Friday, January 31, 2014

A glimpse at the judicial system in other nations

This morning the Denver Post informs us that:
ROME—Italy's highest criminal court on Tuesday overturned Amanda Knox's acquittal in the slaying of her British roommate and ordered a new trial, prolonging a case that has become a cause celebre in the United States.
Knox called the decision "painful" but said she was confident that she would be exonerated.
Italian law cannot compel Knox to return for the new trial, and her lawyer said she had no plans to do so. The appellate court hearing the new case could declare her in contempt of court but that carries no additional penalties.
In the United States we use an evolved form of English Common Law, and of course that common law system has been greatly impact here by the protections afforded under State and Federal Constitutions.  There's no such thing here as a reversal of an acquittal and the thought itself is strange.  If you are acquitted, you're acquitted.

Italy uses a version of the Code Napoleon, which descends, but not in a straight line, from the Code Justinian.  Apparently, at least in the Italian version of this, you can be tried twice for the same time.  Very odd to think of.

I haven't really followed this entire story so I can't comment knowledgeably about it and I'm not saying that the Italian justice system is fatally flawed.  It's successfully handled a lot of really nasty and dangerous Mafia trials in the last 40 years.  But it does seem oddly slow in some ways, and the lack of an apparent double jeopardy provision is surprising.


Once again, I haven't really been following this case, but yesterday the verdict in the second Knox case was rendered, and she was convicted again.

I'll confess that this time, while I'm not questioning the Italian justice system, I'm baffled about the procedure. The original trial seemed to feature some sloppy prosecution to me, but then Knox's evolving versions of events, including implicating an innocent man, were questionable too.  But the overall procedure is really baffling.

The original trail was held at Perugia, followed by an appeal to a court in Perugia. The first appellate court overturned the murder conviction (she was also convicted of slander).  That would have ended the matter, had this been an American, English, Canadian, Australian, etc. court. But there was a second level of appeal in Italy, and that appeal went to the Italian Supreme Court.

The Italian Supreme Court apparently vacated the Perugia appellate ruling, which is not the way I'd originally understood that holding, and sent it back to the lower appellate court for a second hearing, but this time at Florence.  Somehow, new evidence was taken in at the appellate level, by order of the Italian Supreme Court. That's a complete impossibility under the Common Law system we use.  Apparently the Italian intermediate appellate court can act, in at least some circumstances, act as an intermediate trier of fact as well as an appellate court.  It's apparently even the case that the prosecutor in the second intermediate appellate proceeding, used a different motive as his theory of the case.  Anyhow, that court not only reinstated Knox's conviction, but it increased her sentence from 26 years to 28.5.

A very large part of this process would be rampagingly Unconstitutional in the US.  The first appellate decision would have ended the whole case. To subject a criminal defendant to a second fact finding proceeding would be double jeopardy.  To those familiar with Common Law courts, this is extremely alien.  I'm frankly quite glad that we do not use this system.

Which isn't to say that its inherently unfair.  Code Napoleon trials are more in the nature of factual inquiries than they are adversarial proceedings, and the court acts as a fact finder.  Still, it seems rather protracted and messy.

Postscript II

Worth noting here in addition, there is a person serving time in Italy for this crime, Ray Guede.  He's apparently admitted to being in the house at the time of the murder, and he's implicated Knox as being in the house, but apparently hasn't blamed her or anyone else for the killing, although he continues to deny that he committed the murder. 

Today In Wyoming's History: Wyoming History In The Making: Janaury 30, 2014. ...

Today In Wyoming's History: Wyoming History In The Making: Janaury 30, 2014. ...: The Attorney General of Wyoming indicated that the State would file a petition for a rehearing in the Hill case. Rehearings are very ra...

Pete Seeger passes and a lesson on presumptions of inevitability.

As I'm sure everyone knows, Pete Seeger, who may legitimately be regarded as an American musical legend, died this past week at age 94.

 Pete Seeger, 1967.  The stage looks amazingly like the one at the grade school I attended.

Usually, an entry that would start off that way would go on to be a praising summary of his career, which was very influential on American music, but that's not the point of this entry. This is not to say that Seeger wasn't very influential musically, he was, and that would be a legitimate topic and legitimately interesting post.  But his death raises an interesting point that's generally been missed, just as his fans struggle to a degree to bury his early past and those who weren't fans of that past are sometimes overemphasizing it. The reason for that is that Pete Seeger was a Communist as a young man, which gives us an interesting opportunity to visit the topic of the error of assuming certain paths in history are inevitable.

