Archive for October 2011
Another scary Hallowe’en story:
Joe Miller, unindicted criminal, defeated senatorial candidate and chronic resumé exaggerator reports he is “presently chairman of the Western Representation PAC, Restoring Liberty Alaska PAC and Restoring Liberty Action Committee.” So WC will call him PAC Man for short.
For those who are new to these events, Joe Miller has a footnote in Alaska history as the first major party Alaska political candidate to lose to a statewide election to a write-in candidate. His candidacy careened from one disaster to another, as one of his avowed principles after another crashed on the rocks of his opportunism.
He’s still calling himself a judge, even if he was never more than a magistrate. For a partial listing of his bizarre history, visit WC’s 95 Theses.
This time he is railing against “Alaska Native Corporations,” and his acid resentment that they supported Lisa Murkowski drips from every sentence. But he seizes on old events and recent events to characterize Alaska Native Corporations generally as “crony capitalism.” His argument is a mash-up of several arguments.
The first is that it was unfair for the Native Regional Corporations to gang up on him in a super-PAC. The argument would be embarrassing coming from a guy who boasts about chairing PACs, but even someone new to the strange world of PAC Man recognizes he has no more sense of self-reflection than a rabid stoat. If he was surprised that the Native community reacted strongly when he attacked their rights, he’s even more naive than WC thought.
PAC Man has conveniently forgotten that in addition to the big regional corporations he references there are about 198 village corporations, and all of them are eligible for §8(a) contracts. The contracts have netted jobs and impressive shareholder dividends to the regions and villages involved. The distribution of wealth hasn’t been uniform, but the thing about capitalism is that not everybody wins. In any event, this is old news: the Washington Post investigation and Senator McGaskill’s investigation were in 2009. PAC Man also fails to note that the three largest Regional Corporations have called for reform. Perhaps Miller only became aware of it now?
The second argument PAC Man makes involves two instances of alleged misconduct by specific Native corporations: Sealaska Corporation’s bid to swap for some National Forest land in southeast Alaska and alleged corruption by two U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officers that allowed two employees of a Native corporation subsidiary to embezzle serious money from the Department of Defense.
Sealaska wants a land swap for Tongass National Forest land. WC thinks the idea is dead on arrival; the days when this kind of deal could be slipped through by Uncle Ted are long behind us. It’s not a crime, or even crony capitalism, to try. It’s politics. You can bet that if PAC Man had won the election, and the Koch-owned North Pole Refinery has approached him for some kind of special deal, Senator PAC Man would have accommodated his biggest benefactors. Yes, WC thinks the whole quid pro quo business with campaign contributions is dirty and corrupting, but it’s nothing new or notable.
The embezzlement scheme involved two allegedly corrupt Corps of Engineer mid-level managers and a subsidiary of Eyak Corporation, the Cordova village corporation. There’s no evidence anyone at Eyak itself knew or benefited, so far as WC knows. And the reported $20 million scheme, big as it was, doesn’t even make the Top 10 List of biggest embezzlements in U.S. history. The federal officials who were supposed to keep watch were corrupt; PAC Man doesn’t explain how Section 8(a) caused the problem, or why the whole program should be thrown out because crooks stole money. Reformed, yes. But thrown out? PAC Man is indulging his penchant for hyperbole again.
And from these two instances and his acid resentment of Lisa Murkowski and the traitor Alaska Republicans, PAC Man ran this opinion piece under the headline “Alaska: Poster State for Crony Capitalism.” Excuse me? Using “capitalism” and “Alaska” in the same headline? And PAC Man is fumbling with a mighty big brush and precious little tar. It’s almost as if John Lindauer were railing against investigative reporting. Alaska seems to be able to avoid electing these idiots and charlatans, but they don’t shut up, do they?
WC wanted to have a scary post for Hallowe’en. WC can’t think of anything much scarier than the current batch of Republican presidential wannabes.
After careful study of the field, WC has arrived at a simple list of the qualities and beliefs currently required to be a Republican candidate for President. As a service to his readers, WC sets them out here:
1.Stretch your arms wide. Assume the geologic history of the earth is the width of your reach. 4.6 billion years spread over about 72 inches. An inch of arm then equals about 64 million years. If we start with year zero as the fingertip of your left hand, the dinosaurs vanished from the earth a little past the knuckle on your right fingertip. A moment’s effort with nail clippers can obliterate the entire time the Homo genus has been on the planet. A single pass of a nail file obliterates recorded history. Being a Republican requires you to believe the dusty bit from the nail file is the complete history of the planet. You have to ignore all of the rest of the arm span.
2. The world is burning fossil fuels – coal, petroleum and natural gas – at the rate of 130 Mtoe (Megaton oil equivalent) per year. That’s injecting 35 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. And the rate is increasing. To be a Republican, you have to pretend that isn’t happening. You have to be able to say, with a straight face, that volcanoes (from 0.13 gigaton to 0.44 gigaton per year) are the source of any increased CO2.
3. CO2 is a greenhouse gas. A grade school kid can demonstrate the greenhouse effect in a classroom experiment. But being a Republican means denying CO2 is a greenhouse gas.
4.Ice in Greenland, Antarctica and continental glaciers is melting. The ocean level is rising. The island nation of Tuvalu is at risk of being completely submerged. Satellite data show unequivocally that the ocean levels are rising. A Republican has to be able to deny this is happening. Pay no attention to the water; it isn’t really there.
5. There is overwhelming, uncontroverted evidence for evolution. Evidence derives from the fossil record, from changes to DNA, from biology and anatomy, from dozens of other sources. It’s been observed and documented in the field. Being a Republican requires you to deny evolution exists, to deny that it is responsible for the diversity of life on the planet and the existence of Homo sapiens.
6. You are required to believe that by taking in less money by reducing taxes you can not only balance the federal budget but reduce the deficit. Presumably that also requires you to believe you can afford a better home by quitting work, that less is more and that trickle down is anything more than the dog peeing on your leg.
7. You are required to be able to say with a straight face that it is “class warfare” to point out that income inequality is at near record levels in the U.S. You are required to ignore recent data from the Congressional Budget Office pointing out that all but the richest 20% of Americans have suffered a net decrease in purchasing power from 1979 to the present. And you have to be able to say, again with a straight face, that taxing the richest Americans will make the disparity worse, not better.
8. You have to be able to accept tens of millions in campaign contributions from rich, right wing ideologues and tell voters that the contributions won’t affect the way you treat the rich SOBs.
Even Lewis Carroll’s White Queen could only believe six impossible things before breakfast. Of course, the voters sometimes remind WC of chickens clapping for Colonel Sanders. But that would be a different story. And maybe that’s just the secret herbs and spices talking.
