Monday, April 30, 2007

a bitter cup

An especially gullible NY Times reviewer discusses a PBS special on the LDS church:

There is a split personality at work here: Mormonism has clearly evolved — denouncing the polygamy it once sanctioned, for instance — but today seems determined to stand fast on issues like homosexuality. Marlin K. Jensen, a historian of the church, provides one of the program’s most compelling moments when he speaks to that subject head-on.

“If you’re going to live your life within the framework of the gospel and within the framework of our doctrine,” he says, “then you’ve got to choose to marry someone of the opposite sex, and if you can’t do that honestly, then your choice has to be to live a celibate life. And that is a very difficult choice.” Of those who have to make it, he says, “My heart goes out to them.” And you believe him.

If you believe him, then you’re a fool. Brother Jensen, unless he is gay himself, doesn’t know anything about what that choice entails. Words are cheap. Bigotry is real. Again, if you believe this man has seriously grappled with the issues a gay person growing up in the Church deals with without being gay himself, you are deluding yourself. Members of the Church should get no credit for being especially steadfast in their prejudice.

And as the reviewer alludes, the Church’s seeming resolution on this issue is as superficial as the intractability with which it fought pressure to concede on polygamy and granting blacks the priesthood. Once the costs of stigmatizing gay people outweigh the benefits, the Church will change its position, as it has so often before. To the rank and file who take direction from the Church leadership, these abrupt about-faces on what were previously matters of core doctrine are as inscrutable as the mind of God, and ultimately serve as simply another test of faith. There's nothing like the certainty and comfort that comes with leaving difficult moral decisions in the hands of others.

Friday, April 27, 2007

heaven and earth

I found this ad from a recent print version of the Economist to be problematic. It’s a picture of a hotel worker holding aloft an umbrella so a wealthy Western couple can waltz on the rooftop in the rain in Singapore. Very romantic, if not particularly practical. But what bothers me is the explicit servility of the worker, who gets drenched so the couple can do something absolutely frivolous. It’s just an ad, and in all likelihood no one has ever done this or ever will, but it’s an ad that has run for some time now presumably because it strikes a chord with the traveling business class. This lays out one of the principal failings of the present economic system: extreme inequality of outcome. This inequality is magnified across national boundaries. It’s not as though these three people grew up together, went to the same prep school in Connecticut, but one made foolish life choices and ended up as a bellhop while the other two became a corporate executive and spouse. This ad makes evident the way local workers are orientalized and made invisible to the superrich who inhabit the higher strata of the business world. The ad is meant to show the extreme lengths to which Shangri-La workers will go to enhance the comfort of their guests, which one surmises can be attributed to some deep inherent hospitality of the “native” population. In reality, it’s simple poverty of opportunity that makes a person submit to another in this way.

Picture an ad showing a ritzy hotel in Atlanta with a black bellhop holding an umbrella over a twirling white couple. The ad above is no better.

. . . adding that what bothers me most is not that, in all likelihood, the white guy in the picture makes 20 times what the brown guy does. It's the fact that one guy gets to dance while the other gets soaked. We have reason to believe that the system by which top executives, partners at white shoe law firms, or hedge fund managers are selected to receive the full munificence of the global economic engine is not a particularly fair or rational one. Those born into bad situations tend to stay there, while on the other hand we have . . . our ever-loving president (I rest my case). But even if the labor market evolved to the point where it could pluck out of the global masses the person whose talents and characteristics most suited a particular job regardless of the station of that person's parents, someone would still have to scrub the toilets. And scrubbing toilets sucks. Now I'm not saying we all need to move to a commune and let the economy go to shit. Division of labor is one of the foundations of modern life--it allows me to type on this computer and listen to streaming radio, talk to my family on the phone, do moderately interesting work, etc. etc. But that still doesn't get us around the unpleasant reality that scrubbing toilets for a living really really sucks. I'm reminded of the comment Imus made years ago about PBS journalist Gwen Ifill being a cleaning lady. Well, Don Imus is a pretty big loser. But there's a good reason that "cleaning lady" is considered an insult, notwithstanding the increasingly tortured efforts of the privileged classes to embue blue collar work with an honor and dignity it usually lacks. The reason is that spending your days scrubbing toilets, shining shoes, or carrying a goddamn rickshaw is unpleasant and demeaning and I've never met anyone in a job like that who wouldn't trade up if they had half a chance. If the casual reader of the Economist doesn't realize that the guy holding the umbrella in the picture above really fucking hates the people under the umbrella, then (a) he's never worked a crappy job and/or (b) sooner or later, he's in for an unpleasant wake-up call.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

war on drugs

Here is the story of a stoner from Tremonton, Utah.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

detachable penis

The most urgent news of the day comes from London:

A man who cut off his penis in front of diners at a pizza restaurant in the Strand, London, has had it reattached in the first operation of its kind in the country. It is too early to tell whether the operation will be a success, however, according to surgeons who carried out the procedure at St Thomas's hospital, south London.

The 35-year-old Polish man had grabbed a knife from the kitchen of the Zizzi's restaurant before climbing on to a table, dropping his pants and cutting off his penis in front of other diners, many of whom had gathered at the restaurant after the London marathon.


I liked this version of the story from a Croatian paper better, descriptively titled "Run Into The Restaurant And Cut Off His Penis", with the caption "Bizarrley Hurting" under a photo of a sharp-looking knife. Subcaption: "Police had to use the force to restrain the man who cut off his penis in the restaurant."

