Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Crazification watch

The latest Kaiser Foundation poll finds that 60% of Americans either support the ACA or prefer that it "be given a chance to work, with Congress making." Just 27% support repeal.
-- Jon Chait

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Why Obama disappoints

It seems to be my day for echoing Kevin Drum, who passes along this from M.J. Rosenberg, recording the Obama disenchantment of himself and his friends:
They all supported Obama in the primaries and all celebrated his election. They are all left-of-center.

And they all feel let down by the administration right now. They are still Obama supporters but, unless something changes, he will soon move in to the territory both Clinton and Carter inhabited. He will have our support because he's a Democratic President up against utterly unpatriotic and selfish lunatics, bigots, and troglodytes. It will be simply be the "consider the alternative" kind of support.

We had hoped for much more. We wanted to feel what our grandparents and great-grandparents felt for FDR — that he was out there battling for working people, the unemployed, and, frankly, an America strikingly different than the one they were living in....I want FDR style politics and TR style rhetoric ("the bully pulpit"). Right now, I don't see it. Neither does columnist Herbert. And, yes, I recognize the constraints. But Presidents have to transcend them, or at least be seen as fighting like hell. I don't see that happening.
Sounds correct to me. Take my pet issue, torture. We were supposed to think Obama was foregoing prosecutions, or even investigations, because they would interfere with his program. But what is his program? What does he stand for?

Obama wants to be *for* without being *against* anyone, at least anyone American. That may be a fatal mistake. I don't need to hear about GOP obstructionism and craziness from blogs. I need to hear about it from the President.

Objectively pro-Republican

Kevin Drum is not happy with Russ Feingold, whose refusal to sign onto the financial reform bill has become a serious problem since the death of Robert Byrd:
What's more, his reasons for doing this don't even make sense. This bill won't prevent another crisis? No it won't, but voting for the status quo does even less. It doesn't break up the big banks? The status quo does even less. It suffers from too much lobbyist influence? Well, Wall Street lobbyists are far more enthusiastic about the status quo than they are about this bill. There are only two choices available here, and on virtually every level Feingold is voting in favor of the alternative that does less of what he says he wants.
Gotta concur with Drum. Principles are nice, but when it's an up and down vote on "better than it was" vs. "just as bad as it was," you have to compromise and vote for the less bad alternative. Which I hope Feingold, said by some to be an intelligent person, will figure out.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Well within the margin of error

A new Vanity Fair/60 Minutes poll finds 24% of Americans still think President Obama was born in "another country," despite the constitutional requirement that presidents be born in U.S. territory.
-- Political Wire.

The crazification factor continues to amaze with its profound accuracy.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

"All the Americans here know that their game is over."

William Dalrymple (via Fallows, via Sully) visits Afghanistan, where they remember slaughtering the Brits in 1842 the way Mississippians remember Archie Manning's pro career:
The following morning in Jalalabad, we went to a jirga, or assembly of tribal elders, to which the greybeards of Gandamak had come under a flag of truce to discuss what had happened the day before. The story was typical of many I heard about the current government, and revealed how a mixture of corruption, incompetence and insensitivity has helped give an opening for the return of the once-hated Taliban.

As Predator drones took off and landed incessantly at the nearby airfield, the elders related how the previous year government troops had turned up to destroy the opium harvest. The troops promised the villagers full compensation, and were allowed to burn the crops; but the money never turned up. Before the planting season, the villagers again went to Jalalabad and asked the government if they could be provided with assistance to grow other crops. Promises were made; again nothing was delivered. They planted poppy, informing the local authorities that if they again tried to burn the crop, the village would have no option but to resist. When the troops turned up, about the same time as we were arriving at nearby Jegdalek, the villagers were waiting for them, and had called in the local Taliban to assist. In the fighting that followed, nine policemen were killed, six vehicles destroyed and ten police hostages taken.

After the jirga was over, one of the tribal elders came over and we chatted for a while over a glass of green tea. "Last month," he said, "some American officers called us to a hotel in Jalalabad for a meeting. One of them asked me, 'Why do you hate us?' I replied, 'Because you blow down our doors, enter our houses, pull our women by the hair and kick our children. We cannot accept this. We will fight back, and we will break your teeth, and when your teeth are broken you will leave, just as the British left before you. It is just a matter of time.'"

What did he say to that? “He turned to his friend and said, 'If the old men are like this, what will the younger ones be like?' In truth, all the Americans here know that their game is over. It is just their politicians who deny this."
My question for those who think we can accomplish some wonders over the next year or two in Afghanistan is, tell me how that happens.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Double cert grant on State v. Cory Maye

The celebrated Cory Maye case -- where Maye shot and killed a police officer under disputed circumstances -- is going to the MSSC on dueling cert grants, after the COA ordered a new trial in Maye's home county where the shooting took place.

State's petition: "To Grant: Waller, C.J., Randolph, Chandler and Pierce, JJ. To Deny: Carlson and Graves, P.JJ., Dickinson, Lamar and Kitchens, JJ."

