Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, November 12, 2018 6:43 pm

RIP Stan Lee

Filed under: Salute!,Say a prayer,Uncategorized — Lex @ 6:43 pm
Tags: , ,

A lot of people know a whole lot more than I do about the creator of the Marvel Comics universe. I’ll just leave you with this observation: At a time when doing so was definitely not popular, he dared to respect his young audience enough to speak to them as adults.

I learned one of the most important moral lessons of my life when I was probably in kindergarten. I learned it from a story in a Spider-Man comic book. You probably know that story, too. It devastated me.

“And a lean, silent figure slowly fades into the gathering darkness, aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come — great responsibility!”

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The cracked front door that didn’t bark; or, Why you should never take what a Republican says at face value

You’ve probably head a lot of talk in the past week about how antifa protesters terrorized Tucker Carlson’s wife and kids in their home, even cracking open their oak front door.

Yes, there were protesters*, and one of them sprayed an anarchy symbol on Carlson’s driveway. But the children were not at home at the time, and the cracked front door? Never happened. The cops who were there didn’t see it. Two Washington Post reporters who visited the house didn’t see it either.

(That’s not to say that a lot of mainstream media, such as USA Today, didn’t run stories repeating Carlson’s claim without independent verification. Of course they did, because anytime a Republican shrieks, “Antifa!” the MSM soil their drawers. Meanwhile, actual 18 USC 241 felony vote suppression is going on right out in the open in Georgia and Florida without the news media calling it what it is, but that’s a subject for another post.)

This anecdote illustrates the peril inherent in taking anything a Republican says at face value, particularly a Republican who literally gets paid to lie on television. You — whether you’re a journalist or a civilian — need to stop doing that. You need to critically question any such claim made by any Republican politician or pundit. And you need to punish news outlets who repeat such claims unquestioningly.

Sunday, November 11, 2018 8:37 pm

About those sealed Mueller indictments …

Filed under: Hold! Them! Accountable!,Uncategorized — Lex @ 8:37 pm
Tags: , ,
I’m seeing a number of people on Twitter claiming that Robert Mueller already has a ton of sealed indictments of Trump, Trump Jr., Fredo, Ivanka, Jared, etc., etc., etc.
 
I’m here to tell you: Anything is possible. But that is almost certainly bullshit.
 
First of all, there is zero direct evidence in the public record that any of that is true. None. And I dare you to prove me wrong. You can’t. (The zero-leak performance of the Mueller probe to date is a model of American law enforcement.)
 
Second, there is zero circumstantial evidence that any of this is true. Again, prove me wrong if you can.
 
Third, there is nontrivial circumstantial evidence that such claims are NOT true. Almost none of the Mueller indictments so far have been sealed. Those that were remained sealed only days before being unsealed. Sealing indictments for long periods of time appears, so far, not to be a technique on which Mueller is relying.
 
Now, as I said before, anything is possible. But the relevant question, given the evidence and Mueller’s modus operandi to date, is: What’s LIKELY?
 
The answer is:
 
1) Some people saying this stuff are trying to make themselves look/sound more in-the-know than they actually are. And, frankly, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that most of the people I see spouting this stuff on Twitter appear to be males in their 20s. They’re bullshitting to try to get laid.
 
2) Other people saying this stuff are trying to get low-information people’s expectations raised unjustifiably high so that when the inevitable disappointment comes, people will question the validity of the whole investigation. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a lot of THESE people have handles and follower counts that strongly suggest they are bots.
 
Understand, I’d freakin’ LOVE it if it were true. But I’ve spent enough time covering grand jury investigations to be very skeptical. And absent additional information, you should be, too.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018 6:51 pm

” … remember the ladies … “

Everyone remembers that as John Adams was working on what would become the Declaration of Independence, his wife, Abigail, wrote him a letter asking that he “remember the ladies.” What they don’t remember is the full quote, which is a lot more interesting and relevant:

I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.

Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, take note.

Sunday, September 9, 2018 12:14 pm

On not voting

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 12:14 pm

Last night on Twitter, I stumbled into a discussion about why people don’t vote. I dared to agree, pointedly, with another poster that perhaps people who don’t vote because they don’t see a candidate they like need to get over themselves. I was not swarmed, exactly, but I did hear from a few people. Even at 280 characters, Twitter is not the best place to have that discussion, so I’m posting here to both address some specific points from my interlocutors and to make a more general case about why voting is good and not voting is bad even if you don’t like anyone on the ballot.

I was informed by @punksandwitch that my attitude was shitty. I pointed out, correctly, that the attitudes of nonvoters had helped give us both Bush 43 and Trump, by far the two worst presidents in our country’s history.

I was informed by @delmoi that nonvoters don’t need to give me excuses and don’t owe me anything. That’s his/her opinion. Mine is that as citizens in a democratic republic we all owe each other our best judgment, every election, every time, and that willfully choosing not to vote is an abdication of civic responsibility.

