give that windbag her own show, but the more I think about it, the more I think that Turner's guys have done us all a favor by keeping Grace out of our courtrooms for the time being.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Album of the Day

Nonkertompf, by Mike Keneally (1999): I've raved about Keneally's genius before (and I will again, believe me), but the more I listen to Nonkertompf, the more I think this is the peak of his skills. He played every single bit of music on this 74-minute disc. The 35 tracks range from groovy & complex "full band" pieces to brief more avant-garde snippets and closes with a several minute solo piano improv. "Click" just puts a huge smile on my face every single time I hear it, for instance. As cool as the album is, seeing Mike and his live band put several of the shorter bits through their paces (in a segment called "Nonkerchunk") is even better!

Pele Conquers NYC

Today marks the 30th anniversary of a momentous feat for soccer in America. Three decades ago, the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League announced the signing of Pele, the best player in the world. The news that Pele would come to America gave the NASL the publicity boost it was looking for. All was good for the next few years, as the NASL imported a host of other big name international stars. Unfortunately, the league spent itself into a huge hole and once the big names retired, the NASL withered and died. Still, for one brief shining moment, the eyes of the soccer world were on NYC. England's The Guardian has all the info about Pele's reign in America.

Deep Throat - Friend or Foe?

One of the big news stories that broke while I was traveling (while I was in the airport in Atlanta, actually) was the revealing of former FBI man Mark Felt as the famous Watergate source Deep Throat. Almost instantly, a debate sprang up over whether what Felt did was good or bad and whether he should be regarded as a hero or villain. To be honest, I didn't give it must thought, as the only people I heard chastising Felt were ex-Nixon operatives like Pat Buchanan and Charles Colson whose opinions I wouldn't trust if my life depended on it. But more and more info has come out that cast some doubts on Felt's motives and, at the very least, make it a more complicated question. Over at Findlaw, Edward Lazarus argues that Felt should be regarded as a hero regardless of his motives. In other words, judge the act itself and not the actor. In the end, I think he's right - people do the right things for wrong reasons all the time. Given that people only ever act in selfish ways, it's really too much to ask of human beings that they do the right thing for its own sake.

Prisoners Leave Prison, You Know

A lot of sentencing policy (such as it is) is recent years has stopped at the "lock 'em up and throw away the key" stage. What most people don't realize at the time they make that argument is that an overwhelming majority of people who go to prison will get out someday. When they do, their confinement often makes it difficult to return to society and leads to further incarceration. Yesterday's USA Today had a great (but sad) story of several men who were released directly from solitary confinement in Texas prisons to the outside world. Solitary, at least in some form, is probably a necessary evil of prison management. But policy makers and the general public should be aware of the problems it creates long term.

Album of Yesterday

Flower Power, by The Flower Kings (1999): One word nobody uses to describe Sweden's leading modern proggers is "restraint." This is a two disc album, which is long enough, but they insist on packing in something in every minute. For instance, an hour of disc one is given over to the "Garden of Dreams" suite. That really should have been enough, but the they squeezed in another 8+ minute jammy tune to finish that disc out. Why not move that tune, "Astral Dog," to disc 2 and prune some of the filler there, say, the horribly (but not intentionally) funny "Magic Pie?" I'm not sure. Stolt and company string together some great musical bits here and there, but they need to learn to edit and work on the lyrics a bit.

Our office manager has the office next to mine and heard a bit of this yesterday while my door was open (it's 70 degrees at 7am and the heat is on - only in a federal building) and described it as "James Bond music." I'm not quite sure what that means, but it's slightly less derogatory than an old girlfriend's definition of most prog as sounding like the Light Parade at Disneyworld.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Album of the Day

Looking Homeward, by Tristan Park (1998): Prog often times gets slammed for being "pretentious," which I think is code for "serious." Not a lot of feel good party prog out there extolling the rock n' roll virtues of sex, drugs, and - well - rock n' roll. I think that's only a valid criticism if the lyrical subject isn't worth the effort. This album is full of fairly somber lyrical ideas in songs like "An American Tragedy" (parts 1 and 2), "Memorial Day," and "Four Freedoms." But you'd think that the band would lighten up on the subject of baseball! "The Cruelest Month" is a deadly serious and earnest tune about the misery of being Red Sox fan (presumably dropped from the set after last season). What could have been good for a laugh or light-hearted sentimental moment is played very heavy. The result is possibly the funniest non-funny song in my collection. Not that the rest of the album is that great, but it can't touch the heights / depths of that tune.

