Thursday, May 31, 2007

Album of the Day

Think Like a Mountain, by Ritual (2003): I have no earthly idea why I bought this disc in the first place. I don't remember reading a glowing review, nor do I remember seeing the band talked up around the 'Net. Regardless, I'm really glad I picked it up, as it sounds unlike anything else in my collection. Although part of the Swedish prog scene, on this album (at least), Ritual explores their folkier side, utilizing lots of acoustic tones and various "ethnic" instruments. Highly recommended, particularly the opener "What Are You Waiting For?" and the closing run from "On" to "Off."

On the Price of Life (In Prison)

One of the arguments made by some anti-death penalty advocates is that life in prison is an infinitely more punitive sentence than death. It forces a killer to live with his crime every day for years upon years, coupled with the knowledge that he will never again see the light of day. Along those lines, a group of lifers in Italy - 310 of them - are begging for the government to bring back the death penalty and execute them:

The letter they sent to President Napolitano came from a convicted mobster, Carmelo Musumeci, a 52-year-old who has been in prison for 17 years.

It was co-signed by 310 of his fellow lifers.

Musumeci said he was tired of dying a little bit every day.

We want to die just once, he said, and "we are asking for our life sentence to be changed to a death sentence".

It was a candid letter written by a man who, from within his cell, has tried hard to change his life.

He has passed his high school exams and now has a degree in law. But his sentence, he says, has transformed the light into shadows.

He told the president his future was the same as his past, killing the present and removing every hope.
An anecdote isn't evidence, of course. But it's pretty strong support for the idea that the "life is worse than death" argument isn't just some sort of philosophical BS.

(Yet) Another Object Lesson in Blogging Biting Back

Via Volokh Conspiracy comes a story from The Boston Globe about yet another situation where someone's "anonymous" blogging comes back to bite them in the ass in the real world. In short, a Boston area pediatrician was sued for malpractice after the death of a 12-year-old patient. The doc maintained a blog, under the pseudonym "Dr. Flea," on which he eventually began discussing his malpractice trial:

In his blog, Flea had ridiculed the plaintiff's case and the plaintiff's lawyer. He had revealed the defense strategy. He had accused members of the jury of dozing.

* * *

Elizabeth N. Mulvey, the lawyer who represented [plaintiffs] Vinroy and Deborah Binns and unmasked Lindeman as Flea, said she laughed when she read a posting at the start of the trial in which Lindeman nicknamed her Carissa Lunt, noticed that she bit her fingernails and mused, 'Wonder if she's a pillow biter, too?'
The discovery of Flea's writings led to a dramatic courtroom confrontation:
As Ivy League-educated pediatrician Robert P. Lindeman sat on the stand in Suffolk Superior Court this month, defending himself in a malpractice suit involving the death of a 12-year-old patient, the opposing counsel startled him with a question.

Was Lindeman Flea?

Flea, jurors in the case didn't know, was the screen name for a blogger who had written often and at length about a trial remarkably similar to the one that was going on in the courtroom that day.

In his blog, Flea had ridiculed the plaintiff's case and the plaintiff's lawyer. He had revealed the defense strategy. He had accused members of the jury of dozing.

With the jury looking on in puzzlement, Lindeman admitted that he was, in fact, Flea.
The jury never got to figure out quite what was going on, as Flea quickly settled for an undisclosed sum. Remember, kids - what you write on the Internet is there forever and if you write something stupid, it will come to hunt you down.

Curious about what exactly Flea wrote? Sure you are - indulge your curiosity here.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Album of the Day

Tarkus, by Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1971): If any album captures ELP's ability to get it so right and so wrong all at the same time. As Bob notes in the Ground & Sky review, the title track, sprawling across the entire first side back in the LP days, is probably the band's high water mark. Side two, on the other hand, is a grab bag of mostly forgettable shorter cuts. I like "Jeremy Bender," sort of a companion piece to Trilogy's "The Sheriff" (the two got put together live), that's there and gone in under two minutes. But the rest, eh, I can safely never hear again. And I won't, until next year!

We're Not Here to Help

There's a quote, attributed to Ronald Reagan, that goes something like this: "Hello. I'm from the federal government, and I'm here to help." It's supposed to represent, in joking fashion, the ultimate conservative horror of a national government that would do more harm than good in trying to impose its will, even if it was motivated by good intentions. Given that basic tenet of the conservative faith on the domestic scale, why to people seem so surprised that other folks feel the same way around the globe?

I mention this because of this of the comments of outgoing British PM Tony Blair, as noted by Glenn Grennwald. Blair, who's been Duhbya's staunchest ally in the Iraq folly, just doesn't understand why the Iraqis aren't more grateful:

I was stopped by someone the other week who said it was not surprising there was so much terrorism in the world when we invaded their countries (meaning Afghanistan and Iraq). No wonder Muslims felt angry.

When he had finished, I said to him: tell me exactly what they feel angry about. We remove two utterly brutal and dictatorial regimes; we replace them with a United Nations-supervised democratic process and the Muslims in both countries get the chance to vote, which incidentally they take in very large numbers. And the only reason it is difficult still is because other Muslims are using terrorism to try to destroy the fledgling democracy and, in doing so, are killing fellow Muslims.

What's more, British troops are risking their lives trying to prevent the killing. Why should anyone feel angry about us?
That's Blair, from a column in this past weekend's Sunday Times of London.

What Blair fails to realize is that the American-led occupation of Iraq has not made their lives better on a daily basis. In fact, for many it's worse than during the days of Hussein. The Iraqis don't view as as liberators as the same way, say, the French did in World War II because they weren't under the heal of another foreign power. Power could be returned to the rightful French government life could return to normal. In Iraq, there was no rightful government to put back in power. We went in and kicked over Saddam's ant hill in a way that made daily life for many Iraqis much worse.

In addition, as Greenwald points out, the "we're here to help you form a democracy" rings a bit hollow from a government who is best buds with several of the regions other despotic leaders.

More on Lou Dobbs and his BS

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about Lou Dobbs's complete lack of veracity during his current anti-immigrant pogrom. Today, the New York Times examines the issue and Dobbs's lack of will when it comes to admitting he was wrong.

Of course, he has never acknowledged on the air that his program presented false information twice. Instead, he lambasted the officials from the law center for saying he had. Even yesterday, he spent much of our conversation emphasizing that there really were 7,000 cases in the leprosy registry, the government’s 30-year database. Mr. Dobbs is trying to have it both ways.

I have been somewhat taken aback about how shameless he has been during the whole dispute, so I spent some time reading transcripts from old episodes of 'Lou Dobbs Tonight.' The way he handled leprosy, it turns out, is not all that unusual.
In other words, Dobbs has a history of shading the truth when gets a target in his sights. Looks like CNN has found a Bill O'Reilly clone after all.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Album of the Day

Tales from the Big Bus, by Fish (1997): After the excellent Sunsets on Empire (produced in collaboration with Porcupine Tree's Steven Wilson), Fish embarked on an extensive European tour that was documented on CD and DVD. The CD is a semi-complete (no encores) recording of the concert in Koln, Germany, complete with amble between song banter from Fish, some of it in German. Missing, unfortunately, for copyright reasons was the show's intro, delivered by none other than Lisa Simpson (Yeardly Smith is a Fish fan). The sound quality isn't great, but it does give you a good feel for the gig, as Fish gets the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand. He injects some of the Sunsets material, "Jungle Ride" in particular, with an extra level of urgency and emotion that really makes it shine. The big Marillion-infused medley at the end of disc 1 is nice, but a little rough.