Police was forced to use a gas to restrain the man in the Zizzi restaurant. The man, between 30 to 40 years old, hurt himself by cutting his penis.

The restaurant spokesman said that the man entered the restaurant about 9 p.m. and tried to get into the kitchen. After he was stopped by personnel, the man still managed to run into another kitchen room, grab the knife and cut his wrists. He then run back to the restaurant and continued with self-hurting.

Everything happened within a second but it was still very scarry and shocking for the guests and the restaurant personnel.

The man was deported to the hospital, but doctors did not succeded in sewing on his penis, BBC writes.

Thank you, Google news.

Monday, April 23, 2007

sea of people, or the iceman skateth

Posting has been nonexistent light recently due to a shortage of inspiration and a spate of beautiful weather in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area.

Last weekend, I indulged in a bit of activism with my fiancée in lower Manhattan. The idea was to create a visual image of the potential post-global-warming waterline submerging large sections of the Financial District with, well, a sea of people. Or at least a river of people … a stream of people?

The SEA OF PEOPLE project combines the dynamics of a mass rally with the expressive power of an interactive artistic installation. A noon rally at Battery Park (main lawn) will kick off the event. Then, thousands of participants, ideally dressed in blue, will stretch north in two columns along the projected eastern and western 10-foot waterlines that may one day redefine lower Manhattan under the ten-foot sea level rise scenario. Creating, in essence, a Sea of People!

I think “thousands” ended up being “a thousand.” But minds were clear and hearts pure, and we trickled off with the other marchers to our assigned position.
We hope for this line to stretch a mile or more, winding up both sides of downtown Manhattan to create a visual and symbolic statement that our elected representatives can't possibly ignore!

I don’t think too many NYC politicians are ignoring the pro-environment wishes of their constituents; hence, Republican Mayor Bloomberg’s Earth Day congestion pricing announcement.

If you’ll note how close those tall shiny buildings full of stockbrokers, analysts, and lawyers are to the water surrounding the island, you’ll understand the mayor’s sense of urgency.

And this guy’s, um, sense of awesomeness:

Yes, he's on rollerblades. Yes, that's a tinfoil crown on his head. Yes, he is my idol.

These children sense that they are in the presence of greatness.
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Thursday, April 19, 2007

tear down that wha?

There's something wrong with this picture.

I think I've got it. It reminds me of something else. Here it is:

Then (1962):

While both [Peter Fechter and Helmut Kulbeik] reached the wall, guards fired at them. Although Kulbeik succeeded in crossing the wall, Fechter, still on the wall, was shot in the pelvis in plain view of hundreds of witnesses. He fell back into the death-strip on the Eastern side, where he remained in view of Western onlookers, including journalists. Despite his screams, he received no medical assistance either from the East or the West side. He bled to death after about an hour. Hundreds in West Berlin formed a spontaneous demonstration, shouting "Murderers!" at the border guards.

A grainy surveillance video taken as a Border Patrol agent fatally shot an illegal immigrant from Mexico appears to lend credence to the surviving immigrants' accounts of what happened.

. . .

Border Patrol agent Nicholas Corbett encountered a group of four immigrants among a larger group of border crossers whom he and other agents were rounding up on Jan. 12 near Naco. The group included three brothers and one man's wife.

Corbett has declined to be interviewed by investigators but told other agents that he came around the front of his SUV, saw a man with a rock in his hand close to the rear of the vehicle and fired when the man moved to throw it.

The witnesses said the agent came from behind the victim, and the video appears to support that version.

One clip shows Corbett's Border Patrol vehicle driving up to a small group of people and circling around them. The agent then opens the door and emerges from behind his SUV, running toward the group, bunched near his rear bumper.

He then appears to have contact with one person.

Within seconds, Corbett apparently pushed one of the immigrants, Francisco Javier Dominguez Rivera, toward the ground and shot him, authorities said.

All in the line of duty.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


In my search of prominent conservative blogs today for some indication of how the Virginia Tech shooting might affect the chances of immigration overhaul this year, I didn’t find much, for which I was grateful. The murders were a heartwrenching tragedy. I would hate to see them used to stymie much-needed, already precarious immigration reform. I think that had the killer been a Chinese national here on an F-1 visa as people initially speculated, a bill would be impossible this year. Since he hailed instead from a strong U.S. ally (at least on paper—South Korean public opinion is fairly anti-American these days, here’s one example) and had lived here as a legal permanent resident for half his life, the connection to the immigration issue is more tenuous. Not that this matters to anyone who lost a loved one in the violence—nor should it—but it will matter to the millions of out-of-status immigrants hoping to bring a measure of normalcy to their lives.

But in my browsing I stumbled across something I didn’t expect at RedState—not that I read RedState on anything resembling a regular basis, so my expectations were based almost solely on my own preconceptions. But I was still pleasantly surprised to read a stern rebuke by RedState poster Erick of a conservative Georgia judge who took a young girl from her lesbian adoptive mother and put her into foster care. The girl’s best interests were pretty obviously not served by the decision, and the adoptive mother ended up in jail. According to the post, the case is currently tied up in appeals. Comments on the wisdom of the judge’s decision were divided, but to me, the tone and substance of the post, as well as much of the debate in comments, were hugely encouraging.

Here’s another indicator that public opinion on gay rights is inexorably shifting: BYU just changed its honor code to permit LGBT students to come partway out of the closet.

