Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, July 26, 2015 11:24 am

Happy birthday …

Filed under: Salute! — Lex @ 11:24 am
Tags:

… to three great Americans:

  • My friend and former co-worker Brian Tomlin.
  • My friend and former co-worker Stan Swofford.
  • And, last but not least, my brother Frank!

Friday, July 17, 2015 5:57 pm

Odds and ends for July 17

What the hell happened to Sandra Bland? Bland, who was African American, started driving from outside Chicago toward her new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M; she got pulled over in a routine traffic stop; she was charged with assaulting a law enforcement officer; and then was found dead in her cell, supposedly a suicide. The sheriff whose department arrested her was fired from a previous law enforcement job for racism. At least the FBI is now investigating, so maybe we’ll get some answers.

The Planned Parenthood “sting” video was faked (the “undetermined” label is charitable; read the whole item), but that hasn’t stopped opportunistic foes of legal abortion from using it as an excuse for “investigations” of Planned Parenthood anyway. One such opportunistic ass is my personal congresscritter, Mark Walker, who campaigned in part on a platform of not being a right-wing Christianist wackaloon. So much for that.

Jeb Bush, the presidential candidate who thinks America’s workers, who already work more hours than pretty much any other in the industrialized world, should work longer hours. Economists respond: Shame on you.

Microsoft has decided that if you’re a home Windows user, it’s going to upgrade you to Windows 10 whether you want that upgrade or not. Professional/enterprise users at least will get the option. You’ll have to pry Win 7 Pro from my cold, dead hands, though. I completely misread the article. Don’t drink and blog, kids.

In the aftermath of the shootings of four Marines Thursday in Chattanooga, conservatives are resurrecting the canard that then-President Bill Clinton banned firearms on military bases. Sorry, guys; you’re thinking of George H.W. Bush.

Re the faked Planned Parenthood video, a question: Granting for the sake of discussion that it’s perfectly OK to be both anti-abortion and Christian, why would people who consider themselves Christian want to use a faked video — literally, a chunk of false witness — to try to make Planned Parenthood look bad? One would think that the very fact that PP provides abortions would, from these folks’ standpoint, make it look bad enough without having to lie on top of that.

And, finally, a Friday Random 10!

What Goes On – Velvet Underground
Cadillac Walk – Willy DeVille
Burning – Fugazi
Bad Karma – Warren Zevon
You – R.E.M.
Tomorrow Is Such a Long Time – Rod Stewart
Changing of the Guards – Bob Dylan
Splendid Isolation – Warren Zevon
As Long As It Matters – Gin Blossoms
Lonely Planet Boy – New York Dolls

lagniappe: Evelyn – Black Telephone

Wednesday, July 15, 2015 8:27 pm

Odds and ends for July 17

Greetings. Been busy.

Eight years ago, ExxonMobil pledged to shareholders that it wouldn’t spend company money to block efforts to fight climate change. Since then, it has spent at least $2.3 million trying to block efforts to fight climate change. If I were a shareholder, I’d be filing a civil suit against the officers and board for fraud and breach of fiduciary duty, but I’m obnoxious like that.

After a two-year legal battle, police video was finally released that showed that the L.A.P.D. shot and killed an unarmed suspect who posed no threat. Even if you want to argue that the officers were merely doing what they were trained to do, you have to admit that when training leads to this result, it’s wrong and needs changing.

In another installment of our ongoing series, Police Behaving Badly, the police department in Bal Harbour, Fla., and the sheriff’s department in Glades County, Fla., combined to launder $55.6 million for drug cartels over three years, leaving no arrests but hundreds of thousands in cash missing.

And in yet another installment, two Georgia cops kill an unarmed woman and get away it it.

I’ve seen several good pieces criticizing Republicans for their opposition to the Iran deal. This is just one of them.

Some antiabortion yahoos released video claiming that it proves Planned Parenthood profits from the sale of fetal organs. In point of fact, PP and its patients donate the organs for research, and PP may be reimbursed for such expenses as shipping costs related to the donation. The New York Times kinda sorta debunked the story. The mythbusting site Snopes.com did a much better job even though it characterized the story as “uncertain” rather than true or false — noting where the Times did not, for example, that the instigator of this stunt is tight with conservative fake journalist James O’Keefe.

Unsurprisingly, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump can be an idiot even when he doesn’t open his mouth. An image of himself that he tweeted contained pictures of re-enactors dressed as Nazi-era German soldiers, not U.S. GIs. Naturally, the campaign threw an unnamed “young intern” under the bus. (And don’t even get me started on who would want to dress up as a Nazi-era German soldier as a game.)

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who’s about to enter the presidential race, says it’s OK that the banksters who blew up the economy haven’t been punished in this life because they probably will be in the next. If he’s that good at seeing the future, why’s he running a race he’s going to lose? Also: Bite me.

Filmmaker Laura Poitras has the quaint notion that if she’s not a terrorist, maybe the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security shouldn’t be hassling her all the damn time, so she’s suing them for records of the six years of stops she has endured on more than 50 occasions in airports.

Are ya thirsty yet?

Here in N.C., a trial has started in the lawsuit challenging the state’s vote-suppression efforts. Good.

I’m starting to think that the only question remaining about State Board of Elections member Paul Foley here in N.C. is whether he’ll resign before or after he gets indicted. Gov. Pat McCrory wants him to resign (but can’t make him); Foley refuses.

A two-year State Board of Elections investigation into political contributions to state officials from the sweepstakes industry won’t lead to a criminal probe. But, as Michael Kinsley famously said, it’s what’s legal that’s the problem.

Former UNC star Ty Lawson, now with the Denver Nuggets, just got his fourth DUI, and his second this year. His off-court behavior led to his early exit from UNC, and if he doesn’t get help, he’ll be out of the NBA, too.

As gigabit Internet service becomes a reality in some North Carolina metros (But not mine. Grrrr.) (Edit: See comments.), Time Warner Cable announces “TWC Maxx,” which is a blinding … 300 megabits. And people think newspapers don’t get it?

And, finally, hello, Pluto! And tell me that light-colored area doesn’t look like Pluto the Disney dog’s head, complete with the darker area indicating his right ear.

Pluto

Monday, July 13, 2015 7:47 pm

Consultant-speak; or, Weapons-grade bullshit

Friends of mine shared this communication from a consultant their company had retained to company leadership: CORRECTION: The communication was going in the other direction, from company leadership to the consultant.*

“[Company name] is reorganizing into a cross-functional, matrix organization. We are breaking down the silos and encouraging staff to step outside their traditional roles and comfort zones to contribute groundbreaking ideas in all areas: content, development, digital media, technology, and community engagement. Some are adapting better than others, but the cultural shift is undeniable.”

Which consultant? Which company?

Does it matter?

*Which raises an interesting question: Is leadership being sincere here, or is leadership simply throwing a bunch of jargon at the consultant for whatever reason?

Friday, July 10, 2015 10:28 pm

On the evil of niceness

It has been suggested to me on more than one occasion that my ideas might get a better reception if I would say them a little more … nicely.

I get it. I am a Southerner, after all, and I was not born in a barn. I was raised and remain a Christian ( albeit, as shall become obvious in a moment, a deeply flawed one).

But I am, shall we say, disinclined to respond with niceness to those whose governmental policies carry a nontrivial body count, particularly when those bodies are defenseless.

I am, shall we say, disinclined to respond with niceness to bullies. Bullies deserve nothing more or less than a kick in the teeth.

I am, shall we say, disinclined to respond with niceness to sociopaths. Sane societies lock their sociopaths up where they can never harm anyone else again. Our society, by conscious choice, is not sane, and whatever else that is, it certainly isn’t nice.

And I am, we definitely shall say, disinclined to respond with niceness toward people who meet all three criteria.

There are a couple of reasons for my disinclination.

One is that, being from the South, I know firsthand how the premium we place on getting along and being civil is still, even today, used way too often to paper over legitimate grievances. The Duke University historian William Chafe literally wrote the book on that topic with respectd to my adopted hometown, “Civilities and Civil Rights.”

My 80-year-old mother grew up in Charleston. Girls of her generation were brought up to “be sweet.” Being sweet meant  not only being civil, courteous, and polite, but also, “Don’t rock the boat.” That was the case even if that boat needed torpedoing.

Long story short, my mother decided a good while back that being sweet was overrated, and my sibs and I are all better off for that decision.

Another reason for my disinclination is that in my experience in covering and living with the consequences of politics, I have found that pleas for civility are too often the last refuge of a scoundrel who, as they used to say in pro wrestling, desperately needs to be hit with the chair.

Which brings me to Pat Buchanan’s latest screed for one of the right wing’s more virulent fever swamps, World Net Daily, known among the sane as Wing Nut Daily for demonstrable reasons. For a former speechwriter, Pat has not the first goddamned idea what a topic sentence is, so he’s kind of hard to excerpt. So I’ll paraphrase, and feel free to click the link, read behind me, and tell me if I got this badly wrong:

He is predicting, and calling for, civil disobedience against the Supreme Court’s striking down of bans on same-sex marriage. And he is saying that such a movement would be morally equivalent to, among others:

  • Harriett Tubman’s work as part of the Underground Railroad.
  • Northern abolitionists’ support of John Brown.
  • The original 13 colonies’ rebellion against the English crown — to which, he goes out of his way to claim, the Confederate rebellion was morally identical.
  • The civil rights movement, particularly Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King. Yeah. He went there.

He concludes:

But are people who celebrate the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village as the Mount Sinai moment of their movement really standing on solid ground to demand that we all respect the Obergefell decision as holy writ?

And if cities, states or Congress enact laws that make it a crime not to rent to homosexuals, or to refuse services at celebrations of their unions, would not dissenting Christians stand on the same moral ground as Dr. King if they disobeyed those laws?

Already, some businesses have refused to comply with the Obamacare mandate to provide contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees. Priests and pastors are going to refuse to perform same-sex marriages. Churches and chapels will refuse to host them. Christian colleges and universities will deny married-couple facilities to homosexuals.

Laws will be passed to outlaw such practices as discrimination, and those laws, which the Christians believe violate eternal law and natural law, will, as Dr. King instructed, be disobeyed.

And the removal of tax exemptions will then be on the table.

If a family disagreed as broadly as we Americans do on issues so fundamental as right and wrong, good and evil, the family would fall apart, the couple would divorce, and the children would go their separate ways.

Something like that is happening in the country.

A secession of the heart has already taken place in America, and a secession, not of states, but of people from one another, caused by divisions on social, moral, cultural and political views and values, is taking place.

