Tea Party Fail

Come on y'all. If you're going to protest someone's competence, you should at the very least get the spelling on your handmade sign correct. Make us work for it at least a little.

Via Paul the Spud

There's been a plethora of stupid that's come to light tonight. There's Big Hollywood's reaction to Earth Hour--there was Earth Hour, for that matter--there was Miss Universe Dayana Mendoza's report on her visit to Guantanamo Bay--I'm not kidding on that one--and then there's this:

So you're in a bar--and I'm guessing that's the primary reason this happened--a bobcat wanders in, and as cats are wont to do, hides under a table, and you think it's a smart idea to try to get close enough to take a picture.

But you now what I'm glad about? None of these people were from the south, at least at first glance. And my southernness is something I've gotten a little defensive about of late. I have an accent, and I say y'all, and I can, if necessary, run a trotline, though I'd rather avoid it if I can. I even know the words to a Hank Williams Jr. song or two--and not the Monday Night Football one. I like to joke that I'm the first generation out of my family to be out of the trailer park, but that's not really fair, as my parents were the first into the trailer park. My grandparents on my father's side were itinerant workers, and my sister and I were of the first generation to get bachelor's degrees. I might be the only one on that side of the family to go to grad school. I'm a redneck, in short, though I've taken steps to move beyond the caricature.

And it's the caricature that's getting more than a little old. Jeff Foxworthy--may he forever rot in hell for perpetuating the stereotype--did a standup bit years ago where he actually challenged the stereotype. And when I say years ago, I mean at least twenty, back before anyone knew who he was. When YouTube stops shitting its pants I'll try to see if there's some video of it. His piece was on horror movies, and if you'll grant that I've had a couple and haven't seen this in decades, I'll try to recreate it a bit for you.

He said that people with southern accents never get to be the stars of a movie--they're always the guys at the boat dock, winding the motor and saying "y'all gonna be out all day?" And that it's even worse in horror movies, because certain people never live to see the end of a horror movie. Ugly women never make it to the end. Black people never make it to the end. People with southern accents never make it to the end. And if you're an ugly black woman with a southern accent, you're dead before the opening credits are finished rolling.

Now I'm not even going to begin to suggest that what people with southern accents have to deal with in terms of oppression--especially southern men--comes anywhere near what people in other groups have to deal with. That would be ridiculous, especially since southern men are pretty damn good at dishing out the oppression, to be quite frank about it.

But there is a pretty heavy level of dismissal that comes along with sounding like you're southern--or rural, if you want to get more specific. It worried me so much when I was heading to grad school, that I spent the better part of a year trying to tone down my accent, and get this--I was going to the University of Arkansas. How ridiculous is that? I was afraid I would sound too hickish for a school in Fayetteville, Arkansas, which is in the Ozark mountains, and which sports a Razorback Hog as a mascot. The damn football cheer is the calling of the hogs, and includes the phrase "Pig, Soooie!" One of the more popular things to wear at a football game is a red plastic hog nose, for crying out loud.

I realize I have not done much for my argument that southerners are deserving of greater respect than they currently receive.

That said, a rural accent should not be a marker for a lack of intelligence, but too often it is. A drawl says "you've probably got incest in your background" or "you probably eat mayonnaise sandwiches" or "you've had a Camaro on blocks in your front yard at some point." And that's a hard onus to overcome, especially when you've got people like Jeff Effing Foxworthy making millions of dollars selling his own people out.

So I take my pleasure when I can, and that means that when I see stupid coming out of other parts of the country, I revel in it, because even though I know that on any given day, one of my fellow southerners is likely to call the paramedics because he got his dick caught in a belt sander, at least stupidity isn't solely a southern family tradition.

Wally wants to play

Come on. Turn on the damn Wii.

This might be a case of inside baseball for some readers, but I wanted to spend a little space on the issue of blogging anonymity because of this story. Here's a quick background--Mudflats is an Alaska blog that was thrust into the national spotlight when Sarah Palin was nominated as the Republican VP candidate. This resulted in a much higher profile than the owner ever anticipated. And the result now is that a thin-skinned Alaskan politician, a Democrat named Mike Doogan, has found out who Mudflats is and has "outed" her to the general public. This is a crappy thing to do as and to a human being. It's a breach of etiquette.

But I think it's important for everyone who gets into this game to understand that that's all it is--a breach of etiquette. If you want anonymity in this world, you really only have one option--withdraw completely. Don't go online. Don't have a Facebook account, don't post comments on blogs, don't use email. Anonymity online only exists insomuch as the people around you respect your wishes to stay anonymous, because the sad reality is that a clever investigator can, with enough time and patience, out pretty much anyone who spends enough time online.

I understand the desire to stay anonymous online. When I started blogging just over five years ago, I tried to stay anonymous myself--I chose an obscure pseudonym, and I scoured every post for traces of information that might lead to my personal identity, and it didn't work. I slipped up and a troll from another site started appearing here in the comments calling me by my first name and making comments about Amy. It was more than a little nerve-wracking, and I almost shut the blog down. But the lesson it taught me was that there really is no way to stay anonymous online if someone is determined to out you, and that it only takes one douchebag in a sea of people of goodwill to ruin that. And the web is full of douchebags. Enter at your own risk.

Just a reminder

If you're into this sort of thing, my newish project, the transcription of my great-great-grandmother's diary from 1895 is updated daily. I try to schedule posts to appear between 9:00 and 10:00 a.m. e.s.t. And if someone can tell me exactly becoming a "follower" of a blog means, I'd really appreciate it, because I'll be damned if I've figured it out yet.

I speak, of course, of the Puritans, who weren't content with simply naming their kids after virtues. No, they gave us this sort of hilarity as well:

In the late 17th century a member of the British parliament was named Praise-God Barebone, with brothers and sons named Fear-God Barebone, Jesus-Christ-Came-Into-The-World-To-Save Barebone, and If-Christ-Had-Not-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebone.

The last changed his name to Nicholas.
Obviously, there's a need for a condom joke here, but as I am a respectable type, I will forgo that opportunity.

Barebone. Snort.


Okay. We went from rainbows and spring showers last week to snowfall this morning:

On to potboilers

So, it looks like I've nearly wrapped things up with graduate school in Florida. I am now your humble blog contributor typing away in cool and windy Illinois. And here is the word for this Saturday night: potboiler.

'"All men who have to live by their labour have their pot-boilers," Hazlitt wrote, and an obscure English poet lamented: ' far'vring patrons have I got,/But just enough to boil the pot.' A potboiler is of course a literary work written to make a living, a task performed to keep the pot boiling, or to eat. Financial gain is the only object in writing one, but sometimes genius transcends the immediate object and the result is a work of art. Dr. Johnson's "philosophical romance" Rasselas (1759), for example, was written over the nights of one week to meet the cost of his mother's funeral and pay off her debts. Coleridge's Ancient Mariner has been called "the most sublime of pot-boilers to be found in all literature," but I suspect there are even greater ones. In telling of the birth of Sanctuary (1931), William Faulkner observed that he was hungry. '[I began] to think of books in terms of possible money," he recollected. 'I took a little time out, and speculated what a person in Mississippi would believe to be current trends, chose what I thought was the right answer and invented the most horrific tale could imagine and wrote it in about three weeks.'" (From The Fact on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins)

Also, a photo. This is from a few days ago, as seen from my backyard.

I'm not suggesting that these are the two worst cover songs of all time--just that they're a good place to begin. So tell me which one you think is worse.

Competitor one--The Fat Boys featuring The Beach Boys doing "Wipeout."

Competitor Two--Limp Bizkit doing "Faith."

Vote in the comments.

And does so pretty well, I think. As I've written before, I'm more than a little sympathetic to Fairey's side on this, so I'm likely to find his arguments appealing, but I'm going to expand on them just a bit. Fairey says this:

From the beginning, I openly acknowledged that my illustration of Obama was based on a reference photograph. But the photograph is just a starting point. The illustration transforms it aesthetically in its stylization and idealization, and the poster has an altogether different purpose than the photograph does. The AP photo I used as a reference, which I found out much later was taken by Mannie Garcia, (which was actually this one, not the one being circulated in the press) was a news photo that showed George Clooney and Barack Obama attending a 2006 panel on the genocide in Darfur. My Obama poster variations of "HOPE" and "PROGRESS" were obviously not intended to report the news. I created them to generate support for Obama; the point was to capture and synthesize the qualities that made him a leader. The point of the poster is to convince and inspire. It's a political statement. My Obama poster does not compete with the intent of, or the market for the reference photo. In fact, the argument has been made that the reference photo would have faded into obscurity if it were not for my poster which became so culturally pervasive. The Garcia photo is now more famous and valuable than it ever would have been prior to the creation of my poster. With this factor in mind, it is not surprising, that a gallery in NYC is now selling the Garcia photo for $1,200 each. As I understand it, Garcia himself did not even realize the poster was created referencing his photo until it was pointed out to him a full year after the poster came into existence. Mannie Garcia has stated in the press that he is an Obama supporter pleased with the poster result.
I made that bolded argument in my last post on this subject, and I stand by it. But I want to expand on it a bit, based on some reading I've been doing for a class I'm teaching right now.

