Monday, March 31, 2008

Anyone else catch Google the other day

tryin' to bite Hip Hop Lawyer's style?

Friday, March 28, 2008


Not sure why this came to mind, but pictured here is a mile or so of road that leads from U.S. 380 to (what at least used to be) Twin Hills beer store.

Back during my formative years, the ol' hometown was "dry", meaning it did not allow sales of intoxicating beverages. Actually, the entire county, though due to byzantine blue laws, beer and wine sales were allowed in the part of the county surrounding the lake (not pictured). In any event, a drive of about 20 minutes (in any direction) was required in order to procure beverages.

And needless to say, me and my buddies made many such trips, both before and after we were of legal drinking age. On one such run, after we had made our purchases, my friend and I drove away from the beer store heading back home. As we stopped at the stop sign (at the top left of the picture, pointing southwest), a couple of guys in a newish (late-80s) pickup truck quickly pulled up beside us and rolled down the window. The passenger said something like "nice car," in reference to my friend's twin-turbo 300zx. We both kind of nodded, and the guy says "wanna race?". My friend looked at him, looked over at me (you can't imagine the shit eating grin on my face), looked back at the guy and says "sure."

So the driver of the truck starts revving up his engine and glancing over at my buddy, who was just calmly sitting there with the gearshift in neutral, doing nothing. Finally the guy guns it and takes off. My buddy nonchalantly waits about 5 beats, carefully slips the shifter into 1st, and pulls out from the stop sign. I'm looking at him like "what are you waiting for?" as the truck barrels way ahead of us. My friend, not easily excited by such things, routinely shifts into 2nd, still driving like he's going through a school zone, then suddenly floors the accelerator and then... wait for it... the turbos spool up and the car takes off like it had been hit from behind by a speeding semi.

We entered the curve at around 105mph, passed the pickup truck going 120, and then, jamming on the brakes, slid past the stop sign into the middle of 380. Luckily there was no traffic at that time of night, and my friend backed up behind the stop sign and waited for the pickup to arrive. My friend looks over at me with just the slightest grin, and says "Sportscar."

I've ranted about wingnut emails...

but I have to admit, this is just funny:

The caption reads: How to recognize a Persian cat.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What are the limits of Leader-worship?

I think the post down below (regarding the Republican ditto-heads who, despite all logic and reason, continue to brazenly support our tragic misadventure in Iraq) deserves a follow-up.

First, I am not affiliated with any political party. My political views are a mix of those found on both the "left" and the "right", but are firmly rooted in principles of individual liberty and non-intrusive government. I think the current political climate where everything must be shoehorned into the dichotomy of liberal/conservative, right/left, or Democrat/Republican is very harmful to our political discourse. To me, this dichotomy is false and often precludes serious discussions of certain issues (for example, rolling back the drug war) because neither party officially supports the position (though, in some cases, a majority of Americans might support it, just not a majority of people within either party -- which makes it politically untenable).

So I reject this Democrat/Republican structure. But what I abhor, and what I believe is most harmful, is that a great many people, having picked one party or the other based on one or a small handful of issues most important to them, then feel it necessary to adopt that party's position on most or all other issues, without any serious thought being given to these other issues. And yet, for this type of person (let's call them "Partisans"), even though a given question may not rank high for them as a priority, and despite the Partisan not having independently analyzed the various approaches to the question, the Partisan feels a very strong urge to defend his Party's stance on the issue in the most vociferous and strident possible terms. So much so, that even after his Party's stance is proven -- beyond any reasonable doubt -- to be flat wrong, the Partisan will still support that stance until his Party's leaders have abandoned it.

I should here add that I think Democrats can be just as bad with Partisan thinking as can Republicans. That being said, I most often criticize Republicans in this space for the following reasons: (1) they have controlled the government during the last 8 years, and during that time they have done some of the stupidest and most villainous things in the long history of this country, and (2) as a group, on average, as a general rule, those on the "Right" are more likely to be "followers" in an intellectual sense than are those on the "Left". They are more likely to be conformists, people who follow rules. They are less likely to be independent thinkers and more likely to think as their "superiors" tell them they should. (a good example is the fact that such a relatively high proportion of Republicans are "religious", because they need structure, and discipline, and someone (God, their church, the Bible) to give them a set of rules to go by.)

But the specific question I want to examine here is, given that Partisans by definition are apt to follow and support the policies of their Party, what are the limits of Partisanship? I want to propose a scenario to help answer this question:

Suppose George W. Bush, President of the United States and undisputed Leader of the Republican Party, were to announce that he, in consultation with his National Security Advisor, his Director of National Intelligence, the Justice Department and OLC, and his military advisors, had come up with a new program to Make America Safer. With much fanfare, he comes on the teevee and outlines his plan: federal agents, in conjunction with selected state and local law enforcement, will immediately begin the process of identifying and locating all members of a certain class or group of people. [for purposes of this hypothetical, the identity of this group is not relevant; it could be based on race or ethnicity (Arabs, blacks, Aleuts, etc), or it might be based on religion or political affiliation (Muslims, ACLUers, or Seventh Day Adventists) or on profession or lifestyle choice (homosexuals, gardeners, kayakers, etc) or any other method of classification; for purposes of this hypothetical, lets call them "Others".]