By that I'm not trying to dump on Seeger.  Seeger was pretty open about his views and never hid his past.  And it'd be downright silly to criticize the musical quality of his work based on politics at any one point in time.  And frankly it's also not really fair to judge a man on his early politics either.  You have to take the sum total of a man's life in order to consider it.  Maybe you have to take the last part of it really.  Plenty of mighty sinners become saints.  And plenty of people with early questionable views change them or they evolve into something else. Take, for example, the recent example of Nelson Mandela, whom some people were supporting due to the ANC's early traveling with  Communist. Well, Mandela's later life certainly counters any suggestion that he retained any Marxists lessons and his record as a free world leader is where he should be judged.  Or, to take an early example, consider W. E. B. Dubois, the great American civil rights leader. At one time he sympathized with Communism. Asked about that later, he gave one of the great all time responses to such a question, that being "Only a fool never changes his mind."  Du Bois himself remained a species of Socialist his whole life, openly, which certainly does not diminish his greatness in any fashion.

W. E. B. Du Bois, one of the nation's greatest 20th Century civil rights leaders.

Anyhow, I've seen some try to argue the fact of Seeger's early Communism away, but Seeger was very open about his Communist party membership in the 1930s..  I don't feel that's reason enough to condemn him in our memories. The measure of a man isn't what he was at any one point in the course of the path of his life, but where that path went.  And indeed the fact that he isn't generally so condemned says a lot about the tolerance of Americans for disparate views.  While we're generally believed to be somewhat rigid in our ideological views by outsiders, Seeger, who held radical views his whole life, was widely admired for his music across the musical spectrum (although not by me, I generally don't like his music much, but not because of his politics, but rather because I just don't like his particular genre much).*  This was true even early on, as Seeger was one of those Communist whose position was adamant opposition to the US entering the war against Germany prior to Germany's attack on the USSR, at which point his position switched overnight.**  Seeger and his fellows issued some massively anti war songs prior to the USSR being invaded, at which point they withdrew them and issued ones going the other way.  That intellectual weakness in the American Communist Party was really demonstrated by this, as its thinking was so dominated by Moscow.*** But the burden of that didn't really attach to Seeger, just as being an opponent of entering the war, albeit for a completely different reason, didn't really tarnish Charles Lindberg's career much either.  Americans are pretty tolerant really, to those amongst us who hold political views we generally disagree with.****

The reason that I'm noting this is that Seeger's death has brought back, in some circles, the story of American Communism of the 1920s through the 1940s, and that story serves as a very cautionary tale for anyone who believes any movement's success is assured by it being "on the right side of history."  We hear this all the time about one social or political movement.  But history shows us that inevitable developments often aren't.

There were left wing radicals of varying stripes in the US well before there was a serious Communist Party in the U.S.  You can find all sorts of interesting groups emerging mid 19th Century, and continuing on thereafter.  But the Communist Party of the USA is somewhat unique as it seemed, to many well educated young people, to be the next step in the inevitable advancement of American political liberalism. Indeed, this was so much the case that even non Communist far left liberals generally held positive views of Communism and abstained from any criticism of the USSR even before World War Two.  They were woefully wrong, thank goodness, but they were sincere in their belief, which largely explains why they took up the role they did.

The American Communist Party burst upon the scene in 1919. Prior to that, radicals belonged to a variety of other parties, including an early Socialist Party, but the Communist Party didn't just take in those groups.  It was something new.  Socialism had been on the rise in Europe since the late 1890s, and with the Russian Revolution giving rise to the Bolshevik coup in that country, followed by a Communist uprising in Germany in 1918, it seemed that the new political force of Communism was the next inevitable step in European politics.  The United Kingdom feared a Communist rebellion at home. France saw its Communist and Socialist flex their muscles.  Here in the United States a new Communist Party formed claiming about 40,000 members in 1919, leading to a Red Scare here. 

Now, 40,000 people isn't really a lot, but for a start up party it is, and they were a serious group. Who were they?

Well, to a significant degree they were radicalized European immigrants who brought their politics with them. The early and mid 20th Century would see a lot of that.  Central and Eastern European working class immigrants who were socialists or communists when they arrived, Irish immigrants who were Fenians, Sicilian immigrants who came burdened with a sense of ometta, Italian immigrants who were anarchists, and so on. Not most of these classes fit those categories completely, but some did. And their children often did as well, later acquiring the moniker "Red Diaper Babies" in the case of Communist who followed their immigrant Communist parents into the party.  For German and Eastern European industrial workers attraction to radical socialism and communism had been strong at home, and the governments were they were from tended to feed it by an airtight suppression of it which made radicalism all the stronger by not letting its failures whilter in the light of day.

 The Seegers.  One of these young lads would be Pete Seeger.

