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TV Trends

September 15th, 2014 No comments

Seems like half of all new TV shows and movies are about vampires or zombies. Which is bad for me, because I like neither zombies nor vampires. Fortunately, though, I do like mutants and time travel, so I am fairly well-covered.

Categories: Entertainment Tags:

The iPhone 6 and Carriers in Japan

September 13th, 2014 5 comments

So Sachi and I have been with Softbank since the iPhone first came out in Japan—me because Softbank was the only carrier with the iPhone at that time, and Sachi because she wanted to be on the same carrier as I was. There are good reasons for that: family members get to call each other for free, for example. Also, when we renewed last time, Sachi opted to use my old iPhone 4 (the one I repaired, in fact) for a substantially reduced data fee, something like ¥3000 a month. I believe that was only for family members also.

With the iPhone 6, Apple has upped its prices, however. The low-end iPhone used to go for ¥55,000 ($515), the iPhone 6 will go for about ¥73,000 ($675) in Japan.

So a few days ago, I went to Au, and asked what they could offer. I couldn’t get much information at the time, though, because it was Thursday and they wouldn’t give any info on pricing before the official sign-up period started on Friday at 4:00 p.m. (it had to be timed to start with the U.S. release, which was midnight PST).

Instead, they printed out a sheet showing me what the would offer were I to sign up under the iPhone 5s: ¥5985 ($56) per month with the iPhone discounted to zero—free with the 2-year contract. Then I went to check with Softbank; same thing, they couldn’t give me the new pricing, but they could tell me how much I was paying for my iPhone 5, and it was much higher: around ¥7100 ($66) a month. That’s a $20 difference per month for two contracts, or $480 over two years.

Well, that seemed like a no-brainer. I figured we’d go with Au. I knew we’d have to wait until November, however, since that’s when my Softbank contract runs out (a month after my payments for the iPhone 5 stop).

Then Friday came, and for fun, I thought I would pass by the Au shop on the way home to see how miserably long the lines were.

To my shock, there were no lines. Previously, with almost every other iPhone, there were long lines of people signing up. Not this time. I saw all of two people in the store. Interesting.

I figured I’d go in to get the pricing then. I did, and got a shock: a discount they offered before was now dropped. Monthly pricing: ¥7425 ($70) per month. For the entry 16GB iPhone 6. Softbank was cheaper than that!

OK, I thought. Back to Softbank!

So I went there today to get their new pricing. As it turned out, I had overlooked something: The new entry-level iPhones were free with a 2-year contract… only to people who switched carriers. That was not something that had been in place last time I renewed. Continuing customers pay ¥610 ($5.70) a month, or about $137 over 2 years. That rises to ¥1160 ($10.80) a month, or $260, for the 64GB iPhone 6.

Yikes. That would bring my monthly bill to about ¥7700, or $72 a month, even just for the 16GB model!

OK. Back to Au.

On my way, I thought I would drop by DoCoMo, just to see what they offered. The rep asked me, “Do you want the 2GB monthly data plan, or the 5GB plan?” “Um, how much for the flat rate?” “We don’t offer one!” Buh-bye. (It’s not even halfway through the month, and I have already racked up 5GB; I had no intention of counting packets and pennies all the time.)

When I go back to Au, I am in for a pleasant surprise: not only do I qualify for their ¥0 discount for switching customers, but they neglected to inform me before that I qualified for another discount: I have Au’s Fiber-optic plan for home Internet. This, they tell me, gives me a $14/mo. discount. For the 16GB iPhone 6, that brought me down to ¥5390 ($50). For the 64GB model—which I plan to get—it goes up a similar ¥540 per month, setting the price at ¥5930—about $55 a month. That I can live with.

But I was not through with problems: when you leave a carrier, your number portability is free for only a 1- or 2-month window. After that, you pay a fee of about $100. The problem: iPhones take several weeks between ordering and delivery, and you can only pick up the phone when after the portability window opens.

My Softbank contract only allows me to get off the bus between November 1 and 31. It is impossible to predict how long it will take for an iPhone to be delivered. They say 3-4 weeks, but it might arrive in 2 weeks. Or it could arrive in 6 weeks.

Let’s say I order my iPhone with Au early, on October 1. It arrives October 25. Au allows only 3 days to pick it up, else you lose it and have to re-order. I can’t leave Softbank until November 1, and the handoff has to be immediate. So I lose the phone I ordered, and have to re-order. Only this time, it takes 6 weeks, arriving December 10, and now I have to pay a $100 fee to Softbank to get loose. Argh.

So I have to time my order just right. Find out what delivery expectations are for the iPhone 6, and try to aim for the early middle of November.

Sachi, in the meantime, has a nice 2-month window—but one that started September 1st. So we’ll be going down to Au very soon to order hers, and maybe will wait 3 weeks or so to order mine.

She brought up an interesting point: if you quit your existing contract with your carrier inside the free number-portability window, you can avoid the fee, though you are without cell service until your new phone arrives. That sounds reasonable, though I would not be surprised if the official policy was not reasonable.

Hopefully, I’ll at least be able to get the phone before I leave for the U.S.; that way, I’ll be able to try out the Apple Pay system, and use the new camera for photographing Rica (my Dad’s dog) and other stuff.

Categories: iPhone Tags:

It Was 100% the Violator’s Fault AND You Were Incautious

September 13th, 2014 1 comment

Ricky Gervais caught hell for tweeting this:

Gtweet

This brings up an incongruity which has always kind of bugged me: the idea that somehow pointing out incautious behavior must be interpreted as “victim blaming.”

I understand the principle involved. Women have been blamed for being raped since time immemorial, that blame often being linked to even the slightest or even imagined provocation; as a result, there is great objection to any indication that a woman who was raped was somehow doing anything that, if avoided, could have prevented the rape.

Women should be able to wear whatever they like, should be able to go to any party, drink any amount of alcohol, and should be able to expect not to be raped. Just like any person of color should be able to wear anything they like, walk down any street and into any shop, do any legal behavior, and not get stopped, frisked, arrested, beat up, or shot by police.

The problem is, that doesn’t fully represent reality. This is not to say that the people who are in fact in the wrong should not be 100% blamed, nor does it mean that we should not focus strongly on fixing those societal ills. It also does not mean that victims brought any injustice down upon themselves. However, until what is unjust is eliminated from our society, it is stupid to ignore the fact that such injustices exist and that people should be aware of them and try to protect themselves against them.

Let me give you an example. This will be an extreme example, so, please don’t immediately assume I’m one of those people who blame women for rape. Perhaps it would help if I mentioned beforehand that I agree wholeheartedly that not just rape, but any crime is 100% the fault of the perpetrator. With that in mind, consider the following:

I drive downtown in my nice, brand-new Infiniti G37 Coupe. It’s a really hot day, so when I run into a shop to get a frappuccino, I leave the keys in the car and the engine running so the air conditioning can keep the car cool. When I come out a few minutes later, the car is gone.

Keep in mind: in the above scenario, the person who stole the car was 100% at fault. I don’t care if I literally had shouted before going into the shop, “I’m leaving my keys in my car, no one take it, okay?” There is no excuse for anyone to steal from me.

Does that mean that no one should warn me against incautious behavior? Upon hearing what I did, would you really say nothing about my behavior?

Again, to ward off indignant fury, (a) this was an extreme example, (b) was not meant to mean that women are ever responsible for being raped, no matter how incautious their behavior, and (c) does not even imply that many or even most rapes or other crimes of a sexual nature involve any incautious behavior at all.

Nevertheless, this is not a perfect world; there are dangers out there; and there are times when people do things that open them to some kind of assault by those dangers. And by “open them to dangers,” I am not saying “it was their fault.”

Sometimes the lack of caution, despite the lack of blame, nonetheless can be of a type that honestly could, and even should, be pointed out.

Let me give an example of something much closer to what happened to the people in the recent hacked-photo incident.

Let’s say I purchase a Windows computer as my main computing device. Such computers often come with antivirus software, but only as a demo or trial. After the trial ends, maybe after 90 days, a few pop-ups appear, but I dismiss them as just being ads. I might even take steps to just get rid of them—and I don’t install any anti-malware application in the process. I surf the web without thought to where I am going, feeling that somehow I am safe—maybe I am simply unaware that just visiting a web site can trigger an infection, or maybe I believe that if that should happen, I will notice what’s happening. As a result, a hacker is able to insert malware onto my computer, and then has the ability to hurt me in any one of several ways. One way would be take photos of me in a compromising position with my own webcam, and then distribute those photos over the web.

