Tuesday, February 11

Flying the Coop

Cooped Up has moved. Please visit the new site at http://www.jeffcoop.com/blog. This site will remain for awhile, but all new posting will take place at the new site. I hope to see you there.

Monday, February 10

My Bags Are Packed, I'm Ready to Go

One more silly glitch, one more day of struggling with the ramifications of my own lack of understanding, and the new site is finally just about ready. Tune in tomorrow.

Sunday, February 9

Almost There

The transition has taken far longer than I expected (due in part to continued crazy days at work), but the relaunch of Cooped Up should take place tomorrow. I'm grateful for the patience of those who keep checking in.

Wednesday, February 5

The Indiana Supreme Court Reconsiders

Back in late October, I noted a decision by the Indiana Supreme Court imposing sanctions on a respected Indianapolis lawyer, Michael Wilkins. Acting as local counsel, Wilkins had signed an brief containing language that, in the Supreme Court's view, impugned the integrity of the Court of Appeals panel that had rendered the decision being appealed; the court therefore suspended Wilkins from the practice of law for 30 days.

Perhaps the oddest thing about the original Supreme Court decision (something that escaped my attention at the time, but that New York Times reporter Adam Liptak noted a few days later) was that a decisive vote was cast by the recently elevated Justice Robert Rucker, who had been a member of the three-judge Court of Appeals panel that was the target of the brief's criticism. That oddity led to further proceedings, as Wilkins sought reconsideration of the sanction, as well as Justice Rucker's recusal from further participation in the case. Justice Rucker, who claimed (plausibly in my view, given the number of cases an appellate judge hears) not to have remembered his involvement in the underlying Court of Appeals decision, was quite annoyed by the timing of Wilkins's motion for recusal; in a January 3 opinion responding to the motion, he wrote:

[R]espondent’s failure to raise the issue of my involvement in the underlying Court of Appeals opinion [until now] implies one of three possibilities: (1) the respondent was aware that I had served on the Court of Appeals panel but decided not to press the issue because he was satisfied that I would be impartial in deciding this disciplinary matter; (2) the respondent was aware that I had served on the panel but decided to await the outcome of this Court’s decision on his disciplinary matter and then seek recusal if the decision were unfavorable; or (3) the respondent himself was unaware that I had served on the panel. This latter possibility is highly unlikely given that within days of this Court’s decision both national and local press were reporting it and specifically referencing my involvement in the underlying Court of Appeals opinion. … As for possibility number two, respondent’s lack of timeliness in seeking recusal is troubling. "Counsel . . . may not lie in wait, raising the recusal issue only after learning the court’s ruling on the merits." [Citation omitted]. That leaves possibility number one: respondent was aware that I had served on the Court of Appeals panel but decided not to press the issue because he was satisfied that I would be impartial in deciding this disciplinary matter. If that is in fact the case, then respondent is correct. Nothing has changed except respondent did not receive the result he anticipated.

Despite his obvious irritation, Justice Rucker did recuse himself, concluding that a reasonable observer might question his impartiality. The court then proceeded with its reconsideration, and, as Howard Bashman noted yesterday, the case took another odd twist: two of the justices believed that a lesser sanction of public reprimand should be imposed, while the two who had dissented from the original decision remained convinced that a sanction was inappropriate. A 2-2 split, however, would have meant that the original sanction remained in place; Justice Theodore Boehm therefore chose to vote in favor of a sanction with which he disagreed in order to avoid the imposition of a sanction with which he disagreed even more:

Although the full court addressed the case initially, only four Justices remain to consider the petition to reconsider. Although all four vote to grant rehearing, that action itself does nothing to erase the original disposition, which was a thirty day suspension. If two Justices vote to reduce the sanction to a public reprimand, and two Justices vote for no sanction at all, the result is no plurality for any action on remand, and the original thirty days suspension remains in place. Lewis Carroll would love that result: half the court votes for no sanction, and half votes for a small sanction, so the result is a major penalty. Only those who love the law could explain that to their children. To free parents everywhere from that burden, I join in the vote to reduce the sanction to a public reprimand.

Strange as the case's ending was, I'm more intrigued by Wilkins's failure to note Justice Rucker's participation in the Court of Appeals decision until after the Supreme Court had imposed its sanction. At the very least, Wilkins, as a party deeply interested in the outcome of the sanction proceeding, was very careless in failing to take note of Justice Rucker's prior participation in the underlying case—and there's a faint whiff of something more insidious. Taking the situation as a whole, a public reprimand seems like a fair outcome.

