best of 2010

Best Book of 2010 (fiction)--The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

Mitchell is my favorite author writing in English today. Set in Shogunate Japan at the turn of the 19th century, it is both his most and least ambitious work to date. Least, in that it is not the genre-hopping, voice-shifting, globe-spanning experimental work that Ghostwritten and Cloud Atlas were, and most, in that he tries (and succeeds, I think) to explore many of the same themes as those books within the constraints of a pretty conventional historical novel. As before, it is beautifully written--Mitchell is clearly in love with language--and a cracking good story that is pretty much impossible to anticipate. I can't recommend this book enough.

Honorable mention: Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

The collapse of the American empire has never been funnier.

Best Book of 2010 (nonfiction)--Hitch 22 by Christopher Hitchens

Love him or hate him, Hitchens is one hell of a writer. Even the chapters overloaded with name-dropping and digressions are worth your time. The footnotes are often priceless. The rapier wit and fierce moral clarity for which he is alternately loved and loathed shine throughout. His account of an American soldier who had volunteered for and died in the Iraq war inspired by Hitchens' writing left me nearly in tears.

Honorable mention: Game Change by Heilemann and Halperin

Basically a long-form US Weekly for political nerds.

Best TV Show of 2010--Mad Men

To be fair, there are only a handful of TV seasons produced in 2010 that I actually watched in 2010, so this may be subject to revision at a later date. But seriously, if you are one of the 298 million Americans not watching this show, it's your loss. We watched Don descend into a pathetic alcoholism and I still want to be him because that's how fucking cool he is.

Honorable Mentions: Party Down and Archer

By the time anybody noticed Party Down, it was already over. Find the DVDs and laugh your ass off. Archer is so funny it hurts, and I can't wait for it to come back next month.

Best Film of 2010--I'm pretty sure I haven't seen it yet. I'm waiting for a lot of DVDs. After blowing too much money seeing colossal disappointments like Alice in Wonderland and Iron Man 2, I just lost most of my motivation to go to the theater. I enjoyed Inception, but I don't think it would stand up to repeated viewing. Shutter Island was way overrated.


enough about religion...let's lighten up and talk about race

"You forgot Lesson 3. Avoid young black men in Capitol Hill."

--a commenter on the Capitol Hill Seattle blog, in reference to an armed robbery story.

What makes me uncomfortable about what he said, is that I've thought the exact same thing. Not about avoiding young black men, generally, but specifically avoiding them in Capitol Hill. Because if you look through all of CHS' coverage of street crime on the Hill, the perpetrators 95% of the time are young, black, and male. And if you look at the census data for the neighborhood (zip 98112, especially tracks 74-76), the African-American population is between 0 and 10% of the whole.

So...if I don't see that many black people walking around in my neighborhood, and the overwhelming majority of street crime in my neighborhood is committed by young black males, is it rational to be suspicious of the young black males that I do see walking around my neighborhood? I honestly don't know.

In contrast, if you look at my old neighborhood on the census maps (zip 27704, track 102), where there are slightly more black people than white people, it wouldn't make sense to me to view every young black male on the street as a potential threat, because the odds are they are my neighbor and most of my neighbors aren't out to rob me. And you know what...unless they were acting in a suspicious manner, I really never gave young black guys in that neighborhood a second thought when I lived there.

I'm not saying this to try and make some case that I'm not a racist. I know I'm not a racist, and I don't think anyone who knows me would think that I am. But it is interesting (and disquieting) to me how much I find my gut-level reactions being shaped by the neighborhood in which I live. Particularly as I now live in the whitest and most affluent neighborhood I've ever lived in as an adult.

Somehow, this scene seems appropriate.

he got game, ct'd

After getting "shellacked" 6 weeks ago, President Obama has gotten a compromise on tax policy, the end to DADT he promised in his campaign, and it looks like the Senate is going to take up the START treaty after all, all before a less friendly congress comes to town in January.

Whether you like his policies are not (for me, it is a split decision), I think it remains true that anyone who underestimates Barack Obama does so at their extreme peril.


"You’ve got to stop this war in Afghanistan."

--Richard Holbrooke's reported last words.


why are people in the south fat?

For me, going to my home county is an occasion for culinary culture shock, because middle-class people there simply do not have the same outlook on eating – especially for their children – as middle-class people do in my liberal city. Put plainly, people eat whatever they want, and lots of it, without giving it a second thought. More to my point here, they see the idea that one ought to care about such things as a sign of effete, high-handed liberalism.

It comes as news to my churchgoing conservative friends here in Coastal Liberal Land that making sure your kids limit sugary snacks and junk food is something only liberals care about. None of us are what you’d call foodies, and none of us go to the gym. It’s just understood that living responsibly, especially in a culture that celebrates the abolition of limits, requires a great deal of vigilance, especially when it comes to child-raising. That’s why though fasting is not really a part of American religious life today, there is still among my conservative friends real moral awareness of a religious duty to live a self-disciplined life, and to avoid the sin of gluttony. Why is the South – the most culturally conservative part of the country, in most respects, especially in Christian piety – so thoughtlessly permissive about eating?


I think this question is actually much larger than the pseudonymous author realizes. But I'll venture a few guesses based on my own experience and observations.

The predominant culture of the suburban and rural south is evangelical protestantism in its various forms. Yes, I meant to say the predominant culture because I think that actually describes it more accurately than saying the predominant religion or spiritual tradition. By which I mean this: Christianity, for many in the south, is really more a matter of identity than of serious introspection, personal growth, or religious practice. This is not to say that there aren't many, many people for whom it is all of those things, and quite profoundly--there are--but I'm talking about a substantial portion, if not a majority for whom it is not (and I would be willing to bet many self-identifying southern evangelicals would share that assessment.)

Evangelicals--and again, I am really talking more culture than theology, here--place an inordinate emphasis on conversion. Indeed, the most effective (or at least the most celebrated) evangelists are the ones with the most dramatic conversion narratives. It's all well and good to listen to someone who spent years in seminary discourse at length about universal brotherhood or the importance of charity, but man if you've got an ex-drunk fornicator whom Jesus personally snatched from the jaws of hell--that's really something! They also tend to have tremendously puritanical views on lifestyle generally, but particularly on the matters of alcohol and sex. In other words, the predominant culture tends to frown on two of the most common (and effective) ways that humans have blown off steam and sought comfort for pretty much the entire history of civilization. I'll leave it to another time to speculate about why, but the point is that you have a worldview that really lends itself to living life at the extremes. You're a sinner or a saint. (Actually, you're all sinners, but if you've been saved, you're supposed to do your absolute damned best to live as a saint would.)

Very little room is left for moderation in this worldview. "Purity" is the watchword, particularly with regard to sexuality. Serial, committed monogamy outside of marriage is viewed as equivalent to rampant promiscuity, as adultery committed against god and your intended spouse-to-be. Masturbation is really just as much of an offense against purity, since it tends to involve fantasizing, which is lust, which is--and this is in the Bible--effectively the same thing as the act itself, as far as your soul goes.

(And of course, god help you if your preference is for anything other than sanctified, married, procreative penis + vagina sex...)

And on and on...

So what does all of this have to do with food?

Well, perhaps because in the times the various components of the New Testament were written, a world in which food was hyper-abundant to even the relatively poor was unimaginable, the teachings of Jesus and Paul are pretty mum on the question of sensible eating. Ergo, the human impulse towards indulgence gets funneled into what is readily available and no one (except those damn liberal hippy organic food nazis that live in the cities) is going to judge you for: food.

There's certainly more to it than that, but I think this aspect of things gets overlooked too often.


"Just look at what the U.S. Government and its friends are willing to do and capable of doing to someone who challenges or defies them -- all without any charges being filed or a shred of legal authority. They've blocked access to their assets, tried to remove them from the Internet, bullied most everyone out of doing any business with them, froze the funds marked for Assange's legal defense at exactly the time that they prepare a strange international arrest warrant to be executed, repeatedly threatened him with murder, had their Australian vassals openly threaten to revoke his passport, and declared them "Terrorists" even though -- unlike the authorities who are doing all of these things -- neither Assange nor WikiLeaks ever engaged in violence, advocated violence, or caused the slaughter of civilians."