This is actually a situation where I would have been less incautious than those celebrities, as I did not take nude photos of myself, nor did I store them on my computer, or on any cloud account, or send them to anyone.

In this case, like all other violations, the perpetrator is 100% at fault.

However, it is still fully true that my own actions made it possible for that perpetrator to do what they did. I shouldn’t have to install software to protect me from criminals. I shouldn’t have to worry about whether just visiting a web site could get my computer infected. However, in the world we live in, these are dangers which we should all know about and take steps to protect ourselves. It’s not my fault that the hacker did what he did, I’m not to blame for any of this. And I didn’t take precautions to keep it from happening.

Tell me, if someone knew all the facts, and then told me that I really should have installed antivirus software on my computer, would it really be reasonable for me to flare up in anger and accuse that person of victim blaming?

Not at all. I have a feeling that you would agree. What happened to me would be horrible, the responsibility lies completely with the hacker—and I failed to make my computer secure.

I would even go so far as to say that if we shied away from warning people against their lack of caution, we are simply making them even more vulnerable to attack.

The key point: there is a distinction between “blaming the victim” and pointing out incautious behavior.

Gervais was 100% correct: none of those people should have put nude photos of themselves on their computers. Especially not in a cloud account, or in email or any kind of message to others.

Yes, that sucks: we should be able to do anything we want, and expect privacy. And yes, the fault lies wholly with the asshats who hacked the accounts and stole and distributed the images.

That said, if I were a celebrity, the last thing I would do would be to have naked photos of myself on a publicly-accessible network anywhere, security or no security. Basic truth: no security is 100%. Any security, Mac or Windows, local bank or Vegas casino, can be hacked. If I had to have nude photos, I would store them on a USB drive kept in a safe. If I felt the need to take them and send them to someone, I would simply quash that impulse, knowing that I was a prime target of people who would intercept those images and make them public.

Celebrities, in general, already know that they are targets; they know that they are more vulnerable to such crimes. And they regularly modify their behavior to avoid such violations of privacy and decency. They know that if they do things in public that most people can get away with unnoticed, it will get plastered all over the Internet. Again, that sucks, but Celebrity 101 mandates caution about such things. The nude photos on a networked computer fall into that category.

Gervais wasn’t blaming the celebrities for being victimized. He was pointing out, with stinging irony, that they did something which was rather obviously incautious. Yes, it was insensitive, but it was also true.

We simply have to expand our understanding to make clear that doing something incautious, or even downright stupid, does not in any way excuse someone else from taking advantage of it. Nor is anyone who points out the lack of caution necessarily a villain for doing so.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

Apple Watch, iPhone: First Impressions

September 10th, 2014 1 comment

I still am a little in the dark; I stayed up until 4 a.m. watching the live stream (or trying to), and just woke up a little while ago. I probably missed a lot about the iPhone 6 because of Apple’s screw-ups with the stream, and won’t know what that was until I have a chance to catch up (not until this evening), but I did get to see the iWatch portion.

I will almost certainly not be getting an Apple Watch—yet. Frankly, I just don’t have a need, but there’s another strong reason: the Apple Watch 2, or more probably, the Apple Watch 3. Apple did a fairly good job with the design, working with the compromises of thickness to deal with things like hardware demands and variety of features, but I am pretty sure that successive watches will be thinner, sleeker, and better-designed—just look at the iPhone.

Not to mention the health sensors—did I miss something, or is the heart rate the only physical sensor on the thing? I read somewhere that other sensors take a longer time to be approved by government agencies; it seems likely that future versions will have more of them.

While the Apple Watch would be nice now, I am fairly confident that in a few generations, it’ll be much nicer. And since the iWatch is something I am more likely to buy only once every 4 or 5 years at most, I am reluctant to jump in so early.

As for the reviews which are panning the physical design… yeah, it would have been cool to see something radically different. A lot of people are moaning about design possibilities without thinking about how it would affect the health sensors, for example. However, I’ll go with functional and still-beautiful.

People kind of forget that with Apple devices, the #1 draw is not the product’s appearance. It’s the user experience. The physical design, while usually striking, is secondary—though very often, it’s a huge secondary feature. This is essentially the iPad all over again: people wanting to find fault with Apple jump all over the design as a major failing, and completely miss the fact that how people feel when using the device will be something unexpectedly good.

And then there’s the pricing: it’s no mistake that they only mentioned the starting price. Knowing Apple, the version of the watch that you want will cost $600 or something.


As for the iPhone… well, my contract with my carrier is up, and carriers here have given no indication or dropping phone subsidies. I’m not sure how carriers in the U.S. are able to do that—if Softbank dropped the subsidy but KDDI’s au kept it, I’d switch in a heartbeat.

With that in mind, as for the iPhone 6 being worth it, I’d say the answer is a definite “yes.” For me, just the camera is a big deal; I have a dog, and the 240fps slow-mo will be irresistible. Transitioning from an iPhone 5 to a 6 will be a very nice jump in processing speed as well.

While the big sizes look nice, I am not so interested in carrying around a huge slab. The 4.7-inch device will be quite sufficient.

The Apple Pay system was not advertised as ready in Japan, and there is no telling how it might work out. If they can arrange for it to work like current NFC systems do, allowing for train passes and fast payment at shops, then great—but I have no idea if those existing systems are exclusive and will require a whole new set of gear to accommodate Apple. But if they can work it into existing systems, that’ll be a pretty big deal for me. Ironically, I’ll probably be using it in America before I can in Japan, as I’m visiting again in December.

And, really, there’s not too much more than that—at least that I know of. The iPhone 6 won’t be revolutionary or something, but it’ll be well worth it to get one.

Categories: iPhone Tags:

Apple CrapCast

September 10th, 2014 8 comments

Well, if Apple is trying to royally piss me off, then mission accomplished. I stay up to 2 a.m. to watch their live stream of the special announcement, which they have hyped for weeks—only to see that they are completely fucking it up. The picture goes out to a color-bar test screen every minute, and when the video does show, it has Chinese language translation over it—and I’m not in Fracking China. I hate idiots who try to “help” me by geographically locating my IP and giving me a language I cannot understand. I expect this from 3rd-rate web sites, but Apple?

Goddamned unbelievable.

Now:

Access Denied

You don’t have permission to access “http://www.apple.com/live/2014-sept-event/” on this server.
Reference #18.5ab8f648.1410283041.168966b

Well done.

Categories: Mac News Tags:

Question What You Agree With

September 8th, 2014 No comments

The Dish just cited a recent survey which says that 34% of Americans support removing “under God” from the pledge. I have always supported this point of view, so of course I want to check if this is a legit survey, or somehow slanted. You always have to do that: check the legitimacy of any fact you hear, but especially those that agree with your worldview. Not to mention that one-third sounds a bit high for such an idea in the United States as it is right now.

Sure enough, the survey was commissioned by a Humanist organization—not enough to negate it, but enough to arouse suspicion. Interestingly, the report begins by citing another such survey, in which an “evangelical research firm” found only 8% support for the same idea. That survey reportedly only asked the question about removing the words “under God” without context.

In contrast, the poll commissioned by the Humanist organization had the question presented within a fairly specific context:

For its first 62 years, the Pledge of Allegiance did not include the phrase “under God.” During the Cold War, in 1954, the phrase “one nation indivisible” was changed to read “one nation, under God, indivisible.” Some people feel this phrase in our national pledge should focus on unity rather than religion.

And that got the 34% positive response.

Both polls were clearly biased. The first poll, by the religious organization, asked the stark question without context, “if they believed ‘under God’ should be removed from the Pledge.” Given without context, it has the sense of asking the respondent to make a choice against religion. Otherwise, it is up to the listener to apply a context, and many, having heard so much of the “war on Christianity” in the media, doubtlessly allowed that to influence their answer.

The Humanist take on it, however, was even more biased. It provided not only a very specific context, but a justification as well. It noted that the original pledge did not have the words “under God,” and that pressures from the now-defunct Cold War caused the new inclusion (thus providing the justification for removal), and then set the context for removal as one which promotes national unity. Essentially, it became a question about whether or not you support unity.

So it would appear that both are not accurate, and the actual range of support is somewhere between the two.

A context does need to be provided, but the tricky part is, what context? If people are asked if they approve of the “new health care law,” about 50% don’t like it; if asked about “Obamacare,” the disapproval is likely to be higher. However, if you ask people about the specific contents of the law, supports increases dramatically.