@delmoi also suggested that if I want to win elections, I should find out why people aren’t voting and correct the problem. @aimeedemaio helpfully added some data to further that effort:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
Now, voters listed a lot of reasons, some of which we absolutely can address by, for example, making Election Day a national holiday and enacting universal registration, as several states already have done. But the biggest chunk by far of 2016 nonvoters didn’t vote because they didn’t like the candidates and/or issues.

My critics’ take, if I may generalize, is that I (or the Democratic Party, of which I am not a member) need to come up with better candidates and/or issues if I wish to engage this 40 percent. And that’s where they have their heads firmly ensconced in their nether regions.

In 2016, most of us had a choice for president from among four flawed people. One was an authoritarian bigot with narcissistic personality disorder, a decades-long history of financial fraud and sexual assault and a nontrivial chance of being a Russian agent. One was a woman with an awful sense of PR who had nonetheless served with distinction as First Lady, U.S. senator and Secretary of State and, despite having been more throughly investigated than any other public figure in U.S. history, had never been found to be even close to guilty of a crime. The other two were minor-party candidates, one of whom also turned out to have ties to the Russians.

As @MadameOvary put it, “I’m not interested in why they don’t shell out money for the turd sandwich or the turd sandwich with extra diarrhea gravy. We gave them a choice!!!!” And @ald0_sax put it similarly: “Imagine if pepsi gradually changed it’s formula until eventually people started thinking it tasted like shit. Then imagine that for their new ad campaign, pepsi started going around lecturing people for not buying enough pepsi. You are pepsi. Stop being pepsi.” @OpinionatedLab agreed, albeit less colorfully.

Well, Republicans have been arguing for more than half a century that all government is bad and that therefore voting is a waste of time. You’d think people might stop and ask themselves, “If voting is so worthless, why are Republicans trying to stop people from doing it?” But they don’t.

As for candidate quality, despite insistences from such folks as @anthrogirl73 that not only was Hillary Clinton a lousy candidate, so was Al Gore, there is not a lot of evidence that Democratic candidates, at least, are any worse now than they’ve been at any point since the civil-rights era. (Republican candidates, on the other hand, have gotten a lot worse — more corrupt and more crazy. The last sane, noncriminal Republican candidate was Eisenhower.)

So, sure, if you’re uninformed or lazy or holier-than-thou, you can argue that all the 2016 candidates sucked. But you can’t argue that they all sucked equally and still display any intellectual integrity. Anyone with any historical perspective and understanding of the way our system actually works understood that 1) Donald Trump had to be defeated and that 2) the best, most likely way to do that was to vote for Hillary Clinton.

The survey above mentioned not only unsatisfactory candidates but unsatisfactory issues. @walking_fox tweeted, “If you want people to vote, you need to give them something to vote for, instead of promising them pain and then whining about how they are obligated to enable your abuse of them.” Well, here in the real world, in the 2015 general elections and in many special elections so far this year, Democrats have been running, and generally winning, not on pain but on health care and jobs. “The Democrats have no message” has been GOP propaganda mindlessly distributed by some godawfully lazy news media; I’m just sorry some people have been taken in by it.

Here’s the thing: You will never in your life get your perfect candidate for president. I’ve been doing this since 1980. Barack Obama was the only presidential candidate I ever voted for about whom I was genuinely enthusiastic. And even he was a letdown on a number of significant issues. He failed to hold responsible those who ordered torture and warrantless domestic wiretapping. He failed to hold accountable those who blew up the economy in 2008. And he personally ordered the extrajudicial assassination of a U.S. citizen.

But the bottom line is that our constitutional system of choosing a president (and most other office holders) is a winner-take-all system. Under a parliamentary system, or with ranked choice voting, voters might have more flexibility, but under the system we’ve got, we usually end up voting for, if not the lesser of two evils, then someone we’re just not all that enthusiastic about.

Certainly that’s a bad thing, but absent an overnight amendment to the Constitution, we’re stuck with it. Therefore, if you want more progressive candidates, the way to get them is to either find them or become them — and then turn out and vote for them in the primary. Sadly, it’s a fact nationwide that far fewer people vote in primaries than in general elections, partly because some primaries are closed but mainly because a lot of people just don’t bother. But simply demanding better candidates and staying home if you don’t get them is not a solution. Indeed, it plays right into the hands of some of the country’s most awful people and endangers many of its most vulnerable. It might make you feel better, but this isn’t just about you.

 

 

 

Tuesday, August 21, 2018 7:48 pm

So long, Silent Sam

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 7:48 pm

“Silent Sam,” the statue on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that was built to honor the university’s Confederate Civil War dead, was toppled last night. That act almost certainly was a crime, and the perpetrators should be prepared to pay the price. But it also was a righteous act of civil disobedience. Life is complicated.

