Mark Twain said "history doesn't repeat itself but it rhymes"

I've been busy the past few days dealing with the traditional end-of-semester-everything's-due-on-the-same-day week. One class I've particularly enjoyed this semester is an economic history class of Western Europe. I even managed to use it to fill an engineering curriculum requirement.

Most of the grade in the class comes from writing four papers over the semester on a region through history. Naturally I chose Toulouse, France from my summer experience two years ago. Over the semester I've learned a lot about economics and history and even managed to gain some perspective--all but a few people ever manage to become slightly less insignificant and anonymous than everyone else as well as in the big picture most things aren't worth getting worked up about.

I spent the last few days writing the last paper which followed developments in the city roughly during France's Golden Age from Louis XIV to the Revolution. The main point I used was that the central government and king rose at the expense of local governments which allowed local problems to fester to become national problems. Going through library books, I came across a few paragraphs that were particularly memorable:

While Platter noted in 1599 that in all his travels he had never seen a place with so many churches and other religious edifices, he added that there was "frequent need of them in a town in which all sorts of scandals and impieties abound, to say nothing of the houses of ill fame that flourish in large number," frequented by men in broad daylight. It seems that in the city's houses of worship the behavior was scarcely better. An archbishop's ordinance of 1619 condemned "the great and extraordinary irreverences that are daily committed in certain churches and cloisters . . . and even (which we can only say with horror) when the very august sacrament and sacrifice is raised at the alter." People spoke and gossiped during mass, strolled about, refused to kneel or doff their hats. A decade later matters had apparently grown worse, for an ordinance in 1633 clearly refers to sexual traffic in the churches...

Increasingly in the eighteenth century, it was the protective measures and emergency provisioning of civic authorities which took the place of old-style Christian charity. When a grain shortage threatened, officials traditionally relied upon a battery of policing actions... On other occasions their ordinances were directed at the so-called monopolists, the hoarders of grain whose nefarious dealings were always suspect in times of dearth. One man's monopolist, of course, was another's good businessman; and what was considered pernicious hoarding in days of want was merely normal stockpiling in times of plenty. The capitouls [city council], however, as well as the populace, had a more dogmatic view of things. For them, shortages and price rises were willful, explained by the unnatural, even unholy actions of the monopolists, those veritable enemies of humanity...They lead to famine because of the monopolies which these people create in order to make usurious profits from the necessities of life.

He saw nothing to celebrate in his neighbors' pursuit of luxuries, for they were, in his words, merely "tyrannized by fashion." Even "the most rustic peasant and his wife were agitated by the same vertiginous spirit"--"the same luxury that I call the decay of the human spirit." Not surprisingly, given the prevalent misogyny he shared, he viewed women as most vulnerable to the demands of fashion, "which change each day with a swiftness that hardly gives one twenty-four hours to keep up, so much has luxury prevailed, dragging women into the most degrades state." Fashion was responsible for a multitude of evils: "disorderliness" among women and girls, a decline in public morality, the "confusion" of social ranks, indebtedness, and the proliferation of bankruptcies.

As well as this paragraph on Louis XVI on wikipedia:

Radical financial reforms by Turgot and Malesherbes angered the nobles and were blocked by the parlements who insisted that the King did not have the legal right to levy new taxes. So Turgot was dismissed in 1776 and Malesherbes resigned in 1776 to be replaced by Jacques Necker. Necker supported the American Revolution, and proceeded with a policy of taking out large international loans instead of raising taxes. When this policy failed miserably, Louis dismissed him, and replaced him in 1783 with Charles Alexandre de Calonne, who increased public spending to 'buy' the country's way out of debt. Again this failed, so Louis convoked the Assembly of Notables in 1787 to discuss a revolutionary new fiscal reform proposed by Calonne. When the nobles were told the extent of the debt, they were shocked into rejecting the plan. This negative turn of events signaled to Louis that he had lost the ability to rule as an absolute monarch, and he fell into depression.



Presidential Forum Slated for NOLA

In September at the MORIAL Convention Center:

Google, the dominant Web search engine, and YouTube, the online video platform, are proposing the forum with the major party presidential candidates be held Sept. 18 at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, just after the parties complete their conventions in late August and early September. It would be eight days before the first scheduled presidential commission debate in Oxford, Miss.

The announcement, made today on Google's Web site, did not reveal whether any of the candidates -- presumptive Republican nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona, or Democratic candidates Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois or Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York -- have agreed to participate.

This sounds great. I hope to submit a Youtube question of me standing in a Perlis polo in front of the former house of the Chinese spies here in my neighborhood, asking the candidates what they plan to do about China's rising military and diplomatic threat, specifically excluding discussion of economic policy, which the Democrats always seem to devolve into.

And I hope to attend the forum at the Convention Center, of course.

It's also interesting to hear Mayor Nagin take such a positive spin on web technologies for democratization and political involvement:

Isn't that what bloggers do?


Worth an early return: SCOTUS Upholds Voter ID

I have one exam under my belt, I'm feeling a bit better, and I think the Court's conclusion to uphold a Voter ID requirement is great.

However, I'd probably align with the concurrence's rationale - getting state voter ID is not a burden on a citizen beyond those normally entailed in voting. Because a different triumvirate made up the plurality court opinion...

“The court specifically left open the possibility of lawsuits against ID laws that burden specific groups of citizens like older voters, poor voters and students,” Professor Weiser said, “and all the legislation we have seen to date do, in fact, burden those groups.”

But, she added, in putting virtually all the burden of proof on plaintiffs seeking to argue that laws illegally restrict their voting rights, the decision makes it much tougher for voting rights groups to prevail in court.

