Tuesday, November 25, 2003

24: "5 pm - 6 pm"

Now *that's* the 24 I've been waiting for. It was certainly more violent than your typical hour of television, and well-deserving of its disclaimer, but at the same time we saw real consequences of such violence, and the show never resorted to showing us blood or gore for shock value. The Russian roulette game had great tension, but I thought Kyle's attempted hanging showed more suffering than anything that happened in the prison.

Despite everything else in the episode, the thing that took me most offguard was when Kim dropped the s-bomb about 15 minutes into the episode. Just a tense conversation in CTU and slipped right in there was one of George Carlin's verboten words. I knew the networks had allowed it before, but was this a first for the 9 o'clock hour?

I'm finding it harder to believe that Gael is carrying out such surveillance without anyone else noticing, but hopefully Kim's encounter will help produce a resolution to that. And while I still find it hard to believe that a Presidential candidate would inject personal rumor into a debate, Palmer's response made it suitably evident that the comments were inappropriate for the forum.

But what surprised me most of all was simply that they found Kyle Singer. And we've only had 5 hours so far. I doubt the virus is completely contained, but I still have no idea where the series is headed next. And I can't wait to find out.

Colossus of (Dirt) Roads

I seem to recall reading about the Crazy Horse Memorial many years ago, but I'd completely forgotten how immense it was intended to be. But at the rate the project is progressing, I wonder if it'll even be completed in my own lifetime.

The High Cost of Literacy

The Library Hotel certainly sounds like an ingenious experiment, but apparently the owners of the Dewey Decimal System don't find it so amusing. Who knew that the system was trademarked?

One thing can be guaranteed, though, and it's that no one will ever make a similar effort with the Library of Congress filing system. That would require someone to understand how it works.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Parties of Principle

During undergrad, I spent some time in the College Libertarians before I realized that I wasn't really a capital-L Libertarian, so much as a disgruntled Republican, dissatisfied with the conservatism that the party actually displayed. And that's become more true during the current administration. Joe Klein offers up a good look at how both parties are failing the public, each in its own way:

The Democrats are boxed into complicated and unpopular positions because they tend to stand on principle—although the principles involved are often antiquated, peripheral and, arguably, foolish. The Republicans, by contrast, have abandoned traditional conservativism to gain political advantage (with the elderly, for instance) or to pay off their stable of corporate-welfare recipients.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

Georgia on my Mind

While folks here are all wrapped up in the Michael Adams controversy, over in the other Georgia they've had a much more significant change, culminating in quite the peaceful revolution. Hopefully this will be the start of a better future for Atlanta's sister city and its nation.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Through the Eyes of a Killer

Earthcam allows you to get a live view of Dealey Plaza, exactly as Lee Harvey Oswald did 40 years ago, from the sixth floor window of the Texas School Book Depository.

Michael Jackson's Mugshot

The Smoking Gun lost no time in getting this photographic tidbit online. His left eye is really creeping me out.

All Juiced Up

Now while I'm proud to be a teetotaler, I must admit that this story produces a mixed reaction from me. On the one hand, I'm glad to see the prime minister living by his principles. But on the other hand...apple juice? I can't say I've ever had elk steak, but I would imagine sweet iced tea would go as well with it as with any other steak.

And if they don't have sweet tea, well, that's a problem in and of itself.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

The Peanut Butter Solution

Leonard Pitts decries the societal impulses that have now created the instant PB&J sandwich. I've had much the same thoughts ever since Smuckers started selling PB&J Uncrustables last year. If you're too busy to fix a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, there's too much going on in your life.

I frequently chastise myself for not getting enough done in my day, but that's typically because I inevitably waste large parts of the day that could be better utilized. Throughout my college years, I've come to appreciate the need to take time out regularly, hence my continued involvement in non-law school activities, for example. But I still frequently waste too much time online. If only I could keep my day more structured, I could keep all of my down time and still get more done than I do now. If only...

Campus Diversity Strikes Again

The University of North Carolina - Wilmington has apparently derecognizing the College Republicans as a campus student organization. Ironically, the university took this action in the name of 'tolerance.'

