Sour Grapes
Of course we're Fair and Balanced!



I don't care much for seeing a long list of pet peeves in someone's blog. Or even a short list. But as you can see I'm not above posting one that really bugs me. And one regularly recurring and particularly annoying one is the way that the announcer saying that a particular radio show has been distributed by Public Radio International pronounces it, "Public Radio Innernational." At least one other person out here in blogland agrees.


New speculative market: book futures

In the software development business, we call such products vaporware, an extremely disparaging term [via the Plain English Campaign newsletter]:

It seems that some internet sites will stop at nothing when it comes to the hard sell. A recent programme on BBC Radio 4 revealed that the Amazon website had been found selling books that hadn't even been published. Although the site claimed that books would be available 'within 4-6 weeks', at prices they had somehow conjured from thin air, in some cases the books hadn't even been written! One author was delighted to see his second novel available for purchase at £18.99, especially since he still had the unfinished manuscript at home.


You don't have to be the government to chill free expression

I completely agree with the sentiments expressed by Dale McFeatters in today's Capitol Hill Blue:

There may be a tendency to dismiss the incidents as harmless, if annoying, college pranks, but in the last two weeks three conservative commentators speaking on college campuses have had their speeches physically disrupted....

Attempts to suppress speech — and that's what these are — have a way of escalating. It's conservatives now but it could easily be somebody else later, and the chosen means could be something nastier than pies or salad dressing. The sheer rudeness and immaturity of the acts aside, they are a chilling phenomenon.

Does the 6th Amendment still apply?

[NB: I actually wrote this Thursday afternoon but Blogger wouldn't let me post it. I'm very fortunate to have thought to make a copy before trying to post it at the time! Furthermore, I was unable to publish it until even later!!]

A Federal appeals court gave hope to the Bush administration today that it does not. In case you don't remember, here's what this Amendment to the US Constitution says:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence [emphasis added].

The question is whether Salim Ahmed Hamdan, who was a driver for Osama bin Laden and who is being detained at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base, has a right to be present when government prosecutors present classified evidence against him. His trial came to a halt last year when Judge James Robertson ruled that the procedures used by the military commission that is trying him were unlawful. The government today called Robertson's ruling "an extraordinary intrusion into the executive's power".

Hamdan's attorneys assert that "[t]he right to be present at all stages in criminal proceedings is fundamental, guaranteed by military law, common law, constitutional law and international law." I don't know about military law, common law or international law, but the Constitution, as amended, seems quite clear to me. I also emphasized the part about the location of the trial being determined by law. As best I can recall, Gitmo was chosen by executive fiat, not by law. Elsewhere the Constitution makes clear how the location should be determined:

... such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed [emphasis added].

[via Capitol Hill Blue.]


Tax month

I was interested to read "Dubya's secret tax hike" for two reasons. One was the title:

By President Bush's definition, allowing a tax cut to lapse is effectively a tax increase. Thus, by the president's definition, his administration, through inaction, is hitting the taxpayers with a large and fast-expanding tax increase.

The second reason was the tax referred to: the Alternative Minimum Tax. When I was self-employed as a software consultant and depreciating the minimum capital investments I had made — primarily a computer — I had to file Form 6251 (using the 8-page instructions). I never had to pay extra because of it, but I had to fill out the form anyway. It was extremely time-consuming and vexing.

The reason for my interest in AMT is explained by the rest of the Capitol Hill Blue story, excerpts of which follow:

Congress passed the AMT in a fit of political pique in 1969 to recover at least some taxes from 155 rich people who paid no taxes in 1966. The tax was never indexed, so as inflation and incomes grew, the AMT snared more and more people....

This year, 3 million taxpayers will pay more — about $3,000 each on average — under the AMT... than the ordinary income tax... Most of these taxpayers earn between $100,000 and $500,000, income levels unlikely to engender much sympathy. But next year it will bag 20 million taxpayers, and a few years after that it will hit one in three taxpayers, some making as little as $50,000.

... Large families in high-tax states especially get hammered. Soon, the AMT will cover almost all families with three or more children.


RIP, Fred Korematsu

He died last Wednesday at the age of 86. A true American patriot, Korematsu took his battle against the interment of Japanese-Americans during World War II to the Supreme Court, where he lost in a decision that was finally overturned in 1983.

He was arrested, convicted of violating the order [to report for transportation to remote camps] and sent to an internment camp in Utah. The Supreme Court upheld Mr. Korematsu's conviction in December 1944, agreeing with the government that it was justified by the need to combat sabotage and espionage.... Current legal scholars almost universally regard the ruling as one of the worst in the court's history....

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and the government when it deserves it. — Mark Twain


First global circumnavigation

I knew, but neglected to post at the time, that Monday, 28 March, was the 416th anniversary of the first documented trip around the world by any human being. I remember learning in elementary school that Ferdinand Magellan was this human being. In fact, the Catholic Encyclopedia still says of him:

Ferdinand Magellan

(Portuguese Fernão Magalhaes)

The first circumnavigator of the real world;...

To be fair, the article ends by saying,

Magellan himself did not reach his goal, the Spice Islands; yet he had accomplished the most difficult part of his task. He had been the first to undertake the circumnavigation of the world, had carried out his project completely, and had thus achieved the most difficult nautical feat of all the centuries.

Even here there's enough to argue with.

The Wikipedia article seems, in some ways, more accurate. It says,

He was... the first to lead an expedition for the purpose of circumnavigating the globe. Though Magellan himself died in the Philippines and never returned to Eurpose, 18 members of the crew and one ship of the fleet returned to Spain in 1522, having circumnavigated the globe.

But those 18 were not the first to circumnavigate the world. Magellan beat them to it; he died in Cebu (in the Philippines), well north and slightly west of the Spice Islands (in Indonesia), which he had visited from the West prior to his circumnavigational expedition. This East-West relationship can be clearly seen with this interactive map, if you know where Cebu and the Spice (or Banda) Islands are.

History House Online gets this right in footnote 3 to its article on Magellan's Demise.

Magellan had masterminded and led the first true circumnavigation of the globe3...

3 While Magellan didn't complete the journey, he made it past the farthest eastern point he had travelled in previous journeys....

I, however, like to think that a man best known as Enrique of Malacca (or "Henry the Black") was the first. His real name was Trapobana and he travelled with Magellan from the East to Spain and accompanied him on the circumnavigation expedition as a slave of and interpreter for Magellan's (although I'm not sure slave is the appropriate term for their relationship). I read a long but intriguing account of Trapobana that I highly recommend. It is anything but negative toward Magellan himself, though some of his crew don't come off so well. It is, not surprisingly, highly sympathetic toward Trapobana himself, as it was written in support of the thesis that this Malayan was the first to actually make it all the way around the world.

And, as I said, I like to think it's true.

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