The Widdershins

Good afternoon Widdershins. The “Elderly Testosterone-inhibited Personage of the December Solstice” — a prolixous way of saying, “Old Man Winter” just will not give it up. We are expecting perhaps a foot of snow this evening after four to six inches of rain plus all-time record low temperatures — floods, they are a’comin’ and yesterday was the anniversary of the tornado that completely chewed-up and destroyed our little town. Perhaps if Sen. Jim Inhofe were hog-tied to the newly replaced flagpole in our town square, as the leading Koch-head climate change denier, he might exhibit Jethro Bodine’s acumen for science or at least Jed Clampett’s commonsense.

Yesterday was a big day. Speaker John Boehner decided it was moderately unseemly to put the nation at risk based upon nothing more than a robust loathing of the President. He called up the funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security. Unfortunately, 167 members of his Republican caucus felt no such embarrassment or no such concern for our safety by voting against the matter. It’s just plain hard to overcome a good case of the Obama “hates”. If not for Nancy Pelosi once again riding to the rescue, Boehner would have found himself corseted and astraddle of the railroad tracks.

There was another thing happening in Washington yesterday. Something no one, not a single solitary soul, can recall ever netanyahu shifty eyeshappening before. John Boehner, the same one doing his best Nell Fenwick on the railroad tracks, cheekily welcomed Bibi Netanyahu to the well of the People’s House to challenge the foreign policy of this country.

All I could think about was the Eagles’ song Lyin’ Eyes and its refrain:

You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes
And your smile is a thin disguise.
I thought by now you’d realize there ain’t no way to hide your lyin’ eyes.

As a way to explain yesterday’s breach of protocol and seditious assault on our national sovereignty, I’ll use some of the words of Lyin’ Eyes to elaborate.  That is if you will suffer the not-so-poetic license I’ll employ.

You see, Bibi “just seemed to find out early how to open doors with just a smile.” His invitation to speak before a joint session was conjured between Boehner and Ron Dermer, the new Israeli U.S. Ambassador. Dermer is a graduate of the Frank Luntz Finishing School of Sewer Politics where the proud motto is “the biggest turd always travels the fastest“.

Netanyahu knows that “every form of refuge has it price” since a joint session of Congress was the way to cushion his falling popularity in the upcoming Israeli election, but Bibi knew he was “headed for the cheatin’ side of town”. What Netanyahu needed to convey back home was simple — he has so badly handled the relationship with the Obama Administration, he had to show he could go over the head of Obama and appeal directly to Congress. Trouble is — there are Generals, the Mossad, former officials, other candidates, Cabinet secretaries, and a majority of Israeli voters who lay the blame squarely on Netanyahu’s shoulders and have publicly stated his decision to speak was a mistake.

netanyahu bombBibi “wonders how it ever got this crazy? Did he get tired or did he just get lazy? He’s so far gone he feels just like a fool.” The premise of Netanyahu’s speech is incredibly inane. Inane is too urbane a word — his whole premise is something just short of a Three Stooges retrospective. Here’s Netanyahu’s logic: Although no deal has yet been negotiated, Netanyahu says whatever the deal might be, it must be rejected.

This leaves two prongs on the Lyin’ Eyes decision tree. Prong One is the incredibly asinine Bibi theory that proceeds like this: Iran is run by crazy, suicidal, apocalyptic mullahs who will suddenly awake under economic pressures of greater sanctions and suddenly, afore-noted craziness aside, come to the realization that electricity for the majority of their country is not such a big deal after all.

Prong Two will ring familiar. It is the military, occupation, regime change option. Since Iran starts with an “I” just like Iraq — all we have to do is dust off those plans since they worked so well last time. Just bombing the sites will delay the enrichment program two to three years at the most. The only long-term solution is forcibly ousting the theocratic Irani leadership and replacing them with something more suitable to Netanyahu’s preferences. Maybe Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld could be on the pledge rush committee? What can go wrong? The last time we installed a Shah everyone seemed to think it was a great idea.

