Archive for August, 2010

Stuff

August 31, 2010

  • Matt Taibbi: Tea Party Rocks Primaries
  • The Onion: When You Think McDonough’s Auto Repair, You Think Craftsmanship, Murder, And Pride
  • Lauri Apple: Did You ‘Restore Honor’ (Have Secret Gay Sex) at GlennBeckPalooza?
  • New Left Media: Interviews from DC last weekend
  • Jonah Lehrer: The Identifiable Victim Bias
  • Newsweek: Poll says majority of Republicans think Obama wants to impose Islamic law worldwide

It’s the “end” of the Iraq war

August 31, 2010

The President is delivering a speech later today to announce the supposed end of the Iraq war. But as far as I’ve gathered, there isn’t even a substantial change in our foreign policy inre: Iraq today. Or even yesterday, or the day before. There was an announcement made by MSNBC a week and a half ago where the last full US combat brigade left Iraq.

So if you break that down, that would mean that brigades which are only partially for combat would not necessarily have left. And then you still have the “non-combat troops” tasked with completing the training of the Iraqi police and military. And for each one of those “non-combat troops,” there are two private contractors and/or mercenaries whom are not really affected by this pseudo-deadline except to the extent that their job is dependent on the presence of “full US combat brigades.” It’s not so much the qualitative change those of us who have been against the war were hoping for as much as it’s a quantitative reduction of an ongoing military occupation.

And seriously, I don’t buy this whole idea of “non-combat troops.” There have been a lot of military officials making a big deal of how the remaining troops won’t be doing any fighting. But I haven’t yet heard a journalist ask any of them what these “non-combat troops” are to do in response to an attack by insurgents. I would think they would, well, combat the people shooting at them. Right? Either they would combat them, in which case they can’t be said to be “non-combat;” or they wouldn’t, which is just absurd.

It could be that by “not fighting,” these military officials mean that troops aren’t actively seeking out insurgents and so the chances of something like this happening are greatly reduced. That would be a fair point, but the whole nature of this war from its beginning has blurred the line between what used to be seen as illegal war actions and legitimate defense. We were told that our military involvement in the Middle East is a “preemptive defense,” a way to “fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.” And so the supporters of the war would object to terms like “invasion” and “occupation” on the grounds that the whole thing was, at its core, a form of defense.

It’s not like any of that matters to Iraqis though. None of the families of casualties from this point on are going to be consoled by the fact that their loved ones were killed by a stray bullet fired by “non-combat troops” post August 2010 when they would have been outraged if they were killed by a specifically-designated combat troop in 2003 through the present. This kind of distinction really matters to the audience of the occupation moreso than those actually involved in it.

The same defense of the war in 2003 can now be applied on a smaller scale to the prolonged quasi-withdrawal of 2010-whenever.And at the same time the Democrats can hope to capitalize in the mid-term elections on their “end” of the war. In the end, this is more about the superficial talking points than any substantial change in the real situation.

Random notes on Lily Dale

August 30, 2010

There were a lot of details left out of my recent article on Lilydale which didn’t really fit into the story that well. We wanted to get to the punchline of having the medium identify Taibbi and Randi as spirits around me before boring people with too much of the minutiae, even if some of it was kind of funny/interesting.

Before we even got into Lily Dale, we stopped at the National Spiritualist Association, which was a small one-story building overlooking the Cassadaga Lakes. It was all very scenic. If I were setting up some kind of pyramid scheme targeting gullible hippies, that’s the kind of place I would pick for a headquarters.

We were only inside for a moment before being escorted out by a nice woman named Paula, but that was just because there was some kind of private class going on and not because we stormed in wearing orange jumpsuits while waving dowsing rods around and yelling about how we were picking up very powerful energy vibes of gullibility in this location. That was something we’d talked about doing but laziness and a lack of funding made that impossible.

This is totally a cliché, but every group setting in Lily Dale just reeked of Patchouli. We’ve all known people who might go overboard with that stuff even as potent as it is, but imagine that times a hundred.

The woman doing the warm-up act said that Lily Dale was on one of the only old growth forests in the Northeast, even though there are 210,000 acres of old growth forests in NY state alone.

