Thursday, February 28, 2013

Those Darned Paperwork Errors

Someone named Nathan Smit is in a snit because he has picked up the idea that the rights of American citizens are under some kind of threat right now. This is because a Federally-licensed gun shop had to shut down because the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms decided, after an audit, to strip them of their license.

Something in that audit caused the Feds enough alarm to warrant taking this step; they shut down the gun shop precisely because those errors were egregious enough to survive an appeal that the owners of the gun shop weren't willing to file. Milan Hart wrote about how more guns will make American safer back in August; I disagree, but I don't disagree with his right to make a living selling guns.

My personal belief is this--every single small business owner in this country is struggling to survive right now, and shutting them down is not what the government should be doing unless there is a public health or safety issue or if that owner is a crook. I don't think they should have shut down Hart Brothers unless there was something really, really bad in there. They should have given them a chance to fix their issues and continue selling guns. But, I come down on the side of safety. If Southern Minnesota is safer by putting them out of business, then so be it.

So, no one should question Hart's right to sell guns or advocate on behalf of owning guns. It is perfectly legal for Americans to own guns and sell guns; but if you can't abide by Federal regulations when it comes to selling guns, then, like everyone else, you can expect to have to surrender your license. The fact that Hart was not fined or charged with anything (at least nothing has been mentioned in the news about such things) should tell you that the violations were not criminal in nature or severe. They were, however, severe enough to warrant losing the license.

Mr. Smit just wants to blow off steam and say something vague and Tea Party-ish about the Obama Administration. Apparently, during the Bush Administration years, Hart's business went through some audits as well. Perhaps the President of the United States is not so focused on shutting down a family-owned gun shop in rural Minnesota.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The State Department is the Department of Peace

This is too dumb for words:
House Democrats led by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) have introduced legislation that would create a federal Department of Peacebuilding, which would be tasked with everything from finding ways to scale back U.S. military actions to ending bullying at schools. 
Under her bill, H.R. 808, the new department would be led by a Cabinet-level Secretary of Peacebuilding, who would have a seat on the National Security Council. The department would be "dedicated to peacebuilding, peacemaking, and the study and promotion of conditions conducive to both domestic and international peace and a culture of peace." 
"This culture of violence that we live in is unacceptable," Lee said earlier this month. "On our streets and across the globe, the pervasive presence of violence has infected the lives of millions, and it is far past time we address it as a nation. 
"We invest hundreds of billions each year in the Pentagon, in war colleges, military academies, and our national defense universities all to develop war tactics and strategies," she said in a press release. "Now we need that kind of investment in peace and nonviolence here at home."
We have the Pentagon, war colleges, military academies, and national defense academies to defend this nation, not wage war. This is the most important lesson that the American people should have learned from the Iraq War: this nation should never go to war unless it has to go to war. Without professionals to defend the nation, the nation will fall. But, having said that, we can certainly cut our defense budget. I have no problem with that. But gutting the institutions that defend us won't save the country and it could wreck the economy. A gradual transfer of Federal spending on defense to other sectors is needed. Why not space exploration, science and technology for starters?

Dumping money into a new Federal agency is stupid; we need to eliminate the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence and reduce the size and scope of these agencies. We need to gradually draw the scope of these agencies back into realistic terms; having multiple levels of bureaucracy isn't keeping a single American safe.

Want to wage peace at home? Spend the money we would save eliminating thousands of redundant bureaucrats on hiring people to process claims for Veterans and care for Veterans. Shift the desire to do this:
Domestically, the department would be tasked with finding ways to reduce gun violence, violence against animals, gang and ethnic violence, and even bullying at schools. Internationally, the department would monitor global conflicts and propose ways to end them.
BACK to the people who need to do a better job. Fully fund efforts at the state and local level to prosecute people who abuse the right to own firearms, who abuse animals, who commit hate crimes, and who can't function in society. Creating a Federal bureaucracy on top of that will not solve a single one of these issues because they are, precisely and correctly, local issues for local law enforcement. And I say this as someone who has no problem with government as a whole.

That such a dumb idea would come out of the Democrats in Congress is painful to read. They need to move on issues that put people back to work; creating more jobs in Washington D.C. that overlap with the efforts of others is not going to get Americans throughout the country back to work.

The State Department, for example, is charged with waging peace in the world. Diplomatically or otherwise, this is how best to ensure that we are kept out of wars of foreign entanglement. Our bloated intelligence community needs to be reduced in size and scope and should be brought, kicking and screaming, into a partnership with the State Department to advance American interests through the peaceful use of diplomacy. You cannot have diplomacy without intelligence, and these two forces should be more closely aligned than they are right now.

The conservative movement in America set out, years ago, to hobble the State Department. John Kerry has been charged with undoing that damage; in the next four years, he has a real chance to show the world what American diplomacy and the pursuit of peace can look like in the future.

Richard Seymour Destroys Jamie Kirchick

If you are lusting after a thorough and detailed intellectual ass kicking, look no further than Richard Seymour's powerful response to Jamie Kirchick's weakly-argued "review" of Seymour's book on Christopher Hitchens. No one deserves a thrashing like Hitchens. He was the great public intellectual fraud of the first decade of this century. He should be mocked and reviled for the inaccuracy, the bigotry and the misogyny of his work.

First, go read Kirchick. THEN come back and read the rest of Seymour's response. Here is the part that greets the reader up front:
This reviewer, like every reviewer of Unhitched in the liberal media thus far, outs himself as a votary of the Hitchens personality cult. “Hitchens was a friend, mentor and neighbor of mine,” he writes, as if to reassure the reader of his objectivity in this matter. He is also, in the interests of fuller disclosure, a neoconservative writer for the Weekly Standard — just the sort of bargain basement intellectual company that Hitchens kept in his last decade. If Unhitched is written in the style of a “prosecution,” this review is an indictment.
Everything else falls into place after that shotgun blast to the chest.

