Posted by Cameron @ 9:47 pm on July 22nd 2016

The Era of Fear

Today I made myself sad.

During work this morning I listened to the entirety of Donald Trump’s acceptance speech. It was not easy, but I plowed through the entire hour long tirade. What I heard has weighed on me all day and I’m still struggling this evening with the ramifications of my decision to listen. Struggling enough to hop back on here, watching the tumble weeds roll through our once hopping blog.

I am an optimist. I look around the world today and like what I see. Despite some challenges, we live in an age of unparalleled prosperity and peace. Billions fewer people are in poverty than mere decades ago. Health improvements stretch far and wide across the globe. Technology is enabling the human race to thrive in previously unimaginable ways. War is more infrequent and limited than any time in human history. International trade brings tremendous wealth to the world as a whole. Society is growing ever more tolerant and accepting.

Yet many do not share my world view. They’re are fearful of globalization. They’re fearful of immigration. They’re fearful of technology. They’re fearful of those not like them. They’re fearful of change.  

I understand why they’re afraid.

They see immigrants arrive and are told that these newcomers are a drain on society and are taking jobs deserved by natives. But they don’t know the value that immigrants bring to their adopted countries.

They see products which are made abroad for sale in their local shops and mourn the loss of domestic manufacturing. But they don’t know the value of being able to buy more efficiently produced merchandise (or the value of producing said merchandise to those who produce it).

They see technology and automation replacing work once done by humans and mourn the lost workers. But they forget the trend is as old as the first tool grasped by our ancestors and that technology is a force multiplier for humanity.

They see international organizations as a scourge on domestic sovereignty. But they fail to grasp how cooperation helps all involved.

They see a world in which they’re less wealthy than their neighbors and are jealous. But they forget that most are themselves are wealthier, healthier and more able to enjoy luxuries than at any time in recorded history.

Those who are afraid are a real demographic and one which has grown tremendously in the last 20 years. It’s a demographic which spans political parties and ideologies. It’s a demographic which spans continents and countries. It’s a demographic which ripped the UK out of the EU. It’s a demographic which made Trump the nominee of the GOP. It’s the demographic which yearns for the mercantile ways of yore. It’s the demographic of fear and regression.

How does one help instill hope in those jaded and scared?  How does one work to calm the irrational?

We’ve had eras like this before. Populations have always turned to strongmen throughout history when they’re afraid. They want strongmen to give them security. They want strongmen to protect them from economic realities. They want strongmen to tell them lies and reassure them that they’re the victims.

Trump scares the living daylights out of me and I see echoes of terrible people in his words and tone. But what truly saddens me is that he’s a reflection of a bigger issue. The fear and populism he represents is here to stay, until we appease those whose anger is channeled through him. Defusing anger is challenging. Defusing pessimism is even harder.

I’m sad because I don’t have an answer. The tide of populism is rising. Dark times are ahead, whether or not Trump continues to a presidency. There will be others who follow in his wake, both right and left.

Those who love liberty must not be silent. We must stand for hope in an era of fear. We must be for openness in an era of walls. We must stand for peace in an era of warmongering.

Posted by Brad @ 11:38 am on June 26th 2015

“They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

It ends as it must.

Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health, 2004. Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, Margaret H. Marshall, writing on behalf of Roderick L. Ireland, Judith A. Cowin and concurring judge John M. Greaney.

When the wildfire-like judicial history of same sex constitutional rights in the 21st century is written, these are the names that future law students will be starting with. These are the first supreme court justices that examined the question of whether the state had the constitutional right to bar entry to a civil institution on the grounds of sexual orientation.

This, mind you, was in 2004, when the issue of gay marriage was nary a whisper in the mainstream consciousness. Less than a year after criminal prohibitions on gay sex were finally – controversially! – struck down in Lawrence V. Texas, and when the only states that had even dipped a toe into the question were Hawaii and Vermont who had been monkeying around with things called civil unions.

It’s an amazing ruling – I really urge anybody interested in constitutional law or civil rights to read it. The case had already been struck down, handedly, by other courts, as had other similar cases – and almost always on either general deference to the legislature or to “tradition”, or based on a mealy-mouthed invocation of rational interest with no substance behind it. But never with a strong defense of its constitutionality, exactly – it had almost never seemed to occur to previous justices that that argument need to be examined particularly rigorously. They begged off before even getting there by basically saying “that’s the way it is.” But in this case, Justice Marshall put questions of political or popular will aside, cut right through any non-substantive noise, and in response to the fact that marriage was a state institution that gays could not join, asked a simple, clear-eyed question to the defendants: Why?

Once all the unexamined assumptions, all the cultural noise, all the circular prejudicing, was waved away, Justice Marshall could find no answer to that question that held any constitutional merit whatever. She simply asked why: and nobody could give her a clear or compelling answer. And nobody has since.

