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15 May 15:51

People Who Work For Donald Trump Busy Fat-Shaming Diabetics. It Is Funny Because Of His Ass!

by Five Dollar Feminist
Donald Trump – Celebrity Style

This week, the New Yorker reminded us that Donald Trump “considers exercise misguided, arguing that a person, like a battery, is born with a finite amount of energy.” We are not here to make fun of Donald Trump’s substantial battery pack, however. Because we at Wonkette are not assholes like Mick Mulvaney, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Last week, Mulvaney walked up to a microphone in a room full of people and said,

That doesn’t mean we should take care of the person who sits at home, eats poorly and gets diabetes. Is that the same thing as Jimmy Kimmel’s kid? I don’t think that it is.

Because when a celebrity shames your party for being heartless bastards who would deprive babies of healthcare, you should DEFINITELY turn around and attack diabetics. It’s PR 101!

The American Diabetes Association was not having it.

Mr. Mulvaney’s comments perpetuate the stigma that one chooses to have diabetes based on his/her lifestyle. We are also deeply troubled by his assertion that access to health care should be rationed or denied to anyone.

All of the scientific evidence indicates that diabetes develops from a diverse set of risk factors, genetics being a primary cause. People with diabetes need access to affordable health care in order to effectively manage their disease and prevent dangerous and costly complications. Nobody should be denied coverage or charged more based on their health status.

What??? We’re not allowed to pretend that diabetes is a moral failure, so people who need insulin should just DIE so the rest of us can have cheap insurance? Next you’ll be saying we shouldn’t treat fat people like degenerate leeches who eat nothing but fried chicken.

Mulvaney’s not the only one promising Americans that AHCA will be sweeeeet because we can kick all those fat losers out of the pool. Representative Mo Brooks seems not to have gotten the Presidential Memo on personal energy conservation.

It will allow insurance companies to require people who have higher health care costs to contribute more to the insurance pool that helps offset all these costs, thereby reducing the cost to those people who lead good lives, they’re healthy, they’ve done the things to keep their bodies healthy.

And right now, those are the people who have done things the right way that are seeing their costs skyrocketing.

It’s so great that Mo Brooks will “allow” sick people to pay more so that the “people who lead good lives” can afford to buy fruits and vegetables. And it’s nice that Mick Mulvaney has sympathy for “Jimmy Kimmel’s kid” while he’s out there shilling for a plan that would allow health insurers to jack up premiums for “Jimmy Kimmel’s kid” for the rest of his life. Under AHCA, “Jimmy Kimmel’s kid” would have a preexisting condition that would make insurance unaffordable for anyone whose dad wasn’t, say, Jimmy Kimmel. It’s almost like these guys are completely full of shit!

The CBO scoring for the original Republican AHCA plan predicted that 24 million people would lose their health insurance. But that wasn’t fucking evil enough for those Freedom Caucus guys like Mo Brooks. So now they’ll allow insurers to jack up coverage for pre-existing conditions. Like Jimmy Kimmel’s kid’s congenital heart defects. And pregnancy (any past pregnancy, not just you being knocked up right this second). And being a victim of sexual assault, like one in four American women are.

Anticipating a shitstorm when the revised CBO score was released, Republicans raced to vote on their new and improved plan before those pencil pushers could say exactly how many million more Americans would lose coverage. But this week the CBO is going to tell us what a bloodbath we have in store. So, who will Republicans attack next to justify the cost savings for “people who lead good lives?” Albinos? Hemophiliacs?

Oh, wait….sickle cell anemia. That train is never late.

[New Yorker / Washington Times / PR Newswire / NYMag]

Morning, Wonkers! Another week when Wonkette is ad-free! Show us some love?

02 Jan 21:01

Post-holiday motivation

by Shakezula
Cattle Prod c 1950 With the advent of chutes, some cowboys turned in their lariats or lassos for cattle prods. This battery operated prod helped give cattle the incentive to move up through the chute. Ferruos metal, plastic, leather . L 65, D 4 cm Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, GRKO 1506

Cattleprod (Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site, GRKO 1506)

Perhaps you’re back at work after an extended holiday break. Or just suffering from the Monday blahs. You might even be at home and intending to work on a project or complete some chores.  But for whatever reason, you don’t want to do what you need to do and instead you’re staring at this screen.

I think the prospect of reading this melted mess of a Salon article by a former Washington Times writer might make doing anything else more palatable.

Recipe for a new Camelot: Donald Trump needs to ask what he can do for the country first

Donald Trump might have the right ingredients to become a JFK-like president — if his ego and ambition will let him

I know this may seem rather cruel.

Obviously President-elect Donald Trump isn’t the shy type, and whatever his presidency becomes, it will be rendered in bold strokes. Bill Gates, Microsoft cofounder and the richest person in the world, said in an interview with CNBC last month that he thinks Trump has the potential to cut a John F. Kennedy-like figure.

It hurts me more than it hurts you.

This is a clearly a high bar, and based on Trump’s campaign behavior alone, one that he was unlikely to clear. But Trump appears to be shedding the more incendiary components of his campaign persona now and taking a more palatable approach as Inauguration Day nears.

(To provide proof of the more palatable approach, Sheffield links to another article she wrote.)

Perhaps a sudden wave of nausea caused by a ghoulish strawman with a note reading GOTCHA LIBS pinned to its head will do the trick.

There’s also the question of a Trump family dynasty, and whether this White House could start a neo-Camelot narrative. Ironically, many liberals today are enamored with the Camelot mythology, even after President Kennedy named his brother Bobby attorney general. Forbes ran an interview with Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, pointing out that it’s unlikely Kushner can hold a formal position in the Trump White House because of nepotism laws signed by Lyndon B. Johnson after JFK to prevent the president from giving government roles to relatives — including in-laws.

Well, if no one else is sick of this shit, I am.



28 Apr 19:10

Wonderfully detailed insect photos, composed of thousands of images

by whyevolutionistrue

From The Colossal comes a great post with amazing photos of pinned insects, and the method used to take them will surely interest the photographers in the audience.

First, a few photos, which are in much lower resolution than the original. Let me add that these pictures, taken by Levon Bliss, will be on exhibit at the Oxford Museum of Natural History from May 27 until October of this year. If you’re in Oxford, by all means see it.

First, a few photos:






This video tells you what you need to know about how they were made. Hint: they weren’t single images, but composites of thousands of them, taken by a camera that moves only a few microns between shots:

And a gif showing how they make large prints. Such images of course require that everything be in focus.



h/t: Jeremy

08 Mar 19:17

Letter to Jake on the Agonies of Parallel Creation

by CGP Grey

Class act.

Parallel creation is one of the hazards of a creative professional career. Ideas are memetic so it's no surprise that people are often working on the same topic at the same time. My slow production cycle means I've often gotten bitten by it and I know I've bitten others. I came across this video by Jake of Vsauce3 talking about the transporter paradox video he intended to release today... but... yeah.

It's a sucky situation with no one at fault and no easy answer of what to do. As such I wrote a letter this morning to Jake trying to express my thoughts:

Jake's video asking for advice:

My transporter paradox video:

Jake's Transporter Paradox video:

21 Feb 23:35

That Explains the Platypus!

by Hemant Mehta

This is a guest post by Alan Bao.

Origin of Species Alternate Flattened

08 Dec 03:14

Talking Productively About Guns

by Ken White

Well said.

I confess from the start of this: I enjoy unproductive talk. Boasting, bloviating, berating, shouting, snarking, and swearing are all pleasures, indulged with little if any guilt. My purpose is not to condemn such behavior. How could I? We just brought on Marc Randazza and the man swears like a drunken Newark stevedore with his dick caught in a French press.

At least most of the time, I grasp that my self-indulgence doesn't accomplish much. It pleases me, it entertains like-minded people, and it reaffirms that which people already believe.

But it doesn't persuade. It neither seeks nor finds common ground.

Much of our modern American dialogue about gun rights and gun control is like that. We yell, we signal to the like-minded, we circle our wagons, we take shots at opponents. But we don't change minds. Take a look at the discussion of guns on your Facebook feed right now. Do you think it's going to build a majority on any issue?

Say we wanted to have a productive conversation. Imagine we wanted to identify our irreducible philosophical and practical differences, seek any areas of agreement, persuade anyone on the fence, and change some minds. What might we do?

Gun Talk Is Cultural Talk, And Culture Matters

First, we'd have to stop framing the debate in terms that suggest "I hate you and everyone like you. I hate how you live your life."

