5.31.2008

Upping the Ante for Miss Betsy

Following the brutal attack on New Orleans pancake house owner Miss Betsy McDaniels and her subsequent death, I noticed the reward for information leading to arrest in the case is now up to $20,000 according to the frontpage at nola.com.

Here's the latest on the matter:

Crimestoppers Executive Director Darlene Cusanza said the organization already had doubled its reward before a Jefferson Parish businessman increased it again. She said an increased reward causes information to pour in to the tip lines.

McDaniel was attacked Monday about 3:30 a.m. when a man broke into her home on Warwick Drive and robbed her. Her daughter found her after a usual early morning wake-up call.

McDaniel suffered a fractured skull, a concussion and broken ribs. She was initially lucid and was able to tell her family that her assailant called her by name and threatened to hurt her daughter if she didn't cooperate.

It really is tragic to see something like this happen to anyone, much less a kindly 72 year-old woman.

In that vein, I'm offering a bottle of wine to the person Crimestoppers awards its monetary reward for information leading to an arrest in the McDaniels case (provided the informant is over 21 - if not, we'll make it two movie tickets).

Where y'at?

Me? I'm on a bit of an adventure. Pictures when I return.

For now, damn the torpedoes and have a clue:

5.30.2008

Friday music post

What's better than free music? And on a Friday! Here are two albums that are legitimately free on the internet:

The Slip by Nine Inch Nails, May 5th--I had never heard this band's music before nor anything from the industrial rock genre (seems to be the usual rock but with lots of computering, yet not electronic), but this album is worth a listen. The album is beat heavy and loud and satisfyingly takes a breather to a calmer yet somewhat dark electronic soundscape in its second half.

You Are Not Dead: A Guide to Modern Living by Fake, March 19th--Talking about dark electronic soundscapes, not only does this album present them, but in the spirit of Cold War government literature, this album features meanacing song titles such as "Five Years Ago, Did You See Yourself Here?" and "The Risks and Benefits of Medication" as the music echos within the hollowness of sterile, modern life. Definitely grab this one, it's flat out saveable off the website as a zip.

Also worthy of mention and a listen is Radiohead's In Rainbows which from October to December helped set off the recent wave of mainstream musical freeness. As it's in stores now it isn't being given away online anymore.

Finally, for release in three weeks is Coldplay's new album, Viva la Vida, which I had been looking forward to hearing what Brian Eno, who's producing it, could get out of them, but it so far sounds pretty much like the rest of their music--if the two singles are any indication of the rest, they mainly traded the piano for strings. And on the horizon, Andrew Bird is working on another album.

Heard any other new or free good music? Leave a comment.

5.29.2008

Engineering differential tuition is back

The College of Engineering is proposing to phase in a $700-per-semester tuition differential to address the rising cost of engineering education and to remain competitive with other colleges of engineering. The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents will consider the proposal at its June 5-6 meeting.

This was brought up last year but then seemed to disappear. The general attitude I remember among the engineering students from the last go-around was that they weren't happy about it but understood it had to be done to keep our educations and degrees top notch. When it happened in the business school more than a year ago it seemed like those students put up some resistance to it. Ours for sure is going to be phased in over time which helps to soften it as well as the engineering students aren't much of an agitatable bunch.

It makes sense to charge more for engineering since we pretty much walk out of graduation and straight into good jobs; in other words future engineers can afford to pay more for degrees. Looking at it in terms of UW degrees as a product, it's monopolistic behavior to maximize profit by dividing consumers up into smaller groups and charging different prices, just like different Windows versions (Home, Business, Pro...), we've got UW-Engineering, Business, Law, L&S, etc degrees.

Looking at it differently from the bigger picture, the government in the long run would like to maximize its income, or tax revenue. If engineers have larger salaries than, say, L&S people do, that's more taxable income, not to mention it's the business of engineering to innovate, make new things that can be sold or exported, and increase effiency, both of which raise the standard of living increasing the tax base. I'd conclude the government would want to encorage people to go into engineering and it could most easily do that by making engineering programs cheaper.

It will be interesting in the future with the colleges paying different amounts to see whether students paying more start to demand more say or even if the colleges develop an inter-dynamic. If the College of Engineering has to pay more, I hope we'd get more autonomy. (Of course as a student, I have little idea of the drama between the professors and deans, deans and chancellor, and all them and the regents, but just from knowing what went on amongst the single layer of the teachers versus administration at my high school, I can image there's plenty of it.)

As far as students go, the only thing we have to go outside the college of engineering for is math, chemistry, and some physics classes; we've got our own student orgs, services, computer system, and it seems like we dominate Union South. Even further, there isn't much political or disagreeable about engineering so if we were detached from the more polarizing parts of the university we might be able to get larger amounts of more secure funding from the state, but I guess that'd be pointless since we'd still have be part of the UW system, anyway.

In Memoriam, Betsy McDaniel

The old, matronly lady in gold who, though moving slow, insisted on serving the food in her New Orleans pancake restaurant, including ours on Sunday earlier this spring, passes after a brutal beating in her home.

The Slanty Shanty Show Rides Again

Thousands of miles and more than two years later, the Slanty Shanty Show has burst forth phoenix-like from the tomb onto the internets once more.

Ladies and gentlemen, live from Idaho and Louisiana, it's - THE SLANTY SHANTY SHOW #13!

5.28.2008

UW-Madison Has a New Chancellor

Carolyn Martin.

(Pending Board of Regents approval)

Not exactly the big name I had been hoping for all along. I hope she's competent, multi-dimensional, and up for the task.

Sugarcane


















Saccharum

Politiks!

John Bolton escapes citizen's arrest at literary festival across the sea!

The Canadians finger Rep. Sensenbrenner's son as the leaker in Obama NAFTA-Gate!

The California Effect on same-sex marriage ripples out...and hits New York!

North Shore Animosity

Occasionally, I run across people who go a little too far to degrade perceived "sellouts" who left NOLA and moved to Covington post-Katrina.

For example, this post - it's wildly illogical and just plain mean.

5.27.2008

Thoughts on Indiana Jones, Part IV...No, that's not IV...it's a snake!

