December 31, 2006

Tantissimi Auguri!


I'm ringing in the new year with a couple fingers of single-malt Scotch. The Wife is having an orange liqueur on shaved ice. Don't you party too hard like this guy, Loyal Reader (or if you do, call a taxi).

Have a happy, prosperous, and successful new year!

Ending The Year With A Shopping Spree

The Wife and I used some of our day to go get some things to improve our quality of life. We got some coat hooks to hand up near our doors and to replace the fallen towel hook in the bathroom. And we bought some books. I got a history of India, a subject about which I know nothing, after being inspired by some nice Indian food for lunch. I also got a textbook of Italian verbs, to work on the part of my Italian that is somewhat weak, looking forward to our next trip to il pais vecchio at an as-yet-undetermined time in the future.

I'm resolved to make good on my promise to take The Wife to San Francisco next year. We're also looking forward to spending some more time in the gym, and more time smooching and less time arguing about keeping the kitchen clean. That last one will be a challenge as I would like to cook more than I have been cooking recently. New Years' resolutions? Not really, just a desire to do better in the future. The new year also promises to bring lots of new teaching gigs for me and hopefully a trial or two. It looks like there will be a new quarterback in Green Bay as Brett Favre looks appears to move to retire, a new set of political activity as the government returns to divided status, and so there will be a whole host of new things to write about.

Oh, and The Wife and I want to buy a house. I guess that's kind of a big agenda item.

So maybe a shopping spree at Barnes & Noble wasn't the best thing to do, but hey, you've gotta have some fun, too. Nothing wrong with getting a few books, maybe having a cafe latte, and maybe even picking up a new CD, every once in a while.

December 30, 2006

Precursors

Once or twice a year, I suffer a set of precursors to migraine headaches. I think I've got some of those going on right now.

My head has been in pain for a while, localized to the orbits of my right eye socket. I had an attack of blind spots earlier this evening and was inappropriately irritable. And I've been lethargic for about six hours after waking up with every intention of getting some exercise today. I suspect last night's sleeplessness was related to this, also. So far, though, no nausea or intolerance for light or sound.

Hopefully, this is as far as it gets; I do not want the full-on migraine. The pain and disorientation can be debilitating. I haven't ever had any medication that makes it go away. And I'd rather do that exercise I wanted to do tomorrow rather than the day after.

Nine-Way Exacta

With the Giants' win over Washington tonight, Green Bay's chance at the playoffs depends on all of the following happening tomorrow:

1. Detroit beating Dallas;
2. New Orleans beating Carolina;
3. Cleveland beating Houston;
4. Seattle beating Tampa Bay;
5. San Francisco beating Denver;
6. Minnesota beating St. Louis;
7. Arizona beating San Diego;
8. Miami beating Indianapolis; and, of course,
9. Green Bay beating Chicago.

Don't hold your breath; even a six-way parlay pays something like 50:1 odds. And come on, folks, any team that needs this much help to get in the playoffs has no business of being there in the first place.

And Brett, it's been a great run. Thanks.

Trifecta

I am grateful that once again, death seems to have not touched people in my immediate circle of life; while much of my work involves deaths, these deaths are not personal to me. I attended one funeral this year of a man I knew only slightly; a good man, but not a close friend. The Wife and I went to show our support for our friends who were close to him; I'll not comment further on that subject having wrote about it in June. Still, the sting of losing someone close to you is unlike anything else people experience. Some readers may not have been so fortunate as to have avoided that sting this year; my condolences if that is the case for you. I hope that you will remember the good times you shared with the loved one you have lost.

Now, the deaths of famous people are at least remarked upon by everyone. 2006 is ending the year with a trifecta of famous death, and one which includes each of the three kinds of deaths that make the news -- we've lost a good man, a bad man, and an entertainer.

We lost the entertainer first. James Brown personified soul music. The "Godfather of Soul" lived a checkered life but was generally enjoyed by a wide audience and earned his sobriquet, "The Hardest Working Man In Show Business." He was in his seventies but still going strong, performing nearly every night, touring with his band and dancers on a bus, when he passed away on Christmas morning. While not insanely rich, he also didn't really need the money, either; he performed because he loved it. Any of us could do worse than that.

Then, we lost the good man. President Gerald Ford was, like all of our leaders, lampooned and occasionally vilified during his Presidency. His pardon of his predecessor, who was so obviously guilty of heinous crimes, almost certainly cost him his chances at being elected in his own right. But the perspective of history has led people around the country to realize that his decision was the right one, because it allowed the country to heal after a terrible, divisive phase of the political cycle. President Ford's decency and selflessness are the facets of his leadership that have been highlighted in all of his obituaries, and perhaps that is because it seems like it's been a very long time since we've seen decency and selflessness exhibited in any significant way by our leaders. Sleep well, Mr. President; you've earned it.

And sometime around the time I went to sleep last night, Saddam Hussein was hanged for crimes against humanity. No one, maybe not even his widows and any surviving children he may have, will shed tears over his death. I think it's poor form to celebrate someone's death, butthis would be as strong a candidate as possible to deviate from that dictum. While some may be taken aback at the swiftness of the execution following the conclusion of his apparently brief appeal, that is the legal system the Iraqis have found themselves under after heavy ghostwriting by their American occupiers created for themselves and so the result ought not to be so shocking. I am not at all convinced that there will be substantial violence in response to Saddam's execution; this eventuality has been a foregone conclusion for some time now and it seems that most people have accepted that Saddam became irrelevant to questions about Iraq's future once he got plucked out of his spider hole.

Other famous deaths took place this year, like Slobodan Milosovic (a very bad man), Aaron Spelling (an entertainer), Ann Richards (a good woman, I think; at the least, she lent color to our political debate), Ed Bradley (a good man, it seems; certainly a journalist worthy of respect), Jack Palance (an entertainer), and Milton Friedman (a good man indeed). But I think of all three of the categories of famous deaths that make the news, this end-of-the-year set of three passings within a week are the most remarkable of them all.

December 27, 2006

Wind Advisory

It gets windy in the desert, and tonight it's especially so. The National Weather Service issued a strong wind advisory for the Antelope Valley tonight. In the western portions of our little triangular slice of desert, places like Antelope Acres, gusts of up to 75 miles an hour are predicted. 75 miles an hour, by the way, is what meterologists call "hurricane-force" winds.

Out here near the Rented Mansion In The Desert, the winds are steady at about 20, with gusts of up to 34 miles an hour so far tonight, although it appears that the winds will peak in about three hours or so. I've moved the barbeque and the greenwaste bin to areas where they won't be blown over, but aside from that, there isn't much we can do about it but keep all the windows shut. The dogs sure don't want to be outside and I don't blame them.

The wind farm in Mojave is probably shut down -- if the turbines run too hard, that burns out the generators. That's kind of ironic, if you ask me. More wind should mean more electricity, but I guess there's a point that the mechanical parts just can't handle the stress anymore.

Book Review: Imperium

Robert Harris' Imperium was released in the U.S. about a month ago. It's an enjoyable read, particularly for history buffs and political junkies. I certainly enjoyed it.

It's hard to say if there are any spoilers in the review; anyone can pick up a history book and know what happened in Cicero's life and the book does not portray anything known to have not happened, although as I describe below, I take issue with some of the... flavors, if you will, that the author uses to portray certain historical events. I strongly doubt that anything I've written below will take away from your enjoyment of the book if you choose to read it.

The novel tells the story of two chapters from the rich life of Marcus Tullius Cicero, the famous Roman lawyer, orator, and politician. Harris used Cicero's moderately-famous secretary, Tiro (the inventor of shorthand), as his first-person narrator, and it is a good choice -- Tiro gets to see the great men of history up-close and personal but is frequently treated like wallpaper by them because he was, after all, a slave. The conceit of the book is that it is a translation of a portion of Tiro's long-lost biography of Cicero, which probably did exist but has been lost to the vicissitudes of history.

