July 23, 2014

Nicholson Baker on the assassination of JFK

Baker--especially when he does nonfiction--is always a must read.

Dallas Killers Club | The Baffler

There were three horrible public executions in 1963. The first came in February, when the prime minister of Iraq, Abdul Karim Qassem, was shot by members of the Ba’ath party, to which the United States had furnished money and training. A film clip of Qassem’s corpse, held up by the hair, was shown on Iraqi television. “We came to power on a CIA train,” said one of the Ba’athist revolutionaries; the CIA’s Near East division chief later boasted, “We really had the Ts crossed on what was happening.”

The second execution came in early November 1963: the president of Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, was shot in the back of the head and stabbed with a bayonet, in a coup that was encouraged and monitored by the United States. President Kennedy was shocked at the news of Diem’s gruesome murder. “I feel we must bear a good deal of responsibility for it,” he said. “I should never have given my consent to it.” But Kennedy sent a congratulatory cable to Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., the ambassador to South Vietnam, who had been in the thick of the action. “With renewed appreciation for a fine job,” he wrote.

The third execution came, of course, later that month, on November 22.
. . .
“Had I been allowed to testify, I would have told them”—that is, the members of the Warren Commission—“that there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the bullet that killed President Kennedy was shot from the grassy knoll area.”

No, the convergent gunfire leads one to conclude that the shooting had to have been a group effort of some kind, a preplanned, coordinated crossfire: a conspiracy. But if it was a group effort, what affiliation united the participants? Did the CIA and its hypermilitaristic confederates—Cold Warrior bitter-enders—engineer it? That’s what Mark Lane, James DiEugenio, Gerald McKnight, and many other sincere, brave, long-time students of the assassination believe. “Kennedy was removed from office by powerful and irrational forces who opposed his revisionist Cuba policy,” writes McKnight in Breach of Trust, a closely researched book about the blind spots and truth-twistings of the Warren Commission. James Douglass argues that Kennedy was killed by “the Unspeakable”—a term from Thomas Merton that Douglass uses to describe a loose confederacy of nefarious plotters who opposed Kennedy’s “turn” towards reconciliatory back-channel negotiation. “Because JFK chose peace on earth at the height of the Cold War, he was executed,” Douglass writes.
. . .

New biography of Robert E. Lee shows a cruel White supremacist behind the heroic myth

Robert E. Lee, America's Greatest Monster.

David W. Blight

Pryor demures the "debunking of mythology," although in the end she does just that. She exposes some of Lee’s fateful mistakes as a general, especially at Gettysburg. She carves the mysticism away from Lee’s "decision" to join his state and therefore the Confederacy in 1861, rather than fulfill his oath to the United States government. Pryor pulls the protective curtain away from Lee’s views about slavery and race, revealing a conventional white supremacist who was a beleaguered slavemaster. The old creed in the Lost Cause catechism that Lee "never fought for slavery" crumbles in this book. And even Lee’s vaunted post-war reconciliationist spirit, quite real in public ways, had a private, opposite underside. Pryor judiciously chips away at the marble encasements around the real Lee. . . .

Lee married into ownership of nearly 200 slaves at Arlington and adjoining properties. Pryor forthrightly confronts this side of Lee’s life; he disliked slavery and found it a burden, but he was no "good" master, communicated badly with his slaves, and considered them naturally indolent and incapable of freedom. He confronted an "epidemic of runaways" (264) in the late 1850s and oversaw one brutal beating of a returned fugitive, including brine sewn into the wounds. Modern day Lee lovers will cringe at some of Pryor’s conclusions, rooted in strong evidence: Lee broke up families and "denied the slaves’ humanity" (275).
. . .

July 21, 2014

McDonald's and KFC supplier caught reusing rotten meat

“People won’t die from eating expired food,” said the guy who sells meat to McDonald's.

McDonald’s & KFC Meat Supplier Exposed Reusing Expired Meat – chinaSMACK

NetEase Finance July 20 report — Dragon TV today [July 20] broadcasted a report claiming that over two months, an undercover journalist discovered widespread use of meat sources that have expired and gone bad at Shanghai Fuxi ["Husi"] Food Products Limited Company, the meat supplier for well-known international fast food chains such as McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken [KFC], and Pizza Hut.

This company was exposed using such methods as recooking expired food products and changing expiry dates to process expired meat products and then sell the chicken nuggets, steaks, hamburger patties, etc. to the majority of fast food chains such as KFC, McDonald, and Pizza Hut. When the reporter questioned this, the workers even cheerfully said: “People won’t die from eating expired food.”

July 18, 2014

Watch a 5' 100 lb woman just destroy this American Ninja Warrior obstacle course

It's like Double Dare for grown-ups and she makes the whole thing look stupidly easy.

▶ American Ninja Warrior 2014 Kacy Catanzaro - YouTube

Cops Choke Staten Island Father of six to Death

Should selling untaxed cigarettes warrant the death sentence?

Cops Choke Staten Island Father to Death | Mass Appeal

Yesterday in Staten Island, a 400-pound man passed away after one cop put him in a chokehold and other cops proceeded to slam his head against the pavement. The brutality was caught on video and submitted to the NY Daily News.

