Friday, December 21, 2007

Trip to Portland

My daughter and I flew from Wichita to Portland yesterday, with stops in Denver and Seattle. (Coming back it will be more direct, with a stop only in Denver.) Going on a Boeing 757 from Denver to Seattle was exciting. United definitely took good care of us on the trip, and my daughter's bag came through the checking process like it was supposed to.

In Portland I am staying at my oldest son's apartment in the downtown area. We walked down to the Willamette River riverfront area this morning and saw a drawbridge open and cl ose. I was surprised at how many bridges there are across the river. Normally there are many more blocks between bridges, even in a downtown area. (It is a wide river so each bridge is a major project.) I was impressed with a plaque recounting how Oregonians in 1938 decided to clean up the river pollution, and by 1972 it was again deemed safe for water activities. This puts Oregon about 32 years ahead of the rest of the country, in my estimation.

I am also impressed with the public transportation here. My son and his fiancee are getting along without a car. My son actually took the train to the airport to meet us, and we then rode the train back into town to within a few blocks of his apartment.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Who Is Entitled to Found Money?

This issue involves a situation in which the owner cannot be found, or has abandoned the property in the legal sense of "abandonment", and there are two other competing claimants arguing who is entitled to the money.

This musing is prompted by a recent AP story telling of a contractor who discovered bundles of cash totaling $182,000 hidden behind bathroom walls of a house he was renovating. He immediately called the owner of the house. The bills had apparently been stashed there by a former owner of the house, and of course were long since abandoned by that former owner.

The two parties soon fell to arguing about who was entitled to the find, and now talk to each other only through their lawyers. The contractor rejected the owner's offer of a 10% finders fee, and takes the position that in Ohio (where this happened) the rule of "finders keepers" applies. He has offered to settle for 40% of the total, and this is the impasse existing at this time.

This brings to mind the fight over the record-setting Barry Bonds baseball. Replays showed one man catching the ball. There was then a big pileup of bodies, and another man emerged from the scrum with the ball. The first guy says he was "mugged" by the second and the ball stolen from his hand, while the second says no, I saw it rolling on the ground and I dove for it and got it.

Well, the two went to court on this and after a 3-week trial the Judge ordered the ball sold at auction, with the proceeds to be split 50-50. But here is where the plot sickens. The ball went for $450,000, making each claimant's share $225,000. Thinking the ball would bring in the neighborhood of the $3,000,000 that the McGwire record-setting ball had brought, the first guy had hired his lawyer on an hourly basis. After the trial the lawyer filed a claim for his fees in the staggering amount of $473,530.32!"It was an aggressively litigated case, and we're very proud of what we did," said the lawyer. "Alex had nothing going into the trial. This was a very novel case, nothing had been done in the area of personal property since the 1800s."

Popov, who said he has obtained a new lawyer and is mulling a malpractice suit, bristled at Triano's comments. "It was a very simple case. He was the one that made it complex," he said. "I trusted the wrong man."

(My observation here is that lay people perhaps have trouble understanding that just because the *facts* of a case seem simple, that doesn't mean the *legal issues* are simple.)

The second guy had a happier result, as he had hired his lawyers on a contingency basis. Even then, he actually would have *lost* money after paying trial expenses, taxes and fees on his share, but his lawyers were willing to cut their fee enough to ensure cash in hand for the client.

This all brings to mind a recent case I was involved in, which is strongly analogous to the above two cases. It involved competing claims to pay-on-death benefits between an ex-wife and the decedent's children. As in the above cases, each side could have pursued a claim for the entire funds involved, and a long and bruising court fight would have ensued, as there were complex legal issues which would have had to be litigated. However, in my case both sides (and their respective attorneys) were reasonable enough to understand that compromise was in everybody's best interests, and they agreed on a 50-50 split, making litigation unnecessary. (Even at that, I ended up investing nearly 100 hours on the case!)

To sum up, remember that half a loaf is better than none, a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, (insert your own cliche here), and remember that you will be a healthier and happier person getting a dispute behind you and proceeding ahead with your life, then miring yourself in endless litigation over what you mistakenly perceive as "principle".

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Was the Cold War Truman's Fault?

Last Sunday School class dealt with the chapter in Jim Juhnke's book, "The Missing Peace", on the cold war. Jim blames Truman and "his hard-line Secretary of State, James F. Byrnes" for creating the sort of cold war hysteria which we baby-boomers lived through in the 1950's.

