Sunday, October 31, 2010

Let's Go To Suriname! (One Way Or Another)

I'm going to be handing out candy today for Halloween, so not much time to put something together. So, as is our custom, we turn to YouTube.

If you've got 26 minutes and change on your hands, Journeyman Pictures in 2005 put together this piece on the descendants of African slaves who were taken to Suriname, the middle of those three teeny countries that sit on top of Brazil, and escaped into the Amazon. The descendants were, and continue to be, under threat of their land being taken for development (boy, does that sound familiar to American ears, particularly with Thanksgiving on the way). I'd embed it, but they don't want to be embedded. You'll just have to give them the click.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Consuming, Imbibing, and Engaging In Amusement

First off, it's Rally to Restore Sanity Day. It's going on right now, in fact. Go, be fruitful and propagate the mindset.

But I would advise you to be careful before you eat, drink and be merry. Surely, you have heard of the phrase. I'm not so sure you know its origin or, more importantly, its context. So, today, let's take care of that.

The phrase 'eat, drink and be merry' comes from the Bible, first off. Bible-wise, that doesn't say much all by itself. There are a lot of different anecdotes that eating, drinking and being merry could be plugged into. The Last Supper. The Garden of Eden. Samson living it up.

In actuality, "Eat, drink and be merry" pops up twice. The first comes in Ecclesiastes 8:15. As the King James version puts it, "Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry: for that shall abide with him of his labor the days of his life, which God giveth him under the sun." Sounds pretty close to what everyone imagines it to be, right?

Let's fill in the surrounding verses, 11-17. This we'll use New International for, even though it changes the key phrase, because it's much, much easier to make out; King James is a tad on the archaic side.

When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong. Although a wicked man commits a hundred crimes and still lives a long time, I know that it will go better with God-fearing men, who are reverent before God. Yet because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them, and their days will not lengthen like a shadow.

There is something else meaningless that occurs on earth: righteous men who get what the wicked deserve, and wicked men who get what the righteous deserve. This too, I say, is meaningless. So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.

When I applied my mind to know wisdom and to observe man's labor on earth—his eyes not seeing sleep day or night- then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it.

What you see here, in the entire chapter, is King Solomon recognizing the limits of wisdom. Sometimes life just doesn't make any sense, sometimes the bad guys win and you don't know why, and sometimes you're just not going to understand it. And if you spend too much time trying, you're going to drive yourself nuts, so you might as well lighten up once in a while.

Again, pretty much by the book.

I said there was a second place it popped up, though. Luke 12:19. The King James original: "And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry."

Still about how one would imagine it. This time, though, context hits like a ton of bricks. It's part of Jesus' Parable of the Rich Fool. Switching back to New International, which this time keeps the key phrase, for verses 13-21.

Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

And he told them this parable: "The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'

"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."'

"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'

"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God."

Jesus is railing against fuigmism. The message: Eat, drink, be merry... but make sure you let those around you join in. You can really only get a certain amount of merry from having a lot of stuff, and you can really only eat and drink so much. Be nice. Spread it around. Others would like to be merry too.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Random News Generator- Kenya

Recently, Transparency International released their Corruption Perceptions Index, something they've done annually since 1995. It is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin: every country they can get enough information on- 178 of them in this case- is given a score between 0 and 10, 10 being best.

The least corrupt nations on Earth, according to their methodology, are Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore, which all garnered a 9.3. Somalia is most corrupt, at 1.1, followed by Afghanistan and Myanmar, each scoring 1.4.

Tied for 154th, at 2.1, along with Cambodia, the Central African Republic, Comoros, Congo-Brazzaville, Guinea-Bissau, Laos, Papua New Guinea, Russia and Tajikistan, is today's stop on the Random News Generator, Kenya.

It doesn't say why exactly, for them or anyone else, but one would think a country where anti-corruption official Suru Tanna was just shot by "three men who stole a mobile phone and a jacket" is not likely to score very highly.

There have been efforts to stem the tide of corruption, but it's a hard slog. Some officials have gone to trial, only for technicalities to gum up the works. One of those set to stand trial, Minister for Higher Education William Ruto, faces charges of an illegal land deal to the Kenya Pipeline Corporation. Another, Foreign Minister Moses Wetang'ula, has been forced out over the buying and selling of foreign embassies. In addition, the mayor of Nairobi, Geophrey Majiwa, faces charges over the purchase of land for a cemetary; that news is just breaking.

That's not all. Not even close. Bribes have been handed out to military recruits. Bribes have been handed to police by the public as a prerequisite for doing their jobs. Fraud is being investigated at the Kenya Planters Cooperative Union, which accuses the investigating committee of attempting to "kill" it. The Immigration Ministry is under scrutiny for how it handles routine matters such as birth and death registration. The healthcare system makes America's look well-run and ethical. The national soccer federation caused FIFA to briefly suspend Kenya in 2004 from international competition. And it should go without saying that a 2008 election had its share of corruption, as well as violence.

At some point, all one can do is laugh at it all.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Election 2010: The Aftermath: The Preview

By now, you are in all likelihood sick of the election. It happens to pretty much everybody, me included, in just about every election cycle. The ads get too negative and too outrageous, they come too thick, too fast, they all just blur together after a while and you just want Tuesday to hurry up and get here already. I remember one time, when I was working the phones in 2004 for John Kerry, that some woman that got called (not by me, but someone in the same campaign outpost while I was present) said that she was adding up all the times she was called by Kerry, and all the times she was called by Bush, and then voting for whoever called her the least. True story.

Bad news on that: after the election, you don't get to cool down. In fact, the transition period can be the most critical of all in an incoming Congressperson's career. They can torpedo every principle they have before they're even sworn in.

Before we get to that, though, a note on what happens to the losers during this period; the incumbents that have been voted out. They get packed off and sent to the basement.

No, really. When you lose your seat in Congress, your big office that you've gotten used to goes away. You and your staff are transferred to the "transitional suite", which is a nice way of saying that you're shoved into a 5x5 cubicle in the basement of the Rayburn House Office Building with "little more than a tiny desk, a laptop, a phone, and a box of Kleenex." It is every bit as humiliating as it sounds. Re-elected members of Congress need to decide whether to move operations into a more convenient space, and incoming members of Congress need an office, period, having originally been given the "transitional suite" themselves. And someone needs your office. Which means YOU can't have it anymore. Your last two months are primarily spent trying to find jobs for your staff, who will also be out of office.

That out of the way, on to the winners. The incoming freshmen. Why do you need to pay attention to them immediately?

Because somebody has to help save the morally weak from themselves. You see, prior to being sworn in, they are not members of Congress (the official terminology). Not technically. They are members-elect. There's a big difference. Members are subject to gift-giving ethics laws. Members-elect, not being members, are not.

And the lobbyists- oh so many lobbyists- know this. They can sniff out a member-elect, give them a mansion, a yacht and a diamond-studded alligator and it's perfectly legal. Unethical as hell, but legal. Needless to say, this is done with as many members-elect as they can get their hands on.

During the transition period, Congressional officials administer "Freshmen Orientation. Here, they supply the freshmen with instruction on everything under the sun they might want or need to know about staffing, office design, perks, responsibilities, ethics, rules, legislation, constituent correspondence, where the bathroom is, everything. It's at about this point that a lot of the freshmen first start to wonder what the hell they've just signed up for. "Deer-in-the-headlights" expressions are common. Utter bewilderment. And remember, they haven't even done anything yet. Some of them are still attempting to find housing. Some end up sleeping in cots in their office; those that do are generally embarrassed to admit it. Jason Chaffetz of Utah will freely say it, but he's the exception.

This is something that a lobbyist with the proper connections can quite easily remedy. Of course, the lobbyist will then have easy access to the member-elect any time they're inside-- which is, of course, behind closed doors. That, obviously, is the point. The lobbyist isn't offering housing out of the goodness of their heart.

And remember, the member-elect only has two months before they're bound by gift-giving laws and have to turn it down. And they're in a giant hurry to get all their other affairs settled besides. The weaker-willed can wilt under the pressure.

And, of course, nothing says the lobbyists have to wait for someone to actually be elected to start trying to get to somebody. (They simply choose not to much of the time; they don't want to anger the incumbent, who they already have a relationship with, should he win re-election.) Nothing says the lobbyists can't make their own runs for office, either.

