Posted by Brad @ 1:29 pm on May 31st 2012

Civilian Causulties in the War on Terror

Good news folks: there are hardly any!

Mainly, because the Obama administration has redefined the term, such that any military-age man (really any man over 8 or under 80) killed in a War on Terror strike is automatically termed a militant. It is definitionally impossible for any male adult corpse on the ground after a drone strike to be a civilian. Even if that man is, say, surrounded by women and children in birthday hats opening presents or whatever.

Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties that did little to box him in. It in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.[…]

This counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths.

Greenwald goes much more in depth here.

I pound, pound, pound this kind of stuff precisely because I think, to casual observers, this is not at all intuitive. A lot of people’s automatic, reflexive thinking is that if a dude’s dead at the hands of our government, he probably must have been doing something to deserve it. Just like, if a dude’s in Gitmo, he must be a terrible terrorist. Because otherwise, what would he be doing in Gitmo!?

It is an idiot’s logic. It is not only POSSIBLY wrong, but the more we learn, the more we might start leaning to PROBABLY wrong.

Posted by Brad @ 1:18 pm on May 31st 2012

The GOP Sees Dead People Voting

Just a brief article in my continued war against conservatives disenfranchising people: Scott Keyes‘ “Why Republican plans to fight voter fraud are based on nightmares, tall tales, and paranoid fears.” Or “Somewhere, Someone Black/Poor Is Getting Away With Something”.

Posted by Brad @ 11:54 am on May 31st 2012

DOMA: Still Unconstitutional

We’ll hear back from SCOTUS in June regarding California’s Prop 8, but in the the meantime the real topline structure that needs to come down is DOMA. Today, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals flatly stated that the law is unconstitutional.

There are more of these case worming their way up the system, and by the time SCOTUS likely hears the matter, they would be very, very hard pressed to come up with a ruling that does anything short than strike the entire law down. Which is not only good for gay marriage advocates, but for libertarians and states rights supporters writ large.

Posted by Jack @ 11:27 am on May 28th 2012

If you are “roughed up” by Justin Bieber, you tell no one. You live quietly with the shame, and take the knowledge of it to your grave.

Just saying.

Posted by Brad @ 11:09 pm on May 27th 2012

Music Video of the Week

I’ve been to this pub.

Lisa Hannigan – I Don’t Know

Posted by Brad @ 8:33 pm on May 26th 2012

Good News, Kansas!

You, like Oklahoma, will no longer be subjugated to Sharia Law and are inoculated against the impending muslim takeover of Republican midwestern states. So back to more important matters, like making sure teenage girls have pots and pans banged in front of their faces and their Facebook status automatically updated if they ask their doctor about abortion.

Posted by Rojas @ 2:43 pm on May 22nd 2012

Penn Jillette loses it

And rightly so. It’s OK for the President of the United States to take a casual attitude towards his own past drug use. It is NOT OK, and it is NOT funny, for the President to take that attitude while continuing to put hundreds of thousands of people in cages for doing exactly what he himself did as a young adult.

Posted by Brad @ 6:11 pm on May 18th 2012

Music Video of the Week

David Wax Museum – Yes, Maria, Yes

My favorite found band this month. I bet they kill live; will try to find out.

Happy Friday.

Posted by Rojas @ 11:29 pm on May 16th 2012

Gilbert Gottfried reads “Fifty Shades of Grey”

Not safe for work or anywhere else.

Posted by Brad @ 12:10 pm on May 16th 2012

Ruh Roh

So I’m not much for all that fancy-schmanzy international finance analysis, but it’s probably a bad sign when a country that’s massively in debt to the world and in negotiations on how to pay it back also starts withdrawing all its cash from banks and stuffing it under the mattress. When a guy owes you money and his first thought is to empty his checking account before handing over his PIN number, that’s probably not a good indicator that you’re going to get paid.

Posted by Rojas @ 8:33 pm on May 15th 2012

Eduardo Saverin is no longer an American

Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged” posits a society in which capitalists collectively agree to withdraw the products of their mind from society until such time as society changes its rules to encourage such productivity. In the early days of the Tea Party there were a number of misapplied references to “going Galt” as a possible response to federal tax policy. Of course, in an increasingly globalized world, there ARE opportunities to actually do this, or at least to comparison shop for citizenship, and now we have at least one example of a person doing so.

Eduardo Saverin, a Brazilian-born American immigrant, co-founded Facebook as a Harvard student. With the facebook IPO pending, he has elected to renounce his citizenship in order to avoid paying the 15% capital gains tax on what will almost certainly be a billion-dollar profit.

