December 19, 2014

"On Thursday, we noticed about 1.3 million of Kim Kardashian’s vanished. Rihanna’s decreased by about 1.2 million."

"Katy Perry’s went down 300,000. Even Oprah lost 100,000."

What did they lose?

"[A] single senior officer, who is still in a position of high authority over counterterrorism at the C.I.A.... appears to have been a source of years’ worth of terrible judgment..."

"... with tragic consequences for the United States. Her story runs through the entire report. She dropped the ball when the C.I.A. was given information that might very well have prevented the 9/11 attacks; she gleefully participated in torture sessions afterward; she misinterpreted intelligence in such a way that it sent the C.I.A. on an absurd chase for Al Qaeda sleeper cells in Montana. And then she falsely told congressional overseers that the torture worked.... [S]he has been promoted to the rank of a general in the military... [T]his woman... had supervision over an underling at the agency who failed to share with the F.B.I. the news that two of the future 9/11 hijackers had entered the United States prior to the terrorist attacks...."

From "The Unidentified Queen of Torture," by Jane Mayer in The New Yorker.

ADDED: I wonder what the basis is for using the word "gleefully."

"Boston.com wanted to paint me as a bad guy, and in general it’s their right to tell the story as they see fit."

"But my emails, right there for all to see, specifically indicated that I wanted the restaurant to refund all customers who had been overcharged. Somehow that key fact ended up totally missing from almost all the media coverage.... From my perspective, the most distressing aspect of the media coverage was how little attention the articles paid to my true motivations."

Said Ben Edelman, the Harvard professor whose email to a restaurant made so many people think he was a world-class asshole.

"We cannot be told we can’t see something by Kim Jong-un, of all fucking people.... we have allowed North Korea to dictate content, and that is just insane."

Said George Clooney.

ALSO: Obama said: "We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States... I would have told [Sony executives], do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks,

Stephen Colbert lays down the mask.

A great conclusion to the great show. 

ADDED: GIFs of the cameos. My thoughts: 1. The first one I saw was the person I like best: Willie Nelson. 2. Samantha Power really wants you to think she's a very fun person, 3. Bill Clinton claims and gets special attention.

Can Oklahoma and Nebraska get the U.S. Supreme Court to stop Colorado from facilitating the commerce in marijuana?

States suing states can file their case directly in the Supreme Court, as you may know. Here's the NYT article about the lawsuit:
“Marijuana flows from this gap into neighboring states,” the suit says, undermining their marijuana bans, “draining their treasuries, and placing stress on their criminal justice systems.”...

Nebraska and Oklahoma’s challenge is aimed more at the commercial side of marijuana legalization, which created new systems of regulations and taxes as well as recreational stores, dispensaries and production facilities that are monitored and licensed by state officials. The suit does not specifically seek to overturn the portion of Amendment 64 that made marijuana legal for personal use and possession, meaning that portions of legalization could survive even if Nebraska and Oklahoma prevail.
States are not obligated to help the federal government enforce its laws, and clearly Colorado can decide to do nothing and let the feds enforce their own law. That's why Nebraska and Oklahoma has focused on the active things Colorado is doing to facilitate the commerce in marijuana.
The lawsuit... accused Colorado officials of participating in a “scheme” that cultivates, packages and distributes marijuana in direct violation of controlled-substances laws while “ignoring every objective embodied in the federal drug control regulation.” ...

While it is against the law to take legally purchased marijuana across state lines, Nebraska and Oklahoma said that Colorado does not require consumers to smoke or eat their marijuana where they buy it, and said that despite purchasing and possession limits, anyone can easily visit several dispensaries and stock up. Some sheriffs in bordering states say they have pulled over drivers and found edibles and marijuana from multiple Colorado retail outlets.
You can read the state's Motion for Leave to File Complain, Complaint, and Brief here.

How many of the articles about Obama and Cuba mentioned cigars?

Like about 11,000.

"IT’S 2014, PEOPLE. WHY ARE WE STILL EXTREME-CONTOUR SHAMING?!?!"

"Also, we have ACTUAL GIF evidence that she looked absolutely incredible in the moving flesh."

The Justice Department makes a big move on transgender rights.

"Attorney General Holder announced today that the Department of Justice will take the position in litigation that the protection of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends to claims of discrimination based on an individual’s gender identity, including transgender status."
Attorney General Holder informed all Department of Justice component heads and United States Attorneys in a memo that the department will no longer assert that Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination based on sex excludes discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender discrimination, reversing a previous Department of Justice position.  Title VII makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate in the employment of an individual “because of such individual’s…sex,” among other protected characteristics.

“This important shift will ensure that the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 are extended to those who suffer discrimination based on gender identity, including transgender status,” said Attorney General Holder.  “This will help to foster fair and consistent treatment for all claimants.  And it reaffirms the Justice Department’s commitment to protecting the civil rights of all Americans.”

"I believe that the international motion picture audience is racist — in general pictures with an African American lead don’t play well overseas."

"But Sony sometimes seems to disregard that a picture must work well internationally to both maximize returns and reduce risk, especially pics with decent size budgets."

From the leaked Sony email, the remarks of an unnamed producer. This was in the context of explaining why a particular film didn't do well in foreign countries, but the analysis extends to future planning:
"No, I am not saying ‘The Equalizer’ should not have been made or that African American actors should not have been used (I personally think Denzel is the best actor of his generation).... Casting him is saying we’re ok with a double if the picture works.... He’s reliable at the domestic (box office), safe, but has not had a huge success in years. I believe whenever possible the non event pictures, extra ‘bets’ should have a large inherent upside and be made for the right price. Here there isn’t a large inherent upside."
"Double" isn't some movie-industry term, apparently. It's "double" as opposed to "home run." A baseball analogy. That baseball analogy gives way to a gambling analogy, and we can see that the people channeling the money are trying to make money. It's a money-making business, not a lofty art project or a social-change movement.

But let's take a hard look at the old argument: I'm free of racial bias, but my customers are not. That's the argument restaurants used to defend a whites-only policy half a century ago, before Congress made it illegal. Movies, of course, are a form of expression and not places of public accommodation. There can't be any laws relieving movie-makers of the urge to cater to the racial bias of the audiences. That's true even if we think the producers have nothing sincere to say to us and only use expression as a means to an end to get us to hand over our money.

We can withhold our money. The movie business seems to notice when people avoid a movie. That's what the unnamed producer was doing in that leaked email. And yet it's difficult to imagine people staying away from movies they want to see in an effort to contribute to some inchoate message to the film industry that it should treat black actors the same as white actors.

But to see the leaked emails is to get a clearer picture of the decision-making that underlies the product that we are invited to purchase. We don't buy food when we know the factory is squalid.

The death of a 300-year-old tree.

Goodbye to the President's Tree, the oldest tree on the University of Wisconsin campus:
Long before the tract of land next to Lake Mendota became the University of Wisconsin, an acorn embedded itself in the soil not far from some burial mounds created by the original occupants of the land....

“We wanted to keep it as long as we could,” said Daniel Einstein, UW-Madison historic and cultural resources manager. “But in the past few years with the drought and harsh winter, the tree has declined pretty rapidly.”

December 18, 2014

"My thriftiness overwhelmed my modesty, and I removed my T-shirt, stripped off my briefs and marched back to the store."

"If it was hard to buy produce without clothing and with a poor command of the language, it was more difficult to return it. Perhaps the poignant sight of a flat-chested, middle-aged American woman seeking to buy a voluptuous French melon melted the icy heart of the clerk. She found me another watermelon."

From "Vacationing in the Nude, With Mom" (in the NYT).

"Just as people are free to contract, they are also free from contract, and we find it neither prudent nor permissible to impose contractual liability for offhand remarks or grandstanding."

Said the 11th Circuit today, denying $1 million to the law student about whom I said, 5 years ago, "Give this law student a million dollars."

A criminal defense lawyer had argued that his client could not have committed the murder he was accused of because the time frame was impossible. From the opinion (PDF):
[F]or the last leg of the journey, Serrano would have had to get off a flight in Atlanta’s busy airport, travel to the La Quinta several miles away, and arrive in that hotel lobby in only twenty- eight minutes. After extensively describing the delays that would take place to render that twenty-eight-minute timeline even more unlikely,[the lawyer James Cheney] Mason stated, “I challenge anybody to show me, and guess what? Did they bring in any evidence to say that somebody made that route, did so? State’s burden of proof. If they can do it, I’ll challenge ‘em. I’ll pay them a million dollars if they can do it.”
A law student, Dustin S. Kolodziej, made the trip within 28 minutes, demanded the million dollars, and when it was not forthcoming, sued Mason's law firm for breach of contract. Kolodziej's theory was that Mason's challenge was an offer to form a unilateral contract and that he could and did accept by performing the task. According to the court (applying Florida law), that depended on whether "a reasonable, objective person would have understood [Mason's words] to be an invitation to contract."
The exaggerated amount of “a million dollars”—the common choice of movie villains and schoolyard wagerers alike—indicates that this was hyperbole….

