Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Mike Leach fired?

Really? Because he banished an entitled, malcontented slacker to a dark room for a couple of hours? How fucking stupid. He is simply the best football coach the school has ever had -- or ever will have.

Bobby Knight did for the Texas Tech basketball program maybe a tenth of what Leach has done for its football program. And yet Knight was allowed to get away with all manner of chicanery while there.

And remember, this is the school that hired a professor with a track record of perjuring himself to the U.S. Congress, working behind the scenes to make torture a pillar of official U.S. policy, and generally being a toadie in the service of egregious violations of the United States Constitution.

Not exactly an institution bound to high standards, in other words. What a fucking joke. I wish only abject FAIL on this school forevermore.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What I did on my summer/fall vacation from blogging:

1. Went to Las Vegas and came back with more money than I took with me. This is due to a roulette strategy known as "progressive betting". In a nutshell:

(1) bet a certain amount X on a 50/50 proposition (red/black, odd/even);

(2) if you win, pocket your winnings and go back to step (1);

(3) if you lose, bet amount X again;

(4) if you win, you're back even and can go back to step (1);

(5) if you lose, bet amount 2X;

(6) if you win, you're back at even and can go back to step (1);

(7) if you lose, bet amount 4X;

(8) etc. keep doubling your bet each time you lose.

This works reasonably well... for a while. But of course if you do it enough you'll eventually bust out (lose your entire bankroll) or run up against the table limit.

But the odds are pretty decent. Say your starting bankroll is $1,600. Your bets would be $100, $100, $200, $400, $800, so you could lose a 50/50 bet 5 straight times before you busted out. I'm too lazy to figure out the exact probability, but this is a relatively rare occurence, and in all likelihood, before it happens, you will have doubled your original bankroll, in which case the next time you'll have to lose an even-more-unlikely 6 straight times before busting out. But my suggestion is that, upon doubling your bankroll, you grab your chips and head off to get a double vodka at the bar (you'll need it -- this type of gambling is tough on the nerves!).

2. Played softball. Our team is awful. I play third base. I'm probably one of the best fielders on the team, even though I tend to make a sub-par amount of throwing errors (I'm old, and my arm tends to start hurting on about the 4th throw during warm-ups). I'm a poor hitter. I tend to hit the ball hard, but 8 times out of ten it's a fly-out. Hitting a line drive on a pitch that's coming in at a downward angle is harder than it looks. Of course, when batting against our team, a fly ball has about a 75% chance of being a multi-base error instead of a fly-out. So it goes.

3. Went and saw U2 at Jerry Jones' Death Star. The show was awesome, I'm told. Our seats, unfortunately, were terrible. Our view was blocked by a leg of the set's giant spider thing. The seats were also approximately 1/4 mile above the floor. And the acoustics at that altitude, inside the giant reverberating dome, were amazingly bad. We could barely tell what song was being performed. But on the whole, it was quite a scene. The Death Star is a gaudy, monstrous abomination, unparalleled in its enormity (yes, enormity) among such venues. In other words: Great!

4. Fought the law and won. A few months ago I received a citation for "Obstruction of a Fire Lane". This occurred during a night out at a semi-local bar. The parking lot was filled beyond capacity when we arrived, but luckily we found a single parking space around the back. There were cars parked solid on either side of the space. When we returned after leaving the bar, we saw a ticket under the windshield wiper. Sure enough, we had parked in a fire lane, as had approximately 3 dozen other vehicles. I wasn't keen on paying $250 behind this bullshit, so I made the 55 minute drive down to the pissant suburban court two weeks later to plead not guilty (they don't allow you to plead not guilty by mail, though of course you are more than welcome to send them a check for your fine). On the way, I stopped by the bar and took this photo of the place we parked:

Notice that this is the visibility of the fire lane marking during broad daylight. When we parked of course it was pitch black back behind the building. So, after killing the greater part of an afternoon listening to teenagers and immigrants and teen-aged immigrants mindlessly waiving their rights to counsel and pleading guilty and asking for extensions to pay fines levied against them for a whole bunch of really trumped up sounding bullshit charges (ignorance of the system is apparently a huge (and depressing) factor in filling municipal coffers these days), I was called before the judge, pled guilty, and was assigned what they referred to as a "trial date". I found out later that this was not, in fact, a trial date (I never actually believed it was), but rather my one and only opportunity to speak with the prosecutor assigned to my case. So I was then forced to spend another whole afternoon driving down to this podunk court, sitting and watching downtrodden folks (this time, a few of them were actually represented by counsel), be called one by one into a small room to discuss their cases. I went armed with several photographs and a couple of Google Maps, but the nice young attractive prosecutor wasn't interested in my evidence, but rather distractedly cut off my story and explained, in a very rote fashion as if this was the dozenth or so time she had said it, how they had discussed this matter with the fire marshal and the property owners and believed that they had, now, erected, at this particular location, some very obvious indicators of the "No Parking" nature of these specific areas of the parking surface, and that therefore, to the best of her actual knowledge, this type of "mishap" or "misunderstanding" was not at all likely to ever occur again. When I began to relate findings from my most recent trip to this location, which had occurred only within the last few hours, and to impart to her my first-hand observation that, in fact, the condition of the fire lane was exactly as it had been several weeks ago, if not worse, she sort of half-rose out of her seat and immediately interrupted me to say that these observations were not at all relevant to my case, and that the bottom line of the whole situation was that the charges against me were being dismissed and that I was therefore free to go.

And so while there are probably a lot of implications of this story worth delving into, my main takeaway was to wonder, out of all the dozens of people ticketed that night at the bar, and other nights at the bar -- out of all the hundreds of people likely to have fallen prey this municipal con game, this kafkaesque government racket -- how many of those people simply bit the bullet and wrote out a check to the City of Watauga, TX, in the amount of $250, and mailed it in?

Friday, September 11, 2009


Reading about what was done to Alan Turing is enough to make you sick to your stomach. Gordon Brown has now apologized (though of course he had nothing to do with it, personally).

Turing (also a character in one of my favorite books) was the inventor of computer science and played a crucial role in breaking the Nazi Enigma codes during WWII. A genius and a war hero. England repaid Turing by prosecuting him for homosexuality, subjecting him to "chemical castration", and driving him to suicide.

As awful as this may seem, here in America, in these the Aughts, the 21st fucking century, there are still plenty of folks who would not hesitate to advocate for subjecting gays to this kind of treatment if they thought they could get away with it. And even Obama -- Hero and Saint of the Left -- continues, to this very day, to kick homosexuals out of this country's armed forces, and apparently will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Anyway. Gordon Brown:
It is thanks to men and women who were totally committed to fighting fascism, people like Alan Turing, that the horrors of the Holocaust and of total war are part of Europe's history and not Europe's present. So on behalf of the British government, and all those who live freely thanks to Alan's work, I am very proud to say: we're sorry. You deserved so much better.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

anti-drug operations are about power, not drugs

When a local "drug task force" dresses up in black military gear, arms up with assault rifles, breaks down someone's door, forces the occupants to the ground at gunpoint, shoots their dogs, and vandalizes their residence, this is not about drugs. It is about projecting the power of the state into someone's home and terrorizing that person, along with anyone else who might be visiting or looking on from across the street, etc. It is a statement. It says, "We are powerful and you are powerless. So keep that in mind as you go about living your life."

Similarly, when the federal government pours billions worth of military resources into a podunk South American country ostensibly for purposes of assisting "drug interdiction efforts", it isn't about drugs. It is about projecting American military power into that country and intimidating its neighbors. In this case, the federal government is completing an agreement to base troops and military aircraft in Colombia "in a battle alongside Colombian forces against Marxist guerrillas and drug traffickers".

First, I don't know exactly who these "Marxist guerrillas" are supposed to be, or whether they actually exist outside the imaginations of politicians and journalists, but assuming there are such people, this appears to signal U.S. intervention in a Colombian civil war. And all I have to say to that is: WTF?