Kwame Appiah, in his book Cosmopolitanism, talks about cultural patrimony and how when it extends into the realm of intellectual property, it increases the danger of a culture becoming even more obscure, and potentially, even extinct.
But the movement to confer the gleaming, new protections of intellectual property on such traditional practices would damage, irreparably, the nature of what it seeks to protect. For protection, here, involves partition, making countless mine-and-thine distinctions. And given the inevitably mongrel, hybrid nature of living cultures, it's doubtful that such an attempt could go very far. Not that we should be eager to embark on it. For one thing, we've been poorly served by intellectual-property law when it comes to contemporary culture: software, stories, songs. All too often, laws have focused tightly on the interests of owners, often corporate owners, while the interests of consumers--of audiences, readers, viewers and listeners--drop from sight.
Artists like Shepard Fairey--indeed, pretty much any artist, I'd argue, because if one defines intellectual property rigidly, one could argue that being heavily influenced by previous artists constitutes encroachment on their IP rights--fit into the consumer category Appiah discusses above. And indeed, the AP isn't so much trying to protect what it perceives as its IP as its trying to open up a revenue stream that hasn't existed beforehand.

But lets say that the AP succeeds in its claim. What are the likely outcomes? Some artists will plow on as before and dare the AP to try to make their claims stick. Others will look elsewhere for raw materials to fashion into their art. But if the AP thinks that they'll get artists--or bloggers, to extend the argument a bit--to fork over money for the "privilege" to transform, and in a way, advertise the AP's product, they're dreaming. The AP already learned that lesson when they tried to charge bloggers for excerpting their news stories--no one paid, and a number of people refused to link to them as a result. Most bloggers, however, just laughed and kept on doing what they were doing.

My point is that the AP, even if they win this case, doesn't win in the long run. The best they can hope for is that artists simply ignore the ruling, in which case the ruling doesn't mean anything. Worst case? The AP is ignored completely, boycotted, if you will, and cut out of the cultural conversation. That's highly unlikely, I think--artists are far more likely to take their revenge by smacking the AP around than by ignoring them, it seems to me.

How are your brackets?

Not basketball, of course--the Brackets of Evil contest. No real surprises in the first round, though I was pulling for Joe Lieberman over Mitch McConnell. The worst choice for a first round matchup was definitely Rush Limbaugh versus Bill O'Reilly--that should have been a second rounder at least. Perhaps the most interesting matchup in the second round will be in the corporate division, where Blackwater squares off against Exxon, and the anyone's guess matchup will be in the Presidential aspirations delusions bracket, where Newt Gingrich squares off against Sarah Palin.

Another reason to head to Scotland:

When the group decided to hold a "Paint It" day at the park, it seemed logical to include the police box in the plans, despite the lack of contact with the owners.

Ms Thurrott said: "We thought if we're going to be improving it, how can you object to somebody painting it and making it look better than it did before?"

Decorator Gordon Walls agreed to do the work at a reduced rate, and painted the box what Ms Thurrott described as "Dr Who blue", with gold trim.
After googling around a bit, I discovered that some localities are bringing them back into use, and that in Edinburgh, "many are now run by the Police Box Coffee Company." Coffee in a police box? I am so there.

2 Months

Barack Obama has been president for 2 months. Now I'm not a professional pundit or a Washington wonk; I'm just a person who's employed a bit more than full-time, and who spends her meager off time loving her boyfriend and her cats, keeping her tiny apartment a warm nest of comfort, reading things and watching things, keeping abreast and entertained, and, especially on days when my students seem particularly like characters from "Idiocracy," worrying about the future of my country.

And when I see the way people talk about Barack Obama's presidency, I am befuddled. I understand that the economic problems the country is facing require "immediate action," but I didn't expect to wake up on January 21st and see that all the problems are fixed. Did the pundits? I didn't expect to wake up on Februrary 21st and see everything fixed. And I didn't expect to wake up on March 21st and see everything fixed. We've all been touched by this recession/depression: I could make you a list of friends and family members who've been hit particularly hard, losing jobs, unable to find new ones. I myself have been hit less hard: I've dealt with the usual price-pressures, had a hell of a time with my credit card bills, and I've watched my job prospects dry up as states around the nation revoke funding for proposed positions. I am not as certain that I'll still have my job in September as I wish I were. C'est la recession.

But I have not nor have I seen an iota of "disappointment with" or "frustration with" Barack Obama, and I find the suggestion, widespread among the punditocracy, that he has somehow already failed us after only 2 months in the White House to be childish and absurd. All the laypersons I know expect the recession to go on for some time. We don't have a sense of the economy as a dirt bike that stops and starts and jumps and crashes and rights itself and jumps again... we have a sense of the economy as a super-tanker at sea, one that takes a long time to turn, or stop, or start, the kind of ship you'll lay on the beach for hours before you surprise yourself by realizing that it was once nearer your left, and now it's nearer your right.

2 months? Talk to me after 2 years. In 2 years I am going to be very interested in the country's progress, and I'll be critical of failures if I perceive them. But 2 months is the blink of an eye. Unless you're 4 years old. Then it's for-ev-er!!

Actually, Edmond gives douchebags a bad name, but I'm trying to avoid dropping f-bombs on the blog right now, and I'm risking turning this post into a wasteland as it is. Remember that horrible plane crash in Montana that killed 14 people? Leave it to a heartless sack of crap like Gingi Edmond to find an upside to it:

In my time working for Survivors of the Abortion Holocaust, I helped organize and conduct a weekly campaign where youth activists stood outside of Feldkamp’s mini-mansion in Redlands holding fetal development signs and raising community awareness regarding Feldkamp’s dealings in child murder for profit. Every Thursday afternoon we called upon Bud and his wife Pam to repent, seek God’s blessing and separate themselves from the practice of child killing.

We warned him, for his children’s sake, to wash his hands of the innocent blood he assisted in spilling because, as Scripture warns, if “you did not hate bloodshed, bloodshed will pursue you.” (Ezekiel 35:6)

A news source states that Bud Feldkamp visited the site of the crash with his wife and their 2 surviving children on Monday. As they stood near the twisted and charred debris talking with investigators, light snow fell on the tarps that covered the remains of their children.

I don’t want to turn this tragic event into some creepy spiritual “I told you so” moment, but I think of the time spent outside of Feldkamp’s - Pam Feldkamp laughing at the fetal development signs, Bud Feldkamp trying not to make eye contact as he got into his car with a small child in tow - and I think of the haunting words, “Think of your children.” I wonder if those words were haunting Feldkamp as well as he stood in the snow among the remains of loved ones, just feet from the Tomb of the Unborn?
I can promise you one thing about this statement--Gingi is lying when she says she doesn't want to turn this tragic event into a "creepy spiritual 'I told you so.'" Fact is that she couldn't wait to do precisely that, because she and her ilk love pointing at what they see as examples of God's judgment made manifest on earth. She'll crow about this for years.

Of course, she'll never think about the wider implications: that if her god was all that concerned about abortions, it could have struck down Feldkamp personally long ago instead of taking it out on his kids, and could have saved all those aborted fetuses in the meantime, or that if there really is a hell, Feldkamp would eventually find himself on the business end of a pitchfork for all eternity. No no, it's a better idea to turn the tragic death of 14 people into a religious gotcha moment.

Thanks, Gingi Edmond--and Jill Stanek for promoting Edmond's hateful words. You've done more for the pro-choice movement and for free-thinking than I could have done in a lifetime.

Stimulus idea

Amy's been suggesting for years now that while making college more affordable for people there now or for those who are about to enter is a grand idea, it might be nice to think about those of us who've recently left and are struggling with some pretty crippling student loan debt. Loan forgiveness, public service--either of these are fine ideas from our perspective, but hey, we're pie-eyed liberals, always wanting the government to step in and take care of us, right? Conservatives would never advocate for something like this, right?

This might be the only time I ever agree with the right-wing blowhard blogger who has named himself AllahPundit. He links approvingly to a Facebook group calling for student loan forgiveness--not suggesting that the banks take a bath on them but rather that some of the stimulus money pay off said loans:

Forgiving student loan debt would have an IMMEDIATE stimulating effect on the economy. Responsible people who did nothing other than pursue a higher education would have hundreds, if not thousands of extra dollars per month to spend, fueling the economy NOW. Those extra dollars being pumped into the economy would have a multiplying effect, unlike many of the provisions of the new stimulus package. As a result, tax revenues would go up, the credit markets will unfreeze and jobs will be created. Consumer spending accounts for over two thirds of the entire U.S. economy and in recent months, consumer spending has declined at alarming, unprecedented rates. Therefore, it stands to reason that the fastest way to revive our ailing economy is to do something drastic to get consumers to spend…
Allahpundit continues:
One question, though: Why do they assume forgiven debtors would spend the savings instead of pocketing them or using them to pay off other debt a la tax rebate checks? The answer, maybe, is the sheer amount of money we’re talking about. In my case, forgiving federal loans would save me north of $8,000 a year; toss private loans in there and it’s a cool ten grand. I’d sock some of that away, but with tens of thousands dollars suddenly freed up, I’d also start looking at home prices in the area. Stimulating! Exit question: Who’s onboard?
I'm onboard. And I'll go them one better--I don't require, or even request, a full-on bailout. I don't need something for nothing. Just make me a deal whereby I spend a handful of years in the public sector making what people in the field make--teaching in a public school, for instance, since that's where my expertise lies--and in return, I get rid of my student loans. I don't particularly want to teach high school kids--I like my current gig at the university level--but if I have the option to go into a job for 2,3,4 years and get rid of my education mortgage along the way, I'll probably jump at the chance.