The companion DVD, of sorts, was recorded in Poland for broadcast on Polish TV. Musically it's very similar, but the between-song banter is almost completely gone, either through editing or Fish's concession to a less bar-bound crowd.

Fun With Fundies

A trio of religious lunacy around the globe:

  • He is risen! The spirit of Jerry Falwell lives and has apparently moved to Poland, where a government-appointed children's "rights" watchdog is taking aim at the Teletubbies. 'cause, you know, they're gay:
    In comments reminiscent of criticism by the late U.S. evangelist Jerry Falwell, she was quoted as saying: 'I noticed (Tinky Winky) has a lady's purse, but I didn't realize he's a boy.'

    'At first I thought the purse would be a burden for this Teletubby ... Later I learned that this may have a homosexual undertone.'
  • Over at Orcinus, Sara has the scoop on a new Christian action figure - Bibleman!
    His armor includes the Helmet of Salvation, the Belt of Truth, the Breastplate of Righteousness, the Shield of Faith, and the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.
    Codpiece of Corruption sold separately, apparently. When will Hollywood come calling and make Bibleman - The Motion Picture?
  • Last, but certainly not least (well, maybe so), last week the New York Times did a review of the new Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky.
    But step a little farther into the entrance hall, and you come upon a pastoral scene undreamt of by any natural history museum. Two prehistoric children play near a burbling waterfall, thoroughly at home in the natural world. Dinosaurs cavort nearby, their animatronic mechanisms turning them into alluring companions, their gaping mouths seeming not threatening, but almost welcoming, as an Apatosaurus munches on leaves a few yards away.
    Rumor has it that the museum bookstore sells the complete DVD collection of The Flintstones as specially discounted educational aids. More snark here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Album of the Day

Tales*, by Cye (1994): With the A-Z going by album title this year, I've hit a seam of Tales from . . . discs (. . . the Acoustic Planet, . . . the Big Bus, . . . Topographic Oceans, etc.). But first up is this monosylabic Swiss disc. It's very interesting, in terms of standard 90s neo-prog, in that it has a good deal of acoustic guitar in it, an aspect of the classic Genesis sound that's normally overlooked.

* Yes, I realize linking to an old AotD post is a bit incestuous, but there really isn't anything else out there!

Virtual Shoplifting?

Via Orin Kerr over at Volokh comes an unusual case of computer crime from a small town in Michigan:

Each day around lunch time, Sam Peterson would drive to the Union Street Café, park his car and--without actually entering the coffee shop--check his e-mail and surf the Net. His ritual raised the suspicions of Police Chief Andrew Milanowski, who approached him and asked what he was doing. Peterson, probably not realizing that his actions constituted a crime, freely admitted what he was doing.

‘I knew that the Union Street had Wi-Fi. I just went down and checked my e-mail and didn't see a problem with that,’ Peterson told a WOOD reporter.
Police, who didn’t initially cite or arrest Peterson but “had a feeling a law was being broken,” did some research and found that Michigan’s “unauthorized access” statute applies to piggybacking on a Wi-Fi network. As Orin points out, Michigan’s statutes appears to be fairly odd, if not unique, in presuming that access is unauthorized. As Orin also points out, such a presumption is most likely unconstitutional. Beyond that, there seems to be a serious question as to whether Peterson’s actions were really criminal. The owner of the café doesn’t appear to think so:
Indeed, neither did Donna May, the owner of the Union Street Café. ‘I didn't know it was really illegal, either,’ she told the TV station. ‘If he would have come in (to the coffee shop), it would have been fine.’
The moral of the story – be wary of where you tap into “free” wi-fi!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Album of the Day

Stupid Dream, by Porcupine Tree (1999): As I continue to digest PT’s newest opus, Fear of a Blank Planet, it’s appropriate to highlight the album that kicked off this phase of the band’s development. Prior to Stupid Dream, PT plumbed the spacey depths in a very Floydian way. The result, to my ears, is largely formless and boring. With Stupid Dream, that desire to stretch out is reigned in and focused through some very catchy pop/rock prisms. Add in some nice acoustic-electric transitions and you have modern PT. Which I like quite a lot.

Roll Roll Roll Your Codefendant

Today’s New York Times has an article about a website called It’s a site dedicated to cataloging and exposing “snitches” – criminals who turn on other criminals in hopes of getting some kind of break from the prosecution. Snitching is very common, particularly in drug investigations, where part of the prosecutorial strategy is to jack up street-level dealers in hopes they’ll “roll” on those higher up in the food chain. There’s a movement afoot, led by sites like this, to try and break the cycle of snitchery.

I’m not sure how I feel about snitching. On the one hand, it is the bane of criminal defense attorneys in the federal system. The who relevant conduct scheme of the Sentencing Guidelines, in which your sentence is based on all conduct related to your offense of conviction (not just the conviction itself), is particularly fond of what we call “ghost dope” – drug weight dumped on you client for which no actual drugs exist. Snitches thrive in that environment. They can come up with mysterious prior sales to jack up your client’s sentence, which conveniently can’t be disproven, and then get a reduced sentence from the Government in return for their troubles. It also perversely benefits the higher ups in drug organizations who, by definition, have more info to give when they snitch and thus can end up with lower sentences than their street-level brethren.

On the other hand, snitching is one of the few avenues available to defendants to improve their lot. Rolling on your codefendants can get you a substantial assistance motion from the Government (as referenced on The Sopranos a few weeks back). It can also qualify you for the “Safety Valve” provision to avoid certain mandatory minimum prison terms. So in many cases, snitching can be in our clients’ best interests, which it is our job to further.

Regardless, I’m not sure I see anything hugely evil about this website. The information cataloged on it is entirely public. Putting it on the Net just makes it easier to access. I’m all for easy access to information about the criminal justice system.

Doug Berman and commentators have some thoughts here.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Album of the Day

A Tale of Mysterious Forest, by Ain Soph (1980): This was my first exploration of Japanese prog (and hardly my last, having seen the ripping set by Kenso on the NEARfest 2005 DVD), even though it isn't particularly Japanese. In fact, it's very well done instrumental jazz-influenced prog, along the lines of most fusion and/or Canterbury groups. The sense of humor even shines through in the liner notes:

The music of this CD is not dancing music, but basically music for listening to.

The Religious Right *gasp* Evolves

Hot on the heels of the death of Jerry Falwell, today's New York Times has a lengthy article about the changing face and goals of the Religious Right. In short, the pioneering giants of the movement - Robertson, Dobson, etc. - will shortly go the way of Falwell. The second generation - ReligiousRight v2.0, if you will, is changing the focus of the movement. That focus is looking to shift away from social issues and towards political issues that are generally thought of as more "liberal:"

Typified by megachurch pastors like the Rev. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Orange County, Calif., and the Rev. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church outside Chicago, the new breed of evangelical leaders — often to the dismay of those who came before them — are more likely to speak out about more liberal causes like AIDS, Darfur, poverty and global warming than controversial social issues like abortion and same-sex marriage.
Which is not to say that the social issues are no longer important. The question is, will some sort of effective coalition form to work on these new issues, regardless of the positions on social issues? Time will tell.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Album of the Day

Songs from the Big Chair, by Tears for Fears (1985): Ah, the power of a well-timed review. After I read the linked review of this album on USENET, I went out and picked up a copy. I knew a lot of the tunes from the radio & MTV back in the day, but never figured to buy it. I'm glad I did, as it's a real gem of intelligent 80s pop. There's even some prog cred to it, with appearances by saxist Mel Collins (King Crimson, Camel) and drummer Jerry Marotta (Peter Gabriel). And, sadly, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" always reminds me of the good ol' days when Dennis Miller was actually funny.

Stop It Stop It Stop It!

For my money, the best racing in the US is found in the Speed World Challenge Series. World Challenge, split into Touring (Acura TSXs, BMW 328s, Mazda6s, etc.) and Grand Touring (Dodge Vipers, Corvettes, Porsche 911s, etc.) classes, races at some of the best road courses in the world - Sebring, Road Atlanta, Mosport. The races, sprints lasting about 45 minutes, are hard fought, intense, and exciting at almost every round. Pound for pound, it's fantastic racing.

Criminally few people know about it. Speed Channel, despite being the title sponsor, doesn't do a great deal of promotion. So a chance to expose the series to a new audience is a good thing, right? So, the series decides to run a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway during a Nextel Cup weekend. Problem is, with the infield filled up with RVs, the race has to be on the oval, with 2 chicanes thrown in for excitement. OK, as a one off, that's not too bad. But that's not enough:

Beginning with the SCCA SPEED World Challenge trademark standing start, the race will be divided into two sessions, each lasting no longer than 20 minutes. Once the first session has been completed, the pace car will pick up the field and escort them into pitlane. There, teams will change all four tires and make adjustments. All the work must be completed in five minutes and refueling will not be permitted.

During this intermission period, a ceremony will be held involving the “wheel of inversion” to determine the restart order. Numbered with positions one through five, the number that is landed on will indicate the position of the car that will make the restart in first place. If the wheel lands on one, there will be no inversion.

For the second session, cars will be lined-up in their order before the intermission, plus any inversion, and lapped cars will be placed at the back. The second session will commence with a double-file rolling restart.
This is not a special all-star race, mind you - it is round 4 of the GT series championship. They're changing their format to appeal more to a group of fans who probably won't give two shits about the rest of the series. I'm reminded of Major League Soccer's policy of using one of the few ABC game broadcasts to show the mid-season All Star Game - a game that, due to the free subs and lax defense, is completely unlike a real MLS game. Anybody who saw that game by accident and then checked out a real game would feel cheated.

It'll be the same with the Nextel Cup fans with World Challenge. I'm all for trying to sell the series to them. But why sell them something that's not the genuine article?

The Yanks are Coming! The Yanks are Coming!

Today's USA Today has an article about the growing number of major English football clubs that are owned, in whole or in part, by Americans. The two big ones, Manchester United and Liverpool, play for major trophies in the next seven days. That's not going over too well with some English fans, even if, in ManU's case, the influx of American dollars has already led to a championship. However, with ticket prices going up next season, some fear that the tradition-bound English game will become just another entertainment commodity, like most American sports.

Oh, and get a load of just how much money changed hands when Tampa Bay Bucs owner Malcom Glazer bought out ManU - $1.49 BILLION! No American sports franchise is worth nearly that much, IIRC.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Album of the Day

Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby, by Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby (2007): Bruce has always flirted around the edges of bluegrass, but in this collaboration he dives in head first. Working (mostly) with Skaggs's band, they rip through an interesting collection of tunes. I prefer the reworked Hornsby tunes, "A Night on the Town" and "Crown of Jewels" particularly, and his original cuts more than the traditional bluegrass stuff (although "Come On Out" is excellent). To top it off, the albums concludes with a version of "Superfreak." Yes - it's bluegrass Rick James, bitch!

This Is Not Effective Gun Control

The state of Illinois had granted Bubba Ludwig a firearm permit. Is that a problem? Yell, yeah, sort of - Bubba is 1o months old:

Bubba's father, Howard Ludwig, applied on his behalf after his grandfather gave him a shotgun as an heirloom.

Mr Ludwig said he had not expected to succeed, but he filled in the online form, paid $5 and the licence was his.

* * *

The licence includes a picture of a toothless Bubba and a squiggle that represents his best attempt at a signature.
Believe it or not, this doesn't violate Illinois law:
But Illinois State Police, who oversee the application process, said that they had followed the law in this case.

'Does a 10-month-old need a FOID card? No, but there are no restrictions under the act regarding age of applicants,' the Associated Press news agency quoted Lt Scott Compton as saying.
Is there any reason for Illinois to have such a law regulation other than to use it as a money making scheme?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Album of the Day

Ship Arriving Too Late to Save a Drowning Witch, by Frank Zappa (1982): This is my least favorite of the Zappa albums I own. Too much of it is given over to novelty-type tunes, either in their lyrical content ("No Not Now"), execution ("I Come From Nowhere" and "Teen-Age Prostitute," with lead vocal from Lisa Popeil!), or both ("Valley Girl," which at least was a hit). Within all the chaff, however, lurks a sublime 15-minute hunk consisting of "Drowning Witch" and "Envelopes." The lyrical story of "Drowning Witch" is sort of silly, but the ensuing instrumental sections are amazing. But, that's what stuff discs are for, right?

Farewell Falwell

Jerry Falwell, one of the primary architects of the modern Religious Right, died today. While stating up front that I have problems with nearly everything Falwell stood for, you have to admire his success in his chosen field:

The big, blue-eyed preacher with a booming voice started a fundamentalist church in an abandoned bottling plant in Lynchburg in 1956 with just 35 members. He built it into a religious empire that included the 22,000-member Thomas Road Baptist Church, the ''Old Time Gospel Hour'' carried on TV stations around the country and 7,700-student Liberty University, which Falwell founded in 1971 as Lynchburg Baptist College.
In addition, he earned himself a place in American legal history:
In 1984, Falwell sued Hustler for $45 million, charging that he was libeled by an liquor-ad parody that quoted him as saying he lost his virginity to his mother in an outhouse.

A federal jury found the fake ad did not libel him, but awarded him $200,000 for emotional distress. The verdict was overturned in a landmark 1988 U.S. Supreme Court decision that held that even pornographic spoofs about a public figure enjoy First Amendment protection.
In other words, Falwell had such a poorly developed sense of humor that he had to make the Supreme Court tell him, "jeez, lighten up - it's just a joke."

And, of course, he was a major league asshole. Some of his greatest hits:
I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!

AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.

Billy Graham is the chief servant of Satan in America.

If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being.
Last, but not least, my personal favorite. Speaking of 9/11:
I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this happen.'
Nothing like being told by one of the leading lights of the modern conservative movement that I'm a failure as a human being and that I was responsible for the death of 3000 of my fellow citizens. What a schmuck!

As long as I'm slinging around quotes, here is one from Clarence Darrow that captures my feelings on Falwell's passing very succinctly:
I have never killed a man, but I have read many obituaries with great pleasure.

Teachers and Guns

In the wake of the Virginia Tech shooting last month there was lots of discussion about not only whether teachers should be allowed to carry firearms in the classroom, but whether it should be mandatory. The underlying assumption for that theory, I think, is that the only way to avert catastrophe if a gunman shows up is to kill him before he does too much damage. I came across the following factual scenario while doing some research today that shows that's not always the case:

Testimony at the sentencing hearing established that Bellamy, a resident of Horry County, South Carolina, had come to town to visit his girlfriend. The morning of August 16, 1999, however, found Bellamy not at his girlfriend's trailer, but at the one next door. While smoking crack with the second trailer's occupants, Bellamy became involved in a fight. In the wake of this altercation, Bellamy fled from the trailer park carrying a .25 caliber semi-automatic pistol. Bellamy continued to run for about three-quarters of a mile until he reached the school, where the first day of classes was underway.

