Category Archives: Current Affairs


Last fall, a Champaign girl was out walking the family dog, when another dog approached and attacked her dog. Efforts to separate the two animals were unsuccessful; police were called.

The CPD officer dispatched to break up the dogfight elected to do so with his sidearm, and fired seven shots. The attacking dog suffered a graze to one leg, and ran away; the girl’s dog was killed.

Way to go, Deadeye Dick.

Officer Dick was given a one-day suspension – not for killing the dog, but because one round of his fusillade went through a nearby apartment building. (Turns out that’s against CPD policy.) The family is understandably disappointed, and thinks further punishment is warranted.

The Champaign city government, on the other hand, is trying to come up with a cash payment to make the problem go away. In a news item from today’s paper (which is really a web site; reality changes faster than language), the girl’s father said:

The city thinks they’re trying to put a price on a dog. It’s more that these are civil rights violations. The killing of a dog is a violation of the Fourth Amendment because it is a seizure. The fact that the city deems all animals to be dangerous and allows police officers to shoot them is a violation of due process. It takes a court of law to deem a domestic dog dangerous. There was nothing in that report that said our dog was vicious or dangerous or that anyone was at risk.

Reading that, I thought: that’s your lawyer talking. People don’t use words like ‘deem’ in conversation any more, or drop references to the Bill of Rights. Only a lawyer would do that.

Sure enough, the family has retained the services of a specialist in “legal services relating to animals”. He has apparently coached them very well.


Close elections – the only sort we’ve had in the U.S. for the last twelve years – are unsatisfying, in the same way a 5-4 Supreme Court decision is unsatisfying.

It means the nation is not of settled mind. Regardless of the outcome, half the country is going to think the wrong candidate won.

Imagine my surprise, again

The news organization no longer known as MSNBC says:

HONOLULU (Reuters) – A team of researchers trying to solve the mystery of aviator Amelia Earhart’s 1937 disappearance said on Friday that underwater video from a Pacific island has revealed a field of man-made debris that could be remnants of her plane.

Last time, the TIGHAR folks had a half-dozen pixels on a grainy, 75-year-old photo. “It’s the landing gear from Amelia’s plane,” they said. “We must investigate!”

So in July, they went to Nikumaroro, and found…nothing. There were snickers.

But it’s not over. After a few weeks spent reviewing the underwater-camera footage, TIGHAR says, “Wait! Wait! We did find something!” Their momentous discovery: grainy video, showing a few coral-encrusted lumps that might be a debris field. And if it is a debris field, it might be Amelia Earhart’s plane.

But – of course – there’s no way to tell from the video. TIGHAR needs…another expedition to Nikumaroro.

TIGHAR begins to smell a bit like ghost hunters, UFO investigators, etc.: fancy gear, no scientific rigor, giving their negligible evidence the benefit of every doubt, pursuing their obsession long past the point where a rational person would have said, “There’s nothing here. I’m going home.”

I predict TIGHAR will secure funding for another expedition. They will collect a few lumps from the sea floor, which will turn out to be…coral. But later chemical analysis will reveal trace amounts of refined aluminum, suggesting that the lumps might have been in contact with Amelia Earhart’s plane.

“We need to go back,” TIGHAR will say.

Imagine my surprise

The Atlantic says:

The U.S. is preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan over the next year, but may leave a corrupt and highly dysfunctional country in its wake.

And MSNBC says:

A $2.2 million expedition that hoped to find wreckage from famed aviator Amelia Earhart’s final flight is on its way back to Hawaii without the dramatic, conclusive plane images searchers were hoping to attain.


This morning, I am reading the hot-off-the-press Supreme Court opinion in case #11-393, the Obamacare challenge.

Actually, I am reading only the syllabus, as the opinion weighs in at nearly 200 pages. I may be interested in the Court’s opinion, but I’m not that interested.

There’s an interesting bit of doublethink going on. The individual mandate is simultaneously considered:

  • A tax, so that “the individual mandate may be upheld as within Congress’s power under the Taxing Clause.”
  • Not a tax, so that “the Anti-Injunction Act does not bar this suit.”

Perhaps if I read the entire opinion, this would seem less self-contradictory.

I’m a bit worried by the precedent set by this opinion.

