Monday, March 30, 2009

John McCain Is Quite Insane

Remember when John McCain was somewhat respected by people across the political spectrum? Long time ago, it seems. He gets more and more full of crap all the time. It's at the point now where I don't know what we ever saw in the guy.

Here he is on "Meet the Press" lying his ass off about "bipartisanship".

Here's the transcript of the important part.

(Videotape, November 4, 2008)

SEN. McCAIN: I urge all Americans who supported me to join me in not just congratulating him, but offering our next president our good will and earnest effort to find ways to come together, to find the necessary compromises to bridge our differences.

(End videotape)

MR. GREGORY: Have Republicans heeded that call, and do you think President Obama has heeded that call?

SEN. McCAIN: I think neither side, perhaps, has done it as much as maybe we should. But you establish an environment. Really, bipartisanship is sitting down across a table from each other and negotiating, recognizing there's got to be compromise. And in all due respect to the incoming administration, the speaker said, "We won. We wrote the bill."
There was never any serious negotiations over the stimulus package, over the omnibus spending bill. Now there doesn't seem to be any on the budget. Those are all party line votes. There's not the negotiations. And I--look, I'll take blame on our side for maybe not being more forthcoming, but really the president does beat the drum and sets the pace. And so far there has not been not an instance where they sat down across the table and said, "OK, what do you want? What are you demanding here? What do you think is best?" And including some of those concerns as we come--as we move forward with really large, encompassing packages about the future of this country.

So, Obama sits down with Republicans and asks them what they want. He includes billions in tax cuts that Democrats had no intention of including in an attempt to be "bipartisan" and get broad support. Then, in spite of this, not a single House Republican votes for the bill. They never do take those tax cuts out. (A move that I was supporting.)

And then John McCain goes on national television to lie about it. This is not spin. This is not stretching the truth. This is a bald-faced lie. John McCain should be ashamed of himself.

By the way, David Gregory never followed up with anything in the way of, "Mr. Senator, that's a load of crap."

Friday, March 27, 2009

You're Welcome

I'm fortunate enough to have a special website that allows me to change the weather. Check this out.

That was the weather yesterday. Then I decided to change it. You can thank me by sending a nice fruit basket or something.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I Don't Think That's What They Had in Mind

Well, this makes perfect sense. Get ready to start howling, ladies.

Apparently, it's International Women's Month. And how is Slate celebrating? Essays on or about Gloria Steinem and Hillary Rodham Clinton? Tales of Anne Hutchinson and Susan B. Anthony?

Um, no. But here's the next best thing, ladies. Cheesecake shots!

You've come a long way, baby.

I'm Not as Mad Now, Unfortunately

So, the NCAA Tournmanent kicks back into gear tonight. I feel like I should be more excited about it than I actually am. As we get deeper into tournaments, the excitement is supposed to build. Now we're getting down to the nitty-gritty, with only the best teams vying for the top spots. The wheat has been separated from the chaff. That's good, right?

And for me, personally, this should be more exciting. For the first time ever, my bracket is actually in contention. (This is in no way due to any act of prognostication genius on my part. I picked only one team seeded lower than 4th for my Sweet 16, and that was #5 Purdue. Whoopee. My success is due entirely to cowardice. But hey, it worked.) So what's the issue?

I'll tell you. The tournament gets less interesting as it goes along because it gets less crazy. There's a reason they call it March Madness. It isn't because we all can't wait to see two big-conference teams squaring off in the championship game on a Monday night in early April when we'd rather be watching the newly-minted baseball season. It's because we love those first four days in which 48 of the 64 teams get knocked out in an orgy of hoops hysteria. It's a feast, particularly the first round, with 16 games on each day. 16!

The possibilities of those first two days are fantastic. Everybody's bracket is a potential winner. And is this the year that a 16-seed finally beats a 1-seed? And the fact that there are usually four games going at once means that if you're watching a dog from Boise, odds are CBS has something good ready to roll over in Dayton. And hey, you dopes! Why are we watching this game when the other game is so much closer and only has 1:27 left in it? Come on!

