Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Government Cock Will Not Suck Itself. That's What A Free And Independent Media Is For.

Students at Harvard University have written a devastating paper showing that the American news media routinely referred to waterboarding as "torture" ... until the US government started waterboarding people:
Waterboarding has been the subject of press attention for over a century. Examining the four newspapers with the highest daily circulation in the country, we found a significant and sudden shift in how newspapers characterized waterboarding. From the early 1930s until the modern story broke in 2004, the newspapers that covered waterboarding almost uniformly called the practice torture or implied it was torture .... By contrast, from 2002 - 2008, the studied newspapers almost never referred to waterboarding as torture .... In addition, the newspapers are much more likely to call waterboarding torture if a country other than the United States is the perpetrator.
Link via Jason Kuznicki at The One Best Way blog.

LATER EDIT: I wrote about the media perception of torture in 2006, here. And if I thought the American media was craven in the face of government torture, that's nothing compared to the mass media gaslighting of America in response to the TSA's mandatory genital groping policy.

Equality Fundamentalism

Over at Unqualified Offerings, Thoreau writes about a little experiment that got Arizona State University in trouble with the Department of Justice: the school gave eReaders to students -- though students were not required to use them -- and the DOJ cried foul on the grounds that eReaders are useless for the blind.

Thoreau, who is a physics professor in real life, notes:
this is going to make me sound even more evil, but screw it: Despite what the article says about the problems with “separate but equal”, when it comes to educational technology there may just be cases where we have to accept it. A powerful case can be made for the use of interactive animated simulations when teaching science, e.g. the user gives the mass and length and starting angle of the double pendulum and then the computer shows its chaotic motion. To the extent that a picture is worth a thousand words, and a picture that changes when you change the parameters is worth even more words, it’s going to be close to impossible to produce anything based on text or audio that produces the same pedagogical benefits.
Anyone familiar with American pop culture from the past fifty years or so has seen movies or TV shows featuring cartoony villains who threaten to kill the person they just kidnapped, or destroy the priceless piece of artwork they just stole; the villain's justification is "If I can't have this, nobody can! Bwa ha ha!"

I don't think today's equality fundamentalists understand that "If I can't have it, nobody can" is an expression of psychopathic selfishness, not a noble ideal society should strive to achieve.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Illegal Immigration: Worse Than 9/11

There's a nasty racist undertone to much of America's response to the problems caused by illegal immigration; in many ways it's even worse than how we reacted after 9/11. I compare the two in more detail (and also discuss yesterday's decision by voters in Fremont, Nebraska to require licenses for anyone wishing to rent an apartment, similar to Hazleton, Pennsylvania's proposal in 2006) over at the Guardian.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Asperger's Social Graces Of Tony Hayward

Disclosure: yesterday I took the most cynical action of my life, entering the stock market for the first time to buy a few shares of BP. (They're Too Big To Fail!) With luck, one day I'll make dividends enough to buy a big pack of gum from the local BP station (which used to be a Citgo until the owner moved to what he thought was a better company, poor guy. Sure hope my investment decisions turn out better than his).

Speaking now not as an incredulous blogger but a Concerned Shareholder, I demand to know why BP can't find a CEO with better social skills than Rain Man. Tony Hayward, who earlier complained that he wanted to "get [his] life back," took this weekend off to go to a yacht race in England. How can our company survive if the man at the helm is clueless enough to think "You know what's a good idea? Leaving the oil-ravaged Gulf of Mexico to traipse across the Atlantic and indulge in the sort of pastime only the exceedingly rich can afford."

Actually, his cluelessness doesn't bother me so much as his callousness. Even if he still has a grand time in private behind the closed doors of his mansions -- as I'm sure he does -- in public simple manners, to say nothing of corporate responsibility to the shareholders, demands he comport himself with a certain gravitas.

As a Concerned Shareholder, I cast a vote of no confidence in Hayward's leadership abilities. Push him out, replace his golden parachute with lead, and toss him into the rainbow-streaked waters* off the Louisiana coast. If he's lucky, maybe he'll land on his yacht.

*Disclaimer: Use of the phrase "rainbow-streaked waters" in lieu of "toxic contaminated sludgy horror that wouldn't exist if not for BP's long record of negligence, irresponsibility and callous disregard for the environment" is in no way intended to make the Gulf catastrophe sound less nightmarish than it actually is in a cynical bid to drive up BP's stock price so I can get a free pack of gum.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Kafka Was An Optimist

If you've ever taken Logic 101, one of the first things you learn is that you can't prove a negative. The Department of Homeland Security either doesn't know that, or doesn't care. Over at the Guardian, I discuss the case of Yahya Wehelie, an American citizen stranded in Cairo and forbidden from flying home unless he can prove he is not a threat to national security.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

This Is An Ex-Scientist. He Has Ceased To Be!

Over at the Guardian, Richard Adams is live-blogging the BP oil spill hearings before Congress and reports something I find astonishing:

11.50pm ET: [Committee chairman Ed] Markey [of Massachusetts] is also hitting the oil execs for their inclusion, among their cutting and pasting, of an expert named Dr Peter Lutz, a professor of marine biology in Florida. BP listed Dr Lutz as a consultant in its 2009 disaster response plan – and even included his contact details, including his phone number. Which is great, except that Dr Lutz inconveniently died. In 2005. So he won't be answering the phone.

(Maybe that explains why BP's response has been so poor – they are still waiting for Dr Lutz to get back to them?)

"It seems to me when you included Dr Lutz's phone number in teh plan, you have not taken the plan seriously," says Markey.