Remember in the 1970s, when Congress reduced the speed limit on interstate highways? Lacking the Constitutional authority to do that directly, they chose to coerce the states by threatening to withhold federal highway funds. The Supreme Court upheld that law, and now the state legislatures find themselves regularly coerced into passing even more Congress-mandated legislation, on pain of losing federal highway funds.

Most of these laws have little or nothing to do with the interstates. But Congress has the power, and – surprise! – cannot resist using it.

With this opinion, Congress has been given a new power: to compel individual behavior, on pain of paying a tax / not-tax. Three guesses on what they’ll do with it.

Pot. Kettle. Black.

I’ve been seeing some chatter go by on the subject of Jonathan Pollard, convicted in 1987 of passing classified information to Israel.

Mr. Pollard is serving a life sentence; his health is reportedly failing (even though at 58 he’s still fairly young), so there is clamor for his release. Unsurprisingly, much of this clamor comes from Israel.

There is also clamor to keep him behind bars.

(What do I think? I prefer to believe in the possibility of redemption. And I note that Christopher Boyce was released after serving twenty-four years for espionage and armed robbery.)

CNN recently published two opinion pieces: Israel wrong to demand Jonathan Pollard’s release, by Roland Martin; and The truth about Jonathan Pollard, by Eliot Lauer and Jacques Semmelman. Lauer & Semmelman are lawyers, working the Pollard case pro bono (which is Latin for ‘free advertising’). They conclude:

Martin is entitled to hold any opinion he wishes. But his readers are entitled to an honest presentation of the facts, not a series of falsehoods buttressed by material omissions.

Lawyers are paid persuaders; telling the full, unmanipulated truth is seldom the best way to change anyone’s mind, so it’s naïve to expect ‘an honest presentation of the facts’.

(I note in passing that in the average criminal trial, only the witnesses are sworn to tell the truth. The lawyers are under no such obligation.)

Lauer & Semmelman waste valuable column-inches on whether Pollard had a ‘trial’ (he didn’t – it was a plea bargain), and on the Constitutional definition of ‘treason’ (as if Martin were using the term in its precise, legal meaning). All of it was quite irrelevant.

I might’ve expected some discussion of their client’s remorse for his actions, of his reformed nature, of some specific reason he deserves parole. Alas, no: all I got was a list of government bigwigs (past & present), who favor parole.

I suspect there’s a legal principle at work here – argue the points you can win; ignore the ones you’d lose. (How do you say that in Latin?)


Over on Facebook, somebody shared a link to an article by Bob Cesca: Why Exactly Does Romney Want Fewer Firefighters, Police and Teachers?

…which referenced a post by JM Ashby: Idiot Quote of the Day

…which referenced a post by Benjy Sarlin: Romney: We Don’t Need ‘More Firemen, More Policemen, More Teachers’

…which referenced a CNN item: Romney on Obama: ‘Is he really that out of touch?’

…which is the original source of the money quote:

Romney said of Obama, “he wants another stimulus, he wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more fireman, more policeman, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.”

The CNN item was disappointingly short on details. A full transcript of Romney’s remarks would’ve been nice, or at least a link to a video of his speech. Alas, they couldn’t be bothered. None of the other ‘journalists’ could be bothered, either – they just did a copy & paste from the upstream item, wrapped it in some opinion & waited for the pageviews to come rolling in.

On the other hand, the Romney campaign site isn’t much better. You’d think, with all the kerfuffle, they’d have a clarification up, or a rebuttal, or something. But I can’t find anything on about it.

So it’s pretty much impossible to have an informed opinion on this – and those are only kind worth having, aren’t they? Aren’t they?


Two days ago, President Obama said:

Today, I was asked a direct question and gave a direct answer: I believe that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.

…and there was much discussion. The talking heads talked, the chattering classes chattered, everybody had an opinion.

I wondered: Why this? And why now? The obvious answer: because it’s an election year.

President Obama’s statement won’t change any minds on the Republican side: they loathe him, nothing he could say or do will change that. Some few Democrats might take offense, but it seems likely to charge up the more progressive wing of the party & produce a net increase in votes come November.

Super duper

CNN says:

Washington (CNN) — Members of the “super committee” charged with coming up with $1.2 trillion in budget cuts are focused on how to announce failure to reach a deal, Democratic and Republican aides confirmed to CNN Sunday.

As jwz would say: Previously, Previously.