Saturday, May 31, 2008

Making Eliot Spitzer Proud

The story is that Ralph Hardy, age 13, stole a credit card from his father. He and some buddies went on a $30,000 spending orgy of Oreos, video games, and two $1,000 a night call girls. They explained their small stature by telling the hookers they were circus folk. This is the money quote:
The escort girls who were released without charge, told the arresting officers something was up when the kids said they would rather play Xbox than get down to business.
The father must be livid. Spending two grand on whores and then not riding them. What kind of Texans is he raising?! (Yes, I know it's a hoax, but my motto is to never let the truth get in the way of a good joke.)

Friday, May 30, 2008

The Scarf of Hate

It has been a week since Little Green Football turned their Hate-Ray Vision to the concept of scarves. Rachael Ray wore a scarf on a Dunkin' Donuts commercial (at left) and the right-wing nuts went batshit crazy accusing everyone involved of signaling secret coded support for Palestinians. I didn't notice the controversy at the time because I don't spend a lot of time on what crazy people think. Little did I know that there is a league of anti-scarf radicals. (see also Feministe)

Did you know that the Muslim haters at Little Green Football share a scarfphobia with Iranian mullahs? In Iran they don't just boycott donut shops they actually arrest people wearing scarfs. Last year, a protest of Urban Outfitters forced the clothing store to withdraw their collection of scarves.
Now, I don't like the way Rachael Ray is wearing her scarf either. It's wrapped too tight. It should be worn loosely like at the left.

It is getting hard to know what is the appropriate way to dress in our hate and fear filled American culture. Is a scarf a political statement about the oppression of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip or just a sexy fashion accessory?

What about this pendent? The woman wearing it at the Kelowna Airport in Canada was ordered by airport security to remove the pendent and put it in her checked luggage. Apparently terrorists carry really, really tiny guns.

Hillary and Booze

I could take a cheap shot at Hillary Clinton's tendency toward public drinking. God knows others have. But I am genuinely concerned. The New York Times reporting almost as an aside that Hillary was recently walking around her campaign plane with a "generous tumbler" filled with bourbon.

Her habit of late for knocking back whiskey in public is disturbing. Lots of politicians have drinking problems, Richard Nixon is a notable example, but they are discreet enough to keep their alcohol problems private. Hillary has lost that discretion and that is a bad sign.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Converting the Heathen

Displaying the sensitivity that has made the United States Marine Corps beloved disciples of peace wherever they discharge their M16s into family homes, the Marines have been handing out medallions to Iraqis in Fallujah. It is incorrect to call them coins as they are worthless scrap metal with that ubiquitous John 3:16 biblical quote stamped on them.
We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity. ~ Ann Coulter
The medallions are part of an effort by the Marines to convert Sunni Muslims in Iraq to Christianity. The United States has already accomplished the first two steps in the Coulter diplomatic playbook. All that is left is for men with guns to suggest conversion. No overt threats are necessary. We've killed their fathers and brothers. They can become a Christian or ... (Marine caresses his M16).

The photo below shows the proper use of a mosque in the new American colony of Iraq, as a Marine bivouac.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Times They Are A-Changin'

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is
Rapidly agin'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'. ~ Bob Dylan, 1963
While I don't put much stock in polls, the latest California Field Poll (pdf) confirms the impression I have living here in the Golden State. The Field Poll observes that a majority of Californians (51% to 42%) approve of allowing same-sex couples to marry. That is a seven point swing from the last time they polled the question two years ago. They only age category where the question loses is among people 65 and older. Over two-thirds of young people, under 30, approve of same-sex marriage.

This has become a generational issue. People born before World War II grew up during a time when prejudice and hate were ingrained into society. Gen-Xers grew up during an age when tolerance was de rigueur (excluding those home schoolers who were taught pure hatred unpolluted by experience in broader society). Younger people by and large find homophobic legislation to be absurd.

