February 28, 2015

"The Intercept media executives and staff weren’t fans of their own reporting on the case featured in the wildly popular podcast Serial, delaying stories because they were 'siding with The Man'..."

"... former Intercept senior investigative reporter Ken Silverstein wrote in POLITICO Magazine."
“I came to realize that the system working correctly—and the right people going to jail—isn’t a good narrative to tell at The Intercept,” Silverstein wrote.
From Silverstein's piece:
Publishing the Serial stories was a huge headache: There were constant delays and frustrations getting them out, even after it became clear they were drawing huge traffic. Our internal critics believed that Natasha and I had taken the side of the prosecutors—and hence the state. That support was unacceptable at a publication that claimed it was entirely independent and would be relentlessly adversarial towards The Man. That held true even in this case, when The Man successfully prosecuted a killer and sent him to jail.

Some colleagues, like Jeremy Scahill, were upset after the first installment of Natasha’s interviews with Jay, the state’s flawed-but-convincing key witness, and our co-bylined two-part interview with the lead prosecutor, Kevin Urick, both of whom had refused to speak to Sarah Koenig for her Serial podcast. Jeremy even threatened to quit over the second installment, according to two of my colleagues who witnessed what they described as his “temper tantrum” in the New York office. He told them he couldn’t believe that we’d so uncritically accepted the state’s view of the murder—even though our stories were backed up by our own research, our unique reporting and our reading of court documents. One day at the office, frustrated, Natasha wrote “Team Adnan” on a sign on Jeremy’s office door.

"Today is September 30th, also known as Blasphemy Rights day."

"This day is dedicated to those who are systematically being persecuted, harassed, or killed for their simple expression of Freethought (more precisely, for their ‘blasphemous’ views towards religion)."
Today, we state clearly that considering apostasy to be a criminal offense in state level in fact is an inexcusable offense. If being religious is someone’s right, then being critical to religion is also one’s right. There is nothing wrong to be critical to any idea or ideology, as CFI aptly put on its Blasphemy day banner – ‘Ideas do not need rights, People do’!
So wrote Avijit Roy on his blog Mukto Mona, on September 30, 2013.

Avijit Roy left his home in Atlanta for a speaking engagement in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Last Thursday:
As he walked back from the book fair, assailants plunged machetes and knives into Roy and his wife, killing him and leaving her bloodied and missing a finger.

Afterward, an Islamist group "Ansar Bangla-7" reportedly tweeted, "Target Down here in Bangladesh."

"The Pittsburgh Pirates released a strongly worded statement distancing themselves from the Islamic State..."

"... after a photo surfaced of Mohammed Emwazi – the knife-wielding militant known as ‘Jihadi John’ – wearing a cap with the team’s insignia."

"It is a slippery slope if the government is now going to prosecute people under a manslaughter — a 20-year felony charge — for not preventing those who want to commit suicide..."

"... and that’s what they’re trying to do here."
Asked if they thought [17-year-old Michelle] Carter’s messages convinced [18-year-old Conrad] Roy to kill himself, his grandfather Conrad Roy Sr. said, “Her texts had a big influence on what happened.”

"Long before being nerdy was cool, there was Leonard Nimoy."

"Cool, logical, big-eared and level-headed, the center of Star Trek's optimistic, inclusive vision of humanity's future."

Said the cool and nerdy, big-eared Barack Obama.

"So" is the new "well."

So, I wanted to write a post with that title after reaching my tipping point listening to 2 things yesterday: 1. Jeb Bush doing a Q&A at CPAC and beginning nearly every answer with "So...," and 2. The Supreme Court oral argument in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch, with the lawyer for the government repeatedly beginning his answers with "So..." (and "So, Your Honor").

So, having conceived of that title for a blog post on a topic that has been stewing on the back burner of my mind, I googled those words and found them in a 2010 essay by Anand Giridharadas (in the NYT) called "Follow My Logic? A Connective Word Takes the Lead":
“So” may be the new “well,” “um,” “oh” and “like.” No longer content to lurk in the middle of sentences, it has jumped to the beginning, where it can portend many things: transition, certitude, logic, attentiveness, a major insight....

One can dredge up ancient instances of “so” as a sentence starter. In his 14th-century poem “Troilus and Criseyde,” Chaucer launched a verse with, “So on a day he leyde him doun to slepe. ...” But for most of its life, “so” has principally been a conjunction, an intensifier and an adverb.