The Daily News reported that the man’s name is Eric Garner. He is a 43-year-old dad to six children who had bad asthma. However, that did not stop cops from essentially choking the life out of him and slamming his head into the pavement. According to witnesses, Eric screamed “I can’t breathe!” repeatedly after multiple NYPD officer took him down due to resisting being handcuffed.

Shortly after, Garner stopped his struggle with the cops, and looked to be unconscious. Only then did cops call paramedics to the scenes. (You can count on cops to worry about your health after the fact.)

What makes the story even worse is that Eric Garner’s wife, Esaw, did not receive any details from the police until she went to the hospital to identify her husband’s body. According to the police, Eric Garner wasn’t even armed. The NYPD said Garner had a stem of past arrests for selling untaxed cigarettes, and they observed him selling said cigarettes which caused them to attempt an arrest. In the video, the bystander filming says Garner was being pressed by cops, despite stopping a fight moments prior.

With so many witnesses to Garner being choked to death by the cops, along with discomforting footage of the takedown, one can only hope that those cops are brought to justice.

July 17, 2014

Israel bombs four little kids playing on beach

Since when are little kids on a beach a legitimate military target?

Through Lens, 4 Boys Dead by Gaza Shore - NYTimes.com

GAZA CITY — My day here began at 6 a.m. Photographing something as unpredictable as war still has a routine.

It is important to be out the door at first light to document the destruction of the last night’s bombings. By midmorning, I check in at the hospital’s morgue to see if families have come to pick up the dead for burial.

When the routine is broken, it is because things can go horribly wrong in an instant. That is how it happened in Libya in 2011, when three colleagues and I were taken captive by government soldiers and our driver was killed.

On Wednesday, that sudden change of fortune came to four young Palestinian boys playing on a beach in Gaza City.

I had returned to my small seaside hotel around 4 p.m. to file photos to New York when I heard a loud explosion. My driver and I rushed to the window to see what had happened. A small shack atop a sea wall at the fishing port had been struck by an Israeli bomb or missile and was burning. A young boy emerged from the smoke, running toward the adjacent beach.

I grabbed my cameras and was putting on body armor and a helmet when, about 30 seconds after the first blast, there was another. The boy I had seen running was now dead, lying motionless in the sand, along with three other boys who had been playing there.

By the time I reached the beach, I was winded from running with my heavy armor. I paused; it was too risky to go onto the exposed sand. Imagine what my silhouette, captured by an Israeli drone, might look like as a grainy image on a laptop somewhere in Israel: wearing body armor and a helmet, carrying cameras that could be mistaken for weapons. If children are being killed, what is there to protect me, or anyone else?
. . .

Russia probably just shot down a commercial airliner over Eastern Ukraine

Russia has been shooting down Ukrainian planes lately, so this isn't a stretch.

U.S. official: Malaysia Airlines plane shot down - CNN.com

(CNN) -- A Malaysia Airlines passenger jet crashed in a rebel-controlled area of eastern Ukraine on Thursday, prompting swift accusations from Ukrainian officials that "terrorists" shot down the aircraft.

The United States also has concluded that the plane was shot down, but hasn't pinpointed who was responsible, a senior U.S. official told CNN's Barbara Starr.

The Boeing 777 carrying 295 people fell from the sky near the town of Torez in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, according to a Facebook post from a top Ukrainian official, as it flew at about 10,000 meters (nearly 33,000 feet) on the way from Amsterdam to Malaysia.

A radar system saw a surface-to-air missile system turn on and track an aircraft right before the plane went down, the senior U.S. official said. A second system saw a heat signature at the time the airliner was hit, the official said. The United States is analyzing the trajectory of the missile to try to learn where the attack came from.
. . .
Vice President of Malaysia Airlines Europe Huib Gorter told reporters that the 15 crew members on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 were all Malaysian nationals.

He gave a breakdown of the known nationalities of the 280 passengers: 154 were Dutch, 27 were Australians, 23 were Malaysians, 11 were Indonesian, six were from the United Kingdom, four were from Germany; four were from Belgium, three were from the Philippines and one was Canadian. Authorities were still trying to determine the nationalities of the other passengers.
. . .

Snowden: The NSA loves your nude photos

Snowden: NSA Workers Routinely Share Your Nude Photos

Snowden says,

You've got young enlisted guys, 18 to 22. They've suddenly thrust into a position of extraordinary responsibility, where they now have access to all of your private records. Now, in the course of their daily work, they stumble across something that is completely unrelated to their work in any sort of necessary sense. For example: an intimate nude photo of someone in a sexually compromising situation, but they're extremely attractive. So what do they do? They turn around in their chair, and they show their coworker. And their coworker says, "Oh, hey, that's great. Send that to Bill down the way. And then Bill sends it to George, George sends it to Tom, and sooner or later, this person's whole life has been seen by all of these other people. It's never reported. Nobody ever knows about it, because the auditing of these systems is incredibly weak.

When Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger asks Snowden to clarify how often he saw this sort of thing happen, he answered: "It's routine enough. Depending on sort of the company you keep, it could be more or less frequent. But these are seen as sort of the fringe benefits of surveillance positions."

