Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Saturday, July 30, 2005

This One's for You, Curatasaurus

I know how much you love catblogging.

BTW, sorry for the lack of posts.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Armeggedon II: Revenge of the Stats

Ok, so there's this: "Based on available data, astronomers give Apophis - a 1,000-foot wide chunk of space debris - a 1-in-15,000 chance of a 2036 strike. Yet if the asteroid hits, they add, damage to infrastructure alone could exceed $400 billion."

No problem; just a math problem. 1/15,000 = .0000667. So $400,000,000 * .0000667 = $26,680. That's not much money. If we can stop Apophis--which from now on I will call THE KILLER ROCK FROM SPACE--from approaching Earth for that amount, then it's a good bet. If not, we "hope for" the 14,999 to 1 odds in 2036.

I'm not a rocket scientist, but I doubt we can "nudge" THE KILLER ROCK FROM SPACE for an elementary school teacher's annual salary. I mean, the refitting of the shuttle after the Columbia disaster cost something like one billion dollars (and didn't work, as it now appears). I don't think that the gang at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory will show up in the morning for coffee and doughnuts for $26,680.

Update: Noticed that the article merely reports the damage to infrastructure ($400 B). Not human life. So the cost of doing nothing is higher than $26,280. How much higher? Well, we'd need casualty figures and a dollar value, per life.

Still, I'm betting that the probability of some pretty bad things in 2036 are greater than .000067. (That's zero, btw, without some serious and questionable rounding. Not unlike the number of calories in a can of Diet Coke.)

Manny Ramirez Asks for a Trade

OK, as an old Tribe fan (since, oh, 1997 or so), I'm not surprised that Manny has lost his mind again and asked the Bosox for a trade. The story is that Manny doesn't like Boston anymore. I guess the pressures of "Red Sox Nation" watching his every move has finally gotten to Manny.

Now, I won't second-guess Manny on this. When Manny left C-Town, he said he wanted to go somewhere where he could win a World Series. I laughed and laughed. Everyone knew that Boston was cursed. But . . . they won a World Series. Now, Manny once left twenty-five large in the backseat of a cab. He's a strange guy. But did you see the trailer for Fever Pitch? (I'll assume none of my fine readers actually saw that Jimmy Fallon vehicle.) I can see getting tired of those, er, folks. I really can.

Any takers for Manny? If I had a team, I'd put together a deal. If there's one constant in the Universe, other than that speed of light thing, it's that Manny can hit the baseball.

BTW, contract issues: still $57 million on Manny's remaining three years. Almost sixty million for one of the most gifted hitters of all-time--and a certified headcase.

Gay Utah Vanity Licence Plate Flap

Yes, you read the title of the post correctly. I managed to get the words "gay," "Utah," "vanity," and "license" all in one post title. I should win a prize for that.

Check out this story about a Utah lesbian who applied for a license plate that reads "GAYSROK." Apparently, the state initially rejected the request, but then she won the case before some state commission (the vanity license plate board? WTF?), which held that the plate would not strike a reasonable person as indecent. Now the state can still appeal, and probably will. Because the state is bothered by this message, because . . . ? (And who is lucky enough to have jurisdiction to hear this appeal? The vanity license plate appeals board?)

Only in Utah?

BTW--does that say "Gays Rock" or Gays are OK"? Or both?

My favorite part of the Newsday article is the state official saying: "It kind of opens up the door for all types of people who want to make a license plate a public forum, for every initiative."

Easy solution: eliminate vanity plates. But don't make content-based decisions, people. C'mon. You guys must have a lawyer working for your agency.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Debacle in Philadelphia ("Miracle in Philadelphia," Alternate History Edition)

As many of you may know, I wrote my dissertation on the Founding period. Specifically, on the effect of the French "occupying forces" (some scholars still insist on calling them "our pro-American allies," even the multinational coalition) on the drafting of the federal constitution in 1787. My thesis was that the document that governed the Estats Unis from 1789 until 1807 would have been quite different had the suggestion of some of the extremist delegates to close the deliberations to the media been followed. As you remember: Federalism was the key issue. The power of the regions, versus the central government. But also control over the militias and the armed forces. The role of religion in a religiously diverse country. But because the delegates couldn't make any compromises in secret, the delegates were not able to deal with the deep rifts between the republican Virginians and the Anglophile New Englanders--disagreements that blossomed into the "Little Napoleonic War" of the first decade of the eighteenth century.

Perhaps the intervention of the French military attache was the worst problem. Just as delegates were making progress, his edict to produce a document on his timetable caused the factions to worry that their compromises wouldn't hold water--thus undermining the delegates' ability to bargain even further. Of course, it's hard to blame the French. By that time, the War with Britain had been over for years, and the French treasury was being drained, not to mention the manpower strain on the mighty French Army.

The point is, it's hard to draft a constitution. It's harder yet when you don't really have the autonomy to do so. It's even harder when you have to do it in public.

Rhode Island NE Advance Auto Parts

So if you read the last post--and frankly, if you're reading this, I'm assuming you read the last one--you know that I got this b*llsh*t fix-it warning courtesy of the Maryland state trooper last night, for the tag light, of all things. For those not keeping score at home, that's the small light that shines on your license plate ("tag"), so police cars behind you can see your license plate number. (I've been thinking about it, and the tag light is the first step to a surveillance society. It serves little purpose other than police convenience.)

One of the inconveniences of moving to a new place is that you don't know where anything is. Where is the nearest auto parts store? Well, the yellow pages suggested that it was on Rhode Island Avenue, but with those damned diagonal streets, it's always hard to know where the cross streets are. So I called. The young woman answering the phone couldn't answer my question, which was, "What's the cross street?" She had to put me on hold and ask someone else. Now, I'm thinking, "She works there, and she doesn't know the cross street." This is not a good sign.

The cross street was 4th Street. Great. If you know D.C., that's like, half an address. "Northwest or Northeast?" "Northeast."

OK, I'm in business. So I drive over--this is maybe a mile from the new place. Maybe a mile. But I drove anyway because it's like 200º degrees today. It's in the 'hood, but that section of Rhode Island (near Capitol Street) is gentrifying, kind of. But this is the 'hood auto parts store. The guy two places in line in front of me was buying, like, eight quarts of oil and a fan that plugs into your cigarette lighter. The guy in front of me, two "club" theft-prevention devices. No one asked me if I needed any help, and I had some difficulty identifying the actual miniscule light bulbs I needed. But I did, and then I checked out.

One interesting question with many auto parts stores is how much actual installation of auto parts purchased therein they will tolerate in the parking lot. I've seen places where it's clearly posted, "No Installation on Premises." Not at the 'hood auto parts store. Installation in the parking lot is the norm. Indeed, one guy was producing quite a bit of exhaust doing something to his car I couldn't quite figure out.

So I just plugged in the lights in the parking light. And it was hot on that blacktop, trust me.


Well, no posts yesterday, which turned out to be an interesting day. Some point this week, I was supposed to go to Annapolis to sign the book all admittees to the Maryland bar sign. So the better half and I chose to go yesterday and make an Annapolis day of it--tour the state house, see the sights, and so on. Well, as you probably know, it was as hot as blazes yesterday here, and in Annapolis. So, after lunch and a really long, hot walk around the harbor--a walk that was very beautiful but would have been much better if it had been, say, twenty degrees cooler--we decided to bag the walking tour and do some driving. Well, one thing led to another, and we ended up driving down to Ocean City, Maryland, hoping the ocean breezes would cool things off a bit. Had never been to Ocean City, and it is surprisingly built-up, even for a tourist destination. How long is that boardwalk? How many miles of hotels are there?