If you're heading to theaters to see the Crystal Skull, enjoy.

It's no Schindler's List, but since when is that what one goes to see at an Indiana Jones film?

Instead you get just what you want: whips cracking, Area 51, villainous others, underground temple infiltration, jungles, riddles, quicksand, fight scenes, unpleasant deaths, extinct languages, and...a fantastic scene involving Indy riding a nuclear test blast wave through the desert sky in a lead-lined refrigerator. And, of course, a snake.

The movie certainly had its Jar Jar Binks moments - like the ridiculous prairie dogs at the opening that popped up later and added absolutely no humor or other value to the film. Or the "oh please, come on" moments when slick-haired Shia LeBeouf went swinging through the trees with monkeys and fenced with legs spread between two moving vehicles. Or the amphibious vehicle surviving falls off two impossibly large waterfalls. But I digress. It's an Indiana Jones movie. And that's exactly what I wanted to see.

I truly enjoyed the motorcycle chase scene through the Yale campus, including an appropriate peek at the historic Skull and Bones temple - although a wide shot at one point showed a modern garbage receptacle on a street corner in the supposed 1950s scene.

The alien aspect - yes, there are aliens - was a little hard to digest and accept as worth my attention, but it made enough sense to entertain. Harrison Ford showed again why I enjoy him so much as an actor - he simply follows the axiom of don't act like your acting when you're acting.

At times, I longed for an old school approach to moviemaking - I wanted a bit more of a 1962 epic cast of thousands feel, with on location shoots for the Nazca lines, among other things. But it was good. It was fun. It was right there with the other movies. It was very Indiana Jones.

Here's Roger Ebert's take.

And TIME Magazine's - somebody pinpoints Shia rather well...."an intelligent actor without an ounce of charisma"

Grey Ghost, Grey Ghost

Back in December, I linked to a story about Fred Radtke, now notoriously known as "The Grey Ghost." The anti-graffiti zealot has risen to infamy after the Times-Picayune has begun heaping attention on the legal controversy between him and a character named ReX Dingler, along with members of NOLA Rising, a group dedicated to public artwork.

I've been well-aware of the controversy since before the highly appropo "Grey is Graffiti" shirts hit the street this spring. Mostly because the street was lined with blotches of gray. Grey that doesn't match the buildings its ostensibly helping by obliterating graffiti and non-graffiti.

Here's a classic early shot of the ubiquitous grey being used as a canvas (on a TP stand down Magazine Street near Juan's Flying Burrito) from last September, snapped before I fully realized what the controversy entailed:























I don't condone the graffiti outright, but when compared with the host of grey blotches that make funky or historic New Orleans neighborhoods look like they've caught a disease, I guess I'd rather see diverse, interesting graffiti. Plus, the Grey Ghost's tactics of not obtaining permission from landlords makes the t-shirt's statement ring true. His personal vigilante style that's been quasi-endorsed by the city seems increasingly quixotic and counterproductive.

To stay abreast of the controversy, keep an eye on the Humid Haney Rant.

For a good read, here's a piece characterizing the Grey Ghost's work in high mockery as the bona fide abstract expressionism of a great artistic mind.

Despicable

Betsy McDaniel, owner of Betsy's Pancake House, was severely beaten in her home.

I just mentioned her the other day in my post on where I like to eat breakfast in New Orleans. As I noted, she personally served our breakfast last time we visited:

Someone who apparently knew Betsy McDaniel, 72, broke into her home in the 5200 block of Warwick Drive sometime around 3:30 a.m., forced her to open a safe with cash and began punching and kicking her, according to family members who spoke with her Monday. McDaniel suffered a concussion, three broken ribs, a fractured skull and a broken hand.

It's difficult to imagine what's going through a person's mind when doing such a thing to a 72 year-old lady. Or what isn't.

5.26.2008

Bob Barr

The new Ralph Nader? The new Ron Paul?

The Economist takes a serious look.

Hooded Cobra

McCainical Waves

The strange plausibility of a convincing McCain win, despite - or because of - the landscape.

Jeffrey Toobin paints the prospective McCain judiciary a grimmer shade of gray. (I think he's somewhat off-base. Here's what I said about the same remarks.)

McCain tiptoes through the poppies on Memorial Day with a tough bill from the ever-shrewd Jim Webb (who's angling for an Obama VP slot...?).

Swamp Thing

Yesterday, I took a break from the Tulane Law Review write-on packet (silly me, thinking school was done after exams) and headed a ways north and west to a swamp.























I've become very familiar with the bald cypress, that famed denizen of the swamps and bayous here in Louisiana. But until yesterday, I hadn't been introduced to another character in the watery lowlands - cue tympani roll - the swamp tupelo.



















Unlike the cypress, iconic for its many buttresses like piles of candle wax spilled smoothly down in all directions from a central candlestick, the tupelo merely gets larger as it nears the water and muck, flaring out more like a cross between a clarinet and an oboe bell. Maybe an English horn. Here's a cypress encroaching on a tupelo:























Tupelos are also broadleaf trees, so a look upward toward the canopy reveals a deciduous profile, unlike the needle-bearing cypresses.






















Anyway, they're very interesting trees. They support fern colonies on them like live oaks, and they proved to be host to a wide variety of small, colorful amphibians and reptiles - like the sweet blue-tailed skink I encountered (shown above). So did the muscadine vines (the one below is a broad-head skink):

















The woods merging with the swamp was also interesting for the species of trees present. I found American beeches at the extreme southern and western edges of their range. Hackberry, too, was present, seemingly representing an extreme southern outlier colony beyond its normal range. Sweetgum, water oak, and cypress, and magnolia made up most of the rest of the woods, along with some giant grape vines ('muscadine').

5.25.2008

Critiquing the NYT's Feature on Electing State Judges

The New York Times makes an attempt to question judicial elections at the state level in a rather slanted feature article focusing on the recent race for Wisconsin Supreme Court between challenger Judge Gableman and incumbent Judge Butler.

