January 31, 2007

The Cat-O-Matic 3000: Cruelty or Convenience?

I don't quite know how to feel about this device:

I know for sure that our cats would quite simply freak out. The one cat is traumatized when you try and adjust her collar. But it's the other cat, the big longer-haired one, who can't, or more likely won't, clean herself properly or completely, who really needs this.

I would never want to be cruel to the critters. And doing something the critter dislikes is not necessarily being cruel. This gives me some pause, though. Still, it sure is tempting to think that there's a way to wash the cat that won't result in The Wife or I getting permanent scars on our arms, chest, and face. What do you think, Loyal Readers?

President Newt

I've been wondering about all the reports about Newt Gingrich running for President when I haven't heard "boo" about that prospect on any of the many news websites I read so voraciously. So, when in doubt, you take you chances and turn to wikipedia, the encyclopedia that unfortunately, anyone can edit.

So it seems that Newt said last June that if no front-runner emerges, he might step forward to claim that spot, and he would decide that in fall of 2007. And although it seems that there are two strong contenders right now on the GOP side, Gingrich has been spending a lot of time sucking up to Iowa and finding strange political bedfellows.

But it's the speechifying in New Hampshire (another telltale sign of Presidential agitation) that has me worried. Quoth Newt in a speech intended by its sponsors to honor heroes of the First Amendment:

We need to get ahead of the curve rather than wait until we actually literally lose a city, which I think could literally happen in the next decade if we're unfortunate. ... We now should be impaneling people to look seriously at a level of supervision that we would never dream of if it weren't for the scale of the threat. ... Either before we lose a city or, if we are truly stupid, after we lose a city, we will adopt rules of engagement that use every technology we can find to break up their capacity to use the Internet, to break up their capacity to use free speech, and to go after people who want to kill us to stop them from recruiting people. ... We should propose a Geneva Convention for fighting terrorism, which makes very clear that those who would fight outside the rules of law, those who would use weapons of mass destruction, and those who would target civilians are, in fact, subject to a totally different set of rules that allow us to protect civilization by defeating barbarism before it gains so much strength that it is truly horrendous.

Well-motivated, perhaps; you can't fault a man interested in being President for demonstrating how seriously he takes the job of defending America. But Loyal Readers will note the following elements within Newt's speech:

  1. Fearmongering,
  2. Sideways flattery to the intelligence of the audience,
  3. Condemnation of civil libertarians and an equation of civil liberties with weakness
  4. Appeals to double standards,
  5. Elitism, and
  6. A willingness to substantially revise, if not completely rewrite, the concept of fundamental rights upon which the country was founded.

I had higher expectations of Gingrich than this. The flattery is odious but perhaps warrants a pass; he is trying to build political capital, after all. But I want a President who inspires us to be strong, not one who tells us to be afraid of shadows.

It's particularly disappointing because Gingrich can be much better than this when he chooses to. He is an eloquent speaker, a powerful thinker, an accomplished writer and can be, when he wishes, a nuanced, realistic, but focused and persuasive politician with significant charisma. An emphasis on national security is a fine platform, but I would have hoped that a historian, of all people, would keep in mind that in saving America from her enemies, our leaders ought not to change the meaning of what it is to be an American in the first place.

Should Gingrich run -- and be able to raise money to finance his campaign -- I have little doubt he would be a formidable contender. And a little looking around indicates that yes, he is quite interested in the job and doing what it takes to get the job of President. But he's hesitating to form even an exploratory committee. And he's indicated that he's willing to continue the same forced-choice balancing of civil rights against national security that the current Administration has been pursuing.

But Gingrich's vision here is is wrong. It's not a forced choice. I want a President whose vision of the future includes both liberty and security, both prosperity and justice, both the respect of the world for our moral goodness and the confidence to exercise our prowess when necessary. Unless you are convinced that our arc of national power has crested and we are now in a period of historical decline, we are yet a sufficiently wealthy and powerful nation to not have to give up some these things to realize the others.

Franklin Roosevelt told us "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" -- this while preparing to face down the two most powerful military opponents with whom the United States has ever crossed swords, enemies who captured almost all of Europe, much of Asia, and most of the Pacific. He inspired a deeply-troubled nation to rise to the challenge and in so doing transformed an economic basket case of a country to become a global superpower. He made tough choices along the way, not all of them the right ones, but with more good decisions than bad ones. He did it while inspiring courage and effort, by assuring America that it could rise to the challenge, and by appealing to our sense of pride and honor.

Those are not the rhetorical appeals that Gingrich is making these days. So should you become President, Mr. Gingrich, I hope you rediscover your optimism and power to inspire what is good and strong about our country, and take someone like Roosevelt rather than someone like your immediate predecessor, as your model. Or better yet, clear out of the field entirely, accept your role as an elder statesman with honor and grace, and finally above the fray of partisan politics, dispense the tremendous wisdom you have to offer from (and within, and to) the academy, where you are much needed and can best put your considerable talents to good use.

January 30, 2007

Strange Sights in the Deep Desert Nights

I see some strange things out in the desert driving to teach my class. With my high beams on and the unique perspective offered from moving at sixty miles an hour through a desert in the midst of a cloudy night, everything looks eerie and alien.

Start with the Joshua trees that stud the desert plain. Their strange shapes look like upside-down lightning bolts, splitting from the trunk at odd angles, shooting sharp spikes in all directions.

Then, the low clouds obscure the familiar sights of the nearby cities. Up in the mountains a strange, unearthly glow is seen, that looks like luminescent smoke. These are the ski areas' bright lights, illuminating the ski runs. But from the floor of the desert, it looks like the soul of the mountain venturing out from the stone to look around the world.

The clouds themselves glow. Above them, a nearly-full moon reflects pale, cold, gray sunlight casting the sky with wisps of platinum. Except over Palmdale and Lancaster, my destination far off in the west. There, a bubble of red light seems to come to rest on the ground above the cities. This is not the sunset -- that happened hours ago. It is from different kinds of street lights, shedding excess illumination into the sky. Occasionally, a bright star can be seen through a hole in the cloud cover, but mostly the sky is a ceiling of shadows and fog.

Closer to earth, bats and owls* flit about in the depths of the desert. And something that looked like a streamer of paper towels flies overhead. Perhaps it was some bit of trash or litter that a bird picked up to carry back to its nest? Small creatures jump away from my oncoming headlights -- those look like frogs! How can frogs survive out in the desert on a day when there is no rain?

And then there's the earth itself -- buttes, hills, boulders, and other formations. All cast strange shadows at night, aglow with the diffuse moonlight like so many eggs and marbles poured into gigantic piles on the desert floor.

No tumbleweeds, though. I remember there were lots of tumbleweeds when I was a kid out here, but I haven't seen too many of them since we moved back last summer. I would have thought that they would still be common. Maybe it's not the season yet, or I'm spending all my time in urbanized areas where they just don't grow.

* Owls freak me out. There's no good reason for it, but they just spook me. They're pretty when they're just perched on a tree or something. When an owl opens its mouth, it rotates its whole face up over its skull. That ain't right, man.

How Could This Be?

Apparently, over in the UK, barristers are not able to sue solicitors for not paying their bills; it’s a big deal that fee contracts between the two kinds of British lawyers are now becoming enforceable.

