April 2011

You are browsing the site archives for April 2011.

Way to go, Obama and the Democrats. And the Republicans. Now we’ve lost Superman:

Superman has started a stir with a declaration in the new issue of “Action Comics” that he intends to renounce his U.S. citizenship because he’s tired of his actions being construed as instruments of U.S. policy.

The folks at D.C. explained:

News of the Superman decision has drawn critical comments in blogs and online forums, but DC Comics says it not about criticizing the U.S. In fact, the publisher says, the Man of Steel remains as American as apple pie, baseball and small-town life.

“Superman is a visitor from a distant planet who has long embraced American values,” DC’s co-publishers Jim Lee and Dan DiDio said Thursday in a statement. “As a character and an icon, he embodies the best of the American Way.”

In other words, he hasn’t left the U.S. The U.S. has left him.

Now that President Obama has apparently released his long-form birth certificate and thus demonstrated his willingness to respond to whatever accusation has got the crazies riled up, I think it’s time for us to press the issue on an even bigger Obama scandal.

I’m talking, of course, about his socialist/communist leanings, his coddling of left-wing dictators, and most damning of all, the Joseph Stalin tattoo on his left testicle.

Think about it, people: The Whitehouse has NEVER released photos of President Obama’s left testicle. In fact, in all the years Barack Hussein Obama has been in the public eye on the national level, the LEFTIST NEWS MEDIA has never once shown us a picture of Obama’s left testicle or interviewed people who’ve seen it. And despite the surprisingly large number of results when you Google “Obama’s left testicle”, I was unable to find ANY pictures of his left testicle anywhere on the internet, even after several MINUTES of searching.

Clearly, if Barack Hussein Obama wants to demonstrate that his Presidency is not a USURPATION, he MUST show the world his LEFT testicle. Otherwise it proves he loves Joseph Stalin.

Your move, Barack.

It was produced in Area 51 by the aliens who are taking over the world by using the UN to destroy democracy in an evil plot that is being fought against by agents of the Pope who is using the Democratic Party to shift Papal agents into the United States as illegal Mexicans so he can surround Area 51 in Nevada and bring the green alien menace to an end using his Papal brown aliens in a coordinated plan which is itself being thwarted by Obama, who himself is one of these aliens, which is why all of his documents are false and why he spent $20 million to hide them, which are actually stored in Area 51 which Jan Brewer knows about, but she is afraid to do anything about, since she knows how powerful the green aliens are and is afraid of them, but has been duped into stopping the brown aliens being brought in by the Pope because she is just a pawn being used by both sides.

You are all sheeple because you can’t see something so obvious as this.

Now, where’s my goal-post shovel?

Here’s a fun fact:

The free market, combined with poorly written computer algorithms, means you might have to pay $23,698,655.93 (plus $3.99 shipping) for a book about flies at Amazon. Read all about it at Michael Eisen’s blog it is NOT junk.

That’s right, from now on, Windypundit will have considerably less libertarian content. No, it’s not that I’ve converted to mainstream politics. It’s just that from now on, I’ll be posting most of my libertarian rants over at the new Nobody’s Business blog.

The original Nobody’s Business blog was created by Rogier van Bakel, and named after Peter McWilliams’s wonderful book Ain’t Nobody’s Business if You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Society. Rogier ran it for years, but lately he’s been having trouble keeping fresh content on the home page. Meanwhile, I’d been thinking of starting a new multi-author libertarian-ish blog for a while, but first that meant I’d have to find other libertarian-ish authors. One day, Rogier and I got to talking, and we realized there was a solution to both our problems.

Soon thereafter, we roped California criminal defense lawyer Rick Horowitz into our mad scheme. He’s still exploring his libertarian urges, but unlike pundits like me, he actually gets out there and takes on the leviathon in its lair on behalf of his clients.

We’ve got plans to recruit a few more authors to the blog, and we’re not loving everything about the new blog design (which is mostly due to my iffy design skills and unfamiliarity with WordPress), but we went live a few weeks ago and have been posting new stuff pretty regularly. Here’s some of the latest:

So drop on by, check us out, and say hello.

My wife is out of surgery and resting in her room at the hospital. All went very well. The surgeon was able to do the whole procedure using the robot, which means they made only a few small holes, so she’s expected to bounce back pretty quickly.

I’m at home for a few minutes to check on Dozer the cat. He seems to be getting a bit better. He’s still weak, but I don’t think he’s in pain. He’s been feeding himself, and he gets up and walks around a bit. If this keeps up, I’ll probably take him back to the vet to try to figure out how best to care for him.

My wife and I are now both really glad we didn’t agree to let the emergency vet euthanize him. I think the lesson here is that we should keep in mind that an emergency vet is for emergencies. As soon as they told us there was no immediate emergency, we should have just left and taken him to the regular vet the next day.

