The Widdershins

Archive for February 2015

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.


A wintry Wednesday to all our Widdershin friends. I hope you are warm and enjoying mobility without the assistance of a dogsled team. I’m still on the puny side. This round of meds seems to have me just behind Bruce Jenner in my transition or so it seems. As we say here in the Big Blue Nation of Kentucky Wildcat basketball, this course of steroids has me in the throes of men-o-paws.

About half my day is spent in fits of hot flashes, shaking nervousness, and just general unfocused anxiety. All I can say is if I had had one chromosome of athletic ability, steroids would have been enough to send me back to the library as the nerd I was destined to be. Even watching the Westminster Dog Show, ’roid rage has caused me to be irritated at the Affenpincher.

As a way of introduction into today’s subject, let’s review: In the thirteen years since 9/11, almost 8,000 Americans have Democracybeen killed and somewhere between half a million to a million Iraqis and Afghanis are dead, we have irrevocably broken or maimed hundreds of thousands of others, spent about $3.0 Trillion, and perfected the art of creating failed nation states courtesy of what conservative thought leaders call the “worst foreign policy decisions in the history of the country.”

Astonishingly, in these thirteen years only 65 Americans have been victims of what could be conceivably described as terrorist acts. While uncomfortably close to the modern-day heresy of science, statistically, there is a 1 in 1,700,000 chance of dying at the hands of terrorists. Conversely and with an astronomically higher probability, you have a 1 in 700,000 chance of being bonked in the head by a meteor.

Yet in these thirteen years there has not been an iota of reexamination in the foundational premise of nation building — a neo-con anathema until Dubya’s selection as President. Since that time nation building, premised upon democratization, has been the vestigial tail plaguing the fever dream wars of the neo-cons. No one dares question this last point since one-size-fits-all democracy is little more than a third grade panacea plumbed from the intellectual depths of a dime store mirror.

What got me thinking about this was last Sunday morning’s discussion on Meet the Chuckles Todd. Senator Jack Reed was giving the Democratic perspective and John “Get off my yard” McCain was giving the Republican spin. As might be expected, Reed thought we should have never invaded Iraq and McCain thought we should have never left Iraq. Yawn. Neither inquiry was much beyond the old axiom of, “If all you have in your toolbox is a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.”

Translated into the lack of American foreign policy self-reflection, this axiom becomes: When you have the most lethal and effective armed forces in the history of the world, everything begins to look like a war. Here’s a news flash — we can bomb extremists with impunity, but it will never eradicate the extremism. We have tried to force the hammer of participatory democracy into hands ill-prepared to do much beyond break, harm, or kill based upon insular tribal philosophies.

My thinking on this subject was bolstered by an excellent piece of long-form journalism in The New Yorker by Jon Lee Anderson entitled The Unraveling. The subject is Libya and the east/west civil war now consuming the failed nation. It is a long read, but a good one detailing the unintended consequences of a possible Somalia on the Mediterranean. Given the long historical affiliation of France and Libya, France led the interventionist charge with the U.K and the U.S. reluctantly agreeing, but agreeing nonetheless.

A French philosopher named Bernard-Henri Levy was one of the first to lead the charge for intervention. Here are his reasons when asked, “Why did you support attacking and intervening in Libya?”

Why? I don’t know! Of course, it was human rights, for a massacre to be prevented, and blah, blah, blah — but I also wanted them to see a Jew defending the liberators against a dictatorship, to show fraternity. I wanted the Muslims to see that a Frenchman — a Westerner and a Jew — could be on their side.

At its essence are these words any different from the heraldic claims of “American exceptionalism” surrounding the Iraq War? Granularly, it’s the same egotism as “American exceptionalism” — whatever that is — showing the world we are draped in deep blue hero stuff and whatever we do couldn’t possibly be as bad as the unknowns lurking just beyond the horizon.

Gen. Khalifa Haftar, former Qaddifi operative and financed political refugee, former CIA affiliated Virginia resident, now, General of the Libyan National Army

Gen. Khalifa Haftar, former Qaddifi operative and financed political refugee, former CIA affiliated Virginia resident, now, General of the Libyan National Army

What is politically suicidal in questioning this type of American egotism is a simple truism: Need begets despair and that desperation fathers violence. It is this orphaned violence that then looks for meaning by craving a sense of self and needing a place to be. It is this type of violence that easily falls prey to the perfect predator of a cause, be it ISIL, Al Qaeda, jihadists, ethnic militias, tribal warlords, or disaffected young men trolling the internet.