A few years ago, WC completed a first draft of a novella. It’s not all that good, and publishers have not been leaping at the opportunity to buy it. But it’s likely good enough to blog… So WC will inflict his fiction – well, his overt fiction – on his long-suffering readers. Chapters will posted on Sunday mornings.
Warning: the story involves graphic violence.
From Antonin’s Oddities:
Gudsawr embedded in the handle of the sword a small inertia damper, with an effective radius of about three feet, running down the length of the sword as well, but open at the top to allow air to enter. The inertia damper provided power to support a shielding effect and other, less savory uses. The inertia damper necessarily created a time distortion, which in turn reinforced the shield. The combined inertia damper and time distortion made a person holding the sword effectively invulnerable to anything short of a thermonuclear weapon.
Mikhal woke the next morning still tired, his hand again cramped from holding the sword all night. After breakfast, he went with Donal to the area between the barn and the house, where Donal was to teach him swordsmanship. There was a problem from the start.
Mikhal would not let go of the sword. Donal would not teach him while Mikhal held the sword.
“Mikhal,” Donal finally said in exasperation, “If you do not trust me I cannot help you.”
“Your very father said that whoever holds the sword can make themselves emperor. How can I trust anyone? I mean no offense to you Donal, but how can I know who would not be tempted?”
Finally, on Felici’s suggestion, Mikhal held the sword in his right hand and took his lesson from Donal using an ordinary sword borrowed from Felici. The shield still protected Mikhal, and his movements, even as an amateur with a sword, were much faster than Donal’s, but at least Donal could give a lesson without fear of life and limb.
Despite his initial annoyance, Donal was a patient and careful teacher. Under his guidance that day and the two weeks that followed, Mikhal’s skills quickly improved. To his surprise, he had some aptitude for sword fighting, and Donal told him that with practice he might actually become quite a good sword fighter.
Evenings, Mikhal, Felici and Donald talked about how Mikhal might fight his way to the throne. Felici introduced Mikhal to officers in the Emperor’s army who might be his allies, and to some of the minor nobles of the Emperor’s court. Each time, Mikhal was required to show the guests the power of the sword, and to demonstrate his invincibility. Without exception, each officer and noble scarcely troubled to conceal his scorn for an ignorant peasant. Mikhal could see in the eyes of each the thought of what he might do with the sword, if it were in his hands and not Mikhal’s.
One such evening, after Felici had made Mikhal show the powers of the sword to a Colonel in the Emperor’s army, the Colonel spoke to Felici, as if Mikhal was not present, “Will you take the war to the Pretender or will you wait here for the Pretender to attack you?”
Mikhal interrupted, “Who is this Pretender?” The Colonel stared at him with distaste, whether because a peasant had dared interrupt a Colonel or because of his ignorance. Felici gave the Colonel a look of annoyance.
“Mikhal, the Pretender is Tomas, the late Emperor’s bastard son, and holds some of the power in the empire since the Emperor died. He is one of your obstacles to the throne.”
The Colonel all but rolled his eyes in disgust, “Then you are a long way from being ready for war.”
“No,” said Felici, “We are ready for war. We are a long way from governing the empire. We can win any battle now. With your regiment, we can make the war quick and relatively bloodless.”
“And you will make a peasant Emperor?”
“Mikhal is wiser than he knows, and much wiser than the late Emperor. The Pretender thinks of nothing but his own comfort and wealth.”
“And what do you offer me and my regiment, in return for our support in your war?” asked the Colonel.
“A barony and generalship when Mikhal is Emperor, fair treatment and higher wages for the soldiers you lead, and a better government than you have now.”
The Colonel looked at Mikhal again, a look that Mikhal might give a cow he was asked to buy. After a pause, the Colonel said, “I will give you that support. My regiment will be here in a week. I will have supplies for perhaps four weeks.”
“Talk to Donal,” replied Felici. “He will help with logistics and describe the chain of command.”
The Colonel left the farmhouse then. Mikhal turned to Felici, “You make these bargains with each of these officers and nobles?”
“Yes, Mikhal, it is a part of how we will gain you the throne.”
“It is a dirty business, this Empire. You sell me and the sword like I sell my grain at the market. Except perhaps that in the market the buyer wants my grain. The Colonel tolerates me only for the greed he condemns in this Pretender.”
Felici sighed. “There is truth in what you say, Mikhal, but not all the truth. If we are careful what we promise, and careful about those we pick to help us, we can make an honest and fair government.”
“Master Felici,” said Mikhal, “You speak of making me Emperor, but you will be the Emperor will you not?”
“No Mikhal, you will be Emperor. Like all emperors you will have advisors and ministers. I will be an advisor. You will have the sword, which answers all arguments, and you have both legs, while I do not. I hope you will listen to me, but you will make up your own mind. And you must not call me ‘Master,’ I am just Felici.”
“Then I must understand a great deal more than I do now. Simon told me you were wise, can you teach me wisdom?”
“I will teach you what I can. But I think we should start tomorrow. It is late, we are both weary, and you must train tomorrow as well.”
Mikhal went to his corner of the farmhouse and laid down to sleep. He shifted the sword from his left hand to his right, flexing his stiff fingers and stretching his arm. He thought again of the old Emperor, sleeping in his tent, the sword by his side. He thought of himself, five or seven years from now, as old as the dead Emperor. Would he sleep with the sword beside him, rather than in his grasp, trading the chance of theft of the sword for a night of sleep measured by normal time? Sleep overcame him.
Over the next two weeks, he practiced sword fighting less and talked with Felici more. There was still the endless stream of almost-sneering officers and arrogant petty nobles. A few wealthy merchants visited the farmhouse, too. Mikhal listened to all of the conversations, all of the promises and, each time, showed the powers of the sword. Nearly every day, he would talk with Felici and try to understand the nest of politics and power that was the Empire.
At the end of the second week, the lessons shifted to the history of the Empire. “The first Emperor was a merchant, Mikhal, who controlled most of the trade in salt.”
“Salt,” asked Mikhal, “The sea is twenty miles away, and gives salt to everyone. How can a man be rich by trading in salt?”
“The Empire extends almost three hundred miles inland, Mikhal,” explained Felici, “And what is common here is as precious as water at the southern edge of the Empire. In the wilderness further east, salt is even more valuable. The first Emperor became wealthy selling salt in the east and to the barbarians. With his wealth, he bought the acceptance of the nobles and the army, and so became the first Emperor”
“His son and his grandson did well when they ruled, balancing the army against the nobles and the merchants, until the drought.”
“A drought, Felici?” asked Mikhal.
