When setting a price cheapens the product

The recent news that the Pentagon has been paying professional sports teams to honor current service members and military veterans was dismaying and surprising to me.  I’ve become numb to the annoying level of enforced patriotism in America in the past ten years or so, chalking it up to the thoroughly American trait of overdoing pretty much anything that becomes popular.  But I hadn’t considered that our government was paying hard money to try to keep the swell of pride in the military from subsiding.

Frankly, I’ve felt sorry for the men and women who were trotted out to the field to accept the accolades, because I felt they were being exploited by the local teams.  Turns out, they were being exploited by their government, too.  Now, Tom the Dancing Bug makes it clear that I should not have been surprised at all:


Thanks to Tom the Dancing Bug and GoComics.com

After all, it’s all about the kids

It’s not that I don’t like the Olympics, it’s that I am thoroughly disinterested in the Olympics.  Oh, I like athletic competitions just fine, both watching them and taking part in them, and I’m fine with competing on behalf of one’s country.  But there’s something about the Olympics that over the years has left me feeling…who cares?  And the Winter Olympics, even more so.

On top of that I’ve heard nothing but bad things about this Olympics.  The horror stories of the past week about how ill-prepared is Sochi to host the visitors; the waste and corruption in the Russian government and Olympic committee to have spent as much on this event—$51 billion!—as all previous Winter Olympics combined; the Putin government’s transparent lies about its treatment of its gay citizens—none of that would sway me over to watch even a little of the spectacle were I somehow to have had a weak moment when I couldn’t find something to watch on any of the other hundred or so channels that flow freely into my home.

But, that was all before I got the straight dope from the Russians…via Tom the Dancing Bug.  Now that they set me straight on why they’ve done the things they’ve done to be ready to welcome the world to Sochi, I feel a whole lot better.  I’m sure you will, too, once you know what I know.


Thanks TDB and GoComics.com

Everything in the news is interrelated to everything else

And who better to prove the point than Tom the Dancing Bug


Thanks to TtheDB and GoComics.com

Civil disobedience + free press = privacy + freedom

On a lazy Sunday reading the paper and following Ed Snowden around the world on Twitter, I came across a couple of gems…

It is my hope that the revelations of the extent of U.S. government spying on its citizens that were sparked by Snowden’s leaks lead us to really talk about it, not just repeat talking points: are we prepared to surrender so much of our privacy and our freedom without a fight?  Do we have any reason to trust the government when it say it’s only looking for bad guys and foreigners and is protecting us?  A Guardian story I came across in Jack Shafer’s Twitter feed makes the point:

At every point in this unfolding story, government ministers and officials on both sides of the Atlantic have been at pains to point out that everything that is done by the NSA and GCHQ is lawful because there is “legal oversight”. The problem is that citizens have to take their word for it because every substantive aspect of that oversight is secret. 


The conversation between the state and the citizen has been reduced to a dialogue that the writer would have recognised. It goes like this.

State Although intrusive surveillance does infringe a few liberties, it’s necessary if you are to be protected from terrible things.

Citizen (anxiously) What terrible things?

State Can’t tell you, I’m afraid, but believe us they are truly terrible. And, by the way, surveillance has already prevented some terrible things.

Citizen Such as?

State Sorry, can’t go into details about those either.

Citizen So how do I know that this surveillance racket isn’t just bureaucratic empire building?

State You don’t need to worry about that because it’s all done under legal authority.

Citizen So how does that work?

State Regrettably, we can’t go into details because if we did so then the bad guys might get some ideas.

What it comes down to, in the end, is: “Trust us.” And the trouble with that is that in recent decades our political elites have done precious little to deserve our trust.

Need more proof?  How about the news that the Obama Administration is pushing all federal departments and agencies—not just those concerned with national security—to have employees watch their colleagues but also to “pursue unauthorized disclosures of any information, not just classified material.”

The program could make it easier for the government to stifle the flow of unclassified and potentially vital information to the public, while creating toxic work environments poisoned by unfounded suspicions and spurious investigations of loyal Americans, according to these current and former officials and experts. Some non-intelligence agencies already are urging employees to watch their co-workers for “indicators” that include stress, divorce and financial problems.

“It was just a matter of time before the Department of Agriculture or the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) started implementing, ‘Hey, let’s get people to snitch on their friends.’ The only thing they haven’t done here is reward it,” said Kel McClanahan, a Washington lawyer who specializes in national security law. “I’m waiting for the time when you turn in a friend and you get a $50 reward.”

I concede that there are areas of government operations where the need to protect sensitive information is legitimate, but not every area of government meets that standard.  That’s why it’s important that there are people who leak government secrets, and that we have news publications of every medium that investigate and publish that information.  The leakers don’t have to be saints for us to be thankful they are there, as Ben Smith writes in BuzzFeed today.

