Saturday, December 17, 2005

King George

Oh, I had my little snarky rant. Go here for Steve Gilliard doing some of the best political writing -- mainstream media included -- on the current situation.


In an ordinary world, I wouldn't have to differentiate between multiple domestic spying programs. But in response to a few e-mails: while the NSA numbers-fishing appears to me to be a solid intelligence idea executed completely (and most importantly, unnecessarily) illegally, this Department of Defense spying-on-Quakers shit is insane. I am, however, willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on the Quaker thing; as almost none of our intelligence guys speak Arabic, the spelling confusion probably gummed up the works.

Good general rule: as soon as you have the military doing anything non-military, you have screwed up. And it's not like they couldn't have used these resources to better extent, say, getting more body armor for the troops or maybe doing more than five minutes of post-war planning. Didn't exactly knock that stuff out of the park.

Did you catch today's speech, by the way?

"This authorization is a vital tool in our war against the terrorists. It is critical to saving American lives. The American people expect me to do everything in my power, under our laws and Constitution, to protect them and their civil liberties and that is exactly what I will continue to do as long as I am president of the United States," Bush said.

Under. Our. Laws. And. Constitution. That's the tricky bit. Sadly, I'm fairly sure that the President's grasp of law is thin enough that he genuinely believes that when John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales put memos in front of him and tell him that this shit is legal, he a.) genuinely believes them and therefore b.) is pissed people are obstructing his perfectly Constitutional and legal procedures. The alternative, of course, is immensely more unpleasant.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Rule of Law? Over There, Behind my Socks

You know, I was going to give a pass to the whole domestic spying scandal. To me it's a symptom of bigger issues. But I couldn't pass up a fine piece of writing by Hilzoy over at Political Animal.

This is against the law. I have put references to the relevant statute below the fold; the brief version is: the law forbids warrantless surveillance of US citizens, and it provides procedures to be followed in emergencies that do not leave enough time for federal agents to get a warrant. If the NY Times report is correct, the government did not follow these procedures. It therefore acted illegally.

Bush's order is arguably unconstitutional as well: it seems to violate the fourth amendment, and it certainly violates the requirement (Article II, sec. 3) that the President "shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed."

I am normally extremely wary of talking about impeachment. I think that impeachment is a trauma for the country, and that it should only be considered in extreme cases. Moreover, I think that the fact that Clinton was impeached raises the bar as far as impeaching Bush: two traumas in a row is really not good for the country, and even though my reluctance to go through a second impeachment benefits the very Republicans who needlessly inflicted the first on us, I don't care. It's bad for the country, and that matters most.

But I have a high bar, not a nonexistent one. And for a President to order violations of the law meets my criteria for impeachment. This is exactly what got Nixon in trouble: he ordered his subordinates to obstruct justice. To the extent that the two cases differ, the differences make what Bush did worse: after all, it's not as though warrants are hard to get, or the law makes no provision for emergencies. Bush could have followed the law had he wanted to. He chose to set it aside.

And this is something that no American should tolerate. We claim to have a government of laws, not of men. That claim means nothing if we are not prepared to act when a President (or anyone else) places himself above the law.

I personally am not going to throw around impeachment -- I think it's now permanently tarred as a device of partisan hackery, be that true or not. But the point is valid: in my pragmatism, I have no problem with the actual activity set out in the stories. It's the fact that there is a process in place to avoid abuse and that process was completely circumvented that worries me to no end. As soon as the law becomes inconvenient ...

Much like when the President mis-spoke the other day and said "It's the President's job to decide when to send in the troops" (No, that's Congress' job. It says so in a little thing we like to call the Constitution, Article 1 Section 8), the disconnect between how people seem to think the government should work, believe it does work, how it's actually designed to work, and how it actually works has reached a critical mass. Personally I blame shitty 6th grade Social Studies teachers. We should round them up and inter them all without due process. And what's terrifying is that there is a precedent for just such an act.

But this is the fundamental question people need to be asking themselves: is this how they think the government should work? If the answer is "yes", then fine, you feel free to live in whatever version of America you want, but don't pretend it is in any way related to the one set out in the Constitution, or even the one defined by common sense. Just go back to calling the rich folk "Your Lordship" and sleep better at night. If the answer's "no", well then, you have to decide if keeping the gay folk from marrying or disdain for universal healthcare and/or Michael Moore is worth living in a police state.

Oh, and by the way, for those of you who use a certain argument against gay marriage -- THIS is what a "slippery slope" looks like in the real world.

One Angry Feingold

Okay, I bitch enough when democracy doesn't work like it's supposed to. So hats off to Senator Russ Feingold, who was the sole guy who voted against the Patriot Act back in the hot and heavy days of crisis and has now managed to assemble a coalition of Democratic AND Republican Senators to stop the Patriot Act from automatically renewing and force debate on the issue. The Administration just wanted the whole thing approved, part and parcel, without discussion.

You'll note that they're not tossing the Act out the window. All Feingold's coalition wants to do is take the time to debate the specific provisions of the law that they believe may violate basic Constitutional rights and civil liberties. That's right, this guy had to pull off a miracle to get the Senate to DEBATE AND EXAMINE A LAW. Which is, in theory, their goddam job.

The Administration is reportedly disturbed that the Senate has stopped being a rubber stamp.

Predictable response all 'round, of course, from those who think the Senate's job, all our jobs, are to be a rubber stamp for the heroic Executive Branch of the government. I cannot repeat enough times how much I despise the fact that these so-called patriots completely ignore the way the democracy they scream and crow about is supposed to work.

Quick primer: There is supposed to be debate. The Senate is supposed to advise and consent. Judges are supposed to examine laws critically. This means the country is working.

The bits you love, when the President -- any President -- gets to do whatever the hell he wants: that's a bad thing.

There's a reason democracy scared the crap out of people when the Revolutions started, and it wasn't just the loss of First Night privileges. It's alway, always just a fine step away from the unknown, when we plebes have to figure stuff out rather than having the Good King tell us what to do. It always, subtly, psychologically works right on the edge of the abyss. Democracy is anarchy, baby, with the torches and pitchforks just stowed in the coat room ... for now. Democracy and debate and doubt are terrifying.

You want to feel safe? Fine, go seek shelter in the shadow of your King, who knows no doubt. He'll tell you what to do, who the Enemy is, and you'll no longer need to burden yourself with questions. Who needs thought when you have dogma? Ignorance is a virtue, doubt is a sin, and we can all just shuffle along watching the rich folk do the hard work of passing laws and making policy. After all, They Know Best.

You gave it up. All those people fought and bled and died and you tossed aside what they fought for -- your right to debate, to question -- because the Bad Brown People SCARED YOU.

I wish I could come up with a word stronger than disgust.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

That's a Big Bug

Tom Fowler, who drew my last Zombie Tales story, has a blog up. Or has he calls it, a BLARG! up. Some neat stuff on following pages through layout to inking to coloring, and just generally a cool way to track the work of a fine artist. We may have to break out some more comics-oriented categories in the sidebar.


Not a ton of original stuff this week, sorry -- tail end of that rewrite. Some people have sent me Harold Pinter's speech and asked if I had a comment. To which I reply: "Thanks, but he is HAROLD GODDAM PINTER. He is so mind-numbingly beyond my meager abilities that all I can doo is 'ook' at him like the monkey in front of the obelisk in 2001. And not even the smart monkey. The other one."

Via Warren, we find that an Oklahoma State University neural network has been trained to recognize what makes a successful movie.

Using data on 834 movies released between 1998 and 2002, Sharda found that the neural network can judge a film based on seven key parameters: the “star value” of the cast, the movie’s age rating, the time of release against that of competitive movies, the film’s genre, the degree of special effects used, whether it is a sequel or not, and the number of screens it is expected to open in. This allowed it to place a movie in one of nine categories, ranging from “flop” (total takings less than $1 million) to “blockbuster” (over $200 million).

Catwoman was put into the matrix. The equations produced are excerpted in the title. Dammit, this is what I get for turning my back on science and plunging into screenwriting.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

We Will All Pay for Radio

Steve Gilliard has the first in what promises to be a series of interesting essays up on some New Media developments, and covers a nice bit of history of pay TV. Worth a pass.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The War on Christmas

I cannot help but be gut-searingly sure that a thousand years from now, some alien anthropology professor will point to his holographic blackboard and say: "Yes, yes. Different theories attribute different factors, young Blorglings. But it is universally agreed that 'The War on Christmas' movement marked the moment that America had become just ... too stupid to survive."

Monday, December 12, 2005

I feel shame

But Chuck Norris does not. He feels only pity, for people like me who cannot roundhouse kick.

How did I MISS THIS?

Top Thirty Facts About Chuck Norris

M-I 3

CHUD, those rascals, (sorry, Veronica Mars made me say it) has the Mission Impossible 3 trailer up. I'll occassionally bust Abrams' balls for dissing his own writing staff, but there's an interesting element visible here -- TV-trained directors, I'm finding, have a better sense of violence/scale/effect. There's something about that shot near the end, where Cruise is blown off his feet and crunches into the car next to him, that makes me anticipate that sequence far more than the BIG SUPERCOLLIDING GC VEHICLES of, say, The Island's big central chase. Something about impact and inertia vs. human bodies really sells action -- one of the reasons Jackie's real-life escapades are so fascinating, I think.

The Island, by the way, has a very spiffy script, which really shows in that first half hour. I personally found that section of the movie -- and the visual constriction it forced -- genuinely interesting and entertaining. It's out for rent this week, and I'd say pick it up.

Corey Maye Death Penalty

Once again tossing my lefty creds to the wind, I am not per se against the death penalty. But I oppose the death penalty in the United States for the same reason that while I am in no way knee-jerk anti-war, I oppose the current Iraq War: it's poorly thought out and poorly executed, leaving the working class to bear the brunt of mistakes made by rich white fat men in suits*. I am a Death-Penalty Pragmatist, as much as I am a War Pragmatist.

A perfect example of why I hold this opinion is the currently blog-swarming case of Corey Maye:

Let's summarize: Cops mistakenly break down the door of a sleeping man, late at night, as part of drug raid. Turns out, the man wasn't named in the warrant, and wasn't a suspect. The man, frigthened for himself and his 18-month old daughter, fires at an intruder who jumps into his bedroom after the door's been kicked in. Turns out that the man, who is black, has killed the white son of the town's police chief. He's later convicted and sentenced to death by a white jury. The man has no criminal record, and police rather tellingly changed their story about drugs (rather, traces of drugs) in his possession at the time of the raid.

(More details at BattlePanda.)

Lets put it this way: even the conservative blogs are screaming over this one (it's the tiny Libertarian gene in their make-up. It occasionally makes them vulnerable). Pass it around, folks and when any addresses for appeals letters pop up, I'll post them.

* In retrospect, that single sentence contains my entire political philosophy.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

New Scribospheric Guru

I open my e-mail: "Hey, John, it's Ken Levine. I'm doing the blogging thing, and I was wondering if you could mention it."

Wondering if I could mention it? It's Ken frikkin' Levine. Cheers, MASH, The Simpsons, Wings, Everybody Loves --

Never mind, I don't have room to list them all. If you take my entire career, it fits fractally into one of Ken Levine's long Thursday afternoons. You are now allowed to completely ignore everything I say and go to By Ken Levine for all your scribo-spheric needs.