Archive for June, 2009

“Hiking the Appalachian Trail”

June 30, 2009

ANST-Triangle-Logo_1Soon you will be able to say the name “Mark Sanford” and no one will know who you are talking about.  But I know and I am angry at him.

Because the words of this blog are immortal — as I explained here — I need to tell future readers that Mark Sanford was a conservative American politician who became Governor of the American state of South Carolina in the early days of the 21st Century.  A Republican, (Look it up future reader, I don’t have all day.) Sanford built his career on his conservative Christian family values, once announcing that President Bill Clinton should resign the presidency because he had oral sex with a woman not his wife.

Soon Sanford got caught in an affair with an Argentinian woman not his wife.  That happened a lot to politicians of both parties.  Gail Collins of the New York Times wondered if maybe heterosexual middle-aged males might not make the best political leaders since they always were getting caught in sexual hypocrisy.

bathsheba as imagined by Willem Drost

Bathsheba as imagined by Willem Drost

Sanford, who as I said, was a conservative Christian, compared himself with King David of the Old Testament.  Really.  I am not making this up.  Probably he couldn’t find anything in the New Testament that could rescue him, so he compared himself to King David; and his mistress, to Bathsheba.  That was probably not a good idea.  Certainly it could have brought no comfort to Sanford’s wife with whom he supposedly was trying to reconcile.  David, after arranging the death of his mistress’s husband, married her.  Sanford also has four sons.  Did he forget what one of David’s sons did to his father?  (Because this is a family blog, you’ll have to look that up if you don’t remember.  Hint: II Samuel 16: 20-22, and remember when the Bible says he “went in”, it means it literally. That is not a metaphor.)

But that is not my beef with Governor Sanford.  I can forgive him the affair.  What I cannot forgive him for is the lie he told to cover up his trip to Argentina to see the mistress: He told everybody he was off hiking the Appalachian Trail by himself.

Throughout my life, I have often gone hiking and backpacking by myself. Alone.  Without human companions.  And I certainly was not jetting off for assignations with Argentinian mistresses.  Or any other kind of mistress.  I went alone.  Do you hear me?  I went by myself.  And will do so again and again as long as I am able.  I need the solitude.  I do.  Please believe me.

But now, everybody will wonder, “Did he really go alone?  Isn’t backpacking alone kind of weird?”

The next time I go, will someone follow me?  Will some spy satellite watch my infrared image to see if I am alone?  Will they wonder? And all because of some stupid, lying, politician who tried to hide his affair by giving a bad name to solo hiking.  It’s not fair.

Some Famous Last Words

June 24, 2009

Recently, we did a post about Custer’s Last Stand which will be followed by another later this week.  During the research for those entries, we came across this story.

Major General John Sedgwick

Major General John Sedgwick

Major General John Sedgwick was the highest ranking Union officer to fall in battle during the Civil War.  Shot by a Confederate marksman from perhaps as much as a 1000 yards away — although that strains credulity — he was berating his staff for taking cover when he was shot.  Supposedly his last words were, “They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist. . . .”

65th Anniversary- Battle of the Philippine Sea

June 20, 2009

We recently paused to remember the 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Europe.  Today, we pause again:  This time to remember the 65th anniversary of the Battle of the Philippine Sea, during which a friend won the Navy Cross. We would tell you more about what he did that day, but he is modest and says, “I was just doing my job.” And so, we pause again, to thank him and all the men who fought with him on that day, not so long ago, for doing their jobs.

phillipine sea

Source: US Navy online library of Japanese Navy Ships--Zuikaku, photo number 80-G-238025. June 20, 1945

The Lone Truther Rides Again – The Queen Pelosi Adventure

June 18, 2009

taosA thunderstorm darkened the sky west of Lone Ranger Ridge where our heros sat their horses.  Lightning stabbed the sky and thunder rolled across the desert that moments before was hotter and drier than a buzzard’s belly. It was early summer but the high peaks still carried their winter blanket of snow.  If you were very still and listened very carefully, you could just hear the strains of the “William Tell Overture” swelling in the far distance.  Overhead, a small jet left a contrail in the empty spaces between the thunder clouds.

“Kemo Sabe,” said Tonto, “It is 1880.  What’s a contrail?”

“That Tonto, is the trail of a jet airplane that will be invented in about 65 years.  Until then, we’re stuck riding these horses, getting saddle sores. But, on the other hand, we can smell the wind blowing off that thunderstorm and the people on that airplane can’t.”

“There are people on that little tiny silver thing?”

C-20B Plane that Pelosi Used 19 Times in Two Years

C-20B Plane that Pelosi Used 19 Times in Two Years

“Yes.  That is the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the United States of America.  She is third in line to be the President of the United States of America; just two heartbeats away from the most powerful job in the world.”

“She gets her own airplane?”

“Yep.  One day in the far future America will be attacked by terrorists — Americans will call it ‘9-11′ — and right after the attack the President of the United States will decide that the Speaker of the House needs security and an Air Force plane to protect her.  Before 9-11 Speakers flew commercial just like everybody else. After 9-11, the Speaker was a Republican named Hastert. He flew home every single weekend but nobody complained about him.”

“What’s an Air Force, Kemo Sabe?”

C-37A that Speaker Pelosi Used Once

C-37A that Speaker Pelosi Used Once

“Never mind that Tonto. What’s important is what they are going to say about her on the internet.  They are going to say that she flies home every weekend on a great big jet called a ‘757′ which carries 200 people and costs $60,000 just to fly it one-way from Washington, D.C. to San Francisco which is her home.”

“That’s a lot of money.  What’s the ‘internet’, Lone Truther?”

The Lone Truther twisted in the saddle and said, “How should I know?  It’s 1880.  Anyway, what they say on the internet is wrong. Apparently lots of stuff on the internet is wrong but people believe it anyway. The plane the Air Force assigned the speaker is a Gulfstream III (C-20B) that seats 12 people, not 200. In the winter, sometimes it can’t fly all the way to California because of the Jet Stream and has to refuel.”

Our heroes began riding off the ridge, careful not to skyline themselves for this was the Old West and a man could get killed without even knowing it.  Danger lurked behind every sagebrush bush.  Only four years earlier Custer and his command had been wiped out.

The 757 She Never Flew

The 757 She Never Flew Home

“What is worse Tonto, that email says that Pelosi flies home every weekend.  But that was Hastert, not her.  In all of 2007 and 2008 she only went home 20 times and 19 of those times she flew on the little C-20B.  One time she flew on a slightly bigger C-37A, another Gulfstream that only holds 12 people but has a longer range. That’s it and yet they accuse her of being ‘Queen Nancy! She never took a 757 home.  Not once.”

“Why don’t those people worry about something important, Kemo Sabe?  Like that rattlesnake your horse ‘Sliver’ is about to step on.”

And with a hearty “Hi Ho Sliver, Away!” the Lone Truther rode off in a cloud of dust that could be seen by every bad guy in a hundred miles. Tonto just ambled along, listening to the music.

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More exciting adventures of the Lone Truther can be found at this link. They are absolutely free and worth every penny!  Just click and scroll down.

The Father of Modern Conservatism

June 17, 2009

The Lone Truther is saddled up and rides again tomorrow.  The Lone Truther believes – with  Edmund Burke, the father of modern conservatism – that, “Facts are to the mind what food is to the body.”

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More about Burke here.

The Law of Glass Dildos

June 12, 2009
Judge Richard Posner

Judge Richard Posner

Judges get to decide all kinds of stuff.  Last week a high court in England decided whether Pringles are potato chips.  They are.  Last month the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals got to decide a case about sex toys.

Really.

Before I begin, I should tell you that Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit wrote the opinion.  From time to time, federal appellate court judges travel to circuits other than their own to sit on cases.  Often they take their families.  Often they do some work in return for a vacation.  That is never true for Judge Posner.  He never takes a vacation. Empirical and scientific studies have shown that Judge Posner is not possible.  No human being could write as much as he has written.  It is scientifically impossible. Only a droid which does not need sleep could write that much.

Anyway, there he was, sitting by designation in a case involving sex toys in Washington, D.C.  At issue was whether a glass dildo was entitled to patent protection.

Really.

Yes.  It is what you think it is.

Yes. It is what you think it is.

Glass, you see, isn’t just glass.  Some glass is slipperier than other glass.  And, if you own a glass dildo and intend on using it, it needs to be as slippery as possible.