I'll admit it--Stephen Colbert's schtick of getting viewers to vote in polls to name stuff after him is wearing a little thin with me. It was a good joke the first few times, but it's gotten a little old in my view. Now, if he'd worked in a goal like a desire to be named after more stuff than Ronald Reagan, then yeah, I might still be interested, but on its own?

Anyway, the latest was the push to have his name put on a new module for the International Space Station. NASA, understandably, isn't all that excited about naming the entire module "Colbert," but it is apparently considering a compromise.

NASA may consider putting Stephen Colbert's name on a space toilet, after the comedian came out on top of the U.S. space agency's online naming poll for a new space module.
I love this idea, not because I want NASA to insult Colbert, but because it offers an opportunity for both sides to have some real fun with this. Colbert can gin this up into a firestorm of sorts and NASA can get some much-needed public play.

See, I'm a huge fan of NASA, and not just because it's good for segments of Florida's economy. I've been a fan of NASA since I was a kid and dreamed of being an astronaut. I still hope I'll have the chance to go into space before I die, though the space-liners I envisioned as an adolescent might not quite be in service by then. So anything that can get NASA and by extension, space travel, good press and excitement is a good thing in my book. I hope this turns into a bitter war between NASA and Colbert, with multiple appearances by NASA spokespeople and lots of stories like the one I linked to. Hell, if this keeps up, I might write in a vote for Colbert myself.

I'm not usually a fan of John Tierney, but his piece today on why we should think not about tomorrow, but next year, is fantastic. 

In short, research shows that shortly after spending splurges and other hedonistic behavior, people feel guilty. But long, long after, they wish they'd done more of it. 

Or as Tierney closes the column:
When you’re on your deathbed, how much time will you spend wistfully thinking, “If only I’d bought the smaller plasma TV. . . .”?
He's right! Where's Brian? Let's go shopping!

Edit: Sorry about the missing link; I've corrected. :-)

In my post late Sunday about election fraud in Kentucky, I wasn't as clear on one point as I probably should have been. In the comments, Brad Friedman, who responded quite nicely to the post, says "No machine should offer a "receipt" for votes (if by "receipt" you mean something the voter can take home, and then use to buy/sell votes if they'd like). If the machines in question had offered a so-called "Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail" (VVPAT) as many DREs do, the voters would have been no better off, since those are not printed until after the vote had been manipulated in the KY scheme." With the first part, I absolutely agree. What I should have been clearer about is that the receipt I envision is a printout that the voter examines to ensure the votes were recorded as they wished, and then that printout is placed into a separate lockbox, to be held as a physical representation of the vote in case of an audit or a recount. It would serve as the official vote in case there were any discrepancies between the machine count and an audit or recount. I disagree with Brad's conclusion, but that's probably due more to my lack of explanation about the sort of DRE system I would find acceptable (though not prefer, to be clear). In the end, the thing I'm most concerned about is free and fair elections, and whatever system offers the best combination of security and transparency in tabulation, and most importantly, which is best designed to fail well.

It's in that vein that I want to second this update from Brad in which he says he doesn't care about the political affiliations of the people involved. I don't either. This is a case where I am completely non-partisan. I don't want to win an election by cheating, even if the candidate I support promises the greatest progressive reforms on the planet. I'm not an "ends justify the means" person on this subject.

But I do want to clear up a misunderstanding--at least I hope it's a misunderstanding. Brad, in linking to my post, says "And no, the same scheme to change the votes of voters without their knowledge, a major aspect of the alleged crimes, could not have happened the same way with paper ballots, as some, like this blogger, have suggested."

I never suggested that--in fact, I said the opposite. I wrote "This case illustrates how a paper ballot or receipt would make it more difficult to interfere at the 'voter at the machine' stage of the election." It was a long post, and could have easily been overlooked, so I'm giving Brad the benefit of the doubt here. I guess I didn't make this point clearly enough last time, so I'll be explicit here: the machine design made this kind of scheme easier, no question, but I stand my position that the machines themselves didn't fail. The corrupt election officials hacked the election system, not the machines, and this was only one part of a far more complex election rigging scheme.

Look out, Notre Dame University. Your decision to invite President Barack Obama to give the 2009 commencement address and give him an honorary degree has RedStater Hogan in a high holy snit, and we all know what happens when Hogan snits his pants.

Instead of succumbing to celebrity and inviting a “cool” President to speak at graduation, perhaps Notre Dame should focus on its core principles. Without its Catholic soul, the University would be relegated to the growing ash-heap of second-rate academic institutions cluttered with self-important academics pedaling their leftist propaganda and politically correct musings.

Anyway, Hogan is mad, and he wants to unleash the fury of RedStaters everywhere on Notre Dame University as a result. Are you listening, Notre Dame? Are you?

Heh. Snits his pants.

Election fraud

I don't know if there's another blogger out there who has done more to bring election fraud, especially the issue of black box voting, into the public consciousness, than Brad Friedman of Brad Blog. He's been a leader in this from the earliest days, and I suspect that Charlie Crist's decision to require paper trails for all Florida voting machines in 2007 came about because of the public outcry Brad and his like-minded activists raised on the subject.

He's got a horrifying story right now about some hardcore voter fraud from Kentucky, and unverifiable electronic voting machines are at the heart of it, but not quite in the way that most of us imagine when we worry about black box voting.

The fact is, those who know anything about computer security understand that it is the insiders who are, by far, the greatest threat to security on such systems, as even the phony, GOP-operative-created Baker/Carter National Election Reform Commission determined in its final report: "There is no reason to trust insiders in the election industry any more than in other industries."...

Well, now we've got a whole passel of still more crooked officials to add to the list. Moreover: The Kentucky officials arrested and indicted today, "including the circuit court judge, the county clerk, and election officers" of Clay County, have been charged with "chang[ing] votes at the voting machine" and showing others how to do it!
If these allegations are proven, they'll be evidence of a truly heinous plan to rig elections. You've got judges, county clerks and election officers implicated, and they used their positions of trust to deceive voters into thinking they had cast their ballots when in fact they hadn't. Then they went behind the voter, changed the vote to say what they wanted it to, and cast it for them. There was also your garden variety vote-buying going on. In short, this was basically a case of fraud that's like many others--it's a high tech version of ballot box stuffing, but it's still stuffing.

Here's where I have a problem with Brad's argument using this example. The fears that most people have with black box voting are based on an outside hacker scenario--the database system is compromised and people with outside access are able to change vote totals from inside, and with no paper trail, there's no way to audit the vote. That's why optical scan systems have become so popular--there's a paper ballot that can be counted in the event of a mechanical breakdown or a challenge. That's not what Brad's talking about here, but it's not really clear from the way he phrases it.
In addition to the absurd charge that those of us who believe in transparency are unduly "attacking" election officials, the latest PR line from e-voting vendors, and election officials alike, is that there is no proof that any election has ever been manipulated electronically.

Setting aside that we disagree --- wholeheartedly --- with that oft-used bit of propaganda, the above indictments would seem to give us a very specific allegation of exactly that, manipulation of electronic votes.
It seems that Brad, when he used the term "manipulated electronically," means "changed votes on an electronic machine." That's an awfully wide definition in my view. It's like saying that sticking someone up at an ATM and forcing them to withdraw money is electronic theft of funds. It minimizes the direct human involvement in the crime, and it seems to me that the machines--much as I dislike them--aren't at fault in this case. Here's the relevant part of the indictment:
3. It was part of the conspiracy that the Defendants and their co-conspirators agreed to take advantage of voter unfamiliarity with new voting machines by misleading voters as to the mechanics of casting their votes once they were selected.
It worked like this: an election official would tell the voter to
into leaving the 'booth' after pressing the "Vote" button on the ES&S iVotronic. That button, does not actually cast the vote, as one might think (and as these voters were told), but instead, it brings up a review screen of the voter's "ballot."

Instructing the voters that they were done, the conspirators then, after the voter had left, would change the voters' votes as they saw fit, before finally pressing the "Cast Ballot" button."
That doesn't sound like electronic manipulation to me. It sounds like deception, abuse of power, and the manipulation of an electorate unused to new voting machines, but the security of the machines wasn't violated here. An optical scan machine would have been better, certainly, because it offers a paper trail, as would a machine that provides a receipt for votes cast, one that doesn't print out until the vote has been completed. But the scenario above doesn't qualify as electronic manipulation in my eyes because the electronic side of the voting process wasn't what was tampered with--voters who saw that pushing the vote button brought up a review screen (and I've voted on those machines--they're reasonably clear) that included a "cast ballot" command and who pushed the second button kept corrupt election officials from changing their votes.