What is new is its status as the favored introduction to thoughts, its encroachment on the territory of “well,” “oh,” “um” and their ilk.
Giridharadas traces the tic to 1990s-era Silicon Valley, where software-oriented minds visualize  "conversation as a logical, unidirectional process — if this, then that."
This logical tinge to “so” has followed it out of software. Compared to “well” and “um,” starting a sentence with “so” uses the whiff of logic to relay authority. Whereas “well” vacillates, “so” declaims....
Too phallocratic? Well... I'm saying "well" like a person of the 80s... consider the theory of the linguist Galina Bolden, who's done scholarly writing on the topic of "so":
She believes that “so” is also about the culture of empathy that is gaining steam as the world embraces the increasing complexity of human backgrounds and geographies. 

To begin a sentence with “oh,” she said in an e-mail message, is to focus on what you have just remembered and your own concerns. To begin with “so,” she said, is to signal that one’s coming words are chosen for their relevance to the listener.

The ascendancy of “so,” Dr. Bolden said, “suggests that we are concerned with displaying interest for others and downplaying our interest in our own affairs.”
And then there's Michael Erard, author of "Um...: Slips, Stumbles, and Verbal Blunders, and What They Mean":
The rise of “so,” he said via e-mail, is “another symptom that our communication and conversational lives are chopped up and discontinuous in actual fact, but that we try in several ways to sew them together — or ‘so’ them together, as it were — in order to create a continuous experience.”
So it is written...

February 27, 2015

Stalin World.

Here's a documentary about the Lithuanian theme park Grutas Park — AKA "Stalin World" — which we were talking about this morning in connection with the ISIS destruction of ancient sculptures. Here we see Soviet era sculptures preserved in a tourist-attraction garden setting that many Lithuanians find quite offensive.

Thanks to Irene for pointing me there. And no thanks to the NYT for picturing 2 of the Grutas Park sculptures in a slide show about how aging Americans can absorb Euro-culture through the wonders of Airbnb.

"Boy, Blowing Up A DNC Media Hit Job On Scott Walker In Realtime Sure Is Fun!"

"The Latest Attempt To Launch A New Walker Smear Crashes & Burns On The Launch Pad. And There Was Much Rejoicing."
As it so happens, this Jezebel writer, Natasha Vargas-Cooper, either didn't do any research at all on this piece or she deliberately left out the whole story.

As it so happens, there is a pretty damn good reason Scott Walker deleted these [sexual assault] reporting requirements.

He did it because - get this! - the University of Wisconsin *asked* him to.
(Via Instapundit.)

Jeb Bush at CPAC.

Watch live, here, beginning right now.

UPDATE: It's over now. I watched it. Here's what I remember:

1. He asked if he could be your second choice.

2. He had that young-person's conversational tic of beginning every answer with "So." (He didn't do a speech, but only took questions from Sean Hannity.)

3. He looked presentable and reasonably trim, but he could use a better tailored suit... or is a too-big suit some way of covering flaws or seeming to be an un-rich guy?

4. He's got a good pitch about improving K-12 education in Florida, and he expresses pride in ending affirmative action by executive order.

5. In the instant word association portion of the questions, his response to "Obama" was "failed President."

6. Best but dubious effort at humor: When Hannity said he had one more question, Jeb said "boxers." (Bill Clinton's answer to the famously inappropriate question, by the way, was "Usually briefs. I can't believe she did that." Obama's answer was:  "I don't answer those humiliating questions. But whichever one it is, I look good in 'em.")

7. This was the first time — as far as I remember — that I ever spent any time actually listening to Jeb Bush. So... what's my impression? He seems solid and substantial. Nothing particularly negative. I never expect to agree with everything a presidential candidate stands for. You'd have to reshuffle what the 2 parties are for that to happen. And Jeb only wants to be my second choice.

Goodbye to Leonard Nimoy.

The author of "I Am Not Spock" (1977) and "I Am Spock" (1995) has died at the age of 83.

"Mission to Improve Global Health Through Insects won Climate Quest, a UW-Madison sustainability competition... for efforts to implement mealworms to improve malnutrition and climate in Zambia..."