The reason why it is important to puncture the myth of Christopher Hitchens is fairly obvious from the outset--he threw his lot in with the neoconservatives and ended up, at the end of his life, intellectually and morally bankrupt. You may wish for an ending where Hitchens redeemed himself but he did not. He died, his friends lamented his passing, and then, nothing. His death was an afterthought and continues to be so. People love to read about his views on death (the man could write quite well) and, why not? Here was a man who sneered at the things that killed him and then tried to wax eloquent about a situation he created for himself. The summation of it all should have been, "I shouldn't have given myself cancer. Damn."

When you think about it, why did anyone even bother with Hitchens after the debacle of his efforts to link Iraq with al Qaeda and ascribe a nuclear weapons program to the comically inept Hussein regime? Didn't he blow it, and blow it big, years before he finally died?

Were it not for Seymour's book, who would care? He not only kept company with the "bargain basement" intellectuals of that crowd but he enabled them to use him as a cudgel against the left and against holding the correct positions--the inherently American positions--during our never-ending War on Terror.

Let us not forget that puncturing the myth of Hitchens has been going on for some time:
In this context, his screed on Gore Vidal is merely yet another example of Hitchens’s escalating propensity to project his own increasingly vast distance from reality onto those who object to his war-mongering. It is not Gore who has ‘taken a graceless lurch toward the crackpot’, in the unabashed words of Vanity Fair’s introduction to Hitchens’s outburst. Rather, it is Hitchens who has become after 9/11 an unhinged and deranged cheerleader for Total War. After Gore, Hitchens would have himself anointed ‘emperor’. But it is Hitchens, not the indefatigable Gore Vidal, who staggers and stumbles, shamelessly exposed, screaming nonsensically, through the streets of the American capital.
Who was more correct about the War on Terror as a whole? Hitchens or Gore Vidal?

For me, there's no discussing Hitchens without Andrew Sullivan. Both of them were, and in the case of Sullivan, still, frauds. These two men railed against the anti-war position and were absolutely, resolutely proven to be wrong about going to war in Iraq. Sullivan has been rewarded for his lifetime of being a fraud by the very same intellectually suspect crowd that embraced Hitchens and a neoconservative worldview that hasn't surrendered enough blood and treasure for these men to pick over.

Funnily enough, so was Jamie Kirchick. Hence, his attempt to pin the word tawdry on Seymour. What a weakly-chosen, ineffective word for a fellow fraud to use. Tawdry describes cheap stories of sex and running around drunk in public. If Seymour's book had been about the drinking and the fucking, fine, call it tawdry. But Seymour went after the Hitchens that failed to redeem himself--the bankrupted crank who wanted to see the bodies piled high and who couldn't turn down a chance to take a shot at people who got it right the first time. The obscenity of being for a war that killed untold numbers of people is given a pass and the person who correctly identifies one of the cheerleaders is singled out for abuse?

Sounds like another hit job from the crowd that can't shoot straight.

Apathy and Disinterest Rules This Republic

What do you do when people just don't care?

There's nothing you can write on a blog post or in a newspaper opinion column that can make people care. If they don't bring a certain level of interest to an issue, it doesn't matter. Apathy is what makes a democracy crumble, and we're seeing evidence that our own democracy is falling apart.  People just do not care what these assclowns do anymore.

And I can say assclowns now because the Speaker of the House came unhinged today and figured it would be wise to suggest that Senate Democrats get off their ass and do something.

We live in the most obstructionist of times, led by polarized elites who don't care about the suffering of others. The apparatus that shuts down dissent--through the media, through the use of surveillance and police force, and through the court system--is so well-tuned as to leave us without so much as an Occupy Wall Street option. Those good folks went down hard, and whoever tries that method again will face the same sinister repression.

If the government falls apart, who cares? Not the citizens, not anymore. Things will just stop. Imagine the whole thing stumbling forward, nothing happening, no one able to explain it anymore. We face the very real prospect of things just rumbling to a complete and utter stop. It's an abstract concept now--let it all stop! yay!--that does not stand up to scrutiny. What if you couldn't fly on a plane next week? What if you had been planning to leave the country and needed your passport? What if you lived in a town that relied on Federal money to keep things normal?

Apathy killed those things. Apathy means, well, you're stuck and no amount of blog commenting will change that.

The actual, tangible elements of government will just fade away, and crumble, and fall into disrepair, and then those who hate government will be able to point to it all and laugh the way they do. Apathy is eroding our ability to get anything done.

It's just sad. Not caring, not voting, and not participating are all rights in America. And these rights have cemented our fate, at least for now.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Did You Buy a Nook Last Year?

I looked at the Nook last year; it didn't make me abandon my Kindle, but it did give me pause. What if Barnes & Noble can't make the thing popular enough to save the company? Well, that turned out to be the case:

This is a move designed to separate the Nook from the Barnes & Noble company in order to allow people to separate it in their minds and use it as a device that doesn't rely solely on their content; what comes next is a fully open and flexible solution for the Nook so that people can read Kindle books on it and everything else. That's really the only thing that might possibly save the thing from obscurity. It needs to be a standalone product.

Why did Barnes & Noble get into the hardware business in the first place? Confusion. And so, they're going to exit that business and look for a way to survive on the strength of their digital catalog. There is so much confusion in the tablet/e-reader world that no one really knows how this business is going to develop. It will come down to whoever can make a device that can read everything, play with everyone, and cost next to nothing. 

The 2013 Oscars

I probably couldn't come up with more than a paragraph about these Oscars, mainly because I just couldn't care one way or the other. Argo winning was an almost foregone conclusion. So what?

The only film I saw this year that actually won something was Brave. That means I'm done writing about the Oscars.