July 09, 2014

California Highway Patrol officer beats citizen for walking on the side of the road

California Highway Patrol punches woman in head on side of LA highway

July 08, 2014

Amazon & Hachette Feud Update: Amazon suggests giving 100% of the proceeds to authors while feud continues

This is Amazon trying to make clear that their beef is with Hachette (and the others in the Big 5) and not with authors. Will Hachette agree to this? Of course not.

The reason Amazon is playing hardball with Hachette is that Hachette is the first of the big traditional publishing houses to renegotiate its terms with Amazon, after the Department of Justice found that the Big 5 (minus one) and Apple were colluding to fix prices.

Whatever deal Hachette gets will be the new bar set by the publishing industry, and the rest of the Big 5 will demand the same terms.

Amazon’s Latest Attempt To Resolve Feud With Publisher Involves Offering Authors 100% Of e-Book Sales – Consumerist

The online retailer appealed directly to Hachette-published authors on Tuesday with a letter suggesting that the authors receive 100% of their e-book sales while the feud continues, The New York Times Bits blog reports.

A letter penned by vice president of Kindle content, David Naggar and sent to a small group of Hachette authors and literary agents for feedback, suggests that until a definitive deal is reached neither Amazon nor Hachette would make any money off the authors’ e-books.

If Hachette agrees, for as long as this dispute lasts, Hachette authors would get 100% of the sales price of every Hachette e-book we sell. Both Amazon and Hachette would forego all revenue and profit from the sale of every e-book until an agreement is reached.

That means if an e-book sells for $9.99, then the author would receive the full amount. Amazon suggests the deal would represent “many multiples” of what authors would normally receive for the purchase of a book.

Additionally, while Amazon officials said last week that its negotiation tactics – including the removal of preorders and delayed shipping of Hachette books – were in the best interest of consumers, the company appears to be singing a different tune in the letter.

The company proposes returning to normal levels of on-hand print inventory, return to normal pricing in all formats and for books that haven’t gone on sale yet, reinstate pre-orders.

July 07, 2014

Obama checkmates Republicans on contrception coverage

The crux is that insurance companies *want* to cover birth control. They really, really do. Birth control is incredibly cheap compared to pregnancy, delivery, and actual children.

Obama riled up Republicans on contraception, and then delivers a knock-out punch.

After two solid weeks of Republicans rapidly escalating attacks on contraception access under the banner of "religious freedom," Obama finally announced what the White House is proposing: an accommodation of religiously affiliated employers who don't want to offer birth control coverage as part of their insurance plans. In those situations, the insurance companies will have to reach out directly to employees and offer contraception coverage for free, without going through the employer. Insurance companies are down with the plan, because as Matt Yglesias explained at Moneybox, contraception actually saves insurance companies money, since it's cheaper than abortion and far cheaper than childbirth. Because the insurance companies have to reach out to employees directly, there's very little danger of women not getting coverage because they are unaware they're eligible.

That's the nitty-gritty. The fun part of this is that Obama just pulled a fast one on Republicans. He drew this out for two weeks, letting Republicans work themselves into a frenzy of anti-contraception rhetoric, all thinly disguised as concern for religious liberty, and then created a compromise that addressed their purported concerns but without actually reducing women's access to contraception, which is what this has always been about. (As Dana Goldstein reported in 2010, before the religious liberty gambit was brought up, the Catholic bishops were just demanding that women be denied access and told to abstain from sex instead.) With the fig leaf of religious liberty removed, Republicans are in a bad situation. They can either drop this and slink away knowing they've been punked, or they can double down. But in order to do so, they'll have to be more blatantly anti-contraception, a politically toxic move in a country where 99% of women have used contraception.

July 03, 2014

Chase caught forging documents, claiming they owned California couple's home

Chase did not own the home, nor could they produce any legit documentation that they did.

Chase’s fraudulent foreclosure: Court says executive falsified documents | 2014-07-02 | HousingWire

The court also found that Chase had executed and recorded false documentation that showed that the ownership of the Kalickis' mortgage was transferred to Chase. The court also ruled that a Chase executive created a document that “fraudulently represented that a prior assignment had been lost and that Chase owned the Kalickis' mortgage.”

The lower court ruling voided all of the fraudulent documents and prohibited Chase from recording any false or misleading documents representing that it owned the Kalickis' mortgage.

Having won the case against Chase, the Kalickis also filed a motion for reimbursement of their attorney fees and costs. The Kalickis' attorneys sought to reclaim attorney fees in the amount $258,060.

The court later found in the Kalickis' favor and awarded them “reasonable” attorney fees in the amount of $255,135, stating the amount included feeds for reviewing and replying to Chase’s opposition briefs. Chase appealed that ruling, which led to the ruling Monday in the California Court of Appeals.

All the nicknames from THE THICK OF IT

This show actually employed a swearing expert who rewrote dialogue to make it more offensive.

The Thick of It: the nicknames

July 02, 2014

Richard K Morgan on the time he was raped

A fictionalized version of this rape appears in Morgan's fantasy novel. It was very difficult to read.

My own rape shows how much we get wrong about these attacks - The Washington Post

“I made these for us to celebrate,” he said, sauntering out of the kitchen with two shot glasses full of a red concoction.

“Celebrate what?” I asked.

