Monthly Archives: April 2014

Laurie Penny may as well be writing about the Tea Party

Laurie Penny is not only someone with whom I agree on many, if not most, issues. She is also a terrific writer. Her piece today for the New Statesman is one that’s well worth reading even if you don’t follow UK politics and don’t know who Nigel Farage is. There’s a lot about that UK Independence Party that should seem familiar to American readers and it’s interesting to see how “Populist Conservatism” manifests in other environments.

The anti-elite, anti-intellectual, xenophobes exist on both sides of the Atlantic, but their parties are like fun house mirror versions of each other. Only, in this case, both images are warped and disturbing.

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Sarah Palin explains why she should never, ever be in charge

I were in charge they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.”

-Sarah Palin

Brevity is the soul of “omg what is wrong with us as a country that we have ever taken this woman seriously?”

I know a lot has been written about this statement already, but I won’t be able to sleep properly until I say my peace. For starters, I don’t know if Ms. Palin considers waterboarding to be “torture” or not, but it really doesn’t matter what she think; it is considered torture under international law. This is important because, when Reagan signed the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, this international law because U.S. law. Sarah Palin is blithely stating that, if she were President, she would set out to break the law*.

Now, since she reads all the magazines, I’m going to assume that Ms. Palin is up to speed on the Senate report on torture which concluded, among other things*, that it doesn’t actually work as an intelligence gathering tool. Unless I’m missing something, that suggests that she’s advocating torture not as a means of keeping the country safe but just as a way to hurt people accused of being terrorists just for the sake of hurting them.

That’s not really true; not just for the sake of hurting them. By saying that she would “baptize” the prisoners, she’s also forcing a religious rite on them that is presumably against their beliefs. You could argue that she was just incredibly clumsy in her choice of words, but that strikes me as extremely unlikely. Given the crowd, given her past, given everything else in the speech, I think the word “baptize” was chosen very carefully.

So, to summarize, she’s saying that if she were President, she would willfully break the law to hurt people for no reason other than to hurt them and to abuse their religion at the same time.

Over beers during happy hour, you hear these sorts of wild, unlikely hypotheticals all the time: “If I won the lottery..” or “If I were king…” and the like. There nothing particularly harmful about them because they’ll never ever come true. The same should be true of someone like Sarah Palin saying “If I were in charge…” but there are still so many people who take her seriously that I can’t completely dismiss her as a noisy crank. It’s not that she says really dumb things; it’s that people hear it any think “yeah, that makes sense to me.”

But honestly, she should be dismissed as a noisy crank, and anyone who buys into her views should be mocked openly and often for it.

* Those other things include “Why yes, we have tortured the crap out of people, even by the extremely narrow definition of torture that some people insisted on using.

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Epichairekakia

No, I’m not even a little happy that Gundotra’s leaving and I’m sorry for his recent misfortunes. However, if this really means, as BoingBoing* suggests, the end of forced integration with G+, then the world will be ever slightly a better place.

 

* The title is the link. I can’t change it without hosing the formatting. WordPress templates are a little wonky.

 

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25/04/2014 · 9:26 pm

Epic Phishing E-Mail Is Epic

 

Ok, the message itself isn’t particularly epic. But, check out the link the URL pointed to. Someone actually paid for that domain name. Well played, sir or madam. Well played.

troll

(And yes, I still have a Yahoo mail account.)

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25/04/2014 · 3:59 pm

American Shadow-Play

“He makes the voices and moves the puppets. He directs the gamelan musicians. His job is to make us laugh and cry. Very clever man. The dalang is more than a puppeteer. His skill makes us believe that we see a war between two great armies, but there is no war. There is only the dalang.”

(from Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles)

You’ve probably already seen the Princeton report which concludes that the United States is no longer a functional democracy. I doubt that the determination that the U.S. is an oligarchy surprises very many readers. While the feverish true believers on both ends of the political spectrum (and goodness knows I’m one) accuse the other side’s candidates of evil of an almost apocalyptic level, the truth is that things don’t seem to change very much no matter which party is in charge.  Neither George Bush was not a Nazi nor Barack Obama a Marxist.Their policies have been, for the most part, remarkably similar. This is what you’d expect in a government that pays lip service to voters but in fact serves other masters.

However, it’s probably worth asking: “What does it mean to say that the U.S. is an oligarchy?” Sahil Kupur of Talking Points Memo sat down with Martin Gilens, one of the authors of the study, and asked that exact question. Here’s the TL/DR:

Let’s talk about the study. If you had 30 seconds to sum up the main conclusion of your study for the average person, how would you do so?

 

I’d say that contrary to what decades of political science research might lead you to believe, ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States. And economic elites and interest groups, especially those representing business, have a substantial degree of influence. Government policy-making over the last few decades reflects the preferences of those groups — of economic elites and of organized interests.