A small but significant change in how Brigham Young University's honor code may be applied clarifies gay students' status just weeks after gay-rights advocates were arrested at the school.

The changes, which condemn behavior rather than sexual orientation, "remove a lot of the Gestapo atmosphere from the campus," said Brett Condron, a BYU freshman.

The changes don’t look like much, but will make a difference to many students.

From the Tribune, the old provision:
Brigham Young University will respond to student behavior rather than to feelings or orientation. Students can be enrolled at the University and remain in good Honor Code standing if they maintain a current ecclesiastical endorsement and conduct their lives in a manner consistent with gospel principles and the Honor Code. Advocacy of a homosexual lifestyle (whether implied or explicit) or any behaviors that indicate homosexual conduct, including those not sexual in nature, are inappropriate and violate the Honor Code.

The amended provision:
Brigham Young University will respond to homosexual behavior rather than to feelings or orientation and welcomes as full members of the university community all whose behavior meets university standards. Members of the university community can remain in good Honor Code standing if they conduct their lives in a manner consistent with gospel principles and the Honor Code.

One's stated sexual orientation is not an Honor Code issue. However, the Honor Code requires all members of the university community to manifest a strict commitment to the law of chastity. Homosexual behavior or advocacy of homosexual behavior are inappropriate and violate the Honor Code. Homosexual behavior includes not only sexual relations between members of the same sex, but all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings. Advocacy includes seeking to influence others to engage in homosexual behavior or promoting homosexual relations as being morally acceptable.

LGBT students still can’t hold hands on campus and are condemned to official celibacy. But with this policy change, the BYU administration (and therefore the church leadership) moved slightly further away from Riyadh and towards modernity. Keeping in mind that this is the church that excluded black men from positions of leadership until 1978, the year I was born. (Women are still excluded.)

Baby steps.

Monday, April 16, 2007

blessed are they that mourn


Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

the deadliest weapon in the world is a marine and his rifle

News from the other war:

American marines reacted to a bomb ambush with excessive force in eastern Afghanistan last month, hitting groups of bystanders and vehicles with machine-gun fire in a series of attacks that covered 10 miles of highway and left 12 civilians dead, including an infant and three elderly men, according to a report published by an Afghan human rights commission on Saturday.

Families of the victims described in interviews this week the painful toll of the attacks, which took place on March 4 in Nangarhar Province. One victim, a 16-year-old newly married girl, was cut down while she was carrying a bundle of grass to her family’s farmhouse, according to her family and the report. A 75-year-old man walking to his shop was hit by so many bullets that his son said he did not recognize the body when he came to the scene.

In its report, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission condemned the suicide bomb attack that started the episode, striking a Marine Special Operations unit convoy and slightly wounding one American. And the report said there might also have been small arms fire directed at the convoy immediately after the blast. But it said the response was disproportionate, especially given the obviously nonmilitary nature of the marines’ targets long after the ambush.
. . .

The events have had the highest profile of a number of potential human rights violations by both sides, many by the Taliban and its allies, in the fighting in Afghanistan that were documented by the Afghan commission, which was established after the Taliban’s ouster and is partly financed by Congress. The commission’s report comes amid resurgent Taliban violence and coalition reprisals that are costing an increasing number of civilian lives and that have brought harsh criticism of international forces in the country.

The deputy director of the human rights commission, Nader Nadery, warned that attacks like the highway shooting had greatly contributed to outrage in Afghanistan, contradicting efforts by coalition forces to win people’s support away from the Taliban. “This is not an isolated case” he said. “People are realizing more that they are a victim of the conflict from both sides, from the Taliban and from the international operations.”
. . .

In other cases involving coalition troops in Afghanistan, the report detailed an airstrike in Kapisa Province in March that killed a family of nine people, including two pregnant women and four children younger than 5.
If you kill them young enough, they can’t grow up to be terrorists. Or something.
The report also criticized continuing house raids by American forces, including one on the house of one of the human rights commission’s staff members, who the report said was hooded and handcuffed to a detonator and told not to move in case it exploded.
This is one way to show so-called human rights groups who is really in charge. Maybe now they’ll think twice about releasing reports like this one.

Via IOZ, we have word of mercenaries in Iraq joining in the fun.

On the afternoon of July 8, 2006, four private security guards rolled out of Baghdad's Green Zone in an armored SUV. The team leader, Jacob C. Washbourne, rode in the front passenger seat. He seemed in a good mood. His vacation started the next day.

"I want to kill somebody today," Washbourne said, according to the three other men in the vehicle, who later recalled it as an offhand remark. Before the day was over, however, the guards had been involved in three shooting incidents. In one, Washbourne allegedly fired into the windshield of a taxi for amusement, according to interviews and statements from the three other guards.
He’s a veritable army of one.

Can’t wait ‘till he comes home. Hold on, he’s back already.
Washbourne, a 29-year-old former Marine, denied the allegations. "They're all unfounded, unbased, and they simply did not happen," he said during an interview near his home in Broken Arrow, Okla.

The full story of what happened on Baghdad's airport road that day may never be known. But a Washington Post investigation of the incidents provides a rare look inside the world of private security contractors, the hired guns who fight a parallel and largely hidden war in Iraq. The contractors face the same dangers as the military, but many come to the war for big money, and they operate outside most of the laws that govern American forces.

The U.S. military has brought charges against dozens of soldiers and Marines in Iraq, including 64 servicemen linked to murders. Not a single case has been brought against a security contractor, and confusion is widespread among contractors and the military over what laws, if any, apply to their conduct. The Pentagon estimates that at least 20,000 security contractors work in Iraq, the size of an additional division.