More Pot Talk

Folks still continue to discuss the ramifications of Raich, the Supreme Court's medical pot decision from Monday. Salon has this fairly comprehensive (for a two-page piece) article on Raich and it's aftermath. Ironically, the first three lawyers/law profs quoted in the article are all members of The Volokh Conspiracy and will surely have more to say in the days to come.

The article restates the common perception that not much has changed in the world of medicinal pot:

The high court's ruling doesn't change state law whatsoever; as long as you only
run into state and local cops, you're fine.
To me, that demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of how drug crimes are prosecuted in this country. We see lots of cases where the initial (if not only) investigation is done by state law enforcement officials. Often, the cases "go federal" because the perps will get longer sentences in federal court than state court. That fact is not lost on at least one eager US Attorney.

Meanwhile, over at National Review online, a commentator argues that Raich is actually a victory for principles of federalism because it was the state of California, not the federal government, that was in the wrong. That's pretty strong stuff for NR. He then goes on to predict a similar fate for Gonzalez v. Oregon, the not-yet-argued Supreme Court case which will resolve whether the feds can tell doctors in Oregon that prescribing controlled substances in accordance with that state's Death With Dignity Act is not the proper practice of medicine. Of course, he appears to be an anti-euthanasia activist, so I'm not sure that he's not engaged in some wishful thinking (hopefully).

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Album of the Day

The Dream Nebula (The Best of 1971-1975), by Nektar (1998): As a rule, I'm not a fan of greatest hits collections. If you're really interested in the band, buy some albums and explore beyond the PR. But, sometimes they are useful as introductions to unfamiliar artists. I was vaguely aware of Nektar, a collection of British ex-pats who made it big in the German space-rock scene, but had never actually heard any of their stuff when I was on a CD shopping spree in New Orleans a couple of years ago (the Virgin Megastore and Tower Records just off the French Quarter are loaded with prog). I decided that this set would be a good introduction, and I think it is. I was much more impressed by Nektar than my other limited space-rock exposures (Hawkwind and Ozric Tentacles, mostly). Having said that, I haven't followed up on my mantra and actually bought any of their studio albums. So many bands, so little time . . .

Medical Pot - Same As It Ever Was?

So, we're 24 hours out from the big medical pot decision from the Supreme Court and it seems that nothing has really changed. has this story about the activity in one San Francisco "pot club" called, not so diplomatically, "The Love Shack," while USA Today's cover story indicated that the users in California would continue using. Meanwhile, lots of state officials are speaking up and saying things really haven't changed and there won't be crackdowns on medical marijuana users. That's great, except they aren't involved in the process, anyway. If the administration, which views pot as a great evil on the level of North Korea's nuclear program (probably greater), wants to crack down via the DEA, it can. One would hope that even Dubya could find better things to throw money at than dying people who toke up, but his track record isn't encouraging.

Chick Cars has an article discusses recent research that indicates which cars are preferred by men versus those preferred by women. Not surprisingly, the top cars on the guy list tend to be imrpactically expensive and really fast, like the Porsche 911, Ford GT, and VW Phaeton (the top model sells for $104,555 - for a fucking Volkswagen?!?!). The boy-racer Mitsubishi Lancer EVO sneaks into second place. The chick list, on the other hand, is filled with bland Oldsmabuick remnants as the Suzuki Forenza, Pontiac Sunfire, and Kia Rio. To be fair, the chick list includes 4 convertibles, which is never bad. Oddly, one great sports car that sometimes gets labeled a "girly" car, the Mazda Miata, is on neither list. Must to the relief of my soon-to-be Miata owner brother, I'm sure. :)