It is not clear to me whether some of the ham-handed phrases in the book -- "I sense that you are anxious for me to continue with the narrative" -- are Harris' idea of first-person writing or Harris really trying to capture what he thought a narrative flow of a book written by a well-educated but provincial ex-slave might really have been. These are jarring, though, and disrupt the flow of the story. Some have criticized Harris' use of modern terminology in the book, like referring to fine wine as "Chianti" or describing a member of the landed gentry as a "grand country seigneur". I'm willing to forgive these as modern cognates of the somewhat more esoteric Latin phrases (Falernian and equitus, respectively) and chalk it up to something like "free translation" into modern English from the Latin that Tiro, the ostensible narrator, would have used.

Also of questionable choice are the portions of Cicero's life that Harris' Tiro chooses to narrate: the trial of Gaius Verres, and Cicero's campaign for the consulship, the Republican Roman equivalent of running for President. Both make for quite interesting reading and provide decent theories about the flesh-and-blood interactions of Cicero with his contemporaries as well as Cicero's motivations. But these are not, in my opinion, the only significant chapters of Cicero's life to paint. They are, however, those portions of Cicero's life that best demonstrate the noble and admirable qualities of Cicero's character, which gives Harris the ability to paint Cicero as a populist, a talented outsider clawing his way to the top on merit alone, and even something of an idealist operating within a very cynical world -- and thus, to underline many of the qualities of the man which modern readers will find admirable.

Utterly ignored, however, are other episodes of Cicero's life which are at least questionable. Most annoying to me, as an amateur student of Roman history, is Cicero's vacillation on the issue of one-man rule. It seems to me that Cicero was a populist only when it suited his immediate purpose, and he spent the bulk of his career going back and forth between the camps of popular figures and the unpopular but powerful aristocracy. Here's the real overall arc of Cicero's career:

Cicero kept his head down during Sulla's dictatorship, which probably left a bad taste in the then young man's mouth (as it did for most Romans). Only when the dictator had vacated the stage did Cicero step forward to begin his public career. He initially only took defense cases, seeking to cultivate friends and loyalties within the ruling class. He found good political purchase with both the popular masses and a sufficient number of nobles by using the former cronies of Sulla as foils for his defense arguments.

But, as a junior Senator, he toed the line with the powers that were. Then, after badly overestimating the political importance of doing a good job as the governor of Sicily, Cicero tried his hand at appealing to the masses with his prosecution of Verres and his cultivation of a friendship with Pompey the Great. But when he ran for consul, he ran as an ally of the conservative old guard, who only supported him because the candidates that year from within their own ranks were very weak. (This is exactly opposite to the portrayal of his campaign in Imperium.)

Cicero's consulship was controversial and he wound up almost literally at dagger points with the populist hero of the day, Lucius Sergius Catalina, who he accused (rightfully, it seems, although the evidence was quite sketchy at the time) of fomenting revolution. Catalina was executed on Cicero's orders without a trial on the authority of a law of dubious validity. This further alienated Cicero from the common people and drove him into the ranks of a distrustful cadre of nobles.

There he stayed for several years, until Pompey persuaded him to again switch sides back to Pompey's faction, which at that time was the triumvirate of Pompey, Crassus and Caesar. This failed to bring him popularity, however, but it did have the effect of alienating his hard-line allies. At the time, his alliance to that triumvirate saved his life; he had so alienated the populist masses of Rome that he was exiled, and only barely escaped a death sentence by skipping town in time. It was also to the triumvirate, particularly to Pompey, that Cicero owed his ultimate return from exile.

As many Loyal Readers will know, the triumvirate failed when Caesar's daughter Julia, who had been married to Pompey, and then Crassus himself, both died in quick succession. The result was a massive civil war, from which Caesar emerged the victor. Pompey eschewed Cicero's support during the civil war, telling the lawyer to stay in Rome and make what peace he could with Caesar. This Cicero singularly failed to do, despite some strain on Caesar's part to incorporate Cicero and his prestige into the Julian political machine. With Caesar, Cicero reached an uneasy sort of political nonaggression pact, which pleased neither Caesar (who was then quite popular) nor his enemies.

With Caesar's proxies, however, Cicero found himself unable to restrain his polemic tongue and towards the end of his life seemed to finally decide to take a stand against the trend towards autocracy -- far too late in the game to have possibly altered its outcome. After Caesar's assassination, Antonius became Cicero's primary target of public polemic, and when Antonius allied with Caesar's adopted son Octavius (later Augustus), the price was Cicero's death, which Octavius ordered without scruple.

So, Cicero was able to switch sides within the ever-shifting network of alliances that made up the governing oligarchy of Rome with remarkable facility. He seemed to sometimes like the idea of consolidating power in the hands of a few men (like when he allied himself with the triumvirs, or when he took the power of the state into his own hands to execute Catalina) but at other times seems to have taken great joy in attacking those men who held great power for their abuse of it (his Philippics against Antonius, his prosecution of Verres, his attacks on the lieutenants of Sulla). On the question of one-man rule, Cicero seems to have never decided on whether to take a principled stand against it, or to pick a side and work towards victory. When he finally felt he had no choice but to pick a horse to back, he chose Pompey despite the fact that Pompey was at that point obviously going to lose the war.

This runs directly counter to the blend of idealism and populism with political savvy that Harris is so anxious to portray in his hero. Cicero makes for an interesting hero, and has received scant treatment at the hands of novelists and even historians as a central character. The problem is that his career was so complex, and so ambiguous, as to defy the ability to present him in an insightful light. Was he a man for the people or a man for the nobility? Depends on when you look at him. Was he a staunch defender of the Roman constitution or a cunning sophist who played for short-term political advantage? A little of both, it seems. Was he a loyal friend? It seems not, but then again, he kept returning to the camp of Pompey, even when it was clearly to his disadvantage to do so and indeed, even when doing so rendered his own life forfeit.

In Imperium, the nuts and bolts of Cicero's operation are revealed in remarkably believable detail. Harris does a fantastic job of showing how a Roman lawyer went about his tasks, particularly including Cicero's reliance upon the people around him for support. He also provides very good insights into the Roman legal process, which included a lot of devices that modern lawyers would recognize today -- things like subpoenas, large-scale document productions, and impeachment upon cross-examination. It was very interesting for me as a lawyer to read what doing that same job in ancient times would have been like.

The mechanics of an ambitious politician are also shown in detail, warts and all. Cicero is not above a few less-than-honorable political associations, and demonstrates an ability to roll logs and trade horses with political figures with whom he might otherwise have preferred not to. He has ideals, it seems, but he is willing to barter some of them away. This is, of course, what the business of politics is all about. There are also vote-wranglers and detailed depictions of the complex and esoteric way that Romans actually voted and governed themselves. To people interested in the process of politics and government, the book is worth the read for this alone.

A man of his times but not ahead of them, Cicero stood in the path of the oncoming revolution and occasionally tried to stop it, but occasionally helped it along, too. Ultimately, Cicero was not a man of principle, not a man of the people, not a man of the Senate. He was, quite simply, a lawyer-turned-politician. He was very smart, if not always very wise. Here is where Harris' portrayal of this great, prolific Sphinx of a character fails to ring true, because Harries tries to make Cicero into something he was not: a hero. Cicero was, instead, simply a man. A flawed, inconsistent man, one who made mistakes and did things that he was not (or should have been) proud of. Cicero is in some ways more interesting than many of his contemporaries like the truly idealistic Cato the Younger, the dissolute Clodius Pulcher, or the power-hungry gambler Julius Caesar.

So while I do not acquit Cicero for his shortcomings, ultimately, I think I must apologize for them. It is not always easy to see the future, and Cicero certainly did not have that super power. Instead, he did the best he could with the information he had available to him. More importantly, it is not always easy to stay true to one's own ideals in the face of strong political, legal, financial, physical, or personal pressure, and Cicero was not immune to these things and occasionally succumbed to them. Who among us can say that we would have done better than Cicero under the circumstances? Not me. I know from my own experience that political pressure can be both very powerful and very subtle -- it can be very difficult indeed to even see that one's ideals are being compromised until it is too late to change course; it sometimes seems to make little sense to walk away from having something in life, and risk losing everything you have worked hard to earn, over a principle. We all face trials like that in life from time to time, and I find it easy to imagine Cicero getting lost once or twice in his remarkable career.

