Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Douglas Chronicles: The Ranch

K and I arrived at her mom's ranch at about two in the morning. The entire drive from Denver was done in the dark, and it is really dark in the middle of Wyoming 'round midnight. I couldn't see anything along the side of the road. I knew we were driving through wide open country, but my West Virginia bred mind was filling in the dark places with hills and mountains. I might as
well have been driving through Logan County, for all I knew.

So I was somewhat surprised (it doesn't take much) to wake up the next morning and be confronted with this:

That, my friends, is Big Sky country. You can see for miles in every direction unimpeded by things like hills. Sure, there are breathtaking vistas in the Appalachians, but you've got to climb to the top of the mountain first!

MamaK and Roy have about 40 acres outside of Douglas. Their house, shop, and "front yard" (a term that loses all meaning with that much land about) are sort of plopped in the middle. A long driveway juts in from the outside world. Here's a pic of the house, taken from the driveway:

And here's a shot peeking 'round the corner of the house, towards Roy's shop:

Yes, that's a three-car plus shop. It's filled with a frightening array of stuff, the likes of which
would even leave Carlin at a loss for words.

Here's another shot to give you the scope of Big Sky. This would be over to the right of the house in the picture above. That grazing land extends to the left and wraps all the way around the house and yard:

This being a live operating ranch, that means farm equipment! Of which I managed to sample a couple bits:

Yes, I know, it's just a lawn tractor, but you have to understand - I don't even mow my own yard! Somehow, by the promise of some play time, I suspect, I was roped into to mowing the yard behind the house. Let me tell you - if you whap that thing into fifth gear, it will scoot. I can see how people race them now!

And now, the picture all my family and coworkers have been waiting for - me operating a farm tractor:

Yes, it's running. Yes, I moved something with it. No, I will not provide any further details without a court order. A gentleman does not tract' and tell.

Of course, no ranch would be complete without a whole parcel of critters. The low down on them tomorrow.

Album of the Day

Playing the Fool, by Gentle Giant (1977): Speaking of classic double live albums. This one charts Gentle Giant's tour in support of Free Hand, which is sort of the last point before the band jumped the shark. As amazingly complex as the band's tunes are in the studio, they're even more mind boggling on stage. All five guys play multiple instruments and four of them vocalize. They deftly blend a whole host of influences and even when they rework tunes for the live setting, they don't get streamlined (see "On Reflection," now with recorder chorale intro!). Plus, you can trace the band's progress across Europe and North America in the liner notes!

Not a Good PR Move

Dear Outside Mountaintop Mining Advocates,

First, let me say, thank you for your passion and dedication to your cause. I appreciate the damage that mountaintop removal is doing to our state and I appreciate what you're doing to bring the issue to a wider national audience. Hey, you got Darryl Hannah arrested and that must count for something, right? Really, thank you.

But having said that, this strikes me as a profoundly misguided idea:

Environmentalists are sponsoring a contest to devise a new nickname for the state and for the West Virginia University mascot, the Mountaineer.

They say that with surface mines blasting the tops off mountains in the state, the old nicknames no longer apply.
I get your point, but this will not earn you points in the hearts and minds of lots of West Virginians. Those folks are going to see some outside do-gooder interlopers who are trying to come in and tell them how to live. This would be, frankly, like running a contest to rename Jesus in Bethlehem - your cleverness will not be appreciated. Which is a shame, because the folks most likely to take this the wrong way are exactly the people you need to win over.

Try again.

A Golden Anniversary of a Golden Year

Aside from fusion, I'm not much of a jazz guy, to tell the truth, but even I have to acknowledge that 1959 was a pretty damn good year. Consider:

That year, everything seemed to work — for Brubeck's quartet, and for four of his peers, who among them recorded six of the most popular and/or groundbreaking albums in jazz history. The 50th anniversary of that revered output — Brubeck's Time Out,Miles Davis' Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain, Charles Mingus' Mingus Ah Um, John Coltrane's Giant Steps and Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come— is being celebrated today with special-edition album reissues, tribute concerts, books, blog postings and scholarly lectures.
Of those, I'm only really familiar with Time Out and Kind of Blue. I've never warmed to the Miles disc, but the Brubeck is more up my alley. Maybe this is why:
'It's wonderful because we were making an experimental album,' Brubeck says of his quartet, which included saxophonist Paul Desmond, bassist Eugene Wright and drummer Joe Morello. 'I didn't talk to anybody at Columbia because I knew they'd be against it. And they were.'

Brubeck says he was breaking three unwritten laws on Columbia recordings: Time Out was to consist of all original material, with no standards; none of the pieces were danceable; and there would be a painting on the cover.
No covers, no dancing, and cool artwork. Sounds good to me!

Maia sez: It all sounds like cats screeching to me. And I don't like cats!

One Thought on Ricci

I don't practice civil rights law, so I'm not sure if the Supreme Court got yesterday's Ricci decision right on the merits. But Sherrilyn Ifill over at the American Constitution Society blog makes a good point about how the Court reached its decision:

But this decision is revealing of the conservative majority's willingness to take unrestrained steps to fashion the results it seeks. Applying the law as it stands would surely have meant that the City of New Haven was well within its rights to refuse to certify the firefighters' promotions exam after finding stark racially disparate results. But guided, it seems, by a sense that denying white firefighters, including sympathetic lead plaintiff Frank Ricci, what they apparently believe is a right to certified results of a promotions exam, the Supreme Court in its own words "search[es] for a standard that strikes a more appropriate balance." In laymen's terms, this is known as "making it up as you go along." This is not in and of itself objectionable. It's in fact part of what judges do. But it does demonstrate that judicial activism is a two-way street, and undermines the argument that judges simply apply the existing law.
Bolded for emphasis. One of the problems with charges of "judicial activism" is that it's such a nebulous term as to become meaningless. It allows one side in the debate to preach that any particular legal issue or court case has a "right" answer, if only the judges would leave their personal philosophies at the courthouse door. The law just doesn't work that way and it never has.

Monday, June 29, 2009

The Douglas Chronicles: The Players & Travel Notes

As you'll recall, at the end of last month I accompanied K, the girlfriend, out west to her ancestral home in Douglas, Wyoming. K's mother, MamaK, and her husband, Roy (for some reason, I don't think he'd mind me using his full name - hope I'm right!) own a ranch out there where they raise various critters for fiber, i.e., wool and whatnot. It was my first trip to Big Sky country. It was my first experience on a ranch. It was my first experience with farm animals.

So, of course, I had to blog about it. Now that K and I have figured out how to combine our pictures (see a good hunk more than what I'll use here at my Flickr page), the story can be told.

But before we get going, the players in this little tale, aside from me:

Left to right, that's MamaK, Roy, and K, of course. That picture is taken in the shadow of the giant jackalope that I feared would haunt my dreams. Turns out not so much, especially when it's soooooo quiet at night out in the middle of nowhere.

But before we talk about the ranch, the critters, and whatnot, a few notes about travel.

K and I actually planned to take this trip last year, with more time built in so we could drive, for several reasons. For one thing, I hate flying. Not because of all the hassle involved (although that doesn't help, see below), but because I am sure I will perish en route. It's irrational, and I know it is, but I still feel that way. For another, if we drive would could have taken Maia with us and she could meet all her critter cousins. Finally, neither of us have ever driven cross country, so why not?

Alas, real retail life intervened and we got pushed back to this year, with fewer days involved. So, we flew. This was the most annoying travelling of my limited flying experience (save for the company, of course).

First, when we checked in in Pittsburgh on the way out, K and I discovered that we weren't sitting next to each other on the first flight, to Boston. Not only that, I was in the very front of the plane (well, behind the pilots, obviously) and she was in the very back! Some quick talk with a ticket agent at least assured we wouldn't have that problem on the flight from Boston to Denver.

