Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Dirty Nineties

Here's a short essay I posted to The Next Level, a gaming and pop culture discussion board, about an interesting point in film history:

The early '90s was kind of a depressing time. Crime was skyrocketing, the economy was slow, an unpopular Bush was president and the Japanese were eating our lunch. The prosperity of the mid-to-late '90s, the rapid eclipse of the Japanese economy, and the sharp reduction in crime that followed soon made us forget this gloomy era. But the movies made during this period bring those memories back.

Some of them are comedies, some are typical big-budget action flicks, and some of them defy easy genre categorization. But they all share a particular aesthetic I like to call "dirty '90s": dark, neon-lit streets, steamy back alleys, morally conflicted protagonists, and an overarching pessimistic world view.

Here's a preliminary list of movies I came up with. Feel free to supplement this list.

The Last Boy Scout: One of the great, overlooked action flicks of the nineties. This movie has an unforgettable opening scene: a pair of football teams square off in a miserable, muddy arena, rain pouring down in sheets. The quarterback hands the ball to a crazed-looking running back. The running back heads for the end zone and then, just before the opposing linemen bring him down, he pulls out a pistol and shoots three of them dead. Then he turns the pistol on himself and pulls the trigger. Wow! The film itself is a darkly humorous noir thriller about corrupt football teams, politicians, and a down-and-out former Secret Service agent (Bruce Willis, the eponymous hero) and co-stars Damon Wayans and Halle Barry's naked breasts. Tony Scott's direction really shows the influence of his brother Ridley's Blade Runner, a film that profoundly influences the other films on this list.

The Fisher King: I could write for pages and pages about this movie (in fact, I already have, way back in my undergraduate thesis), but this Terry Gilliam film takes the Dirty Nineties elements and fashions them into a peculiar comedic drama. Jeff Bridges plays a New York shock jock/asshole whose outrageous radio act urges a listener to go on a murderous rampage. One year later, wracked with guilt, he bumps into a former medieval history professor -- now living as a bum -- whose wife was murdered by the aforementioned psycho. Together the two embark on a search for the Holy Grail.

Black Rain: Mostly a by-the-numbers action/noir picture notable for its oustanding visual style, again the product of Ridley Scott. Michael Douglas is the hard-boiled, fish out of water American detective in Tokyo who resolves to avenge his partner's murder.

Predator 2: Not as good as the original, but takes the concept in an entirely new direction. P2 imagines a near-future totally dominated by criminal street gangs. Police roll around town in armored minivans. A Jamaican drug overlord is the unofficial king of Los Angeles. What better place for the Predator to test his hunting skills? Danny Glover and a not-quite-batshit-insane Gary Busey co-star.

Demolition Man: Shares the urban dystopia backstory of Predator 2 but then runs a play-action fake: it's a 1984-style action-comedy picture! After mass murderer Wesley Snipes is released from his cryoprison into the Los Angeles of the future, rogue cop Sly Stallone is thawed out and ordered to catch him. Great idea marred by some horrific product placement and the casting of Stallone in the lead role. Snipes is the best thing in this movie. Oh and Dennis Leary is good too.

Ron Paul and the Greg Stillson Factor

I've always been skeptical of third parties because of what I like to call the "Greg Stillson factor." Named for the batshit insane presidential candidate in Stephen King's The Dead Zone, it's essentially an argument in favor of the American two party political system. Even though both parties have been corrupted by money and patronage, they can each be relied upon to produce reasonably sane candidates. Or at least candidates that will not initiate global thermonuclear war on a whim a la Greg Stillson. (Yes, I know there is no small irony here in light of Bush/Cheney warmongering toward Iran, but let's persist with the analogy for a moment).

So I've never really understood the love for Ron Paul. Sure, he's anti-war, and he's amusing to watch on the stump. But his obsession with returning to the gold standard, not to mention his latent racism, should keep him on the fringes where he belongs. He's just another Greg Stillson nutball.

Your World Frightens and Confuses Me

My inspiration:

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Hang 'Em High -- in Texas

Actual executions are in sharp decline across the country. Most capital cases take years, if not decades, to resolve, through retrials, collateral appeals, and lower court remands. Not surprisingly, Texas now accounts for 60% of all executions in the United States, according to the New York Times. Few of the powers that be in Texas are inclined to slow this trend. Quite the opposite:

The last execution before the Supreme Court imposed a de facto moratorium happened in Texas, and in emblematic fashion. The presiding judge on the state’s highest court for criminal matters, Judge Sharon Keller, closed the courthouse at its regular time of 5 p.m. and turned back an attempt to file appeal papers a few minutes later, according to a complaint in a wrongful-death suit filed in federal court last month.

