Image Issues

Now, I'm not a marketing major, but which does more harm to the image of a religion: naming a teddy bear after its founder, or marching and demanding the execution of the teacher who allowed said naming?


The YouTube "debate"

Given the silly nature of the YouTube debate format anyway, if you're looking for the best analysis of the debate, look no further than Atomic Trousers...

Signs X

Cruising down Airline Highway from Louis Armstrong International Airport, New Orleans.


The Canyon Loses Its Sprig of Green


UW would do well to start growing disease-resistent strains for replacing the remaining icons on Bascom. I recall the pair of elms visible from the Chadbourne cafeteria that resembled two giant, ancient ents holding hands.

Certain trees and types of trees are inextricable components of a sense of place. Here in New Orleans, live oaks snake shady boughs out over the avenues and parklands, draping Spanish moss over any "quintessential" Southern scene. They exude "New Orleansness."

The big elm on the corner of the bend in Madison anchored the area visually, towering over the small crescent of frisbee and sunbathing grass. When I lived nearby on University, it always seemed like one last lonely sentinel against an encroaching sense of "urban anywhere"...almost an arboreal version of The Silver Dollar, really.

So it goes.

Signs IX

Uptown, New Orleans


Lapidus Stirs the Pot

David Lapidus, an alumnus of this blog, is "strongly considering" a run for Dane County Board of Supervisors.

Unsurprisingly, detractors will try to paint the maverick as some sort of Jean-Marie Le Pen. They will be wrong, however.

I, for one, have never been able to describe fully what I know of David's political outlook. It orbits the term libertarianism. I do know what his political outlook is not. It's certainly neither doctrinaire Republican nor Democratic. And, as I'm sure David would correctly insist (with ample backing evidence of the meanings of the terms), his political philosophy is neither definitively "conservative" nor "liberal".

I do know this about Lapidus: he's refreshingly well-read, thoughtful in debate, considerate of all viewpoints brought to the table, open to honest deliberation, and determined in his undertakings. While he's personable, he also seeks to cut through the emotional pleas and tired phrases often bandied about in politics to address issues with logical clarity. I found him to be a rare intelligence for his age. He's a glutton for knowledge.

Any political contest he enters will surely be more enlightened and engaging than it would have been otherwise.

Creole Cruiser

One of the neighbors is prepared for the next Katrina.

Don't you have anything else to say?

Just a real quick hit here: I am really getting annoyed with Mitt Romney's seemingly constant efforts to link himself to the legacy of Ronald Reagan. His latest incarnation is this nugget: Mike Huckabee is no Ronald Reagan.

Well no kidding. Neither are you, Mr. Romney. Reagan was Reagan. He was the right person at the right time and he led this nation and the conservative movement with courage and dignity, but you know what? This nation faces a lot of different challenges than we did 20 years ago and we just might need someone for this time and not the Cold War.

Besides, if Romney really, really wants to get into that type of a debate, I doubt that Reagan would have signed a universal health care bill into law, or claimed to be a better advocate for abortion than Ted Kennedy, or a lot of other things he did as a candidate for all the various offices he has run for over the years.

Can we please cut the phony "I'm the real Ronald Reagan" stuff and get down to actual substance already?


Getting back to basics

After reading three of the Op-Ed pieces in the Washington Post this morning, I began to notice a theme: in next year's presidential contest, it's not necessarily something fresh and exciting that voters are looking for, but instead it's getting back to the basics of what made each party - especially the Republican Party - great.

The first column was by Robert Novak. In his blistering critique of Mike Huckabee as a "false conservative" Novak pointed out that although the former-Arkansas governor is painting himself as a staunch conservative, his record indicates the opposite may be true. I've seen this argument before and the outlook doesn't seem as rosy for Huckabee. Novak's broader point, however, was a fear that Huckabee's rise is the result of a party that has fallen victim to single issue conservatism, that which places abortion and gay marriage above all other issues. What ever happened to limited government?

That question is answered by Ron Paul's seemingly inexplicable rise in the polls. In an excellent, in-depth piece on the Paul campaign, Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch try to explain why Paul's message is resonating so loudly. The answer is really quite simple: Ron Paul rips both sides. Ron Paul is a lot of things, but politics as usual is not one of them and that seems to be a great selling point to young people especially. It's not just his anti-war stance - it helps, but doesn't explain his popularity - but it's the fact that Ron Paul actually believes that the Constitution matters! He's appealing to anti-establishment college students and also to libertarians who remember the principles of Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan. Those to icons of the conservative movement weren't big-government types like President Bush and - in my opinion - Mitt Romney, they were advocates of getting government out of the lives of American citizens. That used to be the bedrock principle of the Republican Party, not abortion or gay marriage.

The final column was also quite interesting. It focused mainly on the narcissism of the baby-boom generation and why the country is turned off by them. Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are the poster-candidates for that generation and while they may be doing well in some state polls, there are an awful lot of voters who distrust them. It's an interesting read and one that I am inclined to agree with.