But added to that, and the subject of the topic here, were very well educated Americans who largely, but not always, had acquired their Communism in universities.  Men like Pete Seeger, who joined the Young Communist League at age 17 and who would attend Harvard, or Whitaker Chambers who joined the Communist Party while a student at Columbia, this collection of individuals came form the Middle Class (and occasionally from the upper class).  They could not be said in any sense to be living in leisure, but they were very well educated as a rule and came from families that largely had espoused political liberalism.  Joining them were older men who came to their point of view at some point, sometimes not joining the Communist Party, but going along with Communist they knew as "fellow travellers", such as Harry Dexter White.  Notably, they were not from the American blue collar class whose plight they supposed themselves to be addressing.****

Why?  Today we know that Communism was a universal failure. Those who may still hold a romantic view of it (and some still do, I just read an article by Al Jazera in the US claiming that outside of Europe, Communism had been "on the right side of history") should read the Black Book on Communism, a grippingly fascinating massively depressing read written by French Socialists.  Communism's impact was universally negative everywhere it came to power.

But in the 1920s and the 1930s a person could still naively believe that wasn't so, as long as they didn't know too much about what was occurring in the USSR.  News was starting to leak out, however, and already by the late 1920s some early Communists, with developed consciences, were getting out, having heard, as Whitaker Chambers would later note about himself, the "scream" of millions of tortured souls.

But for those joining in the 1920s and the 1930s, who came from the middle class, there was a sense that Communism was the next stage in political liberalism.  To these people, it seemed that American Populism had yielded to Progressivism, which had yielded to Progressivism Lite, that being Wilsonian liberalism, which had yielded to FDR's liberalism.  They believed the next step would surely be Communism, or maybe something like Socialism and then Communism (a step that Communist elsewhere were also attune to, sometimes to the fatal end of the Socialist).

That all seems extraordinarily naive, if not pathetically blind, now. At the same time that American Communist were dreaming of a Red United States, Red Russia was beginning to slaughter its own.  News of that was even leaking out, as a letter reprinted by The New Republic in the last issue from one of their liberal editors, to Stalin, shows (the editor, blinded to reality, was lamenting to Stalin about the purges, in a belief that Stalin must not be the cause of them.)  But to a degree, looking back, it's understandable. The U.S. economy was in bad shape at a time when the majority of the nation was urban for the first time.  People were desperate.  Things vaguely seemed to be working in Communist Russia, and for that matter in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany, other radicalized nations.  And in order to address the economic crisis, the Roosevelt administration was expanding government enormously, even putting people directly to work in construction and art projects, and a host of other projects, that really were socialistic in nature, and which even came replete with posters that, if you look at them now, sort of seem a little communistic, even if they were not.  Finally, while there was a Red Scare just after World War One, it abated in the 1920s and in the 1930s people by and large were not particularly concerned about the Communists.  The Roosevelt Administration was absolutely blinded to them, and saw no real problems with them, not really taking them particularly seriously.

In that atmosphere, for those of a certain class, Communism became attractive.  All the big universities had Communist clubs and became recruiting grounds for Communism.

Which is not to say that there were ever very many Communist in the U.S. There never were.  What the highwater mark was I don't know, but I'd guess maybe around 100,000 at some point in the 1930s.  Not enough to ever be any sort of ballot success, but just enough to actually occasionally get on a ballot here or there.  Knowing that they were small in number, the open party concentrated on associating itself with labor organizations, where there help was largely welcome, or with open opposition to various policies of one kind or another.  Much more sinister in nature, the underground party recruited from the open party for espionage, which those approached generally entered into.  Their view of this, however, differed from other spies in that, as naive as it was, they never really saw themselves as unpatriotic and they never despised their country.  they just thought that they were serving the evolution of an international movement of which their country would become an inevitable part.

Well, history didn't work that way.  The USSR attacked Poland in the 1920s and was defeated.  It began to murder its own almost immediately.  In Spain it helped turn near victory into defeat through the selective murder of other left wing radicals.  The USSR joined Nazi Germany in running over Poland and it independently violently reclaimed the Russian Empire's Baltic states.  It started starving the Ukrainians.  It's track record, globally, wherever it went, was bloody and oppressive.

By the early 1950s, most American Communist had awakened and bailed out.  Many had years and years before, first when rifts developed in Soviet Communism, and then in American Communism, in the 1920s, and then other in the 1930s when they became horrified at the results of what they were supporting.  The lid came off of Soviet espionage in 1948 when Congress began to investigate it, by which time the U.S. Army had been picking up Soviet cables on American espionage for several years.  The fall of the Nationalist in China, the Berlin Blockade, and the North Korean invasion of South Korea served to complete the process for most.

But at one time, a certain well educated political class truly thought its triumph inevitable.  Reading the signs, the nation seemed to be adopting what it was advocating, and the only thing that was necessary was to agitate for the triumph which was surely coming.