But back to the point: I do actually know who is referred to by the term "drug traffickers". These are farmers and the middlemen who transport their crops to market. Since 2000, the federal government has spent $6 billion -- in Colombia alone -- to inundate their farmland with herbicides and to shoot at them from helicopters. The result? Colombia's share of the cocaine production market has fallen from 74% to 54%. Great. Of course, the overall production of cocaine in Latin America has risen by 16% over roughly the same time period. Oops.

It might surprise many of the folks in the various sectors of our Anti-Drug Industrial Complex here in the U.S.A., but South America is a big fucking place. It has lots and lots of remote areas, many many many square miles of which are perfectly suited for growing coca. South America is furthermore full of many thousands and millions of poor people, many of which are suited for becoming (relatively) wealthy coca farmers. Quite simply: if, tomorrow, you withdrew all American forces from Afghanistan, Iraq, Germany, South Korea, and all the other dozens of countries in which our far-flung military might be stationed on any given day of the week, and then you instituted a draft and conscripted about a million more soldiers, and then transported the entire sum of all American soldiers and military hardware down to South American and ordered them to "assist in drug interdiction efforts", you would still barely make the smallest dent in the amount of cocaine available on the streets of the United States. You would make a small dent, that is, for just as long as it took for some enterprising Africans to learn how to farm coca.

But notice I said it might surprise many of the folks in the anti-drug industry. Most of them, up to and including our Drug Warrior In Chief, President Obama, know this quite well. Why, then, would they embark on the pointless project outlined above (i.e., stationing soldiers and military aircraft in Colombia for purposes of drug interdiction)? Because it's not about the drugs. As in the hundreds or thousands of neighborhood drug raids conducted each day across America, drugs are merely the excuse.

And perhaps if Hugo Chavez wasn't such a loon, and hadn't become known as the Leftist Kook Who Cries Wolf, someone might pay attention when he says he "sees the base plan as U.S. 'imperialist' aggression".

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

guns and the nuts who carry them

A faithful reader suggests it might be productive for me to offer my thoughts on this story:
PHOENIX – About a dozen people carrying guns, including one with a military-style rifle, milled among protesters outside the convention center where President Barack Obama was giving a speech Monday — the latest incident in which protesters have openly displayed firearms near the president.
As you can see from the photo down on the right, your humble blogger is familiar with firearms. I'm comfortable around them, I grew up around them, I own several of them, and I like to take them out and shoot them from time to time. Some of my best memories of growing up revolve around my Dad and Granddad taking me out target-shooting. I support the Second Amendment, and in general I oppose most gun control measures.

So that's my starting point here. And my initial reaction to this story is along the lines of: just because something is legal doesn't mean it's a good idea (along with the corollary: just because something is a bad idea doesn't mean it should be illegal). As a recent example of this, the First Amendment does indeed allow a person to use the word "nigger" when referring to a black person. This does not mean it is a good idea to do so. The linked-to blogger (a regular commenter over at Barry Green's House of Right-Wing Crazy) wears his ignorance and hatred and faux-victimhood as a badge of honor, and gets his thrills by oh-so-rebelliously inflicting slavery-era insults upon those segments of humanity whom he can readily identify as being "below" him. These folks are easily identified by virtue of their skin pigmentation.

Legal? Yes. Likely to advance the cause of civilization? Not even remotely.

Likewise, carrying a gun to a presidential event may in fact be legal in Phoenix, Arizona. Is any good likely to come of it? I think you know the answer to that one.

One further point, though. Those people in the story carrying guns aren't looking to advance the cause of civilization. They are trying to assuage their own personal feelings of powerlessness in the face of the ascendancy of certain points of view which they find extremely frightening ("socialism" being the most charitable of these fears -- among other fears which are far less charitable).

But I also suspect that another, more sinister purpose -- though perhaps not well thought out -- is to provoke a confrontation in which they can be portrayed as the victims. For example: "Obama's brownshirt thugs attacked me, arrested me, and took away my assault rifle -- even though I was simply protesting his fascist policies in full compliance with all the laws!" This, the fantasy goes, will inspire thousands or millions more like-minded patriots to take to the streets bearing firearms, which in turn will result in either: (a) a bloody civil war in which all their fantasies of minority-directed vigilantism will come true, or (b) the removal of Obama from the presidency, to be replaced by someone more palatable who will -- in comparison with Obama -- reduce (even further) the tax burden on the wealthy, reduce (even further) social services for the poor, increase (even more) spending on defense and law enforcement, and increase (even more) the tax burden on the poor. This, in the fevered minds of these decidedly unwealthy, gun-toting protesters, is called "Liberty".

let God sort them out.

The Supreme Court, over two Justices’ dissents, on Monday ordered a federal judge in Georgia to consider and rule on the claim of innocence in the murder case against Troy Anthony Davis (In re Davis, 08-1443) The Court told the District Court to “receive testimony and make findings of fact as to whether evidence that could have been obtained at the time of trial clearly establishes [Davis'] innocence.”
Scalia, of course, was one of the dissenters, having never yet encountered a criminal defendant he didn't believe was guilty. The crux of his dissent: "This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is ‘actually’ innocent."

In other words, innocence is no constitutional impediment to execution, so long as the condemned has had a "full and fair trial". One of Sullivan's stand-ins asks if this a "crazy view". I don't know if it's "crazy", but I'd definitely vote for "callous and amoral".

But the point I want to get at is the Sullivan stand-in's subsequent statement: "Procedural rights (like the right to a lawyer or the right to avoid self incrimination) do not guarantee a specific outcome (like the correct decision in a case). It is possible to imagine a fair trial that respects everyone's rights but nonetheless reaches the wrong conclusion."

Emphasis mine, because I think this is undeniably true, and is probably the absolute best argument against the death penalty you are likely to ever see.

The Fifth Amendment provides that no person shall be "deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law". I've always thought that this should be interpreted as prohibiting the death penalty except in truly exceptional circumstances.

Obviously the Fifth Amendment allows for different levels of "process" being due to a person depending upon what the state is trying to deprive the person of. On the one hand, if it seeks to deprive you of some small amount of property (say, by imposing a fine for a parking ticket), the not a lot of process is "due". On the other hand, if the state intends to deprive a person of a great deal of liberty (say, by imposing a sentence of life in prison), then quite a lot of process is due.

My argument is that if the state intends to deprive a person of all of his property, and all of his liberty, and all of his life (say, by strapping him down and injecting him with a lethal dose of toxic chemicals), then the amount of process due that person is essentially infinite. Especially given the idea noted above: namely, that even the fairest and fullest trial may in fact reach the wrong conclusion.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Whole Foods Fail

I've often argued against anti-corporate regulations and general government interventionism in many contexts on the libertarian theory that corporations hate bad publicity, and if they do something wrong they will usually be punished by the resulting consumer backlash. For example, you don't need laws against tuna company fishing practices which snare a bunch of dolphins, because more often than not, if this is truly something that people don't like, tuna companies following these practices will suffer in the marketplace, and either change their practices or lose market share to companies who don't kill dolphins (and eventually go out of business).

This is only a general rule, of course, and subject to many exceptions in particular contexts. But today we have an especially ironic example of this rule in action. John Mackey, CEO of the grocery chain Whole Foods Market, is apparently somewhat of a libertarian himself. Yesterday he took to the pages of the ultra-right-wing WSJ editorial page to argue vehemently against government involvement in health care.

I think you can see the problem here. Whole Foods caters to hippies, crunchies, and granola types. These are its hard core of support -- its target group of customers. And this demographic is heavily slanted toward liberal (or "progressive") views on various political issues. Such as for example: health care.

The link above will take you to a DailyKos post vilifying (rightly or wrongly) Mr. Mackey for his strident stance against health care reform. The post, in turn, links to the forums section of Whole Foods' website. When I first read the DailyKos item I of course immediately clicked on over to the WF forums to rubberneck at the trainwreck carnage. Sure enough, threads and comments, running roughly 99% against Mackey and WholeFoods, were proliferating at an amazing pace.

