Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Question Everything

Renowned documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War, Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.) has a blog over at the New York Times called Zoom that is dedicated to uncovering the "hidden truth of photos." Today's entry, apart from being a fascinating mystery in and off itself, contains an interesting lesson about how to treat received wisdom.

At issue is this photo:

It's called "Valley of the Shadow of Death," by Roger Fenton. It was taken in 1855 during the Crimean War. It is one of the first famous photographs of war, taken at a time when photographers traveled with horse-drawn mobile black rooms.

The issue is that there's another photo of the same location, taken on the same day, which shows the road clear of cannon balls (see the blog post for it). Morris's curiosity was piqued when he read in Susan Sontag's Regarding the Pain of Others that the two photos showed that the more famous one - with the cannon balls in the road - had been staged by Fenton and was therefore "fake" in some sense.

Although there's a lively discussion of whether that's true or not (and some painstaking analysis in the comments), that's not really what grabbed me about the piece. What grabbed me is that Morris was presented with a piece of received wisdom - that Fenton staged the photo - which is certainly plausible and believable, although there was no hard proof presented. Rather than sit back and accept that "fact" uncritically, Morris asked "why would he do that?" and "what's your proof?" That lead Morris into a lengthy series of interviews with various photographic experts and, eventually, a trip to the Crimean in pursuit of the truth.

What's the moral? For me, at least, it's be skeptical. Something isn't true or right or accurate just because someone with some authority/credibility says so. Look behind the claim. Don't take it on faith. You never know where you'll end up.

Vick Sacks Himself

One would think that Michael Vick would know that while you're on bond awaiting sentencing in federal court would not be a great time to enjoy some herb. A drug test by Vick's probation officer showed that the ex-Falcons QB had used marijuana. As a result, his bond conditions have been tightened by the judge - the same judge who will impose sentence in December. For the time being, however, Vick remains a free man.

All this raises two questions in my mind.

First, I wonder what the regular practice is in the Eastern District of Virginia when a defendant violates his bond pre-sentencing. In SDWV, I'm fairly certain one of our clients in a similar circumstance would be in jail. Is Vick being left on bond an exception, or is the EDVa just a little more lenient about those kinds of things?

Second, I wonder what impact this might have on Vick's sentence. One way for a defendant in federal court to reduce his sentence is by getting credit for acceptance of responsibility - it reduces the offense-based calculation portion of the Sentencing Guidelines. However, part of that responsibility generally includes the requirement that you cease from all criminal activity once on bond. I've had clients lose acceptance for a single positive drug test and the Fourth Circuit has affirmed. Vick might miss out on that because his offense isn't related to drugs, but I wouldn't want to test the waters if I was him.

LER in Action

Although it's only a couple of weeks old, the new Legal Eagle Racing machine is already an autocross veteran. Two wins in two weekends - not bad! Last weekend marked SWVR's return to Yeager Airport, which was a fun change of pace from our usual (much smaller) venue. The week before, photographer and fellow cone dodger Erik Hegg caught the maiden voyage:

Thanks, Erik (see more pics here)!

Hopefully, I'll have some pics from the airport at some point.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Tinkering With the Mechanisms of Death

While the new Supreme Court term technically kicks of next week, the Court got going early with a whole bunch of cert grants for cases it will resolve in the coming year. Undoubtedly, the one that will draw the most attention is Baze v. Rees, in which the Court will consider whether Kentucky's lethal injection protocol violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment.

This is a big deal, not only because any case in which the Court tinkers with the death penalty gets partisans up in arms. As Lyle Denniston over at SCOTUSBlog points out:

Not since March 17, 1879, has the Supreme Court faced a constitutional test over a method of carrying out the death penalty. On that day, in Wilkerson v. Utah, it upheld a court's order that one Wallace Wilkerson be taken to a place within the Utah Territory 'and that you there be publicly shot until you are dead' -- that is, by firing squad.

In a 13-line order released on Tuesday morning, the Court opted to return to that question -- this time, apparently, to lay down a legal standard on when it could violate the Eighth Amendment to execute a convicted individual by using a three-chemical combination -- a specific protocol now in use in 36 states. (Among the 38 states that retain the death penalty, only New Jersey uses a different lethal injection protocol, and Nebraska executes only by the electric chair.)
The 20th Century was a steady progression in methods of execution in a quest for a more "humane" way for the state to kill people - from hanging and firing squad to electrocution to the gas chamber to lethal injection. It's fairly amazing that, given the Court's preoccupation with capital issues over the years, that it hasn't dealt with a similar issue in more than a century.

Having said that, I'll be stunned if the Court strikes down the procedure.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Pass to the Left, Mitt

Ladies and gentleman, Mitt Romney:

Even as he sought to distance himself from Bush, Romney gave him limited credit for keeping the United States safe and 'restoring personal integrity and dignity to the White House.'

Oh, my *wipes away tears from laughing so hard* . . .


Waiter? I'll have whatever Mitt is smoking!

Send In the Clowns!

Let's say that the KKK or neo-Nazis are coming to your town for a rally. You want to confront them in the best way possible, to really get under their skin and make them look like idiots. Who would have thought clowns would be the best weapon?

Saturday May 26th the VNN Vanguard Nazi/KKK group attempted to host a hate rally to try to take advantage of the brutal murder of a white couple for media and recruitment purposes.

Unfortunately for them the 100th ARA (Anti Racist Action) clown block came and handed them their asses by making them appear like the asses they were.

* * *

'White Power!' the Nazi’s [sic] shouted, 'White Flour?' the clowns yelled back running in circles throwing flour in the air and raising separate letters which spelt 'White Flour'.

'White Power!' the Nazi’s [sic] angrily shouted once more, 'White flowers?' the clowns cheers and threw white flowers in the air and danced about merrily.
It worked - the Nazis ran off and the number of counter demonstrators swelled. And nobody had to resort to throwing pies!

