Osama bin Laden

A good death

May 3rd 2011

He had kind eyes.

They were brown and glowing, and seemed to be brimming with compassion, empathy, and a touch of mirth. They were the eyes you might expect to see in the face of a Buddhist monk, the lady who runs the local Toys For Tots program, or a Hollywood priest.

He was almost certainly the man responsible for 9/11, the worst crime ever committed on US soil, a crime that killed 3,000 people in one hideous day.

I know about the dangerous charm of sociopaths and demagogues, and so the eyes shouldn’t have been so jarring. The most lethal monsters in the history of the world were nice fellows, often jolly, and made people adore as well as respect them. The fires and deaths and screams would come later, after they had achieved unassailable power. Everyone knows about the power of Hitler’s oratory, but it was his ability to charm and create trust that put him in the position where he could become the horror he was. It’s downplayed in the history of the Third Reich, but there were literally millions of women in Nazi Germany in the 30’s who would have gladly abandoned their husbands and lovers and families for a chance to have his baby. Just as England had the far more benign “Beatlemania” thirty years later, Germany had “Hitlermania”. When Stalin died, millions of men who had been shunted into the Gulags on trumped up and Kafkaquese charges wept openly in their cells. They had lost, not just a leader, but a friend.

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Classless Action

Tony and the Gang declare open season on consumers

April 30th 2011

AT&T Mobility vs. Concepcion won’t be as utterly destructive of the American form of government as last year’s horrible Citizens United decision, but it does immense damage to consumers in America, and, like Citizens United, tips the balance of power, already wildly out of whack, to the corporations.

The vote to drastically limit the ability of consumers to file and pursue class-action suits was five to four, and I probably don’t need to tell anyone which five voted in the majority. Tony Scalia wrote the opinion, and said that companies could force buyers to sign arbitration agreements. He didn’t even bother to conceal his intent, adding, “Arbitration is poorly suited to the higher stakes of class litigation.” Which is the whole idea.

Class action suits result when a large number of people have been injured by the actions of a company or other entity. The injury can be relatively minor, as was the case in AT&T Mobility vs. Concepcion, where AT&T was accused of overcharging by $30 for cellphone service. Or it can be life threatening and affect millions. Eventually America will have a Bhopal or a Chernobyl sort of disaster, and class-action would be the only sensible recourse in the wake, when people would be trying to recoup major damages suffered.

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The Big Leak

Julian Assange may have killed the rationale for the Afghanistan occupation

July 26th 2010

In the long run, the little-noted news report that the Kepler space probe has produced evidence that terrestrial planets (small, solid, and cool, like earth) are widespread in the galaxy may prove to be a more important story than the announcement that Wikileaks had 90,000 US military documents detailing what a hopeless clusterfuck Afghanistan was, which has produced “Moon type” headlines around the world.

For the sake of humanity, I hope the Kepler story proves to be more important. It offers humanity a future; the Afghanistan story questions whether humanity is entitled to a future, or capable of surviving into it.

The Kepler story isn’t very sexy. It’s just slight variations of light in stars captured by a space camera. No images of steaming alien jungles with six-legged purple brontosauri munching palm fronds unconcernedly, or aerial shots of vast cities with flying cars and transportation pods. Just pinpricks of light that get slightly dimmer and stay that way for a while, and the amount it dims, times the length of time it dims, tells us how far out from the star the planet is, and how big it is. Even Spielberg would have trouble making that dramatic.

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