Just before I got my reading, two young African-American women raised their hands to get a reading by request from a medium. I was under the impression that doing readings “don’t work that way” and that the spirits are very mysterious about how they go about communicating. But the medium complied and told them that they were being visited by their grandmother, who was – GASP – from the South! And what’s even more surprising is that she was very spiritual and liked to sing a lot. Another Indian woman was told that she was visited by relatives from another country who wanted her to hold on to her cultural heritage.

In other words, anything that distinguished someone from the crowd at all was the basis for their reading. Guys, including myself, were told that it was time to advance their career. Younger people were contacted by the old, and vice versa. If the mark looked confused by a medium’s use of a stereotype, then the medium would tell her that this was a long-forgotten ancestor from several generations back. The rest was just random guesses, which is where confirmation bias did its thing.

I had kind of guessed beforehand that the crowd would be mostly female based on footage I’d seen of similar events, but I had really underestimated the proportion – at least on the day we went. It was at least a 95% female audience. And yet still my smoothest “Lllladies” yielded no positive results.

So lastly we were pretty lucky I guess to get a public reading for a couple reasons. One is that there were tons of witnesses – not that we know any of them and could get them to verify what happened, but still. The other is that according to the official Lily Dale website, the cost of a private reading starts at $40. Maybe that would’ve yielded a lot more funny material, but I’ll have to leave that to other skeptics with bigger bank accounts.

Poll of the day

August 27, 2010

CBS

The Chaser v. Hu Jintao

August 26, 2010

I’m pretty late to the party here, but these guys are my new heroes:

Federal appeals court loves making death threats to corporations

August 26, 2010

Hey, guess what everybody? It’s totally legal to make death threats to corporations now.

So there’s this guy from Arizona named Kurt William Havelock who was really mad at the Super Bowl. So, as one does in such situations, he decided to mail out a manifesto to media outlets detailing the reasons he has for shooting people at the 2008 Super Bowl in Glendale, AZ. From Wired’s Threat Level blog:

“It will be swift and bloody,” he wrote media outlets in packages mailed a half hour before he got cold feet and abandoned his plan. “I will sacrifice your children upon the altar of your excess.”

Later in court he argued that he was disgruntled after being denied a permit to serve alcohol. And I can relate because the last time I got to a convenience store at 3:07 AM and the clerk told me it was too late to buy alcohol, I started screaming about how my retribution would be swift and bloody, and that I would sacrifice the children of everyone in the store upon the altar of their excesses, too. It’s kind of eerie, actually, because we used pretty much the same unhinged threats verbatim.

But now when the clerk gets scared and calls the police, I’ll be able to use legal precedent to defend myself. And so will you, reader. The key is to make sure you don’t threaten anyone specifically. You have to target your blind, misguided rage onto a bland corporate entity. Thanks to Mr. Havelock and his overturned convictions, if you do this then you’re legally in the clear. So let’s all celebrate by making death threats at corporations.

CERN Records drops newest jam

August 26, 2010

CERN’s secret project of starting a record label under the guise of studying physics has taken another step towards the scientists’ domination of all genres of music. First they conquered hip hop, and then they branched out into ambient drones. Now they’re going old school with a chorus:

Stuff

August 26, 2010

Holy Fuck are touring

August 25, 2010

Holy Fuck are returning to the correct hemisphere to finish their tour in support of their newest album, Latin. Here are the tour dates:

