Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Behind the Scenes

The idea that real espionage differs from the version we see onscreen and in thriller novels is unexceptional, but the idea that "intelligence" is more than spying isn't as widely understood, believes historian Christopher Andrew. His 2018 The Secret World is an exploration of that idea as it has developed through history in different settings.

Although the idea of covertly observing an enemy's forces probably dates back to the first time groups of armed combatants faced off against each other, Andrew notes that one of its earliest mentions is from the Book of Exodus in the Bible, as far back as 1500 BC. From there he explores how that kind of spying began to include more detailed information, such as battle plans, resources available, or even how willing an enemy force's soldiers were to fight. It also expanded into the idea of counter-intelligence, which is more than just trying to thwart the enemy's spying. It can include, for example, planting false information about one's own situation, perhaps to tempt unwise enemies to attack at the wrong time or to persuade them not to attack at all. As Andrew moves into more modern eras he shows how the development of codes and cryptography expanded the ability of spies to communicate greater amounts of information as well as keep that information out of the wrong hands.

It seems odd to say about a 760-age book with nearly 60 pages of bibliography and 130 pages of notes, but The Secret World seems incomplete or at best unfocused. In its first third or so Andrew outlines how the ideas of intelligence grew from pure espionage to contain a wide range of information and activity. He explores the way many non-Western cultures contributed to this development, in many cases much earlier the Greeks and Romans more familiar to us. And he highlights how intelligence use often varied from leader to leader rather than existing as a permanent feature of military and diplomatic work. A general who saw its value would develop networks of information gathering and communication that would be abandoned by his successor who didn't think the same way. But the remaining two-thirds of the book focuses on intelligence in its Western and European contexts, except during the chapters covering much of the previously-examined history of intelligence during the World Wars.

Andrew does examine intelligence during the Cold War, although as he nears the modern era the secrecy of the work begins to keep him from digging as deeply into the record as he can do in earlier eras. He also touches on the post Cold-War era but spends a lot of that section pointing out failures of the Clinton and Bush administrations to see the 9/11 attacks coming. Those conclusions aren't necessarily wrong, but they seem out of place in a book meant to explore how intelligence as a concept and a discipline evolved.

The Secret World would probably benefit if it were split into two or more books. One could explain how the modern concept of "intelligence" developed around the world with some exploration of that development in history. The other could explore some major world conflicts and how just how many things besides pure espionage contribute to intelligence and how that reality shaped them. It could touch on the well-traveled fields of the Napoleonic wars and the 20th century world wars but also examine conflicts during China's Warring States period, the series of wars that created feudal Japan or India's Tripartite Struggle of the 800s.

The Secret World clearly represents a massive amount of work and time dedicated to the project by Christopher Andrew. It belongs on the shelf of anyone interested in the history of intelligence and intelligence-gathering, but the weaknesses mentioned above means it'll work best with some companions.

Not Listed

When the National Basketball Association resumes play in its lockdown/quarantine mode July 30, players will be allowed to replace their names on their jerseys with a particular social justice issue to which they want people to pay attention.

There will be 22 teams and more than 300 players who start the play-in series to determine which teams make the playoffs. I'm not really in the business of predictions, but I will say in this space that this matter will appear on none of those jerseys. Because the NBA is nothing if not consistent when it comes to sacrificing principle on the altar of renminbi.

And of course the jerseys-for-a-cause will be on sale in your team's online shop.

Monday, June 29, 2020


Feeling a little blue, but fortunately tomorrow is an election day, so I'll be able to exercise my American right to tell a load of folks to buzz off. If I could be assured that my fellow citizens would vote the right way -- er, I mean, vote my way, I'd be even happier.

Sunday, June 28, 2020


Last week Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the social media platform will ban "a wider array of hateful conduct" in its advertising. Some speculation suggests that the move comes after some large companies decided to either end or take a break from advertising on social media. Rumors are that the website felt these moves came because the companies didn't want their ads to be on FB next to what they considered hateful ads or postings, so they took initiative in making sure there would be fewer of those ads around.

Zuckerberg said the company is also expanding its protection of "immigrants, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers" from ads or posts that suggest those groups are inferior.