And yes, I’m a little less angry at the world.

No, I’m not having a Happy Easter. My wife has major surgery tomorrow, and my cat is dying. I’m not exactly feeling God’s love right now.

I don’t want to go into too much detail out of respect for her privacy, but my wife’s medical problem is not at all life threatening. She’s just got a body part that is starting to cause her some pain, and tomorrow a surgeon will go in and fix it. Then she’ll recover from the surgery and not be in pain any more. Our biggest concern is whether the procedure can be done without the need to open a large wound, which will affect her recovery time.

The relative ease with which my wife will get through this, however, is due to her good fortune at having been born at this point in human history. A hundred years ago, this would have been very dangerous surgery, probably not worth doing. And for the 250,000 or so years of human existence prior to that, anyone who had this condition would simply have to endure years of pain until they died.

The cat is a different story. When we came home on Friday night, we found our Ragdoll cat, Dozer, having some kind of seizure. When it was over, he seemed pretty beat up, so we took him to an emergency vet. They checked him out a bit and came up with three possible diagnoses: brain tumor, heart problem throwing clots to the brain, or a metabolic problem like renal failure. It would cost $1000 to $1500 to find out what the problem was, and only the last of the problems might be curable, and even then it wouldn’t last long in a 17-year-old cat.

The other option they offered us was euthanasia, with different pricing options for disposal of the remains.

My wife and I agreed that a ton of pointless medical care was not the answer, but we weren’t about to euthanize Dozer either, not without a chance to say goodbye. So we told them we weren’t going to take either of their options, and we took him home.

Essentially, we’ve chosen home hospice care for our cat. We’re going to take care of him and make him comfortable. And when we think he’s gone on as far as he can without suffering, we’ll take him back to the vet one last time.

All of this is buzzing around in my head this weekend, along with the lyrics to “Born This Way,” which I’ve been listening to thanks to the Weird Al v.s. Lady Gaga kerfuffle. And since Weird Al pointed out that it’s “an earnest human rights anthem,” I actually paid attention to the lyrics. Here are a few lines:

My mama told me when I was young
We are all born superstars

She rolled my hair and put my lipstick on
In the glass of her boudoir

“There’s nothin’ wrong with lovin’ who you are”
She said, “‘Cause he made you perfect, babe”
“So hold your head up, girl and you you’ll go far,
listen to me when I say”

I’m beautiful in my way,
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was Born This Way

In these lines, Lady Gaga is making the argument that if you believe in God — at least the Christian version of God — then you shouldn’t worry that there’s something wrong with you just because you are different from other people. Whether it’s your skin color or your sexual identity, you were born that that way because God made you that way. As a creation of God, you are as worthy and good as any other person. Because God made us, we are all superstars.

It’s an uplifting message, and if you’re a minority child in an all-white school, or a young man who’s worried about they way he feels when he looks at other men, it’s a message you may benefit from hearing. God made you too, and you’re every bit the equal of every other person.

But, I began to wonder in my dark mood, what if the thing that makes you different is somewhat less benign than skin color or sexual identity. What if it’s something that is rather more physiological and objectively undesireable? What if what makes you different is that you have Huntington’s disease? Or congenital heart problems? Or cystic fibrosis?

I’m not saying you can’t hold your head up and be proud of who you are. Of course you can. You may still be on the right track, and you may still go far. However, contra Lady Gaga, God did not make you perfect. And if God makes no mistakes, then what the hell kind of sadistic fuck of a God gives cystic fibrosis to babies?

I used cystic fibrosis as an example for a reason. It’s a congenital defect, something you’re born with, so even in the cosmic sense, you can’t have done anything to deserve it. Also, when cystic fibrosis was first diagnosed, and for all of human history before that, it killed most babies before their first birthday. Nowadays, medical science extends the life of cystic fibrosis patients a little bit further every year, with the current predicted age somewhere in the mid-30s. God was killing babies for thousands of generations. It took humans to save them.

Truth be told, I’m also pretty angry about the cat. Dozer is a big, lovable, loving bundle of fluff, and he’s seen me through some tough times, including the deaths of my parents. And all he wants in return is food, sleep, and petting. At the end of the day, when I sit down to watch some television, he hops up on the couch and snuggles up next to me. I pet him, and he purrs. We have a system that works.

I’ve always known he wouldn’t be around forever, but I was kind of hoping he’d just go peacefully in his sleep. Instead, I’m supposed to believe that our loving, omnipotent God has decided to torture him with convulsions.

What kind of God kills babies and tortures kitties? No wonder I’m not a very religious person.

Happy Easter, motherfuckers.

