April 30, 2008

Here's A Way To Locate A Valuable Tool

After all, it's important to have an open mind. It's important to be willing to evaluate new ideas on their face and not discard them out of hand. Skepticism doesn't mean that you close your mind to different ideas. So.

There's a new form of non-invasive medical treatment out there, called Colorpuncture. Here's how it works:
Scientists are now discovering that light is actually the medium by which cells communicate and it is at the very basis of many body functions. In a Colorpuncture treatment, frequencies of colored light are focused on the skin using a hand-held acu-light tool ... with specially designed, hand-made interchangeable glass rods which emit different colors of light through a focused tip. Each color consists of different wavelength frequencies of light and therefore communicates different energetic information. Treatments include a specific set of points in a sequence using a prescribed pattern of colors. As the light is absorbed by the skin and transmitted along energetic pathways or meridians deep into the body, it stimulates intra-cellular communication which supports healing.
Are you willing to give it a try? After all, the people who wrote the testimonials on the site swear that it helped them! There's even been scientific papers on file with the National Institute of Health suggesting that the technique is useful and helpful to certain kinds of patients! Well, perhaps you don't fit the profile of people who can benefit from this form of therapy, so let's see who are good candidates to beneefit from it:
If you are ill and suspect that your bodily symptoms may be related to old traumas or unresolved emotional issues, or to your confusion or lack of direction in life, Colorpuncture can help you access and heal the roots of your problems. Healthy people, who want to help prevent illness by clearing energetic blockages before they impact the body, as well as those who want access to soul information needed to move more easily on their life paths will find Colorpuncture treatments given by a trained Colorpuncture therapist to be an invaluable assistance.

So, if you're ill, or if you're healthy, or if you've had traumas in the past, or if you have unresolved emotional issues, Colorpuncture can help you. Well, that seems to include people like me. I'm healthy. In fact, pretty much everyone falls into either the category of "ill" or the category of "healthy." There isn't really a very broad third choice between the two; one is the opposite of the other, and it's a binary system -- if you're not ill, you're healthy, and vice versa.

Here's what I might propose, if I were irresponsible. I'd propose getting a sample of maybe 100 people who have been diagnosed with, oh, I don't know, melanoma. Something right there on the skin that Colorpuncture can easily treat. Melanoma's most overt symptom is a mole-like growth, which can be of many colors, that is a form of a malignant tumor on the skin. A therapist trained in the use of the Colorpuncture acu-light tool should be able to easily identify and focus the tool on the subject. One-half of the subjects of the test will be given Colorpuncture treatment with the frequency prescribed by the Colorpuncture therapist, and the other half will be given surgery to remove the melanomas and some of the tissue surrounding them. Then, we compare the mortality rates of the patients.

If Colorpuncture therapy is a valid form of therapy, we should see similar mortality rates in the Colorpuncture patients as we do in the surgical patients. The first question to you, Reader, is -- does Colorpuncture stand even a remote chance of reaching that result? The answer ought to be patently obvious. Now, here's the real question -- why is such a proposal obviously irresponsible? How can you know, without actually doing this experiment, what the result is going to be? Why is it that you are very confident, without having actually performed this experiment, in that prediction -- indeed, if you're like me, you're confident to the point of calling it a certainty, so where does that confidence come from?

Congratulations. Now that you've identified the source of your certainty, you have located your bullshit detector. This is a valuable tool to help you make your way through life. Don't lose this tool. Use it often.

Hat tip to Eric Berlin for the link to "Colorpuncture." Who thinks up crap like this? And more importantly, do people really spend good money on it?

Nasty Extremist

That's my pro wrestling name. How about you?

Balance Of Power Shifts To The Inside Game

It's official -- HRC cannot win without superdelegate support. There are not enough pledgeable delegates left for her to put away the nomination before the convention. She needs both more pledged delegates and superdelegates than BHO now.

BHO theoretically could clinch before Denver -- if he gets 294 of the remaining 408 delegates. But to do that, he'd need close to three-quarters of the vote from here on out -- a most unlikely proposition, seeing as he's now only leading by about ten points in his stronghold of North Carolina and HRC is still ahead by a nose in Indiana. He actually could clinch the nomination before the convention with a combination of winning more of the primaries left on the schedule and a press of superdelegate endorsements. But as I explain below, I'm not sure that's in the cards, either.

As of right now, there are approximately equal numbers of superdelegates as there are pledgeable delegates up for grabs. But by Tuesday, 191 pledgeable delegates will have been allocated, reducing the number up for grabs in the seven remaining primaries and caucuses to 217. We can expect a net gain in delegates for Obama overall because of his lead in North Carolina and his surprising competitiveness in Indiana. But probably not a huge net gain; I'll be looking for him to get in the 110 to 115 range with HRC getting around 75 to 80. That would leave Obama with a deficit of something like 180 to 190 delegates, with only 217 left up for grabs -- meaning he'd have to get something like 85% of the votes the remaining seven caucuses and primaries, margins that he did not attain even in his home state of Illinois.

So BHO is not mathematically excluded from clinching, but as an effective matter, both candidates are in a world in which they need to suck up to these people more than they need to appeal to the voters in the remaining states on the primary and caucus schedules. Clinton still has the edge, although it is not nearly so powerful as it once was, in this inside game. That edge comes from having been on the inside for so long.

But while the pundits are expecting a flurry of superdelegate endorsements this week and next, it very likely won't be enough for the balance of power to shift from the voters to the superdelegates unless nearly half of the remaining party leaders decide that now is the time to commit to one candidate or the other. And these are people who have held out this long, so it seems likely to me that the bulk of them have decided to at least wait for the primaries to play out completely before they announce a preference.

It's a symbolically important point, albeit one that has been functionally inevitable for a while now. Bearing in mind that whoever the Democrats nominate will have huge advantages in the general election, whoever wins in Denver is quite likely to be #44 in a remarkable list of remarkable people. So less than 400 people, all of them Democratic Party elites, now hold more power than the voters to pick the person most likely to become the next leader of the free world.* Their choices are a veracity-deficient former First Lady and a smooth-talking Senator with a decidedly unusual "crazy uncle" problem he doesn't seem able to solve.

Sir Winston Churchill said, "It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." But then again, Sir Winston was equally right when he said "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter." So you tell me -- 400 people, selected by a decidedly strange and arcane process, are effectively vested with all the power to make that decision. Is that a bad thing or a good thing?

* I'm not counting McCain out yet. But let's be realistic -- McCain has a lot of water to carry left over from the Bush Administration that not even the bulk of Republicans are particularly fond of. Doesn't mean he can't win or that I don't want him to. But he'll be fighting uphill all the way.

April 29, 2008

Paris Vaut Bien Une Messe

Yesterday, I ghostwrote an imaginary speech by Barack Obama denouncing Rev. Jeremiah Wright after his way-over-the-top remarks at the National Press Club. I suggested that Senator Obama say:

Friends, I heard Rev. Wright yesterday at the National Press Club. I was dumbstruck. Absolutely astonished by what I heard. You've got to understand, this was a man I looked up to. This was a man who's said and done things that I found inspirational.

But to see him like that! To hear him say things like that! Things no educated person should possibly think. Things so obviously false and wrong that they defy imagination.

After hearing him yesterday, I was sad. I was sad because I realized that, whether I win this nomination or not, whether I win this election or not, I can't go back to his church. He's proven that he's a man who won't learn, who won't be part of what it takes for America to move forward. Even after all of this political mess we've been through, he hasn't learned anything from it. So I can't have that man be my pastor after that.

One day, whether that's in two years or eight, I'll be going back to Chicago. And when I do, I won't be going back to Rev. Wright's church.

And Here's what Obama actually said today:

"I am outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday. ...

"What became clear to me is that he was presenting a world view that contradicts who I am and what I stand for. And what I think particularly angered me was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political posturing. Anybody who knows me and anybody who knows what I'm about knows that I am about trying to bridge gaps and I see the commonality in all people. ...

"I have been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ since 1992, and have known Reverend Wright for 20 years. The person I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago. ...

"Obviously, whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed. I don't think he showed much concern for me, more importantly I don't think he showed much concern for what we're trying to do in this campaign. ...

“He has done great damage, I do not see that relationship being the same. ...

"His comments were not only divisive and destructive, I believe they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate. I'll be honest with you, I hadn't seen it [when I said ‘All it was was a bunch of rants that aren't grounded in truth’]. ...

"I gave him the benefit of the doubt in my speech in Philadelphia explaining that he's done enormous good. ... But when he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS. ... There are no excuses. They offended me. They rightly offend all Americans and they should be denounced. ...