This is where you come in. The tendency to fund incumbents makes your task of finding the weaker-willed challengers difficult, but it can be done. Weak wills can be sniffed out. You're not necessarily looking for someone unsure of themselves. Minds can be changed given new experiences and new information. That's fine. That's human. In fact, when you get down to it, that's the way lobbying is supposed to work.

It's a little more complicated than that. There are no shortage of people out there that will tell you how to build up your willpower. But, of course, there has to be a weakness first. If you see someone changing their mind five times a week, that's a red flag. Changing one's mind is natural, but at some point there has to be a limit. If they're coming into Congress with barely any convictions at all, there are people that will be glad to give them some.

But that's the direct approach. That's looking for the weak will itself. Subtler red flags- the ones that tend to get addressed by all the willpower-building programs- often include:

*A generally negative attitude towards life, inferred by tips instructing one to improve said outlook.
*Bad habits, inferred by tips to exercise self-control. Smoking, excessive drinking, obesity, etc.
*Lack of perserverance.
*Procrastination, inferred directly here.
*The inability to say no.

That last one is the most important. After all, if they can't say no to anyone else, how are they going to say no to a lobbyist? How are they going to say no under pressure?

It's on you to make sure they can.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Things That Aren't Cool

Head-stomping opposition political supporters.

This should not even need elaborating on. For God's sake, people, American History X is not a campaign strategy guide. And if you think it is, you need to take a step back and seriously think about what the fuck can of worms you're opening. Get a damn grip. You may have your differences, you may think the other guy's out to screw you over, but is it really worth stomping on his goddamn head?!

Monday, October 25, 2010

What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Back in June, as you will surely recall, as part of an article on taxes, I mentioned that Timor-Leste has the world's highest taxes as a percentage of GDP, and by a wide margin at that. You will also recall that the high tax revenue came from oil projects in the Timor Sea.

Or at least, I hope you recalled that, because Transocean, the contractor behind the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that caused the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, sure did. Timor-Leste has contracted them for drilling projects off their coast, despite their own spill last year.

There's another reason Transocean likely picked Timor-Leste. According to the last paragraph of the linked article, "The capacity of East Timor to supervise these activities appears to be negligible." So that'll be fun.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Real Dollar Menu

Found this off the Facebook page of Nari Kye, producer of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations.

Jonathan Blaustein of Taos, New Mexico went to McDonald's and saw a cheeseburger on the Dollar Menu. He also saw a double cheeseburger on the Dollar Menu, which to him didn't make a whole lot of sense, because you would think another patty and another piece of cheese would make the burger more expensive.

It led him to wonder what, exactly, a dollar gets you in terms of food (at least as far as northern New Mexico is concerned), and photograph it for posterity. And he does mean exactly: he set out to photograph food in its "most realistic" form. No packaging, no preparation beyond how the food was received by him. When he took a picture of shrimp-flavored ramen noodles, you see a pile of flavoring powder and, just to the right, seven boxy wads of uncooked noodles stacked on top of each other.

This is what he came up with.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Almost President McCormack

A new book is out, The Kennedy Detail by Gerald Blaine, a former Secret Service agent assigned to protect Lyndon Johnson in the wake of the Kennedy assassination.

According to Blaine, he damn near shot Johnson by accident. It was the middle of the next night, Blaine was on edge like the rest of the country, he saw an unknown figure come up to him, trained his gun on it, and at the very last second, he realized it was Johnson.

Had he pulled the trigger, John W. McCormack of Massachusetts, the Speaker of the House at the time, would have become President. The point is moot now, but I think we can all agree, speculation is fun.

So who was John W. McCormack?

We've got plenty of info on that; he was a House lifer, serving for 43 years from 1928-71, and serving as Speaker from 1962 until the end. His grandparents arrived in America in the wake of the Irish potato famine. He passed the bar at age 21, served in World War 1 from 1917-1918, and upon service's end, started working his way up through the political ranks.

In his pre-Speaker days, McCormack could have fit in today with no problem whatsoever. Sam Rayburn, the previous Speaker, tapped him in 1940 as the Democratic second-in-command, and he settled into a few decades worth of lobbing partisan verbal attacks, which would hurt him later on when he became Speaker. He mellowed out at that point, but he'd never really learned how to work with people, which cost him votes a stronger negotiator might have gotten, even within his own party- when he came in as Speaker, he was having to deal with a new generation of younger politicans, and he was part of the older generation they were trying to take control from.

Not that the agenda suffered much for it. He was Speaker for Johnson's Great Society- the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the abolition of national-origin quotas for immigration, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Head Start, the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, the Office of Economic Opportunity, Volunteers in Service to America, food stamps, PBS, NPR, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Truth-in-Lending Act of 1968, the Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1964, the National Trails System, the National Wilderness Preservation System, the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the creation of the Endangered Species List, the Freedom of Information Act, the Higher Education Act, the Highway Beautification Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the establishment of Amtrak, the abolition of a post office monopoly, OSHA, the Clean Air Act... all of that passed through McCormack's House.

He was not, though, the key figure in actually getting much of it passed. That fell to the younger generation, who would eventually succeed in pushing him out. One of the actual key players, Carl Albert of Oklahoma, would succeed McCormack as Speaker.

McCormack did oversee a gigantic amount of progress in America, but it came despite him, not because of him. He had a 258-177 House majority when he took over, along with a 66-34 edge in the Senate. A potted plant could have passed whatever it wanted.

Would McCormack have done better than Johnson? Probably not. For more reasons than the obvious, be glad Blaine held his fire.

Friday, October 22, 2010

It Got Worse, Somehow

Just when you thought Haiti had suffered enough with the gigantic earthquake shaking half the country to rubble including the presidential palace and the vast majority of the foreign aid promised it- which wouldn't be nearly enough anyway- never actually getting there because of various political pissing matches, all this coming after the country was exploited and attacked and occupied by Columbus-era Spain (warning: graphic descriptions), Napoleon-era France, Wilson-era America, and two domestic dictators, suffering slavery, smallpox, poverty and death and misery all around...

...yeah, now there's a cholera outbreak too.

They would like some money that ISN'T tied up in political gamesmanship, and they do really still need it, so go here, or here, or maybe here, and see if there's anything you can scrounge up. A buck or two, even. The little $1, $2 donations do add up.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What A Pair Of Dicks

Half the time, it seems, when I click on the 'random article' button at Wikipedia, I land on a soccer player, a chemical arrangement of some sort, some animal I've never heard of, a city somewhere in probably eastern Europe, or the exploits of a garage band. A local radio station, WLUM, FM 102.1 in Milwaukee, uses the button for a trivia contest they call 'Wikipedia Roulette', and they seem to have little better luck.

Today, I had a bit of writer's block- my mind's still pretty foggy from the cold- but I have several ways I can combat writer's block around here. I can run the Random News Generator. I can dig through my bookshelf for a factoid I can expand upon here. I can scan a couple news aggregators and see if anything pops out at me. Or, in this case, I can play Wikipedia Roulette a couple times and hope I get lucky.

I got lucky.

Dick Tuck was a political operative from the 1960's, whose primary rival was Richard Nixon. Now, when you hear 'political operative' these days, it's usually in the vein of voter fraud, intimidation, lying without shame, and buying races. Tuck, while a man who liked playing dirty, didn't like to play quite THAT dirty.

Tuck was a live-action Bugs Bunny.

Tuck and Nixon first met in a 1950 California Senate race, where Nixon was running against Helen Gagahan Douglas, for whose campaign Tuck was working. Nixon was running the kind of campaign that Richard Nixon ran, and Tuck decided to give Nixon a taste of his own medicine, by getting onto Nixon's campaign staff and operating as a mole.

Thus was borne the first prank Tuck played on Nixon: his organization of a rally at UC Santa Barbara. One thing you don't want to see at a rally is any empty seats. Whatever place you book for your rally, you want to fill it. Tuck booked the biggest place he could get- a 4,000-seat auditorium- and very lightly advertised it for a day when most of the students were in class and almost nobody would show up even if they wanted to. 40 people ended up at the rally.

Tuck wasn't done yet. He was to introduce Nixon, and in doing so, made a long, rambling speech making frequent references to a previous campaign in which Nixon had done a lot of Nixon-style red-bashing. Then, finally, he introduced Nixon, so that he could speak about the International Monetary Fund.

What was Nixon planning to speak about? Not the International Monetary Fund.

