Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Not On Display

With the recent dedication of the George W. Bush presidential library, I think it is only fitting that I reprint, in its entirety, Tomas Young's letter to our 43rd president and vice president. No doubt, this will not appear on display in Dallas.

To: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney From: Tomas Young 

I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care. 

I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. 

I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief. I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. 

I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole. Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character. You sent us to fight and die in Iraq after you, Mr. Cheney, dodged the draft in Vietnam, and you, Mr. Bush, went AWOL from your National Guard unit. Your cowardice and selfishness were established decades ago. You were not willing to risk yourselves for our nation but you sent hundreds of thousands of young men and women to be sacrificed in a senseless war with no more thought than it takes to put out the garbage. I joined the Army two days after the 9/11 attacks. I joined the Army because our country had been attacked. I wanted to strike back at those who had killed some 3,000 of my fellow citizens. I did not join the Army to go to Iraq, a country that had no part in the September 2001 attacks and did not pose a threat to its neighbors, much less to the United States. I did not join the Army to “liberate” Iraqis or to shut down mythical weapons-of-mass-destruction facilities or to implant what you cynically called “democracy” in Baghdad and the Middle East. 

I did not join the Army to rebuild Iraq, which at the time you told us could be paid for by Iraq’s oil revenues. Instead, this war has cost the United States over $3 trillion. I especially did not join the Army to carry out pre-emptive war. Pre-emptive war is illegal under international law. And as a soldier in Iraq I was, I now know, abetting your idiocy and your crimes. The Iraq War is the largest strategic blunder in U.S. history. It obliterated the balance of power in the Middle East. It installed a corrupt and brutal pro-Iranian government in Baghdad, one cemented in power through the use of torture, death squads and terror. And it has left Iran as the dominant force in the region. On every level—moral, strategic, military and economic—Iraq was a failure. And it was you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney, who started this war. It is you who should pay the consequences. I would not be writing this letter if I had been wounded fighting in Afghanistan against those forces that carried out the attacks of 9/11. Had I been wounded there I would still be miserable because of my physical deterioration and imminent death, but I would at least have the comfort of knowing that my injuries were a consequence of my own decision to defend the country I love. 

I would not have to lie in my bed, my body filled with painkillers, my life ebbing away, and deal with the fact that hundreds of thousands of human beings, including children, including myself, were sacrificed by you for little more than the greed of oil companies, for your alliance with the oil sheiks in Saudi Arabia, and your insane visions of empire. I have, like many other disabled veterans, suffered from the inadequate and often inept care provided by the Veterans Administration. I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned. You, Mr. Bush, make much pretense of being a Christian. But isn’t lying a sin? Isn’t murder a sin? Aren’t theft and selfish ambition sins? 

I am not a Christian. But I believe in the Christian ideal. I believe that what you do to the least of your brothers you finally do to yourself, to your own soul. My day of reckoning is upon me. Yours will come. I hope you will be put on trial. But mostly I hope, for your sakes, that you find the moral courage to face what you have done to me and to many, many others who deserved to live. I hope that before your time on earth ends, as mine is now ending, you will find the strength of character to stand before the American public and the world, and in particular the Iraqi people, and beg for forgiveness.


Good news on the economic front.

U.S. economic growth accelerated from January through March, buoyed by the strongest consumer spending in more than two years. The strength offset further declines in government spending that are expected to drag on growth throughout the year. 

Despite the sequester and the tax increases, I think this year is going to be fantastic, economically. We've certainly started it off right!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Good Words

If only Americans reacted the same way to the actual threats that exist in their country. There's something quite fitting and ironic about the fact that the Boston freak-out happened in the same week the Senate blocked consideration of a gun control bill that would have strengthened background checks for potential buyers. Even though this reform is supported by more than 90% of Americans, and even though 56 out of 100 senators voted in favour of it, the Republican minority prevented even a vote from being held on the bill because it would have allegedly violated the second amendment rights of "law-abiding Americans". 

So for those of you keeping score at home – locking down an American city: a proper reaction to the threat from one terrorist. A background check to prevent criminals or those with mental illness from purchasing guns: a dastardly attack on civil liberties. All of this would be almost darkly comic if not for the fact that more Americans will die needlessly as a result. Already, more than 30,000 Americans die in gun violence every year (compared to the 17 who died last year in terrorist attacks). 

What makes US gun violence so particularly horrifying is how routine and mundane it has become. After the massacre of 20 kindergartners in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, millions of Americans began to take greater notice of the threat from gun violence. Yet since then, the daily carnage that guns produce has continued unabated and often unnoticed.

People are noticing, though, and I don't think the gun community is going to be happy in the next couple of elections. Kelly Ayotte isn't faring well after her vote. Pat Toomey, however, is faring well. Once again, I don't think the Right cares about winning elections anymore. Just arguments.

Where Are YOU on the Chart

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Saturday, April 27, 2013


Over the course of the last few months, we've seen that austerity measures in Europe aren't working. One would think that they learned their lesson after the worldwide economic depression in the 1930s but they haven't. Neither have conservatives in this country who are so emotionally obsessed with the government spending less money that they really can't see how cuts in spending are harmful. Now we have the proof that not only are they harmful, they are decidedly not beneficial. In short, high public debt does not consistently stifle economic growth.

Thank you, Thomas Herndon!

Whither Syria...

President Obama has some tough choices to consider over the next few days as he considers whether or not Syria has crossed the red line of chemical weapons use. Assuming they have used them on the rebels (and that's a big "if," at this point), is it really our business to get involved in another country's civil war? The Assad regime is terrible for its people and awful for the world. They are a state sponsor of violent extremism and have a penchant for targeting Israel, one of our closest allies in the world. So, there's no doubt we'd all be better off if he was gone.

But what would be put in his place? We've seen that slippery slope with the Arab Spring in Egypt. The rebels that are fighting in Syria right now are jihadi extremists who very well could impose a theocracy complete with Sharia law in place of the Assad government. Clearly, this would be worse and likely destabilizing to the region. Israel would be at even greater risk. We also have to consider Russia's stake in all of this as they are a staunch ally of Syria.

If I were the president, I would tread cautiously and, if it is confirmed that chemical weapons were used, any action that is taken should be done so with a broad consensus starting with the Arab League. While this decision is being made, we need solid intelligence on what the Syrian rebels plan to do if they assume power. Are they going to be part of the world community and participate in open elections and democracy? Or will they be worse than Bashar Assad?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Football, Boxing, Boston and Three Unsolved Murders on 9/11/11

A couple of weeks ago the NFL moved to dismiss over 200 cases brought by thousands of football players suing the NFL for brain damage caused by concussions they received while playing football. In many cases players who had just suffered severe brain trauma were immediately sent back out on the field.

Repeated concussions, or Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, can cause dementia and Parkinson's Syndrome. There have been numerous documented cases where individuals suffering from CTE committed assaults, murder and suicide. The problem is that CTE is almost impossible to diagnose until an autopsy is conducted.