----Glenn Greenwald

Are these the actions of a global superpower, confident in its purpose and moral standing in the world, or of an empire in decline?


deer hunting, machiavelli, and balancing the budget

This is the best argument for private gun ownership I've read in a long time:

The state of Wisconsin has gone an entire deer hunting season without someone getting killed. That’s great. There were over 600,000 hunters.

Allow me to restate that number. Over the last two months, the eighth largest army in the world – more men under arms than Iran; more than France and Germany combined – deployed to the woods of a single American state to help keep the deer menace at bay.

But that pales in comparison to the 750,000 who are in the woods of Pennsylvania this week. Michigan’s 700,000 hunters have now returned home. Toss in a quarter million hunters in West Virginia, and it is literally the case that the hunters of those four states alone would comprise the largest army in the world...

I wish [Machiavelli] was around today, if only to hear the praise he would have for a nation that every year assembles and then disbands the world’s largest army purely for the purpose of managing its deer population. For millenia, philosophers have pondered how one can maintain a well-armed population that can fend off all attackers, while simultaneously maintaining ordered governance. In America, we’ve fulfilled this dream, and we’ve done it so well and so effortlessly that no one seems to have noticed.

If this argument holds any water at all...maybe we could stand to spend something less than the rest of the planet combined on the military, hmmm?

(via Sullivan)


stuff i said elsewhere already

I wish I had time to put together a well-crafted post on Wikileaks, but I don't. RW's is quite good, though, and I don't find much there with which I disagree.

So I'll just get to the point. I think Julian Assange is a badass, and in my more optimistic visions of the future, his name is mentioned in the same breath as Gutenberg's. I'm probably overstating the importance of Wikileaks qua Wikileaks, here...but I do think we are seeing the beginning of a fundamental shift in the ability of institutions to maintain their hold on power by controlling information.

Whether or not you think this is a good thing...it's hard to avoid the notion that the future belongs to those who can adapt to this reality.


"With our nation at war and so many Americans serving on the front lines, our troops and their families deserve the certainty that can only come when an act of Congress ends this discriminatory policy once and for all. The House of Representatives has already passed the necessary legislation. Today I call on the Senate to act as soon as possible so I can sign this repeal into law this year and ensure that Americans who are willing to risk their lives for their country are treated fairly and equally. Our troops represent the virtues of selfless sacrifice and love of country that have enabled our freedoms. I am absolutely confident that they will adapt to this change and remain the best led, best trained, best equipped fighting force the world has ever known."

--President Obama

Wow. What a bunch of divisive, ideologically-driven partisan rhetoric, carefully crafted to whip his extremist, America-hating base into a frenzy...oh, right.

Nice to hear from the man I voted for every now and then.


words fail

"They are, of course, Nazis. They have a kind of Nazi attitude. They are the left wing of Nazism. These guys don’t want any other point of view. They don’t even feel guilty using tax dollars to spout their propaganda."

FOX News chairman Roger Ailes, referring to NPR.

This from the guy more responsible for the dumbing-down of American political discourse than probably any other single individual in the history of the republic. This from the guy who practically invented cable-news-as-propaganda. This from the guy whose channel's signature look is lots of flags and banners, eagles, blaring martial music, and a nonstop scroll of on-message "news items", whose personalities routinely refer to this country as "The Homeland" and opine on which subset of the population constitute the "real Americans".

(And you know what? I hold Ailes responsible for the steaming pile of shit that is MSNBC, too.)

NPR should seriously consider voluntarily divesting itself of the tiny fraction of its budget it gets from the federal government, just to take this insane talking point away from raging fuckwads like Ailes.


sentences i wish i'd thought to write

Julian Sanchez:

You can think of patriotism as a kind of status socialism—a collectivization of the means of self-esteem production. You don’t have to graduate from an Ivy or make a lot of money to feel proud or special about being an American; you don’t have to do a damn thing but be born here. Cultural valorization of "American-ness" relative to other status markers, then, is a kind of redistribution of psychological capital to those who lack other sources of it.

This seems about right to me.

I made the mistake of commenting on a casual (read: we haven't seen each other in 15 years) Facebook friend's comment last week regarding how she thought that singing "God Bless America" at baseball games cheapened the ceremony of singing the actual National Anthem. Discussion proceeded into the etiquette of putting hand over heart during the two songs, etc. My contribution was that GBA is a silly song from a musical, and that I thought standing respectfully for the ceremonial playing of any country's national anthem was the polite thing to do (for example, at an NHL game with both American and Canadian teams playing) but that I thought saluting was absolutely optional.

As you might imagine, this invited some invective from friends of the "friend". Being a long-time veteran of online arguments, I did the sensible thing: pretended I never saw those comments, and got on with my life.

Still, one in particular almost drew me out. To paraphrase: "Try to imagine waking up in a different country, under a different flag." It was hard for me not to say that I had, on several occasions, woken up in different countries, and furthermore had no difficulty imagining doing so since I am married to someone who has that experience every day of her life, and who I know misses her home very much. I could have further answered that there were many times in the last 10 years or so where I thought waking up under another flag permanently myself wasn't such a bad idea. (I still wouldn't rule it out.)

Of course, the underlying assumption was that America is simply the greatest country on earth. That's a fine opinion to have, and easily justifiable--depending on what you value--but what I'll never understand is the conviction that to merely consider America among the best countries on earth is to be fundamentally "anti-American". America is a great country. So are Canada, Norway, Denmark, New Zealand, Australia, and Switzerland, among others. But to suggest that the US actually has peers in terms of quality of life and freedoms enjoyed is to strike at the very heart of the "cultural valorization of 'American-ness'" on which so many seem to base their self-worth.

This is silly. No one suggests that liking tacos makes you necessarily "anti-sushi" or (perhaps more appropriately) that having friends makes you "anti-family".

But more than anything, I think it's just sad. Wilde said that patriotism is the virtue of vicious...but maybe it's just the virtue of those that don't find much else in which to take pride.


post-mortem: no alarms and no surprises

--Obama becomes the third consecutive president to lose at least one house in a midterm. Declarations of historicity are overblown; the difference is one of degree, not type. I don't think this signifies much more than the American electorate (at least the ~20% or so that is perennially up for grabs) would prefer a more parliamentary system, even though they probably don't realize it.

--The one bright spot: the "Palin Model" of vague right-wing populism and a refusal to engage any non-Fox press failed miserably in Delaware, Nevada, and Alaska. I am cautiously optimistic that she has peaked.

--California remains a stolidly Democratic state that doesn't give a rat's ass about actual personal liberty. Disappointing, but not surprising.

--Washington State, despite being a high-tech hub, is really bad at math.

ADDENDUM: Seriously, though? Fuck the Baby Boomers.


(slightly beer-soaked) memories of election nights past

1996: Atlanta, GA. The first election in which I voted. For Bob Dole, no less, because I was concerned (no kidding) that Bill Clinton was about to get us involved in military entanglements in which we had no business. I don't remember what I did that night, but being during my freshman year at Georgia Tech it likely involved some combination of heavily salted pre-prepared food, chemistry, and calculus.

1998: I haven't got a clue.

2000: New Orleans. My first big conference. I'm at some crazy party in the Quarter for the launch of some science resource website. (Did I mention it was 2000?) Liquor flows freely. From the balcony, we watch a couple in the hotel across the street have sex, silhouetted against their drawn shades like an X-rated puppet show. When they come out on the balcony after, we give them a round of applause. They come over and join the party, and it turns out that they went to school with a friend of mine, also at the party. (You can't make this shit up.) I'm hit on for the first (and so far, only) time by a guy. CNN plays in the background, and I find it mildly amusing. I wake up with a killer hangover and all hell has broken loose.

2002: Tucson, AZ. I'm in love, recently cohabitating with the woman who will later become my wife. I could give a fuck about the election, as far as I remember.