The inmate, Michael Richard, was executed that evening.

(Credit: How Appealing)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Nice Driving! Have a Starbucks Card!

AP reports that police in Rancho Cordova, California are handing out $5 Starbucks cards to law-abiding motorists as a reward for good driving.

Needless to say, this is completely unconstitutional. The Fourth Amendment prohibits a police officer from stopping a vehicle unless there is reasonable suspicion to believe the driver has committed a crime of some kind, including a civil traffic violation. Just as it's unacceptable for an officer to pull you over to check your welfare, it's illegal for a cop to stop your vehicle just to hand out stocking stuffers.

Which is it: a goodwill scheme, or secret plot to rein in drunken driving? You make the call.

(credit: Volokh for the link)

Monday, November 26, 2007

Garner, Scalia Tag Team!

Okay, so this news probably won't be exciting to anyone outside the legal profession.

But Bryan Garner is the Michael Jordan of legal writing education. Teaming him up with the best writer on the Supreme Court is a stroke of genius. This book is sure to sell hundreds, nay, thousands of copies!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Death of Email

Good article in Slate today about the decline of civilized e-communication.

It reminds me a little of the state of the video gaming industry, and the ascendency of so-called "casual" games (Diner Dash, Wii Sports, Guitar Hero, the Sims). I hope the success of the Wii will not inadvertently spell doom for deep, mature, thought-provoking entertainment like Bioshock: games that require more expensive platforms and longer development times.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Justice O'Connor: Universal Merit Selection; Interchangeable Prosecutors & Defense Attorneys

Sandra Day O'Connor has been pretty outspoken since she stepped down from the bench, God bless her.

In a recent conference she extolled merit selection for judges -- not exactly a controversial topic to anyone but far-right Foghorn Leghorn types, but a Good Thing nonetheless. But she goes on to suggest that the artificial dividing line between prosecutor and defense attorney be done away with. She proposes that we follow the example of the English (and other European countries), where attorneys fill both roles. One of the chief causes of prosecutorial abuse -- the U.S. attorney scandals, the Duke rape cases, the Genarlow Wilson case -- is politics. Removing politics from the election of judges has given us better judges. If we remove politics from the prosecutor's office, might it not give us better criminal trials (i.e. fewer reversals, fewer habeas petitions, less taxpayer money)?

My note touched upon this issue briefly in the context of the French system. European countries tend not to view the criminal justice process in such stark, adversarial terms. Whether this has truly led to a reduction in prosecutorial abuse in those countries is something I'm not prepared to say. (And there are plenty of other things that go on in French courtrooms that would make us uncomfortable, to say the least.) But Justice O'Connor raises a fascinating issue that should be openly discussed.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Suicide Bombing in Halo 3

Clive Thompson has a great article on his Wired blog about how Halo 3 has given him insight on the personal economics of suicide bombing. In short, he resorts to "sticking" players with plasma grenades at close range because it's the surest, easiest way to kill another player. He writes:

I, however, have a completely different psychology. I know I'm the underdog; I know I'm probably going to get killed anyway. I am never going to advance up the Halo 3 rankings, because in the political economy of Halo, I'm poor.

Specifically, I'm poor in time. The best players have dozens of free hours a week to hone their talents, and I don't have that luxury. This changes the relative meaning of death for the two of us. For me, dying will not penalize me in the way it penalizes them, because I have almost no chance of improving my state. I might as well take people down with me.

Or to put it another way: The structure of Xbox Live creates a world composed of two classes -- haves and have-nots. And, just as in the real world, some of the disgruntled have-nots are all too willing to toss their lives away -- just for the satisfaction of momentarily halting the progress of the haves. Since the game instantly resurrects me, I have no real dread of death in Halo 3.

At the risk of sounding flippant, this is true. I often sacrifice myself on suicidal runs just to help out my team. Even if I don't have the highest kill tally at the end of the round, I can at least deny a flag capture or chalk up one more kill for my team.

Thompson also finds a way in which interactive worlds can communicate complicated differences in perspective (see: Virtual Guatanamo). More on that later.