The statue, paid for by university alumni and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, was a monument to a myth, the Confederate “Lost Cause”  — the notion that the Civil War was about anything except slavery and white supremacism — that has left toxic residue in our politics and culture even today. The Union won the war, but the Confederacy won Reconstruction, with results that reach even into today’s White House and the N.C. General Assembly.

It was erected not in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, but roughly 50 years later, in 1913, as the Confederacy and its leaders were enjoying a wholly undeserved reputational rehabilitation.

Similar statues and monuments were being built not only across the states of the late Confederacy but in other states as well. It is not a coincidence that the Ku Klux Klan was enjoying a great expansion of its ranks as well. And it doesn’t take inference to understand that white supremacy was behind it all. Julian Carr, the Civil War veteran and ardent white supremacist who gave the dedication speech, made it plain:

The present generation, I am persuaded, scarcely takes note of what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo Saxon race during the four years immediately succeeding the war [that is, when former Confederate soldiers terrorized freed blacks and Republican whites across the South — Lex] when the facts are, that their courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South – When “the bottom rail was on top” all over the Southern states, and to-day, as a consequence the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States – Praise God.

I trust I may be pardoned for one allusion, howbeit it is rather personal. One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterwards slept with a double-barrel shot gun under my head.

People of color despised the statue not just because of what it symbolized but also because of what it celebrated. And it is understandable that they would do so: Statues aren’t just “history,” but also indicate those people and things that we as a society celebrate. Silent Same stopped doing that a long time ago — praise God.

But there had been efforts and discussions underway for decades about what to do with Silent Sam — leave him where he was on public ground or move him, perhaps to a museum or privately owned Confederate graveyard. Left to themselves, those discussions might have led to a solution that all sides could have lived with, if not been happy about.

But the Republicans in the N.C. General Assembly, who have never met a situation they couldn’t make worse, on race relations or pretty much anything else, passed a vague and ill-considered law in 2015 protecting all such monuments on public property. (My friend and former colleague Joe Killian posted almost exactly a year ago on this subject, after a Confederate monument in Durham had been toppled.) Democrats even filed a bill in the legislature earlier this year to move the statue, but Republicans wouldn’t even give it a hearing. So there was no outlet for rational discussion that might have led to a workable solution.

To be clear, I do not condone criminality, full stop. Those who committed the crime should be prepared to do the time. That said, tearing down the statue when all other avenues of addressing the issues it raised had been cut off fits squarely within the tradition of righteous civil disobedience. I hope the court in its wisdom recognizes these actions as such and imposes minimal punishment, should anyone be convicted.

And to those suggesting that the statue should be left in place because of history, I have a question: How many of you were worried about history when U.S. forces toppled the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in 2003? Well, it’s about the same thing.

 

Friday, July 27, 2018 5:55 pm

God bless The Root, but: No, it has NOT proved the Russians altered 2016 vote totals

(Originally posted July 26, 2018, on Facebook; I’m reupping this here on the blog (with a few minor clarifications) to give it a little more reach.)

I’ve seen this article shared a great deal on social media today. Writer Michael Harriot claims to have found proof that Russia actually altered vote totals in the 2016 election to tilt the election to Trump. It proves a lot of things, but not that.

First, I’m not a computer scientist and don’t play one on social media. But I edited the 2004 book “Black Box Voting: Ballot Tampering in the 21st Century,” by Bev Harris and my good friend David Allen. (In a previous life, David did network security for banks. This is relevant because voting-machine maker Diebold also did bank networks.)

During that project I learned about the many vulnerabilities of electronic voting machines, and this Root article rehashes some of those. It also does a good job of documenting that the Russians had means, motive, opportunity and desire to alter the 2016 election results.

But despite the headline, this article does not provide any evidence, direct or circumstantial, that the Russians actually altered vote totals. It does not provide any evidence, direct or circumstantial, that the Russians deleted voter registration data so as to prevent a single person from voting.

To be clear, I think both those things probably happened. But this article doesn’t prove it, and neither has anyone else that I know of. And I’ve been looking for evidence of this since I started working on “Black Box Voting” more than 15 years ago.

And at this point, the question is irrelevant; the Constitution is silent on the question of undoing a stolen presidential election.

What is HIGHLY relevant, and quite urgent, is that we realize that it could happen (again) in 2018 and 2020 and take steps to prevent it. Off the top of my head, that means, among other things, paper ballots, publicly counted, and mandatory, rigorous election auditing up and down the ballot. These are things we still (barely) have time to make happen before November, and that’s where we ought to focus.

UPDATE, July 27: Having seen this Root article promoted on social media by such respected authorities as Sarah Kendzior, I’ve tried to contact her and a couple of others to make clear that, for lack of a better term, the headline writes a check the reporting can’t cash. I’ve gotten no response from anyone I contacted.