Update: I’m a bit less angry at the world.

For those of you not familiar with it, allow me to fill you in on the details about this annual event called “Easter”. Easter is a series of rituals celebrating the Great Jewish Zombie Uprising of 33 A.D. That uprising is described in one of the Holy Books of the followers of the Great Zombie Jesus. The Book called Mathew, chapter 27, verses 51-53 recounts:

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

The culminating event of this weekend uprising was their leader Jesus himself rising from his grave to lead his army into the city of Jerusalem in an effort to rebuild their ancient temple which had previously been destroyed. The followers of the Great Zombie Jesus refer to him as the “Messiah” which is an ancient Hebrew word for “Great Warrior” and “King of Kings”. He was believed to be a direct descendant of a previous warrior, credited with leading great bloody battle campaigns, called David.

The army of zombies, lead by this messianic zombie warrior Jesus, was driven back by the valiant Roman soldiers protecting the good people of Jerusalem. The Zombie Temple was not restored, and no one has heard from Jesus and his zombie army since that fateful weekend in Jerusalem.

Zombie cults, however, don’t die out easily, as is evidenced by the many incarnations of Resident Evil. Despite the defeat of Zombie Jesus and his Army of Zombies, his followers kept the idea alive that someday, he would rise again, leading a new army of two hundred million to destroy not just Jerusalem, but one third of the entire human population. From the Book Revelations, chapter 9, verses 13-17:

Then the sixth angel sounded: And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” So the four angels, who had been prepared for the hour and day and month and year, were released to kill a third of mankind. Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million; I heard the number of them. And thus I saw the horses in the vision: those who sat on them had breastplates of fiery red, hyacinth blue, and sulfur yellow; and the heads of the horses were like the heads of lions; and out of their mouths came fire, smoke, and brimstone.

The modern Zombie Worshipers of today are still hoping for this apocalypse, and pray for the day that the Great Zombie Jesus will wreak his vengeance upon the people of Earth. To this end, they practice a variety of strange rituals which are supposed to help bring this destruction about. It’s no surprise that one of these zombie rituals involves symbolic cannibalism, whereby they drink red wine and eat bread which they believe has been magically transformed into actual human blood and human flesh. If you sneak into one of their temples, you can actually see them stand in line, eager to rip into bits and pieces of what they believe to be the zombie leader Jesus.

Another disturbing ritual is the coloration of dead chicken embryos which are hidden all about by adults. Cult members think that these embryos will hatch into undead chickens, recreating the Great Jewish Zombie Uprising on a smaller scale. With chickens.

Undead chickens.

They send their children out to find and retrieve these dead embryos, counting them up. If the number of embryos retrieved is less than the number hidden, it’s proof that at least some undead chickens were hatched, and that the power of the zombie Jesus is still strong. Special clothing is often purchased just for these events.

Anthropologists believe this particular tradition was started when the zombie followers believed that rabbits were actually undead chickens. The rapid increase in the number of rabbits was credited to the hatching of the dead chicken embryos.

After the ritual of the Hidden Embryos, zombie worshipers usually hold a feast where they roast the largest short pig they can find, which is the closest they can legally get to roasting long pig and eating of their flesh. Since the quality isn’t as good, they make up for it in quantity, often roasting enough meat for several meals. Eventually, sated on short pig, they doze off dreaming of zombie uprisings.

The truly amazing thing is that, except when playing hide and seek with chicken embryos in the bushes, these cult members manage to fit in surprisingly well into modern society. Yes, it’s likely you may even know one of these cult members yourself! Perhaps you stood next to one in the grocery line. You may even work next to one without even realizing.

Just like the zombies they worship, zombie followers are harmless individually or even in small numbers. A small chainsaw, or a simple katana hiding behind a nearby drainpipe in your local shopping mall, will dispatch a few zombies, or zombie sympathizers, quickly and easily. They know this as well which is why you can safely have lunch with them in the cafeteria without being worried about their cannibalistic urges.

Zombie worshipers are only dangerous in large hordes. Once they are in large enough groups to form a voting bloc, they turn on you and try to eat the brains of your children. Fortunately for mankind, the cult, over the course of 2000 years, has split into smaller warring sects, limiting their ability to form into large hordes.

So, on this Easter Day in 2011, feel free to partake in some of these quaint customs of this unusual group. Maybe color and hide some embryos of your own, or steal some of the hidden embryos you find, throwing off the count of the zombie worshipers. Roast up a nice pig and stuff yourself to the gills (or whatever part of your throat is a remnant of when your ancestors had gills) and laze around for the afternoon.

Just make sure you keep an eye on how many zombie followers may be around you. The difference between a “group” and a “horde” is often not easy to discern. Have fun today, but remember to play it safe and always know where the nearest shopping mall is in your area.