Second, it's beyond stupid what the airlines charge you for now. There's the actual ticket, of course, which doesn't necessarily guarantee you a spot on the plane (overbook this!). For the return flights, we checked in online to ensure we could get seats next to each other and had to pay extra for the privilege (K's worth it, but still . . .). Then there's the baggage handling fee, which just encourages people traveling with grand pianos to stuff them in the overhead bins. Extra charges for in flight food, too, of course, but that's worth skipping, at least. For some reason, the only "extra" that was free was a screening of Paul Blart: Mall Cop, for which I still paid a price, mentally speaking.

Third, to the fine people of Boston - your airport sucks. Sorry, but it's obvious that it's expansion wasn't all that well planned. Nor is the signage very helpful in getting you from one plane to another. I realize that when all that got built security was a lot more lax, but having to go through it again from terminal to terminal is a pain in the ass. Oh, and the food selection sucks out near the gates.

As you might suspect, commercial flights to Douglas are rare to nonexistent. So we flew in Denver and planned to rent a car and drive the three-plus hours north to Douglas. The guy at the rental car counter, when he found out we were going to Wyoming, really wanted to rent us an SUV or something ("for visibility," he says), but I fought him off and made due with our "sports car" (his term):

No, an automatic 4-cylinder Eclipse is not a sports car, but it did the job quite nicely. Which meant it was perfectly suited to whipping along the Interstate at 75 mph once we left Denver (love those Western speed limits).

For a while, it didn't look like we were going to get out of Denver. The Denver airport is out in the middle of nowhere, with one major highway leading back to the city. We got the car, hit the highway, and almost immediately got off to have some dinner. You would assume that a big multi-lane highway would be easy to get back on right, heading into one of America's major metropolitan areas? Nope! For some reason, you can only get back on the highway headed towards the airport, not away from it. But, thanks to a helpful restaurant hostess, we made our way through town and hit I-25, north to adventure!

Which meant, of course, that several days later we drove south to more plane rides! But along the way, K snapped a really great shot of the Rockies off in the distance:

In the end, we made it there in one piece and without major injury, physical or mental.

Tomorrow - the ranch!

Album of the Day

Blues Alive, by Gary Moore (1993): Here's a good example of a fully-packed CD that works because it's a live album. Maybe it's because to me the de facto live album is a two-LP set, so this is actually short for the genre. Maybe it's because Moore and band burn through a bunch of great tunes as he becomes yet another Brit going on a blues bender. Either way, it's a great live album.

Bye Bye, Bernie

I once ran across a quote in a case where the judge noted that when sentencing the defendant it might have been appropriate to throw the book at him, but not necessarily bury him under the entire library. With that in mind, I sure hope Bernie Madoff has a sound working knowledge of the Dewey Decimal System, 'cause he's deep in the stacks after he was sentenced today. For running one of (if not the) largest scams in American history, Madoff received the statutory maximum sentence of 150 years in prison (or 1800 months in federal system speak). Needless to say, for a man who's already 71 years old, if the sentence stands he'll die in prison.

I haven't thought long enough about the particulars of Madoff's crime as compared to other white collar fraudsters (our clients rarely manage to swipe anything out of the six-figure range), but I have a hard time feeling a great deal of sympathy for Madoff. His scam was long running and lost a lot of people a lot of money. He's not "dangerous", in the sense that a violent criminal who must be separated from society is. But surely the main driving force here is sending a message to other Madoffs in the making, in which case 150 years might register somewhere.

On a procedural note stood out to me:

But in meting out the maximum sentence, Judge Chin pointed out that no friends, family or other supporters had submitted any letters on Mr. Madoff’s behalf, attesting to the strength of his character or good deeds he had done.
In the post-Booker world, such letters or statements are common place, at least in this area. I've always wondered about their usefulness, as I could imagine most conversations going something like this:
Friend: Defendant X is a good person, he just made a mistake. He's been an important part of our community.

Judge: Was the community aware that Defendant X was selling crack to school children by disguising it as Flintstones Chewable Ritalin?

Friend: Er, no, your honor.
But apparently it's not the presence of such things that speak so loudly as their absence. Duly noted.

Maia sez: Wow, that's 1050 dog years! Still, I wouldn't widdle on him if he was on fire.

iPod v. Walkman

Hard to believe, last week marked the 30th anniversary of the Sony Walkman, the original portable music device. Of course, we've come so far since then, what with the advent of iPods and the ability to carry hours and hours of music around at any one time. What would a modern tweener - indeed, sort of like my niece - make of such a dinosaur piece of technology. The BBC decided to find out, handing a vintage Walkman over to a 13-year old to use for a week. He wasn't completely repulsed!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

So Close

If you had told me two weeks ago that the United States would end the Confederations Cup losing to Brazil by one goal in the final, after knocking of Spain to get there, I would have been ecstatic. Having watched the end game this afternoon, I have to say, it's a little disappointing.

We had Brazil down 2-0 and had it slip away in the second half. Every goal was earned, I have to say, so it's not as if we gave it away. There weren't any bonehead mistakes (on the field, anyway). We played with the same heart, determination, and flashes of real skill that we showed against Spain, but the Brazilians executed better. Bob Bradley's substitution decisions were truly awful, however (even the girlfriend, when the post-game shots showed Kljestan said "you suck"), which makes me wonder if the good of the past week is because of Bob or in spite of him.

Oh, well. On to the Gold Cup!

Maia sez: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Beat my Ticos in the Azteca and we'll talk!

Dog is my Co-Pilot (Redux)

The girlfriend is off to recharge her book selling ninja skills, which mean I have a house guest for the week:

That's right, Maia, the One-Eyed Wonder Pup is in the house and will be offering some thoughts on this week's posts.

Maia sez: Hola, todos!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Album of the Day

Tommy, by The Who (1969): Though I don't own any Michael Jackson albums (naturally), it did so happen that this album by another musical legend with "little boy issues" was in the rotation today. In Pete Townshend's case, he was investigated by British authorities after accessing a website that sold kiddie porn. He was not prosecuted, but was "cautioned" by authorities and required to register as a sex offender for five years. Pete's explanation was that he was doing research for among other things, his autobiography. Perhaps that shouldn't come as such a shock, given that his most famous creation is a helpless boy who abused in a myriad of ways (including sexually) by the people who should be caring for him.

The King Is Dead

I'll be the first to admit that Michael Jackson's music does absolutely nothing for me, so I can't say I'm rocked by his death. Still he's been a pop culture icon, first as an entertainer and then as walking freak show, for most of my life. A star in the firmament of the known universe, for good or ill. Andy Tillison put it well this morning on the Tangent mailing list:

Quite literally he's been there all my life. It will be an odd world without him, despite the fact that it was a very odd world with him in it.
Of course, with his death, debate about whether Jackson was a child molester are bound to resurface. For the record, he was never convicted of anything (actually acquitted of all counts in a high-profile trial). An earlier settlement to dispatch a civil case looks more like paying off an annoyance than an admission of guilt. He certainly lived his life in a weird way, but that's not necessarily criminal, or even immoral.

Finally, if this report turns out to be true:
Michael Jackson arranged to give Paul McCartney the rights to the Beatles back catalog through his will according to reports published earlier this year.

* * *

Jackson had sold 50% of his assets to Sony but held the other half which would be given back to McCartney if the rumors are proven to true.
he at least went out with some class.

And if the King is dead, does that mean Prince gets the change his name? Again?!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Album of the Day

Sleeping in Traffic, Part 2, by Beardfish (2008): Beardfish hit the big time (so to speak) when they played ProgDay in 2006, during which they played the 35-minute title track from this album. Judging from the early reviews, their set at NEARFest last weekend also went down a storm. As it should. The band's sound is firmly rooted in 70s prog, with some Zappa overtones in place, and is always playful, interesting, and memorable. However, following up on the length of CD screed from the other day, is there any point to having 40 minutes of music aside from the half-hour plus title track? Again, some judicious editing and this is a masterpiece, rather than just excellent.

On Sanford

While I was wrapped up in our dumping of Spain yesterday, an equally compelling spectacle was unfolding elsewhere, as the political career of AWOL South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (R-Buenos Aries) came to a crashing halt. John Scalzi summarizes:

Seriously, now: Tell your staff you’re hiking in the mountains, and then use a state car to go to the airport to fly to Argentina to have sex with a woman who is not your wife on Father’s Day weekend? I mean, really: Walk through that one and you’ll see several places this could go wrong. I think Sanford needs to go through the rest of his time in office with a big red WTF? placard taped to his chest.
It does play like one of those "Really?! With Seth & Amy" bits on SNL. And that was before the eMails between Sanford and his Argentine mistress came out.

The newsworthy part of the story is hardly that yet another "family values" GOPer got caught violating a Commandment (or that Fox News tried to label him a Democrat, again). It's really that a sitting state executive thinks it's ducky to run off to another country without telling anybody.

I can fairly easily surmise that if I went AWOL for a few days, my employer would be livid (although also a bit concerned for my well being, I hope). But I'm just a lowly PD. Certain folks - governors, CEOs, Congress critters, etc. - just can't "get away from it all." I'm not saying they owe all of their lives 24/7 to their job, but they at least need to make provisions to stay in touch when they're on the road. Don't like that job requirement, don't take the job.

But on the subject of the eMails, I tend to side with this diarist over at Kos and think that the lurid details of Sanford's virtual love letters really aren't anybody's business. At the very least, mocking the guy's literary skill in those notes is just piling on. It's really not relevant to the public issues whether the guy is a charming writer. It's voyeuristic and smacks of bad taste. There's plenty out there to take Sanford to task for without snickering over his word choice and sentence structure.

The Day After

As the hours passed after our stunning 2-0 victory over Spain in the Confederations Cup semifinal yesterday, pundits and fans alike began to debate just where this win ranks in the pantheon of important US victories. There's a whole thread at the New York Times Goal blog on the topic, using this column by George Vescey as a jumping off point.

It's impossible, really, to assess the importance of yesterday's game this close to it. Even if we win the final on Sunday (against whom I still don't know - rockin' the TiVo), it's not clear what that would mean. But I tend to think this is a pretty big deal for a few reasons.

First, while some folks slag off the Confed Cup since it's not the World Cup, it's no slouch. Remember that, with the exception of hosts South Africa, every team involved is a champion of something. Yeah, New Zealand isn't on the level of almost any of the horde of Euro teams that will qualify for the World Cup, but the same can't really be said for the other confederation champs. Also, while previous versions of this tournament sometimes attracted B teams, there's no denying that everybody brought their A team to this one.

Which leads to the second point, that the Spain team we beat yesterday was composed of their top guns, with the exception of Iniesta (who's injured). Those top guns played well, dominating play for long stretches, but couldn't get a breakthrough. And we beat them honestly, by two goals scored from the run of play. They weren't things of beauty, but nor were they the result of questionable penalty calls or anything like that. Even the Spaniards concede that.

With that being said, this win is nowhere near the upset that the 1-0 victory over England in the 1950 World Cup was. That US team was basically a pickup collection of amateurs, taking on a fully professional England team. Famously, when the result came in over the wires most newspapers wouldn't print it, figuring it must be wrong. That level of upset will never happen again for us (but against us, who knows?).

So, is this win more important than the 1950 one? It almost certainly will be. As great an upset story as the 1950 game is, it was our last hurrah internationally for nearly four decades. We basically wandered the soccer wilderness until Paul Caligiuri's goal against Trinidad & Tobago in 1989 put us into the 1990 World Cup in Italy. That win solidified our right to host in 1994, which led to the formation of MLS. We've been back in the World Cup ever since and become the leading team in our region.

Other candidates for most important win are wins in the 2002 World Cup against Portugal and Mexico, our 1998 Gold Cup win over Brazil, and our 1995 Copa America drubbing of Argentina, 3-0, in their own backyard. All worthy candidates. Like I said, it's hard to say which of those is most influential, or how yesterday's triumph will compare. We just don't know, which is why we keep watching the games, right?

An Ancient Curse

Today's New York Times has an interesting story about archeologist's who have discovered some seriously ancient evidence of culture:

At least 35,000 years ago, in the depths of the last ice age, the sound of music filled a cave in what is now southwestern Germany, the same place and time early Homo sapiens were also carving the oldest known examples of figurative art in the world.

* * *

Archaeologists Wednesday reported the discovery last fall of a bone flute and two fragments of ivory flutes that they said represented the earliest known flowering of music-making in Stone Age culture. They said the bone flute with five finger holes, found at Hohle Fels Cave in the hills west of Ulm, was 'by far the most complete of the musical instruments so far recovered from the caves' in a region where pieces of other flutes have been turning up in recent years.

A three-hole flute carved from mammoth ivory was uncovered a few years ago at another cave, as well as two flutes made from the wing bones of a mute swan. In the same cave, archaeologists also found beautiful carvings of animals.
Please note the irony of a musical instrument being made out of a "mute" swan.

One would have thought that drums or some other kind of percussion instruments would have predated flutes. On the other hand, perhaps the entire percussive field was born of the desire of fellow cave mates to bash the nascent flautist over the head with his instrument.*

Of course, somebody went and tested one of these things out:
Friedrich Seeberger, a German specialist in ancient music, reproduced the ivory flute in wood. Experimenting with the replica, he found that the ancient flute produced a range of notes comparable in many ways to modern flutes. 'The tones are quite harmonic,' he said.
But, modern flutes aren't "quite harmonic." Proof of devolution!

More info on the early artistic endeavors of our ancestors:

* Q: How do you tune two flute players? A: Shoot one of them. I keed, I keed. Note that almost all lawyer jokes can be redone with flautists as the stars.

How Not to Sell Me Something

These spammers are losing their touch just a little bit. I had an eMail in my inbox this afternoon with this information:

Sender: Sample TrialOffer
Subject: FUCK YOU
Yes, all caps included.

Why, yes, kind stranger, I'd like to sample your wares. But first, could you send me a few more insulting messages? I have to play hard to get.

Best. Headline. Ever.

I do love the BBC. They do have a way with words:

Stoned wallabies make crop circles
With a headline like that, the truth of the story can hardly live up and, of course, it doesn't. Turns out that wallabies are getting into Australian opium fields (Australia grows a vast amount of the world's opium that is used to make medicine), nibbling on the poppies, and then:
creating crop circles as they hop around 'as high as a kite', a government official has said.
OK, I take that back. The facts do live up to the headline!

Album of Yesterday

Colin Meloy Sings Live!, by Colin Meloy (2008): One of the things that grabbed me about The Decemberists when I first heard them were the stories and characters that are present in so many songs. I love those kinds of lyrics, when done well, so I tend to really like this live disc, in which the band's frontman/songwriter goes it alone up on stage. With just his guitar and his voice (augmented by a sheep, a skull, and a ship, as somewhat explained in due course), the songs are stripped of their generally lavish arrangements and distilled to the barest essence. In many cases, "We Both Go Down Together" and "On the Bus Mall" in particular, the results are excellent. That being said, it is just Colin and his guitar, so if his voice doesn't do it for you and you need the full band sound, look elsewhere.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


United States 2
Spain 0

We just knocked off the #1 team in the world, who hadn't conceded a goal in 450+ minutes, hadn't lost since November 2006, and was riding a 35-game unbeaten streak! Holy shit!