Maye's petition: "To Grant: Waller, C.J., Carlson and Graves, P.JJ., Dickinson and Kitchens, JJ. To Deny: Randolph, Lamar, Chandler and Pierce, JJ."

That seems to leave Lamar wishing the status quo (life in prison for Maye a new trial for Maye) to prevail; Randolph, Chandler, and Pierce leaning to the State; Carlson, Graves, Dickinson, and Kitchens leaning to Maye; and Waller leaning who knows how. Maybe he figured if it was going up on cert anyway, might as well hear both sides.

... Also, the Goodyear Tire v. Kirby case has settled and the cert petition by Goodyear has been accordingly dismissed. And that is all I'm going to say about that.

... Damn, I got onto Bardwell for misstating what happened, and I wasn't doing too hot myself. Is it Friday yet? Soon?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Apology accepted, General McChrystal."

Obama goes with the Sith Employee Manual. McChrystal out, Petraeus in.:
Mr. Obama, standing with General Petraeus and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. in the White House Rose Garden to underline the continuity and solidity of his Afghan policy, said that he had regretfully accepted General McChrystal’s resignation.

He said he had done so not out of personal insult, but because a magazine article featuring contemptuous quotes from the general and his staff about senior administration officials had not met standards of behavior for a commanding general, and threatened to undermine civilian control of the military.

War is bigger than any one man or woman, whether a private, a general or president,” Mr. Obama said. “As difficult as it is to lose General McChrystal, I believe it is the right decision for national security.”

“I welcome debate among my team,” he said, “but I won’t tolerate division.”
It's surely significant that Biden in particular is standing to the other side of Obama as Petraeus's appointment is announced.

Nothing on what this apparent step down for Petraeus means for the command structure. Ricks asks:
The only big question he left hanging in just what happens to Central Command. Will Petraeus try to have both commands? Will someone else take over? With Pakistan, Iran and other Middle Eastern issues bubbling out there, this is a question that needs to be addressed ASAP.
... Via Sully, Thomas Barnette has a 10-point list on what Petraeus's appointment means:
Whatever the general wants, the general will get. After firing his Afghanistan commander twice in just thirteen months, Obama has no choice. Petraeus now outranks every administration player on Afghanistan. Save Obama — officially, at least. * * *

If Petraeus says the strategy needs more time, then Obama's running for re-election as a wartime president. Period. There's just no way that Obama can overrule Petraeus on this one without wounding himself politically.
As Sullivan summarizes, "Those of us who hoped for some kind of winding down of the longest war in US history will almost certainly be disappointed now."

McChrystal and the corrosive effect of war crimes

We noted back when McChrystal was put in charge of Afghanistan that his record was not an unblemished one. Our source then, the Sullysaurus, notes an Ambinder commment--
LOW BLOW: Avowed opponents of McChrystal are whispering about the DoD's inspector general's report on abuses at Camp Nama, which McChrystal oversaw as Commander in Chief of the Joint Special Operations Command. It hasn't been released.
--and retorts:
Low blow? What we saw at Camp Nama was the same kind of towel-snapping, the rules-don't-apply-to-us arrogance among McChrystal's men that we see in the Rolling Stone fiasco. Except the result then was not political embarrassment but eager and unrestrained engagement in war crimes.
Lay that alongside Mike Hastings's comments on his Rolling Stone story that sparked the present crisis:
What’s the response from the military been? Do you think your access will be cut in the future?

The most interesting response has been, in Kandahar, and having more than one person come up to me and saying, "We heard about your story, and we like McChrystal, but the message needs to get out there that these restrictions he’s putting on the soldiers are no good." So it’s actually been a positive response among the soldiers here.
Those restrictions being of course the rules trying to limit the collateral, or simply arbitrary, slaughter of innocent Afghan civilians.

I infer a link between the no-rules attitude in Iraq and the lack of respect for civilian authority in Afghanistan today. Soldiers who've formed the idea that their own safety is paramount, that killing or torturing anyone suspicious is part of the job, and that any orders to the contrary are the work of faggotty civilian pussies who've never been shot at -- well, that's what we seem to have. Lax command and discipline are very hard to fix, and we've seen years now of looking the other way (when not actively encouraging abuses).

From the Department of I Got Mine

Jon Chait passes along a fascinating Gallup result: people who already enjoy government health care don't want anyone else to enjoy it.
Gallup breaks down views of the Affordable Care Act by age. Oldsters hate it, everybody else loves it:

Chait commenter IowaBeauty:
These retirees who don't understand that they are already the beneficiaries of an efficient social medicine program, or who are selfish enough to think that they are the only ones in society who deserve such a thing, drive me nuts. This includes my usually sensible parents. It's hard for me not to see them all as a bunch of selfish old f***s who don't really care about the future of the country they live in, solely because they're not going to live it in that much longer.

I'm sure I'm wrong, but that's how it feels.
I'm not entirely sure that's wrong . . .

... On further consideration, it may be wrong after all. I'm not so sure that the 65+ crowd's opposition to the ACA is based on anything to do with healthcare. Rather, the law was enacted by Obama and the Democrats, and it's an axiom that everything Obama and the Democrats do is bad for the country. Ergo, the ACA is bad for the country.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The circular firing squad begins in Afghanistan?

