Nero's Fiddle
A View From The Handbasket

Tuesday, August 29, 2006
Please brace for impact
Posted by neros_fiddle at 10:42 AM
The data suggest that housing prices may be due for a slight correction.

You might want to buckle your seat belts.

Via Atrios at Eschaton. Big version here.

4 comments on this post
Monday, August 28, 2006
I got nothin'
Posted by neros_fiddle at 12:38 PM
So enjoy this exciting tale of terror in the skies. Another side of the story can be found here. And the official police statement is here.

Just imagine if that poor kid had been brown and/or Muslim.

Real content later if I can come up with something worth your time.

3 comments on this post
Tuesday, August 22, 2006
Perfect for hiding under the bed
Posted by neros_fiddle at 10:03 AM

3 comments on this post
Monday, August 21, 2006
Cal Thomas declares war
Posted by neros_fiddle at 2:08 PM
As discussed below, George Will is of the opinion that US policy has nothing at all to do with the rise of Islamic extremism. Given how hostile US policy has been to so much of the Muslim population of the Middle East (in other words, those who aren't claiming monarchial privileges over a swath of desert with oil under it), the obvious inference is that nothing we do could explain antipathy that spills over into violent hatred.

Encouraged by this, Cal Thomas vomits up yet another love letter to the ultimate right wing wet dream: The Clash Of Civilizations:

During the Cold War, American intelligence loved getting its hands on defectors from communism. The reasoning was that these people had the best information about the plans of the other side, information that would help America defeat them.

In the present war against what President Bush has properly labeled "Islamic fascism," defectors are just as valuable.

The Israel Project, an international nonprofit organization devoted to educating the press and the public about Israel, recently made a former leading imam and radical Islam expert available for media interviews and I had a chance to speak with him. He goes by the name of Sam Soloman because of death threats from those not happy with the information he has about their plans to dominate the world.

So what did this remarkably bias-free expert have to say?

Soloman speaks with knowledge, credibility and conviction. He has memorized large sections of the Koran and tells me, "There's not a single verse in the Koran talking about peace with a non-Muslim, with the Jews and the Christians. Islam means submission. Islam means surrender. It means you surrender and accept Islamic hegemony over yourselves..."

I ask him about the best strategy for fighting it: "It cannot be combated simply by force. It needs to be combated ideologically, spiritually (as well as) through arms."

Soloman says the outlets for Islamic ideology are religious — seminaries, the madrassas (Koranic schools) and especially the mosques. "From the beginning, Mohammed used the mosque to propagate this ideology. It was in the mosque that jihad was declared (and) that troops were sent to conquer the rest of the world. The mosque was the seat of government and Americans are right to be concerned about (their growth)."

Frankly, I don't know where the Islamic world gets the idea that Americans are out to crush them.

Are there real-world examples of how the Muslims are eagerly destroying American society? Of course:

How serious? He says. "They are infiltrating and undermining every part of this society. We are promoting Islamic mortgages, Islamic insurance companies. There are 29 banks in the United States promoting Islamic banking. Since 1999, Dow Jones has launched Dow Jones Islamic Index and has subjected itself to be governed by an international Sharia board." (Sharia is the religious law of Islam outlined in the Koran.)

Horrors. 29 banks who are marketing to Muslims. And there's a Sharia-compliant "Islamic Market Index" that Dow Jones publishes, which of course means that the Wall Street Journal is an al Qaeda mouthpiece. (And the number of spam e-mails I get advertising "Christian" services of one form or another suggest that Islam hasn't cornered the market on religion-specific business.)

After surveying this chilling evidence, Thomas advises us to stop being all tolerant and multicultural and wimpy and instead start kicking some Islamic ass:

Americans must see past their natural reluctance to paint all members of a group with a broad brush and realize our failure to act now against this clear and present danger in the ways Sam Soloman recommends will lead to a disaster for us that is far worse than our Cold War enemies had envisaged.

Apparently, Cal has a following in England, where the citizens, having been whipped into an appropriate state of panic by code-crimson terror alerts, are taking their safety into their own hands:

British holidaymakers staged an unprecedented mutiny - refusing to allow their flight to take off until two men they feared were terrorists were forcibly removed.