“Yes, beginning perhaps in your grandfather’s time, no rain fell on the northern half of the Empire for more than six years. The peasants’ farms turned to sand and dust. Men, cattle, sheep and horses all starved. Even manna plants would not grow. Many peasants, in particular, were hard-pressed to survive. Finally, in desperation, a mob of peasants marched on the capital, and stormed the palace. More than ten thousand peasants were killed. Then, with no one to grow manna plants or grain, even where there had been a bit of rain, even merchants began to starve.”
“No one knows why, but perhaps because of all the death and starvation, a plague came then and killed another third of the Empire. And the plague killed the Emperor, the grandson of the first Emperor. Then came a long time of chaos, with no government and no trade and no food. And finally, seven years ago, after thirty years of drought, plague and banditry, a young sergeant in the army chanced upon a sword lying on a hillside. Using that sword, he made himself the new Emperor.”
“The sword I hold,” said Mikhal. It was a statement, not a question.
“The sword you hold,” agreed Felici.
“But the man I killed was an old man, not a young soldier.”
“The sword, apparently, does that. It ages the one who holds it, Mikhal. Look at yourself in the basin. In just the six weeks you have been here, you look a few years older.”
“This solider, he was a good Emperor?” asked Mikhal?
“That’s hard to say. He restored order to much of the Empire, he stopped the worst of the banditry. I think he allowed the merchants and the army too much power, but in part that was because he had to take the army into the country to fight the bandits. He could not balance the power of the army against the nobles. Now most of the nobles have aligned themselves with the Pretender. They see him as someone they can control. And the Pretender controls some of the army.”
“This Pretender is the son of the dead Emperor?”
“Tomas is the illegitimate son of the dead sergeant. Only a few think him the rightful heir. But no one wants more years of chaos. Mikhal, one reason you can become Emperor is that the sword will let you, like the sergeant you killed, quickly become Emperor. A quick end to the quarrel over succession is the best end.”
Mikhal thought a moment. “I created the crisis, didn’t I, when I killed the Emperor to save my own life.”
Felici shook his head no. “Better to say you caused the crisis to happen sooner. The Emperor would have died of old age very soon anyway. He had given no thought to a successor.”
“Felici,” said Mikhal, “I don’t like any part of this. I am the cause of much of the problem, and yet I am to be Emperor. I am to fight my way to the throne, killing as many as I must. I am to sell generalships and nobility, enriching others to make myself powerful. And I am to die of old age in a few years.”
“Have you any better solutions?”
“I would like to find one.”
Felici glared at Mikhal. After a long silence, he said, “I and my sons are committed to your cause now. We have no sword to make us powerful. Our army is small, and would vanish like dew but for you and the sword. The Pretender and those loyal to him would have our heads in a week were it not for the sword.”
Mikhal hung his head. “Felici, I thank you for your work, and your efforts for me. But remember I am a peasant. I think like a peasant. I plant, I grow, I harvest and I sell. I have planted chaos, and I fear how this will end.”
“If you don’t want to be Emperor, you must give up the sword. Give it to Donal. If you don’t want to fight, then run away, but leave us the sword. Likely you will die, but if you take the sword and run away you will kill all of us. You aren’t a peasant anymore, Mikhal. You stopped being a peasant when you ran away rather than pay the Emperor’s taxes. When you were a fugitive, you made a choice and became an assassin. The day we met you made a choice and became a revolutionary.”
“I didn’t understand these things. The Abbot was right when he said I should throw the sword in a well.”
“You have told me many times what the Abbot told you.”
“This cannot be right, Felici.” Mikhal’s voice was trembling.
“You must abide by the choices you have made. You are like the sergeant when he found the sword. Your path is now set.” Felici turned away from Mikhal. “Go and sleep. In three days’ time the Pretender’s army will arrive. There are no choices now.”
End of Chapter 3
Chapter 4 will be posted next Sunday
Mrs. WC successfully live-trapped one of the white Red-backed Voles in our yard for the University of Alaska Museum of the North.
So he is going to live at the University of Alaska, where his DNA will be studied. Voles don’t live very long – 18-24 months – but there’s a good chance this fellow will live out his lifespan.
Even after having a real-life biologist hold this fellow in his hand, we don’t know for sure if the little guy is leucistic or an albino. If WC finds anything out, he’ll pass it along.
The Northern Red-backed Vole, Clethhionomys rutilus, is by the far the most common rodent in Interior Alaska. The species is the base of the food chain for a large number of predators, including Boreal Owls and Great Grey Owls. They have the distinctive dark red back that gives them their name.
Not all of them, it turns out. Mrs. WC got this photo in the front yard this morning:
This is a leucistic Red-backed Vole. Not an albino; albinism is characterized by a pink eye. This fellow’s eye is black. Leucism is a genetic defect in one of three alleles that suppresses some or all of the coloration an animal would otherwise have.
The WC household has had white mice around. There are captive raptors living here, after all, and there are occasions when you have to have a live mouse. In fact, we may even have had an escaped white mouse back in May, although lab mice are pretty much instinct-free and cannot tolerate cold air. In late summer, a white rodent got into a bag of sunflower chips stored in a shed. WC saw it scurrying away, and was dumfounded that a white mouse might have survived that long. It hadn’t. It was almost certainly this little guy or his sibling – there are actually two in the yard.
In winters with a useful amount of snow, voles lives in tunnels under the snow, the subnivian world.
Sometimes in spring you can wander into a meadow and find the tunnels exposed by the melting snow. Recent winters around here have had extended periods of very little snow, not enough for tunneling. In those conditions, this fellow’s fur could be an advantage. But if it is climate-induced color selection, and WC has no way of knowing if that’s the case, this vole’s genes aren’t likely to carry it forward. Unless he is very careful, his future home is at the University of Alaska Museum of the North, which is eager to have a look at his DNA.
There’s a movie out that’s about birding. Yep, WC is surprised as you are. It’s called The Big Year and it’s not bad. But since a large percentage of WC’s readers are not birders, this will take some explanation.
In 1998, three very hard core birders decided to attempt a Big Year.
A Big Year is an attempt to see as many bird species in North America as possible in a calendar year. It’s a full year of insanely hard work, outrageous expense and unrelenting travel, laced with luck, good and bad. The prize is bragging rights, nothing more. No trophy and, God knows, no big cash prize. Mark Obmascik wrote a very good book about it and, so far as WC knows, it is the only book on birding to have a chapter featured in Sports Illustrated (“A Fowl Obsession”). Obmascik did a fine job telling the story of three men who, unknown to each other, were making a Big Year.
And if you thought birding was old ladies in knickers, the book – and the movie – will surprise you. Birding at the level of The Big Year is more competitive than you can imagine. Silly? Not at all. Golf is silly. As Obmascik’s book shows, very serious grown men work very hard to develop the skills to compete at this level.
Hollywood, for reasons known only to itself, optioned the book, changed the names of the three protagonists, spiced up the story a bit and assembled a very good cast: Owen Turner as the Sandy Komito character, the existing record holder, who sets out to keep his record; Steve Martin as the Al Levantin character; and Jack Black as the hopeless underdog, Greg Miller. The movie follows these three guys as they bird their way around North America, hitting the hotspots and getting – or not getting – the birds. Even the minor characters are well-cast, including Anjelica Huston as Debi Shearwater (Annie Auklet in the movie), the best-known pelagic birding guide in North America. The Sandy Komito character pulls some amazing tricks to try to stay ahead, and Owen Turner plays the role well.
A few parts of the movie seem to have been inserted to provoke hoots of derision from real birders. And the place used for Merrell Field in Anchorage is so wrong as to make you snicker. But, overall, the movie treats birders and birding respectfully. It treats the idea of a Big Year seriously. For this birder, at least, it was fun. The guys at the American Birding Association thought it was fun, too.
But apparently it is a box office bomb. The L.A. Times reports,
The cratering of “The Big Year” this weekend–despite starring the likes of Owen Wilson and Jack Black, it barely took in $3 million–was the latest example of a movie so deeply unpopular you got the sense some people might have paid to not see it.
If you’re a birder, this is a four star flick. You’ll have to find a review by a non-birder to get a different perspective. WC will probably buy the DVD when it comes out.
By the way, John Vanderpoel is doing a Big Year right now,in 2011, as WC writes. You can follow his progress on his blog. He’s at 729 or so right now, and absent a miracle isn’t like to touch the record. But he’s having a great time and it’s worth a read. And, in the end, that’s what it is all about.
This post started out as a semi-serious recounting of one of the two documented instances of a cougar – a mountain lion – in Alaska. It seems that back in 1989, an off-grid homesteader outside of Wrangell named Paul Matteoni claimed to have opened his door and have seen two green eyes. He didn’t know what it was, so he shot it. A quintessential Alaskan reaction.
What “it” was turned out to be a cougar. Probably the big cat had wandered down the Stikine River Valley from British Columbia, where there is a small but stable population. Mr. Matteoni was charged with the unauthorized taking of an animal. He plead self-defense. The on-line records are a bit inconsistent as to the outcome: either he was acquitted or charges were later dropped.
As the Anchorage Daily News editorialized at the time, moose sometimes migrate from their normal range in Minnesota to Iowa, where they are invariably shot by folks claiming self-defense. It’s amazing, isn’t it, that the moose never attack any Iowans who aren’t armed?
Then on October 27, KUAC-FM broadcast the news that Alaska enjoyed the highest per capita firearm death rate in the nation. The Violence Policy Center, analyzing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, determined that Alaska could boast 20.64 firearm deaths – homicides, suicides and accidental shootings – per 100,000 residents. That’s almost twice the national average, which is 10.38. The Violence Policy Center notes that Alaska has the highest number of firearms in the home of any state, with 60.6% of homes having at least one firearm, and one of the nation’s laxest firearm regulation policies; i.e., we don’t have any.
Opportunity, plainly, equals mortality. And somehow heavily armed, trigger-happy Alaskans weren’t quite so amusing any more.
Props to KUAC for covering the story; most Alaska media have been oddly silent (the Alaska Dispatch being a notable exception).
Yes, the NRA has told us a thousand times that “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” But the hackneyed slogan begs the question of how people kill people. Here’s a thought experiment: Take two crazed killers. Arm one with a club. Arm the other with an automatic rifle, two pistols and a shotgun. Turn them lose. Which one will create the most corpses?
Advertising agencies’ slogans like the NRA’s little masterpiece don’t have to turn off our brains. We can still think. And WC thinks Alaska needs to do something about its dirty little firearms problem. It’s going to be very difficult, the politics are going to be very ugly and it’s going to take a very long time, but it needs to be done.
(A tip of the hat to WC reader AR for the link to the cougar story.)
An aspiring bird photographer needs two things to do his or her work: birds and light. Interior Alaska offers precious little of either for extended periods of time. But it does give a photographer a chance to look back over the file photos, labeling and sorting, and occasionally finding a few interesting shots that got overlooked in the earlier rush.
WC spent a lovely day in Denali National Park, at a spot that has proven pretty reliable for Willow Ptarmigan. The color patterns and feathering on this species are fascinating; here’s a series of close-ups demonstrating WC’s point.
This head shot isn’t much as a portrait of the bird, but it does show the extraordinary detail in a Willow Ptarmigan’s summer plumage.
Pulling back a little bit, you can also see how cryptic the species is, how well it blends into the terrain.
It’s hard to get a moody shot of a Willow Ptarmigan; as a species, they just aren’t that emotive. But the head turn adds here a bit to the shot. WC already misses the green leaves.
But Willow Ptarmigan out in the open don’t live very long. In fact, there was a Merlin nest nearby that kept the Ptarmigan unusually skittish. This is the more common view: a bird skulking in the brush, trying to avoid being seen. Trying to avoid being eaten.
This species is mostly white now, hunkered down for the long winter. Their habitat is monochromatic. But their strategy remains the same. Avoid being eaten. Survive. Breed in the spring.
It’s hard to describe the music, partly because it is eclectic and partly because it includes a kind of pop-Polynesian fusion that is certainly unique in WC’s experience.
Most of the band members are from the remote islands of the South Pacific: Tokelau, Tuvalu, Samoa, Niuea and New Zealand. It’s Polynesian, but it’s very different from the Hawaia’an music most Americans are used to hearing. The group’s leader and chief songwriter, Opetaia Foa’i, mixes a kind of pop sensibility with Polynesian rhythms in some songs, and pure poly-rhythmic drumming in others. All of the lyrics were in Tokelauan, Foa’i's father’s tongue. The drumming was on Polynesian drums, but the rhythms were influenced by hip-hop as well as Polynesia. It was an interesting, compelling fusion. The drumming was simply outstanding.
Did WC mention the dancers? Two lovely ladies, Olivia Foa’i and Tremayne Lihou demonstrated that Hawaia’an hula dancers could learn a thing or two form their Polynesian cousins. Oh, there was a male dancer, too, Talaga Sale, but, honestly, when the ladies were dancing no guy in the audience was watching anything else.
WC also enjoyed the very talented drummer, Matatia Foa’i, who played both a drum kit and a pretty amazing set of log drums, as well as the multi-talented Neil Forrest, who played flute, a kind of electric slack key guitar, drums and keyboards. The band was tight, interacted well with the audience and seemed to enjoy themselves immensely.
Did WC mention the dancers?
Props to Fairbanks Concert Association for giving Fairbanks a shot of world music that was truly from the other side of the road. It was a great show.
Did WC mention the dancers? Wow.
The title to his blog post comes from Shakespeare’s Henry The Sixth, Part 2 Act 4, scene 2, 71–78. It’s not a very good play. But it gets quoted a lot because there’s an amazing number of folks out there who, one way or another, want to “kill all the lawyers.”
The most recent is Clifford Winston, an economist and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and the co-author of “First Thing We Do, Let’s Deregulate All the Lawyers.” Winston had an opinion piece in the New York Times recently, calling for the removal of the “monopoly” lawyers have. He extols perceived advantages in savings through increased competition, improved quality of lawyering and, probably, prevention of tooth decay.
While Winston never mentions it, all government monopolies are tradeoffs. On the one hand, you have the risk of increased cost and decreased quality associated with any monopoly or quasi-monopoly; on the other, you have potentially better regulation and allegedly assured quality. Winston never discusses the balance.
WC is a lawyer himself, of course, so it’s possible he is not completely neutral on the subject. But based on three sorts of experiences, WC thinks this is, on balance, a really bad idea.
First, the experience of pro se parties – citizens who represent themselves – is pretty bad. Their ignorance of the law and court procedures increases the total cost to society of the administration of justice. That’s not going to change. In a very real sense, lawyers are optional now; you can always represent yourself. In fact, the “unbundling” of legal services is a kind of middle ground between having a lawyer and being pro se. Any cost benefit analysis of lawyers needs to take into account the increased costs imposed on the judicial system by pro se litigants. If you don’t believe WC, go and watch some small claims proceedings at state court. Not the heavily edited versions on television; the real stuff.
Second, lawyers say of themselves that any lawyer who represents himself or herself has a fool for a client. Lawyers in discipline proceedings pretty much always hire a lawyer to represent them. It’s extremely difficult to bring objectivity and cold reason to your legal advice if you are the litigant. An informed client wants a lawyer who is passionate in argument, but dispassionate in advising you on your case. It’s at least as important as knowledge of the law. It involves things like the ability to assess a case and perform cost analyses of claims.
But, you say, what about having folks other than licensed lawyers advising litigants? That’s WC’s third kind of experience. In three major cases in which WC has been involved, there were “paralegals” – moonlighting lay persons, secretly acting as advisors for litigants who were nominally representing themselves. The results were uniformly disastrous. Raejean Bonham’s unlicensed “lawyer” in Palmer, Alaska cost her hundreds of thousands of dollars, probably five years of jail time and left her owing millions of dollars. In two other cases, perhaps less well known, unlicensed legal services resulted in unmitigated disasters for the litigants.
WC can’t speak for other jurisdictions. And WC doesn’t want to attempt to defend the quality of lawyers generally, or even the overall quality of lawyering in Alaska. But despite WC’s reservations about the overall quality of Alaska lawyers, deregulation is unlikely to improve that quality. There’s a word for individuals who work hard to learn and understand the law, are conscientious in assembling and presenting facts, and are skilled at communicating the law and the facts to clients, opposing lawyers, judges and juries. The word is “lawyer.” For anyone who works to develop those skills, the bar exam and bar dues are not a serious obstacle.
Some of Winston’s other points are simply misleading. For example, he points out that in “2009, the state disciplinary agencies that cover the roughly one million lawyers practicing in the United States received more than 125,000 complaints, according to an A.B.A. survey. But only 800 of those complaints — a mere 0.6 percent — resulted in disbarment.” Disbarment is the lawyer death penalty. You are thrown out of the bar and prohibited from ever practicing law again. It’s the most serious sanction there is. It really is the professional death penalty. Like the criminal death penalty, it doesn’t happen very often. Why not look instead at other forms of lawyer discipline? The answer for the same period is 12,274 lawyers disciplined, something like 10%. So about 10% of all complaints result in sanctions being imposed upon a lawyer. By misleadingly defining disbarment as the only form of discipline, Winston seriously distorts the truth. And when you actually examine those 125,000 complaints – and WC has served on a lot of bar association discipline committees – many are patently without merit, and the majority of them come from criminal defendants who are unhappy they got caught and punished.
Attorney discipline is far from perfect, but it’s not so bad as to be a reason for abandoning the current licensing procedures. Remember, too, that Alaska lawyers, at least, have to disclose if they don’t have liability insurance, and that there are quite good lawyers who will cheerfully take a lawyer malpractice case.
It’s also noteworthy that Winston argues that there’s not enough competition among lawyers while also admitting there are something like one million of us chasing legal work. One million lawyers. Tom Paxton wrote a pretty good song about that. That’s not enough? Winston seriously wants more persons practicing law? Wow.
Winston also argues that attorney discipline records should be public. WC agrees, and has pressed for on-line access to attorney discipline records for years. But that’s quite a different thing from completely deregulating lawyers.
WC is as cynical – more cynical – about the legal profession as anyone. WC collects lawyer jokes, for example. But some kind of screening and discipline function seems to serve a useful purpose. Mr. Winston hasn’t made a good case for change.
Snuff, Terry Pratchett
ISBN 978-0-06-201184-8, Harper 2011
Sir Terry, a few years ago, was diagnosed as suffering from posterior cortical atrophy, a rare variant of Alzheimer’s disease. It has affected his ability to type but not, WC is very pleased to report, his ability to craft a fine novel. He dictates now, and uses an assistant to do the parts that can’t be dictated. Physically, he may be impaired, but his mind, his sense of humor and his humanity are as sharp as ever.
Sam Vimes is a copper. When we first met him, in Guards, Guards, he was drunk and lying in the gutter of Ankh-Morpork. Over the course of subsequent novels, including Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, Night Watch and Monstrous Regiment, he has advanced himself considerably, married well, fathered a son and, at the apparent whim of his boss, the tyrant of Ankh-Morpork, he has been made a Duke. But he’s still a copper, raised on the very mean streets of his city.
But now he has to face the worst terror yet: a vacation in the country, at his wife’s family estate. But of course, a copper can’t escape crime by going out of town; a copper can’t unpack his suitcase without a body turning up. But is it a murder when the victim is a goblin, mere vermin? Is it a crime? Vimes, as much as any character Pratchett’s vast body of work, reflects the values of Pratchett himself. Pratchett and Vimes regard the worst class of crime as treating a thinking creature as an object.
Sometimes the crime comes before the law.
Pratchett skillfully weaves together numerous threads. From Lord Vetinari’s initial pensive reaction to news from Pastor Oats to the strategies of Vimes’ wife, Lady Sibyl, it’s a remarkable piece of plotting. Nor is Prachett’s trademark use of humor. Here is Vimes contemplating the law of trout streams:
He wondered how you could own a trout stream because, if that was your bit, it had already gurgled off downstream while you were watching it, yes? That means somebody else was now fishing in your water, the bastard! And the bit in front of you now had recently belonged to the bloke upstream; that bloated plutocrat of a fat neighbor probably considered you some kind of a poacher, that other bastard!
One more quotation, this from Vimes’ first encounter with Miss Felicity Beedle, a very successful children’s writer, and the favorite author of Vimes’ son, young Sam:
Vimes, hand in hand with his son, walked toward the house of Miss Beedle thoughtfully, not knowing what to expect. He had little experience of the literary world, much preferring the literal one, and he had heard that writers spent all day in their dressing gowns drinking champagne.*
* This is, of course, absolutely true.
It’s what Pratchett does: ironic footnotes, wonderful characters, brilliant plots and deeply human stories, even if the stories often involve dwarfs, trolls, vampires and, yes, goblins.
It’s true that Vimes wants to arrest the gods for getting it wrong; it’s true that the Summoning Dark (see Thud!) still lies, caged inside of him; and it’s true that for all his cunning he’s not a smart man. But he is a wonderful character, and a near-perfect means for Pratchett to make his points.
Pratchett also has a gift for making points in front of the reader that don’t sink in until much later. Such as the off-hand observation that Arachne,a filing clerk at the Anhk-Morpork embassy in another country, collects venomous spiders.
Pratchett. writing about the fantasy genre, quoted Chesteron’s defense of fantasy literature and children: “The objection to fairy stories is that they tell children there are dragons. But children have always known there are dragons. Fairy stories tell children that dragons can be killed.” Pratchett shows us that even the very worst dragons can be slain.
As WC’s patient readers know, WC is a serious fan of Sir Terry Pratchett. He’s the author of 50 books – 39 Discworld novels – and among British authors, only what’s her name, the lady that uses initials instead of her name, has sold more books.
WC has attended a Pratchett reading, shaken the master’s hand and even been photographed with Sir Terry. WC can say, without fear of contradiction, the Sir Terry is brilliant, not just as a writer but as a speaker and satirist. WC would rank his Q & A skills with those of Christopher Hitchens or Richard Dawkins. His work as a satirist is as good as anything in the English language.
So any lingering belief WC might have that the world is fair and that brilliance is always rewarded disappeared in 2007 when Sir Terry was diagnosed with posterior cortical atrophy, a rare variant of Alzheimer’s disease. A mind that sharp, a gift that great, should not be fogged with Alzheimer’s. It’s enough to make you wail and gnash your teeth.
Truth to tell, Pratchett is handling it better than WC. He appeared on BBC Radio 4 recently, discussing his new book, Snuff, and quite calmly how his disease is affecting him. The 13-minute interview is well worth your time.
WC is particularly impressed by Pratchett’s willingness to be completely candid about his disease and about his desire to choose the moment when he wants to die. Courage in the face of a syndrome that first destroys what makes us human is something special.
Over the next few days, in celebration of the interview, the new novel and the U.S. release of a new Pratchett movie, WC will emphasize some of Pratchett’s work. Be warned. (A search for “Pratchett” on this blog will demonstrate WC’s affection for this man and his writing. His nonfiction writing on the fantasy genre is particularly good.)
With sales of more than 65 million books, Pratchett can hardly be considered unknown or freshly discovered. But he’s still not well known in the U.S. WC recommends Going Postal (Amazon link), the novel, as a starting point. It’s brilliant.
While charts can be deceptive, they can also communicate and explain more effectively than columns of numbers ever can.
At a time when a certain kind of American citizen wants to demonize all Muslims because of the actions of al Qaeda, and a certain kind of Muslim wants to demonize all Christians because of the actions of a Koran-burning few in Florida, perhaps this simple chart can help us all keep our perspective:
The media focus relentlessly on the .00063% – that’s 6.3 hundred-thousandth of a percent – of Muslims who seek to attack America, and the .0000016% – that’s 1.6 ten-millionths of a percent – who burn Korans and make them seem vastly larger than they are. Worse, each side attributes the beliefs and motives of that minuscule minority to the group as a whole. The idea is silly.
Keep your perspective.
The New York Times reports that Citigroup has agreed to pay a civil fine of $285 million to settle a civil fraud complaint. The Securities and Exchange Commission sued Citigroup, claiming that Citigroup misled investors in a $1 billion derivatives deal involving bundled housing mortgages, then bet against those investors as the housing market began to crash. The $285 million settlement sum includes $160 million in disgorgement, $30 million in prejudgment interest and a $95 million penalty, all of which will be paid to the investors.
It seems very unlikely the investors have been made whole. Public records don’t disclose who the investors were, but it’s not rich corporations in most cases; it was money market funds that hold the average citizen’s retirement monies, state and municipal pension funds and regular Joes’ savings. Many of the mortgages bundled into the deal now have value only as toilet paper.
WC would summarize it this way:
Citigroup’s profit on the deal: $34 million
Citigroup’s net profit on screwing its investors and selling short: at least $126 million
Damages to the investors: something near $1 billion
The cost to Citigroup of getting caught: $285 million
The damage to the U.S. economy: Priceless
A few years ago, WC completed a first draft of a novella. It’s not all that good, and publishers have not been leaping at the opportunity to buy it. But it’s likely good enough to blog… So WC will inflict his fiction – well, his overt fiction – on his long-suffering readers. Chapters will posted on Sunday mornings.
Here’s Chapter 1 if you missed it.
Warning: the story involves graphic violence.
From Antonin’s Oddities:
Gudsawr made the sword of a frictionless ceramic, with an edge on both sides of the blade made of a single long molecule of superconducting alloy. The edge, of course, was fantastically sharp, and since the blade was frictionless, it could cut through nearly anything without much effort. It could never dull. The ceramic was nearly unbreakable. I watched Gudsawr cut a stone in half with the sword.
In the morning, watery sunlight lit the room, shining in his eyes. Mikhal woke, stretched and moaned at the stiffness in his legs. The fingers of his left hand were cramped and sore from clutching the sword all night. He felt as if he had slept only minutes. If Reverend Abbot was right, he had slept only a few hours while the entire night had gone by away from the sword. He thought for a moment of the Emperor, who had been sleeping, his hand away from the sword.
Brother Simon entered, carrying water, bread and cheese. “May I eat with you?” he asked.
Mikhal shrugged. “I am poor company, even if I were not a peasant, but you may join me.”
