Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Hollywood - Where Originality Goes to Die

The cover story in the Life section of today's USA Today is devoted to Neil Gaiman, who is set to have a big year on the big screen. A film version of his book Stardust comes out later this summer, with a Gaiman-penned version of Beowulf directed by Robert Zemeckis coming later in the year. The article discusses Gaiman's fairly newfound involvement with Hollywood, which has only recently become equipped to bring his fantastic imagery to life. It's not always gone smoothly:

Gaiman had offers to make a film out of his 2005 best seller Anansi Boys, about the sons of an African god discovering their magical background while living in the corrupt modern world, but moviemakers wanted to change the lead black characters to white or drop the magical elements altogether.
That seems quite pointless to me, like making a version of 1984 where Big Brother is a helpful sidekick during Winston's wacky adventures!

Can't Outrun the Long Arm of Justice

A man walks away from a prison camp. He is a Vietnam vet who has "escaped" to sick mother in the Dominican Republic. For 20 years, he lives a life of freedom, bopping back and forth between the US (for VA hospital treatments) and the Dominican Republic. Finally, the US government picks him up and charges him with escape. Does he have a defense? The Eighth Circuit says no. Bob at Decision of the Day has the details.

The Variety of Human Motivation

Today's New York Times has an interesting article about recent research into the things that motivate people to have sex. Researchers at the University of Texas have categorized 237 - that's right, 237 - reasons that people have sex, ranging from the Hollywoodish romantic reasons to purely physical reasons to less enlightened ones ("because of a bet," aka The "Dinah-Moe Humm" Principle). There is, I suppose, a happy ending to the study:

The best news is that both men and women ranked the same reason most often: 'I was attracted to the person.'

The rest of the top 10 for each gender were also almost all the same, including 'I wanted to express my love for the person,' 'was sexually aroused and wanted the release' and 'It’s fun.'
Makes sense to me.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Check Mate, Mr. Bergman

The legendary Swedish director Ingmar Bergman passed away today, at the age of 89. Bergman is a giant of modern cinema with a voluminous body of work that yours truly has only begun to digest. I jumped right in with both feet with The Seventh Seal, a movie so full of iconic images that it could sustain lesser directors for an entire lifetime.

What I didn't realize until I read this BBC story was exactly how productive the man was:

He may have made more than 50 films, but he was also extremely active in writing and directing radio plays, he did a lot of work for television, he wrote novels, he wrote scripts.
Damn! With productivity like that, maybe he should look up Ludlum's agent.

The Dead Have Risen and They're Writing Spy Thrillers!

Death has never been a barrier to commercial success. The most lucrative celebrity licenses year in and year out belong to the very dead Marilyn Monroe and Albert Einstein and the presumably dead Elvis. For a while, the best way for a rapper to top the charts was to get murdered - I'm sure that Tupac has sold more CDs in the afterlife than in this one. But most of that involved the reproduction of images created during their lifetimes or the release of archival material recorded before death.

Novelist Robert Ludlum has them all beat, however, as he continues to write best-selling spy thrillers from beyond the grave:

Robert Ludlum died six years ago, but that has done nothing to slow the release of books published under the name of the actor-turned-novelist who specialized in thrillers built on a foundation of paranoia.

Twelve Ludlum books have been released since his death, with a 13th due out in September. The business is deployed now as a kind of film studio, presenting books completed by others or new ones written using his name.
That all seems very weird to me. It's one thing to take a writer's characters or settings and churn out sequels under your own name, as Frank Herbert's son has done with the new Dune books. But to slap the deceased's name on the byline just smacks of opportunistic grave robbing. Of course, in Ludlum's case it seems to be part of scheme to stroke his now-cold ego:
Mr. Ludlum did not want to be forgotten or leave behind only an enormous backlist that started with 'The Scarlatti Inheritance' in 1971. He had little reason to worry: he is now a brand extended far into his afterlife.

'This goes back to 1990 or ’91 when Bob had quadruple bypass,' said Henry Morrison, the agent for Mr. Ludlum. 'One day we were talking about what would happen when he was gone. He said, ‘I don’t want my name to disappear. I’ve spent 30 years writing books and building an audience.’ '
That's either an incredible act of foresight or really really pathetic.

Fun With Pro Se Lawsuits

One summer in law school I worked for the county attorney in Charleston. He's the guy who handled the county government's administrative and procedural issues. Litigation was farmed out to big civil firms. Even though he didn't do litigation work, lawsuits generally were served at the county commission office where I worked, so I occasionally got to thumb through them. That was where I first got a taste of the wild-eyed crazy pro se lawsuit.

Suits brought by regular folk without attorneys aren't necessarily crazy, but crazy folks - and I'm talking certifiably tin-foil-hat-wearing loony - often proceed with their own counsel. Such was the gentleman who was suing just about everybody at every level of government - from the county on up to the president - for some perceived tort that was not particularly well developed in the pages and pages of hand written pleadings.

Along those lines, James Grimmelmann over at PrawfsBlawg points to what might be the mother of all goofy pro se suits. It's 57-page caption (in the federal court database) includes such usual suspects as Duhbya, Cheney, and Rumsfeld. It also includes a few new conspirators:

* www.accuweather.com
* Queen of England
* Gambino Crime Family
* Vienna Convention
* Jewish Workers at NBC/Universal
* Plato
* Various Buddhist Monks
* Medieval Times
* The Da Vinci Code
* The Appalachian Trail
* Planet of Pluto
* Cleo, Miss
* Ninja Samurai Fighters
* Engine #9, Fire Department
* Choicepoint
* Psychology Socialism
I'm not sure which I like more - the inclusion of the long dead and decayed Plato or the never quite alive Appalachian Trail! As James says, "[t]ruly a work of art."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Beware the Pussy Cat of Death!

Usually, death is portrayed as a bony looking guy wearing a long black robe. Maybe he carries a sickle. I always thought that was a little to neat and clean. It appears that death actually takes the form of a pussy cat. Beware!

Colbert Takes Down Papa Bear

While I was on sabbatical last week, I watched in amusement as Bill O'Reilly branded DailyKos as everything short of father rapers and mother stabbers. Amused because the thought of Bill "Al-Queda Should Bomb San Francisco" O'Reilly, who allows Michelle "Lock Up the Japs" Malkin to substitute for him, chastize anybody for uncivil discourse sent my hypocrisy meter right off the scale. Amused because O'Reilly's rage was based 0n a handful of comments (some of which he didn't even understand*) from a blog that boasts dozens of diaries and thousands of commenters every day. That's hardly a solid indictment of the owner, powers that be, and vast majority of readers over at DailyKos.

But, no matter - Stephen Colbert is on the case:

Take that, Papa Bear!

Oh, and if O'Reilly's theory that "if it's in the comments on your web site, you said it" is correct, then he has advocated armed rebellion against the United States. Way to go! In that same vein, Glenn Greenwald collects several nasty comments from Malkin's sites as well.

