Creative Destruction

March 15, 2012

Mayan Calendar Miscount

Filed under: Content-lite,Current Events,Geekery,Navel Gazing — Brutus @ 12:10 pm

This image has been making the rounds:

I admit to being initially taken in by the apparent discrepancy in counting methodologies, but as with so many things, I lack the expertise to fully evaluate the accuracy of the claims. It was no surprise that someone else did, however, as can be appreciated with this YouTube video:

Of course, I never believed in the first place that the Mayan prophesy meant the end of the world. Rather, it was merely the equivalent of the odometer on the car turning over 100,000 back when there was no display for the hundred thousands place, meaning it would reset to 00,000.0.

January 16, 2011

Esteem Needs

Filed under: Current Events,Ethics,Navel Gazing,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 1:09 am

I gave a speech a bit over one year ago that cited Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (physiological, security, social, esteem, and self-actualization), though I modified it slightly to conform to needs as we now experience them. Primary attention for many of us who identify with the dominant culture has shifted to esteem needs, which include personal worth, social recognition, and accomplishment. However, those values are frequently distorted by seeking empty and vacuous fame and false social recognition. This is especially prevalent among the young, whose physiological and security needs are typically satisfied by parents. Indeed, the young have difficulty imaging scenarios where those needs aren’t met passively, which is to say effortlessly, though the recognition is dawning on many in their 20s that the living standards enjoyed by their elders are difficult to replicate.

A recent study reported on in USA Today describes the very thing I mentioned in my speech, namely, that esteem needs for today’s youth trump other concerns. They prefer praise over things like sex, alcohol, money, or even a best friend. This comes as no surprise to anyone paying attention, as evidence abounds that an entire generation of people have been encouraged to believe the world revolves around them. Similar charges have been levied on baby boomers, but as narcissism indices show, the parents got nothin’ on the kids.

April 27, 2008

Security State

Filed under: Current Events,International Politics,Politics — Brutus @ 9:28 pm

Although this blog has been left for dead by its group of writers, it continues to draw a number of readers. Comments are also mostly dead. However, the post below (cross-posted at my personal blog, The Spiral Staircase) may be of interest to readers who still wander in here. Comments here or there are welcome.

Creeping fascism has been a problem for some years now. Without much recourse short of armed revolt, considering how ineffectual the election process is for instigating real change, many citizens (including me) stood idly by and watched their rights and civil liberties ebb away on a daily basis as the state consolidates its control over all aspects of daily life. The precedent for today’s emerging fully operational security state (or surveillance society, as I’ve seen it called) lies in the early days of the Cold War. Having just emerged triumphant from WWII yet seeing ongoing threats on all sides, many in government began assembling a paranoid and invasive apparatus for gathering intelligence and protecting American interests. It’s almost inevitable that spending one’s life addressing external threats (and increasingly, internal ones) would warp one’s perceptions and judgment, and accordingly, it’s fair to suspect that many operatives both then and now suffer from what the French call a déformation professionnelle.

If you think this is mere hyperbole, I submit you haven’t been paying attention. A quick visit to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) website quickly gives readers the sense that the country is under siege. Its mission statement reads as follows:

CBP is one of the Department of Homeland Security’s largest and most complex components, with a priority mission of keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. It also has a responsibility for securing and facilitating trade and travel while enforcing hundreds of U.S. regulations, including immigration and drug laws.

My visit to the website was for a simple customs issue, but navigating the site and perusing its content was more than a bit spooky. The front-and-center pointer to terrorists and weapons, while a legitimate concern of the agency, may not be a primary concern of the citizenry except for the agency’s Orwellian interest in keeping everyone constantly on edge. Blissfully missing was a flashing banner with the current alert level status, which is discomfiting enough when it blares over PAs at airports and transportation hubs, as though travelers had any meaningful response. (Reminds me of the air raid sirens tested on the first Wednesday of each month during my youth — rather needless in retrospect, since no one was every really coming for us.) Indeed, the website appears to be equally informational and public relations efforts, with public opinion toward its mandate being shaped heavily.

More significantly, consider that many functions of state security and surveillance are now being handled by InfraGard (isn’t the misspelling of guard rather cute?), a private organization with chapters throughout the U.S. that works in conjunction with the FBI. This is from its website:

InfraGard is an information sharing and analysis effort serving the interests and combining the knowledge base of a wide range of members. At its most basic level, InfraGard is a partnership between the FBI and the private sector. InfraGard is an association of businesses, academic institutions, state and local law enforcement agencies, and other participants dedicated to sharing information and intelligence to prevent hostile acts against the United States. InfraGard Chapters are geographically linked with FBI Field Office territories. Each InfraGard Chapter has an FBI Special Agent Coordinator assigned to it, and the FBI Coordinator works closely with Supervisory Special Agent Program Managers in the Cyber Division at FBI Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

This arrangement has been criticized by The Progressive as effectively deputizing private industry to spy on people and granting business leaders unwarranted access to “an FBI secure communication network complete with VPN encrypted website, webmail, listservs, message boards, and much more.” As with privatization of many former functions of the military, this is more than a little bothersome.