"I think he felt vilified and attacked and I understand him wanting to defend himself ... That may account for the change but the insensitivity and the outrageousness of the statements shocked me and surprised me."

So, how did I do?

On the plus side, Obama threw Wright under the bus, exactly as I suggested he should do. I can't take much credit for that, as it was a pretty obvious maneuver; he didn't really have any choice but to do it. I also correctly predicted that he would say that in the past, Jeremiah Wright had done good things that Obama admired. I also correctly predicted that Obama would flatly say that Wright's statements were false as well as universally offensive and ingorant.

But, I predicted that Obama would publicly and permanently separate himself from the congregation at Wright's church. This, so far, Obama has failed to do and he stated that he still considers himself a member of that church. That's the last step and he still needs to take it.

Take a lesson from history, Senator Obama. The White House is surely worth switching pastors.

It's The Sauce

I'm likely just a little bit stinky for The Wife. After my mediation today in Century City, I stopped off with my client at Zankou Chicken, the best damn roasted chicken in Los Angeles or anywhere else I've ever been for that matter. What does it is not just that they know how to roast their birds to keep them plump and juicy and full of flavor. No, it's the sauce, that heavenly, powerful, white garlic sauce. I can still taste it now, hours later.

How is half a roasted chicken, with pitas and hummus, consistent with a low-cal, low-fat diet? Well, it isn't. But I can make up for it if I just have some weeds for dinner tonight. But oh. That sauce.

Freedom Walkers

A question that sometimes people like me get asked is: "Churches do a lot of good works out there. What are atheists doing that is so good in the world?" Another question is, "The past is dead, so why study history; isn't it already over with and better to think about the problems of today?" With a hat tip to Hemant Mehta, I can point you to something that answers both questions at once.

In 1963, a group of civil rights activists undertook to walk from Chattanooga, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi. They were going to hand-deliver a letter to the Governor of Mississippi urging that the state integrate its races instead of resisting the rising tide of civil rights. They never made it. The lead Freedom Walker was shot dead in Alabama and the shooter was never charged with a crime. Some of the others were arrested at the Alabama-Mississippi border and while imprisoned, fed muffins in which shards of broken glass had been baked. Only two "Freedom Walkers" survive today.

Well, a group of Alabama atheists have picked up where the civil rights activists left off. They are completing the walk, will meet up with the two survivors, and together deliver the letter, at long last, to the Governor, who is expecting them and will likely give them a warmer greeting than the original walkers would have received.

The past is not dead; it lives with us today. And these atheists, now the most despised minority in America, are doing something to remind the rest of us that we can and should try to do better than our ancestors did.

April 28, 2008

Powerful Object Lesson

If you're like a lot of Americans, you have a lot of of stuff. Stuff you spent a lot of money to acquire. Stuff you use only rarely, if ever. Stuff you probably don't even t look at all that often. Your stuff doesn't make you happy. You can probably get rid of almost all of your possession, and it wouldn't make much of a difference in your overall happiness -- or probably in your lifestyle.

That's what blogbuddy Michael Reynolds has found out as he prepares to move across six time zones. Any why is he doing that, you might ask? In so many words, he's doing it because he can. Because he thinks it will make him and his family happier to do so. The right reasons.

There's a good lesson there for anyone who takes the time to think about it. Auguri, Reynolds.

A Little Girl Dies And Exposes An Injustice

If I get sick, please don't pray for me. Instead, get me to a doctor.

Don't do what the obviously very faithful Dale and Leilani Neumann of Weston, Wisconsin (a rural town near Wausau, smack dab in the middle of the state) did for their eleven-year-old daughter, Kara. Kara was very sick because she had juvenile diabetes. She had been sick for between three to thirty days, depending on who you talk to, and her parents prayed for her and enlisted the help of their pastor to pray for her. Aside from seeking God's intervention to make Kara well again, they did not seek any other kind of medical assistance or intervention. But despite her parents' prayers, despite the fervent and earnest entreaties of her pastor for God to save her, Kara did not get better. She died on Easter Sunday.

Kara didn't need prayers. She needed insulin.

You might think that prayer can work miracles and heal people. I don't want to challenge that directly right now, although that is a rich subject of discussion. But chances are good that even if you think that prayer can help someone who is sick, you would still send that sick person to a doctor, and get the benefit of both prayer and medical science. In this case, you'd probably say, don't stop praying for her, but get her some insulin. Belt and suspenders. Do whatever is reasonably within your power to make my child better. That's what a responsible parent would do. But that's not what the Neumanns did.

So, the Marathon County District Attorney has charged Mr. and Mrs. Neumann with second-degree homicide, for recklessly withholding medical care leading to the death of a human being. Now, obviously the Neumanns did not want their daughter to die. Clearly, they loved their daughter and wanted her to get better -- they weren't praying for her death, they were praying for her to get well. And it's very easy to have one's heart go out to them -- they did what they had been told and taught was right to do, they did what they believed with all their faith and hearts told them what to do, and they have had to bury their daughter who they obviously loved very dearly.

But why do we punish people for committing crimes?

One reason is to exact revenge on behalf of society for when something bad happens to someone. If you are as outraged as I am that parents would simply stand by and do nothing when the availability of medical care is so obvious and so available, then maybe you are a little bit of desire for revenge here.

Another reason is to prevent other people from committing the same crime. Prosecuting the Neumanns will demonstrate to other people that prayer alone is not enough.

The Neumanns may have a statutory defense. Wis. Stat. 948.03(6) provides: "Treatment through prayer. A person is not guilty of an offense under this section solely because he or she provides a child with treatment by spiritual means through prayer alone for healing in accordance with the religious method of healing permitted under s. 48.981 (3) (c) 4. or 448.03 (6) in lieu of medical or surgical treatment."

I note, though, that Wis. Stat. 948.03 only applies to charges of physical abuse of a minor, not to charges of homicide. The clause "under this section" limits the scope of this defense on its face. There is a section of Wis. Stat. 948 that applies to neglect leading to death. But homicide is covered under a different section of the Wisconsin statutes. The question, then, will be whether the Wisconsin Legislature intended to create a religion-based defense to all charges of reckless conduct or only reckless physical endangerment.

If I were the judge, I would likely not allow that defense to be raised. I cannot think of any other result than that the exception should be limited to its most narrow possible reading, which is to say that it may only be raised to offenses arising under Wis. Stat. 948 and therefore not to a charge of homicide. When the defense attorney said that these people were only practicing what their religion told them to do, my instinctive reaction would be to say, "Too bad. Employment Division v. Smith says that a law of general application can be enforced even against a good-faith religious command to the contrary. The prohibition against homicide is as general a scope of application of the law as can possibly exist, so your clients need to answer the charges on the merits." The Free Exercise Clause does not provide a defense to a charge of murder, nor was it ever intended to.

But more than that, the existence of a "faith exception" to a child abuse la really bugs me -- not as an armchair judge of this specific case, but rather as a person who takes the idea of separation of church and state seriously. So far as I can tell, pretty much only Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Christian Scientists can avail themselves of this defense. But isn't it more a little bit unfair to give people who follow certain religions a defense to crimes that are not available to people of other religions?

And, why should we allow a defense to a crime, specifically a crime endangering the safety and life of a child, based on a religious belief? We would not hesitate to punish adherents of a religion that considered buggering little boys to be a holy sacrament and of spiritual value to the young victims, no matter how good-faith that perverted belief might be held. Why, then, should we defer to the weird beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses or Christian Scientists, who would withhold even the simplest medical care in even the most dire of emergencies?

(Could it be that our society does not want to start going down the road of saying that some religious beliefs are obviously incorrect and false, for fear of where that one step down that slippery slope will lead? After all, if we as a society pronounce that all religious beliefs are equally valid, and the no-medicine teachings of Christian Science are obviously incorrect, then what does that say about other religions? Better, then, to permit injustice in a few cases rather than get people questioning whether all religions are simply a bunch of Bronze Age mumbo-jumbo that should be relegated to the "historical fiction" and "mythology" sections of the bookstore.)

The idea that we can lawfully and morally excuse what people like the Neumanns did on the basis of religious faith is abhorrent. I feel bad for them that their daughter died, and worse that they were misled by the charlatans calling themselves "ministers" who told them that doctors do more harm than good. But they have to be held responsible for what they've done; it's not good enough to blame their faith for what happened. And others need to see this example, too. Maybe then, fewer children will die.

