Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Album of the Day

B'BOOM Official Bootleg - Live in Argentina, by King Crimson (1995): Although THRAK is not my favorite Crimson studio album, the short-lived "double trio" version of the band was a killer live unit. The extra oomph provided by the extra members gives new weight, force, and fire to older tunes like "Indiscipline" and "Lark's Tongues in Aspic Part II." There is a companion DVD to this album, recorded in Japan, that included very cool multiple camera angles on several tracks so you can zoom in on your favorite Crimsoid.

Into the Lens

Charleston Mayor Danny Jones has a vision. Unfortunately, his vision sounds like something out of THX-1138 or A Scanner Darkly:

'I think in the next four, eight, 20 years, we have to use cameras ... thousands,' Jones said Tuesday. 'We have to be smart.

'My vision is to have cameras all over the city in places where police can monitor the city by watching cameras, the way they do in department stores and casinos.'
Also unfortunately, my tax, er . . . "user fee," dollars will pay for this growing surveillance, in spite of the fact that I have no power to vote Danny out of off. Taxation without representation - didn't we fight a war about that?

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Album of the Day

Astronomy Made Easy, by Boud Deun (1997): The review I've linked for this album does a good job of describing the band and what they sound like. Frantic four-piece instrumental jazz-prog. Not for the faint of heart, but very very cool. Sadly, they're no longer together.

Set Your TiVos, Legal Freaks

Starting tomorrow, PBS will be running a four-part documentary on the history and influence of the United States Supreme Court. Produced by New York's WNET, it's divided into four hours, with two each airing tomorrow and next Thursday (although, as they say, check local listings). From this blurb in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, it looks interesting.

I like to think that I practice in the Supreme Court on a regular basis, but for all the petitions I've filed (and all the post-Booker "wins" I rung up), the only time I've actually been in the building is on vacation. :(

Monday, January 29, 2007

Albums of the Day

Archive 1967-1975 (1998) and Archive 1976-1992 (2000), by Genesis: Today was Genesis day, as I worked through the 7 discs spread across these two boxed sets. They're completely different, but each has its charms. The first set is notable for three discs worth of (mostly) live stuff from the Gabriel-led quintet, which was previously limited to the 5-song album. It also includes a fourth disc of mostly demo versions of songs from the band's first album and a few other rarities. The second set is composed of B-sides (including most of the original fourth side from the US Three Sides Live release), live versions of songs that have missed the other live albums, and a few remixes and demos. Given the era covered, some of this stuff is fairly wretched, but there are enough gems (particularly the live stuff on disc 2 - "Ripples," "Entangled," "Duke's Travels / Duke's End") to make it worth having.

Simpsons Did It! Simpsons Did It!

Who says the Bush administration doesn't have a plan for global warming? Via Balkinization (which I've finally added to my blogroll, along with the equally interesting Pandagon), comes this story from the Sydney Morning Herald which details Duhbya's cunning plan:The US response says the idea of interfering with sunlight should be included in the summary for policymakers, the prominent chapter at the front of each panel report. It says:

'Modifying solar radiance may be an important strategy if mitigation of emissions fails. Doing the R&D to estimate the consequences of applying such a strategy is important insurance that should be taken out. This is a very important possibility that should be considered.'

Scientists have previously estimated that reflecting less than 1 per cent of sunlight back into space could compensate for the warming generated by all greenhouse gases emitted since the industrial revolution. Possible techniques include putting a giant screen into orbit, thousands of tiny, shiny balloons, or microscopic sulfate droplets pumped into the high atmosphere to mimic the cooling effects of a volcanic eruption. The IPCC draft said such ideas were 'speculative, uncosted and with potential unknown side-effects'.
(emphasis added). This is not a new concept. In fact it's been a favorite of diabolical dudes from the vengeful Old Testament God (Exodus 10:21-23: blots out the Sun as one of the plagues of Egypt) to C. Montgomery Burns (blocked out the Sun to increase demand for nuclear power). In fact, as Professor Chaos discovered, it's hard to come up with any original idea that's not been done already by the Simpsons!

Do Not Taunt the Courts

As an appellate advocate, I often have to tread lightly when talking about what the lower court has done. After all, most issues on appeal boil down to "the lower court messed up," in on way or another. I do my best, as I think most advocates do, to distance any criticism of the lower court's decisions with the court itself and avoid resorting to name calling. Because that hurts the advocate's credibility in front of the appellate court, especially if he appears before the same court routinely.

It can also be costly. Witness this story from the ABA about a Utah law professor who is looking at paying out $17,000 due to statements made in his briefs before that state's supreme court. What exactly did he say?

In briefs filed with the Utah Supreme Court, the University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law professor wrote that 'good judges never fabricate evidence,' and that the appellate court opinion was 'no innocent mistake.'