Most of our talk about guns is cultural signalling. We use guns as shorthand for a bundle of ideas. I saw this on my Facebook feed last week:


I'm sure this felt good to the people who made it and distributed it, and to the like-minded people who saw it. But it didn't persuade anyone — other than, perhaps, a few more people to vote Republican. It's a classic example of guns-as-culture. In this bundle, guns mean Republican, guns mean conservative, guns mean not liking President Obama, guns mean religious, guns mean socially traditional, guns mean rural, guns mean football and Nascar and using fewer than five words to order coffee. The intended message may be "fuck the people who don't seriously debate gun control because they accept vast campaign donations and they are afraid of NRA-led primary attacks and who refuse to even consider whether there's something we can do about madmen spraying crowds of innocents with bullets." But your message is "fuck you and your flyover-country Daddy teaching you to shoot in the woods behind the house when you were twelve and fuck the church you went to afterwards."

This goes for both sides. Consider this, also recently popular:


Your intended message may be "the government doesn't get to determine my rights based on its assessment of what I 'need," nor do fellow citizens who may arbitrarily determine I don't 'need' a wide variety of things based on their concerns." But what you are conveying is that "the people who want gun control are God-hating, kale-chewing, coastal-elite socialists who want to imprison your pastor for not marrying gays."

A lot of this is deliberate. We use culture-bundling to get out the vote, or to associate one policy position with another one. It's as American as apple pie. But is it working for you here? Reasonable gun control advocates, how far will you get with the message "a vote for reasonable gun control is a 'fuck you' to the hicks"? Gun control opponents, for how long do you think you'll thrive with "allowing gun control is like allowing gay marriage"?

If you want to culture-bundle, have fun. But don't pretend you're actually going to change anything.

Gun Terminology Matters

If we had the "reasonable gun control" I keep hearing about, what guns would be limited? I'm arguably not a complete idiot, but I can't figure it out. I hear "nobody wants to take away all your guns" a lot — which seems demonstrably false — but what guns do gun-control advocates want to take away, or restrict? Most of the time I don't know and I suspect that the advocates don't know either.

That's because there's a terminology gap. Many people advocating for gun control mangle and misuse descriptive words about guns. No doubt some of them are being deliberately ambiguous, but I think most people just haven't educated themselves on the meaning of a relatively small array of terms. That's how you get a debate framed around gibberish like "multi-automatic round weapons" and the like. You get people using "semi-automatic" and "automatic" without knowing what they mean, and you get the term "assault weapon" thrown about as if it means more than whatever we choose to make it mean, which it does not.

If you don't understand these terms already, why should you care? You should care because when you misuse them, you signal substantially broader gun restrictions than you may actually be advocating. So, for instance, if you have no idea what semi-automatic means, but you've heard it and it sounds scary, and you assume that it means some kind of machine gun, so you argue semi-automatics should be restricted, you've just conveyed that most modern handguns (save for revolvers) should be restricted, even if that's not what you meant.

It's hard to grasp the reaction of someone who understands gun terminology to someone who doesn't. So imagine we're going through one of our periodic moral panics over dogs and I'm trying to persuade you that there should be restrictions on, say, Rottweilers.

Me: I don't want to take away dog owners' rights. But we need to do something about Rottweilers.
You: So what do you propose?
Me: I just think that there should be some sort of training or restrictions on owning an attack dog.
You: Wait. What's an "attack dog?"
Me: You know what I mean. Like military dogs.
You: Huh? Rottweilers aren't military dogs. In fact "military dogs" isn't a thing. You mean like German Shepherds?
Me: Don't be ridiculous. Nobody's trying to take away your German Shepherds. But civilians shouldn't own fighting dogs.
You: I have no idea what dogs you're talking about now.
Me: You're being both picky and obtuse. You know I mean hounds.
You: What the fuck.
Me: OK, maybe not actually ::air quotes:: hounds ::air quotes::. Maybe I have the terminology wrong. I'm not obsessed with vicious dogs like you. But we can identify kinds of dogs that civilians just don't need to own.
You: Can we?

Because I'm just talking out of my ass, the impression I convey is that I want to ban some arbitrary, uninformed category of dogs that I can't articulate. Are you comfortable that my rule is going to be drawn in a principled, informed, narrow way?

So. If you'd like to persuade people to accept some sort of restrictions on guns, consider educating yourself so you understand the terminology that you're using. And if you're reacting to someone suggesting gun restrictions, and they seem to suggest something nonsensical, consider a polite question of clarification about terminology.

Rights Matter. Too Bad We Suck At Discussing Them.

Seven years ago in District of Columbia v. Heller a bare majority of the Supreme Court agreed that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to bear arms. Plenty of folks like that; plenty of folks don't. But even if we had a consensus about whether or not their interpretation is correct, we'd still be talking past each other, because we're terrible at talking about rights.

I hear "my right not to be shot outweighs your right to own a gun." This strikes me as perfectly idiotic. But it's no more idiotic than an imagined right not to be criticized or offended, which is far more popular in modern America.

We've lost the plot. We don't know where rights come from, we don't know or care from whom they protect us, we don't know how to analyze proposed restrictions to them, and brick by brick we've built a culture that scorns rights in the face of real or imagined risks. It is therefore inevitable that talk about Second Amendment rights will be met with scorn or shrugs, and that discussions of what restrictions on rights are permissible will be mushy and unprincipled.

Last night the President of the United States — the President of the United States — suggested that people should be deprived of Second Amendment rights if the government, using secret criteria, in a secret process using secret facts, puts them onto a list that is almost entirely free of due process or judicial review. Because we're afraid, because they could be dangerous was his only justification; he didn't engage the due process issue at all. But he was merely sauntering down a smooth, comfortable, well-lit road paved by most Republicans and Democrats before him since the rise of "tough on crime" rhetoric and especially since 9/11. The President — and other Democrats — may hope that Americans will trust progressives not to overreach in restricting rights. That hope is patently misplaced; Democrats and mainstream progressives haven't been worth a squirt of hot piss on due process or criminal justice rights for more than a generation. In the Great War on Terror and the Great War on Drugs, they're like Bill Murray in Stripes: mildly counter-cultural and occasionally a little mouthy but enthusiastically using the same weapons in the same fight against the same perceived enemy.

And Republicans! Don't get me started. You can't sneer at constitutional rights for a decade and a half and then expect them to be a credible shield when you abruptly decide they matter again. With few exceptions, Republicans arguing about Second Amendment rights resemble a kid becoming a sudden rules-lawyer halfway through a game of Calvinball.

Gun control opponents complain that gun control advocates don't respect their rights and don't seriously engage the topic of rights. Fair enough. But that conversation can't happen until we make an effort to repair how we talk about constitutional rights in general. We might even improve how we address the philosophical underpinnings of our entire society while we're at it.

If a prominent gun control opponent said, "I've made some mistakes since 9/11. Here they are. Here's how I'm going to avoid them in the future. And here's why I don't want to make them again on guns," I would listen very carefully to that person's arguments. If a prominent gun control advocate said "here's how we've fallen down on respecting rights since 9/11. Here's how we can approach this problem in a way that respects rights that can be a model for governing in the face of danger and fear in general," I would listen.

But if you just want to vent? I've got Facebook for that, thanks.

Copyright 2015 by the named Popehat author.
14 Aug 01:08

Postcards from the culture wars (8.13)

by Fred Clark

Click here to view the embedded video.

“Nearly 80 percent of low-wage workers don’t get paid sick leave. That’s a problem for everyone, but hits pregnant workers particularly hard since they’ll likely need to take more days off than non-pregnant colleagues to take care of themselves.”

“Contrary to what Republican men think, none of us ever went into a Planned Parenthood for a well woman exam, cancer screening or birth control and mistakenly had an abortion instead. We know what Planned Parenthood is and that is why we love and support its mission.”

“According to a new study that tracked hundreds of women who had abortions, more than 95 percent of participants reported that ending a pregnancy was the right decision for them. Feelings of relief outweighed any negative emotions, even three years after the procedure.”

“They always want to criminalize the providers, not the users of abortion services, when it would only make sense if they truly believed that abortion is ‘murder’ that they go after the necessary co-conspirator.”

“Republicans, by announcing their intent to strip federal funds for Planned Parenthood, are announcing their intent to deny funding for birth control, pap smears, cancer screening and early treatment, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.”

“The pastor did not explain how reducing Planned Parenthood’s annual $540 million in federal funding would cover the over $18 trillion of total outstanding public debt.”

