The absence of scandal

Paul Krugman, who is always right, issues an apology:

When Barack Obama was elected, I was sure that it would be the Clinton years all over — that he would be subjected to an endless series of claims of “scandal”, creating the sense of a tainted administration even though all the alleged scandals would turn out to be either trivial or nonexistent. Remember, after all those years of front-page headlines and $70 million in public funds, the Whitewater investigation came up dry.

In fact, however, none of that happened during Obama’s first term. But would the second term be different? For a little while it looked as if the old scandal machinery was finally springing back to life, with Benghazi, the IRS, and more. You could almost hear the sigh of contentment from a certain part of the press corps.

But now it has all evaporated. Benghazi never made sense; it turns out that the IRS was targeting conservative as well as liberal groups. And as Chait says in the linked article, the NSA stuff is a policy dispute, not the kind of scandal the right wing wants.

Of course, the absence of any fire behind the smoke didn’t stop the Clinton witch hunts. But this time seems to be different. Maybe the news media have actually learned something; maybe they’re effectively disciplined, this time around, by the blogosphere. Anyway, the narrative of a scandal-ridden presidency seems to be evaporating as we speak.

So I was wrong. And I’m glad I was.

It isn’t that the Republicans are trying to make up scandals that aren’t there. It’s that no one believes what they say anymore. Take a look at the links at the bottom of this post.  The GOP is making itself irrelevant.

The beer bust

When you read about this incident, your reaction will be the same as mine. It absolutely makes no sense.

When a half-dozen men and a woman in street clothes closed in on University of Virginia student Elizabeth Daly, 20, she and two roommates panicked.

That led to Daly spending a night and an afternoon in the Albemarle-Charlottesville Regional Jail. Her initial offense? Walking to her car with bottled water, cookie dough and ice cream just purchased from the Harris Teeter in the Barracks Road Shopping Center for a sorority benefit fundraiser.

A group of state Alcoholic Beverage Control agents clad in plainclothes approached her, suspecting the blue carton of LaCroix sparkling water to be a 12-pack of beer. Police say one of the agents jumped on the hood of her car. She says one drew a gun. Unsure of who they were, Daly tried to flee the darkened parking lot.

Prosecutors say she apologized profusely when she realized who the agents were. But that wasn’t good enough for ABC agents, who charged her with three felonies. Prosecutors withdrew those charges Thursday in Charlottesville General District Court, but Daly still can’t understand why she sat in jail.

Agents charged Daly with two counts of assaulting a law enforcement officer and one count of eluding police, all Class 6 felonies carrying a maximum penalty of five years in prison and $2,500 in fines per offense.

This is what the cops saw her buying.7336070341 Even I know, from a distance that this is sparkling water. I used to buy it all the time. You’d think one of the requirements for being a Virginia ABC agent would be the ability to tell a case of beer from a case of water.

But let’s put that aside.

When did buying beer become an excuse for calling out a SWAT team? Maybe I’m just old, but wasn’t there a time where a cop would just walk up to a kid and say, “What are you doing with that beer?” Why do you need six people to stop a girl with a 12-pack? (Other than splitting up two beers a piece.)

Why are cops pulling guns over a 12-pack?

I know I’m missing some kind of nuances of modern police procedure, but c’mon! This is insane.


David Stern makes me laugh

The NBA draft was funny.

I’ve never watched it before, but stuck with it to see where Gorgui Dieng of Louisville would go in the first round (picked by Utah, traded to Minnesota). That’s actually pretty good, because Rick Pitino‘s kid is now the head coach at the University of Minnesota, so Gorgui will at least have some “family” in the area. That’s confirmed by this tweet:

gorguiBut NBA Commissioner David Stern getting booed every time he walked out to announce the next pick was a riot. He egged the crowd on, saying things like “I can’t hear you.” Then he came out with these words of wisdom:

“We’ve had to explain to our international audience that the boo is an American sign of respect.”

I guess if I followed the NBA, I’d have known this was an inside joke. Stern is retiring after 30 years, and as he made his last pick, he got a standing ovation of sincere cheers by the crowd. And then, when he introduced his successor, the crowd booed the new guy.

Are we done yet?

The Supreme Court has cleared the way for gay marriage by ruling against a key point of the Defense of Marriage Act and by declining to rule on California’s Proposition 8, leaving a lower court order that ruled against that law intact.

So now that’s over and we can move on to more important matters, right?

A group of conservative House Republicans blasted the decisions on same-sex marriage issued Wednesday by the Supreme Court as legally inconsistent and detrimental to the future of the nation’s children. One lawmaker pledged to soon file a constitutional amendment to reinstate the Defense of Marriage Act.

“A narrow radical majority of the court has substituted their personal views for the constitutional decisions of the American voters and their elected representatives,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.). “My response will be later this week to file a federal marriage amendment.”

It’s like beating your head against the wall.



Revolution in the air

All is not calm in the world, but we don’t notice it because we’re too focused on being surprised by something we already knew was happening. (The government is watching us. It’s finally catching up to the banks and corporations.)

The people of Egypt are bracing for a new round of demonstrations, with opponents of demanding the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. The military, which was asked to stand aside to allow for Democratic elections, is now threatening to take over if things get out of hand. If the military takes over, expect even bigger demonstrations.

Turks are demanding the removal of their Islamist government, as a skirmish over the destruction of a park for a business center has escalated into a nationwide protest against the imposition of Muslim law on a secular society as well as a fight against government corruption. This now threatens Turkey’s efforts to gain membership in the European Union, as talks have been put aside because of the government crackdown on demonstrators.

And on this side of the planet, people in Brazil are massing in the streets because the government is using public funds to build stadiums and venues for the Olympics and the World Cup soccer tournament … funds that originally were designated for social programs. The result:

So why am I bringing this up?

Because the U.S. Supreme Court today effectively spayed and neutered the Voting Rights Act, which has been used for the past four decades to make sure minorities aren’t disenfranchised by racist efforts to keep them from the polls. And the states that have been the biggest offenders … (Really? Do I have to remind you which ones they are? Oh, hell! here you go.) …

voting map

… (I’m sure that came as a shock.) …

… are now getting ready to rev up their latest suppression efforts by reintroducing voter ID laws that were struck down because they were specifically designed to keep a certain shade of people from the polls.

And you know what? We aren’t going to do a damn thing about it.

The court said Congress has to update a formula that determined the jurisdictions in violation. You know and I know that Congress isn’t going to do jack. And that means Republican efforts to make sure all those brown people aren’t going to screw up their election chances have just gotten the green light from the law of the land.

So sit back and watch people in the rest of the world fight for their freedom. Because we seem to be doing everything to give ours away.

Serial killers and animal abuse

This small story has been circulating for the past couple of weeks:

More than two dozen people from the city and throughout Northeast Ohio spoke for about 90 minutes to City Council during its June 17 meeting about the shooting of five feral kittens by a humane officer June 10.

The overwhelming number of speakers called for immediate change to city policy that allows for the shooting of feral cats if an officer feels they present a threat.

This is the threat the “humane” officer faced:

kittens-shotNow, it’s bad enough that the guy pulled out a gun and shot kittens because he felt threatened, but this is where the situation goes into the realm of psychotic behavior:

After spotting the five kittens, he told the resident’s distressed children that the cats would be going to heaven. Shortly thereafter, he took a gun from his vehicle and shot the animals to death.

“He informed [the resident] that shelters were full and that these cats would be going to kitty heaven,” Ohio SPCA Director Teresa Landon told the Cleveland Sun News. “She assumed he would be trapping them or something and taking them to a shelter and they would be humanely euthanized if they were not adopted.”

Initially, the woman who made the call assumed that the gun was a tranquilizer. But to her surprise, the 8-to-10 week-old kittens were shot dead, just 15 feet from the back door to her house.

“She was very distraught when this happened,” Landon said. “He started shooting them right in front of her. Her children were upstairs in view of the windows. They started screaming and crying because they heard the gunshots. They started screaming, ‘Mommy, he’s killing the kittens.’”

The homeowner’s four children are all between the ages of 5 months and 7 years.

Now, how could this get any worse?

[T]he police chief released a statement regarding the incident:

… “After visiting the scene, talking with the responding officer and re-interviewing the complainant, I have decided his actions were appropriate and have decided not to impose any disciplinary measures for the incident. We will talk with the humane officers about improving their communications with the public. We are here to help those who seek our assistance. Our agency prides itself on not telling people, “It’s not our problem or there is nothing we can do for you.” This would be the easy way out. To walk away and leave a safety issue unresolved is irresponsible. At no time does this agency condone or allow the indiscriminate killing of animals, but we will continue to assist residents when there is a safety or nuisance condition.”

So this means, in Ohio, it’s okay for officers with guns to shoot kittens in front of screaming children? Am I reading this right?

Which brings me to the headline of this post.

Every time I see a story about serial killers, one common thread is that they kill or mutilate helpless animals. There have been studies on it:

Many studies in psychology, sociology, and criminology during the last 25 years demonstrate that violent offenders frequently have childhood and adolescent histories of serious and repeated animal cruelty. The FBI has recognized this connection since the 1970s, when its analysis of the lives of serial killers suggested that most had killed or tortured animals as children. Other research shows consistent patterns of animal cruelty among perpetrators of more common forms of violence, including child abuse, spouse abuse and elder abuse.

Taking stray animals from a location, spaying and neutering them, is humane.

Taking stray animals away from a location to a pound to euthanize them is sad but understandable.

Taking stray animals from a location to a remote area and shooting them is a sign that the guy with the gun is not all there and should be watched closely.

Pulling a gun out and shooting kittens in front of screaming children is simply the action of a total psychopath. And this guy is a cop who as a low threshold for being threatened. What makes this a reflection on the town is that the police chief has no problem with letting that guy keep his gun to do “humane” business.

Man of Steel: Cement for brains

Spoiler alert: I’m going to talk about one of the things that really bothered me about the movie “Man of Steel.”

If you saw the movie, you know the end is mainly one overwhelming battle of super beings in Metropolis. And you have to see the movie to fully understand the magnitude of the devastation of the city. If you thought the destruction of midtown Manhattan in “The Avengers” was over the top, that was noting compared to what happened to Metropolis:

Click here to see an editorial by Daily Planet Editor Perry White, which includes this:

perry white

So here’s what bothers me about “Man of Steel.”

The Superman I know would never let a battle like this happen in Metropolis. He would have first disabled the terrible machine wrecking the city by flying to the other side of the Earth and destroying the machine’s counterpart there, forcing the super villains to chase him to that part of the planet, where the destruction of life and property would be minimal.

But this Superman didn’t do that. He kept the battle in Metropolis. And what was the result? Here’s the estimate by disaster expert Charles Watson and his crew at Watson Technical Consulting and Kinetic Analysis Corp., requested by the folks at Buzzfeed.


That’s right. Almost 130,000 confirmed dead and $2 trillion in damage.

With a protector like that, who needs terrorists with nukes?

And by all counts, the Avengers were far more responsible in limiting death and destruction. If you remember, Captain America directed the team to contain the fight to midtown Manhattan, between Grand Central Station and 30th Street. Yes, there was carnage, but according to estimates (from Wonkblog):

The damage to Manhattan in “The Avengers” is estimated at around $160 billion.

Not small change, but nowhere near $2 trillion.

I liked “Man of Steel,” though the fight scenes did go on too long. But I remember back in 1980, the previous time Zod appeared in Metropolis. Superman faced battle then saw what was happening to the city and took off. Folks were upset that he “ran,” but he knew what he was doing.

Yes, there is a lot of destruction in this. But it isn’t even close to what happened in “The Avengers,” and definitely not anywhere near what happened in “Man of Steel.”

See, this is the Superman I know. He saw people were in danger and he took the battle to somewhere safe.

That guy in “Man of Steel” was totally irresponsible.

The rest of the universe must think we’re idiots


The above illustration is another winner from

A quick physics lesson.

Our television and radio transmissions travel at the speed of light. If technologically sophisticated, intergalactic beings are able to pick up those signals, this is what they’re hearing, based on their distance from us.

Let’s say there’s a technological being on a planet orbiting the star Castor (upper left hand corner) in the Gemini Constellation. That system is about 50 light years away, which means that a television signal sent in 1963 is just arriving there. “The Flintstones” first broadcast in 1960. So, for the past three years, a scientist on a planet orbiting Castor has been trying to figure out what the hell this means:

Is this really how we wanted to make first contact?

Finding your way around Geoguessr

geoguessrThe illustration at the right isn’t what I have a hard time with on Geoguessr.

I can pretty much figure out where I am within a couple of meters as long as the road signs are in Roman letter.

But I seem to spend a good percentage of my time stuck somewhere in Russia and China bombarded with signs that I can’t translate.

Here’s what I do. I land. I do a 360 degree turn. I look for clues: street address, road markers, phone numbers on trucks and buses, business signs.

Eventually, I’ll find something that’s helpful. Then, do a little Internet cross checking, pull up Google maps, figure out how close you can get to the place in the photo using the street view and mark your location on Geoguessr. I can do this almost everywhere in the world.

Except for Russia and China.

Really. I can find my way around a tiny remote island without a problem. The Marshall Islands, the Canary Islands. Anything that has streets off the African coast. Every country seems to include Roman letters in their signage. Even Japan uses various forms of spelling: characters, its own alphabet and Roman letters. It takes a while longer to figure out where you are, but eventually, you can hit the mark.

And, I guess knowing any Romance language will help. If you can read signs in French, you can figure out signs in Spanish, Portuguese and Italian. But it’s not essential. I don’t know any Nordic language, but I still can mark where I am.

At least with the Greeks, the letters are close enough that you can work out in your head what the corresponding Roman letter is.

But the Russians and the Chinese rarely provide those clues. Maybe twice, when I’ve found my way to a Russian highway, I see a sign with Roman letters, and then, even when it’s an odd spelling, I’ll figure it out. But that’s rare.

Minutes before I saw the above cartoon, I was on a roll. I zipped through a town in Iowa, a Portuguese island off the coast of Morocco and not far from Stockholm, and got more than 6,000 points on each.

Then I hit Russia. Twice. Game over.

Here the link: Give it a shot and see where you end up.