Then it's over. The George Masons and the Davidsons of the world eventually turn back into pumpkins and the North Carolinas and the UConns take their rightful place at the top of the heap. The level of play may be higher but it's just not as much fun. Oddly enough, focusing on only one game at a time seems like a letdown, even if it's a better game.

So go, all of the other teams in my bracket. At this point in the tournament you'll need to be twice as good to be half as interesting.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

More Fun with Surveys

A follow-up to a prior post about surveys.

Here is a portion of a brief survey that I was asked to take recently.

My problem with the surveys in the prior post was that they were designed to push the user toward a selection favorable to the company issuing the survey. Which of the radio buttons above would you choose?

The webinar was fine. Everything worked as it should. It didn't give me a backrub or a shoeshine but it worked well. So should I select "Excellent"? Well, excellent is a bit much. How about "OK", then? Well, it was better than okay. It was a well-functioning tool. If I had a choice between these two, say, "Good", I would have chosen that.

Guess which one I chose?

None of them. I deleted the survey. But I guarantee that they get a lot more Excellents than OKs.

Dumb Letters: Jury Rules

I hate to call this one a dumb letter. It's not really dumb. But I disagree with it strongly.

Actually, I'm going to bring in a few of the letters on this topic. The letters are in response to an article in the NYT about jurors -- who are supposed to be trapped in their little courtroom world in order to avoid outside influence in a case -- using the internet (thank you, iPhone) to get information during the trial.

It's a thorny issue. I don't have all of the answers for it. But here's an uber-democratic missive from a gentleman in Miami.

Our system of justice claims to seek the whole truth, and that needs the whole facts, not a censored set of information controlled by a judge and lawyers.

Jurors should be encouraged to participate in a trial and discover information for themselves by any means possible — Internet, books and so on. They should also be encouraged to question prosecutors, defendants and witnesses, with the judge and lawyers assisting (not controlling) the process.

We need to adjust our justice system to modern times and make it a more participatory, democratic process and discard the closely controlled, adversarial game favored by judges and lawyers. Open up the system and let the facts fall where they may.

Okay, I'm all for more information. I like information. I seek it out relentlessly. And I served on a jury once. It was a murder trial. There was some information that we didn't get but were made aware of after-the-fact by the judge. This information would have swayed some of the jury into imposing a harsher sentence on the defendant. (I thought that what was presented in court was already more than enough.) I didn't get any outside dirt on the case, but over the course of the trial I did manage to read all of Gunter Grass's "The Flounder" while waiting in the jury room for the lawyers and judge to hash out what we could hear and what we couldn't. For the record, it didn't sway my opinion. Ultimately, a nonsensical verdict of manslaughter was given in what was clearly a case of murder. (Manslaughter is for accidental killing, like from drunk driving. It is impossible to "accidentally" kill someone by shooting them in the chest from two feet away, unless your defense is that you thought it was a marshmallow gun.)

In addition, I have a friend who was peripherally involved in a murder case. He was a witness to an act of violence against someone who was later murdered by the same perpetrator. This prior act was also considered inadmissible. After the fact, some of the jurors in the case were on a national television newsmagazine. They were played the 911 tapes of the prior incident and admitted that they would have been swayed by this if it had been presented in court.

But there is a reason that some information is inadmissible. It isn't because it's not the truth. We may not agree with the judges' rationales (and I certainly didn't in the above cases), but they make their decisions based on their knowledge of the law and not on emotions or a sense of retribution (we hope). I certainly don't think we should just trust all authority figures. But I also don't think we should always trust ourselves and we certainly shouldn't always trust the 12 random people who couldn't get out of jury duty and who have no knowledge of the law other than what they saw in the O.J. Simpson trial, which was hardly a stellar example of grave jurisprudence.

Back to the letter. The writer suggests that the jury should be allowed to question the lawyers, witnesses and defendants. This may sound great on the surface. But after my experience on a jury, all I can say is I am utterly relieved that some of these people never had a chance to open their mouths in that courtroom. It was bad enough listening to them in deliberation. Some of them didn't seem to have heard anything said in the courtroom other than what they wanted to hear. Others didn't seem to have heard even that.

