Monthly Archives: March 2015

Pence Lies Himself Into A Corner

UPDATE:  Pence is giving a press conference this morning in which he re-asserts that the Indiana RFRA is just like the federal RFRA and the RFRAs passed in 30 other states.  He is lying (or is stupid).  It is similar, but has important differences.  He’s playing the victim, claiming (repeatedly) that he and Indiana are being “smeared”.  Still, he’s calling on the Indiana General Assembly to “fix” the bill.  Bit of a mixed message.  It also bears repeating — Indiana Assembly Democrats offered an amendment to #RFRA saying it couldn’t be used to discriminate. GOP legislators voted that down.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence has been all over the media for the past few days, pretending the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” has nothing to do with discriminating against LGBT people, and yesterday he announced that he’d push for a “clarification” of the bill, to show that it doesn’t do that thing everybody knows it does.

Pence has a problem, though; the anti-gay activists who helped ram this bill through the Indiana legislature are opposed to any such clarification, because of course they are.

Micah Clark of the American Family Association’s Indiana chapter, who stood right behind Pence, along with several other Religious Right leaders, when he signed the bill into law and has quite a record of anti-gay activism, said today that he opposes any such clarification.

He told AFA President Tim Wildmon today that conservatives should call Pence and other state officials and demand that they oppose any effort to clarify that the law does not legalize discrimination: “That could totally destroy this bill.” (In Georgia, supporters of a similar bill also opposed a push to ensure that the legislation will not permit discrimination in business.)

Wildmon agreed, adding that the Indiana law is necessary to protect anti-gay business owners from “persecution.” The law’s critics, Wildmon claimed, are waging “spiritual warfare” against state officials.

Here’s a photo originally posted proudly by Micah Clark, showing Clark and several other anti-gay activists standing with Pence when he signed the RFRA, with annotations added by GLAAD to make it very clear that Pence is simply lying about its intent.


Let’s get real.  The real motive behind much of the “religious liberty” crusade is this: an effort to depict religious conservatives as an embattled but righteous remnant engulfed in a self-destructing society, and wishing only to be left alone to their own beliefs and customs. But the definition of “left alone” inevitably involves friction with social norms, which politicians promoting this meme wish to exacerbate, not mitigate. And so the alleged “shield” of religious liberty protections becomes a “sword” for eroding civil liberties for others. It is impossible, ultimately, to ignore the precedent set in the fight for civil rights for African-Americans, where opponents also retreated to a position of “simply” demanding the right for private parties to live their lives and conduct their businesses according to “custom.” Here’s how People for the American Way recently put it:

Fifty years ago, Americans decided that a private business owner who serves the public can be required to abide by laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Since then, many states and municipalities have added prohibitions on discrimination based on other characteristics like disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity. It is those laws that some religious conservatives are objecting to, arguing that they should be free to refuse to provide services to same-sex couples even when states have decided as a matter of public policy to ban anti-gay discrimination.

Many religious conservatives object to the civil rights model for looking at this issue on grounds that sexual orientation is a matter of “choice,” not nature, a position that fewer and fewer people accept the more they get to know LGBT folk. But at bottom, their scriptural objections to homosexuality are no stronger than the scriptural objections to racial integration cited so often in defense of Jim Crow. And like them, the current efforts to identify Christianity with homophobia will look ludicrous and shameful in a generation or less. So when we are told these poor innocent conservative religious folk “just” want their consciences respected, and that means a zone of sanctioned discrimination must be created for them, the proper answer isn’t to dismiss religious liberty as a legitimate concern, but instead to ask: does your liberty really require a right to discriminate, and to disobey laws others must obey? It’s the self-definition of the right to discriminate that’s so dangerous here, and so tempting to bigots.

The Indiana “Religious Freedom” Law Isn’t Like Past Laws

Last, week, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence stirred up controversy when he signed a “religious freedom” bill into law.  The law has businesses and civil rights groups up in arms and threatening — or in some cases pledging — to boycott the state.  Critics assert the law could be used by individuals and businesses to discriminate on the basis of religion — particularly against the LGBT community of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals.

Pence has been trying to use the “nothing to see here” and “everybody’s doing it” defenses to the new law, which is why he’s loath to get into the law’s details and admit that the statute he signed is not just like the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and not just like most other states’ RFRAs.

At the Atlantic, Garret Epps has a good simple description of how the Indiana statute differs from most precedents:

[T]he Indiana statute has two features the federal RFRA—and most state RFRAs—do not. First, the Indiana law explicitly allows any for-profit business to assert a right to “the free exercise of religion.” The federal RFRA doesn’t contain such language, and neither does any of the state RFRAs except South Carolina’s; in fact, Louisiana and Pennsylvania, explicitly exclude for-profit businesses from the protection of their RFRAs.

Second, the Indiana statute explicitly makes a business’s “free exercise” right a defense against a private lawsuit by another person, rather than simply against actions brought by government.

So Indiana is trying to create a genuinely plenary zone of sanctioned discrimination, including every kind of entity and protecting discriminators from legal action from any direction. The first point carries it beyond SCOTUS interpretation of the federal RFRA in the Hobby Lobby case as covering “closely held” corporations, but not all for-profits. And the second means Indiana isn’t just protecting religious folk against the all-powerful government, but against the very targets of their discrimination.

Today Is World Bipolar Day

wbdAccording to the World Health Organization (WHO), there are 450 million people globally with mental illness; of that number, 5 percent are labeled bipolar, which is three times all cases of diabetes and 10 times all the cases of cancer. Bipolar is the sixth leading cause of disability, according to WHO.

“Bipolar Disorder is a mental illness that represents a significant challenge to patients, health care workers, family members and our communities,” according to a press release from World Bipolar Day organizers. “While growing acceptance of bipolar disorder as a medical condition, like diabetes and heart disease, has taken hold in some parts of the world, unfortunately the stigma associated with the illness is a barrier to care and continues to impede early diagnosis and effective treatment.”

So how do we break down barriers and dispel myths and mistruths? Enter World Bipolar Day.

March 30 is the birthday of Vincent Van Gogh, the famous painter who cut off his own ear and was posthumously diagnosed with probable bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression. Dr. Pichet Udomratn, a member of the Asian Network of Bipolar Disorder (ANBD) who worked with with International Bipolar Foundation (IBPF) and International Society for Bipolar Disorders (ISBD) to create World Bipolar Day, thought March 30 would be a fitting day to bring the world information about a highly stigmatized and feared mental illness.

For more information on World Bipolar Day and how you can get involved, visit the cause’s Facebook page or follow the event on Twitter @WorldBipolarDay.

Don’t Blame Depression

This is in Forbes, so I don’t have to write it:

You saw a depressed person today. Probably dozens or hundreds of them.

They drive cars. They perform surgery.

They fly planes — and safely land them.

Of course, that’s been frequently forgotten since last week’s devastating Germanwings tragedy.

Many pundits quickly blamed the horrific plane crash on depression, noting that co-pilot Andreas Lubitz — who took control of the Germanwings airliner and steadily, deliberately flew it and his 149 fellow passengers into the Alps — was reportedly treated for depression and possessed a supply of antidepressants.

The argument came from know-nothing pundits like Piers Morgan. “Depressed pilots on medication for mental illness should not be flying passenger planes,” he declared. If they’re not pulled from the skies, he added, “it could be any one of us next.”

The supposed link was blared across European newspaper headlines, too.

Even the experts weren’t sure.

“Should a depressed pilot be allowed to fly?” wrote Dr. John Grohol, the founder & CEO of Psych Central.

“I’m not sure someone who has a lot of responsibility should be going into work on days where they’re dealing with this kind of emotional upset or sadness.”

On one count, Grohol’s right: there do need to be some basic protections. (That’s a key reason why the FAA has been incredibly restrictive when letting pilots return from treatment for depression, as Forbes writer David Kroll notes.)

And there is a possible link between depression and violence, at least in some cases.

For example, a recent Oxford University study reviewed 50,000 Swedish citizens diagnosed with depression, concluding that people who were diagnosed with depression tended to commit more violent crimes too.

“Our findings suggest that the odds of violent crime are elevated two to three fold after adjustment for familial, socioeconomic, and individual factors,” the researchers wrote in TheLancet Psychiatry in February.

But blaming a person’s depression for his evil acts is ridiculous.

For instance, the Oxford researchers noted that when accounting for other factors — like a previous history of violence, substance abuse, or psychosis — the elevated rate of violence among depressed was notably smaller. And it’s possible that “depression” was over-diagnosed in these people, too.

Mental health experts further stress: Depressed people may be suicidal, but almost never homicidal. The suicide rate in the United States is roughly double that of the homicide rate.

That’s why one of the most important public health efforts of the past few decades has been the effort to de-stigmatize depression — especially because it’s so widespread. Depression strikes up to 20% of Americans across their lifetimes, the Anxiety Disorders Association of America has found.

For the moment, depression is seen as a debilitating, but not disabling condition. “Depression made me do it” isn’t an acceptable excuse for doing a poor job at work, and can’t get you out of a legal bind.

And it doesn’t explain what happened in the case of Germanwings, as Lubitz horribly plunged a plane of screaming passengers into the Alps, acting with chilling evil.