However, following its previous adherence to the Hypocritic Oath, the company will not take any stronger initiatives against ads for fake weight loss products, ads that scam credit card numbers, ads that hide the actual shoddy quality of the merchandise for sale, ads that repeat fifty-seven times in five minutes and ads that come from a country that's trying to erase an entire population as a distinctive people group.

Go stub a toe, you sanctimonious twerp.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Cleared Visions

Photographer Mario Unger decided one day when looking at an old, damaged picture that he could try to repair it with Photoshop. While the program has some repairing algorithms in it, such as noise reduction or despeckling, those wouldn't do what he wanted to do for the shots he had in mind, which might be missing large patches of the image or faded by age.

Some of his results can be seen here at My Modern Met, and they're really fascinating. In some of the images, he's also added color in order to bring them even more life. I'm a sucker for stuff like that. We always have the idea in the back of our minds that the world shown by early photography lacked color, because all of the pictures were in black and white. Skilled and proper colorizing can show that world was as bright and varied as ours, and open a window to the past that's useful to contemplate.

Friday, June 26, 2020


Tonight the local high school was finally able to hold its commencement for the graduating class of 2020. The young lady who earned the valedictorian honors gave a pretty good speech and the superintendent said some encouraging words to the recent graduates, so it was overall a nice ceremony.

Often I share the opinion that a high school diploma is thought to mean quite a bit more than it does mean and is held in a little higher esteem than it should be. Ideally it's the first achievement in a person's life rather than the high point. But tonight we'll set that idea aside. The young people lost their spring sports, their prom, their awards assemblies and the like. But they got to have their moment, when they moved the tassel and tossed that weird hat in the air and celebrated what, this year more than any, they had slogged their way through.

Good job, grads.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Figured It Out

An odd archaeological find in southern Russia mystified scientists and researchers for years, primarily because it lacks some of the usual artifacts other similar sites contain.

The building, on an island in Lake Tere-Khol, is called "Por-Bajin" and is about the size of Buckingham Palace. Other very old buildings have things like furniture, artwork or even trash that archaeologists can compare with other items to get an idea of which time frame in which the building sits. But Por-Bajin didn't have a lot of those things and the ones it did have weren't very distinctive. Its purpose as well as its date was a mystery. The Uighur people of the area did not have a historical record that could identify it.

Researchers elsewhere had found two very sharp spikes in the amount of carbon in the Earth's atmosphere, in the years 775 and 994. Trees absorb carbon, so the different rings the trees added as they aged showed when the trees in Por-Bajin's foundation had been cut down: two years after the 775 spike.

This then matched with a Uighur Khan or ruler of the time who had attempted to impose a new religion on his people -- which infuriated them enough that they revolted and killed him in 779. Archaeologists think that Por-Bajin was meant to be a temple of this religion and was abandoned when the Khan was killed.

It's a good thing Por Bajin was on the Russian side of Mongolia; the country to the south of that nation has been rather ugly to the Uighur people of late.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

On the Up Side

There's a meme going around that says if we defunded the media, we could solve most of our nation's problems. It's got a couple of problems itself. The first is that it's unlikely to be true. The word's problems exist whether the media covers them or not, and the issue irresponsible media outlets present is the way they march in a lockstep mindset about what problems they will pay attention to and what ones they won't (Hint: All of the problems they'll pay attention to rhyme with "bump").

The other problem is that we can already defund the media, so to speak, by not watching it or reading it. But that would take some thought and work and if there's one thing that a snappy sloganeer in 2020 doesn't want to do, it's put any actual work towards whatever goal is at hand.

The real problem is that media is a mixed bag of pluses and minuses. Take the independent news operation ProPublica, for example. A few days ago, it ran a long piece showing how different governors issued executive orders placing recovering but possibly infections COVID-19 patients in nursing homes. For comparison, the Washington Post was busy finding space for 3,000 words about a guest at their cartoonist's party who wore an offensive Halloween costume in 2018. Sorry to link to the Washington Examiner, but the actual Post story is behind a paywall and ought to be ignored anyway.

ProPublica made it clear that these executive orders -- including ones by CNN's favorite governor, Andrew Cuomo -- led directly to more infections in those nursing home facilities. This is the kind of reporting that's been done before in American journalism, usually by institutions like the Post or the New York Times. But as noted above, the Post has been busy running down two-year-old guestlists and the Times has been busy with everyone demanding everyone else be fired because of an editorial column no one on the staff wrote.

