I am in Atlanta for PyCon, and you're on Slashdot reading about it. So there. Neener neener neener.
About a year and a half ago, my wife met a really cool lady while doing community theater. Her boyfriend turned out to be a computer nerd, like me. In that year and a half, my wife and this woman grew very close, having similar interests and character. Although I tried to befriend the boyfriend, he always seemed distant. We knew, from his girlfriend, that he had had a "bad" childhood. We just never knew how bad, I guess. Yesterday at six AM, their house was raided by a fifteen man task force including state police, the FBI, and the district attorney's office. Because they had been investigating him for a year, and had the house under observation for a month, they knew they did not need the SWAT team for a flash-bang entrance, as was common in these cases. They were looking for child pornography, and they found it. Not "barely legal" stuff, two to six year olds, in violent and incestuous situations. He admitted guilt, at least according to the police, who questioned him away from his girlfriend. Yes, I realize that could be an interrogation tactic, but he also never protested his innocence to her, and seemed to know exactly why the raid was happening.
The raid was professional and the police were amazingly courteous. They found about an eighth of pot and quite a bit of paraphernalia, and asked whose it was. She admitted that her mom is an old hippie and had left a bunch of bongs there, but the rest was hers, that she used to calm herself down because she had hyperthyroidism, which is true. They let her keep everything and joked that, after this, she'd probably need it. The police doing this kind of work probably look on pot like they look on jaywalking, technically illegal, but not worth their time. They had a list of specific files that had been downloaded and came prepared with the utilities to scan any electronic device or media on the premises. The fact that he used Linux didn't phase them for a second. She gave up all the passwords she knew. As soon as they found the first match, about an hour and a half into things, he was cuffed and taken away. The raid lasted another three and a half hours after that, as the police methodically searched for additional evidence.
She had class, and needed her laptop, so they scanned that and gave it back to her right away, but she couldn't go to class because, if you leave the scene of an investigation, you can't come back until they are done. Which meant she couldn't go buy cigarettes, either, she was out, and none of the police smoked, the poor thing. So she pulled some hair out, strand by strand. The police had a rookie with them they assigned to her, probably like "Watch what we do and make sure she doesn't freak out." They set up two tables in her driveway. Anything potentially dangerous was brought there, as well as electronics and media. Other things were opened, searched, and placed on the floor. They took all hard drives and electronic components. They searched stacks of blank CDs, looking for any hidden amongst the blanks. They took all hand labeled CDs. They felt all cushions carefully, but not finding anything, did not rip them open. They opened all boxes, jars, bags, etcetera, and searched them.
I know all this because we spent about five hours last night going over it with her. If you ever have a friend go through a traumatic experience, this is the best thing you can do for them. Just listen, as they say the same things over and over again. Heck, when they slow down, ask questions to get them going again. Encourage them to show their feelings about it, too, if they cry or rage or shake or whatever, so much the better. The earlier you can get them to do it, the better, because (according to some psychological theories as I understand them) during traumatic, emotional events, the rational mind shuts down and disassociates at least a little. The experience is stored in memory as an undifferentiated lump with heavy emotional triggers attached. If it isn't processed, anything associated with the event can trigger strong emotions, once again causing the rational mid to shut down a little. Having one's rational mind shut down all the time is sub-optimal. She is going to clean up, move all his stuff to storage, and smudge the place with sage, which normally would earn an eye-roll from me, but this is exactly the place for that ritual. It's not magic, it's psychology.
The thing is, she had broken up with him the week before, and it was under consideration for a long time, because he just couldn't get his shit together after his dad died two years ago. He hadn't worked in years, he didn't do anything around the house, he just didn't do anything. He never wanted to hang out with me, even though we have similar interests and had fun conversations at parties. She would come home and find him crying on the couch. He doesn't remember much of his childhood, what he does remember is terrifying. His dad was a hoarder, and they were divorced when he was very young. His mom treated him like a boyfriend. His girlfriend reported seeing his mother sit on his lap and stroke his hair. He's thirty five. He had not had sex with his girlfriend in six or eight months.
