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May 1, 2009

maddow on hate crimes

I forget where we are in the Rachel Maddow backlash/backlash-to-the-backlash, but buried in this HuffPo recap of Matthew Shepard's mom appearing on Maddow's show is a reminder of the biggest reason why we all liked Rachel in the first place: she's real smart, and she uses these smarts to synthesize and clarify the events of the day.  In this instance, she offers the most cogent explanation of why hate crimes matter I can remember reading:
The concept behind this kind of legislation is often misconstrued but here's the deal as I understand it.  The idea is that the federal Justice Department can get involved in a case to help local authorities or even to take the lead on a case if need be, in prosecuting individual serious violet [sic, I presume] crimes and murders in which the victim was selected on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, disability - the idea that crimes like that are intended not only to hurt or murder an individual, but to terrorize an entire community, and so there is a national interest in ensuring that those crimes are solved and prosecuted, particularly if local law enforcement doesn't want to because they are blinkered by the same prejudice that led to the crime in the first place.

And I know I've had some concerns that hate-crime laws might cross the line into the pass, and now Maddow dispels the notion from my head with one tight paragraph.  Of course, the state's-rights implications of that explanation (i.e., we criminalize an obviously-criminal behavior because we don't trust you to enforce it) might alarm the sort that worry about those type of things, but they'll probably be too busy seceding to notice.

But yes, reserve me a seat in the backlash-to-the-backlash loge.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:57 PM

souter getting out while the getting is good

It's been a little more than a half day since the news that David Souter was retiring from the Supreme Court, and already it is evident that the confirmation hearings for his replacement will be a land war in China.  Steve Benen sums up the Beltway wisdom as:
The argument is straightforward: while Bush picked rigidly conservative justices, Obama should only consider centrists.  To do otherwise might upset Republicans and "sacrifice" political "good will."

A rigorous push-pull of a two-party system can be healthy, or at least should be viewed as possibly healthy in the sense that it is unavoidable.  But the too commonly-held notion that eight years of the Bush Administration has tilted the playing field so far to the right as to make anyone more liberal than Arlen Spector is probably a criminal is misguided.  Even if Obama were to nominate a conservative Republican, the GOP would still obstruct -- that's what they do, that's all they do.  And they're already starting.

Accordingly, maybe the time for a liberal Scalia has arrived.

Failing that, we should settle for nothing less than Avery Schrieber in a Doritos commercial.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:31 PM

"geomagnetic apocalypse" - snappy

Start your TGIF correct with a bold fresh new take on why the world will end in 2012: solar storms will zap our high-voltage power grids into nothingness, leaving us shopping for a whole lotta 16 volt batteries.
Up until this point, I firmly believed that the possibility of 2012 being catastrophic in some way was worth investigating.  The report ["Severe Space Weather Events — Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts"] made it a little too real.  That document can’t be ignored.  And it was even written before the THEMIS satellite discovered a gigantic hole in Earth’s magnetic shield.  Ten or twenty times more particles are coming through this crack than expected.  And astronomers predict that the way the sun’s polarity will flip in 2012 will make it point exactly the way we don’t want it to in terms of evading Earth’s magnetic field.  It’s an astonishingly bad set of coincidences.

Hey, that's a lot less tinfoil hat that you'd like to think!

You're welcome.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:33 AM

April 30, 2009

do i have pig flu?

I'm sure that something else is happening somewhere, but this very comprehensive website might be the only resource you need as all the neighbors you don't know and never liked start to knock on your door and ask you if you have any spare surgical masks or at the least will you wash their hands for them because they don't want to infect their own sink?.

[Via Xeni Jardin.]

Posted by mrbrent at 4:44 PM

i don't know where your panic starts and the coverage thereof ends

From Boing Boing is nice post written by Maggie Koerth-Baker, whose tenure as Guest-Blogger has been marked by measured, insightful work-product.  The linked post deals with some more Swine Flu (cuz who can stop at just a little bit of Swine Flu?), and the attendant 24-hour TV/Net hysteria machine, and whose fault that is, anyway.

There's not really anything I can make fun of in that, so it is useless to me.  But the kicker I entirely concur with:

For the record: I do not think swine, excuse me, H1N1 flu is just a toothless scare.  This really is a virus with pandemic potential and, as has been said, you should be concerned...but not freaked out.  I don't think there's a lot of point in "what ifing" this into the death of civilization.

So come on, panickies, it's not like the Swine Flu has penetrated White House security or anything.

Posted by mrbrent at 1:11 PM

the days of christine todd whitman as a republican are numbered

There is a pleasant polite bit of protestation from Christine Todd Whitman on this morning's NYT Op-Ed Page, disagreeing with the Good-Riddance wing of the GOP on the importance and impact of Arlen Specter's jump to the Democratic Party.  Whitman is a moderate Republican herself, former governor of New Jersey, short-lived head of the EPA for the Bush Administration.  And, you know, she feels that the GOP can't afford to lose Senate votes or to lose moderate appeal, and notes that Specter was subject to a lot of the abuse from the right.  She is very gentle, no finger-pointing, no blame-gaming.  She is genial, and firm in her reasoning.  How about that?

It goes without saying, of course, that once Sen. Jim Demint and ex-Rep. Chris Chocola (his real name!!) get wind of this reasonable op-ed by hearing Rush Limbaugh talk about it, it will be clobberin' time, as the baying hounds of the Club For Growth will run Whitman to ground and worry her like a bone.  Surprising no one.

But you gotta give it up to someone trying to be polite.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:47 AM

April 29, 2009

this counts as a shout-out to japandra

And while we sit and ponder Pandemic Alerts and the fact that a person who thinks that FDR caused the Depression with the Hoot-Smalley Act is permitted to sit in Congress, Japandra is busy practicing some comparative musicology on songs of our childhood.

And I agree with her: "We Built This City" is less than "Invisible Touch".  Though I did see one of those songs played live in a stadium, but I was really only there because Genesis was on tour, and, at that time, when Genesis was on tour, we went to go see Genesis.  (Just waiting for the "Abacab" medley at the end.)

Funny, you'd think that, living in Japan, Japandra would be knee-deep in the hoopla.  Not the case.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:06 PM

just when you thought you entered the bachmann-free zone

"Hoot-Smalley" may go a short way to converting Bachmann's bat-shittiness to a harmless, Edith-Bunker malaprop-styled bat-shittiness, but my comments still stand.

She might distract us now and again by not knowing how to pronounce things, but then she'll turn around and accuse the "Democrat" party of engineering the AIDS virus and then the geniuses that populate a certain ideologically-committed sector of amateur web-based publishing will start linking it as truth.

Hell, she can only allow herself to be photographed holding a cute puppy for all I care.  I love a cute puppy as next as the next guy, but it's not going to soften her image in my eyes because I know that sooner or later you know she's gonna tie its leash to the rear bumper and then go for a drive.

Posted by mrbrent at 3:04 PM

william warren got nuthin on sean delonas

One expression that I have to keep myself from using is "blood libel", which for years I thought just meant "really bad libel".  How could I grow up thinking this?  Basically, a general tendency to act in reliance of what I think an idiom sounds like it means, led me to use "blood libel" in twisted context a few times until I got a nudge from a friend to look it up.

This editorial cartoon (not by Sean Delonas for once) is not only a predictably knuckle-dragging response to Sen. Specter changing parties, it also harkens back to the libel of someone selling someone-else out for thirty pieces of silver -- a Father Coughlin-level slander.  I'm surprised there was no baby-eating in the cartoon.  Maybe the artist, William Warren, would find baby-eating too hard to draw.

So when Chris Lehmann characterizes this cartoon as of an example of "not-so-thinly veiled anti-semitic blood libels", that would be literal truth and not a rhetorical flourish.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:09 AM

jay bybee and good faith

Here's a serious question with no swear words (except for this one: fuck!).  The NYT runs a story this morning on one of the authors of the torture memos, Jay S. Bybee, who has since been nominated to the federal appeals court, in which Bybee, instead of ignoring or distancing himself from the uproar (and calls for his impeachment) resulting from the release of the memos, he defends himself:
Judge Bybee... said in a statement in response to questions from The New York Times that he continued to believe that the memorandums represented “a good-faith analysis of the law” that properly defined the thin line between harsh treatment and torture.

My question is this: is it accurate to characterize the work product of the Office of Legal Counsel as "good faith"?  Think about it (and you actual lawyers out there especially): were Bybee and other White House lawyers tasked with interpreting the law and presenting their interpretations to policy-makers, or were they tasked with finding a way to rationalize already-decided policy with a prejudiced reading of the law?  Because if it's the latter (and all our reporterly reconstructions of events have pointed to that) then Bybee's analysis was "good faith" like a hole in the head.

Maybe some nice lawyer friend will send actually-informed thoughts on this topic to share.

Finding fault with phrasing is not as much fun as name-calling, but do remember that I am at least implying that Bybee is a stinky liar pants.

Posted by mrbrent at 10:07 AM

April 28, 2009

michele bachmann: from novelty to bellweather

Funny, right about the time that I've decided that posts here are better spent finding something other than the latest crazy thing that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Pride of MN) might say, she goes and says the thing that runs right past crazy and into despicable.
"I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president Jimmy Carter," said Bachmann.  "And I'm not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it's an interesting coincidence."

You try to keep some perspective: she's just a politician, she's trying to appeal to people that believe untenable bullshit, like FEMA fucking coffins (they are burial vaults -- the sheath the put around a coffin because of state laws -- how do I know? because I've been to an undertaker once or twice), but "pandemics happen under Democrats" is such deliberately provocative inaccurate garbage that it reveals her not to be merely feckless but also unalloyedly stupid.  As in, in 1976, Gerald Ford was president.  As in, the Great Influenza epidemic of 1918, that was Woodrow Wilson.

And not that there should ever be a link between public health events and political administrations -- a specious waste of time, like under whose tenure asteroids strike.  But if you're going to try to pull off some bulletproof libel on your political opponents, then take the time to be at least fucking accurate.  I just wish that someone could get her in front of a camera and ask her, "Are you out of your fucking mind?" just so that her wide-eyed rictus would make sense for once.

She's an embarrassment, an embarrassment to people with whom I disagree, who frankly deserve a better demagogue.

Yeah, I had a bad day.

Posted by mrbrent at 7:46 PM

swine flu fever: staying alive!

Just judging by the local news of more swine be-flued schoolchildren, it looks like the time for panic is not yet past.  True, I've only seen one surgical mask on the subway, but it's not yet Wednesday, and don't the surgical mask companies drop the hot new surgical masks on Tuesdays at midnight?

So while you are revising your go-bags to include Kleenexes and crossbows (to defend yourself from the zombie swine flu horde), have some grown-up thinking!

This piece (via Gibson) is a nice thoughtful contemplation of how a little knowledge is indeed a dangerous thing, and this piece from the Guardian puts two and two together and thinks of another thing that food produced on an industrial scale might do besides make you fat and unhealthy.

In the meantime, let's convince all the panicky that only eating lima beans will protect them, and then wait for the empty spaces on the grocery shelves.

(And of course please cover your mouth and wash your hands a lot.  You'll find it calming.)

Posted by mrbrent at 5:12 PM

arlen specter will not stop this waterboarding post

This NYT article is worth a read, though there's not a whole lot I can say to improve on it.  Basically, it tracks down what nudged the discourse into the direction of "torture is cool!", and comes to the conclusion that Patient Zero was a ex-CIA officer who went rogue and shared much torture-love all over the news.  Well, "went rogue" according to CIA response to the story, now, but then again, it's not like the CIA has a long history of fessing up when plausible deniability is within arm's reach.

It serves to walk back a whole lotta talking points (torture works! and it works real fast!), not that anyone clinging to these talking points will notice that their primary source was demonstrably full of shit.

Speaking of clingers, the story also references the willingness of one Sean Hannity to be waterboarded for charity.  While it's fun to while away a lunch break pondering how charities would benefit from Hannity volunteering to undergo a simulated drowning, Hannity's offer raises a point that I hadn't quite thought of: if waterboarding is by no means torture and so nothing that a talk show host could walk away unscathed, then how is it supposed to be such a gloves-off by-any-means necessary reaction to terrorism?  Which is it: the irresistible force, or a soft fluffy pillow?

Posted by mrbrent at 11:49 AM

sars! i mean, swine flu fever!

There was a sentiment bouncing around Twitter yesterday that I would paraphrase as this: "For all those making jokes, keep in mind that [X] Mexicans have died of the swine flu".  I'm not going to look up who initiated it because I don't want to counter-point any fingers, but it was reTweeted liberally (by liberals, that is).

I would like, however, to counter with the thesis that, as long as we're comparatively in the dark about "why we joke" (as opposed to how much we know about "why we eat", and "why you're fat"), let's suppose that maybe joking is one of the ways we try to offload fear, to keep from crying/freaking out.  Or, if you get a little more nebulous, maybe irreverence is overt psychic resistance to the kind of insignificance that one can feel when one considers the possibility of an organism smaller than the dot in this i killing his family.  A thumb of the nose, an insouciance, a bon mot right before the blindfold and the cigarette.  And for that matter, the impulse to joke at inappropriate times could be a neurological defect waiting for the next revision of the DSR, or the result of poor upbringing.

Maybe it's one of those things we'll never know.

So, for all those worried about jokes being made: humor already died once in this decade, and it was a terrible idea to let it die.  You don't imply the joke-makers are callous, and the joke-makers won't imply you're sanctimonious.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:01 AM

April 27, 2009

newspapers: just a flesh wound

If you can rip yourself away from the raw human spectacle of the magazine Portfolio shutting its doors (and right when you were thinking about remembering that there was a magazine called Portfolio), Editor and Publisher reports that the most recent newspaper circulation news, while bad for a lot of papers, was not necessarily all bad.

I'm a little over my head when it comes to Audit Bureau of Circulations numbers, but the piece listed 25 papers that showed a circulation increase when combining paper/Internet readership.  And each of these 25 papers has in common that they are not a "national" paper -- the sole NY/LA/Chicago paper on the list is the New York Daily News, and the rest are markets ranging from NOLA to Greenwich, CT.

Now, maybe it's disingenuous to combine paper and Internet numbers.  I guess it depends on whether "audience" is paid or unpaid circulation, how exactly the Internet readership generates revenue.  But it is an important reminder that statistics are your friend, and can be pretzeled into good news with little effort.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:54 AM

April 26, 2009

someone found a use for conan the barbarian

This bit of news is mostly notable for this:
An Oklahoma City man who announced on Twitter that he would turn an April 15 tax protest into a bloodbath was hit with a federal charge of making interstate threats last week, in what appears to be first criminal prosecution to stem from posts on the microblogging site.

Which means that Twitter has finally arrived!

But it's also notable for the quote supplied by the now-perp meant to justify his masculine bad-assery:

"You want to live forever?"---Conan

I'm assuming he's referring to the movie featuring Robert E. Howard's character, and not Conan O'Brien.  Though both would fail equally.

Maybe the great thing about "microblogging", or Twitter in specific, is that not only will your words be held against you, but you will not be able to cover your trail.  See also this.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:06 PM

who knew senators were people too?

If you are interested in the tenor of our legislative body, then this summary is of definite interest.  It details what our fifty (49?) senators think of each other, as far as cooperative potential.  As opposed to personableness, though I'm sure that's got something to do with it.

(Speaking of which, Sam Brownback's reminiscence of Paul Wellstone made me a little bit weepy.)

Of course, if you are only interested in advocating your side of the ideological debate (um, like me), this might not be so much interesting as it is a pleasant rejoinder.

Posted by mrbrent at 8:57 PM

Further to news of the possibility of the swine flu pandemic, the White House contributes the following to the discourse:
It's not a time to panic.

I'm not an elected official, and I'm not even one that would ever be hired by an elected official.  But common sense dictates that statements recommending a lack of panic coming from an institution that would never ever recommend panicking might have an unintended effect.  Like panicking.

It might make sense: well, let's try to forestall panic, somehow.  But "panic" is one of those barn-door words that invites itself no matter the context in which it is said.  Like, what you take away from the above phrase is:

Bla bla bla PANIC bla bla.

But now that I've raised that point, I agree that panic is not yet called for.  But my audience is (exponentially) smaller, and knows better.

Posted by mrbrent at 7:11 PM

swine flu

Here's an epidemiological map (via Japandra) detailing the current spread in the US of the swine flu, which I'll watching closely to see when/if the time will come that I should stop making SWINE FLU FEVER jokes.

Virus hunting is a subject that I've read up on (I don't know why), and, oddly enough, two weeks ago I picked up a copy of the first novel by Richard Preston (of "The Hot Zone") and started reading it in the past few days.  And then boom, actual viral event.

Why be blithe?  I look at pandemics as the same way I look at hurricanes: extraordinarily bad news that I try to redeem by giving in to the sheer awesomeness of the event.  And obviously, I mean "awesome" in the sense of "awe-inducing" and not in the sense of "dude".  Of all of the things that keep us up at night, one little bug jumps species and now Mexico City is afraid to go outside, and, if the progression keeps up, large swaths of America (including this one) will be subject to the same reaction.  The biosphere likes to reinstall humility into us every few decades.

But if there's one thing I've taken away from copious reading, it's that the CDC is one of Federal arms that did not get sinecured into obsolescence by the previous administration -- they are prepared and they are grown-ups.  The next day or two should tell the extent of the spread, at least around these parts.  In the meantime, we'll keep washing our hands and cut back on the irreverence.

Posted by mrbrent at 11:46 AM