And thus began a long career of one man's slow descent into paranoia, and the man who helped him along that descent as quickly as possible:

1956: Nixon was running for re-election as Eisenhower's vice president, with the Republican National Convention that year being in San Francisco. Tuck noticed that the normal route that the local garbage trucks took headed past the convention. So he had signs put on the trucks saying 'Dump Nixon'.

1960: Nixon was running for President against John F. Kennedy. The day after their legendary first-ever-televised debate, Tuck hired an old woman to meet Nixon as he was getting off his plane. The woman kissed Nixon on the cheek and said "That's all right, Mr. Nixon. He beat you last night, but you'll get him next time."

1960: Tuck informed rally bandleaders that Nixon's favorite song was 'Mack The Knife', a song about a conman.

1960: Tuck posed as a fire marshal to lowball Nixon rally attendance estimates to the media.

1960: There is an alleged story about Tuck posing as a train conductor with Nixon standing on the back of one for a whistle-stop rally, and ordering the train to pull away while Nixon was speaking. Tuck, however, denies it. He says he did grab a conductor's hat, he did give a signal to the engineer, but the train didn't move.

1962: Nixon was running for governor of California, and visiting Los Angeles' Chinatown. Tuck had a sign written in Chinese that said 'Welcome Nixon' on the top, and 'What about the Hughes loan?' on the bottom- this a reference to a controversial loan Howard Hughes had made to Nixon's brother. Nixon, not knowing Chinese yet, originally waved and campaigned it up, until he was informed of what the sign said, at which point he grabbed the sign and tore it up. (The sign actually read 'huge loan', not 'Hughes loan', but it did the trick either way.)

1964: Tuck made his own run for California state senate, on the slogan "The job needs Tuck, and Tuck needs the job". Nixon came in, endorsing Tuck's opponent, and Tuck challenged Nixon to a debate, promising not to shave- a reference to Nixon's unshaven appearance at his debate with Kennedy.

1966: Tuck, having lost in 1964, tried again. Nixon offered to campaign for him.

1966: Tuck designed his campaign billboards with a small 'Dick' on top and a big 'Tuck' on the bottom. On election eve, he went around defacing his own billboards, converting the T in Tuck into an F, hoping to get a sympathy vote from people who would think his opponent did it. It didn't work; he came in 3rd in a field of 8. As he watched the loss unfold, Tuck stated, "The people have spoken, the bastards."

1968: Nixon was running for President again. Tuck hired some very pregnant women to walk around at rallies in shirts bearing Nixon's slogan, "Nixon's The One".

1968: Nixon was by this point afraid enough of Tuck that he starts sabotaging himself. Buttons printed in Chinese, Greek and Italian showed up prepped for rallies in New York. Nixon ordered them destroyed just in case Tuck had done something to them. Tuck had not.

1972: Tuck, hampered by a George McGovern candidacy uninterested in pranks, was running on fumes. But Nixon, now President, didn't know it, and wanted a Tuck-like campaign of his own. He went out and got Donald Segretti. Segretti, though, was no Tuck. Segretti was not Bugs Bunny. Segretti was Kira from Death Note. All he could do was forge letters to look like the opposition was engaging in sexual and racist behavior. Tuck, for all his faults, had a bit of whimsy going in his pranks. Segretti didn't have that.

During Watergate, H.R. Haldeman told Tuck, "You started all of this." Tuck replied, "Yeah, Bob, but you guys ran it into the ground."

And they did. Many have tried to emulate Tuck since. Nobody, however, has gotten the style down, degenerating into a mean-spirited slamfest.

Tuck will tell you himself.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

French-Canadian Bean Soup

I got a cold. I'm lightheaded, I'm loopy.

But at least I'm not dying, and at least I'm not as loopy as Dutch Schultz.

Schultz was a New York mobster during Prohibition and former Public Enemy #1 (the precursor to today's Ten Most Wanted list). Schultz was, in fact, the Public Enemy #1 that replaced John Dillinger. On October 23, 1935, he and three associates were gunned down in a hit job carried out by Charlie 'The Bug' Workman, Emanuel Weiss, and a man known only as 'Piggy'. However, Schultz remained alive long enough for police (who thought he'd be fine) to show up, get him to a hospital, and maybe, they hoped, find out who shot him.

Bad luck on that. Schultz was in fact in intense, mortal pain, with a fever of 106, and on painkillers. In addition, the bullets were coated with rust, so as to give him blood poisoning just in case he didn't die right away. He was in no condition to talk.

Not that he didn't try...

Schultz: Has it been in any other papers? George, don't make no full moves. What have you done with him? Oh, mama, mama, mama. Oh stop it, stop it; eh, oh, oh. Sure, sure, mama.
Now listen, Phil, fun is fun. Ah please, papa. What happened to the sixteen? Oh, oh, he done it, please. John, please, oh, did you buy the hotel? You promised a million sure. Get out. I wished I knew.
Please make it quick, fast and furious. Please. Fast and furious. Please help me get out; I am getting my wind back, thank God. Please, please, oh please. You will have to please tell him, you got no case.
You get ahead with the dot dash system didn't I speak that time last night. Whose number is that in your pocket book, Phi1 13780. Who was it? Oh- please, please. Reserve decision. Police, police, Henry and Frankie. Oh, oh, dog biscuits and when he is happy he doesn't get happy please, please to do this. Then Henry, Henry, Frankie you didn't even meet me. The glove will fit what I say oh, Kayiyi, oh Kayiyi. Sure who cares when you are through? How do you know this? How do you know this? Well, then oh, Cocoa know thinks he is a grandpa again. He is jumping around. No Hobo and Poboe I think he means the same thing.

Sergeant Luke Conlon: Who shot you?

Schultz: The boss himself.

Conlon: He did?

Schultz: Yes, I don't know.

Conlon: What did he shoot you for?

Schultz: I showed him boss; did you hear him meet me? An appointment. Appeal stuck. All right, mother.

Conlon: Was it the boss shot you?

Schultz: Who shot me? No one.

Conlon: We will help you.

Schultz: Will you help me up? O.K. I won't be such a big creep. Oh, mama. I can't go through with it, please. Oh, and then he clips me; come on. Cut that out, we don't owe a nickel; hold it; instead, hold it against him; I am a pretty good pretzler -Winifred- Department of Justice. I even got it from the department. Sir, please stop it. Say listen the last night!

Conlon: Don't holler.

Schultz: I don't want to holler.

Conlon: What did they shoot you for?

Schultz: I don't know, sir. Honestly I don't. I don't even know who was with me, honestly. I was in the toilet and when I reached the -the boy came at me.

Conlon: The big fellow gave it to you?

Schultz: Yes, he gave it to me.

Conlon: Do you know who this big fellow was?

Schultz: No. If he wanted to break the ring no, please I get a month. They did it. Come on. (A name, not clear) cut me off and says you are not to be the beneficiary of this will. Is that right? I will be checked and double-checked and please pull for me. Will you pull? How many good ones and how many bad ones? Please I had nothing with him he was a cowboy in one of the seven days a week fight. No business; no hangout; no friends; nothing; just what you pick up and what you need. I don't know who shot me. Don't put anyone near this check~ you might have -please do it for me. Let me get up. heh? In the olden days they waited and they waited. Please give me a shot. It is from the factory. Sure, that is a bad. Well, oh good ahead that happens for trying. I don't want harmony. I want harmony. Oh, mamma, mamma! Who give it to him? Who give it to him? Let me in the district -fire-factory that he was nowhere near. It smoldered No, no. There are only ten of us and there ten million fighting somewhere of you, so get your onions up and we will throw up the truce flag. Oh, please let me up. Please shift me. Police are here. Communistic...strike...baloney...honestly this is a habit I get; sometimes I give it and sometimes I don't. Oh, I am all in. That settles it. Are you sure? Please let me get in and eat. Let him harass himself to you and then bother you. Please don't ask me to go there. I don't want to. I still don't want him in the path. It is no use to stage a riot. The sidewalk was in trouble and the bears were in trouble and I broke it up. Please put me in that room. Please keep him in control. My gilt edged stuff and those dirty rats have tuned in. Please mother, don't tear, don't rip; that is something that shouldn't be spoken about. Please get me up, my friends. Please, look out. The shooting is a bit wild, and that kind of shooting saved a man's life. No payrolls. No wells. No coupons. That would be entirely out. Pardon me, I forgot I am plaintiff and not defendant. Look out. Look out for him. Please. He owed me money; he owes everyone money. Why can't he just pullout and give me control? Please, mother, you pick me up now. Please, you know me. No. Don't you scare me. My friends and I think I do a better job. Police are looking for you allover. Be instrumental in letting us know. They are English-men and they are a type I don't know who is best, they or us. Oh, sir, get the doll a roofing. You can play jacks and girls do that with a soft ball and do tricks with it. I take all events into consideration. No. No. And it is no. It is confused and its says no. A boy has never wept nor dashed a thousand kim. Did you hear me?