America is disuniting, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. wrote 25 years ago.

And for those who, when young, rejected the views, values and laws of Eisenhower’s America, what makes them think that dissenting Americans in this post-Christian and anti-Christian era will accept their laws, beliefs, values?

Why should they?

I’ll give Buchanan the benefit of this doubt: As the late Molly Ivins said of his speech at the 1992 GOP National Convention, this piece probably sounded better in the original German. Leaving aside for a moment his claim that some things will happen that are by no means certain — ministers and chapels being “forced” to perform same-sex marriages being the big kahuna among a bunch that contains few small ones — what kind of moral illiterate equates the denial of rights with the expansion of rights? The phrase “Arbeit Macht Frei” comes to mind.

Scot Eric Kaufman poses that question and related ones in this essay at Salon, which I linked to earlier today on Facebook. My doing so brought a rebuke from a friend of mine, who wrote that Kaufman “sounds like one bigot bashing another.” Apparently he took that position because Kaufman dared to allude to the fact that we do not have conclusive proof that the man many of us (myself included) worship as the Son of God actually lived on Earth.

The implication of his remark, upon which I challenged him and to which he has not responded as I write, is that because Kaufman said something that hurt his feelings with respect to his Christian faith, nothing that Kaufman said about Buchanan is valid. Because Kaufman wasn’t nice enough.

That notion merits three words of basic Anglo-Saxon: Bull. Fcking. Shit.

Part of the reason that evil runs as unchecked in this country as it does is that too many people, including my friend, are too nice to call out evil for what it is. Too many are far too nice to do anything but accept any vice whatever as long as it is clothed in Christianity. And too many are willing to be so nice that they will accept the dangerous notion that false equivalence, particularly false moral equivalence, is still equivalence.

Pat Buchanan worked eagerly for, and to this day defends, Richard Nixon, the most soul-sickened individual to inhabit the White House in the 20th century. Buchanan’s entire career is a testament to bigotry, anti-Semitism — a word that, unlike many people all along the political spectrum, I do NOT use lightly — and opposition unto death to all of the highest and best aspirations this country ever has had for itself. As I observed earlier today, Buchanan seems hell-bent on becoming the first person to ruin his party’s presidential nominee’s chances singlehandedly in two different millennia. If there is anyone in America outside of a few neo-Nazi groups who deserves to wear the brown shirt, it’s Buchanan. And Buchanan has been richly rewarded for this evil. He writes columns. He publishes books. He appears on TV. He commands princely speaking fees.

For all I know, Kaufman is just as evil. But the odds are against it. Moreover, he has nowhere near Buchanan’s reach and platform, even if Buchanan’s reach isn’t (thank God) what it once was.

But some smart people who ought to know better, including my friend, apparently think that what Kaufman did is exactly as bad as what Buchanan did, because Kaufman dared to raise the same question that millions of honest, educated Christians already struggle with every day. Their position seems to be that not only was what Kaufman wrote “bigoted,” it also was just as bigoted, and just as morally flawed, as what Buchanan wrote and what Buchanan has been pretty much every day of his long and benighted adult life.

If you think this way, you are intellectually silly and morally obtuse. It is literally laughable to think that raising a question about the physical existence of Jesus Christ equates in any moral way with Buchanan’s likening of legalizing gay marriage to slavery and Jim Crow. And if you think this way, you don’t deserve “nice.” You deserve mocking. You deserve ridicule. And here in this little corner of the Interwebz and whatever other digital real estate I control, you’ll get it.

Because I’m a nice guy, but even nice guys can only tolerate so much bullshit before they turn mean.

Saturday, June 27, 2015 2:02 pm

Depending how your dream goes

FlagsConfedRainbow

(I don’t know who this artist is; if someone knows, please advise and I’ll be happy to give credit. Cartoon by Bob Englehart, Hartford Courant, but was Photoshopped; the original included only the first three panels.)

“This has been the best week for all Americans of good will since Richard Milhous Nixon fled the presidency.”

This post started out to be a lot of gloating about how badly so many different people of ill will have taken it in the teeth this week. I was going to write a lot about how the moral arc of karma is long but this week it bent toward a righteous, multifaceted ass-kicking. I was going to write about laughing as the people on the wrong end of these decisions cried their bitter, bitter tears of frustration and rage, and how I intended to fill goblets and flagons with those tears and how the whole damn house was going to enjoy several rounds on them and so on. And I particularly intended to review Justice Antonin Scalia’s dissents in two Supreme Court cases so that you could enjoy the spectacle of a right-wing hack’s head exploding.

But overnight, those feelings receded. They didn’t go away. They’re still there, and for all I know could come flowing back in all their fury given the right prompt. But they’re no longer top of mind.

Instead, what I’m feeling most right now is something that feels quite foreign to me: satisfaction. Why? Because without doubt this has been the best week for all Americans of good will since Richard Milhous Nixon fled the presidency more than 40 years ago. Not only is the Confederate battle flag likely coming down at the South Carolina Statehouse (at this writing no vote has been scheduled), but a number of large companies have pledged to stop selling Confederate-themed stuff. And at the Supreme Court, not only was the Affordable Care Act upheld (again), the court also ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry in this country.

That last one, though not unexpected, was particularly delicious because the bad guys were hoisted on their own petard. The anti-SSM crowd had argued that marriage was so important an institution to our society that it had to be protected. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in a neat bit of judiciary jiujitsu, responded, in effect, “Yes, it IS important — so important that it is a basic right that belongs to ALL.” And then he dropped the mic.

Let’s look at who lost here:

So who won? Everybody, really, including the people who lost, because as a result of these changes, all of us, including them, are going to live in a better America. America is a little less bigoted, significantly more financially secure and a helluva lot more equal today than it was last weekend.

Now, this wouldn’t be my blog if I didn’t point out a few caveats. For one thing, nice as it is to get the Dixie Swastika off the Statehouse grounds and to start a real conversation about the noxious culture surrounding it, we still have to start a real conversation about the larger culture of racism, of which the flag is only a symbol.

We would be morally obtuse if we didn’t grasp that the whole reason we’re even having a conversation about the Dixie Swastika is that a young man in the pernicious grasp of its culture walked into an old and beloved Charleston church and shot nine innocent people to death in cold blood. And we would be even more morally obtuse if we didn’t start that real conversation about the culture of racism. Oh, we’ve nibbled at it here and there — a number of politicians, including my own Sen. Thom Tillis, have been caught taking money from a white-supremacist group, the Conservative Citizens Council — but I’m afraid it’ll take even more bloodshed before we get serious about this.

We also need to talk about how easy it remains for crazy people to buy guns. I know that it looks like Gun America (including but not limited to the NRA) has shut down this conversation, and that more people will die needlessly as a result, but we need to keep having it anyway.

As for the Affordable Care Act and health insurance, we remain basically the only Western industrialized democracy where a health problem can bankrupt you. That still needs to change, for all the good, and it is a lot of good, that Obamacare has done in recent years (at lower cost than expected and with greater beneficial effects on the deficit than has been expected).

And while same-sex marriage remains the law of the land, there are still some holdouts, including some county clerks or deed recorders who are saying they simply won’t marry anyone rather than marrying same-sex couples. (Remember when public pools were closed outright during the desegregation era rather than be opened to African Americans? Good times.) They’ll have to be sued individually. But they will be. And they, too, will lose. And there no doubt will continue to be lawsuits because in areas other than marriage, some people will continue to insist, in the face of law, logic, and morality, that LGBTQ folks don’t have the same rights as the rest of us.

All these challenges, and some nontrivial losses, still lie ahead of us. More blood and treasure will be spilled. Reactionaries gonna react. It’s what they do. It’s how they roll. And they tend to get worse, to escalate, every time they do; as Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog reminds us, “they vote, they dominate many American states, and they own guns.” And they’re getting at least some positive reinforcement from high places; as my friend Mark Costley observed on Facebook of the Supreme Court’s dissenters:

… they are — I believe consciously — furthering a right wing theme calculated to weaken the confidence of the citizenry in our government. The right wing of the Republican Party (commonly understood to be the right 11/12 of the party) has embraced an anti-intellectual populism in which the courage to be wrong and stick with your position is one’s greatest trait. This anti-intellectualism makes it impossible to engage in any effective discussion of policy making, national priorities, or governmental accountability.

Few politicians in U.S. history have gone broke inciting lack of confidence in the competence and good will of government, and there are a lot of scared, uninformed, armed people only too willing to believe the worst. So this, too, will be an issue even as we now have 35 years of experience in seeing what horrors so-called limited government inflicts upon our life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

But I actually have some hope. As I observed above, this is going to be a better country for the losers as well as the winners in this week’s events, and it isn’t foolish to hope that because the country will be better, at least some of those who may see themselves on the losing end eventually will come to see that it all was for the best.

And I hope everybody else sees that, too, for this week has been as transformative in America as any in decades. And even as we begin to think about what lies ahead, it would be churlish of us not to celebrate it. It is uncharacteristic of me to say so, but I suggest we celebrate — not with the bitter, bitter tears of our opponents, but with champagne.

Thursday, June 4, 2015 7:44 pm

Odds and ends for June 4

Ex-FIFA VP Jack Warner says there’s a connection between FIFA and the outcome of the 2010 elections in Trinidad and Tobago. He didn’t say what that connection was, but he says there is one. Meanwhile, the rest of us have legitimate reason to worry that FIFA, having ruined soccer, might be diversifying.

Sen. Bernie Sanders might be a socialist, but there’s one economic issue that 80% of Republicans agree with him on.

I would have thought that the Duggars would’ve lawyered up after son Josh Duggar publicly admitted to having molested some of his sisters, one as young as 5. But if they’ve got a lawyer, either he’s crazy or they’re not listening to him, because last night’s interview didn’t win them any friends.

Republican-turned-Democrat Lincoln Chafee, the governor of Rhode Island, announces he’s running for president. But of all the issues he could make a campaign centerpiece — jobs, inequality, global climate change, and on and on — what does he choose? The metric system.

On the GOP side, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry also is announcing. But, as with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, it’s even money whether he begins 2017 in the White House, in Paint Creek, or in prison.

Gov. Pat McCrory has pardoned two men who had been in prison for 30 years for a rape and murder that DNA evidence now shows they could not have committed. But the two men were ruled innocent in a court hearing nine months ago. What took the governor so long?

