Saturday, March 31, 2012

Louisiana Red


Louisiana Republican Attorney General Buddy Caldwell told Think Progress how much he hates Obamacare:
I trust the government more than insurance companies. If the government wants to put forth a policy where they will pay for everything and you won’t have to go through an insurance policy, that’d be a whole lot better.
Hey, Buddy, where were you when your party needed you? That's such a great idea!*

*Scalia wouldn't even be able to call it unconstitutional. Wait, yes he would. But he'd feel funny about it.

 The real Louisiana Red, Iverson Minter, 1932-2012. (He just passed away last month.)

Friday, March 30, 2012

Cheap shots and chasers 3/30

In Eric Cantor's high school yearbook picture (h/t Kaili Joy Gray) he was already wearing his trademark sneer:
Doesn't it remind you of your mother saying, "Keep making that face and it's going to freeze that way." In Cantor's case it actually happened!*

*The yearbook quote is from Victor Herbert's 1905 hit Mlle. Modiste, text by Henry Blossom. You think young Eric might have been in a high school production, as the crotchety Uncle Henri? Sure wouldn't be where the sneer came from, though.


Non-cognitive Elites

Via Balloon Juice, that's what the National Organization for Marriage is recruiting for the permanent campaign to keep marriage just like it is in the Bible, except with a couple of differences (for instance, nobody will be required to shtup his widowed older sister-in-law to provide her with sons to hold onto her share of the estate, as happened to poor Onan in Genesis 38:8-10*). NOM is looking for
a community of artists, athletes, writers, beauty queens and other glamorous non-cognitive elites...
John Cole thinks they mean stupid people, as in elites whose glamor is not connected to their cognitive capacities, but when I read it I think of Zombies!
Desperate zombie housewife. From Freakingnews.com.
*This story is really more outrageous than I remembered it, featuring YHWH at his inexplicably ill-tempered Kafka-father worst. Jacob's son Judah has a son called Er whom he marries off to a girl named Tamar, but when the kid commits some unspecified wickedness the Lord has him killed. Then Judah assigns the second brother, Onan, to provide Tamar with children, but the latter has obvious reasons for not wanting his dead brother to have heirs, so whenever he "goes in" to her he "spills his seed upon the ground". Whereupon the Lord has him killed as well. There's a third brother, Shelah, but Judah is beginning to see a discouraging pattern here, so he tells her the boy is too young and sends her back to her father's house to wait until he's older. Some time—possibly years—later, after Judah's own wife has died, he's on a sheep-shearing visit to Timnah when Tamar plants herself on the road disguised as a prostitute and tricks him into impregnating her. Not having recognized her, when he hears that his daughter-in-law has gotten pregnant he's about to have her executed when she proves to him that he's the father ("OMG, that babe on the road to Timnah was you?") and he has to take her and her twin boys in, though he does not lie with her a second time. The first twin, Perez, is the ancestor of King David, whose married life was likewise not exactly on the Santorum-approved model.

Quote from a campaign commercial (audio here: and you have to listen, there are errors in the transcript) by then candidate, now governor, Susana Martínez of New Mexico:
Criminals take advantage of weak laws by giving driver's licenses to illegal immigrants. As governor, that will not happen.
There's a lot of linguistic weirdness packed into a small space here. A straight parse of the first sentence suggests that the giving of licenses is a kind of technique for taking advantage of those unidentified laws, not the goal of it. And since her aim is to get rid of the laws that allow the DMV (i.e., not criminals) to give licenses to illegal immigrants, that's a very peculiar way to describe them.

But licenses for illegal immigrants are popular in New Mexico, and the legislature has refused to dump them three times. My guess would be that her story is just a spurious "problem" like voter fraud; that there are fewer criminally-provided licenses in illegal immigrant hands—since they can get legal ones—than there are New Mexico teenagers with fake birthdates. The grammatical twisting, though, makes it just all the harder to understand what she's up to, you're too busy translating it to hear it critically.

But the best bit is the other sentence, with its illustration of that special psychopathy of the Republican in authority, who has never entirely made it out of that infantile phase where self and other blend into one. After the election, she seems to be saying, the governor won't exactly be her; the governor will simply be, and the situation will be different.
From Psyblog UK.

Best historical commentary that was never made:  When Zhou Enlai said of the French Revolution that it was "too soon to say". It turns out, according to Chas Freeman, who was there, he was only talking about the upheavals of 1968. Freeman added that
 the misinterpretation “was too delightful to set straight” at the time.
Which I totally understand. If I have a beef it's that he ended up telling the truth after all. It's still too soon!
Mai '68: Les libertés ne se donnent pas. From Chroniques rebelles.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

West of Eden

I just learned from Wikipedia that the Latter-Day Saints hold the Garden of Eden to have been located in Jackson County, Missouri, right around Independence. After the Flood, when Noah's family ended up in Mesopotamia, they named the local rivers Tigris and Euphrates and whatnot to remind themselves of back home in America, as a later generation of Americans would name bits of the New World after Utica and Montevideo and Cairo.*
Title page of Basilius Besler's Hortus Eystettensis (1613). From the Chicago Botanic Garden website.

