LulzSec ‘retires’

The anarchic hacker group LulzSec that I wrote about just a few days ago announces that it is disbanding. Whether this is a temporary or permanent move is unclear but it is inevitable that similar loose confederations of hackers will form and reform.

The Daily Show looks at the hacking issue.

New York makes the Pope cry

Despite a Republican controlled state senate and opposition from the powerful Catholic Church, gays have won the right to marry in New York state, joining Vermont and the District of Columbia as the only places where this happened legislatively. In four other states (Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire) the change came about because courts ruled that denying gays this right was unconstitutional.

This is major progress in the march for equality for gays, a goal that is undoubtedly going to be attained. Like slavery, denying equality for gays is so manifestly unjust, so lacking in any rational basis, that future generations will shake their heads and wonder how the hell it could have taken us so long to realize that it was wrong.

In the midst of a generally reactionary political climate in the US, we should savor this achievement.

So congratulations, New York!

Peter Falk, 1927-2011

There was something very likeable about stage, screen, and TV actor Peter Falk. Just seeing his rumpled everyman persona appear on the screen made you smile, just as you would when an old friend enters a room. So his death yesterday brought some sadness.

He will be best remembered for his recurring character of Lieutenant Columbo. The TV series was formulaic but in a good way. There was no violence, no car or foot chases, no explosions, just old fashioned storytelling. The beginning showed the crime being committed so there was never any mystery involved. The plot revolved around how Columbo pieced together the sequence of events that resulted in him determining the culprit, and the ensuing cat-and-mouse game leading to the capture of the guilty. This focus on the ‘how’ rather than the ‘who’ also solved the problem that besets traditional whodunit TV mystery series which like to cast a well-known guest actor each week because the most meaty guest role is usually that of the villain, which gives away the surprise.

As an added bonus (for me at least) there was also a class element to the Columbo stories. In every episode that I saw, the criminal was very rich and moved in high society and viewed with condescension the disheveled cigar smoker in the worn and grubby raincoat, driving a beat up old car, and alluding to his never-seen blue-collar family and background. The criminals would draw the conclusion that he could not be very smart and that they were safe, and the slow dawning on them that that they had underestimated him and that this befuddled character would be their Nemesis always added a pleasant zest to the ending in which they received their comeuppance.

Republican holy warrior

The ever-entertaining and acerbic Matt Taibbi aims his keyboard at Michele Bachmann. He warns us that even though she is indubitably nuts, treating her as a joke candidate who can be dismissed is a mistake. Here is a small sample from the article which is worth reading in full for the glimpse it gives us at the sorry state of politics today where we have to even pay attention to such a candidate.

In modern American politics, being the right kind of ignorant and entertainingly crazy is like having a big right hand in boxing; you’ve always got a puncher’s chance. And Bachmann is exactly the right kind of completely batshit crazy. Not medically crazy, not talking-to-herself-on-the-subway crazy, but grandiose crazy, late-stage Kim Jong-Il crazy — crazy in the sense that she’s living completely inside her own mind, frenetically pacing the hallways of a vast sand castle she’s built in there, unable to meaningfully communicate with the human beings on the other side of the moat, who are all presumed to be enemies.

Bachmann’s entire political career has followed this exact same pattern of God-speaks-directly-to-me fundamentalism mixed with pathological, relentless, conscienceless lying. She’s not a liar in the traditional way of politicians, who tend to lie dully, usefully and (they hope) believably, often with the aim of courting competing demographics at the same time. That’s not what Bachmann’s thing is. Bachmann lies because she can’t help it, because it’s a built-in component of both her genetics and her ideology. She is at once the most entertaining and the most dangerous kind of liar, a turbocharged cross between a born bullshit artist and a religious fanatic, for whom lying to the infidel is a kind of holy duty.

Snickering readers in New York or Los Angeles might be tempted by all of this to conclude that Bachmann is uniquely crazy. But in fact, such tales by Bachmann work precisely because there are a great many people in America just like Bachmann, people who believe that God tells them what condiments to put on their hamburgers, who can’t tell the difference between Soviet Communism and a Stafford loan, but can certainly tell the difference between being mocked and being taken seriously. When you laugh at Michele Bachmann for going on MSNBC and blurting out that the moon is made of red communist cheese, these people don’t learn that she is wrong. What they learn is that you’re a dick, that they hate you more than ever, and that they’re even more determined now to support anyone who promises not to laugh at their own visions and fantasies.

Fears of religious vandalism limit free speech

A bus company in Little Rock, Arkansas asked for prohibitively expensive insurance against vandalism from an atheist group that wanted to place an ad on its buses. Apparently they feared that the ad’s message “Are you good without God? Millions are” would inflame Christians enough that they would attack the buses.

A spokesperson for the atheist group draws the obvious conclusion, “The insurance money needed from us basically says CATA [the bus company] and On The Move [the bus company's ad agency] trust the atheists in this community more so than the religious, otherwise the churches that advertise would have that extra insurance premium added to their total cost.”