Showing posts with label End of America. Show all posts
Showing posts with label End of America. Show all posts

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Greek To Me

Caitlin Flanagan is our new hero, and not only for her prose style.  Here is the lede to her cover article in the current Atlantic:
One warm spring night in 2011, a young man named Travis Hughes stood on the back deck of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house at Marshall University, in West Virginia, and was struck by what seemed to him — under the influence of powerful inebriants, not least among them the clear ether of youth itself — to be an excellent idea: he would shove a bottle rocket up his ass and blast it into the sweet night air. And perhaps it was an excellent idea. What was not an excellent idea, however, was to misjudge the relative tightness of a 20-year-old sphincter and the propulsive reliability of a 20-cent bottle rocket. What followed ignition was not the bright report of a successful blastoff, but the muffled thud of fire in the hole.
The rest of the story is mordant, sometimes funny, and -- especially if you have a child in college, or who may yet go there -- absolutely terrifying. It is called "The Dark Side of Fraternities," which pretty much tells you what to expect.  But holy cow does Flanagan deliver.

One undergraduate in eight is part of the so-called Greek system.  Fraternities are, as Flanagan depicts them, distinctly dangerous places -- tumbledown hellholes devoid of adult supervision, devoted to binge drinking, bodily injury, sexual sadism and, of course, rape.  Worse yet, they are defended by aggressive and well-funded national organizations, and exist in an uneasy tension with the administrations of their host bodies universities.

We ourselves attended a college with neither football nor frats, and so know of these exotic subcultures only by reputation.  Animal House, one of our all-time favorite movies, certainly contains its share of drinking, drugs and sexual misconduct.  (And so, we hasten to admit, did our own frat-free undergraduate experience.)  Like most people, we figured this is what frats are all about:  the customary bad judgment  of youth, same as it ever was.  Risky, but also sort of innocent.

Flanagan paints a darker picture.  Her article describes injury after injury, death after death, rape after rape.  It describes the national organizations which defend tooth-and-nail the independence of their various houses from university supervision -- but which have also devised a diabolical system for abandoning  those houses to avoid legal liability.  Meanwhile, the universities are torn between responsibility for the welfare of their students and the funding that comes from their frat-affiliated alumni.  (Not to mention the fact that, without frat houses, some schools would have to build more dormitories).

Needless to say, we rushed to the Internet searching for colleges without fraternities, planning our own little boy's future.  They do exist; all of the Seven Sisters qualify (although of course our son is unlikely to matriculate at six of those).  So do many others, especially among small and highly selective liberal arts colleges.  On the other hand, Flanagan's article includes a long and detailed look at a deeply disturbing situation with a fraternity connected to Wesleyan in Connecticut, which she claims has finally become as exclusive as its students always used to insist it was.

Although Flanagan doesn't mention it, Egg readers may be interested to remember that fraternities are tax-exempt under 26 U.S.C. 501(c)7.  (So are country clubs, of all things.)  We mention this in the hope that the next time somebody with a hate-on for Christianity begins arguing in favor of taxing churches, you can steer the conversation toward the sleazy beer-soaked deathtrap that is apparently the typical college frat house.


Friday, November 01, 2013

Our Hero: Captain Justice

We can't tell this story as well as Lisa Needham does at Happy Time People.  If you have a minute, please ... please -- read her post all the way through.

If you insist on getting the capsule version, here it is.

A state prosecutor in Tennessee has taken exception to being referred to in court as "the Government," even though this is customary in his state.  He works, after all, for the state's government.  Declaring that it somehow prejudicial -- presumably because of how much Americans seem to hate their own government -- he has petitioned the judge in a particular trial to call him ... something else.

Counsel for the defense, a man with the brilliant name of Drew Justice, has filed a counter-motion that is nothing short of genius.  It reads, in part:

[if the Court is] inclined to let the parties basically pick their own designations [then] the Defendant no longer wants to be called “the Defendant.” This rather archaic term of art, obviously has a fairly negative connotation. It unfairly demeans, and dehumanizes Mr. D.P. The word “defendant” should be banned. At trial, Mr. P. hereby demands to be addressed only by his full name, preceded by the title “Mister.” Alternatively, he may be called simply “the Citizen Accused.” This latter title sounds more respectable than the criminal “Defendant.” The designation “That innocent man” would also be acceptable.

Good, right?  But it gets better:
Moreover, defense counsel does not wish to be referred to as a “lawyer,” or a “defense attorney.” [...] Rather, counsel for the Citizen Accused should be referred to primarily as the “Defender of the Innocent.” This title seems particularly appropriate, because every Citizen Accused is presumed innocent. Alternatively, counsel would also accept the designation “Guardian of the Realm.” 
Further, the Citizen Accused humbly requests an appropriate military title for his own representative, to match that of the opposing counsel. Whenever addressed by name, the name “Captain Justice” will be appropriate. While less impressive than [assistant district attorney] “General,” still, the more humble term seems suitable. After all, the Captain represents only a Citizen Accused, whereas the General represents an entire State.
Yes.  Captain Justice is our new hero.

Friday, October 18, 2013

GOP Push to Repeal 19th Amendment

Well, not exactly.  But close.

Having worked overtime to disenfranchise poor and black voters in 2012, and lost the White House anyway, the Republican Party is trying to figure out who else it can prevent from voting in the future.

The answer is easy:  women.

And the place is urgent:  Texas, where pro-choice heroine Wendy Davis stands a reasonable chance of success in her run for governor.

The strategy is simple:  adjust voting laws so that votes must produce a photo ID with their current leal name.  This reasonable-sounding rule in fact disenfranchises a surprising number of women -- as many as 34% of them.  Young women, apparently, don't rush to update their driver's licenses after they are married.