Friday, November 2, 2007


I don't watch the news on television. So I don't know how much coverage the Mukasey nomination fight (if it can be called that) is getting. TPMMuckracker set up a vote tracker to follow the senators who are officially for and against his nomination. I think it's an important story because it gives our government the chance to make a stand against waterboarding, for all the world to see. Andrew Sullivan has a brilliant quote from Teddy Roosevelt which happens to pertain directly to waterboarding, and it's worth quoting again here:

"The president desires to know in the fullest and most circumstantial manner all the facts, ... for the very reason that the president intends to back up the Army in the heartiest fashion in every lawful and legitimate method of doing its work; he also intends to see that the most vigorous care is exercised to detect and prevent any cruelty or brutality and that men who are guilty thereof are punished. Great as the provocation has been in dealing with foes who habitually resort to treachery, murder and torture against our men, nothing can justify or will be held to justify the use of torture or inhuman conduct of any kind on the part of the American Army...."

It's difficult to believe that we've fallen so far in the past fifty years that we even have a debate on this issue.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

It's Alive!

Watch Wikipedia evolve, in real time.

The Internet Is For Porn

The infamous record keeping requirement of 18 U.S.C. 2257 -- the one that you see at the bottom of every internet porn website, certifying that all participants are 18 years of age or older, and identifying the custodian who keeps the verifying records -- has been struck down as facially overbroad by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

A victory for the First Amendment, but perhaps not so good for the niche adult entertainment law business.

Atlanta's Water Shortage

What happens when a city runs out of water?

Stay tuned to find out.

Start investing in chamber pots and water filters!

Democrats kick Republican ass in Maricopa County

6,000 new voters in Q3.

State Dems outraised the GOP 3-1 during the same period. Impressive!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Dog Shoots Man

DES MOINES, Iowa — A hunter is recovering after he was shot in the leg at close range by his dog, who stepped on his shotgun and tripped the trigger, an official said Tuesday.
James Harris, 37, of Tama, was hit in the calf Saturday, the opening day of pheasant season, said Alan Foster, a spokesman with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
"He had surgery and is doing pretty well," he said. "He took between 100 and 120 pellets in about a 4-inch circle to his calf."


Why did he leave a loaded shotgun on the ground?

edit: corrected the title, durrr

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On "Politics"

with "scare quotes"...

People often ask me if I'm interested in politics. I suppose that answer would be "yes," to the degree that I voraciously read the daily news on the Internet, blogs, and occasional newspapers. But I'm not really that interested in discussing or debating political issues. That's because the major issues of the day -- torture, Iraq, Iran, the President, even fundamental gay rights -- are all pretty one-sided. That is, there's only one side that a reasonable, principled person can take. There is no nuance, no justifiable arguments on both sides, no real debate. Arguing with someone on these issues is like arguing with someone who doesn't believe in evolution (hm, bad example).

So no, I'm not interested in one-sided arguments. I don't find them engaging, just depressing.

I'm back

Lots more posts to follow. I promise!

Friday, June 29, 2007

Mitt Romney Hates Dogs

From the New York Times:

Romney placed his family dog, an Irish setter named Seamus, into a kennel lashed to the top of his station wagon for a 12-hour family trip from Boston to Ontario in 1983. Despite being shielded by a wind screen the former Massachusetts governor erected, Seamus expressed his discomfort with a diarrhea attack.

Now the story, recounted this week in a Boston Globe profile of Romney, has touched off howls of outrage from bloggers and animal rights activists even though it was presented in the story as an example of Romney's coolness under trying circumstances.

When Romney's eldest son, Tagg, and his four brothers complained about the brown runoff down the back windshield, their father quietly pulled the car over, borrowed a gas station hose and sprayed down both the dog and the kennel before returning to the road.

How will this story play among Republicans, I wonder? What kind of "family man" treats his dog this way?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Your Inket Printer Is Lying to You

From Salon (sub. req. or ad click-through):

"Your inkjet printer is probably lying to you. According to the research firm TÜV Rheinland, printers routinely report that their ink cartridges are empty when they really aren't. The study was commissioned by Epson, whose printers -- coincidence? -- were found to be the most honest. When Epson printers reported they were empty, they were actually only 80 percent empty. This isn't at all very honest -- imagine if the gas pump charged you for a full tank after filling up just four-fifths -- but it's a fair amount better than Kodak's EasyShare 5300 printer, which reported being empty after using just 36 percent of its ink. That is, the cartridge was almost two-thirds full when the printer recommended buying a new one."

Inkjet printers are such a scam. My color inkjet printer sits unused because I can't bother to refill all 6 of the cartridges. And you can't just refill the black cartridge; the printer will actually refuse to print unless all six cartridges are full. This explains why printers are so cheap to buy nowadays. They're following the disposable razor marketing formula.

Mike Nifong and the Duke rape scandal

First: I don't understand why the media is rushing to the defense of these Duke kids. Their behavior was highly inappropriate, even though it probably wasn't criminal, and they deserved to be sanctioned for it.

