Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A tale of two scandals

Scandal #1: State governor turns out to be corrupt bastard. There's no evidence whatsoever that the incoming president was in on this corruption at all (the investigators specifically declare this when indicting the governor), but coming from the same state they obviously knew one another and had had some political contact in the past.

Scandal #2: A Senate report reveals that the outgoing presidential administration was involved at high levels authorizing torture of prisoners.

Which do you think the press would cover ad nauseum? Would it help to say that the president in scandal 1 is a democrat, and the president in scandal 2 was republican? That's right, of course they obsess over #1 and ignore #2. Actual high crimes and misdemeanors (R) are way less interesting than the possible whiff of unlikely but maybe outside chance at impropriety (D).

But here's my offer for the people who say it's all just "harsh interrogations:" Undergo a week of "harsh interrogation"... y'know, just like America did, stress positions, days spent naked in unvaryingly-brightly lit very cold rooms, with maybe dogs being brought in to snap at your genitals at unexpected intervals. And some of the old standbyes like gaggind and blindfolding rolled together with sexual humiliation, dessecration of one's holy books, 14 hours of interrogation, extended exhaustion. And maybe just a tad of good old fashioned waterboarding now and hten. If the brave patriot can get through this without breaking and admitting that htey are being tortured, we'd all agree to drop the point. I'd give them 3-4 days tops.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A meek proposal

It's a good thing there are God fearing Christian conservatives in the US or there wouldn't be a death penalty. But if there were more, then perhaps executions wouldn't be done by lethal injections or electric chairs. These methods, "humane" as the bleeding hearts call them, are nearly painless. What sort of punishment is that for the things criminals have done!

What happened to a good old fashioned crucifixion? If someone has gone and broken God's commandments, and murdered or stolen, or blasphemed, or borne false witness, then give them a nail in each hand and one through their feet, and let them meet their maker up on a cross, just as the bible describes. And if they've committed a particularly horrible crime, then I say jab them with something sharp while they're up there. You'd have to put it on a stick to reach, of course, but nothing modern engineers couldn't solve I'm sure. And just so they know they are being punished we should take a link of barbed wire from a prison wall, and form it into a little circuit - a prison wall in miniature if you will - and press that onto their brow.

If it's good enough for the bible, then it's good enough for America.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Advice to a friend who's going through hard times

Dude, there's only one person in the world who's even supposed to be perfect, and they killed him years ago.

We all have regrets. All of us. Time is an impatient medicine though. Peace my friend.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Humbug on Christmas exclusivity

Every so often I see people getting a bee in their bonnet that "Jesus is the reason for the season," who are trying to make Christmas the sole preserve of Christianity. So ok, they've got a strong point on first appearances with the name thing, but...

I celebrate Christmas, because I was raised celebrating it. You can't raise someone up their whole life to have an emotional resonance to something, and then suddenly demand they stop celebrating it because they are doing so with the wrong theology in mind. Especially not when you went and appropriated much of its imagery and tradition from other groups anyway to start with (hint, Christmas trees, caroling, feasting, party time with the family, mistletoe, December 25th, are all pagan innovations that Christmas merely appropriated along the way).

In short, I have no sympathy whatsoever for the argument that non-Christians shouldn't celebrate Christmas. In fact, such demands are downright Scrooge-ish, and being as Charles Dickens branded Christmas as the anti-miser holiday (no, that part isn't an ancient Christian tradition either), I say humbug to all who would want me to take my tree down. The irony is satisfying :)

pencil industry to disappear now pens invented

Far be it from me to rain on anyone else's Detroit bashing high, But Thomas Friedman's latest ode to the big 3's short sightedness contains the following silliness:
Our bailout of Detroit will be remembered as the equivalent of pouring billions of dollars of taxpayer money into the mail-order-catalogue business on the eve of the birth of eBay. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into the CD music business on the eve of the birth of the iPod and iTunes. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into a book-store chain on the eve of the birth of Amazon.com and the Kindle. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into improving typewriters on the eve of the birth of the PC and the Internet.
I guess I'm pretty behind the times, but our house still gets quite a lot of mail-order catalogues, the world still seems pretty well populated with HMV's, and Barnes and Nobles hasn't exactly gone under either.

