"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

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Another "What's New" Day at Green Man Review

Not much from me this week, but a couple of music reviews you might find interesting. I hope. (Not to mention the reviews by other GMR staff, which are well worth taking a look at.)

Point, Counterpoint

Remember Khizr Khan, the father of a fallen Muslim soldier who lit into Trump at the Democratic convention? Well, Trump responded, in typical Trump fashion:

Of course Donald Trump was going to go after Khizr Khan, the bereaved father who spoke at the Democratic National Convention on Thursday night. He had to, because Khan stands for everything anti-Trump. Patriotism, sacrifice, and integrity. Oh, and Khan is Muslim.

Trump did not disappoint, telling ABC News Saturday that he had "made a lot of sacrifices" by employing "thousands and thousands of people," and having "tremendous success."

Somehow, having tremendous success defrauding thousands of people doesn't strike me as much of a sacrifice. But he didn't stop there:

“If you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn't allowed to have anything to say. You tell me,” he rambled.

What a stupid thing to say. In their interview with Lawrence O'Donnell Friday, Mrs Khan explained that she can't even bear to go into the room where his picture is because the loss is still so utterly fresh for her. She didn't trust herself to maintain her composure so she let her husband speak. He, in turn, said that without her at his side he wouldn't have made it through the speech.

The Khans had more to say:

Khizr Khan continued: "Running for president is not an entitlement to disrespect Gold Star families and [a] Gold Star mother not realizing her pain. Shame on him! Shame on his family! He is not worthy of our comments. He has no decency. He is void of decency, he has a dark heart."

Ghazala Khan said: "Sacrifice -- I don't think he knows the meaning of sacrifice, the meaning of the word. Because when I was standing there, all America felt my pain. Without saying a single word. Everybody felt that pain."

Let's face it -- Trump is a clod. A loud, obnoxious clod.

Josh Marshall has an observation that I think is, unfortunately, very much on the mark:

I confess I struggle with the emerging back and forth between Trump and the Khans. It's good for the country because it shows what Khizr Khan aptly labels Trump's "dark heart." But I have no doubt that notwithstanding the well-wishes of so may the Khans will now be vilified, scrutinized and smeared by Trump's supporters.

We've already had one example of that, from a woman who has no right to comment.

I wish the Khans strength -- which they already seem to have in good measure, along with grace and courage. Pity the Republicans can't seem to entertain those qualities.

Footnote: Compare and contrast: Hillary Clinton's statement on the Khans:

Clinton issued a statement on Saturday that said, “I was very moved to see Ghazala Khan stand bravely and with dignity in support of her son on Thursday night. And I was very moved to hear her speak last night, bravely and with dignity, about her son’s life and the ultimate sacrifice he made for his country.”

She continued, “This is a time for all Americans to stand with the Khans, and with all the families whose children have died in service to our country. And this is a time to honor the sacrifice of Captain Khan and all the fallen. Captain Khan and his family represent the best of America, and we salute them.”

Drama Queen du Jour

You may have heard that the Navy is naming a new ship after Harvey Milk. Via Crooks and Liars:

Credit:  AP Photo

The Navy is set to name a ship after the gay rights icon and San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, according to a Congressional notification obtained by USNI News.

The July 14, 2016 notification, signed by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, indicated he intended to name a planned Military Sealift Command fleet oiler USNS Harvey Milk (T-AO-206). The ship would be the second of the John Lewis-class oilers being built by General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego, Calif.

The Secretary of the Navy’s office is deferring releasing additional information until the naming announcement, a Navy official told USNI News on Thursday.

Mabus has said the John Lewis-class – named after civil rights activist and congressman Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) – would be named after civil rights leaders.

Well, as might be expected, this is not sitting well in some quarters. Enter that shining example of mendacity, Tony Perkins:

While the rest of the world was focused on the terrorist attacks in France, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus was busy putting another politically correct stamp on the military. On July 14, outlets are now reporting, the political appointee (and one of the staunchest activists for special LGBT privileges) inked his name to a notice that he planned on naming a new ship in honor of the late gay icon and San Francisco politician Harvey Milk. The news should be astounding to anyone familiar with Milk and his less-than-honorable life story. Although he served briefly in the Navy, nothing he did merits the kind of tribute Mabus is giving him.

Let's see -- apparently, Perkins believes (or wants his gullible audience to believe) that the Secretary of the Navy is personally involved in naming new ships. Somehow, I doubt it.

And the honor is not because of Milk's Navy service; if that were the case, none of the others in line for this honor would be considered:

Other names in the class include former Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren whose court ruled to desegregate U.S. schools, former Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, women’s right activist Lucy Stone and abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth.