* One of the comments that enraged O'Reilly was someone referring to the Pope as a "Primate." Aside from the fact that the Pope, like all of us (even Billo), is a primate, "primate" is also a term for the head of the Catholic Church in a particular area. The Pope, as Bishop of Rome, certainly fits the bill. Being a Catholic himself, you'd expect O'Reilly might know that.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Consistency Is the Hobgoblin of Small Courts

Bob over at Decision of the Day notes a very interesting en banc decision from the Sixth Circuit today. In brief, John Santine hired three guys to kill a business rival (the lawn care biz in the Midwest is pretty vicious). Two of them pleaded guilty to avoid getting the death penalty. Santine went to trial and was convicted of aggravated murder, but not capital murder, and got life in prison. One of the hitters, Getsy, also went to trial and was convicted of capital murder, but not the lesser included offense of aggravated murder, and was sentenced to death.

Santine and Getsy's convictions are on mutually exclusive theories - Santine's jury didn't believe that he hired hitters (but was somehow involved in the murder), while Getsy's jury believed he was hired by Santine to do the hit. In a federal habeas proceeding, Getsy basically argued that different juries can't return such contradictory verdicts. A panel of the Sixth Circuit agreed and vacated Getsy's death sentence. Rehearing en banc, the entire court (by an 8-6 vote) reversed and upheld the death sentence:

The majority explains that there is 'simply no constitutional guarantee that [Getsy’s] jury would reach the same results as prior or future juries dealing with similar facts.' All that matters is the due process requirement that the conviction was based on sufficient evidence, which it was.
I had a similar case when I worked in state court. My client and a codefendant robbed and murdered a man and drove his Jeep to Cleveland. Cleveland cops busted into the hotel room and arrested them, finding incriminating evidence in the process. They were prosecuted separately and each move to suppress the evidence recovered in Cleveland. Both lost suppression motions, went to trial, and were convicted. On appeal, the codefendant won on the suppression issue and eventually copped a plea to a lesser offense. My client, on the other hand, lost on appeal and was stuck with his life sentence. We weren't successful in habeas proceedings making arguments similar to Getsy's.

The lesson? Don't expect logical consistency from the criminal justice system. It'll just make your head hurt.

Watching Your Language in Court

Time has an interesting article about a long-running rape prosecution in Nebraska that is raising First Amendment issues. In October 2004, Pamir Safi had sex with college student Tory Bowen in Lincoln, Nebraska. Safi claim the sex was consensual. Bowen claims she was too drunk to consent and had possibly been drugged. Safi stood trial for rape last October. Because the only issue was consent, the judge ruled that several words were off limits to attorneys and witnesses, including "rape" itself. Although article references "Nebraska law" as the basis for this decision, but all states and the federal courts have similar rules allowing judges to exclude testimony that is too prejudicial to a party.

That trial ended in a hung jury. Bowen claimed that her testimony was not particularly effective because she was too concerned with violating the judge's order. A retrial was set to start this spring, but Bowen refused to abide by the judge's order. Protesters showed up outside the courthouse. A petition was circulated objecting to the judge's order. As a result, the judge declared a mistrial during jury selection. Bowen has now gone to federal court, claiming the order violates her First Amendment rights.

On a broad basis, that argument surely won't fly. Lawyers and witnesses are bound by the rules of evidence, which restrict what can be said in court. Cops can't talk about evidence that has been suppressed due to Fourth Amendment violations. Prosecutors can't tell the jury about a defendant's prior convictions (in most cases). Defendants can't spin evidence-free conspiracy theories as a defense.

Does that mean the state trial judge has unlimited discretion in putting certain words off limits? Probably not. But it's hard to see that discretion not extending to be able to keep a witness from calling the defendant "a rapist" - after all, that's what the jury is there to decide.

Opportunity Wouldn't Knock on Jane Austen's Door

As if being homely isn't bad enough, apparently Jane Austen would have trouble getting published if she was writing today. At least that's what UK's The Guardian is reporting. The directory of Bath's Jane Austen Festival took some slightly rewritten hunks of several Austen novels, including Pride and Prejudice, and sent them to publishers under the name "Alison Laydee" to see if they'd attract the interest of the modern market. All of them were rejected, without only one publisher specifically noting that the work appeared to be a rip off. Other publishers, contacted afterwards, claimed that they returned form rejected letters but had, in fact, taken note of the plagiarism.

What's this supposed to prove? Not much, I think. Whatever Austen's charms (I read P&P in high school and it was OK) and however timeless her stories might be, her style is surely dated. Is it surprising that any publisher would think twice before signing up an author writing in 19th-century style? I'd imagine that even the best purveyor of vaudeville in the 21st century would have problems selling it.

Still a neat stunt, tho'.

You Can't Spell "Clusterfuck" Without "Iraq"

It's hardly news anymore that the situation in Iraq is a complete mess, with dozens of people dying every day. But the events of today seem to crystallize the situation perfectly. In Malaysia, the Iraqi national team squeaked past South Korea in the semifinals of the Asian Cup. They meet Saudi Arabia in the final on Sunday. It's the first time that Iraq has advanced to the final of its regional championship. For a nation that's taken so much shit over the years, it should be a time of celebration. And, for a while it was. Until the suicide bombers showed up:

Car bombers targeted throngs of Iraqis on Wednesday as they spilled into Baghdad streets to cheer a national soccer victory, killing at least 50 people and leaving scores more wounded.

Attacking revelers in the Mansour district of western Baghdad, a suicide car bomber killed at least 30 people and wounded 75, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said.

Later, in the southeastern neighborhood of Ghadir, a second car bomb killed at least 20 and wounded at least 60, the official said. The attack is near an Iraqi army checkpoint.
For fuck's sake!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Why I Like Harry Potter

I've not read one word of the Harry Potter books. I've seen only one of the films. I'm not trying to be smug about it or anything, they're just not my cup of tea. But I like the books on principle, for one simple reason. As Dave over at Orcinus points out:

my enjoyment of the books is enhanced by the knowledge that it also drives the fundamentalist right nuts. Ever since the books gained great popularity, they've been on the warpath against Harry Potter, as you can see from the excerpt from Jesus Camp above, in which we see the head of the camp telling children that Potter should be put to death.
Meanwhile, CLS over at Classically Liberal catalogs a whole load of fundie fatwas against Harry Potter. Any work of art that whips the thumpers into such a frenzy is OK in my book!

Mid-Ohio - The Cars

This weekend at Mid-Ohio showcased three major racing series - the American LeMans Series, Speed World Challenge, and Indy Racing League. One of the great things about road racing is that the paddock is open to just about anybody, so you can get up close and personal with the cars (and, to some extent, the drivers).

The highest-profile series this weekend, in my mind anyway, was the ALMS, which had a 2 hour 45 minute race on Saturday. ALMS has four classes that run simultaneously, which means in addition to racing for position in your class, there's lots of traffic to dodge, weave, and generally avoid. Two classes, P1 and P2, are prototypes - ground up purpose-built race cars made with lots of high tech parts and materials (in fact, ALMS dubs their cars "the real cars of tomorrow"). They are remarkable machines, descendants of my beloved GTP and Group C cars from the 1980s and 1990s. The look and sound terrific. They are what a lot of people think of when they picture a "race car."