The extraordinary scenes happened after some of the 150 passengers on a Malaga-Manchester flight overheard two men of Asian appearance apparently talking Arabic.

Passengers told cabin crew they feared for their safety and demanded police action. Some stormed off the Monarch Airlines Airbus A320 minutes before it was due to leave the Costa del Sol at 3am. Others waiting for Flight ZB 613 in the departure lounge refused to board it.


The Tories said the Government's failure to reassure travellers had led the Malaga passengers to 'behave irrationally' and 'hand a victory to terrorists'.

Websites used by pilots and cabin crew were yesterday reporting further incidents. In one, two British women with young children on another flight from Spain complained about flying with a bearded Muslim even though he had been security-checked twice before boarding.

The trouble in Malaga flared last Wednesday as two British citizens in their 20s waited in the departure lounge to board the pre-dawn flight and were heard talking what passengers took to be Arabic. Worries spread after a female passenger said she had heard something that alarmed her.

Passengers noticed that, despite the heat, the pair were wearing leather jackets and thick jumpers and were regularly checking their watches.

Initially, six passengers refused to board the flight. On board the aircraft, word reached one family. To the astonishment of cabin crew, they stood up and walked off, followed quickly by others.

The Monarch pilot - a highly experienced captain - accompanied by armed Civil Guard police and airport security staff, approached the two men and took their passports.

Half an hour later, police returned and escorted the two Asian passengers off the jet.

Soon afterwards, the aircraft was cleared while police did a thorough security sweep. Nothing was found and the plane took off - three hours late and without the two men on board.

Monarch arranged for them to spend the rest of the night in an airport hotel and flew them back to Manchester later on Wednesday.

College lecturer Jo Schofield, her husband Heath and daughters Emily, 15, and Isabel, 12, were caught up in the passenger mutiny.

Mrs Schofield, 38, said: "The plane was not yet full and it became apparent that people were refusing to board. In the gate waiting area, people had been talking about these two, who looked really suspicious with their heavy clothing, scruffy, rough, appearance and long hair.

"Some of the older children, who had seen the terror alert on television, were starting to mutter things like, 'Those two look like they're bombers.'

"Then a family stood up and walked off the aircraft. They were joined by others, about eight in all. We learned later that six or seven people had refused to get on the plane.

"There was no fuss or panic. People just calmly and quietly got off the plane. There were no racist taunts or any remarks directed at the men.

"It was an eerie scene, very quiet. The children were starting to ask what was going on. We tried to play it down."

Mr Schofield, 40, an area sales manager, said: "When the men were taken off they didn't argue or say a word. They just picked up their coats and obeyed the police. They seemed resigned to the fact they were under suspicion.

"The captain and crew were very apologetic when we were asked to evacuate the plane for the security search. But there was no dissent.

"While we were waiting, everyone agreed the men looked dodgy. Some passengers were very panicky and in tears. There was a lot of talking about terrorists."

Patrick Mercer, the Tory Homeland Security spokesman, said last night: "This is a victory for terrorists. These people on the flight have been terrorised into behaving irrationally.

"For those unfortunate two men to be victimised because of the colour of their skin is just nonsense."

Monarch said last night: "The captain was concerned about the security surrounding the two gentlemen on the aircraft and the decision was taken to remove them from the flight for further security checks.

"The two passengers offloaded from the flight were later cleared by airport security and rebooked to travel back to Manchester on a later flight."

A spokesman for the Civil Guard in Malaga said: "These men had aroused suspicion because of their appearance and the fact that they were speaking in a foreign language thought to be an Arabic language, and the pilot was refusing to take off until they were escorted off the plane."

Hooray for those brave Brits! Let those dirty, leather-wearing, Arabicish-talking brown people fly on some other plane. This one's for white people!

Somewhat more seriously, the Muslims certainly seem to have the spotlight in international terrorism these days. But twenty or thirty years ago, The Red Brigades and the IRA were hogging the headlines, yet I don't remember calls for mass action against Italians or the Irish. And even in more recent times, no one wanted to talk about the 2001 anthrax mailer once it seemed likely that he/she wasn't a Muslim. And Tim McVeigh? The right have convinced themselves that he was working for Saddam.