So, what context to provide for removing “under God” from the pledge? Probably one which presents the two primary arguments for and against. For example:

Many believe that the words ‘under God’ should remain in the pledge to demonstrate the religious nature of the country; others believe that the words, added during the Cold War, violate the separation of church and state and actively exclude non-theists. Do you believe the words should be removed from the pledge?

When polling, the two views should be swapped in order of presentation half the time, and the question should also be worded, “should be kept in the pledge” half the time.

I’d like to see what that wording gets in response. My guess would be about 20% in favor of removing it—about the number of non-theists in the country, give or take fence-crossers on either side.

Of course, the response should be 100% for removal; I believe strongly in the principle that any inclusion of religion, especially in a pledge so closely associated with citizenship and national fealty, is a threat to the freedom of belief—and indeed, Supreme Court “Justice” Antonin Scalia has used exactly this camel’s nose to justify the negation of separation and church—in his words, “manifesting a purpose to favor . . . adherence to religion generally.”

Nevertheless, when I see evidence presented which supports my point of view, my first reaction is to embrace it—but my considered response is to question it.

Categories: Religion, Social Issues Tags:

Seat Reclining

August 27th, 2014 3 comments

Remember when economy seats on international flights were spaced far enough apart that you could have a window seat and still leave without waking up the other two passengers between you and the aisle? That was actually how things were back in the 80′s when I began flying.

I recall things getting more an more cramped; soon, you had to squeeze past the other people’s knees, then you had to kind of step over them in a strange contortion. Finally, it got to the point where egressing from the row required everyone to spill out of their seats first.

That’s not too bad in itself—typically, such seat departures can be an opportunity to take care of business—a toilet trip, getting a drink or snack, getting something from the overhead bins, or even just a leg stretch, which you should do several times anyway on long flights.

However, the closer spaces created a much more annoying difficulty: when the person in front of you reclines their seat.

I hate that. It makes the already confined space you’re in even more claustrophobic, and as a person who prefers to use his laptop on the plane, that becomes almost impossible.

Worse, I have terrible luck when it comes to this. After many 9- to 13-hour international flights (I take one round trip a year on average), I got the feeling that I was almost always behind a recliner. Knowing that often it just seems that way because we remember the bad times and not the good, I started tracking it—and lo, I found that while about 1/3rd of people in my section of the plane reclined fully for most of the flight, I got recliners more than 2/3rds of the time.

I can usually predict it: the moment the seat belt sign goes off after takeoff, WHAM! The seat in front of me rocks back, while the three other seats adjacent to me don’t get that. (I always choose an aisle seat in the center group of seats—only one person to let out instead of two.) I don’t know, maybe people in aisle seats tend to recline more—it seems to make sense, they already arranged for a seat that gives them a bit more comfort.

Yes, I should probably try to sit in the emergency exit row. Except that, for one thing, it usually is filled up by the time I buy my tickets, and, for another thing, the airline I usually fly charges about a hundred dollars extra for these seats.

Now I hear about a product that in one sense sounds nice, but in another sense is totally dickish: gadgets that prevent the person in front of you from reclining. It would not be hard to predict that this would cause fights that could ground airlines, which it has.

The idea of these devices is that some people’s legs are so long that when the person in front of them reclines, it hits their knees, hard enough to cause pain. The person with the “Knee Defenders” will apply the gadgets before seats can be reclined at the start of the flight, deciding how much the person in front of them is allowed to recline.

Now, as you can tell from my previous writing, I would love to avoid recliners. However, I see this gadget as totally asinine.

First of all, imagine being in a seat when the person in front of you reclines. You have not reclined, so you feel squeezed. The only relief you have is to recline your own seat—but then you discover that they guy behind you has locked your seat frozen. For his comfort.

If reclining is such a problem for your knees, there are a few other solutions. If contacting the airline ahead of time and arranging for the problem won’t work, you can try to find an airline that has non-reclining seats. When I fly, ANA is the choice, versus United—ANA has seats which have solid backs. Instead, when you recline, your seat slides forward, sending your legs further under the seat in front of you, which was designed to have more space. It actually works pretty well, and wherever I can get such a seat, I try to. I wish United would change that way.

Alternately, you could just grumble and put down the extra money for their “economy plus” seats that are still smaller than 1980′s economy seats but are marginally bigger than regular economy. Yes, it’s unfair to have to pay a premium for body shape or size, and airlines should be the ones responsible for making it so no one has to suffer unduly. Until they can be forced to change that, though, it may be the price you pay.

One thing is for certain: you cannot just unilaterally decide what comfort the person in the seat in front of you enjoys.

Categories: Travel Tags:

History Repeats

August 25th, 2014 1 comment

A week ago, I made the case that Republicans should not be rewarded for trying to turn the country to crap so people would be unhappy with Obama and vote Republican more:

When one party is merely lame and unwilling to act forcefully, but the other party is going batshit insane, you don’t vote for the batshit insane people! When a president has gone too far trying to accommodate diehard hacks bent on ruining the country to make that president look bad, you do not reward the ones who have driven us into the ground just because they can make you unhappy. …

Rewarding Republican politicians for any reason is the most disastrously insane solution anyone could possibly dream up. They are dying anyway; put them out of their misery now before they add to the astonishingly catastrophic devastation they have already wrought upon this nation. The sooner we stop their policy of ruin, the more we can salvage.

I just saw a post along almost exactly the same lines come up on my “This Day Past Years” list. Two years ago, I made effectively the same case:

The key point: Republicans have been far more destructive to the economy, even openly stating goals which work against economic recovery, again openly admitting their goals in this are to gain political power.

The answer to this is not to reward them with more power.

The answer is to give that power, definitively this time, to Democrats, even just for two years, so we can see what Democratic policies would reap without Republicans poisoning everything.

Unfortunately, the American people will probably wind up giving the GOP even more power.

At least, if they do, and if Republicans take control of the Senate, it won’t make too much difference. The Senate is hardly passing laws at all right now, and the president still has his veto power. Democrats would still have the filibuster, which Republicans will no doubt immediately vilify once again, as always completely unabashed in their barefaced hypocrisy.

So the Republicans will have a few more committees to investigate their fictional “scandals.” So they’ll have a few more podiums from which to rant. Otherwise, things will stay the same—and conservatives will continue to call it Obama’s fault.

At some point in the future, demographics will begin to undo what Republicans have done with gerrymandering and Jim Crow. The problem is, what will be left of the nation by then?

With all that we will have lost by then, at least we’ll have the comfort of knowing that conservatives are certain that it was all the Kenyan Socialist’s fault.

More on Why Conservatives Fail at Comedy

August 25th, 2014 No comments

A writer at Murdoch’s New York Post is really upset that comedians don’t make as much fun of Obama as they did of Bush, Cheney, or Palin:

We learn this from Jim Downey, the longtime “Saturday Night Live” specialist in political japery. “If I had to describe Obama as a comedy project, I would say, ‘Degree of difficulty, 10 point 10,’” the writer says in the expanded new edition of the “SNL” oral history book, “Live from New York.”

“It’s like being a rock climber looking up at a thousand-foot-high face of solid obsidian, polished and oiled,” Downey says. “There’s not a single thing to grab onto — certainly not a flaw or hook that you can caricature. [Al] Gore had these ‘handles,’ so did Bush, and Sarah Palin, and even Hillary had them. But with Obama, it was the phenomenon — less about him and more about the effect he had on other people and the way he changed their behavior. So that’s the way I wrote him.”

Therefore, the writer sees comedians as portraying Obama as “completely unmockable.” Despite, of course, the Downey quote being about how he mocked Obama. Talk about missing the point.

Not to mention that Obama has been the butt of his share of SNL skits and late-night comic’s barbs—just not nearly as often as many recent Republicans, and the jokes don’t sting as much. As if there could be no reason aside from bias as to why that’s true. The author of the NYP article makes the clear implication that it’s not because Obama is harder to make fun of, but simply that comedians give “Democrats like Obama a pass” because they’re biased—as if there is some equivalency of humor, that all subjects are equally susceptible to ridicule.