To dare advance such a notion is inviting an instantaneous political scrum with you at the bottom. A perfect example is Deputy State Department Spokesperson Marie Harf who said essentially what I have written here and was met with a vociferous cacophony of derision.

It seems as if this lesson though, without being enunciated as a policy, might be gaining purchase. We can no longer police the region of the Middle East while at the same time being criticized by the beneficiaries of that unending patrol. For instance, after twenty-one Egyptian Christians were symbolically beheaded on the Mediterranean shore facing Rome (either old Rome or “new Rome” of Constantinople), another 45 burned alive, Egypt started bombing Libya. Jordan and the U.A.E. are bombing Syria. Europe is now reexamining its own security and reconsidering criticism of the intelligence troves we have supplied them through NSA phone intercepts.

All in all, sixty countries are now contemplating their own positions and policies regarding terrorism and radicalization. It seems nothing so much as concentrates an autocratic despot as his impending demise at the hands of a murderous mob.

It is just this simple — a ballot box will never resolve radical extremism without first being preceded by a lunch box. We can never expect a mishmash of 7th century theology to be superimposed on the realities of the 21st century and translate into anything other than unfocused anger. It is this anger, unfettered by law or cultural ostracism, that finds its most productive channel in conspiracy theory atrocity barbarism.

There are successful models of this type of delayed democratization transformation — Singapore, Taiwan, One Size Fits AllSouth Korea, Malaysia — of setting in place the necessary structures for economic success before subjecting the transitioning government to the ballot box. It isn’t neat. It isn’t 30-second sound bite friendly. It isn’t quick. It does make us face an uncomfortable reality. Before we dismantle a country’s social structure — no matter how offensive it is to our traditional sensibilities — a compatible social structure must be in place to regulate and eventually modify behavior.

Why is this important? This issue will be the central focus of the 2016 Presidential campaign. Hillary is uniquely qualified to understand the inherent weaknesses of the old neo-con dogma. Let’s hope she has the opportunity and strength to bring that much-needed learning to the world.

Take the conversation in any direction you might like.

Good Monday, Widdershins! I hope you had a great weekend.57561bfbc898a20f6b_agm6bnzik

Recently, I saw a post about Hillary’s potential 2016 campaign that got me thinking about what’s ahead for her as she starts ramping up for her run. The Republicans she will run against are a freaking joke…none of them have a shot. What she will have to deal with is, once again, the rampant misogyny of the media. Thanks in part to the outraged voices of feminists in 2008, and the various organizations that grew out of that outrage (the Women’s Media Center being one), the misogyny is more hidden today. (I doubt Chris Matthews will be given the same leeway this time around…) But that doesn’t mean it won’t exist.

If I were someone who were sufficiently connected to give advice to the woman who, barring unforeseen circumstances, is poised to be our first female President, I think it would be something like this: Embrace who you are. Everyone is going to tell you that you failed in 2008 because you weren’t a compelling candidate, your campaign sucked, blah blah blah. For example:

And Clinton looked ungracious, at best, when former president Bill Clinton compared Obama’s South Carolina primary victory to that of Jesse Jackson, the African-American candidate who won the state in the 1980s….

This, to me, is misogynistic cr*p. You looked ungracious when your husband, known for many years as the “first Black President,” said something the media pretended was r*cist? But no one thought Obama was ungracious when he himself…well, did anything! Brushed you off his shoulder, asked women journalists whether they wanted a kiss…etc. etc.

Can you improve your campaign tactics? Sure, absolutely. But should you try to become more “likeable” (whatever that means) or change your image? No! Just be yourself, and play to your strengths. Like this:

Since she left the State Department, Clinton has spoken on all kinds of issues, from clean cook stoves to data collection to endangered elephants. But McIntosh says there’s an underlying theme that’s the right one for 2016: “There’s not a public speech that goes by … where she doesn’t talk about how we move forward by improving the lives of women and families. She should keep talking about that,” McIntosh says.

In my mind, you should go after women’s (and men’s) votes by being the woman you are, and always have been: the one who, in 1995, dared to go to China and say “Women’s rights are human rights.” Never run from that, no matter how the media might slam you for it.

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February 2015

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