In The Guardian Jill Filipovic examines the national shame that is our private prison-industrial complex. “Imprisoning that many people, most of them for non-violent offenses, doesn’t come cheap, especially when you’re paying private contractors…who are doing quite well living off of American corporate welfare -– at the expense of the American taxpayer.” $50 billion a year — that funds a lot of stadium.
This article was found, by the way, in Slate‘s discussion of Sesame Street’s new incarceration kit, which helps explain to 3-8-year-olds that their parent has gone to jail. “That this even has to exist in the first place shows how much pointless damage our prison system does not just to people who are caught up in the overly punitive, often racially biased justice system, but also to their families.”
It’d be nice to say this fiasco is on the national agenda, but, Jim Webb’s efforts in 2009 and some green shoots earlier in the year notwithstanding, Congress and the Obama administration, for all their talk of belt-tightening, seem pretty content with this ridiculous status quo. (One key reason: felons can’t vote.) But, hey, you know who they still don’t put in jail these days? Wolves of Wall Street. So there’s that.
I dunno…I know it’s Scorsese and all that, but at least Gatsby had period panache going for it. This looks like yet another generic Rise and Fall of the Financial Sector Douchebros, and Boiler Room, Margin Call and the Wall Streets, among other films, already covered these useless yahoos enough to my satisfaction. We’ll see.
Breaking everywhere the past week: 29-year-old former CIA IT guy and defense contractor Edward Snowden reveals to Glenn Greenwald that the NSA has been indiscriminately collecting everyone’s phone records and gouging into the data networks of Apple, Google, Facebook, and other mainstays of today’s social media. “The Prism program allows the NSA, the world’s largest surveillance organisation, to obtain targeted communications without having to request them from the service providers and without having to obtain individual court orders.”
Sadly, this isn’t all that surprising. There have been intimations that the NSA has been up to no good — even beyond the warrantless wiretap fiasco under Dubya — since that weird visit to John Ashcroft’s hospital bed. Nor, sadly, is it all that surprising that — despite saying exactly the opposite in 2007 — our current President is both fine with these surveillance practices and authorizing them. (And at least from my perspective, the idea that getting the rubber stamp approval of a secret FISA court that never says no makes it all ok does not hold water.)
This is exactly what I was talking about last update. Obama acts tortured about continuing all of Dubya’s most terrible civil liberties violations, but then goes ahead and does them anyway. For Crom’s sake, he’s even picked James Comey, the guy who approved warrantless wiretaps back in 2006, to be the new FBI chief. And because this president and this administration is so brazenly two-faced about their anti-terror policies, you end up with disturbing polls like this:
For example, in the Senate: On one hand, we have Ron Wyden, Mo Udall, and Jeff Merkley calling out Obama for continuing with this extra-legal, ginormous-net approach to surveillance. “‘As far as we can see, all of the useful information that it has provided appears to have also been available through other collection methods that do not violate the privacy of law-abiding Americans in the way that the Patriot Act collection does,’ Udall and Wyden said.”
On the other hand, here’s ostensibly Democrat Dianne Feinstein yesterday going full Body Snatcher about Snowden: “‘I don’t look at this as being a whistle-blower,’ Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calf.) said. ‘I think it’s an act of treason.‘” (FWIW, John Boehner and Lindsey Graham were right there with her.) Of course, it’s never “treason” when Feinstein continually does it, and, in any case, this wasn’t breaking news either: The senior Senator from California has long been a quintessential “symbol of the worthless Beltway Democrat.”
This revealing breeze stirred by the NSA revelations is coursing through media outlets too. On one hand, Slate‘s Fred Kaplan has — quite correctly — called for James Clapper’s resignation, given that he flat-out lied to Congress: “We as a nation are being asked to let the National Security Agency continue doing the intrusive things it’s been doing on the premise that congressional oversight will rein in abuses. But it’s hard to have meaningful oversight when an official in charge of the program lies so blatantly in one of the rare open hearings on the subject.” Spot on.
Meanwhile, TPM’s Josh Marshall, who likes to pretend his blog is a font of independent thinking, hems and haws about it all in classic pusillanimous Village-think fashion, all the while making sure never to say anything that might harm his establishment respectability. “I’ve made clear that I don’t see Manning as a hero or a whistleblower or really anything positive at all…Pretty early I realized that to his supporters Manning was a whistleblower who was being persecuted by the government, almost like a political prisoner or prisoner of conscience.” No, Josh, it doesn’t “seem” that way “to his supporters” — That is in fact what is %#%@ happening.
In any case, so as not to fall into the same trap, I’ll just say it outright: First, if Snowden and Manning are traitors, then so is Daniel Ellsberg and so, for that matter, is Dianne Feinstein and any other politician or government official who leaks when it’s convenient. (Also, sorry, folks. there is no substantive difference between revealing secrets to the criminal Julian Assange or to the venerable Bob Woodward. But please do let me know when Richard Armitage is put in a sweatbox for 23 hours a day.)
Second, this vast surveillance apparatus NSA has been constructing is both obviously overkill and clearly legally and constitutionally repugnant, and if this president lived up to even half the rhetoric he continually espoused before he was elected, he would have ended it years ago. Quite frankly, the doubletalk from him, and from so many other Democrats about these revelations so far, is both inexcusable and out-and-out pathetic.
Get out the crane, regeneration time again: Who is it this time? After four years in the bowtie, Eleventh Doctor Matt Smith is calling it quits “It’s been an honor to play this part, to follow the legacy of brilliant actors, and helm the TARDIS for a spell with ‘the ginger, the nose and the impossible one’. But when ya gotta go, ya gotta go and Trenzalore calls.”
I had doubts about his casting at first, but I have to say, Smith really nailed the part these past few years. When the show was not at its best — and, let’s face it, the quality’s been patchier than anticipated thus far in the Moffatt era — it was almost always the writing who let this Doctor down, not the reverse. He’s right up there at the top of my list with Baker and Pertwee.
Of course, this means we’ll see an all-new 12th incarnation at the end of this year’s Christmas special. (Or is it 13th? Only John Hurt knows.) Given that the usual high-profile and/or out-of-the-box choices — Idris Elba, Bill Nighy, David Morrissey, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Helen Mirren — turned out to be wrong last time around (although all of those would be intriguing choices), I’ll start the bidding with…Paul Kaye?
Update: Cryptonaut offers a few other options. Olivia Williams ftw.
Better living through chemistry: The NYT’s Gretchen Reynolds touts the potential medical benefits of caffeine addiction. “Participants with little or no caffeine circulating in their bloodstreams were far more likely to have progressed to full-blown Alzheimer’s than those whose blood indicated they’d had about three cups’ worth of caffeine.” Factor in all the taurine I consume to boot, and I’m disco.
At Vulture, Matt Zoller Seitz sings the praises of Netflix’s Arrested Development revival. “Like The Godfather, Part II…season four of AD manages to be true to the spirit of the original while tinkering with its structure, rhythm, and themes. It’s very different from yet artistically equal to the show’s first three seasons.”
Having watched Season 3 (again) and Season 4 this past week, I’m much closer to Seitz’s awed appreciation of the Bluths’ return than, say Alan Sepinwall’s more disgruntled view. Although admittedly it takes an episode or three to vibe into what Hurwitz et al are doing, take away the rosy retrospection and Season 4 seems very much on a par with the first few seasons. I for one was increasingly impressed, and amused, by the recursive, Mobius strip intricacy of the whole proceedings, and, as you might expect, there are a lot of very funny lines throughout. (“Handcuff the King of the Jews!”) Also, since it’s already supercutted, the Sound of Silence bit made me laugh every time.
Update: “We couldn’t get Franklin. He was touring. He’s very big in Japan. He has a vodka ad that put him over the top.” Vulture post-mortems Season 4 with Mitch Hurwitz.
Don’t turn around, uh oh. Der Kettle Fuhrer’s in town, uh oh. If I remember correctly, this teapot with an ill-favored look is an exact replica of the one once used in a small boarding house in Minehead, Somerset. “Sorry Mein Dickey Old Chum!”