To prove his point, he reserves a whole paragraph for examples of how comics could easily mine a rich vein of humor that should make Obama just as ridiculous-looking as Bush or Palin:

Got that? The charter Choom Ganger, confessed eater of dog and snorter of coke. The doofus who thinks the language spoken by Austrians is “Austrian,” that you pronounce the p in “corpsman” and that ATMs are the reason why job growth is sluggish. The egomaniac who gave the queen of England an iPod loaded with his own speeches and said he was better at everything than the people who work for him. The empty suit with so little real-world knowledge that he referred to his brief stint working for an ordinary profit-seeking company as time “behind enemy lines.” The phony who tells everyone he’s from Chicago, though he didn’t live there until his 20s, and lets you know that he’s talking to people he believes to be stupid by droppin’ his g’s. The world-saving Kal-El from a distant solar system who told us he’d heal the planet and cause the oceans to stop rising. The guy who shared a middle name with one of the most hated dictators on earth.

Okay, let’s take a look at the list.

I had to look up what the hell a “Choom Ganger” was. Turns out it is, at least supposedly, the name chosen by kids at Obama’s high school to describe the kids who “choomed,” or smoked weed. Turns out I had not heard about it for the same reason I had to look up names like Frank Marshall Davis or Saul Alinsky—they are names that won’t roll off the tip of your tongue unless you watch shows like Sean Hannity all the time.

Here’s the thing, though: I do not recall anyone making fun of Bush being an alcoholic or a cocaine addict—which he was just as famous for as Obama was for his own past. Why? Because it’s not really funny to mock addictions people has earlier in life, partly because it comes across as caustic. Like making fun of someone who stuttered as a kid, or was overweight.

Did Obama eat dog meat? In his autobiography, he noted being “introduced to” several strange foods in Indonesia, which also included snake meat and grasshoppers. Obama was a child at that time. Not exactly super-funny stuff; this was more of a hardcore right-wing false-equivalency jab used to defend against the Romney story about driving with his dog on the roof of his car.

That Obama thought “Austrian” was a language: this actually did happen, in a passing remark, Obama noting that he didn’t know what a term was in “Austrian.” Turns out Austrians speak German.

Okay, you could maybe have fun with that—it is, in fact, possibly the only actual comic opportunity of the whole list—after a fashion. Maybe an SNL skit about Obama requiring translators for people who speak “Canadian” or “Australian,” and then asking for different interpreters for countries that all speak Spanish. If you had enough comedic flair, you could make that work.

The problem: as far as gaffes go, it’s pretty damned mild. Again, I had never heard of this one. I did hear about his “fifty-seven states” gaffe, but not many others—because, frankly, Obama doesn’t make very many gaffes.

Sure, he mispronounced “corpsman,” and you can find others. He misstated the number of dead from a tornado as “ten thousand” when it was actually twelve. He said that “Israel is a strong friend of Israel’s.” He once even slipped up and said that McCain talked about “my Muslim faith,” immediately correcting himself. He said, “The Middle East is obviously an issue that has plagued the region for centuries,” and “We’re the country that built the Intercontinental Railroad.”

The thing is, that’s a pretty exhaustive listing of his verbal gaffes—and that’s the point, that he’s not known for them. For every true Obama gaffe, you can find a dozen from Bush, most of them a hell of a lot funnier. Yes, he called Sunrise, Florida, “Sunshine,” referred to being in Asia while in Hawaii, and called Kansas City “St. Louis.” Which are pretty much par for the course, as anyone traveling so much will inevitably make mistakes about location. Probably any president, national politician, singer, comedian—you name it—will have a list of such errors as long, and probably most will have lists much longer.

If you look up lists of Obama gaffes beyond that, they are either about insensitivity (referring to Nancy Reagan’s seances, or his bowling belonging in the Special Olympics) or include a lot of statements which conservatives simply disagree with, and are not gaffes in their own right.

What it comes down to is that you’re not funny because you make the same number of gaffes as most people in your position, you’re funny because you make an unusually large number of gaffes. Which is why Dubya and Dan Quayle are ridiculed for gaffes, but not Reagan or H.W. Bush. Biden is commonly mocked for swearing and having poor impulse control in speaking. Why? Because comedians are biased right-wingers? No, it’s because he does it more.

About ATMs being “the reason why job growth is sluggish,” that’s not really true. He gave ATMs, along with automated airport kiosks, as being examples of automation, which was one way that businesses cut payroll costs—by being “much more efficient with a lot fewer workers.” Which, actually, is exactly true. It’s not a gaffe, it’s a political attack which takes something out of context. So, not so funny.

Was Obama an “egomaniac” because he gave the queen of England an iPod “loaded with his own speeches”? Actually, no, that was mostly made up also. The iPod was loaded with songs from Broadway musicals, which the queen is noted as being a fan of, and a number of videos of the queen herself. The only Obama speeches on the iPod were Obama’s 2004 convention speech and his inauguration speech. Obama was no more an “egomaniac” for adding a few of his speeches to the iPod than the queen was an egomaniac because her gift to Obama was an autographed photo of herself.

As for Obama saying that he was “better at everything than the people who work for him,” I couldn’t even find that one. Sounds like ironic self-deprecation, but I couldn’t say without the original quote.

He did write that he felt like “a spy behind enemy lines” when he worked as a research assistant at a multinational corporation, because he was used to working for civil rights causes—not big corporations, which do tend to occupy the other end of the spectrum from activism. Many young activists would see working for Wall Street as “selling out.” Which makes what Obama said not a gaffe, nor anything to make fun of, really. As a young man, he was idealistic. So?

You can see the list deteriorating around here, and from then on, straight through to the “punch line” that his middle name is Hussein, it’s just the same hateful, vindictive spew that you hear on any right-wing blog.

So, what do we have? Obama smoked weed as a young man, had a fewer-than-average number of verbal slip-ups, gave the queen of England an iPod which contained a few of his speeches along with lots of other music and videos, and said some things that rankled conservatives—and Obama is a fake Muslim tree-hugger who thinks you’re stupid!

That’s pretty much the case for how much fun we could have doing nothing but 24-7 comedic jabs at Obama. Yeah, that’s gonna sell a lot of tickets.

The thing is, it was tried—on Fox News, which should have been the perfect platform for such a show—and it failed, even with that audience. The NYP author’s list is really just another example of why conservatives have a hard time with humor—because their idea of a good guffaw is for an environmental activist to get set on fire, or someone making fun of Obama’s family, listing them as crack addicts, gay porn stars, and assorted criminals. It’s bully humor, and is mostly just funny to the bully.

The reason comedians made a lot of fun of Bush was because he was a non-stop gaffe machine who truly looked stupid and foolish a lot more than is usual for a president. Sarah Palin is an endless cornucopia or word salad, and says stuff like that she’s a foreign policy expert because you can see Russia from Alaska, and Putin flew over her head. And Cheney—jesus, Cheney shot his friend in the face.

You could write a book about how these people are far richer comedic fodder than Obama. It’s not bias. It’s how ridiculous you look. Criticize Obama all you like, you just won’t get many people agreeing that he’s particularly ridiculous.

Categories: Republican Stupidity Tags:

Here We Go Again

August 23rd, 2014 1 comment

I am beginning to believe that with most articles written for the web, it’s not just the links which are shamelessly designed as click bait, but the articles themselves. And they work: if you say something stupid enough, people will come and gawk at your idiocy.

One example which brings up just enough topic matter which deserves discussion by way of thought-deprived commentary can be found in this article about why the iWatch is “never going to happen.”

While the idea of an iWatch is intriguing, especially for those of us in the tech world, this is a case where the idea of a device trumps the actuality of it. Sadly, we may never see an iWatch and here’s why.

Oooh, I just can hear the author thinking, “That’ll bring the flame wars!”

Seriously, though, the “reasoning” used to support this statement is very representative of the naysaying and lack of foresight displayed virtually every time a new category of Apple devices is introduced.

Vapid “Reason” #1: There Are No Add-on Sales.

Unlike Apple TV with it’s iTunes connection and iOS devices with the App Store, the iWatch would have very little add-on purchases that could be made after the device it bought.

Yes, because the iWatch will not run apps. Or, no, that’s stupid—of course it’ll run apps. And the platform brings the apps. I said it when I analyzed the iPad when it was announced in January 2010:

Apple’s mission was very simple: make a platform, and they will come. … Remember, ground-breaking innovations are not always appreciated or understood when they come out.

An Apple watch device could be home to a plethora of apps which will have special utility on a wrist-mounted platform. Communications, health, productivity, mapping—any number of categories come to mind. I imagine that app developers will find no end to mining all the possibilities.

And then there’s the fact that Apple does not need add-on sales. Apple does not make most of its money from App Store or iTunes Store revenue, these are well-known as draws for people to buy the devices. I know several people who would buy the iWatch just for the health monitoring features alone. But if it could also be a display for map information, calendar events, weather information, or updates on traffic or travel data?

