"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, December 30, 2015

Culture Break: Zoë Keating: Escape Artist

A former co-worker, a violinist herself, introduced me to the music of Zoë Keating, which I find fascinating, so now I'm taking the opportunity to introduce her to you:

She really does amazing things with sound.

Did I Mention Complicit Judges?

I'm sure I must have, in the context of police misbehavior that gets less than a slap on the wrist. Here's a sterling case in point:

U.S. District Court Judge John W. Lungstrum dismissed every one of the Hartes’s claims. Lungstrum found that sending a SWAT team into a home first thing in the morning based on no more than a positive field test and spotting a suspect at a gardening store was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment. He found that the police had probable cause for the search, and that the way the search was conducted did not constitute excessive force. He found that the Hartes had not been defamed by the raid or by the publicity surrounding it. He also ruled that the police were under no obligation to know that drug testing field kits are inaccurate, nor were they obligated to wait for the more accurate lab tests before conducting the SWAT raid. The only way they’d have a claim would be if they could show that the police lied about the results, deliberately manipulated the tests or showed a reckless disregard for the truth — and he ruled that the Hartes had failed to do so.

Read the whole story, if you haven't run across it someplace yet, but keep in mind that 1) shopping in a garden center makes you a suspect for drug-related offenses; 2) the field test kits used in this case return a 70% false positive rate; and 3) your 4th Amendment rights are worthless.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Today in Disgusting People: Christmas Eve Edition (Update)

Yes, it's Christmas Eve, and here's a chance to see how all those good "Christians" out there are observing the spirit of the season:

First, the new governor of Kentucky, Matt Bevin, can't wait to spread the joy of Christmas:

Less than a month after taking office, Kentucky’s newly elected Republican Gov. Matt Bevin reversed a move by his Democratic predecessor that had restored the voting rights of about 140,000 former felons.

Those impacted, who are overwhelmingly African American and lower income, had already completed their felony sentences but remained permanently disenfranchised. The order excluded those convicted of violent crimes, sex crimes, bribery or treason.

Bevin’s move Tuesday night goes against promises he made during the campaign to keep the restoration of voting rights in place. He even told reporters in November that he would stand up to his own party on the issue and convince them it was the right thing to do. Now, thanks to his order, tens of thousands of Kentuckians will not only lose the opportunity to regain their voting rights, they will also be permanently unable to serve on a jury, run for office, or obtain a vocational license.

And he lied about it during his campaign. Another Nine Commandment "Christian."

But it gets better:

In another executive order this week, Bevin reversed former Gov. Beshear’s move to raise the state’s minimum wage for government workers and contractors to $10.10 an hour, bringing it back down to $7.25 an hour. About 800 state workers who have already gotten raises will be able to keep them, but new hires will now have to start at the lower pay rate. In the order, Bevin hinted that he would prefer the state have no minimum wage at all: “Wage rates ideally would be established by the demands of the labor market instead of being set by the government,” he said.

"Demands of the labor market." In other words, let American workers compete against workers in Chinese and Vietnamese sweatshops. This guy's a Koch brothers wet dream.

And as long as it's the Christmas season, let's screw someone for helping out a hungry child:

After Dalene Bowden, a food service worker at Irving Middle School in Idaho, gave a free hot lunch to a 12-year-old girl who said she was hungry and didn't have any money, she was fired even though she offered to pay for the meal.

Then there are debt collectors, for whom no tactic seems to be too low. Add in compliant courts, though, and you have a nightmare for consumers:

Clifford Cain Jr., a retired electrician in Baltimore, was used to living on a tight budget, carefully apportioning his Social Security and pension benefits to cover his rent and medication for multiple sclerosis.

So Mr. Cain was puzzled when he suddenly could not make ends meet. Months later, he discovered why: A debt collector had garnished his bank account after suing him for about $4,500 the company said he owed on an old debt.

Mr. Cain said he never knew the lawsuit had been brought against him until the money was gone. Neither did other Baltimore residents who were among the hundreds of people sued by the collector, Midland Funding, a unit of the Encore Capital Group, in Maryland State Court. Some of them said they did not even owe any money, or their debt had long expired and was not legally collectible, according to a review of court records.

In any case, the Encore subsidiary was not licensed to collect debt in Maryland.

Yet when Mr. Cain brought a class action in 2013 against Midland Funding, the company successfully fought to have the lawsuit dismissed.

If the plaintiffs wanted to try to recover their money, they would have to do so in private arbitration. And because class actions are banned in arbitration, Mr. Cain and the others would have to fight the unit of Encore — one of the largest debt buyers in the country with vast legal resources — one by one.

Note that the debt collector was not licensed, but the judge ducked and ran on what should have been a slam dunk.

I may update this if I run across more -- and considering the way this country is going, I probably will. And I haven't even gotten into the campaign yet.

Update: I knew there would be more: The Texas Department of State Health Service, which is cutting off a federally funded, state-administered grant to Planned Parenthood for HIV prevention and care:

In a notice received by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast late Monday, an official with the Department of State Health Services informed the Houston-based provider that it would not renew its contract for HIV prevention services.

The long-standing grant, which funds HIV testing and prevention services, was set to expire on Dec. 31, according to the notice which was obtained by The Texas Tribune.

“There will be no further renewals of this contract,” a DSHS official wrote in the notice to Planned Parenthood.

The contract is federally funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but managed by the state. A spokeswoman for the CDC said she was unaware of the state’s notice and did not immediately provide comment.

By ending Planned Parenthood’s contract, the state is cutting off almost $600,000 in annual funding, which the health care provider used for HIV testing and counseling, condom distribution and referral consultations.

They really don't care who suffers, do they? Of course, it's going to be "those people."

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Culture Break: Pentatonix: The Carol of the Bells

This has always been one of my favorite carols, and Pentatonix does a bang-up job on it:

Merry Christmas! (See, I have no trouble with wishing people a Merry Christmas.) And a belated Blessed Yule.

Donald Trump Is Boring

That's really the case -- he's so predictable and so artificial that every Donald Trump headline I see elicits nothing more than a yawn.

And sort of apropos, we have a Trump Tower in Chicago. (Has any major city escaped?) It's on the river, just west of Michigan Avenue and sort of behind the Wrigley Building. The building itself is not what I'd call an architectural masterpiece (remember, this is Chicago, where we have an architectural masterpiece almost every block), but it's not the worst building in town. It still manages to be an eyesore: it's completely out of scale with its surroundings, and ignores the existing context -- it's a big, ungainly, bombastic blot on the landscape.


Keep in mind that this photo more or less flatters it, but you get the idea. It's even worse at street level.

Oh, and to have "TRUMP" two stories tall on the river side, pretty much at eye level for passing traffic, in an area where, if the buildings display a name at all, it will most likely be on a bronze plaque next to the entrance, or quietly stated above the entrance, or in extreme cases, blazoned across the top floors, is really a bit much.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Happy Yule

The solstice actually happened last night, at 11:48 pm eastern time, or this morning, at 4:48 am Greenwich time. Depending.

Courtesy of Mustang Bobby at Bark Bark Woof Woof, here's a graphic representation of the moment:

Winter Solstice 12-221-15
The moment of solstice.

What it means is that the days are going to start getting longer, even though the depths of winter are yet to come -- as of this writing, it is officially 37 degrees, with a forecast high of 45, in Chicago. On the 22nd of December. It's going to get worse. Much worse. It's actually a bit warmer here at my place -- the reporting station is at O'Hare, well inland, and I'm much closer to the moderating influence of the lake -- which is not going to be so moderate once the lake has lost a lot of its stored heat.

Oh, well -- I'll worry about it tomorrow.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Saturday Science: Another Cousin

Scientists think they have found yet another pre-modern human species, dubbed the Red Cave People, in southwest China:

A 14,000-year-old thigh bone suggests a mysterious prehistoric humanoid species may have lived alongside humans in southwest China.