Second: Mike Nifong may have been overzealous, but how does that make him different than any other ambitious state or federal prosecutor? How many innocent people have been charged, prosecuted and convicted due to similar behavior -- and how many of those prosecutors have been sanctioned (much less disbarred)? David Feige, in Slate, is right on the money.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

On John Edwards and bumper stickers

Cirroc reader Richard thinks that Edwards will have a tough time overcoming the shallow coverage he is receiving in the press. Sarcastically, he says "[i]t's about time we had a truly pretty guy in the White House."

I refer the reader to Tom Tomorrow's comic on the issue at Salon (click-through ad or subscription required).

Personally, I don't care for his Washington helmet hair. Perhaps he should rethink his choice of salons. But to end this post on a substantive note, I was quite pleased with his speech last week to the Council on Foreign Relations. From the ABC News article:

In a defense policy speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Edwards called the war on terror a "bumper sticker" slogan Bush had used to justify everything from abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison to the invasion of Iraq.

"We need a post-Bush, post-9/11, post-Iraq military that is mission focused on protecting Americans from 21st century threats, not misused for discredited ideological purposes," Edwards said. "By framing this as a war, we have walked right into the trap the terrorists have set that we are engaged in some kind of clash of civilizations and a war on Islam."


Saturday, May 5, 2007

Rape in Second Life

From Volokh (via Wired):

"The Brussels Public Prosecutor’s Office has asked investigators of the Federal Computer Crime Unit to patrol in Second Life.

In the virtual world of the computer game[*] a personality was recently “raped.” Following the virtual rape the Brussels police opened a file. “It is the intent to determine whether punishable acts have been committed,” according to the federal police. The Public Prosecutor’s Office was also alarmed. At the vice section acting officer Verlinden opened an informational investigation into the details."

I agree with Volokh's core assessment that forced sex between avatars should not be interpreted as a criminal violation. But Second Life is a ripe ground for the growth of new criminal laws proscribing internet conduct. How long before we see U.S. anti-pornography laws reach into games like Second Life?

Friday, March 30, 2007

Ethics and politics

I have a lot to say about the attorney purge scandal. I'll throw up some more comments on it over the weekend. And it looks like even the Daily Star is taking notice of the scandal, at last.

The mainstream media have been treating this scandal like it's no big deal. They've swallowed the stock Tony Snow argument that these attorneys "serve at the pleasure of the president" and they can be fired at the president's whim, even when they're in the midst of unprecedented public corruption investigations, or when they're refusing to bring bogus voter fraud prosecutions against Democrats. There's a widespread perception that it's perfectly acceptable to abuse the Justice Department for political ends.

This perception, needless to say, is completely false.

Model Rule 3.8(a) (from the ABA Model Rules which form the foundation of most state ethical rules) clearly states that prosecutors shall "refrain from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause." So it seems the Justice Department is openly forcing its U.S. Attorneys to violate ethics rules. Despite public perception to the contrary, ethics rules apply to prosecutors just as strongly as they do to defense attorneys -- or any other lawyer.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Kale & Bean Soup

Kale!  It's one of my favorite vegetables.

But it wasn't love at first sight. When we firsdt started getting it at the
CSA I found it totally repulsive. It was turgid, tough, and smelled like
feet. But once you cook it thoroughly it turns a wonderful shade of bright
green, and develops a rich, full taste. Great for soups.

My recipe for bean and kale soup:

1 large saucepan
1-2 spicy sausages
1 tbsp olive oil
1 to 1/2 potato, depending on size
1-2 cups kale, stems removed
2-3 carrots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1-1 1/2 cup dry beans (tepary, pinto, kidney)
1 serrano chile pepper
1/2 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 cup red wine
3 1/2 cups beef stock
1 1/2 cups water
A few sprigs of cilantro

Soak dry beans for 6-8 hours. Boil sausages for 3 minutes or so. Then,
slice the sausages and saute them over high-medium heat in the olive oil in
the saucepan for another 3 minutes. Remove the sausages and set them aside.
Toss about a tbsp of water into the saucepan and scrape off the sausage
bits with a spatula. Pour 1 cup red wine into the water-sausage fat-olive
oil emulsion and reduce to about 2/3 cup for 5-10 minutes, depending on the
type of saucepan you're using.

Add stock, water, beans, kale, and seasoning (except cilantro). Cook for about 30
minutes. Then add remaining vegetables and sausages and cook for another
30. Add salf and pepper to taste. Once finished, add sprigs of cilantro.