If the sentence for second-degree homicide is too harsh for the purposes of justice -- these people have suffered plenty already; their daughter is dead, and we need not minimize the very real and awful pain that must cause them -- then that is why the Governors of the various states have the power to commute sentences or issue pardons. Once they are convicted, Governor Doyle could easily say, "These people have been through enough. Their daughter has died. They've had their faith shaken. They've been prosecuted and found guilty of causing the death of their own flesh and blood. So I hereby commute their sentences to time already served, and instruct that they be released from state custody with all due dispatch." I doubt the Governor would catch much political flak for doing something like that. That might be the right result -- but after they've been convicted.

In the meantime, I hope the Wisconsin Legislature re-examines Stat. 948.03(6). Like I said before, it just doesn't seem fair for people of one particular religion to get a defense to a criminal law when people of other religions don't. The law should be for everyone, equally.


Often, opportunity only knocks once. You've got to listen, hard, to understand what you've been offered, and it's easy to let the moment pass you by while you weigh alternatives and options. If you're Barack Obama, you need to find a way to distance yourself from Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who is turning into an albatross around your otherwise soon-to-be-Presidential neck.

Today, Jeremiah Wright himself gave Senator Obama that opportunity. A lot of Americans were willing to cut Obama some slack and consider that maybe the several seconds' worth of highly offensive remarks Wright has been caught on tape saying were either taken out of context or that they needed to be understood in a larger context, the context of Black rage and anger over sustained historical inequities with their roots in slavery, and in the context of teaching and social activism as part of Black religious traditions. "Maybe," some were saying, "maybe it's okay to use hyperbole in that sort of setting, and let's take a look at the bigger picture to at least try to understand what was going on."

But if it's sort of, not-really-but-kind-of-anyway okay to preach "God damn America" in a church while sermonizing about racial inequality, it's something else entirely to go to the National Press Club and give the talk thta Rev. Wright did today. It's not okay, can never be okay, to take to the mainstream airwaves and simply billow hate, racism, bizarre conspiracy theories, and some downright embarassing ignorance. Which is why Obama has an opportunity here.

"Friends, I heard Rev. Wright yesterday at the National Press Club. I was dumbstruck. Absolutely astonished by what I heard. You've got to understand, this was a man I looked up to. This was a man who's said and done things that I found inspirational.

"But to see him like that! To hear him say things like that! Things no educated person should possibly think. Things so obviously false and wrong that they defy imagination.

"After hearing him yesterday, I was sad. I was sad because I realized that, whether I win this nomination or not, whether I win this election or not, I can't go back to his church. He's proven that he's a man who won't learn, who won't be part of what it takes for America to move forward. Even after all of this political mess we've been through, he hasn't learned anything from it. So I can't have that man be my pastor after that.

"One day, whether that's in two years or eight, I'll be going back to Chicago. And when I do, I won't be going back to Rev. Wright's church.

Think it would work, Readers? If he said something like that, would you believe that he had really divorced himself from this nutjob? I know I would feel a lot better if he did, if only because Wright now very clearly deserves it.

Why should Obama throw Wright under the bus now, when he refused to do so before? The correct answer is not "better late than never" but instead "Because now Wright has gone so far over the line and in so public a way that failing to disown him really will hurt."

My Late April Sunday In Haiku Form

Allergy attack!
Eight hours of snot in my nose
And bad attitude

Two Good Arguments For The Defense

I've received some e-mails that offer what look like pretty viable defenses to this lawsuit. I'm not 100% sure they would win, but these are viable legal arguments against it.

First, the civilian courts should not be the forum that enlisted personnel use to question the orders and actions of their superior officers. If a soldier could run to court every time he didn't like something an officer told him, the efficient functioning of the command structure in the military would break down. Therefore, there is a very good policy reason to not allow a lawsuit like this to go forward.

Second, and related to the first, is the argument that the plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative remedies before seeking judicial relief. In particular, the plaintiff in this case did not complain up the chain of command, citing a belief that such a complaint would have been fruitless and would have opened him up to retaliation. But it does not seem to me that the complaint does a good enough job of explaining why the plaintiff felt that way. If he could describe an incident in which someone in the base's command structure, with enough rank or position to control the offending officer, had engaged in other pro-Christian official activities (simply being Christian would not be enough) then it might be more reasonable to have bypassed the chain of command. But here, there seems to be a simple assumption that command would have taken the officer's side of things, and we cannot reasonably assume that had a complaint been made, superior officers would have automatically sided with the officer over the enlisted man.

So if there existed a reasonable, realistic way for the soldier to lodge a grievance or complaint with a superior officer possessing sufficient authority to address the problem, that's what he should have done instead of filing a civil lawsuit.

Like I said before, I'm not 100% sure that argument wins. But it's a very strong argument and I could easily see it winning. And it can be brought at an early date, before any factual discovery takes place. Best of all from the Government's perspective, would not prohibit the Army from later attempting to negate or contradict the facts (and bear in mind that we're assuming that Major Welborn did what he is accused of doing -- and he does deny those facts; nothing has been proven one way or another, yet).

I think that it would lose only if there are sufficient allegations that the Army has a de facto policy of favoring Christians and disfavoring non-Christians. Certainly no such policy exists as an explicit matter; the written policies of the Army are quite clear, so far as I know, that all soldiers have the right to practice, or not, the religion of their choice without interference from command. So the plaintiff must prove, by way of multiple incidences of pro-Christian conduct by the command structure, that there is an "unwritten rule" that controls what is and is not acceptable. Facts meeting this description do not appear in the complaint, even as allegations.

Thanks to the commenters who e-mailed me in their arguments.

April 26, 2008

Sepcialist Jeremy Hall v. Department of Defense

This is all over the news today. Although some have been talking about it for a while. Here's the facts:

Jeremy Hall joined the Army for the same reasons anyone does -- a desire to serve his countrymen and his nation, a career advancement opportunity, and to broaden his horizons about the world. He's attained the rank of Specialist, which is the equivalent of a sergeant, and like pretty much everyone else in the military, he was deployed to Iraq. While in Iraq, he served as an MP and got put on a second deployment at a forward operating base. Specialist Hall is an atheist, which was known to his fellow soldiers. From CNN:
Known as "the atheist guy," Hall has been called immoral, a devil worshipper and -- just as severe to some soldiers -- gay, none of which, he says, is true. Hall even drove fellow soldiers to church in Iraq and paused while they prayed before meals.
He worked with the base chaplain and organized a group of atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, and other adherents to non-Christian religions. He posted flyers around the base consistent with the rules the chaplain gave him for doing so. A variety of people, including both military and civilian personnel, attended the meeting. Also in attendance was Major Freddy J. Welborn. Welborn listened at the meeting quietly for about ten minutes.

Then Major Welborn allegedly stood up and told the attendees, and specifically Specialist Hall, that the meeting and the people there were acting contrary to the Constitution, the intent of the Framers (who he claimed were Christians and wanted to create a "Christian nation") and the welfare of both the country and the military, threatened to block Hall's re-enlistment in the Army, and he allegedly threatened to seek criminal charges against Spec. Hall under the UCMJ.

Major Welborn denies having done any these things. No charges have ever been filed against Hall. However, there were no further meetings of the atheist group. Instead, Hall filed a lawsuit against Welborn and the Army for unlawfully promoting a religion under color of law within the ranks of the military.

Let's assume for discussion purposes that Maj. Welborn's denial is untrue, and he did what Spec. Wells says he did. If so, is there any reasonable defense that could possibly be offered against the claim in Hall's lawsuit? It's pretty obvious, at least to me, that Spec. Hall not only has the right to openly serve in the military as an atheist, but that he also has the right to form a group like this without interference from command. I think it's highly important that Welborn delivered these pronouncements while wearing a Major's oak leaf, and that he did so to an enlisted man, which in my mind constitutes interference with Hall's rights from a position far up the chain of command. Perhaps someone else might feel differently about this, and I'd welcome your point of view.

The Next Fifty

Tear down Dodger Stadium? Never! Fortunately, that's not what Frank McCourt has in mind. I'm not quite sure what to think of his alternative, though. Nowadays I don't get down to the stadium all that often, so the prospect of a good experience when I do go is even more valuable to me. So mostly, I think these are good ideas.

It looks like the plans will be prettier and the centerpiece seems to be a new "grand entrance" to the ballpark going straight down the line from home plate to center field. From there, you'll walk around the field to your seat, and maybe stroll up to the top of the hill to take in the sight of downtown and the Santa Monica Bay. I enjoy that view when I'm in that part of town anyway, so I agree with that.