Maybe I'm picking on a minor difference here, but I don't think so. What these officials did--despicable beyond question--isn't that different from what people who have been tampering with elections have done for centuries now. The fear that I have about these electronic voting machines is that the vote tampering is being done in the counting process and there's no way to check it against a physical trail of votes. This case illustrates how a paper ballot or receipt would make it more difficult to interfere at the "voter at the machine" stage of the election--these election officials allegedly preyed on the ignorance of the voters in their districts, but they didn't hack the boxes themselves, which is what I and I suspect many others think of when we hear the term "manipulation of electronic votes."

Brad ends his post by asking "So will the voting machine company representatives out there (and that includes many election officials who have forgotten for whom they work) continue to report that no election has ever been manipulated via an electronic voting system?" In this case--and in this case alone, I want to add--I think voting machine companies would be perfectly justified in saying "the problem wasn't with our machines," because it wasn't. The machines seem to have worked the way they were designed to. It was our election system that failed the people of Clay County KY.

Prop 8 Apologies

Portia de Rossi on Jimmy Kimmel Live

Via Shakesville.

The title alone tells you it's going to be good: "How many ways can Senate Republicans show intellectual hypocrisy?" The answer is "a lot, and without the slightest bit of shame." She hits the obvious examples:

The irony now on display among Republicans on the Senate judiciary committee is staggering. You need to pedal your intellectual bike hard and fast just to get past the hypocrisy of the sudden rule changes: Senate Republicans who, four short years ago, condemned the use of the filibuster as "unconstitutional" and threatened to answer it with the "nuclear option" are now earnestly pledging to filibuster President Obama's judicial nominees, even though he has named just one. (They hate him.) Because, of course, the filibuster isn't unconstitutional when it comes to thwarting "judicial activists."
But she also gives specifics:
See, also, Dawn Johnsen, Obama's nominee for the head of the Office of Legal Counsel. This morning, the judiciary committee approved Johnsen 11-7 in a vote down party lines. Her nomination will now head to the Senate floor. Like Kagan, professor Johnsen (who blogged for Slate's legal blog, "Convictions") answered questions at a hearing, then answered questions and more questions. Johnsen has provided more than 165 written answers to the committee's follow-up questions, including detailed information on terrorism, detainee treatment, executive power, warrantless wiretapping and electronic surveillance, the use of military force and CIA operations against al-Qaida, extraordinary rendition, guidelines for the proper operation of OLC, reproductive rights, the judicial nominations process, a "progressive agenda," voter ID laws, the Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore, enforcing and defending the Constitution, obscenity and child pornography. To name a few. She answered questions about actions she had taken when she served in the Office of Legal Counsel—questions that Bushies like Jay Bybee and Stephen Bradbury, also former OLC lawyers, declined to answer at their own hearings.

What did Johnsen get for her forthrightness? Seven Republicans cast votes against her. Following years of superb legal scholarship and service at OLC, Johnsen was in fact described this morning by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, as lacking the "requisite seriousness" needed for the job. Whether Cornyn's comments reflect blatant sexism on his part or some messianic new standard for legal seriousness I leave to you to decide.
The whole thing is worth reading. Why she doesn't have a better gig is beyond me.

to work for The New Republic these days? Bad enough to equate the dislike, even hatred, of a college basketball team with liberalism and homophobia. Look at this brilliant rhetorical move by Seyward Darby.

To many of its staunchest enemies, Duke is a malevolent Goliath--an elitist, corporate, conservative force out to crush more virtuous, liberal Davids. In the UNC-Duke rivalry, Blythe explains, "[i]ssues of identity--whether you see yourself as a populist or an elitist, as a local or an outsider, as public-minded or individually striving--get played out." He also notes that UNC's long-time coach Dean Smith, who retired in 1997, was a vocal Democrat while Duke's coach Mike Krzyzewski is an active Republican. This has only added to the sense that there is something fundamentally liberal about loathing the Blue Devils.

But there's one major problem with the neat morality play that left-leaning Duke haters have constructed for themselves: the jarring and disproportionate level of homophobia that routinely gets directed at the basketball players.
Seyward then launches into multiple nasty examples of homophobic behavior directed at Duke's basketball players. But you know what he never does? He never actually connects the two groups. Even if his case for liberal distaste for Duke basketball were strong--and seriously, what I posted above is all Darby's got for that, which is really weak sauce--there's still no direct connection between liberal politics and homophobic treatment of Duke's players.

Which is not to say that there aren't homophobic progressives out there. There are, without question--in the blog world, that sometimes leads to online fights where LGBT bloggers and their allies call them on it and where they either get defensive or apologize. But again, there's no direct link between any of these groups--except that Darby places them beside each other and posits one. I haven't even finished my opening coffee regimen yet and I can see how dumb that is.

Image of the day

Taken at the Galleria, Fort Lauderdale:

More of this

New Mexico repealed the death penalty yesterday when Governor Bill Richardson signed a bill sent to him by the state legislature. For me, the reasons Richardson articulated for signing the bill were very important:

"Faced with the reality that our system for imposing the death penalty can never be perfect, my conscience compels me to replace the death penalty with a solution that keeps society safe."
There aren't many other situations where I believe it's important to get it right every single time, but this is one of them, and since that is impossible to guarantee, what New Mexico did was the most moral thing to do, in my view.

If you've ever wondered

just what pure, uncut wingnut really looks like, here's an example. It's got all the good stuff--an unhinged view of the opposition, a tenuous grasp on reality, you name it. It's oddly beautiful, like a Surrealist poem:

Democrats traditionally will go along to get along on things outside their pet issue. Pro-baby killers don’t have any interest in taxes (other than how much they can find to fund abortion), big government liberals aren’t that worried about gender issues, sexual deviates are happy to let others worry about foreign policy, Europhiles leave the gay issues to their compatriot Democrats, etc., etc. But they all understand that joining together benefits them all.
Warner Todd Huston's main point is to his fellow conservatives--most of whom, I venture to say, are not this insane. He's begging them to put aside basic differences and vote together, you know, the way Democrats do all the time.

The hilarious thing about this whole piece is that he seems to think that Democrats don't suffer from the same infighting that Republicans are going through right now. I don't know what Democratic party he saw from 1994-2006 (though if his description above is any indication, it probably looked a bit like The Lord of Darkness from Legend), but there wasn't a lot of cross-issue unity going on in there. That's because nothing divides like being out of power, and nothing unites like the promise of power. You can put aside a lot of differences if you think there's a chance to get something out of it. But when the near future seems hopeless, as it did for Democrats especially around 2002 and does currently for Republicans, then there's no point in trying to compromise with members of your own party. The general goal is always to get the upper hand, even if that's only the hand controlling the minority message.

Huston's got the right message buried in his otherwise insane polemic, though it's a bit ahead of its time right now. Many Republicans are looking at the 2010 map and know it's likely going to get even worse before it gets better, barring some spectacular events taking place, so now is the time to consolidate power in the party, and that means trying to cast out those who would compromise on your pet issues. You can welcome them back later when there's some vote-swapping to be done.

Another history lesson

The answer to this question depends on how you define the Founding Fathers. If you're talking about the pre- and during-Revolutionary War Founders, the answer would be "pay the taxes, assuming they'd been given representation in Parliament." After all, the rebellion was not so much over the amount of taxes that colonists had been forced to pay, but that they were being forced to pay without having any say in the matter. So if this is your answer, then you're a bunch of freaking morons who don't understand the lessons of your own history.

If you're talking about the post-Revolutionary Founding Fathers, the answer would be "tell you to pay your taxes, and if you revolt in response, break up your rebellion with deadly force if necessary," just like Washington did with the Whiskey Rebellion. After all, the Founding Fathers believed in taxation--they had a country to run, and that required money. So if this is your answer, then you're a bunch of freaking morons who don't understand the lessons of your own history.

I'd like to add a corollary to Santayana's famous quote "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." It's a work in progress, but the general idea is something like "those too stupid to get their own history correct should be required to eat with corked forks, lest they stab their own eyes out." I'm open to suggestions.

On the train to campus this morning, listening to my iPod (after watching the Rachel Maddow podcast, of course) and I was in the mood for something a little bouncy. Perfect for the Genius function, right? So I scan my interminable list of songs and come up with Outkast's "Hey Ya." Stop laughing. It's the list that followed that really boggled me.

1. Hey Hey What Can I Do--Led Zeppelin
2. The Ballad of John and Yoko--The Beatles
3. Squeeze Box--The Who
4. Strange Brew--Cream
5. Honky Tonk Woman--The Rolling Stones
6. Hey You--Pink Floyd
7. Roundabout--Yes
8. Into the Mystic--Van Morrison
9. Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress--The Hollies
10. You Better You Bet--The Who
11. Lay Lady lay--Bob Dylan
12. Dyer Maker--Led Zeppelin
13. Smoke Two Joints--Dogma
14. Sting Me--The Black Crowes
15. Plush--Stone Temple Pilots
16. Keep Talking--Pink Floyd
17. Magic Bus--The Who
18. Wrapped Around Your Finger--The Police
19. Typical Situation--Dave Matthews Band
20. Been Caught Stealing--Jane's Addiction
Not that I mind a classic rock list--it's just that I wasn't expecting it when I played Outkast.