The partial femur was discovered in Maludong, or Red Deer Cave, in 1989, but researchers recently published their analysis of the finding in the journal PLoS One, reported Sci-News.com.

The thigh bone is small like the primitive species Homo habilis, with a narrow shaft, and thin outer layer, but the walls of the shaft are reinforced in high-stress areas and the primary flexor muscle is very large and faces backwards, researchers said.

The Maludong humanoid likely weighed about 110 pounds, which is considered very small by pre-modern and Ice Age human standards.

We like to think in nice, tidy compartments -- in this case, a clear line of human descent with one or two offshoots -- say, Neanderthals -- and that's it. But it's not: there were more offshoots running around than we perhaps know about, especially once you get out of Africa, where it all started. And it's worth stressing that this find is really late: 14,000 years old, by which time modern humans had already invited themselves into the Americas.

And this particular portion of Asia -- southwest China, the northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent, the north part of the peninsula commonly known as "Southeast Asia" -- is made for migrants.

If you notice, Yunnan, which is where this find occurred, sits nicely on the edge of a likely migration route, south of the eastern edge of the Himalayas and near a number of major waterways.

Here's the source article from Sci-News.com, with more detail.

(Top image:   Artist’s reconstruction of a Red Deer Cave man. Image credit: Peter Schouten.)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Culture Break: Arvo Pärt: Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten

I once spent an entire summer going to the lakefront in the early mornings and listening to Arvo Pärt's Passio. That was on cassette, and I think it was the only recording of Pärt's music you could get in this country at the time.

That's a little heavy-duty for this morning, but this is a piece I like, performed by the BBC Symphony (and remember when radio and television networks in this country supported orchestras?), conducted by Edward Gardner:

Pärt's usual drama is somewhat understated here, but enough is there that it still seems that the only appropriate response is silence.

Today's Must Read

In case you missed the latest Republican debate* the other night, Rude Pundit has a brilliant recap:

At the outset of the Republican debate on CNN last night, moderator Wolf "Rejoice in My White Stubble of Journalistic Integrity" Blitzer informed the candidates, "You all have different approaches to keeping the country safe. And that will be the focus of tonight's debate." Yet for a debate on "the security of this nation," the threats discussed were few and, frankly, exceedingly rare. Chances are pretty damn good that you're never going to be attacked by a radical Muslim extremist terrorist supervillain flying Godzilla or whatever the fuck we're supposed to be afraid of.

That's just for starters. Read the whole thing.

Here's Rachel Maddow on the status of facts at the debate -- she's really just hitting the tip of the iceberg:

* I don't watch them. I don't see any point in spending a couple of hours listening to a bunch of posturing liars field softball questions.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Marco Rubio, Marriage Warrior

Marco Rubio has come out strongly against the Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell. (Big surprise! He needs the "Christian" vote, desperately.) Strangely enough, he misrepresents the entire case. Via Digby:

MARCO RUBIO: As I’ve said, that would be conceding that the current Constitution is somehow wrong and needs to be fixed. I don’t think the current Constitution gives the federal government the power to regulate marriage. That belongs at the state and local level. And that’s why if you want to change the definition of marriage, which is what this argument is about.

Actually, no, it's not. The questions the Court considered were quite straightforward:

1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?

2. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of state?

I don't see anything in there about "the definition" of marriage (as if there were only one).

And we're back to the "will of the people" argument:

It’s not about discrimination. It is about the definition of a very specific, traditional, and age-old institution. If you want to change it, you have a right to petition your state legislature and your elected representatives to do it. What is wrong is that the Supreme Court has found this hidden constitutional right that 200 years of jurisprudence had not discovered and basically overturn the will of voters in Florida where over 60% passed a constitutional amendment that defined marriage in the state constitution as the union of one man and one woman.

First, it is about discrimination, no matter how you try to wiggle out from under it, Senator. And it's not about the definition of "a very specific, traditional, and age-old institution": marriage gets "redefined" every time someone takes a look at it.

And it's a fundamental principle of American law that fundamental rights are not subject to popular vote -- that's been affirmed again and again, the most recent case I can think of being Romer v. Evans, overturning Colorado's Amendment 2, which took away the First Amendment right of gay and lesbian citizens to petition to government for redress of grievances. The Sixth Circuit tried that one, which is what led to the Supreme Court hearing the consolidated cases on appeal. The Supreme Court has found, in fourteen decisions going back to 1888, that marriage to the person of one's choice is a fundamental right. Game, set, match.

This is the substance of the arguments against the Court's decision in Obergefell: total misrepresentation, leavened with a good helping of outright lies. Of course, you're not going to catch any interviewer or moderator or news anchor calling them on it. These are, after all, Very Serious People.

Digby summed up Rubio's comments perfectly:

Also, Marco Rubio is a smarmy little creep.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Note on Reviews

Due to some rather dramatic changes at Green Man Review and Sleeping Hedgehog recently, the links to reviews at those sites on the "Reviews" pages are no longer good. I'll be updating them as reviews are published at the new The Green Man Review, so if a link doesn't work, sorry, but it's just going to take some time. (Oh, and if you're doing a search for the site, search for "The Green Man Review." Otherwise, you'll draw a blank.)

As for old Epinions reviews, some of those links work and some don't, depending on whether the "product" appears in eBay's database. I may republish the "disappeared" reviews, once I figure out where and how to do it.

This Is the Way You Should Do It

This is an antidote to the Disgusting Person post earlier -- a national leader who is actually a leader, and a class act to boot:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greeted a planeload of weary Syrian refugees landing in Toronto early Friday, telling the first to disembark that “you’re safe at home now” as he handed them winter coats.
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“Tonight they step off the plane as refugees, but they walk out of this terminal as permanent residents of Canada,” Mr. Trudeau told government employees gathered at the airport.

“This is a wonderful night where we get to show not just a planeload of new Canadians what Canada is all about, but we get to show the world how to open our hearts and welcome people who are fleeing extraordinarily difficult straits,” the prime minister said.

And what do we have weighing in on the refugee issue? Donald Trump.

Just another reason to consider moving to Canada.

Via Joe.My.God

Image of the Week

I meant to do this yesterday. Truly, I did.

It's that time of year: the trees are mostly bare (although a whole group of trees in Millennium Park are just turning) and we're getting foggy spells:

Today in Disgusting People

And our focus is on Constable Mike Jones, of Ellis County, Texas (where else?) who is urging citizens to carry their guns at all times to protect themselves from -- wait for it -- refugee children from Central America:

Ellis County Constable Mike Jones, who once referred to Muslims as "rock monkeys" and called for executing the entire family of anyone who kills an American, responded to the plan to house the unaccompanied children on his Facebook page Wednesday.

“Shouldn’t we be moving be moving them closer to the border so we can kick their butts back across the Rio Grande?" Jones wrote. "I am told these illegals are NOT Syrians, but are South Americans. Are you kidding me? Are we supposed to believe anything the Obama administration tells us?"

Jones, whose Facebook page show photos of him wearing 2nd Amendment tee shirts, added that because the federal government isn’t providing security, local law enforcement will be on a heightened state of alert, and noted, "We are oath keepers," a reference to the so-called patriot movement that some see as right-wing vigilantes.

“My advice to everyone is to remain vigilant, to carry your weapon at all times,” Jones wrote. “Do not hesitate to call 911 if you suspect something is going on. Let us check it out. Meanwhile we will be working hard to get these folks out of Ellis County.”

Doesn't he sound like a real charmer? I have a reading suggestion for Constable Jones: first, take a look at Ezekiel 16:49:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

And maybe follow that with a passage from the Gospel of Matthew, specifically the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.

Because I'm sure he considers himself a good "Christian."

