Support Denmark, Defend Freedom

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Mayor McSleaze

I'm not ordinarily a proponent of the death penalty, but I might make an exception for this guy.


Hypocrisy at the NRA

Dave Codrea shows that it's apparently not about freedom after all.


Darfur needs an intervention

Over at Dean's World, Aziz is asking the right questions:
Can anyone explain to me why the heck we haven't just gone in bombed the crap out of the janjaweed militias in Darfur yet?

It's a simple question. Why are we discussing potential airstrikes on Iran but none on the murdering children-mutilating rapist thug scum?

I'd love to say that the right answer is that the UN is on it, so we don't have to worry, but it's impossible to be that drunk and still type. So here are several reasons why we have done next to nothing while genocide is being committed:

Bombing alone won't solve the problem. We (or someone, anyway) would have to get a substantial number of troops in country. This is quite possibly logistically impossible because of our committment in Iraq: Ironically, by not sending more troops into Iraq early on, when they might have made a huge difference, Rumsfeld probably has ensured that we can't draw down our forces there now. (Ironic to me, probably not so ironic to our troops or to the people dying in Iraq Darfur.)

But even if it we could somehow pull it off logistically, there are a host of other political problems inherent in any American troop committment, particularly in Africa. You'll have your charges that the US is imperialistic, hegemonistic, and racist, for starters. Let's face it: as long as we are the world's only superpower, much of the world is going to fear and/or loathe us. Already, everything we do is perceived in the worst possible light, everything action we take is considered selfish. (And if that's how Democrats feel, imagine how foreigners feel.)

The commenters at Dean's World give some thoughtful answers to Aziz's question, summed up thusly:

"Why does America have do to everything? Let someone else doing something for a change."

"We can't do everything." (The logistics issue I brought up earlier.)

"We'll be called imperialists, racists, etc." (Also mentioned above.)

"Iranian nukes are a potential threat to America. Dead people in Darfur are not."

"What's happening in Darfur is horrible, but it's not our problem."

(This is, of course, a gross oversimplification of the comments. I should also point out that commenters were presenting the reasons they think we're not bombing the bad guys in Darfur, reasons they don't necessarily agree with.)

In my mind, these comments ultimately come down to two trains of thought. First, that we can only do so much in so many places, and what we do isn't appreciated anyway, so it's time for someone else to step forward and pick up the slack. And second, that the events in Darfur are definitely tragic, but absent a threat to the US, our military should not get involved.

I call these the "disgruntled neocon" and "military isolationist" positions.

Disgruntled neocons are generally all for getting militarily involved in other nations' affairs, even if those affairs don't directly threaten the US. However, they're sick to death of the name calling and America-bashing that inevitably accompany such involvement, much of it from our supposed allies across the pond, who for the most part refuse to do any of the work. The disgruntlecons think it's high time some European nations starting pulling their weight, rather than sitting on the sidelines and criticizing those who get in the game.

Military isolationists think that US military might should be used only in direct defense of America. For the most part, they are not true isolationists who want to withdraw from the world: they are all for America intervening in places like the Sudan, just not militarily. They urge (or at the very least have no problem with) the use of diplomacy, sanctions, and other measures to help resolve situations; they just don't think that any American troops should be asked to risk their lives unless America is directly threatened.

I have some sympathy with both positions, for overlapping reasons. It is definitely frustrating to the point of genuine rage that we are for the most part the only nation on the planet that is ever willing to stick its neck out, and as thanks for this we get condescendingly sneered at by the so-called "sophisticates" of Europe, dragged through the streets by the people we're trying to help in Somalia, and told we are stupid, selfish, ignorant, vain, and the most evil and repressive country in the word by just about everyone except the Israelis. If I were president my first act after being sworn in would be to recall all military personnel from Europe, along with their weapons systems. The Soviet Union is gone, and it's long past time we stopped subsidizing Europe's defense. (My second action would be to withdraw from the UN and give Kofi Annan-intervention 30 days to pack up his corrupt and bloated staff and find a home elsewhere.)

But here's the thing. None of those things ultimately matter to me, because I can't get past the numbers. The civilian death toll in Darfur is currently estimated to be 180,000, according to UN humanitarian affairs chief Jan Egeland.
"It could be just as well more than 200 000 (dead) but I think 10 000 a month is a reasonable figure," said Egeland who emphasised that the toll does not include those killed in the fighting between the local black population and government-backed militias. [emphasis mine]
On top of this is the displacement of 2 million people, a number that is expected to rise to around 4 million unless efforts at stabilization are stepped up. Then throw in the countless rapes committed by the Janjaweed militias as they wantonly destroy entire villages.

Enough.

For the same reason I supported going into Iraq, I think that, whatever the downsides, we have to intervene in Darfur, and we have to do it quicky and with everything we've got. Sometimes "This cannot stand" is the only reason you need for taking action, and this is one of those times. I will never understand how 300,000 bodies in mass graves along with the existence of rape rooms and torture chambers were not enough for most liberals to fervently support military action in Iraq. If that's not enough, if you think the figures from Darfur aren't enough to override any negative consequences, then what the hell is your tipping point? How many people have to die to meet your standard, what number has to be plugged into your equation of death? How many Sudanese equal one American?

If the Europeans want to sit on their nuanced asses and pretend they're in any way still relevant, fine. The ones who don't escape to the US will all be dues paying members of the Caliphate soon anyway. (Sometimes you really do reap what you sow.)

If people want to question our motives and call us names, let them. As long as we know that our motives are humanitarian, who cares? Call us racists as our multi-ethnic armed forces save the lives of people who happen to be black. Call us imperialists after we do our job and give the country back to its people. Call us evil and repressive as we liberate another country from thugs while you do nothing. Saving lives is far more important than worrying about what Le Monde and Stern say about us.

It's already too late to prevent mass murder. It's not too late to prevent more deaths, and it's long past time we take care of the killers.

Like it or not, as usual it's up to us.


Saturday, April 29, 2006

United 93 reviewed

United 93 is one of the most powerful films I've ever seen, and a total triumph for writer-director Paul Greengrass and everyone else involved in its making.

All politics and subject matter aside, United 93 is nearly perfect as a film. The acting is uniformly naturalistic and pitch perfect, with standout performances from Patrick St. Esprit as Major Kevin Nasypany, an Air Force officer assigned to Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), and FAA National Operations Manager Ben Sliney as himself. (Anyone who thinks it's easy to play yourself - especially for a non-actor - doesn't understand how much the camera changes everything.) But all the actors perform admirably, and Greengrass' decision to not use easily recognizable faces in any of the roles pays off in a huge way. I can't imagine how bad a film this would have been with Brad Pitt as Beamer, Gene Hackman as Sliney, and Naveen Andrews and Tony Shalhoub as two of the hijackers.

For awhile I found it a bit frustrating that I never got the passengers' names straight or got a real feel for their personalities (I actually spent most of the movie thinking the wrong guy was Todd Beamer), but I suspect this was intentional on Greengrass' part. Not assigning identifiable characteristics to the passengers serves two purposes: first, it avoids the Hollywood cliches of "the funny one," "the brainy one," "the dumb but loveable one," etc. After all, this ain't Friends. Second, not knowing much about them in an odd way makes it easier to identify with them: they are Every Americans. None of them is Superman or Wonder Woman, they're just ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances, and we can imagine ourselves in their place. Also, since the film takes place in close to real time, the reality is that there really isn't much time for character development.

United 93 is technically flawless. Greengrass, cinematographer Barry Ackroyd and a team of three editors combine to give the film its documentary feel. The use of handheld cameras is extremely effective at portraying the state of chaos that exists in air traffic control centers even when planes aren't being hijacked, and the camera is never in the wrong place during the close quarters filming of the scenes aboard Flight 93. John Powell's music is made more effective by its absence throughout most of the film: this is not a shot at his score, but a compliment to Greengrass' decision to let much of the movie proceed unaccompanied by anything other than occasional tension-building drumbeats. When Powell's music kicks in towards the end, the emotional effect is overwhelming to an extent it wouldn't have been if we had been hearing the same motifs throughout. Visual effects are seamless - there is never a moment when you don't believe you're on the plane, or in the control center.