After reading these columns, I have to say that they make a compelling argument. Maybe, just maybe, if we could get back to the principles and the beliefs that actually united the country - instead of focusing on how to divide enough groups to win an election - we could actually get something meaningful done.


Neighborly Gestures

Yesterday, as I was about to leave to meet a study group at my favorite local coffeeshop, I found this helpful little note under my windshield wiper :

My rather reclusive neighbor down and across the street, whom I have yet to meet officially, even rapped on the window behind me as I picked up the note. He waved as if seeking to confirm that I understand. Slightly creepy, I thought, but altruistic nonetheless. I flashed a thumbs up.

Then, getting in my car, I put the note on the seat next to me. What did I see on the reverse side? This:

Questions that still perplex me:

1. What are a medicine ball and "badmitten set" doing on this list? And why is medicine ball crossed off?

2. Why does Todd only have to take care of ice cream and pie?

If you have any hypotheses, feel free to share. Or if you're Irina or Todd, please enlighten us.

Neighbor to the North

It seems like a lot has been happening up there.


How High the Presidential Pedestal?

How much discretion about indiscretions is appropriate?

Mitt Romney told voters and reporters that presidential candidates should refrain from discussing with young people their early life "indiscretions."

The former Massachusetts Governor's statements were a response to Sen. Barack Obama's visit to a Manchester high school Tuesday where he told students he was a "goof off" in high school and had experimented with drugs and alcohol.

Is it better to be mum to the point of raising suspicion, like Romney? Or forthcoming to the brink of imprudence, like Obama?

Obama's honesty refreshes. It arguably indicates a basic respect for the capacity of high school students. It's a smart tactical move because he sets the field for addressing the issue. It is also healthy, as Rudy Giuliani noted in response to learning of the speech, for the electorate to realize candidates are not perfect. Candidates aren't perfect. We subject them to an incredible level of scrutiny - oftentimes on issues that are not central to presidential capacity.

Still, as much as America loves its scoundrely Tom Sawyer characters, why should a presidential candidate be the person to condone, in a way, youthful illegal activity? There are many other figures and sources in a high school student's life who can make a similar point to him or her. While Obama made it rather clear that his drug use and drinking were wastes of time, as the video shows, Obama didn't specifically urge the high students to abstain from drugs or underage drinking.

If Obama wants to be blunt with an audience of mostly minors about his illegal activities as a minor, it would be wise for him - even if he did believe the rules he broke were troublesome - to show he now respects the rule of law.

If he doesn't believe drug laws or drinking laws should be in place for minors, I don't have a problem with him noting those specific stances. That would actually show additional respect for students' mental capacities. Without accompanying admonishment against breaking the current law, however, for all his candor, what is he saying?

You can drink and do drugs, kids, and you can still catch up later and be a presidential contender.

Honesty = great (he is proof that it's true). Failure to distinguish the root problem of his indiscretions in light of his audience (illegal as opposed to simply unwise activities) = not so great. And so a role model creates a moral hazard.

And let me be clear: this critique is independant of a normative statement on prohibitions against drugs or drinking. It's about illegal activity generally. I would have a similar problem with Obama - or, say, Ron Paul - telling the students he cheated on his income taxes during high school or college without condemning it as more than unwise or a mere waste of time. If Paul voluntarily told a high school audience he failed to pay his taxes (which is not the case, to my knowledge), I would expect him to note that it was wrong because even if he had sound arguments for why taxes were excessive, the standing law still said he had to pay taxes.

Not all people are perfect. Not all laws are perfect. Obama admittedly made it relatively clear that underage drinking and drugs were not beneficial to him - I don't think it was what Romney termed a "huge error." Still, I expect a potential chief executive in a setting like the one Obama faced in Manchester to point out a bit more forcefully that the laws he may be charged with enforcing, until they are changed, mean something.


Kelley Stolz

Ah, the music a banking commercial will lead you to..."Birdies Singing" is best.


Thankful in NOLA

"Way down yonder in New Orleans...

In the land of the dreamy scenes

There's a garden of eden...you know what I mean

Creole babies with flashin' eyes

Softly whisper their tender sighs

Then stop....won't you give your lady fair...a little smile

Stop..ya bet your life you'll linger there...a little while

We've got heaven right here on earth"

Smooth Move

Here's hoping your Thanksgiving turns out better than it did for 8,000 U.S. sailors the Chinese government decided to use as political pawns:

The 8,000-member crew was due in Hong Kong on Wednesday for a four-day visit to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday.

Some were planning to join family members who had flown in from the United States, Japan and the Philippines. While the ships were nearby in the South China Sea, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a “last-minute” refusal of the port call, the State Department said.

Enjoy the day with your family members. Or, if you can't be with the ones you love...