After a nice walk on the beach--there was little breeze, but it was significantly cooler, if the haziest day I've ever seen--we decided to drive up the coast and check out Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, which we found to be much nicer. We had dinner there, at Jake's, and then started the drive home through the wilds of Delaware and the Eastern Shore.

On the way home, we got pulled over by a Maryland state trooper--almost certainly on a pretext--burned-out tag light--because of our out-of-state plate. The trooper approached our Subaru Forester like he was at a checkpoint in Baghdad, hand on the butt of his gun, in a crouch. I'm sure that's how they're trained, but c'mon. A station wagon? How many cops are shot each year by people driving a station wagon? He actually issued us a written warning to get our tag light fixed. What a joke.

So we got home late to find . . . the power was out. The stariwell down to our apartment was as black as pitch.

Anyway, a long day. No posts.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Doesn't This One Just Break Your Friggin' Heart?

"Hide under the covers! The world is too scary!"

BTW, photo taken with the cell phone. Not too bad . . .

More Hill Cumorah Photos

Long story.

Not Trying Hard Enough

The comments to the previous post must be the most feeble of the year. I'm not married to the idea of readers posting comments, but I can think of 1996 reasons why someone could answer the question asked. I mean, I wasn't born in 1955, but some number greater than 1969 people were . . . .

Supreme Court Nominee Question

OK, freebloggers. It's your turn. Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts, Jr., and yours truly have something in common. Now I want you to tell me what that is, in the comments.

And the answer is not that we're both living white males. That's too easy.

Let me give you a hint: If you read the Washington Post overview of Roberts's life this weekend, and you're intimately familiar with the details of my life--or, well, significant dates in my life--then you can get this one right. (But, as KR might say, "I've already said too much.")

I think you can get this right. I do. I really do.

Enough hints. I actually have a point to make, here, but I wanted to see if I could generate some comments first. Because comments show the requisite level of commitment to the blogger-bloggee relationship . . . .

OK, enough obvious hints. Comment!

Sunday, July 24, 2005

Hitchhiker's Guide to Earth

There's an interesting article in the August 2005 issue of Outside on an Israeli "guidebook" similar to the guide made famous by Douglas Adams in the classic novel and, um, "trilogy." It seems that after young Israelis finish their stint in the IDF--Israel still has a draft, for obvious reasons--many veterans are burned out and decide to "drop out" and to explore the world, especially, it seems, South America. (South America is dirt cheap.) In doing so, they've produced, over the years, a number of such "books" full of hand-written notes, tips, warnings, etc., available at different hostels around the continent.

It's an interesting article, but the author never mentions The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which strikes me as a somewhat obvious parallel. Isn't that weird? The obvious answer: The author didn't know about the Adams book. But didn't anyone mention it to him? During all the work on the story?

He probably doesn't know to bring a towel, either.

Thoughts on Harry Potter

I haven't read the book yet, nor am I planning to. In fact, I haven't read any of the Harry Potter books, even though I started the first one. It just didn't hold my interest. Not that it wasn't well written, clever, and all that. I just found it tedious and, well, boring. I've enjoyed the two movies I've seen, but not loved them. What I'm trying to say is, I'm not a Harry Potter fan.

My sense is that the Harry Potter books are to great imaginative fiction what mass-produced sugary confections are to really tasty, homemade cakes--a bit more, and a whole lot less. If you take my meaning. I've talked to a number of people with relatively similar tastes to my own, people who usually have a good memory for the books they read. And the same pattern, again and again. They can't remember key details of the books; they can't remember which things happen in which book; they can't recall very much at all. The books, in other words, don't stick with them the way other things have. It's not that they aren't fun while they last; but when it's over, it's just over.

Now, I know a few people who really know these books the way some people know others, like Lord of the Rings or A Wrinkle in Time. But these people are really exceptions; moreover, they tend, in my experience, to have children to whom they've read the books aloud (and probably explained parts to).

This isn't a dig at the Harry Potter series. It's a publishing phenomenon. But in my view, not really a literary phenomenon. In other words, Harry Potter is almost perfect for this time, when we have the means to reproduce almost anything we want to, in almost any medium, but when we have little purpose in doing so.

Film Review: March of the Penguins (dir. L. Jacquet, 2005)

Saw this movie last night at the E Street Cinema downtown, which is walking distance from the new place. If you have a chance to see it on a big screen, do so. The shots of frozen Antarctica are really amazing.

For those of you unfamiliar with the movie, it's originally a French documentary, narrated in English by Morgan Freeman, on the unusual breeding patterns of emperor penguins. Emperor penguins breed all at once in an isolated section of the French part of Antarctica; it's about 70 miles from the ocean, which makes it safe from many forms of predators but a very long walk on a penguin's stubby little legs. Once the male and female mate, the female produces an egg, which cannot sit on the ice for more than a few seconds or it will freeze. (This is during the winter in Antarctica.) The female passes the egg to the male; if successful (i.e., if the egg doesn't get frozen), the male will hold the egg, on top of its claws, for weeks while the female returns to the ocean to feed. The males huddle for warmth against winter storms in Antarctica, holding their eggs on their feet, waiting for their mates to return, bellies full, to take the newly hatched chicks into their charge. Then the males walk back to the ocean to feed, and so on, until after about nine months, the chicks are big enough to fend for themselves and thus both parents return to the ocean.

An amazing demonstration of the cruel beauty of nature. These birds have it tough. It's hard to walk all that way; it's hard to transfer the egg (a few are shown cracking from the cold); it's hard to keep the chicks alive; the leopard seals are waiting for the parents (and chicks) when they return to the ocean. But the cycles of life continue, even in what the narration calls "the harshest place on earth."

I wasn't sure about some of the anthropomorphizing going on in the film. For example, the narration stresses that this is an act of "love." Maybe, but I don't know how we know what penguins feel. Now it's hard, watching the film, not to infer almost-human emotions to these penguins. But they are penguins, after all. Maybe a little anthropomorphizing, for filmmaking purposes, is OK. It makes for a better story, in any case.

I'm hoping that either the National Geographic channel will show or the DVD will include a "making of" documentary. There were some scenes in the closing credits of the filmmakers at work, but I would be interested in how one makes such a documentary in such a place.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Law Trek: The Measure of a Man, ST:TNG (Season 2)

OK, as some freebloggers know, I am "between jobs" right now. Which means that I have watched more daytime tv in the past week than in the past, oh, ten years. And Spike TV shows three hours of ST:TNG every day. So yesterday I was watching "The Measure of a Man", the famous episode with the trial to decide whether Data is Starfleet property (and thus can be dismantled by a Starfleet robotics expert).

The judge initially rules that Data is property, triggering Picard's appeal. Now, my question is a rather arcane one. How, exactly, did Starfleet acquire property rights in Data? My understanding of the storyline is that Data was discovered on some planet by Starfleet. Does that mean that Data was acquired through first possession? If so, how did the Starfleet crew who found Data resolve that he was not already in someone's possession? The obvious candidate is Dr. Soong, Data's creator. In other words, if Soong created Data from materials he owned (and we have no reason to doubt that), then Soong "owned" Data, if Data is a chattel. So how does Starfleet's claim to own Data trump Soong's (or Soong's heirs, if Soong is dead). Besides, the first possession theory assumes Data is an inanimate object, like a rock. That seems like a bad model.