So I had my fun, and went on to something else. I clicked back over a while later just to check the comment count, and lo and behold WF's web minions (and, presumably, P.R. staff) had done a massive purge of forum threads and were, even as I watched, engaged in a heroic effort to scrub the new posts and comments as quickly as they were being posted. These new comments had moved from the obvious "Food Politics" section and were now inundating more innocuous sections of the forums, such as "Recipe Swap" and "Gluten-Free Diets".

I only skimmed Mackey's op-ed. I don't know for sure whether his ideas are good or bad. But either way, the irony here is delicious. Mr. Mackey surely believes in the idea that "the market will decide" what's best for everyone -- consumers, corporations, and society alike. I tend to agree. And I have a feeling that the market for organic arugula is going to decide to teach Mr. Mackey a hard-earned lesson about where his whole-grain bread is buttered.

Of course, Mr. Mackey can always hope to pick up some customers from the ranks of folks who agree with his health care views. You know, the "Death Panel" "keep your dirty gubmint hands off my Medicare" crowd. Good luck with all that. That particular demographic is on record as stating that arugula is only consumed by communist muslim illegal aliens, and that organic farming is nothing more than a Satan-inspired conspiracy to force us all into interracial gay marriages and abort our white babies. I'm sure they'll all be lining at your stores any minute now, Mr. Mackey.

[UPDATE] Well, it appears now that the P.R. staff is starting to realize that the delete-ignore-hope it all goes away strategy isn't going to work. They've now created a whole new forum category (Current Events/Health Care). Which is good, I guess, but it didn't stop someone from posting, in the "Recipe Swap" forum, a thread entitled "Recipe for Obviously You Don't Know Your Customers Soup". Heh.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

some disjointed observations

1. It's been a while since I was in law school, but from what I remember from my first year torts class, there's a name that lawyers have for this type of thing: false imprisonment.

2. Though I find Judd Apatow movies generally amusing, I'm not a huge fan and am on the verge of being an anti-fan simply because the guy gets so much hype nowadays. But aside from that, I guess I never realized that his movies had this element of "conservative family values", a fact which, I suppose, means that the message was clever and effective. In any event, Matt Yglesias makes a really insightful point in discussing the linked article. Namely, the tendency of a high percentage of the folks most loudly espousing these ideals to place a highly disproportionate amount of importance on those parts of "Christian family values morality" that are the easiest for them personally to adhere to. For example, most people are not gay. For those people, refraining from having sex with persons of the same sex is easy -- they have no desire to do so. On the other hand: being charitable, turning the other cheek, loving your enemies, keeping lust out of your heart, being faithful to your spouse, subordinating your materialistic desires in favor of your love of Christ and your fellow man, or -- to take the teachings of Christ literally -- to give away all of your material possessions and lead a simply, godly life in service of the Lord: these things, to a greater or lesser degree, are all very difficult. But hating fags: simple!

3. This story comes from one of my old stomping grounds -- a place where Christian charity abounds. Apparently County Judge Tom Head thought it would be a good idea to paper the courthouse cork board with a racist wingnut email he printed out. When caught, rather than admitting error and apologizing, he chose to defend the message, deny any racism, and state that he was attempting to "try and get people talking to one another". Because, ya know, in Lubbock County, Texas, the best way to promote a civil, productive conversation about racial issues is to use the county courthouse as a forum to champion the idea that blacks are all a bunch of crack-smoking, wife-beating felons. I predict this guy will be re-elected in a giant landslide.

4. Apropos of the post below, Sarah Palin recently broke her post-employment silence to assert that Obama's health care reform plan is evil because it will establish "Death Panels" (no doubt populated by gay muslim terrorists) for the purpose of euthanize her grandmother and her Trig-baby. (the same Trig-baby, by the way, that is OFF LIMITS! to all political speech -- just FYI, dontcha know.) Prominent conservatives then lined up to support this ludicrous conspiracy theory. This is really reaching some kind of limit, isn't it?

5. Or maybe not. Here's another brain-dead ideologue's valuable contribution to the national conversation on health care, in which we are told that under the UK's state-run health care system, brilliantly intelligent special needs persons such as prominent physicist Stephen Hawking "wouldn't have a chance" -- would, in other words, presumably be put of of their misery, just like little Trig -- never mind that Stephen Hawking, of course, is British and has lived in the UK his whole life. No word on how he's managed to evade the NHS death squads for the last 67 years. (link is to secondary source, as the original has -- after being righteously (and hilariously) pilloried far and wide -- been scrubbed.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

right wing idiocy

I think it's wise to be skeptical about the value of the health care reform law that will end up emerging from the sausage factory and being signed by Obama. First, given that giant health care companies have been for some months bombarding members of congress with hordes of lobbyists and massive amounts of money, it stands to reason that the most likely effect of any new health care legislation will be an almost unprecedented giveaway to the aforementioned giant health care companies. Second, any new government spending that isn't paid for by commensurate savings or tax revenue will only make our increasingly severe deficit/national debt problem even more severe -- possibly even catastrophic. Third, even if new government spending is paid for by tax revenue, this isn't necessarily a good outcome unless the money is well-spent, because any increase in tax revenue will inevitably correspond with less money being available for spending in the private sector, which hurts the overall economy.

Meanwhile, of course, the health care system in this country is broken. Every other western democracy has found a way to provide health care to all of its citizens while spending a lower proportion of its overall resources on health care. Not to mention all of the crazy and stupid problems Americans -- those who actually have health insurance -- encounter in actually getting their health insurers to, you know, pay for their treatments, and the constraints the current employer-based system puts on people who might want to change jobs, start a new business, take a sabbatical, etc.

These are complicated problems with which even very smart, well-informed, well-intentioned people will struggle. But making these problems even more complicated (say, by several orders of magnitude) is that in this country we, on the whole, do not have smart, well-informed, well-intentioned people debating these issues. We have bought-and-paid-for politicians, and a bunch of ignorant asshats going around spouting nonsense. For example, people who say that we can't have some third party coming between us and our doctors, dictating what types of treatment we will receive (hint: this third party already exists -- its called your insurance company, PPO, HMO, etc -- and it only makes money to the extent that it can limit its expenditures for your treatments (e.g., deny coverage)), or people (like a senior citizen of my acquaintance) who insist that the government keep its dirty, incompetent hands off of their Medicare. Yes, you read that correctly. But even those senior citizens who do in fact understand that Medicare is a government program overwhelmingly oppose legislation which would provide government-funded universal health care. "For me, but not for thee," I guess.

As I say, I'm skeptical that this situation can be improved. Because not only is our health care system broken, but our government is broken. And not only is our government broken, but a high proportion of our electorate are "informed" by reading and listening to dishonest partisan ideologues whose personal interest in fixing either health care or government is exactly zero. Their sole objective is to endlessly spout nonsense designed to confuse and enrage. Seriously: only 42% of Republicans believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States.

Bonus right wing idiocy: I've spent the last day reading and hearing about prominent right-wingers criticizing Bill Clinton for bringing back those two girls from North Korea. Apparently this was some kind of "appeasement". Or, alternatively, it's being called (without citing any evidence) a "hostage ransom", wherein Clinton Gore and Obama desecrated the honor of our country and endangered its national security by giving those North Korean terrorists something (what? who knows!) in exchange for the return of these hostages. And, as all good right-wingers know, America Does Not Negotiate For Hostages!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

declining entertainments

I was excited to hear that Guy Richie was going to direct a Sherlock Holmes movie. Even better, Robert Downey, Jr. would play Holmes, and the movie would have a big budget and a great cast.

I am a fan of Guy Ritchie. I haven't seen everything he's done, but I liked Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. Snatch was hilarious. And I highly recommend the recent RocknRolla. This movie is awesome in the best Quentin Tarantino tradition; not quite as good as Pulp Fiction, but close.

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most revered characters in literature, and for good reason. I've read the complete collection several times, going back to when I was kid. The characters, plots, and stories as a whole are clever, subtle, and richly detailed. Holmes himself is brilliant, stubborn, devious, witty, sophisticated, damaged, brooding, whimsical, tenacious, ethical, loyal. And tough. Definitely tough.