Everyone is all aflutter about the news that Steve Jobs knows where you have been. Since that Earth-shattering bit of news, a lot of bloggers and reporters have pointed out how other software within the iPhone can do the same thing without the user realizing it, and how the Android devices do this as well. Greg Laden has a good summary of these articles in his post iKnowwhatyoudidlastsummer.

To be blunt, people being tracked in their everyday lives is nothing particularly new. I’m happy that this has made a splash in the mass media since it’s a situation that has been increasing in prevalence without major notice until now. When I teach IT security, I always spend some time covering privacy issues as well, and have discussed tracking issues regularly for fifteen years now.

A common thought problem I would often give to my students is to plan a cross country road trip in such a way that they could not be tracked. Fifteen years ago this was an interesting problem that forced people to think about how they interacted with a variety of databases. Today, it’s a more difficult proposition to even accomplish.

Even before the advent of modern smart phones, people have been automatically tracked. When you use your debit or credit card, the bank has a primitive tracking record of your movements. The more you use it, the better the tracking. So, before leaving on a hypothetical un-tracked trip, you need to remember to leave these cards at home. You will need to work with cash. If you don’t want to tip your bank off to your trip, you need to collect the cash in advance, a little at a time. It may also be a good idea to give your cards to a trusted friend so there is local activity on them while you are away, electronically geo-tagging you to your home town.

You can’t just leave your smart phone at home; you will need to leave any cell phone behind. Cell phones have been tracked since the very first cell phone. Cell phones work by having the towers (and thus cell companies) track the phones. When you first turn on your phone, it sends a message out. Any nearby towers receive that signal, which then talk to a computer at the company. The tower with the strongest signal (as well as reasonably bandwidth, consistent signal, and other factors) will be granted sole authority over your phone. This process is periodically repeated in case you move. The cell company must always know which tower to direct a call through to get to your phone.

Ten years ago the cell companies swore to us on a stack of their own quarterly reports that this tracking data was not stored in any reasonably permanent way due to the amount of data and cost of storage. I haven’t heard much about this as the cost of storage has plummeted, but I was always leery of the argument since it was based upon no compression of data that is easily compressed anyway. After 9/11 there was a lot of discussion about phone companies not destroying data that had been previously been destroyed. The problem now, of course, is finding out what data is actually stored today since that information is considered national security.

The difference with a modern smart phone is the introduction of a GPS chip that can provide better accuracy of your location. Still, accuracy of tower-only location services has gotten so good that several years ago governments began requiring cell phone companies to upgrade all of their towers so they can triangulate your position (using signals from multiple towers) to better coordinate emergency response when you call 911. While this works great when you get into an accident and want the government to find you, but it also means you can be tracked at all times to a surprising level of accuracy.

So, you will need to stop your phone from even communicating with a cell tower even if it’s not a smart GPS-enabled phone. You can turn it off, but I never trust computers that have to monitor for a key press to be truly “off”. You can remove the battery (assuming that’s an easy thing to do). You could tightly wrap the phone in aluminum foil, then drop it in a Mylar bag. Or, I suppose, you could drop it in a river and walk away, which is probably the most satisfying way to stop a cell phone from tracking you.

Now, ready for your trip? Not quite yet.

Does your car have a tracking device and cell phone secretly stashed away behind a door panel? If it does, it may not mean you have an enemy agent in a black helicopter tracking your every move, it may just mean you have OnStar, or a similar system, installed by the auto manufacturer. That system is, basically, a tracking device attached to a cell phone integrated with your car’s computer system. You should be able to locate the fuse which powers that module and remove it, or, if you are really paranoid, dismantle the panel it’s mounted under and chuck it into the same river as your cell phone.

Now it’s time to plan your route, and this is where things get complex.

If you live in a major city, especially Chicago or London, it can be difficult to find a route out of town where your license plate will not be recorded as you pass through an intersection. Many early red-light cameras would only take pictures when triggered by sensors, yet simple observation shows that such sensors are often triggered even when no one is running a light, such as when people turn right on red, or go over a sensor when turning left. In addition to that, many intersections now have cameras that simply record all traffic flow at all times. You need to avoid all such intersections.

The camera problem is made worse by projects such as the Chicago OEMC initiative which links private cameras into the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications system for recording and monitoring. Even if you trust that your local 7-11 will destroy its security recordings, those same recordings may be saved by the government automatically.

On your trip toll roads, obviously, are a very bad idea. Even if you threw your toll authority Radio Frequency ID transceiver into the same river after your cell phone, cameras record every license plate passing through every toll plaza. By the way, if you ever want to prove your spouse was cheating on you, or they are a bad parent by working too late, you can subpoena their toll records for evidence.

Off the toll ways (and major expressways which may have traffic cameras, though the older systems don’t have the resolution for picking up license plates), you need to be careful about any city, town or county you pass through with cameras. They are now so prevalent, you most likely need to do scouting trips to find a clear route.

Once you have arrived, you may be able to walk around anonymously for now. If it’s in a big city, you can leave your car somewhere (Where? That’s another problem) and use taxis. At the moment you don’t really have to worry about automatic facial identification too much. While the technology is certainly impressive, unless someone has a good picture of your face and is specifically looking for you, such system won’t be a help. They can find matches for specific people, but, as of yet, can’t just identify all people passing in front of them.

One last piece of advice is to make sure you don’t use your supermarket loyalty card when buying an apple in your destination city. Of course loyalty cards are a whole new privacy problem in themselves.

Ready for the return trip or do you just want to follow your cell phone into the river?

Breaking news from the music world today as Weird Al Yankovic reveals that “Perform This Way,” his parody of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” will not be released on his next album because Lady Gaga has refused to give her approval. So you’ll know what you’re missing, the Weird One has released it on YouTube:

More as this story develops.

Update: More details have emerged in this shocking story.

Weird Al explains what happened from his side of the negotiation in a new blog post: The Gaga Saga. You should read Al’s whole explanation, but basically when he asked Lady Gaga’s people for permission, they refused to give permission based on his description of the concept or even on the lyrics. They insisted that he go through the trouble and expense of actually recording the song–using lyrics they had already seen, sung to the same music that Lady Gaga had used for the original song–before Lady Gaga could give him an answer.

So he did that. And then Lady Gaga said “no.” What the fuck?

By the way, if you’re wondering why Weird Al needs permission to record the parody, he doesn’t. Here’s how he explains it:

My parodies have always fallen under what the courts call “fair use,” and this one was no different, legally allowing me to record and release it without permission. But it has always been my personal policy to get the consent of the original artist before including my parodies on any album, so of course I will respect Gaga’s wishes. However, given the circumstances, I have no problem with allowing people to hear it online, because I also have a personal policy not to completely waste my stinking time.

I think Weird Al might also need extra permission for certain other uses of the song.

This Just In: TMZ is reporting that sources close to Lady Gaga say she has not rejected Weird Al’s proposal. They say she’s been on tour and has never even heard the song. Here’s the link to the story, but a word of caution is in order: What has been seen cannot be unseen.

Breaking: Matthew Perpetua reports that Weird Al’s manager has confirmed that Lady Gaga has given Al permission to parody “Born This Way” on his next album. David Itzkoff confirms it.

By the way, for those of you who think I’m making too big a deal out of a Weird Al story, those last two links were to Rolling Stone and the New York Times, so bite me.

Finally: It’s confirmed by The Man. “Perform This Way” is back on the album.

One of my more useful sources of things to blog about is Ethics Alarms, where professional ethicist Jack Marshall regularly blogs about a variety of current events from sports to politics to economics. This alarms some of the lawyers who read my blog, because they say that contrary to what he’d have you believe, Marshall knows nothing about legal ethics.

My own opinion has been mixed. Sometimes I think Marshall has a good point, other times I think his reasoning is a bit muddled, and every once in a while, he says something that strikes me as downright hateful or xenophobic. A couple of days ago, however, he posted something that is, well, just horrifying.

The post is about killing civilians in a war, and it’s called Are Citizens of Warring Nations “Innocent”?

“Innocent” and “civilians” apparently go together like a horse and carriage, if one is to believe the clich√© used with increasing regularity by journalists, bloggers and even elected officials[…] The exoneration of civilian citizens for the acts of their governments is a relatively new phenomenon, one happily endorsed by the habitually politically correct. It is untrue, and it is time to blow the whistle. Ethics foul.

Uh Oh. I’m sure there are people who start out by explaining that they’re not politically correct who don’t go on to say something truly awful, but that’s not the way to bet. Marshall continues,

Governments are the agents of their populace, and when they attack other nations and kill human beings, the citizens of those governments share in the responsibility.

“Governments are the agents of their populace”? On what planet? Not on this one. Not for most of recorded history. The tribes, city-states, and nation-states of our history have for the most part been ruled by a fairly small fraction of their population, often just an authoritarian ruler and his loyal security forces. That’s still true in a lot of places today.

Innocence, used in the sense of an innocent bystander to an event that in no way involves him, cannot fairly be used to describe the adult citizen of a country engaged in violent or destructive acts unless these act are completely unknown and unknowable to the citizen and the rest of the public as well.

I don’t understand how mere knowledge of a government’s actions makes one responsible for them. Many U.S. citizens disagree with the actions of our government, and it’s absurd to hold them responsible for everything the government does. Wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to say that people are responsible for the act they control or encourage? It doesn’t make sense to hold people responsible for things that are beyond their control.

Responsible governments fight wars on behalf of their obligations to a nation’s populace–for security, safety, to protect resources and important allies, or for important cultural principles and goals.

That maybe be true for responsible governments, but how many of those are there in the world? More to the point, however, no matter how legitimate and responsible a government is, the people it’s protecting can have a wide variety of values. Lots of people in the U.S. have opposed our war in Iraq since even before it started, and it makes no sense to hold them responsible for the war.

As the intended beneficiaries of a war’s objectives, citizens cannot responsibly assume bystander status. Moreover, citizens support their battling nations in many ways, including, in most cases, financially, but politically and spiritually as well. They also contribute their sons and daughters to the battlefields, however reluctantly.

Of course civilians who voluntarily contribute materially to a war cannot claim to be innocent, but that still leaves most of the rest of the populace. And it hardly makes sense to hold taxpayers responsible for what is done with money taken from them by force.

Civilian citizens are also accountable for the governments they allow to use their nation’s name, honor, reputation and resources on their behalf, as well as the acts of those governments, domestically and abroad.

Surely the key word in that last sentence was “allow.” Millions of people voted against Barack Obama, just as millions voted against George Bush before him. It makes no sense to hold a president’s opponents responsible for his actions. It makes even less sense to hold a tyrant’s subjects responsible for the outrageous acts of the tyrant. Oddly, Marshall disagrees even with that:

This is obvious in the case of a democracy, but it is true of autocratic governments as well. The German people were culpable for supporting the government of Adolf Hitler; to its credit, Germany has acknowledged this.

German people who did not support Hitler’s German government bear no moral responsibility for Hitler’s crimes. That doesn’t change just because the German government says otherwise. If surviving Germans from that time wish to accept responsibility for their own actions, they are welcome to, but Hitler didn’t speak for everybody then, and the German government doesn’t speak for everybody now.

And what about the Jews? By Marshall’s argument, since the German people were culpable for Hitler’s actions, then the 160,000 or so German Jews murdered in the Nazi holocaust must have had it coming, since they were part of the German people, at least until they died.

The argument of the “innocent citizens” advocates that a totalitarian regime can operate without the acquiescence of its people is demonstrably false: when a regime becomes truly intolerable, citizens rise up and end it.

Actually, that a totalitarian regime can “operate without the acquiescence of its people” is the definition of a totalitarian regime.

The citizens of Libya were not sufficient outraged by their government blowing a passenger airliner out of the sky to throw out their government, but they are trying to end it now.

There has probably never been a time during his reign when some of the citizens of Libya didn’t wish to end the rule of Muammar al-Gaddafi, but they’ve always lacked the power to do so. And in point of fact, they still lack the power to do so, which is why they need our help.

The Soviet Union perpetrated horrible offenses against human rights for decades, and the Soviet public acquiesced. (When I was in Russia after the Soviet bloc’s fall, I was amazed at how many Stalin admirers there were there still.) If a nation’s public will overthrow a government it concludes is intolerable, how can they be “innocent” of the conduct of a government they tolerate? 

They are not. They are accountable.

By Marshall’s argument, not only were the murdered German Jews responsible for Hitler’s actions in World War II, but the 3000 people who died in the terrorist attacks of 9/11 had it coming because they didn’t stop the U.S. government from engaging in whatever foreign policy activities so enraged Osama bin Laden. For that matter, by Marshall’s argument, Afghan women are responsible for the crimes of the Taliban because they did not overthrow it.

Marshall addressed the 9/11 issue after someone challenged him in the comments:

But an attack on civilians outside the boundaries of war becomes murder, so 9/11 isn’t really on topic, rationale or not. An attack on civilian targets during war, or civilians who are killed in the course of attacks on military targets, are not murder.

Let’s untangle the logic here: Because the people who attacked us on 9/11 weren’t involved in a war, the people they killed were innocent. However, if the the exact same attacks had killed the exact same people, but it had come from a recognized nation in a declared act of war, then the people who were killed were not innocent.

In Marshall’s world, apparently, whether or not you are an innocent victim of violence depends on whether or not the State Department recognizes the legitimacy of the government that sent the people who killed you. Somehow, your culpability or innocence depends entirely on the actions of other people. Or else Marshall just tried to squirm out of admitting a glaring error in his argument.