The President states that he has received credible, reliable evidence that these Others are the prime cause of our nation being less safe. He knows this, he says, although he can't reveal the details of what he knows, because that would Make Us Less Safe. Rest assured however, he says, that he has rigorously reviewed this evidence, and there is no doubt that it is correct.

Continuing, the President says that the Others will be taken into custody and held in secret detention facilities, where they will be humanely treated. Each Other will then be interrogated in order to help identify other Others. They will then be offered an opportunity to be rehabilitated (or "re-educated"). But if such rehabilitation proves impossible, then the Others will be systematically pushed feet first through industrial wood chippers.

This will make us Safer and More Secure. While it may be unpleasant or inconvenient to the Others, it has been proven (albeit by secret evidence and secret analysis of that evidence) to the President's satisfaction that the Others are the cause of the danger facing our country. Furthermore, the President has consulted with his legal advisers and they have assured him that this program comports with all applicable laws.

That is the scenario. I don't intend to suggest that it is likely to happen, or even remotely plausible. I only propose it to ask the question: would Partisans, those on the "side" of the President, sit down at their computers and type up drooling and ludicrous comments in support of this program? And insult the character and patriotism of those who oppose it?

No politics today

Because arguing with fans of demagoguery can be tedious. There is a lot of Teh Stupid on the internets. And Y'all, I read a lot of the internets. Sometimes it makes your brain hurt.


I was driving back from the St Patty's Day parade at lower Greenville the other weekend, and right as I was first getting up to speed on Central Expressway, shifting into 4th gear, my clutch pedal went straight to the floor. And stayed there. This posed quite the problem with my motoring experience, from that point forward.

Though the clutch pedal was depressed to the floor, the clutch remained fully engaged. This makes changing gears very difficult, but -- as it turns out -- not impossible. I was able to use a few of the gears by pressing firmly against the shifter in the direction of the gear-slot I wanted, and then slowly revving the engine until the point (different for each gear) where the rpm of the gear matched up to the rpm of the engine. Not a fun experience, in traffic, on the freeway(s), especially given my less-than-optimum physical and mental condition at that particular point in time.

As I got closer to home, stoplights and stop signs became a significant challenge. Stopping, in gear with clutch engaged = engine dies. Engine dying, combined with extreme difficulty of shifting into 1st or 2nd gear with clutch engaged = attempting to start car while in 1st or 2nd gear with traffic honking away behind you = severe frustration and embarrassment.

But I succeeded in getting home without further damage to car or person. And after a tow to the mechanic on the following Monday, and after waiting an entire week for parts, and after paying a hefty sum for installation of parts ($605), the nice mechanic shows me the culprit behind the whole mess:

This is a bolt. It costs $11 dollars. As I remarked to the mechanic, this bolt does not appear to be something you'd think of as likely to fail. He said he, nor any of the people he had discussed the issue with, had ever heard of one failing. Just my bad luck, I'm sure. Probably has nothing to do with my driving style.

But at least I didn't need my clutch replaced. A while back, the people at the dealer, after charging me $180 to replace a (different) bolt that had "fallen out" of my shifter assembly, informed me that I needed a new clutch. They kindly offered to replace the clutch, for the reasonable sum of $2500 U.S. Dollars. I laughed in their faces, called them a few choice names, and went on my way. (Note that, because this incident occurred 2 years and 25,000 miles ago, and I have still yet to replace the same clutch, I believe I may have been justified in calling them "fucking crooks" and "assholes".)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mindless followers and regurgitators

I was just now trying not to throw up in my mouth as I was reading through the comments to this post on Liberal Lean. The topic, of course, is the 4000th Iraq death.

It still doesn't cease to amaze me how many people mindlessly support such a monumentally failed policy, the result of which -- among other things -- has been to throw our country into financial ruin and to dishonor the good name and high ideals of our nation. Oh, and to kill a few thousand of our countrymen (most of them young, with families), and a few hundred thousand of those people we are purported to be "saving".

We've also not become more secure (which was, under most of the various formulations over the years, the ostensible objective of this adventure), but rather have greatly decreased our security by becoming militarily weaker (readiness for other potential threats is the lowest its been since Vietnam) and by drastically increasing the number of people who violently hate us.

So, by pretty much any measure, the war and the occupation following it has been an abject failure. One of the most unwise, disastrous, and tragic things our country has ever done. And yet, what do commenters to the linked post have to say?

They start by accusing war critics of emphasizing the death toll in order to smear the "conservative movement", move on to asking how many people the Democrats killed in Vietnam, and then quickly segue into criticizing Democrats for various other real and imagined failings. This devolves quickly into shouts of "librul!" and "surrender-monkey" and, finally, "traitor". But most important, apparently, is emphasizing (intentionally or unintentionally) that the issue of whether the war is a failure hinges entirely upon which party started it and which party criticizes it.

People who instantly try to transform the question "Iraq war: success or failure?" into the question "Democrat or Republican?" are -- not to put too fine a point on it -- complete idiots. This kind of "my party, right or wrong" thinking is the bulwark of the intellectually lazy and the socially retarded. People, pull your heads out of your asses, look at the facts, and come to your own conclusions. Think for yourself, just this once. If you can do that, then I'll try to forget the fact that you probably only support Republicans because, of the two parties, they are the ones fighting hardest against the black "welfare queens" and those dirty Mexican immigrants. Which is about the best reason to support invading and occupying a foreign country as I've yet come across.