Jean Anne Esselink, writing at The New Civil Rights Movement, sums it up:
You have to hand it to Texas. Abortion politics threaten to drive the election for governor, so they have figured out a way to discourage a large group of women who are likely have a personal interest in the issue of choice: married women of child-bearing age. Women who might favor Wendy Davis.
Yeah.  We actually think it's that simple.


Monday, July 15, 2013

Florida Jury Stands Its Ground

The truth is that we are not intimately familiar with the details of the George Zimmerman trial.  We've been busy repairing roofs and trailers in Appalachia, dodging copperheads, battling pinkeye and otherwise enjoying the first weeks of a new call.  So we didn't follow the trial, and don't know much about the evidence.

Moreover, neither we nor anybody else has a precise understanding of what happened between Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.  We know how it all ended, of course, and we know about critical events on the way to the horrible denouement.  But what one may have said to the other, how they perceived each other, who was on top at what juncture in their supposed brawl -- only Zimmerman knows these things.  Memory being what it is, even he may not know the truth.

Still, since nobody else in America seems to be allowing mere ignorance to keep them from venting an opinion, neither shall we.

And here is our opinion, in a nutshell:  "stand your ground" laws are a travesty of justice.  They allow the discretionary use of deadly force by untrained civilians, based on nothing more than an emotion -- the feeling that is that one's life is in danger.  They remove proportionality from the traditional understanding of self-defense, and this removal is, by the standards of Christianity, evil.

Remember, if you will, the structure of the "just war" theory which has long guided our discussions of violence, at least among those Christians who admit that violence can ever be theologically legitimate.  A just war requires both ius ad bellum, meaning a righteous cause, and ius in bello, meaning a righteous conduct of the conflict.

Self-defense, on its surface, sounds like a righteous cause, and that is as far as the SYG laws seem to go.  But the elements of ius ad bellum include (a) provocation, (b) lack of other alternatives, (c) possession of proper authority, (d) right intention, (e) likelihood of success, and (f) a proportion between the means used and the end sought.  Each of these is problematic in its own way.  It is difficult for nations to determine what provocation is a just cause of war -- when North Korea sinks your fishing boats, do you respond, or do you grind your teeth for the sake of peace?  Proper authority is elusive -- America routinely sends troops into battle without the declaration of war supposedly reserved for its legislature.  Do those troops have proper authority to fight, and if so for how long and by what means?

Each of these elements and problems has its parallel in SYG laws.  As it is hard for a nation to identify the precise line at which war is justified, how much harder is it for a frightened individual to identify the moment at which his or her life is legitimately in danger?  But the real problem, especially with SYG laws, are the question of alternatives.  If you can run away without harming anybody, shouldn't you be obliged to do so?

Proportionality ad bellum may not be a factor in SYG laws, so long as the goal is in fact to save one's own life.  But when we consider ius in bello, the question of proportionality becomes extremely important.  If attacked by a boy with a slingshot, one cannot morally respond by nuking his entire city.  (Another factor is "discrimination" -- making sure you kill enemy combatants, not little old ladies walking their dogs.  This may apply in the Zimmerman case, but has a lot more to do with the drone war.)  Basically, the level of violence employed, and the number of people harmed, must be kept to the lowest level possible.  By parallel logic, it is wrong -- or at least deeply questionable -- to pull out a gun during a fistfight.

Here is how Fr. William Saunders, a Roman Catholic priest in our own neck of the woods, describes the teaching of his own church:
While affirming the right of a country to defend itself, the Catholic Church condemns indiscriminate "total war": the state of war between two parties does not justify or make fair the use of any means to wage the war. Vatican Council II therefore asserted, "Every act of war directed to the indiscriminate destruction of whole cities or vast areas with their inhabitants is a crime against God and man, which merits firm and unequivocal condemnation" ("Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, #80). 
As among nations, so among individuals -- conflict may be inevitable, but from a moral perspective, violence must be (a) a last resort, (b) directed against the right opponent, and (c) proportional to the opponent's own use of violence.

Even if we accept, charitably, the jury's finding that Zimmerman did not stalk Martin, and purposefully provoke a violent confrontation based on the difference in their skin colors, it is still difficult to see how laws that permit him to have used a gun in this case can possibly pass the scrutiny of moral theology.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Guns Vs. Cars

Firearms and automobiles are, obviously enough, different varieties of device.  One is made to kill, the other to transport.  It is important to keep this teleological distinction clear in our minds, because the discussion that follows may tend to muddy it up a bit.

A few weeks ago, we mentioned stumbling across some writing by a gun enthusiast which misrepresented official data concerning the number of deaths caused by firearms each year.  We've found another example here, unsurprisingly, at Breitbart.com.  A guy named Awr Hawkins writes that

According to the federal government, the number of people killed in automobile-related deaths annually is approximately three times higher than the number of people killed by all gun-related deaths combined -- handgun, shotgun, and rifle.
Yet there is, to my knowledge, no concerted effort to ban automobiles. 

Wow.  Zinger, right? We first came across this claim not in Hawkins' original piece, but in an online exchange with somebody who had clearly read this, or read something like it.  Our interlocutor -- let's call him Skippy -- argued that "America pays too much attention to gun deaths, when drunk drivers kill so many more people."

It's a strange argument, when you think about it, like saying that we worry about Al Qaeda when cigarettes are so deadly.  But set that aside for a moment.  The real question is whether cars really do kill three times as many people as guns.

They don't.