P1 cars are generally bigger and more powerful than P2 cars, but on tight US tracks they are remarkably equal in terms of lap times. In fact, a P2 car won overall at Mid-Ohio. The leaders in P1, for years, have been Audi, first with the all-conquering R8 and now with the turbo diesel powered R10. Sadly, I didn't get any paddock pics of the R10s. I did, however, get some of their competition in P1. First up, the Judd-powered Creation of Intersport:

They've struggled for pace this year, but the car has potential (it outran the Audis at Road Atlanta and Laguna Seca last year, IIRC). And it looks cool as hell. The other P1 car I spotted was the Cytosport AER-Lola:

This car belonged to the Dyson team last year and was scary fast, but fragile. That trend continues in the hands of its new owner. As you can see from this shot of the inside endplate of the rear wing, not everybody has warm fuzzies for Audi:

Note the Audi R8 road car there in the background. That's art, kids.

Speaking of Dyson, they've moved to the P2 category this year with a pair of Porsche RS Spyders:

The same model, in the hands of the Penske team, won the race, both overall and in P2. Sadly, I didn't score any pics of the Acura-powered cars, the Lowes-sponsored Lola that was my nephew's favorite or either of the two Courage-based cars that are simply stunning.

The other two classes in ALMS are GT1 and GT2, for production based race cars with varying levels of modifications. GT1 was once overrun with Ferrari 550 Maranellos, Aston Martin DBR9s, and Saleen SR7s doing battle with the factory Corvettes. Unfortunately, the financial requirements of running a successful GT1 program have driven everyone but the Vettes from the field. No pics of the Vettes, therefore.

GT2, on the other hand, is a very diverse field. The cars in GT2 are closer to stock, but still significantly modified for racing. For years, the dominant car, in both numbers and results, was a variant of the Porsche 911. Porsche sells turn-key racecars and provides top-flight support at the track, which leads to success and a lot of customers. In recent years, the 911 has been joined in GT2 by Ferrari, first with the 360 and now the 430, and Panoz, each enjoying a bit of success. Here are a pair of Ferrari 430s (red, naturally) from the Risi Competizione stable:

Sunday saw races in both of the Speed World Challenge categories, Touring and GT. Touring cars are generally small sedans and hatchbacks, with the World Challenge featuring cars from Mazda, BWM, Acura, and Audi. Here is the race-winning BWM 328 of Joey Hand:

Hand had a massive wreck at Mid-Ohio last year in a GrandAm GT BWM, so it was nice to see him bounce back with a win. He made a last lap pass at The Keyhole past Chip Herr and his Audi A4:

Not everybody finished the Touring race near the front. Randy Pobst, an ex-autocrosser who has won in both World Challenge classes this year, disappeared about midway through the race. We happened to be watching it in The Keyhole behind an older gentleman who, it turned out, was Randy's dad! This is how Randy made it back to the paddock:

The final race of the weekend was the GT race, which features a bevy of big-bore sports cars, including Porsche 911s, Corvettes, Dodge Vipers, and a pair of seriously depraved Cadillac CTS-Vs. Here's the Corvette of Sonny Whelen:

His team mate, Eric Curran, won the race.

Why no IRL pics? Well, two reasons. First, it was hard to get close enough to the IRL cars (they got the covered garage spaces) without getting all the mechanics, too. Second, IRL cars are straight-up fugly. I mean absolutely heinous. They look better from a distance!

So, that was my weekend. The crowd, as I mentioned in the other post, was huge. Easily the largest we'd ever seen there. One of the vendors said it was the largest crowd they'd seen in 10 years. The IRL race on Sunday was delayed partly due to the line of folks still trying to get in! I hope that's a good sign for the future of American road racing.

Mid-Ohio - The Track

Last weekend, I trekked north to the wilds of Ohio's Irish Hills (Ohio also has a Welsh Bypass - go figure) to enjoy a big weekend of racing at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. My brother and his son joined me midday on Saturday to take in racing from the American LeMans Series, Speed World Challenge, and the Indy Racing League. The weather was beautiful (I have the sun burn to prove it!), the crowd huge (see the apology/thanks for patience on the track's website), and the racing intense and fairly clean.

I did a two-day driving school at Mid-Ohio a couple of years ago. It's a wonderful circuit, the very definition of an honest-to-gods road course. It's serpentine layout covers 2.25 miles, undulating with the terrain to produce one of the most challenging race tracks in North America. I took lots of pictures over the weekend and tried to put together a decent collection here to show folks what it's like (click here for a nifty little map).

Turn 1 is a fast 90-degree left hander that leads down to a tricky 180-degree right hander called The Keyhole. Here's a view of the straight leading out of Turn 1 into The Keyhole:

On the inside of the straight there is a chicane that doesn't get used for pro races. Here's the rest of The Keyhole:

It's hard to tell from those pictures, but The Keyhole is actually downhill, which means as you are turning right, the car is trying to fall off the edge of the Earth to the left. It's a critical corner, as it sets up a run down the long back straight and into Turn 5, the best overtaking area. Unfortunately, I don't have a picture of Turn 5. Sorry.

The next pic is what happens after Turn 5, a 90-degree right-hander. The track then begins a series of corners that charge up and down hills, known collectively as Madness. It was my favorite part of the track and a great place to watch a race. Here is a view from the bottom of that first hill, as a couple of GT3 Porsches climb over the hill:

Again, the natural terrain fights what you want the car to do - as you crest the hill and try and head left to get the correct line for the right-hander at the bottom of the hill, the car pushes relentlessly to the right and wants to go off track. Fun stuff.

Next we see that right-hander at the bottom of the hill, which leads up under the Honda/Acura bridge and back uphill. Here with a pair of ALMS P2 cars at full chat:

Here's a reverse angle, with the rise up under the bridge (conveniently enough with a Speed WC Touring Acura in flight):

At the top of that hill is another off-camber corner, this one a right-hander, that dumps into Thunder Valley, a sweeping uphill run. Here we see an the ALMS Flying Lizard GT2 Porsche pounding away (and some slack jawed yokel spotting a UFO):

Thunder Valley comes to a end with a much quicker than it looks left-hander. In the school cars, a quick blip on the brakes to settle the front end was all the braking you needed before getting back on the throttle. Get it wrong, however, and it's off in the gravel trap. It was amazing to watch the IRL cars flit through that corner. Here it is during the IRL support race practice session:

After a little crest in the track, things settle down for a long right-hander, The Carousel, that leads back onto the front straight. Getting The Carousel right is critical to getting down the front stretch with as much speed a possible. My golden lap at the school included knowing that I got The Carousel right because I ran out of gear by Turn 1. Here's one of the ALMS Porsche RS Spyder P2 cars during the race:

That, in a nutshell, is Mid-Ohio. Keep in mind that the IRL cars and ALMS prototypes were getting around there in between 65 and 70 seconds and you get a sense of how fast it is.

That's the scene. Next - the combatants.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Hard Hat Area

I'm playing around with a new look, including a new template. Importing the new template destroyed all my links, so they'll be AWOL for a little while. Don't feel left out if your blog doesn't appear for a few days as I work things through.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Every Generation Throws a Hero Up the Pop Chart

I'm somewhat chuffed to pronounce that my latest musical concoction, "In the Wreckage of Our Ambitions," surged to #6 today (before I reviewed and bumped several other tracks) on the Progressive Electronica chart over at ACIDPlanet. The charts are based on a combination of ratings left during reviews (only available to ACIDPlanet members) and number of listens within a certain time period. So thanks to the non-ACIDPlanet folks out there who take a listen and boost my numbers!