Like I said the other day, Bob Bradley makes it really difficult to fire him!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Album of the Day

Forces, by Grey Lady Down (1995): In the past couple of weeks, working through the A to Z in order of length, I've hit the long single CD albums in the 1 hour 15 minute range. I've come to the conclusion that, with rare exceptions, that's just too damn long for an album. Anything beyond an hour, even if it's really brilliant, starts to wear thin. The obvious exceptions are live albums, compilations, and concept albums. Why bring this up now? Because the last 12 or so minutes of this album are filled with nothing, one of those annoying "hidden" tracks that were all the rage at one point. There's only about an hour worth of music. It's not overly brilliant, but it has its moments, and doesn't wear out its welcome. Which is more than I can say for some.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Album of the Day

Exit . . . State Left, by Rush (1981): In the years when live recordings meant calling in an extra truckload (or two) of equipment, Rush released live albums like clockwork, one for every four studio albums. This one, their second, captures the band at their commercial and (arguably) artistic peak. The epic proggier years were still fresh in the rear view (as represented by "Xanadu" and "La Villa Strangiato"), but the band's ability to pare down their trademarks to shorter radio friendly material (i.e., "Tom Sawyer," "Spirit of Radio") is on display as well. If you own only one Rush album, really, this ought to be it.

A Conundrum

Over the weekend, there was an interesting discussion on the NACDL mailing list sparked by this story from Spokane, Washington:

Micah W. Hasselstrom, 34, ran when Spokane Municipal Court Judge Tracy Staab ordered him jailed with increased bail after he said he didn’t plan on appearing in court again, a news release said.

Hasselstrom’s public defender, Tony Tompkins, grabbed his leg to hold him in place as Deputy John Pederson tried handcuffing him, and a struggle ensued, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Two other PDs helped out as well. Which begs the question - should a defense lawyer stop his client from fleeing? As you might expect, it's not a simple problem.

On the one hand, we are not our clients' keepers. We can't keep them from doing dumb (or even illegal) things. The best we can do is try and convince them to make the right choice, or at least impress upon them just how bad things are going to get if they don't take our advice. And, as a practical matter, it's just not our job to catch fugitives.

On the other hand, shouldn't we at least try and keep a client from completely throwing his life away in a moment of fear/anger/passion? An attempted flight is a horse of a different color from a successful flight, or quasi successful flight (any flight that ends with the client in jail, regardless of how far down the road, is arguably not successful in the long run). Besides, a fleeing client might pose a danger to folks in the courtroom or courthouse, including ourselves. Isn't the right thing to do as a citizen, much less lawyer, to try and stop him?

Ultimately, I don't think anybody can really say what they might do in a situation like that until it happens. Instinct plays a key role, and those of us who tend to be more passive probably wouldn't even think to do anything before it's too late. Still a fun problem to ponder, tho'.

A Review of Our Story

Sunday marked the long-delayed reopening of the West Virginia State History Museum at the Cultural Center. I don't know why they did it the day after West Virginia Day, but given the delays maybe that was appropriate.

The girlfriend and I took advantage of the opportunity to take a quick spin though the new setup. Overall, it's very well done, although I have some complaints about the scope of the project. At this point, the museum attempts to tell the story of the entire history of the state, starting millions of years before 1863. That's cool, but in covering so much time, there's not a lot of emphasis in any one area. I was particularly disappointed with the coverage of events leading up to the Civil War and statehood, which is where the state's history is really unlike any others.

That being said, it's something everybody should take the time to experience if they haven't done so yet. I think it's even free, so you can't beat the price.

A Victory for Profanity

Though I can't find this sourced elsewhere, I trust Ed, who has the tale of a prosecution for cursing that came out right in the end:

A Texas man who used the S-word to complain about cat feces left in his yard has been acquitted of disorderly conduct in a jury trial. Joseph Loflin, 48, admits he used the vulgar term for excrement because neighbor Michael Rainey had ignored his previous, more nuanced complaints.
Rainey took umbrage because his teenage daughter was around to hear Loflin's epithet.

Aside from the "get a thicker skin, mother fucker" angle, it seems to me that one whose cat poops in others yards doesn't exactly get to claim the moral high ground when dealing with the neighbors.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

That's More Like It

Say this for Bob Bradley - he makes it very hard to fire him. After two atrocious games in the Confederations Cup, the writing seemed to be on the wall. Then the perfect storm blew up today, with Italy losing to Brazil 0-3 and the US beating Egypt by the same score line. Amazingly, we've made it into the semifinals, so on Wednesday we get to have our brains beat out by Spain. Still, a win is a win!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Romeo the Clown

Ever wonder what Romeo and Juliet was really all about? Stephan Pastis, of Pearls Before Swine fame, explains it all. Hint - you've been wrong about it since high school:

Romeo is not romantic. He is mentally challenged.

That is why I say this is not a tragedy. It is a comedy. Romeo should have carried a seltzer bottle and popped out of a crammed Volkswagen with fifty other Italians. He is Harpo Marx minus the horn.
Wherefore art thou, Harpo?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Album of the Day

Dancing With Myself, by Mike Keneally (2000): This is sort of cheating, as this isn't a proper album in its own right. This was the bonus disc for those of us who preordered Mike's opus Dancing. It's an "unplugged" rendition of lots of the material from that album, performed both by Mike alone (on piano and guitar) and with (most) of Beer for Dolphins as it existed at the time. It's a fun recording, brimming with energy and enthusiasm, and well worth a list on its own every once in a while. It's now available for download from Moosemart at the above link.

The Curse of Bad Facts

I don't usually find myself standing up for the conservative wing of the Supreme Court, but the uproar over a decision from yesterday makes me do it. Sort of.

Yesterday, the Court by a typical 5-4 vote, held that there is no due process right to post-conviction DNA testing. The case involved William Osborne, who was convicted of rape in Alaska years ago. Part of the evidence in the case was was condom worn during the attack that contained semen and, therefore, DNA. The rather primitive testing method used by investigators at the time wasn't really conclusive either way as to guilt or innocence. Now Osborne wants the sample tested again, using more accurate and sophisticated testing.

But, as they say, that's not all. This case is a perfect example of why facts matter on appeal. Appeals are supposed to be all about the law, but that's rarely the case. The Supreme Court (and any other court in the United States, for that matter) doesn't decide broad issues, it resolves discrete disputes in individual cases. The procedural facts in this case made it difficult for the Court to tee up a new constitutional right.

For one thing, there was a considerable amount of evidence against Osborne. So much so that when presented with the opportunity for some more advanced DNA testing prior to trial, his attorney declined, on the theory that it would be inculpatory. Another problem is that Osborne admitted his guilt during a parole hearing, under penalty of perjury. It's thus difficult for him now to assert his innocence (which, IIRC, would get him access to the DNA in Alaska state court). The whole parole thing is further complicated by the fact that Osborne did, in fact, later get parole, violated, and is back in prison.

In other words, Osborne does not have the kind of case where he can walk into court and say, "I'm an innocent man, convicted of a crime I didn't commit, and need this evidence to prove it." Bad facts, as Dan Markel points out, make tough cases. Folks should consider that when ripping the Court for this decision.

Which isn't to say the Court got this one right. But it's easier to see why it might have gotten right than it is to figure out why the Alaska DA won't turn over the sample for testing at Osborne's expense. After all, what does he have to lose?

Where's My Invitation?

Imagine my surprise when I saw this story in today's Daily Mail about a reunion of Golden Horseshoe winners today. The award is given out to select eighth graders in the state who master the basics of West Virginia history. I won one, way back when in 1988, as did my father (in 1950!). So why am I reading about it in the newspaper! OK, yeah, so I'm not Henry Louis Gates, but does he write a blog that nobody reads? I bet not!