Unnamed detective: Who shot you?

Schultz: I don't know.

Detective: How many shots were fired?

Schultz: I don't know.

Detective: How many?

Schultz: Two thousand. Come one, get some money in that treasury. We need it. Come on, please get it. I can't tell you to. That is not what you have in the book. Oh, please warden. What am I going to do for money? Please put me up on my feet at once. You are a hard boiled man. Did you hear me? I would hear it, the Circuit Court would hear it, and the Supreme Court might hear it. If that ain't the pay-off. Please crack down on the Chinaman's friends and Hitler's commander. I am sore and I am going up and I am going to give you honey if I can. Mother is the best bet and don't let Satan draw you too fast.

Detective: What did the big fellow shoot you for?

Schultz: Him? John? Over a million, five million dollars.

Detective: You want to get well, don't you?

Schultz: Yes.

Detective: Then lie quiet.

Schultz: Yes, I will lie quiet.

Detective: John shot and we will take care of John.

Schultz: That is what caused the trouble. Look out. Please let me up. If you do this, you can go on and jump right here in the lake. I know who they are. They are French people. All right. Look out, look out. Oh, my memory is gone. A work relief police. Who gets it? I don't know and I don't want to know, but look out. It can be traced. He changed for the worse. Please look out; my fortunes have changed and come back and went back since that. It was desperate. I am wobbly. You ain't got nothing on him but you got it on his helper.

Detective: Control yourself.

Schultz: But I am dying.

Detective: No, you are not.

Schultz: Come on, mama. All right, dear, you have to get it.

(Frances Schultz, Dutch's wife, shows up at his bedside.)

Frances: This is Frances.

Dutch: Then pull me out. I am half crazy. They won't let me get up. They dyed my shoes. Open those shoes. Give me something. I am so sick. Give me some water, the only thing that I want. Open this up and break it so I can touch you. Danny, please get me in the car.

(With these words of wisdom imparted, Frances leaves.)

Conlon: Who shot you?

Schultz: I don't know. I didn't even get a look. I don't know who can have done it. Anybody. Kindly take my shoes off. (He was told that they were off.) No. There is a handcuff on them. The Baron says these things. I know what I am doing here with my collection of papers. It isn't worth a nickel to two guys like you or me but to a collector it is worth a fortune. It is priceless. I am going to turn it over to... Turn you back to me, please Henry. I am so sick now. The police are getting many complaints. Look out. I want that G-note. Look out for Jimmy Valentine for he is an old pal of mine. Come on, come on, Jim. Ok, ok, I am all through. Can't do another thing. Look out mamma, look out for her. You can't beat him. Police, mamma, Helen, mother, please take me out. I will settle the indictment. Come on, open the soap duckets. The chimney sweeps. Talk to the sword. Shut up, you got a big mouth! Please help me up, Henry. Max, come over here. French-Canadian bean soup. I want to pay. Let them leave me alone.

Schultz died two hours later without another word.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Look At All The Colors In The Milk, Man

Science time. And the kids can try this at home. Go grab a dish, and put enough milk in it to coat the entire bottom. Don't use skim milk; you want the fat in there for this. Grab some food coloring, and put a drop or two of each of the four main colors- red, blue, green, yellow- in the dish. Wherever you want to put them is fine.

Now, once you've done that, get a Q-Tip, dip it in dish detergent, and dip the Q-Tip in the dish.

Or, even better, just add the detergent directly.

No drinking the milk afterward. You added detergent to it, you sick puppy. Ew.

Here's what's going on, according to, because they explain it better than I can:

When you introduce detergent to the milk, several things happen at once. The detergent lowers the surface tension of the liquid so that the food coloring is free to flow throughout the milk. The detergent reacts with the protein in the milk, altering the shape of those molecules and setting them in motion. The reaction between the detergent and the fat forms micelles, which is how detergent helps to lift grease off of dirty dishes. As the micelles form, the pigments in the food coloring get pushed around. Eventually equilibrium is reached, but the swirling of the colors continues for quite a while before stopping.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Alpha Dog of the Week

Stephen Colbert is off this week prepping for a week of shows in DC and what is now the Rally To Restore Sanity And/Or Fear. So I shall pick up the slack for him today, which means I must declare an Alpha Dog of the Week.


My Alpha Dog of the Week is Jessica Simpson's dad, Joe Simpson.


Jessica is going to be doing a Christmas special, or, more accurately, she did it on Thursday and it will be shown on Christmas. A vocal group of veterans, 4Troops, was set to appear alongside Jessica in the special, who stated over and over on stage how much she supports the troops.

Joe, however, decided to cut their number from the program. According to Page Six, he didn't like the fact that they were in camo pants in blazers- the same dress as they were in when they did a routine on the USS Intrepid- as opposed to tuxedos. They spent six hours in a basement before being told this, while Jessica, who according to her representatives had just returned from a tour of the Persian Gulf, her inspiration for the special in the first place- appears to have been oblivious to what was going on.

Joe deemed the veterans "too scruffy".

Well, that takes some balls right there, Joe, keeping your daughter in the dark and then kicking out a major part of the reason anyone's on stage that day. So what if they're veterans? They spent a year or more in Iraq and Afghanistan getting shot at so you don't have to; what's six hours in a New York basement not getting shot at? They even have all the amenities down there, up to and including nothing that will randomly explode. It may have been appropriate dress for David Petraeus, but you're in the civilization you've been protecting now. We have standards.

Besides, what singer dresses in fatigues? know, besides 50 Cent. And Rihanna,a resident of Barbados. And Elvis. And the star of the movie Private Valentine, Jessica Simpson.

In fact, for helping to save a support-the-troops Christmas special from any actual troops, I say the military should probably get Joe Simpson, my Alpha Dog of the Week, a Christmas gift.

Head down to West Virginia, and seize all the coal.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

History's Most Rapidly Expanding Funeral

Let's say that you had the chance to watch any one funeral in history. Likely, most people made that offer, after they stop wondering what the hell kind of offer is that, would probably take someone of religious importance.

Nobody, if they were smart, would pick Genghis Khan's. (Yeah, you see, there was a point to that opening.)

Genghis died in 1227 outside Mongolia, and wanted to be buried there. That narrows it down very little, as this was Genghis Khan's Mongolia, which as you know was absolutely ginormous, reaching out as far as northeastern Iran. He also wished to be buried in an unmarked grave, which was preselected and preprepared. However, he was considered a god, so a lot of people wanted to pay their respects. But you didn't want the place looted, and there was reportedly a lot to loot, including, among other things, the crowns of each of the 78 rulers Khan had toppled.

How about they just kill everybody?

About 2,500 slaves were in the funeral procession, alongside 400 soldiers. As the legend goes:

*Anyone or anything that just so happened to be in the path of the funeral procession was killed.
*The funeral itself saw 40 virgins killed as sacrifices to allow Genghis company in the afterlife.
*40 horses were also killed, presumably in case there was something to conquer there. Virgins and horses were tossed into the tomb.
*At the close of the funeral, all 2,500 slaves were killed by the soldiers.
*When the soldiers returned from the funeral, they were killed.

So now nobody knows where the tomb is. To this day, nobody's found it, and only in recent years have archaeologists begun to THINK that they MIGHT be in the NEIGHBORHOOD, and attempts to locate it are frequently frustrated by locals who would prefer the tomb not be disturbed on fear that it would damage the soul within. Efforts are frustrated further by the rumors that a river was diverted over the gravesite, or possibly a forest created and grown on top of it.

Well, maybe not nobody. One baby camel did survive, so that Genghis' family could be led to the site. How would the camel know? They killed its mother. But even then, the family would have to be blindfolded, because if they knew where they were, they'd have to be killed too. (Never mind what that 2004 link says about maybe finding it. They didn't.)