Speculation elsewhere has circled around the question of what he owes or is owed and by whom. These questions do not much interest me. What I find myself wondering is whether this isn’t likely to be the first wave of a series of similar decisions. At what margin of profit do citizens start decamping for the national or transnational entity that offers them the best opportunity to keep their money? Will any nation-state effectively decide to offer citizenship without qualification to anyone willing to pay it taxes? At what point will corporations be capable of offering a range of services similar to those of citizenship, and will they then choose to make the offer? Must citizenship be a geographic concept?

A lot of the questions implicit in the concept of the “social contract” will soon become less academic, and the contracts themselves may at some point become tangible items.

Posted by Brad @ 4:07 pm on May 15th 2012

The Latest Ron Paul Campaign News

As I alluded to in a previous post, I think, not with Ron himself but with his staffers in general, they tend to be making it up as they go along, and I lean away from describing as strategy what can be attributed to general fleetingness.

So it goes with the move of the campaign to announce that they aren’t spending any more campaign money on, you know, campaigning, and basically suggesting that officially anyway they won’t be contesting the remaining primary states. Paul’s low profile since the very early going has suggested as much anyway—the campaign has appeared to be more or less in a holding pattern since February anyway. Dave Weigel (whose book I just had shipped to me today) is flummoxed by the move (bad timing for the book release might be part of it), on the grounds that all the nuance and hedging and caveats is lost—whether unfairly or not—in the headline “Ron Paul Quits”. The more likely scenario is Paul, now officially the last Not-Romney standing and with his son’s homestate voting next week, doesn’t want to be responsible for what will probably be crushing defeats and an inability to get into double digits in a basically uncontested primary for second place, which could, after a point, undercut their contention that the Paulian contingent of the GOP is a force to be reckoned with.

What is interesting, however, is that Jesse Benton held a press conference today, and from it, speculation and tea-leafs aside, there is two bits of what I’d consider hard news:

1. On the possibility of Paul endorsing Gary Johnson: “No chance.” End of discussion.

2. That they will be going for party platform planks, three he was willing to be specific about: The Fed, indefinite detention of American citizens, and internet freedom. Of those, he might even get something dealing with the first enshrined in the Republican platform.

The takeaway? My sense is they’re just spinning wheels, with only the North Star of setting Rand up—within the GOP—their only guiding force.

Posted by Brad @ 4:20 pm on May 14th 2012

So What’s John Derbyshire Up to These Days?

Don’t ask. I suppose it’s sort of inevitable that a guy with Derb’s constitutional and inescapable predication for being provocatively oppositional means that he would just be unable to resist doubling down and digging himself deeper, but man. He’s gone from a “I sort of get what you’re trying to do here but what you’re actually doing is revealing more about yourself than the subject” discussion about behind-closed-doors conversations on race, to full-on white supremacy. I’m really just not even sure what else to call it. And for a guy going through chemo right now, at his age, and for his legacy to wind up being defined by this, it’s all just really sad.

Posted by Brad @ 12:52 pm on May 14th 2012

Music Video of the Week

I get probably an embarrassing amount of new music through commercials (and video games), but for whatever reason ad agencies over the last decade of done a really fantastic job of becoming music aficionados and staying ahead of the curve. So either it’ll hip me to something new, or it’ll hip everybody else to something that I was listening to way before they sold out (blah blah blah).

Anyway, this is the former, and yeah this is in a car commercial, but whatever, when I first heard the beginning bars of the chorus I was hooked, and have since bought the album (which is very good).

Neon Trees – Everybody Talks

Posted by Brad @ 7:00 pm on May 11th 2012

I Don’t Care About…Youthful Indiscretions

Be they Aqua Buddha or George W. Bush snorting coke cutting off a swishy dude’s hair, although I’ll readily admit that the latter has some merit to it as a question of character. Just much less than, you know, everything else. I find it hard to believe that Mitt Romney is a closet violent anti-gay psychopath and has been for 50 years and only once elected to the office of the President will he unleash that on America (straw man alert!). I do certainly believe that his “prank” was a white-bread Alpha Male in the early 60s unleashing a display of prep school dominance on a kid because he was a sissy, and I’ll even allow, to a very very limited degree, that there is a question of empathy, in terms of “have a hard time walking a mile in another person’s shoes”, sort of in play with it. But on balance, I just have a real hard time believing that a probably-true-on-the-basics-but-still-second-hand-account of an antisocial episode in a teenager’s life tells us much about a 65-year-old man’s character, and I have an even harder time believing that that’s somehow a divining rod for potential policy or real-world impact. Mostly, I think it’s just a matter of confirmation bias—a way for people to sound convinced on a data point for a conclusion they already whole-heartedly believe, and did before well before the data point.