The more reasonable explanations are those that are less satisying for the rabidly xenophobic and paranoid -- the prevalance of Islamic terrorism says more about the conditions of much of the Islamic world than about the essential humanity of the 1.3 billion Muslims on the planet. Millions of Muslims are poor and desperate, and poor and desperate people are comparatively likely to do extreme things. Plus, Islam seems to especially emphasize obedience to clerical orders (like Catholicism at various points), so those looking to make a name for themselves could do worse than to whip their followers into a state of violence. (And, for the record, I'm not sure how anyone who claims to care about individual rights can be much of a fan of the ugly social regressiveness of nations under Sharia law. All to say, fundamentalist Islam is not something to be cheered by fans of human rights.)

But that's far different from claiming that Islam is an inherently violent religion. Christianity has plenty of blood on its hands (much of it Muslim blood), and plenty of Muslim and Christian residents of Beirut can attest that Jews are not pacifist. Christianity can easily spawn terrorism among the frightened and dispossessed (as seen in recent times by the Klan, the Christian Identity movement, Eric Rudolph, various neo-Nazi groups, and so on). India is well-acquainted with acts of terror from the Sikhs.

But none of this matters to those seeking to make the "war on terror" more about blowing up foreign people and foreign religions than about addressing larger questions about the sort of conditions that exist in Muslim countries and what priorities the US uses when responding to those conditions. It's far easier to dismiss a group as irredeemably violent (or, in Thomas' words, "see past [one's] natural reluctance to paint all members of a group with a broad brush") than to consider the context of the violence.

Even more telling, anyone advocating any response short of genocide is invariably derided as being "on the side of the terrorists." One doesn't have to support the views of Islam to recognize that terrorism is not a problem that can be solved by the application of ever-larger hammers. American bombs will not drive people into the arms of America -- they will drive people into the arms of whoever advocates the most violence against Americans. That seems self-evident, but also seems to sit in opposition to what we've seen happening in Iraq and Lebanon.

At least in Lebanon, Israel was using those American bombs to pummel a country with some relation to the terrorist threat they were facing. The same cannot be said of Iraq, as even President Bush acknowledged today:

BUSH: The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East.

QUESTION: What did Iraq have to do with it?

BUSH: What did Iraq have to do with what?

QUESTION: The attack on the World Trade Center.

BUSH: Nothing. Except it’s part of — and nobody has suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a — Iraq — the lesson of September 11th is take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody’s ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq.

And yet, of course, it's been shown time and time again that the US accepted the Iraq invasion largely on the false assumption that they were in some way responsible for 9/11, an assumption that was was easy to encourage by conflating Saddam and bin Laden as Muslims of a feather, or, in other words, "seeing past [one's] natural reluctance to paint all members of a group with a broad brush."

The question of whether Bush could have sold an invasion of a non-Muslim country in the aftermath of 9/11 was, as always, left unasked.

2 comments on this post
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
George Bush and the three bears
Posted by neros_fiddle at 3:38 PM
George Will wanders off the reservation again:

The London plot against civil aviation confirmed a theme of an illuminating new book, Lawrence Wright's "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11." The theme is that better law enforcement, which probably could have prevented Sept. 11, is central to combating terrorism. F-16s are not useful tools against terrorism that issues from places such as Hamburg (where Mohamed Atta lived before dying in the North Tower of the World Trade Center) and High Wycombe, England.

Cooperation between Pakistani and British law enforcement (the British draw upon useful experience combating IRA terrorism) has validated John Kerry's belief (as paraphrased by the New York Times Magazine of Oct. 10, 2004) that "many of the interdiction tactics that cripple drug lords, including governments working jointly to share intelligence, patrol borders and force banks to identify suspicious customers, can also be some of the most useful tools in the war on terror." In a candidates' debate in South Carolina (Jan. 29, 2004), Kerry said that although the war on terror will be "occasionally military," it is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world."