If you believe the tale told by an alleged ex-girlfriend, the plane crash was chillingly planned for months; Lubitz supposedly wanted the world to know his name.

“I don’t know what that is,” psychiatrist Anne Skomorowsky wrote at Slate, “but it’s not depression.”

Ask one of the 10 million-plus Americans who are seriously depressed at any given time. The bravest among them will admit: Depression is devastating. It makes you self-loathing, and lays you low.

But it doesn’t make you a murderer.

See also: “Would We Be ‘Blaming’ Cancer for the Deaths of Those People Who Perished in the Alps?” at HuffPo

I would add that we shouldn’t blame bipolar disorder either.  That is being bandied about as the culprit because he was prescribed strong SSRIs and anti-psychotic medicine.

Don’t get me wrong… I think it is clear that he suffered from some mental illness.  He may have had bipolar disorder or depression, but these would only explain the suicide, not the 149 homicides.  Some have suggested narcissistic personality disorder, which is characterized by (among other things) indifference toward others and grandiosity (Lubitz reportedly said he wanted to “change the system”).  Perhaps that is true.

But the danger here is linking his illness to the tragedy.  I know people who have struggle with depression.  I know people who have been diagnosed bipolar.  And people who have NPD/borderline.  None of them are likely to become homicidal.  This tragic event, like some school shootings, could become a good teaching moment for mental illness — to explain both the frequency and severity and the wide range of problems it causes (homicide being extremely rare)  But instead, the media focus will merely add to the already-existing stigma of mental illness, causing fewer people to seek treatment, or deny their illness altogether.  And that would add to the tragedy.

Meet The New Host

revor Noah, who first debuted on “The Daily Show” as a correspondent in December, is to replace Jon Stewart as the show’s new host. “You don’t believe it for the first few hours,” Noah told the New York Times ahead of Monday’s official announcement from Dubai. “You need a stiff drink, and then unfortunately you’re in a place where you can’t really get alcohol.”

The 31-year-old comedian from South Africa has only appeared on the show three times. In February, Stewart broke the news he would be exiting from the Comedy Central show after more than 15 years on air. The network confirmed the news in astatement below:

Trevor Noah has been selected to become the next host of the Emmy® and Peabody® Award-winning The Daily Show.

Noah joined The Daily Show in 2014 as a contributor. He made his U.S. television debut in 2012 on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and has also appeared on Late Show with David Letterman, becoming the first South African stand-up comedian to appear on either late night show. Noah has hosted numerous television shows including his own late night talk show in his native country, Tonight with Trevor Noah.

He was featured on the October 2014 cover of GQ South Africa and has been profiled in Rolling Stone, Newsweek and The Wall Street Journal, and by CNN and NPR’s Talk of the Nation, among others. He continues to tour all over the world and has performed in front of sold out crowds at the Hammersmith Apollo in London and the Sydney Opera House in Australia.

Here is his Daily Show debut:

You Would Think These People Should Know Better Than To Opine


Stigmatization Of Mental Illness Begins

It’s an explanation, not an excuse.

By the way, it bears mentioning that if there were no stigmatization of mental illness, the copilot would not have felt the need to hide his condition, and could have gotten the help he needed, thus saving 150 lives. But you can bet the media won’t take that angle.

Co-Pilot Had Undisclosed Illness

The recent GermanWings crash gets more interesting everyday it seems:

…[I]nvestigators had found a sick leave certificate valid for “several days” including Tuesday — the day of the crash. They also found the certificate’s carbon copy, which is supposed to be presented to employers.

“It seems clear that he deliberately ignored the doctor’s directive,” a spokesperson said.

The revelation came after teams emerged late Thursday from Lubitz’s parents’ home in Montabaur — some 40 miles northwest of Frankfurt — carrying blue bags, a big cardboard box and what looked like a large computer. Another person who came out was shielded from reporters by police, the Associated Press reported.

No news as to whether the illness and sick leave note pertained to a physical or mental problem.  But there’s this, too:

Amid questions over what could have driven Lubitz to down the Germanwings plane, German tabloid Bild reported that the pilot, whose training included a spell at a flight school in Arizona, received psychiatric treatment for a “serious depressive episode” six years ago and recently had a “severe relationship crisis.” NBC News has not confirmed the report.

Sad all around.  Mostly because I fear this will lead to a stigmatization of mental illness.

Explosion In East Village

Happened about 10 minutes ago (around 3:20 pm).  Nothing on news yet, but some tweets.

Updates below the fold…

It’s Perving and Slut-Shaming Season

Like clockwork, around this time of year, Sean Hannity has the unpleasant job — no, he really hates doing this — of telling his viewers about the terrible terrible debauchery going down in Florida, as students flock to places like South Padre Island or Daytona Beach to drink, do drugs, have wild and glorious hook-up sex — all the things we think they’re doing in their dorms, but now are doing on the beach.  And thankfully, they are doing it on the beach so that Hannity and Fox News can send their cameras and correspondents down there to film all the youthful shenanigans like drug-doing and boob-showing and swear-saying and drink-drinking, and then, from the safety of their studio, tut-tut at the perky sinful bodies of today’s youth and clutch their pearls at the frilly frolicking.

This year Hannity sent a Fox blonde — does it really matter which one? — once again down to Panama City Beach for a “Hannity Exclusive”, which involves her going up to a black guy and saying to him, “When I was at spring break there was underage drinking and alcohol, but I hear it’s gotten a lot worse. I hear there’s, like, drugs and guns.”  Her interviewee walks away saying, “Yeah, I don’t know nothing about that,” and then the Fox Blonde says, “Come here, what’s this? He’s smoking marijuana.”

Back in the studio, Hannity and Fox Blonde are very very concerned about the marijuana and the sex-having and the bad things that these young adults are doing while two-thirds of the screen is devoted to hot bods and twerking. You know, so that Fox News viewers know what they’re talking about.

But don’t take my word for it.  See for yourself.  Perv.

I don’t know. Maybe there is a story there. With all that alcohol and testosterone, it wouldn’t surprise me if some women — somewhere — are being taken advantage of. But I see no evidence of that in their story, and Fox News is not reporting that. Fox News is not INTERESTED in reporting that. It just wants to get all high-brow about youth’s morals. Ugh


From today’s New York Times:


Correction:  March 26, 2015
An earlier version of the second correction above said that the error in the first correction
was made “during the reporting process, not by the editors”.  It should have read that the
error in the first correction was made “during the editing process, not by the reporters.”  The
correction has been made in both the first correction and the second correction.

Correction:  March 26, 2015
Somebody is dicking me around because now I’m told the the error in the first correction
was actually made by the reporters, and not the editors in the editing process.  This means
that the original second correction was correct, and the corrected second correction is now
in error.  It also means that we didn’t need the third correction at all.  But I’m not going to
change anything until we get to the bottom of this.

Correction:  March 26, 2015
Okay, what we apparently have here is your classic “he said, she said” situation, with the
editors here in New York arguing with the reporters that are stationed in Marseille.  The
senior editor here in New York just chewed my ass out saying that I made the paper very
“unprofessional” with all these corrections, and really — if I had just changed the Tuesday to
Thursday in the original article, nobody would have known.  But that’s not true — I would have
known.  Now he just shouted at me from across the room: “We’re not the story!”

Correction:  March 26, 2015
Okay, I’ve been fired.  Just like that.  Can you believe it?

Indiana Governor Plans To Sign Pro-Discrimination Bill Into Law

The signing would make Indiana the first state to enact such a change this year among about a dozen where such proposals have been introduced. The measure would prohibit state and local laws that “substantially burden” the ability of people — including businesses and associations — to follow their religious beliefs.  Conservative groups say the Indiana measure merely seeks to prevent the government from compelling people to provide such things as catering or photography for same-sex weddings or other activities they find objectionable on religious grounds.

It is difficult for me to understand how this is not akin to the fervently held religious beliefs that the races should not “mix” in marriage, and the anti-miscegenation laws that emanated from those beliefs. Of course, in 1967 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down those laws as unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia. How is this any different from a 1960s lunch counter owner denying service to African Americans because of his religious beliefs (widely held at the time) that “Negroes” were lesser human beings and citizens than white folks?

Taken to their logical and extreme conclusion, such laws could allow someone to ask to be exempted from meeting the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, if that person’s religion believed (as in much of the Old Testament) that physical infirmities were the result of the afflicted person’s sin (or that of his parents), and “my religion condemns sin rather than cooperating with it.”

But these debates and legislation are not fueled by the religious adherent’s condemnation of sin. Chances are, the florist who refuses to provide flowers for a gay wedding does not deny service to a bride who is on her second or third marriage. Jesus is silent about gay marriage, but roundly and emphatically condemns remarriage after divorce. The photographer who refuses to take pictures for a lesbian marriage (because it is against God’s will) should also decline to photograph a lavish and ostentatiously expensive wedding (Jesus talks a lot about the sinful nature of greed). If this were seriously about not serving sinful people, then obese people would be turned away from fast-food outlets as obviously living the sinful “lifestyle” of a glutton. If this were really about condemning sin, then service would be denied to all sinners, not just a particular sin among a particular, targeted group.

