Monday, June 30, 2014

Please bow your heads for the passing of Molly

I owned a 2004 Mazda 3 for nearly a decade. (My wife called it "Molly" - I was never clear why.) Normally, I try to avoid getting the first generation of any tech, because they haven't worked the bugs out yet. However, I got a bargain on it, and if I'd bought it the year before, it would have been called a Protegé.

And to be honest, it worked out pretty well for me (as you could probably tell from the fact that I put 150K miles on it over 10 years). However, it had one problem that I never got past.

The air conditioner in the Mazda 3 was a piece of crap. It never worked well: it cycled on and off, and toward the end, it wouldn't necessarily work at all unless the fan was set to an even number.

Living in Albuquerque, there are only a couple of weeks every year where this was a major problem, so it wasn't that bad, but here's the thing.

Having gone a decade without a truly functional air conditioner, I now have a car where the a/c works, and that's the problem. As it turns out, I can be pretty unreasonable.

See, when it's hot outside, the inside of the car can get pretty hot. And the coolant is way down inside the engine and has to cool off everything between before it can get cold air to me. But what that means to me is that the cold air doesn't come on immediately. I understand the mechanics of it, but when I had a car where I knew that the air conditioner wasn't necessarily going to work, it didn't bother me. Now that the situation has changed, I find myself subconsciously angered by the fact that I don't have instant gratification.

I try to be a reasonable person, but as it turns out, I can get pissed off by physics.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Why Benghazi doesn't matter as much as they want it to.

There's a video that's making the rounds, by a guy named Bill Whittle, who is something of a tool; he's worked for conservative groups such as Pajama's Media, the National Review and Fox "News" (all of which, you might notice, are openly anti-Obama). But let's not attack the messenger - let's look at his message.

First of all, he is wrong from his opening statement. Benghazi isn't irrelevant, but it is, in fact, both trivial and a witch hunt. In his efforts to make the president look bad, he commits both the sins of omission and commission - he lies, and he ignores any facts that he finds inconvenient.

For example, Whittle tries to ignore the fact that attacks on American embassies overseas have gone on for years, by using a fascinatingly cherry-picked graphic which refers to ten attacks and sixty people dead. As Politifact has pointed out, there have been 39 attacks or attempted attacks on US embassies and embassy personnel during Bush the Younger's reign.

Of these attacks, 20 resulted in at least one death. But even if you only count attacks on embassies or consular property, you still get thirteen incidents with fatalities, not the ten he claims.

If you count fatalities from the 20 attacks, the death toll was 87 people; only if you restrict yourself to the 13 attacks on embassy personnel on embassy ground does the number of deaths drop to 66. So he was only off by 10%, right?

But that kind of margin of error is OK, in Whittle's world. Because apparently none of those deaths matter, whether they were American or not.

He makes the claim that "It is not the responsibility of the US State Department and the President of the United States to protect the lives of foreign nationals, no matter how tragic or common these attacks may be. Their job is to protect American citizens and especially Consular personnel living abroad."

That, in and of itself, is complete and utter bullshit. If a person contracts to work for the US State Department, then that person is then under the protection of the State Department, whether they are American, Iraqi, or Dutch refugees to Lichtenstein. They have agreed to work for the United States, so the United States is obligated to keep them as safe as possible.

(On top of which, it's adorable how he refers to "the responsibility of the US State Department and the President of the United States." Because the President himself should strap on a gun and personally fight the terrorists, like Harrison Ford in Air Force One. Sorry guys: just because Bush slipped into a flight suit and codpiece, he was no action hero.)

Even if Whittle is only concerned about American deaths, why is it that he only mentions one diplomat (David Foy) by name? Why doesn't he talk about Edward J. Seitz, the first State Department employee killed in Iraq? What about Jim Mollen, U.S. Embassy senior consultant? What about any of the other Americans killed?

Because they don't fit the narrative he wants to present.

Whittle presents a long and convoluted "timeline," which he apparently thinks proves that the Obama administration covered up the fact that this was a terrorist attack, and that they lied by blaming everything on an American-made online video.

What poor little Bill Whittle couldn't count on was the fact that within a week of his putting out this web-only episode of the Firewall, that same Obama administration that he hates (or more accurately, the US special forces that he masturbates over) would capture Ahmed Abu Khattala, the mastermind behind the Benghazi attack. And Abu Khattala told everyone who would listen that he had planned the attack as retaliation for that same insulting video.

It was a terrorist attack. AND it was due to the video in question. Just because you don't like facts, Mr Whittle, you don't get to ignore them. Life is more complex than you want to admit.