Annie Get Your Gun

"[The Constitution preserves] the advantage of being armed which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation...(where) the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms."

--James Madison, The Federalist Papers, No. 46

Strap on your bandoliers, folks. Or don't.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear an appeal of the D.C. Circuit's Second Amendment case, a possibility discussed here earlier at length:

Analysts are calling it political dynamite.

"This will be one of the biggest decisions ever to come down at that part of the political schedule," says Paul Helmke, president of the Washington-based Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

"For the first time in history we could get a definitive ruling on what the Second Amendment really means," adds Dave Workman, an editor at Gun Week in Bellevue, Wash. "Gun rights is going to become a centerpiece of the 2008 presidential race, whether these guys like it or not."

The case, District of Columbia v. Heller, will take the justices back to the founding of the republic to the speeches and writings of the framers themselves in an effort to decode a constitutional enigma that has divided appeals court judges and the nation's most distinguished legal scholars.

The potential landmark case is the first time since 1939 that the Supreme Court will confront whether the Second Amendment protects an individual's right of gun ownership or merely a collective right to keep and bear arms while serving in a state militia.

Should be quite the vigorous cultural skirmish.

Assorted Insights:

Instapundit finds judicial hope for individual gun owners in the jurisprudence of gay sex.

Orin Kerr predicts what Justice Kennedy will do.

Academics for the Second Amendment (there's more than just Professor Sharpless?!?) request funding for an amicus brief.

And "Bloviating Zeppelin" disagrees with the experts.

A Dangerous Game

My column in today's Herald focused on the new strategy the Democrats in the Senate have adopted to bring an end to the war.

Rather than actually voting to defund or simply to not fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Senate Dems have decided that they just won't vote on the supplemental spending bill at all. This is a very risky move for anti-war members of Congress to make and it may very well backfire on them. There have been a few members of the Democrat's fringe base - such as our own Russ Feingold - who have talked about defunding the war for quite some time, but it has always been the position of the Dems' leadership that they will support the troops, just not the President's policies.

If they actually go through with this threat to allow the funding for the war to lapse, they will have abandoned the very troops they have claimed to support. The Congress alone holds the power of the purse and only they can provide funding. President Bush really can't do anything to force the Democrats to provide funding other than to appeal to public opinion - which isn't exactly his strong suit. So the question then becomes, who will get blamed if funding is cut off, the President or the Democrats?

The answer is very simple: the Democrats will pay a heavy political price for this if they allow funding for the war to stop. It is one thing to impose a timetable or a deadline for withdrawal, but it is quite another to just let funding stop. No matter how unpopular the decision to go to war is or how unpopular President Bush is, the American people support the troops and support the idea of giving them what is necessary to keep them safe while in harm's way.

The problem with this type of a bluff is that if the Democrats ultimately fold and provide the funding they will look weak and ineffective, but if they go through with it they will look reckless and callous toward our fighting men and women.


Gather Round the Barrel

1L suing Tulane Law?

Here's an unconfirmed scrap of scuttlebutt.

Complete with coarse language, as might befit the term.



Assign Publicity Points

Who "won" the NYT photo?


Rabid Ron Paul Supporters

Out of ten total points to award, I'm going:

Rudy - 3 (Smile, regal stride, presidential aura, etc. - attire may be too much for Iowa)

Rabid Ron Paul Supporters - 5 (First you see the corner of the sign. Then you realize there's yet another guy off in the background - extra points for presence and persistence)

Village Inn Restaurant - 1 (generic name, may have problem with distinguishing candidacy)

The Color Black - 1 (motorcycles, suits, hats, sign text...it's everywhere - clearly running an extensive ground game for the cauci)

Flower in the Crannied Wall

FLOWER in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.


Cursive dinosaurs

Do you write in cursive? This article says that approximately only 15% of adults do. I don't and I can't say I've seen someone my age writing in cursive lately.

Apparently there's a debate in contemporary education about how much to teach cursive, if at all. One side remembers hating learning it and questions whether its a waste of time while the other talks about how in a world of standardized testing, essays written in cursive are marked higher and written more quickly as well as for the skill of penmanship.

My grade school taught cursive in 3rd grade. I remember the books and having to copy lines of the same letter and then copy words. It wasn't particularly bad. I can remember the teacher telling us how we had it easy because she was schooled in the dreaded Palmer method. That and it was a big deal when we got to the capital I because it's the only cursive letter that has a backward motion.

It wasn't much of a big deal after that, some teachers required cursive; other's didn't.

Nowadays, I only write cursive when lectures get really boring and I need some stimulation. In the future, cursive could come in handy to stand out or to put extra sincerity into a letter or note as opposed to cranking out just another typed page. I suppose it's analogous to the relationship between candles, electric lights, and meals.

The ancient Romans had cursive. English cursive changed over the centuries, from streamlined non-connected letters, to the connected letters of today which has been the style since the 19th century. And there's Russian cursive.

