Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Anyone who's interested in the right to bear arms and can slog their way through a law review article should head to the Volokh Conspiracy, where Randy Barnett has posted a link to his article for the Texas Law Review entitled "Was the Right to Keep and Bear Arms Conditioned on Service in an Organized Militia?":

"In this essay, I evaluate the case made for this historical claim by Richard Uviller and William Merkel in their book, The Militia and the Right to Arms, or, How the Second Amendment Fell Silent. I also evaluate their denial that the original meaning of Fourteenth Amendment protected an individual right to arms unconditioned on militia service. I find both claims inconsistent with the available evidence of original meaning and also, perhaps surprisingly, with existing federal law."
According to this article in the Wall Street Journal, restaurant owners are falling for prank callers identifying themselves as police officers. The callers demand the establishment conduct a strip search of a customer or employee they allege has stolen some valuable object, and provide a vague description:

"It might seem implausible that any manager could be compelled by an unknown caller to order someone to entirely disrobe and submit to a humiliating search for drugs or stolen money. Or that someone would succumb to such an examination. But investigators say there have been dozens of similar cases since 1999, involving Burger King, Wendy's, Applebee's and others."

Of course, the people being searched have the last laugh, in filing suit against the restaurants.

And tomorrow is April Fool's Day. . .

Saw it first on How Appealing.
Professor Norman Luxenburg has this guest opinion in the Press-Citizen regarding the fuzzy math surrounding the fake rainforest in Coralville, Iowa. He attended the town meetings on the issue, and got a front row seat to see the project leaders tap dance around the issues. Apparently, they not only believe that they're actually going to get 1.5 million visitors per year (4100 per day), they also feel that they will get at least 5 million in research grants. The article compares the fake rainforest to Arizona's Biosphere, to demonstrate why those estimates are literally laughed at by biologists. Another point made - do they really expect us to believe their estimates of $199 million spent by "visitors to the area" actually equal tourist dollars?

Um, yeah, I'm always running into vacationers from NY, Chicago, California. . . .

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Finally, this story featured in Overlawyered reminds me to carp about the way that college students are being babysat these days.

Key quote:

"Pressured by University of Wisconsin officials and by a federal campaign against underage and binge drinking, 24 taverns near the university's Madison campus agreed voluntarily a year and a half ago to stop cheap-drink promotions on weekends. Can you guess the sequel? A Minneapolis law firm has now swooped down with a class-action antitrust suit filed on behalf of three named UW-Madison students."

Okay, if you wouldn't treat them like overgrown children in the first place. . . I understand that college students drink. Ya know what, so do a lot of people. They are ADULTS. You cannot expect me to believe that a person can be astute enough to analyze Nietzsche one day, and yet be hypnotized by peer pressure into involuntarily drinking six margaritas the next.

I understand the drinking age is 21. I also understand the federal government blackmailed the states by tying the raising of the drinking age to 21 with federal highway funds. It may be good politics to be concerned about reigning in college students, particularly in a college town. But we really need to pick an age at which adulthood starts and learn to LET GO ALREADY.

That explains it: Scrappleface reports Rice is withholding testimony for her own book.
The Iowa Electronic Market's take on Bush v. Kerry:

I almost missed this tidbit in yesterday's story about the protests outside Karl Rove's home:

"Leaders said they want Bush to advocate for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, a bill that would permit immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least five years to apply for legal resident status once they graduate from high school. The measure would eliminate provisions of current federal law that discourage states from providing in-state tuition to undocumented student immigrants. Immigrant activists say that 50,000 to 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high school each year and that many students can afford college only at the reduced, in-state rates given to legal residents. . . ."We want the DREAM Act, and Karl Rove is sitting on it," said Brenda LaBlanc, a member of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement."

As I pointed out here, the Dream Act wasn't even popular enough in Iowa to make the legistation funnel last week. So they're trying to go over our heads to Washington and cram it down our throats that way? Sheez. Thank Cedar Pundit for pointing out this further development.
Heavy schedule correlates with light blogging today.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Cedar Pundit has some good insight on the antibullying legislation. I suspect this is nothing more than feel-good election-year legislation. It duplicates the existing zero-tolerance and code of conduct language already in place in Iowa schools. If there are gaps in those rules, why focus merely on bullying? Why not require a blanket violence intervention policy? Then enforce the rules to the extent that the administration is able, and for the rest, well, like Governor Vilsack I had to stand up to a bully or two myself. We all had to, governor. It's time to move on.
An excellent point by David Bernstein in the Volokh Conspiracy: pernicious suits by liberals asserting the right to be free from exposure to any opinion they find offensive can come back to bite them.
From the Department of People with Too Much Time on Their Hands.
This article from the Telegraph in the UK:

"The arrival of the American-style compensation culture is turning open spaces and public parks into dreary, fun-free, soulless places, the Government's architecture and building advisers said yesterday. Bouncy castles, ancient trees, boating lakes, adventure playgrounds, public art and even firework displays on windy days, such as the celebrations in Edinburgh last New Year, are all victims of the trend to stop or take down anything that might have the slightest risk attached. . . . [the report] highlighted the removal of a swing from a playing field because it faced the sun and could blind children. Another regular occurrence, it said, was the removal of three-in-a-row swings because the outer swings could hit the one in the middle."

Is anyone else old enough to remember when we had those fantastic wooden toys in City Park in Iowa City? We could spend hours conquering each other's "forts". Or how about the real firetruck in Mercer Park? That's been replaced by metal tubing somewhat resembling the skeleton of a firetruck.

Yes, we got splinters and we broke our arm when we fell off stuff and skinned our knees. But we had fun.
Dueling scripture, courtesy of Scrappleface (can't you just hear the banjo music?):

Speaking in a church service Sunday, Mr. Kerry criticized "our present national leadership" by quoting a passage from the New Testament book of James: “The Scriptures say, what does it profit, my brother, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” Kerry said. “When we look at what is happening in America today, where are the works of compassion?”

When asked what the president thought of Mr. Kerry's comment, chief White House spokesman Scott McClellan released the following written statement: "But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways."

Lots of new satire on that site this weekend.

Had a blast at the Smokehaus with Scott and Michelle last Saturday. Catch them when they play near you:

Friday, April 9th, The Depot Bar and Grill, 600 E. Platt St. Maquoketa, IA 652-2213

Saturday, April 10th, Molly's Pub 395 W. Ninth St. Dubuque, IA 52001 Phone 563-582-7057 9 PM - 1 AM

Friday, April 16th, Over Flowing Cup, Beloit WI. 8 PM

Saturday, April 17th, Fitzy's Steakhouse, Edgewood IA. Happy Hour 5 PM - 9 PM

Saturday, April 24th, Cedar Lodge , Manchester IA 8-12

Friday, April 30th, Lighthouse Cafe, Dixon IL 8 PM Tickets are $5.. 815-285-2200

It's worth it.


This editorial in today's Register calls the Iraq war a "war of imperialism," analogizing it to the Phillipine/American conflict just after the Spanish-American war in 1898, where Phillipine forces resisted the US annexation of the Phillipines after they were wrested from Spanish control in the 1898 war. Implicit in this comparison is the idea that Iraq is just another "land grab" by an imperialistic, expansionist government. The Register notes that Mark Twain called that war a "quagmire" and states:

"The imperial view won out, driven by the Kiplingesque notion of "the white man's burden," the duty to "civilize" native peoples - and by the supposed commercial advantages of having overseas possessions. . .This neo-imperialist thinking about democratizing the Middle East is a lot like the old imperialist notions of civilizing the natives. History will judge whether the new imperialism turns out any better than the old."

What the article conveniently forgets is the whole 9/11 incident. You know, that little attack against us that we might be defending ourselves against even as we speak? It also ignores the terms of peace imposed on Iraq during the 1990 war - terms to which it agreed and the UN gave final approval, and the terms which Iraq failed to fulfill, providing ample grounds for today's war. It even ignores what caused the peace terms in the first place, Iraq's own annexation of Kuwait and war against Israel. It occurs to me that the land grab Iraq tried might be a better fit for the analogy?

I do believe that there should have been further attempts to garner UN support, coerce Iraq to comply with the terms of the treaty, and build the evidence for or against WMD's, and if suddenly made president I would have handled quite a few things differently. But to read this editorial, one would believe that George Bush and the entire Congress just woke up one morning, saw it was a sunny day, and thought "I think we should go to war. The weather's nice enough. We could use a little desert property."