Kevin Drum observes that our general in Afghanistan, Stanley McChrystal, has a wee problem. He quotes FoxNews [sic]:
An article out this week in "Rolling Stone" magazine depicts Gen. Stanley McChrystal as a lone wolf on the outs with many important figures in the Obama administration and unable to convince even some of his own soldiers that his strategy can win the war. A band of McChrystal's profane, irreverent aides are quoted mocking Vice President Joe Biden and Richard Holbrooke, the special U.S. representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

....The article claims McChrystal has seized control of the war "by never taking his eye off the real enemy: The wimps in the White House."
Lovely. Particularly as I'm reading Craig's The Politics of the Prussian Army.

Drum's post has more, including a link to a good Marc Ambinder piece on the fiasco. A later Drum post relays a report that McChrystal may not be toast after this; the title, "McChrystal Coming to DC to Apologize," reminds me of a scene from The Empire Strikes Back: "Apology accepted, Captain Needa."

Tom Ricks' first reaction, meanwhile, is that McChrystal will be otherwise assigned within a week, replaced either by a slummin' Petraeus or by James Mattis. Predictions are fun!

The bottom line may be spelled out by one of Ricks' commenters:
This is the kind of stuff that happens when you are losing or at least not winning your war. If they were accomplishing their mission with their prescribed ‘strategy’ they would be falling over each other claiming credit. They very fact that something like this happens is the canary in the cage warning that the air is toxic.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Casanova on blogging

... fools are insolent and their presumptions insult the mind. Thus we avenge intelligence when we refute a fool, and the victory is worth the trouble, for he is protected as with armor, and we do not know where to strike him. Refuting a fool, in short, is an endeavor worthy of a man of wit.
-- Casanova, The Story of my Life (tr. Sartarelli & Hawkes), preface.

... I've substituted "refute" for "deceive," because as we know, Casanova was not chiefly interested in blogging. He makes a pleasant distinction between fools and those who are simply stupid: "I am rather fond of such men, who are stupid only for want of proper breeding. I have found some to be quite upright, in fact, and who in the nature of the stupidity had a kind of intelligence. They are like eyes that, if not for their cataracts, would be very beautiful."

Casanova is also our source for one of Voltaire's best qui vive one-liners; the adventurer told Voltaire he'd been to see one Haller, an inveterate opponent of Voltaire's.

Voltaire: "My compliments. One must kneel before that great man."

Casanova: "I agree. You do him justice; I regret, however, that he is not quite so equitable towards you."

Voltaire: "Ah, well! It is quite possible we are both mistaken."

Natural selection at work

I've seen the suspiciously wingnut-looking Matt Ridley book in the stores -- Ridley, known for pop accounts of evolutionary theory, is now writing about how the development of economic exchange was crucial to human evolution -- but I hadn't known the backstory:
In the book, Ridley attacks the “parasitic bureaucracy”, which stifles free enterprise and excoriates governments for, among other sins, bailing out big corporations. If only the market is left to its own devices, he insists, and not stymied by regulations, the outcome will be wonderful for everybody.

What Ridley glosses over is that before he wrote this book he had an opportunity to put his theories into practice. As chairman of Northern Rock, he was responsible, according to parliament’s Treasury select committee, for a “high-risk, reckless business strategy”. Northern Rock was able to pursue this strategy as a result of a “substantial failure of regulation” by the state. The wonderful outcome of this experiment was the first run on a British bank since 1878, and a £27bn government bail-out.

But it’s not just Ridley who doesn’t mention the inconvenient disjunction between theory and practice: hardly anyone does. His book has now been reviewed dozens of times, and almost all the reviewers have either been unaware of his demonstration of what happens when his philosophy is applied or too polite to mention it.
-- George Monbiot, via CT. I gotta say, any organism that's evolved the ruse of squawking "free market!" while collecting billions in bailout money is a sophisticated beast indeed.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Appellate line of the day

Finally, in my experience, it is indeed a rare and unreliable piece of hearsay evidence that cannot be made to qualify under any of the thirty-one exceptions to the rule against hearsay. And if we believe enforcement of the rule against hearsay is appropriate and necessary to protect the rights of murderers, rapists, and pedophiles, surely we think it necessary to protect the rights and interests of children and their parents.
-- McDonald v. McDonald (Miss. June 17, 2010) (Dickinson, J., specially concurring).

... Dickinson also gets the second-best line:
In this case, the Court of Appeals found that, because the Commission's order was appealable, it was not final. Harper, 2009 WL 1856996, at *3. However, no citation of authority is required for the proposition that, unless and until an order or judgment is final, it cannot be appealed. Thus, it would be inconsistent to say that appealable orders are not final.
-- Harper v. Cal-Maine Foods, Inc. (Miss. June 17, 2010). What's a little scary however is that the decision was 5-4.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Leaping Danes

Reading Manjit Kumar's Quantum, and suddenly realizing that Kierkegaard, famous for his "leap of faith," is the countryman of Niels Bohr, whose landmark paper on "The Quantum Atom" explained the orbits of electrons around the nucleus as confined to quantized energy levels, such that an electron didn't travel between lower and higher orbits, but made a "quantum leap" from one to the other, without existing in the intervening space.

