March 29, 2014
You are being lied to about pirates



Once they had a ship, the pirates elected their captains, and made all their decisions collectively. They shared their bounty out in what Rediker calls “one of the most egalitarian plans for the disposition of resources to be found anywhere in the 18th century.”

They even took in escaped African slaves and lived with them as equals. The pirates showed “quite clearly – and subversively – that ships did not have to be run in the brutal and oppressive ways of the merchant service and the Royal navy.” This is why they were popular, despite being unproductive thieves.

[snipped responses]

Actually, the most successful pirate in history was Ching Shih, a Chinese woman who commanded over 300 junks manned by 20,000 to 40,000 pirates.


It also looks like they’re going to make a TV Series based on her life Starring Maggie Q:

Deadline is reporting that one of our favorite historical ladies may be coming to a television screen near you: Ching Shih, a pirate’s widow who, at the dawn of the 1800′s, began a career that would make her one of the most notorious pirates in the world, the terror of the Chinese, British, and Portugese navies, so unstoppable that the only way to end her naval empire wound up being to offer her complete amnesty and a nice retirement.


Maggie Q, late of Nikita, Mission: Impossible III, and Young Justice, is”set to headline a limited series from Steven Jensen’s Independent Television Group, Mike Medavoy & Benjamin Anderson of Phoenix Pictures (Black Swan), and Fred Fuchs (Transporter). Titled Red Flag, the series is set in the early 1800s and centers on Ching Shih (Maggie Q), a beautiful young Chinese prostitute who goes on to become one of history’s most powerful pirates and head of the most successful crime syndicate in China.”

Little is known of Ching Shih’s early life, so our accounts of her usually begin with pirate leader Zheng Yi taking a cantonese prostitute for his wife. During their marriage, Ching Shih was fully a part of her husband’s profession. After his death, she maneuvered and politicked her way into the lead position of his fleet, taking as a lover and new husband a man she could trust to take care of (and I might be reading a little too far into Wikipedia here) all the boring administrative stuff. Under Ching Shih, her fleet adopted a strict code of conduct governing loyalty and the distribution of loot and stolen goods, as well as personal conduct.

Ching Shih was also remarkable for being one of the only famous pirates to retire and die of natural causes. Giving up on defeating her, the Chinese government offered complete amnesty to all pirates, and she accepted, taking her ill-gotten gains and opening a gambling house, eventually dying at the age of 69.

LTMC: amazing stuff.  The original article is from 2009.  It gives some insight into why the Somali pirate “problem” came to exist in recent years:

In 1991, the government of Somalia – in the Horn of Africa – collapsed. Its 9 million people have been teetering on starvation ever since – and many of the ugliest forces in the Western world have seen this as a great opportunity to steal the country’s food supply and dump our nuclear waste in their seas.

Yes: nuclear waste. As soon as the government was gone, mysterious European ships started appearing off the coast of Somalia, dumping vast barrels into the ocean. The coastal population began to sicken. At first they suffered strange rashes, nausea and malformed babies. Then, after the 2005 tsunami, hundreds of the dumped and leaking barrels washed up on shore. People began to suffer from radiation sickness, and more than 300 died.

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the U.N. envoy to Somalia, tells me: “Somebody is dumping nuclear material here. There is also lead and heavy metals such as cadmium and mercury – you name it.” Much of it can be traced back to European hospitals and factories, who seem to be passing it on to the Italian mafia to “dispose” of cheaply. When I asked Ould-Abdallah what European governments were doing about it, he said with a sigh: “Nothing. There has been no cleanup, no compensation and no prevention.”

At the same time, other European ships have been looting Somalia’s seas of their greatest resource: seafood. We have destroyed our own fish stocks by over-exploitation – and now we have moved on to theirs. More than $300 million worth of tuna, shrimp, lobster and other sea life is being stolen every year by vast trawlers illegally sailing into Somalia’s unprotected seas.

