Monthly Archives: July 2013

The Halliburton Silver Lining

As you may be aware, Halliburton recently plead guilty to charges of destroying evidence pertaining to the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. A deeply-repentant Halliburton agreed to pay the largest fine the law allows. Of course, the law only allows a maximum fine of $200,000, but it would be cynical to question Halliburton’s sincerity, right?

Some people might think that $200,000 is a ridiculous sum for destroying evidence relating to the investigation of an event that killed 11 people,  marred the Gulf of Mexico for both fishing and tourism, and cost local governments billions of dollars. I get that.  One suspects that the evidence that was destroying might have lead to fruitful prosecutions, but we’ll never know, will we?

So let’s not dwell on what might have been. Instead, let’s see what good we can take from this.  This settlement could set an interesting precedent. The punishment for destroying evidence for a crime that killed 11 people is $200,000. That’s, what, about $18,000 per death?  $18,000 per death. I bet we can find a use for that number.

If a human life is worth $18,000, then stealing $18,000 is equivalent to taking a life, right? So, now we have something to use to go after white collar criminals like bankers and such, right? For every $18,000 they steal, that’s a count of…let’s be generous and call it “manslaughter.” “Murder” seems harsh.  If you embezzle $1,000,000, that’s 55 counts of “manslaughter.” 

Or, let’s flip it around: If the maximum penalty for manslaughter is $18,000, then the maximum prison sentence should be, I don’t know, the amount of time it would take to earn $18,000 at minimum wage?  The national minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, so we’re looking at about 15 months. Anything more would be cruel and unusual, right?

I know I’ve beaten this horse to death in the past, but it just seems to make sense. I know our justice system doesn’t play favorites and treat different types of crime, albeit of equivalent degree, differently. I’m just trying to tweak that balance a little bit. I mean, c’mon, I’m not that cynical, right?

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Rick Perry Thinks You’re Stupid (vol. CXXLI)

Man, Texas governor and briefly-viable presidential candidate Rick Perry sure is ticked off about the Justice Department attempted to force preclearance on Texas’ redistricting plan: 

“Once again, the Obama Administration is demonstrating utter contempt for our country’s system of checks and balances, not to mention the U.S. Constitution,” Perry said in a written statement. “This end-run around the Supreme Court undermines the will of the people of Texas, and casts unfair aspersions on our state’s common-sense efforts to preserve the integrity of our elections process.”*

The Justice Department is citing Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act in its effort to impose pre-clearance on Texas. As you know, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 was unconst….wait, what? They didn’t say boo about Section 3. The Supreme Court struck down Section 4. No matter how they teach math in Texas, 3 is not the same thing as 4.

Therefore, what Perry is complaining about is that the executive branch is enforcing a law passed by the legislative branch that hasn’t been found unconstitutional by the judicial branch. This is what Perry refers to as “utter contempt for our country’s system of checks and balances, not to mention the U.S. Constitution.” I don’t think Perry is really that dumb. But he obviously thinks that this kind of nonsense will appeal to the good people of the great state of Texas, so he seems to think that Texans are really, really dumb.

Section 3 is really interesting. It allows the federal government to impose preclearance on a state or county if it is found to have enacted intentionally discriminatory voting measures. You might think that “intentionally discriminatory” would be a tough bar to clear, but remember that this is Texas we’re talking about. 

The last time that the courts looked at Texas’ redistricting plans, they found them to be “intentionally discriminatory.” Shocking, I know. So when Perry talks about the redistricting plans reflecting the “will of the people of Texas,” it means that he doesn’t just think that Texas are stupid. He thinks they’re racist, too.

* Yes, I know I quoted half the post I linked. I am not repentant.

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Not exactly a review of Pacific Rim

Here there by spoilers!*

A Few Things I Didn’t Like So Well:

-I know it’s not meant to be realistic, but if they’re going to explain things, then the explanation should either be the equivalent of “it’s magic” or the explanation should work. When Charlie Day’s character says that the DNA of each monster is identical, that they’re clones…first of all, why DNA? Second, they’re not identical. The movie goes to pains to point out that the kaiju are “evolving”, which means their DNA is changing. What made it truly annoying is that it was utterly inconsequential. The monsters’ DNA or origin or whatever was never brought up again.