We could just as easily substitute a comparable idiom such as “I’ll eat my hat” or “I’ll be a monkey’s uncle” into Mason’s interview in the place of “I’ll pay them a million dollars,” and the outcome would be the same. We would not be inclined to make him either consume his headwear or assume a simian relationship were he to be proven wrong; nor will we make him pay one million dollars here.
ADDED: Werner Herzog did eat his shoe:

"I believe that all of what we manifest — all of our brain activity, everything we experience — is due to the way the brain functions."

"This includes self-awareness. Being aware of what's going on around you and the way you are and what you are is an experience. An experience is a mechanism, a processing happening inside your brain. So if you make a copy of all of that processing, then I'm convinced that copy will include self-awareness.... If you have an exact copy of the entire brain and you aren't leaving out the parts that are involved with emotions, then why wouldn't you have humor, why wouldn't you have empathy? You would have the same sense of humor in your substrate independent mind as you do in reality. Having a sense of humor is just a certain way of processing activity that goes through your brain, just like the concert pianist who plays Beethoven in a certain way."

From "This Neuroscientist Is Trying to Upload His Entire Brain to a Computer."

But people don't have that much empathy and humor, so why would you think human brains uploaded into computers — severed from the remainder of the nervous system and from a fleshly body capable of interaction with other bodies — would generate nicely friendly emotions? We may love and hope to preserve empathy and humor, but why wouldn't the bodiless brain manifest unpleasant emotions, like rage and sadness? I don't think the neuroscientist really believes what he's saying. Notice the "if" clause and the question mark and the words "just like" in that Beethoven analogy.

"This is the final installment of the Illustrated Scroll of Jack Kerouac’s novel 'On the Road.'"

"I started making one drawing for each page of the book in 2012 and reached the end at page 309 a few weeks ago...."
Last month, Paul Slovak, editor at Viking Penguin called to see about publishing the drawings as a book. He had some great ideas about packaging and design and it looked like it was going to be in stores next fall, but we got some bad news from the Kerouac Estate. They decided not to grant permission because they feel that the project “detracts from the book,” is a “dumbing down” of On the Road, and “diminishes the aura” that the novel possesses....
Ah! Too bad! You can see the drawings by Paul Rogers at the link. Here's a list of things Jack Kerouac called "dumb" in "On the Road":

"'The support of Pope Francis and the support of the Vatican was important to us, given the esteem with which both the American and Cuban people hold the Catholic Church...'"

"'... and in particular Pope Francis who has a substantial history in Latin America and is the first pope to be chosen from Latin America,' a senior administration official said."
Obama also discussed the issue at length with the pope during his public visit to the Vatican in March....

Obama is determined that the pincer movement of economic modernisation and regional and spiritual cajoling will help bring about the longer-term breakthroughs in human rights and democracy that he concedes are largely absent from the existing deal so far.
The pincer movement of economic modernisation and regional and spiritual cajoling...

A "pincer movement" is "a military maneuver in which forces simultaneously attack both flanks (sides) of an enemy formation.... [O]pposing forces advance towards the center of an army that responds by moving its outside forces to the enemy's flanks to surround it. At the same time, a second layer of pincers may attack on the more distant flanks to keep reinforcements from the target units."

So picture economic modernization and and spiritual cajoling closing in and attacking like that.

By the way, "pincer movement" has 2 layers of metaphor, since the military term is itself a metaphor.



"Pincers, often red-hot, have been used as an instrument of torture since ancient Roman times or earlier."

Torture ≈ cajoling.

By the way, Samuel Johnson called "cajole" "a low word." The OED defines it as "To prevail upon or get one's way with (a person) by delusive flattery, specious promises, or any false means of persuasion."

"A New Zealander and two Burmese men have gone on trial in Myanmar on charges of insulting Buddhism."

"The trio, who run a bar in Yangon, are accused over a flyer promoting a drinks event depicting Buddha... with his eyes shut, wearing large headphones, and surrounded by lurid colours."

"This whole thing is just scary... It’s emails, it’s your private stuff. And the whole town is scared . . . nobody knows what to do."

"You say the wrong thing — you see what happened to [Sterling]... I’m not defending what Sterling said at all, but if that’s not the First Amendment then what the [bleep] is? And what did he say, ‘I don’t want my girlfriend hanging out with black basketball players’? Me neither!"

Said Chris Rock. 

"Sometimes I think, maybe they'll let the bear eat berries and honey in the forest, maybe they will leave it in peace."

"They will not. Because they will always try to put him on a chain, and as soon as they succeed in doing so they tear out his fangs and his claws."

Said Vladimir Putin.

"Obama feels liberated..."

"... and sees the recent flurry of aggressive executive action and deal-making as a pivot for him to spend his final two years in office being more the president he always wanted to be."