Legit numbers can be had from three sources:  the FBI, the CDC, and the Century Council.   They vary from year to year, although the general outlines remain consistent.  And here is what, for example, 2010 looked like:
Firearms deaths:              31,672 (10.3/100,000)
Motor vehicle traffic deaths: 33,687 (10.9/100,000)
Basically, guns and cars kill the same number of Americans most years, although cars are indeed a little bit ahead.  So where does Hawkins get his "three times the number"?  Easy:  he's talking about homicides, which represent a quarter to a third of all gun deaths.  But, conveniently enough, DUI deaths represent about a third of all motor vehicle deaths.  Voila, 2010 again:
Firearms homicides:  8,874
DUI deaths:         10,228
So it is absolutely true that cars kill more people than guns, and DUI accidents kill more people than gun murders.  But the numbers are fairly close, meaning that these are comparable threats to public safety.

Now, when we pushed him on the numbers, Skippy claimed that "most of these gun deaths are suicide," which is another half-truth.  Guns are used for suicide more often than they are used for homicide -- in 2010, there were 19,392 firearms suicides in the US.  That's colossal and terrifying, and deserves all the attention we can give it.  But, obviously, the numbers we have compared above don't include suicide.  Year in and year out, over the last few years, guns and cars have killed almost the same number of people, as have gun murders and DUI crashes.

But there is one enormous difference.  Since 1980, the number of drunk-driving deaths has dropped by 52%.  The  number of gun murders has dropped by about 10%, depending on the year.

When Skippy said that "we don't pay enough attention to drunk driving," he may have been forgetting that, for the past thirty years, Americans have put enormous energy into the campaign against drunk driving.  Think about the hundreds of PSAs and billboards you have seen -- the wine glasses smashing into each other, the reminder that "friends don't let friends," and so forth.  Add to that the lectures in school, and the stern warnings required by most states as part of the licensing process.  Add to that the random stops instituted by some jurisdictions, at least on holidays.  Add to that the invention of the breathalyzer.

On top of all that, of course, is the fact that automobiles are regulated in a way that guns are not.  Both cars and drivers are examined and licensed.  Changes of ownership are carefully tracked.  These are things that the gun lobby is reluctant even to let legislators consider.  Safety belts and airbags are required by law, where mandatory trigger locks remain deeply controversial and the idea that every handgun owner should also be required to posses a biometric gun safe will no doubt be dismissed as "Nanny- State Thinking."

The weak link in the chain seems to be judges, who are still reluctant to take a drunk driver's license away permanently.  Nonetheless, 52% is a big drop.

As a society, we have put a lot of pressure on the drunk driving problem, and we have seen remarkable results.  Now it is time to put the same sort of pressure on the problem of gun violence.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Grandpapa Was (Almost) Right

Our late grandfather used to complain that the Democratic Party in New York City was unspeakably corrupt, with the center of its corruption in the Queens County Courthouse.  Of course, our late grandfather complained about many things, including, inter alia, onions, the metric system and Swedes.

So, in the arrogance of youth, we discounted Grandpapa's warning.  Then we moved to New York and, within a year or so, a prominent politician stabbed himself in the chest.  Because his years of corruption were coming to light.  And yes, he was a Democrat.  From Queens.

We have thought of our wise old grandfather many times over the years, as one local politician after another has been revealed to be criminal and/or criminally stupid.  Is it worse than Chicago?  Probably not, but it is at least as bad as Philadelphia, and on a larger scale.

We do need to qualify Grandpa's dictum just a bit.  In the City, the Democrats are the more corrupt party, because they are the party with the power.  Theodore Roosevelt and couple of recent mayors aside, this is a Democratic town.  But if you step out into the suburbs, things change.  Nassau County Republicans are a pretty uninspiring crew, as anybody who has ever greased the palm of a building inspector can tell you.

New York State politics are corrupt and incompetent on an epic and bipartisan scale.  We are the Romania of the northeastern United States.

All of this, of course brings us to the past couple of days.

Most recently, a Bronx assemblyman named Eric Stevenson has been arrested for taking bribes.  Apparently, he was pocketing envelopes full of cash in Bronx steakhouses and Albany hotel bathrooms.  Just like the movies.  Another assemblyman, Nelson Castro, cooperated with the Feds to make the arrest happen.  Castro admits now to having been a federal informant since his 2009 perjury indictment.

But the big news came a couple of days ago, when Malcolm Smith was arrested.  Smith, a Democratic state senator, wanted to run for mayor on the Republican ticket without switching parties.  This can be done, but it's a little complicated; he decided to simplify it by bribing Republican officials all over the state.   His collaborator in this scheme was Republican city councilman (and neo-pagan) Dan Halloran.

So don't waste your breath talking about how America's polarized political debate keeps the two parties from working together.  Here in New York, we know exactly what will bring them to the table:  big wads of unmarked bills in plain manila envelopes.

Monday, April 01, 2013

It's On, Baby

The town council of Nelson, Georgia has voted to make gun ownership obligatory for its citizens.

To deal with those Tennesseans, no doubt.

We're At War!

Well, not us, safe up north.  But the simmering border dispute between the states of Tennessee and Georgia is about to boil over.  (Seriously:  this is a real thing.)