But one of the things I kind of like about Dodger Stadium is the 1950's styling of its architecture. In particular, I kind of like the angled eaves over the outfield bleachers and the hexagonal signs. It looks like those elements will be preserved, as will the shallow-bowl construction of the grandstands that give such good lines of sight to fans watching the game. My guess is that the outside promenade will be more than a little bit Disneyfied, but that may not be an entirely bad thing.

From a game-play perspective, the looking-down-on-home-plate renditions of the revamped stadium remind me of nothing so much as... Yankee Stadium, with its deep pocket behind home plate. I can't tell, but it looks like the outfield is being brought in just a smidge, which will mean it will be less of a pitcher's park. Maybe that's why the pocket is being made deeper, so catchers can play pop flies more often to make up for it. Yeah, fans like the long ball, but baseball is ultimately about pitching, and Dodger Stadium has traditionally been a place where practitioners of the pitching game can ply their trade. (Not so much this year, as things are turning out, but you can't rebuild an entire ballpark around one year's team.)

Unmentioned in the press surrounding the new stadium plans is the likelihood that there will be substantially-expanded luxury boxes. That's what's making the most money for the owners these days and McCourt is no dummy. High-end customers want more than seats in a loge box and tickets the Stadium Club's buffet (which has been quite good on the four or five occasions I've had to go there over the years).

Speaking of which, if they can improve the speed of food service with better internal architecture, I'm all for that. Holy crap; I've waited more than two innings to get a dog and a beer in the past. I have to wonder whether new digs are going to make the food come any faster, though -- there are plenty of dogs in the heaters and the taps are right there -- the problem has always seemed to be that the workers fulfill customer orders with all the hustle of a tree sloth going to the dentist. What they need are more expediters at the counters, not better behind-the-scenes delivery of the pre-cooked seven-dollar hot dogs.

Still, baseball is a very conservative sort of endeavor, and any proposal for change is bound to be greeted with skepticism and caution. And if the guts of the stadium are revamped to make this new process work, my years of experience learning about how to navigate inside this three-dimensional labyrinth (like how to get down to the dugout level and wait for players to come out after the game) will be for naught. Selfish of me, I know.

Witness The Power Of Blogging

A grad student from Cal got arrested taking photographs and otherwise doing journalism in Egypt. As the authorities are hauling him away, he uses his cell phone to post a one-word message on his Twitter blog: "Arrested." Tipped off to his predicament, his friends, both in Egypt and in the States, rally support for him and he is quickly released. His follow-up message: "Freed." Now he wants to help out his translator, who was arrested along with him. I hope he does.

April 25, 2008

Remarkable Comeback

If you believe this study, the entire human race was reduced to a population of something like 2,000 people about 70,000 years ago. The near-extinction of humanity was, it is suggested, caused by a massive drought. That's a pretty dramatic story.

Makes me wonder. If we did suffer a massive kill-off of people (like, say, if the Cylons attacked) what would be the smallest population size necessary, assuming an equal number of men and women, to create a viable gene pool? I've not the time right now to look around for the answer to that question but it's obviously one of great importance for the 39,000 or so surviving colonists searching for a home called Earth.

Being Good With Yoga

I took a look in the mirror Monday morning and didn't like what I saw. Since then I've been trying to make lower-fat and healthier choices for meals. Particularly when eating out in a restaraunt, it's difficult to avoid the fatty foods that I love so well. Last night, one of my dinner companions offered to share some of his dessert with me and damn, did it look good. But I exercised my will power and said no.

I also got out The Wife's yoga mat and pushed aside some of the furniture in the living room. Now, I don't know if yoga still suffers from the stereotypes of being a rather, shall we say, feminine kind of activity. It shouldn't. Every morning I've been doing ten to fifteen minutes of yoga. It's quite physically challenging, especially for a doughy guy like me who spends most of his day typing on one or another computer. The exercise leaves me sweating and tired.

Still, I need some guidance because I know very little about this sort of thing. I started out with a Yoga For Dummies book and gave that up, because it spent way too much time talking about the spirituality and ways to unleash your prana and connect with the greater energies flowing from the universe through your body. Thanks, but that's not what I'm looking for. I want to do some exercise, damnit, not commune with nature.

I also found some brief videos on YouTube with astonishingly skinny and lithe models -- attractive and yes, they demonstrated the various poses, but the three minutes of workout they described wasn't enough. And most of the internet resources described rather open-ended routines and there were plenty of invitations to "make your own routine that works for you." No. I need more guidance than that. I want someone to put together a routine for me. And I don't want any of the spiritualism, I want to know that I'm doing the right thing for my body. If there are spiritual benefits to the exercise, then presumably they will flow from the exercise.

So I figured, maybe Yoga for Regular Guys is the way to go. The book and the accompanying programs are produced and presumably written by a former pro wrestler. So occasionally it's a bit lowbrow and profane (it just goes right ahead and calls your ass your "ass" instead of your "bottom" or your "buttocks") but hey, along with that you get pictures of "yoga babes."

For me, the unusual best feature of this guidebook, written by a former pro wrestler, is that one of the yoga models is a guy who looks something like me -- a little bit heavy and dorky-looking. In a profound way, it's the most inspiring part of the book. It tells me that I don't have to be a cut twenty-five year old with a six-pack below my ribcage to do this. It's harder still for for me to relate to the rail-thin runway models that graced most of the yoga books and I looked at. No, I like the sorta-stocky guy who's doing it anyway, especially when I found out that he started out not just stocky but morbidly obese and lost over a hundred pounds doing this. That's somebody I can take inspiration from.

Also of great use in this program is that the author(s) have renamed a lot of the poses from the traditional indian names to things that are going to be more familiar to American men -- for instance, Urdhva Hastasana, a simple enough pose where you plant your feet directly below your shoulders, and raise your arms parallel to one another as far as you can. Problem is, I don't speak Hindi. I will never remember the phrase Urdhva Hastasana. But I know what the signal for "touchdown" is. Pretty much all American guys know that, and it's the same pose. That's the sort of touch that I would expect from a guy who made a living as a pro wrestler -- as an entertainer, he understands what his audience can relate to. And it really does make the routine easier to not be thinking about how in the hell do I pronounce that unfamiliar-looking word or trying to "feel" an unmeasurable, undefined "energy," and instead to focus on the isometric exercise that turns out to get a decent amount of sweat out after only a few minutes.

There is a bit of equipment that I need, a heart monitor. The overall exercise program tries to keep the heart rate at a weight loss rate, which actually is not all that high. I'll get the heart monitor next weekend after I master at least the basic routine; I still need to interrupt the routine to consult the book, and would like to be able to make it all the way through the twenty-minute workout without changing poses to turn the pages.

My biggest challenge has been realizing that all my life, I've been breathing wrong. I mentioned this to The Wife, and she was amazed that I breathe the way I do. When I breathe in, I constrict my diaphragm and inflate my rib cage. When I exhale, I relax my diapragm and my belly protrudes more because of it. Turns out that this is exactly opposite of the way you should breathe during yoga -- your belly should inflate as breath comes in, and you should suck in that big, beautiful belly when you exhale. (I also take faster, shallower breaths, the result of a lifetime of nasal congestion caused by active sinuses and allergies.) This is exactly opposite of my instinctual behavior, and between trying to remember the next series of poses and trying to consciously control my gut while I breathe, it's actually quite a challenge to do this right.

I like it, at least so far, so hopefully that means I stick with it. But I do miss the yummy, fatty foods.

Just Awful

This is about the most horrible story out of New York I've seen in a long time. It's very hard to opine on the verdict, not knowing all the facts of why the police began shooting at these men who were leaving their bachelor party. It's very easy to imagine reasons to sympathize with both the family of the victims (particularly including the bride) and also to sympathize with the police, who may very well have legitimately believed that the guys were producing weapons. It's just impossible to know without having sat through the trial. But the result is still heart-rending and it touches a very sensitive group of cultural nerves. Hopefully, the city remains calm.

Normally, I'd link to the New York Times, but I've found that links to the Gray Lady are running up against login authentication problems. So until the fools who run that website take down the barriers to their content (and thus to their advertisements) I'll try to post links to non-NYT sources of news, even when something of interest in the city comes up.

We're Going To Need A Bigger Grill

Close genetic match found between recovered Tyrannosaurus rex DNA and modern-day chickens. Read all about it. If Jurassic Park ever comes to life, look for fillet of Tyrannosaur thigh as the secret ingredient on Iron Chef one day.

Hat tip to Richard Dawkins, whose website is really, really good.