-A supposedly math-oriented scientist took up four chalkboards (chalkboards?) to come up with a pattern to the number sequence 16, 8, 4, 2…etc. His recognition of this pattern was supposed to be something we’d be impressed with.

-Sending a lone scientist to deal with a shady underworld type who has a relationship with the military leader, not the scientist, is silly. Cut it out.

-The Vulcan mind-meld thing was actually pretty cool, but since it’s a high-risk operation, was there really any reason to test two pilots for compatibility in a live-weapons situation?

-I wish we’d gotten to know the other jaegers and jaeger pilots a little more. Striker Eureka was cool as hell looking and I was really interested in Cherno Alpha and, to a lesser degree, Crimson Typhoon. We never really got to see any of them win any fight.

-The only showing that fight our schedule was in 3D. The 3D is used to very good effect, but the loss of brightness was a bummer.

Things I Liked Quite Well:

-I love love love the ways the jaegers moved. One of the things that drove me batty about Transformers is that the huge robots were fast and nimble. Not only did that make for very twitchy viewing, it takes away from the sense of mass, of hugeness. The jaegers were BIG and everything in the way they moved said “big.” I’m surprised so few films get this right.

-The design of the whole film was fantastic. The monsters looked great, the jaegers looked great.

-The girl who played the young Mako Mori deserves as many awards as she can hold. And years of therapy. I’ve never seen horror expressed so well on screen.

-While the lead character was bland (not really his fault, it’s a script problem), the supporting characters were interesting. Mako Mori steals the film, I liked the Aussies, I probably would have liked the Russians, and getting Charlie Day and Ron Perlman together is genius.

-Ellen McLain. ‘Nuf said.

-It’s remarkably lean in the right places. The amount of hand-to-hand fighting by humans is minimal, and it’s brief.

-Some people died truly horrible deaths. I mean, the kind that stick with you, not funny-horrible. It gave a sense of real danger to the battles. This wasn’t just a rock’em sock’em robot fight-inside those huge shells were very vulnerable people.

-It was fun to see a new mythos that was obviously inspired by other properties, but was entirely new and didn’t rely on winkingly referencing its predecessors.

-In a related note, it was nice to see a film that didn’t involve JJ Abrams pissing all over the original concept of the property.

-It was a boatload of fun to watch. It’s not a short movie, but I would have been happy to see more, not less of it.

So, yeah, it was well worth seeing. I’d enjoy seeing it again. There’s some melodrama, but I’d say it’s less emotionally impactful than, say, “Real Steel” (poor Noisy Boy). This was a film that knew what it wanted to be and executed it really, really well. I hope it makes bags of money. Big bags. And I hope Del Toro continues to do whatever the hell he wants, because he’s a fun director who does fun projects.

* Actually, I’m not entirely certain what qualifies as a “spoiler.” With some films, some information is obviously meant to be a surprise (Crying Game, I’m looking at you!), but for most films, it’s hard to see how knowing what is going to happen would “spoil” the film.

Interestingly enough, research shows that you’re more likely to enjoy films is you already know what is going to happen. This makes the whole “spoiler” thing seem like an invitation more than a warning, doesn’t it?

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In Memory of Trayvon

I know you’ve already read more than you care to read about the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, but I’m not quite done thinking about it, which means I’m not quite done writing about it. So, please indulge me this time.

I’m of the opinion that a terrible injustice was done. I can’t say, with any certainty, that I can precisely determine which party was to blame to which degree. What we do know, however, makes me quite certain that Zimmerman was not free of guilt. What we know, based on his own words, is that he pursued a kid that “looked suspicious” but was otherwise not doing anything wrong. We know that the police asked him not to follow Martin. We know that Neighborhood Watch guidelines forbid it. We know that he exited his vehicle to pursue Martin on foot, again, against advice and guidelines. We know that Zimmerman was carrying a gun, also against Neighborhood Watch guidelines. 

No matter what happened after that, I find it impossible to believe that Zimmerman is blameless in the death of Trayvon Martin. Even if the rest of Zimmeran’s testimony was truthful (at least the parts that he didn’t change), I believe that he bears some weight of guilt.

However, according to Florida law, the jury had no choice to find him not guilty. In Florida, when self-defense is claimed, the burden of proof lies on the state. Since there were no other witnesses, it was always going to be an uphill battle to convict Zimmerman. Blame the law, not the jury.

As you might be aware, I am not the only person that feels that letting Zimmerman off without any punishment for killing Martin. People are outraged, and I cannot blame them for that. But outrage will not bring Martin back. There are people who wish to see Zimmerman prosecuted under civil rights laws and I feel for them. Given Zimmerman’s history, it wouldn’t be reasonable to think that Martin’s race wasn’t a factor in Zimmerman’s decision to provoke a confrontation. But perverting our double-jeopardy laws to punish Zimmerman won’t bring Martin back. Nothing will.

This next bit is my opinion. I won’t pretend to speak for Martin’s family or friends or other people closer to the situation than I. It is my belief that the best outcome we can hope for, and the best way to honor Martin, would not be to pursue a conviction against Zimmerman. It would be to find a way to change these absurd laws that allowed Zimmerman to do what he did. The kid didn’t deserve to die, and Zimmerman didn’t deserve to walk. We can’t change either of those things, but maybe, we can prevent this heartbreaking situations from playing out again and again.

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A Spoiler-Free Non-Review of “Grown Ups 2”

I do not like most Adam Sandler movies. I especially do not like the one where Sandler plays a man-child who has to “grow up” to get whatever prize he’s after. He always gets said prize, even though his “growing up” is perfunctory at best and the film always hints that other people learn more from him than he learns from them.

In other words, almost every Adam Sandler movie.

It finally occurred to me today exactly why I don’t like Adam Sandler movies. It’s not that they’re not funny. I mean, sure, they’re not funny to me, but “not funny” isn’t enough to evoke the kind of reaction I have to his films. It’s not even that they’re formulaic (and oh my stars are they formulaic). Sometimes, it’s fun to watch a movie that offers a pleasant ride an zero surprises.

The thing that gets under my skin about Sandler’s movies is this: They presume that you’re supposed to root for Sandler even though they’re too lazy to give you any reason to do so. He’s Ferris Bueller without any of the wit or charm. He’s just a guy who gets by on being immature and it somehow works out for him in the end. Why would I root for that guy? I want that guy to fail. I want him to fail so badly that he serves as a lesson to everyone else acting like a complete jackass all the time isn’t cute or charming; it’s just annoying. 

I’m not even totally against complete jackasses. But for goodness’ sake, please give us some reason to like the jackass or else don’t expect me to root for him.

 

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I Can’t Really Find Any Silver Linings Here

Well…if you’re an immigrant, or a woman, or black (especially if you’re black), you know where you stand in the eyes of the law. At least we can vote to change it, right?

Here’s hoping there will be a swift, severe backlash against not just the party, but the whole mindset, that brought this on.

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Two weeks after Google Reader

I knew that I was going to miss Google Reader. I didn’t know just how much I was going to miss it.

My RSS feed has replaced newspapers in my monring commute. It’s a small thing, but I still find the pull model very appealing. It works for me so well that I hadn’t given it much thought until Google announced that they were shuttering Reader.
I tried out a few of the other RSS readers out there, but I didn’t really put a lot of time into them. That was a mistake. Once Google Reader shut down, I was way more screwed than I expected.
My requirements for the reader are fairly simple:
– It has to have a web-based reader and a mobile app. A mobile site ain’t good enough.
– It has to sync between the two, so when I read an item on my phone, it shows as “read” on the web.
– The mobile app has to be easily navigated with one hand (I seldom get to sit down on the train).
– It needs to work with a single login, and preferably, with my Google login.
That’s about it. There are some other interface elements that are important, but not necessarily required. The trick is that it should be easy and intuitive to navigate. Exactly how they go about that isn’t terribly important.
Google Reader ticked off all the boxes so easily that I wasn’t aware of just how unique it was. I’ve tried several other readers and they all fall well short of these simple requirements.
Feedly was the best-reviewed reader and it does have a clean, pretty interface and a nice mobile app. Where it falls down is that the interface is annoying as hell and the sync is inconsistent.
I’m on the beta for AOLReader and Digg Reader. Neither of them have a mobile app yet.
I signed up for a couple of more obscure betas, but they don’t have mobile apps that work on my phone (an ancient Evo).
The best I’ve found so far is The Old Reader. There are some quirky interface decisions (why the non-standard scroll bars?), and the mobile app is a 3rd party piece that struggles with some embedded media. Come to think of it, their web interface has that problem too. But…it does the important stuff. It syncs, it’s easy to navigate, and it doesn’t make me want to throw my phone at things.
I still haven’t found “the” answer, but this’ll do for now. Anyone have any suggestions?

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Atheists and Foxholes

Ho boy, I love this one. Fox News published this piece with the headline “Is The Obama Admin. Imposing Anti-Religious Culture In Military?” It’s another one of those articles that’s difficult to respond to because it’s wrong on so many levels in so many ways. I’ll do my best, though, because this an exceptionally poor bit of journalism, even by the low, low standards of Fox News.

Let’s start with the weirdly-abbreviated Cavuto’d* headline: If you actually read the article, you’ll find that the study deals with supposed abuses against religious practice in military going back to 2005 when the Oval Office was but a gleam in Senator Obama’s eye. Of course, the goal is to paint Obama as the “other”, as a non-Christian, and the headline serves that purpose in Fox’s “Outcome-oriented journalism” world. It’s a small thing, but it hints as the nature of what’s to come.

Now, let’s look at a couple of examples of religious repression cited in the article:

“In 2010 Perkins, a Marine veteran and ordained minister was disinvited to address the National Prayer Luncheon at Andrews Air Force Base after he publicly spoke in opposition to the administration’s effort to repeal the ban on open homosexuality in the military.”

“In May, 2010, Franklin Graham, the son of Billy Graham, was disinvited to the Pentagon’s National Day of Prayer service by the Army because of his comments about Islam.”

I grouped these two together because they illustrate similar principles. Neither of them have anything to do with the actual practice of religion; they’re examples of the military choosing not to give people who express bigoted views the opportunity to speak at a military function. Franklin Graham can practice his religion in any way he chooses, but he does not have a right to express those views in a military or otherwise government-sponsored function.

Let me digress here for a moment. It’s offensive to wrap your personal bigotry in the cloak of religious freedom. Christian leaders have historically spoken out in favor of slavery, of segregation, of wars, and of keeping women in their place. Those views were, rightly I think, minority views and they serve to condemn the people who espoused them, but not the religion as a whole. Cutting bigots extra slack because they claim their bigotry is part of their religion is something we really need to stop doing. And, if their bigotry really IS part of their religion, then their religion doesn’t merit being taken seriously. Now, on to another example:

On Sept. 1, 2011 the Air Force Chief of Staff sent a service-wide memorandum chilling religious speech. “Leaders at all levels must balance Constitutional protections for an individual’s free exercise of religion or other personal beliefs and its prohibition against governmental establishment of religion,” wrote Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz

This is “chilling?” These seems almost painfully hedged and reasonable to me. I’m not sure what I’m missing here, but I support this statement unreservedly.

On Sept. 14, 2011 Walter Reed National Military Medical Center issued an official patient and visitor policy banning Bibles. The policy was later revoked after a political firestorm erupted in the House of Representatives.

I love this one. This rule was created at the request of servicemen who were being harried by proselytizing evangelicals. It was, however, poorly worded. It was also never enforced and since rescinded. Again, it speaks to the military’s seemingly-reasonable attempt to strike a balance between the free practice of religion and not forcing it on people.

There are some cases cited that do seem to cross the line, but given the nature of the source, I’m taking them with a grain of salt. Taken as a whole, the examples of the administration’s efforts to clamp down on religious expression in the military seem surprisingly weak. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that Fox and the Family Research Council were trying to gin up outrage against Obama for partisan reasons rather than out of any real sense of outrage.

And, of course, I don’t know better.