Jim calls Truman "a politician uninformed and inexperienced in international affairs". He suggests that if Roosevelt had kept Wallace on the ticket in 1944, instead of dumping him for Truman, Wallace would then have become President instead of Truman, and "might have spared the world some forty years of cold war".

Jim's one sentence describing how Truman was selected in 1944 instead of Wallace is: "Roosevelt allowed conservative Democrats of the anti-civil rights South and the urban machines to dump Wallace for Truman". This did not ring true with my own recollection of the process, as described by Jim Bishop in his wonderful book, "FDR's Last Year", so I went back and reread that chapter in Bishop's book.

Bishop describes how FDR announced he would run again on 7/11/44, and shortly thereafter he met with his advisers to discuss who would be his running mate. Various names were mentioned and then shot down, with Wallace's name being scarcely mentioned at all. Bishop writes that "it was obvious that Mr. Roosevelt was too tired to start another battle for his personal preference, as he had in 1940."

The upshot of the meeting was that Roosevelt would be happy with either Truman or Bill Douglas as a running mate. Robert Hannegan, Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, asked FDR for a note to that effect, and Roosevelt wrote: "You have written me about Bill Douglas or Harry Truman. I should, of course, be happy to run with either of them and believe that either of them would bring real strength to the ticket." The next day Hannegan had FDR's secretary type the note, except he asked that it read "Truman or Douglas" rather than "Douglas or Truman", making it look like FDR preferred Truman.

Truman, who had pledged his own support to James F. Brynes, was not told until the Sunday before the convention that his name was to be placed in nomination. The convention delegates preferred Wallace, and on the first ballot Wallace led 429 to 319 over Truman, with favorite sons receiving the other 400 votes. On the second roll call vote the state delegations one by one started switching to Truman, and he prevailed 1031-105.

This, then, is the detailed account of how Truman got selected. The people in the room with FDR when this was discussed were his political advisers, and I see no evidence that they were stacked in favor of Southerners or urban machine politicians. These were people FDR had selected to advise him and to hold the top spots in the party machinery.

FDR himself had written that if her were a delegate, he would vote for Wallace. However, he also made it clear that he did not want to influence the delegates one way or the other. Hence his rather mild endorsement of Truman and Douglas.

The real "what if" question is what if FDR had not run in 1944? Bishop's book makes it clear that FDR was way too sick in 1944 to undertake another 4-year term. He was given complete physical exams by his doctors every morning and every evening, and was constantly being told to get more rest, even though he was already spending most of each day in bed. A better man would have stepped aside at that point, but this after all is the same man who refused to support Upton Sinclair in his run for California governor in 1934, who refused to let the boatload of Jews into the country and sent them back to Europe, where most of them perished in the Holocaust, who refused to desegregate the armed forces, who put Japanese-Americans into concentration camps during the war, and who refused to tell Truman about the atomic bomb project.


The other part of Juhnke's chapter which interested me is his citing of George F. Kennan as somene who should have been listened to in the aftermath of WW2. I had always thought of Kennan as a hard-liner, but Juhnke presents a different view. He was indeed one of the architects of the post-war policy of "containment", but he soon started taking issue with how that policy was being carried out. His concern had been the *political* expansion of Stalinist communism, not the *military* expansion.

Kennan's Wikipedia biography depicts a long life of constructive criticism of US foreign policy. His famous 1946 "long telegram" discussing US-Soviet relations suggested that the solution was "to strengthen Western institutions in order to render them invulnerable to the Soviet challenge while awaiting the eventual mellowing of the Soviet regime". The hard-liners in the Truman administration, and Truman himself, used this to advocate for a military solution. It is interesting in hindsight to note that the "eventual mellowing" Kennan mentioned did in fact ultimately occur.

Kennan served the govenrment intermittently untl 1963, when he retired to academia. During the '60's he criticized US invovlment in Indochina. In 2002, at age 98, he criticized US involvement in Iraq, saying: "Anyone who has ever studied the history of American diplomacy, especially military diplomacy, knows that you might start in a war with certain things on your mind as a purpose of what you are doing, but in the end, you found yourself fighting for entirely different things that you had never thought of before... In other words, war has a momentum of its own and it carries you away from all thoughtful intentions when you get into it. Today, if we went into Iraq, like the president would like us to do, you know where you begin. You never know where you are going to end." Again, he hit the nail right on the head, as the last 5 years of our misadventure in Iraq have made clear.