'So, if a court fabricates evidence, whether intentionally, negligently or through innocent mistake, it destroys the moral premise of the legal system,' Dyer wrote. 'A judge who fabricates evidence, even from a sincere motive to do justice in a particular case, has no moral standing whatsoever.'
Oral argument was no better, as he "compared the appellate court’s alleged behavior to war crimes in Iraq."

As a result of that hyperbole, Dyer was ordered to pay opposing counsel's fees, estimated to be about $17,000, To be fair, Dyer's taking his punishment standing up:
“I was wrong, and I deserve the sanctions,” Dyer says. “As soon as the case came down, I immediately telephoned Mr. Barnes and said, ‘Send me your bill.’ If I’m out $17,000, I’m out $17,000.”

Me, I'll just try and hold my tongue - I doubt there's $17k in my office's budget to cover a slip!

We're #22 (at Least)!

From an otherwise meaningless New York Times article about realtors:

A Harris poll conducted last year that ranked occupations in terms of prestige placed real estate brokers at the very bottom of a list of 23 professions. (Firefighters and doctors were at the top.)
Somebody is more loathed than lawyers! Woot! When do we start with the realtor jokes?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Album of the Day

Apostrophe ('), by Frank Zappa (1974): I don't have a whole lot to add to the reviews on Ground and Sky, except that this is a much better album than I give it credit for. I wouldn't put it in the top echelon of my favorite Zappa albums, or necessarily recommend it to someone looking to explore Zappa for the first time. But the music is almost uniformly good (sometimes brilliant, actually) and the lyrics, while goofy, don't fall back on too many dick and fart jokes. A pretty tasty half an hour, overall.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Album of the Day

Amused to Death, by Roger Waters (1992): Since I mentioned this album's strongest cut last week, I suppose it's only natural that it be today's AotD. I've never really gotten into Waters's solo work - it all seems to tread the same path be started out with The Wall (or perhaps Animals) lyrically and musically it doesn't do much for me. There are lots of talented musicians involved (Jeff Beck, Steve Luthaker, and even American Idol's Randy Jackson), but something's missing. I think it has to do with Waters's vocals. He just doesn't sing all that well, or that much, for that matter. It's no coincidence that David Gilmour handled a lot of vocal duties with Pink Floyd.

Looking Througn the Lens of Soccer

For Xmas, the girlfriend gave me a copy of How Soccer Explains the World, by New Republic editor Franklin Foer. The book details 10 different global situations through the lens of professional soccer. For example, he uses the Old Firm rivalry in Scotland as an example of "the pornography of sects," and examines how soccer in Iran could be the leading edge of blowback against the radical Islam that runs the country. While I think the title of the book asks too much - I don't see soccer really explaining anything, rather than being so universal that it provides an effective lens through which to view certain situations - the actual content is fascinating. Anyone who wonders quite why the game means so much to the rest of the planet (and, perhaps, why it doesn't mean much to Americans) should check it out.

Hamilton Hammers 'Hovas

Over at Findlaw, Marci Hamilton takes issue with some recent legal actions by the Jehovah's Witnesses. After noting that the 'Hovas have a long proud history when it comes to ensuring the protections of the First Amendment, Hamilton claims that they have "taken the position that speech, including speech by the press, should be punished and suppressed." In other words, the 'Hovas are hypocrites.

As evidence, Hamilton cites a slander/libel lawsuit by the 'Hovas against a Danish newspaper following a series of articles detailing sexual abuse by church members and a subsequent cover up. The case was thrown out and the 'Hovas ordered to pay the paper's legal fees. In addition, in California legal proceedings dealing with abuse allegations, the church has unsuccessfully clergy-penitent privilege to cover discussions within the church about the abuse. Both of these, Hamilton argues, shows that the 'Hovas are only interested in free speech when it suits them.

I don't think Hamilton is being quite fair to the church. For one, the Danish lawsuit could not have suppressed anything - the articles were written and published prior to any lawsuit. For another, the point of the suit was that, in the 'Hovas' eyes, the allegations in the newspaper articles were false. Instigating a suit against a media outlet for lying about your organization is hardly an abandonment of First Amendment values (libel and slander not being protected by the First Amendment anyway). The key, I think, is what it means that attorney fees were assessed against the 'Hovas. In the United States, that would be an indication that the suit was frivolous. However, if Denmark has some version of loser pays, the fact that one side paid the other's costs doesn't mean much. As for the California case - unless the evidentiary claim they put forth was frivolous, it's not hypocritical to advance legal defenses available to them in civil litigation.

In any event, the reason the 'Hovas have played such a role in the development of the First Amendment is that they have had to secure their own First Amendment rights over and over again. For all the good they've done for the rest of us, their motivations for bringing those actions were selfish and a means to protect their own rights. The actions mentioned by Hamilton seem to fall into the same category to me.