This Week's Forecast - Light Blogging, 30% Chance of Meaningful Posts

I'm on vacation this week, leading to the big ALMS/IRL weekend at Mid-Ohio. That means there probably won't be a lot of action at the Ranch this week. Particularly if, like today, the rest of the week involves power tools, cursing, and pictogram furniture assembly instructions. I may redesign the blog's look, if I get sufficiently motivated.

Be back next week!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Fresh Tunes

Remember a while back when I had a musical breakthrough? Well, I finally finished that track this afternoon. I present "In the Wreckage of Our Ambitions" for your enjoyment. A little more epic than I intended, but still pretty cool (if I may say so myself).

Born Again Jacknuts

TPM Cafe has news (and video) of an appalling spectacle this morning in the Senate. You know hot the born again fundies during establishment debates feign neutrality? "Why, of course, we wouldn't mind if the Muslim crescent was included in this display" - that sort of stuff. Well, these jackasses didn't get the memo:

Today was a historic first for religion in America's civic life: For the very first time, a Hindu delivered the morning invocation in the Senate chamber — only to find the ceremony disrupted by three Christian right activists.

* * *

The three protesters, who all belong to the Christian Right anti-abortion group Operation Save America, and who apparently traveled to Washington all the way from North Carolina, interrupted by loudly asking for God's forgiveness for allowing the false prayer of a Hindu in the Senate chamber.
'course this kind of thing wouldn't happen if we didn't feel the need to start the government day with a plea to the invisible sky king. Time for a rousing chorus of "Jesus Thinks You're a Jerk."

Don't You Look Familiar?

From a Fourth Circuit opinion yesterday - this should not happen:

At a preliminary hearing before a magistrate judge on May 17, 2005, the government mistakenly produced an individual named Francisco Almaraz Soriano, rather than the defendant, Francisco Soriano-Jarquin. At the time, no one alerted the court to the error. On the stand, ICE Special Agent Jason Fulton identified the individual present as Francisco Soriano-Jarquin, though upon cross-examination Fulton stated that he could not be sure the individual was Soriano-Jarquin. The judge found probable cause to hold Soriano-Jarquin.
Not that it kept the guy from being convicted, of course.

Are Fake Legs an Unfair Advantage?

Oscar Pistorius is a runner. A sprinter, precisely. Like many sprinters, he dreams of competing in the Olympics. He's trained for years and won lots of races, but that might not be enough to make it to the games. Why? Because Pistorius doesn't have lower legs.

They were amputated below the knee when he was 11 years old. To run, Pistorius uses advanced prosthetics made of carbon fiber that were inspired by the hind leg of a cheetah. The IAAF, track and field's international governing body, is observing and analyzing Pistorius's running to determine if the "blades" would constitute an unfair advantage:

IAAF spokesman Davies says the IAAF has evidence that the spring in the limbs gives Pistorius a "three to four metre stride" which he insists is "not humanly possible" and hence an unfair advantage.
There's also a problem with lactic acid, or rather the lack thereof, in the blades, which would seem to provide an advantage in longer races. The advantage doesn't seem all that apparent, yet - he's fifth in the standings in his native South Africa and his best time in the 400m is a whopping 3 seconds off the world's best.

One wonders if the best course for the IAAF is to just allow him to compete and fail on merit to make the Olympics. Of course, that doesn't settle the broader issue when it pops up next time.

How Not to Win Your Case

The saga of Genarlow Wilson is legend on the Net. Wilson and some his high school buddies threw a party in a hotel room on New Year's Eve. The party involved alcohol, girls, sex, and a video camera. All participants were legal minors. Allegations of rape followed the party. Wilson and friends were all charged. Everybody but Wilson copped a deal. Wilson proceeded to trial on charges of forcible rape and "aggravated child molestation." That later charge was based on Wilson (on tape) getting an apparently consensual blow job from a 15-year old girl. The jury acquitted on the rape charge, but convicted on the other charge, unaware that it carried a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years in prison.

The case has been a sensation ever since. The Georgia legislature changed the law under which Wilson was convicted to removed the mandatory minimum and reclassified the offense as a misdemeanor when all involved are under 18. But the law was not made retroactive, and so Wilson was stuck with a 10-year sentence for, basically, having consensual sex with another kid.

Recently, a judge in Georgia ruled in a habeas corpus proceeding brought by Wilson that the sentence could not stand and reduced it significantly. Not pleased, the Georgia Attorney General decided to appeal the decision and oppose Wilson's release on bond pending its resolution (he's been in prison for more than two years, IIRC). One theory as to why the prosecutor is so keen on maintaining the original sentence is that he thinks Wilson "got away" with forcible rape and wants to hit him as hard as he can with the other charge.

In an apparent bid to bolster his case, the prosecution did an unusual thing - he released a copy of the video tape showing what went on at the part. One problem - we're talking about a videotape showing minors engaged in sexual activity, which sounds an awful lot like child pornography. At least that's what the feds down in Georgia think:

U.S. Attorney David Nahmias said federal law prohibited distributing the videotape because it depicted minors engaged in sexually explicit conduct and warned that people who had received it would be in violation of federal child pornography laws.
The prosecutor argued that he was "required" to release the tape under Georgia's version of a sunshine statute because it was introduced as evidence at trial. As the USA points out, federal law would trump state law in such situations. I can say that, from my experience in our child porn cases, the evidence in such prosecutions is heavily regulated, to the point that defense counsel can only view it at the FBI office, for example. Copies are certainly not circulated to the local press.

Eugene Volokh weighs in on the issue here. For even more info on Wilson's case, Doug Berman has many thoughts over at Sentencing Law & Policy.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Which Is the One True Faith?

As mentioned by Kula yesterday, the Pope has come out and said what no Catholic probably ever doubted - that the Catholic Church is the only "true" church of Jesus Christ. He didn't quite come out and explicitly say "we're the only way to get to heaven," but that's certainly the implication.

While this makes some people upset (understandably, I suppose), it strikes me as a big case of, "so what?" This makes Catholicism different from other sects, Christian and otherwise, how? Every faith thinks of itself as "the one" - that's why people take them so seriously. Some are more laid back about it - they're not out to change your mind about your wrong choice in religion - but they're just as exclusionary. It's certainly not good PR to come out and say "we're right, you're wrong, and, oh by the way, you're going to Hell because of it," but it's hardly something exclusive to Catholicism.

Cockfighting and the First Amendment

The only thing sicker than people who actually engage in cockfighting are those people who like to watch it. It's barbaric, inhumane, and cruel (of course, I feel the same way about bull fighting, boxing, and rhythmic gymnastics). Thankfully, it's also illegal in most places in the United States. One place it is legal, however, is Puerto Rico. Should folks be able to film these legal fights and then send the videos out across the United States?

That's an issue raised by a lawsuit brought by a Florida company that makes such videos. There is a federal law, enacted during the Clinton administration, that outlaws even the possession of such videos in a state where cockfights are illegal. It's questionable whether the law will pass muster under the First Amendment. Eugene Volokh, who's quoted in the New York Times piece, weighs in with some detail here.

The first thing that popped into my head when reading this was how a successful suit might apply to child porn prosecutions. After all, the rationale the Supreme Court gave in Ferber for withholding First Amendment protection from kiddie porn was that the production of it entails criminal behavior itself. But imagine another country, say, Elbonia, that has a much lower age of consent laws than the United States. Imagine that an California company sets up a web site that allows people to watch videos of minors having sex in Elbonia, where it's perfectly legal. Prosecutable? I wonder if that kind of slippery slope problem will pop up in the litigation.