The local fishermen have suddenly lost their livelihoods, and they are starving. Mohammed Hussein, a fisherman in the town of Marka 100km south of Mogadishu, told Reuters: “If nothing is done, there soon won’t be much fish left in our coastal waters.”

This is the context in which the men we are calling “pirates” have emerged. Everyone agrees they were ordinary Somalian fishermen who at first took speedboats to try to dissuade the dumpers and trawlers, or at least wage a “tax” on them. They call themselves the Volunteer Coast Guard of Somalia – and it’s not hard to see why.

In a surreal telephone interview, one of the pirate leaders, Sugule Ali, said their motive was “to stop illegal fishing and dumping in our waters … We don’t consider ourselves sea bandits. We consider sea bandits [to be] those who illegally fish and dump in our seas and dump waste in our seas and carry weapons in our seas.” William Scott would understand those words.

No, this doesn’t make hostage-taking justifiable, and yes, some are clearly just gangsters – especially those who have held up World Food Program supplies. But the “pirates” have the overwhelming support of the local population for a reason. The independent Somalian news site WardherNews conducted the best research we have into what ordinary Somalis are thinking – and it found 70 percent “strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defense of the country’s territorial waters.”

March 29, 2014

Late Night Music: Radiohead, Videotape (Live from the Basement)


When I’m at the pearly gates

This’ll be on my videotape
My videotape
My videotape

When Mephistopheles is just beneath
And he’s reaching up to grab me

This is one for the good days
And I have it all here
In red blue green
In red blue green

You are my center when I spin away
Out of control on videotape
On videotape

This is my way of saying goodbye
Because I can’t do it face to face
So I’m talking to you before it’s too late

No matter what happens now
I shouldn’t be afraid
Because I know today has been the most perfect day
I’ve ever seen.

March 28, 2014
"Why the ongoing fascination with deconstructionism and with the work of the philosopher whose radical works inspired it? Why does this philosophical strain seem strangely central to the conception of modern criticism, even as it recedes in influence? And why do these thinkers’ personal lives and ideological compromises seem unusually relevant to their work, beyond the usual scandal-sheet Schadenfreude?"

Richard Brody on the first three volumes of Heidegger’s “Black Notebooks” and the role of anti-Semitism in his philosophy: (via newyorker)

LTMC: That last question.

(Source:, via newyorker)

March 28, 2014
Veterans Are Being Threatened and Silenced by the US and UK Militaries | VICE United States

From the article:

Recently, when I visited Toronto to help start a new project called Front Lines International, I met soldiers facing long prison sentences for speaking out. For me, Jules Tindungan, 26, and Chris Vassey, 27, were virtually impossible to tell apart from the average Canadian, but both of them are American soldiers on the run and applying for asylum in Canada.

They were experienced, door-kicking infantrymen in the US 82nd Airborne when they went to Afghanistan. After 15 months they returned home changed men. Both of them believed they had been involved in war crimes and fled to Canada—Jules first, then Chris—where they would be able to speak out. Men like these do not refuse lightly.

Chris told me that whenever his patrol took incoming in Afghanistan “it was no holds barred… the day after, when people come to your base saying you shot up their home, tractor, farm… all we would say was, ‘Well, the enemy was on the run… don’t let them fire at us from your backyard and this won’t happen again,’ as if they had condoned it.” He saw Afghan national army soldiers “butt-stroke” local women in the face with their rifles during raids. It was, he was told, how thing were done in Afghanistan.

Jules explained that after one firefight his platoon recovered remains—bodies and body parts. These were strapped “to the hoods of trucks and driven through local towns as a sort of warning.”

Both men have been vocal in the Canadian antiwar movement. They will suffer for their words if deported. “Dudes who speak out get harsher punishments,” Jules told me. “Statements made to the media, as well as in social media, are used as evidence against you when you are sentenced.”

Jules also told me that one soldier who ended up back in the US phoned him from military prison, warning him to clear his Facebook posts and emails of any criticism of the military or the war. “They compiled a very thick docket of his Facebook statements and emails as evidence against him,” Jules said.

