Sunday, November 30, 2008

NaNo Update - I'm a Weener!

Not like I waited until the last minute or anything, but I'm happy to report that I am a "winner" of National Novel Writing Month 2008. That means I've written at least 50,000 words this month. As I said earlier, this won't be the end of it, as I've got a ways to go before this first draft is finished (current total is 50,806 words*). Still, I'm content to sit back now and revel in a sense of accomplishment for a few minutes. Woot!

Thanks again to everybody who provided support or encouragement over the past month or so!

For the record, the 50,000th word was "pieces," if you're scoring at home.

* Actually, the total is now 52,382! The juices were really flowing today.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday

For all the retail slaves manning the stores, and all the shoppers causing them grief, a little Steely Dan:

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy turkey day, everybody. Don't overdo it on the bird, tho', OK? And remember - turkey's can't fly:

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

What a Great Twit!

This story:

A Santo Domingo man is in jail, accused of driving drunk and leading police on a chase that finally ended with him running over himself.

* * *

After narrowly missing other vehicles, police said Aguilar drove through a ditch and a barbed-wire fence before stopping. He tried to put the truck into park, but it ended up in reverse.

Police said Aguilar fell from his open door and both of his legs were run over by the front driver's side tire.
Requires posting this sketch:

It's a shame we don't have competitions like that in America.


Over at Reason's Hit and Run blog, Radley Balko has a post simply titled "Here's a Bad Idea." He's right. What is the idea? Electing public defenders:

Witness Matt Shirk, a Republican recently elected public defender in Jacksonville, Florida. Shirk, who was backed by the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, has never defended a homicide case. His campaign promises included a vow not to oppose funding cuts to the office he was running for, and a promise to squeeze as much money as possible out of indigent defendants, including a proposal for the postponed billing of acquitted defendants who might later be able to find some employment.
The FoP and the PD should not be friends. Cordial colleagues, OK, but nothing more than that. And the idea of running on a platform of cutting costs in an office that is chronically underfunded is mind boggling.

As prosecutors sometimes do, Shirk is cleaning house in his office, including some mildly famous faces:
As it turns out, several of the fired attorneys Shirk fired worked on the high-profile case of Brenton Butler, a 16-year-old wrongly accused of the robbery and murder of an elderly tourist. The Butler case was a huge embarrassment for Jacksonville’s sheriff’s department. Trial testimony suggested Butler’s confession had been beaten out of him by detectives with the department. Butler’s case eventually became the subject of the Oscar-winning HBO documentary Murder on a Sunday Morning. The sheriff’s department apologized to Butler, and reopened its investigation into the murder.
If you've never seen Murder on a Sunday Morning, get it in your Netflix queue right now. It's an amazing documentary and a real story of the hard fight for justice. I'll have to take another look at it, as it's one of those things that makes me proud to be a PD.

I Don't Remember These

The Onion has some important Supreme Court decisions I've overlooked for all these years:

I'll have to try and work Jablome v. Freely into my next brief.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Killer Robot Parade

Today's New York Times has an interesting article on the near future possibility of autonomous robots on the battlefield. Part of the appeal is that robots would be hardwired with rules of engagement and would avoid things like emotionally fueled war crimes. This part in particular caught my eye:

In a report to the Army last year, Dr. Arkin described some of the potential benefits of autonomous fighting robots. For one thing, they can be designed without an instinct for self-preservation and, as a result, no tendency to lash out in fear. They can be built without anger or recklessness, Dr. Arkin wrote, and they can be made invulnerable to what he called 'the psychological problem of ‘scenario fulfillment,’' which causes people to absorb new information more easily if it agrees with their pre-existing ideas.
Coincidentally, I'm currently reading (well, listening to) The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman. It's a Hugo/Nebula award winner (although it's showing its age now) about a soldier who fights a war on far off planets while, thanks to the magic of time dilation, the Earth he's fighting undergoes fundamental changes.

In the part I listened to on the way home from work yesterday, the narrator explains why, several hundred years in the future, robots did not prove useful as ground troops - precisely due to the lack of a self-preservation instinct. That would seem counterintuitive, but maybe that will be the outcome after all?

Is Hillary Eligible?

After all the “will she or won’t she” melodrama over whether Hillary Clinton would accept Obama’s invitation to be his Secretary of State, might it all have been for naught? As extrapolated more fully in a couple of posts over at The Volokh Conspiracy, she might not even be eligible to take the office.

The problem is Article I, Section 6, Clause 2 of the Constitution, which reads:

No Senator or Representative shall, during the Time for which he was elected, be appointed to any civil Office under the Authority of the United States, which shall have been created, or the Emoluments whereof shall have been encreased during such time ....
This is a problem because in January of this year, Duhbya, via an executive order under authority granted to the President by Congress in 1990, gave a Cost of Living Adjustment (“COLA”) to all executive branch employees, including the Secretary of State. So the question is, does the Emoluments Clause prevent Hillary – who was a Senator when Duhbya’s executive order was entered – from serving in “any civil Office under the Authority of the United States”? It’s not at all clear. A couple of commentators say no, even if Hillary relinquishes her Senate seat before nomination.

Personally, I find some of the comments over at VC about the nature of COLAs fairly persuasive. The argument is that the “emoluments” of the Secretary of State include a salary of x+COLA and thus only increasing “x” would be problematic. That makes sense to me. In my job, I’m paid like a civil servant (even though I’m not one), in that I get stepped up the grid for every year of service. That would be equivalent to increasing “x”. But separate and apart from that, we occasionally get COLAs which, in essence, bump the entire grid up. I don’t think of COLAs as a raises, in the traditional sense.

Of course, the question might all be purely academic (like the “is West Virginia constitutional?” issue) wrangling. Assuming Obama nominates and the Senate confirms Hillary, I don’t imagine a judge will look forward to ousting a sitting Cabinet member of an obscure Constitutional provision that may or may not apply. It might take some legalistic tap dancing to make it work, tho’.

Monday, November 24, 2008

NaNo Update - The Stretch Run

We've moved into the final week of National Novel Writing Month and I'm happy to report that I'm still on target to hit the goal of 50,000 words by the end of the month. My current total is 41,317 words, so I only need about 1500 words for the rest of the month to hit 50k.

That's the good news, dear reader(s). Now here's the bad news - the book won't be done at 50k. In fact, I've just turned the corner and finished up what I think of as "part one." If part two is the same length, this won't be done until well into December. As a result, blogging might continue to be light to nonexistent for the foreseeable future. I'll be back, I swear!

Well, That's Depressing

As the economy teeters on the brink and we prepared to (hopefully) recover the country from the horror of The Duhbya Years, here's a news report (via Kos) that reports that we might not be in the best hands:

US elected officials scored abysmally on a test measuring their civic knowledge, with an average grade of just 44 percent, the group that organized the exam said Thursday.

Ordinary citizens did not fare much better, scoring just 49 percent correct on the 33 exam questions compiled by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute (ISI).

'It is disturbing enough that the general public failed ISI's civic literacy test, but when you consider the even more dismal scores of elected officials, you have to be concerned,' said Josiah Bunting, chairman of the National Civic Literacy Board at ISI.
Actually, what's really depressing is that the test questions cover really basic stuff. You can take it for yourself here.

I'm not the brightest bulb in the box and I got 84.85% (28 of 33) right. In fact, the questions I missed were all in the free market cheerleading section (after Q 26) at the end, so I think I aced the actual "how government works" hunk. If you don't know that stuff, you got no business in Congress. Hell, I'm not ever sure you have any business voting for Congress!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I Must Have This!

Dear Santa,

For Xmas, I want a cool new game:

Wholesale slaughter of innocents is nothing new in games — board or online — where players adopt godlike figures to whack others along their way to victory.

But a new board game replaces ancient gods or invented goddesses with game characters from major religions of the modern world.

Playing Gods: The Board Game of Divine Domination bills itself as the world's first satirical board game of religious warfare.'
It's like Risk, but better:
Three-inch plastic figurines include Jesus bashing people with a cross, Moses slugging away with the tablets of the Ten Commandments, the Buddha with a machine gun, and a turbaned fellow with a bomb and a dagger vaguely hinting at Mohammed, all to be set loose to "force the people of the world to worship you."
I wonder if they'll include the Futurama version of Santa as a bonus? Ooh, maybe so:
Players can choose among the five figurines or make one for themselves with stickers for a "god" who resembles Oprah, a stein of beer or Satan or add a word label such as Islam, technology, even 'the Almighty Dollar.'
I'll take Jesus and his +2 cross over Oprah any day of the week.

You can get one here, Santa!

Your pal, JDB

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Who Is Making These New Brown Clouds?

This doesn't sound promising:

A noxious cocktail of soot, smog and toxic chemicals is blotting out the sun, fouling the lungs of millions of people and altering weather patterns in large parts of Asia, according to a report released Thursday by the United Nations.

The byproduct of automobiles, slash-and-burn agriculture, cooking on dung or wood fires and coal-fired power plants, these plumes rise over southern Africa, the Amazon basin and North America. But they are most pronounced in Asia, where so-called atmospheric brown clouds are dramatically reducing sunlight in many Chinese cities and leading to decreased crop yields in swaths of rural India, say a team of more than a dozen scientists who have been studying the problem since 2002.
First global warming, now global browning?

One of the challenges of the environmental movement is to convince developing nations to skip the quick and dirty industrialization the west enjoyed in the 19th and 20th centuries and do it in a greener, more sustainable, and expensive way. That's why any "global" environmental pact that excludes China, India, etc. just doesn't make any sense.

Better ask a philostopher.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Ack! The GOPers Were Right!

How could we have been so blind:

In a devastating blow to millions of unsuspecting Americans, newly elected president and international con man Barack Obama fled the country Wednesday with nearly $85 million in campaign funds.
At least he left a note:
'To my tender little pawns, the all-too-trusting people of America,' said FBI lead investigator Ray Hilland, quoting the letter at a press conference Wednesday. 'If you are reading this, then I have already left your silly country in my private jet, and am right now sipping fine champagne with my lovely associate, a woman you have come to know as 'Michelle.''

'I assure you, this was the most pleasurable and fulfilling con I have ever pulled off,' the note continued. 'Not since the Moroccan elections in 1984 have I taken so much joy in raising, and then crushing, the hopes and dreams of so many pathetic, disenfranchised, and downtrodden people.'

'It's been an absolute delight doing business with you. Rest assured, your generous contributions will be well spent,' the note concluded. 'Fondly yours, Ψ.'

Monday, November 10, 2008

NaNo Update

Well, it's ten days into my second attempt at National Novel Writing Month and, I have to say, things are going much better so far this year.

The daily target to reach the 50,000 word threshold is 1667 words a day, which I've rounded up to 1700. After ten days I'm up to . . . 17,003 words! Woot! To put that in some perspective, my project last year limped across the finish line at about 19,000 words and died completely at 22,000 a couple of months later. Not only am I keeping up on the word count this year, but I've got a firm idea of where I'm going know there's a lot of words left in me on this story, so I think I've got a good shot of hitting 50k before the month is out.

If anybody is interested in seeing how it's going, check my profile over at NaNoWriMo and click on the "Novel Info" to read an excerpt from the scene where our hero first meets his new client.

And a big thanks at this point to everyone for the support in the comments, my coworker who is actually eager to read the finished product, and the girlfriend for putting up with me driving up to see her these past two weekends only to flip open my laptop and start writing!

PDs of the World Unite . . .

The stereotype of the public defender, especially in the state courts, is one of overwork, underpayment, lack of resources, and clients who get "represented" in only the most basic sense of the word. While I'm sure the reality on the ground varies from state to state, it's gotten so bad in some places that PD offices are simply not taking new cases, according to yesterday's New York Times:

Public defenders’ offices in at least seven states are refusing to take on new cases or have sued to limit them, citing overwhelming workloads that they say undermine the constitutional right to counsel for the poor.

* * *

In September, a Florida judge ruled that the public defenders’ office in Miami-Dade County could refuse to represent many of those arrested on lesser felony charges so its lawyers could provide a better defense for other clients. Over the last three years, the average number of felony cases handled by each lawyer in a year has climbed to close to 500, from 367, officials said, and caseloads for lawyers assigned to misdemeanor cases have risen to 2,225, from 1,380.
Now, I'm assuming that the folks who aren't getting represented by the PD offices are being represented by appointed private counsel. They don't get paid much, either, but I'm sure that it will cost more to pay those guys than to up the staff in the PD office and provide them proper funding to handle additional cases. As usual, short term bean counters in the state legislatures are missing the longer view.

BTW, be sure to check out the short video on the Times site. It'll give your a pretty good idea of how things work in the state courts.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I Voted

Did you? There's still time, as the polls don't close in WV until 7:30 this evening. And I don't care what anybody says - one vote can make a difference:

For the record, I did not vote a straight Dem ticket. I couldn't bring myself to vote in the Senate race at all - couldn't vote for Rockefeller (D - Telecoms) this time - and colored the bubble for the Mountain Party for Gov, rather than Governor Amicus. Even voted for a couple local Republicans!

So there you go, it's your turn now. Don't make me send Diddy after you:

Saturday, November 01, 2008

And So It Begins . . . (Programming Note)

As threatened earlier, it's now November, which means I'm off for my second stab at National Novel Writing Month. As a result, my creative energies (such as they are) will be directed there and blogging will be light. If you're interested, you can follow my progress by clicking on the "JDB @ NaNoWriMo" link to the right.

What's this year's book about? Here's the "back of the book" blurb, as it were:

Public defender Greg Crowe has heard plenty of outlandish stories from his clients. But this one takes the cake – a young woman is arrested and charged with the sale of 'counterfeit spaceship parts.' Her defense? They weren’t counterfeit, they’re real pieces from a UFO crash 50 years ago. Crowe thinks she must be crazy, until he starts to investigate. The mystery he unravels could mean a whole lot more than the guilt or innocence of one backwoods girl.
Wish me luck!