Immediately after the London plot was disrupted, a "senior administration official," insisting on anonymity for his or her splenetic words, denied the obvious, that Kerry had a point. The official told The Weekly Standard:

"The idea that the jihadists would all be peaceful, warm, lovable, God-fearing people if it weren't for U.S. policies strikes me as not a valid idea. [Democrats] do not have the understanding or the commitment to take on these forces. It's like John Kerry. The law enforcement approach doesn't work."

This farrago of caricature and non sequitur makes the administration seem eager to repel all but the delusional. But perhaps such rhetoric reflects the intellectual contortions required to sustain the illusion that the war in Iraq is central to the war on terrorism, and that the war, unlike "the law enforcement approach," does "work."

The official is correct that it is wrong "to think that somehow we are responsible -- that the actions of the jihadists are justified by U.S. policies." But few outside the fog of paranoia that is the blogosphere think like that. It is more dismaying that someone at the center of government considers it clever to talk like that. It is the language of foreign policy -- and domestic politics -- unrealism.

Foreign policy "realists" considered Middle East stability the goal. The realists' critics, who regard realism as reprehensibly unambitious, considered stability the problem. That problem has been solved.

I'll quibble with his assertion about the culpability of US policy -- while nothing can *justify* the actions of al Qaeda, one must recognize that our policies have at least played a part in the existence of al Qaeda. But it seems that the paleocons are fed up with the White House. The 30-odd percent base is all that's left, which is accurately reflected in Bush's approval ratings.

The real question at this stage is whether Bush himself will be blamed for this, or whether the neocon agenda will be blamed. It's entirely possible, maybe even likely, that the conventional wisdom will become that Bush had the right idea with War Without End and only lacked the guts to carry it out with sufficient vigor.

Think I'm kidding?

Bush turned out to be singularly ill-equipped for this task, both by skill and by temperament. His public relations management was curiously hesitant and badly timed, and, of course, his inabilty to speak effectively in public was a gigantic handicap. His temperament, it eventually became clear, was hesitant, overly calculating, timid, and "compassionate." Compassion has its place, but not in warfighting. The Bush we know would not have pulled the trigger on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He abdicated the hard decisions in favor of political maneuvering and meaningless gestures.


The first administration of the first century of the American Third Millennium will, in my estimation, be remembered as one of the biggest failures of that century. Bush's great failure was, not invading Iraq, but not weathering the adversity that followed through acts of real leadership, and then pressing on with the necessary military destruction of the other regimes he, himself, named as most dangerous five years ago.

I'm hoping we can get through the next two years without any major disasters, and then I'm looking to elect a real war leader to the White House - somebody with a warrior's temperament and a leader's skills. George Bush has neither. He is a dangerous failure, and America will be well rid of him.

Poor Dubya can't catch a break. Some of the right is saying he started too much war, much of the rest think he didn't start enough! Is there anyone out there who thinks he waged just the right amount of war?

7 comments on this post
Thursday, August 10, 2006
Dimly aware
Posted by neros_fiddle at 10:28 AM

Exhibit A:

Some 30 percent of Americans cannot say in what year the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks against New York's World Trade Center and the
Pentagon in Washington took place, according to a poll published in the Washington Post newspaper.

While the country is preparing to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives and shocked the world, 95 percent of Americans questioned in the poll were able to remember the month and the day of the attacks, according to Wednesday's edition of the newspaper.

But when asked what year, 30 percent could not give a correct answer.

Of that group, six percent gave an earlier year, eight percent gave a later year, and 16 percent admitted they had no idea whatsoever.

Exhibit B:

The reality [...] is that after a 16-month investigation, the U.S. weapons hunters known as the Iraq Survey Group declared that Iraq had dismantled its chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs in 1991. That finding in 2004 reaffirmed the work of U.N. inspectors who in 2002-03 found no trace of banned arsenals in Iraq.

Despite this, a Harris Poll released July 21 found that a full 50 percent of U.S. respondents -- up from 36 percent last year -- said they believe Iraq did have the forbidden arms when U.S. troops invaded in March 2003, an attack that aimed to eliminate supposed WMD.

"I'm flabbergasted," said Michael Massing, a media critic. "This finding just has to cause despair among those of us who hope for an informed public able to draw reasonable conclusions based on evidence."