A Protest to Make Homer Proud

"Donuts - is there anything they can't do?" - Homer Simpson

Just an amusing little blurb, from USA Today:

It was just another morning at the senior center: Women were sewing, men were playing pool — and seven demonstrators, average age 76, were picketing outside, demanding doughnuts.

They wore sandwich boards proclaiming, 'Give Us Our Just Desserts' and 'They're Carbs, Not Contraband.'

At issue is a decision to refuse free doughnuts, pies and breads that were being donated to senior centers around Putnam County, north of New York City. Officials were concerned that the county was setting a bad nutritional precedent.

The picketers said they were objecting because they weren't consulted about the ban.
Not everyone was sad to see them go:
Inside, some seniors said they were glad to see the doughnuts go. 'It was disgusting the way people went after them,' said Rita Jorgensen, 80. 'I think the senior center did them a favor.'
Grandpaternalism run amok!

Wait, I Thought the Left Hated America?

One of the recurring right-wing talking points is that liberals hate America and think it is the cause of evil in the world. Heck, I've seen some (in the comment threads at Volokh, mostly) argue with a straight face that the left wants the war in Iraq to go badly (i.e., wants us to lose), either for political gain or just to make a point.

If so, a whole crop of the Christian right's superstars -Phyllis Schlafly, Paul Weyrich, Don Wildmon - didn't get the memo. They hosted several GOP presidential candidates (although none of the front runners) at a "Values Voter Debate" in Florida. They started things off with a gospel sing, of sorts (via TPM):

That's right - they've rewritten "God Bless America" (lyrics here) to actively question whether we, as a nation, are worthy of His/Her/It's blessings. Given that, you know, they actually believe that the big guy/gal in the sky is up there ready to smack us down for our sins (individually and collectively), that's quite an indictment. Indeed, it's as if they America is a source of evil in the world - don't they hate America, then?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Leeds Lives!

The last several months had been a disaster for Leeds United. After being relegated to English Division 1 (the third tier of English football), they were docked 15 points in the standings due to financial troubles. So they started the season 15 points in the hole, at the bottom of (or buried underneath, if you prefer) the table. Seven games into the season, Leeds has won every match, erased their 15 point deficit and, with today's 2-0 win over Swansea, have officially pulled out of the relegation zone, slotting into 18th place.

That's not much to celebrate for such a storied club, but it's a great way to start the turnaround!

Friday, September 21, 2007

Ann Coulter - Idiot Without Boundaries

Yesterday, the United States Senate - which would have better things to do, if the Democratic majority could locate its spine - took the time to draft, consider, and pass a resolution condemning a newspaper ad recently taken out by The ad referred to General David Patraeus, US commander in Iraq, as "Betray-us" and argued that his forthcoming Senate testimony would present a less than realistic picture of the situation in Iraq (guess what - it did!). The ad's widely been regarded as stupid and unduly strident, even among anti-war folks. But it's well within the wheelhouse of the kind of political speech that the First Amendment is designed to protect. And the United States Senate has condemned it. It sends chills down my spine (partly because the resolution passing was a bi-partisan event).

But, as long as the Senate is getting into the habit of condemning the speech of extremist political hacks, I expect they'll render judgment on Ann Coulter any day now. Lords know, she's got plenty of in her past upon which they could rely. But how about some fresh material? In this column over at Human Events, "Legal Affairs" writer Coulter goes on and on with the usual big business talking points about plaintiff's lawyers. That's nothing new. In the process, however, Ann makes one of her trademark factual errors and/or lies:

She [Ann's college room mate] was going to Johns Hopkins for yet more medical training while I was skiing and following the Grateful Dead. Now she vacations in places like Rwanda and Darfur with Doctors Without Borders while I'm going to Paris.

Has anyone else noticed the nonexistence of a charitable organization known as 'Lawyers Without Borders'?
Well, no, Ann, nobody's ever noticed that because there is such an organization. In fact, there are two!

First, there's Lawyers Without Borders, based on Hartford, Connecticut, who:
provide legal support to Rule of Law projects and initiatives in the human rights and nation building sectors at low or significantly discounted cost.
Next, there's Avocats Sans Frontieres, based in Belgium, that has a whole list of goals related to providing legal service to the indigent across the world.

So, while slandered, at best, one high-ranking politically involved General, Coulter slandered an entire profession - one of which she used to be a part. Certainly sounds worth of Senatorial censure to me.

Do Not Anger My Elves

Florentino Floro, Jr. was a member of the Philippines Supreme Court. "Was," because he was kicked off the bench by his colleagues "because of his belief in the supernatural." Sort of like Roy Moore. Also like the disgraced Moore, Floro refuses to go quietly and is fighting to get his job back. In the process, well, weird things are happening:

Since then Floro has battled to get his job back, appearing on TV and winning converts who seek his healing powers. At the same time, a series of unfortunate incidents have befallen the supreme court justices or their families, including serious illnesses and car accidents.

Floro says the person to blame for the mishaps is one of the elves, 'Luis,' a 'king of kings' who is an avenger.
OK, fine.

Floro and Luis (along with two other elves) have a long relationship:
He told the newspaper that the elves help him predict the future, but he has never consulted them when issuing judicial decisions.
Thank goodness for that!

I wonder where one hooks up with avenging elves? That could come in handy someday.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Testing the Limits of Parody

Jack Thompson is a loud-mouthed Ohio attorney who has made a living fighting what he perceives to be "obscene" things in popular culture, from rap music to video games. In fact, it's the video game crusade that's got him in the news again. Via Prawfsblawg and, comes word that Thompson is none too pleased about being parodied in the forthcoming fourth version of Grand Theft Auto:

The showcasing play of the game to Game Informer revealed that the first killing mission of the 'hero' of the game, Niko, is to kill a certain lawyer. When Niko comes into this lawyer’s office, having used subterfuge to do so, Niko pulls a gun on the lawyer who says, 'that the firm supports the second amendment and that ‘Guns don’t kill people. Video games do.' '
That's from a letter Thompson filed a federal court in Florida (for reasons that are not at all clear to me) which concludes with a plea to Rock Star Games to "[g]overn yourself accordingly, or else."

