Archives for January 2016

The Manson Family of Oregon

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So the guys up in Oregon — you know, the guys holed up in the government building with all the guns and dildos? After a three week occupation, they finally got what they wanted: a shootout with the cops and the FBI. One of their guys is dead and another is wounded, and Ammon Bundy, the leader of the protest, or occupation, or whatever you want to call it is in custody with five of his comrades. Not comrades, that’s suggests communists, which these dudes emphatically are NOT. Brothers in arms, let’s go with that. Anyway, they’re in jail.

A lot of people are saying that this protest was pointless, that it accomplished nothing, that its stated goal — getting the federal government to surrender all public lands back to “the people,” whatever that means — was wildly unrealistic and never remotely achievable, and certainly not by occupying a building in the middle of nowhere.

They did succeed, of course, in stirring up a lot of weird, unfocused negative sentiment against the government in comments sections around the Internet, but fell short of their real goal: to provoke the government into provoking an anti-government uprising.

For a day or two, only the broadest strokes of the story were known: after a traffic stop of the vehicle Bundy was riding in — you get to take breaks from occupying a building? — brought Bundy and a few of his people into the custody of the FBI, LaVoy Finicum, one of Bundy’s lieutenants driving a second vehicle, was shot and killed. The Twitter account of the Bundy ranch was quick to comment:

Though eyewitnesses, including one of the other people in the Bundy caravan, leaked word to the press that Finicum had tried to evade a roadblock and was shot while charging the cops, those inclined toward Liberty called that another lie and insisted that Finicum was shot with his hands in the air.

Supporters of the Bundy cause still holed up at the refuge seemed to believe that an attack by the government was imminent, and called for ex-military members to come and “fight for your country… if they stop you from getting here, KILL THEM!”

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Bowie, Lemmy, and Frey: The Autobituary

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We are at the beginning of an epidemic.

The rock stars of our youth are dying. We’re getting old, and they’re even older. They’re not going to OD or choke on vomit, they’re going to get prostate cancer and conjunctive colitis. David Bowie and Lemmy and Glenn Frey are only the beginning.

It is morbid, it is unpleasant, but it is true. All these guys are pushing 70 — some of them are pushing 80! Mick Jagger is 72. Neil Young is 70. Patti Smith is 69. Time is not on their side. At some point soon all the rock stars of the ’60s and ’70s and ’80s — the people who made us — are going to start dying off. In much bigger groups than threes. And I’m not sure as a blogger that I will be able to keep up with all of the eulogizing that I am morally, spiritually, and as it turns out legally obligated to do.

So I’ve found a workaround: using sophisticated software that uses complicated algorithms to construct complex written narratives based on a range of responses, I have been able to write all three obituaries for this week’s fallen luminaries at once.

Using a generic story template, the algorithm is able to take the basic known facts of a person’s biography — entered by the user by answering a series of questions — and construct a highly readable narrative. You’d be surprised how much like a human you can make an algorithm write. write. write. write. write. write

So without further preamble, here is my three-in-one “Autobituary” for David Bowie, Lemmy, and Glenn Frey.

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The GOP Doesn’t Want It

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There was an amazing thing on CNN last week: President Obama went into a place full of people hostile to his policies in general and on gun control in particular, and took their questions for two hours. He was not given the questions in advance; CNN proudly stated at the outset that the Town Hall Meeting was a 100% CNN production, with no input from the White House other than what time Obama would be there.

CNN has a bad reputation in the red states as the Communist News Network, hopelessly slanted toward Obama and the Democrats and generally unwatchable. For the most part, I happen to think they’re half right: CNN is unwatchable, but it’s not because of any particular liberal bias. CNN’s bias is toward the splashiest, trashiest clickbait stories, and they don’t care where they come from, just so long as they’re salacious. (It just so happens that Republicans are generally better at providing those.) I watched a few weeks ago as a reporter “covering” the San Bernardino shootings stuck a microphone in a man’s face as he tried to call his missing son’s cell phone, pushing in slowly for a closeup of whatever reaction he might have to whatever came on the line, or didn’t. That was totally nonpartisan, garden-variety ambulance chasing. CNN are a bunch of vultures and they suck at TV is what I’m saying.

For a while, though, Guns in America came off better than just about anything I’ve seen on CNN since the first Gulf War. There were none of the technical miscues that typically mar any CNN broadcast, and host Anderson Cooper, also hated by the right as a socialist elitist communist mouthpiece, did a surprisingly good job of presenting the anti-gun control argument and pressing Obama for details and voicing the widespread skepticism to Obama’s stated positions on the matter.

For his part, Obama was relaxed, focused, passionate, and engaging on the issue. He didn’t shrink from his desire to expand background checks, but he stated firmly, and I thought plausibly, his understanding of and respect for rural gun culture and the Second Amendment. The dialogue was genuine, his answers were often more respectful than the questions, and he didn’t pander to the audience; he acknowledged their suspicion even as he mocked the idea that he’d planned to put Texas under martial law using tunnels under Wal-Marts, and quite sensibly pointed out that if he intended to come for anyone’s guns, surely he would have begun such a project sooner than seven years into an eight-year presidency. In short, he was like a human being, and I came away impressed with how directly he engaged with such a tough issue.

And then it was over, and the Communist News Network tossed coverage to its eleventeen pundits, nearly all of whom declared the whole event a deception, professed disbelief at Obama’s wanton contempt for responsible gun owners, his hatred of the Constitution and America itself. (So much for that liberal bias you hear so much about.) The moves Obama is proposing fall miles short of anything the gun control advocates want to see — they’re little more than a rededication to enforcing existing laws, in accordance with the loudest mantra of the anti-reform crowd — but they were being portrayed like a totalitarian coup and the wholesale revocation of the Second Amendment. The disconnect was striking.

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