Oh, the Humanity

We've all watched this past week or so as Iranians took to the streets to protest that country's recent (possibly rigged) election. It's an amazing display of defiance and bravery, coming in the face of repeated violent reactions from the regime. But that's nothin', if you're a GOPer:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Irandecision 2009 - The Oppression of House Republicans
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJason Jones in Iran

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Irandecision 2009 - Iranians Support the GOP
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJason Jones in Iran

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Damn We Suck

Ugh. I'm not really surprised that after matches with Italy and Brazil in the Confederations Cup we'd have two losses. I'm a little peeved, however, that in the process we've given up six goals, scored only one (on a PK, no less), and finished each game with 10 men. Quick thoughts:

Fire Bob Bradley.

Dear Beaser - Look, I love you, man - you've been the captain on my dominating Winning Eleven team for years - but your international days are over, at least for now. Thanks for the memories.

Fire Bob Bradley

In spite of the six goals, I'm pleased with the performance of Jonathan Spector and Jay Demeritt on the back line. The defensive problem lurks more in the midfield, methinks.

Did I mention - fire Bob Bradley?

It's not that I think we have talent to match the Italians or the Brazilians, 'cause we don't. I just don't think Bob is getting the most out of the player pool we have. Since we're short on top-level talent, we gotta' get the most out of what we got. Sorry, Bob.

Albums of the Day

The Tar Tapes, Volume 2 (1998) and Guitar Therapy Live (2006), by Mike Keneally: Sort of a bookend of Keneallydom in the rotation today. Before he hooked up with Frank Zappa, Mike and a host of cohorts (including his brother, Marty) produced a series of DIY cassettes. A lot of those tunes found their way onto the two volumes of The Tar Tapes have Mike's solo career took off. They're a fun snapshot of nascent and unbridled talent. Guitar Therapy Live, on the other hand, documents Mike's last big tour and how hard it rocked. Still unbridled, but hardly nascent anymore!

And speaking of live Keneally, would you like to have Mike and his hetero life mate Bryan Beller perform for you? In, say, your living room? Well, now's your chance! See here for more details.

Aim Your Ire Correctly

A couple of places on the Net (like Wired) picked up on an appellate technicality yesterday, as the Fourth Circuit declined to rehear a case decided in late 2008. The case involved a guy who was convicted of (among other things) two counts of obscenity for two fairly rare things. One was some pornographic Magna depicting children, while the other was his own child rape fantasies typed out and sent to other pedophiles via Email. Unlike traditional child pornography, neither involved any exploitation of an actual child in its production.

The Net buzz is focused on the dissent from Judge Gregory (who wrote to dissent both from the panel decision and the rehearing decision), who wrote:

I am hard-pressed to think of a better modern day example of government regulation of private thoughts than what we have before us in this case: convicting a man for the victimless crime of privately communicating his personal fantasies to other consenting adults.
While I agree with those sentiments on a gut level, and those of Net commentators harrumphing them, it's important to point out what the real problem is.

The real problem is that the majority's decision affirming the convictions was correct, in light of the long standing exclusion of obscenity from the protection of the First Amendment. Now, I happen to think such an exclusion can't be harmonized with First Amendment principles, but the Supreme Court has consistently disagreed. Obscenity has never enjoyed constitutional protection. If the groundswell of aghastness about this decision continues, maybe it will convince the Supreme Court to revisit the issue. I wouldn't bet on it, though, nor would I bet on a sea change in First Amendment law.

Who Owns Holden Caulfield?

There's an interesting literary legal battle playing out in New York City, with one of American fiction's iconic characters at its center.

On one side is author JD Salinger, whose classic novel The Catcher in the Rye gave us the ultimate paradigm of youthful disillusionment, Holden Caulfield. Salinger hasn't published anything since 1965 and almost more noteworthy now for his recluse status and the vehemence with which he guards his copyrights.

On the other side is a Swedish author, Fredrik Colting, and his American publisher. Colting has written a book, 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye, which involves a main character named "Mr. C.," aged 60 years from Caulfield, and a "Mr. Salinger", who keeps trying to off the character he created.

Sound familiar? Salinger has sued to stop the US release of the book (it's already out in the UK), arguing that Colting's book is an unauthorized sequel to The Catcher in the Rye and thus violates his copyright. Colter responds that it's not a sequel at all, but high-end literary metacriticism written in the style of a novel.

Initially, at least, the federal judge hearing the case isn't buying it. She entered a temporary injunction banning the release of Colting's book, but only for ten days until a final decision can be made.

Having had a chance to skim the memos filed by the parties, I'm not sure who has the better claim. Salinger argues (over and over) that the new book is a sequel, which, if true, pretty clearly dooms Colting. To support that claim, the memo quotes blurbs from (apparently) the UK release of the book that calls it a sequel, but Colting's response says it's not. Instead, he seeks safe harbor in the fair use exception for parody or satire. I suspect it's not really possible to resolve the dispute without reading Colting's book.

Legalities aside, even assuming Colting's book is a sequel, it stands in a long line of such works. For example, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead takes characters from Hamlet and retells their story. Is that ripping of Shakespeare? He surely wouldn't mind. Aside from being dead, he knows that he ripped off characters and stories from lots of other sources. It's the execution we find so compelling, after all.

But, Bill was dead long before Stoppard rejuvenated his characters. Salinger is still very much alive and should be able to say, "don't do this to my creation."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Album of the Day

Hands, by Hands (1977): In the 1990s, two technological factors came about that allowed the prog underground to flourish. One, of course, was the Internet, which both allowed the small and scattered, but devoted, fanbase to find itself and develop. The other was relatively cheap CD production costs, which brought the cost of producing an album down considerably. One way that second factor played out was by older bands being able remaster and remix (in some cases) LPs that were regional only affairs in the 1970s, put them on CD, and market them to a worldwide (albeit small) audience.

Of all the bands that took that route, Hands may have done so most successfully. This, their debut and only LP release, never made it out of the American midwest. On CD (with some extra tracks added) it gained a much wider audience. A second album of unreleased material followed. The general success of those two discs brought the band back together to record and release two albums of new material in (2002 and 2008) and even play ProgDay (in 2006). Sure, it's not an American Idol sized following, but it must be cool to know that, after all these years, people still dig what you're doing.

Plea Bargains and Victims' Wishes

One of the realities of my practice is that most of our cases don't involve any victims. In spite of the "society is a victim" language that goes in the Presentence Report, selling drugs to a willing buyer and simple firearm possession offenses are victimless crimes. At least when compared to the state court heavyweights like murder, rape, robbery, and the like. What I'm saying is that when it comes to plea bargains, dealing with victims' issues isn't something we see most of the time.

But plea bargains, and the role of victims in consenting to them, popped up in a couple of different cases yesterday. One case comes from Oklahoma, which I heard about during a screaming heads exchange on Fox News yesterday in a hospital waiting room (as my mother pointed out, doctors' offices tend to have the TVs tuned to Fox more often then not), and involves the rape of a child. Specifically, a 4-year old girl.

Though the defendant pleaded guilty to 1st-degree rape, but the plea deal called for 19 of the possible 20 year sentence to be suspended. The deal was partly the result (as I think I heard on the TV yesterday) of the judge in the case concluding that the child victim wasn't competent to testify at any trial. But also, the deal was struck with the consent of the victim's family, who presumably wanted some measure of finality to the proceedings. Nonetheless, pundits and the general public are up in arms at the thought of a child rapist, in essence, getting away with it.

The other case involved Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte' Stallworth, who killed a pedestrian in Miami last year. Stallworth was sentenced to 30 days in jail and two years of home confinement. The sentence seems exceptionally lenient given a dead human being is involved, given the longer term given to former NFL star Michael Vick for his involvement in dog fighting and the term staring Giants wideout Plaxico Burress in the face for (as Doug Berman puts it) "shooting himself."

As with the Oklahoma case, the family of Stallworth's victim agreed to the deal that produced the sentence, although it's a little clearer why - Stallworth came to a civil settlement (I swear I saw $10 million somewhere, but I can't source it) with the family.