Monday, March 24, 2008

How to make friends and influence people

Peasants in Peru and Bolivia have been chewing on coca leaves for thousands of years. This practice literally dates to the beginning of recorded human history. Experts say it is less harmful than caffeine.

But since there are ungodly folks here in the U.S. who like chemically refined coca leaves (i.e., cocaine), and since the only way to stop U.S. consumers from getting cocaine is to entirely eradicate coca from the face of the planet, then these peasants are just going to have to change their ways. Or so says ONDCP, the DEA, and their lapdogs at the U.N.'s International Narcotics Control Board. They have recommended that coca-chewing be banned and that, presumably, the dirt-poor countries of Bolivia and Peru should build billions of dollars worth of prisons in order to incarcerate the millions of peasants who, due to flaws in their characters, refuse to quit chewing coca.

Bolivia is risking tens of millions of dollars in annual U.S. humanitarian aid by refusing to go along with this modest proposal. Bolivian President Evo Morales, who, just incidentally, happens to remain the head of Bolivia's largest union of coca growers (!), has stated his intention to fight any ban coca. It seems that taking an action that insults, degrades, and infuriates a large portion of his country's citizens is not very palatable to Mr. Morales.

Via The Agitator, who adds:

The sad thing is, our scorched earth drug policy in Latin America is a big reason why the entire continent hates us, and has turned to electing hostile political leaders like Chavez and Morales. Who can blame them? We send armed agents down there to march through their backyards, poison their fields with industrial-strength herbicides, and foment dangerous black markets and fund organized crime syndicates, all because our government can’t bear the thought its own citizens getting high. And of course, anyone who wants to can get high, anyway.

The tragedy is that poor countries like Bolivia, Venezuela, and Peru then lump all U.S. policy in with our shameful coca eradication efforts. So they reject free trade, privatization, and other liberal reforms, too. Which keeps them poor.

The amount of widespread destruction effected by the drug war is really mind-boggling.

Where is my Au...To...Mo...Bile ?

So I'm on my way home, and I happen to catch NPR interviewing a guy named Gedde Watanabe. As Long Duk Dong in the movie Sixteen Candles, he was fortunate to deliver one of the funniest ripostes in all time cinema history: "Ottomobeeeele?"

I've seen it dozens, hundreds of times, but I watched it again just now and it still makes me laugh.

Not having caught enough of the interview, I'm not sure what the point of it was, but while I was listening they were harping on the idea that the Long Duk Dong character was some kind of insidious racial stereotype that has caused millions of Americans to have a poor perception of Asian-Americans. To which I say: Stop. Ok? Just stop.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Dear Time Warner Cable: concentrate on your crappy cable business

I got this glossy mailer from Time Warner Cable. In super large font, it asks: WHY HAVE 3 MILLION PEOPLE DUMPED THE PHONE COMPANY?

It answers its own question at the bottom by asking: DID THEY THINK THEY WERE PAYING TOO MUCH?

Which is all by way of saying that they want you to SWITCH! to their "DIGITAL HOME PHONE SERVICE". It's only $24.99/month!!

Hey, here's a newsflash from, like, 5 years ago: People are "dumping the phone company" because they have no fucking use for "home phones" anymore. Nice time to be getting into this market segment, ya dumbfucks.

Not that it needs to be pointed out, but everydamn person in the world over 8 years old has their own cell phone. Especially all the ones whose households have broadband subcriptions. "Home phone" numbers are only ever used by callers who
don't have the person's cell phone or have no idea exactly who it is they are trying to get ahold of. In other words, telemarketers and bill collectors. They serve no other purpose. The only reason anyone still has them is force of habit.

Time Warner Cable further advises me to "Say NO to high phone bills". Thanks, genius.


I was flipping through the radio presets this afternoon and I find Rush Limbaugh doing a comedy bit where an Al Sharpton soundalike sings a song to the tune of "Puff the Magic Dragon". The refrain was "Barack the Magic Negro". I think I'm to the point where I want Obama to win the presidency for no other reason than to get under the skin of these racist fucktards.

Not so much Rush himself, because while he may or may not be a racist himself, he's probably rooting for Obama to win because he'll barely have to lift a finger to get ratings for the next four years. But he does cute stunts like this because he knows damn well that his audience of troglodytes can't get enough of it.

In fact, one of his followers, a "conservative talk radio host", has put together this mashup about Obama and his lack of patriotism, which was described as follows: "[an] incendiary video — which also includes footage of Malcolm X, the U.S. Olympians who raised their hand in the black power salute and the song 'Fight the Power'".

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


In the same vein as my post below, Radley Balko finds a nugget from a right-winger who's got a surprisingly sane take on the Obama/Wright thing. Huckabee, who grew up in the segregated South, sez: "Sometimes people do have a chip on their shoulder and resentment. And you have to just say, I probably would too. I probably would too. In fact, I may have had more of a chip on my shoulder had it been me."

Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Angry is the new Uppity

Last night I took a break from gorging on old BSG episodes to watch Across the Universe. This is an excellent movie, full of great scenes, and will be included in my sooner-or-later-to-be-published list of Most Underrated Movies. More on that at some indefinite future time. But for now:

On Tuesday Barack Obama gave a speech on race, in part to blunt widespread "criticism" of him in connection with well-publicized clips of his preacher friend, a Mr. Jeremiah Wright, speaking forcefully against injustices which, in Mr. Wright's perception, have been perpetrated against black people. (You can find plenty of commentary on Obama's speech elsewhere.) Of course, the Rush Limbaughs and Bill O'Reilleys of this world refuse to admit that any such injustices have ever occurred, or that if they did, they happened way back when, in the long long ago, and have now ceased to have any political or social relevance. And to speak on such issues is to "play the race card", or "race-bait", or to engage in "class warfare".

Which is bad enough. But when a very black person, like Mr. Wright, speaks of such things with a raised voice, and uses "foul language", and agitates loudly and unapologetically for action against these fake injustices, then it is not merely an impolitic offense to be condemned by all upstanding patriots everywhere, but rather it is an atrocity, a crime against nature, so awful that it apparently tars anyone within earshot and renders them unfit to be considered a citizen in good standing, much less to hold elected office in this great nation. So, surely, anyone who sits and listens to a deranged hatemonger such as Mr. Wright -- an Angry Black Man -- is himself an America-hater, a "dangerous radical" who is intent upon the destruction of our society and all it stands for.

Which brings me back to a scene in Across the Universe where a shop window television is showing a clip of the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr giving a speech. He raises his voice. He is emotional, he is frustrated, and he is forcefully, volubly lashing out against injustices perpetrated against his black brothers and sisters. And yes, he is Angry. As we all should be. About a lot of things.

More Drug War Idiocy

To add to the post below, McCain, in direct contradiction to his carefully cultivated image as the Mavericky Straight Talker, refuses to admit, address, or probably even contemplate the proven fact that our War on Drugs is -- from a purely practical, pragmatic perspective -- a complete failure by any and all objective measures.

You might expect a Mavericky Straight Talker to occasionally go beyond party and political orthodoxy and at least consider whether there might be other ways to look at a given issue, especially considering that, as noted, the War On Drugs is indisputably a failure. Such thinking would appear to be a hallmark and in fact the very definition of a political Maverick. But so it goes.

On the other hand, Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, appears to at least have his eyes open to the obvious (Bucking U.S., Afghanistan won't spray heroin). Astonishingly, despite the heaviest of U.S. pressure, Karzai, unlike our puppet government in Colombia, is refusing to saturate the countryside of his nation with poison in a futile attempt to destroy the single thing of value that his nation currently produces.

Apparently Mr. Karzai feels that spraying his country with poison, thereby destroying the plants which represent his country's only significant thing of economic value, might result in some sort of anti-government sentiment among the peasants and farmers who rely on these crops to feed their families (literally: to survive).

Of course the U.S. government, paragon of moral virtue, feels that the inherent evilness of these plants justifies their destruction even if such destruction results in the starvation of thousands of Afghani farmers.

But that's not all. According to the U.S. government, a portion of the profits derived from the sale of poppy crops is raked off by rogue elements and ends up in the coffers of corrupt government officials and The Taliban or similarly minded radical groups. I think reasonable people are probably willing to admit that this is a bad thing. But -- contrary to the claims of the government -- it is not the end of the story. If one looks just slightly beyond this bare fact, one will quickly discover that the reason for this circumstance is not because the plants are evil, or the farmers are despicable terrorist sympathizers, but rather because the official position of the Afghani government and its law enforcement arm (such as it is) continues to be that the farming of poppies is an illegal activity. If it were legal, no poison would need to be sprayed, government officials would not need to engage in corruption, The Taliban would not have a near-monopoly on wholesaling and exporting, and a large new revenue stream would be available for taxation by the near-destitute Afghani government. Unfortunately, such a simple solution is impossible when the idea (not subject to debate or questioning of any kind, ever) prevails that these plants are themselves Evil and must be Destroyed.

McCain: if it's called a "War", I'm all for it

A few weeks ago McCain famously stated he sees the U.S. in Iraq for at least 100 more years. A few months ago, McCain set his desire to "bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" to the tune of a Beach Boys song. McCain loves the military, loves to see it used to project American power in every nook and cranny of the globe.

No thought is apparently given to how much this might cost in terms of blood and/or treasure. Likewise, no thought is given to how this might affect America's international reputation or whether, given the totality of circumstances, this actually promotes American interests. The very idea of our military being in foreign countries blowing stuff up and killing people is what McCain loves.

Similarly, McCain loves our War On Drugs (McCain: Step up drug war). No matter how much it costs, no matter how much harm it does or how counterproductive it might be, he's in favor of it. I doubt he has given more than a fleeting moment's thought to the principles on which this "War" is based, or to the people who are actually affected by it. Or to its deleterious effect on our freedom and individual liberties. Or the disrespect for law and law enforcement that it engenders among the citizens of this country.

No, it is a War, and we Refuse to Retreat. We Refuse to Give In. We Will Achieve Victory.

Friday, March 14, 2008

University apparently deeply embroiled in South American politics; said to be pursuing regional academic hegemony

Sorry. Somehow this joke is not getting old for me yet.

In other news: Princeton to meet with Indonesia regarding free trade pact. Developing...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Concerning the "safety" of our children

Our schools are dens of iniquity! Our children are in danger! We must do all we can to protect them!