The Christian Taliban will try to find the votes to overturn the California Supreme Court's ruling in favor of gay marriage but the demographics are in favor of liberty and tolerance. As the Hate Class ages and dies off a greater percentage of Californians are unafraid of homosexuals and believe there is no problem if two people of the same gender wish to marry.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Itty-Bitty Bullets

Another story about the Stooge-like thinking of Pentagon masterminds.

Since the days of the Hittites, fighters have known if you want to kill someone you want to make a big, effin' hole.

American soldiers in Iraq are using bullets (M855s) designed to penetrate Russian body armor a couple furlongs away. Only problem is the Iraqis aren't wearing Kevlar and these tiny bullets zip through unprotected flesh leaving only a wee little hole. Oh, sure, it hurts but unless it hits the heart or spine it won't stop an Iraqi fighter, it will just make him angry.

Is the Pentagon giving its soldiers larger caliber bullets, something with stopping power? Of course not, that would be smart. Instead they are criticizing the solders, telling them to aim better. What do you mean you can't hit his fifth thoracic vertebra with the first shot?

Monday, May 26, 2008

In Posterus Monumentum

Memorial Day, 2008, is a good time to remember those Americans who will die in the coming war with Iran.

An American military attack upon Iran is inevitable, the only questions are when and how many will die. Daniel Miessler believe the war will come in October as part of a Republican campaign strategy. I believe Bush will wait until late November. If Obama wins Bush will bomb Iran in earnest to saddle the Democrats with his last crusade. If McCain wins Bush will consult with St. John first but Bush will insist on starting the war as part of his legacy.

On one level, the war has already begun. The United States has begun arming an al-Qaeda terrorist cell, the Jundullah, to attack Iran's eastern border and Kurdish terrorists, the PJAK, to attack the western border. Outspoken opponent of war with Iran, Admiral William Fallon, is being replaces as head of CENTCOM by sycophant General George Petraeus.

McCain and Bush are philosophically and religiously (for them Religion is philosophy) believers in war with Iran. Both want to bring about the Rapture in their lifetimes and share the opinion of McCain preacher John Hagee that "The United States must join Israel in a preemptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God’s plan for both Israel and the West." They believe God's plan for the US is to wage world war against the church of the Anti-Christ (Islam). They believe God's plan for Israel is to die in a great battle located southeast of Haifa at a place called Megiddo (Armageddon).

How many deaths we shall have to mourn in this coming war? This religious nut believes a few weeks of stand-off bombing will return Persia to the Bronze Age. Hagee, on the other hand, believes attacking Iran will lead to world war with hundreds of millions of casualties; and he loves it.

Additional Links: Andrew Cockburn, Global Research on the neo-con's goals, The Nation (2006) War Signals, Lobbying for Armageddon by Sarah Posner, the Iran War Camp, US Declares War Quietly

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Role of Vice-President [Updated]

Should Barack Obama choose Hillary Clinton as his number two?

Republican presidents traditionally view the Vice-Presidency as life insurance. They choose the most outlandish, frightening people as their Veeps. Even the most insane lunatic would think twice about pulling a trigger that would make Dan Quayle or Dick Cheney commander-in-chief. If Richard Nixon hadn't lost Spiro Agnew because Agnew got caught being a petty thief Congress would have blanched at the prospect of impeachment and Nixon would have completed his second term. Democrats, conversely, believe that "heartbeat from the Presidency" malarkey. They choose intelligent, competent Veeps (Gerry Ferrero excluded).

I am seriously prejudice having watched Jonathan Demme's remake of The Manchurian Candidate recently. I believe Obama's life won't be worth a plug nickel if Hillary is standing at his right shoulder. It would be too tempting for one of her Talk Left Hillbots (new link) to rescue the nation from that arrogant boy Obama. And, given the Secret Service's Klanish tendencies, I can't expect them to move very fast to stop it.
Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. ~ Sun-Tsu
On the other hand, the only way to keep Hillary from sabotaging the election (so she can run again in 2012) would be to have her on the ticket. It's a conundrum.

My advice is that Barack learn to enjoy the feeling of Kevlar against his skin and, every so often, he should insist Hillary stand to his left.

