Thirty-three point five percent

Most people are saying that they’re sick and tired of this election. I’m past that. I’m sick and tired of fucking Americans.

Like most other politically-obsessed people, I’ve been compulsively reloading the 538 page, and watching Clinton’s chances sink from 5/6 to 2/3 since the Comey announcement. Which was, let us not forget, “We have found more complete and utter horseshit with an even higher horseshit content than the horseshit I heaped on Hillary in July, in a spectacularly partisan manner that completely besmirched this office.” Besmirching not yet complete, Comey decided that it was better to continue acting like a partisan hack, than to run the risk of batshit crazy Republicans in the House going all batshit on him if they found out about the new horseshit on November 9th.

Of course, any reasonably sane observer would have noted that batshit’s gonna batshit, and if they’re not threatening to impeach him over the new horseshit, they’ll do it over something else. Nothing short of complete and utter capitulation to their batshittery is going to satisfy them. This is fucking obvious to everyone but the guy running the FBI, who is supposed to be smart.

Now, I’m on record for all the technical reasons why this email horseshit was horseshit from day one, beginning with the fact that every goddamn mention of email that doesn’t include talk about State’s own hacks is journalistic malpractice. Number of emails that were exposed by Hillary that weren’t subsequently exposed by much bigger hacks: zero. Doesn’t fucking matter if she had a rule on her server that forwarded every goddamn message to kgb.ru; we know for a fact that the State department’s breaches were worse.

What’s blowing my mind is that I thought that everyone who was going to be swayed by horseshit was already priced in; the American people have been hearing about email email email for 18 months. There is one group of voters who should have had their minds changed by the FBI horseshit non-announcement: utterly fucking dumb people. Even if you totally hate Hillary, ten seconds on any actual news site will tell you that a) there’s nothing there, and b) man, did Comey really blow away a hundred years of what’s goddamn expected from an FBI director.

Really: in order to give one-tenth of a shit about the FBI announcement, you have to read a headline or a GOP talking points memo and nothing else. (Or, of course, get all your news from right-wing media which profits from feeding you horseshit.)

But that’s alright. Jacksonian democracy and all that, so willfully uneducated people who can have their votes swayed by horseshit have their votes counted like anyone else. It’s okay that they’re out there, it’s just that they’re out there in huge fucking numbers, because their party leaders have gotten them used to a diet of horseshit since 1994 so they no longer know what real news tastes like.

That’s not what’s got me pissed off at fucking Americans. What’s got me pissed off is that we’re supposed to be a nation of ideals, and one of those ideals is that we’re supposed to put country over party. Another one of those ideals is that we’re supposed to give a shit and care about the political positions of the other side. Let’s try that, shall we?

For example, there are all those values voter Republicans, who have been cramming their vision of “one man-one subjugated woman” down our pieholes since 1981. Surely they wouldn’t vote for a man with three wives who glorifies sexual assault, who’s been extremely iffy on that whole abortion thing, who’s on trial for fucking rape of a minor in December?

Or the fiscal responsibility Republicans, the supposed smart ones, who have been advocating an Ayn Randian hellscape for thirty years and who are deeply, seriously concerned about the national debt except when it’s time to bomb the fuck out of someone. Surely they wouldn’t vote for a man who wants to blow a $20 trillion hole in the budget, who claims that his trillion-dollar infrastructure plan will pay for itself, and who wants to suck up all of the oil out of the Middle East and all of the concrete out of America to build a fucking huge wall?

Or the establishment Republicans, the ones who understand how the world works and who can sometimes speak using two-syllable words. The ones who have advocated for intransigent gridlock for partisan gain, but who understand why gridlock is bad and can sometimes be made to show reason, if only behind closed doors where no one can quote them? Surely they understand the danger of electing a man who doesn’t understand why nuclear weapons shouldn’t be used, why NATO is a good thing, and what happens when you have someone running the country with the self-control of a toddler on crack.

