Archive for the ‘Current Events’ Category

Smoking and OJ Are Bad For You

Friday, December 5th, 2008

Yesterday, I read an article in the Washington Post about punitive damages and due process. At issue was a decision by the Oregon Supreme Court to leave a jury award as is even though the U.S. Supreme Court “strongly implied” that the award was too large. The Oregon case, Philip Morris USA v. Williams, ended with an award of $80 million in punitive damages to the wife of a three-pack-a-day smoker that had died of lung cancer. The article states that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, 5-4, that the Oregon court had applied the wrong constitutional standard when reviewing the award. According to the article

[The U.S. Supreme Court] strongly suggested the figure was too high and told the state court to make sure the jury had not awarded such heavy damages – which are aimed at discouraging companies from reprehensible behavior – because of harm the cigarette maker may have done to others, rather than to Jesse Williams [the deceased].

And, according to Justice Breyer

The Due Process Clause prohibits a State’s inflicting punishment for harm caused strangers to the litigation.

Not being of a legal mind, I found this fascinating. While punitive damages may be awarded to a plaintiff in order to deter reprehensible actions in the future, the punitive damages cannot be so great, apparently, as to be construed as redress for damages in the present for those not party to the litigation.

The interesting legal news of today was the sentencing of O.J. Simpson to prison. CNN indicates that his sentence is a minimum of 15 years and a maximum of 33 and that he would be eligible for parole in 9 years, when he would be 70 years old.

The article quotes District Judge Jackie Glass as saying

Earlier in this case, at a bail hearing, I said to Mr. Simpson, I didn’t know if he was arrogant, ignorant or both. During the trial and through this proceeding, I got the answer, and it was both.

Though the article states that it could have been worse for Simpson and his co-defendant (they could have received life in prison), Judge Glass is quoted as saying that the sentence was not “payback for anything else”, referring apparently to Simpson’s acquittal in a criminal trial for the deaths of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ron Goldman.

But I wonder if maybe there is some parallel between OJ and the Oregon decision; specifically, I wonder if maybe there was a little “payback” that snuck into the sentence, as there may have been a little “punishment” in the Oregon award for harm caused strangers to the litigation.

Personally, I think Judge Glass can make a lot of money just by releasing a book in a few years with this title:

Judge Glass: If There Was Payback, Here’s How It Happened.

Not Not Kill Nobody

Not Not Kill Nobody

Blame America First, Last, and Always

Monday, December 1st, 2008

‘Tis the season to be folly. In just a two day period, we got a one-two punch.

First up, we have Matthew Alexander (not his real name) who led an interrogations team in Iraq and who is the author of “How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq”. Alexander, writing in the Washington Post on November 30th, makes a case against aggressive interrogation techniques and for

…building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information.

Alexander explains that this “renaissance in interrogation tactics” started “…a chain of successes that ultimately led to [the killing of Abu Musab al-] Zarqawi”. Alexander then repeats the oft-heard

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture  was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq.

I’ll leave aside the incendiary “policy of torture”; but I wonder how Alexander learned this. Did he ask terrorists during his rapport-building? Does he not know – through his “cultural understanding” – that pathological lying is a virtual way of life in the Middle East? Is it possible that foreign fighters would flock to Iraq simply because of our presence there? Is it possible that foreign fighters would know that an answer of “abuses” would make for the greatest hand wringing among the U.S. population and the greatest dissatisfaction with the war effort? Is it possible that some portion of young men in these countries are just spoiling for a fight against the great Satan? Occam’s Razor suggests that the simplest explanation is probably the best. How about this explanation: radical Islam is at war with the West. Is that simple enough?

Up second, we have the inestimable Deepak Chopra. The Indian medical doctor, writer, philosopher, and enema advocate is now an expert on terrorism and establishes his bona fides by laying the blame on the Mumbai Massacre on, why, on the United States of course. Dorothy Rabniowitz writes, in the Wall Street Journal today

In his CNN interview, he was no less clear. What happened in Mumbai, he told the interviewer, was a product of the U.S. war on terrorism, that “our policies, our foreign policies” had alienated the Muslim population, that we had “gone after the wrong people” and inflamed moderates. And “that inflammation then gets organized and appears as this disaster in Bombay.”

All this was a bit too much, evidently, for CNN interviewer Jonathan Mann, who interrupted to note that there were other things going on — matters like the ongoing bitter Pakistan-India struggle over Kashmir — which had caused so much terror and so much violence. “That’s not Washington’s fault,” he pointed out.

Given an argument, the guest, ever a conciliator, agreed: The Mumbai catastrophe was not Washington’s fault, it was everybody’s fault. Which didn’t prevent Dr. Chopra from returning soon to his central theme — the grave offense posed to Muslims by the United States’ war on terror, a point accompanied by consistent emphatic reminders that Muslims are the world’s fastest growing population — 25% of the globe’s inhabitants — and that the U.S. had better heed that fact. In Dr. Chopra’s moral universe, numbers are apparently central. It’s tempting to imagine his view of offenses against a much smaller sliver of the world’s inhabitants — not so offensive, perhaps?