Speaking of our benighted gov, he now says he plans to sign HB 465, a bill passed by the legislature that would extend the waiting period for an abortion from 24 to 72 hours. Not only does this decision suck on the merits, it also violates a very broad pledge McCrory made when running for governor in 2012. Asked by WRAL-TV what additional restrictions on abortion he would approve if elected, he answered flatly, “None.” Since then, he has broken that promise not only in this instance but also in 2013.

Finally, in honor of my fellow Davidson alum Steph Curry on the occasion of his first NBA Final (see what I did there?), this piece from Grantland on the beauty of Curry’s shots:

During the regular season, Curry broke his own NBA record by draining 286 3s. Over half of those came off the dribble, and nobody in NBA history has ever been able to generate — and convert — his own looks like this. It’s not just that Curry is a great shooter, it’s that Curry is the most creative great shooter ever.

Selah.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015 8:30 pm

Odds and ends for June 3

Thirty years ago today, what is still the weirdest true-crime story you’ll ever read concluded horrifically. My friend and former colleague Margaret Moffett checks in with some of the survivors. (EDITED to add: My friend Chris Knight, who grew up near some of the characters in this drama, adds his perspective.)

Perv, meet thief: Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, the insufferable pecksniff whose most recent pronouncement was that he wishes he’d “felt like a girl” in high school so that he could have gotten to watch girls shower naked, makes it clear he’ll do anything to get close to Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s donors. Scott, of course, led the company that committed history’s largest Medicaid fraud.

No links with this one, just a thought: What if the Obama Justice Department had put as much effort into investigating banksters as it has into investigating FIFA?

Relatedly, no, South Africa, I’m sure your 2008 payment of $10 million had nothing to do with your getting the 2010 World Cup and was in no way a bribe. Perish the thought.

Every so-called “gay-conversion” operation in this country needs to be sued. Saying you can “convert” someone who’s gay is like saying drinking motor oil can cure cancer.

This week’s revamp of U.S. national security laws was a sorely needed first step — and never would have happened without Edward Snowden. So why is Snowden still a wanted criminal?

The first step in fixing a problem is admitting you have a problem. The U.S. government doesn’t want to admit that we have a problem with killer cops.

After seeing her in “Easy A,” I would watch Emma Stone in just about anything. But even I thought casting her as part-Asian in “Aloha” was boneheaded. Better late than never, director Cameron Crowe agrees.

N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory is staking his re-election effort in 2016 on $2.8 billion in transportation and infrastructure bonds. The only reason I’m not saying that the legislature is throwing McCrory under the bus by refusing to put them on the November ballot is that legislative Republicans don’t believe in mass transit.

And our lite gov, Dan Forest, is a moron. (Previously. Also previously.)

Speaking of morons, the legislature has overridden McCrory’s veto of HB 465, the “ag-gag” law. A court will toss it out eventually, but a lot of animals, and quite possibly some people as well, are likely to suffer before that  happens. So much for McCrory’s attempt to position himself politically as a moderate keeping the Visigoth right at bay. I would say that the legislature threw McCrory under the bus on this one, but that would imply that legislative Republicans favor mass transit.

And the Lege has given committee approval to a bill that will gut background checks on private in-state pistol sales by 2021, a bill so bad that many of the state’s sheriffs opposed it.

And lastly, my local paper and former employer, Greensboro’s News & Record, has laid off a bunch more people, including some true stalwarts, one of whom was just months from retiring. At this point, I think it’s fair to conclude that BH Media is no longer even trying to cut its way to profitability. It is now simply milking what it can for as long as it can, at which point it will shut down the papers one by one and sell off the real estate, some of it quite valuable, that those papers sit on. And it’s past time we in Greensboro start thinking about who or what will be able to provide the journalistic firepower to truly hold the powerful accountable in this community.

 

 

 

 

Monday, June 1, 2015 7:38 pm

Odds and ends for June 1

So the Orange County (CA) DA’s office handled a slam-dunk murder case so corruptly that all 250 prosecutors in the office have been barred by a judge from having any further to do with the case. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, which is a big ol’ ugly ball of law-enforcement and prosecutor malfeasance so big that all sorts of very bad types may be set free before they should’ve been, or may never face trial, because of it. Coda: If you think that’s the only place this kind of cheating is going on, you’re kidding yourself.

Quasi-relatedly, we don’t just have cops killing unarmed African Americans, we now have repeat offenders.

Some of the most intrusive parts of the Patriot Act expired at midnight last night and ZOMG SHARIA LAW OH NOES!!11!!1!!ELEVENTY!!1! Wait, what? That didn’t happen? Oh. (pause) OK. But this could.

Presented, without snark, some seriously hopeful news about treating cancer.

Microsoft will release Windows 10 — for free — July 29. But you’ll take away my Windows 7 Pro when you pry my cold dead hands from it stop offering security upgrades for it like you stopped for Windows XP, I guess.

Airlines aren’t just greedy, they’re also stupid. Exhibit A: United Airlines.

Gosh, an elected official in North Carolina can’t even engage in a little public bigotry anymore without people complaining about it.

The mayor of Belhaven, N.C., Adam O’Neal, is walking almost 300 miles to Washington, D.C. — again — to — again — try to draw attention to lack of health care in rural areas.

An American tourist visiting a lion preserve in South Africa rolled down her car window just like she’d been told not to do and got mauled to death. Commenters on the article are overwhelmingly in favor of the lion, and I’ve got to say, so am I. Lady, what part of “nature, red in tooth and claw” didn’t you understand?

The News & Record unveiled its newly redesigned website today. It’s still butt-ugly and it still doesn’t have RSS feeds. Bright side: They resurrected the URL Greensboro.com, which they never should have stopped using in the first place.

92-year-old Harriette Thompson of Charlotte finished a marathon Sunday, so I really don’t want to hear about your bad back or your sore feet.

 

Friday, May 29, 2015 7:37 pm

Odds and ends for May 29

Apparently, the Texas floods show that the state is et up with witches and sodomites. Who knew?

Even though he won re-election, FIFA head Sepp Blatter is hearing the hellhounds on his trail. Couldn’t happen to a nicer corrupt sports executive besides Roger Goodell. Relatedly, the organization’s big sponsors are starting to get restless. About time.

The government’s handling of deadly microbes might be suboptimal. I’ve seen this movie before. It didn’t end well.

More proof, were more needed, that banning abortion doesn’t end abortion, it only makes some desperate women even more desperate.

More proof, were more needed, from the TPP debate that campaign contributions have the highest ROI of any form of investment.

More proof, were more needed, that John McCain has passed his sell-by date.

Relatedly, if Congress and legislatures really wants to mess around with public health policy in a useful way (I know, but humor me), they could stop trying to ban abortion and start banning “gay-conversion” “therapy.” 

Speaking of Congress and gays, it now looks as if former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s indictment this week pertains to the fact that he was being blackmailed by a man with whom he apparently had sexual relations back when he was a teacher and wrestling coach, before he got into Congress. Indeed, one of the L.A. Times’s two (unnamed) sources for this information claims that Hastert’s conduct amounted to “sexual abuse,” suggesting that the blackmailer, “Individual A” in the indictment, may have been a former student. The crimes Hastert is charged with pertain to financial transactions and lying to the FBI and have nothing to do with what he was being blackmailed for. This all raises many, many questions, among them: Is the guy who was blackmailing him being prosecuted also?

The legislative whores who are screwing up N.C.’s renewable energy policy on behalf of Duke Energy and the extraction industry get called out by Apple, Google, and Facebook. I love it when large, greedy corporations turn on each other.

The 4th Circuit has smacked down the GOP legislature’s 2013 gerrymandering of Wake County school-board districts. The gerrymandering isn’t dead, unfortunately, but it’ll face higher hurdles in the trial court. Now if someone would sue over its redistricting of the Wake County commissioners …

Relatedly, a new lawsuit has been filed against the GOP-controlled legislature’s 2011 gerrymandering of the state’s legislative districts. The U.S. Supreme Court already has ordered the N.C. Supreme Court to look at them in light of its ruling in a similar case in Alabama that found that racial gerrymandering there had been inappropriate.

Gov. Pat McCrory, in a rare display of leadership and common sense, has said he’ll veto SB2, which would allow magistrates to claim religious reasons for “opting out” of their duty to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Not only that — and this is a stunner — he has vetoed HB 405, the “Ag-Gag” bill. When McCrory said yesterday he’d veto SB2, Kirk Ross at the Carolina Mercury joked on Facebook that McCrory had announced his 2016 re-election campaign. But I think that’s dead accurate. McCrory is more scared of his likely Democratic opponent in 2016, Attorney General Roy Cooper, than he is of being primaried.

Now McCrory needs to veto the abortion bill (which adds a medically unnecessary and burdensome 72-hour waiting period), but I think he probably won’t: After vetoing two measures near and dear to his right-wing base, he has to demonstrate to them that he’s still capable of punching down, and those pregnant women aren’t going to punch themselves. Besides, it’s a lot easier for the guv to punch defenseless women than, say, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (in the case of SB2) or the AARP (in the case of HB 405).

Book banners gonna keep trying to ban books. This time, the place is Buncombe County and the book is the awesome “Kite Runner.”

DavidsonNews.Net, a shining example of hyperlocal journalism done right, closes for lack of funds after nine years. A damned shame.

El Nino means we’ll likely have a less-active-than-normal hurricane season. Thanks, kid.

Thursday, May 28, 2015 8:33 pm

Quiverfull of evil; or, Lock up Josh Duggar. And Jim Bob. And Michelle.

UPDATE: This post was originally published 5/27/2015 but was truncated during publication. I’ve attempted to reconstruct the missing portion in this version.

The headline is the short version. If you haven’t already heard all you want to hear about this toxic mix of crime, coverup, corruption, ISIS Christianity, misogyny (but I repeat myself), and bullshit — and if you have, I certainly don’t blame you — by all means read on.

First the background: There’s this Arkansas family, the Duggars. The parents, Jim Bob and Michelle, decided long ago that their weird perversion of Christianity, the Quiverfull movement (more on which anon), called on them to turn Michelle’s uterus into a clown car. As a result, they have 19 kids and became the subject of a “reality” series on TLC, “19 Kids and Counting.”

Which, well, as we here in basketball-crazy North Carolina know, any more than two and you have to switch from a man-to-man defense to zone, and that almost never works out. (Just ask my cousin Jay, whose second child was triplets.) But, hey, it is still a free country (despite the best efforts of the Duggars and their ilk; see below), so whaddayagonnado?