And then there’s connectivity. The watch will obviously link to and interact with the iPhone, iPad, Macs—what about Apple TV? How will AirPlay figure in? And who believes that iBeacon technology was developed with only the iPhone in mind? I don’t think it’s at all a coincidence that iBeacon and the iWatch are being released at roughly the same time. How about the latest ability for an Apple device to handle iPhone calls remotely? Why couldn’t the iWatch do that?

Even if one could not run any apps on the device, the list I have just given would be more than enough to sell tens of millions of the devices.

Vapid “Reason” #2: Good Design & Functionality Are Not Possible.

The problem with smart watches hasn’t been their functionality, but instead their looks.

Yes, and Apple has a horrible record of entering markets famous for design shortfalls and making a breakthrough device. </eyeroll>

To add in all the features that would make a smart watch worth the purchase, it generally has to be large enough to house the components as well as a battery that will give the iWatch enough life to last more than a day. This size is a major turn off, and one of the reasons that smart watches haven’t caught on with the enormous iPhone market yet.

And that’s exactly why Google Glass weighs two and a half pounds and requires a backpack in order to… oh, no, wait, that’s incredibly stupid. So much of the iWatch will depend on connectivity that a great deal of the device’s components will be stored elsewhere. If the author’s point were applicable, then the iPhone would have to be the size of a laptop in order to store and run all that is needed for Siri, mapping apps—and hey, what about the Internet?! That won’t fit on an iPhone!

Sheesh.

Vapid “Reason” #3: People Won’t Buy Upgrades.

It’s all we can do to wait for our cell phone contracts to be up so we can get the new and substantially more powerful iPhone, but do we really want to trade watches in this quickly too?

Yes, because people don’t buy iPhones outright. OK, well, some do, but who would buy a device that costs $500 every 2-3 years? I mean, remember when the iPod came out and cost $500? Nobody ever bought a new-generation device after a few… um, no, wait, they did.

Seriously. People buy new laptops worth $2000 every 3 years. I’m one of them. If the device is useful and attractive enough, people will buy it. Nor would the life cycle have to be 2 years like an iPhone, or 3 years like a laptop. I could imagine buying a new watch every 5-6 years. I bet Apple could profit plenty from a cycle like that.

On top of this, the iWatch would ideally have an expensive price tag on it, making it fit more into the long-term purchase category instead of the short-term as other iPhone add-ons do. All this together means that the iWatch could actually hinder iPhone and iPad upgrades, further hurting Apple’s bottom line.

Huhwha? Aside from him likely being wrong about the “long-term purchase category,” how exactly would that affect iPhone and iPad upgrades? What, are people going to think, “Hmmm, I don’t need to buy a new iWatch, so despite longing for the latest iPhone, I’m gonna hold back”? Seriously? Do people hold back from refreshing their iPhones because their iMac has several more years of usefulness?

This also comes back to the interconnectivity point he missed: people are probably going to want to buy new iWatch iterations because of iPhone and iPad refreshes. If Apple comes out with a new iOS and iDevices which work well together (such as the connectivity features in iOS8 and Yosemite), there will be added impetus for consumers to buy the latest iWatch which will have the ability to use those new features best. In short, he’s got it ass-backwards.

And then there’s his “ideally” high price. I can easily imagine Apple having 2 or 3 models, the bottom-end device selling for $299, but lacking a camera and a larger array of health monitoring sensors, with maybe $399 and $499 versions adding more and more functionality. Say, you would get a camera and iPhone call answering at the $399 price, and stuff like blood glucose and other special health sensors at the $499 price point. I bet Apple could make that work with healthy enough profit margins. They probably would not lose too many sales at price points starting $100 higher.


Like I said, his analysis is pretty unimaginative; I have little doubt that he chose his topic first, before having any ideas or content, primarily because the troll-like fatuousness of the headline would attract people like me. (Mission accomplished! Except I use ad-blocking software! Sorry!)

However, like I also pointed out, there are a lot of people who really do miss rather important principles regarding the design and marketing of technology. Microsoft has never understood why people use tablets, for example; instead, like Samsung and so many others, they simply believe that if you make the specs robust and add a shiny plastic case, people will of course want to buy it—nary a thought to the user experience.

This is a big part of the secret to Apple’s success: they really do understand why people use the products that they make. That’s how they are able to make stuff that people didn’t even know they needed—or stuff which people don’t actually need, but would really love.

Categories: Gadgets & Toys Tags:

Kajieme Powell and Police Responses

August 22nd, 2014 3 comments

Well, a new fact has come up that puts a new face on the situation: the police officers who shot Kajieme Powell had tasers.

To me, this makes a world of difference. One fact I had not been aware of was that these days, metropolitan police forces tend to make tasers standard issue. The St. Louis PD reported that the officers did indeed have the non-lethal weapons.

Looking at the video, the officers do not appear detailed enough to see if they were wearing them. If they were not, then they were derelict; if they were wearing them… that adds a whole new light to the situation.

When the police arrived, they could not know what situation faced them. As they got out of their vehicle, they saw a man who appeared to be the suspect, standing in front of them, approaching them with his right hand in his pocket. That is justification for drawing their weapons; they could not know if the man had a gun or not, and if he did, then he could begin firing very quickly.

Powell then took his hand out of his pocket, and held out a kitchen knife. That action should have had two effects: first, it should have heightened the tension with the officers, as he was armed; and second, it should have “lengthened the fuse,” meaning that the police should have given them several seconds more space to deal with the situation.

If a suspect, even with a knife, begins coming at you, you still have to make a decision. At first, I thought, shouldn’t the police have made allowances to back up to extend the space between them should he approach? It’s not as if Powell was running at them.

However, there’s a problem: if you back up, you could fall over something you don’t see. Not optimal.

Still, the officers should have known that, with the knife, they had those extra seconds. Without the tasers, it would have made no difference; with the tasers, it made all the difference in the world.

What the police chief said:

“So you’ve got an individual armed with a knife, who’s moving towards you, not listening to any verbal commands, continues, says ‘Shoot me now, kill me now.’ Tasers aren’t 100%. If that Taser misses, that subject continues on, and hurts an officer,” he said.

One of the officers should have drawn the non-lethal weapon. Once Powell started approaching, the one closest to him should have made a sign to the other that he was going non-lethal, which would have signaled to the other to keep his gun drawn and ready. If the taser didn’t work, lethal force would still have been an option from the second officer.

If this is not in their training, then the department is negligent. It should be obvious that if tasers don’t always work, a partner can provide backup.

The chief also said:

Sam Dotson, chief of the St Louis metropolitan police, said the officers may not have been able to Taser Powell because of his sweatshirt.

That’s bull. The sweatshirt was clearly open—and his partner was right there.

Had the officers been armed only with guns and batons, I would have given them the benefit of the doubt. But having tasers, and with ten seconds to draw them, a tactic which should have been in their training and well-practiced….

No.

This was not a necessity. This was not a situation where the officers had no choice. With the option of a non-lethal response with the ability to back up that response with lethal force if things went wrong, the officers clearly were not trained or not inclined to do the responsible thing.

If what happened is not murder, it is at the very least manslaughter.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

Charity: Not Doing It Right

August 22nd, 2014 2 comments

There are supposedly heart-warming stories going around about people at Starbucks starting “Pay It Forward” chains. One customer decides to pay for their drink, but then adds the payment for the next customer. That customer, hearing the story, figures, “Well, I was going to pay this much anyway,” and so “accepts” the gift and then pays for the next person in line. In the end, you get something like 378 people doing this, one after another, until someone eventually says “no” to the “free” drink and pays for their own and doesn’t pay anything forward.

I don’t find that inspiring at all.

Essentially, what you have here is 378 people who can afford to pay $5 for a cup of coffee playing tag with their bills. All but two of the people in the chain are just paying for their own drinks and then feeling cool about themselves because they theoretically engaged in an act of kindness.

Here’s the kicker: in the story linked to above, the first person in the chain paid double for their drink, and the last person, according to the report, did not accept the previous person’s drink, and instead paid for their own. There is nothing in the report about anybody accepting a drink for free without paying for the next drink. Which means that the story is really just about one person paying Starbucks double for their coffee, and nobody getting any actual favor from anyone else—save for the super-rich corporation.

Hard to get all weepy-eyed about that.

And even if Starbucks did eventually give one person a drink and they paid nothing, then the end result is one person paid for another person’s drink, and everyone else was just saying “me too!” without actually doing anything.

