Ansel_Elgort_43600Once, unsure what sort of movie I was in the mood for, I asked twitter if I should go for nuclear war or ’80s teen movie. My then-colleague Tim Cavanaugh answered the only logical way — why choose, when there’s WarGames?

Matthew Broderick, Ally Sheedy, earnest ’80s pleas for peace, and menacing Cold War terrors, and the impossibility of computers that can actually communicate with computers; this movie fulfilled those two genre urges like no other one can. It is dated in all the right ways. (Why is dated a pejorative again? I love dated.)

I don’t presume to know anything about hacking, except for what I learned from Cracked lists about what it doesn’t look like. But WarGames, the story of Matthew Broderick’s David Lightman almost starting global thermonuclear war when he thinks he’s playing a game with a computer named WOPR (War Operation Plan Response)/”Joshua” is reportedly a pretty solid portrayal of it. The exception is the cinema-ready self-awareness of the computer itself, but certainly the scene where David calls different computers to find one with a modem — thereby finding his way to Joshua — is the opposite of the Hackers-style flash and dash bullshit. The movie explains backdoor passwords, and shows much more than frantic typing in order to explain how computers function or react. This seriousness is why the Vegas hacker conference is named in the movie’s honor. Or rather, confusingly, it is called DEFCON — for the NORAD levels of defense readiness which we all learned from various alien/nuke movies. (DEFCON is important to the movie, and puns are great, but that’s still a silly name. Why not JoshuaCon? WOPRCon? MatthewBroderickCon?)

This is a fairly slow-paced movie. The acting is good enough to go unnoticed.  The hackerness is all respected, meaning the computer intrigue before the accidental near-nuclear war is given its due. Later there’s David being taken by the FBI into NORAD. He escapes, and he and lady friend Ally Sheedy make their way to Joshua’s creator to plead with him to save the day. In true Cold War (movies, if nothing else) nihilism style, Joshua’s creator is initially too depressed about the inevitably of nuclear doom to do anything to stop the events. But just in time, he is convinced, and the three heroes make their way back to NORAD just in time to play the great, metaphorical tic-tac-toe that ends Joshua’s attempts to kill us all with the terrifying fiction of a Soviet ICBM assault.

The computer’s famous ending lines are cheesy, and they somehow work within the earnestness of the moment. Tic-tac-toe/Mutually Assured Destruction is a: “Strange game, the only winning move is not to play.” (So “How about a nice game of chess?”) Notably, before Joshua is tricked, then taught — an AI that learns, also an alarming concept! — with the game of tic-tac-toe, the military men at NORAD must be convinced to hold off on a counter-strike against the (non-existent) Soviet assault on their own.  Now, there’s an endlessly topical lesson, applicable to the US and Israel and other muscly nations — maybe you don’t automatically fire back, melting a few civilians in the process. Maybe you take a minute to consider your options, even when you are being attacked. Maybe you just don’t play.

In spite of the evergreen lesson of don’t kill everybody — and don’t let it happen by automation, which pops up in all manner of cold war fiction, for good reason – WaGames is solidly of its time. This makes talk of remaking it particularly baffling. What is a WarGames from 2014 or ’15 even about? Preventing a fake 9/11? There could be espionage and government secrets, but any variation would logically make this a different movie altogether. Personal computers are not the aliens that they were in 1983 — we now check them like we used to smoke cigarettes, with the same thoughtless tic. And we may be looking nervously at Russia more often than we were a few months ago, but fear of The Bomb is more passe than even space travel. Whether that is unwise remains to be seen — hopefully forever.

serenityOriginally rambled out over at Liberty.me. Spoilers for the 2005 film Serenity, proceed with caution

Joss Whedon’s painfully-beloved, endlessly-missed, didn’t-even-get-a-God-damn-full-season sci-fi Western Firefly had its libertarian moments. Hell, the pilot has the main character, the funny, but wounded Captain Malcolm Reynolds, say the following piece of dialogue: “That’s what government’s for — get in a man’s way.”

Mal has a reason to feel this way. He’s the the survivor of a losing war with the government known as the Alliance, whose noose around the rest of the universe grows tighter and tighter all the time. Mal simply wants to be left alone, with his eight other crewmates, and his beloved spaceship Serenity. Included in his crew are Simon Tam, who watches over his sister River, a damaged, psychic genius who has been experimented on and is on the run from government agents; as well as Inara, who is basically a registered courtesan (sexual freedom! Kind of!). The rest of the crew is a well-rounded, albeit Joss Whedon-archetypal group of men and ladies. We’ve got goofy guy, the badass warrior, the adorable chipper girl, but well, it’s better than all that, and if you don’t love it, well, I don’t know what to tell you.