Clearly, the reporter who crafted the piece is not a fan of American exceptionalism. And apparently not very familiar with comparative international law and government. Specifically, he doesn't seem to realize how different the U.S. truly is when it comes to contrasting our overall legal and governmental structures with the rest of the world. He finds the prevalent state-level election of judges in the U.S. lacking because he compares our processes to judicial selection processes operating in completely different legal environments around the globe - places like France, for example, the home of the Code Napoleon.

What about the breakdown between Common Law and Civil Law systems globally? He barely touches on the fact that there are different overall legal systems at all on the second page. Many of the countries with rigorous test or civil service arrangements that he admires are Civil Law nations (last column). There's room for significant differences in judicial qualities necessary in a code-based system versus a one based on state legislation and common law principles. Judges have much more mechanical roles in Civil Law jurisdictions, and precedent is less of a factor.

What about the rather unique American system of parallel state and federal courts? The state courts are different creatures than the federal courts - where judges are appointed by the President with U.S. Senate approval. Having a set of courts immune from some of the excesses of the state elected judiciary - and the chance for review of the elected judiciary's decisions by an appointed Supreme Court - tempers the concerns raised. And, what's more, can a change in selection process really totally remove political influence anyway?

What about the fact that we don't have unitary national or state governments to do the appointing, unlike many countries, even the other Common Law countries, such as the UK? (And Scotland, for several centuries, has a Civil Law tradition rooted in French code-based law - like Louisiana* - so it is not a common law jurisdiction as the article would have readers believe when arguing a certain non-election method of judge selection should be applied).

The singular dangers of an elected state judiciary raised by the article seem far less nettlesome when taken in full context of the long tradition of American states' electors choosing judges and the knowledge that our legal system is not directly analogous to any other system internationally.

* [Louisiana, even though based in the Civil Law tradition from its early Spanish and French influence, elects its state judges.]
---

In the end, the article emits a "shame-on-us, America" aura and doesn't address the issue up for study in full or proper context. It goes halfway in comparing our state elected judiciaries with international counterparts, and it seems to have a very decided bias toward eliminating the election of judges.

It seems interesting that the national media care so much about Wisconsin judicial elections. The Wall Street Journal, with a Wisconsin connection on the Editorial Board, wrote opinions supporting the conservative candidate or critiquing the Wisconsin legal liability climate is now being answered by the New York Times with this critique of the conservative candidate and the entire judicial selection system.

ht/OOTM

My neck o' the woods

Hey neat! Slate (Josh Kucera, specifically) has been cruising the Caucasus, and seems to have spent a good amount of time in the 'Baijan. It's worth your perusal!

5.24.2008

Architecture in Helsinki















The Icelander checks in from a stint in the Finnish capital.

2008 GOP Prospects - Or the Lack Thereof

How, in this caustic political climate, does the Republican Party make headway?

While I largely dismissed the purported significance of Democrat Don Cazayoux's win here in a Republican-leaning Louisiana congressional seat a few weeks back, the trendlines, no surprise, aren't looking good for the GOP nationally.

Arnold Schwarzenegger calls for the party to re-brand. I don't know if that's possible in a short timespan. The party had a brand, and it largely destroyed it on the national level over the course of the past eight years. Does the GOP retain an advantage nationally with the public on its core issues based on its actions in the recent past?

Fiscal responsibility/government spending - nope. Size of government - nope. National security/foreign affairs - not beyond a narrow focus on Islamic terrorism. Federalism/states' rights - nope. Social/moral values - not really; individual examples of hypocrisy hit hard and even if the party is stronger here, it's more out of line with the nation's contemporary mores generally. "Judicial conservatism" - yes in some sense (probably one of the clearest achievements), no if you view some "conservative" justices as activist conservatives. The economy - slipping, possibly gone.

Some of these responses are my conception of what the public impression is, rather than what are necessarily the facts on the ground. But image is crucial in politics, obviously.

McCain is the one candidate that gives the GOP a chance in this acidic landscape, but even his chances are balanced on a pin. He continues to face a dilemma - work to appease the base and risk losing moderates and Reagan Democrats (see support for Iraq War, NRA appearance, judicial speech, ties to Bush) or reach across the midpoint on the spectrum and risk infuriating and alienating the base (global warming, speaking at La Raza, playing up bipartisan record - campaign finance, immigration reform, opposition to federal DOMA, etc.).

This dilemma reflects the fundamental problem McCain has going into the fall - who will we get, candidate McCain or the mavericky McCain we thought we knew?

Which one shows up will determine whether coattails in state and federal races are helpful or hurtful (and I think some people are drastically overstating them). So far, the silly tactic of trying to tie conservative or moderate Southern Democratic Congressional candidate to Obama to make them look extreme has failed - see Cazayoux and, more recently, Democrat Travis Childers winning in a solid GOP district in Mississippi (although my unorthodox theory is that the voters may have gone for him because he looks more like William Faulkner, who lived in Oxford, a city in the district).

The overriding question seems to boil down to this: does the GOP deserve the White House after eight years of President Bush and after many years with control of both houses of Congress?

For the answer to be yes, McCain will have to swing himself out from the moorings of the party to a dangerous extent - to the point of seriously alienating his base. This Scylla and Charybdis situation could result in a number of scenarios playing out.

1) McCain could lose the hard right base or suffer from a seriously underengaged non-Rove- provoked hard right base as he works the middle.

2) McCain could lose middle and soft Democrats as he shores up the base, especially if Democrats reunite strongly around Obama, pulling in independents with their gravitational pull. This would require some Hillary voters to reconsider their earlier threats.

3. McCain could lose both. This, in mind, would be a nightmare scenario for McCain. As I mentioned before, if deprived of both an enthusiastic, supportive base and unable to stanch the flow of independents to Obama, McCain would face the prospect of a Goldwater-style loss in the electoral college, seriously unbalancing the national landscape for some time. With Obama leading him slightly in the national polls at this time - before the Democrats have had any chance to reunite around their common hatred of Bush - the prospect is not too far-fetched in my mind.

4. McCain loses neither. This seems unlikely to me, but if he manages to walk the tightrope somehow as the Democrats descend into death grips and maim one another on the road to Denver, McCain might seem like the better option by a small margin, by having lower negatives, if nothing else. Chairman Dean seems most disconcerted by the prospect of this scenario. Critically, McCain's rather positive and proactive relationship with the national media stands to help him in this regard. Also, good health and all, McCain's VP pick is far more crucial to his candidacy than Obama's pick is to his own candidacy.

