Friday, August 31, 2012

Guess I'm Good For Now...

The Christian Science Monitor has an online version of what it says is a U.S. citizenship test. I have my doubts, since I heard it was really hard. Here are my results:
Image credit: Screenshot by Cujo359

If I'd been paying better attention, that would have been 95 right and 1 wrong, but I saw "Atlantic" when I should have seen "Arctic". Call it taking a test at 3AM.

There were maybe 15 questions I had to think about. There were roughly the same number that I wouldn't expect someone educated in a foreign country to know, like who was the President during World War I?

So, maybe for foreigners learning about their adopted country, it's about right. Anyone who was educated here should be able to pass it, though.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Rugged Individualism In Fantasy And Reality

Image credit: OWS Posters

Last night at the Republican National Convention, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez gave a speech that brought the house down, as Politico reports:
“I carried a Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum — that gun weighed more than I did! My parents grew that small business-from one 18-year-old guarding a bingo-to more than 125 people in three states. And sure, there was help along the way. But my parents took the risk. They stood up. And you better believe that they built it.”

Susana Martinez RNC speech transcript (text, video)
As with all great works of art, though, it's sometimes fascinating to look at some early drafts to see how an idea evolved. We here at the Cujo Labs are fascinated by the evolution (if you conservatives will pardon that term) of a political idea from its inception to its full flowering. To aid our studies, some of our trained operatives obtained the first draft of Susana Martinez’ speech. It looks like it was way too detail oriented before someone got to it with a red pencil:

“I carried a Smith and Wesson .357 Magnum — that gun weighed more than I did! But, you know, what was really hard was smelting the iron to make that thing. How much carbon do you use in gun metal, and is it nickel or titanium that you have to add? And then I had to build one of those machine tools that ream out the barrel. Boy, was that tough. And I had a little trouble finding enough saltpeter in the back yard to make the gunpowder, but hey, it’s simpler than cordite, and I had to be to the bingo parlor by 9AM to guard it.

“‘Cause you, see, that’s where things really got dicey. After I found enough people jobs so that they could come in and buy our stuff, there still wasn’t a road for them to drive there. That’s how I’d spend my evenings – paving all that tar I mixed and the stones I crushed during the slow parts of the business day …

“That’s what’s so great about America, it’s a place where you can make it if you’re willing to pull yourself up by your bootstraps, after you’ve picked the cotton and flax and spun it into thread, and shot the cow (I guess it’s a good thing I made that .357 first, huh?) …”

OK, maybe someone at the Cujo Labs just made that up, except for the first sentence, of course.

Despite the wacky ideas that some folks have about liberals, we actually do get that it takes a lot of effort and some sacrifice to create a business. Any of us who have even thought seriously about starting a business can relate to the idea that government can be more of an impediment to starting a business than it can be an aid.

And when it seems like the government’s only role in your life is to demand taxes from you, and you still have to pack a gun you can barely carry to the bingo parlor, because the city doesn’t think it’s a priority to guard your part of town, then it’s easy to get the idea that you did it on your own. But you didn’t. Lots of other folks worked hard so that you could have the things you used to build that business, and a properly functioning government made sure that the commerce it depends on is both safe and honest.

There simply are no “self-made” people in this country. The last one made those documentaries about living in the Alaskan wilderness, and even he had someone else make his clothes and his ax heads. We all are able to do what we do because there is a society around us that is able to do all those things you don’t have the time or the skills to do, like sewing those bootstraps on that you’re pulling yourself up with.

That’s what liberals get that these folks don’t seem to. We know that business, and most everything else in life, goes better if there’s an orderly, honest, educated, and healthy society around us. Whatever we as a society can do to make ourselves better in those ways benefits us all. At least, it benefits those of us who aren’t in the crime or security business. That’s what Elizabeth Warren was talking about when she said “You didn’t build this”. She meant that there were a lot of other people who helped build it, and they could only do so because there was a somewhat functional government there to enable it. As that government becomes less functional, thanks to those philosophically aligned with Ms. Martinez, we see that business works less well, which is just what anyone with any real sense would expect.