And the final sentence - "history will judge?" C'mon. You drew the picture of an annexation for material gain. You shaded the facts to suit the portrait. Now you're going to pretend just enough neutrality to not be able to title it?

Sunday, March 28, 2004

 More on how to spend the $180 million earmarked to build a fake rainforest in Coralville here and here and here.

(Yes, I understand that the money can't be routed to other projects. But understand how insane it is to spend money on that fluff when we're having tremendous budgeting problems at our schools, cutting our troopers back to the level of patrols we had in the 1960's, and we can't afford to supply defibrillators that could save lives).

Saturday, March 27, 2004

 Having vented against the fake rainforest, I am excited about the idea of a rail service between Iowa City, Amana, Cedar Rapids, etc. I had hoped for something a bit more practical for the sake of commuters, but I'm not opposed to a slower-moving trolley - provided it's practical enough to support the cost. I know we had a train service before my time, perhaps we should research it to avoid the mistakes of the past?
 I honestly try to give myself weekends off from blogging. But the Iowa City Press Citizen is making it impossible. The latest editorial on the Fake Rainforest in Coralville invites comment:

What do you think?

• Do you still have concerns about the project? What are they?

Okay, since you asked. It won’t be anything you haven’t heard before:

The project’s supporters certainly offered a polished presentation. Complete with slides, graphs and artist’s renderings the experts” saw the future more clearly than we ordinary Iowans who, as former governor Robert Ray implied, are so “down-home” that we must be dragged by the hair into the gleaming future so evident in more “happening” places on the globe. If you aren’t convinced by this project, obviously you just don’t get it. . . In actuality, the project is a $180 million gamble. The “facts” that the IEEP board is selling – all the attendance numbers, projections, graphs and budgets – require a set of assumptions that quickly become circular and self-referential. Tim Shriver, Coralville

“I hope the people behind this project are aware of some local history. We have a building on campus formally called the laser center. I’m sure the people who planned this building had grand ideas. I believe it now holds the boats (among other things) for the rowing team. My greatest fear is that the rainforest project will become (metaphorically) our next boathouse.” Mike Jenn, Coralville

Sound familiar? These are letters to the editor from the Press-Citizen on March 26, 2004. They echo the very serious concerns expressed all over the state by the majority of Iowans that do not support this project.

I'll excerpt quotes from the article in the interest of brevity:

Under David Oman's leadership, the Iowa Environmental/Education Project — commonly referred to as the rain forest — has been increasingly accessible to the general public. We appreciate that Oman, as chief administrator, opts to be open and offers figures that can be substantiated. This approach, seen most recently through answers provided to the Press-Citizen's three-day series about the proposal and at Monday night's town meeting in Coralville, is selling people on the project. While not all are convinced of the project's feasibility, many now are more open-minded.

Really? I found the entire thing to be an exercise in cheerleading and public relations. I agree with this letter to the editor, also from Friday’s paper, which you must have seen:

“As a critic of the rainforest for several years I am really disappointed that the Press-Citizens “town meeting” only had proponents of the project and no opponents. Nor did any of the three-part series contain commentary from the organized opposition. This is functioning like a public relations company and not a news organization.” Clara Oleson, Iowa City

The editors then go on to ask a series of questions about the money - but NOT the $90 million in tax money, which is taken for granted. If these politicians and developers wanted to build their Fake Rainforest in Coralville with private funds, I wouldn’t have any problem with it (other than wondering if the building be reusable if it goes belly-up like the laser center). But to use $90 million of government money is more than irresponsible. It’s offensive and embarrassing.

"In all fairness, we concede that project leaders probably can't answer all of the questions. Organizations certainly must maintain a modicum of privacy when negotiating, and we respect that. In other instances, IEEP board members already have said they honestly don't have an answer because the project isn't at a point where the issue must be addressed. In a few cases, board members have attempted to provide answers, but because of the project's current stage, even they admit responses are nebulous."

Pardon? You want to us put $180 million into a project for which this board can offer only “nebulous” responses to our questions? They sought this area out. They asked to build this asinine thing.

Why is the Press-Citizen, a member of the “fourth estate” meant to watchdog against government excess and abuse, now chastising its readers like naughty schoolchildren, reminding them not to ask impolite questions?

I thought Oman “offered figures that could be substantiated?” How do you define substantiated? Is it synonymous with “based on ethereal, wildly optimistic attendance projections”? Or “predicting a ripple-effect job market by using a multiplier higher than any mega-project in the history of economics?” If so, I can agree. But if you define it like the rest of us “hick” Iowans, then it means “verifiable, able to withstand analytical scrutiny and skeptical questioning.” Don’t you dare tell us to sit down, shut up, and eat our $90 million plate of pork without asking any more of those darn inconvenient questions.

"Because of the rain forest project's scope, we urge caution and thoroughness. Success could lead to nearly unthinkable benefits; failure could place an oppressive financial burden on this area and the state."

Failure “could” place an oppressive burden on the area and state? Try “will.” C’mon. You can say it: “If you fail, we’re all screwed.” Almost as catchy as that other slogan, isn’t it?

Finally, let us be clear that by asking such questions, we're not implying that the project won't work. Oman and many others on his design team come with extensive business background, in some cases involving projects of this type and scale. But many area residents want reassurance. Winning over the majority of the community will require project leaders to continue being open, providing answers and interacting with the public.

Yep. Us locals, we don’t hold with book larnin’ like them foreign types. We hain’t got but a couple thousand PhD’s living in these parts. We need reassurance, like a skittish horse.

What have I seen to date? 1.5 million projected visitors opening year (4100 per day), settling down after five years to 1.3 million (3550 per day). The Denver rainforest had only 1 million and went belly-up; New York’s gets about 550,000. “Ripple effect” jobs numbering 2900? Maybe if you take a multiplier of about 5 to 7 compared the direct jobs – several times the normal average. You can’t simply pick a number, you know. This isn’t a magician’s card trick.

I believe fervently in supporting business growth, and I’m proud of the way Coralville has cleaned up and expanded to something other than just the “strip.” But a majority of Iowans are against this project because we understand that the presumptions on which your cost projections are based are simply not sound.

It’s time to start contacting our politicians on this one.

Charles Grassley

Tom Harkin

Jim Leach

(The above links connect to a webform. It requires you to put your name and info in, presumably to keep the crackpots out.)

For locals in the Coralville/IC area:

Bob Dvorsky

David Jacoby

Joe Bolkom

VIcki Lensing

Jim Fausett, Mayor of Coralville

Other Coralville City Council members: John Lundel, Tom Gill, John Weihe, Henry Herwig, Jean Schnake.

Friday, March 26, 2004

New legal oddity from Overlawyered:

Pranksters poured soap into a Duluth fountain to create an eight-foot mound of bubbles, a woman who waded into the bubbles fell down and cut her leg because she couldn't see where she was going. According to this article:

"Under civil court rules, six of the seven jurors can arrive at a verdict after six hours of deliberations and Borich's fellow jurors arrived at the 70-30 split on the city's and Kelly's negligence. The jurors determined that Kelly should be awarded $37,645.68 for past pain, disability, disfigurement, embarrassment and emotional distress; $9,443.20 for past wage loss; $42,000 for past health care expenses; $74,569.50 for future pain, disability, disfigurement, embarrassment and emotional distress and $15,000 for future health care expenses."

On the one hand, it is a valid legal theory that the city had the duty to clean up a known hazard (someone had reported the bubbles at 5:41 am, about 4 hours before the woman's fall). On the other hand, can we say "open and obvious?" Come on, she gets only 30% of the fault here?

On a tangent - remember the days when the brick fountain in the ped mall constantly spewed froth after a Saturday night? It's a miracle no one killed themselves on that thing, what with wet brick, small steps, and drunk college students.

Does anyone know whether it was really supposed to represent three women peeing? Or that an Iowa City urban legend?
 New Mexico Court concludes that nipple piercing is not a form of expression protected by the First Amendment.
 There was also this very cool story about spontaneous generosity. A refugee family from Somalia had emigrated to the US with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They were on a plane to Chicago when a fellow passenger struck up a conversation, presumably with the 10-year-old son who was the only one who could speak English. On learning of the family's situation, the passengers requested and received permission from the pilot to take up a collection. Passing around a "barf bag" they raised nearly $900 for the family. According to the story, when the father was handed the money he didn't understand at first what was going on. Kudos to everyone on that plane.