No, no, and fucking no. If any of these groups were holding firm in their prior horror and disdain of the orange-faced monstrosity, there would be firewalls in his ceiling. Those have been falling, one by fucking one. For the Republicans, it’s all “Hillary sucks!” and not a goddamn whit of concern about how many decades of Republican ideals, Republican values, or goddamn American patriotism they’re selling out to line up behind this nominee.

I’ve said it before, I’ve said it again. Donald Trump’s election would be a partisan disaster for my side, but he would be a nonpartisan disaster for America. You don’t need me to list the reasons why — everyone who’s ever served a day in national office, everyone who’s ever written a political news story, and the entire goddamn stock market has been saying this for months. Trump’s America will be either a kakistocracy or a kleptocracy, possibly both.

And yes, I do get it: the election of Clinton and a Democratic Senate is a partisan disaster for the other side. Give Schumer control of the Senate, and the Democrats have indicated they have finally found their balls and are fed up with the Republicans doing shit-all for eight years. You won’t like who gets nominated. People like me are going to be hounding Hillary not to be fucking nice to you. Maybe you should have thought of that while you had a moderate like Merrick Garland ready to warm a bench chair.

But seriously, Republicans. You have no fucking clue what a Trump presidency will look like, because Trump himself has no fucking clue; he’s clearly operating on the theory that whatever he farts out on Twitter is complete gold until he contradicts himself three hours later. Maybe Pence will be Acting President, and maybe Trump will be a dictator. (Seriously, though, if you think an ego like that is going to take a backseat, there’s just no hope for you.) Trump has shown an understanding of the presidency that we’d find appalling in a fifth grader, and because of you, he has a one in three chance of getting there.

We’re supposed to be better than this. We’re supposed to have some basic agreement on the value of institutions and government, which in turn has some connection to goddamn reality. Yes, Democrats suck and want to destroy the country; all the partisan bullshit you’ve been feeding yourselves remains just as potent as it ever was. I’m a Democrat; go ahead and completely dismiss every damn thing I’m saying if you like. But listen to what other fucking Republicans have been saying for 18 months. Trump is not normal. Trump is not qualified. Trump is a fucking disaster.

And if you’re voting in favor of chaos, if you just want to throw a monkey wrench into the entire system and blow it up: well, you’ve already won. Even with a Clinton presidency, a Republican House is planning on filing impeachment papers at 12:01 PM on January 20th. Keep the Senate, and watch our Supreme Court and federal judiciary dwindle to about half the number of judges it’s supposed to have. All of the ways in which the system is fucked up, all of the things you’re voting against, are going to get far worse, thanks to the incentives you’re laying out in front of your elected officials. “Keep gridlocking the system. Keep being lying motherfuckers. We will reward you for that.”

American democracy requires both sides to have some people being the fucking grown-ups. And I’m going to continue respecting Republicans with whom I only have partisan disagreements. But when it’s completely fucking obvious that the majority of Republicans think winning is more important than the country, then no. Enough. Dayenu. You’re not a political party, you’re vandals. You’re wrecking the place, and you know you are.

Pardon this partisan’s observation, but fuck, I still somehow expected better of you.

Coin flip

Nate Silver, stop fucking with us.

Last time I wrote about the election, I confidently projected that a Hillary win would cause turmoil for the country because Trump’s campaign was doing so much to delegitimize her. As I write this, a few hours before the first debate, 538 has the presidential election pretty much at a coin flip, with the Republicans likely to retain the Senate.

Obviously, I never expected to be here, and it’s worth pointing out why. There are two firewalls that I thought would protect a Clinton presidency from electoral shifts:

1) all else being equal, there’s no question that the Democratic and Clinton campaigns are better organized and better funded, and that’s going to translate into a few points during the election which don’t show up in current polling. It should be enough to tip a 50/50 race in her direction; on the other hand, if the large number of undecideds have a collective aneurysm and break for Trump, there’s not much that can be done.

2) the bigger firewall, I thought, were the Republicans themselves.

Let’s keep in mind that there was never a time when the possibility of a Trump presidency wasn’t viewed as horrible by a bipartisan majority of the country. The Republicans had the first crack at bat at this, with widespread mocking and condemnation of his primary run. When it started looking like he might take the nomination, the horror went mainstream, but in practice it was largely restricted to Republicans strategizing over how to manage the loss they’d presumably take in the general.

