Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Still Wanna Whack Him, Pat?

Maybe Pat Robertson should put out a fatwa on more world leaders. One of the first nations to step up and offer aid to the areas hit by Katrina is Venezuela. Fundie wingnut Robertson, you may recall, suggested that we assassinate Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez last week. I have to admit, it takes a pretty big man to not use the rantings of one loon as a justification for not helping thousands of innocent hurricane victims. Lest you think Venezuela doesn't have much to offer, they produce a lot of oil, which is something we're going to be in dire need of here in a bit.

Speaking of helping the victims, please head over to the Red Cross website and make a donation to help with relief efforts.

Spooky Bad Luck or Horrible Leadership?

While there's nothing anybody could have done to stop Katrina smashing into the Gulf Coast this week. But things could have been done to lessen the impact. For instance, in fiscal year 2006, the Army Corps of Engineers - the smart guys and gals responsible for keeping New Orleans dry - saw their budget cut a record $71.2 billion dollars by Dubya. Among the casualties were a study of how to protect the city from a Category 5 hurricane and:

the Southeast Louisiana Urban Flood Control Project, which was created after the May 1995 flood to improve drainage in Jefferson, Orleans and St. Tammany parishes. SELA's budget is being drained from $36.5 million awarded in 2005 to $10.4 million.
Any of those place names ring a bell? You might be willing to simply chuck that up to bad luck, but consider this 2001 Houston Chronicle article about a FEMA report from earlier that year:
earlier this year the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked the potential damage to New Orleans as among the three likeliest, most castastrophic disasters facing this country.

The other two? A massive earthquake in San Francisco, and, almost prophetically, a terrorist attack on New York City.

The New Orleans hurricane scenario may be the deadliest of all.
Hmm. Two down, one to go. If I were Dubya, I'd boost the payments for quake prevention/mitigation in Frisco right the hell now.

Hat tip to TalkLeft and Daily Kos for bringing these things to light.

Messing With Mother Nature

In the wake of Katrina (is that the forgotten King Crimson album?), both USA Today and the BBC website have stories today about how development of the Mississippi delta around New Orleans contributes to the problems the city is facing now. Basically, you can't disrupt the terrain's natural characteristics that tend to take the brunt of hurricanes and the like and weaken the storms before they hit the mainland. We've seen a similar phenomenon in West Virginia, as mountainsides clear cut of timber simply funnel heavy rain water into the hollers, rather than helping absorb the water as it falls.

Forza Zanardi (Again)

As a follow up on Monday's post about Alex Zanardi's WTCC win over the weekend, Robin Miller has a nice column about it over at Speed's website. And for those of you who think NASCAR isn't too friggin' huge, check out this passage, where Zanardi compares this win with a recent victory in the national Italian Touring Car Championship:

The victory was the second of 2005 for this irrepressible 38-year-old Italian but much bigger than the earlier one in the Italian Touring Series. “Hey, a win is a win, but [i]t’s the difference between that grand national series and NASCAR’s top one,” he said.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

I Never Liked Katrina (or the Waves)

By definition, any natural disaster is a hideous thing, regardless of where, when, or to whom is happens. And Katrina certainly fits the bill. And while my heart goes out to everybody on the Gulf Coast, there's an extra bit of hurt in the pit of my stomach for the city and people of New Orleans. I've been the Big Easy several times and it's one of my favorite places. It's unique blend of cultures and history make it the most interesting city in the country, if not the hemisphere. The best place to keep up to date on the unfolding situation in New Orleans is the website of The Times-Picayune, which is substituting for the print edition while the city is under water.

And, of course, it should go without saying that everyone on the Gulf is going to need lots of assistance from groups like the Red Cross. You can donate to the relief efforts here.

Kansas Takes It On the Chin - Again

Generally, a 20-year old man who has sex with and impregnates a 14-year old girl is not the stuff of national news and New York Times articles. It is, however, when he's actually married to the girl and facing statutory rape charges. The happy couple live in Nebraska, but were married across the border in Kansas, where the minimum age for marriage is 12:

The governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius, embarrassed by her state's status as one of the few allowing children as young as 12 to marry, has said she will propose a raise in the minimum age when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
I can only imagine. To be fair, the young lovers did have the permission of their parents, which raises a whole other set of issues.

What Leadership

As large chunks of the country lie in ruins from one of the worst natural disasters in history, where is our illustrious leader? Well, to his credit, Dubya did cut and run from Texas when Katrina was bearing down. But now that it's hit, it's apparently more important to give a speech making bullshit comparisons between the war in Iraq and World War II to get cracking on disaster issues. I know it's mostly symbolic, but I'm sure that Clinton would have been on the Gulf yesterday to provide some aid and comfort.

