A REFRESHING COCKTAIL

Posted in Quick Hits on April 29th, 2014 by Ed

Sick as a dog today, so I just want to note that the plan to allow death penalty states to wing their own cocktails of lethal injection drugs is going well. Really, really well.

According to reporters tweeting from inside the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester, Oklahoma, the execution of Clayton D. Lockett has failed. Lockett died of a heart attack after the execution was aborted.

The execution of Charles Warner, which was supposed to take place at 9 p.m. ET., was stayed by Corrections Director Robert Patton.

According to the AP reporter on the scene, about 34 minutes after the execution was scheduled to begin, Lockett was still conscious.

"He was lifting [his] head at [7:39 p.m. ET] and he was still alive and DOC closed [the] curtain and stopped it," Cary Aspinwall tweets.

Patton told reporters that Lockett's vein failed during the execution, preventing the chemicals from entering his body. All three drugs, however, were administered.

At 8:06 p.m. ET., more than an hour after the execution was scheduled to begin, Lockett died of a massive heart attack.

In the weeks leading up to the execution, there had been much controversy over the combination of drugs the state was going to use for the execution.

Warner's attorney, Madeline Cohen, called the proposed execution method "experimental."

This botched execution follows a controversial one undertaken in Ohio in January. As we reported, when that state executed Dennis McGuire with a new cocktail of drugs, it took 24 minutes for him to die and he gasped for air and made snorting and choking sounds for at least 10 minutes.

Don't worry though, Ohio investigated the execution and found that McGuire didn't suffer any pain. Phew!

But go ahead America, keep posting those stories about Kim Jong-un having his uncle eaten by a pack of wild animals if it makes you feel morally superior. I mean, what kind of barbaric nation would allow that?

A BOLD PLAN

Posted in Quick Hits on April 28th, 2014 by Ed

I hope you're sitting down because it turns out that the largest, most visible Tea Party organizations are scams that contribute almost nothing to candidates they claim to support. Like any shitty scam-charity, the money these groups raise goes mostly to paying massive salaries to the organizations' higher ups and their shiftless family members. They have larger ghost payrolls than that Korean ferry company.

Too soon?

In any case the relationship between the Tea Party cognoscenti and the rubes they bleed for donations is summed up in a great line from a great song: A bold plan drawn up by assholes to screw morons. News at 11.

PROBLEM SOLVING SKILLS

Posted in Rants on April 27th, 2014 by Ed

The worst thing about Silicon Valley techno-libertarianism – even worse than the willful ignorance of the essential role played by public investment, infrastructure, and research in the development of the industries booming there today – is the insistence that the Valley uses technology to solve society's problems. This is true only inasmuch as Silicon Valley solves the problems of its own society: the problems of being a young, rich white guy who wants to be waited on by servants like the rich of the Gilded Age but doesn't want to hire (or pay) servants. After all, that would be tacky and inconsistent with the Bohemian-meets-Randian ethos of the Valley. Silicon Valley "empowers" and "frees" and all that other delightful prattle, it doesn't have maids and butlers!

This is the kind of problem they solve, and from their perspective it is a complicated one. It's tricky to meet so many conflicting goals at once: being waited on hand and foot by peons without having to pay servants and while somehow making it seems like paying the peons to serve him is Empowering them or Freedom or something. The perfect solution is to create ways for people with money to take advantage of people who can no longer make ends meet while putting a slick, happy face on the whole arrangement. And that's why Wired, the official newsletter of the breathless bullshit industry, has a cover story this month about "The Trust Economy."

Things like airbnb and Uber (a car sharing service, for those of us who don't live in a city large enough to make the prospect of paying a stranger to drive you somewhere viable) are "building trust" among Americans, bringing them together and facilitating economic activity. Plus, they make the economy more efficient, partially eliminating the dead airtime in daily life. Why leave your house empty when you can get someone else to pay you to stay in it? Why sit around watching TV all evening when you could make money driving people around?

It all sounds great, at least according to the fawning sycophants who provide all of us out here in the provinces with such worshipful coverage of the amazing achievements of the Techno-Demigods. And it is great as long as you don't bother to ask (or care) why people are suddenly employing themselves as improvised innkeepers and taxi drivers. After all, does anyone really want to let some strangers stay in their home for a few bucks? To drive some trust fund asshole to the airport on Saturday after a 45 hour week? I doubt it. People turn to the "Trust Economy" because they're somewhere between financially stressed and desperate. They don't make enough or they're without any steady source of income at all. They do it for the same reason that people go to work at a temp agency or loiter in a Home Depot parking lot to do day labor: because they have no better options.

The tech media work hand in hand with the mainstream media to put the brightest and prettiest coats of paint on economic developments of this kind, but who really benefits from this kind of arrangement? Hold on to your hats, kids, but it isn't you. The beneficiary is the guy who can get people like you to perform for pennies on the dollar all of the tasks that a driver, personal secretary, and butler would do. It's remarkable how many of the recent Big Developments from the omniscient men of the Valley have managed to make the lives of the well-off easier without actually creating any jobs that pay a livable salary or have benefits. Oh, and they convince the media to cover these breakthroughs in a way that makes it sound like they're doing you a favor. You're free at last, free at last. Say goodbye to the chains of full time employment and hello to the boundless freedom of working piecemeal, making phone calls on Mechanical Turk for a quarter and driving Damon the Junior Content Developer to the airport so he can spend the weekend in Cozumel with his frat bros.

The future is here, and it blows.

NPF: NEEDS MORE CHEESE, MAYBE ANOTHER GUN

Posted in No Politics Friday on April 25th, 2014 by Ed

In about one month I will be taking my first real trip to a foreign country. I've been to the basic Comfort Zone countries that Americans can visit without experiencing any severe culture shock – Canada, UK, etc. – but in late May I'm going to Brazil for a week. Don't worry, I'm not actually doing anything fun like going to Rio to party my ass off. My itinerary would make your grandmother jealous; let's just say that a lot of modern architecture will be toured and photographed.

One obvious rule when traveling is to avoid anything with "American" in its name unless you happen to be morbidly curious about just how ridiculous an image of Americans is held by people in other countries. Not that we do not give the rest of the world ample reason to think we are ridiculous, and not that Americans don't hold ridiculous misconceptions about foreigners who travel here (Japanese people all know karate! Everyone who speaks Spanish is from Mexico! Italians must eat pasta for every meal!) Rather than take offense, I enjoy learning about what people who have never been to the U.S. and may not know many Americans think of us. It's…revealing.

This is a list on Thought Catalog of 43 anecdotes relating to Americans traveling abroad and discovering what other people think of "American" food. It is fantastic. Add your own tales in the comments here if you want. Some of these I knew (The Japanese put corn in things to make them "American") or assumed (People around the world think Americans put ketchup on everything). Other things here were new to me. In Brazil, for example, "American" food items are drenched in mayonnaise. I never considered mayo a particularly "American" food – seems French, if anything – yet it makes sense that movies, TV, and advertising always show big jars of it in American kitchens and fridges. Finding mayo absolutely disgusting is all the motivation I need to make sure that I resist the urge to order American-style anything.

Of course stereotypes are full of holes and exceptions, but the one that comes closest to being valid is the foreign assumption that Americans put cheese on everything. We don't all do it, and we don't all put it on everything, but…let's face it, folks. We put a lot of cheese on things. Here in the Midwest it is difficult to find items on restaurant menus that are not covered in cheese (often of the liquid "nacho" variety). Oh, and ranch dressing. The entry that describes how in Finland, "American Sauce" is creamy ranch dressing is a bit too on the nose. A friend once worked in a popular chain restaurant – not the fast food variety – where 55 gallon Rubbermaid garbage cans were used to mix ranch dressing, such was the demand for the stuff on a daily basis. I have heard similar tales from restaurant staff coast to coast. While it is true that I live squarely in the heart of cheese-and-ranch country, I'm confident that these are traits found in all regions of the country to some degree.

Perhaps I'm the only one who sees great humor in this, but something about ordering a Tex-Mex platter in Germany and receiving Tortilla chips, mozzarella sticks, chicken nuggets, hot wings, hash browns, and potato wedges is priceless. Is it any more ridiculous than ordering "German food" in the U.S. and getting bratwurst and soft pretzels? I mean, most reasonably educated and self-aware Americans understand that our ethnic foods have been Americanized. Chinese takeout bears little resemblance to food served in China and Taco Bell is to Mexican Food what Disney World is to Detroit. While I will be visiting a large city with a lot of international visitors (Brasilia) and a major tourist destination (Iguazu) I hope I can enlighten at least one Brazilian or fellow tourist to the effect that, no, Americans do not all carry guns and eat french fries with every meal and drink Coke for breakfast and put cheese on everything.