2004: Tucson. I watch the returns alone with a bottle of Jameson's. I cannot believe what I am seeing. The less said about this, the better.

2006: Durham, NC. We've just moved here, and I abstain out of principle (not yet invested in the local races, don't feel right about casting a vote where I no longer live.) I predict the changes in congress with alarming accuracy, and briefly consider going into political journalism.

2008: Durham. Crammed into Bull McCabe's Pub with about a million other people, glued to the TV. The energy is indescribable. When they call it, people spill into the streets of downtown. I think I see basically everyone I know, and it's one big, freezing party. I hope I never forget this.


what nick gillespie said

Though limited to voters in a single state, Prop. 19 is the only policy matter on the table with the potential to restructure the lives of virtually all Americans. If Prop. 19 passes, it will force, at long bloody last, an honest reconsideration of failed prohibitionist policies throughout the United States. In fact, given the drug war's influence on our foreign policy in Latin America and central Asia, Prop. 19's reverberations would even be felt far outside our borders.

There's much more. Read the whole thing..


idle thoughts

What do you think Clarence Thomas did to piss his wife off so badly that she had to open that old wound? Surely she knew that little phone call was going to go public, right?

It's funny to me how easily you can predict whether or not someone believes Anita Hill's allegations based on whether they are sympathetic to Justice Thomas' judicial philosophy. That's stupid. The facts have nothing to do with strict constructivism. That a powerful judge could be a sexual harasser or a former clerk could have an ax to grind strike me as equally probable scenarios. I have no idea. And neither do you...unless you are Clarence Thomas or Anita Hill.



The American embargo of Cuba is 50 years old today.

In the interval, the USSR collapsed. The Chinese embraced capitalism (at least as an economic system.) Libertarians extol the virtues of Estonia. Myself, I've shared drinks with Russians in what was once the place everyone thought would be the front of WWIII (and close to where my father spent most of his military career, hoping--I assume--that it wouldn't come to that), and gone on vacation in the country pretty much everyone in his generation was trying like hell to stay out of.

The Castros, on the other hand, are still standing.

I'm sure it's going to work any day now.


plenty of that to go around

I gotta say...I have a hard time taking anyone in the Pentagon seriously when they get sanctimonious about "the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family" that might (but by their own admission has not, so far) end up being on Wikileaks' hands.

By all means, if Wikileaks is making it hard to do your job, feel free to bitch about that. But let's not pretend that being the United States of America absolves us of any and all moral repercussions of our own policy.

what do you get when you combine christian fundamentalism with northwestern hypersensitive douchiness?

This guy, pretty much:

I would ask that you make a public apology for this statement for offending me, and the Church. I am getting sick and tired of the finger pointing at the Church when it is just a few who make it look bad for the masses. I am also considering contacting the ACLU and getting legal advice to see if this is deemed Hate Speech, because your statement affects me as I am in Bible College and looking at a Pastoral Ministry life ahead. This type of speech concerns me, and should be done away with.


confidential to rw

You know what? You were right about Citizens' United.

The campaign ads right now aren't just making me rethink my reflexive libertarianism...at this point I'm actually wondering if we didn't give that whole monarchy thing a fair shake.


(in which a white guy stumbles onto a flavor vaguely resembling authentic vietnamese food)

I've been working on my stir-frying skills a lot lately, spurred on by: 1) a profusion of vegetables arriving in our crisper every week because we subscribed to a CSA box, 2) my introduction to the Tahnanh Son Tofu Manufacturing store, a few blocks from where I work, where fresh (still warm!) tofu that is 100 times better than anything you will ever find in a supermarket can be had for $1.25/pound, and 3) the realization that this combined with the uber-cheap noodles to be had at any number of stores in the ID makes for quick, healthy, and very affordable meals.

Last night I think I nailed it to the wall.

Brian's as-yet-nameless awesome tofu dish:

(all measurements are approximations)

1 lb tofu, cut into 1/2" cubes

1 Tbs fried chili paste (less if you have a sensitive stomach...seriously)
1 Tbs natural peanut butter (i.e., just smashed peanuts with no oils added)
a few shakes of fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
juice of 1 lime

2 cloves garlic, diced
1 inch ginger, diced
1 head of broccoli, chopped medium-fine
1/2 yellow onion, sliced
1/4 large or 1/2 small head of red cabbage, sliced(I'm sure green would be fine, too, or some chopped bok choy)
1 green bell pepper, cut into 1/2" squares
a couple of handfuls mung bean sprouts

peanut oil
soy sauce
fresh ground black pepper
corn starch

1. Whisk chili paste, peanut butter, fish sauce, sugar, and lime juice together in a bowl until more or less homogeneous. Toss with tofu. Set aside while prepping the vegetables.

2. Whisk a couple pinches of corn starch together with just enough water to make a slurry, and set aside.

3. Heat a large wok on high until a drop of water boils away on contact. Then add enough oil to liberally cover the bottom, and heat until nearly smoking (if you heat the wok propperly first, this should take no more than a minute.)

4. Shaking off (but reserve) excess marinade, add the tofu to the wok. There is a lot of water hitting a lot of oil here, so BE CAREFUL. (I recommend rolling a few pieces down the side of the wok at a time...don't just plunge it all straight into the oil at once.) Fry in the oil, for several minutes, turning periodically, until the tofu is browned on all sides.

5. Push the tofu to the edges and make a well in the middle. Add the garlic and ginger, and fry that for 20-30 seconds (do not let it brown!).

6. Add all of the veg except the sprouts, and stir fry that until the onions and cabbage start to wilt. Everything should be well-coated in the chili/peanut/oil mixture at this point, with little to no liquid in the pan. Add the sprouts, a few shakes of soy sauce, and pepper to taste, and stir fry another minute or so. Then add the reserved marinade and the cornstarch slurry, and stir fry another minute. Remove immediately to a (heat-safe!) bowl.

7. Serve over noodles (or rice) and top with fried shallots (a bit of a specialty item, but available in Vietnamese-oriented grocery stores.)


creative destruction

To the surprise of absolutely no one, Blockbuster Video has filed for bankruptcy.

The leaps and bounds by which the business of disseminating video content has improved in the last three decades is really pretty astonishing when you think about it. I can remember looking at shelves of Betamax videos of Star Wars in the early 80's that sold for around $60. Now I have unlimited instant access to more movies and TV shows than I will ever watch, plus unlimited DVD delivery, for less than $20/month.

One wonders what could happen to, say, the auto or airline industry if companies were actually allowed to rise and fall with the same meteoric trajectory as Blockbuster was.



So we're talking about a policy that a majority of the voting public doesn't want, the House of Representatives has voted to repeal, the President wants to repeal, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs thinks is bad, and a federal judge has ruled unconstitutional...and a handful of Senators may very well be able to keep in place.

This is a much bigger problem than whether or not gay people can serve openly in the military.


screw it, pass the popcorn

It's silly season in the USA.

Here's the thing...being a "former Satanist" or having "dabbled in witchcraft" was practically a cottage industry among professional Christians during the late 80's and early 90's. Satanism was what suburbanites were panicked about before black people started moving in. So having come out of that was the ultimate conversion street cred.

Sort of like Vanilla Ice claiming to be from the streets of Miami instead of the cul-de-sacs of Dallas.

All of which is to say that I'd bet a substantial sum that Ms. O'Donnell's claims of witchcraft are an exageration at a minimum, if not outright bullshit. And since she is running as the uber-conservative candidate, I for one look forward to her deciding whether she'd rather be a witch or a liar.


the tea party is a scam

Sullivan nails it to the wall, here.

Yes, [the Tea Party] are, for the most part, emphasizing economic and fiscal issues, which is wonderful, even though they have no actual realistic plans to cut spending by the amount they would have to if taxes are not to rise. But that does not mean they have in any way forsaken the social issues substantively. Name a tea-party candidate who is pro-choice. Name one who backs marriage equality. Name one who wants to withdraw from Afghanistan beginning next year. Name one who has opposed torture. Name one who has the slightest qualms about police powers. Name one who would end the military ban on gays serving openly, and take even the slightest political risk on any of these subjects.