"UW-Madison graduate students Rachel Bergmans and Valerie Stull... are creating samples of kits they plan to present this fall to communities in Zambia, where insects are already part of community diets... Stull and Bergmans have created recipes such as smoothies and cookies that include mealworms to help promote the consumption of insects."

What's so bad about Scott Walker's "If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the globe"?

"I think the bust of Fighting Bob La Follette is kind of Soviet-like," says Meade, reading the previous post about the Islamic iconoclasm in Mosul and anti-Soviet iconoclasm in the former Soviet states (and the preservation of Soviet sculptures in Lithuania).

Here's a picture I took of the monumental head on February 25, 2011, a little over a week after the big protests had begun in and around the Wisconsin capitol:

Bust of Bob La Follette

I originally blogged that here, with other photographs, including one showing how some protesters had used the back of the Veterans Memorial as a component of what they called their "Information Station." 

And let me use this post to comment on something Scott Walker said at the end of his CPAC speech yesterday. What would he do about ISIS? "If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the globe." That was bad, obviously, and Walker has sent his spokeswoman to rephrase what was supposedly in The Head of Walker. (I'm saying "The Head of Walker" because I'm picturing a "Soviet-like" head of Walker some day, in the capitol, eye-to-eye with Bob La Follette, which would be the "more speech" alternative to iconoclasm.) The spokeswoman said:
Governor Walker... was in no way comparing any American citizen to ISIS. What the governor was saying was when faced with adversity he chooses strength and leadership. Those are the qualities we need to fix the leadership void this White House has created.
There's still a problem. How would the form of leadership demonstrated during the protests transfer to the war on terrorism? Scott Walker's approach to the protests was to let them play out — replete with loud chanting and drumming and lots of taped up signs in the capitol and huge marches outside — all the while knowing he had the votes in the legislature to pass the law that the protesters were protesting. He chose silent inaction, putting up with it, in a situation where he knew he'd win in the end, and, in fact, when the legislation finally passed, the protests ended. There was still the recall effort, and there was plenty more speech lambasting Walker, but Walker knew all along he had the upper hand, and instead of trying to counter the speech of the protesters (or even to get them cleared out of the capitol), he sat back and let them have what probably looked to most Wisconsinites like a big tantrum. He knew that the protesters knew that they could not cross the line from semi-organized protest to anything like violence or the threat of violence. The no-response response was therefore effective.

Is that the kind of leadership he's proposing to use in the war on terror? It can't be. The relevant component of leadership that I'm seeing is something I associate with George W. Bush: silent acceptance of abuse from his critics. Walker said "If I can take on 100,000 protesters," but he didn't take them on. He let them carry on. That may have been wise under the circumstances, but it tells us close to nothing about what he would do with enemies who won't limit themselves to protesting and when he can't control the outcome through partisan domination of a legislature. Sheer cockiness won't do the trick — "If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the globe." And that was a cockiness beyond what we saw — and got tired of — in George Bush.

ISIS endeavors to destroy the art of ancient Nineveh (AKA Mosul).

The efforts at destruction that you see at the beginning of this video are not as horrible as they look, for reasons that are explained half way through.

Watch out for the British expert who appears at 1:47. She thinks it's "pretty rotten for the people who actually live" in northern Iraq that so many of the original works of art have been transferred to Western museums — even as it's apparent that if those sculptures had been left in northern Iraq, they would now be sledgehammered to bits. Or does she — do we — think that if the artworks had been left in place, the history of Iraq would have played out on a different path, and the people who live there would have treasured and protected the world's artistic heritage? From the article at the link (to the British Channel 4 site):
The demolition squad of the Islamic State are following in the tradition of the Taliban who blew up the Buddhas at Bamyan, in Afghanistan, and the Malian jihadi group Ansar al Dine which destroyed mud tombs and ancient Islamic manuscripts in Timbuktu. They quote suras from the Koran that they say demand the destruction of idols and icons.

But iconoclasm isn't just a Salafi Islamic idea. In the 17th Century, puritans, under the rule of Oliver Cromwell, destroyed Catholic holy objects and art in Britain.

"We pulled down two mighty great angells, with wings, and divers other angells . . . and about a hundred chirubims and angells," wrote William Dowsing, Cromwell's chief wrecker, after leading his henchmen into Peterhouse college chapel in Cambridge in December 1643.
Iconoclasm. If you're inclined to reach back into history, you will, perhaps, find it everywhere. From the Wikipedia article "Iconoclasm," here are "The Sons of Liberty pulling down the statue of George III of the United Kingdom on Bowling Green (New York City), 1776":

And I can't look at that and not think about the statue of Saddam Hussein that our military tore down in Bagdhad in April 2003. And what of all those monumental statues of Vladimir Lenin that came in for destruction when the Soviet Union dissolved. Would you like to see them all removed?