Another way of looking at it is that you have hundreds of consecutive people refusing to accept a gift from someone because their sense of self-sufficiency won’t allow them to. Sometimes it is just as good to accept a gift as it is to give one—but people too often have too great a sense of personal pride, seeing the gift as an insult rather than a kindness.

You know what would have been a lot more inspiring? If 378 consecutive people at a Starbucks paid for their drink and snack, and then paid for a homeless person to get the same order. That would be cool.

Because that’s what “Pay It Forward” is supposed to be about: you find a person who is in real need, and you just give them what they need. When they ask how they can repay you, you tell them that when they are back on their feet, the next time they encounter someone in need, you do the same for them.

And when you do so, you don’t brag about it on Facebook.


This is also a good time to bring up the whole ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge.” I guess it’s a good way to generate publicity for a cause, but the challenge is supposedly about making a donation… or pouring a bucket of ice water over your head. Which means that all those people pouring ice on themselves are essentially saying, “I’m so cheap that I’d rather do this than donate to a worthy cause.”

Now, probably many people who do this also donate. However, people started criticizing others for donating and not pouring ice-water over themselves, as if it meant they somehow were being wusses or something.

At that point, it’s just a kind of messed-up dare.

A much better idea would have been to have people promise to pour the ice water on themselves if “x” number of people promised to donate to the charity. Then you would generate a lot more donations—“Hey, if we can get six more people to donate $20 to ALS, Frank will douse himself!”

The ALS Association says they got an extra $40 million or so in donations, so OK—but I think it could have been more had it been done right.

Or, you know, people could just donate to worthy causes without having to be goaded or anything.

Categories: The Lighter Side Tags:

Not All Situations Are Alike

August 21st, 2014 2 comments

On August 19, Kajieme Powell, a 25-year-old man, reportedly with a history of mental illness, walked into a convenience store armed with a knife and took two drinks without paying for them. After leaving the store, the owner followed him and asked him to pay for the drinks. Powell went back into the store, picked up a package of pastries, and came back out. When the owner asked him again to pay, Powell threw them into the street. The owner then called the police.

Powell did not try to go anywhere. He remained where he was, having put the two drinks down on the ground near the curb. It was at this point that someone started shooting a video of the event. Powell can be seen walking back and forth near the drinks. He is wearing a blue jacket, with his right hand in the pocket. A police cruiser arrives, and two officers step out of the vehicle. Powell approaches them and starts to yell, “Shoot me!” The officers tell him to take his hand out of his pocket; he does so. Although it cannot be seen clearly in the video, Powell is holding something, and the officers begin to shout, “Drop the knife!”

Powell approaches, then stops about 12 to 15 feet away, continuing to shout at the officers to shoot him. He then turns to his left and climbs up on an elevated parking space perhaps three feet above the sidewalk, describing an arc which leads him to walk towards the officer who exited the right-side door of the cruiser.

When Powell is about 8-10 feet away from the closer policeman, the officers begin firing. By the third shot, Powell is falling, by the fourth, he is down. The police continue firing, the first seven shots in quick succession. There is a moment’s pause as Powell rolls on the ground in front of the officer, then two more shots are fired—a total of nine shots. It is unclear from the video which officer fired how many shots.


One thing is clear: Powell was attempting to commit what is often described as “suicide by cop.” He was clearly not interested in consuming the food he took from the store, nor did he make any attempt to escape; he was, almost certainly, trying to cause the police to arrive, and was waiting for them. When they arrived, he did what he needed to do to get them to shoot him.

People are outraged at this video for a few very obvious reasons. Especially in the wake of the shooting in Ferguson, the shooting of a young black man by white police officers seems galling. The reports that Michael Brown was shot six times despite having his hands up in the air in a gesture of surrender brings to this event the idea that Powell was similarly helpless. The video itself, however, appears to be the most damning evidence: we see a man who appears to be unarmed walking to the police, and for this, he is shot nine times, more than half of the fusillade fired when Powell was falling or on the ground.

There are some exculpatory facts. Powell was in fact armed with a knife. He was trying to get the officers to shoot him. It seems clear that he was not going to stop where he was, and had he not been shot, he would have continued at the officer. Whether he would have used the knife at all, whether he would have done real harm to the officer he was approaching, is a question to which we will never know the answer.

There are objections raised:

Powell does not move like a man who poses a threat.

You mean, other than committing a crime and then coming at police officers armed with a knife?

There is no evidence that anyone felt threatened before the police arrived.

That has no relevance to the situation; the police act according to what they find, and not according to what they have not been told.

Even when he advances on police, he walks, rather than runs. He swings his arms normally, rather than entering into a fighting stance.

I do not find this a convincing argument; if a man with aggressive intent is walking towards you with a knife, and will be upon you in two or three seconds, I do not see this as being so less threatening that a defensive reaction is unwarranted. Similarly for the argument that he was not in a “fighting stance.” If a guy comes at me with a knife clearly intending to start an incident, I do not consider the fact that his hand with the knife is at his side a very comforting one.

Powell looks sick more than he looks dangerous.

What difference does that make? Is a mentally ill person armed with a knife less likely to commit an act of violence?

But the police draw their weapons as soon as they exit their car. They begin yelling at him to stop.

This is actually not surprising, as they are responding to an armed robbery and they find the suspect with his hand in his pocket.

There is no warning shot, even.

There has been discussion about warning shots, which many police departments have policies against; nonetheless, in other situations (this one in Missouri), it has worked.

On the other hand, by the time Powell was shot, it was clear to the police that he wanted them to shoot him, and was willing to endanger them to accomplish this. I doubt that a warning shot would have done much.

All in all, I find the objections less than compelling.


There is one rather simple yet significant fact: had the police waited a few more seconds until Powell was, in fact, just a foot away and (possibly) raising the knife, then our reaction to the video would be meaningfully different. Instead of seeing an apparently unarmed man being shot from a distance of 8-10 feet, we would see a man raising a knife a few feet away from officers shouting at him to stop. Self-defense would be arguably much easier to understand. Add to that the fact that these officers probably understood very well that this man wanted them to fire and therefore would probably do whatever it took to accomplish that, and it is somewhat more understandable.

And that is where the shooting becomes, if not less objectionable, then at least less incriminating in hindsight: there is almost no doubt that Powell would have continued to close the distance. Nor do I think that it would have made much difference had Powell never raised the knife. The fact that the officers shot from 8-10 feet instead of 2-3 feet is not meaningfully significant.

Despite my initial shock and horror of seeing the video, upon considering the situation, I do not see the officers’ actions as remarkably abhorrent. Disturbing, yes; tragic, yes. However, did the police act wrongly, when it is clear that two or three seconds more time would have made no difference in the outcome, except to make the officers’ actions appear more reasonable?

Below is the video in question. It is graphic in content (not bloodiness), and shows Powell being shot to death. At the key moment, if you play the video in full-screen 1080p resolution and zoom in on what happens, it is possible to see details that might be missed if you look less closely.


But then we have the firing itself. Powell is not just shot; he is shot nine times, in three seconds.

However, it seems that this is how officers are trained, and that “muscle memory” may be an issue. Police are trained to shoot several times, not just once. When they are trained, they may not practice shooting once or twice, evaluating, and then shooting again. They are likely trained to shoot many times, and this, in a panic situation with a live assailant walking towards you, could lead to the excessive firing.

Not knowing which officer fired how many bullets could be a factor; there is something called “contagious shooting,” where a gunman will fire on the signal of another firing. It is possible that the closer officer fired the first one or two shots, and then his partner, prompted by his partner’s shooting, fires his own gun several times, providing the latter shots.

We are also misinformed by television, where we most often see the “good guy” taking extra caution to avoid killing someone. How many times have you seen a video of a cop firing a bad guy in the arm or the shoulder, so as to remove the threat without deadly force? We see this and accept it as something that could happen in real life. However, if a man is coming at you with a knife with clear intent to do damage, and you have no idea what drugs he may be on, and he could be on top of you before you have time to evaluate after a single shot or two, and you know that a shot to the arm or shoulder could miss—do you really think you would try for just one or two shots to slow him down?

It’s easy for us to watch a video taken from afar and judge; it would be extraordinarily more difficult to actually be in that officer’s situation and have to make a split-second, adrenaline-fueled, life-or-death decision.

That is not to say that there was no wrongdoing by the police. I am not sure if the officer closest to Powell was right to remain between Powell and the vehicle, giving him no room to maneuver. I am not sure if the assailant having a knife and not a gun made the situation significantly different. I do not pretend to be knowledgable about any of this, so I could be very wrong in my assessment.

