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Character Actors And Sidemen Make the World Go ‘Round

[ 1 ] August 1, 2010 |

Maury Chaykin, R.I.P. He was a fine actor, and I was especially fond of him as the careless, vaguely ethical bookie in Owning Mahowny.

And, also, Ben Keith R.I.P. Although he’s permanently linked with Neil Young, it was an interesting and varied career — who knew he played on “I Fall To Pieces?”  — and he helped create so much good music I forgive him for producing Pieces of You.


“Jane Smith of Seat 4B Once Put A Quarter In A Church Poor Box, So She Deserved To Be Asphyxiated To Death.”

[ 51 ] August 1, 2010 |

Yes, as I think I’ve said before I’d have to say that this passage is pretty much definitive Rand.

As it happens, I’ve been reading Jennifer Burns’s very good Rand-and-the-right book Goddess of the Market , and this is indeed the most remarkable revelation:

Her diaries from that time, while she worked as a receptionist and an extra, lay out the Nietzschean mentality that underpins all her later writings. The newspapers were filled for months with stories about serial killer called William Hickman, who kidnapped a 12-year-old girl called Marion Parker from her junior high school, raped her, and dismembered her body, which he sent mockingly to the police in pieces. Rand wrote great stretches of praise for him, saying he represented “the amazing picture of a man with no regard whatsoever for all that a society holds sacred, and with a consciousness all his own. A man who really stands alone, in action and in soul. … Other people do not exist for him, and he does not see why they should.” She called him “a brilliant, unusual, exceptional boy,” shimmering with “immense, explicit egotism.” Rand had only one regret: “A strong man can eventually trample society under its feet. That boy [Hickman] was not strong enough.”

So I guess that when she made her Ideal Man a rapist she was making a concession to the altruists and parasites…


[ 4 ] August 1, 2010 |

I am shocked, shocked to learn that Howard Zinn, of all people, had leftist attitudes and associated with known leftists. I would also be stunned to learn that he may not have been entirely forthcoming with the FBI about such associations. Somebody should notify their local Tea Party chapter…

You forgot Pantload!

[ 7 ] August 1, 2010 |

Sir Charles on the midterm elections:

There really isn’t adequate space to address the extraordinary drop in American prestige that accompanied a war of aggression fought for bogus reasons, the use of torture as official U.S. policy, massive increases in poverty and inequality, and the world-wide economic collapse largely brought about by irresponsible American financial institutions.

And the current Republican response to this record of shame is to say give us another shot to make it all happen again.

Well, yes. But Sir Charles seems to have forgotten that we are living in the era of Domino’s Pizza, and that any minute now the GOP is going to “admit it screwed up” and then something something something NO MORE SOCIAMALISM!!!1!111!!EXCLAMATI0NP01NT1111!!!

Can We Get Rid of the 4th Amendment For You Too?

[ 10 ] August 1, 2010 |

Shorter Col. Mustard:   “Religious freedom, pluralism, and equality might be important American values, but if they might cause Osama bin Laden to say something snarky on a videotape, out the door they go!”

The extent to which Republican politics consists of ressentiment all the way down is becoming more widely known. In foreign policy, this leads to the dark irony that the policies they believe will upset Al-Qaeda couldn’t be doing more to play into their hands.  It should be obvious that conceiving 9/11 as part of a war between the United States and Islam is precisely what bin Laden wants, but the ADL and the wingnuts whose illogic they’ve decided to adopt wholesale have other priorities.

Poor, Underpriveleged Yankees Receive Another Donation

[ 50 ] July 31, 2010 |

So the National League tried to help out the poor defenseless Yankees before the season by trading them a quality starter for a marginal fifth outfielder, but so far it’s been merely an awful trade rather than a complete heist (although I bet Vazquez ends the year with an ERA+ well over 100 while Melky will still be Melky.)    So I guess the Yanks needed more charity, getting an excellent hitter in a mild down year and cash in exchange for a “free Coke refill at Appelbee’s with $30 purchase” coupon.    Man who should return to blogging Ken Tremendous summarizes the progression of the Astros’ “logic”:

    • Astros paying Berkman’s salary is like a homeless guy getting robbed by a billionaire and throwing in a free shoeshine.
    • “We want Berkman.” “Okay.” “But you pay him.” “Okay.” “In return, we’ll give you a pile of cat vomit.” “Okay.” “Now gimme your car.” “Okay.”
    • “I will trade you negative four million dollars for Lance Berkman.” “Deal!”
    • “We want Montero for Berkman.” “How about we give you nothing and you give us four million dollars and Berkman.” “Even better!”

    I expect that by the time they formally announce the trade the Astros will have thrown in Brett Myers too.    And the fact that now that Spec Richardson seems to be running the team from beyond the grave the Astros might challenge the Pirates’ losing streak record before they win again won’t be that much consolation.