Kennan died in 2005 at the age of 101, survivied by his wife of 74 years. His daughter Grace remarked that "It was his enormous curiosity that kept him alive so long. He had an enormous interest in the world, and I remember, even toward the end, he would get so angry at the paper, angry at the TV."

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Top Super Bowl Memories

1. In Super Bowl I, Max McGee reaching back to make a one-handed catch against his hip, helping the Packers crush the Chiefs. There was quite a story behind McGee's even playing. After catching only 4 passes all year, the aging McGee had stayed out late partying the night before as he didn't expect to play. But the regular wide receiver got hurt early in the game, and McGee was pressed into service. The game plan called for the wide receiver to take advantage of perceived weaknesses in the Chiefs' secondary, and McGee did just that.

2. Joe Namath brashly guaranteeing victory in Super Bowl III and then making good on his promise. This, along with the Chiefs' win the following year, cemented the AFL's status as an equal to the NFL.

3. Perhaps the first truly entertaining Super Bowl was number XIII. The image I remember is Terry Bradshaw firing the ball toward the goal line, and his receiver (both Swann and Stallworth scored touchdowns) leaping up during a crossing route and making a nice grab at the goal line. I remember Bradshaw remarking that he had never (or rarely, perhaps) even had 300 years passing in an entire game, and here he almost had that in the first half. The NFL had instituted new rules limiting what defenders could do, which played a role in opening up the game. It truly was a memorable one, with the Cowboys hanging in there nicely and ending up making it close at 35-31.

4. During the playoffs following the 82-83 season, John Riggins had told his teammates to climb on his back, he would carry them to victory. He did just that, rushing for over 100 yards in all 4 playoff games, and carrying the ball a record 38 times (!) in Super Bowl XVII to lead his Redskins to a 27-17 win over the Dolphins. As Yogi once said, "it ain't bragging if you can do it!". And Riggins sure did it.

5. The most memorable finish was surely that of Super Bowl XXXIV, with the Titans needing a touchdown on the last play of the game to catch the Rams. Rams defender Mike Jones made a great one-on-one tackle on Titans receiver Kevin Dyson at the one-yard line to preserve the Rams 23-17 win. Another great story line was the amazing season Rams QB Kurt Warner had. What a story he was! He had been working in a grocery store and playing in the the Arena League, when he caught on with the Rams as the back-up QB. Then when the regular QB was hurt early in the season, Warner took over and passed the Rams to the World Championship.

6. All the pre-game hype for Super Bowl XL concerned it being Jerome Bettis' last game, and how special it was that it was being played in Detroit, his hometown. Well, the officials must have read the hype and decided to let Bettis go out with a win, because they simply gave the game to the Steelers with a series of crucial bad calls. The one I remember most was a "pushing off" penalty on the Seahawks receiver, resulting in a Seahawks touchdown being nullified. The so-called pushing off consisted of the mildest of nudges, the sort of thing which never would have been called on a defender, who is typically allowed to mug the receivers as the receivers attempt to run their routes, and surely did not affect the result. Whatever happened to "no harm, no foul"?? It is obvious instant replay has a long way to go to correct the injustices caused by bad calls.

Last Wednesday night at Stooges last night, as my daughter had her final exam and will be on a different schedule next semester. My friend Oil was there but left early, and I ended up playing Six sitting next to the (delightfully) quirky blonde woman, Newman. She actually won the game, making only the 2nd time I played Six there and didn't get on the bar's top 10 board for the last year (the other time I had a bad box).

Interesting exchange with Oil linking Quincy's--formerly Players--formerly cop bar--incident there once in which a bunch of off-duty cops foiled an attempted holdup--reminding me of the opening restaurant scene in Pulp Fiction in which the couple decide that restaurants are easy targets to rob because there are fewer "heroes" there. Well, Players had many "heroes" there when some poor slob decided to rob it!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Federal Sentencing Guidelines

Well, wonder of wonders, the Supreme Court finally got somethign right! On Monday they handed down a decision holding that the federal sentencing guidelines were just that--guidelines--and not mandatory. The cases at issue were two cases in which Judges in drug cases had sentenced defendants to less than the guidelines called for. In each case the Judge had good reason for doing so, yet the Court of Appeals overturned each decision, feeling the guidelines were mandatory.