Granted, their system is more complex than ours: the barristers (trial specialists) are retained by the solicitors (the deal-makers) who in turn are hired by the clients with issues to resolve. Here, of course, it’s one-stop shopping for clients. I would expect that larger firms in the U.K. include both solicitors and barristers, and they would keep the work in-house. But maybe there’s a rule against that of which I am unaware. And just because a larger firm might do that does not mean that a smaller office could (or would) practice law in that way. Tradition counts for a lot in Merry Olde England.

I’ve no illusions that British lawyers are any more (or less) scrupulous than their U.S. counterparts, so it seems very odd indeed that a barrister, who surely works very hard to prepare a case for trial and then try the case, would not have any guarantee of being paid and rely instead only on the “honor system.” It sucks to work for free, no matter what country you’re in.

Well, I’m glad for the barristers that they’ll have enforceable fee contracts now – it only took them, what, nine hundred and fifty years to get them?

Ahead by a Nose

According to this collection of polling data, Rudy Guiliani is very narrowly in the lead of John McCain for the Republican nomination -- within the margin of error on the more recent polls. Mitt Romney is running a respectable but distant third place and being outpolled (apparently on name recognition) Newt Gingrich, who as far as I can tell has not made one move towards seeking the nomination. So that’s encouraging, and exciting, for Guiliani advocates like me.

You Want Outrage?

Outrageous stories generate traffic on website; traffic pleases people who own and operate websites. So here's some outrage for you, via this morning' FARK. (Link goes to discussion of this article.)

Yesterday, Tampa held its annual "Gasparilla" parade; an annual festival like Mardi Gras or Carnival. A 21-year-old woman claims that she was grabbed off the crowded street, pulled into an alley, and violently raped. Upon responding to the woman's complaint, an outstanding juvenile warrant was found, and the woman was arrested on it. After being booked, she requested a medical examination (she had just been raped, after all). The examining nurse prescribed emergency contraception, and sent her on her way to custody. The jail nurse refused to dispense the contraception on religious grounds, as permitted by Florida's "Shield Law."

Now, the woman is no angel -- the warrant was to pay about $4,500 restitution for her involvement in an auto burglary. But even if she were a gang-banger, that's certainly no reason to apparently dismiss her claims of being the victim of a serious, violent crime. Nor is it any reason to force her to conceive the child of her rapist. So there may well be something more to the story than is reported here. But I can't imagine how it would be anything but ugly.

January 29, 2007

When I Was Born...

I got to thinking about history today and all the changes that have happened during my lifetime. Comparing what the world looks like today versus what it looked like when my parents took me home from that hospital on the Army base in West Germany, it is kind of amazing to think about all the changes that have happened.

...Richard Nixon was President and his Vice-President was Spiro Agnew. Expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia was the hottest political issue of the day. The Soviet Union appeared poised to win the Cold War and only the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation prevented the United States and the Soviet Union from going to war. Students in both countries were taught by their schoolteachers to “duck and cover” under their desks to increase their chances of survival in the event of a nuclear attack.

...The second-biggest city in the United States was Chicago. The global population was around 3.6 billion. Ronald Reagan was the Governor of California. Arnold Schwarzenegger won his first Mr. Olympia title and starred in a movie called Hercules in New York under the psedonym “Arnold Strong,” chosen because it was thought no one could pronounce the bodybuilder's real last name.

...The peak of audio playback technology was a reel-to-reel player. There was no way to record television shows to watch them later. FM radio stations were still something of a novelty. No one had microwave ovens and a computer’s power and usefulness was directly proportional to its size -- bigger was better and memory took the form of external tape reels feeding data into solid-state transitor mainframes. Telegrams were still in use and the "telex," a predecessor of the modern fax machine, was a technical marvel few businesses could afford.

...“Xerox” was a verb, and carbon paper was still considered a viable alternative to using such a cumbersome machine. The year I was born, Xerox corporation began researching a "microcomputer" suitable for home use, complete with a point-and-click mouse and a graphic interface, but abandoned the project as lacking commercial potential.

...Telephone service was provided by a single company to everyone, and only land lines were available. Oil was still burned to produce electricity in power plants. Supersonic commercial air travel was becoming the wave of the future. Airports had only been screening passengers for security for three months. No one bothered to learn what the fuel efficiency of their cars were; gasoline cost thirty-six cents a gallon. A stamp for first-class U.S. Mail cost six cents.

...Encyclopedias taught that the oceans provided a “limitless” supply of food to mankind. There was no EPA or OSHA. No one had ever heard of “global warming.”

...The World Trade Center in New York City was not yet completed. The tallest building in the world was the Empire State Building. The Dow Jones average for the year was 858 points, and there was no such thing as the NASDAQ. A company did cross-industrial retail promotion with a voucher device called "S&H Green Stamps," and although the merchandise catalog offered for redemption of the stamps was the largest and most-frequently published book in the United States, the vast majority of the stamps were never redeemed at all.

...In England, it was still 240 pence to a pound and banks dispensed half-pennies. Fiji was part of France. There were two Germanys, one Czechoslovakia, and one Yugoslavia. The European Union was a coal-purchasing collective. The U.S. dollar was convertible to its worth in gold, on demand.

...Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison were still alive, Elvis Presley was on tour, and the Beatles were still together, albeit with some internal friction. George Lazenby played James Bond. The top-rated television show was Marcus Welby, M.D.; the top-grossing movie was Airport. There was no PBS or NPR. No one had heard of a cartoon named Doonesbury.

...Divorce was still illegal in Italy. Abortions were still illegal in 40 out of 50 states (and the District of Columbia) in the United States.

...The Baltimore Orioles won the World Series, Joe Frazier was the heavyweight boxing champion of the world, John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins won the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Kansas City Chiefs had won the Super Bowl. A 30-second commercial in that Super Bowl cost $78,000. Carol Channing was the halftime entertainment. (I was born a few days after Monday Night Football was first broadcast.)

...Cigarettes were advertised on television commercials. It was still news to a lot of people that cigarettes were not harmless. You could smoke in your airplane seat while mid-flight. The world’s biggest airline was Pan-Am, and for the most part, air travel was a luxury that few middle-class people enjoyed with any regularity.

...Fewer than one in ten Americans had college degrees, and a high school diploma was the ticket to a good job. Nearly one in five American workers was part of a union. The median new home price was $23,450 -- about three years' worth of the average American's salary of $9,400.

A Heavy Heart

It was with great unhappiness that I learned today that one of my eviction cases from last week is not going to work out. The defendants were a couple in their thirties who hit a rough patch in their careers, and fell on hard times. They have taken reasonable corrective action to make things better, but it takes time to do that sort of thing, and in the process they fell behind about three months in their rent. Of course, my clients want them out, which is why I was hired.

Talking to this couple in the courthouse hallway last night made me think back to when times were tough for The Wife and I; they seemed to be in exactly the position that we were in back in when I couldn’t find the work I’d expected to there. Sympathy and empathy may not be the best traits for an attorney prosecuting an eviction case, but I couldn’t help it in this case. After some back-and-forth discussion we reached a nice deal and I felt good about protecting my clients’ interests and still finding a way to accommodate the defendants’ situation and aparently reasonable plan for getting caught up. They even showed me paperwork from a deal that they did which would have generated more than enough commission for them to make up the back rent.

