Good Luck

Bad news at a bad time for a reasonably good man, as politicians go.  I hope it gets better fast.


In Beyond Good and Evil, Neitzsche scribed a warning: "He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee."

In fighting evil, there is a grave peril that you may be called upon to do terrible things.  It changes you.

But this works both ways

A Bowie Would Have Done It, Too:

Today's headline:  "Cleaver aids woman in trouble."

Akbar Case Being Litigated

Here's a limited-time opportunity for people interested in death penalty litigation. Next week, the Army Court of Criminal Appeals is hearing oral arguments in the case of United States v. Hasan K. Akbar. I assume the lead character needs no introduction here.

Well, I follow their website occasionally (a few of my clients, of whom Akbar isn't one, may get relief there in the next year or two). And I see that nowadays, when they're going to have oral arguments, that page sometimes includes links to the briefs. They've done so in Akbar's case. I expect those links will go down on 1 February, when the oral arguments are done, but in the meantime anyone who wishes can pop over there and read the briefs.

I haven't tried a capital case. In fact, I haven't tried a murder at all, and I'm not going to talk here about the cases I have tried. (Some were certainly disturbing enough.) But I know just a little about appellate work and that capital appeals don't look like other appeals. One thing you'll notice, if you take a read through, is that the defense raises a lot of issues, including many that (according to the government brief) were decided decades ago, and not in the defense's favor. This makes a kind of sense. If you know the appeals could go on for decades, the composition of all the courts could change (the Supreme Court included), and they could reverse themselves on dozens of issues that have already been decided. You don't want to waive those issues by failing to raise them. So I can't blame the lawyers for writing their brief that way. Neither should you. (Though you might wish, as I do, that these appeals didn't go on for so long.) In other kinds of case, the ideal is "a rifle, not a shotgun" - make a few points and argue them in depth, and don't waste time with the oddball or the obsolete.

A few notes for anyone who cares to do some wading through --

The page includes the links but not the evidentiary exhibits, let alone the record of trial. The government brief makes frequent references to "GAE 1" (Government Appellate Exhibit 1). This is almost certainly an affidavit from one of Akbar's trial attorneys. Normally, a lawyer's duty of confidentiality continues unbroken after trial, and he will often decline to explain his decisions, as they may relate to things his client told him in private, or information that has not come to light and that would not be good for the client. But if the client is claiming ineffective assistance of counsel (a common thing in capital litigation), the lawyer is partly released from that duty. He can reveal confidential things, but only insofar as is needed to defend himself against the charge of ineffective assistance (if he was really that bad, that has some serious implications for his career and maybe his license). So if the client claims on appeal, "My stupid lawyer didn't pay attention when I told him about my rough childhood" - the lawyer can write an affidavit saying, "Oh, yes I did, and I didn't raise it in court because it would convince the judge you were broken beyond repair and should be locked up for life" - or whatever. Anyway, this is why the government appellate lawyers are writing as if they know so much about what the trial defense attorneys were thinking.

Only one part of the briefs made me raise my eyebrows - page 68 of the appellee (government)'s first brief. "Mrs. Nerad" is an expert in mitigation in death cases, one of several hired for the defense in that case:
Furthermore, trial defense counsel did not agree with Ms. Nerad's philosophy that "a mitigation investigation was effectively endless and that it was her practice to always request more time and more funding until the state government relented on pursuing the death penalty. If the government did not relent, then, according to Mrs. Nerad,
there would be a built in appellate issue.
In the footnote, the appellate counsel takes a nasty little swipe to say that "Ms. Nerad's strategy is exactly what [Akbar] has placed before this court." The way I was brought up, you don't make that kind of accusation against the other side - at least, not without some very powerful proof. Think it, yes. Say it, no. (And in a death case, there are solid reasons for litigating very differently than in other kinds, as I mentioned before.)

Anyway, if you'd like a little insight into that case that isn't filtered through the press, and you have some time, there's your chance.

The Devil You Know

...When the Cambrian measures were forming, They promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons, that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: "Stick to the Devil you know."