The basic underlying question in both of these cases is should the wishes of the victims' families have any impact on the prosecutor's decisions with regards to plea bargains. After all, prosecutors represent "the people," not the individual victims (tho' they are only too happy to take up that role when it serves them).

While the family in Stallworth's case can accept a 30-day jail term for a homicide, what message does that sentence send to the rest of society? Does it have any deterrent effect? In the Oklahoma case should the state be more concerned with taking the chance of locking a pedophile away for decades instead of taking the easy conviction?

I don't know the answers to questions like that. It's one of the reasons I like being a defense attorney.

Still Burnin' After All These Years

I thought that, generally, people were supposed to mellow out as they got older. As death began to loom on the horizon, you learn not to sweat the small stuff, right?

Not in West Bend, Wisconsin, apparently. A group of citizens there are outraged at the presence of Francesca Lia Block's Baby Be-Bop in their local library. The book is a young-adult novel about a gay boy coming of age, dealing with his identity and associated prejudice. This doesn't sit well with the Christian Civil Liberties Union (no, really), which has gone to court, not just to get the book removed from the library, to to burn the copies once removed (via PZ and Neil Gaiman):

In a scene which appears to have been lifted straight out of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, a group of Christians in Wisconsin has launched a legal claim demanding the right to publicly burn a copy of a book for teenagers which they deem to be 'explicitly vulgar, racial [sic], and anti-Christian'.

* * *

Their suit says that 'the plaintiffs, all of whom are elderly, claim their mental and emotional well-being was damaged by this book at the library,' and that it contains derogatory language that could 'put one's life in possible jeopardy, adults and children alike.'
They argue that the book itself is a hate crime, as it actually depicts one (complete with the main characters attackers calling him a "faggot" and such). By that argument, they presumably need the Bible taken out, too, as it's full of genocidal hi jinks and other atrocities committed in the name of the Lord. But I doubt they'd see it that way.

The plaintiffs are also seeking monetary damages, of course, due to the "mental anguish" caused to them by the book, presumably to buy the fuel and kindling needed for their little literary roast. I'm surprised they didn't also ask the court order those damn kids to get off their lawns. They're sure to suffer more mental anguish when their case gets benchslapped in due course.

Bring Out Your Dead

Dead parolees, that is. The Washington Post (via Reason) has a story about a bureaucracy's inability to deal with the everyday problem of death:

Hawkins was a felon, convicted of second-degree murder and assault, and a heroin addict who spent most of his adult life in and out of prison and on and off parole. The system lost track of him one day in July 2007, after he had been out on parole for about two years and failed a drug test at his rehab center. Although parole officers spent countless hours making more than 340 attempts to find him -- phone calls to relatives and friends, certified letters, arrest record checks, visits to his last place of employment (Goodwill) and his last known address (the Samaritan Inn), sometimes with police officers in tow -- they never found him.

Hawkins died one year later, in July 2008, at 54, of metastatic lung cancer. His family has the death certificate and certificate of cremation to prove it.

The system still hasn't found him.
Your tax dollars at work!

On Rating Documentaries

When I watch a movie for the first time, I have a little post-game ritual that I follow. First, I check the film's Wikipedia entry, for any interesting tidbits about production, alternate versions, etc. Next, I head over to the Internet Movie Database and dig out three or four reviews from trusted sources. Finally, after I read those, I work through some of the user comments about the movie on IMDB and at Netflix. All this helps me order my thoughts about the movie and, ultimately, rate it at Netlix (my ratings, and usually a little blurb, show up on my Facebook page).

That process is often groan inducing when it comes to documentaries. One of the neat things about reading lots of different opinions about a movie is that other people can see the same things you do in a film, but find them to be flaws rather than charms (and vice versa). When talking about fiction, you can generally figure that a 1-star rating at Netflix means that person thinks the movie sucks.

Not so with documentaries, necessarily. Lots of people tend to get too wrapped up in the subject of the doc, rather than the film itself, when rating it. Case in point, Man from Plains, which the girlfriend and I watched over the weekend. Directed by Jonathan Demme, it's an account of the book tour Jimmy Carter went on after Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid was released. The book generated a lot of criticism (from the title, more than anything else, it seems) and thus the tour was more eventful than most. It was fairly limited in scope, not dealing with any of Carter's presidency, aside from the Camp David Accords. It did take the view that Carter is a Good Man (tm), however.

I gave the film 3 stars out of 5 at Netflix, for being a serviceable enough doc that could have been much more interesting. Lots of others felt the same, but two groups skewed the ratings just a bit. One group consisted of unabashed Carter supporters, who gave the film 5 stars because of its "star." The other gave the film 1 star and rattled off a string of Carter's sins in office. Neither group really talked about the movie which, you know, is what they're supposed to writing about.

That's not an isolated incident. Sometimes, people are convinced that the story is so important that it needs to be told, even where the film can't tell it in a coherent fashion. Other films, well put together and even artistic gems, get slammed because of their subject. That's not the way it's supposed to work, folks. Sometimes a good film about a bad person is just as enlightening (or, gods forbid, entertaining) as a good film about a good person.

Focus on the movie, not the man/woman/event/etc. portrayed therein, OK?

Monday, June 15, 2009

That Really Hurts

Final score of today's Confed Cup match:

Italy 3
US 1
Number of goals scored by New Jersey-born Italian striker Giuseppe Rossi:
Speaking of turncoats . . .

Album of the Day

The Flower King, by Roine Stolt (1994): Never has a solo album launched so much (at least until The Tangent has been around a while more). Stolt had been a member of Swedish proggers Kaipa in the 1970s, but after that had largely worked outside of the prog world. With this solo album (according to his bio):

that tried to unleash the forces of good in the negative, violent, aggressive, competitive music business of today. Reinstate the old hippie ideals, lyrically and musically.
That's a very good description. The music is prime symphonic prog goodness. The lyrics - eh, I could do without, honestly, as the hippie nonsense comes across a bit thick. Nonetheless it was the strong response to this album that led to Stolt forming a band of the same name and proceeding to become one of the biggest (and most prolific!) names in modern progdom.

A Beautiful Cage

What's the function of prison? Or, more precisely, what's the function of a prison? I mean the building itself, not the theory behind locking people up. Obviously, there's the basic concept of separating law breakers (only the dangerous ones, hopefully) from the law abiding.

But is that it? In the United States, lots of people seem to think, either affirmatively or by acquiescence, that a prison is something more. It's a place of torment and punishment, both physical and mental. It's not enough to deprive people of their liberty, to lock them away in a cage. It's important that they suffer, as well.

Concerns about overcrowding and lax medical care go unheeded. Some folks take pleasure in knowing that certain classes of inmates (child molesters, say) will meet some rough justice at the hands of their peers. Prison rape is the subject of jokes throughout popular culture. Most folks just don't care. They're criminals, after all. They deserve what they get.

Against all that, consider this fascinating piece from this weekend's New York Times Magazine by Jim Lewis. It's about a prison in Leoben, Austria, that opened in 2004 and is the antithesis of most folks' perception of what a prison should look like:

Here’s a striking building, perched on a slope outside the small Austrian town of Leoben — a sleek structure made of glass, wood and concrete, stately but agile, sure in its rhythms and proportions: each part bears an obvious relationship to the whole. In the daytime, the corridors and rooms are flooded with sunshine. At night, the whole structure glows from within.
Lewis got a tour of the complex with Josef Hohensinn, the architect who designed it. The description of the building (see the pictures accompanying the article) and the inmates make it sound like a pleasant place, certainly more pleasant then the prisons and jails I've been in. Hohensinn explains his design choices:
'They are criminals,' Hohensinn said to me, 'but they are also human beings. The more normal a life you give them here, the less necessary it is to resocialize them when they leave.' His principle, he said, was simple: 'Maximum security outside; maximum freedom inside.'
Seems like a sensible plan. As I've said repeatedly before, the vast majority of people who are sent to prison will one day get out. The best outcome for all involved - inmate, society at large, the taxpayers - is for him or her to successfully return to the world of the law abiding. So much of our current warehousing incarceration philosophy works against that goal. The design and locations of prisons play a part in that problem:
By contrast, new American prisons are usually built out in the countryside, where land and labor are cheaper, and security is easier to establish. And since site selection is the first step in design, everything stems from that. A rural prison needs no public face. It needn’t articulate any sense of civic pride or communal justice, because there’s no one around to see it, beyond the prisoners themselves, the guards and the occasional visitor.

There are other social costs. As Jonathan Simon, a law professor at Berkeley, pointed out to me, convicts tend to come from cities; guards do not. Culture clashes inevitably arise. Skilled labor — doctors, psychologists and the like — is harder to find in rural areas, and so are the volunteers who work in the many rehabilitation programs. The families of working-class and poor convicts often can’t afford to travel a few hundred miles to visit their relatives. As a result, prisoners have a harder time maintaining ties with the lives they left behind.
Given that recognition, one would hope that designers in the United States might follow Hohensinn's lead, but that's not the case. Jeff Goodale, the director of an Omaha firm that designs prisons, recognizes the benefits of such a design and the flaws of current ones. However:
He went on to describe what he’d like to see happen instead, and it was much like Leoben. 'That works great,' he said. 'It doesn’t cost significantly more to build, and you save on maintenance, vandalism, lawsuits, assaults, medical care.' But, he added sharply, 'at the end of the day, my clients are my clients. We’ve been told we can’t make it look too good, because the public won’t accept it.'
Therein lies the rub. Results be damned, it's more important to keep the public from thinking the state is being "soft" on crime. Criminals can't have it too well off, after all. Which is a shame. As Lewis points out:
Everybody says this, or something like it: I guess crime does pay, after all. Or, That’s bigger than my apartment. (New Yorkers, in particular, tend to take this route.) Or, Maybe I should move to Austria and rob a couple of banks. It’s a reflex, and perfectly understandable, though it’s also foolish and untrue — about as sensible as looking at a new hospital wing and saying, Gee, I wish I had cancer.

To be more accurate, free people say these things. Prisoners don’t.
No matter how gilded, a cage is still a cage. We don't need to pile indignity upon indignity in order to make life in a cage feel like punishment. Because nothing will make it otherwise.

We're Turning Again (An Update from the State of Surreal)

If you switch sides once, you're a turncoat. What if you do it again? An Xtreme Turncoat (sponsored by Mountain Dew)? I don't know, but somebody in Hiram Monserrate's office might want to find out. Monserrate is one of the two Democratic senators in New York who switched sides last week to give control of that body to the GOP. Now he's switching back, but that only complicates matters:

A week after Republicans wrested power of the State Senate away from Democrats, their thin majority collapsed on Monday, leaving the chamber in a tie for the first time in state history.

* * *

But it was unclear whether an accord between the two sides could be reached, or even who was currently in charge of the chamber. The leader of the Senate Republicans said he would not join a power-sharing arrangement. It also remained unclear whether much progress could be made on a number of legislative issues that remained unresolved in the waning days of the legislative session, from mayoral control of New York City’s school to same-sex marriage.

The lieutenant governor traditionally breaks ties in the Senate, but the office was left vacant when David A. Paterson ascended to the governorship last year amid Eliot Spitzer’s prostitution scandal.
The only person who seems content with the whole situation is Pedro Espada, Jr., the other Democratic defector, who is now president of the Senate. It might be a hollow reign, however, without any way to tip the scales that are so evenly balanced. But they came up with something last week, so who knows?

Supreme Prudery

Back in April when the Supreme Court upheld the FCC's ability to regulate "fleeting expletives," I (and others) noted the irony in the Court failing to actually use the words "fuck" or "shit," in comparison to earlier Court decisions that did so. Turns out, that wasn't by accident, at least according to some remarks last week from Justice Ginsburg (via PrawfsBlawg):

During her speech Friday Ginsburg reviewed the Fox case and said, 'the words, I'm told, were spoken' at the 2nd Circuit argument. Then came the disclosure. Matter-of-factly she added, 'the lawyers were alerted that some of the justices might find that unseemly, so only the letters 'f' and 's' were used in our court.'
The sensitive Justices were not named.

I've never been a fan of courts bowlderize dirty words in opinions. If the defendant, whose conviction and decades long sentence you're affirming, said "fuck" in some relevant statement, at least let him have his own words. Don't "f***" it, or whatever. That's doubly true when the words themselves are the heart of the case, as they were in the FCC decision.

They're only words, people. They will not rob you, rape you, or kill you. There's no need to handle them, or the public, with kid gloves.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Albums of the Day

Live at the Royal Albert Hall, by Emerson, Lake, & Palmer (1993) and The Way We Walk, Vol. 2: The Longs, by Genesis (1993): Another interesting compare and contrast that popped up in the running order. By the early 90s, the prog legends of the 70s were in various states of disrepair. ELP was back for the first time (as EL&Palmer, at least) since their awful 70s send off Love Beach. Genesis was hugely popular, but on the back of treacly pop tunes that didn't serve their legacy very well (and, as it turned out, the floor was about to fall out as Phil Collins left after this tour).

So what about the albums themsleves? The ELP disc relies heavily on the 70s tunes, with only three new bits in the set. Unfortunately, except for a pleasingly well filled out version of "Pirates," we only get cut up bits of "Karn Evil 9" (even the single version) and "Tarkus." It smacks a little too hard of a band resting on their laurels.

Genesis, on the other hand, kept plowing forward. The classic days are left only to the 20-minute "Old Medley," with all the other tracks exploring the longer/proggier edges of the band's current catalog. Honestly? They're mostly really good. They're not "Cinema Show," but then again what is? Genesis, at least, still had some life in their old bones.

Even the Stupid Is Bigger in Texas

A couple of months ago I blogged about the loony godbotherer who started marketing a line of "Christian" salt, as an alternative to kosher salt. Along those same lines, a county in Texas is assaulting the English language in the name of their tender deity (via PZ):

In this friendly little ranching town, 'hello' is wearing out its welcome. And Leonso Canales Jr. is happy as heck.

At his urging, the Kleberg County commissioners on Monday unanimously designated 'heaven-o' as the county's official greeting. The reason: 'hello' contains the word 'hell.'
It's all kind of cute, in a stupid sort of way, but it really isn't. Some religious nut has shanghaied the organs of government to preach his message. Of course, it's pretty stupid for a county to have an "official greeting" in the first place. But if you're going to do it, at least put some brains into it.

Of course, "hello" has nothing to do with the mythological place of torment (citations omitted):
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, hello is an alteration of hallo, hollo, which came from Old High German 'halâ, holâ, emphatic imper[ative] of halôn, holôn to fetch, used esp[ecially] in hailing a ferryman.' It also connects the development of hello to the influence of an earlier form, holla, whose origin is in the French holà (roughly, 'whoa there!', from French là 'there').
You know, sometimes I see something like this, which is a complete scam, and feel pity for people gullible enough to fall for it. Then I come across the story of "heaven-o" and it confirms to me that they deserve it.

UPDATE: I should note that this story actually dates back to 1997, so it's not exactly "news". Still, this kind of idiocy is timeless, don't you think?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Album of the Day

There Are Many Sides to the Night, by Steve Hackett (1994): As I said the other day, over his career Steve has taken the opportunity to do some things other than the standard rock albums. In this case, it's a recording of an acoustic concert he did in Sicily (along with keyboardist Julian Colbeck) highlighting his nylon string work. Although I enjoy this kind of thing, it very rarely elevates beyond "nice" to anything inspiring. Lots of tasteful playing and some interesting arrangements of Hackett classics. Besides, it's one of the few albums the girlfriend actually likes. It's good for, er, atmosphere, if you catch my drift!