I welcome the belated right-wing opposition to out-of-control government spending. But the one thing you have to note about tea-party fervor is that none of it existed when they had real leverage over a Republican president, who spent us into bankruptcy. That tells you something. And if you think a party led by Palin will not embrace every neocon crusade or Christianist social policy, you're dreaming.

beliefs matter

So this is where I admit that despite my best efforts, I am completely and utterly fascinated by Christine O'Donnell. More precisely, I am fascinated by the phenomenon of Christine O'Donnell.

Much has been made of this:

(If you don't want to watch, this is basically a clip of an excruciatingly earnest twentysomething O'Donnell on an MTV show talking about why she thinks masturbation is a sin.)

Now...it has been pointed out that her anti-onanist stance is not exactly the centerpiece of her platform, and that this was from 15 years ago. (She has declined to refutiate it, recently, though.) More to the point, it isn't as though she developed this particular set of beliefs out of thin air, but rather that she was/is simply subscribing to the actual doctrine of the Catholic Church to which she belongs.

Fine, fine and fine. But I still think it matters.

I would not knowingly support for office someone who professes such a belief, for the same reasons I would not knowingly support someone who really believes that the world is 6000 years old, that man was created on the 6th day of the universe's existence, that a global flood wiped out all life on earth except what was on a big boat, or that 70 virgins await you in paradise if you die killing infidels.

This isn't to say I would rule out all religious people--in this country, that's nearly everyone--because lots of people belong to faith communities and don't take all of this nonsense literally. Or even if they do, they have the good sense to keep it to themselves.

No, my problem is not with the profession of silly beliefs per se, but that it indicates a level of credulity that is just too dangerous to put in power. If you believe we don't have dinosaurs because they couldn't fit on the ark (say), then I think the odds are greater that you might believe equally absurd propositions such as "that ex-KGB guy who runs Russia seems like a good fellow", or "we will be greeted as liberators and democracy will bloom in the desert."


Probably the worst thing about the internet age is that it is possible for the actions of a few dedicated fanatics to be amplified around the world, to the point that the ignorant masses conflate the beliefs and actions of a few fanatics as emblematic of an entire culture.

I'm what you might call a First Amendment absolutist. In other words, I am very hard-pressed to support any state action that would infringe upon anyone's exercise of free speech, regardless of odious, or even potentially destructive such utterances may prove to be.

So this attention-starved dipshit of a preacher in Florida wants to celebrate 9/11 by burning some copies of the The Koran. Lots of people are upset by this, which is, of course, exactly what attention-starved dipshits want. Which is why I'm not mentioning his name, the name of his church, or even the miserable swamp of a town in which this is all taking place.

BUT I do believe that he and his flock (such an appropriate metaphor, really) have an absolute right to do so. Just like I have an absolute right to burn the Bible, burn the American flag, shove a crucifix up my ass, sculpt a menorah out of bacon, and tease Glen Beck about his magic underwear. I wouldn't do any of these things* because even on my most cantankerous days I'm just not that much of an asshole. But it is really important to me that I could.
This is probably going to happen...there's just been too much publicity for it to go quietly away. More than any violence it may incite towards Americans (particularly troops abroad)--because really, I think that train has left the station for now--I am worried that some local pol is going to use some technicality (like, for example, a lack of a burn permit) to shut this circus down.

So please, on behalf of all of us who love the First Amendment like the girlfriend who occasionally rips your heart out just to watch it beat, please, do not make a First Amendment Martyr out of this asshole.

*OK, I probably would make fun of magic Mormon underwear, because seriously, that shit is just ridiculous.

UPDATE: I guess it is just as well I didn't wait until evening to post this since the event appears to be canceled. Maybe it is just my pro-blasphemy bias talking, but I'm almost sorry this is the case. I think it would have been a tremendous civic exercise for this tohave gone forward...and then nothing come of it.


the right as cultural movement, ct'd

Gene Healy says Republicans think that their voters are stupid:

By 2012, our national debt will be larger than the entire U.S. economy, according to the International Monetary Fund. So what's on the front burner in Washington these days? Zoning issues in lower Manhattan!


The establishment Right wants to play the Tea Party movement for suckers. It remains to be seen whether they'll play along.

Will Wilkinson is less charitable to "the base":

I don’t find this believable. This idiotic foofaraw could be a distraction only if the GOP rank-and-file actually cared more about the size of government than the cultural politics of American identity. But they don’t. It’s not even close. American conservatism is a movement consumed by protecting and asserting a certain fabricated conception of the traditional American way of life against imaginary enemies.

Needless to say, I think Will has a point here. You can argue that the party, the people that tend to vote for it, and the media that cater to those people all feed off of each other. But in any case, the modern kulturkampf-obsessed GOP didn't arise in a vaccuum.

I'd really rather be wrong about all of this.


on saving the GOP from the GOP establishment

Conor Friedersdorf:

Imagine a successful two-term Republican governor with a credible small government record, a demonstrated commitment to civil liberties, skepticism about foreign wars, a longstanding determination to right America's fiscal ship, evidence of competent management skills in the public and private sectors, and an utter lack of ugly populist rhetoric during the whole of his substantial time in public life. You'd think he'd be a God send for tea partiers and civil libertarians, a possibility to win the GOP nomination in 2012, and an appealing alternative for those of us who think that given a sane alternative Barack Obama doesn't deserve another term.

That attractive, reality-based Republican exists! His name is Gary Johnson, former governor of New Mexico.

He goes on to say that Johnson has an uphill battle with regard to name recognition and fund raising. But the elephant in the room (if you'll pardon the expression) that Friedersdorf neglects to mention is that Johnson is an outspoken drug war skeptic. And I think that puts him out of the running as firmly as Mitt Romney's Mormonism and Rudy Giuliani's cross-dressing.

The American right today is not a political movement, it is a cultural one, and one that is still fighting the culture war of the 1960's. It isn't that most Republicans actually believe marijuana is harmful (too many of them have smoked it themselves, and know better) or that they actually think the war on drugs is good policy (because no reasonably intelligent person still believes this, and I don't think most Republicans are actually stupid). It's the counter-culture that drugs (and marijuana in particular) are emblematic of.

For the establishment right, it isn't about good policy, it's about sticking it to "the elites", "the intellectuals" and yes, to "the hippies". Understand that, and you understand why the the GOP looks so completely, utterly bonkers these days.


"This idea – that Manning and WikiLeaks have imperiled Afghani informants or American troops– is now the leading charge against them. “We know for a fact that people will likely be killed because of this information being disclosed," Rep. Rogers said.

Rogers did not provide evidence for his "fact," but one fact beyond dispute in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is this: they have killed people by the thousands. In fact, the two wars combined have produced well more than 100,000 corpses. If putting people in harm's way is a damning criticism of Manning, then what are we to make of those who have cheered on, voted for, and managed America's wars?"

--Will Wilkinson, firing on all cylinders.

Read the whole thing.


just a momentary diversion on the road to the supreme court

...for California's Prop 8, the gay marriage ban.

Jacob Sullum writes:

Today a federal judge in California overturned that state's ban on gay marriage, ruling that it violates the 14th Amendment's command that no state may "deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." In response to a lawsuit filed by several same-sex couples, U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker concluded that Proposition 8, a 2008 ballot initiative that amended California's constitution to prohibit gay marriage, "unconstitutionally burdens the exercise of the fundamental right to marry and creates an irrational classification on the basis of sexual orientation."

The arguments for banning gay marriage are so weak, Walker said, that they fail even the highly deferential "rational basis" test, which applies in equal protection cases that do not involve a "suspect classification" such as race. "Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians," he wrote. "The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite sex couples."

This has always been a question of equal protection, as far as I am concerned. It's nice to see a federal judge get something like this right--and for the right reason--for a change. Last year I pointed out that the California supreme court got it wrong for the right reason on this one.