So Justice Marshall ruled as she had to:

“The marriage ban works a deep and scarring hardship on a very real segment of the community for no rational reason. The absence of any reasonable relationship between, on the one hand, an absolute disqualification of same-sex couples who wish to enter into civil marriage and, on the other, protection of public health, safety, or general welfare, suggests that the marriage restriction is rooted in persistent prejudices against persons who are (or who are believed to be) homosexual…. Limiting the protections, benefits, and obligations of civil marriage to opposite-sex couples violates the basic premises of individual liberty and equality under law protected by the Massachusetts Constitution.”

Prior to 2004, the answer to the question of “Why” – when it was even asked at all – was always “Because”. After 2004, when “because” no longer worked, there was simply no answer left at all.

Since that day, today’s denouement has been all but inevitable. It was all but locked in. I studied the Goodridge ruling a lot at that time as I was doing some related academic work, and immediately after finishing the last page of that decision, it has never since occurred to me that this all could end any way than that it just has.

The decade since has been a lot of thunder and noise, to be sure, and a lot of interesting parallel discussions and rollicking debates. State amendments have flooded us, advocates against have gnashed their teeth mightily, mainstream America let the concept in and then assimilated it seemingly overnight, great discussions have been had about judicial activism and whatnot, but really, none of this has mattered, or at least none of it impacts what has always been the core question:

Is it constitutional to ban gay marriages?

It has always been that simple. And the answer has always been some form of “No.” Whether it was “No, but…” or not, it was still always no.

And here’s the thing:

– If a statute violates the equal protection clause of the federal constitution, it does not matter if it is popular or not.
– If a statute violates the equal protection clause of the federal constitution, it does not matter if states amend their constitutions to try and squeeze it in.
– If a statute violates the equal protection clause of the federal constitution, it does not matter if we would prefer the legislature to generally be the one to address the issue.
– If a statute violates the equal protection clause of the federal constitution, it does not matter if Congress passes further laws that don’t change the core constitutional violation (ala DOMA).
– If a statute violates the equal protection clause of the federal constitution, considerations of which outcomes are “best for the movement” or which tactics would have the most efficacy in changing minds are not relevant.

The only thing that matters is whether it violates the United States constitution, or not. And if it does, no amount of dressage can change that. No amount of “I wish it worked this way or that…” changes that core, fundamental truth. It is either constitutional or not.

The perfect parallel has ALWAYS been racial discrimination, and for FIFTY YEARS prior to Goodridge, the debate had been settled with Brown v. Board in 1954, despite the notions that:

– Racial discrimination may be popular.
– We may wish racial topics were handled by the legislature and laws relating to how the state treats races is their purview.
– States may treat the topic very differently from one another and may even amend their constitutions to make allowances for discrimination.
– Our national Congress may pass laws seeking to clarify why racial discrimination is okay.
– Overturning racial discrimination may cause a lot of backlash and lead to a lot of friction we might all wish to avoid.

Ultimately, in 1954, the court saw that those things were not, in and of themselves, directly relevant. The only question that mattered was: does it fit with our constitution to create a class of second class citizens without a provable and demonstrable rational interest? Is “separate but equal” an okay standard to use if we wish to disinclude a certain class of citizens from a state institution?

The answer was no then – the same year Marilyn Monroe married Joe DiMaggio, the year Edward R. Murrow fought back against McCarthy, the year “Rock Around the Clock” started that whole rock & roll craze, the year “under God” is added to the United States Pledge of Allegiance, the year Sports Illustrated was launched and East Germany began and the USSR gets the bomb and the Viet Cong are first organized. Back then, the answer to that simple question was “No.”

It is still “No.”

We live in a country where you cannot just carve out a group of citizens and deny them constitutional rights on a non-rational basis and without living up to the highest level of scrutiny and burden of proof.

That is not a tactical value. It is not a strategic one.

It is a foundational one.

And that has always, always been the only question that really matters as it relates to gay marriage.

So, in 2004, the defendants in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health – the state of Massachusetts – went to Justice Marshall and said “your honor, gays cannot be a part of the civil institution of marriage.”

To which Justice Marshall asked, simply, “Why?”

She found no satisfactory answer to that question.

A few years later, judges hearing the defense of California’s Proposition 8 likewise found no satisfactory answer to that question.

In the years following, more and more federal appeals courts were unable to find a satisfactory answer to that question.

Just a few years ago, the United States attorney general’s office was unable to provide a satisfactory answer to that question, and decided it was unwilling to keep trying.

All along, it has been the only question that matters.

