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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


The sexist (including on the left) stuff arising from the Palin nomination is a worthy thing to guard against. As to the Blackmun bio, the fact he cared about the human side of judging -- as some critics emphasize -- doesn't erase the fact he also cited the law too. See this famous dissent; the book HAB references pretty good. Anyways, hiding something, including at times the messiness of judgments, does not mean it is absent. A strip ends.

Unreasoned Criticism Strikes Again!

And Also: Yes, the First Amendment is deemed just words in 2008 too, see Glenn Greenwald today. I have a guest editorial up on my wall entitled "My 47 hours in hell," reminding of the simply fascist tactics against protesters at the 2004 Republican Convention in NYC. I don't like the use of the overused word, but what does this sort of thing bring to mind if not that? You fear going near certain protests or you just might be arrested!

I respond to comments on a National Review discussion of Roe v. Wade here, again simply tired about all the uninformed discussion of the matter, shoddy vitriol [see, e.g., being called a liar by one respondent] being particularly tedious to wade through. Reasoned dispute is not enough; people have to in effect argue it is a slam dunk that the ruling is simply laughable. Consider Justice White's original dissent in Doe v. Bolton, in which he argues:
The Court apparently values the convenience of the pregnant mother more than the continued existence and development of the life or potential life that she carries.

Mere convenience is apparently a significant reason for women to choose abortion. White argues the majority had no basis in its reasoning, ignoring privacy precedents -- some of which he joined -- and lower court rulings on this specific subject deciding the same way. This includes U.S. v. Vuitch (which White joined in relevant part and cites here!) that defined "health" to cover "psychological as well as physical well-being." What abortion does not deal with that? Since the very first words of White's dissent labels the absence of such women at "the heart of the controversy," does he really have a leg to stand on? White's vitriol about giving women the constitutional right to "exterminate" human life (though calling "it") is telling.

As Douglas notes, if you support Griswold (as White did, on grounds if anything broader than the main opinion), why does the right disappear the day after conception? Such a trump of a being not one justice recognized as a constitutional person over the choice of the woman (and her partner, for that matter, since many agree on the decision, and this often this has a special affect on their family) surely does not reflect the history of the procedure over time. That is, if we define "health" and so forth as it should, recognizing women have compelling reasons for aborting.* Since White supports the constitutional rights of even the unmarried to use contraceptives, his anti-abortion bona fides rests on sand.

Justice Rehnquist's dissent in Roe is less nasty, but as thin in its own fashion. First, he suggests "Roe" is not a proper plaintiff, though as a class action, surely some woman or her doctor has standing. He next plays dumb on "privacy," either interpreting it too narrowly (seclusion) or broadly (basic liberty to do things). This simply is a slipshod and dishonest interpretation of precedent. Next, there is a sort of historical argument that uses outdated reasoning for restrictive abortion laws to justify their continual security. Finally, he argues that to the extent there is constitutional protected liberties of this sort they only have to pass rational basis review. Leave the compelling interest test to equal protection.

Again, this runs counter to precedent, not that you would know it from his opinion. See also, Tinsley Yarbrough's recent biography of Harry Blackmun (fairly good so far) that continues the author's dismissiveness on the right to privacy:
In subjecting abortion laws to such strict judicial scrutiny, the justice drew not on modern due process precedents, but on Warren equal protection cases declaring that laws having a discriminatory impact on "fundamental" rights were unconstitutional unless necessary to further a "compelling" governmental interest.

As Blackmun might have asked, "have you read Roe?" To wit:
Where certain "fundamental rights" are involved, the Court has held that regulation limiting these rights may be justified only by a "compelling state interest," Kramer v. Union Free School District, 395 U.S. 621, 627 (1969); Shapiro v. Thompson, 394 U.S. 618, 634 (1969), Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, 406 (1963), and that legislative enactments must be narrowly drawn to express only the legitimate state interests at stake. Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. at 485; Aptheker v. Secretary of State, 378 U.S. 500, 508 (1964); Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 307-308 (1940); see [p156] Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. at 460, 463-464 (WHITE, J., concurring in result).

Warren was not on the Court in 1940 or when Eisenstadt was handed down. Likewise, cases such as Cantwell and Sherbert were due process cases, in particular, involving free exercise of religion. And, to the degree some of these were equal protection in nature, see Kramer (voting), this underlines how due process and equality overlap -- when fundamental rights are at stake, special care must be taken. Ironically, though Eisenstadt was an equal protection case (in name at least), White's concurrence avoided that path, relying more firmly on the privacy ruling of Griswold. Again, unsure how "discriminatory impact" was an issue there, even if early Roe critic John Hart Ely -- Warren's law clerk at the time -- wanted that to be the focus.

This matter is of special interest to me, but it underlines how basic subjects continually are subject to misguided sentiments. Roe supporters -- many of whom play the favored "take pot shots at an obviously loser case" game too -- are not free of such things. I will end with a progressive example, arising from analysis from a guest panelist on Laura Flanders' Grit TV program. Reference was made to Obama and the history of slavery in this country. Were not they not declared 3/5 of a person? Was not the Second Amendment specifically in place to arm slave patrols? Well, not really. But, the 3/5 line does pop up a decent amount of times, including during oral argument in Bakke.

The Constitution counts slaves (rather, "other persons") as 3/5 of a person for the sake of apportionment of the House of Representatives and direct taxes. Some elide past the "other persons" and suggest this provision applies to blacks as a whole. No, and the fact it didn't was a problem for Justice Taney in Dred Scott, suggesting why he didn't deal with the matter in his opinion (see Don Fehrenbacher's seminal book on the case). Free blacks, and I'm unsure if black slavery was ever present in Hawaii, were counted in full. Illinois was a free state. Anyway, counting slaves as full persons would have been a perversity, given how this would have helped slave states on the back of people treated as non-citizens. And, local control of the militia was important for various reasons, domestic police not only needed to hold down slave revolts.

The comments were just tossed out there, and such things tend to be let go, since even the likes of Democracy Now! use their programs to ask, hear an answer, and move on to the next question. It troubles me, when it doesn't drive me nuts.


* Or, should have the power to choose if such and such case is compelling. This includes the young woman involved in Roe, who had trouble taking care of herself, and not having yet another child was more than mere convenience. The fact some women have the means and/or wherewithal to have a child in various situations (see Gov. Palin) does not change the fact. Gov. Palin has resources many other women do not, ditto her individual moral decision making. See, Douglas' opinion here.

One last thing that I have dealt with in the past -- some sneer at those who would allow women to abort when some birth defect is involved, suggesting this means they in effect think people with such conditions are worthless or not worthy of love etc. Much emotion is spent on this topic. It cannot simply be an abortion thing. Let's say if you know having sex on such and such day (or sex at all, some conditions perhaps leading to birth defects) will cause such a child to be born. If you do not, are you not comparably bad? Why not? The child will be special all the same etc.

Born children and adults are not the same thing as embryos. And, thinking another child -- for whatever reason -- is a bad decision, does not erase the care you supply to existing ones. Just ask parents of multiple children who had an abortion early or later in life. But, the reasoning offered by some suggest otherwise. In fact, the fact parents support the right to choose seems confusing to some. Others who are parents realize life is a bit more complicated than some wish to admit.

Slow Food Movement

And Also: MIA 40 million dollar man Carl Pavano is now 2-0. Who will offer him a big contract, now that his four years are up? The Mets were down to their last strike, none on, down 2-1, came back the long way (grand slam), and hung on by their finger tips 5-4 as Ayala truly did a Wagner imitation. Up by two again. It might be a long month.

Slate's daily round-up of news stories today references an article on the slow food movement, "which combines concern over food production processes with gourmet tastes." The Slow Food Movement is an intriguing effort with both cultural and environmental/health related aspects. Its own website summarizes things thusly:
Slow Food is a non-profit, eco-gastronomic member-supported organization that was founded in 1989 to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.

"Gourmet tastes" has something of an elite flavor, but at its heart, the movement wants to encourage the special place of food in culture. To mention just one aspect, the value of local farmer's markets (I myself partook recently, including enjoying some apple/rhubarb cider [actually tasty] and eggplant [add some water, microwave for a few minutes, and eggplant chunks are cooked quite nicely*]), and enjoying cooking/eating with friends and family. This includes eating out, I assume, but a bit more than the McDonalds path.

[Will Saletan criticized a move to block the building of more "fast food" (an open ended term) restaurants in certain areas and I too wondered just how workable the move really was. The definition would apply to some fairly acceptable fare. But, healthy eating, especially for certain groups, is very important. Thus, the availability of EBT at local farmer markets and so forth are important initiatives.]