There's a lesson in that for anyone who thinks any movement of the day is "on the side of history."  History is on its own side, and it has all the time in the world.  Success over a decade or two means pretty much nothing at all.


*I like some of the folk music of the 30s and 40s, including some by Seeger's fellow travelers at the time, such as Woodie Guthrie and Burl Ives.  But all of it tainted, in my view, by a certain degree of disenguininess that it can't overcome.  Folk music, like the blues, is nearly the property of the class that originated it, and getting over that hurdle, while not impossible, is difficult. In the case of folk music of the 30s and 40s, which came at a time in which there were still genuine folk musicians, the music of those who came from non folk backgrounds seems sort of manufactured to me.  In Seeger's case, he came from a family of classically trained musicians, and therefore the tradition he espoused seems alien to his upbringing, while perhaps explaining why some of his better works sound so good when performed by somebody else.  When performed by Seeger, who preferred to play a banjo, they just don't seem quite genuine. When performed by other artists, they seem more polished, and perhaps they should have been preformed that way from the onset. So a song like Turn, Turn, Turn, sounds really good when preformed by the Byrds.

Or, maybe that's just me. A music can have merit, and the better music by Seeger certainly does, without everyone liking it.

**This position, which was the position of the Communist Party of the USA, strikes me as really odd and it must have seemed so to some Communist at the time.  The Communist had been the primary force on the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War, and they knew that the Germans and Italians had provided arms and some men to the Nationalist side.  How the Communist could have opposed the Nationalist and then thought the Nazi Germans not a menace is difficult to appreciate.

***The first real rift in American Communism came to a degree over just such an issue. Following Trotsky's downfall, some American Communist chose to follow Trotsky out of the party, followed by others leaving when they could not reconcile themselves to the rise of Stalin and his fellows.  Most of those individuals eventually worked themselves out of Communism entirely, and oddly some of them would live to be the founders of Neo Conservatism.  Those who remained in the Communist party following this episode, which included most Communist, had to slavishly adhere to a Moscow dictated line to remain in good graces with the party.

****Seeger was called in front of the House Unamerican Affairs Committee, with which he didn't cooperate, and that for a time he was under some sort of political sanction in New York. Nonetheless, his career was about as successful as he wanted it to be in spite of some positions, even over a long period of time, which don't square with what most Americans view on the same topics, and in spite of the fact that, no matter what Al Jazera may think, he was generally on the wrong side of history regarding the Communists.

Seeger's appearance in front of the committees sort of shows its interesting evolution.  Early witnesses in front of the committee, in the 1940s, were really called there as the government had acquired a fair amount of information on Communist operatives in the US, and the FBI and NSA was feeding that information to the committee, even if the committee didn't really know that.  The NSA in particular couldn't reveal that it had tapped into Soviet cables without blowing its cover, and it didn't reveal it until the 1990s.  At any rate, the early witnesses were individuals like Whitaker Chamber and Alger Hiss, and others, who were actually involved in espionage.  By the time Seeger was a witness, however, the committee had expanded its inquiries to be so broad as to include the entertainment industry.  At the time that probably seemed legitimate to it, and the thesis was likely that it was looking for Communist influence there.  If there was any Communist influence there, it wasn't very successful as it'd be hard to find a really pro Communist film on anything up to that point which had been produced clandestinely.  It was about this time that the committee began to loose legitimacy in the eyes of the public, although not only due to this.  In part, however, the calling up of entertainers in the 1950s who had been Communist in the 30s or 40s, or perhaps just left wing in that period, looked rather odd to an increasing number of people.

*****Blue collar workers in the US were largely not attracted to Communism, even though Communist were influential in labor unions.  Unions accepted the help of the Communist party, but the workers never were attracted to the movement itself, unless otherwise part of it for some other reason.  For that reason, we could and did have rank and file union members that were very pro labor, but otherwise very conservative, and very far from Communism, even while Communist organizers, early on, worked to assist organized labor.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Technological Cart Driving the Horse

As long time readers (i.e., me) know, this blog originated to explore historical topics, with that really being focused on the period of the turn of the prior century. Occasionally, it still is. 

This topic is one of those ones that bridges that topic and modern times, related to both.  It occurred to me the other day the extent to which we often don't adopt technology so much as have it forced upon us, at least in the business context.  Or rather, we both adopt and are required to adopt.

This has happened a couple of times to me, and it's beginning, maybe, to happen again, which is what caused me to think of it.

The other day, I knew I was going to get a pdf document sent to me by email, and I also intended to be out at a remote location.  I thought this no problem, as my Iphone can pick up email.