    Making It Easy

    [ 10 ] July 30, 2010 |

    Obama’s glacial pace in making federal court nominations is not, strictly speaking, an example of the kind of thing Krugman is talking about today. Making a couple dozen more nominations to the lower federal courts would not be a base-energizing move (nominating someone like Pam Karlan to the Supreme Court, maybe.) But allowing a lot of vacant seats on federal courts as the GOP is poised to make huge gains in the Senate is still bad on the merits — bad for the functioning and fairness of the criminal justice system, and bad for the application of federal law. And while this is an area in which Obama’s power is shared with an institution in which Republicans have a de facto veto, it’s still true that 1)he could make it harder for them, and 2)even with the Republican obstructionism he almost certainly could have gotten more nominees confirmed if he had made more nominations.

    Saving Kids From Dangerous Drugs Act of 2009 passes Senate unanimously

    [ 12 ] July 30, 2010 |

    Helen Lovejoy

    The measure was introduced by Dianne Feinstein as a replacement bill for the Hysterical Moral Panic Act of 2009.

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    ADL Needs to Return to Hebrew School

    [ 13 ] July 30, 2010 |

    This has been another edition of what Serwer said…

    An organization whose stated role is to “counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry” nonetheless opposes people building where they please simply because of the faith they adhere to. Sure “bigotry is unfair and wrong”, the ADL says, but we should give the bigots what they want anyway. It is inconceivable that the ADL would argue such a position if the building in question happened to be a synagogue, and the builders happened to be Jews.

    Let’s be clear. This is not about the proposed Islamic Center. There is already a masjid in the neighborhood, and it’s been there for decades. This is about giving political cover to right-wing politicians using anti-Muslim bigotry as a political weapon and a fundraising tool. By doing this the ADL is increasingly eroding its already weakened credibility as a non-partisan organization.

    I learned one very important lesson in Hebrew School that I have retained my entire life. If they can deny freedom to a single individual because of who they are, they can do it to anyone. Someone at the ADL needs to go back to Hebrew School.

    Can’t add anything to that.

    See also.

    I’ve Got Mine!

    [ 5 ] July 30, 2010 |

    This is an important fact:

    Conservatives have made a concerted effort to portray public opposition to health care reform as an ideological rejection of liberalism and government. The truth is that people who don’t have government health insurance support the Affordable Care Act. The only opposition comes from people who already benefit from single-payer health care. They’re not opposed to government health care — they’re worried that providing health insurance to others will come at their expense.

    To make an additional side point, It’s not just that the Palin’s “death panels” line was making up something that doesn’t exist. As sophisticated conservative philosopher Ray Stevens inadvertently pointed put, the underlying premise of Republican discourse about the ABA was that the government should keep its grubby paws of people’s taxpayer-funded single-payer healthcare.

    Should Assange Be Prosecuted? By Whom? For What?

    [ 137 ] July 30, 2010 |

    It’s becoming clearer that Julian Assange of Wikileaks published a vast database of classified information (with almost no ethically significant revelatory content*), in such a way as to put numerous Afghan civilians at risk. His actions seem to have done very little good in changing foreign policy, but potentially an enormous amount of harm to human life.

    [Name-calling aside, Daily Beast’s Tunko Varadarajan just about bangs the nail on the head in regard to Assange’s specious claims to the contrary:

    How does Assange justify putting these people at mortal risk? Predictably, he does not, taking refuge behind a weasel-worded insistence that he and his team had edited the material so that there was “harm minimization,” a morally teasing phrase that might, so ironically, be part of the Pentagon’s own lexicon.]

    What happens now? The US government, quite justifiably though not least for its own self-serving reasons, is reportedly considering ways to prosecute Assange for his actions. (Next I’d like to see reporters press SecDef Gates on what exactly DOD intends to do to protect its informants on the ground.) Developments in any legal case that goes forward will be interesting because Assange is operating in a legal gray area in more ways than one.

    First of all, his Australian citizenship and shifting transnational bases raise jurisdiction questions: under whose laws does he fall? Should he be prosecuted by the US, by his own country, or some other court, and is he likely to be extradited to any of these?

    Second, as an individual with a computer backed by a team of journalists and human rights activists, it’s not clear conceptually what set of professional standards he falls under. Is Wikileaks part of the media, covered by laws governing the relationship between the national security state and the press? If so do those laws apply to these types of transnationalized new media outlets? (According to the Daily Beast, Wikileaks has been described as “the world’s first stateless news organization.”) Or is he just a citizen with a non-profit organization, and if so is his behavior a form of protected speech? Is speech protected when it compromises the confidentiality of others without their consent, to the extent that their lives are put in jeopardy? (This question goes to much broader legal debates percolating in the area of new media, such as whether Facebook’s unilateral shifting of presumably ‘private’ content breaches the civil liberties of its users, particularly when it puts people at risk of, say, stalking. Hackers’ efforts to expose the practices arguably put users at risk as well.)