Well, now it’s a week later and they still haven’t made good on their payments. So either their deal fell through or there was never a deal in the first place. Either way, it looks like tomorrow I’ll have to show up in court and turn in a stipulated judgment against them, which is our enforcement mechanism. This couple got as generous a deal as I could persuade my clients to offer. They said they could make good in short order and I gave them an opportunity to do it. They seemed like they had a reasonable solution put together and a reasonable shot at actually delivering on their promise. If they held up their end of the bargain, it would have been like the whole thing never happened, so they could start to reconstruct their lives and move on. Now, that will be much more difficult for them.

I can’t make it better now. I have to do what’s right for my clients. But it didn’t have to be this way, and that’s a real shame.

Doing what my clients need me to do to protect their interests has to come before my personal feelings; that is what it is to be a professional. I made that bargain long ago and mostly, I’m happy with it. But in this case, particularly after I found myself identifying with them previously, a result like this is quite disappointing. So tomorrow when I turn in the stipulated judgment, it will be with a heavier heart than I would have had otherwise.

Update: Later in the day, the couple called in, and we worked out an extension of time for them. So we'll see what happens in another week.

The Pitch, Part II

Some say McCain is the front-runner, but it looks to me like Rudy's got the inside track. He's managed to appeal to some solid conservatives despite a liberal record on some social issues. So here's The Pitch, Part II, made by George Will, whose conservative credentials are impeccable:

Seriously, GOP'ers, it's time to get on board. This is our guy. Sure, there's a bunch of other choices right now, but for the foreseeable future, politicians from Massachusetts have been skewered by your own lampooning of the social weirdness there, and McCain's allure has been substantially tempered by the fact that his "maverick" reputation is blunted these days. Rudy's your guy, and Hillary is being treated like a rock star; just look at the front page of the New York Times, gleefully cooperating with the campaign's marketing efforts with a perfectly-framed photograph of the campaign sign and web address at a slow-pitch Iowa rally.

Political junkies were very much looking forward to a Guiliani-Clinton showdown for Senate in 2000, and were let down when Rudy had some health (and marital) issues to deal with instead. Looks like we'll get that showdown at last, next year, on the largest stage of all. It ought to be a lot of fun.

January 28, 2007

House Hunting (Again)

Like another couple pictured to the right, The Wife and I are house hunting. Our budget is somewhat more modest than Dave and Vicky, but we're hopeful we can find what we're looking for anyway.

So, this weekend's primary activity was house hunting with The Wife. She found a floor plan online that she fell in love with. To me, falling in love with a floor plan seen on the internet is not comprehensible, but that's what happened. So we drove around to the address where the developments were going to see the floor plan in real life. The developer indicated that the floor plan would be available in three locations.

At the first location, there was a retaining wall surrounding a dirt field. Not even a sales office.

The next location was twenty-one miles away. We drove there and found nothing but older developments. We tried looking for the marginally-employed people holding signs to guide home buyers to the developments, but there were none to be found.

The third location was an alfalfa field north of the aircraft assembly plant, inhabited by sagebrush and Joshua trees.

So we found another tract being built by the same developer, and went into a sales office there. It was a madhouse. There were people waiting in line to buy houses. We were collared by a real estate agent before we even walked in the door. After some difficulty, we got directions to the site where a model of the house could be found -- about a mile from where we had been earlier that day.

But we didn't just tour that house. Oh, no. That house was nice but we had to see the other five models also. I got a kick out of the one with the foyer with a mosaic floor in the turret, with a big heavy oak door facing the entryway. (Someone knocking on the door could say, "Open in the name of the King!")

Virtually all of the houses were way too big for The Wife and I. It's just us and our critters, and we're not real big on the whole formal room thing anyway -- we rarely use our formal dining room now and never use the formal living room. Both of these are dens for the animals, who could care less about the extra space. We also don't need four bedrooms -- ideally, we'd have two but will probably have to put up with three.

We looked again today, at two open houses and one built by a developer that hasn't been sold yet. Two houses that we saw were suitable for us. Both had the "great room" design, rather than having divided spaces. I favor this idea because the fact of the matter is that most of the time people are in the casual rooms or the kitchen anyway, even when you have guests over. Formal dinners and cocktail parties are not really part of our lives, so we'd rather have a house set up for relaxed everyday life and causal entertainment.

The good news is that, by California standards, these kinds of houses -- 3+2 with great room and adjoining kitchen -- are on the "affordable" end of the spectrum. The bad news is that there just aren't very many of them out there. Developers seem to think that people want to buy the biggest houses they can, with the greatest number of rooms possible. Formal dining rooms, eat-in kitchens, formal living rooms, parlors, libraries, offices, and even conservatories in which Colonel Mustard might use the revolver.

Master bedrooms have grown to "master suites" in a lot of these houses. Instead of a larger room with an adjoining bathroom, now there are cavernous complexes of rooms, with arched entryways to dual walk-in cabinets. This is just the master suite, remember. Several of the houses we saw (for me, they all start to blend in together after I've seen three models) had separate seating areas within the master suites.

No, not for us. Less is more. Great rooms are great. We don't need, or want, master suites with separate seating areas long enough to install bowling lanes. This isn't a room at the Plaza, it's where we intend to live every day. And we don't spend a whole lot of time (awake) in the master bedroom anyway. Back when we lived in the Estate at Louisville, we made a point of using the smallest available bedroom for our sleeping purposes.

So it's proving to be something of a challenge to find the right house. The one model The Wife found was, indeed, very much what we're both looking for. We intend to buy the house and stay put for some time, so it pays to look around and take our time. It also pays to think about the neighborhood the house is in -- to me, that is probably more important than the house having the perfect layout. Methinks The Wife's priorities are a bit different, but that's what all the shopping about, so that we can both get what we're looking for. There's no reason we shouldn't have both.

January 27, 2007

Good Discussion

In response to a previous post, an anonymous commentator and I have been exchanging some interesting thoughts about the historical use of warrantless wiretaps, which you can read by following this link. Unfortunately, the post has now cycled out of the front page, so you can either follow the link or search the blog for it. I commend the commentary to all Loyal Readers; it's an interesting and important subject and my anonymous correspondent has raised a thought-provoking issue. These are the sorts of comments that I like best (aside from compliments about my appearance, of course).

January 26, 2007

Droning On

Via a link on the Freakonomics Blog, we learn that occasionally journalists write about "pilotless drones." To be sure, this is a redundancy but one guy put way too much emotion into making that point.

I also wanted to point out another very funny, ironic, and ultimately saddening post about the war.

Wow, I've Got A Body Like Schwarzenegger

Time was, that would have been a good thing. Now, I think I need to hit the gym.

January 25, 2007

Version 2.3

I’ve added some bling for the blog, which you’ll see at the top of the left column. I think the trivia question changes twice daily; the answer appears in a new browser window (or tab, if you’re using Firefox). As I locate more interesting things to put in the sidebar, I’ll add them there. I’m also attempting to find a way to post by e-mail; this post should work that way so I can at least get an idea up quickly at any time of day.

January 24, 2007

I Don't Think So

In perhaps the most astonishingly narrow read of the Constitution I've heard since the infamous "cruel and unusual" take on the Eighth Amendment, Attorney General Gonzales has suggested to the United States Senate that there is no Constitutional right of habeas corpus. How he can on the one hand admit that this is one of our most cherished rights, going back through a thousand years of Anglo-American jurisprudence, and at the same time insist that it cannot be found in the Constitution (which explicitly indicates that the right shall not be suspended) is beyond me.