08-28 Leeds, England – Leeds Festival
08-29 Reading, England – Reading Festival
09-08 Louisville, KY – Zanzabar
09-09 Birmingham, AL- Bottletree
09-10 New Orleans, LA – Howlin’ Wolf
09-11 Austin, TX – The Mohawk
09-12 Houston, TX – Walter’s on Washington
09-13 Mobile, AL – Alabama Music Box
09-14 Athens, GA – New Earth Music Hall
09-15 Chapel Hill, NC – Local 506
09-17 Washington, DC – Black Cat
09-18 New York, NY – Le Poisson Rouge
09-19 Boston, MA – Paradise
09-20 Philadelphia, PA – Johnny Brenda’s
09-21 Buffalo, NY – Soundlab
09-22 Pittsburgh, PA – Brillobox
09-23 Cincinnati, OH – Midpoint Music Festival
09-24 Urbana, IL – Pygmalion Music Festival
09-25 Cleveland Heights, OH – Grog Shop
09-26 Detroit, MI – Magic Stick (Fucking Awesome Fest)
09-27 London, Ontario – London Music Hall
09-28 Hamilton, Ontario – Studio Theatre
09-29 Toronto, Ontario – Phoenix Theatre
09-30 Montreal, Quebec – Espace Dell’Arte
10-02 Ottawa, Ontario – Capital Music Hall
10-03 Guelph, Ontario – Vinyl
10-05 Winnipeg, Manitoba – Pyramid Cabaret
10-06 Saskatoon, Saskatchewa – Louis Pub
10-07 Calgary, Alberta – Republik
10-08-09 Edmonton, Alberta – Pawn Shop
10-11 Victoria, British Columbia – Element Nightclub
10-12 Vancouver, British Columbia – The Rickshaw Theatre
10-13 Seattle, WA – Neumos
10-14 Portland, OR – Holocene
10-16 San Francisco, CA – Treasure Island Music Festival
10-17 Los Angeles, CA – Echoplex
10-18 Phoenix, AZ – Rhythm Room
10-20 Denver, CO – Larimer Lounge
10-21 Lincoln, NE – Bourbon Theatre
10-22 St. Louis, MO – Firebird
10-23 Indianapolis, IN – Radio Radio

And for an idea of what they’re like live, here’s a video of them playing Red Lights at Sappyfest just a few weeks ago:

Assaulting psychics, lol

August 23, 2010

There is probably some good Yakov Smirnoff joke appropriate for this story. The best I’ve got is, In post-Soviet Russia, psychics get beat up by some guy who then goes on to kill two witnesses of the assault. Maybe that one belongs here. From the Moscow Times:

A man was jailed by a Kemerovo region court on Thursday for assaulting a Gypsy fortune teller who predicted that he would be jailed, the Investigative Committee said.

It sounds like…

she didn’t…

*takes off sunglasses*

see that coming.

YEEAAAAH!

And by “that,” I mean the assault. You know, the part of the story which is kind of important to her and the two unfortunate witnesses.

A tale of two nontroversies

August 23, 2010

I really don’t like getting caught up in the faux-controversies like the two I’m about to get caught up in. The way I understand it, controversies are supposed to involve two opposing positions, both of which are intellectually defensible by well-informed adults. These do not qualify by that definition, but the hypocrisy is just so glaringly obvious that it really needs to be pointed out. Here’s what I’m talking about:

  1. The construction of an Islamic cultural center two-ish blocks from Ground Zero by a Muslim group, the leader of which worked with the Bush administration as an example of moderate Islam, and
  2. A person named Laura Schlessinger on some primitive invention called “radio” said some very racist things to one of her callers.

The right wing’s reaction to the cultural center has largely been that it shouldn’t be built because it might hurt the feelings of New Yorkers and 9/11 victims’ families. There are some notable exceptions, like the Libertarian-style economist Grover Norquist and NYC mayor/billionaire media bigshot Michael Bloomberg. But for the most part the line has been that this offends some people and is opposed by popular opinion. Here is one example. Here is CNN making a big deal of poll numbers. And Twitter user Sarah Palin used the Twitter to explain why the “mosque” (which isn’t a mosque, actually) is very offensive and not at all politically correct and must be stopped somehow:

In other words, rights (and bills which outline them) have to be subordinate to popular opinion and political correctness. That’s what the opposition to this is all about. If it weren’t, then there’d be no need to continue the conversation beyond agreeing that they have the right to build it, because whether or not they should is completely irrelevant.

What’s weird about this is that whenever someone casually refers to America as a democracy, it’s always these same people – Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin and people like that – who nitpick the point by correcting them. America’s not a democracy, they say, because democracy means everything is decided by a majority vote. And if you really want to get that pedantic about it, then it’s a fair point, because America’s a republic. We make some decisions by majority vote, some are made by elected representatives, but some issues – rights, for instance – aren’t open to debate or discussion. It’s the job of the government to insure those rights for the citizenry. If this were a strict democracy, then a majority could vote to take away the rights of minorities (although, to be fair usually when someone says that we’re a democratic country, they mean by that that we have elections and free access to information and stuff like that, unlike totalitarian dictatorships).