UpDate: Re: MSNBC: It's one thing for me to muse uncomfortable about an Obama assignation. It is quite another for Hillary Clinton to speculate that if only Obama were gunned down like Bobby Kennedy it would open the way for her nomination. Kevlar won't be enough if Hillary is the Veep. Barack will need several food tasters, a half-dozen body doubles, and immunization from every imaginable tropical disease.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Three Movies Screaming to be Done Right

There are stories that would translate well to movies or television and would become grippingly entertaining films if only they could be done right.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The greatest book by one of American finest authors, Huck Finn has been done at least 12 times on TV or film. Each transfer has the same problems - the story is too complex to be compressed into a movie length and it is told as a children's story. Huckleberry Finn may be a 13 year-old boy but the story is about the stupidity of racism and hatred couched in an adventure yarn. It is as much a children's story as Sixth Sense, meaning not at all.

The first version was filmed in 1920. Probably the best effort was done by PBS in 1985 and it is unavailable in the United States on DVD. At over 200 minutes it has the length to touch the many facets of the story and, from accounts, did not obscure the uglier aspects of the story. Apparently that attention to doing the story correctly (i.e. use of the word "nigger") is what has gotten the film censored in the US. As Peter Salwen notes, Mark Twain was not a racist. The word "nigger" is rightfully considered an obscenity akin to "fuck" or "cunt." But in the context of the story it is as appropriate as the word "fuck" is in the movie Pulp Fiction. The N-word, in context, accurately paints the obscenity that was white society in the southern slave states.

Someone should try again, a mini-series for adults (PG-13). It requires a screen writer, director, and actors with the skills to capture the nuance of Twain's work. It can be done.

The Saint
Simon Templar aka The Saint is one of the most fascinating characters in pulp fiction (the genre, not the movie). In the stories by Leslie Charteris he is a thief with a moral code, he will only steal from the scum of humanity. The Saint is not above murder if his target is sufficiently deserving. Often inaccurately described as suave, Simon Templar is more accurately cool. Unflappable under duress; audacious in action.

There have been many attempts to bring Simon Templar to film, all have failed. George Sanders did a series of movies in the 1940's and Roger Moore played the part in a 1960's TV series. Most were handicapped by the Standards and Practices censors that dictated a criminal could not be a hero. Simon Templar was a criminal, as just another detective he was a weak copy of Dashiell Hammett's Nick Charles.

The latest attempt at The Saint was in 1997 with Val Kilmer. Kilmer's Templar was a thief, the only thing they got that right. But his character was a confused wuss hiding behind disguises not the bold rogue who proudly leaves a calling card so everyone knows who had bested them. There is some hope. Barry Levinson is producing a television series on the Saint. There is no way to know if he will be the daring Robin Hood of Crime as created in the 1920's or a watered down gumshoe.

Dr. Fu Manchu
Before James Bond faced Dr. No there was Fu Manchu. Before Communist China Fu Manchu was threatening the west. Fu Manchu was the great supervillain of pulp fiction.

Fu Manchu has been a staple of bad b-movies since the silent era. Racist Yellow Peril characters, over the top acting, and under the bottom scripting has been the curse of these movies. The best of the lot has been the Christopher Lee series in the 1960's. Nick Cage "starred" as Fu Manchu for about one second in the Werewolf Women of the SS trailer in Grindhouse.

Fu Manchu could be the James Bond of villains. Take away the gratuitous racism and you still have a larger than life criminal mastermind. There is money in this, boys.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Not Impeach, Indict

I put the odds at 50-50 that George Bush will bomb Iran in late November. Several Democrats have suggested impeaching Bush if he attacks Iran. That is all well and good, but it is not enough. Bush is leaving office and has demonstrated many times he doesn't give a crap what people think. Impeachment is an empty threat because it doesn't carry any punishment.

Lawyers should be working now on criminal indictments of Bush should he begin a war with Iran without the approval of Congress. Starting such a war would be a willful and depraved indifference to human life. Certainly it would be a war crime. Make plans now to prosecute Bush. Have all of the groundwork ready to arrest Bush on January 21, 2009.

