An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Don't go looking at FP magazine.

If you are a fan of the Rachel Maddow show you have probably already seen her wonderful segment on the undisputed King of Wrong, Paul Wolfowitz, and how he has co-authored an "article" about the war in Afghanistan. She did a wonderful re-cap on Friday night's show of all of the "wrong-ness" when he was in a position of power and influence. I particularly like this zinger:

"If you hear something clangingly, obviously wrong in America - look around - Paul Wolfowitz is somewhere near you."

You may be tempted, like me, to go to the magazine's site and leave a comment. Two bits of info to keep in mind:

1. This is a web 'zine and not a publication with much of any reputation at all. Even free web publications that have any proven reputation for having good quality content show up in at least one or two commercial databases. I checked. None of the half-dozen databases to which my library subscribes carries this title.

2. "Publications" like FP magazine like to publish "controversial" (English translation: dead wrong about everything) people in order to increase their page views and even gain more registered users (you must register to comment). Visiting the site in the hope of leaving a snarky comment about how the author and therefore the publication lack credibility actually plays into their hands. They want you to get angry, go to the article, register to leave a comment, then tell them off.

Information is not the commodity, information is not the product sold in this venture. You are. We are. Our eyes on the page seeing the ads. Any evidence that verifies the number of viewers, or registered users, obtains more advertising revenue.

If anyone tries to tell you that the invisible hand of the free market guarantees the best quality at the lowest cost - keep this in mind. Given that information that we actually seek is not the product, we continue to have to witness such spectacles as Wolfowitz pontificating on war, Penn Gillette served up as a public intellectual (his highest educational level is clown college - not kidding) by a site calling itself "Big Think" and worse.

Sadly, often times information that we find useful, meaningful and actionable does not make enough people angry enough to generate lots of comments and draw page views. Presenting controversial points of view has a very important role in journalism and I commend any effort to introduce ideas with evidence to support them which make rational inferences from verifiably real evidence. We do not see enough of that. There exists a very big difference between finding conflicting viewpoints on matters of public policy which have intelligent, articulate people disagreeing with each other on the one hand and serving up crap designed to piss off lots of people to generate traffic on a web site (serving no other useful purpose) on the other.

Ultimately, no one should consider Paul Wolfowitz a controversial figure, anymore than we would consider a controversial thinker someone who believes in unicorns, or Big Foot. When the "Big Foot spotter" of foreign policy writes anything about foreign policy, the best way to proceed is just not to click on the link. Don't go there. Nothing worth looking at there.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Unfair and Imbalanced

See the video below which Fox News taped but did not air. (How do we know this? Notice that the man interviewed gestures to his right then the camera taking the video you are actually watching pans to show the Fox News camera).

My favorite part comes when the Fox talking head ratchets up the smug and smarmy by mentioning that this interview will (but not in the reality the rest of us occupy) be aired and that Fox is "giving" him the same coverage as they did the tea party. Hint to Fox: if you do not actually air the interview, you're not actually giving anyone anything even pretending to be fair or balanced.

Good idea that - having your own camera taping at the same time.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Fiendish Gun-Control Plan

The Rachel Maddow show on Friday had a segment on the wonderfully demented head of the NRA expounding upon President Obama's fiendish plan to take away their guns. Those liberals who find themselves a bit disappointed with the President might find this a bit encouraging - that is, until you find out what the leader of the NRA finds so upsetting.

I suggest you watch this segment before reading further for the full humor effect - no one can deconstruct entertaining crazy quite as well as Maddow can. Below the embed you will find spoilers.

The bad, scary liberals are coming after their guns by …

… NOT coming after their guns. Seriously.

Later in the show in another segment she makes reference to a right-wing religious nut who thinks that the U.S. should go to war against demon grizzly bears (not kidding). And Bryan Fischer (Mr. Demon Grizzly Bears) is scheduled to speak at a "Conservative Values" shindig right after someone he considers the anti-Christ himself: Mitt Romney. (For those not fully up to date on right-wing nuttery Fischer is rabidly anti-Mormon and Romney is one - now that's entertainment!).

Why do these live-action cartoon people have such national prominence and obtain so much exposure in the media? It's not just for their entertainment value to me. They act as the attack dogs of the one percenters: a de facto aristocracy who, despite the Constitution banning titles of nobility enjoy all the powers and privileges of the aristocrats of old.

