Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, August 30, 2015 6:35 am

New Orleans 10 years after Hurricane Katrina

When you need an elegy, always hire an Irish poet.

Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce:

All archaeology is about layers, one city laid atop the others, as though civilization were coming from deep in the earth and piling itself up toward the sky. In the late nineteenth century, when the German adventurer and archaeologist—and part-time fantast—Heinrich Schliemann went looking for the city of Troy, he found eleven of them, one atop another. At one level, Schliemann found a cache of gold and jewelry that he pronounced to be the treasure of Priam, the king of Troy at the time of the events of the Iliad. He was wrong. The gold had been found at what later was determined to be only Troy II. It is popularly believed now that Troy VII was the site of the war about which Homer wrote. There are bronze arrowheads there, and skeletons bearing the marks of hor-rendous injuries, and there is evidence of a great fire. What Schliemann wrote when he first made his discoveries there has held remarkably true for all the layers of Troy that have been unearthed since then:

“I have proved that in a remote antiquity there was in the Plain of Troy a large city, destroyed of old by a fearful catastrophe, which had on the hill of Hissarlik only its Acropolis, with its temples and a few other large edifices, whilst its lower city extended in an easterly, southerly, and westerly direction, on the site of the later Ilium; and that, consequently, this city answers perfectly to the Homeric description of the sacred site of Ilios.”

There is an archaeology to human lives, too, and it is very much the same. Human lives have layers, one atop the other, as though the individual were rising from the dust of creation toward the stars. Some of the layers show nothing much at all. Some of them, like the dark layers at Troy that indicate a vast fire, show that something very important happened to the lives in question. Hurricane Katrina, and all of the myriad events surrounding it, both good and bad, is that vast, sweeping layer within the lives of the people of New Orleans. Almost fifteen hundred people died. There was $100 billion in damage. The levees failed. The city flooded. The city, state, and federal governments failed even worse than the levees did. It was estimated in 2006 that four hundred thousand people were displaced from the city; an estimated one hundred thousand of them never returned. Parts of the city recovered. Parts of the city were rebuilt. Parts of the city gleam now brighter than they ever did. There will be parades on the anniversary of the storm because there are things in the city to celebrate, but it is the tradition in this city that the music doesn’t lively up and the parade really doesn’t start until the departed has been laid to rest, until what is lost is counted, and until the memories are stored away. Only then does the music swing the way the music is supposed to sound. Only then do they begin to parade.

There will be some joy in the tenth-anniversary celebration because of this, but the storm is there in everyone, a dark layer in the archaeology of their lives. For some people, it is buried deeply enough to be forgotten. For others, the people who live in the places that do not gleam and that are not new, it is closer to the surface. A lot of the recovery is due to what author Naomi Klein refers to as “disaster capitalism.” The city has been reconfigured according to radically different political imperatives—in its schools and its housing and the general relationship of the people to their city and state governments. Many of them felt their lives taken over by anonymous forces as implacable as the storm was. There will be some sadness in the tenth anniversary because of this, fresh memories of old wounds, a sense of looming and ongoing loss. The storm is the dark layer in all the lives. And because it is, the storm is what unites them still, like that burned layer of Troy.

It is what connects the memory of [New Orleans police officer] Daryle Holloway to that of [Dr.] Bennett deBoisblanc, both of whom worked to save lives at Charity Hospital, which is now closed, never to reopen. It connects them all, this dark layer in the deep strata of their lives. It connects Charity Hospital to the Lower Ninth Ward in the life of Irma Mosley, who was born at Charity fifty-four years ago and who now works at a community center in the Lower Ninth. It is on St. Claude Avenue, not far from where Daryle Holloway, whose mother worked at Charity, was shot and killed.

 

Saturday, August 29, 2015 4:41 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 29

It was easier to give in than to keep running.

This is the kind of climate-change contradiction that likely can be explained only by following the money.

Sarah Palin interviews Donald Trump: the dumber leading the dumberer.

A West Point professor, Willliam Bradford, has gone WAY off the constitutional reservation on the War on Some Terror.

So fracking, among its many other charms, can produce radioactive material. Woo-hoo!

Remind me again why anyone would or should listen to Dick Cheney.

On this, the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, Heckuva Job Brownie is quite literally the last person we need to hear from.

 

Friday, August 28, 2015 11:32 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 28

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange may be a kiddy diddler or he may be totally innocent, but one way or the other, it’s long past time we found out which.

Even if this climate change legislation passes in California, I fear the extraction industries have too much sway in Congress to save us from climate-change-based extinction.

Sigh. The government gets another chance to justify its blatantly unconstitutional NSA info-gathering.

So guess what Subway knew years in advance about spokesperv Jared Fogle. Go on. You’ll never guess.

John Oliver now has been cited, approvingly, in a federal court decision. Go, John.

The anti-choice movement doesn’t give a damn about sexism, racism or ableism. They just want you to think they do. For that matter, if they gave a damn about preventing abortions, they’d be supporting cheaper, better birth control and better sex education, but they don’t care about that, either. What they care about is, to borrow a phrase from Charlie Pierce, ladyparts and the ladies who use them without permission.

We’re still holding dozens of people in Guantanamo whom we plan neither to charge nor to release. Sorry, Obama (and whoever succeeds you), but you don’t get to play that game. Charge ’em or let ’em go. Put up or shut up.

Was the “Nazi gold train” in Poland near the end of World War II real? And has it been found? Stay tuned.

Amid the Ashley Madison scandal, right-wing Christianity has been the dog that didn’t bark.

Turns out loser La. Gov. Bobby Jindal asked President Obama not to talk about climate change when he visited New Orleans yesterday for the Katrinaversary (h/t: @adrastosno). And the president reminded us again how empty is the bag of fks he has to give. Also: bonus stuff Jindal either doesn’t understand or is being paid to ignore.

If Peggy Noonan would just stop drinking, she’d sober up and realize that, no, Donald Trump is not going to carry the Hispanic vote. But that’s an “if” too far.

My friend Mark Barrett addresses the Koch Brothers’  move into N.C. health care, which can only be bad.

Finally, just because, my friend Beau Dure on the lyrical mess that is R.E.M.’s “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”

Oh, and wait: A Friday Random 10!

R.E.M. – Driver 8 (You can’t make this up)
Delta Moon – Money Changes Everything
LMNT – Juliet
Velvet Underground – Waiting for the Man
Legendary Pink Dots – Black Highway
Jackson Browne – Pretender
Carbon Leaf – What About Everything
Morissey – Suedehead
Neil Young – Rockin’ in the Free World
Counting Crows – Rain King

lagniappe: Romeo Void – Never Say Never

 

Thursday, August 27, 2015 9:44 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 27

I don’t have anything to add to the coverage and discussion of the fatal shootings on live TV of reporter Alison Parker and videographer Adam Ward yesterday in Virginia. The now-dead shooter clearly had problems but, given the state of our laws, probably not the type that would have prevented him from getting a gun. The media too quickly made the discussion about itself, when they weren’t outright endangering people’s lives, and I have no interest in adding to that pile of crap. And I’m beyond tired of people who say nothing can be done, as if we don’t actively choose, every single day, to do nothing. Something can be done — maybe not to have prevented this particular shooting, but to prevent many more like it. The whole racism angle was silly (and, no, I’m not linking to Breitbart, FFS). And I’m just profoundly sad for the victims and their families, friends, co-workers, and industry — the TV news bidness is even smaller than the newspaper bidness, so everybody knows everybody else, or at least knows of everybody else. The two dead victims went out to do a job and were ambushed, and I’ve got nothing.

Moving on …

North Dakota is weaponizing its police drones with so-called “less lethal” weapons such as tear gas, Tasers, and beanbag cannons. Internet, you may hereby consider the fatal wounding of an absolutely innocent civilian reasonably foreseen.

Yes, it’s true that roughly 3% of all peer-reviewed research on climate change differs from the predominant theory. It’s also true that several common errors often appear in that contrarian research.

At least one county court clerk in Kentucky plans to fight same-sex marriage — which, by the way, has been the law of the land for a couple of months without the world’s coming to an end — even unto death. Upon reflection, I’m fine if the door hits ya where the good Lord split ya. In fact, I hope it hurts a little.

If you want to try to indict Hillary Clinton for transmitting classified information via unsecured email during her tenure as Secretary of State, you can try — it wasn’t illegal at the time, but what the hey — but you’re going to have to indict a lot of other people as well. One of them might well have been Colin Powell, but we don’t know because his emails were illegally (although probably not criminally) deleted.

Two Seattle cops tried to get a metro bus driver fired, alleging that he had cursed them. Just one problem: the bus driver was wearing a body cam. Now the cops are the ones who have been fired. But one must ask: How often do cops lie just because they think they can? And if they do it over such chickenshit stuff as this, how likely are they to do it when they could be going to prison?

Just how badly doctored were the so-called “expose” videos on Planned Parenthood? Very badly.

Hurricane Erika could make landfall somewhere on the southeastern U.S. coast — possibly in North Carolina — in the next four or five days. Y’all stay safe.

North Carolina’s unemployment still sucks. Couldn’t be because the legislature keeps taking money from the middle class and the poor and giving it to the rich, could it? Nahhhh.

Blogging is dead? Someone forgot to tell the home of some of the original blogging. (h/t Jeff Sykes)

Stevie Ray Vaughan died 25 years ago today. Still miss ‘im.

And, finally, another reason to keep ISIS out of Greece: a newly-discovered palace near Sparta that dates to the 17th century B.C.E.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015 6:28 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 26

When Hillary Clinton corralled journalists, journalists and pundits complained, and rightfully so. I trust they’ll do the same now that Donald Trump had reporter Jorge Ramos, whose audience is huge, physically removed from an event. Right?

Speaking of Trump, the N.C. GOP wants to ban him (and anyone else) from the state’s 2016 presidential primary unless they pledge to support whoever the party’s nominee turns out to be and promise not to run a third-party candidacy. This Republican wouldn’t vote for Trump at gunpoint but thinks that if you support him and he has filed, you deserve to get the chance to vote for him.

So, while it may have been incredibly stupid for Hillary Clinton to handle State Department info on a personal email account, it was against neither law nor policy at the time it happened. The same is true when her predecessor, Colin Powell, did the same thing, FWIW.

California schools are requiring kids to get vaccinated, so, naturally, parents are lining up to home-school their kids rather than vaccinate them. We need a vaccination against stupidity, is what we need.

Our legislature, which can’t be bothered to do its own damn job, has decided that it needs to kick the unemployed, even though North Carolina’s unemployed already get the nation’s lowest benefits. They should be reminded that this state is chock-full of pine trees and chickens, the raw material for tar and feathers.

Campaigns of and SuperPACs supporting four GOP governors running for president have received $2.5 million from “companies with state contracts or subsidies,” per the Wall Street Journal. But, go ahead, Justice Anthony Kennedy, tell me again how money in politics creates neither the reality nor the appearance of corruption.

So Raleigh anti-abortion activists are now harassing clinic escorts and trying to get them fired. Becauses that’s what Jesus would do.

And in a setback for veganism, the FDA rules that if you’re going to call something “mayonnaise,” it has to have eggs in it.

Thursday, August 13, 2015 8:40 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 13

Ben Carson doesn’t think cops killing unarmed African Americans is a problem and that anyone who says otherwise is just “creating strife.” Good to know.

The story was that white Arlington, Texas, police officer Brad Miller shot and killed Christian Taylor, an African American teen, after a “struggle.” But the story was wrong, and Miller has been fired and could face criminal charges. The questions: Why, with so much information in hand, did the police department wait so long to do the right thing, and what does that say about police culture generally?

What’s beyond dispute: A driver drove into a crowd of #BlackLivesMatter protesters on I-70 in St. Louis. It’s on video (scroll down). The question: Did a police officer tacitly, or explicitly, give the OK?

California has banned the use of secret grand juries in the investigation of police uses of lethal force. I understand the desire to want to make such investigations more open, but I also wonder whether this mechanism complies with the Fifth Amendment, which requires suspects in cases of “capital, or otherwise infamous crimes[s]” to be charged “on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury.”

When #BlackLivesMatter protesters interrupted an appearance by Bernie Sanders this past weekend, white Sanders backers asked why these protesters didn’t protest at the campaign events of candidates who oppose #BLM. So they did.

The N.C. charter-school movement, recently unleashed by an almost incomprehensibly bad N.C. Supreme Court decision, is, predictably, becoming the locus of a stream of conservative out-of-state cash. If you honestly think charters will offer “improved school choice” and not just gut the public schools, you’re dreaming. If you know better, you need to go find an existing tin-pot dictatorship in which to play. We don’t need you here trying to turn us into a new one.

 

 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015 8:56 pm

Odds and ends for Aug. 12

Now where were we …?

There might be no more dangerous example of how corporate money corrupts politics than the case of the fossil-fuel industry giving money to candidates who are global-warming skeptics and/or opposed to increasing our renewable-energy supply.

Relatedly, today’s quote, from David Simon, creator of “The Wire” and “Treme”:

You know, I wasn’t offended that the Supreme Court decided that a corporation is a person. We crossed that river a long time ago. What freaked me out was money being equated to speech. That f—-d me up. Speech is speech. Nothing will make people say more stupid shit than money. When money is actually transformed into actual words, the words are, by in large, quite stupid, self-serving and disastrous. So money is speech — that to me was an obscenity.

If you doubt there’s a war against women, well, here it is.

Wisconsin Gov. and presidential candidate Scott Walker not only hates women, he also hates free speech.

I said after last week’s Republican presidential debate that Ohio Gov. John Kasich was the only one out of the 17 who sounded both sane and competent to govern. I spoke too soon.

The Civil War was about slavery. But don’t take it from me. Take it from the head of West Point’s history department.

Aldona Wos finally has resigned as N.C. Secretary of Health and Human Services. It’s about damn time.

The N.C. Senate wants to take us into thermonuclear Koch budgeting mode, thus locking us into perpetual budget crises. Oh, goody. Also, they want to do it without any public hearings. Say it with me, kids: TABOR is the reason we can’t have nice things. Like, you know, roads and schools.

Relatedly, N.C. General Assemblyyou had one job: Pass a budget by July 1. But that was beyond you then, and apparently it’s still beyond you. Morons.

I don’t have a happy kicker with which to wrap up today, so y’all are dismissed. Go have a drink.

 

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?

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015 8:17 pm

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.

 

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.

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.)

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.

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.

 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015 7:48 pm

Odds and ends for April 1

I hate April Fool’s Day. Morons spend the day trying to prank news outlets, it’s Amateur Night for everyone you know who has a bad sense of humor, and social media becomes absolutely worthless. That said, all these items either are factually true, untrue only by accident, or my opinion.

Again, this is not an April Fool’s “joke”: The Palestinian Authority is now a member of the International Criminal Court. I think I’ll just hold my breath while Hamas militants are prosecuted for war crimes. Not.

Also not a joke: Generous welfare benefits make people more, not less, likely to want to work, a study finds.

Surprise! N.J. Gov. Chris Christie’s privatized lottery plan has failed. And Big Chicken wants to take his “ideas” national.

Some very conservative Roman Catholic priests and lay people are rebelling against Pope Francis’s modest efforts to restore Christianity to the church. The Vatican’s response? “Excommunication is automatic.” Boom!

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has been indicted on public corruption charges in Florida, where he is accused of using his office to promote the business of a big donor.

First, Rep. Tom Cotton and the Gang of 47 tried to take over foreign policy with Israel. Now, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is trying to take over foreign policy as it relates to climate change. Fortunately for the world, McConnell seems to have the reverse Midas touch: Everything he touches turns to shit.

The liberal news/analysis magazine The Nation is suing the federal government over its monitoring of the magazine’s international communications. Seems a good time to remind folks that the Patriot Act sunsets this year unless Congress extends it. Now would be a good time to tell your congresscritter to consign that law to the scrap heap of history and for us all to remember that we’re Americans, not East Germans.

Indiana is discovering that “religious freedom” means different things to different people. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) denomination has decided to move its 2017 convention from Indianapolis to some other, less benighted venue.

Arkansas follows Indiana’s lead with a so-called “religious freedom” bill that legalizes discrimination against LGBTQ folk, despite Walmart’s — Walmart’s! — plea for it not to do so. It’s so bad that pro-Tea Partier Asa Hutchinson, who is the governor and used to be a congresscritter, said he’ll veto the bill unless some of the most extreme parts are deleted. If you’ve gone so far off the deep end that Asa Hutchinson refuses to go with you, you really need to turn around.

North Carolina’s own version of that law has begun to attract opposition not only from Democrats and liberals but also from Republicans and some businesses, and Gov. Pat McCrory has said he won’t sign it. (That’s not an outright vow to veto, however.)

Within 30 years — within my kids’ lifetimes, and possibly within mine — North Carolina’s sea level could rise almost 10 1/2 inches, with widespread and expensive ramifications. The legislature has semi-crippled state government’s ability even to talk intelligently about the problem. But, as this blog is fond of saying, you can ignore reality, but reality will not ignore you.

To the extent that North Carolina is growing, it is doing so because of its urban areas, particularly Raleigh and Wake County. So why do state Republicans hate them so?

And although Republicans in the Lege claim their top priorities are jobs, roads, and education, the evidence shows that it’s actually regulating ladyparts and the ladies who use them.

 

 

Monday, March 30, 2015 7:23 pm

Odds and ends for March 30

The Klown Kar might have to be a stretch Hummer: Former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina puts her own chances of running for president at 90%. Fiorina famously crashed HP into the ground (stock price cut 50%, 30,000 workers laid off in five years), then ran an epically inept campaign for governor of California (who among us will ever forget the demon sheep?). She says Hillary Clinton has a “character problem.” Pot, kettle.

#FFS. All the crap that Indiana is getting over its so-called “religious freedom” bill in both the real and the virtual worlds notwithstanding, North Carolina now has its own version, HB 348. When the chairman of the world’s largest corporation tells you that that kind of law is bad for business, perhaps you shouldn’t take him at his word, but you at least should give his word due consideration. Heck, even Republican Gov. Pat McCrory says it isn’t needed, although I hasten to note that that’s not the same as vowing to veto it.

North Carolina’s senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, voted yes on same-sex marriage benefits for Social Security recipients and veterans, which sounds great until you learn that the measure was nonbinding.

At least two great Republicans think SB 36, state Sen. Trudy Wade’s hostile takeover of the Greensboro City Council, is bad for Greensboro: I and retired U.S. Rep. Howard Coble.

We have so little money that some of Guilford County’s worst-off students may get screwed. But God forbid we stand in the way of yet another $1 billion tax cut for the state’s wealthy and corporations. Jesus might love you, legislators, but I’m pretty sure he despises what you’re doing.

I have very little use for the band fun. (yes, the “f” is lower-case, and, yes, there’s a period after the name) — when their songs come on the radio, the word “lugubrious” comes to mind. But member Jack Antonoff’s solo project, Bleachers, is a lot more fun (ahem) to listen to even as the songs tackle some hard subjects.

Here’s “Rollercoaster” …

… and here’s “I Wanna Get Better” …

Wednesday, March 25, 2015 10:19 pm

Odds and ends for March 25

I think it’s about damned time the president of the United States reminded Israel (as well as congressional Republicans) that we have no permanent allies and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.* It’s a position with which Israel should be familiar.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich says that if Sen. Elizabeth Warren isn’t seeking the Democratic nomination for president and no one else runs on economic issues, he might have to run. That’s an interesting development. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s support is a mile wide and, on average, an inch deep (see this Meredith College poll re her N.C. standing), precisely because she’s not running against the GOP’s continued reaming and killing of the working class and strip-mining of the little remaining wealth of the middle class. If Reich jumps in soon — which he would have to do to win — he’d pose a formidable challenge to Hillary and would add some desperately needed real-world substance to the 2016 debate.

N.C. Republicans continue their war on equality. Serious question, guys: Why do you hate America? And spare me your “religious freedom” crap, please.

North Carolina’s private-school voucher program has met with, to be charitable, deeply mixed success. So what do the Republicans want to do? Quadruple it, duh.

And they want to privatize the state ferry system, an essential public service for Outer Banks residents. Look at the backers’ financial support and see what you find.

I usually try to end these posts with something lighthearted or at least satirical, but today I’ve got nothin’. Have a good evening.

*Attributed to Henry John Temple Viscount Lord Palmerston

Friday, March 13, 2015 8:14 pm

Odds and ends for March 13

Charlie Pierce at Esquire has written the best big-picture analysis of what the GOP is up to that I’ve seen anywhere. They really don’t want a United States as you and I think of it. Dana Milbank at The Washington Post also addressed this issue, but largely in silly fashion.

For the record, after re-reading the Logan Act, I have changed my mind: I now think the 47 senators who signed that letter to Iran violated it. No, Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Assad doesn’t count because a bunch of Republican congresscritters also visited Assad just days before and after she did. No, the Democrats’ 1984 letter to the Nicaraguan government doesn’t count because basically all they did was ask for free elections, which the Reagan administration also wanted, or said it did. I realize nothing will happen to the 47 (and that Obama would be impeached immediately if his Justice Department made any moves in that direction), but this is worth documenting as another case in which Republicans broke the law and got away with it.

Did Scott Walker, the Wisconsin governor and likely GOP presidential candidate in 2016, totally pull a story out of his rear end about having been anointed by Nancy Reagan to carry on in the spirit of the Gipper? Signs point to yes.

North Carolina is going to start issuing fracking permits on Tuesday. Not only do we not have, as promised, the best air-quality regulations in the nation regarding fracking, we don’t have any air-quality regulations regarding fracking at all. Your Republican state government at work, folks. And if they don’t care about the air, what makes you think they give a damn about your water?

The N.C. Senate officially doesn’t give a damn about at-risk kids in the state’s public schools. Ending the requirement for an individual education plan means nothing specific will be required to happen for any particular student and no one will be held accountable when it doesn’t. This doesn’t end the federally-required Individual Education Plans for special-needs students, but I’m sure Richard Burr, Thom Tillis and Mark Walker are working on that.

The N.C. GOP says it’s gonna start listening to people. That’s a laugh. If they wanted to listen to people, they could start by killing SB36 and SB181, the unsolicited, unnecessary, not-at-all-an-attempt-to-dilute-Democratic-voting-strength efforts to redistrict the Greensboro City Council and the Wake County commissioners, respectively.

So Florida has banned the use of the phrases “global warming” and “climate change” in state documents? Pikers. North Carolina did that years ago.

You can’t make this up: Indiana State Rep. Justin Moed, a Democrat, got caught sexting … with the same woman Anthony Weiner got caught sexting with.

This is cool, and I did not know about it before: In March 1944, in blatant violation of Jim Crow laws in force at the time, Duke University’s (white) basketball team played the team from N.C. College for Negroes (now N.C. Central University). And the Eagles gave the Blue Devils a righteous ass-whipping.

Tomorrow, 3/14/15, is Pi Day, so at 9:26:54 a.m. and p.m., you should eat pie. Just because. Also, no doubt to your vast relief, you can stop trying to square the circle; pi says it’s impossible.

 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015 7:28 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 10

Terrorists are winning the war on terror, primarily because, more than a decade after 9/11 and despite all the costly lessons we’ve learned since then, the U.S. persists in playing the terrorists’ game instead of its own.

Dean Smith‘s public memorial will be 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 22, in the Smith Center. Which leads me to wonder: Where will they hold Billy Graham‘s, once he passes on? Bank of America Stadium? Charlotte Motor Speedway? The National Mall?

There’s just one teeny-weeny little problem with the four plaintiffs in King v. Burwell, the case now before the Supreme Court that could, perhaps, lead to the Affordable Care Act’s being struck down: None of the four appears to have standing to be suing in the first place.

Could the hammer at long last be coming down on rogue Swiss(-ish) bank HSBC? I’ll believe it when/if it happens, but the Honorable Senator Professor Warren is on this like white on rice. (And just how rogue? Check this out.)

Jim Crow lynchings: significantly more common than previously reported.

I’m not the brightest bulb in the fixture, but I could tell in 11th grade U.S. history that “right-to-work” was Orwellian doublespeak. Unfortunately, that ain’t all it is.

Debtors’ jail, ostensibly illegal in the U.S., apparently is alive and well in Ferguson, Missouri. A lawsuit seeks to change that.

“Trials” at Guantanamo: No, Casey, nobody here can play this game.

If you’ve never worked in newspapers, you probably thought newspaper executive editors couldn’t get any stupider, and that if they did, it wasn’t your fault as a reader. You were wrong, as Robert Price of the Bakersfield Californian is pleased to demonstrate:

Several weeks ago, [director of audience development] Louis [Amestoy] and I introduced a set of new expectations for reporters and editors. Chief among them was that reporters and editors shall write publishable content every single day. Not blow-out, eight-source 30-inchers (although they have their place), but quick-hit 4-inchers based on as few as a one source or even personal observation — “what I saw driving in to work” stories. So far I have seen almost none of these.

These are required and will be measured on your annual reviews (which are coming up). Please think about how you might start creating these. If you’re like me, you may think some stories (weather related, seen on a business marquee, etc) just don’t clear the bar of importance. Not true, in most cases. Readers gobble this stuff up. [emphasis added; along with the unmistakable sound of Our Lord and Savior weeping bitterly]

#StealAlltheGrammys According to Google, Annie Lennox, Kristen Wiig, Prince (“almost”), Kanye West, Sam Smith, Frank Ocean, and Pharrell Williams’s funky park ranger hat, among others, “stole the Grammys.” Thought you’d want to know.

 

 

Monday, February 9, 2015 8:01 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 9

So because I think Binyamin Netanyahu is a sociopath who has led Israel down a dangerously self-destructive path and who (as is true of any other head of state) has no business addressing our government without an invitation from the head of that government, Joe “Ratings Lower Than Whale Poop in the Marianas Trench at High Tide” Scarborough thinks I’m anti-Semitic. Fortunately, Dave Winer, the Godfather of Blogging, has a response: “Let me jewsplain that for you: chuck is a goy schmuck asshole schmeggegey nazi idiot dick.”

Some people just don’t have the temperament to be lawyers. Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, not for the first time, is demonstrating that he is one of those people, ordering officials in that state to ignore the U.S. Supreme Court’s 7-2 legalization of same-sex marriage there. Coming into today, Alabama was 0-2 in nullification contests, and it began losing again today not long after county offices opened for business. Sorry, Roy. And screw you with a fence post, bigot.

“[I]f memory for events is strengthened at emotional times, why does everyone forget what they were doing when the Challenger exploded?” Memory is damned tricky. And our criminal justice system, for good or ill, needs to take better stock of its shortcomings.

A month or so ago I had to give New York Times op-ed pecksniff Ross Douthat credit for being right about the Charlie Hebdo incident. Now, I must give New York Times op-ed pecksniff David Brooks credit for being right about President Obama’s National Prayer Breakfast comments. Verily, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are coming up the driveway and here I am all out of hay.

If Mike Freaking Huckabee blows that dog whistle any louder, he’s gonna owe me for some new windows.

So, Godwin’s Law with respect to privatization? Totally bogus:

They say that the first person in any political argument who stoops to invoking Nazi Germany automatically loses. But you can look it up: According to a 2006 article in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, the English word “privatization” derives from a coinage, Reprivatisierung, formulated in the 1930s to describe the Third Reich’s policy of winning businessmen’s loyalty by handing over state property to them.

(Seriously. I had no idea.)

There might be a case for not publishing some of the Charlie Hebdo images, but outgoing NPR ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos utterly fails to make it.

Oregon’s governor, John Kitzhaber, a Democrat, has a fiancee. His fiancee has advised the governor on some of the same energy issues on which she works as a paid consultant for private interests, and there’s roughly zero chance Kitzhaber was unaware of this major conflict of interest. I imagine there are roughly 4 million Oregonians who don’t give a damn what I think, but I think Kitzhaber should resign. I imagine a district attorney and a U.S. attorney there also don’t give a damn what I think, but I also think Kitzhaber should go to prison.

WRAL-TV catches Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam lying about Medicaid. Stop the presses.

A former chairman of the state’s Mining and Energy Commission, Jim Womackgets all butthurt over the fact that a Lee County coffee-shop owner doesn’t want Duke Energy’s coal ash dumped in her back yard. Because Womack was having trouble understanding the owner’s position, I wish she’d’ve spooned some coal ash into his coffee.

I was wrong; Carolina Panther Greg Hardy won’t be convicted on domestic-assault charges in a jury trial after all. The complainant has skipped town amid rumors of a civil settlement. I stand by my prediction, however, that Hardy has played his last game as a Panther.

Here in Greensboro, a patron at New Orleans Bar & Grille on Big Tree Way was unsatisfied with his steak Saturday night and started filming a review, when restaurant employees not only interrupted but also stole their phones. My wife’s from Louisiana, but it’ll be a cold day in hell before we set foot in that place. This deserves to go viral so hard that not even the owners’ grandchildren’s grandchildren will ever be able to try to start a business here. And the restaurant employees need to go to prison.

Let it never be said I’m not tough on crime. Y’all have a good evening.

 

Saturday, February 7, 2015 11:11 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 7

“Pro-life” Sen. Richard Burr doesn’t really give a rat’s ass if you or your unborn baby dies.

A British court has found seven years’ worth of surveillance by the UK’s counterpart to the NSA to be illegal. Question: Will anyone be punished? Answer: BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA …

So Brian Williams is giving himself a paid vacation while he waits for the stink about his lying about his Iraq experience to blow over. Yes, he should be fired. No, he shouldn’t be the only person to suffer consequences for lying about Iraq.

Rummage in your bedside cabinet; the current condom shortage in Venezuela has boxes going for the equivalent of $755US.

‘Night, y’all.

Friday, February 6, 2015 8:03 pm

Odds and ends for Feb. 6

Climate change: It’s a matter of national security.

Obama might be a socialist, but the country just completed its best three-month period of job growth in 17 years, bitchez. Still a long way to go — unemployment actually went up in January as more people resumed looking for work — but it’s definitely looking better.

Boko Haram is opening a branch office in neighboring Niger. Bloodshed and misery follow. World does little.

The annual silliness known as the National Prayer Breakfast was this week. And this year we got more proof, were more needed, about just how impossible it is for Americans conservatives to have an honest conversation about race.

NBC’s Brian Williams lied about being in a helicopter that got shot down in Iraq (which is a firing offense where I’m concerned), but did he also lie about seeing a body floating outside his New Orleans hotel after Hurricane Katrina? Quite possibly not.

Relatedly, why is it such a bad thing for Brian Williams to lie when Fox News personnel do it day-in and day-out, constantly? That’s neither a rhetorical question nor an exaggeration of the network’s mendacity.

Hey, anti-vaxxers? When Autism Speaks says you should vaccinate your kids, you’ve pretty much lost the vaccination argument.

I love it when they throw each other under the bus. This time, it’s Bibi and Boehner, who both deserve all the tire tracks.

One would think that maternal health would be a human right. Sadly, the U.S. has not gotten the word.

Yes, health insurance premiums have gone up an average of $4,154 under Obama — but that’s less than half as fast as they went up under Bush.

Is police reform impossible? Could be.

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin tried to rewrite the Wisconsin Idea (the state university system should benefit the entire state), then got busted for it, then lied about it, then got busted for lying about it. Great start to your presidential campaign, there, goob.

If there’s no war on women, it ain’t for lack of trying.

Intuit’s TurboTax, though not hacked itself, may be being used by scammers to file fraudulently for tax refunds.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership might be the most dangerous, and depressing, trade agreement you’ve never heard of.

The oldest living survivor of the U.S.S. Arizona has died at age 100.

The movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” opened today. Theater operators requested that patrons not dress up, or down, for the showings.

This is how the apocalypse will begin.

Or this, as a single penguin holds the entire crew of a Coast Guard vessel hostage. I, for one, welcome our new spheniscidaean overlords.

Y’all have a good weekend.

Saturday, January 31, 2015 9:10 am

“Massacre” vs. “shootout”; Mike Barber drags the discussion backward

The good news, I guess you can say, is that here in Greensboro we’re no longer arguing over whether we’ll have a state historical marker commemorating the killings of five Communist Workers Party members by Klansmen and Nazis in 1979. Instead, we’re arguing over whether the sign will say “massacre,” as the state advisory committee (trained historians) recommended, or something with fewer emotional overtones, like “killings” or “shootings.”

Any of those options is fine with me as long as the city takes this opportunity to come face to face with something it would rather forget. Nov. 3, 1979, was, pretty inarguably, the worst single day in Greensboro’s history. We’ve practically had to be forced at gunpoint to reckon with what happened that day and afterward, and how it happened, and why. But now, at least, the ground has shifted from “whether” to “how.” It’s not as much progress as I’d like, but it is progress.

Today’s story reminded me, though, of something from a story last week on this same issue, and an argument that cries out for a response. City Council member Mike Barber said:

“The bigger issue for me is that in a city of almost 300,000 people, we continue to have just a handful of people who live their lives looking in the rearview mirror. Other midsize cities are concentrating on the positive, marketing the positive, attracting jobs and businesses. We continue to discuss what happened when gas was 28 cents per gallon. That’s what holds Greensboro back — a small group of people who make an industry of racism and unhappiness, marketing all that’s unpleasant and negative no matter how long ago these things occurred.”

My initial response? Two syllables of basic Anglo-Saxon.

Who in the pluperfect hell is Mike Barber (whom, by the way, I’ve known since our daughters were in day care together) to decide that trauma suffered by other people is unworthy of thought, reflection, or mention? Who in the pluperfect hell is he to tell those who suffered that trauma to get over it? If his daughter had been killed in the shootout — or had died prematurely in any other way — would he be OK with me or anyone else telling him to get over it? Somehow I doubt it.

We’re supposed to believe that Greensboro is being held back, or even could be held back, by such a small group of people? Please. It’s OK for places from Andersonville to Auschwitz to “market all that’s unplesasant and negative no matter how long ago these things occurred,” but it’s not OK for Greensboro? Please. (And, boy, “market” is a revealing word, isn’t it?)

But, much worse, ridiculing and diminishing the tragedies in the lives of others displays, at the very least, a stunning lack of human sympathy. Doing so for political gain, as here, demonstrates nontrivial amounts of sociopathy. And because this kind of lack of sympathy and lack of empathy is at the heart of so many of the issues that divide us as Americans, it’s also bad for the country. White people tell victims of racism to get over it. Men tell women who have been raped, and/or whose rights are under assault in areas ranging from reproductive health to equal pay, to get over it. The wealthy tell Americans whose wealth has been stripmined where it hasn’t been swindled to get over it. People looking to capitalize on the destruction wrought by Hurricane Katrina and the Army Corps of Engineers tell longtime New Orleans residents who lost their homes to get over it. And on and on. It goes against everything that we have told ourselves about what the United States stands for — not least, that we’re all in this together. Yet that is where Barber has chosen to place himself.

Mike Barber could argue against the marker on historical grounds. (He says he’ll go with whatever a majority of the council decides.) He could argue against the word “massacre” on the marker on rhetorical grounds. I might or might not agree with him, but these are subjects over which reasonable people of good will can disagree even if many of the arguments we’ve seen so far have been disingenuous. But Barber’s comments, uttered from a place of race, gender, and class privilege and obviously aimed at strengthening that place politically, put him squarely in the middle of a stream of American political thought whose source lies somewhere between Bob Haldeman and Nathan Bedford Forrest. If anything is truly holding Greensboro back, it’s that kind of attitude. It’s despicable. It’s evil. And I just thought someone should say so.

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