Let’s not be afraid. Let’s be Americans.

Let’s talk about refugees, because God knows everyone else is.

The collective freakout on the right about the idea that we might, maybe, accept a few thousand displaced women and children (which they are, mostly) is perhaps the most embarrassing and depressing excess of the modern American GOP yet. It is horrifying in its lack of empathy and logical inconsistency. It is terrifying in its xenophobia and appeal to fear as a transparent politial ploy. It is so ridiculous that, if it weren’t for the fact that people will die as a result, it would be goddamn hilarious.

It is also absurdly predictable that it seems the same folks apoplectic about the prospect of gay marriage are just as adamant that the refugees should stay away. These supposed Christians would cherry-pick Old Testament law (as they’re all presumably wearing blended fabrics and enjoying shrimp) to deny legal protections to their gay brothers and sisters while Christ was completely silent on the subject — but now that we have a situation that Jesus preached about repeatedly, they ignore Him (which isn’t entirely surprising; these folks are also typically opposed to social programs designed to aid the needy closer to home).

We are certainly not a Christian nation in any legal sense, but we do seem to enjoy thinking of ourselves as guided by Christian principles, at least in terms of charity — or, at least, that’s what we might say we aspire to. Except we aren’t, really, not when it counts. We are anti-Christian in our treatment of the needy, in our acceptance of those different from us, and in our willingness to choose lengthening our own tables instead of strengthening our doors when our neighbors are in need. “I got mine, you get yours” isn’t a Christian mantra.

Jesus taught very specifically on this subject, and with some frequency. The most famous instance is the parable of the Good Samaritan, taken from the Gospel of Luke (10:29-37):

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[a] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

There are no weasel words here. He is quite clear.

Remember, too, what He says in Matthew 25, which is even more explicit about what He expects of His followers:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

My point here is not that we should govern our nation according to the words attributed to Jesus because he was divine. We are not and should not be a theocracy. However, we have for pretty much our entire existence as a nation been the place that refugees came. Diaspora after diaspora have found homes and lives here when no such options existed for them in their homelands. They made us a stronger nation, because we are not homogenous. Even our origin story is about refugees — a fact that should be particularly clear this week.

God bless President Bartlett. Sure, he’s not a real President, but what he says above goes to the heart of who we should all want America to be. Reagan famously spoke of us being a “shining city on a hill,” a beacon of freedom and hope for those all over the world — but what sort of beacon can we really be if we’re too terrified to accept those huddled masses yearning to breathe free?

We have always struggled to live up to who we said we wanted to be, even from our beginnings in 1776. But we wrote them down, so we can keep referring to them: the idea that all people are created equal, and that all have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This is why our doors must remain open. We should be the example state, not the counter-example. We have spent much of the last 14 years in a state of perpetual freakout, but it’s time for that to STOP — not in the least because terrorism isn’t really a danger for Americans (statistically, bees are a bigger problem). By giving in to the baser impulses of fear and xenophobia, we do ISIS’ work for them; let’s not do that. Refuse to be terrorized, least of all by women and children.

I get that this isn’t easy with so many on TV telling you to be afraid. Remember that it’s easy to get people to pay attention to you when you say there’s danger, especially when you pin it on people who are different. Be strong. Be critical. And remember the point of terrorism: it’s right there in the name. Refuse to become the anti-foreigner freakout nation that ISIS wants to goad us into being. Every time a middle-eastern refugee puts down roots in the US, opens a small business, and raises his family here, it’s better than a thousand bombs when it comes to destabilizing and eradicating those jackasses. Every time we prove that we mean it when we say all people are created equal, and that all of us deserve the pursuit of happiness, we prove their worldview is a lie.

The shitstorm in the Middle East today will not get solved without bullets, I fear, but it also cannot be defeated by violence alone. We have to show people a better option. It’s an ideology based on poverty and despair, and my bet is that we can show folks a better path by embracing those in need, taking them to our collective chest, and making them part of our great American experiment.

I’ve said much of this before, in various Facebook comments in the past few weeks, but what really set me thinking this morning is a long piece in the October 26 New Yorker called “Ten Borders.” It’s the story of a young man’s protracted, difficult journey from Syria — which was collapsing around him — to Sweden, where he’s been welcomed as a refugee. What he endured to get there, and the risks he took, are staggering. Seriously, take the time to read it. You were probably born in a country that stayed safe, after all.

There are a few bits I want to share directly, though:

When Ghaith arrived in Sweden, an immigration officer recorded his fingerprints, ran the data through an E.U. database, and confirmed that he had not previously been processed in Europe [Note: this is about the Dublin Regulation]. “You are now under the custody of Sweden,” she told him. “Sweden will take care of you.” Ghaith subsequently attended an orientation session to learn, as he put it, “what Sweden owes to me and what I owe to Sweden.”