Chris is now an ironworker but easily slips back into telling expletive-filled soldier stories about his long months spent doing “illegal shit” in “A-stan.” He confirmed what Jules had said about the risks of speaking out: “Video or audio of you speaking out is used against you—usually guaranteeing a stiffer sentence.”

Also, this, from a former U.S. drone pilot:

Heather still honors the non-disclosure agreement that came with her security clearance. Having been involved in numerous kills she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, but she says that she cannot claim the veteran’s benefits she is entitled to because she can’t detail to doctors the missions that saw her develop the condition. If she does, she risks jail. Heather is 24 years old.

March 27, 2014


Woman has implants turned on and can hear for the first time.

LTMC: The emotions behind a moment like this must be something on a level that I can’t even comprehend.

March 26, 2014
"In his book Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics, Jonathan Dudley notes that most evangelicals held far more liberal views [on abortion in the 1960’s]. “God does not regard the fetus as a soul no matter how far gestation has progressed,” wrote professor Bruce Waltke of Dallas Theological Seminary in a 1968 issue of Christianity Today on contraception and abortion, edited by Harold Lindsell, a then-famous champion of biblical “inerrancy.” His argument rested on the Hebrew Bible, “[A]ccording to Exodus 21:22–24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense. … Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.”"

Jamelle Bouie

See Also: Shmuley Boteach - Is Abortion In Christianity Based On A Mistranslation Of The Bible?

March 25, 2014
The End of the Addict

From the article:

"Addict" is one of those words that so many of us use, largely without pausing to wonder if we should. We just take for granted that it’s totally okay to describe a human being with one word, "addict" — a word with overwhelmingly negative connotations to many people.
We don’t really do that for other challenging qualities that can have a serious impact on people’s lives. We don’t say, “my mother the blind,” or “my brother the bipolar.” We don’t say, “my best friend the epileptic,” or “my nephew the leukemia.” We don’t do that because we intuitively understand how odd it would sound, and how disrespectful and insensitive it would be. We don’t ascribe a difficult state as the full sum of a person’s identity and humanity. Maia Szalavitz eloquently expressed similar frustration with terms like “substance abuser” in her recent piece at
When we do feel the need to reference a state of disability, challenge or disease when describing a human being, we say something like, “My mother has cancer,” or “My nephew has leukemia.” And we would almost certainly never let that be the only thing said about that person, something that defined them.  We do not say or suggest that a person is their challenge. We remember that they are a person first, then if appropriate indicate their challenge as one factor of their existence.
Why can’t we be that intelligently sensitive with people struggling with drugs?
My days of chaotic substance abuse are long behind me. I am not “an addict” now, and I wasn’t “an addict”  then. I’m just a person, who had a period of difficulty, pain and challenge. I battled, I failed, I tried again — just like most people.
Why not try using any of the following as alternatives to calling someone “an addict”: person dependent on drugs; people struggling with drugs; person in recovery from addiction. The use of person-centric language may seem inconsequential, but I assure you, it is not. It is vitally important to scores of people, most of whom you’ve never met and never will. They are the people who, in the eyes of the world, are lumped into that “other” category you’ve created for them by calling them “an addict.” 
This makes a lot of sense to me.  I use the same logic to discuss people accused of breaking the law, i.e. “criminals don’t commit crimes, people do.”  The term “criminal” carries with it a lot of additional negative implications that don’t actually apply to most people accused of breaking the law.  
"Addict" falls into a similar category: a mental checklist of negative characteristics gets lit up whenever we hear it.  We imagine a person who is unstable, has a complete lack of self control, and is perhaps even a danger to those around them (even though that’s usually not the case).  Even the facially-neutral term “drug user” has the same effect.  People who take anti-depressants or insulin are technically “drug users,” but we’d never refer to them as such.  It’s more often used as an ad hominem, than a neutral adjective.  
Once objective terms become loaded like this, it’s hard to rob them of their acquired meaning.  It may be the better option to simply abandon them altogether to achieve the desired result.

