It was just a mistake.

A US air strike killed more than 85 civilians, including children, in Syria on Tuesday after the coalition mistook them for Islamic State fighters.

Some eight families were hit as they tried to flee fighting in their area, in one of the single deadliest strikes on civilians by the alliance since the start of its operations in the war-torn country.

A slight inaccuracy. A little slip-up. A bit of a faux pas, don’t you know. A blunder. A goof. Flubbed that one. A boo-boo. One brown person fleeing looks like another. They were wearing middle-eastern-looking clothes! If they didn’t want to get blown up, they shouldn’t have been living in a place that has terrorists. How do you know they were all innocent? Not our fault, we had good intentions, we didn’t mean to kill frightened civilians. Gotta break a few eggs to make an omelette. We have to kill the terrorists, sometimes civilians get in the way. Would you rather let the terrorists win? Collateral damage. Collateral damage. Collateral damage.

85 dead Syrians/terrorists/Islamic State fighters/Muslims. The labels help. Makes it easier to forget these were 85 dead human beings, as long as you don’t use the labels “children”, “women”, “men”, “families”, “people”.

Don’t blame Melania

It’s now clear that Melania Trump’s speech at the RNC last night was partially plagiarized from Michelle Obama’s speech to the DNC. At first I was inclined to doubt: it’s really hard to say two pieces of mushy platitudes are different, let alone alike, but when put side by side it’s clear that there was literal copying and pasting going on.

NPR carried the original text of Obama’s speech. The relevant section is here, and areas of common phrasing have been bolded:

And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them.

And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.

Below is the section of Trump’s speech, as transcribed by Quartz:

From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise. That you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily life. That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son. And we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. Because we want our children in this nation to know that their only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.

But here’s the thing…I actually have a lot of sympathy for Melania. She’s a non-native English speaker, and she has never trained to be a speechifier — I teach biology students who are told from day one of their arrival at this university that the culminating experience before graduating will be giving a 45 minute talk to the faculty and their peers. They know for four years that this is coming. We coach them along with classroom exercises. I practically hold their hands in the weeks before they have to give it. And still, this one event is the source of tremendous anxiety for many of them.

Now imagine that your career is as a model, and you’re told that you’re going to have to make a speech that will be broadcast around the world, and that will be scrutinized intensely in order to find fault with your husband. The pressure must have been intense, and thus my sympathy for her.

That does not excuse plagiarism, however. But if we’re going to blame anyone, that has to be fastened directly on the Trump campaign team. She had speechwriters composing her talk — my students don’t get that. Her speech should have had multiple levels of inspection. Obama’s speech was very well received, so I can understand using it as a starting framework — but everyone on the speechwriting team should have known that was one of the sources, and been particularly alert to making sure that this kind of sloppy plagiarizing didn’t happen. They were apparently working on this important speech to be given by an amateur for six weeks, and somebody should have been going through it line by line to make sure it was in line with the goals of the campaign, that there were no outrageous errors, and that it just plain sounded good. There must be many people who have heard her practice it dozens of times. A speech like that had to have been vetted out the wazoo, unless it wasn’t, which would also be a problem.

Her delivery was fine, but the content was stolen, and for that we have to blame the Trump staff who gave it to her and coached her on it. And that tells me that there is a gang of lazy incompetents working behind the scenes of the chief lazy incompetent, Donald Trump.

My expectations for this week are rather low

It’s time for the Republican convention in the under-appreciated city of Cleveland, Ohio…and I don’t think this event will buff the place. In case you were wondering who is speaking at the event, here’s the list.


Theme: Make America Safe Again

Headliners: Trump’s wife, Melania; Lt. Gen. (ret.) Michael Flynn, U.S. Army; Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa; and Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont.