None had notable Navy careers. As noted in the report from USNI, the ships of the John Lewis class will be named after noted civil rights activists. But then, Perkins doesn't believe in civil rights for everyone. Come to think of it, he doesn't believe in civil rights for most people. (As I recall, that mailing list he got from his good buddy David Duke didn't work out so well for him. Maybe if he hadn't lied about it on the campaign filings. But this is Tony Perkins -- lying comes as naturally as breathing.)

Perkins goes on to quote the reprehensible Peter Sprigg -- another reason the FRC is a designated hate group -- digging up all the dirt he can find on Milk's life.

And this is choice: Perkins concludes:

If you’re as disturbed by Mabus’s plans as we are, bring this up to your House and Senate leaders while they’re home campaigning and hosting townhalls. Let them know that the Navy’s idea is an outrageous one when there are so many other deserving men and women, whose courage mattered — not in the bedroom — but on the battlefield.

This from someone who isn't at all hesitant about referring to his service as a Marine -- except he doesn't mention the fact that he was an MP (and somehow, that's just so fitting) and was never deployed to "the battlefield." (And have you noticed that the "Christian" right is all about sex? And gay sex, at that.)

As far as I'm concerned, good for the Navy.

(And where is Elaine Donnelley when you need her?)

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Saturday Science: Better Late Than Never?

I really did have today's post in Earth: A Biography almost ready to go. Well, half ready to go. Sadly, music reviews got in the way, so it will either appear tomorrow or next week.

Today in Disgusting People

Sandy Rios is one of the most vicious bigpts on the right, but this time she's gone overboard:

From my perspective, it is the responsibility of Mr. Khan to distinguish himself from Islamists, from the Muslim Brotherhood whose treatise is to destroy us from within,” Rios said. “If he is a patriotic, loyal, American-Muslim, then we want to hear that, that’s great, and we grieve with them over the death of their son. But do not disparage Americans or Donald Trump for having concerns about Muslims in our midst. . . .

And if you are so concerned, Mr. Khan, if you’re an American first, then distinguish yourself and condemn Islamists, condemn the Muslim Brotherhood, then we will listen to you, and stop waving the Constitution. As far as I can tell, Islam, truly, supporters of Islam and the Quran, cannot embrace the Constitution. Now, if you have a different view, then explain that to us and then maybe we can be persuaded, but don’t shame America for having genuine and rightful concerns about Muslims in our midst when we have no idea who they are or what they really believe, and we’re not even sure about you, sir, because we know about taqiyya, which is the practice of lying to the infidel in order to advance the Muslim cause.

From my perspective, Mr.Khan and his family have distinguished themselves quite enough -- much more than Sandy Rios has, and in a much better way.

This is the man whose loyalty she was questioning:

Some background on Capt. Humayun Khan:

Humayun Khan was born in the United Arab Emirates and immigrated to the U.S. as a small child, growing up in Maryland and attending college at the University of Virginia. He was a 27-year-old Army captain when he was inspecting the gates of his camp in Baquba, Iraq, and a speeding vehicle approached. Khan told his fellow soldiers to hit the ground and he signaled at the vehicle to stop. He took 10 steps toward the vehicle, which had in it two suicide bombers and a large amount of explosives. The car exploded, injuring 10 of his fellow soldiers and killing Khan. The captain was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, and Khizr Khan believes his son’s actions saved the lives of many of his fellow soldiers.

“We still wonder what made him take those 10 steps,” Khan’s father has said in the past to the web site Vocativ. “Maybe that’s the point where all the values, all the service to country, all the things he learned in this country kicked in. It was those values that made him take those 10 steps. Those 10 steps told us we did not make [a] mistake in moving to this country.”

Mr. Khan has no need to justify himself to the likes of Sandy Rios, who from all indications despises everything that America stands for.

Friday, July 29, 2016

And Giving

Some people just can't do anything right:

A three-judge panel of the U.S Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit has found North Carolina's controversial GOP-backed voting restrictions were intended to discriminate against African American voters.

The Friday ruling is a huge win for voting rights activists in a closely watched case in a potential 2016 swing state. The appeals court reversed the ruling of a district court siding with the state.

"In holding that the legislature did not enact the challenged provisions with discriminatory intent, the court seems to have missed the forest in carefully surveying the many trees," the opinion said. It permanently blocked provisions in a 2013 North Carolina law that required certain photo IDs to vote, limited early voting, eliminated same day registration, ended out-of-precinct voting and prohibited pre-registration of young voters.

In the opinion, the panel of judges said that the law restricted voting in ways that "disproportionately affected African Americans" and that its provisions targeted "African Americans with almost surgical precision." It said the state's defense of the law was "meager."