Also about the genius crank and sometime small-time rock idol David Rohl, who places it in eastern Iran, in the plain below the Caucasus near Tabriz, a more fragrant and evocative theory to this old helpless Orientalist (I normally manage to hold this disgracefully [jump]

*Which they obviously didn't, come to think of it; they named all these towns after places they had never been and of which they cannot have had any very precise ideas. I mean, not Plymouth or Boston perhaps, but Alexandria? Lebanon, PA?

A hand on the tiller, another in the till

That old Bain Capital (Wall Street Journal, via ThinkProgress) when Willard Mitt Romney was running it was such a sweet place to work, always thinking of the employees—especially the CEO. When they acquired a new company they'd issue special "high-risk" shares that you could dump in your IRA, where they would magically increase to as much as almost 600 times their original value, with any and all taxes deferred as the funds grew or as you reinvested them somewhere else:
Wall Street Journal, 28 March 2012
So Willard himself in this way amassed an IRA of $100 million, which is some basket of eggs. But doesn't every silver lining have a cloud? Now if he wants to withdraw that money it counts as income, not capital gains, and he'll have to pay a top marginal tax rate of 35%—just like ordinary people have to do with their money! Talk about adding insult to injury, this is doing it at compound rates!

Just sickening what a job creator has to go through these days, isn't it? No wonder he's so anxious to reform the system.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Call for signatures

Avaaz is asking for a million signatures on a campaign to save the desperately endangered rhinoceros species of Africa.
Southern African white rhino. From Wikimedia Commons.
Click here.

Live free AND die!

From last night's Jay Leno (h/t ThinkProgress):
ROMNEY: Well, if they are 45 years old and they show up and say I want insurance because I have heart disease, it’s like, ‘Hey guys. We can’t play the game like that. You’ve got to get insurance when you are well and then if you get ill, you are going to be covered. [...]
Hey, that's the individual mandate argument, isn't it? Well, no, it can't be, because Romney's against the individual mandate, except in Massachusetts, of course, where it's the coolest thing since sliced bread. No, this is the argument against insuring persons with pre-existing conditions. This is why they're against the individual mandate: because under that system if you don't get insurance you just have to pay a fine, whereas this way if you don't get insurance it kills you. It's the American way!
Or maybe you could go left...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Constitutionally incapable

There was the strangest little panic swarm of emoprogs—I think—over at Kos this morning, around an extremely well-made guide by Armando to today's Supreme Court arguments. They all seemed to have just heard for the first time about the Republican theory of the individual health insurance mandate being unconstitutional because what part of the interstate commerce clause says government can force everybody to buy stuff? and to have been totally taken in by it, thunderstruck and terrorized.
Schrödingers Katze. By Niklas Pix Bodin, at Kunstnet.

It could be one of those beyond-left-and-right things I'm too old to understand, where there's some similarity that escapes me between bombing Afghan wedding parties and providing universal health insurance; but then they seemed to have a pretty weak understanding of the Constitution—one of them wrote,
Bill of Rights Was not part of original Constitution. Any understanding of Congressional limits has to apply pre-amendment
under the apparent impression that the amendments were just added to confuse us; and another,
There has to be a rational basis for all laws.  Unless a state or the federal government can articulate one, the law is unconstitutional
which is a remarkable theory indeed.

Anyhow, it struck me that this is another of those crypto-Heisenbergian cases where we may be observing things faster than they are actually happening, in ways that could tend to have unpredictable effects on the way they turn out.

Indeed, as the day wore on, it was fun to watch the interpretations bend, starting with this morning's inexplicable Times fluff piece on Randy Barnett, the originator of the most idiotic argument against the mandate (that Congress has no power to "regulate inactivity") biasing the punters in his favor (they're thinking, if Cheryl Gay Stolberg and Charlie Savage both take him seriously, won't Kennedy take him seriously too?).  Through the afternoon, the pro-mandaters were sinking gradually into despair, as Kennedy seemed to vibrate, so to speak, at a Barnettian frequency, but by the end of the day Think Progress had found a classically sour liberal compromise between hope and rage: Kennedy was going to vote for the mandate, they figured, but for completely wrong reasons.

But the Times is still dubious as bedtime approaches, and wonders whether there's a plan B. My plan B is, we know it's constitutional for the government to force people to buy insurance if it's government-run insurance (unemployment, workmen's comp, Medicare,  social security), so if Justice Kennedy really wants us to go with the German plan, that's fine with me. Bend that observer's paradox my way!