The best illustration, IMO, of the ramifications of the school's required bylaw is its effect on Greek organizations. Fraternities could no longer exclude women, and sororities would be forced to accept men. (Of course, they could still discriminate on the basis of income, status, or appearance.)

Assuming that the Young Democrats have not been derecognized, I have a solution for homeless Republican students. They should all join the Young Democrats, and if their numbers are sufficient, start electing conservative leaders for the group. Then let's see how long that bylaw requirement stays in effect.


While Zell Miller says that the Democrats have forsaken their core values, Martha Ezzard says the Republicans have done the same thing.

I think they're both right.

'Consensual Commerce Relations'

Scrappleface understands the ramifications of the Massachusetts Supreme Court's reasoning.

A Cure for Senioritis

Colorado is considering the possibility of eliminating the 12th grade in its high schools. I think it'd be better to eliminate 7th or 8th grade. Keep high school at four years, and cut a year off middle school.

I never did understand the desire of some students to skip their senior year and go straight to college. Why skip the best year of high school in favor of the worst year of college?

Monday, November 17, 2003

Terrorist Motivation

Last week, Muslim terrorists conducted attacks in Saudi Arabia, and now the United Nations is fearing that it has become a target for Taliban attacks in Afghanistan. Sorta puts a damper on the theory that terrorists were merely motivated by anti-Americanism and US policy.

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

Europe is discovering that the welfare state comes with a high cost. State-provided services like universal health care and mandatory vacation time are appealing in the here-and-now, but it turns out that the old adage it true, and folks are finding themselves having to work well past their expected retirement in order to fund the services they enjoyed in their younger days.

Meanwhile, the Medicare prescription drug benefit debate continues in DC, with the AARP pushing hard to get a bill passed soon. Seniors, after all, have nothing to lose and everything to gain from "free" (read: taxpayer-subsidized) drugs. Rather, it's my generation that will end up carrying the burden when the multi-billion dollar check comes due. And the next check. And the one after that...

Friday, November 14, 2003

Sister Act

One person, two genetic codes. In a seriously strange biological case, doctors discovered that a woman who had conceived and given birth to three sons was not the genetic mother of two of them. I never would've imagined that this woman's condition could naturally occur.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Smallville - "Magnetic"

After two weeks of absence, the Kryptonite freaks are back. Oh joy.

Let's start with the positive. After the Chloe/Lionel relationship fell apart quicker than I expected, it's good to see a Chloe/Lex relationship in its stead. That has a lot of promise in it. We're given some more hints as to Lionel's history, further assuring that we'll see Morgan Edge again. Also, unlike the girl in "Slumber" a few weeks back, Seth actually had a novel exposure to Kryptonite, one that both relates to his powers and helps explain why every third person in Smallville isn't superpowered.

But aside from the origin, this employed so many of the standard Freak elements that we've seen before. Decent person turns villainous after getting powers? Check. Villain has a huge crush on Lana? Check. Villain, after seeing Clark use his powers, ends up in a coma? Check. It's all a retread of ground that's been covered plenty of times already.

Clark isn't too smart with his powers when he uses his heat vision to stop Seth's stolen car. Granted, no one saw him there, but melting a huge chunk of highway doesn't strike me as very Superman-like. I'm sure it ruined the car's tires too. And Seth could have avoided the entire trap by simply changing lanes. In the end, it was unnecessarily destructive.

Once again, Pete is relegated to a single scene, this time serving as little more than a messenger. Lex's investigator spends time rummaging through the Torch office, then simply unplugs the computer tower and walks off with it, and Chloe doesn't even try to stop him. But when the investigator dies, who killed him? Hopefully not Lionel, because such a fresh crime would only serve to dull whatever dirt they were digging up on him. But who else would want to? Morgan Edge, perhaps?

Next week: Lex goes crazy. I'm hesitant, but it looks like it could be promising.

Update: A Kryptonsite review offers up some explanation as to the oh-so-standard nature of this ep.