Ron Paul Gets the Best Lines

Watching tonight's debates, I have these impressions:

Ron Paul gets all the best lines.  He's still not a serious candidate, but man it's fun to listen to him talk.

Rick Santorum is playing it straight, but there's nothing flashy about his answers.  They're honest, though.  He's probably not helping himself by hammering all the things he's not going to do for people.  There are some applause lines associated with these things, but... well, I hope it works.  His answer about his wife was fantastic.

Newt Gingrich gives the best answers across the board.  Whatever else there is to be said about him, the guy knows his stuff.  Whenever they come after him, he knows just how to turn it around.  When Romney came after him for promising stuff state-by-state, he gave a great answer.  He also took a couple of moments to give kind words to Dr. Paul over his age and health, which was courteous.

Romney just said he'd like to fire someone again, but the audience didn't seem to mind.  His answer on health reform was pretty good.  "Groundhog Day" was a good line; interesting that he followed it up by saying that "we know what it takes to get you back to work."  We?  Good for you, governor.

UPDATE:  Santorum's answer about faith was very good.  'The Constitution is the how of America.  It is the operator's manual.  The why of America is the Declaration of Independence.  We hold these truths to be self-evident:  that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.' His was the most unapologetic endorsement of faith in public life.

UPDATE:  Hot Air disagrees that Gingrich was strong; I thought he turned the knives very well, but it's true that Santorum went after Romney more.  But see for yourself:

Romney neutralized him on the big immigration exchange at the beginning, and then it fell to Santorum — for the second debate in a row — to pick Romney apart on his core policy vulnerability. (He did a darned fine job of it too.) If you’re operating under the illusion that the election will turn on the presidential debates in October, kindly explain why Gingrich is somehow superior to Santorum. He wouldn’t even accept Blitzer’s invite to hit Romney on his Swiss bank account even though he’s been criticizing him on the trail for it for days. The hapless moderator/punching bag had to practically badger him into answering. I don’t get it. Didn’t he realize that the primary was on the line tonight? 
You’ll be pleased to know that Romney is now a 91 percent favorite to win on InTrade as I write this, up from 74 percent earlier today. Stats guru Nate Silver thinks it’s possible that Romney wins by double digits, perhaps as much as 20 points. And why not? After Santorum’s strong performance tonight, there are bound to be tepid Newt fans and true undecideds who prefer him as the anointed Not Romney to Gingrich. Who could blame them?
Be nice to see the boy do well.

Speaking of Character

...our VP definitely is one.

UPDATE:  Apparently FOXNews decided to change their headline on this one, and the URL changed with it.  The new page questions whether Biden faked an Indian accent, rather than asserting that he did.  I'm leaving the old link up, though, because as Sly says, the 404 page is amusing in itself.

A Problem from the Rhetoric

Aristotle makes a claim in the early part of the Rhetoric that seems like it ought to be the case, and yet is clearly out of order with the facts on the ground here in America today.
Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself. Persuasion is achieved by the speaker's personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible. We believe good men more fully and more readily than others: this is true generally whatever the question is, and absolutely true where exact certainty is impossible and opinions are divided. This kind of persuasion, like the others, should be achieved by what the speaker says, not by what people think of his character before he begins to speak. It is not true, as some writers assume in their treatises on rhetoric, that the personal goodness revealed by the speaker contributes nothing to his power of persuasion; on the contrary, his character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion he possesses.
That seems like it ought to be right.  Yet in our current Presidential contest, we have one man who is apparently good by general standards, which is to say Rick Santorum, the lowest-polling figure in the race; one man who is apparently not good, but who is a highly effective speaker, which is to say Newt Gingrich; one man who may or may not be good, but is a terrible speaker, which is to say Mitt Romney; and one man who is said by some to be good and others to be wicked, and by some to be a great speaker and by others to be a terrible one, but who is currently the actual victor of the last Presidential contest.

I say that Romney 'may or may not' be of good character; Cassandra is quite sure he is of excellent character, and his personal life seems to be clear of the usual problems, but I can't quite figure him out well enough to decide what to think about his motives.