Steven Ritchies sued Vast Resources, Inc. for patent infringement and won in the lower court.  (That would never do.  A corporation called “Vast Resources” will have to win, the only question is how Judge Posner will get there.)  The issue was the kind of glass that Vast Resources used in its glass dildos.  Apparently there is a market for such things or no one would be making them.  I’ve never seen one at my local supermarket though.

Before Mr. Ritchie came along, glass dildos were manufactured with soda-lime glass.  Vast Resources no doubt used it in their dildos.  Mr. Ritchie and his company — “Know Mind Enterprises”, and whether that is a pun or not is anybody’s guess — got a patent from the United States government for a glass dildo using borosilicate glass. That patent is for “[a] sexual aid…fabricated of a generally lubricious glass-based material containing an appreciable amount of an oxide of boron to render it lubricious.”

Really.

Judge Posner can’t let that go by.  What judge could?  “By “lubricious”—a word whose primary meaning, appropriate for a sexual device, is “lecherous”—the patent means only “slippery,” which is the secondary meaning of the word.”

Basically, glass made with boron is slipperier than glass made with soda-lime because it is smoother.  That is a good thing for a “sexual device” because the boron glass needs less lubricant to do its work.  Whatever that is. If anyone knows, write me.

By the way, as Judge Posner explains in the decision, we shouldn’t call dildos and their kin sex toys, “A more perspicuous term is “sexual devices,” by analogy to “medical devices.” The analogy lies in the fact that, like many medical devices (thermometers for example), what we are calling sexual devices are intended to be inserted into bodily orifices, albeit for a different purpose.”

Really.

Roman Glass Dildo at University College London ca. 1st Century, BCE

Roman Glass Dildo at University College London ca. 1st Century, BCE

The problem for Mr. Ritchie, other than the fact that he sued Vast Resources, Inc. and therefore must lose, is that borosilicate glass was invented in 1893 and the Corning Glass Company almost immediately began using it to manufacture its Pyrex glassware.  (I can buy that in my supermarket.) Worse, the ancient Romans made glass phalluses 2000 years ago.  What kind of glass they used for dildos does not appear.

Now we get to the part about why Vast Resources gets to win.  An invention is not patentable if it is “obvious.” Since borosilicate glass is a standard glass with well-known properties, “to experiment with substituting borosilicate glass for ordinary glass in a sexual device was not a venture into the unknown.”

So, even though it took more than a century for someone to put borosilicate glass in a dildo, Mr. Ritchie lost to Vast Resources. But at least now you know to ask what kind of glass is in that dildo you’re thinking about buying.

Really.

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For those of you of little faith who think I make this stuff up, you can read Judge Posner’s opinion right here.

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UPDATE

The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from this decision.

Have Gun, Will Sue

June 9, 2009

draw partnerThey’re back.  Gun cases I mean.  After last year’s decision in Heller v. D.C., which we covered here at the Golden State, more gun cases are moving through the federal courts. Heller held that the federal government may not prohibit people from having handguns in their homes, ready for use in self-defense. The Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms, unrelated to militia service.

But what about states and cities?  May they pass local laws restricting the right?  The Constitution reserves to the states all powers not specifically granted to the federal government.  So, does the Second Amendment apply to them?

If you don’t care, you’re excused.  But don’t go far.  On Friday we’ll have a sex post.

The legal issue involved is whether all of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution apply to the states. In 1873, the U.S. Supreme Court said “no.” (In a case entitled, The Slaughter-House Cases.” ) Then, beginning in the same year of Custer’s Last Stand, the Supreme Court specifically said that the Second Amendment does not apply to the states.  (!876, 1886, 1894)

The Spriongfield Rifle Used by Custer's Soldiers

The Springfield Rifle Used by Custer's Soldiers

In the 20th Century, the Court began applying portions of the Bill of Rights to the states.  Freedom of speech and religion, right against self-incrimination, right to a jury in a criminal case were some of the rights “selectively incorporated” via the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Although most everybody has hated The Slaughter-House Cases for a long time, the Court has never overruled it.  Meaning, for instance, your state may refuse you a jury in a civil case unless it has its own constitutional provision giving you that right because the Seventh Amendment has never been applied to the states.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is pressing several lawsuits trying to get rid of those old cases. Three federal courts of appeal have now ruled in those lawsuits.  Only the Ninth Circuit agreed with the NRA, holding that the Second Amendment can be selectively incorporated.  The other two circuits (Second and Seventh) thought that the three judges of the Ninth Circuit got too big for their britches.

Decisions of the United States Supreme Court are binding on all lower federal courts.  They are not suggestions, they are commands.  When there is a controlling Supreme Court decision, lower courts have to follow it, no matter now much they dislike it.   Even if the decisions are old, poorly reasoned, and maybe wrong; the lower courts have to toe the line.  As Judge Easterbrook explained last week, if lower court judges were free to question the reasoning behind Supreme Court decisions, those decisions would, “. . . bind only judges too dim-witted to come up with a novel argument.”

gunsmokeJudge Easterbrook, who wrote the 7th circuit’s opinion and Judge Posner who signed it, are not shrinking violets. Appointed by Ronald Reagan, both remain true conservatives and admit they are bound by Supreme Court decisions. But both are happy to share their thoughts with the Supreme Court, especially when they believe the Supreme Court isn’t thinking clearly.

So, at oral argument in the Chicago case, Judge Posner suggested it was “preposterous” to suggest — as the NRA does — that Americans in 1868 thought that an individual right to bear arms existed or that they wanted it applied to the states.  They had, after all, just put down an insurrection fueled by privately owned arms.  (1868, the year the 14th Amendment was added to the Constitution, controls an originalist’s or a textualist’s view.  What matters to that approach to constitutional interpretation was what the people who voted for the amendment thought they were voting for at the time they voted.  See our posts using Dudley Doright to explain this.)

Judge Easterbrook’s opinion also suggests that, because Heller rests on the right of self-defense, it may not carry the weight the NRA loads on it.  Suppose, says Easterbrook, a state abrogated the right to self-defense, which was the basis of Justice Scalia’s decision in Heller. As I’ve warned you before, you have to watch Justice Scalia very carefully.  He often begins his opinions in the middle, leaving out arguable premises and assumptions.  In fact, the more questionable his assumptions, the harder he tries to hide them.

So it was in Heller.  In addition to his blithe assumption about those semi-colons, he also wrote as though the right to self-defense was sacred, knowing all the time that it isn’t.

The Winchester 73 a/k/a The Gun that Won the West

The Winchester 73 a/k/a The Gun that Won the West

The right to self-defense is a political right, not a constitutional right.  You look in vain for the words “self-defense” in the Constitution.  Because it is a political right, the people or their elected representatives may change it without amending the Constitution.  Because it is a creature of the common law and not of the Constitution, judges may change it. As Judge Easterbrook notes, a state could pass a law making shooting someone in self-defense a crime.  Then no one could have a gun at home for self-defense, because self-defense itself would be a crime. (One could still have guns for hunting and target shooting but regulations like those in Heller requiring that guns kept at home be disassembled and locked up would stand.)

And, as Judge Easterbrook points out, that is not a farfetched example.  Already the right to self-defense is restrained.  You have a duty to retreat in many situations.  Depending on the law in your state, you might well end up in jail if you shot an intruder as he was coming over the fence into your yard.  You could end up in jail if you shot him before he came through your window.  A court could one day decide that the threat of prison sufficiently deters burglaries, holding that private citizens cannot use deadly force no matter what happens.

Have Gun cardIn other words, your right to shoot other human beings — already quite limited — could be extinguished altogether, yanking the rug out from Heller.

Obviously that day won’t arrive for a very long time, if ever.  The current Supreme Court certainly won’t outlaw self-defense.  But Judges Easterbrook and Posner clearly enjoyed firing a shot across its bow.

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You can read Judge Easterbrook’s opinion here.

The Second Circuit opinion — one of the judges was Judge Sotormayor — is here.

The Ninth Circuit’s opinion is here.

The NRA’s petition asking the Supreme Court to take the case is here.

If you are keeping score, nine federal judges have addressed the issue since last year’s decision in Heller.  Four were appointed by Republicans, five by Democrats. Six think only the Supreme Court can decide the issue, three disagree. Of the three in the Ninth Circuit who stuck out their necks and applied the Second Amendment to the states, one was appointed by President Reagan, one by President Carter, and one by President Clinton. Go figure.

D Day

June 6, 2009
Photo by Chief Photographer's Mate (CPHOM) Robert F. Sargent, U.S. Coast Guard

Photo by Chief Photographer's Mate (CPHOM) Robert F. Sargent, U.S. Coast Guard

Sixty-five years ago this morning, German soldiers awoke to face the largest amphibious assault in the history of the world.

The Allies hit the beaches at 6:30 A.M., British Double Summer Time (GMT + 2 hours), 12:30 A.M., U.S. Eastern Wartime. (GMT -4 hours)

We pause to remember.

 Colleville-sur-mer photo by Tristan Nitot

Colleville-sur-Mer photo by Tristan Nitot

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The President of the United States was eloquent there this day. Video here.

Custer’s Last Stand

June 1, 2009

littebighornFor reasons buried far too deeply in my psyche to bear examination, I’ve always been interested in military history.  For instance, I have read, twice, David Chandler’s magisterial — and long — history of Napoleon’s campaigns.  Normal civilians probably don’t do that sort of thing. So, those of you disinterested in
Custer’s Last Stand, more properly the Battle of the Little Bighorn or the Battle of the Greasy Grass, are excused.

Napoleon, by the way, was Custer’s favorite general.

Almost 400 men lost their lives that hot day in June, 1876; 263 soldiers and about 100 warriors.  Nobody knows how many civilians were killed. Acres of paper and tanker trucks of ink have explored how the Native Americans won the battle.  I just read one of the latest efforts, A Terrible Glory: Custer and the Little Bighorn by James Donovan. Donovan does a credible job, resolving as best anyone can, many of the historical discrepancies that remain 133 years later.  His portrayal of Custer is nuanced and realistic.  Custer is neither a bungling fool nor a glorious hero in Donovan’s telling.

Custer lost for a number of reasons, mostly because he was out fought by a larger force using superior tactics. Sitting Bull was smarter. Still, the list of Custer’s mistakes is daunting.

He didn’t just divide his force; he splintered it.  First he sent Captain Benteen on a wild goose chase, or at least that is how Benteen, who hated Custer, saw it.  Probably, Donovan surmises, Custer was worried about any Indians escaping and wanted Benteen to find and stop any small groups of them.  In the event Benteen and his three companies of soldiers found no Indians on his useless side trip.

Modern View of the Site of the Indian Camp

Modern View of the Site of the Indian Camp

Then Custer sent Major Reno with three companies up the valley floor. Reno was probably drunk at the time.  If his job was to get attacked, he did it well, even drunk.  That was about all he did right, but one can blame Custer for that.  Reno had been his immediate subordinate for years.  Shouldn’t Custer have trained him better?  Then, instead of helping Reno by riding down from the bluffs east of the river and attacking the Indians’ flank — perhaps because he couldn’t find a good place to get down to the river?  He had done no reconnoitering of the scene — Custer literally waved at Reno and rode off 4 miles to the north, leaving Reno’s men to face the charge from the Indians unaided.

His command already divided in thirds, Custer continued dribbling men out of his formation as he galloped north. And why did Custer lead his remaining command that far north? Nobody knows for sure, but Donovan posits that Custer was still worried that the Indians might escape. That would account for his long ride north .  Perhaps he wanted to fall on the Indian camp from the opposite direction of Reno and prevent escape. Apparently he never considered that the Indians would fight instead of running.

But whatever Custer’s plans, the Indians reacted quickly and well to the surprise attack and soon seized the initiative.  After that, what Custer thought no longer mattered.

A Remarkable American

A Remarkable American

Like Hannibal’s great victory at Cannae, the Indians’ victory at the Little Bighorn (And at the Rosebud, a week earlier) preceded their ultimate defeat.  As Hannibal was forced to leave Italy and watch as the Romans sacked and burned Carthage; so the slaughter at Wounded Knee 14 years after the Little Bighorn was the final end of a way of life.

But the Native Americans won the last two major battles of the war.

Custer was no Napoleon, but he read everything he could about Napoleon’s campaigns.  Not that it did him any good. Custer misunderstood the strategic goal of the campaign; lacked a clear idea of his tactical goal; ignored his Indian scouts; underestimated his foe; failed to reconnoiter the terrain; over-estimated the ability of his troops; neglected to adequately train his junior officers, splintered his command; and imagined that a small fast-moving force could conquer anything.  All in all, he behaved with remarkable hubris.

After Custer was dead for awhile, he reincarnated as Donald Rumsfeld.

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