It's an independent site, which means revenue from donations and pledges. No ads. It'd be even easier to defund that a TV station or local paper, and you could make a case that the site would merit that defunding. During then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings, before they went full Avenatti, ProPublica put out a call for anyone who went to a Washington Nationals game with the judge as a way of trying to find out whether he really did rack up credit card debt buying Nats season tickets.

But when it takes journalism seriously, PP puts out work like the COVID-19/nursing home piece. Even though I don't really think I want to defund the media I'd have to say that these days it's not all that easy to defend the media. If media outlets would spend some more time being serious, then I expect we'd see fewer calls for the former and maybe some more of the latter.

Monday, June 22, 2020

Sailing Digitally

In some ways like the internet itself, it's not hard to find podcasts on just about every subject imaginable. It can be harder to find ones actually worth listening too, though, which can aid or increase the listener's understanding or appreciation of a subject.

For fans of the Aubrey-Maturin series written by Patrick O'Brian, The Lubber's Hole has quickly become just such a useful and enjoyable podcast (the title refers to the way non-sailors reach the tops of a ships masts, a route that is safer but sometimes looked down upon by "real seamen"). Casters Michael Shank and Ian Bradley are two aficionados of the series who decided to go through the books in a mostly non-spoiler manner, discussing what they've read and the impressions they formed while doing so. While the discussion is certainly thoughtful and tries to take literary ideas seriously, it doesn't approach the books at the level of an academic literary exercise -- and, considering a lot of the way modern academia handles literature, is probably the better for it.

Both men are clearly enthusiastic fans of the series but seem willing to point out features that are not as appealing or what they consider to be flaws in the novels. The podcast is currently working through HMS Surprise, the third book of what Aubrey-Maturin fans call "the canon," and has recently branched out by offering interviews with people who have some expertise that could prove interesting to readers. The novels are set in the early 19th century and concern Royal Navy captain Jack Aubrey and his "particular friend," surgeon Stephen Maturin. So in one episode Shank and Bradley interview Karen Millyard, a professional dance teacher and choreographer who's carefully studied the kinds of parties and dances the characters attend in one of the novels. In another they interview Tom Horn, an Australian software developer who spent several years mapping the events of the novels and the voyages they describe using Google Maps. In still another they talk about one of the books with a friend who has just encountered them to get his perspective.

Since the episodes are mostly spoiler-free, there are some of the novels' weightier aspects that get left aside, and there's always the danger that the project could become more work than fun if it expands too much and leaves Bradley and Shank less enthusiastic about finishing it. Those are really more minor considerations, though, and fans of the books should find themselves well-served by spending a little time entering the world of the Napoleonic Royal Navy through The Lubber's Hole.

Sunday, June 21, 2020


I've no idea if the rest of this advice on "How to Cure Melancholy" from Andrew Boorde's The Breviarie of Health, found here at Ask the Past, is useful or not. Because once I read the opening description of melancholy as the "Passion of the Splene" I got a good enough laugh that my melancholy was already gone.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Possible Project

If I had more time on my hands I'd look up what people who are praising former National Security Advisor John Bolton said about him when he was the US Ambassador to the United Nations during George W. Bush's administration. Bolton's about to publish a book, which I was probably not going to read even before I learned it's almost 600 pages long. In it, he says that President Trump doesn't know what he's talking about on foreign policy and makes a lot of it up as he goes along. I already know those things and don't care to spend $30 for someone else to tell me.

My curiosity comes from the fact that during the Bush administration, Bolton was among the officials who said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and was roundly denounced for believing the erroneous intelligence reports that said so. I suspect the round denouncers are now pretty pleased to lap up every critical word Bolton aims at the president.

White House memoirs all boil down to the same thing: "If only those fools had listened to me!" Excerpts and reporting on Bolton's book suggest he's done exactly that regarding his time in the Trump administration, which puts him on a level with Omarosa Manigault-Stallworth. There's an aspiration without parallel.

In any event, the one-note theme of these memoirs almost never answers the question that I think should be asked of the memoirists: If you were so smart you had all the answers while everyone around you was a dolt, why did you go work for the dolt in the first place?