That’s what I find so annoying about Ms. Martinez and her ilk. It’s not that I envy her, or that I want to “tear [her] down” to use the words of one tiresome commenter recently, but because she just conveniently overlooks all that. Yes, it sucks when you poured your energy and savings into a business, then some librul gets all huffy and says that the business isn't all your doing. Trouble is, she's right. It isn't. There are plenty of people in this country who work hard, and some of them still do tough, dangerous work, usually with precious little reward. Despite that hard work, they aren’t successful enough to be a speaker at a political convention. They deserve a fair deal, too. They aren’t going to get one until the folks who were that successful realize they didn’t build it by themselves.

More Wasteful Government Effort

Yes, Hurricane Isaac has passed, but I cropped this photo to be the right size for Blogger and a wide computer monitor, so here it is:

Image credit: NASA photo edited by Cujo359.

While Republicans were getting ready to tell us about what rugged individualists they all are and how they don't depend on no government for nuthin', NASA and NOAA were tracking hurricanes and warning people about the dangers. The Army Corps of Engineers was analyzing how badly things would go for a given storm surge. Yet somehow, government is the problem, at least to some folks.

I'd say arrogance and the stupidity it engenders has more to do with our problems lately, but then I'm just listening to what these folks tell me they believe. Maybe their willingness to capitalize on other peoples' arrogance and stupidity is the problem.

Click on the image to get the full sized wallpaper I created. Go to the image credit link to see larger sized images.

A Moment Of Zen. Or Not...

It's been a while since we've seen the Phillie Phanatic here, so I thought I'd provide a fresh moment of zen:

Video credit: Major League Baseball

Then it occurred to me to wonder why he was dancing with Ugandans. There isn't a large Ugandan population in Philadelphia that I'm aware of. It turns out there was a logical explanation:

The first team from an African nation to win a game at the Little League World Series visited Citizens Bank Park today as guests of shortstop Jimmy Rollins. The Uganda Little League Team received custom hats as part of their visit to the clubhouse.

Rollins hosts Uganda Little League team

Rollins, an African American, has been a fixture in Philadelphia for almost a decade. He was the league's Most Valuable Player in 2007, and he's one of the Phillies players whose jersey number is quite often visible on the backs of fans at their home park. None of this sounds terribly remarkable nowadays, but anyone who remembers how things were for black players on the Phillies roster when I was growing up would probably have a different perspective.

Back then they had a young player named Dick Allen. Allen was strong, had quick hands, good baserunning skills, and was at least an adequate fielder, despite having been converted to third base in his rookie season. As Wikipedia notes, however, things were very rough for him while he was playing in the City of Brotherly Love:

Non-baseball incidents soon marred Allen's Philadelphia career. In July 1965 he got into an infamous fistfight with fellow Phillie Frank Thomas. According to two teammates who witnessed the fight, Thomas swung a bat at Allen, hitting him in the shoulder. Johnny Callison said, "Thomas got himself fired when he swung that bat at Richie. In baseball you don't swing a bat at another player—ever." Pat Corrales confirmed that Thomas hit Allen with a bat and added that Thomas was a "bully" known for making racially divisive remarks. Allen and his teammates were not permitted to give their side of the story under threat of a heavy fine. The Phillies released Thomas the next day. That made the fans and local sports writers not only see Allen as costing a white player his job, but freed Thomas to give his version of the fight.


Some of the Phillies' own fans, known for being tough on hometown players even in the best of times, exacerbated Allen's problems. Initially the abuse was verbal, with obscenities and racial epithets. Eventually Allen was greeted with showers of fruit, ice, refuse, and even flashlight batteries as he took the field. He began wearing his batting helmet even while playing his position in the field, which gave rise to another nickname, "Crash Helmet", shortened to "Crash".

Wikipedia: Dick Allen

Allen was said to have a bad attitude, but throw enough batteries at most people and their attitude can go bad.

Another black player, Curt Flood, refused to be traded to Philadelphia, because the atmosphere was so bad for African-American ballplayers. Ironically, Dick Allen was one of the players involved in that trade.

So, fast forward from that situation to today, and it does seem a little amazing that a Phillies mascot would be dancing with a bunch of African kids during a game. It's even a bit amazing when you discount the fact that they somehow persuaded all those kids to dress like the mascot.