It's important to keep in mind that the causes of most interest to the rabid right remain of little interest to the very rich. Abortion? Outlawing it in the U.S. will not trouble a multi millionaire: he (sorry, most of them are "he's") can fly his wife, girlfriend, daughter or mistress to Canada or Denmark or some other place where abortion remains legal and safe. That's just combining a brief vacation with an errand. Guns? The private security firms will have all the weaponry they need regardless of any controls that ever do come out of a legislature. We already have a well bifurcated legal system with a different set of laws for the wealthy and powerful than the rest of us have to follow. (Goldman Sachs engaged in investments that effectively bet against their own customers. Any prosecutions?) The crash of 08: aside from peripheral bottom feeders such as Madoff and other "mini-Madoffs" - any prosecutions? Has anyone actually responsible for illegal acts that contributed to crashing the world's economy even so much as seen the inside of a courtroom?

The immunity that the ridiculously wealthy enjoys reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

"The law, in its majestic wisdom, punishes the rich and the poor equally for the crime of sleeping under a bridge." --- Anatole France.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Fiendfire Burns Everything

By now most people have seen the 2nd part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. For those who have neither read the book nor seen the last movie beware: this metaphor has spoilers.

Remember the scene in the room of requirement while in its form as the place to stash crap? One of the thick-headed toadies, Crabbe, tries to kill the heros by conjuring "fiendfire" - a kind of living fire with intelligence and homicidal tendencies. Crabbe dies in the resulting blaze. Two very nasty Deatheaters taught him this curse, but as Ron comments, "Shame he wasn't concentrating when they mentioned how to stop it, really."

In response to the backlash about her anecdote during the republican debate in which Michelle Bachmann claimed that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation she has not so much continued to deny reality but defended her statement on the basis that she is not a medical doctor. "I didn't make any statements that would indicate I'm a doctor, I'm a scientist, or making any conclusions about the drug one way or the other… " For those who would like to see for yourselves, the initial question comes at 0:47 in the video below and she starts to address the original point of the question around 1:27.

OK, so what does this mean? I'm guessing she means that she did nothing illegal because she did not represent herself as a medical doctor therefore no state can prosecute her for practicing medicine without a license. But what about the implications of that? Should we disregard everything she says regarding medicine and science because she has no credentials or degree in those areas? I say yes. And then everything else she says on a topic in which she lacks any formal training or certification should we also disregard for the same reason? Again, I vote yes to that one.

So, in what area does Bachmann have credentials? She claims to have a J.D. degree from Oral Roberts University's Coburn School of Law. Ok, we'll not get into the whole ABA accreditation question, just for simplicity's sake. Has she ever practiced law? Although some of the pro-Bachmann crap on the web claims that she worked for the IRS as a "tax attorney" even the pro-republican site 2012 Republican Candidates readily admits that she never took or passed a bar exam. Does that mean we can "trust what Bachmann says" in regards to matters of law but not its practice or practical application(!?) And that's all she's got. Given she has no formal expertise on any other given topic, by her own reasoning we should disregard whatever she says. The fiendfire burns everything.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

There Will Be Math: review of Contagion

Some astute movie fans will see the pun in the title of this post. Math has no political agenda, it has no biases or prejudices. Math makes no assumptions of facts not in evidence, it makes no speeches and it tells no lies. In its honesty it has an element of cruelty but the cruelty of reality, not of malice. Consequences follow upon actions, whether anyone intends anything does not matter. Math doesn't care.

(Spoilers only occur below the "Spoilers warning line." from this point until that line you remain safe from spoilers).

I saw the movie Contagion because I read in several reviews that it "gets the science right, for a change." As an informed science supporting skeptical librarian, for what it's worth, I think the other reviewers are correct: the science as shown in the movie looks far more realistic than anything I have seen in TV or movies in decades. In particular, the scientist characters speak the way we can reasonably expect them to. Lawrence Fishbourne's CDC administrator carefully avoids making any speculative statements, even in behind-closed-doors conversations. His Dr. Cheever realizes that speculative statements by a person in authority soon turn into fact in the minds of non-scientists and especially the majority of the general public. He carefully avoids making this mistake. He makes another mistake instead.

The first person we see is (unfortunately, but don't worry her character dies before she got on my nerves) Gwynneth Paltrow. Under Paltrow's face we see "Day 2" in big red letters. She's not feeling well. The movie shifts to Hong Kong, from where Paltrow returned recently, as well as Japan and London. We see that this small handful of people have died - suddenly and inexplicably. The symptoms people suffer are not too bad. No one even considers going to a hospital until it's way too late. We soon learn that it was way too late before they even felt sick.