But now we’re pretty damn close to even, and one of the reasons is that the Republican party establishment is still acting like this is a normal candidate. Party mechanisms are grinding into place, party faithful are convinced the opponent is Satan, party money is flowing into campaign coffers.

The entire Republican party is Ted Cruz.

It’s important to make the distinction between the two ways the Trump presidency will be an utter disaster. It will be a partisan disaster. And it will be a nonpartisan disaster.

From a partisan perspective, the insane way we populate our Supreme Court, and the morbid death lottery that gives some presidents much more sway, guarantees that it’s going to be hell for one side or the other. Senate Republicans managed to ramp this up by adding one more winning raffle ticket to 2017. Barring political assassination (which our system bizarrely incentivizes), November is going to determine the direction of the Court for the probable rest of my lifetime.

In the Congress, it’s no less odd. A month ago, polls predicted a Clinton win with such dominance that the Senate would certainly switch, and there were good odds the House would as well. Today, a Trump win would mean certain domination of the Congress by the GOP. That’s in a month. There are many descriptors for this situation, but “stable democracy” is not one of them.

However, let’s also consider the much more important nonpartisan perspective. On nearly every measure you choose, Trump would upset the international order: foreign policy, international relations, economics and trade. His domestic law and order plans sound like the day before Kristallnacht. Most of what we take for granted as “normal” would be at risk, in much the same way that W upended generations of prior convention after 9/11 and dragged us, mostly smiling and approving, into a new security state.

There are any number of Republicans who think these changes are preposterous; one gets the impression that the actual percentage of Republican leadership who feel this way is far greater than the stated percentage. But for either venal reasons, or because they’re weighing the partisan more than the nonpartisan, they say nothing.

(And of course, thanks to the partisan considerations, there’s not a goddamn thing a Democrat can say that will be heard by most Republicans. This is what’s so infuriating about debate moderators saying that the truth is not their job; it guarantees it won’t be anybody’s job.)

Beyond that, however, a Trump presidency will be a nonpartisan disaster because the Republicans are not prepared to govern. The GOP is fractured between their establishment, the Tea Party, and the insurgent Trump voters. (And let’s not forget that their “establishment” used to be the right wing of the party in the 80s and 90s who drummed out the consensus-building moderates.) They deposed their own Speaker and hamstrung the next one. Their Senate leadership has had no agenda but obstruction the entire time they’ve been in power. They’ve had both Congressional houses; they could have moved legislation and attempted to work with a president and a party whose only tools were filibusters and vetos. They chose not to govern.

It’s not merely a partisan disaster when the entire government falls to this crew, it’s a nonpartisan disaster as well. The Senate filibuster becomes the only tool to prevent whatever legislation comes out of the febrile minds in the White House and the Tea Party. There’s no bipartisan “other side” to blame any more; it’s all on one party.

And that party would be led by President Trump. I have to believe that the sensible Republicans who wanted to increase their power are still wary of domination. Controlling all three branches of government simply isn’t in their playbook; it’s as frighteningly new as Trump would be. That’s not to say that they want to lose, but certainly they haven’t planned to win.

So now in the countdown to the debate, we’re all — that is, the bipartisan coalition of people who realize that Trump is a nonpartisan disaster — looking to Hillary to be masterful, and to Trump to melt down in a way that even his supporters can’t ignore. That appears to be the penultimate tripwire protecting us from electoral disaster.

Because the last firewall requires those Republicans who have fallen in line to stop doing so. And I don’t think they will.

What I’ll never forget

It’s the day after the anniversary, and my Facebook timeline is still filled with calls to #NeverForget.

I’ll never forget that I slept through the 9/11 attacks; my friend texted me shortly after and woke me up, and I looked at my phone to see his name but not the text, long enough to think, “What is he thinking texting me this early?”, before going back to sleep. I woke up two hours later to the sound of NPR telling us that we didn’t know much and we shouldn’t panic, and realized immediately that this was a terrifying thing to hear.