It occurs to me as I go to hit "post and publish" that some might find my approbation of this story incongruous when juxtaposed with the last post. The difference is in the status. I've never been rewarded for an illegal act, and don't expect to be in the future. I don't see why anyone else should be, either. Nor should they get their money back.
 I'll refrain from making a bad "head" joke - but only by using a lot of restraint.
 Okay, this is just wierd.
 The Delaware Department of Transportation turned up a brass button that commemorated the 1789 inauguration of George Washington as the nation's first president at a construction site. A gilded tin campaign pin from the 1864 contest between Abraham Lincoln and George McClellan was also unearthed.

Maybe if they widen the scope of the dig they'll find tiny, old protest buttons:

I (heart) the King!

Impeach George!

No New Taxes!
 One good reason to be glad I don't watch television much anymore.
 Glimpse of the future?

The Iowa City Press Citizen Reports "Supporters of last year's $39 million Iowa City schools building bond referendum said Wednesday they were surprised by reports that the projects are coming in $5 million over budget."

Interesting quotes:

"Irene Klinzman said she had thought the land for the new schools already had been purchased. 'They should've known that and planned for more," Klinzman said. "Had (voters) known ahead of time, (the bond) wouldn't have passed.' Tim Borchardt also opposed the referendum, which was approved by 71 percent of voters in February 2003. He blamed the cost overruns on 'slipshod work.' 'This whole thing ... was nothing but smoke and mirrors," Borchardt said. "I think they've misled us at almost every turn.'"

"District officials said they have figured out how to make up most of the $5 million overrun, using a federal grant, energy rebates and scaling back several projects. That would leave the district to make up about $1.7 million, officials said."

"Lisa Murray, who has children at Weber Elementary, said she supported the bond referendum. She said she hoped the unexpected costs would not "compromise" any of the projects. 'It's a bit disappointing, but it's understandable,' Murray said. 'It was a large project, and that happens. I'm sure there was reason (the extra costs weren't) taken into consideration.'"

Now gaze into the crystal ball at the future meeting regarding the cost overrun of the fake rainforest in Coralville:

Does it look like the Animas-La Plata Project?

The Big Dig in Boston?

The Space Station?

Check out this article regarding a 2002 study in Denmark that confirms what we all knew instinctively. The survey of "megaprojects" in 20 countries examined 600 completed projects, ranging from $1.5 million to $8.5 billion. After compensating for the possibility of hikes being unpredictably caused by technical snags, the study showed that 90% of them entailed cost overruns.

The conclusion, according to this article? "The most likely motivations for cost-benefit deceptions are economic gain or political leverage, suggests the team. Economically, the cause could be corruption or the less base urge to attract investment to a particular region. But the researchers have been unable to unearth precise reasons. 'You have to go out and make in-depth interviews [and] it's very difficult to get people to talk about this,' says Flyvbjerg."

This article on the study goes further, stating:

"The study concluded that lying, or intentional deception, by public officials was the source of the problem: “Project promoters routinely ignore, hide, or otherwise leave out important project costs and risks in order to make total costs appear low.” Politicians use “salami tactics” whereby costs are only revealed to taxpayers one slice at a time in the hope that the project is too far along when true costs are revealed to turn back."

The Danish study has been published as a book: Megaprojects and Risk: An Anatomy of Ambition, and is available at Barnes and Noble.

But if anyone thinks the fake rainforest in Coralville, Iowa is only going to cost the projected amount, I would be happy to acquire a fake bridge in Brooklyn, New York and sell that to you as well.
 Update on 9/11 Hearings:

Here's a handy flowchart from defective yeti via Wonkette:

Found more Iowa blogs via Tusk and Talon - The Patron Saint of Mediocrity, a new IC blog, Inappropriate Response, who's been around far longer than I (the blog, probably NOT the blogger), and Space Monkey Leader, who apparently reads all the same major blogs that I do.

UPDATE: Oops, and Iowa Hawk.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

 More fun facts on What You Could Do With $200 Million from Tusk and Talon. Instead of spending $180 mill to build a fake rainforest in Coralville, we could actually ship the kids down to the rainforest, among other things.
 HEY LIVE MUSIC FANS! Scott and Michelle Dalziel are playing at the Smokehaus in South Amana on Saturday. They do some rock, some folk - think Paul Simon, the Beatles, Norah Jones and the Indigo Girls. I have gotten to know them personally, and they are awesome people.

Some non-biased sources:

"Michelle and Scott have a warmth and comfort level on stage that weaves perfectly with their above the norm playing and harmonizing"...- Patrick Fineran, The Journal Times, Racine WI. April 17, 2003

Dalziel takes the stage proving that in the right hands, two guitars are better than one. Their vocal styles are somewhat different - Michelle, alternately breathy and crystal clear, can let loose with a bluesy wail, and Scott's tenor flows conversationally - but the two blend their voices and guitars into a sweet, complicated whole in which every countermelody counts. The combination of rhythm, folk and classical guitar styles- and Michelle's drumming on certain songs- draws out comparisons to Indigo Girls, but most songs, even covers, were unique. For a moment the fierce weather was forgotten as toes tapped and hands clapped. The crowd had fun and so did the performers, proof that happiness is a guitar and a microphone." - Dana Duffield, Freeport Journal Standard, January 22, 2000

I highly recommend taking a peek if you're going to be in the area.
 Goose and Gander time in the Kobe Bryant trial:

"EAGLE, Colo. -- Kobe Bryant's lawyers are trying to exclude some evidence concerning the NBA star while attempting to bring details of his accuser's sex life into the trial. On Thursday, a day after Bryant and the 19-year-old woman accusing him of rape came face to face in court for the first time, a judge will hear a request by Bryant's lawyers to throw out evidence, including Bryant's recorded statements to investigators and a T-shirt stained with the accuser's blood."

Oh, your statements to investigators aren't relevant but who she had sex with and how after the incident is? Of course the records are sealed, so I can't analyze the argument, but on the face of it I hope this gets stamped with a big old DENIED.
 Big Brother alert in New Mexico:

SANTA FE, N.M. - Santa Fe is considering requiring doggie seat belts. A major rewrite of the city's animal control ordinance proposes that Santa Fe dogs be buckled up when riding in trucks and other vehicles.

Are they going to prosecute you for animal cruelty if Fido's on the floor? Maybe file to put him in a doggie foster home until you've successfully completed the Department of Doggie Services reunification plan? Come on people. I love my dogs, but they are not human (no matter how much they think they are).

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

  It was under my radar at the time (okay, it was St. Pat's Day - my radar was tuned to "Guinness" and "Harp" not “politics”) but I think I've figured out who Kerry was talking about when he indicated foreign leaders supported his presidential bid. Got the link from The Command Post.
 Tacky defined: A service to notify your family via email that you've died.

If you're really evil you could flame them from hell?
 The terrorist blackmail in France issue I've commented on earlier here and here and here is becoming more active. According to this afternoon's news there was a new explosive device found on the railroad tracks in France.

This UPI article indicates:

“a shadowy organization calling itself AZF, which has demanded roughly $6 million from the French government -- or else. . .

Two weeks ago, French officials found and detonated a surprisingly sophisticated bomb placed along the Paris-Toulouse rail line after receiving precise GPS coordinates by AZF directing them to the location. The group has threatened to bomb a dozen rail sites. . .

French officials acknowledge they have few details about AZF. The group's name mirrors that of a petrochemical plant in Toulouse that explode several days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.

According to earllier reports, the French government originally requested the media refrain from printing the story to enable them to maintain contact with AZF. They even attempted a rendezvous with the blackmailers for payment, according to the French newspaper “Liberation,” the leftist publication in which the French government would exchange cryptic messages with the AZF. It indicates in this article (translated by Alta Vista) :

“ . . . a new attempt at handing-over of the ransom, by helicopter, at the beginning of an aerodrome of Seine-et-Marne, failed, Friday, because of the weather conditions.”

The original request for secrecy was confirmed by a rather sketchy press release from the French embassy, which doesn’t include any mention of paying the ransom.

Although the French government maintains that there is no Islamic connection with AZF, the only supporting evidence shown to date is in news reports which state AZF called itself a "pressure group of a terrorist nature linked with a secular brotherhood" in one letter. I'm not so sure that holds water, given the proximity of the original bombing of the factory to the al-Qaeda 9/11 attacks, and the proximity of these attempts to the al-Qaeda bomb in Madrid. On the other hand, it appears that most al-Qaeda centered groups identify themselves as such.

I'm not the only one to wonder if there is a link between this and the Madrid bombings. Even the news reports casually mention Madrid when they discuss the French situation, but don't seem to be connecting the dots between the events.

