Friday, August 25, 2006

Bloggus Interuptus

I'll be traveling on business next week, so the Ranch will be quiet until after Labor Day. Just in time to gloat about WVU's destruction of Marshall, I imagine. :)

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Holst Strikes Back

Well, apparently I was premature and ol' Gustav was right. After a week of controversy, a group of astronomers in Prague has cast a final vote to strip Pluto of its planethood. Pluto now has the status of a "dwarf planet," and the Solar system is down to eight functional planets. Which means that Holst's master work was right after all (when the Solar system is viewed from Earth, of course).

Sadly, it appears that Pluto has been paying a little too much attention to the Connecticut senatorial race.

Pandering? What Pandering?

Remember Katherine Harris, the Bush operative in Florida during the 2000 presidential election who parlayed that into a seat in the House of Representatives? One of the greatest of the GOPs many political flameouts this year has been her self-destructing campaign for US Senate. Things being as bad as they are, she's taken a hard turn right to pander towards her base a little bit. As Raw Story reports, Harris gave an interview to the Florida Baptist Witness in which she lays it on the line in terms of God and politics:

we have to have the faithful in government and over time, that lie we have been told, the separation of church and state, people have internalized, thinking that they needed to avoid politics and that is so wrong because God is the one who chooses our rulers.
First, notice the term "rulers," not "leaders." How . . . regal. Second, does that mean that when Harris goes down in flames this fall that it's God's will? I'll keep that in mind.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Dumb Judicial Tricks

Sometimes you wonder just what it takes to get on the bench. Consider these two tales of judicial lunacy, from opposite sides of the planet.

First, as jedi jawa reported, a trial court judge in Oklahoma was sentenced to four years in prison for exposing himself during trial. My favorite part of this case is:

Thompson, who will register as a sex offender, was convicted June 29 of masturbating while presiding over four trials in 2002 and 2003. Allegations of Thompson using a penis pump surfaced more than two years ago and received national attention.

Former jurors and court staffers testified they saw and heard Thompson using a penis pump. Thompson still denies the accusations.

Read that again. They saw and heard him use the penis pump. What, pray tell, was the witnesses frame of reference for what a penis pump sounds like? Looks like I can understand (I've seen Austin Powers, after all), but sound? Must have been some interesting cross-examination.

But, at least ex-Judge Thompson was fully in possession of his faculties while he was, um, fully in possession of something else. A judge in the Phillipines has been removed from the bench for consulting with "mystic dwarves:

He told investigators three mystic dwarves - Armand, Luis and Angel - had helped him to carry out healing sessions during breaks in his chambers.

The court said psychic phenomena had no place in the judiciary.
Well, that's reassuring. Why am I more concerned that the mystic dwarves (great band name, BTW - particularly on a double bill with Gentle Giant!) had names?

Foxhole Atheists

The old cliche says that "there are no atheists in foxholes." That, of course, is horse shit. And, as this article makes clear, those atheists who serve in the armed services are subject to pressures and disparate treatment because of their lack of faith. Stuff like this:

Just last month Lt. Gen. H. Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, said, 'Agnostics, atheists and bigots suddenly lose all that when their life is on the line.'
Nice. The non-believers are on the same level as racists and anti-Semites. And people wonder why we don't like Christians?

Friday, August 18, 2006

Get Your Dates Straight

There's been a numerical meme floating around the blogosphere for a few days. I saw it at TalkLeft first, and then I got it in an email today. It's this:

  • December 7, 1941 through May 8, 1945 (VE-Day) = 1,248 days
  • March 19, 2003 (U.S. invasion of Iraq) through Friday, August 18, 2006 = 1,248 days
The point, it seems, is that the time the US has been involved in Iraq is the same amount of time as WWII. A sobering thought, but it's not accurate. For one thing, combat operations for the United States didn't end until VJ-Day, when Japan surrendered, on August 15, 1945 - another three months. For another, WWII raged long before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The usual date for the start of the War is September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland. Personally, I think it began on July 7, 1937 when Japan invaded China. In other words, we have years to go before the Iraqi quagmire (or the "War on Terra" generally) stretches as long as WWII.

Which is not to deny the mess of Iraq or the toll it's taken on the US and the Middle East. But if we're going to make comparisons with the largest military conflict in the planet's history, let's get the numbers right.

Truth, Justice, Football

How's this for idiocy:

Last November, teens stole the decoy from a man's home, created a base to help it stand upright because it had only two legs, and then drove up and down the road, watching as drivers swerved to avoid it, prosecutor Brad Bailey said. He said Howard did not stop the prank.