Alright, so, Captain Mal is not a libertarian saint. The crew of the Serenity does some good, old-fashioned smuggling to keep going.  They also commit some theft. Even with some attempted justification for this by virtue of their residing in a crony capitalistic government, it doesn’t quite work. They’re not perfect.

Still, the libertarianism is not incidental. Whedon is definitely a liberal, but he has described Mal as “if not a Republican, certainly a libertarian.” Whedon built the show out of his own beloved and quippy character types, out of Western tropes, anime like the similar motley crew in space-themed Anime Cowboy Bebop, and the Civil War novel The Killer Angels. The rough and tumble group surviving after a lost war for independence is deliberately intended to invoke Confederates after the Civil War.

This is maybe why Whedon has previously mentioned that he isn’t necessarily on Mal’s side in all things. Perhaps the Alliance is not objectively the big villain that an individualist like the Captain believes it to be. But then, it doesn’t matter. The show endorses, if nothing else, Mal’s desire to live his own life. Whedon’s occasional attempts at neo-historical distance don’t really hold up against this basic need of Mal’s to be on his own, and out from under the thumb of the government.

(The self-described “more of a libertarian” producer and writer Tim Minear, who penned my favorite episode “Out of Gas also helps enhance that feeling of righteous leave me alone-dom.)

In 2005, fans got the movie Serenity, which more or less wrapped up the story of the crew (a few mysteries were left to successive comic books).

The struggles of River, who has been mentally unstable since the Alliance messed with her brain, are the highlight. She is being followed by a deliciously nuanced and unnerving villain known only as The Operative. He pursues her not just because, as in the series, River fled from the Academy that messed with her mind. Turns out River also knows a horrible secret about something the Alliance has done (maybe don’t bring a psychic into a room full of government men with secrets). In one of her moments of bewilderment she tries to tell her brother what she sees in her head: “old men covered in blood — never touched them, but they’re drowning in it.” (It may be a crazy girl’s confused cries, but that sure sounds like the state.)

The movie actually begins with one of River’s mixtures of a childhood memory, a nightmare, and a psychic vision. In that scene, young River tells her school teacher, “People don’t like to be meddled with. We tell them what to do, what to think, don’t run, don’t walk. We’re in their homes and in their heads and we haven’t the right. We’re meddlesome. ”

As perfectly, toe-curlingly libertarian as that is to see, especially on the big screen, it gets better.

Our plot culminates with the crew of Serenity discovering what River knew — the horrors the Alliance unleashed upon an entire planet called Miranda.  There is a convenient piece of future-video evidence where a woman involved explains that they “meant it for the best.” It being the use of a new type of drug intended to make the population of 30 million become calm, complacent, and nonviolent. It worked so well it killed most of the people of Miranda. A minority of them became the terrifying, cannibalistic killers known as Reavers.

Our (big damn) heroes are horrified, but the question now is what to do with the information. With the Operative following close behind, they decide to visit their friend Mr. Universe, a kind of unpleasant, but useful character who hacks and broadcasts pirate communications.

But before they make that decision, Captain Mal has to give the speech — he has to convince his crew to follow him, to risk their lives to reveal this information. They can’t let this crime be covered up anymore. They have to “speak for these people.” Says Mal:

 Y’all got on this boat for different reasons, but y’all come to the same place. So now I’m asking more of you than I have before. Maybe all. Sure as I know anything, I know this – they will try again. Maybe on another world, maybe on this very ground swept clean. A year from now, ten? They’ll swing back to the belief that they can make people… better. And I do not hold to that. So no more runnin’. I aim to misbehave.

These words may have been penned by a softy liberal like Joss Whedon, but do we libertarians need fiction better that that? It’s perfect. The movie could end right there, and it would still be satisfying.

The final scenes involve a last ditch fight between the Reavers and the crew, while Captain Mal fights the Operative in order to access the equipment that will broadcast the proof of the Alliance crimes. Mysteriously, it took me half a dozen watches, and a post-Edward Snowden world before I realized — they’re whistleblowers. The entire premise of the climax is that simply leaking information is work risking the lives of Mal and his crew. Indeed, the unstated assumption is also that by showing the universe what happened to the people of Miranda, thanks to the Alliance’s terrifying experiment, they will weaken that government.

It is an optimistic idea. The Alliance probably has more than one small group of evil-doers. Like the National Security Agency, or the Pentagon, or God knows who else, their presumption is mighty. Here in our world, we have seen attempts to reign in the NSA, but we haven’t seen them get anywhere yet. The most jaded say, yeah, we already knew what Snowden gave up his home to tell us about. We knew in 2005, and probably before, and nobody gave much of a shit. We also know that the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are out of control. Hell, they are part of the same mechanism. Showing that the NSA spies on innocent people isn’t guaranteed to shut it down any more than knowledge of the DEA’s immoral purpose has stopped it from becoming a spy agency in its own right.

Last year, as the skinny, soft-spoken, earnest Snowden first revealed himself, and explained why he had leaked the NSA documents, I was giddy with admiration. He left a comfy life, and all his loved ones behind in order to tell a truth he thought we needed to know. Snowden was, indeed, a big damn hero. 

But so what? Chelsea Manning is one, too. And she has 30 more years to linger in prison because she wanted to show people what war really looked like. Not enough people cared about “collateral murder”or the Iraq war logs. They didn’t want to know. She was just as well-spoken, just as certain that the government has far too many secrets about far too many important issues than Snowden. But nobody wanted to see it, or go head to head with the cult of the military. The NSA is a much easier target, and we still haven’t come close to beating it. Today The Intercept revealed that No Such Agency built its own Google-like search engine in order to share 850 billion documents with the FBI, CIA, DEA, and others.

As much as I adore Serenity, I have to wonder whether Mal and his crew’s effort to show the ‘verse the horrible crime of their government mattered much in the end.  And maybe that’s the point. The movie doesn’t prove that they changed the nature of the government by revealing its evil acts. They certainly didn’t destroy it. The movie simply gives us nine brave characters who want to live their own lives, and one villain who thinks that doing wrong is alright as long as you keep your far-off noble end result in mind. Serenity isn’t about overthrowing the big, bad authorities, it’s about folks who subscribe to the notion that “if you can’t do something smart, do something right.” This is something Manning and Snowden understand all too well.

It’s pretty pathetic when a tin-pot lapsed Commie KBG thug like Vladimir Putin is smarter about the Middle East than America’s foreign policy “experts.”

But he was — and probably still is.us-journalist-critical-of-putin-kicked-out-of-russia

A year ago Putin warned the Obama administration about the folly of intervening in Syria on the side of the rebels.

We (i.e., Obama) chickened out/smartened up and did not  send troops to Syria to dethrone the tin-pot thug Assad. We had already turned the Middle East into a bigger political hellhole than it already was by going into Iraq in 2003.

The Washington Post has a piece out now  entitled “Was Putin right about Syria?” Based on these quotes from a Putin op-ed in the  New York Times op-ed last September, he was:

A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

Obviously, real bad shit was happening in Syria and it would have kept happening with or without inserting U.S. men and planes.

But as Putin’s ghostwriter  said, “Syria is not witnessing a battle for democracy, but an armed conflict between government and opposition in a multi-religious country.”

Putin correctly/sensibly/realistically said that Assad, though a major league monster, was a stabilizing force who was preferable to the religious fanatics who’d replace him. He also pointed out that the rebel cause in Syria was attracting Islamist zealots/morons from the West.

Mercenaries from Arab countries fighting there, and hundreds of militants from Western countries and even Russia, are an issue of our deep concern. Might they not return to our countries with experience acquired in Syria?

It really is depressing how stupid American foreign policy-makers have been since President Woody Wilson came up with the idea that America should use its guns, money and soldiers to force Western-style democracy on all nations.

Our great leaders never learn about the folly and inevitable failures and (always predictable) unintended consequences of sending armed missionaries to take over bad countries and make them good.

Guess who was right all along about the folly of going to war in Iraq?

That is, not counting Pat Buchanan, 156 members of Congress (seven brave Republicans) and thousands of others who opposed or voted against the Bush administration’s war plans for a multitude of good moral, principled, pragmatic, partisan or personal reasons.

The damn French were right. So was a nobody from the American Heartland.

On Feb. 14, 2003, as President Bush and his neocon dream team geared up to take down Saddam, French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin  made a vain attempt to cool Bush’s pre-emptive jets.

De Villepin sounded pretty sensible about Iraq, not to mention prescient.

The “premature recourse to the military option,” he began, might appear to be the “swiftest” way to strip evil Saddam of the weapons of mass destruction.

But “let us not forget that having won the war, one has to build peace. Let us not delude ourselves; this will be long and difficult because it will be necessary to preserve Iraq’s unity and restore stability in a lasting way in a country and region harshly affected by the intrusion of force.”

Nine months later, as Iraq began its spiral into bloody chaos, De Villepin offered this unheard advice to America on CNN: “Don’t believe that you are going to solve Iraq because you are going to send more troops or more money.”

America had plenty of its own anti-war Cassandras who predicted the many bad things that invariably go wrong when you send armies to occupy, democratize and police a foreign land. They were all ignored, ridiculed or slurred for being cowards, just like the surrendering French.

One of the sharpest-eyed predictors who warned America’s Interventionist Industrial Complex to stay out of the Middle East came in 2002 from some unknown state senator from Middle America, where American non-interventionism used to be a religious tenet.

“I don’t oppose all wars,” the nobody said in a speech no one heard as the Bushies rattled their sabers and eyed Iraq.

What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war. What I am opposed to is the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne.

The nobody droned on.

Even a successful war against Iraq, “will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.” Among other accurate things, the nobody added it also would “strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaida.”

That wise counsel, of course, came in English from Illinois state senator Barack Obama. But even he didn’t listen to himself.

 

 

Pittsburgh, a city of about 305,000, is a safe and relatively crime-free city, right?

Ferguson, Missouri, is lawless and crime-ridden and needs an aggressive police force to keep its citizens in line, right?

But let’s look at some boring numbers.

The St. Louis County city’s population of 21,000 – roughly 65 percent black and 35 percent white — has 54 cops.

All but 3 are white, which has caused black leaders and the media to assume that the disproportionate number of black people stopped by police is a result of racism.images

Maybe.

It could be that Ferguson’s cops had so little real crime to worry about they, like many of their brethren in all-white and super-safe suburbs across the land, concentrated on petty traffic stops and harassing teenagers.

Without a real breakdown on actual “crimes” and such statistics as the ages of the races (old white folks are less likely to be stopped by police, while young black males on foot or in cars will be targeted, etc.) and the profiles of the convicted criminals, the numbers thrown around by the media and idiots like The Rev. Al Sharpton mean nothing.

Statistics can lie and confuse but they can also illuminate.

For example, Pittsburgh’s population is about 25 percent black. Its crime stats – particularly the 41 homicides in 2012 – were like most big cities heavily skewed by the black-male-on-black-male drug-gang wars on its streets. Otherwise, Pittsburgh is an incredible safe town, at least as far being a murder victim is concerned.

But as we watch Ferguson’s nightly riots and lootings (mostly performed by out-of-town trouble-makers), let’s not feel so smug, Pittsburghers.

Below, courtesy of city-data.com, are the crime stats for Ferguson and the city of Pittsburgh.

In 2012, the last year city-data.com offers, Pittsburgh’s murder rate per 100,000 people was higher than Ferguson’s. So was its rape rate and robbery rate. Pittsburgh’s assault rape was twice as high.

Ferguson’s bad guys did more burglaries, stole more cars and committed more thefts per 100,000 people, but Pittsburgh blew Ferguson away on arsons – 249 to 0, though the virtual absence of arsons  in Ferguson from 2000 to 2012 is highly suspicious.

Over all, according to city-data’s numbers anyway, Ferguson commits more crimes per capita than Pittsburgh.

The average crime rate for the United States is meaningless, since it includes virtually crimeless places like Vermont and there is no such place as Average Town, USA.

But in 2012 the U.S. average was 301.1, while Pittsburgh’s was 358.3 and Ferguson’s was 381.1. Chicago, where there were 500 murders in 2012 (most of them black males killed not by white cops but by other black males), the crime rate per 100,000 people was 562 in 2011 (the latest year city-data offered) when the national rate was 214.

So, to sum up the shocking news, Ferguson’s crime rate is only slightly higher than Pittsburgh’s but Chicago’s crime spree makes both cities look like daycare centers.

Here are the crime charts for 2011 and 2012.

Crime rates in Pittsburgh by Year
Type 2011 2012
Murders 44 41
per 100,000 14.3 13.1
Rapes 67 47
per 100,000 21.7 15.1
Robberies 1,126 1,134
per 100,000 364.9 363.3
Assaults 1,239 1,125
per 100,000 401.5 360.4
Burglaries 2,686 2,537
per 100,000 870.4 812.8
Thefts 6,897 7,610
per 100,000 2234.9 2438.2
Auto thefts 480 544
per 100,000 155.5 174.3
Arson 195 248
per 100,000 63.2 79.5
City-data.com crime rate (higher means more crime, U.S. average = 301.1) 368.2 358.3

 

Crime rates in Ferguson by Year
Type 2011 2012
Murders 5 2
per 100,000 23.5 9.4
Rapes 6 3
per 100,000 28.2 14.1
Robberies 45 38
per 100,000 211.5 178.9
Assaults 47 37
per 100,000 220.9 174.2
Burglaries 263 247
per 100,000 1235.9 1163.0
Thefts 649 699
per 100,000 3049.8 3291.3
Auto thefts 85 95
per 100,000 399.4 447.3
Arson 0 0
per 100,000 0.0 0.0
City-data.com crime rate (higher means more crime, U.S. average = 297.5) 433.0 381.1

 

Crime rates in Chicago by Year
Type 2010 2011 2012
Murders 432 431 500
per 100,000 15.2 15.9 18.5
Rapes 1,372 1,459 N/A
per 100,000 48.4 53.9 N/A
Robberies 13,757 12,408 13,476
per 100,000 485.5 458.8 497.6
Assaults 14,213 13,975 12,272
per 100,000 501.6 516.8 453.1
Burglaries 26,203 26,420 22,748
per 100,000 924.7 976.9 839.9
Thefts 74,764 72,373 72,717
per 100,000 2638.5 2676.1 2684.9
Auto thefts 19,446 19,078 17,001
per 100,000 686.3 705.4 627.7
Arson 519 503 N/A
per 100,000 18.3 18.6 N/A
City-data.com crime rate (higher means more crime, U.S. average = 301.1) 554.3 562.0 N/A

Ex-newspaperman Bill Steigerwald is the author of Dogging Steinbeck, which exposes the truth about “Travels With Charley” and celebrates Flyover America and its people. Blogs, photos, a 1960 Steinbeck/”Charley” trip timeline and more are at TruthAboutCharley.com.

In 2003 I visited recently departed ex-Pittsburgh Mayor Sophie Masloff at her apartment in Squirrel Hill and wrote this column for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:

Sophie is still something special

Aug. 3, 2003

She’s 85 now, so she’s lost a step or two.

She no longer drives at night. And it’s been a while since she’s been invited to the White House, a place she first visited during FDR’s final term and last saw during Bill Clinton’s time.

But as I found out Wednesday when I visited her at her Squirrel Hill apartment, Sophie Masloff is still up to speed on city politics and still a very recognizable institution about town.

In case you’ve forgotten, Sophie Masloff — the funny old lady in those TV spots for Gateway Clipper Fleet and Appliance Warehouse — was once mayor of Pittsburgh.

She ruled during what now seems like Pittsburgh’s good-old days, 1988 to 1994, when the city wasn’t openly bankrupt and begging for state funding.

“Mayor Sophie,” as everyone naturally called her, was a major civic hoot, an editorial cartoonist’s dream, a TV sitcom mayor come to life. But today, with her native city $60 million in the red, her relatively responsible, competent and uneventful reign looks better every day.

It’s been eight grim years since Sophie the Accidental Mayor turned the keys of City Hall over to Mayor Murphy and his wrecking crew of amateur economic developers.

The former county courts clerk and stalwart party worker bee would be the last to toot her own horn or criticize the Democrats now in charge of her sickly city — for the record, anyway. And she reminds that as mayor she had plenty of help from administrative sharpies like Joe Mistick (now a regular Sunday Trib columnist) and Jim Turner.

But Sophie is not shy about praising what her administration did and didn’t do well. In her first week in office, she said, she had street signs put up throughout the city. She ordered four new street sweepers and put them on a regular cleaning schedule. She cut the city wage tax by half a percentage point.

Asked what her major accomplishments were, she listed the Crawford-Roberts housing plan on the Lower Hill. Also, she said, her administration privatized four city-owned assets that were costing the city money — the zoo, the aviary, Phipps Conservatory and the Schenley Park golf course.

It’s easy to criticize what’s going on now, Sophie said, declining to do so. But, she noted, “I left office with a balanced budget and a triple-A bond rating. I don’t know what happened. It all fell apart.”

Sophie is worried about Pittsburgh’s chronic ailments — its continuing population decline, shriveling tax base and need for more new jobs. She knows the city has too many fire houses and is being robbed by the firefighters’ union, whose greed and political power she admits she could not tame.

Still, she’s optimistic about the city’s future. She’s not against using gambling proceeds to bail it out. And, ever the good big-city Democrat, she thinks higher taxes could save the day. If the state lets the city raise its $10 occupational tax to $52, she said, “We’ll be able to pull it off.”

Several times on Wednesday, as she showed me photos of herself with everyone from the Pope and Pavarotti to Bill Clinton, a man she “loved dearly,” Sophie fretted that it seemed egotistical to be talking about her life, which she insists is nothing special.

She’s wrong, of course. She’s had a truly amazing career in Democrat politics. It was launched at 17 when she saw Eleanor Roosevelt dedicate the Bedford Dwellings housing project and ended with her becoming mayor at age 70.

The scariest thing is, if Sophie Friedman Masloff ran again, she’d probably get elected. Half the people she meets on the street still think she’s their mayor. In some ways, she will always be.

####

Sophie sent me this nice note — the nicest one I ever received from a Democrat mayor.

 

In 2003 I visited ex-Pittsburgh Mayor Sophie Masloff at her apartment in Squirrel Hill and wrote this column for the Trib.</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Sophie is still something special<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
Aug. 3, 2003</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>She's 85 now, so she's lost a step or two.</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>She no longer drives at night. And it's been a while since she's been invited to the White House, a place she first visited during FDR's final term and last saw during Bill Clinton's time.</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>But as I found out Wednesday when I visited her at her Squirrel Hill apartment, Sophie Masloff is still up to speed on city politics and still a very recognizable institution about town.</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>In case you've forgotten, Sophie Masloff -- the funny old lady in those TV spots for Gateway Clipper Fleet and Appliance Warehouse -- was once mayor of Pittsburgh.</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>She ruled during what now seems like Pittsburgh's good-old days, 1988 to 1994, when the city wasn't openly bankrupt and begging for state funding.</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>"Mayor Sophie," as everyone naturally called her, was a major civic hoot, an editorial cartoonist's dream, a TV sitcom mayor come to life. But today, with her native city $60 million in the red, her relatively responsible, competent and uneventful reign looks better every day.</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>It's been eight grim years since Sophie the Accidental Mayor turned the keys of City Hall over to Mayor Murphy and his wrecking crew of amateur economic developers.</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>The former county courts clerk and stalwart party worker bee would be the last to toot her own horn or criticize the Democrats now in charge of her sickly city -- for the record, anyway. And she reminds that as mayor she had plenty of help from administrative sharpies like Joe Mistick (now a regular Sunday Trib columnist) and Jim Turner.</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>But Sophie is not shy about praising what her administration did and didn't do well. In her first week in office, she said, she had street signs put up throughout the city. She ordered four new street sweepers and put them on a regular cleaning schedule. She cut the city wage tax by half a percentage point.</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Asked what her major accomplishments were, she listed the Crawford-Roberts housing plan on the Lower Hill. Also, she said, her administration privatized four city-owned assets that were costing the city money -- the zoo, the aviary, Phipps Conservatory and the Schenley Park golf course.</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>It's easy to criticize what's going on now, Sophie said, declining to do so. But, she noted, "I left office with a balanced budget and a triple-A bond rating. I don't know what happened. It all fell apart."</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Sophie is worried about Pittsburgh's chronic ailments -- its continuing population decline, shriveling tax base and need for more new jobs. She knows the city has too many fire houses and is being robbed by the firefighters' union, whose greed and political power she admits she could not tame.</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Still, she's optimistic about the city's future. She's not against using gambling proceeds to bail it out. And, ever the good big-city Democrat, she thinks higher taxes could save the day. If the state lets the city raise its $10 occupational tax to $52, she said, "We'll be able to pull it off."</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Several times on Wednesday, as she showed me photos of herself with everyone from the Pope and Pavarotti to Bill Clinton, a man she "loved dearly," Sophie fretted that it seemed egotistical to be talking about her life, which she insists is nothing special.</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>She's wrong, of course. She's had a truly amazing career in Democrat politics. It was launched at 17 when she saw Eleanor Roosevelt dedicate the Bedford Dwellings housing project and ended with her becoming mayor at age 70.</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>The scariest thing is, if Sophie Friedman Masloff ran again, she'd probably get elected. Half the people she meets on the street still think she's their mayor. In some ways, she will always be.</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>####</p><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br />
<p>Sophie sent me this nice note -- the nicest one I ever received from a Democrat mayor.

LikeLike · ·

Libertarians, those paranoid weirdos! Why do they believe that the government is out to get them? Well, it is, but libertarians are not thoughtless conspiracy theorists — we’re thoughtful ones! We know power is bad, and the state is the most powerful thing there is, so it is probably up to something. Join a delightful panel for a very special episodes of Politics for People Who Hate Politics, during which seven libertarians explore conspiracy theories, advocate for skepticism, but then get very distracted by how much they enjoy the stories for their sake.

Host: Lucy Steigerwald: Columnist for VICE.com, Antiwar.com, Rare.us, and Editor in Chief of The Stag Blog; @lucystag

-Jesse Walker: Books editor for Reason magazine and Reason.com, author of Rebels on the Air: An Alternative History of Radio in America and The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory; @notjessewalker

-Dan Bier: executive editor at the Skeptical Libertarian; @skepticaldan

-Franklin Harris: assistant metro editor for the Decatur Daily; @FranklinH3000

-Seth Wilson: blogger at cultwestern.com; @TheJackalopeTX

-Zach Fountain: songwriter, blogger at rushmorebeekeepers.com; @rbeekeepers

-Joe Steigerwald: Publisher for The Stag Blog, technical dude; @steigerwaldino

Further reading/listening/watching:

The United States of Paranoia by Jesse Walker

“The Greatest Fake Religion of All Time” by Jesse Walker

“In Defense of Paranoia” by Lucy Steigerwald

“The Alien” song by Zach Fountain

Robert Cohen/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/AP Photo

Want a peek into the deranged minds of the American people?

Look no further than the striking contrast between the most shared links on Facebook vs. Twitter.

According to content aggregation site BuzzSumo, over the past week the most shared story on Facebook about the tragedy going on in Ferguson is this piece from the Conservative Tribune, which has 93540 Facebook Shares (as of 2:46 EST, 8/14/2014).

The article highlights a video from a “young black man containing a message for the black community and rioters, challenging them to stop blaming police and white people and start taking responsibility for their own actions.”

While liberal media is continuing to stir the pot, there are plenty of common sense folk in the area who are voicing their opinion about the shooting and rioting thanks to the power of the Internet.

Awesome. This young man is absolutely right. Regardless of color, every person in the country needs to learn to take responsibility for themselves and the actions they take.

It’s a tragedy that a young man, regardless of his skin color, has had his life rubbed out. This should be the focus here, that a family has lost a child due to poor decision making.

A tragedy of this magnitude should serve as a cautionary tale about the consequences that come with the choices and decisions that are made on a daily basis, not the color of a person’s skin.

None of this should be surprising coming from a website whose tagline is “In Defense of Western Civilization.” Why blame the militarization of police or ingrained racism when you have the “liberal media” to kick around? However the most sickening part is that they completely ignore the police brutality and mishandling of the situation by blaming the killing of Michael Brown on “poor decision making.” It’s such a ridiculous (ahem) cop out, yet, it’s all too common amongst these right-wing sites to never speak a word of ill will towards the police, especially when a minority is in the cross hairs.

Contra the race-baiting, police apologetic being passed around on Facebook, Twitter’s most Retweeted link is “I am Mike Brown Live from Ferguson, MO”, a Livestream from KARG Argus radio showing videos of the protests. I assure you, you won’t find any police appeasement there.

Looking further into the most shared stories, we find an interesting mix of news and putrescent “think pieces” on the Facebook side of things.

Top 5 most shared on Facebook:

Following up the “Black America has a Message for the Race Rioters” we have noted idiot Matt Walsh clocks in at #4 with his latest tragedy-baiting screed. An article about the dangers of police militarization and a Washington Post reporter’s account of being arrested also make the list.

On Twitter, we find actual news reports and reputable sources: Washington Post x2, Business Insider, and the New York Times.

Top 5 Shared on Twitter:

So what does this all mean?

That there’s a lot of people on Facebook, and there are a lot of users who are living in fearful white-only bubbles.

Facebook currently has over 150 million users in the United States compared to Twitter’s 37 million. But even with the massive amounts of users, there’s little danger in sharing a controversial article on Facebook.

The (almost certain) homogeneity in the networks of those who shared the “blame the black people, not the police”  pieces preclude anyone from outside their friends from ever seeing it. Twitter’s open structure, on the other hand, allows for outsiders to comment, shame, and call-out anyone (for better and for worse).

Basically, on Facebook racists and those who would rather cast aspersions on the black community instead of the police are free to do so without repercussion.

And the numbers don’t lie.

Rand Paul gets schooled: Libertarian fantasies don’t help kids learn — teachers do

The Tea Party senator has some wild and damaging ideas about education — and overlooks what actually works

Boy, Salon is pretty awful — and desperate to beat up on Rand Paul.

They let a public school math teacher from northwest Ohio attempt to put down some of Paul’s education reform ideas that were sketched out in Politico.

The selfless teacher actually argued that the best way to improve the quality of public K-12 teachers was not to offer more choice to parents/consumers but to pay teachers more. Brilliant.

Here’s the comment I posted to annoy everyone:

Nice headline. It’s hardly a “libertarian fantasy” to imagine a genuine k-12  education market that is overflowing with choices for consumers (parents) and the other taxpayers who foot the bill for the bloated, over-funded, poorly performing public school industrial complex. Our math teacher, like all good selfish/greedy union school teachers, doesn’t want any competition — human or digital — that might encroach or poach on “his” government-protected economic turf.

Rand Paul isn’t talking about replacing flesh and blood teachers with online lecturers. He wants to remove the myriad government restrictions that protect the current public school system and create an education market.  He wants to allow/encourage a thousand schools of every kind and size and shape to bloom. Our high college tuition costs are caused by government subsidies/policies, but there is far more choice for parents/students in the American college market (and in cars and shoes and grocery stores and many other goods and services) than in k-12 education.

The current system — a 19th century factory-school, made-in-Prussia model of control and brainwashing that liberals and libertarians have lamented and loathed for 140 years — should be broken up, defunded, deregulated, privatized and taken away from government control and protection.

Meanwhile, paying public school teachers more is not the way to get better teachers; but allowing people to become teachers without having to waste two years at a state teachers college getting a teacher’s certificate is. If Christ or Einstein came back from the dead and said they wanted to teach ethics or physics at your local high school, they’d be told they weren’t allowed until they got their teacher’s certificate and got at the end of the waiting line.

Public school teachers have a good racket because they and the “industry” they work in are protected from competition by their friends in government. Until their privileged racket is broken up, they deserve all the competition and damaging they get.

 

Politico.com is a pain in the ass.

It’s running a great excerpt detailing how Washington, D.C., grew in size and power during WWI from Christopher Capozzola’s book Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen

“America has a real capital at last,” wrote journalist Harrison Rhodes in March 1918, in the thick of World War I. Although the United States had only joined the war raging in Europe less than a year earlier, those 11 months were enough to transform American politics and its capital city. Gone was the sleepy crossroads capital with its swampy southern feel, and in its place stood something bigger, faster-paced and heftier—a city commensurate with America’s capacity to govern at home and wage war abroad.”
I wrote a comment under the Politico piece  (longer and rantier than the one below, but now lost in the blogosphere) and it was rejected. I was not deterred. But this one was rejected too.

Thanks to Politico for this history lesson too few know. It’s a reminder that WWI-critic and wise socialist Randolph Bourne’s observation that “war is the health of the state” is true — for DC as well. WWI started us down the road to our current bipartisan warfare/security/welfare/crony-capitalist state. Those WWI Democrats who worried that we’d turn into Prussia were right, except that we turned into something much worse.

As of 12:24 pm, this third attempt at commenting by me was still there:

WWI critic Randolph Bourne was right when he said “war is the health of the state.” It was healthy for DC too.

Meanwhile, while my contribution was being purged by some moron-in-charge, for the previous 12 hours, this spambot was among two spambots residing happily in the commentaries:

I just got<- paid $7500 parttime working online with a lap-top b­­­­­­­­y G­­­­­­­­­­­­oog­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­l­­­­­e­­­­­­­­­­­­­.I­ a­­m ­­­­­­­­­m­­a­­k­­­­i­n­­­g ­­­­­­­­­a ­­­­­­­­­go­­od ­­­­­­­­­sa­­la­­ry ­­­­­­­­­fr­­­om ­­­­­­­­­h­­.o­­m­e ­­­­­­­­­$­­5­5­0­0­­­­­­­­­-­­­­­­­­­$­­70­0­0/w­­­­­e­e­kL­­­ast Monday got a brand new BM­­­W since getting a check for $647­­­4 this – 4 weeks past. I beg­­­an this 8-months ago and imm­­­ediately was bringing home at lea­­­st $97 per hour. I wo­­­rk thr­­­ough this link, go to tech tab for work det­­­ail­­­

As of 12:40 my comment was removed, but the spambots remained. Maybe the screener is a robot.

Yes, as the great/heroic Ethan Nadelmann proclaims in the Huffington Post, it’s a very big deal for the country that the influential New York Times has editorialized in favor of marijuana legalization.

Now let’s see how many other liberal papers grow a set and follow their thought leader.

Too bad the Times‘ epiphany is pathetically long overdue — and five years behind a conservative/libertarian paper from Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review — the daily owned by the late Richard Scaife — wrote the editorial below on July 29, 2009 because Scaife had been persuaded (by me, I’m proud to say) that the government’s war on marijuana was not just a total failure but a horrible infringement on individual freedom.

Though I and other Trib columnists  regularly called for the end of the War on (all) Drugs and did our best to ridicule the Bush and Obama administrations for their immoral and stupid drug policies, I had left the Trib by the time its call for legalization ran:

 

Stop ‘reefer madness’: Legalize marijuana

It’s time to legalize marijuana.

Note we did not say it’s time to “decriminalize” marijuana. And note we did not say it’s time to legalize marijuana nationwide for medicinal purposes only.

It’s time to flat-out legalize the production, possession, sale and use of marijuana.

This should be a no-brainer for thinking people. After all, alcohol prohibition in the early 20th century was such a “success,” right?

The federal prohibition against marijuana took effect 72 years ago this Sunday. It has flooded our legal system, jails and prisons. It has cost taxpayers billions of dollars annually.

It also has fueled organized crime and violence on a massive national and international scale.

And it has sent billions of dollars into an underground economic system that could bolster the mainstream economy, especially in these recessionary times.

Indeed, with legalization there must be some commonsense, effective and market-friendly regulation. (Please, no Pennsylvania Marijuana Control Board.)

Marijuana sales should be taxed. (But not at a level that discourages its commerce.)

Use by minors should be prohibited. (Let the debate begin whether that should be under 21 or under 18.)

And the same under-the-influence laws that apply to alcohol and driving should be applied to marijuana.

We’re off our conservative rocker, you say• Then late conservative icons William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman were, too.

Citing the Dutch example, Mr. Buckley said usage did not swell. “Today we have illegal marijuana for whoever wants it,” he added.

Noted Mr. Friedman, citing clear economic thinking: “There is no logical basis for the prohibition of marijuana.”

Marijuana’s prohibition long has been rooted in fear, not facts, and in government propaganda, not sane public policy. Prohibition has led to far more fearsome things, true reefer madness, if you will.

It’s time for sanity in the Great Marijuana Debate. It’s time, at long last, to legalize marijuana.