But this time, it's not drugs, or terrorists, or kidnappers, or rapists.

Student suspended for buying candy in school:

Yes, our children must now be protected -- at all costs! -- against the scourge of... Skittles.

Much like in the case of the toilet lady story, this headline is, counter-intuitively, an accurate description of the story it heads. An eighth grader was suspended and stripped of his class vice presidency for purchasing an illicit substance on the campus of his Connecticut school; namely, Skittles.

I encourage reading the entire article, but let's hit a couple of the high points:
Superintendent Reginald Mayo said Wednesday that Sheridan Middle School principal Eleanor Turner just wanted to keep students safe.
You see, she just wanted to keep children safe. From candy.
He said she warned students repeatedly after the school experienced a rash of candy sales in the fall.
I wonder how many individual candy transactions constitute a "rash" of them. "You've been warned about this!!!"
"She [i.e., the school principal] had concerns about the safety of students carrying large amounts of cash in school," Mayo said.
How much cash is required to purchase a black market packet of Skittles these days. I'm sure Skittles Prohibition has driven up the price considerably, but still you gotta wonder about the incidence of violent robbery which might flow from the actual increase in the amount of money these children are bringing to school in order to satisfy their daily Skittles fixes.

Perhaps, once they succeed in ridding the state of New York of call girls, the FBI can address the disturbing epidemic of candy in our nation's schools. Because, as we all know by now, buying candy from illicit middle school candy dealers funds global terrorism.

Snark aside, can you imagine how craven and vacuous a human must be in order to consciously decide to become the Candy Police at a middle school? And how dishonest with oneself one must be to publicly justify such a decision based on the "safety of our youth"? This is the kind of person who encapsulates her sofa cushions in clear plastic. And scoffs at people who don't. And smiles at them, during visits to their homes, while at the same time formulating the nasty gossip she will begin to spread about them the moment she leaves: "I smelled alcohol on his breath. Of course, they have a cabinet just full of wine glasses. And I heard she used be in AA but dropped out. I don't let my Sarah go over there anymore."

For the torture enthusiasts:

Via the excellent Scott Horton blogging at Harper's, Washington Monthly has devoted an entire issue to the subject of torture: No Torture, No Exceptions. It features an all-star cast of various writers (Democrats, Republicans, politicians, intelligence officials, etc.).

For those commenters on this blog who insist on getting on here and championing torture, you need to read some of these pieces and then come back here and stand up for torture. You can start with this one, by Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Neb):
We are in a war of ideas against a radical extremist ideology. Effective and aggressive intelligence operations are essential to our security. But in our effort to protect the nation, we must remember our greatest strength: the principles of human rights that we have upheld throughout our country's wars and conflicts. It is vital that the world can trust what we say and have confidence in what we do. There must be no doubt that this great nation does not torture.


[Torture] is not a way to keep America safe, or to build our influence for good in the world. Americans must not take the easy, morally ambiguous road. That is not who we are. The right path—at times the more difficult path—is the one that is paved with our principles and our values.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Longest bathroom break ever

While I hate to distract from the post below, there is just no way I can not post this: Sheriff: Woman Sat on Toilet for 2 Years.

No, this is not from the tabloids. This is from the freakin' Washington Post. And yes, the headline actually means exactly what it says. Apparently the woman's boyfriend brought her food and water for the whole 2 years, during which she did not leave the toilet, as evidenced by the fact that her skin had molded to the seat (it had to be transported to the hospital with her) and her legs were atrophied.

Not sure I've ever seen a story this bizarre. (Amazingly, Barry Green has not yet posted anything on it.)

Various items

Spitzer Watch

While I continue to take pleasure in seeing an arrogant, moralizing bully like Spitzer get what he so richly deserves, I can't help but continue to question the amount of federal law enforcement resources that went into investigating this victimless crime. I mean, they have wiretaps, FBI surveillance teams, stake-outs at hotels and so forth, over a period of many weeks. Not to mention the idea of the "Justice" Department first identifying someone they wanted to take down, and then vigorously investigating that person in what appears to be a fishing expedition to find something, anything, that could be used to trip them up.

And furthermore, the way they first caught on to Spitzer's little hobby was through a "Suspicious Activity Report", which was filed because he was moving money around in his bank accounts. The reports I saw mention the amounts being around $40,000. Sure, no normal law-abiding person ever moves that much money around for legitimate purposes, only drug dealers, money launderers, and other criminals. Suspicious!! WTF?

This story goes to show that because there are so many byzantine laws on the books, if law enforcement is out to get you they will always find something to hang you for.

Lootocracy Watch

Speaking of moralizing bullies, our old buddy John Ashcroft was on Capitol Hill the other day. He was there to answer questions regarding a contract he received which is reportedly worth $28-$52 million dollars. Good for him, you say. Way to parlay that stint in public service into private sector gold, right?

Yeah, except that the contract was given to him only because U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie (who, just coincidentally, used to report to Ashcroft at the Justice Department), in a settlement of a criminal case brought by Christie against a drug company, forced said drug company to hire Ashcroft at $750,000 per month. In order to earn this reasonable monthly paycheck, Ashcroft is going to monitor the drug company's compliance with the other provisions of the settlement.