Robert Roby Jr. crashed his car into a pole and broke his neck, collarbone, arm and leg. His passenger, Dustin Zachariah, suffered brain damage, Bailey said.

As a result, the idiots in question pleaded guilty to some misdemeanors and were sentenced to serve 60 days in jail. But they can wait a while, 'cause the judge delayed their sentence until after football season:

'I shouldn't be doing this, but I'm going to. I see positive things about participating in football,' Judge Gary McKinley said Tuesday.
You're right, judge - you shouldn't be doing this. I see people sent away to prison every day with no consideration to the disruption of their family lives - mothers separated from children, husbands from wives, sons from parents. For petty shit that doesn't hurt anybody who isn't a consenting adults. Football shouldn't win out over the criminal justice system.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Who Is This God Person, Anyway?*

One of my small pleasures in life is reading the signs in front of the local churches. They're usually good for a laugh now and then, either in their content or execution. My current favorite is one in downtown Charleston proclaiming "The Wages of Sin Is Death," apparently oblivious to the wages of bad grammar. But, alas, I digress.

Here's one from a church near my house that brings up something that really bugs me about our Judeo/Christian tradition.

For a lot of people, the moral weight of Christianity's commands seems to be backed up only by the fear of punishment for ignoring those commands. The unseen man in the sky tells you not to do X, and if you do X he threatens you with eternal damnation. Following such commands based on fear doesn't seem like wisdom so much as simple utilitarian CYA, ala Pascal's wager. Putting aside the question of God's existence for a second, does a God who commands his followers through fear of eternal punishment deserve to be worshiped and followed? No more so than some real-world dictator, in my book.

* With apologies to Oolon Colluphid.

Holst Must Be Pissed

When Gustav Holst wrote The Planets between 1914 and 1916, there were but eight known planets in the solar system. Taking out The Earth, that left seven movements in his suite. When Pluto was discovered in 1930, he refused to add a new movement (although some musical necrophiliac did in 2000). Imagine what he'd do with yesterday's news that scientists and historians (?) have proposed a new definition of "planet" that would not only settle the status of lowly Pluto, but would actually add three new planets to our solar system: Ceres (currently a large asteroid), Charon (previously a moon of Pluto), and 2003 UB213 (aka "Xena").

The new definition of a planet includes "that an object be massive enough that gravity has formed it into a sphere and that it circles a star and not some other planet." Not everybody is happy about this:

The difference, according to the definition, is that the center of gravity for Pluto and Charon is between them, not inside either one. So technically, Charon is not orbiting Pluto but is orbiting the center of gravity of the two bodies. The center of gravity for the Earth and its moon, on the other hand, is inside the Earth. Dr. Boss calls this 'a legalistic definition.'
Gods save us from legalistic definitions!

One wonders what Holst would have made of all this. A four-movement sequel. The Planets, II, I think. Subtitled "Pluto's Revenge," or somesuch. I'm sure Hollywood would make a movie out of it.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Do Jawas Poop in the Woods?

Was jedi jawa eaten by bears? Did he survive another anniversary with the missus? Just what exactly do you do for a week in the woods, anyway? Jedi jawa tells all about his week in the woods with Mrs. jawa (well not all, hopefully) at his new anablog. Yes - it's an analog blog - you got a problem with that? Not me - I own virtual recreations of analog synthesizers, fer cryin' out loud!

P'Burgh Power Trio Ponderings

Over the weekend, my lovely girlfriend indulged my weird musical proclivities and escorted me to see Adrian Belew at a club in downtown Pittsburgh. Belew is one of my favs, for a lot of the same reasons as fellow Zappa alum Mike Keneally - he's an incredibly talented guitar player, skips brazenly across musical genres, and can still come up with catchy tunes. Belew was playing at Club Cafe, a very intimate nicely appointed little club. Belew seriously ripped my head off, but the stars of the show are his current backing band, brother and sister Eric (drums) and Julie (bass) Slick. Any thoughts that these kids weren't up to snuff were blown away as they launched into "Writing on the Wall" from Side One. A set full of cool stuff followed, capped off by several Belew-era King Crimson tunes (I've sung along with "Three of a Perfect Pair" now!). Very very cool show.

And the girlfriend didn't hate it! Thanks, honey. :)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

My Favorite New Phrase

From today's Dilbert:

Don't ping my cheeze with your bandwidth.

