Author: Charles

On Dying

My father-in-law passed away this weekend after a long struggle with Alzheimer's when his body (finally, one might say) caught up to his mind. Though I couldn't go to join my wife's family at his bedside, my wife did. She's a better writer than I am, so I'll get out of the way.

I used to think that dying of old age was like falling asleep. You lose all your strength, close your eyes, wait a while, then… done. It's not like that at all. Just like the cliches of birth — where moms are rushed to the hospital upon the first signs of labor and babies come out resembling perfectly formed 3 month olds — what we see and tell ourselves about death has little connection to reality.

My parents died of different causes. My mom, from cancer or chemo (as with any cancer patient, it's impossible to say which), my dad from Alzheimer's. But what struck me when I first saw my dad after he slipped into unconsciousness was how closely he resembled my mom on her last day: his body was bony and colorless; mouth agape and twisted; breaths shallow and forced. You could hear him gasp over the oxygen tank, which is saying something. It was noisy, with plodding, arrhymic but no less robotic bursts. After my mom passed and they took the oxygen mask off, we could see that her mouth was caked with blood. She looked like a skeleton. I didn't recognize her.

One of the hospice workers the night I arrived told us he bet Dad would die within an hour, maybe two. (None of the other hospice workers, who were unbelievably kind, would have said anything nearly so blunt.) Everyone was offended but I secretly appreciated his candor. Having been through this last year with my mom I wasn't sure how long I could hold out watching my father's tortured breaths. My brothers, their wives, and I stayed all through the night holding my dad's hands, watching him breathe, and waiting for him to die.

No one would ever admit it but you end up hoping that each violent contraction will be the last. That this excruciating fight will end. After it's over, we cover this lie with another lie, telling people that he died peacefully so that we don't have to talk about it. But when one suffers from Alzheimer's, "peacefully" means merely "unconscious." I don't have to worry about coming to visit my dad at his nursing home and finding him slumped over a wheelchair or soaking in his urine, his skin so dry it's cracked and bleeding in places.

The idea that anyone would have to go through this for a child is unthinkable. But I couldn't help but think of my son during this process: if losing a parent is so difficult, what must it be like to lose a child? Will my son one day have to go through this for my husband and I? He has no siblings. Would he be alone? Would I want to have him staring at me, this horrific image seared in his brain? My instinct is to spare us all from it, securing some kind of "kill pill" to take when the time comes. I took an epidural when my son was born and have no romance for pure pain or suffering. Is a kill pill similar? Is it cowardly? Or consumerist?

The truth is that if I live as long as my parents with my family intact, I'll be lucky if I need to answer this question.

Not All Layers of An Onion Are Equally Worth Peeling Back

Let's start with the tweet and get it right out there. Last night, The Onion tweeted this:

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That, needless to say, was not a good idea. It was not a good idea for a lot of reasons. The simplistic version is "you don't call a 9 year old a cunt." That's pretty close to my more nuanced version too, but it helps to show your work to get to that conclusion because it is unfair to The Onion – to their intent and real target – to reduce the tweet to "The Onion called an amazing young girl a horrible word." (more…)

Did someone mention consistency?

Recently, Clark posted a short thought about how our political outrage tends to wax and wane with the power our preferred party is holding at the time we access our emotions.

On that thought, as the resident liberal around here and a generally pro-Obama guy as these things go, I am outraged and disgusted by the legal analysis in the Justice Department white paper that is believed to be close to, if not the actual analysis, the Obama administration uses to justify extrajudicial killing of American citizens believed to be enemy combatants.

Take a look at that memo. Let your eyes adjust to the NBC News watermark, which might take a while, much of which will be spent trying to wrap your mind around NBC News breaking a story. Then read the memo. It is as broad a claim of executive power as you are likely to see. It is garbage. It claims virtually unlimited power while shedding crocodile tears for the cherished principles it dismantles in making the claim.

One ambiguous phrase is stacked on top of another until the inescapable conclusion is that extrajudicial killing is justified whenever the United States wants to use it. The threat matrix is basically an Excel spreadsheet where every cell says "Well, what do you WANT to do?"

The memo carefully cites prior case law as a prelude to stretching any leeway given to the Executive Branch well beyond reason. It is permissible to respond to imminent danger? Excellent. Imminent threat now means… threat. Seriously. The opinion literally reads the word 'imminent' out of the limitation on the grounds that imminence is complicated. "Senior operational officer" and "associated forces" – theoretically limitations – are not defined at all, so "what do you WANT to do" is the de facto standard. The "feasibility of capture" limitation is no limitation at all, since it justifies any scenario short of "you can not kill an Al Qaeda official who accidentally walks, unarmed, into a military prison." The less said about the wave of the hand the opinion gives to the need to limit collateral damage, the better, since the number and lethality of drone strikes in the last year should have embarrassed anyone out of citing that principle here.

Some pages follow about the Constitutional rights unique to Americans caught in the sights of the War on Terror but, honestly, who gives a shit? After you get through reading the broad authority given to assassinate, the idea that the 4th Amendment might somehow give pause is a joke. The power claimed to drop bombs in civilian areas to kill enemy combatants of ambiguous operational importance is the real moral horrorshow here. The Constitutional rights stuff is picayune academic jerking off.

There is probably a well-reasoned analysis of the appropriate circumstances for using drone strikes to kill enemy combatants. The analysis would genuinely grapple with what it means for a threat to be 'imminent'; for capture to be 'unfeasible'; for collateral damage to be 'humane.' This memo is not it, though it desperately pretends to be.

This document is David Addington's unitary executive wet dream, so we'll see how consistent the right stays. I'm predicting a surge in demand for fainting couches. Consistency is not for the faint of heart.

UPDATE: Might as well give credit where credit for something appalling is due: Republicans are lining up to agree with the broad executive power to kill on a hunch in the white paper. Consistent. Disgusting, but consistent.

Is That A Mote In Your Dog's Eye?

This is a story about when stupid jokes stop getting stupid and start getting real. If you think I've used the word stupid too many times already, get used to it because I'm just getting started.

I'm not a Mitt Romney fan for all the reasons a liberal would not be a Mitt Romney fan. Accordingly, I've had a great deal of fun with the Saga of Seamus, the Romney family dog who was strapped to the roof of the car for a family trip. It has everything you want in a profoundly stupid story: it fits certain useful narratives (a robotic candidate acting soulless and the vulture capitalist who is even mean to his dog), the candidate can't respond to the story without sounding stupid (Mitt said that he wouldn't put a dog on the roof if he knew people would get upset, which is exactly the wrong answer, and just what you'd expect from a flip-flopper) and it prominently features diarrhea. For all of these reasons it has had remarkable staying power in the public imagination, via sites like Dogs Against Romney, for example, even if it rarely makes it into the mainstream media by anyone not named Gail Collins.

But, like I said, it is a really stupid story. Ann Romney finally went on the offensive, claiming that Seamus loved riding on the car roof and that he loved going on vacation with the family because it beats being in the kennel. And you know what? I've assumed that all along. A trip on a car roof is no different from a ride in the back of a pickup truck and every time I get a few miles outside of the city limits, that's what I see. And when I see a dog in a car in the city… he's sticking his head out of the window. The Seamus meme generally maintains that the dog got diarrhea because he was terrified during the ride; Ann says no, that he ate turkey off the counter and… well, that's probably too specific but I'm willing to accept that Seamus got the shits because finding the worst possible time to have gastrointenstinal difficulties is basically what dogs do. Hell, taking a long family trip in a station wagon with five kids and a dog is literally the only human behavior I've ever seen attributed to Romney.

(This whole line of attack is more like the Swift Boating of Kerry than anything else with the caveats that (a) nobody is lying about whether Seamus was on the roof whereas there is no real evidence that Kerry lied about his injuries and (b) it would have been a huge, non-stupid deal if Kerry had lied about his injuries, so basically it is like Swift Boat in that it is pure political nonsense that is impossible to respond to without having the principal effect of prolonging the story.)