All play and no work

A Maryland girl got two As in school despite never attending class. I had a similar experience back in 7th grade, but instead of getting good grades, my parents were called about my poor grades and bad behavior in class (including cheating).

Rebuilding Iraq

The US is far from alone in sending troops to aid the post-war Iraq. I'm rather impressed by the contributions of Poland, Italy, and the Ukraine, among others.

To-may-to v. To-mah-to

Today I learned that back in 1893, the US Supreme Court declared that tomatoes are a vegetable. They reached this astounding conclusion based on the solid legal and scientific ground of...when tomatoes are utilized during a meal.

Even worse, there is no mention of a dissent, so one is left with the presumption that this was a unanimous decision. There are plenty of bad Supreme Court decisions out there, but I'm hard-pressed to think of one that's stupider than this.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Rulings from on High

The Georgia Supreme Court handed down two significant decisions yesterday. In the first, the Court unanimously reversed a Georgia Court of Appeals decision regarding indigent defense claims. And in the second, the Court again unanimously agreed with the state bar's position that only attorneys can handle real estate closings.

The former decision may be irritating for convicted defendants, but it's a relief for the legal system. For years, the state's test for a legal defense claim consisted of two parts. First, it had to be shown that the defense lawyer's performance was well below accepted performance standards. Second, the defendant had to demonstrate that as a result of the poor performance, the result of the trial was prejudiced. The Court of Appeals, in essence, chose to drop the second prong, and said that prejudice wasn't necessary.

Indigent defense claims can be aggravating to prosecutors. One can do his job without flaw, obtain a conviction, and still have a verdict overturned because the defense wasn't paying attention. In my jurisdiction, we had a murder conviction overturned last month because the defense attorney had to use a strike against a juror who had already been dismissed. The court somehow made an error, and one must assume that the defense noticed, because they *did* strike the juror, so the person didn't end up on the jury. One wonders if the defense just keeps quiet about such matters, opting to sit on their own error as a last-resort option for appeal.

The Court of Appeals' test would have been a nightmare. A standard requirement of the law is that to file suit, you have to show some sort of injury. The CoA said that indigent defense claims could proceed without any proof that the defendant was actually injured by their attorney's performance. Appeals would have skyrocketed, and the courts would've been clogged. Kudos to the S.Ct. on this one.

But I can't say the same about the latter case. Requiring lawyers in real estate closings strikes me as the bar attempting to monopolize power for itself, to ensure that attorneys will continue to get plenty of work by denying others the ability to do it. The result to the consumer will be higher costs for virtually the same service. As for the claim about lawyers providing more reliable service, my classes in Property and Real Estate Transactions certainly taught me that lawyers aren't infallible on those matters. And I don't doubt that a person can become quite well-skilled in matters of land transactions without having to take three years of law school and pass the bar.

Some years back, the Arizona courts came to much the same conclusion as the Georgia court did yesterday. The public response was to amend the Arizona constitution, allowing for real estate dealers to engage in that narrow practice of law. I wouldn't be surprised if Georgia pursued the same track, and I hope it does.

PETA vs. the Girl Scouts

In Fairbanks, Alaska, there are too many beavers. And the result of this expanded population is a flood-management problem, which the state has had to address. Local Girl Scouts have done their part, taking on trapping projects, thus both aiding the community and teaching the girls about a common and long-lived local practice.

But, perhaps not surprisingly, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals isn't happy about this. A spokeswoman said "We think it sends a very, very bad message that when animals cause a problem you kill them." In their letter, beaver trapping is equated with cockfighting, a typical extreme PETA claim. And of course, PETA does not appear to offer any alternative solution to the consequences of Fairbanks' beaver population problem. One is left to suppose that PETA values the animals' lives over the potential consequences to human life and wellbeing (which wouldn't be unprecedented for them).

Jersey Starvation, Revisited

The parents of the four emacited adopted boys in New Jersey are denying that they starved the boys. They maintain it was an eating disorder that caused the boys to be severely underweight.