“Until the eve of his presidential campaign, Jeb Bush was director of a philanthropy that gave tens of millions of dollars to Planned Parenthood and financed its advocacy of ‘unrestricted access to abortion’ around the world.”

WomaninthePulpit“In February 2012, about six months before the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate went into effect, Wheaton dropped contraception coverage from its employee insurance.”

“When he was asked if he would use U.S. troops or the FBI to back the guarantee of equal rights for fetuses, Huckabee replied, ‘We’ll see, if I get to be president.’”

“Aside from all the other considerations mentioned in the article, upon becoming aware that she is carrying a legally incompetent person, would the woman have to go to court to petition for guardianship?

“The Religious Institute is just one of numerous organizations advocating for contraceptive access, abortion rights, and LGBT rights motivated by — and not despite — Christian faith.”

“In some ways, Young’s situation was impossibly unique. Yet it also recalls the millions of unwanted sexual encounters that entire generations of women did not talk about, in part because they couldn’t: They literally did not have the language to do so.”

“I had to keep retelling my story to a dude who didn’t even care, and who kept asking me to prove that I wasn’t some whore who forgot that I said that this guy could have sex with me.”

“Virginia Wesleyan College is asking a woman who reported being sexually assaulted to name every partner she has ever had.”

“When rape kits remain untested and sitting on a shelf, the consequences can be nothing short of devastating.”

I do not have to make room for people in my life who diminish my humanity and deny my sacred worth.”

“Honestly, short of chaining themselves to a courtroom door, I have no idea what these fools think they might be going to jail for.”

The U.S. is locking up immigrant children in private prisons under inhumane conditions.”

“As Sayed and Waleed and the others describe their various demises, it strikes me that the key to making a living in Hollywood if you’re Muslim is to be good at dying.”

White Jesus has forgotten how to suffer with us when we are suffering.”




10 Aug 15:34

How to get personalized autographed copies of my books

by correia45

I was lucky enough to catch him at a book signing. Really nice guy, I've enjoyed what I've read of his stuff so far.

I used to take orders for personalized autographs here on the blog, but the constant shipping just turned into a nightmare, so I quit doing it. I do personalized signings in person whenever I’m at an event, but the hard part there is that I can’t go everywhere.

Luckily, every year when I go on book tour I try to stop at Uncle Hugos. They are the store that introduced my self published MHI to Toni at Baen, so I love those guys. I’ll be there again in October for the release of Son of the Black Sword.

One nice thing about Uncle Hugos is that they will take orders for personalized autographs. So if you’ve got any requests, or want to give away any copies as gifts, and you aren’t going to be near any of my tour stops, this is your chance.

I usually fly in a day early so I can go straight there, and sign autographs for the copies that need to be shipped. The last few times I signed hundreds of books waiting to be shipped before the actual book signing.

It doesn’t have to be just the new book (though you should get SotBS, because it is awesome, and I’m really proud of it) but Uncle Hugos will bring in copies of everything. So if you want to give away a bunch of autographed Hard Magics or MHIs for Christmas, with their name in it from me, we can do that. And I’ll write pretty much anything. I’ll even doodle (badly) if you want.

This works well for everybody. You guys get personalized autographed copies, Uncle Hugos sells lots of books, and I don’t have to have half my office dedicated to shipping and receiving (I needed the space for mini painting!).

14 Jul 20:09

Back from New Mexico and updates

by correia45

I was able to go to the signing. Really nice guy. I'm enjoying Grimnoir 1 so far.

Forgive the lack of blogging recently. There are a bunch of topics I’d like to talk about, but I’ve been swamped with travel and writing. Not to mention I’ve got to get a book out the door and another one completely edited before I head out on book tour in October. So here are some quick updates.

The Albuquerque signing went great. It was a good crowd, I got there early and stayed late, talked for a while about secret projects I’m probably not supposed to, and signed a bunch of books. People drove all the way from southern Colorado, Tucson Arizona, and El Paso Texas to be there. I was in Albuquerque for my wife’s family reunion. I tacked on this book signing at short notice, so I’d like to thank the Cottonwoods Corner B&N for throwing it together so quickly.

Okay, update time.

My next novel Son of the Black Sword releases in October. Early reviews on it are great. Epic fantasy is new territory for me, so fingers crossed that it does well. Which reminds me, I need to write a blog post about the importance of preorders or buying during release week for the author’s stat boost. :)

Right now I’m working on the third and final Dead Six novel with Mike Kupari. It should be done by the end of summer. Approximate release date, unknown. Our working title for years has been Project Blue, but that won’t be the final title. I’m really enjoying this one.

Then I will be doing the final edits on the John Ringo’s Monster Hunter International universe novel, Grunge. (Which is awesome by the way). John has written more, and if you follow him on Facebook, he’s put out lots of snippets. So this is my universe, but takes place in the 1980s before the events of the main series starts.

I just got done judging the final stories for the 2nd annual Baen Fantasy Short Story contest. Again, we had a ton of entries, and the ten finalists were all good and very different. “Fantasy” is a really broad category. The judges picked, debated, and we have our winners. They are being contacted this week.

People keep asking me if there are more MHI novels. Yes. In the near future, in addition to the Ringo spin off series, I’ve got another Owen novel in the works, and another collaboration set in the current timeline. After that there are still several more planned.

Oh, and don’t forget, we’ve got the MHI anthology coming out in 2017 too, edited by me and Bryan Thomas Schmidt. It is filled with big name authors, who will be playing in the MHI universe. I believe our final count was 6 or 7 NYT bestsellers in there. I’m really excited for this one.

Because of popular demand, we are going to be doing another run of MHI challenge coins soon. However, I don’t know if we’re going to be doing it on Kickstarter or just taking orders for a month on the blog and then producing them. Kickstarter is great (we sold over $100,000 worth of merch last time) but between them and the processing, they take 10%. That’s great if it is the kind of project where being on Kickstarter attracts more new people, but this is a pretty weirdly specific type of item, so I don’t know if KS really directed that much extra traffic our way.

Either way, more coins, coming soon. To keep the collector value up on the original run, these are all new. Because the PUFF tag is the one that is in the most demand, we have made a “probationary PUFF exemption tag” and the new version is bronze instead of silver.

Okay, miscellaneous other news. No details yet, but there will be a new Tom Stranger, Interdimensional Insurance Agent, project. Details to follow. I’ve got a couple of really cool things I can’t announce yet. NDAs or waiting on contract details.

I think I’m about done red shirting all the people who donated to charity last time, so I’ll be picking another charity and gathering people’s names to have you cameo in books. The last Monster Hunter Nation charity redshirting was a huge success.

Updates given, now back to work!

22 May 18:43

Pervy Virginia Dem Who Won Election From Jail Will Marry Teen Secretary, Rule Galaxy

by Doktor Zoom

On today of all news days, this is the lolwut of the day.

Nothing weird in this relationship, no sir.

Nothing weird in this relationship, no sir.

In a pleasant change of pace, here’s a reminder that there are lots of gross people out there whose last name doesn’t rhyme with “fugger”: Weird former member of the Virginia House of Delegates Joe Morrissey is getting married to the teenaged receptionist with whom he fathered a babby. Despite pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor last year, Morrissey insists that he and his bride-to-be, Myrna Pride, never did the nasty until she was very definitely of age. Ms. Pride also said, at a press appearance where they announced their plans to marry, “I never engaged in a sexual [act] with Mr. Morrissey until I was of legal age,” so all of you people should just shut up now. Which sort of makes you wonder why he’d take a plea deal to avoid felony charges resulting from both the relationship and from showing pornographic photos of Pride to a friend.

Read more on Pervy Virginia Dem Who Won Election From Jail Will Marry Teen Secretary, Rule Galaxy…

23 Feb 17:09

Hunter Moore and Federal Prosecutorial Power

by Ken White

How do you fix this?

About twenty years ago, when I was about as old as The Simpsons are now, I was asked to decide whether a man would ever leave federal prison alive.

I was a rookie federal prosecutor, and the guy was one of my defendants. He robbed banks to support his heroin habit. He brandished a gun, and was caught with it when he was arrested after the fifth bank. His fate was sealed by the decision to prosecute him federally. The feds charged him with five counts of bank robbery and five counts of carrying a firearm in the course of a federal crime. (Bank robbery is a federal crime when the victim bank is insured by the FDIC.) That carrying charge — under title 18, United States Code, section 924(c) — carried a mandatory minimum term of five years for the first charge, and twenty-five years consecutive for each subsequent charge, to be added on top of any sentence for the underlying crime.

I'm not bothered by the concept that a heroin addict who goes on an armed bank robbing spree should get a substantial sentence to incapacitate him. But I am troubled that 26-year-old me — callow, righteous, and stupid in a highly educated way — was asked to recommend whether he'd get at least 30 years, or at least 55, or at least 80. It was my case, and so I was asked to recommend to the Chief of the Criminal Division how many counts of Section 924(c) the guy had to plead to.

I recommended two — the cautious and midline answer — resulting in a thirty-year mandatory minimum sentence, plus a guideline sentence for bank robbery. Could I have gotten away with one, resulting in a five-year mandatory minimum, or three, resulting in a 55-year mandatory minimum? Probably. I can be pretty persuasive.

In the federal system, the guy will do at least 85% of his sentence. I could check how much time he has left, but I don't remember his name.

Should I, at 26, have had that sort of power? Should even a veteran prosecutor have it?

Few journalists understand federal sentencing, and as a consequence few citizens understand it. The ridiculously complex federal sentencing guidelines are a constant source of confusion, and this confusion helps obscure the vast power prosecutors have to guide the sentence by choosing the charges to which defendants may plead.

Take the thoroughly despicable Hunter Moore, revenge pornographer and extortionist. He's signed a plea agreement committing to plead guilty to unauthorized access to computers and to aggravated identity theft. That's based on his participation in a scheme to hack into women's accounts and steal their intimate pictures using their misappropriated usernames. He's going to jail, and he ought to. But who ought to decide how long he spends there?

The federal judge who sentences him will have only limited power to determine his sentence, thanks to clever exercise of prosecutorial power. The extraordinarily versatile federal criminal code lets prosecutors guide the sentence by choosing what to charge and then what to offer as a plea deal. Here, in addition to the obvious charges (plain-vanilla conspiracy, and hacking under the rather vague and antiquated 18 U.S.C. section 1030), prosecutors cleverly charged him with seven counts of aggravated identity theft under 18 U.S.C. section 1028A, on the theory that Moore and his co-conspirator used the victims' misappropriated identity — their account usernames — to steal their pictures for profit.

That section carries a two-year mandatory minimum sentence. That effectively gave prosecutors the power to determine whether or not Hunter Moore would go to federal prison, by determining what guilty plea they offered him. For better or worse, Moore's plea agreement shows that the recommended sentence under the federal sentencing guidelines is quite lenient: the parties stipulate to start at an offense level of 8, which permits probation as a sentence. The government may well argue for multiple enhancements, but the likely range of recommended sentences is low. But the government exercised its power to make Moore plead to one count of aggravated identity theft, putting a mandatory-minimum two year floor on his sentence, on top of which the judge will impose the guideline sentence. Moore's quite fortunate that the aggravated identity theft statute is relatively lenient about mandatory minimums; it gives the judge discretion whether to make them consecutive when there are multiple counts. In other words, if the feds made Moore plead to five counts of aggravated identity theft, the mandatory minimum sentence would still be only two years. That's in sharp contrast with most mandatory minimums, like the one I was called upon to recommend twenty years ago.

Do I think Hunter Moore should do less than two years? No, absolutely not. I think he should do more.

Do I think federal prosecutors should have absolute discretion and power to determine whether or not people charged with crimes should do at least two years in federal prison, or get some other sentence the judge thinks is appropriate? No. That scares the hell out of me. Hunter Moore is not a sympathetic defendant, and the hacking in which he participated is clearly malicious and criminal. But the feds have stretched and distorted ambiguous federal computer statutes to prosecute the likes of Lori Drew (federally prosecuted for creating a fake MySpace account to mock her daughter's rival), Aaron Swartz (prosecuted for mass-downloading scholarly articles to make them free to all), or the troll Weev (prosecuted for guessing URLs correctly to demonstrate a serious flaw in AT&T's online security). Not all potential defendants are Hunter Moores.

Two two-year mandatory-minimum power is modest, compared to the power I exercised over that bank robber's life, and compared to the power routinely exercised over the lives of drug defendants. But the power to determine whether someone might get probation or home detention, or whether they must do two years in federal prison, is still mighty. As of now, as the Moore case illustrates, if you misuse someone else's username for profit, federal prosecutors will decide whether or not you go to jail for two years. The judge will decide how much time to tack onto that, but with respect to that two years, the judge is just along for the ride.

Why should we trust that power in the hands of the federal government? Why should we give that sort of power to people like me?

Hunter Moore and Federal Prosecutorial Power © 2007-2014 by the authors of Popehat. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. Using this feed on any other site is a copyright violation. No scraping.

08 Feb 02:25

Parenting Without God Isn’t Just a Good Option It’s Increasingly Looking Like the Better One

by Rachel Ford

Last month, an op-ed about secular parenting by Phil Zuckerman, author and Pitzer College professor of Sociology and Secular Studies, was published in the LA Times. In the piece, Zuckerman discusses his own and other researchers’ work, in measuring the success, or lack thereof, of raising kids to be “good without God.”

And the results seem to indicate the secular community is doing as good a job, and in some measures possibly a better job, than their peers.

The results of such secular child-rearing are encouraging. Studies have found that secular teenagers are far less likely to care what the “cool kids” think, or express a need to fit in with them, than their religious peers. When these teens mature into “godless” adults, they exhibit less racism than their religious counterparts, according to a 2010 Duke University study. Many psychological studies show that secular grownups tend to be less vengeful, less nationalistic, less militaristic, less authoritarian and more tolerant, on average, than religious adults.

… Secular adults are more likely to understand and accept the science concerning global warming, and to support women’s equality and gay rights. One telling fact from the criminology field: Atheists were almost absent from our prison population as of the late 1990s, comprising less than half of 1% of those behind bars, according to Federal Bureau of Prisons statistics.

Of course, while this is encouraging news, it should be noted (as Zuckerman does) that researchers have only recently started to examine secular culture. There isn’t a complete picture yet, but what is out there is certainly promising.

And it shouldn’t be surprising. It seems far more likely that a system of values derived from empathy and reason would provide a better, more moral outlook than a set of arbitrary, purportedly infallible external dictates. A community that promotes skepticism, rational thinking, and scientifically accurate information should produce children who value accuracy and solid information over hearsay and authoritarian commands. People who reject religious ideas about LGBT rights and women’s rights are going to be less likely to embrace the largely religious opposition to those rights. A set of people that doesn’t get forgiveness based on belief must instead own up to their own misdeeds — and answer to those they’ve wronged, as well as their own consciences, instead of a God who forgives all in exchange for belief.

It goes without saying that merely being secular doesn’t mean you necessarily value skepticism, science, equality, etc.; or that being religious means you reject them. It seems, however, that a large enough proportion of the secular community does place enough of an emphasis on those values — and is passing them on to their children — to make the impact noticeable.

(via Jezebel. Image via Shutterstock)

17 Jun 17:57

This is not good news. This is not salvation.

by Fred Clark

Yeah, this was never touched on in my Christian school's history text books.

Thomas Kidd’s short post today on African American poet Phillis Wheatley gave me pause when it came to his discussion of George Whitefield — the great evangelist of the Great Awakening whose death was the subject of Wheatley’s first popular poem.

I didn’t realize that Whitefield was a slave-owner — an untroubled, unrepentant, complacent slave-owner.

But he was actually worse than that.

Growing up in the white evangelical subculture, I knew a bit about Whitefield. We studied the Great Awakening in history classes at my evangelical Christian school, and every such lesson included descriptions of Whitefield’s spectacular gifts as a preacher, the huge crowds his outdoor sermons drew, and the revival that followed in his wake.

Nearly everything I encountered about Whitefield was along the lines of this brief hagiography from a few years ago in Christian History magazine. That article mentions that Whitefield first came to the colonies as a missionary to Georgia. And it recalls the famous orphanage he founded in Georgia — without mentioning that this orphanage was also a plantation built upon stolen labor and stolen lives.

Here is all that history has to say about Whitefield and slavery and Georgia:

Whitefield also made the slave community a part of his revivals, though he was far from an abolitionist. Nonetheless, he increasingly sought out audiences of slaves and wrote on their behalf. The response was so great that some historians date it as the genesis of African-American Christianity.

Everywhere Whitefield preached, he collected support for an orphanage he had founded in Georgia during his brief stay there in 1738, though the orphanage left him deep in debt for most of his life.

But its’ far, far worse than that.

When Whitefield first founded his orphanage in 1738, slavery was illegal in the colony of Georgia. The evangelist was certain, however, that “hot countries cannot be cultivated without negroes,” and that legal slavery would be the key to making his endeavors there profitable. So George Whitfield — who was, as Christian History said, “probably the most famous religious figure of the 18th century” — began lobbying the crown and the trustees of the colony to make slavery legal there.

Whitefield’s efforts were essential to that cause. Without his hard work, slavery might never have become legal in Georgia.

Let that sink in. Ponder that — the immensity of it, the consequences of it, the incalculable toll and immeasurable injustice of it.

And then ask yourself whether it is possible that such a grievous evil could be so inextricably woven in with the revivalism of the Great Awakening without in any way influencing the form, shape, and substance of that revival and the kind of Christianity it planted here in American soil.

Ah, but Whitefield was simply a “man of his time.” Hogwash. John Woolman was also a man of Whitefield’s time.

But my point here is not to pass judgment on George Whitefield. My point here is to learn from corrosive rot that infected the gospel according to George Whitefield so that we can learn to guard ourselves against the same lethally evil disease — to identify, root out, and cauterize every instance of its lingering presence in our faith, theology, culture and law.

Here are the symptoms. This is deadly. This is what death looks like, from Whitefield’s correspondence — a letter he wrote on March 22, 1751:

As for the lawfulness of keeping slaves, I have no doubt, since I hear of some that were bought with Abraham’s money, and some that were born in his house.—And I cannot help thinking, that some of those servants mentioned by the Apostles in their epistles, were or had been slaves. It is plain, that the Gibeonites were doomed to perpetual slavery, and though liberty is a sweet thing to such as are born free, yet to those who never knew the sweets of it, slavery perhaps may not be so irksome. However this be, it is plain to a demonstration, that hot countries cannot be cultivated without negroes. What a flourishing country might Georgia have been, had the use of them been permitted years ago? How many white people have been destroyed for want of them, and how many thousands of pounds spent to no purpose at all? Had Mr Henry been in America, I believe he would have seen the lawfulness and necessity of having negroes there. And though it is true, that they are brought in a wrong way from their own country, and it is a trade not to be approved of, yet as it will be carried on whether we will or not; I should think myself highly favoured if I could purchase a good number of them, in order to make their lives comfortable, and lay a foundation for breeding up their posterity in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. You know, dear Sir, that I had no hand in bringing them into Georgia; though my judgement was for it, and so much money was yearly spent to no purpose, and I was strongly importuned thereto, yet I would not have a negro upon my plantation, till the use of them was publicly allowed in the colony. Now this is done, dear Sir, let us reason no more about it, but diligently improve the present opportunity for their instruction. The trustees favour it, and we may never have a like prospect. It rejoiced my soul, to hear that one of my poor negroes in Carolina was made a brother in Christ. How know we but we may have many such instances in Georgia ere it be long?

This is not good news. This is not salvation. This cannot be reconciled with the gospel.

The man who wrote those words was surely, at some fundamental, essential level, wrong about the meaning of the good news and of salvation.

And yet today, in 2014, the white evangelical understanding of good news and salvation is still shaped and bounded by the model and teachings of the man who wrote that passage above.

That’s a problem.

That’s a huge problem.


03 Mar 21:00

Rush Limbaugh: ’12 Years A Slave’ only won an Oscar because slave is a ‘magic word’

by David Edwards

Limbaugh, so classy.

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh on Monday said that the reason that the film “12 Years A Slave” won best picture was because “it had the magic word in the title: slave.”

On his Monday radio show following Sunday night’s 86th Academy Awards, Limbaugh said that the entire night had been “entirely” political.

“It always is, everything to the left is political,” the host opined. “There was no demonstrable political preaching from anybody.”

He noted that Oscars host Ellen DeGeneres had joked that “you’re all racists” if “12 Years A Slave” did not win best picture.

“All good comedy must be rooted in truth,” Limbaugh quipped. “There’s no way that movie was not going to win! If it was the only thing that movie won, it was going to win best picture. There was no way. It didn’t matter if it was good or bad — I haven’t seen it — it was going to win.”

“It had the magic word in the title: slave.”

Listen to the audio below from the Rush Limbaugh Program, broadcast March 3, 2014.

(h/t: Media Matters)

[Photo credit: AFP]

15 Feb 15:56

Kola Borehole

Tonight's top story: Lucifer, the Prince of Darkness, died in his home this morning at the age of [unintelligible rune]. Due to the large number of sharks inhabiting his former kingdom, no body could be recovered.
01 Feb 07:09

Kyle’s Censored Speech From Mohammed South Park Episode Restored

by Daniel Fincke
Via the two redditors and the A.V. Club comes Kyle’s restored speech from the end of South Park episode 201 satirizing censorship that Comedy Central cowardly censored for fear of reprisals by Muslim extremists. Below is the video., the official site for streaming South Park episodes, does not have episodes 200 or 201 up. [Read More...]
31 Jan 15:59

Colleges Are Slow Learners

by Andrew Sullivan

About time someone says it. I love education, but it's been off in fantasyland for a while.

Declaring the Golden Age of higher education over, Clay Shirky wants the academic world to face reality:

The number of high-school graduates underserved or unserved by higher education today dwarfs the number of people for whom that system works well. The reason to bet on the spread of large-scale low-cost education isn’t the increased supply of new technologies. It’s the massive demand for education, which our existing institutions are increasingly unable to handle. That demand will go somewhere.

Those of us in the traditional academy could have a hand in shaping that future, but doing so will require us to relax our obsessive focus on elite students, institutions, and faculty. It will require us to stop regarding ourselves as irreplaceable occupiers of sacred roles, and start regarding ourselves as people who do several jobs society needs done, only one of which is creating new knowledge. It will also require us to abandon any hope of restoring the Golden Age. It was a nice time, but it wasn’t stable, and it didn’t last, and it’s not coming back.

30 Jan 17:37

Your Criticism of My Holocaust Analogy Is Like Yet ANOTHER Holocaust

by Ken White

Well put as always.

When Tom Perkins wrote his letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal suggesting that very rich people are facing a "progressive Kristallnacht," the marketplace of ideas functioned as advertised. Tom Perkins said something very stupid, and was widely ridiculed as someone who had said something very stupid. He was the butt of many jokes and his former associates distanced themselves from him.

Perkins' comment was self-serious and inflammatory enough to be slightly novel. The reaction was mundane. So was the utterly predictable reaction to the reaction. This time, that sur-reaction is delivered by the Wall Street Journal, in an editorial helpfully titled "Perkinsnacht: Liberal Vituperation Makes Our Letter Writer's Point."

Maybe the critics are afraid that Mr. Perkins is onto something about the left's political method. Consider the recent record of liberals in power.

The Journal goes on to decry genuine abuses of power — like the IRS's despicable targeting of ideologically incorrect groups — and rhetorical douchebaggery from the likes of Andrew Cuomo and Bill DeBlasio. The Journal sullenly concludes:

The liberals aren't encouraging violence, but they are promoting personal vilification and the abuse of government power to punish political opponents.

But personal vilification isn't violence, and it is right and fit to call people out every time they say it is, and then call them out again when they double down.

Vigorous and hurtful and unpleasant speech is what we have instead of violence. Our ability to level such viscerally satisfying attacks on speech we don't like is a crucial part of what convinces us, as a nation, not to censor speech we don't like. In Europe, Tom Perkins might face official sanctions for saying the wrong thing about the Holocaust; here, he faces late-night jokes and insulting cartoons and the contempt of many. I like our way better.

It's common, now, to indulge in rhetoric that conflates criticism with violence or official oppression. People — mostly African-Americans — were actually lynched by mobs in this country less than a century ago. But now "lynch mob" is generally invoked when someone acts like an asshole and, in the judgment of their supporters, too many people are pointing it out at once. Real kids commit real suicide because of real bullying while advocates of the Right and the Left invoke "bullying" to describe having one's views criticized or questioned. In some countries people are still executed for witchcraft or condemned to jail or death by inquisitions; here when people say "witch hunt" or "inquisition" we generally mean we think public criticism of someone's obnoxious behavior is excessive. We're told that the "masculine and muscular" are at "risk" or "danger" because of feminized culture. As I understand it the particular risk is being made fun of on MSNBC, which muscular masculinity is apparently too timid to sustain.

