Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 21, 2014

Blogging World War I: August 21, 1914: Marching Past History

BELGIUM — German forces entered Brussels the previous day. By August 21, 1914, elements of General Karl von Bülow’s Second Army had passed Wavre and were approaching Waterloo. General Karl von Einem, commander of VII Corps of Second Army, noted the occasion in his diary:

99 years ago all those people who today are our enemies defeated Napoleon and his Frenchmen there. We are now on historic ground and today will advance along the same roads that took Blücher and his victorious formations to Waterloo or Belle Alliance.[1]


On the same date, a few miles to the south, the French forces began a general offensive through the Ardennes. Tuchman writes about this particular choice of battlefield on the part of the French high command:

The terrain of the Ardennes is not suitable for the offensive. It is wooded, hilly, and irregular, with the slope running generally uphill from the French side and with declivities between the hills cut by many streams. Caesar, who took ten days to march across it, described the secret, dark forest as a “place full of terrors,” with muddy paths and a perpetual mist rising from the peat bogs. Much of it had since been cleared and cultivated; roads, villages, and two or three large towns had replaced Caesar’s terrors, but large sections were still covered with thick leafy woods where roads were few and ambush easy. French staff officers had examined the terrain on several tours before 1914 and knew its difficulties. In spite of their warnings the Ardennes was chosen as the place of breakthrough because here, at the center, German strength was expected to be least. The French had persuaded themselves of the feasibility of the ground on the theory that its very difficulty made it, as Joffre said, “rather favorable to the side which, like ourselves, had inferiority of heavy artillery but superiority of field guns.”[2]

[1] Diary entry quoted in translation from Holger H. Herwig, The Marne, 1914 (2009), 123.
[2] Barbara Tuchman, The Guns of August (1962), 235-38.

Image Sources: (1) US Military Academy Department of History; (2) CIA World Factbook via Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 21, 2014

Blogging World War I: August 20, 1914: Pope Pius Dies

One hundred years ago this week, Pope Pius X died in Rome. He was 79 at the time and had been pope for 11 years.

Pope St. Pius X

Pius had already suffered a heart attack the previous year, and his health never really recovered. Supposedly, what finally broke his health for good was the stress of watching the nations of Europe fling themselves into the Great War in August 1914.

He was canonized forty years later.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 15, 2014

Random Art Blogging

Fallen Monarchs 1886 by William Bliss Baker

William Bliss Baker, Fallen Monarchs, 1886.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 14, 2014

A Significant Correction

I suppose I shouldn’t read too much into this. From NPR:

On Monday we told you about the first day of school in New Orleans, where most of the schools are now charter schools. In our story we said that even though test scores are up, 80 percent of schools still received a D or F grades from the state of Louisiana. Well, that percentage is incorrect. Only about 20 percent of the charter schools in New Orleans have D’s or F’s. More than half of the schools have grades of A, B or C. The rest were not graded. We’re sorry about the error.

The original story from Monday, 8/11, on the first day of school in New Orleans, is here. (The story also notes the correction.)

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 14, 2014

Random Art Blogging

Francisco de Zurbarán - Still-life with Lemons, Oranges and Rose - WGA26062

Francisco de Zurbarán, Still Life with Lemons, Oranges and Rose, 1633.

Currently at the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, California.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 13, 2014

Some More Tennessee Election and Politics Links

1. As noted in a previous post, last Thursday primary voters in Tennessee’s 7th State Senate District voted against Stacey Campfield. At Slate, David Weigel has a brief post bidding farewell to “a Click-Friendly, Anti-Gay, Holocaust-Trolling Republican State Legislator.”

2. Tennessee is a very red state, and it makes sense that, come primary season, most voters choose to vote in the Republican primary. (The state has open primaries; you just have to pick one or the other when you enter the polling station.) Also, I suppose it probably makes a certain amount of strategic sense for the state Democratic party to focus on the handful of races where they are truly competitive and not waste resources on long-shot campaigns — which, at the moment, includes the governor’s race.

But the upshot of the establishment Democrats effectively conceding the race for governor is that they wind up with candidates like Charles Brown.