"Thus the asserted justifications cannot and do not conceal the state’s true motivation," the opinion said.

Do I need to say anything more? (snicker)

North Carolina: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

I'm sure you've seen this story, but if not:

Tim Kaine was shamed by the North Carolina Republican party for promoting the interests of a foreign government last night, after the GOP misidentified a pin on the VP-candidate’s lapel. [He] wears a Honduras flag pin on his jacket but no American flag,” the NCGOP wrote. “Shameful.”

Kaine sported a flag pin on his lapel with a single blue star on a white background with red stripes. Someone at the NC Republican party, knowing that Kaine had served a year teaching teenagers carpentry and welding skills as part of a Jesuit mission in Honduras, made the leap that Kaine would be unsophisticated enough to wear the Honduran flag while addressing the DNC and the nation.

More research would have revealed that his son, Nathaniel Kaine, is a lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, and the blue star pin is a recognized symbol for the “Blue Star Families” — those with loved ones who are deployed abroad.

Give yourself a treat -- read the reactions at the link.

Just to demonstrate the utter cluelessness of the NC GOP, here's an image that looks most like the pin Kaine was wearing:

Here's the national flag of Honduras:

Almost identical, aren't they?

Lord love a duck.

By the way, according to Tom Levenson at Balloon Juice, the NC GOP did apologize to Kaine and his family.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Quote of the Day

From Christine Leinonen, mother of Christopher Leinonen, one of the Orlando victims:

"It takes about five minutes for a church bell to ring 49 times."

Video at the link.

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.

There's more:

Six weeks before the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks published an archive of hacked Democratic National Committee emails ahead of the Democratic convention, the organization’s founder, Julian Assange, foreshadowed the release — and made it clear that he hoped to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the presidency.

I'm pretty much averse to conspiracy thinking, since it usually turns out to be more fantasy than reality, but considering Assange's ties to the Russians, Trump's ties to the Russians, and the desire of Putin to cement his hold on Europe (and maybe start re-establishing the USSR), somebody needs to focus on this.

Via Joe.My.God.

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.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Remember That Climate Change Hoax?

You know -- the one started by the Chinese so they could take over our economy. Or was it Obama? It's probably Clinton.

Not to confuse anyone with facts, but:

The first six months of 2016 have been the world’s hottest ever on record, according to NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — the third year in a row to set a record. The heat has caused the Arctic sea ice to contract so rapidly that the ice cover may reach its lowest extent on record before the end of this year.

Scientists took temperatures from around the world to gauge monthly averages. Every month, except March, in 2016 has been warmer since reliable records started being maintained, that is, 1880. The average for June this year was 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit hotter than the average June in the 20th century. Overall, 2016 has been 2 degrees warmer than the 20th century.

It's not just hot summers (like the one we're having in Chicago right now). It's other things as well:

Don't buy real estate in a coastal resort area.

The Republican Convention

Look on the bright side: no one's been shot. Yet.

Culture Break: Richard Wagner: Ride of the Valkyries

In honor of the GOP convention:

Because nothing says "presidential" like blowing people up.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Idiot du Jour

Steve King (R-Somewhere), who is vying for Louie Gohmert for stupidest sitting congressman:

Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) offered an unusual defense of the racial homogeneity of his party during a panel on MSNBC Monday evening.

The group, led by Chris Hayes, was discussing the first day of the Republican national convention and Donald Trump's history of racially-loaded comments and behavior. King told Hayes that he thought Trump had "modified" his behavior in that regard, but Esquire's Charlie Pierce said he didn't see much diversity reflected in the gathering itself.

"If you're really optimistic, you can say that this is the last time that old white people will command the Republican Party's attention, its platform, its public face," Pierce said. "That hall is wired," he continued. "That hall is wired by loud, unhappy, dissatisfied white people."

King objected.

"This 'old white people' business does get a little tired, Charlie," King said. "I'd ask you to go back through history and figure out, where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you're talking about, where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?"

"Than white people?" Hayes asked, clearly amazed.

"Than, than Western civilization itself," King replied. "It's rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That's all of Western civilization."

Well, yes, if you're talking about Western civilization, who would you expect to contribute? And what did white people contribute to, say, Chinese civilization? Or the civilization of India? Or of the pre-Columbian Americas? Or pre-colonial Africa?

Aside from destroying them, I mean.

And let's not talk about the "footprint of Christianity". Let's just not go there.

One of the best reactions from Twitter:

اليگسيس Retweeted Shaun King

He must not remember "western civilization" literally living in its own filth until"sub groups" taught them plumbing😒

And math -- including a usable number system. And astronomy. And writing. And agriculture, without which, no civilization.