Where food comes from is important, as local farmer markets suggest. The involvement of Michael Pollan (author of such things as Botany of Desire) raises issues of biodiversity. So, it is not just a matter of taking some care of what to eat, but to eat smartly and supporting public policies that further healty agriculture. Thus, a recent farm bill, not of much note in the media, was of some importance.

Pollan btw in his latest book discussed the overproduction of corn (including corn syrup), see also a goofy looking doc available in Blockbuster, King Corn. The author of Fast Food Nation also is involved, his follow-up also in part concerns food production (the underground economy: marijuana, migrant labor/strawberry production, and pornography). The follow-up was of some interest, but was of no match to the original. If possible, checking the original articles might be better.

As the Oxford Companion to Food summarizes:
The quality of the food and drink on our tables is seen as closely linked to the work of farmers and producers, to the environment, and to the preservation of biodiversity. Its mission, therefore, complements the many initiative by individuals and other groups to promote better food and the preservation of technologies and communities involved in its production.

Food is on of the pleasures of life, besides being one of its essentials, and properly respecting it is a useful path to take. Slowly or not.


* This underlines that there are some small things you can do without being a chef or having a home garden, though lots of people do a little of both, and will suggest it isn't too hard really. But, even good cooks will tell you that sometimes the microwave can be quite useful.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Veep 2: Sarah Palin

Update: Yes, I wondered what sort of qualifications as president Gov. Palin has, but it didn't quite bother me too strongly in a "you cynical bastard" (first comment) sort of way. Maybe, this is a bit telling, but over time, I and others will wonder about that, and strongly at times too. As to her being against the bridge, well she said it, but better to not trust what some say at face value.

I haven't really been keep too close track of the McCain veep sweepstakes, but his pick today surely did surprise. A woman with less experience (even in years) than Obama from a firmly red state, though recent scandals made congressional races much more competitive. Sure, there is some hope she might appeal to the conservative leaning Hillary vote, but Gov. Palin (no relation to Michael, I assume) is rather conservative. As in anti-abortion, pro-drilling, pro-intelligent design, and so forth.

So, no wonder some thinks the choice is dumb -- it robs the one knock they have on Obama with some juice (experience) and to what effect? It is a cliche, see Letterman jokes, but many do worry about McCain's age. This is his back-up? Likewise, though she has some good government (including McCain-esque fiscal conservative ones ... she was against the "bridge to nowhere") bona fides, there is also that ongoing scandal, even if some suggest the guy involved is an asshole.

[As to the experience thing, apparently, he determined there was not enough traction there, so took a page from the new and different playbook of his opponent. This makes sense, but still doesn't mean it hurts a core talking point.]

It might not really have enough bite, especially since she is likable enough (came off well in her acceptance appearance), and even those who are firmly opposed to her loyal to the base conservative bona fides argue she has been a "decent governor." Thus, one Nation commentator argues it was a pretty good choice, while others as a whole appreciate having a new face who actually is pretty good at her job been put forth as a positive. The fact the choice boils down not to "this is gosh awful" but "she's isn't good for this job, and her views don't work" (admittedly, some are gosh awful), is worthy of some thanks. If we are stuck with too conservative politicians, ones like her will do best.

One comment to the latter piece summarizes her positives pretty well:
[Gov. Palin] going to be a very humanizing and appealing figure to associate with McCain in some very deep or instinct-based ways. People in the broad public are going to respond very, very positively to a younger, attractive, family-friendly woman in a now-wifelike VP position next to McCain. All that anyone seems to be able to complain about with her is that she is a former small-town beauty queen from Alaska who made it to Mayor and then Governor. Oh, and she likes fishing and dancing at the inaugural ball, too. Palin just replaced Mrs. McCain in the broad public's mind as a possible First Lady and, like that or not, this is going to be a very big factor in the election. A highly successful and appealing super-mom resonates with the middle class in a big way and we are going to see that show up in stronger polling for McCain, who has otherwise had a real asshole image in need of softening.

On the whole, it is not as bad as some suggest, but the experience thing hurts (at the end of the day, it is why many like the guy, and this only emphasizes his age too), while some will also point to some of her more rather conservative positions to underline there are real policy differences here. So, a nod of respect, but on the whole, probably a good thing for Obama.

[I'd add we also have, if not her, who, question here too. Romney? Lots of negatives there. Tom Ridge? Maybe, but he just might be too 'liberal' for the party's base, and he needs all his party's support he can get. And, they have stronger loyalty oath moves over there. And, he needed someone younger etc. to freshen up the ticket. Another stolid white guy would be hard-pressed to do so. To the limited degree veeps matter, I'm not sure on balance another pick would have helped him much more.]

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Obama's Limited Message

Clinton might have lost in her attempt for the nomination, but Obama's acceptance speech suggests Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign was the pattern to follow -- "it's the economy, stupid." This is striking and somewhat depressing -- as I type, it is pretty far in, and the threat to the Constitution of the last eight years was not mentioned, and Iraq was mentioned but in passing ... connected to the economy. "America, We Are Better Than These Last Eight Years." Yes, but the economy isn't what that statement brings to mind.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Baseball and TV

Baseball: The NY Daily News back page centered on the Red Sox/Yanks match-up in part because it tends to be the Yanks paper, but also because the Yanks have more to lose. Aside from a big picture of the goat of yesterday's loss Alex R., it has a little strip on the latest collapse of the Mets bullpen. But, this isn't really fair. The pen pitched eight innings yesterday versus a tough team and only gave up three runs. This is not bad at all.

Now, admittedly the runs came at inopportune moments. As things turned out, using three pitchers to get through the seventh (Stokes again serving a good middle relief role for two innings) was not good. At least Heilman survived his three inning stretch, the last time such a "take one for the team" deal leading to him finally to give it up. And, the winning run wasn't a bases loaded walk to a pitch-hitting pitcher who makes Al Leiter [Mets fans will know] look like a hitting star -- it went to 3-2, after SS came in and immediately gave up a triple.

Last time Pedro pitched, the Mets barely hung on to a nine run lead, the bullpen doing most of the damage. This time it was largely Pedro's fault -- a four run fifth doing the trick. These days, it simply is too stressful to actually watch this sort of game. I kept track of the extras, after Gary Cohen pissed me off, online. Nifty play by play options for baseball and football that occur mostly in real time, give or take some part of a minute or so. Anyway, a split of the two games (knock on wood) would mean no change. But, the way they lost -- two outs in the ninth etc. -- is what gets you. Oh well.

Television: A bit more on True Blood. It is more than a vampire show -- the box speaks of a backwoods Louisiana town (Bon Temps, a temp agency in these parts) where vampires roam and can survive without you know biting people. Not that they do not still have the urge. Anyways, Anna Paquin (the bratty kid in that piano movie all grown up) plays a local waitress who can hear people's thoughts, who is attracted to the new vampire in town.

Good role and she runs with it, if the first episode is any judge, and it also shows off good local flavor, pretty good acting and some good sexy stuff too. I don't have HBO, but I'm sure the first season will be on DVD sometime next year. Meanwhile, in G land, iCarly had a bit of a slip-up in one episode. The girls wore bathing suits in one episode, Carly wearing a two piece (the actress was around thirteen at the time, and it was properly G rated).

Problem is that the producer of the web cast loves her (which is nicely lets pass most of the time), and surely that would have affected him somehow (cf: him looking at his young teacher in a sexy dress). No comment. I know the show does not want to look at Carly in that sort of way, but the characters appear to be in around eighth grade, and the fact they have crushes and so forth have been addressed. So, especially given it aims toward to knowing tween, that sort of thing is likely to be picked up.

I said "MNBC" yesterday; showing how often I watch MSNBC.

SNY: Home of the Mets?

Screw the play by play announcer of the Mets, who was soooo excited when they (get this! not the Mets bullpen!) blew a lead vs. the Phillies. Tied!!!! Add insult to injury, huh? Of course, the Mets finally lost in the 13th. Hey buddy? Give the fans a break, and tone it the f. down, k? BTW, caught a promo episode of True Blood (from Blockbuster), the upcoming HBO vampire series -- good intro episode. Don't have HBO, but sure the first season will be on DVD.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Politics, Abortion and "In Justice"

And Also: By chance, found out a pretty good deal -- $10 for a b&w printer ink refill. Those things are damn expensive (over $30), so that's worth it. Let's see how long it will last, though.