Brother Simon sat down cross-legged, in the manner of the brotherhood, and divided the bread and cheese. “Reverend Abbot says you must leave when you have finished eating. What will you do?”
“I have no idea in the world.”
“Will you throw the sword in a well?”
“That seems to be one of the ways I can kill myself.” Mikhal did not smile.
“Mikhal, if you trust me, I have two brothers who live with my father half a day’s walk from here. My oldest brother was a sergeant in the Emperor’s guards, until he left them to return to the family farm. Would you go there?”
“The Emperor’s soldiers are not likely to look on a farm, or at another peasant farmer. And from what you told the Reverend Abbot, no one knows your face. And perhaps my father and my oldest brother can advise you.”
“And why should I trust you?”
“Mikhal, who can hurt you? While you hold the sword you are invincible.”
“That gives me no reason to trust you.”
“Then try this: you have been a dead man since you did not pay your taxes. The work camp would kill you. The Emperor’s guards will kill you. The sword will kill you. But perhaps my family can find a way that you can live. My eldest brother is clever, and my father is wise.
Brother Simon asked the blessing. They ate their food in silence. When the food was gone, Brother Simon stood up. “Reverend Abbot has given me permission to visit my family the next two days. I will leave for their home in half an hour. If you would like to travel with me, meet me at the gate.”
Brother Simon walked away. Mikhal sat alone and miserable on the palette. His hand ached from holding the sword. His legs ached from running and walking yesterday. He was tired and felt like he had not slept at all. And he had no idea what to do. His fear was in his belly like too much ice. His mind was empty.
After a half an hour, he pulled himself stiffly to his feet. Without really making a decision, without really thinking about it, he went to meet Brother Simon at the gate.
Brother Simon greeted him without comment, and together they started walking west. Almost at once, a problem arose. “Mikhal, you cannot walk so fast.”
The sword again. Maybe this was how he had walked two days’ distance in a single day. Mikhal held out his empty hand. “I will put my hand on your shoulder. Perhaps the sword will make you walk swiftly, too.” With an odd look, Brother Simon took Mikhal’ right hand. It worked, after a fashion, although it seemed to Mikhal he walked somewhat more slowly. The trees and bushes went by as fast as a man could trot. Brother Simon spoke excitedly of the marvel. Mikhal felt too tired to argue, or even to talk. Before noontime, they had come to a large farm, with a fine barn and a two story stone house.
“Father, this is Mikhal of Blackberry Hill. I have brought him to you because he needs advice.”
Brother Simon’s father was a tall man with a left leg of wood from mid-shin. His clothes were like any farmer’s. “Mikhal, my name is Felici and what advice I have I will give to a friend of my son. Simon, get your brothers and we will eat our lunch.
Simon’s two brothers were all tall, taller than Mikhal or Simon. Donal, the eldest, seemed all knotted muscle and sinew. They sat down on the porch, and ate cheese and apples.
Under Simon’s prodding, Mikhal told his story to Felici and his sons. At their insistence, Mikhal threw a rock while holding the sword. The rock knocked a hole in the hen house, and the indignant squawking of chickens filled the stunned silence. They all walked over to a stump that was plainly used as a chopping block. At Felici’s instructions, Mikhal swung the sword at the stump. The sword cut through the stump in a single blow. The grain of the wood at the new cut was smooth and polished.
Felici took a willow wand and swung it gently at Mikhal. More than a half a foot from Mikhal’ head, the willow wand stopped. Felici took a cudgel, and did the same thing. Again, the cudgel was stopped. “It’s not like hitting stone or metal,” said Felici, “the blow is absorbed, like hitting a pillow.”
“Do you trust this sword?” Felici asked Mikhal.
“It has saved my life ten times.”
“Then we will try bow and arrows.
Felici had Mikhal stand by the hay bales. From 50 feet, Donal drew a long bow and let fly an arrow. The arrow, it seemed to Mikhal, traveled slowly, and as it came within a foot of Mikhal it slowed still more and then veered sharply to Mikhal’ left. At the second arrow, Mikhal swung the sword at the arrow. His timing was off. The arrow struck the flat of the sword, and the sword swung at him, and the sword’s tip cut the strap on Mikhal’s sandal. Mikhal said nothing, and neither Felici nor Donal noticed. But plainly the power of the sword did not protect him from the sword itself.
Donal put down the bow. “How would you stop a man armed with his sword?” Felici asked Donal. “Can he be stopped?”
“Perhaps you could dig a pit and trap him in it?” asked Donal. “Or perhaps with a net he could be held, but I do not see what could be done after you had netted him.
“Another test,” Felici told Mikhal, and had him stand on a piece of burlap. Donal and Simon then tried to pull the burlap from under Mikhal as Mikhal held the sword. The burlap would not move.
Felici led Mikhal to a forest of small trees. “Mikhal, pretend these trees are enemies, and cut them down.” Holding the sword with both hands, Mikhal swung the sword back and forth and slowly walked forward. A path a sword’s reach wide opened around him. It wasn’t hard work. He could hardly feel the trees as the sword cut through them. Trees that fell towards him slid away along the invisible shield without touching him or disturbing the slow walk. Underfoot, the trees made the walking awkward but not impossible.
Mikhal stopped when Felici told him to. A pathway extended 100 feet into the forest, filled with waist-high stumps and the trunks of trees.
They walked back to the porch. Felici told Simon to bring wine. “Mikhal,” said Felici, “there is a way you can live, at least as long as the sword will let you.” Simon poured wine for all of them.
“And what way is that, Master Felici?”
“You can make yourself Emperor.”
Mikhal laughed out loud. “Master Felici, I am a peasant. I do not know how to be an Emperor.”
“Wise men will come and tell you how to be Emperor, provided you can become Emperor. And Mikhal, who is there to stand against you?”
“Master Felici, yesterday I was a peasant running from the Emperor’s soldiers because I could not pay my taxes; now you say I should be Emperor.”
Felici rubbed his leg where the stump met the wood. “Mikhal, the sword is a miracle. All miracles have a price. But it is still a miracle. And it can make you as powerful as you want to be. If you don’t want to be Emperor, you can make someone else the Emperor simply by standing at his side. Simon is right to call you a dead man, but we are all dead men. I am dead and my sons are dead for speaking with the Emperor’s assassin.”
Mikhal stirred at the word assassin but did not speak.
“There is no Emperor now,” said Felici, “and there are men quarreling and scheming to take the crown. One or another will become Emperor by force. None of them has the sword.”
“Mikhal,” said Simon, “were the Emperor’s taxes unfair?”
“They were more than I could pay.”