The only way one might know where it is would be to have been at the funeral. But, as the saying goes, then they'd have to kill you.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

How Rich Can You Get? (Please Don't Answer That)

Richie Rich is a character that only really pops up in the public consciousness in a good economy. And for good reason. People don't really want to see anything in pop culture about what it's like to flaunt wealth almost beyond human comprehension when they're struggling to put food on the table. G.I. Joe can sympathize; his fortunes are subject to America's views toward the military and was retired for a time in the wake of Vietnam.

I shall demonstrate. Look around your house, take a look at your current budget.

Now please view this.

You have now very likely expressed such a desire to shoot out your computer screen that a gun has appeared in your hand out of thin air just for the purpose.

The original comic came out in 1953, with updates in 1980 and 1996, with a movie in 1994. All pretty good economies at their respective times of release.

Which makes it all the more bewildering that somebody thought 2011 would be a good time for a reboot. Seriously, nobody looked out at the economy, looked at their comic book character described as owning "two of everything money can buy", named Richie Rich, who lives in Richville, considered the possibility that Rich's personality- which is, admitted, that of a very nice person- might be overshadowed by the age-old Richie Rich trope of LOOK AT ME AND ALL THE MONEY I HAVE? Nobody said 'No, really, this is really not a good time to put Insanely Rich Guy Is The Big Damn Hero in front of people'? Nobody? Nobody thought of any way this might be taken badly by anyone?

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Golden Age Of Travel (Sort Of)

The 1950's and 60's are considered by many to be the 'golden age' of travel. Planes came into vogue and had a reputation of 'Yay! I get to go in an airplane!' as opposed to 'Stupid freaking delays in an uncomfortable metal tube WHAT DO YOU MEAN I CAN'T TAKE MY SODA ON THE PLANE I'M A TAXPAYER I PAY YOUR SALARY'. The world was exotic and romantic and a little on the dangerous side but that was okay because it wasn't all touristy yet. It seemed like everyone wanted to go to Cairo, Hong Kong, Rio, Bora Bora and Hawai'i (always with the pronounced second I), and, on a second tier, Paris, Morocco and 'Meh-he-co'. All the travel pictures were washed out and grainy.

All of them. Even National Geographic's. My mom kept a bunch of old issues of National Geographic; they still sit up in our attic after a redecoration. One is from July 1959; it chronicles Alaska's entry into the United States, and the 49-star flag that would last only a short time before Hawaii joined as well. Another is from April 1967; it includes an ad (I love these old ads) for Expo '67 in Montreal; the namesake for the Montreal Expos that showed up two years later. All the photos are grainy, slide-showy, a few were so bad that I thought they were artist's interpretations until I found out that 'super anscochrome' did in fact mean a photograph.

As if to prove my point, the older issues are loaded with ads in the front and back of the magazine, many offering travel every which way. April 1967 runs ads for travel to not only Montreal, but also southern California, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Missouri, Wisconsin, Mississippi's gulf coast, Pensacola, Washington DC, Nantucket, the Canadian Pacific, Manitoba, Newfoundland/Labrador, and cruises to the Mediterranean and South America, as well as two pages of classified ads for camps and schools. (One entire page and half of the other is for 'boy's schools', which include military academies; the other half-page is for camps, girls' schools, co-ed schools, home study, and a secretarial school.)

There is one important thing to note, however, about these two National Geographics from the Golden Age of Travel:

Every single person that is doing any traveling is white.

In fact, the only non-whites that show up anywhere in either issue, be it ads or articles, are the drawn-in South Pacific dancers in an ad from the 1959 issue. When they said 'golden age of travel', they meant a golden age for white people. Minorities, particularly blacks, were busy fighting for civil rights at the time. There were many, many places where blacks- or some or all other demographics- were simply not welcome. We're not talking individual diners or stores. Entire towns made a point of actively driving out non-whites and preventing them from living in town by any means necessary. These were referred to as 'sundown towns', because if you weren't white, you had best be out of town by sundown, or else. A number of them went so far as to prominently display a sign on the outskirts of town, most saying "N*****, don't let the sun set on you in (name of town)", or some paraphrasing of same. (Jews were a popular secondary target.) Some sundown towns are still of a sundown mentality even today.

Needless to say, most of the sundown towns don't like to talk about it anymore, as James Loewen found out when he wrote the 2005 book Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism. His website contains a database of possible sundown towns across the country.

But these people still wanted to travel too. How could they travel with minimal fear of harassment?

If they're black, they would turn to the Green Book.

Have you ever heard of the Green Book? If you're not black, and you said no: good. That was the point. You weren't supposed to know unless you were in it or might need it. Beginning in 1936, the Negro Motorist Green Book was published and distributed within the black community in order to inform black travelers places which were safe to travel to without fear of harassment. The quality of said places was a secondary concern; no ratings were given, though if travelers wrote in and found that a destination was simply awful, they could see to removing it.

As the intro to the 1949 edition stated (available here in PDF): "There will be a day sometime in the future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment. But until that time comes we shall continue to publish this information for your convenience each year."

That time came in 1964, when that year's Civil Rights Act was passed. The Green Book was promptly discarded, and almost completely forgotten until recently, when Calvin Alexander Ramsay discovered it. He is currently working on a documentary about the Green Book, in order to raise awareness of just what travel was like in those days.

And, perhaps, get people considering that the Golden Age of Travel might just be now.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Rapid-Fire Book Club, Lolcats Edition

Downtown Books in Milwaukee got my business again; as of right now they're expanding into the address next door, which from the looks appears to be a former convenience store.

There are also kitties at the bookstore, two of them. They resemble the two kitties at my house, both in appearance and general demeanor. One of them, a very affectionate black Maine Coon, opted to roll over, display its stomach, and while I was petting it, first tried to grab my hand with all four paws and then used said hand as a pillow. The other, an orange tabby/shorthair/whatever it is you call 'generic breed of cat', while I was looking at one bottom shelf, decided first that it wanted to have a lengthy stay on my lap, then scurried in between my shirt and jacket, crawled on top of the inside liner of jacket thereby pinning the rest of me to the floor, and proceeded to take a nap.

But anyway. Books. Six of them today.

Harris, Bob- Prisoner of Trebekistan: A Decade in Jeopardy!
Hattikudur, Mangesh; Hunt, Elizabeth, and Pearson, Will- Mental Floss presents: Forbidden Knowledge: A Wickedly Smart Guide to History's Naughtiest Bits
Holkins, Jerry, and Krahulik, Mike- Penny Arcade: Attack of the Bacon Robots!
Henshaw, Richard, and LaBlanc, Michael L.- The World Encyclopedia of Soccer (copyright 1994)
Huyghe, Patrick- Columbus Was Last: From 200,000 BC to 1492, A Heretical History of Who Was First
Veeck, Bill- Veeck as in Wreck: The Autobiography of Bill Veeck

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Congratulations, Chile (so far)

We haven't talked about it here, but as this is being typed, the fifth of 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for 69, now 70 days- since August- is being retrieved out of the San Jose mine.

Let's remind ourselves here: mine rescues simply do not go this well. Most times a mine collapses, the rescue amounts to a mad dash of frantic digging to try and get to the miners before they run out of air, if the mine doesn't simply crush everyone instantly and render the bodies unretrievable. Chile got a very lucky break. The important thing is, Chile recognized they got a lucky break, and then decided... hey, we have time to make sure we get everyone out properly. If we can get food and air down to them, we can take our time on this. It doesn't have to be a frantic dig that might collapse the airhole. Let's do this right, and in the meantime, make sure the miners don't go crazy.

And then they went and did it.

Mine rescues do not end ANYTHING like this. They certainly do not include a guy explaining to the miners how to handle their upcoming 15 minutes of fame.

The fifth is on his way up, there will be 28 after him, plus bringing back the three rescue crew members they sent down. Cross your fingers and hope they go as smoothly as the earlier rescues, but bravo to everybody involved. Chile's done themselves proud.

EDIT: Number five is up.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Widget Alert

Two changes to the sidebar, and one to the site design:

A) 'Followers' is gone. Sorry to the one person that actually used it. It wasn't worth the space for the sake of one person.

B) In its place, I've inserted the FIFA World Leagues widget, which is a scoreline update on what appears to be every top-level soccer league on Earth as well as a note on the top five in each league. If it wasn't that comprehensive- if it had just stopped at England, Spain, France, Italy and Germany or something- I wouldn't have put it in. But since it got absolutely everybody, even the rinky-dink outfits in places like Burkina Faso and Vanuatu, I figured it was worth an add seeing as I had a spot now freed up. I like to try and hit every part of the world in my posts, not just the popular parts of the world, and that widget, for the world's most popular sport, does fit that MO. (Though it is set to default at the American league, Major League Soccer. Blogger's perogative.) In addition, as noted here before, I am working on a club soccer book as a side project (on deck: team #432, Ferencvaros of Hungary), and that widget might help me out in finding teams that are worth a once-over.

C) The widget wouldn't cooperate in shrinking to fit, which gave me an excuse to do a side-effect change I've been meaning to do for a while: widen both of the text columns. It was driving me nuts having all that blank green space on either side of all the actual content, and not actually doing anything with it. That should also cut down on the scrolling when longer pieces go up, and maybe it means I won't have to shrink down the YouTube videos anymore every time I want to use one.


Recently, Domino's Pizza began running this ad. Or, at least, a shorter version of same. Watch the ad before continuing on.

The intended message is clear, and in fact stated explicitly. As ads will do. Domino's makes good pizza- or at least, it does now- and though a bad pizza may slip through, they're working to make sure they stop slipping through. And since this customer in Byron, Minnesota had such a bad experience, we're going to make it up to him with a replacement pizza- two of them, in fact- and $500 in gift certificates.

That's the intended message, at least. A combination of a marketing degree and a job in customer service has given me a quite different perspective that, once seen, I cannot unsee.

The perspective of the Kasson Domino's, the place in the next town over that made it.

Think about it. Here you are, some little rinky-dink franchise in southeastern Minnesota, a town of a couple thousand people 13 miles west of Rochester. The place is full (an easily-accomplished task) of people who probably aspire to more out of life than slinging mass-produced pizza to who knows who. And someone in your little rinky-dink franchise made a pizza- one single solitary pizza- bad enough that it caused the CEO of the giant multinational corporation for which they work to make a handwritten apology, send a guy from corporate to not only make a replacement pizza because you can't be trusted, but then also tell you that your rinky-dink franchise is going to be the star of a nationally-aired commercial telling America about the kind of pizza Domino's is NOT supposed to make. The gift certificates were probably taken out of the store's coffers.

And imagine the length and volume of the butt-reaming for the ages that must have taken place with the cameras off from at least one if not several of the guys from corporate that were present at the time.

The morale of that place is probably shot to hell now. They probably never want to make a pizza again as long as they live. Every day from here on in, every person that works there- even the ones they hire post-commercial- is going to have to come in to work every single day knowing that if they screw up one single pizza- just one- whoever gets the pizza is probably going to be waiting with a camera, so they can take a picture of it and send THAT to the CEO in the hope of scoring a bunch of free stuff themselves, and stand a very real chance that the CEO may very well come in himself and do who knows what. And every time they try to put that behind them and move on, there will be some customer coming in making a note of some sort about how your place is "the one that made that awful pizza". Someone in the place probably quit almost as soon as the cameras were gone.

And imagine being the poor small-town schlub that actually made the pizza in the first place. God help that guy if anyone figures out that was their pizza that brought the full wrath of the CEO down on the building. They'd probably fire him on the spot as a face-saving measure. Imagine what you'd have to put on the resume:

Reason for leaving last job: "Brought shame on entire company, causing CEO to personally step in and spend significant amount of company funds to handle incident, and then apologize to customer and general public."

If you're in the area, and wish to patronize the Kasson Domino's, try to be nice to them. They've suffered enough.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Change The Channel

I don't trust Fox News.

I'm not stating some big revelation here. Years ago, before my TV had a cable box hooked up, it had an 'add/delete' feature where you could set it to automatically skip past certain channels when channel-surfing; you would have to actively punch in the channel number in order to see it. So if you never wanted to see, for instance, the Home Shopping Network again, you could delete that channel number. Which I did, along with the usual assortment of garbage channels- QVC, Hallmark, CMT, the channel devoted to advertising the cable provider, the televangelist channels.

I also used it on Fox News.

My channel-surfing mechanism may have changed over the years, but the sentiment remains; my only substantial interaction with the network since has been second-hand or through their online content. But the quality of the news, if anything, has gotten even worse since then, to the point where they have become little more than a 24-hour-a-day campaign headquarters for the Republican Party.

Exhibit A: A number of Republican candidates for office are using Fox News as basically their sole and only interview partner. Media Matters, on September 27, showed five names in the 2012 Presidential mix- Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, John Bolton, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum- appearing on Fox News a combined 269 times in 2010 through September 18, as opposed to a combined six times on CNN, MSNBC, ABC, NBC and CBS, all six by Gingrich. MSNBC and CBS did not get any appearances at all. Palin and Huckabee in particular are employed by the network; Huckabee with his own show, Palin as a contributor.

Exhibit B: A few weeks ago, President Obama told Rolling Stone how he compared Fox News to the media empire of William Randolph Hearst. Looking back on the history of the Hearst papers, I like that comparison. Hearst pulled the same kind of tactics, most notably against Upton Sinclair in the 1934 race for California governor, a race largely credited with- or more to the point, blamed for- inventing modern media-driven politics as we know it today.

Exhibit C: The $1 million that parent company NewsCorp just up and gave to the pro-Republican Chamber of Commerce, which has been responsible for a lot of the campaigning this season, as well as an equal amount to the Republican Governors Association, which needs no further explanation. This is as opposed to the other media empires, which have done smaller donations that have been split between the parties.

Today, for me, came the straw that broke the camel's back, which we'll call Exhibit D: this piece about the 2010 Senate staffer edition of an annual health fair held throughout the federal government. Nothing big about that; lots of places do something similar. My workplace has signs up in the back room advertising flu shots for employees and family members. But no, apparently this has to be turned into an over-the-top wild-eyed outrage. Let's start at the very beginning of the piece:

As millions of hardworking Americans struggle to make ends meet, Senate staffers will participate next week in a two-day orgy of back massages, organic food tastings and milk mustache photos.

It's all part of a health fair for the staffers, who enjoy some of the best health care in the country.

Not only will they get health screenings, they'll also find out if their iPods are too loud.

It doesn't even matter what comes after these three paragraphs. It could be the word "Triscuit" repeated over and over. The emotional response from the reader has already been predetermined. You can just feel the piece straining to cram every last bit of anger down your throat as it possibly can. You can see from a mile away all the loaded unnecessary language and the responses it's designed to elicit:

'Yeah! I'm a HARDWORKING AMERICAN, dammit! They just sit around and screw me all day!'
'An orgy! They're having an orgy! For two whole days!' (Why else would that word even find its way in there if not to invoke that mental image?)
'The BEST HEALTH CARE IN THE COUNTRY and look at what I'm going through!'
'Ohh, LA DE DA with the fancy iPod and the prissy little organic food!'

The fourth paragraph tosses in a reference to taxpayers and the cost to same (answer: uncertain; translation: 'potentially eighty gazillion dollars of YOUR OWN PERSONAL MONEY'), as well as a reference to two sources, the Senate Education and Training Office and the Senate sergeant-at-arms, declining to state who the vendors are (translation: 'JUST WHO ARE YOU ALL ON THE TAKE FROM, I WANT ANSWERS'). I didn't even read on after that.

I can't take it anymore. If this kind of shameless dog-whistling is going to be inserted into everything, then I have little choice but to discard everything.

That is why I am officially stating that it will, from this day on, be official blog policy to regard Fox News as inherently untrustworthy. They will be treated not as news, but as propaganda. Anything they report officially does not count. If they are the only source available for a story, we'll just disregard the story. This was really done informally in the past, but now it is stated, official policy. If we were to do a future 'real news vs. random news' competition, like we did recently, neither Fox News nor any other Fox network will be included. (This includes Shepard Smith, whom normally would be left alone, because he's okay, but if this is to have any real punch, unfortunately, he has to take the hit along with everybody else.)

Yeah. I know. 20 hits a day over here. I'm a gnat. Big loss. But hey, one has to start somewhere.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Ducks Rock

Stan Lee and the NHL have entered into a partnership to try to create superheroes based on NHL teams. Each of the 30 teams will get their own superhero.

