Friday, April 28, 2006

Album of the Day

The Division Bell, by Pink Floyd (1994): While I enjoy a lot of Floyd, I'm not a hard-core fan, so I've never gotten too caught up in whether the Waterless version of the band was "real" Floyd. Maybe that's why I actually like The Division Bell. It's not Dark Side . . . or Wish You Were Here, but it's still pretty good expansive atmospheric stuff. Gilmour's playing is top notch, too. Besides, anytime I hear "High Hopes" I think of the video and hear Beavis saying, "Look, Butthead - giant bingo balls!" and laugh.

Who Needs Abu Ghraib?

Holy shit, I've rarely read or heard something so nauseating. Over at Crime and Federalism, Mike talks about the case of five Tennessee sheriffs who tortured a poor illiterate man, Lester Eugene Siler, in order to get him to confess to a crime. I'm not taking "torture" in a metaphorical sense, either. As Jason at Positive Liberty summarizes:

The police are attempting to get the illiterate man to sign an admission of
guilt without telling him what it says. They beat him, over and over, hook
electrodes up to testicles and shock him, threaten to kill him, and threaten to go after his family
How do we know that this isn't a far-fetched tale told by a drug dealer in trouble? Because the interrogation, amazingly, was tape recorded by his wife. You can hear it here, all 40 minutes worth. It's chilling to think that something like this would go on in 21st Century America.

The five shitbags involved have all pleaded guilty to federal offenses. Siler's alleged crime? Selling drugs. Another piece of dignity lost to the "war on drugs." Of course, this is how we fight wars, so why should we be shocked?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Album of the Day

Office of Strategic Influence, by O.S.I. (2003): Just as yesterday's focus was a different kind of prog supergroup, so too is this one. It reuinited three prog-metal pioneers who had all worked together at one point or another: Jim Matheos (guitar), Mike Portnoy (drums), and Kevin Moore (keys), along with Sitckmeister Sean Malone. Throw in a track with Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson and you've got quite a bit of stuff to digest. Honestly, I bought this to see how Moore in his post-Chroma Key style would mesh with his old Dream Theater colleague Portnoy. The result is fairly interesting - must less busy and technical than DT, but every bit as heavy.

Oh, Bob

Many Democrats outside of West Virginia have an almost reverential attitude towards Robert Byrd. The elders statesman of the Senate has scored a lot of points in the past few years for standing up to Dubya and trying to reassert the power of the Senate in the country's affairs. What they largely miss (or ignore - I'm not sure which) is that on many more issues Bob is really a conservative - more of a John McCain than Russ Feingold. Which, unfortunately, leads him to do things like this:

For the eighth time in 43 years, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., is proposing that Congress adopt a constitutional amendment allowing voluntary prayer in public schools and extracurricular activities.

Byrd introduced the amendment today in the U.S. Senate.

'The importance of prayer is recognized by people of faith in nearly all of the world's religions,' Byrd said. 'Yet, in America, prayer is increasingly barred from public life.'

Ugh. I'm not sure what is worse - the amendment itself of Bob's mistaken view of current law:

'It seems to me that any prohibition of voluntary prayer in school violates the right of our school children to practice freely their religion,' Byrd said. 'And that's just not right. Any child should be free to pray to God, of his or her own volition, whether at home, in church or at school. Period.'
Of course, no child (or any other person) is prohibited from praying in public. The only problem comes when the state gets involved and the atmosphere becomes coercive. But that doesn't sound as good during an election year.