Make no mistake: These legislative bills, like the one about to become law in Indiana, are about exempting some people from having to comply with non-discrimination laws already in place for LGBT people, as well as pre-empting and forestalling any efforts to put such protections in place. This is old-fashioned discrimination all dressed up in ecclesiastical vestments and “religious freedom” language. But it is still discrimination, pure and simple, against a targeted group of fellow citizens. No amount of cloaking such legislation in the garb of “freedom of religion” is going to turn this sow’s ear into a silk purse.

Fortunately, big Indiana employers like Cummins Engine have opposed the law, and Gen Con, a major gamer convention, has threatened to pull out of Indianapolis if it becomes law. Indianapolis’ Republican mayor is concerned that it will send “the wrong signal” about his city and state. Which, to many, it will.

But the real prize is the NCAA, headquartered in Indianapolis.  The NCAA basketball championships are held every five years In Indiana, including this year.  Will this organization step up to the proverbial plate (wrong sports metaphor – I know) and pull out of Indiana? [UPDATE: NCAA says the Final Four games will go on in Indiana despite concerns over anti-gay bill ]

King Richard III Buried

Richard III's coffin processes on a gun carriage through Leicester, central EnglandEngland’s slain King Richard III, exhumed from an undignified grave under a car park, was finally buried with honor today, 530 years after his death on the battlefield.

In a ceremony filled with pageantry and poignancy, a coffin containing his bones were lowered into the ground at Leicester Cathedral in central England as thousands of well-wishers gathered outside.

“We return the bones of your servant Richard to the grave,” Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, the spiritual leader of the Church of England, said in a prayer.

Many of those outside the cathedral, which was draped in Richard’s personal standard, were clutching white roses, the symbol of the former king’s House of York dynasty.

“I feel he was badly treated at the time of his death and all through history,” said May Doherty, a 62-year-old pensioner from Coleraine in Northern Ireland who was dressed in full medieval costume.

“We believe he was innocent and this is the burial he deserved. This is a once in a lifetime occasion. It’s brilliant to be here and be part of history.”

The last English king to die in battle, Richard will now lie in a new tomb inside the cathedral, across the street from where his remains were located in 2012.

After the coffin was lowered into the grave by six soldiers in uniform, Oscar-nominated actor Benedict Cumberbatch read a specially-commissioned work by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

Cumberbatch, who is due to play Richard in an upcoming BBC television series, is also the king’s third cousin 16 times removed.

Identified by his DNA, radiocarbon dating and his distinctive curved spine, the discovery of Richard’s skeleton has triggered a revival of interest in his reign.

The last of the Plantagenet dynasty, Richard ruled from 1483 until his death at the Battle of Bosworth near Leicester in 1485.

It was the last major conflict in the Wars of the Roses and changed the course of English history.

Richard’s defeat saw the crown pass from the Plantagenets to the Tudors, with his victorious opponent ending the blood-soaked day as king Henry VII.

Richard was hastily buried with minimal ceremony in Greyfriars monastery, which was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538.

His exhumation has encouraged scholars to look again at his record of social reform, rather than rely on William Shakespeare’s Tudor-era portrayal of him as a scheming murderer.

Richard’s closest living relatives, all direct female line descendants of his eldest sister Anne of York, were at the service.

Deliberate Mass Murder

The co-pilot of the doomed Germanwings Airbus A320 locked his captain out of the cockpit before deliberately crashing into a mountain to ‘destroy the plane’, it was sensationally revealed today.

French prosecutor Brice Robin gave further chilling details of the final ten minutes in the cockpit before the Airbus A320 plunged into the French Alps killing 150 people.

Revealing data extracted from the black box voice recorder, he said the co-pilot – named as 28-year-old German Andreas Lubitz – locked his captain out after the senior officer left the cockpit.

At that point, Lubitz uses the flight managing system to put the plane into a descent, something that can only be done manually – and deliberately. The co-pilot “didn’t say a single word” during the last 10 minutes of the flight, investigations reveal. The pilot kept hitting the cockpit door and “tried to smash it down.”

He said: ‘The intention was to destroy the plane. Death was instant. The plane hit the mountain at 700km per hour.

‘I don’t think that the passengers realized what was happening until the last moments because on the recording you only hear the screams in the final seconds.

Andreas Lubitz had clocked in 630 flight hours and joined Germanwings in September, 2013, straight from the training school. Lubitz was a German citizen and had no terrorist background, said French prosecutor Brice Robin.

Photos of Lubitz on social media:



Also, this…. from September 2013:

FAA recognizes Andreas Guenter Lubitz

Too Many “Ethnics” On TV?

Wow, this article is offensive.  Just the title alone — “Pilots 2015: The Year of Ethnic Castings – About Time or Too Much of Good Thing?” — stinks.  [Note to author Nellie Andreeva — the word “ethnic” means “of or relating to races or large groups of people who have the same customs, religion, origin, etc.” — which means white people are “ethnic” too.]

She then goes on to say:

Some of it has been organic. Last year, the leads in Extant and How To Get Away With Murder, originally not written as black, became ethnic once stars of the caliber of Halle Berry and Viola Davis became interested. Such was the case with Jennifer Lopez and Eva Longoria, who both commanded on-air episodic orders from NBC when they committed to star in drama Shades Of Blue and comedy Telenovela, respectively, as well as Paula Patton, who lifted the cast-contingency off the ABC drama pilot Runner. (ABC and 20th TV cast Patten, who is black, knowing already that the male lead had been conceived as Hispanic. The role went to Adam Rodriguez.) That also was the case with meaty supporting roles on Fox’s Gotham last year, which went for Jada Pinkett Smith, and NBC drama pilot Endgame this time, landing Wesley Snipes.

Also not earmarked as ethnic was the lead in NBC pilot Strange Call, a remake of an Australian series, which went to Community‘s Danny Pudi. CBS tried for a year to cast its comedy pilot Taxi-22, a remake of a French-Canadian series, until John Leguizamo signed on. And testing alongside actresses of different ethnicities, Natalie Martinez landed the lead in the NBC martial arts drama pilot Warrior.

In other words, some actors got the parts based on their talent, not on their ethnicity.  Why is this a problem?  She continues….

But replacing one set of rigid rules with another by imposing a quota of ethnic talent on each show might not be the answer.

What quota?  There are more minorities on TV now.  Who said anything about a quota or “rigid rules”?  Obviously there aren’t rigid rules if some parts not specifically written for any ethnicity go to a minority.  Holy mother!!

I’m Guilty

I was going to write a post about disaster porn — specifically, the CNN wall-to-wall coverage of Germanwings Airbus A320 flight which crashed in the southern French Alps yesterday, taking 150 souls.  I was going to write about the aching narrative they repeat over and over again, and the strained effort they make to come up with a different “angle” (“Coming up, what is the black box anyway, and why is it called ‘black’?”), and the parade of experts who speculate and speculate when we all know the facts will eventually come out in due time following an investigation.

But the thing is, I’m guilty of watching it.  Or at least…. of being interested in it.  After all, before I went into law, I majored in engineering psychology (also known as ergonomics), which is the parent field of man-machine design and the catastrophic failure thereof.  For a while there, I toyed with wanting a career at FEMA or the NTSB.  So my interest is academic.

But CNN and the other news outlets don’t really cater to that, if only because the cause of the crash is certainly unknowable at this point (even the guest experts are saying that).  So why is this on the news so much?


How Much Fossil Fuel Has Costa Rica Burned So Far This Year?

Answer:  Zero

Yes, you read that right:

For the last 82 days, Costa Rica has powered itself using only renewable energy sources.

That means the Latin American country hasn’t had to use fossil fuels at all so far in 2015.

Last week, the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) announced that 100 percent of the country’s electricity came from renewables for the first 75 days of the year, as heavy rains boosted the country’s hydroelectric power plants.

Wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energy have also helped power the country.

Granted, Costa Rica has an abundance of rivers, waterfalls, wind, and geothermal… uh… volcanoes — all of which can serve as clean energy.

But it certainly is possible.  (In the United States, about 67% of the electricity generated is from fossil fuel [coal, natural gas, and petroleum])

Ted Cruz Started Liking Country Music On 9/11


Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who announced Monday he’s running for president in 2016, said he started listening to country music because of 9/11.

During an interview with CBS’ “This Morning,” Cruz revealed he didn’t like the way rock bands reacted to the terrorist attack.

“Music is interesting. I grew up listening to classic rock, and I’ll tell you sort of an odd story,” Cruz said. “My music tastes changed on 9/11.”

“On 9/11, I didn’t like how rock music responded, and country music collectively, the way they responded, it resonated with me, and I have to say, it just is a gut-level — I had an emotional reaction that says, ‘these are my people,'” Cruz added.

51N43628WSL(1)  Did classic rock change on 9/11?  Because…. I don’t think so.

(2)  To be sure, country music had its share of post-9/11 “America Fuck Yeah” songs (courtesy of Toby Keith and Alan Jackson), but I don’t know exactly what was bad about how “rock music” responded.  I mean, there was the Concert for New York City that took place on October 20, 2001 at Madison Square Garden in New York City that featured Paul McCartney, The Who, Rolling Stones bandmates Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, David Bowie, Elton John, Eric Clapton, Bon Jovi, Jay-Z, Destiny’s Child, the Backstreet Boys, James Taylor, Billy Joel, Melissa Etheridge, Five for Fighting, Goo Goo Dolls, John Mellencamp and Kid Rock — the purpose of which was to honor the first responders from the New York City Fire Department and New York City Police Department, their families, and those lost in the attacks and those who had worked in the ongoing rescue and recovery efforts in the weeks since that time.  Yeah, that was inappropriate (not!)