Alas, every stupid story attacking one side has to have an equally stupid story in response. Today, the Daily Caller found the perfect one: on page 37 of Dreams From My Father, President Obama offhandedly noted eating dog as a child in Indonesia. If strapping a dog to your roof is bad, eating dog is worse. And, though there are obvious reasons why this is silly (he was six; he didn't choose his diet; if your culture doesn't keep dogs as pets, meat is meat (we'll get back to this one)) kudos to Jim Treacher for sussing out a great joke and really hammering it home. On his post, Treacher keeps jabbing at Obama, implying that Bo is not safe with Obama around. This led to a million jokes about Obama eating dogs on Twitter none of which bothered me. It is a stupid joke playing out the string. Obama ate dog; if we can't joke about that why bother telling jokes.

Sadly, here's where the record scratch comes and I stop sounding like someone who has a sense of humor. That I have let the word "diarrhea" do most of the heavy lifting so far, humor-wise, isn't making much of a case for me either, I admit.

It didn't take much time for the joke to get out of hand. #Obamadogrecipes was, to me, the death of the Obama-ate-a-dog joke. The brainchild of Iowahawk, the Obama Dog Recipes hashtag exploded. But, seriously, this is gross and kinda racist. Not racist against Obama but once you've hit the realm of "dog recipes" the joke isn't really about Obama anymore. It is about weird cultural practices that other people have and we don't. Substitute "Obama" with "Korean" or "Indonesian" in the hashtag and see if that doesn't make you a little uncomfortable. Even Iowahawk admitted that he was a little uncomfortable about it.

As stupid as the Seamus story is, the joke never turned into something about Mormons or even vulture capitalists. It was just a joke about a guy who hosed off a dog that was shitting itself on the roof and then stuck him back on the roof and kept driving. When Obama eating a dog jokes are about Obama, I have to admit that all is fair in politics. When the joke shifts to everyone taking an old racist standby about foreigners for a few laps around the track… ick.

Stop it. That's the entirety of my point, despite how long it took to get here. Stop it.

I can't believe this is what I came back to the blog for. I'm going to go pet my cat.

Everyone Follows Instructions, Right?

Earlier today, Doug Mataconis got frustrated with the Casey Anthony trial analysis on CNN. This is understandable since most TV trial analysis is bad – wrong and dangerous, even. This time, though, I couldn't see what was wrong at all. Here was his tweet:

This was, to him, a head-slapping bit of analysis because, as he tweeted when I wondered what was surprising about the talking head's analysis, the Constitution says, and the jury instructions will make clear, that "no conclusion is to be drawn from someone exercising their rights." When pressed on whether that would really keep juries from drawing their own conclusions, Doug got all philosophical on me and replied "One never knows what a jury thinks, of course".

But are juries really that inscrutable? Are people really that unpredictable? No, I don't think so. I don't care what the law is, I don't care what the jury instructions are, I don't care how it works on TV shows, when a person doesn't testify in their own defense, the jury wonders what they are hiding. Aside from viscerally knowing that this is true, I've served on a jury. While most of what I learned on jury duty isn't germane to this post, the one thing I learned with absolute certainty is that if a juror is aware that a party is keeping information from them, she is going to assume that it isn't helpful to that party's case. And when the judge gives a stern look and says "The jury will disregard counsel's question…" what the juror thinks is "But I want to hear the answer to that question!"

And if that's how the jury reacts to an individual question in a whiplash case, how do you think they react to a trial where one witness after another comes up and calls the defendant a murderer and she doesn't even respond?

This does not mean that the defendant should always testify; in fact, I think the standard belief is similar to keep the defendant off the stand. As bad as it looks to have the defendant say nothing in their own defense, there are worse things than having the jury think "hey, why didn't she speak." There's a saying in football about the forward pass: "There are three things that can happen and two of them are bad." While it is possible that the jury may decide that your client doesn't sound like a murderer, as soon as the cross-examination starts a lot can go wrong in a hurry. The testimony may open the door to the admission of inculpatory evidence that had been previously precluded or the client may come off like a lying asshole to name two big risks.

So what we have is a delicate balance: is the definite, but semi-quantifiable harm from not testifying worse than the possible, but impossible-to-quantify harm that can come from a bad cross-examination? The ability to weigh these options correctly is why good trial lawyers get paid the big bucks.