I’ll never forget the sense of disbelief when I read on the Internet that the towers had collapsed. I pictured a facade dropping off with the superstructure remaining intact. It wasn’t until I saw the video that I believed it.

I’ll never forget the sound of fighter jets flying what sounded like inches above the roof of my apartment building.

I’ll never forget the epiphany I had that evening, desperately clinging to normal routines on an abnormal day, having a cigarette in front of a Washington DC Starbucks: that they had hit us as hard as they could, as hard as we had ever been hit, and that it didn’t even register on the scale of existential threats. We were too big, too spread out, too powerful; the sun would rise on America as it had the day before. My greatest risk was still getting hit by a car on the walk home.

I’ll never forget finally reaching my parents when cell service started working again, telling them I was fine, only a few miles away from what would have been the worst terrorist attack in the United States the day before. And it was true. We were fine.

I’ll never forget how my country seemed to lose its collective mind, demanding any action whatsoever that seemed to increase its safety, regardless of whether that action had anything to do with 9/11. As if we didn’t accept gross infringements on our safety daily as part of living in the 21st century. As if our individual safety was our highest value.

I’ll never forget the time I did feel personally terrorized, when two men converted their car into a sniper’s perch, and for a few weeks randomly murdered people in the DC area. For those weeks, I walked home with a staggered step, in zigzag, wondering if a sniper bullet left you alive long enough to realize what had happened. These men weren’t al-Qaeda or ISIS, they were just crazed criminals with a rifle.

I’ll never forget being taken off my plane at Newark, when a random guy decided to say goodbye to his girlfriend at the gate, and they shut down the airport. Thousands of us were herded into crowded conditions in the baggage area, with all of our luggage. We were told nothing by the airport or the airlines. I’ll never forget realizing that if any of these people intended to blow up a plane, they now had a better, easier target; hundreds would die in an explosion, hundreds more would die in the crush for the doors. I went outside and smoked a pack of cigarettes, got interviewed on local news, and managed to be on the first plane out eight hours later.

I’ll never forget the number of people who have looked at me like I was crazy when I have said any of this in the past fifteen years. I don’t expect that to change in my lifetime.

I’ll never forget how I’ve felt proud, patriotic, sad, moved, communitarian, ashamed, and guilty, about what happened to us and what we did after. But I’ve never felt terrorized by terrorists. I’ve reported unattended bags on trains, but never someone who “looked wrong”. I’ve never demonized the enemies of this country, or exalted them to the rank of supervillains, or forgotten who in this world is powerful, and who is weak. I’ve never felt like the victim.

These are things I hope to never forget.

What comes after Trump? There is no “after Trump.”

It’s time to start discussing what we’ll need to do when Trump loses.

Vox published an Andrew Prokup story this morning saying that whomever leads the polls at this point in the election, wins the popular vote. 538 has her at an 86% favorite. That number is going to fluctuate and the final tally may be closer—although I have my doubts—but Hillary is going to win. At this point, any sane Republican has to count on a black swan event—a terrorist attack; an assassination attempt on Clinton—to change the race in Trump’s favor. Some people are counting on Julian Assange to be their unlikely savior, but I doubt this; aside from the issue of allowing an Australian hiding from the Swedes in an Ecuadorian embassy in London to affect us, I just don’t see what email they could have that would shift the election that much.

Meanwhile, Trump supporters are living happily in their bubble, aided and abetted by right-wing websites, slanted news organizations, and Trump himself. The polls are phony, the election is rigged. You don’t need to imagine the delegitimization effort; it’s already in progress.

The problem is that there are three considerations that need to be taken into account.

1) This is happening after an unprecedented era of Republican obstruction already. Trump supported but by no means started or is personally responsible for the birther movement that claims that Obama was never really president. The Senate has set a new record for blocking a Supreme Court nominee. We’ve already seen how GOP Congresspeople were forced to respond when a small percentage of the party became Tea Party activists; how will they respond when the majority of their base are Trump voters?