(3) Obviously, this was a craven attempt by Cruz to win the redneck pick-up truck vote.

The Cheap Wine You’ve Been Drinking May Contain Too Much Arsenic

That’s the allegation in a lawsuit (read the complaint here — PDF) filed in California this week.  The origins of the lawsuit draw back to Kevin Hicks, a former wine distributor who started BeverageGrades, a Denver-based lab that analyzes wine. The lab tested 1,300 bottles of California wine, and found that about a quarter of them had higher levels of arsenic than the maximum limit that the Environmental Protection Agency allows in water.

Now, it is important to keep in mind that this is a lawsuit, and it is entirely possible that this is essentially a nuisance lawsuit — one contrived by ambulance-chasing lawyers in order to get a quick shakedown of the wine companies involved, hoping that the companies would rather see this go away quickly than have to put up with years of bad publicity (even if they are vindicated in the end).  So take that into account. But in the meantime, below the fold is a list of wines that are included in the lawsuit. (Note: Any wines without a specific year listed mean that the grapes don’t come from a single year.)

Don’t Fret Ted Cruz

With an announcement at Liberty University, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz became the first major Republican candidate to declare himself officially in the 2016 presidential race. In announcing his presidential ambition yesterday, Cruz repeated a number of dubious claims designed to invigorate the tea party, from which he hails.  His speech was full of the usual red meat — repeal Obamacare, restore the Constitution, etc.

I will save all of us a lot of time.  Cruz has absolutely no chance of being President.  In fact, he won’t even be the Republican nominee.

I’m not going out on a limb to say this.  But it needs to be said.  And why am I so sure?

It’s quite simple.  Cruz is a toxic ideologue.  He brought the Congress to a grinding halt a couple of years ago on the debt ceiling and tarnished the Republican brand.  He hopes to win the conservative christian vote, but he has no chance in moderate states — even moderate states that lean right (like Virginia).  Hell, even Texas is a stretch for him.  And even through some miracle that he gets the GOP nomination, he simply cannot win moderates.  Period.

Second, he’s a jerk.  No, really.  I’ll let Josh Marshall explain:

People who come off like assholes don’t get elected president. From college and law school to the Senate and seemingly everywhere in between, Cruz has found small groups of admirers while convincing the vast majority of people as a consummate asshole.

This isn’t just me sounding off; it’s not trash talk. This is a really basic dynamic of presidential elections. There were plenty of Democrats who thought W was an entitled jerk. Most of the population did not feel that way. Many republicans felt Clinton was a slippery charlatan. But even many of them found it difficult to resist his charm. Indeed, that was one of the reasons they hated him.

Most people, including most Republicans, find Ted Cruz grating, divisive and arrogant. That makes it extremely hard to make the kind of emotive connection with voters who come to elections without strong ideological moorings. Cruz’s great strength, albeit with a small but intensely devoted slice of the national conservative electorate, is that he has taken the unbridled self-assertion and norm-breaking which make him intolerable to many up close and cast them as the ultimate expression of the right-wing id. Also another thing, people don’t like assholes.

So while his candidacy may be interesting now — because it is the first — I don’t expect him to get the money or support to last very long.  He’s not a threat to Hillary in 2016.  He’s not a threat to any of the Republicans running (although he may scuff them up a bit).  He’s tomorrow’s yesterday’s news.

P.S.  Too bad he didn’t snatch up in time.

UPDATE:  Good analysis here.

Taking Anti-Vaxxing To The Next Level

It’s one thing to say that measles vaccinations are harmful (they’re not), but it is entirely different to say that measles don’t exist at all.  Yet, one German pseudoscientist did, going so far as to put his money on it.  He lost:

This is something I thought would probably never happen – a science denier, in this case German virologist Stefan Lanka, was ordered by a court to pay 100,000 Euros to German doctor David Barden for meeting his challenge to prove that the measles virus exists.

Lanka is clearly, in my opinion, a crank, which is a specific flavor of pseudoscientist who makes sophisticated arguments to support a hilariously wrong conclusion. There is some major malfunction in their scientific reasoning. Typically, in my experience, they have an oversized ego and think they know better than the rest of the scientific community. For some reason an extreme narrative gets stuck in their brain, and they spend their career marshaling evidence and arguments to support a nonsensical idea. I find cranks endlessly fascinating because I think they are extreme cases that reveal major weaknesses in the operation of the human brain.

One favorite tactic of cranks and deniers is to issue an open challenge to prove what they deny exists. I think this strategy is inspired by the Randi Million Dollar Challenge, which is a legitimate challenge for anyone to prove a paranormal phenomenon. Randi has a specific process spelled out, with concrete criteria for success.

Hoax challenges are pure publicity stunts – they sound grandiose but typically are framed in such a way that the one issuing the challenge can wiggle out of ever having to pay. They are rigged from the beginning, mainly by not spelling out what kind of evidence would meet the challenge.

I guess Lanka got a little sloppy. He issued a 100,000 Euro challenge to anyone who could prove the measles virus exists. That’s right – the measles virus. Lanka is an HIV denier from back in the 1990s (and still denying HIV). HIV denial is the claim that AIDS does not exist as a discrete medical illness, or at least is not caused by a specific virus, and in fact the human immunodeficiency virus does not really exist.


That a court has now demanded that Lanka pay Barden the reward for meeting his challenge is an interesting twist. Barden pulled together published scientific evidence that together proves beyond a reasonable scientific doubt that measles is real. Lanka, of course, denied the evidence. That is what he does. You will never meet his burden of evidence to prove the thing that he denies, which is what makes such challenges from deniers a hoax.

However, Barden went to the courts to settle their dispute. The court, unlike Lanka, has apparently applied a reasonable standard for scientific proof and determined that Barden did indeed meet the burden of proof to demonstrate that measles is real. Lanka, of course, will appeal, and there is always the possibility that he will wiggle out of the judgment on legal grounds (rather than the merits of the case).

Suicide Or Lynching?

Byrd, 54, enjoyed going to casinos every so often before he went missing, a family member toldlocal television station KMBC. He reportedly attended church regularly and held down various jobs, including work on an oil rig.

He also had a criminal history: Byrd did over 25 years in prison for the 1980 murder of Lucille Trimm, whom he killed during a robbery, according to the Clarion-Ledger. He was released on parole in 2006.

On March 8, Byrd’s family filed a missing person report with the Claiborne County Sheriff’s Department, and his disappearance was reported shortly after.

On Thursday at about 10:21 a.m., the body of a black man was discovered hanging from a treeabout a half mile Byrd’s residence. KMBC reported that the man had a bed sheet tied around his neck, and that his hands were untied.

To be continued…..

Attacking The Rape Kit Backlog

A couple years ago, two Texas Republicans —  Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) in the Senate and by Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) in the House — introduced a common sense bill called The Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry Act, also known as the SAFER Act of 2012.  It would have reallocated $117 million to help make a dent in the nationwide backlog of untested “rape kits,” which contain forensic evidence collected after sexual assaults that can help identify perpetrators.

Why?  Because — incredibly — 400,000 untested kits sitting in labs around the country — the DNA swabs, hair, photographs, and detailed information gathered from victims of sexual assault and used as evidence for the prosecution to convict rapists — have never been tested. Testing kits can be expensive, and in many jurisdictions, a lack of funds has resulted in kits being consigned to dusty shelves, stored in abandoned police warehouses, or stowed away in forensic labs—sometimes for years. As a result, survivors may never see their rapists prosecuted, and repeat offenders continue to commit crimes.

Both parties were behind the bill (yes, it can happen), except for tea party politicians who tried to derail it.  Fortunately, they failed.

The bill passed and was signed into law (except the funding is down to $41 million).  And beginning last week….

…the Department of Justice began accepting applications from states, counties, and municipalities that want to use the federal dollars to tackle their rape kit backlogs. Officials in Baltimore, Milwaukee, Detroit, Memphis, Cleveland, and Houston tell Mother Jones that they’re planning on applying for some of the funds. “The grant shows an investment on all levels, national to local,” says Doug McGowen, a coordinator in the sexual assault response unit in Memphis, Tennessee.

These types of grants have worked in the past:

In 2011, Houston received a grant from the National Institute of Justice, a research branch of the Department of Justice that has distributed millions of dollars to cities over the past 12 years to eliminate backlogs. As of February, Houston had cleared its entire backlog of rape kits.

There are other success stories. Kym Worthy, the chief prosecutor of Wayne County, Michigan, discovered 11,341 untested rape kits in 2009 in a foreclosed police evidence warehouse. Since then, she’s secured millions of dollars from the federal government, the state of Michigan, and independent advocacy groups to test 2,000 kits as of last January. Testing in Detroit revealed 760 DNA matches in the criminal database. The Prosecutor’s Office identified 188 potential serial rapists and obtained 14 convictions across 23 states and the District of Columbia.