Social studies teacher Evelyn Cannon was busily taking attendance when Bellamy entered her classroom and sat down at an empty desk, with the pistol in plain view of the surrounding students. After a few moments, Bellamy rose and approached Cannon. Appearing scared and nervous, Bellamy told Cannon that he was being pursued and asked for her help. Realizing that Bellamy was not a student, Cannon escorted him out of the room and into the adjoining hallway. With the promise of forthcoming assistance, Cannon persuaded Bellamy to accompany her to the principal's office.

Along the way, Bellamy became more agitated; he grabbed Cannon and tried to pull her close. Cannon suddenly noticed the pistol in Bellamy's hand, and she evaded his grasp. His attempt thus frustrated, Bellamy pointed the firearm at Cannon. Bellamy lowered the weapon a few moments later, as Cannon convinced him to continue with her toward their destination. Upon arriving at the principal's office, Bellamy surrendered the pistol and waited for the authorities to arrive.
That was the factual backdrop for US v. Bellamy, 264 F.3d 448, 451 (4th Cir. 2001).

Monday, May 14, 2007

Album of the Day

Seven Turns, by The Allman Brothers Band (1990): For a while in college I was a dedicated Columbia House abuser - I'd fulfill my obligation, try to quit the club, and then rejoin to get another crop of a dozen CDs for a penny (or whatever). As a result, I have several discs that I got during those years that I tend not to listen to very often but really enjoy when I do. This is one of them, the Allman's return to recording after nine (?) years of being split up. It's a really good disc, although not quite as impressive as the live album that came out a few years later.

Where Is the Imus-Like Outrage Over Lou Dobbs & His Bullshit?

Say what you will about Don Imus and the comments that got him fired, he was (a) an entertainer, nee comedian who was (b) stating an opinion - an obviously uninformed on, to boot. That pales in comparison to the wholesale propagation of false statistics of CNN's Lou Dobbs. Dobbs is a crusader on the illegal immigration issue, jockeying with O'Reilly for a position at the front of the nativist ranks assembling to beat back the "invasion" from the south. Apparently, as Dave Neiwert documents over at Orcinus, his zeal is getting the better of his good sense when it comes to stats and sources.

Long story short (Neiwert has the links and videos) - Dobbs ranted about how an influx of illegal aliens was responsible for a dramatic rise in leprosy cases in the United States - 7000 new cases in just over a few years. Problem is that increase never took place - the total number of diagnosed leprosy cases in the United States over the past three decades is 7029, with the highest one year number of 361 in 1985. Lest this be some kind of mistake on Dobbs's part, the 7000 figure he cited actually comes from a disgraced attorney who, in Dr. Laura fashion, called herself "Dr." and pontificated on public health issues in spite of only possessing a Ph.D. in English and comparative literature. Oh, and she's a raving racist loon, too! But Dobbs won't back down because, well, it would hurt his cause. Why should the facts get in the way of a good nativist rant?

To Chase or Not to Chase

Last month I wrote about the Supreme Court's recent decision in which it determined that it was not "unreasonable" under the Fourth Amendment for police to terminate a high-speed chase of a non-violent suspect by wrecking his car (leaving his paralyzed). Over at FindLaw, Sherry Colb chimes in with some observations I agree with. After lamenting the Court's decision to play fact finder, she notes:

The worst aspect of the Court's decision, however, is not its jury-preempting finding, on the basis of the video, that the high-speed chase in which Harris and the police were engaged posed a substantial risk of harm to the population. Few would dispute that high-speed chases generally pose a risk of serious injury, even if the particular conditions present in this case might have minimized that risk.

What makes the decision most alarming, in my view, is its underlying assumption that if, in fact, Victor Harris's driving during the chase endangered the safety of surrounding people, then the "reasonable" thing for the police to do was to continue the chase and ultimately force Harris into a life-threatening crash.
Later on, she continues:
Victor Harris's original speed, according to the majority as well as the dissent, represented an "ordinary" or "minor" traffic violation. Prior to the chase itself, that is, neither side claims that it would have been appropriate for the police to inflict catastrophic, life-long injury on Victor Harris for speeding. No Justice suggests that it would have been acceptable, at that point, to "go ahead and take him out," as Officer Scott's supervisor said when the chase had escalated, arguably out of control. It was the decision of the police, however, first to pursue Harris for a traffic violation, and then to carry that pursuit to its bitter end, that profoundly and foreseeably raised the danger level faced by bystanders.

The Court, though, does not question the decision of the police to pursue Harris when he failed to pull over. Nor does it question the officers' decision to keep going as speeds mounted. On the contrary, the Court says that "[i]t was respondent, after all, who intentionally placed himself and the public in danger by unlawfully engaging in the reckless, high-speed flight that ultimately produced the choice between two evils that Scott [the police officer who rammed Harris] confronted." The only decision-maker, as far as a majority of the Court is concerned, was Harris. On this reasoning, his behavior made the police pursuit effectively inevitable.
The point, I think, is that at some point, there has to be a decision made by the cops that discretion is the better part of valor and they have to let the speeder go. Obviously, that doesn't apply to all chases of all suspects - someone who is wanted for a violent offense or has a hostage is a different situation entirely.

They've Been Kahned!

From the BBC, comes an amusing intersection of sex, soccer, and the law:

A German sex toy firm is to pay German football stars Michael Ballack and Oliver Kahn 50,000 euros each after it used their names to sell vibrators.

The stars sued the firm Beate Uhse because it sold special World Cup vibrators called "Michael B" and "Olli K" last year without their permission.
Let's hope Ballack's bedroom namesake had a better season than the German midfielder did with Chelsea. As for the Kahn version, well, you know what they say about goalkeepers. ;-)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Albums of Last Friday

Script for a Jester's Tear (1983) and Seasons End (1989), by Marillion: Through sheer coincidence, these two albums were back-to-back in the playing order on Friday. That's somewhat appropriate, as they are both milestone albums in the band's career.

Script . . .
is the band's first album and served as a blue print for countless neo-prog imitators to come. Heavily in debt to early Genesis, with a touch of Pink Floyd and (lyrically and vocally, at least) Van der Graff Generator, the music suffers from some overly sterile production and pedestrian drumming from Mick Pointer. Thankfully, Pointer was shown the door shortly thereafter and more interesting live versions of all these tunes (IIRC) exist.

Fast forward six years - the band has become big in Europe and Fish, the charismatic lead vocalist and face of the band has "gone solo in the game," so to speak. Most of Seasons End was finished musically before the new guy, Steve Hogarth (aka "h") came on board. His run with the band, to the surprise of many, would last for nearly two decades and see the group continue to produce a string of excellent, if overlooked, albums. There's very little of the Script . . . style still evidence on Seasons End, but it's still unmistakably Marillion. Which says something about the musical unit the other guys had formed in the prior years.

A Non-Romney GOP Funny

I didn't come across anything truly funny that my arch nemesis Mitt Romney said or did this week, so here's a funny at the expense of another (admittedly more minor) GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. This animation, by Scott Bateman, is sort of a cross between Robert Schmigel's "Fun With Real Audio" and Stephen Colbert's "The Word." It uses actual audio taken from Huckabee's MySpace page:

Via the animator himself over at Huffington Post.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Album of the Day

The Sane Day, by Beardfish (2005): Having talked a bit about this album here, I won't ramble on. I'll just say that it continues to kick my arse on a fairly regular basis and it one of the few double CD albums I look forward to listening to from start to finish every time.

Has Freddy Flamed Out?