Oy, Vey

The general sentiment expressed in this sign is bad enough. Even worse is the location of the person responsible for it. On behalf of West Virginian's everywhere - I apologize.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Album of the Day

After the Storm, by Various Artists (2005): This is a 2-disc charity project put together by the organizers of NEARFest to benefit Habitat for Humanity's relief efforts in the wake of Katrina. It's main selling point (aside from the fund raising aspect, of course) is that lots of the tracks are unavailable elsewhere, at least in the forms in which they appear on these discs. Highlights are echolyn's "15 Days" (written specifically for the project), Mike Keneally's cover of Genesis's "Time Table" (with bits of "Apocalypse in 9/8" thrown in for good measure), and "Buzz Beat" by New Orleans's own Woodenhead (recorded live in the Big Easy).

The album is still on sale and the money is still needed - a great way to explore some new bands and lend a helping hand.

Oh the Shark Has . . .

It's not everyday that you get video of a creature so old that it's a direct link to the age of the dinosaurs. Courtesy of Reuters, get a load of this video of a Frilled Shark, which somehow made it out of it's normal realm hundreds of feet below the surface. Pretty neat!

Roots of Habeas

Lots of us were stunned last week when Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez told a Senate committee that nothing in the Constitution guaranteed the right to habeas corpus (in other words, to petition a court to require the Government to explain why they're holding you in custody). The Constitution, after all, plainly lays out the limitations on suspending habeas corpus, so the right must exist in absence of that suspension, correct? Or could the AG be right, even if just technically? Jack Balkin, with more depth than I'm able to muster, provides the answer - no.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Album of the Day

#7 - The Case Against Art, by French TV (2002): This is why I do the A-Z thing every year. When I buy albums, I tend to do it in bulk. I got this one last year along with five other albums and it got lost in the shuffle a bit. It didn't make a huge impression and has been shelved since. Listening to it today, I got a better vibe from it and quite enjoyed the jazz-inflected prog that borders both the Canterbury and RIO realms.

Magic Power

Today's New York Times science section (the Tuesday science section almost always has something cool in it) has an interesting article about the persistence of magical thinking. In other words, why do reasonably intelligent 21st-century humans think they have the ability to bring bad luck on their enemies and such? Not surprisingly, it's hard-wired into our brains:

The appetite for such beliefs appears to be rooted in the circuitry of the brain, and for good reason. The sense of having special powers buoys people in threatening situations, and helps soothe everyday fears and ward off mental distress. In excess, it can lead to compulsive or delusional behavior. This emerging portrait of magical thinking helps explain why people who fashion themselves skeptics cling to odd rituals that seem to make no sense, and how apparently harmless superstition may become disabling.
Later on, one researcher makes an interesting observation:
Children exhibit a form of magical thinking by about 18 months, when they begin to create imaginary worlds while playing. By age 3, most know the difference between fantasy and reality, though they usually still believe (with adult encouragement) in Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. By age 8, and sometimes earlier, they have mostly pruned away these beliefs, and the line between magic and reality is about as clear to them as it is for adults.

It is no coincidence, some social scientists believe, that youngsters begin learning about faith around the time they begin to give up on wishing. 'The point at which the culture withdraws support for belief in Santa and the Tooth Fairy is about the same time it introduces children to prayer,' said Jacqueline Woolley, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas. 'The mechanism is already there, kids have already spent time believing that wishing can make things come true, and they’re just losing faith in the efficacy of that.'
Hey, isn't that similar to something I said back during the Xmas holidays?

Talk About a Revival

I'm always curious when I see ads for a Christian "revival" service - what's there to revive? The faith is thriving, particularly in this country. When I think of revival, I think of someone holding a religious service that's been dormant for 1600 years. In Greece, a few folks are bringing back the faith of their forefathers - the one with Zeus, Athena, and the like. Not everyone is impressed:

The move is bound to aggravate the highly conservative Greek Orthodox church, which strongly disapproves of what it regards as paganism.

'They are a handful of miserable resuscitators of a degenerate dead religion who wish to return to the monstrous dark delusions of the past,' said Father Efstathios Kollas, the President of Greek Clergymen.
Yikes! A "degenerate" religion built on "monstrous dark delusions of the past?" Methinks someone is projecting.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Album of the Day

That's right, kiddies, it's back! My annual comprehensive trip through my CD collection, with one album each day spotlighted for some particular reason. This year, rather than go alphabetically by artist, I've decided to go by album title. That should keep things from clogging up around particular artists (no need to hear "Karn Evil 9" five times in a row, for example).

And so, first up for this year . . .