Okay, no one is ever going to mistake me for someone on the cutting edge of cool. For crying out loud, my blog name is the Latin word for "uncertain" and it was the pseudonym Seamus Heaney published under while an undergraduate. Factor in that the way most people pronounce it sounds vaguely sexual--the "c" is supposed to sound like "k" y'all--and this place is a nerd sanctuary. So color me confused as to why changing the name of the Sci-Fi channel to SyFy is supposed to somehow make the channel less nerdy.

The network worked with the branding consultancy Landor Associates and went through about 300 possibilities before selecting Syfy.

“When we tested this new name, the thing that we got back from our 18-to-34 techno-savvy crowd, which is quite a lot of our audience, is actually this is how you’d text it,” Mr. Howe said. “It made us feel much cooler, much more cutting-edge, much more hip, which was kind of bang-on what we wanted to achieve communication-wise.”
Wow. And how do those original movies make you feel? I know what seeing Mansquito or Baal: The Storm God on the TV Guide channel achieves, communication-wise, but I doubt you'd like it.

This post isn't meant to crap all over the Sci-Fi channel. Even though Battlestar Galactica has been painfully uneven for the last two seasons, it's still pretty good television, and they show Doctor Who, even though they do it a couple of weeks after it's available via other sources. Amy and I fell absolutely in love with Eureka--can't wait until that's back on the air. So I actually like the channel--the only other channel I watch as regularly, I'd guess, is the Food Network--but this kind of decision making?
The series, about a secret government facility in South Dakota where all mysterious relics and supernatural souvenirs are housed, is emblematic of the channel’s programming direction.

“It is a dramedy and it is set in the here and now. It’s a kind of an Indiana Jones meets ‘Moonlighting’ meets ‘The X-Files,’” Mr. Howe said. “This is a very accessible, relatable, fun show.”
That sounds like a big hunk of suck on top of a crap mountain. Good lord.

Found on Facebook

and posted without further comment. Thanks Mary.

How convenient for you

Last week, in the comments to this post on Stanley Fish, I noted that he has a schtick--a Fish schtick, as Bradley pointed out. He likes to play the role of the objective observer who is above it all, and is only showing where arguments lead, not pushing any particular agenda. He's pretty open about it in today's column:

Reading it 200 times wouldn’t help, for I don’t stand anywhere; that’s the (non) point of most of these columns, not to endorse or reject agendas, but to follow out the lines of argument that accompany them, to see how those arguments work or don’t work, to see where they lead.
My personal position is that there are few more dishonest statements than the claim of objectivity, and it's what irritates me most about Fish in general. It's especially aggravating because of where he's making the claim--in a blog under the Opinion section of the NY Times. Seriously--if you honestly believe don't have opinions, then give up the space to someone who does. That's what it's supposed to be used for.

Fish's swerve this week is cute because, while last week he basically copped to being a neoliberal--in terms which he helped define--this week he says that the fact that the term is often misused in contradictory ways means it has no real meaning, and that he didn't really cop to anything. And then he points to one commenter who admits to not understanding what Fish wrote to prove his point.

But it's all an act. Fish isn't above the fray in most of his columns. He just does a really good job of hiding his position beneath a veneer of faux-objectivity, by claiming to simply explore lines of argument as opposed to advocate for them. He does a poorer job than usual this week, when it comes to the discussion of the boycott of Israeli academics, because it's clear that he feels the boycott is wrong. I find it interesting that, of the two reasons for this, he chooses the weaker on which to base his argument because it fits in with the very neo-liberal attitude he admitted to last week, namely, that the academic world and the political world shouldn't overlap in the university setting, that the two should remain separate.

The stronger argument is that, quite simply, the divestiture argument used on South Africa is a poor analogy for the boycott of Israeli academics. Look, I'm all in favor of US universities divesting from Israeli companies in protest against the treatment of Palestinians, and I'm not really bothered whether or not it will have a real effect. Symbolic gestures can be powerful as well. But even that is a blunt instrument, and we need to acknowledge that. A better attitude might be to limit Israeli investment to companies which openly support the peace process, much like has been done with green mutual funds and the like. Then you're really voting with your dollars.

If full divestiture from Israel is a blunt instrument, though, then a full-scale academic boycott of Israeli academics is Mecha-Godzilla rampaging through the city. It seems to me that academia ought to be the place where opponents of the current Israeli government's Palestinian policies are trying to gather support, and cutting them off from international discourse isn't the way to do that. Sure, if individual scholars are advocating for policies that you find odious, don't work with them, don't appear with them, and if you have pull at various conferences, don't invite them, but to boycott them seems self-defeating at best.

But Fish eschews that line of argument to fall back on his neo-liberal position that the world of academia belongs in the university and the world of politics belongs outside of it, and never the twain should meet.
What should not be in dispute is that those actions, however salutary and productive of good results, were and are antithetical to the academic enterprise, which while it may provide the tools (of argument, fact and historical research) that enable good and righteous deeds, should never presume to perform them.
That's right--put your head down, teach your classes, publish your scholarship. and don't get the university involved. Good to know where you stand. Dr. Fish.

You tell them Joe

Joe Biden drives me absolutely crazy sometimes, but that time is not right now.

At an event at Union Station this afternoon, Biden strongly defended the government subsidies that go to the nation’s rail system and said he was “tired of apologizing for help for Amtrak.”

“Every passenger rail service system in the world relies on subsidies. We subsidize our highways and airports more than we subsidize Amtrak. So let's get something straight here. Amtrak has not been at the trough. Amtrak has been left out. Amtrak has been left out much too long, in my humble opinion,” said Biden, who boasts he has taken over 7,000 round trips on Amtrak between Delaware and Washington, D.C.
Yes, yes and yes. If anything, the $1.3 billion we're putting into Amtrak isn't enough. Ten times, a hundred times that much perhaps, in order to get Amtrak their own rails, high speed rails. There's no reason the US can't have trains that top 200 mph connecting major cities. We're not having to invent anything new to make it happen--other countries have done it for decades. Why not us?

Yes, the United States did torture detainees, both at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. One may argue that torture was necessary, or even justified--I would not be one making that argument--but the issue of whether or not we did is not at issue, not anymore. The piece by Mark Danner in the NY Review of Books referenced in his NY Times Op-Ed today lays out the case about as clearly as it can be. Here's a taste of it:

The result is a document—labeled "confidential" and clearly intended only for the eyes of those senior American officials to whom the CIA's Mr. Rizzo would show it—that tells a certain kind of story, a narrative of what happened at "the black sites" and a detailed description, by those on whom they were practiced, of what the President of the United States described to Americans as an "alternative set of procedures." It is a document for its time, literally "impossible to put down," from its opening page—

1. Main Elements of the CIA Detention Program
1.1 Arrest and Transfer
1.2 Continuous Solitary Confinement and Incommunicado Detention
1.3 Other Methods of Ill-treatment
1.3.1 Suffocation by water
1.3.2 Prolonged Stress Standing
1.3.3 Beatings by use of a collar
1.3.4 Beating and kicking
1.3.5 Confinement in a box
1.3.6 Prolonged nudity
1.3.7 Sleep deprivation and use of loud music
1.3.8 Exposure to cold temperature/cold water
1.3.9 Prolonged use of handcuffs and shackles
1.3.10 Threats
1.3.11 Forced shaving
1.3.12 Deprivation/restricted provision of solid food
1.4 Further elements of the detention regime....

—to its stark and unmistakable conclusion:
The allegations of ill-treatment of the detainees indicate that, in many cases, the ill-treatment to which they were subjected while held in the CIA program, either singly or in combination, constituted torture. In addition, many other elements of the ill-treatment, either singly or in combination, constituted cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Such unflinching clarity, from the body legally charged with overseeing compliance with the Geneva Conventions—in which the terms "torture" and "cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment" are accorded a strictly defined legal meaning—couldn't be more significant, or indeed more welcome after years in which the President of the United States relied on the power of his office either to redefine or to obfuscate what are relatively simple words.
I would only quibble with the final part of this--the words "torture" and "cruel, unhuman and degrading treatment" are not relatively simple to define. I think that the Bush administration tried to push its definition to the point where the word was fairly meaningless, since they said onnly "'organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death'" constitute torture punishable by law." But the Bush administration's attempts to redefine the word don't necessarily make a definition easy.

That said, this piece should be required reading for everyone, since we can't move forward unless we acknowledge where we've been. Right now, my first year students are working with an essay by Mark Bowden titled "The Dark Art of Interrogation," which argues for the Bush administration's actions as of 2003. They're reading this piece now, and we'll get to see just how well Bowden's argument stands up against real world examples of torture.

Amy and I have written about the Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg prizes here in the past--they're very generous prizes that started up five years ago and are having a tremendous impact on the world of poetry simply because of the amounts of money involved. The Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Memorial Fund has given out upwards of $650K in the last five years, and for poets, that's a big deal, since most of us are fairly broke most of the time.