Mother Jones:

They did it again. On Thursday, Tennessee Democrats picked a statewide candidate with zero political experience. His campaign platform is based on sending incumbent Gov. Bill Haslam (R) to the electric chair. Charlie Brown, a retired engineer from Oakdale whose name is misspelled on his own Facebook page, may owe his victory in the gubernatorial primary to appearing as the first name on the ballot.

And from a profile in Slate:

Brown didn’t campaign in a typical way. He didn’t go to banquets or barbecues. He didn’t send mailers, or pay for TV ads. He said he didn’t raise any money at all, though he did solicit donations. And he hadn’t even talked to the people who lived nearest to him. Instead, he told me that he sent a letter to the editor of nearly every paper in the state, a short missive full of misspellings that ended with the plea: “Please join The NRA.” Few publications actually ran the letter, which began with him saying that he “would like to strap [Gov. Haslam’s] butt to the [electric] chair and give him about half the jolt.” He also said that if he won “we will have hog hunting again.”

Brown’s main source of votes, he told me, was a club he belonged to. The Original Mountain Cur Breeders Association may not seem like the world’s best resource for a politician hungry for votes, but Brown was quick to correct me. “We’ve got 18,000 members,” he said. One of them, who he says he met at a squirrel hunt in Indiana, had even put an ad in a paper in support of Brown’s candidacy.

Since few papers printed the letter, few voters got a chance to read about Brown’s stance on the issues. He gave me three definitive policy statements. The first: He wants to put Bibles back in public schools. “I’m not a preacher, don’t get me wrong. But the Bible says to beckon little children to come to me,” he said. The second: Raise the state-wide speed limit to 80 miles per hour. “If I can,” he hedged. “My state representative told me I could.” And the third: Use his salary to help out his fellow hunters. “I’m wanting to buy some big deers and bring ’em in here and do away with our small buck deers. Buy some big buck deers and turn ’em loose.”

From a distance, Brown would seem like an easy man to parody. He’s not. During our hourlong conversation, he brought up a number of issues that made him sound more like a concerned citizen than a Southern stereotype. Brown said he had been in a union all his life, and was dismayed at the way his home state treated organized labor, including groups representing teachers and prison guards. He thought that the clear-cutting undertaken by the state’s wildlife resources agency was putting that same wildlife in danger. And he brought up a number of potential scandals that he saw as disqualifying for Bill Haslam, including what he saw as a suspiciously lucrative land deal for a friend of the governor’s. …

OK, so “Charlie” Brown is not as bad as Mark Clayton. But I have to believe that Tennessee Democrats could do better, if they wanted to do so.

3. Today on NPR’s Fresh Air, journalist Jonathan Weisman was talking about the dysfunction of the current Congress. At one point, interviewer Dave Davies asked for examples of members of Congress who are willing to “take a political risk” and work with members of the opposite party, and I was surprised when Weisman named Tennessee Senator Bob Corker as an example:

DAVIES: I’m sure there are a lot of people who, in private conversations, feel very frustrated with the way things are. But I always draw a distinction between someone who’ll say something in private and someone who will take a political risk by opposing their party leadership and reaching across the aisle. Are people doing that? Feel free to name some names. Give us somebody we should be encouraged to know is in Congress.

WEISMAN: Look at Senator Bob Corker. He’s a Republican of Tennessee. Tennessee obviously has a tradition, actually, of having lawmakers who are dealmakers. But it also has a strong conservative Tea Party wing as well. Bob Corker, just weeks ago, went to the Senate floor with a Democrat, a liberal Democrat, Chris Murphy of the Connecticut, and proposed raising the gas tax to fund the Highway Trust Fund and said, look. We cannot deal with the crumbling infrastructure of our country on the amount of money that is being generated by the current gas tax because our cars are more efficient, the demands of an aging infrastructure are raising – are rising. We need to do something. It took a lot for Bob Corker to propose raising the gas tax. And, ironically, a whole lot of Democrats ran screaming from the room just as Republicans did.

Weisman also discusses Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill and Maine Senator Angus King as examples of people in Congress who are willing to “reach across the aisle” on some matters at least.

Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 12, 2014

A Video for Today

Not the best performances from either actor (not bad, but not their best work), and not a great movie perhaps, but it seemed apropos:


Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | August 8, 2014

Tennessee Election Results

Tennessee Congressional Districts, 113th Congress

1. In the judicial retention elections, three justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court were seeking retention, and all three won retention. Huzzah!