What can I say? Here is one of Chopra’s great quotations:

This is the nature of genius, to be able to grasp the knowable even when no one else recognizes that it is present.

The problem is that, in addition to grasping the knowable, Chopra is probably also grasping at LSD, and I suspect that his Crown Chakra is permanently damaged.

Exercising our Right in Virginia

Sunday, November 30th, 2008

As I promised a couple of days ago, yesterday I traveled (with a buddy) from my home in Vienna VA west along Route 66, south on Route 15, and then south along Route 29, past Warrenton, to Opal VA, where, beside Route 29, there is a bit of a landmark called Clark Bros Guns. I went there to peruse their stock of handguns. Anecdotally, I have heard that gun sales have been brisk, there being some concern about Obama’s commitment to 2nd Amendment rights. I figured I better go look at some guns while I still had the chance.

Clarks Bros

Clarks Bros

I have been past Clark Brothers many times but never went in until yesterday. One of my best friends in high school moved, before our senior year, from Fairfax County down to Albemarle County, near Charlottesville. When visiting him and his family, I would take Route 29 south, going past Clark Brothers. When I was in college at Virginia Tech, I would sometimes drive to Northern Virginia via the “local” route that took me from Blacksburg to Roanoke, Lynchburg and Charlottesville, and by Clark Brothers.  I have attended some Virginia vs. Virginia Tech football games in Charlottesville, and have traveled past Clark Brothers each time. But never went in, until yesterday.

As we arrived at Clark Brothers, we heard the crack of gunfire at the range behind the main building. I had never heard the gunfire just driving by on 29. As we walked up to the front doors, a man and his daughter were exiting, apparently heading to the firing range judging by their safety glasses and hearing protection. I was struck by these two for a couple of reasons

  • The daughter was maybe 12 years old and I do not ordinarily think of shooting firearms as a common father-daughter activity. As a father to my young daughter, I hope that one day she will be interested in learning firearm safety and “gun control”.
  • The father and daughter looked to me as though they were probably from India. I mention this because I have not thought of the shooting sports as drawing diverse participation, at least here in Northern Virginia.

So I was happy to see this pair there at Clarks. But I was left to wonder whether the goings-on in Mumbai played at all into that father’s decision to go target shooting at Clarks on this particular day.

I have never been to any of the “gun shows” that are held near here many times each year. Until yesterday, my firearm purchases have been limited to competition grade shotguns. My wife and I have jokingly asked our friends to reconsider the contemporary gift of watches for the 15th wedding anniversary and instead consider exchanging shotguns, as we did for our 15th.

Our shotguns were purchased in Maryland, and I was able to take them from the store – as a Virginia resident – after an “instant” background check. But I was not expecting to be able to take my Sig Sauer P226 handgun home from Clark Brothers without some waiting period. That shows how much I know. In Virginia, licensed and registered firearms dealers perform a criminal history record information (CHRI) check for Virginia residents against the Virginia State Police’s Central Criminal Records Exchange (CCRE).

It was

Easy

Easy

Think Of Us Like a Coast Guard

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Is it my imagination, or does it seem like every week or two, we hear a story of Somali Pirates that have commandeered another ship or boat in the Gulf of Aden? The Gulf of Aden is home to some very busy shipping lanes. Historically, piracy has been more of a problem closer to the coast of Somalia. But more recently, the attacks have become more sophisticated and more dispersed throughout the Gulf. Somalia’s government is not recognized by most Somalis and so is ineffective in stopping piracy, to say the least.

Gulf of Aden

Gulf of Aden

Maritime insurance underwriters have designated the Gulf as a war zone and, as a consequence, the insurance costs for those passing through has skyrocketed.

The pirates do not appear to be very particular about the cargo aboard their targets. Most recently, it was crude oil. But in just the past couple of months, the pirates have commandeered ships laden with chemicals, salt, Russian tanks, palm oil, and – here’s the real puzzler – French people. In a recent interview, spokespirate Sugule Ali stated that the objective of the pirates is simply money. Sugule continues

Think of us like a coast guard.

Umm, a coast guard, right.  Sugule, you should lay off the King Khat.

The pirates typically use small speedboats to approach and board their quarry. Operating further out in the Gulf, there are reports that the smaller boats are dispatched from “mother ships”. With some 20,000 vessels passing through the Gulf each year, it may be difficult to identify the “mother ships”. Despite these challenges, there is some evidence that the European Union, India, and others are beginning to track these bilge rats down. Aarrr!

Jack Sparrow. Aarrr!

