Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas 2013 from Cambridge, Mass.


Church of Saint Peter, 100 Concord, Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Nelson Mandela, the Lion Sleeps Tonight

In the jungle, the mighty jungle
The lion sleeps tonight
President Barack Obama called Nelson Mandela "the last great liberator of the 20th century" at the memorial service for him in South Africa today. And who among the assembled world leaders was going to stand up and say, "No, no, I am the last great liberator!"

South Africa is a nation of great wealth and beauty but many problems. While our President was cheered, they booed their current President. That is the lot of Presidents. It's quite likely many wanted to boo John Adams at George Washington's funeral.

The one problem South Africa no longer has is Apartheid. Mandela spent 27 years in prison for treasonous acts and conspiracy, but what possible claim of allegiance could the racist and manifestly unjust laws of Apartheid South Africa hold. From the speech he gave in court at his sentencing:
"During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realised. But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."
Ultimately, Nelson Mandela was the symbol of the moral suasion that prevailed in South Africa. He did one of those profoundly great things. He accepted the surrender of his political foes magnanimously, served one term as President, and then retired.
Near the village, the quiet village
The lion sleeps tonight.
There is only one fitting musical tribute. Perhaps you'd prefer the Happy Hippo Disney version, The Tokens pop version, or The Weavers folk version, but the final tribute goes to the original South African version by Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds:



Linda died in October 1962, the year Nelson Mandela was arrested, 51 years ago.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Waiting for Godot, I Wanted to Steal Gogo's Shoes

I saw Waiting for Godot at the Paramount in Boston last night.

I thought the play was over when the curtain dropped and the lights came up after the first act. All that was left on stage was Lucky's hat and Gogo's shoes. I wanted to steal those shoes, and the hat too.

A few people got up, but a lot of people stayed seated. I stood there puzzled, and spent a good half of what turned out to be the intermission waiting for the others in my row to get up to let me pass.

In the front lobby, a large man was holding forth before a small group struggling with their coats about how they were following the example of the mass exodus of the audience at the 1955 London premiere, except that those people were exiting in protest while their little group just had another place to be and had gotten a good taste of the experience.

Two thoughts then occurred to me. Those London audiences probably thought, like me, that the play was over. There was a second act still to come. I went in search of the bar. Three thoughts.

It's probably just as well that I didn't find the bar on the second floor until just after the call to return to seats. Getting liquored up would have opened me up to getting rolled by the drunks under the moonlight and the almost leafless trees of Boston Common on the walk back to the subway for the ride home. Samuel Beckettt, though, would have been proud.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Cambridge Breaks Out the Rulers in 2013 Election

You really haven't voted until you have voted in a Cambridge municipal election. Our proportional voting system lets you rank every single candidate, which means in this year's election you could vote for all 25 city council candidates and all 9 school committee candidates. That requires two dense ballots:



You will need an official voter pen:



A ruler, conveniently provided in each voting booth, comes in handy if you exercise your right to vote more than once. You see, you can vote only once per column and once per row, so you may need that ruler to ensure you haven't spoiled your ballot. Two people did need new ballots while I was voting at my polling station, and only six voters were there, a failure rate of 33%.

I vote at the Cambridge National Guard Armory, a sign at which informs "guests" that the building, despite principally containing a basketball court, is a military installation. I swear I did not move while I took this picture:



The system has two interesting quirks when it comes to incumbents. It's very hard to target a particular incumbent for defeat, as you'd have to lock up over 83% to 91% of the electorate to prevent the incumbent being reelected. At the same time, all the candidates run against all the other candidates, so interesting newcomers can end up pushing less interesting incumbents out of office.

This year, 2 incumbents on the city council were defeated and 2 seats were open, so 4 newcomers were elected to the 9 member council. Leland Cheung, the candidate who got the most votes and should be the next mayor, is also a relative newcomer.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Lou Reed Takes the Last Walk on the Wild Side

Rock legend Lou Reed passed away today at age 71. He worked with Andy Warhol and developed a cultish following with The Velvet Underground before going solo in the 1970s. That was a Walk on the Wild Side:



The song I've been seeing posted on Facebook today is Perfect Day:



Another song they should be posting is Satellite of Love:



And of course "Standing on the corner, Suitcase in my hand:"



I can't play Sweet Jane without also playing March of the Wooden Soldiers:



Somewhere, I imagine, Lou Reed is Waiting for the Man:

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Healthcare.gov, Good Enough for Government Work

The rollout problems at the healthcare.gov website continue to embarrass and plague the Obama administration.