Before proceeding further, I do realize that the voters in Spain claim to have voted in the way they did to retaliate against the current government for hiding the al-Qaeda connection in the bombings, and not to appease terrorists. But I cannot ignore that: 1) the motivation for hiding the connection between al-Qaeda and the bombs was a fear that public sentiment would turn against the government for its continued involvement in Iraq, 2) the terrorists indicated the Madrid bombing was in retaliation for Spain’s assisting the US in Iraq, and 3) the secondary motivation of the voters was exactly the backlash feared by the government – wanting to elect a party who would get out of Iraq to reduce the likelihood of future terrorist bombings. In other words: appeasement.

With France, the government sought to make the payments to the terrorists who threatened to bomb them. I personally believe they were hedging their bets: we’ll try to catch them when they pick up the money. If not, we’ll have paid and they go away. Regardless, there is an element of appeasement that is obvious.

The US has been divided in how to approach terrorism. In the days immediately after 9/11, some editorials pleaded for the public to understand why the terrorists hated us, and to use that knowledge to shape our foreign policy. They advocated we stop supporting Israel, and take a more pro-Arabic approach to mid-east politics. They eventually protested against our actions in Afghanistan, and later Iraq. Others advocated taking the aggressive approach, to hunt down the terrorists and take the war to them. Obviously, they have prevailed to date. These "hawks" are continually criticized by the peace movement as posturing hard-liners who have created a cycle of violence, rather than seeking a peaceful approach of understanding and negotiation.

I come down on the side of the government - in philosophy, if not always in execution - for this reason: when al-Qaeda believed we were vulnerable to coercion by terrorism, they decided to plot the September 11th attacks.

An excerpt from Encarta’s online encyclopedia entry on al-Qaeda:

”Bin Laden and his confederates doubtless hoped that the September 11 attacks would deliver a “knockout” blow to the United States—crushing its economy and demoralizing its citizens and government. Bin Laden has often described the United States as a “paper tiger” on the verge of financial ruin and total collapse—with the force of Islam poised to push the nation over the edge. In this way, he might alter U.S. foreign policy and thus prompt changes in line with al-Qaeda’s aims, including ending U.S. support for countries such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, withdrawing U.S. military forces from the Arabian Peninsula, and removing U.S. influence, business, and cultural activities from the Muslim world.”

This is echoed in this article from the US Military and a host of other articles printed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 which are no longer available online.

It is also apparent in a quote directly from the declaration of war against us by Osama Bin Laden:

“But your most disgraceful case was in Somalia; whereafter vigorous propaganda about the power of the USA and its post cold war leadership of the new world order you moved tens of thousands of international force, including twenty eight thousands American solders into Somalia. However, when tens of your solders were killed in minor battles and one American Pilot was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu you left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you. Clinton appeared in front of the whole world threatening and promising revenge , but these threats were merely a preparation for withdrawal. You have been disgraced by Allah and you withdrew; the extent of your impotence and weaknesses became very clear. It was a pleasure for the "heart" of every Muslim and a remedy to the "chests" of believing nations to see you defeated in the three Islamic cities of Beirut , Aden and Mogadishu.”

While I would have made some additional attempts to persuade the UN to see the wisdom in "revoking Iraq's probation" after it failed to live up to the terms of its peace treaty, I do not disagree with the war on terror, because appeasement simply won't work.

The point: I may yet get evidence on which philosophy is successful. The US decided to attack. Europe, at least in France and Spain, has apparently decided to negotiate or appease. Regardless of the source of the terrorism, we should see a decline in terrorist activity in the region whose philosophy is successful.

(UPDATE: I did a bit of clarification editing after ruminating on this overnight. )

 Light blogging today - lots of work to do.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

 Ooh! Ooh! We're on the web!


April 16, 17, 23, 24

by Terry Lawrence

directed by Pauline Tyer (and Matt Brewbaker - my note)

assistant directed by Evelyn Stanske

The play is based on a true story of love and non-violent resistance in Nazi Berlin. Five non-Jewish women struggle to secure the release of their Jewish husbands from the Nazis.


Anna - Annette Rohke

Lise - Paula Grady

Sophie - Madonna Smith

Baroness - Caroline Oster

Katerina - Kris Borchert

6 Women - Deone Pedersen

Major - David Hale

Sargeant - Chuck Dufano

Young Soldier - Daniel Fairchild

We're just a few weeks into rehearsals, but I can't tell you enough about what a professional, altogether kind group of people they have here. This is my first drama, having only recently gotten back into theater, and I was quite concerned about my ability to pull off such a major role in a dramatic production. Comedy is one thing - you can always pull out a bit of schtick to get a laugh if necessary. But drama has to be real, if you know what I mean. If you're in the area at the time we go up, come check it out.

 According to the LA Times, supporters of the Newdow pledge of allegiance challenge hope he doesn't implode during oral arguments. This tallies with stuff I've read before, which basically seems to indicate that in person he comes off as a crackpot with a point. If that's the case, they're correct in assuming it won't go over very well with the US Supreme Court - a very different animal from the 9th Circuit. How Appealing posted the link.
 "Rain forest spells $85M" reads the headline. We are then assured that the $85 million is just for Johnson County, Iowa. The fake rainforest will also create 2900 "ripple effect" jobs, 1400 of them in Johnson County alone, for a total statewide impact of $187 million.

There is no mention that these figures might be speculative outside the single obligatory skeptic quote ("I've heard a lot of, 'We hope. We feel. We believe.' But it's still Coralville that is left holding the bag (if the project fails).") and a bit of hedging by former governor Bob Ray: "If this happens, and I believe it will, this could be the biggest thing that happens to our state". Note that Ray's the chairman of the board of directors, and that's the best endorsement he can give.

We are then given a dazzling array of figures: "In Johnson County, tourist spending climbed $51 million over the past five years, to reach $199 million. Josh Schamberger, executive director of the Iowa City/Coralville Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the 3,170 tourism-supported jobs pay an average $7.50 a hour, compared to Iowa's minimum wage of $5.15 a hour. The Iowa Environmental/Education Project will create 2,900 "ripple effect" jobs statewide: 1,400 full- and part-time in Johnson County." None of which address the inherent speculativeness in the figures, but rather presuming that "if you build it, they will come."

I'm as big a WP Kinsella fan as the next person, but in this case they have no facts to back up that claim.

1) The "ripple effect" on jobs has now grown. According to the Iowa Environmental/Education page on the Iowa Child website the project was going to create "400 permanent jobs with ripple effect of 2,000 jobs in eastern Iowa." However, the new "news release" here now supports the 2900 "ripple effect" job figure, with "wages exceeding $42.6 million." It puts construction jobs at 500, but gives no indication of the total permanent jobs on which this "ripple effect" is based. Taking the prior figure of 400 permanent jobs would mean they believe the ripple effect would have a multiplier of a little over 7. I'm no economist, but that seems high to me. The Iowa Porkforest website has more on this issue. I also ran a google search on the term "employment multipliers." I get websites like this one with enough math to make your head swim, but if you look at the figures they range between 1.5 and 3.5, with multipliers of about 2 being most common. Come on, guys, seven??

2) The new study on which these people are basing their figures uses "a conservative mid-range attendance scenario of 1.3 million visitors during a stabilized year of operation." That's 3,550+ visitors per day if it were open 365 days per year, down from their prior, apparently not-so-conservative estimate of 1.5 million visitors per year, or 4100 per day. Of course, they still presume that opening year attendance will reach the 1.5 million mark.

Okay, reality check time. The non-profit Denver aquarium cost $93 million to build and opened in 1999. It attracted 1 million visitors during its first year of operation. In Denver, a freaking tourist trap. It went downhill from there, and is now belly-up. What about other rainforests? We keep hearing about the one in Cornwall, England that averages 1.8 million per year, with a local population of 500,000. How about the one in New York which only averages 576,444? Or the fact that the entire Omaha zoo only gets about 1.35 million? Their adjunct rainforest keeps no separate figures. But when the director was asked whether the rainforest itself is self-sustaining, he stifled a laugh and said: "These are very energy- and manpower-intense operations," he said, adding that annual expenses easily can rise to $20 million. "That's where some of these stand-alone aquariums run into problems, is they run into these 200-plus support staffs because they had to put all the management in place, whereas we ... already have to zoo infrastructure that supports it."

This estimate is conservative????? In what universe???

