Posts Tagged ‘Rank stupidity masquerading as common sense’

R.I.P., Thanksgiving

November 29, 2013 2 comments

While Sarah Palin and the brethren at Fox News valiantly carry on The War Against The War On Christmas, they somehow missed the death of Thanksgiving, which was itself – ironically – murdered by Christmas.  Perhaps that’s unfair since it’s not “Christmas” per se that killed Thanksgiving, but rather the corporate blindness to everything but profit and the perception that crashing the holiday would somehow give an edge to businesses that open on Thanksgiving.  One wonders how anyone gains an edge when everyone follows the herd to open on Thanksgiving, and I’m pretty sure that if all the stores remained closed on the holiday, their bottom lines for the season wouldn’t be any different.  People would just wait for the stupid “Black Friday” crush instead of foregoing turkey and dressing for the joys of camping in a cold Wal-Mart parking lot.

One thing is for sure, though:  the mindless consumers who packed the parking lots I passed yesterday have achieved on behalf of chain store owners something they would have never dreamed of achieving on their own.  They’ve managed to make shitty, low-wage jobs with unpredictable schedules even shittier, by taking away one of the only TWO days out of the 365 in the year that employees could predict with any certainty was a guaranteed day off.  Really, Staples?  An office supply store needs to be open on Thanksgiving?

Next up:  Wal-Mart seeks to cash in on after-holiday sales by opening at midnight on Christmas Day, and within 20 years Christmas is just another day where people fortunate enough to have fairly decent jobs go shopping, while for the poor schlubs who work at these places it’s just another work day.

This year, I am thankful that I do not work for rapacious fucks who can’t stand the thought of two whole days per year when they aren’t raking in money and lording their power over their wage slaves.  And, as always, I’m thankful for family and friends, among them Eartha Kitty, seen in the photos below trying to indulge her fetish for celery.  If I had gotten a shot off just a few seconds earlier, it would show her trying to climb into the bag of whole celery.  Instead she decided to vulture over the celery I was working on chopping for the dressing and bless it with a few cat hairs.  Thanks a lot, kitty.  Though to be fair, I should have taken precautions before I started chopping – the thing with the celery is nothing new.  The first time I brought some home after Eartha moved in, she tried to climb in the grocery bag to get at it.  There’s something about the smell that has a semi-catnip effect for her.

Hope you had a nice holiday too.

Who, me?

Who, me?



About the Guns

December 21, 2012 8 comments

In the week since the horrific events at Sandy Hook Elementary, we’ve heard a lot of crazy ideas (as we do in the wake of every mass shooting)  about how best to protect innocent unarmed civilians from nutters with guns.  Today we’ll be hearing from the NRA, whose position we already know will be that “guns don’t kill people; crazy people with guns kill people.”  A true statement, but one that doesn’t solve or even suggest a solution, which would have to involve keeping the most lethal weapons out of the hands of crazy people, which is a bridge too far for the NRA.*

There’s a genuine conflict here:  we do have a constitutional amendment guaranteeing people the right to own guns.  Clearly we aren’t going to be able to declare all of them illegal and force people to hand all of them over.  Even if we could, I don’t think I would favor it – there are millions of hunters in the country and many millions more who are responsible gun owners, who keep their weapons secure and own them only for home protection.  In many cases, this is an imagined need, but nonetheless it’s one that’s not entirely unreasonable and it’s a right that goes all the way back to British common law, which makes it a bit hard to argue against from a legal standpoint.

By and large, hunters and the owners of well-secured guns kept for home protection aren’t the problem.  They also aren’t the ones buying semi-automatic weapons.  Let’s be honest:  a semi-automatic rifle or handgun is an offensive weapon designed for military use, and as such, is not an appropriate weapon to allow anyone and everyone to own.  There’s a contingent of crazy that insists that one of the things the Founders had in mind when drafting the Second Amendment was keeping citizens armed in case of the need to overthrow a tyrannical government.  Again, there may be truth in this – the Founders themselves had only recently thrown off a government they considered to be tyrannical, though its offenses and predations fell far short of the tyrannies we’ve seen enacted over and over again in the modern world.

penis-extender of extreme prejudice

Consider the context:  the Founders lived in a time where the most powerful personal weapon was a muzzle-loader, which could fire off one shot every couple of minutes, or perhaps once per minute if the guy handling it was particularly adept at re-loading.  It was an age where parity in firepower was possible – a group of average citizens, all armed with muzzle-loaders, would, with the exception of cannons, be as well-armed as an organized military of the same numbers.

That parity is not possible these days and indeed hasn’t been for a century or more.  It goes without saying that it wouldn’t be desirable, either.  We can’t very well allow every citizen the right to own and keep any variety of weapons, including but not limited to hand grenades, shoulder-fired rocket launchers, or nuclear warheads.  Those are all “arms” as well, and somehow we’re able to agree that not everyone should have them and that there are no legal uses for them outside of a battlefield.

So why the hangup when it comes to semi-automatic weapons?  They aren’t used for hunting, and for home protection you don’t need something that can fire off 30 – 100 rounds per minute.  In fact, while handguns are the weapons most often chosen for home protection purposes, for most people, a shotgun would be a better choice, owing to less need for accurate aim (and really, just playing a recording of a shotgun being pumped would be enough to persuade all criminals aside from psychopaths to clear the premises immediately).