What he is not, however, is the James Bond of the 1880s. Or John McClane with a British accent. Or Neo downloaded into a Victorian version of the Matrix. Anyone who's ever read a single Sherlock Holmes story knows this. Why, then, when I see Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes trailer, am I assaulted by images of Robert Downey, Jr. in acrobatic, jump-cut, bullet-time fight scenes? I mean, sure, Sherlock Holmes got into some altercations. He boxed a couple of guys. He ordered Watson to take criminals into custody at gunpoint. But he's not a comic book superhero! Seriously, WTF?

This movie will suck. I don't think I even have the heart to watch it. And while we're on the subject, I've read Prince Caspian several times (ok, maybe several dozen times), but I somehow never realized I was reading the talking animals version of Saving Private Ryan. Thank you Walt Disney Motion Picture Corporation for pointing out what has apparently been a severe error in my reading comprehension.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

"the highest standards of excellence in higher education"

So says the Texas Tech University mission statement. The university has made great strides in accomplishing "high standards of excellence" with its most recent hire: Professor Alberto "Judge" Gonzales.

I received multiple reader emails requesting a comment/post on this topic. I'm not sure I have a lot to say about the subject that wouldn't immediately come to the mind of anyone who: (1) isn't the most partisan of Republican bootlicks, and (2) has been paying the remotest of attention to the news of the last several years. (Not to mention regular readers of this blog.)

I mean, after all, a search for the term "alberto gonzales perjury" returns 42,600 results. The Judge is a perfect example of an apparatchik. He was responsible for facilitating all manner of criminality during the Bush administration, including the marketing -- on completely false pretenses -- of a war that killed hundreds of thousands, the wholesale subversion of at least half of the Bill of Rights, the near-complete conversion of the Justice Department from a publicly-minded, justice-seeking organization into a political tool of sociopaths bent on ridding the U.S. government of everyone who might harbor some dissent against Karl Rove's "permanent Republican majority", and -- last but not least -- the bureaucratization and normalization of torture as a legitimate tool of what was -- formerly, at least -- a country which stood as a beacon of freedom and human rights. The Judge is an evil little man, without principles, who sought only approbation from his bosses and who didn't mind that he was, in the process of securing pats on the head, ensuring pain and suffering for many and dishonor for all.

While he was George W Bush's yes-man in Texas, he performed the function of writing "slapdash, incomplete and inaccurate" memos in support of executing 57 death row inmates (100% of the cases he "investigated") while ignoring "glaringly obvious" evidence that would have shown innocence or incapacity on the part of those folks, um, killed on the basis of his memos. This man is a piece of shit, the likes of which haven't been seen at the highest levels of U.S. government since at least Spiro Agnew.

A fact which is understood well among all law firms, law schools, universities, and non-governmental organizations (none of which would hire him), and, well, people in general, with the notable exception of, apparently, Texas Tech University. Full disclosure dictates that I identify myself as a graduate of one of the, er, professional schools associated with TTU. Am I ashamed of this hiring? Sure. Just as ashamed as I was when they recently hired Karen Hughes to give their commencement address. Just as embarrassed as I was when they recently hired Karl Rove to give the commencement address at their law school (look: forget about the fact that he's a slimeball who got GWB elected (twice!) and cemented abject cynicism as the SOP in our country's electoral politics: the dude isn't even a fucking lawyer!). Texas Tech is a lower rung academic institution which apparently believes that a good way to further its influence and reputation (rather: notoriety) is to pay money for the (academic?) services of thoroughly discredited has-beens who made their names destroying our great country in furtherance of nothing more noble than the disgraceful political agenda of the most despicable presidential administration in the history of the United States.

This isn't quite the same as Boalt Hall hiring John Yoo. Because, let's face it, that was a school that actually had a high reputation to uphold -- or tarnish, as the case may be. TTU is a podunk backwater institution that arguably has little to lose by hiring persons of questionable backgrounds (Bobby Knight, anyone?) in order to increase its visibility. Still, though, I can't imagine that this pleases its faculty much -- however right-wing they may be on the whole. Because aggressive war, warrantless surveillance, perjury, general criminality, and torture aren't really what I would consider partisan issues. And one thing even the lackluster students who attend school at such a place should be entitled to expect from their teachers is that they haven't spent the last several years publicly disgracing themselves and making a mockery of our country's values and legal traditions.

So, shame on you, Texas Tech. Here's hoping your funding gets cut, your enrollment goes down, and your football team goes 1-11.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Bible Spice. Caribou Barbie. The Snowbilly Grifter.

Besides getting some sun, drinking margaritas, watching fireworks, the pool, and all the rest, I've spent a good deal of my holiday weekend watching Sarah Palin's latest train wreck. I've seen a ton of great snark, though I've neglected to bookmark or collect any of it, so you'll have to find it for yourself. My recommendation is to watch her speech ("unbalanced" doesn't even begin to describe it), read the Governor's official Facebook transcript (you won't see more random ALL-CAPs usage, misused quotation marks, or greater proliferation of exclamation points anywhere outside of an eighth grade girl's diary entry), or -- if you've got several hours to kill -- go read the wonkette comment threads.

Anyway, I don't feel like I have much to add to the whole thing that hasn't already been said. Except this: my prediction is that Sarah Palin will *not* resign as Governor of Alaska. Or at least not on the time frame she promised us that she would. And, in true Palin fashion, she will deny that she ever said she was going to leave office. You see, this is all a big misunderstanding, because the librul media that intentionally misinterpreted her strong, clearly, Christian-American words in order to make her look bad and smear her good name.

Don't believe me? Just wait.

UPDATE: Heh. I beat Josh Marshall to this by about 12 hours. Though he doesn't actually think it will happen; he's just highlighting the possibility based on the fact that "we're dealing with a deeply erratic and probably mentally unstable person who does lots of completely whacked things at the drop of a hat."

Friday, July 3, 2009

Happy Birthday, USA

For most Americans, Independence Day is mostly just a good excuse to put on a good drunk and get a sunburn. Which is pretty great. I'm no different, but I've gotten into a habit of re-reading the Declaration of Independence around this time of year.

It's a still a good read, and it's fun to try and put yourself into the mindset of the guy who wrote it and the people who signed it. I think of them as basically really pissed off, proud of what they're doing, and very scared -- all at the same time.

One interesting thing is how the middle part -- a list of grievances -- builds up. It starts out by mentioning a few things that almost sound nitpick-y, like "imposing Taxes on us without our Consent" and my personal favorite: "He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records..." Heh.

And there's a long list of this stuff, some of which is pretty important but mostly falls into the category of complaints against bad governance... and then they finally get around to this: "He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people[!]"

Anyway, the best parts are of course the beginning and the end:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.


In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Full text here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Lazy Blogger, Part CXXVII

Some stuff I've found during the extended hiatus (stuff which, I'm hoping, works well with minimum effort, in terms of addition commentary (i.e., thinking, effort, etc.), on the part of your humble blogger):
1. Eschaton nails the anti-abortion crowd:
The broad anti-abortion movement isn't just anti-abortion, it's anti-sex generally and most importantly anti-women having agency over their bodies and sexual activity. This is not true of all anti-abortion people, but it is true of the anti-abortion movement.

Lots of people are squishy about abortion, though I firmly believe the vast majority of people in this country are pro-choice for me if not for thee, but those involved in the anti-abortion movement don't just care about embryos and fetuses, they care about punishing women for unapproved fucking.
I have some stuff to add to this, but unfortunately too lazy right now. Sorry.

2. Check out this graph. Does it strike anyone else as somewhat important that along about the time the trend line deviates dramatically upward is along about the same time we as a species discovered the magical properties of fossil fuels? Think about what fossil fuels are, as manipulated by human ingenuity. They are force multipliers. They multiply our work by hundreds, or thousands, of times. They are basically the only thing we've found so far that will do this. The discovery of how this works, and subsequent discoveries building on this basic discovery, have allowed us to thrive far beyond what we could have done without it. And yet, by doing so, we are to a great extent poisoning our collective living space, and nearing the point where it (our living space) will no longer support us. But not only that, these fuels are non-renewable and will run out before too long. Not saying it's a bad thing, just saying... what if it's a somewhat singular discovery -- i.e., one that won't be repeated again anytime soon?