Exxon's Tillerson pulls on a suitably grave face in response, and intones that just because Dr Lutz's happens to be dead, "that does not mean the importance of his work died with him". Wow, that wins today's award for chutzpah.

They listed a four-years-dead scientist among their emergency contacts? Amazing. A couple years ago, when I landed my first staff writer job with an alt-weekly, I did not get the formal offer until they'd contacted and spoken to every one of my listed references. I had to pass a criminal background check, too.

In other words: a local fishwrap that paid me poverty wages to write about such topics as phone-sex companies, Furries conventions and trendy guys getting their balls waxed had more stringent oversight of its employees than a wealthy multinational corporation pushing the absolute boundaries of dangerous cutting-edge technology. Jesus.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Tolerance And Sexuality: Iceland, WTF?

Last week the Icelandic parliament voted unanimously to legalize gay marriage. As someone who believes in equal freedoms for all people, I completely support this.

Last March that same Icelandic parliament voted to ban any businesses wherein people profit from nudity; the bill was specifically intended to stamp out strip clubs. As someone who funded her college education by working as a stripper, and furthermore would most likely live in abysmal poverty today had I not danced a decade ago, I vociferously opposed this.

I know religious conservatives who want to ban both gay marriage and strip clubs; of course I disagree with them on these issues but at least give them credit for logical consistency: since religious conservatives tend to dislike any forms of non-procreative sexual expression, their opposition to homosexuality and titillating dance performances don’t contradict each other in any way.

But the legislators in Iceland, embracing admirable open-mindedness in some sexual arenas and disturbing control-freak feminism in others, have all the consistency of liquified Jell-O.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Gone Walkabout

Over at the Guardian I discuss why the Internet is preferable to real life -- at least regarding anti-abortion concern trolls -- and at Explore magazine I discuss why people in the southernmost corner of the Northeast ought to check out the Degas/Picasso exhibit at The Clark.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Childhood Thoughts And Vanity Plots

I’m editing a vanity novel purporting to be filled with James Bond-style international intrigue except the writer lacks (among other things) even the most rudimentary knowledge of Cold War politics; imagine a story about the first successful English colony at Jamestown where, before the colonists boarded the Mayflower, they stopped at a US consulate and droned on for thirteen badly written pages about the hoops they jumped through to get their H1-B visas.

That’s the level of historic accuracy the novel portrays. And as I plow through the story I suddenly remember my childhood, being seven years old and hanging out with friends the same age. We were all playing Star Wars and acting out exciting pretend adventures which we resolved with the same level of sophistication my aspiring Ian Fleming displays:

LITTLE JENNIFER: This is Princess Leia! Mayday! Darth Vader and the stormtroopers are attacking the rebel base and the whole planet is surrounded!

FRIEND #1: This is Han Solo! Let’s use our lightsabers to fight them!

FRIEND #2: This is Luke Skywalker! I’ve got my lightsaber! I’ll fight them too!

(All wave sticks serving double-duty as lightsabers, and shout what they imagine to be lightsaber sound effects.)

ALL OF US: Whoosh! Whoosh! Hum!

FRIEND #1: Darth Vader and the stormtroopers are running away!

FRIEND #2: We beat them!


Such suspense! Will our hero escape the bad guys? Whew! Good thing he was able to run really fast and get away!

Actually, my childhood memories had better plots than this novel, because at least my memories are free of blatant historic inaccuracies. When I talk about my childhood, the stories never sound like this:

FRIEND #2: Take that, Darth Vader!

WHEEZY ASTHMA KID: (inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale) Luke, I am your father.

LITTLE JENNIFER: You’re not Luke’s dad! That doesn’t happen until Empire Strikes Back, and since I’m only seven they haven’t started filming it yet.

WHEEZY ASTHMA KID: I swear by my hot ex-wife Natalie Portman it doesn’t matter, because you’ll edit vanity novels when you grow up and run into worse anachronisms than this all the time! Something something something Dark Side.

LITTLE JENNIFER: I will not! You take that back! (Bonks him on head with lightsaber.) Take that, too! I just shot you full of electricity and threw you down the big canyon we keep on the Death Star and now you’re dead. So there.

WHEEZY ASTHMA KID: That doesn’t happen until Return of the Jedi.

FRIEND #2: Also, you’re thinking of the Emperor.

LITTLE JENNIFER: I don’t care. He started it.

And now, back in the present day, I refer you to the steamy, sexually explicit vanity romance novel I wrote here.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Gores At the Tippering Point

I've hated Tipper Gore ever since she started her anti-music crusade when I was a teenager; if that pious freedom-hating prude had had her way, it would have been illegal for me to buy most of my favorite albums. I've hated Al Gore ever since I heard him give a speech saying that for save-the-earth reasons, nobody should have more than two kids (what bothered me wasn't the sentiment itself so much as knowing it came from a hypocrite who already had four children at the time). And now the Gores are separating, after being married longer than I've been alive.

Too bad. If they're separating that presumably means they'll no longer be having sexual relations, which means I'll never live out my personal fantasy of learning the two of them died after choking on each other in flagrante soixante-neuf. Dang.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Sergeant Jupiter Demoted; Loses Stripe

The red cloud band in Jupiter's southern hemisphere is missing.

Drug Offenses Get Lamer With Age

In my college days, when I'd say "I hope I don't get arrested over the drugs I've bought" I usually meant that in the marijuana sense of the word. Nowadays I worry about getting arrested over cold medicine. Have I grown that much lamer in my old age? No; the anti-drug stick up the government's ass has grown that much sharper. Over at the Guardian, I talk about how it's utter bullshit that I, a presumably free citizen of a theoretically free republic, had to be scanned into corporate and law enforcement databases just to buy cold medicine that works.
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