But it gets worse. A book by Nick Turse titled The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives describes how fully the Pentagon has infiltrated and coopted everything for its purposes, which bears comparison to the movie The Matrix as a comprehensive thought control experiment brought to life. A lengthy excerpt appears in an article in TomDispatch.com with preliminary commentary, from which I quote this portion:

At one point in his farewell speech, Eisenhower presaged this point, suggesting, “The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — [of the conjunction of the military establishment and the large arms industry] is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government.” But only Hollywood has yet managed to capture the essence of today’s omnipresent, all-encompassing, cleverly hidden system of systems that invades all our lives; this new military-industrial-technological-entertainment-academic-scientific- media-intelligence-homeland security-surveillance-national security-corporate complex that has truly taken hold of America.

And yet more bad news was delivered over the weekend, at least if you subscribe to the famous Benjamin Franklin quote: “Those who would sacrifice essential liberties for a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Articles in The Washington Post and The New York Times (and elsewhere) describe how the Justice Department, rather than acting as a check on the excesses of the Executive Branch, has given support to Bush’s authoritarian interpretation of the Geneva Conventions, stating that interrogation techniques used would be judged on a sliding scale depending on the identity of the detainee and the information he or she is believed to possess. I’ve blogged before on the use of torture by our government, and despite its repugnance to most of the public, different branches of government — in defiance of international treaties — still insist upon it as a necessary tactic.

It’s difficult for me to imagine the motives behind authoritarian types for whom the modern security state would have been the wet dream of budding Cold Warriors. Are they benevolent tyrants, protecting the population for its own good, or mere profiteers, gathering riches, power, and influence to themselves? And is there some point at which the moment will crystallize into a realization by the general public that the U.S., with its gargantuan military budget and astonishing level of incarceration, has devolved into a fascist state run by a despotic oligarchy?

February 2, 2008

Making History

Filed under: Current Events,Election 2008,Politics — Brutus @ 12:42 am

There is a curious and growing sense that the 2008 presidential race (and the leadership of the free world that follows therefrom) is the Democrats’ to lose, and considering that the two dominant candidates are a woman on one hand and a black man on the other, the U.S. electorate is in a unique position to make history in either eventual result: we will elect a woman or a black man as president — the first in U.S. history — and establish a new political era. Obviously (or maybe not so), this is a distraction from the real issues of American politics, but that putatively history-making event has nonetheless helped erode our self-determination to the pointless and ephemeral issue of electability over governance. As a result, and in a very real sense, we deserve what we get.

Super Tuesday approaches (a catchy if not stupid and reductionist characterization), and yet we many participate blindly in this awful charade that our votes will have some meaningful impact on the outcome: the selection of a candidate for one party or the other. On the Democratic side (I’m unfamiliar with the Republican side), I’ve been chagrined to learn that delegates and candidates both have agreed to set aside a number of states and refuse to campaign and/or award delegates. I’m too much a novice in electoral politics to understand why, for instance, Michigan and Florida shouldn’t matter, so I remain politically naive and ineffectual. Perhaps someone more expert in the nuances of running a campaign within the vagaries of party politics can explain it to me. Failing that, I recognize my participation in the process as a meaningless drop in a flow that has been prefigured by forces with much more to gain or lose than can possibly be left to the whims of the electorate.

So we will make history of a sort. Big deal. I feel confident that none of the “electable” candidates present a prospect for meaningful change. My cynicism runs so deep that no incremental change or adoption of new window dressing is worth more than a moment’s contemplation. The purposeful candidates — those who propose real, substantive change from politics as usual, which is to say, the politics bought and paid for by the highest paying private interests — have already been winnowed from the contest.

But I empathize still with the winning candidate, Democrat or Republican. He or she will inherit such an awful mess — militarily, economically, and culturally — that no brief period of recovery and prosperity is possible to contemplate. We’ve dug for ourselves as Americans a sizable hole from which to extricate ourselves, and it may take generations (or more) to restore even a few of the advantages we have thus far taken for granted and now squandered.

December 30, 2007

Yeah, Right, Whatever ….

Filed under: Current Events,Human Rights,Politics — Brutus @ 4:34 pm

I learned a few days ago that a group of Lakota Indians residing in South Dakota have seceded from the United States and disavowed all past treaties. They are apparently demanding recognition as a sovereign country and have cited, among other things, the UN Resolution on Indigenous Peoples, which I blogged about earlier this fall.