His argument is based on the idea that the explicit words of the Constitution do not grant such a right. In other words, unless there is an affirmative grant of the right to individuals, the right does not exist. If that's the right way to read it, there is no right free speech either; only a limitation on the Congress' right to restrict it. But obviously that's wrong. If you're not a fan of free speech, maybe you're a fan of the free exercise of religion or of gun ownership. All of those rights are framed negatively, in terms of restricting the ability of government to regulate the exercise of those rights, rather than positively, in terms of indicating that these are individual rights.

This, of course, is what the Ninth Amendment was written to avoid. It explicitly states that unenumerated rights are reserved to the people. Since we know from the text of the original Constitution that the writ of habeas corpus exists, we can also know from the Ninth Amendment that it is a reserved right that individuals do indeed hold.

Gonzales' toadying and sophistry makes me wish for a return to the days of John Ashcroft. (Well, no, not really.)

UPDATE: A follow-up analysis from Eugene Volokh puts the exchange in a broader perspective and provides a partial (but not complete) defense of Gonzales. Certainly it's worth it to take the remarks in context, but it still looks like the AG got flustered while fencing with Arlen Specter and made a statement that appears to indicate a very narrow view of the Constitution. Certainly I can understand getting flustered and misstating something, but one would hope that, particularly under these circumstances, a "clarification" would be forthcoming.

And Another Thing...

The President gave a speech last night. I didn't hear it; I was out teaching my class. I read that there was something about ethanol, and more of the same with a different name in Iraq. I keep on hoping things will get better in Washington, and a decent State of the Union would be a start. Maybe some of you Loyal Readers watched it on TV -- was it a decent speech, at least?

Sandy Wool

On Tuesday nights, when I travel to Adelanto to teach my business law class, I have to endure a long drive through a lonely, barren desert. When I get there, there is not a whole lot to eat -- the only food dispensary available is called "Bravo Burgers" next to the minor-league ballpark. While the linked review speaks highly of the food available there, I've been less than impressed. (Perhaps the pastrami is the way to go; there's always next week.)

But these are not really complaints. No, my gripe this morning is that every damn time I go to this place to teach my class, I get sand and dirt all over my pants. Since I go directly from work this means that my suits get dirty. Now, I know that dirt is the #1 agricultural crop of the Victor Valley, as well as its top mining product (dig through the dirt and what do you get -- more dirt!) but that doesn't mean I want it on my nice suits, particularly the one that I just had dry-cleaned the day before. Wool is, of course, impossible to clean in the traditional fashion, so every time I get this light, fine desert sand on my pants cuffs, the pants have to go back to the dry cleaners.

Maybe I shouldn't blame the Victor Valley region for its sandiness. Perhaps I should blame the court, with its pitifully inadequate hallway seating, requiring me to periodically crouch or kneel while cutting deals with unlawful detainer litigants. Perhaps I should blame the classroom in the former George AFB, which also requires me to kneel to set up the computer and the projector.

I certainly can blame the classroom's lack of instructor seating for the agony in my feet and hips when I get home -- I'm on standing my feet for three and a half hours with no breaks at all. The students get reasonably comfortable seats, but all I get is a lectern, and my style is to not hide behind a lectern during a presentation. Maybe if The Wife and I actually go to the gym instead of just paying for it I'll get some muscle tone back and be better able to endure such seemingly-simple tasks without producing such aches and pains later.

In any event, once again I have to send my suits out for cleaning. That cuts in to the financial benefit of teaching the class somewhat. Good thing I don't do it for the money, right?

January 22, 2007

How To Pick Your HD Format

High definition TV is not complete without a playback system, and that means DVD's. Two formats have emerged -- HD-DVD and Blu-Ray have been competing for consumer dollars for a while, and a lot of people are wondering which system they should get. No one wants the next Betamax.

So, here's a hint. Buried in this otherwise-amusing article, we find that Sony, holding on to Blu-Ray proprietary technology and controlling its use. Since they will not allow their technology to be used in this manner, if you were of a mind to do so, you could not buy a Blu-Ray format porno DVD. But the more open technology of HD-DVD is being used for that purpose.

Whether you consume* pornography or not, it's a ten billion dollar industry that drove demand for emerging technology in the past. And Blu-Ray won't be a part of it unless Sony decides to get on board with peddling smut. That means that a lot of consumers will be buying HD-DVD's because of the availability of porn -- and they will therefore also need their mainstream movies to be in that format. So we can safely assume that the HD-DVD format is going to have more demand because of this, and therefore that more mainstream movies will also be produced in HD-DVD.

Note that whatever technological superiority Blu-Ray may offer is completely irrelevant to the issue of which format is going to prevail. Sorry, techno-geeks. So the question is... will you buy your HD-DVD in order to watch porn, or will porn force you to buy an HD-DVD?

* Why is the phrase "consume pornography"? If you stop and think about it, porno is more of a durable good than a consumable. You don't "consume" a mainstream movie, you "purchase" it or you "watch" it.

January 21, 2007

February 7

Further to a comment made earlier by my good buddy Salsola, it looks more likely that California will change the date of its Presidential primary from June to February. This would dramatically shift the dynamics of the Presidential nomination process.

As it stands now, the first delegates up for grabs will be in Iowa, then Nevada, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. Nevada's early place in the process is relatively new. After that, traditionally, comes "Super Tuesday," an amalgamation of about ten states, mostly but not exclusively in the South, and then a series of primaries. California's has traditionally been last, or close to it, in the process, meaning that for recent memory, each party's nominee has clinched the nomination prior to California's primary, meaning that California is effectively without a direct vote in the nomination process. Instead, California's role has been to be the political ATM -- candidates come here to raise money and spend it to attract votes elsewhere.

Governor Schwarzenegger's proposal would change that. Indeed, California's primary would be more important than "Super Tuesday," both because it comes earlier in the process and because it combines the money with the votes. It would also tilt both parties' primaries to the left. For that reason, moderate or centrist Republicans would benefit, at the expense of harder-right choices. At the same time, more progressive Democrats would benefit at the expense of the DLC crowd. If the format for the primary is "winner-take-all" (meaning that all of California's delegates would be pledged to the plurality selection) this effect would be magnified.

If this happens, it is a big boost to Guiliani, the most moderate of the significant candidates. John McCain cannot, I would think, take California because of his pro-life stance. Mitt Romney would also have difficulty based on his courtship of religious voters.

On the Democratic side, it looks to me like it breaks in favor of Hillary Rodham Clinton at the expense of John Edwards and Barack Obama. Both Edwards and Obama have been at pains to paint themselves as centrists, but Clinton still labors under the reputation of being an unabashed liberal. She actually has tried to defeat that reputation during her tenure in the Senate and would like to portray herself as a moderate. I don't think she's been very successful.

So, this would set up a Guiliani versus Clinton matchup. Right now, Guiliani would seemingly win such a contest handily (354 electoral votes to 184), but it's a long way between now and November of 2008.

Bears and Colts

Given that I picked the Patriots and Saints, you might want to consider betting against me. But the Colts' run defense is still suspect and Chicago's pass defense looked outstanding today. Rex Grossman proved that he can at least manage a game. So I've got to pick from the available candidates, and of the winners today, I pick... Da Bearz!

Given that I had picked New Orleans and the Head-on-Fire-Guys (The Wife's name for them) you might want to go with Indianapolis if you're looking for a tip. But you've got two weeks to make up your mind.

January 20, 2007

No Railroad for Palmdale

It seems that the massive infrastructure improvements that Governor Schwarzenegger has suggested are going to completely fill out the state's capacity to issue bonds. As a result, a planned high-speed rail connection between Los Angeles and San Francisco, which for some reason would have had a stop in Palmdale, will not happen.