All of the industries he's mentioning are facing some new challenges, true... in fact, there are even better examples he could have picked, such as print newspapers vs. the internet... but even there, people used to predict that paper books would fall completely by the wayside once personal computers spread - remember the "paperless office"...

All in all this is a pretty horrendous case of pundit fallacy #642773: "Any sexier form of technology will inevitably entirely displace the older, less sexy form from the market."

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

If "great president" Ronald Reagan was Hollywoods gift to historical revisionism, what happens when still-alive conservative actors talk?

Some idiot is starting a new web site for all the poor conservatives in Hollywood, and is duly and amusingly mocked.

This reminds me of a clip I saw of John Voight leading some ra ra in the audience at a Sarah Palin rally. A reporter asked him about the bailouts or tax plans or some such, and he said words to the effect of "oh, I don't know about any of that stuff go ask one of the politicians. I'm just an actor." So... uh... if you don't know anything about what thse guys are promising to... you know, do... if they get elected, then why are you running around trying to gin up support for them?

Clearly being a Republican is basically a tribal thing for some of these people - it literally doesn't matter who is running or what they promise to do, but the Republicans are us, and us are the good guys, so goooo us! I mean, Republicans! Seriously, I think the Republican candidate could have been the slack-jawed son of a plutocrat, who was only running because he'd already run everything else he'd been handed into the ground, and he would still have vo... okay, bad example.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Truth karma: Making up for lies with extra strong truths

In an ABC Nightline interview set to air tonight, Bush is asked about evolution. He is pushed into admitting that maybe you can have evolution AND divine creation, then says (in part):
"You're getting me way out of my lane here. I'm just a simple president."
Sweet holy understatement.

"I'm just a simple tome," says the 4th grade colouring book...

glasses are too expensive, but who needs to see anyway

Sullivan writes about the trouble that newspapers are in.
The economics of this are brutal. Print and paper and delivery by lorry are immensely cumbersome and expensive compared with a modem – or even with a mobile reading device that you can take on a train or bus in the morning. A single blogger in his bedroom can reach as many readers as a big paper, with no overheads and no staff and no product costs except band-width. That kind of economic competitive advantage is entirely a function of technological change and it is unavoidable...

The terrifying problem is that a one-man blog cannot begin to do the necessary labour-intensive, skilled reporting that a good newspaper sponsors and pioneers. A world in which reporting becomes even more minimal and opinion gets even more vacuous and unending is not a healthy one for a democracy.
I've been thinking about this lately too. And it's not just the newsprint that is expensive for newspapers, it's much of the original reporting too. Somebody has to go to interview the locals in the worlds contested spots to find out what really is going on. And that someone isn't going to be Sullivan or Kos or anyone at NRO either. "Real" journalists are already struggling with this, and not always doing a great job, and if the business model that supports them collapses, we're all in a serious dose of trouble. Journalists, whatever their flaws, basically serve as human intelligence for the general public.

Now that I have you worried about this hit, here's the shoe coming to whack you from the other side: The lower cost analysis machine (i.e., blogs) that is currently cannibalizing the more expensive "research and analysis" machine (i.e., news) still requires "facts" to run on. But where will they come from? Blogging is not profitable enough to support much primary research, so there's only a few major possibilities.

Perhaps there'll be a big market for free lance reporters to build personal reputations as news gatherers, selling their info to the blogging world. But Bloggers don't really have the money to pay for that now, and even if they did, there'd be nothing to stop everyone from 'free riding' off the first other people to announce the info. So perhaps we'll manage to assemble distributed networks of private local citizens all over the world, who will post their local intelligence onto the web, but good luck getting much of that out of, say, Myanmar. More ominious, and perhaps likely, is that people with deep pockets and profit making agendas on their minds will realize that there is a niche open to them to control the public discourse by financing the fact gathering, and then manipulating what is released. Want to know if there are still bloody diamond wars going on in Africa? DeBeers will be happy to pay for reporters to go cast light on the situation, and who is there to contradict them? If you think that political and corporate kleptocrats are already directing too much of the feed into our news-dissemination machines, just imagine what happens when journalists aren't just too lazy/stressed to do good work, but are out of their jobs entirely.