He cocked his head to one side. “You’re here!” he cheered. “You finally made it.”

I had been on a long, grueling bus ride up from Washington DC to his apartment in New York. It was already 9:45 p.m on a Friday last summer. I felt sore and had just taken a shower to rid the bus experience from my skin. I laughed and, holding the towel around my waist in one hand and the shot glass in the other, I looked at it. “What’s in it?”

“Gin!” I thought he said, more excitedly than he should have. Gin makes me sick. “That’s not really my thing,” I said. Then he pouted, comically and even adorably: “But I made it just for us.”

So I drank it and it was a bit sharp but really delicious, like tart watermelon. “You can hardly taste the gin,” I said.

“What gin?”

“You said there was gin.”

He laughed. “I said G.” He meant GHB, gamma-hydroxybutyric acid, commonly known as the date-rape drug. Later came several more druggings, as he held Gatorade up to my limp lips with who-knows-what mixed in. I spent the weekend — about 60 hours — semi-conscious and didn’t leave his apartment until Monday morning. Sometimes I think I never left his apartment, that someone who merely looks and sounds like me walked out.

I had received anal sex twice in my life before that night. By weekend’s end, it was 17 times, according to my fog-of-war count. Eyes squeezed shut, the tally was the only thing I focused on at times — like a ticking clock in a solitary confinement cell. Every addition to the tally meant I was one moment closer to the end. He moved out soon afterward, which helped erase the existence of that place for me.

I was raped. I had met him a few weeks earlier at a house party, and we had hit it off. He was handsome: 30, well-built, tall with long black hair, a surfer’s laugh, and great taste in “X-Men” (Gambit). He was not some lecherous old man. He was not a sexually repressed loser. There was nothing about him that was “rapey” (a word I detest). The sex itself was — I can’t really say it was “good,” because that’s far too moral of a word and far more than he deserves, but it was highly skilled. He knew exactly what he was doing, exactly how to stimulate me. What he didn’t know was when to listen to me saying “no,” when to stop, when to realize that my kicking and punching and shoving and screaming and writhing was not just some sick roleplay while he blasted Lady Gaga’s “I Like It Rough.” He covered my sobbing mouth with his hands. He hushed me and called me “sexy,” as in “You got this, sexy.”
. . .

Post Hobby Lobby, corporations ask to be allowed to legally discriminate against LGBT people

"Hello, we would like lucrative government contracts but we also hate gay people."

Post-Hobby Lobby, Religious Orgs Want Exemption From LGBT Hiring Order

The day after the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling, a group of religious leaders sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking that he exempt them from a forthcoming executive order that would prohibit federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people.

The letter, first reported by The Atlantic, was sent on Tuesday by 14 representatives, including the president of Gordon College, an Erie County, Pa., executive and the national faith vote director for Obama for America 2012, of the faith community.

"Without a robust religious exemption," they wrote, "this expansion of hiring rights will come at an unreasonable cost to the common good, national unity and religious freedom."

The leaders noted that the Senate-passed Employment Non-Discrimination Act included a religious exemption:

Our concern about an executive order without a religious exemption is about more than the direct financial impact on religious organizations. While the nation has undergone incredible social and legal change over the last decade, we still live in a nation with different beliefs about sexuality. We must find a way to respect diversity of opinion on this issue in a way that respects the dignity of all parties to the best of our ability. There is no perfect solution that will make all parties completely happy.

The White House announced in June that Obama would issue an executive order forbidding contractors that receive federal funding from discriminating based on sexual orientation or gender equality after the House had stymied ENDA. The White House declined to comment to The Atlantic on the Tuesday letter and did not immediately respond to TPM's request for comment.

Check out Dave-o's latest short story--"The Traveling Salesman Solution"--in F&SF

(Cross posted from my Snip, Burn, Solder Blog.)

My story "The Traveling Salesman Solution" is in the current issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (July/August 2014). And it's reviewing pretty well:

Sam Tomaino, SFRevu Review: "Our narrator is a wheelchair-bound ex-serviceman who has just heard a strange story from his brother-in-law. Seems he was beaten in a marathon race by a dentist from North Platte, Nebraska. His brother-in-law says he never even saw the guy but the RFIDs that are used to monitor a runner passing each checkpoint says he was at every one. Our narrator investigates further and finds some anomalies in this. The more he investigates, the stranger things get and he discovers that the son of the dentist has discovered something very dangerous. This was a good solid story with well-drawn characters."
Lois Tilton, Locus Online: "One of those stories where the problem is more interesting than the solution. In fact, even the narrator isn’t happy with his solution, although it comes as quite a plot twist. A good, strong narrative voice actually makes a mathematical problem interesting to this dyscalculia victim."

Pro-tip: If you liked "The New Guys Always Work Overtime" or "There Was No Sound of Thunder," then you'll like this story, too.

The issue is on newsstands now or, if you're a digital baby, available for a dirt-cheap .99 cents(!!!) on Kindle. That's cheaper than I'd price this novelette as a stand-alone download, and you'll get another dozen stories to boot. Good deal!

July 01, 2014

Dating app executive calls his co-founder a whore, demotes her because he's so insecure he thinks women devalue tech offerings

And who says Silicon Valley has a misogyny problem?