Thursday, June 18, 2020

You Were Fantastic...And So Was I

The character of the Doctor in the British sci-fi program (or maybe "programme") Doctor Who has been played by many different actors over the show's decades-long run. Rather than pull a Bewitched Darren switcheroo, the different actors are written into the story as "regenerations."

A new actor arrives, develops a new persona, new wardrobe, new way of doing things, but is still the Doctor. In the original version of the show there were supposed to be only a dozen regenerations available per Time Lord (the Doctor's species). This works great when you have an actor stick with the role for, say, seven years like Tom Baker and his extraordinary scarf. It'll take a long time to run out a dozen cast changes with that kind of tenure. But then things happen like ratings dives, cancellations, very brief tenures and aborted reboots, so you wind up burning through the first part of your second half-dozen pretty quickly. So the showrunners found some wibbly-wobbly way to remove the regeneration limit -- there's no telling how many Doctors there have been or will be. Although if the ratings from the most recent series -- the word British TV uses where we would use "season" -- don't turn around, we may not see very many more of them.

In any event, when the show rebooted in 2005 it featured the Ninth Doctor, played by Christopher Eccleston. His tenure was just one season, the briefest of all of the Doctors of the "Nu Who" era except for the late John Hurt's one-episode War Doctor. His regeneration happened 15 years ago today, with Eccleston leaving following disputes with the BBC and showrunners. The actor brought a haunted quality to the character, reflecting his experiences of seeing his home planet of Gallifrey destroyed along with their greatest enemies, the Daleks, in a "Time War." He's also responsible for some of the revival's best moments, especially his joyful shouted declaration in "The Doctor Dances:" "Everybody lives, Rose! Just this once, everybody lives!"

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

America's Game

Writing at National Review, Jim Geraghty compares the impending demise of the 2020 major league baseball season and the response of elected officials to the several different crises we have seen come our way. He finds them well-matched in at least one area -- a complete failure of leadership needed to handle the problems involved.

Baseball's owners and players are fussing themselves out of a season over how they will split revenue that hasn't shown up and won't because they choose not to disinter their respective crania from their respective ania.

The less said about the majority of current elected officials at all levels of government the better, a course of action I heartily recommend to a bunch of the people I follow on Facebook. I recommend it no less heartily for those who suggest that the replacements they propose will improve on their record in any way shape or form.

I may agree that the current occupant of the White House, for example, is a lout unfit for decent company -- unless he's apologizing to them for his contribution to the coarsening of modern political discourse. But his most significant opponent is little better, a man who cribbed speeches from both sides of the Atlantic (and whose campaign still does), who spent several years claiming -- even after the man had passed away -- the other driver in the tragic accident that claimed his wife and daughter was intoxicated when he wasn't. And as for the coarsening of political discourse, the former senator and vice-president told African-Americans in the audience at a speech in 2012 the last GOP presidential candidate he faced who was absolutely the awfullest awful who ever awfulled wanted to "put y'all back in chains."

Crisis, character and leadership connect in an alchemy that always remains a little mysterious and dependent on the people involved. But the general idea is that crisis might produce or reveal character in one who previously seemed feckless. Something similar often holds for leadership.

Our news is full of folks who have the label "leader" in fields of government, commerce, sport and public life. But when faced with a crisis, they make plain their "leadership" resembles the sartorial splendor of their fabled fellow ruler, no matter where we look.

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Purr-fect Game?

So the company Annapurna Interactive has developed a game for Playstation 5 -- Stray -- that will let you navigate the streets of a city as a cat. Yes, you can play a video game in which you are a cat.

Eh, I don't care. D'oh! Looks like I'm already playing...

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Enlarge Your View

There are a lot of things NASA doesn't do so well, but many others it's pretty good at. Among those is public relations by use of the fabulous space photography various satellites, probes and telescopes have taken. And some of them you can get for free, so why would you waste time looking at the nutburgers who make -- and report -- the news?

Friday, June 12, 2020

Father of the Dark Knight

A lot of people who follow comic books suggest that Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns was instrumental in bringing some depth, grit and menace to one of the most driven costumed vigilantes of them all, the Batman. There's some truth to that, but in reality Miller shaped his version of the Caped Crusader from the clay Denny O'Neill gave him.