Aristotle's next argument ends up making perfect sense from our contemporary perspective.
There are, then, these three means of effecting persuasion. The man who is to be in command of them must, it is clear, be able (1) to reason logically, (2) to understand human character and goodness in their various forms, and (3) to understand the emotions-that is, to name them and describe them, to know their causes and the way in which they are excited.
There is a clear failure for Romney on point (3). Thus, assuming the man to be of excellent personal character for the sake of argument, we can still appreciate how he might fail to be persuasive.  He lacks one of the three basic components of effectiveness in persuasion.

Newt clearly has (1), (2), and (3) down.  His reasoning is good, he understands human character and goodness (even if he often fails to practice it), and he knows how to excite the emotions.

Thus, we would expect Newt to prevail in a two-man contest of persuasion:  he's simply better armed.  This will prove to be true in the fall as well:  when imagining a Newt v. Obama match-up versus a Romney v. Obama match-up, we can see that the President will fare better rhetorically in the latter contest.  He would be facing an opponent who simply lacks access to a third of the power of persuasion.

We still have the puzzle of goodness, though.  I have always found that speaking the truth is the greatest weapon in rhetoric, and that good character and a name for honor is -- as Aristotle holds -- a powerful weapon as well.  That does not appear to be the case for us today.

Does this mean that Americans do not care about good character, or that they disagree about what it is?  Or is there something about our electoral process that makes character less persuasive than it normally tends to be?  If the latter, what is the cause of the failure?

Mass Grave in England

Now a University of Cambridge researcher is putting forward a compelling new theory about the identity of the murder victims. The documentary follows Dr Britt Baillie, from the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, as she examines the remains, as well as documents from the period and other material evidence, to reopen the file on what happened in Dorset a thousand years ago. 
While historians will probably never agree conclusively about who the men were, Baillie’s analysis draws her to the conclusion that they may have been Viking mercenaries who modelled themselves on, or behaved in a similar way to the legendary Jomsvikings – a brotherhood of elite killers whose strict military code involved never showing fear, and never fleeing in the face of the enemy unless totally outnumbered. 
Allegedly founded by Harald Bluetooth, the Jomsvikings are thought to have been based at a stronghold called Jomsborg on the Baltic coast. At a time when Vikings were feared across Europe, they were known as perhaps the fiercest of them all – a reputation which even earned them their own saga.

Uh, Oh, I'm a Cultural Elitist

I'm no Pauline Kael, but I guess I'm not exactly a woman of the people, either, according to this Pop Quiz inspired by Charles Murray's "Coming Apart." I get a few points for having done a little manual labor and having once ridden on a Greyhound bus. On some questions you get credit for your spouse's activity, such as buying a pickup truck, but for hunting and fishing I guess it counts only if you do it yourself. Well, at least I have friends who are evangelical Christians and/or who disagree with me profoundly on political issues. So my score is "You can see through your bubble, but you need to get out more." I could have done better if I'd ever sat through an Oprah show or watched last year's Transformer movie. But no credit for enjoying Jeff Foxworthy? For frequenting Sonic drive-ins?

I knew I was in trouble when out-of-touch Michelle Obama took flack for buying Tuscan kale in a local farmer's market. We grow Tuscan kale and think it's great stuff.

Can This Be Right?

Inflation adjustment is a little tricky, but this still seems like a strange claim:

However, Aaron Blake at the Washington Post finds that controlling for inflation, in fact George Washington would be the nation’s richest president.... In today’s dollars, Washington’s net worth would amount to more than $500 million.
I'm not after the basic claim of the article, which is that we've had a lot of presidents richer than Romney would be if elected.  What interests me is the claim that George Washington was fantastically rich.  I had never gotten that concept from readings of history.  What I thought I understood was that he began quite modestly, as a surveyor -- I've been to places he surveyed, including the town in Virginia that now bears his name.  His marriage to Martha Custis brought him some wealth, and his status as a war hero made it possible for him to obtain more, but I thought he was in debt for a long time after that, nearly until the war started.