2. All the judges who were up for retention votes on the Court of Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals also were retained. (The Lt. Gov. was not gunning for any of them.)

3. In 7th State Senate District in Knox County (my neck of the woods), Richard Briggs, a county commissioner and surgeon, has decisively defeated incumbent state Senator Stacey Campfield in the GOP primary. This is excellent news. Campfield, you may recall, was the moving force behind the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in the Tennessee General Assembly; he was the state senator who wanted to make welfare benefits for low income families contingent on whether the children in those families made “satisfactory progress” in school. (I previously blogged about Campfield here and here.) So, Campfield is out, and that’s good news. I may not agree with Dr. Briggs on all matters, but he is a serious improvement on the incumbent. (And less embarrassing for Tennessee, too.)

4. Governor Haslam easily won the Republican primary to run for a second term as governor.

5. US Senator Lamar Alexander defeated a Tea Party challenger in the GOP primary, 50-41. See also coverage in the Nashville Tennessean, the New York Times, the LA Times, NPR, Politico, Slate. And read a (perhaps too optimistic) piece by Sean Sullivan and Robert Costa in the Washington Post, “Why Lamar Alexander’s vote for immigration reform didn’t sink him.”

6. In the Knox County judicial races (circuit court, chancery court, criminal court, general sessions), the Republican candidates won every contested race. (I have reservations about whether judges should be identified by party label, but…that’s how it is for local judges at the moment in Tennessee.)

  • Patricia Long, the Republican incumbent in General Sessions, Division 3, defeated her Democratic challenger, George Underwood, with 72% of the vote.
  • Greg McMillan (Rep.) and Daniel Kidd (Dem.) were both running for Circuit Court, Division 4, to succeed retiring Judge Bill Swann. McMillan won, 73-27.
  • Scott Green (Rep.) and Leland Price (Dem.) were both running for Criminal Court, to succeed retiring Judge Mary Beth Leibowitz. Green is a former prosecutor who has worked as a criminal defense attorney for the past few years. Price is a current prosecutor. The Democratic DA endorsed Price, and the Republican sheriff endorsed Green. Either one would make a good judge, IMHO. Scott Green won, 59-40.

Long, McMillan, and Green are all solid judicial picks. (Disclosure: I’ve worked on Habitat houses with McMillan, and he seems like a good guy.) And then there’s this:

  • Circuit Court Judge Harold Wimberly Jr., a Democrat who has been on the bench for 27 years, lost 41-59 to Bill Ailor, a local attorney and sometime state administrative law judge.
  • Knox County Chancellor Daryl Fansler, a Democrat who has been on the chancery court since 1998 and has heard something on the order of 25,000 cases, lost 43-57 to Republican Clarence “Eddie” Pridemore, who graduated law school in late 2010 and has been running a solo practice in Knoxville since passing the bar in 2011. Chancellor-elect Pridemore has never argued a case in Knox County Chancery Court (i.e., the court of which he is now judge).

My attorney friends and colleagues are all flabbergasted and dismayed by the chancery court result. It’s bad enough to be losing an experienced and well respected jurist like Fansler (well respected by the bar, at least). But to get a chancellor who has almost no experience in chancery court is a tad unnerving. The only explanation is that tons of Knox County voters voted a straight Republican ticket — never mind the actual names in front of the party labels.

Elected judges (circuit court, chancery court, criminal court, general sessions) serve eight-year terms in Tennessee. Maybe this won’t be a disaster. Time will tell.

Read More…

Tennessee Supreme Court building Nashville TN 2013-07-20 003

Today, voters in Tennessee are voting on whether to retain or fire three of the five justices on the Tennessee Supreme Court.

In Tennessee, the justices of the state Supreme Court (and judges of the appellate courts) are appointed by the governor. They serve for eight-year terms, at the end of which they are subject to a Yes-or-No retention election. As Maya Srikrishnan wrote this week in the Los Angeles Times, these retention elections are usually “bland affairs.” But this time, Lieutenant Governor Ron Ramsey* has taken it upon himself to spearhead a campaign to have three of the justices thrown off the court. Srikrishnan:

Tennesseans have been inundated with mailings, vicious campaign ads and more than $1 million of in- and out-of-state money for the battle over three of the fives seats on the high court.