On the bus, Ghaith scrolled through music files on his phone. The Swedish national anthem started up, loud enough to turn heads. “I listen to it each morning,” Ghaith said, proudly.


An hour later, six more of Ghaith’s friends—all Syrian refugees whom he knew from law school or from Jdeidet Artouz—showed up carrying a grill, a bag of charcoal, and a three-foot hookah. They stripped to their underwear and prepared to go swimming. These were friends for life, Ghaith said, though he otherwise cared little for Syria anymore. Once his wife arrived, they would have children and he would raise them as Swedes. He didn’t care if his kids spoke Arabic. He added, in broken English, “I worship Sweden.”

And, finally:

Around the same time, Austrian authorities found an abandoned poultry truck with seventy-one dead refugees inside. Ghaith said that he couldn’t help but feel lucky: “I made it, while thousands of others didn’t. Some died on the way, some died in Syria. Every day, you hear about people drowning. Just think about how much every Syrian is suffering inside Syria to endure the suffering of this trip.” He paused. “In Greece, someone asked me, ‘Why take the chance?’ I said, ‘In Syria, there’s a hundred-per-cent chance that you’re going to die. If the chance of making it to Europe is even one per cent, then that means there is a one-per-cent chance of your leading an actual life.’”

Can you, as an American, read these words and be proud of how we are comporting ourselves during this crisis? I cannot. I am not. We are being ruled by small, petty, venal jackasses screaming on TV about how giving aid and comfort to victims of ISIS will somehow endanger us. It’s embarrassing and ridiculous. Fuck fear. The last 14 years have been a never-ending stream of fearmongering bullshit, and in the wake of it we have done terrible things that are absolutely anathema to the values we SAY we hold dear. Let’s fix that.

Virtually everyone who will read these words is descended from someone who left their original country and came to the US seeking a better life. That is, in a very literal sense, who we are. It’s what we’re made of. Let’s return to being that. It can only make us better.

Do not let the terrorists change who we are any more than they already have.

But how can I change what politicians are doing? What difference can I possibly make?

Glad you asked. Turns out, governors can’t close their states. Refugees are coming to your state, almost certainly, but will need help integrating and settling in. (If you’re local to me in Houston, this goes double — Houston is historically a popular refugee destination; it’s something that makes our city so awesome.) You can literally be the welcoming, helping hand by calling the folks at Refugee Services of Texas. Odds are, if you’re reading my blog, you’re pretty damn well off compared to folks escaping war with the clothes on their backs, right?

Joining or helping to start a Welcome Team seems like a great place to start. Let’s help them out. (h/t to Autojim for locating this organization.)

(Confidential to the “but terrorists!” crowd: according to stats from CATO quoted by John Scalzi, we’ve accepted 859,629 refugees since 2001. Of those, THREE have been convicted of planning terror attacks, and none actually happened. For perspective, 1 in every 22,541 Americans committed murder in 2014.)

Sometimes it’s not just Mississippi in a general sense that’s embarrassing. Sometimes it’s very specific.

Oh, good lord:

Republican presidential frontrunner Ben Carson announced on Friday that he has named former federal judge Charles W. Pickering to serve as his Mississippi state chair.

You may recall that Pickering made the news in the previous administration when President Bush tried to appoint him to the Fifth Circuit in 2001. This put him under enough of a microscope that troublesome things he wrote in the 1960s — e.g., a brief on how to amend the state’s anti-miscegenation statute to withstand Constitutional challenge — came to light. Politics ensued, and much was made of a 1994 case that could be turned in such a way to make it look like Pickering was soft on cross-burning (which is not a completely fair representation of the case, but all that’s public record easily read; draw your own conclusions). He got filibustered — probably more because of his pro-life position (and well done Dems for doing so) than his supposed racism — but eventually made it to the bench as a recess appointment until 2004, when he retired.

Anyway: The point here is not that Pickering is a racist. He’s not.

I mean, I’m sure he’s got racist ideas — he’s a 78 year old white guy from rural Mississippi; that’s a cohort not known for its progressive opinions on race — but his resume also includes taking actual personal risk in opposing the Klan (he required FBI protection at one point), so the national picture of him as a guy two steps away from burning crosses himself is egregiously unfair, and that ought to be obvious to anyone who even bothers to read his Wikipedia article (linked supra), or any coverage of his career not written with an axe to grind.