In spite of yesterday's praise for Prof. Martin, I think his analysis of this Latin-dropping opinion from the Ninth is wrong. Quick and dirty facts:

Lei Shi is a cook on a fishing ship. He is a citizen of the PRC, as is the captain of his vessel. The vessel is registered in the Seychelles, calls to port in Taiwan, and his first mate is from Taiwan. It is in international waters in the Pacific Ocean somewhere near the equator when Shi, apparently in an act of revenge for weeks of abuse at the hands of his captain and first mate, kills them. He then starts ordering the other members of the ship around, telling them to set a course for China, which they do. He stays in de facto command of the ship for three days until a few members of the crew overpower him and lock him up in a storage room. Then, they said for Hawaii where the U.S. authorities take possession of the vessel and of Shi. Shi is prosecuted in the U.S. as a pirate, and the Ninth Circuit says that yes, the U.S. courts have jurisdiction to do this.

Prof. Martin objects to this, on the theory that while the Constitution gives the government the power to prosecute pirates, it's improper to rely on a Congressional definition of the word "piracy" because an act of Congress is subordinate to the text of the Constitution and Shi has not made himself "stateless" within the meaning of the ancient tradition of piracy law.

Seems to me, though, that Shi is indeed a "pirate" within that tradition. He committed an act of violence, killing his captain and first mate. He seized command of a ship on the high seas, and started to give commands to his crew and backed up his demands with a threat of violence. His objective, after forcibly taking command of the ship, was to get the ship to go to a port other than its usual one rather than to seek booty, or even to sell the ship to a black-market breaker. But the fact that his objective as a criminal was not a traditional objective of piracy does not mean that he was not a pirate. If I take a gun into a bank and threaten a clerk's life with it so I can steal the bank manager's laptop computer, with absolutely no designs on any of the cash or contents of safe deposit boxes, I am nevertheless still a bank robber. Shi's objective was safe passage back to the PRC, not plunder, but he was still a pirate.

Now, Shi may not have been a very good pirate and it doesn't look like he had ever thought things all the way through. He didn't exploit his position to attempt to steal money or valuable cargo -- but another thing of value that pirates have historically taken has been the ships themselves. Shi did that. He's right that his connection to the United States is quite tenuous, but every maritime nation reserves to itself the jurisdiction to prosecute pirates. Shi is lucky that he wasn't captured by Taiwanese authorities. Or those from his home nation, for that matter; he'd be spare parts by now. But more to the point, our courts were right to prosecute him because he is a pirate and it's in our national interest as a maritime power that piracy on the high seas be punished.

Where Do The Whales Eat?

There’s good eats to be had in Vegas, and then there’s really good eats. Where do the whales eat?

Turns out, some of them eat here, at least, the Chinese ones do. My strong guess is that every major casino in Las Vegas has something like this, catering to different kinds of crowds. Chinese here. Japanese somewhere else. English-speaking somewhere else still. I’ve heard that there are private bungalows of palatial luxury at Caesar’s Palace, each staffed with its own butler, who is actually more like a mini-concierge assigned to your specific unit – and instructed to not eat garlic so as to preserve good breath. This level of service is apparently very impressive for some people and I guess the very wealthy expect it. A good restaurant, with good service and high-end food, maybe even a celebrity chef working the menu? I’m cool with that. But the formal private club is different kind of animal entirely, and it doesn’t seem like it would be so comfortable.

I remember eating at the now long-gone Charlie Trotter’s at the MGM Grand while on a rather luxurious junket from the wingnut factory where I used to work. This was somewhat different than the restaurant described in the linked article – Charlie Trotter’s at the MGM had most of its tables filled, and was located on the casino floor. But it was quite discreetly located and most of the staff at the casino claimed to not know who or what a “Charlie Trotter’s” was, maybe some sort of a cocktail from Alabama that our bartender might know how to make?

In fact, the restaurant had been intended to be a semiprivate club for high rollers, but that didn’t attract enough business so it was later opened to the public and today I think that a high-limit blackjack and baccarat pit can be found where Trotter’s Tower of Truffles used to be. Pity. (But hey. Charlie's back, baby! You can now dine at Restaurant Charlie in the Palazzo. For those times that the Venetian just isn't expensive enough to impress your friends.)

Anyway, this was about as high-end as I would really care to go in most imaginable circumstances. And yes, this is still quite high-end. But it’s not like the secret club. I just don’t see the value to it.

April 24, 2008

Drawn In

A relative sent me a video of a debate between an evolutionary biologist and a creationism advocate. Better yet, a young-earth creationist. I've sent him back a rather detailed critique of what I saw -- suffice to say here that it was more of a farce than a debate.

The biologist was quite simply a terrible speaker, and the creationist spent most of his time playing word games and avoiding the issue while tossing out cheap shots. I'd like to say that I did my best to approach the debate with an open mind, but the word games set me on edge right away. As far as I could tell, the creationist conceded every significant factual issue about evolution raised by his opponent, at least as a functional matter, but he found a way to fold his concessions into phrasings that made it look like his young-earth creationism made more sense. Fundamentally, he missed the central point -- the subject of the debate was whether there was scientific validity to evolution, not whether young-earth creationism is an 'equal' theory. But the bulk of his time was spent either making semantic maneuvers or positing young-earth explanations of phenomena like coal column or the Grand Canyon.

Here, I want to opine that I need to learn to not get drawn in to that sort of thing. I was up until quite late writing about the astonishing number of intellectual problems I found with the creationist's presentation, when I should have been getting some shut-eye. I learned a lot of stuff about how young-earth creationists think, which was worth my time, but I could, in theory, have extended the project out over several days instead.

I think it'll be more or less straight to bed after dinner tonight.

(Cartoon by XKCD.)

Now This is Law Blogging

...And the Best Summary of a Recent Appellate Case Posted on the Internets in Recent Memory award goes to USD law professor Shaun Martin, author of the California Appellate Report, for his succinct, understandable, and highly amusing summary of today's Ninth Circuit opinion in Humane Society v. Gutierrez (9th Cir. 08-35035). Prof. Martin, who snarked on me and my efforts during my own forays into appellate law, redeems himself today by capturing the essence of both the procedural and substantive wrinkles of the Ninth Circuit Motion Panel's treatment of the headline-grabbing Sea Lion Kill case.

April 23, 2008

My Take On The Primary

This is as nasty as the Democrats have gotten this year. Healing the rifts in the Democratic party will be difficult.

Clinton's win shows some continuing strength of her machinery, but she's out of dough and a net gain of eighteen delegates is not terribly impressive after six weeks of intense, nasty campaigning. Maybe this will help her raise some more cash, though. She'll also probably win Indiana, West Virginia, and Kentucky by similar margins as she did in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Remarkably, Clinton has now re-taken the lead in the number of popular votes cast in the various primaries, by about 82,000 votes. This is a significant achievement for her, and one that the media has not picked up on. However, not all of the delegates have been selected through primaries; Obama does well in a caucus setting.

But here's the math, as I see it. She's 131 delegates behind Obama. There are 408 delegates up for grabs in the remaining nine primaries and caucuses. To get ahead of Obama, she needs 270 of those 408 delegates -- two-thirds of them.

The biggest problem for her is that the largest prize left on the schedule is North Carolina, where Obama has a huge lead. RCP is reporting Obama ahead by 15.5% there. That would be a net win of seventeen delegates for Obama, which will all but neutralize Clinton's win in Pennsylvania. If that happens, then Clinton will need 75.1% of the non-North Carolina delegates to get ahead of Obama before the convention. And as I noted before, Obama does well in caucuses and there is at least one caucus left -- Puerto Rico, at the very end of the schedule -- which is reasonably rich in delegates.

So the necessary margins of victory for Clinton are simply not going to happen, in any state left on the schedule.

Using CNN's delegate counter toy, if we assume that Clinton will win eight of the nine remaining contests by the margin she won Pennsylvania, and that Obama wins North Carolina at the margin that the polls there suggest he will, Obama will go in to the convention with 1,914 delegates and Clinton with 1,799.

That would mean that in order to get the nomination, Clinton will need to get the support of more than two-thirds of the as-yet uncommitted superdelegates without Michigan and Florida, or

That is simply not going to happen, either. These super-majorities are clearly out of reach of either candidate outside of their home states.

Clinton's only realistic hope is to change the rules a bit by getting the Michigan and Florida delegations seated at the convention -- and even that may not be enough, because substantial numbers of those delegates will vote for BHO if they are permitted to do so. If we assume that 60% of the Florida and Michigan delegates go for HRC and the other 40% go for BHO, that's a net gain of 74 delegates for HRC. Even using my best-case scenario for Clinton above, she would still be behind by 41 pledged delegates.