The three justices in question — Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Connie Clark and Sharon Lee — have been put on the defensive, battling accusations that they are too soft on crime, especially on death penalty cases, and too liberal for Tennessee.

Wade, Clark, and Lee were appointed by Phil Bredesen, the most recent Democratic governor of Tennessee (in office 2003-2011). That said, I have never really thought of them as liberal (or very political at all, for that matter). The Tennessee Supreme Court is hardly a hot-bed of progressive judicial activism. Just last year, Chief Justice Wade wrote an opinion upholding Tennessee’s Voter ID law — an opinion which Justices Calrk and Lee joined. (H/T: Election Law Blog.) As their supporters and TV ads have been heralding in recent weeks, these three justices have upheld 90%+ of the death penalty verdicts that have come before them. None of them is the reincarnation of William Brennan or William O. Douglas. Tennessee has a Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission, a bipartisan panel that reviews the work of judges and recommends whether they should be retained or replaced. Ramsey, as presiding officer of the state senate, helps appoint the members of that Commission. The Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission has recommended that all three justices be retained.

But they were appointed by a Democrat, and that seems to be reason enough for Ramsey. Tom Humphrey had an article on the subject in the May 4th Knoxville News Sentinel“Opinions mixed on push for GOP judges” — discussing, among other things, how the campaign to unseat the three justices is part of a “Red to the Roots” effort. (The article is behind a paywall, sad to say.) Humphrey:

“Red to the Roots” is a state Republican party effort to have more Republicans elected to local office, including judges in Circuit Courts, Chancery Courts and General Sessions courts. Party officials credit the campaign for having designated Republican candidates for local judgeships in 24 of the state’s 31 judicial districts this year — a record number and a shift from a tradition of nonpartisan judicial contests.

So, Ramsey would like the current Republican governor, Bill Haslam, to have a chance to replace all three justices. (FWIW, Haslam himself has declined to support or become involved with the ouster campaign — although he also has not, to my knowledge, worked against the campaign either.** Haslam’s stance might be described as silent neutrality.) To do this, Ramsey needs to paint the three current justices up for retention as…well, liberal judicial activists. As I’ve indicated above, this is a tough sell to anyone who is reasonably familiar with their judicial output.

Ramsey has been circulating a Powerpoint presentation to paint Wade, Lee, and Clark as soft on crime and bad for business. (See also here.) For lawyers, this presentation is pretty thin gruel — amateurish, even. But we are not the intended audience. Ramsey uses two death penalty cases to make the argument that the Tennessee Supreme Court is “soft on crime,” and he draws attention to cases where the justices (gasp!) upheld damages verdicts by juries against various large corporations (or “job creators,” if we want to hew closely to Ramsey’s language).

In the face of this campaign, the question arises of how the justices should answer Ramsey’s attacks. And this gets us to one of the problems with having elections for appellate judges. I tend to think that, on the whole, judges really should not be in the business of campaigning on the basis of their judicial decisions or defending them after the fact; the opinions should speak for themselves. And, as the Knoxville News Sentinel put it in a July 20 editorial, “There is nothing partisan to be found in their written decisions.”

Back in June, Dahlia Lithwick had a piece in Slate about the Tennessee judicial campaign, in which she points to one of the factors that seems to be motivating Ramsey’s crusade — replacing Tennessee’s Attorney General Bob Cooper. Tennessee is unusual in that the justices of the state Supreme Court appoint our AG. In most states, the AG is elected by state-wide election, or appointed by the governor. (Glenn Reynolds once told us in class that the Tennessee system sometimes gave us a better quality of attorney general, since the Tennessee AG, unlike his peers in other states, is generally not looking to run for higher office. Most elected AG’s, I think, are more or less continuously campaigning for governor.) Bob Cooper is a Democrat, appointed by a court that currently has a majority of Democratic-appointees, but — again — he is hardly a flaming liberal. Sometimes his office may tell the legislature things it doesn’t want to hear — like that their proposed laws are constitutional abominations. But liberal? “Enemy of Job Creators”? Hardly.