One problem with the guidelines is that they are blatantly racist in their application. It takes 50-100 times the quantity of powder cocaine (favored by White middle class users) to result in an equivalent sentence for use of crack cocaine (favored by Blacks). This was the reason behind the Judge's thinking in one of the 2 cases. Still, the Judge had to impose the 15-year mandatory minimum set by Congress, which raises another issue of the unfairness of these mandatory minimums which legislatures are so fond of imposing to limit the discretion of Judges to do the right thing in a particular case.

Kudos to the two Judges who had the courage to do the right thing, and to the Supreme Court. Boos and hisses to the morons on the Court of Appeals. And let's pray for wisdom for the members of the Sentencing Commission, which is now meeting to consider a revision in these horrible and draconian guidelines.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Law and Order

"I apologize, Your Honor, I've been watching too much Law and Order lately." Yes, believe it or not, I actually said that to a Judge yesterday, after I had improperly interrupted the other attorney during his argument!

Law and Order is a great show, but it inaccurately portrays the legal system in several respects. One is the way attorneys continually interrupt each other during arguments to the Judge, usually concerning the setting of bond for the defendant.

A more outrageous inaccuracy is the way prosecutors will meet with the defendants directly and engage in discussion of the case. No defense attorney in his or her right mind would ever allow this, even when the attorney is present also to run interference. It just doesn't happen that way. Typically an offer from the prosecutor is made to the defense attorney, who then discusses it IN PRIVATE with the client, and reports back to the prosecutor.


Today's quote comes from Garrison Keillor: "We're burdened by the need to be cool. When I was in college, I read Kafka and Camus and tried to write like them, in flat, non-American English, as if writing under the influence of a migraine, until it slowly dawned on me that I was missing the basic experiences that had formed them. Enduring high school is not the same as growing up Jewish in Prague or fighting in the French resistance."

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Baseball Hall of Fame

The first hour of the Bob Costas radio show this morning was spent with Tom Verducci discussing Hall of Fame issues. This is always an interesting topic, as opinions can vary and there are no objective criteria involved for determining who should be admitted.

The main omission this time around was Marvin Miller, who Costas and Verducci agreed should be a no-brainer Hall of Famer. In fact, Verducci said if you do a 30-second history of the game, Miller would be mentioned along with Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson. (Miller was the head of the Player's Union, responsible for getting the players the ridiculous salaries they command today, thanks to free agency.)

A less recent omission was Buck O'Neill, who was not included in the 17 players inducted from the Negro Leagues a few years ago.

The main problem I see with the Hall of Fame selection process is that a person has to go in for accomplishment in a given area; i.e., one has to go in as a player, a manager, a broadcaster, an umpire, a writer, etc. But what about someone whose career includes accomplishments in more than one of those areas? There is no way now to recognize that. A prime example is Richie Ashburn. Ashburn retired in 1962, but was not admitted to the Hall of Fame until 1995. After his playing career ended he had a long career broadcasting Phillies games, and could have been admitted as a broadcaster as well as for his playing accomplishments. Taking the two together, he surely was worthy long before finally being admitted by vote of the Veterans Committee. What an injustice!

A similar type of problem with the selection process is that voters seem unable to be able to factor in defensive accomplishments. This has long been a problem, as there are no defensive statistics to measure performance like there are offensive statistics. Someone who is the best ever at a key defensive position like shortstop, can now get in. Exhibit A here is Ozzie Smith. But what about someone who is very good offensively and very good defensively also? This describes Ron Santo, and the fact he is *still* not in the Hall is a continuing travesty.

Another example of this is the aforementioned Richie Ashburn. Ashburn was one of the best defensive center fielders ever, and a very good hitter also. He tended to get lost in the shuffle because he played in an era of power-hitting center fielders--Mays, Mantle and Snider. Ashburn was not a home run hitter, but he was very good at getting on base, a skill more highly appreciated these days with the benefit of sophisticated sabermetric analysis. He is one of only four players in history to lead his league in both walks *and* hits in the same year. At one time he had 6 of the highest 10 season putout totals in baseball history for center fielders.

The show discussed Barry Bonds' chances also. Verducci said he wasn't voting for him and that he knows many writers who are on the fence, and will likely not vote for him if he is convicted of the charges recently filed against him. Costas made the point that if Bonds had retired after the 1997 season, before steroids came into play, he would have already had a Hall of Fame career. Verducci didn't buy this, saying you have to evaluate the *whole* career, and not pick just one part of it. I have to agree with Verducci on this one.

