Wednesday, December 31, 2008

some results of recent surfing

1. Here's a 3500sqft 5 bedroom brick house in a tree-lined neighborhood. Nice yard, hardwood floors, full basement. Yours for only $8,925. The catch? It's in Detroit.

2. At the above link you'll also note that lists over 200 houses in metro Detroit for less than $1,000. The average house in Detroit is now valued at less than $20,000.

3. This blog documents how Detroit is now one the greenest metro areas in the world. The reason? Nature is reasserting itself amid the abandoned ruins, with burned out and bulldozed blocks reverting back to open prairies with tall grasses, and high rise buildings sporting rooftop mini-forests. More here. And here's a cool photo essay of the urban decay.

4. Roundup of 2008 economic forecasts and stock picks that didn't quite work out. My favorite:
• James J. Cramer, “Future of Business” New York Magazine
“Goldman Sachs… finishes the year at $300 a share. Not a prediction — an inevitability.”

Goldman Sachs’ share price [last week] was $78, and the firm announced its first quarterly loss — $2.2 billion.
Jim Cramer should never be taken seriously ever again.

5. Alberto "Judge" Gonzales opines that the true victims of the War On Terror are not the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, or the millions of displaced Iraqi refugees, or the thousands of dead and wounded American soldiers, or the innocent people tortured at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, or the millions of American citizens subjected to illegal electronic surveillance... no, according to the "Judge", the real victims are himself, George Bush, and Dick Cheney. All they did, you see, was implement some policies to Keep America Safe that "some people didn't agree with", and here they are being subjected to all of this vulgar criticism from the very people they were trying to protect all along. Actually, this viewpoint makes a lot of sense. If you're a deranged lunatic, that is.

6. From the Big Picture, lots of photos of the Gaza nastiness mentioned in the post below. Not for the faint of heart.

7. A somewhat unselfaware post on a blog called "Stop the ACLU". The post unironically derides and ridicules the British Culture Secretary's plan to censor internet content. No, really. That's what it says. The post is surrounded on all sides by childish, ill-informed harangues against the ACLU for destroying our great nation. It's a wonder that people this stupid ever figure out how to connect their computers to the inter-webs.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

good fences make good neighbors

You may have seen on the news that the Israelis have been active recently in bombing the shit out of the Gaza Strip. This is the Israeli response to Palestinian militants continually firing rudimentary rockets over the border into Israel, which has caused injuries, a few deaths, and some terror.

For me, the Gaza Strip is something I always heard about, but never really conceptualized in any detail. Sure, I had a rough idea what its political significance was, where it was located, etc. But now that I've done a bit of research, I've gained a more refined idea of what the Gaza Strip really is.

First, here's a map:

As you can see, it is roughly rectangular, roughly 25 miles long and 4-7 miles wide, bordered on 2 sides by Israel, on one side by Egypt, and on the other side by the Mediterranean. If you looked at this map from a geographical view alone, without bringing in any political or demographic considerations, the territory here might appear to be a nice section of beachfront. Perhaps the locale for some fancy resorts, or a rather largish coastal retreat for an investment banker.

Sadly, no. The coastal border has no port, and is tirelessly patrolled by Israeli gunboats. The three land borders are bounded by 30ft walls that look like this:

There's an airport in the southeast corner. Here's a picture of it:

You might notice a few, er, gaps in the runway there. Those are from bombs. No plane can land there or has been able to land there for many years.

You may ask, how do people ingress and egress this place, the Gaza Strip? Short answer: they don't. Although there are a handful of (highly militarized) border crossings, these are usually closed. Up until recently, the Israelis allowed supply trucks to cross into Gaza to allow food and medical supplies in amounts sufficient to keep Gazans from dying in large numbers. On November 5, this practice was drastically curtailed. According to this article in the London Review of Books, during the last two months 90-95% of the scheduled humanitarian shipments into Gaza have been stopped. An average of roughly 12 trucks per day have been allowed to cross into Gaza.

Did I mention that 1.5 million people live in Gaza? They are roughly 99% Arab Muslims. Unemployment is 50% and rising rapidly. Even before the recent blockade, 20% of children suffered from "chronic malnutrition" and 45% were found by a Johns Hopkins study to be "anemic". What might these figures be now that only 5-10% of the usual supplies are being allowed in? No one knows for sure, but it's a good bet that lots of people are starving.