To be honest, I've given Dubya a pass on one of the most vivid images from Fahrenheit 9/11 - his sitting still reading that damn children's book for several minutes after the World Trade Center was attacked. Lots of people on the left said that showed his inability to act and general worthlessness as a leader. Well, given the events of the past couple days, I've changed my opinion and now tend to agree.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Justice - You Get What You Pay For

Today's USA Today has a really depressing cover story about the general inadequacy of indigent criminal defense in this country. As a current federal PD and former state PD, part of me wants to get indignant and pissed off at the characterization of us as incompetent disasters who are barely worthy of bar membership. But, on the other hand, I know that the lack of resources cited in the article does impede our ability to zealously represent our clients. I've have worked (and work now) with lots of very dedicated lawyers who work as PDs because they believe in what they are doing. But it's hard to do the job that needs to be done when you have to justify spending every penny to somebody else higher up the food chain.

Forza Alex!

Two-time CART champion Alex Zanardi endured a horrifying crash in Germany in 2001 that left him near death and without his legs. Most people would be content to simply lead a quiet life after an event like that, but Zanardi had other plans. Once he finished rehab, he decided to go back to doing what he does best: drive a race car. For the past two years, Zanardi has driven a specially equipped BMW 320i in the World (first European) Touring Car Championship. This weekend, he won his first race in the series at Oschersleben, holding off defending champion and fellow BWM pilot Andy Prilaux by 0.232 second for the victory. It was Zanardi's first international win since his 1998 CART win in Australia.

Congrats, Alex!

An American in F1

Finally, after a 13-year absence, an American will be a full-time part of the Formula 1 scene next year. Red Bull Racing is expected to announce this Wednesday that Scott Speed will be the team's test driver next year. While it's not a racing seat (yet - test drivers have a way of ending up as a race driver by the end of the year), it's the first step towards that goal. As a bonus, Red Bull has cleared Speed to drive for Team USA in the inaugural A1 series during the offseason.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The End Is Beautiful

Came home from work today to find the new echolyn album, The End Is Beautiful, in the mail. This follow up to the epic one-track mei returns bassist (and now backing vocalist!) Tom Hyatt back the fold. It's heavier and funkier than previous efforts and very very cool. So what are you waiting for? Head over to the band's website and get your own copy!

Jesus Still Thinks He's a Jerk

OK, so you've said on national TV that the United States should assassinate the leader of a foreign country. To top it off, you made this pronouncement during your religious propaganda program in which you preach supposedly Christian values. What do you do? Well, first you can deny you actually said that. Problem is, you said it on TV and, thus, it's on tape. So the whole world knows that:

'If he thinks we're trying to assassinate him, I think we really ought to go ahead and do it,' said Robertson Monday. 'It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war.'
Time for a Plan B! After trying to deny it, Robinson finally apologized for his assinine statement.

It's not been a good week for the televangelical leaders of the religious right. Today the Fourth Circuit reversed a lower court ruling in favor of Jerry Falwell in a trademark infringement and cybersquatting case in which a critic set up a website,, to criticize Jerry's blatherings.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

More Science & Faith

Apparently the New York Times is doing a whole series on issues of science and religion, which started Sunday. I must have skipped over that article while I was watching the F1 race. Anyway, today's story deals with the question of whether one can be a good scientist and still believe in God. I would think so, but since I don't fall into either category I guess I'm not qualified to answer.

Talk About Extra Time!

A soccer club in Arkansas set out this weekend to play the longest soccer game in history. It's two teams, Tyson and Snickers (named for employers, I sincerely hope), played for 26 consecutive hours over the weekend, in 45 minute increments. Tyson won, 131-74. I can only assume they weren't following the FIFA "3 subs per game" rule!

Jesus Thinks He's A Jerk

I know I am not the world's foremost Biblical scholar, but doesn't it say something about "thou shalt not kill?" I think I read that on a courthouse wall somewhere in Kentucky. And isn't there something later on about turning the other cheek? Either one would seem to preclude a nationally televised call to assassinate the leader of another country. But that doesn't stop Pat Robertson. He apparently thinks the leader of Venezuela is the next coming of Stalin. Maybe he's right (I'm ignorant enough of that area of the world not to know), but it's still a stupendously stupid thing to call for his death on national TV. Is that what Jesus would have done, Pat?

Monday, August 22, 2005

Those Flag Desecrators in Utah

Remember a while back when I wondered about what kind of "desecration" would be illegal if the Constitution were amended to allow Congress to pass anti flag desecration laws? Look no further than Utah where, almost inconceivably, some poor schmuck was prosecuted for hanging a flag at his house into which he burned a smiley face. Is that what you want? Shouldn't the cops stick to violating the Fourth and Sixth Amendments instead?

Have You Been Touched By His Noodly Appendage?