Private contractors were granted immunity from the Iraqi legal process in 2004 by L. Paul Bremer, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the U.S. occupation government. More recently, the military and Congress have moved to establish guidelines for prosecuting contractors under U.S. law or the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but so far the issue remains unresolved.
IOZ clarifies for the Post’s readers:
[T]he fact that ignorant men made the decisions does not make the decisions themselves acts of ignorance. Or, as they say on the innertubes: Not a bug, but a feature. The United States didn't create a legal vacuum around two tens of thousands of heavily-armed hit men by accident, and the issues of their accountability and their culpability do not "remain unresolved" because they're "thorny" or "difficult" or "complex." How many times must we repeat ourselves: the war in Iraq was an act of aggression by the United States, an unprovoked invasion with no more moral or legal legitimacy than any conquest undertaken by Germany or the Soviet Union or Napoleonic France. We are not the good guys.
If we had a more patriotic press, we wouldn’t be plagued by these unpleasant thoughts. Thankfully, there’s a simple way to resolve any nasty cognitive dissonance—ignore it.

Saturday, April 14, 2007


These are some postcards my fiancée bought a couple years ago. Scary.

And here is psycho Blythe, in case there was any doubt.
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Thursday, April 12, 2007

fostering goodwill

The current administration has decided to use Iraq as a laboratory for tort reform--when the government screws up and shoots your innocent relatives, take what you are offered and pretend to be grateful:

In February 2006, nervous American soldiers in Tikrit killed an Iraqi fisherman on the Tigris River after he leaned over to switch off his engine. A year earlier, a civilian filling his car and an Iraqi Army officer directing traffic were shot by American soldiers in a passing convoy in Balad, for no apparent reason.

The incidents are among many thousands of claims submitted to the Army by Iraqi and Afghan civilians seeking payment for noncombat killings, injuries or property damage American forces inflicted on them or their relatives.

The claims provide a rare window into the daily chaos and violence faced by civilians and troops in the two war zones. Recently, the Army disclosed roughly 500 claims to the American Civil Liberties Union in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. They are the first to be made public.

They represent only a small fraction of the claims filed. In all, the military has paid more than $32 million to Iraqi and Afghan civilians for noncombat-related killings, injuries and property damage, an Army spokeswoman said. That figure does not include condolence payments made at a unit commander’s discretion.

. . .

In the case of the fisherman in Tikrit, he and his companion desperately tried to appear unthreatening to an American helicopter overhead.

“They held up the fish in the air and shouted ‘Fish! Fish!’ to show they meant no harm,” said the Army report attached to the claim filed by the fisherman’s family. The Army refused to compensate for the killing, ruling that it was “combat activity,” but approved $3,500 for his boat, net and cellphone, which drifted away and were stolen.

Thankfully our armed forces have not let their guard down against Iraqi fishermen engaging in “combat activity” with, well, presumably their daily catch. I can imagine the conversation in the helicopter:

Pilot: There he is!
Co-pilot: Where?
Pilot: There!
Co-pilot: What? Behind the fish?
Pilot: It *is* the fish!
Co-pilot: You silly sod!
Pilot: What?
Co-pilot: You got us all worked up!
Pilot: Well, that's no ordinary fish.
Co-pilot: Ohh. That's the most foul, cruel, and bad-tempered aquatic vertebrate you ever set eyes on!
Gunner 1: You tit! I soiled my armor I was so scared!
Pilot: Look, that fish's got a vicious streak a mile wide! It's a killer!
Medic: Get stuffed!
Pilot: He'll do you up a treat, mate.
Medic: Oh, yeah?
Gunner 1: You manky Scots git!
Pilot: I'm warning you!
Gunner 1: What's he do? Nibble your bum?
Pilot: He's got huge, sharp... er... He can leap about. Look at the bones!
Co-pilot: Go on, fill him full of lead!
Gunner 2: Right! Silly little bleeder. One fish stew comin' right up!

The fishermen evidently were doing everything in their power to indicate that they meant no harm to the soldiers hovering overhead. But even if you speak the language of your benevolent overlords, how do you communicate with a fucking helicopter?

Apparently you don’t. (That’s the point of having a helicopter, really.)

In another incident, in 2005, an American soldier in a dangerous Sunni Arab area south of Baghdad killed a boy after mistaking his book bag for a bomb satchel. The Army paid the boy’s uncle $500.

. . .

Soldiers hand out instruction cards after mistakes are made, so Iraqis know where to file claims.

The give-away here: “mistakes are made.”

“The Army does not target civilians,” said Maj. Anne D. Edgecomb, an Army spokeswoman.

The Army does not target civilians, it just shoots them. It’s like a video game, but more exciting cause you've got more skin in the game.

[Major Edgecomb continues:] “Sadly, however, the enemy’s tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan unnecessarily endanger innocent civilians.”

Sadly, Iraqi civilians have unnecessarily endangered themselves by carelessly inviting U.S. forces to destroy their country and gun them down for fishing and transporting books in public places. It’s not our fault that unforeseen political opportunities quickly seized the war on terra necessitated the mobilization of 130,000 soldiers to a remote land in order to subjugate the local population.

In late 2003, as more Iraqis were accidentally injured or killed, the Army began offering condolence payments. It has not always worked as planned, said Sarah Holewinski, the executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, a nonprofit group in Washington.