Album of Yesterday

Time Crunch, by Niacin (2002): Among the many Magna Carta prog supergroups, this one is a little different. A B3-led power trio featuring organist John Novello, drummer Dennis Chambers, and bassist Billy Sheehan (yes, the guy from Mr. Big!), Niacin lays down some of the funkiest grooves in all of progdom. Having said that, they also have the technical chops to wank on for a while, sometimes without a whole lot of direction. The best tracks, which come back to back, are a cover of King Crimson's "Red" and the laid back "Invisible King."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Album of the Day

Of Queues and Cures, by National Health (1978): The epic is a prog staple (indeed, it's almost a right of passage for bands), and lots of attention gets lavished on the side-long works of the 70s and beyond. Good as those can be, I find myself particularly draw to the 10-12 minute "mini" epics when thinking of my favorite prog tunes. "Cinema Show" by Genesis, "Starless" by King Crimson, and "Man-Erg" by Van der Graff Generator all vie for the title of my favorite chunk of music at various points. After having my head ripped off this afternoon by "Squarer for Maud," I'll have to add it to the list, too. It's the centerpiece of this brilliant album.

Commercial Poison

I've never grasped the appeal of Paris Hilton. She's a spoiled rich kid with no talent who fell into celebrity and is milking it for all it's worth. I don't even think she's all that attractive, given that she looks like she's never rubbed two thoughts together in her head. And, apparently, I'm not alone, as a study of celebrity commercial appeal has shown:

Sexpot Anna Nicole Smith, hotel heiress Paris Hilton, pop tart Britney Spears, supermodel Kate Moss and real estate mogul Donald Trump were all examples of celebs whose association made it less likely a person would buy a product, the study said.
Good thing she's got all of Daddy's money to fall back on.

The Fifth Circuit Gets Benchslapped*

In a three-tiered court system like we have in the US, the Supreme Court is supposed to save its precious time for cases raising major issues that will impact lots of cases in the courts below. It's the mid-level Courts of Appeals that are supposed to serve the less glamorous, but no less important, role of error correction - making sure the trial courts got the law right in the first place. So when one of the Circuits gets it so wrong that the Supremes have to step in and fix it, you get opinions like Salinas v. United States, which reads in its entirety:


The petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the motion of petitioner for leave to proceed in forma pauperis are granted. The judgment is vacated, and the case is remanded to the Fifth Circuit for further consideration.

The Fifth Circuit concluded that petitioner’s prior conviction for simple possession of a controlled substance constituted a “controlled substance offense” for purposes of United States Sentencing Commission, Guidelines Manual §4B1.1(a) (2003). The term “controlled substance offense” is defined in pertinent part, however, as “an offense under federal or state law . . . that prohibits . . . the possession of a controlled substance (or a counterfeit substance) with intent to manufacture, import, export, distribute, or dispense.” §4B1.2(b) (emphasis added). Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit erred in treating petitioner’s conviction for simple possession as a “controlled substance offense.” The Solicitor General acknowledges that the Fifth Circuit incorrectly ruled for the United States on this ground. Brief in Opposition 8–9.
Wow, not exactly a rousing "atta boy" for the Fifth, huh?

* I wish I could take credit for the term "benchslapped," but I read it in a comment on The Volokh Conspiracy a little while back.

I Wonder if They Do "Satumaa"?

Sometimes, when folks in this country get their knickers in a twist over Britney Spears or some other cultural atrocity, we sometimes think "it only happens here." Well, it doesn't. Consider the tale of Lordi, who have been selected as the Finnish representative to this year's Eurovision song contest in Athens. What makes Lordi a bit special is that they are a heavy metal band who only appear in public in full horror-movie costumes (think Gwar, but with funnier names). Some Finns are appalled that such a group would represent the country in the contest, while others hope that this time the Finns might actually be competitive.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Album of the Day

High Tension Wires, by Steve Morse (1989): Steve Morse is one of the most brilliant guitarists on the planet. So why does so much of his solo output seem to fly under my radar? I enjoy them enough when listening to them, but I'm not compelled to do that very often. The best of the batch I have is High Tension Wires, which Steve bills as his first "real" solo album (his other works were under the "Steve Morse Band" name, although most of his band mates appear here as well). There's some compositional diversity here that is lacking on other efforts. Not quite as much as in the Dregs days, however.