“If you are Emperor, the taxes need not ever be too high again. If you are Emperor, no peasant needs to fear the work camps.” Simon paused. “You can throw the sword in a well, as Reverend Abbot said, or bury it, or throw it in the sea. Then the new Emperor will sooner or later find you, and you will be killed. Or you can save yourself by making yourself Emperor.”
“Simon,” said Donal, “you are wrong on one point. Unless Mikhal throws the sword away, he will become Emperor, or make someone Emperor. The sword cannot hide him, only defend him. Mikhal can die soon by throwing away the sword, or become Emperor and die a little later. Those are the choices.”
“I do not want to die,” said Mikhal.
“That’s not a choice. The Abbot had that right.” Felici turned to Mikhal. “We will help you if you wish. Do you want to fight?”
“If I don’t want to die now, it seems I must.”
“First,” said Donal, “you need to learn how to handle a sword.”
End of Chapter 2
Chapter 3 will be posted next Sunday
WC has criticized President Obama from time to time because no president of the United States is ever above criticism. If you examine his actual record, as opposed to the mischaracterizations, lies, distortions, hyperbole and – frankly – racism from the right, it’s a pretty remarkable set of achievements in very difficult times.
The truth is that this President has done a good job in what has been one of the most challenging periods of modern history. Among his accomplishments:
- He saved the economy from ruin (until the Tea Party took over the U.S. House) with a stimulus that was as large as possible given the political realities.
- Presided over a stock market that fairly quickly recouped many of its losses.
- Presided over nearly unbroken consecutive monthly increases in private sector job growth (unfortunately balanced by monthly decreases in public sector jobs which WC blames mostly on the Republican tactic of starving government).
- Enacted the only meaningful healthcare reform ever in our history.
- Passed financial reform (no matter what my progressive colleagues say, he did achieve this).
- Saved the auto industry (which all of the Republicans are on record as opposing).
- Fired the first salvo of the Arab Spring with his remarkable speech in Cairo in June 2009
- Greatly reduced the number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq in a responsible way (and headed toward almost total withdrawal)
- At least partially stabilized the situation in Afghanistan.
- Stopped numerous terrorist attacks in this country
- Stopped torture as a United States policy, and has proven it is unnecessary as wellas illegal.
- Repealed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.
- Joined the international community in a measured and responsible way to bring down an odious tyrant in Qaddafi, without the loss of a single American life.
- Killed a whole generation of al Qaeda leaders.
- And WC believes his audacious assassination of Osama bin Laden will go down as one of the bravest military actions in American history.
He’s accomplished all this with a Congress that is as bitterly divided as any time since the eve of the Civil War, while dealing with thinly disguised racism and revolting accusations about his parentage, his religion and his family.
Compare him to each of the whining, bitter Republican candidates and ask yourself how there can be any question of the President’s chances of re-election.
Yes, WC is proud of President Obama. Don’t let his occasional criticism make you think otherwise.
You want “exceptional”? How about a country that can produce a leader like this?
It turns out Calvin and Hobbes explained the Occupy Wall Street movement years ago, back on April 4, 1993. WC won’t post the cartoon that does the job, but here’s a link to it.
If Bill Watterson or his publisher force Sly Oyster to take the cartoon down, you can find it in Volume 3 of the Complete Calvin and Hobbes, at page 164.
And if you don’t think Bill Watterson is a genius, you’re probably reading the wrong blog.
Readers may recall that WC expressed some reservations about the United States’ decision to assassinate American citizen Anwar al Awlaki, rather than capture him and bring him back to the U.S. for trial. Assassinating United States citizens is a bad idea, and the argument that this one was a Very Bad Dude is a classic “slippery slope” notion. Particularly since we have no idea how the decision to assassinate a U.S. citizen was made. Or by whom.
Amy Davidson, writing in the New Yorker, reports that the U.S. has now assassinated al Awlaki’s teenage son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. It’s unclear from public records whether Abdulrahman was himself a target or was “collateral damage” in an attempt to murder another al Qaeda member. The Washington Post reports that the 16-year old had no involvement in his father’s criminal activities.
Drones don’t make decisions; someone in the United States government does. Was this a targeted assassination? If so, has the U.S. now decided to assassinate teenage sons of al Qaeda bad guys, as well as the bad guys? Absent very good evidence, isn’t that attainder, as well as assassination? And isn’t attainder prohibited by the U.S. Constitution? If it was “collateral damage” – a horrifying euphemism for killing people – is our government really acting on such shabby information that we routinely kill women and children in Yemen?
WC has no sympathy for terrorists, but a deep respect for the U.S. Constitution and the rule of law. President Obama, like President Bush before him, seems to find it expedient in the “war on terrorism” to ignore the rule of law. In doing so, we risk becoming what we are fighting. “Terrorism,” in a real sense, is an attempt to accomplish goals without regard to the law. WC doesn’t want the country he loves to sink to the same level.
The News-Miner reports that felons and former legislators Pete Kott and Vic Kohring will cop a plea to one felony count each. All the others will be dismissed. They won’t serve any additional time; each will have some probation. There may be modest fines. U.S. District Judge Beistline doesn’t have to accept the pleas, but it would be unusual if he didn’t.
So it ends with a whimper. Kott and Kohring take their place in the Alaska Political Hall of Shame, a large and completely undistinguished group of felons, unindicted co-conpsirators, Representative As and Senator Bs.
They didn’t get half the licking they deserve. The combination of federal incompetence and legislative hypocrisy spared their sorry butts. The ones who betrayed the public trust for the lowest price got spanked, but not too hard. The ones who commanded a higher price walk off scot-free. Conspiracy theorists may now form a queue to the right.
WC offers a parable:
Two Chinese ministers are walking in a garden. One asks the other, “Would you ever betray your Emperor?”
“Never,” says the second, “I am utterly loyal.”
“Would you betray your Emperor for $10 million?” asks the first.
“$10 million! That’s an immense amount of money. I… I’d… I would be tempted, I admit.”
“Would you betray your Emperor for $100?” asks the first.
“What kind of man do you think I am,” the second minister asks indignantly.
“We’ve established what you are,” said the first minister. “Now we are just haggling over the price.”
Ten years. On WC’s recollection, that’s the approximate average between Alaska legislative corruption scandals. We’re already half way through the interval. In just five more years genuine Corrupt Bastards Club baseball caps will be selling on eBay for more than the price of buying an Alaska legislator’s honor.
In the Christian Hell, according to Dante, the 8th Circle, Bolgia 5 is reserved for politicians who betray their trust. They are submerged upside down in boiling pitch. Something for Mssrs. Kohring and Kott to look forward to, WC supposes. But it doesn’t do us much good in the meantime.