If she can pull off seating Florida and Michigan, and they go for her by 20-point margins, then she would "only" need to get 57% of the superdelegates. That seems achievable, but unlikely.

So my prediction is that the convention will be brokered, but by a margin of less than 100 delegates. Obama will be so far ahead of Clinton that he should secure the nomination in Denver on the first ballot.

April 22, 2008

Is This How I Got Unreasonably Lucky?

I've often wondered how I got a woman as lovely as my wife to marry me. Some guy at the University of Tennessee has a reasonable-enough sounding explanation. Basically, women seek out partners who will be supporting of them while we superficial men look for hotties, which is a bromide so widely-distributed in gender-relations talk as to be a cliche.

What's interesting, though, is that the researchers at UT found that support for one's spouse increased as the woman in the partnership became more attractive, and decreased as the man becomes more attactive -- and that was true for both genders:

Overall, wives and husbands behaved more positively when the woman was better looking.

The finding "seems very reasonable," said Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics at MIT's Program in Media Arts and Sciences and Sloan School of Management. "Men are very sensitive to women's attractiveness. Women seem to be sensitive to men's height and salary," said Ariely, who was not involved in the recent study.

In couples with more attractive husbands, both partners were less supportive of one another. McNulty suggests wives mirror, in some ways, the level of support they get from husbands.

That last sentence is the one that really sticks out for me. It suggests that ultimately, the tone of the relationship is set by the man's perception of his mate's attractiveness. And that doesn't quite make sense -- especially if you buy into the idea that the woman is looking for support from her spouse. If she gets support, she gives it back? Yes, if she's a nice person, but if she is, she'll support her husband anyway. This is a concept that needs more fleshing out. At minimum, this looks like an incomplete picture.

No Matter What Happens In Pennsylvania

It's possible that HRC will win big tonight in Pennsylvania. It's possible that BHO will keep it competitive, within 5% or so. It's remotely possible that BHO can pull off an upset win, which would likely be close to a tie.

But even if Clinton gets a big win, that does little to help her. She will still need somewhere between two-thirds to three-quarters of the remaining superdelegates to secure the nomination. My guess is that all the hard-core Clinton supporters have already committed to her. The ones who haven't announced yet are likely going to vote for whoever is most to their own advantage -- either in getting re-elected themselves, or in pleasing some other constituency.

And it also seems likely that neither HRC or BHO will be able to put together enough delegates before the convention to lock things up. After South Dakota and Puerto Rico, look for one of them to announce that they've received enough superdelegate commitments to go over the top, but to not see any proof of it until the Democrats debate in Denver.

But you want my prediction? HRC wins Pennsylvania by 8%, with most of her support coming from the west and central regions of the state.

BHO Gets Stoopid

It's every bit as offensive as pandering to the "intelligent design" crowd. And now Barack Obama has done it too: like John McCain, he's suggested on the campaign trail that vaccinations for childhood diseases can cause autism -- a genetically-inherited trait.

I'm not saying, as the WaPo article I linked to suggests, that if you don't hold a terminal degree in a particular subject area you should just shut the hell up about it. I am suggesting, though, that when the overwhelming mass of scientific evidence comes down decisively on one side of a debate, and there is functionally no scientific evidence on the other side, you ought to leave the "lone wolf" theorizing to, well, the lone wolves. Instead, both candidates are pandering to people who are willfully ignorant of science.

...Make that all three candidates. Money quote from HRC: "I am committed to make investments to find the causes of autism, including possible environmental causes like vaccines." So that's all three candidates who have now gone out of their way to suck up to this not-very-powerful but somehow astonishingly vocal lobby of the deliberately self-misinformed.

I think this testimonial adequately explains why you should vaccinate your children and why neither Presidential candidate ought to be suggesting anything to the contrary:
The baby was 9 months old, his birth weight was 8 lbs 5 ounces. At six months he weighed just shy of 20 pounds. Today he weighed 15 pounds - he was a skeleton and he was dying.

Mom had brought him in after treatment by his naturopath had failed. Constant coughing had made it impossible for him to take in adequate nutrition and starvation, coupled with a raging bacterial pneumonia were conspiring to shortly end his very short life.

We worked feverishly. Intubation, IV boluses, major antibiotics, vasopressors. All futile.

At 9:03 pm, after 30 minutes of cardiopulmonary resuscitation we pronounced him dead.

This boy had pertussis. His mother choose not to vaccinate him. I won't enter that debate. Anyone who has ever watched a child die or become permanently disabled from a preventable illness supports vaccination.
Hat tip to Angry Professor for the testimonial.

Obama Waffles

Obamamania has been pretty silly for a while now.

But really, does it get any sillier than auctioning off the remains of the man's half-eaten breakfast? That's what someone in Pittsburgh is doing today. You too can put in a bid for about a third of a leftover Belgian waffle and a half of a decent-sized sausage link that Barack Obama himself had eaten. There, to the left, is the photograph from eBay, showing the remnants of Obama's breakfast this morning. As of the time I linked to the site, the top bid was $10,100.00 for the detritus of the Obama Waffle.

I mean, it's okay to like the guy and to think he's the best choice for President and to think maybe he's something a little different than what we've seen before. Personally, I've come to believe that he's really just another politician, albeit a preternaturally skilled and eloquent one. I think he's overpromised and won't be able to deliver; I think his platform is more than the country can afford. But if you're more enthusiastic about him than me, that's cool.

But buying his leftover waffle? People. Get a grip.

UPDATE: eBay has taken the auction down; the link above is no longer good. But that is the picture of The Waffle. Someone kept their wits about them. And the Fish Wrapper reports that no, Obama had pancakes in Pittsburgh, not a waffle. Has it literally come to this -- bickering about what a candidate eats for breakfast?

April 21, 2008

Turns Out There's An Ugly Side To Italian Separatism

I'll translate this campaign poster for you non-Italian speakers: "Guess who comes in last? For rights to housing, jobs, and health care. ... [In the] regional elections, vote for the Northern League."

Just take a look at that cartoon! Can you imagine a more gross collection of racial caricatures? We're not so prejudiced against Gypsies here in the States, but believe me, they sure are in Europe. I especially like the Osama-looking dude holding a scimitar.

Oh, how embarrassing. And I have relatives who like the Lega Nord; I'm sure that they voted for it! They say it's because they think politicians in Rome are all corrupt and because the south of Italy is an economic drag on the country as a whole. But I'm mindful that immigration is a powerful issue everywhere and it seems impossible to avoid the tinge of racism while addressing the issue.

Someone please tell me this is a joke. Someone tell me that this is a photoshop of a real Lega Nord campaign poster. Ah, but you probably can't. See, one prominent Lega Nord politician held a "pig day" to protest the building of a mosque in Bologna. Same guy dismissed France's team in the World Cup as a bunch of "negroes, Communists, and Moslems." (Italy won, as you'll recall.) "Italia Per Gli Italiani!" it may as well say. "Italia -- Non Sei Un Turista Ricca? Uscire!"

I can't even begin to imagine the shitstorm that would happen if a similar kind of campaign poster circulated in the States. Yikes.

Patriot's Day

In New England and in selected locations down the mid-Atlantic seaboard, the third Monday in April is celebrated as Patriot’s Day.

This is because on April 19, 1775, the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired in the Battle of Lexington near Boston. The battle concerned an attempt by the British to occupy an armory in Lexington, to deny the colonials access to the muskets and rifles stored there. As a secondary objective, they were also assigned to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were at the time rumored to be staying at an inn in Lexington.

The British advanced out of Boston and were first fired on at the North Bridge at Concord with a little bit less than 100 men. However, there was a leak. The likeliest source of the leak was Margaret Kemble Gage, the wife of the British theater commander, but it is yet uncertain that she was in fact the source of information. Regardless, a patriot, Dr. Joseph Warren, learned of the date and plans of the British troops, and informed another one of the Sons of Liberty, Paul Revere, of what he had learned on the night of April 18.

Revere and his colleague William Dawes went door to door along the entire route from Boston to Lexington all night long, so the colonial leaders knew that the redcoats would attempt to take the armory that day. Revere rode north, evading a Royal Navy ship and numerous foot and horse patrols, and went through Charlestown and what is today Medford, and Dawes rode a more southern route, through Brookline and Cambridge, and the two met at Munroe Tavern near Lexington. There, Revere, Dawes, Hancock, and Adams discussed what was happening, and additional riders were sent out in nearly every direction. A third rider, Dr. Samuel Prescott, was sent with Revere and Dawes to head further west to Concord.