***

It's already been one wild ride of a presidential primary season, and I think we're only in for more unorthodox and unprecedented happenings heading into the fall. High food and gas costs create an environment of low-level discontent and anxiety that militates toward more drastic change.

The GOP has a few, scattered, young examples of its potential out there - Wisconsin's Paul Ryan, Louisiana's Jindal, and California's Schwarzenegger come to mind - but the bleak and bitter war-weary landscape makes it difficult, as in 2006, to keep the broad, bitter brush of voter disenchantment from coating the Grand Old Party with a big 'X' in its own shade of Republican red.

5.23.2008

Phil E, Killer of Cockroaches























I tore the space up in my desperation. But there were too many for me to handle alone. Especially once they started flying.

Phil soon arrived, though, and charged the room, brandishing his trusty GQ. Many were slain. Normalcy reigns over the household once more.

Where We're At - America and Gay Marriage

Take a look at this in-depth snapshot of Americans' views on same-sex marriage in the immediate wake of California's legalization case.

Gallup does a nice job converting the raw poll data into something meaningful.

Unacceptable

The Pentagon, inspections and hearings reveal, cannot account for nearly 15 billion dollars in payments for goods and services in Iraq.

Heads should roll after such a thing.

And here I thought the ridiculous amount of subsidy spending in the recent Farm Bill was shameful.

*Here's a bit on the interesting constitutional gripe raised by some Republicans when it was discovered 34 pages of the bill had not been included in the version vetoed by President Bush.

Cindy McCain

What was so worthy of hiding in the tax return? All the candidates seem to be raking millions, so the revelation doesn't seem particularly interesting or important.

What is more intriguing, for sure, is what's being concealed in the eerie photo shown here. Is that a mask?

UPDATE: Here's the photo. CNN took down the ticker piece and made this article instead.

5.22.2008

A Madison Momento






















Digging through a drawer, I came across this pin that I found last spring on a State Street bench back in Madison.

I laughed even harder when discovering it a second time.

Hurricane Season on the Horizon

June 1 approaches.

Nobody (understandably) seems to have a reliable estimate on the number of storms, but the storm names at least are chiseled in stone:

Arthur | Bertha | Cristobal | Dolly | Edouard
Fay | Gustav | Hanna | Ike | Josephine
Kyle | Laura | Marco | Nana | Omar | Paloma
Rene | Sally | Teddy | Vicky | Wilfred


Several storm names have been retired this year as well:

The committee issues a list of potential names for tropical cyclones every six years and for 2013, Dean, Felix, and Noel have been replaced with Dorian, Fernand, and Nestor. Since tropical cyclones were first named in 1953, 70 names have been retired, the first two being Carol and Hazel in 1954.

These names will not be used again because of the wide spread destruction caused by these storms.


For anyone in Louisiana, remember this weekend is a tax holiday for purchasing hurricane preparedness items.

J-E-L-L-O is the New Malcolm X

The continuing boldness of Bill Cosby in the black community.

5.21.2008

LaCrosse river deaths part of a nationwide serial killing scheme?

That's the hypothesis of detectives after an alleged "smiley face" killer, according to this CNN piece.

The FBI sounds quite skeptical, however.

I've heard numerous projections over the years about a serial murderer in LaCrosse (with nine tragic river deaths, including one man from my hometown of Kiel, it seems the possibility shouldn't be ruled out entirely). Still, I've never heard of a theory positing national level organization to the crimes.

Reading this list of the Wisconsin and Minnesota victims supposedly linked in this scheme, it seems rather far-fetched, in my mind, to suppose a serial killer on a larger scale. The time and geographic distance between locations seems prohibitive to any idea of a concerted effort. To expand this randomness and supposedly linkage to a multi-state interstate corridor seems far-fetched - some in the Wisconsin/Minnesota list are not close to I-94 (like the Herr incident in Sheboygan).

McCain's Momentous Memorial Day

Sure - the upcoming Arizona visit by Romney, Crist, and Jindal is purely social. Yep. Uh huh.

Which man will he pick? Remember, Lindsay Graham and Joe Lieberman will be present as well.

What do I think is the politically savvy pick for McCain?

Go with Jindal. Jindal all the way.

Bobby Jindal is, pure and simple, worth talking about. He brings the ticket intellectual heft, diversity, youth, unique, unorthodox strength in a key region, and even some experience. He stands to inject the GOP with some Obamic qualities. It's the gamble McCain needs to make right now, as I've discussed.

When the Democrats coalesce again around a single nominee, McCain is going to need an X-factor to make his candidacy and his ticket worth talking about again - or, as I've said before, he'll face a Goldwater-style loss in the fall as the hard right stays home and independents cleave to Obama.

Stretching the truth

Sound's like Jesus on the mound!

Some 75,000 people flocked to Portland’s waterfront Sunday to watch Barack Obama speak, making it the biggest rally the campaign has held to date. Thousands stood on the lawn, dozens watched from boats and from the bridge stretching across the Willamette River...

This one and other stories neglected to report that Barack was "preceded by a rare, 45-minute free concert by actual rock stars The Decemberists", who I might add, are enjoyed by this blog.

Proud


5.20.2008

Where I Like to Eat in New Orleans: Breakfast

The Big Easy is famed for its food. However, some of the finest fusion and creole cuisine here is a bit out of the price range of a lowly loan-bound law student. With that - and my rather stifling academic schedule limiting my exposure - in mind, I figure I'll share a few of the places I recommend to friends and family when they're in town. Starting with the first meal of the day...

Breakfast:

+ The Bluebird Cafe - Prytania Street, Uptown
- A classic no-frills diner space with a friendly, interesting staff and a quick wait line outside. The omelets hit the spot, especially when accompanied with black beans and rye toast. You never know who might show up in the seats.

+ Surrey's - Lower Magazine Street
- The wait on weekends can be prohibitive, but the food is scrumptious. The bananas foster pancakes were memorable, and the fresh, relaxing atmosphere feels just right in the morning.

+ Betsy's Pancake House - Upper Canal Street, Mid-City
- The food's alright, but the atmosphere is one of the most intriguing mixing pots in the city. The place has character. With blue walls, crucifixes over the doors, and a range of clientele from churchgoers in their Sunday best to local law enforcement, the place is great for people-watching. Betsy herself will likely serve you, dressed in gold, accompanied by colorful, unscripted calls from the kitchen.

+ Oak Street Cafe - Oak Street, Carrollton
- The food isn't the best around, but the music from regular pianist Charles Farmer makes for a pleasant start to the day nonetheless.

+ The Coffee Pot - St. Peter Street, The Quarter
- While it's in the Quarter, and it's certainly more expensive, the outdoor courtyard seating is picture-perfect - if you hit it early on a weekday morning when it's not overrun by tourists. And even if it is, the staff is gracious and gregarious, and the menu sports some old school hard-to-find entries, like lost bread (done well) and calas. Omelets = delicious.

Google wants my health records

Google will not get my health records.

NEW YORK (AP) -- Google's online filing cabinet for medical records opened to the public Monday, giving users instant electronic access to their health histories while reigniting privacy concerns.

Called Google Health, the service lets users link information from a handful of pharmacies and care providers, including Quest Diagnostics labs. Google plans to add more.

The company already has a slightly uncomfortable amount of control over my personal information and speech, given my voluntary use of programs like Gmail, Google calendar, and Blogger.

Seeing highly - and creepily - targeted adds appear at the top of my Gmail inbox based on the content of my e-mails is enough to give me pause.

A summer invitation from LIB

We know you're out there. We know you have opinions, ideas, and experiences. And that you wouldn't mind sharing them.

Please do!

If you would like to do some guest blogging here at Letters in Bottles this summer - even just a single post, let us know by contacting us at the e-mail addresses on the sidebar.

Tell us something interesting about your corner of the world. Or share your take on the latest development in the presidential race or world affairs. Review a book, a beer, a movie, an album, a state or national park, a concert, a blog, a new building, a restaurant. Interview someone or share a unique photo or drawing.

We'd love to hear your ideas.

Cordially yours,

LIB

5.19.2008

Magnolias in Bloom

William E. Borah, The Lion of Idaho

Over the weekend, AP did a story on the sudden revival of interest in the late Idaho Senator, William E. Borah, "The Lion of Idaho".

President Bush referenced a Borah quote before the Knesset
about "if only I could have talked to Hitler...", employing it as an example of unwise appeasement mindset - "foolish delusion."

The furor has been about Obama - who wasn't specifically referenced. Borah, however, was directly quoted.

As some have noted
, taking Borah as an example of a wimpy, naive, internationalist appeaser based on the quote taken in a vacuum is absolutely absurd.

Borah is the same man who led the "Irreconcilables" in the U.S. Senate and in speaking tours around the nation to defeat confirmation of the Treaty of Versailles. Having read Ralph Stone's book "The Irreconcilables" - which outlines the machinations that led to the rebuke of Wilson over the treaty - in my free time a few years back, I've always found Borah a fascinating, almost romantic figure.

He was incredibly eloquent (see his classic 1919 speech opposing Versailles), he was very close to an isolationist, and, above all, he was complex. In 1929, he ended up supporting the foolhardy Kellog-Briand Pact. I don't believe his comprehensive outlook aligns with any given American politician, ideology, or movement today.

In 1936, one of the worst years ever for the Republican Party, Borah ran for president. Which lone state's delegates did he manage to secure? Wisconsin.

Here's TIME Magazine's vintage account of his visit to Milwaukee in 1936 (note the somewhat punchy, odd journalistic writing style of the time). He spoke in the brand new Eagle's Ballroom, now home to the Rave. Allegedly, enough Badgers found him reminiscent of Fightin' Bob to get him through (or, as the article intimates, they were foolish or inattentive enough in their voting). Interestingly, in a more apt parallel to the 2008 election, he was 71 years old at the time.

To put a little air in the vacuum, if you will, here are a few additional Borah quotes:

No more fatuous chimera has ever infested the brain than that you can control opinions by law or direct belief by statute, and no more pernicious sentiment ever tormented the heart than the barbarous desire to do so. The field of inquiry should remain open, and the right of debate must be regarded as a sacred right. - 1917

"America has arisen to a position where she is respected and admired by the entire world. She did it by minding her own business ... the European and American systems do not agree." —1919 speech in Brooklyn opposing the League of Nations.

"The marvel of all history is the patience with which men and women submit to burdens unnecessarily laid upon them by their governments."

5.18.2008

The First Week


















My first week as an extern to a federal judge proved thoroughly interesting. Taking the St. Charles streetcar to work each morning with my neighbor, classmate, and co-worker has proven to be one fun aspect of the position. It's a great, tranquil way to transition into work mode. And, to my delight, streetcars seem to be magnets for characters.

















One of the drivers we seem to get often in the mornings is an older lady who shouted to one departing passenger "I live for speed!" the other day before slamming the doors and cranking the lever as the lumbering old streetcar launched forward, rattling between the rows of traffic under the oak boughs. There are others - the young Americorps guy who reads the Hemingway book, the professional man who looks like Danny Glover, the quiet umbrella lady, and a host of other interesting people.


















The streetcar in the morning is, by and large, New Orleans. It changes later in the day.

It only takes about a half hour to get to Poydras Street - less if we get the lady driver and if the back of the streetcar makes it around Lee Circle on the first try.

This is, I realized, the first time I've ever taken mass transit to and from work.























The courthouse position itself has been intriguing - a bench trial, criminal hearings, case research and writing. Time flies. It's been very interesting to get a taste of the procedure and processes involved. And I've actually found some direct applications of things I learned in law school(!). Civ. Pro., Con. Law, and Property have all come in handy in my inaugural assignments. Legal Research and Writing is critical, too.

I learned from personal experience that cameras are not allowed in the building, so don't expect any behind-the-scenes shots.

We eat lunch at the base of the Henry Clay statute shown in Lafayette Square (the courthouse is off in the background in the shot above).

