Rather than mire in the "human drama" as in other disaster movies, the action in Contagion quickly focuses on the work of scientists and doctors. They prove far more interesting anyway. Fishbourne's Dr. Cheever quickly grasps all what a specialist can at such an early stage and manages those under his authority with great intelligence and insight. To Kate Winslet's Dr. Mears he says as he sees her off to go to a site of the epidemic (I paraphrase) "If you need more resources call me, if you encounter any obstacles - call me, if need anything - call me, if you find yourself awake at 3 a.m. staring at the ceiling - call me." I want to work for this man.

When Mears briefs a group of municipal officials we learn some essential concepts. A new word for most, "Fulminant" means that the disease can spread from someone touching a surface or object then touching their face. A particularly clueless administrator balks when Winslet states that most people touch their faces between 1 and 2 thousand times a day. Mears realizes that she needs these twits to act and not bog down in idiotic arguments. She tersely states that people, even unconsciously, touch some part of their face 2 to 3 times a minute and concludes with "do the math." The second term is S(0) [prounounced "S zero" -- 2+2=4]. This is the measure of how fast a given disease spreads as measured by the number of persons a given sick person infects. At such an early stage they do not know if the virus is fulminant nor its S(0). Until they do they can not make predictions or know exactly what to do about it.

Throughout the movies the script gives us little reminders of how little we really control our environment - despite the fact that most of us like to think that we do. A Homeland Security official questions Fishbourne, asking him "could someone have weaponized this?" Fishbourne calmly replies that birds do that already. Another wonderfully done but very subtle moment comes when a non-scientist pencil-pusher mentions "the over-reaction to the N1H1 virus." Fishbourne's very soft-spoken Dr. Cheever responds so calmly that you almost miss the significance of what he says: "it wasn't an over-reaction."

What the scientists can figure out quickly is what kind of bug is it. The script does not explain this well enough for most of the U.S. audience: a bat flu virus met a swine flu virus, most likely in the body of a pig. What most people fail to realize: viruses mutate all the time and when two similar viruses meet in the body of the same host they exchange genetic material. Most of the time this results in no significant change. The Flu viruses and the immune systems of birds, bats and pigs have largely come to a kind of standoff in which the immune system does not kill the virus and the virus does not kill its host. But there exists no intelligence in a virus, it can not make decisions nor control its own procreation. Someone posting in a biology forum on MySpace years ago dismissed the idea that a virulent flu could wipe out millions of people by declaring "that would not be a good survival strategy for the virus." I can only hope he's too stupid to vote.

Viruses have survival strategies?! This is the reason I write a movie review here. I do not think this guy is very exceptional - chances are good there's lots more just like him or worse. We do not have nearly enough resources for a public health emergency and I see this lack resulting from a profound failure on the part of the general population of the U.S. to understand fundamental concepts in biology and even the nature of reality itself.

Sock puppets for reality.

The script writer, Scott Z. Burns, does an admirable job of taking on numerous misunderstandings and misinformation that I find prevalent and even endemic in the U.S. population. To respond to the twisted libertarian biology mentioned above the dialog mentions the Spanish Flu of 1918 several times, including the fact that it killed 1 percent of the world's population (a higher body count than World War I). Homeopathy gets a nice, hard (and highly gratifying) kick in the groin. The "blogsphere" receives an appropriate drubbing too. Without even mentioning the idiotic autism/vaccine hysteria, the script places vaccines in their appropriate place of honor in the history of science, for details see below the spoiler line.

I find this the best pro-science educational without preaching drama that I can ever remember seeing. It should be required viewing in all high school biology classes.



Rich and Poor.

The movie touches on certain divisions in the world between have's and have-not's without preaching or even taking a clear stand on the questions raised. The paranoia and the widespread belief that those on in power will look after themselves, leave the rest of us twisting in the wind and also do all they can to make enormous profits from other people's desperation all figure into the story. We see no definitive answers, only the questions. This works well as any shifting of focus from the doctors and officials fighting the epidemic would only ruin the movie, effectively turning it into a Michael Moore docudrama. The best example of dramatizing the class divide comes in a key scene in which Fishbourne takes advantage of his position of power and privilege, possibly without even consciously realizing that aspect of his behavoir: over the phone he warns his fiance to get out of dodge ahead of a massive quarantine he can see coming. But a janitor overhears him. How the script handles the resulting confrontation I will leave to you to find out. It's one of the defining moments.

Defending science by explaining it.

More about homeopathy:

In his review of this film Roger Ebert (to me quite inexplicably) declares Jude Law's subplot superflouous. He states: "The blogger subplot doesn't interact clearly with the main story lines and functions mostly as an alarming but vague distraction." I disagree. Jude Law, in a key scene, live video blogs himself taking a homeopathic remedy for the killer virus after describing the symptoms he suffers. Melodramatically he declares, "If I'm still alive tomorrow, we'll know that it works." This subplot is the foot that crushes the testicles of homeopathy. Several times in the script the doctors mention that the mortality rate for the virus is 20-30%. So even if Jude Law's nutblogger did have the deadly virus, it's only deadly for up to 30% of those infected. We learn at the end that he did not even have the deadly flu that killed Paltrow and others, but likely a plain vanilla flu - assuming he even really felt sick at all (which is a mystery I'll let you experience for yourself). Mr. Nutblogger also gets caught on tape revealing greed and attention-seeking as among his motivations for attacking the efficacy of vaccines.

I also defend the blogger subplot on the grounds that it shows a predictable element of what we can reasonably expect to happen in an actual epidemic: look what has happened with Jenny MacCarthy and the hysteria over vaccines. Idiots who look "telegenic" can exerts a very pernicious influence over impressionable people. A subplot such as this can go a long way towards vaccinating us against pseudo-science (how do you like that pun?).

And most importantly, without any "monologuing" or other ham-fisted dramatic devices, vaccines rise from the autism idiocy to take their well-deserved place as possibly the most life-saving medical breakthrough of all time. The doctor's find a vaccine which then saves millions of lives. And like Jonas Salk the ones who do the most, and the most dangerous, work do not make themselves wealthy from it, even though they clearly could. I will leave it to you to see how this plays out and let me know what you think in the comments.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Now They're Just Laughing At Us

A recent segment of the Rachel Maddow show with guest host Melissa Harris-Perry interviewing Jared Bernstein, former Economic Policy Adviser to VP Biden, deconstructs the latest Republican Bizarro-World political platform: reducing or eliminating corporate taxes. Several of the Republican candidates for President propose this idea as a way to "encourage job creation." But as Harris-Perry lays it out in this segment, corporations already have recovered from the recession and already have posted huge profits, but they have not created jobs. Why will giving them more concessions inspire them to create more jobs if they're already swimming on profits?

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Who should Recuse?

In the Proposition 8 case working its way through the courts the question arises : should the former federal district court judge who first heard the case and found Proposition 8 unconstitutional have recused himself because he is gay?

According to the SF Gate story: "Proposition 8 supporters argued that Walker should have been disqualified from presiding over the case because his 10-year same-sex relationship gave him an interest in the outcome of the trial."

But what about a heterosexual judge married to someone of the opposite sex? Why would that judge not have an interest in the outcome of the trial? If we take the core argument by the Prop 8 supporters at face value, that the extension of marriage rights to gays constitutes some sort of harm to the institution as practiced by straight people, how then does a straight married judge not have an interest in the outcome of the case?

Any ideas?

Scary pictures outlawed in Tennessee

Here's one that belongs in one of those books about wacky laws. Only this one is brand new. Tennessee passed a law that imposes a 1 year jail sentence for someone who

"transmit[s] or display[s] an image" online that is likely to "frighten, intimidate or cause emotional distress" to someone who sees it.

That's right. Tennessee has given it's citizens the right not to be frightened, intimidated or distressed by a picture on the internet.

Rachel Maddow's show has a great segment on this:

And here's the post from Roger Ebert's blog that tempts the fates. Definitely look at the pictures that Ebert has posted: they're hilarious and wonderful.

Which of the pictures on Ebert's blog post do you love/hate the most? Which picture(s) would frighten, intimidate or cause you emotional distress? Please post your list in the comments.

Pictorial subjects that could get you a year in jail if I were a citizen of Tennessee and decided to press charges:
  • Michael Jackson
  • Ronald Reagan
  • Sarah Palin
  • Any stills or clips from the movie Waterworld
  • Clowns
  • Jesus on the Cross
  • Speaking of which, also any stills or clips from the movie The Passion of the Christ.
  • New Jersey (Maps, satellite pictures, landscapes, Google Earth pictures, all of it)
  • The Confederate flag
  • Food arranged on a plate in the shape of a "happy face"
  • Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker
  • Actually, make that any and all televangelists who ever lived.
  • That weird furniture in the design section of the MOMA that makes me dizzy.
  • Pope Ratzi (or whatever his Pope name is, I can't be bothered to look it up).

I could go on, but I have to end this post sometime.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Protecting the Man-Cave


[Correction. In the original post I mistakenly identified Richard Nixon as the President who signed Medicare and Medicaid into law. That was actually LBJ in 1965].

People in the right-wing rank and file, I strongly suspect, know full-well that certain of their most cherished "principles" do not, in reality, actually work. They very happily vote into office right wing-nuts who carry out certain right-wing policies which embody certain cherished right-wing principles but expect that government will inflict these policies on people the right-wing rank and file despise.

This explains why "supply and demand" and "private industry" and "freedom of choice" all justify policies that crush worker's rights while no one makes any move to apply these same "free market principles" to doctors, lawyers or other high-income people. Somehow it's OK for low-wage workers to compete with each other to see who can work for the least money without the benefit of collective bargaining while the American Medical Association and the American Bar Association actively restrict the number of people who can become doctors or lawyers. Thus we see unions busted and jobs shipped overseas to the sound of right-wing rank and file cheering while the number of high-earning professions remains artificially low.

But when the same "free market" principles apply to the right-wing rank and file, something strange and amusing happens. They totally lose their shit then scream for government intervention. They whine about the evils of entitlement programs but when eliminating one has obvious adverse outcomes for them, then, suddenly, the program in question receives a special exemption from their ire. And even better, when the justifications for the elimination of such a valuable and important program as medicare state their most "cherished principles" they treat us to the awesome spectacle of watching the worst of the right-wing, Republican, "conservative," rank and file totally NOT buying the lies that they themselves have been screaming into our faces for years.

The Paul Ryan "Kill Medicare" budget bill has opened up a pandora's box of weirdness in U.S. politics. Just consider the basic, fundamental assumptions the right holds dear, the memes which their leaders pound out day after day, the simplistic crap they hold as self-evident truths:

1. "Free market" solutions are inherently superior to any other kind.

2. "Competition" assures the best products at the lowest prices.

3. The "Law of supply and demand" will inevitably generate solutions to every kind of problem.

4. 1-3 above makes private enterprise "more efficient" than government and therefore handing over responsibility for dealing with any sort of problem to private industry will obtain a better result than anything the government could do.

A little history:
Medicare and Medicaid came into existence when, of all People Richard Nixon, tried to bring about a national health care service in the United States. By the Nixon administration all other industrialized democracies had implemented such a system. Social-demographic changes in the post-WWII U.S. together with the de-regulation of the health insurance industry brought about the realization by a large segment of the voting population that private health insurance has one big, obvious flaw: no one wants to insure a bad risk. (For a detailed explanation of this concept, see Are you a good risk or a bad risk). By Nixon's LBJ's time the health insurance premiums for senior citizens had risen to unaffordable. This generated a voter push for a national health care system, as private insurance companies do not want to insure people who are nearly certain to have expensive health problems (if they don't have such already). Medicare and medicaid prevented the implementation of a single national health care system run by the government by co-opting the huge voting block (seniors) who found themselves looking at destitution in their old age.

Of course die-hard libertarians - Those winners of the birth lottery - will argue that if you have not saved enough money by the time you retire to pay for private health insurance you deserve to die in misery and destitution. But leaving aside those psychopaths, the backlash against the Republican attempt to kill Medicare and replace it with a coupon for private insurance shows that most of the right - the ordinary citizens who vote - knows that private health insurance companies will fuck them the first chance they get. They also realize that Medicaid is on the chopping block as well and fully realize it's implications.

Jeff Liszt from the polling firm Anzalone-Liszt Research appeared on the Rachel Maddow show Friday and mentioned that the attempt to kill Medicare has a greater area of effect damage for the Republican party than just seniors. Because Everybody Knows that the demise of government run health care for seniors extends beyond Medicare. As Liszt points out:

Liszt: … They [Republicans] are just starting to realize how deep the rabbit hole goes on this one. And it's not just medicare it's medicaid and 4 out of 5 seniors in nursing homes. I mean it's the fact that if you have a man-cave downstairs all of a sudden you are going to have your mother or mother-in-law living there and it's going away.

Maddow: If they have to get out of the nursing home because of the Medicaid cuts, so it's the protect, when you're a pollster do you call that, like, the "protect the man-cave effect?" Have something creepy like that?

Liszt: It's brand new, we're still trying to brand it.

The exchange above takes place about 9 minutes into the segment:

What I find most amusing comes from the fact that the Republican Party demanded a TV station to take down a campaign, claiming it was somehow "not true" that they voted to kill Medicare. Despite her membership in the "liberal media" what Maddow said in that segment not only holds true, but the polling numbers and recent special election results we have already seen verify that most of the conservative republican rank and file understand this the same way Rachel Maddow does:

Medicare is a single-payer government health insurance program that old people get instead of having to buy private insurance. The Paul Ryan plan says you don't get that anymore, you get a coupon, go buy private insurance with your coupon grandma. You can still call your coupon medicare, you can call it "Timmy," you can call it "peas and carrots" you can call if whatever you want. It doesn't matter what you call it. If you vote to do something like that you are voting to kill Medicare. If we as a country get what you voted for what is Medicare right now goes away.

And all but the craziest are losing their shit over it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Torture and lies

AR sent me this link to a segment from Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC, who as AR wrote: "shoots down the Bush Administration leftovers who are trying to take credit for killing Bin Laden. "

The one politician in Washington who actually has experienced torture, John McCain, spoke on the Senate floor (as well wrote an OpEd piece in the Washington Post) denouncing torture. But this has not stopped the liars from trying to link torturing detainees to the discovery of Bin Laden's location

Leon Pannetta, the current Head of the CIA, wrote a letter to McCain, which is now public, very specifically and emphatically disconnecting any link between the lie that tortured detainees gave up Bin Laden's location (or information leading to its discovery). But Pannetta debunking the lie in no uncertain terms has not stopped the liars from trying to link torturing detainees to the discovery of Bin Laden's location.

The O'Donnell segment goes into more detail and is well worth a viewing. In particular, I want to draw attention to this part of his closing:

As hard as it was for Navy Seal team 6 to kill Bin Laden it is even harder to kill political lies. Political lies can not be killed simply by the truth. Political lies will be told as long as there is a politician near a microphone with an incentive to tell that lie. And so the lie about torture leading to Bin Laden will be with us for a few more decades. It will no doubt grow quiet in its old age and then it will die. And it will finally be buried not by politicians but by historians.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

No President Schwarzenegger

Those who feared an amendment to the Constitution followed by "President Schwarzenegger" can breath easy now. He has taken the Bill Clinton path. I read this morning that he fathered a child with "a member of his household staff." He had sex with the maid? Did I hear that right? Could his life be more like a movie cliche? Or a porno movie.

My favorite part is the following quote from the former Governator:

"I ask that the media respect my wife and children through this extremely difficult time,"


This will teach me to read more before posting. The child was born before he took office as Governor. So I guess the lesson here is not whether voters should judge a politician's behavior in personal life as part of his qualifications for office but that a rich powerful man can get away with whatever he likes as long as he doesn't get caught.

More to the point, all the talk of "family values" means nothing. It's just a stick or stone to throw in a fight.

And all this only generates political theater anyway. The differences between Democrat and a Republican have grown fewer and fewer over the years. This news, however amusing, only serves to distract. We are in a depression, the wealthy do not need ordinary American anymore, and we're fighting Seven Wars. That a rich movie star can buy and act his way into the California Governor's mansion while he can't resist cheating on his wife then gets away with the same behavior that resulted in the impeachment of a President unpopular with right-wing zealots is only a symptom. The disease remains untreated.

The latest info on how Arnold managed to do the needed damage control to stave of the blatant hypocrisy of the Republican "family values" voter. His behavior, as noted above, totally jumped the rails so badly that not even the most obtuse right-wing Republican could ignore it. What do you do when the wreckage piles up so high that the tabloid have endless fodder to work with?

Easy. Buy them. See The Last Word segment below for how a movie star with a bachelors degree in physical fitness from the University of Wisconsin can buy political office.

Maybe we should just auction off public offices. That would likely obtain the same result while reducing the deficit.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Osama Sleeps with the Fishes

Editorial --- Editorial --- Editorial

There once was this organized crime family that had a sweet operation. It owned the Caribbean and Central America. Then it moved into South America. Later, when lots of money started coming out of the ground in the Middle East and parts of Africa, the family moved in there too.

Everywhere the family went, they knew how to grease the local wheels. Organized crime can't exist without the help of supposedly upstanding citizens.

But then the Family had a huge gang war with another big gang. During that time they had to hire a lot of local talent. One of the locals, a really ruthless hitman, looked really promising. So the family trained him - they trained him really well. Then after the family won its war lots of the local talent who used to work for the family went into business for themselves. You know what happens then. Inevitably the small operations grow big enough to compete with the family's operations. This guy tried to muscle the family out of one of its territories - he wants to be a Don himself. Then it's war again.

The family tried put out a hit on their old hired help but he kept one step ahead of them. He knew their tricks - they taught him well. He kept hitting their operation. And not just dropping a few bodies here and there but really spectacular stuff. Pretty much screaming "catch me if you can" with big explosions. The family killed some of their old hitman's new gang plus lots of taxpayers caught in the crossfire. Their former go to guy hit back with more of the same.

One day the family promoted a favorite son as head of the whole operation. Out of respect to an old and venerated Don the capos agreed to have his son put in charge. No one really took the son seriously nor expected him to have to do any heavy lifting - the operation was pretty much running itself by that time. Everyone treated him like a figurehead. But then one day the upstart yelled "Catch me if you can" with an explosion so big that no one could pretend he was just another wannabe. The family still couldn't find him and to be blunt the "favorite son" couldn't find his own sofa in his living room - but that's another story - so the family lashed out against anyone who they thought even might have known something about the big job.

The family goes on a tear for ten years and blows up tons of stuff trying to act like badasses and make up for being made to look like chumps. The favorite son wears out his welcome everywhere he goes, talks tough but can't ever find the Wannabe much less put a bullet in his head. Some of the guys the family gets its hands on turn up really badly worked over - and they're the ones found alive. Others treated to the family's hospitality are not so fortunate. The favorite son arranged some really sloppy and badly planned hits, killing lots of bystanders in the process. He did order a few successful hits on some pretty nasty competitors, but never the one guy he really wants. By the time the Family replaced him the situation wasn't getting embarrassing, it had been - and for quite some time.

But eventually Mr. Wannnabe's luck ran out. Informants tell us that the family once considered giving him up to the feds but he knew too much. No, they decided to do the hit, just as they planned all along, so no loose ends. No one wanted to hear this birdie sing at trial. And more importantly, they wanted to send a message to any other wannabe who thought he could take on the family: you mess with us then you sleep with the fishes.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bradley Manning

I sent the following message to my Congressional Representative:

I am writing to you about the case of Pvt. Bradley Manning and the conditions of his detention. I have read that the conditions of his detention at Quantico, Virginia where until recently he was held in 23-hour a day solitary confinement, forbidden to exercise, unable to interact with any other people, constitutes inhumane treatment according to international and U.S. laws. Although the conditions of his confinement may improve given his recent transfer to Leavenworth Prison, I find many of the facts of his case highly disturbing.

Second, even a tyrannical dictatorship such as Tunisia does not hold anyone in solitary confinement for more than 10 days. Manning was in solitary for 6 months.

Third, in his recent public comments, the President declared Manning guilty, stating on camera: "We don't let individuals make their own decisions about how the laws operate. He broke the law." But Pvt. Manning has yet to go to trail, much less stand convicted. Given that military officers will try Pvt. Manning report to the President as Commander and Chief I find his statement prejudicial and contrary to the core concept of the presumption of innocence that, until recently, distinguished the U.S. from other countries.

I request that you do the following:

Please make a public statement of your position regarding the conditions of Pvt. Manning's detention at Quantico.

Please initiate or do all in your power to initiate congressional hearings on the conditions of Pvt. Manning's detention.

I would like to see the United States uphold the standards of due process which once made our legal system the standard for others to follow. A king has the power to throw a person in a dungeon for months or years without trial. A President in a democracy should not have such power. Congress can hold a President accountable for such actions, should the Representatives and Senators choose to do so. Please do so.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

So This is America?

Did Hilary Clinton think that she was performing in a Monty Python skit?

As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave her speech at George Washington University yesterday condemning governments that arrest protestors and do not allow free expression, 71-year-old Ray McGovern was grabbed from the audience in plain view of her by police and an unidentified official in plain clothes, brutalized and left bleeding in jail. She never paused speaking. When Secretary Clinton began her speech, Mr. McGovern remained standing silently in the audience and turned his back. Mr. McGovern, a veteran Army officer who also worked as a C.I.A. analyst for 27 years, was wearing a Veterans for Peace t-shirt.

It gets better. This all happened under the watchful eye of a video camera and lots of people taking pictures:

In this more detailed article in OpEd News we learn more about Ray McGovern's views on Hilary Clinton and war:

Hillary is the driving force, together with a few others, behind the wars in Afghanistan. She's one of the big hawks in Iran. When I look at her and her husband that they don't know the first thing about war. I do and so do my fellow Veterans for Peace.
(Neither Hilary Clinton, nor her husband or daughter Chelsea have ever served in the military.)

Earlier in his life McGovern used the same tactics in his Catholic Church in protest to its refusal to ordain women priests.

With this latest example, what Glenn Greenwald calls American Exceptionalism has reached Bizarro World proportions. Were it not for the real life violence, that video showing Clinton continuing to plow through her speech condemning governments that arrest peaceful protesters while shadowy security men drag one out of the room would look like a scene from Duck Soup. Real life imitates a Marx Brothers' movie?!

I hope the cask-strength insanity of this latest assault on civil liberties wakes up some people.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Screwed by "Efficiency"

A NY Daily News story explains how the City of NY has spent $700,000,000 to create unfinished and undistributed software to track the hours worked by its employees. Of course back in the Giuliani administration the sales pitch was that this was only going to cost somewhere around $68,000,000, or less than a tenth of what its cost and counting.

Obviously, its an economic disaster at a time of shrinking budgets, but the extra magical part is the plan to have city workers sign in and out and in again using biometric palm scanners. That is right! There is so much theft of city services by city workers that they have to submit to being scanned every time they leave for lunch and come back. Here is the relevant quote, "The most contentious part of the program has been biometric palm scanners. City labor leaders consider it a huge violation of privacy rights. About 19,000 of the 45,000 workers on the system are being required to use the scanners to clock in and out each day and during lunch hours.

"It's absolutely outrageous, like Big Brother," said Jon Forster, vice president of the Local 375 of AFSCME, which represents the city's architects and technicians.

Now, in the age of swine flu, Forster notes, hundreds of people in various agencies must put their hands into these machines that often get sweaty and unsanitary.

Those who do not use hand scanners must punch in using a time clock each time they log on and off of their computers, or by filling out electronic time sheets. The city has left it up to individual agencies to decide which workers will use which system."

So not only do we not have a functioning new computerized time keeping system, if we do get it we will be asking our municipal workers like the NYPD & FDNY (a.k.a.: our first responder heroes) to give up their civil rights and biometric information multiple times a day just to make sure that nobody signs them in a little early. As Juan Gonzalez writes in his article, "Do the math for a moment: $700 million to track 140,000 city workers is costing $5,000 per worker - all for a new-age time clock!"

- By AR (but posted by Steven).

Friday, February 11, 2011

Gun fantasies

AR sent me the following video in which Rachel Maddow explodes the myth that a well armed populace will reduce gun violence by means of return fire. 2nd amendment fans please watch to the end before commenting.

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On the topic of the "gun fantasy" : I suspect that pop culture with its very contrived situations in which friendly fire fatalities never happen may contribute to this fantasy. Contrary to the history documentaries and war movies, a dirty secret about warfare, especially in the 20th century, is that "friendly fire casualties" are endemic. Also in smaller scale rescue operations it frequently occurs that the rescuers kill or wound some number of the people they are trying to rescue (The raid on Entebbe in the 70s comes to mind). The military takes pains to avoid publicizing some of its own research which bears this out, time and again. In the book, War by Gwyne Dyer, you will find a description of how a military doctor during WWI performed autopsies on hundreds of soldiers on both sides who died in combat. Examination of the bullets or fragments indicated that half of the soldiers on both sides were killed by their own people. Most people learn history from TV or movies. Sad but true. Although the book Band of Brothers describes incidents of friendly fire fatalities, none of these appeared in the mini-series. Perception vs. reality.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Dr. Tarr and Professor Feather go to Washington

The above post from Rortybomb also gives a somewhat interesting history of the schism in the Libertarian party/movement.

Professor Feather:
  • Then there's Obama to cut heating oil assistance to the poor. Most of whom are elderly. Not kidding. I guess the reasoning here is that they can't vote him out of office in 2012 if they freeze to death in 2011. That's assuming any reasoning was behind this decision.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

OK, you can have a gold star

Frank Luntz is the republican strategist who wrote a memo to the effect that "climate change" is a better phrase to use than "global warming" as a way to attack and undermine the scientists. Here's a video in a series about global warming that has Luntz on camera (for PBS) admitting that he now accepts global warming as real. You might find his boasting somewhat amusing. Or surreal.

(By the way, the Greenman3610 videos are all great. Along with Potholer54 he has produced some of the best educational videos on climate science I have seen.)
-- Steven.

The weirdest thing about the Frank Luntz interview with Deborah Amos is that he insists that he did a great job and is a good boy. He wants her to be impressed with his skills. Its great language after all, so he's great at his job. Talk about having a narrow field of vision. The other weird thing about Luntz is how much more attention seeking he is compared to most of the people in his business. He is a camera hog, loves the spot light, wants people to publicly acknowledge his brilliance. Can you name another person who does what Luntz does for a living without a Google search? I can't.

-- AR

Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Koch Bros. meet Monty Python

From the "striking it rich does not make you smart about everything" department:

Remember the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail in which one of the peasants start ranting "I'm being oppressed! See, he's oppressing me!" Well, imagine the billionaire Koch brothers in that stellar role.

The Koch brothers hired goons to intimidate reporters at their annual retreat for their loyal followers. From: The problem: you're viewed as sinister moguls, the solution: hired goons.