The scenes inside the FAA's Command Center and regional control centers, along with those inside NORAD, are riveting and allow us to see professionals operating (mostly) at their best amidst their total confusion at what was happening. (There are several instances of characters disbelievingly saying that they couldn't even remember the last time a plane was hijacked.) Seeing the thousands of radar blips on multiple screens, each blip representing an airplane flying along the Northeast corridor that might have already been hijacked, makes you appreciate the immensity of the task faced by Sliney and his teams. Watching NORAD officers having to bypass the FAA and take matters into their own hands just to get a Combat Air Patrol flying over Manhattan, and at the same time struggling to have someone - anyone - in Washington tell them their rules of engagement, you feel some of the same frustration they felt on that day.

As the film proceeds inexorably towards its conclusion, the fact that we know how it ends does not in any way diminish the tension we feel. In actuality, knowing that there's no Hollywood ending for Flight 93's passengers makes it simultaneously nearly unbearable to watch and absolutely impossible to take your eyes off of. The last twenty minutes or so of the film take place entirely aboard the aircraft and are some of the tensest moments ever committed to celluoid, particularly once the decision is reached to storm the cockpit. And even though we know what to expect, the ending, when it finally comes, is shocking in its finality: I really happened, it says. There won't be any alternate endings on the DVD, no sequel in which characters you thought were dead come back to life. You can push me into the back of your mind if you want, you can do your best to forget me, you can look all you want for my root causes, but in the end, what remains is this: I really happened.

There are those who say it's "too soon" for United 93: I suspect they'd be saying the same thing if this were 2016. In my mind, it's too soon only if you want to forget. If you want to remember, if, as I do, you think we need to remember (and not in an abstract "I remember it was awful" way, but in a visceral "I remember what it felt like" way), then it's hard to imagine a better film than this. There's no Osama, no Afghanistan, no Iraq, no anything but what it was like to be an American on that day.

Greengrass has a brilliant quote in the press kit given out for the film, a quote that serves as a fine epitaph for those aboard United 93. He notes that the passengers on United 93 knew through phone calls to loved ones that two other aircraft had already hit the World Trade Center, and that this knowledge informed their decision to fight rather than allow their plane to be used in the same way. Because of this, he says,
They were the first people to inhabit the post-9/11 world.
For more commentary on United 93 click here and here.



Friday, April 28, 2006

Revolt of the Commentariat

If you read a lot of blogs, this is hysterical.

Hat tip: Diecast Dude.


Journalism 302: Deconstructing the Washington Post's deconstruction of United 93

Good morning, class. Today's topic is writing opinion pieces as though they were straight news pieces. Please open Friday's Washington Post and go straight to Paul Farhi's story on the front page, the one with the headline that reads "When Hollywood Makes History: Invented Details in United 93 Raise Real Questions." After reading it, it seems clear that Farhi doesn't like the fact that United 93 was made. Oh, his story has all the trappings of an objective piece of journalism - the quotes from different sides, for example - but Farhi's opinion still manages to come through loud and clear. Now I'm going to show you how this is done.

First, when writing in an "on the one hand, on the other hand" format, make sure the side you agree with is always the "other hand." This way you can let your side rebut the other's points, rather than vice versa. Plus, you can throw in phrases like, "But others say," or "Despite these assurances," etc. For example:

"United 93," Hollywood's first big-budget film about the events of Sept. 11, 2001, is faithful to the major aspects of the tragic morning it depicts. The movie tracks the key events detailed in the 9/11 Commission Report, the most definitive source on the subject: the commandeering of the United jet by four terrorists, the panic of the passengers and the heroic rebellion that ended with the plane crashing in a field near Shanksville, Pa.

But the movie, which opens nationwide today, is a dramatic re-creation that includes scenes and images that go far beyond what is known about the attacks.

Those scenes raise questions: How far can a dramatic movie go in imposing its own reality before it distorts the public's understanding of the event? And with memories of 9/11 still vivid and raw, is it too soon for such films to be made?

See? If you're not in favor of "X," but want to appear objective, start off by lightly praising X. This allows you to smoothly transition to your "other hand," hopefully leaving your readers none the wiser about your actual opinion.

Another tactic Farhi uses here is the old "some people are saying" ploy. You see this a lot on television: An interviewer asks a question of his interviewee, who responds with his usual boilerplate blather. The interviewer then says - wait for it - "But Senator, some people are saying that your policy unfairly discriminates against gay Palestinian paraplegics. How do you respond to those people?"

Note how the reporter, by attributing this position to "some people," avoids having to admit that "some people's" opinion is, in reality, his opinion. In Farhi's case, he takes it a step further by assigning the passive tense to his position. So questions are "raised," but not by anyone in particular. They just are.

Moving on. Next, you need to let the other side explain why they did what they did. If you've followed my instructions correctly, you've already got them on the defensive, having to justify their decisions. After this attempt at justification, which you will render pathetic, go ahead and list several instances of what it is you're talking about. Make everything "bad" seem as though it was a malicious lie, completely ignoring any justifications that had been made:

"United 93's" director, Paul Greengrass, has said he sought to create the "plausible truth" of what happened, given that many details are unknown.

The film asserts that the hijackers' intended target was the Capitol. In one scene, Ziad Jarrah, the Lebanese terrorist who piloted the plane, props a picture of the building on the cockpit's console, imposing a cinematic answer to a question that the 9/11 Commission could not resolve: whether the terrorists were trying to hit the Capitol or the White House. Investigators said that point was a source of contention among the 9/11 plotters, with Osama bin Laden favoring a strike on the White House and others, including Mohamed Atta, favoring the Capitol.

"United 93" also suggests that the terrorists killed the pilot and co-pilot, for example, but what occurred is unclear. A United 93 flight recorder picked up the terrorists ordering someone repeatedly to "sit down" and discussing whether to "bring the pilot back" late in the hijacking.

"United 93" also shows the passengers breaching the cockpit with a beverage cart and wrestling the terrorists for control as the plane plummets. Although the 9/11 report states that the passengers fought back in the flight's final moments, the commission had no indication that the passengers entered the cockpit. The report suggests the opposite: "The hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers were only seconds from overcoming them."

You're on a roll now. Throw in a quick list of supposed "experts" that the other side says helped them, but don't quote any of them. Just list them and walk away. Maybe mention how one of the "experts" ended up on their payroll:

Universal Pictures, the film's distributor, says researchers consulted numerous sources, including the 9/11 Commission Report, military and civilian aviation authorities, and more than 100 family members and friends of the victims. The movie's advisers included Ben Sliney, who headed the Federal Aviation Administration's Command Center in Herndon on Sept. 11; Sliney portrays himself in the film.

Now it's patsy time. Find someone other than the person in charge of the other side and use your language skills to tear him apart. Words such as "acknowledges," "admits," "justifies," and "questionable" are particularly handy here:

Lloyd Levin, a "United 93" co-producer, acknowledges that the film went beyond known facts about the flight, but he justifies the movie's approach as artistically necessary. "Our mandate was not the same as the 9/11 Commission Report," Levin said. "Our mandate was to what Paul wanted to say with this movie. We're not journalists. Paul is an artist."

He called some of the questionable depictions "choices we had to make." Whether the passengers actually breached the cockpit is "a moot point, because at that point you're in the area of metaphor," he said.

Okay, time for another "one hand, other hand" con. By this point, if you've done your job well, your readers are on your side and you don't have to be all that subtle:

Those choices might satisfy moviegoers but they rankle those interested in a more literal portrait of the events of Sept. 11.

Quickly now, a quote for your side from someone with absolute moral authority:

"I would prefer history tell itself, rather than have Hollywood tell it," said Carie Lemack, whose mother, Judy Larocque, was killed on American Airlines Flight 11, the first plane to hit the World Trade Center. "There's so much we just don't know. Unfortunately, they're taking artistic license with history and people will believe it's accurate. Speculation is okay for drama, but it's less okay when it's purporting to tell history. If they didn't know, why didn't they just leave it out?"

Lemack, co-founder of the organization Families of September 11, has not seen the movie, but she says she was surprised and upset by its trailer and promotional poster, which shows smoke pouring from the World Trade Center towers. She also says the filmmakers missed an opportunity to spur moviegoers to find out more about terrorism and call them to action. (Universal will donate 10 percent of the movie's first weekend ticket sales to a memorial fund.)

You're just about unstoppable now! You can, as Farhi does, throw in some more examples of the other side's shameless duplicity. It's probably not necessary, but what could it hurt?