Today is a great victory for, of course, same sex rights. But it is equally a victory for a clear-eyed reading of the United States constitution. This is not judicial activism. It is it’s very opposite, the core responsibility of the judiciary, the very heart of what it is there to do – read the law as written with a clear head and without concern for political or strategic considerations – just read the words on the page and apply them as written. That is nothing more, or less, than the basic fulfillment of its duties. That’s all the court did today. That’s all it could do.

I am glad we live in a country where I can be so certain, more than a decade ago, that that is exactly what it WOULD do. Because it would have to. Because it would have to eventually reconcile any law with the document that protects us all, and which says that our rights are more important than the politics of the day but are, indeed, foundational – that says that laws must serve our rights, not the other way around. Because the 14th Amendment reads, simply:

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

…and no amount of state noodling or popular backlashes or fears of judicial activism changes that, short of a federal constitutional amendment.

Because the court would have no choice. Because, ultimately, their hands were tied. Because it had to answer the question of “why” – and without a compelling answer there was only, ever, one possible outcome once that question is asked.

It ends as it must.

God bless America.

Posted by Adam @ 1:40 pm on April 17th 2015

Bee escape foiled

Bees overturn prison truck in attempt to escape

A tearful salute to the brave firefighters who were wounded as they formed a thin orange line (with yellow hats) against our ancient foes. Death to the bees.

Posted by Rojas @ 2:05 am on March 10th 2015

The Kansas City Royals vs. the Stripy Menace

It totally happened. And it’s probably the right coda for this blog.

Posted by Rojas @ 3:19 pm on January 28th 2015

Andrew Sullivan to retire from blogging.

We totally did it first.

Posted by Brad @ 5:25 pm on December 9th 2014

The Worst of the Worst

Some of the people we tortured.

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Posted by Brad @ 4:09 pm on December 8th 2014

The College Rape Overcorrection

I have long been bothered by certain classes of crime for which our usual standards of judicial conduct don’t apply (or even the general philosophy of “innocent until proven guilty”). Very high level, touchy examples include things like sex offender laws or say treatment of terrorism suspects. Lower level examples might include something like “bullying”, wherein the mere invocation of the term demands a totally different treatment, a totally different thought-class of behavior, than most any individual instance would itself demand. Other examples might include the overuse of the term “racist”, particularly in the 90s or in hyper-pc settings, or going back further the whole Red Scare. I am equal opportunity in this, btw – it bothers me when applied to conservative sacred cows as much as it does when applied to liberal ones.

But the real essence, and commonality, that gets under my skin is simply any classification that people throw up that is intended to yank something out our normal, usually rational and hard-won processes (which exist for a reason, I have to remind people), and into some other rarefied spectrum wherein justice and fairness are seen as less important than “not missing something”. Where essentially we invert the “rather let a hundred guilty go free than punish one innocent man” to read “I would rather let a hundred technically innocent men rot (and besides if they’re accused they probably deserve it somehow anyway) than risk a single case where we miss a guilty man”. Essentially, anything wherein the FACT of guilt or innocence becomes a SECONDARY consideration. Things for which the mere ACCUSATION turns out to be more important than the hard work of determining guilt from innocence. This is even more pernicious, it seems to me, when you, in addition, slap on a group identify that that especially applies to – say muslims, or college-age white men, or unarmed black teens – whatever.

So I found Emily Yoffe’s article on “The College Rape Overcorrection” to be an incredibly brave, and sober, look at some of the issues spurred by the recent UVA/Rolling Stone story, but really, as an examination of the entire issue of sex and consent on college campuses.

As you can guess from the title, it is largely about how the increasingly crushing public pressure on this subject is leading to some bad policy – opaque, non-transparent university-managed processes which essentially institutionally crystallizes an “any accusation is proof of guilt” standard for dealing with sexual issues. But there is also a discussion about the methodology and value of some of the reseach – or rather the media interpretation of that research – regarding sexual assault and rape on college campuses that is of value too – specifically things like “One in four women have been the victims of rape” or whatever. And finally there is a valuable conversation about Title IX and how the federal government is now putting a huge thumb on the scale of how higher ed deals with these things. Some of that is of course a reaction to UNDERcompliance, but at the same time a huge amount of it is basically FORCING universities to deal with things in a federally mandated way. As you can guess from my political views, I think that way often leads to solutions that aren’t dictated by on-the-ground realities but instead by shallow political winds, but another way to put that, perhaps, is the way it incentivizes higher education institutions. In my experience, the behavior of both individuals and institutions is all based on how they are incentivized (or conditioned, if you want to get all B.F. Skinner about it). In previous years, institutions were incentivized to sweet sexual assault under the rug. Now, however, they are incentivized the opposite way – to treat ANY case that comes before them as a necessary conviction. There is no incentivize (or very little of one) to provide a just, transparent, and thorough process. There is a HUGE incentive to make sure that no potential guilty party ever goes free – the federal government can literally, with a penstroke, threaten to dissolve your entire institution. Think of it the same way we think of DAs – if they are rewarded for convictions but not for failing to bring cases when the evidence doesn’t merit it, they are going to be incentivized towards convictions rather than justice. Now imagine if the consequence of failing to get a conviction was immediate termination, and how much prosecutorial abuse that would invite.

