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Saturday, June 28, 2008

 The spring term of the Supreme Court wrapped up last week. Most commentary in general or within discussion of specific cases seemed at pains to find balance. Seeing this, my immediate question was "So is the court in balance, or on the verge of chaos?"

  I only pay some attention to the court. There is no reward for the layman to pay more attention than that. Specific cases arise out of specific facts and are decided by applications of specific points of the law. Try as it might American jurisprudence does not proceed by world turning philosophical pronouncements. The laws are, as well, an intricate and detailed dialogue of closely reasoned arguments that in some if not most cases extend back a hundred years or more. A single undergraduate constitutional law course does not get you a seat at the table. In the end; however, the law must embody a common sense, and survive common sense reviews of its workings to prevent the law drowning and perishing in a sea of arcania. 

 The seeming over-all balance of decisions in the last term, was the result of a balance of votes equaling a balance of decisions, There was a fluctuation of deciding votes which belies the uniformity and rigidity of the courts conservative segment A Win by McCain Could Push a Split Court to Right and graphic The Supreme Court Term - The  Scalia/Thomas/Alito/Roberts bloc formed a closed and hermetically sealed conservative core. They do not have membership in the middle ground, in any dialogue. All compromise occurs elsewhere on the court. The court in fact is at a tipping point, the appointment of single even mainstream conservative to the court and an almost unprecedentedly reactionary Court would emerge quickly from this present cusp.   

 A few of the more contentious cases stuck with me. Plus one legislative issue, aspects of which are likely to come before the Court eventually.  First Detainee rights: Boumediene v. Bush Justices Say Detainees Can Seek Release - This one led to Scalia hurling thunderbolts of fear in dissent. The problem was entirely of our own making. The history of the war on terror as been marked by a disinclination towards formality, with a positive inclination towards executive fiat and secrecy. A disinclination to place them in any existing category of status or craft a new one. NPR interviewed  Benjamin Wittes recently Book Ponders How To End Detainees' Legal Limbo : NPR , author of Law and the long war : the future of justice in the age of terror  which examines this issue in detail [see also the review in Foreign Affairs Foreign Affairs - Terror and the Law - Curtis A. Bradley.]  Neither prisoners of war, incarcerated in uniform held to the end of national controlled hostilities, or citizens belonging and subject to some nations law, to which they ought be repatriated. Even (more accurately more problematically) individuals who have injured U S citizens, or property for which international agreement (treaty UN mandate etc) allows American legal action to apply. That they did none of this made it a matter of US law, Made it a matter of US due process. Made it a matter of US law's notions of the natural rights of the Accused. The right to see the accuser and hear the evidence, and not be confronted with the blank wall of interested secrecy and cloaked assertion. Made it matter of our own integrity before the Laws. The fundamental nature of due process this idea of anglo-american justice leads in the direction of universal extensively. Only a bush league poverty of truth and legitimacy stand for limitation.

  Telecom Immunity is another of these topics of executive privilege. Here the FISA stuatue: H.R. 3773 a bill in congress passed in the House currently before the Senate. The basic problem with this immunity specified in the second section of this bill (title ii) is that breaks the connection between action and consequence. It is a substantial moral hazard. It dissipates the pressure to disclose or confess when the bright red lines are crossed Why the new wiretapping law is a lot worse than you think. - By Patrick Radden Keefe - Slate Magazine. It would be best to balance latitude with signatures and the courage of ones convictions. An informal rule that ought to apply is to allow the executive a political latitude perhaps generous latitude close to the latitude they crave (Wittes book also speaks on this point). But not place blanket grants of immunity into the nations laws that would extend that latitude to private citizens, random government officials or corporations. Avoiding law through simple national security letters and the like. This only creates governance by arbitrary and unpromulgated application of law. It fundamentally cuts the bond between the people and government.  Without the threat of accountability or punishment, no-ones conscience prods them forward into the light. Arrangements among the pillars of power abound. Neither the people nor their representatives learn of actions in order to judge their need effectiveness legitimacy or malfeasance. These are exceptionally powerful tools the security apparatus ask for here. If the President, or designee feels a need on going beyond the boundaries prescribed by the existing FISA law, they ought have to conviction to stand up to penalty, whether criminal political or social opprobrium. The view of the establishment and this seems to include the Obama campaign at the moment Telecom Amnesty Foes Lobby Obama Using Obama Tech | Threat Level from is give the administration the bill they want or the administration will keep breaking the law and any law that follows the fracture. It is not theirs to hand over inalienable rights that casually.