On Wednesdays, a festival atmosphere livens up the square with vendors, food, drinks, and live music. Last week the Hot 8 Brass Band took to the stage before Gallier Hall.






















When the day is done, we wait at the car stop on St. Charles with our $1.25 (exact change only) in hand across from the Lafayette Hotel. In 2003, during my first hours-long visit to New Orleans, I remember being awestruck at the many Mardi Gras beads in the same sidewalk trees that stand across the street in front of the building.

I also remember my second visit to the city last May. The St. Charles streetcar line was still being re-strung along the route and not a streetcar was running along the route.

The streetcar sometimes has trouble as it makes the circuit around the monument to Robert E. Lee - the back wheels sometimes fail to follow the groove where the tracks diverge. Vehicles also fail to get out of the way, which is always interesting to watch/feel.

















In the afternoons, the streetcar is transformed. It is often far more crowded, and, especially on Friday, packed with tourists visiting for the weekend - it gives us a chance to prove how much we've become locals when we can advise visitors their guide-suggested streetcar stops are not the ideal ones for their purposes.

If we get the man pictured for a driver, we make good time - he drives with confidence, speeding up in certain stretches with many crossings and dinging loud and clear so as to signal a warning to any motorists running parallel: don't cross the neutral ground. I'm coming through and I'm bigger than you.



















As we step off across from the JCC on Jefferson, the sun a bit lower and our ties a bit looser, the doors close behind us and the streetcar whirs and rumbles off up the crescent.

This, I think, is going to be worthwhile.

Fan Up, New Orleans

Tomorrow night's the night.























Signs have sprung up here in my neighborhood and throughout the city in support of the Hornets as they make their way through the playoffs. And to think that people weren't even certain earlier in the season if the team would generate sufficient fan support to stay.

It's been exciting to see genuine local enthusiasm for an NBA basketball team. There's a genuine buzz about the team in local conversation all over town. I have to say, I never once in my life felt a similar vibe for the dear old Bucks. Maybe almost once with Big Dog around the turn of the century.

While it is still odd to think of the Hornets as a NOLA phenomenon (the Hornets still equate to Muggsy Bogues, LJ, and Alonzo Mourning basketball cards from Charlotte in the early-mid 90s in my mind) I must say I've pushed over the edge into at least fair weather fandom.

The end of this week

After a long, hard grind of a week, this made me very happy.

And that is all.

5.17.2008

America

Obama (insert vigorous verb here)s Bush

In the latest fray between Barack Obama and George W. Bush over the use of diplomacy in U.S. foreign policy, it's interesting to watch the major news media outlets' coverage. Specifically the headlines. And the verbs.

See the screenshot below for a sampling of typical headlines covering the event or check out an updated list on Google News here.
















What is Obama doing to Bush? The headlines are replete with verbs like "lashes," "blasts," and "strikes back" - all harsh, strong, combative words.

And yet, was Obama particularly raw in his response?

Or is this an example of the press - looking for a new twist or chapter or tidbit of rising tension in the meta-narrative it's been writing about this campaign - painting the imperturbable, perpetually unfazed Obama as something other than a cucumber for once? Even when the actual words and conduct that produced the headline "Obama tears into Bush, McCain" aren't all that blatantly incendiary:



Obama does come off as more animated than usual in his South Dakota appearance, but I think words like "disputes" and "rejects" and "mocks" would be more appropriate substitutes for the headlines. Frankly, he remained too civil to warrant some of the words actually employed - words that allow the media to vent vicariously about Bush, spice up the campaign storyline, and, as they say, sell newspapers. Or at least online advertising.

5.15.2008

California Supreme Court Legalizes Gay Marriage

California's Supreme Court legalizes gay marriage. Here's the text of the decision (ht/VC).

Will the use of the judiciary to enact the (somewhat semantic given California's strong civil union law) social change weaken the decision's permanence and lead to another round of state-level reaction? Will it spark the California constitutional amendment backlash being discussed?

Will the "California Effect" seen in state policy and products operate on this level, rippling out across the country?

Will it help McCain? He voted against the federal Defense of Marriage legislation, agreeing with Jonathan Rauch, Dick Cheney, and supposedly Obama and Clinton, that states (state legislatures, in McCain's view) should determine such policy. Personally, I believe that arrangement is the best option at the current time.

Operating within that federalist scheme, McCain himself, though, supported a marriage ban in his own state of Arizona.

Here's an interesting Politico post on the thoughts of both McCain and Obama on the California development. For all his progressive inclinations, Obama stops short when it comes to gay marriage, falling short of the eloquent, hopeful standpoint of an alum of this blog, David L. Politico notes:

Obama's campaign also noted, in a different way, their candidate's view that states should decide. What Obama didn't say is that he's opposed to gay marriage (note the phraseology of first sentence)

"Barack Obama has always believed that same-sex couples should enjoy equal rights under the law, and he will continue to fight for civil unions as President. He respects the decision of the California Supreme Court, and continues to believe that states should make their own decisions when it comes to the issue of marriage. "

Because Obama is not where the far left wants him to be (marriage) and McCain not where the far right wants him to be (a federal ban), this is not something either will probably make front and center.

This strange situation might be the best thing for the country. Having two candidates who are not fire-breathing standard bearers for their respective sides in a social war will, I hope, temper and rationalize debate, ultimately resulting in steady, positive social evolution rather than drastic, counterproductive revolution in either direction. Yet I admit it might very well do just the opposite - the lack of standard-bearers may instead inflame grassroots radicalism.

As I've suggested several times before on this blog, I think the country as a whole is in for a significant change in the electorate's outlook on individuals who don't identify as heterosexual within the next one to two generations. I don't believe the many state constitution bans on gay marriage passed in recent years will last very long. Instead, I predict a rather Prohibitionesque lifespan for many.

Obama and 'Sweetie'

What a non-story.

Here in New Orleans, I don't know if a day goes by where I'm not referred to as 'honey', 'baby', 'sweetie', 'darlin', or even 'child' by people with the kindest of intentions.

Why just yesterday, I was eating lunch at Lil' Dizzy's downtown (so was Mayor Nagin) and the waitress said "And what'll you have, baby?" when she took my order in the vault dining room (I had a half po-boy, a cup of gumbo, and a Coke).