Once we’ve ruled out hunting and home protection, the semi-automatic’s sole use is unavoidable:  it is an offensive weapon, not intended for personal defense so much as for killing the other guy.  Given that murder remains illegal, it’s insane to insist that a weapon designed solely for killing multiple human beings in a minute or less should be readily available and legal to own for an average citizen.  About the only purpose I’ve heard gun enthusiasts advance for which these types of weapons might have even a borderline legitimacy is that they are “fun to shoot.”  Perhaps so, but the Second Amendment isn’t concerned with your personal enjoyment of any particular weapon; as such, I’d have to say that the right of crowds of citizens to not be slaughtered greatly outweighs any “fun” an enthusiast might experience in firing one of these weapons at a shooting range or elsewhere.  People who have a burning desire to handle these types of weapons have the option of joining the military; outside of that, they don’t need to be handling them.

for that mental-health database, start with the guy who created this

As for those who persist in clinging to the idea that they have a “right” to own these types of weapons in the event that the evil gubmint gets too oppressive what with the seat-belts and the motorcycle helmet and the required food labeling laws and so forth, add them to the mental health registry:  their belief that they could, with a semi-automatic weapon, fight off the fighter jets, targeted missiles, tanks, and other weaponry in our awesome military arsenal should the need arise, clearly marks them out as both paranoid and delusional; they are precisely the type of people who should NOT be running around with powerful, rapid-fire weapons.

Here’s the thing:  the Second Amendment says you have the right to own and keep a gun.  It doesn’t say what type of gun, and none of the guns in production today could have been anticipated by the Founders.  If pistols were available in the late 1700’s, they had only recently come on the scene; certainly there was no gun at the time capable of firing more than one shot without being re-loaded.  The Second Amendment could be interpreted as the right to own a more modernized version of the single-shot firearms available when the Amendment was drafted, and nothing else – if we had a sane majority on the Supreme Court or in our political discourse.  Instead, we’ll probably spend the next weeks, months, and perhaps even years listening to ridiculous suggestions about how we can turn every public space into an armed camp to “protect” us against armed lunatics who should never have access to weapons in the first place, instead of dealing with the issue of having too many, too powerful, guns floating around.  Already ruled out is the idea for a real ban on semi-automatics such as the one used in last Friday’s shooting; we are told that even a ban on future sales of these weapons would do nothing to take care of the estimated 8 million of them already in citizens’ hands.  In other words, a buy-back program coupled with hefty fines for anyone caught with one after the deadline for turning them in, as was successful in Australia, is off the table.  We don’t know what number of murdered children would be required in order to even begin a serious political discussion about taking this very reasonable step, but the correct answer to the question is obviously “> 20.”

I’m not going to belabor the transparent insanity of the suggestions being put forward by those who value cold hard steel more than young children’s lives, but I will briefly recount them.  First there’s the camp who believes that the answer to mass shootings is more guns.  According to these fine patriots, if all of us were packing heat, some citizen-Rambo would pick off the crazy guy with the gun before the body count gets too high.  Never mind that never, not even once, has an armed civilian stopped a mass shooting by taking out the gunman.  There have been a few times in low-profile cases where an off-duty policeman, former Marine, or other individual with career training in handling firearms stepped in and stopped a bad guy; there are about as many similar cases in which the would-be hero either almost shot the wrong guy or determined that an innocent bystander would be at risk if he took the shot.  In other words, thanks to these guys not being average civilians with guns, the gunman was stopped without harm to innocent parties.  Substituting the average citizen into these scenarios, most of whom have had nothing like the extensive training of police or members of the military, the likelihood in these scenarios is that even more people would get shot in the crossfire, law enforcement arriving on scene might mistake the hero for the bad guy, and so on and so forth.  That’s all true, but beside the point, which is:  your right to own a weapon designed for offensive purposes does not trump MY right to not live in the Wild West or an armed camp.  There’s nothing in the Second Amendment to suggest that it trumps the express goal of the overall document, which I will remind the brethren, is to:

“…insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty…”

I feel that continuing to indulge the fetishes of a fringe group of maladapted, insecure and fearful people endangers or denies all of the above goals to the great majority of people in this country.

you'll never have to hear the cries of derisive laughter about your tiny, tiny dick again, because everyone will be too frightened to bring it up 

Then there are the proposals to turn schools into windowless bunkers patrolled by pistol-packing teachers and other school personnel.  This one is interesting primarily because it’s being advanced by the same folks who insist teachers are a bunch of overpaid incompetent boobs – but you can count on them to handle a gun around your kids every day! 

We’ve heard again how “an armed society is a polite society,” for all values of “polite” which equal “being afraid to say anything out of fear that the gun-toting Cletus at the next table in the bar might disagree.” 

The final, the piece de resistance of dumbassitude, goes to one Megan McArdle, formerly of The Atlantic, now decamped to The Daily Beast (Tina Brown sure knows how to pick them, doesn’t she?), who suggested that we should teach children in this situation to rush the shooter.  Because, according to Megs, it will unbalance him and throw him off if a bunch of people, even small ones, are running at him from different directions.  It’s also a sneaky way of blaming the victims – in this case six- and seven-year olds – for failing to save themselves when a guy who had no business with any type of  gun managed to get his hands on a very powerful – and legal – one.

That’s an awful lot of flailing FAIL to go through to arrive at the conclusion that the only thing that CAN’T be part of the problem is the gun itself, despite the fact that in these mass shootings, the gun is a tool performing the function for which it was designed, and that function is an illegal act for civilians.

We don’t have to put up with this crap.  We can insist on reasonable gun laws which both protect the rights of sportsmen and people to be secure in their homes while recognizing that some weapons have no place in civilian society.  We can insist on background checks for any sale or trade of arms at any venue.  We can insist that gun buyers be required to register their weapons, and that they demonstrate that they’ve completed some sort of training on safe handling and keeping of firearms, in order for those weapons to be legal.  We can insist on not just a ban, but a buy-back program designed to get most of the most lethal weapons out of circulation.  We can insist on a law that imposes heavy fines upon people found to have those types of weapons after a specific buy-back deadline.  It won’t get them all off the street, but getting 75 – 90% of them would be a good start.  Sure, criminals will continue to get these types of weapons – but it’s not criminals who have been shooting up our congressional meet-and-greets, our movie theaters, our houses of worship, our malls, and our schools.  Criminals use guns primarily to help them obtain money or other goods illegally – they aren’t interested in shooting little kids, or really anyone else, unless it furthers that goal.  Crime is down overall, while mass shootings are up, and none of the gunmen in these cases have been hard-core criminals.  If these types can’t get their weapons legally, they’re not likely to get them at all.

