One of the Pope’s Inspirations…

Every pope wants to be as cool as Father Guido Sarducci.

The Real Reason Behind the BLM Attack on the Bundy Ranch

War Is Not The Answer at the Bundy Ranch

I haven’t written much about the Bundy situation in Nevada because when I started delving into the 20 year old issue it quickly became complicated; I’m not that familiar with grazing rights and didn’t feel qualified to judge based on what I’d learned. I’m also active in wildlife conservation and actually do care about animals like turtles.

But what I can comment upon is the way the federal government has responded to the situation. I’m a firm believer in gun safety. I believe you should only point a gun at something you want to destroy. If you don’t want to harm that thing you don’t point your gun at it. Seeing pictures of federal agents pointing guns at protesters and more ominously laying in the dirt with sniper rifles pointing at the Bundy family members bothers me.

I’m also bothered by a government bureaucracy that is tone deaf to any criticism. They’ve let this situation go on for 20 years, and now seem determined to end it regardless of what happens. There are clearly some hot-heads in the BLM who seem determined to spill blood over what is a civil matter that should be resolved in the courts.

One must not forget that such acts breed extremism. For example some on both sides of the political spectrum believe that US interventions overseas breed terrorism, so it’s not a stretch to apply that logic to domestic intervention. Timothy McVeigh justified the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995 on the ATF siege of the Branch Davidian complex in Waco Texas in 1993. We’re left to wonder what would have happened had Waco been resolved without violence.

The BLM may have thought following the standard playbook of a massive display of force would work; it hasn’t. Instead it has inflamed the situation and brought armed militia members to “protect” the Bundy family from an apparently uncontrollable federal bureaucracy. The people surrounding the Bundy ranch are Americans just as those they are pointing their guns at. They have families just as the Bundy’s do. There is no reason why this cannot be settled peacefully but it’s going to require cooler heads to prevail.

The Bundy ranch is a quagmire for the federal government. It needs to resolve the stand-off diplomatically without resorting to shooting Americans. It may not get 100% of what it wants, but a military victory over the family is impossible.

Update: Dead Americans for Chinese solar panels? Looks like Sen. Reid is saving the desert tortoise only to displace them for a Chinese solar panel company. Nothing surprises me anymore.

Update: Looks like cooler heads have prevailed after all. This time.

Update: More on Dirty Harry

 

There Should Be A Word…

I think there should be a word for people who call others names unfairly. Years ago I was publicly shouted down as a “Nazi” for daring to speak out at a town hall meeting to oppose the expansion of a Chabad Lubavitch prayer center in a residential neighborhood. I found the experience ironic since I was probably a bigger Zionist than some of the leftist Jews in the auditorium. Just this week Mozilla’s CEO Brendan Eich was forced to step down for his donation to a group fighting gay marriage in California 8 years ago. Emily Moulder, writing in the Daily Telegraph, has publicly called Eich a “homophobe” and deserving of losing his job, even though no one has explained how opposing gay marriage makes one homophobic. Either the people throwing around the term don’t understand its weight, or the term itself means nothing. Similarly one of my childhood heroes Hank Aaron has come out and called me and others  “racist” for opposing Obama.

As my friend Adam told me at the time, there is plenty of real anti-Semitism around so making it up isn’t necessary, and the same is true about racism and homophobia. I live among African-Americans, and I also happen to know there are more than a few white supremacists around these parts. Ask me which ones I’d rather hang out with or have my son marry. Similarly I have more gay friends than the average Southerner, and it pisses me off to no end when I hear about the hassles they still have to put up with at the hands of true homophobes. Yet while I support gay marriage, I deplore the attacks on Mozilla’s Eich that led to his resignation. As for racism, I still think Barack Obama is the worst president this country has had since Nixon. Hammerin’ Hank thinks I’m a klansman for believing that. Hank, you disappoint me.

The people who resort to name calling for anyone who disagrees with them deserve their own special derogatory name. They need to be called out and shamed for their behavior just as the true bigots need to be for their action. Anyone who is truly a racist would be proud to be called one. True Nazis aren’t upset about being called Nazi after all. But those who are slandered by your name calling deserve to fight back with their own special word that shames people who attack them unfairly.