So, in addition to really warped notions of what constitutes responsible reproduction, the Duggars also have used their TV platform to try to make life miserable for people different from themselves. Eldest son Josh, now married with three kids (and another on the way, natch), became executive director of the Family Research Council‘s lobbying arm. That group is a fundamentalist “think” tank that has been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center; its primary occupations are fitting government inside your vagina, harassing gay people, and whipping up enough Christianist butthurt to try to convince those of us who aren’t Shiite Christians that Shiite Christians are, somehow, “persecuted” in the United States of America and not, say, Mongolia. (As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up.) And Michelle Duggar recorded a robocall last year in opposition to a proposed anti-discrimination ordinance in Fayetteville, Ark.; in it, she likened gay people to sexual predators and child molesters.

This was bad enough inasmuch as there’s zero evidence that gay people are any more likely to be sexual molesters than are straight people. Now, however, it appears that every time she used the phrase “molester” or “sexual predator,” she should have added the modifier, “like my son.”

Because a police report has been located by In Touch Weekly that appears to document that the aforementioned Josh Duggar molested at least five young girls. The report was filed in December 2006 and pertained to events beginning back in 2002, when Josh was 14. Although the report is heavily redacted, additional information suggests that at least some of the five victims were his younger sisters. Since that report became public, Jim Bob, Michelle, Josh, and Josh’s wife, Anna, posted a statement on Facebook that appeared to acknowledge the truth of the report.

And it has been both fascinating and sickening to watch the outpouring of support for Josh from a bunch of so-called Christians who wouldn’t give a gay non-molester the time of day. How ridiculous has their defense of him been? Let us count the lies.

Josh just made a mistake. No, sweetie, spilling your milk is a mistake. Josh committed multiple felonies with multiple victims over an extended period of time.

All kids experiment when they’re young. A lot do, but not all; moreover, we’re not talking about youthful experimentation. We’re talking about an adolescent male — 14 and 15 when these events are reported to have happend — touching the vaginas of 4-year-olds.

All Josh did was touch them. He didn’t rape them. What, and “touching” them isn’t bad enough? We’re talking about 4-year-old victims here. Moreover, given ISIS Christianity’s attitude toward sexuality, it’s entirely possible that he had no idea that what he was doing was bad because he hadn’t had more comprehensive sex education, which might have prevented this.

Josh confessed to his parents. Well, yes — after one of his victims told his parents. He didn’t come forward on his own.

His parents told the cops. No, they told one copy, a family friend, an Arkansas state trooper named Joe Hutchens. And according to Hutchens, they only told him about a single, isolated incident, not about Josh’s pattern of behavior. (Of course, we might call Hutchens’s veracity into question, inasmuch as he’s serving 56 years on child-porn charges at the moment.) Hutchens gave Josh “a stern talk” but did not alert other authorities, even though he was legally required to do so. Unfortunately, that “report” started the clock ticking on Arkansas’s three-year statute of limitations on crimes of this type: The three years begins when the incident is “first reported to police,” even if the officer to whom it was reported, as was the case with Hutchens, didn’t do his legal duty and launch an investigation. Moreover, when a formal police investigation was opened years after the fact, in 2006, Jim Bob Duggar refused to let police interview Josh.

His parents got him counseling. Not true. They report having sent him to live for a few months with a friend who builds houses. There is conflicting information regarding whether he received “counseling” from a Christian center founded by Bob Gothard, who, years later, would be booted out of his own organization by his board after allegations from at least 34 women that he had sexually harassed them and from another five, one of whom was 16 at the time, that he had molested them.

If that description of Gothard doesn’t give you confidence in his teaching, this diagram from his organization will give you even less. Keep in mind, though, that ISIS Christianity is riddled with this kind of hyperpatriarchy, misogyny, shaming, and victim blaming, from insisting that the body of an abuse victim is “least important” to offering the conditional, “IF abused was not at fault” and the false dichotomy of “no physical abuse or mighty in Spirit” — and that the Duggars were and remain huge devotees of Gothard:
Gothard Counseling Sexual Abuse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In short, there is no evidence in the record that Josh was ever seen by a competent, licensed mental-health professional. And that’s important, because we know that for many if not most pedophiliacs, the urge to molest never goes away; all such people can do is try to learn not to act on the urges.

The victims received counseling and forgave Josh. There’s even less evidence in the public record that Josh’s victims got counseling than there is that he did. As for forgiveness, given the misogynism and victim-blaming of this family’s culture, I’d be stunned if the “forgiveness” wasn’t coerced, particularly from the youngest victims.

Jim Bob and Michelle did everything they could. Some of these other items already give this notion the lie. I would add that at least one of the victims wasn’t an immediate family member. Did Jim Bob and Michelle fully disclose to that child’s parents or guardians what had happened? We have no evidence of that. Moreover, his parents failed to separate Josh from the younger children upon the first sign of trouble, thereby allowing him to continue to victimize them. And they failed to report evidence of a crime to a real cop, not a horribly compromised badge-wearer like Hutchens, who they knew would keep everything quiet. They’re guilty, at the least, of aiding and abetting Josh’s crimes and of criminally endangering the other children in the home (plus any friends or young relatives who might visit). They should go to prison, too.

It’s all over with, now, isn’t it, so why is everyone still talking about it? I can think of one very important reason why we need to keep talking about it. Roughly one in three male child molesters was molested himself as a youth. That means that there is a nontrivial chance that Josh was molested, by one or both of his parents and/or by some other adult they felt comfortable having around Josh. Whoever might have molested Josh presumably still has access to the children remaining in the home. So molestation might still be going on. Besides, Josh has three kids himself. Are they being protected from him? His wife seems to think this is “all in the past,” when it might not be at all.

Well, “19 Kids” has been TLC’s most successful series, but all that ickiness was too much for the network, which has pulled reruns from its schedule (but hasn’t said whether it will cancel the show outright), and for advertisers, who are fleeing in droves.

It would be nice to think that Josh Duggar will suffer earthly consequences for his actions, but the truth is that other than losing his job, it’s unlikely. It would be nice to think that Jim Bob and Michelle will learn enough from this experience to stop trying to hold up clown-car procreation as a model lifestyle, but that won’t happen either. For one thing, they crave the attention. For another, the Duggars and others in the Quiverfull movement really do believe that the way to defeat the heathen is to outbreed them. It’s a war, and the women are being drafted.

And what can we say about the Duggars’ hypocrisy on the subject of … well, pretty much everything, but especially their habit of likening gay people to molesters while harboring a molester of their own? That would require a whole ‘nother blog post, but I’ll just leave you with this: During Jim Bob’s 2002 campaign for the U.S. Senate in Arkansas, during the last two months of which he was hiding Josh’s secret, he said that incest should be punishable by death. Wonder if he still feels that way.

 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015 8:14 pm

Odds and ends for May 27

Back from vacation. Let’s get to work, shall we?

The U.S. government is still good for something — in this case, finally taking on the continuing criminal enterprise that is FIFA. (My daughter has been saying for two years that the organization’s leaders were committing fraud and worse. She’s 16.) I suspect the reason we’re doing it instead of, say, Switzerland, is that we can — because soccer’s popularity here is so low that no one will raise much of a defense of the indefensible.

I love this pope. He has been, in the opinion of this outsider, better for the Roman Catholic church than anything since Vatican II. But he still has a couple of enormous moral blind spots.

Paid Microsoft support for the U.K. government’s many computers still running Windows XP ran out in April 2015. The transition to Windows 7 or 8.1 was supposed to be complete by now, but it isn’t for many government agencies, which will have to negotiate their own, much more expensive service deal with Microsoft. Meanwhile, those machines aren’t getting any more security upgrades and thus could become vulnerable to hacking. (I have a perfectly good XP machine that isn’t powerful enough to run Win7, so when Microsoft stopped providing security updates to consumers a year ago, I turned it into a Linux machine. Still works like a charm.)

My heart and some of my money are going out to the victims of Texas tornadoes and flooding. But I’ve got to point out a couple of things. First, the increasing severity of storms such as this is a direct result of increased mean atmospheric temperature. As we learned in school, the warmer air is, the more moisture it can hold, and the more moisture is in the air, the more severe storms are. So global-warming denialists in Texas, particularly in its government, really need to sit down and shut up now. Second, I assume that all the hot air from Texas politicians about the Jade Helm military maneuvers will now cease while those same politicians ask the federal government for millions in disaster relief. Right?

Quasi-relatedly, as H.L. Mencken observed (sort of), it is difficult to make a man understand something when his bonuses depend on his not understanding it. That’s especially true of climate-science deniers and extraction-industry executives. (Note that the market value of remaining extractable carbon fuel runs into the dozens of trillions, and we’d only need to burn another $1 trillion worth to screw ourselves sideways, climate-wise.)

Related to that, crony capitalism continues in Raleigh as extraction interests continue using their bought-and-paid-for legislature to fight solar energy. They have become more vicious because they are more desperate: They know that solar will become economically feasible for replacing more than half of global electricity generation within the next 10 years.

The Supreme Court ruled debtors’ prisons unconstitutional more than 30 years ago, but that hasn’t stopped a lot of places from jailing people just because of fines and/or fees they couldn’t pay.

Pretty much everyone who isn’t working in the White House or Congress understands that the NSA’s vast warrantless data-hoovering surveillance program isn’t worth what it is costing us in liberty. So, of course, N.C.’s senior senator, Richard Burr, is arguing for more of it.

At what point is N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory going to realize that the person running the state Department of Health and Human Services, Aldona Wosis incompetent?

And at what point will N.C. voters realize that McCrory himself is incompetent? He has staked his re-election on two proposed bond issues, one for highways and the other for other infrastructure — and hoping that voters won’t realize that if not for his misguided leadership and that of his legislative pals, much of this work could have been done through the ordinary state budgeting process, rather than sinking the state $2.8 billion into debt.

North Carolina doesn’t want to kill messengers. It only wants to sue and/or imprison them.

State officials (which is to say, mainly, state Republicans) are now into their fifth year of arguing that climate change isn’t really a thing, apparently not realizing or caring that “the Atlantic isn’t waiting to see who wins the argument.

Speaking of resisting the inevitable, N.C. lawmakers are still trying to stop gay marriage by unconstitutional means.

The chairman of the UNC System’s Board of Governors, John Fennebresque, says he wants a “change agent” to replace politically fired UNC System president Tom Ross. But he won’t say what he wants changed and says the board doesn’t have a job description even as it runs a nationwide search for Ross’s successor. Let’s be real clear here: Fennesbresque and the board wouldn’t come out and say they fired Tom Ross for political reasons because they knew the public wouldn’t stand for it. And they aren’t saying what they want Ross’s successor to do for the very same reason.