The only prediction I will hazard about what happens when this gets to the high court is that it will be a 5-4 decision that pisses a lot of people off.


veiling and the limits of religious liberty

This piece is about as challenging as one can be to what I would consider my fundamental assumptions about the role of the state in the private lives of its citizens. A snippet that gives you an idea of the whole:

It was perverse, she said to me, that she should be free to cover her head in an American university but not in a Turkish one. It seemed perverse to me as well. It would to any American; politically, we all descend from men and women persecuted for their faith. I was, I decided, on the side of these women.

But that was when I could still visit the neighborhood of Balat without being called a whore.

Read the whole thing. This is a conversation we (by which I mean the west, broadly) need to be having. And I have no idea where I am on it.


It occurs to me that Chelsea Clinton married her boyfriend of something like 10 years yesterday, and they already don't have half a dozen kids.

I'm sure this is because they practiced abstinence.


politics as lagging indicator

Dan Savage:

So for the record: Bill O'Reilly is now to the left of President Obama on DADT. And President Obama is to the right of Dan Choi and Bill O'Reilly and John Aravosis and me.

Just typing that made my head explode. I'm going to go get a restorative cupcake now.

I have a theory I've been toying around with, which probably bears more explanation than I can afford to give here and now, but it goes something like this: If you want to look at where the general attitude of a society about something is heading, you look at the arts and commerce (in reality, the former is a subset of the latter.) If you want to look at where it is, you just talk to (a large and hopefully representative sample of) people. If you want to know what has already changed, you look at politics.

I am sure that counterexamples exist (the federal government was almost certainly ahead of attitudes about civil rights for black people, at least in the south), but I think this is true about several of the issues where I see American society undergoing a pretty big shift in my lifetime, and homosexuality in particular.


seattle: 24 hour city?

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has put forward an 8-point plan to revamp nightlife in the Emerald City, the most controversial point of which is allowing bars and restaurants to serve alcohol past 2AM, either through staggering closing, extending last call or possibly doing away with it all together. The idea is that pushing everyone out the door at the same time exacerbates problems associated with drunks in public: everyone is out on the streets at once, making noise in some neighborhoods, more likely to get into fights, and more likely to be driving when they shouldn't. Also, people tend ot compress their drinking in the last hour or so, which is exactly the wrong thing to be doing.

However, the mayor can't just snap his fingers and make this happen: he has to go through the Washington Liquor Control Board. And they want to see evidence of positive returns to public safety before they sign off on extending hours. This may be a difficult standard to meet.

In the absence of rigorous data, I think one can still make a pretty convincing case for extending hours just by considering the possible outcomes, of which there are essentially three.

1) Extending hours actually causes more total incidents of DUI/noise complaints/disorderly conduct. OK, so if this is the case, that's a pretty compelling argument against extending hours. However, this seems pretty unlikely: are that many people who are inclined to cause trouble really prevented from doing so by the 2AM closing? Is there really pent-up demand for irresponsible drunken behavior? I find this hard to believe. But even if it were true, it may be mitigated by other factors (see below).

2) Extending hours has no effect on the total number of incidents.
This is a very real possibility. Maybe even the most likely. However, even if this is the case, there may be a benefit to law enforcement in that these incidents will at least be spread out over the wee hours of the morning, instead of all occurring between 2 and 3. (This may even mitigate small upticks in incidents, in terms of the ability of SPD to adequately respond.)

3) Extending hours actually does reduce the total number of incidents. This is not unreasonable. Certainly noise complaints are a direct function of how many people are on the street at once. Fights also seem much more likely when there are more people around. But I think the most likely effect is that it takes away the "deadline mentality" of last call, and this may--at the margins--mean that BAL's are just a little bit lower as people head home. And the margin here might be the difference.

countries that are ahead of the us in marriage equality include...

One that has in my lifetime (hell, in my memory) gone from a policy of nationwide racial segregation and oppression, and now a recent military dictatorship full of macho beef-eaters that is 99.9999% Catholic.

In other words, we rank between South Africa and Iran.

Seriously, what the hell?


(in which i celebrate fleeting explicatives)

--This is fucking brilliant.

--This is fucking infuriating. Fuck these pathetic death-worshiping fascists sideways with a bacon-wrapped cock.

--This is just fucking gross. Seriously, can I have one freaking month without Palin family drama in the news? Forget the particulars of Palin's politics: it is beyond me how anyone--particularly anyone who claims to believe in "family values"--can see past the way this woman has crassly parlayed what by all rights ought to be private family matters (like the birth of a developmentally disabled child, a teenage pregnancy, and the on-again, off-again relationships that just about every young adult has at some point) into fodder for her ongoing political/moneymaking enterprise. Believe me, I want nothing more than to respect the private lives of the Palins. But they won't fucking let us.


in which i find myself frightened and confused...

...because Ann Coulter is nearly making sense:

Obama hasn't ramped up the war in Afghanistan based on a careful calculation of America's strategic objectives. He did it because he was trapped by his own rhetorical game of bashing the Iraq war while pretending to be a hawk on Afghanistan.

At this point, Afghanistan is every bit as much Obama's war as Vietnam was Lyndon Johnson's war. True, President Kennedy was the first to send troops to Vietnam. We had 16,000 troops in Vietnam when JFK was assassinated. Within four years, LBJ had sent 400,000 troops there.

In the entire seven-year course of the Afghanistan war under Bush, from October 2001 to January 2009, 625 American soldiers were killed. In 18 short months, Obama has nearly doubled that number to 1,124 Americans killed.

Republicans used to think seriously about deploying the military. [emphasis added] President Eisenhower sent aid to South Vietnam, but said he could not "conceive of a greater tragedy" for America than getting heavily involved there.

As Michael Steele correctly noted, every great power that's tried to stage an all-out war in Afghanistan has gotten its ass handed to it. Everyone knows it's not worth the trouble and resources to take a nation of rocks and brigands...

But now I hear it is the official policy of the Republican Party to be for all wars, irrespective of our national interest.

It should be said that she argues in the same piece that Iraq was/is a war in our "national interest", a view I do not share. Still, I think she makes an excellent point that the Democrats spent the last decade complaining about a lack of engagement in Afghanistan and are now painted into a corner by their own rhetoric.

We're in an escalating war in Afghanistan without any clear objectives for victory not because we need to be, but because Barack Obama (like nearly every nationally prominent Democrat since the 70's) doesn't want to look like a pussy.


test of time (new reviews of old movies, 1 of ?)

The combination of Netflx's ever-expanding on demand catalog and my inherent laziness have conspired to have me watching no small number of older (read: 1980's) movies in the last week or so, most for the first time in a really long time. And I'm pretty impressed how well some of them stand up.

Risky Business launched the career of noted character actor Tom Cruise (Magnolia, Tropic Thunder) and also features a bit part by an unrecognizable Megan Mullally (seriously, look it up.) Also, Rebecca De Mornay who slipped into another dimension c. 1993, reality superstar Bronson Pinchot, and Joe Pantoliano (who, like every other Italian-American actor of a certain age, got killed on The Sopranos.)

But what I really want to know is what the hell happened to Paul Brickman, the director? He made one other movie (you haven't heard of it and I can't be bothered to look it up again) and then did some TV stuff. And that's...pretty much it. I ask this, because even viewed 27 (!) years later, Risky Business is really, really good.

You probably know the plot: uptight high school student has the house to himself for a week. Dances in his underwear. Hires a prostitute. Doesn't have the money to pay her, so she takes a valuable objet d'art that belongs to his mother to settle the debt. Hilarity ensues, and our hero learns the value of taking risks.

Before John Hughes was writing angsty teen comedies set in the affluent suburbs of Chicago, before Michael Mann was shooting weirdly impersonal yet oddly compelling sex scenes with bad lighting and synth-heavy music, and before Cruise was gaying it up in Top Gun, Brickman did all of these things in Risky Business, and did them well. Seriously, Risky Business is to the "80's movie" what The French Connection is to the action-packed crime drama: you see the outlines of all the subsequent imitators throughout, and it's kind of a revelation in retrospect.