The televised Batman show with Adam West was pure camp and is one of the images of the hero that sticks in the popular mind, but that vision simply exaggerated a lot of the portrayal of the character through much of the 1960s. When O'Neill began writing the Batman titles in 1970 he stripped away some of the more ludicrous trappings of the Silver Age and brought attention to the way Bruce Wayne was driven to his vigilantism by the murder of his parents.

He also reemphasized the detective aspect of Batman's work. Combined with the detailed expressiveness of Neal Adams' art, O'Neill's Batman formed an early bridge between comic book silliness and more realistic visions of the longjohn law enforcement brigade that have dominated the past decades. Yes, there's no escaping the reality that a man dressing as a bat to fight crime is silly, but O'Neill created stories where, assuming that silliness as real, the rest of the world looked more than a little like our own.

He would take that further when writing Green Lantern and Green Arrow as the "Hard-Traveling Heroes." Again working with Adams, O'Neill dug deeper into the real world through the costumed crimefighter set, even making Arrow's sidekick Speedy a heroin addict.

Not all of the long-term impacts of O'Neill's changes have been positive. He began the transformation of the Joker from a crook with a deadly clown fetish to a lunatic obsessed with Batman and paved the way for later writers to create the narrative dead end that makes a lot of modern Batman-Joker stories gruesome brutality on endless repeat. He created the character Azrael, who would be the replacement Batman during the overlong "Knightfall" saga and way too much a creature of the "grim 'n' gritty" era of the 1990s. But the overall impact of O'Neill as a writer and later editor for DC Comics played a huge role in bringing the real-world sensibilities to them that had enabled rival Marvel Comics to make so much great material and moved its narrative sensibilities into the modern era as well.

O'Neill passed away Thursday at the age of 81.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

I Have No Idea What This Means

We present another in our occasional series of scientific articles with headlines that, although pretty much impenetrable to folks with only an average understanding of the discipline under discussion, sound really cool:
The Plot Thickens: Yet Another Lattice QCD Calculation Restores The Anomaly Of The Muon Magnetic Moment

Wednesday, June 10, 2020


As the prospects of a 2020 season shrink, I know exactly how Charlie Brown feels in today's reprint.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

A First and Final Bow

Interestingly, the last "Fargo Adventure" to come out with any real input from adventure-novel kingpin Clive Cussler turns out to be the origin story of the couple, collaborating with his co-author for the last several Fargo books, Robin Burcell. And you can make a good case that none of the other writers that Cussler, who passed away in February, worked with could have made this story work half so well as it did, since it involves the protagonists, Sam and Remi Fargo, meeting and falling in love while they (naturally) search for treasure and thwart a baddie.

Burcell has been the Cussler co-author most able to give his very much stock characters depth and dimension, and Wrath of Poseidon's central adventure will require every bit of her ability in that area to work. It also requires her much-better-than-any-other-co-author hand at writing female characters to make Remi Longstreet's pathway to Remi Fargo believable.

The Fargos learn an old enemy is out of jail, reminding them of their meeting and first escapade together -- one of the few where they didn't manage to track down the ancient treasure they sought. They consult St. Julien Perlmutter, maritime historian par excellence and familiar figure to Cussler's Dirk Pitt novel readers. He helps them uncover new clues to a great wealth of Persian treasure lost forever in 546 BC, but before he will share them he wants to know how they came to hunt this particular legend. They tell him, including the details of their first meetings and how their by-now solid partnership began -- as well as how it almost didn't.

As mentioned above, it's doubtful any of Cussler's other co-authors -- and certainly none of his previous Fargo co-authors -- could have managed to make the human and relational elements of this origin story work. Burcell does, whether because as a woman she writes Remi far more convincingly and without that part of the story the whole thing falls apart or because she's a better writer, or both. The actual hunt for the treasure and clash with the spoiled rich-boy criminal Adrian Kyril meanders more than is good for it and sometimes gets almost too fuzzy to follow; it could have used about 20 percent less twist and a dash less turn. The set pieces are fun, though, as both Sam and Remi learn about each other's strengths in a crisis and develop the sang-froid that's their trademark. It's hard to imagine any modern publisher willing to turn off a cash spigot like Cussler's varied series of novels, so perhaps the Fargo stories will continue. As long as Burcell is at the helm, that's not a bad deal for readers at all.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Business Decisions

So the Minneapolis City Council has decided to disband its police department. It seems clear that the department had multiple institutional problems with who it hired, how it trained them and who it retained, but the idea of a major metropolitan area completely disbanding its entire police department without any real plan in place beyond "investing in community-based safety programs" is nigh onto lunacy.