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Today's Must Read

In light of the previous post (not the Haydn part), found this post by John Cole to summarize perfectly what I've been thinking about the Hairpiece phenomenon:

Brian Beutler puts it all together in long form:
While closing the country to foreign Muslims altogether is a radical idea relative to our founding ideals and current policy, it is but an incremental step relative to the outer bounds of legitimate debate in the GOP primary. Republican presidential candidates have supported discriminating against Muslims in our refugee policy, and opposed the very notion of a Muslim-American president, all without subjecting themselves to universal condemnation. The most surprising part of the latest Trump story is that it proves a Republican candidate can take Islamophobia too far for his party’s tastes.
For most liberals, and for the Trump-backing or Trump-curious segments of the right, the Trump phenomenon needs little further explanation. The only people who claim to be befuddled by the Trump phenomenon are officials on knife-edge in the party he leads.

Which supports my contention that Trump is merely a symptom.

I Know, I Haven't Been Posting

Because the news is all about Donald Trump, who is not going to be president (but just in case, can we apply for asylum in Canada? Is Canada far enough away to be safe?), and quite honestly, there's not a lot to be said about a bombastic bully who says outrageous things to get attention. (And I'm one of those who doesn't think he's the cause -- he's a symptom. Digby nails it.)

Here's a little Haydn to wash the trump taste out of your brain:

About All Those Jihadists Infiltrating the US

A little perspective, via Digby:


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Be Careful What You Boycott

Or you may wind up doing more good than harm -- at least, if you're a group of "Christian" bigots out to safeguard everyone else's "morals."

You may have run across this story, about American Girl profiling a particular family in the holiday issue of its quarterly magazine:

Five years ago today, a young girl named Amaya was legally adopted by her foster parents.

Two weeks ago, Amaya was featured in American Girl magazine. In her own words she shared the story of coming from the foster care system, becoming part of her permanent family, as well as the charity work she and her parents do in support of other foster kids.

Not long after the magazine was published, right-wing watchdogs One Million Moms called for a boycott of American Girl Doll and their magazine, warning parents against exposing their daughters to such a family.

Here's Amaya and her family:

(L to R) Greyson, Daddy Rob, Makai, Amaya, Dada Reece, Tristan

So, how did that boycott work out? Well, as seems to be the case with these things, Mattel is not hurting. But there's another wrinkle here:

As I mentioned, Amaya and her family are involved in charity work related to foster kids. Amaya’s father, Rob, is also a former foster kid. As a child, he recalls arriving at the home of foster parents with his few earthly belongings in a trash bag. This is not an uncommon occurrence. This is still happening today.

Rob co-founded Comfort Cases with the mission of providing a brand new suitcase, duffel bag, or backpack (along with toiletries, pajamas, stuffed animals, etc.) for every foster child in need. Since the organization’s start in October 2013, Comfort Cases has assembled and donated over 10,000 cases.

The results for Comfort Cases have been rather astonishing:

• Comfort Cases held its annual Holiday Packing Party on November 21, assembling 500 more cases than the previous year, a 70% increase.

• The total number of cases collected and distributed in 2015 topped 10,000 — 4,000 more than 2014, and an increase of 65%.

• With contributions coming in from all over the world, monetary donations to Comfort Cases will triple what they were in 2014. That’s 300%, folks.

It occurs to me that One Millions Moms (a wholly-owned subsidiary of the "American" "Family" Association) and like groups have done more for acceptance of gay people in this country than any other single factor aside from the increased willingness of LGBTs to come out -- their hateful rhetoric has repelled most people, because most people are decent.

Maybe I can get them to boycott me -- I can always use a little extra money.

A Footnote: On the backlash against the "Christian" right's bigotry, I thought this was interesting. It seems an Episcopal school in Texas has made the decision to welcome a trans student during her transition. There was, of course, the expected backlash -- sort of:

Headmaster Thomas McLaughlin told KSAT-TV that three of the school’s 241 families have removed their children in protest of the decision.

“There have been some [pushback] based on this communication and the direction that the school is moving that have concluded that this school may not be the right fit for them and their family,” McLaughlin said, adding that feedback from an overwhelming majority of families has been positive.

Three. Out of 241. Not a good showing.

Culture Break: Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 7 in A Major, 4th Movement

Here's a nice wake-up for you: I can listen to Beethoven any time, any mood, and the 7th Symphony is pretty much my favorite Beethoven. Zubin Mehta has this one cold: he's got the momentum, he's got the lyricism, he's got the power, all perfectly controlled. Enjoy:

Wow. Just "Wow!"

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Today's Must Read

The election news -- which is still about 95% of what news there is, give or take a couple of terrorists attacks -- is, frankly, mind-numbing, particular since it's about 95% about The Hairpiece, who inexplicably is still leading the polls. Well, it's not really inexplicable, as this piece from Mahablog shows. The appeal of both Trump and Carson (who seems to have imploded) is pretty plain:

News media are confounded by The Donald. They have long politely overlooked conventional lies, such as claims that cutting taxes will reduce the federal budget or that Democrats hate Jesus. Now they’re covering a national candidate who is spewing lies at unprecedented rates (except perhaps by Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, both of whom seem to be fading).  If someone bravely corrects The Donald and explains that what he is saying is demonstrably, verifiably, I’ve got it right here in black and white not true, he just repeats his lie even more loudly.

And people like the Hot Air commenter eat it up, because he is showing them the universe as they want it to be. They’re not going to give that up easily.

That has to be it: In a movement heavily populated by world-class liars, it occurs to me that they're all lying for the advancement of their own political agendas. I don't think that's the case with Trump -- he doesn't seem to have a real political ideology, and I start to think more and more that he's in it for The Deal. He's also pandering to the crazies on the right big-time, but that's just the showman hard at work.

Read the whole thing -- lots of quotes, but it's very instructive.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Saturday Science: Burp!

Nope, it's not about gas in your stomach -- it's about what happens when a black hole swallows a star:

Black holes are known for their voracious appetites. These bodies -- formed when a massive star collapses upon itself -- have occasionally been described as the “vacuum cleaners” of the universe and are notorious for their tendency to wreak havoc on the usual laws of physics that govern the rest of the cosmos.

Now, for the first time ever, scientists have witnessed a black hole swallowing a star and ejecting a flare of matter moving at nearly the speed of light -- a rare event that occurs when a star stumbles across a black hole’s gravitational well.

There's even video -- a re-enactment/visualization, of course -- this particular event happened 300 million light years away and took a little bit more than a few minutes to happen. Of course, when you're talking about interstellar phenomena, that counts as current events:

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Today's Must Read

Been out of commission this week from some weird bug, then had no Internet for a day and a half.

And reading the news and commentary in the wake of the Paris attacks from the Republican "front runners" and the "liberal" media, I'm ashamed to admit I'm an American.

Consequently, I'm bringing you two posts from Digby: the first addresses the response of "journalists" (as they are known these days) to the attacks, channeling Glenn Greenwald:

Greenwald on the CNN debacle:

Labott’s crime wasn’t that she expressed an opinion. It’s that she expressed the wrong opinion: after Paris, defending Muslims, even refugees, is strictly forbidden. I’ve spoken with friends who work at every cable network and they say the post-Paris climate is indescribably repressive in terms of what they can say and who they can put on air. When it comes to the Paris attacks, CNN has basically become state TV (to see just how subservient CNN is about everything relating to terrorism, watch this unbelievable “interview” of ex-CIA chief Jim Woolsey by CNN’s Brooke Baldwin; or consider that neither CNN nor MSNBC has put a single person on air to dispute the CIA’s blatant falsehoods about Paris despite how many journalists have documented those falsehoods).

The second focuses on the march to fascism on the right (OK, Digby doesn't actually say that, but does she have to?):

So, you now, this is where we are now. We've got the media suspending reporters for tweeting "lady liberty bowed her head" after the House voted yesterday to stop Syrian refugees frm coming into the country, even as many of their biggest stars have been behaving like a bunch of hysterical schoolgirls 24/7 ever since Paris. We have the front-runner of the Republican party talking about he necessity to "do things that were unthinkable even a year ago" and "bombing the shit out of them." He also said we would have to have Muslims register with the government to be tracked by a database.(No word on whether it will be necessary to sew some kind of symbol on their clothing...)