Wisconsin's Voter ID proposals - especially given their usual inclusion of a provision for a free state ID to those in need, which would seem to alleviate some of Stevens' balancing concerns - seem to have some legal backing, as some have pointed out.

Acute concern for the poor seems to be the central justification for both dissents in the case. For example, Breyer's:

[A]n Indiana nondriver, most likely to be poor, elderly, or disabled, will find it difficult and expensive to travel to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles, particularly if he or she resides in one of the many Indiana counties lacking a public transportation system. For another, many of these individuals may be uncertain about how to obtain the underlying documentation, usually a passport or a birth certificate, upon which the statute insists. And some may find the costs associated with these documents unduly burdensome (up to $12 for a copy of a birth certificate; up to $100 for a passport). By way of comparison, this Court previously found unconstitutionally burdensome a poll tax of $1.50 (less than $10 today, inflation-adjusted).

I don't buy that. Twelve dollars and a trip to the DMV is not too much to ask. The benefit to all citizens of fair elections - and the duty of states to provide them - provide more than enough justification for requiring that an individual show an ID. It's not even a federal ID, but merely a state ID.

The requirement is distinguishable from a poll tax. First, a poll tax doesn't promote fundamental fairness of elections directly as a voter ID requirement does. It may have promoted adequate administration and funding for a voting system, but it did not inherently ensure that an individual vote anywhere in the election is being protected from cancellation by illicit means. Second, a poll tax may have represented the vestiges of direct discrimination against the poor and other associated classes, but the voter ID laws n play today protect the legitimate votes of both the poor and wealthy alike.

Souter's dissent references the apparent lack of actual fraud to counter. That's not great logic to undergird a refusal to improve the electoral system.

I find most any criticism of voter ID laws in legal terms I've encountered over the years is simply raw political sentiment swaddled in constitutional silk.

Four days was long enough. :)


Gas Station

In Aliabad. Need a litre of gas?


Also, a bad place for sledding. Taken in the Swiss Alps.


"'Even Laura is pro-choice,' I said"

"Don't you bring my wife into this," the president snapped.

A glimpse into the workings of the first nine months of the Bush presidency, the legacy of which being big tax cuts and an unrivaled executive branch, from the perspective of a GOP senator.


Running Silent, Running Deep

Exams begin Monday. And I'm fighting some sort of rolling illness.

Back May 6.

- Brad V

Sconnieland Vignette

Drunk driving good Samaritans, "big-assed" cows on the highway, and a glass of schnapps.

It really doesn't get much more Wisconsin than this.

The worst beer ever

Don't drink it.


5th Circuit Follies - How Not to Lawyer

Via Tulane Law professor Alan Childress at Legal Profession:

Yesterday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit rendered this per curiam opinion that left me flabbergasted, thought its merits are uneventful (hence the p.c.). The lawyer was labeled as "unprofessional" and his failures "troubling and disgraceful," in part because "he had not read a key Supreme Court case."

Phipps: Well, my attitude is, the [district court] judge got it right . . . . And as far as
whether even Ricks should apply, I don’t think it should.
Judge: What do you do about Morgan?
Phipps: I don’t, I don’t, I don’t know Morgan, Your Honor.
Judge: You don’t know Morgan?
Phipps: Nope.
Judge: You haven’t read it?
Phipps: I try not to read that many cases, your Honor. Ricks is the only one I read. Oh,
Ledbetter, I read Ledbetter, and I read that one that they brought up last night.
I don’t know if that’s not Ledbetter, I can’t remember the name of it. Ricks is the
one that I go by; it’s my North star. Either it applies or it doesn’t apply. I don’t
think it applies.
Judge: I must say, Morgan is a case that is directly relevant to this case. And for you
representing the Plaintiff to get up here—it’s a Supreme Court case—and say
you haven’t read it. Where did they teach you that?
Phipps: They didn’t teach me much, Your Honor.
Judge: At Tulane, is it?
Phipps: Loyola.
Judge: Okay. Well, I must say, that may be an all time first.
Phipps: That’s why I wore a suit today, Your Honor.
Judge: Alright. We’ve got your attitude, anyway.

Talk about embarrassing and unprofessional.

The real question is which Loyola law school Mr. Phipps attended. Los Angeles? Chicago? Or right here in New Orleans? According to an update from Professor Childress:

Ok, further information provided to this blog strongly suggests that the Roger Dale Phipps at issue is indeed a law graduate, class of 1990, of Loyola-New Orleans. He passed the La. bar in fall 1990. My source says he acted this way in law school, too.

Apparently his Martindale-Hubbell entry is incorrect and says Chicago. He should fix that. And not have flagrant disregard for the client's interest.

If Mr. Phipps is indeed a Loyola-New Orleans law alum, it would be highly ironic indeed. One of the judges on the panel is a graduate of that institution. And it would be snarkily fitting if the judge's suggestion of Tulane (a dig, as reader Matt B suggested?) actually should have been its rival school across Freret Street.

HT/Matt B @ Berkley Law

A Little Zydeco

From the incomparable Clifton Chenier:

Religion in America

Gallup did a poll of people's opinions of various religions in honor of the pope visiting.

The dislike of scientology is a given, but why is there apparently so little love for atheists?

I also came across this map recently:

The first time I went to the South, it didn't dawn on me until somewhere in southeastern Tennessee that since crossing the Ohio River, I really hadn't seen any Catholic or Lutheran churches, which was strange at the time having come from the Midwest where they nearly exclusively seem to pepper the landscape.

Finally, how could I intelligently design a post about religion without creating a link to a poll about people's views on the origin of species?