Now, I've been hearing local boosters tell tall tales about the train coming through Palmdale since before I was a teenager. Back in the 80's, it was a high-speed rail connection between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. This does not survive geographic analysis -- it would be faster, shorter, and therefore cheaper to build the train route through San Bernardino and Victorville than through Palmdale. To make matters worse, Amtrak discontinued train service from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in the early 90's, for lack of ridership. When Amtrak stops service for lack of ridership, you know there was a problem with people not wanting to go to Vegas on a train.

Local political leaders still like the idea of high-speed rail, but only a connection from this part of the world to Los Angeles. There is a regular rail connection now, and it seems to gather enough ridership to be continued. This makes sense locally; a great many people in this area, particularly in Palmdale, commute to work in the Los Angeles area daily. A high-speed connection would make rail travel more attractive to commuters and relieve congestion on the far-overburdened Antelope Valley Freeway.

But it doesn't make sense from the other side -- are there enough riders, and enough fares to be generated, to support such an expensive task? Probably not. And since the Antelope Valley is the ass end of civilization as far as most Angelenos are concerned, why should they go out of their way to ship a bunch of hicks stinking of dead sagebrush to their pleasant and sophisticated communities like Beverly Hills, Manhattan Beach, and Pasadena? Much less all the way to Union Square, the Marina, and the Presidio. Dream on, desert dwellers.

I've seen how well high-speed rail can work in Europe, particularly in Germany. I'm not a naysayer who believes that Americans are so fundamentally different from Europeans that we will never get on board with a sophisticated rail transport system, although the difficulties involved in creating one where there is already a substantial network of roads for personal vehicle travel are considerable. But neither am I a messianic rail enthusiast; even the sophisticated mass transit system of Europe has not eliminated traffic jams, air pollution, or dependency on petroleum. It's a relief for some of these things, but not a solution.

One thing I want to know is, why did anyone here think that a high-speed rail connection from Los Angeles to San Francisco would go through Palmdale in the first place? My only guess would be so that the rail connection can move up through the central valley, roughly following the route of Interstate 5. Perhaps that's better from an engineering point of view. But it seems a little out of the way -- wouldn't the more direct route be to go through Santa Clarita, following the 5 all the way to either Dublin or Hollister on the way to the ultimate destination? Yes, the steep descent at the Grapevine would be an issue, but one that it seems competent engineers would be able to overcome. For instance, many tunnels more than twenty kilometers long, some more than a century old, can be found in Europe and Japan. A tunnel underneath the Grapevine would be well within modern engineering capabilities.

But, it's not going to happen for at least another generation; we're fixing our roads instead. So, no train for Palmdale. Maybe no train at all. That's nothing new.

One by One, The Gladiators Enter The Arena

John Edwards announced a few weeks ago, and became the first candidate anticipated to have a big impact on the race to formally declare. About 45 minutes ago, Hillary Rodham Clinton, another one of the big players, formally declared her candidacy. The third Democrat making big noise, Barack Obama, has so far only formed an exploratory committee. So far, no formal announcements from any Republicans; Guiliani, McCain, and Romney are all in the exploratory committee phase.

This seems about right to me -- Edwards and Clinton have fundraising machinery left over from previous national campaigns (Clinton's will be borrowed from her husband to some degree) but of the other candidates, only McCain has even attempted a national campaign, and he didn't get very far, and it was six years ago. The point of having an "exploratory committee" is to let people know that you're interested in the job and to try and build a network of support. So the other four candidates have some building to do, while Edwards and Clinton can have a higher degree of confidence at an early stage that there will be money to fuel their campaigns.

CNN has a graphic that shows something like a dozen contenders in each party right now. I've had back luck with linking to CNN's popup boxes before, but I'll gamely try again. My suspicion, though, is that there's a little reaching going on there. Many of the mentioned "candidates," like Newt Gingrich, Al Gore, John Kerry, and Condoleezza Rice, would only be medium-sized fish if they did start angling for their parties' nominations, which they have not yet done (and in Rice's case, she has openly disclaimed any interest in the job). The rest are, no disrespect intended, little fish. Bill Richardson and Wesley Clark might be able to grow in stature somewhat, but I'm just not going to put any money down on a Tom Tancredo or a Jim Gilmore, or on the other side a Tom Vilsack or a Dennis Kucinich.

Iowa's caucuses, the first actual measure of any kind of voter support (and hardly a meaningful measurement at that) will not be held for another fifty-one weeks, until January 14, 2008. Between now and then, the only quantifiable measure we will have of support will be fundraising and press attention. I've expressed my preference.

January 19, 2007

Judge School

Last night I went to a class for temporary judges. There were over 200 people there; I even ran in to some lawyers I know from the practice, who I had no idea served as temporary judges.

The program works like this: after being certified and appointed by the Presiding Judge, a few days out of the month I would serve as a stand-in or supplemental judge to hear lesser matters -- small claims, traffic, and even short-cause, non-jury civil trials. I would hear unlawful detainers (in non-legal English: "evictions") except for the fact that my practice is pretty much exclusively representing landlords, and the canons of judicial ethics prevent me from serving as a temporary judge in the event that my current practice is one-sided.

The class itself was quite interesting and demonstrated to me that there are actually quite a lot of intellectual and ethical challenges that judges are faced with every day. Not the way you might think, either -- at least according to the judge who taught the class, it's more a matter of controlling your own mannerisms and statements, checking the urge to ask too many questions or develop one side or the other of a case, and segregating one's judicial work from one's advocacy work. It's clearly a very different role to play within the system, one that is not well-understood by the public or even by other stakeholders within the legal system.

Periodically during the class, I had feelings of dread and intimidation. The ethical rules governing judges, and particularly temporary judges, are a lot more complex than those governing attorneys. Would I be able to keep all of this straight and govern myself appropriately? Would it even be possible for me to do this under the circumstances in which I've found myself -- I am a lawyer in one of the more prominent local firms, after all; we handle a great deal of this community's legal work. Avoiding not only present but potential future conflicts would be a matter of constant vigilance for me.

One of the more interesting ethical issues is when and how one can disclose that one serves as a temporary judge at all. There is a strong prohibition against using that status or designation for personal advantage -- for instance, when pulled over for a traffic ticket, or advertising one's qualifications as an attorney. The rules permit disclosure on an "individual" resume, but not on a public statement of one's qualifications. You can say you serve as a temporary judge when describing your public service, but it's not clear whether you can take a certificate of designation and put it on your office wall, because it may influence a potential client to hire you.

Of particular interest to me is the prohibition against discussing the specifics of cases, whether pending, past, or potential. Since I have a habit of writing about things that I do and think about from time to time, and then publishing them in a place where anyone can read them, I will need to look further in to how much detail I can get into in publishing "war stories," particularly recent ones. Other judges have blogs, but they seem to focus on more academic kinds of issues (then again, the judges' blogs that I read are of interest to me for their academic content, and I've not really looked for any other kind of judicial writing on the net). So that's an issue I'll need to research further; the answers are in the canons of judicial ethics but need to be fleshed out and considered.