There is now a heated debate over the moral status of Edward Snowden — who fled Hong Kong for Moscow en route, reportedly, to Ecuador Sunday — and over whether his decision to flee almost certain conviction and imprisonment in the United States means that his actions can’t be considered “civil disobedience.” These seem like good questions for a philosophy class. They are terrible, boring, ones for reporters, and have more to do with the confusing new news environment than with the actual news.

Snowden is what used to be known as a source. And reporters don’t, and shouldn’t, spend too much time thinking about the moral status of their sources. Sources sometimes act from the best of motives — a belief that readers should know something is amiss, or a simple desire to see a good story told. They also often act from motives far more straightforwardly venal than anything than has been suggested of Snowden: They want to screw someone who is in their way professionally; they want to score an ideological point by revealing a personal misdeed; they are acting on an old grudge, and serving revenge cold; they are collecting chits with the press to be cashed in later.


…the new media ecosystem has moved sources to the foreground. They make their cases directly on Twitter or in web videos; in Snowden’s case, he also chose to protect himself by going and staying public in a way that would never before have been fully possible. “Big news will now carve its own route to the ocean, and no one feels the need to work with the traditional power players to make it happen,” David Carr wrote recently. The fact that the public must now meet our sources, with their complex motives and personalities, is part of that deal.

Snowden’s flight is a great, classic international story. It is, as Glenn Greenwald tweeted today, a kind of global White Bronco moment. His roots in web culture; his ideology; his decision-making; these are all great stories. He’s a much more interesting figure than Mark Felt because, at least, he’s a new figure, not a familiar one.


Snowden’s flight and its surrounding geopolitics are a good story; what he made public is a better one. I’m not sure why reporters should care all that much about his personal moral status, the meaning of the phrase “civil disobedience,” or the fate of his eternal soul. And the public who used to be known as “readers” are going to have to get used to making that distinction.

It should come as no surprise to anyone that Tom The Dancing Bug has something to say on this subject:


Thanks to TDB and GoComics.com.

Guns spelled backwards is snug, and other thoughts on guns

I’ve been thinking about guns and gun control and the Second Amendment since the school shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, but today I found a guy who’s done a much better job of it than me.

I’m not a gun guy; never have been.  I was born in New York City to parents who’d been born and raised in the city, whose own parents and grandparents had lived their whole lives in New York, or Baltimore or Boston, or in Ireland and Wales in the mid-19th Century and on back…we just weren’t gun people.  What I know about actually shooting guns is what any kid from the Houston suburbs learns at a Central Texas summer camp or from going out to “the country” with his teenaged friends.   Not afraid of guns,  but not interested in them, either; I’ve thought more about guns and gun rights from the perspective of the U.S. Constitution than I ever have from a personal point of view.

My non-legal-scholar’s interpretation of the words of the Second Amendment is that it was plainly the intent of the authors to preserve the right of citizens to bear arms so that they could all participate in the common defense.  (And if you want to hunt for food or shoot for sport, fine.)  I’m aware that this interpretation is not universally accepted.  My non-mental-health-professional’s interpretation of some of the most extreme anti-gun-control arguments of the National Rifle Association and other ”gun rights” groups is that paranoia is a powerful affliction indeed.  This interpretation is not universally accepted, either.

I agree that guns don’t kill people; people using guns do kill people, though, with relative ease, and since the Second Amendment doesn’t identify a right to bear arms only for the clear-headed and law-abiding but not for the crazy or the lawless, we rightly pass laws in an effort to provide some security for all while not violating the basic rights of all.

I think most of the people who own guns are fine with that setup, and aren’t fretting away their days with worrying about having to use their guns to defend themselves from their own government.  I imagine they’re thinking some of the same things that Walter Kirn has written in The New Republic this week:

Growing up around guns and owning them as an adult affords a person memories and experiences that strangers to guns may have trouble understanding. The divide is phenomenological, not political (or not political until it gets to be), like the gulf between those who’ve had sex and those who haven’t or those who smoke and those who’ve never lit up. Pulling a trigger and being prepared to do so cuts patterns in the self. Depending on the nature of your social life, which time around guns can shape and color in ways that I’ll describe, you might forget that these patterns are even there, because you’re surrounded by people who share them—until someone or some event challenges you to answer for your thinking.


When the time to lay blame for the [Aurora, Colorado] massacre arrived, it wasn’t Americans’ easy access to firearms that I found myself deploring, but a depraved, unbalanced culture of splatter-fest games and other dark entertainments. I blamed the potential for gruesome fame nurtured by the Internet, as well as a mental health system that’s not a system.

But then, soon enough, another mass shooting occurred, at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin. And then another, at Sandy Hook Elementary. The crimes were no longer discrete abominations but one continuous siege, it seemed, broken only by pauses for reloading. This was a war that warranted wartime thinking; cultural criticism could go to hell. The hour of reckoning had come, particularly for gun owners like me who’d never thought clearly about where we stood, only that it was somewhere between the militants and the innocents—a dangerous spot, since both sides felt attacked.