And similarly, while Imperium is not flawless novel, I cannot say that I could have done any better than Robert Harris. Writing a lengthy piece of fiction is a very difficult task even for the best and most experienced writer. Taking on a deeply ambiguous character like Cicero only makes the task that much more challenging. Harris has produced a journeyman effort here. So if you have any interest in historical fiction, politics, or law, it's worth your time to read the book.

December 26, 2006

Mythology

I commend to you, Loyal Readers, a marvellous column printed in the Christmas Eve edition of the Los Angeles Fish Wrapper.

Scenarios

From the recently-updated NFL playoff scenarios page, there are now five possible ways Green Bay can get into the playoffs. Much depends on Saturday's game between the New York Football Giants and the Washington Redskins. And, of course, Green Bay needs to beat the fearsome-appearing Chicago Bears.

The NFL's tiebreaking procedures can get quite elaborate. If Green Bay and the Giants finish with the same record, these are the tiebreaking priorities:

1. Head-to-head, if applicable.
2. Best won-lost-tied percentage in games played within the conference.
3. Best won-lost-tied percentage in common games, minimum of four.
4. Strength of victory.
5. Strength of schedule.
6. Best combined ranking among conference teams in points scored and points allowed.
7. Best combined ranking among all teams in points scored and points allowed.
8. Best net points in conference games.
9. Best net points in all games.
10. Best net touchdowns in all games.
11. Coin toss.

I'm a football junkie, and I'm not real sure how to calculate "strength of victory." Yahoo! calculates the Giants' current strength of victory at (45-58) and the Packers' at (33-71). So, if I'm understanding this right, should both teams win, New York would have (50-69) and Green Bay would have (46-74). But that's only adding up the combined wins and losses of all of a particular team's opponents, and something doesn't look right here (the totals for the two teams are not the same; perhaps the Giants' score does not take into account tonight's games).

As I think I've calculated above, it looks mathematically impossible for Green Bay to achieve a better strength of victory tiebreaker over the Giants. So disregarding the possibility of any tie games, which happen about once every 500 games (the last tie was November 11, 2002; Atlanta and Pittsburgh tied, 34-34), this means that New York has to lose to Washington Saturday. If New York wins, its all over. Then on Sunday, the trifecta of St. Louis, Philadelphia, and New Orleans must somehow fail. Should all of that happen, then Green Bay will control its own destiny against Chicago.

Confused? Sure you are. Even I am. To map it all out requires working a set of quintuple trinary variables: in other words, predicting the outcomes (win, lose, or tie) of five games. It's complex -- not only are New York and Green Bay in the hunt, there are ways that Carolina, Atlanta, and St. Louis could all make it in to the playoffs if both New York and Green Bay lose next week. This is way more complex than my tired, insomnia-stricken brain can handle right now.

December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas

To all our friends and family who celebrate, have a merry Christmas, filled with joy, love, and peace.

More Sleep Issues

At 5:00 this morning, I woke up and could not fall asleep again. I don't know if it was a big dinner last night at our friends' house, I don't know if it was having had something unusual (absinthe) to drink, I don't know what it was. But I've been up for four hours already and although I'm very tired, sleep still seems to elude me. I abandonded my bed so that my rolling around would not keep The Wife up, but I'm still so tired tears stream out of my eyes when I yawn, which is frequently.

The Wife and I are planning on joining a gym and working out regularly after the holidays are over. Maybe if I drop a few pounds and use my body more rigorously, sleep will come easier. Couldn't hurt.

Playoffs a Possibility

After yesterday's games, it appears that Green Bay has a real chance at making the playoffs. The Packers need to beat the Bears next week -- and the Bears ought to be resting their good players after the first series of snaps, since they've already clinched homefield advantage -- and the resurgent Redskins need to beat the troubled New York Football Giants, who today are battling rumors that their coach will be fired at the year's end. I'm not saying that it will happen; I'm saying it's a realisitic possibility.

I'm not saying the playoffs would be easy, either. I'm just saying, when you're a fan, you don't abandon the team, because they just might pull through.

December 23, 2006

Cloned Beef

Turns out, cloned beef tastes just like the beef it was cloned from. Same thing for the milk that is drawn from the cloned cows. Kind of obvious that it would be that way, when you think about it.

You may have already eaten food taken from the offspring of clones. So what exactly are people afraid of? Eat the food. Drink the milk. Use the technology -- not unthinkingly, but do use it.

The Holiday For The Rest Of Us

Well, here it is. It's finally arrived -- the big holiday! Happy Festivus to all the Loyal Readers!

May your aluminum pole be simple and unadorned. May your dinner be rich and delicious, and drink deeply of the Festivus Wine! (Enjoy the Festivus Ice Cream for dessert, too!) May your Airing of Grievances smooth the way for a year of harmony and resolved conflict, and the best of luck to you in the Feats of Strength!

I understand that in protest to Michael Richards' racially offensive rant at the Laugh Factory, Governor Jim Doyle of Wisconsin is not going to celebrate Festivus this year and has given away his pole. But this is a mistake. Leaders of Christian organizations have done and said some pretty bad things, yet no one seriously suggests not celebrating Christmas or Easter in protest. One can condemn Richards' inappropriate remarks while still remaining true to the spirit of the holiday.

So Happy Festivus to everyone!

December 22, 2006

News Choices

Turning to CNN.com this morning, I scanned the headlines to see what articles interested me.

The lead story was "Rape charged dropped against three Duke lacrosse players". Pass.

Then the #2 story was "Denver blizzard snarls air traffic". Certainly a story worthy of attention; it's affecting a lot of people. But not me or anyone I know.

Then there's "Rosie v. The Donald". This is news? I'm not even going to dignify it with a link. Rich people behaving badly sounds like my work; if I wanted to get more of that I'd go to the office.

Probably the most significant item on the entire page was "Britain, France push for U.N. vote on Iran sanctions". But no, I didn't read that one first.

A look lower down the items revealed two items I thought were interesting enough to warrant a closer look: Rice says black President possible and Researchers film live giant squid.

Guess which one I picked to read first, Loyal Readers.

December 21, 2006

Santa Sassy

Karma The Reindeer

Getting Hitched in Tennessee? Not So Much...

In order to protect the sanctity of marriage, Tennessee voters passed the Tennessee Marriage Protection Amendment. That way, no same-sex couples will be able to be married in Tennessee. That way, the sacred and ancient institution of marriage will be protected in Tennessee. Because, as has been seriously argued on the political right, if same-sex relationships are legally recongized, fewer opposite-sex couples will get married.

Or, um, maybe not. As it turns out, Vermont's marriage rate has remained more or less the same since the state began recongizing civil unions for same-sex couples -- representing a higher marriage rate than the national average. Massachusetts' divorce rate has fallen to the lowest in the nation since same-sex marriages were recongized there. In the meantime, Denmark, the first European nation to recongize same-sex marriages, has experienced an increase in heterosexual marriage rates, while the UK and Belgium, nations which have not recongized same-sex marriage, have suffered a decline in heterosexual marriage rates.

So, of course, what's happening back in Tennessee? Hamilton County, in which Chattanooga sits, issued half as many marriage licenses in 2006 as it did ten years ago. Part of this has to do with the relative ease of getting a marriage license across the border in Georgia because in Georgia, there is no requirement that couples get four hours of marriage preparation counseling prior to the issuance of the license.

Premarital counseling may not be a bad idea, at least in theory. As Knox County's forms make clear, the state permits a wide variety of providers to give this counseling -- and it's not at all clear exactly what kind of qualifications the providers need to have or what the contents of the counseling might be. (The actual law suggests things that "may" be in the counseling, but there are no required subjects and it seems that it could be nothing more than a four-hour lecture on Biblical injunctions about marriage and divorce.)