Apart from any questions of how the Israelis might best handle the situation given that they certainly need to provide for their own security, given all of the facts above, how can the Gaza Strip be classified as anything other than a giant concentration camp?


Did you ever notice that in any contest or dispute -- be it a tennis game, a boxing match, an election, a war, whatever -- a person calling themselves "conservative" or a "Republican" will, without regard to any other existing circumstances, context, facts, or logic, almost always support the party with the lightest skin color?

Why is that?

Monday, December 29, 2008

all your internets are belong to us

Some British asshat has determined that the internet contains some of teh bad stuff and it is high time that Something Must Be Done. Unfortunately, this British asshat happens to be the UK "Culture Secretary", which appears to be somewhat akin to the American FCC.

He proposes that the British government, along with the Obama administration, take steps to... er, do something or other to, well, uh... I'll just let the asshat speak for himself:
There is content that should just not be available to be viewed. That is my view. Absolutely categorical. This is not a campaign against free speech, far from it; it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it involves harm to other people. We have got to get better at defining where the public interest lies and being clear about it.
Got that? This asshat says some things "should just not be available to be viewed." Which things? Well, don't worry your heads, he'll decide that using his own exceedingly wise personal sense of taste and discrimination.

Why is this so important to the asshat? Well: "Leaving your child for two hours completely unregulated on the internet is not something you can do." So... since neither the asshat nor his wife can be bothered to spend time monitoring their own children, the rest of us are just going to have to bite the bullet and put up with a universal system of heavy-handed censorship implemented by him and others of his ilk (who also can't stand their own children).

He also thinks the Obama folks will be on board: "[The asshat] also believes that the inauguration of Barack Obama, the President-Elect, presents an opportunity to implement the major changes necessary for the web. "

Let's hope not. Let's also hope that the nebulous and unspecific proposals he mentions are technically impossible. And, sure, we could further hope that this asshat is hit by a bus on his way to the office one day soon. But that would be uncouth of us, wouldn't it? Not quite up to our normal standards of decency, you might say.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

from the tiny Dept. of Government Agencies I'd Like To Invent Rather Than Abolish

I neglected to post anything about the Blagojkevachgq scandal. It was interesting to read Fitzgerald's complaint. Kind of like the enjoyment I used to get from watching Cops. You know, here's a really dumb criminal, let's stick a camera in his face while he's being arrested and listen to all of the moronic things he has to say.

Funny? Yes. But on the scale of nefariousness, Blagokjavqghic & Co. is dwarfed by the ongoing crime spree over at the Bush Administration. In other words, nothing to get too worked up over.

The most interesting angle in the story to me was the suspicion that there are hundreds or thousands of Blakogadvaiqchs out there at all levels of government who happen to be not quite so ambitious as he, nor as blazingly stupid, and therefore continue their petty-to-middling public corruption without coming to the attention of law enforcement or running afoul of the handful of prosecutors, like Fitzgerald, who actually care that a sizable portion our publicly elected officials are liars, thieves, and crooks.

Because, after all, our law enforcement personnel have far better things to do with their time and resources. Like conduct military-style raids on the homes of terminal cancer patients who smoke weed to make themselves feel marginally better prior to their deaths.

So my humble suggestion is that we disband the DEA. Just send pink slips to all the agents and their executives and their middle managers and their secretaries and send them to alternative job training. Preferably something involving shovels, or mattocks, or possibly pool skimmers. Something where they can perform a service of actual value to society. Do the same with all of the multi-agency drug task forces that infest our cities and towns.

Granted, this will result in a tough problem for our federal, state, and local governments. Two, actually. First: what to do with all the money we will save as a result of these massive budget cuts? Second: how will we keep our prisons filled and avoid the nation's prison industry -- having enjoyed such a profitable run during the drug war -- from suffering the same fate as the auto industry?