How Not to Get Out of Jury Duty

Homer Simpson once said:

Getting out of jury duty is easy. The trick is to say you're prejudiced against all races.
Turns out that judges don't think that's very funny:
Daniel Ellis went to rather extreme lengths to avoid getting picked for a grand jury on Cape Cod, asserting on a questionnaire and telling a judge that he was homophobic, a racist, and a habitual liar.

He made it all up, prompting an angry judge on Monday to refer the case to the Cape & Islands district attorney's office for possible charges, which could include perjury.
He was not exactly subtle:
After excusing the other prospective jurors, [Judge] Nickerson, concerned about Ellis's questionnaire, called him back.

'You say on your form that you're not a fan of homosexuals?' Nickerson asked Ellis, according to the preliminary transcript.

'That I'm a racist,' Ellis interrupted, according to the transcript. 'I'm frequently found to be a liar, too.'

'I'm sorry?' Nickerson said.

'I said I'm frequently found to be a liar,' Ellis replied.

'So, are you lying to me now?' asked Nickerson.

'Well, I don't know. I might be,' said Ellis.

Later, Ellis admitted he was trying to get out of jury duty.

'Well, I just . . . I don't think I can handle it,' he said.
Remember, kids, there are worse things that getting stuck doing jury duty!

On Baby Splitting

Things have a weird way of taking flight in the blogosphere. Take the discussion across many law prof blogs about the saying "the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." The misuse of the phrase led William McGeveran over at Concurring Opinions to take aim at a pet peeve of his:

In general 'split the baby' gets used as a substitute for 'split the difference,' 'half a loaf' or, more simply, 'compromise.' (Thus explaining its frequent occurrence in legal discussions...) It shows up in that sense in places I otherwise love, like the Wall Street Journal Law Blog and NPR reports by Nina Totenberg.

The phrase originates in the Bible, specifically 1 Kings 3:16-28. Two women come before wise King Solomon, both claiming fervently to be the mother of an infant. Solomon calls for his sword and declares that he will cut the baby in two and give one half to each woman. When the true mother cries out in anguish, Solomon knows which woman should keep the child. If he had actually cut the child in half, of course, he would be remembered as a mad tyrant like Caligula and not the epitome of wise judicial temperament. Yet you might think from some lawyers' metaphorical uses of the phrase that cutting a baby in half was laudable. One of the oldest literary or historical models of good judging deserves better from us.
Makes perfect sense.

Diminishing Returns from Harry Potter

When folks criticize the Harry Potter books, one of the frequent defenses is that, even if they're not great works of literature, at least they've interested a bunch of young kids in reading. With the final book in the series right around the corner, the New York Times reports that the "Potter effect" may be overstated:

But in keeping with the intricately plotted novels themselves, the truth about Harry Potter and reading is not quite so straightforward a success story. Indeed, as the series draws to a much-lamented close, federal statistics show that the percentage of youngsters who read for fun continues to drop significantly as children get older, at almost exactly the same rate as before Harry Potter came along.
It's not a complete myth - "[m]any thousands of children have, indeed, gone from the Potter books to other pleasure reading" - but perhaps it wasn't the savior some people hoped for.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Art of Glass

In Pittsburgh, there is an oddly named institution called the Phipps Conservatory. Oddly named, at least to me, because in my mind conservatory=music. Phipps, rather, is a collection of botanical gardens, both inside and out, featuring a staggering variety of plant life from around the globe (the latest addition is a Southeast Asian rainforest room). The girlfriend, K, took me there last year and, although I'm not really a botanical person, it was quite interesting.

A few weeks ago, oddly enough just after jedi jawa had his experience at Blenko Glass, K and I, along with her best friend and her best friend's daughter, headed to Phipps to take in a special exhibit, involving an artist named Dale Chihuly. Chihuly, among other things, works with glass (he also, sadly, looks like Rich Williams from Kansas). His pieces were placed around the Phipps gardens, in ways that contrast and complement the plant life.

K took many loverly pictures. This was the chandelier that was hanging in the main foyer of the conservatory. Pretty cool, huh?

These flaming stalagmites really brought some color to the Serpentine Room.

Several gardens had long glass pikes driven into the ground, the red ones being the most eye-catching.

This Medusa-esque piece was in the aforementioned rainforest room. It's hard to see, but most of the "fingers" had little nubbies on them for texture.

Yes, it's a glass flower in a pot.

This would make a great album cover for, oh, this album (or specifically a CD single of "Ocean Cloud"), don't you think?

Another sprawling piece in the (I think) rainforest room.

Note the edging on the round bits here.

Another amazing chandelier.

Purple pikes int the cactus room.

Another dazzling chandelier, this time made up of multiple bowl-like pieces.

K's favorite room.

Finally, the sort of centerpiece for the whole deal, with your humble narrator and the lovely and photographically talented K in the foreground.

The exhibit runs through November 11. I highly recommend it if you're in the area.

In Which I *gulp* Defend Pop Music

Anybody who reads this blog regularly, especially during the A-Z months, knows that I'm not a big fan of truly "popular" music - as in the stuff that dominates the radio, MTVs, and the 'Net. Having said that, I don't hold it in nearly the disrepute that the guy(s?) who runs this website does. His lengthy screed on the evils of pop music is filled with such bile, arrogance, and elitism that it borders on parody, at times. I found it, of all places, in this thread on the writer's forum on which I lurk.

Over the course of 36 single-spaced pages (I had to copy it into Word to make it legible - that's 1 inch margins all around and Garamond 12-point, if you're scoring at home), a few themes emerge: 1) complexity is good, simplicity is bad; 2) pop music - which appears to include everything that is part of the mass produced culture, including variants of rock - is much more simple than classical music; and 3) you'd have to be a slack-jawed amoeba of a human being to actually enjoy pop music. Along the way, he throws in quotes from various other pop haters and cultivates the image of an angry old man sitting on his front porch, pants hoisted up to his armpit, screaming about "those damn kids."

In fact, it reminds me of the "critic" from Zappa's "The Evil Prince":

I'll say its disgusting, atrocious, and dull
I'll say it makes boils inside of your skull
I'll say its the worst -of-the-worst of the year,
No wind down the plain, and its hard on your ear

I'll say its the work of an infantile mind
I'll say that its tasteless, and that you will find
A better excuse to spend money or time
At a Tupper-Ware Party, wee-oo
So, do be a smarty!

Hold on to that dollar
A little while longer
For spending it here,
Why, it couldnt be wronger!
Let's begin, shall we?

The first whopper I found was the claim that:
Pop and rock is easy listening, easy watching, easy thinking.
Now, I don't disagree that a great deal of pop music - hell, any music - doesn't tax the ears. But there's plenty of classical music that's as interesting as hearing paint dry and has, in fact, become the background music of a lot of lives. I wouldn't paint Stravinsky's work with the same broad brush, however, which makes me wonder if the author has ever actually heard the edgier progressive rock, electronic, or techno stuff. Or metal. Fuck, Megadeath is "easy listening?" If he thinks "Larks Tongues in Aspic" is easy listening, he's got impossibly high standards.

Next up is an assault on the rhythm of rock:
The vast majority of the music is in 4/4 time. Thus, other time signatures, the common 3/4 and others such as 12/8, 5/4, 7/8, 6/8, 7/8, 7/16 etc. are not part of the vocabulary. Metre changes within a piece are not allowed, this is set at the beginning and never varies.
Again, he paints with too broad a brush - there's plenty of prog, art-rock/pop, fusion, etc. that deals with funky meters and time changes. Hell, Gabriel's first "hit," "Solsbury Hill" is in 7/4. There are countless others. But it also misses the point that vast swaths of the classical repertoire is in 4/4 or 3/4, often without sacrificing rhythmic complexity.

Another criticism:
The musical language is conservative and old fashioned. Despite its apparent and claimed modernity, pop and rock uses the musical tools and the musical language of the nineteenth century or even earlier . . ..
Fair enough, as far as it goes. Again, the same is largely true of modern "classical" music that has any kind of audience. The really weird stuff, the ground-breaking stuff, does not draw them in at most concert halls across the country.

It also sets the writer up for a supreme hypocrisy. After slamming pop/rock for its "old fashioned" roots, he later turns around and slams its attempts to break out of that mold, too. For example:
The Beatles are, in fact, an interesting case since it can be convincingly argued that what was distinctive about this group were the contributions of George Martin, a classically trained musician who nevertheless had to operate within the constrictions of the pop format. The work of the individual Beatles, without Martin, has been undistinguished. Even so, even with Martin, the band’s output was original only in so far as it used clich├ęs from popular music other than pop and rock, such as music hall, nursery rhyme, and brass band music.
So not only is the genre stagnant and conservative, but when someone tries something different, it's probably not the rock/pop guy's idea, anyway. Besides, they steal from other forms (as if Dvorak, Stravinsky, Copland, et. al. didn't?). It goes even further, when we get to the sound of pop/rock:
Amplification is frequently considered an advantage in the pop and rock world because it enables distortion of sound patterns. However, the problem with electrified, amplified instruments is that subtlety of tone and detailed control of the sound one produces suffers to a considerable degree.
So, again, when pop/rock tries to break out of the ghetto into which the writer has confined it, it gets slapped down for the effort. Yes, amplification does cause one to lose some "subtlety of tone," but it also allows for a host of interesting sounds and textures that you can't get from acoustic instruments. It's perfectly OK not to enjoy those kinds of sounds (maybe - see below), but its at least a bit disingenuous to condemn the effort to be original.

This next argument I find particularly odd:
It is commonly claimed that pop and rock music prizes 'tone' and colour rather than virtuosity and mastery of an instrument, and this is contrasted with classical music where, it is claimed, the emphasis is on virtuosity and technique (the implication is that classical music is sterile and 'academic'). This argument is clearly an excuse for the lack of skill of pop and rock musicians.
Offhand, I can only think of one subset of the pop/rock 'verse - punk - that actually values instrumental ineptitude. Other subgenres may not require great technical dexterity (or value self expression over that dexterity), but I think it's a stretch to say the players don't care about their technique. As for the "lack of skill" argument, it gets boldly restated:
Where is the pop or rock musician, for example, who is capable of playing any classical concerto?
Well, without thinking about it too hard, I can come up with a few that could hold their own. Steve Hackett could certainly handle a classical guitar concerto, given his nylon string work. Keith Emerson has (or had, before the carpal tunnel took over) the chops to play most piano concertos. Should I even mention that both of these guys have written works for their instruments and orchestras? I suppose you could call Keneally's The Universe Will Provide a guitar concerto, but it involves amplification (even an electric piano - horror of horrors!) and probably doesn't count.

Turn that around, for a minute, tho' - how many concerto-level pieces have composers written for electric guitar, bass, Minimoog, etc.? It's hard to judge the skill level of players of those instruments if the gods of the classical world don't write stuff for them. Besides, could Yo Yo Ma play the Stick part to "Elephant Talk?" I doubt it. What does it prove? Just that's he's not a Stick player. It doesn't reflect on his overall musical talent.

One point the anonymous writer makes that would be valid if he didn't push it too far and dip it in a heavy syrup of condescension is:
The idea of deep and concentrated listening to music is becoming increasingly foreign to the mass of the population - indeed the typical pop or rock music consumer primarily uses music as a background or as a rhythmic accompaniment against which to “dance”, if poll evidence is to be believed.
Love the scare quotes on "dance," BTW (one suspects that anything beyond rigid ballroom dancing styles suffer the same fate as pop music in this guy's mind). Like I said, that's true as far as it goes. He fails to mention, of course, that it's much easier to produce that kind of "background" today than it was 150 years ago, when classical music ruled the earth. Back then, the only way to hear music was to make it yourself or go someplace to hear it. Either way, active listening was pretty much required. The flaw in using music as background, in any event, lies with the listener him/herself, rather than the product.

As I said, even that sustainable idea he pushes too far, anyway:
In contrast to pop, it is clear that to appreciate classical music properly you must give it your full attention, and you need some knowledge of musical form and structure. In common with most popular culture, the appreciation of pop and rock requires no tutelage or special sensibility, not even close attention because of the simplicity of its structure and materials.
In other words, you must be an above average human being to get anything out of classical music, where as the baser pop/rock stuff can be appreciated by the plebeians among us. By that logic, why should the masses even try it? But he's not elitist, no no no.

Finally, he goes completely off the rails, as he takes on cultural relativism:
A much simpler version of this argument is simply to assert that the individual in question enjoys popular music - as if I were arguing that enjoyment of pop music is not possible and as if the simple fact of liking something automatically means that it is worthwhile, meaningful, entirely benign, and positive.
While I tend to fall into that camp of people who think that all art - music, film, literature, whatever - is inherently personal and affects each person differently in a way that we label "like" and "dislike," I can see his argument. Until he goes all Godwin on us:
Let’s take some examples and see where this type of argument leads. Proposition: It is right to kill all handicapped children at birth. Answer: Well, that is just a matter of opinion. Proposition: Hitler did some bad things. Answer: That is just a matter of opinion, and it is quite right that people are allowed to have widely differing opinions about this. It’s just a matter of taste. Proposition: The government of the Central Republic of Monsilvania has greatly damaged the economy of the country. Answer: Well you would say that but it is really just a matter of opinion and political preference. All statistics are lies anyway. I don’t think the government has done anything wrong.
Wow. Usually when the Nazis come into the discussion it's because the other guy is on thin ice. You're not supposed to go there while arguing with yourself!

Regardless, I have too much real world evidence of differing musical tastes to buy into the idea that one type of music has more value than another based on some objective measure.

This will seem contradictory, but, for what it's worth, I don't necessarily take issue with the fact that loads of pop/rock music is, to use a technical term, crap. At least to my ears. As Sturgeon observed, 95% of everything is crap. 95% of pop music is crap. 95% of progressive rock is crap. 95% of what I write on this blog is crap. 95% of classical music is crap. Identifying the non-crap is the difficult and very personal part.

Finally, also, for what it's worth, the site's main goal - cutting down on the amount of piped in music in public places - is laudable. The constant din that sometimes accompanies public life is seriously distracting. Besides, if a space needs musical accompaniment, why not hire some real live musicians to provide it?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Do Not Pass the Bar, Do Not Collect $200

The bar exam works like this - you a presented with a fact pattern and question. You're expected to spot the issues and apply the law as it exists, regardless of your opinion on the correctness of that law. Stephen Dunne must have missed that day of bar review. He is suing the state bar of Massachusetts because *shudder* the bar exam had a question that involved gay marriage. Stephen was so offended, he couldn't answer the question:

Stephen Dunne, who is representing himself in the case and seeks $9.75 million, said the bar exam was not the place for a 'morally repugnant and patently offensive' question addressing the rights of two married lesbians, their children and their property. He said he refused to answer the question because he believed it legitimized same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting, which is contrary to his moral beliefs.

* * *

The 'disguised mechanism to screen applicants according to their political ideology has the discriminatory impact of persecuting and oppressing (Dunne's) sincere religious practices and beliefs' protected by the First Amendment, and was 'invasive and burdensome,' according to the lawsuit filed last month.
I like the response of the editor of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, who called the suit "idiotic" and said Dunne was "completely missing the point about what it means to be a lawyer." Amen, brother.

Your New Seven Wonders

Last week I mentioned the finalists for the revised list of the Seven Wonders of the World, but I whiffed on actually acknowledging the winners:

  • Great Wall of China
  • Petra
  • Christ the Redeemer
  • Machu Picchu
  • Chichen Itza
  • Roman Coliseum
  • Taj Mahal
And there you have it.

Laying It On the Line

In the wake of Duhbya's Scooter commutation, this kind of sentiment is hardly rare:

The public record now plainly demonstrates that both the DOJ and the government as a whole have been thoroughly politicized in a manner that is inappropriate, unethical and indeed unlawful. The unconscionable commutation of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's sentence, the misuse of warrantless investigative powers under the Patriot Act and the deplorable treatment of U.S. attorneys all point to an unmistakable pattern of abuse.

In the course of its tenure since the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration has turned the entire government (and the DOJ in particular) into a veritable Augean stable on issues such as civil rights, civil liberties, international law and basic human rights, as well as criminal prosecution and federal employment and contracting practices. It has systematically undermined the rule of law in the name of fighting terrorism, and it has sought to insulate its actions from legislative or judicial scrutiny and accountability by invoking national security at every turn, engaging in persistent fearmongering, routinely impugning the integrity and/or patriotism of its critics, and protecting its own lawbreakers. This is neither normal government conduct nor "politics as usual," but a national disgrace of a magnitude unseen since the days of Watergate - which, in fact, I believe it eclipses.
What makes this particular column noteworthy is the author:
John S. Koppel has been a civil appellate attorney with the Department of Justice since 1981.
It's takes some guts to risk a 26-year career by calling out the boss in a major newspaper. You can understand why he felt the need to do it, tho'.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Bubba Gets In On the Douchery

Duhbya may not have done anything to purge the taint of his Scooter commutation, but some of the bad vibes have been siphoned off by his predecessor. Bill Clinton joined the chorus slamming Duhbya for his action:

Former President Bill Clinton blasted his successor's decision to spare former White House aide I. Lewis 'Scooter' Libby from prison, telling Iowa radio listeners that Libby's case differed from his own administration's pardon controversy.

'You've got to understand, this is consistent with their philosophy,' Clinton said during an interview on Des Moines news-talk station WHO.

Bush administration officials, he said, 'believe that they should be able to do what they want to do, and that the law is a minor obstacle.'
Regardless of the merits of Clinton's argument, he's got no credibility with which to make it. His pardon record is not exactly stellar, after all.

The Plight of Inidan Widows

Today over at CNN's website is a heart-breaking story of impoverished Indian widows in "holy" city of Vrindavan. This is the same subject that was at the heart of the controversial (and excellent) 2005 Deepa Mehta film Water. It happens like this:

These Hindu widows, the poorest of the poor, are shunned from society when their husbands die, not for religious reasons, but because of tradition -- and because they're seen as a financial drain on their families.

They cannot remarry. They must not wear jewelry. They are forced to shave their heads and typically wear white. Even their shadows are considered bad luck.

* * *

'Does it feel good?' says 70-year-old Rada Rani Biswas. 'Now I have to loiter just for a bite to eat.'

Biswas speaks with a strong voice, but her spirit is broken. When her husband of 50 years died, she was instantly ostracized by all those she thought loved her, including her son.

'My son tells me: 'You have grown old. Now who is going to feed you? Go away,' ' she says, her eyes filling with tears. 'What do I do? My pain had no limit.'

As she speaks, she squats in front of one of Vrindavan's temples, her life reduced to begging for scraps of food.
This is one of those situations that gives credence to the Hitchens-eqsue arguments about the pernicious influence of religion in this world.

Seven Wonders Finalists

The UN has released the finalists to take six of the seven slots in a revamped Wonders of the World list. The pyramids at Giza are already in. The finalists (my votes in bold):

  • The Acropolis (Greece)
  • Hagia Sophia (Turkey)
  • Kremlin & St. Basil's (Russia)
  • Coliseum (Italy)
  • Neushwanstein, i.e. Mad King Ludwig's, Castle (Germany)
  • Eiffel Tower (France)
  • Stonehenge (UK)
  • Alhambra (Spain)
  • Great Wall of China (guess where?)
  • Kiyomizu Temple (Japan)
  • Sydney Opera House (Australia)
  • Angkor (Cambodia)
  • Taj Mahal (India)
  • Timbuktu (Mali)
  • Petra (Jordan)
  • Christ the Redeemer Statue (Brazil)
  • Easter Island (Chile)
  • Machu Picchu (Peru)
  • Pyramid at Chichen Itza (Mexico)
  • Statue of Liberty (United States/France)
More at www.new7wonders.com.

When The President-for-Life Finishes His Term

No, this isn't another Bush post! For all our system's failings, we can at least be certain as to when and how the reigns of power will be transferred. When the country is run by a dictator/president-for-life, however, things get a bit tricky. Saparmurat Niyazov was one of the more, um, colorful dictators on the planet. Check out the Wiki entry for a taste of the supreme cult of personality he constructed for himself during his decades of rule.

But, times change. Today's New York Times examines how Turkmenistan is adjusting to life under a new leader. While things are still as autocratic and shrouded in secrecy as in the past, there are signs that things may change. The new boss, for example, has raised the maximum education level from the equivalent of 9th grade to 10th. Yes, I said maximum. Let that settle in for a minute and you'll realize how far the Turkmen have to go.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Fourth

The President may be a douche, but that doesn't mean it's not worth celebrating the ideals to which the country (most of the time, anyway) strives:

Chet Adkins, everybody! Hat tip to Firedoglake.