Tinder sexual harassment suit: Former executive claims she was called a "whore," demoted because she was a woman.

The annals of virulent tech-world misogyny have a new chapter this week, thanks to everybody’s favorite hookup app, Tinder. Whitney Wolfe, the company’s former vice president of marketing, filed a sexual harassment and discrimination suit against her former employer on Monday, and it’s a stunner. “Tinder’s Chief Marketing Officer Justin Mateen repeatedly called Ms. Wolfe a ‘whore,’ including in front of CEO Sean Rad, and he told Ms. Wolfe that he was taking away her 'Co-Founder' title because having a young female co-founder makes the company seem like a ‘joke’ and ‘devalues’ the company,” the complaint alleges. And all that’s just in the first paragraph!

. . .
At a company party in Malibu on April 6, 2014, Ms. Wolfe noticed that Mr. Mateen was unwilling to say “hello” to her, while he eagerly greeted Ms. Wolfe’s friend, Kate Wilson, who accompanied her to the event. When she eventually asked him what was wrong, Mr. Mateen responded: “You’re a whore.” He accused her of being with a boy and insisted he knew all about what her “disgusting self had been up to.” He said this in front of Mr. Rad. He went on call her “a gold digger,” and “a disease” and “disgusting.” As Ms. Wolfe began to head toward the exit, she was accosted by Mr. Rad’s guest at the party who spat in her face. This was witnessed by Ms. Wilson. Mr. Mateen went on to ask Ms. Wilson if it were true, referring to Ms. Wolfe and her possible involvement with another man. Mr. Mateen’s younger brother repeatedly accused Ms. Wolfe of not being “a good girl.”
. . .

House members quietly eliminate more ethical guidelines

So the House just decided they don't need to report to taxpayers if they get flown around on expensive bribery tours by their corporate sponsors. Probably they've decided that the expensive trips are just "speech" and reporting the bribes they've received would be infringing someone's first amendment rights.

Congress Quietly Deletes a Key Disclosure of Free Trips Lawmakers Take - NationalJournal.com

It's going to be a little more difficult to ferret out which members of Congress are lavished with all-expenses-paid trips around the world after the House has quietly stripped away the requirement that such privately sponsored travel be included on lawmakers' annual financial-disclosure forms.

The move, made behind closed doors and without a public announcement by the House Ethics Committee, reverses more than three decades of precedent. Gifts of free travel to lawmakers have appeared on the yearly financial form dating back its creation in the late 1970s, after the Watergate scandal. National Journal uncovered the deleted disclosure requirement when analyzing the most recent batch of yearly filings.

"This is such an obvious effort to avoid accountability," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. "There's no legitimate reason. There's no good reason for it."

Free trips paid for by private groups must still be reported separately to the House's Office of the Clerk and disclosed there. But they will now be absent from the chief document that reporters, watchdogs, and members of the public have used for decades to scrutinize lawmakers' finances.

"The more you can hide, the less accountable you can be," Sloan said of lawmakers. "It's clear these forms are useful for reporters and watchdogs, and obviously a little too useful."

House Ethics Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, did not return a call for comment; ranking member Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., referred questions to committee staff. The committee declined to comment.

The change occurs as free travel, which critics have criticized as thinly veiled junkets, has come back into vogue. Last year, members of Congress and their aides took more free trips than in any year since the influence-peddling scandal that sent lobbyist Jack Abramoff to prison. There were nearly 1,900 trips at a cost of more than $6 million last year, according to Legistorm, which compiles travel records.

The pitchforks are coming for the plutocrats

Eat the rich.

The Pitchforks Are Coming… For Us Plutocrats - Nick Hanauer - POLITICO Magazine

But let’s speak frankly to each other. I’m not the smartest guy you’ve ever met, or the hardest-working. I was a mediocre student. I’m not technical at all—I can’t write a word of code. What sets me apart, I think, is a tolerance for risk and an intuition about what will happen in the future. Seeing where things are headed is the essence of entrepreneurship. And what do I see in our future now?

I see pitchforks.

At the same time that people like you and me are thriving beyond the dreams of any plutocrats in history, the rest of the country—the 99.99 percent—is lagging far behind. The divide between the haves and have-nots is getting worse really, really fast. In 1980, the top 1 percent controlled about 8 percent of U.S. national income. The bottom 50 percent shared about 18 percent. Today the top 1 percent share about 20 percent; the bottom 50 percent, just 12 percent.
. . .
Many of us think we’re special because “this is America.” We think we’re immune to the same forces that started the Arab Spring—or the French and Russian revolutions, for that matter. I know you fellow .01%ers tend to dismiss this kind of argument; I’ve had many of you tell me to my face I’m completely bonkers. And yes, I know there are many of you who are convinced that because you saw a poor kid with an iPhone that one time, inequality is a fiction.

Here’s what I say to you: You’re living in a dream world. What everyone wants to believe is that when things reach a tipping point and go from being merely crappy for the masses to dangerous and socially destabilizing, that we’re somehow going to know about that shift ahead of time. Any student of history knows that’s not the way it happens. Revolutions, like bankruptcies, come gradually, and then suddenly. One day, somebody sets himself on fire, then thousands of people are in the streets, and before you know it, the country is burning. And then there’s no time for us to get to the airport and jump on our Gulfstream Vs and fly to New Zealand. That’s the way it always happens. If inequality keeps rising as it has been, eventually it will happen. We will not be able to predict when, and it will be terrible—for everybody. But especially for us.