Others: Willie Robertson, star of “Duck Dynasty”; former Texas Gov. Rick Perry; Marcus Luttrell, retired U.S. Navy SEAL; Scott Baio, actor; Pat Smith, mother of Sean Smith, killed in the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya; Mark “Oz” Geist, member of a security team that fought in Benghazi; John Tiegen, member of Benghazi security team and co-author of the book “13 Hours,” an account of the attacks; Kent Terry and Kelly Terry-Willis, siblings of Brian Terry, a Border Patrol agent whose shooting death revealed the botched “Fast and Furious” gun-smuggling operation; Antonio Sabato Jr., actor; Mary Ann Mendoza, Sabine Durden and Jamiel Shaw, immigration reform advocates; Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas; David Clarke, sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wis.; Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wis.; Rachel Campos Duffy, LIBRE Initiative for Hispanic economic empowerment; Darryl Glenn, Senate candidate in Colorado; Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.; Karen Vaughn, mother of a U.S. Navy SEAL killed in Afghanistan; Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala.; former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani; and Jason Beardsley of Concerned Veterans for America.

Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi. And those damned immigrants.

In case you were concerned that you might miss some of those riveting speeches by exciting, happening people, don’t worry — just turn on your TV. It’ll be there, and there will be a fawning media gently and lovingly ‘reporting’ (this is a fancy word that means ‘describing’ or ‘repeating’ what is said) on it. If you’re hoping to maintain your equanimity during this week of awfulness, though, don’t read Paul Krugman. He knows what’s up.

Yet while most polls suggest that he’s running behind in the general election, the margin isn’t overwhelming, and there’s still a real chance that he might win. How is that possible? Part of the answer, I’d argue, is that voters don’t fully appreciate his awfulness. And the reason is that too much of the news media still can’t break with bothsidesism — the almost pathological determination to portray politicians and their programs as being equally good or equally bad, no matter how ludicrous that pretense becomes.

And he gives specific examples!

And in the last few days we’ve seen a spectacular demonstration of bothsidesism in action: an op-ed article from the incoming and outgoing heads of the White House Correspondents’ Association, with the headline “Trump, Clinton both threaten free press.” How so? Well, Mr. Trump has selectively banned news organizations he considers hostile; he has also, although the op-ed didn’t mention it, attacked both those organizations and individual reporters, and refused to condemn supporters who, for example, have harassed reporters with anti-Semitic insults.

Meanwhile, while Mrs. Clinton hasn’t done any of these things, and has a staff that readily responds to fact-checking questions, she doesn’t like to hold press conferences. Equivalence!

I think I’ll just vote “no confidence” in American media and keep the television off this week.

Dan Savage is not a fan of the Log Cabin Republicans

Here’s how his diatribe against the latest from the delusional gay Republicans starts:

Every four years gay Republicans slime out from under their rocks to remind us that the Democratic candidate wasn’t always perfect on LGBT issues. They then implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) pivot to this nonsensical argument: Since your guy/gal wasn’t always perfect on LGBT issues, the LGBT community should vote for the Republican who was terrible on LGBT issues then, is terrible on LGBT issues now, and who has pledged, if elected, to remain terrible on LGBT issues forever.

And then he gets angry and starts smashing things. You should read it all.

We’re going to need a lot of TP


That really is the logo for the Republican ticket, huh?

Time to wake up to the veep candidate. Here are four reasons Mike Pence is the absolute worst. Or perhaps you’d prefer the myth of Mike Pence?

His key values are a fanatical opposition to abortion and Planned Parenthood, a contempt for LGBT citizens, rejection of immigrants, and he wants to ramp up the war on drugs. Against that, his denial of climate change and evolution are almost comical. With that choice, Trump has definitely firmed up his position with ignorant straight white religious men, and strengthened his opposition among just about everyone else.

It’s an interesting strategy. I hope it doesn’t work.

I have good news and bad news from Turkey

The good news:

There is apparently a coup going on by the mostly secular military against that erratic despot, Erdogan.

The bad news:

There is apparently a coup going on by the mostly secular military against that erratic despot, Erdogan.

The confusing news:

No one knows what the heck is going on, because internet access has been curtailed, tanks are in the streets, jets are streaking over Ankara, Erdogan is simultaneously in control and rebuffing the attempted mutiny and fleeing the country in a private jet.

Oh, wait. I was wrong. None of this is good news.