There has to be some kind of a bar (no pun intended) for participation. Otherwise, we won't have trials, we'll have "The Jerry Springer Show". ("Yo, how come you didn't slap that bitch?") Another letter writer also has a much higher opinion of the general populace than I do.

Jurors’ use of the Internet reflects both the day-to-day importance of the Internet as well as a revolt against a system that insists on keeping intelligent and discerning jurors from being given the whole truth before they render a verdict. We should have greater faith in jurors’ abilities to separate and weigh evidence properly.

Okay, again this is great in theory. But I counted one other juror in my trial who seemed truly intelligent and discerning. There were about three or four others who seemed at least marginally capable of coming around to reason, if such a thing should ever rear its homely head. The rest of them I wouldn't trust with the decision on whether we should all stab ourselves in the eyes with chopsticks. You can have greater faith in people, if that's your thing. I sure don't.

Another letter writer modulates this concept some.

Allowing jurors to submit questions that are screened by the judge for witnesses is one way to overcome the limitations of the purely adversarial trial system.

As full an account of the truth as possible is the goal of a trial, and answering admissible juror questions can mitigate the problem of jurors seeking better understanding of the facts of a case outside the courtroom.

Okay, I can get behind that. This would allow some participation from the jury but keep control of the situation in the hands of the professionals. The judge could decide which, if any, questions were relevant and mediate in their dissemination. In this case, the middle ground is entirely reasonable and should be acceptable to all parties.

Monday, March 23, 2009

A Curt Meditation, Entirely Lacking in Schilling

So pitcher Curt Schilling has announced his retirement. To which the response would be, "He wasn't retired?"

I've always had mixed feelings about Schill. He was inspirational in 2004. The bloody sock game was one of the highlights of Red Sox history. And he said he was coming to end the World Series drought for the Sox and he did. Bravo, Mr. Man.

On the downside, right after the 2004 victory he went right out and started shilling for George W. Bush's election. (Not re-election, mind you. He lost the first time, as we seem to forget.) This is his prerogative, of course. I can't stand it when people say that Bruce Springsteen and the Dixie Chicks should just shut the hell up and sing. Schilling had every right to speak his mind. But it made me like him a lot less. Call me petty. That's politics.

Also, guess how much he made last year. "Wait a minute," I hear you saying. "He didn't pitch last year." Nope. But he banked $8 million for not pitching. And this was not the tail end of a multi-year contract. He signed a one-year deal, knowing full well that he may never actually suit up. Is this his fault? Hell, no. If you told me you'd give me $8 million for not pitching, I'd ask where to sign. But still, it rankles.

So hasta la vista, Curt. Thanks for the great stuff. We won't be calling though.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Hilarious Moments in The Bible: Razis

Time for a new feature. Like most good atheists, I'm much more familiar with the actual texts that the major religions use than 95% of the folks who scream about how we should be taking them literally. (Note to these people: It is literally impossible to be a true fundamentalist. The Bible contradicts itself so often that you'd end up like those logical androids from Star Trek that self-destruct when faced with a paradox.)

This feature will have two main flavors. Flavor #1 will have ironic intent, showing the utter barbarity of the "Good" Book that shows us the true way of peace. Flavor #2 is more straightforward and will focus on the general absurdities in The Bible. Most people don't realize this but, in addition to being the most violent book you will ever read, it is also, in places, really very funny.

Today's installment is a #2, although it's violent too. It involves a poor schlemiel named Razis and comes from the deuterocanonical book of 2 Maccabees, which is basically a remake of 1 Maccabees but has it all over the original for its inclusion of this pants-peeingly funny tale. In this story, Nicanor is the current head honcho. Razis' fate is Pythonesque in its absurdity.

The translation is from the New Revised Standard edition, which is not as musical as the King James but does not rely so much on euphemism.