Moreover, my lay understanding of his bench career (aided a little by certain other family lawyers) is that he was broadly respected by folks across the political spectrum, and generally considered to be a better than average judge. Had he been a pro-choice Republican, my guess is there would’ve been no filibuster; because he was a conservative lawyer in the 1960s who wrote some stupid things, though, there was the material there to manufacture outrage and make the filibuster easier to pull off.

However, I don’t have to resort to research to know that Charles Pickering isn’t a firebrand racist, and to therefore draw the reasonable conclusion that of all the nutty things Carson has done, this isn’t one of them.

I know this because I know Charles Pickering personally. Charles is my cousin.

Specifically, he’s my grandfather’s first cousin, though because my great-grandmother was one of many siblings spread over many years, he’s about the same age as my mother. (I think this makes him my first cousin twice removed, but nobody knows what that means.) I’ve been in his house a hundred times, most recently in March after my grandfather’s sister Ruth died and we had a wake of sorts for her there (pics, if you’re curious, here; this one is of him).

Despite what ThinkProgress and other organs have written, Charles Pickering is a decent man. He’s got terrible politics, though, that are filtered through an apparently severely right wing and somewhat fundamentalist lens — which is to say that he’s a GREAT hire for Carson. The baffling thing here, and the thing that’s frankly embarrassing, is that my bright, intelligent cousin has been taken in by the bumbling goofball Carson.

This isn’t new. At the wake I mentioned above, I was seated close enough to him at lunch to hear him extolling Carson’s virtues to one of Ruth’s sons-in-law, an accomplished businessman and French national who, I assume, is with us in the rational world shaking our heads at the freakshow that is the GOP primary. (I’ve never talked politics with Patrick, but my assumption is that he makes me look like a Republican.)

So the tl;dr here is that:

A. The progressive coverage of this is lazy and reductive about who Charles actually is, which is kind of darkly hilarious — think about it: if indeed my cousin were a lifelong bigot and segregationist, why on EARTH would he be working to put another black man in the White House?

B. How the hell does someone like Carson convince smart people to help him and vote for him? It’s fucking depressing.

C. I am, once again, in the position of being embarrassed by something in Mississippi. Sigh.

I love John Oliver.

Nothing about what these assholes are trying to do is going to work.”

He continues:

France is going to endure and I’ll tell you why. If you are in a war of culture and lifestyle with France, good fucking luck. Go ahead, bring your bankrupt ideology. They’ll bring Jean-Paul Sartre, Edith Piaf, fine wine, Gauloise cigarettes, Camus, camembert, madeleines, macarons, and the fucking croquembouche. You just brought a philosophy of rigorous self-abnegation to a pastry fight, my friend.

The best list of Bobbys you’ll see online today

Kiernan Shipka shares her memories of her varied middle-sibling co-stars in list form.

I hadn’t noticed, but apparently Bobby Draper was played by eight different actors over the course of the show. (Also surprising: two actresses played Sally, though the other girl was only in the pilot). Some were apparently one-offs, and the last two carried the bulk of the episodes, which is probably why we as viewers didn’t really notice.

Because I was curious, I looked it up. According to IMDB, the character appeared in 74 of the 92 episodes (Sally is in 89). * The last Bobby, Mason Vale Cotton (b. 2002), had the role for 33 of those appearances. * His immediate predecessor, Jared Gilmore (b. 2000), was in 19 episodes.

That leaves 22 episodes where someone other than these two played Bobby.

On the big lake they call Gitche Gume

Forty years ago today, on November 10, 1975, the SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank with all 29 hands in an early winter gale on Lake Superior. You probably know the song about it.

I’ve mentioned this here before, but I’ll note again for the record that I was shocked to learn in my twenties that this 70s-soft-rock gem was, in the true folk tradition, about a current event, not something that happened in the age of sail. Gordon Lightfoot wrote and recorded the song only a month after the sinking, in December of 1975. To this day, nobody really knows what took her down — the weather was obviously a factor, and could’ve produced a massive wave, but that’s speculation.

There’s a whole host of links available at this MeFi thread that may be worth your time if you, like me, find the whole thing fascinating.

Having trouble understanding right-wing logic? Try this.

The GOP and the Rise of Anti-Knowlege pulls lots of threads together in one place. Worth your time.

A sample:

Fifty years ago, if a person did not know who the prime minister of Great Britain was, what the conflict in Vietnam was about, or the barest rudiments of how a nuclear reaction worked, he would shrug his shoulders and move on. And if he didn’t bother to know those things, he was in all likelihood politically apathetic and confined his passionate arguing to topics like sports or the attributes of the opposite sex.