Bibi “gets up and pours himself a strong one and stares out at the stars up in the sky. Another night, it’s gonna be a long one. He draws the shade and hangs his head to cry.” Netanyahu’s ability to forecast the future is as audacious as a slug’s pole vaulting ability. In 1992, as a member of the Knesset, Bibi said, “Iran will have an atomic weapon in three to five years.” In a 1995 book, Bibi wrote, “Iran will have an atomic weapon in three to five years.” That was twenty years ago.

Something more Cheney-esque and cogent to this review is Bibi’s strategic analysis in 2002. One year and one day after Cheney and Netanyahu9/11, September 12, 2002, Bibi, occupying an all important pivot position during a Cheney/Rumsfeld congressional circle jerk, declared Saddam Hussein had WMDs and was actively pursuing a nuclear arsenal. Thirteen years later Bibi made no mention of his 2002 Congressional testimony and his rush to war.

My, oh my, you sure know how to arrange things. You set it up so well, so carefully. Ain’t it funny how your new life didn’t change things. You’re still the same old person you used to be.” Yesterday was Netanyahu’s declaration of war. He made it clear he will act alone knowing full well the U.S., as a doting big brother, will come to the rescue.

But here’s the thing — these negotiations are not between the U.S. and Iran. These negotiations are among the P5 + 1 — U.K., France, Russia, China, U.S., plus Germany. Netanyahu didn’t just call Obama an incompetent fool yesterday. He didn’t just call the State Department a bunch of pikers. What he did was to arrogantly call out all the countries participating in these talks. He also offered not one whit of advice on how we negotiate around the five other powers if we go it alone. Forget a coalition. Forget funding. Forget U.N. participation. The Iranian war and occupation will be on our blood and our dime.

Bibi, “you can’t hide your lyin’ eyes”.

If there is shame in all of this and shame had a color, it should be orange. John Boehner wears it so well.

Take the conversation in any direction you might like.

Good Monday, Widdershins! Thanks to the FCC’s finally making a decision, telecom giants won’t be able to control which Internet sites load quickly and which ones load slowly – they will need to remain neutral. (They’ll still be able to charge a ridiculous amount of money for us to use Senator Ted Stephens’ “Series of Tubes” – but that’s beside the point.) And why did this happen? Because of activism – some of which may have included you. If so, well-done!

The chain of events leading to yesterday’s vote began when a federal appeals court in D.C. struck down existing net-neutrality rules in 2014 and the FCC began to consider whether broadband companies should be able to charge websites for better access, among other changes coveted by that industry.

The FCC opened up the debate over these possible changes to the public, and the agency was flooded with millions of public comments being filed — taking the telecommunications outrage record from those who complained about Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction in 2004. The Sunlight Foundation analyzed the comments and found that a majority seemed to support net neutrality.

The Sunlight Foundation’s analysis was scientific enough to determine that about 80% of the comments from the second round, released in October, were form letters submitted by the Koch brothers’ foundation American Commitment. Despite this phishing, the FCC voted the right way on this one.

Surprisingly, President Obama’s affinity with big business in general, he’s also been supportive of net neutrality. He even gave credit where credit was due.

After the commenting period closed, President Obama — who is on the record in support of net neutrality since at least 2007 — weighed in with a pro-net neutrality statement and mentioned that the FCC should listen to what the public was telling them. On Thursday, he tweeted about the FCC’s decision, again calling attention to the activists: “That’s the power of millions making their voices heard.” He also sent a note to Reddit congratulating the efforts of its users: “Earlier today, the FCC voted to protect a free and open internet — the kind of internet that allows entrepreneurs to thrive and debates over duck-sized horses and horse-sized ducks to persist.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest noted yesterday that the new rules were “in line and consistent with the position that the President had articulated last November.”

What does it mean for you and me? Per CNet, not a heck of a lot will change – it just means that whatever access speed we expect, we will continue to get for all sites. In other words, when we pay for fast access, your sites load quickly. If our corporate Interwebz overlords had had their way, we would have no way of guaranteeing access speed, no matter what we did individually. Each website would have to pay for load speed in tiers…and if the site owners weren’t rich enough to afford the high-speed tier (like many liberal and left-leaning organizations out there), then TS! Any guesses about how quickly this would skew web traffic to larger, corporate-owned outlets…the chilling effect it would have on free speech online? And knowing this, is it any wonder that there was so much pressure from big business to defeat Net Neutrality? Evil bastards.