Seth McFarlane could have been a complete and utter ass-kisser and a success as a host and they would still have the knives out for him. He failed because he's not in "the club." And they actually put a Nazi on the show? Whose idiotic idea was that?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Don't You Know Who I Am?

The phrase that ends a career is short and sweet. It is usually delivered through a very angry face. It is "Don't You Know Who I Am?"

This is always hilarious when it happens, and you don't have to be a small-town asshole to deliver. You can be a big city councilman or a United States Senator or the owner of a burger joint. It doesn't matter. It is usually delivered by an insecure person who is confused about not being worshipped at that exact moment.

Kudos to the police officer if he did not drop to one knee and laugh hysterically when Mr. Huff delivered his career-ending phrase.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Kick the Poor

In parliaments all throughout the world, and in cabinets and governments everywhere, there are always fools who feel compelled to share their opinions. This is no different.

Part of the world is laughing at the part of the world that has a sickening aversion to horse meat. If you've ever lived in a country where they hang up dogs in the window of a butcher's shop, you understand what this is about. If the consensus opinion is that the meat is tainted--and contains something that should not be there--then this is a public health violation as well as a violation of a cultural norm.

Vegetarianism has never looked more appealing. People who are on government subsidy should be freely given vegetarian foods to help them build a healthier, sustainable lifestyle, but that's yet another idea that wouldn't ever get off the ground.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Seeking, But Not Necessarily Finding a Comfortable Arrangment

And, from there, you can see the development of a new trend in society--one where young women seek comfort from older, financially successful males.

What's new is that someone has figured out how to use Facebook to put a name and a face and some numbers to this phenomenon. Seeking out status males for security is as old as, what? Human civilization? As common as other forms of human behavior when it comes to seeking out arrangements that are beneficial to all concerned?

These phony news stories are, indeed, a form of concern-trolling and they lead to the spread of disinformation and fear. How do we know that fake profiles are not being used in order to extract contact information? How do we know that real profiles are not being used in order to entrap others? How do we know that these "arrangements" are viable and successful?

So, the foregone conclusion that this has meant anything other than an increase in the way that Facebook is being used could very well be wrong. Incidents like this don't always add up. They lead to misguided conclusions based on indicators that don't necessarily travel from point A to point B. They lead to conclusions based on inductive reasoning. As in, why aren't more parents concerned that Hugh Hefner is going to marry their daughter after she gets breast implants?

Hugh Hefner has courted and married a number of women with breast implants. Logic says that this is the key indicator of what can happen when he decides to seek out a new mate. If you keep your young-adult aged daughter free and clear of such things, chances are, Hugh Hefner probably won't marry them. This is how logic works, I guess.

Terrible News for Old Farts

The company that makes and sells scooters is in trouble:
Executing a search warrant, federal agents Wednesday swarmed the New Braunfels headquarters of The Scooter Store, one of the nation's largest suppliers of power wheelchairs and scooters. 
Authorities wouldn't comment on the reason for the raid, but a source familiar with the investigation said officials were looking for details of how The Scooter Store bills for its equipment. 
The Scooter Store recently has drawn scrutiny for receiving millions in Medicare overpayments from 2009 to 2011. 
Earlier this month, the company underwent another round of layoffs. That came after the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that reimbursements for power chairs, scooters and other equipment will be sharply lower starting July 1.
This is a government benefit that doesn't get a lot of attention. There are, of course, people who are grateful for the chance to have Medicare subsidize the costs of their scooter and then there are people who use the benefit and then rail against anything that the government does to make life easier for anyone else--usually, this comes down to a situation where the old fart  who is too fat to walk anymore rolls up on a public forum and screams about the food stamps given to the family of five down the street.

It would not be popular, but it would be the right thing to do if we went after all of those scooter-riding oldsters and told them to pay up on the difference billed to Medicare. After all, eliminating fraud, waste and abuse are popular proposals when it comes to closing the funding gaps for government programs. And it would be a really good idea to make certain that this company does not go out of business. Why punish people who are no longer legitimately ambulatory? If that does happen, then this is just bad, bad news for folks.

Here's how it should have worked. The company should be allowed to make a profit, albeit, not a ridiculous one. They should have charged a fair price for their product, and they should not have taken advantage of the government subsidy. And, if you're an old fart riding one of these around Albert Lea, and if Medicare helped you pay for it, try to be consistent when you tell everyone you hate the government and Obamacare and at least admit your blatant hypocrisy.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Art Weblog is an Abandoned Website

The last update for this site appears to have gone up somewhere during the month of October, 2005.

I always have to ask, is someone actually paying to renew the domain, the hosting, and the fee for the website? Or is this just something that has been abandoned and left to rot, free and clear, paid for and secured for eternity?

As ideas go, not a bad one. Art blogs are tough to get going, but this site had something approaching the right idea. Did anyone ever get paid? Or is someone waiting on a check?

Pete Domenici and the Decorum of the Senate

If you're trying to remember who Pete Domenici was, he was this guy:
During the Clinton impeachment vote, which Cleland opposed, the former Senator was suffering mono and he claims that one of his former colleagues ended up making him sicker.
"I wrapped a green scarf around my neck, trying to keep warm. Pete Domenici, the senator from New Mexico, insisted I remove my scarf, as it 'violated the decorum of the Senate.'" Cleland took it off and says he soon felt that he could hardly hold his head up and eventually came down with a massive sinus infection. 
An aide to Domenici did not return calls from Huffington Post to respond to Cleland's claim.
Apparently, the decorum of the Senate is something that Domenici knows a great deal about. It's perfectly okay to father a child with the 24 year-old daughter of a fellow Senator; it's not okay for a sick man to wear a scarf. But it is okay for a senator to wear pajamas to work.

But, you know, a Democrat probably did it once so it's all good.