The Truth Slips Out

From the invocation at the GOP convention, by Pastor Mark Burns:

We’re thankful that you are guiding him, that you are giving him the words to unite this party, this country, that we together can defeat the liberal Democratic Party, to keep us divided and not united.
(Emphasis added.)


Monday, July 18, 2016

Today's Antidote

To just about everything, including the weather forecast for the week, which has us hitting 97 on Thursday. This has already been an unusually hot summer. I like this whole idea:

For a change of pace, perhaps this news from New Zealand—lovely home of hobbits and Na’vi, not to mention the Notorious RBG’s chosen anti-Trumpian refuge—will interest and delight:

A former national park has been granted personhood, and a river system is expected to receive the same soon. The unusual designations, something like the legal status that corporations possess, came out of agreements between New Zealand’s government and Maori groups. The two sides have argued for years over guardianship of the country’s natural features….

The park is Te Urewera, and the river, Whanganui (NZ’s third largest). The proximate goal is, “that lawsuits to protect the land can be brought on behalf of the land itself, with no need to show harm to a particular human.” More broadly, the hope is that the legal concepts of nonhuman rights and personhood will be strong tools in the fights against climate change, mass extinction, and other forms of ecocide.

Sidebar: "Ecocide" is a termed coined during the Vietnam War as a reference to the US policy of destroying Vietnam's forests, because that's where the Viet Cong were hiding.

I'd love to see something on that order here, but it will have to wait until we've wrested control of Congress away from the mining and oil companies. Not to mention loggers.

Read the whole thing.

And from the comments, a bit on the judicial history of this idea in the US. Maybe there's hope. After all, if corporations are people, why not forests or wetlands?

Well, I Hope You Weren't Counting on an Honest Election

Thanks to the Supreme Court gutting the key section of the Voting Rights Act of 1965:

Federal election observers can only be sent to five states in this year’s U.S. presidential election, among the smallest deployments since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to end racial discrimination at the ballot box.

The plan, confirmed in a U.S. Department of Justice fact sheet seen by Reuters, reflects changes brought about by the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to strike down parts of the Act, a signature legislative achievement of the 1960s civil rights movement.

Voting rights advocates told Reuters they were concerned that the scaling-back of observers would make it harder to detect and counter efforts to intimidate or hinder voters, especially in southern states with a history of racial discrimination at the ballot box.

The Supreme Court ruling undercut a key section of the Act that requires such states to obtain U.S. approval before changing election laws. The court struck down the formula used to determine which states were affected.

"President Trump" is starting to sound not so farfetched.

A Telling Tweet

Digby has a post on the Cleveland Police Patrolman's Association's request to Gov. John Kasich to suspend open carry for the Republican convention, which in itself is delicious and worth reading. (Also note that police are not in favor of open carry or concealed carry.) One thing that sticks out, though, is a tweet from Ann Coulter (which, incidentally, appears on both stories linked):

Ann Coulter Verified account

Instead of suspending 2d amt rights at the Cleveland Convention, how about suspending 1st amt rights and ban the protesters?

12:15 PM - 17 Jul 2016
1,498 retweets 3,052 likes

Yeah, it's Ann Coulter, who will say anything to get some attention, but I find it revealing of the mindset of what passes for "conservatives" these days. (Note the number of "likes".)

I've pointed out before that the right -- especially the "Christian" right -- really despises our foundational principles: they hate an independent judiciary, they don't think the Bill of Rights should apply to everyone (or anyone other than them), they especially hate the Establishment Clause, they think the teabagger caucus in the House should be the supreme branch of government (subject to change, of course, depending on who's in the White House), they think the Tenth Amendment should override the Supremacy Clause, and on down the line. This just sort of puts it front and center.

(Of course, Coulter will claim she was joking. Right.)

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Through the Looking Glass Award

Jeb Bush published an Op Ed in WaPo that -- well, this is just the beginning:

Eight years of the divisive tactics of President Obama and his allies have undermined Americans’ faith in politics and government to accomplish anything constructive. The president has wielded his power — while often exceeding his authority — to punish his opponents, legislate from the White House and turn agency rulemaking into a weapon for liberal dogma.

In turn, a few in the Republican Party responded by trying to out-polarize the president, making us seem anti-immigrant, anti-women, anti-science, anti-gay, anti-worker and anti-common-sense.

The result has been the vanishing of any semblance of compromise or bipartisanship in our nation’s capital. Simple problems don’t get solved. Speeches happen; the important stuff doesn’t. The failure of elected leaders to break the gridlock in Washington has led to an increasingly divided electorate, which in turn has led to a breakdown in our political system.