Today's New York Times has a (very) lengthy article that goes into some detail about the concept of Intelligent Design. It is not as base as "we people are so complex we must have been made by some creator," but it's still several zip codes away from science. Science is comfortable with - hell, requires - the idea that we don't know it all and need continued research to get closer to an answer. Just throwing your hands up and defaulting to God isn't science.

But, if we are going to go as far as teaching ID in schools, I want the theory that the designer was a Flying Spaghetti Monster taught right along side. And I want a T-shirt, too. :)

Twiddling His Way to Heaven

Damn, what a way to start back from vacation, huh?

The music world lost a titan on Sunday with the death of synthesizer pioneer Bob Moog. Moog didn't invent the synthesizer, but he seriously refined it and turned it from a technological curiosity into a viable musical instrument, first in the studio and then on the road. While some folks' greatest exposure to Bob's instruments came in places like the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange or the classical reinvention Switched on Bach, many music lovers know of the central roll the Moog (and its descendants) played (and continue to play) in the world of progressive rock.

One of the earliest users of Moog's synth, when it was a sprawling beast the size of several bookcases, was Keith Emerson, who used Moog's stuff on a host of prog classics, from "Tarkus" to "Trilogy" and "Karn Evil 9." See Keith with the beast here. The scaled down (and much easier to carry!) MiniMoog found its way into the arsenal of many a prog keyboard player. Here's Emerson with one (on top of the piano) and Rick Wakeman with several. In memory of Bob's passing, in fact, I ran through most of the MiniMoog prog staples at work, beginning with the sublime "Impressione di Settembre" by PFM.

As the BBC obit linked above indicates, the boom times for Moog were short, with competitors and changing tastes drying up demand in the mid 70s. By the 80s, the old analog synths like the ARP and Prophet (along with the MiniMoog) gave way to increasingly sophisticated digital synths. Ironically, in the past several years keyboard players have returned to the old synths to get a warmer less mechanical sound. They even build digital synths today that are designed to model the old analog ones! So Bob's achievements are still ringing in the ears of music lovers everywhere.

Gracis & Adios, Bob.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Siesta Time

My schedule the next couple of weeks is going to conspire to make blogging very difficult. So, I've decided to close up the ranch for a few days while I take a much needed vacation. Regular programming will resume August 22.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Father of "Intelligent Design"

Last week, the East Bay Express had a lengthy article on Phillip Johnson, the father of the modern "intelligent design" (nee "creationism" by another name) movement. It's an interesting read, mostly for the fact that this supposed expert on the development of live on this planet was a renowned scholar in the field of . . . wait for it . . . law! Criminal law, to boot (although it appears from the article that he never actually practiced it, which, sadly, is not a rare occurrence these days).

What Do You Expect, Rubens?

The big silly season news that came out during the Hungarian Grand Prix weekend was that Rubens Barrichello, Michael Schumacher's guy Friday at Ferrari for so many year, was moving on to BAR-Honda in 2006. Once his hand was forced by countrymen Nelson Piquet, Rubinho has confirmed the move. Today he explained that he decided to leave because of a pass Schu made on him on the last lap of this year's Monaco GP. I can't tell from his explanation whether he was ordered to move over or simply passed on the last lap by his teammate. If the former, being second fiddle is hardly new for Rubens, so why bolt now? If the latter, isn't that what racing is all about?

Quick Hits

A few interesting links that don't merit much comment:

Why do they hate us? Because we do shit like this, as documented in UK's The Guardian.

Make up your mind, Scouts! Over at (yes, I read it every now and then), Wendy McElroy makes a great point about the Boy Scouts: if you want the freedom enjoyed by private organizations to limit your membership, than stop suckling at the public teat.

You too can go to law school! Always wanted to go to law school but couldn't sacrifice three years of your life? FindLaw columnist Michael Dorf wants to help, presenting his "Five-Minute Law School." Everything you need to learn from your first year in one short column.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Contracts 501

One of the classes that every first year law student takes all over the country (and all over the world, probably) is contracts, the study of obligations between parties. The cases I studied set forth a dizzying array of issues that arise in contract disputes, but they were strictly amateur stuff when it comes to Formula 1 contracts. They simply aren't what they seem. Take, for example, the case of Jenson Button. Button is the lead driver for BAR-Honda. Last year, as BAR enjoyed its best season ever, Button made it known that he was intent on moving over to Williams-BWM for the 2005 season. Most commentators thought he was nuts. Sniping and litigation ensued. The result was an agreement that allowed Button to stay at BAR this year and delayed the move to Williams until 2006, if certain things happened (or, rather, didn't happen). Those events occurred and Frank Williams is ready to collect on his contract. Button, for his part, now wants to stay with BAR. That's reasonable, given Williams's horrible season to date and their loss of BWM motors for 2006. To be fair, however, BAR hasn't been much better. It will be interesting to see how it turns out. One thing is for sure: it should be a case study for advanced-level contract students for years to come.