2) It’s been said many times, and I’ve said it myself: we need a blowout Hillary victory to repudiate Trump’s vision of America. As I write this, Clinton is winning in Arizona and Georgia, and competitive in South Carolina. Her campaign is making overtures in Utah. The blowout is certainly in the making.

But this won’t cause Trump supporters to dry up and blow away. His true believers are being fed a steady diet of messages how he’s a winner and Hillary’s a loser. If all they watch is Fox News and all they read is Breitbart, they can be forgiven for believing this. November 9th will come as a horrible and sudden shock.

3) Finally, we have to consider Trump himself. Because we’re all assuming that he, like every failed presidential candidate, is going to go away if he loses.

Of course he won’t.

Trump is a narcissist; I can think of several disparaging adjectives I could add to that descriptor, but I’ll leave it at that to gain agreement with a wide audience. For the past 14 months, he’s been dosing on the purest form of heroin imaginable for such a condition; a medieval absolute ruler did not get the level of global adulation and attention that the media and Internet can provide to someone in its spotlight today.

On November 9th, that spotlight shuts off, for both the winner and the loser. Only the actual president gets anywhere near the sort of attention a presidential candidate gets, and even then, the spotlight is dimmer and more easily distracted. For normal, emotionally healthy, losing candidates, the transition is utterly crushing.

For Trump? God can only begin to imagine. Some people theorize that he constantly ramps up his attacks and crazy statements in public because he thinks that it will help him win. Some people think he does this because he can’t stand a moment of being out of the center of attention. I think both are true.

So what he’s going to do and say starting on November 9th beggars the imagination, because I literally don’t have the capacity to imagine it. I didn’t imagine he would say half of what he’s already said. And we’re still three months away, while he’s still enjoying the spotlight.

At a minimum, what I think we need to expect is a massive delegitimization of the election and the presidency, with substantial shade thrown at Congress as well if the Democrats retake part or all of it. (In that sense, a complete win could be disastrous; imagine believing that your presidential candidate was going to win, only to wake up to find that the opposing party, led by a murdering crook, has taken all three branches of government?) But the minimum is not what we should expect.

Every indicator of Trump’s motivation, incentives, and personality indicates that he’s going to do whatever he can to keep the same spotlight on him, with the same intensity. A shadow government, run from the environs of Trump TV? Sure. Endless lawsuits in every state? Why not? Actual calls for civil disobedience and insurrection, as opposed to the veiled “I was joking” attempts to date? Absolutely, right up to the line of what’s legal, and possibly beyond them. Who would prosecute?

If you believe, as I do, that he got into this as a money-making enterprise, and that fame is what generates his money, he has zero reason not to do any of these things. If you believe, as I do, that he is utterly convinced of the truth of his obvious leadership qualities and the slanting of the election against him, this isn’t a prediction, it’s par for the course.

The question is what we can do as a nation to prevent the worst of what will come after.

I’m with her. 100%.

Which American politician invented the Internet? If you answered that with “Al Gore”, you’ve just demonstrated the power of political memes. Even if you supported him, even if you voted for him, even if you know the story well enough to know he never said it, you remember the meme.

There’s a new one circulating which hasn’t yet been widely noted, one that’s common in political reporting and endemic on social media: Hillary as squishy alternative to a best choice. As a Bernie voter who wasn’t repelled by Berners until the DNC, I’ve done this myself, numerous times. You’ll see this in numerous articles about whether Bernie supporters will vote for her, a non-story if there ever was one: both polling and recent history tells us they will, in massive numbers.

I’ve been especially struck by how much coverage the political left is getting in the mainstream media; Jill Stein pops up on my radar regularly, more often than Gary Johnson (who has double the third-party support), and Bernie dead-enders are still considered quotable. Compare that with the antiwar protests of the early 2000s, when millions of people could coalesce and get barely a mention in the news. The American left (that is, the part of it to the left of mainstream Democrats) has been politically invisible since the Reagan administration, and it’s odd to see it covered now, at precisely the moment when it can help tank a candidate.