You can look at this as a sign of progress, and I think it is. Unfortunately, just a few miles away from the Phillies' spring training camp in Clearwater, Florida, some attendees to one of our major parties' political conventions reminded us that we still have a ways to go:

Tampa, Florida (CNN) – Two people were removed from the Republican National Convention Tuesday after they threw nuts at an African-American CNN camera operator and said, “This is how we feed animals.”

Multiple witnesses observed the exchange and RNC security and police immediately removed the two people from the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

Two people removed from RNC after taunting black camera operator

Racism doesn't affect me in my day to day life. I'm white, and I live in one of the more enlightened regions of the country. Still, every once in a while I'm reminded that it still exists in America, and there are still clearly places where people feel no reluctance to express those feelings.

It's a bit sad that a bunch of people dancing around in green felt have a lot more sense than some of the people who are attending one of the conventions that will choose our next President.

But that's the story of America in the early Twenty-First Century in a nutshell, isn't it?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Quote Of The Day

Glenn Greenwald's article today describes a particularly egregious example of one of our principle newspapers, the New York Times, collaborating with the Central Intelligence Agency on a story it published last year. Rather than try to summarize, I think I'll just refer you to that article. Toward the end, though, Greenwald described the environment of government secrecy we live in, and its consequences:
The more important objection is that the fact that a certain behavior is common does not negate its being corrupt. Indeed, as is true for government abuses generally, those in power rely on the willingness of citizens to be trained to view corrupt acts as so common that they become inured, numb, to its wrongfulness. Once a corrupt practice is sufficiently perceived as commonplace, then it is transformed in people's minds from something objectionable into something acceptable. Indeed, many people believe it demonstrates their worldly sophistication to express indifference toward bad behavior by powerful actors on the ground that it is so prevalent. This cynicism – oh, don't be naive: this is done all the time – is precisely what enables such destructive behavior to thrive unchallenged.

Correspondence and collusion between the New York Times and the CIA

I wish I had a dollar for every time some citizen has told me that corruption and foolishness is what they expect out of government, and that there's no reason to try to prevent it. I could buy a real government with that money. Declarations like those of these acquaintances should be music to the ears of any corrupt politician or government worker, because it's exactly the attitude they need to thrive.

I think it goes without saying that there will be corrupt and foolish people in government. Identifying them and rooting them out is the cure, not apathy.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

War Crimes Vs. State Secrets

Caption: Hermann Goering and other leading Nazis on trial at Nuremberg, in 1945. We cared more about war crimes when Germans were committing them.

Image credit: U.S. Army/Wikimedia

Glenn Greenwald, from his new digs at The Guardian, wrote today on the subject of justice for war crimes in America. After discussing the hideous verdict in the Rachel Corrie lawsuit in Israel, he moved onto how the American justice system has been dealing with war crimes, and the people who reported those war crimes:

The US military has continuously imposed pitifully light "punishments" on its soldiers even for the most heinous atrocities. The wanton slaughter of two dozen civilians in Haditha, Iraq and the severe and even lethal torture of Afghan detainees generated, at worst, shockingly short jail time for the killers and, usually, little more than letters of reprimand.

Contrast this tepid, reluctant wrist-slapping for the brutal crimes of occupying soldiers with what a UN investigation found was the US government's "cruel and inhuman treatment" of Bradley Manning before he was convicted of anything. Manning has been imprisoned for more than two years now without having been found guilty of any crimes – already longer than any of the perpetrators of these fatal abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan. He faces life in prison at the age of 23 for the alleged "crime" of disclosing to the world overwhelming evidence of corruption, deceit and illegality on the part of the world's most powerful factions: disclosures that helped thwart the Obama administration's efforts to keep US troops in Iraq, and which, as even WikiLeaks' harshest critics acknowledge, played some substantial role in helping to spark the Arab spring.

How the US and Israeli justice systems whitewash state crimes
[links from original article]

In most of the articles you're likely to read that are critical of Bradley Manning, there is almost never any acknowledgement of two very basic truths about what he is alleged to have done:

  1. Despite nearly constant assertions that it is so, the government has never shown even one instance of where the Wikileaks disclosures have done harm to our forces in the field, and
  2. The very act of covering up crimes by using classification authority is in itself a crime.