  The court made a ruling in just the past few weeks on Exxon Shipping v. Baker  Justices Slash Damages for Exxon Oil Spill:. This is the Exxon Valdez case from twenty years ago. The court has down-warded 500 million dollars against reckless despoilment of Prince William sound What Does Exxon Owe Alaskans? 1994: Billion; 2006: 5 Billion; Today: .5 Billion - Dot Earth - Climate Change and Sustainability - New York Times Blog  (I have a little Narcocorridos in the works which I will call, of course, Viva Valdez). The Robert's court in an affect of principle turns punitive damages from pain to petty cash. ExxonMobile's ( ExxonMobil - Powerset) revenues for 2007 were $404.5 billion dollars. There is a message here as well, for those championing offshore drilling particularly the mysterious right wing campaign for immediate offshore drilling in Florida. This involves Cuba with either Vietnam or China's assistance slant drilling into Florida waters to steal US oil. No real sign of that.  But for the care the drilling companies will show for your waters fisheries and beaches; this is your message in a bottle.

   The case District of Columbia v. Heller, the 2nd Amendment case Justices Reject D.C. Ban On Handgun Ownership - was perhaps the strangest of all. At first I didn't think so, private citizen gun ownership has come to be regarded as an conventional right. It was never in doubt what this court was going to do to the District of Columbia's gun law. At the same time the exact meaning of the second amendment was never a settled issue, Its been argued about and in the same terms since I heard it argued in a school debate in seventh grade.  The second amendment is a classic example of when opposing rights and desires collide. The desire for the comfort  power and immanent settlement of firearms, against the right for safety and freedom from the ease and ecstatic violence of automatic weapons. What I found odd was that the majority opinion simply read the opening clause out of the constitution. It was inconvenient it exists to moderate the whole which would have lead to a less than absolute right so it just disappeared. What precedent that existed disappeared. If in the future DC's shootings escalate, and guns in America become anything but "well-regulated" this will not inconvenience Justice Scalia. In fact I don't think inconvenience is really the word at all.


As people begin to look over this term the conception that this is in many ways a deeply activist court insinuating itself into various realms of governance and placing its opinions on top. From the conservative wing we get bullying backfilling justifications. There is a hard put center and essentially no progressive vote on the court.  The argument in Crawford v. Marion county election board was close to giggling nonsense. They claim strict constructing when that argument will deliver, clear words of the legislator, or obvious intent of legislator as they see it when that will. Law is ever a straight line from them to their prevailing opinion. This is a court that increasing is taking charge and reorganizing American law for the right's benefit.

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Friday, June 20, 2008
George Best

 This is the time of year I call the summer radio doldrums. Indie or college radio wise - the stuff I've listened to the last 25 years - few bands release new material in the summer. It seems a good moment to review highlights from the spring. First of these was Ted Leo's improv performance of "A Bottle of Buckie" during the WFMU marathon. Thinking about it more than the previous times I've heard that song. I thought "I have the rough idea here, but what is a bottle of Buckie?"  Buckfast Tonic Wine!  Made by monks, drunk by Scots. A cure for all what ails you. Seemingly not available here in the USA.

 At some point subsequent to that I happened across a description of something called Bovril. Not even remotely similar  Bovril - Wikipedia. But somehow it struck me as a product in an allied catogory: Tonics and health foods that aren't. Bovril nearly as I can make out is a salt beef extract in a nice liquid yeast suspension. Beef Tea they call it. Good in a mug, good on your toast. It was developed by John Lawson Johnston, a Scotsman, for the French Army during the Franco-Prussian wars, liquid beef they called it. By 1890 it was incorported as the Bovril company and was based mainly in Argentina. The name was from Bovine + Vril. The latter taken from an elixer in a novel. Johnston's son and thereafter, became the Lord Luke Johnstons of Pavenham, a hereditory peerage, for their contribution to civilization. The 2nd Lord Johnston merged Bovril with the Marmite company. Both were sold to Unilever sometime in the 1990's. Vril was the mysterious liquid in Bulwer-Lytton's 1870 novel The Coming Race. Edward Bulwer-Lytton may be best known as the originator of the phrase "It was a dark and stormy night"; the opening line of his novel, Paul Clifford. Vril was the bath, tonic medicine and food of the Vril-Ya, superhuman beings living in chambers beneath the surface of the earth. It was one of first science fiction books predating many of Verne's, and has a bit of a history to it . The whole subject is a real rabbit warren of weird. If only Buckie and Bovril were sold at my local Safeway, I'd buy them every week. A tonic for the troops.