By the way, I'm an evolutioneer. In short, creationism is disproved by science and proponents of intelligent design fall victim to Logical Fallacy #5, argument from personal incredulity.

Arguing against evolution seems like the modern version of arguing that the world is flat--yet roughly half of the country doesn't believe it (which I suppose is a discredit to the pre-modern world since the Ancient Greeks had figured out the size of the planet within 5-10% and even by Columbus' time no one seriously though he was going to fall off the edge).

Evolution clearly happens. Consider that all our crops and animals have been domesticated within the last 6k years. They changed over time from rugged wild plants and animals into the plump yummy farm things we know today as people selectively chose specimens with preferable characteristics and bred them.

Comments welcome


Our Lady of Lourdes

Hillary Clinton as Goldwater

Forget 100 years in Iraq.

Someone else is quick to rattle the saber today

Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that her comments that the United States could “totally obliterate” Iran if it made a nuclear attack on Israel had been an attempt to return the United States to Cold War style deterrence.

I'm just waiting for the Obama camp to roll out a mashup of the daisy ad.

You know, that daisy ad.

McCain Coming to Lower 9th Ward

As part of his unorthodox campaign approach:

The likely intended audience is instead the nation's mostly white, mostly moderate independent voters who, according to polls, are less inclined than ever to vote for a typical GOP contender this year. So each of the forgotten places visited on this week's trip seems handpicked to reinforce one message: McCain is no typical Republican.

The Arizona senator will visit Democratic strongholds like New Orleans' hurricane-battered Lower 9th Ward, and other historically resonant locations like Inez, Kentucky, where President Lyndon Johnson launched his War on Poverty -- a campaign McCain's party has criticized for decades.


Tibet Up Close

Breathtaking photos and the story of a Westerner in Tibet from 1946 until he departed with the Dalai Lama after Chinese forces invaded in 1950.

Questionable Street Person Videographer in Town

Doesn't sound good.

Sounds mostly like a provocateur.

Comparing street people to animals, using weirdly inappropriate cliches, and failing to use means that even remotely advance the stated goals of the venture. That doesn't strike me as very credible or worthwhile.

Neither does using a distinction between the homeless and street people to exploit one group.

Nor does mocking street people to get media attention and benefit yourself through merchandising.

HT/Gentilly Girl

McCain: Tax Cuts vs. Balanced Budget

Please don't continue down this path, Senator.

A balanced budget is, in fact, of paramount importance - even more so if you want to be, nay, must be the cross-over appeal Republican that redeems the nation's fiscal house in the wake of the Bush administration.

I agree with McCain's gripe:

Blaming federal spending for the economic troubles, McCain pledged to "scrub every agency of government" of wasteful expenditures and close loopholes.

"Is there any American who doesn't believe hundreds of billions of dollars can be saved?" he said. "Americans know that. That's why they're fed up."

Hold the line on taxes and reduce spending. Yes. But this a poor second step on the heels of a decision to make the Bush tax cuts permanent despite earlier opposition:

McCain also said he would not hold off on tax cuts if Congress didn't approve his spending cuts and declined to make a pledge to balance the budget by the end of his first term in office. "When economies are rough, then you've got to reduce the tax burden on people," McCain said

The rolling excuses tossed out to justify and prolong fiscally irresponsible actions need to stop.

McCain should work more diligently to shape the playing field for this issue in terms of his tried and true approach. He should insist on achieving a balanced budget by means of spending cuts and tell citizens that if they want tax cuts - which can only happen responsibly after government has been pared down and brought into equilibrium - then they need to vote Democratic or Republican legislators out of office who are preventing those spending cuts.


TIME Magazine's Controversial "Green Issue" Cover

Is it appropriate to appropriate the famed image of Iwo Jima?

Some say no, it's offensive to veterans and conflates World War II and global warming - including a number of Iwo Jima vets who happen to be highly skeptical of global warming.

Others read the symbolism as long overdue.

I got my issue in the mail yesterday, and it certainly is visually arresting. I think it was nevertheless a rather unwise choice - unless we're gaging the decision based on how much controversy it will generate.

First, there is the potential to offend veterans unnecessarily. Creative alternatives less likely to incite exist and additional possibilities could have been sought. Like an interesting image of America as a leaf, which is used elsewhere in the issue.

While use of the well-known image shouldn't be entirely taboo, the famed Rosenthal photo of the flag raising atop Mount Suribachi has a decided gravity to it, and the placement of a sequoia (or is it a redwood?) in the image fails to transpose that gravity. Instead, it seems inappropriately comical - shattering the sacred notion of lives lost that surrounds the image.

Second, the image is somewhat lazy in a Warhol vein. Do something new rather than a mere mashup.

In the end, I don't think it was a particularly smart move.

Asian Nations: China Will Surpass U.S.

An interesting harbinger as Gallup combs through the sentiments of non-Chinese Asian populations:

Recent Gallup surveys in 13 Asian countries show that substantial numbers of residents expect China to replace the United States as the leading superpower within the next 50 years or less. Many of those surveyed don't have an opinion on the matter; the median "don't know/refused" percentage across the 13 countries is 42% -- a percentage not surprising given high rural populations. However, the median percentage of those who think China will replace the United States in the next 50 years or less is 38%, almost twice the median 20% who think China will never replace the United States.

Those numbers, however, seem to be derived from an objective assessment of comparative power. Slightly more disconcerting are two additional findings in the data where questions sought a more normative response.

First, Chinese leadership has a higher approval rating than U.S. leadership:

In 8 of the 13 countries surveyed, respondents were more likely to approve of China's leadership than that of the United States. Median approval of U.S. leadership is 34%, compared with 46% median approval for China's leadership.