It's been dangerous enough to see what happens when a third to a fifth of the US public are completely unplugged from the reality based world, insulated in a bubble of talk radio madness, but what happens when that mooring is cut for the rest of us?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The more things change, the more they aren't the same

As I recall, the knock on Obama was that he was all lofty sentiment, no details.

Silence is golden better than a kick in the groin

So William Ayers finally talks in the NYT. It seems he thinks all the attention to him in the election and breathless descriptions of him as a terrorist were dumb and overblown because he tried not to kill any actual people. To be fair to him, he's completely right, but don't expect the right wing noise machine to start being fair to anyone any time soon if they think there are points to be scored.

The real debate, of course, comes over his assertion that he didn't try to say any of this in the actual election because he didn't think it would make any difference in the sound bite culture. Would it have? I don't know, possibly not. Obama wasn't in a position to say "but he just damaged some property, he didn't try to kill anybody, that's stupid but it's not terrorism, there's no intent to cause terror," because it would have completely ceded the grounds of the debate. Instead of talking about all the policy issues he was winning on, or even how he had no connection whatsoever to the acts in question, he would have been bogged into a debate about whether the acts officially crossed the line into terrorism, which a) sounds like he's being an apologist for them, which b) makes it sounds like he doesn't think they were actually so bad, and maybe even like he kinda agreed with them. Obama had to avoid this ground like the political plague it was. But would it have raised these same problems if Ayers himself had published this same column 2 months ago?

Probably. If swing voters would have read this article (or heard some bastardized sound bite of it) and gone "oh, he wasn't killing any real people, that's obviously not terrorism, why are you still going on about it then?" that would be one thing. But if his acts fill an ethical gray zone in the minds of politically moderate Americans then it would have framed the issue as "was Obama's guy a terrorist or just a criminal," which is way worse than the more realistic framing of "hey, Obama barely knew this guy, and guilt by association is a skeezy strategy anyway." So, I'm thinking, on balance Ayers did the right thing.

Friday, December 5, 2008

flipping ballots

I've seen it argued that if the Minnesota recount between Norm Coleman and Al Franken are within the statistical margin of error for ballot counting (which is small, but the gap between them may be even smaller), then they should flip a coin to decide who gets to be senator.

This just seems like extra work - if the ballot count is already within the margin of error, then it's already random which of them is winning, so why not go with the millions of ballots already flipped, rather than a single quarter? Is it just to acknowledge that the outcome is random so that whoever goes to Washington can't claim they have a mandate? But since when did anyone ever let that affect their votes anyway?

Flipin' 'eck.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Great Rudderless North

It's an international emergency, markets are exploding, people are being thrown out of work en masse, plutocrats are being forced to cut back to mere single silk linings to their napkin holders, and Canada's minority government is responding so badly that its radically disparate opposition have managed to find enough common cause to turf the bastards... And Rick Mercer, Canada's native genius gives a witty summary, yaaay.

So now still-prime-minister Harper has persuaded the GG to carry out a legal hijinck to suspend parliament for 2 more months so it can't be used till then to depose him. Which doesn't seem so bad (2 months to plan for how to handle being prime minister in the midst of an economic crisis may even be a good thing), except that... you know, the economic crisis is hitting NOW, and it might be a good idea to have someone steering the ship more... what's the word I'm looking for... 'nowish'. And the GG signed off on this move why? Because saying 'no' would have made waves she was probably scared to deal with. Some day they will make a "profiles in courage" series, about someone else.