If Tennessee's goal is to promote marriage, it's taking all the wrong steps towards making that happen.

December 20, 2006

Big Charity

An interesting observation in the New York Times: Of the top four charitable givers in United States history, three were or are nonbelievers (self-described atheists or agnostics): Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Andrew Carnegie. The fourth is John D. Rockefeller, who was a Baptist. According to the Times' contributor, Buffett’s recent charitable activity — which, including pledges, total about $37 billion — are more than double that of Carnegie and Rockefeller combined, even after accounting for inflation.

I was not aware of this. I have not done any kind of fact-checking to verify if this is true (particularly the math of the present-day value of Carnegie and Rockefeller's remarkable charitable donations). There are other ways to measure a particular group's participation in charity; clearly, religious folks give to charity, too.

It may well be that a higher percentage of religious folks give to charity than non-religious folks; or perhaps they give more regularly; or perhaps not. The article does not really say. All the same, it's an interesting observation.

Trial of the Century

Today, I finished a two-day unlawful detainer trial. Two days? You ask. How can an unlawful detainer trial possibly take two days? Well, I'll tell you.

The defendant has the right to propound discovery, which they did. They have the right to subpoena witnesses and documents for the trial, which they did. They have the right to demand a jury, which they did. They have the right to have the case heard by a "real" judge instead of the commissioner normally assigned to hear such cases, which they demanded.

Now, these defendants failed to post jury fees, so they lost their right to a jury trial. But other than that, they exercised nearly every procedural right that they have to try and slow down the eviction.

Keep in mind -- this was an eviction based on a thirty-day notice. There are virtually no defenses to a thirty-day notice. We did it that way because my client wanted to sell the property, and felt that it would be easier to sell the property if the house was vacant. This is what we call in the legal field a business decison.

They found one of the only defenses out there, though: retaliation. They did their level best to try and come up with some theory that the eviction was the result of their complaints about the way that their septic tank had recently been replaced when it had failed. They pored through every law they could find, and offered about nineteen affirmative defenses (many of which did not apply, such as alleged violations of laws regulating the sale of timeshares).

And also keep in mind -- these people were representing themselves in court. Pro per parties have a hard time of things, because legal procedures are quite complex. The rules of evidence, for instance, are very easy for people to run afoul of when offering testimony, particularly the narrative testimony that pro per parties necessarily must offer. But to make the matter worse, there was a "conflict resolution counselor" who was "assisting" them. Whether this went over the line into unlawful practice of law or not is unclear as I did not inquire about relations between this "counselor" and the defendants -- but at least she did not attempt to speak on behalf of the defendants during court appearances.

Now, consider that the judge in this case gave the defendants a very wide berth to explore and offer pretty much whatever evidence they wished. I was, I admit, not a lot of help to the judge, as I had my client there and I had to put on a show for my client. So that meant I had to make an appreciable number of legal objections to the testimony and proceedings -- and that was not assisted by the defendants' assertion of a variety of legal rights, to which I had to respond with appropriate legal argument.

So not that it was wrong for the judge to have done so, but the result was that the defendants were given a lot of slack to explore highly irrelevant areas of evidence, and they did so cumulatively (meaning they offered the same evidence over and over again). I understand why the judge did it the way he did it -- he wanted to make sure the defendants felt like they got a fair trial.

None of this was particularly upsetting to me, and the trial caused me no anxiety other than the amount of my time that it consumed. What bugs me, though, was that we made a very generous settlement offer to these people before the case started. They demanded ample time to move out, and they demanded money. So, we offered them forty-five days to move out and we offered to pay them $2,400 to help them move. But some people just can't take "yes" for an answer. They insisted on at least sixty days and $5,000.

The result, after two days of trial? A writ of possession to issue forthwith (meaning as soon as the Sheriffs get to it, which will be within one week) and a lockout to take place within five days of the issuance of that writ. And they are now liable to my client for nearly the $5,000 that they wanted to be paid, for holdover rent and the attorney's fees they made my client incur by demanding a two-day trial of an issue that could have been resolved in ten minutes.

What frustrates me is that these are older folks, who obviously will be particularly susceptible to the cold winter weather into which they are facing imminent ejection. They could have taken a very generous deal but let their emotions get in the way of doing so. They could have probably worked things out with my client before I ever got involved. It seems like such a waste. It's some consolation to remind myself that they are the architects of their own destruction, but nevertheless it leaves me feeling unhappy, because the whole thing was such an unnecessary waste of time, resources, energy, and opportunity.

December 19, 2006

Shooting the Messengers

It's puzzling to me why this isn't getting more press in the U.S. media.

A Palestinian doctor and five nurses from Bulgaria, on a mission in Libya, diagnosed an outbreak of pediatric AIDS in 1999. They were promptly charged with, and then convicted of, infecting the children with the disease, and they were all sentenced to death. The primary evidence offered against them at trial were confessions extracted under torture. Eventually their appeals within the Libyan justice system produced orders for retrials. Those retrials, concluded a few days ago, have now produced fresh death sentences, based on the same evidence offered by the prosecution -- but this time after Western epidemiologists testified that the outbreak for which they were sentenced began before any of the medics had been given visas to enter Libya in the first place.

I suppose I can accept that the U.S. and European nations are held to a different and higher standard of behavior than that to which less well-developed nations are held. But this fresh outrage is also quite disappointing. Libya had been making gestures about wanting to join the community of nations that know how to behave themselves. This is a huge step backwards.

Now, let me be the first to say that if, improbably, a sqaud of nurses and doctors did infect infants with AIDS, that would be truly horrific. But the claim is so far-fetched as to be ridiculous. Doctors and nurses, as a rule, tend to want to save children from terrible diseases. Perhaps one might be a psychopath or a serial killer -- but six of them, working together like the Hannibal Lechter Death Squad? It just doesn't make the remotest bit of sense.

I don't know what the appropriate response to this would be. Diplomatic, I suppose, but if the death sentences are carried out, there must be some more stringent sanction than that, and merely clucking our disapproval is neither going to be effective at changing anything. Given that we've just normalized our relations with the country, and relaxed economic sanctions on it, strengthening those sanctions seems to be counter-productive. Perhaps a more focused kind of sanction, like preventing any U.S. medical personnel from staffing Libyan hospitals?

December 18, 2006

Oh, You Think I'm Bitter?

Check this out. A friend said at lunch today, "You know, I can't wait for the bird flu to hit. You know, thin out the herd a bit." Then we talked about the effects felt by Western civilization as a result of the Black Plague and the Great Fire of 1666. And did you know that the most new cases of AIDS last year was in India? I would have thought Botswana, Zimbabwe, or South Africa -- but that may be new cases as a percentage of the total population.

Happy Holiays, everybody!

Grading Assignments

I hate grading papers. It's very time-consuming, it's tedious, and it drains my hopes for the ability of college students to properly function in the real world after they demonstrate substantial deficits in critical thinking skills. In turn, my students get frustrated with me.

So I've been looking for a different way to go. I think I've found one. This technique may very well expedite my future grading endeavors. If real law professors do it at real law schools, why not me? Why didn't I think of this myself?

Bitter Snow In The Desert

It snowed Friday night in the hills. In our neck of the woods, the snow came down to about 100 feet above us, and continues to linger even now, three days later, and will almost certainly still be there tomorrow. At these altitudes, it was just a dusting, so it's not like anything catastrophic. It's kind of pretty, at least a nice change from the usual dull brown. The Tehachipis and the San Gabriels, somewhat farther away, have got a more heavy, proper coat of snow as one would expect in the wintertime.

Cold weather, however, is no fun. I would rather it was cold and dry than cold and snowy, to be sure. Still, it's always seemed odd to me to have to keep winter clothing in Southern California, and particularly in the desert where it is so often uncomfortably hot. The wind, particularly, is biting and not fun at all in the desert during the winter, and out in the flats where the courthouse is, it gets up to about twenty-five miles an hour, really pushing things around. When I leave for work in the morning, there is frost and ice all over the lawn.