Not from The Onion: The Northern Ireland town of Enniskillen preps for the G8 summit by constructing a Potemkin village untouched by Britain’s disastrous austerity measures. “This is one big initiative really stemming from the Foreign Office in London. This is David Cameron’s gig. It’s his invitation, it’s his decision to host the G8 in County Fermanagh, which is, don’t forget, part of the United Kingdom.”
Yet another exhibit in the general brokenness of today’s Democratic Party [See also: RepubliDems, Dems without Spines]: By way of Quiddity, Chicago mayor, former Obama consigliere, and one of the Village’s favorite High Democratic muckety-mucks Rahm Emanuel — who apparently was pulling a 19% approval rating in February — tries to offset school and health center closings in his city with a giant new arena for a sub-par basketball team. (Apologies in advance for the unwieldy, shoehorned-in Angry Birds analogy in the Nation piece.)
“The only explanation for this is that Rahm is scratching someone’s back in the DePaul Catholic hierarchy of Chicago…In this case, the hottest rumor is that approval of legalized gambling is on the horizon and the convention center’s locale will be its epicenter. The arena is, in effect, a Trojan Horse for a casino.”
As I’ve said several times before about this sort of shameful behavior — and Rahm is a frequent offender in this regard — if we Democrats are just going to act like Republicans, voters might as well pull the lever for the real thing.
A new CEPR report finds — once again — that Americans are working inordinately hard. “Workers in the European Union are legally guaranteed at least 20 paid vacation days per year, with 25 and even 30 or more days in some countries. Canada and Japan guarantee at least 10 days of paid vacation per year. U.S. workers have no statutory right to paid vacations.”
Io9′s Rob Bricken offers a much-deserved evisceration of Star Trek: Into Darkness (and he doesn’t even bring up the “why Khan’s blood but not one of the other 71 guys” problem.) The first one had a number of egregious plot holes too, of course, but it at least had a charming cast and the benefit of novelty. The charming cast remains, but since Into Darkness is otherwise just a lousy and ultimately insulting remix of Wrath of Khan with a frisson of 9/11, the extreme dumbness here is even more aggravating.
I would say this does not bode well at all for the upcoming Star Wars films, but it seems pretty obvious the main problem here was the writing. Star Trek: Into Darkness is the most blatantly nonsensical film since Prometheus, which I called the most disappointing film of 2012. The most disappointing film of 2011? Cowboys & Aliens. All three were co-penned by Damon Lindelof, who’s clearly supplanted Akiva Goldsman as the hackiest hack in Hollywood. He’s like franchise kryptonite.
Didn’t get to this before heading out for a Memorial Day weekend camping trip: As y’all know by now, President Obama delivered a much-hailed State of the War on Terror address at the National Defense University, during which he called for the eventual repeal of AUMF, tighter oversight of drone strikes, and the closing of the Gitmo Gulag at last. “Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.”
Sounds great! When’s it happening? Er…well, that’s that trick, isn’t it? When it comes to the first promise — the repeal of AUMF — as Brooking’s Benjamin Witte noted: “Obama does not need Congress to narrow or repeal the AUMF or to get off of a war footing. He can do it himself, declaring hostilities over in whole or in part. And Obama, needless to say, did not do anything like that.”
Ok, what about drone strikes? As Fred Kaplan and others — including the heckler at the speech — have pointed out, President Obama did not promise to transfer drone strike authority from the CIA (where they remain covert) to the military (where there’s more possibility of oversight.) Nor did he pledge to end “signature strikes,” meaning the current practice of unleashing fiery death upon unknown parties because they seem to be acting shady. This “supposedly new, restrictive policy on drone strikes,” writes Kaplan, “was neither new nor restrictive…In short, the speech heralded nothing new when it comes to drone strikes.”