Bob Beckel Says Rapes Don't Happen On College Campuses

Now is the time to fire Bob Beckel. The problem is, he works for Fox News and they have a vested interest in keeping an embarrassing, ridiculous string of Democrats on retainer:
Bob Beckel stunned his own co-hosts when he suggested that rape does not happen on college campuses during Tuesday's "The Five." 
The Fox News roundtable was debating Colorado legislation that would allow women to carry concealed weapons to prevent sexual assault at colleges. 
Beckel was skeptical, and asked, "When's the last time you heard about rape on a college campus?" 
"What?!" Kimberly Guilfoyle reacted. 
"What are you talking about?" an indignant Eric Bolling said. "It's rampant." 
"Oh, it's rampant?" Beckel asked. "Rapes on campus?!" Bolling responded. "Where?" Beckel wanted to know. 
"In particular, date rape on campus," Dana Perino added. 
"Yea, date rape, that's one problem," Beckel conceded, "but you gonna take a gun out and shoot your date?"
His remarks are horribly, horribly wrong. His ideas are frightening. His attitude is unforgivable and insensitive in the most extreme regard. This is a man who has a position on an issue that is so devastatingly ignorant that it pretty much wipes out everything else.

Will Fox News fire him? Or will they slap his wrist and continue to employ him, thereby embarrassing those with "liberal" views? Anyone who employs him validates his position on campus date rape not actually being rape. Well, rape is rape, and there simply are no qualifiers.

At the end of the day, Bob Beckel is a disgusting human being.

Office Depot and Office Max Are Separate Companies?

This is where I admit that I'm an idiot:
Office Depot Inc. and Office Max Inc. have agreed to merge in a $1.17 billion stock transfer, the companies announced Wednesday, ending nearly two hours of confusion about whether a deal had been reached.
Officials at Naperville-based OfficeMax and Office Depot declined to say who would lead the combined company nor where it would be located when the "merger of equals" is completed, likely by the end of the year.

After some confusion early Wednesday, when a draft press release was posted prematurely on the website of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Office Depot's, both companies issued a joint statement at around 8:30 a.m. CT announcing the planned merger.

"During the appropriated times ... our board will make the right decision," OfficeMax President and CEO Ravi Saligram said of the location and leadership of the combined firm. "Now we're independent companies and we've got to go through lots of processes," he said.
Office Depot and Office Max were separate companies? I had no idea.

Here's what's really funny, though--the idea that merging two companies that, essentially, do the exact same thing in a shrinking market will lead to something healthier is a conceit of the retail establishment. There are customers out there who will never deal with either one of these companies and now they won't have a choice (beyond going to Staples, Target, or Wal-mart).

This business must be shrinking, and it is probably declining because more and more people are working out of their own homes. That's my guess anyway.

When Celebrities Abandon Their Social Media Pages

If you had over a half a million followers on Google+, would you abandon your account?

Apparently, Erin Andrews has completely abandoned her Google+ account, and that's fine. I noticed this a little while back and when a Google+ suggestion popped up, it made me wonder if she had gone back to updating her account. Uh, nope. I wonder if there are any other high profile personalities that have yanked the plug, either on Google+ or on things like Twitter and Facebook. People notice that sort of thing on Twitter fairly quickly.

Sometimes social media doesn't work out. But if you're coordinating yourself with a major broadcasting company, and if you have these massive followings, why not at least try to maintain the momentum you've gained and engage with these platforms?

Isn't that a savvier way to do business?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Something As Simple As a Pack of Cheerios

This is a blister pack of Cheerios that they give out at elementary schools.

As simple and as common as this sort of thing seems to be, when you consider that, for far too many children in this country, this little pack of cereal is all that stands between them and going hungry for the better part of the day and it's the tangible aspect of cutting things like school breakfast programs in order to save money.

This is the image of what sustains people and matters. It's easy to discount the abstract idea of giving something away, but this is food, and food is important when people don't have enough of it.

Hipsters Ignore Minorities

Oliver Willis is on to something here:
Let’s look at the ratings. As notes here, Girls got about 3.8 million viewers in its first season – about the same as Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Veep, which hasn’t received nearly the same amount of hype. And that’s on the same network. 
In the most recent ratings I could find, Scandal had 8 million viewers (good enough to be the #2 show in its time slot), while Grey’s Anatomy had 8 million as well. 
So Scandal has twice the audience, for what I’d argue is a more unconventional premise. 
Also, there are not many minorities running network TV shows, let alone black women with shows that have multi-ethnic casts. 
Yet, it’s Dunham who is on the cover of Rolling Stone this week, for a show that has been criticized for its dearth of minority characters even though it’s set in America’s most multiethnic city.
This is driven by a coastal hipster elite that demands shows about them, for them, and by them; these shows cannot challenge their claim to be smarter, better, and funnier than the rest of the country and they aren't going to feature minorities because that would introduce a cultural situation that flies in the face of hipsterism: don't see me as I am--see me as I want you to see me. 

If the hipsters were comfortable with showing diversity in their art, you'd see it. There wouldn't be an issue here. But Willis correctly points out that you don't see minority characters. I think that this is because we aren't at a point in the culture where real diversity and real variety are acceptable to the people who make some of the decisions about what we see and what we read about. This does not mean that the hipsters are racists; they're polite and intelligent enough to know that racism isn't acceptable. But they're just not willing to look at the culture openly and honestly enough to make the attempt to bring in other voices and other ideas. This would mean that they couldn't focus on themselves and their own issues. It would mean having to look outside at the world as it is.

Who cares what the elite influence peddlers at, say, Gawker or the Village Voice or any number of publications that have hyped Girls really think about the culture? What do they ever get right about where America is at right now?