Much Ado About No Sex

A while back, the Administration for Children and Families released new guidelines for organizations that want government grants for abstinence-only sex ed programs. The blogosphere has been twittering ever since at the very narrow definition of "abstinence:"

Abstinence curricula must have a clear definition of sexual abstinence which must be consistent with the following: 'Abstinence means voluntarily choosing not to engage in sexual activity until marriage. Sexual activity refers to any type of genital contact or sexual stimulation between two persons including, but not limited to, sexual intercourse.'
As you can see from these lengthy threads at The Volokh Conspiracy and Think Progress, both the right and left have expended considerable effort poking fun at that language. To be honest, I don't get it. We've known for years that Dubya supported abstinence only sex ed. Did anyone really think that any definition of "abstinence" would include some kind of sexual activity (proclivity for numerous abstinence kids to "stay pure" by having only oral and anal sex notwithstanding) aside from man-on-woman (literally) within the confines of heterosexual marriage?

I agree that the idea of teaching that to kids is nuts, but I guess I'm just not surprised enough to be outraged.

On a somewhat related tangent, the Vatican is considering relaxing its dogma against using condoms. Alas, condom use will only be permitted for married couples where one of the folks is already infected with HIV.

Fourth Amendment? What Fourth Amendment?

Decision of the Day has this summary of a distressing case from the 8th Circuit. The relevant facts:

as part of its drug enforcement efforts, the Sheriff’s Office of Dallas County, Iowa, posted signs along the highway informing drivers that there was a drug checkpoint ahead. Of course, any such checkpoint would be patently unconstitutional. No such problem here, however, because there was never any checkpoint. Instead, the signs were a decoy to trick drivers who were transporting drugs into using the next exit to get off the highway. Officers with drug-sniffing dogs were stationed at that exit ramp to observe any traffic violations that could justify a stop and search of exiting vehicles.

Defendant Obed Rodriguez-Lopez apparently fell for the ploy and exited the highway at the monitored ramp. He failed to use his turn signal at the stop sign, so officers pulled him over. A drug-sniffing dog alerted, and officers found marijuana. In his subsequent trial, the defendant moved to suppress the marijuana on the ground that the stop of his vehicle was unconstitutional. The district court denied his motion to suppress, and the defendant was convicted.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed, sadly. There is only one job I can think of where the courts encourage you to lie to people: police officer.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Album of the Day

Mekano, by Miriodor (2001): This week I've been wrestling with a particularly difficult cert petition that's due on Monday. As a result, by this afternoon my brain was literally full and about ready to explode. Why do I mention that? Because by the time I put Mekano in the computer this afternoon, "Les Regnes des Termites (Bugs)" put such a big smile on my face it must have only been due to my deranged mental condition. Which is not to say it, or the rest of the album, is bad - quite the contrary. But it did occur to me that it would be a good tune to use to clean out a room, if need be. :)

A Cautionary Tale for Yanks Abroad

Every time a young American soccer player signs for a big European club I think, "let him not get Kirovskied." Jovan Kirovsky was once the golden child of American soccer. He joined the vaunted Manchester United youth system at 15 - at a time when the system included such future United regulars as David Beckham and Paul Scoles. Jovan never broke through, however, and ended up with moving to German powers Borussia Dortmund. He was on the roster when the team won the Champions League in 1997, but saw little playing time. Next up were moves to lesser European teams and, eventually, MLS. In that time, Kirovsky went from "up and coming talent" to outside looking in as the United States prepares for the World Cup. Nary a mention of his name has cropped up during debates about the 23-man roster The Bruce will take to Germany this summer. Frank Dell'Apa has more on Kirovsky over at ESPNSoccernet.

Her Majesty's a Pretty Nice Girl . . .

I've never been able to understand the fixation that some Americans have with the British royal family. They're a bunch of stuck up rich folk whom we fought a war 250 years ago to get away from. It's not as if we don't have our own crop of boorish rich folk within our borders to entertain us. Anyway, today was the Queen's 80th birthday, and to mark the occasion USA Today ran an article all about how some folks would like to see her be the last monarch. Apparently Her Majesty's Subjects are none too happy with the thought of Prince "I Want to Be a Tampon" Charles becoming king, so there is some support with doing away with the royals. Not in a "there go the Romanovs" sort of way, more of a "thanks for your centuries of service, here's a nice watch" kind of way.

I find it funny that the debate seems to be picking up when the subjects don't like the heir. That's the point of monarchy, people - you don't get to choose who rules you. It's up to the fickle hand of fate and (in)breeding.

Album of Yesterday

Under the Table and Dreaming, by The Dave Matthews Band (1994): Yesterday was largely DMB day, due to various disruptions of the music listening process at work (how dare that happen!). As a result, I listened to all four of their albums that I have in isolation. As a result, I still think that this one, which vaulted the band to fame in the first place, is the best of the bunch. Maybe it was the lack of expectation I had when I first picked it up. Back in 1994 I'd, yet to tap into the prog underground and anything in the mainstream that seemed vaguely interesting I would check out. DMB's jazz-tinged acoustic pop struck the right chord in me at the time and I've yet to get it from them again in quite the same way. Oh yeah, and Carter Beauford is a monster of Portnoy and Peartian dimension.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Album of the Day

Volume One, by Mastermind (1990): Imagine an alternate prog history in which Carl Palmer and Greg Lake teamed up with Jimi Hendrix instead of Keith Emerson and Bob Moog hooked his first synthesizer up to a guitar instead of a keyboard. Had that happened, the result would sound a lot like Mastermind. Mastermind is driven by guitarist Bill Berends, who adds to his hard rock axework with seamless guitar synth interludes. The result is very very ELPish, particularly the closing epic, "War Machine." The real oddity in the wall-to-wall aggressive prog is "Long Distance Love Affair," a synth-pop love song that, as one local review I read back in 1996 said, "must be heard to be believed."

NOTE: The version of Volume One reviewed at Ground and Sky is apparently the 1996 re-release and contains two more tracks than the original 1990 version I've got.

I Am Not Fungible

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral argument in an interesting case involving lawyers. Specifically, it involves a defendant's Sixth Amendment right to counsel and, most importantly, counsel "of choice." The case, which the New York Times reviews here, involves a defendant in a federal drug prosecution in Missouri who wanted to bring in a lawyer from California. The defendant paid the retainer and the California attorney moved to be admitted to practice in front of the Missouri court pro hac vice. For reasons with which the appeals court did not agree, the trial court denied the motion. As a result, the defendant went to trial with inexperienced local counsel and was convicted.

On appeal, the Eighth Circuit held that denial of the defendant's counsel of choice was a so-called "structural error," meaning that the defendant was entitled to a new trial without making any particular showing of harm. The Supreme Court took the case to decide if the Eighth Circuit was right. Structural errors are few and far between. It's much more common for a defendant to be required to show that whatever right was violated actually resulted in an unfair result for him. It's hard to tell from the Times report which side had the better of oral argument.

I hope someone thinks about how the resolution of this case will effect the thousands of defendants who are represented by public defenders and appointed counsel every year. Defendants have very little choice which attorney will represent them if they can't afford to pay the bill themselves. Since that's the case, what if denial of "choice of counsel" is a structural error? Does that greatly complicate the lives of PDs when dealing with clients? Or will the Court simply give a right to those wealthy enough to afford counsel that is denied to those who can't?

Finally, I note that in reversing the conviction, the Eighth Circuit held that "lawyers are not fungible." That's good to know. I hope my girlfriend agrees!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Album of the Day, by Marillion (1999): My initial reaction to this album (read the linked review) was a little uneven and, in spite of what I said at the time, it still feels that way to me. and its predecessor Radiation were both made fairly quickly while the band was finding its financial/management footing in the post-EMI era. As a result, they both suffer from having great spots here and there with lots of filler on either side. In fact, you could take the highlights from both discs, combine them, and produce one really good disc. I will say this, tho' - even though tracks like "Interior Lulu" and "House" meander greatly, I see in them the foundations of the excellent work on Anoraknophobia and Marbles.

What Happens Next?

That's the question I most often hear from clients and/or their loved ones during the appellate process. The whole procedure proceeds in fits and starts, benefiting in some places from rigorous deadlines while suffering in others for the lack thereof. Once a briefing schedule is set, the deadlines for briefs is fairly solid. But once briefs are submitted, things can stretch out for what seems like forever. Howard Bashman talks about that kind of delay in his column this week. Although he talks about the Third Circuit, the timeline seems about the same in the Fourth. But trying explaining to a client or family member that the court may take several months before they even decide whether to hear oral arguments in the case.

On another note, I love lines like this:

One idea that I continue to support is a proposal that the Superior Court should stop allowing counsel to decide whether appeals will be orally argued. Instead, the Superior Court's judges should decide whether a given appeal deserves oral argument.
Holy cow, is he kidding? Seems like I've got to make a human sacrifice to get oral argument in the Fourth!

Do Major Sports Stars Wear Smurf-Colored Parkas?

Methinks not, but you never know. That's just one of the many indignities suffered by Jimmy Conrad during Kansas City's recent training stint in Germany. Just goes to show that MLS is a long way from the top of the sporting heap in this country. Hell, even the LA Clippers get better swag!

Album of Yesterday

Afraid of Sunlight, by Marillion (1995): This was the first Marillion album I bought when it was new, back in the summer of 1995 (my last summer offline, I might add, which led me to miss their concert in Pittsburgh that year!). My first impressions were less than enthusiastic, as only the title track and the bombastic "King" made any real impact on me. The rest was too slight, too poppy. Over the years, it has really really grown on me. It is, in fact, one of their poppier efforts (at least since Holidays in Eden), but it's very well done. In fact, the final run of "Afraid of Sunrise" through the aforementioned "King" may be the best chuck of H-era Marillion around.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Album of the Day

Clutching at Straws, by Marillion (1987): I've generally not purchased remastered versions of albums I already own - I'm sure they sound better, but I can't really tell and it seems like a waste. The exception is something like the remastered Clutching . . ., which contains a whole disc of interesting extras. The meat of the bonus disc are demos that the band did with Fish after the Clutching . . . tour but before he left the band. As such, some of the musical bits got recycled on Seasons End, while some of the lyrical bits ended up on Fish's first two solo albums. Particularly interesting is "Story From a Thin Wall," which matches up the music from "Berlin" with the lyrics to "Family Business." Oh, and the actual album is great, too.

In Honor of "Little Milton"

A 14-year old in Nevada has rankled the feathers of a state poetry recitation competition (WTF?) because the poem he selected was "The More Loving One," by W.H. Auden. I've never heard it before, but apparently it's got "hell" and "damn" in it, which is too much for sensitive Nevadan ears (the state that gave us Vegas and the Moonlight Bunny Ranch? Bullshit!). But a federal judge has stepped in to allow the kid to recite the nasty words. Perhaps he's a Jethro Tull fan?

NASCAR Pitlane Cat Fight

Wow, things are getting really bad in NASCAR. I suppose it's not too surprising when the drivers get pissed at each other and start swinging at each other, but when the girlfriends get into the action some boundary has been crossed!

Album of Yesterday

Drastic Measures, by Michael Manring (1991): Several years ago I was in a local mall CD store trying to burn a gift certificate. For whatever reason, I started pawing through a rack of cutouts and made some amazing finds. One of them was this album. The only thing I knew about Manring before that was that he was an amazing bass player. This album does nothing to change my mind. While some of the tracks linger a little too closely to light jazzak for my tastes, there are several really cool cuts, particularly the ones that are truly just a man and his bass(es).

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Album of the Day

Liquid Tension Experiment, by Liquid Tension Experiment (1998): Back in the days before they were the instrumental core of Dream Theater, John Petrucci, Mike Portnoy, and Jordan Rudess got together with Tony Levin to be Liquid Tension Experiment. One of the first new prog all-star groups, LTE cranked out two albums worth of aggressive instrumental prog metal. What it lacked in restraint LTE made up for with pure technical wizardy. As I said in my original review, when it worked it was pretty cool. But more often than not, it's just aimless wankery. Fun enough to listen to in the background, but not really worth seeking out in the first place.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Album of the Day

Picture, by Kino (2005): Kino is yet another prog super group (including members or former members of Marillion, Porcupine Tree, and It Bites). But unlike Transatlantic or The Tangent, Kino does not serve up heaping slabs of epic symphonic prog. In fact, the tunes on this album verge much more on straight-forward rock than true prog. Not that such an idea is bad, but it doesn't really work in most instances here. When everything clicks ("Loser's Day Parade," "Leave a Light On," "Room For Two"), it's pretty good. Other times it sounds like a lighter version of Porcupine Tree not quite so skillfully done.

The Real Threat

Since 9/11, we've been led to believe that the greatest threat to our national well being is Islamic terrorism. While we've been off bombing Iraq and other places back to the stone age a more pressing menace has gone untracked within our own borders: lacrosse players. At least that's the impression you get from this piece over at Slate. The author was apparently the target of some verbal abuse from the lacrosse team at his high school (he was a lowly baseball player). From that he extrapolates, in the context of the Duke lacrosse team scandal, that all lacrosse players are degenerate yuppie spawn who are bent on world domination, like some sort of 21st century Illuminati (with sticks):

A brief sociological account is in order. Lacrosse players hail from the privileged, largely white pockets of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. They unite and form tribes in Eastern prep schools, where they can be spotted driving SUVs with "LAX" stickers affixed to the rear windows. Many grow addicted to dipping Skoal and wearing soiled white caps with college logos on them. They gain entry into top colleges by virtue of their skills with the stick. They graduate, start careers in New York, marry trophy wives, and put lacrosse sticks in their kids' cribs.
Sounds like a cult! I'll admit that I know next to nothing about lacrosse - it's profile in this country is so low that it makes soccer look like the NFL - but I'm fairly sure there are at least a few decent lacrosse guys on the planet. I used to work with one, but now I have my doubts. He was trying to start up a youth lacrosse organization in the area before he moved. Hmm, I wonder if I should alert the authorities in Vermont of the new evil presence in their midst?

Pork and Representative Democracy

We had a little protest outside of the office today. A group called The Americans for Prosperity Foundation were taking Senator Robert Byrd to task (outside of the court house that bears his name) for funneling millions of dollars of pork to West Virginia over the years. They aren't wrong, of course. Bob does us good, which is why you can't swing a dead cat around this state without hitting something that has Bob's name on it. Assuming such spending is actually "pork," what can be done about it?

Well, we certainly won't vote Bob out of office. As one of his spokespersons said, "Senator Byrd gets results for West Virginia." Which is why we've sent him back to DC so many times. And why shouldn't we? The way our government is set up, our Senators and Congressmen are sent to DC to represent us - the people of the state of West Virginia. They get reelected by delivering results for us. Why should we complain? If someone went to DC and turned down the gravy train on behalf of his district or state, he'd be out on his ass quicker than you could say "Tom DeLay." The fact is, representative democracy gives the voters no incentive to "vote the bums out" because of pork. We decry pork spending when it happens in other places, but when it comes to home delivery, we keep our hands out.

Until the system gives West Virginia voters some motivation to avoid our porky benefits, there's no reason for Bob to leave office. As long as he has a pulse.

Hell Hath No Fury . . .

. . . like a Federal judge scorned. From the Detroit News comes this story about a citizen summoned for grand jury duty. He didn't want to serve and wrote a letter to the judge asking to be excused. The judge didn't take kindly to the request, so the man is now sitting on a bench in the Federal courthouse every day the grand jury is in session - Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday every other week from 9am to 4pm. He can't read, work on a project, or do anything else constructive. He just sits and stares at the wall.