I was excited a couple of weeks ago to learn that Christopher Hitchens was coming to Seattle in promotion of his recently released memoir, (which, though I'm only a few chapters into, I am enjoying immensely) and then nearly instantly disappointed to learn that the event had been canceled at the last minute.

Now we know why:

I have been advised by my physician that I must undergo a course of chemotherapy on my esophagus. This advice seems persuasive to me. I regret having had to cancel so many engagements at such short notice.

Good luck, Hitch. I wish you the best moving forward, and naturally, I'm not praying for you.

Footnote--As news of Mr. Hitchens' cancer spread through the blogosphere yesterday, virtually everyone made a comment along the lines of the one I made, or to the effect that they would be praying for him whether he likes it or not. Each sentiment has seemed to upset various groups of people. This is silly. For my part, I intended nothing more than a little black humor, not to make any point about his beliefs (or lack thereof.) More to the point, it happens to be literally true that I won't be praying for him, not out of deference to what he believes, but because of what I do.

Cantankerous as he is, I seriously doubt that Hitch finds the sincere prayers of his believing friends and well-wishers an affront. Nor would I, in his shoes...


$750 million

...is an awful lot to pay for sex on the side. Damn.

If you're worth that much money and you know you can't keep it in your pants (or even if you just don't want to)...why the hell would you get married in the first place?

because i never get enough comments anymore

I want to see the borders open, but only to gay Mexican Muslims. Legalize all drugs, but ban all guns. No, strike that: you can only own a gun if you can prove you smoke pot every day. Weekly urine tests to verify (we'll also check your blood sugar, fatty.) Tax anyone who makes more money than me at 99%. Abortion should be legal through the 36th trimester. Trig Palin is Bristol's son. (Sarah is actually a cyborg, which is why she can't have babies and you never see her eating.) 9/11 was carried out by the CIA in conjunction with Fox so that 24 would have really high ratings. The gulf oil spill was staged to spike gas prices. Wyoming doesn't even exist...there's just more Montana.


terrorists have hijacked our imagination, part 8365


Now, charging people with crimes in an open court of law is perfectly fine if we’re merely talking about people accused of acting at the behest of a nuclear power with a global intelligence network, a navy and airforce, oil, natural resources with which they play politics with neighbors, and a $1.2 trillion GDP. Sure, they may have some resources behind them, but at least the threat is manageable. On the other hand, if we’re talking about a small network of guerrilla fighters whose leader lives in caves and whose fighters are armed with at best shoulder-mounted rocket launchers, well, you simply cannot charge them in an open court. The risks are far too great.


raining oil / from a lacerated sky

I do not believe that it is raining oil. This isn't my area of science (at all) but I did take a few chemistry classes in my day...

Many petroleum products are highly volatile, and almost certainly will enter/have entered the water cycle as a result of the spill in the gulf. It wouldn't surprise me at all if certain hydrocarbons and other nasty bits do show up (in very low amounts) in precipitation (though it would more likely fall somewhere east of the spill area along the gulf stream.)

Crude oil, on the other hand, is very heavy and viscous. It doesn't evaporate in bulk (at least under the atmospheric conditions found on this planet). I could maybe see it becoming sufficiently emulsified (think whisking oil and vinegar together to make salad dressing) as it becomes dispersed that very, very tiny droplets might hitch a ride up into the atmosphere on water. But I don't think it would have the opportunity to precipitate and fall to earth recognizably as "oil rain".

I will stop short of saying this is impossible--I'm not qualified to say that--but I definitely think this falls into the category of extraordinary claims that require extraordinary evidence.

More likely, this is a greasy parking lot after a dry spell.


I can't remember the last time I sat in a bar for two hours not drinking, but I sure am glad I did it this morning.


jose saramago

Nobel laureate in Literature Jose Saramago has died at age 87.

I haven't read everything of his, and haven't loved everything that I have, but what I have read and loved has been very, very good. In particular, Blindness and the The Gospel According to Jesus Christ. In fact, his sequel to Blindness, Seeing is on the to-read stack on my nightstand.

But the main reason I mention him here is that the quasi-title of this blog was inspired by a passage from one of his books.


the funniest sentence i've read this lunch

"Now that they have their own Fox news, Canadians will soon be demanding that their border be sealed, to protect them from the violent and economically unstable nation to the south."

Priceless. More here. (via)


It isn't unheard of for me to find myself in disagreement with Radley Balko or Dan Savage on any given day, but I never would have expected that I would find myself in disagreement with both of them about the same thing.

I wrote on Radley's blog:

Where the video begins, the woman is being physically confrontational, and at that point the initial reason for the contact is really beside the point: she shouldn’t have done that. Add to that the obviously hostile crowd (very close) and the fact that he was alone, I find it kind of impressive that he didn’t put her on the ground, tase her, call in the cavalry, or pull his gun. In the heat of the moment, I think he showed a lot of restraint.

I’m *NOT* saying he was 100% correct in how he handled it, but I do think he made a good faith effort to diffuse an escalating situation with as little violence as possible. At least based on what we see here.

That said–yeah chasing down a jaywalker is kind of dumb, though my sympathy for her is limited by: 1) the law in Seattle is extremely deferential to pedestrians (if you hit a pedestrian, it is your fault no matter what, basically), so cracking down on dangerous jaywalking does make sense; 2) if she was crossing the main road in the shot, it’s a very busy one WITH A PEDESTRIAN OVERPASS RIGHT THERE, so I think it is fair to say this counts as dangerous jaywalking.

Regular commenter "LibCop" (who has been commenting there a long time and is credibly a police officer) makes some great points to the effect that the officer could have (and should have) backed down, even if it meant letting the jaywalking thing slide.

Here's the video...what say you?

(Disclosure: I live in Seattle and jaywalk daily.)

the view from here

Beer:thirty, Seattle, USA


william kristol's persian fantasy

The fact that anyone takes William Kristol seriously anymore is as terrifying as it is depressing.

And one routinely hears how very, very dangerous any use of military force against Iran would be.

Would it be so dangerous? That is a debate the country needs to have, publicly and frankly, before it’s too late.

Critics of military action against Iran argue that it would open up a third front for American forces in the Middle East. Our troops would be at risk from Iranian missiles. Iran would block the Strait of Hormuz (causing oil prices to skyrocket) and use its terrorist proxies Hamas and Hezbollah to carry out attacks well beyond the Middle East, including perhaps on the U.S. homeland.

Yet if we carried out a targeted campaign against Iran’s nuclear facilities, against sites used to train and equip militants killing American soldiers, and against certain targeted terror-supporting and nuclear-enabling regime elements, the effects are just as likely to be limited.

It’s unclear, for example, that Iran would want to risk broadening the conflict and creating the prospect of regime decapitation. Iran’s rulers have shown that their preeminent concern is maintaining their grip on power. If U.S. military action is narrowly targeted, and declared to be such, why would Iran’s leaders, already under pressure at home, want to escalate the conflict, as even one missile attack on a U.S. facility or ally or a blockade of the Strait would obviously do?

Why, indeed? After all, acquiescence to American power has a been a cornerstone of the Islamic Republic's foreign policy since it's founding.

If the Iranian regime's first priority is maintaining its grip on power--to the extent that they will not retaliate against targeted strikes against nuclear facilities by the US--doesn't that also suggest that they can be contained even if they did possess nuclear weapons?

Either the Iranian leadership are rational, or they aren't. Either they are willing to risk immolation in some sort of apocalyptic showdown with the Great Satan, or they aren't. But you cannot argue that they are both too irrationally belligerent to be contained AND rational enough not to fight back when directly attacked.

Note that I'm not saying there is no plausible scenario in which military action against Iran should ever happen. However, Kristol's formulation that we really have nothing to lose by erring on the side of preemption is as crazy as it is familiar.