Obama's "divisive tactics"? Seriously? I don't need to remind anyone which party it was that first, proclaimed that its priority was to make Obama a one-term president, and second, refused to consider any legislation that might actually have a positive effect on the country as a whole. This is just Jeb Bush flipping reality on its head, a specialty of the GOP.

(There's one commenter at the article that does it even better:

Republican voters, and anyone who cares about the country on the Right, from libertarians, to religious conservatives, to fiscal hawks, to reasonable Democrats, is concerned about establishment Republicans' so called "compromise" and "bipartisanship." For Democrats, compromise means Republicans give them everything they want. For Republicans, compromise with Democrats means giving them everything that they want.

Words fail me. Read it, if you can stand it.

It's Sunday -- You Know What That Means

It's "What's New" day at Green Man Review, and so there are more reviews published.

You know what to do.

Today in WTF?

New Zealand starts to sound very good, and it's not just Trump:

Restaurants with the rather generic name “Lucky Teriyaki” in Washington are bearing the brunt online after a misunderstanding caused by a language barrier prompted the Skagit County Sheriff’s Office to post on their official Facebook page that the one in Sedro-Woolley wasn’t welcoming police officers to eat there.

On Thursday, four Skagit County deputies stopped at the Sedro-Woolley restaurant to eat. When they were paying their bill, they say the owner told them they were no longer welcome there because they upset other customers. But after Skagit County Sheriff Will Reichardt called for a boycott of the business, a local television station, KIRO-TV, sent a reporter to the restaurant with a Mandarin interpreter to ask them about the incident.

It turned out the restaurant owner and his son had not understood what was being said to them and didn’t intend to tell the officers that police weren’t welcome there.

OK, a misunderstanding because of a language barrier. So what the hell is the sheriff doing calling for a boycott? Get that? The sheriff, in his capacity as a government official, called for a boycott of a private business.

The did publish a follow-up which, frankly, is rather lame:

This morning I met with the owner of Lucky Teriyaki and his son. They apologized for the incident that made news yesterday, and expressed their desire to accept everyone to their business, including law enforcement officers associated with all offices and departments. I told both father and son that I was appreciative and grateful for their willingness to once again welcome everyone to visit their restaurant. And that it was my hope that this matter can quickly be put behind us all.

Thank you to all of the citizens who expressed support for law enforcement in Skagit County. Please accept that this matter has been resolved to our satisfaction, and we encourage everyone to patronize Lucky Teriyaki.
(Emphasis added.)

They never were unwilling to welcome everyone. They misunderstood your cops, your cops misunderstood them, and you shot from the hip. So who are you, John Wayne?

And, just to prove the level of intelligence in "real 'Muricans," get this:

“I couldn’t believe what your doing, if people don’t like the police, then the people in your dump are the same kind of people who ought to find some other country to live in,” wrote Ray Ginting on the review page for a Lucky Teriyaki restaurant in Everett, which is almost an hour away from Sedro-Woolley. “Who you gonna call if you get robbed ? Enough said – and i live 1,700 miles away. I think its time for some inspections, don’t you.”

Another man echoed the boycott call.

“Avoid this place at all cost,” Ross Zanzucchi wrote. “The fact that you won’t serve police officers is a total disgrace. Boycott this place and shut it down!”

Some tried to point out, to no avail, that it was the wrong business.

“You’ve got the wrong restaurant, Einstein,” one man wrote.

The Lucky Teriyaki in Tacoma, which is 100 miles away from Sedro-Woolley, is also facing a backlash.

“Is there a way too give negative stars,” wrote Paul C. on Yelp. “If I ever go back thru Tacoma, I will never give them my business. I hope that they are robbed and feel that need to call the police. ..hmm if I were part of the law enforcement in the Tacoma area of just tell them, well not not much we can do.”

It's instructive that these yahoos are immune to being corrected -- it's the mindset fostered by the more -- how shall I put it -- "conservative" elements in our country: What they "know" to be true is true, and that's that. Facts, as we learned from the Hobby Lobby* decision, take second place to belief.

* One of the key parts of that decision, authored by Justice Alito:

The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients. If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions. . . .