So what if they spent $400 million on the website. Hey, I live in the state of Massachusetts where the Big Dig highway and tunnel project cost $14.6 billion and still a ceiling panel fell and killed someone shortly after it opened. Let's not even mention the ginsu guardrails.

http://www.dilbert.com/strips/comic/2013-10-19/

I found the source of the problem in this AP article on The Huffington Post:
"Crammed into conference rooms with pizza for dinner, some programmers building the Obama administration's showcase health insurance website were growing increasingly stressed. Some worked past 10 p.m., energy drinks in hand. Others rewrote computer code over and over to meet what they considered last-minute requests for changes from the government or other contractors."
Some worked past 10pm? The programmers I know, myself included, do their best work from 10pm to 4am. If only some of the healthcare.gov coders worked past 10pm, no further explanation is needed.

Meanwhile, the new mantra is "we're listening — and improving every day". But is this really true:
"The initial consumer experience of HealthCare.gov has not lived up to the expectations of the American people."
It went about as well as Dilbert or I would have expected. Whose idea was it to roll out the whole website for all the states at once without going through either a beta test period or a pilot launch for a few states? The same folks who came up with this idea to fix it with a Tech Surge:
"To ensure that we make swift progress, and that the consumer experience continues to improve, our team has called in additional help to solve some of the more complex technical issues we are encountering."
Now, in my experience, adding more people to a programming project under stress will only make the project take longer. All those new people have to be brought up to speed. And who is going to take the time to teach them? It better be the best and brightest people on the existing team, the exact people you instead want hard at work fixing problems.

Update: Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, President Obama's point person on Obamacare, was interviewed by Dr. Sanjay Gupta about the healthcare.gov launch problems on CNN. Watch Secretary Sebelius squirm over the so-called Tech Surge:
SEBELIUS: You heard [President Obama] yesterday in the Rose Garden and, you know, he is the first to admit that the Web site doesn't work the way we need it to work. So that's one of the reasons, Sanjay, we have announced this tech surge and bringing in new eyes and ears.

Jeff Zients, who's a colleague and friend of mine from this administration, is coming in as a management consultant to the administrator of CMS, to make sure we look at the whole management system. We want to make sure that we have the best and the brightest in terms of tech folks. We have gathered them together and asked the contractors to bring their A team to the table, have asked the presidential innovation fellows to add some strength, because we just want to make sure we get all the right answers and do what is needed to be done as quickly as possible to open up the doors of this marketplace.

GUPTA: Jeff Zients brings a CEO background with him.

SEBELIUS: He does.

GUPTA: What about tech people? We hear the best and the brightest. Are there people or companies that we're going to recognize? Can you give us some names?

SEBELIUS: Well, right now, we've asked all of our contractors to look at their teams on the ground and bring in their absolute A team. And I am confident that that is happening every day. While we also, the presidential innovation fellows --

GUPTA: The contractors didn't do such a great job so far.

SEBELIUS: Well, I --

GUPTA: I mean did -- why didn't they bring their A team in in the first place?

SEBELIUS: I can't tell you --

GUPTA: Why are we saying in three weeks now bring your A team into this whole equation?

SEBELIUS: We have hoped that they had their A team on the table, but I -- I am talking to CEOs and urging them to make sure that we have the talent that they have available. I think all of them have folks who are assigned to a project.
It's painfully obvious that she doesn't know what she is talking about. Of course the contractors brought their A teams in the first place, grading on a scale because the sort of companies who get hired for government work can't actually recruit A talent for such projects unless they promise them they only have to do C work.