Earlier this year during some other correspondence with Mary Rosenberg, who manages the contest, I asked her for an interview for The Rumpus, and the result is here. I found her to be generous and thoughtful--just the kind of person I want running a contest I'm entered in. She's the kind of person who looks for reasons to like a poem as opposed to dismiss it, and maybe that has something to do with the fact that she's not really interested in creating a legacy for herself in the poetry business. At the end of our interview, she wrote (because we did this via email) "Encouragement is what it’s all about on my side: faith and persistence on theirs [contest entrants]." Even if I hadn't done the interview, I'd recommend the interview.

Oh, to be in Austin

It's SXSW right now in Austin, and while I am nowhere near hip enough to be interested in the various musical acts, I can certainly appreciate when food and burlesque come together:

Famous rock venue Emo's was packed Friday night for the show. Tables were set up near the entrance for a cupcake tasting. A dozen bakers had cooked up bizarre sweets with flavors like peanut butter, passion fruit and "Irish car bomb." Presentation was key -- cupcakes sprinkled with glitter and candies, cupcakes wrapped in metallic foil. One entry was served with a side of bacon.

Past the judges' table was the stage, where things got even hotter. Performers included Violet Voltage (as The Little Green Absinthe Fairy), and The Muffin Man and the Berry Girls, a threesome that performed a striptease to Frank Zappa's "The Muffin Man."
Sounds like a good time.

It's been interesting to see how people have been reacting to the Daily Show from last night--some insightful comments, some inane, some a bit defensive. For instance, from the Opinionator column, the overall feel is that Stewart won, but check out what Joe Scarborough said:

Cramer just sat there and took his medicine. He’s clearly shaken that his fellow Democrats have turned on him.
Ana Marie Cox replied in a way that showed she clearly didn't get it either:
Has it honestly not occured to Cramer . . . that *he turned on the Democrats*?
Hello, the two of you--this isn't a partisan thing. Never has been. It's an economic class thing, but apparently the two of you are so freaking tied up in the world of Democrat v. Republican that you missed the real reason Stewart was so pissed. More on that in a bit.

I couldn't help but note a hint of journalistic protectionism in Alessandra Stanley's piece on the show, though. Just a couple of snippets:
Mr. Stewart treated his guest like a C.E.O. subpoenaed to testify before Congress — his point was not to hear Mr. Cramer out, but to act out a cathartic ritual of indignation and castigation....

Mr. Stewart has always had a messianic streak to his political satire....

And while it’s never much fun to watch a comedian lose his sense of humor...
There was a similar comment in the Opinionator piece about Stewart not being funny--when Tucker Carlson tried that on Crossfire, Stewart replied with "I'm not going to be your monkey," and then later called him a dick. Stanley, whether she realizes it or not, is also part of the problem.

Stewart is primarily mad at two groups, and Cramer was just the guy who had to take the hit for all of them. First of all, he's mad at the market manipulators, and that was clear from the way Stewart used the clips from Cramer's website, where he basically bragged about manipulating the market and suggesting (perhaps with cause) that the SEC was too stupid to realize what he was doing. Like Stewart said, “I understand you want to make finance entertaining, but it’s not a fucking game."

The second group Stewart is pissed at--and this should be clear to anyone who's watched his show for the last, oh, ten years--is the news media that acts more often as stenographer than investigator. The thing that Scarborough talked about above? That's the kind of thinking Stewart blasted four years ago on Crossfire when he said Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala were hurting America. And when Stewart was berating Cramer last night, it was as much for his and his network's lack of credulity when interviewing CEOs as it was for their cheerleading.

Maybe I'm giving Jon Stewart too much credit here, but based on the way he looked pained while taking Cramer apart last night, and the way he ended his show--that he hoped that was as uncomfortable to watch as it was to do--I get the feeling that Stewart would really rather stick to sophomoric humor most nights, rather than actually take apart the media. Stewart really wants an active news media that serves as a check not only on government overreach, but corporate overreach as well--he's an optimist that way. And it depresses him to realize that his audience is more educated on facts than the audiences of some major news organizations, as well it should. He's a comedian, not a journalist, and when he does shows like the one he did last night, he's irritated because he feels forced to fill a role he's not all that qualified to fill--there are people who go to school and who spend years in the field supposedly preparing themselves to do this sort of thing, and either they're not doing it, or they're being held back from doing it by the people who run the show.

And the rest of his reaction is despair, because he thinks that if he, as a comedian, is at the head of the people shedding light on this crap, then what hope is there for our civilization? Maybe that's a bit over-dramatic, but I feel him on that.

The Cramer Takedown

I'm sure that, before the day is over, the clips from last night's Daily Show with Jon Stewart will be as linked on the blogosphere as any video ever has been--I hope Comedy Central's servers are up to the task. I'm only going to link to one of them, but they're all available at The Daily Show website. Here's one long segment where Stewart really just takes the hammer to Jim Cramer.

So I learned a couple of things here. First--Rick Santelli is a lot smarter than Jim Cramer, because Santelli canceled his Daily Show appearance, and that was back when Stewart was probably only going to make Santelli look like a garden-variety piece of crap. Secondly, when Stewart gets mad, and feels like he and others have been cheated--look out. I'm not going to say that Stewart destroyed either CNBC's or Jim Cramer's credibility last night, but he exposed a lot of ugliness and did it in terms that average people can understand. He pointed out how there are two markets--one for the people like anyone with a retirement plan who put money into the hands of pros and trust that it will grow, and one for those who are gaming the system and doing it with that money in a lot of cases.

But the biggest thing he pointed out is just how shallow our reporting has become, how little actual reporting gets done as opposed to cheerleading. And that's a problem that extends beyond CNBC and the financial sector.

Hidden cameras everywhere

Even, it seems, in someone's prosthetic eye.

BRUSSELS - A one-eyed documentary filmmaker is preparing to work with a video camera concealed inside a prosthetic eye, hoping to secretly record people for a project commenting on the global spread of surveillance cameras.
No, this isn't some sort of artist suffering for his art, รก la Kirk Lazarus in Tropic Thunder--his eye was removed three years ago and he's had a prosthetic since then. This, though, does fall somewhere between awesomely weird and really creepy for me. What do you think about it?

The AP can bite me

They're going after Shepard Fairey for his use of an AP picture as a basis for Fairey's "Hope" poster. There's no question where I stand on this--as an artist, I'm firmly on Fairey's side, even though the work I do doesn't generally involve sampling or deriving from someone else's original work. I've already got bad feelings toward the AP ever since they tried to force bloggers to pay for minor excerpts of their articles, but I'd be on Fairey's side regardless, because I think that intellectual property law is so skewed toward corporations that there's a real danger of killing off artistic invention and experimentation.

Most artists are derivative in some form or another, even the avant-garde. The problem with intellectual property law as it stands right now is that it wants to limit derivation--or at the very least, make sure the IP owners get paid for any use, up front, and in many cases, have control over how the IP is used. Sorry, but that's a sure-fire way to see the IP you own become irrelevant--assuming that you're able to defend said IP completely. If you want your IP to spread, getting artists to "steal" it is one of the best tools you can use. You just have to acknowledge that there's the very real chance that someone might use it in a way that makes you cringe. That's the tradeoff.

That's not really the problem with the AP in this case, though. I'm pissed with the AP because they're flat out insulting to artists.

Fairey essentially has engaged in a form of computerized paint by the numbers with The AP's copyrighted image – taking the work in its entirety. The amount and substantiality of plaintiffs' use is unmistakable – it is a wholesale copying of The AP photo.
Paint by numbers? He took a photo that ran as part of a minor news story and transformed it into an instantly recognizable icon. He did something that no one at the AP even had an inkling was possible, and that, one could argue, was impossible by the very nature of the AP's mission to report news "objectively." Without Fairey's intervention, no one even remembers that photo--it's just one of millions taken during a Presidential campaign. The AP didn't lose anything when Fairey transformed that photo because without Fairey, there's nothing to lose in the first place.

So jam a sock in it, AP, and stick to news gathering. Leave the art to others.

In a world filled with non-shocking revelations, this ranks right up there with Rush Limbaugh being a blowhard. What's less surprising here--that the press would run a story that Bristol Palin and her boyfriend broke up, or that it happened in the first place? Wow--teen parents didn't stay together. Not like that happens all the time or anything.

I think we can just make that the headline for the next couple of years at minimum--the subhead on this piece is just adorable, though: "President to sign measure, which GOP says is irresponsible," since for Republicans to complain about irresponsible spending is like Bernie Madoff claiming that Allen Stanford gives Ponzi schemers a bad name. Besides, given the budget priorities of the Republicans when they were in charge of Congress, I'd say that most of the earmarks that have been reported on thus far are downright pedestrian.

More proof

that often times, the real world is way weirder than we give it credit for. I give you the barrelfish.

Those eyes score about a 15 out of 10 on my weird-shit-o-meter. The eyes, by the way, are the green things inside the skull--the little black things are olfactory sensors; sniffers, if you prefer.