I’ll let you know if I come up with something beyond “flaming asshat.”

Inside Barack Obama’s Mind

A Concise Review of Flash Boys by Michael Lewis

Wall Street is rigged more than you thought and at lightning speed.

Technological Progress: The Hardback Replaces the E-Book

I did something the other day that I hadn’t done in 2 years: I bought a book. Like many I’d taken to reading books on e-readers, in my case the Amazon Kindle Fire, and after purchasing the Kindle I had thought my book buying days were over. But over time I noticed something: what I read on the Kindle didn’t seem to stick with me as long. I’d even sampled books I had already downloaded and read. Something wasn’t right.

I began investigating whether there was a link between poor reading comprehension and e-readers. This article, originally published in Scientific American, suggests there is.

At least a few studies suggest that by limiting the way people navigate texts, screens impair comprehension. In a study published in January 2013 Anne Mangen of the University of Stavanger in Norway and her colleagues asked 72 10th-grade students of similar reading ability to study one narrative and one expository text, each about 1,500 words in length. Half the students read the texts on paper and half read them in pdf files on computers with 15-inch liquid-crystal display (LCD) monitors. Afterward, students completed reading-comprehension tests consisting of multiple-choice and short-answer questions, during which they had access to the texts. Students who read the texts on computers performed a little worse than students who read on paper. (source)

Around the same time I bought the Kindle, I was having a carpenter install bookshelves in what was going to be our library, and I remember feeling almost nostalgic about the books that were boxed and ready to be placed on the shelves. I’d always taken the measure of a man by the books he read, and the library struck me as a place that told more about him than he perhaps wanted known. It wasn’t just their subjects that gave away their owner’s secrets. Were they paperbacks that were tattered from being carried around backpacks and the backseat floors of cars, dog-eared and marked up with various inks? Or were they pristine collectors edition hardbacks whose spines had never been broken, likely owned and cherished for their spines and little else? If one looked carefully one could even glimpse the reader’s evolution, from paperback science fiction novels of her early teens, to the paperback Tolkien sagas of her college years, followed by the physical science pre-med and medical school textbooks bursting with margin notes and photocopied hand-outs, to the growing number of travel books reflecting a restless soul who needs to wander to exotically named places like Marrakesh and Zanzibar.

I had to delay my gratification for two days until the hardback arrived in the mailbox, and its cost was approximately double that of the electronic version. But the feel of the book in my hands was like the handclasp, and the smell of the pages was like the old familiar perfume of an old friend. Three days after its reception, it’s due to join the rest of my old friends in the library in the center of our home. The copy of PJ O’Rourke’s Holidays in Hell that has holidayed with me in Africa and Asia. The Stephen Jay Gould collection. The Feynman books. Like all devoured and at my finger tips to be referenced at a moment’s notice.

Well This Explains Alot

This explains why Obama is scrambling around the White House trying to find the receipt for its purchase…

HatTip, photo and translation brought to you by SimplyJews.

Neo-Cons Revile Obama Not Putin

In his article Vladimir Putin, Russian Neo-Con Atlantic contributing editor Peter Beinart takes neo-cons to task for exhibiting the same focus on military strength and ignoring economic power as Vladimir Putin. “In his approach to foreign policy, Vladimir Putin has a lot in common with those very American hawks (or “neocons” in popular parlance) who revile him most.”

Neo-cons revile Putin the most? Seriously? Beinart clearly doesn’t understand neo-cons at all.

To put it bluntly hawks respect other hawks not doves.

Neo-cons don’t revile Putin. Sure they think he’s a warmongering Russian leader who must be confronted by a strong American and European response, but “revile” him? Absolutely not. The neo-cons see Putin as a man who has been dealt a very poor hand but who has played it brilliantly. He has maintained power in a country with more ethnic, racial, political, economic, and social fault lines than any other nation on the planet. His opponents are vastly richer than his nation, yet he has been able to divide them in ways that are diabolical or brilliant depending on your perspective. America has the largest standing army on the planet yet Putin has managed to hold it at bay in Syria, and is able to bully and invade his neighbors with impunity as shown in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine today.