The Infidel Kenny G

Yesterday, jedi jawa discussed his problems with Columbia House membership and eventually settled on one of the musical criminals of our age, Kenny G. As I said in the comments, the only thing Kenny's noodlings are good for is putting people to sleep. But I'm not quite as pissed with Kenny as guitarist Pat Metheny is. After noting Kenny's "major rhythmic problems" and "extremely limited . . . harmonic and melodic vocabulary," Pat tries to say something nice:

But he did show a knack for connecting to the basest impulses of the large crowd by deploying his two or three most effective licks (holding long notes and playing fast runs - never mind that there were lots of harmonic clams in them) at the key moments to elicit a powerful crowd reaction (over and over again).
That's not what really got Pat's knickers in a twist, tho:

Not long ago, Kenny G put out a recording where he overdubbed himself on top of a 30+ year old Louis Armstrong record, the track 'What a Wonderful World'. With this single move, Kenny G became one of the few people on earth I can say that I really can't use at all - as a man, for his incredible arrogance to even consider such a thing, and as a musician, for presuming to share the stage with the single most important figure in our music.

This type of musical necrophilia - the technique of overdubbing on the preexisting tracks of already dead performers - was weird when Natalie Cole did it with her dad on "Unforgettable" a few years ago, but it was her dad. When Tony Bennett did it with Billie Holiday it was bizarre, but we are talking about two of the greatest singers of the 20th century who were on roughly the same level of artistic accomplishment. When Larry Coryell presumed to overdub himself on top of a Wes Montgomery track, I lost a lot of the respect that I ever had for him - and I have to seriously question the fact that I did have respect for someone who could turn out to have such unbelievably bad taste and be that disrespectful to one of my personal heroes.

But when Kenny G decided that it was appropriate for him to defile the music of the man who is probably the greatest jazz musician that has ever lived by spewing his lame-ass, jive, pseudo bluesy, out-of-tune, noodling, wimped out, fucked up playing all over one of the great Louis's tracks (even one of his lesser ones), he did something that I would not have imagined possible. He, in one move, through his unbelievably pretentious and calloused musical decision to embark on this most cynical of musical paths, shit all over the graves of all the musicians past and present who have risked their lives by going out there on the road for years and years developing their own music inspired by the standards of grace that Louis Armstrong brought to every single note he played over an amazing lifetime as a musician.

Don't hold back, Pat! I think it's a bit unfair, tho'. Is the only criticism that Kenny's musical necrophilia sucks, while the other examples worked? In which case, who can blame him for trying? I'm personally not a fan of such stunts, regardless of the outcome (which, I admit, is a little hypocritical coming from a loop-based music guy).

Still and all, Kenny G really sucks.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

From the Party of "Smaller Government"

One of the highlights of the Supreme Court's last term was Oregon v. Gonzalez, in which the Court ruled that the Attorney General (it was Ashcroft at the time) could not unilaterally decide that doctors acting under Oregon's Death With Dignity Act were not engaged in the "practice of medicine" and thus liable to lose their Federal permission to prescribe controlled substances. But, as Jacob Sullum points out over at Reason, GOP Senator Sam Brownback (from Kansas - you know, the "no evolution" people) is sponsoring legislation that would achieve the same result dreamed of by Ashcroft. The problem Brownback seeks to cure, however, simply isn't there, as Sullum explains:

The Death With Dignity Act has been in force for nearly a decade now, and it has not precipitated a mad rush for the exit it unlocked. Last year 38 patients used drugs prescribed under the law to kill themselves, almost the same as the 2004 total and down from a peak of 42 in 2003. Close to half of the patients who use the law to get barbiturate prescriptions do not take the drugs, but presumably they derive comfort from having the option.

Brownback and other critics of physician-assisted suicide imagine this highly constrained experiment in expanded autonomy for people on the verge of death will somehow devolve into a homicidal free-for-all featuring involuntary euthanasia and infanticide. This is like assuming that allowing women to get breast implants will lead plastic surgeons to start kidnapping those they deem insufficiently endowed and cutting into them without permission.

A fundamentalist right winger struggling to solve a non-existent problem. And using the power of your Federal government to do it. *sigh*

Where the Happy People Are

Via Volokh Conspiracy, witness this map of the world showing which countries are happier than others. The map, produced by the University of Leicester, uses various measurements to determine which countries come out on top (the redder ones are happier, in an odd color choice). They've put this information in a convenient map form to make it easier for those unhappy folks of the globe to know where to invade first.