The decision to counterattack the terrorists was made after passengers learned that other hijacked planes had crashed, according to the 9/11 report and the film. In addition to the cockpit recordings, eyewitness accounts came from crew members and passengers, who used cellphones and air phones to contact people on the ground. But those accounts were sometimes contradictory and fragmentary, and the 9/11 Commission acknowledged that many details never will be known.

Levin acknowledges that in dramatizing the course of the flight, "United 93" makes creative leaps to fill in the blanks. For example, it's not clear who among the passengers spearheaded the response to the terrorists. One passenger, in a phone call from the plane, left it vague: "Everyone's running up to first class. I've got to go. Bye." The 9/11 Commission could not identify whose voices are heard as the passengers storm the cockpit door. "United 93" tackles this uncertainty with a reasonable assumption: that the charge was led by the strongest, most athletic men, including a judo champion.

Other scenes appear to be wholly invented. In one, a passenger who argued for cooperating with the hijackers is restrained by others as the counterattack begins. In another, the passengers are shown overwhelming two hijackers and apparently killing them. Both depictions might be dramatically satisfying, but there's no evidence that either of those events occurred.

Now it's showtime: time to bring 'er on home! The important thing to remember here is that you must close with a quote that takes your side. If you forget everything else I've taught you, do not forget this. Anything before this quote doesn't matter. In fact, the best thing to do here is allow the other side to make a short point, then quickly shift into "some people say" mode and wrap it up:

Many of the victims' immediate relatives have endorsed the movie, saying it fairly represents their final hours. David Beamer, whose son Todd Beamer was killed, told the Associated Press this week: "Our personal reaction was one of relief, because they got it right. When it comes to September 11 and United Flight 93, we don't need another movie. This one got it."

But others question whether it was necessary to make even one movie about an event that many have lived through.

Bruce Hoffman, a Washington-based counterterrorism expert with the Rand Corp., notes that the news media have long avoided replaying some of the more disturbing images of Sept. 11. But, he says: "These equally horrible events are now being depicted as entertainment. I don't know why that's more acceptable.

"Producers and directors can have the purest and best intentions to re-create the horror and tragedy and bravery of the passengers. But the bottom line is, it's still entertainment. You have to question whether making it into entertainment cheapens and demeans it."

You may not have noticed the added twist Farhi performs here, like a gymnast making one last rotation on her dismount. He says that many of the "victims' immediate relatives" endorse United 93, then goes into his "some people say" routine by writing "But others question whether it was necessary," etc. Now, the word "others" here obviously refers back to the "victims' immediate relatives," so you'd think that the quote following this would be from a family member. But no, it's from counterterrorism expert Bruce Hoffman, telling us that United 93 "cheapens and demeans" what happened on 9/11.

Hoffman is obviously entitled to his opinion, but as neither a family member of a victim nor an expert in film studies, it's not clear why he's quoted as though he were an expert. However, it really doesn't matter. The article, a beautifully constructed opinion piece in straight news's clothing, is done.

If you're successful, readers will come away parroting your opinion even though they are convinced they just read a harmless news story. If you're really successful, you'll end up on page A01, like Farhi did.

Class dismissed.

(For my take on Salon's review of United 93, click here. For my review of United 93, click here.)

Pakistanis Looney over Toons

Gateway Pundit reports that police in Karachi, Pakistan, have "registered cases" against the editor and publisher of Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, over the cartoons of Muhammed the paper published last September. According to the Pakistani Daily Times, cases were also registered against "several other European dailies," as well as Yahoo, Hotmail and Google. The cases have been filed "under a blasphemy law that carries the death penalty."

Islamic tradition bars any of drawings of the Holy Prophet, favourable or otherwise, in a policy to discourage idolatry. Lawyer Iqbal Haider, who runs Awami Himayat Tehrik or People’s Support Movement, had petitioned the Supreme Court against the publication of the cartoons under a blasphemy law that allows the death penalty for anyone guilty of insulting the Holy Prophet or the holy Quran. [Note: I took out the "PBUH" that the Times used after saying "the Holy Prophet." I'm not in the mood, and besides, pretty soon it'll probably be mandatory.]

Cases were registered on Tuesday against Jyllands-Posten, its editor, publisher, a cartoonist, and newspapers in France, Italy, Ireland, Norway and the Netherlands at a police station in Karachi on the court’s orders, said Tariq Malik, an official at the station.

“It is now the government’s job to contact the Interpol and bring the offenders to a court of law in Pakistan,” Haider said on Wednesday.
The Pakistani government has not yet indicated whether or not it would contact Interpol, but a "senior Karachi police officer" told the Daily Times that the case was being looked into.

It should be noted that there does seem to be at least sane one person in Pakistan:

A government prosecutor, who opposed the petition, says Pakistan’s courts have no jurisdiction over a crime committed abroad.

“The courts in Pakistan ... have jurisdiction to try a person for an offence within their territorial jurisdiction in Pakistan,” prosecutor Makhdoom Ali Khan said in a written statement to the Supreme Court on April 7.

It's interesting to note, as Gateway Pundit does, that no case has been brought against Egypt's Al Fager newspaper, which also published the cartoons, nor against the Danish imams who apparently made up the most offensive cartoons and then claimed that Jyllands-Posten had published them along with the actual cartoons.

Also of interest will be the responses of Microsoft, Google and Yahoo, all three of which have rather spotted histories when it comes to sacrificing freedom of speech on the altar of political and economic expediency. As Pamela at Atlas Shrugs says of Google,
Let's see if they bend over and yelp 'how far???' or if they finally take a stand.
I'm not optimistic.

Really, there's only one rational response to this madness:

I hope every blogger who doesn't already have a Jyllands-Posten cartoon on his or her site puts one up now. And I will now proceed to back up this blog in case Google has a problem with this.

My previous posts on cartoons here, here and here.

Islam. The official religion of peace and tolerance.TM
(Does not apply to apostates, unbelievers, cartoonists, filmmakers, authors, homosexuals and women. Other groups and/or individuals may be added to this list at any time and for any reason, real or perceived. All rights reserved.)

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Atlas Mugs

Is Atlas finally about to mug for the big screen? Variety's Pam McClintock is reporting that distributor Lionsgate has picked up the worldwide rights to Atlas Shrugs, Ayn Rand's 7,000 page doorstop in which she once again laid out her philosophy of Objectivism for those of us who read We the Living, Anthem and/or The Fountainhead, and somehow still thought she was an altruistic Commie.

(I don't mean to rag on Rand: I think The Fountainhead is one of the best - and most important - works of the 20th century. But, and I know this is probably considered heresy in some quarters, I found Atlas to be overwrought, overlong and overdone. It actually turned me into a man overbored in the middle of John Galt's "I can go longer than Fidel" speech.)

According to McClintock - and to be filed under M for "You cannot be serious,"
Angelina Jolie, a longtime devotee of Rand's, and Brad Pitt, also a fan, are rumored to be circling the leading roles of Dagny Taggart and John Galt.
Okay, at this point I realized I should've gone straight to the source to begin with, and whaddaya know, the source, she comes through. (Personal aside: I think I may have had a dream that involved Pamela and that Supergirl costume she's photoshopped into at the top left of her blog. I don't remember the details, but I'm pretty sure - Lord, I hope - I wasn't the one wearing it.)

Anyway, Pamela pointed me to Robert Bindinotto's blog, where I learned that I would've known that Brad and Angie were big fans of Rand (Fands?) if I had only read the Hollywood issue of The New Individualist, which I unaccountably missed. The Shrugstress also sent me to one of the more inane articles I've ever read, in which the writer (who, luckily for any future aspirations he or she has, did not sign his or her "work") lets us know that Rand is mostly read by frat boys.

First of all, I find that offensive to Rand's readers. And second of all, it's fraternity, not frat. Would you call your country a - well, you get the idea.

Anyway, the author of this piece is clearly either a college freshman or an Ivy League political science professor. The dead giveaway? This line:
The weighty tome focuses on railroad executive Dagny Taggart, who feels crushed by society's evil shift toward collectivism or something silly like that.

To which Pamela rationally retorts:

Yeah "something silly" that results in the death of 100 million outside of war. By why quibble with "silly" details.
I think I'm in love.