There’s another inconsistency here, too. They don’t actually come out and use the term “politically correct,” but that’s the perspective they’re defending when they talk about how a cultural center at a former Burlington Coat Factory will offend people and therefore plans to build it should be halted. So you would think that when it came to another issue where the shoe is on the other foot, we should expect some consistency from Republicans on the question of rights v. political correctness.

But of course that’s not the case. When Laura Schlessinger went off on a crazy racist rant about how black (or “buhhh-LACK,” as she puts it) people  are overly sensitive and lack a sense of humor, Twitter user Sarah Palin used the Twitter to defend the radio host:

And this is almost verbatim what Schlessinger herself had to say about her situation. Apparently her First Amendment rights were taken away because her bosses decided to can her for being an ignorant hick. Also, none of her critics even said anything about government involvement inre: Schlessinger’s right to free speech as far as I know.

But even if we were to be generous and pretend that Schlessinger’s First Amendment rights were taken away (she said so on Larry King’s show, apparently without anyone in the government stopping her from doing so, but whatever), this is still a very clear double standard. You’d have to be blind not to notice it. In one case First Amendment rights need to be subjugated to the “will of the people” and cater to hurt feelings; and in the other First Amendment rights are precious and need to be defended regardless of how offended someone might be by someone else using them.

Here’s the best way to illustrate how obvious the double standard is: take any of the statements Gingrich, Palin, Limbaugh, or anyone like that made about Park 51. Then do a quick find/replace so that it’s appropriate to the Schlessinger story. And vice versa. This is what I got:

Schlessinger’s employers were teaching her a lesson in respect: This is not your place; it belongs to others. However pure your voice, better to let silence reign.
Charles Krauthammer

In that case, Krauthammer would actually be correct if he said that. The airwaves Schlessinger broadcasted on actually were owned by others: her employers. But he was making an analogy with Park 51 in the original quote and there he’s wrong. The Cordoba Initiative purchased the property completely legally and followed every step of due process in approving the construction of the building with the local authorities. It doesn’t “belong to others” – it belongs to them.

Or how about this one:

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf: don’t retreat…reload! (Steps aside bc his 1st Amend.rights ceased 2exist thx 2activists trying 2silence”isn’t American,not fair”)
-Sarah Palin

That would probably go over well, right? If Palin or literally anybody else tweeted to Rauf to “reload” and fight against the activists taking away his rights, what kind of reaction would you expect from Fox News? Is there any chance in hell they wouldn’t throw a gigantic week-long hissy fit over it?

Whether the Republicans want to be either the people who value hurt feelings and political correctness over Constitutional rights or the reverse, that’s up to them. It would just be nice to have a little consistency. At the very least they could try not to take such extreme and opposite ideological positions on the First Amendment in the span of a few days.

Pic of the day

August 22, 2010

This is galaxy M87 as observed by the Chandra X-Ray Observatory and the creatively titled Very Large Array. It’s about 50 million light years away, which is 293,931,268,659,180,416,736 actual miles. If you wanted to drive there at 60 miles per hour, it would take you a little more than 559 trillion years, but probably your car would explode and you would suffocate long before you got even close to it. So don’t try it, in case you were considering it.

Anyway, what’s happening here is something called a galactic super-volcano. Very high energy particles produced by a black hole are interfering with the normal cooling process of hot gases which normally start to coalesce to form new stars. But instead all these gases are getting ejected in a way that’s apparently similar to how volcanoes here do when they fuck up European air travel. Except here that’s happening on a scale of something like a few trillion times larger than that.

Stuff

August 22, 2010

  • Kids in the Hall: Interview / sex advice
  • Boston Globe: Russia 100 years ago photo feature
  • BBC: Australia’s prime minister Julia Gillard supports ditching the monarchy after Queen Elizabeth’s death
  • Slate: The most isolated man on Earth.
  • Discovery Magazine: Ninja bat whispers to sneak up on moths
  • NY Times: Saudi hospitals asked to maim man as punishment

Elizabeth Warren has her own rap video

August 22, 2010

Some people calling themselves the Main Street Brigade made this song for (hopefully) the first head of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency.

Today is Ray Bradbury’s 90th birthday

August 22, 2010

And for the occasion Rachel Bloom of the Upright Citizens Brigade wrote and performed a romantic love song for him. Let’s listen to it now.

And here is his reaction to watching that video: