So far I've avoided the Penn State child molestation story and the new, less widely reported allegations that a Syracuse University basketball coach Bernie Fine (who was fired on Monday) molested young boys as well. In the latter case, ESPN had a legally recorded tape of a phone conversation between a victim and the coach's wife in which they indicate mutual knowledge of the various acts of molestation that occurred. In a disturbing similarity to the Penn State case, ESPN received the tape in 2003 (!!!!) and reported it only this past weekend because they thought that the victim had already called the police and couldn't "verify the authenticity" of the tape. Seems like that might have been worth taking to the authorities anyway, guys. But let's not digress.

One particular part of the conversation between wife and victim is noteworthy in ESPN's partial transcript:

On the call, Laurie Fine told Davis (the victim) she'd already warned her husband that one day his alleged molestation of Davis might become public.

"I said to him, 'Bobby and I talked, and I know some things about you that if you keep pushing are going to be let out.' "

Davis continued: "He doesn't think he can be touched … "

Laurie Fine: "No … he thinks he's above the law."

The idea of being untouchable is prominent throughout the events at Penn State as well – that being a coach at a big time college sports program provides lofty social status. Honestly, that is a sadder commentary on our society, and higher education in particular, than even the acts these men committed. None of us are naive enough to deny that people in positions of power are treated differently. Things they do that might get them in trouble can sometimes be swept under rugs because other powerful people will help them. This is part of the way the world works. Life isn't fair, etc.

What's pathetic is that assistant coaches at college sports programs fall into this category of social elites who wield special powers. It makes sense, for example, that the governor or a judge or a billionaire are likely to get Special Treatment from the law. They have actual power. Bernie Fine or Jerry Sandusky, conversely, are college assistant coaches. College sports could cease to exist tomorrow and the collective impact on society would be nil, other than adding more people to the unemployment rolls. What these men do is not important. At all. It might be fun. It might be entertaining. It might boost school spirit or whatever excuses athletic departments use to justify their existence. Sure. But college football and basketball are not important.

It's sad that we place such a disproportionate emphasis on sports and athletes in our society that these men can get out of a speeding ticket let alone avoid prosecution for felonies. The appropriate response to a statement such as "Well I'm a coach for Penn State!" would ideally be "Who gives a shit?" Instead, such people are treated with deference once reserved for heads of state and robber barons. Because, like, the Nittany Lions! Joe Paterno! OMG!

Oh, by the way: don't get all high and mighty on us, non-Americans. We've seen how you treat your soccer players.


In 1988 the crew of the US Navy missile cruiser Vincennes shot down an Iran Airlines passenger jet, an Airbus A300, with two surface-to-air missiles. All 290 people on board died. The crew of the ship claimed that the aircraft appeared to be an attacking enemy fighter plane, despite the fact that it was in Iranian airspace, climbing, and on its normal daily flight path. It was also, you know, a passenger jet. Which doesn't look much like the F-14 Tomcat that the Navy claimed to think it was.

You can read up on the incident (and its primary cause, the sociopath/Captain of the Vincennes) if you care to; an exhaustive account is not necessary here. What makes this incident interesting to me is its use as a classic example of a phenomenon called "scenario fulfillment." In highly regimented organizations like the military, individuals are a part of a larger system. In order for that system to work effectively, participants are trained extensively. They go through drills, simulations, and live exercises ad nauseum until carrying out their responsibilities becomes second nature. In the context of Iran Air 655, however, the crew of the ship were so locked into the drill that taking it to completion – fulfilling the scenario of "enemy fighter attacking" that they had probably repeated a thousand times in training – was simply the logical end. And "completion" in this case means shooting down the enemy plane. That's what they're trained to do, and as soon as someone said "We're being attacked!" their training took over. Of course, avoiding "mistakes" like this is the reason the military has officers who are supposed to use their judgment based on the available information, but I guess that safeguard isn't very effective when the officers are belligerent. But I digress.

The past three decades have seen unprecedented changes in American law enforcement. Among the most notable is the militarization of police. The police, despite being civilians by definition, have adopted the equipment, weapons, tactics, and attitudes of the military. We now have suburban police departments purchasing IED-proof armored vehicles designed for Afghan war zones. Helicopters, armor, high-velocity rifle ammunition, stun grenades, "less lethal" weaponry – you name it, and cops have gotten their hands on it. Why? Well, thanks to the War on Drugs they've decided over the years that all of this is necessary. The only limit to what they require is imagination. If you can dream up a threat, you can justify more weapons, more equipment, and more paramilitary tactics to put it all to use. It doesn't matter that a coordinated terrorist attack on the Pigsknuckle County Courthouse is as likely as the second coming. In a world in which the Supreme Court is making decisions based on hypotheticals from Jack Bauer and the writers of 24, the public and political system accept just about anything police ask for at face value.

The point among all of this is simple: police essentially do what they are trained to do. The more they are trained in military-style tactics, the more options for the use of force they are given (rubber bullets, batons, chemical sprays, grenades, etc.), and the more their training focuses on the possible rather than the probable, the more likely they are to carry out their jobs in ways that contradict their mission to Serve and Protect. Cops don't break up crowds with swinging batons and CS grenades (adopted with their launcher directly from the military hardware market) because the situation calls for it. They do it because that's how they're trained to break up riots. It doesn't matter if the crowd is violent or not; every crowd becomes a riot in their minds once the training scenario begins to happen in real life. They break down doors and enter homes with weapons drawn because that's how they're trained to serve warrants. They pepper spray or tazer anyone who appears remotely aggressive (Or not, you know. Either way.) because that's how they're trained to deal with aggressive people.

The above image is of the UC-Davis police before the infamous pepper spraying incident. These are campus cops – ask any cop and he will giggle while explaining that campus police are the lowest form of life in his profession – with the full array of modern, military-style riot gear and weapons. Where is the campus on which they work? Kabul? The Sudan? Yes, campus police face the prospect of having to break up a drunken 3 AM congregation now and again, and breaking up a crowd can be dangerous. But clearing out the morons gathered in the street at bar time is not exactly going door-to-door through Normandy in 1944.

The more they are trained to apply force, the more often it will be applied. The more force they have to apply, the more they will apply. The more they are militarized, the more they will act like Delta Force operatives in Tora Bora rather than street cops in Des Moines. The farther American police go in this direction, the more ordinary citizens will get that unsettling feeling that leads your more radical friends to declare that we live in a Police State controlled by storm troopers. Because to an alarming extent, they are starting to have a point. Bearing in mind that police are public servants, why has this gone unchecked?

I think the answer is simple enough. An inattentive public isn't interested as long as it happens to someone else. The political system is fanatically eager to Get Tough on Crime. And the people who are supposed to be in charge of law enforcement, to lead it, have eschewed judgment for the indulgence of their wildest "What if?" fantasies. The scenarios for which they train might or might not be reality, but they will certainly become reality given the time. Maybe that's why the number of riots instigated by police seems to dwarf the number that they've protected society from – give a man a hammer and oddly enough all of his problems start to look like nails.


This Thanksgiving, will you be part of the problem or part of the solution? The problem, of course, is the stealth Islamofascistication of America. Can even Thanksgiving, that most secular of holidays, be part of America's inexorable slouch toward Sharia Law? According to Pammy Gellar (on the wildly misnamed "American Thinker") it sure the fuck is:

In my book Stop the Islamization of America: A Practical Guide to the Resistance, I report at length on the meat industry's halal scandal: its established practice of not separating halal meat from non-halal meat, and not labeling halal meat as such. And back in October 2010, I reported more little-noted but explosive new revelations: that much of the meat in Europe and the United States is being processed as halal without the knowledge of the non-Muslim consumers who buy it.

I discovered that only two plants in the U.S. that perform halal slaughter keep the halal meat separated from the non-halal meat, and they only do so because plant managers thought it was right to do so. At other meat-packing plants, animals are slaughtered following halal requirements, but then only a small bit of the meat is actually labeled halal.

Now here is yet more poisonous fruit of that scandal.

A citizen activist and reader of my website wrote to Butterball, one of the most popular producers of Thanksgiving turkeys in the United States, asking them if their turkeys were halal. Wendy Howze, a Butterball Consumer Response Representative, responded: "Our whole turkeys are certified halal."

In a little-known strike against freedom, yet again, we are being forced into consuming meat slaughtered by means of a torturous method: Islamic slaughter.


Non-Muslims in America and Europe don't deserve to have halal turkey forced upon them in this way, without their knowledge or consent. So this Thanksgiving, fight for your freedom. Find a non-halal, non-Butterball turkey to celebrate Thanksgiving this Thursday. And write to Butterball and request, politely but firmly, that they stop selling only halal turkeys, and make non-halal turkeys available to Americans who still value our freedoms.

It's abundantly clear that Pamela Gellar is seriously mentally ill, and her story is going to end in one of two ways: heavily sedated in a mental institution or bleeding out in a hail of police gunfire after her shooting rampage in a crowded mosque.

This year I am thankful that I am not as stupid as the people who come up with these idiotic conspiracies.


Alabama's new toughest-in-the-land immigration law, modeled after but more demanding than the highly publicized law in Arizona, is a comedian's dream. The idea that there is a big problem with people trying to get INTO Alabama is always good for a few laughs. Nonetheless the law has real world consequences, some of which were unintended.

Back during my high school years, circa 1994-95, Alabama made headlines by literally greasing up its own cornhole, bending over, and grabbing its ankles for Mercedes-Benz when the German automaker decided to open its first U.S. factory. No tax break was too lavish and no assurance of a docile, authority-worshipping workforce was too strong for the political and economic leaders of a state whose primary industries are teen pregnancy and Rickets. It worked, much to the dismay of other states, initiating the now common practice of wooing potential employers with buckets of money and other special favors. That tangent aside, M-B is now one of Alabama's most important employers, if not the most.

So imagine the hilarity that ensued when the new law resulted in the arrest and detention of a white collar M-B manager, a German legal resident driving without his passport or German drivers license. Governor Robert Bentley, who signed the bill into law, apparently started making phone calls to state immigration officials when he heard about the arrest (which I'm sure the Governor does in every case, seeing as how our justice system treats everyone equally). The man was released when his German license and passport were brought to the jail, but you can bet that Gov. Bentley and the State Leguslature will be ordering extra lip balm and mints for some enthusiastic ass kissing and pole smoking of the M-B higher ups in the near future.

Hilariously, due to such "unintended consequences" the Governor is considering some, ahem, revisions to the law. The nation – nay, the world – waits breathlessly to see how they will try to re-word the law so that wealthy, white collar German executives are spared further embarrassment. Knowing Alabama's track record, my guess is that words like "greasy" and "brown" will be added to the law to ensure its effectiveness against the targeted population without causing any collateral damage among the mighty Job Creator class.


As an ideology conservatism makes sense. That's not an endorsement, merely a recognition that it is an internally consistent set of ideas. This is surprising only inasmuch as conservatives themselves – at least of the American variety – are about as logical and internally consistent as Mars Volta lyrics.

Being a modern American conservative is an exercise in holding contradictory viewpoints without an ounce of self awareness. They believe in fiscal conservatism and stratospheric levels of military spending. They believe in individual freedom and that the government should legislate Christian-approved morality. They preach about the Constitution and rights but love it when the government infringes upon them in the name of security. Yes, the contradictions are many, but none is more reliably amusing than belief that government is oppressive, nefarious, and untrustworthy combined with blind, fanatical support of the police, military, and other forms of gun-wielding authority.

Over on the ol' Gin and Tacos facebook page (which you should totally follow, if you do not already do so) I posted a picture of the UC-Davis police officer pepper spraying passive, seated students blocking a sidewalk (oh, the horror!) Since I happened to be among the first wave of people to post the picture, many G&T fans shared the post on their own Facebook walls. As a result, it was seen by a vast number of people who are…not part of my regular audience. Think of every crazy uncle and right wing knucklehead on your Facebook friend list and you'll see where this is headed.

I can't say it surprised me that people defended the cop. There are always people who will defend the cop. Believe it or not, I was taken aback by just how stupid their arguments were even though such things should not surprise me anymore. Most of all, though, it's amazing the extent to which these people who believe that government is pure evil will argue that A) the role of the citizen relative to the police is one of absolute, unquestioning obedience, B) the police are to be taken at their word at all times, and C) whatever type and amount of force the police choose to use is inherently right.

If one of the defining characteristics of government is possession of a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within its borders, then the police are government at its most elemental. They are the government's way of perpetuating itself and enforcing rules and social order. If government is evil, oppressive, or misguided then by definition the police – the muscle behind the corrupt system – must be as well. Yet rather than seeing the state using questionable (to put it charitably) levels of force against its own citizens as another sign of a brutal, corrupt, and broken system – which, for the record, is what they see when police/military are used to crush popular demonstrations in other countries – they cheer on its excesses and defend it to the last man.

Maintaining this curious set of beliefs depends on their equally curious understanding of what exactly the police are for. To the average conservative – old white people, suburbanites, the wealthy, moral traditionalists, etc. – the police are a personal valet service charged with protecting them from the brown people, the poor, the homeless, and the punk kids with their boom-boom music and bouncing cars. The rights of those groups are not an issue, you see, because they have no rights. Only "good, hard working Americans" truly have rights, and others forfeir their rights by their actions. If the police ask you to move from the sidewalk and you don't, then you no longer have any rights. They can do whatever they want and it's your own fault.

Of course that might be a more convoluted, less helpful way of restating Adorno's ideas about the authoritarian personality type: submissiveness to authority, aggression toward outgroups defined by that authority, and the unwavering belief that others should conform to one's own understanding of socially acceptable behavior. Thus we have Nixon's "Silent Majority", at once scared, angry, and aggressive, filling our social and political discourse with the mantra that the government that they worship blindly and submit to completely is inherently evil. I suppose it makes more sense if you don't understand how logic works.


As I have noted many times previously in this forum, I am not ashamed to admit that I don't really understand the internet or how it works. It has been explained to me many times, often with a sampling of metaphors intended to simplify the more complex parts, to no avail. I get it, but at the same time I don't get it. The internet isn't a physical thing, but at the same time it is (as evidenced by giant server farms).

Look, I'm OK with this. I can take a thing or two on faith in this life – I accept the internet as part of our shared reality without understanding quite how the words I type (which end up stored…somewhere, I guess) reach the end user. You are certainly free to take a crack at explaining it in the simplest terms, but that really isn't necessary. I've made my peace with it. Not knowing is OK sometimes.

All that said, last year I read an article (not available online, ironically enough) in The Baffler entitled "What Does the Internet Look Like?" That piece offered plenty in the way of interesting discussion and metaphors for the ol' World Wide Web, yet it too struggled with the fundamental question of how the internet can look like anything if it is intangible. Well, maybe partially intangible. There is some part of the internet that we can touch, right?

Devote 11 minutes to this excellent short documentary about the infrastructure of the internet – servers, routing stations, fiber optic cables, and more – hidden, sometimes in plain sight, all around us.

Bundled, Buried & Behind Closed Doors from Ben Mendelsohn on Vimeo.

I still can't tell you how the whole process works. I am comforted to know that if The Internet ever becomes self aware and mankind needs to destroy it, there is something real and tangible out there that we can blow up, smash, or otherwise turn into rubble. Then again, since the information on the internet is distributed (or something, right?) even a full pitchforks-and-torches assault might fail to kill it.

So I guess the best analogy for the internet is the hydra…an enormous, stupid hydra full of porn.


The last few years have seen a bull market for Sadness Journalism – stories of foreclosures, medical bankruptcies, layoffs, homelessness, hunger, and a host of other woes that were invisible when they happened to the underclass but are now polite conversation since they're happening to middle class people. The narratives inevitably follow one of a few well established frameworks. The sad story (man loses job, descends into alcoholism, accidentally kills loved ones/ends up in prison). The downshifting story (well paid professional loses job, realizes she is happier living in a small house with a garden and no car). The it's-your-fault story (the lavish wages and benefits of a group or individuals are presented as justification for why Mr. Spacely had to move the Sprocket factory to Uttar Pradesh). And lastly, my own personal version of hell: the It's Was the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me story, wherein the protagonist gets a pink slip, overcomes the urge to wallow in sadness, and then (with luck, pluck, and diligence straight out of Ragged Dick) starts a new business (or more rarely, finds a new job) far better and more lucrative than the old one.

For the laid off or otherwise unemployed, optimism is a good thing. It can hardly help to feed them a steady diet of WASF stories in the news every day. There's nothing wrong with a Success Story to remind people who may be cast adrift that all is not necessarily lost. But success stories, like lottery winners, are useful examples only when the odds involved in their success are downplayed or ignored altogether. This Forbes piece, while remarkably thoughtful (for a Forbes piece) in recognizing in a very non-confrontational and investor-friendly way the challenges that one might encounter when 55 and suddenly jobless, is a good example of what happens when the narrative drifts from optimism to condescending bromides.

Being the boss gives Bitter the flexibility to spend more time with her husband (a 30-year veteran of IBM), adult children and grandson. “When boomers get over the fear of losing the corporate parent and all the benefits, they may find that what’s on the other side fits them better,” she says…

Williams counsels “desperation entrepreneurs”—laid-off fiftysomethings who have finally realized they aren’t getting back into the corporate world. He advises them: Don’t waste retirement savings on lavish offices or buying an existing business or a franchise. Instead, work from home, selling a skill or a product you already know…Ken Proskie, 59, is a Williams client who was laid off in 2004 from his job as a health and safety manager for a large manufacturer. He spent only $25,000 of nonretirement savings to buy equipment and furnish an office in his Evanston, Ill. home.

Perhaps the tone of this article reflects the expected audience of Forbes-reading professionals with salable skills. Maybe this is a realistic depiction of what one kind of worker can do when laid off, even if it isn't realistic for the great masses. But even with that caveat, I'd love to see some data here. Of fiftysomething corporate types who get laid off, what percentage will end up doing better as bedroom-and-garage entrepreneurs? How many will find equivalent employment elsewhere? And what share of them will end up doing much, much worse, with a low paying job that neither utilizes whatever skills they possess or supports even a downshifted lifestyle?

Some stories have happier endings than others. I doubt, however, that being over fifty and getting fired qualifies as the best thing that ever happened to anyone except corporate propagandists and uncritical journalists.


We can always count on the mainstream media to ask the tough questions, like: "What's behind Gingrich's jump in the polls?"

Read the paragraphs of pseudo-analysis offered by a laundry list of hangers-on and campaign hacks if you want, or stick around here while we wallow in the bleedingly obvious. Gingrich is "on the rise" (based on a single poll) because the desperate search for anyone who is not Mitt Romney continues among the GOP inner circle and voting base. With Iowa six weeks away, the odds of a new Savior joining the field are essentially nil. The Bachmann carnival freakshow had its 15 minutes over the summer. Perry rode over the hill on a white stallion and leaves as a laughingstock. Things got so desperate that, at least for a short while, the GOP appeared to consider the black guy.

What alternatives remain? It's basically down to Gingrich, Ron Paul, Jon Huntsman, or Rick Santorum. Gingrich is basically a bridge troll with name recognition. Paul is way too far out there for the GOP insiders and has less charisma and fewer camera skills than any politician since Barry Goldwater. Huntsman is an apostate. It's continually surprising to be reminded that Santorum is still in the race. It makes all the sense in the world that Republicans being polled would choose the one name they know as something other than an abject failure (which, coincidentally enough, Gingrich is in every sense of the word) from the list if they're desperate to avoid Mittens.

Of course, the fact that Romney's eventual nomination seems all but inevitable is bad news for the networks, who very much want the appearance of a nail biter of a race. Let's face it: somebody needs to be the Romney alternative, and Gingrich stands as good of a chance as any of going the next six weeks without dousing himself with gasoline and lighting a match. Then again, that turned out to be too much to ask of Bachmann, Perry, and Cain.

So while Gingrich's "surge" seems like the kind of thing that would have a shelf life measured in hours, the reality is that he is probably going to stick around for lack of a viable alternative Romney alternative.


By now you've all seen the unofficial demise of the Rick Perry Express to the White House, a juggernaut of a campaign that met its end during the nationally televised GOP primary debate on November 9.

Two things about this are amazing. One is that in the pantheon of Texas governors, Perry will manage to be remembered as "the dumb one." The second is that I feel slightly bad for Rick Perry.

If there is a technical term for what happened to Perry during this debate, I don't know what it is. I do know that it happens to me all the damn time. I get paid to stand in front of large groups of people and talk every day, and then I do it again in the evening for fun. Regardless of my level of preparation, the use of notes, or experience with the material, I still encounter these Perry moments regularly. Sometimes you just…go blank. It happens. Unless you're lying or happen to be having such a moment right now, you'll admit that it happens to you too.

Yes, I got plenty of laughs out of seeing this and exploited it for more than its fair share of jokes over the past few days. That said, this is a better indicator of how poisonous the modern media environment has become than of Perry's lack of suitability for the presidency. There are dozens if not hundreds of reasons that Rick Perry should never enter the White House without a ticket for the sightseeing tour in his hand; this is not necessarily one of them. Yet it took this – something he forgot rather than any of the ridiculous shit he actually said – to knock him from the rank of Serious Candidate.

To understand what is happening to Perry is to make sense of the millions of dollars campaigns spend on image control. You can campaign on the most idiotic ideas on Earth and the Beltway media will take you seriously if you have enough money, but god forbid you do something that lands you in a viral video clip. Then you're radioactive. Ask George "Macaca" Allen or Howard Dean and they'll tell you how an entire campaign can be derailed by a 15 second YouTube clip. The key, as many campaigns have figured out, is to spout whatever brand of insanity most pleases one's targeted donors and to "look presidential" while doing it. Be crazy, be an idiot, or be downright scary. Just don't look silly while you're doing it.

I would love to look back at 2012 as the election in which Rick Perry was soundly rejected by voters because he has been a disaster as Governor of Texas, he seems to consider nullification and secession to be intriguing concepts, and he is the worst kind of right-wing populist loon. Instead we'll note that he was the updated version of Howard Dean, the guy whose campaign ended when he made himself look stupid for a moment on camera. It's a sad commentary on both our media and the electorate that Perry was taken seriously when he proposed eliminating the Environmental Protection Agency, and given the gong only after he forgot its name.


Although I find very little interesting about the new rash of car-related TV shows on the air in the U.S. (hey, no one can afford one anymore so let's watch other people drive them!) I did love this clip of a 2010 Toyota Camry beating a 1980 Ferrari 308 in a drag race:

Oh, and a Toyota minivan beats a DeLorean down the track as well, but a kid on a bike could beat a DeLorean.

Sometimes it's amazing how quickly technology moves in such a (relatively) short period of time. What was world-class technology in 1980, unaffordable to all but the wealthiest few, is now the level of performance offered in a car that is the definition of bland, basic transportation. And of course a new Toyota is far safer, more reliable, and easier on gas. The truth is that just about any car you buy today, even a cheap compact, will outdo even the most expensive, advanced cars of the 1970s and 1980s (or earlier) in nearly every way.

On the other hand, how far has the technology really progressed if we're barely beginning to move beyond oil-burning propulsion in cars? It would be as if computers today were still using vacuum tubes, but really advanced vacuum tubes. Of course in reality the field has done away with things like tubes and transistors altogether. I'm sure some of the more tech-oriented readers will find a bone to pick here, but the point is that a computer in 2011 looks and works nothing like a computer from 1950. But even though a modern car is far better than an older one, the basic components are all essentially the same. Just improved.

Back when Intel released the Core 2 processor line, a friend told me that a laptop equipped with that processor would have, for all intents and practical purposes, the computing power of the world's most powerful supercomputer in 1992. Not sure if that's accurate, but it's plausible given how fast that field moves. We've all seen the quips about how the Apollo Guidance Computer, with its dizzying 1.024 mHz clock speed and 2 kb memory, has only a tiny fraction of the capabilities of a cheap home PC today. It's pretty sad, given how quickly some other fields have progressed, that the technology of moving ourselves from point A to point B has accomplished so much but progressed so little in the last 100 years.