So the ship of state has busted into a field of icebergs, the hull is getting bashed and scratched, water is leaking in left and right, and a fist fight has broken out in the cabin over who gets the steering wheel. And what has the captain done? With steely preschool-honed instincts, he has locked everyone out of the cabin for the next 2 months so that nobody can take the hat away from with all the fancy braiding on it. Oh Canada, you inspire such confidence Rick Mercer.


I think I've just figured out some research stuff that is a) totally central to what I've been studying for ages now, and b) has been bugging me for ages.

It's like I've been wandering around for the past 6 months, waving a cone around folornly, and I just found the double-deep freezer of mint chocolate chip cookie dough lemon sorbet. Wheeeeeee!!!!!!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

business jargon, is there nothing it can't do?

Tapped report that:
Today's great blog debate: Is "soft power" really an appropriate term for describing non-military power? Matt Yglesias thinks it needs to be retired. Kevin Drum suggests some alternative terms. Steve Benen recalls Ezra's observation earlier this year that it's the second term that's really the problem, not the first. Perhaps it's best to use "influence." After all, that's what we're talking about, right -- the ability of the United States to influence others without the threat of the military?
I can't believe they're trying to rebrand their political jargon. But if you want to go that route, what about "influence equity."

Prop 8 the musical.

Funny or die made a funny. Which is lucky because while it might have been worth it for some of the other celebs here, it has Neil Patrick Harris in it, and if he died, the loss to western civilization would be incalculable.

They have more Jack Black videos too

Seriously, you couldn't calculate the loss.

H/T First Draft

I'm not sorry I robbed you. Let's just not talk about it

Republicans are insisting that their various crimes (spying on Americans, torturing prisoners, gutting habeas corpus, politicizing the justice department, etc) not be investigated now they've lost power, because doing so would be "divisive."

That's 100% backwards. Committing crimes is divisive, sunshine and investigation of those crimes is healing. It's time for them to grow up and take responsibility for their actions and at least some of the damage that they have caused. I thought Republicans were supposed to be in favor of people paying the price for their crimes. They're practically famous for it.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Overthrow your government! (Canadian style).

Attention Americans! There is a situation north of your border. Power may be changing hands 2 weeks AFTER people thought an election had settled everything. Here's the deal:

step 1: Firearms!
Make sure you have them all registered, you don't want any potential criminal marks on your record before you start this

Step 2: Get enough peeps elected.
See, in Canada you don't vote for a president or a prime minister (even though we actually have one of the latter), you just vote for your local MP (Member of Parliament - y'know, boring... let's call it 'Masta Pimp'), then all the elected MP's go to join up with their parties (heck, gangs) in Ottawa. Whichever gang has the most MPs gets to make their leader the PM (lets say, Pimp Masta). Sometimes MP's change gangs mid-season, sometimes they declare they selves (hey, I like this) independent. Shit happens, and it's all wild and cool until the next election comes and they have to go back to their riding (honestly, that's what we call electoral districts, the name comes pre-pimped) and kiss some ass babies to get re'lected.

Step 3: Work the (strictly non-freudian) levers of power.
So right now the blue gang (aka "Conservatives," aka "party of unmitigated evil") are the biggest of the lot, and their leader, a dork called Stephen Harper, is the PM. But everyone else is upset at their failure to handle the economic crisis sick of their weak ass shit, and the two next biggest gangs - the oranges (aka NDP) and reds (aka "liberals"... yeah, it's not considered a dirty word in Canada. In yo face biatches) - who have more MPs playas between them than the conservatives, and are getting together to take things over.
Step 4: Blow some shit up...
which in Canada we do with some hard ass, heavy hitting... eh, voting. Yes, this is a country where the revolution comes not stealthily in the night, but is announced well ahead of time so it can be properly scheduled in the correct legislative body. Word!

So once the gummint loses a vote of no confidence they are officially out on their lily executive branch asses. The GG (Governor General - who job is to stand in for the queen when she ain't in the hood) gets to decide what happens next. See, it's good to be the queen: you get pretty much complete power to do anything you want, at all, without anybody being able to stop you, on the sole condition that you never use any of that power. Yeah.

So the blues plan to tell the GG that she should call a new election (2 weeks after the last one just ended!), but the red and orange gangs will tell her, "yo, queen substitute biatch, we now be a alliance. Maybe, tha "Mitigated Good Alliance". Ya, good name. Anyway, we has tha most playaz, so make us da PM now." Not in those exact words, obviously, but close enough. And if the GG agrees, then the new PM will probably be the red gang's leader, a dork called Stephan Dion.

Step 5: Rulez baby!
Sweet! You are now the boss. And it ain't just passing votes (which you coulda done anyways), you're appointing senators, you're making your pet iguana ambassador to Denmark, you're issuing executive orders, hiring and firing watchdawgs, and cruising the mean streets of Ottawa Ontario like it ain't no thang. It's a paahtay on parliament hill, yo, and who bringing tha mineral water?

Update: So now the Conservatives (aka Tories) are claiming that this whole move is undemocratic. Yeah, because all those people who elected that majority of non-Tory MP's *totally* did so hoping that their party wouldn't get into power. :headdesk::headdesk:

Monday, December 1, 2008

How I stopped worrying and learned to love paying for the scalpel

In the third presidential debate this year, the candidates were asked if health care was a right or a responsibility. Obama went for the former, McCain the latter.

My acid test on this had been:

"Can you imagine a situation in which a person has been so careless in socking away money that doctors should put their implements aside and just let them die?"

If your answer is 'no' then you see health care as a right, and if your answer is 'yes' then you are a psychopath.*

That's what I used to think, but after all these years in the States I've changed my mind and come to see the beauty in the "best health care system in the world." Yes! I've come to realize that the market is the only truly efficient means of distributing precious resources, and what is the care of expensively trained doctors if not a precious resource?

So to prove the point, I'll put my money where my mouth is. I've saved up a bit of cash of late, and have decided to splurge on a cancer! Not a really expensive one, obviously, like a brain cancer, but something affordable that can still deliver solid consumer value. I've shopped around a few of the local quacks (ha ha, medical humor!), and have been quoted some very affordable rates for extracting a tumor from my foot, or maybe an arm. One surgeon who, I must say, had a particularly warm and friendly staff (and the most beautiful waiting room I've ever seen) offered me an excellent deal on an excision off the back of a hand. I'm not sure I'd feel great about a scar there, but he had a far more comfortable air than some of the other doctors I talked to, and say what you will, but service is important. I feel like I could really have a beer with that guy, or something.

My fiance says we should spend the money on getting cable TV instead, but, as I always say, if you don't have your health care you don't have anything at all. It's a toughie, but I feel more efficient already. Anyway, I'll let you all know. And heck, maybe I'll have a great experience and will be able to recommend it as a way to spend your nest egg too.

* American health care apologists will point out that their emergency rooms are legally obliged to treat anyone who walks in their doors. But nothing prohibits them from charging said person, at their moment of life-and-death distress, hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars. And charge they do. So does it change your math if instead of "die," I substitute "ruin financially for the rest of their life"? I still hold that only a psychopath could agree.

Ship of fools

What wondrous sights and sounds are to be beheld when a journalist plunges into the secret hidden world of a cruise ship trip organized by a conservative American organization? read it all:

They rush through the Rush-list of liberals who hate America, who want her to fail, and I ask them – why are liberals like this? What's their motivation? They stutter to a halt and there is a long, puzzled silence. "It's a good question," one of them, Martha, says finally. I have asked them to peer into the minds of cartoons and they are suddenly, reluctantly confronted with the hollowness of their creation. "There have always been intellectuals who want to tell people how to live," Martha adds, to an almost visible sense of relief. That's it – the intellectuals! They are not like us. Dave changes the subject, to wash away this moment of cognitive dissonance. "The liberals don't believe in the constitution. They don't believe in what the founders wanted – a strong executive," he announces, to nods. A Filipino waiter offers him a top-up of his wine, and he mock-whispers to me, "They all look the same! Can you tell them apart?" I stare out to sea. How long would it take me to drown?

h/t Balloon-juice