But back to the movies. Atlas has been floating around Hollywood for decades (somehow managing to never philosphically penetrate the hive minds at the studios), so it remains to be seen what, if anything, comes out of this deal. (The Variety article gives a good history.) I dealt with McClintock back when I was Hollywood Boy, and always found her to be a reliable reporter. But the fact of the matter is that deals like this are announced all the time, sometimes with a full brass band providing the fanfare, and often absolutely nothing comes of them. As an example, McClintock, in detailing the history of Rand's books in Hollywood, notes that

Oliver Stone was attached to direct a remake of "Fountainhead" for Warner Bros. and Paramount, but the project has languished in development. Along the way, Pitt expressed interest in playing Roark.
You can bet there was a lot of hype about that, too.

The real question is: Is it true that all John Galt really wanted to do was direct?


Deja vu all over again: Middle East edition

"I am sailing out along parallel 32.5 to stress that this is the Libyan border. This is the line of death where we shall stand and fight with our backs to the wall."
- Libya's supreme leader, Muammar Qaddafi, 1986

"Today is a day in the Grand Battle, the immortal Mother of All Battles. It is a glorious and a splendid day on the part of the self-respecting people of Iraq and their history, and it is the beginning of the great shame for those who ignited its fire on the other part. It is the first day on which the vast military phase of that battle started. Or rather, it is the first day of that battle, since Allah decreed that the Mother of All Battles continue till this day."
- Iraq's supreme leader, Saddam Hussein, 1991

""If the U.S. ventured into any aggression on Iran, Iran will retaliate by damaging U.S. interests worldwide twice as much as the U.S. may inflict on Iran."
- Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 2006

Bloomberg shoots and misses

Based on his performance at a press conference yesterday that followed a summit of 15 anti-gun mayors, it's obvious that New York's Mayor Mike Bloomberg has built up a tolerance to whatever anti-psychotics or mood stabilizers he's currently on, to the point where they have no effect whatsoever.

You see, Bloomberg has got this idea stuck in his head (where I'm sure it's very lonely) that he's a great crusader for justice. Well, if justice is fining people for sitting on milk crates, taking up two seats on the subway, or riding a bike without both feet on the pedals, then Bloomberg is freakin' Batman. But it's not, and he's not.

Here's an example of Bloombergian logic from yesterday's presser, as reported by the inexplicably sympathetic New York Post:
Surrounded by 14 mayors attending an unprecedented Gracie Mansion gun summit, Mayor Bloomberg charged yesterday that legislators who "vote against getting guns off the street" share responsibility for the death of the 2-year-old boy killed by a stray bullet on Easter Sunday.

"The only thing that would have helped that child is if we had the courage to stand up and get the guns off the street," Bloomberg declared at a press conference following the four-hour summit.

"And those who vote against getting guns off the street really are the ones as much responsible as the shooter, because if the shooter didn't have a gun, that child would still be alive."

So in the world according to Mike, supporting an individual's right to bear arms makes you not even just partially responsible for a senseless murder, but as responsible as the nutjob who pulled the trigger on a gun that - surprise, surprise - was obtained illegally in the first place. Makes perfect sense. Or at least as much sense as mouthing platitudes about having the "courage" to "get the guns off the street."

How should we get the guns "off the street?" Well, what we should probably do is enact a series of laws that strictly limit who can legally buy one. Once we do that, all murder will magically disappear, Willy Wonka will open his chocolate factory, and we'll all live happily ever after. Obviously the laws we have aren't strict enough, or little David Pacheco Jr. wouldn't have been shot with an illegal weap--HEY, WAIT A MINUTE!

Phew. That was close. I almost got sucked down the rabbit hole into Bloomland, where our universe's logic doesn't apply.

I'm gonna leave it to you, dear readers, to explain how a crime committed with an illegally acquired gun is the fault of lawmakers. It's too much for me. Besides, each mayor at the summit signed a six-point statement of principles, so I'm sure everything will be taken care of, even if, as the Post points out, "at least half the principles require state or federal action." Last time I checked, taking state or federal action wasn't listed under the job description of mayor, but I haven't checked in awhile, so maybe that's changed.

Here's the deal, Mike: making it difficult, if not impossible, for law-abiding citizens to own guns will always lead to more crime. When predators know their would-be prey can't defend themselves, they attack. When they know their would-be prey may be able to fight back, they tend to move on. It's science.

So if you think about it, maybe the politicians who campaign and vote for stricter gun laws "really are the ones as much responsible as the shooter."

Guns don't kill people: gun control laws do.

Update
: How could I forget: Mayor Bloomberg? You're on my list.


Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Tapes of Wrath

I'm too disgusted to really write about this. Just go over to The Agitator, read Radley Balko's post about cops in Tennessee torturing a suspected low-level drug dealer here, then click on the link to the actual recordings of the police going all Uday and Qusay on the poor guy here. If you make it all the way through, you're either a better man than Cranky, or you're a sociopath.

I meant to post about this yesterday, and now I see from Balko's post here that between then and now a flame war has started over Andy Sullivan's perceived blame of the Bush administration for this heinous crime. Here's what Sullivan said, in part:
What I do know is that when the government launches an ill-defined "war" on a "thing", rather than an explicit foreign enemy, and when you have an administration as profoundly hostile to American liberty as this one is, all sorts of abuses will necessarily follow. And they have.
Backed by Instapundit (gosh, the InstaSully feud is so adorable!), Tom Maguire over at Just One Minute sees this as a clear sign that Sullivan has developed Bush Derangement Syndrome, but I'm not sure that's being fair to Sullivan. JOM says
It's not clear from the context whether the "thing" upon which we have declared war is drugs (this was, after all, a drug dealer) or terror.
It seems clear to me that "this thing of ours" that Sully references is the immoral, worthless and endless "War on Drugs," particularly given his strong support for the GWOT. Yes, his rhetoric about the Bush administration is a tad overheated, but c'mon: that's Sullivan. You can't stop him, you can only hope to contain him. Let Sully be Sully. Etc.

And, in defense of Sullivan, Balko correctly points out that, among other things,

[I]t was the Bush administration that ran inflammatory ads accusing recreational drug users of financing international terrorism, attempting to make the case that there's no moral distinction between dope dealers and al-Qaeda operatives. When the White House's top drug policy people run a million-dollar ad campaign suggesting that small-time drug dealers are no better than terrorists, it's certainly reasonable to wonder if that might contribute to the mindset that leads drug cops to treat drug suspects like terrorists, isn't it? [emphasis Cranky's]

[snip]

It's disingenuous to support an administration that paints drug users and dealers as subhuman scum no better than the 9/11 hijackers, then feign shock when someone dares to suggest that such rhetoric and policies might be to blame when drug cops do in fact treat suspected drug users or dealers ...as subhuman scum no better than the 9/11 hijackers. [emphasis still Cranky's]

Anyway, I started this post by saying I wasn't gonna write much about it, so leave me alone and follow the damn links that I slaved long and hard preparing just for you that you never appreciate and just once it would be nice to hear "those links were really good" and why are you always working late these days and don't you love me anymore?

Are the generals revolting?

There's a really interesting opinion piece in today's Washington Post by British journalist and historian Max Hastings which places the sudden outspokenness of retired generals in some historical context.

There's been a lot of debate over the past couple of weeks regarding the propriety of retired senior officers speaking out against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. (See my take here and here, and a link to Point Five's Donald Rumsfeld Resignation Advisory System here.) As Hastings says, even "many people who oppose the Iraq war and deplore Rumsfeld are nonetheless troubled by the notion of senior officers, even retired ones, openly criticizing political leadership."

He notes that in principle this is nothing new:

In truth, retired soldiers have always been outspoken about the alleged blunders of successor warlords, uniformed and otherwise. During Britain's colonial conflicts and in both world wars, through Korea and Vietnam, hoary old American and British warriors wrote frequently to newspapers, deploring this decision or that, exploiting their credentials to criticize governments and commanders.

During the Iraq campaigns of 1991 and 2003, I heard British chiefs of staff express their fervent desire for veterans to get themselves off television screens. We may assume that, as chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff today, Gen. Peter Pace feels the same way.

Winston Churchill's wartime chief of staff, Gen. Hastings "Pug" Ismay, charmingly described in his memoirs how, in 1940, lunches at his old army club in London became intolerable because at every mouthful, he was beset by veterans explaining how his master should properly be running the war. In self-defense, Ismay resorted to lunching at White's, a venerable aristocratic institution where few members had noticed that a conflict was taking place.