“Sometimes families would get paid and sometimes their neighbors wouldn’t,” she said. “It caused a lot of resentments among the Iraqis, which is ironic because it was a program specifically meant to foster good will.”

Fascinating—to think that a policy of this administration had the exact opposite of its intended effect. That’s got to be a first.

Once again, I'm unhappy that our government is off killing beleaguered, impoverished people who never posed a threat to us and telling us to be proud of it.

vote and die

The Times has the rundown on persistent politically-motivated efforts by DOJ appointees to crack down on a voter fraud crisis that barely exists. One felon voted while on probation and served a year in jail for her attempt at civic engagement. The article profiles several permanent residents who registered to vote not knowing they were ineligible, never actually voted, but were deported anyway for their efforts. Many permanent residents mistakenly register to vote by filling out registration cards attached to driver’s license registration cards. All they hear is “Register to vote! Get involved in your community!” but the DMV doesn’t care if the occasional permanent resident gets deported—not their problem. Immigration even encourages permanent residents to register to vote at the swearing in appointment (the last step in obtaining citizenship) before they are sworn in, which can cause serious problems if the ceremony is postponed for some reason. Again, not the government’s problem if its negligence fucks up someone’s life.

“Rock the vote,” “vote or die,” whatever the latest bullshit line is, the clear message from our government is you’d better think twice about voting for the wrong side or they will come after you.

Update: Publius has lots more here about government innovation to stop "improper" votes before they are cast.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

molestame ... molestame mucho

Sanjaya Malakar
Originally uploaded by Jackie Sometimes Art.

Monday, April 09, 2007

the "c" word

Here we go again:

The conversational free-for-all on the Internet known as the blogosphere can be a prickly and unpleasant place. Now, a few high-profile figures in high-tech are proposing a blogger code of conduct to clean up the quality of online discourse.

Last week, Tim O’Reilly, a conference promoter and book publisher who is credited with coining the term Web 2.0, began working with Jimmy Wales, creator of the communal online encyclopedia Wikipedia, to create a set of guidelines to shape online discussion and debate.

Chief among the recommendations is that bloggers consider banning anonymous comments left by visitors to their pages and be able to delete threatening or libelous comments without facing cries of censorship.

. . .

Mr. Wales and Mr. O’Reilly were inspired to act after a firestorm erupted late last month in the insular community of dedicated technology bloggers. In an online shouting match that was widely reported, Kathy Sierra, a high-tech book author from Boulder County, Colo., and a friend of Mr. O’Reilly, reported getting death threats that stemmed in part from a dispute over whether it was acceptable to delete the impolitic comments left by visitors to someone’s personal Web site.

Distraught over the threats and manipulated photos of her that were posted on other critical sites — including one that depicted her head next to a noose — Ms. Sierra canceled a speaking appearance at a trade show and asked the local police for help in finding the source of the threats. She also said that she was considering giving up blogging altogether.

. . .

Menacing behavior is certainly not unique to the Internet. But since the Web offers the option of anonymity with no accountability, online conversations are often more prone to decay into ugliness than those in other media.

I hesitate to delve into this, since I’m starting to get the impression that newspapers and magazines are learning they can get traction online and stir up a fuss simply by putting out a story about blogs in which one or more sources says something someone in the blogosphere will strongly disagree with, which is to say they open their mouths and emit sounds commonly known as words. It’s the journalistic equivalent of poking an anthill with a stick because it’s easier and produces more interesting results than doing your chores.

I don’t read tech blogs, and I wonder how much of this article is relevant to political blogging. In the political blogosphere, I’ve certainly seen vitriolic ad hominem attacks from the left, the right, and all places in between. However, lefty bloggers (and libertarians not named Glenn) generally place less value than right-wing bloggers in “civility” as it’s generally understood offline, meaning the use of curse words. I feel as though the word “civility” has been reduced in this debate to one meaning—presence or absence of profanity—much as in some religious contexts “morality” has become code for “sex” for people who feel uncomfortable using the ‘s’ word. Insofar as “civility” in this context is used to mean snark or general rudeness or exasperation with one’s political opponents, these are lesser components of the concept and seem to cause less alarm among the non-blogging public.

As a general principle, I value civility as an extension of the golden rule: treat others as you’d like to be treated, that is, respectfully. But civility in some contexts is overrated. For instance, in a quality gangster flick, you don’t want Al Pacino yelling “fetch” or “flip” a couple hundred times in the course of arranging drug deals and gunning people down, or Jack Nicholson politely refraining from breaking a flunky’s hand for no apparent reason, thereby failing to demonstrate to the viewer his expansive ruthlessness.

As far as civility in the context of online political blogging, at the risk of making the obvious and possibly infuriating argument, I’m going to go right where my hippie brain takes me and say that this, this, or this [warning: graphic photos of the effects of war] strike me as rather more obscene than George Carlin’s seven naughty words. One might, if one were so inclined, wonder where the civility is in Guantanamo Bay, in half the world’s population living on less than $2 a day, or in the federal prosecution of a dying woman whose self-medication with a mildly psychoactive plant allows her not to starve to death?

In the hierarchy of incivility, killing someone because you don’t understand how the world works or how you fit into it, killing someone “accidentally” as you see it because that person is essentially invisible to you, must surely rank somewhere above an “aitch-ee-double hockey stick” or an “ask me no more questions, I’ll tell you no more lies”, if somewhere below the dread F-bomb.