3) They talk about all these adjunct programs with elemantary schools, presumably to show where these 1.3 million visitors are going to come from:

"Panelists discussed teaming up with schools across Iowa, linking curriculum with "real life experience," using Web cams to allow students to monitor plant growth and animal behavior, allowing students, teachers and scientists to work side by side in a "living lab" - exploring plant genetics, water filtration systems and biotechnology."

Did you catch the "webcam"? You mean like, remote learning, over the internet? Something Iowa's kids could do now by, say, linking with the rainforest in Cornwall? Or Omaha? We already have the technology to do virtual living labs, presuming the school has sufficient computers. If not, should we not be spending the money to get more computers and better high-speed hookups?

That's what burns me - the proponents of this monstrosity keep talking about how it will enhance Iowa's education, but when you get down to brass tacks, it would cost less to buy every kid in Iowa a ticket to the Omaha zoo. According to census statistics, there are approximately 511,825 kids in Iowa between the ages of 5 and 18 - 181,603 between 5 and 13, and 346,891 from 13-18. Ticket prices at the Zoo are: ages 5-11 $4, adults ages 12 and up $7.75. That puts ticket prices for all of them at $3.5 million or so (3,414,817.25). Factor in another mill or two for transportation and teacher tickets, and round it to 5.5 million. That means that for the total $180 million this project will cost we could send every school age kid in Iowa to the Omaha zoo 36 times. Heck, we could probably ship half of them off to South America to see a real one, but I've already spent too much time on this blog to justify researching those figures.

We could also buy many, many little personal computers for the kids to do just what they're proposing: virtual learning in a living lab. So if you want to save the rainforest, and are absolutely committed to spending this kind of money to do it, I think you should try this. Take half the money and buy a rainforest preserve of whatever size in South America. Spend the other half on computers to show allow the kids in Iowa to track "their" rainforest, link with the rangers, learn about the ecosystems. We'd have saved something real instead of building something fake, and could allow a more realistic "hands on" educational experience. Think about it: the kids could be involved from start to finish. Where can we buy the land? How much will it cost? What animals live there? How are we going to make sure they're taken care of? What happens after a storm/drought/etc?

Reality is the best teacher, after all. Then again, it appears that it's not the kids who have lost touch with reality here.

The 9/11 panel concludes that both the Bush and Clinton administration erred in their pre-9/11 assessment of the terrorist threat.

On the one hand: No sh*t.

I think it was obvious to all of us that we got a national wake-up call on that day. We now need to assess where we missed the signs and how best to fix it. The issue is not whether we were ignorant, but how ignorant were we and can we do better in the future.

On the other hand, the rest of the article is sheer finger-pointing as both parties try to deflect blame onto the other. Election year politics at it's most basic level, if it weren't for so many people that gave their lives for this issue.

It would be a refreshing change if the two parties would simply grow up, examine where and what they did wrong, admit the nation was unprepared for 9/11, and pledge to do their level best to make us prepared for future attempts. That would include foregoing any further stonewalling on current attempts to analyze prior intelligence.

In other words, stop the CYA nonsense and do what's right.

Of course, then it wouldn't be politics, would it?

UPDATE: I seem to be quite bitchy annoyed today. I'll get an attitude adjustment at some point, I promise.

 Hint to crack users: don't let your kid take it to school for show and tell.

Monday, March 22, 2004

 This Slate article spotlights the latest in the Jayson Blair saga. My favorite quote:

Allowing Jayson Blair to judge the ethics of a writer—or publication—is a little like green-lighting Josef Mengele* to lead a malpractice investigation of Marcus Welby.


 So that's why my blood pressure's so low. Merely a precaution, officer (hic).
 Is the fake rainforest in Coralville a done deal? The Iowa Channel seems to think so. I sincerely hope not. How did such a stupid idea ever take hold?
 Just got the following bit of spam:

Subject: CITI-ONLINE E_Mail Veerification -

DEAR Citibank-Online Clients_,

ThIs message was sent by t_he OnlineCitibank sevrers to veerify your _e-mail_ adrress_.

You must complete this process by clicking on_the_link beloow and enttering

in the litlle winddow your Citi Atm/Debit Card Number and _PIN_ that

you use in local Atm_Machine. That_is done - for-your protection -X- becouse some_of our

_members_ _no longer have access to their E-mail adresses and we must verify it.

To verify your_ email adress and _access_ your _citibank

account, clic on the_ link _below.


The link takes you to the Citibank website with a little box for you to stupidly enter your card and pin #. Of course, the brilliant mind that thought up this little phishing scheme forgot to ensure that the box only accepts numeric characters. So I sent him a few four-letter "card numbers" before closing it out. I was told that my email address was "successful verified."

I never said I was mature. . .

 The NY Times has an article hilighting the Newdow Pledge of Allegiance case which is to be argued before the US Supreme Court. Unfortunately, it could still be dismissed for lack of standing:

"A preliminary question, which will be part of the arguments on Wednesday, is whether Dr. Newdow, who was never married to the girl's mother and is not the custodial parent, has standing to pursue the case. The mother, Sandra L. Banning, has filed a brief supporting the pledge and her daughter's recitation of it. A decision that Dr. Newdow lacks standing would wipe out the lower court's ruling, but not the emotion the case has generated or the potential that a different plaintiff might renew the debate in the next case."

I hope they will decide the case on its merits. According to the custody order language, as discussed in the 9th Circuit opinion here:

"The child’s mother, Ms. Banning, to have sole legal custody as to the rights and responsibilities to make decisions relating to the health, education and wel-fare of [the child]. Specifically, both parents shall consult with one another on substantial decisions relating to non-emergency major medical care, den-tal, optometry, psychological and educational needs of [the child]. If mutual agreement is not reached in the above, then Ms. Banning may exercise legal con-trol of [the child] that is not specifically prohibited or inconsistent with the physical custody order. The father shall have access to all of [the child’s] school and medical records."

On the standing issue, the 9th Circuit ruled that:

"We hold that a noncustodial parent, who retains some parental rights, may have standing to maintain a federal lawsuit to the extent that his assertion of retained parental rights under state law is not legally incom-patible with the custodial parent’s assertion of rights. This holding assumes, of course, that the noncustodial parent can establish an injury in fact that is fairly traceable to the chal-lenged action, and it is likely that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision."

We can only wait and see whether the US Supreme Ct will agree and decide the case on the merits.

 Fun headline of the day: "Virgin celebrates first mid-air birth". Saw the link first on Dave Barry's blog.
 Well, yes, the last time I looked there was no constitutional right to wear a tongue stud.
  Why is it that whenever you see a trial lawyer proselytizing against insurance reform, they never seem to disclose the information that their income comes primarily from taking a percentage of insurance settlement proceeds? As I indicated earlier, here, I happen to agree with him that the $250,000 cap is inappropriate, despite my background in insurance defense. But I’ll bet if you ask the trial lawyer’s association whether they’d agree to any cap in any amount, they’d fight tooth and nail against it.
 This letter appeared in the Press Citizen today:

"Rain forest plan won't work out

Three cheers for Norman Luxemburg in accurately describing the hysterical boosterism behind the Coralville rain forest scheme ("Answers needed on rain forest," March 10). If we're foolish enough to build it, I predict the facility soon will be converted to casino gambling in a desperate attempt to recoup the costs.

Dan Coffey


Now that sparks an idea -

We could combine the two!! Scores of slot machines nestled in a tropical grove!! Jaguar racing in a specially designed indoor track! It is destined to pull in at least a gazillion visitors in the first year, according to our highly scientific polling of six unbiased Coralville politicians!!

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Okay, I really don't know what's suddenly going on with the formatting here. I have only a child's grasp of HTML obtained through trial and error. I just know that I haven't touched the template today, and yet suddenly everything's messed up. Well, I don't have the ability to really play around with this on my slow dialup. I'll have to deal with it Monday, if the blog fairies aren't through with their practical joke by then. My apologies until then.

UPDATE: I fixed it!!!! Pardon me for being disproportionately pleased with myself, but I'm utterly clueless about this HTML stuff, and am learning it one mistake at a time. The dial-up at home doesn't show me the nice "bold" "italic" and "link" buttons that I see on Blogger via internet explorer at work, so I was trying to type in the code by hand. Big mistake. I'll try to work around it next time.
Rekha Basu has an opinion piece in the Register against a bill making it a form of child endangerment to allow kids to live in a home where meth is manufactured. She equates meth with marijuana and alcohol and opines that it is hypocritical to criminalize having kids around meth users while allowing them around alcoholics:

“But children in homes dominated by alcohol abuse may not be much safer. According to the National Council on Alcoholism Web site, alcohol is the most widely used "psychoactive drug" in the United States and the third-leading cause of preventable deaths, after tobacco and diet-related ills. About 18 million Americans have alcohol problems, compared to 5 million to 6 million with drug problems. One-quarter of all emergency-room admissions, one-third of all suicides and more than half of homicides are alcohol-related.”