Monday, June 06, 2005

Album of the Day

MarillionRochester, by Marillion (1998): In 1997, after the release of This Strange Engine, Marillion made plans to tour in support of the album. On the Freaks mailing list, keyboardist Mark Kelly broke some bad news to we American fans: touring in the US was a money-losing proposition and the band's new economic reality (cut loose from EMI) just wouldn't allow the band to come over. That started a discussion amongst the list members about why ticket prices were so low on the last tour and that we would gladly pay more. Since the band sees little of the ticket sales anyway, an idea was hatched: what if the band's fans raised money to give directly to the band to support a North American tour? With that, the Tour Fund was born and, $40,000 later, the band toured the US, Canada, and Mexico in the first tour funded largely by a band's worldwide fan base (the largest contributor was from Europe). This album was the "thank you" from the band to those of us who contributed to the Tour Fund. Recorded in Rochester, NY (hence the title) the day after I saw then in Pittsburgh. It's not the best live album I've got, but it's certainly unique.

Pot Is the New Wheat

As this year's Supreme Court term hits the home stretch, look for some big decisions to be handed down each Monday. Today's big name case was Gonzalez v. Raich, in which the Court upheld the federal government's ability to prohibit people from growing, possessing, or using medical marijuana. Not surprisingly, the Court applied that old law school chestnut of Wickard v. Filburn to hold that the aggregate effect of medicinal marijuana users/growers (in states that allow that kind of thing) would impact interstate commerce enough to allow Congress to regulate it. I think O'Connor's dissent pretty much calls "bullshit" on that, but it's hardly shocking. For way more discussion of this case than I could ever provide (not to mention the higher quality), head over to SCOTUSBlog, where there is some serious group blogging going on about Raich.

Poor Lawyers of the World Unite!

Looks like we PDs in America get the short end of the profession's financial stick. Criminal barristers in the UK are on the verge of a strike over their low compensation, particularly for lengthy trial cases. While the article cites on barrister who made less than $10,ooo last year (which sucks, be honest), other complainers were making closer to $100,000, which is much more than your average American PD. And the fact that some public barristers make upwards of $900,000 makes me think something is wrong, but it's not underpayment on a grand scale. If any PD in this country made that kind of money it would be a major scandal, and rightfully so.

While I Was Away . . .

Greetings, loyal readers - did you miss me? Mid-Ohio was a hoot (full report over on the LER blog forthcoming), Richmond/the Fourth Circuit was hell, and San Antonio was hot as hell. Apparently I brought the heat back with me to WV. Anyhoo, here are a few goings on from the last two weeks that I felt the urge to pass on:

  • Au revoir, judicial review? The topic for last week's Debate Club over at Legal Affairs was "[s]hould we get rid of judicial review?" The alternative, apparently, is to allow the democratic process to correct unpopular judicial interpretations. It's an interesting academic argument, but I find the "yea" writer's faith in democracy a little naive for my tastes.
  • Speed gets the call. As expected, American Scott Speed, currently running well in the inaugural GP2 series, will be Red Bull-Cosworth's Friday test driver at the upcoming Canadian and US GPs. He'll be the first American with serious F1 race weekend seat time since Michael Andretti's shortened 1993 season.
  • Fourth Circuit - liberal on abortion? Sometimes the panel comes up the right way, I guess. Last week, the Fourth Circuit struck down Virginia's law criminalizing partial-birth abortions because it does not provide an exception to protect a woman's health. It's a fairly straight-forward application of existing Supreme Court and Circuit law (although one judge disagreed), but that's never stopped the Fourth before.
  • I still don't get Smile. Last year, Brian Wilson finally finished Smile, a legendary album that was to have been the followup to Pet Sounds. I got caught up in the "masterpiece" hype and bought the album and wasn't all that impressed at the time. I figured that maybe I just didn't get the context of the album that was, after all, supposed to come out in 1967 or so. While I was at Mid-Ohio, I saw a documentary on Showtime about the making the album and its live debut in England in 2003. Everybody praised it to the hilt, of course, but it seemed like everyone was so afraid to say anything negative for fear for sending Wilson back into a mental funk. I still just don't get it. It's nice, but it's doesn't sound as Earth-shattering as everyone says it is. That's particluarly true when compared to the first Zappa/Mothers album, Freak Out!, that came out about the same time. Side 4 of that album ("Help, I'm a Rock," etc.) is miles beyond anything on Smile. So will somebody who "gets" Smile please clue me in on what I'm missing?