June 30, 2014

Food service company saves money by slowly starving prisoners it's been hired to feed

One of the most common complaints I've read from prisoners is that they aren't fed enough and that the food they can buy with their own money is all absolute junk.

Private Contractor For Michigan Prisons Repeatedly Failed To Give Prisoners Enough Food

Less than a year after Michigan shifted responsibility for feeding its prisoners to a private contract with international food services conglomerate Aramark, the state Department of Corrections (DOC) is warning the company that it may yank the contract if chronic food shortages and security violations don’t cease.

The DOC says Aramark has violated terms of the prison food contract hundreds of times since it fully took charge of feeding Michigan’s incarcerated in December. The violations include providing insufficient amounts of food, swapping menu items without the required authorization from DOC officials, and staffing issues that the department says endanger prisoners and prison employees alike. Kitchen items like knives and whisks have gone missing, according to the DOC letter warning Aramark to clean up its act, and employees have attempted to smuggle contraband into the prison. The state fined Aramark $98,000 in March over these and other violations of the contract.

Aramark’s deal with the state requires it “to comply with a statewide standard menu that provides a daily average intake of 2,600 calories for men and 2,200 calories for women,” according to the Detroit Free Press, but the company has routinely failed to provide enough meals, and made substitutions, like swapping in bread and peanut butter for waffles and sausage, that undermine prisoner nutrition.

Unless the state ends up voiding it due to continued breeches of the agreement, Michigan’s contract will pay Aramark about $145 million in total. A company spokeswoman told the Detroit Free Press that Aramark has “made a great deal of progress and continues to work diligently to address any issues that arise.” That same spokeswoman did not respond to multiple requests for information on how the company’s prison contracts relate to its overall portfolio of food service work, but a document on the company website indicates that Aramark contracts with 500 corrections clients out of more than 407,000 separate total clients worldwide. Its most recent quarterly earnings report identifies corrections contracts as a bright spot in the multi-billion-collar company’s overall performance.

June 27, 2014

Marion Zimmer Bradley accused of rape

Bradley's husband--a sci fi author--was a card-carrying NAMBLA member? And died in prison after being convicted of raping a 13-year-old boy?

Marion Zimmer Bradley Sexually Molested Me, Daughter Accuses | The Escapist

'The first time she molested me, I was 3. The last time, I was 12, and able to walk away.'

Marion Zimmer Bradley, author of The Mists of Avalon and the Darkover series among many other works, as well as editor/publisher of Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, has been accused of sexual abuse by her daughter, Moira Greyland. The accusations first aired in a blog post earlier this month, in which Greyland stated that the assaults began when she was 3 and only stopped when she was old enough to walk away.

"None of this should be news. Walter was a serial rapist with many, many, many victims (I named 22 to the cops) but Marion was far, far worse," said Greyland. "She was cruel and violent, as well as completely out of her mind sexually."

Greyland goes on to say that, to her knowledge, she was not the only victim, nor were all the victims girls. In a follow-up to the Guardian newspaper, Greyland says that one of the reasons for keeping silent for so long was that she was afraid Bradley's fans would be angry with her. Greyland didn't want to hurt anyone her mother had helped; there are many science fiction and fantasy authors who owe their careers to Bradley, never mind countless fans who admire her and her work.

"One reason I never said anything is that I regarded her life as being more important than mine: her fame more important, and assuredly the comfort of her fans as more important," says Greyland.

June 26, 2014

North Korea fires missiles into the sea to protest new Seth Rogen movie

To be fair, the movie is about James Franco and Seth Rogen assassinating the leader of North Korea, so you can understand why they'd be pissed.

Wait, did North Korea just fire missiles into the sea to protest a Seth ... / The Dissolve

Earlier this week, we wrote about North Korea’s less-than-enthusiastic response to the upcoming Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy The Interview (written and directed by Rogen and Evan Goldberg), in which Rogen and Franco play journalists who are recruited by the U.S. government to assassinate Kim Jong-un. Yesterday, North Korea’s umbrage escalated, as a spokesman for its foreign ministry issued a statement saying, “The act of making and screening such a movie that portrays an attack on our top leadership… is a most wanton act of terror and act of war, and is absolutely intolerable,” adding that if the U.S. government didn’t stop the film’s release then that would provoke “a resolute and merciless response.”

And then today there’s this, from The New York Times:

“North Korea fired three short-range projectiles off its east coast on Thursday, a day after it warned of retaliation against an American comedy film involving a plot to kill its leader, Kim Jong-un. The projectiles took off from near Wonsan, a coastal town east of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, and flew 190 kilometers, or 118 miles, before landing in waters between North Korea and Japan, said a spokesman at the Ministry of National Defense in South Korea… It remained unclear whether the firings on Thursday were linked to the North’s threat on Wednesday that it would take ‘a decisive and merciless countermeasure’ unless Washington stopped the release of The Interview, a Columbia Pictures movie scheduled to open in October.”