As it happened, the location was very remote and I was there much longer than I had anticipated, which was fine. When I had a chance to check my email on my Iphone, it turned out that the attachment was much larger than I had anticipated. Some 30 or so pages.  An Iphone is pretty small, so it wasn't really possible to digest a document of that size on my phone. So I did it at home.

Some time ago a person offered me their slightly used Ipad.  I declined, but started rethinking it.  It has a bigger screen. Wouldn't that be nice, I thought, for occasions like this.

But I've resisted owning an Ipad so far.  I'm already heavily computerized and even though I've had my wife download a book for me on her Kindle, I'm still a fan of the old fashioned physical book. So I've seen no need. 

Which is sort of the process I went through with my Iphone.

Cell phone wise, my father bought what was called a "bag phone" about 20 years ago for use in the truck.  It surprised me when he did it, but I kept it for quite a few years and would use it when out in the remote sticks.  I really kept it beyond the period of time most people did, as I didn't want a hand held cell phone, they seemed so irritating.  Ultimately, I concluded I didn't need that either and cancelled it.  Right after that, I got horribly stuck way out in the sticks and my wife reconsidered the topic of cell phones for me, as I had to walk some seven miles to they highway, to hitch a ride some 30 miles to a rural gas station where I could call her.

That rapidly lead to me having one of her old cell phones, which worked fine for me for a long time.  I never carried it anywhere I didn't have to.  Something happened to it, and I took over another one of hers, which had a camera.  I only used it out of town, but I did like the little camera, which I found to take surprisingly good photographs.

 St. Peter and St. Paul Orthodox Church, in Salt Lake City.  Photograph taken with a cell phone camera.

I ended up washing that phone. By that time I had an Ipod, which of course can also take photographs, which I used mostly for music and podcasts.  

About that time, I was at a hearing in Gillette and trying to keep track of settlement negotiations in another case simultaneously.  Other counsel began exchanging emails and it suddenly dawned on me that I was going to have to get an Iphone, which could do that.  Up until then, I'd seen no real need, but now I was actually in a situation where having an Iphone had become a requirement of my work.  The old style phone had to go, and in came the Iphone.  

I have an Iphone 5 and I've really liked it, although I still feel a bit uncomfortable with the fact that I now carry it everywhere.  The fact that I do is due, in part, to the fact that it plays music and podcasts, which I enjoy listening to coming and going to work.  Indeed, podcasts are great, and there are a variety of them I subscribe to.  But to be fair, something I also like that it does is that it serves to send text messages, which I use a great deal more than I ever guessed I would.  Indeed, I get a few most days from my family, and I also use them in a work context.

Still, its an interesting process to see how this developed. Some things that have come along since I've been practicing law I adopted as they were clearly so useful.  Computers and computer programs are one. Others, like Iphones, I've been left with no choice but to adopt.  Cameras, one of my favorite things, are something I really have to have, but I always have a SLR and have gone from 35 mm film to a Digital SLR as 35 mm film simply became obsolete, and I had no choice, even though I love my Pentax DSLR.  

I suppose this is true of many other things.  If this were 1914 instead of 2014, I suppose the telephone would be a new thing for us, that we'd have to have.  I'd probably regard it like my Iphone, nifty, but somewhat of a problematic item in a vague way.  Would I have an automobile?  The Model T was introduced in 1903.  My guess is that by 1914 I'd have to have had one.

Starting a Model T. They lacked an electric starter. This photograph from the late 1930s shows a car that would already have been regarded as obsolete even though by modern standards the age between the contemporary cars and this used car would not be that great.

Today In Wyoming's History: Wyoming History in the Making: January 28, 2104 ...

Today In Wyoming's History: Wyoming History in the Making: January 28, 2104 ...: In a 3 to 2 decision, with a blistering dissent, the Wyoming Supreme Court struck down the decision restructuring the state Dapartment of Ed...

Mid Week At Work: Enlist in the Ordnance Department

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Brrrrr. . . .it's cold outside! And maybe that's not that unusual.

Pathfinder Reservoir a couple of weeks ago.  Last year it wasn't even frozen fully in this bay, at this time of year, although normally it certainly is.

This winter has been really cold.  Everywhere in the US, it's been cold.  It's been on the news constantly.  Particularly when a big cold snap or storm hits the East Coast, although this year its been so cold that cold snaps or heavy snow even out in the West have been making the news.

But maybe what's newsworthy there isn't that its really cold.  It is. But that the last several winters have been so mild that we find cold newsworthy.

After all, it's winter.

 State highway outside of Casper on Sunday afternoon, in the morning it had been bright and sunny.