Turning to comment threads--death threats or extremely abusive or harassing comments would probably be deleted from a thread and the commenter banned at most of the blogs I frequent. Death threats are sometimes delivered by phone or the blessed post, but we don’t talk about “codes of conduct” for how telephone conversations or personal correspondence should be carried out. Blogging is a medium of communication between human beings—while it’s seen by some as an innovative medium at the moment, it’s not the first and won’t be the last.

In my view, if someone leaves an anonymous comment, it might mean they are new to the site or the blogosphere or just don’t have the stones to stand behind what they say (see, e.g., V-Dare trolls currently plaguing pro-immigrant blogs). However, anonymity should be distinguished from pseudonymity. If a blogger has a pseudonymous online persona (as certain well-regarded bloggers currently suffering from Traffic Deficiency Syndrome have been known to do), it may mean that their job requires discretion or they want some level of separation between their online and offline lives, for whatever reason. A blog, whether pseudonymous or not, is an intensely personal investment of time and energy. A blogger has the right to manage his comments however he wishes. Deleting or banning crackpot trolls to maintain the integrity of a thread or one’s personal sanity is fully acceptable behavior. Anonymous commenters shouldn’t feel too bad about having their comments deleted since they didn’t value them enough to attach their names in the first place. I think most bloggers have figured out how to manage comments to their personal satisfaction without signing on to any code or set of principled guidelines.

So that’s enough words spilled about this silliness.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

disobeying orders

Hilzoy passes on the story of a modern-day saint.

the unfashionable argument

IOZ and Kevin Drum find something to agree on in the form of a recent Kathleen Parker column, even down to the mode of mocking it, the long-suffering Dinesh D'Souza. As IOZ’s response is more interesting, I’ll quote it at length:

With that long introduction, I can only say that in tone if not topic, you could easily imagine this scolding editorial by notable Orlando uterus Kathleen Parker to be a harangue about the folly and sin of women's suffrage, say, or legalizing miscegination. Here is the heart of it:

We can debate whether they're right until all our boys wear aprons, but it won't change the way we're perceived. The propaganda value Iran gained from its lone female hostage, the mother of a 3-year-old, was incalculable.

It is not fashionable these days to suggest that women don't belong in or near combat -- or that children need their mothers. Yes, they need their fathers, too, but children in their tender years are dependent on their mothers in unique ways.

There's not enough space here to go into all the ways that this is true, but children (and good parents) know the difference even if some adults are too dim, brainwashed or ideologically driven to see what's obvious.

Why the West has seen it necessary to diminish motherhood so that women can pretend to be men remains a mystery to sane adult.

In the annals of bad writing, there's probably not a greater transgression than the habit of making a broad, potentially counterfactual assertion, and then following it with the familiar, "There's not enough space here to go into all the ways that this is true, but it is true, by god, and everyone knows it." That, of course, is the priciple tactic of the gender traditionalist, who feels that with thousands of years of the ol' patriarchy on his side, women bearing the brood and men tilling the field, women baking the bread and men hunting the boar, women weeping and men warring, why, how otherwise could it be? These are people who embrace an essentially static model of human knowledge and understanding. That virtually every other thing our species believed about itself and the universe around it throughout almost the whole of our history on this planet has proven to be not merely wrong, but spectacularly wrong, fundamentally wrong, wrong to the point that wrongness loses its categorical meaning and slips off toward infinity, is irrelevant where boys and girls are concerned. Boys like trucks; girls like dolls. That's the way it's always been, and by my four humors and all the ether between here and canal-crossed Mars, by the wheel of Apollo's chariot and the angry spirits of the harvest, I swears to ya that's the way it shall always be, amen.

What our authoress is saying in the pages of the Post is that we must keep our womenfolk-wombearers cossetted and coddled, baking bread as they themselves ferment and rise, in order to avoid the possibility that the weak leader of an impoverished theocracy might one day use some British ladycakes as an example of the fact that We, the West, are Wimps. "You gonna let yer lady do it for you?" Oh-ho-ho, it's like when Marissa Tomei knew cars and Joe Pesci didn't. The message: Mothers, stay home. Don't go off to war. Don't get raped--it is, like, totally worse for women.

I suppose it's what you'd call the Dinesh D'Souza school of thought: treat your women as would your enemies, in order that your enemies not treat your women as your enemies otherwise would.


The NY Times reports on the latest conditions at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility:

A new, long-term hunger strike has broken out at the American detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, with more than a dozen detainees subjecting themselves to daily force-feeding to protest their treatment, military officials and lawyers for the detainees said.

Lawyers for several hunger strikers said their clients’ action were driven by harsh conditions in a new maximum security complex to which about 160 prisoners have been moved since December.

. . .

Lawyers for several detainees being held in the new maximum security complex, called Camp 6, compared it to “super-max” prisons in the United States. The major differences, they said, are that the detainees have limited reading material and no television, and that only 10 of the roughly 385 men at Guantánamo have been charged.

The Camp 6 inmates are generally locked in their 8-by-10-foot cells for at least 22 hours a day, emerging only to exercise in small wire cages and shower. Besides those exercise periods, they can talk with other prisoners only by shouting through food slots in the steel doors of their cells.

“My wish is to die,” one reported hunger striker in the camp, Adnan Farhan Abdullatif, a 27-year old Yemeni, told his lawyer on Feb. 27, according to recently declassified notes of the meeting. “We are living in a dying situation.”