Politics: The rare or extinct animal, the liberal leaning Republican popped up at the Democratic Convention last night in the form of Jim Leach. BTW, Michelle looked good and all, but her speech did not like thrill me or anything. Her story is impressive, and watching Biden last Saturday sound enthusiastic and feisty was nice, but there are limits to words, you know. The bottom line is action, and she has walked the walk. That is what ultimately counts. Also, she seems to have an edge, which I like, that does is not really allowed to come out in such a context.

I felt like Glenn Greenwald watching the talking heads over at MNBC talking about McCain's repeated use of his POW experience in reply to questions like how many houses he (vs. "elite" Obama) has. Rachel Maddow stated the obvious -- that doesn't work after awhile. [If ever, imho.] Pat Buchanan, on the other hand, that tough guy from the streets, took the usual line -- hey, it works. Let's see how it sells. Substance does not matter, right? As Glenn notes today, apparently, they do not do that very well. Thankfully, there are some Rachels around to fill in the gap.

Abortion: I don't regularly read it, but the Broadsheet blog over at Salon often has some interesting tidbits and conversation starters. A recent entry references an abortion friendly blog ("What to Expect When You're Aborting") and my usual pet peeve that something millions have done in the last two decades is rarely publicly expressed, especially in popular fiction. As the link to the abortion tee shirt controversy notes, in this context, silence empowers the other side.

Book: I referenced it in a recent post, but David Iglesias' autobiographical take (co-written by David Seay, who also served that function for a book written by a friend of DI, though DI didn't make the connection), In Justice, is a good read. As he noted, the guy is a three-fer: evangelistic, Hispanic and veteran (Navy), but was totally screwed over for basically doing his job too well. An in depth look at the issue is best taken elsewhere, but the personal (an important hook these days) and a quick primer on what is at stake value of the book is clear.*

To emphasize the point, David Iglesias' life story (and the fact early on he was a loyal Bushie / fan of Gonzo) might be helpful for some who do not know what is the big deal. It's Bush's Justice Department, right? So, they have carte blanche and all, right? No, they do not, especially given the fact that independence is particularly important when dealing with prosecutors. And, even if you argue partisan firings are acceptable, these were done in such an incompetent fashion with the top guy delegating things to young political officials. Finally, simply put, some of the firings smelled of obstruction of justice. You can't do that.

To go back to the first topic, the fact that a clear understanding of just how far off the rails -- including historically speaking -- this administration is tends to not adequately be covered is atrocious journalism. In fact, even liberal blogs do not do an adequate enough job (Glenn Greenwald is a fav in part because he does go back and compare and contrast, with damning quotes too) of comparing them to past administrations. There are some attempts to do so, including getting old hands to comment (e.g. John Dean), but not enough.

The past is not always better, but comparing the present to past actions is still quite telling. When, e.g., nearly no for cause firings occurring in the same administration is contrasted to seven on one day ("nothing to see here"), it's notable. Compare not just to Clinton, but Bush I and Reagan. It's helpful.


* For instance, referencing a law review article ("Train Wreck at the Justice Department") by another fired U.S. attorney suggesting Gonzalez be investigated for obstruction of justice.

When Marty Lederman (Balkinization, former Clinton OLC guy) discussed the congressional investigation of the matter, referencing a Slate article on the topic by some other somewhat conservative centrist sounding sorts, he had trouble finding any crime involved. Pissed me off at the time; the fact such at times too weak willed sorts are so upset at current events underlines how bad they are.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Campaign Quickies

Yes, Biden is an insider who voted to authorize the war. But, who else was he likely to have picked? Better? Obama is imperfect, check. Michelle was good (she was on over ten channels here), her youngest too cute, but the video before her was like some e-Harmony ad. McCain using his POW experience as a default answer to criticism is getting pretty old and a tad bit disgusting. BTW, couldn't the Dodgers win one freaking game this weekend? Out of four?!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

More on the Previous Topic

And Also: As to the number of attorneys fired, seven were fired on the same day (including the co-author of the book referenced), but so far two other political firings (one to fill a plum, another looking more seedy) were referenced as well. The book btw references the deadly combo: bad policy, bad follow thru (incompetence and true believership mixed in), slimy characters (the firings were just handled meanly) and different shades of simple illegality.

Over at the Slate "Today's Papers" message board, someone replied to a reference to the NYT thusly:
I am a Catholic and of an age when Catholic children went automatically to the Catholic schools. My freshman year biology teacher was a priest and taught the theory of evolution, explaining that there is no evidence that God did not begin His creation with amoeba and let evolution take its natural course until He was satisfied that the process could now sustain we humans. At that point said Father Behr, God then--metaphorically--took the lump of clay and breathed into it a soul.

Now what Darwin's theory has to with a person's morals is beyond me. I seem to have studied evolution and religion and come away with my morals intact. As have most of my classmates.

Oh, btw, I was a freshman in 1960 and we even had sex education, albeit gender separate, classes.

My reply ...

I know someone taught in Catholic schools in the 1950s, and she did not receive such an evolution friendly education. But, when she learned what her children were taught in Catholic schools on the matter in the 1980s, she was a bit shocked. Much more evolution friendly.

Science in various ways affects ones morals, though how one processes it is very important. Consider two quotes from today's NYT article:
“I think a big reason evolutionists believe what they believe is they don’t want to have to be ruled by God,” said Josh Rou, 17.

“Evolution is telling you that you’re like an animal,” Bryce agreed. “That’s why people stand strong with Christianity, because it teaches people to lead a good life and not do wrong.”

This doesn't follow, unless we dissect what is meant by "rule" etc. Many "evolutionists" believe in God. Likewise, many "lead a good life" etc. OTOH, evolution might lead one to question the literal word of the Bible, Koran, etc. If one believes this leads you to the road to perdition and such, evolution can be deemed to be dangerous to morality.

I also think science can affect our morality. If we respect equality, for instance, a scientific understanding of the lack of difference (in core respects) between various groups can be an important factor. Science can also end suggestions certain things are caused by "the devil" or whatnot, and this can have affects on morality in various respects. Respect of the scientific method in everyday life will likely affect how you interact with your neighbor too.

Morality should in some part be based on our natures and science plays a part in setting up good morals. The scientific evolution most probably affected morality in various respects. It also is a matter of being able to handle science. A rejection of a very literal understanding ("seven days") need not lead to immorality or even no belief in God. Darwinism need not lead to Social Darwinism.

After all, we still are "animals" but a special class, who can work past what nature gives us more than your average bear.

Dangers of Partisan Faith

And Also: Controversial proposed regulations have this as a premise: "Problem: There appears to be an attitude toward the health care professions that health care professionals and institutions should be required to provide or assist in the provision of medicine or procedures to which they object, or else risk being subjected to discrimination." Not based on the needs of the patients?

Reading for the day: In Justice by David Iglesias, concerning the partisan firing of seven (*) U.S. attorneys, which ultimately led to Alberto Gonzalez et. al. to spend more time with their families.

Such a mid-term replacement simply was not done, attempts to change the subject by referencing replacements in between different presidential administrations (Clinton Did It Too!!!). But, an accurate and full understanding of just what occurred, what led to a loyal Republican with a strong faith background (child of missionaries) to be so upset and speak of lawlessness, you have to look at the big picture.

As an NYT article notes:
This summer, the [Justice] department’s inspector general released two scathing reports confirming that for several years administration officials illegally took political affiliation into account when hiring recent law school graduates, summer associates, some assistant prosecutors and immigration judges.

Monica M. Goodling, a former White House liaison at the Justice Department, also admitted she "crossed the line." The article is to be praised for actually underlining that accusations by opponents actually are more than that. It is not just a "they said" deal. Its focus on the actual effects on immigration appeals was more inconclusive, underlining the impropriety of the process sometimes being the worst thing about the current regime. This also might be a matter of the difficulty of translating such things into hard numbers, proving a negative etc.

The article however noted:
The Bush administration has been accused by Democrats and other critics of improperly bringing politics into the business of federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, the General Services Administration and, most notably, the Justice Department, which has been reeling under accusations that officials sought to politicize the apparatus of law enforcement.

Yeah okay, so opponents "accuse" their opposition of things. Shocker! As a separate article,** a must read to help understand the dangers to reasoned thinking in this country, has a teacher of evolution say: "science is not based on faith." Don't just tell us about "accusations," discuss WHY the accusations have bite (Talking Points Memo et. al. might help). Again, as the teacher said:
If you see something you don’t understand, you have to ask ‘why?’ or ‘how?’

The politicization of the selection of immigration judges also can help students learn a thing or two about irony. To wit:
Mr. Fine also noted that the judges could not be fired because they were now protected by civil-service statutes — the same laws violated when they were selected.