Instead, Obama defended his drone policy as legal and effective. At one point, he asserted “for the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen — with a drone, or with a shotgun — without due process.” And then, in the very next paragraph, he asserts that particular executive prerogative in the matter of Anwar Awlaki — assassinated without due process. (FWIW, Obama is clearly using the Colbert reasoning here: “Trial by jury, trial by fire, rock, paper scissors, who cares? Due process just means that there is a process that you do. The current process is apparently, first the president meets with his advisers and decides who he can kill. Then he kills them.”)
As for Gitmo…well, we have been here before, so fool me once and all that. “‘The speech was deeply disappointing,’ says David Remes, a lawyer who has represented a number of Yemenis held at Guantanamo – adding that Obama only ‘created the illusion of forward momentum.’…The president has the power to issue national security waivers and direct the Secretary of Defense to certify detainee transfer if they are deemed not a national security threat – something human rights groups have been advocating. Didn’t hear much about that in the president’s address.
Yes, the paragraphs I quoted from the speech above at the onset are laudable, and yes, I suppose some people might find it vaguely comforting to know that the force of these issues weigh on the presidential mind in a way they didn’t between 2001 and 2008. But let’s be honest. It has been a troubling tendency of this administration — and by troubling tendency I mean signature pattern — to follow up lofty, progressive-minded rhetoric with absolutely no action of consequence. We need more than words from this president.
Stunning more than a few minds around the world — and breaking strongly from his predecessor — the recently inaugurated Pope Francis tells the faithful that atheists are saved as well, provided they do good works. (Agnostics too, I hope.)
I must say, I’ve been very impressed with Pope Francis so far. From ignoring pomp and circumstance and rejecting material comforts enjoyed by Pope Benedict XVI, to breaking with precedent to bless a guide dog, to washing the feet of a female Muslim prisoner on Maundy Thursday, to castigating “the cult of money” and emphasizing the need to address poverty, Pope Francis has — thus far — seemed closer in spirit to the Nuns on the Bus than the US Conference of Bishops, and a welcome throwback to the more progressive days of Rerum Novarum and Vatican 2.
It may not have the detail of Lego Hogwarts, but pretty cool nonetheless: A life-size Lego X-Wing is unveiled in Times Square. “The model…has a wingspan of 44 feet and comes complete with R2-D2 and a full range of sound effects…[It] was made with 5,335,200 Lego bricks. That, according to Lego, makes it the largest model ever built, eclipsing the Lego robot at the Mall of America by some 2 million bricks.”
10 Life Lessons from Calvin & Hobbes. A bit cloying at times, but hey, the world always needs more posts about Calvin & Hobbes. Also, if you can’t imagine yourself a tiger buddy for these, a crazy sheltie will also do.
To complement Calvinism: The NYT lays out a seven-minute workout that might actually work. “The exercises should be performed in rapid succession, allowing 30 seconds for each, while, throughout, the intensity hovers at about an 8 on a discomfort scale of 1 to 10…Those seven minutes should be, in a word, unpleasant.”
Panic in the Tubes of London: In the spirit of the recent Super-Morrissey, a fan recreates The Smiths’ discography as the Underground. Click through for prints or t-shirts.
In a surprising mathematical coup, UNH lecturer Yitang “Tom” Zhang has apparently cracked open a centuries-standing “twin-prime” puzzle about the “bounded gaps” in the distribution of prime numbers. “Yitang Zhang couldn’t get a teaching job after receiving his Ph.D., and things got so dismal at one point that he even became a Subway sandwich artist in order to stay afloat.”
By utilizing (as I understand it) the transitive properties of quantum entanglement, scientists in Israel manage to link two photons that never exist at the same time. “It’s really neat because it shows more or less that quantum events are outside our everyday notions of space and time…This sort of thing opens up people’s minds and suddenly somebody has an idea to use it in quantum computing or something.”
Well, we went out earlier than hoped, but I still feel pretty good about this season. For one, even though we had at least two key players — J.R. Smith and Jason Kidd — go ice-cold this series, the Knicks still contended against a big, physical team that may well give the Heat serious problems. (It likely didn’t help that both Melo and JR played hurt.)
For another, I like Mike Woodson as a coach, but his decision-making in this series was…not good. Chris Copeland should have gotten more run — a 3-shooting big man is exactly what was needed to offset the Hibbert factor — and Smith, Kidd, and Amare should all have been benched earlier on. Similarly, I know Steve Novak is a defensive liability, but he should’ve gotten a few of those minutes too. If he gets hot and makes a few threes, it spreads the floor, forces the Pacers to guard the perimeter, and allows Felton, Melo et al to penetrate. It was worth a try, given that JR was throwing up more bricks than the Stonecutters in the first few games.
In any case, Mike Vaccaro’s analogy of the Knicks being an 18 on a blackjack table is a pretty good one. The Knicks are a talented jump-shooting team, and, on the bright side, Iman Shumpert is clearly evolving into a high-impact player. But we need either a consistent second scorer or some sort of inside presence — preferably both — to really contend moving forward. Tyson Chandler is a defensive anchor, but his offense is all tip-ins and Felton alley-oops, and Marcus Camby, Kenyon Martin, and the recently departed Kurt Thomas are all aging in dog years at this point.
Which brings us back to the Amare question — Can he be the player he once was, while co-existing with Melo? — The spacing never looked right when they were both healthy on the floor the past two years. To be continued, next November.
Speaking of the Knicks: On the eve of Behind the Candelabra (this Sunday on HBO), Steven Soderbergh — still ostensibly retired from feature filmmaking — is set to direct 10-hours of a period hospital drama, The Knick, for Cinemax, with Clive Owen.
As a hobby, apparently, he’s also gotten into the film cognoscenti hipster t-shirt business. “While designing the shirts, Soderbergh told Reuters, ‘I would test them out by wearing them to the set to see if people knew the movie references.’” Citizen Kane aside, most of them are pretty esoteric. (Second link via The Late Adopter.)
Also, nothing on the show is dumber or more show-stopping than 30′s whorehouse Dick Whitman. Every time we flash back to that ridiculous thicket of hyper-Freudian backstory, I’m reminded of nothing so much as Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yokel.
ABC News takes a gander at the subway dogs of Moscow, who, for reasons of survival, seem to have figured out the system better than most tourists. “Moscow’s strays have also been observed obeying traffic lights, says Vereshchagin…Sometimes a pack will send out a smaller, cuter member apparently realizing it will be more successful at begging than its bigger, less attractive counterparts.”
In very related news, a new study finds that, since domestication many moons ago, dogs and humans have been evolving along parallel lines. “The study shows that dogs split from gray wolves about 32,000 years ago, and that since then, domestic dogs’ brains and digestive organs have evolved in ways very similar to the brains and organs of humans…They found both species underwent similar changes in genes responsible for digestion and metabolism, such as genes that code for cholesterol transport.” This must be the reason Berk loves him some gummi candy.
To kick off his new Slate column “Anything Once,” friend Seth Stevenson finds himself reveling in the sensation of sensory deprivation. “I emerged in a profound daze. I spoke slowly and quietly, like a smooth-jazz DJ, to the person at the spa desk who inquired how my session had gone. I felt more rested than if I’d slept for 16 hours on a pile of tranquilized chinchillas. Outside, colors were saturated; sounds were vivid. I had to try this again, as soon as possible.”
In a powerful and revealing essay for The New Yorker, college friend and former Mayors Against Illegal Guns manager Arkadi Gerney reveals his own personal gun story. “Every day, an average of thirty-three Americans are murdered with guns. Another fifty or so die in gun suicides and accidents. And another two hundred or so are shot and injured. That’s a lot of stories.”
Well, now nothing’s getting done. From a few years ago, Cat Congress Mired in Sunbeam. “Our lawmakers were elected to serve the common cat, not their own self-interests,” Big Stripey said. “With over 6 percent of the population stray, millions more going hungry or only getting dry food, and the dogs next door developing a very real litter of puppies, we need action now for the sake of our kittens and our kittens’ kittens.”
"A barking dog is often more useful than a sleeping lion." -- Washington Irving