I know there's at least one still standing, because the NYT, just a couple days ago, ran a story cooing over an aging American couple who are using Airbnb to live in various European cities and the slideshow features the man, dressed in shorts, like a child, and standing, like a child, knee-high to "this statue of Lenin in Lithuania." The hand of the smiling child-man reaches out to encircle the index finger of Soviet dictator. In another photo, the woman, in a short skirt, poses at the feet of a giant Stalin. This one too is "in Lithuania." We're told there's "a sculpture garden." Isn't that nice?

I need to do my own research to find out about "Grūtas Park (unofficially known as Stalin's World...)... a sculpture garden of Soviet-era statues and an exposition of other Soviet ideological relics from the times of the Lithuanian SSR."
Founded in 2001 by entrepreneur Viliumas Malinauskas, the park is located near Druskininkai, about 130 kilometres (81 mi) southwest of Vilnius, Lithuania.... Its establishment faced some fierce opposition, and its existence is still controversial.... The park also contains playgrounds, a mini-zoo and cafes, all containing relics of the Soviet era. On special occasions actors stage re-enactments of various Soviet-sponsored festivals.
So there's an alternative to iconoclasm.

The word that got Keith Olbermann in trouble: "pitiful."

Keith Olbermann got suspended from his ESPN show for tweeting "Pitiful." He was responding to a tweet by a Penn State graduate who'd tweeted "We are!" (linking to an article about raising $13 million for charity). Olbermann proceeded to tweet "PSU students are pitiful because they’re PSU students — period."

"Pitiful" is a strange word. When we see it alone, as in Olbermann's tweet, we assume it conveys contempt. The 4th meaning in the OED is: "Evoking pitying contempt; very small, poor, or meagre; paltry; inadequate, insignificant; despicable, contemptible." $13 million is very small if the idea is to balance the harm that was done to Penn State's reputation in the recent scandal, and Olbermann has been a critic of the settlement.

"Pitiful" can mean "Full of or characterized by pity; compassionate, merciful, tender." You'd think that literal meaning would predominate in the absence of context, but it doesn't. "Pathetic" works the same way. We assume the sarcastic version: "Miserably inadequate; of such a low standard as to be ridiculous or contemptible." The older, more literal meaning — "Arousing sadness, compassion, or sympathy, esp. through vulnerability or sadness; pitiable" — is overshadowed to the point where you can't even use it without explaining yourself.

And you can't explain yourself on Twitter.

"But for the past half-day, people across social media have been arguing about whether a picture depicts a perfectly nice bodycon dress as blue with black lace fringe or white with gold lace fringe."

"And neither side will budge. This fight is about more than just social media—it’s about primal biology and the way human eyes and brains have evolved to see color in a sunlit world."

"... Coming Home was produced by Jane Fonda, who at that time had made films with Ho Chi Minh and was virulently anti-American. At the Academy Awards, she wouldn't look at me..."

"... because I had already been labeled a right-wing fascist," says the movie director Michael Cimino in a new interview. His "Deer Hunter" was up against "Coming Home" for the awards in 1971.
We were in the same elevator together. I wanted to say congratulations, but she turned away. From what I know about the original script, ["Coming Home"] was honest, but I think because of her political stance at the time, she managed to turn it into American guilt. She's the only one who had the power — she was the producer. The end of the movie is the American officer, Bruce Dern, who out of unspeakable guilt walks into the Pacific Ocean to drown himself. That's not what the original script was. That character is so filled with rage that he strides the hillsides of Laurel Canyon onto the 101, as I recall, and he's got a machine gun with him. He walks to the center of the freeway with oncoming traffic in both directions, and he's just howling, just firing in a circle. Cars are blowing up all over the place. That was the real ending. You don't have moviemaking to prove a point about your political conviction in American Sniper.
About "American Sniper," he says: "Though it was characterized [as such], Sniper's not a political movie. It's not about the rightness or wrongness of the war. It deals with the impact of trauma on people who go to war and people who stay behind."