I think we can all feel good about how this one went, Widdershins. It’s an outcome that Leonard Nimoy, whom we tragically lost to CPD on Friday, would have approved of most heartily. May free speech online continue to live long and prosper.

This is an open thread.

Happy weekend, Widdershins.  It’s time to extract what’s left of our psyche from the primordial goo of the previous week, and chill out.  This weekend, we’ll take chill to a whole new level.

As you may have heard, the District of Columbia has voted to legalize marijuana.  The House of Representatives (basically Jason Chaffitz) begs to differ.  Indeed, Congress does have oversight of the District, but I am personally rather amused that virtually all resistance to D.C.”s plan comes from the far-right wing of the Republican Party.

The Republican Party made its bones on the strenuous assertion of “Washington interference”.  Yessir, there should be more rights given to the individual, and laws should be written to lessen their impact upon ordinary citizens, leaving decisions to be made more so at the local and state levels.  Absolutely, except for the really important stuff, such as women’s health care and marijuana.  Those particular burning issues require scrupulous oversight.  Rep. Chaffitz advised residents of the District that they should move if they were bothered by this.

At any rate, D.C. passed the law, and they plan to go full speed ahead ignoring Congress.  This should be wildly entertaining, and I propose that we give them a playlist of pot-appropriate music.  Some explicitly refer to marijuana, and many are more nuanced.  Anything relevant will be welcomed, as usual.  Roll on, D.C.

This is an otherwise open thread.

(1) Rainy Day Women #12 and #35 – Bob Dylan, 1966

(2) Puff the Magic Dragon – Peter, Paul, and Mary, 1963

(3) One Toke Over the Line – Brewer and Shipley, 1971

(4) Let’s Go Get Stoned – Ray Charles, 1966

(5) Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam – Steppenwolfe. 1968

A good day Widdershin friends. I hope your day is a good one.

There’s the breaking news of the American Sniper killer, Eddie Ray Routh, being found guilty.  Routh was pronounced guilty in a mere three hours of jury deliberation that included a dinner break and was then promptly sentenced to life in prison. From a legal perspective, Routh being found guilty under Texas law is as about as remarkable as the sun appearing in the East this morning. There will be an unsuccessful appeal of the guilty verdict and this just in: The sun will set in the West this evening.

A couple of months back, I read an article in the NYT Magazine about the need to infuse robots with ethics in their Robot Thinkeroperating algorithms. The article was entitled Death by Robot. This need to technologically propagate a puritan guilt is a direct outgrowth of asking robots to do more.

While there are few ethical dilemmas associated with a Roomba sucking up kitty hair, there are some pretty significant dilemmas when a driverless Google car culls through its decision tree. In an emergency, does the driverless car plow over a pedestrian, hit an S.U.V., a safer Volvo, or a low passenger total Mini Cooper? This is the “moral math” that must be embedded within the operating algorithm of robots.

It’s the same concept as Isaac Asimov’s three rules in I, Robot, making sure the robot machine does its job without hurting the human for whom it works. All of these scenarios evoke the classic Ethics 101 situation known as the “trolley problem” — deciding whether a conductor should flip a switch that will kill one person to avoid a crash in which five would otherwise die.

The pearl of wisdom in this article is delivered via a quote at a U.N. conference on weapons by a Peter Asaro, a Stanford Law School scholar. He said:

A machine is not capable of considering the value of those human lives that it is about to end. And if they’re not capable of that and we allow them to kill people under the law, then we all lose dignity, in the way that if we permit slavery, it’s not just the suffering of those who are slaves but all of humanity that suffers the indignity that there are any slaves at all.

Immediately upon reading that quote my never-too-focused attention was diverted to thoughts about the “Authorization for the Use of Military Force” (AUMF) concerning ISIL as opposed to the existing AUMF passed before our ill-advised thirteen year walk-about in Iraq. The thought — forget the robots, how did our leaders do on the moral math of waltzing on a dance card that came to suck the life from perhaps a half a million humans and cost $3.0 Trillion?

These days the Googling machine makes looking back easier and more accurate than trying to remember. Here’s what we were talking about back in 2001 and 2002:

Ann Coulter was belching the indiscriminate carpet bombing of random Muslim countries without much regard for who actually planned 9/11 followed up by slaughtering Muslim leaders and forcibly converting any survivors to Christianity.

Bill Kristol called the failure to overthrow Hussein in 1991, “the biggest mistake we have made.”

We knew the fabricated news stories were baseless lies sourced from motivated defectors, but we ignored them with a collective “meh” since media sources were reigning in critical reporting of the Bush Administration due to viewer pressure and patriotic fervor.

We suffered through 4,500 press appearance from Pentagon officers and analysts to drum up support through op eds, leaked sourced stories, and innuendo.

George Will indelicately compared Democratic war critics to Nazi collaborators, Bolsheviks, Nixon, Jane Fonda, and Leninist “useful idiots”.

We knew there was an orchestrated campaign to manipulate public opinion through a PR office run by Cheney and Rumsfeld where the overriding objectives were “we don’t speak of Iraq exit strategies” and “Iraqi occupation will be a financial bonanza”.

The Iraq AUMF passed Congress on October 10, 2002.

I robotTake a look at this list here even though your memory might be robust. Time has a tendency to shave away the edges of inconvenient truths, bolster shreds of motivated reasoning, and drain any doubt from conformational bias. I had forgotten the rawness of this period and how unfocused vengeance had replaced any semblance of considered reflection.

So herein lies the rub: If no countenance of criticism was allowed from 2001 through the run-up and conduct of the Iraq War, where any and all criticism was treated as treasonous unpatriotic acts bordering on sedition, did we learn anything from taking up residence in the discomfort of the “uncanny valley” where morality never mixes with the known reality of facts?

Was the indignity of the atrocities so pungent and acrid that we have chosen to yet again forget the guilt to ease our conscience? Remarkably, if driverless robots were making these decisions, they wouldn’t have the luxury of “unlearning” factual reality — only humans are blessed with the ability to consciously ignore the guilt oozing from our compromised sense of morality.

Take the conversation in any direction you might like.

Good Monday, Widdershins.   Mad is in the midst of a weather-travel-work snafu, so I’ll do my best to fill in with a quick post.

The Republicans are back in the driver’s seat, having garnered a number of congressional seats.  There were also some eye-popping gubernatorial picks ups in true blue states such as Massachusetts and Maryland.  With both hands firmly on the wheel, the Republican Party is now cruising full-tilt, and they just cannot wait to take us on the ride of a lifetime.

Mitch McConnell has already claimed that the economic progress is not really of an incremental nature over a multi-year period of time that featured his party doing everything possible to stymie progress at every possible juncture.  Instead he views this as a sudden blast of consumer confidence which exploded with the knowledge that the Republican party has America’s backs.  McConnell joins the likes of Jeb Bush in fretting that the middle class has been left out of the booming prosperity enjoyed by the 1%-ers.  I know that I shall sleep better, secure in the knowledge that the Republican Party is going to take care of me.

The Republican all-stars in Congress will first need to do something – and quickly – about the DHS budget.  All of those nightmarish cantaloupe-calved illegals will stream across the Rio Grande, and likely will have hordes of measles-infected ISIS warriors in tow.  Of course, this will all be the Democrats’ fault, as they are obstructing the good and orderly progress for which the Repubs are famous.  Damn the Democrats, anyway, especially the leadership.  Further, we have learned from “America’s Mayor” Rudy Giuliani, that the entire problem rests squarely at the foot of the President, who just does not love America.  And worse, he has no leadership, or he would just go to Congress and get what he wants.  Yep, just like that.

Oh, goody!  A return to militant patriotism, as demonstrated so nobly by Dick Cheyney.  Actually, the Mayor and the Veep have draft avoidance in common, both gentlemen having amassed a dizzying number of draft deferments.  Seems that they were far too busy loving and serving America to actually provide the military service in wartime that they tout for everyone else.  Further, I’m pressed to see how a law school graduate can, with a straight face, claim to know what is an another person’s mind or heart.  That would be laughably inadmissible in any courtroom.

At any rate, Giuliani’s comments have been oft-discussed this week, and have brought forth an editorial in the Wall Street Journal in which he furiously backpedals, blaming any “misinterpretations” on his being “blunt”.  To wit:

There has been no shortage of news coverage—and criticism—regarding comments I made about President Obama at a political gathering last week in New York. My blunt language suggesting that the president doesn’t love America notwithstanding, I didn’t intend to question President Obama’s motives or the content of his heart. My intended focus really was the effect his words and his actions have on the morale of the country, and how that effect may damage his performance. Let me explain.

There is quite an explanation, none of which makes a great deal of sense, that you can read from the link, and then he closes:

Over my years as mayor of New York City and as a federal prosecutor, I earned a certain reputation for being blunt. The thoughts I express, whether clearly or ambiguously, are my own and they are my individual responsibility. But whether you agree or not with what I said last week, I hope the intention behind those words can be the basis for a real conversation about national leadership and the importance of confidence and optimism in framing America’s way forward. I hope also that our president will start acting and speaking in a way that draws sharp, clear distinctions between us and those who threaten our way of life.

One man’s blunt is another’s rude.  If this is a return to sanity, it’s a bumpy on-ramp.  This is an open thread.

 

 

 

Good Sunday, Widdershins,  The Academy Awards presentations will begin shortly, and the red carpet if flush (pun intended) with beautifully dressed Hollywood royalty.  There are some interesting nominees this year, but as usual, basically of the white and male ilk.  (I have to wonder how they manage nominees for Best Actress categories.  It must be painful.)  Anyhow, what better time for a drinking game then how? I must confess that this is not original.  I am not sufficiently savvy about the culture to do a decent job, so I will reprint the one from Cloture Club.  Should you wish to add to or amend the rules, feel free to do so.  And, as always, please drink responsibly.

– Drink 1 whenever host Neil Patrick Harris breaks into song. – Tap your glass and drink one to J.K. Simmons’ tempo if he wins for WHIPLASH. – Drink for as long as the music plays a winner off the stage – Yell Hack the Planet and Drink 2 if the Sony leak or “hacking” is mentioned. – Be the dominant. Make someone submit to taking a drink if Fifty Shades of Grey is mentioned. – Don’t drink… anything… if someone makes a joke about Bill Cosby. – Drink 1 and squawk if Birdman wins any award. – Drink if the much-deserved frontrunner, Patricia Arquette, pulls out a prepared speech. Finish your drink if she surprises everyone and speaks off the top of her head. – Nurse your beer if the fake baby from American Sniper gets a shoutout. – Each time you hear the theme song for Boyhood, take a drink for every year that elapsed during filming. (Hint: it took 11 years to finish the film).

This is an otherwise open thread.

Happy Friday, Widdershins!  This weekend brings all of the glitz and glamour of the Oscars, where the best and the brightest are honored – or just plain snubbed.

I am far from a film critic.  I could not call myself a connoisseur with a straight face.  I do, however, really enjoy a good movie, a great performance, and amazing film.  Therefore I watch the Oscars most years.  Some years I completely understand the choices, and others find me dumbfounded, and wondering what the hey I must have missed when I say the film.  Who knows?  Certainly not me.

I suggest that we pay tribute to the Oscars by posting our favorites of all time.  Any year, any category – whatever you like will be fine.  I’ve selected one in five different categories, and am anticipating yours, so post away in this otherwise open thread.

(1) Best Picture – “The Graduate”, 1967

(2) Best Actor – George C. Scott for “Patton”, 1970

(3) Best Actress – Sally Field for “Norma Rae”, 1979

(4) Best Original Score for a Musical – Saul Chaplin, Johnny Green, Sid Ramin, and Irwin Kostal  for “West Side Story”, 1961

(5) Best Cinematography –  John Toll, for “Braveheart”, 1995.

Have a great weekend, y’all.

 

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