Finally, we can insist that the right of the majority for domestic tranquility trumps the right of a vocal minority to own a tool for which there is no constructive legal purpose.

In closing, I’ll note that I lived a full third of my life in a home that was a virtual arsenal of guns.  My father was an avid collector – mostly of military-issue guns from WWI and WWII – and other military paraphernalia.  He didn’t have any semi-automatics, because he was more a collector than a “mah gun gives me POWER” fetishist.  I have no idea how many guns Dad had, but when they were auctioned after his death almost 20 years ago, they went for over $75,000.  In short, it was a lot of guns.  He wasn’t a hunter and he rarely took out any of the guns and fired them.  He did occasionally target practice at a gun range or other safe location, and for a time, he headed up a group for teenagers wanting to learn target shooting.  The entire time I lived in the same house with him, I never saw a gun lying around unattended.  In fact, I never saw a gun unless he had it out and was in the same room with it.  If I had seen one out, I already knew that I wasn’t to touch it.  I learned how to shoot, but also knew I was never to have a gun in my hand unless my Dad was there and had handed it to me.

But the guns were a constant menace anyway.  When we lived in Georgia, he stored his collection in an attic space that was fairly easy for him to access, and which he kept securely locked.  After the move to Arkansas, he had no appropriate place in the house to store them, and so for the last 15 years of his life, they were packed away in crates that took up one end of the family room.  We were instructed from a very young age to never tell anyone about Dad’s guns.  They weren’t even insured, because Dad didn’t want anyone knowing about all of them.  His fear was more about robbery than government.  So I grew up surrounded by an arsenal, which didn’t make me feel any safer; we were far more likely to be murdered by gun thieves than by anything else.

After Dad died, the guns worried me even more, because now my Mom was alone in the house with a commodity eagerly sought-after by criminals.  She contacted an auctioneer with some expertise in weapons, and within a year of my Dad’s death, the collection was auctioned off in Illinois.  It provided a great sense of relief to all of us.

Just a few years after my Dad’s death, a gun collector in a town about 40 miles away went missing with his wife and young daughter at the same time his gun collection went missing.  Some months later, the family’s bodies were discovered in their vehicle, submerged in an abandoned flooded gravel pit.  The crime was eventually traced to white supremacist  Chevy Kehoe, after his infamous shoot-out with Ohio police.  Proceeds from the theft went to fund terrorist activities, including bombing a government building.  Just a few months after Dad’s death, there was another robbery in a town only 75 miles away.  No one was murdered in that theft, but the proceeds from it went to fund the Oklahoma City bombing.  The trail of violence and terror from the flood of guns in this country doesn’t end with the guns themselves.

Before Dad’s collection went to auction, Mom offered each of us the chance to select anything we’d like to have.  I didn’t choose anything.  Even one gun in close proximity would make me feel less secure than not having one.

*The NRA held its non-apologia before I was finished drafting this post; as expected, the guns aren’t the problem.  It’s the mentally ill; better to compile a list of them than to stigmatize people who want to own deadly weapons by forcing them to register them.  Video games are the problem; that’s why all those kids are dead. 

Mom and I had a discussion a few days following the Sandy Hook shootings.  She said this event was finally going to change things; I was less sanguine.  But something about that press conference felt like a Schiavo Moment.  At one point, LaPierre is actually advocating for armed volunteers to police our schools.  The insurance premiums to cover the risks associated with having armed non-employees on school property when children are present…well, he didn’t offer any advice on where schools should go for the millions of dollars that would be required for that, should anyone be stupid enough to take such a dumbshit idea seriously and try to implement it.

Enough is enough.  It’s time, and well past the point, for us to stop allowing the radical, the paranoid and the profiteers to dictate what our policy will be.  They can only get away with it again if we don’t speak up and demand that they accept responsibility, and the limits to freedom that it sometimes requires in the real world.

The F Stands For “Effing”

December 8, 2011 4 comments

Who knew that all it would take to get some participation up in here would be for me to go AWOL for a month?  Whatever the reason, I’m glad to see another of the Weird Sisters dropping a few pearls here.  I’m actually worried that I won’t be able to top the kink of a Christmas decoration depicting a guy whipping another guy, but on my word, I will try…  O yes, I will try.  Just not in this post.

No, this post concerns something near and dear to my heart, and to Beth’s as well:  our awesome US Postal Service, which like all else that serves the overall public good rather than just one small wealthy slice of the public, is under attack from various morons, ninnies, and lying assholes these days.

Under category the last, we find this bit of toxic effluvia issuing from the pen of one George F. Will (you know what the F stands for) and appearing in the pages of the used-to-be-a-newspaper, The Washington Post.  It’s essentially an ideological hit piece, and at turns, both a comically clueless and willfully dishonest paen to the concept that only activities which return a profit are a) worthwhile or b) efficient.

Let’s tackle “willfully dishonest” first.

Will starts by citing big scary numbers about USPS’ “red ink”, while carefully omitting the fact that it can all be attributed to one cause:  the departing Bush Congress in late 2006 gave one final flip of the bird to the American public and passed a mandate requiring the post office to fund employee benefits 75 years into the future from revenues over the next 10 years.  Yes, the USPS is currently funding benefits for workers it won’t even be hiring for another 25 or 30 years, and if not for this one purposely created problem, the post office would have shown a small profit for every year since 2006.

Will then spews out a bunch of factoids about the percentage USPS, UPS, and FedEx respectively spend on labor costs to try to demonstrate that USPS’ labor costs are out of control thanks to the evils of unionization.  Of course, he faithfully omits that he counts the pre-funding of benefits USPS is forced by Congress to pay now as part of the USPS’ percentage of current labor costs.  Using this tactic, he claims that 80% of USPS revenue goes to labor costs; the actual figure is 60% when Will’s dishonest accounting is thrown out.  This compares to 53% labor cost for UPS and 32% for FedEx – that last figure being hardly surprising, since the non-unionized FedEx has quite a few employees earning the princely sum of $8.50 per hour, which may explain why, even though the volume of mail I’ve sent/received via FedEx is much less than 10% of what I’ve sent/received via the USPS, FedEx managed to lose or misdeliver my packages with such regularity that I stopped using their service 10 years ago. 