Monday, February 3

Crazy Legs Drum

It may not grace the page for long, but judging from the photo at CalPundit today, Kevin Drum is at least eight feet tall. How did those NBA scouts miss him?

Duh

For all its problems—slow performance, publishing issues, database issues, weird redirects—Blogger has the advantage of being largely idiot-proof. Which is a good thing, because my experience in wrestling with a new platform over the weekend revealed that I am, in fact, an idiot. I'll omit the gory details and simply note that the relaunch of this site will be delayed by a few days. I'll continue to post here intermittently in the meantime.

Sunday, February 2

Columbia Rising


Photo by J. Cooper, March 1982

Saturday, February 1

Space

I often wonder how people younger than I am feel about the space program. I imagine that space would hold fascination for most people. But I am of a certain age. My dinosaur years—the period in childhood when interest in science and nature blossoms—coincided with Apollo. I saw the first lunar landing, albeit through the drowsy eyes of a barely-awake five-year-old; while I don't remember that event, I vividly recall the missions that followed, as well as the bitter disappointment when the Apollo program was terminated. Skylab was tame stuff by comparison.

Today's loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia naturally brings to mind that awful morning seventeen years ago when I stood, too horrified to sit, before the tiny black-and-white television in my college dorm room, watching as the images of Challenger exploding were played again and again. And, once again, timing: if the apex of the space program had occurred just as I was reaching the age to notice, so too the Challenger disaster coincided with my transition to adulthood. It was a loss of innocence at an age where such losses are all too common.

When I was a senior in high school, my friend Don and I passed spring break by driving to Florida, where we visited his grandparents in Cocoa Beach. Our arrival coincided with one of Columbia's early launches, and so we found a spot with a clear view across the bay to the Kennedy Space Center and watched. We were far enough away that the shuttle itself appeared tiny, a speck nearly lost amid the flames and smoke of launch, and I recall craning my neck to watch the ascent past the clouds, awed by the thought of where it was going and by the notion that it would return to make the trip again.

That day is now nearly 21 years in the past, and Columbia had made many such journeys before today's fatal reentry. Despite the rigorous scrutiny the shuttle received after every mission, it's natural to wonder if its age, and the enormous stresses to which it was subjected over the decades, played a role in its ultimate catastrophic failure. We'll find out, I suppose. But for one not affiliated with the space program, and not acquainted with the astronauts lost today and their families, this is more a day of reflection than a time to search for answers.

It is, I recognize, selfish and egotistical to personalize this event. The loss of Columbia is not about me. But while this event will not, I suspect, have the singular impact that the Challenger disaster did (except, of course, on the families of the lost astronauts, and on those involved in the space program), it comes at a more unsettled time, with war against Iraq apparently imminent and with North Korea engaging in nuclear provocation. Already the days have felt weighted with anxiety, and it's not surprising, perhaps, that I find myself looking inward as much as outward. I dreamed the other night that I was on an upper floor of the World Trade Center, struggling for breath amid the smoke and heat on that awful September morning; just as the building swayed and began to topple, I awakened, my heart racing, relieved that it had just been an awful dream, now ended. Eventually, I drifted back to sleep, only to find myself at the World Trade Center once again, this time fleeing down the steps to escape the fire above; just as I reached the lobby, in sight of seeming safety, the tower began its collapse. With such thoughts already weighing on my mind, today's tragedy adds to the load.

UPDATE: The event hit baseball blogger David Pinto in a much more direct way than it did me: he and his family knew Columbia astronaut Dave Brown. His post reflecting on today's tragedy is here.

(Link via Glenn Reynolds).

Thursday, January 30

Watch This Space

Barring something unforeseen, I'm going to go silent again for a few days, as I prepare for the relaunch of Cooped Up on a new platform at a new location. I'll be back on Monday for the grand reopening.

Wednesday, January 29

Explaining the Super Bowl

Goodness, is it possible that Oakland Raider coach Bill Callahan is that stupid?

A Few Thoughts on the State of the Union

It's no secret by this point that I don't like George Bush. I find him arrogant, willfully ignorant, dishonest, all too willing to favor his fatcat friends, and (like his father) badly out of touch with the lives of most Americans. But, knowing that this year's State of the Union address would be more significant than most, as the president would use last night's speech to restate the case for the coming war against Iraq, I watched. It was better than I expected, but I still came away from the speech troubled. My reactions:

* Michael Gerson is a remarkable speechwriter. The first segment of the speech—the portion devoted to domestic policy—was a mishmash of frequently contradictory proposals that won't hold up to close scrutiny. But Gerson and his team made it sound good. At a policy level, it was largely gibberish. But as rhetoric, it was effective. And that rhetorical effectiveness persisted throughout the address.