Steven Long, vice chairman of the academic planning committee of the UNC System’s board of governors, says regarding program eliminations, “We’re capitalists, and we have to look at what the demand is, and we have to respond to the demand.” No, schmuck. Education is a public good, and the state university system has a duty to provide benefits to the state as a whole, not just students whose preferred  majors happen to be momentarily popular.

So Charter Communications may buy Time Warner Cable, my personal cable/Internet provider. Is there any reason to think this would mean anything but higher prices and crummier service? Thought not.

Whew. I need another vacation.

 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015 6:17 pm

Hey, Alabama judges, what part of the LAW don’t you understand? (Besides all of it, I mean.)

Earlier this year, a federal appeals court struck down Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage, as federal district and appeals courts (with one exception) have been doing across the country. The day after that happened, a nondenominational Christian minister named Anne Susan DePrizio agreed to marry a same-sex couple, as the federal appeals court entitled her to do.

Which would be fine, except for the part where Alabama is Bat Country, a third-world morass of corruption, stupidity, willful ignorance, hyperpatriarchal theocracy, and outright dickitude that leaves Mos Eisley in the dust as a wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Because Alabama is Bat Country, etc., Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, a Shiite Christian and virulent homophobe, ordered all Alabama probate judges to ignore the federal appeals court’s ruling. This would be the same Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore who already got fired once, in 2003, by the Alabama Court of the Judiciary for disregarding a federal court order regarding establishment of religion, but was voted back into office in 2012 because Alabama voters haven’t got the brains God gave a billygoat. Not that I am bitter.)

So this judge, Al Booth, decided that Moore’s (illegal) order gave him the right to have DePrizio arrested on “disorderly conduct” charges. Booth even claimed he had a duty to do so in light of Chief Justice Moore’s (illegal) order. DePrizio turned the other cheek, pleaded guilty to the disorderly conduct charge May 18, and will serve 30 days.

Which, you know, God bless her for living out her faith, but were I her, I’d not only be fighting the charge as far up the ladder as it took, I’d also be seeking judicial sanctions against Moore and Booth. I’m thinking 30 days apiece for contempt might make an impression. At the very least, it would make deserving examples of them.

Because the constitutional issue is straightforward here: DePrizio sought to act not only within the scope of what is permitted under civil law but also within the scope of her First Amendment right to free expression of her religious beliefs. She believes that it’s utterly cool with God for her to marry same-sex couples. The government has no right to interfere with that belief, let alone label it “disorderly conduct” as long as she’s not disrupting traffic or scaring the horses.

Me, I’d be willing to give Booth another chance, but Roy Moore has long since exhausted his right to be on the public tit. And since Alabama is a net taker of federal revenue, that means an assload of American taxpayers are subsidizing his salary. That boy needs an escort into the private sector. Yesterday. Can I get an amen?

Friday, May 15, 2015 7:11 pm

The posting drought

Filed under: Housekeeping — Lex @ 7:11 pm
Tags: ,

A couple of times in this blog’s 13-year life, I have taken more-or-less planned hiati, a few weeks or months off to recharge and/or focus on other things that needed immediate attention. Lately, though, something different has been going on. In the past four weeks, including this post, I’ve posted just four times. Part of the reason is that I’ve been incredibly busy at both jobs. (April through Commencement is the busiest time of year for me at the college, by far.) But part of the reason is that when I’ve had the opportunity to blog, I’ve chosen to do other things.

Why? Any number of reasons. For one thing, I’ve been binge-watching “Mad Men” on Netflix, which I’m enjoying a lot because it’s a well-written show and I’m old enough to remember some of that culture while still seeing enough new to keep it interesting. Also, a new season of “Longmire” just dropped.

For another, we’ve had some of what will likely be the year’s best evenings for sitting on the porch. And when I’m out there, I may futz around on Facebook or Twitter, but I don’t do research and I don’t write at length. Just the wrong place: When I was in grad school, I associated inside with homework and the porch with not-homework.

For another, I’ve got my Kindle, plus two new actual physical paper books, to read.

But there’s something else going on, too.

God bless XKCD.com

I’m usually this guy, but not lately — at least, not enough to blog about it.

For the first time in a long time, stuff just doesn’t move me anymore. I still get entertained or intrigued or outraged by stuff I see/hear/read, but at the moment I no longer feel obliged to write about it. There’s no shortage of stuff to write about, from ISIS and the (dear God) 2016 presidential race to the Amtrak crash and the disintegrating Antarctic ice shelf, from the latest legislative outrage in Raleigh to our City Council’s absolute, bumbling inability to get anything like a coherent economic-development program going. Normally, I can’t not write about stuff. But not now.

In the past, this feeling has been attributable to my depression, but not now: By my standards, my mood actually has been pretty good.

And it’s not like I just need to put my butt in the chair and write; I’ve been doing that quite a lot in the day jobs.

So I’m guessing this will last however long it lasts. History suggests it won’t last forever, or even particularly long. But I figured I owe the regulars an explanation.

 

 

Sunday, May 10, 2015 5:37 pm

Odds and ends for May 10

Hidy. Yeah, it’s been a while.

Your brain is your brain. Chuck Norris is your brain on drugs.

So good to see that the Baltimore officers implicated in Freddy Gray’s death were all the kind of stable individual to whom you want to give the power of life and death.

I had about given up on anyone doing anything to stop the NSA’s blatantly unconstitutional hoovering of Americans’ data. This isn’t a fix, but it’s a start.

Good to see that job creation is back on track. We’re still far from where we need to be, though, and farther still on wage growth.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015 7:03 pm

Odds and ends for April 22

Sorry for the posting drought. Stuff happens. A lot of stuff.

Another reason I’m not quite ready to canonize Pope Francis: On Tuesday, he accepted the resignation of an American bishop who had been convicted of failing to report child-porn images on a priest’s computer. Which would be fine except that the conviction was three years ago.

Speaking of illegal sexual acts, Amy Schumer and Josh Charles offer up something I thought didn’t exist — a note-perfect way to joke about rape. (The fact that it parodies “Friday Night Lights,” which, frankly, I’ve always thought overrated, is just a bonus.)

Apparently, it’s quite all right with the Obama administration if, under the TPP and other trade agreements, corporations get away with murder.

Really, New York Times? Peter Schweitzer, author of “Clinton Cash,” a book charging improprieties regarding contributions to the Clinton Foundation, has admitted he can’t prove his charges. The Times, apparently having learned nothing from its fusterclucked coverage of Whitewater, Wen Ho Lee, and Iraq, breathlessly promoted the book anyway, and the paper’s ombudsman — traveling and quasi-off the grid, she says — has yet to say a word.

Who sponsored First Amendment Day festivities at Iowa State? The Charles Koch Foundation. No, I am not making this up.

Florida legislative Republicans illegally went behind closed doors to plan resistance to Medicaid expansion. Fortunately, AP reporter Ken Rideout was able to hear what was going on through a crack in the door and brief his colleagues.

Between 2009 and 2013, median household income in North Carolina stayed flat or fell for all but the top 5% of earners. So do tell me again why the rich need another tax cut. And tell me again how this state’s misbegotten economic-development program is working so well. Jesus wept.

The N.C. legislature continues to indulge its Confederacy fetish, this time with a bill to (try to) nullify federal gun laws. Dudes, we’ve had that discussion already. In 1861-1865. Your side lost.

Drinking water in wells near many Duke Energy coal-ash sites is contaminated. Perhaps the state of North Carolina will lift a finger. I’m not holding my breath. Friendly reminder: Gov. Pat McCrory was a longtime Duke employee before heading to Raleigh. Coincidence? I think not.

Another legislative measure to chill your First Amendment rights is in the works, this one going after whistleblowers in the agriculture industry. I suppose this would be an appropriate time to mention that I don’t recall Big Ag or ALEC ever asking me for my vote.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the poster boy for the Visigoth wing of the Republican Party, will be the N.C. GOP’s keynote speaker in June.

One of many reasons why North Carolina’s HB 456 is a bad idea.

I suppose there might be a decent argument for not just blowing up Downtown Greensboro Inc. and starting over (or just leaving the rubble where it falls), but at this point I can’t imagine what it would be.

Offered without comment: Former UNC-Greensboro Chancellor Linda Brady talks with the student newspaper, The Carolinian, about what she thinks went wrong in her administration.

My friend and former boss John Robinson talks about the day eight years ago that was the beginning of the end for the News & Record. He’s hard on himself, but John has never been a bullshitter, and he isn’t starting now.

Someone needs to explain to me why Paul Rodgers and The Replacements are not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Go on. I’ll wait.

America’s next top blogger

Filed under: Y'all go read this — Lex @ 6:54 pm
Tags: ,

Ladies and gentlemen, my niece Whitney Alexander. She’s got game.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015 8:34 pm

SB 36: Baby, meet bathwater

A couple of folks in the local blogosphere — e.g., George Hartzman, here — have suggested that SB 36, State Sen. Trudy Wade’s misbegotten monkeying around with the city of Greensboro’s election system, will be good for Greensboro because it will rid the city of a corrupt City Council. Their thinking is that because the redistricting that SB 36 calls for would place several council members in one district, forcing them to run against each other, several inevitably would be voted off the council.

If in fact most or all council members are corrupt, then this is a legitimate point. So let’s examine it.

Caveat: I’m not prepared right now to say as a fact that one or more members of the council are corrupt — or not corrupt, for that matter. So, for the purposes of this post, let’s posit that all nine of them are dirtier than a ’57 Buick’s oil pan. Let’s further posit that, for whatever reason, law enforcement cannot or will not deal with the corruption for us.

SB 36 still would be the wrong solution to the problem.

Why? Simple. Although it might get rid of some incumbent council members, there’s no guarantee that it would get rid of those who actually are corrupt. Moreover, because it would give voters a say over fewer seats on the council (one district member plus a mostly-non-voting mayor, as opposed to a district member, three at-large members and a voting mayor on the nine-member panel under the current system), it would make unseating future corrupt council members even more difficult than it is now — to say nothing of the fact that council members would face voters only every four years, instead of every two as they do now.

So SB 36 would be, at best, an uncertain and temporary solution to a problem that, history shows, tends to recur among politicians. And it would make dealing with recurrences of the problem even harder.

