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Let me speak only for myself to start with.

Over the Recent Race Kerfluffle, where it became abundantly clear that, among other things, things are messy, people have been living with pain unrecognized outside of their communities for their whole lives, and people often don't understand each other, one thing that was brought up was the idea of white people trying to claim non-white status, for whatever reason, and in whatever way.

Speaking for myself: I sat on my hands for that. And now am not.

Because it's totally true that I have White Privilege. And I don't want to diminish the challenges that people who don't have that, who ARE visible minorities, face, challenges that I don't face. I don't want to make it all about MEMEMEMEME!, because it's not. And the things I deal with are very different than people whose skin colors, face shapes, or speech patterns are different than the majority in the area that they live.

I have White Privilege, I consciously USE it, even. But I don't feel "white". I feel like "The Other". I just feel like I hide it.

Other Jews have been posting about things that RaceFail made them consider -- I don't think any of these people are saying, "We have the SAME experience as black people, or Asians, or whatever." In the United States, we're not legally discriminated against. Being Jewish doesn't block us from marrying whom we choose, unlike some other "invisible", or semi-visible, minorities. We're not generally blocked from education, or jobs, or public life.

Here are three of the posts of people poking around at how being Jewish interacts with the topics brought up during RaceFail:


And yet . . . we don't take our lack-of-significant-oppressedness for granted.

These past fifty years or so, in the United States, have been good. Like under Alexander, some of the times under the Roman Empire, a fair portion of the Caliphate.

But I think many of us consider this to be just part of the way the world goes. Right now is good. That doesn't mean that things will always be good. Hamas or other anti-Zionist organizations will, eventually, get enough friends that people will decide that the Jews don't have any right to Israel -- after all, the Jews killed the Canaanites to get the land, the Canaanites are the Phoenicians, and the Phoenicians are the Palestinians, so they get the right to the land, and the Jews should be kicked out. And, when that happens, the worldwide backlash will include more violence against Jews, and that may well happen within my lifetime, which is one of the reasons my wife and I can shoot, do everything we can to maintain friendly relationships with our neighbors, and think about having skills that are portable in case we have to run.

Because we have White Privilege. But privileges can be granted, and can be revoked. And history is NOT a smooth march toward equality. There are better times, and worse times. Worse times will come, and those who have ANY mark of difference must be prepared for them, even if "worse times" are not NOW.

Who is white? In the United States, right now, Jews, Irish, Italians, and Poles are all white.

But Italians are not white in North Linconshire in England right now. Their "whiteness" was revoked. "British jobs for British workers".

I've got people on my friendslist who can testify to just how tenuous the Irish hold on "whiteness" is in England.

I'm white. Right now. But I'm deeply aware that that could change with really no more than a few months' warning. And that affects how I look at the world.
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If you display a Confederate flag, you're not allowed to call someone else un-American.
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So, the Pentagon is preparing to shoot down one of its own spy satellites, prior to the satellite's orbit decay and fall to earth. They claim that the reason for this is to make sure that it breaks into enough pieces that none of it will survive re-entry, purely as a safety issue -- they don't want it to fall on anything important and hurt anyone.

Of course, when China shot down one of its own weather satellites on January 11, the US protested, pointing out that that action caused a lot of space debris and endangered other satellites, as well as it being a bad precedent for the militarization of space.

They've designed a special missile for this purpose.

A Pentagon official has stated that "this is not a test of an anti-satellite weapons system." I wish that we had a press corps with could have followed up with the obvious next question: "So, you're shooting down a satellite. If you're not using an anti-satellite weapons system, what ARE you using?"
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People campaigning against Barak Obama -- and, at this point, that means McCain as well as Clinton -- and commentators in the media are asking, "Well, sure, but what does he have BESIDES inspiring rhetoric?"

Let's pretend for a minute that he DIDN'T have anything other than a vision of what America could be, and inspiring rhetoric. Let's pretend that he didn't have a policy-wonky mind, or the ability to do backroom politics.

I'm beginning to think that a candidate who had a vision of America with which I agreed, and the ability to convince the dubious that such a vision was right, and to inspire the already convinced, and to shake the belief of those who opposed that vision -- and who had NO other abilities or qualifications whatsoever might still be a reasonably good choice for President.

I grew up hearing the argument: the main job of a President is to set direction and policy, and to inspire people to follow it, and he or she may delegate the details to others. I never quite believed it, and I am still not COMPLETELY convinced, and I'd RATHER have a candidate who can do ALL of the above -- but, y'know, I'm beginning to see the point.
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They had a bunch of their wiretaps cut off, because they didn't pay their phone bills.

I'm serious.

But I'm not THAT surprised, because of a story that a friend told me in college. Those of you who were in RD House probably remember this one. . .

So, this friend came from a family that had been involved in activist causes for, well, forever. (Her mother was a hack writer -- that was the job description she gave. She wrote TRU-CRIME books, had had a column in "Soldier of Fortune", that sort of thing.) Anyway, they were pretty certain that their phone was tapped by the FBI. Partially because of the sort of double-click when they answered the phone, the tape-recorder kind of sound. . .

Anyway, they didn't mind too much, because they figured that, if there was a problem, they could just pick up the phone and get the FBI there in just a couple minutes.

Eventually, they decided that, if the FBI was using their phone line, the FBI should pay for it. They called the phone company and said that they were being charged private line rates for a party line.

The phone company agreed, and reduced their monthly phone bill.
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Raise your hand if you don't think Pervez Musharraf was behind Benazir Bhutto's assassination.

Okay, it's possible, I suppose, that he didn't know about it beforehand, and I'm certain nothing could ever be traced to him. It's also possible that it was people working without his orders.

But, yeah.

We Yanks do a damn fine job of picking allies, don't we?
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So, I was thinking about that poster of Jesus washing the feet of various modern leader-type people -- including Osama bin Laden. And the controversy about it, and the things which people offended by it have been saying about what they believe about Jesus.

There was a comment that was made that many modern American Christians have all sorts of beliefs about Jesus, but lacking from their conception of Jesus is anything from Jesus's actual ministry.

And I was thinking about that. And it occurred to me how ironic it is that our dominionist folks in the United States are Christian. Because I couldn't really think of any religion in the world LESS suited to the message that the Christian Right tends to attempt to send.

I mean, their message is one of patriotism to the extreme of jingoism, strong leadership, admiration of the wealthy and powerful. And many other factors, too. Some of it is hard for me to verbalize, but I have a general feeling about what the Christian Right seems to want.

Now, I can think of religions throughout history that would dovetail perfectly with these -- the Roman state religion from the late Republic/early Empire period, for instance. Frankly, that's the religion that the Christian Right ACTUALLY wants. But you could twist Confucianism to fit these goals, without TOO much strain. There are historical forms of Judaism, and even some modern forms, that might be able to fit into this model, although the form and shape of Judaism that I practice wouldn't. The Norse religion, you could do it.

Taoism and Buddhism would be hard to shift into this mode, but there's nothing particularly in them that is AGAINST it. After all, the Samurai managed to find forms of Taoism and Buddhism that fit with their worldview, which isn't that far off from the worldview of the Christian Right.

But what of Christianity itself? That's the irony. How do you take a religion that was founded as a protest against a worldview, a religion that was designed to be a direct challenge to nationalism, earthly power, wealth, focus on crime and punishment, focus on sexual morality -- and use it to support a regime EXACTLY LIKE THE ONE IT WAS FOUNDED TO COMBAT?

I want to write an attack ad. "Jesus forgave a sinner. Jesus didn't support the war of freedom that his country was fighting. Jesus: soft on crime. Soft of defense." I bet, if I was Christian, I could actually pull that all together.

If all of y'all Christians want to write up a script for an anti-Jesus attack ad. . . I'm sure it's been done.
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This morning, while I was driving Lis to work, she said, apropos of nothing, ". . . there's ANOTHER reason to hate Bud Selig."

IAN: What? What is?
LIS: Well, you know what George W. Bush's life ambition was, right?
IAN: To own the Texas Rangers?
LIS: No, he DID that. He wanted to be commissioner of baseball. If George W. Bush was commissioner of baseball, think how much less trouble the world would be in!
IAN: Lis, if George W. Bush was commissioner of baseball, Barry Bonds would have destroyed Tokyo by now.
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So, it's a New England tradition that many of the local radio stations play Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant on Thanksgiving. Because it's about a thanksgiving meal that can't be beat, and also about litterin', and about not participatin' in the mass-a-cree of innocent people in other countries just 'cause your gummint kinda wants you to.

Which is, unfortunately, relevant again.

But, see, I didn't start writin' this post to talk about the anti-mass-a-cree aspects of the song, important as those are. No, I wanted to talk about Officer Opie.

(You remember Officer Opie, don't you? He's in the song.)

See, now, do you know what Officer Opie looks like? I bet you do. Even if you didn't see the movie Alice's Restaurant, in which the role of Officer Opie is played by Officer Opie (his comment was "it's better to make myself look like a fool that watch someone else making me look like a fool) (Arlo Guthrie is played by Arlo Guthrie, the bind judge who oversees the case is played by the blind judge who oversaw the case, and Alice is played by Pat Quinn), you probably still know what he looks like.
Read more... )
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So, okay, a Canadian dollar is worth 1.10 US dollars, and it's not a spike -- that seems to be where it's sitting. It SPIKED to 1.34 US dollars, and the 1.10 seems to be its actual level.

So, for the heck of it, I looked at the London Gold fix, which is something I haven't done in a while. See, the price of gold, to this day, remains something of a "gold standard" for currency. Since all currencies are measured against each other, it can be hard to use that as an actual baseline -- the fact that the Loonie is higher than the greenback just means that Canada's economy is doing better than the United States', but doesn't really say much about the health of the US economy by itself.

The London gold fix -- the price that a bunch of bankers in London decide is The Official Price Of Gold for that day -- is far from a perfect baseline, but it's not THAT bad.

I'm used to gold being something like $535/oz. If the dollar was very strong, it'd be fewer dollars per ounce of gold -- maybe $300 per ounce. During Clinton's presidency, it rarely traded above $400/oz, and was often even in the high $200's.

When Bush took office, gold was trading at around $260-$280 an ounce.


Eight fucking hundred twenty three dollars.

Of course there are other measurements we can take -- but. . . fuck. In terms of gold, our dollar is worth one-third what it was when Bush took office. Every single person in the United States who gets their money in dollars has lost TWO-THIRDS of our money.

Now, you look at this historically, and, obviously, nothing happens before 1968 when Nixon takes the US off of the gold standard. I mean, there's a blip in 1928 with the Great Depression -- I can't remember my history too well, but I think that's when they switched to a bi-metallic standard -- gold AND silver -- in order to increase the amount of money in circulation. But you don't get actual massive volatility until the US stops being on any sort of commodity standard.

So when's the last time the United States had this kind of massive inflation?

January, 1980.

All of 1979 was something of a run-up, from $220 an ounce to $520 an ounce -- and then it EXPLODES in January 1980, going from $520 to $830. It very rapidly cools down to a still-high-but-vaguely-more-sane 700, then 600, then starts just bouncing all over the place from 400 to 600 all the time.

In other words -- gold is now at the price where it was during the Carter Recession.

For what it's worth -- during the gas crisis, in inflation-adjusted dollars, crude oil was about $95/barrel. Right around where we are now.

So -- as far as economic leadership goes, our current president is the equal of Jimmy Carter.
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Lis and I were talking a while back that you could make the Gunpowder Plot into a pretty decent season of a historical version of 24. To fit into the format, you'd have to do some time-compression, fitting events that actually took place over several days into one day, and probably even sticking a couple of even earlier events into the time-line (although I'd start the season with the tunnel under the Houses of Parlament already finished, and having them finish loading the barrels of gunpowder in the first episode.

Also, I don't know what you'd name the main character.

However, "Bauer" is a German surname which seems to mean "peasant farmer" of a particular status. An English surname with approximately the same meaning is "Bond."

Just sayin'.
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So, I WAS going to go to the radio drama thing two nights ago, but. . . um . . . I forgot. Then I had a job last night. So I'll go tonight, even though I HAD been planning on staying home for trick-or-treaters.

Anyway -- the job last night. I've not been working much the last couple weeks, by my own choice. But the agency called me up and mentioned that they were hurting for people Tuesday, aka, yesterday, and I took a job. They originally scheduled me for 2:30 at the Boston Conference Center at South Station, then called back a day or two later and asked me if I could do a job at 3:30 at the Harvard Law School, then told me that the location of the job had changed to a home in the Back Bay, and then the time changed to 3:00. But it all worked out and I got there just fine, although I traveled through the remnants of the Sox Victory Parade to get there.

So, yeah. It was a party at someone's home, one of those brownstones on Marlboro Street which was a dangerous slum when my parents were living there in college, but is now an exclusive neighborhood where only the wealthiest Bostonians live. It was a Halloween-themed fund-raiser for Al Franken's Minnesota Senate run.
Read more... )
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They're both too suspicious of authority.

I mean, Mister Rogers is one of those people who tries to get people to think for themselves, and have empathy, which makes people tend to be a little worse at being Mindless Drones Of The Man, so that, alone, would keep folks from wanting his message to get out.

But Jim Henson . . . Henson was a deeply Suspicious Of The Man hippie.

I got the first two seasons of Fraggle Rock at Costco, and we've been watching them some. I'd never seen them when I was a kid because we didn't have . . . what channel was it on? HBO or something? Anyway, we didn't have it, so I never saw it.

The second episode, the lesson they're teaching kids? "Sometimes, 'slavery' feels like 'freedom'." So you have to be very careful NOT to let other people be authority figures. Because authority figures will make you feel like you belong, if you go along with their authority, but they are really just using you.

And the third episode. . . well, see, as far as the Gorgs know, whenever they go to the pump in the garden, like they do every day, they get water.

As far as the Fraggles know, at some point, every day, the pond drains out. But that's okay, because after that, the Pipe-Bangers come, and do the Pipe-Banging Ritual, and then the water flows and refills the pond.

And Doc, the human who lives in the house over where Fraggle Rock is? He's decided to fix the boiler so that the pipes stop banging. So he shuts off the water as he repairs the boiler.

The Pipe-Bangers are confused when their ritual doesn't work, so they get a NEW pipe-banging stick, by which time the water is turned back on, so the ritual works, and everybody is pleased with the Pipe-Bangers ritual.

What, exactly, is that saying about religion?
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The problem is that we have an entire government which is unfamiliar with the principles upon which that government was founded.

Our government exists to protect rights. Said rights are inherent to being human -- they're not given to us by our government; they are inherent to us. The Bill of Rights is intended to be a few examples of the sorts of rights they're talking about; it's not intended to be an exhaustive list (and, in fact, Alexander Hamilton opposed the Bill of Rights because he feared that people WOULD take it as an exhaustive list, and ignore other rights. The rest of the Founding Fathers felt that that was ridiculous, and that NOBODY could be THAT stupid).

It is not the government's responsibility to protect the privacy rights of foreigners. Because the government exists to protect the rights of the people for whom that government is set up.

However, that does not make it okay for the government to breach those rights.

Obviously, rights are not, in a sense, absolute. We have a right to property, but we still have taxation. We have a right to liberty, but we can be jailed. We have a right to privacy, but we can have our houses searched with a warrant.

The thing is, we have specific procedures and oversight for HOW those rights are limited, and in what circumstances.

So, the government can, with proper procedures, take actions which curtail our rights. However, the PRIMARY purpose of the government is to prevent OTHERS from curtailing those rights.

The government isn't responsible for making sure that the rights of people outside the country aren't curtailed. But it IS responsible for making sure that the rights of people INSIDE the country aren't curtailed, citizens or no. And it is not okay for the government to take actions which curtail ANYONE'S rights, citizen or no, inside or outside the United States, without proper procedures, oversight, and transparency.
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2. How [at least the subset of] People [that I talked to] view Americans

I have friends and family who wear Canadian flags on their backpacks when they go through Europe, and I understand why. I think Europeans have plenty of reasons to be annoyed with Americans. But, Lis and I are Americans, and didn't try to hide it.

We do have the advantage of being from Massachusetts, so we're the ones who hate Bush as much as they do. . .

The folks we talked to don't blame us for Bush any more -- or less -- than they blame Italians for Berlusconi. It sucks, but every once in a while, a democracy manages to saddle itself with a dangerous moron. Okay, the United States is bigger, so the amount of damage Bush can do is more widespread than the damage Berlusconi tried to do, but the principle is the same. So long as we're trying to do something about limiting the damage our dangerous moron is doing -- and they do appear to perceive that we are at least trying to -- they don't hold it against us, personally. Lis and I are on the same side. Sure, as American liberals from perhaps the most liberal state in the United States, it does mean that we're more conservative than most of the people we were talking to, but still, we're not so far to the right that we're insane.

And, for what it's worth: there are Italians of a certain age who still consider Americans to be "the guys who helped us kick out the Nazis after we got rid of Mussolini". Sure, they're perfectly aware that, since that time, we have not always lived up to those ideals -- but they don't forget what it is that we are supposed to be, and they still love us for it. We, of course, have to do a better job of living up to that, but they wouldn't let us forget what it is that we are supposed to live up to. It's useful to have someone who actually holds you to standards.

Almost all the "anti-American" graffiti was actually anti-Bush and anti-war -- and there was less of that than there is in Boston. As is only right, of course -- it's more OUR responsibility to fix than theirs, so we should be more vocal about it. The ideological wars which were being fought in white spraypaint on the walls of Rome were largely anti-fascist rhetoric on one side, and anti-communist rhetoric on the other, and, in Trieste, were largely anti-immigration (sad, but not uncommon in border cities).

We did see one genuinely anti-American graffito, but it didn't bother us. We're Bostonians. We like graffiti that says, "Yankees Suck!"
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So, does the extreme Fatah/Hamas violence make the Israeli occupation look better? I mean, Israel pulls out, and now Fatah and Hamas are using mortars, heavy machine gun emplacements, RPGs, APCs, and throwing each other off of buildings.

I mean, this isn't "skirmishing" or "sporadic fighting". This is a full-scale war effort on both sides.

I think fewer people were dying when Israel was occupying the territories. Does that suggest that Israel really couldn't have done all that much better than they actually did?
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Robert Altemeyer did a bunch of studies over the decades about authoritarian personalities. There are two kinds of personalities in this: people who want to be in charge of everything in a fascist manner, and people who want someone else to be in charge of everything. In some ways, the second group, the people who want someone to boss them around and take away their freedom, is the more interesting group, because, at least for me, they're harder to understand.

Dr Altemeyer summarized his decades of research in a breezy, easy-to-read book called "The Authoritarians", which he has now released for free, here:


I don't know if I learned much from it -- it largely confirms my prejudices about authoritarians. However, it, at least, is based on actual double-blind peer-reviewed research, instead of on my gut prejudices.

In any case, it's fascinating, and rather terrifying, reading. I've always assumed that my prejudiced gut feelings about authoritarians were somewhat more extreme than reality; in fact, authoritarians are even more like my prejudices than I guessed.
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A five-part plan:

1) The government pays for really basic stuff. Basically, if you feel ashamed when you hear about someone dying from a lack of this, it's paid for. If it's cheap and does a hell of a lot of good, that's the stuff we're talking about. Basic checkups without significant tests, tooth cleanings, real basic stuff.

If I hear about someone dying because they couldn't get open heart surgery, that makes me sad, but not ashamed. I'm aware of how expensive that is. Or not getting a transplant -- again, sad, but not embarrassed. So those sorts of things wouldn't be covered.

This would just be a billing code. A hospital or doctor's office could just bill this stuff to the government, and it would be paid promptly.

2) People could form into negotiation blocs who could negotiate lower rates from drug companies, hospitals, doctors, and so forth. If you wanted to, you could sign up for whatever bloc or blocs you wanted to be in, for a small fee (which would basically cover administration and negotiators' salaries), and, if you were a doctor or hospital or whatever, you could sign up for the same bloc which would mean that you'd agree to the rates they negotiated. As a doctor, your benefit would be that there would be a group of people who would count you as a preferred doctor.

Actually, I don't know how necessary this part is. After all, if you were a doctor and WEREN'T part of the bloc, you could still agree to take whatever fee the bloc charged, in order to poach customers. Which would also be fine.

3) There would be health insurance. As in, you pay a monthly fee, and, if something bad happens, they pay whatever your insurance coverage pays for. It wouldn't pay for routine stuff, although the insurance plan could give lower rates for people who demonstrated that they did take care of the routine stuff routinely.

This insurance could be "we pay 80% of your charges, up to a limit, and you pay 20%", it could be, "we pay 100% after a deductible", y'know, whatever. These health insurance plans might be associated with negotiation blocs, but need not be. If they started to pay for routine stuff as well, you begin to run into exactly the same problems we have right now, but, well, if they WANTED to do exactly the things that we have now, sure, they could. Why not?

4) Drug patents would expire seven years after they were approved for sale. That number is somewhat negotiable, if drug companies could prove that they couldn't make a profit in seven years, but whoever was doing the negotiation should be DAMN skeptical.

I mean that we could argue that drug patents should expire ten years, or twelve years, or whatever, as the law. I'm not a financial analyst -- I don't KNOW that drug companies can make a profit, in general, in seven years. But I really, really suspect so. I DON"T mean that an individual drug could be patented longer. Because, if you did that, with negotiations all the time, the negotiators would be corrupt. It just would happen.

5) And the gaps would be filled by private charities. And doctors and hospitals doing pro-bono work. I don't think, in the United States, you could do it any other way. I don't think it would be possible for the government to pay for everything that really ought to be done, and I think that you'd need charity to fill in.

What do people think?
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I've got a lot more sympathy for the Boston Police Department.

Okay, so they find the Lite-Brite, send folks in to deal with it, and realize it's a Lite-Brite.

That, really, ought to have been it.

Except that, at 1 pm, someone ACTUALLY left a REAL bomb at one of the medical centers -- I'm forgetting which one -- Tufts or BU, I think. Probably Tufts, because I think it was in the Longwood Medical Area.

Once you've got someone ACTUALLY leaving bombs, okay, it's maybe a little more understandable to go back to your original false alarm and revisit the situation.

So I have more sympathy for the police.

I still think it was a shame to arraign the artists who put the things up.

I don't expect it will go to indictment, though. I mean, arresting them, I could see -- they were still trying to figure out what was going on. I guess I can understand the arraignment, although I think that, by the time the arraignment came around, they probably could have figured out that the artists had nothing to do with the ACTUAL bomb, which was an entirely separate and unrelated event.

I don't think the DA's stupid enough to try to proceed to an indictment, and I'd hope that even a grand jury would laugh at this.

(Quick rundown on the American justice system, at least the way it's supposed to work: first, you arrest someone. You can hold them for a short period of time, like a day, before you charge them with a crime. Only a short period, though -- that's what "habeas corpus" means -- you have to be charged with some sort of crime before very long has passed. You are charged with a crime at an arraignment, which just basically gets the paperwork started. At that point, however, bail, or bond, is set -- an amount of money that is put up that is forfeit if the parties charged do not show up for further court things. Bail is intended to keep people from running away, and it does reasonably well at it. In certain cases, people may be denied bail after arraignment, but it's rare. After you are arraigned, the District Attorney, acting for the state, gets together a preliminary case. They eventually take this preliminary case to a "grand jury", which is a jury of ordinary citizens who determine if there's enough evidence to make it plausible that a crime has been committed, and the accused could potentially have done it. If there's a remote possibility that the folks are charged of something that it's reasonable to charge them for, they are "indicted". After that, things go forward, and you eventually get to a "trial", in which actual guilt or innocence is decided. In general, it is not difficult to get an indictment -- the grand jury process is there to simply screen out the most blatant and overbearing abuses of power, not to determine actual guilt. There is a saying that a competent DA ought to be able to get an indictment against a ham sandwich -- and a DA won't proceed to attempt to get an indictment if there's a reasonable chance that they'd fail. Let's face it -- an attorney who fails to get a suspect indicted would be a genuine laughingstock -- it would either mean that they were truly incompetent, or that they tried to indict someone who was patently innocent. Which would also be a mark of incompetence, actually.)
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At this point, if I were a spokesperson for the Boston Police Department, I'd release a statement saying, "Well, yeah, but we just really hate Adult Swim. I mean, sure we knew what it was, but if you got a chance to blow up a Cartoon Network character, wouldn't you jump on it?"

(Background if you've missed it: the MBTA in Boston was shut down for a while because of "suspicious devices" found and blown up, which were actually pictures of a character from Adult Swim on Cartoon Network. Apparently, these have appeared in other cities, too, today, and Cartoon Network is soon to be releasing a movie including them. Boston appears to be the only city which has responded to viral marketing by blowing it up.)

Hey, yeah -- that would be another good thing approach for the spokesperson -- "Hey, wait until the first weekend grosses for 'Aqua Teen Hunger Force' are released. THEN you tell ME if we were wrong to call in the bomb squad."

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