Nor are you likely to see any acknowledgement that the acts Greenwald led his article with, such as the Marines urinating on dead Taliban fighters or the burnings of the Koran by U.S. service personnel, have almost certainly endangered our forces by enraging the local populations of the countries we are (or were) trying to occupy. It's as though the idea that doing these things would fuel hatred of us, and that those stories would get around in those countries regardless of whether anything like Wikileaks existed, never even enters their heads.

As I've written before, it's a good thing for our leadership that our press is so incurious about the crimes those secret documents are covering up. It's one of the reasons why, in America these days, it's much better to be the person committing a war crime than the one who reports it. Nothing about that has changed since George W. Bush left office.

I don't blame governments so much for this. They always want to protect themselves, and their secrets. What's so ominous is how few of the rest of us seem to care. Nothing will change until that does.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Neil Armstrong And What NASA Means

Neil Armstrong passed away over the weekend, as ABC reports:

Neil Armstrong, the astronaut who became first to walk on the moon as commander of Apollo 11, has died at the age of 82, his family said today. Armstrong had heart surgery several weeks ago, and a statement from his family said he died following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.

Neil Armstrong Dead; Apollo 11 Astronaut Was First on Moon

"First On The Moon" just about says it all, I think. The story shows a photo of him in his youth, with his space suit on about to go to the Moon. For a man who took that dangerous, unprecedented journey, and who had been a test pilot and a combat pilot before that, it's hard to imagine a more anti-climatic death than complications from heart surgery at age 82. James Fallows sums Armstrong's life up this way:

Before he had been: a small town Ohio boy; an Eagle Scout; a certified pilot as of age 15; an aerospace engineer; a naval aviator who flew combat missions in Korea; a test pilot who was in the X-15 among many dozens of aircraft types he eventually flew; and a pilot and commander on two Gemini missions.

Neil Armstrong

For a man who was famous for not wanting fame, he managed to find quite a bit of it, and he found it by doing remarkable things. Going to the Moon might be considered just one of many in Armstrong's life.

Maybe something else that speaks about that accomplishment comes from, of all places, a hobby site. After a long description of all the things he did to take a thirty-plus year old model kit and turn it into this diorama, a Canadian modeler named Pete Malaguti wrote:

I have wanted to build these models for over 30 years ... and finally had the time and references to do it. I'm just getting into this hobby and thanx to sites like ARC I have learned an enormous amount. Now, I'm just starting to put all that observational knowledge to use ... and I'm having a blast!

1/48 Revell Monogram Apollo 15 Lunar Module

In that same day's articles at Aircraft Resource Center, there are other articles about models of the various Apollo machines and missions. (Sadly, there are no permalinks there for individual days.) In addition to Pete Malaguti, there are also articles by someone with a United Kingdom e-mail address, and one from a young modeler from Poland, for whom a model of Armstrong's Apollo 11 Lunar Module was her second model project.

When I look at those dioramas, it's hard to imagine taking that trip now, even though it would probably be easier than it was back then. It still sounds like being totally isolated in the middle of nowhere, with any one of a number of things that could happen that would result in a slow, lingering death. The astronauts who took those trips knew this. They were not stupid people - they knew what they were getting into, and they went anyway. The scientists, engineers, and technicians who designed the machines knew this as well, and they overcame the handicap of having never done such a thing before by ingenuity, trial, and error.

I've written before about the challenge of getting to the Moon, and what it implies for us as a nation. But something we should contemplate now is what this event meant for how the rest of the world sees us. When a great many people in the rest of the world think of the United States, one of the things that comes to mind is "they went to the Moon". Only three weeks ago, NASA landed another probe on Mars, a feat that is so rare most people can't name any other country that's done it. NASA is a visible symbol of what we're capable of doing, both from a technical and human perspective. NASA sends probes to other planets, and, in contrast to every other country or group of countries that have tried this, the exceptional NASA mission is the one that fails. That's not to say that we're better than those other guys, but it says something about what NASA has accomplished - something that very few others have.