I don't think there is a single lawyer who would tell you that no balancing is required. Juries aren't that unknowable.

To Catch a Predator

Yesterday, Deadspin editor A.J. Daulerio posted an expose on Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez's rape consensual sex with an underage a 17 year old.

So the story here is … an NFL quarterback had consensual sex? A woman had sex with an NFL quarterback? And this story is worth publishing because … the young woman very briefly thought it was a good idea to brag about it? Deadspin doesn't name the woman but they include all but her name. The NY Post steps in to connect the dots laid out so cheekily by Deadspin (her initials, hometown and a facebook screencap). Of course.

Deadspin is a site about sports but this story isn't within their jurisdiction. It isn't a story about Mark Sanchez. It isn't a story about the Jets. It is a story about how teenagers make decisions that they regret and about adults who take advantage of them.

The noteworthy adult in this story isn't Mark Sanchez; it is A.J. Daulerio.

What this is about more than anything else, it is that if you are a woman and willingly have sex, there is an asshole out there who will try to make you feel like shit about it.

You could say that E.K. asked for it when she dressed provocatively threatened to sue Deadspin to stop publication but that is just blaming the victim. Daulerio had already told her what he was going to do. And he told a 17 year old that she had to shut up and take it.

The War on the War on the War on Christmas Just Got a Little Harder

Ken already ably demonstrated everything that is wrong with fundie caterwauling about the non-existent War on Christmas. It is for that reason that I will do no more than engage in some cathartic name-calling about those idiots before getting to my main point.

The War on Christmas does not exist. It exists only in the minds of pathetic people who wish to substitute themselves for Jesus on the cross and loudly proclaim the martyrdom that they suffer when anyone dares be considerate of people who aren't exactly like them. It isn't enough that their religion represents an overwhelming majority of Americans. It isn't enough that their religion has led them to support profoundly dumb curricula in both history and science. It apparently does not matter at all that the people waging this so-called war are themselves largely Christian. The main difference between the two camps is that only the alleged warriors are living their Christian values.

And yet…

Under the guise of enforcing a non-discrimination provision in federal banking regulations, examiners for the Federal Reserve ordered a bank in Oklahoma to remove "Merry Christmas" buttons, teller's crosses and a bible verse that was on display. And now we have a problem.

As James Joyner at Outside the Beltway notes, this was a bad decision by a low-level official that was quickly reversed in the face of criticism. As such, I would not think it is a very big deal. But I fear that it will be a big deal because someone, someday – and probably soon – will decide it is a big deal. When the next round of War on Christmas moaning breaks out, this dumb incident will become "evidence" that "the federal government" is "trying to eradicate Christianity" or some such bullshit. And the fact that a gigantic fucking cross is sitting on wink-wink-private-land based on an act of Congress or that the Texas Speaker of the House is facing serious opposition from Christian conservatives merely because he is Jewish will do nothing to dispel that notion.

So… thanks for nothing, Federal Reserve regulators. You've reignited a flame that sane believers in the separation of church and state keep trying to put out.

Fine, I'm a Sheep

Yes, all of the security theater bothers me. No, I do not think it useful and I am thankful that I don't have any plans to fly in the near future. That said, I don't think I'd do what Matt from No Blasters! did to avoid the indignities of the backscatter machine or the enhanced rubdown to reenter the United States when returning from an international flight.

By asserting his constitutional rights (whatever those may be, and I doubt that the courts will agree that he has the rights he thinks he has) and calmly asking for supervisor after supervisor like he was complaining at a Waldbaum's that refused to accept a coupon, he was eventually escorted out of the airport without any more than a trip through the metal detector. The story is worth reading in its entirety to see what you have to endure to convince the TSA to give up on you but here is the conclusion:

In order to enter the USA, I was never touched, I was never “Backscatted,” and I was never metal detected. In the end, it took 2.5 hours, but I proved that it is possible. I’m looking forward to my next flight on Wednesday.

Two and a half hours? I'd let a government worker cup my balls without gloves to save that much time at the DMV.