Same thing here. The downside of falsely “convicting” a person accused of sexual assault is you may have to payout a civil lawsuit down the line. The downside for NOT convicting a person accused of sexual assault is you may get a Rolling Stone cover story on the subject, be the center of a huge public controversy, have your President and chairman of the board fired, and perhaps have your university disintegrated.

If you’re a rational institution, which way you gonna go?

These are not incentives that behoove fairness or a pursuit of justice. They are incentives that demand witchhunts. By design. And in an atmosphere where the public mentality regarding these things is to put them in the same category as those examples I mentioned at the start – so vile that we have to disregard due process and that a hundred innocents rotting are worth not allowing one guilty to go free – you are going to see a lot more lives ruined and a lot more overcorrection before thoughtfulness or fairness ever have a chance of winning out.

Posted by Rojas @ 11:44 pm on December 2nd 2014

Abolish football

Sorry, but it’s time.

We’ve “found out” a lot about the NFL this year. I put the phrase in quotes because we are mostly discovering things that we’ve suspected for quite a while–that violence perpetrated by players is epidemic, that the concussive and subconcussive impacts incurred as an inevitable result of playing the game produce inevitable lifelong trauma, the only question of which is the severity, and that the NFL management absolutely could not give two hot sh*ts about any of the above except to the extent that it impacts upon the bottom line. This year in the NFL has been an absolute carnival of transparent greed and utter shamelessness, as management lurches uncontrollably from one crisis to another, imposing consequence after consequence that its own rules in no way justify, all while ignoring the real problems and all the while attempting to buy its way out of the consequences of its long-term minimization of the health risks to players on the most laughable and despicable terms imaginable.

And let’s be clear: the NFL, which I just described, is the part of football that ought to be PRESERVED. Because whatever else may be said of it, everyone who entered into that environment was a full adult, compensated for his efforts, and with some knowledge that he was trading lifelong comfort for momentary glory. It’s a modern day gladiatorial game, no doubt of it, but the libertarian in me tells me that people should be allowed to be gladiators if they really want; there is a case to be made for a short and merry life over a long and dull one, and God save me, but I do enjoy watching it.

I no longer believe that there is a persuasive case to be made for football at any other level. Much has been made of the meatgrinder that services, for instance, professional soccer; the tens of thousands of teenagers in virtually every country who are pulled from schools in favor of soccer development academies run by professional franchises, who receive a laughable joke of an education as they become in effect full time laborers. The system spits out a precious few world-class players on the other end along with thousands upon thousands of young adults with no meaningful skills and no prospects. That’s soccer. AMERICAN football is different, of course, because we don’t make the franchises themselves turn the handle of the meatgrinder; we have publicly subsidized universities do the job for them. The cases of public universities subverting their educational mission in pursuit of gridiron glory are too many to list here. A few of them, the very top niche, do make a profit in the process, the bulk of which is plowed back into the program itself. Which is to say: the best argument IN FAVOR OF college football is that as many thousands of young men, largely from impoverished backgrounds, are brought in to provide uncompensated labor, and then spit out the other end with college “degrees” of questionable credibility (or in many cases no degree at all) and also with injuries that will cripple their earnings potential and their quality of life, there are A FEW universities that make a profit off of this labor, meaning that the underclass has served its purpose of entertaining the middle and upper classes and subsidizing their educations. That’s the case IN FAVOR, and a sad and shabby case it is. The case AGAINST is to be found in less glorious locales, such as the Columbus, Ohio dumpster in which a Buckeyes walk-on was found dead this week, having shot himself to bring an end to the concussive trauma and self-perception of failure from which he was suffering. Or in the utterly sick priorities of the millions who cheered lustily this week at the courage of the (uncompensated) quarterback for Clemson, who was permitted by his (compensated) team trainer and his (very well compensated indeed) head coach to play the entire game against archrival South Carolina on a torn ACL.