This is pretty astounding. Secession! But not surprisingly, the news of it has hardly been noticed. A quick Google search reveals that none of the usual mainstream media have created articles about it. Further, the U.S. State Department was notified and their nonresponse thus far amounts to a big, fat “yeah, right, whatever ….”

If there is any true revolutionary spirit still alive within the U.S., I’d have to say that Native Americans (to use the politically correct term) have a far more compelling claim to moral authority than any other group of which I can think. Only a few days ago, the group’s website was called Lakota Freedom. I see that it now redirects to Republic of Lakota.

I for one will be interested to see if this movement gains any traction. There are rumors that Russia will recognize the Republic of Lakota, though one has to wonder whether that’s just a means of jabbing a figurative elbow in the ribs of the U.S. State Department. (Considering how many think of international politics as mere gamesmanship, I wouldn’t be surprised to see others enjoying the opportunity to poke at the U.S.) It would also be curious to see how land claims dating back to the middle of the 19th century are sorted out, as the Lakota intend to reclaim their ancestral lands and revert to open plains populated by bison. I can’t imagine for a moment anything really coming out of Lakota secession, but I’m oddly sympathetic to the notion of letting them go and seeing what happens.

December 14, 2007

Lies and Insistent Lies

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Current Events — Brutus @ 2:36 am

Anyone with an iota of sense has got to believe that despite vehement denials, many if not most top athletes are currently taking or have taken performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Cycling is one of the worst offenders, but it appears to be widespread in other sports as well. (There’s a blog about everything, of course, and Steroid Nation follows the news on this issue.) Recent admissions by Marion Jones that she had taken PEDs — unwittingly, perhaps — and lied to cover up the fact have resulted in her recently being stripped of her records, medals, and now reputation. Much as I’d like to feel sorry for her, it’s difficult to be sympathetic when she filed a defamation lawsuit against her supplier after she apparently knew that she had been doping. So not only did she lie (repeatedly), she insisted upon her lies in a lawsuit. (Similar insistence by Bill Clinton during his impeachment had the same hubris. Indeed, the cynic in me believes most people will lie out of expediency and insist on their lies when pressed. No shock there.)

Being a poor judge of character, I don’t know whether to believe pro athletes when they protest they’re clean. But I can observe that competition is so intense that there is often no way to compete successfully unless they join the doping ranks. It’s a shame, of course. Marion Jones isn’t the only athlete to pay a high price for the illegal steps she took to achieve her success, and doubtlessly others will admit their transgressions over time.

All this is a good reason to turn our collective attention away from professional sports for a while, not that I expect that ever to happen. When the superhuman feats demonstrated by athletes are revealed to be the result of widespread drug abuse, what pleasure remains for spectators? Or we could decide the opposite: throw competition open to achieving results by any means possible and let athletes decide what they want to do to their bodies. The record books may not represent a level playing field in terms of historical comparison, but within any given year, the top competitors would have no unfair advantages, since no PED would be off limits. And at least the charade would be over.

November 15, 2007

Shameless self-promotion

Over at Sophistpundit I’ve written up a pretentious little call to arms against media regulation.  Enjoy!

October 5, 2007

Free Burma


Free Burma!

More about the campaign here; via Amp, who continues to set new and interesting parameters for “not blogging”.

September 18, 2007

Indigenous Peoples Resolution

I recently learned about a resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on September 13. From the news report at the above link:

Despite strong objections from the United States and some of its allies, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution Thursday calling for the recognition of the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and control over their lands and resources … An overwhelming majority of UN member countries endorsed the Declaration, with 143 voting in favor, 4 against, and 11 abstaining … The United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand stood alone in voting against the resolution. The nations that neither supported nor objected were Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russia, Samoa, and Ukraine.

The UN has a permanent forum on this issue, and numerous organizations exist for the primary purpose of promoting noninterference with indigenous peoples. (Manifest destiny has been invalidated, much like colonialism and empire building, but the same essential practices continue under the banners of “globalization” and “economic development.” Both terms read to the critical eye as euphemisms for theft and exploitation that has continued unabated for centuries, if not millennia.)

The first thing that stands out about the resolution is the small group of dissenting countries. What possible moral high ground can be claimed by the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand — each with its own unique indigenous culture (largely destroyed by now) – by insisting (by inference) that they should be able to remove “indigenous peoples’ right to self-determination and control over their lands and resources”? It’s like children saying “We want what we want, and those people are in the way, so they have no rights.”

The other strange thing is that my Google search revealed no report, now four days later, on any of the major media outlets (MSNBC, CNN, ABC News, WSJ, NYT, Fox News, etc.). The reports that do show up are all foreign news, small news aggregators, and a handful of blogs. It’s impossible to believe that these reporting omissions have no motivation.