Monday, May 19, 2008

War Strategies

Don't for a moment believe that humanitarian crisis in Sadr City is an accident or some unintended by-product of conflict. It is a deliberate strategy, indeed it is a time honored method to subjugate a rebellious urban area.

The Siege of Sadr City follows a pattern of military strategy reaching back into antiquity. Israel has laid siege to the Gaza Strip for almost two years in a mostly successful attempt to quell Palestinian resistance. The Nazi siege of the Warsaw Ghetto lasted for less than a month from April 21, 1943, when Jewish fighters drove back German troops, until May 16, 1943 when the Germans crushed the last of the resistance and every Jew in the city was either dead or on a train to the Treblinka concentration camp. The Roman siege of Carthage began in 149 BC and lasted for three years. When it ended Carthage had been wiped from the face of the earth.

Siege is a weapon of the mighty against the weak. It is designed to conquer with minimal offensive casualties. The intent of a siege is to make everyone in a city suffer - fighters, women, and children alike. Starvation and disease are the weapons of a siege. The theory is that even the most dedicated fighters will surrender when their families begin dying. It is a ruthless strategy as it depends for success on the slow, painful suffering of children racked by dysentery, cholera, and starvation.

The Siege of Sadr City is the latest proof of the total disdain the United States government has for the people of Iraq.

Where's an Ice Cream Truck When You Need One?

A trailer loaded with 14 tons of double-stuffed Oreos has overturned on an Illinois highway.

Slow mind day.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Lies to Hide Inflation

The Labor Department is working overtime to to explain away what everyone knows is true. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics the inflation numbers are tickety boo. Every American, except maybe Bill Gates and George Bush, is watching his pay check shrink in relationship to the necessities (food, fuel, housing) he needs to buy. Yet, somehow, the Consumer Price Index is benign. The official inflation numbers released last Wednesday showed an inflation rate for April of just 0.2% which is hogwash.

How is this possible? As a book I read decades ago (How to Lie With Statistics) explains, it's an easy trick akin to magic. Success in magic rests with misdirection; so too success in statistics. The misdirection methods are varied and complex. The CPI price of gas, for example, went down in April (through a jiggerypokery called "seasonal adjustment") even though it went up at the gas pump. There is the "Core CPI" concept which amounts to trumpeting only those things that don't go up in price. They have thousands of such tricks; I understand only a few of them.

The reason for these lies is to reduce the Federal deficit. Many government programs costs are indexed to inflation. Keeping the official rate of inflation well below the actual rate is a money-maker for the government. An artificially low CPI is a vital part of the scheme to protect the Social Security system. Also, there is a social reason. When the government reports little or no inflation people can be convinced that their personal experience is an anomaly. There is no mass outrage if everyone thinks he is suffering alone.

The Clinton Administration along with a Republican Congress introduced a key philosophical change in the concept if the CPI. Prior to 1996 the CPI used a fixed market basket to calculate inflation. The change replaced the traditional CPI formula with a variable basket. Now the Department of Labor continually adjusted the CPI formula. The effect is a gross and increasing disconnect between the official statistics and reality.
The true rate of inflation, the rate of inflation people feel in their lives, is somewhere near 8 to 10 percent per year.

References: Advanced Personal Finance - 2007, The CPI Is A Big Lie - 2008, Shadow Government Statistics - the CPI - 2006, Bloomberg - CPI data a Lie - 2007, the Fuzzy CPI - 2000, Statistical Revisionism and Wizardry - 2007, The Swamp Hare - 2008, various interesting charts from Shadow Government Statistics

Friday, May 16, 2008

On Same Sex Marriage

Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy. ~ H. L. Mencken
As a government institution, marriage is a legally binding contract between two individuals. The government has no right or interest to impose gender bias onto who can or cannot enter into a contract. As a religious institution, marriage can be anything that individual churches care to define it. Churches have every right to sanctify only those marriages they approve of. The problem comes, as it always does, when religions impose their particular beliefs on everyone else.