A slide from Lt. Gov. Ramsey’s presentation.


Ramsey is arguing that he clairvoyantly knows that the Supreme Court as constituted will overturn limits on payouts in medical malpractice and other civil lawsuits that ensure “you’re not going to be punished by some jury that gives you some exorbitant return on the lawsuit.” And he’s also grumpy that in 2011 the Supreme Court vacated the death sentence of murderer Leonard Edward Smith because of ineffective counsel. (Smith ultimately got a life sentence in exchange for the death penalty being dropped.) But beyond the usual bellyaching about the suckiness of some court decisions with which he personally disagrees—or hopes to disagree with someday—there’s all sorts of speculation in the Tennessee press about what Ramsay is really attempting to achieve with this campaign. If even one of the incumbents loses, it will shift the balance of the court to a majority-Republican institution. The Shreveport Times posits that since the state Supreme Court justices pick the state attorney general, the purge may be an effort to create a “Republican” majority on the five-justice court to ensure that there is a newer, more Republican, attorney general. Ramsey pretty much just up and said so at the state GOP’s annual fundraiser in Nashville last week: “Folks, it’s time that we had a Republican attorney general in the state of Tennessee.”

On July 20, the New Sentinel (hardly a liberal paper) ran an editorial — “Partisan politics should be kept out of the judicial branch”:

Opponents claim Cooper is anti-business, though the actions they cite are consumer protection lawsuits that have resulted in Tennesseans recouping millions of dollars from companies engaged in fraud. They also criticize him for not joining the 28 states that challenged the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — without bothering to note that the challenge failed and that Cooper saved taxpayers’ money and resources by not participating.

Tennessee Republicans have supermajorities in both houses of the state legislature. The governor is a Republican. Both of Tennessee’s US senators are Republicans, as are 7 of our 9 members of the House. Ramsey, in an attempt to turn a very, very Red state even more Red, is undermining judicial independence and the public ideal of a non-partisan and impartial judiciary.

Read More…

Posted by: Paul A. Forsyth | August 6, 2014

Rosetta Rendezvous with Comet

Earlier today, the European Space Agency announced that their probe Rosetta arrived at its target, the comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, after a flight time of 10 years. (The easiest nickname that I’ve heard for the comet is “ChuGer.” In this comic, Mr. Munroe uses the stand-in “Kevin.”)

From Jim Timmer at Ars:

Earlier this year, Rosetta successfully woke from hibernation, and it’s been imaging the comet during its approach. Early images indicated that 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko has a two-lobed structure that some have compared to a rubber duck, albeit one with an unusually large head. The second lobe, corresponding to the duck’s body, is broader and more oblong.

Since the initial approach, Rosetta has eased to within 100km of the comet’s surface and captured detailed images of a very foreign world, one by turns smooth and pockmarked. The comet has been seen spraying a tiny bit of water into space (estimates are 300ml a second, based on Rosetta images), but the complex surface of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko suggests a correspondingly complex history of activity. The comet is currently heading closer to the Sun, which may increase this venting over time.

The plan for the coming weeks is to have the orbiter approach to a distance of 50km before entering a circular orbit at a distance of 30km. Over the coming month, it will search for potential landing spots for Philae, a package of instruments that will tether itself to the comet’s surface. The lander is expected to reach the surface of 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in early November.

ChuGer is in a highly elliptical orbit and takes 6.45 years to orbit the Sun. In the current orbital cycle, the comet is a little over one year from its closest approach to the Sun.

More info on the Rosetta mission from this ESA blog, and also here and here.

So, this is what a comet looks like up close.

Image Credits: (1) xkcd “What If?”; used under a CC BY-NC 2.5 license. (2) Photo by ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA, used for educational and/or informational purposes per ESA’s terms and conditions.

Update (August 6, 2014, 6:15 PM): to clarify, although Rosetta was launched March 2004 (hence the “flight time of 10 years” above), Rosetta has not “just” been flying toward ChuGer for 10 years; the spacecraft made a flyby of Mars in 2007, visited the asteroid 2867 Šteins in 2008, and visited the asteroid 21 Lutetia in 2010.

Older Posts »



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 145 other followers