But that wasn't the problem, the problem was the website just wasn't ready to go live. They either didn't know that they had a buggy system that wasn't quite ready or they did know and went live anyway. Either way it's incompetent management, not incompetent team players. Trust me, all software starts out life buggy and no software is bug free. The skill is finding and fixing the important bugs before release.

All that aside, here was the real hubris moment:
SEBELIUS:... If we had an ideal situation and could have built the product in, you know, a five-year period of time, we probably would have taken five years. But we didn't have five years.
In the real world, you don't get five years to build a website and if it takes you five years that is so not ideal.

After watching the interview, I spent some time on healthcare.gov myself. I looked up health plan rates in 4 states without any great difficulty. Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington had their own websites. Iowa required staying on healthcare.gov. It turns out that the states whose governors and legislators oppose Obamacare got the clunky federal website, while the state governments that are supportive of Obamacare built their own better websites. That seems fair enough.

My whole session took about 40 minutes, or 10 minutes per state, while I continued to watch television. It was no harder than searching for plane tickets. True, I did not attempt to enroll or buy anything. I did have to refresh the page and restart my search once or twice, just like on the airline websites.

The individual health insurance I get now through the small business I work for costs $492.92 a month. There were plans with comparable prices, including many with a lower premium. Frankly, I might do better to get paid in cash rather than benefits and buy on the exchange where I would have actual choices rather than just the plan my small employer picks.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Minute Man National Historical Park is Closed Reopened?

I took a bike ride out to Minute Man National Historical Park today.


The parking lot at North Bridge in Concord was chained off. A line of cars was parked along the road.


The parking lot at Merriam's Corner was also chained. Someone left a note, "Have we forgotten what we fought for in MA? End the Obama tyrannical anarchy.


"Area Closed" a sign announces. "All National Park Service area beyond this point closed to public use and travel because of the government shutdown."


The Old Manse is open, because it is run by The Trustees of Reservations, a Massachusetts charitable organization. The National Park Service would prefer you not ponder too long on that thought.


A few sightseers at the North Bridge.


"Here once the embattled farmers stood, and fired the shot heard round the world."


More sightseers at the North Bridge.


This helpful Tea Party patriot informed me that as I was on the other side of the chain, I was trespassing. It did seem a trifle unfair that I had just twice ridden across the bridge that he had spent the last 5 hours clamoring to be reopened.


"Historic hay field" according to the marker. The colonists hand dug ditches to drain this field so it could grow hay, but it has now been restored to marshland.


One of several closed buildings along Battle Road. I don't have a problem with closed buildings. I do have a problem with purporting to close open public spaces.


A spot called Parker's Revenge. The Lexington militia who were fired on by British soldiers in the morning waited here in ambush for their return.


The east entrance to the Minute Man Park at the base of Fiske Hill. No closed signs.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Boston under a Steady Stream of Crap and Piss

I was surfing through Universal Hub when I came across this gem of a picture taken on the Tobin Bridge which connects Boston to points north and east of the Mystic River.



The picture came with this complaint: "These cows just pooped all over the lower deck of the Tobin Bridge. Got on cars. Could someone please cleanup? Rain won't get there. Thanks."

I live across the Charles River from Boston, but will given them this sage advice based on over 50 years experience with cow manure: "Don't worry, it will powder off."

It turns out the city has a website called Citizens Connect devoted to the self-reporting of these gems. Some examples of the crap citizens using their Androids and iPhones to send in, just from today:
Curb cut fills with water. When it freezes this becomes a dangerous slip hazzard.

The last "parking space", L side on Brimmer @ Pinckney is probably illegal but badly marked and curb paint gone. Cars parked there like dark blue one in photo prevent garbage, fire, lg. delivery trucks fm turning.

283–339 Boylston St, Boston. Throughout the common and public garden all of the fences are broken, missing parts, unpainted etc. they look third world. How about a new design that doesn't look horrible and is vandal proof ! It really looks like crap everywhere ! ...

On the Inbound side of Centre St just before you enter the rotary, directly in front of police district 5, the road significantly dips. Please level and grade it.
That's all well and good, general constructive comments on how to improve the city, but many of the complaints take a more personal turn:
50 Garden Street. Trash out on wrong day.

