Saturday, March 5, 2011

An American Being Tortured...By Americans

This makes me sick. I don't understand why Americans aren't more upset about this.

To follow-up on yesterday's observations about the prolonged forced nudity to which Bradley Manning has been subjected the last two days: brig officials now confirm to The New York Times that Manning will be forced to be nude every night from now on for the indefinite future -- not only when he sleeps, but also when he stands outside his cell for morning inspection along with the other brig detainees. They claim that it is being done "as a 'precautionary measure' to prevent him from injuring himself."

Has anyone before successfully committed suicide using a pair of briefs -- especially when under constant video and in-person monitoring? There's no underwear that can be issued that is useless for killing oneself? And if this is truly such a threat, why isn't he on "suicide watch" (the NYT article confirms he's not)? And why is this restriction confined to the night; can't he also off himself using his briefs during the day?

This is America. Fucking America! We are torturing a soldier, an American, who has been convicted of no crimes. Whatever you think of what he did, how can you think this is the proper course of action? We prosecuted Germans who tortured people in World War II. We convicted Japanese of the same thing. Charles Taylor Jr. was convicted in a federal court for torture committed in Liberia. This, of course, is just the start of it. We have charged many people in criminal courts for torturing people.

So, why do we seem to be okay with letting Bradley Manning be tortured by the military?

People should be marching in the streets for this sort of thing. Unfortunately, in this day and age people don't seem to get fired up about a problem until it affects them directly. Bush and Cheney opened up a Pandora's Box when they started permitting torture and we are seeing now the fruits of their labor. I will be sending strongly worded emails to both of my Senators. I wish there was more I could do, but I feel rather helpless. I hope other people speak up, too.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

State of Affairs

How about a funny?

A unionized public employee, a member of the Tea Party, and a CEO are sitting at a table. In the middle of the table there is a plate with a dozen cookies on it. The CEO reaches across, takes 11 cookies, looks at the Tea Partier, and says, "Look out for that union guy, he wants a piece of your cookie."

From A Tiny Revolution.

A Dance With Dragons

The long-awaited (five-and-a-half years!) fifth book of the A Song of Ice and Fire series finally has a publication date! Hallelujah! I'm glad Martin took the time to get it right, but I sure hope the next one doesn't take as long. I'm sure HBO feels the same way considering the TV adaptation is beginning in April.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Blade Runner Prequels and Sequels Coming

Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies of all time - of all time! - which is why I'm not really excited to see that prequels and sequels are coming. The odds of these being any good are slim. How can anyone come close to matching the movies's dark, moody cinematography, the sparse but dense script (watch the director's cut, not the original with the shoddy voice-over), and the beautiful final words of Roy Batty.

Leave well enough alone, I say. Not that Hollywood is any good at that.

"A great person"

Words you don't use to describe someone who just stabbed their own infant child to death.

The Right to Be a Supreme Asshole

The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Westboro Baptist Church today, saying they had a right to picket funerals. As much as it pains me to say it, this is the right decision. Fred Phelps and his followers are amongst the worst sort of scum. Their hate-filled rants against homosexuals, Jews, Catholics deserve all the scorn that can be mustered. The First Amendment gives them the right to spread their filth, however, and restrictions of that right need to be done very, very carefully. We don't let people falsely shout "Fire!" in a crowded theater because it could lead to harm. Members of the WBC were far enough away from the funeral from which this (most recent) lawsuit ensued that their actions were not considered stalking or harassment. They should be allowed to do what they do because restricting their speech is a slippery slope that we should not start down.

The best thing to be done about things like this is to exercise one's own free speech and counter-protest. Excellent examples of this can be found here.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Quote of the Day

"[I]t's one of the weirder aspects of our political circumstances that being a hypocrite is a much greater moral failing than being deeply cruel." -Adam Serwer

Laws Should Make Sense

Radley Balko writes about a cop who had consensual sexual relations with two girls, one 16 and the other 17. Now he's been convicted of having child pornography because he had nude pictures of both of the girls.

Here's the catch, though. In Indiana, where this occurred, the age of consent is 16. So, the cop could legally have sex with the girls. He could also have legally married the girls without their parents' permission. But, he could not have pictures of them in the nude because according to federal law, pictures like this are child pornography.

Whatever you think about what he did, this seems rather ludicrous. Laws need to line up together and work in tandem. What's the point in having a law saying it's okay to have sex with someone of a certain age, but not being permitted to have nude pictures of them? Either the age of consent needs to go up or the child porn laws need to have exceptions for people of consenting age. This guy presents no danger at all to society, but he's now stuck in prison for fifteen years. Was what he did smart? Probably not. But locking him up for a long period of time accomplishes nothing except costing taxpayers a good chunk of change.

**I couldn't resist the opportunity to post a picture of Matthew McConaughey from Dazed and Confused. "That's what I love about these High School girls man. I get older, they stay the same age. Yes they do."

Game of Thrones Trailer

Another trailer for this series.

There are not words to describe how excited I am for this.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Using Tech to Beat the System

This is a beautiful use of technology.

The cop cited him for going over 40 mph in a 25 zone, which he was too frazzled to contest at the time. After he had cooled down and parked his car later, he remembered that he had been running the My Tracks app by Google which records your GPS info and speed. Pulling up the data, he found that he hadn't been speeding. When his court date arrived, he plead not guilty, presented his GPS data, and successfully got out of the ticket.

Words Matter

A woman who wrote an article who wrote an article about helping the poor back in the 1960s is getting death threats now after Glenn Beck blamed her paper for leading to the current economic crisis.

Piven is a professor at the City College of New York. Back in 1966, she and her late husband, Richard Cloward, wrote an article for The Nation outlining a plan to help the poor of New York and other big cities to get on welfare.

In their research, they found that not all the poor who were eligible to receive welfare actually did. They advocated that all the nation's eligible poor should apply. They felt such a strain to city budgets would force Washington to address the poverty problem.

Forty-five years later, Beck took to the airwaves of Fox News and his own radio program, warning the public about the obscure article.

"Let me introduce you to the people who you would say are fundamentally responsible for the unsustainability and possible collapse of our economic system. They're really two people," he said, "Cloward and Piven."

For about the last three months, week after week, Beck's been hammering away at Piven and her husband. From their 45-year-old article, he sees a vast conspiracy to overthrow the American financial system.


Soon after Beck made her infamous, Piven says hundreds of death threats poured into her e-mail account and conservative blogs. Things like, "'May cancer overtake you soon!'" Piven says. She ended up asking the FBI and state police for help.

While Piven acknowledges that Glenn Beck has never advocated violence against her, she still feels Beck's screeds led directly to the threats against her life.

Words matter. Words have an impact. If they didn't we wouldn't be reading Homer, the Bible, and Shakespeare hundreds or thousands of years after they were written. Of course Glenn Beck isn't responsible for the crazy actions his listeners take, but he is responsible for creating a toxic atmosphere that can lead to things like sending old ladies death threats. Anyone who has any sort of audience has a responsibility to speak in such a way as to create a respectful atmosphere. There is nothing wrong with vehement disagreement, but it shouldn't cross the boundary into over the top denunciations of your opponent ("Ground Zero mosque supporters are Nazis!") That doesn't move the debate forward at all not to mention if you make connections like this, mentally unbalanced people are going to think, "Gee, shouldn't we be taking drastic action to stop this person if they are a Nazi/Communist/unAmerican?"

Again, Beck (or Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Dinesh D'Souza) is not responsible for the actions taken by some nutjob who listens to them. That doesn't mean, though, that they should just say whatever they want and then after something happens, shrug, saying "It's not my fault."

No More Reincarnating Without Permission

China cracks down on the growing reincarnation problem.

In one of history's more absurd acts of totalitarianism, China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission. According to a statement issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the law, which goes into effect next month and strictly stipulates the procedures by which one is to reincarnate, is "an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation." But beyond the irony lies China's true motive: to cut off the influence of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual and political leader, and to quell the region's Buddhist religious establishment more than 50 years after China invaded the small Himalayan country. By barring any Buddhist monk living outside China from seeking reincarnation, the law effectively gives Chinese authorities the power to choose the next Dalai Lama, whose soul, by tradition, is reborn as a new human to continue the work of relieving suffering.

I can't say that I'm really a supporter of the Chinese government, but I think this is an excellent step in the right direction for them. I hope the next step is preventing people from getting to heaven without their permission.

Blame It On Top Gun

A case is made that Top Gun was the film that started Hollywood's downward spiral.

Then came Top Gun. The man calling the shots may have been Tony Scott, but the film's real auteurs were producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer, two men who pioneered the "high-concept" blockbuster—films for which the trailer or even the tagline told the story instantly. At their most basic, their movies weren't movies; they were pure product—stitched-together amalgams of amphetamine action beats, star casting, music videos, and a diamond-hard laminate of technological adrenaline all designed to distract you from their lack of internal coherence, narrative credibility, or recognizable human qualities. They were rails of celluloid cocaine with only one goal: the transient heightening of sensation.

Top Gun landed directly in the cortexes of a generation of young moviegoers whose attention spans and narrative tastes were already being recalibrated by MTV and video games. That generation of 16-to-24-year-olds—the guys who felt the rush of Top Gun because it was custom-built to excite them—is now in its forties, exactly the age of many mid- and upper-midrange studio executives. And increasingly, it is their taste, their appetite, and the aesthetic of their late-'80s postadolescence that is shaping moviemaking. Which may be a brutally unfair generalization, but also leads to a legitimate question: Who would you rather have in charge—someone whose definition of a classic is Jaws or someone whose definition of a classic is Top Gun?

The Top Gun era sent the ambitions of those who wanted to break into the biz spiraling in a new direction. Fifteen years earlier, scores of young people headed to film schools to become directors. With the advent of the Reagan years, a more bottom-line-oriented cadre of would-be studio players was born, with an MBA as the new Hollywood calling card. The Top Gun era shifted that paradigm again—this time toward marketing. Which was only natural: If movies were now seen as packages, then the new kings of the business would be marketers, who could make the wrapping on that package look spectacular even if the contents were deficient.

The whole piece is worth reading. Hollywood is in a sad state these days, but even though the author blames Top Gun for the start of it he ultimately blames us for continuing to pay to see the shallow crap put out these days.