In Romney’s case, I believe the story, and I think it was a reprehensible act. And as I said I even allow that maybe it provides an insight into the kind of young man Romney was and the milieu he comes from. But, I’m also sure anybody reading this can dig deep and come up with an awful thing they did as a child or teenager (hell, or adult) that runs counter to most of the moral principles they have since organized their life around (and I’m also sure, as with coke use or Aqua Buddha, that we can come up with many many more things we don’t regret at all but would make us look pretty bad if it came up on the front page of the New York Times). (I even bet that, if we felt compelled to admit to some youthful indiscretion (say, to buy cred), we’d have another far worse one in our back pocket that we’ll take to the grave). The difference is, we aren’t famous enough to have people out there in the world tuned in enough to our every present-day activity to trot those things out whenever we’re up for a promotion. Be hard to find glass-house-stone-throwers if we all were though, I bet.

Posted by Rojas @ 4:13 pm on May 9th 2012

“Courage”

Oppose full marital rights for gays consistently for your entire political career. Continue this stance on every occasion where backing gays might cause you to pay a political price. Remain silent as marital rights emerge as a national issue, punctuating said silence to remind swing voters that you’re still opposed. Remain silent as thousands of marriages are invalidated at the state level. Switch positions the day after it could possibly have made a difference. And collect the immediate, worshipful acclaim of millions.

Well done, Mr. President. Whatever else may be said, you sure know your audience.

Posted by Brad @ 3:22 pm on May 9th 2012

Obama Now Backs Same-Sex Marriage

I guess.

“I have to tell you that over the course of several years as I have talked to friends and family and neighbors when I think about members of my own staff who are in incredibly committed monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships, who are raising kids together, when I think about those soldiers or airmen or marines or sailors who are out there fighting on my behalf and yet feel constrained, even now that Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is gone, because they are not able to commit themselves in a marriage, at a certain point Iíve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” he told ABC.

I get why this is a semi-important symbolic step, and weirdly I am generally of the opinion, contrary to Rojas (who has always urged gay rights activists to take the President at his word rather than reading his statements and policies as some kind of elaborate jiu-jitsu), that in fact this was a case, broadly speaking, where Obama capitulated to political advice and tried to use taking a position in opposition of same sex marriage as a political tool purely for the advancement of his own career. So how you read his coming out today is, I suppose, dependent on how you have read Obama on this matter. Is he now expressing an honest change of heart? Or is he just shedding a cynical political tactic that no longer bore him much in the way of returns?

I tend to believe the latter, which makes this a decidedly “meh” announcement for me. I have always thought poorly of him on this issue; now I think of him less poorly, but still not particularly well, as I don’t really believe his positions either pro or con had much to do with his views on civil liberties and hence I don’t trust that these positions generalize.

But, between this, DADT, DOMA, and a few other key things, it is getting pretty hard to not put Obama in a clearly positive category as it pertains to gay rights. Both relative, of course, to his opposition, but also relative to his party, and modern Presidents or presidential candidates. So, I’d have a hard time arguing, for gay rights activists, that Obama doesn’t merit their support. I am just not all that thrilled with his general foot-dragging cowardice/cynicism in getting there.

Posted by Brad @ 3:09 pm on May 9th 2012

Jonah Goldberg – America’s Whiniest Conservative Commentator?

In some ways, I like Jonah Goldberg. He’s funny, he’s a good blogger when he’s an “everything and the kitchen sink” sort of guy, and he’s not unintelligent. I also really dislike Jonah Goldberg in pretty much every attempt he makes to come off as a serious conservative thinker. He tends to do great day-to-day work, and terrible long-term projects. His premises seem to be more “cute” concept than actual informative theses, but then he goes about trying to, essentially, whine at everybody until they accept the serious intellectual heft of his rather trifling “big ideas”, which are usually not much more than a dressed-up version of a shallow casual connection he’s made somewhere and then decided to put to book-length form and try to convince everybody he’s really added something substantive to the political discourse.

Which would be, weirdly, fine with me if I thought it was just a cash-in, as plenty of people do that kind of thing – from Kos to Bill O’Reilly. But in literally every case of somebody directly calling him on it – or worse yet, actually challenging the notion that he has actually added anything informative or constructive – he immediately drops into this reflexive whininess. He doesn’t rise to a spirited defense of his material or give as good as he gets; rather, he drops into this really annoying, really childish tone, and just starts bitching about the ground rules or making opaque references to “fairness” and “the media” or not being taken seriously or whateverthefuck. At which point, he’s like nails on a chalkboard for me. Like, for instance, how this old interview with Jon Stewart progresses.

In any case, a bad couple of weeks for him, as Exhibits B and C are:

Him getting in a combative interview with Piers Morgan – Piers Morgan – and then taking up the banner of being ambushed and unfairly castigated. By Piers Morgan.

Him getting called out by MSNBC for having in his bio that he was twice nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Meaning his published sent an application and $50 bucks to the Pulitzer board. Who then didn’t nominate him. And his publisher replying to the reporter with their internal emails to Jonah on the subject accidentally attached.