Ashcroft says there is no conflict of interest. And maybe there isn't, at least not on his part.

Hackocracy Watch

Sure, the executive branch has a lot of power these days. Congress has, over the last 7 years, essentially ceded to the executive a whole host of powers without any kind of oversight or accountability. But that's ok. Because we know that the Bush Administration will only use these powers for good. They never do things for improper reasons, and certainly would never allow petty personal grievances to interfere with their work on behalf of the citizens of this great nation.

Well, unless you count something like this. Where HUD officials, disgruntled with a a public housing official in Philadelphia, chuckled as they gleefully sent emails to each other discussing how to "make his life less happy".

You know, I've probably made comments like this. But when I say it, what I mean is doing something like signing someone up for a free trial subscription to CosmoGirl Magazine without their knowledge or consent. Take that, asshole. But for Orlando J. Cabrera and Kim Kendrick, when you want to fuck with somebody, then being a high ranking federal official provides a much larger array of avenues through which you might carry out your childish and illegitimate retributions.

Say, for example, "fabricating problems in the [Philadelphia Housing A]uthority's performance," "strip[ping] the Philadelphia Housing Authority of as much as $50 million in federal funds", and thereby "rais[ing] rents for... 84,000 low-income tenants and forc[ing] the layoffs of 250 people".

Monday, March 10, 2008

WH cites terrorism in considering unilateral sanctions on Venezuela

According to this news article from McClatchy, the Bush Administration directed its lawyers to determine what criteria must be used to designate Venezuela as a "State Sponsor of terrorism". If the WH is successful in placing this designation on Venezuela, the country will immediately be subject to severe U.S. sanctions.

Apparently the Secretary of State has the authority to make this designation. A brief search through the State Department's website does not reveal any specific criteria to be used in making such a determination.

It does however, have a page detailing the penalties resulting from the designation. It begins with a convoluted (some might say circular) definition:
"Designating countries that repeatedly provide support for acts of international terrorism (that is, placing a country on the terrorism list) imposes four main sets of U.S. Government sanctions..."
Basically, this appears to amount to a standard of "it is what we say it is". But this would be a decision with powerful results, including:
A ban on arms-related exports and sales
Controls over exports of dual-use items
Prohibitions on economic assistance
Imposition of miscellaneous financial and other restrictions, including:
Requiring the United States to oppose loans by the World Bank and other international financial institutions
Denial of duty-free treatment of goods exported to the United States;
Authority to prohibit any U.S. citizen from engaging in a financial transaction with a terrorist-list government without a Treasury Department license
These are, or certainly could be, crippling sanctions. Essentially, all or a large part of trade between Venezuela and the U.S. could be shut down. The shutdown would occur on the say-so of one person: Condoleeza Rice.

The Bush Administration doesn't like Venezuela's government. It doesn't like Venezuela's economic system (socialist). It doesn't like Hugo Chavez, especially with his constant public satire directed at GWBush. And the Bush Administration has not yet found a pseudo-plausible reason to bomb or invade Venezuela yet. But, ever wily, the WH believes it has found a simple method of doing damage to and imposing its will upon Hugo Chavez and his recalcitrant country.

The authority for the Administration to do this is found, at least in part, in Section 310 of the Export Administration Act of 2001. This section mentions various hoops that must be jumped through for states to get off the list and/or to acquire waivers ("licenses"). These hoops include congressional notification, reports, and analysis. But for a country to get on the list? No congressional notification, consultation, or anything else. In fact, the statute contains the same "standard" for determination of terrorist state as is mentioned, in passing, on the State Department's website. It is as follows:
...the government of such country has repeatedly provided support for acts of international terrorism...
And that is all. Such a succinct standard, with no objective elements to speak of, is perfect if you are in favor of an omnipotent executive. (Apparently the circa-2001 Congress was not much interested in overseeing these types of decisions.) This standard could, if the executive and his subservient Secretary were so inclined, be satisfied by almost any shreds of trumped up innuendo, rumors, and half-truths. And yet, we probably shouldn't worry. Because this particular executive and his associates have always in the past been known to act honorably and in good faith.


Eliot Spitzer has some issues. Apparently, someone who spouts "law and order" drivel from the highest mountaintop -- including touting his numerous victories over the evil forces of various escort services and their customers -- will have hell to pay when he, himself, is found to be a criminal involved in similar wrongdoing.

And I should add that, while I enjoy seeing politicians hoisted by their own petard as much as the next guy, I think the best thing that will come out of this is a whole bunch of people questioning whether hiring a prostitute should really be a crime -- or at least whether tracking down and prosecuting people who do so is really a worthwhile use of our limited law enforcement resources, especially given that there is plenty of non-consensual crime going on out there.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Republicans: The Party of Lincoln

Item One: Bush vetoes torture ban. But remember, we don't torture.

Item Two: Rep. Steve King (R-IA) says if we elect Obama then The Terrorists have won. His middle name matters, says King, because The Terrorists "read a meaning into that". Because of Obama's race, ethnicity, and his father's religion, The Terrorists will be "dancing in the streets" and will "declare victory".

Abe Lincoln would be so proud of what his party has become.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Just what we need

Another 4 or 8 years of a presidency full of secrecy and obfuscation.

From USA Today:
Federal archivists at the Clinton Presidential Library are blocking the release of hundreds of pages of White House papers on pardons that the former president approved.