In a huge swath of this country, people have fallen behind. They don't have good jobs, they're leaving college with enormous debt, they don't have the skills they need to rise to a level that would indicate having achieved real success in the culture, and they aren't interested in how people in places like New York City live. They are not stupid; they are outside of what an imagined version of hip looks like right now. They are not considered at all because they don't have access to the kind of disposable income that is required of being the complete hipster package. And God help them if they have kids and a shitty job.

What they think is good doesn't match what people who are connected think is good. The numbers Willis cites show this. And yet, no one is going to talk about how Lena Dunham really doesn't have much of an audience outside of the hipster elites.

If you don't have people of color in your life in a meaningful way, the chances they will appear in your art is somewhat slim, don't you think?

Safety or Surveillance?

In almost every defense of the presence of red light cameras or speed cameras, you will hear an official touting public safety. The problem is, exactly how many of the reduced fatalities from car accidents can really be attributed to red light cameras and how many are the result of getting older, deadlier, and larger cars off of the road in favor of smaller, safer ones?

The simple fact of the matter is, the speed camera and the red light camera are not the only reasons for a decrease in traffic fatalities. They may play some part in changing the behavior of drivers, but I think it is far more likely that the vehicles themselves have played a part in reducing fatalities simply because modern airbags work much better than they did ten or fifteen years ago.

Speed cameras, in particular, are often wrong. This article discovered that, not only did the speed cameras in Baltimore, Maryland not work, they were responsible for driving politicians to manipulate public opinion in favor of continuing to reap the fiscal rewards. So much for caring about reducing traffic fatalities.

I'm not a fan of the speed camera, nor am I a big supporter of the red light camera. Both have some measure of justification--public safety--but, really, their popularity comes from the passive nature of their use by law enforcement. They are surveillance tools--they replace a human presence with a machine that is designed to enrich a municipality. They are often hidden when used, such as in Germany (I have seen workers in Landkreis Boeblingen and Calw using cut grass and branches to conceal mobile cameras by the side of the road) and I have seen them on my return to the United States, more popular than ever.

The use of these devices for unintended reasons--compiling their images as evidence against people in cases not related to public safety--is a violation of privacy laws. This has led to the justification of all manner of surveillance activities and the ubiquitous presence of cameras all over the place. Next comes drones. When does it stop?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Germans Take Labor Seriously

This is an important story mainly for one reason--Germany is a country where working conditions are taken seriously, and where labor ministers and officials actually have a degree of power that you don't find in the United States.

In America, people are routinely worked in warehouses that have no air conditioning and treated like garbage. No one does anything about it because, well, dirty American workers and their insane need for air conditioning? What's that about? It's not against the law to work people in such conditions, so, you know, whatever.

Anyway, it's a classic case of how labor is viewed in countries that are not as "successful" or "advanced" as our own. What a crock.

The State of Race Relations in America

There are a number of startling things that have happened recently, and I think they speak to the state of race relations in this country.

First, you have the wonderful example of a Mr. Joe Rickey Hundley, who slapped a child after calling the child a "nigger baby."

Then you have the example of what happened when Academy Award winning actor Forest Whitaker decided to walk into a deli while being black:

The next time someone says that we don't have a problem with racism anymore, tell them to go read something other than Fox News for a change.

I have a hard time believing that someone like Joe Rickey Hundley just decided to slap a child after one drink and that this is the first time he's had an "issue" with other human beings. He sounds like a man who has some strange ideas about how to conduct himself on an airplane. Why was he flying to Atlanta in the first place, by the way? Doesn't he know that Atlanta isn't as white-bread as Idaho? Doesn't he realize that he might, perish the thought, have to put up with noises from the children of other people while flying into a major American city?

Who can't recognize Forest Whitaker? This man has been making movies since the late 1970s. He's been in so many movies and television shows, you'd think someone would recognize the man and say, "no, I'm not going to frisk this guy." You'd think someone would just have the decency to say that, especially if they DID NOT see him TAKE ANYTHING out of BASIC HUMAN DECENCY but that's besides the point. What a disgrace. No one should frequent that business ever again.

Then there's the case of one Dale Peterson, a man who actually did steal some items (well, he went PAST the cash registers without paying for his items) and how he's going to get the charges dismissed (probably?):

The problem here is that Peterson is probably not going to be charged with anything, and that he will engender more sympathy for what he did precisely because of his race. Never mind that he "had to go" when he went into the store, was in a "hurry," and was trying to buy (or steal) some beer. He'll probably get off with a slap on the wrist. Compare that to the example of Whitaker, who was just being a black man in the wrong place at the wrong time and wasn't trying to steal beer while not being able to manage his own bathroom issues.

Oh, and then there's this gem:
A nurse is suing a hospital, claiming it agreed to man's request that no African-Americans care for his baby. 
The lawsuit accuses managers at Hurley Medical Center in Flint of reassigning Tonya Battle, who has worked at the facility for 25 years, based on the color of her skin. 
The man approached Battle, while she was caring for his child in the hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, asking to speak to her supervisor, according to the complaint filed in January by Battle's attorney. 
She pointed the charge nurse in his direction. 
The man, who is not named in the filing, allegedly showed her a tattoo that may have been "a swastika of some kind" and told her that he didn't want African-Americans involved in his baby's care.
This country has some problems right now and no, they have nothing to do with illegal immigrants, terrorism or the deficit. Our problems run a little deeper than that. You can't read these four stories and not come away with some sense of where we are headed, and it ain't looking too great.

Why Are People Not Freaking Out About Hanford?

So, this happened. And it happened pretty much how everything else happens in this country--because of neglect, incompetence, and a general level of disgust that goes with anything relating to politics.

Why are people not more concerned about what has been happening at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation? Why is this not a bigger story?