A Different Rememberance on Veteran's Day

My father was a veteran also. He was drafted into the Navy and served aboard the U.S.S. Mattaponi, an Auxilliary Oiler, as a Pharmacist First Class during the latter stages of W.W. II.

In his telling, his ship docked in Nagasaki a few weeks after the bomb was dropped – though Wikipedia disagrees – and years later he was glad to have not been allowed off the ship. As far as I know he didn't receive any medals for his wartime service, which wouldn't be a surprise given his distance from combat. He didn't talk about his service much and it didn't even occur to me to ask about it until much later in his life. Even then he didn't seem to find the subject interesting and it had been so long that much had been forgotten. From what I gather, the main thing he did was dispense penicillin to sailors returning from shore leave. Which is to say that he saved countless lives and is an unsung hero.

And now it is too late to really probe the question since he passed away in 2003. Today would have been his 90th birthday, a day that always coincided with a day off from school, which was nice. My son had the day off today too. It pains me that they never met.

Sidney kind of looks like him, though, so at least I've got that.

The Case of the Dog Who Barked Stupidly

Like any other law-centric blog, we get our share of attorney spam here. It is unpleasant, as it clogs the drain and gets in the way of other people directly addressing the posts and calling me dumb in the comments.

We briefly toyed with the notion of confronting the law-spammers by assuming that they were innocent naïfs, led astray by marketers to whom they had, in the parlance of these things, outsourced their ethics. It was unsatisfying, not least because the lawyers stop responding to your queries if they think you are going to delete the spam and move on. And so we return to our old ploy of outing the fools and engaging in a public shaming.

In a recent post regarding the admissibility of Wikipedia as evidence and vicious, vicious Border Collie mixes, we received a comment from a confused party named 'dogattorney'. Though it was a fairly straightforward post, the entirety of the comment was "I don't get it." It almost makes you think that the commenter is actually a dog; it is unlikely he is a very good attorney.

But no, the comment wasn't left by a dog. Nor, actually, was the comment left by an attorney. These particular idiots, who appear to be confused about their claimed expertise, can be found at DogAttorney dot com, a nationwide attorney referral service for dog bite victims.

What to do, then, if there is no one person we can "out" and embarrass? The site offers no hint of which lawyers have signed up for a dog-bite site that advertises by spamming blog comments. If you wanted to know, you might find out by calling the number (1-888-7DOGBITES*) and providing a location, in response to which they may give you a contact. Or you could fill out their online form. Then you could ask that attorney — why are you a member of a network that advertises through spam? Or you could post their names here in the comment section.

Of course, if you've bitten by a dog and want to leave a message for "John Donahue, Top Dog Bite Lawer [sic]" (seriously, "lawer"?) all about the miraculous 96 hour cubic time day, and why 24 HOUR TIME IS NOTHING BUT A VICIOUS LIE PERPETRATED BY FRAUDS AND CHILD MURDERERS, and your dog bite, of course, we're sure he'd be happy to hear about it.

After all, he wanted us, and you, to know all about his prowess as a world-renowned dogbite lawyer.

I can hear you saying "That's unfair, Popehat! They didn't even hire the marketer who spammed your blog." But you know what they say:

If you lie down with dogs, you'll end up with fleas.

*7 dog bites? I'd say you have a pretty good case!

Unexpected Heroes of Free Expression

Of all the places I thought I could count on for participation in Draw Muhammed Day, the funny pages of a daily newspaper wouldn't have made my list. I wouldn't expect most daily-strip cartoonists to do anything controversial and I definitely would expect most daily papers to run a substitute strip. And yet, this morning, in today's Daily News, was this Over the Hedge:

Kudos to Michael Fry, T Lewis and the editorial staff at the Daily News.

How Do You Feel About Alan Grayson Now?

OK, so some of my co-bloggers don't like Alan Grayson. They have their reasons, whether it is because they think he engaged in an abuse of power in trying to shut up a critic or because he has a European attitude towards vacations. I, on the other hand like Alan Grayson because he has a European attitude about vacations and that is allowing me to minimize the importance of the other thing, which, honestly, isn't that big a deal. (See?)

But even though we have our disagreements, if you are going to call just one member in the race for the 8th Congressional District in Florida a drooling mongoloid, why waste it on Alan Grayson?

Dan Fanelli is running for Grayson's seat but before Fanelli can run against Grayson, he's got to make it through a tough Republican primary field, and to do so he's gone with that hoary old tactic: XTREME RACISM.

Even if we can't agree on Grayson, I think we can agree on this drooling mongoloid.

Jack Marshall is 0-2 with Two Ks

After the whole April Fool's debacle wrapped up, I had no intention of going back to Ethics Alarms. Why would I torture myself like that? And then, after a quick trigger finger after his site popped up while my browser was in autocomplete mode, I saw that the top story was about that kid who got tasered at the Phillies game for running on the field. The first clue that this would be a tour-de-force of wrongheaded thinking was in the title: "The Fan, The Taser and Respect for the Law."

After setting the scene, Marshall notes that

A tsunami of criticism is now crashing over the security officer, condemning the tasering of 17-year-old Steve Consalvi, sometimes in terms more appropriate to discussing Abu Ghraib. If I were Consalvi’s father, I would counsel him to immediately issue a statement taking full responsibility for the incident and absolving the officer.

It would have been fine if Marshall thought that the kid could use a lesson in responsible behavior. It is even fine – though overwrought – that he is critical of Colaslvi's parents for raising the kind of kid that would engage in foolish behavior. Unfortunately, because Marshall lacks any sense of proportion or decency, he doesn't mind that the lesson is delivered via a disabling jolt of electricity. In fact, Marshall goes on to give carte blanche to any cop to taser any fleeing suspect, regardless of whether the suspect proposes any risk to anyone. And, in a passage that I had to reread multiple times, he essentially laments the days when a cop could just shoot anyone who didn't stop on command. (He claims that they changed the rules for "good reasons" but then catalogs the negative consequences of forbidding cops from wantonly shooting people.)

While Marshall is very keyed in on what he thinks the ethical obligations of citizens are when dealing with the police (obey or face severe consequences) and he catalogs all of the threats that a fan on the field might pose. Alas, it was clear that none of them applied here. Colasvi was running around like an idiot, waving a towel and dodging for the sake of dodging. He never ran at a player, never tried to destroy property, never indicated that he was anything more than a goof. He posed no threat to anyone; the players stood around laughing at the spectacle, aware that they weren't at risk. At no point does Marshall consider the ethics of police behavior and their need to use force proportionate to the task at hand.

Do I need to catalog all of the ways in which police overreact? No, of course not, because Radley Balko covers that beat pretty well. But it is well-documented and it is sad to see that Marshall is yet another apologist for the use of excessive force.

I shouldn't be surprised, though, because it appears that Marshall only sees things in black and white and his standard for which side of the line something falls on is his own sense of propriety. Ethics, to him, doesn't lend itself to nuance, to circumstance, to moderation. Jean Valjean would not be amused. I can understand his dilemma, though. It sure is hard to teach a subject if you have to think deeply about it.

Consider me alarmed.

Is there a "Happy Hitler" Meme?

Patrick and I got into a comment fight earlier this week over the Downfall DMCA takedowns. It was my opinion that Google had no choice, given how the DMCA was structured. It was Patrick's opinion that Google was a bunch of gutless phonies hiding in a corporate castle counting money and ignoring the cries of the helpless. I may be taking some poetic license.

In any event, Google has heard the cries of the helpless and is making it much easier for parodists to get their videos back online. YouTube now has a "fair use" button, so if the creator of the original content pulls your video, it is simple to claim fair use and have the parody restored. The ball is back in the court of the person claiming the original copyright to do the hard work of filing a formal DMCA complaint, which is more work than simply pushing a button.

The solution isn't perfect, because if a company can easily generate boilerplate takedown notices, deep pockets continue to give them a structural advantage (as always). At the same time, the DMCA notice have to be submitted in the face of a claim of fair use, which ups the ante if the parodist submits a counterclaim for abuse of process. And anything that makes it more difficult to pull a video is better for fair use.

Via BoingBoing. (In the course of writing this, I saw that Chris put it in the comments of the original post as well, so thanks for the tip, Chris.)