Fortunately, Danger Room's Andrew Exum has performed a tactical assessment.  It's a long read, full of maps and military jargon, but worth a look.  Exum, a former Army Ranger, born in Tennessee, envisions .50 caliber machine guns aimed down I-75 near the Eastgate Mall, and mortar positions near near Sir Goony's Family Fun Center.  Still, he knows it will be a long, hard slog to victory:
Two problems immediately come to mind, though. Even if Georgia is only able to mobilize half the residents of Atlanta, that’s still a lot of SUVs to stop. We can’t count on all of them to stop at the Cracker Barrel in Dalton and lose interest. That means we’ll soon run low on ammunition and be forced to retreat to Hixson. 
The other problem is that the University of Tennessee’s performance against the University of Georgia last year — in which Tennessee’s defense tackled like a bunch of Pop Warner 8-year-olds — doesn’t fill one with a lot of confidence about our state’s ability to stop much of anything coming out of Georgia. Indeed, the best we could hope for in this course of action is that the Georgians bring a Varsity franchise along with their invading army.
We also like his close:
The wars of the 9/11 era have demonstrated the perils of fighting heavily armed religious fundamentalists on their own soil. We Tennessee Presbyterians are a little like the Taliban — only certainly better armed and probably less tolerant of the Roman Catholic Church. Still, if Georgia wants to invade and occupy East Tennessee, it is welcome to try. Getting in should be easy. Getting out, however, is another matter entirely.


Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Fides Quae Creditur

Trust is a funny thing.  Nobody much trusts the clergy these days, and it's not hard to see why; smart people never trusted Congress, and rightly not.

But do you know who people do trust?  The TV news channels.  For reasons that frankly escape us, people watch 'em and talk about 'em and act on what they see and hear.  We suppose this is some sort of atavism, a vestigial reflex from the old days when Walter Cronkite and the New York Times were accorded a cultural standing second only to, well, to your government and your minister.

Those, of course, were the days when the news media made a great show of parading their even-handed probity, their -- in a word that seems positively quaint -- "objectivity."  Cue the nostalgic violins.  We live in different times now.

And so even America's brief for talking heads is in decline, according to a recent poll by something called the Public Policy Polling Center.  The most fascinating result of the poll, though, is how the trust breaks down along partisan lines:
We find once again this year that Democrats trust everything except Fox, and Republicans don't trust anything other than Fox. Democrats put the most faith in PBS (+61 at 72/11), followed by NBC (+45 at 61/16), MSNBC (+39 at 58/19), CBS (+38 at 54/16), CNN (+36 at 57/21), ABC (+35 at 51/16), and Comedy Central (+10 at 38/28). Out of the non-Fox channels Republicans have the most faith in PBS at -21 (27/48),  followed by NBC (-48 at 18/66), CNN (-49 at 17/66), ABC (-56 at 14/70), MSNBC (-56 at 12/68), CBS (-57 at 15/72), and Comedy Central (-58 at 8/66).
It is hardly surprising that Republicans place so much trust in Fox, nor that others decline to do likewise.  But -- and this is important to note -- among Americans overall, as well as Democrats, it is PBS that is most trusted. (And Fox, by far, is the least trusted overall.)  Please do remember this the next time some GOP congressman (or presidential candidate) starts to make noise about defunding public broadcasting, and ask yourself why.

We regret that this poll restricts itself to television news, as we would very much like to see where National Public Radio falls on the scale of trust.

But, parenthetically, do you know how old Father Anonymous is?  Forget the grey hair, potbelly, and reading glasses; there's a better marker of superannuation these days.  He is old enough to be genuinely shocked that the poll treats  Comedy Central as a source on par with, say, ABC News.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

License Guns Like Cars

Police in Trinidad and Tobago were recently sent to investigate the sound of gunshots.  They found a security guard sitting in his car, doubled over in pain, having just shot off his own penis by accident.  With an unregistered handgun.  (Via Gawker).

This is just one among the dozens of ugly gun-related stories that have been in the news lately.  It is not, so far as we can tell, that mass shootings, murders, accidents and stupid failures of basic gun safety are actually on the increase, so much as that, post-Sandy Hook, we are all a little more interested in talking about them.  So many, after all, would have been prevented if guns were harder to obtain, and so few actually involve a guns actually being sued to prevent a crime.

The recent observance of Gun Appreciation Day in the US has made for all sorts of giddy headlines. David Waldman, at The Daily Kos, came up with a list of "104 separate incidents" in the course of the day, "killing 39 people and wounding 69 more."  He doesn't pretend the list is all-inclusive.

Ardent gun-lovers are quick to point out that, while gun-related violence is higher in the US than in any other prosperous nation, guns still do not kill nearly as many Americans as heart disease, car accidents or even the flu.  They are correct, which is one more reason to take the subway, go vegan, and wash your hands a lot.  On the other hand, guns have the distinction of being among the only consumer items made for the express purpose of killing. (They are easily the most efficient of such items; even a highly skilled crossbowman can't do as much damage as a kid with his mother's Bushmaster.)  Sure, you can kill somebody with a can-opener; but a gun is designed to do it fast and more efficiently, and not to do anything else.  This alone is a reason to separate them out for particular legal scrutiny.

What is more striking to us, though, is how many of these incidents reflect sheer stupidity and incompetence on the part of the gun owners.  Three people were wounded at a gun show, when security asked an attendee to remove his shotgun from its case, and it discharged accidentally -- because, in other words, its owner was carrying around a loaded shotgun.  At another show, a man bought himself a new automatic pistol, and "accidentally pulled the trigger," putting a bullet into the guy next to him.  How did this happen?  Because the moron didn't check the chamber.

We are still not over the boy in Pennsylvania who was killed last month, climbing into the booster seat in his family's truck, because Dad was closing the door with one hand, while with the other he placed a handgun on the console.  The handgun "accidentally went off," a dubious proposition with modern handguns, but which wouldn't have been a problem except that, again, the moron hadn't checked the chamber.  And now his son is dead.

These are not the skilled, responsible sportsmen of NRA propaganda.  These are idiots, playing with with dangerous toys.

Now, these displays of ineptitude are not, on their own, arguments against the sale, much less the existence, of  these firearms.  But they do argue, very strongly, for some regulation. There is no reason that gun owners should not be required to pass a safety course, as drivers are, and to periodically renew their licenses.  There is no good reason that guns -- all guns, not just those styled after military weapons -- should not be registered, just as cars are registered, with careful records kept when they are sold or traded.  There are many good reasons that manufacturers should be required to place RFID tags in all new weapons, as the state of Connecticut once proposed (and as Italian manufacturers now do), and these should not just be used for inventory control, but for identification by the police.

Of course, many gun owners object to these ideas.  Their objections need to be considered carefully, not because they are sensible (they are not), but because of what they reveal about the minds of the owners.  A person whose only interest in in hunting has no reason to object to these things, except perhaps for the extra red tape; a collector has every reason to support them, since they will simplify theft recovery and insurance claims.   Who has the greatest reason to object to the idea of licensing owners and tracking guns?  Two classes of person:  first, the career criminal, whose work is made easier by the ready availability of untraceable guns.  And second, the person who nourishes, whether actively or in the secret recesses of his heart, secret dreams of taking up arms against the government.  Neither person's life should be made easier.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Garbo Speaks

Justice Clarence Thomas has broken his seven-year silence in Supreme Court arguments.  More exciting yet, it was to disagree with the ventriloquist who controls him his friend and colleague, Justice Scalia.

Was it to ask some sharp question of an overreaching attorney?  To argue some fine point of law, or to shed light upon an obscure corner of the matter at hand?  Sadly, no.  It was to bash his alma mater.

In the course of an argument about whether a particular person had received adequate representation at his trial, Scalia proposed that, since one of the the fellow's attorneys had gone to Harvard and another to Yale , his representation must have been good enough.  And then, per the Wall Street Journal,
Amid crosstalk among the justices — all of whom attended either Harvard or Yale — Justice Thomas made a remark to the effect that if the lawyer went to Yale, the defendant must not have received competent counsel, according to several people present.
Oh, Clarence.  You really don't get this clubhouse jocularity thing, do you?  The idea is to poke fun at the other guy's school.

Thomas, the Journal reminds us, has long been publicly and viscerally hostile to the place that trained him for his profession.  In that sense, this was just a predictable jibe from an unpleasant and unhappy man.

On the other hand, however, this is a bit like the paradox of Epimenides, adverted to in Titus 1:12, about prevaricating Cretans.  If, that is, lawyers trained at Yale are good for nothing, and if Clarence Thomas was trained at Yale, then logically ....

Thomas has raised an interesting question here.  perhaps he will address it further the next time he opens his mouth.  On the current schedule, this should be about January, 2020.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

It's Not Justice, But ....


According to the lawsuit, one former inmate said he was forced to drink water until he vomited blood. Other allegations include rape, beatings, being slammed into a wall, and one man alleged he was subject to a mock execution at gunpoint. Many reportedly said they were forced to stand naked for long periods.

Yeah, that was Abu Ghraib.  Remember the good old days of the Bush Administration?

Military contractor L-3 does, if only barely.  As this Danger Room post reveals, L-3 contract employees were an active part of the highest-profile torture scandal in American history.  Some of them were named in the eventual Pentagon report, right alongside the soldiers they worked with.  But, while 11 soldiers were court-martialed (and we assume there were consequences for others), no civilian contractors were fired, fined, arrested, imprisoned or otherwise punished.

Nor have they yet.  But, in rather than continue defending itself against continuing legal action by 71 former inmates of Abu Ghraib, L-3 has paid out $5.28 million.

It's not a lot of money, when you consider how much these guys earn.  And a payment by the company  is not a legal judgment -- much less a conviction of the criminals our government paid to torture people.

But it's something, and we're glad it is.

Friday, December 21, 2012

We Are Beyond Thunderdome

Thunderdome's simple. Get to the weapons, use them any way you can. I know you won't break the rules, because there aren't any. 
--Dr. Dealgood, explaining things to Mad Max and Blaster

Earlier today, NRA executive and longtime spokesman Wayne LaPierre gave a press conference, laying out his team's talking points.  Basically, they blame the news media and video game industry, and think that the solution to gun violence in schools is to arm teachers and security guards.  He argued, in so many words, that "the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." ( Reuters has the story here.)

New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg summed it up succinctly: "[LaPierre] offered a paranoid, dystopian vision of a more dangerous and violent America where everyone is armed and no place is safe."

This is not an extreme characterization of the NRA's vision.  Their central idea -- which is also the Supreme Court's idea in D.C. vs. Heller -- is that guns enhance personal security, so more of them will create a more secure nation.  This is a little like arguing that, since when a truck hits a sports car, the truck driver is more likely to survive, therefore the key to highway safety is for everybody to drive trucks.  Who needs traffic laws?  Just buy bigger trucks.

While LaPierre was talking, a man in Pennsylvania walked into the Juniata Valley Gospel Church and killed a woman who was putting up Christmas decorationsThen he shot three more civilians, and three state troopers.  The crime scene extends for several miles.  Yes, the good guys with guns did stop him -- eventually.  That won't be much comfort to any of the people he has harmed.

In related news, the store where Nancy Lanza bought her guns has been raided by police.  Not because Lanza shopped there, nor even because Omar Thornton went there to buy the handguns he would use in 2010 to kill eight people at a berr distributorship, but because a third man, Jordan Marsh, stole a Bushmaster rifle like Lanza's, apparently intending to use it much as Adam Lanza had used his.  The store has apparently had a lot of trouble with inventory control in the past; Marsh was still on probation after an earlier theft, and in 2007, the store's owners contacted ATF because they couldn't account for 33 different guns.

None of this means that hunters, collectors and other enthusiasts shouldn't be allowed to own guns.  But it most certainly does mean that we, as a nation, have to make a choice.  The Wayne LaPierres of our nation think that, in the interest of safety, everybody ought to be armed, including elementary school principals and ladies decorating churches.  We could choose that route if we want; but the alternative -- the only alternative, were it even politically feasible -- is to tighten up the system in a way that is common in other nations, but without precedent in America.  Gun dealerships need to be heavily regulated and supervised by law enforcement agencies, and gun owners need -- at the very least -- to meet education and licensing requirements comparable to automobile drivers.  There's also got to be a serious discussion about whether any automatic or semiautomatic weapons belong in the hands of civilians.

Absent that level of regulation -- at a minimum -- LaPierre is right.  We should all start packing heat and wearing body armor and standing our ground, because otherwise we are just targets for the crazy people who can get guns so easily.  That may sound like a paranoid, dystopian vision, but it's also where the country is right now.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Cliff-Divers

Although he has traveled a bit in Mexico, Fr. A. has never seen the famous Acapulco cliff-divers.  He regrets this for many reasons, and is therefore delighted that Acapulco seems to be his new home.

No, we haven't taken a(nother) exotic parish call.  It seems that Acapulco has come to us, as Washington's leaders gather in conclave to work out an agreement regarding tax and spending policies.  The nation is sliding toward what Ben Bernanke once -- and the mass media ever afterward -- called "the fiscal cliff."

And while most people expect a last-minute deal to be struck, we at the Egg do not.  We think these crazy-arsed sumbitches are going to run straight over the edge.  It will be like the last scene in Thelma and Louise, which is a pretty funny way to think of  Boehner and Obama.  (Still easier to think of them that way than as than Butch and Sundance, though).

The bottom line is that we don't think either side will be able to stomach, or sell to its constituents, the level of  change that is necessary.  The modern Republican party is held together by two things: fighting  abortion and lowering taxes.  Violate either of these commitments, and a national GOP candidate is doomed.  If the Democratic party is held together by anything -- a debatable proposition -- it is by a general commitment to the ideals of the Great Society, extrapolated considerably.  On one hand, the President has no future election to contest; on the other, he needs to govern for another quadrennium. Not to mention that neither Mr Reid nor Ms Pelosi has imminent plans to retire from public life.

So, yes, many Republicans in Congress have begun to repent their vow to the pagan deity that is Grover Norquist.  But we would be surprised indeed if they were willing to do what must be done -- which, in our opinion, begins with letting the Bush tax cuts expire, continues with a return of the top marginal rate to a Reagan-era 40% or so, and continues with the destruction of another golden calf, as the last decade's massive increases in military spending are rolled sharply back.

Likewise, we'd be surprised if Democrats, despite their customary spinelessness, could bring themselves to do their bit.  Government programs need to be cut, including Medicare.  And more than a little.

Fortunately, there is a way for our fearful leaders to make all this happen, and still take no personal (or electoral) responsibility.  And that is to jump right off the damned cliff.

If they do not come to an agreement, then the policy designed by the late "supercommittee" will automatically come into force.  Taxes will go up, spending (half of it military) will come down, the the US budget will slowly begin to move toward balance.  This is called "austerity," and although it's not a particularly wise or effective policy during an economic crisis, it is the policy that the IMF and other rich-world agencies have imposed upon struggling nations for decades.  So at last we Americans get to put our money where our mouth is.

Mind you, nobody will be happy.  The faithful of both parties will cry bloody murder, and not only they.  Taxes on the middle class will go up so much -- around $2,000 for a typical family -- that people will buy less stuff, and the recession will return (or deepen, if you don't think it ever went away).  If you're jobless now, you'll more-or-less certainly be jobless in July, too.

But here's the thing:  we'll have some resolution.  The government won't be paralyzed every few months by debt-ceiling negotiations that fail anyway.  Our bonds won't keep losing value.  Everybody will lose, but posterity will (probably, maybe) win.  And the key point is that the people doing the negotiating don't have to do anything, least of all negotiate.  They can stand by their guns, keep their doctrinal purity, and still even out the spending-to-revenue balance.

Once upon a time, politics was called "the art of the possible."  In America, at least, those days seem to be gone.  Our government, particularly at the federal level, is so hopelessly divided that it seems incapable of any meaningful action.  Politics is no longer about getting things done; it is about posturing in public, and scoring points for your own party -- but it is not about making deals or, bless you, actually governing.

So, since politics has failed, we only have one alternative.  Next month, we are jumping off the cliff.  Hold on to your birettas.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Stubborn Things

Do you remember "the reality-based community"?  The phrase, horrible in its resonance, emerged from a press interview with an anonymous member of the Bush administration -- who used it as a slur against those who argued for political and military calculation based on facts, rather than pure ideology.  The phrase came to serve as a bitter example of how arrogance and fantasy were combined in the catastrophic excesses of neo-conservatism.

In the years since, as the world has come to terms with the singular destruction wrought by the Bush years, there has been a modest retreat from the strategy of inventing one's own facts.  Despite the liberal bias attributed to it by Stephen Colbert, reality has come to enjoy a bit more credibility.  Even the former Bushies -- Dick Cheney notably excepted -- have come to take a muted tone, generally expressing some regret for their most delusional decisions.

Well, says former intelligence chief Stephen Cambone, count me out!  According to Wired's Danger Room blog, Cambone, who served from March 2011 forward as Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, "shocked" the Aspen Security Forum recently by declaring that, far from an ill-considered foreign adventure sold to the general public and the international diplomatic community alike with a tissue of misdirection, misinformation and outright fabrication, the Iraq invasion was in fact "one of the greatest strategic decisions of the first half of the 21st century."

Now, at first we assumed Cambone meant "great" in the strict sense of "large," which the decision certainly was.  It committed a vast military force -- and a vast treasury -- to a vaguely-defined cause.  It created a region-wide political and humanitarian crisis, the latter particularly savage in the way it has endangered and driven into exile so many Assyrian Christians.  However stupid and expensive it may have been, this was indeed a big decision.

But no.  Cambone apparently believes that the Iraq invasion was a brilliant "victory" -- his word -- and is the spark that ignited the Arab Spring.  (We wonder whether anybody asked him about the Islamist undercurrent that has come to shape many of the Arab-sprung nations.)

Whatever.  It's a free country, the guy can say whatever he wants.  We can't imagine that anybody is listening; Danger Room has a list of juicy quotes from Bush and his team describing Iraq as their signal mistake, and warning successors not to repeat it. Still and all, it is sweet to know that even when the captains defect from their cause, a few bold foot-soldiers remain faithful, waving the banner and declaring their eternal opposition to the rule of facts.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Chuck Colson, RI [not too much] P

So Chuck Colson kicked off, at the age of 80.  The guy was living proof that, when F. Scott Fitzgerald said that thing about there being no second acts in American lives, he was full of pretentious malarkey.  (Drinking with Hemingway again, weren't you Scottie?).  Colson's second act was long and influential.

Needless to say, the press was quick to remind us all about the first act, as the guy who volunteered to walk over his own grannie if it would re-elect Nixon, and who served time for same.  And needless to say, our friends at GetReligion were quick to jump on the press for being stuck in the 70s, so deeply enthralled by the glamorous tale of Woodward and Bernstein that it couldn't see past Watergate to admire Colson's second act, as the pious prison reformer, the "towering figure" who "shaped the state" of modern evangelicalism.  Such and injustice!

They actually had us going for a while there.

Fortunately, Gawker just responded with a blistering diatribe by pseudonymous blogger "Mobuto Sese Seko."  It's not really journalism, in the conventional sense of the word; there's no pretense of balance or objectivity.  We can't even call it a think piece or an editorial.  It's pure, snarling, savage catharsis.  And it's just what we needed.

Calling Colson by a name we can't use in a family blog -- okay, fine, twist our arm:  God's Own Ratf*****r -- Seko speaks as much ill of the dead as we have ever seen.  As for the "towering figure" reshaping evangelicalism, he snorts:
His anti-gay, anti-liberal rhetoric—and unscientific and ahistorical demonization and smears—never veered from the toxic and odious, but one could hear it lustily reaffirmed by almost every GOP primary candidate this season. His Manhattan Declaration, that devout Christians should reject laws at odds with the Bible, is merely the most prominent articulation of unconstitutional Dominionist hogwash. Further, this kind of personal rejection of the rule of law is overwhelmed by a current GOP climate where it's been translated into a war on birth control for women, while public officials muse unapologetically about secession and nullification.
So there.

Is Seko reaching when he draws a line from Colson to Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer?  Probably.  Okay, definitely.  But Colson was a key figure in the development of modern conservative politics, as well as of modern politically-active evangelicalism.  So if you aren't wild about either of those things, or the antics of their advocates, consider Seko's curt analysis:
Colson left a snowball on a hill, and there were no shortage of people willing to help push it down.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

So ... What'd We Miss?

How was our Lenten break, you ask? Don't ask; we've had better. As we've said so many times before in our life, for so many reasons, Thank God for Easter.

Sadly, the earth refused to stand still around us for forty days; this was a surprise and a disappointment. Though tempted, we blogged not, and although there is no way to catch up, we can at least review a few of the posts that were never posted. Here, in nor particular order, are a couple of things that happened during Lent, upon which we might have been inclined to write, had we not been so busy reciting the Litany:*

1) Breaking our heart, Newt Gingrich failed to sew up the nomination. Seems that Republican voters don't care as much as we had hoped about colonizing the Moon. Instead, they are going to run Mitt Romney, a candidate whom their rabid base despises for his Mormonism, Massachusettsism, and ability to speak French. After an expensive and destructive few months spent denying every reasonable, moderate, good-government impulse he has ever had, Romney will lose to a not-terribly-popular incumbent. And we, it seems, will never found the first Lutheran parish on Moonbase Alpha.

2) Rush Limbaugh said some very bad things about a law student named Sandra Fluke. This is a problem for Rush's advertisers, who scrambled to drop their support for his program. It is a delight for us, though, since it gives new life to our favorite early-90s joke: "Q: What's the difference between Rush Limbaugh and the Hindenburg? A: One is a flaming Nazi gasbag, the other is a blimp."**

3) The worst bishop's chair in the world became available when Rowan Williams resigned as Archbishop of Canterbury, beating a retreat back to academia. The second-worst chair also came open, when Pope Shenouda, primate of the embattled Coptic church in Egypt, died. When the body was exposed for public viewing, two of his followers were crushed to death; the transitional government has announced plans to crush the remainder as soon as possible.

4) Trayvon Martin was stalked, beaten, and killed, all for the apparent offenses of walking while black and unlicensed possession of Skittles. The story is appalling to any sensible person, and while it appears that his killer will finally be prosecuted, there is no way the predict an outcome. What the incident brings to light, apart from the familiar questions of race and class and gun ownership, is the very strange phenomenon of "Stand-Your-Ground" laws, which apparently empower any citizen with a gun to use lethal force against anybody who scares them. Frankly, we're astonished that, when it heard about this, the entire GOP establishment didn't lure then-Candidate Gingrich to Florida with evil intent.

5) John Edwards, the wealthy lawyer who cheated on his cancer-stricken wife while running for president as an advocate for the common man, is reported to have visited an expensive prostitute. He denies the report. And heaven knows, we trust John Edwards.

6) This terrorist is afraid other terrorists may hurt him. Poor baby. Funniest part is that he's American. Hope he's not waiting for the cavalry to come save him.

7) Some vast number of atheists marched on Washington, to stand up for ... well, atheism. Richard Dawkins, whose devotion to reason has long since rendered him unreasonable, encouraged them to mock Christians. We've said before that we like and respect many atheists, but it does begin to seem that their militant wing is as eager to create a stable, tolerant, pluralistic society as the Taliban.

8) An American soldier, apparently brain-damaged and probably suffering from PTSD, snuck out of his barracks to murder 17 Afghan civilians, the majority of them children. The damage to US/Afghan relations, and therefore to the battle against Muslim extremism, is likely to be grave. The reflection upon our military's grasp of emotional health matters is grim. What shocked us far more, though, were the responses of some Americans, as reported by a colleague: "They just don't seem to care about what happens to 'the enemy.' " Setting aside the fact that the Afghans are our supposed allies, the very people our soldiers are there to protect, this pitiless response reminded us of what Aquinas says: "The proud are without pity, for they despise others, and think them wicked, so that they account them as suffering deservedly whatever they suffer." (ST 2:2, Q.30, Art. 2)

9) And we stumbled over this tidbit. The Danbury Baptist Association's letter to Jefferson is famous principally for his response, about the wall of separation between church and state. But it might also be remembered on its own merits, for this blessing:

May God strengthen you for the arduous task which providence and the voice of the people have called you - to sustain and support you and your Administration against all the predetermined opposition of those who wish to rise to wealth and importance on the poverty and subjection of the people.
How few are the American Christians, and how pitifully few are the Baptists, who would sign off on such a mission today?


__________________________________________
* Seriously, that's what we were doing with the extra time. Nerdy or what?
** Technically, we are honor-bound to point out that the Hindenburg was in fact a dirigible. The difference is the rigid superstructure.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Hailey Barbour Supports Honor Killing

Pastor Joelle says it all, bluntly and concisely.

While honor killings are not, as we understand it, part of Shariah per se, where one leads, the other seems likely to follow. In this case, that means Mississippi, where outgoing Governor Barbour chose to pardon a cluster of men who killed their wives -- crimes passionel, which is to say honor killings.

Meanwhile, he leaves in prison a pair of sisters whose crime was being in the car when some other people stole $11. At least he didn't cut off their hands.

Barbour claims to have done this in the name of "our religion," and no doubt his supporters think he means Christianity. But be warned, reader: the guy is clearly a sleeper agent for the Taliban.


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Occupy Bulevardul 21 Decembrie 1989?

We haven't had much -- anything -- to say about the movement to "occupy" civic spaces around the United States. In a nutshell, here's why:


Ever since the Egg relocated its production facility overseas, it has been a little hard to keep up with life back home. We still know the obvious things -- the name of the president and six Supreme Court justices; that Breaking Dawn is in the theaters now -- but we're fuzzy on the nuances. (What's a Glee? Who played in the World Series?) The upshot is that we don't really know what's going on, either at Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, in Oakland, or at the seemingly hundreds of other franchises nationwide and in Canada.

Some of our muzziness reflects the deliberate muzziness of the protesters themselves. To be sure, income inequality is at the heart of the matter -- and inequality is made even more unequal when unemployment rates are so frighteningly high. (An old friend, a paralegal with many years of experience, was just laid off from her job at a foreclosure firm. Nobody is safe!)

But a complaint is not a prescription. There's no OWS platform as simple as, say, "America out of Viet Nam" or "End Apartheid Now." One gathers that this is the point; the movement has been purposefully decentralized and multifarious, a sort of big tent enclosing many shades of disenchantment.

Fr. William of the Beach has forwarded us several fine home videos of the scene in Manhattan, the most recent of which is posted below. Both the protesters and the police seem well-enough-behaved. (This is what we love about America, by the way. Cuz it ain't that way everywhere.)


But did you see the placards? A lot of somewhat general insistence upon liberty (which makes sense, when the protesters have been required to vacate the park, thus endangering their freedoms of speech and assembly), coupled with agitation around schools, the public library, and ... hormone replacement therapy?

As we said, multifarious. Hard to pin down.

Anyway, it all has us thinking about the place where we live. Romania has the fastest internet download speeds in Europe, but only about half the population has indoor plumbing. Economic inequality here is far more extreme than in the US. Unemployment is lower than the US, at least on paper -- but many "employed" people can't collect their paychecks, which would be pathetically small even if they could. The government is widely held to be both irresponsible and incompetent; the mayor of our own city was taken to jail last week, where he is awaiting trial on corruption charges. As for civil liberties, citizens of our own age and older were effectively raised without them, during the grim, repressive days of Nicolae Ceaucescu.

In 1989, there was a revolution. It wasn't the bloodiest revolution in history -- more like Tunisia than Syria, at the moment -- but it was bloody enough. People were shot down in the street. Flushed with optimism, people imagined that their world would change overnight. The name of our main street was changed from Lenin to the date date of the uprising. The world seemed, briefly, full of hope. And, twenty-one years on, things are certainly far better than they were; yet many of the promises remain unfulfilled. Frankly, a lot of the same people still hold power, either economic or political -- and a lot of the same people are still poor and powerless.

All this suggests to us that, for all the organizational wisdom that keeps the OWS movement free-form and many-headed, it must eventually lead to something more pointed if it is to have a lasting effect. It will need to produce policies and leaders; it will need to actively transform a broken political system, rather than settling for the observation that it is broken. Such things are possible, but they are very difficult, and comparatively rare.