 Plus a cheery goodnight from Brian Beutler at TPM.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Education, higher and lower

Welcome to your New York City Education Department, where they are developing what you might call political correctness for clowns:
In an effort to eliminate potential "unpleasant emotions" among students, the New York Department of Education has placed a ban on mentions of "birthdays," "dinosaurs," "Halloween," and "dancing," in city-issued tests, the New York Post reports. (h/t Huffington Post)

Relief of School Scene, late 2nd c. CE. Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Trier.
This isn't your idea of eliminating test bias in favor of well-off white students, alas. This is just idiocy;
the mandate is meant to curb fear that references to those topics might stir controversy among students. Dinosaurs, officials said, could bring up evolution, Halloween could suggest paganism, and birthdays might create animosity among students who are Jehovah's witnesses, since they don't celebrate them.
CBS New York reports the word "poverty" is also not allowed, as "words that suggest wealth" might cause some students to feel excluded.... The department is also banning mentions of "divorce" and "disease," in case students have loved ones who are separated or suffering from an illness. "Slavery" is also flagged and "terrorism" is considered too scary.

And in tertiary education news, remember the ransom extracted from college students by the House Republicans last summer in return for allowing the national debt ceiling to be raised? Eliminating subsidized loans for graduate and professional students, and eliminating incentive programs for graduates to pay their loans back on time?

Remember that they decided to change the calculation of eligibility for Pell grants so you only qualify for maximum aid with a family income of $23,000 or less, instead of $32,000? And so on up the line, disqualifying hundreds of thousands of students altogether? A-and a cap of 12 semesters per student? Remember the fixed rate on Stafford loans, 3.4% since 2007, is scheduled to go back up to 6.8% on July 1 if Congress doesn't do something.

Hey, remember Occupy?

All these disastrous changes are effective in July (h/t jonnym at Kos). Obama has always had great ideas for federal student loan programs, but they mostly depend on a congress that doesn't respond; meanwhile, though, Bloomberg informs us today that
With $67 billion of student loans in default, the Education Department is turning to an army of private debt-collection companies to put the squeeze on borrowers. Working on commissions that totaled about $1 billion last year, these government contractors face growing complaints that they are violating federal laws by insisting on stiff payments, even when borrowers’ incomes make them eligible for leniency.
This information needs to spread around. I can't believe Obama and most House members of both parties want to go into the election without doing something about this, but I guess the Tea Party caucus, now apparently the Santorum caucus, represents voters who don't think people ought to go to college.
Remember this?
Back when I was obsessed with John Boehner, and his inability to do his job, I meant to say but never did that what Obama really needs to do is find some procedural way of not needing him—like naming a Republican prime minister who could call on support for some modest legislation from Democrats and those Republicans susceptible to the idea of being sane—I bet Eric Cantor would gladly take the job, he's greedy and dishonest enough, but I'm imagining somebody kind of like Boehner but capable of keeping his word, one of those old Rotary Club–type Republicans, lovers of earmarks and little constituent favors and whiskey, who still believe in voters, conservative or whatever. You mean there aren't any?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Criminally reckless abuse of folk wisdom

Is there a statute that covers that?

Last week Richard Cohen retold a quaint story in the Washington Post: Rabbi saves x many Jewish lives from a tyrant by promising the tyrant that if he leaves these Jews alone the rabbi will teach the tyrant's dog to talk, within a year. Rebbitzin reproaches him: "How are you going to do that? We'll all be killed!" Rabbi replies, "Well, a lot of things could happen in a year; the tyrant could die, or I could die... Or maybe the dog could start talking?"
Dog that looks like a lawyer. From freethinker.co.uk, and you should check out the link because there's a story attached to it.

Now, you will note that the rabbi in this story does not propose to flush out the tyrant's underground Jew-murdering facilities with GBU-28s, or anything like that. But this is [jump]

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sunday breakfast links

If you're interested in the situation of the US education system, you need to read this: "a test you need to fail". It's short and sweet (really sweet) and says more in a few paragraphs than a dozen academic studies.
Clifton School House, Merritt Island, Florida, ca. 1890.
In Positive Economic Sign, Republicans Starting to Say Obama Wasn’t Born in US Again

I often confuse Andy Borowitz with the Onion and think once I've seen the headline I have the whole joke already, but this is not necessarily the case: this one just kept getting deeper.

Also, if you care about Chinese workers who make Apple products and Mike Daisey who reported on them for This American Life and then had to withdraw the report and Ira Glass sort of went Oprah on him on the air and... No, it actually doesn't matter whether you care about all of them as long as you've just heard about them, and you can even be fairly vague about that, then you should read the text of an interview between Ira Glass and Rumproast's Gil Mann that won't be going on the radio. (No, because it's imaginary.)

Granary, privy, and schoolhouse in Matanaka, Waikouaiti, New Zealand (near Dunedin, South Island). The oldest extant rural buildings in New Zealand.