I might have a moral dilemma about the last point, though. If we're being honest here, we kinda do. If there's anything we can't cover in cheese, bacon, and ketchup, I don't know what it is.

Oh, and apropos of the tale about Koreans putting whole hot dogs on "American pizza", my one horror story from the UK was discovering that kebab mystery meat (what goes into Gyros, essentially) can be and is a pizza topping. Come on. We're not animals. Let's maintain a little dignity.

INCURABLE

Posted in Rants on April 22nd, 2014 by Ed

You know my opinion of "crowdfunding" but I think I've finally stumbled upon a worthwhile creative project made possible by Kickstarter. I know, I know. I never thought we'd see the day either.

This documentary, "The Brainwashing of My Dad", explores a phenomenon that far too many of us know far too well – when a normal person capable of living a normal, happy life turns into a rage-spewing, hateful right wing reactionary thanks to a steady diet of talk radio and eight hours per day in front of Fox News. How many fathers, mothers, friends, husbands, children, and once-bearable uncles have gone from being welcome parts of our lives to nearly unbearable sources of bile and hate and pretty much non-stop bitching. How many of us, in short, have lost someone to the right-wing noise machine?

I have an old friend, a high school classmate, whose family I got to know back in the day. Her dad was one of the dopiest, sweetest, nicest people I've ever met. His life revolved around the White Sox and sitcom-level Dad Jokes. He had not, to the best of anyone's knowledge, uttered a word about a serious topic in his life. I did detect some underlying South Side racism, but that was so common among people in the area that it barely registered. Over the past twenty years he has slowly descended into the Fox/AM Radio cesspool and is now, from second-hand reports, your typical Angry Old Asshole. He rants about anyone and everything, refers to Obama solely as "the sand nigger," and blames everything from local traffic to the global economy on The Liberals. He is probably going to die alone in a nursing home because none of his family can stand being around him anymore.

Sadly, I'd be willing to bet that we all have similar anecdata. Getting crotchety with age is not new; people age, the world changes around them, and they grumble about it. Unfortunately there's nothing cute and Archie Bunker-ish about the Fox brand of senility. Is it fair, though, to use the term "brainwashing"? We could debate the semantics, but this much is certain for anyone who has watched Fox News for an hour or two or spent an entire afternoon on the AM talk part of the dial: there is no way that a person could be normal after hours and hours of daily exposure to this for an extended period of time. There's just no way. You could not listen to Rush Limbaugh every day for two years and come out on the other side undamaged. You could not watch Fox News all day, every day (as many of its elderly viewers do) without developing a fear-based, wildly inaccurate view of the world around you.

Surely some people are born wingnut assholes who need no help from Fox. It sure is unpleasant, though, to see a person capable of living a very normal life turning into a Dittohead…forwarding ridiculous emails, subjecting you to all the talking points, and going on rants that are as tired as they are offensive. Will we learn anything that most of us don't already know from experience in this film? Probably not. Perhaps it will help to know that we are not alone, and if we're lucky it might save a few people from wandering the same shrill, dumbed-down path.

SOME REAL HARDY BOYS HERE

Posted in Quick Hits on April 21st, 2014 by Ed

Short post today, working on a good long one for you tomorrow (giggle). Larry Bartels, one of the more visible and important political scientists of this generation, did a short write-up about how austerity and income inequality are uniquely linked in the United States. Whereas in most advanced industrial democracies preferences for spending cuts are relatively flat across income levels, American preferences are essentially a proxy for household income. While that should come as absolutely no surprise, the non-U.S. data are unexpected. With higher tax rates in much of Europe, one might expect to see some preference (however slight) for austerity among higher earners.

This is the latest in what seems like a daily burst of stories about income inequality, plutocracy, and oligarchy in the past few months. It's as though the Professional Writer Class just discovered that we have a problem that has been glaringly obvious for at least fifteen or twenty years. Should I be happy that it gets talked about or pissed off that it took so long that it's probably too late to do anything about it?

FREEDOM FROM LOGIC

Posted in Rants on April 20th, 2014 by Ed

Having resisted the temptation to say anything about the latest right wing darling – militia nutcase Cliven Bundy and his Patriot Cattle – but the tie-in to last week's post about George Zimmerman hit me over the weekend. As any sober and literate review of the facts and history of the situation shows, Bundy has absolutely no legal argument whatsoever beyond ultra-right militia/survivalist/Tax Protester nonsense about refusing to recognize the authority of the federal government. The neat thing about the federal government is that it exists whether or not some mouthbreather thinks it does, and it has authority over him regardless of whether he thinks it does. To argue otherwise simply is to claim that each individual can decide which laws he chooses to follow and when, which is to say that there are no laws at all. A law isn't a law if it can't be enforced. A law that can't be enforced is a suggestion.

What reminded me of the Zimmerman post is the people who rushed to Bundy's defense, armed to the teeth with their well-regulated militia arsenal. These people, who are obviously more heavily armed than the average American, are precisely the kind of people who shouldn't have guns. These are people who stopped working (or perhaps they're unemployed welfare queens?) and drove hundreds of miles to "defend" a man who is absolutely, completely, and indisputably wrong – a grifter, in essence, who wants to use public resources without paying for them with his lunatic "patriot" beliefs as justification – because they are so enthusiastic about the chance to point a loaded rifle at an employee of the federal government. That is why they came, and that should be profoundly disturbing. They dropped everything and disrupted their lives for a week to jump on what might be their one big chance to get in a gun battle with the government.

We're supposed to arm ourselves, their logic goes, to resist the tyranny of the government. Unless the definition of tyranny now encompasses enforcing laws passed by elected officials, this does not appear to qualify. This would seem to be an effort to start a fight. These are people who grew up reading about Waco and Ruby Ridge and Timothy McVeigh and simply can't wait to live out their own fantasies – you know, the typical things boys fantasize about doing like killing ATF agents and blowing up courthouses.

There is great danger in indulging these people. There is great danger in acting like this guy has any sort of argument or that we should listen to Both Sides and keep an open mind. I didn't see Patriots rallying to keep borrowers from being railroaded out of their homes by an auto-penned foreclosure notices, not to mention their silence on thousands of other instances of unpopular or unfair laws being enforced. The government has put itself at risk by backing down and setting a precedent – if enough gun-toting lunatics show up, they'll back down. It's terrible. This guy is so, so far away from having any sort of relevant or valid argument to support his position that a zero-tolerance response is the best strategy. When this came up in my class, for the only time I can recall in 10 years of teaching I absolutely shut somebody down for expressing an opinion. "No, actually we don't get to decide which laws we follow or what authority the government has over us" was harsher than things I usually say in front of students, but I feel like people who support this guy need to be told unequivocally how ludicrous this line of logic truly is.

It's a sad day, despite it being obvious why the media would benefit from covering this, when a bunch of assholes spouting "sovereign citizen" gibberish and pointing guns at public officials get treated like a group of people whose ideas deserve to be heard and given due consideration.

NPF: THE SINGULARITY (OF CRAP)

Posted in No Politics Friday on April 18th, 2014 by Ed

This news story in the Peoria Journal-Star is the most Peoria thing that ever Peoriaed. From now on when anybody asks me to describe this place I am just going to send them the link.

The police – acting on a search warrant signed by a judge whose qualifications to be on the bench are immediately suspect – raided the home of a young man who made a fake Twitter account for the Mayor of Peoria. Aside from that, well, not being illegal, the news story 1) begins by explaining what Twitter is, as the median age of a Journal-Star reader is approximately 93 and 2) goes on to note that the fake Twitter account had…wait for it…fifty followers. It turns out that making a parody Twitter account for a podunk elected official about whom zero fucks are given it is not the ticket to internet fame.

A few gems:

“They said they had a search warrant and took all the electronic devices that had Internet access,” Pratt said. “They said there had been an Internet crime that occurred at this residence.”

Peoria Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard said officers were investigating the creator of the Twitter account for false impersonation of a public official. The offense is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and up to a year in jail.

What exactly is an "internet crime"?

Do the dipshits that end up working for a city this pathetic understand that the crime of "impersonation of a public official" refers to, like, things other than setting up an obviously fake Twitter account?

By about March 10, the bio of the Twitter account was changed to indicate it was a parody account.
Settingsgaard, however, said the intent of the account was not clearly satirical.
“I don’t agree it was obvious, and in fact it appears that someone went to great lengths to make it appear it was actually from the mayor,” Settingsgaard said in an email response to questions.

Ladies and gentlemen, that's our Sheriff. I wonder which online degree mill he graduated from.

By late March, the @Peoriamayor account was suspended by Twitter. It had about 50 tweets and just as many followers.

Does something with 50 followers even register? Is that even a blip on the radar? Something that obscure would go completely unnoticed if not for the fact that the Mayor and police are calling attention to it in this manner. Basic Streisand Effect, people. Oh wait, nobody here has heard about that yet because it only happened ten years ago. The internet is still new to these people and they don't quite understand it yet.

Every time I hear a helicopter I get excited and think, maybe the Gin and Tacos readers have come to rescue me. Then I realize it's just another medevac flight to the regional burn center because a meth lab blows up in someone's face approximately every twelve hours here.

MEMORY HOLE

Posted in Quick Hits on April 17th, 2014 by Ed

Having done this for more than a decade and, at this point, thousands of posts I don't remember a lot of what I've written on here. But there are a few that I remember in detail, either because I thought they turned out particularly well or I had more fun than usual writing them. When someone reposted this Ezra Klein ode to Centrist Butthurt on Facebook yesterday – you remember the one, in which he realized that Evan Bayh was a big, bad liarface and a perfect example of all of the things he claimed were "wrong with Washington" when he retired and gave his famous jeremiad-interview with Klein – I remembered writing a response to it many moons ago with the unforgettable title, "Satisficing and Cocktail Wieners."

All of that could have been written today or twenty years ago or in 1875 and it would be equally relevant. There always have been and will be Evan Bayhs – sanctimonious charlatans who pose as crusaders to score points from decrying the system while embodying all of its worst excesses. What is more problematic in the modern context, though, is the endless supply of Ezra Kleins willing to take these people seriously and then act like jilted tweens when their heroes prove to be shallow hacks. Only the rosiest of lenses (or the most all-encompassing ignorance, which I will assume does not describe Klein) can allow a supposed journalist to look at a man as obviously full of shit as Evan Bayh, see a Good Man, and then be shocked when he's on his knees sucking paychecks out of News Corp and the Chamber of Commerce six months down the road.

MY HERO!

Posted in Rants on April 14th, 2014 by Ed

One of the big problems with guns in the U.S. is the inability to come up with an accurate way to identify who shouldn't have them. It would be great if we could look at people and reliably conclude "Future school shooter" or "obviously gets shitty drunk on Pearl Beer and leaves loaded guns out in a house full of kids." Since this is impossible, we have to rely on proxy variables that our friends at the NRA are all too eager to remind us are imperfect. Plenty of people planning to commit crimes with guns have none of the red flags (felonies, psychiatric diagnoses) that our flimsy system of background checks is designed to catch.

My suggestion for reducing gun violence is to wait until concealed carry becomes legal in a given jurisdiction and then automatically reject the first 100-1000 applications. Because you know who society doesn't need running around armed? The guy who has been waiting his entire life to pack heat. He's so excited that he sprints down to the police station the first day concealed carry is allowed, not unlike a starry-eyed tween ecstatically racing to get One Direction tickets, to get his permit. The guy who simply cannot wait to be carrying a gun is precisely who we should be worried about.

Of course that is a half-kidding suggestion and no such system would be legal or workable. But there's a different group of people we really, really need to worry about being armed: people who want George Zimmerman's autograph. You know they're all gun owners. Most of them probably do concealed carry if they can qualify for the permit. They have guns and they're excited to have a chance to meet a guy who is famous because he shot a black teenager. Maybe shake his hand and congratulate him. Some of them brought their kids.

The folks over at Sociological Images, providers of the link, try to break down the psychology of someone who would actually put George Zimmerman on a pedestal (tl;dr – essentially a bad case of Just World Phenomenon in which everyone deserves whatever happens to them). It would be great, though, if we could take Zimmerman around the country and somehow mark the people who go out of their way to meet him, shake his hand, and ask for an autograph. Perhaps an invisible dye would do the trick, but I'm agnostic about the method. Assuming we can't pass any laws precluding them from owning guns, it would nonetheless be fascinating to see how much Ground-Standing and "self defense" shooting they end up involved with as a cohort.

It's not about what Zimmerman did – it's about the fantasy of one day doing the same. And that's terrifying.