Ms. Mae's Re-Opens Today in Uptown

I had only visited once before disaster struck. Like many of my classmates, I mourned over the course of weeks.

Yet my anxieties were misplaced. Mere fire was not enough.

Ms. Mae's is back. With it's own peculiar stiff-$1-drink-in-a-plastic-cup brand of vengeance.

The return of the classic dive bar at the corner of Napoleon and Magazine kicks off early - 9AM this morning for those of you who don't have Torts.


Obama Has No State Senate Records?

As someone who once worked in a State Senate office over the course of several years, I don't buy it.

Not at all.

At least in Wisconsin, a typical State Senate office generates a massive amount of records - in hard copy and electronic form - of scheduling material, constituent correspondence and casework, issue research, drafting materials, and more.

Sometimes shipments of archival material fail to make it to their destination or get trashed by accident. Databases collapse. However, to claim that eight years in office in the Illinois State Senate produced nothing - or that every shred of every last record was misplaced or lost - is laughable.

The factual notes in the piece linked above - which seem to indicate the existence of at least some records at earlier points - raises even more questions than the simple logical argument.

How to Salvage K-Ville

A good idea - since the show seems to be sinking far faster than the city it's set in.

January Surprise Possible?

According to Zogby:

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul is forcing polls to adjust and quickly. A poll released Tuesday by CBS and NY Times shows Paul at 8% in New Hampshire ahead of Fred Thompson and tied with McCain in Iowa.

He's catching on--things could get interesting. What ever happened to Fred? I remember Republicans drooling thinking about his potential run last summer, but he's really fizzled.

Drudge reports today that Clinton, Obama, and Edwards are tied in Iowa. It was just a few weeks ago that Hillary had a decisive lead.


Signs VIII

Corner of Calhoun and Freret.


The Peace Corps threw a party last weekend. Or, rather, its volunteers did. It got me thinking about the ways in which we re-create cultures when there is no real precedent.

Peace Corps culture here in Azerbaijan (and I suppose elsewhere) is a funny thing, a weird amalgamation of Azeri and American, with the odd smattering of Russian and ethnic minority along the way. This is a culture we both want to adapt to and defy, a culture in which we must live, but we often find constricting; it is a culture in which holding to American norms becomes defiance, and transgression, we hope at least, can be instructive.

This becomes apparent even in the little things: cooking for my host family, a friend washing dishes when he goes to visit, getting up to get my own tea instead of rattling my empty cup on the saucer. We're trying, somehow, to re-create a little slice of home in a place with no precedents. Women can't drink here - they're lucky to have a few sips of wine at a wedding. Hell, women can only really work if their husbands deign to allow it. Perhaps, we hope, men getting their own tea will show someone that women don't always have to do it - that they don't have to serve their men hand and foot.

Sometimes, though, it gets cloistered, and we create little islands of Americanism behind the high walls surrounding courtyards in houses rented by volunteers. Sometimes the music of a party, in which men and women are drinking and dancing together, spills out into the street a little more loudly than the neighbors would like, and the men make extra trips to buy booze for the women to drink, and the music isn't the traditional wailing of oboes and accordions and men's voices that take a strange, high, keening pitch. At these times, it's strange the next day leaving the courtyard and being hit by the Azeriness of it all - the people and the old Ladas and the muddy streets and the mangy stray dogs huddled in corners or trying to absorb the warmth of the sun. On these days we ride the marshrutkas, the little kamikaze minibuses, which honk madly at the cows blocking the highways and bump over ruts and are happy to cram more people and chickens in than can sit on seats, back to our sites. And the next day, we go back to living our Peace Corps lives, our culturally approrpiate and sedate lives that seem so foreign, and yet somehow have become nearly second nature.


A Postcard For Ann Althouse

...from the campus of Tulane University, New Orleans, on this lovely non-Wisconsin November day. I made certain to don my finest seersucker and nothing less. Well, sorta.

Acceptable? Or tortious - say, intentional infliction of emotional distress?

Recklessly insulting upward?


Absinthe Is Now Legal in the U.S.?

Apparently, after a 95-year ban, it is now legal to import two brands of the green muse - containing actual wormwood - into the United States:

Last spring a French brand, Lucid, made its debut here, using 19th-century distilling methods and replicating chemical analyses of pre-ban absinthe. A Swiss absinthe, K├╝bler. appeared on the American market a few weeks ago, using a 1863 family formula.

One reason legal barriers have fallen is that, as The New Yorker reported in 2006, the regulated chemical thujone, found in wormwood and once thought to have been the cause of absinthe’s lure and its dangers, did not show up in any significant quantities in analyses of historical absinthe. So these authentic replicas, despite containing wormwood, do not pose a legal challenge.

I guess this means the classic New Orleans cocktail, the sazerac, has at last been saved.


The Streetcars Are Back

On St. Charles Avenue. As of today.