There were exceptions, like the Birchers’ theory that fluoridation was a monstrous communist conspiracy, but they were mostly confined to the fringes. Certainly, political candidates with national aspirations steered clear of such balderdash.

At present, however, a person can be blissfully ignorant of how to locate Kenya on a map, but know to a metaphysical certitude that Barack Obama was born there, because he learned it from Fox News. Likewise, he can be unable to differentiate a species from a phylum but be confident from viewing the 700 Club that evolution is “politically correct” hooey and that the earth is 6,000 years old.

And he may never have read the Constitution and have no clue about the Commerce Clause, but believe with an angry righteousness that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional.

Go read the whole thing.

It’s now legal for American cops to kidnap and torture you

All you have to do is step outside the country.

If Meshal’s tormentors had been foreign officials, he could have sought a remedy under the Torture Victim Protection Act. Yet the majority holds that because of unspecified national security and foreign policy concerns, a United States citizen who was arbitrarily detained, tortured, and threatened with disappearance by United States law enforcement agents in Africa must be denied any remedy whatsoever.

“Where Hunter S. Thompson had motorcycle gangs and Halcion, we must content ourselves with mineral rights and hydrocarbons.”

This is awesome. Obviously, you can trade in oil futures, but what happens if you just try to buy a barrel of oil? Tracy Alloway found out.

The point of the exercise was to take part, in some small way, in the severe contango present in the oil market in 2008. Generally speaking, oil purchased for immediate delivery is much less expensive than oil purchased to be delivered at some future date, but in 2008 the differential was huge enough that those with the capacity to move and store large amounts of crude oil could buy, hold, and profit at a meaningful scale.

It took a few years to push the idea to execution, but Alloway did eventually pull it off (though at a smaller scale). The story’s hilarious, but this may be my favorite part:

A true oil storage trade therefore required an early buyer. The usual suspects—think Glencore and Trafigura—wouldn’t dream of touching my puny amount of oil, of course. So I looked farther afield, all the way to my ex-colleagues, who I thought surely still harbored those dreams of owning Black Gold.

Izabella Kaminska, a writer for FT Alphaville and an all-round commodities expert, expressed interest in the contract, then immediately embarked on a due diligence process that would make me rue the whole endeavor.

Unsatisfied with photos of the product, she recruited the services of a professional oil consultant for comfort. The consultant asked for a full inspector’s analysis report and a proof-of-origin certificate. All I had was a FedEx invoice, though I assured them both that I wouldn’t dream of peddling anything but top-shelf sweet crude.

“That [is] all good and well until you learn it’s not Bakken but Kurdish oil, under strict embargo. Well done [for] supporting ISIS,” the consultant replied by e-mail. Adding insult, the consultant informed me that the glass bottle was worth more than the oil inside it, anyway.

When I threatened to sell the oil to a far-friendlier former FT colleague, one without expert knowledge of commodities or the benefit of a sarcastic oil professional, I was accused of taking advantage of less-informed retail investors. Expletives followed.

(Via MeFi.)

I might need a drone now

Rand has picked up a drone, and in so doing experienced a few “Holy Shit!” moments. Click through, read, and watch. They’re still spendy — the one he grabbed is $700 — but the video footage is just amazing, and it’s a cinch such tech will be half that price in a year or two.

Posted in Pix


Look, lots of things are shitty, but Spike Lee’s new film Chi-Raq is coming, and it looks kind of amazing. Lee has elected to work with a play this time. Given that the play in question is over two thousand years old, it needed some updates for modern sensibilities, but I think you’ll find the basic argument of Lysistrata pretty easy to grasp whether it’s set in ancient Greece or modern-day Chicago.

As is often the case, Lee has managed to wrangle a hell of a cast: Nick Canon, John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Wesley Snipes, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, and Isiah Whitlock (“Sheeeeeeit“) are just some highlights.

Out December 4.


Because we’re all goddamn hysterical idiots, we let fear of meth drive good cold meds off the shelves, replaced by something many of us — including Chief Heathen — saw as effectively inert. Turns out, we were right:

When the Combat Methamphetamine Epidemic Act of 2005 passed, pharmacies moved all cold-medicine with the actually-works ingredient pseudoephedrine, only available on request and with a copy of your ID. In its place, the pharmacy shelves were restocked with phenylephrine, which was alleged to work just as well. It doesn’t work at all.

Still Montrose!

My mother was visiting this weekend, and I’m pleased to report that Montrose managed to rise above the gentrification enough to produce a delightfully odd moment yesterday: on our way home from brunch, about 4 blocks from home, we passed a buff, shirtless middle-aged dude walking down Taft in the rain holding an enormous green parrot.