I am a child of the 90's, and therefore, I have only two words with which to respond to this:

Roll 212.

The team in question is now called simply the Ducks, in an effort to remove themselves from the above identity.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


Fred Phelps has no friends on the bench of the Supreme Court. And he doesn't think he needs them. As you may be aware, Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church has for some years now been going around to military funerals- a singular event in which the family has only one chance to bury a loved one- and utterly runing them with signs such as 'YOU'RE GOING TO HELL', 'THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS', 'GOD HATES THE USA', and like-minded rhetoric.

One of their victims, Albert Snyder, has brought them to the Supreme Court, where a $5 million ruling against the church hangs in the balance, but also some very tricky free speech questions.

And that's where Phelps thinks they don't need any friends. As far as he's concerned, they're exercising free speech and that's that; to rule against them would be stomping on the First Amendment. Snyder begs to differ; to him this is not about free speech but rather harassment, an argument that can be seen in all its glory right outside the Court's door, as Westboro has shown up in force outside the Court with the same signs they carry to the funerals. To Snyder, this is somewhere along the lines of yelling fire in a crowded theater, except you can watch the movie again, but you can't do the funeral over.

The Court itself, for their part, has made their personal opinion perfectly clear, even though they could be weighing the case well into next year: they are looking high and low for a reason to rule against Phelps. In the article, you will see Ginsburg, Kagan, Roberts, Alito and Scalia all trying to rule for Snyder, which is the needed five right there. The question isn't where the court wants to side. The question is, can they find a way to do it.

I think they will. The ETA on their ruling, according to the article, is "late spring". That's six, seven months from now. If there is any way to get a ruling against Westboro, surely, they will have found it by then. They can rule as broadly or as narrowly as they choose, and if a ruling is to be made against Westboro, the Court is sure to do it in a way that screws over Phelps and only Phelps, if at all possible. (Not that Phelps will care; Westboro has announced that they're going to keep doing what they're doing regardless of the Court's decision.) I predict something along the lines of 'you can't show up at someone's funeral and bad-mouth the dead to the point of public nuisance unless invited to attend'. And make no mistake; I'm rooting for them to find it. It would make my day to see Phelps lose this in a way that is unlikely to affect anyone else.

(Of course, my predictions are to be taken with a grain of salt; I also predicted back in April that Russ Feingold would be fine against Ron Johnson, who I seem to have dismissed as one more random ballot-filler in favor of Terrence Wall and Dave Westlake, who were little better, and 538 currently has Feingold at only an 11% chance of survival against Johnson. Unfortunately.)

Let's be clear: this is a tricky one. It's easy to rule in favor of free speech when it's popular. The true test is what you do when it's unpopular. People keep having to remind themselves of this every time the Ku Klux Klan wants to hold another rally. But this is not a rally; this is a funeral. No permits are ever sought, the occasion is normally supposed to be friends and family only, and again, you can always hold another rally. And there is the aforementioned 'fire in a crowded theater' precedent; you never know when one of the families might snap under all the stress, knee Phelps in the groin, and set off half a riot.

We'll have to wait and see.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Polls Are Open (At Least Where I Live)

Early voting began in Wisconsin as of the 3rd; I am locked in as of this morning. If you are from Wisconsin and have made up your mind, go do likewise the next time you've got a free moment (and if you can't find a free moment between now and November 2, you're not looking hard enough).

For those not from Wisconsin, look here for your equivalent date. For a lot of you, the polls have been open for some time.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

But She DID Make The Trains Run On Time

Africa, as history will show, fared rather poorly in turning away European colonialism. Those who were not snookered or pressured into signing terribly lopsided land deals were simply shot to death until the survivors were no longer in any position to argue. However, one ruler among a rare few on the continent managed, very effectively, to scare Europe into backing off.

And all she had to do was be utterly bloodthirsty.

Her name- yes, her- was Rabodoandrianampoinimerina, but better known as Queen Ranavalona I of Madagascar, or as a biography of her refers to her, "Female Caligula: Ranavalona, the Mad Queen of Madagascar". Which isn't entirely accurate- she was quite sane, and modern Madagascarians hate that phrasing- but 'Caligula' is a good descriptor of what she would do to anyone that got on her bad side.

And oh, was it easy to get on her bad side.

Ranavalona has a birthdate hovering somewhere around 1790, give or take a couple years. It's 18th-century sub-Saharan Africa; they've never exactly been stellar on documentation, and a lot of what we do know about her came from the victims that lived.

Let's stress that again, and again, and again: a lot of what we know about her came from the victims that lived. And people that hoped to see her deposed. Not exactly unbiased sources. So take everything you read with the appropriate amount of salt; I have little way of knowing what is truth and what is myth.

She came out of the lower classes, finding her way into royal court as a favor to her father, who warned then-future King Andrianampoinimerina of a plot against his life. When he became king, he adopted Ranavalona, and married her off to his son, Radama.

Radama would later become king himself, and this being a time and place where polygamy was fair game, he would take 12 wives, Ranavalona naturally being one of them. She, however, would bear him no children. On one hand, this was fine; it wasn't the end of the bloodline and the son of Radama's oldest sister, Prince Rakotobe, would claim the throne. On the other, even if Ranavalona were to bear a child after Radama's death, that child would have an immediate claim on the throne. Pragmatically, if Rakotobe wanted to keep his crown, the easiest way to do it was to just kill Ranavalona before she gave birth to any children.

Ranavalona knew that, and moved before he could. She rounded up some friends- friends in the military, of course- and had them make clear to anyone that objected that she was going to be queen and if they didn't like it, she'd just have them killed.

She became queen in 1828.

Then she started killing everyone anyway, starting with Rakotobe, who got speared, and his mother, who was starved in the interest of not shedding royal female blood. After that, she moved on to basically everyone else who might even concievably be any threat to her rule ever. This turned out to be a whole lot of people, including basically the entire royal family. If you were female, you got strangled or starved. If you were male, you weren't so lucky, She also instituted, among other things, 'trial by ordeal', in which you were made to eat three pieces of chicken skin, and then a poisonous nut that caused you to vomit. Your innocence or guilt was determined by whether you threw up all the chicken skin.

After that was done, she turned to Europe. Madagascar had some treaties at the time with England and France, and Ranavalona lost no time in canceling those. (Yes, I'm linking to Badass of the Week. There's not exactly a wealth of sources to go off of here.) This displeased France, which proceeded to invade, but they found themselves turned back partially though defending forces and partially through malaria, Madagascar's home-field advantage. They, and the British, kept trying, but fared worse and worse until Ranavalona opted to cut off the heads of the dead Europeans, stick them on pikes, and start ringing the beaches with them.

Cruel. Violent. Mad, even. But it worked. England and France backed off. They wanted no further part of Ranavalona.

She had one more major enemy: the missionaries. Ranavalona, while tolerating Christianity for a while as a fundraiser, saw it as simply one more source of European influence. She changed her mind after seeing what one of her advisors, Jean Laborde (French, ironically), was able to do with Madagascar's economy. A factory town sprung up, Mantasao. They started to be able to make things they previously had to trade for- arms, ammunition, soap, silk, ceramics. The economy flourished... which meant Christian economy was no longer needed. She banned Christianity and put the missionaries on the hit list.

By this point, she had gotten disturbingly creative in her methods of dispatch. Perhaps the most famous Ranavalona story (boy, that's a relative term) involves the time (year uncertain; one source says 1836, another says 1849) she threw 1600 Christians into her dungeons, and became annoyed that more kept rising up to take their place. So she had 15 of them tied up and dangled 150 feet above, literally, the jagged rocks below. She also had local idols in place to symbolically 'save' them should they agree to deny Christ. As each one refused- and they all refused; some sang hymns in defiance- their rope was cut. Well, 14 were killed; the last one, a young girl, couldn't have her blood shed. According to Life & Work by David Douglas, she was burnt instead.

Other reputed innovations of death from the house of Ranavalona:

*The 1845 buffalo hunt. All the nobles at court were required to attend, along with every hanger-on they had, which in total added up to about 50,000 people. Then she had them build her a road, so as to more easily reach the buffalo. The food they ate was simply whatever they could scrounge along the way; when someone died in the process, they were just chucked into a ditch and a new body recruited in their place. It killed about 10,000 people. Records do not show any actual buffalo being shot.
*"Progressive amputation", the Google results for which only involve very loud garage bands and horrifying information about the penis.
*Placing prisoners at the bottom of a pit at the bottom of a hill, then dumping boiling water off the top of the hill, into the pit. She reportedly loved this one.
*Tying someone up and throwing them down a hill repeatedly until death.
*Sewing someone up to their neck in a buffalo hide, dumping them in the jungle, and leaving both prisoner and hide to rot.