One thing that is not mentioned in the opinion is the scientific consensus on the particular contraceptives:

 In an editorial, the New England Journal of Medicine called the decision "a setback for both the ACA's foundational goal of access to universal health care and for women's health care specifically", voicing concern that "in assessing the competing claims about abortion and birth control, the Court's majority focused on the religious claims of the corporations without discussing scientific or medical opinions."[65] In JAMA Internal Medicine, Alta Charo wrote that "consistent with a disturbing trend among courts and legislatures to misstate or misuse scientific information in the context of women's reproductive rights and health, the Supreme Court's decision ignored the well-accepted distinction between contraception and abortion."[66] The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, representing 90% of U.S. board-certified gynecologists, supported a bill to overturn the Hobby Lobby ruling.[67]

Alito makes the point, amply supported by precedent, that the Court should not be adjudicating what constitutes a valid religious belief (although it has done so in the past). However, what this leaves us with is a ruling by the Supreme Court that says, in essence, belief trumps fact.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Saturday Science: Earth: A Biography: Prokaryotes and Beyond

To backtrack a bit, the formation of the Earth took place at the beginning of the Hadean Eon (from the Greek "Hades"), which lasted from about 4.5 to 4 billion years ago. Although it's generally considered that the surface of the Earth, such as it was, was extremely unstable, with major seismic activity, strong upwelling of magma and subduction of what surface managed to form, there is evidence that the continents had, indeed, started to form, that there were seas, and possibly even rivers -- in effect, Earth was more user friendly earlier than we had thought. There are pieces of zircon from Australia that have been dated to 4.1 billion years ago, and the oldest extant rocks are found in Quebec and go back to 4.2-4.3 billion years ago. (There even seems to be evidence that the moon formed during this period, but since I'm not doing a biography of the moon, I'm not going to worry about it.)

Fast forward to the Archean Eon (which is actually the first division of the Precambrian Era, which might be a little more familiar), which started about 4 billion years ago, and we have life: the earliest evidence suggests living organisms from at least 3.5 billion years ago, and there is some evidence that life actually began as early as 4.1 billion years ago -- although that's still a big maybe. (That bit of zircon turned out to be quite important -- and fairly controversial.) The image at left should give you some idea of what the world looked like at that point: mostly water, not much land.

The first living organisms were prokaryotes (from the Greek words meaning "before the nut" -- that is, before the nucleus). They have no discrete nucleus and no discrete organelles (mitochondria), although they do have an analogous structure, a ribosome. These produce proteins, much the same as the DNA and mithochondria in eukaryotes (which we'll get to in a bit). The "contents" -- DNA, proteins, metabolites, all the things that make them work -- are enclosed within the cell membrane without being separated into compartments. The prokaryotes fall into two groups, the archaea and bacteria. Both groups are still with us.

3500 million year old Apex Chert, Australia
containing the first fossil evidence of life on Earth
The archaea constitute a domain (the highest level of classification) and a kingdom. They were originally considered to be "extremophiles" confined to extreme environments, such as undersea thermal vents (remember those?) and highly alkaline lakes (as in California's Mono Lake or Africa's Lake Natron). They have, however, been discovered in much less hostile environments. Their ability to survive the extremes is due to the structure of their cell membrane, which I'm not going to get into in any detail here (see this if you're interested).

The really interesting part, aside from the fact that the Archea are still us (in environments as diverse as marshes, undersea vents, and the human gut) is that they are thought to be the ancestors of the eukaryotes -- organisms with nucleus and organelles bound by membranes.

The other major group among the first living organisms are the bacteria, which, as you well know, are also still with us. While they have some distinct differences from archea, they are alike in two very important ways: both reproduce asexually, by fission, and both allow for lateral gene transfer. That is, genetic material can be transferred between two different organisms, which sort of blows the idea of "species" as a group of organisms that produce viable offspring within the group but cannot produce viable (fertile) offspring outside the group. Think horses and donkeys: mules are sterile.

One of the most important things about bacteria at this stage of the game is that some of them started using colored pigments -- mostly chlorophyll, but there were others as well -- to convert sunlight into energy: combine carbon dioxide and water and through the action of chlorophyll as a catalyst, you create simple sugars, which you can then burn for energy. The reason this is important is because one of the byproducts -- the waste product, actually -- is oxygen.

Banded iron formation.  Photo via Britannica
Remember, up until the advent of cyanobacteria -- the ones who used photosynthesis -- there was no free oxygen. It was all bound up with hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, what have you to form water, carbon dioxide, various acids, and the like. It took a while, but the advent of free oxygen, first in the oceans and then in the atmosphere, fundamentally changed the character of life on earth. It took several million years, because there was, for example, a lot of iron in the environment, which latched on to the oxygen molecules to form what are technically known as "banded iron deposits," or more commonly, "rust." The first evidence we have of this dates to about 3 billion years ago, so you can see that a) it took some time for cyanobacteria to develop and b) it took even longer for all that iron to turn to rust.

So, we have what I consider the first major extinction (although no one else seems to think of it that way) with the advent of free oxygen in the atmospere, which wiped out a large percentage of the single-celled organisms then existing (although some survived -- even today, we have anaerobic bacteria, which find oxygen toxic) and paved the way for life as we know it.

