Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Growing up Bachmann?

Michelle Bachmann released her official holiday Christmas greeting the other day, and I realized something. She never bothered to learn the names of her own kids.



To be honest, it's understandable: she and Marcus have five children of their own, and they've taken in 23 foster children, all girls. (They had to be girls: Marcus only has so much self-control, after all...)

However, this sounds like it leads to an interesting opportunity. If you're a homeless girl between the ages of 15 and 25, and you have the misfortune to live in Michigan, just go down to the Bachmann ranch. Slip in when nobody's looking, keep your head down and try to assimilate. How could anybody notice?

(If you're a homeless male, of course, your only choice is to join the endless stream of closed-mouthed rentboys going in the back door - so to speak - of Bachmann's clinic.)

Try to imagine growing up in Michelle Bachmann's house. If you're like me, you imagine it's all pillowfights and long, lingering hot showers; the reality, of course, would probably be more like those women's prison movies that became so popular in the 60s and 70s.

Except, of course, that as it turns out, the true reality isn't quite as it seems, either.

See, for most of us, "foster children" indicates a long-term commitment: yeah, maybe you get them in their teens, but you raise them. This myth spread by the Bachmann camp tells us what a wonderful, sharing person Michele is, opening her home so many times, to so many troubled girls. She said, in interviews, that she "raised" 23 foster children.

The truth is, Bachmann and her husband got a license to counsel girls with eating disorders. They lived in her house: some for a week, some for a year or so.
Bachmann often says she has "raised" 23 foster children. That may be a bit of a stretch. According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Bachmann's license, which she had for 7 1/2 years, allowed her to care for up to three children at a time. According to Kris Harvieux, a former senior social worker in the foster care system in Bachmann's county, some placements were almost certainly short term. "Some of them you have for a week. Some of them you have for three years, some you have for six months," says Harvieux, who also served as a foster parent herself. "She makes it sound like she got them at birth and raised them to adulthood, but that's not true."

Yet Bachmann clearly had some of her foster children long enough to enroll them in local schools, and it was through them that she got involved in school politics. While she taught her own children at home before sending them to private Christian schools, state law required foster kids to go to public school. Seeing their curriculum, she became convinced that "politically correct attitudes, values, and beliefs" had supplanted objective education. She helped found a charter school but soon left the board amid allegations that she was trying to inject Christianity into the curriculum. Then, in 1999, she decided to run for the local school board.
But she keeps saying that she's "raised" 23 kids. And that's because Bachmann isn't afraid to lie to make a point.

That's what you have to keep in mind about Michele Bachmann. If she feels that she has a narrative that's important to make her point, she's more than happy to pretend that the story at the core of the narrative is true. Whether it is or not; it just has to conform to her agenda.

Like a few months ago, when, attempting to attack Rick Perry (September's GOP Flavor of the Month for the 2012 Goat Rodeo Republican Primary) for one of the only good things he ever did.
Bachmann first raised the issue during a Republican presidential debate on Monday as a swipe at Republican rival and Texas Governor Rick Perry, who issued an executive order in 2007 mandating girls get the HPV vaccine as part of a school immunization requirement. The order was later overturned.

In that forum, she questioned the state's authority to force "innocent little 12-year-old girls" to have a "government injection" that was "potentially dangerous."
Of course, when she was later pressed for details as to how a vaccine which protected girls against the single most common cause of cervical cancer might be dangerous, she said that she met a woman who said her daughter became "mentally retarded" after getting the Gardasil vaccine.

This is a standard defense for the habitual liar: when called out for an unsupported spew of easily-debunked bullshit, they'll claim that somebody told them - it isn't their fault if somebody else is mistaken, is it?

(It's also interesting that this argument was over a vaccine that is specifically controversial among right-wing fundamentalists. Like Michele Bachman. Remember what I said earlier about lies which conform to her agenda?)

This is standard practice for Ms Bachmann. The more gentle among us might say that she "has a history of making inflammatory statements." But that isn't what's going on. The woman is a liar. Need more examples? She went on the Dennis Miller radio program and claimed things about the "Obamacare" bill that were just complete and utter crap.
"On the 16th page, it says whatever health care you have now, it’s going to be gone within five years. So your current health care plan, you’re not going to have in five years. What you’re going to have is a government plan and a federal bureau is going to decide what you get or if you get anything at all."
In case anyone is curious, page 16 covered people whose healthcare plans would be grandfathered in - i.e., they'd get to keep it, not lose it.

She also claimed that 17 million illegal immigrants would start to get free healthcare under the bill. Ignoring the part that said "Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States."

(Factcheck.org has volumes of material on this woman.)

Michele Bachmann is never afraid to lie in support of what she considers a "higher truth." Because that's how her mind works.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Tim Minchin: Woody Allen Jesus

Tim Minchin was supposed to be on the Jonathan Ross Show this week, and got cut by the network.

I see the reason he got cut: despite the myth of the "Liberal Media," networks are not run by liberal/conservative ideas, but by ratings (exception: parts of MSNBC and all of Fox "News") But that's a story for another show. And in the simple, uncomplicated-by-agenda media, you can't do something that will endanger those all-important ratings.

Nonetheless, I liked the song.



And if you care, Tim Minchin's reaction to getting cut from the Jonathan Ross Show is here. (And by the way, the Bonus Material after the video is actually way better than anything that came before it...)

So, you know, Merry Christmas and stuff.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Don't Ask redeux

You know, unlike any of these elitist, protected rich boys running for office, I spent essentially a lifetime in the military: 21 years as an enlisted man. (Ron Paul did 2 years as a flight surgeon and 3 years in the National Guard; Rick Perry flew cargo planes - god, I hated C-130s - for 4 years.)

In that time, I know, for a fact, that I served with gays. They were forced to hide it, but most of us knew, and nobody really cared. (Most of the people who would have cared were too damned stupid to figure things out anyway.)

Now, during Clinton's era, he passed "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) as an idiotic compromise. (The fact that the GOP hated it at the time, and were, more recently, rabidly trying to protect it, isn't the slightest bit funny. Not at all...)

Now, with DADT repealed, we have brain-dead idiots in Brokeback Mountain jackets telling us how sad it is that gays can serve openly in the military.



But, you know something odd? DADT was repealed, and the military didn't collapse.

It was only last year that the Marine Corps Commandant, Gen James Amos, said that the repeal of DADT would be a "risk." Now, three months after it was shot down, he's singing a different show tune.
Marines across the globe have adapted smoothly and embraced the change, says their top officer, Gen. James F. Amos, who previously had argued against repealing the ban during wartime.

"I'm very pleased with how it has gone," Amos said in an Associated Press interview
It really isn't an issue. You want proof?

Two women share first kiss at US Navy ship's return

A Navy tradition caught up with the repeal of the U.S. military’s "don’t ask, don’t tell" rule on Wednesday when two women sailors became the first to share the coveted "first kiss" on the pier after one of them returned from 80 days at sea.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Marissa Gaeta of Placerville, Calif., descended from the USS Oak Hill amphibious landing ship and shared a quick kiss in the rain with her partner, Petty Officer 3rd Class Citlalic Snell of Los Angeles. Gaeta, 23, wore her Navy dress uniform while Snell, 22, wore a black leather jacket, scarf and blue jeans. The crowd screamed and waved flags around them.

"It’s something new, that’s for sure," Gaeta told reporters after the kiss. "It’s nice to be able to be myself. It’s been a long time coming..."