MosesZD in comments at Balloon Juice adverted to a 2007 story about the economist Rick Nevin, who argued on the basis of some incredibly persuasive data that the ups and downs of crime rates in the United States have had nothing to do with Rudolph Giuliani--it's all about lead poisoning, with the declining crime of the last couple of decades connected to the elimination of lead from automobile fuel. A more recent paper updating the data to nearly the present and the new frontier of lead abatement by replacing windows is here.
Schoolhouse Rocked by Avenger41. Fan art by Videl Gohan.



Rum, Romanism, and Ridiculous

Something else I called attention to a while back (in mid-January) is the curious relationship developing on the US right between the Roman Catholic hierarchy and our ancient Know-Nothing community, which traditionally identified the Pope as Antichrist and Rome as the Scarlet Woman who rides that seven-headed beast in the book of Revelation.
The Whore of Bablylon. From Sacred Texts.

Now the Times religion columnist, Samuel G. Freedman, has caught onto the same thing, with a very interesting nuance that has apparently been showing up in the primaries: while Evangelical Protestants have adopted Rick "Sanctum" Santorum as the standard-bearer of "religious" conservatism, Catholics haven't—Catholic Republicans are mostly voting for Romney. Freedman comments, primly,
Through a critical reading of the data, Mr. Santorum’s base of evangelical Protestants and conservative Catholics could be seen by cynics as a coalition of zealots, held together by intolerance. By another way of thinking, however, his candidacy offers proof of a growing tolerance on the part of evangelical Christians, a willingness to shed ancestral religious prejudices.
And then the Catholics who won't vote for Santorum are more tolerant still? (They are voting for somebody who believes God has plural wives, except, of course, for the Democrats, whose tolerance is not under discussion.) Forgive me, but if you think it's a big deal that evangelicals now recognize white Catholics as white people, I realize that wasn't always true, but color me less than impressed—I think Freedman's cynic idea works better.

Airborne Elephant Watch: Egypt

Today's visitation from the things that go bump in Thomas P. Friedman's night is our old friend the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, whose officials are telling the Times that they have been telling their daughter organization Hamas to moderate its stances a bit and try to find more common ground with the atheist Fatah, by way of forming more of a common front in negotiations with Israel.
Elephant rope dancing. From Percy J. Billinghurst, A Hundred Anecdotes of Animals (London, 1901).
Brotherhood officials say that they are pulling back from their previous embrace of Hamas and its commitment to armed struggle against Israel in order to open new channels of communications with Fatah, which the Brotherhood had [jump]

Friday, March 23, 2012

Cheap shots and chasers 3/23

Willard Mitt Romney on electric cars (I think):
We all like wind and solar, but you can’t drive a car with a windmill on it.
Actually gas is just as bad. We tried putting an oil refinery on top of our old car, but then there was no room for the dog. How about ammonia, though?

Los Angeles. Photo by Daughter Number Three.
Bishop trivia:
The Bishop of Vienna from 1541 to 1552 was named Friedrich Nausea, a latinization of the original German family name, Grau (from grauen, to inspire dread, and cognate with the root of English gruesome). In 1551 he went to the Council of Trent, where he stood proudly for the congregation taking Holy Communion in both kinds and revocation of the rule of priestly celibacy, but died there without making it home. In 1897, they named a street in the Ottakring after him, Nauseagasse.
Friedrich Nausea, from Austria-Lexikon.
OMG, he literally broke Breitbart's heart!

I can't blame you if you don't remember, but a couple of weeks ago I said something about how a movie about James O'Keeffe would have to be one of those teen implausible-schemes-for-getting-laid farces? This turns out to be so much truer than I could possibly have imagined! Down to the date-rape drugs and purloined panties to show the guys!

Click the link to get the full story, but I want to note that in his suit to prevent the publication of the emails documenting his antics, he alleges
The Information further includes proprietary ideas for future video work and e-mail communication of a highly private nature including those concerning Plaintiffs romantic relationships. Plaintiffs statements on Twitter claim that the material is so provocative that it caused Andrew Breitbart to suffer a fatal heart attack.
Attaturk got the scoop on this yesterday, the swine. My version has more emotional depth, though.

I Led One and a Half Lives


Our NYPD at work, insinuating itself into the company of some suspiciously pious college students with suspiciously healthy ideas of what to do for fun. From documents of the undercover surveillance of area Muslims put on line by AP, via ThinkProgress, the adventures of one intrepid agent.

Fiendish, those Muslims, aren't they, orchestrating and stuff?

I love how the agent's training seems to have made him aware that the number of times per day you pray is significant in Islam, but not what the actual number is.

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Wouldn't by any chance be an elephant...?


I hadn't realized that Syrians in opposition to the murderous government are still bravely coming out for regularly scheduled Friday demonstrations, today's under the slogan "Damascus, here we come."

Protests in Tripoli, Syria. Photo by AFP from Dawn.
The protests are going on all over the country, in spite of snipers and helicopter buzzing, in the most dangerous and already beat up places as well as Damascus itself, where something like a thousand people are doing something like Occupying the capital tonight, according to the BBC, after marching up King Faisal Street chanting, "Peaceful, peaceful, God, Syria, Freedom."