Revere was captured and arrested; Dawes evaded capture but had to flee back to Boston. Hancock and Adams withdrew from the scene, being determined to be of too much importance to risk an open engagement with the enemy at this early stage of hostilities. Prescott carried the warning all the way to Concord by the dawn.

Meanwhile, something like a hundred redcoats had already crossed the mouth of the Charles River in a rowboat, and headed more or less straight west from Boston to Concord along the Lexington Road. They were less than two hours behind Revere and Dawes. The British were tipped off as to what happened by a loose-lipped, drunk patriot at an inn, who blabbed to Hugh Percy, a minor nobleman in the army, that the cannon at Concord was being evacuated even as they spoke. Percy immediately reported this to General Gage, who dispatched Percy with a thousand men to reinforce the initial mission.

Some seven hundred additional troops were sent with full gear, including a day’s worth of rations as they were to march to Concord and back, a journey of about seventeen miles each way. They were obliged to land in waist-deep water and had to begin their march, weighed down with this heavy equipment, in wet uniforms of bright red wool, as they heard gunfire from the surrounding countryside, telling them that they had lost the element of surprise. Inexplicably, it took the British commander nearly two hours to realize just how serious the situation was before he sent back to Boston for additional reinforcements to be sent.

The advance guard, now down to about 75 men because of sentries posted en route and messengers going back and forth to the column of soggy, easily-spotted regulars, met a similarly-sized force of minutemen gathered in formation on Lexington Common. The best information is that the patriots stood and watched the vanguard enter the common, and no one raised any weapons. (Bear in mind, there had not yet been open hostilities between the British and the colonists and these were all still countrymen of one another.) The commander of the patriots ordered his men to stand down and not fire, but was not heard, because he was dying of tuberculosis and his voice could not carry. Instead, the patriots stood in formation in the middle of the common as a British lieutenant ordered his men to move down the sides of the common to surround the assembled colonials.

Nothing happened for several very tense minutes. Then British commander rode in front of his men and ordered them to advance to the left, down one side of the common. Then he took out his sword and addressed the minutemen, who were tending to their wounded: “Disperse, you rebels! Damn you, throw down your arms and disperse!” The colonials looked at their red-coated oppressors, and the soldiers looked at the armed rebels in silence. Then…


Someone fired their weapon. Civil war had begun.

The first engagement of the Continentals went badly. In military terms, they had allowed themselves to be completely outmaneuvered, and were surrounded on at least two sides. Socially speaking, many of them still could not quite believe that it had come to this -- they thought that the British were firing powder only to make a point, until they saw their comrades slump to the ground and cry out in pain. They began to return some fire but were cut down in a bayonet charge before being routed out of the Common. The British officers struggled to regain control of their troops, and then continued the march to Concord.

Upon arriving at Concord, the local militia scattered into the hills. As soon as they had been given word that the British were coming to seize the armory, they had quickly dug holes and buried the cannons underground. While some British troops tried to find the cannon and attempted to disable them, others looked for the rebels in the hills. Some 400 troops crossed and later tried to regroup over the

So it was that the first wave of about a hundred redcoats met something like 400 minutemen gathered near the North Bridge at Concord. Hopelessly outnumbered, and outmaneuvered due in no small part to the confused orders of an inexperienced line commander, few redcoats even participated in exchanging a volley of fire with the colonials who were only fifty yards away but separated by the barrier of a river. The result was that many of the lower-ranking officers and sergeants were felled, some on the bridges, and the men who remained panicked and ran.

Routed, the regulars retreated back to Concord, where they formed up with the rest of the detachment from Boston. For the entire seventeen-mile hike back to the mouth of the Charles River, the British were harried and harassed by the Continentals. This second engagement proved the turning point in the protracted operation.

The regulars recombined forces with grenadiers, who had tried to spike the cannons, and the force retreated from Concord, having seized only a few dozen rifles and only temporarily disabled the buried cannons. However, the grenadiers had succeeded in destroying some stockpiles of bullets, ammunition, and fuse.

On their way back to Lexington, they were confronted with a roughly equal force of Continentals who had hastily gathered near the road and were in firing formation. The two bodies of troops faced one another tensely. These minutemen had no idea what had just happened at the North Bridge, and had no orders to fire on the British. The British regulars, for their part, were in no mood to fight, being out of grenade range and the riflemen having had the fight taken out of them at the North Bridge. They stared at each other for ten minutes, interrupted only by a mentally ill man from the village who wandered about between the forces trying to sell apple cider.

From Concord to Lexington, the troops were harassed eight times. Contrary to popular myth, the Continentals did not use guerrilla tactics like hiding behind trees or using snipers concealed by local rock walls. Instead, they engaged the British in open formations on open ground. The reinforcement force of about 1,000 reinforcements under Percy, marching to the tune of Yankee Doodle as a way of mocking the colonials, finally met up with the withdrawing vanguard force at Lexington Common. Unfortunately for him, Percy had ordered his men to march without extra ammunition, ordering the cart with the extra powder and shot to follow them for speed's sake. This caravan was captured by a squadron of 60+ former militiamen who had been deemed too old to join the Minutemen but spontaneously organized as sort of a rear guard after Revere's warning.

So now there was a combined force of just under two thousand British in Lexington, where they stopped to rest, eat their lunches, and form up again. But they knew that their ammunition was limited and that they faced a hostile twelve mile march back to the city and safety. The march -- retreat, really -- from Lexington back to Boston saw the Continentals use tactics more like what arose in legend later -- they would ride ahead of the column, stop and take a few shots when the column came into range, and then dart ahead again before the British could form up and volley. Meanwhile, other Minutemen took long-range shots from fields nearby, hoping to fell troops in the column. Occasionally, small formations of the militia would form up to skirmish, using ambush tactics and scattering after the initial volley. Frustrated, the British troops began ransacking the villages and houses they ran across, killing civilians and plundering houses (and, in one case, a church). The officers had lost substantial control over their men.

The closer the British column got to Boston, the thicker the Colonials became, until eventually Percy came back to find that General Gage had ordered the great bridge into Boston dismantled and the city was under siege by a force of over 20,000 colonials who had come from as far away as Connecticut. The rebels lost about 50 killed and a smaller number who went missing or were wounded. 73 British were killed, 26 went missing, and nearly 200 were wounded.

The casualty numbers are very small compared to later engagements in the war, but they favored the patriots. More important than the numbers, though, were two major victories had been won by the independence movement. First, the atrocities committed by the British became a significant propaganda coup for those favoring independence. This included Edmund Burke, who became prominent among the Whigs in Parliament in opposing the Tory policy of iron-fisted control over the rebellious colonials. Second, the Continental armies realized that although the British army was well-financed, well-trained, and well-equipped, they could stand toe to toe with them; they could line up in a formation and fight -- and win.

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.

Happy Patriot's Day.

April 20, 2008

The Fix Is In

A service call from Time Warner Cable came out to Soffit House Saturday. The guy was very nice and he took a lot of time to look around and figure out what the problem was. Eventually, he decided to swap out my CAT-5 cable connecting the modem to the router. The internet worked like a charm. I signed the service acknowledgement, The Wife gave him some fresh-baked cookies, and he went on his way. Then The Wife and I got ready to go out to our regularly-scheduled event.

When we returned home, the internet did not work at all. Not wireless, not wired. It was too late to call for service again (after my last experience, I just didn't have the patience for it) so we went to bed instead. So today, using some of the wisdom from the service tech, we bought a new router and swapped it out, too. So now we've got fresh CAT-5 cables from the modem to the router and a new, more powerful router. But after getting dinner for a guest ready and fixing that problem, I'm not in any kind of mood to write further other than to note that the computer seems to be working well, for now. This weekend, I'm going to buy some 1x2's and some plywood, and build a custom cabinet to house all of the cables on the off chance that the real problem here was a cat chewing on something she shouldn't.

April 18, 2008

Three Months Worth Of Review

I continue to be dumbfounded by Tennessee's system of regulating the law profession -- even as I now am no longer part of it. Today, more than three months after I sent in a renewed application to withdraw my Tennessee law license, I finally received word that the Supreme Court of Tennessee has (at my request) agreed that I may voluntarily resign that license.

Why should it take three months worth of review, from three different regulating bodies (the Board of Professional Responsibility, the Board of Law Examiners, and the Continuing Legal Education autory) and the highest Constitutional court of that state, to let a lawyer voluntarily surrender his law license? While Tennessee bar dues, by themselves, are much cheaper than California's, I'm beginning to see the wisdom of simply consolidating all of the functions of regulating attorneys into the state bar so that it can handle these sorts of things quickly.