David Iglesias represents the type of public servant this country needs, his party label much less important than his integrity and skills. We need to truly understand the depths the current administration and their enablers has brought us, but more importantly, we must go the right way from this moment forward. I personally think this in part includes being clear about what happened and bringing forth some real consequences, but adequate governance is the core thing here.


* There is some dispute if seven attorneys were fired for partisan reasons. It might have been more.

** For instance:
As recently as three years ago, the guidelines that govern science education in more than a third of American public schools gave exceedingly short shrift to evolution, according to reviews by education experts. Some still do, science advocates contend. Just this summer, religious advocates lobbied successfully for a Louisiana law that protects the right of local schools to teach alternative theories for the origin of species, even though there are none that scientists recognize as valid.

This reflects the fact that some polls suggest over forty percent of the country "believe God created all living things in their present form, sometime in the last 10,000 years." Unlike the teacher profiled here, I'm not sure if we can always say "Faith is not based on science." Jefferson surely didn't think so. There is some connection, even if it is a result of misplaced reason. But, faith can be a dangerous thing if it runs counter to right reason all the same. Current events underlines the fact.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Veep Pick #1

Though I didn't realize he was still a front runner, Biden appears decent enough. His upsides balances the major problems (too corporate friendly? heck labor also likes him) and ticket balance is in place since one side has certain weaknesses. Biden's smarts/edge appeals and his used car salesman dad amuses. Obama/Biden is probably better than the last two duos too. On the dark side of things, his personal tragedy adds a certain human side to things too.

House Bunny

And Also: Veteran military commander loses government research analyst job opportunity because she is a transsexual. The gay translator issue not enough for them? "Disruptive" clothing ban applied to confederate insignia (yeah, that's the best part of "Southern heritage") upheld in school with history of serious racial discord. Tricky, at best, but the ruling is pretty convincing. Still, very wary of this sort of thing.

A common theme among reviews of House Bunny is that it is a pretty lame movie (think two stars out of four) but Anna Faris is the one good thing in it. In fact, poor thing, she needs better material. We have been down this road before (John Candy, any one?), but it is not like there are loads of good movies out there these days anyway. In fact, some praised (like the latest Indy Jones flick) are imho not that good.

Anyways, the reviews got me -- someone told me once that she thought any given movie had something good in it, something to enjoy and all, and this was long before the $12 movie ticket. So, when review after review basically raves about the lead of a movie, in a genre that is of the "it's not rocket science, but if even mildly amusing can be a fun watch," well it actually works out to be a rather positive review. Even if the person didn't quite mean it that way.

Upfront, let me say that the reviews were on balance correct: Faris was great, and this wasn't that good of a movie. It was mostly standard fare, and the "clean her up, she's a babe" subtext is sort of offensive, you know?* The parts about staying true to yourself and not just being concerned about your looks are nice and all, but don't quite wash with a chunk of the movie. This is standard hypocrisy, but still ...

Faris is very good in this film. Colin Hanks, who didn't really remind me of his father that much (Rumer Willis did remind me of her mother), was pretty boring. Emma Stone, as the brainaic of the Zeta sorority, did add something to the film. Kat Dennings as the cynical feminist also was welcome. And, the rival sorority's leader had a few good moments (favorite line, roughly: "you are an older, sluttier version of the sort of girl we are looking for").

But, Faris was the show. It was enough. Sometimes, a trifle of a movie is all we like to watch. And, when they have a secret weapon, we really are willing to look past its problems. You can say all you like, and often be accurate, about its problems. The fact many films have them [feminism is somewhat lacking is lots of films, ask Katherine Heigel], and sometimes its okay to have somewhat guilty pleasures, doesn't change that.

Compare it to a related film, Legally Blonde, now a favorite musical for the preteen set. ("Ashley is having her debut of Broadway today! She's working her way up to Mamma Mia!") There, El played vapid, but deep down was a blonde brain. Likewise, deep down -- though rich -- she was comfortable with the lady who does her nails. Signs of that with Shelley bonding with the sorority (another comfortable family for someone who grew up an orphan), but LB had more complexity. And, surely had a more feminist friendly plot. As to Legally Blonde, it also was a better film because the lead wasn't the whole show. It gave other supporting characters some real character development and things to do. House Bunny had much less of that, a lazier plot.

Anyways, it's a perfectly acceptable late summer movie, and the lead makes it better than some other comparable fare.


* And, poor Beverly D'Angelo, who has to play the older biatch role. Hugh M. Hefner comes off pretty lame, love him all hurt and upset, eating lots of ice cream (he's just one of the girls at heart, poor thing) , and so caring. A trick by a vindictive wannabe playmate, not Hef only liking really young things led to Faris being kicked out of the mansion. Just to set the record straight!

Oh, and what is with those closing credits that talk about all the characters and events in the film being fictional? I guess here, even with a few playing themselves, that is actually on the money. But, still ... how about Clinton running for President (and a jogging cameo later on) in Definitely, Maybe ... totally fictional?

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Sandy Levinson is on his overblown anti-Constitution kick again; see comments as well. It's silly to have someone who clearly don't much care for it to discuss Mamma Mia! Even if (after repeated viewing), he finally liked the play. Yeah musicals are kinda silly ... if you don't like that sort of thing. Come on. The Angels were determined not to be swept by the Rays last night -- score three, score four; tie, go ahead. Come on, keep it up Rays!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Life is a cost/benefit situation

And Also: As a regular viewer of Army Wives, one gripe is that it tends to tie up too many plots in a happy bow. A "wife" with more of an edge, even a bit unlikeable in some sense would probably help too. If anything, a few of the hard edges on them were grounded down, as if Lifetime viewers cannot handle such things. Anyway, I think WE, Lifetime and Oxygen -- all so-called channels for women -- leave something to be desired in respect to their putative audience. It seems to be more geared to the proverbial soccer mom, and a bit conservative one at that.

the American Psychological Association has determined (PDF) that “abortion hurts women” rhetoric is bunk. The APA, which was to have adopted the new standard this morning, says in its draft language "the relative risks of mental health problems are no greater than the risks among women who deliver an unplanned pregnancy." In other words, forcing women to carry through with an unplanned pregnancy is just as risky for mental health as it is to have an abortion.

An extended study was performed to target the claim that having an abortion is dangerous to your psychological health. This is useful, but there is also a somewhat besides the point flavor to the whole affair. The fact there are people out there upset that they had abortions, in fact, wishing they had not (20/20 hindsight tends to lead to regrets, not always of a beneficial variety ... e.g., changing answers on tests very well might not be best) seems to be used by some to argue that "ah ha!" abortion is bad! It should not be performed! etc. The same, of course, can be said about marriage, and more to point, having children in various cases.

But, many abortion regulations (with the ill advised support of the Supreme Court) favor childbirth, allowing biased laws where neutral medical rules would be more legitimate. The most blatant being laws that selectively target funding, even in public health clinics, even when abortion might be medically indicated. See Harris v. McRae. On the immediate issue, abortion simply is not a great option. Surgical or medical (RU-486) invasion of the body to destroy developing life is not something a girl or woman likes to do, even though the stress level of an early abortion (especially if you think morning after pills cause them) can be rather low.

Childbirth can be worse, much worse. This even factoring in the "what might have been" factor. Consider Christiana Applegate, who had a double mastectomy because there was a more than likely chance her healthy breast would have been infected (and she saw how her mother suffered when pre-emptive action wasn't taken*), knows all about this. Her choice led to anger and sadness, and for some, it would lead to severe depression. But, this does not mean the choice was wrong. We make hard choices all the time in life, choices where no option might be ideal. As Alan Dershowitz says in an interesting book entitled Finding Jefferson (free speech letter), liberty is dangerous, but withholding them are more so.**

The failure to adequately recognize that life is complicated is a sign of immaturity. Children can be quite wise at times, but they tend to have immature reasoning processes. One online poster split this in two categories -- five year olds, who trust mommy and daddy, and teens who think they are always wrong. You know, "repugs" and those who toss that word out as the end of the conversation. As someone friendly (or more) with some conservative sorts, including those who beliefs on some issues aggravate me, I find this a troublesome path. Life is not so white/black. And, the fear that "give an inch, they will take a mile" can be self-defeating in the long run. After all, your opponents tend to know your side is complicated too, even if they do not always play fair, intentionally or unintentionally.

Judging what to do requires a fairly accurate sense of the evidence and likely possibilities of your actions. Thus, determining the "danger" of having an abortion is important. But, some bad results in no way ends the deal. Everything that matters has some bad stuff.