So, next time we'll talk about the eukaryotes, where they came from, and how they developed.

Idiot du Jour

Sen. Tom Tillis (R-NC -- of course):

Republicans have never made it easy for President Barack Obama to confirm judges. But Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) came up with a new reason the Senate shouldn’t be filling empty court seats: It’s not our job.

Democrats including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) made repeated requests Wednesday to confirm a batch of Obama’s judicial nominees who are ready for votes. Each time they tried, Tillis objected and suggested the Senate shouldn’t be spending time on judges.

“What we get are things that have nothing to do with doing our jobs,” he said. “I’m doing my job today and objecting to these measures so we can actually get back to pressing matters.”
(Emphasis added.)

Article II, Section 2 of the US Constitution:

He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law: but the Congress may by Law vest the Appointment of such inferior Officers, as they think proper, in the President alone, in the Courts of Law, or in the Heads of Departments.
(Emphasis added.)

It is your job, Senator.

Via Digby, who goes on to opine:

Thinking about the literacy test, I've changed my mind. Let's get to the nub of the problem: the Senate. It's an undemocratic institution that really has no place in a modern democracy. It's decided not to bother doing the few specific jobs it does as an individual body. Even with the loons running the House today the only legislative body this country would not be in any worse shape. So really, why are we paying for it at all? It's useless.

I don't think I agree: with the loons running the House, we need the Senate to use its dead weight to stall some of their colleagues' more outlandish attempts at wrecking the country.

Nice: Reaction and Analysis

Tom Sullivan has a good summary of what happened in Nice, with special attention to a couple of reactions here. President Obama, being a presidential president, issued a statement that was pretty much expected, considering that at the time no one knew any whys or wherefores.


Enter Donald Trump. Without knowing details about the attack, Trump wants to declare war. On whom, he doesn't say. On what basis, he doesn't know. A NATO country has been attacked, sure (by a lone individual as far as we know now). But Trump thinks NATO is obsolete and the U.S. pays too much for it. Others should pay. So with that for background, when Bill O'Reilly asked Trump if he would send in air and ground forces (somewhere) Trump said:

“I would, I would” when asked if he would seek a formal declaration of military action from the US Congress. “This is war,” Trump continued. “If you look at it, this is war. Coming from all different parts. And frankly it’s war, and we’re dealing with people without uniforms. In the old days, we would have uniforms. You would know who you’re fighting.”

But since Trump doesn't know who that is and can't force whoever it is to wear uniforms, what this situation absolutely requires is a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part. And Trump is just the guy to do it. Count on him to try to make somebody else pay for it. In the end, that someone would be us.

That's right -- put them in uniforms (whoever they are) -- and then what? Start digging trenches?

And do note the repeated "War!!1!" mantra. We've been hearing that for fifteen years now, and you know what? It's bullshit. It's good for stirring up the rubes and that's all. We've already seen what good results we get by bombing civilians -- more terrorists.

Digby has a fairly thorough analysis of conditions in France that make it an epicenter, more or less, for terrorist attacks in Europe, and links to this article by Arthur Goldhammer that makes one important point:

Each such event pushes frightened citizens a little closer to surrendering to the impulse to embrace an authoritarian response. And, as it happens, Marine Le Pen has been offering just such a response for years now, insisting that draconian police measures are the only way to deal with the threat. She wants France to “take back control” of its borders, as the British have just voted to do with Brexit. . . .

Not that a Le Pen government would be any less helpless than a government of the center-right or center-left. Her authoritarian instincts would do nothing to lessen the threat—au contraire. But for too many people, I fear, electing Le Pen to speak loudly and carry a big stick will feel like “doing something rather than nothing”—and, in these circumstances, it is all too human to want to do something. We saw this in the United States after 9/11.
(Emphasis added.)

That's what Trump is offering, even though he's even less focused than the Bush administration after 9/11. (In my own opinion, we went after the right people first -- the Taliban. And then attacked Iraq? It didn't make any sense then and doesn't make any sense now -- unless you're Halliburton or a major oil company. And if you wonder where Trump got his "make them pay for it" mantra -- remember, the Iraq war was going to be paid for with Iraq's oil. Trump's not only a jackass, he's not even original.)

Back to Digby's comments. She makes the very good point, vis-a-vis France as an epicenter, that France has a very different history in regard to immigration and minorities than, say, the U.S. (We're a nation of immigrants. I like to make the point that, in reality, every human being who ever lived in America came of immigrant stock: Homo sapiens is not native to the Americas.)