In other words, it’s means exactly what you probably already think. The folks who are organized and have a lot of money influence the government; those who aren’t organized and don’t have a lot of money don’t. TPM being a lefty site, the interviewer makes a couple of attempts to get Gilens to say one side is worse than the other, but he won’t bite. It’s a nonsense line of questioning. The primarily conclusion of the study is that there aren’t “two sides” in any effective sense. It’s like asking if the puppet on the left hand is better than the puppet on the right hand.

I’m going to go out on a limb and make the assumption that this is not what we’d consider an optimal system. If that’s the case, how do we fix it? Is it even fixable, or, at least, fixable without resorting to the “heads on pikes” solution? Gilens points out the decline of unions as a factor in why business has uncontested control of the government. Of course, since business does effectively control the government, any union comeback or other labor movement will be swimming upstream. Business will use the government to try to prevent labor from organizing.

Not that there isn’t some precedent for that sort of thing.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that again, but I’m not optimistic.

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A jövő sokkal egyenletesebben oszlik el, mint gondolnánk

Hello! Üdvözöljük az összes barátom Magyarországon! Lehet, hogy nem voltak barátai Magyarországon, de akkor is, ha nem a barátom , köszönöm , hogy benéztél . Írom ezt bemutatni , milyen csodálatos a jövő . Írtam ezen a poszton az angol , valamint egy egyszerű fordítási eszköz, amely elérhető bárki térítés nélkül fordítani ezt az üzenetet az izlandi .

Biztos vagyok benne, hogy a fordítás rossz , és hogy minden iskolában tanít adna nekem egy elégtelen jegy ezen a poszton. A jövő csodálatos, de nem tökéletes. A lényeg az, hogy azt hiszem, a legtöbb ember, aki tud olvasni a Magyar lesz képes megérteni, hogy mit próbálok mondani. Ami azt illeti , én fogadok, hogy az emberek, akik olvasni más nyelveken is tudja használni az eszközt fordítani az üzenetem , és megérteni, mit akarok mondani.

Néha elfelejtem, milyen csodálatos az, hogy él most. De emlékszem, harminc éve , amikor virágot küldött Magyarországra . A folyamat több hetet vett igénybe a sok pénzt , és sok szerencsét befejezéséhez . Ma, egészen biztos vagyok benne , hogy én is ugyanezt csinálja, csak egy perc leforgása alatt , és jóval alacsonyabb költséggel .

A mindössze harminc év , mi csodálatos új capabilites mentek attól, hogy “tudományos-fantasztikus ” a ” világi ” az egy szempillantás alatt . Kíváncsi vagyok, milyen csodákat az elkövetkező harminc évben fog hozni .

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No way, Jose

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho was not especially impressed with the referee’s performance during the match against Sunderland on Saturday:

“I just want to say four things and I’m sorry because if you ask me more questions, I’ll repeat exactly the same thing.”

“Congratulations to my players because they gave what they have and what they don’t have.

“Congratulations to Sunderland, because they won.

“Congratulations to Mike Dean, because he made a fantastic performance.

“And congratulations to Mike Riley, because what they did during the season was fantastic for the way the championship is going.

“Congratulations to all of them – and I have nothing more to say.”

You are probably think you can imagine the eye-rolling and sarcasm in Mourinho’s voice, but you’re probably not even half-way there. It’s an impressive performance.

In fairness, the referee did not have a great day. The winning penalty awarded to Sunderland was probably not even a foul. Chelsea probably deserved a penalty earlier in the match. On the other hand, Samuel Eto’o clearly held and swung his defender away when he scored the opening goal, and somehow, the ref somehow missed this bit of brilliance by Chelsea’s Ramires.

Of course, I don’t remember The Special One* being quite that upset at the referee’s performance in the match against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge. The referee had a horrible game. Samuel Eto’o spiked Liverpool’s Jordsen Henderson in the knee long after the ball had gone. Nothing was called, but even Eto’o admitted after the match he should have been red-carded. John Terry mugged Luis Suarez in the penalty box and got away with. Oh, and near the end of the match, Eto’o flew in and hip-checked Suarez into the ground in the penalty area. Chelsea were probably slightly the better team, but if the ref had done his job, Liverpool would have had several penalties and Chelsea would have finished the match with eight or nine players.

I have some sympathy for Mourinho. The ref was genuinely awful during the Sunderland match. Based on the run of play, a draw would probably have been the right result instead of the loss. I hate seeing mistakes by the officials decide matches. So, if Chelsea lose the title by a point, they can feel robbed. I’d have a lot more sympathy if Mourinho had said something like “we were fortunate” after the Liverpool match, rather than complain about how the refs robbed his team. If Liverpool lose the title to Chelsea, they’re the team that can really feel aggrieved.