2 Maccabees 14.37-14.46

A certain Razis, one of the elders of Jerusalem, was denounced to Nicanor as a man who loved his compatriots and was very well thought of and for his goodwill was called the father of the Jews.

In former times, when there was no mingling with the Gentiles, he had been accused of Judaism, and he had most zealously risked body and life for Judaism.

Nicanor, wishing to exhibit the enmity he had for the Jews, sent more than five hundred soldiers to arrest him;

for he thought that by arresting him he would do them an injury.

When the troops were about to capture the tower and were forcing the door of the courtyard, they ordered that fire be brought and the doors burned. Being surrounded, Razis fell upon his own sword,

preferring to die nobly rather than to fall into the hands of sinners and suffer outrages unworthy of his noble birth.

But in the heat of the struggle he did not hit exactly, and the crowd was now rushing in through the doors. He courageously ran up on the wall, and bravely threw himself down into the crowd.

But as they quickly drew back, a space opened and he fell in the middle of the empty space.

Still alive and aflame with anger, he rose, and though his blood gushed forth and his wounds were severe he ran through the crowd; and standing upon a steep rock,

with his blood now completely drained from him, he tore out his entrails, took them in both hands and hurled them into the crowd, calling upon the Lord of life and spirit to give them back to him again. This was the manner of his death.

Ha! There are many funny bits in The Bible, but when I read this one, I had to stop reading for a while because I was laughing so hard. The dude tries to kill himself and misses. Then he falls for the old stage dive trick, landing flat on his face as the crowd parts. Then he does what everyone does when they've been humiliated in this manner: he tears out his intestines and throws them at the crowd. That'll teach 'em.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Dumb Letters: I'm Not Paying for That

I'm a bit behind on my Dumb Letters. Here's a missive to the NY Times from yesterday.

I have happily paid federal income taxes for 64 years. President Obama’s repeal of our current ban on embryonic stem cell research will force my tax money to be used for what I believe is murder.

As a Christian, and a Roman Catholic, I know that my beliefs are shared by a multitude of other Americans. We are appalled, angered and saddened to be powerless.

Elaine C. Murphy
Boynton Beach, Fla.

Ms. Murphy, I hope you're enjoying the feelings that I, a pacifist, have been feeling since the beginning of The Idiot's war in Iraq. I feel for you. Really, I do. But before I allow myself to commiserate too greatly, let me engage in a bit of Can You Top This?

About half of my tax dollars are currently going to the military. A fraction of a percent of your tax dollars -- so small you'll never miss it -- will be going to stem cell research. But don't worry. When you get Alzheimer's you won't remember any of it. Your soul will rest easy.

The money is being spent very efficiently though. The teeny tiny amount of money that's being spent on stem cell research is only going to "murder" those teeny tiny embryos that a) are barely visible to the naked eye and b) were going to be thrown out anyway.

On the other hand, the massive amount of money being spent on Iraq is going to murder hundreds of thousands of innocent sentient beings of all ages. Beings with histories, families and friends. As a Christian and Roman Catholic, how do you feel about that?

Cry me a river for your precious embryos.


On an entirely unrelated note, in yesterday's Washington Post, letter writer Walter Bardenwerper of Bethesda, MD says it all quite nicely.

Economics professor N. Gregory Mankiw of Harvard University derided President Obama's tax proposals as "one citizen" laying claim "to the wealth of his more productive neighbor".

What a generalization. Despite my own misgivings about the direction and timing of the president's tax plans, is it really so evident that a competent nurse is less "productive" than Citigroup's Charles Prince, who, it might be argued, helped to cripple that giant bank; that a dedicated police officer is less "productive" than former Merrill Lynch chief executive John Thain, whose $1.2 million expenditure of company money on renovating his office included $87,000 for a rug; and that an inspiring teacher is less "productive" than limousine liberal Tom Daschle, who failed to pay more than $100,000 in taxes?

I suspect that Mr. Mankiw would agree that it is our good fortune that not every citizen dedicates his or her productive energies principally to the pursuit of personal wealth. And while honest productivity does yield honest wealth in some professions, I doubt he would seriously contend that the accumulation of wealth necessarily denotes a more productive citizen.