Although they're only running up to Napoleon Avenue, I guess yesterday marked my last run down the neutral ground without having to watch my back.

Driving to get groceries earlier this evening, it was surreal to see the olive drab 1920s-era cars resting like dinosaurs between the lanes of brightly colored mammals zipping by, their interiors glowing, light reflecting off the wooden seats inside through open windows.

And these cars are relative pups:

The Saint Charles Ave street railway is the oldest operating streetcar line in the world, carrying passengers through the streets of New Orleans since 1835.

Started as the New Orleans & Carrollton railroad after the New Orleans City Council resolved that the company not leave obstructions of any kind to traffic, and that the trains were restricted to four miles an hour, it began service in 1835.

Crews are still at work on the lines uptown from Napoleon toward Tulane, Audubon Park, and Carrollton, but New Orleans is New Orleans once again.

A Second Amendment Case in the Chamber?

SCOTUS will likely decide whether or not to take District of Columbia v. Heller, the D.C. Circuit handgun ban case, within the next few days. If it does, it will mark the first time since 1939 that the court has considered a Second Amendment issue head-on, as it did in U.S. v. Miller.

Of course, the prospect of a high court case has ripped open the old grammar battle over the meaning of the text of the Second. That's right. One comma is to blame for all the ballistic bedlam.

Really, at issue is the question of whether one has a constitutionally protected right to own a firearm as an individual (of if the Second Amendment merely grants a "collective right" through states' rights to militias - which have since been subsumed into the National Guard).

While the D.C. Circuit ruled for the first time that a citizen does have such a right...

Most other U.S. courts have said the Second Amendment does not contain a right to have a gun for purely private purposes.

Chief Justice Roberts, during his confirmation hearings, did not count U.S. v. Miller as dispositive with respect to the Second Amendment:

"...the Miller case side-stepped that issue. An argument was made back in 1939 that this provides only a collective right. And the court didn't address that. They said, instead, that the firearm at issue there -- I think it was a sawed-off shotgun -- is not the type of weapon protected under the militia aspect of the Second Amendment.

So people try to read the tea leaves about Miller and what would come out on this issue. But that's still very much an open issue."

Yet the discussion in Miller seems at first glance to cleave decidedly to the notion that the opening phrase in the Second Amendment is not mere throat clearing:

In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a 'shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length' at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument. Certainly it is not within judicial notice that this weapon is any part of the ordinary military equipment or that its use could contribute to the common defense.

(So, does the final sentence indicate a greater likelihood of a right to individual firearm ownership if the weapon is part of the ordinary military equipment and its use could contribute to the common defense (today, say an M16?).

"The Constitution as originally adopted granted to the Congress power- 'To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; [...] With obvious purpose to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness of such forces the declaration and guarantee of the Second Amendment were made. It must be interpreted and applied with that end in view."

Yet, after these pronouncements and a look at militia statutes - that required individual ownership by militia members - the court rounds things out by noting that while it cannot uphold the particular ruling of the court below...

Most if not all of the States have adopted provisions touching the right to keep and bear arms. Differences in the language employed in these have naturally led to somewhat variant conclusions concerning the scope of the right guaranteed.

Did the court believe it had settled those variant conclusions by determing the scope of the right guaranteed? Or had it merely ruled on the Second Amendment in a limited fashion as applied? For a nice paper outlining the veritable banana clip full of problems entailed in the decision, go here.

For me, a chief concern with an absolutist textualist reading of the Second Amendment that limits it to permitting militias and a "collective right" is how irregular such a reading seems in light of the rather expansive interpretations given to the other Amendments in the Bill of Rights. I don't know if it's a good thing, but interpretation has undeniably been other than absolutely textual.

Take the First Amendment, for example. Read strictly, Congress could make no law regarding any of the diverse topics encompassed within it. And yet few - yes, there were/are some absolutists out there - have held it to that highly restricted interpretation.

Really, what right hasn't been found in the penumbra of some collection of Amendments? With the Second Amendment, it seems that reading personal rights liberally into the text is railed against because the right in question is perceived as politically conservative. Thus, because it is less politcally correct than, say, a liberalizing Eighth Amendment expansion against some form of torture, it is cause for taking up arms. Pun intended.

As Mr. Mac VerStandig wrote quite presciently:

Excepting the 3rd Amendment, which has long neared anachronistic status, the entire Bill of Rights has been well stretched over time – but for the 2nd Amendment. In the 1st Amendment we have found heightened standards for libeling a public figure; in the 4th Amendment we have found a nuanced test for when people reasonably expect privacy; in the 5th Amendment and 6th Amendment we have found a mandatory police soliloquy; in the 7th Amendment we have found a loose conception of “common law;” in the 8th Amendment we have found cause to flip-flop on the death penalty; in the 9th Amendment we have found a veritable secret cache of privacy rights; and in the 10th Amendment we have found a decaying check on elastic clause potency.