More Bush Douchitude

Jeralyn at TalkLeft is really on a roll in the wake of Duhbya's commutation of Scooter's sentence this week. In a post today, she explains a little bit more about why the whole situation pisses her off so much. A quote or do doesn't do it justice. It captures, for me at least, the frustration of federal defense attorneys at Duhbya's high-handed meddling with the system.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Freddy's Golazo

After a lackluster draw with South Korea on Saturday, the US under-20 national team bounced back in its second World Cup match, whalloping Poland (who, themselves, knocked off Brazil on Saturday) 6-1. The game winner was the first of 3 for Freddy Adu and was absolutely amazing:


Yes, Indeed, Bush Remains a Douche

The day after, and rather than blather on my own damn self, I'm simply going to point you fine folks in the direction of people who have said it already:

  • First, the news dump. The White House today refused to rule out the possibility of Duhbya giving Scooter a full pardon sometime down the road. Which begs the question of why, then, Scooter would continue to pursue an appeal? On the off chance that he wins, he could be retried, reconvicted, and resentenced - possibly after Duhbya is out of office. That's a large risk to run. The $250k fine is unlikely to come out of Scooter's own pocket, after all. In addition, the Washington Post confirmed what we all suspected last night - that on this issue, Duhbya was, indeed, The Decider, skipping routine consultation with the pardon attorney and the prosecutor involved with the case.
  • As Big Tent Democrat points out over at TalkLeft, the administration is all in favor of mandatory binding Sentencing Guidelines when ex-White House weasels named "Scooter" aren't involved.
  • Jeralyn, the proprietor of TalkLeft and an experienced federal criminal defense attorney, has an article on Huffington Post about the hypocrisy on display in Duhbya's pardon decision.
  • At Jesus's General, the General takes a look at the kind of egregious sentencing cases that Duhbya has decided do not deserve pardons or commutations. That's a big reason why folks like me, who know how the federal criminal justice system functions, are pissed with Duhbya's decision.
  • Finally, over at Volokh, Orin Kerr takes apart one of the silly GOP talking points - "we knew that Armitage was the leaker, why did Fitz need to keep investigating?" - pretty easily. He's aided by a commenter who lays out, in Fitz's own words, the reasons the investigation kept going and, eventually (thanks to Scooter), stalled.
Finally (didn't I just say that?), in the comments last night Muze set out another one of the popular GOP talking points today: "You can't compare the commuting of Libby to the pardon of Mark Rich by Clinton." When have I ever tried? Believe it or not, on criminal justice issues, Clinton was a horrible president. The Rich pardon was a disgrace, as were several others he granted under cover of night (in amongst a few legit ones). When does the statute of limitations run on the "but Clinton did it, too!" defense run, anyway?

Can You Revoke Godhood?

You'd think that once someone was decreed to be a deity, they'd have that position pretty much for life (and perhaps beyond). No terms limits seem appropriate. Apparently, that's not the case, at least in Nepal, where a 10-year old goddess has been stripped of her title:

A 10-year-old girl who is worshipped as a living goddess in Nepal has been stripped of her title for defying tradition and visiting the US.

Sajani Shakya was one of the three most-revered Kumaris, who are honoured by Hindus and Buddhists alike.

Chosen after undergoing tests at the age of two, she had been expected to bless devotees and attend festivals until she reached puberty.

But she provoked the ire of temple elders by travelling to the US.
Bush is to blame for this, somehow, I'm sure of it.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Bush Is Still a Douche

I'm obviously a bit wound up by the Duhbya-commutes-Scooter news. For the record, commutations and pardons are within the complete discretion of the executive - he can dole them out as he sees fit (or not). That Duhbya has the legal right/power/authority to do this is not in doubt. For once.

My general grumpiness stems from thoughts similar to Orin Kerr's over at Volokh:

Nonetheless, I find Bush's action very troubling because of the obvious special treatment Libby received. President Bush has set a remarkable record in the last 6+ years for essentially never exercising his powers to commute sentences or pardon those in jail. His handful of pardons have been almost all symbolic gestures involving cases decades old, sometimes for people who are long dead. Come to think of it, I don't know if Bush has ever actually used his powers to get one single person out of jail even one day early. If there are such cases, they are certainly few and far between. So Libby's treatment was very special indeed.
Bottom line - being a douche isn't a crime.

Bush is a Douche

South Park was wrong - John Edward isn't the biggest douche in the universe. That title belongs to our humble leader, Duhbya, who, after the DC Court of Appeals denied Scooter Libby's motion for bond on appeal, stepped in to save his buddy from serving any jail time for committing multiple federal crimes. It's a commutation, not a pardon, so the convictions still stand, but Scooter escapes any real punishment. I'd say that Duhbya's actions display a stunning amount of hypocrisy and lack of morality, but that would just be par for the course at this point, wouldn't it?

I hope that everybody currently embroiled in the federal criminal justice system floods the White House with pardon/commutation applications tomorrow. I hope every single person serving barbarous sentences under the federal mandatory minimums and 100-to-1 crack/powder Guidelines bombard the White House, begging for some shred of justice

Duhbya's changed the rules - the process no longer means anything. Finality means nothing, juries are not to be respected, and the appellate process is now surplus to requirements. I guess I'm out of work!

UPDATE: Here is the provision of Duhbya's own DOJ regs that he blatantly ignored by issuing the commutation today:

Section 1-2.113 Standards for Considering Commutation Petitions

A commutation of sentence reduces the period of incarceration; it does not imply forgiveness of the underlying offense, but simply remits a portion of the punishment. It has no effect upon the underlying conviction and does not necessarily reflect upon the fairness of the sentence originally imposed. Requests for commutation generally are not accepted unless and until a person has begun serving that sentence. Nor are commutation requests generally accepted from persons who are presently challenging their convictions or sentences through appeal or other court proceeding.
As I said, the rules have changed, the precedent has been set. Here comes the flood.

Great reaction
from Democratic Presidential candidate John Edwards (who is not the biggest douche in the universe):
Only a president clinically incapable of understanding that mistakes have consequences could take the action he did today. President Bush has just sent exactly the wrong signal to the country and the world. In George Bush's America, it is apparently okay to misuse intelligence for political gain, mislead prosecutors and lie to the FBI. George Bush and his cronies think they are above the law and the rest of us live with the consequences. The cause of equal justice in America took a serious blow today.
Let's hope the Dems in Congress actually pay attention this time.

Dorf on Affirmative Action

Over at Findlaw, Michael Dorf digs into last week's Supreme Court decision in the school desegregation cases and provides some good analysis about the "who's really keeping Brown alive" argument that both the Court and the dissenters (and their various PR factions) have been waging. He also points out the problem with the Court deferring greatly to a school's ability to violate the First Amendment (the "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" case) while strictly reading the language of the Fourteenth Amendment to prevent similar deference when it comes to racial issues in schools.

I'm not sure I agree with Dorf's ultimate conclusions, but it's the must succinct commentary I've seen on the cases yet.

Apocalypse Nowish

I have bad news and even worse news. The bad news - the world will end on December 21, 2012. The really bad news - it'll be one month too late to spare us the excesses of the 2012 Presidential election.

At least that's what some loony astrology types are saying, as reported in this week's New York Times Sunday Magazine. The date comes from an interpretation of the Mayan calendar, which represents their belief that the time is cyclical and that day marks the end of one earth cycle. Not to get down too hard on the Mayans (and the New Age hucksters who leach onto them), but we've been down this road before:

Gnostics predicted the imminent arrival of God’s kingdom as early as the first century; Christians in Europe attacked pagan territories in the north to prepare for the end of the world at the first millennium; the Shakers believed the world would end in 1792; there was a “Great Disappointment” among followers of the Baptist preacher William Miller when Jesus did not return to upstate New York on Oct. 22, 1844. The Jehovah’s Witnesses have been especially prodigious with prophetic end dates: 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975 and 1994.
I personally wouldn't put too much stock in this one, either, tho' the article detailing the movement is an interesting read.

Gotta' admire the Hovah's ability to get back on the apocalypse horse and try again, huh?