Monday, March 19, 2012

Listen to his screams

I am glad my parents aren’t alive to see this. I had not listened to the 911 tape of the murder of Trayvon Martin until tonight. I had intentionally avoided it. I couldn’t take it. My son could have been Trayvon Martin. My father could have been Trayvon Martin. My sister’s boys could be Trayvon Martin. My ‘nephew’, Jayvin, could be Trayvon Martin.

It’s the screams. Listen to them. Really listen to them. The terror reaches out through the speakers and grips you by the heart. If you have the least bit of empathy, your mind will be inexorably drawn to imagining the last few terrified moments of this kid’s life as he pleaded to be allowed to live.

When I heard it, all I could think of was my son’s face, his eyes wide with fright, pleading for his life and hoping that someone anyone will come to his rescue. Then the gun shot. Then the second gun shot. Even if one were trying to be ‘fair-minded’ (i.e. pretend that this might not be about race) the second gun shot makes it clear that Zimmerman meant to get himself a trophy. He was going to be the hero who saved the gated community from the young black man. It is bad enough that cops kill black people in the course of routine traffic stops and walk away without even a slap on the wrist. Now, it appears that--at least in Florida--we’ve taken a gigantic step backward and civilians can also kill a black man who is carrying Skittles-of-mass-destruction in his hand.

Imagine that you are there. You’re Trayvon Martin. You are walking home from the corner store with Skittles in your hand and suddenly you face every black parent’s nightmare. Yes, every black parent’s nightmare. For now, right now, I don’t really want to hear white people jumping up with their story of how their neighbors’ brothers’ best friend
knew this guy who was neighbors with this woman, who had a third cousin thrice removed, whose former neighbors’ son went to school with a guy who was randomly shot by a black guy. It’s a genre of ‘karmic balancing act’ tossed into American discussions of race. You are probably more familiar with the genre wherein the storyline is this, “When I was right out of high school, I tried to get a job as Attorney General of the United States and they gave it to some black guy named Eric Holder because they needed to fill a quota.” Never mind that the story teller hadn’t gone to law school. When the subject is job discrimination based upon race there will inevitably be some story where a white person didn’t get a job because ‘they’ had to ‘give it to a minority’. It is inconceivable that a black person might actually be the most qualified candidate for the job. Oh no! If a white person and a black person compete for the same job and the black person gets hired it must be because a quota had to be filled so any ongoing job discrimination is just karmic just desserts for blacks taking so many jobs we aren’t qualified to do in order to fill a quota.

There’s a difference between this hypothetical story and what actually happened. There are no municipalities where a black man could run down and shoot a random white kid, have the police show up and that black man just go on about his idle business. If Trayvon Martin had been white kid, and George Zimmerman a black man I guarantee you that Zimmerman would, even now, be sitting in jail awaiting trial. But since Martin was black and Zimmerman white, the latter gets to go on with his life. I wouldn’t put a $10 bet (much less a $10,000 dollar bet, Mittens) on Zimmerman doing any time whatsoever. IF it goes to trial and IF he is convicted, I wouldn’t be the least surprised if Zimmerman got off with time served in county jail. This guy Zimmerman, against the advice of 911, followed this young black man and killed him thinking he would be thought a hero. He’s not far off wrong.

Oh, he won’t be praised on Red State or anywhere else, at least not immediately. But the fact that he was carrying a gun and is defending himself under the ‘Stand your ground’ law is instructive. Apparently, the men I listed at the head of this piece (and all the one’s I left out) are so deadly that one has to stand one’s ground while following him down the street when he is armed with a pack of Skittles. At some point some conservative commentator or another is going to make a statement to the effect that Zimmerman reacted properly because how was he to know that a black kid walking with candy and an iced tea wasn’t a threat.

The 911 tapes are here (opens new window). Listen to them as many times as it takes for you to internalize this fact; Trayvon Martin is dead because he was black and a male over the age of 8. George Zimmerman is free because Trayvon Martin was black. Listen to his screams. Imagine him backing away from Zimmerman. Listen to the gun shot. Imagine the bullet striking his young body. See him falling to the ground. See Zimmerman taking another shot. You will have entered into the nightmare of every black parent in America.

And I still don’t want to hear any tales or statements of the ‘that could have been anyone’ variety. The shade of Billy the Kid or John Dillinger could walk down the street carrying a suitcase nuke and a AK-47 while wearing a tee-shirt reading, “Ask me about my plans to pillage and kill” and not be seen as ‘suspicious’ while a black kid with Skittles is a mortal threat.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

No, Virginia, there are no living wooly mammoths

To the surprise of absolutely no one who thought this through for more than about two minutes, it turns out that the wooly mammoth video is a hoax. I know, shocking!

It appears that a story last week about a hairy, woolly mammoth seen walking across a Siberian river is a hoax.
In the opening frame of the blurry video that went viral, an animal is seen moving through the Kitoy River. Superimposed over the video are the words: Siberian Mammoth, Copyright Michael Cohen/Barcroft Media
That's where the controversy and accusations began to fly.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Now All Americans Are Losing Ground—David Frum - The Daily Beast

To be an employer means that you pay a fair day's wage for a fair day's work. If your firm goes broke, you go broke too. You don't take advantage of clients or customers. As a voter and citizen, you try to think about what is best for everyone, not just you. You eschew ostentation when times are good, and you pay your fair share of the cost when times are bad. Your good name matters more than money. Your contributions to your community define your good name. Whenever you are inclined to criticize anyone, just remember that not everybody was born with the advantages you had.
(David Frum)
The man who wrote this is a conservative. He is also right.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Amazon 'Cancelled order' phish-bait

Some Internet sleaze ball spammer has hit on the idea of trying to fake people out by sending the following email.  The idea being that you say “what order!” and then click on the link.  That then takes you to God knows where.  Instead of clicking the link, go to your regular bookmark just to make sure that your account hasn’t been hacked.

Your order has been successfully canceled. For your reference, here’s a summary of your order:

You just canceled order #155-529594-6657462 placed on February 4, 2012.



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Monday, January 23, 2012

Parade for Vets in the PDX

So I was watching Rachel Maddow and she interviewed a gentleman who is putting together a parade for veterans of the post-9/11wars. I would like to see something done like here in Portland. How this happens I don’t just yet but it should be doable.

Friday, January 20, 2012

RIP Etta James

Died today at 73. And our world is made just a tiny bit less bright as her light goes out.

Gay rights and the corporate, capitalist world

Andrew Sullivan, over at Daily Dish, makes the point--and one would be hard pressed to say he’s wrong in this instance--that the recent news that all of the companies on the Fortune Best 100 Companies to Work For list have anti-discrimination clauses that protects queer people is a triumph of the market. None of these companies are pandering or catering to a queer audience and they aren’t doing it for any particularly noble motive. Rather, they want the best talent they can get and do not want to lose that talent because someone is queer. Given that we’ve been waiting for ENDA for the better part of a quarter century but this change has happened right under our noses, I’m hard pressed to say that the market didn’t work.
A story from my way-back days in tech will be illustrative here. I used to work for a start-up in Oakland. This was my third job in the computer industry. I came in the door as employee thirteen. When I started, the company did not cover domestic partner benefits. As I was doing all of my paperwork on day one, the office manager came to me and said, “Don’t fill out your insurance forms yet. We don’t cover DP because it never came up before but now it has so I just have to call Aetna and it’ll take a few days to get it all sorted.” At the time I was only dating some woman, we’d had all of two dates and I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I didn’t have a domestic partner.
That said, the next three hires were queer and so they benefitted from it. I was kicked out of the military for being queer. I never lost my job for being queer and in all the time I’ve worked in the field (since 1994) I can only think of one time that my being queer was the likely cause I didn’t get a job and that was because the organization was an arm of the Lutheran church. Since 1994, I’ve worked for two non-profits (including the YWCA), two start-ups and two multinationals. I’ve been treated fairly and equitably and been a valued member of the teams I was on.
I will give the last word to Sullivan.
This is not because they are somehow being noble. It is because they are serving their shareholders by employing the absolutely best people for the jobs they have and do not want to miss someone's talents because of something irrelevant like sexual orientation.
Hence capitalism enables equality. And the last entity to get with the program is the government.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

David Frum - The Daily Beast

I saw this the other day at Frum Forum and then read the whole article at Prospect magazine
And therein lies one of the central dilemmas of political life in developed societies: sharing and solidarity can conflict with diversity. This is an especially acute dilemma for progressives who want plenty of both solidarity – high social cohesion and generous welfare paid out of a progressive tax system – and diversity – equal respect for a wide range of peoples, values and ways of life. The tension between the two values is a reminder that serious politics is about trade-offs. It also suggests that the left’s recent love affair with diversity may come at the expense of the values and even the people that it once championed.

This may be something that we on the left will have to face sooner or later and, for my money, I would have it sooner. Neither the American left or right seems to truly grasp that the very nature of politics is trade-offs. The left, admirably pursuing diversity, has become blind to the fact that in doing so we may have fractured the social bonds that tie us together as Americans. Unlike, say, the Japanese who have a--more or less--common ancestry, history and heritage we Americans are tied together solely through commitment to an ideal and a history that may have some of us placed in the role of outsider or the target to whom the history happened. So like the British but unlike, say, the Germans part of the challenge for us as Americans is to figure out how to see the national story as being our story. Currently, those on the American left are likely to see our national story and ideals as something deeply and profoundly alien to us even though it may be the only story we know well. Instead of seeing the founding of America as the start of something great and good, we see it as the beginning of an unending string of horrors visited upon blacks, Native Americans, mestizos, Japanese and Chinese immigrants, etc. While there is historical accuracy to this portrait, it is not the whole of the story nor is it necessarily where we should want our focus to be.
It is difficult enough for a nation as diverse as ours to hold itself together. It is even more of a challenge when we do not feel that our national story has anything to offer minority populations outside of a long list of grievances and broken promises. What’s more, the more we emphasize that which makes us different and hold that up as far more important and noble than that which makes us similar, we will have a very difficult time convincing our fellow citizens that we need a stronger social safety net.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Ron Paul loves straw men

Listening to Ron Paul’s speech this evening it was interesting his enthusiastic use of straw men:

  • “All these bleeding hearts who said we can just give everyone a free house and they can borrow off the equity…”
You can’t look back at the utter debacle of the housing market and say, with a straight face, that the problem was that people got ‘free houses’ that they then took loans against the equity. At least you can’t say that without worrying that some great cosmic force turns you into charcoal briquette on the spot.

Three patents does not a Perpetual Motion Machine make

Just reading around on Huffington Post I saw yet another add for a perpetual motion machine. What I found most entertaining about this claim (outside of the LULZ inherent in this kind of flapdoodle) was this: The “HoJo Motor” is the only device that produces “Free Energy” that has 3 U.S. Patents!

  2. Produce Free Electricity For Your Home and Appliances in Just 48 Hours With The "Howard Johnson Motor" (HoJo Motor) - The only "Free Energy Device" to have 3 U.S. Patents! | HoJo Motor
It’s important to note here that the US Patent Office does not actually certify that the device produces ‘free energy’. The US government granted a patent not because the motor produces free energy. Rather, it granted a patent because the it is a working electric motor. The person is relying on the reader sucker not realizing this fact.

  1. >Produce Free electricity for your home and appliances in just 2 days!<
  2. No, you won’t be able to do this.
  3. >Fire the Greedy electric companies and supply more of your own electricity!<
  4. NO, you won’t be doing that either. Rather, you’ll be giving the greedy, self-deluding scam peddler lots of money as well as your greedy electric company.
  5. >Reduce your carbon footprint and help the environment!<
  6. Get a bicycle, it will actually work.
In case you are wondering how I can be so absolutely certain that this device doesn’t do what it claims to--and I’m certain it doesn’t--it requires invoking the thermodynamics.

Perpetual motion machines (and all ‘free energy’ devices are perpetual motion machines) violate either the first law of thermodynamics (conservation of energy) or the second law of thermodynamics (conservation of work).

The first law states that in a closed system you cannot create new energy. This device, the Johnson motor, appears to violate the first law. The claim is that you can generate work without having to input energy. The argument is essentially this: you give an initial impetus to the device and then, once it is going, it will continue to generate more energy than is needed to keep it going.

The second law states that in a closed system, whenever work is done *some* energy is loss to friction etc. In other words, you cannot have an engine that is *so* efficient that 100% of the energy input into the system is used.

The argument against all forms of free energy is this:

1) You cannot get free energy. In other words, you cannot get *more* energy out of a system than you put into it (1st law)
2) In any system where work is done (e.g. a change of states happens because of energy put into the system) some will be loss because of inefficiencies.
3) Therefore, you cannot make a machine that makes enough energy that it can either keep itself going without an external input or get out more energy than you put in.

All ‘free energy’ advertisements are scams don’t fall for ‘em!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Happy 369th Birthday Isaac Newton!

Isaac Newton, born in England this day in 1643, was a leader of the scientific revolution whose Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy (1687) is among the most important single works in the history of modern science.

Recess appointments? That's never happened before! Except it has.

“President Obama’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is perhaps the most powerful and unaccountable bureaucracy in the history of our nation, headed by a powerful and unaccountable bureaucrat with unprecedented authority over the economy. Instead of working with Congress to fix the flaws in this new bureaucracy, the President is declaring that he ‘refuses to take no for an answer’ and circumventing Congress to appoint a new administrator. This action represents Chicago-style politics at its worst and is precisely what then-Senator Obama claimed would be ‘the wrong thing to do.’ Sadly, instead of focusing on economic growth, he is once again focusing on creating more regulation, more government, and more Washington gridlock. As President, I will focus on turning around our economy so that America can once again lead the world in job creation.”

Livewire | TPM

Here’s a partial list of Bush the Younger’s recess appointments. Just so that when your FOX News watching relatives pretend that Obama made up the whole concept of recess appointments you’ll have something to counter with, gentle reader.

William Pryor
Charles Pickering
John Bolton
Susan Dudley
Sam Fox
Andrew G Biggs

Whose liberty?

According to Paul the Elder (Ron) and Paul the Younger (Rand) the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a terrible, terrible mistake. In their construction I, as an American, had more liberty when there were jobs I might as well not even bother applying for because of the color of my skin or because of my gender. This is the logic of libertarianism. In that construction, there are no tradeoffs. Rather, there’s just a big pile of liberty and everyone either has all of it or none of it.
Now, I will be the first to admit that my employer’s liberty was limited in that they couldn’t just refuse to hire me because I’m black, a woman or queer. However, in the America my parents spent the first 50 years of their life in their liberty was seriously constrained because they were black. In other blog posts, I have taken apart the idea that if only the market had been left to its own devices integration would have come to America in the fullness of time. There is less than no reason to believe this. In fact, the argument comprises a counterfactual worthy of Harry Turtledove. We ran the experiment and we know how it turned out. Many of the people who experienced that experiment through most of the last century are only now departing this veil of tears. Another fairly large cohort is only now just retiring. The generation who experienced ‘the Change’ are only now reaching middle-age. The market didn’t solve the problem on its own. I will not rehash that argument in this post but if you’re interested in it (and my mea culpa for assuming a goodwill on the part of Paul the Elder that his newsletters suggest he does not deserve) the blog post discussing the problem with the libertarian fantasy that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was unnecessary is here.
Over at the Washington Post, Michael Gerson, in full mainstream Republican freak-out mode makes this observation about Ron Paul and the overly anti-government rhetoric of libertarians.
Government can be an enemy of liberty. But the achievement of a free society can also be the result of government action — the protection of individual liberty against corrupt state governments or corrupt business practices or corrupt local laws. In 1957, President Eisenhower sent 1,000 Army paratroopers to Arkansas to forcibly integrate Central High School in Little Rock. This reduced Gov. Orval Faubus’s freedom. It increased the liberty of Carlotta Walls LaNier, who was spat upon while trying to attend school. A choice between freedoms was necessary — and it was not a hard one.

Tennessee Bill tries to carve out a 'special right' to bully gays

A proposed bill in Tennessee would create a loophole in the state’s anti-bullying laws to protect those expressing religious, philosophical or political beliefs, which one proponent says would ensure that people can still express their “views on homosexuality.”
The proposed bill would amend the state’s current anti-bullying laws to specify that the anti-bully policy should “not be construed or interpreted to infringe upon the First Amendment rights of students and shall not prohibit their expression of religious, philosophical, or political views” as long as there’s no physical threat or threat to another student’s property.

So the key here is not to threaten a gay kid but to just go ahead and beat the stuffing out of them. One wonders if the good people of Tennessee think that this law should cover Muslims although given recent history one suspects the answer is no.
(Tip o’ the hat to TPM for the original story.)