* Yes, that’s Jose Mourinho’s nickname. He gave it to himself.

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How To Fail At Business The Square Enix Way!

Always, always make sure your product is less desirable and useful to your customers than one they can get free with minimal effort and risk. Make sure it runs worse, isn’t portable to another computer when the customer buys a new one, will cease working if they have no network connection or if your company decides to stop supporting the product. Especially make sure that your product is crippled in these ways while at the same time pirated versions of the product face none of these hurdles.

The problem, and I hate to keep repeating this, is that facing a problem by attacking your paying customers is really, really dumb.* They’re your allies, they’re the people paying your salaries. Don’t make life harder on them! Don’t encourage them to seek out other ways to get what you’re selling. Don’t punish them for paying you especially if your efforts to fight piracy are wholly ineffective. DRM is no more than a speed bump to a software pirate.

I get that Square Enix doesn’t want people stealing their games. I don’t want people stealing their games. I live in hope that someday Square Enix will make another game as good as FFX, although that hope diminishes with each new release. I’m just disappointed that they seem to be stubbornly clinging to a model that doesn’t actually stop people from stealing their games, but does make things worse for the paying customer.

* This is known as “The Metallica Business Model”

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April 18 is a very special day!

Twenty-six years ago today, Ronald Wilson Reagan, the President of the United State of America, signed the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Even though Reagan isn’t my favorite former U.S. President, I have to give him kudos for signing this document. The Convention declares that the signatories won’t torture people and will prosecute anyone who does so. You’d think signing something like this would be a no-brainer, but seeing how hard it can be to get the U.S. government to commit to anything, I think Reagan deserves points for this one.

It’s a surprisingly solid treaty. For example, if a politician tries to justify bad treatment by stating that, say, waterboarding isn’t really torture*, well, the Convention has that covered. Even though, in this case, the politician is factually incorrect, his attempt to use semantics to get out of it doesn’t help under Article 16 of the Convention: Even if its not “torture,” if it’s degrading or inhumane? It’s illegal.

There’s no “Jack Bauer” exception to the Convention. Article 2 makes it clear that there are no circumstances under which torture is permissible in any area under the jurisdiction or authority of a signatory state. Articles 12 and 13 require investigation and prosecution of torturers. Article 8 ensures that torture is a crime for which extradition applies. Article 15 makes it illegal to use evidence gained by torture in court. Oh, and Article 5 establishes universal jurisdiction in cases where extradition won’t occur.

Yep, 26 years ago to, the Ronald Reagan signed Convention against Torture. Fast-forward to today, and:

CIA’s use of harsh interrogation techniques went beyond legal authority, Senate report says

The folks at Lowering The Bar have a good summary (and links to the conclusions from the Senate report). Their summary is so good, in fact, that I’m going to gank their bullet points:

  • The CIA tortured people;
  • Even under to the DOJ’s definition of “torture,” it tortured people;
  • It lied about how many people it tortured;
  • It lied about how brutal the torture was;
  • It “avoided or impeded” congressional oversight;
  • It lied about whether the torture worked; and
  • The torture didn’t work.

Obviously, given that the U.S. is signatory to an international treaty against exactly this sort of thing, this is Very Bad News for some people. Lest you think that this is just me piling on the Bush era hawks like Cheney and Rumsfeld, the determination that the CIA was involved in torture is also bad news for the current administration. If they knew about this and haven’t investigated and prosecuted the allegations, or, heaven forbid, they’ve allowed the same bad actors to continue acting badly or even ordered them to do so…? Then they’re every bit as culpable under the law.

Thus far, only the Bush crew appear to be getting any heat for this, but that may change, especially if it turns out that the Obama administration has continued or even expanded on the lawlessness of the previous administration. It would certainly help explain why Obama’s been trying to shut down the Spanish probe.

Now, I have no clue if anyone in the U.S. is actually guilty of torture, let alone specific people who should be prosecuted. However, there does seem to be reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, that there is, without question, a binding legal framework for investigating and prosecuting any wrongdoing that might have occurred. Unfortunately, I don’t have a great deal of confidence that this will actually happen.

So, hooray for President Reagan and the United States for signing the anti-torture convention twenty six years ago today. Too bad the country couldn’t stick to it.

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Happy Tax Day!

I remember when the Tea Party had their big coming out party on 15 April, 2009. They were protesting, well, it’s hard to know exactly what they were protesting since they seemed to really hate Obama but they were protesting on the day when the taxes for the last year under W were due, so who knows? Still, they were protesting against taxes.

Now, six years into the Obama administration, we have lower taxes than we had under Reagan, Clinton, and both Bushes. I expect the Tea Party to rally in support of the President with scores of “Thanks Obama!” banners. It’s either that, or they like higher taxes. I mean, what other possible explanation is there…?

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