Serves 4-6.

Friday, March 16, 2007


Here comes the Straight Talk Express!

"...oh, what's that? Condoms for Africans to stop the spread of HIV? Uhhhh...whatever Tom Coburn says."

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Netroots <3 John Edwards

Today's straw poll at DailyKos is interesting. Edwards is ahead of Obama, 40% to 26% at the time of this posting. Last month showed Edwards with a slight edge. Obama may have star power, drawing hundreds of people even at the tiniest of events, but the netroots clearly like Edwards.

I find this encouraging. For all the hype, I just don't think Obama is a candidate of much substance. And I'm not too impressed with a candidate who can't even come out and say that "homosexuality is not immoral." Obama's still essentially an empty suit. Once people realize this en masse, Edwards is in a great position to surge ahead of him.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

It's going to cost Maricopa County taxpayers another seven figures to remain Death Capital of the United States.

County Attorney Andy says there is "no need for [his] office to evaluate its policy."

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

And then there was that "strange coincidence" involving Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.) and a highly profitable federal land swap initiative that would have greatly enriched one of Renzi's political patrons.

I do recall the U.S. Attorney's Office being interested in that.
Paul Charlton is scheduled to testify this afternoon before the Senate Judiciary Committee. His fellow attorneys have been spilling the beans all morning about Republican senators and representatives pressuring them about ongoing investigations involving Democrats in the runup to the election.

Which reminds me about that story Randy Graf was peddling about Gabrielle Giffords "sweetheart" Rio Nuevo land deal. Was anyone listening in Washington?

Friday, March 2, 2007

So, did you know Maricopa County has 135 pending death penalty cases?

That's a lot, right?

L.A. County, home to 9.9 million people, has only 36.

The Hon. James Keppel, Criminal Presiding Judge of Maricopa County, ordered County Attorney Andrew Thomas into a closed session Friday to discuss the matter.

Why a closed session? Choice quote from Stephen Dichter, from the Office of the Legal Advocate: “No one should see how the attorneys make the sausage.”
Paul Kiel reports that Paul Charlton is among the six U.S. Attorneys being asked to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Surprising that the local media hasn't picked up on this. Especially given how this story is causing some major shockwaves right next door in New Mexico.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

State v. Cuevas

Read the case here

Interesting variation on Livingston, based here entirely on a legal argument: does the left turn statute specify where a driver must make a left turn? Or, is it implicit in the statute that a driver must initiate the turn before reaching the center of the intersection?

I haven't read the briefs, but this strikes as an attempt by the Court of Appeals to overrule a largely factually based ruling by the trial judge on the most precarious of legal grounds.


From a recent Division Two Court of Appeals issue summary:

"Does an officer transform a lawful warrantless strip search into an intrusion beyond the body’s surface that requires a warrant when he or she handles an object protruding from, and extending into, an arrestee’s anal cavity?"

Paul Charlton: "Fired"?

The storm over the Bush Administration's dismissal (firing? coerced resignation?) of seven U.S. Attorneys has been brewing since December. But Paul Charlton, former U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, hasn't been a big part of this story. It's been widely reported locally that he quit for personal reasons.

So why is Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), in a letter to Harry Reid (D-NV) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) now claiming he was "fired"?

Read the letter at TPMmuckraker here.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Re: the homeless "sport killing" story a week or so ago (see CNN), in which a 15-year old compared the killing to a "violent video game." Gabe from Penny Arcade posted on this on Monday. In response he received this interesting reply, from an anonymous party involved with the case:

"If you want to add another element to the “nature vs. nurture” idea, this boy has a brother. Both boys were raised in the same house, with the same values. The brother has developed into a kind, considerate, responsible, and independent young man. He is currently working his butt off right now to save up money to go to school for architecture. The only thing I regret is that we spent so much time and energy dealing with the bad kid that this boy missed out on having a normal family life with a normal sibling relationship.

I am sorry this got so long. I have been reading PA since the very beginning, and I feel that both of you are very much like me. I think we are the same age (29) and I have been a lifelong gamer like the two of you. I can’t stand hearing about the so-called correlation between games and real-life violence. Video games DID NOT make this kid who he was, and it’s unfortunate that the correlation is there.

The thing that really gets me with this whole thing is that the kid knows full well that by equating what he’s done to a video game, that he will generate controversy and media coverage. It makes me sick that the media is jumping all over this, because that is exactly the result that he wants."

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hola Chochachos.

A brief word of explanation:

It's KEY-rock.

The name comes from the "Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer" sketch on Saturday Night Live. He's always been a strange source of inspiration for me.