But I digress.  The big issue here is that “percentage of revenues devoted to labor costs” is a dishonest measure of efficiency to begin with.  Will waves it around as though it’s the end-all, be-all, which is understandable given that the cause of his butthurt is the idea that the people who handle our mail are paid living wages because they’re unionized.  Will wants to pretend that if they weren’t, the post office’s financial problems would disappear and we would also get better service.  But “labor costs” considered in a vacuum are meaningless; you’d expect that a business with twice as many employees as another business would have higher labor costs, for example, and this is why Will uses the “percentage of revenue” dodge.  Again, though, that’s not a measure of “efficiency.”

For comparison, I did what Will would have done if he were other than a dishonest hack, and compared USPS’ revenues, size of workforce, and daily delivery volume with that of UPS and FedEx, then calculated how much each costs in terms of deliveries to separate, unique addresses.  It’s not an exact comparison, because for UPS and FedEx I can’t locate data for “delivery locations” but only for number of letters/packages delivered daily.  Here’s what I found: 

FedEx has annual revenues of $40 billion and a workforce of 290,000 to deliver 3.5 million letters/parcels per day.  If we assume that each of those 3.5 million pieces are going to a different address, FedEx’s per-location cost works out to $44.82.  Keep in mind that this is the conservative figure; if FedEx is dropping multiple packages at locations, this means that their cost per delivery location is actually higher.

UPS has annual revenues of $49.5 billion and a workforce of 340,000 (inside the US) and delivers 15 million parcels per day in the US.  For that maximum possible 15 million delivery locations, this works out to $12.50 per delivery location.

USPS has annual revenues of $67 billion and 574,000 employees and delivers to 142 million delivery locations per day, at a cost of $1.86 per delivery location.

If we look at it from a standpoint of labor cost per delivery location – which we should, because otherwise we’re comparing apples to oranges – FedEx’s labor cost per delivery location is an astounding $14.34 and UPS’ is $6.63, or more, compared to a USPS labor cost of $1.12 per delivery location, thus proving that private business is a lot more efficient at hoovering money out of people’s pockets for performing essentially the same functions as evil government non-profit enterprises.  Which, after all, is what Will REALLY means whenever he waxes on about the glorious “efficiency” of private business.

Now, to be fair, both UPS and FedEx operate on a different model than USPS – it does cost more to move things cross-country and deliver overnight, just as it costs more to move large and heavy parcels.  But the fact remains that neither of them are able to cover the ground USPS does for 6 – 13 times the labor cost.

Will also throws around claims of how great privatized mail systems are working in other countries.  I looked into that as well, and found that most of the countries that conservatives claim have privatized their mail systems simply haven’t.  What they’ve done is lift the government monopoly on first class mail, allowing private carriers to compete in providing first class mail service.  This is true of both the UK and Sweden.  Other countries conservatives claim have privatized have only partially done so, as in Germany, whose service is 69% private.  The only example I came up with for a fully-privatized postal system is the Netherlands, where you can send a first class letter from one side of the country all the way to the other side 100 miles away for only 50% more than what we pay for first-class postage from Miami, Florida to Nome, Alaska (first class postage rate for the Netherlands is $.62).

So if a privatized mail system in a country smaller than most US states and more densely populated than any other on earth costs almost 50% more than what we pay, how would a privatization of our mail service compare?  There aren’t any vast, sparsely populated areas in the Netherlands which are more expensive to serve like we have here.  A private system can only work in the US if it’s mandated to cover unprofitable routes as well; otherwise you end up with companies cherry-picking the areas that cost the least to serve and so yield the highest profits, and either neglecting the less profitable or unprofitable areas completely or charging exorbitantly for service in those areas.  This is why both UPS and FedEx send about 25% of their shipments via USPS for “last mile” delivery – because the post office is already going down that rural route in Wyoming, and it’s uneconomical for UPS or FedEx to go there themselves. 

Here we come to the comical in Will’s hit piece, where he suggests that Wal-Mart could take over the role of the local post office.  Because as we all know, if there’s anything more appealing than standing in line at the post office, it has to be going to Wal-Mart and standing in a line there.

All of the preceding ignores that the entire USPS deficit for the current year could be solved with a $.03 increase in first class rates or by a lower first class increase coupled with a bulk rate increase.  The seemingly insurmountable projected deficit of $14.5 billion forecast for 2012 would raise first class rates another $.09 – that’s if we did nothing else  – no repeal on the benefit pre-funding farce, no increases on bulk rate, no closing of distribution facilities or community post offices, no cut-back to 5 day delivery.  Taken together, if the post office addressed the deficits with only an increase in first class rates, we would be paying $.56 instead of the current $.44.  That’s a large increase percentage-wise, but hell…at $.56 for delivery in 5 days or less to any address in the US, that’s still a hell of a bargain – and it’s less than almost any other first-world country pays for first class mail currently.  Note that it’s still less that what the Dutch pay in their fully privatized system to serve their postage-stamp-sized country.  At $.56, our cost for first class mail service would still be less than every country I looked at other than Brazil (at $.39, the only country currently cheaper than the US for mail service), Poland ($.46), New Zealand ($.47), Israel ($.46) the Czech Republic ($.53) and Mexico ($.52).  All the other European countries, Canada, Japan, and Australia are already charging more than what we’d have to charge to keep our system just as it currently is.

So it is indeed discouraging to hear the discussion I heard on NPR day before yesterday, in which NO ONE bothered to point out any of the above facts, but instead both host and guests just solemnly intoned that “the USPS is broken,” “mail service is a dinosaur,” “they haven’t kept up with the times,” and etc.  None of that is true.  What is true is that with falling volume on first-class mail, there is no doubt that some tweaks need to be made.  But don’t let anyone fool you – none of them would require cutting back delivery to 3 days per week, or closing mail distribution centers in remote areas, resulting in delivery slowdowns of 2 days or more.  Those things aren’t necessary if the post office is allowed to do what any other business would do in the same situation – raise prices.

I fear this is all too late.  What will come next is the gutting of the postal service – as the mail is slowed down and deliveries per week are cut back, the morons who elected the morons who created the problem will conclude that the morons they elected are correct – government can’t do anything right, because look at the post office.  It costs more than it used to and we’re getting less in return.  Unfortunately, being morons, they will conclude that the answer is to turn the whole enterprise over to some private company, who will likely provide even worse service for double – or more – the price we pay now.  Imagine Comcast in charge of delivering your mail, and you get an idea of just how bad it could be.  And then there’s the issue of legally certified mail, ballots sent by mail, and other things of that type.  I’m sure Koch Brothers Delivery Services, Inc. will make sure those ballots are handled correctly.  Of course, they’ll also be paying employees a sub-living wage to maintain profit share, which will further ensure that we’re getting the best possible service.  And then, all will be right with the world and George Effing Will will finally be happy, as some worthy investor is profiting from a service where the revenues used to go to support the lazy layabouts who delivered our mail, and their families.

Jump on his head

November 28, 2011 5 comments

Why would someone who tries to position himself as smart say really stupid things like this … and let someone record him doing it? Is he trying to achieve some sort of reverse snob appeal?

Americans can’t handle pop music? The radio has been hijacked by … something other than pop music?

Where does he think most of the world’s pop music comes from? And that’s not because Europeans are buying it (although they are). It’s because there’s a huge market for it here.

“The combined 2001 value of the recorded music industry in the US and Europe [is] (24 billion euros). … Fears of American dominance in music are not entirely unfounded: from 2001 through 2007, 31 artists have appeared simultaneously on at least 18 countries’ charts in at least one year. Twenty three of these artists – Avril Lavigne, Backstreet Boys, Beyoncé, Black Eyed Peas, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Destiny’s Child, Eminem, Enrique Iglesias, Evanescense, Faith Hill, Gnarls Barkley, Gwen Stefani, Jennifer Lopez, Justin Timberlake, Madonna, Mariah Carey, Outkast, P!Nk, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rihanna, Usher, and Vanessa Carlton – are American.”

Now me and the wanker don’t know shit about radio music, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that at least a few of these qualify as “pop.” Here’s the full article, which concludes that basically people like music from their own country the best. Which may be why you’re not hearing quite as much EuroPop in gay bars stateside, Mr. Sullivan.

I don’t know why I let this get me so worked up.  It doesn’t matter who makes the music or who buys it. It’s simply a matter of personal taste.

Or maybe Kipper’s right and Andrew Sullivan has no soul >

No Death Porn Celebrations For Me, Thank You

September 11, 2011 6 comments

So, today’s the anniversary of 9/11, the day we will Never Forget™, and here is how I’m going to commemorate it:  by not thinking about it at all, as soon as I finish this piece.

Seriously, it was a bad and traumatic thing at the time, but what grew out of it was even worse.  I can still recall my first three thoughts on that morning 10 years ago, which were:  1)  Oh my god, those poor people, 2)  Sweet christ, you mean we’re going to have to deal with this with that buffoon in office (said buffoon was at that moment fleeing willy-nilly cross-country, in a display of strong & resolute leadership), and 3)  Fuck, now I’m gonna have to hear that Lee Greenwood piece of shit played in heavy rotation 24/7 for at least the next 6 months.

Those were my actual thoughts; I’ve never pretended to be a better person than I am.

My discomfort grew in the days, weeks, and months following.  I vividly recall being told to “go shopping” for the good of the nation; the false assurances of the then-head of the EPA, who told all the Ground Zero cleanup workers who are now either dead or struggling with chronic illnesses that there was nothing to worry about; and the shameless manipulation of illogical people’s fears, ala duct tape and plastic sheeting.  I feared for my sanity, but only because it seemed it might be impossible to remain sane in a country where insanity was the order of the day.

I recall wondering why it was that we were so eager to make sure that surviving families of those killed at the WTC were “compensated” with millions of dollars each, when our normal reaction (public-policy-wise, as a nation) is to tell those who lose a family member to an ordinary cause like an auto accident or illness to “tough it out” and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.

Don’t get me wrong:  I know the citizens of New York, and families who lost loved ones in the attacks, were deeply traumatized.  My point is that we could say the same of anyone who loses a loved one to any cause.  For them, our response is to cut Social Security survivor benefits and Medicaid.

And as the months unfolded, I watched in horror, though not much surprise, as the natural inclinations of the American public revealed themselves in a lust for blood, whether it was that of the guilty parties or not.  (We saw another manifestation of this at the Republican debate last week, when Rick Perry was loudly cheered by the crowd for being the killingest governor of them all.  Never mind that the evidence is strong that at least one of those he killed was innocent…which makes him a murderer.  We love those types in this country.)

Now, 10 years later, those who overreacted with misdirected aggression continue to insist that if they were wrong, it was “for the right reasons,” and those of us who pointed out at the time that they were wrong and about to drag us into a huge and costly mistake are still not to be taken seriously, because who can trust a bunch of pacifist hippies, hurr-hurr-hurr, amirite?  And the nation’s downwards spiral continues.

No, there’s nothing – aside from the memory of those lost – of value to remember here.  Just as we don’t typically commemorate the onset of an illness that leads to death, so we should also turn away from maudlin remembrances of an event that put the nation on the road to oblivion. 

Because, in some very important ways it did, and we’ve made the choice over and over and over again since then not to deviate from that path.

So, ignore the horseshit you’ll hear from media outlets hoping to score a ratings boost with talk about how the events of that day 10 years ago “united” us.  It didn’t unite us in any way that would do anyone any good.  If you want to see the event that tells the story of what America has really become, you have to look at early September 2005, when as thousands of our poorest and most helpless citizens were clinging to life in a flooded ruin of a city, our media spent the first few days – while grandmothers were still drowning in their attics – fretting about how some people were losing stuff to looters.  And that was before the “blame the victims” rightwing media swung into full gear and we were treated to endless blather about how pointing out the obvious, that federal relief was a fucking joke, was “playing the blame game.”

If you want to see what this country REALLY is, look there.  In the absence of some foreign other to blame, we lost no time turning the victims into the villains.  That’s who we really are.  And that’s nothing to celebrate.


August 14, 2011 4 comments

Well, it’s official now:  the GOP has the obligatory dumb Texan candidate for the presidency; this one gets bonus points for conspicuously aping the last dumb Texan to run in both diction and physical gesture.

In keeping with my long tradition of trying to help out GOP candidates whenever possible, I’ve put together a few bumperstickers for Mr. Perry:

One that asks, “remember how you felt 4 years ago?”
One to remind people that Perry’s hair is an entity unto itself – and probably a smarter and more competent one than Perry
Another one to remind people of our recent brush with disaster

Expect relentless media fellating of the Texas goober’s record on “job creation”; absent, of course, any mention of the fact that all the jobs created were of the minimum wage variety.  If’n it’s good enough for them heartlanders, by gum, it’s good enough for the rest of us!  Also expect to hear no mention of the fact that, for all of Perry’s appeals for divine intervention to end his state’s drought/improve our economy/etc., the Almighty has turned a cold shoulder.  Yeah, that’s right – God hates Rick Perry, and He’ll hate the rest of us too if we make him president.

And we’ll deserve it.

Lord Of The Lies

July 27, 2011 1 comment

If it weren’t for the rapidly-approaching ground, this stupid debt ceiling impasse free-fall we’re in could be quite entertaining, because the cracks are beginning to show.

In what sounds like a “we can do it, yes we can!” pep rally for House Republicans, there’s this oddity reported by the Washington Post:

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the party’s vote counter, began his talk by showing a clip from the movie, “The Town”, trying to forge a sense of unity among the independent-minded caucus.

One character asks his friend: “I need your help. I can’t tell you what it is. You can never ask me about it later.”

“Whose car are we gonna take,” the character says.

After showing the clip, Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), one of the most outspoken critics of leadership among the 87 freshmen, stood up to speak, according to GOP aides.

“I’m ready to drive the car,” West replied, surprising many Republicans by giving his full -throated support for the plan.

Then today, there’s this from Politico:

House Republicans 0n Wednesday morning were calling for the firing of Republican Study Committee staffers after they were caught sending e-mails to conservative groups urging them to pressure GOP lawmakers to vote against a debt proposal from Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Infuriated by the e-mails from Paul Teller, the executive director of the RSC, and other staffers, members started chanting “Fire him, fire him!” while Teller stood silently at a closed-door meetings of House Republicans.

“It was an unbelievable moment,” said one GOP insider. “I’ve never seen anything like it.” 

Well, I have … it was this scene:

Or perhaps this one:

In any case, I predict we’ll be here by Saturday at the latest:

That’s Boehner in the role of Piggy; Eric Cantor is portrayed by the kid with the modified jewfro who levers the huge boulder off the cliff, while the other fools on the hill represent the Teabag Caucus.

There’s that old back-handed curse about living in interesting times; I don’t think this qualifies.  I think we’re suffering under the much more pernicious curse of living in stupid times.

Comcast Redeems Itself, Somewhat

July 21, 2011 2 comments

On the internet front, things seem to be fixed.  But boy oh boy, what it took to get there…

What I learned from my ordeal was that yes, my instinct was correct – it’s not that Comcast has bad people working for them – though I’m sure it’s possible there are a few, I didn’t encounter them in trying to get this fixed – it’s that they have set up a system for customer “service” that virtually renders it impossible for their employees to deliver it.

Here’s what finally happened:  after posting my Comcast rant, I got disgusted again and called again, and got a guy on the phone who was willing to entertain something beyond “let’s just set up another tech appointment.”  True, I did have to diagnose the problem myself and also communicate my suspicion that the main cable line or relays or something was worn out and being affected by the high temps we’ve been having.  He went and looked at the map and asked, “is this street in your vicinity?”  Well, yes.  Yes it is, in fact the houses on that street back up to the same alley MY house backs up to.  Turns out there are two internet outages reported on that street, and mine, and those are the ONLY internet customers Comcast has on the block, and the ONLY outages they have reported anywhere in the area.  “That’s it,” I tell him, “there’s a bad line or relay coming down the alley on our block.”  So, he says he’s going to set up another service appointment for the following morning – their procedure is that they are gonna make you sit home for another service call before they’ll put maintenance on it, even if you know what’s wrong, which is dumb – plus he will have his supervisor call when she gets back from lunch.  I never did hear from her, but a guy in the office here called later that afternoon thanks to an email this guy sent.  I go through the whole scenario with him too, and he’s continuing to insist that a service rep will have to come to my house before they can dispatch maintenance.

The next morning, the internet is working.  The service tech calls about coming out; I tell him, “you can come out if you like, but I don’t know what the point is, since it’s working at the moment and we’ve already determined that the problem is on the alley.  Or if you want to wait till noon, it will go out by then.”  He says he’s going to make sure maintenance has a ticket on it and call me back.  At noon, the internet goes out and I call the service tech back on the cell number he called me from; no answer, so I leave a message.  I never did hear back from him.  So around 4 in the afternoon, I call the guy here who had called the previous afternoon, and I don’t get him either but leave him a message to the effect of “WTF?  Is the repair scheduled or not?”

So…that evening, the comment on the Comcast rant below gets posted.  I have to say I’m really in awe of that – that Comcast pays people to troll the internet looking for people badmouthing Comcast, rather than just fixing their customer service procedures – but that’s what they do.  I sent the guy an email in which I quite pointedly noted that PR is NOT customer service, and that if they would take care of the latter they’d have little need for the former, but that it spoke volumes about the horrible but well-deserved reputation they have for customer service that they feel like they need people on the payroll to put out fires online.  I close with the suggestion that, for a reasonable fee, I’ll show them how to set up a customer service system that actually works.

Anyhoo…first thing this morning, there’s an email response from Comcast’s damage control team.  And then, around 10:00, a Comcast truck rolls up in front of the house; a guy comes to the door and says he understands there’s a problem with the cable service at the house.  “No,” I say, “the problem is on the alley.  There are two more houses on the next street over who are out too.”  Further amazement – even after all of this, I’m not sure anyone has communicated to the crew where the problem is.  And I leave it at that; by this time, I’m just not going to deal with anyone tromping through the house again for no reason.  So…they sit out in front of the house a little while, then drive off.  When I hear the neighbors’ dogs barking, I know they’re back on the alley.  The internet goes out for about 20 minutes, then it comes back on and has been on ever since.  The supervisor guy here called back this afternoon to make sure things were working, and then the guy leading the service crew called later on.  Turns out there was a bad relay – quel surprise.  And…good on all of them; they fixed the problem and actually got it done in a reasonable amount of time.

But sweet lord, what it took to get to that point!  And that is totally none of these guys’ fault.

The moral of this story?  If you’re having a problem with your Comcast service, and the first couple of calls to customer service don’t get you anywhere, bitch about it on your blog, or put out a ranting tweet or post on your ShoutyFace page, and wait for the PR flacks to come calling. 

Once the flacks get involved, your issue is as good as resolved.

Of course the great irony here is that this is a communications company which apparently cannot communicate internally.  Then again, that may explain the preference for PR flackery over a good service model.  In any case, thank god it’s over.

Step Aside, Jimmy Carter…History Has a New Greatest Monster

June 30, 2011 16 comments

Step aside, Jimmy Carter…your many misdeeds, including all those houses you’ve built for Habitat for Humanity and the almost-completed initiative to eradicate the horrifying scourge of the guinea worm have been overshadowed by the malevolent designs of our current president.

This least of God's creatures will soon be extinct, thanks to the evil machinations of Jimmy Carter

President Obama, in a an attempt to show gays & lesbians once and for all how much he hates them, yesterday held an event at the White House to ridicule and demean LGBT Pride Month.  Taunting the assembled activists by refusing to make an unequivocal statement in support of legalizing gay marriage nationwide, the president went on to enumerate his many offenses against the gay community – and how they do add up.  There’s the hate crimes law, named after Matthew Sheppard to diminish and exculpate the suffering he endured at the hands of homophobic bigots.  There’s the executive order Obama issued prohibiting any hospital accepting Medicaid or Medicare funds from keeping gay partners from the bedsides of ill loved ones.  Then there’s the end of the HIV travel ban and the first-ever national strategy for fighting HIV/AIDS.  Last but not least, there are the biggest slaps to the face to the LGBT community – the repeal of DADT and his refusal to order the Justice Department to vigorously defend DOMA.

Clearly, the man is hell-bent on the destruction of our gay and lesbian friends, and must be stopped.  Just watch this clip, and note the hatred emanating from his every pore:

We have no choice but to primary his black ass if he does not give in to our demands to say what we must hear if we are to believe his intentions are anything other than sinister.

I am reminded of this

Ok, enough sarcasm.

 My ass is chapped a bright red today thanks to being lectured on my lack of “morality” and my “bigotry” and my desire to “blame gays and lesbians” for any electoral loss the president may suffer in 2012 if he comes out in full-throated support for same-sex marriage legalization.  I was given quite the dressing down on how “principles are paramount” and how, apparently, the principles an individual subscribes to can best be gauged by their words rather than their actions.  And you know – it REALLY pissed me off.
There’s a faction on the left that doesn’t know how to disagree with people who share their goals, without impugning their motives or morals, when they have a difference of opinion on how best to reach those goals.  Because this discussion took place on someone else’s blog, I restrained myself from responding in kind, instead just asking in the hypothetical, “would it be FAIR for me to assert that YOU are actively trying to derail marriage equality in states like mine for the next several decades with your demands that the president’s words are more important than his actions, and that if he doesn’t say what you want to hear, then he shouldn’t be re-elected?”  Because the simple fact is, same-sex marriage is not going to be legal for a long time to come in places like Arkansas, Texas, Georgia, Alabama, etc. if we don’t secure a majority on the Supreme Court.  You just aren’t going to get a referendum passed in a state that 7 years ago amended its constitution to outlaw gay marriage with a 75% majority vote.  You also aren’t going to get a law through a legislature in a state where opposition is running that high.  The only way equality is going to come to these states any time soon is through a friendly court.  And the only way we’re going to get a friendly court is with a second term for President Obama.
So if your insistence is that ONLY a statement of support by the president will suffice, and said statement leads to 1% or 2% of the voters in a place like OH, IN, VA, CO, NC deciding to vote against you or stay home on election day, causing you to lose the state and, as a result, the election, you can kiss the Supreme Court goodbye for the next decade at least – and any chance for marriage equality in most of the red states along with it.  And for what gain?  So you can feel good, or be reassured that your “principles” are being upheld?  Because there’s no gain in the gamble if you win it, but there’s a hell of a lot to lose if you don’t.
Perhaps the social climate where some of these folks live is so different that they can’t conceive of an election turning on this one issue.  I’d advise them to think back to 2004, when the Republicans used anti-gay marriage referenda in a number of states to drive turnout and drag their already-a-loser-of-a-president over the finish line.  Demanding that Obama make a supportive statement – right now, this instant – is the same thing as demanding that he hand the Republicans everything they need to get out the vote.  If you’re sitting in the northeast or on the west coast, maybe that’s not that big of a deal to you, because it’s not impossible where you live that your state will address this issue on its own within the next several years, should Republicans re-take the White House.  But it’s a very big deal to your comrades in places where that’s not an option.  Their right to equality comes before your desire to hear pretty words.  This is not the hill upon which anyone should choose to die.  Suck it up, and stop being such assholes to people who are on your side.
P.S.  There was one amusing point in the conversation, which came when I demanded that one of the purists tell me HOW she planned to get marriage equality passed in Texas if we lost the election, and with it, the court.  Her plan?  Obama should do “arm-twisting” like LBJ did on the Civil Rights Act.  Yes, that’s right – the plan B was for Obama to go twist the arms of a bunch of reactionary yahoos elected to office by teabaggers, and…voila!!…they would all get on board.  Even though opposition is running at 70% or more in their states.  It’s almost like a twist on the Underpants Gnomes formula:
Step 1:  Twist arms!!!
Step 2:  ????
Step 3:  Victory!!!

It would be funny if the rights of real people weren’t at stake.

Update 7/2:  Ok, this cuts it.  I was willing to overlook all of Obama’s other hateful actions against the gay community, but this…this cuts it:  “Today, the Department of Justice filed a brief in federal court employee Karen Golinski’s federal court challenge, supporting her lawsuit seeking access to equal health benefits for her wife and arguing strongly that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional in terms unparalleled in previous administration statements.”  Why won’t Obama just make a big speech about how he supports gay marriage instead of all this pussy-footing around?  HUH?

Here’s to New York

June 26, 2011 2 comments

Everyone has covered this already but I’d just like to add to the chorus of those cheering for a job well done.  Here’s hoping that other states will soon follow suit.  Who knows, Arkansas might even get there in another 10 years or so. 

In tribute, thought I’d post one of my favorite scenes from Angels in America.  We watched it at the beach (though I fear Beth might have preferred to spend those nights playing Scrabble, as much as she enjoyed it) and I was reminded once again of this one particular line, which may be for me the most moving line from anything I’ve ever seen.  It comes at about 3:40 into the clip, and it’s spoken by the 18th-century prior Prior:

Isn’t that great?  There’s something about that line that’s just so…ineffably sad.  For me, I get the same feeling from it that I get from those Nat Geo specials detailing how the earth, solar system, and sun will die.  You know, just a very sad feeling that everything that is and has been will be gone without a trace, with no one to remember it all.  Kind of the ultimate nostalgia.  Sure, it’s billions of years away, but it is sad-making to ponder.

That line isn’t why I chose the clip, though.  I picked this one because I like it best – love the ghosts of the prior Priors, and also, there’s something so very 80’s feeling about the whole dance scene, and I thought it was interesting for that reason given what just happened in New York.  Kind of gets you casting your mind back to where things were then as opposed to now.  What a long, long way things have come in 25 years.

Now, I’m gonna get up on my soapbox about something that’s bugging me.  Friday night, immediately following the news of the vote, Rachel Maddow added “President Obama doesn’t agree with what New York just did.”  And on his show, Bill Maher was talking about how Obama isn’t as progressive as the majority of Americans on this issue, since recent polls show support for legalizing same-sex marriage at around 53%.

This is unhelpful.  First of all, Rachel Maddow is damn well politically savvy enough to know that, had Obama’s position during the campaign been for the M word rather than civil unions, he might well have lost Ohio, North Carolina, Virginia, Indiana, Colorado and probably several more.  Because he did win those states, we now have a repeal of DADT and a justice department that opted not to defend DOMA.  Furthermore, he has done nothing to discourage states from taking action to legalize same-sex marriage, and he has not publicly spoken out against same-sex marriage other than saying “I don’t support it, I support civil unions” during the campaign (and perhaps he’s said it since, but still…).  So I find the “the president does not agree with what New York just did” to be kind of a low blow, actually, and really inappropriate to the joy of the moment.  Ms. Maddow, I am surprised – mostly because I don’t think that you, yourself, really believe that President Obama opposes same-sex marriage.

Then we’ve got Bill Maher knocking him because he’s still not made a statement in support even though a majority of people polled said they were in favor.  Again, Bill Maher is savvy enough to know better.  53% is a majority, true, but it’s not a huge one, and we know that young people are overwhelmingly more supportive of marriage equality than older people are.  We also know that some areas of the country are much more progressive in their attitudes – the northeast, the west coast – so you have to figure that these are big factors in finally pushing sentiment over the hump into majority approval.

The problem is, young people often don’t vote.  So while they might think it was really awesome to hear the president say he supports marriage equality, if his saying so turns some older voters off, it’s a net loss of votes.  Also, you can’t win the presidency with just the northeast and the west coast.  Obama is going to have to be able to pick up a few states in other, more socially-conservative regions to win re-election.  Just hearing Obama say he’s supportive won’t in and of itself change anything vis-a-vis marriage equality – but it could cost him a state or two, enough to throw the election.

If I was Rachel Maddow, I’m sure I would be offended by not having the vocal support of the president, and gays and lesbians have been told “we just have to wait a little longer” for at least the last 20 years.  It has, I’m sure, become very old.

But if the choice is between having the warm & fuzzies because the president said something you wanted to hear him say, and things like DADT repeal, non-defense of DOMA, and steady progress, unmolested by the feds, in the states, the latter is a damn sight better than having a president who wants to propose constitutional amendments spelling out second-class citizenship for our gay and lesbian brethren. 

I think Obama should have his feet held to the fire on this, but not until after the election.  He’s delivered some of the goods already, but we have to be mindful of political realities.  Does anyone on the left really believe that Obama opposes marriage equality?  Because I don’t.  I think it’s political expediency when he says otherwise, and though I’m not a huge fan of political expediency, it exists because sometimes it’s both helpful and needed.  Besides, I’m not sure exactly what he, alone as president, can accomplish on this issue.  Not much, I fear.  As such, I can’t see the point in demanding that he say what we’d like to hear, particularly if it allows someone from the Clown Car Party to win in 2012.