[The blog post citing the opening quote goes too far. "Just as risky" means that abortion is not MORE likely to lead to severe depression so forth than childbirth. But, it also means that BOTH might so lead in certain cases. Again, if you think having a child is immoral in certain cases, or abortion for that matter, the depression very well might not be the clincher.]


* The term calls to mind Iraq, and the cost/benefit analysis referenced (and the immature desire of some to elide past it) in the text clearly applies there too.

** Here is a negative review, that has a point -- I didn't find the letter as remarkable as AD, and in fact the money quote is pretty basic and repeatedly cited by various Supreme Court opinions, including the famous Whitney v. California ruling (a concurrence, btw) by Justice Brandeis. He cited the historian Charles Beard (who saw at least the text of the letter) while a later cite was the Jeffersonian Papers, which has a partially illegible "letter press" version.

The letter clearly has personal value for such a collector and a clear copy is useful for all of us, though I find it hard to believe that he didn't say the same thing in some other letter. More importantly, it provided a chance for AD to do what he does best -- muse and challenge, support basic liberties, but underline the complexities of the situation. A fact that he (and I) accepts as only making things more interesting in the long run. Anyways, the money quote (correct version):
But we have nothing to fear from the demoralizing reasonings of some, if others are left free to demonstrate their errors. And especially when the law stands ready to punish the first criminal act produced by the false reasoning. These are safer correctives than the conscience of a judge.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


Good piece on how war-like and expansionist we are. Calling George Washington to remind us about the dangers of entangling alliances. Update on Christiana Applegate. Too young for that, isn't she?, but good that she seems to be doing fine. Stay healthy Kelly! Saw Enchanted on DVD ... fun! Love that Amy Adams.

Monday, August 18, 2008


Hundreds wanted to adopt a real fat cat, a victim of the housing crisis, but did not want any of the thousands of others that needed homes. Buying expensive breeds when "kill" shelters are past capacity is comparable, but at least requires a bit more money. Democracy Now! showed a clip of the two candidates talking about faith (Jesus is their personal savior) and the Supremes (McCain doesn't like the 'liberal four' in part because they legislate from the bench ... you know, unlike Kennedy). McCain hearts Roberts and Alito.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday Tidbits

Pretty good start for Favre, but after getting in the line for the win at the goal line, the Jets went for the chip shot tie ... and missed. Serves you right.

Mahvish Khan, a American born Afghani who served as a translator for Afghans at Gitmo expanded an article ("My Guantanamo Diary: Face to Face With the War on Terrorism") into a well written book. As the review linked noted: "It is hard to read this book without a growing sense of embarrassment and indignation." Some hope too.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Now Playing For Russia ... Becky Hammon?

And Also: In hindsight, there was an ironic discussion of the Brett Favre (first Jets preseason appearance tonight) matter on the now defunct Mike and the Mad Dog show -- it was noted that many companies limit those under contract from going elsewhere without permission. Sure enough, Chris "Mad Dog" Russo had to be released from his contract, and is not permitted to work for the local competitor over at ESPN Radio.

I never was a big fan of the Olympics, even if a long time ago did watch a t.v. movie about the first modern games in 1896. Some aspects seem particularly off. First, the games no longer only come every leap year. We have "summer" and "winter" games that do not match the leap year calender. Likewise, soccer and baseball are two examples where various nations match up outside of that format. Of course, they are of limited variety, in no way matching the numerous obscure sports that can be found at the Olympics.

Anyway, more importantly, we no longer really have skilled amateurs from the individual nations competing, and not only (though this is blatant) as shown by the use of NBA stars in basketball. For instance:
The two players for Georgia, it turns out, are not native Georgians. They are Brazilian, and the two Russians made a point of that.

"If they were Georgians, perhaps they could have been influenced (by the invasion)," Natalie Uryadova said. "Clearly they are not."

Her partner, Maria Shiryaeva, was even more direct.

"They don't even know who the Georgian president is," Shiryaeva said. "How can you call them Georgians? They're Brazilians."

Filip Bondy, a playful but skillful local sports writer, is over at the Olympics and wrote a column today entitled: "Hammon Russian into new Cold War," concerning an American basketball star now playing for Russia. You have to actually have citizenship to play for a team, though we do allow dual citizenship in this country. Thus, Becky Hammon probably still, you know, can vote for Obama or McCain in November. And, she did want to play for the Americans -- they didn't show interest. OTOH, there are limits to this sort of thing, a recent Doonesbury story line notwithstanding.*

[Hammon claims ignorance about the Georgia/Russia conflict. For those who wish a quick lesson, check out various posts here. More on Hammon here. A quick Google search suggests various other interesting pieces on the whole matter as well.]

Meanwhile, in baseball land, look who is in first place again -- yes, akin to a biker riding up and down several hills, the Mets came back (after Willie Randolph -- remember him? -- left) from seven game deficit, dropped back to three back, and now are back one over the Phillies. Playing bad teams while the Phillies struggle against decent ones helps. And, with Wagner coming back soon, and Daniel Murphy having some opening week (now that he has a week of MLB experience, he is suddenly starting to have problems at the plate), the Mets are doing okay. Don't be surprise if more yo/yo action is in their future.

Meanwhile, the Yanks ... this time via a Rivera wild pitch (as common as an independent Republican member of Congress), lost again. Now, let's be fair -- Gil Meche is a credible pitcher, even if we are talking about the Kansas City Royals. OTOH, when the guy you call up to replace a slumping OF gets picked off first (after a much more experienced player failed to lay down a bunt), helping KC eventually to escape what turned into a bases loaded situation, well you have reason to be upset. Not me personally since I want them to not get to the playoffs already, but you know the deal.

Anyways, lots of talk about how far out of first they are. But, their first concern cannot be the Rays. The Twins are next up on the Wild Card depth chart, even if the Red Sox passes by the injury laden Florida wonders. And, baseball of course has lots of foreign players, but they did not tend to play for the "U.S." team when we had that true "world series" of global ball teams.


* I also like the current story arc about calorie counts being displayed, including today's bit about the nuances of the Nuremberg doctrine involving taking and following orders. I can relate to some of the customers in the strip -- eating a five hundred calorie muffin is a bit off-putting. No wonder after eating a muffin and bagel on Sundays, I am at times barely hungry at dinner time.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Mike and ... ?

Chris "Mad Dog" Russo is leaving the revolutionary twenty year old "Mike and the Mad Dog" sports radio show on the WFAN. The duo put sports radio on the map, but honestly, leave a bit to be desired. They are hard to take at times, "Mike" particularly coming off as a bit of an ass. I haven't been listening much of late, but apparently they had some problems. (There won't be a final show.) Not sure how they will do flying solo: really needed each other for balance. Oh well. More change in sports-land.

Various: Baseball, Film and Book

And Also: Some have noted that given political realities, Edwards deserves our scorn -- like it or not, and the comments seemed to suggest it simply didn't matter -- his affair would be poison to the campaign. This is fine, but my immediate feeling is that it was still crap, especially the (selective) Puritan finger pointing. BTW, the baby was key -- I truly wonder if a "simple" affair would have done him in.

Baseball: The Yanks did lousy on an important cross-country trip, dropping three games on their AL East opponents, and not doing well versus their Wild Card rival in the Central either (barely won one of three vs. the Twins). OTOH, the Mets are again in first place (will they last more than a day this time?) because the Phillies are struggling again. This should be fun. [Not really.] I don't think the Yanks are done yet, but that trip didn't help much, did it? Tampa Bay has some wiggle room, especially with the WC, but key injuries will make things tough. Two gutsy wins versus the As helped. Lots of baseball left for the last quarter of the season.

Movie: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2 was disappointing fare. I saw and listened to The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, the movie in a few ways better than the book. The genre is not geared to me, but the first one was overall well made, helped by four good leads. The second, a generic title partially a result of it apparently (so said a movie critic) a combination of the three book sequels (which have real names, not 2, 3, 4) is rather lame [replace with timely vernacular]. "Tibby" comes out the best,* the others having pretty shallow stories, and tiresome supporting cast (Bridget's dad is especially bad). The pants weren't even used that much.

Book: Chief Justice Taft once noted that the Supreme Court case is not about the litigant, who had two shots at it already, but about the law overall. No matter. Individuals go to court, the lack of a "case or controversy" with an individual injury likely to get you kicked out for bringing a case not "ripe" or whatever. So, each case is also about the person, and many others in somewhat similar straits. And, many cases that have reached the Supreme Court underline that a lawsuit can reflect not just the person or like persons, but a whole generation.