Pete Rose was not discussed, as that issue has been beaten to death already. I would just point out that Pete was a manager when he bet on baseball, and that should not affect his ability to get in as a player. At some point forgiveness and redemption needs to come into play, and Rose should receive the induction which he has so richly earned.

The Hall will be a better place when O'Neill, Rose, and Santo are included.

3/18/16 update.  Ron Santo finally got into the Hall, selected by the Golden Era Committee in December of 2011. His widow accepted the plaque on his behalf.

The Hall of Fame has honored Buck O'Neill with the creation of the Buck O'Neil Lifetime Achievement Award.

I have mellowed in my appraisal of the Peter Rose situation. Mike Royko is persuasive when he states: "What matters is that he had those 24 wonderful summers and those 3,562 games. And whatever kind of jerk he may have been in his private life, it was obvious that when he stepped out onto the field he loved every moment of it. How many people can say that about 24 years in the same job?....It's not a tragedy. It isn't even sad. Tragedy is a kid getting hit by a car. Sad is being old, alone, and lonely."

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Cliches I Can Do Without

There are a number of perfectly good phrases which have become tiresome through overuse. I will name a few that come to mind.

"At the end of the day": During the Supreme Court arguments on the Bush vs. Gore case concerning the disputed 2000 election, Chief Justice Rehnquist kept using this phrase over and over till it became nauseating. He seemed to be trying to convey the impression that he was carefully considering the case and would make a reasoned decision. However, when the decision came out, it was obvious that the Court had made a fool of itself, at least the so-called "conservatives" on it had. These "conservatives", who usually preached state's rights and a hands-off approach in the federal system to interfering with what a state is doing, all voted to overturn the result which had come out of Florida, and make Bush the winner! And they did it on very flimsy grounds, with their political motivation being obvious. I doubt the Court will ever fully recover from this debacle.

"of late": Local sportscaster Bruce Haertl likes to use this, and it is a decent phrase, but when I heard Bruce use it twice in one sentence, that was too much!

"run the table": Here again, used often in sports talk, and is a decent metaphor from the game of pool. However, it has become stale through overuse.

"24/7": I have heard this used and it never applies. It cannot apply, actually, unless you are a computer rather than a human being. Let's retire this cliche.

The reader is invited to nominate other cliches which are due for retirement.


Two quotes from yesterdays USA Today:

"I hope they get the right house." Said by Treva Buckles, next-door neighbor to Lori Drew, the women in Dardenne Prairie, Missouri, whose nasty MySpace messages drove a neighbor girl to suicide. I hope they get the right house also, what this woman did was absolutely despicable.

"I don't give a damn what the numbers say." Mike Ditka, talking about reports that his charity formed to help needy former pro football players has collected $1.3 million, but paid only a paltry $57,000 to former players in need. Uh, Mike, don't the numbers pretty much tell the whole story here?

Friday, December 7, 2007


Incredible decision made the other day on the "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" show. The contestant had the question, "How many wheels would you have if you had 3 unicycles, 2 bicycles, and 3 tricycles?" He almost immediately asked the audience! He didn't even seem to try to puzzle it out himself first!

This is even more incredible when you realize he didn't have to come up with the answer himself. All he had to do was pick out the right one from the 4 choices given. I think this illustrates the epidemic of innumeracy we face in the U.S. People need a basic understanding of math in order to carry out their day-to-day affairs. And yet, all too often peoples' eyes just glaze over whenever they are faced with anything involving numbers.

I think we need to develop a way of measuring innumeracy. We could then report innumeracy rates for each country, just like we now have illiteracy rates for each country. One is just as important as the other!


Today's quote is again from Bill Maher's "New Rules": "If everybody was wrong about the weapons of mass destruction, then somebody has to say 'my bad'. When Clinton was in the White House, we investigated his business partners, his wife's business partners, the guy who was governor after him, the girls who did him, his travel agents, and the guy who cut his hair. For some reason the two words this president just can't seem to say are "sorry" and
nuclear". Something is terribly wrong when the only person who's been fired over terrorism is me."

NOTE: Maher is being literally true here. After 9/11 he was fired for saying that "cowardly" is not the correct adjective to use to describe the 9/11 terrorists. Just shows how dangerous it is to speak the truth in this country.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Today's Workout

Jogged 30 minutes at the Y today. This is probably the longest continuous jog in my life. Also set a more dubious record, in that my weight was at 184, highest ever.