But according to Hastings, there is something that separates the current volubility from past conduct: the way we now wage war and assign responsibility for failures both perceived and real. It used to be that elected governments were responsible for the "who, where and why" of war - who are we fighting, where are we fighting them, why are we fighting them - and the generals and admirals, working with the officers and troops below them, handled the "how." In this system, assigning responsibility seemed relatively easy: Vietnam is perceived as a bad war , Lyndon Johnson takes the fall. Little Big Horn doesn't turn out quite the way we hoped, General Custer gets the blame. FDR is hailed for his leadership during World War II, and Ike, Bradley, Nimitz, Patton, etc., get the glory for battles won and campaigns well-executed.

Post-WWII, however, and particularly after winning the Cold War, the West increasingly finds itself involved in a different kind of war:

The great progressive change since 1945 is that the conduct of limited wars has become intensely political. The interventions of civilian leaders are ever more detailed and explicit in matters that were once deemed military turf. Gen. Douglas MacArthur was sacked in Korea in 1951 for conduct no more imperious than his World War II norm in the Pacific. The general failed to understand that the principle on which he had always justified his own mandate -- when wars start, politicians must leave soldiers to run them -- was a dead letter in the nuclear age.

Coupled with this increased desire of civilians to encroach on what was historically the militiary's bailiwick is their ability to do so. Secure phones, real time satellite imagery and other technological advancements have made it very easy - too easy, many in the military might say - for officials in Washington to monitor, influence, and even direct events happening thousands of miles away.

All of these things can lead to a frustrated military that is unable to achieve the broad strategic objectives given to it, and an officer corps that may wonder why, when they would never infringe upon the right (indeed the necessity) of an elected government to set policy, an official of this same government shows no compunction about constantly meddling in their areas of expertise, and then tops it off by refusing to accept any responsibility when his meddling leads to notable failures. As Hastings puts it:

If commanders are denied the power to manage campaigns as they think right, it is unjust to allow them to accept blame when these go awry. In the new world, the generals' revolt seems a legitimate response to political mismanagement of operations. If a civilian such as Donald Rumsfeld seeks to exercise from Washington functions that were traditionally those of soldiers, he should take the customary consequences.

I worked for a guy like Rumsfeld once. (Not in the Army.) The guy would hire people, like me, to perform duties they were well qualified for (in my case, communications and PR), and then wouldn't let them do their jobs the way they knew how. He was a micromanager of the worst sort, and was convinced he knew how to do your job better than you did, even though he had no training and, more importantly, no native ability at it. You would try to convince him that you knew what you were doing, and explain to him why his ideas were disastrous, only to have him overrule you. But then - and here's the kicker - when his decisions turned out to be wrong, guess who got the blame?

This may be why I feel so strongly about Rumsfeld being removed as SecDef, but I suppose that's a question for my shrink.

Heh, indeed

Greenpeace is mad at Ted Kennedy, and this time it's not for polluting bodies of water with bodies of women.

The Poor Man explains what makes Tony Snow so special. (Hat tip to my mentor, Chewey Williams.)

NY Times fails Econ 101

According to the New York Times, the current high price of gas is, like everything else in the world it doesn't like, President Bush's fault.

In a general editorial called "How Not to Cure an Addiction," the Times castigates the President for on the one hand acknowledging that "higher prices reflected global demand," but on the other for offering "no strategy to combat demand-driven price rises."

So the Times would like Bush to repeal the law of supply and demand. Sure, and maybe after that he can work on getting Newton v. Apple overturned. (By the way, I thought the whole War in Iraq thing was supposed to be about cheap oil, but now the Times says that it's actually pushing prices up by "reinforcing the market's anxiety over political upheaval in oil-producing areas." I wish these people would make up their minds when they're telling me what to think.)

According to the Times,
The obvious solution, to increase fuel efficiency standards for ordinary cars, was not mentioned. The current standard, 27.5 miles per gallon, on average, has not been raised in more than two decades.
Really? This is the "obvious solution?" With all your Navigators that I can't see around and your Escalades with 20" rims and your Hummers that come damn close to getting single digit mpgs on the road nowadays, ordinary cars are the problem? I doubt that. (Yeah, I have a thing against SUVs, but that's a topic for another post.)

The bottom line is that in the end - at the end of the day, when all is said and done, after the fat lady's sung, when all the petards have finished their hoisting, when the cows come home - in the end, gas prices are high because people are willing to pay high prices for gas. And even if they're not willing, they have no choice.

Interestingly, on the op-ed page directly across from where the gen-eds are, there's a piece by William Sweet called The Nuclear Option, which says that the US needs to rely more on nuclear power. My earlier post here explains how organizations such as the Times helped prevent the growth of the nuclear power industry for the past thirty years, thereby contributing to the mess we now find ourselves in. Not that the Times will acknowledge that one of its stances was wrong any time soon. Hell, it took them forty years to figure out that championing Stalin might've been a mistake.

As blogger Counter Top points out, there are several things the government can do that might lower the price of gas, but all of them involve getting out of the way of the free market, not mandating more regulation. And though this will offer short-term help to consumers, lowering the price of gas will do nothing to ease our dependence on oil. Indeed, by making the economic burden less severe, it will do quite the opposite.

Unfortunately, we've probably reached the point where only higher prices than we're used to paying will force us to explore serious (i.e., not corn) alternatives to oil-based power sources. Never forget that the piper, he done like to get paid.

The Cranky Insomniac's 100th Post!

In honor of my 100thpost, here are some random musings, questions, and aphorisms from The Notebooks of the Cranky Insomniac, to be published only in the unlikely event of my death.

If you're going to compare Republicans to Nazis, please make sure you do it at the top so you save me the trouble of having to pay attention to anything else you have to say.

"My country always wrong" is not a more nuanced or sophisticated position than "my country right or wrong," and the latter is generally far less annoying.

I'm not particularly interested in the root causes of your dementia.

Does anyone else find it odd that it in general it was the people who don't believe in an afterlife who wanted to pull the plug on Terry Schiavo, and the people who believe in heaven who wanted to keep her alive?

If you can rage about living in a fascist society and not be thrown in jail or shot, you're not living in a fascist society.

Just once I'd like for House to be wrong and for one of the other doctors to make the correct diagnosis.

When will Keith Olbermann realize that his anti-O'Reilly ranting makes him as distasteful as O'Reilly himself?

The people with left wing bumperstickers on their cars are invariably the most incapable and inconsiderate drivers on the road.

Why is having been a supporter of Stalin somehow always excusable?

Our theocrats are preferable to their theocrats. For now.

Believing in the usefulness of the United Nations is insane, unless you're a dictator, despot, or mass murderer.

If you threaten me, my family, my friends, my country, or my way of life, you're gonna have a fight on your hands.

Sometimes torture is both necessary and moral. Then there's the other 99.9% of the time.

Why do "Blame America Firsters" claim to love their country?

The guy next to Jack Bauer in a gunfight is this generation's equivalent of the guy in the landing party wearing the red shirt on Star Trek.

Mr. Darwin will eventually take care of pacifists.

Our moral relativists are the best friends of their extremists.

If you enjoyed this sneak peek from The Notebooks of the Cranky Insomniac half as much as I did, well, then I enjoyed it twice as much as you.

Thanks to all of you who wrote in to congratulate me on my 100th post. Never forget that it's your strength and love that make all this possible.

-Cranky

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

United 93 not as cheery as Salon's critic hoped

Pre-release reviews of Paul Greengrass's United 93 are almost uniformly spectacular.

But my favorite review comes courtesty of Stephanie Zacharek at the unbearably smug and French-sounding leftist e-zine, Salon, because it's an instructive look inside the heart and mind of the Nuanced.

Zacharek is upset because the film made her feel...well, upset.

Paul Greengrass' "United 93" is a movie made with tremendous care, and with almost boundless sensitivity to persons living and dead. But just hours after seeing the picture, I'm finding it hard to care about Greengrass' integrity: I've never had a more excruciating moviegoing experience in my life, and as brilliantly crafted -- and as adamantly unexploitive -- as the picture is, it still leaves you wondering why it was made in the first place.

Here's a hint as to why it was "made in the first place," Stephanie: look in the mirror. The people who need to see United 93 are the people who have had the horror of 9/11 removed from the eternal sunshine of their spotless minds, the people who want to pretend that 9/11 didn't really change anything, the people who condescendingly mock those of us who know it did. (More precisely, 9/11 didn't really change reality as much as it brought it into stark relief, but let's not quibble.)