That sound you hear is the Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce director printing résumés and St. Paul realtors printing extra business cards. And bumping prices on just about every listing they have.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Do Not Forget

Though time and the COVID-19 pandemic make the official observances smaller than ever before (or, let us hope, since), today is the day, 76 years ago, when doughboys and dogfaces and grunts and various other self-deprecatingly-nicknamed individuals starting sizing the Third Reich up for its own particular dustbin of history.

Thank you, gentlemen. Indeed you left that air signed with your honor.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Go Home

In almost every movement that calls for change, there comes a time when the silly suggestions start to roll in. The amount of mockery I will add to that which follows such suggestions is miniscule, given my limited bloggy reach. But these are proposals that merit all the possible mockery that can exist, and no addition is too small.

Our first is two-pronged. The LEGO group admirably pledged to donate $4 million to combat racisim, but it also asked its affiliates to stop marketing its police and law enforcement playsets. Because President Donald Trump's fondest wish has become a reality and everything is about him, the company also asked those affiliates to stop advertising its White House construction set. And it inexplicably included its fire station set in the mix.

To be clear, the company didn't stop selling or making those items or ask stores to pull them. It just doesn't want them advertised. If you pull products from the shelves, then people don't buy them and you lose money. If you ask someone to stop advertising them and then tell the media then you get lots of buzz and people intentionally buying those sets in order to show you're not the boss of them. In case it's not clear, I am indeed suggesting that the LEGO group's statement and decision is rank hypocrisy. Actually pulling the sets from the shelves, as this piece at The Mary Sue advises, wouldn't be hypocritical. It's straight-up turn-the-lights-out stupid, but it is not hypocritical.

The second silly suggestion comes from a Washington Post writer, Alyssa Rosenberg. She wants every police and law enforcement television show and movie canceled. They offer a view of law enforcement that's unrealistically effective and efficient, prejudicing people to think well of police officers and prosecutors. Ms. Rosenberg offers no opinion on what impact the unrealism of Hollywood's version of romance does to real-life couples when they learn they have difficulties unsolvable in a single episode or 90-minute romantic comedy film, because that would be stupid. Although she is quite unafraid to say silly and stupid things, she is very particular about which silly and stupid things she will say.

Since it's clear that the nation's commentariat cannot be counted on to provide solutions to the immediate crisis of violet rioting or the longer-term problems of racial tension and bullying culture's takeover of law enforcement, we must look elsewhere. It's time to turn to our elected leaders for...

Yeah, I knew I couldn't type that.

Thursday, June 4, 2020


Protests following the death of an African-American man in police custody continue but the level of rioting and violence seems to have lessened somewhat. Curfews and National Guard patrols give rioters a smaller window to hijack the message of those exercising their freedom to speak and peaceably assemble.

I don't like to be a gloom-and-doom person, but I think the possibility of a repeat of this kind of violence some months down the road increased over the last several days with the appointment of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison as the lead prosecutor in the case of the four officers involved in the death. Ellison previously served as a member of the United States House of Representatives and as the deputy chairman of the Democratic Party.

As Andrew McCarthy notes in a longer piece today at National Review, Ellison amped up the charges originally filed against one officer by the local district attorney. In so doing, he may have made his job harder. McCarthy is a former federal prosecutor who won convictions against a dozen people in connection with the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, so he has a bit of experience in high-profile cases.

McCarthy suggests that Ellison may have over-charged the police officers and so increased the chances that a jury may not find them guilty. Not because they're not guilty in the death, but because they're not guilty of the specific crime with which they are charged. I, for example, have been guilty from time to time of driving faster than the permitted speed on this or that roadway. If I were to be charged for that offense, I would very probably be convicted. If, however, the prosecutor decided to charge me with participating in a multi-vehicle assault on a New Jersey toll bridge, I would not be convicted, because 1) It was a fictional event and 2) I was 11 years old at the time. By over-charging me, the prosecutor made it hard for a jury that wants to follow the law to find me guilty, even though I actually am guilty of a similar included offense under the law.