(), by Sigur Rรณs (2002): First up, generally, would be the albums with numbers in the title. Leave it to me to come up with something that slots in before the numbers, with no real title at all. As I said earlier, this band reminds me of a cross between Kid A-era Radiohead and Godspeed You Black Emperor. Long, slow atmospheric buildups with indecipherable (and made up, in this case) lyrics. Good, in a weird way.

Woe is Roe

Today marks the 34th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, which proclaimed a woman's Constitutional right to an abortion. Lots will be written today about Roe, both pro and con, but it's worth keeping in mind that Roe is not the alpha and omega of the Court's abortion jurisprudence. Equally important, perhaps more so, is Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 decision which both undermined and reaffirmed Roe. As this article in Slate points out, Casey is worthy of commemoration in its own right. Additionally, Jack Balkin explains how Casey has dominated the political reality of the abortion debate.

Give 'em Hell, Jay

West Virginia's junior Senator, Jay Rockefeller, is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in the newly Democratic-controlled Senate. As such, he has access to more of the juicy info on Iraq, the War on Terra, etc. than most lawmakers. Over the weekend, he let fly with some stinging criticism of Duhbya:

Mr. Rockefeller was biting in his criticism of how President Bush has dealt with the threat of Islamic radicalism since the Sept. 11 attacks, saying he believed that the campaign against international terrorism was 'still a mystery' to the president.

'I don’t think he understands the world,' Mr. Rockefeller said. 'I don’t think he’s particularly curious about the world. I don’t think he reads like he says he does.'
In other words, Duhbya and reality don't intersect all that often. Color me shocked.

Frozen Tunes

Yesterday morning, I awoke way too early in order to organize Deep Freeze 07 - the first autocross of the 2007 SWVR season. Mother Nature intervened - the area's first measurable snowfall included a good bit of frozen rain and sleet as well, making regular driving - much less autocrossing - a very dicey proposition. Event cancelled, I was back home by 8 am with time to kill. So, I put together a new tune in honor of the occasion, "Frozen Rain." Gave me a chance to play with my Native Instruments FM7, a soft-synth emulation of the famous Yamaha DX-7 (and related devices). Very cool stuff.

BTW, except for the drum loops, everything else in this tune sprang from the fingers of yours truly.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Milestone

The post below villifying Bill O'Reilly, I've just discovered, is my 1500th post on this blog. Wow, I had no idea!

Thanks to all those who stop by and read it every so often. Woot!

Bill O'Reilly, Amateur Psychologist, Professional Asshat

Roger Waters once wrote about "the bravery of being out of range," that certain kind of machismo that is exuded by certain folks from the safety and comfort of their easy chair or bar stool. We've seen a good bit of that in the past few years, courtesy of some right-wing pundits.

For example, there's the legion of the 101st Fighting Keyboardists, bloggers who not only argue in support for the war in Iraq, but question the morality and patriotism of those who oppose the war, all while hanging out behind their computer screen rather than heading down to the armed forces recruiting center to enlist.* The Waters song, coincidentally, was written about the first Gulf War.

Then we had the story of a reporter and Fox News cameraman who were kidnapped in Gaza last year and forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint in order to secure they're freedom. The common reaction would be, "wow, I can't imagine what that kind of situation would be like." But for some bloggers, the reaction, as detailed here, was - "pussies!" How anyone sitting behind a computer keyboard in the United States can begin to understand, much less criticize, someone else's decision making is such a situation escapes me.

The most recent example of this sort of thinking comes from our favorite, Bill O'Reilly. On his show the other night, Bill opined about Shawn Hornbeck, the 15-year old boy who was recently rescued from a kidnapper after four years of captivity (another young boy, who had been missing only briefly, had been snatched by the same guy). Bill wants to know why Hornbeck, who had some access to and contact with the outside world, didn't simply walk away from his captor? It's a legitimate enough question worth exploring - what kind of psychological factors would cause someone being held against their will to not run away at the first opportunity?

But that's not what Bill is after. He boldly announces that he simply doesn't believe in Stockholm Syndrome, wherein a kidnap victim develops sympathy and loyalty for his kidnapper. Since that concept is bunk, Bill concludes that the kid - who was, let's remember, 11 years old when kidnapped - hung around because he liked the situation he was in. He's not a good kid, doesn't love his parents, didn't miss his family, etc. How Bill has figured this out is beyond me (maybe he's contracting with Bill Frist for long-distance video-based medical opinions). Regardless, it shows again what an asshat Bill is, questioning the motivations of a 15-year-old kidnap victim. As if anyone needed any further proof.

What do all these things have in common? The bravery of being out of range. The desire to opine from a perceived position of knowledge regarding some situation about which they have no clue. I know we extol people to try and "walk a mile in someone else's shoes" as an attempt to generate empathy, but it's a futile exercise when it comes to critiquing decision making. All the mental gymnastics I can try cannot put me in the mind of a journalist in a foreign land presented with a life-or-death ultimatum or an 11 to 15 year old kid who has been kidnapped and ripped away from the life he knew. It's just not possible. Moreover, it encourages the kind of banal second guessing that Bill is doing now. Asking questions is one thing. Presuming the answers, and attacking those who didn't get them right, is quite another.

* For what it's worth, I'm with Glenn Greenwald in separating the members of the 101st and other "chickenhawks" from those who simply support the war in general. It's the demonization of the opposition, because this is the defining conflict of our era and dissent helps the enemy, that begs the question - if it's so important to require running roughshod over long-held Constitutional rights, why aren't you signing up to go do the fighting?

His Mixtape's a Masterpiece . . . and Exhibit A

Like just about everyone of my generation, I've made my share of "mixtapes," compilations of music from various sources for use in other locales (usually the car). Hell, I remember when we actually used tapes! Everything's on CD now, of course (you kids have is soooo easy). I knew that there were "professional" mixtapes out there, sold on street corners and what not, but I had no idea it was so big and such a part of hip-hop. This article from today's New York Times details the raid on and arrest of DJ Drama, whose Gangsta Grillz mixtapes are some of the best of the bunch. So good that some rappers have appeared on his CDs, regardless of record company protestations. Mixtapes, however, are made up of copyrighted material (owned mostly by the record companies, rather than the artists, I imagine), so the RIAA is coming down on DJ Drama like a house of bricks.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

On Hangings and their Impacts

A couple of interesting pieces from today's New York Times media empire. First, this post from their Lede blog, about the mechanics of a proper hanging. This is in the news again because of another botched Iraqi execution, this time of Saddam Hussein’s half-brother Brazan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, who was decapitated during the process.

Second is an article about the impact the hangings are having across the Middle East. Apparently, the unity among Sunnis and Shiites in the wake of last years Israeli war against Hezbollah is unravelling due party to the continuing violence in Iraq and the rise of Iran.* As one expert puts it:

And while political analysts and government officials in the region say the spreading Sunni disillusionment with Shiites and their backers in Iran will benefit Sunni-led governments and the United States, they and others worry that the tensions could start to balkanize the region as they have in Iraq itself.

'The reality of the current situation is that we are approaching an open Sunni-Shiite conflict in the region,' said Emad Gad, a specialist in international relations at the government-financed Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. 'And Egypt will also be a part of it as a part of the Sunni axis. No one will be able to avoid or escape it.'
Well, isn't that grand.

* Nothing brings adversaries together like a common foe. Am I the only one who thinks there's a marketing opportunity for sales of T-shirts that say "My two favorite sects are the Sunnis and whoever is attacking Israel"?

The Camrys Are Coming

When the NASCAR season kicks off next month at Daytona, it will mark a watershed in the sport's modern era as Toyota becomes the first Japanese manufacturer in the top-level Nextel Cup.* Today's New York Times has an article about the anxiety that is brewing in stock car country about that event. The main concern is that Toyota, flush with cash as it readies to usurp General Motors at the top of the global automotive heap, will spend so freely as to drastically increase the cost to the rest of the field. It's not an senseless concern - Toyota has thrown obscene amounts of money at other series (IMSA GTP and CART) to climb on top of the field, dominate it, and then run off, leaving the dried up husk of a series behind. Only in F1, where everybody expects enormous budgets, has Toyota not found success.

I'll be interested to see, when the season gets underway, what the majority of NASCAR fans thing of this development, given that of the vehicles involved, only Toyota's Camry is actually built in the United States. Not that the race cars have anything to do with the street cars, of course. "Stock cars" my arse.

Toyota is not the first foreign manufacturer to participate in NASCAR (Dodge's German parentage notwithstanding), as someone ran and won (once, I think) in a Jaguar in back in the 1950s.

Monday, January 15, 2007

New Year, New Tunes

I'm generally not one for New Year's Resolutions, but this year I vowed to try and spend more time being creative. Actually, I just promised myself that I wouldn't come home from work, flop down on the couch, and vegetate in front of the tube. The first results of my new found creative time are now up on ACIDPlanet. After taking a listen, you may want to convince me to go back to being deeply engrossed by Dr. Phil (it's a guilty pleasure, I admit) every afternoon.

First up is a guitar-bass-B3 (via M-Audio's wonderful Key Rig) groovy type thing with the completely pointless title "Congressman in Vibrating Spaghetti Incident."* The other was a guitar riff I found last year, but I couldn't figure out anything to do with it. More B3 goodness in this one, called "Cone Dancing." I'm fairly pleased with the organ bits I came up with for each of these.

* Blame Hatfield and the North. Once you've heard instrumentals with titles like "Lobster in Cleavage Probe," "Gigantic Land Crabs in Earth Takeover Bid," and "(Big) John Wayne Socks Psychology on the Jaw" it's just impossible to have any editorial control over whatever interesting phrase passes through your orbit.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Where's the Homer?