 Another high point of spring time radio was when WFMU dj Joe Belock played one Count Five song three times during a single show. Reminding me only of a time back probably in 1976 or 1977 when I heard a dj on WBCN (a commercial station) played Aerosmith's "Dream On" three times in a row. I quote: "Oh Wow... I think I need to play that one more time..." That was album rock radio back when it meant something.

 My fall-back, if radio goes down the tubes, is TV commercial music. Sometimes this sort of  thing sticks with me sometimes it doesn't  There's good music all over TV commercials and very diverse too. The trick is to identify it know it and who does it, and complete the Re-Conquest of Cool. Tangentially I wish that Jamie Lamm TV show "Fearless Music" aired in DC. I only get to see it at the beach. I've heard the Clash for Nissan, their cover of Toots and the Maytals "Pressure Drop". Sometime ago if I'm not mistaken Wilco was selling Volkswagen. Kings of Leon, who used to sell Volkswagens, I think are selling Fords now with their song "Red Morning Light" which, I admit I like. I can't fully recall the car commerical (morphing dessert landscape etc.) that had some lovely ambient electronica going on. I wasn't paying attention. Now, if they had been advertising bicycles...

 I see that the Wedding Present have a new album out. Now there's a reason to listen to the radio - I'd like to see somebody play that. There are plenty of reasons to listen to the radio. Back at the beginning of the year I heard a couple of good songs by a band called Starlight Desperation. I liked what I heard, then people stopped playing them. Same thing with the Los Angeles outfit Dengue Fever albeit a different style: worldbeat jazz and 60's Cambodian pop rock. Really nice song crafting. I heard a song called Caroline. "Holy Yard Truama", I thought, "now that's some genuine psych garage rock right there". Turned out to be a band called Pierced Arrows. This band more or less used to be the band Dead Moon. The guitarist, Fred Cole, was in the 60's garage band the Lollipop Shoppe. Some might remember their song "You must be a Witch" (was that on the Savage Seven soundtrack). I used to play that when I was a college radio dj.  One that I missed getting on my end of year list last year was Caribou's "Melody Day" I was reminded of it through the FourTet remix. I like the video for that song; possibly the most Canadian thing I've ever seen. You can find your own link to that, but I'll give you this one - I believe this is the singer's father: Results for 'au:V P Snaith' [].   

 What ground me up a little was that people are not playing more Thao Nguyen (and the GetDownStayDown Band), a Falls church VA native who has a new record out on Kill Rock Stars. Her songs compare well with Laura Veirs and people play plenty of that. At least I have it in my iTunes. See the video's up at KRS killrockstars (she was the subject of a KRS vodcast also). See them live this summer in Boston New York and DC, 12, 13 and 14 August respectively, begining of the month tour dates for  Southern California. Be carefull though, she has a Bag of Hammers. Another pleasant surprise this spring was the new album "Liars and Prayers" from the Thalia Zedek band who has been in indie bands such as Uzi and the Dangerous Birds since the early '80s. It's good, better than good. its crunchy. I admit an attempt to look up any performance on youtube, led to me spending an hour watching Thalia Sodi videos.


 I believe, due to the current high cost of aviation fuel, all scheduled live performances of the Helicopter Quartet by Karl Stockhausen Helikopter-Streichquartett - Wikipedia are grounded. Best sit back with a Bovril bagel a Buckie, comfort food for your inner hooligan, and read a couple of chapters of Borstal Boy (with the TV on in the background).

11:57:54 PM    comment [];trackback [];

Thursday, June 12, 2008
BvC (bike v. car)

 There was a Christian Science Monitor article on hybrid envy last week. This is the envy of your friend or acquaintance who has gone out and got a hybrid-engine vehicle.  Hybrid Envy is chic, the article questions, but not bike envy?  As the author states:

...During the month that I drove it, three different people complimented me. And yet, during the seven years we have been carless, only one person has complimented me. Hybrid cars get compliments - why not my bike? |

He shouldn't hold his breath on this.  Oh here's a word that ought to be out there in someone's dictionary: prius-pism. Use it however you like.