Even if that's true (and I personally doubt them), that's no excuse for the boys' condition. In the condition these boys were in, proper parenting would mandate that medical assistance be sought. The boys had black teeth and gums. Even the 19-year old weighed less than 50 lbs. An eating disorder with those types of effects demands a doctor's attention, but there is no indication that any was ever sought. Thus, even if all of the boys do indeed have 'eating disorders,' these two are still highly negligent parents, who are not capable of responsibly raising children.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Super-Sized Society

Responding to a society where 20% of people are obese, more companies are offering products for the extra-large. Just look at some of these offerings. Coffins that are over four feet *wide*. Sponge-on-a-stick (I know that was once a joke). On the other hand, the sock-puller should have great appeal among arthritics.

If you're too fat to bathe yourself, that should be a cue to lose weight fast, not to accomodate the problem. I don't want to begrudge the corporations for taking advantage of the opportunity that's presented itself, but over the long term, I fear this approach will only result in greater incidence of obesity in this country.

I wonder if a person buried in an extra-large coffin has to pay for an extra-large funeral plot?

Anti-Fear Drug

Scientists have developed a drug that helps people overcome their biggest fears. And here I thought we already had a drug that made people ignore their fears: alcohol.

Sit Down, You're Rockin' the Vote

Rock the Vote promotes itself as a "non-partisan" organization devoted to motivating young people to vote. But how objective are they?

Let's see. On their web site, there's a front-page plug for the book "Thieves in High Places", complete with praise from Michael Moore, Ralph Nader, and Molly Ivins. The Dixie Chicks also have a front-page presence. And in their Voter FAQ, in response to a question about whether felons can vote, they refer the reader to this Human Rights Watch page, which argues strongly against denying felons their vote (the answer to the FAQ question is sandwiched in the middle of the sermon). And RtV leaders (one of whom is a former Democratic National Committee agent) admit to leaning left on certain issues, except even then they'll claim that the issue (e.g. gay marriage) isn't partisan at all.

Yep, they seem perfectly unbiased to me.

Sunday, November 09, 2003

Windfall in the Windy City

The city of Chicago has opted to settle a legal dispute over pandhandling. So long as the pandhandlers are essentially being refunded their fines, it all sounds acceptable. But the lawyers' fees are listed as $375,000, or almost 4 times the amount the entire plaintiff class of ~5000 persons will receive. Since I can't imagine a court ever allowing such a disproportionate fee, it's obvious to me why the lawyers are anxious to settle upfront.

PDA Police

Moscow is considering a ban on kissing in public. That's one law I don't seem to be in any danger of breaking.

Faked Out

Office thermostats and 'Close Door' buttons on elevators don't work. I wonder if the same is true of crosswalk buttons?

Big Mac

While his stand-up may be more than a bit on the raunchy side, The Bernie Mac Show is a fantastic family show, and well-deserving of the Peabody Award it won the other year. Unfortunately, it suffered in the ratings when Fox moved it against the more standard sitcom fare of My Wife and Kids, although I believe it did better when it returned to its old time slot. Then Larry Wilmore left the show, leaving fans wondering what effect that might have.

And now Fox has tinkered again. Bernie Mac has yet another time slot, airing this year after The Simpsons. This may be a good fit. It bumps the show up against Malcolm in the Middle and Arrested Development, making for a 1.5 hour block of good original (and post-laugh track) comedy. Plus, it means something decent will finally air after Simpsons.

But on the down side, whereas the rest of Fox's Sunday night lineup premiered last week, Mac won't have its season premiere until November 30. Tonight, for instance, they aired a Simpsons repeat in the slot. Why? I don't know, but I sure hope this doesn't indicate that Fox will start treating the show like NBC does Scrubs.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

My Reaction to a Crack Dealer's Story

Several weeks ago, the Athens alternative newspaper ran an interview with a crack dealer. In the next week's letter column, they ran these two responses (I rather like Professor Merleaux's), and even printed a reaction to those, but they chose not to print the letter I submitted. So I'll share it here:

The interview with the crack dealer, "John Doe," was a
fascinating look at someone on the other side of the law.
But several things he said struck me enough to merit a

First of all, "John Doe" says that his conscience is as clean
as someone who spreads AIDS. I suppose, then, he is unaware
that OCGA 16-5-60 makes if a felony, punishable by up to ten
years imprisonment, for one who is knowingly infected with
HIV to have sex, or even donate blood, without first
disclosing his infection. "John Doe" is, in essence,
equating his conscience with that of a most abominable and
cruel type of felon.