Fear Sells (Corrections Cost)

Fear is a great sales tool. Politicians, of course, make good use of it. So do news outlets. The more scared you are the more you're paying attention, right? I mean, what's more attention grabbing, "snow expected" or "shotgun of snow takes aim at town"? The problem is that oftentimes the fear is nothing more than hype and the inevitable "never mind" becomes to little too late.

In that spirit, over at Reason they've cataloged the ten most apocalyptic cover stories from Time magazine over the past 40 years. While the journalism is pretty shoddy, the artwork is pretty neat in some instances. My favorite:

Looks like something off of a Zappa album cover.

To be fair to Time, tho', they were kind of right about Pokemon.

The Long Long Race

Today's USA Today has a nice write up about Patrick Long, the only American member of the Porsche factory racing roster. Long will be in a GT2 911 this weekend at the 77th 24 Hours of Le Mans. He's a multiple time Le Mans winner, but will face a host of Ferrari 430s this year that will make any win difficult.

At the front of the pack, its another chapter in the rivalry between Audi and Peugeot and their turbo diesel prototypes. The wild card? The three-car entry from Aston Martin, with the company's V-12 in a series of Lola coupes. I'll be pulling for the Astons, as I've got a soft spot in my heart for British V-12 prototypes dating back to the awesome Jaguar XJR-12. Besides, how can you not love a car that looks like this (photo via Wikipedia Commons):

Speed's coverages kicks off at 8:30 Saturday morning.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Album of the Day

as the world, by echolyn (1995): There are few albums, by anybody, that made such an impact on me that I can remember first hearing it like it was yesterday.

During my junior year in college, I first got online and first discovered the nascent progressive rock underground. Back then, doing business online was a pipe dream, so the best I could do was to paw through racks of CDs in brick and mortar stores hoping to find a gem. I regularly did that at the Discount Den in downtown Morgantown between classes. One day I stumbled across this album - the band's first and only major label release. Recognizing the name, but not having any idea what the band sounded like, I bought it on impulse.

Home back then was a half hour walk away, in an apartment on the top floor of a three-story house in South Park (no kidding!) I shared with jedi jawa. I got home, went into my room, and put the disc in the CD player. While I flipped through the liner notes (a first listen habit I maintain to this day), the strings and vocal harmonies of "All Ways the Same" got my attention. Then, the rock of the title track grabbed me and wouldn't let go. I was hooked, on the album and on the band, for good.

Although it's common to look at echolyn's Sony dalliance as a missed opportunity, it's really quite remarkable. Here's music that's dauntingly complex, with stop/start instrumental bits and amazing instrumental playing. Tight three-part harmonies, ala Kansas or Gentle Giant. Hell, there's even a 5-part song cycle in the middle of the album (followed by an instrumental!). All on a big time label.

In fact, as the world was the bridge between the young echolyn and the band still kicking today. It has the frenetic energy of their debut and Suffocating the Bloom . . . but is much more polished in production. It's the start of the "mature" band, that fully broke through in Cowboy Poems Free and afterwards.

Mature or not, it all kicks ass.

The State of Surreal

You know, in a week when the big Supreme Court case in the news involves someone buying a justice on the West Virginia Supreme Court, thank goodness the members of the New York Senate is making an even bigger joke of themselves.

Here's the setup, in a nutshell. For more than 40 years, the GOP controlled the New York Senate. In January, the Democrats finally gained the upper hand, albeit by a slim margin. Super slim, as a matter of fact. Slim enough that, if a couple of senators could be peeled away, that majority would slip away.

That's just what happened earlier this week:

The toppling of Democratic control unfolded in swift and dramatic fashion shortly after 3 p.m. as senators gathered in the lofty oaken chamber for what seemed like small-bore legislative action on an uneventful afternoon.

Then, Senator Tom Libous, a Binghamton Republican, offered a resolution to reorganize the Senate leadership, a parliamentary maneuver that captured the entire Capitol’s attention. Within minutes, reporters, staff members and Assembly members rushed to the Senate, crowding the chamber floor.

Democrats tried to stall the move, storming from the chamber and turning out the lights, but the Republicans continued the session as the two Democrats joined with them to elect new leaders.
I'm not sure whether to laugh or cry at the Dems trying to halt things by turning the lights out. For the record, the story doesn't indicate how the GOPers got along without light. Candle power, maybe?

As for the two Dems who turned on their colleagues, they're quite the pair:
Each man has legal troubles. Highlighting the often elastic nature of ethical stands and alliances in Albany, Republicans who earlier this year were calling on Mr. Monserrate to resign after his indictment on felony charges that he stabbed his companion with a broken glass are now welcoming him as part of their power-sharing coalition.

Asked about the reversal, Mr. Skelos said, 'He’s an elected member, and the reforms are more important.'

Mr. Espada has been fined tens of thousands of dollars over several years for flouting state law by not disclosing political contributions.

The state attorney general’s office is also investigating the Soundview HealthCare Network, a nonprofit organization that Mr. Espada ran until recently.
As one columnist has put it:
Now Mr. Smith [the ousted Democratic leader] says the Republican coup that took away his job was 'illegal and unlawful.' How come? Apparently, it was unfair of the Republicans to buy two senators whom the Democrats had already paid for, fair and square.
It turns out, however, that the change over in New York does share something with the infamous West Virginia judicial election - donor money. The takeover was apparently instigated and backed by Tom Golisano, a New Yorkbillionaire who wasn't feeling the love from the Democrats he helped get elected. Unhappy with after a fruitless meeting with Smith over the fear of increased taxes, Golisano took another approach. The result was a move that's thrown the state into chaos and underscored, once again, what a wise woman once said - "money talks, and bullshit walks."

That being said, a word about words. In particular one word - "coup" - which is used frequently in the New York Times pieces as well as by some of the Kos kids. C'mon, folks. This move is a lot of things - clever, slimy, unprecedented, etc. - but it's hardly a coup. Coups involve guns, blood, and dead political opponents. Don't trivialize the terror wrought by the real thing by comparing it to this relatively benign circus.

Know Your Confedrations Cup

Since I mentioned the upcoming Confederations Cup in South Africa the other day, I thought I'd pass along a couple of links to get everybody up to speed. Both from ESPN, here's a preview of the contest and here are capsule descriptions of the eight teams involved.

Honestly, the US has a horrible draw and doesn't have much of a chance of advancing out of their group. Still, it should be fun to watch, regardless. Things kick off Sunday morning (all games on the ESPN family) with Iraq taking on South Africa.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Albums of the Day

Chasing the Dragon, by John Wetton (1994), and Time Lapse, by Steve Hackett (1992): Two of the big names of 70s prog, releasing two very different live albums within a couple of years of each other.

Wetton (backed by, among others, John Beck of It Bites) skims through a selection of track from his whole career, including what should be highlights from his days with King Crimson and UK. In fact, he's better when sticking to the poppier Asia and solo tracks (the acoustic guitar and vocal "Heat of the Moment" is quite good, actually). The older stuff ranges from leaden to just embarrassing ("Starless" reduced to three minutes? - blasphemy!).

Hackett, by contrast, sticks mostly to his solo years, with much better effect. To be fair, a large hunk of Steve's disc was recorded in 1981 (backed by, among others, Ian Mosley, in the pre-Marillion days), but even the tracks from 1990 are solid. Hackett has had some odd diversions though the years (a blues album, various acoustic projects), but he returns to the proggy stuff with regularity and style.

Ironically, just after the Wetton album came out, he teamed up with Hackett as part of his Genesis Revisited and The Tokyo Tapes projects.