Now we have the leading establishment candidate saying we have to "shut down" not just mosques but websites, cafes, diners --- anyplace where radicals are being inspired. He left out libraries and book stores but surely that was an oversight.

I think what's most worrisome about this is not the "conservative" response -- it's more or less what you'd expect, given what conservatism has become in the last generation or two -- but the complicity of the media. Actually, it's more than complicity -- the media has become a prime mover in this.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Culture Break: Gustav Mahler, Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Third Movement

I remember being totally blown away by this when I first heard it: it was about the most surreal piece of music I had ever heard. Somehow, it seems to fit the mood this weekend.

More On Paris, Thoughtfully

Charles Pierce has this:

It is long past time for the oligarchies of the Gulf states to stop paying protection to the men in the suicide belts. Their societies are stunted and parasitic. The main job of the elites there is to find enough foreign workers to ensla…er…indenture to do all the real work. The example of Qatar and the interesting business plan through which that country is building the facilities for the 2022 World Cup is instructive here. Roughly the same labor-management relationship exists for the people who clean the hotel rooms and who serve the drinks. In Qatar, for people who come from elsewhere to work, passports have been known to disappear into thin air. These are the societies that profit from terrible and tangled web of causation and violence that played out on the streets of Paris. These are the people who buy their safety with the blood of innocents far away.

Needless to say, read the whole thing.

Saturday, November 14, 2015


I'm generally offline in the afternoon and evening, so the attacks in Paris were a surprise this morning. This story from Hullabaloo seems to be the best summary of what happened:

France is in a state of shock this morning in the wake of a near-simultaneous rolling attacks at six different Paris locations Friday night by gunmen and suicide bombers. The situation is still fluid and details are coming in by the moment. More than 120 have been killed and dozens are in critical condition in hospitals. The latest word as I write this is that the Islamic State claims responsibility. That claim is unverified. The identity and nationality of the attackers as well as victims is still being investigated.

I really don't have anything more to say about this. Not enough information, and it hasn't quite sunk in yet.

Here are more details on the overall picture:

President François Hollande has closed the borders and as of this morning has essentially declared war on ISIS, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Joe Jervis at Joe.My.God. seems to be on top of this and is posting periodic updates.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Culture Break: Depeche Mode: Freestate

I'm sort of catching up with the things I meant to post this week and didn't.

Since I've been listening to Depeche Mode a lot lately, it seemed only fitting to do a "Culture Break" with something by them, except I don't like most of the videos on YouTube. This one's nice enough, and I like the song (of course, I like most of their songs). It's from Ultra:

I'm not sure about the submarine, though.

Image of the Week

I meant to post these yesterday, but being a major airhead lately, forgot.

At any rate, a couple of recent images from my friend Bernice. This one, if I have it right, was chosen as the "Photo of the Day" on her photo group's web site:

And this one is a nice variation on that theme. (See what you can do if you get up early? Or was this one done late?)

Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Republican Field: A Couple of Highlights for Today

I'm generally avoiding election news, since the election is a year away (well, yeah, there was an election yesterday some places, but the news on that is post mortems, at this point, which I may or may not comment on). But sometimes you just can't resist, especially when you get candidates who are not long on brains or sense trying to appeal to a constituency that is even more impoverished in those areas.

For example, it's recently been discovered that Ben Carson has a theory on the pyramids:

“My own personal theory is that Joseph built the pyramids to store grain,” Carson said. “Now all the archeologists think that they were made for the pharaohs’ graves. But, you know, it would have to be something awfully big if you stop and think about it. And I don’t think it’d just disappear over the course of time to store that much grain.”

In the Old Testament, Joseph, one of the 12 sons of Jacob, is sold into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers. He eventually rose to become a top aide to the Egyptian pharaoh, advising him of a dream vision he had of coming years of famine in the ancient kingdom. Joseph’s sage advice of the coming famine (and directions to store gain) helped the Egyptians survive the famine.

Carson said the design of the pyramids made clear they were for grain storage.

“And when you look at the way that the pyramids are made, with many chambers that are hermetically sealed, they’d have to be that way for various reasons. And various of scientists have said, ‘Well, you know there were alien beings that came down and they have special knowledge and that’s how—’ you know, it doesn’t require an alien being when God is with you.”

I am nearly speechless at this -- just forget all the mummies and grave offerings and commemorative inscriptions inside the pyramids. And I want to meet these "scientists" who claim the pyramids were built by aliens.

And we can always count on Rick Santorum (google it!) for something completely incoherent:

Talking with Newsmax, a right wing website, Santorum was asked about HERO and a case involving a transgender girl being barred from using the girl's locker room at school. . . .

"I don’t know why children at that age — why this is even an issue, the idea that we are introducing this type of real dangerous confusion for young people at this early age. Do we really care about what we’re doing to millions of children who don’t have gender confusion and basically introducing the subject and saying, ‘maybe you should, maybe this is something you should start thinking about at age seven’?," a rambling Santorum asked.

"I mean this is really dangerous and it’s going too far because it is having an impact on not just folks who may be in a difficult situation at an early age but many who would never have been in that situation but now are being confronted with it."

WTF? Now, any rational person would figure that children who do not have "gender confusion" (whatever that is) would not be worried about it. Santorum, of course, figures that any mention of such a thing is going to impel children to try it out. (And just who, pray tell, is telling them to start thinking about it at age seven? With the implication, of course, that whoever it is is saying, "try it, you'll like it.")

I suspect that what we're seeing here is the result of a Catholic education on someone with limited intellectual capacities to begin with.

And these people are presenting themselves as presidential material. And in Carson's case, at least, people are buying it.

I fear for the future.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Today's Must Read

I've been reading the news and not writing much on it because it's 97.5% election news and the election is just over a year away and I'm already sick of it. And most of the focus is on the Republican race, and they're all idiots or crazy. Or both.

This post from Gin and Tacos pretty much summarizes the way I feel about the whole thing:

Think of it this way. If I devoted this space to explaining that supply side economics doesn't work, starting wars is a bad idea, or opposition to gay marriage is hypocritical, Constitutionally unjustifiable, and ignorant, how interesting would that be for you to read? In the last 15 years how many times would you estimate you've read those arguments? How many times have you made them or explained this to someone unwilling or unable to understand them? How many sentences into that post would your eyes glaze over and your mouse begin poking around for something more interesting?

It's just too much effort to continue to take these people seriously. The leading GOP candidates are an actual reality TV troll, a clinically insane man who hears voices from god, a woman whose entire resume is a series of staggering failures in the corporate world, and George W. Bush's dumber brother.

That's really it. I gave up writing on the opposition to marriage equality in any substantive way because I got tired of refuting the same damned "arguments" over and over and over again. Ditto with just about everything else.

But I can't bring myself to turn this blog into posts featuring cute kitten videos.

I just can't.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Stories Like This

Do not make me feel optimistic:

After five years of bitter clashes, Republican congressional leaders and President Obama on Monday night appeared to settle their last budget fight by reaching a tentative deal that would modestly increase spending over the next two years, cut some social programs, and raise the federal borrowing limit. . . .

The agreement would raise spending by $80 billion over two years, not including a $32 billion increase included in an emergency war fund. Those increases would be offset by cuts in spending on Medicare and Social Security disability benefits, as well as savings or revenue from an array of other programs, including selling oil from the nation’s strategic petroleum reserves. The Medicare savings would come from cuts in payments to doctors and other health care providers.

The offsets sound harmless enough, and it may not be as bad as I think, but then, no one's releasing any details yet because they haven't been worked out.

The sticker is that this is, according to Boehner, to "clean up the barn" before Paul Ryan takes over as Speaker, which is likely. Ryan is the downside. The Times' fawning description:

An accord to lift the debt ceiling and settle the spending impasse before then would free Mr. Ryan to begin his speakership without a pending crisis, and potentially empower him to pursue some of the bold ideas he has put forward previously on tax and budget policy that helped catapult him to prominence and led to his being chosen as the Republican vice-presidential nominee in 2012.