The archivists' decision, based on guidance provided by Bill Clinton that restricts the disclosure of advice he received from aides, prevents public scrutiny of documents that would shed light on how he decided which pardons to approve from among hundreds of requests.

These records would "shed light" on how Clinton pardoned Marc Rich, fugitive tax evader, who only coincidentally contributed $450,000 to Clinton's presidential library fund. I have no doubt that some of this stuff would prove embarrassing to the Clintons. Too bad. Some might suggest that a better way of avoiding embarrassment might be to not do such embarrassing things in the first place, rather than use these bullshit maneuvers to avoid people finding out more about them.

As the Obama campaign mentions, if Hillary Clinton isn't "willing to be open with (voters) on these issues now, why would she be open as president?" Answer: she won't. Perhaps neither will Obama, but we don't know that yet.

Race Card

Ok, so I'm taking some heat in comments about the last post. As I have tried to make clear in comments, I do not believe that all Wise County people are stupid and/or racists.

Though it is sometimes not obvious to outsiders, I think that the average intelligence of Wise County residents (excluding Newark) is roughly equivalent to the average intelligence of people who do not live in Wise County. Some are smart, some are dumb, but on average it's about the same as you'd find just about anywhere.

And as far as racism is concerned, certainly you will find racists there, just like you will find racists anywhere. I've lived in WC the better part of my life, and I know for certain that some people there are racists. On the other hand, there are a substantial majority of people there who are not.

The point I'm trying to make (which was the same thing suggested by Barry in this post) is that there has to be some explanation for why four three times as many Democratic primary voters in Wise County chose Clinton over Obama. As I may not have made clear enough in the original post, there is virtually no difference at all between these two candidates when it comes to substantive issues. Not on Iraq, not on health care, not on the economy. Any differences there are very very minor. So, it has to come down to something else, and I am open to any alternative explanations.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Wise County for Whitey

The image is a county by county map showing results in the Democratic primary and margin of victory. (from Cogitamus, via Yglesias) The green is Clinton, the purple is Obama; the darker the color, the bigger the margin. Click the image to enlarge, click the links to read the analysis.

Big picture, Obama clearly won the urban counties, Clinton the rural ones. The analysis focuses on Clinton's supposed strength among hispanics. I don't have enough information to dispute this.

But what readily jumps out at me is that some of these rural counties don't have a lot of hispanic voters. What they do have, however, is a lot of rural white folks who will vote for a Democrat, but will not - ever - vote for a black candidate. I know a good sampling of this type of person. And while, by and large, they are not overt hateful bigots, they have just simply not evolved to the point where they are comfortable with a black person in a position of power.

I know, I know. Fuck their comfort level, they are assholes. But: just as I feel pity for a ghetto youth who drops out of school and turns to crime because he grows up in poor and violent circumstances with no one to teach him right from wrong, I feel sorry for backwards rural people who are prejudiced due, at least in part, to their upbringing and other externalities.

We have a ways to go.

Triple blizzard indeed

I'm going to have to agree with Barry, this is a crazy-ass snowstorm. Everyone sent home from work, traffic slowed to a crawl, my car sliding all over the road, huge flakes, low visibility, no signs of stopping.

Unfortunately, no pics possible at the moment.

"A venal war on our underclass"

Via The Agitator, David Simon and The Wire's writing staff publish a manifesto, of sorts, in Time magazine.

One of several money-quotes: "No longer can we collaborate with a government that uses nonviolent drug offenses to fill prisons with its poorest, most damaged and most desperate citizens."

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

No comment necessary:

"The primary aim of modern warfare...

is to use up the products of the machine without raising the general standard of living."

So says George Orwell, and so repeats Driftglass in a tour de force takedown of the modern GOP. It is long, and well worth reading for anyone who, like me, has had nebulous, ill-refined ideas about the similarities between the Bush Administration and the Inner Party of Orwell's 1984. The linked post crystallizes it perfectly.

It is a long piece, but highly recommended if you come across a spare quarter-hour you need to kill sometime. Here's a couple of Orwell quotes he uses:

The essential act of war is destruction, not necessarily of human lives, but of the products of human labour. War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent. Even when weapons of war are not actually destroyed, their manufacture is still a convenient way of expending labour power without producing anything that can be consumed. A Floating Fortress, for example, has locked up in it the labour that would build several hundred cargo-ships. Ultimately it is scrapped as obsolete, never having brought any material benefit to anybody, and with further enormous labours another Floating Fortress is built.

For if leisure and security were enjoyed by all alike, the great mass of human beings who are normally stupefied by poverty would become literate and would learn to think for themselves; and when once they had done this, they would sooner or later realize that the privileged minority had no function, and they would sweep it away. In the long run, a hierarchical society was only possible on a basis of poverty and ignorance.

In his capacity as an administrator, it is often necessary for a member of the Inner Party to know that this or that item of war news is untruthful, and he may often be aware that the entire war is spurious and is either not happening or is being waged for purposes quite other than the declared ones.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Quick Hits

Gas Prices

The other day Bush was asked about $4/gal gasoline. He fumbled around finally said: "Oh, yeah? That's interesting. I hadn't heard that."