I happen to know about the dangers of meth manufacture – not meth use, meth manufacture – through my background as a prosecutor. But even a simple internet search will bring up a host of sites listing something close to the following:

“Exposure to low levels of some meth ingredients may produce headache, nausea, dizziness, and fatigue; exposure to high levels can produce shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain, dizziness, lack of coordination, eye and tissue irritation, chemical burns (to the skin, eyes, mouth, and nose), and death. Corrosive substances may cause injury through inhalation or contact with the skin. Solvents can irritate the skin, mucous membranes, and respiratory tract and affect the central nervous system. Chronic exposure to the chemicals typically used in meth manufacture may cause cancer; damage the brain, liver, kidney, spleen, and immunologic system; and result in birth defects. Normal cleaning will not remove methamphetamine and some of the chemicals used to produce it. They may remain on eating and cooking utensils, floors, countertops, and absorbent materials. Toxic byproducts of meth manufacturing are often improperly disposed outdoors, endangering children and others who live, eat, play, or walk at or near the site.”

Think about it – one of the primary ingredients in meth is anhydrous ammonia. If you go on another quick web search to agricultural sites dealing with meth use and handling, you’ll see articles like this one from the CDC:

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Anhydrous means "without water."' Because NH3 CONTAINS NO WATER, it is attracted to any form of moisture. If exposed to NH3 -- immediately flush the exposed body area(s) with water for at least 15 minutes. Seek medical attention immediately after emergency first aid treatment.

Don't be blind to the dangers of Anhydrous Ammonia! Potential health hazards are:

• Blindness,

• Lung Damage,

• Burns, and

• Death


• Wear personal protective equipment,

• Always have ample water supply,

• Inspect and replace hoses and valves as needed,

• Never fill a tank over 85 percent of capacity,

• Bleed off hose pressure before disconnecting,

• Stay clear of hose and valve openings,

• Follow regulations when using equipment,

• Have qualified technician repair tank, and

• Use proper hitch, safety chains and Slow Moving Vehicle sign when towing.

or this:

Iowa State University Extension

It's easier to prevent accidental spills of anhydrous ammonia than it is to treat them. Accidental exposure to the liquid fertilizer can result in serious burns, blindness and even death.

Use these tips to reduce your risks:

• Always keep water handy--in your shirt pocket, on the tractor or truck, and with the nurse tank. Water, or some other non-toxic, non-caustic fluid, can be used to flush areas exposed to anhydrous ammonia.

• Always wear protective gear, such as rubber gloves, ventless goggles or a full-face shield, and a long-sleeved shirt whenever you work with anhydrous ammonia.

• Use safety chains and approved hitchpins when transporting ammonia tanks or other application equipment.

• Avoid wearing contact lenses when working with anhydrous ammonia. Contact lenses intensify burns.

• Never put your head or body parts in direct line of valve openings.

• Remember that anhydrous is under extreme pressure, which increases on warm days. A broken hose can literally strike anywhere. Treat ammonia hoses and valves as "loaded guns" and stay clear of the safety relief valve.

• Check valves for corrosion and hoses for cracks or signs of wear.

Relieve pressure before you disconnect or reconnect hoses or parts. Close and lock valves and disconnect hoses when the nurse tank is unattended.

Let’s not forget that the labs have a nasty tendency to explode. Many of them would have gone completely undetected, except for the fact that the building blew up. The figures I found on the web indicate about 15% of the labs are discovered this way. Not only is the anhydrous volatile, but the hydrogenerators used in the manufacturing process “constitute bombs waiting to be ignited by a careless act.”

The dangers to children living in meth labs – not around meth users, but in meth labs – are vastly compounded from those simply living with a drug or alcohol addict. They not only face all the abuse issues, but there are these fundamental safety concerns. According to Ms. Basu, the bill was originally broader, but was narrowed to address only meth. Because of these special safety concerns, I agree with the narrower version.

Finally, Ms. Basu brings up the Domestic Violence Coalitions opposition to the bill based on the chance it could be used to prosecute victims of domestic violence who choose to stay with an abuser in a home where meth is being manufactured. This is accurate. It could be used either to prosecute the abuser or the survivor, but I’m afraid that is beside the point. I agree with many of the coalition’s stances on issues, I should point out as a bias alert that I was a VAWA-funded domestic violence special prosecutor for three years. But I part ways with them on many issues involving the children and involving collateral prosecutions. This case is one of them.

The purpose of the bill is not to punish domestic violence survivors. They can be prosecuted under this bill, as can anyone else who chooses to live in a home where meth is manufactured. It is facially neutral, applicable to anyone.

I understand their concern that women may find themselves in a potential catch-22 situation in that it is dangerous to leave and dangerous to stay. Of course, that dilemma is inherent in any dv situation. The same argument is used to argue for keeping custody with a woman living in an abusive relationship, particularly where the kids are in jeopardy. I recall a certain situation in which a drug user threatened his family with a loaded gun, among other violent acts. The argument was made against referral to the juvenile prosecutor for removal of the children from the home because of exactly the type of catch-22 argued against here. But the state cannot close its eyes to the plight of the children simply because it enhances the dilemma of the mother. I understand that it places the mother in a difficult situation. But responsibility for that situation needs to be thrown straight back at the abuser, not at the state.

This article in the Des Moines Register outlines an issue facing prosecutors – when can what I call “Perry Mason syndrome” go too far? In other words, when can a good, dramatic argument cross the line into improperly inflaming the jury?

On the one hand, I disagree with some of the philosophy behind this rule. I don’t believe the rational, reasonable people on a jury are going to be hypnotized by some lawyer into ruling in a way vastly different from how they would otherwise. It’s like believing a lawyer can somehow, with expert questioning, browbeat a witness on the stand into confessing to a crime. It just doesn’t happen. I do believe that a jury can be biased and unfair, but that’s generally a function of the biases brought with them from past experience, and can be either fostered or avoided by picking the right jurors.

That being said, I also have a problem with one of the two rulings. The first, and the one I’ve no problem with, came down in the Graves case discussed in the article. A copy of the ruling is here. The rule is simple: when a defendant’s or witnesses’ testimony directly contradicts that of another witness – in that case, the defendant contradicted the police officer – the prosecutor can’t ask the witness whether the officer is lying. I agree with the ruling because: 1) It’s a bright line and easily avoided. 2) It’s a stupid question anyway. It’s speculative - how would the defendant know what is going on in the officer’s brain? It’s prejudicial and not probative – serves no purpose other than to make the defendant look bad. And do you really think you’re going to get them to break down on the stand a la Perry Mason? Please. You should be able to suggest who is lying in closing arguments, but save it for the close.

The second ruling stemmed from the LeAnn Werts trial, also discussed in the article, with a copy of the ruling here. This one is much more troubling for me. The Court ruled it is improper for the prosecutor during closing arguments to use the deceased child’s never-to-be-finished baby book, by tearing out page after page during the closing speech, to illustrate the life that would never be lived.

This is more difficult because: 1) It was during closing. Closing is supposed to be biased. That’s where you bring your best powers of persuasion to argue your case. It was powerful. But it wasn’t inherently unfair, and besides, juries expect dramatic arguments. 2) Bright line? Big fog is more like it. How is anyone supposed to know when dramatic is too dramatic. This isn’t like showing an irrelevant photo of the defendant engaging in some weird sexual activity or drug use. It isn’t an extreme close-up of something grisly. It was a demonstrative exhibit; 3) It’s unwieldy. The sheer number of appeals that can now be brought staggers the imagination. Any time there was a dramatic moment in the closing – which should be every time if the prosecutor’s doing the job right – the defendant will now be able to bring it up on appeal that it was too dramatic. Kind of like the old “I know it when I see it” porn standard which had the US Supremes spending many a Saturday night on special screenings of some very interesting videos. Suddenly they realized that if they were ever going to get on with any other business, they’d have to create standards so lawyers could predict whether they would win or lose on appeal and act accordingly.

I find it baffling that the PC discusses the $180 million dollar fake rainforest in Coralville as a fiscally viable option, but implies the $112 million for additional casinos is an outrageous sum. I’m not too fond of either project, but geez, let’s show some consistency.

Meanwhile, the people at the Press-Citizen are bringing you 'town meetings' about the fake rainforest in Coralville.