So when Time Magazine ran an article that asked whether brain damage that Boston bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev suffered as an amateur boxer contributed to his rage against the United States, imagine the outrage among conservatives, as reported by Fox News:
“TIME should be ashamed and embarrassed by this article. It is just beyond absurd, and is another silly and infantile attempt to deny the obvious,” columnist C. Edmund Wright told FOX411. “Boxing, and football, have been related to brain damage in the past, but none of the boxers or NFL players who committed suicide did so by killing innocent eight-year-olds in a crowded public square. The analogy doesn’t pass elementary school logic.”
No, football players haven't killed eight-year-olds in public. But victims of CTE have killed girl friends, spouses and their own children

Media critic John Ziegler concurred. “It is hilarious to watch the media do mental gymnastics to try to avoid concluding that radical Islam was what motivated the bombings,” he said. “If the fake Onion paper tried to parody this, they simply could not.”

John Conway, CEO of Astonish Media Group, found the article “sensationalized and grasping at straws,” while Dan Gainor, Vice President of Business and Culture and the Media Research Institute, noted: “Every time there is another act of terror linked to radical Islam, journalists go out of their way to excuse it or rationalize it. There was a time when news magazines had gravitas, now they only way they get attention is by acting like your crazy uncle.”
Of course, none of these media pundits knows anything at all about CTE. Nor do they seem to have read the Time article, which includes the following paragraph:

That points to the difficulty of establishing any link between the condition of a brain and actions that may or may not result from it. Cantu points to the case of the late pro wrestler Chris Benoit, who killed his wife and son and then himself in 2007. When his brain was studied after he died, it showed signs of CTE—but here too it might have had little to do with his murderous behavior. “In Benoit’s case the behavior was again premeditated. It took place slowly, over the course of a weekend. He even sedated his son first so he wouldn’t suffer,” Cantu says. Criminally pathological? Certainly. But triggered by CTE? Probably not.
Time asked an obvious question, consulted experts and printed their conclusions. The experts thought that the bombing was a premeditated act that lacked the impulsiveness usually associated with behaviors caused by CTE.

Conservatives and FOX News were confused because they thought Time was using their tried and true trick of "just asking a question" and guilt by association to link boxing and the bombers. They had to attack because they didn't want their simplistic narrative of radical Islam being the sole cause of the Boston bombing to be confused by inconvenient facts or mitigating circumstances.

In their rush to condemn all of Islam for the actions of two disturbed individuals (or "losers" as their own uncle describes them), conservatives are doing exactly the same thing they accuse liberals of when they demand restrictions on all gun owners because a few (well, it's actually dozens at this point) crazed individuals like Adam Lanza and James Holmes committed mass murder.

The NRA insists that mental illness is the cause of mass murder, not access to guns or explosives. We know that repeated brain injury is a cause of mental illness. So it's only logical to ask whether Tamerlan Tsarnaev suffered brain trauma that would cause murderous behavior.

Which brings us to those murders on 9/11/11. Authorities are now wondering whether Tamerlan murdered his best friend and two other men on the tenth anniversary of 9/11. If those murders were the kind of impulsive act of enraged violence typical of CTE, brain damage may well have sent Tamerlan on a downward spiral of guilt, anger, depression and despair that ultimately resulted in the senseless bombing in Boston and suicidal behavior afterwards.

We should also ask the following questions: did brain damage play a role in Tamerlan's arrest in 2009 for assaulting his girl friend? Could brain damage have made Tamerlan more receptive to a violent and radical interpretation of Islam in the first place? Did brain damage make it harder for Tamerlan to concentrate and therefore study, ultimately forcing him to drop out of college?

The authorities should look closely at Tamerlan's brain. If it has the lesions indicative of CTE he's no less guilty. But if brain damage was partially responsible for the tragedy in Boston, it raises questions about the potential risk from sports where concussions are routine.

Just because you're a boxer or a Muslim doesn't mean you're going to blow people up. Muhammad Ali was both. But all that brain damage did leave Ali trembling with Parkinson's at the age of 42.

So you might think long and hard before signing your kid up for football, boxing or martial arts.

Internet Sales Taxes: a Chance to Fix a Broken System

The Internet is going insane now that the Internet sales tax bill has passed a test vote in the Senate. The bill would require companies with sales of more than a million dollars worth of out-of-state sales to collect sales tax for the states where their customers live.

Why is this needed? When people buy things from out-of-state companies through mail order or the Internet they're supposed to pay sales tax to their state. But no one does. This means that the states, most of which are really strapped for cash these days, are not getting funds needed to pay for the services used by the freeloaders who actually live there. We're talking tens of billions of dollars here.

Thus, Internet companies that don't pay sales tax have a huge advantage over local businesses. Retailers watch helplessly as people stroll down the aisles of their stores looking at merchandise, trying it out and asking clerks questions, only to place an order on Amazon with their cellphone while they're still in the store.

The Senate bill, once opposed by Amazon, now enjoys the Internet pioneer's backing. The reason is that Amazon will soon be paying sales taxes anyway, because it's planning to build warehouses near large cities to achieve same-day delivery, allowing them to compete directly with brick and mortar retailers.

But some people are attributing a more sinister motive: they think Amazon wants to crush any upstart competitors by making them collect onerous sales taxes. This, everyone fears, will stifle innovation and snuff out the entrepreneurial spirit forever more.

Typical reactions to the bill are like Megan McArdle's, of The Daily Beast. They argue that small businesses won't be able to handle paying sales tax to all those jurisdictions. However, opponents of the bill keep forgetting that this will only affect companies with at least one million dollars in out-of-state sales. Small businesses will never have to bother with collecting out-of-state sales taxes.

All this outrage is misplaced. The real problem is that the sales tax system is broken and this is the perfect opportunity to fix it.  

The thing is, many small businesses already have to collect out-of-state sales taxes. For example, if you're a small vendor who sells stuffed animals, or comic books, or Star Wars light-sabers at out-of-state at conventions like Comic-Con or Gen-Con you have to collect sales tax for anything you sell there. And then you often have to continue to file with those states for years afterwards, even though you may never make another sale there again.

Selling things on the Internet is exactly the same thing: the customer brings your virtual sales floor directly onto their computer screen, and they make the purchase in their home.

Computing sales tax on such purchases is not difficult. This is the Internet, after all, and there are computers. Computers can take an address and calculate exactly how much sales tax is due and who should get it. PayPal already does this on behalf of small businesses, though it's up to the businesses to do the necessary filings and payments to the state.

And that's where the magic of entrepreneurship comes in. This is a perfect opportunity for an someone to start up a new Internet business to make collecting sales taxes painless for everyone.

When this bill becomes law state legislatures will have a huge incentive to streamline their sales-tax filing systems, which are predicated on the idea that only in-state businesses collect sales taxes. They will rush to provide mechanisms for direct computerized payment of sales taxes, and eliminate  onerous filing requirements.

That will also make it easier for in-state companies to collect sales taxes. And that's a win for everyone.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Standardized Testing: Do It Right or Not At All

There's been a lot of wailing and moaning about high-stakes testing in the schools lately. An article by Valerie Strauss in the Washington Post caught my attention because it criticizes a company I used to work forStrauss has a long litany of delays, errors committed, and fines paid by Pearson for problems with the administration of tests in schools. Another recent article discusses Pearson's role in jacking up the price of the GED. I even know the president of GED Testing Service; I worked with him 20 years ago.