I don’t know how the statute of limitations effects accusations of rape — I’m sure it varies from state to state — but as the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied.  It’s a travesty that hundreds of thousands of women have taken the first step — using a rape kit — only to have those tests sit on the shelves collecting dust and never being analyzed.  Hope this starts to change.

For more information, go here.

UPDATE:  In North Carolina, the amount of the backlog — or even if there is one — is unknown.  There was a backlog at one point, and the state attempted to address it back in 2006.

RELATED:  Speaking of rape, congressional Republicans are adding language to an anti-sex trafficking bill, the result meaning that children trafficked for sex work will have a harder time getting an abortion should the become rape victims:

Republicans in Congress claim the anti-abortion language that is threatening to sink an otherwise uncontroversial sex trafficking bill is the same innocuous provision that Democrats have routinely approved in spending bills. Even the White House this week declined to say that President Barack Obama would veto the bill with the abortion restrictions in it, suggesting it’s a poison pill the administration might be willing to swallow.

The anti-abortion provision would renew a restriction that prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, except in cases of rape or incest, or if the life of the mother is in danger, and would extend the same restrictions to the compensation funds paid to victims of human trafficking. This means that child sex trafficking survivors who have become pregnant from rape would be forced to jump through numerous extra legal and administrative hoops in order to prove they were raped so they can use their victims’ compensation funds to help pay for their abortion. Often, these victims are young, have endured multiple rapes per day, and are not prepared to confront a deeply confusing and inconsistent legal system.


Tomorrow’s Total Solar Eclipse

Yeah.  It’ll be a big deal in Europe, but don’t plan to see any of it — even a partial observation — here in the states.  Look where the shadow will fall:


BUT…. since I have your attention, make a note on your calendar for August 21, 2017.  That will be a total solar eclipse, first total solar eclipse visible from the United States since 1991 (which was seen only from part of Hawaii), and the first visible from the contiguous United States since 1979 (and tracking right over North Carolina – Western NC will see a totality!)


Our Old Friend Bryan Fischer Has A Theory

Bryan Fischer is the host of the daily ‘Focal Point’ radio talk program on American Family Radio Talk, a division of the American Family Association.  And he writes today:

Why Obama wants a Republican to win in 2016

It is by now fairly well established that Valerie Jarrett, President Obama’s advisor and brain, is the one who leaked the business about Hillary’s private email server to the press.

Although of course the White House is denying any such thing, other credible stories are circulating that Jarrett has privately offered Obama’s support to both Martin O’Malley and Elizabeth Warren if they will run against Hillary in the 2016 Democratic primary.

It is my theory that Obama sabotaged Hillary’s campaign through Valerie Jarrett because he really, really, really does not want Hillary to win the presidency.

I would go beyond that to suggest that Barack Obama does not want any Democrat to win the presidential election in 2016. It has to do with his narcissism and his view of America.

With regard to Hillary, Obama is motivated by his animosity toward the Clintons, which goes back at least to the bitter primary of 2008. Obama is not a forgive-and-forget kind of politician, but one determined to bring a gun to every knife fight. He’s in hand-to-hand combat with the Clintons and determined to inflict the last wound.

Wait a second.  Didn’t Obama make Hillary his Secretary of State?

He made Hillary his Secretary of State to neutralize her. As the maxim goes, keep your friends close, your enemies closer. He had to know from the beginning that Hillary was defying the law through the use of a private server, and he kept that little chip tucked away in a safe place until the time came to cash it in.

Clever.  Diabolical even.

As Ed Klein has written in his book, “Blood Feud,” there is a kind of seething animosity at the heart of the Clinton-Obama relationship. Obama appears to have a cold, heartless, vindictive streak in him, which expresses itself in a readiness to eviscerate political opponents. Destroying political adversaries, in fact, is how he made it to both the Illinois state senate and then to the United States senate.

So if Klein’s account is to be believed, part of Obama’s motivation is to destroy Hillary’s candidacy just because he doesn’t like her. He’s not the type to put party or country ahead of a personal vendetta.

Yes, and why should we not believe Ed Klein?  He is, after all, the one — the only one — who claimed that Valerie Jarrett was behind the Hillary email leaks.  He’s written extensively about the Clintons, and always seems to rely on anonymous sources for his tall tales, including the one that Chelsea Clinton was conceived when Hillary was raped.  So by all means, let’s believe Ed Klein.

Beyond that, Obama’s narcissism is such that he doesn’t want to share the oxygen in the room with anybody. He does not want to take the chance that a Democrat will succeed him in the Oval Office and get credit for any accomplishments. Offering support to O’Malley and Warren is risk-free because neither has a chance to win. He can appear to be a good, loyal, faithful Democrat while at the same time ensuring a 2016 loss to preserve his place as the big dog Democrat in every room.

Obama is playing a game of five-dimensional chess of evil.  He’s so wrong that he’s right!!

Beyond that, and perhaps more to the point…..

I’m getting rhetorical whiplash from read Bryan’s essay.


Beyond that, and perhaps more to the point, Obama is motivated not only by a seething animosity against political opponents but also by a seething animosity against America itself. He himself repeatedly vowed that it was his intent to “fundamentally transform” America because of its inherent and incurable racism.

What an S.O.B. Obama is.  He should just leave America — with its inherent and incurable racism — just as it is!  The way God made it!

If he leaves office and is replaced by a Democrat, his public criticism of America will have to be muted somewhat in deference to his successor. But if he is succeeded by a Republican – it doesn’t matter which one – he will be free to use the bully pulpit of the ex-presidency to malign America without restraint.

He’ll go Cheney?

He can travel not only America but the world and get handsome sums to blame America and its evil, slavery-sympathizing, white-supremacist-loving conservatives for every malady on the planet. If he can blame Bush for ISIS, he can and will blame Republicans and America for anything and everything.

His post-presidency will be characterized by a never-ending stream of invective directed against this country as it was founded, and he wants a Republican president in 2016 as his foil.

In other words, GOP, Obama wants you to win in 2016. And if you do, better buckle up. It’ll be a bumpy ride.

So defy Obama’s wishes and vote Democratic?  Right?  No?

Michele Fiore Tries Even Harder To Replace Bachman

It was only a few weeks ago that I wrote about Michele Fiore, a local congresswoman in Nevada, where I wondered aloud if she was to become the next Michelle Bachman.  It seems that she’s still trying to win my heart, using an offensive racial term common in the 1960s to describe an African American colleague.

Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, apparently didn’t like the fact that some committee members and witnesses claimed that minorities would be disproportionately harmed by a voter ID law. “We’re in 2015 and we have a black president, in case anyone didn’t notice,” she said. And there were apparently audible gasps in one of the hearing rooms after Fiore referred to colleague Harvey Munford, D-Las Vegas, who is black, as the first “colored man to graduate from his high school.”

Ouch, baby.

Yeah.  No race problem because Obama is president.

Study: Selfish Anti-Vaxxing Parents Facilitated Measles Outbreak

L.A. Times:

Although epidemiologists have not yet identified the person who brought measles to Disneyland, a new analysis shows that the highly contagious disease has spread to seven states and two other countries thanks to parents who declined to vaccinate their children.

Using some simple math, a team of infectious disease experts calculated that the vaccination rate among people who were exposed to the measles during the outbreak was no higher than 86%, and it might have been as low as 50%.

In order to establish herd immunity, between 96% and 99% of the population must be vaccinated, experts say.

“Even the highest estimated vaccination rates from our model fall well below this threshold,” the researchers reported Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

… In other words, the only way to explain how the measles spread from a single person at Disneyland to 145 people in the U.S. and about a dozen others in Canada and Mexico is that a substantial number of parents have not had their children fully immunized with the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

“Clearly, MMR vaccination rates in many of the communities that have been affected by this outbreak fall well below the necessary threshold to sustain herd immunity, thus placing the greater population at risk as well,” the researchers concluded.

Fortunately, there are bills in the California legislature (and hopefully in other states as well) to make it harder for parents to “opt-out” their kids.

The Proposed GOP Budget

“A budget is a moral document; it talks about where your values are,” said Representative Rob Woodall, Republican of Georgia and a member of the Budget Committee. “

Okay, Rep. Woodall.  Then let’s see where the Republicans values are, by looking at its proposed budget:

Without relying on tax increases, budget writers were forced into contortions to bring the budget into balance while placating defense hawks clamoring for increased military spending. They added nearly $40 billion in “emergency” war funding to the defense budget for next year, raising military spending without technically breaking strict caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

The plan contains more than $1 trillion in savings from unspecified cuts to programs like food stamps and welfare. To make matters more complicated, the budget demands the full repeal of the Affordable Care Act, including the tax increases that finance the health care law. But the plan assumes the same level of federal revenue over the next 10 years that the Congressional Budget Office foresees with those tax increases in place — essentially counting $1 trillion of taxes that the same budget swears to forgo.

And still, it achieves balance only by counting $147 billion in “dynamic” economic growth spurred by the policies of the budget itself. In 2024, the budget would produce a $13 billion surplus, thanks in part to $53 billion in a projected “macroeconomic impact” generated by Republican policies. That surplus would grow to $33 billion in 2025, and so would the macroeconomic impact, to $83 billion.

“I don’t know anyone who believes we’re going to balance the budget in 10 years,” said Representative Ken Buck, Republican of Colorado. “It’s all hooey.”