Sailors and their loved ones bought $1 raffle tickets for the opportunity. Gaeta said she bought $50 of tickets, a figure that she said pales in comparison to amounts that some other sailors and their loved ones had bought. The money was used to host a Christmas party for the children of sailors.
And, amazingly enough, the world didn't end. Society kept on going. It's weird. It's like it hardly even mattered, in the big picture.



Because, guess what? It makes no real difference to the military. Despite what some morons want you to believe.

But... I just... No!

Sometimes, even though the entire story is in the headline, you just need to have more details. You can't look away.
Man eats cocaine in brother's butt, dies

A South Carolina man's brother died after police said he was forced to eat cocaine hidden in his brother's backside.

Both brothers were taken into custody on allegations they had drugs in their car.

But police told Charleston, S.C., TV station WCIV there were additional drugs hidden in 23-year-old Deangelo Mitchell's backside.

Officers said Deangelo Mitchell convinced his brother, 20-year-old Wayne Mitchell, to swallow the ounce of cocaine to hide the evidence. He died soon afterward.
That must be one convincing motherfucker. If he could have gone to law school, he would have been amazing.

Remember, kids. Crack kills.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Thoughts on food

Two things.

1. This is something I never thought of, but if you happen to have a big chunk of dark chocolate, and think that a little grated chocolate on top of ice cream might be a good thing, you just go to town with a grater, right?

Well, as it turns out, grated chocolate seems to have a slight static electricity problem. It clings to the grater, to the plastic container you're grating into, and it jumps around and doesn't want to go where you think it should go.

I had never known this up until now. But there it is.

2. Last night, the Trophy Wife made her usual killer homemade chicken pot pie. Now, you have to understand, this is not the Swanson Pot Pie of my childhood (a product that many of us loved, if you happen to be of a certain age), this is an actual homemade pie. Only the filling, instead of being composed of apples or whatever, is chicken and vegetables. (And about 2 cups of homemade chicken stock, spices, and some flour to thicken it, if you're curious.)

This is the Giant Wookie Son's favorite dish in the world. And last night, he made the crust (mixed the ingredients, cut it into two portions, and stuck it in the fridge to think about what it had done), I did the filling, the Trophy Wife rolled out the crust and put the filling in the pie, and I stuck it in the oven. So, a little bit of teamwork and everybody wins.

One final note: Alton Brown, usually a genius, suffered a huge brain cramp when he came up with his idea of what a chicken pot pie should be. It's not a goddamned stew with biscuits floating on top: that's just stupid. The bottom crust is there to soak in all the meaty-flavored juiciness from the filling, and might well be the best part of the pie.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

It ain't broke. Let's fix it.

Sometimes you have to ask "are people actually this stupid?" And then, of course, the obvious answer comes back - "yes. Yes, they are."

Paul Ryan's plan to scrap Medicare has proven to be just massively unpopular with the average American (especially among those who don't watch Fox "News," or who actually use Medicare themselves). So now, of course, they need to get the focus back to Medicare "reform."

One of the chief problems with Medicare, from the industry's view, is that the government can just set prices and the industry has to go along with it (as opposed to raising prices just because they can). That is, in fact, the primary complaint in most anti-Medicare rants (at least the ones that don't devolve into "death panels"): "the game is rigged against private insurers!"

So, somebody went out and found themselves a "Democratic" Senator from Oregon, Ron Wyden, and convinced him to co-sponsor a new plan to "reform" Medicare (where "reform" is defined as "gut and destroy").

Let's see how quickly you can spot the landmines built into this plan:
Under the proposal, known as premium support, Medicare would subsidize premiums charged by private insurers that care for beneficiaries under contract with the government.

Congress would establish an insurance exchange for Medicare beneficiaries. Private plans would compete with the traditional Medicare program and would have to provide benefits of the same or greater value. The federal contribution in each region would be based on the cost of the second-cheapest option, whether that was a private plan or traditional Medicare.

In addition, the growth of Medicare would be capped. In general, spending would not be allowed to increase more than the growth of the economy, plus one percentage point — a slower rate of increase than Medicare has historically experienced.

To stay under the limit, Congress could cut payments to providers and suppliers responsible for the overspending and could increase Medicare premiums for high-income beneficiaries, the lawmakers said.
You got that? The problem is that Medicare is usually the cheapest plan around. So, first off, you make it so that it has to be, by law, the second cheapest plan around. That's step one.

Then, you force the government to funnel some of the Medicare money to the private insurers (a business that is traditionally astonishingly lucrative for the people who run it), leaving less money available for the Medicare program itself.

Then, you put spending caps on Medicare and increase some of the Medicare premiums, making the program less flexible, less able to respond to market pressures, and (just by the way) less popular among the people whose premiums just went up.

And those are just the obvious problems: this plan basically says "well, the game is rigged toward the government. The only way to fix that is to rig it in the other direction."

Now, just for fun, let's put our tinfoil hats on for just a second. Can you see any way that this system could be manipulated by the healthcare industry? Is there, maybe, a simple backdoor that somebody could sneak through to kill off Medicare entirely? (You know, pretty much what Big Pharma and the GOP have been trying to do for decades?)

Try this idea on for size. A couple of the health insurance companies (not working together! Oh, no!) set up some brand-new private insurance plans to "compete" with Medicare. And one of them is obviously cheaper than the rest.

(Can these plans lose money in the long run? Of course they can! In order to be a growth industry, you don't just look at short-term losses - you have to figure out long-term gains!)

And if you advertise that new plan like mad, people will change over to it. Meaning that there are, by definition, less people in Medicare. And less money coming in.

Remember, all the big insurance companies are already getting Medicare money directly from government subsidies under the new plan. And the government is still paying for the remaining Medicare patients.

So the money is still going out under the current plan, and damned little is coming in. And the industry can just quietly poke Congress in the ribs and say "Look! We can do it just as cheaply. And save the government money in the process. What do you think we should do about this? Oh, and would you like more Cabernet?"

But that's just paranoia, right there. Right? There's no way that could ever happen.

Is there?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Poking at the Mouse

Somehow I missed this a few years ago (maybe because I don't download pirated movies). But this probably made Mickey a little cranky.

> [email]tracker-40-aa-5f-03-412675c8@prq.to
>
> Re: Unauthorized Use of DreamWorks SKG
> Properties
> http://www.thepiratebay.org
>
> To Whom It May Concern:
>
> This letter is being written to you on
> behalf of our client, DreamWorks SKG
> (hereinafter ^ÓDreamWorks^Ô). DreamWorks
> is the exclusive owner of all copyright,
> trademark and other intellectual property
> rights in and to the ^ÓShrek 2^Ô motion
> picture. No one is authorized to copy,
> reproduce, distribute, or otherwise use
> the ^ÓShrek 2^Ô motion picture without
> the express written permission of
> DreamWorks.
[...]
> As you may be aware, Internet Service
> Providers can be held liable if they do
> not respond to claims of infringement
> pursuant to the requirements of the
> Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA).
> In accordance with the DMCA, we request
> your assistance in the removal of
> infringements of the ^ÓShrek 2^Ô motion
> picture from this web site and any other
> sites for which you act as an Internet
> Service Provider. We further declare
> under penalty of perjury that we are
> authorized to act on behalf of
> DreamWorks and that the information in
> this letter is accurate. Please contact
> me immediately to discuss this matter
> further.

As you may or may not be aware, Sweden is not a state in the United States of America. Sweden is a country in northern Europe. Unless you figured it out by now, US law does not apply here. For your information, no Swedish law is being violated.

Please be assured that any further contact with us, regardless of medium, will result in
a) a suit being filed for harassment
b) a formal complaint lodged with the bar of your legal counsel, for sending frivolous legal threats.