Balance: Ur Doin It Rong

Sorry for the I Can Haz Cheezburger title, but it's early around these parts. But you knew, if you follow the news, that the Obama administration couldn't make so controversial a statement as "we make scientific decisions based on facts, not ideology" without asking for, nay, begging for a ridiculous false-equivalency piece to be written in response. And of course, it had to be in the NY Times, because we wouldn't want the universe to be shaken to its foundations or anything. On the science side, we get Doctors Harold Varmus and Alan Lesher:

“Scientists should have no illusions about whether they make policy — they don’t,” said Harold Varmus, president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and co-chairman of a panel that advises Mr. Obama on science matters.

The directive, Dr. Varmus said, was simply intended “to provide the best available scientific information” to those who make policy decisions....

But by asserting “the centrality of science to every issue of modern life,” Dr. Lesher said, Mr. Obama is suggesting that science rather than ideology will be the foundation for his decision making. “What you are seeing now is both a response to the last eight years, and a genuine reaction to President Obama’s enthusiasm for science,” he said.
And on the politics side, we get...sigh.
“Those who suggest that the Bush administration did not rigorously apply science are themselves ignoring the facts,” said Karl Rove, the former president’s political strategist....

In the end, said Ed Gillespie, the former counselor to Mr. Bush, all administrations use science in service of a political agenda.

“Administrations come into office with a point of view,” Mr. Gillespie said. “The people in office tend to highlight those facts that support their point of view — not because they’re quashing dissent or not being scientific, but because this is what helps inform their thinking. A lot of scientific data can’t be refuted, but a lot of science is subjective. And even irrefutable science can be value-laden.”
Yep--two doctors and noted scientists equal two political hacks defending their own guy. Some things never change.

Because given a choice between a moderately sane (for a Republican) daughter of the last Republican presidential nominee and the certifiable nutcase whose contributions to the public discourse include calling John Edwards a faggot and suggesting that we should kill all the men in the Middle East and convert all the women and children to Christianity, RedState goes all in with the psycho.

The best thing about RedState's problem with Meghan McCain? Their dislike has nothing to do with her positions on anything, or even her dislike for Ann Coulter. No, they're pissed because she couldn't bring herself to vote for the guy whose campaign slurred her father and mother using some pretty odious racial push polls, and whose supporters suggested that her father had been brainwashed while he was a goddamn POW undergoing torture in Vietnam. If all Meghan McCain did was not vote for George W. Bush, then she held herself back pretty well, I'd say.

So you go ahead with your bad selves, RedState. The more you target the moderates in your party and side with the loonies, the longer my side will have to clean up the mess you left us.

Stanley Fish, Neoliberal

Fish seems to cop to that charge, at least a bit, in his column today, and I suspect he's going to try to justify it in his coming columns. Just so we're clear, neoliberalism, in economic terms, refers to the Friedman/Hayek school of laissez-faire on steroids capitalism. And I'd say Fish does a fairly good job of defining neoliberalism in his piece. I'm not so comfortable with his discussion of the objections to it.

The objection (which I am reporting, not making) is that in the passage from a state in which actions are guided by an overarching notion of the public good to a state in which individual entrepreneurs “freely” pursue their private goods, values like morality, justice, fairness, empathy, nobility and love are either abandoned or redefined in market terms.

Short-term transactions-for-profit replace long-term planning designed to produce a more just and equitable society. Everyone is always running around doing and acquiring things, but the things done and acquired provide only momentary and empty pleasures (shopping, trophy houses, designer clothing and jewelry), which in the end amount to nothing. Neoliberalism, David Harvey explains, delivers a “world of pseudo-satisfactions that is superficially exciting but hollow at its core.” (”A Brief History of Neoliberalism.”)
It's not that there's anything incorrect in this discussion--it's just that this is really limited. One of the huge problems with neoliberalism is that it makes no allowances for power disparities between the parties to a transaction. In the example Fish cites earlier of the creek owner and the polluting factory upstream, the neoliberal suggestion is that the factory owner and creek owner would weigh the economic benefits and the one that provided more would come out the winner. The reality is that the factory owner is likely to keep polluting and tell the creek owner to get bent, barring some external force telling him to do otherwise. In a neoliberal system, that external force doesn't exist. Everywhere else, we call it government, and some of us are pretty glad it's out there.

So how does this affect universities? Fish reports--and I agree--that once a society has started down the neoliberal path, even "institutions that don’t regard themselves as neoliberal will nevertheless engage in practices that mime and extend neoliberal principles — privatization, untrammeled competition, the retreat from social engineering, the proliferation of markets." In the case of universities, this has been exacerbated by the withdrawal of the state from the university funding system. When universities don't have public money, they look for private money, and that money comes with more apparent strings attached. The result is academics who are less willing to rock the boat publicly, lest their funding be cut off. We wind up with corporate hegemony of the university system, in practice if not in name.

And what Fish urges is that academics not rock the boat, at least not in the university setting, and especially not in the classroom. I can agree with him on the latter, at least in part. I try to leave partisan politics out of my classroom unless it's relevant to the discussion of the material we're covering. But at times it is relevant--tomorrow we'll be talking about Mark Bowden's "The Dark Art of Interrogation" in my composition class, and since it deals with--indeed, advocates for--the Bush administration's torture policy, there's no way to get around it. And in my poetry classes, we'll be doing some Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen, among other works--how do you not get into the election of Barack Obama in a larger discussion of race in America as a subject for poetry? That doesn't mean that I would advocate for a particular candidate or course of political action from my position as a teacher--I think that would be a misuse of power insofar as students (who in my case tend to be first- and second-year students) might be uncomfortable with challenging my point of view.

But I don't see anything wrong with being an advocate inside the university community, or even organizing with former students on particular issues or for candidates. Any potential conflict arises only in the classroom, so far as I'm concerned. Not so for Fish, and that's a big reason why I think his calls to locate civic involvement not only outside the classroom but outside the university are problematic. Academics--those lucky enough to be tenured--are already being hemmed in by corporate interests and risk-averse university administrations. I won't even get into the chilling effect that those groups have on us temporary types. Fish, whether he wants to acknowledge it or not, is worsening the problem by serving as an advocate from inside academia. He's undercutting our argument when we have enough problems to deal with. He's Joe Lieberman or Bill Nelson or Mary Landrieu, only in academia.

And the way he ends this column really makes me think it's about to get worse.

Science, hurrah!

There's some good news coming tomorrow as regards science in this country--President Obama is overturning President Bush's policy on stem cell research and saying that science, not ideology, will guide his administration. That's great news for anyone who spent the last eight years in hell watching President "Jesus was my favorite philosopher because he changed my heart" basically do everything he could to ignore science in favor of either mysticism or corporate interests. To be fair, it was more often the latter than the former--I'll leave you to decide whether stupidity or venality is the greater of those two sins.

Of course, the anti-abortion crowd is already up in arms about this:

Already abortion opponents are bracing for a battle. “The administration now steps onto a very steep, very slippery slope,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee. “Many researchers will never be satisfied only with the so-called leftover embryos.”
To Mr. Johnson I reply, well, your group won't be satisfied until women are all forced to carry their pregnancies to term, so there's probably no room for compromise on this matter. I can live with that, since support for stem cell research is high, and is likely to go higher as some breakthroughs inevitably come from the work.

And frankly, if we as a nation are able to get to the point where researchers aren't having to rely on leftovers from fertility clinics, so much the better. I know that Johnson is a guy who believes that life begins at fertilization, though he fails to acknowledge that 60 to 80% of such eggs fail to implant, so his opinion on reproductive science is weak at best. I'd much rather stem-cell scientists be able to just get eggs and sperm from donors and make their own embryos--less expense, I'd imagine, and fewer issues with your supply.

We're not there yet, and we can count on people like Douglas Johnson and his allies in the anti-abortion movement to continue to muddle the issue as much as possible in the meantime, because Jesus said it was okay to lie if it's for a good cause. Wait? He didn't say that? Hmmm.


Not until this summer, but while you wait...

I always find it laughable when Christians, who collectively make up the vast majority of people in the US, cry about how they're being persecuted for their beliefs in today's secular society--laughable to the point of disdain, actually. Christian churches in the US are no more persecuted than a dog is persecuted by a single flea--that's the difference in power here. Atheists in this nation can't be considered more than a vague annoyance to churches--we just don't have the numbers or the representation among elected officials. But that doesn't stop religious people from claiming victimhood all the same.

The latest example I've come across is this one in the NY Times about religion in the military. Now I'm not going to get into the wisdom (or lack thereof) of combining the two in this post--it's a far more complex issue than I have the time or energy for this morning. This is what I'm more interested in:

Leaders of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation “would be happy if there were no religion whatsoever in the military,” General Fister said in an interview. “But the problem is that Christians are going to operate one way or the other, and whenever the church has been persecuted, it’s grown stronger.”
Set aside the first part of Fister's comment--what would make the MRRF happy is irrelevant to the discussion. The MRRF's mission is to ensure religious freedom for everyone in the military--particularly freedom from religion--and to make sure that soldiers who don't believe don't have their careers affected negatively because of that. That's right--the group that complains of persecution is the one doing the persecuting in most cases.