But at other times, I was excited and eager to take up the challenge -- it seems like a very comprehensive way of addressing my knowledge of the law, developing my appreciation and understanding of the system, and dealing with people. Clearly, it's a new level of professional development. I very much want to continue to grow and take on new kinds of challenges in my profession; this is obviously an excellent opportunity to do that. And, it's something that would make me a better lawyer, too -- all the other lawyers I spoke with at the class have said that serving as temporary judges has been nothing but good for their skills and abilities as advocates.

So I'm going to press forward with getting certified as a temporary judge. It's a bigger challenge than I thought it would be, and given that I'm also teaching on the same nights that most of the classes are being taught, it's going to require some effort and commitment on my part to make it happen. But that's what it's all about, really.

January 17, 2007

Return to the Constitution

At long last, the Administration has agreed to relax its stance that it will unilaterally conduct warrantless electronic surveillance of communications, and submit its search requests to review by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

This is something I and a whole lot of other people have been demanding for a very long time. I can't speak for other objectors to the original policy, but I for one never called for the program to end. I did, however, call for an inter-branch check and balance on the use of this power. That call has now, finally, been answered -- and to my satisfaction. By submitting to warrant applications and judicial review, and complying with existing legislation, the Executive Branch is now playing between the foul poles again, and I have no complaint about the surveillance.

Too bad the Republicans had to lose control of Congress to spur the Administration to start obeying the law. But better late than never. Perhaps, too, this is an object lesson about the dangers of one-party rule.

January 16, 2007

New New Super Bowl

I liked Seattle, Indianapolis, New Orleans and New England last week. Got three of those four picks right. Importantly, the upset I got right (New England beating San Diego by a field goal) won me a six-pack from my buddy. Now I have to find the time to go down to Oceanside to collect.

This week, I again like New England, and I also like New Orleans. If I'm right, that will be two "New" teams in the Super Bowl.

Sorry, Bears fans, but despite some occasionally very impressive play, it seems to me that there's something rotten in the state of Denmark Illinois -- notably but not exclusively the quarterback situation. Certainly the 2001 Baltimore Ravens proved that with an outstanding defense, a team can go all the way with an adequate-at-best QB.

And I'm not saying that because I'm a Packer fan and there's a rivalry there. Chicago dominated the NFC this year, and the Bears deserve props for doing it. Despite how it can look sometimes, no game is easy, and a 13-3 record speaks for itself. But there doesn't seem to be any joy on the team; there seems instead to be surprise, and the times Chicago's been beaten, it's been beaten convincingly. And Arizona nearly beat them, which says a lot.

Besides, who dat gonna beat dem Saints?

Why Don't They Like Him?

I've never been able to figure out why the religious right doesn't like John McCain. It certainly isn't his stance on the social issues that religious folks care about -- he's pro-life, against same-sex marriage, in favor of vouchers for religious schools, and in favor of federal funding for "faith-based" charities. All things that "values voters" care intensely about. But still they "pray they won't be stuck with him." There's a deep-seated distrust there that no amount of positioning on the issues seems to be able to overcome.

For the life of me, I can't figure out what the guy ever did to earn the enimity of these folks.

January 14, 2007

Fish Kebabs

One of our guests last night has some dietary restrictions, namely lactose intolerance and no meat. Fish, however, was OK, so I made fish kebabs.

Upon announcing this plan to a variety of people, the universal reaction was, "How are you going to keep the fish on the sticks?" Easy. Cube the meat into at least 1" chunks, make sure the fish is speared against the grain of the meat, and keep the fish cool while spearing it. I lost mushrooms from my kebabs, but no fish.

I marinated the fish (tuna) in a soy-orange-pineapple mix, with ginger, garlic, and sesame as my primary spices. Also on the kebabs were pineapple, red peppers, purple onions, mushrooms, and grape tomatoes. Accompanying the kebabs were saffron rice and crème brûlée (pre-approved by our guest; I'd have found a non-dairy dessert otherwise). Our guests brought hummus and pita chips, and a shrimp roux with an astonishing amount of bread. The Wife, afraid we wouldn't have enough to eat, asked me to steam up some broccoli and asparagus, and she made up another of her sweet spinach and berry salads.

It was way too much food. It felt a little bit bad throwing away so much food after dinner was done, but there was nothing for it. Most of the food was simply not going to be any good later. Next time, I think we need to have stricter rules about how much food people can bring.

Not So Very Bothersome

The New York Times reports that the Pentagon and the CIA are sending "noncompulsory" requests to credit card companies asking that the transactions and records of civil and military employees be turned over for examination. These "national security letters" have a thirty-year pedigree, but their strength was enhanced by the USA PATRIOT Act.

This is not so bothersome to me because 1) the inquiries seem to be limited to individuals whose activities produce some sort of objective reason to believe that there might be terrorism or espionage going on, and 2) people who work for the military necessarily give up some privacy rights for national security purposes; that goes along with holding a security clearance or being in the service.

It would be nice, particularly for the civilian workers, if some kind of judicial review were obtained, such as what happens when a search warrant is issued. The law should allow for warrants to issue without advance knowledge to the person whose records are being searched. But given the combination of the diminished privacy interests at stake, an apparenlty limited scope of inquiry, and the need for swift, secret gathering of information, it looks okay to me.

Disloyalty and Criticism

I guess I'm in a cynical mood after last night's dinner guests expressed similar contempt for our national leadership as I read in some ironic invective from the Reality-Based Community. A surge of 20,000 "new" troops is the answer? They're just going to replace the British troops withdrawing from Basra, leaving overall troop levels pretty much the same as they are now.

Our dinner guest was Canadian and expressed gratitude at the existence of the monarchy in the British Commonwealth. He explained, it allows people to be critical of the democratically-elected government while still displaying loyalty to the country -- because the ministes who make policy are different from the head of state who personifies the country. In the U.S., we unify high-level decision making authority with the symbolic power of the Presidency. (At the same time, of course, Commonwealth subjects can and do take great pleasure in thumbing their noses at the Queen, but that's a different issue.) Even more ironically, the Royal Family is looking at the risk that one of their own will be deployed to Iraq soon.

Here, though, our political dialogue has become less meaningful. I criticize the President for both getting us into this mess (admitting that, at the time, I thought it was a good idea, too) and for not being able to figure out a way to get us out of it (admitting that I don't have any better ideas myself). To some people, that's akin to treason or disrespect for the troops. I don't think it is, though; looking objectively at reality, even if it is not pleasing, is always better than popping on the rose-colored glasses and hoping for the best.

Ought To Be Famous

In 1962, Captain Joseph Kittinger II (USAF) rode a weather balloon to over 100,000 feet. Then he jumped out. Air being substantially thinner at that altitude, his terminal velocity approached Mach 1. Using a two-stage parachute system -- the first to slow down his flat spin, and the second the slow down his speed -- he landed safely in the desert of New Mexico.

When I came across this story this morning, I thought it was a hoax. But it's all over the place, if you look for it. The USAF historical websites and multiple hosting sites show the same video, which Kittinger filmed on his descent. This astonishing gut-check ought to be more well-known in the history of aviation and technology than it is. No way would I have been brave enough to have done that. This guy, now in his late seventies, ought to be a lot more famous than he is.

January 12, 2007

Like Rain. On Your Wedding Day.

Another botched job by right-wing religious nutball lawyers calling themselves "Liberty Counsel". After successfully suing to open up grade schoolers' "backpack mail" to advertisements for a Christian Bible study camp, Albemare County, Virginia religionists now must deal with that same forum being used to proselytize pagan educational seminars -- particularly those exploring the pagan roots of Christmas.