This should make for an interesting Monday night.

Friday, March 19, 2004

 What is up with using this as a pro-Iraq editorial in the Press-Citizen? As I read it, the entire opinion consists of: 1) Our intelligence was bad, and we'll likely never find WMD's, and 2) Our execution was sloppy because we were unprepared for the occupation of Baghdad and we continue to face resistance from sympathizers to the prior regime, but 3) Let's forget all that and look toward the future.

Huh? The question posed was "Did U.S. make right choice?" not "What should we do now, given that we've already created a SNAFU?" Answer is stricken as non-responsive.
 I hope this couple saves up for lots and lots of future therapy.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

 From the "If You Can't Take the Heat" Dept.:Lawyers force Better Business Bureau to pull ad warning about the sleazy tactics of some . . . lawyers. Saw it first on How Appealing.
 Martha's appealing, according to CNN Money. In reading the article, they do have a point: I would venture to say a lot of the public thought she was on trial for insider trading, rather than for lying to investigators about what happened. And if the jury was confused about this as well, there's a good argument her lawyers should have been able to flat out say she was never charged with insider trading.

Update: This is just sad.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004


Robert Cox of the National Debate weblog seems to have won the day against the New York Times' attempt to stifle his parody "columnists' corrections page." A posting here by Public Editor Daniel Okrent indicates that the page has sufficient disclaimers to allow it as a parody. However, when I clicked on the link the website was not available. Tentatively chalking this one up to a web victory, as the page had been championed by blog heavy hitters such as Instapundit and mirrored across the web on sites like this one.
 "Bear Hibernates in Eagle's Nest." Somebody call Disney, there's a sequel for "Dumbo."

 Now running for President of the Association of Lawyers Who Really Don't Want to Go Out on a Limb.

Key quote: "Loebig was her brother's sole caretaker and stood to inherit $250,000 that remained from the settlement, according to District Attorney Stephen Zappala . . . Zappala would not speculate on a motive."
 First a fake rainforest in Coralville, now a fake snow leopard for Des Moines' Blank Park Zoo. Welcome to Faux-Iowa, where replicants rule.
 Apparently, Iowa will become famous for the fake indoor rainforest in Coralville. According to the Iowa Pork Forest website, it heads the Reader's Digest list of outrageous porkbarrel projects. Nothing like free publicity!
 The Colorado Supreme Court weighs in on the rights of Spanish-speaking defendants to receive Miranda warnings in a way they can actually understand them.

According to the opinion, the interrogation techniques weren't so hot either. Besides telling the defendant that he had a right to "carry" silent, the detective apparently had a bit of trouble asking about the offense:

In addition to these difficulties with the warnings, the defense expert observed several other indicators of miscommunication including the fact that . . . the detective did not know several words in Spanish crucial to the interrogation and the resulting sexual assault charge; specifically, Detective Lobato did not know the Spanish words for vagina, penis, condom, ejaculate, semen, or underwear.

That would make it a tad difficult to question him about a sexual assault.

Another one from How Appealing.
 A woman in Indiana is pulled over after flipping the bird to an SUV containing a sheriff, when the officers who pulled her over found marijuana in the vehicle and outstanding warrants for her arrest.

Question: what's the probable cause, or even reasonable suspicion, for the stop? Last I looked, the gesture was rude but not a crime. There seem to be free speech implications in making it a crime, even if she knew it was an officer at the time.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

 Stupid criminal of the day: "Cool, dude. You guys look just like cops. You even have the word "police" on the back of your jackets. Hey, ya wanna score some drugs?"
 On another legal note, I can’t refrain from comment on the recent news that Utah prosecutors have filed charges against a woman for her failure to have a c-section.

I looked up the technical definition of murder in Utah:

76-5-203. Murder.
(1) As used in this section, "predicate offense" means:
(b) child abuse, under Subsection 76-5-109(2)(a), when the victim is younger than 18 years of age;
(2) Criminal homicide constitutes murder if:
(a) the actor intentionally or knowingly causes the death of another;
(b) intending to cause serious bodily injury to another, the actor commits an act clearly dangerous to human life that causes the death of another;
(c) acting under circumstances evidencing a depraved indifference to human life, the actor engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another and thereby causes the death of another;
(d) (i) the actor is engaged in the commission, attempted commission, or immediate flight from the commission or attempted commission of any predicate offense, or is a party to the predicate offense;
(ii) a person other than a party as defined in Section 76-2-202 is killed in the course of the commission, attempted commission, or immediate flight from the commission or attempted commission of any predicate offense; and
(iii) the actor acted with the intent required as an element of the predicate offense;

There is also a Negligent Homicide section in the Utah code, but I don’t think they used it based on the fact that her attorney seems to be going for a mental illness defense, which is specifically used for the charge of murder itself.

76-5-206. Negligent homicide.
(1) Criminal homicide constitutes negligent homicide if the actor, acting with criminal negligence, causes the death of another.
(2) Negligent homicide is a class A misdemeanor.

Problems I see:

This would be a crime of omission, not commission. It’s not analogous to the cases where women indulge in cocaine cocktails while in their third trimester of pregnancy - she didn’t do anything to overtly harm the child, she just failed to consent to undergo a medical procedure to save the child’s life.

This differs from the definitions of murder in Utah law, which talk about “causing” the death of another, or “committing an act” dangerous to human life. They could try to boot-strap this under (d) by saying she was engaged in the commission of child abuse by the omission of medical care to the child. But it still boils down to a failure to render aid case, and you can’t ignore the fact that she didn’t simply refuse some care to the child (i.e. a blood transfusion) but rather refused to submit herself to an operation.

It is my understanding she gave a rather lame excuse for failing to get the c-section, stating that doctors wanted to cut her "from breast bone to pubic bone" and she would rather "lose one of the babies than be cut like that." She denies making the statements. However, the excuse is not really relevant, the issue is whether or not to require her to have surgery on herself in order to save another’s life. She could just as easily have had a valid reason for not wanting surgery, as it is never without complications. Just look at Olivia Goldsmith, the woman who made a fortune writing about the virtues of older, “first wives” and then epitomized irony by dying on the operating table while being prepped for plastic surgery. As any anesthesiologist will tell you, surgery entails risks above and beyond simple scars or infection.

What if: 1) the child was a viable, legal, separate human being at the time of the choice, and 2) the mother refused to undergo surgery that would save its life, and 3) that surgery would have entailed certain risks to her own life, though not as certain a risk as faced by the child. I still don’t think you have a murder here under the definition of Utah law, and you've utterly removed the abortion issue from the equation.

I don't believe the prevailing socio-legal philosophies can support this as a murder charge. Take "Good Samaritan" laws. We have them to encourage people to aid others in distress, without fear that they are placing themselves at risk for liability if they do so. That makes sense – we want to encourage prospective heroes to do what they can. But we don’t require a bystander to jump into a freezing river to save a drowning victim. We don’t require even a parent to rush into a burning building to save their child.

Probably the most compelling analogy that occurred to me is this: are we prepared to prosecute potential organ/tissue donors for the murder of the prospective recipients if they refuse to go through with the donation?

I understand we’re still fleshing out the issues behind the duties, if any, to unborn children. But this seems a poor precedent to set.
 The Press-Citizen has an editorial today speaking out against damage caps in Iowa. Having both a legal and an insurance background, I thought I’d put my 2¢ into the mix.

On the one hand, the PC has it right that Iowa is not generally known for it’s unreasonably large jury awards. As this survey of legal professionals shows, Iowa juries are considered among the most fair in the nation. I’d like to think it’s because we have a good deal of common sense – at least, where verdicts are concerned.

I also understand where the plaintiff’s bar gets quite worked up at damage caps set as low as $250,000. Given the “going rate” on medical bills, legal fees, and so on, and given that it doesn’t take into account the egregiousness of the tort or the amount of pain and suffering, this could result in a statistically significant number of plaintiffs being under-compensated.

Of course, because plaintiffs' attorneys generally make their money by fees taking 33-40% of any award given to the plaintiff, contingent upon recovery, this law could slice into their pocketbooks quite a bit as well. Not that anyone is crying about poor, poverty-stricken lawyers. But they are the source of the lobbying power that brings this issue into the public arena, though they generally neglect to mention their own interests are being served along with the injured plaintiffs’.

On the other hand, just because the Iowa court system is doing well so far in comparison with other states, doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to continue that way. I would think any reasonable person could conclude that there is a point at which intangible “pain and suffering” awards become ridiculously punitive and too stifling of a free marketplace.