Second, when "Doe" states that there are a "lot of countries"
where crack is legal, I am at a loss as what countries he
means. There are no modern industrial nations where crack or
cocaine is legally available, a la alcohol. Portugal, Spain,
Italy, and Germany have decriminalized the possession of
small amounts of cocaine for personal use, but the sale of
the drug remains illegal in all of them. Even in the
Netherlands, the Mecca of drug legalization, it is still
illegal to possess cocaine. Full legalization was tried by
Switzerland in its infamous 1989 "Needle Park" experiment.
The result was that crime rose, disease spread, and the
number of addicts exploded, and the park was closed in 1992.

Finally, "John Doe" refers to drug addiction as a problem, an
ailment, that the current War on Drugs fails to address. And
there is a lot of truth in that. But "Doe" is the one
feeding that problem, and supplying that ailment. It is he
who allows that problem to grow, and to grow worse. He could
go get a legitimate and legal job, and make an honest living,
but he prefers to sell destructive drugs to addicts. And
then he blames the government for not fixing the problem that
he himself has nurtured and fed.

I suspect that "Doe" would answer this criticism the same way
he rationalized why he sells to his family: "they are going
to buy it from somebody anyway." If that's the case, then
there should be no problem with selling firearms to convicted
felons, because otherwise they'll just find someone else on
the black market to buy from. Or providing kiddie porn to
perverts, because they'll acquire it from somebody
eventually. Or selling plutonium to the Libyans, because
they're going to buy it from somebody anyway. "Somebody
else" excuses make for good rhetoric, but they don't make the
behavior right.

Worst of all, "Doe" obviously knows what his product does to
people. He knows of the dependency, of the desperation, of
the dispair that follows in its wake. If people are coming
to him offering false limbs and stolen food in exchange for a
hit, that is because of the destruction that his product has
brought on their lives. They may have driven themselves to
that point, but it is he that provided the gas. How can he
continue to wreck havoc on more lives, knowing full-well what
consequences await his customers? I imagine it must require
a great deal of insensitivity to your fellow man to
personally provide him with the means to destroy himself.

Loren C. Collins

Dragnet, DOA

ABC has cancelled L.A. Dragnet five episodes into the season, freeing up one more hour of my week. It wasn't a show I watched religiously, but I enjoyed what I saw. Ed O'Neill makes a great cop, and Eva Longoria was a lot easier on the eyes than Ethan Embry. I was somewhat disappointed that the show centered around homicide investigations, as that ground is pretty well-covered by other cop shows, and I think the old Dragnet addressed a broader spectrum of cases. I'm not crying over its loss, but it was a decent show amidst a season lineup of forgettable programming.

I've also begun to lose interest in Law & Order: Criminal Intent. Detective Goren hasn't been displaying the same Sherlockian genius lately that first drew me to the show, and with Alias, Malcolm in the Middle, and Arrested Development airing opposite it, CI falls to the bottom of my list.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Flying the Friendly Skies

The Great Muppet Caper began with a cute scene of Kermit, Fozzie, and Gonzo travelling to England via crate, and a New York man just did the same thing. But who knew it was a misdemeanor to do so? If there's a lesson to be learned here, it's not to get out of the crate while the delivery guy is still present.

The article states that the box was 42-by-36-by-15 inches, which sounds like it would have been a pretty tight fit. Not nearly as cozy as those Muppet crates.

To go where no probe has gone before

Voyager 1 has reached the edge of the solar system, 26 years after its launch. NASA provides not only a listing of the golden record's contents, but also includes a Flash page that shares some of the images, sounds, and greetings that are recorded on the disc.