One is tempted to wonder how dangerous it really would be to have the entire editorial board of the Weekly Standard shot. After all, it is unlikely that particular flock of chickenhawks are especially well-armed themselves, and even if they were, surely the instinct for self-preservation would lead them to attempt to talk their way out of it, rather than engaging in a firefight that would almost certainly end in their destruction. Surely that would make the world a safer place, too, to have the leading voice for war in the most powerful country on earth neutralized. And I'd like to think that given the Marxist roots of neoconservatism they could at least appreciate the irony.


the best part about having a blog...

Is that it makes it so much easier to say I told you so:

Citing an FBI informational document, ABC News reports a so called "battle of suspicious bags" is being encouraged on a jihadist website.

Bomb expert Kevin Barry with 20 years experience in the NYPD says the bags could be filled not with bombs, but with innocuous items like water bottles or socks.

Your humble blogger was all over this ages ago:

What the city of Boston...has shown the terrorists is that all you have to do to sow fear and chaos is leave some strange objects scattered around high-profile areas. That's it. You don't have to smuggle uranium or anthrax. You don't have to take the risk of manufacturing explosives. You could fill 20 Jansport backpacks with old phone books, have people drop them at 20 subway stations simultaneously, and probably keep every emergency responder in the city tied up for at least an hour or two.

And then you could do some real damage.

(H/T for link and graphic above to Thoreau)


overheard on the bus

Old black man: (something about Obama and race relations)

Older black woman: Well, I like everybody!

Younger black woman: Me too, hun.

Old black man: Eh! When you're the underdog, you got to like everyone...


the illiberal left in washington state (and everywhere else)

Washington's ballot initiative I-1068, which would abolish state criminal and civil penalties for marijuana (for adults 18 and over), hit a snag this week, when the Service Employees International Union and "other players in progressive causes" declined to financially support the drive to get the necessary signatures to put I-1068 on the ballot. Phillip Dowdy of the group Sensible Washington writes:

Over the last month, the SEIU and others in state politics have talked with Sensible Washington about steps they could take to ensure that the initiative turned in enough signatures to qualify for this November’s ballot because marijuana legalization being on the ballot would drive extra voter turnout in ways that would benefit progressive causes and candidates in November in what’s shaping up to be a tough year for Democrats and progressive issues. Now after stringing the I-1068 campaign along for four weeks, they’ve walked.

This, despite the fact that a slim but significant majority of Washington voters support the legalization of marijuana, according to a recent poll.

Anyone who is truly serious about reforming drug laws should have given up on the mainstream left as a reliable ally a long time ago. If you can't get a former litigator for the ACLU to vote the right way in Gonzales v. Raich, you're pretty much screwed.

Bruce Ramsey really nailed it on the Seattle Times blog yesterday:

I keep telling people that a lot of the lefties in this state, and particularly in this city, are not liberal. They aren't interested in individual rights [em. added]--at least, not rights to do very many things outside a bedroom. Progressive activists are believers in government. They want to save the Earth by controlling people more, including by banning the use of tobacco outdoors in the public parks. I think the broad group of people who vote leftward are far more tolerant than the activists, and would vote for I-1068 if they could. Maybe now they won't get the chance.

our country, in our name, on our dime

If this is even 30% true, then there are American officials who need to be brought up on war crimes charges at The Hague. If for no other reason than the Obama administration has made it abundantly clear that they aren't going to do a damn thing about it.

And so the torture was intensified, with individuals tortured by combinations of sleep deprivation, repeated near-drowning, slamming against plywood walls by the neck, forced to stand in a stress position by shackles, etc. Was this sadism? No. It was bureaucracy. You have to monitor what is being done to prisoners, especially to avoid future prosecutions for doing what every legal authority had previously understood to be war crimes. Michael Chertoff told John Yoo in 2002 that

... the more investigation into the physical and mental consequences of the techniques they did, the more likely it would be that an interrogator could successfully assert that he acted in good faith and did not intend to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering.

Thoreau, always at his best at his most intemperate, sums up my feelings rather nicely:

Screw it, I’ll just go ahead and Godwin this right now: If the allegations in this report by Physicians for Human Rights are accurate, then we’re talking Mengele stuff here.


enough to go around

By all means, blame BP. It's their well. And it is kind of inconceivable that a $250 billion company didn't have a workable contingency plan for something like this.

By all means, blame the government, if not for sufficient oversight (I think the jury's out on that one, but with any luck, time will tell) then blame them for the fact that damages for the spill will likely be capped before the well is.

Note the date, because I actually think Sarah Palin has a point about pressure from environmentalists displacing drilling into such deep water...but only to the extent that if not for that they might not be drilling there right now...you don't seriously think that BP et al were going to let that stuff just sit at the bottom of the Gulf do you? They'd be drilling there eventually, regardless.

And before we get all uppity, let's hold hands and remember that our entire economy runs on oil. Unless you live completely off the grid (and if you are reading this, you don't) you benefit from the low cost energy that it provides. Even if you don't drive and grow your own food, I'm going to go out on a limb and say you probably buy things that weren't made from raw materials gathered within walking distance of home.

And if we all did, we'd be living in an agrarian society, something I for one refuse to romanticize.


beautiful lies

Memorial Day is one of several holidays for which I find a growing antipathy as the years go by (though it should be said I am always happy to have a reason to take a day off.) It isn't that I don't think we ought to take a moment to reflect on sacrifices made by the men and women of the armed services (more on this in a moment), but rather that it seems to me the preferred mode of observance is to complain about how everyone else isn't observing it properly.

(See also: Martin Luther King Day, and in certain circles, Christmas.)

Perhaps I would be more inclined to spend time memorializing our fallen soldiers if I didn't think that so many of them died doing nothing whatsoever for the cause of "my freedom." The soldiers of the American Revolution did that, certainly. The Civil War, arguably. It is difficult to imagine the world in which America did not enter WWII as one in which any of us would want to live, though it is equally difficult to exclude the possibility that WWII might have never happened were it not for the outcome of its utterly pointless predecessor a few decades earlier.

I'll even grant the necessity of a military response following 9/11. At least to the extent that the public narrative of that attack is true*, I think the ultimatum made to the Taliban and its consequences for not having been met were entirely justified.

But I'm damned if I know what we're supposed to be doing there, now.

No one wants to say to the spouses, parents, children, siblings, and friends of the dead that they died for nothing. Or worse still, that they died for a cynical, political purpose, or in the service of a stubborn and foolish ideal about the world that flies in the face of all available evidence.

And yet...

Are the dead really honored by beautiful lies? When we seek comfort in telling ourselves that there is a greater purpose served by the pointless and avoidable carnage to which we routinely subject the youth of this country, are we really doing them any favors? Or are we just making it possible for the same mistakes to be repeated, generation after generation?

I don't know. Really, I don't.

*No, I'm not a "truther", I'm just referring specifically to involvement of terrorists working from a base in Afghanistan with the support of the Taliban government...and I only feel the need to qualify this because of all the other things we were told in that decade that turned out to be, generously, "mistaken".


things i don't have time to comment on

...but that you should read.

--The new coalition government in the UK is actually talking about rolling back its own police power. File this under "I'll believe it when I see it", but Greenwald is depressingly correct: it is inconceivable that we would hear what Nick Clegg is saying from Barack Obama.

--Matt Yglesias on the fuzzy line between public and private. This is an argument libertarians should take seriously. This too.

--On a related note, Thoreau has an excellent suggestion for libertarian-ish pols who cannot seem to address issues of race and civil rights without stepping in it up to their eyeballs.


the one true church

Just so I can be sure I have this straight, since I never have been (nor, you can be damn sure, will I ever be) a Catholic...

If you're a priest who fucks a few kids, you get reassigned, and the Church's hierarchy may very well cover your ass up to and including the point of obstructing justice.

If you're a nun who--acting in your capacity as an administrator of a Catholic hospital--signs off on an abortion that saves the mother's life, you get excommunicated.

"She consented in the murder of an unborn child," says the Rev. John Ehrich, the medical ethics director for the Diocese of Phoenix. "There are some situations where the mother may in fact die along with her child. But — and this is the Catholic perspective — you can't do evil to bring about good. The end does not justify the means...

Ehrich agrees that sexual abuse can't be tolerated. But he says neither can McBride's actions.

"She said, 'Yes, you can kill that unborn child.' That's a heinous act. And I'm not going to make a distinction between what's worse. They're both abhorrent," Ehrich says.

First of all, a moral philosophy that makes no distinction whatsoever between the agency of a living, breathing, conscious mother of 4 living, breathing, conscious children and that of an 11-week-old fetus is not one that deserves to be taken seriously.

Second, Ehrich's assertion that there's no distinction to be made from the Catholic perspective between abortion and child-fucking is utter nonsense. The Church has made the distinction very, very clearly, and it is this: Sister McBride was automatically excommunicated. There was no fact-finding, no process. It just happened. Not one priest has been excommunicated over substantiated claims of abuse. Even if 95% of the claims of sexual abuse by priests are false, the distinction remains just as clear, from "the Catholic perspective".

This is insane. At some point, a noble (even though I happen to disagree with it) concern for the sanctity of human life devolved into fetus worship.

By way of preemption: I am completely uninterested in debating abortion, here or anywhere else. You are free to sound off to your heart's content on the subject, but don't expect me to respond.


quote of the morning

A couple of years ago after I’d given a speech on [the use of military-style tactics by local law enforcement], a retired military officer and former instructor at West Point specifically asked me to stop using the term "militarization," because he thought comparing SWAT teams to the military reflected poorly on the military.

Read the whole thing.


minor facelift

I'm trying to get back into flexing the writing muscles a bit more. Not really sure what exactly that means in terms of content just yet, except that I'm steering this away from "personal" content, and leaving that stuff to Facebook (and/or whatever follows it.) My main reason for this is that when I write about little more than myself or my life, it bores the hell out of me.

In quasi-related news, I've refreshed the blogroll to reflect my wider reading habits and disengage it somewhat from purely personal blogs, most of which are pretty fallow of late anyway (though if you are still blogging, I am still reading.)

how we treat foriegners is a leading indicator


What's most amazing about all of this is that even 9 years after the 9/11 attacks and even after the radical reduction of basic rights during the Bush/Cheney years, the reaction is still exactly the same to every Terrorist attack, whether a success or failure, large- or small-scale...

It really is the case that every new Terrorist incident reflexively produces a single-minded focus on one question: which rights should we take away now/which new powers should we give the Government? We never reach the point where we decide that we have already retracted enough rights. Further restrictions on rights seems to be the only reaction of which our political and media class is capable in the face of a new attack. The premise seems to be that if we keep limiting rights further and further, we'll eventually reach the magical point of Absolute Safety where there will be no more Terrorism. For so many reasons, that is an obvious myth, one that ensures that we'll reduce rights infinitely and with no discernible benefit.

Sadly, this is old news. I can't really say I find the Obama administration to be a disappointment in this regard, but only because my expectations were so low to begin with:

And herein lies the real problem. The political center in this country, if the actions of the political class are any indicator (and is there any reason to think that they aren't?) is still so irrationally afraid of terrorism that there is broad support for shredding the Bill of Rights in the name of the appearance of security.

And no politician is going to fix that. This is a cultural problem. The politics merely reflect that.


i never say never, but...

I think it is very unlikely I will vote for any Republicans in this century. Two reasons:

1) Sarah Palin is widely considered a legitimate contender for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination. Gary Johnson, on the other hand, is considered to have "less than zero" chance of the same. (Briefer and funnier Gary Johnson here.)

2) Stuff like this:


"fight the real enemy"

If you are my age or older, you likely remember Sinead O'Connor appearing on SNL, singing Bob Marley's "War", and then ripping up a picture of the pope. And if you are like me, you might remember how she was denounced for being a liberal, anti-religious provacateur, and for pulling a cheap publicity stunt.

But do you remember what that was actually all about? Because I didn't, until I was reminded just now:

I’ve come to talk to O’Connor today to discuss what almost no one seems to remember: She tore up that picture of the pope to protest pedophilia in the Catholic Church and the complicity of the church hierarchy.

My thoughts on this are twofold: 1) you don't have to a be a paranoiac to see that insititutions--be they coporate, governmental, or religious--have a vested interest in manipulating the public narrative. And the larger, more powerful, and longer-lived those institutions are, the better they tend to be at doing this. 2) Sometimes the weirdos on the fringe have a point.

my humble celebration of free speech

I really want to participate in Boobquake, but can't for (what I hope are) obvious reasons.

I also am planning to participate in Everybody Draw Mohammed Day, even though I am by all accounts a lousy artist.

Then it occurred to me that perhaps I can make up for this by doing what lots of talentless artists do, and simply substitute crass audacity for genuine inspiration, AND participate in both events AT THE SAME TIME!

And so...

Please feel free to duplicate, augment, disseminate, etc., as it suits you.


i wanna play too (first random 5 tracks)

Unlike RW, I won't commit to doing this every week, but I thought it would be fun to do it at least once.

Also, mostly because it's easier since the iPod I have is the small kind without any display, I'm doing this from my iTunes library on my laptop, which consists of everything I've bothered to rip from my CDs (about 40% of what I actually have, biased against all the classical and jazz because I prefer to listen to those uncompressed) and everything I bought/stole/was given in digital format in the first place (basically all the music I've acquired since about 2005 or so.) So this is a random subset of a not-quite-random subset.

Anyway...feel free to use RW's grading scale to mock me in the comments.


jaime escalante, 1930-2010

From the LA Times

Escalante was a maverick who did not get along with many of his public school colleagues, but he mesmerized students with his entertaining style and deep understanding of math. Educators came from around the country to observe him at Garfield, which built one of the largest and most successful Advanced Placement programs in the nation...

"His passionate belief [was] that all students, when properly prepared and motivated, can succeed at academically demanding course work, no matter what their racial, social or economic background. Because of him, educators everywhere have been forced to revise long-held notions of who can succeed."

Escalante's rise came during an era decried by experts as one of alarming mediocrity in the nation's schools. He pushed for tougher standards and accountability for students and educators, often irritating colleagues and parents along the way with his brusque manner and uncompromising stands.

I think one need look no further than the state of public education to know that Mr. Escalante was definitely pissing off the right people. We need more like him.

Escalante's work in East LA was portrayed in the movie Stand and Deliver, and thus indirectly inspired on of the better recent jokes in South Park:


brian's laws of personal epistimology

1) As the quality your idea improves, the probability that someone has beaten you to it approaches unity.

2) Any hypothesis about human behavior that involves yourself being somehow exceptional is almost certainly wrong.


senate votes to oppress minority drug users only 18 times more than others

I guess this is what passes for liberalization of drug laws in the United States:

After more than a decade of debates, hearings and lobbying, the Senate has passed a bill to change the punishment for possession of crack cocaine.

The bill had strong support from both conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats. While the current law punishes crack users 100 times more heavily than powder cocaine users, the new Senate bill brings the 100-to-1 ratio down to 18-to-1.

What really got to me when I heard this on the radio this morning was the post hoc justification for this atrocious policy on the part of drug warriors:

Congress enacted these rules in the early 1990s, when crack was ravaging urban communities. In those days, Reggie Walton worked on drug policy in the first Bush administration. Back then he supported the sentencing disparity, but now he is a federal judge in Washington and feels differently.

"We believed it was a different chemical substance. [emphasis added] We now know that's not the case," Walton said. "The reality is that crack cocaine and powder cocaine are the same chemical substance."

What, they didn't have analytical chemistry all the way back in the 1990s?

Look, making crack from powdered cocaine ain't a big mystery, folks. In fact, it's so easy, even a crackhead can do it! The end product consists of two major chemical constituents: 1) cocaine and 2) sodium bicarbonate (aka baking soda). Separation and analysis of these molecules could be accomplished in a high school chemistry lab, never mind the fine professionals at the DEA.

Either Judge Walton is seriously misremembering the context in which this policy (which he has subsequently testified before Congress about) was made, or the policy was made without any serious inquiry as to the actual nature of this drug they rushed to legislate on. Come to think of it, I'm not sure which is worse. (Or more likely.)