The temptation to bring frivolous lawsuits in order to try to “ring the bell” with a huge verdict, or to use such a possibility to coerce nuisance-value “cost of defense” settlements in sufficient numbers to eventually culminate in increased insurance rates, apparently proves irresistible to many of my trial attorney colleagues.

I would therefore be in favor of a cap of some sort, to prevent the type of over-the-top awards that have occurred in other states. Perhaps try something in line with the US Supreme Court’s rulings on punitive damages, where the test is whether or not the damages are in proportion to the tangible damages incurred. Perhaps in the five to ten multiplier range? For example, a claimant who has $5000 in lost wages and medical bills, he or she would be capped at a multiplier of, say, seven times that amount, or $35,000 in past or future “pain and suffering” intangible damages. That would leave in the flexibility for those who are very severely injured in a very egregious manner to obtain the larger awards, while setting a reasonable cap that would track with jury trends in the past.

It seems a common-sense solution that should satisfy all but the greediest on both sides. Therefore, because we’re talking about the political system, it’s likely that either: 1) it’s never going to be proposed, or 2) if proposed it will be fought tooth and nail by both liberal and conservative politicians.

By the way, for lots more insight on the stupidity of building a fake rainforest in Coralville, Iowa, try the Iowa Pork Forest website.

Monday, March 15, 2004

 The flack from the NY Times' attempt to stifle a parody website is growing. The National Debate weblog has retained counsel who blasted the NY Times with a response quoting the Times' own prior editorials favoring the legality of parody works.

Meanwhile, copies of the site have proliferated on the web, in support of The National Debate. To read a copy of the parody corrections site that caused all the fuss go here.

 Another brilliant opinion piece in the Des Moines Register today. Key quote:

"Leadership means first deciding on a strategy. More attractions, small and large, across Iowa will make the state a place more people want to live. Then figure out how to repay the debt." (Emphasis theirs, not mine).

That's how I want to run my own budget: "Just rack up the credit cards, honey. We'll figure out how to pay it off later." What do they think we are, California? Now there's a good example of a state with lots of attractions. . .and the worst deficit of any state in the nation.

I don't mind looking at funding for Vision Iowa attractions. But advocating going into debt with no idea how to repay the funds it is astonishingly shortsighted at best.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

I apologize for the length, scroll away if this isn't an issue of interest.

'Rain forest' can improve world
S. Richard Fedrizzi

To sustain means to continue, carry on, keep up, prolong and nourish. It is with these words in mind that I visualize the Iowa Environmental/Education Project planned in Coralville.

Visualize? I get it: “You’re getting sleepy, very sleepy…focus your mind and energy on the pretty lights.

Sustainability is not just a matter of conscious choice. It doesn't occur naturally in the environment; we have to work at it. And the first step in any worthwhile endeavor is education.

Sustainability doesn’t occur naturally in the environment? That rather depends on how one defines sustainability, doesn’t it? A rainforest doesn’t occur naturally in the Coralville environment, and couldn’t “sustain” there. A prairie, sure. A wetland, well, much of the spring. . . but no amount of education is going to put a rainforest in Coralville. Just some heavy construction equipment and a lot of cold, hard cash.

Simply put, making the choice now to support sustainable design, which is a premise behind the Iowa project, provides a global model for determining how future generations will act and what resources will be available for them.

'Simply put,' the author is asserting that 1) “Sustainable design” is one of the premises behind the rainforest, 2) Erecting the rainforest will support this concept, 3) Supporting this concept by erecting the rainforest will provide a global model, 4) Obtaining this global model by supporting this concept by erecting the rainforest will determine both what resources are available for future generations, and how these future generations will act.

Issue #1 – “Sustainable design is a premise behind erecting the rainforest. According to the National Park Service Website "sustainable design" is a concept that recognizes that 'human civilization is an integral part of the natural world and that nature must be preserved and perpetuated if the human community itself is to survive.' According to Mr. Fedrizzi, then, one of the premises behind erecting the rainforest is the concept that nature must be preserved and perpetuated. I would agree, if we were talking about saving a real-life rainforest in South America. But we’re talking here about erecting a very expensive, very artificial building to host a fake rainforest in Iowa. It could serve the purpose of educating people about conservation. Of course, the Discovery Channel does that pretty nicely already.

Issue #2 – Erecting the rainforest will support this concept of sustainable design. Again, how exactly would erecting a big building with lots of heavy construction equipment benefit the environment?

Issue #3 – Supporting this concept of sustainable design by erecting the rainforest will provide a global model. And what do you mean a “global” model? If you mean it is comprehensive or a definitive model, I’d have to disagree. Better conservation via additional construction of buildings to hold artificial replicas of nature. Is that the definitive model of conservation? If instead you mean “world wide” you’ve obviously vastly overestimated even the most optimistic projections of visitor turnout.

Issue #4 - Obtaining this global model by supporting this concept by erecting the rainforest will determine both what resources are available for future generations, and how these future generations will act. Can we say overreaching?

And this is our legacy -- not what we leave behind but what we create and how we create it. No other cause, I believe, is greater, more vital or more rewarding.

. . . Not what we leave behind, but what we create and how we create it? What kind of nonsense is that? You can create all you want, but if you don’t leave it for the future it means nothing more than empty space to the next generation.

Thanks to the Internet, cable television, the rise in popularity of programming related to flora and fauna, and the efforts of many over the past three decades, our children today have a much greater sense of the environment and preservation of natural resources, as well as how we as adults impact the availability of these precious resources.

So why do we need a $180 million dollar building with a fake rainforest?

Baby boomers such as myself grew up in an age of endless consumption, only to be shocked by the energy and pollution crises of the 1970s.

Is this is your cosmic apology for having thrown trash out the car window when you were in the third grade?

Our activism, efforts and the results achieved during the past 25-30 years have led us down some very positive paths - "green" buildings, the formation of the U.S. Green Building Council and sister organizations around the world, the development of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system and many other fine examples of sustainable development. In particular, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System - a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings - was created to define "green building" by establishing a common standard of measurement to promote integrated, whole-building design practices, to recognize environmental leadership in the building industry, to stimulate green competition, to raise consumer awareness of green building benefits and transform the building market.

I’m sure you’ve built some very nice buildings. Some of them may have even had a useful purpose. But that still has nothing to do with the fake rainforest in Coralville, Iowa.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design provides a complete framework for assessing building performance and meeting sustainability goals. Based on well-founded scientific standards, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design emphasizes state of the art strategies for sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

Okay, I get that you’ve built environmentally aware buildings. Again, I’m sure some of them were very pretty, and some were very useful. It still has nothing to do with a fake rainforest in Coralville, Iowa.

In the last 10 years I've been part of a highly successful effort to influence some of the best minds in building development - architecture, engineering, site planning, construction, manufacturing and product development - to embrace sound environmental and sustainable building principles.

Repetition? What repetition?

The Iowa Environmental/Education Project is a tremendous opportunity for some of these minds to collectively influence all those who will come after them in a living, breathing example of "saying what we do, and doing what we say."

Yes, it will be a living, breathing example for all those future architects and builders. Translation: teach future environmentalist architects to get the money to build pretty, useful, environmentally-friendly buildings by scamming a bunch of Iowans out of $180 million dollars to look at a fake rainforest.

Whether you look into the eyes of a 2-year-old or a 22-year-old, you see limitless potential, boundless energy and enthusiasm, a zest for living and an insatiable thirst to learn more, do more, and achieve more. Imagine the mind of a child engaged as they experience scientific technology, such as 3-D molecular imaging that can show the aspects of every creature and ecosystem like they've never seen before.

I can picture that. I believe we’ll even be able to DO that, if not now, then in the near future. But it will be done remotely via computer, with or without a $180 million fake rainforest in Coralville, Iowa.

Just imagine the possibilities created and the long-term impact on our children as they gain insight and understanding about alternative and renewable sources of energy, such as fuel cells, solar, wind and geothermal, that will influence our energy consumption and dependence on foreign oil in years to come.

Again – discovery channel, anyone? How about science class in school? Or even going online and chatting real-time with kids who live in or near a real-life rainforest?

It is more than just a curious metaphor that the proposed energy infrastructure will be transparent and hence a visible part of the exhibit rather than being relegated to a room unseen. The ancient Chinese proverb reminds us that "I hear, and I forget; I see and I remember; I do, and I understand."

Oh yes. We see. We remember. We understand that the idea of a fake rainforest in Coralville is appealing but ultimately foolish concept.