Just goes to show you that maybe, just maybe, the Founders knew what they were talking about with that whole Establishment Clause thing.

Comic Strip

To celebrate the 800th post for the blog, I've made some changes. Now appearing at the bottom of the page, updated daily, is Day By Day, a political comic strip with a sort-of right-wing take on things. I've found it mildly amusing and offer it for your consideration. If you find you don't like it, well, it's at the bottom of the blog and so you can easily avoid it. But if you do like it, well, that's a good reason for you to check in regularly!

Saddam's Cat

January 11, 2007

Now Los Angeles Is Truly A World Class City

Major League Soccer has been doing well, financially, but is apparently not yet profitable. So I have to wonder at this -- if the reports are right, the most famous football player in the world will be making something like a million dollars a week to play here -- for five years. Can the Los Angeles Galaxy possibly afford this?

Real Madrid thinks his skills are fading, which is obviously why they did not renew his contract, freeing him up to move to the United States. On the other hand, the dude is five years younger than me and in ungodly good shape. But come on, does his skill level really matter in a city obsessed with celebrity and good looks? After all, it's David Beckham's world. Including Los Angeles. The rest of us just live in it.

Unbloggable Stuff

Mediations are draining affairs. You often think they're going to be short, if the parties have only money to talk about, and then they last all day while the parties negotiate every damn thing. I've written a skit to describe the equivalent of a business negotiation, not unlike the one I had tonight. Thing is, it has an... adult subject matter, and I'm trying to keep this more or less a family show here. So I'm thinking that my creativity is just plain unbloggable and I'll probably not post it here.

January 9, 2007

Speaking of Presidential Hopefuls...

Sure he doesn't want you to look at the picture in this week's People magazine. He's really embarassed by the fact that every newspaper, political website, and television station in the country is showing it. After all, most politicians value their privacy and just want to enjoy the beach in peace, right?

I'm reminded of the last Presidential primaries. Back in 2004, The Wife liked John Edwards for President because he was "the cute one." Sure, Edwards was cuter than, say, John Kerry or Howard Dean (whose campaign ended not because of how he looked but rather how he sounded).

Fact is, it doesn't take too much to be a good-looking politician; most of our politicos are of "average" attractiveness at best. Barack Obama is above-average in the looks department, no question, and a lot younger than many of his colleagues in the Senate. That might just be a handicap -- a youthful-looking, attractive politician can be thought of as a lightweight and not taken seriously like a less attractive adversary who nevertheless seems "statesmanlike."

So quit drooling all over the guy and let Senator Obama do his job, folks. Which apparently consists, at least in part, of bodysurfing in Hawaii near paparazzi. I'm sure the home crowds in De Kalb County are quite satisfied with that.

An Amusing Observation

Quoth Dick Morris about the four most prominent Republican Presidential hopefuls: "the only one of these guys who hasn't had multiple wives is the Mormon." If Morris is right, the hard-right social conservatives may not have anywhere else to go but to a "moderate" Republican in 2008; no one seems to give Sam Brownback or Duncan Hunter much of a chance.

But the appeal to those voters ought to be patently obvious to, of all people, Dick Morris. Any of Guiliani, McCain, Romney, or Gingrich can rather easily say, "Look, it's me or the witch, folks. Your choice."

Lunch Rush

I'm blogging with what's left of my lunch hour, so I need to be quick.

Three students showed up for last night's class. The school may well cancel the class if they can't get at least five. At least I got to listen to an interesting book on CD, and in the desert of eastern Los Angeles County, there are few lights, so the night sky was spectacular. I was right about not making it home until eleven at night -- grueling.

This morning (Pacific time), US gunships struck at al-Qaeda hideouts in Somalia, further dislodging the Islamist junta in favor of the Ethiopian-backed "transitional government" in that failed state. Wasn't it not too long ago that we considered Ethiopia to be a hostile government? Now we're helping it become a regional power in east Africa. Huh.

Maybe more later tonight; for now, I'm getting back to work. I've got court appearances, mediations, and depositions scheduled for two solid weeks in the future, so I'm a busy boy.

January 8, 2007

Going To Be A Long Day

I won't be home until eleven tonight, at least. Victorville is an hour each way, and today I need to go an hour early so I can undergo a security screening. By the end of it, I'm sure I'm going to feel like Batman drving the backup batmobile:

But hey, the reason I do this is it's fun, right?

January 5, 2007

Ending the Culture of Corruption

Demonstrating the Democrats' commitment to ending the GOP's "culture of corruption," House Democrats (more specifically, the Congressional Black Caucus, who are all Democrats) gave Congressman William "Dollar Bill" Jefferson a standing ovation today.

You'll recall that Congressman Jefferson was the guy who "found" $90,000 in non-sequentially numbered $100 bills neatly bundled together in aluminum foil packets in his own freezer -- after an FBI informant passed a $100,000 bribe to Jefferson while wearing a wire.

This is worth a standing ovation? They might push through policies that you might like more (or less) than the GOP, but come on, did you really think that the Democrats would behave any better than the Republicans they've displaced?

Fundamentalist, Evangelical Atheists

I don't know if this sort of thing is a good idea or not. I'm thinking not.

CSM Says It's A Four-Way

Romney, Guiliani, McCain, and... Gingrich? I didn't think Gingrich was running.

The Monitor also thinks that Tom Vilsack has a chance to beat out Hillary Clinton. I don't think so.

I'm not sure that this is a good read of the field right now. To me, it looks like three horses on each side.

January 4, 2007

What Do Voters Dislike?

While musing about Barack Obama's admissions of past drug use, ambivablog suggests that "American voters don't mind human imperfection. They mind hypocrisy and disrespect for their intelligence." See, Obama admits trying cocaine when he was younger. Bush the Younger refused to answer questions about his past drug use, and Bill Clinton claimed he didn't inhale (like we want a President who wasn't smart enough to figure out how to smoke pot). Both were decidedly unsatisfying and uninspiring responses to those issues.

I have to agree that candor is refreshing compared to coy evasions. Nor am I any more or less inclined to vote for Obama than I would have been had he not made the admission. So I think that to a significant degree, amba is right -- but there are limits. Drug use inthedistant past, we'll probably accept that. But how about "killed a guy"? I think that might be a bigger problem.

What about "doesn't [pretend to] worship God"? Is that a deal-killer?

Richard Dawkins Is Wrong

Sure, it might have been interesting to study Saddam's psychology. But that was not the point at all. Saddam needed to die. He needed to die because he had done some atrocious things and death was the only just punishment that could be imposed upon him. He needed to die to put to rest, forever, the possibility that he might somehow regain power in Iraq.

The manner of Saddam's execution was brutal by U.S. standards, and the Iraqi executioners were, shall we say, less than professional. Still, hanging is a relatively quick death, and it came after a trial with the indicia of due process, which is a great deal more than most of Saddam's victims got. Saddam even got to get a last political swipe in -- his last words were to mock Muqtada al-Sadr for being little better than a small-time thug, which compared to Saddam, is exactly what al-Sadr is.

The prospect of keeping a man alive only to be studied, like some kind of lab specimen, seems itself to be dehumanizing and cruel. It's entirely possible that Saddam, who was quite an intelligent, crafty fellow, would have made a game out of warping the data.

January 3, 2007

Look At The Sky

I don't notice a lot of people looking at the sky. That's a shame. I think the sky is often quite beautiful. When I get up in the morning, these days it's usually around sunrise (except on days when I'm recovering from a bout of insomnia). On some days I can see a rosy Belt of Venus on top of the Tehachipi mountains. This morning, when I fed the critters, the sky was an astonishing deep blue (as it turned out, the sunrise was obscured by a sandstorm around Llano.

At night, the sky is well worth watching, especially in winter when Orion rules the starry sky. My favorite sight through the telescope is the Great Nebula, which you can almost see with the naked eye on a clear night with no moon out. It's the middle of the three stars in Orion's sword, the one that looks fuzzier than the others. When the moon is out, it's fascinating to examine.

Sunsets are something that more people appreciate -- in part because they happen at ground level. A really good sunset is like a symphony in the sky. It needs a certain amount of haze or other material in the atmosphere, which is normally not a good thing except for at sunset. Then, the entire sky turns into a slowly-graduated slice of the spectrum. A good sunset also needs some clouds, preferably some high-altitude cirrus clouds, wispy and delicate. They catch and reflect the light, looking like so many strands of copper and rose-colored ribbon thrown all over the onrushing dome of the night.

Shadows cast by stationary objects can move so fast around sunrise or sunset that you can, with even a small amount of patience, actually watch them move.

I've also always enjoyed clouds, particularly big cumulus clouds that move and roll and boil and fall all over themselves with the wind. Those we don't get so much here in the desert, but they do come from time to time. Back in Florida, they generate lightning on a regular basis, and a big Florida thunderstorm, with lightning arcing from cloud to cloud as well as down to the ground, is just spellbinding.

Here in the High Desert, there are almost always aircraft moving about at reasonably low altitudes. I've seen several F-117's, bizarre-looking angular aircraft painted flat black. They are quiet on approach but very loud after they pass over, making a satisfying screech of jet blast through the desert air. Every once in a while, a B-2 takes off or flies about, and they are indeed impressive to see, both for their mass and the stark contrasts of the near-invisible face profile and the bat-like, triangular silhouette when the plane banks. About two months ago, a V-22 Osprey was flying about, another strange-looking aircraft indeed.

Last night I got a special treat. While out cooking, I looked up to enjoy the stars and see if any planes were moving around. I saw a star moving very fast -- obviously not a high-altitude plane; it was moving much too fast to be that. It grew very bright for about two seconds, and then grew dim again, moving across its arc at an astonishingly fast pace. It could only have been the International Space Station; the brightening and dimming I noticed being the sun reflecting off the solar panels.

I'd like to find time to get up to the Sierras and take the telescope with me. This time of year, that's a very cold proposition, but maybe during the summer. But even when going about day-to-day business, I always try to find time to look at the sky. It brings peace and is frequently a source of awe. It's a shame so many people are so wrapped up in their day-to-day activities that they forget to see the beauty of nature readily available by simply looking up.

January 2, 2007


Earlier today, the New York Daily News was given a 140-page internal strategy assessment of the Guiliani candidacy. The Daily News will not identify who leaked this notebook beyond saying it is a person connected to one of Guiliani's potential rivals. Whether that's a Republican or a Democrat is unclear; however, Guiliani's very early polling numbers seem to be establishing him as the guy to beat, so I'm thinking it's intramural jockeying for position rather than a pre-emptive strike a la Gray Davis' 2002 primary attack on Richard Riordan coming from a Democrat. Whether this is traceable to someone, and whether that someone turns out to be John McCain or Mitt Romney, may never be known.

Both the Daily News and the New York Times suggest that this is a significant setback to the campaign. I'm not so sure about that. It's embarrassing, to be sure, but it seems that there's little in the document that would surprise anyone who had thoughtfully considered the issues surrounding a Guiliani campaign. There are ambitious fundraising goals, which is pretty much mandatory if you're going to take a serious shot at the White House; there are considerations about potential vulnerabilities and anticipations of what form attacks on those vulnerable areas might take; and there is the issue of how the document got out to the public at all, which is egg on Guiliani's face because he has marketed himself as having some expertise on security issues.

There are some ideas about how to raise money and some mention of labels for big fund-raisers which sound somewhat crass. But again, none of this is any different than anything any other politician has done, is doing, or will have to do in order to credibly run for President.

Finally, there is vacillation about Guiliani running or maintaining his current position, splitting his professional time between his security and leadership consulting firm, his law practice, and his association with an investment brokerage. Personally, I like that. It underlines that Rudy would indeed be making something of a personal sacrifice (perhaps one that he would see as a net gain, but still giving up something) if he were to become President. Someone answering the call to public service should do so reluctantly -- this burnishes rather than detracts from the image of a "citizen-politician" rather than a member of the political class, which Rudy as well as his adversaries for the Presidency would all like to bear.

So the issue is more the existence of the leak than anything else. But a pre-Presidential campaign is not quite the same thing as maintaining national security. Certainly, this document should not have been leaked in an ideal world. According to Guiliani's spokeswoman (reported in the Times), there may not have been a lot that could have been done to prevent it.

It might seem that a problem with this document is that it existed to be leaked in the first place, but a successful Presidential campaign is a venture of daunting scope and planning documents simply have to exist. Campaigns run "opposition research" on their own candidates all the time, and the musings about some of Guiliani's potential vulnerabilities is nothing different than that. I don't know whether the form of this document was such that it was unusually dense or insightful as compared with the kinds of research and strategizing that other politicians do, but at worst, this was a case of an eager and inexperienced assistant to the campaign effort (and not the candidate himself) putting down more in writing than was strictly prudent.

A lot of the information in the leaked notebook is out of date, too -- for instance, it refers to several potential fundraisers who have declared their support for McCain rather than Guiliani.

No, the only real issue is a little bit of chipping away at the illusion that Guiliani deferred a decision to run until very recently. After all, Guiliani said all the right coy things about deferring a decision to run for President until after the 2006 elections but some of the notations on the document indicate that people very close to Guiliani were using it before the election. Which is no great surprise to anyone, I should think -- virtually all of the favored contenders (Romney, McCain, Clinton, and Obama) have not yet declared their intentions to run yet.

Even with this revelation that he and the people closest to him have really thought about the candidacy, Guiliani is still in the "exploratory" phase, which is to say he's testing the waters to see if he can raise enough money. Of the "big" names for 2008, only John Edwards has declared his candidacy. But the aforementioned contenders -- Romney, McCain, Clinton, and Obama -- would all be fools of tremendous magnitude to not have gathered the same information and begun to engage in the same kind of strategizing that the Guiliani document represents. They've just been fortunate enough to not have had a dirty trick like this played on them at such an early date.

So I'm not so inclined to be particularly upset about the leak. Of course, you don't want to let the other guy into your kitchen, ever. So this is not a good thing for Guiliani fans. But it's coming very early in the process. If this is the biggest problem the Guiliani campaign faces between now and November 4, 2008, it'll be President Rudy taking the oath in 2009 for sure.

January 1, 2007

Fun Day

Today, The Wife and I got a lot of activity in. We did a little bit of sightseeing, driving up Elizabeth Lake Road out to Three points, and then back for some lunch. Most of our shopping options were curtailed because of the holiday, but we did make it to the gym. We also put up some coat hooks around the house; just a small home improvement project we've been meaning to do. The Wife wanted to go to an antique shop she had seen before way out in the desert, where she got a copper teakettle and a basket. And we had a very good work out at the gym, too; one I hope that we repeat in the future. A sensible dinner and some relaxation later, and it's been a fun, full day. A good start to the new year.