The ongoing decline of creationist thought

Richard Owen was an intelligent and much maligned 19th century comparative anatomist. It would be fair to say he was completely brilliant — his knowledge of anatomy was encyclopedic, he contributed many concepts to our scientific vocabulary, and he was widely respected and honored. Unfortunately, all people remember him for now is that he was Charles Darwin’s ‘enemy’, that he opposed evolution, and that he was ‘utterly destroyed’ by TH Huxley in debates.

Which are all wrong. He actually favored a historical explanation for similarities between species — he just was dubious about Darwin’s explanation, and had a battery of alternative explanations, including some Lamarckian modes of use/disuse. Ironically, everyone seems to have forgotten that when Darwin got around to postulating a model of inheritance for evolution, he basically proposed the same mechanisms of transformation that Owen was promoting. As for getting crushed in debates…I suggest that the Internet hype machine that makes every argument a resounding victory for one side or the other has a historical precedent.

The hit on Owen’s reputation is largely built on two truths–he was very political (and good at it), and he was disturbed by the idea that one preconception, that humans were the pinnacle of creation, was damaged by Darwinian theory. Of course, Darwin was also troubled by that…why else did it take him decades to publish? But the dethroning of humankind and the rejection of the scala natural was the central iconoclasm of Darwinism. Owen’s ideas were actually very close to those of Darwin, and as is usual, it’s the small differences that inflame the most ferocious antipathy.

And the thing is, the idea that humans aren’t the greatest, that the whole purpose of evolution was not to produce us, is still a major source of…I’ll charitably call it discomfort, but in many cases it is more like wild-eyed frantic loonyness. I didn’t come from no monkey is a comment that denigrates the rest of nature in an attempt to make their own self more “special”.

This overly long introduction is to point out that creationists still make this argument. One ignorant modern loudmouth is Michael Egnor, who just made a series of posts on the Discovery Institute propaganda site trying to argue that humans are the most specialest beings in all of creation because–well, you’re not expecting a rational argument from this guy, are you? — cats are stupid, and Aristotle.

Fortunately, I don’t have to deal with the Egnorance because Jeffrey Shallit already has. Twice, even, because Egnor can never get an idea out of his head once it’s in there. Ethnologists will tell you that many animals are capable of abstract thought, but Egnor just can’t grasp the facts.

Michael Egnor is no Richard Owen. When Owen was shown that other apes also had a hippocampus minor, the feature he battened on as showing a unique difference between humans and gorillas, he was able to accept it. Egnor is going to go through his entire life thinking of other animals as mindless machines, which will be his loss.

Spoiler alert!


You don’t have to wait for the Republican convention to find out who is going to be Trump’s vice presidential pick: it’s Mike Pence of Indiana. Blech.

It’s time the Republicans stopped playing up this incipient train wreck. I like what Charles Pierce said.

Damn them all now.

Damn the delegates who will vote for this man. Damn the professional politicians who will fall in line behind him or, worse, will sit back and hope this all blows over so the Republican Party once again will be able to relegate the poison this man has unleashed to the backwaters of the modern conservative intellectual mainstream, which is where it has been useful for over four decades. Damn the four hopeless sycophants who want to share a stage with him for four months. Damn all the people who will come here and speak on his behalf. Damn all the thoughtful folk who plumb his natural appeal for anything deeper than pure hatred.

Damn all the people who will vote for him, and damn any progressives who sit this one out because Hillary Rodham Clinton is wrong on this issue or that one. Damn all the people who are suggesting they do that. And damn all members of the media who treat this dangerous fluke of a campaign as being in any way business as usual. Any support for He, Trump is, at this point, an act of moral cowardice. Anyone who supports him, or runs with him, or enables his victory, or even speaks well of him, is a traitor to the American idea.

Don’t have to think twice

It’s worth repeating what Lynna already said: the Republican party platform is made of poison.

– the platform committee endorsed constructing a wall along the U.S./Mexico border, just like Trump wants
– the committee changed “illegal immigrants” to “illegal aliens” in the text
– the committee refused an amendment that would have pushed for a restriction of magazine capacity in firearms
– they approved an amendment that would make it legal for parents to force their LGBT children to go through conversion therapy
– Children raised in “traditional” homes are “healthier.” “Children raised in a traditional two-parent household tend to be physically and emotionally healthier, less likely to use drugs and alcohol, engage in crime, or become pregnant outside of marriage,” the platform reads.
– Education includes “a good understanding of the Bible.”
– Coal is a “clean” form of energy

You don’t like Clinton (I don’t particularly care for the Clinton regime, either). You think Sanders was robbed. Ignore both Hillary Clinton and your grievances about the DNC: if you don’t vote to make sure that odious collection of lies and destructiveness isn’t put right at the top of our nation, you’re not helping.