Incidentally, though, the special forces who captured Abu Khattala? They were working for the US military. Which, by the way, is headed by the Commander-in-Chief, President Barack Obama. If he was personally responsible for the response to the attack on Benghazi, then he is equally responsible for the capture of the terrorist Ahmed Abu Khattala. And the death of Osama Bin Laden. And untold other successful attacks on terrorists and their strongholds. You have to be consistent in these things, after all: if you're going to give him the blame when things go wrong, you also have to give him the credit when things go right.

On a side note, Whittle also wants to bring up the claim that Obama skipped the daily intelligence briefings leading up to the attack. This is a popular narrative with the Benghazi Birthers. It's based on an opinion piece published in the Washington Post, which claimed that Obama skips most of them.

Unfortunately, that's the difference between an opinion piece and an article. The WaPo fact checker eventually had to weigh in on the subject; he pointed out that Obama gets his Presidential Daily Briefing in writing every day. Bush wasn't a strong reader, so he preferred to get it in person. Every president has gotten their briefing differently: Reagan skipped his briefings 99% of the time.

(While we're on the subject, should we mention the Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001? The one that was completely ignored, entitled "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US"? No. No, we shouldn't; that could be considered "using the deaths of Americans for political purposes," couldn't it?)

And finally, in his efforts to lay all of the blame for the failure in embassy security on the President, Whittle completely ignores the fact that Congress, in votes led by 100% of the congressional Republicans, voted to cut nearly $300 million dollars from the US Embassy security budget. Money that might have been used in increase their security, and could have saved the lives of all of the people killed in Benghazi.

So overall, this video ignores the facts completely, in an effort to attack the President of the United States. The only truth that we can get from this video is that Bill Whittle is a dishonest douchebag, who should be ignored by any patriotic American citizen. And by anybody with a basic grasp of logic.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Long Bowe Hunters

Let's talk about Bowe Bergdahl, shall we? The Right Wing, like always, has been looking for a reason to attack Obama. And their latest one just happens to be the polar opposite of one of their earlier ones. For the past five years, Bowe Bergdahl, the only captured American prisoner, has been a cause célèbre for the GOP, a consistent placard that they could hold up to punctuate the phrase "Obama doesn't care about the troops!"

At least, that's how it was until there was a possibility that Bergdahl might be released. Now, suddenly, people who've been crying out for his release are calling him a traitor. They have literally reversed their position on the subject. And why? Because it might have ended up looking good for the black guy.

Sarah Palin. Senators John McCain (Arizona) and Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire). Every un-American, small-minded, troop-hating maniac on the right has spun their position 180 degrees away from what they were saying as recently as the beginning of this year. And why? Because they don't care about the military; they only care about attacking the president.

Now, suddenly, all they can say is "Obama has endangered the country! He released terrorists! And for a deserter!"

Let me explain this as clearly and rationally as I can. Anyone who says that we should not have made a deal to get Bowe Bergdahl released can suck my balls.

Are you saying that we should have left an American citizen in the hands of the Taliban? That he deserved to stay in their custody forever? If you believe that, you are a pustulent sore on the asshole of humanity. Oh, and fuck you.

Let's be clear on this - no investigation has been done. There has been no trial. You don't get to convict American citizens on the basis of rumors, half-truths and outright lies. If you want Bowe Bergdahl punished, then you bring him back to the States, and let the military do their job. And if it turns out that he is guilty, then they get to punish him. Not you, not Fox "News," and not every cowardly, Cheeto-eating, overweight loudmouthed blogger on the planet.

Fuck every one of you, you chicken-shit, scum-sucking, America-hating losers.

The military has jurisdiction here, and they've never been shy about using it. Look up the case of another PFC, a guy named Robert Garwood: a POW in Vietnam, he was returned to the US in 1979, where he was tried for desertion and several other charges, court martialed and convicted (they lost the desertion conviction, but got him on other things).

That's the military's job. They're pretty good at it.

Oh, but incidentally, bad news for all you amateur lawyers out there: the maximum punishment for desertion can only be death in a time of war - and the US never declared war in Afghanistan. Plus, there's only been one person given the death sentence for desertion since the Civil War: Eddie Slovik in 1945. The military prefers to avoid that. Most likely, he'd get confinement, demotion and forfeiture of pay. But he'd only get it after a trial. That's how these things work.

The various branches of the Special Forces have taken the position that "you don't leave a man behind" for decades, for one simple reason: it's difficult to get people to risk their lives, if they don't believe that you'll be supporting them later when things go wrong. We support our soldiers for having sworn an oath to protect their country to begin with, and we continue to support them, even if we don't agree with their statements on every subject.

It's called "free speech" - if you stop wiping your ass with the Constitution for a few minutes and read the fucking thing, maybe you'll discover that it gives the American people all kinds of rights that don't involve guns.

We keep hearing that he was responsible for the deaths of soldiers who were searching for him. Unfortunately, you can't really blame him for every death that happened in theater at the time; the records from the region don't really support that.
Mr. Bethea wrote that of the six men killed in August and September, two died in a roadside bombing while on a reconnaissance mission, a third was shot during a search for a Taliban political leader and three others were killed while conducting patrols — two in an ambush and one who stepped on a mine.

He suggested some connection to Sergeant Bergdahl for several of the deaths, saying the Taliban leader and a village that was in the area of one of the patrols were "thought affiliated with Bergdahl's captors." He also said a village in the areas of the other patrol was "near the area where Bergdahl vanished."

Still, those villages and insurgents were in the overall area of responsibility for the soldiers, and the logs make clear that the region was an insurgent hotbed. A log on May 21, 2009, for example, said it had historically been a "safe haven" for the Taliban.

A retired senior American military officer, who was briefed at the time on the search for Sergeant Bergdahl, said that even though soldiers were instructed to watch for signs of the missing American, they would have been conducting patrols and performing risky operations anyway.

"Look, it’s not like these soldiers would have been sitting around their base," he said.
And incidentally, while we're cutting through the lies, can we stop with the phrase "we don't negotiate with terrorists"? Is it because George W. Bush kept repeating that canard? Did you know that he would say it almost immediately after completing a series of negotiations with terrorists for (as one of his chief negotiators pointed out) "information, supplies, personnel — a lot of different topics."

In fact, every president has negotiated with terrorists, whether drug traffickers or radical Islamic factions. Whether it was Carter getting 52 American hostages released in Iran by unfreezing assets from American banks, or Reagan selling missiles to Iran, America has a long history of negotiating with terrorists. As does every other country in the world.

But to hell with that. It doesn't matter what it took to get Bergdahl's release. We got it. Because we had to get it. Here's two quotes for you that explain why: the first is from President Obama. I know, you don't like him, because he's all black and uppity and stuff. Doesn't matter - he's the Commander in Chief of the military, and as he put it:
"Regardless of circumstances ... we still get an American prisoner back," Obama said during a news conference in Warsaw, Poland. "Period, full stop -- we don't condition that."
And if that isn't enough for you, how about the words of the Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral John F. Kirby:
"When you're in the Navy, and you go overboard, it doesn't matter if you were pushed, fell or jumped," he said. "We're going to turn the ship around and pick you up."
So, are we clear on this? If you say we should have just left him in the hands of the Afghani's, you are a crappy American. You're allowing your hatred of a black president to make you into a traitor, a coward, and an idiot. Fuck you, and go find a country that shares your beliefs. Try Somalia: you'll like it there - everybody has guns, and women don't have rights.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

A violent man will die a violent death (Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching, ch 42)

So I was on Facebook, because I'm old and it's no longer fashionable. And I came across this post.

And that sounds like a terrible thing, right? A guy, murdered in his home by rogue police officers - that's a travesty of justice!

Yeah, it sounds pretty bad, until you look into it. But that's part of the problem with the internet - people post stories, and other people believe them without looking up the details.

Now, before I start, let me point out that I oppose police brutality. I understand that there is police overreach, and that criminal acts have been and will be performed under the cover of a badge. I mean, hell, I live in Albuquerque - I'd have to be an idiot to think otherwise.

The thing is, this one isn't like that. Not according to the available evidence. The police were, in fact, sent to the wrong address. But only after they arrived did things go straight into the crapper.
Waller exited his residence and entered the garage with a handgun showing. Police did not know if he was a resident or a suspect.

Investigators said that the Hoeppner gave Waller repeated commands to drop his gun, but the homeowner did not comply. According to the officer, Waller responded with "Why?" and "Get that light out of my eyes."

Hoeppner added that Waller eventually put his gun down on the trunk of a car. As the officer moved in to retrieve the weapon, Waller scrambled to pick it up, and then pointed it at the officer. The report said that this is when Hoeppner fired his weapon six times.
Waller wasn't an innocent man - he was a paranoid nutjob with a gun. And he felt that he had the right to point that gun at the police. Sure, they were at the wrong location, but they were doing their job. And what, exactly, are the police supposed to do when confronted with armed lunatics brandishing firearms? Lie down and bleed?

The NRA wants you to believe that an armed society is a polite society, and that the only defense against a bad man is a good man with a gun. But they're wrong. Because what is the defense against a good man with a gun? Or an armed man who believes he's good?

If Waller hadn't been a Second Amendment cultist, nothing would have happened. But he felt that he was had the right, and the knowledge, and the training, to act as some kind of lone vigilante protecting his homestead. So instead, he committed suicide by cop.

The only tragedy for Waller's family is that they didn't talk him down off the ledge; you have to wonder how long he'd been cleaning his guns and muttering angrily to himself. But the real tragedy is for Officer Hoeppner, who had to face the choice of killing a man or being killed himself. He made the right choice, but now he has to live with it.