And, while Chinese ties remain less than desirable in Mongolia and the Philippines:

Majorities in nine countries surveyed say closer relations with China would be a "good thing" for their countries.

Once again, I'll point to America's obsession with terrorism and Southwest Asia as its downfall in Asia as a whole - the war in Iraq has provided China with precisely the distracting smokescreen it needed to increase its prominence in the countries surveyed.

Muddy Waters: Catfish Blues



Obama Flips the Bird

A bit out of character, no?

via Althouse

1L Summer Job Hunt - Update

At long last, I've pinned down my 1L summer schedule.

After a long drought, I had the good problem of five possible positions in play as I made my choice.

For the first half of the summer, I have a position downtown with a federal judge with the Eastern District of Louisiana. For the second half of the summer, I have a spot with a state circuit court judge across the Mississippi in the West Bank.

I'll probably take on another side job as well to pay the bills. Living here in New Orleans - and avoiding additional rent/travel/loss on sublease costs - will also be helpful in keeping the ledger balanced.

Words of advice to future 1Ls: Unless you have top 5% grades or deep almost familial connections to large law firms in the city you grew up in/want to practice in forever, don't even bother looking for a paying position during your first summer. Instead, seek internships with federal judges or an interesting position traveling early in January and save yourself the hassle and anxiety. Certain legal markets can be extremely insular.

Anway, I'm very excited to have some certainty as exams approach. And I'm even more excited about how I'll get to my courthouses this summer:

The courthouse in Gretna is the middle building right on the levee just up from the Jackson Street Ferry terminal. It was the first time I'd taken a ferry to an interview.

The federal courthouse downtown is just a streetcar ride away.

Earthquakes and Midwest geology

By now you've probably heard of the earthquake from yesterday.

Though California is the earthquakey part of the country, they aren't that rare in the Midwest. I remember back in 2004, one happened southwest of Chicago in the middle of the night and it was reported that people in my county, just north of the state line, felt it. And who could forget this winter's icequake?

I slept through both earthquakes and was not by the lake, however I can imagine what a Midwest quake would feel like when a heavy truck occasionally rolls down the street and shakes the house.

On campus, the Geology Building felt it:

Science doesn't know much about Midwest siesmic activity because events are rare and we have an entirely different situation than the west coast.

"Our bedrock here is old, really rigid and sends those waves a long way," said Bob Bauer, a geologist with the Illinois State Geological Survey who works in Champaign.

He compared the underground rock, which in much of the Midwest lies anywhere from a few thousand feet to just a few feet below the earth's surface, to a bell that very efficiently transmits seismic waves like sound.

Whereas in California, the energy is dissipated on all the faults and the earthquakes are more local events.

I was looking to see if there was anything interesting about the Richter Scale, which is logarithmic, and found that a 12.0 earthquake would release as much energy as the sun shines on the Earth in a day, but the biggest one recorded so far was a 9.5'er in Chile.

Talking about Midwest geology, have you heard about the Niagara Escarpment?

It's the pink area and there's a bit of a cliff at the red line running from NY through Fond du Lac; it's what Niagara Falls is falling across. It's not a fault line, rather it's a layer of rock that happens to erode less than the surrounding rock. It's shaped like a shallow bowl centered on Michigan and was formed from the sediment of an ancient sea hundreds of millions of years ago.

Having recently come across that, the ridge along Lake Michigan in Racine, Kenosha, and northern Illinois as well as the fact that all the hills and geography in southeast Wisconsin run primarily north-south and why the lake's watershed only extends less than five miles inland makes sense since in SE Wisconsin, the north-south direction is tangent to the edge of the bowl. The layer also acts like the lip of a levee keeping the lake from naturally draining out through Chicago to the Mississippi.

Chinese Arms Headed to Zimbabwe

Controversy brews in Africa over a Chinese ship hauling Chinese arms and ammunition bound for Zimbabwe - where a disputed election remains in limbo. The possibility of tyrant Robert Mugabe's forces using the weapons on its opposition looms.

The ship was denied access to Durban, a South African port. But where is it headed now?

The New York Times suggests Maputo, a port in Mozambique.

CNN says it's headed to Luanda, Angola.

Angola, site of significant Chinese investment and development makes sense as a friendlier port of call for the shipment. Mozambique, too, has grown rather cozy with China.

A longtime ally of Mugabe's, it's interesting to see China's official stance regarding the shipment of arms produced by a state-owned enterprise:

“China has always had a prudent and responsible attitude toward arm sales,” its Foreign Ministry told Reuters. “One of the most important principles is not to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.”

That policy, as it is playing out, however, looks like paper-thin nefarious neutrality.

To Close For Comfort - Shooting Uptown

A man was allegedly murdered last night while driving about five blocks from my house - and subsequently crashed into Friar Tucks, a local dive bar on Freret Street.

The scenario seems pretty bizarre - I haven't been to the site yet.

I do remember hearing some loud crashing sound last night while studying, but I assumed it was shipping containers being dropped down at the wharves, which I can hear on occasion.

Police are searching for a silver Jetta employed by the gunmen.

UPDATE: Some photos from the scene of the crime (poor lighting)-

What's Eating Howard Dean

Yep, there's been some bleeding goin' on alright.


Benedict and Academic Freedom

Pope Benedict, yesterday, on academic freedom in Catholic universities in America:

"I wish to reaffirm the great value of academic freedom," Benedict told hundreds of educators gathered at Catholic University of America. "Yet it is also the case that any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the church would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission," he said.

Is that really any sort of meaningful academic freedom? Doesn't the second part of the statement completely eviscerate the first?

I understand the Catholic and other private religious universities are not public universities. They are completely different animals in many ways. They serve somewhat different functions and certainly different populations.

Benedict's conception, however, seems to promise more on its face than it's really willing to offer when it comes to permitting truly pluralist academic dialogue.

Yet, one observer notes Benedict's approach is less heavy-handed than many expected, going so far as to term it "minimalist" in application.

Benedict, a former professor, is admittedly a very intelligent man - Catholicism should be grateful for his insistence on the marriage of rationalism with faith in religion. It serves to strengthen the religion in the modern world.

It's just that following this:

In virtue of this freedom you are called to search for the truth wherever careful analysis of evidence leads you.”

with this:

any appeal to the principle of academic freedom in order to justify positions that contradict the faith and the teaching of the church would obstruct or even betray the university's identity and mission.

seems a tad difficult to reconcile satisfactorily.

Wisconsin Covenant - Still A Bad Idea

Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle calls the Wisconsin Covenant plan "a clear path" to college.

Isn't it a little too clear? What is this oft-heralded Covenant?

Last year, about 17,000 state eighth-graders signed the Wisconsin Covenant, which promises a spot at a state university, technical college or private school — plus help with payment when necessary — for students who maintain a B average and meet certain other academic and community-related criteria.

That sounds great - access to college, what a wonderful thing!

Sure, but the side effects, while more subtle than the perceived benefits, are problematic. The Wisconsin Covenant is also a clear path to the dilution of the value of a UW degree.

During interviews here in New Orleans for summer positions, several interviewers looked at my undergraduate degree and noted the quality of the institution - and specifically referenced hearing how difficult it has become in recent years to get into UW-Madison. The high standards imposed as a potential bar to my admission are now serving as a signal to employers about my caliber as a prospective member of the person's institution.

The Covenant's altruistic goal dilutes the value of that degree by setting what I see as a rather low hurdle to admission for UW institutions. Fortunately, the aspect of the Covenant that provides financial help to Covenanters (not to be confused with the Scottish folks of the same name) is funded by private foundation donations.

That's better than the initial nebulous proposal the Badger Herald Editorial Board questioned when the idea was first proposed.

But the general thrust of the editorial still holds true:

Such a proposal must not be adopted without major adjustments. To ensure that merit-based aid is given only to those who have actually demonstrated extraordinary merit, the eligibility standard must increase to a grade-point average of at least 3.75.

Guaranteeing slots for students helps alleviate concerns about Wisconsin students not getting into the state university system. It helps more people get a college education. The heart is in the right place.

But that's not the entire story. The Covenant seems to bypass a strong, stringently merit-based selection process, thereby weakening the value of the UW brand as a whole.

Music Video Friday!

Here's Andrew Bird with Imitosis:

That's off his newest album, Armchair Apocrypha from a year ago. You might recognize it from a hotel commercial; all the commercials in that series use his songs.

I hadn't heard of him up until part of a year ago even though he's based in northern Illinois. Now I probably listen to his two most recent albums all the time. He's managed to develop a unique sound and I'm looking forward to what he's cooking up next.

Dean Gets Feisty With Superdelegates

Paging Awais Khaleel...


One can almost hear his thoughts: "C'mon guys, we're dying out here in the foothills of Pennsylvania."

Why would an individual superdelegate give up the spotlight and the influence, though? With each delegate that pledges from here on out, the influence of - and attention on - every remaining delegate goes up.

That's a powerful temptation that can easily override doing what's best for a party.



Roof Garden Idea, Dormant, Germinates Anew

A double wOOt to one Ryan Masse!

Here's the original editorial he references (of which I'm a particularly big fan), that called for roof gardens at UW-Madison.

National China Forum - Tonight - Loyola New Orleans

Despite my workload, I may have to go:

Loyola University's Monroe Library tonight will serve as one location for a national forum on China issues that are relevant to the presidential and congressional races.

Sponsored by the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, the forum will be staged simultaneously in 35 cities. A local sponsor of the event is the World Affairs Council of New Orleans.

The event begins at 6 p.m. in New Orleans with a live webcast featuring political analyst Norman Ornstein. About 45 minutes later, a writer and Asia specialist, Sheridan Prasso, will lead a local discussion of U.S.-China relations, focusing on trade. The movement of cargo to and from China is important to the Port of New Orleans.

Democratic Debate Re-hash

Fury erupts at the poor job done in last night's debate.

Live (technically simul-) blogs of the event:

Althouse (she thinks it turned out well)

Andrew Sullivan


A weighty situation

No one knows exactly how much a kilogram is.

In the more than a century since No. 20 and dozens of other exact copies were crafted in France to serve as the world's standards of the kilogram, their masses have been mysteriously drifting apart.

The kilogram is the only base unit still defined from a physical object. And don't think that the non-metric US gets off because the pound is defined as a certain fraction of a kilogram.

The race is on to find some permanent way to define it, a sphere of silicon perhaps, but as far as everyday measurements are concerned, nothing's changed much.


Sky Blue with Clouds

Simul-Blog: Pennsylvania Presidential Democratic Primary Debate

A. Worst setting ever; reminiscent of a gladiatorial pit with eerie sci-fi lighting. Strange stage setup and ersatz wood podiums. Clinton's opening, alluding to the fact that neither candidate would've been onstage two hundred years ago, is more substantial, although neither is very memorable.

B. Charlie Gibson, whom I generally respect, references Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution in his question about whether either candidate would pick the other as a running mate. "If it was good enough for the Founders..."

Charlie - that provision, making the second highest vote getter the Vice President, was overriden by the Twelfth Amendment in 1804.

C. Obama's response to the "clinging to bitterness" brouhaha only got him into more trouble - he's just not a rural Pennsylvania mindset kind of guy. He doesn't seem as eloquent as usual - and seems very negative in his anecdotes.

D. Hillary wallops him, making herself seem like a Pennsylvanian, drawing on family ties and enshrining the commonplace.

E. Obama's comments about his faith and sportsmen outreach seems sort of cardboard.

F. Charlie asks Obama about Pastor Wright. Side view - crazy - Obama gulps as Charlie presses the interrogation.

Gibson's questions are about issues that have seemingly been hashed out already, but really, what else has come up to provide substantive fodder for a debate at this point?

G. 7:25 - Obama is starting to get back on track with his tried and true message of inclusion and bridging.

H. Asked about her comment implying Obama should have left Wright's church, Hillary makes an interesting self correction as she goes through her response. She starts "one must..." and changes swiftly in the next breath to "you have to...", getting down with the people by using some technically improper grammar - and you can see she did it consciously.

I. Obama is now seemingly on the stand. He's making this seem like he's denying something at an inquisition, even though he could easily swat the Wright issue and move on. It takes him too long to get back on track in each response.

J. Stephanopolous beats the dead horse severely. As my roommate asks, why is he even there? And further, who cares about Wright anymore?

K. Obama has disowned Wright? He's really bogged down now.

L. 7:31 You can almost see Clinton licking her chops as Gibson essentially gives her the option of how to proceed with the layout of the debate. She's loving it - just keep playing out Wright. Now she's really rolling it out...Hamas?!?

M. Ooh - Bosnia! Now Hillary gets a video interrogatory. She won't look at the camera as she responds to "Tom" of Pennsylvania. And, while she's forceful and more effective in her response, she's justifying it, trying to explain the Bosnia faux pas away...not totally convinced.

N. Truthiness. So, Obama, is Clinton truthy about her past? She gets in a little girlish giggle as he starts.

O. Barack makes an excellent point - stop focusing on the gaffes - it's about the momentous times we're in, stupid! And they are recorded every second of every day for months on end - I don't envy them that.

P. A question about the American flag. Hmmm.... (Obama put a lapel flag back on, but it was just a temporary thing, a special gift from a veteran). The question is not a very good one or relevant.

Obama is stumbling in his speech something fierce this evening. He's being a little too abstract in his response, too, going into a laundry list of issues instead of making a deeply poignant response that defuses the question.

Wait - yes you have said you don't wear a flag pin?!?

Q. Stephanopoulous pulls out another "manufactured issue" - and Obama looks like he's being evasive once again. It's a lot of guilt by association. Obama slaps back pretty effectively after a bit.

R. Clinton, however, follows up with facts. She's like Tony Blair at Question Time. Well my right honorable friend...there were bombs...people died. She cites a larger set of concerns.

She gets some illicit applause by suggesting the Republicans should run nobody.

S. Obama gets a little minor applause himself by getting in a jab on former President Clinton.

T. It's lively - subtle jabs back and forth.

U. Charlie Gibson is looking a little silvery these days. Looks a bit like Senator Carl Levin with the glasses perched way down his nose.

V. Iraq - Clinton is crisp with a Yes on withdrawal. She seems coherent and even somewhat persuasive in her outline of action.

W. Obama looks tired, perhaps slightly ill as he stands listening to a question - almost in energy-save mode.

X. Hillary sounds competent, or at least confident about Iran and the Middle East.

Y. Taxes...yawning...ooh - the mole people in the audience get shown when hedge funds are mentioned. It's going to be tough going against McCain on something like this. They look like the ancestors of Victor Freeze in an underwater gallery.

Z. "Well, that's a tax." - Charlie Gibson to Barack Obama

+ Okay, that's the alphabet. I have better things to do.

WAIT - Clinton says Bush is the first president to ever take us to war and not pay for it. Well, Congress, my good lady, has the power of the purse. See U.S. Constitution, Article II.

Wait... 8:28 p.m. Clinton and Obama both come out saying they see an individual right to bear arms in the Second Amendment - interesting in light of the Heller case currently before SCOTUS that essentially involves whether such an individualized right exists.

"And somewhere in the middle I'm, like, I'm having coffee with Chelsea Clinton."

UW-Madison Democratic superdelegate Awais Khaleel is quoted in the Wall Street Journal in a piece on college supderdelegates.

Taxes Yesterday, Death Today

The U.S. Supreme Court touches on two death penalty cases today.

One matter before the Court today in oral argument:

Whether a child rapist in neighboring Jefferson Parish should die for his crime.

The case is Kennedy v. Louisiana: "a direct test of whether states may constitutionally impose the death penalty for any crime other than murder. And, in particular, it tests whether a death sentence is a disproportionate penalty, under the Eighth Amendment, for raping a child."


Interestingly, the court also handed down its decision in Baze v. Rees today, which effectively permits executions by lethal injection to proceed.


A skeleton crew on the good ship ASM.


Are simpler tax forms better?

Here's why taxes are so complicated.

News outlets, on the heels of tax day, seem to be channeling the collective moans about how byzantine tax forms are today. Well, be careful what you wish for...

The best and most logical reason to stop complaining:

Taxpayers have every right to reduce their taxes by any legal means.

In all likelihood, the more tax forms are streamlined, the fewer options and means an individual payer will have to reduce its taxes through various convoluted exemptions. Knowing the nature of government, I'm willing to bet that a sleek, simple tax form would not reflect a lower tax burden in the long run.

If the prospect of a slight increase in individual tax burden was more than offset by drastically reduced preparation costs and time, however, it might be more efficient and therefore desirable for taxpayers on the whole.



Is Your Legislator a Free Tradekateer?

Find out with Cato's sweet little Congressional rater.

It's refreshingly fact-based, and it shows the factors that play into the rankings with simple transparency.



What You Shouldn't Be Doing Right Now

Within 1500 feet of a levee.

It's more than just pile driving that's prohibited. The list includes a number of things that, in my mind, are so tenuous I'm not sure how they relate.

But this is NOLA. Let's err on the safe side when it comes to potential flooding.

Long Day Under the Lights

I'm back from a stint working as an extra in a movie.

After nearly 15 hours in a smoke-filled, mildew-lined hulk of an opulent old theater downtown, all I can say is watch for the Barry Goldwater frames during the Bo Diddly concert when the film comes out in 2009.


High Water II

The Mississippi creeps in past the banks, trees, and workyards to the levee itself...

Here are two sets of contrasting photos taken along the river just down from the Army Corps. of Engineers station.





High Water

The Mississippi River along the levee at Williams and Jefferson Highway 4/5/08.

ht/Curtis P


Alert - Chris Garneau at Circle Bar Tonight

Just found this out - thanks to trusty old WWOZ!

France Thrashes Somali Pirates


HT/Danger Room

Legal Oddities - The "Clameur de Haro"

The small Channel Island of Sark finally transitions away from feudalism this month.

I hope it retains one of its more interesting legal customs in the process:

Clameur de Haro

Among the old laws of the Channel Islands is the old Norman custom of the Clameur de Haro, a legal device which also still exists in the other Channel Islands. A person can obtain immediate cessation of any action he considers to be an infringement of his rights. At the scene, he must, in front of witnesses, recite the Lord's Prayer in French and cry out "Haro, Haro, Haro! À mon aide mon Prince, on me fait tort!"("Haro, Haro, Haro! To my aid, my Prince! One does me wrong!")

It should then be registered with the Greffe Office within 24 hours. All actions against the person must then cease until the matter is heard by the Court. It is not frequently used; the last recorded Clameur was raised in June 1970 to prevent the construction of a garden wall. The Clameur has been used on occasions since then in the other islands.

The tiny island has many other strange events tied to it. Like pirates. And strange feudal rules about pigeon ownership. And a one-man invasion attempt in 1991.

A Study in Contrasts

The United States of America.

A place clearly lacking the Eighth Amendment.


Times Picayune Follows Up on My Pile Driving Concerns

I'm not claiming to be the little Dutch boy. But I feel I had a role.

Here's the story by Sheila Grisset, the reporter I contacted intially with concerns:

But Spencer said the Levee District has stopped work on two sites this week where piles were being driven, in one case only 700 feet from the levee. Neither violator had a permit, he said.

The Levee District may have sought out violators anyway. But I contacted her alerting her to what appeared to be a violation several weeks back. That's a lot of extra public awareness forfeited in the intervening time.

Nevertheless, I feel vindicated for all my jeremiads. Greater public awareness that construction and pile driving needs to stop near the levees in New Orleans during flood stage is crucial no matter how it comes about.


Pelican Pit, Plaquemines Parish.

"angel in a wheelchair"

That's strange...I thought China didn't want the Olympics to be political?

The state-run media is certainly not taking the admonition to heart as it milks this story for all its propagandistic value.

It's almost as if the ruling elite have realized they can use the Olympics - and especially the Tibetan protests overseas - as a nationalist distraction.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Mao threatened his neighbors when he needed to retain power. Today, the ruling elite rely on fanning nationalist sentiment with even more inconsequential events abroad.

In the Olympics, they have found a perfect apolitical shield to wield for their own political benefit.


Bush Coming to New Orleans

Remember when he promised to hold a summit in New Orleans back during the State of the Union in January?

Sadly, exams will probably keep me from experiencing any of the hoopla surrounding the summit:

The 2008 Security and Prosperity Partnership (S.P.P.) meeting will take place in New Orleans on April 21st and 22nd. This partnership is a wide ranging agreement meant to harmonize trade regulations, standards ,and laws across Canada the U.S. and Mexico. It also incorporates security and immigration measures designed to make North America into one continental security zone wherein labour and goods flow freely between transnational corporations without the hassle of borders or democratically imposed trade barriers.

If you're an anarchist looking to protest, go here.

And if you're a highly refined and exceptionally attractive female fluent in French, go here.

Sitting On McCain's Shoulders

The struggle for John McCain's foreign policy soul.

O, Black Water, Keep On Rollin'

UPDATE: As of late morning, it's been announced the Spillway will be opened.

The Mississippi River stands at 16.47 feet on the Carrollton marker here in New Orleans.

That's less than a foot from official flood phase at 17 feet (although about 20 feet or more is required to overtop the levees). The Bonnet Carre Spillway remains unopened. Here's a look at FEMA's update on flood-related activity in Louisiana.

While it seems unlikely the river will overtop the levees at any point, the danger seems to be in the sheer velocity of the water and its impact on the structural stability of the levees:

Opening the Bonnet Carre is not just to prevent overtopping of the levee system; it is also designed to relieve pressure on the levees caused by fast-moving water. Engineers said the corps and local levee districts already are monitoring more than a dozen locations where sand boils or seepage is occurring in levees along the river.

Interestingly, I got this little note from a friend this morning:

"army coprs of engineer captain was on WWL saying that they had officially halted all excavation and pile driving activity that was occurring near the levees."

Based on my earlier observations about pile driving endangering the levee, I'll take the captain's words with a grain of salt. Please contact me if you observe any excavation or pile driving anywhere even remotely near the levees.

I've determined that the second instance of heavy pile driving I mentioned last week is likely far enough from the levees in the Warehouse District so as not to endanger them.

If you're interested, here's an interesting public Corps meeting taking place tomorrow:

Mississippi River Commission Open Meetings - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Mississippi River Commission invite local residents and business owners to voice their concerns, issues, and ideas regarding water resources infrastructure, environmental issues, recreation and navigation. The public meetings will take place aboard the Motor Vessel MISSISSIPPI. Call 601-634-7783 for more information. Free. 9 a.m. Corps of Engineers Dock, Prytania Street.

Walking in Baku

The building called the "Deniz Vaqzal,"is, by its name, where one should expect to buy ship tickets in Baku: "Deniz" means "sea," and "Vaqzal" is the stolen Russian word meaning "station" (think "bus station," but for the sea). It's a pretty enough building -- sweeping curves on the roof, and a wavy glass front, obviously meant to evoke the sea as understood by a very middling architect with more gas money than talent. But really, it's nice enough.

Stepping through the sliding glass door, the security guard, starled out of complacency by what was, by all appearances, the first person who didn't work there to step through any door to the building (and a foreigner, at that!), leapt up to meet me. He was neutralized by a quick "salaam" ("hello"), the confusion of a foreigner speaking his language stopping him dead. He stood rooted to the spot until after I left.

I walked through the sparklingly clean, empty foyer to the information desk, and asked the lady there about the place. She knew I could get to Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, and not to Iran, by ship, but she had no idea how much prices would be.

"Would it be a lot, though?"
"I have no idea."
"Might it be cheap?"
"I don't know."
"OK. Well, where can I buy the tickets?"
"Oh, just go out the building to your right, and walk about 40 meters. You'll see a police officer. Ask him for the cash box."

Armed with this vaguely mysterious information, I set out. Two hundred meters later, an officer finally came into view.

"Ah, hello, sir. Can I buy sea tickets here?"
"Oh, no," said the heavily mustachioed, indolent fellow. "You want to walk about 400 meters farther down that way."

He pointed to a stretch of busy road with no sidewalk. And that's where the adventure started:

I never found the place where you can buy ship tickets, though.


Change on the Roof of the World

Someone somewhere must've declared it Himalayan Reform Month.

First Bhutan's monarchy transitions toward democracy. Then Tibet fights for it (ironic how snuffing out the Olympic torch is now a symbol of freedom). And now a note from the waning hours of the Nepalese royal dynasty as a major election looms:

Soon after, the Maoists ended their fight. And last year, in a deal that paved the way for Thursday's elections, they agreed with Nepal's major political parties that after the vote no man should wear the bejeweled Nepalese crown of yak hair and peacock feathers.

What happens to Gyanendra afterward is undecided. The leader of the Maoists, known by his nom de guerre, Prachanda, told The Associated Press that "he may live as a common citizen."

"But if he wants to resist the verdict of the masses," he said, "then I think he will be on trial and he will be punished."

So Gyanendra sits in his palace, a salmon-hued concrete 1970s monstrosity that dominates the capital's center, hoping time will work in his favor.

Photos of Prachanda, the Maoist leader - complete with hammer and sickle - were plastered on walls around Kathmandu when I trekked about in Nepal last summer:

Here's a picture of the palace gate (the King was essentially under house arrest inside at the time):

Here's the entrance of another Royal palace down on Durbar Square in the heart of the city amidst the forest of pagodas:

And, to add some more context, here's the temple Pashupatinah - the King was spotted driving himself and his family there in recent days:

"He was in the front seat! In traffic!" said Krishna Chetri, a 56-year-old shop owner.

"Where's the majesty?" he asked. "This is something I never would have believed."

Here's what he might have seen - as I did on the anarchic streets of Kathmandu as I arrived with breathtaking bewilderment at the poverty, monkeys, traffic, and goats in the back of small foreign cars:

He probably even had a taste of this, too.

Sheboygan, Wisconsin's Own "Wobblin' Willy"

Sheboygan insurance company Acuity's third attempt at a massive flagpole along 1-43 is looking a little too tipsy for comfort.

A 300-pound American flag was to be hoisted up what is the nation's tallest flagpole in a few days. I lived less than a mile away from the second flagpole on the same site briefly in 2006.

According to one observer of the new 338-foot pole:

Tim White, 30, a Kohler resident, said that he and coworkers "watched (the pole) rocking like crazy" and heard that some motorists had pulled off to the side of Interstate 43 to watch.

Here's another video, with narration, showing the flagpole wobbling noticeably in light winds:

Given the history of the earlier flagpoles on the site - one fell - and the proximity to major roadways, it's a bit disconcerting to see that much play in the pole.

Reminds me a bit of Washington state's infamous unstable bridge - "Galloping Gertie."

With luck, the engineering crew involved with the flagpole will find a way to settle it down in coming days - and avoid any problems.

UPDATE: I wonder if the woman who made the Youtube video will be sued for trespassing since she says and shows in her video that she was on Acuity property.

UPDATE II: Wow - even better Youtube footage of the flagpole from closer range.

Invasives On Parade

Invasive species are out in force this spring.

The house-engulfing "cat's claw" vines are blossoming in full yellow force around the city.

Monk parrots in the neighborhood - which seem to be threatening a Midwestern invasion - are making a racket and straying from their palm tree hotel down the street.

And the tree out back is infested with what seem like gypsy moth caterpillars. They feed on the leaves in clusters, rendering branches bare even during the harshest afternoon sunlight - unlike the gypsy moth caterpillars back home that crawled down and hid along the tree trunk during the day.