Thompson is obviously not happy about being tweaked by his adversaries (I imagine that the Rock Star guys must be Simpsons fans), but does he have a beef? Could he sue (successfully) for some sort of defamation? I wouldn't think so, but I imagine he can make the process long and painful for the other side.

This Is What Censorship Looks Like

In this country, behind the safety of the First Amendment, a lot of what people scream "censorship" about really isn't. It's usually a private actor that has decided not to promote/broadcast/publish something, not the state stepping in to squelch expression.

By contrast, this is real censorship:

Bangladeshi authorities Tuesday arrested a cartoonist after drawings that Muslims said insulted their religion were published in a national newspaper, police and the government said.

A Home Ministry statement said Arifur Rahman's sketches — titled 'Name' — that came out Monday in a weekly supplement of the Prothom Alo — 'hurt the religious sentiments of the people.'

* * *

Rahman was yet to be formally charged, Alam said, adding that he was arrested under a stringent law that allows detention without any specific charges.

Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority nation, has no specific blasphemy laws. But offenders can be prosecuted for hurting religious or public sentiments.
Well, OK, so that "detention without charge" thing is right up our alley (see Padilla, Jose, et. al). But at least we don't have US Marshals or FBI agents running around arresting cartoonists for hurting people's feelings.

If you're curious, you can see the cartoon in this diary over at DailyKos. Seems pretty funny to me, but I'm the blasphemous sort.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I Hope This Is a Hoax, Too

Since I got punk'd last weekend, I tempted to not pass this along as being a hoax, but it's got the ring of plausibility. Apparently there is a new, private, very exclusive restaurant in Tokyo where, before you eat your food, you get to plook it:

A disgusting and twisted restaurant in the Tokyo entertainment district of Roppongi is enticing warped rich folk with the opportunity to figuratively have their cake and eat it, too -- with animals, according to Jitsuwa Knuckles (9/25).

Roppongi's bestiality restaurant is being regarded by its main nouveau riche patronage of young company presidents and venture capitalists as a decadent practice only possible among the wealthy.
I'm not making this up:
Once the customer feels prepared, they will be presented with beast of their choice. In the lawyer's case, it was a sow.

'I'd been told what to expect, but when I actually saw what was happening, it was as shocking as you'd imagine it to be,' M tells Jitsuwa Knuckles. 'Later, the lawyer told me the appeal of the place just came about because when people have got money and done everything else, they turn toward bestiality.'

Once the lawyer had finished porking the pig, the couple returned to the first floor and sat at a table to dine. M says she was totally shocked when staff members carried in roast pork -- made of the same sow the lawyer had earlier been with.

'I was about to vomit,' M says. 'It was the same pig that had been squealing just moments before. Now, it had been roasted whole. I managed to avoid eating it by only having salad.'
Is this what my mother meant when she told me not to "play" with my food?

Creative Defense Lawyering v. Reality

I work with some pretty creative defense attorneys, but I don't think any of them would have come up with this (via Dispatches from the Culture Wars):

The judge in the Glenn Howard Griffin murder trial has blocked a defense tactic that attempted to undermine DNA testing by claiming it contradicts scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

* * *

Defense attorneys had hoped to claim some DNA testing has established that American Indians descend from Asian or Sibe- rian ancestry.

The LDS Book of Mormon teaches early Americans’ ancestors are ancient tribes of Israel.

'Because orthodox members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claim to have a spiritual witness, or revelation, concerning the truthfulness and historicity of the Book of Mormon, (defendant) will argue, expressly or implied, that it is … DNA that must be wrong and, therefore, rejected,' prosecutors claimed in a motion to ban the tactic.

In his order issued Wednesday, 1st District Judge Ben Hadfield granted the prosecution motion . . ..
Imagine the possibilities had that ploy worked - any bit of inculpatory evidence could be excluded if you could conjure up some religious belief that it contradicted!

Make 'em Read the Phone Book, Already

Remember when the GOP controlled the Senate and even the threat of a filibuster by the Democrats was an attack on the very foundations of the republic? That outrage, of course, completely fizzled once the GOP became the minority party in the Senate where, through a series of cloture votes, they've stymied several pieces of Democratic legislation. The latest victim is the bill that would have reversed the abominable Military Commissions Act of 2006, which fell four votes short of the 60 needed to end debate.

I know that anything that passes the Senate is destined to die once it hits Duhbya's desk, but just once I'd like to see the Dems force the GOPers to actually make the filibuster happen. Make 'em read the phone book, I say.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Might as Well Sue All the Doctors If They Don't Get It Done

One of the really odd things about religious folks, to me, is how they see an omniscient God's benevolent hand in disasters when they suffer a fate less than death, but won't provide the same credit for all the bad that happened. If God is all-powerful and can spare you from dying in the tornado that hit the trailer park, doesn't He bear some blame for your neighbors being sucked away to Oz as well?

Well, finally, one Nebraska state senator - no doubt familiar with tornadoes himself - has had enough and has done what one of my professors advised when somebody hurts you: sue the bastard! OK, so the bastard in this case is God and it's nothing more than a publicity stunt, but still I think it's worth congratulating the senator for aiming high!