Not an original observation, saith Google, but curious.

Practice tips from the 12th Chancery District

Mississippi may have its first blogging judge ... Chancellor Larry Primeaux.

What to plead! What to wear! Probably a good resource, at least for those appearing before the meticulous Judge Primeaux.

(Discovered via his comment here.)

Citation tips from the Fifth Circuit

On a related note, we are unfortunately obliged to remind Williams’s counsel that litigants must append record citations to factual assertions in their briefs to this court. Citations on the order of “See Pelkowski entire Deposition” and “See deposition of Williams” are not what we, as a court bound to apply the law to the facts, are looking for. Page numbers are important and not just because they are convenient. Concise and thoughtful briefing (replete with meaningful citations) best serves client interests, encourages fairness and mutual respect among parties to a lawsuit, and, as a happy byproduct, promotes the judiciary’s truthseeking function.
-- Williams v. Merck & Co., Inc. (5th Cir. June 16, 2010) (unpub. op.).

Failure to grasp the Tea Partiers

TBA observes the debate on what makes the Tea Parties tick. J.M. Bernstein:
My hypothesis is that what all the events precipitating the Tea Party movement share is that they demonstrated, emphatically and unconditionally, the depths of the absolute dependence of us all on government action, and in so doing they undermined the deeply held fiction of individual autonomy and self-sufficiency that are intrinsic parts of Americans’ collective self-understanding.

....This is the rage and anger I hear in the Tea Party movement; it is the sound of jilted lovers furious that the other — the anonymous blob called simply “government” — has suddenly let them down, suddenly made clear that they are dependent and limited beings, suddenly revealed them as vulnerable.
Kevin Drum thinks Bernstein is ignoring who the Tea Partiers are:
Look: if anything, tea partiers might be a little less dependent on the federal government than the rest of the country. They're mostly married, middle aged, have slightly above-average incomes, and have the same education level as the rest of the country. They haven't been hit by the recession any worse than anyone else. Maybe a little less, in fact, especially for the older contingent that's covered by Social Security and Medicare.
Andrew Sullivan looks to the old research of Adorno's on "the pseudo-conservative," as described by Richard Hofstadter:
From clinical interviews and thematic apperception tests, Adorno and his co-workers found that their pseudo-conservative subjects, although given to a form of political expression that combines a curious mixture of largely conservative with occasional radical notions, succeed in concealing from themselves impulsive tendencies that, if released into action, would be very far from conservative.

The pseudo-conservative, Adorno writes, shows conventionality and authoritarian submissiveness" in his conscious thinking and "violence, anarchic impulses and chaotic destructiveness in the unconscious sphere. The pseudo-conservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them from largely fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition.
All this is blind men describing the elephant.

Because I live in Mississippi and have relatives and acquaintances who fit the TP profile, I credit myself with acuter insight. (My mother-in-law is a perfect match.) Bernstein is right about fear of being dependent; Drum is right about their relative independence.

The fundamental attitude of the Tea Partiers is resentment that "their" country, privileges, etc., are being "taken away" in favor of immigrants, blacks, foreigners, The Other. They don't hate government for being "big," they hate it for its alleged empowerment of these Others, who don't work, just live off crime and welfare. The fact that TPers themselves are frequently beneficiaries of farm subsidies, Medicare, etc. is beside the point to them, because in their minds, they earned those benefits.

Justice delayed, justice denied

On the bright and sunny Sunday afternoon of January 30, 1972, British paratroopers, using high-velocity self-loading rifles, fired at a number of civilians in the Bogside area of Londonderry, killing 13 and wounding another 13. There are few parallels in English history to such an event involving British soldiers and British civilians. Parliament immediately adopted a resolution calling for an inquiry, and the Lord Chief Justice of England, the Right Honorable Lord Widgery, was appointed to preside. The Tribunal, which sat in the County Hall at Coleraine, a small town 30 miles from Londonderry, commenced hearing testimony on February 21 and continued until March 14. During this time 17 sessions were held, at which 114 witnesses gave evidence subject to cross examination. Thereafter three further sessions took place in the Royal Courts of Justice in London at which closing arguments of counsel were heard. On April 10, 1972, the Lord Chief Justice submitted his Report of the Tribunal. This Report was made public on April 18, 1972. It was a complete and utterly outlandish whitewash.

Over the following twenty-five years, journalists, lawyers, and human-rights investigators demolished Lord Widgery’s report--and, for posterity’s sake, his reputation as a fair-minded judge. By 1998, the British government was forced to acknowledge that the Widgery report was a mockery of critical investigation. Lord Saville was appointed to review the incident ab initio. Today, the Saville inquiry has released its long awaited conclusions. As anticipated, it has almost completely reversed the Widgery report. All the victims were exonerated; none of the killings was found to have been justified. The way has now been opened for prosecutions of those who used unwarranted lethal force that day in 1972. The Saville report took an extraordinary amount of time to wind to its conclusions, but this time the effort was solid.
Apparently, this country has deemed it okay to take an innocent Canadian citizen transiting through US airports and instead send them to a third country to be tortured. That seems to be the lesson from SCOTUS’ decision to deny Maher Arar cert in his suit against the US. From a CCR press release on the decision:

Today, the United States Supreme Court decided not to hear the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) case on behalf of Canadian citizen Maher Arar against U.S. officials for their role in sending him to Syria to be tortured and detained for a year.

The decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which the Supreme Court declined to review, was decided on the legal ground that Congress, not the courts, must authorize a remedy. As a result, the substance of Mr. Arar’s case, first filed in January 2004, has never been heard and now never will be.

Mr. Arar said, “Today’s decision eliminates my last bit of hope in the judicial system of the United States. When it comes to ‘national security’ matters the judicial system has willingly abandoned its sacred role of ensuring that no one is above the law. My case and other cases brought by human beings who were tortured have been thrown out by U.S. courts based on dubious government claims. Unless the American people stand up for justice they will soon see their hard-won civil liberties taken away from them as well.”

Last month, the Obama administration chose to weigh in on Mr. Arar’s case for the first time. The Obama administration could have settled the case, recognizing the wrongs done to Mr. Arar as Canada has done. (Canada conducted a full investigation, admitting wrongdoing, exonerated Mr. Arar, apologized, and paid him $10 million in damages for their part in his injuries.) Yet the Obama administration chose to come to the defense of Bush administration officials, arguing that even if they conspired to send Maher Arar to torture, they should not be held accountable by the judiciary.
Both on Monday, June 14.

Will it take 38 years for a commission to decide that Arar was entitled to bring his suit after all, and to show what a "whitewash" the Second Circuit's en banc decision was? Not to mention all the other victims of America's turn to torture? Will Maher Arar, John Yoo, and other principal victims and perpetrators even be alive then?

As Judge Calabresi predicted in his dissent:
But this does not alter my conviction that in calmer times, wise people will ask themselves: how could such able and worthy judges have done that?
He politely omits the follow-up question: were such judges really able and worthy after all? That's the question about Lord Widgery; it will be the question about our judges and justices as well.

... David Cole, one of Arar's lawyers, has a blog post at NYRB that notes a catch-22:
In President Obama’s May 2009 speech on national security and American values, he opposed a commission to investigate torture by arguing that there were proceedings in the courts that could provide accountability. Yet in the Arar case--as in every other civil case that has sought accountability for torture--the Obama administration argued that the courts were not an appropriate forum.

"It's what I do!"

(Sinfest of course.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The bookshelf

Max Hastings, Winston's War: Churchill, 1940-1945: It's questionable whether the world needed another book on Churchill, but the generally judicious Hastings makes it worthwhile. Sympathetic to the man's greatness without omitting his blunders and failings, Hastings is particularly good on how Churchill's narrow focus on the war sowed the seeds of his 1945 electoral defeat, and on the never-really-friends relations between him and FDR, and the Brits and Americans generally.

Peter Hamilton, The Reality Dysfunction and The Neutronium Alchemist: The first two volumes of a SF trilogy as long as Proust page-wise if not word-wise. Hamilton is one of the Brits who've been rehabilitating "space opera," and does so in this work with a metaphysical twist that comes off better than I would have expected -- indeed, I'm not sure I'd have bought 'em if someone had spoiled the surprise. No great shakes on characterization or style, but he keeps the plot moving and the reader caring.

Theodore Besterman, Voltaire: Why this 1969 classic is out of print, I can't imagine (I actually dropped the NYRB Books folks a line to beg 'em to reissue it if they can). Good luck finding *any* Voltaire bio at your local bookstore; this one's by the editor of Voltaire's correspondence, a scholar whose humane values fit his subject well. I may have an exaggerated sense of Voltaire's historical importance, but values we take for granted today -- free thought, free religion, secular inquiry -- had to be fought for with the pen, and did anyone do more than Voltaire to win those battles?

C.J. Cherryh, Downbelow Station: Not sure how I'd gone so long without reading this (my intro to Cherryh was the Morgaine novels, not the harder SF). A hard-nosed space opera itself, tho with Cherryh's usual difficulty creating interesting aliens (that is a minority opinion, I'm sure). Going to dive into Cyteen next I think.

Friedrich Heer, The Holy Roman Empire: More of a book-length essay than a comprehensive history, Heer's book focuses on the Empire as a European ideal. His treatment of the Salians vs. Gregory VI and his cohort is a brilliant little sketch, from which I'd quote if I had the book handy -- he sees Gregory as identifying holiness with monasticism, fatefully making the clergy into monks.

... Steven Englund, Napoleon: A Political Life: Less limited than the title suggests, this is really a biography of Napoleon that uses its subtitle as an excuse for not repeating well-worn accounts of Austerlitz, 1812, etc. This may be the best English-language biography. Recent efforts by Frank McLynn and Alan Schom are respectively too glibly psychological and too contemptuous of the subject. The man was a disaster, but then, so was Julius Caesar, and that doesn't require us to treat Caesar as a proto-Hitler, or to ignore the fascination of his genius and personality.