July 22, 2007

RIP, Tammy Faye

Filed under: Current Events,Popular Culture — Robert @ 1:24 pm

Tammy Faye Messner has died at 65, from the cancer which has ravaged her for the past few years. She was one of the sweetest and most genuine Christian people in the public eye. God rest her soul and comfort her family.

July 13, 2007

Michael Moore Debates Wolf Blitzer

Filed under: Current Events,Debate,Health Care — Brutus @ 12:47 pm

In response to Vilon’s request for opinions about Michael Moore’s appearance on The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, I finally found the time to chase the video at YouTube. Oddly, the same video direct from CNN wouldn’t load on any of the computers I use.

Both of the fellows have their specifical style and approach. Moore is a provacateur, whereas Blitzer is more nearly an announcer. So Moore presents lots of opinions and information and asks for commentary, apology, and response. He’s also generous enough to offer compliments when warranted. Blitzer merely facilitates transitions from one chunk of news to the next, or one question to the next. Blitzer assiduously deflects questions and avoids facing up to Moore’s debate, while Moore answers many (though not all) questions directly. Of the two, I’m much more inclined to trust Moore, despite his open partisanship — especially considering his partisanship is for the American people instead of monied interests. And besides, the slick production values and unruffled equanimity of news anchors gets tiresome after a while.

Even with a relatively long interview (by network news standards, almost 11 mins.), they don’t resolve any issues. Perhaps that’s not the role of the mainstream media (“MSM”), but Moore clearly went in asking for an apology, as well as why CNN, through its medical correspondent, was so intent on criticizing Sicko and the facts the movie presents. Moore believes that Sicko‘s presentation stands up to scrutiny, just as Fahrenheit 911 has stood up for three years now, but CNN’s muckracking doesn’t. The issue is largely swept aside by Blitzer, despite Moore’s repeated jabs and refocusing.

(more…)

July 7, 2007

Blogger Bash 7.0 – Pseudoanthromorphized Misunderstanding of Statistical Reality Edition

Filed under: Blogosphere,Current Events,Serious Drinking — Robert @ 1:31 am

Yes, for believers in “lucky 7″ and other folks doomed to lose considerable sums at poker, except for the irritating and statistically inevitable outliers whose good luck brings them happiness all through life, we have Blogger Bash 7.0 – from 7:07 pm until they throw us out, at the Celtic Tavern, 1801 Blake Street, in downtown Denver. Come by and have a drink at David’s expense, and listen to me explain to you why you are wrong about everything.

Fortunately, through a prudent strategy of not making any bets, I don’t owe anyone any drinks this time, and I look forward to spending all my beer money on myself.

July 2, 2007

Brazenly Beyond the Law

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Current Events,Politics — Brutus @ 9:44 pm

The NY Times has a recent editorial that suggests says outright that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled so badly in three First Amendment cases that it no longer pays attention to precedent and is in effect operating beyond the law:

Chief Justice Roberts and the four others in his ascendant bloc used the next-to-last decision day of this term to reopen the political system to a new flood of special-interest money, to weaken protection of student expression and to make it harder for citizens to challenge government violations of the separation of church and state. In the process, the reconfigured court extended its noxious habit of casting aside precedents without acknowledging it ….

For the Times to identify a voting bloc that functions to contravene precedent in something as significant as the First Amendment is pretty astounding. The timing of the Court also reads pretty clearly as politically informed. The First Amendment isn’t a hotly contested issue, though certain instances (such as flag burning) may be. My take on bedrock principles of the U.S. Constitution — so basic and assumed back in the day that they were omitted from the first version and only added later as amendments — is that they should be protected slavishly unless some clear public interest is served by revoking rights. It is far better to extend protection in questionable cases than to infringe someone’s rights, not unlike the conventional wisdom (enshrined in someone’s famous quote, no doubt) that it’s better to let ten guilty men go free than to convict one innocent one.

In other news likely to become a political firestorm in the coming days (and then blow over in favor of some new revelation, as nearly all of Bush’s missteps do), Pres. Bush commuted Scooter Libby’s 2.5-year prison sentence. Leaving the fine, probation, and criminal record intact rather than a full pardon is nothing to these guys, which is say almost no punishment at all. Haven’t members of the Bush Administration also shown themselves brazenly willing to operate beyond the law? So much for accountability. Of course, it should surprise no one that the Prez steps in to protect one of his aides, but sheesh. Isn’t there even a sacrificial goat to quell the need for political balance anymore?

June 13, 2007

Sadness

Filed under: Current Events — Off Colfax @ 9:00 pm

Mr. Wizard. Rest In Peace.