    Most likely, if Assange is extradited to the US he would be prosecuted under some provision of the 1917 Espionage Act. A former counterintelligence official is arguing Assange should be captured by Special Ops forces and tried for espionage rather than for mishandling classified evidence. If so, we can unfortunately expect the case will be treated and politicized as an attempt to crack down on whistleblowing per se than as application of justice to irresponsible, pseudo-whistle-blowing journalists. We see this already in the Weekly Standard’s coverage: Gabriel Shoenfield discusses “the threat to human life and to the war effort” in the same sentence in critiquing the NYT’s role in breaking the story.

    This framing has grave implications for free speech and dissent not only in wartime but probably in the new media more generally. If the US government adopts it Assange will become a lightning rod for First Amendment claims and counter-claims rather than questions about ethical use of sensitive data. The Espionage Act was designed to essentially curb free speech to prevent interference with wartime military operations. Prosecuting Assange under such a law would delegitimize his protest of the war rather than the means by which he undertook it. In 2006 a federal court upheld the right of the government to prosecute recipients of national security leaks, as well as sources. The constitutionality of such laws is hotly contested and the resulting debate will muddy the real issue, which is the conditions under and means by which classified information should be revealed to the public.

    I’d rather see a court focus on how he conducted his activities rather than whether leaks of this type are legitimate (for under certain conditions, they certainly are, whether or not some country’s war effort is undermined). The real issue here is and should be framed as human security, not national security.

    Are there alternatives to prosecution by the very country whose war efforts constitute the background for the debate? Absolutely. Instead of being treated as a spy or a criminal perhaps Assnage should be sued in civil court under the Alien Tort Claims Act. Class-action lawsuits have often been brought on behalf of aggrieved defendants by public interest lawyers in the US, often in cases where jurisdictional issues problematizes criminal prosecutions. Former heads of state and bloody-handed transnational corporate executives have been sued in this way; why not an irresponsible renegade cyber-journalist?

    Penalties under such civil lawsuits don’t always result in concrete gains for victims’ families but they do play an important norm-building role in establishing legal precedent over previously under-adjudicated phenomena. The approach is especially useful where the harms suffered by individuals are recognized by global civil society organizations but unreachable by domestic or international institutions. In the case of the wanton privacy violations and attendant human security concerns raised by this case, perhaps reaching and punishing such harms is best accomplished in a civil court that can remain neutral of the political debate about whether Assange has, or has a right to, “undermine the war effort.”

    Since civil cases require damages, an implication might be that we must wait around for heads to roll before Assange receives a comeuppance. But the more responsible thing to do would be for NATO countries to immediately seek to remove named informants and their families from Afghanistan, and join those families in suing Wikileaks to recover the financial costs and emotional hardships of relocation.

    *I will have a post up shortly about why progressives should be wary of uncritically regurgitating Assange’s claims about “war crimes.”

    UPDATE: Joshua Keating has some further insight on whether the Justice Department’s dog might hunt.

    UPDATE: David Folkenflik: is Wikileaks an editor, a source, an advocacy organization or a member of the journalism profession?

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    The JournoList Scandal

    [ 7 ] July 29, 2010 |

    On March 17, 2007, I was invited to join Journolist. I reprint the full e-mail invitation below, without permission, because that’s just the way I roll:

    Over the past few weeks, I’ve been creating a list serv to unite the journalist, wonk, public academic, and more cerebral bloggers communities. It’s actually going pretty well, and I’d love for you guys to be a part of it. Joining can be done below — and I think you guys would enjoy it.

    I refused to join, out of a desire not to be bored firm, principled conviction that participating on such a list would be wrong for some reason. I also determined that, like Kieran Healy, I was far too sexually attractive to be a member of the list.  Indeed, I was more than a bit insulted by the invite, but fortunately Ezra later acknowledged my “rugged good looks,” so offense forgiven.

    Nevertheless, it has come to my attention that the comments and e-mails of JournoList members are worth good money.  In the spirit of commerce, I am willing to offer, unedited*, the complete archive of my e-mail contact with any and all JournoList members.  Each revelation is guaranteed to be more shocking than the last.**  What follows is only a taste of what’s available (names have been changed to protect the innocent):

    Contempt for the hardworking common American, and conspiracy to take his money:

    Matt D: What was the name again of the poker room where rubes were waiting for me to take their money?
    Me: Imperial Palace.
    Matt D: Thx

    Technological Collaboration in the Service of (almost certainly fraudulent) TEH LIBERAL blogging:

    D. Muss: hey
    me: Yo!
    D. Muss: question:
    D. Muss: I know i’m a paid blogger and shit, but I forget how to do a screen catpure
    D. Muss: capture
    D. Muss: do you know?
    me: Ja; hit the “print screen” button.
    me: That gives you an image file, which you can then copy into any program that you like.

    Literally hundreds of conversations just as devastating as these, with literally a handful of Journolist members, can be yours!  Bidding starts at $100000.

    *Archive may be heavily edited.

    **Guarantee void in all known legal jurisdictions.