The situation seems horrible beyond horrible. The number killed has now mounted up to 9100, as if Assad were directly competing against his father (the famous 10,000 butchered at Hama in 1982) for a record of some kind. I can't imagine anything from the outside that could help, further sanctions or (illegal) military action, although the kinds of support provided across the border from Turkey are surely a lot better than nothing. Assad yesterday said he would consider dumping the 1963 emergency laws and will put some of the thugs from Deraa, where the movement began just a year ago, on trial; and is said to have ordered the freeing of everyone arrested during the "recent events", whatever "recent" means, but that's just in the BBC as far as I can tell. The protestors are still getting arrested and shot at, and serious warfighting is going on as well.

The image above caught my eye as something that might startle Thomas P. Friedman: the Israeli and Iranian flags as the Syrian rebellion sees them, to be burned as practically interchangeable symbols of oppression.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Retroactionary Watch

Updated 3/23

Thers found a gorgeous case in a column by Thomas Sowell which starts off from an old newspaper column reminding him how good the persons of color had it back in Ronald Reagan's day:
One of the front-page headlines said: "White-Black Disparity in Income Narrowed in 80's, Census Shows."
The 1980s? Wasn't that the years of the Reagan administration, the "decade of greed," the era of "neglect" of the poor and minorities, if not "covert racism"? [jump]
Salvador Dali, Voltaire, 1940. From Art History Videos.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hyperrisible

I don't normally have a reason to mention television here, or even to watch it, but there is a lunatic soap opera that I sort of watch with my as yet somewhat teenaged daughter called Pretty Little Liars, featuring four high school girls dressed like society matrons (the skinny kind) who have been persecuted for some time by cell phone messages and other communications signed A, the pseudonym masking the identity of a cruel and demented supervillain who seems [jump]

Monday, March 19, 2012

Language Abuse Watch--Clerical department

I didn't realize that the Roman Catholic prohibition against contraception was any older than the creepy Victorian gimcrackery of the Immaculate Conception, but in fact the theological basis for it has been around forever. St. Thomas Aquinas, in the Summa contra Gentiles, explains it thus:
God has care of everything according to that which is good for it. Now it is good for everything to gain its end, and evil for it to be diverted from its due end. But as in the whole so also in the parts, our study should be that every part of man and every act of his may attain its due end. Now though the semen is superfluous [jump]
German chess bishop, 14th-15th c., British Museum. From the Game of Kings exhibition, Cloisters, 2011.

Call for signatures

The story of Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old Florida kid, African American of course, who was shot dead by a Neighborhood Watch vigilante on 26 February, gets more and more horrible and indefensible with each passing day: see this. You can ask Florida's attorney general to do something about it by signing here.


Friday, March 16, 2012

Cheap shots and chasers 3/16

Santorum lets out his inner Islamofascist:
Santorum had the opportunity to make an uninterrupted case, calling out Newt Gingrich for two-timing the Republican party in a 2008 anti-global warming video (“I didn’t sit on a couch with any other woman. I sit on a couch with my wife, not Nancy Pelosi.”)
He's accusing the Newtster of khalwat!

Two Lovers, by Reza Abbasi, 1630 (A.H. 1039). Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Republican physics:

Avant-garde opinionist James Poulos, doing some classically styled concern trolling for the President's poll numbers during the 15 minutes or so that it looked as if he was losing this week:
Inertia — the tendency of an object to resist any change in its motion — is the momentum of incumbency, and inertia favors the president right now, on the economy, on foreign policy, even on the deficit.
Also, centrifugal force is the Republican gravity--I picked that up from David Brooks.
Recycled from comments at Rumproast.

Inertia demonstration. From Educational Technology Clearinghouse, Florida.

Panty-sniffing is the fifth freedom:
Arizona House Bill 2625, authored by Majority Whip Debbie Lesko, R-Glendale, would permit employers to ask their employees for proof of medical prescription if they seek contraceptives for non-reproductive purposes, such as hormone control or acne treatment.
I believe we live in America. We don’t live in the Soviet Union,” Lesko said. 
Oh, right—in the Soviet Union only the government was supposed to pry into your personal life. Here, your boss is free to do it too. That's why he loves this country!



 

Hoist on their own canard

It's a sign that you're getting a little too concerned with secrecy when you start hiding things from yourself. From Politico via Jesselyn Radack at Kos:
At a hearing last month, prosecutors in the case against Pfc. Bradley Manning noted that they didn't receive [important emails from the judge and defense] but could not explain why. Chief prosecutor Capt. Ashden Fein said at a hearing Thursday that the messages had been "blocked by a spam filter for security." However, it fell to defense attorney David Coombs to explain precisely why the e-mails about evidence issues in the Manning case never made it.
"Apparently, they were blocked because the word 'WikiLeaks' was somewhere in the e-mail," Coombs said.
Because they didn't get the emails, they didn't turn over documents to the defense that they were supposed to turn over, or explain why they didn't want to turn them over. The fail is bad enough, according to Radack, that Coombs feels entitled to move for dismissal of all the charges.
From The City of Secrets: Nashville's Temple Code Unveiled.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Make it one for my baby...