Oh, and as Eugene did over at Volokh Conspiracy, I am ethically required to point out that in 1971 a Federal court in Pennsylvania tossed a suit against a similarly unlikely defendant - "Satan and his Staff." The money quote:

We note that the plaintiff has failed to include with his complaint the required form of instructions for the United States Marshal for directions as
to service of process.
Yes - the one-person court used the Royal We, which raises all sorts of other issues

Evolved Morality

One concept fundies have a hard time coming to grips with is the idea that morality can be derived outside of religious commands. The Golden Rule, after all, while endorsed by Jesus and backed by the power of God is a perfectly rational utilitarian concept and has analogs in other earlier belief systems. What if such basic moral principals were a product of our evolution? Today's New York Times has the theory.

Problems for Trouble

Last month I blogged about famed tax evader Leona Helmsley's will, which left nothing to some of her grandkids and $12 million to her dog, Trouble. As Joanna Grossman explains over at FindLaw, it may not be that easy for Trouble to collect. If I ever leave the criminal defense field, I want to go work in will and estate law. It must be so fun for parties to argue over who gets money that neither one of them have ever actually possessed and some other dead person never wanted them to have.

Monday, September 17, 2007

It's Short for "Fanatics," Keep in Mind

Philadelphia sports fans are notoriously tough - they booed Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt if he didn't hit a home run every time at bat, they've booed Donovan McNabb endlessly (more than a Syracuse grad deserves, even) - hell, they've even booed Santa Claus! So what must it say about the market for soccer in Philly that there's a supporter's club, the Sons of Ben, for a team that doesn't even exit yet?

Is Nothing Sacred?

It doesn't look like the Minneapolis authorities will have to worry too much about that airport bathroom being a haven for public sex - it's too crowded with tourists. That's right, the bathroom in which Larry Craig was ensnared in a frothy mix of sex, crime, and politics is attracting crowds:

'People are taking pictures,' Karen Evans, an information officer at Minneapolis-St Paul international airport, told Associated Press.

* * *

Now it seems that tourists passing through the airport cannot resist the temptation to have a look at the scene.

'We had to just stop and check out the bathroom,' said Sally Westby of Minneapolis, on her way to Guatemala with her husband Jon.

'In fact, it's Jon's second time - he was here last week already.'
Hmm, wonder if there's any wide stance toe-tappin' in Jon's closet?

Speaking of the still Republican Senator from Idaho, he's gained support from an unlikely ally - the ACLU. The civil liberties groups has filed a an amicus brief on Craig's behalf, arguing essentially that what Craig is accused of doing - publicly soliciting sex, not soliciting public sex - is protected First Amendment speech.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Yes, I Was

Was I missing something about this? Yes, I was - it's a hoax:

The site's primary purpose is pretty obviously to pull some legs and yank some chains. And in fact, the site's creator, John Ordover (who has conducted a number of radio interviews in which he pretended to be the site's fictional publicity director, "Roger Mandervan"), has acknowledged that he did indeed set up as a parody intended to draw attention to inconsistencies in state marriage laws.
Consider my leg pulled and my chain yanked. I'm off to the blackboard to write "I will be more skeptical" 100 times.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Am I Missing Something?

I'm not just a lawyer - my first degree was in history, which has always been a passion of mine. When history and law converge, look out - I generally know my stuff. Which is why this web site (via Pharyngula) really confuses me. Here is the "service" the provide:

Marry Our Daughter is an introduction service assisting those following the Biblical tradition of arranging marriages for their daughters.

Those who wish to list their Daughters with our site should click on SIGN UP OUR DAUGHTER on our main page for a form to fill out.

Those who wish to propose to a specific Daughter should click on the PROPOSE button on the Daughter’s INFO CARD.
As creepy as that is, it doesn't get to the bottom line - that these "brides" can all be had for a price. The victims on the front page as I view it now have "Bride Prices" of $27,995; $37,500; $49,995; $24,995; and $19,995 (a bargain basement bride, apparently).

Now, my legal history is shaky sometimes, but didn't this country pass a Constitutional Amendment after a bloody and divisive Civil War to outlaw the sale of human beings?

I don't doubt this comes from "Biblical tradition" - lots of heinous practices do. What do you say we just chuck the whole damn thing and start from scratch?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

What Punishment for Cheaters?

It's been a weird week in the sports world. First, the New England Patriots get caught using videotape to spy on the signal calling of the New York Jets during their opening-week blowout in Jersey. The NFL is now trying to figure the appropriate punishment - forfeiture? loss of draft picks? a fine?

Meanwhile, a spying scandal in Formula 1 has (allegedly) ended with the McLaren-Mercedes team being "excluded" from the 2007 World Constructors Championship and fined $100 million (yes, you read that right) as punishment for getting their hands on technical data from rival Ferrari. Oddly enough, while McLaren the team is excluded from the championship, its drivers - rookie sensation Lewis Hamilton and 2-time defending World Champion Fernando Alonso - will suffer no consequences in terms of points, race wins, etc. As a result, Ferrari has virtually been handed the Constructor's title, while Hamilton and Alonso will battle it out between themselves for the Driver's title.

I'll admit - this makes no sense to me. Presumably the exclusion of the McLaren team comes from the fact that the Ferrari info gave them some advantage during the season. In other words, it helped them beat Ferrari. Hamilton and Alonso were driving the cars and benefit equally from the illegal behavior - how can they be allowed to profit? Even assuming that the drivers had no part in the spying stuff (which I think is the case), their points accumulated so far this year have been tainted. At the very least, one wonders if the eventual champ will get the * by his name in the record book.

Which brings me back to the Patriots - should they forfeit the win over the Jets? Seems to me they should. Although the players likely weren't involved in spying on the Jets, they (potentially) benefited from it. The only way to deprive the Pats of the fruits of their crime is via forfeit.

I'm reminded of this post I wrote about repeated Government wrong doing in appellate procedure. It won't sink in that something wrong is going on until a price is paid that makes them take notice. I don't doubt that $100 million will get McLaren's (or Mercedes's) attention - but if they can still claim to win a World Championship at the end of the year, I'm sure it's a price worth paying.