"Allahpundit," a contributor to the Hot Air blog, makes a similar case but notes that even the third degree murder charge originally filed has features that could make a conviction tough -- again, not because the officer is not at fault but because a conviction requires certain things to have happened as described in a statute.

Overcharging happens a lot, especially when prosecutors find themselves dealing with high-profile cases. The attorneys who went after the wealthy parents who bought their kids' way into college staged morning guns-out FBI raids and demanded jail time for crimes that did not merit it, prosecutors of bygone days demanded lockups for people who had miniscule amounts of drugs on hand, and so on.

Ordinarily it means that the prosecutor looks like a preening twit to everyone but his or her own mirror, but with relatively little harm done to anyone but the overcharged person. As we have seen, though, this matter is one that a variety of bad actors will use as cover for violence and destruction. The idea that they would greet an acquittal with anything different or with anger properly directed at Ellison's office stupid grandstanding is very very unlikely. I wish it were otherwise, but this may not be the last round.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Fool Me Once

I selected this item outlining how New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo shanked their drive yesterday when they set an 11 PM curfew for all five boroughs of NYC, although there were dozens of others to read to see the cluelessness unfold.

When your own city council finds out about the curfew from Twitter, you've demonstrated that your leadership is, shall we say, "lacking." DeBlasio especially has shown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and now the unrest and rioting that's taken over from substantive protests that he just does not have what it takes to run...well, anything.

It's tempting to blame New Yorkers for having made their own problems by electing DeBlasio, although I don't know that even his most ardent detractors could have believed he -- or anybody -- could do such a lousy job. Sure, they did re-elect him in 2017 but he had only shown himself, to paraphrase Miracle Max, to mostly suck rather than completely suck. Now he's covered that base.

Mayors can't run for a third term in New York, unless the city council tries to pull another fast one. Even DeBlasio has shown enough sense to not try to run again, although he was delusional enough to run for president in the Democratic primary. There were only two people in the entire nation who wanted him to be the Democratic nominee: DeBlasio himself and the incumbent, President Donald Trump. Had my former fellow Dems nominated DeBlasio, the president could basically have taken the rest of the campaign off.

In any event, if Mayor DeBlasio changes his mind and decides that the city needs a third term with his hand at the wheel, then New Yorkers would have the chance to return him to office. Then they would deserve all the blame and no sympathy whatsoever, because they knew exactly what the man they were voting for could do well -- Ye Olde Bupkis -- and what he could do poorly -- Ye Olde Everything Else.

Monday, June 1, 2020

A Comical Dream

The other night, for whatever reason, I remembered a dream I had, which is something I don't often do. In this dream, I was visiting Bloom County creator Berke Breathed and having lunch with him in his kitchen, alongside Calvin and Hobbes creator Bill Watterson.

Now although I am a devoted fan of both strips, I have never met either gentleman, nor even attended an event where they have spoken. All of my contact with them comes from reading their work or, in Breathed's case, following his Facebook page. So I have no idea what prompted the suggestion that I would be having sandwiches with them on some sunny afternoon.

Anyway, while we were eating, a scruffy fellow came up Breathed's driveway and stood outside, visible though a window but not coming near the door. Breathed went outside to him and spoke with him for awhile, then the scruffy fellow turned around and left and Breathed came back inside. In answer to questions from Watterson and me, he explained that the man was a local semi-homeless person who every now and again decided he needed to visit Breathed, believing that the two had some connection. Breathed would listen to him for awhile and when the man was done he would walk away as we saw.

Breathed said he rarely could follow the conversation, since it had a lot to do with aliens, other dimensions and higher planes of existence. I piped up that it sounded something like the way some of my older colleagues had talked about our line of work back in the 1970s hippie-er days of the church. That made Watterson laugh, so Breathed and I spent the next 15 minutes riffing on how a hippie-dippie "with-it" pastor from 1975 would sound exactly like a stoner from the same era and had him -- and us -- cracking up so much we all nearly fell off our stools at the counter.

As I said, I have no idea why I dreamed this scenario, but it was a whole lot of fun to do so.