Why Gay Marriage Will Ruin Society
For years now fundamentalists have tried justify their opposition to gay marriage with limited success. I really want to plagiarize this but will content myself with my own creativity.
  • Gay sex is icky. But only with guys. Lesbian sex is hot.
  • Homosexuality is a sin. But so is gluttony and I don't see the fundies lobbying to outlaw extra-large pepperoni pizzas.
  • It will lead to people marrying dogs and children. Because we all know they can sign legally binding contracts.
  • A Family is one man and one woman. Except when there are grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, close friends....
  • Marriage is all about raising children. And we allow old folk and other people who can't have children to marry because...
  • Children need a father and a mother. Divorce and war create more fatherless families than gay marriage every could.
  • Gay marriage will weaken traditional marriage. Because we all know that a man and a woman cannot bond successfully if there are two men living happily together anywhere on the continent.
  • (in subtext) The Gay is contagious. If children see a married gay couple they will immediately turn into flaming homos.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why is John McCain Afraid?

Why is he afraid to talk to our adversaries? Why does he lack the courage to meet Ahmadinejad face to face?

Is McCain, like Bush, afraid he will be outsmarted by him? Is McCain afraid he will appear weak, like talking isn't macho? Is McCain simply terrified of strangers and only comfortable talking to friends? Is he afraid that negotiations might actually introduce solutions, thus depriving him of a glorious war against some pissant country?

Why, pray tell, is John McCain so terrified? This quaking cowardice is an unattractive feature in a national leader.

McCain's Delusional

St. John McCain's delusions are grand and defy rational explanation.
  • The US will "win" the Iraq War and withdraw within four years. This is the same man who foresaw a 100 year stay, predicted many "other wars" on his watch, and particularly wants to "bomb bomb Iran." His logic that defeating al-Qaeda will trigger victory in Iraq is silly. Al-Qaeda is a small component of the chaos there - their disappearance will not alter the Sunni-Shi'ite-Kurdish hatred that is the core of the conflict. Further, bombing Iran will turn Iraq into a powerkeg. The best case scenario has any American occupation forces in Iraq facing periodic attack. Worst case scenario - attacking Iraq will turn all of Greater Assyria into a war zone and a quarter million men will not be enough to hold the region. The only way to "win" the Iraq War is to end it by leaving.
  • Osama bin Laden dead or captured. This one is easy since he is probably already dead from his kidney disease. But we will never have the corpse; we will never prove it. As a living person Bid Laden long ago cease to be meaningful. He is a symbol to certain ignorant religious fundamentalists. He will continue to live as long as religious mythology commands the Earth.
  • Replace the IRS with a "flat tax." McCain's pink unicorn moment. I would love to see a simple tax of 25% on every dollar made from every source, the first $50,000 excluded. Won't ever happen. The tax code has millions of sections beloved by one group or another. Churches will fight for their chartable tax deduction. The real estate, banking, and construction industries depend on the home mortgage deduction. Business lobbyists have paid their bribes (campaign donations) for their tax credits, millionaires the same for their capital gains exemptions, and will they never give them up. Tax attorneys and accountants demand a complex tax code; simplicity means unemployment for them. Simple tax code = dream, pipe.
  • Weekly news conferences. With his temper? This will last until his first bad press week and will end with a string of curses on live television. If there is one thing all Americans from every political party agree on it is that a president is a like small child - he should be seen but not heard.
  • Replace the UN with a "League of Democracies." The UN isn't doing what we want so we will form our own club. This is Bush's failed "Coalition of the Willing" by a different name.
  • End partisanship. McCain's pink unicorns can fly moment. I can't decide if this is cute or really, really pathetic.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

State Dept. Encourages Iraq Corruption

This falls under the category of Of Course They Did. Officials with the Office of Accountability and Transparency reported to the Senate yesterday that the State Department understaffed their office and ignored their reports and recommendations.

Well, duh. The Bush Administration is trying to create a puppet government in Iraq to implement the United States' colonial occupation of the country. As the British Raj proved in India and Belgium proved in the Congo, a ruthlessly corrupt local government is vital to maintaining a colony. A corrupt government insures that the local citizens hopes for freedom and prosperity can be easily crushed. A corrupt government willingly passes everything of interest through to their masters, as long as they get their cut.