In Reckless Hands: Skinner v. Oklahoma and The Near Triumph of American Eugenics by Victoria F. Nourse (a quick read, under two hundred pages, not counting notes) underlines the point. A bit incomplete at times (e.g., a previous lawsuit was basically dropped in mid-stream), the book is recommended as a whole. The core of the book is a discussion of the golden age, so to speak, of eugenics and its decline with an assist from Adolf Hitler. The book also spends a bit of time on a Supreme Court in transition (not sure if I agree with all her conclusions there, but it adds to the book overall), also the subject of an upcoming effort by that author, into an age where rights were central.

But, the fact this was an equal protection case (only a certain arbitrary class of crimes led to sterilization) highlights that age had not quite yet arrived. Eugenics, as the final chapter that uses the case as a warning of all those who wish to use science as social policy underlines, was after all about selectively targeting certain "races" -- a word (white, Italian, Japanese, alien, etc.) that went beyond black and white. Skinner is now seen as pioneer of strict scrutiny, in particular, against laws that threaten "basic civil rights of man" like the right of procreation.

This was not a focus of the litigation, but Nourse reminds that equality and individual rights go hand in hand. When important rights are burdened, a bit too often they are done selectively, favored classes winning out. So even though Skinner ended with an opening for an across the board sterilization law, it was an important victory. More books forthcoming.


* Tibby's first time was handled here, the little nod she gives to her boyfriend beforehand a nice touch. But, plot driven or not (part of her not being able to handle happiness), the pregnancy scare (condom broke) was annoying. Apparently, even cool sorts who like in NYC (I have gone past the video store where she worked) do not know about morning after pills. Also, the shots of her looking at crying babies etc. and being skeeved also suggests obviously abortion is apparently not an option either.

No pregnancy, which is a relief. Good birth scene -- again Tibby comes off the best story-wise -- with her friend's mom. OTOH, one more chance for young women to be deprived of a nice portrayal of a first time. The worst was Gilmore Girls. Rory (the actress plays a somewhat similar role here) had a pretty good, if naughty (adultery), first time.

But, Paris was soon totally embarrassed. Since she was already seen as a deep down good person, this really annoyed me at the time, a total cruddy thing to do to her character.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

White v. Scalia

Justice Scalia concedes that the language of the Amendment bears such a construction. His reasons for claiming that it should not be so construed are weak. First, he asserts that if proportionality was an aspect of the restraint, it could have been said more clearly — as plain-talking Americans would have expressed themselves (as for instance, I suppose, in the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause or the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures).

-- Justice White sarcastically responds to Scalia's constitutional arguments (more fun here)

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Edwards ... Sports ... Books

And Also: The death toll in the Georgia/Russia conflict is already said to be over 1500, but domestic sex scandals will get more attention, surely. This is how things work -- we should note it, but not be too surprised.

Edwards: The Slate blog (not the blowhard Kaus, who just loves this type of thing) has some good remarks about the matter. One good thing is that he made the public statement alone, asking Elizabeth not to be there. BTW, again, she -- like most spouses probably -- wanted this private. FU to all those blowhards who think him trying to cover it up is soooo horrible. As if spouses want this sort of thing to be public. Grow the f up, people. Oh, and about his future. Since when was he some big guy anymore? You never hear about him.

[And Also: Talking Points Memo suggests this story will force the press to also treat McCain fairly equally on marriage issues of this sort, though it fails to actually reference his first marriage. He wasn't a public figure on the level of Edwards at the time, it just helped start his career. And, he didn't stay with his wife, but married one of his affairs. Since much coverage, including emotional editorials, on Edwards don't seem to reference McCain, I wonder how much we really should expect on the equal time side of things.]

Sports: I appreciated when Brett said in his first Jets* press conference that his attempts to go to a team in the Packers own division, a lost cause if there ever was one, was competitiveness and/or vindictiveness. A nice bit of honesty. With all that went wrong for the Yanks, it just is only fair that they don't make the playoffs. I will believe it when I see it. The same might be said for the Mets getting to the playoffs, but equity-wise, it would not be upsetting if they did not. The fact rookie Pelfry has more wins than than their ace, not helped by his penchant for leaving after around seven (though when you have 4-0 lead or 3 run in the ninth ... well, you should win the game), is annoying.

At least, after it looked like he might have a shot early, Ian Kennedy lost vs. the Angels. Still, pretty sad -- two innings plus, and after they got him to lead. His positive spin, including talking about not having a bad game for awhile (yeah, you weren't in the majors for awhile ... who cares about minor league?), was rather lame. I'm tired of the complaints about Ponson, that we can't trust him etc. As John Franco, the former Met, said on the WFAN today ... he keeps them in games. The guy has the #4 spot. Given the Yanks bats, he can give up runs or so forth, and still do a good job.

Anyway, I don't wish Ian ill will or anything. It just is that I'm tired of the team and believe in some competitive justice. Back in the day, they paid a lot and could pay more for that extra leg up. Now, they are bleeding all over, and still are a season sweep of the Red Sox or so away from a wild card spot. Come on. Rasner should have started too -- he comes in and does what Ian should have done -- four plus innings, good enough to keep them in the game. Well, enough if he started (after Ian's mess, they didn't have enough wiggle room to survive a few more runs). Good -- finally -- pretty smooth game by the Mets.

Books: I recently picked up a trio of books** (all fairly quick reading, which is good these days -- the NYT had an article a few Sundays ago on reading online ... one plus is the ability to read a lot more perspectives than available when you read the whole book) that have potential, but saw a fourth that also is promising. It is a collection entitled True Stories of Birth, Contraception, Infertility, Adoption, Single Parenthood and Abortion. I quickly skimmed the final essay, "The Raw Edges of Human Existence: The Language of Roe v. Wade" by Francine Prose, a writer who discusses how impressed she is with the um prose of the opinion.

As someone repeatedly annoyed with those who ridicule this flawed, but still in various ways still impressive, opinion (there is another bio of Justice Blackmun out, but the author is a bit dull, if workmanlike), I deeply appreciate this. The use of literary criticism by someone who is not just an author, but has written about such analysis and criticalreading (see her link), a non-lawyer view to boot, is especially useful. It is an interesting perspective mixed in with generally personal stories. Stories we all know about personally in some form as well, but don't always come out in the simple minded narratives that sometimes dominate.

Real people who might have a thing or two to say about some of the blowhard remarks about Edwards, even if he deserves one or two of them.


* Who needs him? They won the first pre-season game without Brett or Chad (the likely match-up for Game 1)! What's the line for the first game he will miss, now that he is in NY? Five?

** Obtained the now usual route of library reserves and first seen via book store travels with an assist from blogs, the library and reading another book by the same author. Soooo many books available by these routes.

Film ... Edwards ... Jets

And Also: Chad Pennington, who Brett replaced as presumptive starter, has signed a two year deal with the Dolphins. Guess who the Jets play early in September? Another connection: Bill Parcells has a management job over in Miami. Fun fun.

A couple interesting pieces in the local paper related to film. Melonie Diaz is a promising young actress, who will pop up a lot this year, had a supporting role in Be Kind Rewind. Also, I agree -- dubbing of foreign movies (including American ones) is rarely a good thing -- not only does it sound funny, it is fake. And, something is loss in translation. Besides, part of the charm of foreign movies are foreign languages! OTOH, though sometimes B&W is chosen and/or colorization is done poorly, directors generally did not choose to avoid color films. Purists might be upset, but colorization can be a lot less annoying than dubbing.

Meanwhile, in the depressing news department, Brett Favre coming to the Jets is not the only bit of news that came as a surprise when I passed by it. It turns out that John Edwards did have an affair, so the rumors that he had some love child was not totally ridiculous. One more victory for the tabloids, I guess, though he was stupid to lie about having an affair. "No comment," fine -- even, good. This includes trying to be cute, and figuring the errors in the story will save you. But, when you cheat, you leave enough signs to be caught. Now, he looks like a total cad, and his family is hurt by the public exposure that is only worsened by the lying. Some will even suspect he really is the father.

I really don't want to know that he had an affair. The fact his wife has cancer makes him look like an asshole, but people with sick spouses have affairs. Those who spend a lot of time away from their families and/or on the road, especially if they have the opportunity via close working relationships with members of the opposite sex also have affairs. It is often not some marriage ender either -- it depends on the couple and situation at hand. Morally, it does lead me to think somewhat less of the guy. But, deep down, who figured Edwards was some kind of saint or anything? The thought he was a bit of an empty suit, even if one who did enough to respect, was always a lingering suspicion.