3. One of Sullivan's readers does a phenomenal job of exactly capsulizing the mindset of a great big swath of conservative dumbfucks:
Part of Sarah Palin's irresistible appeal to her fundamentalist base is her ability to look at the camera with utter conviction and declare black to be white.

The ability to lie well is a valuable part of the fundamentalist psychology. My son isn't gay, he just hasn't found the right woman! Those rocks aren't 50 million years old, they just look like it as a test of our faith! My sexless marriage isn't foundering, it is filled with God's spirit! The minister isn't molesting little Maria, they're just very close! It isn't torture, it is being tough on terrorists!

Fundamentalists can recognize a truly audacious and talented liar from miles away. Instead of running the other way, as you might expect, they gather around the powerful liar, for they know that their own lies will be respected and protected by a leader who understands the paramount importance of preserving their whole system of denial.
I wish I would have written that.

4. Here's something I should (and maybe will) do a longer post on. But it is so outrageous that at present I really can't do anything other than rage incoherently about it. The short version is that Ft Worth police conducted a "bar check" on a bar that had been open approximately 1 week. You know, go in, make sure they're abiding by the terms of their liquor license, check to see if they're overserving people, etc. They end up beating the shit out of several patrons, arresting those and a few others, and generally terrorizing everyone in attendance. One of the victims is intensive care with a life-threatening head injury. As it happens, this was a new bar catering to the male homosexual crowd. Surely just a coincidence, no?

Though I'm generally against "hate crimes" laws, this is exactly the reason people want them. I tend to think we could handle this kind of thing with regular laws -- like aggravated assault, attempted murder, and the like. But when the cops are the perpetrators, they somehow never get held accountable. Their superiors circle the wagons to defend them. The citizenry turns a blind eye and assumes that the police chief is telling the truth when he says "these faggots made sexual advances on my officers -- they deserved what they got" (not an exact quote). To my mind, this is no different than what happened to Matthew Shepard. Except that, as a mitigating factor, the victims here actually were afforded medical attention. But as an aggravating factor, this was done under the color of law. By our "public servants". Let's be clear: the cops who did this are bigots and brutal thugs. Rather than collecting paychecks from the public treasury, they should be breaking rocks at Huntsville and, in their spare time, getting some special attention from the other TDC occupants: large, mean, temporarily homosexual prisoners.

Via Sullivan (check the links).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Memo to Target Cashier Checkout Guy:

Here's what's your business: using your little scanner thing to add up all the prices on the items I purchase and determine the total and then charge me accordingly.

Here's what not your goddamn business: making inane and borderline-derogatory comments about the nature of those items and the quantities in which I am purchasing them. STFU, asshole.

I am well aware that I am purchasing what might appear to be an unusually large number of razors, or deodorant sticks, or tubes of toothpaste, or shower gel. Not that it is any of your motherfucking business whatsoever (see above), but I like to limit the number of trips I make to your store. This is a purposeful strategy designed to limit my total number of interactions with shit-for-brains assholes such as yourself. Fuck off!

Monday, June 15, 2009

the monetary value also rises

I like books, and own many of them and have recently run completely out of shelf space. (And though Gleemonex has invited me to do this this summer, and though it seems like a fun thing, one of my shelves is filled with books I've been planning to read, so I don't think I'll be able to fit it in.)

Because I'm a book reader and not a book collector, most of my books are cheap paperback editions. Some are cheap hardcovers (book club editions and the like). A few are first editions of very recent vintage, of books that had large print runs. None are worth more than a few dollars.

With two notable exceptions. A while back a person with special gift-giving talents procured me a first edition of Oblivion with a personalized epigram from DFW himself. Crazy! In terms of value, I have no idea what this is worth, but as I won't be likely to part with it, such measures are not relevant. It is without a doubt one of the coolest things I own (right up there with my Soviet-era assault rifle!).

But several years back, a very generous (and somewhat extravagant) benefactor gifted me with a copy of one of my all-time favorites, Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises. It is a first edition, first printing. One of only 5,090 copies published in 1926. Out of curiosity, I googled it and found this. Needless to say, my jaw dropped. Apparently, several copies have sold at auction at or above this level.

But, of course, that's not the end of the story. Having read this book, which is an excellent introduction for anyone interested in becoming a book collector (which, as stated, I'm not), I already knew my copy wouldn't be anywhere near the high end. Because, while mine is in good condition, it has some minor damage on the spine, and, most importantly, is without the original dust jacket. The presence or lack of a dust jacket appears to affect a book's value seemingly out of all proportion to the actual worth of the dust jacket. In the case of this book, the dust jacket appears to be worth upwards of $90,000!

So, alas. In retrospect, I probably should not have discarded the jacket that came with my copy.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

hiatus interrupted: an aimless post filled with unrelated scraps

Did I forget to mention the blog was going on hiatus? Probably because I didn't realize it was on hiatus until a few minutes ago. Anyway. Here is some stuff:

1. An example of the interesting things one might find on a wingnut blog: "Video of Black Panther: "You are about to be ruled by the black man, cracker." (No need to click though, btw, just wanted to quote the lede. and also, btw, that's not what the guy actually said.)

2. Another classic headline, this one from Wonkette: "Bill Kristol Suggests Bombing Whatsitcalled, One of the Chinas." Also no need to click through, but the upshot here is that Mr. Kristol, leading light of the "conservative" movement, headcheerleader for Operation Desert Quagmire, former columnist for the "liberal" New York Times, now columnist for The Washington Post, and regular guest on the Sunday political bobblehead shows, offhandedly muses on the advisability of bombing North Korea. The dude has obviously given about 5 minutes worth of thought to the concept, with none of those thoughts focusing on how this course of action would, you know, be A FUCKING GLOBAL DISASTER!, but, then again, casually bombing the shit out of random countries is, after all, part of the GOP's official platform, isn't it?.

3. Matt Taibbi has a couple of Obama critiques that follow closely along the lines of this blog's recent material. Money quote:
I still like Obama, in a lot of ways. Having a president with less ability to inspire public confidence at a time like this, with our economy in such a death spiral, would be a disaster; God knows where we’d be right now with a McCain or a Mike Huckabee at the helm. But this guy has to show some stones somewhere along the line. He has to just forget the DC game and just take a clear stand on an issue like this sometime. He’s kind of running out of time to rescue his all-important first impression.
4. In honor of the 65th anniversary of D-Day, The Atlantic reprinted this article, which is a gripping blow-by-blow recounting -- constructed from contemporary notes taken by the writer, who was there -- of the assault at Omaha Beach. It's like a textual version of the first 30 minutes of Saving Private Ryan, but maybe better.

Ok. Back to semi-hiatus.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Orwellianism of the day: "Preventive Detention"

President Obama continues down the Cheneyite path with a new proposal for "preventive detention" of people he deems dangerous or threatening. This man used to be a Con Law professor. I went to law school too, and one of the things they taught me there -- though they didn't have to, because I had already learned it in middle school civics class -- is that the bedrock of our country's criminal jurisprudence is the presumption of innocence; that is, a person is presumed to be innocent until that person is proven to be guilty in a court of law.

But take a look at this passage from Obama's speech on Thursday and tell me how it can be squared with that principle:
[T]here may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, in some cases because evidence may be tainted, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who’ve received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, or commanded Taliban troops in battle, or expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans.
We are talking about people who "pose a threat" to our security. People who have "expressed their allegiance" to bin Laden (or presumably to any other person or ideology that may be in disfavor at any given time). People who "want to kill Americans". There are a lot of people who fall into these categories, both inside and outside the United States. Maybe more, maybe less, depending on who, exactly, is making these determinations.

And notice that these are people who "cannot be prosecuted". Why can't they be prosecuted? Well, one reason might be that they haven't actually done anything illegal. Having an "intent" to do harm is not a crime. "Wanting" to commit a crime is not a crime. Being "trained" to commit a crime is not, ordinarily, a crime. Unless we are talking about thoughtcrime, which didn't used to be an actual crime for which you could be punished -- and make no mistake, depriving a person of his or her liberty permanently or for extended periods of time is a severe punishment, whether or not that time is spent, for example, subjected to extreme heat or cold, folded into a small dark box, or standing with arms shackled to the ceiling.