It must be stressed- the modern-day residents of Madagascar are adamant in emphasizing this- that all the cruelty worked; she had bought Madagascar almost 40 extra years of independence from France even beyond her death, and it had a dramatic effect on allowing Madagascar to retain much of its local culture as opposed to simply getting swallowed up by France like all the other colonies. They also emphasize that after Ranavalona's death (she reigned for 33 years and died in her sleep), her successors screwed it all up and, had they not gone back to pre-Ranavalona policies and procedures, France might never have come back at all. And remember, she- or at least her advisor, Jean Laborde- did shore up Madagascar's trade industry prior to her ban of Christianity. The Malagasy loved that aspect of her rule. The people she didn't kill, she made prosperous. To this day, Malagasy pay tribute to her for that at Andranoro, a place dedicated to ancestors. In the link on Mantasao- a travel link, but still- note how glowingly Laborde and Ranavalona are portrayed in the story behind the town.

In fact, her immediate successor, Radama II, appears to have a poorer reputation than Ranavalona; he brought back many personal freedoms, but he also reestablished contact with France.

In addition, the book I linked earlier on, Female Caligula, is rather poorly received there; it's seen as straying too far into forcing a particular narrative of Ranavalona, downplaying her good points and overplaying her bad, nearly to the point of myth. In addition, critics of the book charge that it strays too far into anthropological wide-eyed marveling at the wacky customs of those uncivilized savages, or something like that.

And again, a lot of the previous information- I state this again- came from the victims that lived, missionaries included. Unbiased accounts are few and far between in that place and time. If any Malagasy come across this at some point in time and find I've repeated anything that didn't happen, feel free to contact me; I'll be happy to issue corrections as need be.

Monday, October 4, 2010


We might get our jetpacks soon! Sure there are some practical and legal issues to handle, plus it'll be pretty expensive, but... JETPACKS!

Now remember, scientists: once that's done, flying cars are next. One must have something with which to run over a jetpack, after all.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sound Financial Advice

There are those who went bankrupt through hospital bills.

There are those who went bankrupt via being unable to pay off their house, or property taxes on same.

There are those who went bankrupt because of cash-advance businesses charging excessive interest rates.

But please, please, PLEASE try not to be one of those who went bankrupt because you couldn't stop buying drinks for guys at the bar. And do not buy so many wigs that you need a financial advisor to tell you to stop.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Ballad of Honest Dick

It is common knowledge these days- or at least it should be- that anyone in a position of public dependency that handles large amounts of money needs to be placed under some sort of watch. The more money handled, the more stringent the watch should be. Because far too often, people in these positions prove unworthy of trust, and will start to take some of that money for themselves to the maximum extent they are allowed.

Far too often, we forget this fact, and every time we do, we pay dearly for it. Bernie Madoff. Enron. Savings and Loan. James Tate.

Today I tell you about that last one.

James W. Tate was named state treasurer of Kentucky in 1867, after two stints as assistant Secretary of State, and one stint as assistant clerk of the Kentucky House of Representatives. While an elected position, Tate became a fixture in the office, often placing among the biggest winners on the ticket, and putting in two decades of service. Over time, he earned the nickname "Honest Dick" (why a man named James would be called 'Honest Dick' is a question for the ages), with one man, John McAfee, writing in 1886, referring to Tate as a "trusted and honored treasurer" with an "unblemished record for probity and principle."

Famous last words.

Apparently, Tate was regarded as so honest that he had, for 20 years, never been subjected to a serious look at his books. His 1886 opponent, William O. Bradley, found this a little odd, and ran on it in his attempt at unseating Tate. He lost, but he did manage to get the seed planted in Kentucky's collective head. So they asked Tate for a look. Tate replied that he would need some time to get his books in order. Okay, Honest Dick, we can give you a bit of time to do that, but really, we would like to look.

You have surely figured out by now that Tate was not using that extra time to actually get his books in order. During that time, he stopped putting cash into the state's bank account, using checks instead. If he weren't Honest Dick, he'd have been called on this. Or the personal debts he was starting to rack up. On March 14, 1888, one of his clerks DID call him on the fact that he was filling two tobacco sacks with money, about $100,000 worth ($2,357,406 in 2009 money, according to the Consumer Price Index), just like a cartoon bank robber. All that was missing was a dollar sign on the bags. Then Tate hopped a train for Louisville, leaving a note that he would be back in two days.

He never set foot in Kentucky again. From Louisville, he went to Cincinnati, and then vanished, leaving his wife and daughter behind.

By March 20, the state figured something was up, and suspended Tate from his position as state treasurer, the epitome of closing the barn door after the horse has left. They finally, finally, after 22 years, would audit the financial ledger of Kentucky.

Or at least they would have if they could actually make out what in blazes Tate wrote in the darn thing. All they did know was that a whole bunch of money wasn't there anymore. Unpaid loans, advances, personal investments and straight-up theft ultimately relieved the state of Kentucky of $247,128.50. That's 1888 money, remember. According to the Consumer Price Index, in 2009 money, that translates to $5,825,822.76. The treasury vault had personal and state property in it, including beaded bags and purses, one of which was a satchel belonging to a dead child.

The entirety of Kentucky almost had a collective heart attack. Why would Tate steal so much money? He was rich already through land investments! He didn't need the money! (Ah, the naviete of people in 1888.) According to 'Kentucky: Decades of Discord, 1865-1900' by Hambleton Tapp, James C. Klotter and the Kentucky Historical Society, one person wrote "Such a flash of lightning, such a peal of thunder, as was never before seen or heard came out of a clear sky, and rocked the state as nothing had done since the war."

After they got the shock out of their system, the call went up for Tate's head, seeking to try him in absentia. That is exactly what they got; according to 'Political Corruption in America: An Encyclopedia of Scandals, Power and Greed' by Mark Grossman, he was officially brought up on a misappropriation of $197,000 (the official estimate; that's $4,464,090 in 2009 money), along with abandoning his office, doing so without providing for proper administration, and three other charges. He was convicted of four of the charges on March 31, 1888- remember he had fled on the 14th- and the now extremely unfortunately-nicknamed 'Honest Dick' was disqualified from holding state office again. When a new state constitution was written in 1891, three years later, Tate turned out to be singlehandedly responsible for the state banning consecutive terms for state officials, a provision that was only rescinded in 2000, and even then only partially so. A position of overseer was also created.

No recipient of funds, ultimately, was asked to repay, however. Even though just about everyone in Frankfort was under suspicion of having gotten money from Tate at some point, and nobody was trusting anybody by now, it was ultimately determined that Tate acted alone. The governor made a loan of his own to the state until taxes could replenish the coffers.

Not that Tate noticed much of any of this. He had long since gotten away. He had fled to the four corners of the Earth, with varying accounts putting him in places such as Chicago, Arizona Territory, San Francisco, Vancouver, Toronto, Germany, Japan, China and Brazil. It's not really certain what became of him, or even how long he lived after fleeing Kentucky; correspondence to his family ceased in December 1888. There were reports of various Tate sightings in the following years, but in 1897, his daughter had him declared legally dead, and his life insurance was paid off in 1898.

As for William O. Bradley, the guy who first called for a look at Tate's books, he was karmically rewarded by being elected governor of Kentucky in 1895, a term marked by his championing and passage of an anti-lynching law, among other measures protecting the rights of blacks, and elected to one uneventful term in the US Senate from 1909-1914.

He was, in his Senate term, appointed, among other things, chairman of the Senate Committee on Expenditures in the Department of Justice. Just in case.

Friday, October 1, 2010


Osama bin Laden has released a new video. Every previous time he's done this, he's either antagonized the Western world, encouraged those who oppose the Western world via calling on them to continue their fight, or both.

Today, his latest video called on the Muslim world to invest in infrastructure, famine and flood relief, clean water, and to focus on stopping climate change.

Okay, that's it. I give up. World's crazy now, folks. Salt for everyone. Brain my bucket cloud and be generous with the syrup. YABABABABABABABA!