Besides, shellfish are an ABOMINATION, like gays and Kenny G

Is seafood from the Gulf going to be poisonous to eat? Short answer: no one knows yet!
the dispersant products, branded Corexit 9527A and Corexit 9500A, were made exclusively by a former Exxon subsidiary now owned by a company called Nalco. Exxon researchers had already acknowledged that they were significantly toxic for aquatic life. But just how toxic was mysterious--particularly for humans. The publicly available data sheets for both products revealed that they have the “potential to bioconcentrate,” but added this stunner: “No toxicity studies have been conducted on this product.”

Information about their precise composition was also vague, clouded by a veil of secrecy based on “proprietary” concerns. I found the information scarcity outrageous. A private company fouls a vast public resource and then dumps hundreds of thousands of gallons of a toxic chemical potion into it. Doesn’t the public have the right to know precisely what’s in that potion?
So eat lots of shrimp and let us know what happens to you. Nalco thanks you for your unpaid self-experimentation. (H/t Sullysaurus.)

Our insecure internet

Jack Goldsmith has a long review article on computer attacks and espionage in TNR (h/t Kenneth Anderson):
For the past few decades, and with increasing frequency, many thousands of foreign agents like the Google hackers, sitting before computer monitors abroad, have “entered” the United States to steal or to destroy valuable digital assets. They have raided the Pentagon and other government agencies to disrupt their communications and to lift sensitive or classified information. They have attacked American corporations and taken or destroyed untold millions of dollars worth of data or intellectual property. They have contacted CEOs and credibly threatened to destroy their businesses unless the CEOs met the extortionists’ demands. And they have planted malicious software--known ominously as malware--inside government and corporate headquarters, and in critical infrastructure systems such as electrical grids and power plants. Some of this malware allows them to monitor activities in these places; other malware, called “logic bombs,” enables them to trigger a destructive attack years later, if doing so would be useful.

If this were happening before our eyes--if thousands of foreign agents were physically entering our borders, breaking into brick-and-mortar buildings, and removing or destroying billions of dollars of proprietary information and monetary assets--the government would declare a national emergency. But it is happening largely out of public sight, on computers and computer networks, and so most people are not worried. The press is increasingly filled with scary stories about cyber thefts, cyber attacks, and even cyber war, and Google’s public confrontation with the Chinese raised awareness of the problem. But the cyber menace is still largely invisible to the public, which naturally discounts threats it cannot see, no matter how alarming the headlines.
Worth a look.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Low, lower, Palin

Political Wire:
Sarah Palin is trying to set up a meeting with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher "as part of a bid to enhance her claim to be the heir to Ronald Reagan", according to the Daily Mail.

So far, Palin hasn't made any outreach to current Prime Minister David Cameron.

Said one person involved in the talks: "Palin's people haven't said anything about meeting Cameron. Their main interest is getting a picture of her with Lady Thatcher. I'm not sure they know who David Cameron is.'"
On 24 August 2008 it was publicly disclosed that Thatcher has been suffering from dementia. Her daughter Carol described in her 2008 memoir, A Swim-on Part in the Goldfish Bowl, first observing in 2000 that Thatcher was becoming forgetful. The condition later became more noticeable; at times, Thatcher thought that her husband Denis, who died in 2003, was still living. Carol Thatcher recalls that her mother's memories of the time she spent as Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990 remain among her sharpest.
Sucking political advantage from the disabled, of course, is a Palin specialty. Thank god Reagan's gone on and isn't around to be a prey for this ghoul.

(This story is, like, genetically engineered for Andrew Sullivan, who doesn't seem to've picked up on it yet ....)

Friday, June 11, 2010

In a related development, Shakespeare was black

"No white folks have an 'e' on the end of Green. The blacks after they left the plantation couldn't spell, and they threw an 'e' on the end."

-- South Carolina State Sen. Robert Ford (D), quoted by the Charleston Post and Courier, saying that race have played a role in Alvin Greene's (D) surprise victory since he was the only black candidate in a primary with a majority of black voters.
-- Political Wire.

... Mississippi racists are generally smarter than to be quoted saying stuff like that.

Dems' education strategy: Act Republican

Because it works so well with everything else, right?

Dianne Ravitch (yes, Dianne Ravitch) here; see also this.
The situation is alarming. Not only is the federal government about to administer a hammer-blow to the basic principles of public education through its competitive grant program; over the next few months, hundreds of thousands of public school teachers are scheduled to be laid off, as well, thanks to state and local budgets that have been stretched to the breaking point by falling tax revenue and rising unemployment claims. Christina Romer, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, last week estimated that perhaps as many as one out fifteen teachers would receive a pink slip unless Congress extended the emergency aid that so far has saved more than 400,000 teaching positions. No soap, apparently. House leaders, worried about soaring levels of public debt, instead cut back sharply on the extension.
And nothing spells "economic recovery" like "educational failure."

MSSC roundup

The Mississippi Supreme Court had a busy day yesterday.