So far, we've established that if Data is property, then he's Soong's property on a theory of Soong's creation/invention of Data. Starfleet cannot trump Soong's ownership rights without some other argument.

Starfleet's best argument at this point is that Soong abandoned Data. But we'd need some more info before we establish that Soong abandoned Data.

Starfleet may also have a statutory argument here. Maybe the United Federation of Planets has established rules for the acquisition of unclaimed property on uninhabited planets within Federation space. But here, the issue would be whether Data is Starfleet property or Federation property. Establishing that Data is Federation property would not help Starfleet's case, necessarily, unless the relationship between the Federation and Starfleet is closer than, say, the relationship between the United States and the U.S. Navy. So it's a bit quick to claim Data on this basis (and we've never seen these rules, and they're not mentioned in the episode).

Starfleet may make an argument on adverse possession. Starfleet has been using Data for years, without a hostile claim, so Data is Starfleet's property. The problem here is that you generally cannot acquire a chattel through adverse possession (such a rule would reward and, indeed, encourage theft.)

OK, I think that I've established that Starfleet's case for ownership of Data, even if Data is a chattel, is extremely soft. Starfleet can't resolve the issue of Soong's claim (indeed, the court erred in not appointing a representative for the Soong estate); it can't argue that it, rather than the Federation, owns Data; and the mere fact that Starfleet has "possessed" Data can't resolve these problems in Starfleet's favor.

But the weakest part of Starfleet's case is . . . Data is a commissioned Starfleet officer. How did he get to be a commissioned Starfleet officer? He was admitted to Starfleet Academy and graduated, etc. (We know from a previous episode that Data's Starfleet service record states that Data is "alive.") In other words, Starfleet should be estopped from changing its position on Data's nature. I'm assuming that Starfleet does not admit chattels to the academy; once it does, and Data relies on that position, I don't see how, in any system of law based on the common law--and let's be clear, Starfleet law appears to be common law-based--Starfleet could get away with changing that position to harm Data's interests.

What I want to point out is that Captain Picard's defense of Data is completely wrong-headed. He wants to argue that Data is sentient. But I don't see why that matters, one bit, from a legal point of view. Starfleet can't dismantle Data because Starfleet can't possibly establish that Data is its property. It doesn't matter that Data is a non-sentient machine. Starfleet can't just dismantle machines, willynilly, can it? Or, more properly, sentience should have been the last point in a multi-part argument. Here's the roadmap:

Data is not property, because he's sentient; even if Data is not sentient, he's not property; and even if he is property, he is not Starfleet's property. I'll start with the final point, because it requires this Court to decide the fewest controversial questions.

OK, OK, I know that the fun of the episode is the artificial intelligence, "what is Data?" theme that pollutes so many ST:TNG episodes. (I know reader CL thinks Data is the best TNG character, based on this line of episodes.) But if Picard had been a lawyer, the episode would have been . . . less interesting?

Friday, July 22, 2005

Happy Hour Thoughts

OK folks, it's Friday, five post-meridian. That means happy hour, unless you're toiling away in some sweat shop.

First, let me clear up something from a few weeks ago. This is how you spell "Caucasus," as in the mountains and the region in which Supra! is composed. I think I managed to get that one wrong twice, which just goes to show that if you don't know how to spell a word, you're doomed to repeat it. Or something like that.

Second, most unfortunate wording of the week, from a story in this week's Washington Blade about a minister's anti-gay remarks in a sermon. The minister apparently said: "Can't make no connection with a screw and another screw . . . . It takes a screw and a nut."

Lordy. Where to go with this one? I know he's using "screw" as a stand-in for penis, but, oh, my, "screw" means something else, generally. Many would say that you can make a connection with "a screw and a screw." Probably two connections. And what's this about "a nut"? Is that an appropriate term for the . . . female equipment? Not where I come from, Rev. There are a whole lot of terms for that--take it easy in the comments, people--but "nut" is not one of them. Indeed, if you're going to use "screw" for penis, then you need a screw and a nut (at least one), even if you want to screw another screw . . . er, you know what I mean.

Well, that's not all I have, but I got to go. Happy Friday, freebloggers!

Anyone Heard of This?

So, looking for something to do with some cash? A friend last night mentioned the ING Direct Orange Savings Account to me, which, according to the website, is currently paying 3.15% A.P.Y., better than you could get with a C.D. Any FFB readers know more about this thing? There are no fees, no liquidity issues (beyond an initial 10-day hold and a per deposit five-day hold), and you simply transfer money out of up to three checking accounts into the account and back when you need it; no minimum balance required.

Sounds too good to be true, but the on-line reviews are positive. Anyone out there using this? If not, shouldn't you be?

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Film Review: Brigham Young-Frontiersman (dir. H. Hathaway, 1940 [Special Edition DVD 2003])

First, let me say that I can see why members of the church have generally looked disfavorably on this film, despite (1) the fact that it presents Mormons in a much more flattering, even all-American, light, compared to how it treats non-Mormons (bigoted persecutors of the church, without cause in the film) and (2) its heroic take on the life of Brigham Young (played by Dean Jagger). The first problem is that Brigham Young is not portrayed as a prophet, which members of the church will not agree with. (Indeed, Brigham is shown in one scene lying about having had a revelation.) The second problem is that heroic take is historically inaccurate in so many ways that anyone with a faint familiarity with church history will have trouble watching it. Just a few examples: (1) Joseph Smith (here played, quite ably, by Vincent Price) was never actually tried and convicted of treason (against the state of Illinois!), as in the film. That the Prophet Joseph had a revolver in his cell at the Carthage jail is also omitted from this version. (2) The departure from Nauvoo was not spontaneous, as in the film, but relatively well-planned. The first groups to leave Nauvoo did not depart across the frozen Mississippi (although later groups did), driven by an angry, torch-carrying mob. (3) Brigham knew about the Great Salt Lake valley prior to departure; so when he said, famously, "This is the place," he wasn't making some desperate assertion to keep his flock from running off to the California gold rush--which, btw, happened at least a year after the events depicted in the film. (4) Brigham's main rival to leadership of the church after the death of the Prophet was Sidney Rigdon, not some character named "Angus Duncan." And Brigham was on a mission in the East when the prophet was killed, so I guess he didn't make that stirring speech at the Prophet's treason trial--which, btw, never happened. More importantly, this Brigham Young is not the able administrator of history, the planner of the trek west. Indeed, this trek west appears to be unplanned in every particular.

OK, but what "historical" Hollywood picture from 1940 doesn't play fast-and-loose with the facts?

The interesting angle here is what I like to call the Mormon New Deal. As some of you may know from your studies in early Mormon history, the church was at one time a communistic or at least socialistic venture not unlike other communistic religious communities of the early nineteenth century (e.g., the Shakers, the Oneida Community). Joseph Smith called this "the United Order," in which each member of the church signed all his property over to the church, which then managed and distributed things from the bishop's storehouse. (Some of the fundamentalist sects still practice this.)

This film, made in 1940, mind you, emphasizes the socialistic elements of Mormonism. Here's some dialogue, from the first meeting of Brigham Young and the Prophet (remember, whose lines were delivered by Vincent Price):

B.Y.: This plan . . . you call the United Order. What's that?

J.S.: It's not my plan. It's the Lord's. . . . . the law of nature . . . like that anthill over there, with everybody doing his share of the work and [receiving] his share of the profits. A place where eerybody will have eerything he can eat and use. there'll be great storehouses to keep food and things for the sick, the widows, the old folks and the poor. You see, under a brotherhood plan like that, it'll be impossible for any one man to pile up a lot of goods, or have power over his neighbors. That'll mean there'll be no social distinctions, no caste, no special privileges . . . .

B.Y.: That sounds all right . . . .

Imagine making a film about the early history of the church today--and emphasizing the United Order! Even church films today give the United Order wide berth, given the church's current politics. (Remember, Utah is the most Republican state in the Union by several measures.)

The main plot follows a young Mormon, played by Tyrone Power, through the travails of the church. It starts with persecution in Nauvoo and ends with the miracle of the seagulls, which is largely presented as a miracle. "Ma Joad" Jane Darwell plays Tyrone Powers's mother--in a film made the same year as The Grapes of Wrath. There's a romantic subplot, speeches about religious freedom, and some excellent set pieces. In terms of the last: The flight from Nauoo, across the frozen Mississippi, with the city burning in the background--none of that actually happened, but as with all great film-making, when you see it, you think, "That's how it should have looked."

The only figure from actual church history who plays any role at all, other than Jospech and Brigham, is Porter Rockwell, a rather controversial figure in historical terms (did he attempt to assassinate Illinois governor Ford or not?), but here portrayed (by John Carradine!) as a gun-toting frontier guide. I guess the other historical figures, including future church presidents like John Taylor, really didn't add to the plot? Hiram gets one line.

Not a film for everybody. But an entertaining piece of pre-war film-making, especially for my readers interested in Mormon history.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Strangest Part of the Move

The strangest part of the move is the behavior of our 15-year-old cat. Now, old cats don't handle change very well, as a rule. And our cat is old; the chart at the vet's office indicates an equialence of 76 human years for 15 cat years. But the cat seems to love the new apartment, and she has since we first moved in, really. I think her favorite part is the wall-to-wall carpet. The old place had hardwood floors, which don't feel that great to a 15-year-old cat's haunches. But carpet--everywhere! That's purr-fect.

We were both very worried about the cat. I think we both worried--but never said to one another--that the move could kill the cat. But like I always say, you always worry about the wrong thing.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

"Mother Church" of the Episcopal Church in Ohio

Christ Church in Ashtabula County (Windsor, Ohio). Neat picture, no commentary.

"He is as conservative as you can get," one friend puts it.

Not a reference to F.O.E. Maynard, but to Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts, Jr. Link.

I'll be watching the speech . . . .

Film Review: 2 Days in the Valley (dir. J. Herzfeld, 1996)

This movie has been on my list for a long, long time--basically from when it was first released as a Pulp Fiction knock-off. At least, that's how the movie was marketed and reviewed. But the plot, which is far more convoluted than an actual Tarantino movie's, more closely resembles that of an Elmore Leonard novel. The big problem here is that the movie is too crowded, too jam-packed with oddball characters and actions, to really hold one's interest. Indeed, the plot is much too complicated for me to describe.

Overall, I wasn't crazy about the movie as a whole. It seemed really dated to me--like a Pulp Fiction knock-off would seem ten years later . . . .

Never-Ending Move

Every day I think I'm almost done unpacking and organizing, and every day I run out of energy before finishing the project. I'm closer today than before, of course, but it's almost one and . . . not there yet.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Fun Weekend in Cleveland

The Judge Moore 10th Anniversary Clerk Reunion in Cleveland this last weekend was a real blast. Saw a number of other former clerks I already knew and also met a number of really smart, interesting people, including spouses of former clerks. Everyone was in a great mood, and a good time was had by all (or so I believe). The current crop of clerks did a great job with gifts and planning, as did the judge and her admin assistant, Marilyn.

The photographic highlight is the group picture--34 clerks, I think, plus the judge and Marilyn. That's 34 out of 40-ish total clerks in attendance. In five years, at the 15th, it will be impossible to get a group picture within the confines of the chambers.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Fort Totten Dump Story

So on Friday, it was time to take some of our extra stuff, no longer needed or useful, plus a bunch of packing materials, to the D.C. dump, which is located near Fort Totten in northeast. The "Fort Totten dump" is not that easy to find, though. For one thing, it's in that section of northeast where there aren't any right angles--all the streets intersect at strange angles. Plus, the dump is located on Bates Rd., but some sections of Bates Rd. are actually gated, blocking routes that seem simple on the map. So I drove out that way--to North Capitol and Hawaii Avenue, and then I was lost. I drove around awhile, but I wasn't getting any closer to the dump. Finally, I pulled into the parking area of a cement company and waved down a truck driver. He looked at me and said, "You're looking for the dump." I said yes. Then he gave me directions: "Go out to the street, turn left. Go to the bottom of the hill and turn left. Drive to the 7-11--don't go into the 7-11--and turn left. Veer right, don't go over the bridge, but under the bridge. Then take a left, and the dump is down that way."

OK. Let's see. That's one, two, three . . . four left turns. Doesn't that get me back to where I started?

So I followed these directions. At one point, I had lost track of my left turns, but then, suddenly, I saw the bridge. I slammed on the brakes, to avoid going over the bridge--which I was warned against--went under the bridge and turned left. Drove past the CUA football field--the odor must be very strong on an early fall day with the wind blowing the right direction--and found the dump. But the women "manning" the gate turned me away, saying "Citizens can't dump until 1 pm." It was 11 am. But there's no use arguing with the woman working the gate at the dump.

There's more, but I'm tired. So later, I'll finish.

Clerkship Reunion Events

Back in Cleveland for a weekend of clerkship reunion activities. Last night was a reception at another former Judge Moore clerk's Bay Village home--right on Lake Road. Today, going to the Indians game, and tonight, dinner at the courthouse. So light posting for the rest of the weekend, probably.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Family Values (Dukes of Hazzard Edition)

So I was watching the Today show for a few minutes this morning, and Matt Lauer interviewed Ben Jones--yes, the actor who played the trusty mechanic "Cooter" from the 1970's "Dukes of Hazzard" tv show. Jones was very critical of the new "film" based on the tv show because the new movie is not consistent with the family values portrayed on the tv show.

'R ya scratchin' yer noggin yet?

Now, hard-hitting interviewer that he is, Lauer pushed Cooter on such points as Daisy Duke's cut-off shorts and how that pushed the limits of its times. And Cooter replied that the new movie--he has just read the script, mind you--was (paraphrase, but close) "a non-stop hoochie coochie show." Now, a number of things spring immediately . . . to mind. First, what would the script to a non-stop hoochie coochie show look like? Would there be dialogue? Or just, er, stage directions?

Second, has the term "hoochie coochie show" ever been used on morning television before? And what percentage of the television audience understood what Jones had just said?

Third, from the television commercials for the new movie, it looks like one non-stop car chase, with the General Lee (sans Confederate battle flag) making several jumps. Now that's faithful to the original show. My question here: will the Duke boys still shoot arrows with sticks of dynamite strapped to them? Or is that too "al-Cracker"? (Remember--the Duke boys were ex-cons, so they couldn't carry guns. But apparently, they could possess high explosives.)

