Saturday, July 19, 2014

Would the future pluperfect tense of "tweet" be "to twat"?

Well, my old phone finally died a few months ago, and I had to get an upgrade. (You know, something made in this century.) Since I've been technologically challenged in this area, I've only now been discovering several things about smartphones. Things that most of America already knows.
  1. There are a lot of really stupid free games on the market
  2. There's all kinds of ways to stick an ad into an app.
  3. Looks like I can text after all.
  4. Man, cellphone batteries suck.
Oh, and it seems there's this app called "Twitter." Have you heard of it?

I have to assume that since I've discovered it, that means it's no longer popular. But I'm noticing that once you get past that initial learning curve, it's can be a little bit addictive.

The biggest challenge for me is restricting myself to 140 characters. Particularly since I have a serious disdain for Twitterspeak.

I'm not a 13-year-old girl. I refuse to use "4" instead of "for." I like punctuation. And someday I might resort to "b/c" to mean "because," but this is not that day.

But it can be a real time-suck. I'm going to have to monitor that. I'm getting older. There's only so many hours left in my life, much less in a day.

But hey, look me up if you're there. (@NamelessCynic, just like it says up there at the top of the page.)

I'll probably even follow you back, if your feed isn't boring.

Friday, July 04, 2014

"Explosions are not comfortable." (Yevgeny Zamyatin, exiled Soviet dissident)

For many years, our country has proudly embraced our heritage of blowing shit up by scheduling an annual celebration of gunpowder and explosions.

It's a long and noble birthright, of invading sovereign nations, toppling governments and propping up dictators. Our very nation is founded in destruction and bloodshed, 238 years ago. And the GOP in our our Congress wants to continue it even today, in far-flung corners of the globe (mostly the Middle East).

However, as more veterans return from the battlefield scarred with wounds they may never recover from, both physical and psychic, the media is finally noting something that some of us noted some years ago: perhaps some of our veterans don't appreciate random explosions in their neighborhood.

It's a fairly simple equation, one that I can attest to myself, but only to an extremely limited extent. (My older son, returned from far too many tours in Afghanistan, struggles with PTSD every day.)

There is something about being in a high-stress environment, and having no warning as to when a loud noise might mean the death of a friend or a companion. Or worse, the knowledge that you, yourself, might never hear the last echo dying away, as you do the same yourself.

There are many reasons to oppose fireworks, especially here in New Mexico. Hundreds and thousands of acres of land are destroyed every year, homes are destroyed and people are killed, because of wildfires here in the Southwest, many of them caused by unregulated use of fireworks. But there's another fact that the American people are finally realizing.

In honoring our nation's history, you are, perhaps inadvertently, harming our nation's veterans.

Way to support the troops, America.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Please bow your heads for the passing of Molly

I owned a 2004 Mazda 3 for nearly a decade. (My wife called it "Molly" - I was never clear why.) Normally, I try to avoid getting the first generation of any tech, because they haven't worked the bugs out yet. However, I got a bargain on it, and if I'd bought it the year before, it would have been called a Protegé.

And to be honest, it worked out pretty well for me (as you could probably tell from the fact that I put 150K miles on it over 10 years). However, it had one problem that I never got past.

The air conditioner in the Mazda 3 was a piece of crap. It never worked well: it cycled on and off, and toward the end, it wouldn't necessarily work at all unless the fan was set to an even number.

Living in Albuquerque, there are only a couple of weeks every year where this was a major problem, so it wasn't that bad, but here's the thing.

Having gone a decade without a truly functional air conditioner, I now have a car where the a/c works, and that's the problem. As it turns out, I can be pretty unreasonable.

See, when it's hot outside, the inside of the car can get pretty hot. And the coolant is way down inside the engine and has to cool off everything between before it can get cold air to me. But what that means to me is that the cold air doesn't come on immediately. I understand the mechanics of it, but when I had a car where I knew that the air conditioner wasn't necessarily going to work, it didn't bother me. Now that the situation has changed, I find myself subconsciously angered by the fact that I don't have instant gratification.

I try to be a reasonable person, but as it turns out, I can get pissed off by physics.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Why Benghazi doesn't matter as much as they want it to.

There's a video that's making the rounds, by a guy named Bill Whittle, who is something of a tool; he's worked for conservative groups such as Pajama's Media, the National Review and Fox "News" (all of which, you might notice, are openly anti-Obama). But let's not attack the messenger - let's look at his message.

First of all, he is wrong from his opening statement. Benghazi isn't irrelevant, but it is, in fact, both trivial and a witch hunt. In his efforts to make the president look bad, he commits both the sins of omission and commission - he lies, and he ignores any facts that he finds inconvenient.

For example, Whittle tries to ignore the fact that attacks on American embassies overseas have gone on for years, by using a fascinatingly cherry-picked graphic which refers to ten attacks and sixty people dead. As Politifact has pointed out, there have been 39 attacks or attempted attacks on US embassies and embassy personnel during Bush the Younger's reign.

Of these attacks, 20 resulted in at least one death. But even if you only count attacks on embassies or consular property, you still get thirteen incidents with fatalities, not the ten he claims.

If you count fatalities from the 20 attacks, the death toll was 87 people; only if you restrict yourself to the 13 attacks on embassy personnel on embassy ground does the number of deaths drop to 66. So he was only off by 10%, right?

But that kind of margin of error is OK, in Whittle's world. Because apparently none of those deaths matter, whether they were American or not.

He makes the claim that "It is not the responsibility of the US State Department and the President of the United States to protect the lives of foreign nationals, no matter how tragic or common these attacks may be. Their job is to protect American citizens and especially Consular personnel living abroad."

That, in and of itself, is complete and utter bullshit. If a person contracts to work for the US State Department, then that person is then under the protection of the State Department, whether they are American, Iraqi, or Dutch refugees to Lichtenstein. They have agreed to work for the United States, so the United States is obligated to keep them as safe as possible.

(On top of which, it's adorable how he refers to "the responsibility of the US State Department and the President of the United States." Because the President himself should strap on a gun and personally fight the terrorists, like Harrison Ford in Air Force One. Sorry guys: just because Bush slipped into a flight suit and codpiece, he was no action hero.)

Even if Whittle is only concerned about American deaths, why is it that he only mentions one diplomat (David Foy) by name? Why doesn't he talk about Edward J. Seitz, the first State Department employee killed in Iraq? What about Jim Mollen, U.S. Embassy senior consultant? What about any of the other Americans killed?

Because they don't fit the narrative he wants to present.

Whittle presents a long and convoluted "timeline," which he apparently thinks proves that the Obama administration covered up the fact that this was a terrorist attack, and that they lied by blaming everything on an American-made online video.

What poor little Bill Whittle couldn't count on was the fact that within a week of his putting out this web-only episode of the Firewall, that same Obama administration that he hates (or more accurately, the US special forces that he masturbates over) would capture Ahmed Abu Khattala, the mastermind behind the Benghazi attack. And Abu Khattala told everyone who would listen that he had planned the attack as retaliation for that same insulting video.

It was a terrorist attack. AND it was due to the video in question. Just because you don't like facts, Mr Whittle, you don't get to ignore them. Life is more complex than you want to admit.

Incidentally, though, the special forces who captured Abu Khattala? They were working for the US military. Which, by the way, is headed by the Commander-in-Chief, President Barack Obama. If he was personally responsible for the response to the attack on Benghazi, then he is equally responsible for the capture of the terrorist Ahmed Abu Khattala. And the death of Osama Bin Laden. And untold other successful attacks on terrorists and their strongholds. You have to be consistent in these things, after all: if you're going to give him the blame when things go wrong, you also have to give him the credit when things go right.

On a side note, Whittle also wants to bring up the claim that Obama skipped the daily intelligence briefings leading up to the attack. This is a popular narrative with the Benghazi Birthers. It's based on an opinion piece published in the Washington Post, which claimed that Obama skips most of them.

Unfortunately, that's the difference between an opinion piece and an article. The WaPo fact checker eventually had to weigh in on the subject; he pointed out that Obama gets his Presidential Daily Briefing in writing every day. Bush wasn't a strong reader, so he preferred to get it in person. Every president has gotten their briefing differently: Reagan skipped his briefings 99% of the time.

(While we're on the subject, should we mention the Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001? The one that was completely ignored, entitled "Bin Ladin Determined To Strike in US"? No. No, we shouldn't; that could be considered "using the deaths of Americans for political purposes," couldn't it?)

And finally, in his efforts to lay all of the blame for the failure in embassy security on the President, Whittle completely ignores the fact that Congress, in votes led by 100% of the congressional Republicans, voted to cut nearly $300 million dollars from the US Embassy security budget. Money that might have been used in increase their security, and could have saved the lives of all of the people killed in Benghazi.

So overall, this video ignores the facts completely, in an effort to attack the President of the United States. The only truth that we can get from this video is that Bill Whittle is a dishonest douchebag, who should be ignored by any patriotic American citizen. And by anybody with a basic grasp of logic.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Long Bowe Hunters

Let's talk about Bowe Bergdahl, shall we? The Right Wing, like always, has been looking for a reason to attack Obama. And their latest one just happens to be the polar opposite of one of their earlier ones. For the past five years, Bowe Bergdahl, the only captured American prisoner, has been a cause célèbre for the GOP, a consistent placard that they could hold up to punctuate the phrase "Obama doesn't care about the troops!"

At least, that's how it was until there was a possibility that Bergdahl might be released. Now, suddenly, people who've been crying out for his release are calling him a traitor. They have literally reversed their position on the subject. And why? Because it might have ended up looking good for the black guy.

Sarah Palin. Senators John McCain (Arizona) and Kelly Ayotte (New Hampshire). Every un-American, small-minded, troop-hating maniac on the right has spun their position 180 degrees away from what they were saying as recently as the beginning of this year. And why? Because they don't care about the military; they only care about attacking the president.

Now, suddenly, all they can say is "Obama has endangered the country! He released terrorists! And for a deserter!"

Let me explain this as clearly and rationally as I can. Anyone who says that we should not have made a deal to get Bowe Bergdahl released can suck my balls.

Are you saying that we should have left an American citizen in the hands of the Taliban? That he deserved to stay in their custody forever? If you believe that, you are a pustulent sore on the asshole of humanity. Oh, and fuck you.

Let's be clear on this - no investigation has been done. There has been no trial. You don't get to convict American citizens on the basis of rumors, half-truths and outright lies. If you want Bowe Bergdahl punished, then you bring him back to the States, and let the military do their job. And if it turns out that he is guilty, then they get to punish him. Not you, not Fox "News," and not every cowardly, Cheeto-eating, overweight loudmouthed blogger on the planet.

Fuck every one of you, you chicken-shit, scum-sucking, America-hating losers.

The military has jurisdiction here, and they've never been shy about using it. Look up the case of another PFC, a guy named Robert Garwood: a POW in Vietnam, he was returned to the US in 1979, where he was tried for desertion and several other charges, court martialed and convicted (they lost the desertion conviction, but got him on other things).

That's the military's job. They're pretty good at it.

Oh, but incidentally, bad news for all you amateur lawyers out there: the maximum punishment for desertion can only be death in a time of war - and the US never declared war in Afghanistan. Plus, there's only been one person given the death sentence for desertion since the Civil War: Eddie Slovik in 1945. The military prefers to avoid that. Most likely, he'd get confinement, demotion and forfeiture of pay. But he'd only get it after a trial. That's how these things work.

The various branches of the Special Forces have taken the position that "you don't leave a man behind" for decades, for one simple reason: it's difficult to get people to risk their lives, if they don't believe that you'll be supporting them later when things go wrong. We support our soldiers for having sworn an oath to protect their country to begin with, and we continue to support them, even if we don't agree with their statements on every subject.

It's called "free speech" - if you stop wiping your ass with the Constitution for a few minutes and read the fucking thing, maybe you'll discover that it gives the American people all kinds of rights that don't involve guns.

We keep hearing that he was responsible for the deaths of soldiers who were searching for him. Unfortunately, you can't really blame him for every death that happened in theater at the time; the records from the region don't really support that.
Mr. Bethea wrote that of the six men killed in August and September, two died in a roadside bombing while on a reconnaissance mission, a third was shot during a search for a Taliban political leader and three others were killed while conducting patrols — two in an ambush and one who stepped on a mine.

He suggested some connection to Sergeant Bergdahl for several of the deaths, saying the Taliban leader and a village that was in the area of one of the patrols were "thought affiliated with Bergdahl's captors." He also said a village in the areas of the other patrol was "near the area where Bergdahl vanished."

Still, those villages and insurgents were in the overall area of responsibility for the soldiers, and the logs make clear that the region was an insurgent hotbed. A log on May 21, 2009, for example, said it had historically been a "safe haven" for the Taliban.

A retired senior American military officer, who was briefed at the time on the search for Sergeant Bergdahl, said that even though soldiers were instructed to watch for signs of the missing American, they would have been conducting patrols and performing risky operations anyway.

"Look, it’s not like these soldiers would have been sitting around their base," he said.
And incidentally, while we're cutting through the lies, can we stop with the phrase "we don't negotiate with terrorists"? Is it because George W. Bush kept repeating that canard? Did you know that he would say it almost immediately after completing a series of negotiations with terrorists for (as one of his chief negotiators pointed out) "information, supplies, personnel — a lot of different topics."

In fact, every president has negotiated with terrorists, whether drug traffickers or radical Islamic factions. Whether it was Carter getting 52 American hostages released in Iran by unfreezing assets from American banks, or Reagan selling missiles to Iran, America has a long history of negotiating with terrorists. As does every other country in the world.

But to hell with that. It doesn't matter what it took to get Bergdahl's release. We got it. Because we had to get it. Here's two quotes for you that explain why: the first is from President Obama. I know, you don't like him, because he's all black and uppity and stuff. Doesn't matter - he's the Commander in Chief of the military, and as he put it:
"Regardless of circumstances ... we still get an American prisoner back," Obama said during a news conference in Warsaw, Poland. "Period, full stop -- we don't condition that."
And if that isn't enough for you, how about the words of the Pentagon spokesman, Rear Admiral John F. Kirby:
"When you're in the Navy, and you go overboard, it doesn't matter if you were pushed, fell or jumped," he said. "We're going to turn the ship around and pick you up."
So, are we clear on this? If you say we should have just left him in the hands of the Afghani's, you are a crappy American. You're allowing your hatred of a black president to make you into a traitor, a coward, and an idiot. Fuck you, and go find a country that shares your beliefs. Try Somalia: you'll like it there - everybody has guns, and women don't have rights.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

A violent man will die a violent death (Lao Tsu, Tao Te Ching, ch 42)

So I was on Facebook, because I'm old and it's no longer fashionable. And I came across this post.

And that sounds like a terrible thing, right? A guy, murdered in his home by rogue police officers - that's a travesty of justice!

Yeah, it sounds pretty bad, until you look into it. But that's part of the problem with the internet - people post stories, and other people believe them without looking up the details.

Now, before I start, let me point out that I oppose police brutality. I understand that there is police overreach, and that criminal acts have been and will be performed under the cover of a badge. I mean, hell, I live in Albuquerque - I'd have to be an idiot to think otherwise.

The thing is, this one isn't like that. Not according to the available evidence. The police were, in fact, sent to the wrong address. But only after they arrived did things go straight into the crapper.
Waller exited his residence and entered the garage with a handgun showing. Police did not know if he was a resident or a suspect.

Investigators said that the Hoeppner gave Waller repeated commands to drop his gun, but the homeowner did not comply. According to the officer, Waller responded with "Why?" and "Get that light out of my eyes."

Hoeppner added that Waller eventually put his gun down on the trunk of a car. As the officer moved in to retrieve the weapon, Waller scrambled to pick it up, and then pointed it at the officer. The report said that this is when Hoeppner fired his weapon six times.
Waller wasn't an innocent man - he was a paranoid nutjob with a gun. And he felt that he had the right to point that gun at the police. Sure, they were at the wrong location, but they were doing their job. And what, exactly, are the police supposed to do when confronted with armed lunatics brandishing firearms? Lie down and bleed?

The NRA wants you to believe that an armed society is a polite society, and that the only defense against a bad man is a good man with a gun. But they're wrong. Because what is the defense against a good man with a gun? Or an armed man who believes he's good?

If Waller hadn't been a Second Amendment cultist, nothing would have happened. But he felt that he was had the right, and the knowledge, and the training, to act as some kind of lone vigilante protecting his homestead. So instead, he committed suicide by cop.

The only tragedy for Waller's family is that they didn't talk him down off the ledge; you have to wonder how long he'd been cleaning his guns and muttering angrily to himself. But the real tragedy is for Officer Hoeppner, who had to face the choice of killing a man or being killed himself. He made the right choice, but now he has to live with it.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Let's see if I have psychic powers.

I'll admit that I didn't know enough about Maya Angelou. I'm really not a huge fan of most poetry. It's just not how I'm wired.

But she died last night at age 86. From what little I knew about her, she was a wise woman, and a lot of people liked her poetry. She was widely honored, with a Pulitzer, a Tony Award nomination, three Grammys, the National Medal of Arts and several other awards.

But here's my point. Despite all that recognition, I foresee a coming dark cloud.

See, she was awarded the Lincoln medal by GW Bush, but then recieved the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama. She didn't always agree with his policies (she initially supported Hillary Clinton), but she and Michelle Obama corresponded, and Barack Obama quoted her in speeches; they might not have been close friends, but they knew each other.

Given that, it will not be unreasonable for Obama to speak about her death. And now I'm going to make a prediction. When he does so, there will be an outcry on the right that Obama is racist because he only honors black people. (The word might not be "honors" - I'll give them credit for knowing what a thesaurus is.)

Hear my words, you wise men; listen to me, you men of learning. What I foresee will come to pass.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Some villains that Marvel Comics won't be bringing back for the movies

So, let me see if I've got this straight: The Amazing Spiderman 2 is no longer the top grossing movie in America, but is still the top grossing movie worldwide. And in the course of this movie, Spidey has to fight the Rhino, Electro, and Green Goblin Jr.

And I'll be honest, I didn't think we'd be seeing the Rhino in a Spidey movie anytime soon, because, frankly, it's kind of a stupid costume. But they took some liberties with the concept, and there he is.

Still, there are some villains in the Marvel Universe that we aren't going to be seeing any time soon, for a number of reasons.

(Full disclosure: Marvel may have less embarrassing villains running around than DC - even if you only take the combined Rogue's Galleries from Batman and the Flash - but they've produced their share of stinkers. And these are only a sampling. I didn't try to get scientific, or make a complete list. These are just a few of the worst - Marvel Marvel has some great heroes and villains, but they haven't all been winners.)

There's a lot of reasons that characters might be flops. Sometimes, science catches up with a character. In Human Torch Comics #27 (1947 - that's Marvel's original Human Torch, a robot who burst into flame when exposed to oxygen), the writers had no idea why it would be a bad idea to introduce Asbestos Lady. She had an asbestos suit. That was her "power."

She disappeared after a few years. Probably into a cancer ward. (In fact, the Marvel Wiki entry for her ends with:
The Asbestos Lady was again imprisoned, but learned in the years that followed that she had contracted cancer due to her constant exposure to asbestos. Her final fate is unknown, but she is believed to have succumbed to the disease.
...but I'm pretty sure that was a retcon that they just threw in later. It doesn't seem to be in the original material that I remember.

Sometimes, a villain just comes out at the wrong time.

Marvel first started using Sinbad (the legendary sailor, not the 90s comedian) in 1974; their version owes a lot more to the Ray Harryhausen movies than to the original legends, of course.

But, as far as timing goes, if you're going to create a mystical genie, who was tricked by Sinbad to go to the future and fight the Fantastic Four (in a one-shot entitled The Fantastic 4th Voyage Of Sinbad), there's nothing wrong with that. There are worse ideas.

But maybe naming him Jihad, and having a cover date on the book that contains him dated September 2001 (a week and a half before a couple of airplanes were flown into the Twin Towers) was a mistake.

Admittedly, the comic book came out in July (because that's how cover dates work). But it still said September.

Chris Claremont (the writer of that particular adventure) was just another victim of 9/11.

But sometimes, the problem has nothing to do with any outside forces. Sometimes, for instance, the writers run out of villains, and just throw some random crap out.

Like The Matador, who first appeared in Daredevil #5 (1964), and seemed to reappear every 10 years or so, just long enough for everybody to forget who he was.

Because what he was, was a bullfighter. That’s it. A guy in a stupid outfit, with a sword that he didn’t use much, and a cape. He liked to use his cape to blind people, and then hit them. That was pretty much it.

If you've been reading Marvel comics for a while, you've probably seen the Kingpin. A fat crimelord modeled on the actor Sydney Greenstreet, he's been a problem for several of Marvel's heroes. But he wasn't the only plus-sized crimelord.

There was, for example, Ulysses X. Lugman, or "the Slug." He was a major drug lord, and he was fat. About 1,200 pounds worth. He wasn’t strong, and he could barely move. Whenever he appeared in a comic frame, he would be eating.

He was smart, and apparently a master planner. He had plenty of henchmen, and lots of money. And, really, he would occasionally demonstrate one superpower: once in a while, he would decide to smother people in the folds of his fat.

Just... eww...

I really don't think that will translate well to the silver screen. But Marvel seems to like fat villains for some reason.

They introduced Pink Pearl in Alpha Flight # 22 (May 1985). She didn't really have powers. She was kind of strong. She was tough (because of her... I don't know, fat armor?). And she was fat. And Canadian.

Other times, the entire concept for a villain is just stupid. For example, in "Obnoxio the Clown vs. the X-Men #1," a one-shot from 1983.

I'm going to ignore Obnoxio the Clown here, because he wasn't a villain so much as a recurring annoyance. But further down this page, we find Eye-Scream. His power? He could turn into any flavor of ice cream.

I think I've made my point just in explaining him.

Sometimes (maybe a lot of times) the writer and the artist are just on drugs.

How about Goody Two-Shoes? He was in The Thing #7 in 1984. He had a bad Swedish accent and "atomic boots." And he kicked things.

Turner D. Century (Spider-Woman #33 - December 1980) hated the modern age.

He dressed like somebody from 1900, rode a flying tandem bike (that's a mannequin on the back seat - even girls in comic books were embarrassed to be seen with him), and his two big weapons were a flamethrower umbrella, and a "time horn" that was supposed to kill anyone under 65.

'Nuff said.

The Disco Era gave us the Hypno-Hustler, in The Spectacular Spider-Man #24 (1978).

He had goggles that could hypnotize people. Or he used his guitar (and his hypnotized backup singers, the Mercy Killers) to hypnotize people. (You see the theme yet?) His boots spit knockout gas and had retractable spikes. And he was so much worse than even his description makes him sound.

But the Disco Era has other crimes to answer for.

In 1978, The Amazing Spiderman #s 182 and 183 gave us a two-fer of crappy villains. The Rocket Racer (who first appeared a year earlier) had a rocket-powered skateboard, and punched people with his rocket powered gloves. And he was fighting The Big Wheel (a guy with a giant mechanical wheel that climbed walls; it was equipped with both guns and grabby-arms).

Even if it wasn't ridiculously dated (and even if one of them wouldn't have a trademark fight with Hasbro), I don't think these two could be redeemed.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

This Month's Right Wing Hero: Cliven Bundy

I suppose that it's possible that you've been stuck in a cave for the last two weeks or so - maybe you're an amateur spelunker (I suppose those still exist). Or perhaps you actively avoid even looking at anything about Nevada (and who could blame you?)

If so, let's recap. We have a cattle rancher in Nevada named Cliven Bundy (apparently, "Cliven" is a reasonable choice for a name if you're from those parts). For the last twenty years, Bundy has been grazing his cattle on land owned by the Bureau of Land Management. That's not a crime: the BLM allows ranchers to do that all the time. The thing is, they charge a fee. And Bundy has never paid his grazing fees in over two decades.

He's claimed that he inherited grazing rights from his grandmother, because some of her ancestors kept cattle in the Virgin Valley since 1877. If this was true (and there's no evidence that it is), that just means that Bundy comes from a long line of criminals: the US Government has owned that land since it was given to us by Mexico (you know, after we took it from them) in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848.

Let's just look at it this way: if you had flowers growing wild in your backyard, and your neighbor kept kicking down your fence and picking those flowers, you might get a little cranky, right?

Now the grazing fees aren't exactly exorbitant - they haven't changed in decades, and tend to be about $1.35 per animal per month. That's a lot less than feed costs, but Bundy didn't want to pay it. He's used a lot of different arguments over the years, but his latest one is kind of fascinating: he doesn't recognize the existence of the US government.

(The fact that he made that statement immediately raised red flags for me. That philosophy, and his use of the phrase "sovereign," is a mark of what's called the Sovereign Citizen Movement, a group of right-wing terrorists who don't believe that they need to follow pesky things like "laws.")

Once he made some noise about being anti-government, our intrepid insurrectionists over at Fox "News" decided to make a working-class hero out of him, without doing even the most basic research into whether he was a dangerous lunatic.

And sure enough, once Fox "News" started trying to make a hero out of a man stealing from the government, some of his Sovereign Citizen friends (and a bunch of other random nutjobs) came along to help him fight off the government trying to collect the money he owed them.

On Salon, Eric Stern put together almost two dozen of the various lies Fox "News" was trying to spread before Cliven started speaking his mind in public, and there's some real winners there. One of my favorites was actually made by a member of the Nevada legislature:
"Nobody has seen any bill for $1.1 million. It doesn't exist." (Michelle Fiore, R-Nevada Assembly, on MSNBC) Bundy says he has "never been sent a bill" but also says he never opens mail from the U.S. government because he does not recognize the U.S. government’s existence.
That just about says it all, doesn't it? But that's where it starts to get really interesting. Because then, somebody in the conservative media made the mistake of letting him talk on camera.

What happened was, Bundy liked being the center of attention, and he started holding daily press conferences. And even when the press dwindled down to (on this particular day) one reporter and one photographer, Bundy kept talking. Unfortunately for him, the reporter in question was from the New York Times.
"I want to tell you one more thing I know about the Negro," he said. Mr. Bundy recalled driving past a public-housing project in North Las Vegas, "and in front of that government house the door was usually open and the older people and the kids — and there is always at least a half a dozen people sitting on the porch — they didn't have nothing to do. They didn't have nothing for their kids to do. They didn't have nothing for their young girls to do.

"And because they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do?" he asked. "They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."
It was probably right about that point that the right-wing media screamed and ran away. But Bundy wasn't done - not by a long shot. He had an all-access pass to the media, and decades of evil built up in his soul. He wasn't going to shut up just because his new "friends" stopped taking his calls.

He started appearing on any talk show that would have him, basically repeating the mantra that "I'm not a racist," and interspersing it with statements like this.
If I say 'negro' or 'black boy' or 'slave' … if those people cannot take those kind of words and not be offensive (sic) then Martin Luther King didn't do his job.
Or he'd double down on his remarks.
Are they happier now under this government subsidy system than they were when they were slaves, and they was able to have their family structure together, and the chickens and garden, and the people had something to do? And so, in my mind I’m wondering, are they better off being slaves, in that sense, or better off being slaves to the United States government, in the sense of the subsidies. I’m wondering. That’s what. And the statement was right.
Proving, if nothing else, that he had no idea what slavery really was. On the other hand, in an interview on CNN, he proved that he understood how Fox "News" worked.
The CNN host suggested that Bundy had been abandoned at Fox News, something he said was apparent by the fact that the rancher was appearing on his network and not Fox.

"I don't think I've been abandoned. I think maybe they misunderstood me a little bit," Bundy said. "But I think Fox and I, I think, Hannity and I are just right on. I have no doubt that he would support me if he understood really what's in my heart. And I think he does understand me."
There was a time in America when the right wing had some reasonable members. But as they've gradually drifted down the rabbit hole, they've begun embracing more and more radical ideas. And now they've reached the point where everyone they embrace as a hero, from Ted Nugent to George Zimmerman, and now Cliven Bundy, has proven to be not just deeply flawed, but pathologically insane.

Perhaps they should take the hint, and realize that the problem lies, not in their heroes, but somewhere deeper in their philosophies.

Meanwhile, off in the distance, Cliven Bundy continues to spout authentic frontier gibberish.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Praise it and blaze it.

Easter is a strange holiday. I'm not even going to look at its pagan roots: the concept isn't really in dispute any more. But Easter is, if viewed from one angle, an opportunity for conservative Christians to explain that their support for the death penalty is proven by their approval of nailing some guy to a stick and letting him hang there until he dies. Or something like that.

Has anybody noticed that Easter this year comes on 4/20? It's a popular meme among the marijuana crowd online. However, to put it in another light, it can be used as evidence that Jesus supports medical marijuana.

Probably because the Bible can be used to support pretty much any viewpoint out there, there are plenty of verses that can be cited to support this position.

Isaiah 18:4 - "The Lord said unto me, 'I will take my rest and I will consider in my dwelling place like a clear heat upon herbs.' "

Ezekiel 34:29 - And I will raise up for them a plant of renown, and they shall be no more consumed with hunger in the land, neither bear the shame of the heathen any more.

Genesis 1:12 - And the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

Genesis 1:29-31 - God said, "Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed which is upon the face of all the earth.…To you it will be for meat." …And God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.

Revelations 22:2 - In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life, which bare twelve manner of fruits, and yielded her fruit every month: and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Psalm 104:14-15 - He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; and wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart.

You can google the term "easter grass" and come up with a lot of sites that sell it, but I think you'll be disappointed with what you get.

And you can even drag politics into it. Remember, the US government is conducting a war on drugs, whereas Matthew 5:9 tells us "Blessed are the peacemakers." I'll bet you can do that math on your own.

There are those who will try to tell you that the Bible condemns drug use: one explanation is that the original Greek word for "sorcery," pharmacea, is the same root word for "pharmacy." Look hard enough, you'll see explanations for the use of herbs (to include marijuana) as medicine only, because all drug companies deal in poison. That's not only a little extreme, but shows an open ignorance of history: much like chemistry and alchemy have the same roots (as do astrology and astronomy), early wise women and hedge wizards started concocting drugs to help people. But many of their naturalist practices came from pagan roots (and berries, but let's not get into that...): the priestesses would often double as healers. And if they could help people more than the Christian priests and their prayers, the witches must obviously be condemned as evil (otherwise, people might go see the pagans for help).

This is also where you'll find the argument that the actual phrase should not be "suffer not a witch to live," but "suffer not a poisoner to live." Sorry, guys. The specific translation there should, in fact, be "witch." It's just that pagan priestesses of the time knew enough about natural medicine that they could also concoct poisons.

In a similar vein, there's an old French word, grimoire, that refers to a book containing magic spells, such as what would be owned by a witch or sorcerer. The root for that word was grammaire, which was a book of grammar (usually Latin, in the early days; the same source gave us the Olde Englishe word grammarye). But much like with the Tea Party today, somebody with a little knowledge frightened the average illiterate peasant back then; so somebody with a big thick book was probably up to no good.

And much like with pharmacea, that's the difference between the root of a word and the actual definition.

But, really, what can be more pot-induced than a holiday based around hard-boiled eggs and ample supplies of chocolate?

Monday, April 07, 2014

Playin' with the dogs

So on Wednesday night, Rocky broke a nail.

Now, I should probably explain that Rocky is our smaller, auxiliary dog, and when I say "broke a nail," I mean "snapped it in half at the quick, so it was hanging off and the rough edge cut the next toe over and wouldn't stop bleeding." I suppose it sounds a little more impressive when I mention the details, doesn't it?

We tried to deal with it ourselves, but this cheerful little, personable, loving dog snapped at us when we even came near it. So that was a problem.

So I spent the next morning calling around for a vet who could see him and not charge us $500, and got lucky with the Ponderosa Animal Clinic, who said they could fit him in at 12:30. And I figured I could give up my lunch hour and deal with this problem (at 1:15, when I was still in the waiting room, I'll admit that I was a little less enamored of the plan, but that comes later).

The clinic was closer to work than home, but I have a forgiving boss (who happens to have two dogs herself) and got permission to keep Rocky with me after his appointment, and we went for it. At noon, I rushed home, grabbed the dog, some chew toys and a small bowl for water, and jetted back.

The first problem came up as we entered the clinic. Rocky apparently had flashbacks to the pound, because he was fine as he limped up to the entrance. But when I opened the door, he went exactly halfway through it and stopped dead. His head slowly tracked side to side, and I tried to urge him forward.

"Come on, Rocky. Let's go, boy." Nope. Not a chance.

I stepped over him through the door. "Come on, Rocky." Not only wasn't he going to move, but he dropped to the floor and just lay there. He had no intention of going even one step farther. Fortunately, figuring that he was going to end up in the Cone of Shame, I'd taken off his collar and replaced it with his harness, so I could just pull him forward and he automatically lifted up on his feet again. (Even more fortunately, it was 40 pound Rocky, and not 120 pound Boris, our larger, primary dog.)

After entirely too long in the waiting room (did I mention that?), we got in to see the vet, a tiny little old lady who never looked at me, even when she was telling me what to do with him once we got him home. Rocky got a combination of shots that made him a little groggy, but it still took two of us holding him down while she cleaned him up and bandaged him. Once she was done, she didn't think he was going to need a cone: as she explained to the back of Rocky's head, "since his foot should feel a lot better, he probably won't keep worrying at it."

So, $160 later, I got him loaded into the car and drove him to the office. I'd also brought along a kid's gate that we use to keep the dog out of various rooms, and I set it up to keep him blocked in behind my desk. And he flumped down on the floor, quietly ignoring everybody who tried to tell him what a handsome boy he was. (He either had developed an inflated idea of his own attractiveness, or he was still feeling the effects of the drug. One or the other.)

A couple of hours later, I had to load everything back in the car and pick up the Trophy Wife for her doctor's appointment (the main difference being that I didn't need a leash to get her there... yeah, she's going to kill me when she reads this), and I stayed in the car with Rocky while she went in on her own.

At which time, I discovered that mild downers made Rocky prone to getting car-sick. Fortunately, there was a roll of paper towels under my seat (I have no idea where they came from, but they had a Christmas pattern on them, so I like to think it was Santa).

Once Annette came out, we got Rocky home, my son went out with the upholstery cleaner and Rocky immediately perked up and jumped on Boris.

We taped an old sock over the bandage so Rocky could go outside, and he's been doing fine. He charges around the house at full speed (just occasionally on three legs), and it hasn't rained, so we haven't had any problems with the bandage getting ruined. (Yes, that's him to the right. His foot isn't swollen - there's just a lot of loose space in the sock. Weirdly enough, our feet seem to be larger than his.)

Even more amazingly, he hasn't been gnawing at the bandage, so no Cone needed.

Of course, it also meant that he got out of his bath this weekend, and he's probably going to get a little ripe by the time we can wash him again. I wonder if I can just spray him with Febreze. Or maybe sprinkle him with baking soda.

We'll see.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Talkin' with Dad

I always respected my Dad as an educated man, but at some point, he turned into one of those cranky Republicans completely blinded by an abject hatred of the Kenyan-in-Chief. I don't know when that was (most likely, around 2008), but there it is.

He likes to forward random emails and the like, and often includes me in his mailing list, just because it tickles his sense of humor. And I tend to respond in good grace.

So the other day, when I saw an email from him entitled "usma1959-forum: Fw: Saul David Alinsky," I knew we were in for a bumpy ride. And I was right.

As far as I could tell, he just sent this to me and a bunch of his West Point buddies (that's in the title: US Military Academy forum, and his graduating class of 1959), and he started it with "Scary, isn't it?"

After that, it was standard boilerplate propaganda, only unique in that it was in green Comic Sans with red "titles" for each bullet point. But the weird part is, aside from the random formatting, it was familiar. Somebody had taken an old Obama/Alinsky email, added a line to the beginning about Hillary Clinton writing her senior thesis on Alinsky, and we were off to the races.

Now, like I said, I love my Dad, even when he's being an idiot. So I didn't hit "reply all." I replied just to him, and wrote:
You know, you could look these things up for yourself, instead of falling for any old chunk of BS that rolls down the line.
(If you really need to read it now, feel free to follow the link. But I go over the high points later, and didn't think I should repeat it more than once. Your choice.)

I figured that my reply to his email would be the end of it. And in a reasonable world, it would be. But no. (I had to get my stubborn streak somewhere, right?)
Agreed. Except that while the Alinsky connections are not only suspect, they are downright false. the eight points are a rewrite of the "Communist Rules" (See the Snopes article that you quoted. And regardless of the accuracy of the thing, we are headed down a slippery slope because all of the eight points in the original e-mail are being pushed by the Obongo administration, and I fear for the country if we keep on.

Love you – Dad
Yes, that's right. "Obongo." As he's gotten older, he's become less and less reticent about his racism. (In his defense, he's never sent me a picture of Obama photoshopped to look like a witchdoctor - I can't guarantee that he didn't send one to other people, of course.)

I'd tried to be nice. I really had. But if he was going to push it...
Yup, Gonna have to look closer at 'em, aren't we?

First, yes, those "8 points" are a rewrite of the "Communist rules for revolution." Which are also mythical. You didn't go deep enough: those "8 points" date back to either the end of WWII or the McCarthy era, and are idiot counterfeits - propaganda from your father's era, which somebody dug up, dusted off, and recycled (apparently successfully, based on your reaction).

But, hey, let's go farther, shall we? Let's look at this dreadful list that has you so fearful for the future of America.

1) Healthcare– Control healthcare and you control the people
Well, there's an obvious flaw right there. Obama doesn't "control healthcare." The insurance companies are still at work making a profit. It's a capitalist solution to a healthcare crisis - there is no "socialized medicine." There's just suddenly some regulation on an industry that's been stealing from the American people for far too long. And they hate that.

(In your defense, there is one example of "socialized medicine" in America. It's called the Veteran's Administration - I'm sure you're familiar with them.)

2) Poverty – Increase the Poverty level as high as possible, poor people are easier to control and will not fight back if you are providing everything for them to live.
I'm sure you've heard the phrase "income inequality" - yeah, that's the thing that Obama is trying to fight, not increase. And incidentally, despite what Fox "News" want you to believe, the median household income in the United States has been increasing since midway through Obama's first term - you know, following the slide he inherited from the previous administration.

3) Debt – Increase the debt to an unsustainable level. That way you are able to increase taxes, and this will produce more poverty.
Again, you really should avoid listening to Fox "News." U.S. GDP is up. Unemployment is down to 6.7 percent in February, and despite the current sag, the stock market has has been setting new records each quarter. Oh, and those terrible tax increases? Have you noticed that they didn't happen?

4) Gun Control– Remove the ability to defend themselves from the Government. That way you are able to create a police state
Oy. OK, name a gun law that Obama has pushed through. Just one. The NRA is reduced to chanting "you know he's going to do it!" over and over. And the suckers fall for it. Gun sales are up, Dad. Sorry.

5) Welfare – Take control of every aspect of their lives (Food, Housing, and Income)
Again, oy. This is the ignorant nonsense that social conservatives and rich entitled douchebags have been peddling since time immemorial. You don't believe me? In 1912, Hilaire Belloc argued that, while capitalism was harsh, any attempts to amend its defects through could only lead to the rise of what he calls the "Servile State". According to Belloc, this servile state resembles ancient slavery, in its reliance on the government solving problems instead of the force of society taking care of issues on their own.

Sound familiar? Despite that, and despite the fact that 20 years later, the Federal government started up this dreaded "welfare state," the American people still managed to win WWII. In fact, your generation, and mine, both grew from this evil abuse of taxpayer's money, which prevents people from dying of starvation in the middle of what your boy Hannity calls "the single greatest nation that God ever gave man on this earth."

6) Education – Take control of what people read and listen to – take control of what children learn in school.
So, now you're talking about "No Child Left Behind"? Wrong president there, Pops.

Please tell me where Obama has taken control of Fox "News." And then explain why this doesn't invalidate your argument.

7) Religion – Remove the belief in the God from the Government and schools
Tell me one single thing that Obama has done to "remove God from government and schools," that wouldn't be done under any president, because it's the way the Constitution reads. (Treaty of Tripoli, 1797 - "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.")

Incidentally, if you're looking for examples of how wonderful life is under a religious government, look no farther than the Taliban.

8) Class Warfare – Divide the people into the wealthy and the poor. This will cause more discontent and it will be easier to take (Tax) the wealthy with the support of the poor.
It wasn't Obama that gave all the money to the upper 1%. Again, that was Bush (look up "real estate bubble" - remember? That whole "Wall Street collapse" thing?). And the whole "class warfare" meme is getting pushed, once again, not by the White House, but by Fox News. Obama is trying to rebuild the middle class, not tear down society. It's the rich, self-important pricks with the multi-million dollar homes and and an elevator for their cars who are trying to turn it into a war.

You have really got to find a new source for your news, Dad. When you allow Rupert Murdoch to brainwash you, it doesn't lead to a good place.

Love you,
In case you're curious, those parts up above in boldface? Yeah, I just cut-and-pasted from the original. So, yes, green Comic Sans, with the first word in red. I just took pity on your eyes and didn't recreate it here.

The saddest part, though? Dad will take it in reasonably good grace. His wife, though, already doesn't like me. And this isn't going to do anything to improve that relationship.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Fred Phelps: a premature obituary

So, apparently Fred Phelps is in a hospice and on the verge of death.

The founder of the Westboro Baptist Church is clinging to life, despite the combined wishes of the majority of the American population.

Apparently, although the Westboro members refuse to talk about it, Fred was voted out of the church by the other members, according to people like his estranged son, Nate Phelps (who regained his sanity 37 years ago and left the church).

Now, it's possible that the other members of Westboro Baptist Church realized that Fred was the worst person in America, and decided that they didn't want him around any more. It's just as likely, though, that much like the Tea Party and the Republicans, they've decided that Freddy was holding them back from reaching the true depths of hatred available to them.

Here's the thing, though. Our boy Freddy isn't dying because of some unexpected illness or because his body finally got tired of his shit. It appears that he is dying from an extended tantrum.
After Phelps was voted out of Westboro Baptist Church this past summer, he was moved out of the church and into a house, where he was watched to ensure he wouldn’t harm himself, a son estranged from the church said Sunday. Phelps eventually stopped eating and drinking, and on Sunday, he was near death.
And at age of 84, you can't do that to your body, as Fred has apparently just discovered.

So, having warped the minds of at least three generations of followers, Fred has just learned that you can't keep your body running for over eight decades on a diet of hate, and then try to replace it with sadness.

When he finally stops wasting our oxygen, he will not be missed.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The limits of my language means the limits of my world. (Ludwig Wittgenstein)

So, considering all the important things going on in the world, let's prioritize and consider one of the subjects most vital to each and every one of us: Katy Perry.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, it took me two tries to spell her name right. My first try was Katie, but the Google machine showed me the error of my ways. She really doesn't impact my life that much.)

Now, to be honest, there's nothing wrong with Katy Perry. She's an attractive woman (even though she chooses to hide it under some industrial-grade makeup), and somewhere under all that Autotune, there might be a nice voice. (Might be. I suspect it needs some work.) But here's the thing.

I recognize that she doesn't write her own music. But she really needs to consider her lyrics a little harder. Let's look at two of her recent hits.

Now, I'll admit that Ms Perry gives good video, and this is no exception. But I really want to watch it with the sound off, because the song annoys the crap out of me.

There are no less than five writing credits, which is rarely a good thing. Particularly, in this case, because this song is nothing but a solid block of clichés (this is an unfortunate side effect of writing by committee). This, for example, is just the first verse:
I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath
Scared to rock the boat and make a mess.
So I sat quietly, agreed politely,
I guess that I forgot I had a choice;
I let you push me past the breaking point
I stood for nothing, so I fell for everything
Now, I suppose that it's possible to bite your tongue while holding your breath, but why would you do both at once? Kind of self-defeating. But almost every line contains some over-used phrase or clichéd euphemism. The worst, of course, is the chorus, which uses, as its central theme, ANOTHER SONG ENTIRELY!
I got the eye of the tiger, the fighter, dancing through the fire.
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar;
Louder, louder than a lion,
Cause I am a champion and you’re gonna hear me roar.
The damned thing is just a massive pileup of overused platitudes. And her more recent hit has an even bigger problem. The title, and the central theme of the song, is built around a cliché that she didn't even use right. This one has six writing credits (surprise! Katy is one of them!), and for some reason, none of them ever bothered to look up what "a dark horse" refers to?

Here, let me help you out: a "dark horse candidate" is somebody who comes out of nowhere and gets a lot of votes. It's not somebody who's supposed to be scary or dangerous. So who told you it should be used that way?

I like your videos, Ms Perry. You put a lot of work into them, and it shows. But here's a new word for you: "lyricist."

Really, you should look it up. It's a concept you need to consider.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Driving and psychology - a brief reflection

On my way to work this morning, I ended up behind some oversized, lifted pickup with a huge pair of gold-colored truck nuts, who was tooling along doing 20 in a 40 zone. Now, I needed to get to work; I have no idea what he was doing. So, once oncoming traffic was clear, I passed him.

(Now, admittedly, there might have been some question about whether it was a legal passing zone. I can't answer those questions with any assurance at this time, and I don't think that this is necessarily the right forum to speculate. So, in the words of Wolf Blitzer, "We'll have to leave it there.")

In the normal course of events, that would have been the end of the story. But apparently, "holding up traffic" had, in fact, been this douchenozzle's entire purpose this morning. Because he became completely unhinged. He slammed down the gas as soon as he noticed me passing him, but, physics being what they are, it was too late and I pulled in front of him. But he crawled right up on my rear bumper for a block, and then, at the next red light, he pulled into the left-turn lane, revved his engine, and when the light changed, he leaped forward, swerved in front of me in the middle of the intersection, and kept going straight.

But from then on, he was afraid that I'd pass him again, so every time he slowed down, all I had to do was hug the middle line and he'd speed up to 40 mph again, which is all that I was after.

So I guess he thought he'd "won" that one, since he was in front again, even though I got what I wanted.

Nothing special to the story here. Just a thought that you should keep in mind: sometimes, if you focus too hard on everything being "win/lose," you can miss the fact that somebody else is manipulating you.

Saturday, March 01, 2014


The 31st of January dawned cold but clear in Moscow in 1990. It had been two years since the Communist Party had given their permission to open the first McDonalds in the former Soviet Union. Located in Moscow's Pushkin Square, the largest McDonalds restaurant had 28 cash registers and seating capacity for around 700 people.

That capacity was quickly exceeded, as people stood in line for up to six hours for their first taste of Western fast food. The Moscow restaurant broke a record for first-day sales for any McDonalds in the world - they served 30,000 people that day alone.

They remain popular in Russia almost 25 years later: McDonalds controls 70% of the Russian fast-food market, and the flagship store in Pushkin Square still serves 20,000 people per day. Ironically, it wasn't the American headquarters of the McDonalds Corporation which had pushed the new branch of the franchise. It was the head of McDonalds Canada, George Cohen, who had opened the twelve-year-long negotiations with the Soviet Union.

But within 8 months of the first McDonalds restaurant opening, the Berlin Wall fell. And within two years, the Soviet Union was dissolved.

So the next time someone tries to tell you that Ronald Reagan toppled the USSR, you can tell them that, no, it was Ronald McDonald that killed the bear.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

A quick note to George Will

The following was sent this morning to George Will's email address at the Washington Post, without pictures, and with the web pages supplied as footnotes instead of links (which might have redirected this to his spam folder).
Dear Mr Will,

I realize that Fox News is now paying your paycheck, so perhaps you're no longer allowed to look at any other news outlets, but, despite your conservative views, I've always felt that you were reasonably intelligent. If nothing else, you seem capable of forming coherent sentences and spelling things correctly, and these days, that counts for a lot.

However, you might be surprised to learn that you've entered some sort of information bubble. I saw your appearance on Monday's Special Report with Bret Baier, and it appears that there are some facts that you seem to be entirely unaware of.

When you said that the IRS targeting of conservative groups was one of the three biggest political scandals in the last 40 years, this lack of data became openly apparent. And while I hate to argue with a journalist of your extensive experience, I found humor in your statement that "this is not being perused and the president knows that. Hence his sense of weariness and boredom as he discussed this with Bill O'Reilly."

No, Mr Will, he was bored by it because it was a manufactured non-scandal. You see, the simple fact is, this is an example of the IRS actually doing its job, and investigating whether these groups were breaking the law; the simple fact of the matter is that political organizations do not qualify for the tax-exempt status that these groups had applied for.

Let's start from the beginning. The tax code gives us a number of different classifications based on what we do. One of them, a tax-exempt status, is designated 501(c)(4), and it's defined as "Civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare, ...the net earnings of which are devoted exclusively to charitable, educational, or recreational purposes."

This allows groups to be formed to construct basketball courts for inner-city kids, build a gym for a high school, set up after-school reading programs, operate food banks, or any other activity that can be defined as "social welfare." And it goes further: to prevent people from arguing that defeating a politician would qualify as "social welfare," the IRS specifically excludes political organizations from this particular tax-exempt status.
(ii) Political or social activities. The promotion of social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office.
Now, here's where the story gets a little weird, Mr Will. You see, the reason that the IRS appeared to be targeting conservative groups was because of a slick little piece of misdirection. You only saw that the IRS investigated conservative groups, because the Congress only looked into the IRS actions when they involved conservative groups, and actively ignored any investigations of liberal or progressive groups.
The Treasury inspector general (IG) whose report helped drive the IRS targeting controversy says it limited its examination to conservative groups because of a request from House Republicans.

A spokesman for Russell George, Treasury's inspector general for tax administration, said they were asked by House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) "to narrowly focus on Tea Party organizations."
See how that works? I mean, you're a classy guy, Mr Will - you were rocking that bow tie for years after most people had abandoned it, because you felt it gave you a certain old-fashioned gravitas, I guess. So I feel certain that you would disapprove of me referring to a sitting member of Congress as a "lying bag of fuck." That, however, is the immediate reaction I get from this little revelation.

(Now, to be fair, a full listing of the groups under investigation could, at first glance, possibly have given someone the impression that conservative groups were being targeted: after all, since two-thirds of the groups approved for tax-exempt status since 2010 were conservative, you'd expect a larger percentage of them to fall under scrutiny. However, that is very different from the blatant spin that Darrel Issa put on things, isn't it?)

But after all, once even Mitch McConnell abandons a smear campaign, it's pretty clear that the whole thing has just collapsed.

Perhaps, to avoid making yourself look like a hack or a paid shill for Fox "News," you should try to restrict your comments to that nebulous realm we call "facts," instead of just repeating the latest talking points being handed out by liars and partisans? And maybe by doing that, you can come out of this with at least a small shred of the dignity you've been clinging to for years.

Don't you think that would be a good idea?


Bill Minnich (Albuquerque, NM)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

You riled 'em up, GOP. Now you have to deal with 'em.

Last night, the President gave his State of the Union speech for 2014. The thing is, there wasn't just one response to it. There was the "official" Republican response from Cathy McMorris Rodgers (I'm not clear if she's Fred Rogers' evil twin, or if that lady from the Harry Potter books doesn't just wear pink any more), and then there was the Tea Party response (because, as my momma always said, "stupid is as stupid does"), and then, only on Youtube, Rand Paul gave his own "Tea Party Response," speaking for the Batshit Insane caucus.

Let's all take a moment to enjoy the current dynamics playing out within the Republican Party. They've split into a bunch of tiny, warring factions, each out to stab all the others in the back. They're trying their best to hide it, but they really aren't doing a good job, as last night proved.

The problem, you see, is that in 2008 the Republicans felt that, in order to defeat Obama, instead of taking up a more reasonable stance on a few key issues, they needed to mobilize the morons and the low information voters. Unfortunately, some of the newly-active mouth-breathers refused to retreat to their sofas and soap operas after the election, and kept right on chanting, picketing, and writing increasingly incoherent diatribes and tweets.

Social media had given them new access to vast fields of topics that they knew nothing about, and they felt that it was their duty to prove how little they knew. And the best way to do this was to elect people just as stupid as they were: enter Ted Cruz, Louis Gohmert, and all of their ilk.

While there may have been some dissension in the GOP during Obama's first term, things really started coming to a head during the government shutdown debates back in September, when the nominally intelligent Republicans realized that their new, hyperpartisan friends were not just willing, but actually eager, to see the government collapse - after all, the wet dream of any dedicated small government enthusiast would have to be government disappearing completely.

People like Libertarian Fox Business wonk John Stossel wanted lawmakers to "shut down more," and "I'm hoping the shutdown will wake people up... and say 'hey, maybe we don't need all this stuff.'" (A philosophy that ignores the 24 billion dollars that the 16-day shutdown cost the taxpayers, or the billions lost by businesses across the country that are more difficult to calculate.)

The most prescient (or in this case, conniving) saw it coming months earlier: Karl Rove, in the runup to the upcoming midterm elections, basically told his donors "yes, I wasted $300 million in 2012, and if you don't give me more money, the Democrats will win again!"

That's a venal and dishonest strategy, in that it ignores the fact that most of the money he takes from the gullible rich will be going to fight the new breed of rabid Tea Partiers that he helped create.

Speaker of the House John Boehner has become openly dismissive of the Tea Party fringes. And he isn't the only one. And the Tea Party, on their part, has no love for the establishment Republicans, even the ones who danced to their tune as hard as they could (just not to the point of destroying the economy).

Millions of dollars are being raised, on both sides, as Republicans prepare to square off against other Republicans for the future of the Republican philosophy.

The best result that we can hope for, really, is that nobody learns any lessons from the trouncing they're about to get, and the GOP stays divided through the 2016 elections. In the meantime, though, I'm just going to sit here with my popcorn and watch the fireworks.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Talking to The Man

Every so often, I like to send little notes to the members of Congress in my state. (Sometimes I'll send them to Congresscritters in other states, too. But let's not talk about that.) Mostly, this just gets me on mailing lists and doesn't do much else. But I'm an optimist by nature, so I keep trying.

This time, I thought I'd wander over to the "contact Tom" button on Senator Tom Udall's (D-NM) site.

(Can I call you Tom? As much as you've emailed me, I feel I should be allowed to.)

I couldn't help noticing that a number of Democrats are caving in to the Republican talking point that any extension of unemployment benefits should be "paid for."

Well, if that's the case, how are we paying for all of the corporate subsidies that my tax dollars are going to? Gas and oil companies get massive subsidies every year, and none of them are struggling. But families in your state are.

What about the $1.1 billion we pay out to distillers every ten years, to allow them to produce flavored vodka? (That one's covered in Section 5010 of the tax code, if you're wondering.) What about the $80 million worth of sugar we bought back from domestic sugar producers (a $3.3 billion dollar industry)?

See if you can "pay for" the unemployment by reducing the subsidy to any industry that's consistently turned a profit in the last decade. This wouldn't even be a hard sell. You could point out that the majority of unemployment insurance goes to families with children, and you personally don't see the benefits to the country that comes from forcing children to starve.

You could point out that long-term unemployment hurts the economy, and while there are people who would like to see the US economy destroyed, none of them should be in Congress.

You can even finish with "And if extending unemployment benefits is such a distasteful subject, I would like to ask why our Republican colleagues have been blocking every effort to create any type of jobs bill for the past six years?"

Give it a shot, Senator. See how far it could take you.
As always, I doubt it will accomplish anything, but let's see what happens.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Who remembers Nicaragua?

So, on Face the Nation this weekend, Peggy Noonan called New York mayor Bill De Blasio a "Sandinista" – she tried to walk it back almost immediately, as soon as the host called her on it.

But, you know, it's a funny thing: that idea seems to be the latest right wing talking point. In November, Rush Limbaugh called De Blasio a Sandinista and a communist, as did the pundits on Fox "News."

So let’s be clear what’s going on here: the right wing is assuming (perhaps justifiably, considering how they’ve destroyed education) that nobody knows who the Sandinistas were. But before we get to them, the first thing you should know is that the Somoza family ran Nicaragua for 43 years (either directly or through puppets); they were wonderful guys, who kept power through assassination and torture; their relations with the US finally fell apart finally when the Nicaraguan National Guard was caught on tape gunning down ABC reporter Bill Stewart (and his translator Juan Espinoza) in early 1979.

In 1979, the Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN) overthrew the Somoza regime by force: the only way possible when faced with a tyrant, with a secret police force and a prison full of anyone who spoke out against them. In 1988, Bill De Blasio traveled to Nicaragua, and came away with admiration for what the Sandinistas were accomplishing to help their people.

And, admittedly, the Sandinistas got a little repressive later on - mostly in order to fight the Contras (more on them later), but never, by any stretch of the imagination, did they get as bad as the government they replaced.

But Peggy Noonan was speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, who supported the Somoza regime. This was not surprising, because Reagan had this habit of supporting murderous thugs around the world, like the Taliban, the racist government of South Africa and their policy of apartheid, Augusto Pinochet in Chile, and many others. Essentially, it wouldn't matter how many of his own people a dictator killed or tortured: if they bought their guns from the US instead of the USSR, Reagan liked them. He was friendly that way.

In fact, one of the most memorable acts of the Reagan administration (you might have heard of it) was when they quietly sold arms to Iran (the same country that had just recently taken over their American embassy), and funneled the money to a terrorist organization called the Contras.

Remember the Contras? They opposed the Sandinista government. And they showed their opposition through the gentle, humanitarian tactics of rape, murder, destruction of entire towns, kidnapping, blowing up health care clinics, and targeting doctors for assassination. You know, just good, clean fun; these were the people Reagan supported.

So, let's draw a few lines: Peggy Noonan worked for Reagan, who supported the Contras, who were opposed to the Sandinistas. So I guess it's understandable that Noonan might think badly of the Sandinistas, as well.

Because she, too, apparently loves murderous thugs and hates freedom. At least, that’s the impression I get. Can anybody explain what it is that I might be misunderstanding?

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Pot calling the Kettle

I only talk about it once in a while, but my wife suffers from chronic pain issues. She's been seeing a number of doctors for a number of years, some better than others, trying to keep her going. As the years have gone on and the pain has gotten worse, she's ended up on gradually stronger and heavier doses of narcotics. And she hates it.

She's always been intelligent. She used to catch on immediately to the most subtle nuance. And then, as the cloud of narcotics around her head got thicker and heavier, she found it harder and harder to concentrate. She couldn't easily focus her attention on anything.

The tradeoff between being less intelligent and not being in pain was difficult for her. It was a different kind of pain, but there it is.

But New Mexico, unlike many more "civilized" states, has medical marijuana laws. And after our daughter suggested medical marijuana, she started doing her research. (OK, technically, our daughter suggested Marinol - she didn't think there was a chance in hell that her mother would smoke.)

New Mexico issues licenses to its known users, and the process for getting a license, while not particularly complicated, is rigid, structured, and annoying as hell.

We gathered all the documents that they wanted: the completed five-page application, a copy of her driver's license, her medical records, and certification from two different practitioners (her primary care guy, and her Pain Management guy).

(Weirdly, we also got a call from the Department of Health asking permission to contact a third doctor - she had an x-ray in her records, and they wanted to contact the radiologist who read it: possibly as evidence that she had cysts where he said she did - we've never really been certain.)

We had different problems getting the two medical authorizations. The first one, and easily the strangest one, was from our primary care guy. We've been seeing this short, elderly guy, and he wanted us to make an appointment with him. He'd apparently reviewed her records, and he sat down with her, looked her in the eyes, and asked her if she was aware of the possibility of the drug causing severe schizophrenia?

Yes, that's right. A medical doctor, concerned about Reefer Madness. (That was actually the incident that caused us to reevaluate our primary care provider.)

The second problem was came up later. It seems that the Pain Management doctor's paperwork didn't meet their requirements, and we'd been back-burnered for three weeks before we found out.

After a long and angry phone call with the Department of Health, I got them to finally explain what the problem was: the doctor's Physician's Assistant (PA) had filled out the paperwork for him - that, after all, is what PA's do. But she wasn't a Board Certified Pain Medicine specialist - the doctor was.

The next day, I overnighted updated paperwork from the doctor to them, and my wife now has a bright, shiny green card from the New Mexico Department of Health. It has a fascinating statement on the back: "card holders are legally permitted to use and possess up to six (6)ounces (170 grams) of usable marijuana." As opposed to all that unusable marijuana that people are caught with every day?

She also has a list of all the non-profit pot stores certified by the State of New Mexico (I think they should call them "dealerships"), along with an admonition not to disclose their locations. My wife is now a state-sponsored stoner.

So there's the trick: the government has a program, but they don't have a lot of inclination to help you themselves. You have to push them into doing their job, and you have to keep resubmitting anything they have a problem with - all it takes is one comma out of place, and everything comes to a halt.

She has a vaporizer (smoking irritates her throat, so we avoid that), and the store has some fairly high-quality pot, with names like "Wow" and "Shiska-berry", along with information on which of the various cannabinoids each brand contains.

And while she spends most days mildly buzzed, she no longer feels like her head is wrapped in cotton. She can concentrate on things for an extended period; she can read books again, and not have to go back over the same page three or four times.

There are conflicting theories regarding the use of marijuana; I just know this. It helps my wife, and that's what matters to me.