We used to have an environmental movement in this country. Who bought them off? Where did the outrage go? Radioactive material has been leaking out of this facility for years and, beyond being a local or regional story, why isn't this national news? As in, why aren't people calling for a complete overhaul of how we handle and store these materials?

Billions for wars of choice and no money to fix something that could possibly devastate the Columbia River? What a pant load we've become as a nation, suffering something stupid like this in the name of not wanting to care about the environment and in the name of being friendly with business interests so that we can "get things done" as opposed to being dedicated to protecting the environment.

Common sense needs to prevail here. This site needs to be cleaned up and the toxic stew of materials found here need to be incinerated or disposed of in a smart, safe manner.

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Red Jersey

When the Minnesota Wild started playing hockey in 2000, I was not a big fan of the logo, the name, or the team colors. This is how superficial I am about such things, I guess.

Their modern home jersey or sweater, in the red and green, is a tremendous improvement over the white-and-green knockoff jersey that I bought in South Korea in 2001. In my mind, it's the best uniform top in Hockey, period.

Monday, February 11, 2013

A Well Read Person Still Makes Mistakes

Teju Cole makes a number of great points in this essay, but it all falls apart on closer examination.

Just because the President of the United States is articulate and reads the same books that you read doesn't mean he is any more likely to make wise or intelligent decisions based on the rule of law. And, with regards to drones and killing terrorists, the decisions being made at this stage of the War on Terror (an endless war on a tactic, semantics aside) are not based on law, justice or wisdom. They are being made based on politics and fear.

What, for example, are the vital interests of the United States of America and are they being threatened by the presence of Islamic terrorist cells in the furthest reaches of Northern Africa? Are we protecting American business interests abroad or American citizens at home? Why are we killing terrorists with weapons that are imprecise to the point where killing one can radicalize hundreds?

Our failure to know what our vital interests are and what the limits on American power come down to mean that our weapons, our tactics, and our future are wrapped up in decisions that are foolish and misguided. Nation building has failed, utterly, and yet we think everyone wants what we want and thinks what we think. The vast majority of people who are on the receiving end of our help want to be left the hell alone, thank you very much, and our weird experiment with democracy doesn't fool anyone--not the least of all those who think that corporations are people, my friend.

Should this president or the next president or any future president see, in the course of their term of office, another 9/11 attack, the conventional wisdom says that he or she is culpable of not defending America and should be thrown out of office. It doesn't matter if that premise makes sense or stands up to scrutiny--no President can stop terrorists who are determined to trade their lives for other lives--the conventional wisdom says that we are now in the phase where nothing bad can happen again. Anyone who does let it happen will pay the price that George W. Bush was excused from paying (because "who could have known?").

The American people can't handle the possibility that they will be attacked again. That's why they have, willingly and not-so-grudgingly, traded privacy for security, plane rides for invasive pat-downs, and liberty for the cold comfort of killing people in other countries. Whoever doesn't do these things, and a whole lot of sneaky and suspicious things, faces having to pay a terrible political price.

Do you want to be the president who let another 9/11 happen? Do you want to have, as your legacy, the reality of your own failure? If not, then you are corralled into doing whatever the "wise men" tell you to do, and that's why we've had torture and slaughter and death from above. That's why we have abandoned the rule of law.

Cole expresses incredulity without realizing these things:
How on earth did this happen to the reader in chief? What became of literature’s vaunted power to inspire empathy? Why was the candidate Obama, in word and in deed, so radically different from the President he became? In Andrei Tarkovsky’s eerie 1979 masterpiece, “Stalker,” the landscape called the Zona has the power to grant people’s deepest wishes, but it can also derange those who traverse it. I wonder if the Presidency is like that: a psychoactive landscape that can madden whomever walks into it, be he inarticulate and incurious, or literary and cosmopolitan.
According to a report in the New York Times, the targets of drone strikes are selected for death at weekly meetings in the White House; no name is added to the list without the President’s approval. Where land mines are indiscrimate, cheap, and brutal, drones are discriminate, expensive, and brutal. And yet they are insufficiently discriminate: the assassination of the Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud in Pakistan in 2009 succeeded only on the seventeenth attempt. The sixteen near misses of the preceding year killed between two hundred and eighty and four hundred and ten other people. Literature fails us here. What makes certain Somali, Pakistani, Yemeni, and American people of so little account that even after killing them, the United States disavows all knowledge of their deaths? How much furious despair is generated from so much collateral damage?
The President is not deranged; he is advised by men and women who know politics. The American political landscape has one basic rule right now--if another 9/11 happens, whoever isn't in power will reap the rewards and shame the nation into handing it a monopoly on power. Fear overwhelms common sense, especially in large organizations. Killing a chief of the Taliban is a no-brainer for these people. Killing has to happen in order to ensure that the orderly flow of a day-to-day effort to protect the American people can happen uninterrupted.

What we need is courage. Are you afraid of terrorists? Why? And simply by being afraid of them, you do know they've won, don't you?

A President who might deign to adhere to the rule of law (no more killing without due process, no more wars without the declaration of a unified Congress, no more torture, no more warrantless surveillance), give up the power already in place, and establish special courts to try those who have broken the law would invite the wrath of a fearful nation. How dare you stop breaking the law to protect us from the people who simply don't have to do anything to attack us because we are already terrorized.

Honestly, until we grow up and embrace courage and the rule of law, there is no hand-wringing that will change anything. You cannot kill your way to a victory in a war with people who are ready to die. Virtually every costly, wasteful, bloated, and incoherent act of war carried out over the last decade and more has violated common sense, the rule of law, and the wisdom of Sun Tzu without expressing a shred of self-evaluation or awareness. 

Why would the fact that the President reads wonderful books change any of this dynamic?

Calling Bullshit on a Phony Charge

This is the image that the wingnuts are running with.

Here's a photo from the United States Marine Corps showing Marines marching with their ceremonial rifles.