So let me get this straight.  It adds to war spending, cuts food stamps and welfare for the needy.  Guns, not butter.  AND…. it assumes an increase in federal tax income without actually raising taxes, because….. magic, I guess.

Hooey, indeed.


Schock Out

It wasn’t the Dowton Abbey-themed office, or the private jets to the Taylor Swift concerts, or the $5k custom-made “Presidential” lectern that finally sent Rep. Schock scrambling for the exit — it was a classic sales grift. According to Politico:

Schock billed the federal government and his campaign for logging roughly 170,000 miles on his personal car from January 2010 through July 2014. But when he sold that Chevrolet Tahoe in July 2014, it had roughly 80,000 miles on the odometer, according to public records obtained by POLITICO under Illinois open records laws. The documents, in other words, indicate he was reimbursed for 90,000 miles more than his car was driven…

The OCE probe —and any potential Ethics Committee investigation — will disappear with Schock’s resignation. However, federal law enforcement could still look into Schock’s actions…

Boston Beats Snow Record

snow-big-8129Just after 7 Sunday evening, with 2.9 more inches of fresh snow blanketing Boston, the National Weather Service in Taunton announced that the city notched its snowiest winter since records started being kept in 1872.

The official total at Logan International Airport reached 108.6 inches — one inch more than the previous record, which was set in the 1995-1996 winter, according to the weather service.

The snow in Boston this winter came all at once, in a blitz from late January through February. The previous record holder, the 1995-96 season, saw its snow spread out throughout the winter.

Comparing the two seasons, we see that 1995-96 actually had a higher seasonal snowfall on 86 of the 122 days from Nov. 13 through March 15. In the aftermath of the “Blizzard of 1996″ on Jan. 7 and 8 and a small storm immediately following it, the 1995-96 season had a seemingly insurmountable 60-inch lead on the 2014-15 season. That lead was erased when 64.4 inches fell in a two-week period between Jan. 24 and Feb. 9 of this year. The 2014-15 season never gave up the seasonal snowfall lead after that point.

Obama’s Best Jokes At Saturday’s Gridiron Club Soiree

The full transcript is available here:

  • Now, let’s face it, being president does age you. I mean, look at me. … You start getting crankier as you get older. Next week, I’m signing an executive order to get off my lawn.
  • It is amazing, though, how time flies. Just a few years ago, I could never imagine ever being in my 50s. And when it comes to my approval ratings, I still can’t.
  • Think about how things have changed since 2008. Back then, I was the young, tech-savvy candidate of the future. Now I’m yesterday’s news and Hillary has got a server in her house. I didn’t even know you could have one of those in your house. I am so far behind. Did you know that? I would have gotten one.
  • Despite a great performance tonight, Scott has had a few recent stumbles. The other week he said he didn’t know whether or not I was a Christian. And I was taken aback, but fortunately my faith teaches us forgiveness. So, Governor Walker, as-salamu alaykum.
  • We also have Dr. Ben Carson. He wants to make it clear that being here was a choice. The fact is, doctor, embracing homosexuality is not something you do because you go to prison. It’s something you do because your vice president can’t keep a secret on Meet the Press.
  • This new Congress is just getting started, which is why I want to acknowledge the leader of the House Republicans—as soon as I figure out who that is.
  • I got flak for appearing on a video for BuzzFeed, trying to reach younger voters. What nonsense. You know, you don’t diminish your office by taking a selfie. You do it by sending a poorly written letter to Iran. Really, that wasn’t a joke.

Right Wing Begins To Eat Itself

Here’s the thing about rampant fear — it’s rampant.  This is a perfect example of how islamophobia – now a staple of America’s right – has run amok.  Not only are conservatives freaking out about scary secret Muslims on the left; they are now seeing and fearing them on the right:

Glenn Beck is threatening to quit the National Rifle Association over the long-debunked conspiracy theory that NRA board member and conservative activist Grover Norquist is an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood. Beck has appeared as a speaker at the NRA annual meeting four times since 2008, three times as the keynote speaker.

For years, Frank Gaffney, a conservative media figure and the head of the Islamophobic think tank Center for Security Policy, has accused Norquist, an influential conservative activist who runs Americans for Tax Reform, of being “actively involved, both enabling and empowering, Muslim Brotherhood influence operations against our movement and our country.” Before targeting Norquist’s association with the NRA, Gaffney feudedwith organizers of the Conservative Political Action Conference over Norquist’s routine presence at the annual event. In 2011, Gaffney’s attacks on Norquist caused him to be banned from participating in CPAC.

Norquist is a shadowy, bearded figure who is trying to destroy America, but then again, so is Beck. They should settle this thing with a duel.


Sigma Alpha Epsilon Racists Lawyer Up


The local chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon is planning to pursue legal action against the University of Oklahoma, and possibly OU President David Boren.

The group has hired high-profile attorney, Stephen Jones to represent them.

Jones told NewsChannel 4 the group is outraged over President Boren shutting down the fraternity house and branding all SAE members as racists and bigots.

Jones says the two students who were expelled because of the incident have apologized sincerely for their remarks, and now the incident is being exploited.

He said they lacked judgment in a social setting, but they should not be tarred and feathered as racists.

Now, the group is looking at all options, as far as litigation.

(Emphasis mine)

First of all, President Boren didn’t shut down the OU chapter of SAE.  The national organization of SAE shut it down.

And besides, they are racists.  I mean, singing a song like that is a racist act that only a racist would do.  These men and women memorized and giddily chanted a song about hanging black men from trees.  Let’s go to the videotape:

And from a public relations standpoint, I think the last thing these students would want to do is prolong the controversy.  Hang their heads in shame, get some counselling, and volunteer.  That’s how you redeem yourself.


Good Briefs: Amicus Filings in the Supreme Court Marriage Equality Case

Last Friday was the deadline to submit amicus briefs to the Supreme Court in support of marriage equality. Over 60 different briefs were filed by various “friends of the court,” including coalitions, organizations, scholars, and individuals. Contained within them are a variety of arguments in favor of recognizing same-sex couples’ right to marry, ranging from the more legal and technical to the more historical and personal.

And a few odd ones.  Here is one from the Cleveland Choral Arts Association, complete with West Side Story lyrics and everything (it really gets going at p. 29)

Cleveland Choral Arts Association Amicus Brief by Equality Case Files

But there are obviously more serious ones that tackle the arguments made same-sex opposition.

Social conservatives still argue that because only different-sex couples can biologically produce children, only they should be allowed to marry.   But children actually present a compelling case for same-sex couples’ right to marry.  There are many amicus briefs to the court on this subject, from such organizations as the Donaldson Adoption Institute, the Child Welfare League of America, the North American Council on Adoptable Children, and Voice for Adoption.  Here is an excellent “Voices of Children” brief, filed by the Family Equality Council and COLAGE — it highlights the tens of thousands of children being raised by same-sex couples who have benefited or could benefit from their parents marrying.

Family Equality Council, et al., Amicus Brief by Equality Case Files

And you know the argument rooted in “traditional” marriage?  And how we can’t go changing the definition of marriage?  Well, the American Historical Association has something to say about that.  Their brief outlines the many ways marriage has changed over time. “The historical record contradicts attempts to cast marriage as serving any single, overriding purpose,” the historians write. “And it contradicts attempts to present marriage as a static institution so rooted in ‘tradition’ as to insulate it from constitutional challenge.” To the contrary, they note, “marriage has remained a vital institution because it is not static.”

Historians of Marriage & American Historical Association Amicus Brief by Equality Case Files

And finally, the religious liberty argument.  Conservatives attempt to justify marriage discrimination against LGBT people based on their religious beliefs.

But an amicus brief from a large coalition of religious organizations emphasizes that “civil recognition of same-sex relationships through lawful marriage is fundamentally consistent with the religious pluralism woven into the fabric of American law, culture, and society.” Many religious traditions now ordain gay and lesbian clergy, welcome same-sex couples and their families, and affirm the inherent dignity of LGBT people, including their right to marry someone of the same sex and have that union solemnized in faith. This, they point out, has no implications for those with different views, whose anti-gay religious beliefs and traditions will still be protected under the Constitution. Signers of that brief include leaders of the Episcopal Church, the UCC, various rabbinical associations and synagogues, the Unitarian Universalist Association, Muslims for Progressive Values, and LGBT groups from Presbyterian, Methodist, and Lutheran denominations.

Episcopal Church, et al. Amicus Brief by Equality Case Files

(HT: Equality Case Files.)

Breaking Bad Is Just A TV Show

The word “fan”, as in “someone who likes something”, comes from the longer word “fanatic”, which means “someone obsessed about something”.

I am a fan of many many things; not a fanatic about much (if anything).  I like Breaking Bad.  I was a fan.  But some people are just crazy fanatics:

In a famous scene in Breaking Bad, a furious Walter White, while feuding with his wife, angrily throws a pizza on the roof of his house.

That’s a real house in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fans know where it is. It’s a tourist attraction. A pleasant couple lives there. They’re okay with people stopping by to take photos. But they are tired of fans throwing pizzas on their roof.