UPDATE, July 28: The Root has pulled the article pending review. Good.

Sunday, March 25, 2018 5:07 pm

About face

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 5:07 pm
Tags: , ,

OK, I’m not getting off Facebook after all, at least not for now. A quick summary of why:

  • The horse is out of the barn. I haven’t indulged in those data-sucking quizzes, games and apps nearly as much a lot of users, but I’ve done it some. And even some was too much. (More on that in a bit.)
  • For some things, Facebook is far and away the most efficient tool. If it were just MY stuff I needed to worry about, that would be one thing. But from political involvement to organizing family events to commenting on any number of news sites, there often is no acceptable substitute.
  • Facebook has 2 billion users. It won’t miss me.
  • Related to that, Facebook friend Steve Harrison told me, “Your presence here actually improves Facebook. Maybe by only .00017%, but it helps.” And a number of others asked me to reconsider.

That’s not to say the problem with Facebook isn’t real. It’s real and it’s awful. Zuckerberg once promised in a televised interview not to share user data with third parties except pursuant to the fact that his business is basically an advertising agency. Well, we now know he did far more and far worse than that; just Google Facebook and Cambridge Analytica for details on that. The UK’s Information Commissioner is investigating CA on a number of related issues (indeed, Facebook’s own auditors, attempting to audit CA on whether it had deleted user data as claimed, were ordered by the British government to “stand down”).

In nearly 30 years of Internet usage, I’ve never advocated government regulation of the Internet, not even to protect user information privacy. But I’m damned well doing it now. Whether there’s any kind of forensic clawback that’s possible, I have no idea (I doubt it). But we can at least prevent more of this damage going forward, and perhaps limit the damage to a couple of generations of users, rather than all users for all time.

 

Friday, February 10, 2017 8:48 pm

Friday Random 10, Feb. 10, 2017

Filed under: Friday Random 10,Uncategorized — Lex @ 8:48 pm

Louisiana Rain – Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers
Tampa to Tulsa (live) – Jayhawks
El Clavo y la Cruz – The Plugz
Champagne and Riffer – Rolling Stones & Buddy Guy
Betterman – Pearl Jam
Promises – Fugazi
Johnny B. Goode – Jimi Hendrix
1,000 Years – The Gaslight Anthem
Down South Jukin’ – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Gloria – Them

lagniappe: Ain’t No Fun (Waiting ‘Round to be a Millionaire) – AC/DC

Monday, November 7, 2016 8:52 pm

Oh, and about your “protest vote” …

For those of you who think you’re too good to choose between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump tomorrow: One and only one candidate on the ballot will work to both protect and improve Obamacare, on which both of my brothers depend because of chronic health problems. In other words, fuck your protest vote. Your hurt fee-fees do not outweigh my brothers’ lives. And if you have a problem with that, fuck you with a red-hot poker.

Monday, November 2, 2015 6:48 am

Happy birthday …

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 6:48 am

… to a great American and the guy who is effectively this blog’s co-host, Fred Gregory!

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.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 9:00 pm

Odds and ends for April 8

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 9:00 pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Thursday, November 27, 2014 9:39 am

Today I am thankful for …

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 9:39 am
Tags:

… health, family, friends, prosperity, and a country so great that not even 35 years’ worth of the best efforts of waterheads, mouthbreathers, knuckle-draggers, and straight-up sociopaths has managed to totally screw it up. Yet.

Be well and be safe.

Saturday, August 23, 2014 6:51 pm

“I’m convinced to my core: The lack of such a database [of police killings] is intentional.”

The question has been raised a lot in recent years: How many people die each year at the hands of the police?

There’s no good way to find out, so D. Brian Burghart of the Reno (Nev.) News & Review set out to try to find out after driving past the scene of an officer-involved shooting about two years ago. He has enlisted the Internet to help him find out.

This, by damn, is why we have, and need, an Internet.

He’s compiling what he and others find, after rigorous fact-checking, at fatalencounters.org. Here’s how he got involved in it:

It began simply enough. Commuting home from my work at Reno’s alt-weekly newspaper, the News & Review, on May 18, 2012, I drove past the aftermath of a police shooting—in this case, that of a man named Jace Herndon. It was a chaotic scene, and I couldn’t help but wonder how often it happened.

I went home and grabbed my laptop and a glass of wine and tried to find out. I found nothing—a failure I simply chalked up to incompetent local media.

A few months later I read about the Dec. 6, 2012, killing of a naked and unarmed 18-year-old college student, Gil Collar, by University of South Alabama police. The killing had attracted national coverage—The New York Times, the Associated Press, CNN—but there was still no context being provided—no figures examining how many people are killed by police.