A Peek Inside Supermax

The Bureau of Prisons, the agency responsible for corralling those folks who have violated Federal law, has outposts scattered across the country. The installations have house varying levels of security and intensity based on the kind of inmates housed there. The BoP outpost in Florence, Colorado is one of the Bureau's largest, with five separate institutions. The "jewel" of Florence, if you will, is ADX Florence - the "Alcatraz of the Rockies" - where the BoP's most violent and high profile inmates are housed.

Since ADX Florence was opened, it has been off limits to journalists. I'm not talking about getting in to interview inmates, I mean getting in at all. This past week, for the first time, a group of journalists got brief tour of the facilities. CBS legal guru Andrew Cohen reports his impressions here and here (via TalkLeft). It's not the Hobbesian nightmare it could be:

Warden Wiley told us that he speaks personally with every single inmate in his facility at least once a week. So what does Terry Nichols talk about? What does the Unabomber have to say? All Wiley would tell us is that their requests are more practical than philosophical in nature. The high-profile prisoners, he said, are actually among the best behaved in the facility. 'It is super quiet' where they are confined, he said, 'and they exhibit a lot of discipline and respect for authority.'
Still, lest anybody think it is not a dark hole into which we cast our worst elements:
But my lasting impressions of my morning at Supermax are of the quiet of the place and of the hundreds and hundreds of remote-controlled cameras. The level of control exercised over virtually every single function is remarkable, and for most of the inmates there, this soulless, artificial world is all they will ever again know.

I'm not saying that the inmates don't deserve that fate. I'm just saying I took no satisfaction in seeing it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

This is Why People Hate Cops

Dan Solove over at Concurring Opinions has a post with a YouTube video of a guy who gets pulled over by a cop for no apparent reason. When the driver tries to assert that he's not doing anything, the cop threatens to arrest him on made up bullshit charges or worse. Too bad the guy he pulled over was running video (CNN has an interview with the driver here).

You really should watch the video, but here are some choice quotes (my transcription is a little rough - I could have heard some things incorrectly):

You wanna try me? You wanna try me? Tonight? . . . I will ruin your fucking night! . . . Do you want to try me tonight, young boy!

You wanna go to jail for some fucking reason I come up with?

You wanna see how knows the law better?

Ever get smart mouth with a cop again, I show you what a cop does.

Talk back to me again and I . . . say you resisted arrest or something, you want to come up with something? I come up with nine things!

[something about swerving] I might give you a ticket for that. Want me to come up with some more?

Come on, boy! Come on, boy! Gimme some more lip!

Answer me, or I'll lock you up . . . complying with a police officer's demands.

You want me to lock you up and show you I'm right and you're wrong?

I don't have to have reasons to pull you over.
He had what almost every cop has - almost unquestioned authority to make you do their bidding. His only sin was getting caught. If there is any justice, this cop's 20-year career is about to come to a crashing halt, hopefully with a lawsuit chaser.

Speaking of True Believers *sigh*

From USA Today comes news of disturbing new poll about the beliefs of Americans regarding the founding principles of the United States:

Most Americans believe the nation's founders wrote Christianity into the Constitution, and people are less likely to say freedom to worship covers religious groups they consider extreme, a poll out today finds.

The survey measuring attitudes toward freedom of religion, speech and the press found that 55% believe erroneously that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation. In the survey, which is conducted annually by the First Amendment Center, a non-partisan educational group, three out of four people who identify themselves as evangelical or Republican believe that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation.* About half of Democrats and independents do.

Most respondents, 58%, say teachers in public schools should be allowed to lead prayers. That is an increase from 2005, when 52% supported teacher-led prayer in public schools.
This is largely a result, it seems to me, of an entire cottage industry that has popped up on the religious right with the intent of rewriting history to turn this into a "Christian nation." For lots of good info on that see here. Although it's particularly disturbing that grounds not normally associated with the Christian right believe that drivel, too.

It's not all horrid news:
Half say teachers should be allowed to use the Bible as a factual text in history class. That's down from 56% in 2000.
A decrease is good, but 50% is still way too high a number for that kind of question.

* Bonus points to any person who can show me where these concepts, fundamental to our Constitution, are rooted in the Bible or Christianity, I'd appreciate it: separation of powers, bicameral legislature, federalism, limited government, checks and balances, etc.

Thinkers v. True Believers

Monday's Los Angeles Times had an interesting article about scientific research into the minds of liberals and conservatives. This research went beyond the political:

Previous psychological studies have found that conservatives tend to be more structured and persistent in their judgments whereas liberals are more open to new experiences. The latest study found those traits are not confined to political situations but also influence everyday decisions.

The results show 'there are two cognitive styles -- a liberal style and a conservative style,' said UCLA neurologist Dr. Marco Iacoboni, who was not connected to the latest research.
This tends to confirm an earlier survey that liberals tend to read more than conservatives and are more interested in nuance and shades of grey than hard principles.

The next question, it seems to me, is the chicken or egg thing - which comes first? The socio/political worldview or the analytical bias? Does one become a conservative because their thinking is more structured or vice versa?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Reflections on 9/11

Over on the WV Blogger's Forum, jedi jawa started a thread about our reflections on 9/11 in honor of the sixth anniversary. It's an interesting discussion. I ended up blabbering on quite a bit more than I intended (of course).

Auf Wiedersehen, Joe

One of the driving forces behind the 70s fusion scene and a hell of a keyboard player, Joe Zawinul, passed away today. Zawinul was an early adopter of the electric piano and synthesizers and the organizing musical force in seminal fusion band Weather Report. That was after working with such legends as Cannonball Adderly and Miles Davis.