Buzztime site now has the scores up from last night's Six game. My score of 56,972 was good for 234th overall. Five players who all had my score would have meant a bar score that ranked 22nd. My partner Oil ranked 525th with 53,008, also a fine score.


Sunday's Sunday School class with Jim Juhnke was on his chapter of "The Missing Peace" on World War II. A point of interest was his account of the Japanese balloon bombs which landed in the United States. Jim said there was no reporting on this, at the request of the U.S. Government, and Japan abandoned the effort thinking it was ineffective.

I asked Jim if he was coming down on the side of suppression of the news. He gave the rather lame answer that he was just reporting. I mean to ask him when I get a chance what that passage is doing in the book, as there are many stories that could have been included--why include that one? There had to have been some reason for its inclusion.

One point he tried to make is the greater level of reporting from WW2 to the Vietnam War. However, the claim that there is a trend is perhaps belied by the 2 Iraq wars, with the term "embedded" which we heard so often implying that the reporters are seeing only what the military wants them to see. I doubt that one can make a decent case that the media is doing a great job these days.


Great trivia results this week. Last night playing Six at Stooges, while waiting in Andover for my daughter to be picked up after her evening class, I got a near 57K score. I played with the bald-headed guy who plays as Oil; he is quite congenial and we had a good time.

Tuesday night I almost won the 8:00 game on I was one point away from the winner.


Today'[s quote comes from Bill Maher: "In the 2004 election, compared Bush to Hitler, ignoring the first rule for being taken seriously by grownups, which is: Don't call everyone you don't like "Hitler". Bush is not Hitler. For one thing, Hitler was a decorated, frontline combat veteran. Also, in the election that brought him to power in 1933, Hitler got more votes than the other candidates."

This is from page 188 of Maher's delightful book, "New Rules: Polite Musings from a Timid Observer".

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The Warren Hastings Impeachment

Today's trivia question: The impeachment and trial of Warren Hastings lasted how long in the British Parliament?

This is one of my favorite trivia questions, because the answer--9 years--just cries out for more detail. I will provide some details and then make some observations.

Warren Hastings had served as Governor-General of India for a period of time in the late 1700's. He resigned and returned to England in 1785. On 2/17/86, Edmund Burke began impeachment proceedings by seeking access to documents relating to Hastings' administration in India. Articles of Impeachment were eventually voted on by the House of Commons, and on 5/10/87 Hastings was impeached in the House of Lords, taken into custody, and had to post a 40,000-pound bail.

The House Managers finally competed their case on 5/30/91, leaving 16 of the 20 articles virtually untouched. Two years later Hastings completed his defense, and two years after that, on 4/23/95, the House of Lords finally voted, acquitting Hastings of all charges.

One might ask why they went to all this trouble, when Hastings had already left his post in India. Several reasons come to mind. First, part of impeachment is a prohibition against holding office in the future, not just removal from one's current office. Second, in that era a man's reputation and character were of the utmost importance, and that was what was at stake for Hastings. In fact, at one point Hastings asked his supporters in the House of Commons to vote *for* the Articles of Impeachment, so that he would have a chance to defend himself at the subsequent trial. Third, it is obvious from the fact that Hastings was taken into custody and had to post bail, that there was a criminal aspect to this, unlike in the U.S., so presumably some criminal sanctions were possible had he been convicted.

The way this was approached procedurally is interesting. Impeachment is an odd hybrid of the judicial and the political, and the rules to be followed were not clear. The House of Lords voted to follow the stricter judicial rules as far as the evidence was concerned, which limited what the House Managers could present. On the other hand, Burke was allowed to speak for days on end, indicating a more parliamentary approach to that aspect of the case.

Burke talked in generalities, without much attention to the details of the case. It was obvious he was speaking for posterity more than as part of a legitimate attempt to convict. Hastings, by contrast, was overly legalistic in his defense, and was criticized for *not* speaking in more general and historical terms.

The problems with having a legislative body sit as a "court" are obvious. Of 230 members of the House of Lords who sat in on the trial at one time or another, only 29 felt informed enough to vote!

In the end the case proved to be purely political. Both sides spoke freely to the press through the proceedings. The House Managers pursued the case vigorously, even though it was obvious early on they would lose. In a judicial proceeding, this would be unheard of, and highly unethical for a prosecutor to do.