Yet NASA's budget is a tiny fraction of what we spend on our military these days. We get so much return from that investment from the technical spin-offs, the scientific knowledge gained, and the prestige we gain that it's hard to imagine why the reverse isn't true. Yet I suspect next year we will once again be told that it's an unnecessary expense, while we just have to have more manned fighters, brigade combat teams, and aircraft carriers to defend ourselves from terrorists.

I've made this point before, but when you look at our priorities as expressed in our nation's budget, it's not hard to understand why we seem to be stymied by issues that previous generations of Americans would have taken care of before lunch time.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Saturday Entertainment: Buddy Rich

Recently, Rolling Stone did another of those "Ten Best..." lists of musicians - this time it was drummers. Of course, all the usuals were there - Moon, Bonham, Peart, and also this guy:

Image credit: found here.

It's Buddy Rich, near the end of his long career. He looks like he barely survived the performance. In contrast to some of the rock drummers on the list, Rich shows more finesse and less power. Comparing him to Keith Moon is like comparing Gayle Sayers to Eric Campbell. Each great in his own way, but which you like better probably has more to do with your tastes than any objective comparison.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Another Cost Of War: Syria Edition

Having written before about how the effects of modern wars last long after the last shot is fired, I found this photo interesting, with the explanatory caption from PBS:

Town of Anadan

Hundreds of probable artillery craters, represented with yellow dots, were identified in the town of Anadan near the major city of Aleppo in Syria.

Satellite Images from Aleppo, Syria, from July-August 2012

[Click on the photo to enlarge.]

Amnesty International hired a commercial photographic satellite firm to document atrocities being committed in Syria's civil war. See the quote credit for more explanation.

When I see an image like this, one of the first things that pops into my head is to look at the areas that are clearly settled and/or cultivated, versus those that are not. Those yellow dots are supposed to be artillery craters. Where there are exploded artillery shells, there will probably be unexploded artillery shells, also. The yellow dots are mostly in cultivated land. What that tells me is that there are going to be some very nervous farmers working those fields in the next few years.

The effects of war often last far longer than the wars themselves. The explosives and other dangerous devices that are typically left behind by the warring forces will be a reminder of the conflict for decades.

(h/t Taylor Marsh for some of the links.)

UPDATE: The second last paragraph used to end "in the last few years", which makes a whole lot more sense, but does conceivably change the meaning of the sentence. Hence, this note.

Quote Of The Day

Ralph Nader writes in OpEd News:

What would President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who signed the first minimum wage law in 1938, say about today's pathetic Democrats (with few exceptions like the more than 20 Representatives who signed on to Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s H.R. 5901 bill to raise the minimum wage to $10 per hour)? Remember how FDR pushed his Democrats in the 1930s? He would not have tolerated today's Democratic Party of caution, cash and cowardliness.

The Democratic Party Sleeps on FDR's Legacy

So, tell me again how good it is that President Obama isn't FDR?

And yet, if the folks quoted in this USA Today article are any example, the Democrats and their sycophants still don't get it. After observing that many more Americans who don't plan on voting favor Obama than don't, the article goes on to quote the pollster:

"There's this pool of people that Barack Obama doesn't even need to persuade," says David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center, which took the survey. "All he needs to do is find them and identify them and get them to the polls. It's like a treasure chest. But the bad news is that the treasure chest is locked.

Why 90 million Americans won't vote in November

Well, you see here's the problem, and anyone who knows much of anything about FDR would realize that he would have known this - when you don't take care of the base, it doesn't take care of you. It doesn't matter if it's because it won't or because it can't; it's probably both anyway. The sad fact is that when people have to work hard just to stay ahead of the rent, they don't have time to worry about who is President, or who is running Congress. And when the folks they sent to Congress to fix the problem hem and haw and then go home for recess without accomplishing a damn thing worth mentioning, then it's pretty clear that voting didn't make any damn difference anyway, so why should they bother?

A ten year old child could get this idea, assuming he wasn't motivated not to. Yet supposedly intelligent adults are stumped.