Apparently, the guy tried to get out of jury duty using the Homer Simpson Strategy: "tell them you're prejudiced against all races and all religions." Thus, the guy wrote in his letter that "he did not respect law enforcement or believe in the court system." The Judge "summoned him to a meeting about two weeks later and said 'your letter is all bs -- I don't believe it.'" Legal experts in the article seem to uniformly agree that the judge is abusing his authority. Why hasn't the guy challenged the order? His "lawyer friends" thought the judge has the authority to order the unusual sanction without a formal contempt proceeding. Sounds like he either needs new friends or new attorneys.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Album of the Day

Absent Lovers, by King Crimson (1995): Last week I was extolling the virtues of the "double trio" lineup, but one musn't overlook the 80s Crim either. After relaunching the brand with a band with Discipline, the other two studio albums by this bunch (Belew, Levin, Bruford, & Fripp) didn't meet that high standard. Live, on the other hand, the band continued to surge and went off on a high note. This album documents that lineup's last concert (in Montreal) and finds them in fine form. The material from Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair in particular really comes a live on stage. Just listen to the disc 2 kickoff, "Sartori in Tangier," in which a sort of new wave Levin groove is ripped apart by some furious Frippie shredding. Breathtaking stuff, on the whole.

The Joy of Stickies

Tires are an important part of any kind of racing. Autocross is no exception. Even in the SCCA's "stock" class, real street tires are not an option if you want to win on a regular basis. For that reason, I purchased a set of DOT R-compound tires for competition this year. R-compounds are technically street legal, but are very very soft and wouldn't be used by anybody as a daily driver tire. They are, however, the tire of choice for Stock and Street Prepared autocross classes, as well as Showroom Stock and other road racing classes that require "street" tires. In my region, we call them "stickies."

My last experience with stickies before this year was in a parking lot in Cincinnati in May 2003. I was campaigning my old Sentra SE in G/Stock and had a separate set of wheels with Kumho stickies on them. I drove to Cincy the night before. Prior to the event kicking off, I, and dozens of my competitors, began the arduous task of changing tires. I didn't get very far. My street wheels had been put on last by a local tire shop, apparently with an air gun. The lug nuts were super tight. As a result, the first nut I tried to loosen up (I loosen the lug nuts a bit before jacking up the car) was really being resistant. I pushed and pushed on my breaker bar - even tried to stomp on it to get things moving. Finally, after a couple of minutes of struggle, something gave. It wasn't the lug nut. It was the socket itself - it cracked right down the side. I broke a piece of Craftsman steel with a lifetime warranty. I was pissed. The only thing that kept me sane was knowing that it happened on the first lug nut and not the last and I could run the event (and drive three hours home) on street tires.

For the next couple of years I ran on real street tires. Ultra-high performance street tires, yes, but street tires nonetheless. When I bought the Civic last fall with plans to go Mini hunting in H/Stock, I knew it meant a return to stickies and tire changing. So I managed to put my hands on a second set of stock-sized wheels (no mean feat, believe me) and bought a set of Kumho Ecsta 710s for tires.

It took two months for the weather to improve enough to make changing tires worth it. In January (on street tires) and February (on snow tires - don't ask), I got some feel for how much better the Minivan felt with Koni struts/shocks and HPS brake pads. But I was unprepared for how the stickies simply transformed the car in March. All of a sudden, I had grip! No, let me rephrase that - I had GRIP! There was one corner on course that I just knew I wouldn't make cleanly - I was carrying too much speed. No worry. The stickies let out nary a squeal as I cruised on throgh the corner. Three runs later, I had a class win by 2.5 seconds and a 3d place finish (out of 71) on the PAX index.

Yesterday was our April event, with beautiful spring weather. A smaller turnout meant six runs (!) instead of four, but one thing stayed the same - the grip! Another class win, another 3rd place on the PAX (.016 second behind 2nd), and 10th overall (out of 43) on raw time. More importantly, I got several comments on how smooth I looked and how well "stuck" the car looked during runs. Overall, a very encouraging couple of outings. One more regional event and I'm off to the SCCA National Tour event in Peru, Indiana. Then the real fun will begin.