And, as VerStandig also elucidates, the purpose of Constitutional Amendments in the Bill of Rights, excepting the Tenth, is to reserve liberties to the people:

Such plainly ignores the very nature of the Bill of Rights – a series of amendments meant to endow the people (who happen to be sovereign in this nation) with rights in the face of an otherwise powerful government. Excepting the 10th Amendment, which does confer a catch-all right unto the states, the entirety of the historical text is patently aimed at giving the people their own security, whether it be in the form of property rights, speech rights or – should tyranny grip the Republic – gun rights.

I would go further and add the Ninth Amendment to VerStandig's exception (gingerly and anticipatorily distinguishing "the people" from individuals, as we're dealing with supposed 'collective rights') and say that the other eight reserve rights specifically to individual persons, not merely "the people" collectively, as it might be read in the Ninth and Tenth Amendments.

If read differently, however, - and, let's say, in the face of a finding that the Second Amendment was limited to militias - could not the Ninth Amendment itself provide the basis for a private right to gun ownership? Coupled with the de facto longstanding tradition of private gun ownership, it strikes me as a reasonable argument even if the Second Amendment is found to be merely a husk.

VerStandig's final observant point is that if the Second Amendment is indeed outdated, the option of repealing an Amendment with another Amendment is an option, as was seen with the overturn of Prohibition (Twenty-First Amendment proposed, you'll note, by a Wisconsin Senator).

I, for one, hope the high court takes the handgun case. After decades of political and cultural wrangling over the right to bear arms, a nice legal treatment/debate of the Second Amendment might prove thrilling.


A Photo Trip to the UW Plant

Yesterday afternoon, my Thermodynamics class took a field trip to the Charter Street Plant. It's the one on the losing end of a Sierra Club lawsuit. I brought a camera.

Our tour was led by a senior supervisor. He started by explaining the history of the plant. Construction started for two boilers in the mid 50's and over the years other things were added. When petroleum got expensive in the 70's, the plant removed the equipment to burn gas and oil.

The plant sends steam for heating and chilled water for cooling to campus, which is opposite of a regular power plant that would generate electricity and throw away hot water, though he said they can make up to 9 kilowatts of electricity. If I remember correctly, he said that at present they have four boilers that can produce roughly half a million pounds of steam an hour.

The professor asked about the lawsuit and he said that to come into compliance it could cost taxpayers $50 million. He said the issue was that they were doing regular maintenance to keep things in top shape so they wouldn't start breaking down and polluting, but the judge ruled that they had done too much work to stay grandfathered into the pollution laws. He said they might just consider "expanding east" from the present Charter Street location with new stuff instead of reworking old equipment.

Coal comes in on trains and sits in piles until it's conveyed up to the top of the plant. Once there it's dropped into 30ft tall gravity bins at roof level.

Two stories down, the bottom of the bins have measuring devices to measure out certain amounts of coal. Each of the bins feeds into a boiler.

On the main floor of the plant, half a story above street level, is where the burning of the fuel happens. Here are two of the three boilers. Each of them are at least three or four floors tall starting in the basement and they're about 20 x 30 feet in cross section. They have several motors that throw the coal across the burn plate in the boiler. The boilers heat the water until it's steam at 600 psi and +700 °F.

They opened some hatches and we could look into the fire. Needless to say, it was intense. It looked like a snowstorm, but with fire instead. I think I heard that it was between 2k and 3k degrees in there.

Behind the boilers, there is a large fan that pumps air into the bottom of the boilers.

The control room is located on the main floor between the boilers and the air pump. It still had the original controls. They've been integrated with modern computers. There was a back wall full of more controls and circular pen graphs.

Most of the heat from the fire goes into heating the water. But the air that comes out is still hot and has soot in it. Up in the top of the plant is the filtration system, the "fabric filter baghouse". The exhaust blows through nearly 200 2-story tall closed wind sock type things. They catch most of the pollutants, and work better as they age. They're up in the top of the plant, behind so many doors.

Here's more upper plant air equipment. Overall, the plant had quite an unearthly feel to it. Though it was dark and some parts closed in, it wasn't at all like a cave. There was a thermometer set out in one of the colder areas; it read 100°. There were multitudes of pipes, machinery, and who knows what all over the place, all of it on a bigger scale than a person, all of it going in all directions, a few floors down, or soaring higher into the hot darkness. Who knows what half of it does. Loud and noisy, all out of control, yet completely under control. I felt like an interloper who had walked in on an industrial symphony.

So then, the last part of the tour was down to the waterworks in the basement, under the cooling tower. Water is cooled by dropping it through quickly rising air. The guide said they can cool it down to 40°, but it's in the 50's most of the time. They had huge pumps that can pump water in all sorts of ways from the campus, to the boilers, etc.

They also have emergency systems should something go wrong. If all else fails they even have a connection to the city water. Down in the bottom recesses of the basement, groundwater was seeping in. The supervisor said that there were springs all over that area and that's how Spring St. got its name.

A view of campus from the coal belt at roof level.

American Gothic

Wow, what a scene. What a comment.

Where's the pitchfork? Where's the flintlock?

Grant Wood, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and maybe even Louis L'Amour might be proud.

I guess it's one way to make McCain look younger...

...or part of a bizarre scheme to increase fundraising, seeing as he's still lagging behind Ron Paul.


Hey, Bungalow Bill...

...what did you kill, Bungalow Bill?

Music Video Friday

It's Friday and you know what that means, DJ Fay here spinning another song for you. I'm not into dance music but this song, Daft Punk is Playing at My House by LCD Soundsystem, is pretty catchy:


Bits of History

While this week got me thinking about simpler times, such as when people tried to blow up the king and parliament by hiding gunpowder in the basement, I came across some other historical events. One I found particularly interesting was the Darien Scheme.

Back in the 17th century, Scotland was in a national slump--they were a small, weak country with a crappy economy and nothing particularly interesting going on. In the mid-1690's a corporation was drawn up to start a colony on the Isthmus of Panama to trade with Asia. A third of the wealth of Scotland was put into its stock.

In 1698, ships set sail for the Bay of Darien with more than a thousand people. They landed on the isthmus, a few miles inside what's now Columbia and set up a fort. Agriculture didn't go as well as planned and the Indians weren't particularly helpful. The colonists couldn't get help from the English colonies because they were on Spanish claimed land and England needed Spain as an ally against the French. Only a year later, the colony was abandoned with only a quarter of the people surviving. Word didn't make it back to Scotland in time to prevent a second round of settlers from arriving.

Things didn't improve much for Scotland. In fact, within a decade, in 1707, they gave in and merged with England to become the United Kingdom. The success of that attempt was helped by England promising to pay the debt of the expedition.

I hadn't heard much about the smaller countries' attempts to colonize since that part of history is dominated by the big countries. Imaging how colonialization could have turned out differently yields quite a bit of food for thought. For the Darien Scheme alone: plaid Panama hats, kilts and canals, and mango haggis. Things would be really different if England had gone for South America and Spain for the North or if the Swiss had made an attempt somewhere.

Along the small country lines, apparently present-day Lithuania was the smallest country to have a colony with Tobago for a few decades in the mid-1600's.

"a party of drunken robots got together to celebrate.”

And then the social host got sued.

Well, Wright, for all his brilliance, had leaky skylights, too.

The Small Kindnesses

I was shopping for a sheet. Azeris really didn't get why I wanted a sheet, and I didn't quite have the skills to really explain why one would want to have a makeshift cape on Halloween. So we left it at "Steve's a weird foreigner, and wants a sheet."

Sheets are tricky things to find here, and I'd missed the last bazaar in Aliabad. So a few days before the weekend on which the PC volunteers were having a Halloween party, I rode up to Zaqatala -- their bazaar is open every day, and it's more institutionalized; they actually have shops, rather than just makeshift booths. In the warm autumn sun, walking around was pleasant, and it was an area of town I hadn't really seen before.

And of course, I ran into people I knew. The friend of our family's I happened across (he was sitting on a stoop) was happy to point me to the right little store, and the people (a husband and wife run the store) there were happy to see me. We haggle a little about the sheet, and I make a halfhearted effort to look elsewhere, but I like these people, so I go back.

I buy the sheet, but they still want me to hang around. I sit and drink tea with the husband -- he was a history teacher for many years. Their daughter stops to say hello and try out her broken English on me. I'm happy to oblige, though I just laugh nervously at the marriage proposal. They've happened enough that I've gotten good at dodging them, though, so I'm not worried.

When I finally get up and leave, they tell me to come back any time and drink more tea. And I think I will.


Dollar, Euro, China, NOLA

Late last night, one of my roomates - who's in a currency trading class - noted the dollar's further steps toward bottoming out on a computer graph.

At the root of the latest slip in the ongoing value slide are comments by a Chinese official that indicate the country may start unloading some of its sizable holdings of U.S. currency:

The dollar had sagged across the board overnight after a Chinese government official indicated Beijing may seek to diversify its foreign-currency reserves. Cheng Siwei, the vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, was quoted by wire services as saying China should shift more of its $1.43 trillion in reserves into "stronger currencies" to offset "weak" currencies like the dollar.

Mr. Cheng later tried to distance himself from those comments, but the dollar continued to fall. The euro recently bought $1.4663, down from a record high of $1.4679 set earlier today, building on gains the European currency has made against the greenback in recent months.

I've always heard the argument that China's economic dependence on American consumer purchases would prevent it from ever unloading its holdings of U.S. financial instruments for fear of weakening the U.S. economy, it's chief customer. The example of Japan in the 1980s - when that country held significant reserves in U.S. dollars, etc. - is always dredged up as proof that a devastating "unloading' won't happen despite alarms to the contrary.