Al-Maliki and his cohorts are the titular leadership of Iraq not because they are honest and efficient. Far from it. Their willingness to prostitute their country to the US government, private contractors, and mercenaries makes them vital cogs in the profit making machine that is the Iraq occupation.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Politicians Promoting Stereotypes

Hillary Clinton and Republicans are promoting a new "conventional wisdom" (as described here by Sadly, No!) that working-class whites will never vote for a black man. They are painted as ignorant bigots who hate all blacks and more so intelligent blacks. To hear Hillary and the Republicans talk working-class whites are just like the alcoholic thug father of Huckleberry Finn.
Oh, yes, this is a wonderful govment, wonderful. Why, looky here. There was a free nigger there from Ohio -- a mulatter, most as white as a white man....They said he was a p'fessor in a college, and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed everything. And that ain't the wust. They said he could VOTE when he was at home....but when they told me there was a State in this country where they'd let that nigger vote, I drawed out. I says I'll never vote agin. Them's the very words I said; they all heard me; and the country may rot for all me -- I'll never vote agin as long as I live. And to see the cool way of that nigger -- why, he wouldn't a give me the road if I hadn't shoved him out o' the way....They call that a govment that can't sell a free nigger till he's been in the State six months. Here's a govment that calls itself a govment, and lets on to be a govment, and thinks it is a govment, and yet's got to set stock-still for six whole months before it can take a hold of a prowling, thieving, infernal, white-shirted free nigger... ~ 'Pap' Finn, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Chapter 6, by Mark Twain

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Cocaine: Victory Against Inflation

In an era when commodity prices are skyrocketing it is reassuring to know that the price of one class of agricultural commodity is dropping - narcotics.

The San Diego State fraternity caught selling drugs last week was trading cocaine for only $28/gram. That is down from its $100/gram price in the 1980's. Cheese heroin is selling for only $2 a pop. The price drop in illegal drugs is a pure case of supply and demand. Actually only supply. The demand for drugs has never been higher but the suppliers have been more than able to keep up.

This decade has been boom years for drug traffickers. Transportation security is now focused entirely upon catching people bringing shoes and underwire bras onto airplanes. Durg smugglers are getting free passes. When was the last time the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was involved in a drug bust? Trick question - the TSA is part of a drug smuggling network. No, they were not just a few rogue employees, the TSA has its own drug smuggling plane.

There is also Afghanistan, where the US military has been fighting for years to make the country safe for opium production. Included in that effort is the US blocking Afghans trying to move from opium into other crops.

This is all proof that a properly motivated political economy can easily control commodity inflation. The key is encouraging agricultural production while ensuring a smoothly efficient transportation system. It helps to have a President who believes in the products and will fight to keep prices low.

Other links: Bush sleeps on opium boom, Afghan drugs for guns, President Bush's drug use in the White House

Friday, May 09, 2008

The Slave State of Burma

The first post-cyclone UN aid arrived in Burma (called Myanmar by its military dictators) yesterday and was promptly stolen by the army. This is not a surprise. Burma is one of only two countries (North Korea is the other) that treats its population like cattle. The junta doesn't give a damn if millions die as long as the generals can profit from their deaths.

The economy of Burma is built upon government enforced slavery. The American corporation Chevron operates natural gas extraction and owns a pipeline in Burma. The pipeline was built with slaves pressed-ganged from local villages. Young girls are kidnapped by the junta and sold into sex slavery abroad. Christine Brinkley wrote an article in LAWeekly about the efforts of Aaron Cohan to efforts to document and help these tortured women.

If ever there is a nation that deserves regime change it is Burma.

Other Links: Burma and tourism, torture in Burma, the children of Burma

Thursday, May 08, 2008

No Sense of Decency

You've done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency? ~ Joseph Ney Welch, Senate hearing, 1954
I first spotted a racial taint to Hillary Clinton's campaign back in December. By the end of January I was totally disgusted by the stench of racism that was a major theme in her attempt to attract older working class whites and dismiss the popular Obama.