June 24, 2014

On the Quiet Heroism of Bureaucrats

(This is a cross-post from my Snip, Burn, Solder Blog)

I continue to write a monthly column for the Ann Arbor Chronicle, and it just dawned on me--on the eve of the publication of my June column--that I totally neglected to post a link to my May column (which is significantly more upbeat). It begins like this:

The Ann Arbor Chronicle | In it for the Money: Equal Marriage

Back in March, for just shy of 24 hours, Michigan was willing to license, solemnize, and recognize the marriage of any two people without getting all particular about their genitals. [1] The three-judge appellate panel is still out on whether the question of a happily-ever-after for non-bigots and wedding-lovers here in Michigan. But that was still a pretty wonderful day.

In one sense that day resulted from a specific victory in court: A courageous couple embarked on a legal battle in order to protect their adopted children in the case that either parent dies, lawyers argued the case, and based on the merit of those oral arguments and the testimony of experts a federal judge issued a very strongly-worded decision.

By itself, all of that was a wonderful example of our legal system basically working as we’d hope.

But here’s the thing: If that was all that had been done – just plaintiffs and lawyers and experts and a level-headed judge – no one could have gotten married on Saturday, March 22, 2014. No offices would have been open, no staff would have been on hand, and the appropriate forms would not have existed.

So today I want to sing the praises of the quiet heroism of county clerks – who are, for the vast bulk of law-abiding citizens, the daily executors of the Law, which is to say our Will as a People. This column is meant to record in something approaching a permanent way their mettle in helping to bend the Arc of the Moral Universe towards Justice. . . .

And goes on in that manner for a reasonable number of words, then stops. In the middle, we cover the intricacies of marriage applications and the weird contortions that bigoted laws demand.

If for no other reason, please click through to reap the benefits of reading the piece's lone footnote.

Detroit residents ask the United Nations for help after emergency manager cuts off water to 40% of the population

For real though, you cannot imagine a dystopian government more evil and messed up than the daily lives of detroiters.

Detroit shuts off water for residents, United Nations asked to help.

Desperate calls for help from the United Nations aren’t just for war-torn and developing nations anymore. The city of Detroit—a city that has been on the brink in many ways—in an effort to balance its books, has begun shutting off water access to city residents behind on their payments. While that may seem like what happens to anyone when they don’t pay their bills, Detroit is a unique case—nearly half of the 323,900 residents who use the utility are delinquent, according to the Detroit Free Press. To make matters worse, Al Jazeera America reports, Detroit’s average monthly water bill is nearly double the national average of $40. The Detroit City Council approved a 9 percent hike last week.

In response, a coalition of activist groups in the city have appealed to the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights for relief. Here’s what they’re hoping for via Think Progress:

“We are asking the UN special rapporteur to make clear to the U.S. government that it has violated the human right to water,” said Maude Barlow, the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians and a key member of the coalition that put the report together. In addition to creating international pressure to stop the Detroit shutoffs, Barlow said, the UN’s intervention could lead to formal consequences for the United States. “If the US government does not respond appropriately this will also impact their Universal Periodic Review,” she said, “when they stand before the Human Rights Council to have their [human rights] record evaluated.”

Earlier this year, to balance the department’s $118 million debt, the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department deployed crews to with the aim to cut some 3,000 residents’ access to the water supply each week as part of an effort to shut off water to more than 150,000 delinquent customers, according to the Detroit Free Press.

June 23, 2014

Physicist Offers $10,000 To Anyone Who Can Disprove Climate Change

I'm always a fan of offering people money to prove their utter bullshit.

Physicist Offers $10,000 To Anyone Who Can Disprove Climate Change | ThinkProgress

When not refuting the 97 percent of scientists who believe in human-caused global warming, climate change deniers often draw upon the conspiracy that it’s is a fabricated theory invented by those in a position to gain financially or otherwise from efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. A Texas-based physicist is turning that notion on its head by offering $10,000 of his own money to anyone who can disprove mainstream, accepted climate science.

Dr. Christopher Keating, a physicist who has taught at the University of South Dakota and the U.S. Naval Academy, says in his blog post that the rules are easy: there is no entry fee, participants must be over 18, and the scientific method must be employed.

“Deniers actively claim that science is on their side and there is no proof of man-made climate change,” Keating told the College Fix by email. “You would think that if it was really as easy as the deniers claim that someone, somewhere would do it.”

Keating is planning to post entries on his blog along with comments. He is willing to field a wide array of submissions and is also offering $1,000 to anyone that can provide any scientific evidence at all that climate change isn’t real. “They are even free to find proof on the Internet and cut and paste it,” he said.

June 22, 2014

Should a driverless car let a passenger die in ordert to save pedestrians?

If we trust automated cars to actual drive--which is already the most dangerous thing most of us do in a week--we will also have to trust them to decide who lives and who dies in emergency situations..

Google and the Trolley Problem | Owen abroad

In 1967, the philosopher Philippa Foot posed what became known at “The Trolley Problem”. Suppose you are the driver of a runaway tram (or “trolley car”) and you can only steer from one narrow track on to another; five men are working on the track you are on, and there is one man on the other; anyone on the track that the tram enters is bound to be killed. Should you allow the tram to continue on its current track and plough into the five people, or do you deliberately steer the tram onto the other track, so leading to the certain death of the other man?