I didn't work with high-stakes testing for kids; I worked for the companies that grew out of Control Data's PLATO division. They provided computerized certification exams for IT professionals who supported software products from companies like Microsoft, Novell, Oracle, etc. They also provided FAA pilot and mechanic exams, stock broker compliance testing, insurance and real estate sales exams, and so on. When I retired a dozen years ago, the business was quickly morphing into computerized delivery of certification testing for medical professionals and was about to enter the SAT/ACT market.

So I have a bit of inside knowledge about the testing business. I was on the software end of things, and wrote the code that delivered and scored computerized tests. I worked with a lot of exam developers and customers to get their exams into our delivery system and the results out of the back end. But the real work in testing is on the front end: the development of the exams themselves.

There were basically two kinds of customers. The first kind was the testing professional, who insisted on doing things the right way. That involves writing a large bank of test questions ("items") and then testing the items' performance in several series of exams to a large number (hundreds, if not thousands) of target candidates who demonstrate the expected range of knowledge of the subject matter. The quality of the items is then statistically determined by how well they predict the ability level of the candidate (which has be assessed separately).

A good item is one that someone with a firm grasp of the subject material gets right and someone who doesn't know the material gets wrong. A bad item has no correlation with subject matter expertise and a terrible one has a negative correlation. Bad items have factual errors, or are poorly written, unclear, misleading or "trick" questions.

Another consideration in writing an exam is the number of "forms" you deliver: in many testing regimes people take the exams on different days, so you have to write many different forms of the exam in order to avoid exposing all the items to the public at once. This is a serious concern because there are quite well-organized cheating efforts that involve people who've just taken an exam doing a memory dump of a few questions they are assigned to remember. With a relatively small crew you can completely reconstruct the exam: within a day your test -- and all the answers -- can be out on the Internet.

When you have multiple forms of an exam, it's critical that the forms be equivalent. That is, each form has to be statistically balanced to have the same degree of difficulty, even though not all items on the form are the same. Otherwise the test wouldn't be fair to all takers.

This means that if you want to give several alternate forms of a 50-question test to millions of kids across a state or a country, you're going to wind up writing thousands of items, many of which will be discarded because they do not accurately predict ability level.

This is extremely expensive and time-consuming. And it's a never-ending process because of the exposure problem and constantly changing curricula. Companies like Pearson manage item banks with millions of items whose statistical performance is monitored and are aged out over time.

That brings us to the second kind of customer: the average guy. The average guy thinks you can just jot down some questions and be done with it. That's probably true for teachers who know the kids in their class, where quizzes plus class participation plus daily homework provide a complete picture for the teacher to assign a grade. But you can't write a standardized test that way.

The problem with developing good exams, in my experience, is that people just don't want to pay for it. Their eyes glaze over as you explain that it'll require subject matter experts writing thousands of items, and months of testing and retesting the items' performance (you can't change a word of an item -- or even its formatting -- without affecting its stats), and analysis of the statistics, and careful construction of equivalent forms.  And then things like content balancing  (making sure subdisciplines of the exam subject matter aren't under- or overrepresented on a particular form) make the exam developer's job that much harder.

Not surprisingly, school districts are particularly concerned about costs and schedules. They never have enough money, and by the time the legislature appropriates it, the company that's supposed to develop and deliver the test may not have the time to do it right.

In my experience, corporate customers constantly changed their minds and added new requirements, but the schedule never changed. With state-wide tests and requirements coming from dozens of school districts, administrators and meddlesome politicians, the software developer in me would imagine the deadline at the end of the school year to be an all-consuming bottomless pit.

Thus, I'm sure that many of the problems Valerie Strauss cited with Pearson's performance are due to changes their customers demanded at the last minute, or customers skipping necessary quality control steps that they didn't want to pay for or have time for due to schedule constraints. From personal experience I'm absolutely certain that many of Pearson's alleged problems are really the fault of politicians, school boards, state education commissions and educators themselves.

I'm equally certain that many of the problems are due to sales guys who promised things Pearson didn't have, management who agreed to schedules their technical people told them outright were impossible, not to mention hardware problems, mistakes in coding and data entry, faulty statistical analysis, mismatching items and their statistics and/or answer keys, and simple cut/paste errors in item text.

Given the constantly shifting educational priorities and curricula, perennially tight school budgets and incessant political bickering I don't see how we'll ever be able to do large-scale standardized testing right, especially not with every state and local jurisdiction trying to reinvent the wheel themselves, and everyone insisting that we do it several times a year.

If we can't spend the time and the money to do standardized testing right, we shouldn't do it at all. With all due respect to my former colleagues, I think we should take the money out of the hands of companies like Pearson and put it back into the schools where it'll do the most good.

Voices In My Head (Blaming The Victim Edition)

I have something I want to say to the victims of Newtown or any other shooting, I don’t care if it’s here in Minneapolis or anyplace else: Just because a bad thing happened to you doesn’t mean that you get to put a king in charge of my life. I’m sorry that you suffered a tragedy, but you know what? Deal with it, and don’t force me to lose my liberty, which is a greater tragedy than your loss. I’m sick and tired of seeing these victims trotted out, given rides on Air Force One, hauled into the Senate well, and everyone is … terrified of these victims. I would stand in front of them and tell them, ‘Go to hell'

This is what happens when you come out of the bubble. You get smacked squarely in the head with your bullshit.

Several things amaze me about this very illustrative incident. We have the usual adolescent temper tantrum that is all too familiar. This stomp down the hallway precedes the equally familiar DARVO, a truly despicable  practice which seems to happen when the mouth foamer knows that he or she is completely wrong.

But the element that really stuns me is just how much of a fucking coward the Bob Davies' are of the world. If he truly has the courage of his convictions, he should go to Newtown and say those things in front of the victim's families. That goes for anyone else out there who hides behind a mic or a blog who thinks that victim's families or frightened children are being used as props or "human shields."

Go say that shit right to their face, fuckos. If you can't muster the sack to do it, then you obviously don't believe what you are saying and just being an immature ass hat.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Heed His Warning

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Is Joe channeling me?:)

Earth Day +1

Yesterday was Earth Day and Nikto and I were too busy talking about the gun debate and Boston so I thought I would put this wonderful documentary up today. It's an American Experience film, in its entirety, about the history of the modern environmental movement. Interesting how it started with Republicans...


Monday, April 22, 2013

Well, This is Fantastic!

The Tsarnaevs: Islamic Warriors or Losers?

There's been a lot talk about whether Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (I'm not going continue the charade of calling him a "suspect") should be read his Miranda rights. It's almost a moot point: he's not going to be doing much talking because he was shot in the throat and may never speak again.

There's been a lot of talk about designating him an enemy combatant. This is crazy on the face of it, since he's an American citizen.

There's even been a suggestion, from one of the right's most brilliant luminaries, Donald Trump, of torturing Tsarnaev.

