A Rant about Attorneys

Be forwarned… this is a rant.

Well, this is the week I’m on call for jury duty. I just called in, and apparently I have to report for duty tomorrow.

As noted I noted in a post a month ago, I’m against what has been done to the jury system. I think it makes no sense to have a judge decide what the jury can and cannot hear, and then have the jury make the decision. I can’t think of many situations that don’t involve GW in which the least informed person in the room makes the decision, especially one of such potential magnitude. As to worries that the jury might be biased – sure, all 12 jurors might be Fox viewers, but the odds of that are much less than that one political appointee judge who controls what the 12 jurors see is a Fox viewer. How should a juror react when asked to make an important decision, possibly a life or death decision about another person, do so in good conscience knowing full well that someone with unknown biases and prejudices (and for all that juror knows, mental instability) decided what that juror was allowed to see?

But this rant is about something else. While seething about having to actually wear pants tomorrow (and for who knows how many other days), I started thinking about attorneys. I remember something my father, a physicist, once said about Bill Richardson when Richardson was Secretary of Energy. My father doubted that Richardson could come up with a reasonable definition of the word “energy.” Looking at Richardson’s wikipedia entry right now, I suspect my father was right. Other than a law degree, it seems Richardson’s primary qualification to make decisions about, say, nuclear reactors, was studying French. His second most important qualification seems to be having played baseball in college.

A more recent example of an expert calling out an attorney with big political job occurred during the mad cow scare some years ago. (I’m wondering if there’s a reason we shouldn’t still be worried…) Ann Veneman, the Secretary of Agriculture had been explaining all the wonderful ideas she and her staff were doing. Shortly after, there were a few interviews with Stanley Pruisner, the dude who won the Nobel Prize for discovering prions in the first place. Apparently he had been trying to warn Veneman for a long time about the impending problem, and the kindest thing about her he was able to say was that she was ill-informed.

Even dropping out of law school can help get you somewhere. Witness Don Rumsfeld, apparently attempting to be the first American Secretary of Defense to lose two major wars, assuming he doesn’t get his way in the next few months (in which case he might lose a third one).

Which leads to two questions with which I’ll end my rant…
1. There are some positions that are clearly off-limits for attorneys, such as Surgeon General or Chair of the Joint Chiefs. These (at least the Surgeon General position) can’t possibly be any more difficult or critical, say, than sitting on the board of the Federal Reserve or head of the EPA or FEMA. What makes these positions so special that they are reserved for someone who at least appears to have some minimum expertise as opposed to an obvious ignorant political hack?
2. Why is it OK to have an attorney making decisions about nuclear power, or how to combat mad cow disease or scrapie, or whatever else, regardless of the attorney’s level of ignorance on the subject at hand, but not OK to have, say a physicist with no legal training on the Supreme Court or a biologist with no legal training as Attorney General?