Wednesday Wisps

July 1, 2009

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The big news story of last week was the death of pop icon Michael Jackson at age 50.  News accounts have indicated that Jackson left behind $400 million.  Jackson’s estate does, of course, contain some valuable assets.  Most notable is his music portfolio, which includes his own music, as well as a portion of royalties from The Beatles.  The day after his death, 9 of the 10 most downloaded iTunes albums were Jackon’s.  This also underscores the ability of digital content providers to be able to seamlessly adjust to spikes in demand.  If stores like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, and Sam Goody sold out of Jackson CDs, they would not be able to satisfy the demand until they were able to restock.  Since the demand will likely dissipate as time passes, they will likely lose some of the impulse sales.  Digital providers such as iTunes are immune from this.  iTunes can’t “sell out” of a CD.  They just throw more hardware into the iTunes Music Store to handle the spike in volume.

Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff was sentence to 150 years in prison.  If Madoff serves the entire sentence, he would be 221 years old when he is released.  Essentially, the judge gave Madoff a life sentence.  Madoff will likely spend his remaining years in a medium security prison (a prison with bars on the windows and a fence) rather than a country club of a minimum security prison, due to the length of the sentence and the corresponding flight risk.  The judge also ruled that Madoff must also forfeit $171 billion.  It seems impossible that such a large amount will be recovered.

Minnesota finally has a winner in their Senate race.  The state supreme court unanimously declared Al Franken to be the winner, and challenger Norm Coleman has given up his fight.  The win by Franken mkaes it easier for the Democrats to invoke cloture (a procedure to end a filibuster and force a vote on an issue; 60 votes are required for cloture).  I have a question, though – does Franken get paid the salary of a Senator for the last 8 months?  Or does the money that was allocated to his salary go somewhere else (Chrysler, perhaps?).  I wrote a humorous article about the Minnesota Senate situation a couple of months ago.

Another Airbus jet suffered a deadly ocean crash.  This time, a Yemeni jet plunged into the Indian Ocean with 153 people on board.  At the time this story was written, one child had been found alive, and authorities were hoping that other survivors would be found.  The Airbus jet involved is this crash is a different model that the Brazilian jet that crashed on June 1, leaving no survivors.

South Carolina governor Mark Sanford admitted having an affair with a woman in Argentina.  This came to light after Sanford recently was unreachable by his staff.  As it turned out, he was in Argentina at the time.  Many politicians include Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer, have called for Sanford to step down.  If Sanford does step down, Bauer would stand to gain the most.  He would become governor, and this would greatly aid his 2010 run for the office, as he would be elevated to incumbent without being voted into the office.

Manny Ramirez will rejoin the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday, after a 50 game drug related suspension.  Ramirez has played 5 games in the minor leagues in an effort to get back into playing shape.  I disagree with this aspect of the suspension.  Some would argue that preventing a player from playing in the minors during the suspension would essentially turn a 50 games suspension into a 55-60 game suspension.  My opinion is that if the player can’t hitting the ground running on day 1 after the suspension, that’s his problem, not mine.  He should not be allowed to play any games during the suspension, whether it be in the minors or majors.

Weekly News Nuggets

June 22, 2009

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James von Brunn

James von Brunn, who shot and killed a guard at the National Holocaust Museum, may face some additional charges.  When searching von Brunn’s computer, investigators found child pornography.  For the few of you out there who feel that von Brunn is an otherwise good man who simply had some radical political beliefs that got him into trouble, it’s time to jump off the bandwagon.  This man is not a kindly old grandfather – he is a criminal who derserves to be severely punished. Since von Brunn committed the crime in the District of Columbia, the federal government has jurisdiction.  That means that he could face the death penalty.  However, it is very unlikely that he will be executed.  By the the time that the case goes to trial, a jury renders a verdict, and von Brunn’s appeals have been exhausted, a lot of years are going to pass.  It’s much more likely that the 88 year old man is going to die in custody when his appeals are being heard.

While James von Brunn’s son Erik has offered his condolences to the family of security guard Stephen Johns, saying that “the wrong man died that day”, some von Brunn supporters feel that a conspiracy may have been at work, and that von Brunn might have been set up.  This appears to be rather unlikely.

Air France flight 447

It is beginning to appear that Air France flight 447 broken apart during flight on June 1.  Many of the bodies have had multiple broken bones, which is consistent with falling from a great height.  Very few have shown head injuries, which occur very often during crash landings.  The key question, of course, is WHY tha plan would have broken apart.

Air France is paying the families of victimes approximately $24,500 in initial compensation.  The key word is initial.  Certainly further compensation will be paid at a later date.

Illegal music downloads

A Minnesota woman was founded guilty of illegally downloading 24 songs and was fined $1.9 million by a jury.  The was actually a re-trial, as she was granted a new trial because of an error that was made jury instructions in her first trial.  She was also found guilty in the first trial, although the fine that was assessed by that jury was “just” $220,000.

The fine seems a bit on the high side, since stealing the same 24 songs from Wal-Mart (shoplifting 2 CDs) would be unlikely to draw a fine remotely in the same neighborhood.  I think that the fine will eventually be reduced, but there’s a lesson to be learned here.  Don’t mess around with illegal downloads.  Pay for your music.  The artists deserve to be compensated.  After all, you wouldn’t walk out of your favorite restaurant without paying.

Donte Stallworth

Cleveland Browns wide receiver Donte Stallworth reached a plea agreement in his vehicular manslaughter case.  The plea deal calls for Stallworth to spend 30 days in jail (minus 1 day time served and 5 days off for good behavior).  Stallworth was drunk when he hit and killed a pedestrian.

To many people, the penalty seems absurdly light.  I agree that more jail time was warranted.  However, there are several factors that helped Stallworth.  First, it is possible that the victim was not in the crosswalk when he was hit.  However, for the sake of argument, I’ll assume that he was in the crosswalk.  After the accident, Stallworth did all the right things.  He called the cops and cooperated with the investigation.  He expressessed remorse.  He reached a financial agreement with the family of the victim (the family supported the plea deal).  Stallworth was also a first time offender.  Add up all these details, and clearly he is going to end up with less jail time than a repeat offender who flees the scene.

Some have compared Stallworth’s sentence to that of Michael Vick.  Vick’s situation was much different.  This is not simply the case of a man’s life vs. a dog’s life.  Vick engaged in intentional acts of cruelty against animals (whereas Stallworth intended to drink, but did not intend to kill) and continued a pattern of deceit after being arrested.  In short, Vick appeared to be the sort of person who needed a stiff prison term to rehabilitate him.