Exhibit C:

Although a majority (70%) of Americans recall without prompting that freedom of speech is one of the rights contained in the First Amendment, recall of the other freedoms drops off very quickly from there.

  • Only one-fourth mentioned freedom of religion, and one in ten mentioned freedom of the press or freedom of assembly. Freedom to petition the government over grievances was mentioned by just 1 percent.
  • Although 72% were able to name at least one of these rights correctly, this fell to only 28% who could name two or more, only 8% who could name three or more, only 2 percent who could name four or five. Remarkably, only one person of the 1,000 interviewed was able to correctly name all five freedoms.
  • Given a list of freedoms Americans enjoy, most were able to recognize freedom of religion and freedom to criticize the government as First Amendment rights.
  • About one in ten incorrectly mentioned the right to bear arms as a First Amendment Freedom. In actuality, this right is protected by the Second Amendment.
  • A majority also incorrectly said the right to vote and the right to trial by jury were guaranteed by the First Amendment.
  • Other rights that more than one-third believes come from the First Amendment include right to own a gun, the right to an attorney, the right against self incrimination, the right of women to vote and the right to a public education.
  • About one in five say the right to own and raise pets and the right to drive a car are First Amendment rights as well.
  • Although unaided recall of the five First Amendment freedoms drops off quickly after freedom of speech, this is not the case for some aspects of popular culture. The TV cartoon show “The Simpsons” has five main characters that Americans remember much more readily. While only one in a thousand were able to name all five freedoms contained in the First Amendment, one out of five Americans can name all five of the Simpson characters.
  • More than half (52%) of Americans can name at least two characters from “The Simpsons,” while only about half that number (28%) can think of two or more First Amendment freedoms.
  • Americans are also more likely to remember which ad slogan belongs to which brand. When read five popular ad slogans, three-fourths (74%) of Americans were able to correctly recall the brands connected with at least two of these, compared to 28% who could name two or more freedoms. One-fourth of Americans could identify the brand of four or more of these slogans, compared to only 1% who could name at least four of the five freedoms.
  • Americans are also much more likely to be able to name the three judges on the popular TV program “American Idol” than First Amendment freedoms. Although almost half could name none, a majority (54%) could name at least one, 41% could name two, and one-fourth could name all three.

And finally, the end result: Exhibit D.

5 comments on this post
Wednesday, August 09, 2006
The Devil Made Me Do It
Posted by Tyrone at 3:13 AM
For those of you convinced that Bush's ascendancy to the throne was due to right wing/neocon nefariousness, think again. Kierkegaard via Norman Mailer channeling David Frum by way of Digby's Hullabaloo all lead us to a quite different conclusion:
David Frum, who was a speechwriter for Bush (he coined the phrase "axis of evil"), recounts in The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush what happened at a meeting in the Oval Office last September [2002]. The President, when talking to a group of reverends from the major denominations, told them,

You know, I had a drinking problem. Right now, I should be in a bar in Texas, not the Oval Office. There is only one reason that I am in the Oval Office and not in a bar: I found faith. I found God. I am here because of the power of prayer.

That is a dangerous remark. As Kierkegaard was the first to suggest, we can never know where our prayers are likely to go nor from whom the answers will come. When we think we are nearest to God, we could be assisting the Devil.
Dick Cheney. Karl Rove. Both His servants to be sure. But the seed, the inception of all our current misery? George Bush quit drinking and there's been hell to pay since then.

6 comments on this post
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Posted by neros_fiddle at 6:44 PM

While reviewing the latest version of the Ted Stevens Internet Truck/Telecom Welfare Bill, I couldn't help but notice the following at the top of each page:


XyWrite? XyWrite? XYWRITE?

For the life of me, I can't decide whether the fact that legislation affecting the future of the internet is being written on an 80s-vintage word processor is charming or terrifying. XyWrite was excellent at what it did and I'm sure it's well-suited to the process of spitting out the bizarrely-formatted Congressional documents, but... still...

I'll bet they paid $5000 a copy through a military procurement contract back in 1987 and are going to use it until the sun turns cold.

2 comments on this post
Ride the Beast
Posted by neros_fiddle at 10:52 AM

Soon, you'll be able to pack up the kids in the Hummer and head off to Warwithoutendland:

Army officials say they are considering allowing a private developer to build a 125-acre entertainment, hotel and conference center complex next to a national Army museum at Fort Belvoir that could draw more than 1 million people a year to traffic-choked southern Fairfax County.

The possibility of adding what county officials call a military theme park arises as about 22,000 employees prepare to be transferred to Fort Belvoir in the next five years because of the federal base realignment and closure recommendations, designed to save $49 billion nationwide.


A Florida developer has submitted an unsolicited proposal for a military theme park that would include the "Chateau Belvoir" hotel and an entertainment district with bars like the "1st Division Lounge" and several "4D" rides.

"You can command the latest M-1 tank, feel the rush of a paratrooper freefall, fly a Cobra Gunship or defend your B-17 as a waist gunner," according to the proposal by Universal City Property Management III of Orlando.

I'm looking forward to the "Turning The Corner In Iraq" roller coaster. What are your ideas for attractions at Rummyworld?

2 comments on this post
Monday, August 07, 2006
Iraq: Framing the Issue
Posted by Tyrone at 9:13 AM
Swopa over at Needlenose sums up very neatly various attempts to frame the Iraq mess [including a spot-on NYT editorial], concluding that Democrats should appeal to voters as the party of common sense:
. . . the choice really isn't over what to do about Iraq so much as how we will decide. . . . Democrats . . . will try to assess the facts and use common sense to actually solve the problem.

So that's the choice I'd put before the voters. Not which party is tougher, or which one has the awesomest, most brilliantly detailed plan for Iraq.

The question I'd ask is, Which do you think is more likely to send the president a message and bring common sense to our Iraq policy -- another Republican Congress, or a Democratic one? Seems like a no-brainer to me.
Question: Other than lefty bloggers, what percentage of the American electorate actually responds to common sense? For another, as the divisions among Democrats re Iraq are very real, what policy proposal could they possibly be expected to come up with, common sensical or otherwise?

Framing aside, however, it might be helpful to look at what's best for both Iraq and America. What's best for Iraq seems simple enough: doubling [tripling? quadrupling?] "coalition" troop strength in a humanitarian effort to prevent any escalation of the current bloodbath. What's best for America in the short term is to bring the troops home so as to prevent further American casualties--after all, we're currently merely running in place to no one's advantage. In the long term, however, so as to prevent a "Shia Crescent," troop strength will have to be significantly increased so as to [ahem] allow for an Iraqi government comprised of Shi'a, Sunni and Kurds. So common sense, as it applies to both Iraqi and long-term American interests, would dictate increasing coalition forces in other than token numbers. Can this be sold to the American public? Are there troops available in sufficient numbers? Is it too late to call the UN? Will common sense enable Democrats to retake the House?

8 comments on this post
Saturday, August 05, 2006
Posted by neros_fiddle at 11:35 AM
No, there's nothing out there.

2 comments on this post
Friday, August 04, 2006
The definition of insanity
Posted by neros_fiddle at 4:09 PM
Warner Brothers tries the same thing again and expects a different result:

The music industry has for years struggled to develop a new physical format that could spark increased sales by replacing the CD. Now Warner Music Group Corp. is planning an aggressive attempt to address the issue by pushing consumers to buy their music on specially outfitted DVDs.

Warner, the world's fourth-largest music company, is in the final stages of securing technical licenses that will enable it to sell a bundle of music and extra features on a single DVD, according to people familiar with the matter. The DVD would include a music album that plays in both stereo and surround-sound on a standard DVD player -- plus video footage that plays on a DVD player or a computer. There will also be song remixes, ring tones, photos and other digital extras that can be accessed on a computer.

The company plans to make the new format available to its subsidiary record labels for product-planning purposes as early as next week and to introduce the discs to consumers with a handful of titles in October. A full-blown launch is planned for early next year. The hope is to fuel increased sales of both new product and catalog titles, in the process lifting the industry just as the 1982 introduction of the CD boosted sales as consumers replaced cassettes and vinyl albums.

It didn't work when they called it DVD-Audio and it didn't work when they called it DualDisc, so why should it work now?

The DVD album would include "preripped" digital tracks of the entire album, ready to be copied onto a user's computer -- a totally separate set of data from the higher-quality, DVD-audio sound that users hear when they slip the DVD in a player. The lower-quality, "preripped" tracks could be copied to a CD.

Oh, boy. So I can pay more and get a lower-quality version for my iPod than if I'd bought a CD and ripped it myself using my preferred codec and settings? What a deal!

I'd listen to some music, but suddenly have a headache.

2 comments on this post
Castles and kings
Posted by neros_fiddle at 2:46 PM

Although the concept of justified self-defense has a long-standing place in American law, the NRA still has a budget to meet. So the organization created a burning issue where none had been before: the "castle doctrine." Apparently, the idea is to grant automatic immunity to anyone who uses deadly force to defend themselves against an attacker in their home.

As with most knee-jerk reactions against manufactured problems, this one didn't turn out exactly as planned, as we see from one case settled yesterday in Lexington, Kentucky:

James Adam Clem pleaded guilty yesterday to second-degree manslaughter for fatally beating a Lexington man, a day after confusion over Kentucky's new "home intruder" law during his murder trial led prosecutors to extend a last-minute plea offer.

Prosecutors recommended a 10-year sentence for manslaughter and 12 months for attempted tampering with evidence, and they said they will oppose probation. Clem, 27, could be eligible for parole in a few months. He has spent most of the last two years in the Fayette County Detention Center.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Sept. 1.

Clem claims that he killed Keith Newberg, 25, in self-defense after Newberg allegedly attacked him upon entering Clem's Belleau Wood apartment on Aug. 9, 2004. Clem admitted to police that he let Newberg in so Clem could repay a drug debt, but his attorneys argued the new law applied once Newberg allegedly attacked Clem.

Prosecutors say Clem was probably the one who started the fight.

Newberg's relatives called the plea deal an injustice and a gift to Clem. They were also not pleased that prosecutors did not consult them before making the offer.

Father Kenneth Newberg was so angry he did not even go to Fayette Circuit Court to watch Clem plead guilty.

"Why let them slap me in the face, adding insult to injury?" Kenneth Newberg said.

He said he's lost faith in the criminal justice system, which he thinks treats criminals better than victims. It took two years for Clem to go to trial. Clem's case was delayed after his previous lawyer was disbarred.

Kenneth Newberg said prosecutors got cold feet. He thought there was little chance a jury would find Clem not guilty, even with the new law.

"I think they give the jury little credit," Kenneth Newberg said. "The people of Kentucky are not idiots; they are not backwoods idiots. It does not take a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon to understand that law. I did my own research on it. It was very plain and clear to me after I absorbed it."

Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson disagreed. He said the facts of the case -- there were no eye witnesses -- and the new law gave Clem a real chance of being acquitted. It was not a risk he was willing to take.

"Nobody is happy with this," Larson said. "We're not happy with this. The family is not happy with this. We're sorry we had to do it."

Defense attorney Russell Baldani said the plea deal is in everyone's best interest. The case would have dragged through the appeals courts for years because of the vagaries of the new law, he said.

"There's not any gifts," Baldani said. "There is not any winners in this. He accepted responsibility for what he did."

The home-intruder law, also known as the castle doctrine, grants immunity to people who use deadly force to defend themselves against a robber or attacker in their home. Immunity prevents police from even arresting such a person.

The law also applies to anybody in a place where they "have a right to be."

It overwhelmingly passed the General Assembly this spring after lobbying by the National Rifle Association. It took effect last month.

Sister Kara Newberg, 21, said she doubts Clem was defending himself -- her brother's injuries were too severe. Newberg was bashed in the head five times with a lamp.

She said the legislature should "have thought things through."

"It basically says if anyone comes into your home, and if you have a grudge against them or anything, you can do this and get away with it," Kara Newberg said.

On Tuesday, prosecutors, defense attorneys and a circuit judge struggled to craft instructions to explain the law to jurors.

"One of our concerns was, if we couldn't understand it ourselves, how are we going to get a jury to understand it?" Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Kimberly Henderson Baird said in an interview yesterday.