  It got me thinking; though, there are mixed sensibilities at play when people consider the bicycling communities: commuter biking versus messenger biking versus the spandex circus. How people see the first is colored by the latter two. Kamikaze riders who have elicited the slim advantage and economic niche for bike couriers into a personal and impenetrable law of the street. As well recreational riders whose sense of entitlement, probably carries over from their $350 rims to whatever overwrought motor vehicles they actually travel to work in. The commuting biker has to prepare careful negotiations and endure mediation of their choice and ethical stance to get it accepted as a matter of principle at all. I don't drive. I don't own a car. I never have. This is a normative choice which I press against perception of habit or simply 'my way' of being. I weigh getting a car, what type of car I might get, against my need for a car, against continuing without one, all the time. I wouldn't have anyone think I don't. For me it's an old choice but not a settled one. You can't place much stock on gaining credence for what you do, just do it.

 I saw a faint thread running from this to Slate's review of the Planet Green network  The dreadful Planet Green network. - By Troy Patterson - Slate Magazine:. The author, Troy Patterson, declared it an "embarrassment to the earth" and dismissed it as another lifestyle conspicuously consumed. The environmental publication Grist responded with piqued reaction, but fails to deal with Patterson's centrally placed showcasing of the Planet Green's own general manager calling it "eco-tainment," as quoted in the New York Times  A not-so-rosy review of Planet Green | Gristmill: The environmental news blog | Grist:.

 I don't get cable, so this affair will smoothly bypass me. But I'm not as inclined to regard such a channel that harshly. There are stages of going green; which is a consciousness raising process. Affirmation of green as a good, observance of some primary conservation efforts, and finally the one-thing-barrier to true observance of green living. The one-thing barrier is simply a reference to whatever one thing each of us has as individuals where we draw the line and declare that our notion of practicality wins out. In aggregate this keeps any useful green on the other side of acceptance. This will be a multi generational struggle occurring across the American ideological divide. This is a caution towards those who would position green only as a progressive issue, or cease to care about it.

 Meanwhile in another green world I, and thousands like me, continue to negotiate the traffic engineered streets. A Salon Table-talk piece: outlines the raw feelings on the streets The wheel thing | Salon: . That piece's genesis is this Chicago Tribune story  Bicyclist who struck SUV door and was hit by passing vehicle dies of injuries -- Bicyclers are increasingly apprehensive about commuting on the streets at all. I ride along the Northwest Branch Creek bike path to work in the summer (which however is owned by M.S. xiii), and dread the winters when I must keep to the streets. For pedestrians and bikers the streets are getting wider to cross, narrower to ride on. The walk lights shorter, the yellow trap bigger, and with right turn lanes the cars never really stop coming. One thing I am always aware of on the road is that those in vehicles carry an semi-conscious assumption that there is an operative hierarchy of weight and horsepower on the road into which bicycles scarcely figure. In the automotive world of the United States, the world of carbon tire-prints; less is more, so they say, but none means nothing.

- - -

Addendum:  In my inbox today (18 Jun 08) was an email summary of a new University PR web log. Their idea is if you're not reading it and haven't pinned up the RSS feed, they're still going to email it to you. Information not only wants to be free it wants to insist upon itself. In this case it was worth the drum beat. There was a good article in it on the Universities initiatives on commuting to work by bicycle  Between the Columns, University of Maryland » Making Bicycling a More Popular, Safer Option:. They even are thinking of setting up a committee. Public bureaucracies shed meeting bodies like a cat sheds fur, but they claim this has improved conditions at other universities. There is an accompanying video segment which includes scenes from roads which are part of my daily travel. Where the rider/narrator goes under a bridge, that is the underside of New Hampshire ave. directly ahead of him will be the underside of Piney Branch. This is about three miles from campus and quite close to where I live. A moment later in the video he is on campus heading in the other direction. A bit further he is filmed riding by the Architecture building and Prienkart field house. This is the exact spot I was when I realized the women I was checking out on the opposite sidewalk was actually Trân.

11:16:28 PM    comment [];trackback [];

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