The concepts which arose out of this proceeding are found in the U.S. approach to impeachment as well. The fundamental principle here is that impeachment is reserved for serious breaches of the public trust, and not just for "maladministration". This was debated at the Constitutional Convention, and Madison made the point that if you have maladministration as a basis for impeachment, this would be "equivalent to the President serving at the pleasure of the Congress". Madison's view of course prevailed.

The politically-motivated impeachments of Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton are examples of a misuse of the impeachment process. In both cases, cooler heads prevailed and conviction was denied.

Pulp Fiction

When I first saw Pulp Fiction years ago it didn't make much of an impression on me. For one thing, the movie is hard to follow, as there are 3 or 4 different stories (depending on how you count them) going on simultaneously. What's more, the movie jumps around in time as well as back and forth between the stories.

Because I like Jackie Brown so much, I decided to give Pulp Fiction another try. Thanks to the good folks at Netflix, I was able to do that this week, and now I understand it for the great movie it is (#5 all-time on IMDB). The stories do all come together in the end. This is one of those films, like "The Usual Suspects", that you can see 20 times and notice something different each time. In fact, even more so with Pulp Fiction.

As for the mystery of what is in the briefcase, we are never told and Tarantino says it is whatever the viewer wants it to be. This is in line with another quote from him, that "If a million different people see my movie, I hope they see a million different films."

A last thought: one of the supporting characters, Harvey Keitel, gives as good a performance as you will ever see in the movies. He is absolutely wonderful.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the movie:

Vincent: "I ain't saying it's right. But you're saying a foot massage don't mean nothing, and I'm saying it does. Now look, I've given a million ladies a million foot massages, and they all meant something. We act like they don't, but they do, and that's what's so cool about them. There's a sensuous thing going on where you don't talk about it, but you know it, she knows it, Marsellus knew it, and Antwan should have known better. I mean, that's his wife, man. He can't be expected to have a sense of humor about that. You know what I'm saying?"

Jules: "The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the iniquities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men. Blessed is he, who in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak through the valley of darkness, for he is truly his brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who would attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know my name is the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon thee." (Misquoting Ezekiel 25: 17)

Captain Koons: "The way your dad looked at it, this watch was your birthright. He'd be damned if any slopes gonna put their greasy yellow hands on his boy's birthright, so he hid it, in the one place he knew he could hide something: his ass. Five long years, he wore this watch up his ass. Then when he died of dysentery, he gave me the watch. I hid this uncomfortable piece of metal up my ass for two years. Then, after seven years, I was sent home to my family. And now, little man, I give the watch to you."

The Wolf: "Just because you are a character doesn't mean that you have character."

Mia: "Don't you just love it when you come back from the bathroom and find your food waiting for you?"

Fabienne: "It's unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye is seldom the same." (Explaining why she thinks women's pot bellies are sexy.)

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Today's TV show: Bones

I first learned of this show when I saw a rave review in USA Today of an upcoming episode. It was so effusive in its praise that I had to tune in.

Turns out it is a wonderful show, based on the real-life experiences of forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs. It is very oriented towards the science, and the Bones character has no less than four scientists working for her to solve each mystery. As a scientist, the Bones character is presented as very objective and a bit lacking in social skills. Her partner, a male FBI agent, is the emotional one, and the interplay between the two is a major part of the show's appeal.

In a radio interview (which you can listen to at, Dr. Reichs comments on how she is heavily involved in the production of the TV series. She reviews each script and works with the writers to get the science right. This in itself is noteworthy, as we hear all too frequently about authors who are so disgusted with the film versions of their work that they wash their hands of it. Joseph Wambaugh and the series "Police Story" come to mind in this regard.

Dr. Reichs has written nine books featuring her forensic anthropologist character Temperance Brennan, and there has been considerable discussion of the differences between the TV Brennan and the book Brennan. In one discussion, found at, the consensus seems to be that there *are* significant differences between the TV Bones and the book
Bones, but that people don't seem to mind this as they enjoy both characters.

Which Bones character is closest to Kathy Reichs herself is something I haven't figured out yet.

Today's quote is from Garrison Keillor: "I propose that we change Columbus Day to Bush Day, a cautionary holiday, like Halloween, a day to meditate on the hazards of ambition. We could observe it by going through the basement and garage and throwing out stuff we don't want or need. Also by not mortgaging the house to pay for a vacation, and not yelling at the neighbors, and not assuming that the law is for other people."

This is from an article entitled "The all-time worst President" that Keillor wrote for The article can be found at