It's hard to believe that, at 17 years of age, Freddy Adu is in his fourth season in Major League Soccer. This article from USA Today takes up the question of whether Freddy has lived up to the hype and whether he ever will. I think it's too early to write Freddy off as a failure (as one CNBC columnist has) - he's still a legal minor, for crying out loud! I will say this, however, I think Freddy bought into his own hype a bit too much in the beginning and, quite frankly, still seems to be in thrall to it. He talks of making a move to Europe later this year, but hasn't really shown enough in MLS to generate a lot of interest, IMHO. Flashes, yes, but not consistent excellent play. If he lays as big an egg in the U-20 World Cup this summer as he did last time, he'll be lucky to start for Real Salt Lake, much less go across the pond.

Having said all that, for the national team's sake, I hope he lives up to his promise.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Album of the Day

Roots to Branches, by Jethro Tull (1995): Back in college, I dragged jedi jawa to a clinic at a downtown music store with bass players Vic Wooten and Steve Bailey. I knew Wooten from his mind-blowing work with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and he was equally impressive on his own. Bailey I'd never heard of before which, quite frankly, led to an awkward moment. As we stood in line to get Vic to sign a copy of his new album, we first got some face time with Bailey. To pass the time, I honestly told him I didn't think I'd heard his work - who had he played with? Turned out, he's on about half of this album, which explains my lack of recall - I hardly ever listen to it (for the reasons the Ground and Sky review sets forth).

Good News/Bad News on Iraq

Today's USA Today has a story about a report commissioned by the Department of Defense that provides some good and bad news about the situation in Iraq. The good news? An extensive study of insurgencies around the world finds that only 41% of them are successful. The bad news? They last, on average, about 10 years (we're 5 years into Iraq). And, actually, the good news isn't all that good - the other 59% "were victories for the counterinsurgents, were inconclusive or are still going on."


Do Not Call Board Members Monkeys

A Delaware attorney has been disciplined by that state's Supreme Court for making unflattering arguments in a brief. What did he say?

The briefs were part of an appeal to Superior Court disputing a decision by New Castle County Board of License, Inspection & Review, in which he made several statements including that the county could appoint 'monkeys' to the board and 'simply allow the attorney to interpret the grunts and groans of the ape members and reach whatever conclusion the attorney wished from the documents of record.'
While the attorney may have a plausible First Amendment argument (he also relies on the Board of Professional Responsibility's report that "there is no clear and convincing evidence here that respondent's briefs, while obnoxious, were prejudicial to the administration of justice."), here's a free legal practice tip from JDB - don't refer to the members of the tribunal from which you're appealing as monkeys or, indeed, any type of animal, regardless of how much they deserve it.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Album of the Day

Rivers Gonna Rise, by Patrick O'Hearn (1988): It's hard to dislike an album you bought for $1. Still, when it's a solo album from one of Zappa's talented sidemen (O'Hearn played bass in Zappa's mid 70s bands), there are greater expectations. Sadly, this disc is full of fairly dull synthesized 80s instrumentals, which is borne out in this (very positive) comment from an Amazon review:

One of the most eclectic and proficient new age instrumentalists around, Patrick O'Hearn fuses elements of new-age and jazz into a unique, inimitable sound. 'Homeward Bound' is a catchy, upbeat song that should do nothing but make you feel good. 'Acadia', 'Glory For Tomorrow', and 'The Stroll' are all dreamy pieces of new age bliss, and the bouncy 'April Fool' is oddly-titled but no less enjoyable.
Well, that's not really my thing. So, for a buck, I guess I got what I paid for.

(Don't) Save Paris!

Over at Sentencing Law & Policy, Doug Berman has some information about Paris Hilton's plans to appeal her 45-day sentence for violating her probation. According to the article Doug quotes, Paris thinks that 45 days for multiple violations of the probation imposed following her DUI conviction is "both cruel and unwarranted and I don't deserve this." I hope she's talking out of school and her attorney isn't actually thinking of making an 8th Amendment argument for a 45-day sentence. Hell, the 9th Circuit doesn't even blink when affirming third-strike life sentences for stealing $50 worth of booze. Any argument that 45 days is "cruel and unusual" is beyond frivolous.

As to whether Paris "doesn't deserve this" - honey, you've haven't deserved anything you've ever gotten in your life. Why should this be any different?

Frighteningly, an anonymous commentator a SL&P points to an online petition in support of Paris from fans, which argues that Paris "provides hope for young people all over the U.S. and the world. She provides beauty and excitement to (most of) our otherwise mundane lives." Holy cow - can we return to the days when the mass of men led lives of quiet desperation? The loud kind is too pathetic for words.

And They Think We're Litigious!

Americans frequently get slammed for being too eager to run to court when life throws at them unpleasantness. But I'm not sure we can match Briton John Brandrick, who is considering suing his hospital because he did not die. Seems that two years ago Brandrick was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and given a year to live. He took that to heart:

He quit his job, sold or gave away nearly all his possessions, stopped paying his mortgage and spent his savings dining out and going on holiday.
As a result, after a year Brandrick was broke and, unfortunately, not dead. Turns out that the pancreatic cancer was actually just a non-fatal inflammation. He now wants compensation for all the cash he blew in order to resume his life. It makes some sense - the diagnosis was wrong (although the hospital says it would make the same call again, based on the info available at the time) and he has suffered some monetary loss due to his detrimental reliance on that diagnosis. It will be interesting to see if some sort of arrangement is worked out before Brandrick has to go to court.

Monday, May 07, 2007

New Music - Two for the Price of One!

I finally had some time this afternoon to finish up a couple of songs that have been laying around the hard drive for a while:

  • "Elsewhen" - The middle section of this song is some experimentation in 3/4 time. I didn't have as many usable 3/4 loops as I thought, so I had to flesh it out by my own self. The title comes from some piece of multiple-timeline sci-fi (it's the temporal equivalent to "elsewhere").
  • "Krakatoan Twilight" - Aside from the tabla loop in the middle section, the rest is all me - piano, Mellotron, Minimoog. Can't blame anybody else for this one!
Now available for your dancing (?) and dining pleasure (??).

Album of the Day

Relayer, by Yes (1974): This was Yes's last hurrah when it came to really pushing boundaries and trying new things sonically.* Whether it was the one-time-only presence of Pat Moraz on keyboards or whatever, the tonal palette on Relayer is unlike any other Yes disc. Of particular note are the fairly wild fusion-infused instrumental bits in "Gates of Delirium" and "Sound Chaser." The lush and sedate "To Be Over" is a nice contrast to close the album.

* Which is not to say that it was Yes's last good album - Going for the One and Drama are both excellent, and even Tormato has its moments - but after Relayer they switched from being "progressive" in a descriptive sense to being "progressive" in a stylistic sense.

Lowly Leeds

Back in 2001, I became a fan of Leeds United AFC. A Leeds scarf hangs on my studio door, along with ones for the US national team and DC United. I was drawn in by the team's underdog run in that spring's Champions League. They seemed to be a team built from the ground up, using lots of young English players and destroying teams made up of more experienced high-dollar mercenaries. What I didn't know at the time, as the team lost in that year's semi-final and failed to make the competition the next season, is that the team was perched on the brink of financial oblivion that would see them dumped into the minor leagues of English football only six years later.

What happened? This article at the BBC website explains. Basically, as the team made it into Europe, the management mortgaged the club's future on the assumption that they would stay there. When the didn't, the team was unable to afford the players that made them great in the first place. That led to a sell off of Biblical proportions:

The exit of defender Rio Ferdinand to fierce rivals Manchester United left fans angry and disappointed but at least when he was sold in July 2002, Leeds were left with the £30m in the coffers they had craved.

However, when, in 2003, BBC Sport analysed other departures the findings were very different. Striker Robbie Keane joined Tottenham in an eventual £12m deal in August 2002 - only 15 months after arriving from Inter Milan for £12m, while the £10m-rated duo of Lee Bowyer and Olivier Dacourt joined West Ham and Roma for £100,000 and £3.5m respectively.

Manchester City bought forward Robbie Fowler, who Leeds signed from Liverpool for £11m in 2001, for £6m in January 2003.

Meanwhile, £15m-rated Jonathan Woodgate and Harry Kewell, who had progressed from the trainee ranks at Leeds, sealed respective £9m and £5m moves to Newcastle and Liverpool in the January and December of 2003.

The big-name departures did not stop there. In July 2004, striker Mark Viduka joined Middlesbrough for £4.5m, while in May of the same year Tottenham acquired goalkeeper Paul Robinson for £1.5m and Manchester United snapped up striker Alan Smith in a deal worth £7m.
With the talent depleted, it wasn't a surprise that Leeds sank from the Premier League to the Football Championship (as it's called now), the second tier of English football, in 2004. New management came in and it looked like the bottom had been found. The team finished mid-table in 2004-2005, but rebounded to finish fifth in 2005-2006 (behind the stellar play of US international Eddie Lewis, among others) and finished 1-goal short of promotion back to the Premiership. This season was supposed to be the last one in the minor leagues, as most folks thought Leeds was a sure bet to gain promotion.

It didn't work out that way. The team stumbled out of the gate and never recovered. Last week, already consigned to relegation into Division One (the "AA" level of English football), Leeds went into "administration" (bankruptcy, basically), and accepted its fate. To bounce back quickly is not unheard of - Manchester City hit that level in 1999 and was back in the Premiership a few years later. Hopefully, the Leeds ship will be righted and the team can really rebuild this time on a solid foundation.

Trek Hits Home

Of all the high-tech gadgets in the Star Trek universe the one that I thought always had the most potential to be really life-altering was the replicator. Yeah, the transporter would be neat, but the power to whip up any item from the ether would (as Trek presumed) basically do away with our current concept of economics. According to the New York Times, that technology isn't as far away as you might imagine. This article talks about the emerging technology of 3D printers, which allow you to feed the machine a set of blueprints and it spits out a plastic 3D doo-dad. The tech has been around for years, but is only now on the verge of becoming affordable for home and small business users. Where is all this headed?

Professor Lipson said researchers are developing ways to use the process to build parts with more complex functions. They have preliminary designs for batteries, sensors, and parts that can bend when electricity is applied.

'A milestone for us would be to print a robot that would get up and walk out of the printer,' Professor Lipson said. 'Batteries included.'
I for one welcome our new plastic overlords!

Friday, May 04, 2007

In the City of Brotherly Love

A couple weekends ago, the girlfriend (who will henceforth be referred to as "K" and is responsible for all but one of these pictures), Maia, and I set out across the breadth of Pennsylvania to take in the sights of Philadelphia. The motivation was to see the King Tut exhibit that was in town on its last North American tour stop. We hung around for another day to take in some historical goodies and then detoured via Gettysburg on the way home. It was a loverly (birthday) trip - thanks, honey!

We motored our way into Philly (the directions from K's house were, literally, "turn right onto the Interstate, drive for 5 hours, turn left into hotel") on Saturday and pulled into town about sixish that evening. We stayed at the Sofitel hotel near Rittenhouse Square downtown. They got our business because they were pet friendly - nee, pet enthusiastic, as it turned out - and turned out to be well situated, within walking distance of our main attractions. Rittenhouse Square is a nice park that provided a good place for Maia to get walked, even fairly late at night. In addition, one of the restaurants circling the Square seemed to be the primo spot for car watching - one night walking Maia we spied a Ferrari 355 spyder, a 360 spyder, 2 Acura NSXs, and an Aston Martin DB9! I was more enthused than K, of course. Plus, the Sofitel's bed was uber comfy, as Maia demonstrates. We dined at a nifty Italian place in the neighborhood that featured goodies from a coal-fired oven.

On Sunday, we set out for the Franklin Institute, home of the aforesaid King Tut exhibit. Along the way, we stumbled into the Philadelphia Book Fair taking place at the Free Library next door to the Institute. OK, "stumbled," isn't quite right - K is a book fiend and we'd seen signs on our way into town, so we would have found it one way or another. Unfortunately, it was kind of a disappointment. Although I recognized a few of the authors listed on the schedule, most of the booths consisted of small publishers with authors you've never heard of hawking books you'd never want to read. And there were Stormtroopers. Dancing Stormtroopers. That's so wrong, I don't even know where to start!

The Institute, located in the city's museum district, is mostly a hands-on science museum, much like COSI in Columbus. We figure it would be easy to kill a few hours inside until our tickets for the Tut exhibit were valid. On the way over, we grabbed a soft pretzel. Munching on our pretzel while standing on the steps of the Institute, we noticed a group of folks start to gather on the sidewalk carrying signs. Then they started chanting - "King Tut is back and he's stiiilll black" - over and over. They got moved down the sidewalk a little bit by The Man, which I didn't think was necessary. They weren't really blocking the way, weren't all that loud, and they're chant had a good beat. In fact, K tried to catch some video on her cell phone in hopes that I could rip it into a .wav file and loop it later. No such luck, however. We couldn't quite get why they were protesting, however. Tut was African, of course - has anybody ever claimed he wasn't black? It's not like he's had Jesus's PR guy to turn him into a blue-eyed blond-haired Caucasian.

Once inside, we were confronted with the large statue of Franklin you can see above. It's actually the National Ben Franklin Memorial, which is odd given that it's nowhere near where he's buried (more on that later). As expected, the Institute had lots of hands-on goodies, including a walk-through heart and (as you can see) a vintage jet fighter plane.

But the main attraction was Tut and he didn't disappoint. With audio tour guidance from Omar Sharif, we viewed a sampling of really interesting artifacts from both Tut's tomb and those of his recent ancestors. I, for one, had no idea of Tut's role in scaling back religious reforms of his predecessor and restoring the old gods to prominence. Not bad for a 19-year old. Of particular interest to me, in terms of tomb artifacts, were the various shabti placed in the tombs. They were humanoid figures that would do manual labor for the entombed when called upon by the gods. In other words - lackeys. But I found it mildly progressive that the Egyptians would produce artworks for that purpose, rather than freeze drying the Pharaoh's actual servants. Sadly, the exhibit did not contain Tut's famous sarcophagus, but did wind up with several items that were on the body when found by Howard Carter.

On the way home, we passed by the the Academy of Natural Sciences, which had this cool dinosaur statute out front. They also had a banner for an exhibit that almost made us stay an extra day. I think it speaks for itself:

That evening, we dined at a Cuban restaurant in the neighborhood that, in addition to having really good food (K, particularly, had a pork dish that was awesome) had a great ambiance. Replacing the usual paintings or what not on the walls were projected photos from pre-Castro Cuba.

On Monday, the plan was to head in the opposite direction towards the historical part of town. Before we did, however, we had to feast on Philly's greatest delicacy - cheese steaks!

Mom's cart, however, is not where we partook of that particular gastronomic delight. There was a place around back of the hotel called Tony, Jr.'s that pimped their sandwiches. K went for the traditionally Philly setup (steak and Cheese Whiz), while I went for a pizza-flavored offering (steak, Provolone, & sauce). Both were yummy, and we figured that between the sandwiches and the soft pretzel yesterday we had suitably engaged the local fooderies.