My friend, an Army captain, a tall West Pointer, was just back from Iraq. He’d had a tough time there. We were wrapping Christmas presents. He asked me if I’d ever heard of a law passed under President George W. Bush (he called it a new “order,” actually) that established a formal military command, USNORTHCOM, over the country itself. His tone was dark, insinuating, and I looked at him, concerned. PTSD. We’re all hip to its signs (at least in others), and a moment ago my friend had asked me (oddly, I thought) to turn off a ceiling fan whirling above our heads whose blades kept distracting him as he tied ribbons.

When I asked my friend what bothered him about the Northern Command, his answer, as I half-feared, boiled down to this: Americans beware America. I pressed him. Did he seriously, genuinely believe that soldiers, our soldiers, soldiers much like himself, could possibly be prevailed upon to intimidate or attack their fellow citizens?

Affirmative. If ordered to. They’re soldiers.


Statistics on the dangers guns pose to the health of their owners and those who live with them suggest that I’d be safer selling my guns than reserving them for Tombstone II. Trouble is, in an armed showdown, statistics tend to lose. In those who’ve learned to imagine assailants everywhere and may even have faced a real assailant, guns encourage a sense of personal exceptionalism. It’s the essence of their magnetism. Firearms exist to manage situations where rationality has failed, so thinking rationally about them can be hard.


Will there be fewer murders with tighter gun laws—the modest laws that might actually materialize rather than the grand ones that probably won’t but will surely rev up the rhetoric and the hoarding—or only fewer or smaller massacres? Can we expect less violence altogether or merely less outrageous acts of violence? And if the answer is fewer catastrophes, fewer Auroras and Sandy Hooks, would that be a worthwhile accomplishment in itself? I think so. Horror and panic themselves are forms of violence, and diminishing them, restricting their dimensions, is itself a civilizing act.


Of the five or six guns I’ve gathered over the decades (IF YOU KNOW HOW MANY GUNS YOU HAVE, YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH read a t-shirt I saw once) only one is designed to use on human beings: a .38 revolver of the type that burdened policemen’s sagging belts once, before the adoption of sleeker 9mms. The gun is a stodgy old classic, Smithsonian-worthy, that evokes the Made-in-USA age and also speaks of my distance, I like to think, from the cult of maximum firepower that draws harder-boiled folks to stores and gun shows to handle Bushmasters and similar weapons with death-dealing, quasi-military designs. Such ominous firearms hold no allure for me, in part because I doubt they’d do much good against a maniac carrying one or a hypothetical goon squad equipped with their vastly superior big brothers. Ban those guns. Neuter them. I’m fine with it. I can hunt with my shotguns and my deer gun (although I’ve grown tired of hunting), and I can protect myself from miscreants with my trusty .38.

To some in the gun-owning fraternity, this view makes me a traitor. So be it; I think they’re wrong. As they have repeatedly pointed out themselves, and as even Wayne LaPierre might agree, assault rifles are functionally similar to ordinary semi-automatic rifles, differing chiefly in their sinister cosmetics, not in their underlying ballistics. This being the case, what will be lost by giving them up? Nothing but their destabilizing allure for the grandiose, image-obsessed mass killers who favor them—and whose crimes represent a far greater risk to gun rights than does the perceived hostility of certain politicians. By assenting to such a ban, the gun-owning community can demonstrate precisely the sort of reasonable public-mindedness of which some believe it to be incapable. Otherwise, the showdown will go on and we will have only ourselves to blame if our self-destructive intransigence leaves us despised and cornered, with no way out.

I’ve quoted extensively, but please go read the rest—it’s a great, thoughtful essay that offered me, the non-gun guy,  a valuable perspective on some of what gun guys are thinking.  I already know what Tom the Dancing Bug is thinking…


(Thanks, TtheDB and GoComics.com)

and what the gun control people are thinking:

So let’s state the plain facts one more time, so that they can’t be mistaken: Gun massacres have happened many times in many countries, and in every other country, gun laws have been tightened to reflect the tragedy and the tragic knowledge of its citizens afterward. In every other country, gun massacres have subsequently become rare. In America alone, gun massacres, most often of children, happen with hideous regularity, and they happen with hideous regularity because guns are hideously and regularly available.

The people who fight and lobby and legislate to make guns regularly available are complicit in the murder of those children. They have made a clear moral choice: that the comfort and emotional reassurance they take from the possession of guns, placed in the balance even against the routine murder of innocent children, is of supreme value. Whatever satisfaction gun owners take from their guns—we know for certain that there is no prudential value in them—is more important than children’s lives. Give them credit: life is making moral choices, and that’s a moral choice, clearly made.