Getting back to Marshall’s main post:

The convenient myth that the citizens of warring countries are innocent bystanders has an unstated agenda behind it, of course. Requiring the U.S. military to calibrate its activities to place as few civilians at risk as possible is part of the effort to make warfare itself impossible…at least by governments that care about civilian casualties. The fact that following the imposed subsidiary objective of treating citizens as innocents often has the effect of prolonging a costly and bloody conflict and costing more American lives in the process is, intentionally I think, ignored.

In other words, according to Marshall, the idea that wars kill innocent people is just a myth that has been spread as part of a dastardly propaganda campaign by anti-war activists. That may be one of the most fucked-up things I’ve ever read on the Internet.

(Which is saying a lot.)

One of the tests I use to judge whether someone is morally serious is whether or not they are willing to accept the bad consequences of their proposed course of action. To pick an unrelated example, consider that many proponents of the Democratic cap-and-trade carbon rationing program denied that it would hurt the American coal-mining industry. Yet the whole purpose of the cap-and-trade program was to reduce consumption of carbon-emitting fuels, which would certainly include coal. These proponents of the cap-and-trade plan were just posturing, and had no intention of discussing the issue in a morally serious manner.

Marshall is doing the same thing here. By refusing to admit that wars kill innocent people or that citizens in a totalitarian government have no control over that government, Marshall is refusing the contront the bad consequences of war. This is morally unserious and intellectually dishonest.

If Marshall wants to argue against protecting foreign civilians from the hazards of an American attack, he should honestly accept the consequences of this attack, and make his argument that the death of civilians is a necessary trade-off.

(If we were in a movie in which one character wanted to go ahead with an attack despite the fact that innocent people could be killed, he might coldly utter the phrase, “You can’t make an omlet without breaking some eggs.” That’s a harsh thing to say when real human lives are at stake, but Marshall’s going one step further by refusing to admit that any eggs are involved.)

Marshall even seems to understand this when someone asks him in the comments about the practice of using children as human shields. Here’s his answer:

You may not like my answer: non-combatants, innocents, and 100% the responsibility of the regime that uses them in that way. It is the most depraved of all war tactics…I assume it is a war crime; if it isn’t, it should be. But it’s a tactic that can’t be allowed to succeed, or it will just encourage more.

I am almost certain that Marshall is right about this. As painful as it is to think about, in some situations it could turn out that attacking the target and killing the children is the lesser of evils since not attacking the target will encourage our enemy to march ever more children into the war zone. Of course, the other consequence of that unpleasant logic is that when we are initially contemplating the decision to go to war, we should realize that once we are committed, we may find ourselves forced into a situation where we end up killing children.

Anyway, for some reason, although Marshall understands the logic of innocence when it comes to children, he seems unwilling to believe that it can ever apply to adults. The position Marshall is advocating is the same sort of moral unseriousness that leads people to say we should throw someone in jail “for their own good.” We don’t throw criminals in jail for their own good. We throw them in jail for our own good, because we want them to stop harming us. Jail still sucks for the criminals who have to be there.

Getting back to the main post:

Citizens of every nation have an obligation to make ongoing efforts to learn what their government is doing in their name, on their behalf, with the results of their labor and resources. If their government engages in evil, they cannot shrug their shoulders, go about their daily lives as if nothing is amiss, and claim innocence when accountability comes due. This is especially true of democracies, but it is true of all citizens of all nations.

Again, by this argument, Nazi-era German Jews and Afghan women were responsible for the crimes of Hitler and the Taliban. Here in the real world, however, both groups were among the first victims.

Look, paying attention to what your government is doing is probably a smart idea. As much as we’d all prefer to work at our jobs, take care of our families, and socialize with our friends, we should probably expend some effort to keep track of what our government is up to, and to prevent them from following dangerous and evil paths which might lead to our becoming some other country’s innocent foreign civilian casualties. In that sense, we do have some responsibilities. But it doesn’t mean we’re culpable for everything our government does in our name.

Perpetrating the myth of the innocent civilian aides and abets all varieties of bad governments–the incompetent, the corrupt, the profligate, the repressive, the brutal and the violent. It is a dishonest and unethical concept that does real, extensive harm. We need to stop pretending it is true, and to protest any time we hear or read someone claiming that it is.

It is dishonest, unethical, and morally bankrupt to pretend that war does not kill innocent people.

Unlike Marshall, the U.S. military has a pretty good understanding of this reality of war. The Marines in particular have done a lot of hard thinking about this problem, since they are often tasked with jobs such as feeding hungry children while simultaneously fighting guerilla soldiers trying to infiltrate their position.

One of the biggest problems they expect to face in the future is what they sometimes call the “strategic corporal,” which refers to the kinds of things that can go wrong when modern fast-tempo warfare takes place in the modern information age. Because there isn’t much time for soldiers in the field to pass decisions up the chain of command, the military is going to have to depend more and more often on low-ranking officers to make decisions that used to be made higher up. With modern weapons systems, this means that a corporal in charge of a squad could easily end up accidentally committing a monstrous atrocity.