Then there is high school football, the new passion at my own institution of learning, involving young men from all walks of life, subjecting themselves to the same concussive and subconcussive impacts daily, with the permission and indeed the urging of their school community, in pursuit of collective glory and maybe, just maybe, the chance to do it for free for four years more. No question, those young men enjoy it. As do we, watching them. There are many things that young men enjoy doing which maybe we ought not to encourage them to do, particularly if we are, for instance, educational professionals. No doubt the young men in question learn many lessons about teamwork, and commitment, and leadership from the experience. One wonders if there might not be an activity in which they might not learn many of those same lessons that does not involve repeated head trauma. What needs to be screamed to the heavens about this phenomenon is that THESE. ARE. KIDS. These are not even eighteen year old men, legally permitted to make the dumb, dumb, bad, bad, dumb, bad, dumb decisions that young men make. THESE ARE KIDS, in our care, and we are encouraging them to slam their heads into one another repeatedly because it’s fun for them and us. Every generation has moral blind spots; slavery was once thought inevitable, for instance, as was Jim Crow later on, and our own grandparents by and large thought the wartime incarceration of Asian-American civilians was just. Blind spots are by definition unidentifiable to those of us who are experiencing them. Even so, I’m comfortable in the assumption that future generations are going to look back at us, their ancestors, in our collective and almost universal celebration of high school football, and ask, “What the HELL were they thinking???”

My school loves its football team, and they’re very good at what they do, and they bring in resources that we wouldn’t have otherwise, and I love seeing them succeed, and I hate myself and all the rest of us for how proud we are of what we’re all doing.

It all needs to end, at my school and everywhere else. Not because the coaches and the participants are bad people, but because they are good people, by and large; intelligent and capable men, young and old. Moral, vigorously competitive men, with valuable lessons to teach and to learn, and there has to be some better use to which our society can put them than to make them all grist for the NFL’s mill, feedstock for a machine that grinds them up in order to churn out, at the other end, Ray Rice, Aaron Hernandez, and Roger Goodell’s new yacht.

My own favorite non-NFL football team is that of the University of Kansas. It’s a hot mess of a program that has won, I think, three conference games in the last six years, and has fired three different coaches in that time, one for among other things calling his players “gang-bangers” and the other two of whom are still drawing salary from the school because they had to be canned at the front end of long-term contracts. KU doesn’t pretend to make money off of football and the student body by and large doesn’t pretend to care about it; nobody is choosing to attend KU because they wanna watch football and anybody who’d leave the school because KU’s bad at football left a long time ago. Anyway, KU fired another coach this year en route to a 3-9 season, and there has been a whole lot of speculation in the press as to who they might hire to replace him, and here is who I think KU should hire as its new football coach: no one. They should take this opportunity to shut the program down. They should then use the money saved to endow 85 full ride scholarships for minority men, the initial recipients of which would be the former athletes. In doing so, they would demonstrate that the institution thinks young black men are worthwhile as something other than as entertainment for the rest of us.

Posted by Brad @ 5:35 pm on December 1st 2014

“It’s not black progress. It’s white progress.”

An amazing Chris Rock interview, who is literally one of my favorite thinkers in pop culture (and one of the top three standups of all time).

What would you do in Ferguson that a standard reporter wouldn’t?

I’d do a special on race, but I’d have no black people.

Well, that would be much more revealing.

Yes, that would be an event. Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.

Right. It’s ridiculous.

So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.

Posted by Brad @ 4:39 pm on October 22nd 2014

Ebola-Infected Suicide Bombers

This is a real column in the real Washington Post. The entire 750-word opinion piece – in the Washington Post (RIP Ben Bradlee) – asks us to consider the possibility of ISIS sending an Ebola-infected suicide bomber to say a mall in Oklahoma City. Or, ISIS putting Ebola on our doorknobs. Because…Obama?

That the piece was written by Washington Post columnist and former Rumsfeld speechwriter Mark Thiessen wouldn’t really surprise anyone, but, again, he’s got a column in the Washington Post and you don’t.

Posted by Rojas @ 11:28 pm on September 26th 2014


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Posted by Jack @ 7:47 pm on September 25th 2014

Saluting Fundamentalists and Arab Pilot Programs

Having spent most of my adult life in uniform and the rest of it along side those still serving, I can say with some confidence that the vast majority of military personnel have, at some point, distractedly saluted with something in their hands. Usually its a pen or a tool, but I think I have seen a coffee cup or two mistakenly brought to the forehead. So POTUS demonstrating a bit of this same human distraction does not remotely justify the hacktastic and utterly manufactured freak out going on in the usual circles. A note to Sean Hannity and any of the other agit-prop operatives at Fox news: while you are expressing your deep felt concern for the President’s supposed disrespect for your heroes in uniform, perhaps you should take a second to heatedly condemn your douche nozzle coworkers on The Five for their far, far more derogatory and intentional disrespect to the legitimately ground breaking heroine from the United Arab Emirates flying combat missions against ISIL. While these frat boy asses can devalue Major Mariam Al Mansouri with their tired jokes about not being able to park her fighter jet and “boobs on the ground,” she is facing vastly greater danger and potential horror than they ever have or ever will.