All of this silly rhetoric is itself free speech, of course. But it's not harmless speech. It's pernicious. Conflating speech and violence encourages citizens to think that speech should be controlled like violence. That's not a abstract danger. It's real. States continue to pass idiotic "cyber-bulling" statutes, blundering around the legal landscape trying to determine which insults are hurtful enough to criminalize. American institutions continue to censor speech by willfully misconstruing protected rhetoric as unprotected threats. Police and prosecutors imprison kids for what are clearly jokes and investigate authors of critical reviews for "harassment." Left-leaning law professors argue that speech on the internet ought to be regulated to protect the civil rights of participants deterred from participation by harmful speech, using rhetoric that sounds suspiciously like what Right-leaning folks use when they complain that "political correctness" deters them from participating.

So: indulge yourself if you must. Call the people speaking ill of you a "lynch mob." Call that person criticizing your political screed a "cyber-bully." Cry "witch hunt" when someone doesn't like what you say. Cry "Holocaust" if you're rich and you don't like people pointing out that the system is rigged in favor of the rich.6 But just know that the price of your self-seriousness is the creeping notion that speech is just like action, and that therefore maybe we ought to regulate it a little more.

That's why I, as a defender of free speech, am going to keep calling out and ridiculing your Kristallnacht analogies, even if you think that's another Kristallnacht.

Your Criticism of My Holocaust Analogy Is Like Yet ANOTHER Holocaust © 2007-2013 by the authors of Popehat. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. Using this feed on any other site is a copyright violation. No scraping.

14 Nov 20:33

Is the Italian Mob Trying to Assassinate Pope Francis?

by Terry Firma

I kind of like this pope. He has good sized enemies.

Despite the fact that millions of people consider the Catholic Church to be its own crime syndicate, Pope Francis is now under a threat from actual gangsters — the kind with guns.

So claims Italian prosecutor Nicola Gratteri via the Washington Post. The mafia crime cartel that may have its sights trained on the pointiff is known as the ‘Ndrangheta.

The organization is considered by experts in Italy to be the most dangerous, most unified and most difficult to penetrate mafia-type organization in the country.

Somewhat letting the air out of the story is the fact that the threats appear to be, so far, entirely in Gratteri’s head.

I cannot say if the organization is in a position to do something like this, but they are dangerous and it is worth reflecting on,” Gratteri warned.

The threats, if any, are the result of the Catholic Church’s longtime entanglement with Italy’s gangsterdom.

“For many years, the mafia has laundered money and made investments with the complicity of the church. But now the pope is dismantling the poles of economic power in the Vatican, and that is dangerous.”

What could save the Pope? Maybe this:

[Gratteri] said most Italian mobsters are practicing Catholics, despite their violent activities. “A gunman from the ‘Ndrangheta will pray and kiss his rosary before shooting someone,” said Gratteri, who has been under police protection against the mob since the 1980s.

With any luck, the thought of killing the mild-mannered representative of God on Earth won’t sit well with pious ‘Ndrangheta hitmen. I hope assassin and target have a pray-off instead.

(Image via Philip Chidell /

12 Sep 02:51

Pax Dickinson: Thought Crime, Public Shaming and Thick Liberty in the Internet Age

by Clark

Well said.


The topic du jour is Pax Dickinson.

For those just now joining the internet circus, Pax is an opinionated, semi- neo-reactionary, frequently hilarious, performance-artist who tweets with a faux-brogrammer alter ego.

He makes outrageous tweets, asserting things like he invented the question mark (well, no, really – that's from a Mike Meyers character) and delights in baiting defenders of free speech into calling for censorship ("heightening the contradictions" as Lenin and Saul Alinsky would say).

His detractors would say that he's crude and insulting, and while there's some truth to that, what they miss is that the vast majority of his tweets are based off of current events and slyly reference existing memes. When I used the phrase "performance art" before, that wasn't just a lazy way of saying "he's an asshole in public and I like listening to assholes". There are tons of assholes on twitter, and I end up blocking most of them, even the ones that I sort of agree with politically. I dislike crudity, racial stereotyping, insults for the sake of insults, etc.

…as does Pax. I note that he criticized the two-day-ago the "titstare" app as being in poor taste and classless, even as he fine-tooth-comb criticized criticism of it as being poorly written.

Another example: three years ago, when Mel Gibson's racist tirades were spilling into the public view

The Most Offensive Mel Gibson Quotes

I found Pax's nearly instant mockery of Gibson's racism, crudity, and simplicity hilarious, pointed, and on target:

In The Passion Of The Christ 2, Jesus gets raped by a pack of niggers. It's his own fault for dressing like a whore though.

— Pax Dickinson (@paxdickinson) July 14, 2010

(I note that around the same time a good friend and I also parodied Gibson's buffoonish behavior by calling each other "sugar tits", after Gibson's now-famous manner of addressing a female police officer; parody is a game we can all play.)

So, anyway, I find Pax to be smart, hilarious, and an ardent defender of free speech, human rights, and a decent human being. I've never met him, but I've swapped email with him twice over two years.

Now you know my biases.

So, what's the Pax Dickinson story?

Yesterday Valleywag / Gawker ( a top 1,000 website with $60 million in revenue, $30 million in profit, and a half-billion-dollar valuation) wrote a calm, even-handed editorial about Pax that started with the lead sentence "What has two thumbs and a homophobic, racist, misogynistic, classist worldview? Pax Dickinson."

And then the world exploded.

Speech and more speech

First, let me say where I agree with Ken:

* I believe that the best (and only) remedy for offensive speech is more speech.

* I believe that "censorship" means "government punishes you for your words"; it does not mean "society punishes you for your words".

Next, let me say where I disagree with Ken:

* While Ken thinks that it is legitimate to use government force to make people engage in commerce that they find morally distasteful (or, alternately, to force them out of commerce), I do not.

So getting back to Pax, Pax has a long history of tweeting stuff that, at a quick glance, is patently offensive…and, after deeper examination, is also frequently offensive.

A writer stumbled into Pax's tweet history and wrote an article that consisted largely of quotes of Pax's tweets and the sentence

We've contacted Business Insider founder, editor, and CEO Henry Blodget, who recently received a $5 million funding round led by Jeff Bezos to see how he feels about Dickinson representing his brand.

In short order the story was picked up by The New York Daily News, CNN, The Huffington Post, Slate, Salon, and, of course, Popehat.

So, on the speech-and-more speech metric, this is a wonderful outcome: Pax said things that are offensive to 99% of American citizens, other people took to media, blogs, and twitter and attacked his statements, and no one with a badge and a gun did anything about it.

A clear line: social shaming vs state punishment

Did government agents arrive and arrest Pax? No.

Did a violent mob tar and feather him, causing second degree burns? No.

What happened was that Pax's opinions were made public and people were free to tweet to him, engage him in dialogue, hold up his tweets as examples of a right-wing dudebro culture that strikes them as misogynistic, racist, and crude.



(And I'm 100% serious about that "yay".)

Types of Speech, Dunbar's Number, Proportionality, Power Disparities, Media Persistence

The following is a topic I've been thinking about for a long time, and it's genesis is actually my concern for people who not e-friends like Pax; I started thinking these thoughts during the Charles Carreon imbroglio – and let the record show that I find Carreon pretty loathsome.

There's a continuum of speech. At one end you have purely intellectual conversations, at the other end you have a bunch of people pointing a finger at one person and chanting "Slut!", or engaging in whispering campaigns.

Like all reasonable people, I prefer the former over the latter. In fact, I detest the latter. However, there's no way to prevent the latter with out also stomping out the former. Further, a fair bit of biting social commentary (first group) actually looks like the second group. As H L Mencken said:

One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms. It is not only more effective; it is also vastly more intelligent.

So while I believe that there is utility in thinking about and talking about the difference between "debate" and "shaming", in practice the line is pretty fuzzy, and there's no way to allow one while preventing the other (even if we were utilitarians and wanted to do such a thing).

So let's talk about shaming. Shaming and exclusion have a long history. Humans do it. Chimps do it. To a lesser degree, you can even see it in the operation of canine social groups.

Shaming is not pleasant for the target, it's not a good technique if you want to encourage people to generate new ideas, and it's not a good technique if you want to encourage people to challenge old orthodoxies…but it is an effective technique to enforce norms and existing tribe / pack hierarchies.

Sometimes enforcing norms quickly and brutally is the right thing. If I overheard someone making fun of my child for his race in a restaurant lobby, I wouldn't engage the miscreant in a debate over human biodiversity; I'd immediately raise my voice and say "Excuse me, sir, are you making racist comments about a child? What's your name? Joe? Joe, I can't believe that you're making racist comments about a child! In public! I guess you don't care if everyone learns that you're a racist who picks on children in public, Joe!"