I still recall an early X-Files episode (the second season premiere, IIRC), in which it was mentioned that the first song on the record is Bach's Brandenburg Concerto #2. Since that time, that piece has become one of my favorite musical compositions, and I must concur with the character in the episode, who expressed his pleasure that should any alien intelligence ever happen upon the record, that song will be their first impression of Earth. I can't think of a better one.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

Smallville - "Relic"

This week gives us a view back into a bit of Smallville's history, and Clark's history as well. In a huge departure from Post-Crisis continuity, Jor-El visited Earth in 1961 and came to...Smallville, Kansas. Why was he here? Mention is made that it was on the orders of *his* father (Seyg-El?), from whom "Joe" apparently inherited his notions of "destiny." It's certainly a different Jor-El than we have seen in the past, one who is fully in touch with his more human side, rather than distanced from it.

Much like last week, this episode is chock full of good moments. Jor-El's meeting with Hiram Kent. Clark's confrontation with Tate (the sheriff and now the mayor; this town's full of murderous officials). The revelation about Lex's grandparents, whose fate is eerily similar to Lex's parents, Post-Crisis. Could this be the big story Perry White had? But best of all was the moment of flight between "Joe" and Louise. When Clark is asked by his parents if he's had any more visions, he hesitates, then denies it. He's been given a glimpse of what's in store in his future, though, and we're sure to see some fallout from that.

My biggest complaint with the episode is the coincidences we're presented with. In the course of his visit in Smallville, Jor-El not only meets the Kents, but falls in love with a Lang and ends up at odds with a Luthor. I find the first to be a nice addition to the legend (it's not unlike the retcon from Starman #51), but the latter two aren't necessary to the story of Jor-El's visit. For instance, it's never stated why a Suicide Slum resident would travel all the way to Smallville to steal a purse.

I also can't imagine Dexter being convicted on such slim evidence (where's his motive?), but that could be chalked up to Tate's role in the prosecution. I do find it hard to believe, however, that he could go 42 years without being paroled.

Season three is hitting its stride. Let's hope it keeps it up.

Walking in Memphis

Last week's Smallville ended with Perry White boarding the bus to Metropolis while having a final conversation with Clark. It was a great moment, and the song playing in the background, "Walking in Memphis," seemed a good fit for some reason. As it turns out, it was Lonestar's cover of the classic Marc Cohn song, so I decided to compare the two side-by-side.

There's no contest. Cohn's version is simply beautiful, and while Lonestar's country twang is a nice touch, it's not nearly enough. The lead singer's voice is not nearly as melodic as Cohn's, and compared to the original's vocal and instrumental simplicity, one can feel the studio production that went into Lonestar's version. The new one will surely climb the charts, but it doesn't hold a candle to the original.

The Sheldon Awards

John Leo presents this year's Sheldon Awards, recognizing university officials who ignore free speech violations. Although he doesn't win, I must admit that my favorite candidate is William Cibes, Jr., for suggesting that to present a range of intellectual views would be "invading academic freedom."

Paid Your Due

Thomas Sowell takes on the notion of the "living wage." This notion has managed to take on a certain degree of popularity on campus, except in the business school, where they recognize all of the dangers that Sowell identifies.

Sowell also has a point about conservative rhetoric. We need some new and better buzzwords. What are some better alternatives to "judicial restraint" and "limited government"?

Air Supply

Note to self: should I ever get blasted into the vacuum of space, do not hold my breath.

I seem to recall that the Hitchhiker's Guide postulated that a human could survive unprotected in space for 30 seconds. I always assumed that was being generous, but it turns out one can survive for three times that long. Neat.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Israel: World's Biggest Threat?

According to a European public opinion poll, Israel is the biggest threat to world peace. 59% of participants saw Israel as a threat, compared to 53% for the US, North Korea, or Iran (yes, we're in good company), and 50% for Afghanistan (Afghanistan's still a threat?). On the other end of the spectrum, only 8% saw the European Union as a threat.

While there may be good reason to question and criticize some of Israel's internal decisions, the country hasn't been much of a major player in worldwide affairs. When Israel acts outside its borders, it's in self-defense. And yet, a sizable majority of Europe sees it as a major threat to world peace. Says a lot about Europe, no?