Not that this tactic is new, or that it's as contradictory as it might seem at first. Don't get me wrong. Christians are just as capable as anyone else of holding opposing ideas simultaneously. In this case, it has to do with the way we define religion. The world of Christianity is wide--thousands upon thousands of sects each with their own doctrinal differences, many of them convinced that they and only they have the correct interpretation of The Bible. So while 84 out of 100 people may claim to be a Christian in a general sense, they identify more with their individual churches, and there's no group in the US that can claim more than a plurality, and a small one at that. And since the smaller the church you belong to, the more likely that your beliefs will be considered extreme (think Amish or Quaker, Mormon or Jehovah's Witness), it's easy to look at yourself as a potential victim of persecution.

Which is what's happening in this case. I don't know what denomination General Fister claims, and it really doesn't matter. What matters is that when he talks about "the church," he's not just talking about his church; he's conflating his church with Christianity in general. If I'm kind about it, I'll say he doesn't even realize he's doing it, because in his mind, there's no real difference between the two. Even if he thinks, as some Christian extremists do, that people not of his denomination will incur God's wrath at some point, he still thinks that heretics are closer to him in belief than atheists or people of other belief systems are, and so he's able to identify on some level with them. Christians not of his church are less "other" than non-believers, in other words.

The problem with that attitude is that we live in a multi-religious society, and the military reflects that. People like General Fister seem to think that the military owes Christianity some sort of special deference because they're the majority, and I'll certainly concede that if we as a society are going to have chaplains in the military, for example, then it would make sense from a logistical standpoint to have more of them be Christian than anything else. But as is the case when you have any minority group, the rights of the minority have to be respected as well, and people who do not believe in Christianity--whether they be atheists, Muslims, Hindus or Scientologists or anyone else--shouldn't be punished for that, nor should they see their careers hampered because of that. What the minorities go through, that's real persecution. What Fister is talking about is a reduction in the vast amount of privilege those in power have enjoyed for a long time. And we have to call them out on it.

He's in on it too

I wonder how long it will take the "birthers"--people who continue to question President Obama's eligibility to hold his office--to work U.S. District Judge James Robertson into their grand conspiracy?

A federal judge on Thursday threw out a lawsuit questioning President Barack Obama's citizenship, lambasting the case as a waste of the court's time and suggesting the plaintiff's attorney may have to compensate the president's lawyer.

In an argument popular on the Internet and taken seriously practically nowhere else, Obama's critics argue he is ineligible to be president because he is not a "natural-born citizen" as the Constitution requires.
This judge isn't screwing around--he not only tossed the case; he ordered the plaintiff's attorney to show why he shouldn't be tagged for the defendant's legal fees.

It's obvious that the judge is in on it and wants to hide the truth from the American people. /snark

It's nearly 3:30 in the morning, and we are home from the WATCHMEN. And I can say as someone who has been near-obsessed with this graphic novel since I first read it in 1990: this movie is GOOD. I suspect, however, that America is too immature for this movie.

spoilers ahead

Dr. Manhattan is a great big blue man who doesn't wear clothes. He has a great big blue penis that moves when he walks, like a penis should. Now, I for one am glad they didn't do a "Ken" on him, and I'm also glad they refrained from hanging him like Michelangelo's "David" (the industry standard for acceptable "frontal") -- but I was disappointed to hear the giggles of 7th-graders coming out of the mouths of adults every time he took a step, no matter what was going on in the scene.

This was, for me, a sort of metaphor for how too many people are going to "take" this movie: the story offers its reality, with the ugly and appealing in equal parts, its art to make us question our expectations, our fantasies, and our idealism. Frankly, that's big-boy and big-girl grown up stuff. And I'm wondering if we can handle it.

Now I read some of the reviews before we went and saw it, and most of them were negative. I completely get what these reviewers were complaining about, but the reality is that they simply didn't get it. They thought they were watching something too dumb to meet their eye for art. But they were actually watching something that made fun of their eye for art. That might be why they didn't like it. But rather than complain that the movie upends their expectations, mocks their tastes, and makes fun of their ideals, they berate it.

Anthony Lane in the New Yorker
was naive enough to say:

Nite Owl [...] keeps his old superhero outfit, rubbery and sharp-eared, locked away in his basement, presumably for fear of being sued for plagiarism by Bruce Wayne.
As though he's suddenly forgotten that he's watching a story in which Batman and his ilk are being criticized and displayed.

AO Scott writes a several paragraph description of what he sees as the Watchmen's "ideal viewer":
The ideal viewer ... would probably be a mid-’80s college sophomore with a smattering of Nietzsche, an extensive record collection and a comic-book nerd for a roommate. The film’s carefully preserved themes of apocalypse and decay might have proved powerfully unsettling to that anxious undergraduate sitting in his dorm room, listening to “99 Luftballons” and waiting for the world to end or the Berlin Wall to come down.
The implication here seems to be that the "ideal viewer" would be someone young, ignorant, and angsty with just the faintest knowledge of comic books. Or perhaps an annoyance with them? Yet this flies in the face of actual evidence: real comic book lovers and real lovers of literature love the Watchmen.

He would also no doubt have been stirred by the costumes of the female superheroes — Carla Gugino and Malin Akerman, both gamely giving solid performances — who sensibly accessorize their shoulder-padded spandex leotards with garter belts and high-heeled boots. And the dense involution of the narrative might have seemed exhilarating rather than exhausting.

Here he seems to be missing the whole point the movie makes about the female superheroes dressing ridiculously -- something discussed more in the comic, no doubt, but not ignored in the movie. The men also dress absurdly. The whole idea of being a masked vigilante is absurd, but it's something comics (and now comics-based movies) long took for granted. I also wonder why he doesn't have a similarly snarky comment about the "lady version" of this "ideal viewer" being driven to distraction by the completely perfect male specimen strolling stark naked through the film? As for the narrative's "dense involution" -- all I can say is that it was notably pared down from what's in the original story, and that while I did miss some of the stuff excised, what was presented on screen was tight and compelling.

I’m not sure that this hypothetical young man — not to be confused with the middle-aged, 21st-century moviegoer he most likely grew into, whose old copy of “Watchmen” lies in a box somewhere alongside a dog-eared Penguin Classics edition of “Thus Spake Zarathustra” — would necessarily say that Mr. Snyder’s “Watchmen” is a good movie.
This is the part of his description that most mystifies me -- because I know many, many people who, like me, have a long-standing relationship with this story, who first read it in the late 80s or early 90s, who have re-read it and loaned it out and had the loan-out loaned out and ended up buying another copy because everyone who laid a finger on it was enthralled, and to suggest that this is a book most readers read through once and then shove into a box of barely-thought-of books is just absurd.

So it's pretty clear these mainstream reviewers just don't get it. And I don't mean that to say that they're stupid; they're not. I mean that to say that they just don't understand what this art form is doing, and they're looking for the wrong things.

In many ways, the WATCHMEN is hard. It is a story without heroes. Earlier today I read a Salon interview with Alan Moore in which the interviewer says this of Moore:

Unlike his evil "Watchmen" protagonist Ozymandias, Moore does not feel the spirits of history move him to fight injustice or destroy the world.
That sentence threw me. Ozymandias is evil? If he is evil, every character in the WATCHMEN is evil. Okay, if that's how you want to view it. But it seems to me that getting past the whole "good/evil" thing is what the story is, in large part, all about.

Ozymandias is an "enlightened" engineer of the world, willing to murder millions "to save billions." How does that make him worse than the Comedian, who commits wholesale murder on the government payroll? How does that make him better than a nearly-omnipotent once-man who can barely be brought to care about human kind? And how is that nearly-omnipotent once-man who "walks away" in Earth's time of need (because his girlfriend dumps him) any different from people like the Silk Spectre and Nite Owl who obey the Keene act and hang up their crime-fighting suits leaving only the near-lunatic Rorschach to do the work once done by all of them?

In other words, every character in this story is explicitly not a hero. And only Rorschach is an anti-hero. In the kingdom of the relativists, the man with one misguided but firm ideal seems to be the one we wish to follow -- yet we know we should not. We know this because he is horrible, he is a walking nightmare. We might glance from him back to Ozymandias and conclude that all idealists are nightmares. Jelly-spined compromisers like Nite Owl are much better dinner company, and much better members of a civilized society, thank you very much.

Yet the thing this movie did perhaps best of all was portray Nite Owl and Silk Spectre as icky. All the mainstream reviewers are booing the sex scene between them as a stink extraordinaire... without realizing that we should be grossed out by two people who get sexually excited by dressing up and playing vigilante. If you didn't see them as something akin to the duo from "Natural Born Killers," you had your "mainstream society filters" on (I'm talking to you AO Scott), and had them in "rose shades" because they are "good guys." That is what this movie is insisting you not do.

So our weak, coddled brains, used to latching passively to the character we're "supposed to" like and sympathize with, have trouble handling a story that asks a bit more of us than "Batman." And we giggle at the big blue penis. Sigh. Rorschach was right. About some of it, at least.

EDIT/ADDED: For a mainstream reviewer who does understand what's going on (despite having never read the book), check out Roger Ebert's two (2!) reviews of the Watchmen movie, here and here.

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