47 garden street. Trash on wrong day.

46 Garden St, Boston. Construction trash and household trash on sidewalk for 48 hours, not a pickup day

2–8 Utica St, Boston. Public Urination. Man exposed himself and urinated behind 107 South Street
You can see where this is going, getting people to report their neighbors for minor code violations (although you'd have to be braver than the average officious asshole to take that last picture). It goes on for pages and pages, and the city of Boston pays someone to read through and forward each report to the appropriate commissar department for action. And maybe they do take action, although I somehow doubt it.

Still, I'm adding Citizens Connect to my blog list for a good laugh now and then.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Blink and You May Miss the Government Shutdown

The U.S. government shut down at midnight, according to Piers Morgan at CNN, who keeps showing a closed but still well-lit Washington Monument. Same for the Statue of Liberty. Did the last guys out forget to turn out the lights?

It would suck to be a tourist in Washington, DC tomorrow with all the federal museums closed. You'd be forced to wander the Washington Mall, visit the Holocaust Museum, go shopping in Georgetown, hike around Great Falls (slip under the National Park Service entrance gate, if necessary). If you were really hard-pressed for something to do, you could stop by the Capitol building and yell at Congress.

The Washington Monument, by the way, is already closed for repairs due to an earthquake on August 23, 2011. The Statue of Liberty actually closed at 5pm, when the last ferry of the day departed from Liberty Island. That's when most of the federal offices around the country closed too. Maybe they will open tomorrow, or maybe they won't.

If I were a nonessential federal employee I would be quietly happy if this shutdown goes on for a week or more. The fall weather here on the East Coast is nice and the long Columbus Day weekend is coming up. You can drive back to DC from the beach or the mountains in a couple of hours if there is an early resolution. A lot of times the federal employees get paid retroactively for the hours they didn't have to work during the shutdown without having to make up the hours when these things are resolved.

As for me personally, I suspect it will be several weeks before I suffer even a minor inconvenience from the federal government being closed. I do have one increasingly serious problem. I have been looking for 12-packs of Diet Dr. Pepper for the last 3 or 4 days and haven't been able to find any at the usual grocery and CVS stores. I have a small supply, but when that runs out, look out!

Update: CNN is reporting that Giant Panda Cam at the National Zoo has gone dark. It's sponsored by the Ford Motor Company Fund, and was still live earlier this morning. That means some federal employee came in to work this morning and turned it off. I smell a criminal violation of the Antideficiency Act of 1870.

Update: I have acquired two 12-packs of the elixir of life so I am good for the duration:



Update: No barricades at our National Park Service site in Cambridge:





All it takes for a federal closing is a piece of paper and some masking tape. Anything beyond that is a gratuitous violation of the Anitdeficiency Act of 1870.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Just How Long Can Ted Cruz Stand?

"I intend to speak in support of defunding Obamacare until I am no longer able to stand," vowed Ted Cruz as he took the floor at the U.S. Senate floor today at 2:42 p.m.

The U.S. Senator from Texas, 2016 Republican Presidential hopeful, and former Canadian will need to stand for at least 13 hours by my calculation.

That's because Wendy Davis went on for almost 11 hours in the Texas Senate this summer, before her filibuster was ruled out of order for straying off the topic of the abortion legislation before the emergency session of the Texas Senate. Rand Paul droned on against drone strikes for almost 13 hours in the U.S. Senate this past spring.

So Ted needs a full 13 hours for bragging rights in Texas and the Tea Party. Anything less would make Ted look lame relative to Rand and Wendy.

Still, seeing how long you can talk without stopping is not very much of a challenge as endurance feats go. Diana Nyad took nearly 53 hours to swim from Cuba to Key West, Florida earlier this month. That's something to brag about.

Not unlike the Nyad feat, where the downplayers were quick to jump on various alleged minor technicalities, Ted Cruz already has his naysayers. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says this is no filibuster as the budget vote scheduled for tomorrow will not be delayed. Of course, he might have held the vote this afternoon if he hadn't made allowance for Ted Cruz speaking.

The current record for filibusters in the U.S. Senate is held by Strom Thurmond who spoke against the Civil Rights Act of 1957 for 24 hours and 18 minutes. That means the magic moment will come if Ted Cruz is still speaking at 3:01 p.m. tomorrow afternoon.

Will Ted Cruz set the new record or will Harry Reid prevent him from wiping Strom Thurmond out of the record books? You can watch live on C-Span.

Update: Strom's record stands as Ted clocks out at 21 hours and 19 minutes. Ted edged out the 1908 effort of 18 hours and 23 minutes by Robert La Follette of Wisconsin to take the #4 slot on the all-time list of windy Senate gasbags. Take that, Wendy and Rand.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Masse Hardware Going Out of Business



Masse Hardware at the corner of Sherman St. and Walden St. in Cambridge is closing. The Boston Globe, Wicked Local, and Cambridge Day have the details. In short, the third-generation owner is retiring and his son doesn't want to take over.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A Putinized and Atheistized Pledge of Allegiance

With Vladimir Putin twerking America ideals in The New York Times and atheists suing the state of Massachusetts, it's time to revise the Pledge of Allegiance:
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
Here's the rewrite:
I begrudgingly acknowledge the existence of the flag of the United States of America, and the putative republic for which it sometimes stands, one nation still suffering in many precincts under the god delusion, unexceptional and indivisible from all the other nations in the United Nations, with illiberty and injustice all too often. Void if I flee to Canada or Russia. All rights reserved.
Have a happy Friday the 13th. E pluribus unum!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Cattle Commentary on Current Events in Syria


You can't just yell "hike" a few times from the sidelines to break up a fight. The fight isn't necessarily over even if the winning side lets up.


Even when you just all you want to do is chew the cud with your true love, there's always someone wanting to bellow in who is best ignored.


We can all agree, whether it was the regime or the rebels, that death is a very unfortunate and inevitable result of war, and reason to best avoid it.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Red Line Disappearing into the Syrian Sand

Here's how President Obama drew the red line back in August 2012:
"We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation.
Was Syria tacitly given a pass to use chemical weapons as long as it did not use "a whole bunch"? Just how much is "a whole bunch"?

I'm hearing a lot being said about "credibility" and I would guess that means those people think a whole bunch of credibility is at stake. Credibility is the cousin of legitimacy, which also came up in the President's remarks on Syria a year ago:
"I have indicated repeatedly that President al-Assad has lost legitimacy, that he needs to step down. So far, he hasn’t gotten the message, and instead has double downed in violence on his own people. The international community has sent a clear message that rather than drag his country into civil war he should move in the direction of a political transition."
I imagine that message was just as clear as the red line. Unfortunately, at the same time the President was drawing his red line he was also prematurely measuring the drapes for the Syrian opposition to take over the Syrian palaces:
"We said that we would provide, in consultation with the international community, some assistance to the opposition in thinking about how would a political transition take place, and what are the principles that should be upheld in terms of looking out for minority rights and human rights. And that consultation is taking place.
The New York Times has a video of Syrian rebels executing prisoners so apparently those consultations weren't especially persuasive. That's a war crime too, for those keeping track of international norms.

Note: The New York Times has suffered its own credibility problem as it has issued a correction indicating the execution video was made in the spring of 2012, not April 2013 as it first reported.

I'd suggest the better way to respond is to issue international warrants for the Syrian officers who can be shown to have been involved in using chemical weapons. We have the rest of their lives to extract them from Syria and put them on trial for war crimes, along with any Al Qaeda we can find and extract from among the rebels.

Can we still bring the war criminals to justice if the U.S. bombs Syria, or would that violate the principle of double jeopardy, and cross another red line?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

50th Anniversary of the March on Washington

Today was the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The march took place on Sunday. August 28, 1963, so the anniversary can be celebrated again on Wednesday.

The "I Have a Dream" speech delivered that day by Martin Luther King, Jr. is perhaps second only to President Abraham Lincoln's "Gettysburg Address" on the list of great American speeches.



King's speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, tied the two great men together:
"Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity."
My youthful memories of the 1960s start with the moon landing in 1969, so I missed all the excitement and rebellion. But what we think of as the 1960s really beings with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963 and the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution of August 1964. Occasionally I run across things that happened before that which come as a complete surprise:


Hollywood stars Sydney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and Charlton Heston at the Lincoln Memorial for the March on Washington.

The Civil Rights movement did a pretty good job on the freedom front, but the dream turned into a nightmare when it came to jobs. This passage in King's speech still rings too true fifty years later:
"One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity."
One can find those islands of poverty fairly easily, just by looking in almost every major American city look for the streets and boulevards named after Martin Luther King, Jr. The mistake is to think these are the only islands of poverty.

On the other hand, my two previous posts are about a multi-millionaire playing golf and a multi-billionaire shopping for expensive designer handbags. That's progress, "deeply rooted in the American dream" and all that.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Oprah Sheds Crocodile Tears for $38,000 Handbag

"Why did she do that? Why did she do that?" Oprah Winfrey tells the blonde white woman reporting for Entertainment Tonight about the small injustice of a "racist" shop clerk not allowing her to buy a black handbag at a boutique in Zurich, Switzerland.



The interview started out with a discussion of whether Paula Dean would be appearing on Oprah to rehabilitate her image, with Oprah suggesting Paula wasn't ready for that. Then Oprah struggled to come up with an example of racism being directed at her, with a detour into the difficulties of telling sexism from racism, and eventually coming around to the Swiss boutique story:
I say to the woman, "Excuse me, may I see that bag right above your head?" And she says to me, "No, it's too expensive." She said, "No, no, no you want to see this one because that one will cost too much. You won’t be able to afford that one.” She refused to get it ... she said, "I don’t want to hurt your feelings," and I said, "Okay, thank you so much, you're probably right I can't afford it." And I walked out of the store.
A lot of people are outraged, mostly at Oprah, but I just find the story funny. A rep for the Swiss Tourism office was quick to take customer is always right approach and apologize on Twitter:
"We are fuming — this person acted terribly wrong. We are sorry this happened to @oprah!"
The Swiss Tourism office followed up with more formal apology.
"Switzerland Tourism is deeply sorry to learn about the experience Ms. Winfrey recently had in Switzerland, and we apologize that her feelings were hurt. We would like to assure Ms. Winfrey—like any visitor to Switzerland—that she is welcome with open arms."
While Oprah carefully declined to name the handbag or the store in her story, the intrepid international press quickly ran that down to a Tom Ford Jennifer crocodile skin leather handbag at the Trois Pommes boutique in Zurich. Tom Ford is the designer, Jennifer Aniston is the muse, and $38,000 (35,000 Swiss Francs) is the price tag.

The way this usually works is that the store apologizes and then sends someone to appear on the Oprah Show and give her and sometimes her audience free stuff. And what woman could blame Oprah for wanting to score a free designer handbag?

Now it's probably begun to occur to you that the inexpensive handbags that the clerk was trying to steer Oprah too weren't the $15 to $40 knockoffs you would find at Wal-Mart. No, when you buy Tom Ford handbags at Neimann Marcus, you can expect to spend $1,890 for the Jennifer Mini Crossbody Bag up to $4,550 for the Petra Zip Frame Calf Hair & Brushed Calf Leather Tote Bag-in-Bag.

It turns out the store kept the $38,000 crocodile-skin leather handbag in a locked display case. I suppose it was for technically sale, but the idea no doubt was that you would fall in love with the style of purse, and then the saleswoman would steer you to the still very expensive models in other leathers and colors. And then you could walk around knowing you carried the "same" purse as the exorbitantly expensive $38,000 one.

The store owner says it was all a big misunderstanding. It turns out she was also invited to the big Tina Turner wedding that Oprah was in town to attend. Tina Turner lives in a Swiss chateau along Lake Zurich and has become a Swiss citizen. The store owner says the sales clerk just wanted to show Oprah that the handbag was available in other materials and was a native Italian speaker who doesn't understand English too well.