These are certainly grave challences for us to overcome. Luckily for us, I have a solution. In place of the DEA and its various clones at the state and local level, we can create a similar infrastructure under the auspices of the newly formed Public Integrity Enforcement Agency (PIEA). The PIEA will be funded from our savings in closing down the failed War On Drugs, and will wage a new War On Public Corruption, using all the same tactics (surveillance, informants, entrapment, civil forfeiture, military-style raids, perp walks, and the like, though hopefully eschewing such tried and true drug war mainstays such as planting of evidence and subornation of perjury), but targeting greedy politicians, power-hungry appointees, and hypocritical bureaucrats. We should have a strict mandatory minimum sentencing regime and ruthlessly enforced No Tolerance policies.

This is one government program somebody like me could really get behind. I might even pay extra taxes to support it. The only hitch is that, before long, and in stark contrast to the drug war itself, this war might begin to show results, and with all the corrupt politicians occupying prison cells instead of government offices, people like me might actually have to run for office to fill the void. Then, my fellow Americans, we are in for some serious trouble.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Still here, still throwing (metaphorical) shoes at the preznit

But that guy is phenomenally good at ducking them.

As I have noted several previous times, back when Bush and Paulson first proposed looting the treasury of several hundred billion dollars for the benefit of their Wall Street cronies, our illustrious congress would have none of it. "No, sir!" they said. "We must have oversight and accountability!"

One prominent feature of this accountability was "limits on executive pay." Notwithstanding that the provision proposed for this purpose by the congress itself was exceedingly weak, congress then allowed the administration to insert one additional condition; a single sentence that we now learn -- or I should say, the Washington Post and its readers are now learning, though those of us who were paying attention knew it all along -- I say, a single sentence was added that acted as a lexical dentist of sorts, forcibly removing all remaining teeth from that particular mouth of accountability.

From the article:

Congress wanted to guarantee that the $700 billion financial bailout would limit the eye-popping pay of Wall Street executives, so lawmakers included a mechanism for reviewing executive compensation and penalizing firms that break the rules.

But at the last minute, the Bush administration insisted on a one-sentence change to the provision, congressional aides said. The change stipulated that the penalty would apply only to firms that received bailout funds by selling troubled assets to the government in an auction, which was the way the Treasury Department had said it planned to use the money.

Now, however, the small change looks more like a giant loophole, according to lawmakers and legal experts. In a reversal, the Bush administration has not used auctions for any of the $335 billion committed so far from the rescue package, nor does it plan to use them in the future. Lawmakers and legal experts say the change has effectively repealed the only enforcement mechanism in the law dealing with lavish pay for top executives.

Note that it says "which was the way the Treasure Department had said it planned to use the money." My italics. Because although they said this, they had no present intention of actually doing it this way:
Meanwhile, Paulson repeatedly told lawmakers that he did not plan to use bailout funds to inject capital directly into financial institutions. Privately, however, his staff was developing plans to do just that, Paulson acknowledged in an interview.
But because Bush and his minions had always been so trustworthy up until that point, it only stands to reason that congress, in its infinite wisdom and foresight, would naturally take them at their word.

People, this is theft on a massive, historical scale. The magnitude is stunning. Congress has been delinquent, and, what's worse, its dereliction of duty in this particular case, while shameful, is not exactly big news at this point and arguably isn't even the worst thing they've done in the past year.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Yes, my college football team got screwed by the BCS...

But even that is no reason for this.

Dear Congress,
Thank you for your efforts in leading our great nation. But please, stick to what you do best: supporting torture and warrantless spying, bowing to the demands of the least popular president in history, and -- of course -- spending the nation into utter penury so that inept financiers don't have to go without their poached salmon and liveried doormen.
But whatever you do: stay the FUCK out of college football.
Thank you.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

time to get a hummer

Courtesy, at least in part, of my supermarket "rewards" card:

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I check IOZ so you don't have to

On Proposition 8.

Everyone remembers Martin Luther King for his campaign of non-violence, but what they forget, what they choose to forget because his real radicalism terrifies most Americans, was that he was the man who stood before America and called in a debt, told the nation that the check was due. The power of his nonviolence was in the dramatic role he cast himself: this one man holding back a seething tide of implacable rage. Behind the entire civil rights movement lurked the specter of violence held in check, but not forever.
Not sure I agree with his take on the gay movement, but I don't have an actual dog in that fight, so I'm not going to criticize. But the quote above oughta be widely read and understood for its relevance to... well, a lot of stuff.