Challenging the president's stated redistributionist intentions with a gross oversimplification conveys an arrogance reminiscent of the departed Bush administration and undermines a legitimate -- and necessary -- debate on future tax policy.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

PYSBRIoM: The Explainer

I love The Explainer. He/she/it takes an item from the news and poses a question that you didn't realize you wanted answered. Then, of course, they answer it.

You may have seen this amusing tidbit about a genius who decided to smuggle cocaine in his leg cast. That is, the cast was made out of cocaine. No, this is not a Cheech and Chong movie. It actually happened.

You may have expected The Explainer to teach you how to make your own cast out of the white stuff. You'd be wrong. He/she/it takes a serious, but far more interesting, left turn. Because the person's leg was actually broken and authorities are currently investigating whether that was by design, The Explainer helps you solve the vexing problem, "How would I go about breaking my own leg?"

Don't have lunch first.

P.S. I fibbed a little. At the end, they do tell you how to make the coke cast. Good luck with that.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I Hunker for the Bunker

Holy crap, this is hilarious.

When Stephen Colbert spun himself off of "The Daily Show", I was dubious. The show seemed unnecessary. And difficult to pull off. Jon Stewart can smirk at the news for a half-hour because he's Jon Stewart. But Colbert was playing a character. One who presumably does not believe the same things the "real" Stephen Colbert does.

It was a shaky start. I was unimpressed for the first few weeks, in which I often hung around only out of inertia after enjoying TDS. But after a month or so, they figured this thing out. The show is, in some ways, even better than its predecessor. My hat is now way off to Mr. Colbert, who may be this country's best political satirist.

Here's a great bit that he did recently lampooning Fox News wackadoo Glenn Beck. (It was also linked on Salon's War Room, which is the place from whence I nicked it.) I had a difficult time stifling my laughter while watching this at work.

The second one is the really funny one, but you need to watch the first one to get the context. Unless you're a fan of Glenn Beck. In which case, what the hell are you doing here?

(I was trying to embed these, but I was getting some errors, so you'll have to follow the links. Or just go to Salon and watch them.)

The First One

The Second One

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Dumb Letters: And Yet More Bad Economics from Scary McStupid

Geez, they're really pushing this one. Here's one from the Boston Globe, responding to a columnist's suggestion that Massachusetts, which has a flat income tax, might try >gasp< progressive taxation.

TOM COSGROVE advocates changing our state constitution so that those who make at least $250,000 could be taxed a little more in tough times. He writes, "The constitution currently mandates that the state tax all citizens, regardless of income, at the same rate," and argues that progressive taxation is "the fairest way to distribute the tax burden." Since the wealthiest are a quiet minority, they are being discriminated against. We can call it wealth redistribution, or proclaim it is fair, but at its core it is discrimination. What would happen if we proposed a higher tax for women, or blacks, or gays? The outcry would be enormous. Just because someone makes more money doesn't mean they should pay more than those who don't. Do they drive more on the roads or use the educational system more?

The wealthy minority who are being targeted by President Obama's proposed budget are being treated unfairly. There will be a backlash. Charitable spending, entrepreneurialism, and small-business hiring will be affected.

Call these moves that Cosgrove wants for the state and the president wants to implement for the country what they are: discrimination in its purest form.

Kevin A. Richardson II

This has more holes in it than Dunkin' Donuts at 6AM. I almost don't even want to say anything and just let this one stew in its own stupidity without comment. Alas, I cannot. I do it for you, dear reader. And for me. I need to vent.

"What would happen if we proposed a higher tax for women, or blacks, or gays?" How mind-boggling is it that this jerk is comparing progressive taxation to a civil rights violation? Oh no! The poor rich! Who are...A MINORITY! Woe unto them and the horrible unfair burden of paying a bit more to keep their state functioning at a barely acceptable level for those lousy free-loaders.