The only thing that would make it worse is if he had Ramesh Ponnuru’s voice* (whose Party of Death contributed about as much to the political discourse in America as Liberal Fascism did).

(That’s a cheap shot, admittedly).

Posted by Brad @ 12:59 pm on May 9th 2012

What is the Paul Campaign Up To?

I think this discussion gets it sort of right, in that I think Paul’s only end-game here is to set up his son to run for President in the next cycle or the cycle after. His entire campaign, from the beginning, I have argued is organized around that and really only that.

I think the discussion is wrong in that it gives a little too much credit to the Paul campaign for having some kind of master strategy here. My hunch is that Paul and his inner circle aren’t really, themselves, quite sure what their end game is here. It’s always been a matter of faith that delegates matter – what they actually intend to do with them at convention time is, I strongly suspect, something that has always been a bit fuzzy. I suspect it’ll play out a bit like Paul’s endorsement last cycle did – something that winds up petering into a stumbled, sort-of-confused-and-half-baked unsatisfying ending to all parties.

And while I still really doubt Rand gets a VP slot or that’s even on the table come convention time, I don’t think a speaking slot for either Paul is at all unlikely.

Posted by Brad @ 2:06 pm on May 4th 2012

Music Video of the Week

To my mind, the Beastie Boys are one of the best hip hop acts of all time and one of the best music groups of the last 30 years. They were also one of the few bands that I like more with every iteration – they got better as they got older, I think. I own every album, used to see them every couple of years (including the last show they did with Tribe), and it just never occurred to me that they wouldn’t be around forever.

Sadly, today we hear Adam Yauch, aka MCA, aka the only Beastie with some bass in his voice, has passed away from cancer at the age of 48.

Beastie Boys – Alive


Beastie Boys – Alive

Posted by Rojas @ 11:22 am on May 3rd 2012

Sealand takes to the pitch

The world’s most famous micro-nation prepares for its first international soccer match against the Chagos Islands. The slight difficulty posed by the fact that the nation itself is smaller than a regulation soccer field proves no issue, as they’ve made arrangements to lease an English ground for the event. True to its delightfully mercenary nature, the principality will field a team of ringers, and for a suitable donation, you too can be entered into a drawing to be added to the team and earn your first international cap.

Posted by Brad @ 6:50 pm on May 2nd 2012

In All Seriousness…

Can anybody here, even playing Devil’s advocate, articulate a reasonable case, in our modern political context—not in hypothetical cases, but in this specific one—for why President Obama referring to his killing of Osama Bin Laden in a mission that the last Republican nominee explicitly stated he would not undertake and the last President was unable to accomplish and in a campaign where the presumptive opponent plans to question his foreign policy toughness and his seriousness in winning the War on Terror, would in any way be out of bounds?

Normally I would chalk this sort of thing up to just chirping from a rival campaign, but enough conservative commentators (Jonah Goldberg, for instance), seem to be seriously putting forth that notion that I’m at a loss. I pride myself on really empathizing and working hard to understand the perspective and reasoning of people with whom I disagree, but in this case, I literally cannot get a foothold on this way of thinking. The closest I can get is Margaret Thatcher’s dictum “Being powerful is like being a lady; if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t,” but that’s a big reach (and I doubt that’s where the people putting forth the argument is coming from). The nearest I can figure, there is a class of Republican who simply views any success of that magnitude as being some kind of inherently unfair advantage, such that it’s very existence is objectionable – sort of akin to an eight year old getting incensed that you got Boardwalk in Monopoly and suddenly viewing the whole enterprise as foul.

Anyone want to take a stab otherwise? Bonus points if you can find a quote or post somewhere from somebody honestly taking the view that explains their reasoning.

Posted by Rojas @ 12:25 am on May 2nd 2012

Romney blasts lawmaker’s gaffe; blow to reelection?

Totally worth reading.

Posted by Brad @ 1:53 pm on May 1st 2012

Fives Ways to Spot a Bogus Political Story

A guide to reading political news that should be intuitive by now but for most people is clearly not. I say clearly because I cannot tell you the amount of times I’ve had these arguments even with political geeks. And, for that matter, I’m sure you could find many many examples of me being guilty of it too – although I like to think I do it mostly as a springboard to make some larger point, or, occasionally, just for an isolated laugh. But that’s probably me rationalizing. Anyway:

5. The headline contains the word “gaffe.”

4. The headline ends in a question mark.

3. The headline contains the word “blasts” (or lashes, etc, and etc).

2. The Headline Is About a “Lawmaker” Saying Something Stupid

1. The headline contains the phrase “blow to.”

But really, read the items. #4 and #2 are the ones that always kill me.