The old city in Philly means one thing - Independence Hall. Unfortunately for us, Independence Hall also means a need for tickets, which were gone for the day well before we even considered getting out of bed. Still, it looks cool, don't it? In fact, as we would find out, the historical area is overwhelmed with school kids pretty much every day, even Mondays, so we didn't stand much of a chance of getting in in the first place. That's Mr. Barry, founder of the US Navy, out front, pointing towards the naval yard.

One place we did get into, for free no less, was the fairly new building housing the Liberty Bell. When I went to Philly as a kid, the Bell was housed in a dull glass pavilion. But the new digs provide more space for info about the bell's background (read the Wiki article - it's quite interesting). Of course, the Bell itself is the star of the show. Even if it looks fairly puny next to yours truly!

After the Bell, we were on our way to the main Visitor's Center when we were shanghaied by a persistent horse-drawn carriage tour operator. We relented (and she waited until we got a drink!) and took a leisurely 40-minute trip through the old town. Along the way we learned about several cool places that we might have missed otherwise. One of them was the Physick House, pictured here. Colonial Philly happened to be home to two American medical pioneers. One was Dr. Benjamin Rush, the father of modern psychiatry. The other was Dr. Philip Physick, the father of modern surgery. The glass over the door to Physick's house is Colonial-period original. A later owner had boarded the window up to block out sunlight (she allegedly didn't like to dust and thus wanted to keep sunbeams to a minimum). When restorationists took the boards down in the 1970s, the original glass was preserved intact.

Also on the tour was Philly's federal courthouse - the Byrne Federal Courthouse - living proof that I practice in the wrong Circuit.

On the tour we learned about a building on the edge of the historic district that had a huge stained glass installation in the lobby. Being that K is a bit of a stained glass groupie, we tracked down the building, the Curtis Publishing Company building. Curtis was the publisher of, among other things, The Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal, which he started to give his daughter a job. Curtis was a big wig in Philly for a long time and his name is everywhere (the Curtis Institute of Music, for instance). The stained glass piece, called "The Dream Garden" (not to be confused with the overstuffed Flower Kings epic "Garden of Dreams"), was based on a painting by Maxfield Parrish. It contains something along the lines of 200,000 separate pieces of stained glass. It is, even in its current undergoing renovation phase, a sight to behold. The picture doesn't really do it justice. It sort of reminded me of turning a corner in the Art Institute in Chicago and coming face to face with the wall-sized "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte."

As we gawked at the stained glass, a woman who was sitting in the lobby asked if we were from out of town (duh!) and told us to be sure to see the fountain on the other side of the stained glass. We trailed a tour group that moved through down the hall into a huge atrium in the main part of the building. Sure enough, the fountain in the atrium was equally impressive, several stories high with water cascading in stairstep fashion before disappearing underneath the fountain's edge (there was no terminal pool). K was so taken by the fountain that I got to take a rare photo of her perched on the edge. Meaning that photos of her are rare, not photos of her perched on the edge of lavish fountains, although those are fairly rare, too.

After the stop at the Curtis building, we headed off towards the fairly new Constitution Center. Along the way, we saw signs for Ben Franklin's grave, so we decided to detour that way. Franklin, along with several other notables of the colonial era (Drs. Rush and Physik, for two), is buried in the cemetery belonging to Christ Church, an Anglican church dating back to 1695. The church itself is a couple of blocks away, interestingly. The graveyard, only a few hundred square feet large (IMHO), contains over 4000 graves, many marked with simple headstones that have worn away or sunk into the earth over the eons. The one in this pictures is by far the most impressive, more so than ol' Ben's (too much sunlight means no pictures came out well - see the Wiki article). Surprise surprise - it belonged to a family of lawyers!

Our final stop of the day (the Mint was closed by the time we passed by, which is just as well, as I'm not sure we'd made it through security!) was the new National Constitution Center. It's dedicated to the US Constitution (obviously), although the actual document is still at the National Archives in DC. The Center is a nice idea, with a lot of very modern audio-visual installations and such. Unfortunately, there's so much AV stuff going on it's hard to hear yourself think at times. One of said AV installations is a Presidential lectern behind which you can stand and appear to give your inaugural address. There's a camera to take a picture of the event, which they'll sell you in the lobby, of course. K illicitly snapped this shot of Mitt Romney's worst nightmare - President JDB!

That was it for Philly. We trudged back to the hotel (via a splendid local chocolate shop), dined at another fine local eatery, and headed out of town the next day. On the way home we made a detour to Gettysburg and did the auto tour of the battlefield (after we actually found were it started!). I did the same thing at Antietam a few years ago on the way back from a DC business trip and it's a nice way to see the battlefield. You can get out at each critical point, survey the terrain, and ponder the goings on in relative peace and privacy. Plus, it got the dog a nice workout (she was really exhausted by the end of the day!). Here Maia and I pose in front of a cannon marking part of the Union lines on the second and third days of the battle. Behind the cannon and off to the right, just slightly, was the high water mark of Pickett's Charge on the third day of the battle.

Given the scope of the battle (more than 140,000 men took part), Gettysburg is home to scores of monuments for the various regiments that fought there. This one belongs (I think) to the 90th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry and is situated along the Union lines on the north of town during the battle's first day. It's unique among the monuments because of the tree trunk shape (no, Maia didn't piddle on it). Sadly, we learned later, it's a favorite target for vandals.

In addition to the individual unit monuments, several (if not all) of the states represented at the battle have their own monuments. Even West Virginia, which was only a couple of weeks old at the time, is represented. Across the road from the cannon pictured above is the Pennsylvania monument. To say it's the largest of the monuments is to say Andre the Giant was the largest of wrestlers - it's an understatement. But, consider that 35,000 Pennsylvanians fought there and, combined with it being the only major engagement in the state, it makes perfect sense. The two figures on the front are, IIRC, Lincoln and the Union commander Meade, who was from PA. That's winged victory on the top.

And that, as they say, is that. We wound home over the mountains from Gettysburg to finish off a great trip. The weather cooperated perfectly and the company, of course, was wonderful. Thanks again, honey!

Album of the Day

Radiation, by Marillion (1998): As it happens, Radiation is getting a lot of mention in reviews of the new album, Somewhere Else, which Amazon has finally found a copy of to send me. This is not a positive thing, however, because the sentiment seems to be that the new one may be the band's worst effort since . . . Radiation. Oy. It's surely not their strongest work, but there are at least four good to great tunes on it - "The Answering Machine," "Three-Minute Boy," "Cathedral Wall," and "A Few Words for the Dead." That's a better batting average than most bands manage.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Album of the Day

Psychoderelict, by Pete Townshend (1993): When I was a kid, one of the first rock concept things I heard was Tommy. Ever since, I've had a soft spot in my heart for Pete's concept albums. This isn't the best, but it's certainly different. Rather than just a collection of songs, this one runs together like a long radio play, complete with dialog among the three main characters. The story, of a "clapped out 60s hell raiser" whose career is rejuvenated following a PR stunt (that creepily foreshadows Pete's run in with kiddie porn), fits together pretty well. Unfortunately, there's not a whole lot of music that stands on its own, although "English Boy" and "Now and Then" aren't bad.

On a Stacked Deck

There is a perception amongst the general public that the criminal justice system is tipped in favor of criminal defendants. For example, there's the old saying that it's better for 10 guilty men to go free than for one innocent person to go to prison. Or there's reference to a defendant getting off on a "technicality" by invoking one of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Regardless, the reality of criminal justice is completely different - the deck is stacked in favor of conviction at almost every turn. Two recent decisions from the Fourth Circuit demonstrate that phenomenon.