So that's winter in the desert for you. Snow, not quite at the level of human habitation, and really cold wind. Unpleasant, not unbearably so. I remember the winters we spent in Tennessee and they were miserable. I was reminded of that today, seeing so much ice and frost built up on the windshields of cars that had been left out overnight.

(Spring will be nice. For about a week, after the February rains, the desert will bloom in purple and orange with the clover and poppies in abundance; the cacti will bloom and sprout prickly pears; and the grass itself will be green. After a rain, even the Joshua trees look clean and vibrant. I'm looking forward to spring -- best two weeks all year in the desert.)

So maybe I'm in a sour mood after a ninety-minute long bad customer service experience with the cellular phone company. Maybe I'm in a sour mood because my old insurance company in Tennessee still just doesn't get it -- we sold our house and moved half a year ago. Maybe I'm in a sour mood because our bank won't let us buy the television set we wanted to buy for ourselves. Maybe it's because I just don't buy in to the Christmas thing anyway. But for whatever reason, the holiday season just isn't penetrating into my consciousness. Images of winter beauty seem like so much cold, white, bleak, barrenness and I just want them to go away. And maybe I'm bitter because my fantasy football team's once-commanding hold on second place (like all fantasy teams not presently in the lead, we lack LaDanian Tomlinson) has evaporated to merely six points. This week only one of our position players scored any points at all.

And people start being silly with their holiday decorations around this time of year. Strike that -- Christmas decorations. Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, secular humanists, and Wiccans don't seem to do a lot of decorating their houses with ostentatious displays of lights and lawn sculpture. It's the Christians who celebrate the birth of their Messiah with images of Santa Claus, reindeer, angels, and a variety of generically-nice messages like "Noel" and "Peace on Earth." (Talk about taking a controversial stand!)

But my favorite Christmas decoration so far has to be near the intersection of 30th Street West and Avenue L. There, the property owner has ringed white lights around twenty-foot high plywood picture of Mr. Hanky, the beloved Christmas character from South Park. This is a heavily-travelled street, and located just two blocks away from a Christian elementary school. Subversive, yes; socially appropriate, no. Whether anyone has complained about this or not is a good question, one which I intend to ask the editor of the newspaper when I have dinner with him Wednesday night.

December 17, 2006

Making the Pitch

At least part of the pitch to the right wing becomes clear -- Rudy cut taxes when he was mayor; he cleaned up crime; and most powerful of all the arguments, he can beat Hilary Clinton.

Of course, as of right now, John McCain beats Hilary Clinton in the polls, too, and McCain has been making pitches to the right wing, too.

It's too early to know that these kinds of numbers are reliable, but the argument that "Hey, I can beat Al Gore" worked for Bush the Younger in the 2000 primaries. One wonders if these two centrist candidates are underestimating the RR -- McCain at least has the advantage of being pro-life, which is more than Guiliani can claim.

How Green Bay Can Make It Into The Playoffs

Yes, it is still possible for this to happen. Here's how it would work:

Green Bay, of course, must defeat Minnesota and Chicago (which is not so far-fetched; Chicago already has locked up homefield advantage so they may as well rest their starters).

Then, in Week 16, Philly beats Dallas, New Orleans beats the New York Football Giants, Atlanta beats Carolina, and St. Louis loses to Washington.

In Week 17, Altanta must beat Philadelphia; Washington must beat the Giants; St. Louis must beat Minnesota; New Orleans must beat Carolina.

Somewhere in there, Santa Clara must lose to either of Arizona or Denver.

If all that happens, Green Bay gets the #6 playoff seed, behind Philadelphia, and would travel to Dallas for the wild card game.

Hey, it could happen!

Some Reason For Hope

Politically, we have little reason for hope at home -- but abroad, at least, the proponents of hate, fascism, and rolling back the Enlightenment have suffered a moderate setback.

Christmas for the Critters

Yesterday, The Wife and I bought treats and toys for our pets.

The cats got a "crunchy tunnel," a five-foot long cloth tube with a cat-access hole in the middle, a ball dangling on a string inside, and some crunchy stuff inside the lining so the tube makes noise as the cat walks through it. We also got a collapsable fabric "cat-cave" for them. Both got lined with catnip and the cats have been quite pleased. Unfortunately, the replacement laser pointer does not work. But, the cats have new places to hide from the dogs and each other, and they seem to like their new toys.

For the dogs, we got a couple stuffed animals with squeakers. These are extra-tough ones, since the Sassafras is what dog experts call an "aggressive chewer." One looks like a Canadian goose and the other looks like a pheasant. The squeakers sound like duck calls. The dogs also got mammoth bones -- cow tibias with a little bit of roasted, salted meat left on. The dogs were dumbstruck by the size of these things. Karma is not much longer, from nose to tail, than the bones. We had to take the bones away from the dogs after about an hour; they would have sat there and worried the bones all night if they had the chance.

Buying for the critters is fun and the great thing about it is, every day is Christmas for critters when they get big bones to eat and new toys to play with.

December 14, 2006

Thursday Night Football

Thursday Night Football has been nothing but bad. It has to come to an end.

I can't watch the games because they're all on NFL Network, which Time Warner Cable does not carry and which comes with a heftier price tag than I would be willing to pay even if I could get it, which I can't because Time Warner bought out Adelphia in this area so the game is unavailable at any price and I don't want to go to a sports bar to watch a game I probably don't care all that much about anyway.

It advances the dates on which I must make my fantasy football picks. This is problematic because it forces me to choose my players for the week before injury reports are published and I can have some idea of who will play and who won't on Sunday. This has played havoc with my standings in my fantasy football pool; ever since Thursday games started, my team partner and I have been leaving astonishing numbers of points on our bench and playing guys who, if we had access to the information we had before the Thursday games forced us to make our decisions prematurely, we would have known to have sat. So this is potentially costing me money, too.

If I could get it, and I were willing to pay for it, and the reporting problems could somehow be circumvented, then I'd have to deal with The Wife being bugged by me spending another three hours a week parked in front of the TV watching a football game. She gets agitated enough on Sundays -- she hides in her office, doing crafts or playing games on the computer, while I watch the game that's on TV and follow the internet reporting of other games, and she can't wait for the instant the play clock reaches zero so she can switch the channel to one of her shows about lampshades. It's tense enough on Sundays, and adding another day of that to the mix -- especially late in the season when pro games start to bleed over into Saturdays to fill the void left by the completion of the college season -- is a recipie for having more days than not (Thursday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday) filled with football, and that's just too much for my pretty young wife to handle.

Dallas and Detroit should each play a game on Thanksgiving. And that should be it for Thursday Night Football for an entire year.

December 13, 2006

Here's a Novel Idea

Interpreting a provision of the Constitution so that it means what it says. Why is this such a refreshing new insight on the part of the academy? Not to knock Prof. Barnett, of course -- somebody had to say this.

The problem, of course, is that we don't know exactly what "other" rights were meant by this phrase: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." But clearly it means something, and it was important, or else the Framers wouldn't have bothered amending the Constitution to put it there.

An open invitation to judicial policymaking? Apparently. But also apparently that's what was intended.

It's Coming Back!


This Could Get Ugly

The New York Times reports that Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota just had a stroke.

He is a Democrat, up for re-election in 2008. That means that if he is unable to continue serving, South Dakota's Governor, a Republican who was just re-elected and is term-limited out after this term, will appoint a replacement to serve out the rest of Johnson's term, who will undoubtedly be a Republican. That would throw control of the Senate back to the Republicans, because the 51-49 split will become a 50-50 split, with ties broken by the Vice President.

Of course, everyone should wish Senator Johnson well for a speedy recovery, at least on a personal level. But for Republicans in particular, the fact of the matter is that a stroke is serious business, and a part of the balance of national power hangs in the balance. Odd, indeed, that something like this should come to pass.

For me, it's hard to know at this point whether a Democratic or Republican Senate is a better choice. On the one hand, the people at large did vote to put in Democrats (barely) in power, and the Democrats at the moment look more trustworthy than the Republicans on issues of civil liberties and ending the war. On the other hand, I still can't make myself believe that Democrats are the party of fiscal responsibility, and I also believe in the fragmented, multi-layer system which, in this case, gives a Republican Governor the power to appoint one of his cronies to the Senate instead of a Democrat. If the Democrats want to maintain solid control over the Senate, they need to get themselves elected by more than one-vote margins. Hugh Hewitt says of the Democrats, "They can't cheat if the vote isn't even close," and that bromide goes both ways.

So, I guess we just watch the game and see how it plays out.

December 12, 2006

Another Post-Mortem

Consider this observation from the linked article:

Because libertarians tend to be younger and better educated than the average voter, they're not going away. They're an appealing target for Democrats, but they are essential to future Republican successes. Republicans can win the South without libertarians. But this was the year that New Hampshire and the Mountain West turned purple if not blue, and libertarians played a big role there.
Let's take that second sentence and add a word: "Republicans can only win the South without libertarians." Not precisely true, of course, but there's something to that idea. Your typical Southern Republican probably is concerned with the implications of other people having sex, guns, and immigration. Your typical western-states (or New Hampshire) Republican is more concerned with low taxes, minimizing the power of the Federal government, a balanced budget, and, well, guns.

It should come as no surprise that I prescribe a substantial reduction in emphasis on the other people having sex, and more on the balanced budget and low taxes. I'm not the only one suggesting this. Guns, immigration, devolution, and probably a little educational reform thrown in there, seems like it would make for a good strong domestic policy platform.

Santa Shops At Kohl's

We got a box by UPS, from Kohl's. Inside was the device pictured to the right, a Presto Pizzazz Pizza-Maker-Ator or something like that.

There was no label on the box to tell us who it was from. We think we have a good idea but we can't be certain yet. It's an odd little device but it actually works quite well. We bought a pizza tonight and it tasted nice; we were able to bake it to warm, melty perfection.

So thank you, Santa-Who-Shops-At-Kohl's-Online, for our luscious pizza.

Contagious

Everyone seems to have it. The Wife got it, not nearly as bad as me. Salsola and Spungen have been suffering from it, apparently not so badly that they've restricted their diet to Saltines and bananas. So has the other partner; I don't yet know how bad. Another attorney in the office, as well as her daughter and husband, and one of the paralegals in the office -- they all got it, too.

So I guess it's not food poisoning after all. That doesn't remove my trepidation about eating at Tokyo Steak again. After all, I don't know why my attack seems to have been so much more severe than other peoples'; although I'm only supposing based on what other people have said about their experiences.

December 10, 2006

Torture For A Foodie

Recovering from food poisoning (or maybe it really is the flu; The Wife seems to have caught a dose of it) involves substanial restrictions on the diet. For three days, it's been nothing but saltine crackers, unsweetened applesauce, and bananas to eat. To drink, The Wife found a potion to make of water, salt, baking soda, and sugar. Today I'm finally starting to gradually expand my diet to include bread. Meat and vegetables, however, look a ways off, and dairy even farther.

For someone who doesn't really care much about food, living on saltine crackers would have its advantages. You can take them with you, eat a few at a time when you need some energy, and stop when you feel full. Frees up some time.

But man, does it taste bland. While out and about today, I could smell food being cooked at different restaurants and in the stores. Pizza, chicken, burgers -- oh, it all sounds so good. And I'm not yet ready for any of it.

Retail Transaction

"Hi, I need a new phone."

"Oh, did something go wrong with your old one?"

"Yes, it was damaged in a tragic washing machine accident."

"Okay, let me check your contract, see if you can get one of those new Chocolate phones. Stand by... No, it looks like you need to wait until either the end of the London Olympics or until the Buffalo Bills win a Super Bowl. Or you could buy one from us for full retail price."

"Is there anything I can do to get my phone service re-activated before the glaciers return and that doesn't involve forfeiting the down payment on my house?"

"Well, here's what you do. Go to Target, buy yourself a cheap pay-as-you-go phone. Don't activate the service there; we'll transfer your service to it. Don't buy a phone here at the corporate store, we've got the worst deals in town."

"I'll be back."

"Um, that's what the Terminator said, dude."

"Okay, I promise not to drive my car into your front window if you hook me up later."

"Deal."

"Oh, is there a cheap hands-free set?"

"Yeah, check it out:"


"No thanks."

December 7, 2006

Consequences of Failing to Exercise a Veto

Last night, our Wednesday night club met at a restaurant called Tokyo Steak. I went there for lunch with the lawyers and we had sushi. It was tough, warm, and flavorless, and left this reviewer cold.

But for some reason, one of the partners seemed to really like it and wanted to go back. I should have vetoed the idea after the bad sushi experience. But I didn't want to make waves and the partner seemed pretty enthusiastic about the place. So I went and figured that rather than have the bad sushi again, I would get a cooked dish. I ordered steak yakisoba. It was warm, noodly, sweet and tangy, and actually quite tasty.

It also gave me food poisoning.

Round about four in the morning, I awoke in bed to the certain knowledge that deep within me, something had gone very, very wrong. I lay in bed for several minutes trying to figure it out; it just seemed like a vague discomfort in my belly. Then, the pain hit. Suddenly, I was doubled over like an overcooked shrimp, literally writhing in pain. The feeling of fifty-seven dagger penetrating my chest and gut made me think of a fateful day in March, lo these many years ago.

Now, Loyal Reader, fear not. Yes, every system was working in "full reverse," but beyond that I will spare you a description of the events of the next twelve hours. Suffice to say that there was absolutely no way I was going to go to work. I could barely stand. I pulled on some sweats because I periodically had bouts of the chills, and was able to get about twenty minutes of thrashing, non-restful sleep at a time before the next round of daggers. This kept up until about noon.

You'll have to use your imagination to understand why, but at one point this afternoon, after The Wife had left for work, I discovered an urgent and highly undignified need to wash my sweats immediately. Unfortunately, I forgot that I was carrying my cell phone at the time. You know my sweatshirt has these wide, unweidly side pockets from which things are continually falling. This had to be the one day in the past four damn years that I wore that sweatshirt that my cell phone did not fall out of the pocket.

So, I washed my cell phone. I no longer get to tease The Wife for doing that last year (not that I did tease her a lot about that). Well, I needed a new phone anyway.

At about two this afternoon, I was finally able to retain some food and that helped my mood immensely, although not all systems are yet fully under control. Hopefully, I will feel good enough tomorrow that I can go back to work. I'm sure an unexpected day off has done nothing I will like for my inbox.

In the meantime, I've learned several things:

1. Daytime TV is really boring. Thank goodness for the DVR and back episodes of the Daily Show.
2. The dogs sleep all day long.
3. It's surprisingly easy to forget where your cell phone is and run it through a washing machine, ruining it and cutting off your only line of communication with the outside world.
4. Asprin is not good for an upset stomach.
5. If you have a serious objection to a place to eat that your group is considering, you need to assert yourself.

As yummy as the yakisoba was, I am never, ever eating at Tokyo Steak again. One experience like this is quite enough, thank you.

December 6, 2006

TL, Why You Gotta Be A Hater? (A Dialogue)

TL, I read your last post about the Iraq Study Group. You sure seem cynical about it.

Yup.

Why are you such a hater? Don't you think these people really tried to help find a solution to a really difficult problem?

Hate the game, not the hater. Anyway, sure, they tried to think of a way out. But that wasn't really their mission.

Oh? What do you think their mission was?

Providing political cover for the administration, and to a lesser extent for Congress, because the war is so obviously going badly.

But the report is critical of the Administration's policies.

Not really. This isn't anything that the Administration hasn't been saying on its own all along. Didn't somebody once say "As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down"? Does that sound familiar to you?

Sure, sure. But that's just common sense.