"Bold ideas"? Seriously? The guy's a total ignoramus when it comes to the federal budget and how it works. His "bold ideas" have amounted to "screw the little guy." Sadly, that's not even radical any more.

Given the Obama has demonstrated repeatedly that he is perfectly willing to throw the poor and elderly under the bus to please the Republicans, I have no confidence in this deal at all.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Just In Case

you were thinking that my "Question of the Day" from yesterday was a little alarmist in assuming that the country is being run by an oligarchy, I just want to reassure you -- it's much worse than that:

In 2008, there were financial bailouts for megabanks and foreclosures for homeowners. There was vulture capitalist Paul Singer seizing an Argentine naval vessel in a dispute over debt in 2012. There was the European Central Bank bringing Greece to heel this summer after voters in January elected Alexis Tsipras to end the “vicious cycle of austerity.” Coming Soon: TPP. There are probably other cases as well. If it was not clear already who is really running the planet, here is another clue.

In Portugal's elections earlier this month, Socialists, Communists, and the Left Bloc had won enough seats to form a coalition government, displacing the center-right Forward Portugal Alliance (PAF). And then?
Elections in Portugal this week offered the latest sign that when an individual European nation’s voters challenge eurozone austerity policies, the monetary union -- and the international creditors it represents -- takes precedence. Portugal’s president, Anibal Cavaco Silva, fueled an ongoing debate about the future of European democracy on Thursday when he reappointed an outgoing center-right prime minister despite election results that gave three left-leaning political parties the majority of seats in parliament.
Silva asked incumbent Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho to remain and to form a new government. Opposition Socialists threaten to bring down his government with an immediate vote of no confidence.

If you're reading this blog, you're probably too well aware of what's going on in this country to think "It can't happen here," especially if you look at what the Republicans in office have been doing to "reform" the tax code and "save" Social Security ever since Reagan.

And we've got our "liberal" media flogging the ideology -- even once-respectable journalists are on board:

On Fox News Sunday, Chris Wallace asked [Bob] Woodward what he expects from Paul Ryan. Well, since Bob spent hours interviewing him three years ago, he just thinks the world of the Budget Munster. Woodward thinks he's

a real Conservative, the 'big ideas person.' He vibrates reasonableness, he is calm, he has a possible path for doing deals with Obama in the last year.

Since we are on Fox 'News,' no one asks exactly what these big ideas are and who will suffer the most as a result of his bold plans.

Woodward truly thinks that Ryan wants to 'fix the government' by reforming entitlement spending. Fixing the government by hurting the poor is hardly considered a solution for millions of Americans who will suffer from his bold ideas.

As I recall from the last time Ryan came up with an economic policy, those "big ideas" were a little short on details and amounted to yet another giveaway to those who already own everything.

And I don't even want to start with the policy outlines (such as they are) from the candidates for the Republican nomination. Just as a sample, take Ben Carson's plan for Medicare and Medicaid, which is more or less incoherent. The idea of "medical savings accounts" being adequate to cover health-care costs is ludicrous, especially at the level Carson is proposing. Once again, short on details, and let's face it, the devil's in the details. One detail that pertains to today's topic: who administers these savings accounts? Do you really want Bank of America or Wells Fargo handling your health-care money, when they did such a good job with mortgages?

The rest of the news seems to be 90% on the 2016 election, which is just over a year away and I'm already sick of hearing about it. I think campaigning for national office should be limited to law by no more than thirty days -- and the US should adopt mandatory voting.

Then maybe we could do something about the oligarchs. But, given the example of Portugal, I wonder if it's even possible any more.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Bread and Circuses

That's what Congress has become -- well, except for the bread, which the teabagger caucus seems to want to keep for themselves.

Now that Clinton cut them off at the knees on Benghazi!!1!, it's time for another witch hunt:

Speaker John Boehner announced on Friday that Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) will lead the House Select Committee On Planned Parenthood, along with seven other anti-choice Republicans. the outgoing Republican noted the group will be called the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s new Select Investigative Panel, and "will focus on the grisly practices of big abortion providers."

"Recent videos exposing the abortion-for-baby parts business have shocked the nation, and demanded action. At my request, three House committees have been investigating the abortion business, but we still don't have the full truth," Speaker Boehner said in a statement. "Chairman Blackburn and our members will have the resources and the subpoena power to get to the bottom of these horrific practices, and build on our work to protect the sanctity of all human life."

Notice the statesmanlike language. Note to Speaker Boehner: you don't have to placate the teabaggers any more. You quit, remember? What are they doing to do -- fire you?

What they should be investigating is the Center for Medical Progress, which released the heavily edited videos as an attack on Planned Parenthood.


Question of the Day

Which do you think is more likely: That the oligarchs who are actually running this country -- you know, the ones who own Congress and a lot of statehouses, as well as most of everything else -- are going to decide that the "Christian" right is a liability and pull the plug on them, or that they're keeping them going to distract the rest of us from what they're up to?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Panda Update

The cubs did make an appearance while I was there -- mama came out for some lunch, and the kids followed, briefly. They're livelier than the video posted yesterday, hopping around and scuffling like real cubs. For about a minute and a half. Then back inside.

And that was it.

Friday, October 23, 2015

The Big News of the Day

Yeah, I know, Hillary Clinton testified for the Benghazi!!1! Witch-Hunt Commmittee yesterday*, but the real news is that the red panda cubs made their debut at Lincoln Park Zoo:

They're named Clark and Addison, which for those not familiar with Chicago geography, is the location of Wrigley Field. (Get it? Wrigley Field -- Cubs?)

(Come to think of it, we've had a lot of zoo births in the past year or so - a rhino, a couple of gorillas, snow monkey, and there's an infant colobus in the primate house.)

So today I visit the Zoo.

* From everything I've seen, the Republicans on the committee made themselves look like idiots. Someone made the comment that at one point, the expression on Clinton's face was almost as though she were trying to figure how much it would cost for a campaign ad this good.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Culture Break: Depeche Mode, "Slow"

I know I did "Culture Break" posts on Wednesdays, and I may get back to that schedule, but for the time being, they'll happen when they happen.

This one's happening because for some reason I've been listening to Depeche Mode the past couple of days. They really are amazing. This is one of my favorite songs from Delta Machine.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Saturday Science: Pluto

It's been a long time since I've done one of these, but it's Saturday and here's a science article for you: the New Horizons team has published the first findings on the New Horizons flyby of Pluto. A few tidbits:


Lastly, Pluto is sweetly colorful. Look at it through New Horizons' color camera and you'll see "spectacular diversity," the researchers write. The pictures we've all seen are no forgery — Pluto really does have a very distinct color palette. The Cthulhu Regio registers as a deep red, the western section of the heart-shaped Tombaugh Regio is a much lighter, pink-ish red, and the eastern half is lighter still. These colors come from refractory organics known as "tholins," the result of frozen nitrogen and methane in the soil (and atmosphere) being irradiated by UV rays and charged particles.


Charon is also heavily cratered like Pluto. The New Horizons team believes some of these craters (specifically, the ones located in what's known as Vulcan Planum, which is found to the southeast of Charon's massive canyons) appear be about 4 billion years or older, which could link them to the Late Heavy Bombardment that happened in the early days of our Solar System. Charon also has a massive network of canyons. These fractures cuts across most of Charon's southern hemisphere, with the two largest — named Macross Chasma and Serenity Chasma — run for 1050 kilometers. At its widest, Serenity Chasma measures 60 kilometers across and runs, in places, 5 kilometers deep.

Nix and Hydra:

The reflective properties of Nix indicate that the small moon is likely covered in water ice. Hydra is also non-spherical, measuring 43 kilometers by 33 kilometers, with a diameter of about 41 kilometers. It also has a highly reflective surface, and is likely covered in water ice.