Some other choice quotes:

And the movie's climactic sequence, in which several of the bigger, stronger passengers attack two of the terrorists, jolts us with a terrifying charge. We need the catharsis the scene offers, but Greengrass never allows us to lapse into moral superiority. Greengrass doesn't allow a comfortable distance between ourselves and these desperate passengers. When they lunged for one of the terrorists, I found I'd curled my own hands into fists, as if expressing some atavistic desire to choke the life out of him myself.

Here we find Zacharek clearly unhappy about not being allowed to assume her natural feelings of "moral superiority," angry at being made to feel an "atavistic desire" to kill a terrorist, a desire that should only be felt by unitellectual red staters who are brainwashed by our government in the service of the military-industrial complex. If the idea that wanting to kill someone who is trying to kill you is the moral equivalent of a prehensile tail doesn't perfectly sum up the bankruptcy and uselessness of the anti-war crowd, I don't know what does.

And while Greengrass must have his own strong personal feelings about how the U.S. government has co-opted the events of 9/11 for its own purposes (he's too politically astute a filmmaker not to have such feelings), "United 93" isn't intended to make a statement on the war on terrorism.
Okay, okay, we get the fact that you're sophisticated and nuanced, so relax. Also, I love how the Bush administration is always accused of "taking advantage of" or "co-opting" the events of 9/11 for its own nefarious purposes. I've never understood how waging an increasingly unpopular war, watching your approval ratings tumble into the low 30s and possibly leaving as your legacy your party's loss of its congressional majorities are the works of an evil mastermind. But then again, I'm not very nuanced, myself.

Zacharek concludes her review (and really I should get a promotion, or at least a medal, for reading the whole thing) by reiterating how unfair it is that she was forced to remember 9/11:
But while "United 93" offers a horrifyingly realistic evocation of pain and fear, it doesn't open itself out to any greater, more expansive truth. And it offers us no hope of transcendence. "United 93" spells out for us horrors that previously we could only have imagined, as if imagining them could never be enough. It's an expertly made picture that I wish I could stamp out of my mind. What's the value of artistry that sucks the life out of you?
I obviously haven't seen the film yet, but I'll take a wild shot in the dark that it doesn't offer any "hope of transcendence" because Greengrass sought to make as close to an honest re-creation of what happened to Flight 93 as possible, using all available information. And I'll take another stab that none of that information was particularly transcendent. [Edit: I've now seen the film, and I was right. But you knew that.] Sorry, Stephanie, but this really happened, and life doesn't always provide a sense of uplift. You may wish you could stamp it out of your mind, but that's your problem, not the film's.

Besides, you can always cheer yourself up by watching Fahrenheit 9/11, right?

Update: For an explanation of how the Washington Post bashes United 93 in a page A01 "straight news" story, see here. For my review of United 93, see here.

Update2: Welcome, Gay Patriot readers!

Update3: Welcome, Countertoppers!

Update4: Welcome, residents of Dean's World!

No fun to stay at the DMCA

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act is the draconian law enacted by Congress in 1998 to combat piracy on the dry seas of the ether. Among other things, the DMCA makes it illegal to circumvent copy protection measures used to prevent consumers from copying DVDs, music or software CDs, and other such copyrighted materials. It has already been used to prosecute the manufacturers and sellers of software and harware intended to be used for such circumvention.

It also has had about as much effect on piracy as that whole "war on drugs" thing has had on drug use.

So, like the drug "warriors" before them, the folks behind the DMCA - the recording and entertainment industries, with the support of their stooges in DC - have decided that what's needed are harsher laws with stiffer penalites. For whatever reasons - sheer stupidity is my guess - they don't seem to realize that this will further alienate their potential consumers and most likely do next to nothing to prevent all the Dread Pirate Roberts out there from continuing their plundering and pillaging.

As the ever-reliable Declan McCullagh at CNET News reports:
For the last few years, a coalition of technology companies, academics and computer programmers has been trying to persuade Congress to scale back the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Now Congress is preparing to do precisely the opposite. A proposed copyright law seen by CNET News.com would expand the DMCA's restrictions on software that can bypass copy protections and grant federal police more wiretapping and enforcement powers.

The draft legislation, created by the Bush administration and backed by Rep. Lamar Smith, already enjoys the support of large copyright holders such as the Recording Industry Association of America. Smith, a Texas Republican, is the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee that oversees intellectual-property law.

A spokesman for the House Judiciary Committee said Friday that the Intellectual Property Protection Act of 2006 is expected to "be introduced in the near future." Beth Frigola, Smith's press secretary, added Monday that Wisconsin Republican F. James Sensenbrenner, chairman of the full House Judiciary Committee, will be leading the effort.

It should come as no surpise to anyone that Attorney General and porn voyeur Alberto Gonzales thinks the whole thing is a great idea. But hold on: this time he's not doing it "for the children." No, this time, in a display of chutzpah that could only be matched by Bill Clinton becoming a couples' therapist, the AG (and pv) lets us know that if we don't pass this new legislation, the terrorists have won:
Such changes are necessary because new technology is "encouraging large-scale criminal enterprises to get involved in intellectual-property theft," Gonzales said, adding that proceeds from the illicit businesses are used, "quite frankly, to fund terrorism activities."
(There used to be a thing in this country called shame. It's been MIA for a long time, and, although no remains were ever found, it was declared legally dead during the Clinton administration. Shame sightings still occasionally occur: there was a mass sighting right after the 2000 election, but there is now ample evidence that this was a false alarm. Many Americans refuse to believe that shame is gone forever, and wait anxiously for its return.)

Where is this evidence of "large-scale criminal enterprises" that apparently are giving the money they make from selling little Johnny a bootleg copy of Stealth straight to bin Laden, Inc.? I'll tell you where it is: right next to Joe McCarthy's list.

Anyone who doesn't know that you can get literally almost any CD, DVD or piece of software you want for free by joining the world of BitTorrents has no business talking about or passing laws having to do with "piracy." (Do a search here, if you don't know what I'm talking about. Search for a movie that's still in theatres, if you feel like it.)

Also, note how Gonzo says "quite franky" before invoking the terrorists. Many shrinks would say that the use of "quite franky" is a sure sign that the speaker is being anything but frank.

Here are some examples of how under the newly proposed legislation the customer is always wrong:

The 24-page bill is a far-reaching medley of different proposals cobbled together. One would, for instance, create a new federal crime of just trying to commit copyright infringement. Such willful attempts at piracy, even if they fail, could be punished by up to 10 years in prison.

It also represents a political setback for critics of expanding copyright law, who have been backing federal legislation that veers in the opposite direction and permits bypassing copy protection for "fair use" purposes. That bill--introduced in 2002 by Rep. Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat--has been bottled up in a subcommittee ever since.

Smith's measure would expand those civil and criminal restrictions. Instead of merely targeting distribution, the new language says nobody may "make, import, export, obtain control of, or possess" such anticircumvention tools if they may be redistributed to someone else.

"It's one degree more likely that mere communication about the means of accomplishing a hack would be subject to penalties," said Peter Jaszi, who teaches copyright law at American University and is critical of attempts to expand it.

Even the current wording of the DMCA has alarmed security researchers. Ed Felten, the Princeton professor, told the Copyright Office last month that he and a colleague were the first to uncover the so-called "rootkit" on some Sony BMG Music Entertainment CDs--but delayed publishing their findings for fear of being sued under the DMCA. A report prepared by critics of the DMCA says it quashes free speech and chokes innovation.

Jessica Litman, who teaches copyright law at Wayne State University, views the DMCA expansion as more than just a minor change. "If Sony had decided to stand on its rights and either McAfee or Norton Antivirus had tried to remove the rootkit from my hard drive, we'd all be violating this expanded definition," Litman said.

So Sony, in its capacity as a music distributor, puts a piece of software known as a "rootkit" on some of its CDs. This software, meant to prevent you from making "unauthorized" copies of your CD, inserts itself into your operating system without your knowledge or consent when you put one of these CDs into your computer's CD-ROM drive.

Under the DMCA, this is perfectly legal.

Now, let's say you find out that this rootkit program had been installed on your hard drive - again, without your knowledge or consent - and you decide that you wanted to remove it.

Under the DMCA, this is perfectly illegal.

So, to sum up: Under the DMCA it is okay for a company to hide software on a CD (which you own) and download that software onto your hard drive (which you own) without your knowledge or consent. But it is verboten for you to remove this software, regardless of the fact that it was installed on your hard drive (which you own) without your knowledge or consent. And under the new law, you could be put in prison for 10 years just for trying to remove this rootkit.

This is "fair use"????

And it doesn't stop there. The proposed law also:
Establishes a new copyright crimes unit within the FBI and grants wiretapping authority for copyright infringement investigations;

Allows for criminal enforcement of copyright violations even for unregistered works;

Establishes civil asset forfeiture penalties for any equipment used for piracy;

Allows copyright holders to seize any and all records that might document the "manufacture, sale or receipt of items involved in" copyright infringements.
Yes, by all means, let's increase the ability of the government - your government - to seize your assets. But hey - at least the asset forfeiture will be done "following the rules established by federal drug laws," because Lord knows those don't get abused every day. Count on overzealous prosecutors seizing computers, hard drives, etc., before the guilt of a suspect has been established. Count on it being difficult, if not impossible, for a person who's been cleared of the charges against him to get his stuff back.

And as for seizing records:

Jason Schultz, a staff attorney at the digital-rights group the Electronic Frontier Foundation, says the recording industry would be delighted to have the right to impound records. In a piracy lawsuit, "they want server logs," Schultz said. "They want to know every single person who's ever downloaded (certain files)--their IP addresses, everything."

The recording industry notoriously screws musicians. It screws music fans, too, by overcharging for CDs, placing too much faith (and too much marketing) in untalented artists who look good in videos but can't put out even one CD's worth of decent material, while for the most part ignoring talented acts that might take time to build an audience, but whose audience will stay with them for the long haul.

The industry does all this, and then blames declining sales on the fans themselves, who, in the eyes of the RIAA, are nothing but potential pirates just waiting to scam the labels out of their "hard-earned" money. Product sucks? Can't be. Product's too expensive? No way. Music fans ungrateful bastards? Bingo.

Here's some advice for the RIAA: Whatever you do to try to stop piracy will be countered by people who ultimately are smarter than you, people who for the most part aren't looking to get something for nothing, but who are making it their business to give you the (electronic) finger simply because they just don't like you or your methods.

The fact that you're seeking to make "unfair use" even more obnoxious than it already is shows that you haven't learned a damn thing in the past eight years or so. You're in serious danger of becoming a dinosaur, trying to avoid extinction by passing laws against ice ages.

Wake up.

(Hat tip: TuCents' excellent post, "It doesn't hurt enough yet, do it again," via The Libery Papers mailing list. )

Update: I just want to make it clear that I'm in no way condoning breaking the law, even if the law is an ass. What for now is called "piracy" is most definitely illegal, at least in the US, regardless of how you feel about it ethically. At some point today's "piracy" may become tomorrow's "viral marketing tactics," but in America circa 2006, it is punishable by fine and/or prison time.

So don't do it. And if you're gonna do it, for God's sake hide your IP address. But don't do it.

Movie Review: Chasing Zarqawi

The usually so-camera-shy-it's-adorable al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi appeared in a rare video that was posted on a Web site "that al-Zarqawi’s group often uses to post Internet messages," according to msnbc.com.

Zarqawi shouldn't be so shy: he's wearing a totally chic black scarf (Hugo Boss, if I'm not mistaken) around his head, and he's got a simply fabulous beard and moustache combo that gives him a "sexy in an early John Turturro kind of way" look. Cranky says Allah gave you your sexy for a reason, so work it, girlfriend!

The actualy content of the video is the usual blather about crusaders and jihad and mujihadeen. C'mon, Zarqy: that's sooooooo 2003! Somebody's coasting like he wants to be in Ocean's 13! Cranky knows where you're coming from, Z, but Cranky gots to know what's next for his favorite Abu-Fabu holy warrior!

Presentation: A-
Content: D

Chasing Zarqawi is rated R for homoerotic suggestiveness.

ACLU loses its appeal *

Stop the ACLU (naturally) reports that the ACLU has lost its appeal to have a display of the Ten Commandments removed from the Mercer County courthouse in Kentucky. According to Liberty Counsel, which represented Mercer County
The Foundations of American Law and Government display in the county courthouse includes the Ten Commandments, the Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the Magna Charta, the Star-Spangled Banner, the National Motto, the Preamble to the Kentucky Constitution, the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution, and a picture of Lady Justice. This display is identical to the one Liberty Counsel defended at the Supreme Court last year in two other Kentucky counties, McCreary and Pulaski. The litigation in those two cases continues and may end up again at the High Court.
Look, I'm for keeping government out of religion and vice-versa as much as the next guy, if not more. But this is ridiculous. This display is clearly intended to depict exactly what its name says: the foundations of American Law and Government. It's absurd to pretend that the Ten Commandments are "just" religious in nature and that they have played absolutely no role in the shaping of our societal ethos. (I suppose you could make the argument that they shouldn't have played such a role, but not that they haven't.)

Placing the Ten Commandments in this context, surrounded by the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, etc., seems to me to be a wholly appropriate expression of the founding principles of America and what's left of Western Civilization. Maybe the ACLU should spend some time actually reading the Commandments, particularly the Second Commandment, which if I'm not mistaken confirms the Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms, and is the cornerstone of our freedom.

That's not it? Well, it should be.

(FYI, the ACLU's hypocrisy when it comes to gun rights will be the topic of a future screed from the Cranky Insomniac. Oh, it's brewing. Believe you me.)



*Unless otherwise noted, all puns are intended.

MilBloggers fall in

Military Bloggers held the first annual MilBloggers Conference this past weekend in Washington, DC, and the National Journal's Beltway Blogroll's got a roundup of what went down. Check it out.

There's no group of bloggers I respect more. Whether they're active duty, veterans, or military family members, MilBloggers call it as they see it, and - obnoxious phrase alert obnoxious phrase alert obnoxious phrase alert - "speak truth to power" in ways Hollywood will never understand.

(Hat tip: Dean Esmay)

Steyn partially online

Mark Steyn appears to have an excellent column over at National Review Online, but I'm not a subscriber, so I can only read the first five paragraphs. Here they are, in all their glory. If you're an NRO subscriber, I urge you to head over there and read the entire article.

And don't worry: if your fingers happen to slip while you're reading it, and you accidently hit ctrl-a and copy the whole thing, and then you mistakenly open your email program and, as if possessed by the ghost of a little Asian child you paste the whole thing into the body of an email and send it off to the Cranky Insomniac, I won't tell. These kinda things happen.

Last year Newt Gingrich was up in New Hampshire and my neighbor Scott went along and expressed various dissatisfactions with the GOP Congress. And Newt said, well, you must remember Republicans are still pretty new at this, we're not used to being in the majority.

That's it? The Iraqis are expected to pick up the ins and outs of this governing business instantly, but the Republican party can't get the hang of it after eleven years? Don't worry, I'm not predicting electoral disaster this November. It would be nice to think that the GOP might get to enjoy a Geena Davis-style "hiatus" while they "retune" their winning formula. But I doubt it will happen: Even losers need someone to lose to, and the Democrats have failed to fulfill even that minimal requirement for the last decade.

Christopher Hitchens said on the Hugh Hewitt show recently that he "dislikes" the Republican party but has "contempt" for the Democrats. I appreciate the distinction, though I'm not sure I could muster even that level of genial tolerance. The Democrats have been the most contemptible opportunists in the years since 9/11: If they've got nothing useful to contribute to the great challenge of the age they could at least have the decency not to waste our time waving around three-year-old Abu Ghraib pictures and chanting "exit strategy" every ten minutes.

But what happened to the other guys? "The Republican party," says Arlen Specter, "is now principally moderate, if not liberal" — and he means it as a compliment. "I'll just say this about the so-called porkbusters," chips in Trent Lott. "I'm getting damn tired of hearing from them. They have been nothing but trouble since Katrina."

Well, to be honest, I'm a good half-decade past getting damn tired of hearing from Trent Lott. But the difference is that, as a member of the pork-funding sector of the economy, I pay for him; he doesn't pay for me. . . .

Monday, April 24, 2006

Life

If you never thought you'd see the day when Right Wing News and the Democratic Underground would make common cause, today's the day you were proven wrong.

Turns out that occasionally there's something more important than political differences. Please click on the link and read about the sad case of Andrea Clarke, and if you think there's anything you can do to help, do it.

Thanks to Jay at Stop the ACLU for passing this on, and to John Hawkins at Right Wing News for running with the ball.

Countertop's gas pains

Countertop at The Countertop Chronicles is mad as hell, and I think it's safe to say he's not gonna take it any more. (And nobody's even trying to take away his guns!)

Check out his most excellent post, Bush Can Fix Energy Problem Now.

See the raw power of righteous anger unleashed upon a helpless world!

Thrill to the calling of Bullshit on the powers that be!

Feel the pure, unadulterated hatred directed at "me first", cover-your-ass politicians!

Bush Can Fix Energy Problem Now is the one blogpost you can't possibly miss!

If you only read one blogpost this summer, make sure it's Bush Can Fix Energy Problem Now!

Double Live Gonzo: Porn to be vile

Alberto Gonzales wants to be able to see your porn. Why? For the children, of course.

It's long been true that when a politician or bureaucrat starts talking about "the children," you'd better keep a sharp eye on your wallet. Unfortunately, after years of using this alibi to get away with robbing the American people of their money, they've recently figured out that this same excuse can be used to rob the American people of their freedom.

As CNET News's Declan McCullagh reports, Gonzales and his puritanical brethren are calling for a federal law mandating that internet service providers (ISPs) retain data records for a "reasonable amount of time," and a mandatory, government-devised and -enforced ratings system under which "web site operators posting sexually explicit information must place official government warning labels on their pages or risk being imprisoned for up to five years." To justify these proposed laws, Gonzo brings up those meddling kids again:

The failure of some Internet service providers to retain user logs for a "reasonable amount of time" is hampering investigations into gruesome online sex crimes, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Thursday, indicating that new data retention rules may be on the way.

"The investigation and prosecution of child predators depends critically on the availability of evidence that is often in the hands of Internet service providers," Gonzales said in a morning speech to staff at the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children headquarters here.

It comes as no surprise that the Justice Department won't define what a "reasonable amount of time" is, but internet sex crimes investigators say that one year would be ideal.

Privacy advocates generally fear that such a law would allow police to obtain records of e-mail chatter, Web browsing or chat-room activity that normally would have been discarded after a few months--or not kept in the first place. Right now, Internet service providers typically discard any log file they don't need for business purposes, such as network monitoring, fraud prevention or billing disputes.

Proposals for mandatory data retention tend to follow one of two paths. One approach would require businesses to record only the Internet address that is assigned to a customer at a specific time. The second version, which is closer to what Europe adopted, would call for retention of more information including telephone numbers dialed, contents of Web pages visited, and recipients of e-mail messages.

The idea has drawn concern from the Internet service providers themselves, which worry about costs associated with storing the massive amounts of data and argue that existing laws give police sufficient tools to conduct investigations.

Raise your hand if you think that once a law like this is in place, the government will use it only to track child predators and pornographers. Remember that the government's drug of choice is PCP- Power, Control, and Prohibition - and that it's addicted. And like any addict, it constantly needs more and more of its drug to get the same rush, the same high, as that first one. This PCP addiction is how legislation regarding methamphetamines wormed its way into the PATRIOT Act, for example.

And I hope you liberals out there don't think the Democrats are any better. As McCullagh points out, the idea of a mandatory website rating system like the one Gonzales wants was first proposed under the Clinton administration:

In the mid-1990s, the then-nascent Internet industry began backing the Platform for Internet Content Selection, or PICS. The idea was simple: let Web sites self-rate, or let a third-party service offer ratings, and permit parents to set their browsers to never show certain types of content. Netscape and Microsoft soon agreed to support it in their browsers.

At a White House summit in July 1997 hosted by President Clinton and Vice President Al Gore, the head of the Lycos search engine proposed that only rated pages would be indexed. (Bob Davis, the president of Lycos at the time, said: "I threw a gauntlet to other search engines in today's meeting saying that collectively we should require a rating before we index pages.") Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat from Washington state, suggested that misrating a Web site should be a federal crime.

The Bush administration wants to require websites that contain sexually explicit information to place "official government warning labels" on their web pages, with penalties of up to five years in prison for website operators who refuse to comply.

The Bush administration's proposal would require commercial Web sites to place "marks and notices" to be devised by the Federal Trade Commission on each sexually explicit page. The definition of sexually explicit broadly covers depictions of everything from sexual intercourse and masturbation to "sadistic abuse" and close-ups of fully clothed genital regions.

So what's the name of this proposal? Surprise, surprise, surprise, it's the "Child Pornography and Obscenity Prevention Amendments of 2006." (Should CPOPA be pronounced See Poppa? If so, does someone at DoJ have a sick mind?)

Past efforts at compulsory website ratings systems have failed largely because of the difficulties inherent in labeling news sites; e.g., does the news coverage of a sex crime deserve the same rating as a fictional depiction of that same type of crime, or should it have a more inclusive rating because of its perceived value? Indeed, First Amendment experts seem split on the constitutionality of CPOPA:

Eugene Volokh, a law professor at UCLA who has written a book on the First Amendment, said the Bush administration's proposal may be more likely to survive judicial scrutiny. Because the definitions of sexually explicit material have been used elsewhere in federal law, Volokh said, "it has the virtue of relative clarity. I think that's probably constitutional."

But David Greene, director of a free-speech advocacy group called The First Amendment Project, thinks it wouldn't survive a court challenge. "I believe the law would be struck down as impermissible compelled speech," Greene said. "The only times courts allow product labeling is with commercial speech--advertisements."

The clarity to which Volokh refers is the Bush Justice Department's use of existing federal law to define sexually explicit material:

It covers: sexual intercourse of all types; bestiality; masturbation; sadistic or masochistic abuse; or lascivious exhibition of the genitals or pubic area of any person.

However, McCullagh points out that as hard and fast* as these definitions appear,

In practice, courts have interpreted those definitions quite broadly. In one case, U.S. v. Knox, the Supreme Court and an appeals court ruled that the "lascivious exhibition" of the pubic area could include images of clothed people wearing bikini bathing suits, leotards and underwear. That suggests, for instance, that photos of people in leotards and bathing suits would have to be rated as sexually explicit if the commercial Web site owner wanted to avoid going to prison.

It's disheartening that Volokh thinks the proposed law is probably constitutional, but maybe this is one of those rare instances in which the good professor is wrong.

Interestingly, one of the main opponents of the Bush Justice Department is...the Bush Justice Department. Testifying before a Senate Committee this past January, a senior FBI official said that no new laws were necessary to deal with online kiddie porn, and insisted that the laws already on the books were more than up to the task of handling child pornographers.

"The laws are pretty well defined," James H. Burris, deputy assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division told the Senate Commerce Committee. "We have…arrested thousands of predators who would use the Internet to entice children into exploitive situations."

On top of that, McCullagh adds this:

[T]he Justice Department has previously expressed (Click for PDF) "serious reservations about broad mandatory data retention regimes" such as the one that Gonzales proposed on Thursday.

So, which is it, Gonzo? Are the laws you're proposing really necessary to keep our kids safe and snug? Or are you using our kids - exploiting them, you might say - to get what you really want: power and control over the reading and viewing habits of consenting adults and the prohibition of those things you claim to find distasteful. Power, control, prohibition: PCP. It's an odd, though widespread, addicition, this need to run other people's lives. And "small government" conservatives are often no more immune to its charms than are nanny state liberals.

But exploiting the exploitation of children is pretty low - the moral equivalent of kiddie porn. It should go without saying that an adult having sex with a child is among the vilest, cruelest and most immoral acts known to man, and creating or trafficking in kiddie porn is right behind it. But most pornography is not child pornography, and it shouldn't be treated as though it were.

Porn has become a sort of equivalent to "the Jews": Don't like the state of your society and need something to blame? "The Jews" or "porn" works equally well as a scapegoat. But just as the Jews have never been the real reason for society's problems, pornography has never been the a prioi evil that some on the "I don't like it so it should be illegal" right and the "I'm doing this for your own good" left make it out to be. There's a reason why the adult entertaiment industry's 2005 revenues were in the neighborhood of $12.6 billion (with $2.5 billion of that coming* from the 'net). Anything making that kind of money is clearly bringing a lot of pleasure to a lot of people, and anything that provides that much consensual pleasure simply can't be evil in and of itself. If you find that offensive, deal with it. As Nigel Tufnel from the great band Spinal Tap once said, "What's wrong with being sexy?"

(Hat tip: The Agitator himself, Radley Balko, who explains why "Gonzo" is an unfortunate nickname for an anti-porn crusader, in case you didn't already know. The Cranky Insomniac already knew. The Cranky Insomniac accepts the fact that he's probably on many government lists.)


*Unless otherwise noted, all puns are intended.