Of course, if it had been the California Bar I was looking to step away from, I could have voluntarily placed my license in suspense, rather than giving it up altogether. And it would have taken my sending in a single form and confirming it with a phone call a few days later before it took effect.

In any event, I am no longer able to practice law in the state of Tennessee.

Value Billing

Over at her blog on The Atlantic, Megan McArdle muses about hourly billing at law firms. Her lens is that hourly billing is not female-friendly, with which I disagree. Hourly billing is not family-friendly, and men like to spend time with their families, just like women do. If we want to talk about gender differences, the real difference is that men, in practice, sacrifice their family time in favor of work to a higher degree than women. Why that should be the case is something I will leave to the talented Ms. McArdle and others to consider.

Because the real issue that interests me is what she calls “contract billing” and what I have learned as “task billing” or “value billing.” Lawyers hate billable hours. Most lawyers would leap at the chance to work on a basis that would compensate them for their time at about the rate they are being compensated now, but relieves them of the tedious duty of tracking their time spent doing tasks. I know I hate billing my time. It’s tedious and I often forget to do it while my mind is supposed to be occupied on the mental task at hand. I am hardly unique in my profession. Problem is, without the billing end, the job generates no money at all.

Clients will embrace a value billing model, too – they don’t understand what it is that a lawyer does with five hours of time, but they do understand that a certain amount of expertise and labor went in to drafting a motion. If the lawyer charges a regular hourly rate of $300 an hour, and the motion wound up taking five hours to draft, the motion costs $1,500. But clients rather pay $1,500 for the motion itself rather than 5 hours at $300 an hour for the lawyer to draft it – even though the bottom line is the same. Why?

Well, two reasons. First, there is risk. Before the lawyer writes the motion, it is not clear how long it will take to do the work. In an hourly billing system, the client bears the risk that the lawyer will encounter an unexpected snag in the legal research or have to spend more time than anticipated in tracking down a piece of obscure evidence that the motion needs. In a value billing system, the lawyer bears that risk. Second, there is control over predictable outputs. The client buys a motion for X dollars, the client gets the motion, the client feels like he is in control. If it’s hourly, the lawyer tells the client, “The motion took five hours to write, so you owe me $1,500 dollars.” In the first model, the client feels like he has more control over the output.

The trick to offering value billing to clients is for the lawyer to figure out, in advance, how long it will take to draft the motion. At that point, the pricing becomes a matter of figuring out what work is involved in a project, and letting the client know the cost. Sophisticated clients know they’ll have to pay good money for legal work and that the result is always uncertain. But sophisticated clients will also embrace the opportunity to participate in figuring out how the work can get done.

The incentive for attorneys then becomes to do the work in as efficient a fashion as is possible while still delivering high-quality product. And isn't that what being a good attorney, or indeed any good service provider, should be about -- doing your job better, faster, and cheaper?

♫ Stabbed In The Leg, And Gin's To Blame, The Phrase "Charley Horse" Is A Bad Name ♪

Out at dinner last night, I joined my friend in a Long Island Iced Tea.

Now, I've observed, not too long ago, that when I drink vodka, I get a charley horse the next morning in my right leg. As I learned from this experience, gin does it to me in the left. And much, much more intensely.

The pain came in an instant, while I was asleep, and it felt just like someone had stabbed me in the calf. I convulsed in agony and cried out loudly enough to wake up The Wife. She asked what was wrong, and it hurt so badly and I was so disoriented from just waking up that I could not direct my body to respond right away. When I finally croaked out, "Charley Horse!" she said, "Oh." To her credit, she didn't immediately roll over and go back to sleep; she did stroke my shoulder to indicate her sympathy. Then, she rolled over and went back to sleep. That's love in action, folks. Not that there was anything she could have done for me anyway.

Why do they call it a "Charley Horse" anyway? Wikipedia says it comes either from a bootlegger or a baseball player from the late 1800's. But "Charley Horse" is a cute, kinda down-home sounding name. It's a horse, named Charley. Aw, look at ol' Charley! He's trying to kick the football like them horses on the beer commercial.

What I felt in the middle of the night was neither folksy nor charming. It was sudden, sharp, instantly mind-focusing pain, the pain of a nicely-relaxed leg muscle suddenly contracting to the size of a walnut. My leg still hurts, twelve hours later. I'm walking on it without a limp anymore, but the pain lingers on.

Of course, we had lunch today with a professional friend who's having part of his lung removed next week, so I really don't have anything to complain about. "You don't have a problem," I like my doctor to tell me, "Let me tell you about my other patient. His urethra just contracted to the same diameter as a fiber optic cable. He's got a problem." That sort of thing is somehow comforting to me -- it lets me know that I've still got it pretty good, even while dealing with the minor aches and pains that are an inevitable part of life.

Pennsylvania's Primary Gets Bitterer

Hat tip to Instapundit, who correctly notes that this is probably better than the real ads Clinton is running in the Keystone State.

Galactically Awful Customer Service

Dear Time Warner Cable:

I discovered in the evening hours of Thursday, April 17, 2008 that my high-speed internet connection, for which I pay you a handsome monthly fee, was not working. It did not work on my computer; it did not work on my wife's computer. It had worked just fine earlier that morning.

The high-speed internet connection is the only service that I subscribe to or desire from Time Warner Cable.

Before calling, I unplugged the cable modem and unplugged the cable router. Both went through their reboot cycles and their indicator lights indicated that they were fully operative.

Also before calling, I verified that the wireless modem in the laptop computers in question were operative, repaired the wireless connections, rebooted the comptuers, ran diagnostics on the modem cards, verified that TCP/IP and DNS addresses and WINS configuerations were all properly set to automatically configure with the wireless network. I also unplugged the wireless router and ran the modem cable directly into my CAT-5 jack, and again was unable to obtain a strong enough internet connection to so much as read my e-mail. At this point, I determined that I had reached the boundaries of my obviously limited technical knowledge, and that I would need assistance from your service center.

My first call for technical support consisted of forty-five minutes of hold time, then about half an hour with a technical service representative who could not solve my problem, and then about fifteen minutes with an ‘escalated’ representative, from whom I was disconnected. In that time, both of these very courteous and friendly young men were able to independently determine that my modem and router worked fine and had strong, viable signals.

I was disconnected from this call, however, because the second representative advised me to again unplug the cable modem. I advised him that I was speaking on a cordless phone hooked up to a Vonage connection, and that this was likely to disconnect our phone call. I also suggested that the fact that I was able to speak with him at all over a Vonage connection was indicative that there was no problem getting the connection to the modem, and thus that the problem was somewhere else. However, the unplugging and restarting of the cable modem was on his script for technical support, and he apparently could not proceed until I had done this again. Thus, at his request, I terminated our telephone call.

My second call for technical support was placed immediately thereafter. After another forty-five minutes, the battery on my cordless phone ran out. At this time, it was eleven o’clock at night. I did not get to speak to any representative on that call, and got a few hours’ sleep while my phone recharged.

My third call for technical support – which is still in progress – began at six-thirty this morning. It is half an hour until noon as I write. In the five hours I have been on hold, I have taken my laptop computer to my office and determined that it works just fine on that wireless network. gone to my been able to complete all of my morning routines, gather my laptop computer, and take it to my office, which also has a wireless network. Here, I have determined that my computer is able to connect with the wireless network here. This rather definitively proves that the problem is not with my computer.

So my modem works, my router works, and my computer works. But somehow they’re not speaking to one another. More importantly, though, is the fact that I have been old hold waiting to talk to another Time Warner technical support representative nice six-thirty this morning. As I write, it is now eleven-thirty and I have been on hold for five continuous hours. I have given up and I will not be calling back.

I understand if more than one person is calling for support at a time. I do not expect that I will always immediately get to talk to someone when I call -- that level of expectation has been beat out of me long, long ago by major airlines and online retailers.

Please understand also that I want good customer service from Time Warner not because I believe it is a human right or because of some sort of abstract sense of entitlement. I want good customer service for the excellent reason that I am paying for it. In recent months, I have received astronomically better customer service at the Department of Motor Vehicles, the Post Office, and the Internal Revenue Service than Time Warner has given me in the past twenty-four hours. These governmental institutions have figured out how to get their jobs done with efficiency and courtesy to their customers; however, Time Warner, a for-profit business, should hang its head in shame based on what I have gone through today.

Time Warner Cable’s customer service system is demonstrably an abject failure. My satisfaction level with Time Warner Cable is presently somewhere between “enraged” and “horrified.”