Look, if you think that a council member is corrupt, your path is clear: WORK TO GET HIM/HER VOTED OUT. Unlike congressional and legislative districts, Greensboro City Council districts aren’t gerrymandered. Nobody’s seat is safe, particularly if he or she is corrupt. We already have a sufficient mechanism in place to replace corrupt council members. SB 36 remains what it always has been: a solution in search of a problem and an attempt by anonymous corporate interests to win through their puppet legislature what they cannot win in Greensboro’s ballot boxes.

Odds and ends for April 15

Got your taxes done? Good.

Mars might not be hostile to life so much as just kind of grumpy toward it: The Martian rover Curiosity has found the first evidence of liquid water, considered a necessity for life, just beneath the planet’s surface.

The refusal of some red states to adopt Obamacare/expand Medicaid means that more than half a million Americans with serious mental illness are going untreated. You know, the courage of some Republicans in the face of other people’s suffering is a wonder to behold.

What is the economic cost of American gun violence? Mother Jones magazine purports to tell us.

The New York Times looks at the legacy of the company formerly known as Blackwater and its founder, Erik Prince. Less well examined: why in hell the U.S. government chose unaccountable private contractors to do work traditionally handled by the military in the first place.

If Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are the GOP’s idea of appealing to Latino voters, well, as Charlie Pierce so often says, I despair of the rebranding.

Silicon Valley big men on campus? Women have had it with your shit, and they’re going elsewhere. Good for them.

Tennessee may ban fake guns near schools. Real ones will still be OK.

The Charlotte Observer’s editorial board offers some medium-high-quality snark toward legislators and others in state government who appear hell-bent on ignoring both the law and the public.

 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015 7:42 pm

Who really won the Civil War?

It’s a weird question, right? Only not as weird as you might think. I first started thinking about it when I found myself so often having to respond to this or that point on social media with, “We already had that conversation. In 1860-65. Your side lost.” But did it?

Sure, the Confederacy as a military and governmental entity collapsed in 1865. But the ideas that animated it — antidemocratic rule by gentry, brutal suppression of minorities, refusal to recognize federal democratic rule — today animate the Tea Party base of the GOP and have an unhealthy influence on U.S. politics and governance.

Consider this take from Doug Muder at the Weekly Sift:

[Jefferson Davis’s plan to escape to Texas and raise a new army to continue the Civil War after Appomattox] sounded crazy until I read about Reconstruction. Reconstruction was a mysterious blank period between Lincoln’s assassination and Edison’s light bulb. Congress impeached Andrew Johnson for some reason, the transcontinental railroad got built, corruption scandals engulfed the Grant administration, and Custer lost at Little Big Horn. But none of it seemed to have much to do with present-day events.

And oh, those blacks Lincoln emancipated? Except for Booker T. Washington and George Washington Carver, they vanished like the Lost Tribes of Israel. They wouldn’t re-enter history until the 1950s, when for some reason they still weren’t free.

Here’s what my teachers’ should have told me: “Reconstruction was the second phase of the Civil War. It lasted until 1877, when the Confederates won.” I think that would have gotten my attention.

It wasn’t just that Confederates wanted to continue the war. They did continue it, and they ultimately prevailed. They weren’t crazy, they were just stubborn.

It’s certainly true in the South, where Reconstruction ended prematurely in 1877 as part of a deal that gave Rutherford B. Hayes the White House.

If the Napoleonic Wars were your model, then it was obvious that the Confederacy lost in 1865: Its capital fell, its commander surrendered, its president was jailed, and its territories were occupied by the opposing army. If that’s not defeat, what is?

But now we have a better model than Napoleon: Iraq.

After the U.S. forces won on the battlefield in 1865 and shattered the organized Confederate military, the veterans of that shattered army formed a terrorist insurgency that carried on a campaign of fire and assassination throughout the South until President Hayes agreed to withdraw the occupying U. S. troops in 1877. Before and after 1877, the insurgents usedlynchings and occasionalpitchedbattles to terrorize those portions of the electorate still loyal to the United States. In this way they took charge of the machinery of state government, and then rewrote the state constitutions to reverse the postwar changes and restore the supremacy of the class that led the Confederate states into war in the first place. [2]

By the time it was all over, the planter aristocrats were back in control, and the three constitutional amendments that supposedly had codified the U.S.A’s victory over the C.S.A.– the 13th, 14th, and 15th — had been effectively nullified in every Confederate state. The Civil Rights Acts had been gutted by the Supreme Court, and were all but forgotten by the time similar proposals resurfaced in the 1960s. Blacks were once again forced into hard labor for subsistence wages, denied the right to vote, and denied the equal protection of the laws. Tens of thousands of them were still physically shackled and subject to being whipped, a story historian Douglas Blackmon told in his Pulitzer-winning Slavery By Another Name.

So Lincoln and Grant may have had their mission-accomplished moment, but ultimately the Confederates won. The real Civil War — the one that stretched from 1861 to 1877 — was the first war the United States lost.

That system continues to hold sway over far too much of U.S. politics and governance today, and it is profoundly antidemocratic. Muder writes:

But the enduring Confederate influence on American politics goes far beyond a few rhetorical tropes. The essence of the Confederate worldview is that the democratic process cannot legitimately change the established social order, and so all forms of legal and illegal resistance are justified when it tries.

That worldview is alive and well. During last fall’s government shutdown and threatened debt-ceiling crisis, historian Garry Wills wrote about our present-day Tea Partiers: “The presiding spirit of this neo-secessionism is a resistance to majority rule.”

The Confederate sees a divinely ordained way things are supposed to be, and defends it at all costs. No process, no matter how orderly or democratic, can justify fundamental change.

When in the majority, Confederates protect the established order through democracy. If they are not in the majority, but have power, they protect it through the authority of law. If the law is against them, but they have social standing, they create shams of law, which are kept in place through the power of social disapproval. If disapproval is not enough, they keep the wrong people from claiming their legal rights by the threat of ostracism and economic retribution. If that is not intimidating enough, there are physical threats, then beatings and fires, and, if that fails, murder.

That was the victory plan of Reconstruction. Black equality under the law was guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. But in the Confederate mind, no democratic process could legitimate such a change in the social order. It simply could not be allowed to stand, and it did not stand.

In the 20th century, the Confederate pattern of resistance was repeated against the Civil Rights movement. And though we like to claim that Martin Luther King won, in many ways he did not. School desegregation, for example, was never viewed as legitimate, and was resisted at every level. And it has been overcome. By most measures, schools are as segregated as ever, and the opportunities in white schools still far exceed the opportunities in non-white schools.

Today, ObamaCare cannot be accepted. No matter that it was passed by Congress, signed by the President, found constitutional by the Supreme Court, and ratified by the people when they re-elected President Obama. It cannot be allowed to stand, and so the tactics for destroying it get ever more extreme. The point of violence has not yet been reached, but the resistance is still young.

Violence is a key component of the present-day strategy against abortion rights, as Judge Myron Thompson’s recent ruling makes clear. Legal, political, social, economic, and violent methods of resistance mesh seamlessly. The Alabama legislature cannot ban abortion clinics directly, so it creates reasonable-sounding regulations the clinics cannot satisfy, like the requirement that abortionists have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Why can’t they fulfill that requirement? Because hospitals impose the reasonable-sounding rule that their doctors live and practice nearby, while many Alabama abortionists live out of state. The clinics can’t replace them with local doctors, because protesters will harass the those doctors’ non-abortion patients and drive the doctors out of any business but abortion. A doctor who chooses that path will face threats to his/her home and family. And doctors who ignore such threats have been murdered.

Legislators, of course, express horror at the murder of doctors, just as the pillars of 1960s Mississippi society expressed horror at the Mississippi Burning murders, and the planter aristocrats shook their heads sadly at the brutality of the KKK and the White Leagues. But the strategy is all of a piece and always has been. Change cannot stand, no matter what documents it is based on or who votes for them. If violence is necessary, so be it.

And if you think for a moment that Muder’s take on the movement’s violent bent is fanciful or exaggerated, consider this.

This mindset has found a focus point, and a path to at least a modicum of power, through the Tea Party, which now effectively holds sway over one of our two major political parties and is directly responsible what much of America — and the world — finds so odious about today’s GOP and our country. (Credit where due, by the way: The blogger Driftglass has written on this theme for years.)

Muder concludes:

Our modern Confederates are quick to tell the rest of us that we don’t understand them because we don’t know our American history. And they’re right. If you knew more American history, you would realize just how dangerous these people are.

 

Odds and ends for April 14

We have seen our enemies, and they are weak. Seriously. Relative to us, weak on a world-historical scale.

In Idaho, the batshittery of the right-wing nut jobs carries an eight-digit price tag.

New Mexico has become the second state to ban the civil forfeiture of innocent people’s property. This needs to happen nationwide.

When cops misbehave, body cams are not, by themselves, helpful. The video must be publicly available. D.C. appears headed in the opposite direction. (That issue is still up in the air here in Greensboro.)

Speaking of misbehaving cops, The Baltimorie Sun proves that there are still a few reporters out there kicking ass and taking names.

Researchers have found patterns in then-President Ronald Reagan’s speech that indicated Alzheimer’s disease years before Reagan received his diagnosis in 1994. I mention this not to take a dig at Reagan but to point out that this approach may be a way to diagnose Alzheimer’s in people sooner than has been possible up ’til now.

My friend Louis Bekoe is running for president, and I’ve got to say that right now he’s the best choice out there.

Speaking of running for president, supposed contender Chris Christie apparently will be campaigning on a platform to cut Social Security and Medicare. Unlike Bush 43, at least he’s being upfront about it.

And candidate Rand Paul‘s wife insists that he doesn’t have a problem with women because he has worked with female surgeons. OK, then, if she says so.

Non-local folks, this is particularly for you: The National Folk Festival will be here in Greensboro this year and for the next two years as well. Here’s info. This is a big deal.

Damn. Percy Sledge is dead at 73.

 

Monday, April 13, 2015 9:52 pm

Odds and ends for April 13

Gunter Grass, the Pulitzer Nobel Prize-winning author (and, ironically, former Waffen SS soldier) whose work forced German culture to confront the horror of Naziism, is dead at 87.

Apparently Marco Rubio is running for president. Here are seven reasons that’d be a bad idea.

Sigh. One more example of out-of-control cops. At least no one died this time.

Duke Energy’s contributions to the Republican Governors’ Association increased by an order of magnitude after the Dan River spill. Duke says that’s just coincidence. Yeah. Sure. Right.

The former executive director of the State Employees Association of N.C., Dana Cope, appears to have spent close to half a million bucks that wasn’t his.