Vince Gilligan, the creator of the show, is quite serious when he tells fans to stay off their property and don’t throw pizzas on their roof. You can listen to him talk about the problem at the 3:15 point in this podcast.

As Shatner once said, “Get a life, people.  It’s just a TV show!”

The Media Is Covering The Clinton E-mail “Flap” Because It Is In The Media

The media coverage of the flap/scandal/whatever surrounding Hillary Clinton’s emails is embarrassing.  If you’ve been living under a rock, it has come out that Hillary Clinton, while serving as Secretary of State, used a private email server to send and receive emails, thus (arguably) violating a rule set forth by the National Archives (not a law, as in a criminal law, but a rule relating to archives).

Why is this important?  Well, it probably isn’t.  There were no security issues.  At worst, it gives ammunition to Clinton’s critics who think she is “hiding something”, but of course, they were saying that ANYWAY.  Now, of course, they are calling on Clinton to prove she didn’t destroy any email relevant to Benghazi or any other scandal (and think about that — how would YOU prove you didn’t destroy any sensitive emails?).  In other words, on the merits, the hyperventilation is way out ahead of the actual facts.

When Clinton held her press conference two days ago, the media covered it breathlessly, and almost every media outlet asked this question, in one form or another, of its reporters: “Did this press conference put the issue behind her…. or will the media frenzy continue?”

That’s right — the MEDIA was asking ITSELF if the MEDIA frenzy would continue.  And of course, the answer was “no, we have to keep covering this”.  Because nothing sells like potential scandal, even if there is no evidence of actual scandal (this is what dogged Bill Clinton during his presidency).

Paul Waldman, writing at The Week, absolutely nails the point at which MSM reporting on the Clintons so often leaves the rails:

When this email story broke, how many journalists said it was important because it “plays into a narrative” of Hillary Clinton as scandal-tainted? I must have heard it a dozen times just in the past week.

Here’s a tip for my fellow scribes and opinionators: If you find yourself justifying blanket coverage of an issue because it “plays into a narrative,” stop right there. That’s a way of saying that you can’t come up with an actual, substantive reason this is important or newsworthy, just that it that bears some superficial but probably meaningless similarity to something that happened at some point in the past. It’s the updated version of “out there” — during the Clinton years, reporters would say they had no choice but to devote attention to some scurrilous charge, whether there was evidence for it or not, because someone had made the charge and therefore it was “out there.”

“Narratives,” furthermore, aren’t delivered from Mt. Sinai on stone tablets. They’re created and maintained by journalists making decisions about what’s important and how different issues should be understood. If you’re going to tell us that a new issue “plays into a narrative,” you ought to be able to say why there’s something essentially true or significant about that narrative.


Best and Worst Flights and Airports

Statistics wizard Nate Silver turns his attention to flying, and does some amazing analysis of the best and worst airlines and airports when it comes to delayed and cancelled flights.  It’s more complicated than you think, so you might want to read the whole thing.  For example, the government data on which he relies specifies that a 14 minute arrival delay counts as “on time”.  He also notes that some airlines “pad” their flight times so if they arrive late, they won’t look like a late arrival (kudos to American and US Airways for not doing this).

Anyway, some charts:





Slate’s Amanda Marcotte On Demonic Possession

We’ve been following the bizarre story of Arkansas state legislator Justin Harris, and the controversy surrounding his adopted, and then given-to-a-molester, daughters.  But rather than merely recount that story, we’ll let Amanda Marcotte discuss the bigger picture:

This story of Arkansas state legislator Justin Harris’ adoption debacle has been a classic, slow-moving trainwreck, as the Arkansas press discovers disturbing new details on a near-daily basis that have launched what started as a local scandal into national headlines. It’s a story that touches on many hot-button issues—the evangelical enthusiasm for adoption, the disturbing practice of “rehoming,” child sexual abuse—but what has really sent this story to the next level are reports of children being subject to abuse due to the Harris’ alleged belief in demon possession.

The story first surfaced when the Arkansas Times discovered that a man named Eric Cameron Francis, who was arrested for raping a 6-year-old in his care, had previously worked for Harris and his wife, Marsha Harris, at their day care, named Growing God’s Kingdom. Harris copped to having hired and then fired Francis, but he didn’t admit to what the Times dug up: The only reason that Francis had the little girl in the first place was the Harrises gave her to him.* The victim and her sister had been adopted by the Harrises in 2013 and then, six months later, were rehomed with Francis and his wife, a practice that is apparently legal in Arkansas.

Harris went on the defensive, holding a press conference where he admitted to the rehoming the girls and blamed the Arkansas Department of Human Services for not telling him that the girls, ages 4 and 2, were violent and posed a threat to his older biological sons. However, the Times found plenty of people to dispute this story. The foster family who had the girls before claim that they warned the Harrises that they weren’t up for adopting these girls, who had behavioral issues due to extensive trauma, including sexual abuse, in their biological mother’s home. But the family suggested that the Harrises pulled strings to make it happen anyway. The girls’ new family says the girls have “adjusted beautifully and are thriving in our home with unconditional love and patience.”

All bad enough, but where it really gets weird is when the demon possession comes in:

Chelsey Goldsborough, who regularly babysat for the Harrises, said Mary was kept isolated from Annie and from the rest of the family. She was often confined for hours to her room, where she was monitored by a video camera. The reason: The Harrises believed the girls were possessed by demons and could communicate telepathically, Goldsborough said. Harris and his wife once hired specialists to perform an “exorcism” on the two sisters while she waited outside the house with the boys, she said.

The Times confirmed this account with multiple sources who know the family. The Harrises, through their attorney, deny believing in demon possession or exorcism. However, KNWA reports that a former employee, only going by the name Amber, saw the Harrises try to cast demons out of misbehaving kids at Growing God’s Kingdom day care. “If they got in too much trouble they would pray on the kids, do a circle around them, put their hands on their heads, saying, trying to rebuke demons,” she told the station.

All this may seem too outrageous to believe, but the sad fact of the matter is that there are many pockets of evangelical Christianity that believe that bad or sinful behavior is caused by demons literally possessing or oppressing people and therefore need to be exorcised. There’s not a lot of information on how widespread this belief is, though it does seem to be fringe. The biggest proponent of it in evangelical circles is a man named Bob Larson, who can be seen, with his daughter and her “teen exorcist” friends, in this Vice video I posted at Slate in 2013. Larson is a classic charlatan—he even charges $295 for a demon exorcism via Skype—but it works because a lot of people really want to believe that destructive behavior is supernatural and can be done away with by praying. In 2001, Fordham sociologist Michael Cuneo even traveled the country and witnessed at least 50 exorcisms, most in evangelical circles, across the country, and published his findings in American Exorcism.

This belief has been endorsed from on high in fundamentalist circles. Pat Robertson of the 700 Club is forever warning viewers about the dangers of demonic possession and witchcraft. Some recent greatest hits includeblaming homosexuality on demonic possession, warning that Dungeons & Dragons will cause demonic possession, and even buying used clothes could bring demons into your life. Also, don’t put your sonogram pictures up on Facebook, because witches will curse your child.

This stuff usually only gets attention from outsiders who want to point and laugh at it, but as this situation in Arkansas shows, this fear that demons haunt every corner and will pounce the second you let your guard down can have very serious consequences. The Harrises are disputing the claims that they subjected children in their care to abusive behavior under the guise of casting out demons, but if the various witnesses who say they saw it are telling the truth, then that’s very disturbing news indeed.

“Isn’t This The Ultimate Degree of the Collapse of Political Ethics and the US System’s Internal Disintegration?”

That’s a direct quote from the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, in reference to letter written to Iran and signed by 47 Republican senators essentially trying to sabotage negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program.

Thanks, GOP, for showing how divided and unreliable and unresolute America is.

Rush Limbaugh Wonders Why White People Can’t Use Racial Epithets


Rush Limbaugh is at it again. The conservative radio host surely seethed with indignation as he watched every decent-minded human being around him express outrage at a video of fraternity brothers chanting racist lyrics. On Wednesday, he finally spoke up.

The problem wasn’t the words that the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) brothers were chanting, Limbaugh claims. It was the fact that these University of Oklahoma students were white—which sounds reasonable until you hear what he actually said.

In Limbaugh’s mind, Kanye West could get away with similarly vile stuff, so critics of SAE are being hypocritical.

It’s true that black musicians and comedians have been repurposing “the N word” for quite a while.  That’s fine.  But that’s clearly NOT what the frat boys are SAE were doing.

Flightradar Is A Scary App

Actually, it is a cool app, but it scares the crap out of me sometimes.

This is a live screenshot of Hawaiian Airlines Flight 47 from Oakland to Honolulu.


What the hell is going on???

UPDATE:  The Hawaiian Airlines website said it is being diverted back to Oakland, although it has just been circling in that same spot for over an hour now.  Oh, well.  I’m sure I’m being an alarmist…. which was the point of this post.



LAST UPDATE:  Yup, it’s heading back.  That was a 3 hour flight to nowhere.  Glad my Hawaiian vacation didn’t start with that flight.

Finally! The Climate Change Problem Is Solved!

How do we get rid of “climate change”?  Don’t talk about it!

Florida scientist told to remove words ‘climate change’ from study on climate change

By late January of this year, Elizabeth Radke figured she was pretty much done with Florida. She had already graduated from the University of Florida, where she had gotten her PhD in epidemiology. She had moved from the Sunshine State to the Washington area, where she took a job at Arlington County’s public health department. And her dissertation, which looked at how climate change in Florida had affected ciguatera — a commonly reported marine food-borne illness — was getting closer to publication.

But then, on Jan. 27, a message popped into her inbox. Subject: “Paper Review.” And Radke realized she wasn’t through with Florida yet. In fact, she was about to get dragged into what has now become a national scandal over an alleged “unwritten policy” among some Florida state environmental offices that forbids the use of terms such as “climate change” and “global warming” in official correspondence.

On Sunday, the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, which broke the news in a story that quickly ricocheted across the nation, connected the protocol directly to the office of Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who has long voiced suspicion of man-made climate change despite overwhelming scientific consensus it exists — not to mention indications of rising sea levels in southeastern Florida. “I’m not a scientist” has been Scott’s standard response.

“We were told not to use the terms ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming,’ or ‘sustainability,’” Christopher Byrd, an attorney with the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from 2008 until 2013, told the investigative outfit. “That message was communicated to me and my colleagues by our superiors in the Office of General Counsel.”

The (Republican) governor of Florida is denying that he sought to purge the phrase “climate change” and other similar phrases.

47 Traitors Get Schooled By Iranian Foreign Minister, Who Understands The US Constitution

A GOP letter from Senate Republicans to Iran about the pending nuclear deal warns Iranian leaders that any agreement between Washington and Tehran could be voided by Congress and simply not upheld once Obama leaves the White House in 2017.  The letter was spearheaded by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.).

Naturally, it received some backlash.  White House press secretary Josh Earnest was unusually blunt in ripping the Senate GOP, saying “it’s surprising to me there are some Republican senators who are seeking to establish a backchannel with hardliners in Iran to undermine an agreement with Iran and the international community.”

Earnest said Republicans have a “long and rather sordid history” of putting military options ahead of diplomatic ones, and called the letter, signed by 47 GOP lawmakers, “the continuation of a partisan strategy to undermine the president’s authority.”

NYDNIt’s not just the president, the vice president, and fellow Senate Republicans appalled at the open letter to Iran. The New York Daily News, for instance, endorsed Mitt Romney in 2012, but ran the cover you can see at the left.

The Wall Street Journal is … the Wall Street Journal, but it editorialized that “The problem with the GOP letter is that it’s a distraction from what should be the main political goal of persuading the American people.”

But it’s worth remembering that, for Tom Cotton at least, this letter wasn’t the first step off the deep end on Iran. In 2013, Cotton offered an amendment that would have harshly punished people violating sanctions on Iran. Actually, Cotton wouldn’t have stopped at harshly punishing the violators themselves.

Cotton also seeks to punish any family member of those people, “to include a spouse and any relative to the third degree,” including, “parents, children, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, grandparents, great grandparents, grandkids, great grandkids,” Cotton said.

Yes, Cotton thinks that the great grandchildren of people who violate Iran sanctions should be imprisoned. Which, by the way, is completely unconstitutional. But this is someone who got the vast majority of his Republican colleagues in the Senate, including leadership, to sign onto a letter to Iran trying to torpedo American diplomacy. Congressional Republicans listen to this man. That’s terrifying—but if this open letter has helped discredit him publicly, it may be one good outcome of the whole mess.

Perhaps my favorite criticism comes from Iran itself. Asked about the open letter, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Dr. Javad Zarif, responded that “in our view, this letter has no legal value and is mostly a propaganda ploy. It is very interesting that while negotiations are still in progress and while no agreement has been reached, some political pressure groups are so afraid even of the prospect of an agreement that they resort to unconventional methods, unprecedented in diplomatic history. This indicates that like Netanyahu, who considers peace as an existential threat, some are opposed to any agreement, regardless of its content.”Zarif expressed astonishment that some members of US Congress find it appropriate to write to leaders of another country against their own President and administration.

He pointed out that from reading the open letter, it seems that the authors not only do not understand international law, but are not fully cognizant of the nuances of their own Constitution when it comes to presidential powers in the conduct of foreign policy.Foreign Minister Zarif added that “I should bring one important point to the attention of the authors and that is, the world is not the United States, and the conduct of inter-state relations is governed by international law, and not by US domestic law. The authors may not fully understand that in international law, governments represent the entirety of their respective states, are responsible for the conduct of foreign affairs, are required to fulfil the obligations they undertake with other states and may not invoke their internal law as justification for failure to perform their international obligations.”The Iranian Foreign Minister added that “Change of administration does not in any way relieve the next administration from international obligations undertaken by its predecessor in a possible agreement about Iran`s peaceful nuclear program.” He continued “I wish to enlighten the authors that if the next administration revokes any agreement with the stroke of a pen, as they boast, it will have simply committed a blatant violation of international law.He emphasized that if the current negotiation with P5+1 result in a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, it will not be a bilateral agreement between Iran and the US, but rather one that will be concluded with the participation of five other countries, including all permanent members of the Security Council, and will also be endorsed by a Security Council resolution.

Zarif expressed the hope that his comments “may enrich the knowledge of the authors to recognize that according to international law, Congress may not modify the terms of the agreement at any time as they claim, and if Congress adopts any measure to impede its implementation, it will have committed a material breach of US obligations.”

The Foreign Minister also informed the authors that majority of US international agreements in recent decades are in fact what the signatories describe as “mere executive agreements” and not treaties ratified by the Senate.

He reminded them that “their letter in fact undermines the credibility of thousands of such mere executive agreements that have been or will be entered into by the US with various other governments.

Zarif concluded by stating that “the Islamic Republic of Iran has entered these negotiations in good faith and with the political will to reach an agreement, and it is imperative for our counterparts to prove similar good faith and political will in order to make an agreement possible.”

He’s right about all that of course.  What’s particularly odd about the letter is that the reasoning there would apply to ANY international treaty, not just the current one being negotiated.  Basically, Republicans are hanging out a sign to ALL countries saying, “Don’t enter into any treaties or trade agreements of anything like that with the current president, because we Republicans might not honor it”.


Why My Plans To Retire In Costa Rica Are Looking Better

Because of this:

Exactly five years ago this week, as the Congressional debate over the Affordable Care Act was coming to its eventual conclusion, Rush Limbaugh made a bold statement about his future as a resident of the United State of America.

Speaking to a caller who expressed concerns about the impact of Obamacare on the U.S. healthcare system, Limbaugh said, “If this passes and it’s five years from now and all that stuff gets implemented, I am leaving the country. I’ll go to Costa Rica.”

He’s still here in the U.S.  Maybe he was just saying stuff.


Senate Republicans Overstepping Their Authority

Can you imagine if this was 2006 and the Democrats did this to Bush?

A group of 47 Republican senators has written an open letter to Iran’s leaders warning them that any nuclear deal they sign with President Barack Obama’s administration won’t last after Obama leaves office.

Organized by freshman Senator Tom Cotton and signed by the chamber’s entire party leadership as well as potential 2016 presidential contenders Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, the letter is meant not just to discourage the Iranian regime from signing a deal but also to pressure the White House into giving Congress some authority over the process.

“It has come to our attention while observing your nuclear negotiations with our government that you may not fully understand our constitutional system … Anything not approved by Congress is a mere executive agreement,” the senators wrote. “The next president could revoke such an executive agreement with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.”

Arms-control advocates and supporters of the negotiations argue that the next president and the next Congress will have a hard time changing or canceling any Iran deal — — which is reportedly near done — especially if it is working reasonably well.

It appears from the letter that the Senators do not understand our constitutional system or the power to make binding agreements.

The letter states that “the Senate must ratify [a treaty] by a two-thirds vote.”  But as the Senate’s own web page makes clear: “The Senate does not ratify treaties. Instead, the Senate takes up a resolution of ratification, by which the Senate formally gives its advice and consent, empowering the president to proceed with ratification” (my emphasis).  Or, as this outstanding  2001 CRS Report on the Senate’s role in treaty-making states (at 117):  “It is the President who negotiates and ultimately ratifies treaties for the United States, but only if the Senate in the intervening period gives its advice and consent.”  Ratification is the formal act of the nation’s consent to be bound by the treaty on the international plane.  Senate consent is a necessary but not sufficient condition of treaty ratification for the United States.  As the CRS Report notes: “When a treaty to which the Senate has advised and consented … is returned to the President,” he may “simply decide not to ratify the treaty.”

So, Republicans — in telling a foreign country not to trust the Unites States — are wrong on the law (not to mention condescending — eleven members of the Iranian government’s cabinet were educated in the United States and are probably smarter than your typical GOP senator).  But more importantly, they are actively impeding the negotiation — clearly and exclusively in the executive branch’s domain — and attempting to subvert the foreign policy of the country they allegedly represent.

Blogging Update

(1)  Light blogging lately, if you haven’t noticed.  Death in the family.

(2)  Loyal reader SH informs me that comments are not “taking” when “Post Comments” is clicked.  He’s right.  Whaddup?  Dunno.  Looking into it…..

UPDATE:  Okay…. trying something new.  Seems to work okay.

(3)  And I’ve missed a lot…. Nimoy’s death, Netanyahou, Hillary’s emails….