So did we need the Iraq Study Group to tell us that in the first place? The question has always been "So when are the Iraqis going to 'stand up' already?" The only thing the ISG has done is set a goal of 2008.

Now, come on. The Administration resisted the formation of the ISG in the first place, and it has resisted the idea of any kind of a timetable. Bush ran on an anti-timetable platform in 2004 and got himself re-elected.

With an overwhelming margin of 2.4% of the popular vote. A victory, yes, but not exactly a mandate for the status quo. And Kerry didn't really ever offer any different ideas about Iraq anyway.

Granted. But we're getting sidetracked here. The point is, something has happened to move the debate on the war forward and bring us to resolution. Shouldn't you be "Cheerful For Once" about this instead of so cynical?

Look past all the nice labels and prestigious names and the political hooopla. What's really going to change because a bunch of ex-politicians talked to a bunch of current politicians? Three thousand Americans have died in Iraq -- after "Mission Accomplished." Iraq is in absolute chaos, and the new Secretary of Defense is stepping in line with the White House's desire to fight on semantic grounds instead of figuring out a strategy for victory. When asked whether Iraq is in a state of civil war or not, he said:

Okay, how can we achieve victory in Iraq, then?

First, we sever Kurdistan from the rest of the country and establish it as an independent nation, and ally ourselves to Kurdistan. The Turks will howl but they'll deal with it; the Kurds have their act together. Second, Iraq doesn't get a democracy until it's earned it, and it hasn't yet. Until the Iraqis demonstrate that they are going to be dependable allies, both in terms of the decisions they make on their own and their ability to execute those decisions, we keep our boots firmly on the Iraqi's throats. That's what we did in Germany and Japan in the 1940's. And third, we make no bones about the fact that we're going to establish large, permanent military bases in the oil-producing regions of the country, so the Iranians don't get any bright ideas.

The veneer is different, but you'd still be putting American troops in harm's way and relegating Iraq to a state of being subject to permanent semi-terrorism.

Well, there's only so much that even an overwhelming and pervasive military presence can do about that, isn't there? Somehow Israel has managed to have a generally peaceful, civil, democratic, and prosperous nation despite the continual presence of terrorism within its ever-expanding borders since 1949. Why can't the Iraqis do the same thing?

Israel has had a lot of help and support from us.

So will Iraq. For better or for worse, Bush put us irrevocably on a path towards a Marshall Plan for Iraq. So we need to see that plan through. And yes, American soldiers will continue to die if we do that. But that's the path we're on. What the ISG is doing, what the new Congress is agitating for, and what the Administration is starting to show signs of being willing to do, is to only go part way down that path, point to the end, and say to the Iraqis, "Okay, you can do the rest!" They can't. It took a generation for Germany and Japan to become internally realigned and there's every reason to believe that Iraq will take longer, thanks to intractible sectarian differences between Sunnis and Shi'ites. It's a little something that that our leaders once called "nation-building."

Oh, fine. Go ahead and take another cheap shot at Bush, TL, that was way back in 2000. 9/11 changed everything, you know. But really, aren't there any other options for us?

Yes, as a matter of fact, there is one other option. We can bail out. Get everyone on the helicopters and abandon the embassy. Not a very palatable option, but yes, it an option.

So what you're saying is that we should do the job right or we shouldn't do it at all?

Pretty much. Look at what mandating half measures, making empty promises, political micromanagement of military operations, and domestic duck-and-cover politics have earned us so far. Lots of dead soldiers and so far, their deaths have accomplished nothing meaningful or good. We can't stop the bleeding either with honor or with meaningful effect. What I suggest is the best of the uniformly bad alternatives available at this point.

What, then, is success in Iraq? How do you define "victory"?

Success is when Iraq is 1) reliably within the political and economic orbit of the West; 2) internally stable enough to support economic growth and pay us (and the British, Aussies, Italians, Poles, Canadians, and Spanish) back for all the money we've spent on them; and 3) strong enough to defend itself from Iranian or Syrian encroachment. Failure is any of A) political domination by Iran or Syria; B) emergence of a control group hostile to the West, particularly to the United States; or C) a bloody stalemate draining lives and money to no geopolitical effect (otherwise known as the status quo).

Can we achieve victory as you've defined it?

Yes. If we want it bad enough. Otherwise, tell the last Marine on the helicopters to take the embassy's flag with him.

Good Job, People

The Iraq Study Group, whose report was released to the White House today, is part of a rather underpublicized governmental think tank with the Orwellian name "United States Institute of Peace". So now you know that our government is trying to "help prevent and resolve violent international conflicts, promote post-conflict stability and democratic transformations, and increase peacebuilding capacity, tools, and intellectual capital worldwide."

Good job.

The Iraq Study Group has interviewed 171 people, the bulk of them United States politicians, and spent a grand total of four days in Iraq, and come to the conclusion that our current strategy in Iraq is not working. The chief advice they give to the country after months of intensive interviews in and around Washington, D.C., is that American troops gradually switch their role from combat operations and rooting out the bad guys in Iraq and instead start training the Iraqis to do this on their own. They also suggest that we find a solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, and generally try and be nicer to Muslims.

Good job.

You can read the whole report here.

December 5, 2006

Savior of a Billion Lives

That's right, this man has saved over a billion lives and chances are good that you've never heard of him. His name is Norman Borlaug and Congress should pass H.R. 4924 and honor him. Dr. Borlaug saved so many lives by inventing a strain of disease-resistant wheat that can be grown in two crops a year. Most of the bread you eat comes from wheat genetically engineered by Dr. Borlaug.

The outcry against genetically engineered food is stupid. Human have been eating genetically engineered food for as long as we have had agriculture. Wheat and corn, in their indigenous forms, produce minimal amounts of usable food. Domesticated cattle and pigs are significantly different than their wild counterparts. Vegetables like peas, celery, and lettuce, and fruits like berries and apples are all very different on the farm than they are in nature. About the only kind of food that we eat that is "as nature intended" are fish. And in a generation, the natural resource of wild fish may be gone, too.

So soon enough, we'll all be eating nothing but genetically modified food. We've been doing it for years, and thanks to the engineers who created the food, like Dr. Borlaug, we're healthy and prosperous for it.

December 4, 2006

Bridging A Big Ideological Gap

Brink Lindsey has written a piece that has lots of thinkers in the political-science arena abuzz: can liberals and libertarians form a viable coalition in the late 2000's, the same way that conservatives once allied with libertarians way back in the Reagan Era?

At Volokh, Ilya Somin boils the way to make this happen down to its essence: "...liberals opposing the many big government programs that redistribute to the rich and middle class from the poor, libertarians accepting redistribution that benefits the genuinely destitute, and both sides placing greater emphasis on those personal liberties issues on which they already agree." In other words, they must find a way to compromise on reforming many economic restribution mechanisms currently in place, such as income tax deductions for mortgages, social security, and safety-net programs. Such efforts would meet with some conservative support, too, as it would no doubt end up including creating more disincentives to abuse welfare programs like TANF and unemployment insurance.

I have a hard time seeing the hard core of the liberal intelligentsia and the old-guard Democratic political leadership, particularly those whose electoral bases come from poverty-stricken inner cities, buying in to such a coalition. Similarly, there are a lot of appallingly fanatical Ayn Rand acolytes populating the libertarian community (if there actually is such a thing). But compromises and coalitions are never formed by ideological purists. "Blue dog" Democrats, particularly the freshman class of 2006 and the DLC crowd, may find an ability to reach out to the libertarian-minded and make Clintonesque appeals to reform welfare and make government less dangerous to civil liberties by making there by less government in the first place.

Alternatively, the Republicans could follow the suggestion of Dick Armey and others of his ilk, and find a way to draw back the libertarian voters that made up the great coalitions that elected Reagan and Bush the Elder. George W. Bush and his minions have chosen to eschew the path of limited, smaller government and fiscal responsibility, but that does not mean that the Republicans' underlying free-market ideology has lost its appeal to libertarians.

What's particularly interesting is that this is the group that seems to be up for grabs, and both sides of the political fence seem to think that libertarian voters, not "values voters" who populate the megachurches, are the critical swing group. When "churchy" voters were seen as the key to the ruling party maintaining power, they pretty much called the shots in terms of policy. One wonders -- and this one hopes -- whether a similar dynamic can happen if there has been a realignment leaving the libertarian-minded in the critical balance.

Will we become kingmakers rather than spoilers? The answer is "yes," if someone is smart enough to reach out to us in a way that is not fundamentally abhorrent to their base. It seems to me that Republicans are better-positioned to do that than Democrats, still, but it will take some rebuilding of trust after this Administration has gone away. Either John McCain or Rudy Giuliani could do that, and maybe Newt Gingrich or Tommy Thompson -- but Sam Brownback, Mitt Romney, or Condi Rice (because of her close association with Bush) cannot. For the Democrats, I can imagine Evan Bayh or maybe Bill Richardson pulling this off, but not Barack Obama, Hilary Rodham Clinton, John Edwards, Wesley Clark, or Tom Vilsack making a convincing appeal to libertarian voters.

Point is, it's a group that's up for grabs, and one that is amorphously large in nature, large enough to make a big difference. The right person, with the right kind of appeal, could grab that ring and take it straight to the top. Which, of course, is what politics is all about.

Critter Concerns

Friday and Saturday we had ants in the kitchen. And no, Spungen, they were not odiferous, at least not to me -- but then again my sinuses have been causing me so much trouble for the past two weeks it's possible they stank to high heaven and I never noticed. But more about that another day. I heard all kinds of theories -- they're looking for food; some settlement from the house dislodged their nest; it's cold outside so they're trying to stay warm; they need a source of water; they're being driven into the house by other creatures. I've no way of knowing which are good theories and which are pure speculation.

After a second bad morning in a row cleaning them up, I didn't care. The Wife and I decided to not take any chances on any of these theories and take more direct action. We bought ant motels and Spectracide and used them liberally everywhere near where the ants had been sighted. The cats didn't understand why we confined them for so long in the spare bedroom, and the dogs really wanted in from the back yard, but we waited until the insecticide dried completely so the critters would be in no danger.

Since then, I haven't seen any ants. The Wife says she saw some in the trash cabinet tonight but that she poisoned them. Ah, chemical warfare -- bad for people, to be sure, but somehow morally acceptable when used on insects.

More on the critters -- the big dog, Sassy, has been scratching her ear a lot recently, so The Wife took her to the vet. The vet discovered a fungal infection in her ear and we've had to clean it out often since then. She does not like that one bit; at least she's stopped whining because she knows that after she makes it through the rinse and cleaning, there's a dog cookie in it for her. It's really gross cleaning out the dog's ear, but that's part of the job of having critters.

So is worrying about things like the Parvovirus outbreak in the area. Sassy just had her shots updated but I'm not so sure about Karma. So we'll have to take her in soon, too. And the vet advises that she's seen an increase in flea activity -- which is really bad news, because Frontline is expensive and none of the critters like it, especially the primadonna grossa of all cats everywhere, our very own Ginger.

That, and we really ought to register the critters, too. I've sort of been thinking about putting that off until we move into a permanent house of our own. We're likely going to do what we can to buy a place when our lease is up in June; it makes sense to register the pets at their permanent home rather than here, but of course we really ought to register them anyway in case they get loose somehow. The Wife has been window-shopping quite a bit already and we've toured a number of houses to see what we like. Right now it feels as though we can save enough money to get into the world where we can at least pay our closing costs.

Moon Base

I'm not sure what to think of NASA's plan to establish a permanent, manned based on the moon.

On the one hand, I think it would be very good for science and space exploration, and all of the knowledge and advancement that these would bring. Scientific exploration and discovery are the best possible investments we can make in our future, second only to an improved educational system, and far outpacing even economic infrastructure. The long-term good that this sort of thing could yield is potentially staggering.

But on the other hand, it would be amazingly expensive to maintain, and very risky for the crew. How, for instance, will we get enough water to support human life there? Water is heavy and bulky and while it can be recycled to a large degree (think about it too much and you'll get grossed out) there will need to be a continual supply of water. I know there is a theory that in permanently shadowed areas near the poles there may be water ice to be found, but do you really want to drink moon-water? Food and air would be less bulky to carry, but still expensive. And what if something goes wrong -- will the crew have some kind of escape mechanism at hand to bring them back home? I sure hope so.

I steadfastly maintain that we need to balance our budget. That means not doing some things we would rather do. This may be one of them, particularly if we have to continue financing a stalemated war with no desirable political outcome on an indefinite basis. At a minimum, I say we can't afford a moon base and the war. Once our military activity ratchets down to a level that we can afford to maintain, then we can start to think about this.

But I also steadfastly maintain that we need to grow and develop intellectually if we are to remain competitive and keep a leadership position in the world. I don't think we necessarily need to be the monopolar superpower dominating everything, but I do think we need to be leaders. That means being technologically more capable than our competitors and partners around the globe. Realizing that objective means continually trying to outdo ourselves and figuring out how to do it. A moon base is as good a means as I can think of for our society to have such a great project for our scientists and engineers and other intellectual leaders.

Clearly, supporting a moon base would require that we have a means of quickly and inexpensively getting to orbit and getting to the moon. The speed and cargo capacity of Apollo 11 will not cut it for an undertaking of this magnitude. But it's still an exciting idea. It's a possibility that could be very good for the country and humanity at large.

December 3, 2006

Blogger Changes Unexpectedly

My formatting bar has vanished. My insert link and insert picture tools have vanished. I can now once again edit the time of the post and allow or disallow comments on particular posts, but this is a small consolation. What makes the posts work well are pictures and emphasis. What makes blogs particularly useful are the links that let the reader learn more about a subject.

It's no use complaining about something that's free, but after coming to rely on things being a particular way, it is somewhat irritating to be denied these tools now.

UPDATE 12/4/2006: Things appear to be back to normal now. I don't know what happened over the weekend.

The Rumsfield Memo

The day before the election, Donald Rumsfeld sent George W. Bush a memo about our continuing activity in Iraq that said a few remarkable things:

"In my view it is time for a major adjustment ... Clearly, what U.S. forces are currently doing in Iraq is not working well enough or fast enough."

"We have already reduced from 110 to 55 bases ... Plan to get down to 10 to 15 bases by April 2007, and to 5 bases by July 2007."

"Recast the U.S. military mission and the U.S. goals (how we talk about them) — go minimalist."

As reported by the New York Times, Titled “Iraq — Illustrative New Courses of Action,” the memo reflects mounting concern over a war that, as Mr. Rumsfeld put it, has evolved from “major combat operations to counterterrorism, to counterinsurgency, to dealing with death squads and sectarian violence.”

Now, none of this is news to anyone who's been paying the remotest bit of attention. Nor are any of these proposals (or any of the proposals coming out of the Iraq Study Group) new. What is news is the admission from within the administration, particularly from the upper levels of the Pentagon, that our strategies in Iraq are failing to achieve anything resembling an acceptable objective. Just as early as two weeks ago, Tony Snow refused to admit that Iraq had descended into a state of civil war, and the President continues to refuse to admit that we are no longer accomplishing our goals.

Particularly annoying for the rest of us -- who want to see a safe, secure United States and who bought in to the idea of preventing Saddam Hussein from getting WMD's and who were seduced by the vision of a democratic, friendly Iraq -- has been the Administration's refusal to admit that any kind of significant problem exists, especially as reality appears to grow more and more dissonant from the "approved" message from the White House.

Now, it's very ironic that just as former Secretary Rumsfeld seems to have figured it out after four stoneheaded years of insisting that everything is going to work out just fine, he is gone. Hopefully his replacement will not be such a Pangloss about a very difficult situation. We can have victory if we have the will to return our boots to the necks of the Iraqis who have been trying to rip their country to shreds, or we can have defeat if we decide to bail out and cut our losses, but we can't keep on doing what we have been.