That confounded the New Horizons team. "How such bright surfaces can be maintained on Nix and Hydra over billions of years is puzzling," they write. Radiation or impacts with other objects should have darkened and reddened the surfaces of these moons over time, they say. What's also still unknown with any degree of certainty is the mass, volume, or density of these moons.

As for the bright surfaces, if they are covered with water ice, might that not melt and refreeze after impacts, smoothing out the surface?

There's more. Read the whole article.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Tweet du Jour

Under the heading "Do They Ever Listen to Themselves?"

Do I need to say more?

Via Digby.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Starring John Kasich as Chris Christie

So guess who wants to gut Social Security this week. Gov. John Kasich, whose campaign for the GOP presidential nomination seems to have -- well, I can't say it's stall, because it never got going to begin with.

At any rate, his target is now Social Security and Medicare, which is so-o-o 2012.

First off, if you don't know what your benefit is going to be, it's your fault: Social Security sends you a freakin' letter telling you what your benefit is going to be. Sorry, Governor, but it's not part of some nefarious plot to keep people in the dark.

“I’d rather have people be in a position where they’re aggravated with me so I can accomplish something, than have them love me and accomplish nothing,” Kasich told the audience during an event in Concord, New Hampshire. “I’m not there to run a popularity contest.”

The former governor of Ohio preceded the remarks by asking the crowd how many of them knew how much their initial Social Security payments would be. Two people raised their hands to indicate that they did know.

“What if I told you that your initial benefit was gonna be somewhat lower in order to save the program?” he asked. “Would that drive you crazy?”

When one audience member responded that it would “upset” them, Kasich told them, “Well, you’d get over it, and you’re going to have to get over it.”

That's Kasich being real butch, just like the bully from New Jersey.

(Ed. note: As far as I know, Kasich is the current governor of Ohio. My sympathies.)

Kasich later made a similar statement about Medicare, saying that any voter wanting him to “ignore the fact that it’s going broke” would not like him.

In a brief interview later, he accused Democrats in turn of allowing Social Security to “get to a point where it could go bankrupt.”

“We’re getting close to Halloween, and they just want to scare people,” Kasich added.

We've been through this, but apparently Kasich missed class that day: Neither program is anywhere near bankrupt, and is not going to be. For Social Security, the fix is simple: lift the cap on the payroll tax. Medicare is more complicated, but it's in good shape for the next fifteen years: spending has not increased as much as expected, and may follow that trend as more and more people are insured under the ACA. There's plenty of time to do any fixes that are necessary -- of course, that assumes that someone actually wants to fix it, rather than handing it over to Wall Street and the insurance industry.

The Halloween comment, I thought, was pretty funny: pot, kettle.

And a note: I'm of the camp that insists that for Social Security the cap should be raised and benefits increased: the "cost of living" increase doesn't come anywhere near the actual increase in cost of living. And this is coming from someone who lives a fairly Spartan life.

Friday, October 09, 2015

Hogwash du Jour

Remember Robert P. George? One of the authors of the Manhattan Declaration, a document purporting to be a call to "Christians" to stand against the assault of their rights (whenever that might happen). He's come up with a new one, ostensibly from his American Principles Project, a "think tank" that seems to be diametrically opposed to anything recognizable as American principles. Via Joe.My.God., with parsing and commentary by me:

If Obergefell is accepted as binding law, the consequences will be grave. Of the results that can be predicted with confidence, four stand out: First, society will be harmed by being denied the right to hold out as normative, and particularly desirable, the only type of human relationship that every society must cultivate for its perpetuation. This compelling interest is strengthened by the fact that there is strong evidence to support what common sense suggests, namely, that children fare best when raised by their married mother and father who are both responsible for bringing them into the world and who provide maternal and paternal influences and care.

Uproveable assertion buttressed by an outright lie: The first point is questionable, at best: it's a typical "argument" couched in broad, nebulous terms ("Society will be harmed" has no real meaning, when you stop to think about it). The "strengthening" is untrue: there is no evidence that supports the contention that "children fare best" etc., especially since "best" is not a term that a responsible researcher would use in summarizing results.

Second, individuals and organizations holding to the historic and natural understanding of marriage as a conjugal union—the covenantal partnership of one man and one woman—will be vilified, legally targeted, and denied constitutional rights in order to pressure them to conform to the new orthodoxy.

No. Just, no. "Vilified", possibly (and let's make sure to use the scariest language possible -- what he really means is "criticized"), but that's just people exercising their right to free speech, which George would be among the first to defend. (And if you believe that, I can get you a real deal on a bridge in New York.) "Legally targeted and denied constitutional rights"? That hasn't happened yet, and it's hard to see a case where, under our legal system, it could. The only cases where people have been sued or had courts find against them have been cases where they have violated existing anti-discrimination laws and, in the case of the county clerk who shall not be named, violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. There are penalties for breaking the law, no matter what your excuse is. (And the excuses seems to revolve around the idea that, as "Christians," these people are above the law, which isn't an American principle I've ever run across before.)

Third, the new jurisprudence of dignity is unlimited in principle and will encourage additional claims to redefine marriage and other long-established institutions.

Obergefell did not examine the definition of marriage, which is and has been more or less fluid throughout history, although a good, concise definition is one I ran across from Joseph Campbell: "Marriage is the recognition by the community of the establishment of a new household." I don't see how Obergefell alters that at all. Of course, what George is referring to as "the" definition is a secttarian religious definition that has no bearing on American civil law.

Fourth, the right of all Americans to engage in democratic deliberation, and ultimately self-government, will be decisively undermined.

Fundamental rights are not subject to popular vote. How a court decision affirming the rights of a minority affects democratic deliberation eludes me. (And that, by the way, was the tack taken by the majority in the Sixth Circuit decision that brought the marriage issue to the Supreme Court and was overturned.)

Any decision that brings about such evils would be questionable. One lacking anything remotely resembling a warrant in the text, logic, structure, or original understanding of the Constitution must be judged anti-constitutional and illegitimate. Obergefell should be declared to be such, and treated as such, by the other branches of government and by citizens of the United States.

The "evils" brought about by this decision haven't happened and are not likely to, but I guess George felt it was time for another scary word. And the basis of the decision is quite plain: the Fourteenth Amendment guarantees all citizens equal protection of the law and equal access to its benefits. If George can't understand that, he shouldn't be teaching constitutional law.

I think he deserves a Through the Looking Glass Award for turning reality on its head -- although he's not as good at it as some others.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Guess What Didn't Happen Yesterday

The world was not annihilated. Which it was supposed to be:

While our planet may have survived September’s “blood moon”, it will be permanently destroyed on Wednesday, 7 October, a Christian organization has warned.

The eBible Fellowship, an online affiliation headquartered near Philadelphia, has based its prediction of an October obliteration on a previous claim that the world would end on 21 May 2011. While that claim proved to be false, the organization is confident it has the correct date this time.

“According to what the Bible is presenting it does appear that 7 October will be the day that God has spoken of: in which, the world will pass away,” said Chris McCann, the leader and founder of the fellowship, an online gathering of Christians headquartered in Philadelphia.

“It’ll be gone forever. Annihilated.”

McCann said that, according to his interpretation of the Bible, the world will be obliterated “with fire”.

They keep hoping.

My only reaction when I read this story was "Did they specify a time?"

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Today's Must Read: Armed Insurrectionists

Also known as the Republican Party. From Gaius Publius at Hullabaloo:

Using the power of government to subvert the government is itself insurrectionist. Which tells us two things — the insurrectionist strain in voters of the American Right (per their arguments in favor of "gun rights") is matched by the insurrectionist strain in their leaders and those who hold office in their name.

▪ So ask yourself — Why is the rest of the country not treating this insurrection as an insurrection, like the Whiskey Rebellion, instead of treating it as just another difference of political opinion? In other words, why are we not treating the virtual (and sometimes literal) armed rebels in the hills as a threat to the existence of our government?

