22 July 2016

Es war kein Münchner Bierhalle...?

Yet again, we're stuck with the media obsessing about talent-challenged thin-skinned reliant-on-the-uncredited-skills-of-others narcissists unable to accept that not everything is about them. I'm not sure whether I'm more annoyed by the utterly predictable and seemingly choreographed Nashville v. LA bullshit in popular music, the utterly predictable and seemingly inevitable clash of egos and sour grapes in broadcast propaganda, or the utterly predictable infantile histrionics over which "unsuitable" candidate gets to have access to The Football for the next four years.

Regardless of who "wins" any of these contests, someone is going to need a new communications director. I suggest that these two are leading candidates:

As mere comedians, they have more respect for the facts — and get them wrong a helluva lot less often — than any of the purportedly serious men (and they're almost all men) running political communications for the Establishment today. And do not kid yourselves: All of the candidates with multi-million-dollar media buys and war chests and polling operations are Establishment, however much they try to distinguish themselves with meaningless (and inaccurate) labels that seem non-Establishment.

13 July 2016

At Least the Robot Had No Impure Motives

I hereby accuse Wayne LaPierre in particular and the NRA in general of yelling "Fire!" in a crowded public theater. And the late Chief Justice Burger, with his emphasis on getting rid of federal cases at the earliest possible moment — and thereby suppressing consideration of many of the predicate issues, because state courts are seldom institutionally competent to do so (especially with elected judges) — of blocking an exit. That incident in Dallas didn't have to happen; neither did the police shootings that led to the demonstration in the first place.

  • Here's why a formal document destruction policy for surveillance material is actually critical to everyone: Sometimes, lost records are found. And when the authority for gathering the records ab initio is as dubious as it was for the NYPD "Red Squad," things get really... interesting... for both historians and everyone else.
  • But analyzing records in a coherent fashion matters, too. Epic fail: Asserting that there is only a limited number of plots, especially while misusing (and, more to the point, inconsistently using — similar to "organic food" — a technical term to mean something else). Two really obvious counterexamples rather destroy the thesis. Perhaps the most obvious is Sherlock Holmes, in which the plot-influenced relative emotional states of both the characters and the reader are wholly subordinate to solving the puzzle presented in the story (for both the characters and the reader). Somewhat more subtly, the entire analysis presumes that the purported "story shape" of an individual work stands entirely alone; analyzing James Bond works in this type of system is meaningless (and no, it doesn't work any better by abstracting the definition of "work" to a higher level). And to top it off, very little of this analysis actually concerns "plot" — that was imported by an obviously ignorant headline writer.
  • Yet more improper conduct from the Senate, where it appears that nutcase pressure is preventing the Senate from confirming its own employee, the Librarian of Congress. <SARCASM> OTOH, if one discounts self-aggrandizing party-hosting seeking donations from the east-of-Hudson subculture, the Library of Congress has been without effective leadership for years, so what's a few more months until the election? </SARCASM> The disturbing inference of "It's because she's a black woman" is hardly undermined by recent photographs of a Congresscritter from Iowa — a Union state — with Confederate flags on his desk... even if he's in the House and not the Senate.

06 July 2016

Careerism (Again)

Perhaps the most damning conclusion stated in the Chilcot Report — the twelve-volume review issued today of the UK's participation in the post-9/11 invasion of Iraq — is buried toward the end of the Executive Summary.

824. The following key findings are from Section 17:

  • The Inquiry considers that a Government has a responsibility to make every reasonable effort to understand the likely and actual effects of its military actions on civilians.
  • In the months before the invasion, Mr Blair emphasised the need to minimise the number of civilian casualties arising from an invasion of Iraq. The MOD’s responses offered reassurance based on the tight targeting procedures governing the air campaign.
  • The MOD made only a broad estimate of direct civilian casualties arising from an attack on Iraq, based on previous operations.
  • With hindsight, greater efforts should have been made in the post‑con´Čéict period to determine the number of civilian casualties and the broader effects of military operations on civilians. More time was devoted to the question of which department should have responsibility for the issue of civilian casualties than it was to efforts to determine the actual number.
  • The Government’s consideration of the issue of Iraqi civilian casualties was driven by its concern to rebut accusations that Coalition Forces were responsible for the deaths of large numbers of civilians, and to sustain domestic support for operations in Iraq.

The Report of the Iraq Inquiry, No. HC 264 (06 Jul 2016), at 128–29 (emphasis added).

"With hindsight" my ass: Don't confuse us with long-established international law (well known to every commissioned officer), or facts, or even the search for facts — we have careers to protect. One almost expects Malcolm Bloody Tucker to have been in charge of something... oh, wait a minute, that was based on the shenanigans of the Blair government...

30 June 2016

Happy Birthday to This Blawg

... which is a teenager today. I think it outgrew having birthday parties at Chuck E. Cheese's a while ago, but I must resist its inquiries concerning brewpubs for a while yet. At least it's never sent a selfie from a Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber event, and I know where it is at three am. It's still too young to vote this November, though.

27 June 2016

Brexit

England 1:2 Iceland — thoroughly deserved (England was bloody brain-dead, both in their initial setup and on the field).

I suspect this Brexit will hurt much worse in the short run. Iceland is still in Europe in two ways; England — not so much, largely thanks to poor thought processes outside of London.

An Interesting Day for Women's Rights

Two stories related to women's issues dominate the news here in the US this morning, or at least should. I haven't had caffeine yet, so in an isolationist sense I'll pretend that stuff going on in Europe over Brexit isn't happening. There's a whole ocean between us, so it can't hurt me, right?

The most influential figure in twentieth century women's sport might have died between the time I write this and the time you read this. Pat Summitt turned women's basketball from an artifact of Title IX into a competitive sport with far more intellectual honesty than the men's college game ("one and done"? really?). Without stooping to any of the chicanery of the men's game... or some of her male competitor-coaches. Alzheimer's took her off the court a few years ago, but that doesn't change matters. Until Pat Summitt made it clear that women could consistently, competitively, and entertainingly play team sport under the same conditions as men, women's sport was marked by occasional bright spots and exhibitions of individual talent. Even women's soccer owes her a debt.

And then there's the other thing, the probable impetus for Texit. In a 5—3 vote, the Court struck down Texas's improper, religiously motivated attempt to eliminate (or at least unduly restrict) abortion clinics (PDF).

Well, I wish that's how the opinion had read. As it actually issued, it concerned technical matters of "undue burden" and standards of review and the importance of post hoc rationalizations masquerading as deceptive policy concerns in a state government that is incidentally dominated by theocrats. Many of those theocrats were elected under circumstances that we would consider outrageous in an "emerging democracy" such as the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. (Comparison to Brexit and the histories of Northern Ireland and Scotland requires more footnotes, nuance, and consideration than I'm ready for on Monday morning.) The Court utterly failed to engage with the context, however, limiting itself to what in a criminal matter would be dismissed by law-and-order-and-fascism-on-the-side advocates as "mere technicalities" — questions of civil procedure, admissibility of expert evidence, and weight of the evidence.

At some point, there's a moral imperative to stop relying on weaseling and stomp on the muskelid's owner. I believe that point is long past with theocracy in general and abortion restrictions (among other issues) in particular. There's a disturbing parallel to the history of how slavery matters were actually litigated from the 1820s on, and that's somewhere I don't want to go again. Yes, the Court has limited power... but some of that power is to explicitly warn that improper motivation matters, and it diminishes its credibility by not objecting to context.

Theocrats won't see any of this. They'll see an attempt by nontheocrats to restrict their privilege of imposing their beliefs on everyone else. I'd almost say "let them," but Texit would be at least as difficult as Brexit... and, frankly, far less likely to achieve a damned thing.

15 June 2016

Spalling Behind the Rainbow

I have too much anger and despair over the needless tragedy-massacre at Pulse to be excessively organized or coherent here, so this is a rather disjointed set of connected but not-quite-in-order musings.

I don't blame Islam, or confused/inconsistent/incoherent gender and sexual identity politics, or any other hot-button social-conflict issue. All these various factors set the stage more for outrage than for violence. I blame the NRA and even-more-extreme gun nuts, who turn outrage into violence.

The NRA and various Second Amendment extremists want the government to subsidize their right to be violent against that very government. If one actually reads Madison's notes on the Constitutional Convention, or the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, or indeed just about any of the passionate documents concerning the fate of the former thirteen colonies published (or, often, sent as letters) between 1783 and 1803, one discovers something curious: Words matter, but — to quote a twentieth-century immigrant Russian Jew turned atheist, speaking through a fictional character — violence is the last refuge of the incompetent. And yet the twisting of the Second Amendment (especially, but not only, the excision of the Militia Clause) — particularly as it relates to weapons optimized to kill large numbers of humans (and not for hunting, or even self-defense against a couple of "home invaders") — has a disturbing hidden agenda that buries the inherent cowardice of these nutcases.

One of the justifications offered (and it's more common than public statements from all but the most radical "militia movement" organizations admit) is the need to protect against government tyrrany. Leave aside for the moment their assumption that these "individualists" are always right and that "government dominance" is always wrong (one refutation: Little Rock Central High School... and yes, that is foreshadowing, your indication of quality rhetoric and literature). There's a fundamental contradiction that the gun nuts evade with their particular claims of right: That they should not have to pay a price for converting their disagreement with the government into the capacity for indiscriminate violence against everyone (not just the government). If they really were true patriots, they'd be willing to pay the prices of their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honors by covertly and illegally preparing to oppose true tyrrany. Instead, they assert the selfish coward's prerogative: That no potential price should be paid for their "right" to obtain whatever weapons they wish.

Except, that is, the free-market price of those weapons. And now the foreshadowing and cowardice comes to the fore: Weapons useful in the "militia sense" are not cheap. And there's a clear socioeconomic and racial and anti-immigrant bias behind that distinction. One might wonder if chronically underfunded and underpaid justice-system components would do a better job — in terms of both "protecting personal safety" and "enhancing substantive justice through skepticism of inappropriate political directives" — if the money spent on assault weapons were instead devoted via the "t" word (taxes) to improving the justice system for everyone. That, however, would spread benefits around to other races, other ethnicities, other religions, other socioeconomic groupings... that is, it wouldn't be selfish enough to satisfy their cowardice.

It's telling that the NRA and related organizations, in their purported "firearms safety" classes, expend no effort on proper target acquisition and downrange/collateral clearance. It's as if only the power of the weapon itself matters... not how it might be used.

Selfishness and cowardice. And I put my butt on the line to protect their right to be jerks... which almost none of them did.

09 June 2016

A Lesser Evil?

So I'll be stuck choosing the lesser evil this November. There's no question that Drumpf is the greater evil — rumor has it that Cthulhu turned down an offer of the vice-presidential slot on the Heffalump ticket because the top of the ticket is too extreme. (Or, at least, I'm willing to start such a rumor.)

But that does not make me happy about the Jackass side. Sanders lost; as a democratic socialist, he's a Euro-centrist. Admittedly, that's a lot more acceptable to me than an American centrist, but it's still much too conservative. And Hillary has a serious problem, even aside from her centrist-tinged-with-women's-issues politics.

No, it's not Benghazi. That's the flip side — or, perhaps, mere extension — of the Desert One fiasco. Central command cannot effectively control fast-developing tactical situations with known-incomplete knowledge. Desert One shows what happens when they try... and technology has little to do with it. Benghazi shows what happens when central command exercises restraint: A paroxysm of ideological opportunists second-guessing field decisions from the comfort of their think-tank parlours... not one of whom has actual experience trying to manage a covert or asymmetric operation from on site, let alone several thousand kilometers away.

No, it's not the e-mail server problem. Leaving aside that the guidance offered varied between incomprehensible and counterproductive, at least 80% of the "classified" material on that server — like every other server in the US government that contains classifed material — was overclassified, and perhaps merited no classification at all. Remember, too, that Pvt Manning was working with State Department data at the time of that breach. In short, there should have been better security... but "better" also means protecting what needs to be protected and not just labels. It also means refraining from slapping a classification on events and data that might embarass someone, or hurt someone's career progression; I have little hope that things will change in that respect, but it sure as hell isn't/wasn't/won't be Ms Clinton's responsibility or ability to force that change in culture.

Instead, it's her family structure. I cannot and will not tolerate nepotism. Haven't we learned anything from the Bushes? From the Daleys? From the Madigans? From the Pendergasts? I could go on, and on, and on, without varying from the foundational principle: The main purpose of representative democracy is to eliminate hereditary/familial succession of political power, whether via corrupt/flawed electoral processes or any other mechanism. Of course, the familial impulse of the politically entitled classes runs the opposite direction... as in this instance. I probably cannot make myself vote for her on that ground alone: I voted for her husband the first time around, and that's her family's quota. For at least another generation.

21 May 2016

Medical Hiatus

... unplanned, naturally, starting mid-month and extending for a few more weeks. Nothing for it — there may be entries here, but nothing scheduled.

04 May 2016

May the Fourth Be With You

photographer unknown, linked from Ohio History CentralNo, this is not a Drumpf rally. It might well be, especially after the guy who couldn't live up to being the Morningstar dropped out (good riddance). I really have some empathy for the protective detail for the presumptive nominee, although I also wonder whether the thing on his head has its own detail.

Have a nice day, John Mitchell. You too, whomever might be appointed as Geheimstaatssicherheitsdirigent in the off-key orchestra of any Drumpf administration (presuming one can be found and confirmed): With that kind of leadership and organizational attitude, Sandra Scheuer is going to have some company while just walking to class 120 meters away... among the collateral damage. Y'all can just go right on preserving disorder, whether in Chicago or Ferguson. On the other hand, private handgun ownership was not as prevalent (let alone among those likely to attend political rallies) in 1970 as it is today. So at least in 1970, the direction the shots were going to come from was readily apparent.