We have lost an icon. Not even Bill Nye The Science Guy was as fundamental as Mr. Wizard.

He will be missed. And mourned.

[Via]

June 12, 2007

When I Am King…

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Current Events — Robert @ 11:08 pm

The typical reaction accorded to a plaintiff like Judge Pearson will be summary execution.

Or at least a beating.

May 29, 2007

Dissent Is Patriotic

Filed under: Current Events — Robert @ 1:10 am

Patriotism in action.

May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell, RIP.

Filed under: Blogosphere,Current Events — Robert @ 3:31 pm

Let the love begin to flow.

Copyright in Transition

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Current Events,Economics,Popular Culture — Brutus @ 12:09 am

The U.S. Copyright Office and the Recording Industry Associate of America (RIAA) are doing exactly what they exist to do: protect and police the intellectual property of their constituencies. This post by Off Colfax a few days ago about the Copyright Review Board’s decision to raise royalty rates precipitously for streaming copyrighted content over the web (usually by commercial and web radio services), as well as stories like this one, do nothing to enhance the perception of the RIAA as a common thug with the support of the Copyright Office. Indeed, it’s gotten so bad that the RIAA recently won a contest (in public perception only) for being the worst company in America.

Naturally, it’s unpopular to lend support to an institution known for threatening lawsuits against college students, 12-year-olds, and grandmothers, or one that seems hellbent on instituting punitive royalty rates. I goofed in my first comment on this subject, as I didn’t get that new royalty rates for streaming content will likely put an end to web radio. (I still don’t understand the motivation behind it.) But unlike a lot of consumers, I’m no novice at intellectual property issues (see here and here). So the usual tropes consumers offer up to rationalize their illegal, infringing behaviors get no quarter with me.

What interests me now is that the entire notion of copyright, with its hundreds of years of support in legal practice, appears to be simply beyond the power of most folks to adequately comprehend. That change of sea means that widespread infringement and grassroots movements to relax or invalidate copyright protections, ironically undertaken at the same time that the U.S. government is seeking to impose stronger IP protections on other governments, probably doom the recording industry to extinction. If the consuming public determines, justly or unjustly, that a particular body of law is invalid and won’t respect it, then that law usually gets changed (or flatly ignored, like speed limits). The precipitating factor, in my view, is the technological simplicity of copying — the very thing copyright prohibits.

Before the photocopy machine and digital media, copying and piracy were far more costly and time consuming. Now, the ease and ubiquity of infringing behaviors have become a sort of death by a thousand cuts, except that it’s millions and billions of cuts. The business model on which the recording industry has been based for about 100 years is now so entirely destabilized and transitional that its very survival is threatened. In that context, it’s perfectly reasonable (if unpopular) for the RIAA to seek recourse through legal means, which includes infringement lawsuits (real and threatened) and resetting royalty rates. But the public’s insistence that new distribution methods and business models must (must!) be developed because, like the newspapers, the industry is already dead but doesn’t yet realize it, will probably win the day eventually. If and when that happens, and the financial incentive for creative work disappears with it (since creative work won’t be protectible), I wonder whether it will be a classic case of getting what you want but then deserving what you eventually get: crap music and crap media.

May 3, 2007

Preemptive Pardon

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Current Events,Election 2008 — Brutus @ 9:58 pm

The Chicago Tribune reports that

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said President Bush has made massive policy blunders, but impeaching him or calling him a war criminal is a waste of time.

If I were to made such a statement, it would come across as a personal opinion. But when Obama says the same thing, it comes across — at least to me — as a preemptive pardon for what many consider Bush’s impeachable offenses. After all, Obama is a high-profile presidential candidate. So either he’s a savvy strategist, exhorting us to “turn the page” and move on to the next administration (presumably his) and a hoped-for change of sea in politics that is still nearly two years away if the next elections go as he intends and expects, or he’s taking the opportunity to be magnanimous and perhaps a bit presidential (before the fact) with respect to the current president, against whom he’s not really competing.

I’m not convinced that impeachment is the proper course of action, especially if we can’t impeach Bush and Cheney simultaneously to avoid a Cheney presidency (the horror!). Still, I’m fully willing to cast aspersions toward policies and decisions emanating from the White House, many of which appear to my regular citizen’s eye (meaning I lack legal training) to contravene the U.S. Constitution and focus on enriching and empowering a small portion of the population as the expense of the rest rather than seriously looking after the wider national interest.

What Do You Say To A Dead Athiest?

Filed under: Current Events — Off Colfax @ 9:53 pm

Lt. Col. Ralph Kauzlarich needs to look at things in a different manner.

When you die, I mean, there is supposedly a better life, right? Well, if you are an atheist and you don’t believe in anything, if you die, what is there to go to? Nothing. You are worm dirt. So for their son to die for nothing, and now he is no more — that is pretty hard to get your head around that. So I don’t know how an atheist thinks. I can only imagine that that would be pretty tough.

Tell me this: If you don’t have anything to look forward to after you die, then what greater sacrifice is there than to give your life? It is everything an atheist is, was, and ever will be. There is nothing else. There are no comforting thoughts as the world fades to black. There will be no eternal reward, no friends and family who have passed or are yet to pass…

Zilch. Nada. Nothing.

What greater sacrifice is it for an atheist to die for a cause? To die simply trying to do what is right and good and proper in this world because it is right and good and proper?

There is no greater sacrifice. Tillman’s death deserves to be treated with honor and respect.

I support Representative Henry Waxman’s call for Lt. Colonel Kauzlarich be brought on charges of conduct unbecoming an officer, only because there is no such article regarding “Conduct Unbecoming A Human Being” in the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

April 21, 2007

Compare and Contrast

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Current Events — Robert @ 1:51 pm

Meet Venus Ramey, the 82-year old former Miss America (1944) who recently confronted thieves on her Kentucky farm. Caught in the act, the men offered to leave; Miss Ramey declined their offer, shooting out the tires of the car to prevent them from driving away and holding them at gunpoint until police arrived.

She had to balance on her walker to get her gun in firing position, but she managed.

Is any further comment required?

April 19, 2007

The Tragedy Network

Filed under: Current Events,Ethics — Brutus @ 11:10 am

I’m thinking of starting a new television channel, maybe on cable, called The Tragedy Network. Because this world is a virtually unlimited vale of tears, reporters will fan out across the globe and bring humanity’s worst atrocities into everyone’s living rooms. And because the boob tube is so ubiquitous, we’ll have access in cars, bars, airports, offices, pretty much everywhere. I’m confident there are enough grieving survivors that The Tragedy Network can always locate someone and shove a camera in his or her face to ask “How do you feel right now?” The byline can be “All Tragedy, All the Time.” Luckily, because the pitch of the channel will be hysterical at all times, there is no possibility of being preempted by a bigger tragedy. Breaking news stories can just be laid on top of old ones. The focus on human tragedy will relieve reporters of any need to make ethical reports or avoid rushes to judgment. By recycling and repackaging the same conjecture and lack of hard information every half hour, the audience will be riveted, practically slavering for any shred of real information that comes out in the aftermath of events. And by not holding back prurient details found amongst the media packages prepared by perpetrators of atrocity, The Tragedy Network can pretty much assure a succession of criminally insane narcissists pinning their hopes (justifiably) on immortality in the public mind once they commit their crimes and are shuffled off this mortal coil.

Think anyone will watch?

April 16, 2007

Thank God For The Virginia Tech Gun Ban…

Filed under: Current Events,Human Rights — Robert @ 4:14 pm

Without brilliant regulations like this at the university, there might have been some kind of a massacre.

I’m just sick at what’s happened at Virginia Tech.  My wife posits a breakdown in values at the family level as the causal factor, and I’m inclined to agree, at least in terms of the creation of people like the psycho who did this. However, I also think there’s a cultural value in play, a sick and degraded cultural value that denigrates self-defense and urges that all martial power and valor be confined to a particular class. Don’t carry a gun; the cops will do that for you. Don’t fight back when the bank robber pulls a piece; cooperate and hope that you aren’t hurt. Don’t stand up; lie down, and put your faith in the rational behavior and good intentions of the most deranged and dangerous members of society.

Well, bullshit. Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit. The cops can’t protect everybody. Killers and thugs aren’t interested in the value of human life. If we want a civil society where people are safe and don’t have to worry about lunatics slaughtering dozens of innocents, then we have to recognize that it is a dangerous world. There are people who don’t care what the gun rules are. We’re fond in our society of saying we have to fight for this, fight for that – but we have forgotten, in this overly-metaphored world of symbolic manipulation, that fighting sometimes means fighting.

Screw pacifism. Screw professional peacekeepers. Screw the whole bloody-handed ideology of non-violence and peace through superior capitulation. It is time for this society to re-arm itself, to stand in defense of the things and the people that we hold dear. It is time for us to start answering these thugs and lunatics in the language they wish to claim for themselves. It is time for the nutjobs and bullies who threaten us, threaten our lives, threaten our families, to be answered in a hail of lead.

No more Columbines. No more Virginia Techs. No more 9/11s. We are not a herd, and we will not be rendered helpless sheep by the gun-banners and the counseling class and the oh-so-reasonable regulators. Arm yourselves, my fellow citizens. Arm yourselves, learn to use what you carry, and when the community is thrown into fear by these criminals, kill them.

March 24, 2007

If the RIAA told it like it is

Filed under: Current Events,Popular Culture — Daran @ 11:33 am

University tells RIAA where to get off

Dear University of Nebraska

Your computer network is being used to infringe the copyrights in our music. Our investigations into how this has come about has revealed two principal causes.

1. YOUR decision to set up YOUR computer network to best facilitate YOUR purposes.
2. OUR decision to sell copies of OUR music to untrustworthy people.

We could prevent the infringement by not distributing our music, or by limiting the distribution to people we could trust, but we wouldn’t make much money doing that. In fact, we figure we can make the most money by selling copies to anyone who can pay, and by getting other people (i.e. YOU) to protect US from the negative consequences of OUR decision to do so. You can do this by setting up YOUR computer network to best facilitate OUR purposes, and by doing the investigation necessary to determine which of OUR customers are untrustworthy.

Naturally we don’t intend to pay you for this service, and we think YOU should bear all the costs incurred.

Yours sincerely

RIAA

PS, we want to know who our untrustworthy customers are so we can sue them. We don’t intend to stop selling them copies of our music.

March 4, 2007

A Brief Moment Of Freefall

Filed under: Current Events — Off Colfax @ 2:36 am

This is fitting.

Stephen Hawking, the British cosmologist, Cambridge professor and best-selling author who has spent his career pondering the nature of gravity from a wheelchair, says he intends to get away from it all for a little while.

It couldn’t happen to a better man. And when he finally reaches for the stars for real, I hope to be on the ground to wish him godspeed.

Turn-signal: that Insty guy.

February 18, 2007

U.S. Agents on Trial in Italy

Filed under: Current Events,International Politics — Brutus @ 12:55 pm

This article in the NY Times reports that 26 Americans, mostly CIA agents, are to stand trial in Italy for kidnapping a terrorism suspect in Milan in 2003, transporting him to Egypt, and torturing him. That the torture apparently happened prior to enacting the Torture Act (sorry, that’s just what I’m gonna call it, because that’s what it is) would see to me to invalidate any defensive claim that agents were just following orders. Even today, I think agents should probably refuse to follow that sort of order, but that’s just me.

So we’re finally being told, by a foreign power no less, that no, it’s not OK to kidnap and torture. We could learn that lesson from most 8-year-olds. Why do I have the sense that the message will be lost of most of the people in the U.S. — both citizenry and government officials? We seem to have this apocalyptic vision of ourselves as the underdog victims in a global conspiracy to destroy us and that the only way to combat bad men intent on bad deeds is to become bad men ourselves, or badder men as the case may be. That’s just dumb.

February 15, 2007

Best Healthcare in the World?

Filed under: Current Events,Disability Issues,Health Care — Daran @ 12:48 pm

Patient ‘dumping’ probe widens

The Los Angeles city attorney’s office is investigating whether a Hollywood hospital violated multiple laws when it attempted to leave a paraplegic man on a gurney at the Midnight Mission — hours before he was left in a skid row gutter, officials said Monday.

A video, filmed by security cameras at the Midnight Mission early Thursday, shows two workers from Hollywood Presbyterian arriving by ambulance and trying to wheel the man, who is strapped down to the gurney, into the mission courtyard. They are confronted by security guards, who, according to mission officials, asked about the man’s follow-up care.

[...]

The video widens the probe into what happened to the man, who witnesses said was later left in a gutter by the driver of a van hired by the hospital. As of late Monday, he was a patient at County-USC Medical Center.

This earlier article describes that later act in more detail:

A paraplegic man wearing a soiled hospital gown and a broken colostomy bag was found crawling in a gutter in skid row in Los Angeles on Thursday after allegedly being dumped in the street by a Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center van, police said.

The incident, witnessed by more than two dozen people, was described by police as a particularly outrageous case of “homeless dumping” that has plagued th downtown area.

[...]

Witnesses shouted at the female driver of the van, “Where’s his wheelchair, where’s his walker?”

Gary Lett, an employee at Gladys Park, near where the incident occurred, said the woman driving the van didn’t reply, but proceeded to apply makeup and perfume before driving off.

“She didn’t make any attempt to help him,” Lett said. “He was in bad shape. He was incoherent.”

This is not an isolated incident.

It’s easy to point the finger at the workers and the hospital, but that won’t provide the resources and services these people need. Christian charity won’t either.

(Hat Tip)

February 11, 2007

Lashes to Ashes, Bust to Dust

Filed under: Current Events — Robert @ 2:46 pm

(That’s my wife’s riff on Dawn Eden’s rejected headline.)

The death of Anna Nicole Smith, nee Vickie Lynn Marshall, has caused me to reflect on some things.

The first thing is a bit of personal guilt. I have laughed at Anna Nicole’s antics since early days. I thought it was a hoot that this gold-digger got her hooks into a billionaire. I thought it was hysterical when the train wreck of J. Howard Marshall’s death and will became an enormous media circus. I watched her “reality” show with relish. And I can’t tell you how many good solid laughs derived from Jeff’s lovely series of Anna Nicole “greeting cards”.

I’ll confess, when she died I was a little bit sad (“every man’s death diminishes me”), but mostly I saw an opportunity for snark. In fact, I was going to write a snarky blog entry about it. While I was doing the “research” (hey, beef jerky and Coke doesn’t consume itself, you know), I came across this little nugget in Anna Nicole’s Wikipedia article:

She was the daughter of Donald Eugene Hogan (born July 12, 1947) and Virgie Mae Tabers (born July 12, 1951), who were married on February 22, 1967. Her father then left the family; he and Virgie were divorced November 4, 1969.

“Her father then left the family.” In other words, “mommy, why don’t I have a daddy?” “Because he left us, sweetie. Eat your oatmeal.”

Nothing desnarks a blogger like finding out that the target of his ridicule was abandoned by her father. Next up, we’ll be mocking the victims of the orphanage fire. Then, kitten-kicking until 5, when we switch over to the self-loathing session.

So, instead of sarcasm and ridicule, here’s my contribution to Anna Nicole’s eulogy:  She was a sweet and ambitious girl, and her life appears to have been a series of undeserved tragedies compounded by the kinds of mistakes people make when the people who are supposed to guide and nurture them instead disappear. The disaster of her de-spiritualized and materialistic life was partially of her own making, and our sympathy for her should not erase her own agency over the life choices she made – nor should we forget that in the beginning, she was somebody’s little baby girl, and that somebody betrayed her in her innocence. Rest in peace, Vickie Lynn.

February 7, 2007

Hell hath no fury like an… Astronaut?

Filed under: Current Events — Daran @ 3:16 pm

Trenchcoated astronaut on battery, kidnapping rap

Nowak is reported to have driven 1,000 miles from Houston, Texas, to Florida’s Orlando International Airport. According to the BBC, she wore a nappy to avoid having to make toilet stops.

Note for US readers: A ‘nappy’ is a diaper. This is not as strange as it sounds. This is a routine solution for astronauts to this particular problem, and so would have been obvious to her, even though it would probably never have occured to most of us.

Police said when she was arrested, a search of Nowak’s car turned up pepper spray, a steel mallet, and a BB gun, as well as black gloves, a folding knife with a 4-inch blade, rubber tubing and rubbish sacks.

Is that not “equipped to torture”?

This is a bizarre story, and it is tempting to take a lighthearted view of it. But the level of the threat, as well the assault actually committed, allegedly, are very serious. Also called into question must be NASA’s astronaut selection process, which presumably is supposed to weed out those likely to buckle under stress.

I mean, would you like to be alone in a space capsule with this women?

February 5, 2007

Paedophile trio locked up on chat room evidence

Filed under: Criminal Justice,Current Events — Daran @ 2:37 pm

Unprecedented convictions

Three paedophiles who used internet chat rooms to plot to kidnap and rape two sisters were jailed for a total of 27 years at Southern Crown Court on Monday.

David Beavan, 42, of Bransgore, Hampshire, Alan Hedgcock, 41, of Twickenham, and Robert Mayers, 42, of Warrington, had never met. Hedgcock, who was given an eight year sentence, used an incest-themed chat room to tell Beavan, who was handed 11 years imprisonment, of his plan to abuse sisters aged 13 and 14. Beavan indicated he wanted to join the attack, and the pair later recruited Mayers via the internet too.

Judge Geoffrey Rivlin, QC, said the mens’ conversations were “most lurid and disgusting”, the BBC reports.

The logs came to light when police confiscated computers after Beavan told Bournemouth police about the plot in January 2006, claiming he was a “vigilante” gathering evidence. They revealed a detailed history of the plan, including the discussions of their targets, where and how the crime would take place, as well as thousands of child porn images.

Outside court, Detective Constable Dave Adams, of the Met’s child abuse investigation command, said: “This case should act as a really stark warning that the internet is not a hiding place to plan and participate in criminal acts.”

My bold. I should also be a stark warning to anyone who has gotten involved in such a plot, perhaps thinking that it was just a fantasy, and who becomes concerned that ones co-fantasists are actually planning to carry the offence out. Do not, whatever you do, scotch the plan by reporting it to the police. Not only will you be prosecuted, but you’ll get three years longer than the person whose idea it originally was.

I’m not saying that this was the case with Beaven. Nor do I necessarily buy his claim to have been a “vigilante”, but it seems very odd that someone who had acted to frustrate the plot should be the one most severely punished.

(Crossposted between Feminist Critics and Creative Destruction.)

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