Jack Sparrow. Aarrr!

Spread the Wealth in DC, Maryland, and Virginia in January

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

Taking a quick peek at the Washington, DC Craigslist, sublet/temporary housing, and searching on ‘Inauguration’ in the title, I find 2105 listings.

Inauguration Housing

Inauguration Housing

182 of these are priced at $10,000 or more for the week.

For $58,000, you can move into this attractive residence for a week:

Move In Here

Move In Here for a Week

I have no idea what the real sublet prices will be. I have a sneaky suspicion that market forces will prevail, in accordance with one of my favorite laws, law of supply and demand.  I hope these prices do not come as too much of a shock to the many out-of-town guests that we are expecting. I can hear them now: “It’s Bush’s Fault”.

Safe Haven

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

Do you ever go by a shopping center or perhaps a church parking lot and spot a good-sized truck that parks at scheduled times during the week in order to accept walk-up donations of household goods? Or perhaps you are aware of permanent facilities that accept donations? Here in northern Virginia, we have drop-off locations in the form of thrift shops that benefit numerous causes, and service organizations such as Goodwill, Salvation Army, and Habitat Restore.

Which brings me to the subject of this post. I just recently learned that all 50 states (57 if you voted for Obama) have a Safe Haven law that decriminalizes the relinquishing of infants to designated private persons or organizations. Prior to recent press, I think I would have confused Safe Haven with Safe Harbor. The purpose of the Safe Haven law is to reduce the incidence of abandonment and infanticide. To be sure, this looks like an attempt to mitigate tragic and unfortunate circumstances. Not every child is born into a family that possesses the resources (economic, physical, mental, social) to properly care for the child.

A recent article on cnn.com informed readers that Nebraska’s Safe Haven law did not include any age limitations on the child relinquished. In Nebraska’s case, relinquishment is made to hospitals. Nebraska’s law was adopted (no pun intended) in February and went into effect in July. According to the CNN article, 34 children have been “dropped off”.  All but six were older than 10 years old, one was 17 years old, and none were infants. A simple internet search suggests that parents are bringing children into Nebraska from other states. According to the CNN article, which has been repeated throughout the blogosphere,  this situation has prompted Nebraska governor Dave Heineman to plead

Please don’t bring your teenager to Nebraska.

Nearly all states impose an age limit of from several days to about 30 days. Henieman has called for a special legislative session to revise Nebraska’s law to include a limit. You can see the Governor’s official communication here.

The Nebraska safe haven law is available here. This is a perfect example of the law of unintended consequences, one of my favorites. One has to wonder if sick teens in Nebraska, requiring medical care, are reluctant to go to the hospital.

I can’t say for sure how I feel. I have to believe that the parents relinquishing children in Nebraska must be experiencing some type of crisis or, possibly, are mentally ill. As horrible as relinquishment may be, I can think of scenarios that could play out much worse. My heart goes out to all involved, especially the children.

My view of this is somewhat colored by my experience with international adoption. My daughter was adopted from China. Virtually all children (nearly all girls) that are available for adoption in China are abandoned. Yet, it is against the law in China to abandon an infant.  Throughout southern China (which is where most of the adopted infants are born) there are apparently well-known drop-off points where these infants may be placed so that they are found in short order. Maybe there is some wink-wink-nudge-nudge going on with authorities. I can only say that I am appreciative of the decision that my daughter’s birth mother made, for the chance that was given to my daughter.

Nebraska Safe Havens

Nebraska Safe Havens

You Are Here!

Friday, November 14th, 2008

The very big scientific news of the day is that, for the first time, there is now visual – or direct – evidence of planets outside of our solar system. According to an article in today’s Washington Post, astronomers have detected over 300 extrasolar planets using indirect methods in the last decade.

The news today is the discovery of the planet “Fomalhaut b” by Paul Kalas of the University of California at Berkeley, and the discovery of three planets orbiting a star called HR 8799 by Christian Marois and his colleagues at the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Victoria, B.C.

Kalas used the Hubble telecope during his study of the star Fomalhaut, while Marois used two telescopes in Hawaii.  Fomalhaut is 25 light-years from here, a little further if you live inside the beltway.  HR 8799 is 128 light-years. It’s a good thing the price of gas has been coming down lately. Here is a picture of Fomalhaut b.

Fomalhaut b

Fomalhaut b

This seems like a good time to share the following pictures, which have made the rounds as email attachments.

The Five Smallest Planets

The Five Smallest Planets

The 9 Planets of Our Solar System

The 9 Planets of Our Solar System

Planets Relative to Our Sun

Planets Relative to Our Sun

Our Sun and Some Other Stars

Our Sun and Some Other Stars

Sun and Antares

Sun and Antares

On this last picture, the Sun is represented as a pixel. I think maybe Betelgeuse and Antares are stacking.