Notice anything?

The undoctored photo from the Marines clearly shows that the rifles have their bolts in them.

If you zoom in, you can see that these rifles still have their bolts in them, clearly looking radically different than the image at the top of the post.

I don't know--the images that show the rifles with no bolts look doctored to me.

The Phony Outrage Over the Marines at the Inaugural Parade

US Army Drill Team Members Using Springfield rifles that have been modified so that they can no longer fire.

Crazy Bob Owens (who used to call himself Confederate Yankee) thought he had found something to blog about when he linked to a nonsense article here and the Examiner's "gun rights" page. Sorry, but it's a big nothingburger.

Ceremonial rifles are, by and large, just that. Pictured above are US Army soldiers using weapons that appear to have been modified and appear, at least to me, to have no bolt in them. Firing pins are another matter--if they have been removed, you couldn't possibly see that.

Members of the USMC Silent Drill Platoon

You cannot see if the firing pin has been removed because it is not visible.

No one has "dishonored" the Marines who marched in the Inaugural Day parade. They carried M1 rifles that didn't have firing pins in them because, well, that's what you do with a ceremonial weapon. Here's a fact about the Old Guard (the 3rd Infantry Regiment) that performs ceremonial functions in Washington D.C. among other duties.
Today, the M1903 remains in use with several military demonstration units, including the U.S. Army Drill Team, a specialty platoon of the 3d Infantry (The Old Guard). It is also used by several ROTC and JROTC drill teams, although almost all of these rifles have been modified so they cannot fire.
I would hazard to guess that the M1s carried by those Marines were disabled a long time ago, or modified for safety reasons that had nothing to do with the fact that they were being carried in the parade.

If that's not the case, then the most plausible reason I can think of is that someone decided that having Marines or soldiers or whoever carrying weapons in a ceremonial parade that could fire was a damned stupid thing to begin with, given that there were already hundreds if not more than a thousand heavily armed men and women in tactically advantageous positions all around them anyway. Why would you want someone--anyone--who is not part of the protection detail to have a weapon that could possibly fire, even if by accident, and cause a panic with so many civilians around.

Oh, and then there's this:

My son is part of the SDP. When I had the chance to visit him earlier this summer I was in the barracks while they were preparing to perform that evening. The rifles are fully functional, with the exception of having no firing pin installed, and have not been altered to provide any better grip or support. 

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hunting Christopher Dorner

Yes, they are using drone aircraft to hunt fugitive Christopher Dorner:
Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz, a joint leader of the force tasked with finding Dorner, has confirmed—though not explicitly—and is quoted as saying "We are using all the tools at our disposal." And a third, vague conformation comes from Customs and Border Patrol spokesman Ralph DeSio who is quoted as saying the agency is on the "forefront of domestic use of drones by law enforcement," while declining to elaborate further. 
It wouldn't be the first time drones have ever been involved in a law enforcement operation in the U.S. As early as 2011 there was an incident in which Predator drones hunted down fugitives and directly lead to their ultimate arrest. Still, the practice is far from widespread. Presumably, the drones looking for Dorner's heat signature are unarmed. Presumably. 
Should armed drones actually be authorized to fire on Dorner, then it would be a first, and frankly a terrifying precedent. And considering all the collateral damage that's already happened, adding drone fire to the mix would be a horrible idea. Unmanned eyes in the sky could be the ticket to ending the week-long search, but you can't unset a precedent.
In California, this has already stirred up a great deal of controversy. Aside from the ARS Technica story here, there is this part of the puzzle to consider as well:

The use of drones to surveil and find citizens is troubling enough; what if this drone were armed? We seem to be reaching a point where the general public, fearful for its safety, might tip towards saying, 'yeah, blow this guy up.'

Nothing brings out a mixed bag of meh quicker than a serious discussion about drones. Simply by writing about drones, I have all but ensured that no one will read this far down into the post; the thing is, I can now say anything I want and it won't matter. It won't resonate as an issue because people in America have already accepted that, as a tradeoff for being "secure," they're not going to worry about infringements on their privacy. Americans don't give a shit anymore about privacy.

The point needs to be made, however. Two women were shot by police officers--human beings--who assessed the situation in front of them and decided to open fire. The LAPD has now gone so far as to buy these women a new truck (there's gotta be a lawsuit on the way). What makes anyone think that a drone pilot is going to have better judgment than actual on-the-scene police officers?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Dave Foley Can't Have an Opinion?

Each and every time someone says something that conservatives disagree with, they resort to bullying and intimidation to try and silence them. This is what's going on and if you can't call it what it is--violence of another stripe, encouraged by the Internet and sanctioned by people who have no ideas--then you need to get out of the idea business to begin with. The right of people to have an opinion about guns is entirely their own. If you are opposed to gun control, guess what? You have that right. You may be wrong, but you have the right to your opinion.

The same goes with people who think we need to find a common sense way to make the country safer by keeping guns out of the hands of crazy people. If you can't get behind that idea, then you are fairly loathsome, and you are fairly out of the mainstream of political thought right now.

Gun control is going to happen; denying that fact isn't going to magically take us back twenty years to a special time when even muttering about gun control was enough for the National Rifle Association to drop several hundred thousand dollars on an obscure Congressional race. We live in a different time now, and we are headed in another direction. Don't like it? Fine, you're entitled to your say. But that doesn't mean you're going to get away with bullying people.

The idea that Dave Foley--one of the most genuinely funny people in the world and really talented writer and performer--can't express an opinion that is humanistic, liberal, and based on common sense and passion is exactly why the conservative movement is losing in virtually every effort imaginable to defend the right to bear arms in America.

No one is attacking the actual right to bear arms. What is being attacked is the inhuman, loathsome belief that bearing arms gives you a right to shoot people who haven't even attacked you.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Don't Argue About Big Ten History With Bob Knight

The usual haters have come out and criticized Bob Knight for saying what he said about America's new number one team (for this week, anyway) and that's fine. Let the people talk about what they want to talk about.

Who is going to argue the history of Big Ten Men's NCAA basketball with Bob Knight? Who is going to argue with the man over something like who was "hot" back in the early 1990s? The man knows of what he speaks.

The Sad Story of Minami Minegishi

What sort of fear would drive a young woman to shave her head as an act of contrition?

In any event, this young woman represents the conflict between the old and the modern, and it is not just a cultural aspect of being Japanese. Even here in America, rites of honor and contrition, shame and self-abuse are commonplace at many levels of our society, especially amongst young people who run afoul of whatever cultural standards they are supposed to remain on the good side of.

I will not post the actual video here; you'll have to go to the BBC and see it. I thought it was too sad to post, I really did. But the example of this woman is definitely worth noting.

Andre Cassagnes 1926-2013

Worth noting:
Andre Cassagnes, the inventor of the Etch A Sketch toy that generations of children drew on, shook up and started over, has died in France, the toy's maker said. 
Cassagnes died Jan. 16 in a Paris suburb at age 86, said the Ohio Art Co., based in Bryan in northwest Ohio. The cause wasn't disclosed Saturday. 
"Etch A Sketch has brought much success to the Ohio Art Company, and we will be eternally grateful to Andre for that. His invention brought joy to so many over such a long period of time," said Larry Killgallon, president of Ohio Art. 
Then an electrical technician, Cassagnes came upon the Etch A Sketch idea in the late 1950s when he peeled a translucent decal from a light switch plate and found pencil mark images transferred to the opposite face, the Toy Industry Association said.

The Obvious Grifters on the Right

Bill Maher is largely correct here, but very few con men succeed on such a grand scale without having a whole lot of help from enablers and handlers and those who make money from the crumbs they leave on the table.

Media organizations cater to the Becks and the Limbaughs primarily because they bring in viewers and readers and hits for websites. This is the circular firing squad or the "circle jerk" that keeps everyone fat, dumb and happy while informing no one. It works like this: a conservative reacts to something that is in the news or to something they have found, and they react in such a way as to make the incident explosively interesting with all the hallmarks of a good media troll. They lie, sensationalize, and do so in a profoundly calculated way. They do it because this is what people on the rightwing spectrum desperately want to consume--this is troll bait.

The complicit media organization then amplifies the troll bait material, garnering viewers for themselves by feeding the outrage. Instead of simply ignoring or mocking the piece of troll bait, they legitimize it by giving it a fair hearing or by saying, "both sides do it."

Both sides don't do it. There are far fewer trolling organizations on the left spectrum because the right spectrum of American politics is sustained almost entirely by ignorance and fear. Ignorance and fear are not left wing states of mind--being engaged, informed and active are more in line with being a liberal these days, although a healthy dose of lethargy and self-importance can be found there as well.

Anyone who expands a bit of troll bait material into an actual media story is simply hoping to profit from the ignorance of others. This activity should, theoretically, cause others to suggest that their broadcast licenses be revoked out of concern for the public interest. But that concern is largely absent now that we have had no working media watchdog organization--the Federal Communications Commission--for decades. An actual, functioning FCC with actual bite and consumer's interest at heart--pair that up with actual power and with a governmental organization that can protect the public.

Who wouldn't want that? Well, the grifters would lose their ability to grift. And we couldn't have that, could we? This is why we don't have nice things.

Chaka Khan is an Enemy of the National Rifle Association

Josh Marshall has the list of the National Rifle Association's enemies, and Chaka Khan is on it.

This means that, at one point in her life, Chaka Khan did something with money or an appearance or made a statement that caused someone at the NRA to put her on a list which has been kept so as to inform that organization as to who their enemies are. And, knowing bureaucracies the way I do, someone had to consider this and approve it and go over it again and again, ensuring it was accurate.

If Chaka Khan is your enemy, you have lost the American people and descended into farce.

NBC is Still Out of Ideas

The NBC show Do No Harm brings a new level of intellectual bankruptcy to American television. Think of it as the new Manimal, which I can actually remember.

Any more dumb shows like this and we'll see a fourth or fifth resurgence of Reality Television any day now.

You Have the Right to Shame Someone For Being a Dick

At the heart of this story is the right to use social media to shame someone who is being a dick.

Do we have that right? As a people, do we have the right to use social media as a tool to right wrongs and address the bad behavior of people who take liberties with others?

I think we do have an expectation now that people who don't have a voice can still be heard and that America is a better country when there is no class structure keeping one group over another group. That may seem like a pipe dream, and it may be more realistic in theory rather than in practice, but it comes down to addressing the idea of what happens when technology flips society around, allowing voices that would normally have been silent to actually be heard.

America works when injustices are corrected and addressed head on.

So, when a waitress is wronged, and uses social media to get back at the person who is being a dick, why is it that the restaurant inevitably fires the person? That seems to be the result no matter what. The restaurant should really stand behind the person--their own employee, for crying out loud--who has been wronged. If it means that dickish people won't eat there for fear of having their dickheadedness exposed and addressed, why is that a bad thing? If restaurants can hate people for being gay, why can't restaurants hate people for being rude and ill mannered?

Serving more than eight people in a restaurant means a hell of a lot of work, and when that "pastor" refused to give that person a tip, they engaged in a level of dickishness that should not be tolerated in our society, especially at a time when making ends meet gets harder and harder every day.

The pastor brought God into the mix and revealed something hideous in the American character--a sense of entitlement and self-satisfaction at the expense of others. That is the confusion that comes with having an ego larger than realizing that there is an acceptable way to treat others. I'm all for using shame to fight such a thing. It's a fight that we need to have.