Even now, as even her own campaign is realizing that the end is near, Hillary Clinton cannot find the high ground. As explained by the blog Jack and Jill Politics, her reference today to her supporters being "hard working Americans, white Americans" is pure race baiting. She could have said the same thing without the appeal to race. Those two extra words said to divide, said to push the nation into the last century, reveal a baseness to her soul.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

The Case of the Curious Voir Dire

I did my biennial day of jury service yesterday. I didn't get seated (so I can write about it) but I did get interviewed in the jury selection process called Voir Dire. It was a decidedly strange process.

I've been on juries before and the voi dire was simple and straight-forward. Do you know any of the principals involved? Here are the basic facts of the case in question - have you been involved in something similar? Can you be objective? Nothing too bizarre. The questioning yesterday queer, both attorneys were trying the case through the jury selection.

The case is a tad rare, a contested drunk driving arrest, 90% never see a courtroom. The defense counsel discovered a prospective juror who had had a negative encounter with the arresting officer. He cross-examined her at length to elicit de facto testimony attacking the officer. Defense counsel then engaged the jury in an interesting philosophical discussion where he asked us to vote guilt or innocence before the trial started. Calling it a discussion is a bit off, the prospective jurors all sat in stunned silence since we had ignorantly assumed we were expected to listen to the evidence before coming to a conclusion.

The prosecutor was no less strange. She presented the evidence of the case in sufficient detail the trial itself was beginning to look like an afterthought. She then ask which of us might refuse to convict when faced with this evidence. A couple of prospective jurors got browbeaten into agreeing to turn in to the judge any jurors who were obstructing a guilty verdict. The judge through all this was silent except to once observe that he is by habit and reputation completely disinterested.

To my relief I was excused. I'll never know if it was my Joe Stalin mustache, the impression I might be insufficiently sheep-like, or the shocked expression on my face as the lawyers questioned the prospective jurors. Perhaps the prosecutor Googled my name during lunch and discovered the time I wrote favorably about a Joan Baez song that urged us the "raze the prisons to the ground." I can understand how a prosecutor might be put off by that.

I admit I still have a naive opinion of the jury system. I believe in the concept of "twelve men (and women) good and true" selected from the community using their collective wisdom to decide truth and guilt. What I witnessed was a process where the prospective jurors were presented with the details of the case by the lawyers and urged, even hectored, into reaching a verdict before the trail had even begun. The judge, rather than being a learned arbitrator, was barely conscious.

The modern practice of voir dire and the whole modern jury selection process has perverted the justice system.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Rumsfeld: Ass Covering 101

There are just so many ways to describe Donald Rumsfeld's behavior as revealed by Gen. Ricardo Sanchez in his book Wiser In Battle. I could have gone with "World Class Selective Amnesia" or "War and the Art of Creative Fiction" or even "How to Play Fantasy Role Play Games With Real Human Lives."

By 2006 Rumsfeld had finally realized that Iraq was a monumental screw up and he was looking for someone else to blame. The neo-con leadership of the government from Bush and Cheney, through Rumsfeld and Doug Feith, and down to Paul Bremer and Dan Senor, had entered the Iraq War fully delusional. They had expected the Iraq War to be a fun romp in the sand, reminiscent of childhood vacations to the beach. They had believed their own hype about "cake walk," "weeks not months," and "Mission Accomplished" and they had made decisions based on their delusions. The reality in Iraq had been made infinitely worse by those decisions.

In 2006 as the bodies piled up and the war slogged on Donald Rumsfeld was concentrating on one thing - how to get the career military to take all of the blame for the fuck up. He ordered a review and then suppressed it when it didn't parrot his fantasies. He tried bribing Gen. Sanchez. To his credit Sanchez retained his honor.

The Administration's current mindset is to pretend that the first five years of the war never happened - that we have always been in Iraq and we always shall be. They are pretending that Iraq is an independent nation that asked our army into the country when the truth is that Iraq is a colonial possession of the United States, they have asked us to leave (hell, they are setting off bombs to urge us to leave) but we keep ignoring them.