Shaming works well (to the ends that it works, at least) in small bands of hunter gatherers. It causes people to adjust their actions to social norms, it leaves no physical scars, it doesn't incarcerate anyone or destroy the value of their labor…and it's got a built-in time horizon. A guy reaches for the last slice of pizza, one of his friends says "Hey, don't be a pig; you've already had your share". The guy's face flushes because he was called out. He pulls back his hand and lets someone else eat the last slice. Perhaps over the next few days his friends make pig-snorting noises at him to remind him that he was greedy, and he's annoyed, ashamed…and chastised. He takes extra pains to eat his share or less at future shared meals over the next week or two. The shaming joke never spread beyond 148 or so people, and within a few weeks the entire incident is forgotten.

Social mechanisms evolved in small groups without any form of information persistence other than fallible human memory. I constantly find it amazing that they work at all in our much changed world and society (I also find it amazing that primate minds that evolved to hunt small game on the savanna can do differential equations and put probes into orbit around distant planets).

Eliezer Yudkowsky made a point once about superstimuli which I find endlessly fascinating:

A candy bar is a superstimulus: it contains more concentrated sugar, salt, and fat than anything that exists in the ancestral environment. A candy bar matches taste buds that evolved in a hunter-gatherer environment, but it matches those taste buds much more strongly than anything that actually existed in the hunter-gatherer environment. The signal that once reliably correlated to healthy food has been hijacked…

And likewise, a video game can be so much more engaging than mere reality, even through a simple computer monitor, that someone will play it without food or sleep until they literally die.

I'd suggest that shaming people in very large, very modern social settings is a superstimulus. In the ancestral small-tribe environment it feels good to be the dealer of a joke and not the brunt. It feels good to be the social arbiter and not the social pariah. It feels good to be the cool kid and not the nerd. …and, in the iterated version of the game, where a given person is on the shaming end every now and then and on the shamed end every now and then, everything works out.

We've got the social process wired into our heads, and it works well when we're in small groups, but it can be destructive when we're in larger groups. Calling out the hunter in a pack of 150 who took more than his fare share of meat is one thing. Calling out the miller who took more than his fare share of flour in a village of 1,000 is another.

…and calling out the Jewish moneylenders as taking "more than their fair share" in interest in a modern nation of 50 million, in an age of newspapers, radio, and movies (or calling out the Tutsi merchants as taking "more than their fair share" of the economy) is another

(preemptive response to anyone who is tempted to quote Godwin's law: please don't. It's not, contrary to belief, an indication of a rhetorical flaw; it's merely a descriptive law.)

I note that my point here is not remotely to say that Pax is suffering like Jews in the Holocaust; I'm leaving the Pax topic far behind to explore some general thoughts about how our species is not well equipped to deal with the mass media of 1930, let alone 2013.

When we combine modern communications technologies with large crowds (far in excess of Dunbar's number) and then add in persistence and searchability, the social environment of 2013 is radically different from that of even 1990.

…and I'm not convinced it's an unmitigated good thing. I'm not thrilled by a society that tweets pictures of a 15 year old girl blowing a guy at a rock concert. I feel bad for the chubby Star Wars kid and the millions of youtube hits. I am deeply uncomfortable with making fun of Rebecca Black for her song and video "Friday".

But, sure, it's easy to feel bad for kids.

So let me note that while I think that Charles Carreon is a douche, but I'm not sure that his douchiness needs to be highlighted at the top of the search engine listings for the rest of his life. I think that John Scalzi is a nasty individual who has never written a good novel, lies about his website traffic statistics, has the instincts of a censor, and mocks other people but has a very thin skin when it comes to being mocked himself…but I'm at least somewhat uneasy about the glee that some take in shaming him.

And on and on and on.

Human flesh search engines cause pain, and they aren't particularly subtle, and they don't have a well calibrated power level.

tl;dr: I simultaneously think that the proper response to speech is more speech…and worry that given modern technologies, the result is often not debate that merges thesis and antithesis into synthesis, but punishment…and punishment that can be disproportionate to the crime.

Progressives dislike slut shaming, body shaming, childlessness shaming, atheist shaming, and so on. I suggest that people need to either expand their concern about shaming to victims that they don't particularly agree with, or they need to admit that their concern is really special pleading: "I don't want my people or my activities shamed, but I'm all down with shaming The Other's people and activities." That second choice is a legitimate position, but they lose a fair bit of moral high ground – there's not much gravitas in saying that it's wrong to slut-shame progressive women but it's morally good to do it to the Palins of the world, or that it's wrong to fat-shame Bill Clinton but OK to do it to Rush Limbaugh, etc.

I have no solution to this problem, if problem it indeed is. I certainly don't want the government to get involved. But I do think about it with some regularity.

Censorship vs Silencing

Granted: it's censorship when the government does it and merely discretion when a private blog owner does it.

…but there is still something off-putting to me about people who try to silence a critic rather than rebut him or her.

The phrase "needs to shut up" is particularly grating.

No one, in my opinion, needs to shut up.

…but not everyone agrees.

I find that self-described progressives are particularly bad at this. A quick Google search shows the phrase popping up a lot at,,, Daily Kos, etc. ("Sarah Palin needs to shut up", "Juror B29 needs to shut up", "Jeb Bush needs to shut up", etc.)

A question I have, and it's a serious question, is what the goal of trying to get people to shut up (either through explicitly calling for them to shut up, or for making their lives so miserable that they choose to shut up) is.

I gave a hypothetical example earlier of a restaurant patron making racists statements about a hypothetical child of mine. I admit that I'd try to shut him up. My reasons for doing so would be to (a) spare my child the pain of hearing it, (b) show my child that one can choose one's social environment, (c) try to teach the person that his opinions are his own, but others will resist their expression in social environments – especially when children are present.

I'd never think of doing that in an online debate, though – I'd dig up some statistics showing growth rates in societies that are racially tolerant are better than in those where there is less tolerance, etc. My goal would be to win the argument. I'd try to convince the racist that he was wrong (perhaps not very likely) and to convince others that he's wrong (more likely).

So, I am genuinely curious as to what the goal of mass shaming someone is.

Is the idea that the shamed person will genuinely change his opinion because he's been made the object of ridicule? I can't imagine that happening.

Is the idea that the shamed person will falsely change his opinion because he's been made the object of ridicule? Quite possible – corporate CEOs do it all the time, kissing up to groups and causes that they don't really care about. I'm not sure why someone would want this.

Is the idea that the shamed person will stop posting under his own name and take up a nom de plume? This is very likely – I know several people who blog or tweet under personas because they've seen shit-storms descend on people with unpopular opinions.

Or is the idea that shaming people isn't enough, and "society" needs to do more – like curtail their ability to earn a living?

An unclear line: firing, the ability to earn a living

A few days ago Ken called out the distinction between social repercussions and economic repercussions. I recommend his words there.

An hour or two after Gawker's story Pax was fired from his job.

This is exactly the template that played out a few months ago when two engineers at a conference made a joke amongst themselves about the word "dongle" and got fired over it after @adriadrichards made a stink about it.

I'm curious whether Nitash Tiku and Adria Richards are happy that they got people fired over thought crimes and speech crimes (note to literalists: yes, I realize that thoughts and words are not actually criminal. Not in the US, at least. And not unless paired with other activities, like beating someone up. Or engaging in commerce.)

Do they consider this fitting?

Well, we know the answer for Nitash Tiku. Recall that her article said

We've contacted Business Insider founder, editor, and CEO Henry Blodget, who recently received a $5 million funding round led by Jeff Bezos to see how he feels about Dickinson representing his brand.

She was clearly hoping to get him fired, and she got her wish.

But is she content at just having people fired once, or would she prefer permanent blacklists? After all, if Pax thinks that it's irresponsible to try to support three dependents on a minimum wage job, he's unlikely to change that opinion after being fired. What's a good societal goal? Should he be fired from his next job if he still thinks this? Or only if he expresses it again?

Or would it be better if Pax was rendered permanently unhirable?

Or perhaps just unhirable in his current profession? Would society be better off if instead of doing whatever a CTO does ("load balancing nginx servers", or what-have-you), he couldn't get a job better than working the front desk at a dentist's office, would that be good?

At some point one has to think about and draw comparisons with the Soviet Union, especially in its later kinder/gentler days, when certain political opinions wouldn't get one sent to the gulag, but would merely result in being fired from one's job. (Feel free to cite Godwin's law again, if you'd like, suitably modified.)