Nobody at the table blinked an eye. Not an eyebrow was raised. No whistles were heard.

Old Laundry, Mid-City

5.14.2008

'Wisconsin Votes' by Booth Fowler

If you're a political junkie with any interest in the Wisconsin political landscape, you must read this new book by UW-Madison Professor Emeritus R. Booth Fowler.

As I noted back in October:

UW Professor Emeritus Booth Fowler has been researching the correlation between Wisconsin ethnic heritage and voting patterns, and some of his findings hold interesting clues to the region's political future, in my mind. I believe he will be releasing a book with some of his findings in the next year.

I was actually slated to help Booth with work on a chapter for the book in the summer of 2005 - and even began research on the ethnic, religious, and political makeup of Manitowoc County - but realized I simply did not have the time available to follow through on the project given other commitments, much to my own dismay.

The book, by its own description and reviews - as well as my inside understanding of its project, is a remarkably helpful tool for anyone trying to understand where Wisconsin politics goes from here based on historical trendlines, so to speak.

Fowler taught a fantastic Integrated Liberal Studies course that I will never forget (especially the time I got to argue as Thoreau in a class debate and the monumental final project the course inspired). He's rather puckish and difficult to pin down exactly in the political sense, but he's quite intelligent and has a knack for considering all angles.

















Here's a shot from the archives of Professor Fowler (in blue) in front of historic Sterling Hall on the UW campus during a class campus history tour.

Here's Fowler's release from today on the new book.

Here's an audio recording of Fowler's remarks on the launch of his book - including his thoughts on how Wisconsin will fare in the 2008 presidential race - courtesy of Wispolitics.

Pure























The pure products of America
go crazy--


as if the earth under our feet
were
an excrement of some sky

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car

Summer Reading List

What's on your list this summer?

I'm halfway through Faulkner's trying "Absalom, Absalom," and tentatively I'm looking at Greenspan's autobiography, The Great Gatsby (somehow not read in high school), a Brian Greene book, and possibly Toobin's "The Nine" - which I've heard is worth a read from friends.

Any additional suggestions?

5.13.2008

2008 Southern Open























Over the weekend, I traveled out to Lafayette for the 2008 Southern Open, where a great artist I know racked up an honorable mention in a crowded field. Overall, I found both a solid show and a surprising turnout.


























































If you head out to visit the show, be sure to build some extra time into your schedule to visit the armadillos and alligators. Hiking and canoeing out amongst the moss-bearded bald cypresses in nearby Lake Fausse Point is a real treat.

UPDATE: NOLA Chinese Spy Case

NOLA resident Tai Shen Kuo pleads guilty in the Chinese espionage case that unfolded here in my Uptown New Orleans neighborhood.

Of the four individuals involved in the spy ring in this particular incident, only Yu Xin "Katie" Kang, a 33-year-old Chinese woman who lived in the Irish Channel, has yet to make a plea.

Somehow, the threat of Chinese espionage still has not made it onto any candidate radar in the 2008 presidential race.

Whitening Obama?

Local creative outlet Dirty Coast introduced a new t-shirt design - the 'Geauxbama' - by mixing in some fun regional terminology.

The design struck me as a bit odd, however, given the amount of white on Obama's face. Is it subtly 'whitening' the candidate's image to increase sales and marketability? Widespread appeal in the pursuit of profit is probably the consideration at the root of the use of Obama on the company's merchandise to begin with. Barack is simply too attractive and inspiring a figure within the company's demographic market not to use him as a symbol for sales leverage.

I probably protesteth too much. One could just as easily ask in a cynical mocking tone: is the design subtly "blueing" Obama?

Well, then again, the image arguably could be doing just that...a nice shade of Democrat blue. And maybe even some Democrat light blue.

5.12.2008

Bizarro

A disturbing incident - on multiple levels - as reported by Tulane Public Safety:

Off-Campus Obscenity
Saturday, May 10, 2008 at 6:15 A.M.,
Intersection of Freret And Audubon Streets

The victim was followed by an unknown white male suspect while walking east bound on Freret Street. The suspect approached her at the intersection of Freret and Audubon Streets where he pulled down his pants and began to masturbate. The victim fled the area.

Suspect’s Description

White male, 25-30 years old, approximately 5’8”-5’10” in height, 190 pounds, with black hair that was long in the back and short in the front and had a goatee style beard. The suspect was wearing eyeglasses and a red t-shirt with Wisconsin written in white on the front.

Elephant Dance

I don't think it has anything to do with the Tories in the UK, but...

Isn't this essentially what the McCain candidacy is doing for/to the Republican Party?

Home

A Blog

No letters, but worth a peek nonetheless...

The Fly Bottle.



HT/OOTM

Deep Roots

5.11.2008

Clinched

Not North Carolina, not Drudge, not the cover of TIME Magazine...

This, however, says to me it is conclusively over.

What a Mother's Day present.

5.10.2008

"The Holy Post-Soviet Travel Grail"?

So they say:
For connoisseurs of a distinctly Soviet desolation, Balakhani on a rainy day is a kind of travel delicacy, a place of aching and otherworldly Tarkovskyan beauty. Adding a wholly satisfying Azeri touch to the scene is a billboard on the road into this wasteland. Featuring the logo of the Heydar Aliyev Fund, named after Azerbaijan’s former KGB chief and first post-communist dictator, the sign declares: "Come everyone plant a tree."

...It is arguably the most depressing expat scene in the world. Even the Riyadh compound rats have clear skies and breathable air.

5.08.2008

Architectural responses to Hurricane Katrina in rural St. Bernard Parish







New NOLA Coffeeshop: Magazine Perks

Yesterday, I checked out Magazine Perks, a new coffeeshop Uptown. Apparently, it's a branching out from another local shop - Marigny Perks.

Sandwiched in a classic slot of real estate at 4332 Magazine between Ms. Mae's tavern and Casamentos palace o' tiles at the corner with Napoleon, the place has promise.