Today's New York Times has a neat article documenting 10 of the more interesting concept cars in history, none of which made it into production. My personal favorite is the 1955 Lincoln Futura, which went on to become the Batmobile. No mention, however, of the Powell Homer:

All my life, I have searched for a car that feels a certain way. Powerful like a gorilla, yet soft and yielding like a Nerf ball. Now, at last, I have found it.
All that for only $82,000 (in 1991 money)!

More on Duhbya

As promised, here is the video (via Crooks & Liars) of Keith Olberman's "special comment" last night tearing the President a new one.

On a similar vein, over at Balkinization, Sandy Levinson lays out the case that Duhbya is "Our Most Catastrophic President."

Quite a record our man from Texas is making for himself.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

This Is the Brilliant Plan?!?

OK, let's see. Your bogus war in a foreign land is going all quagmire. Your party was ceremoniously dumped out of power in the midterm elections. And your approval rating for said war is rapidly approaching your shoe size. You go away and think reallllly hard about what to do next and your best option is . . . SEND MORE OF YOUR OWN PEOPLE OFF TO DIE?

Give Duhbya credit for one thing - he does what he thinks is right, regardless of what anybody else thinks. The Iraqi government doesn't want any more US troops in their country. The newly empowered Democrats are itching for a fight and even some Republicans aren't buying in this time.

Puts one in mind of this exchange from Blackadder's WWI version (shamelessly stolen from DailyKos):

GENERAL: Now, Field Marshal Hague has formulated a brilliant new tactical plan to ensure final victory in the field.

CAPTAIN BLACKADDER: Ah, would this brilliant plan involve us climbing out of our trenches and walking very slowly towards the enemy, sir?

CAPTAIN DARLING: How could you possibly know that Blackadder, it's classified information?

CAPTAIN BLACKADDER: It's the same plan that we used last time, and the seventeen times before that.

GENERAL: Ex... ex... ex... actly! And that is what is so brilliant about it! It will catch the watchful Hun totally off guard. Doing precisely what we've done eighteen times before is exactly the last thing they'll expect us to do this time!

There is, however, one small problem.

CAPTAIN BLACKADDER: That everyone always gets slaughtered in the first ten seconds?

GENERAL: That's right. And Field Marshal Hague is worried that this may be depressing the men a tad. So, he's looking to find a way to cheer them up.

CAPTAIN BLACKADDER: Well, his resignation and suicide would seem the obvious.
If only Duhbya were trying to be funny.

UPDATE: Holy shit, did Keith Olberman just let Duhbya have it in one of his "Special Statements." I'll link to the video, if I come across it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

IROC Est Mort?

Auto racing is unlike other sports in that within-league all-star competitions are largely meaningless. The best you can do is to take drivers from different kinds of racing and put them together in one race/series and see who comes out on top. A long time ago, that was the premise of the International Race of Champions, a 4-race series featuring drivers from all over the world competing against each other in identically prepared cars.

When the first IROC series took place in 1974 featured the likes of Bobby Unser, AJ Foyt, Richard Petty, Emerson Fittipaldi and Denis Hulme charging around in Porsche 911 RSRs. The great Mark Donahue won the series. From those beginnings, the series has slid into meaninglessness. The cars switched to NASCAR-style tube-framed cars, the track selection slowly turned oval only, and the drivers involves could hardly be called "international" (or "champion") for that matter. For that last several years, it's been nothing but another NASCAR support series.

Alas, it might all be coming to an end. Speed is reporting that the first round of 2007 series, scheduled for Daytona, has been "delayed" while the search for a sponsor continues. Hopefully, the motor racing gods will let this second-rate IROC die the death it so richly deserves.

Monday, January 08, 2007

How Much Justice Can You Afford?

In today's New York Times, a Colorado judge details the findings of an examination of every criminal case filed in Denver in 2002 to try and answer the question of whether defendants are better off with public defenders or retained counsel representing them. Unlike studies with similar goals that use conviction/acquittal rate as a measure of outcome, this study focused on what the judge correctly says is the most important issue to most defendants: length of sentence.

The results aren't particularly encouraging for PDs - their clients end up getting 3 years more on average than with their retained counterparts. The judge, who has great respect for PDs, explains this result by noting the presence of what he calls "marginally indigent" defendants - those who technically are entitled to a PD but have some means (usually family or well wishers) who scrape together money to hire an attorney. As the judge sees it, the marginally indigent innocent defendant is more likely to hire counsel, whereas the guilty one is less likely to expend resources on a lost cause.*

That's a plausible explanation and has one other impact on sentences. Those defendants with the kind of support networks that could raise those funds probably have better sentencing arguments to make (ties to the community, oversight from family, etc.) than the lost causes represented by PDs.

* Yes, that means innocent people are convicted of crimes. It happens.

Needle Packin' Mama

Somehow, I stumbled on this article from a spring 2006 issue of Mother Jones about Dianne Clements. Clements is the Texas mother who runs Justice for All, a Texas-based advocacy group most well known for its vehement support of capital punishment. Somewhat befitting of Texas, Clements has a simple worldview on the death penalty: people are killed by evildoers (where have we heard that before?). Such issues as executing the mentally retarded (Clements calls this "smoke and mirrors") and children (they're not kids, they're "brutal murderers with no regard for human life!”).

How did Clements become such a staunch executioner? What trauma caused this? Well:

Clements was once just another Houston soccer mom, working an office job and raising two teens—Krista and Zachary—with her husband, Woody. 'It was a very typical suburban life,' she says. 'Our routine was work, school, baseball.' That routine was blown apart one afternoon in August 1991. Zachary, 13 at the time, was playing with a couple of neighbors’ kids about his age, when one of the boys grabbed his stepfather’s shotgun and pulled the trigger. The blast tore a hole through Zachary’s chest, killing him on the spot.
Remember, a child who kills another child is a "brutal murderer with no regard for human life," so while the authorities ruled the shooting accidental, Clements badgered authorities until the shooter was prosecuted (he got probation).

Capital punishment doesn't save any lives - it's deterrent effect is pretty much nil. One wonders if Clements had devoted her considerable efforts to getting guns out of places where kids could get a hold of them how many lives would have been saved.

Putting the Ball in the Torturer's Court

While Dogbert may be hell-bent on world domination, his nominal creator Scott Adams isn't quite so ambitious. He's taken to blogging and now to the opinion pages of the Washington Post. This weekend in the Post, Adams relates how he has come to doubt the future of torture. For Adams, the moral issues should be put on hold until those in favor of torture answer a very practical questions: does it work? Adams points out that there's been no good evidence that it does, which is sort of surprising given how extensive it has been throughout human history.

Adams's column has spawned an interesting discussion over at the Volokh Conspiracy.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Discouraging Words on the Marshall Movie

I have not yet seen We Are Marshall, the new movie that tells the story of the Marshall University football team plane crash in 1970 and the rebirth of the program. It's just not my type of flick - a sort of "rah rah" Up-With-People kind of thing (I'm odd that way) - quite frankly, if the film was called We Are Murray State it wouldn't even be on my radar. In addition, reviews of the film from those without any connection to MU, Huntington, or West Virginia have been tepid, at best. I'll probably Netflix it at some point, just to say I've seen it.

Jedi jawa has an extensive review here, along with links to many posts by The Film Geek about the film.

A WVPB documentary about the same event from a few years ago was very interesting, but that was telling the "real" story. According to Charleston Daily Mail sportswriter Chuck Landon, who wrote for the MU paper at the time of the crash, the movie plays fast and loose with lots of facts (although jedi jawa's source disagrees). What's frustrating about Landon's claims, if true, is that most of the changed facts aren't any more compelling than what really happened. It's a shame if Hollywood took what is a real story rich in drama, heartache, and redemption and changed a bunch of things up just so it would look better on screen.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Paging Peter Pan

The BBC Website today has an interesting article about a young American girl, her chronic disease, and the controversial treatments her parents are undertaking to ease her future suffering. The girl, Ashley, suffers from static encephalopathy, which leaves her with "the mental ability of a three-month-old baby and cannot walk or talk."

Her condition will not improve and she will require personal care for the rest of her life. To help deal with the condition, her parents have treated her "with hormone doses to limit her growth, . . . [and] surgery to block breast growth and had her uterus and appendix removed." The rationale:

Ashley's parents say that because she will remain the weight of a child, it will be easier for them to move her around, bathe her and involve her in family activities - movement that will benefit her physical and mental well-being.
Not surprisingly, the treatments have caused controversy on both sides of the Atlantic. You can read more about the situation at this blog run by her parents.

We're Breeding Like Rabbits!

Well, OK, maybe not - but close to it. Today's Charleston Daily Mail has an article that announces West Virginia has added 250 lawyers per year to the population over the past 25 years. Ominous as that sounds, state bar chief Tom Tinder explains that the state also loses about 150 a year through retirement, movement out of state, and the assumption of room temperature. We also have fewer lawyers per capita than most states.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Thomas Jefferson to the Rescue

Ooh, Virgil Goode must be pissed about this one. Keith Ellison, the Minnesota Congressman who has caused a fury among the mouth-breathing set by planning to use a Koran (he's Muslim, don't ya' know) during his private completely unofficial photo-op swearing in ceremony, has found a book to use. It was in the Library of Congress and was donated by Thomas Jefferson - a former resident of the Congressional district now represented by Goode (i.e., Charlottesville, VA and related areas):

Jefferson's copy is an English translation by George Sale published in the 1750s; it survived the 1851 fire that destroyed most of Jefferson's collection and has his customary initialing on the pages. This isn't the first historic book used for swearing-in ceremonies -- the Library has allowed VIPs to use rare Bibles for inaugurations and other special occasions.
Turns out that the head of special collections at the LoC grew up in Ellison's district.

More Saddam Thoughts

I don't really have anything more to say about Saddam's hanging, but I thought I'd pass along a couple of links to people who raise troubling concerns about the whole process.

Over at Findlaw, Joanne Mariner provides a Cliffs Notes version of questionable proceedings during Saddam's legal proceedings. For the record, one she does not include is the assassination of multiple defense lawyers (you think that would impact the proceedings?!?).

Meanwhile, at Slate, Christopher Hitchens (about whom I run hot and cold) really lets the US have it, arguing that we "helped to officiate at a human sacrifice." It makes one wonder if the California penal system would allow a Crip to throw the switch on the electric chair for a Blood convicted of killing another Crip - why let one side in a gang war enact vengeance via a theoretically neutral process?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

On Saddam's Hanging

Like lots of other folks, I imagine, the girlfriend and I got sucked into the Saddam death watch Friday night. I've never seen Larry King so excited for an entire hour (and adamant that CNN would interrupt commercials when it happened), only to be forced to turn the main event over to someone else. I haven't sought out the apparently unedited video of Saddam's drop, as I've got no particular desire to see any human being die, even such a shitbag as Saddam.

It should go without saying that, if I were King for a Day, I would not have executed Saddam (or anyone else, for that matter). But the way this one was carried out - as if racing to beat a deadline, during a Muslim holiday, and apparently in violation of Iraqi law - was pretty slipshod regardless of how you feel about the ultimate penalty. If nothing else, doesn't true justice - the kind that history will note for future generations - require that Saddam hung around long enough to be tried, convicted, and sentenced for all of his crimes? The Shiite massacre for which he was executed, while heinous, was small potatoes compared to what he did to the Kurds and others. Those victims, and their families and loved ones, will never have the ability to confront Saddam and his cronies and demand account for what he did to them.

Oh well. Saddam's death does round out an interesting triptych of December dictator deaths, joining Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet (another US-backed shitbag) and Turkmenistani president/loon-in-chief Sarparmurat Niyazov as those the world was happy to be rid of at the end of 2006.

"I Will Choose a Path That's Clear . . .

. . . I will choose free will."

Or maybe I won't.

Today's New York Times has an interesting article covering the age-old argument about whether or not human beings have free will. Recent developments in fields as diverse as physics and computer science:

suggest that the conscious mind is like a monkey riding a tiger of subconscious decisions and actions in progress, frantically making up stories about being in control.
What might that mean for public discourse at large? Well:
'If people freak at evolution, etc.,' [Michael Silberstein, a science philosopher at Elizabethtown College in Maryland] wrote in an e-mail message, 'how much more will they freak if scientists and philosophers tell them they are nothing more than sophisticated meat machines, and is that conclusion now clearly warranted or is it premature?'
That begs the question - if the same people who freak at evolution would freak at the lack of free will, are they free to choose to ignore that lack?

This sophisticated meat machine and his monkey will have to go away and ponder that for a while.

Bowl Thoughts

Well, with the dawn of the New Year came the traditional slew of college bowl games, a few of which merit some comment:

  • So I guess WVU owns the state of Georgia now, right? We knocked off UGA in last year's Sugar Bowl and came back from 18 points down to knock of Georgia Tech in yesterday's Gator Bowl. Said stunning comeback all took place while I was in the car and listening on the radio, of course - once I got home, it was just run-the-clock-out time. But that's for the best, probably - WVU always seems to play worse when I'm actually watching the game. Maybe they nervous when famous (ha!) alums are watching? :P
  • Remember when the final BCS rankings came out and lots of Michigan fans (yours truly not included) bitched and moaned about how they were really the second best team in the country and if only they'd played Ohio State on a neutral field they would have won that game? Well, let's those folks have choked down their crow today, after the Wolverines got smacked around by 2-loss USC in the Rose Bowl Yesterday. Michigan's argument, it seemed to me, always proceeded from a potentially faulty assumption that OSU is the best team in the country in the first place,
  • As the final BCS games play out, whither Boise State? Those of you who stayed up past midnight last night to watch the Broncos beat Oklahoma in OT in the Fiesta Bowl know what I'm talking about. At least one I-A program will end the season undefeated. If the Gators trip up OSU next Monday, does Boise State have any claim to somebody's national title (the coaches are required to anoint the winner of Florida-OSU as champs)?
Or we could just have a playoff - but where's the fun in that?