This doesn’t make a great deal of sense. One of the true things about Hillary is that she does have a large, core group of avid supporters. There were 17.8 million who voted for her in 2008; 16.8 million in 2016. She inspired the PUMA movement in 2008 when people claimed they would never vote for Obama. (They did.) She’s been on the national political scene for over 25 years. There should be a strong counterweight of full-throated, unequivocal Hillary support to the squish-Hillary meme. There isn’t.

Compare this to Trump’s support, and his 14 million votes. Pick a Republican constituency—establishment, evangelical, neoconservative, or Tea Party—and Trump has repudiated it. He’s the most pro-Russian popular candidate since actual Socialists ran well in the 1920s. His biggest rival attended the RNC to tell his voters not to turn out for him.

If there were going to be a meme about squishy support for a candidate, it should be Trump. Trump’s support is held together by party unity and his excessive angry spittle, and if it looks in October like he’s going to lose, expect to see his support crater.

But that won’t happen if his support stays even, and here’s where the meme matters: both candidates’ support is reported by the meme and constructed by the meme. If a wavering Trump voter thinks all of his peers are 100% in favor, he’s going to be more supportive. If a leaning-Hillary voter thinks that her most vocal support has reservations, he’s more likely to reconsider.

So if you’re a Hillary supporter, support Hillary. Sure, criticize her if you want to, but don’t feel required to. For myself, I intend to save the potshots and the pushing-leftward until after November. I voted for Bernie. I’m glad his coalition gained concessions in the platform. I intend to be a thorn in her side during her presidency to make sure she follows through.

But until then, I’m with her. And I don’t feel the need to apologize for it. Why do you?

Hacked

Apparently someone got in through a WordPress backdoor here and the place has been rifled. There are sporadic reports that a page here, left open for a while, redirects to an adult site. If this happens to you, please let me know. I think I’ve closed all of the barn doors, but for all I know, the place now has windows.

When you pry the hot cup from my cold, dead fingers

I can usually pigeonhole my opinions well with the shorthand, “liberals = smart, libertarians = nutjobs”, but if this Diane Rehm show on the “dangers” of caffeine were 10 minutes longer, I’d be running screaming to the Cato Institute.

The essential premise of the show is that caffeine is bad for kids, and lots of things have caffeine, therefore something should be done. But with the exception of the scientist hired by Monster Beverage to research (and presumably defend) their products, the other guests and Rehm herself just took it for granted that N milligrams, where N is a randomly selected three-digit number, is bad.

That takes a special kind of sloppy thinking. The average cup of coffee has 80-100 milligrams, so hey, let’s call that a “normal” dose. My venti coffee has upwards of 330 milligrams, because it comes in a big cup (and because the average cup of coffee, in my opinion, is a goddamn shotglass). That’s too much. Likewise the 240 milligrams in a Monster Energy drink, because… well, no one really says. It’s just bad.

Personally, if I hear “think of the children” one more damn time in the discussion of any policy, I’m going to start deliberately knocking over toddlers on the sidewalk. But yes, there probably is an upper limit on what children’s intake of caffeine should be — and IMO, most children, after they’ve experienced one bad case of the caffeine jitters, learn what it is. Likewise with alcohol, sugar, and tobacco — most of these drugs, you’ve got a built-in limiting factor where the body says, “slow down, schmuck” after a rather overdone experiment.

What really amused me was hearing Michael Jacobson, of the Center for Science in the Interest of Outlawing Your Vices, say that no one sits down and has 24 ounces of coffee at a sitting. At the moment I heard that, I was somewhere around ounce 28.

The last time I had to be anywhere regularly at 7 AM, I was in high school. Most kids are legally mandated to show up around that time. I’m not a morning person and never was, and if someone had tried to take away my caffeine, one of two things would have happened: I’d have had my first “cold, dead fingers” political moment, or my grades would have plummeted. So, yes, I will think of the children — and I’ll tell them to stop using stimulants when we stop requiring them to live up to the same 24/7 rat race to which we subject our adults.