The iced cafe au lait and the wi-fi proved strong. The establishment's best feature, though, is its back patio area, which, while still a bit rustic and in-progress (clean up the trash pile in the walkway to the outdoor section!), presents a relaxing, unpretentious green spot at the end of a series of rather darkish rooms.

McCain's Judicial Vision

Here's the text of John McCain's Wake Forest speech on SCOTUS and other federal judiciary nominees from two days back.

I've been mulling the remarks, and I find them rather well-crafted.

Althouse's insights on the speech and McCain's judicial nominee philosophy hit very close to the mark, particularly her astute observations about the effectiveness of McCain's critique of Obama's conduct during the Roberts and Alito confirmation hearings. His ability to point to his own votes for President Clinton's nominees gives his comments some heft.

It's good to see a candidate explicating the rather shallow, tired soundbite about activist judges. McCain, somewhat unsurprisingly, makes a subtle jab at Griswold, mocking "emanations" and "penumbras" in judicial reasoning - a sort of shoutout to the judicial restraint crowd not exactly enamored with Justice Douglas' majority opinion.

Yet what about the liberties he says must be protected in his opening? While it makes sense for a Republican candidate to hit deviations from strict construction, what are the consequences of such insistence on adherence? Would McCain endorse Justice Black's dissent in Griswold, or Justice Stewart's, which would not find an incorporated individual right to privacy? While conservatives tend to hate how the right of privacy as it operates in Roe v. Wade, I don't believe the right to privacy is otherwise conceptually unappealing to conservatives - and most Americans, really - nor is it wholly without foundation in American history and tradition.

McCain should go the next step in arguing that Constitutional amendments are the proper vehicle to enshrine an individual fundamental right - if he in fact believes the text of the Bill of Rights, Amendments, and the Constitution are the exhaustive sources of fundamental rights. He has to account, I think, for rights so fundamental and presumed as background that the Framers never committed them to the text (see the Ninth Amendment) - or face the potentially absurd results the Black and Stewart dissents might produce.

Must we pass a Constitutional Amendment guaranteeing an individual right to breath when a state passes an 'asinine' law restricting breathing because the right to breath is not explicitly enumerated? Is the representational check sufficient in such a case?

Rebutting hypos along these lines - which would arguably require the Constitution be overloaded with minutiae - seem to be the crucial hurdle for strict construction. Is not, in the end, the originalist goal of preserving states' rights or the powers of state governments to diffuse state (read government) power overall, thereby reducing the likelihood that individual liberties will be curtailed?

ALSO, for what it's worth, and it's probably not worth much: If we're going to be strict constructionists with a textual eye...the text of McCain's speech does have a few nitpicky errors - 'farther' is used where 'further' should have been used. The word 'gauntlet' is also employed in a manner that is dangerously close to incorrect.

UPDATE: Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic labels the McCain speech a "dodge" - I disagree with Ambinder's assertion that McCain was merely trafficking in buzzwords. I think the speech, as I noted, served as a welcome step toward explication in a topical field otherwise admittedly "impoverished" and wanting greater nuance. McCain elaborated on what activism meant to him, provided concrete caselaw examples, and outlined what ostensibly will drive his selection process.

"You shall not pass."



In the Baku Metro, the way is closed.

5.07.2008

A Retrospective on UW-Madison's 'Student Government' revolt of 2006 and how it relates to the current ASM Crisis
















In April of 2006, a group of students emerged on the UW-Madison campus calling themselves 'Student Government' - a brilliant moniker, I must say - and looking to displace ASM, the Associated Students of Madison, the university's moribund student government establishment.


















The group found ASM's seeming implosion throughout the spring of 2006 to be the last straw. As I live-blogged at the time, multiple attempts at running a successful ASM spring election failed, putting the existing government - already notorious for low student participation and recognition levels, as well as high segregated fees - in a bind. It was questionable whether ASM would be able to continue to function based on realities and the strictures of the organization's own constitution imposing timelines for various electoral processes.

Student Government's leadership centered on a mixture of students - some with ASM experience, some without - including Steven Schwerbel, Sol Grosskopf, David Lapidus, and Erick Butzlaff. Others involved included Tim Schulz, Matt Weil, additional members of ASM, and Kelly Sanders at the outset. Schwerbel and Grosskopf, with their distinctive hats, became the faces and voices of the movement.



















The group declared ASM dead and called for meetings in the Stiftskellar adjoining the Rathskellar in the Memorial Union. Various campus media outlets opined on the venture. I wrote a supportive column. Basically, Student Government looked at the history and realities of ASM and realized that reform was not a viable option. A number of meeting were held with varying levels of turnout, but a notable media presence appeared, with such luminaries as Badger Herald Editor in Chief Mac VerStandig and Mikey Robinson, the paper's managing editor, in attendance at one event.





















Oddly, the Chair of ASM at the time, Eric Varney, as well as the outgoing SSFC chair, Janelle Wise, stopped by one meeting and enjoyed the spectacle with beers in hand.



















The group sought - and received - an audience early on with the Dean of Students, Laurie Berquam. Berquam later seemed to distance herself from the group.

The first rumblings of Student Government were, if I recall correctly, actually at my own home at the time, the Slanty Shanty down in the Greenbush. The first actual scheduled event/meeting for the group, however, took place in the appropriately underground 'Catacombs' coffee shop under the Pres House on Library Mall. I arrived at the very tail end of that first meeting as the members were packing up, and I noted the small orange origami bird on the table where the leaders had met - it had to be a phoenix, I said, a nice bit of symbolism about rising from the ashes.























Why did Student Government fail in its valiant effort? Discontent with ASM was wide-ranging. The far-left on campus, as evidenced by comments of Joel Feingold (of SLAC) at one SEC emergency meeting, was also fed up with ASM. The failure to bridge the gap and form a wider coaltion was one problem. The proximity to the end of the school year -and graduation for a number of figures involved - also prevented continuity and continued momentum. Some campus press, namely the Daily Cardinal, also painted the movement as "reactionary" and conservative - the seeds of reform sown were thus sown on hostile ground.

And yet the phoenix on the table in the Catacombs at the first meeting may have been a harbinger of things down the line.

Today, almost exactly two years later, ASM seems to have descended again to "rock bottom" by many accounts and indications. [More to come!]