Yesterday, the court handed down the McNeill decision. In McNeill, the defendant won a motion to suppress a statement he gave implicating himself in two bank robberies because the district court found that his initial arrest was illegal. The Government, as you might expect, pursued an interlocutory appeal, meaning it sought to appeal the decision before the rest of the case is resolved. The US Code requires the Government, in such cases, to file a certification with the district court attesting to several things, mostly to ensure that the appeal at that time is really necessary and would not be frivolous or taken for the purposes of delay. The Government's certification was filed six months late and with the appellate court, rather than the district court. McNeill moved the appellate court to dismiss the appeal because of the Government's failure.

This was not an isolated incident. As the court notes in the opinion, this case was the third time since 2004 that the Government had similarly underperformed (and one more case where it happened is pending). One of those cases, Hatfield, was mine and so I'm somewhat tuned in to the issue. In Hatfield and a subsequent case, the court talked sternly about the Government's failure to follow the procedural law, but ultimately decided that dismissal was too harsh a remedy. The tone of the opinions was clear - don't let it happen again. Yet, here it is, three years later and it has happened again - twice. The Government attorneys involved even apparently admitted that they had no "personal knowledge" of Hatfield and the other case.

"[T]he government's failures," the court wrote, "are shameful lapses in professionalism." So one would think it was time to bring the hammer down, right? Dismiss the appeal and teach the Government a lesson by creating some tangible negative impact upon the Government. Alas, you'd be wrong. The court in McNeill bent itself over backward to keep the appeal alive and, in the end, rule for the Government.

Contrast that result with the outcome in the McClung case. This, in the interest of full disclosure, is one of my cases. It involves a former state education official who funneled business to a friend in return for money. He pleaded guilty and went to sentencing with a maximum Sentencing Guideline sentence of 63 months. Without notifying either of the parties of its intent to do so, the district court varied from those Guidelines and imposed a sentence of 84 months. On appeal, McClung argued that he should be resentenced because of the district court's lack of notice and allowed to make an argument about sentencing knowing what the district court has in mind.

One problem - McClung's lawyers at sentencing (nobody in my office, FWIW) failed to object to the sentence being imposed without notice. As a result, review in the Fourth Circuit was under "plain error" review. In order to prevail in such a case, the defendant much show (1) that there was an error, (2) that the error was plain, and (3) that his substantial rights were affected. Even if those three criteria are met, the appellate court can choose not to recognize the error if it does not "seriously affect[] the fairness, integrity, or public reputation of judicial proceedings." In other words, even if a defendant's rights were violated and it made a difference, the court can simply choose to ignore it.

Sound like a stacked deck to you? Here's how it worked in McClung - the first two prongs were easily met. The third, that substantial rights were affected was not. Why? Because McClung could not convince the court that he would have gotten a lower sentence from the district court, even though he had no chance to try and convince the district court otherwise. In other words, not only do you get a diabolical standard of review on appeal, but because prior counsel failed to put evidence in the record to justify a lower sentence (not knowing he had to) you can't convince the court anything prejudicial took place.

The bottom line is this - the appealing parties in both McNeill and McClung screwed up procedurally before the briefs got filed. When it's the Government that screws up, it gets the benefit of the doubt, even after repeated similar failures. When the defendant screws up - defendant's counsel, really - there is no similar benefit given. That's particularly repugnant when you consider that the party that suffers the most in the equation is the one who had nothing to do with the screw ups!

Indeed. The criminal justice system appears to be stacked, but not in favor of a defendant.

Over at Decision of the Day, Bob has some similar thoughts.

Mitt's Bad Taste in Sci-Fi

I really don't have it out for GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Even after he proclaimed that I can't be president and waffled through the Great White Hunter affair, it really doesn't make much difference to me as I'm not a Republican and thus don't have a vote to cast for or against him. At this point, at least. Nevertheless, he seems to be an endless source of amusement for those of us watching from afar.

Mitt's latest and greatest came in an interview with Fox News. When asked what his favorite novel was, his answer was the L. Ron Hubbard tome Battlefield Earth. While the book version of BE has not been as roundly panned as the atrocious film version (which, coincidentally, was on HBO this morning while I was getting ready to go to work), it's not exactly a classic of the genre. If Mitt's really a sci-fi fan, one would think he might go with classic Asimov, Bradbury, or Herbert. Or, if he wanted to give a Mormon shoutout, he could have tapped one of Orson Scott Card's Ender novels. Any would have been a better choice than BE, particularly for someone whose undergraduate field of study was English!

But, never fear, fans of Mitt. If this well-documented comment is correct, he's already answered this question many different ways. Which might make him a literary flip-flopper, but maybe he was just having Fox on? At least he had the right answer for the GOP's fundy base on the favorite book of any form question: The Bible.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Interview With a Jedi

Kind of. My fellow WV blogger jedi jawa frequents a web game called Verbotomy that involves making up new words to match a given definition. For example, this week's definition is:

To carefully shave your facial hair into a style which advertises your political allegiance, sexual orientation, or taste in music.
Folks will make up a word, submit it, and then folks will vote on the submission. Whoever gets the most votes wins, exactly unlike a Presidential election. A few weeks ago, jedi jawa, who one of his fellow Verbotomists calls a "creative genius and fierce competitor," won the game. For his trouble, he won a book and has now been interviewed by the game's creator. That's pretty cool - I've never had anybody interview me after I won anything!

I Have Never Done This

I don't normally post YouTube vids, but this one is too good to pass up. From Kilmarnock v. Aberdeen in the Scottish Premier League:

Thankfully, I've never managed anything that goofy in my goalkeeping career.

Something similar happened to Brad Friedel years ago during a US match against Mexico - he went to punt a ball away, but he pinged a Mexican player in the back of the head and the ball bounded into the back of the US net. In hindsight, I think that was just a gesture of friendship from Friedel - it's about the only goal the Mexicans have scored in the US for years! :P

Nice Pants!

Admittedly, this is the kind of thing that makes people hate lawyers:

When the neighborhood dry cleaner misplaced Roy Pearson's pants, he took action. He complained. He demanded compensation. And then he sued. Man, did he sue.

Two years, thousands of pages of legal documents and many hundreds of hours of investigative work later, Pearson is seeking to make Custom Cleaners pay -- would you believe more than the payroll of the entire Washington Nationals roster?

He says he deserves millions for the damages he suffered by not getting his pants back, for his litigation costs, for "mental suffering, inconvenience and discomfort," for the value of the time he has spent on the lawsuit, for leasing a car every weekend for 10 years and for a replacement suit, according to court papers.

Pearson is demanding $65,462,500. The original alteration work on the pants cost $10.50.
Where does lawyer bashing material come in, specifically?
By the way, Pearson is a lawyer. Okay, you probably figured that. But get this: He's a judge, too -- an administrative law judge for the District of Columbia.
That's right - a DC judge/lawyer has taken a trivial dispute with his dry cleaner and turned it into a multi-million dollar lawsuit. To be fair, most damage claims in civil suits are meaningless - you get what your prove, not what you ask for (it's not an either/or proposition) - and are included for shock value. But that doesn't justify this dingess (who has turned down three offers to settle, the last for $12,000) taking a small business couple to court over a customer service claim.

The only positive thing for my profession I can say about this is that Pearson is acting as his own attorney - no other lawyer has been dumb enough to sign on and help him.