I started to search in earnest. Nowhere could I find out how many people died during interactions with police in the United States. Try as I might, I just couldn’t wrap my head around that idea. How was it that, in the 21st century, this data wasn’t being tracked, compiled, and made available to the public? How could journalists know if police were killing too many people in their town if they didn’t have a way to compare to other cities? Hell, how could citizens or police? How could cops possibly know “best practices” for dealing with any fluid situation? They couldn’t.

The bottom line was that I found the absence of such a library of police killings offensive. And so I decided to build it. I’m still building it. But I could use some help. You can find my growing database of deadly police violence here, at Fatal Encounters, and I invite you to go here, research one of the listed shootings, fill out the row, and change its background color. It’ll take you about 25 minutes. There are thousands to choose from, and another 2,000 or so on my cloud drive that I haven’t even added yet. After I fact-check and fill in the cracks, your contribution will be added to largest database about police violence in the country. Feel free to check out what has been collected about your locale’s information here.

This is some righteous crowdsourcing, let me tell you.

And what has he learned from all this? Two things, both of them sad and infuriating.

The biggest thing I’ve taken away from this project is something I’ll never be able to prove, but I’m convinced to my core: The lack of such a database is intentional. No government—not the federal government, and not the thousands of municipalities that give their police forces license to use deadly force—wants you to know how many people it kills and why.

It’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from the evidence. What evidence? In attempting to collect this information, I was lied to and delayed by the FBI, even when I was only trying to find out the addresses of police departments to make public records requests. The government collects millions of bits of data annually about law enforcement in its Uniform Crime Report, but it doesn’t collect information about the most consequential act a law enforcer can do.

I’ve been lied to and delayed by state, county and local law enforcement agencies—almost every time. They’ve blatantly broken public records laws, and then thumbed their authoritarian noses at the temerity of a citizen asking for information that might embarrass the agency. And these are the people in charge of enforcing the law.

The second biggest thing I learned is that bad journalism colludes with police to hide this information. The primary reason for this is that police will cut off information to reporters who tell tales. And a reporter can’t work if he or she can’t talk to sources. It happened to me on almost every level as I advanced this year-long Fatal Encounters series through the News & Review. First they talk; then they stop, then they roadblock.

He elaborates on how journalism is failing to deal with this problem. I don’t think it’s quite as intentional as he does, but I do think the consciousness of a lot of reporters and editors needs to be raised on this issue. That means being intentional and serious about collecting data, to the point of lawsuits in jurisdictions in which the law is on journalists’ side.

And it also means taking up for what Jesus called “the least of these,” because — surprise! — that’s who most often winds up dead at the hands of law enforcement:

Journalists also don’t generally report the race of the person killed. Why? It’s unethical to report it unless it’s germane to the story. But race is always germane when police kill somebody.

This is the most most heinous thing I’ve learned in my two years compiling Fatal Encounters. You know who dies in the most population-dense areas? Black men. You know who dies in the least population dense areas? Mentally ill men. It’s not to say there aren’t dangerous and desperate criminals killed across the line. But African-Americans and the mentally ill people make up a huge percentage of people killed by police.

And if you want to get down to nut-cuttin’ time, across the board, it’s poor people who are killed by police. (And by the way, around 96 percent of people killed by police are men.)

I’d like to think that my local daily will get better at this, but I know better. So I’m going to see if I can help this project out. Wherever you are, I hope you will, too. We empower police officers with the right to use deadly force if necessary to protect themselves or innocent others. We deserve in return a full and complete accounting of how that right is used, or misused. There is no excuse for law enforcement to provide less, and there is no excuse for those departments’ communities, including but not limited to news outlets, to expect less.

(h/t: John Robinson)

Monday, August 18, 2014 7:35 pm

Police with tanks and armored personnel carriers and machine guns: de rigeur?

[Things] started out calm enough with barricades on either side of the street and police patrolling down the main drag, but it was only a matter of time (approximately 15 minutes) … before someone shouted,”[Expletive] it, let’s do this!” and the barricades came down as a mob flooded the street.

Even once the crowds flooded the streets the celebrations were still friendly: High-fives were plentiful, beers were passed around, cigars were smoked …

But as the night dragged on, things started to get messy as bottles were shattered haphazardly on the street, empty beer cans were tossed in the air and hoards of people hoisted the barricades in the air for their friends to ride down the street in their own mini-parade.

Ferguson, Mo.? No, Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood after the Black Hawks won the Stanley Cup. So, if anything, far bigger and more drunken crowds than in Ferguson, and yet cops managed to handle things using nothing more intimidating than horses and their own presence.

Now, why do you suppose the cops rolled out the artillery in Ferguson but not in Wrigleyville, where the potential for widespread mayhem was much worse? Call my me cynical, but I’m thinking the answer is as simple as black and white.

(h/t: Athenae, who concludes, “Shockingly, there was no tear gas, or bellyaching in the conservative press about a culture of violence that leads these people to act like animals.”)

Friday, October 25, 2013 10:01 pm

“We’re in the post-antibiotic era.”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 10:01 pm

Well, YOU can just rock me to sleep tonight:

There are patients for whom we have no therapy, and we are literally in a position of having a patient in a bed who has an infection, something that five years ago even we could have treated, but now we can’t.

Nice work, factory farmers.

The PBS show “Frontline” did an episode on this; you can see it here.

 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013 6:29 pm

I guess lynching postcards are back in vogue after 75 years or so

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 6:29 pm

SEK at Lawyers, Guns & Money:

[Cartoonist] Michael Ramirez’s “Lynched” serves a single purpose: to allow the overwhelmingly white readership of NRO to believe that the imagined lynching of an abstract value is morally equivalent to the actual lynching ofactual human beings. Because it’s been a long time since white people could really enjoy an image of a lynching.* Some of them probably thought the day would never come again.

But thanks to Michael Ramirez, white readers of NRO can stare with childish wonder at the shapes of men dangling from a limb and feel glee instead of having to fake guilt.

lynch

*No, seriously, these things were bought, sold and traded, practically within my lifetime.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013 6:11 pm

One reason our students isn’t learning

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 6:11 pm

MOOCs are being hailed in some quarters as the salvation of higher education because they, at least theoretically, will enable large numbers of people to take courses at once and lower the high cost of obtaining a college degree. Now, being in an online program with only 20 people in it, I can tell you that online systems aren’t perfect. I can only imagine every problem that might arise with online courses with hundreds, or even thousands, of students, but here’s one we don’t have to imagine:

Michigan professor Gautam Kaul is teaching the Introduction to Finance MOOC on Coursera [an online-learning system, provided by a company of the same name that assists some colleges and universities in setting up online learning — Lex]. In a July 2 email to students, Kaul said students wanted to know correct answers to assignments but he would not oblige their requests. This means some Coursera users who get a question wrong could be left in the dark.

He called the students’ request for correct answers “reasonable” but “very difficult to accommodate.”

“If this were a one-time class, we would have considered posting answers,” Kaul wrote in an e-mail that was provided to Inside Higher Ed by a critic of MOOCs. “It will however be very difficult for us to offer this class again if we have to keep preparing new sets of questions with multiple versions to allow you to attempt each one more than once. Handing out answers will force us to do that.”

You see the problem here for the student: If you don’t know what the right answer is, you might not be able to figure out why you got the question wrong. You might not be able to, in other words, you know, learn.

See, that whole “preparing new sets of questions with multiple versions” thing is what college professors get paid to do, in part.  That’s because it enables a professor to tell students where they went wrong, what the right answers are, and, most importantly, ensure that the students grasp the underlying concepts.

Part of the reason that higher-ed costs are rising faster than inflation is that productivity gains made possible by technology in many other fields aren’t always achievable in higher ed. A professor can only teach so many students, can only grade so many essays, at a time. Sure, you could make all the tests and exams multiple choice and grade them with a machine like the SAT, but when you do that, the nuance and many underlying concepts  — not to mention a lot of the interrelatedness of the various subjects students study in college — go right out the window, and the value of a college degree goes right along with them.

MOOCs may well be the best tool, or the best tool available, for some forms of education. But to surrender higher education to them, as some private interests want us to do, would be the educational equipment of scrapping our military at a time when many of our allies and adversaries are expanding their own. It would be unilateral surrender of world leadership. I don’t know about you, but I like being on top and would like to stay there.

Monday, July 8, 2013 7:00 pm

Stop the presses: GOP makes crap up to get bad law enacted

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 7:00 pm

Remember those 900 dead people who, according to preliminary Department of Motor Vehicles reports, voted in  South Carolina in the late 2000s and early 2010s? Well, the State Law Enforcement Division (S.C.’s equivalent of our SBI) took a look at the more than 200 cases associated with the 2012 election, and guess how many actual fraudulent votes they found.

Zip. Zilch. Nada.

You can argue all you like that there really might have been fraudulent votes in the earlier elections. But let’s face it, your best chance of getting away with it would be in a presidential election when turnout is at its peak. And absolutely no fraudulent votes were found in the presidential election, so the odds that there were significant numbers between, say, 2009 and the 2012 primary are just incredibly low.

However, keep in mind that it was the reports of more than 900 dead people voting that enabled S.C. Republicans to enact a voter I.D. law. So now that the justification for such a law is shown to be bullshit, do we get the bad law repealed? I’m not betting the rent.

Vacation, all I ever wanted …

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 6:30 pm

Alone among Western industrialized democracies, the U.S. does not guarantee its workers paid vacations. Indeed, most of our peers guarantee 4 weeks off with pay per year. Economist Dean Baker not only thinks we can afford to match our peers, he also has a plausible explanation for why this is exactly the right time to do so:

If we remember the economy’s basic problem right now is a lack of demand, then this would be an excellent time to consider such policies. This is exactly the time when reduced hours actually are likely to translate fairly directly into more employment. It is when the economy is fully employed that reduced hours are likely to create issues with inflation.

And the idea of raising employer costs should hardly be a major matter of concern when profit margins are at record levels. We absolutely want to raise employer costs — shifting income from corporate profits to wage earners. We can debate how much impact paid leave would have in increasing workers’ compensation, but insofar as it does, that’s a positive and not a negative.

The comparison of unemployment rates with Europe is silly. The United States actually did not have a lower unemployment rate going into the downturn. And it certainly does not have a lower unemployment rate now than several of the slackard countries like Germany and Austria, which have unemployment rates of 5.3 percent 4.7 percent, respectively.

Anyone arguing that this change would interfere with our job creation need only look at Germany and Austria, as Baker points out. So maybe the ugly little secret here is that U.S. corporate leaders are just piss-poor managers. It’s only a hypothesis, but it would explain a lot.

 

Sunday, March 10, 2013 10:40 am

Happy birthday …

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 10:40 am

… to my little sister and a great American, Jane Alexander!

Friday, November 23, 2012 11:44 am

Your homework assignment: I haz it

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 11:44 am

I realize that November, National Novel Writing Month, is almost over. Makes me no never-mind; I am not much of a fiction writer and never have been. I have been blessed to know a few, some of whom even have ventured gracefully into the literary precincts of “science fiction” (or “fantasy” or “speculative fiction” and related terms/categories) and emerged not just unharmed but enhanced, embraced and emboldened. (Yeah, Andy Duncan, I’m talkin’ ’bout you.)

But here’s the thing, and by “thing” I mean “really cool premise, which is actually happening, for a short story or novel”:

The universe is apparently well past its prime in terms of making stars, and what new ones are being made now across the cosmos will never amount to more than a few percent on top of the numbers already come and gone.

This is the rather disquieting conclusion of a new and significant study of the rate at which stars have been produced through cosmic time.

[Astrophysicist David] Sobral and colleagues recently published the results of a series of ‘snapshots’ made of galaxies busily making stars at different epochs, from about 4 billion years ago (around the time of Earth’s formation) all the way back to nearly 11 billion years ago. This is no simple task, some of the world’s largest and most sensitive telescopes had to be employed.

By observing light at very specific frequencies (corresponding to emission from warm hydrogen atoms – see the note below) they are able to gauge the actual rate at which new stars are condensing out of thick nebular material in a few thousand galactic systems. This yields some very robust statistics on the global changes in the numbers of new stars being made as the universe ages.

The main conclusions come in two parts. First, 95% of all the stars we see around us today were formed during the past 11 billion years, and about half of these were formed between roughly 11 and 8 billion years ago in a flurry of activity. But the real shocker is that the rate at which new stars are being produced in galaxies today is barely 3% of the rate back 11 billion years ago, and declining. This indicates that unless our universe finds a second wind (which is unlikely) it will only ever manage to produce about 5% more stars than exist at this very moment.

This is, quite literally, the beginning of the end.

Let’s suppose we set this work on a planet supporting intelligent life, orbiting the last known star in the universe, albeit one not believed to be going away anytime soon. Let us further suppose that interstellar travel, though by no means simple or routine, is  common enough (within certain time/space limits) that this planet has become the repository of all knowledge and creativity that has survived the death of all other stars (and their planets) in its accessible portion of the universe, if not the whole universe.

What would the personal and global conversations be about? What would the personal priorities be, and those of the body politic? Would these beings succumb to fin-du-monde anarchy, or would they conclude that when the fall is all that’s left, the fall matters? (Maybe they harbor the hope,  however remote, that they will be discovered by a previously unknown form of intelligent life that, even if it chose to make hors d’oeuvres of them, might also be interested in their work?

What lives, what dies, and what matters most in the interstices between them? And how do you render the pondering of these questions, if not the ultimate answers, in language that a reasonably sentient carbon-based life form can understand?

That’s your assignment. I’m feeling generous, so you’ve got until March 31.

Go.

 

Monday, October 29, 2012 7:34 pm

Context. Perspective. They are good things. That John McCain does not have.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 7:34 pm

Thanks to Charlie Pierce for watching John McCain on one of the Sunday gasbag shows yesterday so that I didn’t have to. Here’s what Senator You-Kids-Get-Off-My-Lawn said about the recent Benghazi tragedy:

This tragedy turned into a debacle and massive cover-up or massive incompetence in Libya is having an effect on the voter because of their view of the commander in chief. And it is now the worst cover-up or incompetence that I have ever observed in my life.

Really? Because, keep in mind, kids, that not only was McCain old enough to be sentient during the Vietnam War — speaking of incompetence and cover-up — he spent seven years in an enemy POW camp because of it, as he never ceased to remind us during his 2008 campaign. He was around during Watergate (though not yet inflicted upon the body politic in any meaningful way). And, as Pierce observes:

John McCain was in the Congress when Ronald Reagan sold missiles to the mullahs. John McCain voted for the Iraq war on the instructions of George W. Bush. Perhaps John McCain failed to observe that either cover-up or that incompetence. Perhaps John McCain should get his ass over 2008 and leave the rest of us alone.

As for how horrible this whole Benghazi thing is, you know what? It was horrible. Four Americans died. But when Condoleezza Rice, of all people, tells Republicans they’re making too much of what the Obama administration should or shouldn’t or might or might not have done, maybe they’re, oh, I don’t know,  making too much of it.

Also, on Sept. 20, 1984, two dozen Americans died in a terrorist attack in Lebanon. What did then-President Ronald Reagan do the next day? Made three campaign stops, including one in Iowa where he was up 23 points at the time. Then-Sen. John McCain got in a lot of trouble for his public criticism of the president at the time. Oh. Wait.

Ghost in the drone?; or, Skynet harbinger

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 6:50 pm

I realize we’re all a little busy right now what with an apocalyptic storm battering the mid-Atlantic, but apparently we have other existential crises, too:

Air Force mechanics have reported mysterious incidents in which the airborne robots went haywire. In March 2011, a Predator parked at the camp started its engine without any human direction, even though the ignition had been turned off and the fuel lines closed. Technicians concluded that a software bug had infected the “brains” of the drone, but never pinpointed the problem. “After that whole starting-itself incident, we were fairly wary of the aircraft and watched it pretty closely,” an unnamed Air Force squadron commander testified to an investigative board, according to a transcript. “Right now, I still think the software is not good.”

I have seen this movie. Absent the intervention of a reformed Schwarzeneggerbot, it will not end well.

Sunday, July 1, 2012 5:03 pm

Moving sucks, especially in this heat …

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 5:03 pm

… but at least Tracy is helping us organize the clutter:

Tuesday, June 19, 2012 8:09 pm

Because we haven’t had any funny cat pictures on Blog on the Run in a while …

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 8:09 pm

… here’s one:

 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012 8:24 pm

Quote of the day, 9/11 memorial edition

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 8:24 pm

Nancy Nall: “We won’t know what we need to say about 9/11 for another generation at least. But this is Manhattan real estate we’re talking about here, and you don’t leave that vacant for long.”

Monday, May 28, 2012 10:38 pm

Memorial Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 10:38 pm
Tags: , , , ,

Greetings. Not dead. Not even sick anymore. Life just happens. (If you follow me on Facebook, you have some inkling of this.)

But it is Memorial Day, which I take seriously. And because I take it seriously, and because I take seriously the appalling waste of the lives of our service members in Afghanistan and Iraq, the vet suicide rate (currently 18 per day, and more now in total than died in combat in OEF/OIF), the pure evil behind cutting VA funding, and the subject of war in general, I’ll refer you to this, which I wrote almost seven years ago and which remains, I believe, relevant.

Friday, April 13, 2012 8:52 pm

We knew the Catholic bishops have no morals. Now we also know they have no shame.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 8:52 pm

Tossing away two millennia of moral authority is a tough act, but with its multi-decade spree of child-raping and the associated blackmail, extortion and obstruction of justice it has committed, the RICO Act Roman Catholic Church has scored a perfect 10, right down to sticking the landing (of a cardinal, Bernard Law, formerly of Boston, in Vatican City where he can’t be extradited).

That’s bad enough. Now, deigning to insult our intelligence after warping children’s souls, American bishops are couching their efforts to deny insurance coverage to their non-Catholic employees in terms of religious liberty — and likening their effortst to those of Martin Luther King Jr. in the Birmingham jail. Not only that, they also hold up as an example of religious liberty the Second Vatican Council — the same Second Vatican Council they’ve been working for almost half a century to undo.  No, I am absolutely not making this up.

I think irony’s liver just escaped out of irony’s anus and ran off screaming into the night.

The document goes on to confuse “religious liberty” with the concept of getting government money to provide certain services but expecting government not to attach strings to the money. Uh, wrong, guys.

They even take James Madison’s name in vain — Madison, who was opposed even to the idea of a congressional chaplain — to argue that any interference with their desire to mess around with other people’s liberties is, itself, an abridgement of their own liberty. There’s a word for that, boys: theocracy. And we voted with our feet and our rifles on that more than two centuries ago.

Now, why don’t you shut up about denying other people health care and run along and turn state’s evidence to put your kiddie-diddling brethren in prison

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