That seems to be in accord with the Wikipedia article, which notes:
After retiring from the presidency in March 1797, Washington returned to Mount Vernon with a profound sense of relief. He devoted much time to farming and other business interests, including his distillery which produced its first batch of spirits in February 1797.  As Chernow (2010) explains, his farm operations were at best marginally profitable. The lands out west yielded little income because they were under attack by Indians and the squatters living there refused to pay him rents. However most Americans assumed he was truly rich because of the well-known "glorified façade of wealth and grandeur" at Mount Vernon.  Historians estimate his estate was worth about $1 million in 1799 dollars, equivalent to about $18 million in 2009 purchasing power.
Eighteen million dollars is still quite rich, but it's nowhere near $500 million.  Is the Washington Post as bad with numbers as everyone else in D.C., or is there some way of making sense of the claim?

A Man or a Mouse?

It seems many Americans perked up when they heard Mitch Daniels's opposition speech after the State of the Union, prompting a heated debate over whether a dark horse could enter the race at this late date. At Pajamas Media, Ron Radosh explains some of the pros and cons of this gambit, but it's the comments section I find most interesting. I had forgotten that Daniels cited his wife's opposition as his reason for giving up the campaign, and that his wife had left him to marry her high school sweetheart, then returned to remarry him ten years later, after he'd earned millions of dollars. To many voters, this apparently marks him as a Beta Man unsuited for the Oval Office.

I don't doubt that that's a common reaction. It's not quite mine. His wife's high school sweetheart was a California plastic surgeon who ditched her after a few years in favor of a younger model. The picture I get is of a woman who made a horrible mistake by choosing a flashy passionate poseur, then came to her senses and realized that the stolid father of her children was the real man. To her great good fortune, he still cared for her and wanted to repair their family. In my eyes, that makes her a reformed liberal, and it makes him a strong man who knows his own heart. There's someone home in there. (Contrast with Ace's piechart of the most common reasons for supporting a candidate:)

Anyway, it's a narrative I prefer over the guy who keeps screwing around on his wife, marrying his mistress, and then doing it again.

What the heck is the matter with the GOP that it can't produce a candidate with a nice, conventional home life who also knows how to translate his personal, economic, and political principles into coherent policy proposals? You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. Then I wake up when I read sensible advice like this from commenter "Patrick in Atlantis":
We’re trying to thin the field out, not grow it. If Daniels get in the race now, he’ll have his you know what handed to him. You don’t like any of the contestants? Too bad.


Elberton, Georgia, is an interesting place.  The wealth of the city is based on granite, quarries, that sort of thing.  But the history is important.

We went to the McIntosh Coffee shop.  Nice place.  Good prices for lunch, if you wanted lunch.

Georgia's district tartan -- recognized by Scotland's King of Arms, on the sidebar -- is based on the MacIntosh tartan.  I guess a lot of folks don't know that anymore.  John "Mohr" MacIntosh -- that is, 'John the Great' -- was brought to the south of Savannah after the '45.  He was there with Oglethorpe for the wars that kept Georgia and the Carolinas for the English, against the Spanish.  

The post road has run through there since the Washington administration.  It's kind of funny to think that we're looking at the end of the postal service, and to remember just how long it's been around.  Not that long:  two hundred years and change.  It was new in France in the 1600s; Dumas made a point of the novelty in The Three Musketeers.  

Took My Own Advice Today...

Went out to detox from the internet.  The few little towns around here are pretty disconnected from the internet-world, as demonstrated by our most-local pet store:

Hey, I didn't make it up!  I just took the picture.

Do I Hear Twenty Percent? Going Once...

Maybe We Need a Brokered Convention to Get This Guy Back in the Race

From Mitch Daniel's rebuttal to the 2012 (as well as the 2011 and 2010) SOTU address:
An opposition that would earn its way back to leadership must offer not just criticism of failures that anyone can see, but a positive and credible plan to make life better, particularly for those aspiring to make a better life for themselves. Republicans accept this duty, gratefully.