Posted by Brad @ 10:35 pm on September 10th 2014

The Chain of Possession for Arms in Iraq

So, America, with great weapons (guns, artillery, tanks, explosive, etc) rolls into Iraq in 2003. Saddam’s army, with relatively crappy weapons drops their stuff and abandons their posts. The Kurds and other local militias pick those crappy weapons up and arm themselves. We set up a new Iraqi army, and give them our great weapons.

Later, ISIS rolls into Iraq with crappy weapons picked up in Syria (the progeny of which I won’t even get into). Iraq’s army, with their great weapons we just gave them, drops their stuff and abandons their posts. ISIS picks up those great weapons, and proceeds to roll into Kurd territory, who have those relatively crappy weapons from the last time the Iraqi weapon dropped their stuff. So, basically, the Kurds are fighting with Iraqi Army weapons 1.0, and being beaten back by ISIS with Iraqi Army weapons 2.0 – the weapons we pumped into the country for the explicit purpose of fighting the old Iraqi Army weapons 1.0.

Solution: America rolls back in, sets up a new Iraqi army and outfits the Kurds, and pumps into the country new great weapons, such that they will be outfitted with Iraqi Army weapons 3.0, designed to overpower Iraqi Army weapons 2.0, held by ISIS, which we had pumped into the country to defeat Iraqi Army weapons 1.0 — which I guess I should have mentioned we had pumped into the country in the 80s to overpower Iranian weapons 1.0.

I mean, at some point, should we just put our entire military in the middle of the desert and have them throw guns at each other and call it a day?

Posted by Brad @ 8:43 pm on September 9th 2014

“World War III is at Hand”

A nice roundup.

ISIS is an “imminent threat to every interest we have,” warned Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel. “This is beyond anything we’ve seen. We must prepare for everything.” In an article appearing in The Hill, long-time Congressional staffer Brent Budowsky argued that it is “highly probable” ISIS will…obtain nuclear, chemical, biological or other weapons of mass death…to use in attacks against New York [or] Washington”. Texas Governor Rick Perry added, There is a “very real possibility” that ISIS forces may have crossed the US-Mexican border. Speaking on television, Senator Inhofe asserted, “We are in the most dangerous position we’ve ever been in as a nation.” Former Marine four star General John Allen went further. “World War III is at hand.”

And suddenly, another war in the Middle East appears to be upon us.

Posted by Brad @ 11:02 pm on August 14th 2014

Municipal Shock and Awe

So it turns out, if you’re the federal government and you tell municipal police departments circa the early 2000s (after 9-11) that you have hundreds of millions of dollars just sitting around for counter terrorism, they suddenly come up with lots of counter terrorism they have to do.

Turns out the more you let mission creep go, in that context, the more mission creep you get.

And, it also turns out, that if you give a bunch of dudes a shit-ton of military equipment, they turn into a pseudo-military.

And, finally, if you upturn the broader society’s value system from liberty to security, security starts trumping every time those two things come into conflict.

Posted by Rojas @ 8:43 am on August 12th 2014

Third world problems in the first world.

Last night, in St. Louis County Missouri, an entire town was basically shut down as police first ushered media from the scene, then reportedly fired tear gas and rubber bullets into crowds of unarmed American citizens.

Not to worry, though; no celebrities were harmed.

Posted by Brad @ 10:42 pm on August 10th 2014

This was a great blog for a bit

And now it’s not.

That’s sad.

But don’t fret. The human race is still…amazing.

Posted by Brad @ 12:52 am on July 26th 2014

Niche Baseball Blogs

It’s hard to beat Feminist Jose Bautista.

Posted by Brad @ 7:42 pm on July 17th 2014

The problem with weapons is that they often get used

Posted by Adam @ 8:05 am on June 28th 2014

Kill the bees. Later

It’s clear that bees are scum who must each die a thousand deaths (which is a satisfyingly large total of bee deaths, aggregated across the total bee population) but that is not to say that they do not have their uses. Reports of bees and snakes driving Boko Haram out of forest stronghold illustrate that even the most appalling of creatures can occasionally fight towards the cause of good. By accident, say, or as part of a power struggle amongst the forces of evil.

If it were just Boko Haram and bees in there, of course, one might favour more robust area-effect solutions, but we must mercifully stay our hand where the area is shared with others. This is not — far from it — an endorsement of the stripy menace, any more than feeding Chicago-style pizza to your enemies is an endorsement of the culinary abomination, but a statement of necessity. We can always kill the bees afterwards, in any case.

And we should. The Bees Must Die.

Posted by Adam @ 6:19 pm on June 23rd 2014

C+. Must do better.

Via the BBC: last week, the NYT featured an op-ed from Timothy Egan lambasting Walmart, which is not terribly unusual. What is unusual, though, is the Walmart response, in the form of a point-by-point correction plus bonus suggestions for improvements.