Thick liberty versus thin liberty

I've been drifting from right-wing anarchism every so slightly towards left-wing anarchism over the past few years. Even if the drift continues at the current rate, I'll die before leaving the territory that's marked out as "ancap", but I do understand and appreciate more left-wing arguments than I used to. One core concept of left anarchists is the concept of thick liberty, and the criticism of right anarchists as being only in favor of thin liberty.

One example of a cause where I see the distinction but am utterly unpersuaded is economics: in any world where people have to pay for food, they have thin liberty. They are not truly free to write poetry all day long, because they'll starve. Corporate employers, goes the argument, can leverage this lack of liberty into other compromises of liberty: exploiting people to sell their labor because they're in need.

(Like I said: I'm unconvinced.)

But let's talk a bit about thick versus thin liberty in the realm of freedom of speech.

Again, I fully support a business owner's right to fire a person for all sorts of reprehensible reasons: race preferences, gender preferences, etc. I do not want any law on the books that would stop Business Insider from firing Pax. I was once fired from a contract gig for my off-the-premises / off-hours political speech, and even though this was a violation of the relevant state law (California) I refused to involve the law because I thought the law was immoral.

So I don't want to use force to stop employers from firing people based on their beliefs or speech.

But I do have another serious question: what sort of culture do we want to create? Do we want to live in a society where people are legally allowed to say that they don't believe in God…but are socially shunned, fired from their jobs, and attacked in dozens of online magazines with millions of readers if they actually exercise that right?

I love arguing; I engage in debates with friends and e-friends on all manner of topics. I don't think that people often or easily change their minds, but it does happen. I've change my mind over

  • gun control c. 1985
  • abortion c. 1990
  • LGBT rights c. 1995
  • the death penalty c. 2000
  • the legitimacy of US foreign wars c. 2005
  • the correctness of left-wing anarchism (in progress)

and so on. Part of the way in which my views evolve over time is that I seek out and engage with people who deeply disagree with me. In the past few weeks I've had interesting conversations with a green, two Trotskyists, a New Deal Democrat, and a left-anarchist.

All of these people have some views that are beyond the pale for polite society, and all of them could be shamed into silence (or, at least, into pseudonym-hood) if the cruel glare of a million shaming eyes all turned on them at once.

It is my assertion that we're all better off with a thick liberty where Trotskyists, Drum Circle Occupy-ists, Family Values Republicans, Pick Up Artists, Racial Realists, Pete Singer pro-infanticide "ethicists", neo-reactionaries, and all the rest out and in the open, where we can debate them, point out where they're wrong, and maybe learn about where they're right.

It is further my assertion that one provocative free-thinking Pax Dickinson is worth a thousand shaming conformist Nitash Tikus.

Pax Dickinson: Thought Crime, Public Shaming and Thick Liberty in the Internet Age © 2007-2013 by the authors of Popehat. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. Using this feed on any other site is a copyright violation. No scraping.

26 Aug 19:28

This Picture Says a Lot

by Ed Brayton

There’s been a lot of talk about the appalling and barbaric attacks on Christian churches and homes in Egypt by Muslim thugs, and rightly so. What’s going on there is horrifying. But this picture, of Muslims surrounding a Christian church to protect it, is very powerful to me.

Muslims protecting church

Muslims protecting church

It’s important to remember that every religious group has its fair share of horrible people and wonderful people, of bigots and equality advocates, of violent thugs and kind and decent people. There is no “Islam” there are many Islams, just as there is no Christianity but many Christianities. We can argue that their views are false without demonizing them and we can criticize the terrible people among them and their hateful ideologies without tarring the good people among them.

Just as there are Muslims who seek to impose their barbarism on women and gay people and non-believers, there are Muslims who work for equality and human rights. Just as there are Christians who spend their whole lives fighting to oppress people, there are Christians who march beside us and work with us for a more just and equal society. And these good people putting their bodies on the line to protect those of another faith should be praised. What they are doing is brave and dangerous and moral and decent.

22 Aug 19:52

Tennessee Church Kicks Out Longtime Members for Their Quiet Support of Gay Daughter’s Civil Rights

by Terry Firma

Police detective Kat Cooper (photo, right) became sort-of-famous in Tennessee earlier this month when she petitioned the city of Collegedale, a suburb of Chattanooga, to extend partner benefits to her wife, Krista (on left), whom she’d married in Maryland in May of this year.

“It should be of no importance to my employer if my lifelong commitment is made to a man or a woman — both are equal,” Cooper said [addressing the city commissioners]. “Small ripples can precipitate huge waves. In this case, a great opportunity lies in your hands.”

The commissioners voted on the matter on August 5, and the outcome, 4 votes to 1, was yes, fair’s fair, let’s do it. Case closed, right?

Kat Cooper (right) with wife Krista (via Chattanooga Times Free Press)

From the city’s perspective, yes. But for Ken Willis, the minister at Cooper’s family’s church, not so much.

Leaders at Ridgedale Church of Christ met in private with Kat Cooper’s mother, aunt and uncle on Sunday after the regular worship service. They were given an ultimatum: They could repent for their sins and ask forgiveness in front of the congregation. Or leave the church.

Willis argued to the Times Free Press that “the family’s support of Kat Cooper was as good as an endorsement of homosexuality.” It shouldn’t matter (but it’s worth pointing out) that the Cooper family’s support of Kat had been quiet and resigned. They didn’t distribute fiery flyers or stage demonstrations, and overall, they were careful not to burn bridges. To no avail.

My mother was up here and she sat beside me. That’s it,” said Kat Cooper. “Literally, they’re exiling members for unconditionally loving their children — and even extended family members.”

Of course, they could just find another church. But it’s not that easy for the Coopers. For one thing, their support for Kat makes them outcasts in much of the local community of so-called Christians. Matt Nevels, the presiding officer of Tennessee’s PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), points out that ”Most of the churches in this area are homophobic.”

And then there’s this:

[Kat's mother] Linda Cooper’s parents were practically founding members of the Dodds Avenue congregation, [father] Hunt Cooper said. [Linda's] father was a church elder and his picture still hangs on the wall there. Kat Cooper grew up helping her grandfather clean the pews and helped her grandmother hang bulletin boards for Sunday school.

Hunt Cooper said his wife can’t comment; she is too distraught.

“She is just so traumatized and so upset,” he said. “It has been days and she’s still crying. It’s almost like losing a family member.”


04 Jul 21:41

On American Exceptionalism

by Ken White

Is America exceptional?

The question is often used as a crass litmus test. Some "conservatives" (for want of a more accurate term) assert that "liberals" (ditto) are unfit to lead America, and lacking in patriotism, because they don't accept that America is exceptional and (put more bluntly) superior. Some liberals complain that conservatives treat belief in an exceptional America as a self-sufficient justification for any act, whatever its own merits, and that American ideals are not necessarily the best ones.

I believe in American exceptionalism.

But I believe that American exceptionalism is too often treated as plumage. It isn't. It is a sought-for ideal.

Nearly two hundred and fifty years ago, revolutionaries said this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . . .

That was the statement of an ideal — a goal — and our founding fathers swiftly went about falling short of it, as all of us routinely fall short of our best intentions. The history of our country is a history of not treating all men — let alone all people — as equals, but we have fought and bled and clawed our way towards that hope. The history of our country is a history of the powerful abusing power not conferred upon them by the people. Our progress towards that goal is perhaps less steady.

Early in our history our founders decreed that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," yet just as quickly passed and enforced the Alien and Sedition Acts. We complained in our Declaration of Independence of mock trials (or no trials at all) and other abuses of police power, and passed Constitutional amendments to ward off such historical abuses, yet we dabble in them now, and seek to classify obscure and arbitrary classes of persons as beyond the protection of the law, and tolerate large-scale spying upon us by a government putatively serving at our pleasure. When speaking of American exceptionalism we often think of the extraordinary service of our military — both volunteer and drafted — and our heritage of brave soldiers, but not our repulsive and dishonorable treatment of the brave once they return to us.

We have not achieved American exceptionalism as a laurel on which we can rest. It's a grimly determined acknowledgement of duty, not a complacent boast of accomplishment. American exceptionalism is a set of challenges to ourselves about liberty and equality and the rule of law and justice. We have not finished, and will never finish, the work to fulfill those challenges. American exceptionalism is not "I have earned this." It's "what can I do?" American exceptionalism is this:

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

We do not deserve pride in ideals unless we fight for them.

Every Fourth of July I link, and repeat, this story, which is on the same theme. Happy Independence Day.

On American Exceptionalism © 2007-2013 by the authors of Popehat. This feed is for personal, non-commercial use only. Using this feed on any other site is a copyright violation. No scraping.