* At least for this one night, the president dramatically improved his delivery. With one or two exceptions early in the speech, gone were the odd, inappropriate smiles, smirks, and grimaces; gone, too, was the condescending, hectoring tone that characterizes so many of his public statements. For this night, at least, he looked and sounded presidential.

* I remain deeply ambivalent about Iraq, not simply because war is a terrible thing (though it is) but because of the dramatic shift in approach to the use of military force that an invasion would represent, particularly if it takes place outside the ambit of the United Nations. Measured against that is Saddam Hussein's continued defiance of the obligations he assumed following the 1991 Gulf War, and the danger he poses to his neighbors and to his own people. Last night's statement of the case for military action was the most effective the administration has yet presented, laying out in some detail the various ways in which Hussein has evaded his obligations and the dangers that those evasions present. There was the occasional odd clanking or thudding sound—the invocation once again of the infamous aluminum tubes, which most outside the administration have concluded are not related to nuclear weapons, did little to inspire confidence. On the whole, though, the presentation was the most coherent and persuasive that the administration has yet set forth—not that that's saying much.

* What persuasiveness the last portion of the speech had was undermined, however, by its joinder to the first portion, which, however nice the words may have sounded, maintained the fundamentally dishonest approach to economic issues that has characterized Bush since the 2000 campaign. The tone was set at the very outset: "We will not pass along our problems to other Congresses, to other presidents, and other generations." This, coming from a man who has presided over the transition from surpluses to enormous deficits in two years, with deficits extending indefinitely into the future, simply boggles the mind. As does the solution: tax cuts. Tax cuts, you see, increase revenue: "Lower taxes and greater investment will help this economy expand. More jobs mean more taxpayers and higher revenues to our government." Sigh.

The sense that Bush was playing fast and loose with numbers was hard to avoid. He said at one point that under his tax plan, "[a] family of four with an income of $40,000 would see their federal income taxes fall from $1,178 to $45 per year." Could that possibly be right? If it is, the editors of the Wall Street Journal must be fuming this morning, because the president's plan would create a whole lot more of those "lucky duckies" who don't pay federal income tax. Which raises the question: if working families earning $40,000 per year wouldn't pay income taxes (or would only pay $45 per year), and if those with incomes in the top five percent would see large reductions in their taxes, who is going to pay the $1.2 billion for the proposed hydrogen fuel program? Who is going to pay for the AIDS Africa initiative (which in itself is a good idea)? Who is going to pay the enormous transition costs that would be imposed by the planned transition to privatized social security? And who is going to pay for the coming war against Iraq?

Given the enormous gaps in logic in the domestic portions of the speech, it's reasonable to wonder whether the portions focused on Iraq were similarly flawed. The president and others in his administration have repeatedly asked for our trust when it comes to Iraq: they have strong evidence of Hussein's complicity in terror, they have strong evidence of his possession of weapons of mass destruction and his progress toward nuclear weapons, but that evidence is too sensitive to be released to the public; we have to trust them. But it's difficult to grant that trust to an administration whose domestic policy positions are so plainly founded on fundamental dishonesty. Quite simply, the Bush administration hasn't earned our trust. I'm reminded of Ronald Reagan's approach to weapons reduction treaties with the Soviet Union: "Trust, but verify." And if they won't let you verify, don't trust.

Tuesday, January 28

The Conspiracy Strikes

Oh, no! They've got Ann!

Oooh, That's Gonna Leave a Bruise

Madeleine Begun Kane has expanded her repertoire to include sharp-edged political cartoons. This one is my favorite.

Good Wine, Bad Bunny: A Follow-up on Rabbit Ridge

Following my wine of the week post Sunday night, a reader wrote to question my praise for Rabbit Ridge. It seems that, tasty though the wines may be, Rabbit Ridge has been neither a good corporate citizen nor a good neighbor. In 2000, Sonoma County sued the winery for erecting and maintaining various buildings without proper permits and for exceeding the production capacity of its winemaking facility. And in 2001 Rabbit Ridge agreed to pay a substantial fine to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms following allegations that the winery had mislabeled 43,000 cases of wine. Following its dispute with Sonoma County, Rabbit Ridge is in the process of relocating to Paso Robles; although it will maintain its tasting facility in Healdsburg, the rest of its properties there are for sale.

I still like the wines. But in light of this information, I'm afraid I have to cross Rabbit Ridge off my list of favorite wineries.