Commander Durand, the Guantánamo spokesman, dismissed such accounts as part of an effort by the prisoners and their lawyers to discredit the detention mission. He described new unit as much more comfortable than the detainees’ previous quarters, and he denied that they suffer any greater sense of isolation in the new cellblocks.

The “detention mission” has become something untethered from any previous notions of desert and punishment. For hundreds already, the link between alleged illegal action and the ongoing pre-judgment penalty was too tenuous to withstand even the watered down, due process-less military tribunals, and they were released without charge after years of captivity. From Wikipedia:

Most of the detainees still at Guantanamo are not scheduled for trial. As of November 2006, according to, out of 775 detainees who have been brought to Guantanamo, approximately 340 have been released, leaving 435 detainees. Of those 435, 110 have been labeled as ready for release. Of the other 325, only "more than 70" will face trial, the Pentagon says. That leaves about 250 who may be held indefinitely.

Now, frankly, we have the rest and don’t know what to do with them. They have the upper hand, their status as enemies of the U.S. cemented, perhaps for many after being manufactured out of nothing more than the government’s electorally-driven need for enemies.

The NY Times article continues:

“Anytime something changes, people will seize on that as an opportunity to say that things are getting worse,” [Durand] said. “This was designed to improve living conditions, and we think it has.”

Commander Durand obviously is unfamiliar with basic concepts of justice most people learn in elementary school. Maybe he had them driven out of his head at West Point. The problem is not that “things are getting worse,” it’s that they have not yet changed. No government official can adequately explain why we are holding these people after 5 years and have only informed a small fraction of them why they are being held.

The situation is utterly disgusting and shameful. The government would be hard pressed to find a way to more thoroughly discredit itself internationally. It has morally soiled itself. That the camp has not been shut down already due to domestic pressure shows once again how little regard most Americans have for the lives of non-Americans.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Dick! . . . or, the further dissociation of language and meaning in American political discourse

[Bush Administration officials] can and should speak in the tongue of [English], but without coming to prefer it and without losing the mother tongue of faith.Elder Neil A. Maxwell (edited slightly for clarity).

Paul Kiel at TPM Muckraker:

Yesterday, Cheney, in an interview with Rush Limbaugh, again touted a relationship between Iraq and Al Qaeda, saying:

...remember Abu Musab al Zarqawi, a Jordanian terrorist, al Qaeda affiliate; ran a training camp in Afghanistan for al Qaeda, then migrated -- after we went into Afghanistan and shut him down there, he went to Baghdad, took up residence there before we ever launched into Iraq; organized the al Qaeda operations inside Iraq before we even arrived on the scene, and then, of course, led the charge for Iraq until we killed him last June.... This is al Qaeda operating in Iraq. And as I say, they were present before we invaded Iraq.

Now, as with nearly every Cheney statement, this is about three distortions rolled into one big lie. The three distortions: Zarqawi did not organize operations for Al Qaeda prior to the invasion, in fact, he did not affiliate himself with al Qaeda until 2004; prior to the 2003 invasion, he was in the northern Kurdish portion of Iraq, outside of Saddam Hussein's control, not Baghdad; and there's no evidence of collusion between Zarqawi and Hussein. (A bonus fourth distortion might be the fact that the U.S. reportedly had a prime chance to kill Zarqawi before the invasion, but chose not to -- some say because his presence in Iraq provided justification for the war.) But the big lie is that Iraq and Al Qaeda were allies and co-conspirators.

Kiel points out that not only were Cheney’s assertions known before the war to be false by the parallel intelligence group Cheney had set up outside of normal channels, but their falsity was confirmed by the Defense Department Inspector General's subsequent investigation into the matter.

This leads me to three possibilities regarding Cheney’s statement:

(1) The Reagan interpretation: Cheney doesn’t know what he’s talking about, but his authority has gone unchallenged for so long that he doesn’t think it matters.

(2) The Nixon interpretation: He knows that what he’s saying is false, but also that this is inconsequential, since his assertions support a narrative that is “truthful” if not factually accurate because it tells the greater story of American goodness and Islamist badness. This big picture “truth” is more important than small bore facts, which can be massaged or ignored as necessary. In short, meaning is no longer conveyed in the traditional way by words, but by intentions and actions. Or, when Dick Cheney says something, the specific combinations of letters into words and words into phrases are essentially irrelevant and should not be invested with too much importance by the listener; the salient point is that he speaks. (This particular conjecture has over the past few years found expression in a thousand and one bloggy formulations rooted in the “reality-based community” meme of late 2004.)

(3) The Clinton interpretation: This is more or less the same as (2), except that Cheney is so caught up in the “truthful” narrative that he actually “believes” what he is saying, in the same way that one believes in life after death or in a divine, omnipotent Creator. That is to say that the accuracy of particular factual assertions is not only irrelevant, but the semblance of fact, the process of determining truth or falsehood through factual inquiry, can be marshaled to serve a useful purpose. Once a given belief is established, all that is then required to inject it into the national bloodstream is a facially plausible interpretation of some supporting set of facts; see, e.g. “intelligent design” or FARMS or global warming denialists. It doesn’t matter much what those facts are or how their interpretation stands up to established methods of testing. What matters is that there are “facts” and an “interpretation”; this alone is enough for the official narrative to gain entrance into the marketplace of ideas and be repeated ad nauseam by Chris Matthews and Tom Friedman.