Truth be known, the winter we've been getting isn't odd at all, it's just normal by  historical standards, not even really a particularly brutal one.  It's just that we've had warm winters long enough, say a decade or more, that people are caught by surprise.  For some people, say who were children a decade ago, that's probably not surprising.  For folks who've moved from one region of the country to another it probably isn't either.  But by and large, at least people in their 40s, and certainly people in their 50s, should remember winters normally being pretty nasty.  That's why some people dreamed of moving to warmer climates in the south.

Now, according to a recently article in the Casper newspaper, December are actually no worse than they ever were, in spite of people approaching geezerhood may recall.  When I read that, I was briefly convinced, but I no longer am.  I can definitely recall even Decembers being like this when I was a kid, and its January now. And brutal winters were certainly not out of the norm when I was in my teens and twenties.

I'm not making an argument here about the cause, or whether we should be concerned or not.  I'm only stating an observation, and relating it to the news.  I'm amused, frankly, by the degree to which weather that was routine even relatively recently has slipped out of the public mind and is now regarded as newsworthy.  It shows our evolving, or rather our temporary, concept of what is normal, and what is not.

Oh goody. . . another Iglitch

Yesterday, I plugged in my Iphone to update my podcasts.

As of last night, none of my podcasts and some of my music (maybe a lot?) is no longer functioning.

Not that this is novel.  It's happened before, last time when they did a major update to their system. That one was so destructive I had to take all the pocasts off and reload them.

Apple has a good product.  But they can't seem to help themselves.  Their "updates" seem to lack a little testing, and they seem to serve no apparent purpose.  If I could readily dump the system and keep all my tunes on Itunes (and perhaps I can?) I'd do so in a second.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

The increasing irrelevance of the American Bar Association

I recently posted this item from the Minnesota Bar Association, which was a review of the book Bowling Alone.  It noted:
For example, in almost all professional organizations, including the American Bar Association and eight leading national professional organizations, the ratio of actual members to potential members ("penetration rate") has declined steadily since the mid 1960s. Active participation has declined even more sharply than membership. By all measures, overall active involvement in associations has declined by half since about 1965
What this observes is quite true, and what the book Bowling Alone (apparently) observes about the overall decline in participation in organizations in the television, and now Internet, era is also undoubtedly true. But I wonder with the ABA in particular if it simply is because the organization has become irrelevant, and it's current actions make it more so.

The ABA is an old organization. It was founded in 1878.  And it was  reformist organization.  The reform it sought was to the practice of law itself.

In 1878, while law was a profession, it was one that was tainted by the bottom end of the practice, over which there was very little regulatoin. There were always lawyers with high standards, but there were at that time a lot of lawyers with low ones, and overall there was little that was done about it in the profession.  Lawyers have always been a largely self regulating profession, an there wasn't much self regulating going on at the time.

Along came the ABA with a mission to address that. It's goal was to raise the standards of practice.  It sought to do this by creating standards where it thought that there should be some, to create ethical standards that pertained to the practice of law, and to even re-define the professional nature of practice itself.  Whereas law was a profession which people had generally entered by apprenticing themselves to a practicing lawyer (reading the law) and then taking the bar, the ABA sought to encourage lawyers to be university educated at a doctorate level. The goal wasn't accidental, in doing that it sought to put law on the same plain occupied by medicine, with a similar claim to educational requirements.

The ABA was amazingly successful, over a very long period of time, in achieving its goals. It accredits law schools, with some states requiring applicants to their bars to have graduated from an ABA accredited law school. It opines to Congress on the qualifications of judicial nominees. And much of what it sought ot do in terms of elevating the standard of practice it achieved.  Maybe so much so, that it made itself irrelevant.

Membership in the organization has been declining for years and I think a lack of relevancy to the practice is part of, or much of, the reason why.  The ABA really was having an impact on the profession by the mid 20th Century and most of its reforming work was done in the second half of the 20th Century.  Like most organizations that have been really successful in reform, its cast about for things to keep itself relevant.  It isn't wholly succeeding.

That doesn't mean that it doesn't provide some real services.  It administers a lawyers retirement system, which is a real benefit and probably part of the reason a lot of people join it.  It also provides some pretty good Continuing Legal Education, which it should given that CLE requirements are one of the things it has backed.  And it still exercises some muscle in reviewing potential Federal judges and in certifying law schools.

But it also has cast about in movement politics, which has little to do with practicing law, and it's grown increasingly left wing, after having been quite right wing, over the years.

In the 50s the ABA sponsored "Law Day" which should have been a bit of a signal that it was ending the day of being fully practical.  Law Day is an ignored Federal holiday that nobody gets off that occurs on May 1.  The ABA sponsored it to point out that we're a society ruled by law, not one ruled by a proletariat mob like those folks celebrating May Day (you know who you are).  Nobody celebrates Law Day anymore, although even when I was first practing the ABA sponsored some Law Day school stuff.  By and large, however, the day is ignored.  And it probably should be, not because we aren't a society ruled by laws, but because the day was a silly jingoistic effort. 