This is actually pretty clever, I think. Yet another anti-Walmart opinion piece — I’m not sure how many minds they’re changing, but for people who think Walmart is a problem there’s not really much choice other than to keeping trying to persuade people — gets used not just for direct rebuttal but as a vehicle for making counter-claims. I assume it’s all fair use, too, so far as copyright is concerned (but I could be completely wrong about that). As op-eds are about the most fatuous part of American newspapers (although the NYT efforts often pale in comparison to some of the op-eds which feature in the WSJ), it’d be nice to see more of this sort of directed response from the people being attacked from the bully pulpit.

Posted by Adam @ 8:40 pm on June 20th 2014

The stripy menace-industrial complex

Is there anything that can’t be made worse by the Federal Government? The Obama administration — or should I say, “Obeema administration” — is trying to stop that colony collapse disorder thing, aka (in these parts) “humanity’s last best hope from beetastrophe”.

I am not one for over-reaction, but I demand that Darrell Issa start impeachment proceedings immediately.

Posted by Adam @ 11:03 pm on June 19th 2014

Engage brain! Too late

Brian Schweitzer, populist Democrat, two-term governor of heavily Republican Montana and potential wild card 2016 presidential candidate, thinks Eric Cantor is a 60-70% on his gaydar, although that’s probably just because he believes that Southern men are effeminate (but that’s OK! He’s totally fine with gay people). He also compared Senate bigwig Democrat Dianne Feinstein’s latterly negative, but formerly ambivalent, response to NSA information-gathering as being akin to that of a prostitute (or perhaps merely a slutty sexual adventurer? I’m not entirely clear) pretending to now be a nun.

I am not sure what he gains from insulting a senior House Republican who won’t even feature at the next election and one of the Senate big cheeses of his own party, but I guess I’m just not clever enough to work it out. Last week he was at a Romney gathering (Romney also the target of bizarre presidential run speculation, but he is probably now embarrassed to have shared a platform with Schweitzer). Other lesser minds also think it’s the end of his presidential aspirations, but we may all be missing his ingenious appeal to the middle. Or something.

Posted by Brad @ 12:06 am on June 18th 2014

This Used to Be a Blog And it Had Brits and Stuff

And if those things were still true, I’d point out that “soccer” is a perfectly acceptable term for the sport – in many ways, actually, a lot more reasonable given the other “football” sports (American football, rugby)(soccer being an abbreviation on “association football” which the sport was termed to avoid being confused with rubgy football). And it was only relatively recently that the British decided it wasn’t cool anymore because the yanks used it.

If the word “soccer” originated in England, why did it fall into disuse there and become dominant in the States?

To answer that question, [sports economist Stefan] Szymanski counted the frequency with which the words “football” and soccer” appeared in American and British news outlets as far back as 1900. What he found is fascinating: “Soccer” was a recognized term in Britain in the first half of the twentieth century, but it wasn’t widely used until after World War II, when it was in vogue (and interchangeable with “football” and other phrases like “soccer football”) for a couple decades, perhaps because of the influence of American troops stationed in Britain during the war and the allure of American culture in its aftermath. In the 1980s, however, Brits began rejecting the term, as soccer became a more popular sport in the United States.

In recent decades, “The penetration of the game into American culture, measured by the use of the name ‘soccer,’ has led to backlash against the use of the word in Britain, where it was once considered an innocuous alternative to the word ‘football,’” Szymanski explains.

So really the fact that Americans call it “soccer” is less a function of the seppos bastardizing it and more a function of the English being snobs and all “I was into this band before it was cool” and stuff.

Posted by Brad @ 2:30 pm on June 5th 2014

The Mass Grave in Ireland and the Catholic Fixation on Sex

Andrew Sullivan’s rolling coverage of the unearthed bodies of 800 neglected children buried in a septic tank in an Irish home for out-of-wedlock mothers and babies is hard to forget. The news itself is, of course, unspeakably horrible, but Sullivan, I think rightly, absolutely blasts about perhaps the dogmatic and cultural currents in 20th and 21st century Catholicism that directly led to this horror. Namely, the incredibly severe fixation on sex specifically within modern Catholicism – the absolute fetishazation of sexual sin above all others – which has led to some pretty dark stuff in the church’s recent history. Sullivan’s argument is not a gimme, of course, but I think he connects the dots very compellingly. Generally speaking, a view of sexuality based largely on shame and marginalization tends to lead to a lot of marshy psychological fields (and this is true of other religions as well; as Sullivan mentions, 1940s Ireland is not so different than 2010 Iran, in this respect).

Anyway, must reads.