BTW--did you ever wonder about the geography of Hazzard County. I think it was in Georgia. It was near Atlanta, sort-of, and country-western bands used to travel through there and get caught in Roscoe's speedtrap. But the interesting question is why was the predominant geographical feature the dry river bed? How many dry river beds can there be in Georgia, which is not a dry state? And what about the Hazzard County highway commission? Couldn't they fix any of those old bridges--the ones that were always out when the General Lee was just about to go flying--and when the show was about to cut for a commercial, with the Waylon Jennings voice-over?

Thursday, July 14, 2005

I'm Not a Muslim, But . . .

If I were, I think I would get a little tired of non-Muslims lecturing me about how moderate Muslims must save the "real Islam" from being "hikacked" by extremists.

Isn't this the worst form of condescension? Of cultural imperialism? Think of it this way. Do Catholics like it when non-Catholics lecture them on how the Church should open the priesthood to women? Why not? Well, it's not really non-Catholics' business, now is it?

There may be a war within Islam (I really don't know--like I said, I'm not a Muslim, and I don't know much about Islam). And the outcome of that war may very well impact our national interests (indeed, if there is such a war, it probably does). But is it our place to tell Muslims how that internal debate should be resolved? What's our basis for doing so? We certainly cannot speak to what "true Islam" is.

So, let's just stop doing that.

Here's a Name I Hadn't Heard Before to Fill the O'Connor Seat

Roy Moore. Yep, the "Ten Commandments Judge." Just to be clear, I don't mean that in any derogatory sense. I believe that's what he calls himself.

The key section (although the whole piece is worthy):

In the Conservative Caucus's worldview, the Supreme Court has "usurped" the will of the people, says Keyes, to advance the "whims" of the justices, leading to an assault on the "sanctity of human life, traditional marriage and the public acknowledgment of God." The justices particularly have misread the First Amendment and used it to discriminate against religion, the group's members believe.

"In this time of constitutional crisis, the president can act courageously . . . and propose Roy Moore," [former presidential candidate and Illinois senatorial candidate] Keyes proclaims.

Alan Keyes supporting your nomination. Now that really cements your crazy-fringe bona fides.

BTW, if Bush actually nominates Moore, I believe his physician can relieve him of command based on his incapacity . . . er, wait, that's the captain of a ship when he's acting all batsh*t crazy. (I saw that on ST:TNG.)

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Moving Stinks

Like most Americans, I have too much stuff. Thus, moving from even a modest suburban home, with a basement and garage, and moderate closet space, to an urban apartment has proven more difficult than I thought it would be--and I thought it would be difficult. I don't know where some of this stuff is going to go.

The problem, by the way, is not fewer rooms, per se. Although we lost a bathroom (two down to one) and an "office" (a really small office), we still have two bedrooms, and I think we have a little more square footage, all else equal. But only a small closet in the second bedroom--no walk-in--and no basement. Those things make a big difference.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Light Posting Alert

Well, we're moving first thing in the morning--for good. The movers are arriving with our stuff about lunchtime. I won't have steady Internet access for awhile. So FFB will be rather dormant for about the next week. But when I return, more of what the eight readers of this blog are used to.

Mimes in the Caucauses

I'm not the only one seeing unusual performances lately.

Back from the Hill Cumorah Pageant

Returned from the L.D.S.-sponsored Hill Cumorah Pageant outside of Palmyra, New York, earlier this afternoon. As few non-L.D.S. know, the Hill Cumorah Pageant is an exceedingly festive re-enactment of significant scenes from the Book of Mormon, with a cast of over 700, elaborate costumes, and an audience of about 9,000 (last night). The pageant is held outside of Palmyra, at this particular hill, for two, closely related reasons. First, the Hill Cumorah is where Joseph Smith supposedly discovered the golden plates (in the 1820's) on which the Book of Mormon was written, in "Reformed Egyptian," by Mormon, sometime around 400 A.D. Smith the Prophet was led to the plates by the Angel Moroni, who was one of the captains of the Nephite Army wiped out at the climactic battle held at Hill Cumorah, in the 400 A.D.'s. (Moroni was also the son of Mormon.) Did I say climactic battle? Nephite Army? This would take so long to explain. (The pageant takes about 75 minutes.)

The Book of Mormon describes the ancient history of the American continent--at least, if you're a member of a Restoration church, you believe it does. Everyone else thinks it was just made up. About 600 years before the birth of Christ, a prophet in Jerusalem named Lehi was warned by God to leave the city, to build a boat, and to sail to the Promised Land--America. (In Mormon belief, the New World is the Promised Land, not "Palestine," as they refer to it in the pageant.) Lehi has two good sons, Nephi and Sam, and two evil sons, Laman and Lemuel. Eventually, Nephi becomes the leader of the good people in the New World (Nephites), and Laman becomes leader of the bad people (Lamanites). And so on. Christ visits the New World, after the resurrection, and thus establishes his church in the New World as well as in the old. But the Nephites eventually fall away from righteousness and are destroyed (there's a warning for you). But God made sure that the record of these events was preserved for a new prophet, to re-establish his Church--Joseph Smith.

BTW, Mormon doctrine teaches, I believe, that the Hill Cumorah is a gigantic burial mound for the Nephite Army.

Before the performance, the participants in the pageant walk through the crowd, in costume. Many of the costumes are very elaborate. I'll try to post some pictures.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

"That's for Me to Know

And You to Find Out." The Chief's statement to reporters when asked about his retirement.

Let's give the Chief a break, folks (I'm looking at you, Bob Novak). When he announces, he announces. Until then, just shut up.

Do You Believe?

Some of you may have already read about the New Republic's survey of conservative pundits' views on evolution (subscription required, but my email link still worked, even though I did not re-up). But I wanted to make a few points on the responses.

First, Bill Kristol's response is shocking:

William Kristol, The Weekly Standard

Whether he personally believes in evolution: "I don't discuss personal opinions. ... I'm familiar with what's obviously true about it as well as what's problematic. ... I'm not a scientist. ... It's like me asking you whether you believe in the Big Bang."

How evolution should be taught in public schools: "I managed to have my children go through the Fairfax, Virginia schools without ever looking at one of their science textbooks."

"I don't discuss personal opinions"? Huh? Aren't you a pundit, a talking head? Isn't discussing your opinions your job? If you're not discussing your opinions when you appear on "Fox News Sunday," then whose opinions are you discussing? Karl Rove's?

"I'm familiar with what's obviously true"--OK, what is that? Wouldn't a good follow-up have been: Do you believe in the Big Bang? Are you familiar with "what's obviously true" about it? With what's "problematic"?

And he never looked at his kid's textbooks? Well, let's not listen to this guy re: parenting.

But David Brooks's response may be worse:

David Brooks, The New York Times (via email)

Whether he personally believes in evolution: "I believe in the theory of evolution."

What he thinks of intelligent design: "I've never really studied the issue or learned much about ID, so I'm afraid I couldn't add anything intelligent to the discussion."

Isn't "I've never really studied the issue or learned much" the worst dodge ever? I mean, what is there to know? I've attended a couple of public sessions about the subject, but I can't say that I needed to go to those events to have known enough to answer the question asked.

The shame here is that Brooks, Kristol, and other conservative pundits in the survey shill for Christian conservative opponents of the teaching of evolution in science classes, shill in effect for the intelligent design movement, but don't care enough to know the facts, and most of them don't even agree with their rank-and-file "partisans" when it comes to the origins of life. But instead of saying what they really think--on a major issue of the day--these guys continue to shill for the Christian conservatives . . . even if they won't discuss their own opinions.