One problem, Circuit Judge Sheila Isaac said, is the law provides no guidance for what happens once a case reaches the courts.

It is so poorly written and confusing that it leaves unanswered questions about how the burden of proof shifts and what standard of proof applies, the judge, some prosecutors and defense attorneys have said.

Larson said the law needs revision.

"It has created some problems," Larson said. "This case is a prime example."

So we have the NRA defending the right of people to bash someone in the head with a lamp during a drug deal gone bad as long as you do it in your home, or anywhere you "have a right to be." All you have to do is claim the other guy started it, and you get automatic immunity (or, if the facts are in doubt, get a reduced sentence and a quick parole).

(And if you don't have a lamp handy, there are always other alternatives.)

I'm fairly ambivalent on the issue of gun rights. The gun ownership and crime rates in America don't suggest that a well-armed society is a safer one. At the same time, well-regulated gun sales are preferable to limiting gun sales to the underground. And government bans of things with broad-based demand rarely work out well.

But all that aside, it does appear that the NRA is morphing from a pro-gun organization into a pro-violence organization. Which makes sense, I suppose. For many years, they've argued that guns were not inherently more dangerous than anything else wielded with murderous intent. With innovative legislation like the castle doctrine, those who wish to bludgeon people with any household object can now enjoy the same rights the NRA has long been protecting for gun owners.

Exciting times, indeed.

5 comments on this post
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
The death of satire
Posted by neros_fiddle at 5:59 PM
When did the Onion begin running straight news stories?

1 comments on this post
Posted by neros_fiddle at 3:18 PM

1) Fiddle foreign correspondent Tyrone wonders: Has it occurred to anyone that the U.S. muddled response to Israel's invasion of Lebanon and the conflating of Hezbollah "terrorism" with the GWOT--rather than one more instance of Bush incompetence--is neocon "dumb like a fox" behavior? An Orwellian war without end suits their ends, doesn't it?

Yes. Yes, it does.

Atrios nailed this one a few days ago.

In case that image means nothing to you (in other words, if you don't get caught up in cult TV shows), here's the quick version. In his TV show Babylon 5, J. Michael Straczynski presented a universe where two ancient races oversaw the development of younger races (such as humans). One of these races, the Vorlons, believed that strict control was key to ensuring the successful development of the new races. They manipulated the newcomers (creating, among other things, religion) and affected an air of mysterious omnipotence/omniscience while demanding strict obedience of those few allowed to contact them (and those that crossed them paid a fearsome price).

The other race, the Shadows, believed chaos was the key to progress. At regular intervals, they would emerge from hiding and spark great galaxy-wide warfare (either overtly or by instigating hostilities behind the scenes), killing billions. In this way, they reasoned, unfit cultures would fall by the wayside and the stronger races would advance. (The picture above and on Atrios' post is a Shadow.)

These two races, naturally, hated each other and worked to foil the other's plans whenever possible.

For quite some time, the US acted as a Vorlon in many ways, using foreign aid and access to markets as a tool to extract obedience from a variety of countries, from the tyrannical to the vibrant. We justified this to ourselves by claiming that what we did was in the best interest of the poor benighted foreigners, who needed only to follow our orders to become as free and mighty and rich as we were.

When Condi Rice proclaims that the current carnage represents the "birth pangs of a new Middle East," she is placing the US in the role of the Shadows. We pre-emptively invade and occupy countries and expect to see peaceful democracies sprout from the blood-stained earth. We arm Israel, then sit back and watch as our bombs put more blood into the soil. From all this death, we say, peace will emerge.

In the universe of Babylon 5, this situation was resolved through a giant, cataclysmic war, which ended when the younger races banded together and denied both the Vorlons and Shadows and refused to submit to them any longer.

In some vastly oversimplified way, I suspect that may well be the endgame we're all hurtling toward.

2) Where the hell have you been?

It's been too damn hot to think, let alone blog. I've been busy. The news has been too depressing. I've been perfecting the perpetual motion machine. The dog ate my modem.

3) Do you have any audiovisual evidence that the rest of the world is both incredibly fearful of the perceived lawlessness of America and at the same time perhaps just a little bit barking mad?


6 comments on this post