Why make North Carolina workers safer when you can just rig the numbers?

How bad has this legislative session been for North Carolinians? Let us count the ways.

It’s a uterus, not a clown car: A 65-year-old German woman who has 13 kids and seven grandkids is pregnant with quadruplets.

The Lost Colony? Maybe not so lost after all.

Friday, April 10, 2015 9:24 pm

I’ll just let the TSA rock you to sleep tonight; or, One random business traveller sees how it could happen

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 9:24 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

I recently went on a business trip, which, unfortunately, involved interaction with the U.S. commercial aviation system. If you fly, I don’t have to tell you how pure-T miserable the experience has become. But this trip included a lagniappe.

I was flying back from … well, I won’t say, because I don’t want to get anyone in trouble. The important thing is that I had in my suitcase a box of the small Flip brand video cameras that we use in our work. The TSA at airports usually gets very interested in them, because on X-ray they and their accessories look like, well, a bunch of small, rectangular things with wires and batteries. In other words, awfully like a bomb.

So I wasn’t terribly surprised when they opened up my suitcase and took out the box, and then opened the box and emptied it completely. That had happened before. They emptied my suitcase completely, too, and checked everything for explosive residue. Finding none, they repacked it all (or so I thought), and my flight went on uncomfortably but uneventfully.

Only when I got home did I discover that one of the cameras was missing. I had counted them before we left the client’s offices, and they had all been there. I called the client to be sure; no camera there. But I was definitely one short. The only thing I could figure was that when TSA tossed my suitcase, they’d taken out all the cameras and somehow failed to put one back in the box.

TSA actually has a lost-and-found page you can check for numbers to call if you’ve lost something, so I called. After a bit of phone tag, I got a supervisor who asked about my flight, date, time, airport, and so forth, and said he could pull the video of the search and also check with that airport’s TSA folks to see if the camera had turned up. When he called me back, long story short, neither his colleagues nor the video had had any useful info. In fact, he said, the video appeared to show that everything taken out of that box had, indeed, been put back in.

“Did you gate-check your bag?” he asked me.

Well, yes, I did. Because on most domestic flights, the overhead bins fill up well before the seats do, so I pretty much had to. I suppose I could check my bag, but, particularly on a flight with connections, as surely as I do, my luggage will get lost (with the cameras in the suitcase) and I’ll arrive at a client’s unable to do what we’re being paid to do. So if I don’t want to check my bag, principles of Newtonian physics dictate that I inevitably have to gate-check it.

And that’s the thing, the supervisor said. There was a time there after you gate-checked your bag where your bag was unattended. Maybe, he said, that’s when the camera disappeared.

Never mind the implausibility of someone opening the suitcase AND opening the box inside and just taking one camera, rather than simply snatching the whole box (smaller than a shoebox, though much heavier).

“So you’re saying that my bag was unattended during gate-check and so somebody opened it up and stole the camera then?” I said. “Does it bother you at all that if someone could have done that, they also could have put an explosive device in the bag and blown the plane out of the sky?”

“I know,” was all he said. “I know.” Over and over. “I know.”

Wow.

We as a nation have spent an ungodly amount of money since 9/11 on making sure American commercial aviation is as safe as it can be — or so we’re told. But apparently it’s still possible for someone to steal a camera from — or place explosives within — a bag that has been checked and is supposedly being supervised. And I got that straight from a TSA supervisor.

Enjoy your next flight. I know I will.

 

Odds and ends for April 10

Vox.com has created an interactive map showing at least some information on each of more than 5,600 officer-involved homicides dating to 2000. The data are badly incomplete, and Steve Buttry and others have noted that it would be nice if the data were searchable in some ways that they currently are not. But what’s there is scary, and depressing, enough.

Looks like overzealous New York cops may have finally messed with someone with the resources to mess back.

It isn’t Facebook whose mantra is “Don’t be evil,” and here’s one reason why.

Some liberal sites like Newscorpse are arguing that this Roger Ailes statement means he’s admitting Fox News isn’t news but entertainment. That’s true, but I don’t think Ailes is admitting it. Rather, I think he’s talking about competing with TNT, USA, and ESPN merely in terms of audience ratings and share, not content, and that the other interpretation is an unsupported reach.

I admire Simon Schräder’s initiative and creativity even as I hope and expect that his freedom-of-information request will be unsuccessful.

So with its very viability under attack by the N.C. General Assembly, the UNC system decides that its biggest problem is … raising salaries for chancellors? Way to paint a bulls-eye on yourselves, guys.

Its leaders keep saying the legislature’s top priority is jobs, but as the man said in “48HRS,” we all know the truth’s a little different. My friend Susan Ladd continues to call out the legislature for its efforts to shrink state government until it fits inside your uterus.

Duke Energy got off with a $25 million slap on the wrist for contaminating groundwater in New Hanover County. Naturally, it is whining about that.

Two magistrates who left their jobs rather than issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples as now required in N.C. by court order are — duh — suing, claiming that their religious rights were violated. Here’s hoping a court swiftly and violently upsides them with the clue stick because I have had it with religious wingnuts and their oh-so-tender fee-fees. If y’all want to know what violation of religious liberty really looks like, Kenya can show you.

The News & Record’s Joe Killian eviscerates the Rhino Times’s fake poll on SB 36, Sen. Trudy Wade’s bill to create a GOP-controlled City Council in a city that’s two-thirds Democratic because they can’t seem to win at the polls.

My friend Linda Hoopes, a psychology Ph.D. with a special interest in resilience — how people respond to and recover from adversity — now has a weekly radio show and podcast, Resilience Radio. It airs live at 4 p.m. Eastern time on Mondays.

Damn. CLT Blog, one of the most innovative and journalistically successful citizen-journalism efforts around, has given up the ghost after 6-plus years. (h/t: @underoak)

Study: People who curse a lot are f—–g awesome.

Thursday, April 9, 2015 8:22 pm

Odds and ends for April 9

Sorry, guys, I was on the road today, so I ain’t got much.

The Rhino Times commissioned a push poll by a conservative chop shop to make it appear there is more support for a measure to redistrict Greensboro City Council than there actually is. Doug Clark at the N&R calls them out on it.

Meanwhile, some Wake County voters have sued over the recent changes to the Wake Board of Commissioners imposed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

In other popular stuff carried out by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, a lot of middle-class North Carolinians saw their state income taxes go up this year. But hey! Tax cuts for the wealthy and big bidness!

Why Stephen Curry, and not James Harden, should be this year’s NBA MVP. (I mean, besides Davidson. Duh.)

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 9:00 pm

Odds and ends for April 8

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 9:00 pm

Oops! Thought I posted this but didn’t. Sorry!

A South Carolina police officer faces murder charges after he was caught on video firing eight shots at the back of a fleeing suspect. Incredible. And, yet, not so much, sadly.

When you strip away their lofty rhetoric, most elected Republicans really only want to do two things: steal your money and kick people when they’re down.

More people who aren’t doing Christianity right: A bill in Tennessee would allow counseling students (and students in social work or psychology) to discriminate against gays, non-Christians, or anyone else on the basis of the student’s religious belief.

That hoovering of phone calls that the DEA was doing years before 9/11? Human Rights Watch and the Electronic Frontier Foundation are suing to stop it. Good.

How former pro football star Darren Sharper’s multi-state rape spree was enabled by police hesitation to act.

We’re now manufacturing tools and other objects in space, with 3-D printing. We live in an age of wonders. Seriously.

Speaking of wonders, credit where due — here’s one thing the Republicans in the N.C. legislature are doing right: pushing to expand solar energy.

On the flip side, they’re going farther into science denialism and sticking government farther into our uteri.

North Carolina’s failure to educate its K-12 students soon may become a legal problem.

Some good news for a change: Netflix is picking up another 17 episodes of “Arrested Development.” It and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” are the two funniest things on TV right now.

And the brontosaurus is back. Pluto remains a “minor planet,” however.

 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015 8:57 pm

Odds and ends for April 7

First, congratulations to Duke!

Sure, a ban on medical schools teaching abortion wouldn’t survive constitutional scrutiny. But suppose it did: Legislators would be sentencing a nontrivial number of women to death. How about we ban your fucking heart valves, you goddamned sociopaths? I’m sorry, but in what universe am I supposed to treat this as just another policy proposal to be dispassionately debated?

The DEA secretly recorded billions of Americans’ international calls years before 9/11. And not one damn person will go to jail behind it.

My online friend Chris Dashiell went on a bit of a rant Monday on Twitter about what the backlash against the Rolling Stone UVa/rape story says about our toxic media environment. I’ve Storified it so that you can enjoy it, too.

Here are five Texas firefighters who I think will really enjoy prison.

In Chicago, Mayor (and all-around jackass) Rahm Emanuel could be out on his ass. As Al Capone is reputed to have said after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, I’ll send flowers.

Rand Paul formally declared for the presidency today. If his batshit insanity, leavened with enough isolated sane positions to attract some low-info voters, isn’t enough to turn you off, consider this: His campaign website is selling an “NSA spy-cam blocker.” Grifters gonna grift.

While I have argued that voter fraud — real voter fraud — is vanishingly rare, I’ve never argued that it doesn’t exist. Now, some N.C. cases have led to criminal charges. The cases involve two felons who hadn’t had their rights restored, a guy who voted in both North Carolina and Florida, and one person who wasn’t a citizen of the United States. It is unclear at best whether the state’s voter-ID law would have prevented the latter case, and clear that it wouldn’t have prevented the other three. (h/t: Fred)

And U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is running for re-election, presumably because we kids still haven’t gotten off his lawn.

Aluminum batteries could replace our lithium ones, extending battery life. But probably not anytime soon.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott initially said he couldn’t “in good conscience” reject Medicaid expansion. So much for conscience.

The New York Times takes a look at the redistricting dispute in Greensboro and other cases in North Carolina. Oddly, the article doesn’t present any larger context or perspective on the fact that this is a national, ALEC-driven effort.

Speaking of the Times, perhaps I should ask it for a million bucks just to see what would happen.

A day or two ago I mentioned a Long Island high-school student who had been accepted into all eight Ivy League schools. Well, turns out, North Carolina has one of them, too.

Monday, April 6, 2015 7:39 pm

Odds and ends for April 6

Apparently Jeb Bush listed himself as Hispanic when he most recently registered to vote in Florida, which would be hilarious and all except that putting false info on a Florida voter-registration form is a third-degree felony.

Now that Columbia University’s report on the now-retracted Rolling Stone article about rape at the University of Virginia has been made public, how successful is the Phi Kappa Psi fraternity likely to be in its planned lawsuit against the magazine? Eugene Volokh at the Washington Post discusses it.

The Supreme Court is letting a lawsuit against the state of North Carolina over its new voting restrictions move ahead to trial. Good.

Today’s Braves-Marlins game in Miami was delayed by rain in the second inning. Despite the stadium’s having a retractable roof.

Now he’s just showing off: Long Island high-school senior Harold Ekeh got accepted at all eight Ivy League colleges.

 

Sunday, April 5, 2015 10:35 pm

The post-mortem on Rolling Stone’s rape-at-UVa article: You say your mother loves you? Check it out.

UPDATED below.

Report by Columbia here; the key bits (emphasis mine):

The particulars of Rolling Stone‘s failure make clear the need for a revitalized consensus in newsrooms old and new about what best journalistic practices entail, at an operating-manual-level of detail. … The magazine’s records and interviews with participants show that the failure of “A Rape on Campus” was not due to a lack of resources. The problem was methodology, compounded by an environment where several journalists with decades of collective experience failed to surface and debate problems about their reporting or to heed the questions they did receive from a fact-checking colleague.

In retrospect, [Will] Dana, the managing editor, who has worked at Rolling Stone since 1996, said the story’s breakdown reflected both an “individual failure” and “procedural failure, an institutional failure. … Every single person at every level of this thing had opportunities to pull the strings a little harder, to question things a little more deeply, and that was not done.” …

Yet the explanation that Rolling Stone failed because it deferred to a victim cannot adequately account for what went wrong. [Article author Sabrina] Erdely’s reporting records and interviews with participants make clear that the magazine did not pursue important reporting paths even when Jackie [the pseudonym the magazine used for the purported victim] had made no request that they refrain. The editors made judgments about attribution, fact-checking and verification that greatly increased their risks of error but had little or nothing to do with protecting Jackie’s position. …

In hindsight, the most consequential decision Rolling Stone made was to accept that Erdely had not contacted the three friends who spoke with Jackie on the night she said she was raped. That was the reporting path, if taken, that would have almost certainly led the magazine’s editors to change plans.

I may or may not have more to say about the details later, after I have re-read the report, but I can say this just as I did soon after questions about the report arose: Failure to independently verify a primary source’s claims is journalistic malpractice, and the article’s author, Sabrina Erdely, manifestly failed to independently verify her primary source’s claims — and in some instances didn’t even try. And the article’s editor, Sean Woods, and the magazine’s managing editor, Will Dana, were aware of holes in Erdely’s reporting and let the article run anyway.

Rolling Stone’s fact-checker assigned to the case raised questions that the editors ultimately failed to answer. The report quotes Coco McPherson, the fact-checking chief, as saying, “I one hundred percent do not think that the policies that we have in place failed. I think decisions were made around those because of the subject matter.” It’s not clear whether McPherson means “around” as a synonym for “about” (an increasingly common usage I despise precisely because it creates confusion like this) or whether she means that the policies are fine but were bypassed in this case.

At any rate, fact-checking is worthless if discrepancies that are found aren’t fully investigated. Rolling Stone’s fact-checker (who isn’t named in the report because she had no control over the ultimate content of the article) appears to have done her job — and to have been ignored by Erdely, with the complicity of Woods and Dana. McPherson, the fact-checking chief, is basically saying that Woods and Dana ignored her employee’s work because of the sensitivity of working with a primary source who claimed to have been a sexual-assault victim. If in fact that was the case, well, that’s not good enough.

I don’t think, contrary to some accusations, that Erdely fabricated the story. But she deferred excessively to a source whom even minimal attempts at verification would have shown to be questionable. And Wills and Dana didn’t demand enough documentation. The question remains why. McPherson has her theory, but Wills and Dana themselves don’t say. We may never know. We can only speculate. And I imagine that the culture warriors all along the spectrum are ready, willing, and able to serve up piping-hot scenarios that might or might not bear any relationship to reality.

Beyond that, this episode has probably made life harder for women who have been sexually assaulted — it provides fodder for people of bad faith who want to argue that sexual assault isn’t a big problem or a big deal, and that false reports are common. Erdely, Woods, and Dana owe their readers an apology, but they owe these survivors an even bigger one.

As of this writing, Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner is saying no one at the magazine will be disciplined, and Erdely will continue to write for the magazine, because he believes that the errors were unintentional. Not that what I think matters, but I think all three should be fired. Checking facts is Journalism 101, even for news outlets without the resources and fact-checking infrastructure of a Rolling Stone. The quantity and quality of the unforced errors that led to the publication of this unsupported story are simply too egregious to be ignored.

UPDATE: Reaction from some others in or formerly in media.

UPDATE: Columbia Journalism Review interviews the report authors.

UPDATE: Erdely’s public apology. Note that she did not apologize to Phi Kappa Psi, the fraternity named in the article and an organization that suffered real, albeit not life-shattering, consequences.

UPDATE: The Washington Post’s Erik Wemple summarizes the report and lists those victimized by the Rolling Stone article.

I also recommend that you read press critic Jay Rosen’s take whenever it appears on his site, Pressthink.org. As of midnight Sunday, he hadn’t posted yet, but he has said his take is in progress. UPDATE: It’s here, and I quote from it Rosen’s discussion of an important angle that the report authors didn’t consider in any depth:

5. The most consequential decision Rolling Stone made was made at the beginning: to settle on a narrative and go in search of the story that would work just right for that narrative. The key term isemblematic. The report has too little to say about that fateful decision, probably because it’s not a breach of procedure but standard procedure in magazine-style journalism. (Should it be?) This is my primary criticism of the Columbia report: it has too little to say about the “emblem of…” problem.

6. Not that it’s entirely missing. The basic facts are there:

Erdely said she was searching for a single, emblematic college rape case that would show “what it’s like to be on campus now … where not only is rape so prevalent but also that there’s this pervasive culture of sexual harassment/rape culture,” according to Erdely’s notes of the conversation.

Idea: Maybe “a single, emblematic college rape case” does not exist. Maybe the hunt for such was ill-conceived from the start. Maybe that’s the wrong way for Rolling Stone to have begun.

7. This is from Paul Farhi’s Nov. 28 account in the Washington Post:

So, for six weeks starting in June, Erdely interviewed students from across the country. She talked to people at Harvard, Yale, Princeton and her alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania. None of those schools felt quite right. But one did: the University of Virginia, a public school, Southern and genteel, brimming with what Erdely calls “super-smart kids” and steeped in the legacy of its founder, Thomas Jefferson.

None of those schools felt quite right. What kind of “feel” is this? It’s feeling for a fit between discovered story and a prior — given — narrative.

8. “Mr. Dana said the article stemmed from a feeling he and other senior editors had over summer that the issue of unpunished campus rapes would make a compelling and important story,” read Ravi Somaiya’s Dec. 7 report in the New York Times. There’s the prior narrative I mentioned. It didn’t start with Sabrina Rubin Erdely. She was sent on a search for where to set it.

Rosen also makes clear just how badly Rolling Stone screwed up in its reliance on “Jackie” as a primary source:

14. Part of what made Rolling Stone editors vulnerable to the “emblem of…” problem was some seriously dated thinking about credibility, in which it’s said to be sort of like charisma. You have charisma or you don’t. You “have” credibility or you don’t. If a source is felt to be credible, the entire story can ride on that. Your colleagues are credible, so it doesn’t occur you to ask if they could all be missing something.

A dramatic high point for this kind of thinking comes during Hannah Rosin’s incredible podcast interview with Sabrina Erdely. Rosin asks near the end of it: If you were Jackie’s lawyer, how would you prove her case? (Go to 6:35 on this clip and listen.) The author’s reply: “I found her story to be very— I found her to be very credible.”

15. It’s almost like, if you have credibility you don’t need proof. That’s an absurd statement, of course, but here’s how they got there (without realizing it.) Instead of asking: what have we done in telling Jackie’s story to earn the skeptical user’s belief? you say: I’m a skeptical journalist, I found her story believable, so will the users. Voilà! Credibility. Will Dana is one of the best editors in New York. Who “has” more credibility than him? No one! He finds her story believable. Doesn’t that “give” it credibility too?

In short, journalism is supposed to be built around the discipline of verification … and the people and process that led to Rolling Stone’s story were utterly undisciplined.

UPDATE: Mediagazer links to other sources on the story, some of which duplicate items above, here.

UPDATE: Several years ago, the Center for Public Integrity published a series of articles on campus sexual assault. While the details of the cases discussed might not be as spectacular as those in Rolling Stone’s article, the reporting is far better documented.

UPDATE: I should have disclosed earlier that I once sold an article to Rolling Stone, back in 1986. I’ve had no dealings with them since.

Odds and ends for April 5

He is risen. He is risen indeed.

Cops in California are using a 1930s-era anti-lynching statute to intimidate protesters. Prosecutors so far have declined to press those charges, but it’s only a matter of time until a right-wing nutjob decides to try to make an example of someone.

Speaking of California, its people are in serious denial about its extreme drought, now in its fourth year. About 94% of the state considers the drought serious, but 61% still favor voluntary measures to deal with it. Y’all need to wake up.

Likely presidential contender and perennial horse’s ass Mike Huckabee thinks I’m a member of the “militant gay community,” inasmuch as that’s whom he’s blaming for the backlash against Indiana’s bigoted “religious freedom” statute. Who knew that Christians who take the Second Great Commandment seriously were militant gays? My wife certainly had no idea.

We have a system that treats you better if you are rich and guilty than if you are poor and innocent and this case proves it.” (Previously.)

In Florida, relatives of officers of for-profit charter-school companies are enacting legislation to divert money from public schools to charter schools. But none dare call it a conflict of interest, let alone a crime.

Randi Harper, somewhat unwillingly turned into an activist by GamerGaters and perpetrators of online violent and/or sexual threats, got SWATed — someone called in a false tip to police that led a SWAT team to raid her apartment. Her experience could have ended with her dead, or at least her dog. Fortunately, both are alive and well. She talks about what you need to do to protect yourself from such potentially deadly “pranks.” For the record, given the risk of gunplay anytime heavily armed cops storm a home, I think this “prank” should be treated as attempted manslaughter, at least. (h/t: Chip)

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh draws a useful distinction between what he does and much of the “news” you see in print and online today: Instead of taking a tip and building it into a story, too many reporters just run the tip.

 

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