That said, before knowing more, I would tend to assume that, while appearing trigger-happy and excessive in shooting, the officers involved may actually have been justified in their actions.

It hurts to say that, considering the Powell deserved medical attention, and not to be shot to death. Most likely, this is much more about our failure to treat mental illness than it is about police procedures.

Not that police procedures should not be questioned. In fact, there was an incident in Toronto last year where a younger man was also shot by police nine times as he wielded a knife—this shooting appearing far, far less justifiable.

And then, of course, there is the shooting of Michael Brown, which also seems indefensible.


I know I will probably catch a lot of flak from people who have the same political beliefs and human sensibilities as I do; the same thing happened when I tried to understand Rodney Peairs’ actions when he shot Yoshihiro Hattori to death. Nevertheless, I believe it is necessary to come to as complete an understanding as possible, and then to judge reasonably, and not just in a way that justifies your sense of moral outrage.


There is still something else that disturbs me greatly about this incident. This is from one report:

When police arrived, they said Powell walked toward them clutching his waistband. They say he then pulled out a knife and held it up in what Dotson described as an “overhand grip.”

We see this again and again: police reports, filed after the fact, differ greatly from what we later find to be the facts of the case. In this case, the police reports make it sound like Powell was in fact right on top of the officer, with the knife raised over his head, ready to strike.

The video clearly belies this account.

We saw something similar in the arrest five years ago of Henry Louis Gates Jr. by a police officer whose official report was fairly clearly filled with inaccurate statements intended to justify the officer’s action.

This is what worries me as much as anything else: that police misconduct if much more common than we believe, and that much of it is covered up by police reporting which is to a great extent self-serving, and designed to the greatest extent possible to make the suspect appear guilty, and the officer completely justified. We saw this in Ferguson as well, when the police released a video intended clearly to justify the officer’s actions, despit that video having zero relevance to the misconduct in question.

But then there is the statement of the Saint Louis police chief describing the reaction to Powell’s killing. He stated that police officers have the right to defend themselves. This is true. But then he says something more:

“Officer safety is the number one issue.”

Which I find interesting. I thought public safety was the number one issue. And that may be part of the problem: the police do not see keeping the public safe as their main job—“to protect and to serve.” Instead, they appear to see it as a public management issue, with their own safety being paramount.

I do not begrudge the police the ability to defend themselves. However, when they view their safety as much more important than the safety of the public in general, that’s when things become worrisome.

Categories: Social Issues Tags:

Nixon Sabotaged the End of the Vietnam War?

August 18th, 2014 2 comments

That’s the claim made in a new book by a historian working at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs:

In “Chasing Shadows: The Nixon Tapes, the Chennault Affair and the Origins of Watergate,” [historian Ken] Hughes recounts that Nixon ally Anna Chennault was suspected of having interceded with South Vietnamese leaders to keep them from attending the late 1968 Paris peace talks, with or without Nixon’s knowledge and approval. When President Lyndon Johnson confronted Nixon with the report, Nixon flatly denied having anything to do with any such sabotage.

But Johnson had the FBI put a tap on the South Vietnamese embassy that caught Chennault telling Ambassador Bui Diem that her “boss” wanted the nation’s leaders “to hold on, we’re gonna win” — implying they would get a better deal under a victorious Nixon.

Hughes heads up the Nixon team of the center’s Presidential Recordings Project; presumably, he knows what he is talking about, and this is not some questionable headline-grabbing half-invented folly.

It’s a pretty serious charge, given how long the war lasted afterwards, and how many people were killed. And it would kind of be a violation of U.S. Law, the Logan Act to be specific. To the level of treason.

Strangely, at least a few articles going around the web now are claiming that George Will “confirmed” the claim—however, a read of Will’s article seems to be nothing more than a retelling of the claim, and not a confirmation. Will just recounts what Hughes claims, and then ends up by making it seem like Obama’s now-completely-debunked IRS “scandal” is somehow analogous.

That seems to be in line with the reaction by many right wingers—even if it did happen, it didn’t go as high as Nixon, and it was justified because Johnson was the one perpetrating the dirty trick by trying to end the war in tim for an election.

I would not at all be surprised if Hughes’ claims are real. I would be just as unsurprised to hear in 20 or 30 years that Reagan did the exact same thing with Iran and the hostages, or that Bush’s team was involved in the use of Florida felon’s list to disenfranchise Gore voters.

On the other hand, I will be more surprised to hear any evidence of Reagan doing that, and shocked if I hear evidence about Bush—not because I don’t think they did these things, but because I am pretty sure they would not have left any evidence tying any of it to anyone near the presidents involved.

Categories: Right-Wing Slime Tags:

Rick Perry Indicted for Abuse of Power, Threatens to Punish Those Involved

August 17th, 2014 1 comment

So a Democratic Texas D.A. did something stupid: got drunk, and then drove. She was arrested and served time, but refused to resign under pressure. She was within her rights under law: she is under no obligation to resign.

Rick Perry pressured her to do so anyway. His motives were not just for show; if the D.A. resigned, Perry would get to appoint a replacement.

That’s no small deal, as the D.A. in question, Rosemary Lehmberg, is the D.A. for Travis County, home to Austin, the state capital.

Why is that a big deal? First of all, Austin is one of the few counties in Texas with a Democratic majority. Second, the D.A. for Austin, it being the state capital, runs the state’s public integrity unit. The public integrity unit is kind of the like ethics committee: it investigates government corruption. And it’s run mostly by Democrats, in a state where most politicians are Republicans. And Texas Republicans have a long history of corruption.

Naturally, Republicans would like nothing more than for the public integrity unit to shut up and/or go away. They have tried to defund it in the past, but failed. Getting a Republican appointee in there could potentially throw off all current investigations and damage the unit, even if the appointee were replaced by a Democrat in the next election.

So, when D.A. Lehmberg was arrested, and, as a bonus, acted like a tool on camera in jail, Republicans saw this as a big political opportunity. Unfortunately, the position is locally elected, and so Republican politicians couldn’t touch her. A grand jury set on her by Republicans refused to indict her. Lehmberg refused to resign, but said she would not run for re-election in 2016.

Unwilling to accept that, Perry decided to play hardball: he demanded that Lehmberg resign, or else he’d cut the funding for the public integrity unit.

She refused, so Perry defunded the unit.

Normal hardball politics, right?

Except for one small detail: Perry, like so many Republicans, was so used to getting away with illegal crap that he forgot that he could still be prosecuted for it. And he had committed an abuse of power: he threatened to defund a legally operating government office if a legally elected public official who was not under his authority did not resign so he could appoint a political ally to that seat. What’s more, he didn’t try to hide it: he made it quite clear what he was doing.

Well, you’re not supposed to do that, it turns out. The governor is not supposed to get involved with county business, he’s not supposed to coerce public officials, and he’s not allowed to use his office or powers as governor to do so.

Think it’s no big deal? Well, imagine if Obama, citing Perry’s corruption, demanded that Perry resign, or else Obama would cut the $1 billion-plus federal Transportation Equity Bonus funds for Texas, citing a corrupt governor’s inability to disperse those funds honestly.

Do you believe that, if Perry refused and Obama actually cut those funds on the basis of his threat, that Republicans would not immediately impeach him?

Of course they would. They would call it the foulest, basest, most despicable act of illegal “Chicago politics” imaginable. And they would see no irony in defending what Perry did at the same time, claiming they were totally different.


Perry, predictably, is not taking this sitting down. He is, however, kind of going over the top.

“This indictment amounts to nothing more than an abuse of power and I cannot and I will not allow that to happen,” Perry charged. There’s your standard conservative move: accuse those you are against with exactly what you have done wrong.

However, he went much further:

I intend to fight against those who would erode our state’s constitution and laws purely for political purposes and I intend to win. I’ll explore every legal avenue to expedite this matter. I am confident that we will ultimately prevail, that this farce of a prosecution will be revealed for what it is. And those responsible will be held accountable.

So, what is his evidence that this is a political attack? Nothing, of course.

Michael McCrum, the special prosecutor appointed to the case, is a respected attorney from San Antonio, and was actually backed by both Republican Senators for the U.S. Attorney position in Texas. Hard to call him a flaming political hack.

The grand jury who indicted him, on the other hand, consisted of residents of Austin—a county with more Democrats than Republicans. While not his “political opponents,” they potentially could have bias. On the other hand, the grand jury was selected by Special State District Judge Bert Richardson—a San Antonio Republican, appointed by Bush.