That's a serious question. The rest of the country does not see the American Right as an insurrection, is determined not to, in fact, and also is encouraged not to. The reasons they don't and won't see the insurrection as an insurrection are both revealing and determinative of the outcome. After all, would the modern and mainly corrupted Democratic Party be able to sell its own brand of "rule by the rich" if they didn't have Republicans to point to as political enemies, instead of what they are, enemies of the state itself?

This extends my thinking on the right as fundamentally anti-American: if you listen to the leading (or at least, most vocal) of the candidates for the Republican presidential nomination, as well as the leaders of the "Christian" right, it becomes very plain that they are vehemently opposed to such foundational American principles as equality under the law, the rule of law, separation of church and state, and an independent judiciary that applies Constitutional requirements to laws.

As for using the power of government to subvert the government -- well, take a look at the restrictions on abortion, voting rights, and gay civil rights that are wending their ways, and in many cases have wended their ways, through state legislatures. And of course, in the case of "Christians" versus Obergefell, the latest hot-button issue for the right, it's that they're above the law -- Kim Davis is only the latest example -- remember Aaron and Melissa Klein?

There's a lot more in that post. Read the whole thing.

And another take, from Ed Kilgore at TPM:

And to a remarkable extent, the default position of conservatives has less and less to do with arguments about the efficacy of gun regulation or the need for guns to deter or respond to crime. Instead, it’s based on the idea that the main purpose of the Second Amendment is to keep open the possibility of revolutionary violence against the U.S. government.

This was once an exotic, minority view even among gun enthusiasts who tended to view the Second Amendment as protecting an individual right to gun ownership not to overthrow the government but to supplement the government’s use of lethal force against criminals. Treating the Second Amendment as an integral legacy of the American Revolution appealed to gun rights advocates who sought firm ground against regulations with no possibility of compromise.

But more importantly, it gave a dangerous edge to the claims of conservative extremists—who recently began calling themselves “constitutional conservatives”—that their ideology of absolute property rights, religious rights and even fetal rights had been permanently established by the Founders who added in the Second Amendment to ensure any trespassing on their “design” by “tyrants” or popular majorities could and should be resisted.

Oh, and add that common thief Cliven Bundy -- who wants to graze his cattle on our land without paying the rent -- to the list of insurrectionists.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

I'm Still Here

It's just that by the time I finish going through the news in the morning, I'm numb. I just can't believe the amount of nonsense that people can come up with.

I may do some highlights later. Maybe.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Today's Must Read

This post, from Gaius Publius at Hullabaloo:

I had a different group of pieces I've been working on recently, revolving around a recent interview by Noam Chomsky that touches on our so-called "capitalism" and also on the Bernie Sanders candidacy. But this video sets that up nicely. It's a ten-minute speech by long-time British politico and Labour Party member Tony Benn, sadly recently deceased.

Here's the video:

GP has done a partial transcript at the link. Key quote:

So privatization is a deliberate policy, along with the destruction of local democracy and the destruction of the trade unions to restore power back to to where it was. And what we're now back in, that's what the whole crisis is about, the restoration of power to those who've always controlled the world, the people who own the land and the resources and all the rest of it. And that is something we need to understand. ...

Since I live in a state and city with a governor and mayor who belief fervently in privatization (one Republican, one Democrat, but both oligarchs), this sort of hits home -- aside from the fact that I can see it happening across the country.

I think I need a long walk in the park.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Let the Protests Begin!

Roland Emmerich's film Stonewall had its official premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and of course, trans activists were there.

LGBT protesters crashed the red carpet at the world premiere of Stonewall at the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). They say the film downplays the key role that trans people of colour and lesbian activists played in the 1969 riots that launched the gay rights movement in the US. TIFF fans weren't happy to see them. Stonewall’s gay director, Roland Emmerich, tells Daily Xtra he wanted to make a movie for everybody. “I never quite understood this whole word of ‘whitewashing,’” he says.

I lost patience with the whole "whitewashing" and "erasing trans people" arguments when they were trotted out in reaction to a two-minute trailer. Nobody ever gets a clear idea of what a movie's actually about from a trailer. And of course, you can imagine how much sympathy I have for those "activists" who rail on about white cis-gender gay men -- as though we had nothing to do with gaining any ground in the civil rights arena.

As for Emmerich rewriting history, there are some illuminating comments at this story at Towleroad. For example, commenter FLL has a couple of actual facts:

(1) Sylvia Rivera and was not present at the Stonewall Riots. There is testimony showing that Sylvia wasn't there (please see my reply to Darien Taylor below). So why does the protester in the clip above wear a t-shirt that mentions Sylvia Rivera?

(2) In all these years, no one has ever come forward to suggest that Miss Majors was present during any of the rioting. It's obvious by listening to any interviews Miss Majors has given that she is lying.

(3) The unidentified white lesbian who was the victim of police brutality was exactly that, an unidentified white lesbian. She was not Stormé DeLarverie, who is an African-American. Stomé herself always refused to verify that she was the lesbian in question. The policeman beating the lesbian with his nightstick enraged the crowd of mostly white gay men. The unidentified white lesbian was the victim, not the "leader." The only leader which took action was the crowd itself.

I remember hearing about the riots a couple of years after the fact (news coverage wasn't what you'd call "extensive"), and remember the reports of drag queens and gay men rioting. Suddenly, by the '80s and the rise of the New Left, the whole thing was the work of trans folk. (I'm not going to belabor a possible connection there -- draw your own conclusions.) I noted here the documentary evidence that white gay men were, indeed, the majority of the protesters.

As for the film itself, I've only seen a couple of reviews (I admit to being somewhat turned off by blog posts rejoicing in the fact that critics are panning it), and what struck me about them is that they take Emmerich to task for not making the movie they think he should have made. Sorry -- as a long-time reviewer of works in different media, including film, you don't do that. I have no patience with reviews that wind up being about the reviewer rather than the work, and I'm certainly not going to pay attention to them.

I don't know if I'll manage to see it -- it is on limited release, which means my favorite cheap theater is not showing it, and it's a tight month.

I may have more on this, but not right this minute.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Yeah, I'm Still Here

Somewhere. I've been apprised that my absence has been noticed. It's nothing serious -- just that the news is more of the same, only kicked up an order of magnitude, and the combination of Kim Davis (who got an award for breaking the law) and the Republican presidential wannabes is sort of paralyzing.

This, however, interested me. Via Digby:

One 15-year-old I interviewed at a summer camp talked about her reaction when she went out to dinner with her father and he took out his phone to add “facts” to their conversation. “Daddy,” she said, “stop Googling. I want to talk to you.” A 15-year-old boy told me that someday he wanted to raise a family, not the way his parents are raising him (with phones out during meals and in the park and during his school sports events) but the way his parents think they are raising him — with no phones at meals and plentiful family conversation. One college junior tried to capture what is wrong about life in his generation. “Our texts are fine,” he said. “It’s what texting does to our conversations when we are together that’s the problem.”

The fallout from this is pretty substantial:

In 2010, a team at the University of Michigan led by the psychologist Sara Konrath put together the findings of 72 studies that were conducted over a 30-year period. They found a 40 percent decline in empathy among college students, with most of the decline taking place after 2000.

Across generations, technology is implicated in this assault on empathy. We’ve gotten used to being connected all the time, but we have found ways around conversation — at least from conversation that is open-ended and spontaneous, in which we play with ideas and allow ourselves to be fully present and vulnerable. But it is in this type of conversation — where we learn to make eye contact, to become aware of another person’s posture and tone, to comfort one another and respectfully challenge one another — that empathy and intimacy flourish. In these conversations, we learn who we are.

I have so far resisted that sort of connectivity -- I don't have a cell phone, and I've avoided getting involved in most social media -- no Facebook, no Twitter, none of that. I do notice, however, the number of people I see -- mostly younger people, but by no means exclusively -- who are on the bus, or walking down the street, or in coffee shops or restaurants -- who aren't really there. They're on their phones. I remember seeing people on rollerblades with their ears stopped up with earphones while they were 'blading down the sidewalks or streets, and thinking "These people must be nuts -- that's a great way to get killed." Phones aren't quite that extreme (although a lot of these people are listening to music), but still. . . . They're not only shutting themselves off from human contact, but from the world around them.

I have seen this resilience during my own research at a device-free summer camp. At a nightly cabin chat, a group of 14-year-old boys spoke about a recent three-day wilderness hike. Not that many years ago, the most exciting aspect of that hike might have been the idea of roughing it or the beauty of unspoiled nature. These days, what made the biggest impression was being phoneless. One boy called it “time where you have nothing to do but think quietly and talk to your friends.” The campers also spoke about their new taste for life away from the online feed. Their embrace of the virtue of disconnection suggests a crucial connection: The capacity for empathic conversation goes hand in hand with the capacity for solitude.

In solitude we find ourselves; we prepare ourselves to come to conversation with something to say that is authentic, ours. If we can’t gather ourselves, we can’t recognize other people for who they are. If we can’t gather ourselves, we can’t recognize other people for who they are. If we are not content to be alone, we turn others into the people we need them to be. If we don’t know how to be alone, we’ll only know how to be lonely.

Bus rides are part of my "alone time" -- I seldom even read on the bus: I watch the world outside, and the people riding with me. But then, I've always been an observer. And I have a high tolerance for being alone.

I wonder if it's a fear of being alone that drives part of this technological connectedness. After all, we're social animals, hard-wired to travel in groups. Being alone is something that a lot of people avoid, I think, even in situations like running errands or riding the bus -- so, grab your phone and stay connected. Except you're not, really.

It's sobering to realize how much of our communication relies on the nonverbal -- facial expression, body language, tone of voice -- that you don't get on a phone or on the Internet. That's what really does the damage. (Why do you think emoticons were invented? An attempt to replace some part of what we're missing by face-to-face contact.)

There's a lot more to be said on this topic -- I find myself tempted to wander off on all sorts of tangents, but I'm not going to. Read both the Times article and Digby's post, and you can wander off on your own tangents.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

When Is a Clock Not a Clock?

The "perp"
When some English teacher thinks it's a bomb. I'm sure you've been reading about Ahmed Mohamed, the fourteen-year-old kid with a passion for inventing things who was arrested for bringing a "hoax bomb" to school. Here's the after-the-fact face-saving by the police chief:

Irving’s police chief announced Wednesday that charges won’t be filed against Ahmed Mohamed, the MacArthur High School freshman arrested Monday after he brought what school officials and police described as a “hoax bomb” on campus.

At a joint press conference with Irving ISD, Chief Larry Boyd said the device — confiscated by an English teacher despite the teen’s insistence that it was a clock — was “certainly suspicious in nature.”

School officers questioned Ahmed about the device and why Ahmed had brought it to school. Boyd said Ahmed was then handcuffed “for his safety and for the safety of the officers” and taken to a juvenile detention center. He was later released to his parents, Boyd said.

“The follow-up investigation revealed the device apparently was a homemade experiment, and there’s no evidence to support the perception he intended to create alarm,” Boyd said, describing the incident as a “naive accident.”

Original reports noted that the officers questioning Ahmed felt he was "not forthcoming" when he kept insisting it was a clock. Maybe that's because it was -- a clock.

Digby has a must-read post on the climate that makes this kind of stupidity not only possible, but inevitable:

This is, of course a direct outgrowth of the paranoia and nativism that's been with us since 9/11. I wrote about how we reacted to 9/11 in this piece for Salon yesterday and I highlighted this 2002 article by Peggy Noonan that speaks directly to this attitude:

“So the Southerners are eyeballing the young Muslim males. Maybe these guys are bad guys. They allow themselves to think this in part because one of the things Americans regret most since Sept. 11 2001 is their lack of suspicion. We’re all very live-and-let-live. Before Sept. 11, young Muslim males could tell someone in passing that soon those towers in New York will go boom. And fearing to offend, fearing to hurt the feelings of another person, we’d let it pass. We’d mind our business, give them the benefit of the doubt. And now we wish we’d been less friendly, less trusting, less lazy or frightened. We wish we’d been skeptical. Hell, we’re the only nation on earth that is now nostalgic for paranoia.”
You may recall that as the "Shoney's incident" where a middle aged white woman from Georgia got panicked at the sight of 3 "Middle eastern looking" medical students eating and joking around in a restaurant and called the police who instigated a three state manhunt. The students were detained for more than 17 hours and lost their medical residencies at the Florida hospital to which they were enroute. Jeb Bush called the woman to commend her for her sharp observation skills. It was widely celebrated on the right as you can see by Noonan's ugly screed.

Of course, one has to take anything from Noonan with a grain of salt -- or a quart of gin -- but it's indicative of an attitude on the right, and in this instance, we are talking about the right, also known as Texas.

Digby picks up on this insight from Glenn Greenwald:

There are sprawling industries and self-proclaimed career “terrorism experts” in the U.S. that profit greatly by deliberately exaggerating the threat of Terrorism and keeping Americans in a state of abject fear of “radical Islam.” There are all sorts of polemicists who build their public platforms by demonizing Muslims and scoffing at concerns over “Islamaphobia,” with the most toxic ones insisting that such a thing does not even exist, even as the mere presence of mosques is opposed across the country, or even as they are physically attacked.

Back to the reaction of the teachers and police: there really is no excuse for this level of stupidity and lack of mature judgment. I suppose this is what happens when you start labeling critical thinking skills as a bad thing. And then, there's the fact that the boy is Muslim: this statement by the police chief reeks of bulshit:

Asked if the teen’s religious beliefs factored into his arrest, Boyd said the reaction “would have been the same” under any circumstances.

But don't take guns away from white boys.

But I digress: Greenwald has a very good point: there are interests who are accumulating a lot of power and money by keeping us scared shitless. And they keep building on it: witness this exchange between Jeb! and The Donald:

“Your brother and your brother’s administration gave us Barack Obama,” Mr. Trump taunted the former Florida governor. “It was such a disaster those last three months [of George W. Bush’s administration] that Abraham Lincoln couldn’t have been elected.”

Jeb Bush retorted, “As it relates to my brother, there’s one thing I know for sure: he kept us safe.” The audience at the debate cheered.

“You remember the rubble [at the World Trade Center]?” Mr. Bush asked. “He sent a clear signal that the United States would be strong, and fight Islamic terrorism, and he did keep us safe.”

Mr. Trump replied, “You feel safe right now? I don’t feel so safe.”

And there you have the whole syndrome.

I read stories like this and I think about my neighborhood on the North Side of Chicago, which has a large Muslim population -- Pakistani, Indian, Iranian, Arab, African -- as well as Latinos, African-Americans, Vietnamese, Russians, and even plain old white-bread American mongrels like me. (And I've probably missed a group or two.) I can't imagine something like this incident happening here. (Of course, with public schools, anything's possible, but still. . . .)

So what's the lesson here? Eclectablog has one answer:

They terrorized a bright young man for being clever and creative and industrious, showing him that having an Arab-sounding name and brown skin means you are a suspect just because of who you are. The long-term impacts on him could be devastating.

They showed Ahmed’s classmates that it’s okay to treat people who look different or have foreign-sounding names as less than human, stripping away their dignity, and making them look like criminals simply because of who they are, not because of anything they have actually done.

Finally, as my friend Stephanie White put it on Facebook, they taught Ahmed and his classmates that “bigotry still carries the force of law in our country.”

I should note that the school administration claims that the coverage is biased (as does the mayor, who is not noted for her pro-Muslim sentiments), and the comments at the Dallas News story have a fair measure of comments blaming the "PC left" for the less than positive reaction. Yeah, well: I really try to be reality-based, as much as possible, and I don't think I have much of an ideology (except, maybe, "We're all in this together"). That said, just looking at the reported facts, this was a major eff-up from the git-go on the part of the teacher, the administration and the police.