Yet I've remained leery about the potential problem - mostly for geopolitical/strategic reasons rather than economic reasons - and it may be happening with a whimper rather than a bang:

Chinese investors have reduced their holdings of U.S. Treasuries by 5 percent to $400 billion in the five months to August. China Investment Corp., which manages the nation's $200 billion sovereign wealth fund, said last month it may get more of the nation's reserves to invest to improve returns.

China's holdings in U.S. currencies are vast and, regardless of modeling, still seem to give that nation an ability to impact the U.S. economy drastically at its will. And it has ever more incentive to do so as the dollar weakens:

The dollar fell the most since September against the currencies of its six biggest trading partners after Chinese officials signaled plans to diversify the nation's $1.43 trillion of foreign exchange reserves.

Ironically, the dollar's slide might be good for New Orleans. With a large tourism component to its economy, lower costs for foreign visitors could prove a boon. I'm not certain how the region's extensive port business would be impacted, however. Namely would fewer imports be offset by greater exports as American goods become relatively less expensive on the global market?


Ron Paul sets a record...

... and it's a pretty darn impressive one.

I have been critical and at times dismissive of Ron Paul's presidential campaign, but when he is putting up numbers like this it is a lot harder to ignore. Over $3.8 million raised in one day is in the words of Howard Dean's former online strategist, Jerome Armstrong: "Damn. Wow. Um, that's pretty awesome."

Idle in the Eyrie - F-15s Grounded

Overseas and domestically as a result of a rather startling crash.

That's a pretty expansive move, as the F-15 is quite the workhorse aircraft throughout the U.S. Air Force. A good friend of mine works with the planes on a daily basis out in Idaho, but I doubt he's at liberty to say much about the situation.

Some of the F-15s in service date back to 1975 (I recall I had a model of the plane in a set of toy jets I played with as a kid during the first Gulf War). While that may seem rather elderly for military hardware, consider that B-52s still in service are downright ancient - production the newest Stratofortresses, the B-52H class, ceased in 1962.

Incidentally, the grounding is good for Boeing investors and probably for the advent of the F-22 Raptor.

25 Degrees of Separation

Current weather:

Madison, Wisconsin
Partly Cloudy
Feels Like

New Orleans, Louisiana
Feels Like

Happy November! Pardon me while I put some shorts on.


"I got stabbed and robbed Thursday night."

Standing in line at the bank this morning, I was somewhat taken aback when he said it.

Sure, the Asian guy with the Old Navy hat and tattoos had his arm in a sling. But I wasn't expecting it. The teller, Ms. Erin (all the ladies here seem to go by Ms. [insert first name here]) shook her head behind the bulletproof glass, seemingly wishing she hadn't asked.

It's different living in New Orleans. Tulane is usually very good about informing students regarding every instance of criminal activity affecting students in any way. While there are almost monthly muggings of lone students walking home alone late at night, most don't seem to end in violence. It's simply fast cash in the eyes of some petty criminals.

Life here, as opposed to in Wisconsin, though, brings a few more issues to the fore, presents them to you carved in harsh relief.

Last night was a good example. After an arduous week, many law students headed out for a final "Bar Review" before hunkering down for the month leading up to final exams. I ended up at a no frills bar/dance club in the warehouse district down near the river with some friends. At one point, I was attempting to talk to one of my black classmates who had appeared from the dim reddish glow when Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" broke out of the hip hop pack and started blaring over the packed dance floor. He made a face that fell somewhere between bemused and resigned, made a comment about the song I couldn't quite hear, and kept dancing.

I had never quite experienced that particular shade of awkwardness before.

As the crowd roared the chorus at the top of its lungs, I leaned over and shouted somewhat pointedly that I knew the words to Neil Young's "Southern Man", too.

I thought about it for awhile after he had faded back into the crowd. Perhaps I'd made it more awkward. I wasn't sure.

Then I cracked a girl in the nose with my elbow. And I suddenly had different concerns to occupy my mind.


The specter of exams looms large on the horizon. It's time to buckle down in earnest, so I'll post as I'm able. If there's ever any particular topic you'd like to hear about, just leave a bottle on the shore.


Friday Music Video

Here's a little something to get you up and moving on a November work day:

It's a few years old, but it's still pretty good. It almost makes me want to spontaneously dance around Engineering Hall, but there are other people here.

On the topic of Fatboy Slim music videos, I seem to recall this other one.


Who's the most influential in US politics?

The London Telegraph ranks 100 for both the conservatives and the liberals. I can't say I agree with it, but it's interesting to see the view from across the ocean.

Ye Olde Brats

The discovery is right up there with the ancient Sumerian cuneiform recipes for beer...

The Germans unearth early proof of the sausage that made Sheboygan famous.

Beginning of the End?

Or end of the beginning?