Catholicism’s Crimes Against Humanity 1
Catholicism’s Crimes Against Humanity 2
Catholicism’s Crimes Against Humanity 3

Posted by Brad @ 11:54 pm on June 4th 2014

Six Years Later, Guantanamo Bay is Still Open

…but not for 5 Taliban commanders who were just released for a prisoner exchange. Just for the 149 that remain, having been there for well over a decade now, 78 of whom have been cleared for transfer or release for four years or more. The five that were released in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl, by the way, were not among that category.

The real kick in the nuts? In December, Congress passed a law disallowing the President from releasing prisoners from Gitmo (added to the annual defense authorization act). Obama appended a signing statement to that provision specifically, stating that in the administration’s belief the provision was an unconstitutional overstepping of the separation of powers – he specifically couched it in the context of his being frustrated at his inability to close Gitmo or transfer its detainees to civilian court. So, Congress passed the law and the administration basically said it didn’t feel that it had to follow it (which, when Bush did it, Obama called an abuse that advanced sweeping powers of executive authority, but whatevs).

However, that signing statement has never been invoked, Gitmo remains open, the prisoners in limbo, the prisoners cleared for release still sitting there (actually, in many cases, literally – strapped to chairs with feeding tubes).

He is invoking that signing statement now, to release five of the prisoners that probably actually SHOULD have been kept off the battlefield and tried.

Emily Bazelon has a very good summary of disgusting situation as it pertains to Gitmo.

I am not particularly interested in litigating the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner exchange. In truth, I could go either way on the matter, and there’s enough weirdness on both sides – from accounts of how Bergdahl might have ended up in their custody in the first place to the flip side that this was the first successful diplomatic negotiation with the Taliban as a political entity (this was the first time the Taliban embassy in Qatar actually got something done and proved that it could lead to battlefield course changes) – that I don’t really feel comfortable weighing in. I am also not saying that Obama should use bullshit “executive authority” signing statements to essentially declare yet another law he doesn’t like null and void when it’s convenient.

But it is curious to me that for six years now we have heard Obama bemoan that he really totally WANTS to close Guantanamo Bay, you guys, but just can’t because of stupid Congress. It’s totally not his fault – damn Republicans, Guantanamo Bay is their fault again! Except, when the opportunity arises, he is perfectly comfortable ignoring those same pesky laws entirely where it advances his agenda. Which very clearly telegraphs that letting Guantanamo detainees who aren’t strategically important one way or the other be transferred, tried, or released, is not, in fact, part of the agenda.

Bonus quote from Bazelon – file this under “a perfectly succinct encapsulation of a fundamental principle that will nevertheless not be generalized to other political issues where it proves inconvenient to a partisan or ideological worldview”:

Presidents tend toward overreach. Congress isn’t good at pushing back. Each president who usurps more authority for his office makes it easier for the next one to do more of the same. This will be a part of Obama’s legacy that darkens over time.

Posted by Rojas @ 10:20 am on May 28th 2014

The Zone of Death

There’s a fifty square mile area of Yellowstone National Park in which law may not apply.

Posted by Rojas @ 1:58 am on May 26th 2014

The plight of the teenage “gentleman”

A repost from that other blog I write. Trigger warning for excessive self-revelation and use of the phrase “check your privilege”.

Posted by Rojas @ 4:08 pm on May 23rd 2014

Why object to minor regulations and trivial laws?

Because for people living in poverty, no law is trivial.

Posted by Brad @ 4:51 pm on May 19th 2014

CIA Says “Okay, No More Fake Vaccination Programs”

After a number of deans of schools of public health continue to raise alarm that after the CIA’s coordinated fake vaccination program in Pakistan, Pakistani’s who might have reason to fear the West (warlords in far flung areas) have, quite rationally, banned or otherwise harassed vaccination programs and the medical professionals trying to organize and execute them. Oh, and suddenly polio is resurgent there.

For what it’s worth. Although I suspect it’s not based on any internalization of the dangers of perfidy but rather just based on the fact that they don’t really have any going right now. So more a “yeah yeah, whatever, we’ll not do that for now”.

This is one of my hobby horses I know, but to reiterate again, the reason we have rules of war isn’t because we’re sissypants or because we’re following quaint and antiquated “civilized” rules in a world that no longer does, akin to the British lining up in fields to fight the Revolutionary War. Things like prohibitions on torture, on false flag operations, on mass and indiscriminate police state surveillance, on assassinating other heads of state, on indefinite detention or indiscriminate killing of non-battlefield “combatants”, and basically all those things you find prohibited in the Geneva Conventions and Army Field Manual, aren’t based on quint “gentlemen” agreements. They are rather based on centuries of hard won wisdom on unintended consequences and how, even if certain things may expedite short term military objectives, they do so at the expense of the long term goals of what Western Civilization is presumably trying to achieve with military action in the first place – peace, stability, health, freedom, etc.

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