This doesn’t mean that neo-cons want to see Putin win in Ukraine or Syria. They still want to see him defeated. But in Putin they see a man who thinks like they do, who feels a deep sense of duty to his country and is willing to do whatever it takes to make his country great again. They may disagree with his actions, but they don’t question his motives.

Neo-cons revile the likes of President Obama and his administration. They detest the thinking so prominent in academia here and among European statesmen that the solution to every problem can be resolved through talking, and that war is an anachronism with no place in the modern world. They hate the assumption that underlays the thinking of the western intelligentsia, that nationalism is dead and borders are the last impediment to a new transnational utopia. And they especially loathe the attitude that words matter more than actions; Obama’s empty rhetoric is despised much more than Putin’s use of his military.

The truth is that if neo-cons could find an American version of Vladimir Putin they would do whatever it took to put him in the White House. Thanks to Putin people fear Russia in ways they no longer fear the United States, a fact that progressives who detest neo-cons don’t quite understand because they don’t see the world as Putin and the neo-cons see it: a zero sum game with winners and losers. Putin will do what it takes to see that Russia wins, and neo-cons respect that.

Council Nominations: March 26, 2014

Council Submissions


Honorable Mentions


Non-Council Submissions


To A Friend Who Is No More

But who was so much more…

 

 

See you on the other side, Laura, where we’re all 16 again.

Obamacare Tax Is Here for Individuals Too

Pity the small business. The federal government treats small business owners as cheats and shows them no mercy. Every month small businesses regardless of size must file payroll taxes which include the other 7.5% of each employee’s FICA plus withholding taxes. Every quarter the business also must file estimated taxes for the current fiscal year. Life is simpler for W-2 employees. Most of the work is hidden from them because if the average worker was responsible for carrying his or her share of the burden to comply with local, state and federal regulations, there would be riots in the streets. So instead governments burden the employers who must write it off as the cost of doing business in our society, and workers believe their tax refund is a “gift” from a benevolent government.

Much is being said about Matt Drudge’s “Liberty Tax”, and it’s clear that none of the critics have ever had to file a small business corporate return. If they had they’d understand how taxes are collected in this country and would recognize that Drudge isn’t lying. One issue I haven’t seen mentioned, however, is the individual penalty. Although Congress has raised the issue of delaying the individual penalty for those who opt out of Obamacare, it doesn’t appear likely to pass anytime soon, meaning that the penalty is already in force. We just don’t feel it yet.

Those who opt out, or carry a policy that doesn’t meet Obamacare’s minimum criteria of providing maternity care to men or Viagra to women, should increase their withholding amounts immediately or risk a surprise tax bill next year. How much will the penalty be? Here is an ACA Penalty Calculator that will estimate the amount due next year. For example, if you are filing as single with no dependents and make $75,000 this year, you will pay an additional $649 in 2014 rising to $1,339 next year and $1,725 the year after that (assuming 3% wage growth). Assuming the worker didn’t want to be stuck with that bill and was paid 26 times a year, she’d have to boost her withholding amount by another $25 a check this year, another $26.50 the next, and another $15 in FY2016. Things get complicated real quick with other permutations. Nothing the IRS does is simple, and handling Obamacare penalties is no different.

Most people don’t think about taxes until a few weeks before they are due, so I don’t expect this issue to get much airplay until early next year. But if you don’t have employer-sponsored health care or your plan isn’t qualified, then don’t kid yourself. You’re paying the penalty now.

 

The Council Has Spoken: March 21, 2014

Council Winners


Non-Council Winners


Recommended Life Skills From A Nobody

The following are what I consider to be life skills for everyone that you won’t see in the usual lists floating around the internet. Mastering just a few of these will improve your well-being as they have mine.

If you already know them, teach a friend or if you have kids, teach them. For specifics on how to do any of the following, Google and YouTube are your friends.

Now you might ask, “Why should I listen to an old fool like you? You aren’t famous. You aren’t rich. You’re really a nobody.”  I admit I’m old and often foolish and while I may not be rich I am comfortable. As for being a nobody, I’m somebody to the animals I’ve rescued and care for, to the Kid and to the Wife. Their opinions about me matter more to me than the number of  readers I have of this blog, Twitter followers or Facebook friends. Besides my advice won’t kill you, unlike Jenny McCarthy’s.