In the modern world of Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, word of that atrocity could be all over the planet in hours, changing public opinion, weakening the support of our allies, rallying our enemies against us, and triggering terrorist attacks. So although taking steps to avoid civilian casualties could endanger U.S. soldiers, not taking steps to avoid civilian casualties could also endanger American lives.

And sticking our heads in the sand by denying the reality of innocent casualties won’t do anything to help the situation.

Yesterday NASA awarded development grants to four corporations for development of human-rated space transportation systems (spaceships). Here are the big winners:

$22 million went to Blue Origin, best known for its intricately detailed corporate logo (as well as its founder, Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com fame) which has a creative vertical take-off and landing system which is very science-fictiony, called New Shepard, which they plan on ramping up from a sub-orbital launch vehicle into a full-scale orbital system.

$80 million goes to Sierra Nevada Corporation for their Dream Chaser vehicle, which is kind of a small space shuttle that doesn’t need a custom launch system.

$92.3 million is slated for Boeing, the company that a few short years ago was claiming that space transportation systems could never be privatized and could only work when on a cost-plus government contract. (To be fair, they blew a lot of money a decade or so ago when they did R&D on a system that never got off the ground, so management was understandable gun-shy.) They changed their mind when they found out they could get grants for developing a new system and saw that other companies were already taking the lead. They have an impressive 7-man crew capsule based on the concept of scaling up older, proven designs.

$75 million for SpaceX, which has been in the news a lot lately for their very cool and successful launches of their Falcon series of vehicles. Unlike the other firms, SpaceX is keeping their efforts very much in the public view, which is kid of gutsy. Brand new rocket systems fail on their debut launch 40% of the time, but the Falcon 9 had two successful launches in a row. That’s pretty exciting in itself. They plan on mating that to their Dragon 7-man capsule for a complete system. The other designs mentioned here will rely upon an existing launch system (such as a human-flight certified verson of the Atlas booster), but SpaceX is counting on having a totally new system which is engineered with efficiency and safety in mind from the start.

In September they plan on launching another Falcon 9 with test satellites which will approach the International Space Station, followed quickly a month later with their first actual cargo delivery to the station.

Notable in its absence is any money for the joint Liberty project from ATK (which makes the Space Shuttle solid rocket boosters) and Arianespace which would have placed the European Ariane 5 booster on top of an extended Shuttle SRB. The basic idea there was to take two very proven technologies and marry them into a vehicle that could launch humans into orbit. I had been figuring them as a shoe-in for some of this second round of financing from NASA because of that. Maybe they can still get some private financing to keep this interesting project going. They plan on proceeding with development even without NASA money.

Overall I’m please that this part of the Augustine Commission’s plan is coming along. When the Shuttle Transportation System was conceived it was pitched as a “space truck” idea. The Shuttle was meant to have a fast turn-around, and be cheap to operate. In reality it was just too complex to accomplish such goals. The reason NASA had to try was that no one else in the world was capable of attempting such a system. Much has been learned operating the system, and the knowledge has been passed into the marketplace.

The comparison used to support privatization of launch-to-orbit systems is that of the early days of aviation. To help spur the commercial aircraft industry, the US government guaranteed contracts in the form of air mail so that companies knew they would have a customer. In the same way, NASA is now guaranteeing future contracts to deliver supplies and crews to low Earth orbit.

I honestly think that private companies can now take up the reigns of operating a space trucking company. NASA can get back to focusing on what it is best at, which is doing things that have never been done before, like figuring out how to make CB radios work across interplanetary distances.

It’s a gray, rainy day in Chicago and somehow that’s fitting my mood right now. Elisabeth Sladen (aka Sarah Jane Smith) died after a battle with cancer today.

As a kid I had a crush on Sarah Jane. Heck, I had a crush on her as an adult when I saw her again in the new Doctor Who series just a few years back. I understand an actress is not the character she plays, yet I can’t help feeling a loss even though I know little about Elisabeth Sladen. The character she portrayed was an intelligent, energetic and outgoing woman who could hold her own with various incarnations of The Doctor. It was hard not to admire her.

By the way, the body shop that repaired my Toyota RAV4 after the goose strike incident is the Four Star Body Shop run by Loukas Pergantas. They’ve been repairing bits and pieces of my cars for about five years now, and they’ve always done a great job. And when it’s something that I’m paying for out-of-pocket, they’ve been good about controlling the cost.

Four Star Body Shop
5424 W. Montrose Ave.
Chicago,IL 60641

Ask for Loukas, and tell them you heard about them from the guy who hit the geese.