Rather than prattle on I will, as they say, let the music do the talking - Weather Report, live in Germany, 1978:

If there is an afterlife, I don't doubt that Joe and Jaco have already settled down for one helluva jam.

No, I Really Mean It - Game On!

The last time there was a World Cup in Asia - the men's competition in Korea/Japan in 2002 - my rising well before dawn to watch US matches was rewarded with the opening upset over Portugal, which is a hell of a way to start your day! Like rolling out of bed to a beautiful blue sky sunny morning, complete with little birdies singing.

What happened this morning was more akin to being dragged out of bed for school by your Mom during the deepest darkest dregs of winter. The US opened its Women's World Cup play in China against North Korea this morning (yes, I got up and watched live). Not only did the Koreans hold the US to a 2-2 draw, but we were lucky to get away with anything at all. The Koreans enjoyed a majority of the possession and looked more consistently dangerous. The American midfield was nonexistent and we looked, well, skittish. With no midfield connection, defensive clearances just broke the Koreans' rhythm and gave them a chance to reload.

Having said that, but for a goal keeping blunder on the first Korean goal, we would have won it. Still, for the #1 team in the world that has never lost an opening round game in World Cup play to need to scramble back to scratch out a draw in its opener is not a positive sign. Hopefully, things will improve against Sweden on Friday.

Don't Cut Out the Spiritual Middle Man

Today the Sixth Circuit entered an opinion in an interesting state habeas case out of Michigan. The case involved Janniss Varner, who was convicted of arranging a failed hit on her abusive boyfriend. Two years later, the boyfriend was murdered (not by Varner, presumably). During the investigation, investigators searching the boyfriend's home found some journals belonging to Varner:

The journals identified the gunman of the 1995 shooting and disclosed Varner’s responsibility for arranging the attempted murder. The journals also revealed that Knight had raped, choked and abused her in the past and noted that, two days prior to the shooting, '[h]e raped me and tied me up for three hours.' Her entries also expressed her wish that Knight had died in 1995, her lack of remorse for her actions and her determination to kill him in the future. The entries often were addressed 'Dear God,' sometimes contained prayers of supplication and thanks, ('Lord, give me guidance and insight concerning what I need to do . . . .'); ('Lord I do thank you for helping me. God I thank you for saving me and keeping me in my right mind.'), and in places expressed her disillusionment with organized religion and church services.
(citations omitted). At trial, Varner creatively tried to have these inculpatory journals excluded by claiming that they were confidential religious statements made directly to God. Michigan's version of the priest-penitent privilege applies only to statements made to some sort of religious intermediary - priest, pastor, rabbi, etc. - not statements made directly to God. That law violated the First Amendment and therefore should be extended to cover Varner's statements.

The Sixth Circuit wasn't buying (in line with the other courts involved), concluding:
The privilege requires the communication to be directed to a member of the clergy—just as the other privileges require the communication to be directed to an attorney or doctor—because it is the clergy who may be subpoenaed to testify against the individual. The same possibility does not exist with private writings to God, who may be petitioned but never subpoenaed.
So there you have it, kids - that personal relationship with God/Jesus/The Flying Spaghetti Monster is all well and good, but if you're going to confess to a crime, find a His secretary to take notes!

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Flintstones as History

One of the joys of my college years was encountering Chick Tracts - little booklets filled with cartoon stories telling the "truth" of fundamentalist Bible thumpers. These tended to loiter on near garbage cans in public places in hopes of being found by sinners in need of salvation. Sadly, for Jack Chick, at least, many of them were found by me. Jack's organization is still at it, and has updated for the 21st Century with Chick Tracks online.

Via Respectful Insolence, we learn that a new Chick Tract is out that explains what really happened to the dinosaurs. Here's a hint - it wasn't a meteor strike. Or even smoking. Apparently whalers were involved.

Legal Eagle Racing's New Wheels

I have a problem. I don't drink. I don't smoke. I don't chase women. I do, however, have a wandering automotive eye. It's not long after I've acquired a vehicle before I start looking around for something new and interesting. Autocrossing feeds that addiction, as I get exposed to lots of different very cool cars.

After winning multiple championships last year in the EP3 Civic Si, affectionately dubbed the Minivan(tm), I started thinking about where to go next. Over the summer, I toyed with several ideas - make the Minvan more of a hard-core autocross car, get a beater second car to play with, etc. One possibility was always to just trade the Minivan(tm) in on something better and more interesting, if I could find it.

This weekend, I did:

Friday night I discovered this practically new (2200 miles!) MazdaSpeed3 on a local used car lot. After driving it on Saturday, I was hooked. With good reason.

Car & Driver named the MS3 one of the 10 Best Cars of 2007, calling it in another review "[a] crazy-fast box of fun, the definitive power toy." Grassroots Motorsports summarized that it "[l]ooks like an econobox, pulls like a locomotive and handles like it’s on rails. This, largely, is why:

A turbocharged version of the 2.3 liter inline-4 found in the regular Mazda3 sedan, the motor (which is also used in Mazda's ALMS LMP2 prototype) makes a whopping 263 horsepower. It does, as advertised, pin you back in the seat when properly motivated. Thankfully, with a 6-speed gearbox, it's still relatively livable around town and (hopefully) won't get me a stack of tickets!

Looks good with the LER graphic on the side, huh?

This ought to keep my wandering eye in check. For a little while, anyway.

Game On!

The 2007 Women's World Cup kicked off this morning in China, with defending champions Germany mauling Argentina, 11-0. The favored American's get group play started tomorrow against North Korea. I don't expect the same sort of ass-whompin' that the Germans laid down on the Argentines, but it would be nice to answer their opening volley with a decisive win.

Declare Victory and Get Out

A sensible plan for Iraq? Maybe, but it's been employed by Stephen Dunne to extricate himself from his bogus lawsuit against the Massachusetts state bar. Dunne asked the court to dismiss his suit because the offending question did not reappear on the July version of the bar exam. He says it is a "corrective action." The bar disagrees:

But in court documents filed yesterday, the board’s attorney said the board has “not agreed to limit the content” of any future bar exams. The board’s decision not to include the same question on the July exam “merely reflects their standard practice of not repeating questions on successive bar examinations,” the court filing said.
Spin away, Mr. Dunne.

It's Always in the Last Place You Look

Where's the last place you'd look for an ancient Viking warship? If you said "under a pub parking lot in England," you'd be right:

A 1,000-year-old Viking longship is thought to have been discovered under a pub car park on Merseyside.

The vessel is believed to lie beneath 6ft to 10ft (2m to 3m) of clay by the Railway Inn in Meols, Wirral, where Vikings are known to have settled.
It was discovered using ground penetrating radar, which makes me wonder if the 21st Century version of lonely old guys scouring the beaches with medal detectors will be similarly skeevy guys wandering around parking lots looking for sunken treasure.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Dear Senator Craig

This is a plea, truly heart felt, to Senator Larry Craig (R-Closet), who is impressively managing to extend his 15-minutes of fame:


For fuck's sake, first you were guilty of doing something in that Minnesota men's room, then you're not. Then you've decided to resign, only to turn around and "reconsider" that decision while you prolong the fight. Now, it appears, you're flip flopping again, at least according to your spokesman:

"The most likely scenario, by far, is that by October there will be a new senator from Idaho," Craig spokesman Dan Whiting told the Associated Press.

The only circumstances in which Craig might try to complete his term, Whiting said, would require the overturning by Sept. 30 of his conviction for disorderly conduct in a men's room at the Minneapolis airport, as well as Senate GOP leaders' agreement to restore Craig's committee leaderships posts taken away this week.
Now it's "I won't resign unless certain benchmarks are met by the end of September." Look, I really don't mind what you're decision is, just make one and stick to it! All this slipperiness - you'd think you were a career politician! Oh, wait a sec . . .

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Mix Disc Mix Down

We talk a lot about music over at the WV Blogger Forum. Inspired by all that talk, Scarlet decided to organize a mix-CD swap amongst the board regulars. I've already inflicted my peculiar tastes on my victim, so it's time for me to do a quick once-over of the disc I got. My disc came from Mr. Lantern over at Saved By the Torso.

The track list:

“In ‘n’ Out of Grace” – Mudhoney
“Nevermind” – The Replacements
“Case” – Lucero
“Left of the Dial” – The Replacements
“Goin’ Out West” – Tom Waits
“Unsatisfied” – The Replacements
“Kamera” – Wilco
“Beyond the Wheel” – Soundgarden
“Hold It Now” – Beastie Boys (w/sample from “Take the Time”)
“Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love” – Van Halen
“What Else Would You Have Me Be” – Lucero
“Charmed Life” – Mike Ness
“History Lesson” – The Minutemen
For the most part, this stuff was all new to me. With a few exceptions, I'd heard of most of these artists, but not heard anything (or much of anything) by them. Among the completely new to me group is The Replacements, obviously a favorite of Jackie's. Of those three tracks, I really like "Unsatisfied" (nice 12-string intro) and "Left of the Dial." "Nevermind" is a little too whiny for my tastes, but still pretty good. The other multiple-song group here, Lucero, is the one I'm most likely to go track down now. I particularly like the harp and keys on "Case." Also completely new to me were Mike Ness (nice slide) and The Minutemen (didn't really make an impression on me).

From the "I know of them, but . . ." file, I like the Mudhoney track. Great little intro (the sort of earnest teenage rant that Zappa satirized on "Teen-Age Wind"), nice riff - reminds me of something from the Clerks soundtrack.

Tom Waits is somewhat of an acquired taste, I think - he's got one of those "distinctive voices" that either endears him to you or is off putting (think Dylan, Neil Young, or Captain Beefheart). I'm in the latter group with Waits, although I like the song itself quite a bit (any tune that references "making the parole officer happy" scores points with me).

The Soundgarden track is the most off-the-beaten path of this group, with Chris Cornell's high metal vocals reminding me of The Mars Volta, a bit (I can't understand either of them). It's got balls 'n' chunk, which, as Mike Portnoy once observed, is where it's at.

As for the Beastie Boys - eh, I'm not really a rap fan. Some of their other stuff I've heard I like a little better, and they guested on Futurama so you know they're good guys, but it's not my thing (interesting continuity note - the "Hold It Now" vocal sample is the same one used on Dream Theater's "Take the Time," if I'm not mistaken).

I actually own a Wilco album, A Ghost Is Born, so I know their stuff. I know a lot of people like the band a whole lot, but they just don't connect with me. I like their stuff ("Kamera" is a good tune), but it doesn't really fire my engines the way I expected it might. I also actually own a Van (Freakin') Halen album - the self-titled debut, so I'm very familiar with "Ain't Talkin' 'Bout Love."

Overall, this little swap exposed me to a lot of stuff I hadn't heard before. Some I liked a lot, some didn't really flip my switch, but none of it caused any gross intestinal distress. I'd call that mission accomplished! Thanks, Jackie!

And You Thought PDs Worked Cheap

When David Beckham signed with Major League Soccer earlier this year, much was made of the $250 million he could reap in the next five years. Even pairing it down to guaranteed salary, Becks stands to make more this season than anybody else in the league. Dig below the surface of big-name players and US internationals, and the situation gets even worse.

Over at ESPNSoccernet, Kristian Dyer explores the career decisions of defender Jay Needham as an object lesson in the economics of soccer in the US. In spite of being drafted by DC United, Needham chose to play with the Puerto Rico Islanders of the second-division USL1:

Needham's journey to the second division is puzzling on the surface. A stylish defender, 6-foot-2 Needham was consistently awarded honors and all-conference selections throughout his career. It came as no surprise that Needham, a team captain and a starter at SMU since his freshman year, was drafted by D.C. United. In fact, many felt Needham fit an obvious need along the United back line. It all added up in most people's minds.

But it didn't add up in Needham's bank account.
Needham passed up the chance to play his way into the starting 11 of MLS's premier franchise because the developmental contract he was offered would have paid so little he would have had to find a second job.

As Dyer points out, there's no problem with young American talent skipping MLS to take their chances in Europe. It's much more of a concern when that talent it willing to play in the minor leagues just to make ends meet.

This Is Larry Craig's Kind of Judge

Some state judges like to explore alternative punishments. I haven't heard this one before:

Authorities are investigating allegations that now-suspended Mobile County Circuit Judge Herman Thomas periodically removed prisoners from Mobile County Metro Jail and spanked them in a room at the courthouse, according to courthouse sources involved in the inquiry.

Once inside the room, according to the sources, the judge would ask the young men to drop their pants and prepare to be spanked with what they described as a wooden or fraternity-like paddle.
Apparently, Judge Thomas is from the "spare the rod, spoil the child" school:
At least one young man has alleged that as a prelude to the paddling, Thomas told him that if he had been spanked when he was a child, he would not have found himself in jail later, according to one of the newspaper's sources.
Were there guidelines that dictated the number of spankings? Was Judge Thomas a fan of the University of Minnesota Spankalogical Protocol? It boggles the mind!

The Goat Is Not a Creature of the Air

I know it's not polite to point your finger and snicker about the practices of other cultures, but still:

Nepal's state-run airline has confirmed that it sacrificed two goats to appease a Hindu god, following technical problems with one of its aircraft.

Nepal Airlines said the animals were slaughtered in front of the plane - a Boeing 757 - at Kathmandu airport.

The offering was made to Akash Bhairab, the Hindu god of sky protection, whose symbol is seen on the company's planes.

The airline said that after Sunday's ceremony the plane successfully completed a flight to Hong Kong.
Fear not - I'd be equally happy to point and snicker out our own silly home-grown religious rituals.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Two History Blurbs

Presented here together simply because I came across them both today.

  • AP is reporting (via Huffington Post) that the file maintained by UK intelligence agency MI5 on author George Orwell was declassified today. It shows that while local police had their suspicions that the man who penned Animal Farm might be a subversive, MI5 wasn't concerned. One of the things that tipped off the locals was Orwell's habit of "dress[ing] in a bohemian fashion both at his office and in his leisure hours." Heaven forbid anybody try to determine my political views via my sartorial choices!
  • Meanwhile, a blog from has an interesting nugget of info about Jeffrey Toobin's forthcoming Supreme Court book, The Nine. According to Toobin, Justice David Souter was so shaken by the whole Bush v. Gore fiasco that he almost quit the Court right after. He remained "[a]t the urging of a handful of close friends."

Monday, September 03, 2007

Unlike a Good Neighbor

This weekend, while waiting on some of the less sane in our party to finish up a ride at Kennywood, the girlfriend, an old friend of hers, and I had an interesting little discussion about neighbors. Specifically, neighbors who move into an area and then demand that the neighborhood change. The girlfriend's friend mentioned another amusement park that is now surrounded by residential neighborhoods with people so sensitive that the park has to put "do not scream" signs on specific rides. I countered with tales of race tracks (drag strips, mostly) across the country that were originally built in the middle of nowhere now being overtaken by sprawl. These new neighbors have the audacity to then complain about the noise!

Fitting enough, on the way back to the Ranch on Sunday, I heard this interesting story on NPR about a variation on the same thing. It seems that for years, drummers and other musicians (mostly drummers) have gathered in Marcus Garvey Park in Harlem on Saturdays for impromptu jams. The beat ebbs and flows most of the day, a feast of improvisatory rhythms. However, in recent years, high-end condos and revitalized homes have been built around the park and - guess what? - the folks buying those homes are starting to complain about the noise.

I simply don't understand it - the jam session in the park has been going on for 30 years. There's no reasonable excuse for not knowing about it before moving in, although the realtors apparently aren't helping - they paper over the ethnic makeup of the park by referring it as Mount Morris Park, in spite of it being renamed Marcus Garvey Park in 1973. It's arrogant, rude, and just plain shitty to move into someone else's back yard and start bitching about how they live their lives. My subdivision is next to the Interstate, which I knew when I bought my house - should I complain to the state about the road noise?

Talk About Universal Jurisdiction

The modern concept of universal jurisdiction allows countries all over the world to prosecute people for crimes against humanity (think of arrest warrants out in various countries for folks like Henry Kissinger and Don Rumsfeld). Can it be stretched not only across international borders but across the eons of time? Kenya may find out as (via Dispatches from the Culture Wars) a group there has petitioned the Kenyan courts to declare the execution of Jesus "illegal." A group called "Friends of Jesus" is behind the petition:

The FOJ includes Kenyan lawyers and wealthy businessmen who view their worldly fortune in this east African country, where half the population lived below the poverty line as a gift from God.

The FOJ's lawyer Humphrey Odanga said Jesus' Crucifixion was a wrongful punishment for a trial based on charges of 'blaspheming the Holy Spirit' and should be corrected by modern law.

* * *

One member said: 'We need the court to clarify, for the record, that Jesus was not a criminal. He advocated for the rule of law. Do you mean to worship a convicted criminal?'
Jurisdictional issues aside, there appear to be some theological ones to work out, too. I'm not a Biblical scholar by any stretch, but wasn't the idea that God sent Jesus to Earth as a sacrifice to wash clean the sins of mankind? In other words - doesn't he have to die in the end? It seems like harmless error (at best) if his execution was "illegal."