And with eternal optimism the Administration is preparing to attack Iran. Believing with childlike faith that the world secretly wants us to do this. Believing with a frightening innocence that the Iranian people secretly will rejoice when we bomb their country. And believing with the steadiness of simpletons that there will be no long term consequences.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Total Obliteration

Hillary Clinton has a vision for the Middle East that is remarkably similar to the vision shared by John McCain and Dick Cheney. Give or take a few miles on the epicenter their vision looks something like this.
(I found this on another blog ages ago and have been waiting for a chance to use it. I can't give due credit as the original source has been lost in the aether of the internet.)

Friday, May 02, 2008

On Roger Clemens and Political Scandals

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall. ~ Proverbs 16:18
There is are common threads running through the political scandals of our time. The case of Roger Clemens v. The Truth allows us to pick out those threads cleanly.
  1. Everyone is governed by the rules except me. When Clemens lied in Congressional testimony he did it with the calm ease of someone who had gotten a free pass his entire life. When Mark Foley sponsored laws to protect exploited children he was simultaneously stalking underaged Congressional pages. Foley had voted, with the rest of Congress, to exempt congressmen from many of the laws that govern the common rabble. Great athletes have been taught since childhood to use their status to avoid laws - flash their impressive names, sign a couple of autographs, and athletes have even gotten away with murder.
  2. It's about the thrill of it all. Politics and sports are both adrenaline rushes. The high from winning a World Series can only be matched by the high of election victory. Adrenaline is addicting; without it they feel a type of withdrawal. So they take risks. Roger Clemens had his pick nightly from thousands of twenty-something groupies; he slept with a 15 year-old girl because it was more like gambling than coitus. Bill Clinton could have had sex with Monica any number of places, getting a blow job in the Oval Office was a rush that had nothing to do with sex. Some politicians I've known got an almost orgasmic thrill over playing with peoples lives - making decisions that afflict the proletariat made them feel like gods.
  3. Anything to win. As Vince Lombardi said, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." Use banned drugs? Of course if it helps me win. Make up whoppers about dodging snipers? Why not if it makes me sound heroic. Rig an election? As long as we win the worst case is I get a pardon.
  4. A sense of invincibility. It's a side effect of adrenaline addiction. There is an undeflatable self-confidence that has killed off their sense of caution. When Roger Clemens got in trouble he knew he could brazen through it because he is The Rocket. Isn't George Bush all about staring depression and defeat in the eye, laughing that creepy, panting, Peter Lorre snicker and brazenly declaring success. They march into disaster because they can't conceive of failure.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

A Little Thing Called Sportsmanship

This is the way the world should be. This is how politicians should act. This is how businesses should operate. This is how nations should behave.

In a collegiate softball game, Sara Tucholsky, a senior at Western Oregon University, hit her first ever home run. She missed firstbase and while stopping to return and touch it she injured her right knee so badly she could not stand up.

The rules insisted she circle the bases to get credit for the homer. The rules forbade her teammates from assisting her. Her coach couldn't help her; her teammates couldn't help. Mallory Holtman (Central Washington), firstbaseman and leader of the opposing team, approach the umpire. Could she help Sara. The umpire said there was nothing in the rule book to prevent the opposing team from helping an injured player.

So Mallory and a teammate (Liz Wallace) picked up their opponent and carried her around the bases. At each base they gently lowered Sara to allow her to touch the bag with her good leg. By the time they reached home plate both teams and the fans were crying. Sara's home run won the game for Western Oregon and eliminated Washington from the playoffs.

There is more to life than winning. People who live just to defeat their opponents have a shallow, meaningless existence. They may be wealthy and successful but they are morally bankrupt. Being only for our tribe or nation or religion or race, or even team, is to be selfish and inhuman. The true measure of our humanity is how we treat those people who are not "one of us."

Story source is the Associated Press. Photo credit to ESPN. Note to Mike, our Dad wanted me to send this story to you. Here it is.