If there's anything we've learned about our politicians in the last few years, it's that they don't know what our lives are like out here, and most of them don't care.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Out Of Context Image Of The Day

This evening I was looking up images on the Internet associated with the phrase "cafe in heaven". Never mind why. Here's one of the images Google came up with, along with the text from the article that accompanied it:

This Windows 95 collectible mug recently sold on eBay for $33.33 and the cost of postage. Just goes to show you what a passionate collector will spend on a collectible mug.

You could probably find this mug at your local thrift store. Just sitting there collecting dust.

MS Windows 95 Mug - Geeks collect too.

The ways of the Internet are often mysterious, and sometimes they're downright nonsensical. I think that's largely because it's run by people.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Twitter Message Of The Day

I have no idea what this argument was, or who this person is, but this is one of those things that has both bothered and amused me when I've been in conversations with people who like to use this word:

Twitter Message by "Left Action"

I don't even know if the person who wrote this is on the political left or not. I'd like to think so, but it makes no difference. Not being able to get an insult like that right is pretty sad.

Pictures From Mars

Caption: As seen by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the lander Curiosity descends to the surface of Mars beneath its parachute.

Image credit: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

As most of you are probably aware, we're back on Mars. Last weekend, NASA's Curiosity rover landed on the planet. It has now sent back its first panorama of the landing zone, of which this might be the most interesting 1600 pixel wide chunk:

Image credit: Cropped from this NASA Image of the Day by Cujo359

Click on the picture to see it full size. Go to the image credit link to see the full panorama.

What is the rover there to do? Here's a mission statement from a NASA "fact sheet" about the rover:

Curiosity will carry the most advanced payload of scientific gear ever used on Mars’ surface, a payload more than 10 times as massive as those of earlier Mars rovers. Its assignment: Investigate whether conditions have been favorable for microbial life and for preserving clues in the rocks about possible past life.

Mars Science Laboratory (PDF, pg. 1)

Once again, NASA has managed to do something that few others have managed at all - landing on the surface of another planet to do scientific work. It will look for signs of past life on the planet, and start answering the question of whether it might ever support life again.

How much did all this cost? From a progress report near the start of the program comes this quote:

In early June 2007, the Mars Science Laboratory project completed its project-wide Critical Design Review (CDR), which marks the completion of the project's design phase and transition into the build up of flight hardware. A key component of the CDR process was a technical risk, programmatic, and cost review, from which multiple independent cost assessments predicted that this technically challenging $1.7B planetary science rover mission's current content would cause it to exceed its budgeted development costs to launch by approximately $75M.

Mars Science Laboratory Project Changes Respond to Cost Increases, Keep Mars Program On Track

That $1.7 billion is about a week's operations in Afghanistan, pro-rated of course. I'd much rather spend that kind of money exploring the universe than blowing up someone else's country, but I guess that's just me.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

White Women In Trouble!

Caption: In solidarity, but not for long. It's really hot in this thing...

Image credit: Composite by Cujo359. Based on image found here

Usually, when I write something like "young white women in peril", I'm joking about the priorities of our news organizations, particularly the broadcast versions. Not this time, as Amnesty International notes:

Amnesty International today demanded that Russia immediately release three young women arrested for allegedly singing a protest song that criticizes both the Orthodox Church and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Several members of a music group called "Pussy Riot," with their faces covered in balaclavas, sang a protest song entitled, "Virgin Mary, Redeem Us of Putin," on Feb. 21 at Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow. The song criticizes the support shown by some representatives of the Orthodox Church to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and calls on the Virgin Mary to become a feminist and banish Putin.

Amnesty International Demands Russia Release Punk Singers Detained Following Church Performance

As an e-mail my real-world self received today explains, the three young women are now on trial. The U.K. Guardian describes the trial:

By the end of the first week of Pussy Riot's trial, everyone in the shabby Moscow courthouse was tired. Guards, armed with submachine guns, grabbed journalists and threw them out of the room at will. The judge, perched in front of a shabby Russian flag, refused to look at the defence. And the police dog – a 100lb black Rottweiler – no longer sat in the corner she had occupied since the start of Russia's trial of the year, but barked and foamed at the mouth as if she were in search of blood.