The routes back to an America of promise, and to a solvent America that can pay its bills and protect its vulnerable, start in the same place. The only way up for those suffering tonight, and the only way out of the dead end of debt into which we have driven, is a private economy that begins to grow and create jobs, real jobs, at a much faster rate than today.

Contrary to the President's constant disparagement of people in business, it's one of the noblest of human pursuits. The late Steve Jobs - what a fitting name he had - created more of them than all those stimulus dollars the President borrowed and blew. Out here in Indiana, when a businessperson asks me what he can do for our state, I say "First, make money. Be successful. If you make a profit, you'll have something left to hire someone else, and some to donate to the good causes we love."

Jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs, jobs. Private sector jobs. That's where everything starts, and that's what everything else hangs from.

The Roman Internet

From The Chronicle of Higher Education, a surprising historical metaphor for the difficulties we face in making good use of the Internet.

The metaphor is Nero's court, and the model for success is one Gaius Petronius Arbiter.  He is supposed to be the guide for how to deal with these massive feasts without being numbed by them.  The model is better than the others around Nero's court; and yet, as the end of the piece shows, ought to be deeply alarming.  Decadence has a high price for even the best human soul.

I'm thinking about this in terms of last weekend's forced detachment from the world.  Along about Sunday, I realized that there must be some interesting news about how the South Carolina primary had gone -- the matter was much debated the week before, and here it had been over and done with and I had no idea how it had turned out.  Instead I was rereading a work of history on an old Anglo-Saxon blood feud, and enjoying it.  I had forgotten the author's insights into how Northumbria was divided, and how that fit into the question of feuds and politics in the generation before the Norman Conquest.

It may be that the real answer is not in refinement of decadence, but in periodic detoxification.  I like to take to the road at times in the year, and go for a while into the mountains or some wilderness.  It is always good, but much of the year it is not available -- we are expected to remain connected at all times for professional reasons.  I have managed to resist this more than many, but even I feel often required to be abreast of the situation, the latest detail.

The table groans, and so do we.

The End of the Grand Old Party

Foreshadowed tonight in a comment by a "Top Romney Advisor":

So the argument here is that party elites will let you vote for Romney or, if you won't, they'll simply remove the decision from your hands.  Romney won't get their nod, and neither will Gingrich, nor anyone else who has won delegates out of the votes of the people.  The party and not the voters will decide.

The Democrats got this result in 2008.  Do you remember?  The debate was over whether some states -- Clinton-won states -- would be allowed to vote their full slate, or if they would have to accept limited or no participation in the convention.  Then-Senator Clinton's campaign made a big deal about counting every vote.  When the convention came, though, she took the Secretary of State position instead of forcing a contest; and they ended up counting none of the votes, but nominating then-Senator Obama by acclamation.

We have watched the capture of the Democratic party by public-sector unions, the vastly rich corporate powers that support the unions, and their dogs in the New Class who make up the leadership of the Occupy movements.  It's destroyed a party that meant a lot to America over the course of its history; it meant something to me.  I fought for it for a long time, even in twilight.

I've never been a Republican, and the fate of that party is of no special interest to me.  All the same, it seems like someone ought to say this:  the Republican party isn't like what the Democratic party has become.  If they pull the trigger on this, and set aside the voters for the will of their internal elites, they will lose everything.

This is because the base of the Republican party is middle America, and middle America won't accept this.  The success of the Gingrich campaign to date is predicated on their hatred of the party elites.  Deny them the power to vote for their leadership and their representatives, and they will come looking for heads.

Perhaps that is for the best.  What we need is a genuinely populist revolt against the political class, and the removal of all those who rest in easy seats of power.  Perhaps in the aftermath of what was once the Republican party, we can build a movement that will break the chains of eighty years of submission to the state, to the powerful, and to the guidance of those said to be wiser than we.


Can we agree that, if a man kills someone's family pet over a political campaign, and that man is later hunted down and killed, we will all pledge not to convict the killer of any crime if asked to serve on the jury?