Hall v. The City of Ridgeland -- Ridgeland's silly variance allowing a 13-story office tower has been affirmed. The words "spot zoning" make an appearance, but only so that the Court can pooh-pooh the idea that a city "spot zones" where it acts in accord with its "comprehensive plan." Evidently, the City of Jackson needed a "comprehensive plan" facilitating the eating of lunch. ... Penned by the new nominee to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, James E. Graves.

Meadows v. Blake -- Substantively uninteresting: plaintiff didn't file an 11-1-58 motion to dismiss, but the defendants litigated for 2 years before moving to dismiss, and thus waived the issue. Procedurally odd: Waller specially concurs to explain why Blake and Baptist Medical Center, although raising the issue in their answers, waived the issue:
Thus, the defendants knew as early as December 10, 2004, that the application of Section 11-1-58 would serve to terminate the Meadowses’ case. And there was absolutely nothing preventing the defendants from pursuing the enforcement of Section 11-1-58 and achieving that termination by requesting a hearing on their motion to dismiss. Therefore, because they continued to participate actively in the litigation for more than two years, while sitting on their Section 11-1-58 defense, the defendants waived it.
Okay. This op is joined by 5 justices, including Justice Carlson ... who wrote the Court's opinion. Why didn't Carlson just incorporate Waller's language in the opinion for the Court? And what is the precedential value of a 6-justice concurrence?

Baker Donelson v. Seay -- the "my lawyer slept with my wife!" case that's been the talk of the legal community. The Court finds no fiduciary duty not to screw your client's wife, if it doesn't impact the representation. More predictably, the Court finds that said screwing is a frolic of one's own, and hence can't trigger vicarious liability. Given the Court's recent slashing of the scope of said liability, every shareholder at Baker Donelson would've had to have a go at Ms. Seay for the Court to hold otherwise. -- The really disappointing part of the decision comes after reversing Judge Tomie Green for abuse of discretion on a couple of discovery issues:
The circuit court’s “Order Denying Defendants’ Motion to Compel Physical and Mental Examination of Plaintiff” found an absence of “good cause” and that “defendants offered no evidence that the depositions of [Sam] and his treating physician and the production of [Sam’s] medical records are inadequate or insufficient to show [Sam’s] physical and mental status.”

Mississippi Rule of Civil Procedure 35(a) provides, in pertinent part, that:

[w]hen the mental or physical condition . . . of a party . . . is in controversy, the court in which the action is pending may order the party to submit to a physical or mental examination by a suitably licensed or certified examiner . . . . The order may be made only on motion for good cause shown . . . .

Miss. R. Civ. P. 35(a) (emphasis added). Given the dearth of Mississippi caselaw on Rule 35, rendering this an issue of first impression for this Court, along with the limited nature of the record with respect to this issue (i.e., only the motion and subsequent order), this Court concludes that the circuit court did not abuse its discretion in denying Reed and Baker Donelson’s Motion to Compel Physical and Mental Examination.
Because there's no caselaw on point, the Court will forego the opportunity to create any caselaw? Thanks for the guidance, Court!

Miller v. Parker McCurley Properties, L.L.C. -- The Millers sign a contract to buy a house, which is then ruined by Katrina. The chancery court notes the existence of a contract but invokes equity to set aside the forfeiture clause. 5-4, the Court affirms, over a dissent by Dickinson pointing out that "equity follows the law" and that where the law covers the case, there's no room for equity to provide a different result.
The Millers were buying property under a real estate contract. The majority states that it became “impossible for McCurley to continue providing the property to the Millers,” as if he were a landlord. He was a seller. He had no continuing duties, other than those in the contract. Nothing in the contract required the seller to rebuild the house if it became damaged. Purchasers of property, real and personal, protect their interest in property with insurance, not with equitable remedies in chancery court.

We are a court of law, bound to apply it dispassionately. We may wish the Millers had
not entered the contract, but they did. And having done so, they should now be entitled to remedies provided by law, not equity. For the reasons stated, I respectfully dissent.
Somehow, the fact that the Court's lone chancellor joined Dickinson in his dissent, did not persuade any of the 5 justices in the majority that maybe they were getting the equity thing wrong.

Is your car eating enough corn?

Probably not.
The most disgusting aspect of the blowout in the Gulf of Mexico isn't the video images of oil-soaked birds or the incessant blather from pundits about what BP or the Obama administration should be doing to stem the flow of oil. Instead, it's the ugly spectacle of the corn-ethanol scammers doing all they can to capitalize on the disaster so that they can justify an expansion of the longest-running robbery of taxpayers in U.S. history. * * *

The strongest indication that an ethanol bailout is imminent came last Friday when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (former governor of Iowa, the nation's biggest ethanol-producing state) said, "I'm very confident that we're going to see an increase in the blend rate." The "blend rate" refers to the federal rule that limits ethanol blends to no more than 10 percent for standard automobiles. Commonly known as "E10," the fuel contains 90 percent gasoline and 10 percent alcohol. The Obama administration bailout, which would come via approval from the EPA, will likely allow gasoline retailers to blend up to 15 percent ethanol into U.S. gasoline supplies.
Obviously, what we need is the public disgust that would be generated by a massive corn-syrup spill.