The trial of the three band members, jailed since March after performing a "punk prayer" against Vladimir Putin in Moscow's main cathedral, has been about more than the charges brought against them – formally, hooliganism motivated by religious hatred. In five days of testimony, lawyers and witnesses have laid bare the stark divide that has emerged in Russian society: one deeply conservative and accepting of a state that uses vague laws and bureaucracy to control its citizens, the other liberal bordering on anarchist and beginning to fight against that state with any means it can.

The court is dominated by a glass cage that holds the three women – Maria Alyokhina, who has emerged as their unofficial spokeswoman; Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, whose chiselled features have made her the band's unofficial face; and Yekaterina Samutsevich, who sits in a corner of the cage looking every bit the disgruntled punk.


According to Pussy Riot's lawyers, Russia has revived the Soviet-era tradition of the show trial with its case against the group. "Even in Soviet times, in Stalin's times, the courts were more honest than this one," lawyer Nikolai Polozov shouted in court.

Pussy Riot trial 'worse than Soviet era'

Women in a glass cage - it sounds like a bad '80s exploitation film. Yet it's not the first time that cage has been put to use, as Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whom Foreign Policy calls "Russia's most famous prisoner, explains:

It is painful to watch what is taking place in the Khamovnichesky Court of the city of Moscow, where Masha, Nadya, and Katya are on trial. The word “trial” is applicable here only in the sense in which it was used by the Inquisitors of the Middle Ages.

I know this aquarium in courtroom number 7 well – they made it especially for me and Platon, “just for us”, after the ECHR had declared that keeping defendants behind bars is degrading and violates the Convention on Human Rights.

This is a subtle and sophisticated way of mocking people who dared to file a complaint with the ECHR: ah, okay, so you say that a cage with bars is bad; well then, here’s a cage made of glass for you, a beaker with a little porthole through which you can talk to your lawyers, but you need to twist and contort yourself every which way to actually be able to speak through it. In the summer you feel like a tropical fish in that glass cage – it is hot, and the air from the air conditioner in the courtroom does not circulate through the glass. It was hard for me and Platon – two people – to be in the aquarium together the whole day. I can not even imagine how all three of those poor girls manage to fit in there at once…

Mikhail Khodorkovsky on Pussy Riot

Spencer Ackerman explains how this is going to look, whatever the outcome of the trial:

It almost doesn't matter what the court says. The three women of Pussy Riot -- an explosive, obnoxious cross between a band and an anonymous Russian dissidents' movement -- have, in an important sense, already won their farce of a trial in Moscow. Every day that their trial for "hooliganism motivated by religious hatred" continues, they call international attention to the paranoid repression of Vladimir Putin's Russia. Pussy Riot has skewered Putin on the horns of a dilemma: Either his government convicts the band and martyrs it even further, or it backs down and concedes that prosecuting the masked trio for a cacophonous musical protest at Christ the Savior Cathedral that called attention to the Russian church's alliance with the Putin regime was always a mistake. Three of the five band members now face the prospect of seven years in prison, which has prompted an unlikely international outcry. On Thursday, Aug. 2, ahead of a meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron, Putin indicated he'd prefer to back down.

Making Punk a Threat Again

No matter what the outcome of the trial, Russia's leaders are the ones who end up looking like pussies - afraid of a punk band made up of young women who, near as anyone can tell, have never really been a threat to anyone.

That statement by Putin that Spencer Ackerman referred to didn't help matters.

A state prosecutor on Tuesday demanded a three-year jail term for three women from punk band Pussy Riot, saying they had abused God when they burst into a Moscow cathedral and sang a "protest prayer" against the Russian Orthodox Church's close links to Vladimir Putin.

Russian prosecutor seeks jail terms for female punk rock band

A dictator describing a three-year sentence as lenient for an act that could at worst be described as bad taste doesn't scream "pathetic rationalization", now does it?

Amnesty International has an online petition in support of Pussy Riot. While these things don't normally mean much, it's one way of letting Putin and his goons know that the rest of the world is watching. AI have had some success pressuring leaders over the years, and, as we like to say here in America, the optics don't look good on this one.

There is also a campaign website called Free Pussy Riot with news and more information about other actions.

(h/t Taylor Marsh for a couple of those links.)