That might be, er, politically inconvenient.

Friday, July 08, 2005

No Announcement, I Take It?

So the Rehnquist announcement did not materialize while I was away (running--a beautiful 11-miler from Boston Store to Hale Farm and back). No surprise there. I mean, even if the Chief had been planning an announcement . . . would you announce the day after a terrorist attack in London? Wouldn't that kill your media attention? (Of course, I don't think that there was anything to the rumor, anyway. But even if there were, the events of yesterday probably would have changed the Chief's mind.)

There's nothing cynical in thinking that the Chief would think that he is entitled to at least as much media attention as the career of Justice O'Connor received. I mean, he's been on the Court a long, long time, and he has been Chief almost 20 years. That deserves some recognition, doesn't it? (It was "the Rehnquist Court," after all--at least in name.)

I'll Believe It If It Happens

OK, there's this rumor that Rehnquist will announce his retirement this morning. We'll see--or, really, some of you will see, because I plan to be running at that time. (Long story why I'm doing a long run on a weekday. But I'm "between jobs" rights now, anyway.)

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Busy Day

So the movers packed our stuff and loaded the truck today. So I'm sitting in an empty living room, watching a 13" tv (Saving Private Ryan on TNT). The echoes are strange--and here, I mean the actual echoes off the bare walls. Not echoes from the movie.

BTW, I should post on the London bombings. As a soon-to-be D.C. commuter, I am very concerned about the security of the Metro system. But watching Hardball tonight, Chris Matthews was interviewing someone, and Matthews suggested that people be frisked before getting on the Metro. Let me just say, if this ever happens to me, I will hunt Matthews down like a dog and use his blonde scalp as a doormat. Seriously.

Would terrorists really hit the Green line? Please no.

Finally, as a long-time liberal, let me dispel any notion that my "kind" are soft on actual terrorists. I say round-up these guys and put 'em away for life--or execute them, if you can arrest them in a country where that's allowed (like the U.S. of A.). Let me add here, I'm not opposed to the death penalty for terrorists. Not one bit.

Finally (really this time): I heard Matthews ask someone how you can prosecute criminals before the crime is committed. I want to be a guest on that show, to clear this up: It's called conspiracy, and it's used all the time in the real-world of criminal law enforcement. I know that it's not cool to say this, but the folks in the Justice Department can handle complex situations, and actually do so, all the time.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Move Is Imminent

Packing tomorrow; the stuff (all of it) is loaded on the truck Friday. (Saturday and Sunday in Palmyra.) Closing Monday; D.C., Monday night. See y'all there.

Film Review Needed: Angels in America (2003)

I owe the site a review of Angels in America, HBO's six-hour miniseries based on Tony Kushner's two-part play. We watched this over the holiday weekend (as readers will see, we've been watching quite a few movies lately). The play(s) is (are) truly a masterpiece. The blending of all-American and religious themes with the AIDS crisis is remarkably effective and moving. The HBO miniseries is also superb. Al Pacino as Roy Cohn gives one of his best performances ever--seriously. Meryl Streep is also quite good in a couple of roles. Jeffrey Wright, reprising the role for which he won a Tony, is awesome. (What else has he been in?)

However, the plot is so complex, I'm not sure I can give a very comprehensive review after just one viewing. Let me just say, a masterpiece. (But not for everyone. After all, it's a play about AIDS and gay men. And it's about six hours long.) Plus, great performances.

Film Review: The Returned Missionary [The R.M.] (dir. K. Hale, 2003)

Regular readers of this blog will know about my inexplicable interest in all things Mormon. Including Mormon (or L.D.S., if you prefer) film. This interest led us to rent The R.M., one of the leading exemplars of the "L.D.S. humor" genre.

A common criticism of L.D.S. humor is that such films are start-to-finish in-jokes only members of the church would get. After seeing this film, I have to agree. If you don't know a lot about Mormonism, this film would not be that funny. Oh, sure, there are the cheap slapstick gags. But if you want to see a protagonist brought low by the malice of inanimate objects, then you would just rent a Ben Stiller flick. Indeed, The R.M. owes a lot to the "protagonist humiliation" genre mastered by Stiller. The plot follows Jared, a young L.D.S. missionary returning to Utah after his two year mission (in Wyoming). As in Sixteen Candles, no one remembers Jared's big day. No one meets him at the airport--although Jared meets someone at the airport, the lovely Kelly. Kelly flirts with Jared--which would be, outside of a movie plot, ridiculous, because she's way out of his league--but he is cool, because his girlfriend Molly is supposed to be waiting for him, just like his job, his admission to BYU, and so on. As you might guess, Molly is engaged to someone else, the job has disappeared (his former boss is played by Wally Joyner, one of may L.D.S. cameos), and he gets rejected by BYU. Plus, his family has moved, and they have given his room over to a Tongan exchange student (another Sixteen Candles parallel). (BTW, with the Tongan exchange student ("Humu"), there are some questionable jokes re: Pacific Islanders, although none quite like that in Pulp Fiction. ) Many humiliations greet Jared along the way--including a stint waiting tables at "Mormon Burger."

Jared eventually "hits bottom," thanks to some help from his "best friend forever," a non-observant Mormon (called a "Jack Mormon" in the L.D.S. argot). But then he finds his footing and everything works out--of course. This is a comedy people. It can't have an unhappy ending.

The inside jokes concern Jared's travails as leader of his meeting house's elders ward (kind of a Sunday school teacher for less-than-enthusiastic adult men), home teaching, Mormon food storage, his ten sibling's Scriptural names, a spoof on Mormon engagement rings, the entrereneurial spirit of "" and his parents' Mormon Amway-style business venture, and so on. I'm sure that there are a bunch of inside jokes that I didin't get, as an outsider.

My interest in this film, however, was sociological, and in that vein, the film does not disappoint. But not for most non-L.D.S., I assure you. Trust me.

Rated PG, "for some thematic elements." What the hell does that mean? It must have been the drinking/drunk driving?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Positive developments

First, Supra! is back up and blogging, after Celine's travels to . . . Latvia. Hhhhm. Latvia. Really? Latvia sounds like the Rochester of Europe, based on Celine's posts.

Second, the move is on. The movers come on Thursday to pack all our worldly belongings, and on Friday to load the truck. Then the closing is Monday, July 11, and the buyer gets possession that day. So we will be in the District Monday night, more or less for good. (I hope our stuff arrives on July 12, but it may not.)

That's all I have.

Thank You, Coco Crisp

We went to Jacobs Field yesterday to see the Tigers visit the Tribe in the night game of a day-night doubleheader--to celebrate my 36th birthday. It was not much of a game in the sense that the Tribe shut out the Tigers, 6-0. But I did get to see something that I've never seen in person (or, at least, that I don't remember ever seeing in person, which is about the same thing): In the bottom of the eighth, with two outs, Coco Crisp hit the bill sharply to right center, off the fence, and rocketed around the bases for an inside-the-park home run. Like I said, can't remember ever seeing one of those before. That was cool.

Since it was my birthday, the Tribe also provided a postgame fireworks display. Oh, yeah, it was also dollar dog day, so our hotdogs were only a buck each. And I found a free parking space on the street. So it was a great outing to the Jake.

BTW, someone wanted me to teach her how to keep score. I was a little skeptical, at first, but it turned out to be a great idea. Keeping score is a great way to follow the game--of course, that's why people do it. The most complicated play to score: In the top of the seventh, no outs, Omar Infante on third, Wilson on first; Nook Logan hits a ground ball to the first baseman, who comes home with the throw, snaring Infante in a rundown. The catcher (Martinez) runs Infante back toward third, throws to third baseman Hernandez (who drops the ball, but quickly picks it up and) throws back to Martinez for the tag out. If you're scoring at home: 3-2-5-2, and give Logan a fielder's choice.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Film Review: War of the Worlds (dir. S. Spielberg 2005)

Quick first reaction: Spielberg manages to take a story everyone sort of knows, in a genre (alien invasion!) I honestly thought was worn-out, and makes a movie that is strikingly fresh. The reason the movie is so interesting, however, has little to do with the basic plotlines and more to do with how Spielberg tells the story. For one thing, there are no peripheral plots or subplots; there is nothing in this film, with a very few exceptions (I'll come to this in just a second), that is not told from the Tom Cruise character's point-of-view. Indeed, once a character leaves Tom Cruise's orbit, he or she disappears altogether from the film--unless (and until) he or she re-enters that orbit. As some reviewers have pointed out, this is really a horror movie, not a sci-fi movie. Unlike Independence Day (or a standard 1970's disaster movie), it does not follow multiple plots and subplots, or tell us what the leaders of the country are doing. It's the story of one man's efforts to keep himself and his children alive. Think Halloween--Cruise is even babysitting! And success is measured in survival--just like a horror movie--not in conquering the aliens (never identified as Martians here), which human beings are incapable of, anyway.

One exception to the Cruise-orbit rule here is (spolier alert) the scene in which Tom Cruise's character kills Tim Robbins's character, which is told from the point of view of his daughter (Dakota Fanning). In terms of plot/character development, this scene shows just how far the Cruise character is willing to go to protect his children (or child, here). But again, the tight focus on Fanning makes this a horrifying scene. We don't know what's going on behind those closed doors; if Cruise loses the fight, we fear the worst for wide-eyed Dakota. When he emerges (the camera angle drags out the suspense--but really, is Cruise going to get killed? why does this trick work?), he seems shaken. Really. But we never find out what he had to do behind those doors . . . .

There are a few panoramic shots, few shots from above. The camera follows Cruise. That's different, especially in a special effects driven movie. Other reviews have also pointed out that there's not a lot of music. Just lots of action, and lots of scary moments. The colors are also muted--as in Saving private Ryan, and I think some of the scenes were edited to look like they were shot with television news equipment as opposed to cinema-quality cameras--to add to the "realism" of the movie (because things look more realistic if they look like they do on tv).

There aren't any major themes here, as far as I can see. One might argue that there's something in there about parenting, but it would be something really obvious: "Parents will go to extreme lengths to protect their children from alien invaders."

One other aspect of the movie I haven't seen discussed in other reviews. This a really dark movie. The humans can't cooperate. They are panicked, fleeing danger, self-centered, even crazy (Robbins's survivalist character). There are believable scenes of mob violence, and a scary scene in which the authorities order a ferry ramp raised, despite the fact that there's more room on the ferry and people on the ramp. Cruise has to kill the crazy survivalist to save himself and his daughter. Not a very optimistic movie, despite the strange choice of end-of-movie voice over.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Right-Wing Talkers Showing Us Something (?)

I'm with Atrios here--if these right-wing talkers are actually going to Iraq, and they're not going to practice "hotel journalism," then more power to them. (I also agree that Peter Beinert is a wiener. Let's put it this way: We didn't re-up our New Republic subscription, and wiener dog is part of the reason why.)

But while I'll give the talk radio guys some credit, this sounds like a desperate effort for positive coverage from the Pentagon. I know that the uniformed guys are just following orders, but really, has any of the brass openly criticized the Administration's conduct of this war? (Shinseki gets some credit here. But where is he now?) Now that would be showing us something.

Fat Asses in Khaki

There was a report on ABC news tonight that 2 in 10 males and 4 in 10 females of recruiting age are too heavy to meet the military's weight limits. Plus, the military boots out thousands a year for failing to stay within weight requirements.

This is one area where presidential leadership is needed, now. I know that President Bush (himself a fitness kind of guy) has spoken out on fitness, a little. But let's use that bully pulpit, Mr. President, before the cheese fries and meat-loving pizzas do what the terrorists will never be able to do. This is a bipartisan issue, believe me.

This is also one area where there could be some corporate responsibility. Think of the N.F.L. The N.F.L. likes to stress its community activism, but how about a new ad campaign stressing how sports is not just something that you watch--sports are also something that you do. And you means you, fat ass football fans.

BTW--the military standards aren't that hard. Don't tell the draft board, but I could meet the fitness test standards hungover, in 90º heat.

Reality Check for the Looming (?) Confirmation Fight (Revised Edition)

I've been watching talking heads talk about and reading about how we have to keep the Court from becoming politicized. Hasn't the barndoor been open a long, long time to start worrying about whether that particular horse might get out?

My question is: When has the Court not been "politicized"? Here's a challenge: Find a 10-year period in U.S. history without a controversial Supreme Court decision.

I'll start naming controversial decisions, going backwards:

2000: Bush v. Gore (5 years ago)

1992: Casey v. Planned Parenthood

198_: [I have to admit, the 1980s strike me as a halcyon time here. But I'm sure my illustrious readers will come up with something controversial. And I mean really controversial.]

1973: Roe v. Wade***

1966: Miranda v. Arizona

1962: Engel v. Vitale (I think 1962?)***

1954: Brown v. Board***

1948: Shelley v. Kraemer

New Deal era cases:
1938: NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel
1937: Carter v. Carter Coal (just to name two, names may be slighly off)

1925: Gitlow v. New York (not sure whether this is a great case here--but before my time, really)

1919: Schenck v. United States (again--not sure whether this is a great example)

1905: Lochner v. New York

***"Stratospheric" controversy

In the nineteenth century, one can point to Pollock (income tax case), Ex Parte Milligan, the Legal Tender cases, Dred Scott, and McCulloch v. Maryland, just for cases that leap immediately to mind. Oh, and a little showdown between the high court and the Jefferson administration the name of which I can never remember. Add into the mix that about one in five nominees to the Court have been rejected in one way or another. Let's not pretend that all those rejected nominees were rejected for reasons other than their views on particular issues, people. Let's not pretend, or let's stop pretending and face the facts.

The truth is that the Framers made the confirmation process a political process by placing the appointment power in separate, independent institutions with differing political bases and terms. Anyone who says different is just a damned fool, period.


Is the sky falling?

This post asks a similarly alarmist question to those I heard on talkshows earlier today: "How many battles of this sort can the legal system absorb before everyone simply takes for granted that the judge’s ideology is everything—that the law doesn’t matter? Or have we already passed that point?"

Um, the Nation survived the Great Depression, including the Court's hostility to New Deal legislation and FDR's unprecedented and audacious Court-packing plan. The Nation survived the conflagration surrounding civil rights, including widespread violence and calls for massive resistance to Supreme Court decisions from elected officials, including members of Congress.

Our system can "absorb" quite a bit of conflict and internal dissension. How much, I have no idea. But a lot. A lot more than the Chicken Little crowd seems to think that it can.