(H/t Drum.)

The objectless pursuit of wealth

Over at the Boston Review, Jonathan Kirshner reviews 3 recent books on Keynes w/r/t to our present vicissitudes.
Each scholar’s new book reflects his distinct intellectual engagement with Keynes, but collectively they point in a common direction. Keynes, they suggest, would argue that our current mess has three main causes: failures of the economics profession, mistakes by government, and regrettable social trends.
You can probably guess the first two; what of the third?
These books suggest that Keynes also would have found something troubling about contemporary Western society, or at least the version of it that emerged in the post–Cold War United States. Keynes’s economics was rooted, always, in a normative, philosophical vision, in particular that the economic game was not about winning the candle. This was one of Skidelsky’s great contributions in his biography, and Return of the Master treats us to a chapter on “Keynes and the Ethics of Capitalism,” including Keynes’s aversion to “the objectless pursuit of wealth.” Rather, the purpose of economic activity (and the role of the economist) was to “solve” the economic problem--the provision of adequate needs, opportunities, and comfort--so that the important things in life could be pursued.

But in the mania of the American housing bubble, the chase of wealth became everything. The financial sector expanded, national savings rates plunged, and Clinton-era deregulations were followed by the Bush administration’s abdication of government oversight. Financiers eagerly accepted the open invitation to recklessness and enjoyed astronomical compensation packages for embracing imprudent risks. Borrowers took on debt far beyond any responsible expectation of what they could repay. In retrospect even Alan Greenspan finally understood the errors of the era of unregulated finance he championed.
Probably you'd guessed that too.

Where Obama chiefly disappoints is in his failure to challenge "the objectless pursuit of wealth" in favor of different values, social values. It's an uphill climb, but if the president can't do it, I wonder who can.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Not getting the contrast here, sorry

Jim "No Comments, Please, I Have Nothing to Learn from You People" Lindgren:
Sometimes it’s hard to figure out Glenn Beck. One day he is (ridiculously) calling Cass Sunstein “the most dangerous man in America.” Another day he is teaching his audience about Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom.” Go figure.
Go figure what?

Monday, June 07, 2010

Banishment vanished

So, I was looking to pull up the hand-downs list for June 3, 2010 on the Mississippi Supreme Court's website (win some, lose some), and I found that rare creature, a non-Thursday opinion: Mackey v. State.

We have discovered that . . . to banish the knight does not alleviate the suffering of the peasant.
– C.S. Lewis

¶1. This is a banishment case in which the Circuit Court of Forrest County issued a
suspended sentence of thirty years and then ordered the defendant not to come within one hundred miles of Hattiesburg. Upon learning the defendant had violated the banishment order, the trial court revoked the suspension of the sentence.
Continuing the recent string of luck for pro se appellants filing for cert, Mackey got his banishment reversed, though the Court did not go so far as to forbid the practice. Randolph dissents, saying that he wouldn't reverse, but if reversal's to occur, the guilty plea (which accepted the banishment) should be withdrawn. Graves and Kitchens agree as to the latter point.

The epigraph to the opinion would make more sense if the Court were expunging the practice of banishment, but it does appear to make Dickinson the first justice to quote C.S. Lewis by name in a published opinion of the Court.

... Apparently the Monday handdown was due to Mackey's having brought the case up on cert -- the deadline was near to running.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Fake values, real values

Item: George W. Bush reminisces about old times:
Sure, we waterboarded Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, former President George W. Bush reportedly said on Tuesday. And he would “do it again to save lives.”
Item: an Army intelligence officer writes in Miliary Review that Abu Ghraib was a "strategic defeat" for the United States, and interviews interrogators who served in Iraq:
These experienced HUMINT leaders believed that it was not only wrong for American Soldiers to employ enhanced interrogation techniques on real world enemies, but that such techniques were largely ineffective. “For an interrogator to resort to techniques like that [techniques derived from SERE schools] is for that interrogator to admit that they don’t know how to interrogate,” said Groseclose, who was awarded the U.S. Defense Department’s HUMINT Collector of the Year Award for 2003. He added, “Our interrogations produced results.”
Both via Scott Horton.

... Bonus irony item:
I prayed a lot. I really did. I prayed before every major speech. I prayed before debates. It was a very important experience. I don't see how you can be president and not believe in a higher power.
Indeed. (Via Political Wire.)

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The target market for Jack Daniels

In a comment at his blog, NMC pinpoints the essence of this demographic:
Jack Daniels is whiskey for people who are glad they started using corn sweetner in soda pop.
... Even when I was just starting out with liquor and pouring it into my (corn-sweetened) Coke, I went with Evan Williams bourbon, not Jack.

"Anál nathrach, orth’ bháis’s bethad, to a reasonable degree of magical certainty"

The supreme court has held that there is no requirement that an expert use magical language in his testimony ....
Vanlandingham v. Patton, Miss. Ct. App. June 1, 2010.

... Myself, I would've been more afraid that it was error to *admit* magical language. I feel sure that magical language would never have been admitted under the Frye standard!

... I sincerely hope for your sake, Gentle Reader, that you need to click this link to have the post title explained to you.