Even with my top choice not making it on the ballot, this is the goddamned easiest election decision I’ve ever had to make in my life.

Depends on whose ox is getting gored

I’ve been harassed online by a demented Canadian for over 20 years. He’s still at it, but at a much lower rate, fortunately, but years ago I printed out a couple of months worth of his threats and hatred — it was a stack of hundreds of pages — and plunked it down at my local police station, and told them about the problem. They had no idea what to do.

At the height of the Catholic annoyance with my desecration of a cracker, I was getting death threats every day. I reported them to the police a few times. They shrugged.

I’ve had people send me email with specific, credible threats: they’re going to come to town on such-and-such a day. They have this weapon. They have my home address. They are going to show up at my university office.

The response? Nothing. I’ve given them names and email addresses and IP numbers. No action of any kind is taken, not even sending a warning.

I still get routine threats of maiming and abuse and murder. I’ve given up completely. I know from years of experience that the police will do nothing. I’ve heard every explanation: “It’s just social media,” they say. “Grow a thicker skin.” “We can’t do anything until they actually act.” “It’s free speech.”

I know women who experience far worse, far more often. By comparison to the police, Twitter is a model of friendly, fast-acting responsiveness to abuse and harassment, and if you know anything of Twitter, it’s a scum-sucking friend to every asshole on the internet.

But apparently, I’ve just been doing it wrong. I should have just joined the police.

Four men in Detroit were arrested over the past week for posts on social media that the police chief called threatening. One tweet that led to an arrest said that Micah Johnson, the man who shot police officers in Dallas last week, was a hero. None of the men have been named, nor have they been charged.

“I know this is a new issue, but I want these people charged with crimes,” said Detroit Police Chief James Craig. “I’ve directed my officers to prepare warrants for these four individuals, and we’ll see which venue is the best to pursue charges,” he said.

The self-serving hypocrisy is breath-taking to anyone who has had to deal with ongoing harassment on social media. For decades I’ve been told that nothing can ever be done about written threats. Suddenly that has changed now that the police are getting the same treatment.

An Illinois woman, Jenesis Reynolds, was arrested for writing in a Facebook post that she would shoot an officer who would pull her over. “I have no problem shooting a cop for simple traffic stop cuz they’d have no problem doing it to me,” she wrote, according to the police investigation. She was charged with disorderly conduct.

In New Jersey, Rolando Medina was arrested and charged with cyber harassment. He allegedly posted on an unidentified form of social media that he would destroy local police headquarters. In Louisiana, Kemonte Gilmore was arrested for an online video where he allegedly threatened a police officer. He was charged with public intimidation.

“Disorderly conduct”? “Public intimidation”? But I’ve been repeatedly told that there is no applicable charge to be made against, for example, someone who has declared that he’s going to shoot me in the head and rape my wife! This is news to me.

This is not to say I think the police should be arresting people who say rude things to me — there are serious civil liberties issues here. The article makes the point that there is legal precedent that sets a very high standard for taking action, which is fine with me.

The policing of online threats is hardly a new issue. The Supreme Court set a precedent last year when it ruled that prosecutors pursuing a charge of communicating threats need to prove both that reasonable people would view the statement as a threat and that the intent was to threaten. Elonis v. United States dealt with a man who had posted violent rap lyrics about his estranged wife; the court reversed his conviction.

The problem, though, is that the police apparently have one standard for action against people who are rude to them, and a very different standard when it comes to the people they are supposed to protect and serve. You can’t say “I have no problem shooting a cop” without being charged with a crime, but you can say “I’m going to murder PZ Myers” with no risk of even a warning.

So fuck the police. They’re worse than useless when it comes to harassment — they’re enablers of every bad behavior, except when it affects their delicate sensitivities.