2009 - %3, May

Fun with Photoshop

| Fri May. 1, 2009 10:05 AM PDT

James Fallows looks at the tableau of Obama muckymucks at yesterday's announcement that Chrysler would be allowed to file bankruptcy and is impressed with the "human dramas suggested by these faces."  It is, he says, "an impromptu work of art."

Today he's taking nominations for which Old Master it reminds him of.  My contribution is below: a crude Photoshop that makes the scene into an Old Master.  Enjoy!

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Supreme Court Bingo: Who Should Replace Souter?

| Fri May. 1, 2009 9:45 AM PDT

Here's Salon's list of (the weirdo) Souter replacements.

Here's Slate's.

Here's Politico's.

Here are some hints from the NYT.

Yeah, lots of liberal overlap, but we'll all just have to stayed tuned. Obama is nothing if not inscrutable.

Been gleefully looking for Limbaugh-ian ones. Will post when their apoplexy lifts.

Tee hee.

New Frontiers in Product Branding

| Fri May. 1, 2009 9:38 AM PDT

Via Tyler Cowen, an idea from Geoffrey Miller about product branding that's "intriguing but absurd":

For example, companies could sell certain products only to consumers who have a certain minimum or maximum score on one or more of the certain Central Six [personality] traits....Lexus could sell the "Mensa Quartz Medallic" color of the LS 460 only to customers whose validated intelligence scores are high enough for them to join Mensa International (IQ 130+ or the top one in fifty).  The more exclusive "Prometheus Glacier Pearl" color could indicate an IQ above 160 (the top one in thirty thousand) — the qualification for joining the Prometheus Society.

Too late!  This idea is clearly stolen from J.T. M'Intosh's World Out of Mind, putatively a novel about an alien invasion of Earth, but in reality just a vehicle that allows him to lovingly describe a future in which everyone takes a cognitive test in early adulthood and is assigned a color forevermore.  There are the dull witted Browns, the worker bee Purples, the middling bright Reds, all the way through the Oranges, Yellows, and supergenius Whites.  And in case that's not enough for you, each color is further divided into its Circles at the bottom, followed by its Triangles and then its Stars.  The White Stars, needless to say, run the world.  And in M'Intosh's world, you wear your badge at all times or else.

(Yes, those are really the colors he used.  Race theorists should feel free to have a field day, especially since Miller's proposed colors are remarkably similar to M'Intosh's.)

50s science fiction.  You can't beat it.  We will now return to our normal political kvetching.

Naming Names

| Fri May. 1, 2009 9:01 AM PDT

Ezra Klein says Obama called the bluff of the holdouts who forced Chrysler into Chapter 11: "Not only did the administration let Chrysler fall to the bankruptcy courts, but Obama called the investors out by name."

Really?  That's great news.  I want names!  Sadly, it turns out Obama didn't call out anyone by name at all, saying only that "a group of investment firms and hedge funds decided to hold out for the prospect of an unjustified taxpayer-funded bailout."

Boo.  Hiss.  I want names.  It's pitchfork time.

We Are All Christopher Hitchens Now

| Fri May. 1, 2009 9:01 AM PDT

According to PEW, via CNN, the more religious you are, the more you dig torture:

The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey...More than half of people who attend services at least once a week -- 54 percent -- said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified. Only 42 percent of people who "seldom or never" go to services agreed, according to the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
White evangelical Protestants were the religious group most likely to say torture is often or sometimes justified -- more than six in 10 supported it. People unaffiliated with any religious organization were least likely to back it. Only four in 10 of them did.

Itals definitely mine!

Let's hear it for us godless ones!

Krauthammer on Torture

| Fri May. 1, 2009 8:24 AM PDT

Charles Krauthammer writes today that there are only two circumstances that justify torture.  The first is the ticking time bomb.  Of course.  But I'll let that one slide for now.  Here's the other one:

The second exception to the no-torture rule is the extraction of information from a high-value enemy in possession of high-value information likely to save lives. This case lacks the black-and-white clarity of the ticking time bomb scenario. We know less about the length of the fuse or the nature of the next attack. But we do know the danger is great. (One of the "torture memos" noted that the CIA had warned that terrorist "chatter" had reached pre-9/11 levels.) We know we must act but have no idea where or how — and we can't know that until we have information. Catch-22.

What an astonishing coincidence!  That's exactly the situation the Bush administration says it was in.  If it weren't for his legendary dedication to intellectual integrity, you'd almost think Krauthammer had simply taken a post hoc look at what his own team did and had then made up a justification to fit.  But he wouldn't do that, would he?

Of course, any rule worth the paper it's written on has to apply to more than just our side, so presumably this means Krauthammer thinks it's generically acceptable to torture anyone of sufficient rank and value.  If the Germans had captured a colonel with probable knowledge of Patton's battle plan, torture would have been OK.  If the Taliban caught a deputy consul who knew when the next attack on Kandahar was scheduled, torture would be OK.  If al-Qaeda catches a Air Force pilot who might tell them the secret of detecting and shooting down drones, torture will be OK.

Krauthammer's exception isn't an exception.  It can justify practically anything, either from us or from anyone else.  It's essentially the end of the civilized consensus against torture.  Unfortunately, I imagine that's the point.

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Update: Billions Have Gone to TX in Federal Disaster Aid During Perry's Tenure

| Fri May. 1, 2009 7:13 AM PDT

Yesterday I mentioned that Texas Governor Rick Perry's secessionist rhetoric flies in the face of Texas' history of receiving gobs of federal money: the state has received federal disaster assistance more frequently than any other in the Union.

Today, I have some raw numbers, courtesy of FEMA's public affairs office in Denton, Texas. During Perry's tenure -- 2001 to the present -- FEMA alone has sent $3.45 billion to Texas. $3,449,142,397 to be exact. That figure does not include funding from any other federal agencies (of which there is plenty), nor does it include funding for Hurricane Ike recovery, which is still ongoing.

To get a sense of how much federal money goes to Texas every time a disaster strikes, consider the numbers in this FEMA press release from earlier this month: since Ike made landfall in September 2008, Texas has received over $2 billion in disaster relief funding from various federal agencies. That includes just $96 million from FEMA (to pay hotel bills for displaced citizens). The rest comes from the Small Business Administration and other agencies.

I want to be clear. I'm not saying Texas and its hurricane-weary citizens don't deserve this money. They do. I'm glad the federal government is able to step in and help states recover from natural disasters when local authorities are overwhelmed. But it's galling that Governor Perry, who reportedly has an eye on a presidential run, ginned up the GOP base by talking of splitting from the "oppressive" Obama administration (his words) when he knows full well that the federal government has bailed out his state repeatedly, and probably will do so again. Where does Perry think all this money would come from if Texas was its own state? He's probably have to raise taxes to the point where Texas would want to secede from itself.