All of these things presume that Tsarnaev is a terrorist, and it's not at all clear that he is. Philip Mudd, a former CIA Deputy Director, said Sunday on Fox News that Tsarnaev should be charged as a murderer. Mudd thinks, as I wrote last Friday, that the marathon bombing was more like Columbine and not 9/11.

Who is Philip Mudd? Some liberal Obama appointee? Well, Obama did try to appoint him to a high position in the Department in Homeland Security in 2009. But Mudd withdrew after questions about his involvement in waterboarding terrorist suspects:
Mr. Mudd, who joined the C.I.A. in 1985 and served tours in the Near East and South Asia, is considered one of the government’s top experts on Al Qaeda.

“He’s not just an ops guy,” said Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University. “He’s probing. He asks questions. And he’s open-minded, and I don’t see that every day with this community.”

Several Republican lawmakers expressed anger over Mr. Mudd’s withdrawal. Senator Christopher S. Bond of Missouri said the nomination had become “the latest political casualty of a terror-fighting program no one in Congress objected to until it became politically risky.”
Thus, Mudd is not inclined to be soft on terror.

We don't yet know for sure that aren't any foreign terrorist connections in this case. Further investigation is obviously in order.  But the last thing we want is for our government to automatically treat people like terrorists. Because when we as a nation start treating members of a group as terrorists, other members of that group feel threatened and may become terrorists themselves to protest the injustice of that persecution.

History should be our guide: the invasion of Iraq was a recruiting bonanza for Al Qaeda. Let's not turn what may be a lone act of frustration by two young alienated guys by turning them into martyrs.

Ruslan Tsarni, the Tsarnaevs' uncle, was close enough to know them well, but distant enough not to think they were innocent angels like their parents did. What does he think motivated them?
Being losers, hatred to those who were able to settle themselves; these are the only reasons I can imagine of. Anything else, anything else to do with religion, with Islam – it’s a fraud, it’s a fake.
If we charge the Tsarnaevs as terrorists and enemies of the state we grant them status and renown as soldiers of Islam and martyrs. If we charge them with criminal murder we brand them as murderous losers.

If we want to discourage copycats the choice seems obvious.

Going Forward

It's hard to imagine where the gun safety movement is going to go from here. I've heard many people say to me, "If 20 dead elementary school children doesn't change our nation's gun laws, what will?" I certainly can sympathize with this sentiment.

What has to happen now is out of the box thinking. As I have said previously, bringing a knife to a gun fight never works and the families of the victims of the various shootings that showed up in DC these last two weeks didn't even bring that. They don't understand the nature of what stands in their way. Essentially, it is two distinct groups of people

First you have the gun lobby and the gun manufacturers. They don't give a shit about the 2nd amendment or possible futures in which an American Hitler or Stalin takes over. They care about one thing: money. Their livelihood is being threatened and they are going to do anything to prevent from happening. These people are fucking scumbags who peddle fear and death and they should be exposed as such. Think about how much money they have made since the president took office. Think about how much money has been made since Newtown. So many gun owners rushed to their local gun store because of a fear that ended up being nothing. They have their sheep and they know how to manipulate them.

The second group of people are the paranoid pyschotics that do think Democrats, proggressives and any to the left of the one yard line on the right side of the field is coming to get their guns and send them to re-education camps. These are the same people who sneer at frightened children who write to the president because they are scared, only to be later derisively called props. Or taunt the families of the victims and say things like, "But it must be for the children.." In so many ways, these people are actually worse than the gun lobby and gun manufacturers. The good news is that most of these people are over the age of 40 so time will do its thing in some respects.

Now,there is no earthly way to reach the second group. They are fucking gone into a never, never world of plots and fantasies so profoundly fictitious that it leaves me...even me...completely speechless. So, the attention should be on the first group. And that means one thing. We have to go after the money. The question do we do that?

One idea I had recently was to go in the opposite direction. Rather than try and ban certain types of guns or limit ammo clips, why not simply give away free guns? The federal government could offer free weapons to any citizen who would pass a background check and go through the appropriate training and regular mental health checks. That would also really piss off the anti government spending crowd as they are usually the same demographic as the pro gun crowd. And, to get around the issue of buying the guns from the gun manufacturers, the government could just make their own guns. There are probably plenty of people who could use the work. Heck, that would solve the unemployment problem!

The other idea I had was a PR campaign based on what happened with smoking. If you start to pull together all the various groups that are adversely affected by gun violence, you could really start to change public opinion. These days, smoking is really looked upon like a giant fart that just hangs in the air and won't go away. Lock a bunch of ad guys in a room for a couple of weeks and there is no doubt in my mind that they could eviscerate the gun lobby. You could put together ads with the audio being comprised of the usual rhetoric from the pro gun folks and the video showing shootings, the aftermath, and victims families. The public needs to see this contrast.

Both of these ideas may seem out there but that's what it's going to take. Of course, there is something else that I haven't mentioned because it's not so much of an idea as it is a prediction, which would make both of my ideas moot. If you take a look at how change happens in this country, it only occurs when the right people are adversely affected by whatever issue is on the hot seat. Gay rights, for example, wasn't important until enough parents had children that came out and then that was pretty much fucking that. When it becomes personal, that's when the real change happens.

Right now, there is someone out there..or several someones...that sooner or later is going to be adversely affected by gun violence. I don't who they are or where they live but I do know that they will start a wave that will finally end all this nonsense. This person will likely be someone who arises out of the "pro-gun" crowd and will initially be labeled a "traitor." This same person or people will understand that you don't bring less than a knife or less to a gun fight. They'll know exactly what to do and they will fucking bury the NRA, the rest of the gun lobby, and the pro gun crowd up to their necks.

He or she won't take away their guns nor will they change the second amendment in any way. They will simply expose the anger, hatred, fear, and paranoia for all to see. And then we can finally put a serious dent in the already declining world of violent crime.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

They Have More Money

Interesting piece over at the Atlantic about who gives more to charity...the wealthy or the poor. The answer is surprising.

One of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in America is that the people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans—those with earnings in the top 20 percent—contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid—those in the bottom 20 percent—donated 3.2 percent of their income. The relative generosity of lower-income Americans is accentuated by the fact that, unlike middle-class and wealthy donors, most of them cannot take advantage of the charitable tax deduction, because they do not itemize deductions on their income-tax returns.

While it's true and quite obvious that the wealthy give a larger dollar amount, the do not give as much percentage wise, as the less fortunate. Add in the fact that the poorer folks don't get a tax deduction and it seems even more generous. But why?

However, some experts have speculated that the wealthy may be less generous—that the personal drive to accumulate wealth may be inconsistent with the idea of communal support. Last year, Paul Piff, a psychologist at UC Berkeley, published research that correlated wealth with an increase in unethical behavior: “While having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything,” Piff later told New York magazine, “the rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people.” 

They are, he continued, “more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.” Colorful statements aside, Piff’s research on the giving habits of different social classes—while not directly refuting the asshole theory—suggests that other, more complex factors are at work. In a series of controlled experiments, lower-income people and people who identified themselves as being on a relatively low social rung were consistently more generous with limited goods than upper-class participants were. Notably, though, when both groups were exposed to a sympathy-eliciting video on child poverty, the compassion of the wealthier group began to rise, and the groups’ willingness to help others became almost identical.

Hmm...perhaps the wealthy are out of touch?

I think that people that have less money give more because they know what it's like to be poor. Perhaps they didn't have a lot of money in recent memory and can completely relate to the hardship. And the wealthy don't give as much because...well...that's why they are wealthy.

They have more money.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

And So It Begins...

Adolphus Busch IV Resigns From NRA

It disturbs me greatly to see this rigid new direction of the NRA. As a starting point, one only has to ask why the NRA reversed its original position on background checks. Was it not the NRA position to support background checks when Mr. LaPierre himself stated in 1999 that NRA saw checks as “reasonable”? Furthermore, I fail to see how the NRA can disregard the overwhelming will of its members who see background checks as reasonable. In fact, according to a Johns Hopkins University study, 74% say they support background checks.

One only has to look at the makeup of the 75-member board of directors, dominated by manufacturing interests, to confirm my point. The NRA appears to have evolved into the lobby for gun and ammunition manufacturers rather than gun owners.

I'm quite proud of the family who has given so much to the state in which I was born. I'm thinking it's just the beginning. The aftermath of the Senate's vote has been quite pointed. As I have said, this does indeed sting, short term but long term? Say goodbye to the gun lobby...

Friday, April 19, 2013

Was Boston Really Terrorism or Just Another Columbine?

With the news that bombings in Boston were committed by guys that had been living in this country for 10 years, people are worried about a wave of "homegrown terrorism." They're wondering what we can do to combat this.

I have a suggestion: stop beating up innocent people.

After numerous false news reports that variously identified "a dark-skinned man," a Saudi, a guy from Nepal, a Moroccan, etc., as suspects in the bombing, there have been several revenge attacks against people who have nothing at all to do with the atrocity: a Bangladeshi network engineer, a woman doctor from Syria, and so on.

This is nothing new. When people are angry they vent their rage against innocent people who vaguely resemble someone they hate. For centuries these sorts of attacks were common against minorities including blacks, Catholics, Irishmen, Hungarians, gays, and especially after 9/11, Muslims.

Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev came to the United States as refugees about that time. How did the intolerance and violence towards innocent Muslims did affect their attitudes about America?

The marathon bombings always seemed like an amateur affair, more like the mass shootings at Newtown, Aurora, and Columbine than a masterminded plot like 9/11. Tamerlan seems to have been alienated from American society. He reportedly said, "I don’t have a single American friend, I don’t understand them." If the Tsarnaevs felt bullied and hated the same way that Dylan Klebold and Adam Lanza felt, Boston may be exactly the same as Columbine and Newtown.

We don't yet know exactly why the Tsarnaevs detonated those bombs. There's simply no excuse for killing innocent people at a marathon. Just like there's no excuse for a man to assault a random Muslim woman on the street.

If you want to stop crimes like the Boston bombing, you have to understand what motivated the perpetrators. Random hatred and mistreatment of Muslims in America may or may not have been the trigger for Tamerlan and Dzhokhar. But anyone who feels oppressed by society could have the same reaction, including gay teenagers, home-schooled Christians, gun owners, you name it.

As we've seen time and again, your ethnicity and political and religious leanings have no real bearing on whether you'll commit atrocities like Boston. Abortion- and lesbian-hater Eric Rudolph was responsible for the bombing at the Atlanta Olympics. Timothy McVeigh's attack in Oklahoma City killed far more people than the Tsarnaevs, and he called himself a true American Patriot.

All that's needed for mass murder is a righteous belief that violence is the appropriate response to a perceived affront. The rest is just details.

Dzhokhar's Joke

People are wondering what motivated Dzhokhar Tsarnaev to commit the atrocity in Boston. His page on the Russian-language social networking site (short for "v kontakte," or "in contact") is still up as of this writing. It looks fairly normal, with links to a couple of generic pages about Chechnya.

His worldview is listed as "Islam" and his personal priority is listed as "career and money."  Not exactly a terrorist manifesto, is it?

There is one thing that may shed some light on his mindset, a joke he posted on March 19:
В школе задают загадку..Едет
автомобиль. В нем сидят – дагестанец,
чеченец и ингуш.
Вопрос – кто ведет машину ?
Мага отвечает: - Полиция.
Translated into English:
In school they posed a riddle: A car is going along. In it sit a guy from Dagestan, one from Chechnya and one from Ingushetia [regions of Russia that have been torn by insurrection and repression].
Question: who's driving the car?
Maga answers: The police.

Well, I Didn't See That One Coming

It looks like the two bombers of the Boston Marathon were Chechen rebels? Wow, I didn't see that one coming. One of them is dead and the other one is still at large of this post.

His Finest Hour

Everyone keeps talking about how the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey gun bill is the greatest loss the president has experienced and how awful it is. I disagree. In fact, I think it has been his finest hour. Watch his entire speech below from yesterday.

I don't think I have ever been prouder of the man. People are going to remember these words and, when juxtaposed with the 46 Senators that voted against Manchin-Toomey, the American people are going to remember the contrast.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

One of the 2.5 Million?

A cop in DeKalb County Atlanta was charged with aggravated assault after pulling a gun on some kids waiting in a drive-thru at McDonalds.

Does the NRA count that as one of the 2.5 million defensive uses of guns they say happen every year?

Three New "Habitable" Planets Found?

Astronomers have found three new planets that are the most similar to earth so far. The scientists used NASA's Kepler spacecraft to observe variations in star brightness to find the planets. No question, this is a great discovery. But reading the popular press, you'd think they'd found little green men peering back at us with big, sad eyes.

The New York Times article is typical, with the headline "2 Good Places to Live, 1,200 Light-Years Away." That's a colossal overstatement, much like their claim that Mars is "habitable."

Mars is in the habitable zone, to be sure, but it's not habitable in any real sense. It is far too cold and the atmosphere too thin and lacking oxygen for a person to survive without wearing a space suit. Crops will not grow except in hermetically sealed green houses. So far there's no trace of any form of life on the surface. Bacteria could likely be persuaded to live there in the soil fairly easily as they do in Antarctica. And, yes, humans could colonize Mars and perhaps thrive there. But it would be little different from living on the moon

The two parent stars, Kepler 62 and Kepler 69, are more than a thousand light years away. Kepler 62-e is on the inner edge of the habitable zone, and is 60 percent larger than earth. Kepler 62-f is only 40 percent larger than earth, and is at the outside edge of the habitable zone. A third planet, 1.7 times the size of earth, was found in the habitable zone of Kepler 69, a star almost identical to the sun. But those are the only things we know about the planets: we don't know if they're made of rock or gas. And we don't know what the atmospheres consist of.

Just being in the habitable zone doesn't make a planet habitable: the diagram on the right shows that Venus and Mars are both well inside the habitable zone of the solar system, but Mars is far too cold and Venus is far too hot for human habitation.

Why? The atmospheres: Mars was too small to hold on to its atmosphere for very long; what oxygen remained combined with carbon or other elements. It's only got a wispy envelope of carbon dioxide.

Venus, a bit smaller than earth, has a very thick atmosphere of carbon dioxide and clouds of sulfuric acid. The temperature on the surface of Venus is almost 900 degrees Fahrenheit. The atmospheric pressure is 92 times greater than earth's at sea level. It's the greenhouse effect gone mad: the same thing would happen to earth if we pumped enough CO2 into the air.

Finally, the only reason that earth is habitable in the sense that people can live here is that it has an oxygen-nitrogen atmosphere. But such an atmosphere is impossible without bacteria and plant life that constantly produce the free oxygen required for animal life. Without those simpler forms of life, the reactive oxygen would oxidize everything around it. The entire earth would rust and perhaps wind up looking like Mars. So these planets we're finding out in the galaxy wouldn't be truly habitable for humans unless something is constantly replenishing atmospheric oxygen -- something we'd probably call life.

There's no question that this is a very cool discovery: it shows that earth-sized planets are common around stars like the sun at the distance necessary for the right temperature for human habitation. But it's way too early to claim they're "habitable" without any knowledge of the planets' compositions and the constituents of their atmospheres.


What Is Wrong with South Carolina Republican Voters?

Blindsided by news that Sanford’s ex-wife has accused him of trespassing and concluding he has no plausible path to victory, the National Republican Congressional Committee has decided not to spend more money on Sanford’s behalf ahead of the May 7 special election.
Sanford has been a big story since he began his recent comeback. When a seat opened up in the House of Representatives due to the resignation of Jim DeMint, Sanford decided to run, even though everyone thought his political career was over. He beat 16 other Republicans in primaries to win the right to face Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, Stephen Colbert's sister.

Sanford became infamous when he disappeared from South Carolina in 2009, telling aides that he was going to hike the Appalachian Trail. He was actually visiting his mistress in Argentina. A reporter caught him getting off the plane at the Atlanta airport.

To make matters worse, Sanford later gave tearful and sappy interviews about "finding his soul mate." He was accused of using state money to visit his mistress, and he returned funds to the state he'd spent visiting her in 2008. The South Carolina legislature wrestled with impeaching him, but finally decided against it. His divorce from his wife Jenny was finalized in 2010. He left office in 2011.

When the South Carolina House seat opened up, Sanford had the gall to ask his wife to run his campaign for him, saying,“I could pay you this time." His latest problems arose when his ex-wife caught him trespassing in her house. His excuse? He couldn't bear the thought of his son watching the Super Bowl alone.

Sanford has the worst case of serial idiocy I've ever seen. This guy is a liar, a cheat, a thief, a fool and a jerk. And the most incredible thing is that Republican primary voters chose him over 16 other Republicans!

Were those voters totally oblivious to the stench emanating from Sanford for the last four years? Or did they just not care? What kind of people would vote for a man like Sanford? He has violated every institution that Republicans claim to cherish: honesty, faithfulness, holy matrimony, careful stewardship of public funds, and on and on.

Yes, it's true, forgiveness is a Christian virtue. But just because you forgive someone doesn't mean you should put him in Congress.

Who is the "Adult" Party, again?

The photo above was put on Mitch McConnell's Facebook page right after Manchin-Toomey was defeated.  I think I'm going to enjoy watching Senator McConnell lose next fall to Alison Lundergan Grimes. Moreover,  it's going to be even more fun to watch Kentucky turn blue when Hillary wins there:)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Next Week's School Shooting Victims Thank Senate For Failing To Pass Gun Bill

WASHINGTON—Following the Senate’s rejection of a bipartisan amendment to expand background checks for gun buyers, the young victims of next week’s school shooting emphatically thanked members of Congress today for failing to pass more comprehensive gun control legislation. “Great job, guys,” said 14-year-old Jacob Miller, one of nine junior high school students who will be shot next week by a mentally ill gunman wielding a legally acquired assault rifle that was purchased at a gun show. “My classmates and I are really proud of you for cowering to the NRA and caring more about politics than my friends and I getting shot and killed. It totally makes sense. You’re the best.” The soon-to-be massacred teenager added that his parents, Caroline and Pete Miller, also wanted to extend their heartfelt congratulations to the Senate.

Retired Cop Shoots Self in School

A retired police officer accidentally shot himself when he dropped his gun inside a Des Plaines school while attending his grandson's Boy Scout troop meeting.
He wasn't an official "good guy with a gun", but incidents like this show that the NRA's plan for preventing school shootings by "bad guys with guns" will instead result in many more accidental shootings by incompetent and clumsy "good guys with guns."

Considering that the bad guys will always have the drop on the good guys, the net number of dead kids is only going to go up.


The Manchin-Toomey Gun bill has failed by a vote of 54 to 46. Let the hand wringing and recriminations begin!

As I have said previously, this would be a great example of "losing the argument" but still managing to be right. Gun safety advocates should take heart that there are several things to be positive about after the vote today. Regardless of what happens from this point forward, it's going to work out for the best, with likely sacrifices along the way, unfortunately.

Newtown struck a very deep wound in the heart of America. My hope is that, even without new laws, there won't be another shooting on this scale, at least in the near term. People are going to start taking more of an interest in their local, young men who fit the same profile as Adam Lanza and be more aware of allowing them to have guns and play 'Call of Duty" for hours and hours. Perhaps I'm being naive but I've certainly seen it in my neck of the woods and I hope it lasts.

Yet, the regular, every day gun violence will still continue and now we have 46 senators on record as not even supporting expanded background checks. When something like this happens, it usually brings out the worst in people and we have certainly seen that from these senators and the gun rights lobby. It's a short term victory for them with long term ruin on the horizon. America is not with them on this one and they are going to pay a very steep penalty in 2014 and 2016. There will likely be many gun deaths between now and the next election and voters are not going to be happy about it. The chance for the president to revisit this issue again in 2015 is there.

And, if there is another Newtown or something like it, the next gun bill will make the gun lobby wish they had gone along with this one so they could at least look like they were trying to solve the problem. Another Newtown or Aurora means more people added to the gun safety lobby and that means you can say hello again to an assault weapons ban and ammo clip limitations with far more support than there is today.

I hope it doesn't come to that and we can, at least, turn our attention away from guns and towards mental health and how much parents really and truly are sucking right now. In the final analysis, that's why these shooting sprees happen. Parents are fucking morons and let their mentally ill children have guns. Of course, fixing this doesn't do much to the every day violence that occurs from guns and isn't much comfort to those who have lost loved ones in this manner. Maybe this will be the kick in the ass the federal government needs to start putting away more people who fail background checks.

Defense Contractor Signs Big Green Energy Contract with China

The Wall Street Journal reports that Lockheed Martin has signed a contract to build a 10-megawatt power plant for a luxury resort on the Chinese island of Hainan. The plant will use "ocean thermal energy conversion" technology, or OTEC:
The OTEC process uses warm tropical waters to power a steam-driven turbine. Cold water is pumped from the depths of the sea to condense the steam back into liquid.

Closed-system plants like the one Lockheed plans to build use a liquid such as ammonia that has a low boiling point to create the steam.

Warmer surface waters pass by a heat exchanger, causing the ammonia in the closed system to boil and create the steam that drives the turbine. Cold deep-sea water is pumped by another heat exchanger to condense the ammonia back to a liquid.
Similar technology is used in ground-source (also called geothermal) heat pumps for many large buildings and some homes in the United States. These systems use temperature differentials to transfer heat into the earth during the summer for air conditioning, and to transfer heat from the earth into buildings during the winter. Such temperature control systems are expensive to install, because they typically require sinking hundreds of feet of pipe into the ground, but because they are so efficient they're cheaper in the long run. They also produce less pollution compared to burning natural gas directly or by electric heating.

Republicans like John McCain have criticized the Defense Department for green initiatives, but since the US military is the largest consumer of oil in the entire world, defense planners have to be out in front on energy issues since it's vital to national security.

So it's good to see a company like Lockheed Martin, best known for aerospace and defense business, leading the way on technology that could reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. It would be nice not to be forced to invade a Middle Eastern country every time some nutjob threatens to stop the flow of oil out of there.

A Suspect?

CNN is reporting that they have video of a dark skinned male placing a bag at the site of the second bombing. He is considered a suspect in the Boston Marathon Bombing.

On Their Way Out The Door

I've watched with amusement over the media's obsession with the word "terror" and how the president didn't use it right away. Fox News, in particular, saw their opening and started attacking the president for being "weak on terror" and proceeded to overuse the word throughout their broadcasts since the bombing in Boston on Monday.

Well, 'ol Sean Hannity was the leader of the pack. I can only stomach him for a couple of minutes but he used the word at least a dozen times in the span that I viewed. My advice to him is to be careful what he wishes for...he might get it. Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss speculated that this bombing seems like the work of a domestic agent. Rick DesLauriers, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office and head of this investigation, is asking for people who might have heard someone talking about April 15th (tax day) or if they heard someone practicing with bomb making materials. That also says home grown terrorist and we all know what kind that could be.

If it does turn out that this was an anti-government, right wing type, check out how fast Fox and the rest of the right wing media walk back the use of the word "terror" and play make believe that the bomber wasn't really a conservative. They'll be falling all over themselves on the way out the door.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Emerging Details

AP News is reporting that the bombs used yesterday in Boston were pressure cooker bombs similar to those used in Afghanistan, India, Nepal and Pakistan, according to a July 2010 joint FBI and Homeland Security intelligence report. Also, one of the three devices used in the May 2010 Times Square attempted bombing was a pressure cooker, the intelligence report said. The group responsible for that attempted attack, the Pakistani Taliban, has denied responsibility for the bombing yesterday.

So, no real details on who was behind this yet but one thing is really starting to sink in: you have to be pretty dumb in this day and age to try to pull of something like this incognito. In addition to the traffic and security cameras, the number of people with recording devices is astronomical. Who needs Big Brother when you have people documenting everything themselves?

Good Words

I've been searching for the words after yesterday's bombing in Boston and just didn't seem to really have any. I still don't.

But these words from Patton Oswalt's Facebook page were very inspiring.

You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out.When you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, "The good outnumber you, and we always will."

Monday, April 15, 2013

What is this Bitcoin Nonsense?

In the Internet age there's always something to buzz about. Bitcoin is the latest craze: the virtual currency has been dominating the news recently. It was trading as high as $266 and then fell to as low as $54 last Friday when Mt. Gox, the Japanese bitcoin exchange, was hit by a cyberattack and stopped trading. The Winklevoss twins (of Facebook fame) were calculated to have lost tens of millions of dollars on paper.

What is bitcoin? An artificial currency that is backed by no government and is not tied to any real-world commodity such as gold. Bitcoins are fabricated out of thin air, in pretty much the same fashion as "gold" is in online roleplaying games like World of  Warcraft. Instead of slaying electronic orcs or chipping away at virtual rock outcroppings, bitcoins are created by running computers through complex algorithms to "mine" bitcoins which can then be sold on exchanges.

But that play money doesn't come cheaply: it's estimated that the current production of bitcoins uses $147,000 of electricity a day (enough to power 31,000 homes) just to crank out 25 new bitcoins every 10 minutes. But don't worry, it won't go on forever; in the year 2140 the maximum number will be reached, a total of 21 million.

Supporters of bitcoin decry governments that just print fiat money, claiming this destroys the economy by causing massive inflation. But the bitcoin "miners" are doing exactly what they're accusing government of: making money out of thin air. Many libertarians are calling for a return to the gold standard, but with the recent crash in the price of gold to $1,400/oz (down almost 30%  since 2011) you have to wonder if it's such a stable commodity.

The fact is, the supply of gold is always going up, just like the supply of dollars -- it's just slower. In fact, once we develop the technology for asteroid mining, the price of any precious metal could drop through the basement if we snagged an asteroid with a particularly rich vein. The total amount of gold in the world is amazingly small: a mere 171,300 tons, which would make a cube 60 feet on a side, the size of two adjacent volleyball courts.

So why would anyone use bitcoins? Because it's theoretically untraceable. People like bitcoin because they can buy things over the Internet without any records. It's the perfect medium for paying for prostitutes, laundering drug money, buying illegal weapons, and so on.

That also means bitcoins are easily stolen: if anyone gets hold of yours, it's gone for good. Stories about hackers stealing bitcoins are rampant. That's why the Winklevoss twins supposedly have put their bitcoins on flash drives they've stored in safe deposit boxes in three different cities. All in all, it's not a very safe or useful currency.

The value of any currency depends solely on the trust society has in the institution that backs it. The US government backs the dollar. The EU backs the euro. Precious metals are backed by exchanges that buy and sell them, though gold and copper also have an intrinsic value because they are essential components of every piece technology we use today, and some people still feel gold has an intrinsic value as jewelry.

But the only backers of bitcoin are other bitcoin users. And if those users are primarily criminals, hackers and the Winklevii, how much trust can you possibly put in bitcoin?

The guy who invented bitcoin, Satoshi Nakamoto, doesn't even exist.  He's just a pseudonym for one or more programmers of unknown nationality who posted on Internet forums. So there isn't even a "founder" who will back bitcoin.

Still, I bet the guy who paid 10,000 bitcoins for two pizzas is kicking himself now.

He Is Saying Things That Need To Said

There are so many things to love about Peter Brown Hoffmeister's recent piece that was banned from the Huffington Post that I don't even know where to start. He is saying things that need to be said and forcing us to confront a very deep fissure in our culture. In many ways, he speaks to the heart of the problem with young men in this country and how a few of them end up going on shooting sprees.

He should know. He was one of those young men and he made it out and became mentor and teacher himself. Correctly, he identifies the ingredients that get these young men to the point of shooting people and it's not just the guns.

Now I am not anti-video game crusader Jack Thompson. I’m not suggesting that everyone who plays a video game will act out that video game in reality. But I am saying that it is very dangerous to allow troubled, angry, teenage boys access to killing practice, even if that access is only virtual killing practice. The military uses video games to train soldiers to kill, yet we don’t consider “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3″ training for addicted teenage players? A high school boy who plays that game 30 hours per week isn’t training to kill somebody?

Now combine that with a mom who buys into the whole "live free or die" horse hockey and decides to allow their son access to a large quantity of weaponry and you have a disaster. Why is that the parents of these shooters never have their feet held to the fire? In the final analysis, it's primarily their responsibility. Nancy Lanza was a complete and total failure as a parent and her incompetence resulted in the deaths of 26 people.   There are thousands more like her out there and they truly, truly suck. They need to stop sucking. Yesterday.

Where are the parents in this situation or others like this one?

I was walking behind two teenage boys in the hall at my high school the other day and I heard one talking about slitting someone’s throat. He said, “I just came up behind him, pulled out my knife so quietly and cut his throat.” The other boy said, “Yeah, then I killed everyone else in less than, like, 10 seconds. Just slaughtered them.” 

I looked at these two boys: Tall and awkward. Unathletic. I knew that they weren’t tied-in socially, that they both struggled in classes and with peers. Yet they were capable of incredible and sudden violence on screen. Together, they could slit throats and shoot everyone. I asked one of them later, and he said that he played Call of Duty “an average of 40 hours per week, at least.” 

Is this what we want angry, adolescent boys to do? Do we want to give them this practice? Do we want them to glorify violent actions, to brag about violence in the school’s hallways? Or even worse, given the perfect equation of frustration + opportunity + practice, do we want them to do as Weise, Roberts, and Lanza did, and act out these fantasies in real life? Do we want them to yell, “I am the shooter” as they enter a crowded mall – as Roberts did? Or dress like video-game shooters – as Lanza and Roberts were – before heading into a murder spree?

When I was an awkward teenager, all I thought about was sex. All my friends were the same. We smoked pot, listened to music and were obsessed with progressing around the bases in terms of carnal escapades. That is definitely not the case today. Sex is very verboten subject with teenagers and they are much less sexual active than they were in my generation. There are drugs, of course, but they are viewed so negatively by our culture that the deviance takes on a truly ugly hue for the kids that do them...even marijuana. I can't help but think that if some of these kids just smoked some pot and made out with their girlfriends or boyfriends, they might be more at peace.

Hoffmeister closes the piece with a direct appeal to parents. I agree with it completely and I will close with it as well.

Get kids outside. Take them out and let them wander around in the woods. Let them canoe across a lake. Let them backpack through a mountain range. Give them a map and compass assignment. Give frustrated youth an opportunity to challenge themselves in the natural world. Have you ever heard of a school shooter who’s hobbies are kayaking, rock climbing, and fly-fishing? If that seems absurd – and it does seem absurd to me – we might be onto something. I don’t think that those hobbies can create a school shooter. There’s just something abut the natural world that defuses anger. I know this because the outdoors helped saved my life. An outdoor diversion program for troubled teens started the process when I was sixteen. Camping and hiking and climbing helped me mature further as a nineteen and twenty year old. And now, as the director of a high school outdoor program, one of my student leaders said recently that “the outdoor program saves lives.” That’s not me. That’s nature. Kids need the outdoors. Help the young people. Get them outside.


Wow. Stacey Campfield is really a douche...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Giving Me Pause

It's Sunday and I find myself this morning not being a very good Christian. Repeated more than any other command in the Bible, we are supposed to love thy neighbor. After reading this, I have to admit I'm finding it very hard to love Karl Denninger, one of the chief founders of the Tea Party Movement. Here's what Mr. Denninger had to say about Francine Wheeler, the mother of Newtown shooting victim, Ben Wheeler

Listen up, you incompetent and defective sack of meat -- your son is dead because you are unfit to be parents. You sat silently by while your state and our nation erected signs telling people who are criminally insane where they can find the maximum number of defenseless people to murder. You are personally, jointly and severably responsible for the consequences. You are unfit to possess a uterus and your husband is unfit to possess testicles.

Every time I think the Right can't get any lower, they somehow manage to find a subbasement. I suppose I could rip into him for being so despicable but it's obvious that this man is terribly unhappy. As I have said previously, conservatives don't do well with children.

They also seem to have a significant problem with denial, specifically DARVO.

You, Mrs. Wheeler, having willingly and intentionally refused to take responsibility for your acts of omission and commission that led to your son being murdered by a madman now have the audacity to stand in front of the nation and demand that everyone else give up their children to murderous goons as well. Go to Hell Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler and take your state and its alleged laws with you.

That's right, Karl. It's not Adam Lanza's fault that he killed all those kids. Nor is it his mother's fault. It's the fault of the parents of the victims. So much for individual responsibility.

The ugly is really coming out with this issue and I've realized that it's the case with others as well. When confronted with unpleasant truths about these situations, the Right categorically refuses to reflect and, sadly, digs in deeper. With the gun issue, liars and gun grabbers are everywhere with civil war imminent. Useful idiots like me are foolish because we don't operate in a state of full panic mode about the federal government 24/7.

The insecurity of these folks is so monumental that we are likely to see even worse behavior than Mr. Denninger's latest mouth foam. The threat they perceive isn't there but it's so very real to them that it makes me wonder just how bad they will get. I'm still leaning towards them all being big, cowardly babies but this latest attack certainly gives me a great deal of pause.

Like Colonel Potter said about Colonel Flagg, "I think someone mixed some locoweed into his feed."

Saturday, April 13, 2013

For The Children

Lately, it's become obvious that the Right doesn't do well with children. One would think that they would considering that they claim to want kids to become educated about civics and history. The problem, of course, is what they really want is for children is to be brainwashed with their horribly misguided and flawed ideology. And when children see the mistakes of this ideology (remember, they are smarter than we might think;)), they tend to move in a more sane direction.

Seeing those young eyes staring them in the face is a stark fucking reminder of just how much these issues affect the lives of children across the country. It completely torpedoes the Right's fact free zone and drives them insane. So, for example, when the Right sees frightened kids writing letters to the president asking about school safety after Sandy Hook and standing with him at a speech, they irrationally lash out, behaving like adolescent bullies. Accusations of children being used as "human shields" or "props" began to fly along with the customary bemoan about how it's all "for the children." Well, guess what?

It is. 

Since these policies will have a profound affect on their future as well, I think it' fantastic that kids are involved, even at a young age, and regardless of their political stripe. That's why it's always important to treat them respect and not berate them, or their parents, when they try to become involved. The fact that I have to remind certain people of this gives you an idea about the level of mentality we are dealing with here.

Case in point is Tennessee State Senator Stacey Campfield. Mr. Campfield thought it might be a good idea to tie welfare benefits to grades so he put together Tennessee Senate Bill 132. Shocking that a child, who would be directly affected by this, got involved. Take a look at what happened.


After this protest, the bill was thankfully withdrawn but this incident is an excellent example of why the Right doesn't like to leave their bubble very much. They know that their views are truly deplorable and quite unacceptable to ...well...humans. It makes complete sense that their "courage" to say these sorts of things doesn't extend much past the comments sections of blogs.

Nonetheless, I extend a challenge to all the Stacey Campfields of the world, many of whom are located in the right wing blogsphere. Come out of your safe, little worlds and say more things in public like this to children. You need a wider audience. The 2014 elections are just around the corner and we'd like to take back the House!