Thank you, Neal Conan

So today was Neal Conan’s last show on Talk of the Nation. I’ve been a listener for years, and I suspect I won’t know how much I’ll miss it until after it’s gone (and after I’ve worn through a bunch of podcast archives I still have lying around). TOTN is rarely destination radio, but it’s consistently good, which is damned impressive when you consider it’s on for eight hours a week.

That said, I’ll be forever grateful to Conan for one broadcast: he was on several very long NPR shows immediately following 9/11, when I was compulsively burning midnight oil sucking down all of the news I could, and reading the entire goddamned Internet. I specifically remember Conan shutting down several people he interviewed when they extrapolated from what-was-known to pure speculation, and making damned sure that his show wasn’t contributing to any rumormongering.

But beyond that, his voice and demeanor were what I think of as the best BBC tradition during a crisis: authoritative, soothing, and concerned. He helped me get through it.

So thanks, Neal. I’m sorry to see you leave my daily diet of news. You’re welcome back anytime.

In case you’re feeling stuck today…

I keep on looking up these numbers. I’m going to blog them so I never have to find them again. All figures are highly approximate, so no one give me any shit unless I’ve made major calculation errors. (Paul Guinnessey, I’m looking at you.)

Your approximate speed because you’re standing on Earth’s surface: 1,000 miles per hour

Your approximate speed because you’re orbiting the sun: 67,000 miles per hour

Your approximate speed because you’re also orbiting the Milky Way: 535,000 miles per hour

But then it wouldn’t be crunchy

One of my earliest memories is roadtripping with my parents to Miami Beach when I was three or four, and watching an episode of Monty Python with them late one night in a motel outside Fayetteville. Considering their last business in Atlantic City, I’d like to think it was this one.

PA: “The mentally ill? Fuck ’em.”

Apparently, if I go without tweeting for a few months and my last Foursquare check-in was in Philadelphia, I’d appreciate if someone could pick up the phone and ring Pennsylvania:

An investigation by the Department of Justice found that a Pennsylvania state prison had been unconstitutionally holding inmates with serious mental illness in solitary confinement for months or years at a time. The practice, which has been deemed torture, cruel and unusual, and worse than being held hostage in Iran, involves holding prisoners in isolation for 23 hours a day in a small, often windowless cell with a steel door.

I’d be curious to know what the criteria are for tossing somebody into a locked room and throwing away the room. Somehow, it’s interesting if you actually need to have a transient psychotic break before you’re put in isolation for decades, or if a simple history of mental illness is enough for them to pro-actively put you in isolation for decades.

Probably doesn’t make a whole lot of difference: I’ve personally never had a transient psychotic break, but if I were going to guess my most likely place to have my first, it’s after I’ve been cut off from meds and treatment and thrown into a prison.

One thing does stand out: the DOJ is criticized for “warehousing” prisoners. That’s not a fair accusation. A warehouse is a place where you spend a lot of money because you want a high chance of keeping your stuff in good shape.

Suggested edit: “landfilling” prisoners.

Under the PATRIOT Act, “no comment” and denials don’t mean shit

There’s an open question going around concerning the companies involved in PRISM data monitoring: that is, did they willingly go along with it, or did the government somehow get their data without their knowledge?

Here’s an example of how it’s running today:

Hours after the news broke, and every company bar PalTalk and AOL denied any knowledge of the program and allegations of their involvement, the Post has changed its stance. The phrase ”participate knowingly” has been removed from the article, a new passage suggests the firms were unaware of PRISM.

Attention, every journalist and analyst trying to read the tea leaves: the PATRIOT Act enables gag orders for cooperating public and private entities, and enforces them with criminal penalties. Which means that all of the above companies may have been asked or forced to provide information, and then required by criminal law to neither reveal it, nor to say one word about it in public today.

If you’ve got sources on deep background, that’s what you should be asking them.

Why science reporting is screwy

The BBC headline:

Invisibility ‘time cloak’ developed

The lede:

An “invisibility” time cloak which is able to hide events in a continuous stream of light has been developed by scientists. The cloak works by manipulating the speed of light in optical fibres and means any interaction which takes place during this “hole in time” is not detected.

The buried:

Though called a time cloak, it’s actually “not a manipulation of time, it’s a manipulation of light” explained Greg Gbur, who specialises in optical physics at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The researcher, who was not involved in the study, said it showed a huge advance in the work on the time cloak.

Pardon me, then WHY THE FUCK IS IT CALLED A TIME CLOAK?

This is the problem with science reporting: yes, Virginia, it’s a very big deal if we’re able to “manipulate” the speed of light. I assume this has something to do with relativity or quantum behavior or dilithium crystals; in any case, it’s a crucial part of the story, and I’m pretty much left to infer it.

Likewise, I can also infer that monkeying with the speed of light might be synonymous with altering the flow of time (and a bunch of other things), since c shows up in some many equations and is generally constant.

That’s all pretty interesting. An explanation of the above might help get people fired up about science and cutting-edge research. Or we could just call this fucker a Time Cloak, hint at nifty technology in 20 years, and call it a day.

Update: Nature to the rescue with a much better description of what’s going on.

23 weeks, 6 days

Fascinating and moving story by Radiolab about the choices presented to a couple whose baby was born premature.

Juniper was born one day short of the rather arbitrary 24-week line at which fetuses are considered viable outside the womb. I was born six days short of the 28-week line, which is where it was drawn a few years after when Roe v. Wade made it a matter of law. Some Googling informs me that the doctor to whom my parents always attributed the saving of my life, Dr. Mary Louise Soentgen, died in 1999.

So I’ll send out a posthumous thank you to Dr. Soentgen, and anyone else working at Jefferson in 1969 and 1970. I’m still here, too.

Twentysomething Jeff on JATO rockets

Watching the 10th anniversary episode of Mythbusters, and in honor of that landmark I’m reposting what I had to say about the JATO rocket urban myth in The Twentysomething Guide to Creative Self-Employment, eight years pre-Mythbusters:

A story was going around the Internet a while ago about some total schmuck in Arizona who had no idea what he was getting himself into. Apparently, this Einstein decided that he wanted to drive really fast. So he somehow laid his hands on a solid-fuel Jet-Assist Takeoff (JATO) booster rocket, which he then soldered onto the underside of his Chevy. Then he found himself a really long, straight road, and set the rocket off.

Now, this guy was smart enough to smuggle military hardware. He was smart enough to attach the rocket to his car so that it didn’t blow apart the car when it went off. And he knew to do this out in Arizona, which is basically just long expanses of sand broken up by the occasional retirement community—the inhabitants of which must have been very amused to see a Chevy blow by at three hundred miles per hour.

This guy was clueless, however, on two key factors. One, the JATO rocket has no off switch. Two, Chevys aren’t supposed to go much over sixty, and their brakes and steering wheels tend to fail at ICBM cruising velocities. Which is why the guy was scraped off the side of a small hill with a putty knife.
The moral of the story? Hell, it doesn’t really need one. But if I had to say, it’s a case of classic half-assed burnout.”

I’m realizing that after a few modifications to this site, I haven’t checked to see if any of the PDF links to The Twentysomething Guide still work. So if you want to read the whole book, here it is again (8.5 megabyte PDF).

The Internet is a surveillance state

Bruce Schneier declares that the privacy war is over, and the panopticon won.

Increasingly, what we do on the Internet is being combined with other data about us. Unmasking Broadwell’s identity involved correlating her Internet activity with her hotel stays. Everything we do now involves computers, and computers produce data as a natural by-product.

This isn’t something the free market can fix. We consumers have no choice in the matter. All the major companies that provide us with Internet services are interested in tracking us.

Personally, I think that there are two ways we need to address this. The first is to understand the massive distinctions between the panopticons created by government, for-profit businesses, and individuals. These have different effects and different benefits, but we tend to sweep them all under the same rug.

Second, it seems utterly bizarre to me that I own the copyright of this post for 70 years after my death (although that’s completely unenforceable, as I’m not a millionaire), but I have no ownership over data about me. We need to formalize the unspoken right to data that is implicit in signing a TOS with Google and Facebook, because so many entities simply take this information and provide nothing in return.