Perhaps it’s some combination of the three, or maybe there’s a simpler explanation, like Dick Cheney is actually a robot constructed and programmed by scientists of the troika of terror, the Axis of Evil, long before the phantom grouping had even been dreamed up by Michael Gerson, and inserted into the very seat of American power to subvert the imperial project from within.


Josh Marshall:

Now, just before starting this post I was chatting with one of my colleagues here at TPM, trying to figure out what the hell Hatch's whopper was all about. My take was that the pattern of facts is simply too ridiculous to be a lie in the narrow and specific sense of a knowing falsehood. I think it's far more likely that this was something some talk radio hound or blogger either intentionally or inadvertantly mixed up. Hatch heard it and since he just ad libs through this scandal without having any idea what he's talking about he just decided to repeat it even though it's transparently ridiculous on its face.

. . .

The whole episode is just another example of Hatch's complete indifference to acquainting himself with even the most basic facts of the US Attorney Purge story. On the whole saga, he doesn't even rise to the level of being a hack. He's simply a joke.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

H-1B visas exhausted in a single day

Immigration lawyers were predicting this, but I’m still surprised it actually happened:

Illustrating the inadequacy of the quota for specialized H-1B workers, USCIS announced today that it received more applications than the 65,000 limit on April 2. April 2 was the first day on which an employer could request a first-time visa for an H-1B worker for the period that begins on October 1, 2007. Agency rules state that if the limit is reached on the first day of filing, all applications received on the first two days are put into a lottery to determine who gets the relatively few visas that are available.

In the fiscal year now in effect, the supply of such visas lasted less than eight weeks after the filing period opened. For the fiscal year that starts October 1, 2007, the supply did not last through even the first day. "Every year, the application window becomes shorter and shorter, to the point that it is now practically non-existent," said Carlina Tapia-Ruano, President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. "These high-skilled workers help to keep our system dynamic, and many sectors of the economy will suffer from this shortage."

The H-1B is a visa for skilled occupations, and is only available to workers who have at least a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent. I’m aware of very few Americans of any political stripe who argue that fewer skilled workers should be allowed into the country. But apparently, nothing of substance can be done until Congress hashes out an immigration bill. I’m not holding my breath.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

older and wiser?

In which Alanis tries to make up for a decade of getting shit for her song "Ironic":

the myth of the rational actor

Just as American foreign policy stumbles and lurches forward in pursuit of the elusive national interest—like Frankenstein, destroying most thoroughly that which it most ardently desires—so the business community systematically and unintentionally continues to undermine its own interests.

Exhibit A: The American automakers’ decision to scale back fuel-efficient projects like the electric car and gear the bulk of their operations towards selling large, fuel inefficient vehicles just before the fuel market enters the longest period of sustained high prices since the 1970s.

Exhibit B: The business community’s concerted, shadowy efforts to program political actors to obstruct progress on combating global warming, combined with a misinformation campaign to distort public perception of the established scientific consensus. This has a very large potential downside for global companies a few decades down the road.

Exhibit C: The campaign of the early airlines to consolidate market power and destroy rivals through political means (this based on my careful viewing of The Aviator), thereby stifling innovation, thwarting efficiency, and ultimately sending company after company into bankruptcy. Microsoft and the telecoms eagerly pursue this business model with little thought of the consequences.

Exhibit D: The business community’s instinctive, reactive, decades-long fight against universal health care, which every single other advanced economy has adopted, even as health care costs eat away at profits year after year.

Executives are so entrenched in the mentality that every government initiative reduces profitability, that what benefits workers necessarily costs management, and that the political machine that maintains the status quo must constantly be fed, that they fail to see obvious solutions to long-standing problems. Too often in their eyes, the most serious problems are consumer preferences that don’t align with existing products, too much competition in the marketplace, and workers who are seen as a net drag on productivity rather than the essential element of production. The business class does not understand some important ways in which the public and private spheres interact, otherwise, it would not consistently obstruct efforts to combat global climate change when it has the potential to destroy the foundations of the legal, political, and economic systems which underpin global companies.

On an individual level, it’s the woman on the subway begging for change to go shoot up again, a momentary release from the misery of existence. The corporate attorney slogging through another 80 hour week just to get to Saturday night so he can get trashed and forget about the broken family he’s left behind. The politician whose ambition and desire for approbation hollows out his soul until all he sees in the eyes of his peers and constituents is scorn.

Or, less dramatically, it’s simply the business class cutting off the nose to spite the face.

Monday, April 02, 2007

sweet land of liberty

A granddaughter remembers:

“In the case of my grandfather, the tragedy was multiplied by the fact that he was a hero in the eyes of his children, a leader in the Japanese-American community of Hood River, and had always counseled his compatriots to be ‘200 percent American,’ ” Ms. Yasui said. “And look what it got him: arrested and dragged out of his house a few days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, transferred from one military prison to another for years, and not released until several months after the war was over.”

If only Mr. Yasui had been slightly more patriotic, perhaps his fellow citizens wouldn’t have locked him up for no reason at all . . .

I’m glad to see the patriotic traditions of racial profiling and arbitrary detention pioneered by the Greatest Generation are alive and well today.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

brooklyn, cont.

More pictures:

On the waterfront.

A sign in the window said this was an old taxi cab.
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I took some pictures on a walk around the borough yesterday. Here are a few of them:

A new enormous condo is going up in downtown Brooklyn.

If you want to be a prophetic physician, call this number.

Brooklyn Bridge from DUMBO.

Manhattan Bridge.

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