Living in bubbles

Charles Murray has a new book out, and an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal summarizing its argument. He maintains that the richest and the poorest Americans are more isolated from the rest of their culture than they were 50 years ago. He suggests that, for their own benefit, they'd both do well to break out. To the inhabitants of the decaying low-income, low-education areas, he recommends:
There remains a core of civic virtue and involvement in working-class America that could make headway against its problems if the people who are trying to do the right things get the reinforcement they need—not in the form of government assistance, but in validation of the values and standards they continue to uphold. The best thing that the new upper class can do to provide that reinforcement is to drop its condescending "nonjudgmentalism." Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn't hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms. When it comes to marriage and the work ethic, the new upper class must start preaching what it practices.
To the sheltered inhabitants of the "SuperZIPs," those giant gated communities near New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and San Francisco, he recommends rethinking their priorities:
Here are some propositions that might guide them: Life sequestered from anybody not like yourself tends to be self-limiting. Places to live in which the people around you have no problems that need cooperative solutions tend to be sterile. America outside the enclaves of the new upper class is still a wonderful place, filled with smart, interesting, entertaining people. If you're not part of that America, you've stripped yourself of much of what makes being American special.
Most people won't listen to Mr. Murray. In order to strip out results that can be explained by ethnicity or racism, he looks strictly at statistics relating to white people. His ideas in this new book, like the ones in the past several, will therefore be dismissed as racism.

Something like the same sorting trend was described in Bill Bishop's 2009 "The Big Sort," a book that I found unsatisfying. Bishop was persuasive in his statistics about the clumping of like-minded communities, as revealed in fine-grained analysis of changing voting habits over a number of election cycles. Unfortunately, he didn't seem to know what to make of the data, other than to bemoan the increasing difficulty of civil discussions about deep political disagreements. Also, while he thoroughly understood why nice people would naturally congregate in progressive neighborhoods in his own in Austin, Texas, he seemed a little bemused about what all those Americans in red precincts could be thinking.

Mr. Murray, in contrast, has done a lot of analysis over several decades about how much more efficiently our education system now works to sort out Americans by I.Q. I was surprised to read (in "The Bell Curve"), for instance, how relatively recently the Ivy Leagues began moving toward a fairly strict meritocracy. Before 1960, they demanded a moderate minimum level of scholasticism and then mostly sorted by money and class. Back then, the brightest students from flyover country were far more likely to attend local schools and stay in their home towns performing a variety of jobs, rather than gravitate to Wall Street or the Mayo Clinic as they tend to do today.

Our neighborhood is very mixed in education and income. We like it that way.

Cruise liner

The Net brims with explanations of how Romney could have blown South Carolina, but as usual my favorite comes from Mark Steyn:
Why is the stump speech so awful? “I believe in an America where millions of Americans believe in an America that’s the America millions of Americans believe in. That’s the America I love.” Mitt paid some guy to write this insipid pap. And he paid others to approve it. Not only is it bland and generic, it’s lethal to him in a way that it wouldn’t be to Gingrich or Perry or Bachmann or Paul because it plays to his caricature — as a synthetic, stage-managed hollow man of no fixed beliefs. And, when Ron Paul’s going on about “fiat money” and Newt’s brimming with specifics on everything (he was great on the pipeline last night), Mitt’s generalities are awfully condescending: The finely calibrated inoffensiveness is kind of offensive. . . . Mitt has a ton of consultants, and not one of them thought he needed a credible answer on Bain or taxes? For a guy running as a chief exec applying proven private-sector solutions, his campaign looks awfully like an unreformable government bureaucracy: big, bloated, overstaffed, burning money, slow to react, and all but impossible to change.
Well, if he loses the nomination, maybe Romney can shoot for EU president.

P.S. -- but I'll still vote for him if he wins the nomination. A.B.O.


Due to the torrential downpours of the last several days, we've been without phone or Internet since Saturday.  It's working currently, but it's also still raining, so we'll see how long it lasts!  The rain has also made some of the local roads impassable, meaning that I've had the interesting experience of being entirely shut off for the world for a few days.

Did I miss anything?