As MM catches in the comments there is no particular rank to these skills. They’re pretty much in the order they came to me, and this being an easily editable blog post, I’ll continue adding to the list. Enjoy!

1. Safely change a flat tire. Nothing screams “Moron!” like driving on the shoulder with a flat-tire, turning a $10 problem into a $200 one. And while I recommend AAA, there’s no reason to call them for a flat unless you are a woman. I’ve driven half a million road miles and have never seen a woman change a flat. Evidently it’s something that men can do that women can’t, like pee standing up (although I have seen women do that.) You’ll know we’ve achieved true equality of the sexes when you see women changing flat tires. Sexist? Yes, but you don’t need much upper body strength to fix a flat.

2. Learn how to do laundry. Hint: Like likes like. Oh, and read the label (if you haven’t cut it out already).

3. Be able to prepare and cook at least one breakfast, one lunch and one dinner. The key? The only time you use high heat is to boil water. Everything else cooks best with moderate heat. Always keep a jar of pasta sauce, box of spaghetti and a bag of frozen meatballs on hand. Within 20 minutes you will have dinner for two.

4. Learn how to use a multimeter, specifically how to measure resistance. I’ll admit I’ve used multimeters for a long time but only figured out how to measure resistance last week. It’s like using a hammer for years to pry nails up and then realizing that gee, you can beat them into the wood too. Seriously it was a revelation. Once I learned this I was measuring conductivity of everything in the house. (Tip: Cats are NOT conductive, at least at the amperage contained in your average multimeter.) Bad fuse? You’ll know instantly. Short somewhere? Your multimeter will help you find it.

5. Balance a checkbook. Learn how to handle cash flow, especially when using checks and maintaining a small balance.

6. Floss. Your dental hygienist is right. Flossing makes a big difference. Not only does it keep your teeth clean, it helps maintain your health. And it makes kissing bearable.

7. Learn how to correctly iron a shirt. In today’s casual business environment of “wrinkle-free” shirts and slacks, you might think this is anachronistic. Think again. Even the so-called wrinkle-free shirts look positively frumpy compared to a well-ironed shirt. It’s a small detail that says a lot about you to your colleagues and will be noticed, even if you are a jeans/t-shirt type at heart. Every decent motel contains an ironing board and an iron. If you are traveling on business, use them.

8. Do your own taxes. Using software is okay, but before you go to H&R Block or let your brother who is studying accounting do them for you, do them yourself. Doing so will teach you your relationship to society. You will see learn that the rebate check you receive after you file isn’t a gift: it’s the money taken from you throughout the year that’s leftover after the government takes its cut.

9. Sew a basic stitch. Buttons pop off at inopportune times, and small tears can often be handled with a few stitches. Sewing kits tend to breed in drawers. Learn how to use them.

10. Never run out of gas. If you live in a hurricane prone area it’s a good idea to never fall below half a tank during hurricane season. If you can’t think far enough ahead to avoid running out of gas you probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel in the first place.

11. Learn how to say “No, thanks.” This is one of those general life rules that should be common sense but isn’t. Learning how to say “no” without causing offense or leading to intimidation is one of those skills that once learned can save you from a lot of grief. Is a guy hitting on you wanting to buy you a drink? Say it politely. Are your buddies offering you one for the road? Don’t take it. The boss offering you another project to take on to your overwhelming work load? Say, “Not until I get some bandwidth. As soon as I finish (X project) I’ll be happy to take it on.” No is one of the shortest yet most important words in the English language. Use it to avoid trouble.

12. Make being skeptical instinctive. Everyday we receive more marketing offers than ever before promising us endless opportunities and joy. None of them actually deliver. You are a target, a walking wallet to an assortment of sundry, often shady enterprises. Maintaining your skepticism will help you avoid being scammed.

13. Pay your bills on time. Preferably a couple of days before they are due. Get in the habit and you’ll avoid late fees, collection calls, dings to your credit rating.

14. Safely handle a firearm. Guns are not everyone’s cup of tea, but you’d be surprised at how tasty the tea is once you try a sip. There’s a  mystique about guns thanks to the anti-gun media, and it’s one that isn’t based on reality. The reality is that like any tool they have their uses. Knowing your way around a handgun or rifle de-mystifies them. They are tools with a purpose, and just as you wouldn’t think about playing with a running chain-saw (at least while you’re sober) if you treat guns with the same respect you will have nothing to fear from them. As an ex anti-gun person who is now a card-carrying member of the NRA, take my word for it. Even if you decide you do not want a firearm in your house, learning about them will help you make an informed decision.

15. Learn a poem by heart. I’m not sure why it’s important, but trust me, it is. In college I memorized Theodore Roethke’s I Knew a Woman, and every time I recite that poem something stirs deep within me.  It’s not meant to be explicable, just experienced. “She moved in circles, and those circles moved.” Delightful!

16. Avoid socializing with emotional vampires. I first saw that term used years ago in a Harlan Ellison book where he recommended this, and experience has taught me the wisdom in this statement. You have to recognize that there are people you can’t save. Often these people don’t want to be saved or merely exist by feeding on the kindness shown to them by their friends and family members. In the end they will suck you dry of your money, your love, or your mental well-being, leaving you a drained corpse while they move on to their next victim. Whether it’s a family member or friend, run don’t walk away from these people and cut them out of your life.

17. Memorize the NATO Phonetic Alphabet. Not only does it sound charlie-oscar-oscar-lima when you say it, it also helps people understand you when you’re talking on the phone. I find it ironic that while telephones have improved and become more mobile thanks to the invention of the cell phone and its evolution into the smartphone, call quality hasn’t improved. If anything it’s gotten worse, so knowing the phonetic alphabet will help you order the right item on a website, or help guarantee your name is spelled correctly on a form.

18. Learn how to ride a motorcycle. Yes they are dangerous. According to a UK study motorcycles have 16 times the rate of serious injuries compared to cars. According to most motorcyclists though, they are at least 16 times more fun to ride. There is nothing quite like the joy of riding a motorcycle on the open road.  A motorcycle makes you feel a part of a landscape instead of feeling apart from it, puts you in it instead of seeing it through panes of safety glass in a steel cocoon. While I wouldn’t dream about using a motorcycle to commute to work with on the Schuylkill Expressway in Philadelphia, I’m glad I own one for the occasional times when I just want to escape. Oh, and another thing: You can’t multi-task on a motorcycle. Being on a bike forces you to enjoy the moment in a way a car cannot.

19. Keep a pet. Keeping a pet forces you to think about something else besides yourself. If you’ve never had a pet before start with something small and easy like a goldfish and work your way up. Seriously. Don’t immediately adopt that cute Jack Russell you saw outside the Petsmart; you have to work your way up to high maintenance animals like that. Oh, and never pay for a dog or cat unless its to cover spay/neutering or other vet costs. There is no shortage of these animals, and while I recognize that most breeders are decent people who care about animals, the reality is that the shelters are full of animals needing homes.

20. Live in a foreign country. Nothing teaches you about your own country like living outside of it. Sure you’ll learn about your host country, but you will become a window through which others see yours. You’ll be surprised at what they say and think about your country and your people, and you’ll gain a new perspective on what being a citizen of your country means.

21. Learn how to wait. Most of life isn’t exciting and the fact is you will spend a lot of time waiting. There are several kinds of waiting – waiting for the right man/woman to come into your life, waiting for better times… But the waiting I refer to here is of the more mundane variety such as what to do while waiting in line. The next time you are in line at the grocery store watch what others do while they wait. The majority fidget, checking their phones or the headlines on the tabloids. Hardly anyone relaxes or simply observes the world around them. I’ve been told that veteran soldiers become the masters of handling down times like waiting. They’ve been trained to use the free time to rest their minds, even sleep when possible, so that the next time things get exciting they will be mentally alert. When I’m feeling particularly Zen I like to practice mindful meditation, focus on my breathing and allow the world to happen around me as if I were a leaf on a pond. But since I suck at Zen I struggle just like everyone else. Like all of these items on this list I am learning to perfect this skill which isn’t easy to do since my monkey mind is rather gorilla sized.

22. Study a foreign language. As my friend PJ suggests in the comments, this is a life skill worth trying. I stress “trying” because I’ve never come close to speaking a foreign language fluently the way my friends like PJ or the Wife (who’s fluent in several) have done. Learning a foreign language has many benefits, some more obvious than others depending on circumstances. But regardless of what you study you will see the world from a different perspective, even if you never attain fluency. Take Japanese. I never came close to mastering it, but learning the basics of the language taught me some key assumptions. For example, in most cases “I” is never used and is implied. This ambiguity touches upon the cultural trait of the Japanese stressing the group over the individual. The language also relies upon honorofics,  for example the “-san”, “-chan” and “-sama” suffixes that portray the rank of the speaker and whom he or she is speaking to. Japanese conveys the social contexts of the speaker and the listener in ways that are impossible or at best archaic in other languages. Think Downton Abbey for a taste in English.

23. Listen to an old person. I know people who met people who had been born into slavery. Others I’ve talked to remember life without indoor plumbing. While waiting for a car repair to finish I once talked to a Vietnam vet who flew psyops over North Vietnam. What’s better than talking to someone about history who’s lived it? For most of our history as a species the only history books we had were our elderly. The only problem with these “books” is that often by the time we need them, they’re gone. It’s a cliche to attack our youth-centric culture, and there’s nothing wrong with celebrating the frivolity of youth as long as we keep the more important of life’s decisions in the hands of those who appreciate history and the sense of proportion such knowledge brings. Everyone has elders. Get them talking about a particular subject they are interested in, then listen to them. You might learn something.

 24. Patronize an unknown artist. Perhaps there’s a street musician you pass by on the way home who is playing music you like. Don’t just toss him a buck; buy his CD if he has one laying out. Visit art fairs and art shows that spring up locally and put some of your hard-earned cash into the hands of a skilled but unknown artist or craftsman. Instead of buying a poster of a dead artist, buy an actual print of a living one. We live in an age of mass production where few things are handcrafted. Even things that were once hand made like prints of the Masters are now mass produced. We are human beings, each crafted through evolution by genetics to be one of a kind. We should celebrate this not hide it  behind some cheap prints picked up at Ikea. There are artists in every community who are doing amazing, unique things in their preferred medium. Each piece purchased is guaranteed to be one of a kind and makes more of a personal statement than the same French Cat poster that everyone displays (I admit I used to display it too).

25. Challenge yourself. It might be to do something easy like take a different route home from work, or it can be more difficult like quitting smoking or starting the novel you’ve always wanted to write. The key point here is to force yourself out of your comfort zone and do something that will surprise your friends, your family and ultimately yourself.  It really doesn’t matter if you succeed or not, only that you tried. And once you’ve quit smoking, taken that out of the way route home or written that novel, try something else. I’m teaching myself the mathematics behind quantum physics because I’ve reached a point where I feel I need to understand the math in order to understand the physics better. My goal is to someday touch the math describing the collapse of the wave function. That will be enough for me.

 

Somebody Is Going To Get Hurt

Homeland Security snipers pointing their rifles at frightened residents during a drug bust in New York is just another in a string of incidents where police use military tactics against an American civilian population. The Economist has a story discussing the militarization of the police, and it couldn’t come at more important time. Sooner or later someone is going to get hurt.

Evidently that’s sooner. The Economist reports 50 innocent people have been killed in “no knock” raids by the police, including  92 year old Kathryn Johnston who in 2006 confronted police with a pistol in her house after they smashed the door down. The cops shot her five times  then planted marijuana in her house. It turns out they lied to get the no-knock warrant.

As a libertarian with a strong conservative streak I am very suspicious of the police yet supportive of their actions in general. I worry about their mindset that separates them from the general population to create an “us vs. them” attitude which can become self-fulfilling while at the same time recognize that bad guys often have access to the same firepower cops do. I worry about police taking away my rights and the rights of my teen age son, yet am thankful they are always just a phone call away. It’s a tough balance for me, so I can understand how it would be for a cop.

I don’t deny the police have a tough job. I wouldn’t want it. But if they are going to start viewing themselves as an occupying force they need to repaint their cars to blot out the “serve and protect” motto and replace it with a Judge Dredd quote, “I am The Law.” Each officer, each department needs to ask, do they want to create a police state for their children and grandchildren? Is this why they joined the police force in the first place?