Speaking of the April event, check out these action shots (courtesy of Martin Valent):

I suppose the moral of the story is this: Stickies are expensive. And changing tires twice a day is a pain in the ass. But they're fun. A whole heck of a lot of fun.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Album of the Day

B'BOOM - Official Bootleg - Live in Argentina, by King Crimson (1995): This live document of the fairly short-lived "double trio" variant of the Crim is what I fall back on when thinking that the six-piece lineup may be my favorite. It's not just that the THRAK material is very good, it's that the older stuff gets an extra set of huevos with all them guitars on stage at once. Case in point is "Indiscipline," whose fierier portions greatly benefit from having two guitars and two Sticks wailing away together and all at once. Even "Lark's Tongues in Aspic, Part 2" has more gravitas here than elsewhere. Cool cool stuff.

I Won! I Won!

Hey, it doesn't happen very often, so I can brag a bit, can I? Today the Fourth Circuit handed down its decision in US v. Milam, in which the court vacated my client's sentence under Booker. Milam is fairly big because it nails down the holding that a defendant's failure to object to facts in a presentence report cannot waive his Sixth Amendment sentencing rights. For more on what that actually means, click here.

Ironically, in light of yesterday's post about argument by ambush, this case is a prime example. I walked into the courthouse in Richmond needing to distinguish another case from this one in order to prevail. As it happened, two of the three judges who decided the prior case were on the panel in Milam. Didn't matter in the end, but I thought I was completely screwed when I stepped up to the lectern.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Album of the Day

Starless and Bible Black, by King Crimson (1974): For a long time, the only "old" (pre-Belew) Crimson I really enjoyed were the bookends of In the Court of the Crimson King and Red. The other albums I heard just didn't jive with me. Starless . . . was one of them, with many of its improved tracks leaving me cold and the rest just washing over me. Didn't reach for it a lot, I must admit. But, slowly, it has grown on me a lot. There's not a much better starter in prog (or all of rock, for that matter) than "The Great Deceiver." The other vocal tracks are fairly good as well, tho' I prefer the USA live version of "Lament." And the closure, "Fracture," is a towering slice of Frippie goodness. The rest fall somewhere between "good, but not great" and "hey, that's pretty cool!" It's still not Red, but it ain't bad, either.

Argument By Ambush

Lots of people get nervous about public speaking. But generally, most people who do it know who is going to be in their audience before they step up to the lectern. OK, you might not have a roster memorized, but you have a general idea as to whether they are colleagues, underlings, superiors, or what have you. When I go to the Fourth Circuit for oral argument, I don't have the luxury. As Howard Bashman discusses in this column, the Fourth is one of the few circuits that keeps the identity of the three-judge panel assigned to a particular case until the morning of oral argument. I'm not sure that I buy into the arguments he sets out for why that policy exists, but I do know one thing - it gives me the willies the night before!

Ima Crook, Esq.

The bane of every criminal defense attorney's existence is the "jailhouse lawyer," that guy in the joint who has too much time on his hands (don't they all?) who tells all his fellow cellmates exactly what they need to do to get out of prison and, in some cases, why their lawyers are complete jackasses. Over at CrimLaw, Ken writes an open letter to one such would-be-counsel. My favorite passage:.

The Uniform Commercial Code has nothing to do with your charge of assaulting a police officer. I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one. No, I won't be raising this issue during your trial. I know you'll try to explain to me why I should at least two or three more times, but I'm telling you right now I will not be relying on the UCC during your trial.
Why haven't I thought of that?

A Programming Note

My busy schedule the past few days has kept me away from the Ranch for a few days. But fear not - you've not missed much. As for Albums of the Days, I've been out of the A-to-Z loop for a few days because I've been digesting several new arrivals from Greg Walker. Greg runs prog label/mail order house Syn-Phonic Music. Greg is very knowledgeable about all things prog, has a tremendous selection, and has customer service that can't be beat. Drop by and send some money his way today!