* Jon Stewart coined the neologism “Cavuto.” It’s a verb meaning “to make a controversial statement and then give yourself deniability by putting a question

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Chaos in Tejas*

I wanted to wait until after the fourth before posting on this, but there’s quite a bit of fascinating news out of the Lone Star State these days. The Governor of Texas, Rick Perry, really, really, really wants the legislature to pass a law that will dramatically restrict when and where a legal abortion may be performed.  There’s quite a bit of speculation as to exactly why he’s so gung-ho for this law. Some say it’s because there’s a glaring conflict of interest. Others have suggested that it’s part of his party’s pattern of punishing voting blocks that don’t tend to vote Republican. It could just be a cynical attempt to fire up the social conservative base. Or, less cynically, maybe he just really believes that abortion is awful and should be made as close to illegal as the law will currently allow.

I’m hoping it’s that last one. But, even if it is? His efforts are sorely misguided. If you want to read a really strong piece on the subject, here ya go. She says much that I’ve been trying to say but haven’t found the words to express. If that’s too long, let me summarize my thoughts on the subject.

– I’ve never met anyone who is “pro-abortion.” ** The pro-choice folks I know don’t regard abortion as a good thing and view it as a last resort when all else has failed.

– Outlawing abortion does not reduce the number of abortions. It makes abortions illegal, expensive, and dangerous. This point cannot be made strongly enough. If you want to reduce the number of abortions (and who doesn’t?), outlawing abortions does nothing to achieve this goal.

– Defining a fertilized egg as a human life is not helpful. As the linked article points out, if people really believed that every fertilized egg was a precious human baby, there are far greater causes of those two cells failing to become a baby than abortion that ought to be the subject of far more scrutiny than abortions. They aren’t, of course, because people don’t really believe that two cells are the same thing as a baby.

– People who are pro-choice tend to support policies that reduce abortions. They tend to support education and contraception. Meanwhile, people who define themselves as pro-life tend to oppose education and contraception. Since the best way to avoid an abortion is to avoid becoming pregnant by mistake, the pro-life policies are, unintentionally, working to increase the number of abortions performed. Not everyone falls conveniently into these buckets, so if you’re an exception, that’s great, but I do not think that it detracts from the point I’m making.

I’m finding the political maneuvers fascinating to watch. It’s hard to know which side has the majority of voters behind them on this one. Not that it should matter; rights are not determined by majority rule. It will, however, be interesting to see how this summer impacts the coming election cycle. I get the impression both sides feel there’s political hay to be made, which is disappointing. But, I also feel like, for the first time in quite a while, the Texas progressives have enough weight to avoid being bullied, and that gives me hope.

My guess is that Perry will get his bill. He has the votes for it and he’s put a lot of his political capital on the line. If he wants to make another run at the Oval Office in 2016 (oh please, yes, let him get in front of the national media again), he can’t afford to lose this one. But, it’ll come at the cost of hurting the Texas Republican party for a very long time, which is a pretty decent silver lining.

* Yes, I ganked the title “Chaos in Tejas” from a pretty cool punk rock festival. Check them out.

** Then there’s Michelle Malkin and her “twitchy” site. She wants to be the Drudge Report of Twitter, a low bar indeed, but she’s failed to clear it in spectacular fashion. Her formula is:

1. Find a tweet that says something that could be objectionable if you misinterpret it.

2. Misinterpret it.

3. Imply that this tweet represents all liberals.

4. Feign outrage.

It gets boring pretty quickly. She also seems to believe that there is such thing as a “pro-abortion” movement (see here, here, and here).That last one is especially annoying because she implies that making a mistake, then admitting it and correcting it, is something that disqualifies you from being a journalist. Oh, and what’s even better is that Malkin, as usual, focuses on one side using children (which sucks, btw) and ignore all the pro-lifers who puts duct tape over their childrens’s mouths in 100+ degree weather (which not only sucks, it’s really dangerous).

I like this post as well.  It’s obtuse to the point of being comical. First of all, there’s nothing remotely ironic about pointing out that politicians are not doctors even if you support the Affordable Care Act which is about paying for health care, not providing it. Apples and oranges. And besides, what makes anyone think that the woman holding the sign supports the ACA? It’s a cheap attempt at snark being trumpeted as “hilarious irony” that is, of course, neither.

I used to think that freerepublic.com was “the dumbest place on the internet,” but twitchy is really giving them a run for their money.

*

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