Being a utilitarian, I find the trolley problem straightforward. It seems obvious to me that the driver should switch tracks, saving five lives at the cost of one. But many people do not share that intuition: for them, the fact that switching tracks requires an action by the driver makes it more reprehensible than allowing five deaths to happen through inaction.

If it were a robot in the drivers’ cab, then Asimov’s Three Laws wouldn’t tell the robot what to do. Either way, humans will be harmed, whether by action (one man) or inaction (five men). So the First Law will inevitably be broken. What should the robot be programmed to do when it can’t obey the First Law?

This is no longer hypothetical: an equivalent situation could easily arise with a driverless car. Suppose a group of five children runs out into the road, and the car calculates that they can be avoided only by mounting the pavement, and killing a single pedestrian walking there. How should the car be programmed to respond?

There are many variants on the Trolley Problem (analysed by Judith Jarvis Thompson), most of which will have to be reflected in the cars’ algorithms one way or another. For example, suppose a car finds on rounding a corner that it must either drive into an obstacle, leading to the certain death of its single passenger (the car owner), or it must swerve, leading to the death of an unknown pedestrian. Many human drivers would instinctively plough into the pedestrian to save themselves. Should the car mimic the driver and put the interests of its owner first? Or should it always protect the interests of the stranger? Or should it decide who dies at random? (Would you a buy a car programmed to put the interests of strangers ahead of the passenger, other things being equal?)

One option is to let the market decide: I can buy a utilitarian car, while you might prefer the deontological model. Is it a matter of religious freedom to let people drive a car whose alogorithm reflects their ethical choices?

Perhaps the normal version of the car will be programmed with an algorithm that protects everyone equally and display advertisements to the passengers; while wealthy people will be able to buy the ‘premium’ version that protects its owner at the expense of other road users. (This is not very different to choosing to drive an SUV, which protects the people inside the car at the expense of the people outside it.)

The pope excommunicates the mafia

A Vatican spokesperson later said that the Pope didn't roll a save vs political corruption, so his magic spell against the mob didn't work.

Joe. My. God.: Pope Francis Excommunicates The Mafia

Pope Francis has issued the strongest condemnation of organised crime groups by a pontiff in two decades, accusing them of practising "the adoration of evil" and saying that mafiosi were excommunicated. It was the first time a pope had used the word excommunication – a total cutoff from the church – in direct reference to members of organised crime. "Those who in their lives follow this path of evil, as mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated," he said in impromptu comments at a mass before hundreds of thousands of people in one of Italy's most crime-ridden areas. To sustained applause he told the crowd on Sunday: "This evil must be fought against, it must be pushed aside. We must say no to it." He called the local crime group, the 'Ndrangheta, as an example of the "adoration of evil and contempt of the common good" and said the church would exert its full force in efforts to combat organised crime.

June 21, 2014

The history of business management is the history of slavery

Modern business parlance and methodology was born on the plantation.

The Messy Link Between Slave Owners and Modern Management — HBS Working Knowledge

Rosenthal, a Harvard-Newcomen Fellow in business history at Harvard Business School, found that southern plantation owners kept complex and meticulous records, measuring the productivity of their slaves and carefully monitoring their profits—often using even more sophisticated methods than manufacturers in the North. Several of the slave owners' practices, such as incentivizing workers (in this case, to get them to pick more cotton) and depreciating their worth through the years, are widely used in business management today. . . . The evolution of modern management is usually associated with good old-fashioned intelligence and ingenuity—"a glorious parade of inventions that goes from textile looms to the computer," Rosenthal says. But in reality, it's much messier than that. Capitalism is not just about the free market; it was also built on the backs of slaves who were literally the opposite of free.

"It's a much bigger, more powerful question to ask, If today we are using management techniques that were also used on slave plantations," she says, "how much more careful do we need to be? How much more do we need to think about our responsibility to people?"
. . .

June 19, 2014

The Onion's new video series parodying the NYT's wedding section is just incredible

Between this and Clickhole the Onion is drawing blood all over the internet these days.

Texas Republicans call for an end to democracy, cutting school funding, and nullifying Federal laws

The Texas GOP is a special brand of terrible built on fear of Muslims, fear of immigrants, fear of education, fear of the federal government and fear of gay people.

16 Wacky Ideas In The Texas Republican Party's New Platform | ThinkProgress

4) Americans Should Not Be Allowed To Choose Their Own Senators

The Seventeenth Amendment abolished an older practice that empowered state lawmakers to choose their state’s senators, in no small part because the old system “led to rampant and blatant corruption, letting corporations and other moneyed interests effectively buy U.S. Senators, and tied state legislatures up in numerous, lengthy deadlocks over whom to send to Washington.” The Texas GOP platform, however, wants to return to the day when the American people could not vote on their own senators. “Full Repeal of the 17th Amendment of the United States Constitution” is one of the platform’s demands.
5) The Problem With America’s Schools Is That They Have Too Much Money

According to the Texas GOP, “[s]ince data is clear that additional money does not translate into educational achievement, and higher education costs are out of control, we support reducing taxpayer funding to all levels of education institutions.”