Still, you have to be honest about such things. Other people I respect probably have some similar skeleton in their closet. Humans and all. Likewise, it doesn't suddenly make it a "public" matter. It wasn't bjs in the White House after a history of bad behavior in that department. (You know the rest ... again, lots more trouble there, in some ways of a public nature.) And, the guy no longer is running for President. The fact Edwards had a shot for some Cabinet role (at most) is not really compelling enough to suddenly make an old affair public news. I think many deep down think so too. Not sure we as a society are quite willing to admit it. Now, we must hope that he can get past it, and manage to continue to do some good, publicly and privately.

Elizabeth knew about it for some time. She too wishes it was kept private. Oh, it was not a disqualification in my eyes for the presidency. His earlier support for the invasion, and Clinton's continual failure to take responsibility ... more of one. Pragmatically, in a close race between attractive candidates, it might have some small role to play. It was easier by the end that he had no chance. Oh, some was upset the papers didn't go after this story more and more quickly. It was more important than his haircuts, true enough, though one bitten and all .... To the degree the papers, like me, didn't see the public interest in this whole thing (especially if they figured no love child was involved), thanks for small favors.

Anyway, it is all very depressing, but overall, just not very newsworthy. A bit of gossip, a bit more pain, but for a family that lost a child and is fighting cancer, even there, this is just not that important.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Jets Get A New QB

So Favre is coming to the Jets. Like Santana to the Mets, this is a surprise, especially with the talk today that he was going to Tampa Bay. Anyway, I think Brett acted like a jerk in this matter, dragging things out etc., but hey, its not like he went to a competitor. And, the Jets' QB options in-house are suspect. [Chad just might be the Vik's QB though.] With the new and improved team, it could be a pretty good year after last season's disaster.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Supreme Court Rulings: Afterward is Now

And Also: Spent my stimulus check. All should be well now.

The follow through of two important Supreme Court rulings occurred this week.

First, the rape/murder of two by an eighteen year old gang member (and others)* who was a Mexican national led to his execution, even though his consulate was not informed at the time of his confinement pursuant to international treaty obligations. The Supremes held that this was a right without an individual remedy, since Congress never passed enabling legislation, though international tribunals repeatedly disagreed. And, the President did not have the power to force Texas to provide it (a separation of powers ruling that burdened rights in this instance) and it passed the buck when requested to do so. Anyways, Texas figured he didn't raise the matter (as if he had reason to know it) soon enough.

[The governor noted that "the world court has no standing in Texas." Texas not being part of the "world," apparently, or required to follow the law of the land -- including treaty requirements -- even if there are no individual remedies. Remember back in the day when states was supposed to honor extradition even when it worked on the honor system?]

Some member of Congress actually started the ball rolling to actually provide a remedy for defendants in this situation, that affects our citizens too, but no stay was granted to provide much relief in this case. Originally, some thought the Supremes would actually grant relief, but largely symbolic, amounting to some hearing that very well might suggest not telling the consulate amounted to harmless error. Didn't happen. The Bush Administration isn't a great defender of international law either -- they pragmatically pushed for the individual protection in this case, but then stated it would no longer take part in consulate security as a matter of policy. Such an executive power grab almost made them losing a good thing.

Talking of executive power grabs, the Hamdan war crimes trial ended with a split verdict. One should recall that even if it was a total acquittal for war crimes, he still could be detained as an enemy combatant. So, you had something of a "heads we win, tails you lose" situation. Anyway, it is unclear if he actually was convicted of a "war crime," at least one that could be applied to his conduct without ex post facto limitations (a restraint on power, so not tied to citizenship or even lawful residency). BTW, the war crime matter was raised in the Hamdan SC ruling, but only the plurality focused on it. Still, it still has bite as a matter on review, though by then Bush might not be around any more. What will the next guy do?

Hamdan could very well have been tried in the criminal courts -- KSM he is not -- but that would ruin it -- this was a test case of sorts, and fwiw, the government was had some success there. The split verdict even made things look pretty fair -- even if it wasn't -- since Hamdan was found not guilty on some counts. Talk about him having a surface to air missile, so obviously guilty, apparently was a bit more hazy -- some problems of proof. This underlines the value of actually having a somewhat fair trial. Anyway, on the merits, this was most probably an abuse of the process, including trying him this route in the first place. Hamdan simply is not "war criminal" (even if technically one) material -- too many of these "are you kidding" prosecutions just makes the "war" on terror look bad.

As noted here by a former Bush insider, such excesses is self-defeating, even (especially) if you support their overall efforts. What else is new?


* The heinous crimes took place around fifteen years ago, so we have the usual situation where the person is in prison for a long time and suddenly we get around to executing them. This seems off, as off as executing someone for a gang related crime when they are still a teenager. Putting aside the international incident issues, this underlines how even heinous crimes raise troubling issues in death penalty cases. The first link has a picture of the victims -- they don't erase the issues, they just add to them.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Christina Applegate

Christina Applegate, a fav of mine from her Married ... with Children days, has breast cancer. Too young for that, but luckily it was found early, and she should do okay. On the blonde celebrity front, apropos to the Hilton ad by the McCain camp ... her mom and hubby donated $4600 to the McCain campaign!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Surviving Stupidity

Grace, a member of the band the Fluffy Skulls, was quoted as saying, "I learned how to compromise somewhat. And I love making buttons and shirts and playing drums. I mean, I learned how to play drums completely."

Grace Bergere, a local 12 year old, cheated death recently, and definitely sounds (and looks) like the daughter of a musician. The online comments are uh rather interesting. Hopefully, this is a lesson in the dangers of acting too stupid.

Mamma Mia! Again

And Also: I came home to see the Mets tied 4 all in the 10th, Astros up to bat, bases loaded (Mets failed with no outs, Game 1), and the count in favor of the Astros. So glad I got back just in time to watch another bad loss. I'm too young to have a heart attack people. And, why did SNY (Mets station) linger for a minute or two while the team celebrated? WTF is up with that? I read an early edition of the paper, so darn, missed the coverage of this latest bullpen f-up.

I planned to watch a cheap Off Broadway show today, being handed a flyer by chance earlier in the week. But, was not able to buy it the day before, and twice (the second less than twenty minutes before the show started) on the day itself. And, was treated a tad bit rudely in the process. Word to the wise -- sometimes it isn't worth it. If you have bad service or are ill treated, and it won't mess you up too much, just leave. Sometimes, you are screwed either way, which is one of life's annoyances. Other times, it is simply not worth it.

Anyway, saw Mamma Mia! again, instead. Was tempted to actually watch it on the stage, but since the cheapest seats are over $60 (not really unreasonable, given the show's status), did not. Walked back to the subway and checked out the movie theaters there. Not really in the mood for anything showing (iffy about Swing Vote ... reviews aren't attractive), so as not to waste a trip, did see MM. Not a bad way to spend $12 (I caught a matinee in Westchester for $7.75, but it would have been something like $11.50 there too, regular price), and no wait -- arrived there at the "start" time, which means ten minutes of previews. Good thing, since it was on the top floor of five elevator banks.

Sometimes, you can watch a movie more than once, and enjoy it each time. I actually have a certain movie (DVD bought) that I watched loads of times, catching little tidbits each time. Not sure if there is much left to catch at this point, but it is such a comfortable little watch, that I surely will see it again at some point. MM is surely one of those for many people, and I'm talking the Broadway show. The movie is good too -- the charm is the music and energy. The women in this movie, including the Meryl Streep trio, surely did take their happy pills -- they hit the stress moments pretty well too. When the daughter says not knowing who her father is "crap" or something like that, her usual cheery demeanor makes it a bit striking. And, there is real feeling here, among the ABBA tunes.*

[Good to underline, actually, that the movie has some real feminist chops and more, even if the marriage theme might seem traditional. This includes the "follow your dreams even if against what people think you should do" philosophy of the whole thing. Chick flick/musicals -- the true revolutionary mechanism?!]

I didn't really catch too much more this time around, though focused a bit more on the Julie Waters (very good years back in Educating Rita, based on her stage role) character a bit, something of the weak link among the older friends. Her "Take a Chance on Me" number at the end didn't quite do it for me. In fact, there wasn't too much chemistry -- though it sorta worked -- between Streep and Brosnan. Also, we get a few hints that the Colin Firth character is gay (or bi), but it is low key enough that one can very well miss the point. I wonder if the stage version is more clear on this point. Anyways, another look also highlights things like that cute Greek extra (She is holding a ladder in the "Dancing Queen" number.) Oh, and Pierce Brosnan's singing is just not that bad.

The charm again lies with the music and the energy it brings. The first few songs in particular are really fun, many of the later ones more somber and less bouncy and energetic. Meryl Streep really has to bounce around in the theme "Mamma Mia," crawling on the roof at one point (again, give the daughter is twenty, these characters really should be in their forties, especially with a song referencing being seventeen and another with the guy studying**), and "Dancing Queen" also is very fun. Streep hopefully had a lot of fun with this role, the long hair and Greek isle environs and all. Her daughter, the newbie Amanda Seyfried also shines -- some eyes! Her hubbie to be has a good number too.

The theme that makes this a favorite for middle aged women, of course, is refound love, marriage of your daughter, and regaining your old sense of fun. [The ads for the stage musical referenced all those old Saturday nights.**] The first (including a few musical numbers, including during the credits) definitely. The second, pretty good too, with a good perf by the daughter. The weak link here probably is the love -- Pierce Brosnan does a decent job here, and all the guys are sure to draw some appreciate glances (Stellan Skarsgard has the least to do, but gets to show his butt; Firth is probably the most lovable). But, I wanted more meat there. Still, second time around, the Brosnan/Streep romance had enough as not to diminish things too much. And, Baranski shines in "Does Your Mother Know," her reply to come-ons by a young admirer.

Overall, it is a pretty fun, even if not perfect, summer flick.


* BTW, Rita Wilson also had a hand in this adaption, her Greek roots showing as it did with My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

** Literalists will catch an anachronism. There is reference to "flower children," and the outfits and all suggest her past romances took place early 1970s, the time of "Hair." But, in "current day," there is not only a fax machine, but reference to the Internet. Technically, you can stretch things, and say that the late 1990s would work here ... but even that wouldn't quite work, since I think it would have been a bit early for her to be thinking about having a website. The reference puts a modern day spin to things, but is not really necessary.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Chavez and Beyond: The Fifth Amendment in the Age of Terror

And Also: If Sidney Ponson continues outings like yesterday, can we stop whining about how he can't be trusted? Pettite and Mussina had bad or stressful outings too. The Mets game yesterday (another annoying loss, scoring opportunity blown) is just another reason why they just stress me out too much. The ruling on the Bushies being required to at least show up in Congress is appreciated, but underlines their depths. This includes congressional Republicans who are pathetic losers too.

No person ... shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself ... nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law

Oliverio Martinez was seriously wounded ["permanently blinded and paralyzed from the waist down"] in a struggle with the police, shot multiple times by an officer. While at the hospital getting treatment, the police [Chavez] questioned him, even as he cried out in pain and feared death. If credible, the police had a reason to continue -- to get a statement before he died, one that might help determine if the officers on the scene were in anyway liable for the injuries. OTOH, especially since blindness from his injuries led him to not realize who was questioning him and could furthered led him to believe that he would have to cooperate to get treatment, such continual questioning while he was in great pain could be considered to be torturous.

It surely would not be that reliable as evidence in court, either criminally or in a civil damage suit. The lack of Miranda warnings also made it clear that such questioning would of limited value, though perhaps useful in an investigatory context. But, Martinez was never charged, so he did not have the need to claim Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in that context. All the same, he argued that right was violated by that hospital interrogation, and sued for damages. After all, do we not have the "right to remain silent," [as well as the language of the Fifth Amendment, this underlines why one should not say the "privilege" in this context] which Miranda warnings (given once you are in custody) suggest exist long before you go to court?

Well, not exactly. You can be required to testify (including as a witness in another case) if given immunity. Likewise, in Chavez v. Martinez, the Supremes held the right does not arise when there is no testimony. [The Fifth Amendment references a "case," but Martinez suggested that kicked in during the police interrogation.] The Court was rather split, so it is important to underline exactly what they decided. Six justices agreed with this stance. Nonetheless, a separate set of five held that Martinez might still have a substantive due process claim of mistreatment. The "opinion of the court" on this point was one sentence. Souter (joined by Breyer in full) wrote said sentence and a separate opinion, noting that Martinez had a "serious" claim of mistreatment.

Nonetheless, he agreed with the Thomas opinion on the self-accusation point. The Thomas opinion itself was splintered. Justice O'Connor (no opinion) did not join the section that argued that even if Martinez makes such a claim, the police's treatment was not abusive (basically because they didn't inflict the injuries to obtain information and had a reason to question him). It should be underlined that the opinion did not authorize torture for information not used in criminal trials -- it did water down the term some. Justice Scalia (concurring opinion) did not join the last section (two sentences), which held Martinez failed both claims and remanding the case, arguing the remand was pointless given there was no claim left.

Meanwhile, Kennedy (joined by Stevens and in part by Ginsburg) argued that the right to self-incrimination holds throughout, Stevens emphasized the nastiness of the proceedings by including a transcript of the interrogation (how about a sound file?) and Ginsburg went one further than Kennedy.* Kennedy's opinion is clearly one of his most eloquent. This includes his living constitution approach: "The Constitution is based upon the theory that when past abuses are forbidden the resulting right has present meaning." Kennedy did have, see Ginsburg's separate dissent, a somewhat narrow reach to his eloquent words: "The record supports the ultimate finding that the officer acted with the intent of exploiting Martinez’s condition for purposes of extracting a statement." Questioning those in his condition is not always illegal.

This trio focused on self-incrimination:
A constitutional right [under the Self-Incrimination Clause] is traduced the moment torture or its close equivalents are brought to bear. Constitutional protection for a tortured suspect is not held in abeyance until some later criminal proceeding takes place. These are the premises of this separate opinion.

The trio were willing to go the "shocks the conscience" substantive due process route to obtain five votes. [The right against "unreasonable" seizures factors in some fashion here as well.] The problem with this approach is that it is more open-ended and difficult to reach, while self-incrimination is more particular and less opaque. Stevens did emphasize that we are dealing with the 14th Amendment Due Process Clause, so either way, "liberty" was infringed here. And, there probably is some overlap, especially since avoiding torture (even during interrogations not put into evidence, especially since back in the day, defendants didn't testify in their own trials) hits to the core of the provision's roots. Consider there being a "penumbra" to the provision.

[The limits of a "shocks the conscience" security against abusive interrogation not used in a trial is underlined in the Arar case; other cases will have their own legal fictions to justify refusal to even seriously examining the facts of the allegations. Not that a nation of immigrant and travellers should should shrug when non-citizens are mistreated and tossed aside when they demand a bit of justice. See also the book below on this "civil" loophole.]

As to history and current application, this entry was inspired by Is There A Right To Remain Silent: Coercive Interrogation and the Fifth Amendment After 9/11 by Alan M. Dershowitz, which is more about the history of the provision (and its application over time) than its current application. Some messy sourcing, e.g., Kennedy said certain things said to be written by Stevens etc. Also, AD probably read the opinions more broadly than their terms justified (e.g., the dissents didn't say as such that torture or the like HAD to be shown for the Fifth Amendment to kick in; Thomas was sure to say torture was not present here, so didn't justify it for preventive interrogation).

But, it's a good look at the provision, and the difficulty (messiness) of constitutional interpretation overall. I was wary at first, since the guy raised the idea of torture warrants, but good little volume. AD concluded by noting that the the right against self-incrimination during trials prevents perjury and furthers our accusatorial system, works pretty well when applied to witnesses too (especially if immunity is required when the defense uses compulsory process), and unexpected consequences would probably arise if we do away with it. For instance, in countries testimony is required, there tends to be a policy where lying would not result in perjury prosecutions.

Finally, as applied to suspects, the history (against torture etc.) and spirit of the provision requires its protection. [BTW, we can also interpret "case" broadly to include investigation; likewise, even those not charged very well will be burdened in such a way that makes some hyper-reliance on "criminal" patently unjust. See also, Ginsburg's opinion.] Likewise, in our more preventive focused era, there is a particular need -- more of his "rights from wrongs" (his book on the subject is worth a look) philosophy. He ends with a challenge to secure rights in the preventive state, the responsibility not just of the courts, but for all of government (including us).

This idea that the principles expressed by the Constitution is not just the responsibility of the courts is also a theme with which I'm totally on board.


* Stevens' separate opinion had bite, but Ginsburg was the most protective:
I write separately to state my view that, even if no finding were made concerning Martinez’s belief that refusal to answer would delay his treatment, or Chavez’s intent to create such an impression, the interrogation in this case would remain a clear instance of the kind of compulsion no reasonable officer would have thought constitutionally permissible.

Kennedy (joined in full by Stevens) in effect relied on the assumption that the police's conduct here implied a quid pro quo -- talk or no treatment. They didn't directly control the treatment based on his cooperationg, but implied as much. Another hospital based interrogation case (this one in which a trial did occur) was referenced on this point. This suggests a narrow, if important, limitation was at issue here.