France has a long colonial history in the Middle East, specifically in Syria and its experience in Algeria was particularly brutal. It has the largest Muslim population in Europe and French society has traditionally been somewhat culturally intolerant, insisting that newcomers strictly adapt to French mores rather than embracing diversity. All of this has unfortunately created a combustible mixture in a dangerous time.

So, you have a large group of culturally alienated immigrants, a political party that's promising to "do something" in the most authoritarian -- read "dictatorial" -- way possible, and a sizable chunk of the population who are willing to go along with it. You'd be forgiven for wondering whether you're in France or the US, except that we haven't managed to alienate our Muslim population -- although there are elements here that are trying very hard to do just that, along with every other minority (read "GOP") -- but we certainly do have the politicians who are willing to advocate dictatorial responses.

I think Goldhammer's point is right on the mark: we want someone to do something. The problem is, we're not willing to listen to the people who might do something that works.

Friday, July 15, 2016


To all the crap that's in the news about the Republican candidate, the Republican platform, killer cops and their apologists. Sometimes people just do the right thing:

When police officers were called to investigate a tent set up outside a Georgia college, they didn’t expect to find inspiration.

The officers were called July 9 to a campsite near a Gordon State College parking lot, where they found a 19-year-old homeless student staying in a tent hidden in some bushes, reported The Herald-Gazette.

The officers ordered him out of his tent with his hands up, but they listened to his story instead of writing a ticket for trespassing.

Fredrick Barley had ridden six hours — and more than 50 miles — on his younger brother’s 20-inch bicycle and arrived about a month early for his second year as a biology major, with nothing but his tent, a duffle bag, a box of cereal and two gallons of water.

The student, who hopes to go on to medical school, wanted to make sure he had enough time to find a job before classes began, and he spent his days riding his too-small bike to fill out applications at local businesses.

Click through to read the whole story -- it's the way things should happen. Here's the kid's reaction, in his own words.

Sidebar: It can't be just me -- I'm sure other people feel the same. Short story: I was waiting for the bus one afternoon; a few feet down a man hailed a cab, which pulled up in front of me because the bus was pulling in -- several feet from the man, who was obviously disabled. As the man made his way to the cab, I opened the door and held it until he was in and seated. When I got on the bus, the drive said "That was a good thing you did." I was sort of flabbergasted -- all I could think of to say was "It's just what you do."

What was I supposed to do, just stand there and watch this poor guy, who seemed to have had a stroke, trying to get himself and his walker into the cab without helping?

I don't think I'm weird.

Image of the Week

Digging through the files and ran across this. See? Even Chicago can be a little mysterious.

Religion Is Just the Excuse

I'm still trying to make some sense out of the reports coming from Nice (which, as might be expected, are chaotic and contradictory -- here's The Guardian's report), but sure enough, there are comments galore on the theme of "Filthy Muslims! Get them all!" (Donald Trump, strangely enough, has been relatively silent -- so far.)

This is going to be something of a rant, but it's going to be brief: Religion is merely the excuse for what people want to do anyway. It's convenient, it has behind it unchallengeable authority, and it means you don't have to really examine your motives.

History is littered with examples of religious conflicts that are nothing more than pretexts for power grabs, money grabs, land grabs, you name it. Thirty Years' War? Politics: who was going to control Germany? The Crusades? Who was going to control the Middle East, plus stopping the expansion of Arabs into Europe. The Partition of India? Who was going to control the newly liberated country? The Buddhist atrocities against Muslims in Myanmar (which are still going on)? Shoring up a dictator's power. And of course, the ongoing campaign against gays in the U.S. -- money and power. (Because these are people who need an enemy to justify themselves, and the Soviet Union is history. Just look at the timeline: the Soviet Union was tottering in the 1970s-80s, and guess when the "Christian" right started to become a factor in US politics.)

I know some Muslim guys. In addition to being big flirts, they're really nice guys. My Sikh doctor, aside from being terminally gorgeous, is completely charming. I've known too many real Christians -- and I'm including evangelicals -- to think that the likes of Kevin Swanson or Tony Perkins are real examples of the religion and what it's about. (There's this thing called the Gospels -- they should read them.) I've known Jews all my adult life, and for the most part, they've been a lot of fun to be around. I can't say that I know many Hindus or Buddhists, but I'd guess they're pretty much the same as anyone else.

And religion -- all religions -- offer a few basic lessons in common, which boil down to "treat each other with decency and respect" and "we're all in this together, so help each other out," which I take as the basis for morality -- and which is not something you're going to hear from the Family Research Council or ISIS.

So, it will hardly come as a surprise that I have no patience with comments that single out a particular religion as "evil," or even worse, condemn all religions as garbage. That's bullshit.

And I have to wonder what those who make those kinds of statements are trying to avoid dealing with.