At that time, the ABA was fairly obviously a right wing entity, but in recent years, the ABA has evolved into an urban-centric, left of center organization, that feels free to tell society what it thinks the law ought to be.  For example, in the most recent issue of the ABA's magazine, there's an article by the president of the entity noting that lawyers are sworn to uphold the law, that the Second Amendment is part of the Constitution, and that therefore, the ABA is for it.  It then goes on to argue that military style rifles should be banned.  And to go further, the ABA has a "Gun Violence" standing committee.

That's not a legal position. That's a social position.  Indeed, it's rather obviously contrary to the provision of the law.  Indeed, its usually at this point in such a debate that people in favor of stricter gun laws start arguing the policy of their views, rather than the letter of the law.  Having views one way or another is fine, but when policy is argued, it's argued because the advocate of that position knows that their argument isn't based on the what the law is, but what they want it to be.

I don't mean to suggest that lawyers can't have opinions on gun control.  My point is that the ABA shouldn't.  It has nothing to do whatsoever with the practice of law.  By taking a position such as it is, it's taking one contrary to the law, and it's making a policy argument on what policy should be, which has nothing to do with the practice of law at all.

Likewise, the ABA also has a "Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity" committee.  Those of a liberal political persuasion probably can convince themselves that this is a legal topic, but it isn't.  It's a social topic that has zero to do with practicing law.  The organization also has a number of committees that are based on racial topics. That might have something to do with the law, or probably did at one time, but currently in an era when minorities are extraordinarily well represented in the legal profession, and the majority of new law school graduates are women, the days when the ABA really needed to regard itself as the vanguard of equal protection are pretty much over.

The fact that the ABA has these types of committees and positions, in addition to the many truly practice sections it has, shows that it sees itself from having evolved from an organization concerned with a high standard of practice to one which now opines on what the law should be.  There are any other number of organizations that do that, but the declining membership of the ABA shows, in my view, that its not going to retain its relevancy by attempting to be one.

The reason for that is fairly simply.  It claims to be a nationwide bar association. What are bar organizations?  Well, they're the collective group of those called to the bar in a certain location.  In my state, every person admitted to the bar is a member of the state association whether they want to be or not, and every lawyer in the county is likewise a member of the county association.  These associations have committees on the practice of law, the nomination of judges, and the rules of procedure and evidence.  But they don't tell the legislature, or the citizens of the state, what the law ought to be.  They limit themselves to the hard work of the nuts and bolts of the practice. So should the ABA.  As an organization the ABA is going to become increasingly irrelevant if it continues to do this, as there's no earthly way that the organization can really claim to advance the views of most lawyers.  At some point, and I suspect some point relatively soon, the organization will begin to loose influence in the areas that its legitimately concerned with.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Aerodrome: Osa's Ark - A strange Plane

The Aerodrome: Osa's Ark - A strange Plane

Osa's Ark - A strange Plane

Osa's Ark

I was looking through pictures I took to find an interesting picture to start off the blog. I think this fits nicely.

This is a Sikorsky S-38. A quote gleamed from it's Wikipedia Page explains it nicely. 

"The Sikorsky S-38
was an American twin-engined 8-seat amphibious aircraft. It was
sometimes called 'The Explorer's Air Yacht' and was Sikorsky's first
widely produced amphibious flying boat which in addition to serving
successfully for Pan American Airways and the U.S. Army, also had
numerous private owners who received notoriety for their exploits."

This particular aircraft (this might actually be a replica, not sure) is
the "Osa's Ark", which belonged to Martin an Osa Johnson, two American
explorers. There is a whole gallery of original photographs of this
plane here.

Interesting indeed.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Big Picture: The 118th Infantry, 1918.

Old Picture of the Day: Indian Cowboy

Old Picture of the Day: Indian Cowboy: We wrap up Hat Week with this picture of an Indian with a Cowboy Hat. I love the combination! The picture was taken in 1903.

Old Picture of the Day: Military Hat

Old Picture of the Day: Military Hat: Today's picture shows a man in a military style hat that I believe is called a Slouch Hat. The distinguishing feature is that the ...

Old Picture of the Day: Sombreros

Old Picture of the Day: Sombreros: Today we look at the classic "Sombrero", a favorite hat of the Mexican Revolutionaries. The picture above was taken in the e...

Old Picture of the Day: Stetsons

Old Picture of the Day: Stetsons: You did not think we would make it through Hat Week without looking at the much loved "Stetson" did you? Well, here is a pic...