I would hope that people posting over at Balkinization would have a bit more historical context and, more importantly, the sense to reject the simplistic and misleading ideology vs. law dichotomy. The fact is that liberals and conservatives disagree about what the law is; the debate is one of over the law's meaning, not some simple ideological debate between black-and-white positions. (As a political scientist, I might try to separate law from ideology, for purposes of analytical rigor. But the most important thing in such research is to remember that your model is not reality, but a simplification of reality.) Our system is designed to handle conflicts like these. Things will work themselves out, even if liberals push their views and conservatives push theirs.

We are miles from the abyss, people.

Interesting Star Wars post

If you're a Star Wars geek like me, you might find this post interesting. I've been thinking about these two scenes, myself.

What I would is that in the original trilogy, Luke, Vader/Anakin, and the Emperor all have a scheme going. Vader wants to recruit Luke to overthrow the Emperor (because there can only be two Sith at any time). The Emperor wants to replace Vader with Luke. And Luke wants to turn Vader against the Emperor. So Luke is using Sithdom against the Sith?

Judge Batchelder Supreme Court Watch

Watching the Meet the Press roundtable on potential Supreme Court picks, and Judge Batchelder of the Sixth Circuit got mentioned, with a photo! This is the first time I've seen her mentioned along with other potential female picks. She's still a longshot--a real longshot, in my opinion. But she's in the running. This will be of especial interest to readers of this blog who have worked or will work for Judge Batchelder . . .

Judge Batchelder has a ton of experience--indeed, she's almost impossible to criticize in terms of qualifications. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe she's been a bankruptcy judge, a district judge, and a court of appeals judge (the last since 1990 0r 1991). Although her views can be somewhat idiosyncratic, I don't think her conservative bona fides are in doubt. I'd have to say I'm certain that her financial (etc.) background is pretty clean, given that her husband has been an elected official in Ohio for many years and I've never heard of anything fishy there. So what are those Bush people waiting for?

BTW, I heard a number of times on tv that it's the Right that has objections to an Alberto Gonzalez nomination. I'm sure you've heard the "Gonzalez is Spanish for Souter" jokes. (It is kind of funny, really.) But remember--the Left has objections to Gonzalez, too, based on his record in the war on terror.

Trivia question: When was the last time a president nominated a sitting Attorney General to the high court?

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Film Review: Point of Order (dir. E. de Antonio 1963 [1998])

Just finished watching this classic documentary of the McCarthy-Army hearings of 1954 (documentary release in 1963; VHS version released in 1998). I have to say that the historical references are rather difficult 40 years later; but the underlying televised political drama is still rather captivating. The best point about the film (made by the better half): political controversy often takes place over rather low-level issues, even when the stakes are much greater. So in these hearings, much of the controversy is over whether McCarthy and/or his counsel, Roy Cohn, used influence with the Army regarding another staffer who had been drafted (and was reputed to be Cohn's gay lover). But in the end, the hearings ended in the discrediting of McCarthy.

The black and white television footage is really gripping, despite the low quality sound and video. McCarthy comes across, as I guess he must, as a rather dishonest character. Cohn comes across even worse. The real hero is Joseph N. Welch, special counsel to the Army and a partner at Hale & Dorr. Welch proves, yet again, the value of having the best lawyer in the room on your side.

Not a film for everyone. If you don't know anything about the hearings, there isn't much help here. The captions are even few and far between. But with a little reading beforehand, a real glimpse of U.S. political history in the (early) television era.

If You're in Palmyra . . .

Next weekend the annual Hill Cumorah pageant kicks off in Palmyra, New York. This elaborately staged festivity recounts the chief events of the Book of Mormon, including the resurrected Christ's visit to the Israelis in the New World (really). Check out the pictures on the website (like the one below).

Animals Spotted While Running

We went running at Cuyahoga Valley National Park this morning (laid-back ten miler). As usual, we saw Canada geese, ducks, redwing blackbirds, and so on. We also saw a doe, and a new animal on the "spotted while running" list: a coyote. Seriously, we saw a coyote in Cuyahoga county. I talked to a few Park volunteers after the run, and they told me that the estimate is that there are 40 coyotes in the Park. Isn't that something?

Film Review: Saints and Soldiers (dir. R. Little 2003)

This film is sometimes called the most critically acclaimed L.D.S. film yet; it certainly carries a strong Mormon message, even if it doesn't proselytize too aggressively. The story follows four U.S. soldiers, one of whom is a L.D.S., even if the film never uses that term, "Mormon," or "Book of Mormon," caught behind enemy lines in WWII, in the Battle of the Bulge. The L.D.S. corporal is called "Deacon," but we never learn his real name--making him a kind of L.D.S. everyman. The group also includes Deacon's sergeant, from the 101st Airborne, and two troopers from another unit. There's the standard WWII movie cliche of soldiers from various places: Snowflake, Arizona (Deacon, natch); Chicago, Brooklyn, and a redneck from Louisiana. At first the group is merely trying to stay alive, having escaped a German massacre of P.O.W.'s. But then they find a downed British pilot with crucial intelligence, and the story becomes one of getting the intelligence back to the Allied lines.

Along the way, there is standard WWII movie action (German patrols to be evaded, a French farmhouse with a friendly family) and incredibly standard WWII movie dialogue. The L.D.S. elements come in through the relationship of Deacon with the cynical, atheistic medic from Brooklyn. At first, "Brooklyn" scorns the Deacon, but by the film's end, he takes up the Book of Mormon--well, he takes a book out of Deacon's pocket, so I'm assuming it's the B.O.M. In the most Mormon of the movie's plot devices, the group encounters a German soldier Deacon converted on his mission to Berlin. This plot element comes back at a key point, of course. We are also told that Deacon "doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, doesn't even like coffee." Yeah, Deacon's a Mormon, all right. He finds redemption from an earlier "sin," just in time, so to speak.

I won't spoil the end of the film, but suffice it to say that, as in many WWII movies, one of the central characters makes a Christ-like sacrifice to save his fellows. And it ain't the hick from Louisiana.

This film is basically Saving Private Ryan with Mormon themes. If you're not interested in L.D.S. cinema, probably not for you--assuming, of course, that you've seen that Spielberg movie. The one thing I will say very positively of this film--it was made on a small budget, but the production values are pretty good.

O'Connor Announcement

I may be the last blogger in civilization to post on this, but the truth is that I don't have anything original to say. The record of Justice O'Connor is like that of most public servants. She's done some good things, made some judicious decisions, but she's also made a number of decisions that I would question. Overall, she was probably the most powerful woman in the world for the last fifteen years or so. I used to joke to my students that Justice O'Connor was the one person keeping the U.S. from a civil war. I hope I was wrong . . .

The real fun starts, of course, when the president puts forward a nominee. And he hasn't done that yet.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Memory Hole (Shah Edition)

I've been watching tv coverage of the possibility that the Iranian president-elect was one of the captors/hostage-takers of the U.S. embassy workers back in 1979. Now, many things about this coverage strike me as odd. But the strangest thing is that no one has ever mentioned why the Iranian Islamic revolutionaries were so anti-American. I mean, the U.S. C.I.A. coup to cement the Shah's power, the Shah's brutal regime . . . not relevant to the story. Instead, the Iranian revolutionaries were anti-American extremists who hate freedom.

Not that there was freedom in the Shah's Iran.

The point is not to make excuses for the hostage-takers. The point is to think about other people's motivations in realistic terms. U.S. policy in much of the world has created blowback, like the hostage crisis. But Americans are encouraged to think that this country has never done anything bad to anybody, and thus that anti-American sentiment is irrational. In many cases, it is not so irrational at all.