March 24, 2014
The “Outrageous Government Conduct” Doctrine & The War On Drugs

Recently, Techdirt reported on a California case where Judge Otis Wright slammed the government for its conduct in a drug sting operation.  Judge Wright’s opinion is a thorough primer in Drug War conduct, and how “outrageous conduct” by the Government can violate the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment.

In this case, ATF agents baited a couple of residents from a poverty-stricken neighborhood into “assisting” the agents with a drug stash robbery to acquire cocaine.  They played up how “pure” the cocaine was, how it was a “once in a lifetime” opportunity, and stressed how much money the defendants stood to make from the robbery.  Over the course of the sting, they convinced the defendants to buy firearms, come with them in a rented van, and accompany them to the alleged safehouse where the robbery would be staged from.  Once there, the defendants were arrested.

The Defendants sought to get their indictments thrown out on the “outrageous government conduct” doctrine.  Judge Wright sums up the doctrine as follows:

The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution commands that “[n]o person shall … be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” U.S. Const. amend. V.  The Due Process Clause stands as a bar to the Government invoking judicial process to obtain a conviction when its conduct is “outrageous.” United States v. Russell, 411 U.S. 423, 431–32 (1973) (Rehnquist, J.).  The outrageous-government-conduct doctrine permits a court to dismiss an indictment when the Government engages in conduct “so grossly shocking and so outrageous as to violate the universal sense of justice.”  United States v. Smith, 924 F.2d 889, 897 (9th Cir. 1991).  Judicial scrutiny focuses solely on the government’s actions—not the alleged actions of the criminal defendant.  United States v. Restrepo, 930 F.2d 705, 712 (9th Cir. 1991).  The outrageous-government-conduct doctrine thus differs in that respect from an entrapment defense.  Id.

As Judge Wright notes, there’s no “brightline test” for determining when the doctrine applies.  Courts in the Ninth Circuit evaluates a number of factors, including: 

(1) known criminal characteristics of the defendants; (2) individualized suspicion of the defendants; (3) the government’s role in creating the crime of conviction; (4) the government’s encouragement of the defendants to commit the offense conduct; (5) the nature of the
government’s participation in the offense conduct; and (6) the nature of the crime being pursued and necessity for the actions taken in light of the nature of the criminal enterprise at issue.

After applying the factors, Judge Wright determined that the Government’s conduct here was indeed outrageous.  He stressed that the Government’s conduct here was essentially targeted at desperate poor people who were more likely to risk their life and liberty for the Government’s promise of wealth:

Allowing after-the-fact knowledge to mitigate the Court’s concerns in a situation like this also creates a perverse incentive for the Government. It encourages the Government to cast a wide net, trawling for crooks in seedy, poverty-ridden areas—all without an iota of suspicion that any particular person has committed similar conduct in the past. And if the Government happens to get it right and catch someone who previously engaged in crime, the courts will place their imprimatur on the whole fishing expedition. 

Judge Wright then discusses the arbitrariness of the charges:

In these stash-house cases, the Government’s “participation in the offense conduct” is what makes them particularly repugnant to the Constitution. Everything about the scheme—and therefore almost everything bearing upon a defendant’s ultimate sentence—hinges solely on the Government’s whim. Why were there not 10 kilograms in the stash house? Or 100? Or 1,000? Why were the guards allegedly armed—necessitating that Defendants bring weapons along with them? All of these factors came down to the ATF and the undercover agent alone. That sort of arbitrariness offends the Constitution’s due-process demands.

Judge Wright then goes on to discuss the futility of these “make crime” operations in a brilliant takedown:

Zero. That’s the amount of drugs that the Government has taken off the streets as the result of this case and the hundreds of other fake stash-house cases around the country.That’s the problem with creating crime: the Government is not making the country any safer or reducing the actual flow of drugs. But for the Government’s action, the fake stash house would still be fake, the nonexistent drugs would still be nonexistent, and the fictional armed guards would still be fictional…. Instead, the Government comes close to imprisoning people solely because of their thoughts and economic circumstances rather than their criminal actions. 

Society must question whether the astronomical cost associated with prosecuting fake crime is worth it.

Indeed.  Unfortunately, there is a real question as to whether this will hold up on appeal.  But Judge Wright deserves all the credit in the world for having the courage to stand up to the federal government and call them out for truly outrageous conduct: baiting desperate poor people with the promise of drug money.

March 24, 2014
Paul Ryan & The Culture Of Poverty Thesis

George Will is coming to Paul Ryan’s defense regarding the “culture problem” that he thinks explains poverty in America’s inner cities:

A year from now, there surely will be conferences marking the 50th anniversary of what is now known as the Moynihan Report, a.k.a. “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” In March 1965, Moynihan, then 37 and assistant secretary of labor, wrote that “the center of the tangle of pathology” in inner cities — this was five months before the Watts riots — was the fact that 23.6 percent of black children were born to single women, compared with just 3.07 percent of white children. He was accused of racism, blaming the victims, etc.

Forty-nine years later, 41 percent of all American children are born out of wedlock;almost half of all first births are to unmarried women, as are 54 percent and 72 percent of all Hispanic and black births, respectively.

Will continues:

Is there anyone not blinkered by ideology or invincibly ignorant of social science who disagrees with this:

The family is the primary transmitter of social capital — the values and character traits that enable people to seize opportunities. Family structure is a primary predictor of an individual’s life chances, and family disintegration is the principal cause of the intergenerational transmission of poverty.

Assuming for a moment that family disintegration is indeed the principal cause of the intergenerational transmission of poverty, perhaps we should ask ourselves what the cause of that disintegration is.  If only there were some sort of objective data we could look at which might explain why poverty remains a structural problem for “inner city” residents.

What would that objective data be?  If our goal was to build strong families in poor inner-city communities, we might imagine the detrimental impact of having economic capital drained from poor families by disproportionately harsh enforcement of petty criminal violations, as often happens in poor inner-city neighborhoods.

We also might imagine the detrimental impact of school teachers and administrators who are more likely to discipline poor children color than their White classmates and remove them from the learning environment. 

We also might imagine the detrimental impact of low-wage, dark-skinned workers with no criminal history faring no better than White convicts in the job market.

We also might imagine the detrimental impact of having Black families and business owners steered into harsher forms of bankruptcy than similarly situated White families and business owners.

We also might imagine the detrimental impact of a criminal justice system that removes young poor Black fathers from their communities and places them in prison more frequently and for longer periods of time than their White counterparts, who escape culpability by committing their crimes in wealthier neighborhoods behind closed doors.

We also might imagine the detrimental impact of the psychological war that continues to be waged on Black self-esteem, both consciously and unconsciously, through the media, both nationally and internationally.

We also might imagine that all of these problems conspire together to create a system of hurdles that can make it difficult for poor, inner-city families to stay together.  A system in which the dark-skinned residents of inner-city neighborhoods have difficulty finding good jobs because “respectable” employers are less likely to hire them.  A system that makes it difficult for these residents to save or invest, because what little economic capital they have is stolen from them through the fines and fees that accompany harsh enforcement of civil and criminal violations in low-income neighborhoods.  

A system, in other words, that robs poor, inner-city families of opportunities to rise out of poverty.  

My instinct is to conclude that Paul Ryan & George Will are experiencing a failure of imagination.  That would explain why they continue to ply old, tired theories about the “culture of poverty” that have been discredited over and over again, regardless of whether it is Conservatives or Liberals who are doing the theorizing.   

Case in point: Ta-Nehisi Coates recently offered the following remarks after discussing the history of freed slaves in the Reconstruction era:

The African-Americans who endured enslavement were subject to two and half centuries of degradation and humiliation. Slavery lasted twice as long as Jim Crow and was more repressive. If you were going to see evidence of a “cultural residue” which impeded success you would see it there. Instead you find black people desperate to reconstitute their families, desperate to marry, and desperate to be educated. 