Just in from Science (via the New York Times):
Offer a male fruit fly a choice between food soaked in alcohol and its nonalcoholic equivalent, and his decision will depend on whether he's mated recently or been rejected by a female. Flies that have been given the cold shoulder are more likely to go for the booze, researchers have found. It's the first discovery, in fruit flies, of a social interaction that influences future behavior.
Yes, it is speculated that human males may do something similar.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A winkle in time

Winkles may sleep for a period as long as three years. From Proceedings of the Ever So Strange.

Digby spotted a great retroactionary quote from Michael O'Hanlon, in a 2008 discussion of remarks made by Sarah Palin, and in defense of her deep understanding of foreign policy:
Also her speech yesterday about going over to defend us against those who committed the attacks of 9/11, to troops headed for Iraq, is also correct because in fact al Qaeda is in Iraq now, even if it wasn’t then.
Not that Digby actually uses the word "retroactionary", but she knows intuitively that the passage needs some mocking attention, and that's why she bolded it.

O'Hanlon provides a more sophisticated example of the retroactionary than the kind we've looked at up to now. He doesn't believe in a literally reverse time, in which the troops could be able to drive Al Qa'eda out of Iraq, return the country to the terrorist-free condition it was in in 2003, and raise the Twin Towers. He realizes it was the Al Qa'eda in Afghanistan that brought the towers down.

What he does, rather, is a reversal of causality in respect to time. By arriving in Iraq behind the Yankees, Ali Musab al-Zarqawi and his Qa'eda in Mesopotamia organization made themselves the cause of the fall of the towers, the tragedy the US forces were trying retroactively to prevent. It's no different, really, than the way Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson made themselves responsible for slavery in the U.S. by being Democrats...


They could also give up St. Barth's...


This is priceless, from Florida Republican Representative Cliff Stearns:
 we don’t need more national parks in this country, we need to actually sell off some of our national parks, and try and do what a normal family would do is — they wouldn’t ask Uncle Joe for a loan, they would sell their Cadillac, or they would take their kids out of private schools and put them into public schools to save to money instead of asking for their credit card to increase their debt ceiling. 
I'll leave it to others to evaluate the idea of selling off the national parks—what I want to note is Stearns's idea of what constitutes a normal family in the US: people who don't need a "safety net" because in a pinch they could do without the expensive car and the private schools, and in a real crisis there's always Uncle Joe.

These Republicans-in-the-hierarchy really can't understand that most people don't have those things, they can't imagine how it is that people get to be poor. Qu'ils mangent de la brioche!
Brioche tasting, from Le Figaro.
They could also give up St. Barth's, and take their vacation in a nice... parking lot, where Yellowstone used to be.

Failure of imagination, imagination of failure


I'm listening to the NPR staff racking their brains over the question of why the Afghan population isn't as a whole more upset over the ghastly massacre in Kandahar province than they were over the Qur'an burnings of last month—like, have the years of war just made them place less of a value on human life than we do? Are they just clinging to their Qur'ans and guns?

It seems pretty obvious to me that NATO forces are to blame for the massacre insofar as if they hadn't been there it wouldn't have happened, but not guilty beyond that; the soldier was plainly not following orders, he was out of his mind, amok. The Qur'ans, on the other hand, were coolly and deliberately detroyed by order—it was NATO's intention to burn them, and why was that? Why wouldn't the Afghans think it was meant maliciously? It's an occupying army, isn't it?

The conceptual error from NPR and the commentariat is their starting by thinking "Why are these people different from us?" Whereas you can come up with an answer by starting with the assumption that they aren't different; what's different is the point of view from which they are interpreting what they see—the point of view of a people under occupation.

It's a failure of empathy that goes right up the chain of command (past those generals who think Muslims are idolators to those who hold doctorates), and it causes a lot of problems. Of course if they started thinking that way they might start thinking the whole operation was doomed to failure no matter what they did, and I guess that wouldn't be very cool.
Mohammad Sabir Khedri, fourth from left, displays the biggest Quran in the world to Afghan officials at the Hakim Nasir Khosrow Balkhi library in Kabul, 17 January 2012. Photo by Reuters.

The curious case of the busted bunker busters (concluded)

Cornell Schrödinger Cat. From Amit Goswami.

A week after the 4 January inauguration of the new president, David Sanger offered Times readers one of those magisterial (I want to say deanly? diaconal?) big articles for which he is famed, collations of a wide range of anonymous leaks and a firm grounding in Received Opinion, this one on the subject of US-Israel relations over the past couple of years; focusing, as a matter of fact, on the case of the bunker busters: on a request Prime Minister Olmert [jump]

Monday, March 12, 2012

You can hear the whistle blow a hundred miles

There was an exchange between Josh Gerstein of Politico and Matthew Miller, former spokesman for the Holder Department of Justice on the question of whether the Obama administration has a policy of prosecuting government whistleblowers, or just leakers of classified information, mentioning Thomas Drake of the National Security Agency, who was certainly a whistleblower and certainly got prosecuted; Miller explained that it was now fairly clear that Drake was a bona fide whistleblower, because the prosecution failed to convict him of anything but a technical violation.

Drake, who certainly did not get off scot-free—he lost his job and his pension—responded at the Daily Kos with a number of comments, including this:
So under the Miller theory, if a defendant wins, they are a whistleblower, but until the government loses they are 'leakers' endangering the lives of soldiers and national security?
That's the point, isn't it? The "system worked" as they like to say, but it wasted an awful lot of DOJ time and money, not to mention a lot of the life of an authentic American hero. Why couldn't the prosecutors have known in advance that this was a bad case to bring?

Why couldn't they have seen, on the one hand, that his disclosures (of the NSA's illegal warrantless wiretapping and data mining programs) were made in the public interest, and on the other that the disclosures, made to congressional committees and government officials, were in any case protected communications under the Whistleblower Protection Act?

What do they think is the purpose of prosecuting leakers of government information, and how did they imagine it would apply in this case? I'll be getting back to this question and other areas in which the National Security State seems able to overrule the expressed convictions of that great presidential candidate Barack Obama in subsequent posts, but for the moment I just wanted to vent.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

The curious case of the busted bunker busters (continued)

The case of the busted bunker busters may turn out to be a case of that fascinating but elusive animal, the Political Observer's Paradox, in which the way you choose to observe a particular political phenomenon—whether you focus on its position at a particular point in time, or its velocity as it works its way through a particular set of spatial coordinates—can affect the way it comes out. But it's a pretty complicated matter, and we'll have to go into some background first.

The GBU-28 (Guided Bomb Unit 28), improperly known as "Deep Throat", and originally created by Texas Instruments and Lockheed but now manufactured by Raytheon, is a bunker buster: a hard-target laser-guided bomb developed during the First Gulf War in 1991 to penetrate the underground concrete bunkers in which the Iraqi command was thought to be hiding from Operation Desert Storm, 19 feet long and stuffed with something that makes it incredibly heavy, 5000 pounds.
Image from Wikimedia Commons.
It works, according to HowStuffWorks, like a gigantic nail shot from the gigantic nail gun of a B-52 or F-111, plummeting nose first toward its target and piercing through 100 feet of soil or 20 [jump]

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The curious case of the busted bunker busters


Bowling Bombs. From Freaking News.
One of the more arcane bits of controversy arising from last week's visit from Binyamin Netanyahu to Washington is the question of whether anything happened on the issue of the so-called bunker buster bombs made in America (Lockheed) for which Netanyahu yearns, as something that could be used to blow up Iran's underground nuclear facilities, should he find it necessary to do that.

It started for me at one or another digital hangout where a mildly paranoid participant was frantically informing people that Obama had decided to equip Netanyahu with all the bombs [jump]

Friday, March 9, 2012

What goes around comes home to roost, or something

Turnout in the Republican primaries is seriously low, Kos in person reports, and Dr. Newt Gingrich, million-dollar historian and famed verbal terrorist with the international Belgian colonialist conspiracy, thinks he knows why: it's that rotter Romney, or rather the SuperPac that isn't coordinated with him, I mean of course it isn't coordinated with any candidate—that would be against the law!—but it's more specially not coordinated with Romney than anybody else, Restore our Future (a terrific retroactionary name, by the way, with its evocation of a future that has become a little shabby and shopworn, so that we need to spiff it up somewhat before we carry it with us on our long march into the long ago).
Fire belly Newt. From IMproPRieTies.
Anyway, Gingrich says it is all the negative advertising that is driving the voters into staying home, and he may well be right (even a stopped clock etc.).  According to Wikipedia [jump]

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Call for signatures

You can sign an official WhiteHouse.gov petition here (h/t m50bing0 at Kos) asking the administration to pardon Bradley Manning of any and all crimes he may have committed in the course of liberating extremely important facts about the conduct of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan—and subsequently to back Manning's nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Before you start giggling, just step back a minute, and think. It's true that Manning is a somewhat comic figure, bewildered where Daniel Ellsberg was dashing, and especially after that third WikiLeaks dump, which was more about amusing gossip than information being held back to deceive the American people. It's partly the fault of the press, because that was the batch of documents that got them really excited. They quickly lost interest in the horrifying Collateral Murder video, showing our troops in Iraq murdering a Reuters employee from a helicopter like Sarah Palin after a wolf, and in the Afghan War Diary, 92,000 documents unveiling the criminality and the hopelessness of our situation in Afghanistan, but it was the quarter of a million US embassy cables that really got their attention, with their stories about high life around the dictators in Baku and Grozny, and news of European politicians saying nasty things about one another.

It is the first two items that really count, and if you think of the risks he knowingly ran, and the skill he brought to the job, and the more-or-less torture he has undergone since his capture, he really is indisputably a hero, and it's not that funny. Again, sign here.
From The Cult of the Dead Fish.


F for Effort

I saw Arne Duncan in the All-Stars celebrity match a couple of weeks ago, and I have to admit he looked spectacular. He could be the Bill Bradley of the 21st century--if he wasn't so damned dumb. And lacking in empathy.
Picture from Fox News Orlando, of all places.

Former "reformer" (i.e. privatizer and "accountability" hound) turned actual reformer (i.e., someone who wants to improve schools in the US) Diane Ravitch has prepared a report card for the secretary of education, in the New York Review. I think it's a little weird on her part to criticize Duncan for disrespecting the Tenth Amendment, the one that grants unmentioned rights to the states, on the grounds that he's pushing for a federal takeover of the system; in the first place he isn't, and in the second place I think we on the left would be wiser to let the Tenth Amendment alone.

It would be wiser to let the feds do what is needed under the General Welfare clause and stop doing what isn't needed. Some states need federal help; Texas needs help (and I mean tough love) in curriculum. No state needs help in figuring out how to let private industry suck more cash out of the education system, but I'd like to see them get some assistance in not doing it.

Other than that, it is a nicely packed summary of what our department of education has been up to in the last three years, and why it should stop. So click above and read it.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The origin of specious


Attorney General Eric Holder has finally come forward to explain how it's legal under certain circumstances for the President to order the killing of a US citizen, and it isn't very pretty. For the argumentation and a learned critique, I'll refer you to today's series of posts by EmptyWheel, starting maybe with this one, which lays out Holder's claim that the "due process" promised in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments doesn't necessarily need to be a judicial process, and then methodically demolishes it.

This frail and unfortunate effort at Jesuitical casuistry comes just as I'm arriving at peak position in the cycle of Obama fandom, which waxes and wanes for each of us according to factors variously seasonal and unpredictable, not all of which have been successfully identified, but does have something to do with what the President actually does, and the long trajectory across which his plans come to a sometimes surprising fruition.

One thing that has had me gasping with Obama-amazement is his skill in managing the Israel-Iran confrontation without openly hurting anybody's feelings; as Binyamin Netanyahu barks and blusters his way through his Washington engagements, Iran and the Powers decide to resume negotiations, and Iran sends out one of those "signals" by reversing the death sentence against another American "spy", Amir Mirzaei Hekmati.

And then it starts to become clear that the Affordable Care Act, bless its ambivalent heart, is really driving a stake through the heart of the vampire health insurance industry, in that unbearably gradual Obama tempo (in this metaphor, the rules on medical loss ratio would count as daylight, and preventive care without copays is garlic). Denying coverage has been their big engine of profit, and if they can't do it they are going to die, and a semi-public system built out of those exchanges,  the nonprofit private insurers, and Medicare is going to rise, almost of its own accord, to take their place.

And then the Justice Department comes up with this stupid argument. Go figure. I can't write the post I wanted to write at all.


Monday, March 5, 2012

He was farther out than you thought...

Updated 3/12/2012

As the Wall Street Journal reported it,
"what we need to talk about to defeat Barack Obama is getting good jobs and scaling back the size of government and that’s what I do,” Mr. Romney said in a campaign stop [in Canton] Monday morning.... “Other people in this race have debated about the economy, they’ve read about the economy, they’ve talked about it in subcommittee meetings, but I’ve actually been in it,” he said.
"Come on in," he shouted back to his friends on the shore, "the economy's fine!"

But seriously, what's this about? "Getting good jobs and scaling back the size of government and that's what I do"—Oh, yeah? And when does he do it, exactly? In the small hours, in his special black mask and cape and Californio hat? Has old Mitt been cutting back the size of your government? When you weren't looking? He certainly wasn't doing it in Massachusetts. He has always gotten pretty good good jobs, though, all three of them, and probably for his kids as well.
"Other people may have debated about zoology, they've read about zoology, they've talked about it in faculty meetings, but I've actually been in it!"
Update:
Yup—ponied up $10 million to help young Taggart break into the high-rolling investment world in 2008, with his campaign finance director as partner, and the object of the business to buy into equity funds managed by his contributors. Aren't these people precious!



Sunday, March 4, 2012

Presidents on parade


Snappy comebacks:

The German foreign minister, Guido Westerweile, said that President Aleksandr Lukashenko of Belarus was "Europe's last dictator." Lukashenko said, "It's better to be a dictator than gay." But how can he be sure?

But it's best to be the Prez.
From The Australian. Photo by AP.
Man up, Vova! Moscow doesn't believe in tears! (Not my line, alas, but too good to pass up. Apparently state TV actually broadcast the gorgeous old Brezhnev-era movie on election [jump]
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