Old Picture of the Day: Backwoods

Old Picture of the Day: Backwoods: Today's picture shows a gentleman from the Backwoods in the South. I have to say I love the hat. I am not sure what type of hat it...

Old Picture of the Day: Bowler Hat

Old Picture of the Day: Bowler Hat: Today we look at the Bowler Hat. To be honest, I do not care for this hat style much. To me, it is neither practical nor does it look v...

Old Picture of the Day: Hats

Hat week on this blog included some interesting photos, and give as the thread on hats and caps is the most popular one here on this site, I thought I'd link them in.

Old Picture of the Day: Hats: They say that the Hat Makes the Man, so welcome to Hat Week here at OPOD. We will be looking at various hat styles and see the things ...

UW Trustees Appoint McGinity as President | News | University of Wyoming

UW Trustees Appoint McGinity as President | News | University of Wyoming

UW Trustees Change Name of Branch Campus to UW-Casper | News | University of Wyoming

UW Trustees Change Name of Branch Campus to UW-Casper | News | University of Wyoming

Thursday, January 16, 2014


When I was young, my father listed to the radio a fair amount. What I really recall about that in particular is that he'd listen to Denver's KOA, which was an all talk radio station, but not like the ones we have now that are all right or left political talk.  It had a lot of different radio programs, and sports.  He particularly listened to the Denver Broncos and Denver Bears (their minor league baseball team at that time) broadcasts, and the radio shows that they had which discussed those teams. That certainly wasn't all they aired, however, and at one time, when I was fairly young, I used to listen to a fair amount of KOA myself.

The first radio tube, circa 1898.

KOA is still around, but those days are really gone, as are the days of all local radio.  We picked up KOA here over the air, on AM radio, and we listened mostly to AM.  FM doesn't travel far, and the big local station was also AM.  FM started coming on strong for music locally in the late 1970s.  Now, the radio scene is considerably altered, although the biggest local broadcaster, KTWO, remains the biggest local broadcaster.

But now radio must contend with satellite radio, which offers endless variety, just like cable television, and with the Ipod and Iphone, which can store so much music or other broadcast material that it would literally take years for many people to listen to their electronic libraries.  

One of the things XM Radio, one of the satellite channels, has is Old Time Radio, which plays the serial broadcasts of the 1930s through the 1950s.  It's fascinating to listen to, and really serves to remind a person of a completely different era in radio, when it occupied a major part of most Americans daily lives.

 It's hard to imagine how much this was the case now. But radio occupied a central position in the homes that its not only lost, but which is pretty difficult to imagine for most people. Coming in for most right after World War One, and staying up through the 1950s, through music, news and serialized shows, radio offered at that time what the combined Internet and television industries offer today.  And it had a similar impact.  People took their news, and often their views, from radio.

And radio, as "low tech" as it might seem today, was really the pioneer for the home entertainment revolution that would come later.  Prior to radio, which for almost all families was less than a century ago, at the end of a long day, people (well. . . men) went home to a house which only contained the noise that was animated by the lives therein.  Sounds for the most part had a human, or perhaps, animal origin in the immediate sense. For many people, that meant a pretty quiet evening.  If there was music, at that time, it might have been generated by a Victrola, but just as often it might have been played by the folks at home.  An incredible number of people sang and played musical instruments prior to radio, and most particularly prior to television.  But quite a few houses were no doubt mostly silent at night as well, with people reading for entertainment, or playing cards, if only solitaire.

 Fancy radio, probably 1920s.

After World War One, however, the radio was on.  Shows like Cavalcade of America, Dragnet, The Shadow, The Whistler, and  Gunsmoke played ever night on the radio, along with news and music.  People rapidly acclimated to having the radio on in their homes, and even if they still read at night, a lot of time was spent listening, just as later a lot of time was spent watching. Truly, a revolution in people's daily lives.

And a revolution in connectedness as well.  Prior to the radio, evens that happened far away were truly far away.  A person might learn of them rapidly through the newspaper, but still they had a remoteness connected with them, if they were remote.  Radio began to change that.  For the first time disasters and happenings that occurred far away could be learned of nearly immediately.

Mayor LaGuardia addresses New Yorkers on the topic of milk.

And for the first time, politicians could campaign nationally, or at least state wide, through a medium that didn't involve the written word nor the whistle stop.

Franklin Roosevelt addresses the nation in 1934.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Governor Hunt's World War Two Correspondence, Heart Mount Internment Camp

The American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming has digitized Wyoming Governor Hunts papers, including correspondence he received or sent concerning the Internment Camp at Hear Mountain.

Included in these, is a surprising example of somebody writing to the Governor to inquire about receiving a "Japanese girl" for work at her ranch home.  She was willing to pay wages, but still, its not something I'd expect to have found anyone inquiring about.  A surprising thing to read.