The “culture of poverty” thesis doesn’t work because we have objective data to show that structural barriers to economic success exist for residents of poor inner-city communities.  We also have objective data to show that the poor inner-city families are being torn apart by a 2-tiered criminal justice system, and a school system that disproportionately inflicts discipline on poor Black boys, removes them from the classroom, and disrupts their educational growth.  These are the primary forces that trap poor, inner-city residents in poverty.  Not a nebulous “culture problem” that coincidentally exists side-by-side with the same institutional barriers to economic advancement that existed when the Moynihan report was released.

Orwell once said that “to see what is in front of one’s nose needs a constant struggle.”  One can only hope that Ryan, Will, and their like-minded peers will find the time to focus their gaze.  Maybe then, they would see the truth.

March 23, 2014
California May Be Able to Sue ‘Deceptive’ Standard & Poor’s

From the article:

Standard & Poor’s is also being sued for fraud by the U.S. Justice Department in a separate case in federal court in Santa Ana, Calif. “The U.S. accuses the company of lying about its ratings and being free of conflicts of interest,” Bloomberg writes. “The firm has said it provided the same credit ratings as Moody’s Corp. and Fitch Ratings on residential mortgage-backed security and collateralized debt obligations before the credit crisis.”

The company has denied wrongdoing in both lawsuits, and the judge did not say when he would issue a final ruling.

Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism called the development “potentially huge.”

“Heretofore, no one has been able to sue the ratings agencies (astonishingly, they’ve been able to claim First Amendment protection, that their work is mere journalistic opinion),” she wrote on her site on Sunday. “This angle might work.”

It’s pretty far-fetched to say that the opinion of a financial professional is protected from civil liability by the First Amendment.  If an attorney gives bad legal advice, he or she may be liable for legal malpractice.  If a doctor gives bad medical advice, he or she may be liable for medical malpractice.  If an accountant gives bad tax advice, they may be liable for accounting malpractice.  We hold professionals to a higher standard because their jobs are so vital to the proper functioning of society.  When a professional screws up, it can very easily ruin someone’s life.

Financial professionals who work at S&P should be held to the same standard.  Ratings agencies are the glue that holds together our economy.  Billions in assets move based on their rating assignments.  If they’re fudging the numbers, a lot of people get screwed.  And they shouldn’t be per se protected from civil liability for negligence or malfeasance related to the ratings they assign.

With all that being said, civil liability in this case would still probably not flow from a professional malpractice claim.  A problem would arise in the form of something called privity of contract.  Ratings agencies are typically paid by the companies they rate in exchange for receiving a credit rating.  Consumers and investors relying on those ratings are third parties who technically have no obligation to rely on S&P’s credit ratings (they are free to disregard them).  Numerous professional malpractice suits have been thrown out on this basis.  If you’re a third party with no contractual relationship to the professional, you often have no claim.

It is much easier, however, to hold them liable for fraud.  The elements for a common law fraud claim are simple and straight-forward.  The person sued must (1) make a misrepresentation of fact, (2) know that it is false, (3) with intent to deceive the alleged victim, (4) the victim justifiably relies on the misrepresentation, and (5) the victim suffers injury as a result.

It’s pretty trivial to prove fraud here because S&P executives essentially admitted already that what they do is a giant, massive scam:

In incriminating e-mail after incriminating e-mail, executives and analysts from these companies are caught admitting their entire business model is crooked.

"Lord help our fucking scam . . . this has to be the stupidest place I have worked at,” writes one Standard & Poor’s executive. “As you know, I had difficulties explaining ‘HOW’ we got to those numbers since there is no science behind it,” confesses a high-ranking S&P analyst. “If we are just going to make it up in order to rate deals, then quants [quantitative analysts] are of precious little value," complains another senior S&P man. "Let’s hope we are all wealthy and retired by the time this house of card[s] falters," ruminates one more.

So hopefully this suit endures.  There is no better way to encourage corruption than to insulate people from liability for their actions.

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