"Just because someone makes more money doesn't mean they should pay more than those who don't." Um, yes it does. Blood from a stone and all that. "Do they drive more on the roads or use the educational system more?" By this logic, even a flat tax is unfair. Everyone should pay the same amount in total, rather than a percentage of their income. Is that what this meathead is arguing? Everyone drop your $50 in the bucket and we'll call it a year.

"There will be a backlash." Ah, yes. Just like in yesterday's letter. The rich will rise up and take their country back. By not hiring people. Listen, nobody hires anyone out of altruism. They do it to make more money. Except maybe the person who wrote yesterday's letter, who seems to have some other issues. If you have a need, you will hire someone. Your tax burden has virtually no effect on that. And the charitable giving that you won't be doing? Unnecessary if we just give it straight to those people in the first place. So go ahead and shoot that hostage.

"Call these moves that Cosgrove wants for the state and the president wants to implement for the country what they are: discrimination in its purest form." Maybe not its purest form, but it is discrimination of a sort. The good kind. Discrimination isn't always a bad word. "Hey, why are only criminals being put into jail? That's discrimination!" "Why are only really talented people allowed to play left field for the Red Sox? That's discrimination!" "Why am I not allowed to have sex with Kevin A. Richardson II's wife and daughter(s)? That's discrimination!"

Ha! How fanciful my hyberbolic examples are. In reality, I would never have sex with anyone who would marry a creep like this.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Dumb Letters: Reaganomics Redux

Here's a pre-translation of the following letter from the LA Times: "I'm a selfish fucking bastard."

I'll take this one piecemeal.
I have employed about 50 people during the last 20 years, and my
family's taxable income is about $300,000. In order to avoid paying a higher percentage of taxes on all of my income, I will decrease output, lay off some staff and still end up keeping the same amount.

Wait a minute. If you're keeping the same amount either way, why on earth would you lay people off? You're saying that if it's all the same to you financially that you'd rather see someone else lose their job than to have more money go to the government in the form of taxes? This may be the most offensive thing I've heard in quite some time.

This person should not be employing anybody. She's like a child who grabs a toy that she doesn't want just to keep another child from having it. And then hits the other child in the head with it. I hope the person who gets laid off robs their former employer's house. And the cops don't come because they had no tax funding.

I have no incentive to hire people or expand my business, because the more I make, the more President Obama will take to expand government. This discourages expansion of the private sector. It will backfire with disastrous consequences for all.

Really? No incentive? None? This is one of the most tired arguments I've ever heard. It is a rare person caught between two tax brackets that will actually lose money by making a bit more money. If you're one of those people, then you do have an incentive to make more money: make more money. If you currently make (and I'm just making numbers up here, for the sake of argument) $300,000 and are taxed at x% but will be taxed at x+(x*0.10)% if you make $350,000, then your incentive is to make $400,000. And don't you want to make $500,000? More really is more, in almost all cases. The idea that higher taxation discourages expansion of the private sector is plain and utter bullshit. Yes, the more you make, the more you will pay in tax. But the more you make, the more you keep for yourself as well.

Oh, and I love how it's about Obama "taking" her money to "expand government". Everyone already gets taxed. The only question is how much. This is nothing new. The supposedly "disastrous" consequences of progressive taxation have never materialized. Ever.

It is repulsive that Obama is being allowed to take this country backward by pickpocketing the very people who run the private sector through their energy, money and creativity.

Kay Santos
Diamond Bar

It is repulsive that a cheap, manipulative dirtbag like yourself is in a position of power over anybody. If there were a tax on being an asshole, you'd be flat broke right now.

The whole idea that people like this are somehow being stolen from is laughable. This person admitted upfront that she would take a job away from someone out of spite, even if she gained no financial benefit from it. And we're supposed to feel bad for her? Fuck you.

Obama is indeed taking us backward. And not nearly fast enough. To a time when Reaganite prevarications like the letter writer's were routinely discredited. To a time when progressive taxation was the norm and we had a pretty robust economy, thank you very much. If this person doesn't like it I won't lose any sleep over it. But at least the person who gets fired by her will have better unemployment benefits.