Friday, January 25, 2013

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) Wisdom comes from knowledge. Knowledge comes from experience. Experience comes from getting out in diverse situations and learning new things. So, Bobby? If you're concerned that your party is in danger of becoming the party of the stoopid, take a look around. When you have the single most diverse name in the party and even THAT'S Americanized from Piyush, you're in deep shit, buddy.

2) You get the sense that even China is growing weary of the Team America clownishness of the Kim regime. It's one thing to develop nukes, it's another thing to rattle your sabre when your scabbard is empty, and antagonize people, particularly when your main ally is already in hot water with an ally of the US.

3) You might recall that a few years ago, two groups of scientists voluntarily stopped working on weaponizing the avian H1N1 flu virus after a worldwide outcry, and opted to wait until security measures could be put into place. Well, they've started up again. Not that the bird flu needed much help, apparently.

4) And more in health news: the norovirus.

5) The least surprising news of the week.

6) Harry Reid screwed us. No other way to put it. Yes, he reformed the filibuster and yes, it will be a little harder to filibuster, but...

8) Here's a twist: the Catholic Church is in a position to argue that foetuses are not people.

9) JJ Abrams, the same guy who brought us such stellar films as Cloverfield and Armageddon will direct the seventh installment in the Star Wars nonology. For Disney, who bought the rights from George Lucas last year. Expect to see furry forest creatures eighty feet tall lobbing planet destroying asteroids. And I thought Hayden Christensen destroyed the franchise.

10) Oh, Florida. Where would Nobody Asked Me, But... be without you?

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Women Embattled

A curious nexus of two stories occured yesterday, each of which reinforces the other.
First, it was let slip that today, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta would authorize women to serve in combat.
Hardly earthshattering, I know. Women have served on the front lines for a decade or more in Afghanistan and Iraq...just ask Tammy Duckworth how she lost her legs. Still, a de jure codification of what is de facto is a welcome development.  
Many objections can and have been raised against women in combat. Most, if not all, have the ring of bigotry about them: how will women handle the death of a comrade? Can women handle the same physical and emotional stresses as a man? and so on.
Echoes of the arguments made when blacks were allowed to serve in the military under Truman.
First off, it's still a volunteer army, which means that women will have to undergo the same training and conditioning the men do. If they can pass that, they can serve on the front lines. It's as simple as that.
As to the question whether women can handle the emotional rigors of service, one need only go into any veteran's hospital to see the men whose minds have been shattered because of the death and destruction they survived. None of us is exempt from emotional triggers and the death of people close to us is a strong one.
I think it's safe to say that, if anyone is to be excluded based on the possibility of an emotional breakdown, then we should all beat our swords into plowshares.
Which would be my preference, but I digress...
But if anyone needs proof of the resilience of women, let's move onto story number two:

When Hillary Clinton went to Capitol Hill on Wednesday, Republicans opened their bags of overly ripe conspiracy theories and moldering fruitcake ideas and tossed everything at her. Every shot missed.

Republican senators and congressmen on the foreign affairs committees of both houses had insisted that the departing secretary of State come in for a full day of hearings about the deadly terrorist attack on the American consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Some of them must have thought this was a great chance to do preemptive damage to the most popular choice for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Instead, she made them look like the clumsy bad guys in an Aaron Sorkin political drama. 

The State Department's own independent investigative board has already answered most of the serious questions about the Benghazi tragedy in which four Americans were killed, including U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The panel cited the failures of mid-level officials and suggested 29 ways to improve the system. Clinton said implementation of those steps was already 85% complete.

If there is ANYONE, and I mean, anyone, who had a right to blow up into a complete emotional collapse yesterday, it was Hillary Clinton. For twenty years now, she has been pilloried, excoriated, demonized, belittled, cursed at and spat upon, and yet, in front of the most hostile questioning I've seen coming from Capitol Hill since Anita Hill tried to warn America about Clarence Thomas (Another woman. Interesting.) she maintained her composure, breaking her equanimity only when talking about standing beside the President as the caskets of four brave Americans -- Americans dishonored in life by the very men now verbally abusing their boss and now dishonored in death by these same men who ghoulishly use them as political props -- and comforting their families.

She got angry, too. She got angry because these morons would rather score political points against her than get to the bottom of what happened in Benghazi and accept a heaping dole of responsibility as they and there party defunded embassy security, all in the name of...what, exactly? Tax cuts for the rich, is what.

In short, Congressmen and Senators of the right, the truism the rest of the planet lives by, "you get what you pay for," was writ large in Benghazi and you guys tried to stiff the waiter. Shame on you.

She called you on it, and now you're angry. Let me sum up her testimony for you: we're on it, I'm out of here, get over it.

If you need further explanation, I'm sure Senator Kerry would gladly give you a briefing. Even tho you don't deserve one.


Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Someone Please Hand Wayne La Pierre A Bigger Shovel

Wayne LaPierre Jr., Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Rifle Association speaks at its members annual meeting during its national convention in St. Louis on Saturday. Because he clearly doesn't believe he has hit the bottom of his self-dug grave yet:

WASHINGTON — Wayne LaPierre, the executive director of the National Rifle Association, angrily accused President Obama on Tuesday of demonizing law-abiding gun owners and of wanting to put “every private personal firearms transaction right under the thumb of the federal government.”

In a fiery speech at a hunting conference in Nevada, Mr. LaPierre criticized Mr. Obama’s Inaugural Address on Monday when the president said Americans should not “mistake absolutism for principle.”

That reference, Mr. LaPierre said, was intended as an attack on the N.R.A. and gun owners who believe that the Second Amendment to the Constitution provides an absolute right to bear arms.

What gun nuts won't tell you is that the Second Amendment is the only one, the only one, that places a condition on a Constitutional right. They'll ignore the language of the first part about a "well-regulated militia" -- and if the Founders were alive to address this, I think they'd acknowledge local police forces as constituting said militiae -- but woe betide anyone who interprets the rest of the Amendment to read as anything but "all the guns we want, all the time."

But then La Pierre doubled down on teh stoopit:

“I urge our president to use caution when attacking clearly defined absolutes in favor of his principles,” Mr. LaPierre said. “When absolutes are abandoned for principles, the U.S. Constitution becomes a blank slate for anyone’s graffiti.”

In effect, La Pierre is demanding absolutism on his relative terms. For instance, the gun that Founders referred to is a muzzle loader, a musket. At best, you might have a flintlock pistol. Why doesn't he mention that in his "principle"? After all, colonists had to defend their farms against varmints both human and animal, and they seemed to do a pretty good job of surviving. If the purpose of owning a gun is to defend yourself and your family, then it seems to me that mission accomplished there.

Having seen the failure of his "only a good guy with a gun can protect us from a bad guy with a gun" meme, La Pierre has quickly branched out into terrorism. Not that he was above terrorism before this, but it seems pretty clear that he's trying to broaden the scope of his argument past the Second Amendment advocacy of the NRA to include Teabaggers and other "l"ibertarians by scaring them about free speech, or freedom of religion, for example.

The "absolutist" argument is stupid. The Constitution has long been viewed as a malleable document. Indeed, the reason the Founders made amending the document so damned difficult is that it was intended to be interpreted to fit the times, and not make the times fit the document. They knew the world was changing rapidly and that if their intent was to concretize the Constitution and to stultify any debate about its meaning, they would have included amendments indicating that it would never be changed, could never be changed, and would have more specifically outlined the rights it endowed, instead of taking what is essentially the lazy way out and leaving it up to the People.
In other words, leave it to the wise men and women selected by the People, who would in turn select the men who oversaw the document's meaning, to let the Constitution play in the fields of the future. Up until now, that's been a widely accepted view of our democracy.
Until now. I mean, it's still widely accepted, but there's a significant if small minority of people who are home-schooled and attend "colleges" like Liberty University who have been brainwashed into believing in "original intent."
When it's clear that "original intent" was to let the document breathe the air of a free people who may choose to view the document as a mirror, not a granite slab.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Mali Factor

Remnants of European imperialism are on display this year in Africa, as France (and eventually NATO) draws itself deeper into the morass of Mali:

SEGOU, Mali — Malian and French forces were reported in control of two important central Malian towns on Tuesday after the French Defense Ministry said they recaptured them on Monday, pushing back an advance by Islamist militants who have overrun the country’s northern half.

Jean-Yves Le Drian, the defense minister, hailed the advance on Monday as “a clear military success for the government in Bamako and for French forces intervening in support of these operations.”

The developments in Diabaly, about 275 miles north of Bamako, and Douentza, on the eastern bank of the Niger River, some 300 miles to the north-east of the Malian capital, represented a reassertion of government control in areas where a lightning strike by Islamist forces last week prompted France to intervene, initially with air strikes to halt the rebel advance.

Wherefore Mali? It's an interesting situation: Mali offers no obvious strategic advantage to anyone, in truth. It's landlocked, and while it does offer access to both the Niger and Senegal rivers, there's not much to be done there in terms of trade or commerce. Mali's economy relies largely on agriculture and fishing and its two largest mineral exports are gold and salt.

Not to short shrift gold, of course.

This whole mess started when a separatist movement, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, occupied a presidential palace in the capital city of Bamako. Shortly after, Islamist forces supposedly aligned with Al Qaeda (there's some dispute there) overpowered the NMLA and while they allowed the president to resume his office, they have not relinquished power.

The Azawadians are a faction of the Tuareg tribe, who last made the news when they allied with Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, and then were driven out of their homes as the rebellion flourished. Amadou Sanogo, the general at the head of the Azawadian forces, requested the French intervene in the conflict.

The effect of this was seen in next-door Algeria, as Islamists seized a gas field and captured dozens of hostages. At last report, 37 died in the government's successful attempt to retake the facility.

This entire incident, Mali and Algeria, speak to the formation of Africa's fate for the century: a struggle between nativist Africans and the North Africa Muslims. This seems to be spreading into the interior of the continent now, having been fought along the north and east coasts already with neither side having a clear victory.

Strategically, this is subtly important: Niger and Burkina Faso also have deposits of gold, and Niger famously has yellowcake uranium. They are also two countries in Africa who do not do the plurality of their trading with China.



Monday, January 21, 2013


Early morning, April 4
A shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride
It is fitting and appropriate that this week sees the re-inauguration of President Barack Obama and the celebration of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King would have turned 84 last Tuesday. I have little doubt that, had he lived this long, he would have proudly stood next to the President yesterday and today as he spoke those words Dr. King so longed to hear spoken to a black man: "I do solemnly swear..."
I can imagine a tear or two would have formed at the corner of his eyes. I know it did when I watched it.
Dr. King could not have failed to notice a subtle shift in America. In 2008, electing Barack Obama was an act of insurrection, a vote to change Washington, to change America, to embrace progress. In 2012, it was an affirmation of that change.
And the 2012 vote was nearly as overwhelming as the 2008 insurrection. The guy's doing a good job.
We re-elected Barack Obama not on the colour of his skin, but on the content of his character. We have seen him at work, and judged him good. Had Dr. King spoken today at the celebration, I have little doubt he would remark on this point.
Too, he likely would have pointed out that, while we have not seen the mountaintop, where men live in peace with other men of all races, colours, creeds and, yes, genders (sorry ladies, the allegory just works better sui generis), we have taken one giant leap for mankind.
Perhaps, too, he would note, as he did in opposing the war in Vietnam, "When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered." How true these words have become in the past decades, as fear and terror replace courage and thinking.
No doubt, he would cast an askance eye at the NRA and gun owners across America, in the wake of the Sandy Hill shootings and the tragic deaths of black men, black women, and black children all across the nation, from Illinois to Alabama, from Massachussetts to California, and recalled that he, too, owned guns but was denied a permit in Alabama to carry them because he was black.
And would undoubtedly note the lopsidedness of gun violence falling on minorities disproportionately, and children doubly so, and note that more guns is not more safety: "Finally, I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be the son of the Living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood. And because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned, especially for His suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come today to speak for them."
There is a deeper theme to this day, the nexus of the second inauguration of Barack Obama and the celebration of the birth of Dr. King.
Men of peace have short lives on this planet. King acknowledged this during his life: "Now it isn’t easy to stand up for truth and for justice. Sometimes it means being frustrated. When you tell the truth and take a stand, sometimes it means that you will walk the streets with a burdened heart. Sometimes it means losing a job…means being abused and scorned. It may mean having a seven, eight year old child asking a daddy, “Why do you have to go to jail so much?” And I’ve long since learned that to be a follower to the Jesus Christ means taking up the cross. And my bible tells me that Good Friday comes before Easter. Before the crown we wear, there is the cross that we must bear."
As Bono so brilliantly put it in the lyrics I quoted above, "They asked of your life, but they could not take your pride."
It is that pride that endures. It is that unforgettable fire that burns inside you and I. Our nation has become concretized. Where once we were supple and adept, America has become brutish and musclebound. Where once we were tolerant and accepting, we have become fearful and ignorant. Where once we could all share a dream, we have awoken to find a bleak and icy landscape.
We have slipped into a morass of violence and hatred, strewn amidst a rubble of what could have been. But I tell you, that within that rubble, among the bullets and bodies and bloodstained snows, lay the seeds of change.
The Spring will come, and perhaps early morning, one April 4, shouts of joy, not shots of death, will ring out heralding a new nation, conceived in true liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that we all are created equal.