A Tale Of Two Hypocrisies

Caption: The new, way better USS Zumwalt, a new class of destroyer scheduled to launch starting next year. In contrast to all those "entitlement" programs that just keep us healthy and employed, it has lots of shooty, blowy-uppy things. You want to pay for that, right?

Image credit: U.S. Navy/Wikimedia

Just a couple of things that caught my attention today that demonstrate what our rulers are up to these days. The first is an article at Talking Points Memo, explaining how all of a sudden defense contractors are into the "tax and spend" philosophy:

The very real possibility that defense programs will suffer deep, across the board spending cuts early next year has major defense contractors and their allies making an unusual plea to members of Congress: Put everything on the table to avoid the so-called sequester — including higher taxes. That might not sound like an extraordinary ask. But it’s typical for incumbent interests to leave all questions of ways and means to Congress. And given the defense industry’s enormous power and historic alignment with the GOP, it could have enough force to finally break the GOP of its anti-tax absolutism.

Defense Industry Leans On Congress — Avoid Cuts, Even If It Means More Taxes

Which just goes to show that within every conservative there's a liberal just waiting for self-interest to set him free.

Image credit: Parody by Cujo359 (See NOTE)

Not that the GOP is alone in its commitment to hypocrisy. Emptywheel fills us in on what the Obama Administration is claiming in a U.S. District Court regarding seizure of electronic data on the Internet:

The ruling sucks for al-Haramain. But it has larger implications. Effectively, the 9th Circuit is saying there’s no way to hold the government accountable for simply collecting your telecommunications illegally; you can only hold them accountable if they use that information in a trial.

9th Circuit: No Way to Punish the Government If They Illegally Collect (But Don’t Use) Your Telecommunications

We transact business over the Internet every day. Some people's entire business is done over the Internet - independent software vendors, for instance. Our bank records and all our other private information goes over it as well.

When are the courts going to catch up with events of the late Twentieth Century? The phrase “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” means the government isn’t allowed to seize those things without reason. That means that when the government collects information on the Internet, which includes what would be considered “papers”, they are seizing our papers without due process.

That provision doesn't just apply to trials. It means the government can't seize those things, period. They don't have to bring it to trial to use it against you. Just ask Eliot Spitzer.

Of course, as we learned during the 2008 primary, Barack Obama is no stranger to the idea that the rules are somehow different when something is composed of flowing electrons. Anyone who thinks that it's OK to seize someone else's work without paying for it because it's on the Internet is certainly not likely to be bothered by his government seizing anything else it can get its hands on. "Constitutional scholar", my furry butt.

So, there you have it - two tales of hypocrisy, one from each "side". So, not only are we fair here, we're balanced.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sunday Photo

In case you were wondering what all that pink sparkly light was in our last Sunday Photo(s), it was this:

Image credit: Cujo359

That's the Experience Music Project in the bright afternoon sunshine. It's amazing no one is blinded by it.

Click on the picture to enlarge, and enjoy your Sunday.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Jon Stewart On Cultural Superiority

Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's bigoted comments regarding the cultural superiority of the United States and Israel versus some of their neighbors receives a justified skewering from Jon Stewart on The Daily Show:

This is a wonderful example of how it can be easier to point up the folly of peoples' prejudices using comedy than trying to make a serious case. To anyone familiar with the reasons the Palestinians are where they are now, Romney's comments are absurd. I don't discount cultural differences, but there's a hell of a lot more going on here than two cultures that started out on even terms. For a variety of economic, geographic, and historical reasons, Israel has had an advantage from the early days of their formation. Glossing over all that in favor of extolling the superior culture of the Israelis is an insultingly stupid comment, even by the standards of today's political discourse.

Quote Of The Day

From Glenn Greenwald:

Via BuzzFeed and Spencer Ackerman, here is the logo for the U.S. Navy’s executive offices for its drone planes:

Why do they hate us?

Extremism Normalized

As weapons program symbols go at the DoD, this isn't any more morbid or aggressive than most. Still, I'd have to think that, at least for the recipients of our UAV strikes, this would be in poor taste. These aircraft are so small and stealthy that the people in the area may not know they are under attack until they hear an explosion. Combine that with our propensity for using them in countries with whom we're not at war, and I think Greenwald's rhetorical question is a good one.