And let's not forget that there are very good reasons why we have a legal system with such things as "habeas corpus" and "rights of the accused" and "trials". Anglo-Americans long ago recognized the importance of this. The English knew it at least as early as 1215. American colonists knew it all along, but formally (and finally, they thought) sanctified it in 1791.

But these, the seminal events in Anglo-American jurisprudence, happened a long time ago. Before there were dangerous terrorists, or scary threatening people who intended to do harm. So maybe, as Obama intends, it is time to do away with these inconvenient safeguards, which only serve to get in the way of efficient defending us from thoughtcriminals. This break with the wisdom and traditions handed down to us over the centuries may be hard for some of us to swallow, at least for a time, but persnickety legalists and their insistence on abstractions like "rights" and "due process" can be rather easily counteracted by accompanying such policies with soaring rhetoric in praise of the same wisdom and traditions we are simulatenously doing away with -- a neat tactic for making sense of the world otherwise known as doublethink.

I leave you with IOZ:
... Cheney is nonetheless straightforward in his advocacy of a military exemption to the laws and statutes of the United States. Obama on the other hand is arguing that we must forgo legality in pursuit of security while giving the convincing appearance that we are not doing precisely that. We should abandon the legal structures that have governed the trial and prosecution of wrongdoing for over half a thousand years now, but we must do so while making glorious noise about American principles and what America stands for and all that.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bush dead-enders applauding Obama

As a follow-up to the post below, check out the Wall Street Journal's uber-right-wing editorial page praising Obama's anti-terrorism policies. First graf:
President Obama's endorsements of Bush-Cheney antiterror policies are by now routine: for example, opposing the release of prisoner abuse photographs and support for indefinite detention for some detainees, and that's just this week. More remarkable is White House creativity in portraying these U-turns as epic change. Witness yesterday's announcement endorsing military commissions.
From the last graf: "[Obama] has now decided to preserve a tribunal process that will be identical in every material way to the one favored by Dick Cheney."

If there was any doubt that Obama was on the wrong course with this stuff, then that ought to be evidence enough. WTF?

continuing Bushism

The New York Times has an article today describing the Obama administration's "new" rules governing the military commissions which will try Guantanamo detainees. As the article makes clear, these New and Improved Military Commissions (TM) will be very much like the old Bush Military Commissions, but with a genuinely new marketing spin. You see, these rules governing military commissions are being promulgated by the Obama administration, rather than the Bush administration, so they are, therefore, much improved -- despite being virtually identical.

For example, Bush's rules mandated that detainees would be represented by counsel chosen from "military defense lawyers appointed by the Pentagon and assigned to a special office of military defense lawyers for Guantánamo." Under Obama's rules, however, detainees will be represented by "a lawyer 'of the accused’s own choosing'", so long as -- you guessed it -- "the requested lawyer [is] assigned to the Pentagon’s office of military defense lawyers for Guantánamo." See? Lots better. Of course, someone acquainted with the jurisprudential traditions of the United States might well ask: under what possible justification are these accused criminals not allowed to choose whatever lawyer they want?

But that's not all! Act now, and you can be convicted based on hearsay evidence which would not be admissible in any federal court: "Mr. Obama’s statement on Friday said that 'the use of hearsay will be limited.' But the filing showed that military prosecutors would continue to rely extensively on hearsay evidence that might be barred in federal court." And the admissibility of hearsay evidence "remains much broader than in domestic courts". Here, thankfully, we are treated to an actual justification for continuing this Bush-devised rule: "senior administration officials said that although federal courts bar many kinds of hearsay evidence, 'the hearsay rule is not one of those things that is rooted in American values.'" Notice that this is so completely, self-evidently wrong that these "senior administration officials" are unwilling to put their names to such a statement, but sheepishly insist on anonymity. The hearsay rule is centuries old, not some invention by "activist judges" during the Warren era. In fact, the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of defendants to confront the witnesses against them. To say that this rule is not "rooted in American values" is a blatant lie. Something along the lines of Alberto "Judge" Gonzales opining that the Geneva Conventions are "quaint" or that the Constitution does not explicitly provide for the right of habeas corpus.

The article goes on to quote two military lawyers currently representing detainees (a Navy Commander and an Air Force Major). These folks, unlike the unnamed "senior administration officials", were actually willing to put their names to these statements. The Navy Commander said: "We’re going to end up with trials with evidence that is the product of coercion and secret hearings." The Air Force Major said the Obama administration’s alterations to the Bush administration’s system were “minor cosmetic changes.”

If we intend to railroad these people by doing away with the centuries-old protections we have traditionally afforded to accused criminals -- because we "know" they are guilty -- then just get on with it. Do it in secret, hang them from a tree, announce that they are dead, and get back to transferring tax dollars to the Ivy League banking cabal (or whatever else it is we are considering Important Issues these days). But stop insulting my intelligence with this disenguous happy-talk about how we are "grant[ing] detainees expanded legal rights" in order to "uphold[ ] our deeply held values". Horseshit.

Monday, May 18, 2009

how can we investigate if we don't know all the facts?!?

I apologize in advance for basically cutting and pasting this guy's entire blog post (sorry!), but he shoulda written a longer post by putting in some less-good filler so that I could "excerpt" it without stealing the entire thing. But maybe you could click through the link just to make me feel better? Huh...?

Ok, well anyway:
It’s funny that when torture was all the fault of poor, ugly hillbillies of the sort David Brooks writes about in his Adventure Stories for Young Aristocrats, we had to throw the book at the evil-doers. Now that important figures in Washington have admitted to directly ordering more and worse, however, the question of even investigating whether some sort of crime may perhaps have taken place is fraught with all sort of beard-tugging brain-twisters which no man can untangle, even with the help of modern computer technology. How can we investigate if we don’t know all the facts? How dare we enforce laws against things which might possibly be permissible in some highly artificial thought experiment? What if ‘24′ is FOR REALS?!? These are the sorts of questions which need to be shrugged at for 50 billion news cycles before we can even think about OH MY GOD A SHARK ATE A WHITE LADY AT HER WEDDING!!!!! We’ve got what amounts to a reverse Nuremberg defense, where Bush administration officials are let off the hook because they were only giving orders. I’m not sure that’s such a great idea.

Religion Fail, ctd. -- batshit crazy wingnuts with nukes edition

UPDATED: now enhanced with actual link to the shit I was complaining about...

Whatever one might say about Obama (see below, for example), we can be reasonably certain we won't see any of this type of shit. (make sure to click through and see the slideshow -- prepare to be horrified, nauseous, and exultant, all at the same time.)

I think we were all pretty sure that, at some level, the Bushies saw the Iraq conflict, and the GWOT more generally, as a mandate from The Lord to bring the souls of those dirty Muzzlums to Jesus Christ, but I confess to being surprised that they were ever quite this upfront about it, even amongst themselves in private.

I'm slowly coming to the conclusion that the United States under the Bush Administration had quite a lot in common with the Taliban and other religious fanatics against whom we were struggling.* The main difference, being, of course, the ability to project devastating military power into any corner of the globe.

*But just to be clear, I do remember September 11, and there's no question that we were justified in going after the evil bastards who did that to us; it's just that many of the things that were done afterward, in service of "bringing them to justice" (kidnapping, torture, indiscriminate slaughter of innocents, adoption of dictatorial policies, and invasion, occupation, and wholesale destruction of a country with no connection to the original crime) are so appalling, so contrary to what this country stands for, that it is becoming harder and harder to dispute, with no reservations, that we may in fact have come to resemble the terrible, imperialistic, hegemonic power we were portrayed to be by those same evil bastards -- in other words, though they may have been wrong then, can we say with certainty that they aren't right now?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

what happened to the guy I voted for?

Obama is losing me. It's been building for a while, and today I think might have been the last straw.

As a candidate, Obama said most of the right things about most of the right issues. In his candidacy there was the promise of something different. Different from most politicians. Different from all recent presidential candidates. Different, in any event, from Bush and Cheney.

But it is becoming increasingly obvious that, at least in the ways that matter most to me, Obama is just another office-seeker. Just another slick politician who knows how to speak to his audience. I can't say I'm particularly surprised. Just very disappointed.

President Obama has made it clear that certain of his "aspirational goals" (i.e., things he purported to consider important during the campaign) must take a backseat to other priorities. These things, we are told, would impede his "agenda" by removing "focus" from it and going "off message". This, of course, is political double-speak for "I never really cared that much about Issue X in the first place, and, in fact, come to think of it, I'm not sure I really agree with you on Issue X after all."

First case in point: Teh Gay. Most if not all gays in America voted for Obama. Not that many of them would have otherwise voted for McCain, but Obama did reach out to teh gays in a few different ways. He claimed to support repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, even if they are duly sanctioned by a state), he promised to lift the HIV travel ban (the U.S. is one of a handful of countries that has an official policy of discriminating against persons with HIV in customs and immigration matters), and he promised to do away with the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. Needless to say, he has done none of these things, and in fact just this week he fired a West Point grad stationed in Iraq (a fluent speaker of Arabic), for being gay. Implementing any "change" in DADT policy would be a "distraction" from Obama's other important agenda items.

Second Case in Point: Iraq. Candidate Obama ran on a clear policy of withdrawing our military from Iraq. Our military has not been withdrawn from Iraq, and -- as far as I have been able to tell -- no steps whatsoever have been taken toward a withdrawal from Iraq. I mean seriously, WTF? I know it has only been 4 months, but this was a major, huge issue in the campaign. Has there been one single action taken by this administration that might remotely be seen as evidence of a withdrawal? An imminent withdrawal? A pending, conditional, gradual, future withdrawal? Anything? Other than pretty words, I mean.

Third Case in Point: Transparency. And torture. Candidate Obama railed strongly and eloquently against Bushism, which I define here as cruelty, secrecy, and lack of accountability. And yet President Obama has estabished, in just a few short months, a clear pattern of obfuscation and shielding from any accountability the multifold abuses of law, civil rights, and human rights perpetrated by Bush and Cheney. To the point where he can now be said to be complicit in their misdeeds by virtue of covering them up. I don't have the energy to catalogue the extensive examples of this, but you can read this Greenwald post (and follow the links) if you don't want to take my word for it.) This, in particular, is Obama's most recent effort in this category. And it is disgusting.

Despite an explicit agreement by the Obama DOJ to comply with a court order (granted in response to a years-old ACLU FOIA lawsuit) to release pictures showing graphic images of Bush era torture, Obama today decided to rescind this agreement and appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. To explain this reversal, Obama (and his inept spokesman, Robert Gibbs), used the tried and true, one-excuse-fits-all, trademark Bush bullshit reason of "The Troops!".

Yes, releasing pictures of Our Troops cruelly abusing random Arabs kidnapped off of streetcorners will endanger Our Troops. You know this line of reasoning has merit, after all, because Liz Cheney made this very same argument this morning, prior to Obama's reversal (maybe they saw her Fox News appearance!), when she said:
I have not seen the pictures, I don't know what is in them. But clearly what they are doing is releasing images that show American military men and women in a very negative light. And I have heard from families of service members, from families of 9/11 victims, this question: When did it become so fashionable for us to side, really, with the terrorists? For us to put information out that hurts American soldiers.
Got that? These images "show American military men and women in a very negative light." Gee, ya think? A picture of an American soldier sodomizing some poor Afghani tribesman with a golf club or shitting on his koran? That shows our military in a negative light? No shit, you stupid fucking bitch. Maybe they should have thought of that before they decided to take pictures of themselves gleefully and sadistically torturing helpless Arabs. And guess what, you shit-for-brains fucktard? It isn't the fucking pictures that show us in a negative light, it is the fact that WE DID THE THINGS IN THE PICTURES. Oh, yeah, and the fact that we are covering it up and refusing to take any responsibity for it or to hold anyone accountable for it.

Which brings us back to Obama. His spokesperson spewed a bunch of doublethink in an A.M. press briefing (read the transcript here, and see if you can make heads or tails of it). This convinced no one, so the President came out later and had this to say:
[T]his is not a situation in which the Pentagon has concealed or sought to justify inappropriate action. Rather, it has gone through the appropriate and regular processes. And the individuals who were involved have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken.
"Appropriate actions have been taken." We're not going to tell you what actions have been taken, or what, exactly, those actions were in response to. We'll leave all those pesky details a mystery. But rest assured, folks, everything was appropriate, so don't you worry. You can trust us. We're the good guys.

He continues:
It's therefore my belief that the publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals. In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger.
A "small number of individuals". No need to get them involved, or let you know who they are or what exactly they did. But they've been dealt with. And knowing any more than that, what I just told you, is DANGEROUS. We are keeping it a secret for your protection. And, of course, to protect The Troops.
Moreover, I fear the publication of these photos may only have a chilling effect on future investigations of detainee abuse. And obviously the thing that is most important in my mind is making sure that we are abiding by the Army Manual and that we are swiftly investigating any instances in which individuals have not acted appropriately, and that they are appropriately sanctioned. That's my aim and I do not believe that the release of these photos at this time would further that goal.

Again with all the "appropriateness" of everything. I'm sure it's all very appropriate, i.e., what the Bush DOD did to "punish" this "small number of individuals" who "have not acted appropriately" (i.e., engaged in criminal abuse and torture).
Now, let me be clear: I am concerned about how the release of these photos would be -- would impact on the safety of our troops. I have made it very clear to all who are within the chain of command, however, of the United States Armed Forces that the abuse of detainees in our custody is prohibited and will not be tolerated. I have repeated that since I've been in office, Secretary Gates understands that, Admiral Mullen understands that, and that has been communicated across the chain of command.
Oh sure, sure. You've made very clear, blah blah blah. Fine. I guess the point here is that if we have graphic evidence of sick, sadistic behavior on the part of The Troops against helpless, bound, and gagged Afghan poppy farmers, then certain people in the part of the world where The Troops happen to be right now might be offended, or pissed off, even, and might attempt to take some kind of revenge. Ok. Let's try that one out: (1) it has been my understanding that The Terrorists hate us and try to kill and maim us (including The Troops) at every possible opportunity, whether or not there happen to be any incriminating photographs being broadcast on CNN at any given time, (2) Arabs other than The Terrorists are well aware that we, as a country, have routinely engaged in kidnapping and torturing random Arabs, and the Arabs who might be, uh, dissatisfied with this state of affairs don't need any more incriminating evidence to spur them into action, but (3) what might actually prevent them from being spurred into action is an actual demonstration of how we, as a country, don't tolerate this type of behavior by Our Troops, and when we become aware of it, we expose it and make damn sure that it is punished harshly and in a very public way, and furthermore (4) if you are that fucking concerned about the safety of the troops vis-a-vis a bunch of angry Arab natives in the Middle East, then here's a novel suggestion for you: GET THEM THE FUCK OUT OF THERE.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

overreact much?

Let's take a moment to ponder the wisdom of this:
Fort Worth ISD Out For Swine Flu

The entire Fort Worth Independent School District and several other schools have closed as swine flu cases spread across North Texas.

The Fort Worth ISD is closing all of its campuses beginning Thursday until May 11.

"This is a time the citizens of the community have to come together and support each other," Superintendent Melody Johnson said. "This is a very rare event in our history."

Johnson said she made the decision after county health officials recommended the mass closing.

"It's not our thinking that it's spreading so fast we have to do this," said Dr. Sandra Parker, of the Tarrant County Health Department. "But we want to prevent the spread."

Gleemonex and her commenters have the scoop on the general overall overblowniness. Now, let's consider a few specific points from the quoted portion of the article above:

1. "Fort Worth ISD Out For Swine Flu" Note that the FTWISD comprises 144 schools with 80,000 students and 11,000 employees. They have documented one confirmed case, and 10 "probable" cases. And not a single death or, presumably, even a single serious illness.

2. "...flu cases spread across North Texas..." Um, not so much. There are 17 confirmed cases in the entire state. And even if it were "spread[ing] across North Texas[!]", so what? Some kids get sick, have to miss school, have to lay in bed a couple of days... big f'ing deal.

3. "This is a time the citizens of the community have to come together and support each other..." Well, not come together, obviously. Stay apart, rather. Stay very very far apart. Because of contagion, ya know. And "support each other"? What the fuck does that even mean?

4. "Johnson said she made the decision after county health officials recommended the mass closing." So, yeah, uhhh... if this turns out to be a massive, supremely ill-advised overreaction, well, then, I was just following the recommendation of the, uh, you know, the "health officials", who practically begged me to close all the schools.

5. "It's not our thinking that it's spreading so fast we have to do this." Said the "health official". I mean, I'm certainly not the one who's overreacting here. I never said it was spreading fast, I just said it seemed to be, you know, spreading. Who's to say, after all, how fast it might, conceivably, spread. And of course we can stop the spread by all coming together and... uh, no, actually. Well, nevermind. Did I mention our children are our future?

The Global War on Poppies

This is like an absurdist parody of imperialism gone crazily, irredeemably off the tracks.

The New York Times tells me that the U.S. military is sending 20,000 soldiers on a mission to violently obstruct Afghans from planting and harvesting their crops.

This is exactly the role our founders imagined for our federal government: sending thousands of soldiers to the other side of the planet to engage in a bloody struggle against flowers and the farmers who grow them.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

before anyone is alarmed

... thinking that, you know, I've gone insane, let me clarify:

1. I didn't intentionally set out to obtain a pet mouse; and
2. That's the first and (likely) last haiku of my blogging career.

Update: for further clarity:

The original plan for the mouse was that it would be a fun, temporary playtoy for the other pet (a cat). The cat, after all, likes to play around with little fake mice, and it gets more interested in them if you kind of dangle them, or throw them, or move them around. So I figured an actual mouse, which moved on its own, would get even more interest. I pictured the cat batting the mouse around a bit, chasing and stalking it, etc. Maybe giving it a friendly bite on the neck or so.

But let me back up a bit. A mouse costs $3.00 at the pet store. I am reliably informed that people often purchase them for use as meals for pet snakes. So purchasing one for use as a cat toy didn't seem to me to be a breach of any kind of pet store etiquette.

But, uh, on the contrary... at the pet store when I told the lady I wanted to buy a mouse, she gave me a long look and asked: "For a pet?" I hadn't expected this, but I think I recovered well. I said yes. Or maybe I didn't recover all that well, because then she asked me if I had a cage, and mouse food, and etc. "Oh, yeah, of course. Got a cage. Uh huh. Lots of mouse food, at my house. Yep."

The pet lady's suspicions were again aroused when my companion and I also purchased a large container of kitty litter. "The mouse isn't going to, er, be a "playmate" for the cat. Is it?" "Ohhh, no. No. Of course not! Noooo. Nope."

I had been asked (not by the pet lady) what I planned to do with the mouse once the cat, inevitably, got bored with it. (The assumption, rather optimistically, being that the mouse would still be, like, alive at that point.) I said I planned to set it free. You know, return it to nature. These answers were met with some skepticism. Nevertheless, the plan went forward.

When we got home with the mouse: disappointment. The cat was interested for about 90 seconds, at which point -- upon perceiving, I believe, that this cat toy was, in fact, an actual live animal -- the cat retreated into a corner of the room and managed to simultaneously look bored and horribly frightened. Subsequent attempts to engage cat with mouse failed miserably. You can see the results of one such effort below.

So. In conclusion, I have now been prevailed upon to keep this mouse as a "pet". His home is now a clear plastic storage box with no lid. We dumped junk mail from the paper shredder into the bottom of the box. The mouse made a little nest. He eats stale Ritz crackers. He has now, a week later, managed to acquire an exercise wheel. I can't tell whether he is happy (nor, frankly, do I particularly care), but I suspect it is better than an alternate destiny as snake food.

new "pet"

mouse on wheel is dumb
he thinks he's going somewhere
but he never will

Saturday, April 18, 2009

pride of the profession (for real this time)

Meet Thomas Tamm. Mr. Tamm was also a lawyer in the Bush Justice Department. But confronted with direct and undeniable knowledge of egregious lawbreaking by elements of the administration, Mr. Tamm, in diametric counterpoint to Mr. Bybee, didn't look the other way and didn't sacrifice his ethics by dishonestly inventing specious rationales to conceal the illegal conduct and ensure that it continued.

Instead, he risked his career, his personal freedom, and the welfare of his family to expose this criminal conduct. Mr. Tamm was the primary source for the New York Times' Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting on the illegal NSA wiretap program. You may recall that the NSA was for years using an electronic dragnet to spy on Americans without the warrants required by the Fourth Amendment and the version of the FISA law then in effect. Each individual instance of this surveillance was a felony.

Mr. Bybee was awarded a lifetime appointment as a federal judge for his despicable behavior. Mr. Tamm's reward for courageously exposing an ongoing series of blatant felonies committed by Bush and the NSA? He was fired from his job, ruthlessly slandered and libeled, and hounded into poverty as a result of aggressive harrassment by the Justice Department.

And the cause for which he made this sacrifice? Barack Obama and the Democratic controlled congress retroactively and prospectively legalized the entire series of crimes and gave blanket immunity to everyone who had any part in committing them.

When Barack Obama, by way of excusing from accountability the many architects and implementers of Bush's torture programs, says we must"turn the page" on this "dark chapter in our history" and look to the future, does the plight of Mr. Tamm ever enter his mind? Mr. Tamm is still being harrassed by the FBI and threatened with prosecution. This man deserves a full presidential pardon, a Medal of Freedom, and a high-ranking job in the NSA or the Justice Department. And he deserves an apology.

Chavez still getting his shots in at "Mr. Danger"

After exchanging a friendly greeting with Obama at a Latin American summit, we get this:
"I think it was a good moment," Chavez said about their initial encounter. "I think President Obama is an intelligent man, compared to the previous U.S. president.
I'm still a bit surprised that the Bushies didn't black-bag this guy and send him off to rot in one of their secret gulags.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

pride of the profession

It's late, and I've had a long day, so I don't feel like getting too deep into the torture memos right now. But I'm up for a quick comment.

Meet Jay Bybee. Mr. Bybee worked hard to become a top flight attorney. He was magna cum laude at BYU, cum laude at BYU law school, made the school's law review, gained a sought-after clerkship with a federal judge, worked as a law professor for 10 years, and co-authored two books.

All so that he could find himself working for George W. Bush in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, where the crowning achievement of his stellar legal career was to legally authorize CIA interrogators to torture a man with, among other things, "stinging insects".

You see, the CIA had been torturing the man for some number of days or weeks (or months or years) using other methods such as controlled drowning, beatings, imprisoning him in a tiny box for long periods, swinging his body against the walls of his cell, hanging him by his wrists for hours at a time, and during this laborious process they had learned that he had a mortal fear of insects. Naturally, their first instinct was to use this fear to torture him further. But before they could carry out such a thing, they first needed to avail themselves of the Torture Hall Passes that the Justice Department was churning out during the Bush years.

Enter Jay Bybee, fresh off a stint teaching "Constitutional Law" to our newest crop of young lawyers-to-be. Bybee opined that locking the man in a dark box, approximately the size of a coffin, and inserting an insect in the box with him for the night, would only be ok if they inserted a non-stinging insect and told him it was a stinging insect. But, otherwise, no problem!

[When I first read this, my immediate thought was of "Room 101" and the passage in 1984 where O'Brien explains the concept of "the worst thing in the world". Striking similarity. Unfortunately, Sullivan blogged it before I did.]

Mr. Bybee's former law professors must be very proud. As must the judge he clerked for, his former students, and undoubtedly his Mom and Dad. But don't worry. The story has a happy ending. Thanks to our illustrious former president, Mr. Bybee now enjoys lifetime tenure as a federal judge on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

More here (long post, scroll down for the good stuff).