I knew some of this before the incident so if it seems I rushed to judgment yesterday it is only because so many things suddenly made much more sense in this new light. It is still possible he is innocent of everything. It depends on exactly what they found, I suppose, and they have a year long record of someone, using several different IP addresses which they can now connect securely to him, I believe, viewing a great deal of very disturbing things online. They read the titles and descriptions of all of them to my wife's friend. We had a large bust of a child pornography ring here last month, actual production of the stuff, and the police admitted that there were fifteen additional people being raided here yesterday. I believe he had also recently befriended a young autistic man of twenty four or so who has young children. The police asked if he he had had any contact with people with young children, and his girlfriend told them that he had, and who they were, so they could question them. In retrospect, I'm glad I didn't get closer to this guy. My cousin has young kids and they are over at our house a lot. Again, I'm not saying this man actually did anything to children himself or intended to. But I see a lot of data points that fit a certain class of patterns of human psychological illness here.
So that's about it. That's all I know at this point. My wife and I are glad that we can be there for her friend while she goes through this, it isn't over for her yet, not by a long shot. Her family owns the trailer park (no snickers, it's very nice) where she lives (in a three bedroom double wide that is as nice as my place, and why am I worried about class issues right now?) She may have to testify, that depends a lot on him, I imagine. We don't even know where he is being held. No local police were involved, it was all state and federal. He called and left a message for her, said not to believe anything they said, asked her to pray for him, and asked her to help bail him out. His bail is eighty thousand, so someone would have to some up with eight. There is no way in hell she is going to put up any money. Note that in his message, again he did not directly protest innocence, he said, "Don't believe them." I believe there is a high risk that if he did get out, he would kill himself, which is why I made the comment yesterday. I was empathizing with what I can only imagine a person in his apparent situation must be going through. That's one of my flaws, I can't really shut off my empathy. It makes it hard to be around people sometimes, or even watch certain kinds of movies or television, like the original British version of The Office took me a really long time to warm up to, I always felt too much empathy towards the character Michael Scott to laugh at him. But I'm babbling now, I guess I don't really have anything else to say at present.
By now you've heard of that crazy Discovery Channel hostage taker James J. Lee and you're probably aware that his big plan was to hold hostages until Discovery put him in charge of their fall lineup. And he was not a big fan of Kate Plus 8.
As soon as I read he was anti-baby and concerned for the environment (let alone had written a manifesto), I wondered if the right wing hate machine would use this incident to make their enemies out to be homeless hostage-takers. It seemed like the kind of tragedy that would get the pulse racing for some of bloggers on the right-wing fringe at least. But would they really stoop that low? I kind of figured they would. Sure enough, many did:
- Another Lefty Killer
- ECO-TERRORISM? Gunman who took hostages at Discovery Channel inspired by Al Gore
- Eugenicist Gunman Exposes Dark Side of the Environmentalist Cult
- The Discovery Attacker: A True Green Believer
- James J. Lee, Hostage-taker and Darwinist
The crazy Mr. Lee was a right-winger himself. He is to the right of Jan Brewer on anti-immigration. He raged against "filthy anchor babies" in his manifesto:
Immigration: Programs must be developed to find solutions to stopping ALL immigration pollution and the anchor baby filth that follows that. Find solutions to stopping it. Call for people in the world to develop solutions to stop it completely and permanently. Find solutions FOR these countries so they stop sending their breeding populations to the US and the world to seek jobs and therefore breed more unwanted pollution babies. FIND SOLUTIONS FOR THEM TO STOP THEIR HUMAN GROWTH AND THE EXPORTATION OF THAT DISGUSTING FILTH! (The first world is feeding the population growth of the Third World and those human families are going to where the food is! They must stop procreating new humans looking for nonexistant jobs!)
You see how the game works? You can just pick one part of the crazy and ignore the other.
Witness the flawless reasoning that powered the 8 Bush years, the greatest economic and military era in American History:
- When anti-abortion activists systematically murder people, only an evil conspiracy could blame open calls to systematically murder those people.
- When right-wing militias plot to murder cops, only an evil conspiracy could blame direct appeals for violence by elected GOP reps.
- Since you're never going to watch An Inconvenient Truth (or even if you have), if I tell you it's as bad as the Nuremburg Files, you'll believe me.
- If you call immigration "pollution" and foreign babies "disgusting filth," you're obviously the first of Al Gore's many violent disciples.
- Because sticking crazy people on your political opponents is just good clean fun.
- By the way, did you know Al Qaeda hopes to end our nation's secular democracy, and make it a religious state, just like the Republican Party?
The codemonkeys of Slashdot have obviously been pounding randomly on their keyboards recently. Here's a thought, if you are going to hire monkeys to maintain your code, you should at least test it before deploying it to your live servers. This hasn't been Rob Malda's personal blog for years, it's a fricken' business. Do you Slashdot employees like your jobs? Do you want them to continue to exist? If so, perhaps you should start treating this like a business and not like a hobby. Quit breaking things.
They made me do it! It was the peer pressure! I... I'm on... Facebook now.
Any responses from the Conservative side of the house?
Breitbart concocting a video hoax, that's ordinary enough. But Fox News picking it up and running with it - that looks like one of the biggest stories of the year to me.
Litmus test on whether we have any hope as a nation: will the hoax become a bigger story than Acorn itself? Or does this trick now work, even when exposed?
Remember this gem?
The kind of rhetoric you hear from [Democratic presidential candidates]
A "miserable failure"? Seriously? phony? liar?? That's hate speech? You didn't even use the n-word. Or compare anyone to Lenin. Or Stalin. Or Hitler. Or call a black man a racist.
Oh Ed, why have you hung up your political hate speech sword? The GOP was already comparing liberals to Al Qaeda.
For that matter, why has the New York Times let this go? They just published a whole article about hateful GOP speech without, apparently, recognizing the irony that for about 5 minutes in 2003, the GOP had the audacity to coin the phrase "Political Hate Speech." You know, when they were criticized in whatever way. Like being called a "phony." Or, you know, passing off their Iraq war agenda as a response to 9/11.
Then about a year later, they stopped using the trick, because they were busy ramping up the biggest political hate speech machine ever created in modern America. Doing both at once might, you know, be awkward. Today, Republican hate speech is now an industry. Republican party experts, in think tanks and PR agencies, create huge volumes of hate speech daily and distribute it via a vast network of radio and television shows, including an entire cable channel devoted to Republican propaganda that calls itself a 24/7 news network. At their darkest and most juvenile, the democratic critics of GWB couldn't even fantasize something so ambitious. They're still playing politics as they were played in 1980, which is part of why they are sucking so badly.
What's especially funny and ironic is that the GOP hate speech has risen to the level where it can actually be objectively compared to fascism.
You see, if your accusations of fascism are part of an organized and deliberate campaign to stir up violence and silence dissent, so you can subvert the democratic process and foster a corporatist theocracy, you might actually be a fascist. And then if someone called you that... well, it might just be the truth. As opposed to, you know, hate speech.
Since Republicans are the party of Hypocrisy, this shouldn't be too big a leap to make. Fox News is Fair and Balanced. Budget Reconciliation is a violent coup that we refer to as the Nuclear Option. The GOP is outraged about budget deficits. And so forth. Calling their opponents fascists and accusing them of hate speech fits the pattern pretty well.
I just had an interesting revelation regarding freedom. My mom came down with pancreatic cancer about a year ago, and I felt my personal sense of freedom curtailed. Sure, it was only curtailed by my own sense morality and obligation. but it was limited nonetheless. And I noticed, there is only so much freedom I am willing to give up. I was suddenly much more aware of, and resistant to, all the other limitations on my freedom like my marriage and my job and living in a society where I have to wear pants. Then my mom died, and I inherited a house and quite a bit of money. Now that my freedom is far less constrained by finances, or by dying single mother, only child dynamics, the minor impositions of job and marriage and pants obsessed society don't even register.
I've read that the sense of certainty is simply an emotion, a specific analog circuit that engages and drives our logical mind to come up with explanations. Now, through experience, I believe our sense of freedom is another emotional circuit. While in a strictly deterministic world individual freedom does not exist as such, the sense of personal freedom is a very real part of the chain of cause and effect.
(And thus, a personal conundrum is resolved, cognitive dissonance is decreased, and pants are worn.)
So guys, 2 justices and a 5-4 conservative supreme court. Nice job. So what did this get you?
Abortion is still legal. But campaign finance reform is now unconstitutional. Domestic and foreign companies can now spend unlimited money in elections.
Is this what you signed on for?
We should commiserate down at the bar. Have a contest on who's more pissed at their party.
After nearly a decade with the same sig, I've decided to get rid of the Python quote and replace it with something even more combative. I saw it in an Empire: Total War loading screen, heh heh.
"None can love freedom heartily, but good men; the rest love not freedom, but license." --John Milton.
Liberty is a social contract, it requires active participation to achieve it. License is "I get to do what I want."
So I served a guy a restraining order today. He'd beat up my friend a couple times, gave him a concussion the last time. So my friend got a restraining order, but he's a waiter and this is the dead time of year for that in Santa Fe, and he doesn't have the money to pay the sheriff to serve the papers. So I volunteered. This guy is a punk ass gangster wannabe who hangs out with a crowd of (snicker) Santa Fe toughs. But they kicked the shit out of my friend in public a couple times, and they are cracked out of their heads a lot of the time, so yeah, I was a little scared. But it was the right thing to do, and the fact that you have to pay someone to serve a restraining order sucks balls, so I had to do it. I had to track the fucker down, too, because he didn't show up for work tonight. He was off at some bar with his friends. I walked right up to him, made sure it was him (I've never met the guy), handed him the papers and walked out, calm as you please.
My hands are shaking a little bit now, though.
Pancreatic cancer. You just don't recover from that one. This last year has been pretty hard. I'm the only child of a single mom, so this has all been on me and my wife. And of course, being my mom, she had to go die oversees. In a little tiny village outside of Peterborough in England. Well, she actually passed away in a Sue Ryder hospice in Peterborough, Thorpe Hall. The building is older than my country. She was staying with her old friend Marianna and her husband in Nassington. So there we were, my wife and I, in a foreign country experiencing the snowstorm of the decade, staying with virtual strangers in a tiny village with all of 20 or so buildings, for Christmas. I'll just say this, my mom died like she lived: weirdly.
Politico is running a story on how well Sarah Palin's media strategy is working.
In brief, that strategy seems to be:
- Avoid The Press
- Communicate Through Posting Online
While I am validated that Mrs. Palin has finally adopted my strategy, and pleased that the "mainstream media" are reporting on its effectiveness, I am a little troubled that Politico seems to miss the main benefits.
Allow me to break it down:
- Take hours to write only a few sentences - but boy are they beautiful!
- Let your team of minions copy edit after you finish - no more embarrassing factual or spelling mistakes!
- Never answering questions means never not knowing the answer!
Obviously, the superiority of this method cannot be in doubt. It seems certain that this trend will grow. I would not be surprised if in 10 years no American politician will even show their face in public.
It's common knowledge that our government borrows money on a staggering, fantastic scale. And that, in 2009 alone, we are borrowing and spending on a scale not contemplated outside of global wars gone by.
As the U.S. economy as we know it ends, foreign holders of American debt are beginning to make their unhappiness known, and this is getting a lot of press.
But the real story of American debt, and the credit-worthiness of our government, is not a foreign vs. domestic issue. It has to do with the legitimacy of the U.S. government itself.
The American public at large has absolutely no conception of what has just happened to them. To put it simply, one of the the largest mass transfers of wealth in the first world has just occurred - from ordinary taxpayers to a few ultra-wealthy individuals, both foreign and domestic.
Although the paperwork for this is done and filed safely away, it is far from clear to me that it will stand. When all the hand-waving and bullshit is over, eventually American voters will begin to wonder why they pay so much in taxes and get so little. The answer will be that we are paying a lot of our taxes directly to a group of rich individuals, instead of using them to perform services.
This is the magic of "too big to fail" and "government borrowing." Sleight of hand. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. That giant mountain of money you're giving away? It is merely your interest payments. Your bailout funds. You must pay them. The government's debt obligations are sacred. The economy might collapse. Soldiers and schools and police and EMTs come later. Healthcare? You cannot afford healthcare. You must pay the rich people first. After all - you borrowed their money. Or, you needed them to stay in business, so they wouldn't lay you off.
You don't remember agreeing to this? You feel it's unfair? Too bad. You have a Sacred Contract. "There is no way out of it."
Or is there?
Eventually, if it becomes bad enough, some firebrand politician will run on the platform of abrogating certain loans. Others might find themselves losing to competitors who promise prosecution of those responsible for that epic wealth transfer. Senators and presidential hopefuls might see the poll numbers jump for those who promise to try to reclaim some of that vast stolen treasure.
It is vast. Maybe you didn't look at that chart earlier. Look, to see what the stakes are.
There is much theater around the sacredness of contracts. Geithner, for instance, suggested that it was "legally difficult" to limit executive pay in companies we bailed out because those executives have "contracts" and they have to be honored.
Only, there are no contracts anymore. No rules at all, really. Those same executives should get no bonuses, no private jets, because they let their companies fail. They should get nothing, because there should be no company left to pay them. Those were the rules.
We could have refused to bail out any company unless their executives agreed to end their old contracts (which were about to be worthless) in exchange for the government's aid. We could have set any terms we liked.
We did not.
You may use your own common sense to guess why.
So to recap: contracts are only as good as the government that enforces them. Democratic governments are only as good as their poll numbers.
The model here is that of the banana republic. The old Shah of Iran may have given British Petroleum a fantastically good deal on drilling rights back in the day, at the expense of the people of Iran. This, after all, is why he was installed. But the value of the lease was tenuous - because the lease was not with the Iranian people. It was with a government that they loathed, and which was unstable. Eventually (despite ruthless and horrifically violent attempts to stay in power), the Shah was deposed. Iran's oil industry was nationalized. 100% of its profits now line the pockets of Iranian, rather than foreign, power brokers.
Revolutionary governments do this all the time. They abrogate contracts, nationalize ("steal") factories, ports, ships, bank accounts, etc. They jail or torture or behead those who formerly sat on boards or at the heads of courtrooms or in the hearts of command bunkers. One needs only to claim that this is in the interest of law and order. It becomes legitimate when people believe it is.
Revolutions are violent in countries that are undemocratic. In countries like America we have them all the time, in voting booths instead. The idea that we might suddenly no longer feel obligated to pay our debts, or that we might suddenly view the law in such a way that many formerly powerful Americans become criminals, is not at all so far-fetched.
Should the public come to understand that their indebtedness is part of a criminal enterprise, the purpose of which is stealing tax money, they will simply treat US bonds like the chits of busted mafia bookies. Bailout cash will become stolen goods. Politicians, Captains of finance industry, may find themselves discussing RICO with their lawyers from prison.
All just from a shift in perspective. Watchers of public perspective can tell you, bigger shifts have occurred. When they start, they spread like brushfire.
The concept of using the taxes and indebtedness of voters to enrich already rich people may seem unassailable in the U.S. today. But we have never pushed it so far before. There are certainly limits. History tells us that when we cross those limits, all the rules will change. No paperwork, no matter how beautifully crafted, holds its value when enough voters (and their representatives) deem otherwise.
If I were holding bonds issued by the U.S. government, I might start thinking extremely hard about who holds the other end of that debt. The American taxpayer? Or a political paradigm that may not be long for the world?