I'm Not as Think as You Drunk I Am, Your Honor

I know that sometimes being a criminal defense attorney can drive one to drink (or drink more, in some cases), but you shouldn't really show up for court after a bender. The judge might notice when you come to court slurring words:

[Joseph] Caramango, 41, acknowledged in court that he was drinking the previous night, but maintained he was not drunk.* If convicted, his client faces life in prison.
Thankfully, the judge declared a mistrial, although I'm not so sure this is evidence of intoxication:
'I don't think you can tell a straight story because you are intoxicated,' the judge told [] Caramango as she declared a mistrial for his client.
Since when is that a flaw in a defense attorney?

* That, of course, is Albert Collins's famous "I Ain't Drunk, I'm Just Litigatin'" defense.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

What of the Floppy Shoes?

Presented without comment:

Via Pandagon.


Alone, Again (Penally)

A couple of weeks ago (I've been on vacation - so sue me!), NPR had an in-depth series exploring the role of solitary confinement in the modern criminal justice system. An increasingly large number of inmates in this country serve time in solitary, some for their entire terms. Keep in mind that lots of those folks will get out, sometimes released to the street directly from solitary. It's worth considering whether solitary is used too often and imposed too lightly.

Keeping the MLS-Chelsea Match In Perspective

Saturday was Major League Soccer's annual quest to stage an All-Star Game. While such mid (or late) season exhibitions are a staple of other American sports, it's never really worked for MLS. For one things, soccer has natural built in all-star contests in regular competitions between national teams. For another, the usually lax attitude that players have towards all-star games produces things like 6-6 games that don't resemble the real thing. But, MLS wants to fit in, and in the last few years has come up with the idea of having a team of MLS All-Stars play a club from overseas.

This year, the opponent was two-time defending English champions Chelsea FC. Chelsea have become famous for the free-spending ways of its Russian billionaire owner (Chelsea spends more money on payroll than the Yankees with fewer players). Despite the hype (they're not the best team in the world, or even Europe, for that matter - ask Barcelona), they're a very good team and gave the MLS guys quite a test. In the end, MLS pulled out a 1-0 win on a great Dwayne DeRosario goal and some superb defending. While that's cause for mild applause, the overwrought celebrations in the wake of the game make the league look too needy. As Ives Galarcep puts it over at

Call the painful scene a product of finally having some real ammunition to show the league's detractors that MLS does play some quality soccer. That is, if you believe a win in an exhibition against a team just starting its preseason is some sort of landmark moment for the league. Don't believe the hype. The win wasn't meaningless, but it was nowhere near as meaningful as the match's broadcast and several articles written in the aftermath would suggest.
Is a little perspective too much to ask? In the end, MLS doesn't deserve our support because we can beat Chelsea or Barcalona or anybody else on a given day. It deserves out support because it's our league, for all its flaws.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Don't Give Away Our Secrets, Howard!

Howard Bashman, of How Appealing fame, in his weekly column over at answers the burning question, "What Do Appellate Attorneys Actually Do?" Howard has a solo appellate practice in Pennsylvania, so he would know. I agree with most of what he says in terms of why we as appellate specialists might have some advantages over generalists trying to work on an appeal. He doesn't give away the secret handshake, however.

Law McNuggets

A few little things that popped up from the legal realm

  • I knew parallel parking was dangerous! A teen in New Jersey was being tought to parallel park by her mother when she (the daughter) accidentally ran her over. The girl "won't face criminal charges." Sure, but how long does she have to wait before she gets to take the parallel parking test again?
  • Today's New York Times has a disturbing article about a trend among legislatures to scale back the duty to retreat in self defense cases. Traditionally, a person must retreat as much as possible before using deadly force to defend themselves from an attacker. The idea was that deadly force should be the absolute last resort. These new laws, dubbed either "stand your ground" laws or "shoot first" laws )depending on your political persuasion), stand that on its head. Of course, in an era of preemptive warfare, why not have preemptive self defense?
  • OK, I'm not a smoker, but I know that if I had to change my opinion on something in order to be released to grab a puff I might just do it. That's the basis behind an argument that an Ohio man is making in an appeal from a murder conviction. The trial judge forbid the jury taking smoke breaks, so the argument goes that the smokers were more apt to vote to convict and get out so they could get their fix.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Yeah, Well, F You Too, Pal

Back from vacation with some free time on my hands, so I've got some new music up on ACIDPlanet, "F Me." So-called because most of the loops are my creations and lots of them started on "F." Take a listen and lemme know what you think.

Regular programming resumes on Monday.