So, all in all, it does not look especially like this is a political witch hunt; a Republican-backed prosecutor convinces a grand jury selected by a Republican judge from a county which is roughly 60% Democrat and 40% Republican.

What really sounds over-the-top in Perry’s response is that “those responsible will be held accountable.” Really? Will he be holding the Republican judge who seated the grand jury responsible? Or the highly-regarded prosecutor who received Republican backing, will he be “held responsible” for playing politics? Or maybe the governor intends to track down and punish the members of the grand jury who voted to indict?

And what will Perry do to them, exactly? He calls it an “abuse of power”—what, did any of those people threaten Perry with the indictment unless Perry resigned? Nope—nobody involved said or did anything remotely political—so exactly what will Perry do to “hold them accountable”?

Perry’s bluster is not just game-playing, however: he levied a rather serious charge and a threat of retaliation, in a case where he very clearly demonstrated that he does follow up on such threats.

I’m sure it will play well with the home crowd, but from a distance, Perry sounds even worse than he did when he started.

GOP Motto: Vote Against Democrats Because We Turned the Country to Crap

August 15th, 2014 2 comments

From a New York Times article:

Voters’ deep frustration with both sides explains why few election analysts, including people in both parties, predict a wave that would wipe out Democrats like in the 2010 midterms (or like 2006, when George W. Bush was president and Republicans lost their House and Senate majorities).

That’s not a good analogy: Republicans lost in 2006 because they had held almost total control for six years and had made a huge mess of things. Democrats were more or less bystanders there, and were the alternative. None of that applies to Republicans under the current situation: most of the bad stuff that has been happening has been their fault; all they can do is say, “Hey, look how much we were able to screw things up while Obama was in the White House!”

Look, I’m no huge fan of what Obama has been doing, and while Republicans are even more of an obstacle for Democrats in Congress, Congressional Democrats—especially those in the Senate—have not taken the drastic action made necessary by conservative intransigence.

So does that mean I’m going to refrain from voting in the upcoming elections, or that I’m going to vote for anyone opposing Democrats?

Hell, no!!

When one party is merely lame and unwilling to act forcefully, but the other party is going batshit insane, you don’t vote for the batshit insane people! When a president has gone too far trying to accommodate diehard hacks bent on ruining the country to make that president look bad, you do not reward the ones who have driven us into the ground just because they can make you unhappy.

Now is exactly the time for all Democrats or fellow travelers, anyone who feels that the past 6 years of gridlock and sabotage is a horrendously bad thing, to vote Democratic across the board.

Think that voter suppression and Jim Crow 2014 is bad? Then vote out the Republicans in state houses nationwide, who made all of this happen.

Think that gridlock in Congress is bad? Then vote out the Republicans who have made that obstruction and inaction their mainstay policy.

Think that Democrats are the ones who ran up the debt? Then get your head out of your ass and look at the facts and figures, and then vote out the lying blowhards who actually put us in this mess.

Think that Citizens United or Hobby Lobby are travesties of justice? Then don’t let the people who want that kind of crap expanded a hundred times win any more elections, or vote in the next Supreme Court justices.

I could go on and on, but it should be clear to anyone who sees and thinks.

But here’s the key: so many people don’t vote that a surge in Democratic turnout could win elections.

Rewarding Republican politicians for any reason is the most disastrously insane solution anyone could possibly dream up. They are dying anyway; put them out of their misery now before they add to the astonishingly catastrophic devastation they have already wrought upon this nation. The sooner we stop their policy of ruin, the more we can salvage.

Samsung and Wall-hugging

August 14th, 2014 No comments

Samsunggalaxys5AdIf you ask me, this new ad campaign by Samsung is not very well thought-through. I’ve done my share of “wall-hugging” (usually “pillar-hugging,” actually), and I can attest to the BS charge they are making.

First, my use of airport power outlets has chiefly been for my laptop, and unless Samsung has a laptop that can run for 10 hours in full use, then this looks kinda stupid.

While I do top off my iPhone and iPad while I’m charging my laptop, I have found it unnecessary for the past few years, as both devices’ batteries lasted quite nicely through the entire journey, even the 13-hours-plus trip back.

The people who usually use these outlets for smartphones nowadays tend to be people who forgot to charge their phones before leaving home, or wherever they came from—or are people who have been on the road for quite a while before getting to the airport. And that will include a fair number of Samsung users as well, long battery life or not.

Then there’s the alienation element; the ad is more or less mocking the viewer’s poor judgment, right in their face, in a publicly embarrassing fashion. You don’t win people over by ridiculing them. If I were sitting at a pillar like the one pictured with my iPhone, and a Samsung user saw me and smirked, I would not feel like switching to Samsung. I’d feel like they and their users were obnoxious assholes.

Not to mention the fact that this will be relevant for only a very short time, as airlines are installing power outlets in their fleets; this trip home, I am told that both my planes, outbound and inbound, will have them in economy. So, the whole airport power thing will be completely unnecessary.

And finally, let’s not forget that Samsung users will hardly be immune to low battery issues. When your battery runs longer, you tend to forego charging more often, and sometimes that leads to accidentally letting the charge run too low when you really need to use it.

And there is where Samsung has opened itself up to ridicule: all it will take is a photo of someone with a Samsung Galaxy S5 sitting at one of those outlets with the ad, and they’ll become a laughingstock. They could be mocked further by a caption that pointed out that the reason there was only one Samsung user there because so few people have Galaxy S5s…

Categories: Corporate World, Gadgets & Toys Tags:

Oh, Steve…

August 13th, 2014 1 comment

Steve Ballmer, in 2007, when the iPhone was introduced:

There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share. No chance. It’s a $500 subsidized item. They may make a lot of money. But if you actually take a look at the 1.3 billion phones that get sold, I’d prefer to have our software in 60% or 70% or 80% of them, than I would to have 2% or 3%, which is what Apple might get.

In a video interview, he said essentially the same thing, concluding, “Let’s see how the competition goes.” That seven years ago.

From a report on mobile devices released today:

net activation by platform: iOS=67&, Android=32%, Windows Phone=1%

And that’s for enterprise, traditionally a market dominated by Microsoft. In the video interview, Ballmer said it wouldn’t appeal to business customers “because it doesn’t have a keyboard, which makes it not a very good email machine.”

Poor Ballmer; you’ve got this other Steve, Steve Jobs, who now is secure in his reputation as a tech visionary, while Ballmer’s claim to fame will probably be as “Monkey Boy.”

Categories: Gadgets & Toys, Technology Tags:

Who?

August 12th, 2014 No comments

I was going to write a post about Sarah Palin’s most recent cringe-inducing statement—and then I realized that, no, I shouldn’t. Because commenting on Sarah Palin is like commenting on Ann Coulter. Getting pissed off at their outrageous ejaculations is kinda what they want you to do. Insulting them feeds their egos. If one could identify a thesis statement representing everything they say, it could be expressed as, “Pay attention to me!”

So, no.

Categories: People Can Be Idiots Tags:

Jesus Is to Save Christians, Not Guide Them

August 11th, 2014 1 comment

One element of Christianity that I have discovered over the years is that, for many Christians (in America, at least), Jesus is most emphatically not a role model. He is a savior, a rescuer, a hero image. Christians are to worship him as they would a hero—and like a hero, they leave the saving and rescuing to him, and otherwise adopt a “don’t try this at home” attitude.

Have you ever heard Christians say, “When it comes to turning the other cheek, I’m more of an old-testament kind of Christian”? Have you noted so many Americans who have plenty for themselves coldly shouting to turn refugee children away at the border? Have you noted a preponderance of Christian values claimed by people who clearly prefer money over morality?

It crystallized for me when I read about reactions from Christians in a neighborhood where a sculpture of Jesus as a homeless man on a bench had been placed:

Jesus is not a vagrant, Jesus is not a helpless person who needs our help. We need someone who is capable of meeting our needs, not someone who is also needy.

To this woman, Jesus was not someone who you emulate. You do not have to actually follow his teachings, because, I assume, they’re just evidence of how great Jesus was. It’s not like Christians are supposed to do those things.

No, Jesus is more like Superman: he flies around and rescues people, not you. You admire him, and depend on him to help you. But you don’t try to go around flying or stopping crime yourself.

For such people, Christianity is not about becoming a better person. Instead, it’s mostly about the perks.

This understanding clears up a lot.

Categories: Religion Tags: