"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Today's Must-Read: The Russian Connection

From Adam L. Silverman at Balloon Juice:

As more information is released about the hack on the DNC servers – and I don’t mean the dribbling out of emails with people’s personal identifying information (PII) at Wikileaks – it is becoming much, much clearer that the attacks were broader and deeper than originally estimated. As has been reported, the FBI is investigating the attack as an act of cyber espionage. Specifically, that the hack is a Russian Intelligence cyber operation and US government officials have begun to speculate that it was done to impact the upcoming Presidential election in a manner preferred by the Russian government and Vladimir Putin. This has also been suggested by Clinton campaign officials. CNN has reported this morning that the DNC was warned by US government officials of the weakness of their system during a time period when similar attacks were being made against the White House and other US government systems. Russia seems to be intensifying its attacks against US cyber systems similar to state sponsored active measures used to achieve political effects:
“The release of emails just as the Democratic National Convention is getting underway this week has the hallmarks of a Russian active measures campaign,” David Shedd, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told The Daily Beast. Shedd said that additional leaks were likely, echoing an opinion expressed by U.S. officials and experts who said that the release of emails on Friday may just be an opening salvo.

This could get nasty. In fact, it's already nasty. The DNC, the Clinton campaign, every down-ticket campaign, everyone needs to nail Trump to the wall with this, because sure as hell the media aren't going to do it.

And the House Witch-Hunt Committee? Crickets.

Close Encounters of the Best Kind

Just because:

Via Balloon Juice.

Compare and Contrast: In a Nutshell

From Tom Sullivan at Hullabaloo, on the Democratic convention:

But the mood and speeches last night were a remarkable departure from the xenophobic gloom and witch trial antics at the Republican convention last week in Cleveland. Time (and sleep deprivation) prevent remarking on stunning speeches by Corey Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders (whose welcome almost prevented him speaking). But it was Michelle Obama's speech that will be most remembered.

He has full transcript of Obama's speech, in case you don't want to watch the video.

It's the difference in tone that strikes me as most remarkable. Well, that and the difference in substance -- the only substance coming out of the Republican convention was the platform, which is one of the most reprehensible documents ever offered by a political party in this country -- while the Democrats have moved in the opposite direction, even if it's not really enough on all issues. The Democratic convention has a hard grounding in reality (give or take the hard-core BernieBots, who have even turned on their hero), which is foreign to the Republican mindset these days, by all appearances. Looks like, once again, the Democrats are the grown-ups, while the Republicans continue to behave like toddlers throwing tantrums.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Michelle Obama at DNC

If you haven't watched this, do it now.

Who managed to rip Donald Trump to shreds without ever mentioning his name.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Today's Must-Read

Starts to look like Trump's America will be part of the new USSR:

Josh Marshall, who has been on fire during this primary season, IMO, has a must-read piece up at TPM on the ties between Trump and Putin. An excerpt that summarizes the case for closer scrutiny:
To put this all into perspective, if Vladimir Putin were simply the CEO of a major American corporation and there was this much money flowing in Trump’s direction, combined with this much solicitousness of Putin’s policy agenda, it would set off alarm bells galore. That is not hyperbole or exaggeration. And yet Putin is not the CEO of an American corporation. He’s the autocrat who rules a foreign state, with an increasingly hostile posture towards the United States and a substantial stockpile of nuclear weapons. The stakes involved in finding out ‘what’s going on’ as Trump might put it are quite a bit higher.
There is something between a non-trivial and a substantial amount of circumstantial evidence for a financial relationship between Trump and Putin or a non-tacit alliance between the two men. Even if you draw no adverse conclusions, Trump’s financial empire is heavily leveraged and has a deep reliance on capital infusions from oligarchs and other sources of wealth aligned with Putin. That’s simply not something that can be waved off or ignored. 

Is it irresponsible to speculate? It would be irresponsible not to. To quote a source.

Read both.

I think the Notorious RBG had it right: New Zealand starts to look better and better. (Anybody remember the movie On the Beach?)

This Sums It Up

The reaction of any sane person to the GOP convention, at least:

Via Digby.

On Substance

Do watch this segment by Fareed Zakaria on the state of America, offered in response to The Hairpiece's repeated insistence that we're on the rocks.

It garnered this response from the doyenne of conservative thinkers:

Ann Coulter✔

I like hearing CNN's Fareed Zakaria ask in a thick Indian accent, "What kind of America do we want to return to?"
9:07 AM - 24 Jul 2016

1,528 1,528 Retweets

Substantial, isn't it? It's about what we've come to expect from the "conservative" brain trust, without the usual obfuscation.

(No wonder she supports Trump -- they're birds of a feather: anything for a little attention.)

Today's Must-Read

Finally, someone says it -- Michelangelo Signorile, to be exact:

But Trump can count on much of the media falling for stock phrases, engaging in superficial coverage and often running with a false narrative that the Trump campaign hands to journalists on Trump and LGBT issues rather than doing the most basic reporting and presenting an accurate story. Throughout the campaign, Trump has often been treated to a different standard than other political candidates, and that’s been true on some issues more than others as the media prioritizing what to focus on.

Our so-called "independent press" has been suffering from a couple of maladies since news divisions stopped being a public service and started being required to deliver ratings: the stenographer syndrome (typified by the "he said, she said" school of reporting) largely stimulated by the perceived need to maintain access to the movers and shakers, and the search for "hot" headlines -- click bait. This impacts not only how stories are reported, but which stories are reported -- it's a fault even more evident at the editorial level.

Signorile notes something I've also noticed:

So, from the stage last night in Cleveland, Donald Trump said, “As your president, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of a hateful foreign ideology, believe me,” in the context of his fear-mongering about foreign terrorism and how the country is supposedly in chaos and government is supposedly inadequately responding to the threat. And ABC News, in coverage similar to other news organizations, focused on the “historic” use of the term “LGBTQ” by a GOP presidential candidate without including the context of the “historic,” extreme anti-LGBT GOP platform, and Trump’s own extreme positions, including promising religious conservatives – on the Christian Broadcasting Network, on Fox News, in a town hall with Pat Robertson ― that he would overturn the historic Obergefell ruling, which he’d called “shocking.”

A number of bloggers -- and even more commenters -- have crowed about the fact that Trump actually referred to us in his speech, without noting the context: it was just a convenient way to pivot once again to his perennial anti-Muslim plug: it wasn't about us, it wasn't about LGBTQ rights, it was about Islamist terrorism.

Read Signorile's whole piece -- it's as good a take-down of the press and its failure as an independent watchdog as I've seen.

It's symptomatic of the state of journalism in this country that we have to go to Comedy Central to get any real reporting.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

It's "What's New" Day at GMR

Which means newly posted reviews.

And if you're looking for mine, there's one hidden in the introduction this week.

There Are Limits

The idea that "my rights are unlimited" seems to be spreading from the "Christian martyr" set across the political spectrum:

An attorney was removed from court and taken into custody after a judge declared her in contempt for refusing to take off a Black Lives Matter pin.

Youngstown Municipal Court Judge Robert Milich said Attorney Andrea Burton was in contempt of court for refusing to remove the pin in his courtroom as instructed. Burton was sentenced to five days in jail, but she has been released on a stay while an appeal is underway.

Burton will stay out of jail during the appeals process as long as she obeys Milich’s order not to wear items that make a political statement in court. If she loses her appeal, she will have to serve the five days in jail.

Milich said his opinions have nothing to do with his decision.

“A judge doesn’t support either side,” he said. “A judge is objective and tries to make sure everyone has an opportunity to have a fair hearing, and it was a situation where it was just in violation of the law,” he said.

On the face of it, this seems to me like a reasonable action on the judge's part: political statements in court, especially by an attorney for either side, can unduly influence a jury -- we've all seen how juries can be influenced by extraneous matters. And a judge has considerable leeway in determining what is potentially disruptive to the trial process.

Here's where it becomes dicey:

The Youngstown branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) said its legal counsel is monitoring the case closely as it may violate Burton’s civil rights.

General principle: all rights have limits. That's a necessity if we hope to have a workable society. "Your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins." Trite, but true.

And especially for an attorney, an officer of the court, there are constraints on free expression, especially if that free expression has no bearing on the matter at trial. The article is lacking on specifics on that score. It doesn't mention whether Burton was a defense attorney or a prosecutor. If the latter, there are real constraints: as a government official, a prosecutor must be extremely careful about putting the weight of his or her position behind a political expression in the court room.

And as it turns out, Burton knew exactly what she was doing, and it was deliberate:
"He indicated to me he didn't know if I was trying to seek attention from the news or whatever the case was, but that legally I wasn't allowed to wear it and I deferred and said that I'm respecting my First Amendment right. That I'm not neutral in injustice, and to remain neutral becomes an accomplice to oppression, Attorney Burton said. . . .

"It's an act of civil disobedience I understand that. I'm not anti-police I work with law enforcement and I hold them in the highest regard, and just to say for the record I do believe all lives matter. But at this point they don't all matter equally, and that's a problem in the justice system," Burton said.

Yeah, we all understand the idea of civil disobedience to unjust laws, but to my way of thinking, this is beyond the Pale: She's gotten carried away with herself and is really doing more damage than good to her cause. As an officer of the court, she has a responsibility to her client to focus on the matter at hand and not do anything that could disrupt the proceedings or call into question her own professionalism.

And of course, one of the basic tenets of civil disobedience is that if your going to break an unjust law, you have to be prepared to suffer the consequences. Ask Martin Luther King or Mahatma Gandhi about that.

(Sidebar: I don't argue the fact that there is gross racial bias in our justice system, from the cop on the beat on up, and I'm sympathetic to her cause, in spite of some of the stunts BLM has pulled. But there's a time and a place.)

Here's a key point:

Attorney and community activist Kim Akins said she is worried about what happened.

“No one wearing an American flag button, no one wearing a crucifix or a Star of David would be removed, so why this particular statement bothered him so much is bothersome,” she said.

It's a sentiment echoed in the comments, both from the article itself and from the post at Crooks and Liars, which is where I ran across it: there's some impaired reasoning going on here, if people can't tell the difference between a US flag pin or religious symbol such as a cross or star of David and a pin that overtly advocates for a particular cause. Someone like Akins should know better -- she's an attorney, for crying out loud. (Not that that implies a lot of brain power. Trust me on that -- I worked for a law firm for years.)

There's a strain of incipient paranoia running throughout the comments to these articles that leads the to believe the right wing has been at least partly successful in at least one of its goals: no one trusts the courts any more. This one is a prime example:

Would the judge have thrown her in jail if she wore a "blue lives matter" pin? If not, then I smell a discrimination lawsuit against the judge to have that judge fired and jailed.

This is standard right-wing (hmm -- it almost came out as "white-wing" -- I wonder why?) reasoning: ask a hypothetical question, answer your own question with the most prejudicial answer, call for blood.

I hate to say this, but this is a prime example of political correctness run amok. It seems that looking at a matter dispassionately (which is hard, I know, but it's necessary if anything is going to be resolved) and using reason to work through to a solution is completely off the table. What I'm seeing is a bunch of people all yelling "Hey! Look at me! Me, me, me!"

(Footnote: "Political correctness" has become another right-wing dog-whistle, which is why I'm loathe to use the term: to them, it stands for "common decency," which is, apparently, a bad thing.)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Saturday Science: But We Knew That

A little break from "Earth: A Biography" this week: I have a lot of material to digest on eukaryotes, and I have a lot of other stuff on my plate right now, but I found this interesting:

The human eye is capable of detecting the presence of a single photon, the smallest measurable unit of light, in the dark, researchers said.

In a study first published in the journal Nature Communications Tuesday, scientists found that the human eye can sense individual particles, seemingly concluding the quest to test the limits of human vision.

“If you imagine this, it is remarkable: a photon, the smallest physical entity with quantum properties of which light consists, is interacting with a biological system consisting of billions of cells, all in a warm and wet environment,” Alipasha Vaziri, lead researcher from the Rockefeller University in New York, reportedly said.

For some reason, I thought that had been established. Maybe it was just a hypothesis.

Myllokunmingia; image from BBC
This actually does relate to the development of life on Earth: one of the favorite objections of the creationists/IDers to evolution is "What about something as complex as the human eye? That couldn't have happened by chance." Well, aside from the fact that evolution in not entirely -- or even mostly -- a matter of chance, it's had 500 million years to work on the human eye, maybe even longer: many, if not most single-celled organisms are sensitive to light, which means they have to have some means of detecting it, and they've been around for a couple billion years. And one of the first known chordates, Myllokunmingia, had eye spots: photoreceptors, if you will. We don't know how complex they were, because all we have are fossils, but 500 million years ago, there was already a creature with eyes.

So maybe it's not so surprising that we can detect one photon -- we've been working on it long enough.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Today's Must-Read

From Mustang Bobby at BarkBarkWoofWoof:

If you stayed up to watch Donald Trump deliver his nearly 90-minute harangue, I admire you for your courage and your ability to control your gag reflex. All I did was read the transcript and catch a couple of clips and I’ve had enough.

What it all came down to is that Donald Trump told America and the world that we are in a hell of a mess and he is the only one who can fix it.

That has been the message of every dictator — from the left or the right — for time out of mind.

This is right in line with everything else I've read and seen about Trump's speech -- and, in fact, his whole campaign. The bottom line is, he has no clue, but he hires good people -- like the ones who managed the most disorganized, amateurish campaign ever.

Read the whole thing.

Image of the Week

Doesn't this look nice and cool and shady?

It's an old one -- I'm not even sure where I shot it: could be North Carolina, could be Michigan. Have to start labeling these things better.

So Why Should This Convention Be Any Different?

Offered without comment:

It’s been a great week for gay escorts in Cleveland. Male prostitutes contacted by The Post said business is booming and Republican National Convention attendees — most of them married — are clamoring for their services.

“Business has been way better. I’ve seen 10 clients so far,” one male escort said. “Most of them were first-timers. You could tell they were nervous, but once they became more comfortable, they seemed to be having a good time.”

Another escort said he had already earned $1,600 since Monday — over six times the amount he usually makes. “I normally only make $200 to $300, but I’ve been seeing lots of guys in hotels downtown,” he said, noting the boom in business near the Quicken Loans Arena.

When contacted by The Post, females for hire said they’re making much less money than normal. “Has business been better for me? Honestly, no,” one woman said before abruptly hanging up the phone. “Business is slower than usual,” said another. “I haven’t been getting any calls.”

Well, OK, one comment: do remember that the GOP just adopted the most anti-gay platform in history.

Via Joe.My.God.


That was the sound of the other (basketball) shoe dropping:

Yahoo News broke the story:

Without any movement by state legislators in North Carolina to change newly enacted laws targeted at the LGBT community, the NBA is pulling the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, league sources told The Vertical.

The NBA is focused on the New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center as the host for All-Star Weekend and the All-Star Game on Feb. 19, league sources told The Vertical.

For now, there are still other cities trying to lure the All-Star Game, sources said.

A formal announcement on the NBA’s withdrawal out of Charlotte is expected as soon as this week, league sources said Thursday.

This is the law known as "Hate Bill 2," which not only rescinds all LGBT civil rights protections enacted by local governments in the state, but forbids localities from enacting new protections, mandates that transgender men and women use the bathroom designated for their birth sex, and forbids localities from raising the minimum wage. I'm sure there's other nastiness in there, but those are the worst parts.

Gov. Pat McCrory (R-Did you doubt it?) is upset:

The sports and entertainment elite, Attorney General Roy Cooper and the liberal media have for months misrepresented our laws and maligned the people of North Carolina simply because most people believe boys and girls should be able to use school bathrooms, locker rooms and showers without the opposite sex present. Twenty-one other states have joined North Carolina to challenge the federal overreach by the Obama administration mandating their bathroom policies in all businesses and schools instead of allowing accommodations for unique circumstances.

“Left-wing special interest groups have no moral authority to try and intimidate the large majority of American parents who agree in common-sense bathroom and shower privacy for our children. American families should be on notice that the selective corporate elite are imposing their political will on communities in which they do business, thus bypassing the democratic and legal process.

Where to start? Sorry, Governor, but no one is misrepresenting the law, except you and your Republican apologists. Drop the "safety in the bathroom" bullshit -- no one has ever been attacked by a trans person in the bathroom. (And if you don't know the difference between sex and gender, maybe you should ask someone -- and I don't mean your local fundamentalist preacher.)

Hmm -- what "unique circumstances"? I'd love to know what he means by that.

Apparently only right-wing special interest groups have the moral authority to enforce their narrow world view and authoritarian "morality" on everyone else. And let's just face it: "common sense" is not part of the right-wing toolbox. As for bypassing the "democratic and legal process" -- who was it who rammed a hate bill through the legislature and to your desk in twelve hours, with no public hearings, no debate, and no input from the communities affected? Is this what you consider the "democratic process"?

I hope the courts whip your ass on this, along with the asses of the other twenty-one states that are suing. We have this thing in this country known as "constitutionally guaranteed rights." Everyone has them, even people you don't approve of. I know you don't like the idea, but you're stuck with it.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Welcome to 1692

That's when the famous Salem witch trials began. And of course, Republicans being what they are, they can never let a good witch hunt rest:

Last night Chris Christie led a show trial for a slavering mob that apparently thinks it's normal to put their political opponents in jail. He got them screaming "guilty!" on cue and shrieking "lock her up! lock her up!" like a mantra. It was barely checked mass hysteria and the only time in the whole evening the crowd seemed to come alive. Which is just creepy.

Mother Jones picks up the story this morning:

The next morning, it seemed, the ante was raised, when news broke that Al Baldasaro, a prominent Trump supporter who advises the campaign on veterans' issues, had said on a radio show that Clinton deserves to "be put in the firing line and shot for treason." Baldasaro spoke at numerous Trump rallies during the primary campaign, and Trump once praised him as "my favorite vet." (Trump's onetime butler recently called for killing President Barack Obama.)

This is from a Trump supporter:

For some, execution was on the table. "She's extremely corrupt, she's extremely dangerous," said Rhonda Welsch, a 55-year-old food and beverage worker at a Hawaii resort. "I think that's what she deserves: the death penalty."

Lady, did you ever hear of "due process"? Of course, these are people who have no trouble ignoring facts they don't like -- and who support one of the most corrupt people ever to run for public office.

Digby mnakes a very important point here:

Clinton committed no crime and even the accusations of "carelessness" are overblown and stupid. But even if it were all true, it's not a capital crime and the fact that GOP leaders are both tacitly and explicitly encouraging their followers to see it that way is a very dangerous precedent. Their beef with Clinton is political not legal and they know it. They are irresponsibly conflating the two in an overheated environment and they are just asking for trouble.

This piece by Dylan Matthews delves into the Christie speech and the broader problem of criminalizing politics in this ugly way.  it's worth reading. What Christie "prosecuted" Clinton for was policy, not crimes, many of which weren't even true or things she was responsible for. And people want to jail or kill her for them. It's primal witch hunt hysteria --- one of the women in that video even explicitly calls Clinton a witch.

This isn't normal, folks. Or at least it hasn't been normal in America for a good long while.

Like, since the 1690s.

And the follow-up, with Christie, one of the biggest crooks in the country, looking like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. He could give Tony Perkins lessons on lying with a straight face:

This is just the tip of the iceberg:

 Show trials are just for starters:
If he wins the presidency, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump would seek to purge the federal government of officials appointed by Democratic President Barack Obama and could ask Congress to pass legislation making it easier to fire public workers, Trump ally, Chris Christie, said on Tuesday.

Christie, who is governor of New Jersey and leads Trump's White House transition team, said the campaign was drawing up a list of federal government employees to fire if Trump defeats Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 presidential election.