Today I spot the following headline: Bush Warns OPEC on Energy Prices. In other news, the title of my next post will be "Blogger Warns Budweiser on Beer Prices."

Legislating Morality Demoralizes the Enforcers

Here's a story detailing a "shocking" increase in the number of Border Patrol agents being arrested for serious crimes, including bribery and drug smuggling. As IWTS continually and effectively makes clear, modern day Prohibition actually creates far more crime than it prevents. In fact, Prohibition has spent years creating a multi-billion dollar black market trade in narcotics. And yet this asshat (Thomas S. Winkowski, some bigwig in U.S. Customs) is shocked, shocked! that this black market's paradigm of huge rewards for risky, illegal behavior is actually causing his agents to siphon off some of these profits for themselves in return for breaking the very same laws that they are tasked with enforcing. Notice that you don't have this same scenario with cops whose job it is to enforce prohibitions against armed robbery, art heists, or murder-for-hire. Know why? Because there are actually legitimate, objective moral and ethical bases for prohibitions against these activities. Prohibition against drugs? No legitimate moral or ethical reasons underlying it. As I have noted before (and will continue to note, right up until Homeland Security confiscates my computer), drug Prohibition is a mechanism of control used by the State against elements of the citizenry which are considered undesirable. Nothing more, nothing less. The fact that Drug Warriors become criminals themselves is a wholly predictable result of this mechanism. The solution? Lock them up too and keep doing more of the same, forever.

Mr. Danger, Redux

In response to Colombian military incursions into Ecuador, both Ecuador and Venezuela are massing thousands of troops and military hardware on the Colombian border. Guess who Mr. Danger is backing in this confrontation? Mr. Danger sez: "America fully supports Colombia's democracy. We firmly oppose any acts of aggression that could destabilize the region."

Right. Because the United States is the only country allowed to flood a region with troops and military hardware while ignoring the possibility that such behavior just might tend to destabilize said region. Oh, and speaking of which, that's exactly what we've been doing in Colombia for the last 7 years. Yes, we've been supplying the puppet Uribe regime with troops, military hardware, and billions of dollars in military aid money. Why? To help Colombia eradicate its one and only thing of value: coca crops. (Similar to what we're doing in Afghanistan with poppy crops, the farming of which constitutes more than 50% of that country's gross domestic product.)

At the same time, our government is backing what is known as "Plan Colombia". This involves aerial spraying of coca crops with Round-Up (no, I'm not making this up). Of course, aerial spraying happens to be somewhat of a imprecise mechanism, the result of which is that anyone or anything else that happens to be in the vicinity of the coca crops also gets sprayed with poison, including children and their food and water supplies. But, on the positive side, at least we've staunched the flow of cocaine into the country!

So... you can see how the U.S. would have the moral high ground in this present dispute. You can understand how we can present ourselves as an honest broker, the voice of moderation, a sane and impartial mediator who can engage in a bit of sound and level-headed diplomacy in these circumstances.

Sort of like we just recently did in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict...

Rice, Bush Undermined Palestinian Elections by Arming Rebels and Fomenting Civil War

I'm not sure what else needs to be said beyond my headline, but since this blockbuster Vanity Fair article is 8 long pages long, here is as concise of a plot summary as I can come up with:

1. Bush and Rice, ignoring every knowledgeable expert, including their actual allies on the ground in the Palestinian Fatah party, push for early Palestinian elections. 2. Following right along with the predictions of said knowledgeable experts and leading members of Fatah, Fatah loses said elections to U.S. arch-enemy Hamas. 3. Upon Hamas taking control pursuant to said elections, Bush and Rice, being unhappy with said outcome, pick an arbitrary (and viciously brutal, of course) Fatah strongman, give him a couple hundred million dollars, pour in shitloads of guns, ammo, and other assorted military hardware, and encourage him to retake the Palestinian government by force (this, you will readily perceive, is part of the Bush Administration's "Democracy Initiative"). 4. Bush and Rice's armed insurrection fails miserably. 5. Hamas, emboldened and seeking revenge, attacks and takes over Gaza. 6. Hamas is thereby made far stronger than ever before, and uses its gains in Gaza to launch more, and more brutal and effective, attacks on Israel, prompting Israel to launch more brutal attacks on the Palestinians, and so on and so on.

Thanks, George W.

Ok, so I voted. For the first time in more years than I care to mention. For that, I have George W. Bush to thank. He really knows how to bring out the sense of civic responsibility in people.

As long as things are trucking along reasonably well, or even somewhat poorly, I'm content to sit at home and let the chips fall where they may. And while it disappoints and infuriates me that there is no viable candidate for the presidency (or for any other office) that has been willing to fully repudiate all of the worst abuses of our nation's government, this administration's disastrous and near-catastrophic reign has spurred me to at least assume my small role in determining what happens next. Not by coincidence, record-high turnouts are expected today, here in Texas. In fact, it is just barely possible that GWBush has sufficiently angered the populace to the point where Texas will not, come November, be a reliable Republican stronghold. Still unlikely, but we can hope for the best.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Mondale Strategy

I don't know what is meant by the "famous Mondale ad strategy", but I'm guessing employing it isn't such a great idea.

adding... the last thing I, as a potential voter in a Democratic primary, want to hear from a candidate is that he or she is going to do more of this that or the other in an effort to "keep our children safe".