It is the opinion of us and our lawyers that you are ....... morons, and that you should please go sodomize yourself with retractable batons.

Please also note that your e-mail and letter will be published in full on http://www.thepiratebay.org.

Go fuck yourself.

Polite as usual,
anakata


Gee, now they can't thaw out Walt Disney's head: it would burst into flame as soon as he hit room temperature.


Image stolen from here

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Today in Rock History: The Clash

Thirty two years ago today (that's 1979, for you home-schoolers), The Clash released London Calling. There's a reason why that matters, and if we're all very lucky, I might get to it.

I was a dilettante punk fan in high school. I'll admit it: I was never a true punk, but I supported the idea.

Of course, as I grew older, I realized that "punk" was pretty much a metaphorical term for any band who really didn't know how to play their instruments, and were just screaming as loud and as fast as they could.

I owned a copy of Never Mind the Bollocks; I loved the Ramones (although I didn't see Rock'n'Roll High School until a midnight showing in 1984, and I knew it sucked before I went in - I basically just saw it out of solidarity or some shit...); I never really liked Black Flag (before or after Henry Rollins - but I knew enough people who lived for that crap that I knew the difference). And I continue to worship every note played by Joe Jackson, despite his switch to pop/classical musical sensibilities.

Basically, I liked the idea of punk, but I also liked the ideas of rhythm, chord changes, harmony, playing in the same key, and all those other musical concepts that punk music disdained.

And that was why I liked the Clash.

Their first two albums, as far as I was concerned, were basic punk, and crap. But London Calling was done after they fired their manager (or, you know, disagreed with him for three years until they brought him back), and instead of continuing as another crap punk band, they started using socially relevant lyrics, they embraced ska, rockabilly and playing in the same key, and generally they became a rock band instead of an icon for a movement.

Personally, as albums go, I preferred Combat Rock over London Calling, but this was their seminal album (as in "for the first time, they shot spunk instead of blanks").

Their album cover, widely accepted as one of the most iconic covers of all times, was basically a riff on Elvis' first album. (It was also a double album, but sold at the price of a single album, which was important to those of us buying records - yes, vinyl - off of our toy-store stocker paychecks...)

One of the hits off the album, "Train in Vain," was considered a "secret track" because they hadn't intended to include it on the album. Their first song to crack the American Top 40, they recorded it in one day, a few hours after they wrote it, and intended it as a free giveaway with the British rock magazine New Musical Express. But when that deal fell through, they stuck it on the album. Unfortunately, the album cover had already been printed and didn't list this song. Go figure.



My personal favorite from the album is the title song, a mid-tempo number in a minor key, with staccato guitar chords playing against Joe Strummer's harsh, almost apocalyptic lyrics referencing drugs, Three Mile Island, police brutality and the sad state of modern music.



So, when the dust settled, why was this album important?

Because it made punk accessible to the common man. It showed that even punk bands had talent. And it informed the world that the age of Phil Spector and Pat Boone was over, and the rowdy kids had moved in.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Tasha

It was late 1997, and we'd just come back from Germany. The Air Force, in her infinite wisdom, decided that Cheyenne, Wyoming was the right place for me and my family.

While waiting for base housing to come available, we rented a cheap little house in a relatively decent neighborhood. And after seven years of apartment life in Germany, it was time to get a dog. (Plus, it gave the Trophy Wife and the Horde something to concentrate on other than what a miserable wanna-be-Wild-West shithole we'd been planted in - hey, any state that spawned Dick Cheney must at least be a suburb of Hades, right?)

We went to the animal shelter (because that's how we roll - of course, when I was a kid, we called it "the pound"), and we found Tasha. Just shy of a year old, pure black Labrador/German Shepherd mix. Even as a young bitch, she had distinct wolf-like cast to her, which only became more pronounced as she got older.

She was one of the gentlest, most even-tempered dogs in the world. She also turned out to be the smartest dog I have ever had: we've never been much for tricks, but the few we tried to teach her, she would catch on to it right away.

And she was built for speed: you'd throw a tennis ball for her, she'd be there to grab it almost before it hit the ground. And as impressive as that was to watch, the show wasn't even half over. Because once she had the ball, she'd turn around, lower her head into her ruff so that it was even with her spine, and come charging straight back toward you like a freight train.

It was an impressive sight: somehow, even though she was bringing back a tennis ball, you had a rough idea what a deer might have seen moments before it turned into dinner.

Except that was where the metaphor broke down. Because that was only her second favorite game. F.E. Warren AFB may have been a cesspool, but they had more nature than they knew what to do with, to include a herd of deer running wild on the base. And once, we'd gotten home with Tasha in the car, and the deer came trotting out between two buildings. Unknowingly, we opened the door to put the leash on her, and suddenly there was a black stripe leading from the car and down the street, with the sound of claws on blacktop dopplering past.

The deer on F.E. Warren are a protected species, so it's probably good that Tasha only wanted to play. Because there would have been nothing but a red spot and a pair of horns left if she'd been serious about it. She put them through their paces, accompanied by the sound of us, somewhere in the distance, shouting "Tasha! Come!"

That was the only thing we ever told her that she just ignored: she was having entirely too much fun.

We never figured out why she was skittish around water at first, but once we taught her to swim, she loved it. She may have looked like a pure-black Shepherd, but she had a Labrador undercoat: basically, she was a seal in a bearskin coat. We'd take her down to the various ponds on base, and she wouldn't care if she had to break through a layer of ice - by god, she was swimming out there to fetch that stick.

Our house on base didn't have a fence, so we tried a dog run for a while. But another bit of the wildlife on base caught up with us - a pack of feral dogs decided to fuck with her before the Trophy Wife could get out there and run them off.

That didn't make her skittish, though: just made her hate all other dogs. She decided she didn't have time for her own kind any more. She would usually ignore them, but god help the mutt who looked crosseyed at her or her humans.

I've always known that a dog was the only perfect burglar alarm, and Tasha was the poster child for that theory: she was always hyper-aware of her environment, and knew exactly what was going on around her. As soon as she knew that we approved of someone, she was the friendliest dog in the world.

But she could transform into the Spectre of Death in the blink of an eye, anytime anybody in her family felt threatened. Very protective, but also smart enough to shift gears in a heartbeat. Nobody ever got hurt by Tasha: a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses got a vision of hell, though.

She accepted a lot from us, and never complained. Then again, she had to, with three rowdy kids and... well, and me, with my somewhat off-kilter sense of humor.

We tried to socialize her to other dogs - we broke down a few years ago and got a puppy, Boris. Who turned out to be, in fact, literally brain-damaged: head trauma as a pup, that kept him a mental pup in a sixty-pound body. But Tasha loved him.

German Shepherds are prone to hip dysplasia, and as she got older, it turned out that she'd definitely inherited that problem. In recent years, it became harder and harder to walk; one of her hind legs just stopped doing what her brain told it to. But she never complained, never whined: she stolidly accepted everything that life threw at her. She moved slower, but she never stopped moving. Her hearing started failing, but she still perked up when you called her name. Usually. Cataracts started to cloud her eyes, but she could always see me.

It happened very suddenly. Or maybe it built up over the last several years, and I was just too damned stupid to notice.

Last week, I started noticing that she wasn't eating much. Then, Saturday morning, she went out to the backyard, but didn't come back. I found her lying in the snow. She looked up at me, almost embarrassed: she couldn't stand up, and she'd messed herself a little. She was always a very clean dog.

I coaxed her up. She limped slowly inside, and we got her cleaned up. We got her a blanket, and she lay down on it, and refused to move for the rest of the day. She barely drank anything, and ate nothing until I went out and bought some "easy to digest" cans of dog food.

We didn't think it would be long, but then she rallied. I got up at about two in the morning, and she'd walked to the other end of the house, and laid down in front of my door. She was better! She'd just been sick!

Annette had managed to get to a fitful sleep, so I didn't wake her. I woke up first on Sunday, and Tasha was fine. She limped out to the backyard again. And then, for the second day in a row, she didn't come back.

I found her under a bush, where she'd set up a burrow. I tried to get her to come inside, and she actually snapped at me - the gentlest dog in the world, and if I hadn't pulled my hand back fast enough, she'd have bitten me.

Her instincts were telling her what I didn't want to hear.

I came back a little later, and her teeth were chattering; this time, she let me lever her out of the hole and limped slowly inside. She collapsed on the blanket again, shivering, and we covered her with a blanket and stayed with her. She hardly moved for the rest of the day.

Last night, she lost all control of her bladder and bowels. I got her cleaned up as best I could before I went to work. My daughter and my wife were with her all day.

We took her to the animal clinic this evening. The vet confirmed that it was time. She said that the shot was a massive dose of barbiturates, and Tasha wouldn't feel anything. "Sometimes, there's some vocalization, or a little twitching."

I was there as the light went out of her slightly clouded eyes; as she relaxed, there was a high-pitched keening sound. And I realized it was coming from me.

Tonight, I killed my dog.

It was the right thing to do. She's been in pain for a long time, and now her organs were beginning to fail. But I can't get to sleep, and I can't get drunk enough to make it feel like it was right.

If Tasha were here, she'd shove her nose under my hand. She'd quietly but forcefully insinuate her head into my lap and force me to pet her. Until I paid attention to her, instead of whatever was bothering me.

But she can't do that any more.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Requiem for a candidate

Wow. It looks like the Cain Train left the rails, hit the siding, and slid about a hundred feet into a bus full of nuns and orphans.

And it really only took a couple of weeks.

I mean, the man declared himself a candidate back in May. And since then, it isn't like he's been hiding in the bushes. They wouldn't let him; having a black candidate in the lead proved that Republicans weren't all inbred bigots; they were willing to allow the man to do just about anything he wanted. Within reason.

Did he look completely ignorant on foreign policy? Who cares? Hell, there are still people who want Sarah Palin to enter the race!

Did he want to say openly insane shit? That's not a problem! After all, Michele Bachmann has made a whole career out of being the craziest bitch in the kennel! The self-important, elitist millionaire Newt Gingrich is currently the front runner, and he recently said that child labor laws were "truly stupid"!

(As it turns out, sanity is actually a detriment in today's Republican party - just ask Jon Huntsman.)

So, what does it take to hurt the Cain? A little sugar.



Now, this is the 21st Century. The GOP tried to be open-minded about things. At first.

A couple of women came forward and made unsubstantiated allegations about Herman Cain. So what? The man's famous! People say shit about celebrities all the time, right?

Then more women came forward. And more. But still, no proof.

Then came Ginger White.

She claimed to have had a thirteen-year affair with Cain. But, once again, there was no proof: circumstantial evidence, but no proof. Cain might have weathered this bump in the road, too.

Until he admitted that he gave her money.

He tried to claim that he'd just given her "financial assistance," but nobody believed him. Nobody who's seen Cain strut and fret his hour upon the stage really had a doubt about his motives: to Herman Cain, "charity" is a carefully-calculated amount determined by his accountant, to be paid at the end of the year. Nobody was willing to believe that the Black Walnut just wanted to help this poor girl in her decade-and-a-half of need.

So Herman Cain crashed and burned. A victim of his own arrogance. But here's the thing.

I have willingly taken on the moniker of "Cynic," because I am aware of an unpleasant tendency in my makeup: I think the worst of people. Thanks to a certain amount of self-awareness, I can admit that I sometimes take this too far; I see evil, even as the light of good begins to shine. I know this about myself.

So, given that I know that my judgement is almost surely clouded in this case, I understand that my interpretation of events must be incorrect. I know this.

But there's still this tiny, niggling doubt in the back of my mind.

Why is it that the GOP was willing to turn a blind eye to whatever Cain did, until it became apparent that the black candidate had gone to bed with a white woman?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Occupy the Constitution! (updated)

First off, I'd like to take a moment of silence for the Occupy Wall Street movement. They've gone disco.



Meanwhile, though, let’s consider a fascinating legal issue that has come up with the Occupy movement.

See, the problem with the 99% bringing the problem of economic disparity to light, is that, by the nature of the election process, in order to be a politician, you are all but required to be a member of the 1%.

This is the reason that it’s so difficult to get a tax increase for the rich through Congress: they are the rich!

This also means that many of them are predisposed to oppose discussion of income disparity or the economic realities of life in America today. Nobody likes talking about their own sins, when it’s easier to point at other people and scream “Heretic!” So, for example, Mayor Bloomberg of New York (net worth: $18.1 billion) isn’t particularly interested in stopping police brutality against protestors. (If anything, he’s enabling it.)

In Texas, they’ve decided that there is only a limited amount of free speech available in Austin at any one time.



Now, consider that for a minute. If one protest group starts yelling, and leaves after 2 hours and 55 minutes, and another group, unrelated to them and with no knowledge of the previous group, spontaneously showed up in the same neighborhood, they would not be allowed to speak without breaking the law.

It seems to me that this case would be a slam-dunk for any civil rights lawyer. Just take a video camera and show someone showing up after the time limit has expired and not being allowed to speak. Admittedly, the Texas Supreme Court would uphold the police actions, because that’s how Texas works; but it would continue up through the US Supreme Court, and nobody claiming to be a Constitutional scholar could let this pass.

(In a fascinating twist, the Trophy Wife, usually far more optimistic than I've ever been, is feeling more cynical than I do on the subject, and thinks that the Roberts Supreme Court – combined average net worth $47,272,584 – might not be interested in supporting free speech in this case.)

Funny how this issue never came up for the Tea Party protests...
_______________

(Update, 12/3/11)
And in a story broken yesterday by my second least-favorite news source, the Huffington Post (and wildly underreported by other news sources as I write this), the UN has noticed many of the same things:
The United Nations envoy for freedom of expression is drafting an official communication to the U.S. government demanding to know why federal officials are not protecting the rights of Occupy demonstrators whose protests are being disbanded -- sometimes violently -- by local authorities.

Frank La Rue, who serves as the U.N. "special rapporteur" for the protection of free expression, told HuffPost in an interview that the crackdowns against Occupy protesters appear to be violating their human and constitutional rights.

"I believe in city ordinances and I believe in maintaining urban order," he said Thursday. "But on the other hand I also believe that the state -- in this case the federal state -- has an obligation to protect and promote human rights."
...
In moments of crisis, governments often default to a forceful response instead of a dialogue, he said -- but that's a mistake.

"Citizens have the right to dissent with the authorities, and there's no need to use public force to silence that dissension," he said.
Personally, I didn't know that "Frank" was a popular Guatemalan name, but considering Guatemala during the 80s and 90s (and for that matter, the previous decades, when they helped develop the term "banana republic"), they know something about the suppression of human rights.

Of course, who approves of the way the American police are dealing with protesters? Mostly tyrants with their own economic protesters, like Mubarak.

Proud of yourself yet, Washington?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Making friends on Facebook

Hmmm... I don't know if this is a good sign. I mucked with one idiot, and it's like Lays potato chips.


Somebody break it to me gently. Am I in danger of becoming a Facebook troll?

(Click to embiggen.)

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Idiots of England

George Bernard Shaw is famously quoted as saying "England and America are two countries separated by a common language." (Similar quotes were made by Oscar Wilde, Bertrand Russell and Dylan Thomas, but probably not Winston Churchill.)

Fortunately for international relations, though, the two countries do share a common bond: stupidity.

Yes, there is abject idiocy in the country of Shaw, Russell, Wilde, Thomas, Churchill, and even William Shakespeare (who wrote his own plays, no matter what they tell in the movies) and Francis Bacon (who did not write Shakepeare's plays, regardless).

I suppose it should have been obvious: after all, Rupert Murdoch is from Australia, and David Duke was born in Oklahoma. And both countries were settled by the British, so we have to get it from somewhere, right?

(Understand that, in Australia's case, I'm using a loose definition of "settled" which includes "being sent in chains." You know, the same way that Africans "settled" America...)

The latest bit of idiocy that I've come across was, in fact, on Facebook. As I've mentioned elsewhere, my purpose for Facebook isn't so much as social network, as it is refrigerator magnet - I stick random pictures and videos up there, just because it gives me some place to store them that costs me nothing.

(I understand that there are people who use specialized sites like Pinterest for these purposes, but not me. I'm a maverick like that.)

Which means that if it isn't at the top of my home page, it isn't likely that I'll see most people's posts. So this has probably been around for a while, and I just haven't seen it. But now I have.

(Don't squint - transcription below.)



(Technically, I didn't need to block out her picture, because it wasn't a picture of her. But it was a copyrighted Disney image, so it's probably safest.)

What that said was (block pasted, to preserve the fascinating capitalization, spelling and punctuation):
racist to sing ba ba black sheep so now its ba ba rainbow sheep, racist to wear a poppy so even the england football team didnt wear them, racist to say christmas so now its happy holidays yet its not racist to celebrate eid, not racist to burn the st georges cross and not racist to take over our country. this is ENGLAND, dont like it? manchester airport, terminal 2... toodle fucking pip! Putt this as your status if you believe in true english rights
I, of course, had to reply - I can be an ass sometimes. But since it isn't my country, I had to actually research some of the issues.

A lot of it is just basic rhetoric: "true english rights," "take over our country," the Happy Holidays vs Merry Christmas crap (that's not "racist," it's just being polite to the 31% non-Christian Brits).

I thought the "yet its not racist to celebrate eid" was cute. Not only is it fundamentally wrong (it isn't racist to celebrate Xmas, either major Eid festival, or Chanukah - it's just rude to jam your religion in other people's face), but it also has overtones of "Scary Brown People!" So it's stupid twice.

Quick note: for those of you who don't know, "Eid" is the Arabic word for "festival," and is most commonly used in the West to refer to Eid ul-Fitr ("Festival of Breaking the Fast"), held at the end of Ramadan, or Eid al-Adha ("Festival of the Sacrifice," or Greater Eid), celebrating Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to God (essentially the same story from the Old Testament, in Genesis 22).

But really, there are three major points.

1. racist to sing ba ba black sheep so now its ba ba rainbow sheep

This is an urban legend that crops up every so often, which is traditionally overblown by the right-wing press (even today). It's also inevitably shown to be complete bollocks (the publication of which is, after all, a Murdoch tradition).

2. racist to wear a poppy so even the england football team didnt wear them

On November 11, (Remembrance Day, once called Armistice Day), it's traditional in Britain to memorialize the fallen of WWI by wearing a poppy (it dates back to the John McCrae poem "In Flanders Fields - "In Flanders fields the poppies blow/Between the crosses, row on row"); a lot of veteran's groups use it as a fund-raising theme.

This year, the British teams were going to wear embroidered poppies on their uniforms for a Remembrance Day match against Spain, and the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA) intervened. As they have approval over uniform design, they felt it "would open the door to similar initiatives from all over the world, jeopardizing the neutrality of football."

It had nothing to do with racism. Quite the opposite - it was all about keeping everybody as one big happy international family.

Of course, the really funny thing is that the whole "england football team didnt wear them" complaint didn't happen. FIFA agreed to allow black armbands, with poppies.

3. not racist to burn the st georges cross

Well, no, it isn't. Just rude and an overreaction.

You can find a lot of stories about Muslims burning the St George's cross (many of them badly sourced, oddly enough) in response to British actions they object to. And some of the stories might even be true. Doesn't make it racist.

See, the St George's cross (which, some of you might be aware, isn't the flag of England) is viewed in the Muslim world as a symbol of the Crusades. And, gee, who can fault them for that? That period seems much closer to the people of the modern Middle East than it used to, thanks to the actions of George II (or as many of us called him, Dubya).

So, it's good to know that it isn't just America which stands in danger of spiraling down the drain of ignorance and hatred. The Brits have these issues, too. I guess I'm relieved.

Or maybe not.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

This week's santorum stain

Apparently, Rick Santorum has lost all sense of irony. (Some of us already knew that, but Frothy likes to go and prove it again every so often.)

Remember, Google fans - always use that first link there, whenever you talk about the former senator. It's only the right thing to do...

Right Wing Watch notes that Frothy made the following distinction between sharia law and the way he would run the country.
Now, unlike Islam where the higher law and civil law are the same, in our case, we have civil laws but our civil laws have to comport with the higher law.

Our civil laws have to ... and that's why, with the issue of abortion, as long as abortion is "legal" - at least according to the Supreme Court, "legal" in this country - we will never have rest because that law does not comport with God's law which says that all life has value, all life is created by [God,] I knew you in the womb.

And as long as there is a discordance between the two, there will be agitation.
Aside from him making the same tired anti-choice arguments yet again, let's contemplate what he just said about sacred and secular laws.

(And yes, I'm going to ignore the fact that he just called Islam a "higher law." I'm too classy a guy to go for the cheap joke like that, bitches...)

com·port /kəmˈpôrt/ v
1. Conduct oneself; behave.
2. Accord with; agree with.

See, in Islamic countries, the church and the state are the same. But in Frothyland, the state just has to do what the church wants...

...no, wait. That can't be it...

...in Frothyland, the state just has to agree with the church in every... no, wait a minute...

Ok, OK, I got it.

In Islamic countries, the church and the state are the same. In Frothy's fevered imaginings, the state merely has to look like the church! See? It's simple!

All that lube, and Frothy still can't pull his head out of his ass.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Expecting something?

I have some big news. Apparently, I'm pregnant. I don't know how this happened, but I can't deny it any longer.

OK, when I say "I don't know how this happened," I don't mean that I don't know how babies are made. I just don't understand how it could have happened to me. But one thing I do know. I'm going to keep my baby.

Little bastard is going to make me rich.



I'm a little confused. I've always taken precautions. I mean, I used a condom every single time I had sex, back before I got the vasectomy. And it's been about twenty years, and there hasn't even been a scare since then. But suddenly, I seem to be pregnant.

I have to admit. It came out of nowhere.

About three months ago, I got my first copy of American Baby magazine. I didn't ask for it. I didn't sign up for it, or even join a website that might have started it up for me. It just showed up in the mail. And I picked it up, noticed it was my name on the label, and said "huh. Weird."

And I dropped it off in the waiting room of the hospital, figuring "What the hell. We get mothers through here." It was odd, but I didn't really think anything of it. Figured it was a promotional copy, and I'd ended up on somebody's mailing list.

Thirty days later, my second copy arrived. Addressed to me. It didn't say "Free copy" or "if you'd like to keep receiving this fine magazine..." or anything else.

It was just... mine.

And last month, a few days after my third copy of American Baby arrived, I received a free case of baby formula.

It couldn't fit in the mailbox. The postal carrier had to bring it to the door.

It was addressed to me. Specifically. My name. My address. I have to say, I was a little confused.

I just thought I was putting on weight because I haven't had time to work out lately. I haven't even had morning sickness yet. It's been a really easy pregnancy.

And today, when I came home from work, I opened the mailbox, and Vistaprint, in Lexington, MA, has given me twenty free birth announcements. With, of course, the option to buy more at only a slight extra charge.

But free shipping and handling! You can't beat that!

I can't deny the evidence. I must be pregnant.

How am I going to tell my wife?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Republican War on Thanksgiving

In 1621, after the difficult, unrelenting labor of starting a colony, the Pilgrims, using planting techniques taught to them by the native Wampanoag tribe, celebrated their first successful harvest with a feast, which they shared with their native American neighbors (who we later almost wiped out, there being only about 400 survivors sixty years later, following King Philip's War).

This is the most important, most truly American holiday (the Canadians have a similar observance, but they're just our little northern clones anyway, right?). It's a day of forgiveness, a day when families travel from across the country to get together, eat our traditional meal, celebrate our mutual heritage, and nestle securely in the bosom of warmth and family.

Except, perhaps, for this year.

Because of the Republican insistence on "Free Market" capitalism and a winner-take-all mentality, now, with record unemployment around the country, the cost of the Thanksgiving meal is rising faster than inflation.

With the current annual inflation rate of 3.5%, the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner has risen 13%, and the cost of getting together with family and friends has increased even more than that.
The average airfare for travel to the top 10 most popular destinations in the U.S. for Nov. 23 to Nov. 27 has jumped 11% over last year, according to an analysis by Orbitz, one of the nation’s busiest travel websites. That means the average round-trip ticket for Thanksgiving rose to $373 from about $340.

Flights to New York for the holiday will rise the most, jumping 20% over last year, with an average round-trip price of $342, according to Orbitz. Round-trip flights to Los Angeles will increase 12% to $429, according to the travel website...

You won’t escape the higher prices by driving: Gas prices reached the highest levels ever in the week prior to Thanksgiving, according to the Automobile Club of Southern California. The average price of self-serve regular gasoline in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area was $3.82 a gallon last week, 66 cents higher than the same time last year.
With one in three Americans living at or below the poverty line, the GOP is trying to ensure that they cannot celebrate their own heritage. The Republican Party is trying to ensure that an Ayn Rand dystopia, with the richest living in luxury off the sweat of the working poor, is the model for American society.

The Republicans are trying to destroy Thanksgiving! And they're doing it in subtle ways, as well! The Christmas decorations, celebrating their dreams of commerce and overindulgence, come out earlier every year; the Christmas carols are already playing in all the stores; and the conservative-controlled media beats the drum, insisting that shopkeepers must say "Merry Christmas" instead of the more open, accepting "Happy Holidays," as if Thanksgiving didn't matter in the slightest!

This Republican War on Thanksgiving must be stopped! We must stride into the stores and demand that the carols be cancelled! "Turn off that crap! It's not even Thanksgiving!"

Websites are springing up devoted to bringing back our national holiday from the brink of extinction. We must support them; we must also support retailers like Nordstrom, who insist on celebrating each holiday in turn, and not skipping over the ones that can't be exploited by the greedy, and venal, and unamerican!

We must ask where the Thanksgiving displays are, and why they are overshadowed by some obese Germanic troll in a red suit! We must write letters to store owners, corporations, and our Congressfolk, demanding the return of our national holiday!

Radical conservatives must be stopped from destoying our heritage!



Please note: this is intended for satirical purposes only, and if you're stupid enough to take it seriously, you probably fall for that "War on Christmas" crap too, don't you?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pérák, the two Jiří's and the Nazis

No politics today. It isn't always about politics.

I was randomly hopping around the internet this morning, just following links as I ate breakfast, and happened across a blog (Monkey Muck - I'm not even clear what led me to it, but somebody out there linked to him), where he'd dug up a little piece of animation history.

It was May, 1945. The Germans, who hadn't run a particularly peaceful occupation of Czechoslovakia to begin with, had gotten their noses bloody in the Prague Uprising, which ended in a stalemate, and both sides declared a ceasefire that lasted all of a day before the Soviet troops rolled through the country two days after "Victory in Europe Day," expelling the last of the Nazi troops.

(Yes, that's a simplified look at a long, bloody struggle. There was also no way that the people of Czechoslovakia could know about the ensuing weirdness of the next almost-half-a-century. That's just the least you need to know for perspective.)

Very few people in the West have heard of Jiří Brdečka, but he was a writer and illustrator (you might have heard of Limonádový Joe ("Lemonade Joe"), a series of short stories (occasionally gathered into book form and later adapted as a play), which was made into a movie in 1964, a parody of old-time westerns which reputedly numbered Henry Fonda among its fans and was considered something of a cult classic among Czechs for many years.

(Proponents of the run-on sentence regard me as a master of the craft.)

I'm not sure when they first met, but after the war ended, Brdečka got together with Jiří Trnka (an illustrator and puppeteer), and they would later set up Studio Bratři v triku, the leading producer of Czech animation for decades. The studio logo shows three boys, possibly a reference to the two Jiří's and Eduard Hofman, a writer/director they worked with.

(Bratři v triku is commonly translated as "Brothers in T-shirts," possibly because of the logo. But technically, it's "Brothers in Tricks," and "tricks" (or "trick films") was also a term used to refer to animation at the time. God, I love trivia.)

Of the two Jiří's, I think Jiří Trnka is the more interesting. Considered the founding father of Czech animation, he had worked as a illustrator for Melantrich, a Czech-language publishing house in Prague (named after yet a third Jiří, a Czech Renaissance printer named Jiří Melantrich of Aventino).

As a child, Trnka had carved and sculpted puppets out of wood, to stage shows for his friends. Later, around the same time that he was hired by Melantrich, he started a puppet theater, which closed down with the start of WWII. And later in life, when he found himself uncomfortable with traditional animation, Trnka changed his focus to the medium which gained him some measure of world-wide fame, animated puppetry, mostly stop-motion.

He's been called the "Walt Disney Of The East, although where Disney made films for children and families, Trnka aimed his work at an adult audience.

But this work is before all that. The war had ended, the country was trying to rebuild, and the two Jiří's had gotten together to fill a niche that few other people were considering: animation.

Without a studio, without much backing, they produced a handful of short films together as an experiment, and one of them was Pérák a SS (alternately translated as "Perak and the SS," "The Springman and the SS," and occasionally "The Chimney Sweep").



Pérák the Spring Man was an folktale in WWII Prague, a man who could... well, he could jump. Over trains, walls and small buildings. Much like Victorian England's Spring-Heel Jack (only without the varying descriptions making him into a monster, with burning red eyes, fangs, wings, or whatever). Pérák was just a man. Who jumped.

Czech media would later often retcon him into a superhero, but he started out as just an urban legend of a bouncy guy, who sprang out of alleys and startled people. (It was a simpler time.)

The cartoon was easily on a par with other animated shorts of the period (it was 15 years after Steamboat Willie, and it didn't have a lush feel of Max Fleischer's later work, but aside from the black and white nature of Pérák, compare it even to the current output on Cartoon Network, or any of the 700 Disney channels). And it managed to combine the resentment of a conquered people to their oppressors, with the light-hearted, somewhat fantastical world of the animated Everyman.

(Yes, I can do "pedantic" when I want to. I just don't feel like it too often.)

All in all, it's a cute piece of history that definitely deserves a wider audience.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

It's Saturday. November 12.

Well, Veteran's Day is over. We go back to ignoring them again, right?
Veterans account for a troubling 20 percent of our nation’s suicides, according to national figures. This means that every day in the United States, an average of 18 veterans take their own lives – or about one every 80 minutes.

About 27 percent of Oregon’s suicides are veterans.

From 2005 to 2010, active service members took their own lives at a rate of approximately one every 36 hours...

Post Traumatic Stress may occur in those who experience or witness intense violence, serious accidents, or life-threatening events. It can make people feel angry, hopeless, fearful, horrified, and overwhelmed. Post Traumatic Stress is treatable.

Many veterans and active military balk at seeking help through traditional channels due to fear of negative career impact, the stigma of perceived weakness among their peers and frustration with red tape. Left untreated, the challenges can intensify as they feel more isolated.

Monday, October 24, 2011

So, what's changed between now and then?

So, here's how the GOP works.
(April 22, 2004)
(Peter G. Peterson, chairman, Council on Foreign Relations): Let me give you a hypothetical, senator. What would or should we do if, in the post-June 30th period, a so-called sovereign Iraqi government asks us to leave, even if we are unhappy about the security situation there? I understand it's a hypothetical, but it's at least possible.

(Sen. John) McCAIN: Well, if that scenario evolves, then I think it's obvious that we would have to leave because— if it was an elected government of Iraq— and we've been asked to leave other places in the world. If it were an extremist government, then I think we would have other challenges, but I don't see how we could stay when our whole emphasis and policy has been based on turning the Iraqi government over to the Iraqi people.
Seems pretty clear, right?

OK, so let's scoot forward to last year.
(December 28, 2010)
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: "The withdrawal of forces agreement expires on Dec. 31, 2011. The last American soldier will leave Iraq."
(Technically, that's actually a "Status of Forces Agreement," but it's not like English is his first language, right?)

So, obviously, McCain knows what should happen next, right?
(Oct 21, 2011)
"Today marks a harmful and sad setback for the United States in the world," McCain said in a statement Friday afternoon. "I respectfully disagree with the President: this decision will be viewed as a strategic victory for our enemies in the Middle East, especially the Iranian regime, which has worked relentlessly to ensure a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq."

McCain said the decision is "a consequential failure of both the Obama Administration - which has been more focused on withdrawing from Iraq than succeeding in Iraq since it came into office - as well as the Iraqi government."
Funny how that works, isn't it?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

"Support the troops"? What's that mean?

In 1983, I joined the Air Force because of the educational benefits (and, yeah, because I really didn't know what I wanted to do with my life at the time); I'd only planned to stay in for one tour. By the time that tour was up, though, I had a wife and two kids, and having a good health plan seemed like the way to go. So I reenlisted.

My second tour ended and I still had the wife, but now I had three kids. Staying in seemed like a much better idea. And by the time that enlistment ended, I had been in the military twelve years - over halfway to retirement.

The military pays the troops less than they would get doing the same job in the civilian world. If it hadn't been for the benefits, there isn't a chance in hell that I would have stayed in, and my attitude wasn't unique. It's almost universal among the enlisted members. (There are some rare exceptions, of course, and officers may be a different story - they're paid significantly more money than the grunts.) If you cut the benefits, your all-volunteer military is going to collapse.

So, what the hell is going on here?
Republicans and Democrats alike are signaling a willingness — unheard of at the height of two post-Sept. 11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — to make military retirees pay more for coverage. It's a reflection of Washington's newfound embrace of fiscal austerity and the Pentagon's push to cut health care costs that have skyrocketed from $19 billion in 2001 to $53 billion.

The numbers are daunting for a military focused on building and arming an all-volunteer force for war. The Pentagon is providing health care coverage for 3.3 million active duty personnel and their dependents and 5.5 million retirees, eligible dependents and surviving spouses. Retirees outnumber the active duty, 2.3 million to 1.4 million.
And some changes are already happening.

We pay a little more to get the Trophy Wife's prescriptions from Walgreens. They'd be free if I got them from the base hospital, but my wife works with Opera Unlimited, travelling across New Mexico to help music programs in elementary schools. If she is 500 miles away, and runs out of, say, Zetia (a heart medication) or Losartin/HCTZ (for blood pressure), Walgreens will get her an emergency supply to hold her over until she gets back to Albuquerque: their database clearly shows what she's taking and how often, and every Walgreens in the country can pull that information up.

But that's apparently going to change in January, because Walgreens and Express Scripts are locked in a contract dispute which may prevent Walgreens from handling prescriptions for Tricare, the Defense Department plan managed by Express Scripts.

But that's just an inconvenience. Thanks to Iraq and Afghanistan, we're getting more injured veterans pouring into the system than we have since Vietnam. And despite the challenges of readjusting to civilian life, they haven't been getting the help they need for years.

Plus, thanks to advances in both military and medical technology, more soldiers are surviving worse wounds than ever before. So, not only do they need more medical care, but their needs are only going to get worse as they get older.

The Pentagon estimates that as many as one in five soldiers are coming home from war zones with traumatic brain injuries, and current studies show that studies show that even a slight trauma to the brain doubles your chance of developing dementia later in life, meaning that many will need around-the-clock care.

Assuming that they can get any help at all.
Marine Cpl. James Dixon was wounded twice in Iraq -- by a roadside bomb and a land mine. He suffered a traumatic brain injury, a concussion, a dislocated hip and hearing loss. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Army Sgt. Lori Meshell shattered a hip and crushed her back and knees while diving for cover during a mortar attack in Iraq. She has undergone a hip replacement and knee reconstruction and needs at least three more surgeries.

In each case, the Pentagon ruled that their disabilities were not combat-related.

In a little-noticed regulation change in March, the military's definition of combat-related disabilities was narrowed, costing some injured veterans thousands of dollars in lost benefits -- and triggering outrage from veterans' advocacy groups.
But we have to cut expenses, right? We have to decrease spending somewhere, and defense spending is one of the larger chunks of the federal budget.

Well, funny you should mention that.

The 2012 military budget includes 134 billion dollars for equipment, but also includes almost 81 billion dollars in research for new weapons systems. You know, I think we kill people well enough already; ask the Iraqi people. (You know, the ones who are left...)

But how much good is that 81 billion dollars doing us, anyway?
Despite improvements, more than half of the Pentagon’s big weapons systems still cost more than they should, with management failures adding at least $70 billion to the projected costs over the last two years, government auditors said Tuesday.

The Government Accountability Office, a Congressional watchdog, said the biggest program, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, accounted for $28 billion of that increase. Other systems also had significant cost overruns, the agency said, adding that the increases could force the Pentagon to cut the number of ships and planes it buys.

The auditors said many of the problems occurred because the Pentagon began building the systems before the designs were fully tested.
In August of this year, Congress finished a comprehensive look at spending in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In its final report to Congress, the Commission on Wartime Contracting said the figure could grow as U.S. support for reconstruction projects and programs wanes, leaving both countries to bear the long-term costs of sustaining the schools, medical clinics, barracks, roads and power plants already built with American tax dollars.

Much of the waste and fraud could have been avoided with better planning and more aggressive oversight, the commission said. To avoid repeating the mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan, government agencies should overhaul the way they award and manage contracts in war zones, the commission recommended.
[...]
The commission said calculating the exact amount lost through waste and fraud is difficult because there is no commonly accepted methodology for doing so. But using information it has gathered over the past three years, the commission said at least $31 billion has been lost and the total could be as high as $60 billion. The commission called the estimate "conservative."
But that's OK. That's only the money we've lost in foreign countries.
How often does the Pentagon award contracts to defense companies that have already been proven to be defrauding taxpayers? A report the Department of Defense did at the request of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) reveals an answer that should make Washington very uncomfortable.

The report, released today, showed that hundreds of defense contractors found guilty of civil fraud received more than $1.1 trillion in defense contracts since 2001. The study took into account only companies that were found to have defrauded taxpayers of more than $1 million dollars.

More than $573 billion went directly to companies that were guilty of defrauding taxpayers, and when you factor in the awards that went to the parent companies of those contractors, the total is $1.1 trillion. Of that $573 billion, more than two-thirds—$398 billion—went to companies after they had been found guilty of fraud.
So maybe there's a few places out there where we can save money.

But as to the veterans, it's simple morality.

We have an all-volunteer military, but it goes both ways. When they sign on, they put, not just their lives, but their bodies, in harm's way. And if these brave men and women get hurt fighting for their country, we have an obligation to take care of them. For the rest of their lives, if necessary.

If you don't want to pay for wounded veterans, there's only one answer: stop making them. Stop sending soldiers to distant countries, where they risk their lives for some political agenda.

You don't get a choice on this. If you're going to play, you've got to pay; if you don't like it, get out of the game.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Staying on my coworker's good side

So, I'm sitting at work, and Jan, one of the women in our department, reads one of her emails and groans. Just to make conversation, I ask what's up, and she tells me "I'm mad at my husband now."

He'd just sent her one of those idiot jokes that make the email rounds. She wouldn't read it out loud, but was willing to forward it.
Renault and Ford have joined forces to create the perfect small car for women.

Mixing the Renault 'Clio' and the Ford 'Taurus' they have designed the 'Clitaurus'. It comes in pink, and the average male car thief won't be able to find it — let alone turn it on – even if someone tells him where it is and how to do it.

Rumor has it though, that it leaks transmission fluid once a month and can be a real bitch to start in the morning!

New models are initially fun to own, but very expensive to maintain and horribly expensive to get rid of. Used models may initially have curb appeal (low price) but eventually have an increased appetite for fuel and the curb weight typically increases with age.

Not expected to reach collector status… best to lease one and replace each year.
Working in an office full of women, I'm in touch with my feminine side. (Sometimes I touch it inappropriately.) So I made some modifications and sent it back.

(It actually took me two tries - my initial efforts turned to be a little more pornographic than I felt comfortable emailing...)

She cheerfully forwarded it to her husband.
Renault and Ford have joined forces to create the perfect small car for women.

Mixing the Renault 'Clio' and the Ford 'Taurus' they have designed the 'Clitaurus'. It comes in pink, and the average male car thief won't be able to find it — let alone turn it on – even if someone tells him where it is. Usually, this is because his key is too small.

One groundbreaking piece of technology in this model is the Driver Interlock Vehicle Option Response Control Evaluator (DIVORCE), which integrates GPS, social media, and technology similar to the Alcohol Interlock, allowing the vehicle to assess the capabilities of the driver, and if he is, in fact, unable to handle the vehicle properly, it will prevent him from getting behind the wheel, and will even leave him to find a better driver.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A little good news

We got the news today from an Associated Press report that the Pentagon has decided not to keep troops in Iraq after a New Year's Eve deadline. All troops will be removed except for 160 soldiers left to guard the US embassy in Baghdad.

Now, there are some people who aren't going to trust this. "Obama promises a lot. We've heard this before."

Well, technically, what we heard before was a troop reduction, not a complete pullout. And Obama lived up to that.

But some people, ignoring the evidence, have always refused to believe that Obama is acting in good faith in Iraq, and I suspect that they will continue to ignore reality.

Well, I don't know if this will help, but here's a little reality for you.

When I was in Iraq (in the first relief group, replacing the actual invasion forces), the Army had taken over Al-Faw palace, one of the last of Saddam's overly ornate structures left standing.

The Army named it and the area around it Camp Victory. It became the HQ for the US Army, and was referred to by the Army as the Victory Base Complex, also encompassing Camp Liberty, Camp Striker, our Air Force unit in Camp Sather, and a number of other encampments from all branches of the military, and even forces from other countries - we had a British unit right next door, for example.

And how do you know that the military is actually going to pull out by January?



They have closed the main PX in Camp Victory.

You can trust in one thing over all others. You have a buttload of generals in one place, you're going to have someplace for them to stock up on clean underwear, chocolate and cigarettes. And the little black-market supply of Jack Daniels and porn coming in aboard the military aircraft isn't going to be able to expand enough to keep them supplied with all the amenities available. (There are other ways to keep supplied with contraband, but I bought mine straight from the aircrews, and I wasn't in charge of anything...)

They can't shop in Baghdad (OK, they could, but there's rules to keep the military out of town, because of those pesky bullets that keep flying toward them), and they don't want to go all the way to the Green Zone after a long day at the office.

An argument can be made about the lower-ranking troops needing some place to get razors and shampoo, but in the end, the needs of the brass override anything else.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Victoria Falls

I think I'm starting to figure something out.

I’m coming to realize that Victoria Jackson is either a whip-smart satirist in the style of Steven Colbert, or she is so criminally, bone-chillingly vapid and clueless that it’s miraculous that she can navigate her way out of bed in the morning.

I never thought that she was even slightly humorous when she was on SNL: she was, in fact, one of the stupidest members of a particularly unfunny era for the Not Ready for Primetime Players (the only true bright spots being A. Whitney Brown and the early Dennis Miller – as opposed to the current, self-important, pandering Dennis Miller).

But now I think I understand. I suspect she’s actually a world-class performance artist, who’s been pulling off this ditzy blond act for almost thirty years now. Not because she is, herself, a vacuous, inane bundle of stupid wrapped in a little-girl voice, but as a potent weapon to skewer the ignorant and ego-driven. She has been making fun of various groups of unthinking zombies for decades, and has been doing it with such a straight face that nobody has caught on.

In her early career, I think she was concentrating on the female airhead: the woman willing to suppress her own personality and her own needs to fall in line with the 1950's cheerleader/Playboy image, where youth is prized and women have limited options. But she took that image to an extreme, and used as her archetype not the post-pubescent, sexually-charged girl, but the prepubescent, playful child: her original act consisted of reciting bad poetry while doing clumsy handstands and somersaults, while "accidentally" revealing her white cotton children's panties.

She stuck with that parody for most of her career, but now, perhaps noting that she's grown a little too old to pull off her infantile act any more, she's recast herself into a bad stereotype of a Teabagger. She mouths irrational philosophies, and tunes out any application of logic that might refute her poorly-conceived arguments.

That's the only explanation that I can come up with, to explain why Victoria Jackson proudly posted this video. She takes a cab into New York to meet up with members of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement, and although she shows a couple of people just out to have a good time, and one extremist toward the end (essentially correct, but still an extremist), she spends most of the video talking to one man, who calmly and patiently destroys every argument she makes.

Her response? To repeat those same arguments, as if their bloodied shreds weren't piled around her feet. She completely ignores everything said by this quiet, good-tempered person, and goes back to her original, idiotic allegations, completely ignoring the past 15 minutes of her life.

And then she posts it on Youtube, as if it was a victory for her side of the debate. She even seems proud of it.

She can't possibly be that eyeball-meltingly ignorant. This has to be an act. A satirical persona that she uses to lampoon the Teabaggers. No person who can manage to navigate a fork into their mouth without impaling themselves in the forehead can be this galactically obtuse, can they?