Eventually, the mocking became too much and Oprah was forced to resort to Twitter: That seemed to cover it, but Oprah couldn't leave well enough alone: Funny how Nancy O'Dell, the blonde white woman reporter at ET has become Oprah's new best friend. I guess Oprah hopes Nancy can help her rehabilitate her image. But buying handbags designed for another white woman, Jennifer Aniston, I just don't know who can rehabilitate that.

Meanwhile, USA Today has this to report in the Paula Deen case:
"A New York man pleaded guilty in federal court Friday to trying to extort $200,000 from Paula Deen by threatening to reveal damaging information about the embattled celebrity cook if she didn't pay him to stay quiet."
I have never seen Paul Deen's cooking show and have no idea what kind of person she is, but it does appear that the original complainant, a disgruntled former employee, was out for a kind of severance pay blackmail too.

Comments No Longer Banned From Althouse?

From Boston.com:



No comment yet from Ann Althouse.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

We've Reached the Lazy End of Summer

All the cool people have gone to Cape Cod and all the really cool people have gone to Martha's Vineyard to play golf with the President. So it's quiet, peaceful, and really quite pleasant here in Cambridge, Massachusetts.









Sunday, August 4, 2013

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

How do they know? I got this picture in an email Saturday morning from democraticparty@democrats.org:

Sunday August 4 is the President's birthday. He is 52. I hope he gets more than one candle on a lousy cupcake, but Democrats are never very generous with their own money. Some party.

Meanwhile, the folks at democrats.org try to lay a guilt trip but manage instead to feed into fears that they are collecting and analyzing data on millions of Americans.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

His Royal Highness Prince George of Some Other Cambridge

This means war! Well, maybe not war but the end of the special relationship between the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

George may be a perfectly respectful English name that conjures up images of slaying dragons and one of the crosses on the national flag. It's a better name than Arthur, which some were laying book on, but which would have been quite silly as King Arthur. Would that be King Arthur I or King Arthur II?

But the name George is an affront, and not because the royal baby has been named after George Zimmerman, although that is sure to become an internet meme and conspiracy theory in its own right. And not because the poor kid, like his parents, has been given a title of some rotten English borough which is too easily confused with an unconstitutional claim of title over our fair city Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Let's run down just how anti-American the name King George will be:

George III was king at the time of the American revolution, the certifiably crazy despot to whom the Declaration of Independence was addressed.

George IV served as Prince Regent during the War of 1812, during which the British burned our capital.

George V was the king who let his country and then ours be drug into World War I, which would have been best to stay out of. There is no Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, or Mao without it.

George VI became king after the English people decided that an American, Wallis Simpson, was not fit to become the Queen of England, forcing the rightful King Edward VIII to abdicate. Then George VI sat by while his ministers did that appeasement bit until Winston Churchill came along and saved the country's reputation.

George, in the kindest possible words, is just bad luck, at least from the American perspective. George VII may finally bring good luck to the name, but I wouldn't count on it. Fortunately, the little tyke does have a way out as kings are allowed to pick the name they will rule under when they are crowned. As he was given the names George Alexander Louis, he could also go with Alexander I or Louis I. It's good to be the King, even better to be a I.

In the meantime, Boy George will be hard to live down on the playground. There is also the inevitable comparison to George from Seinfeld, played by Jason Alexander. I can hear Jerry Seinfeld pronouncing, "these aren't special people." This royal birth is fast becoming a Festivus celebration. You've heard my airing of grievances. Certainly, after hours and hours of labor, you have to credit mother Catherine with a feat of strength.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Anthony Weiner Can't Hard Delete Carlos Danger

Anthony Weiner was caught at it again, this time under the nom de sext Carlos Danger to a 22 year old woman. It's not that he didn't try to get out of it, asking the woman in question:
"do me a solid. can you hard delete all our chat here."
Needless to say, she did not. And these aren't any old messages that Weiner can put on the mistakes he copped to in 2011 (after first trying to put the whole thing on Andrew Breitbart):
"As I have said in the past, these things that I did were wrong and hurtful to my wife and caused us to go through challenges in our marriage that extended past my resignation from Congress."
"Extended" is an odd word choice here, don't you think? What he's saying in that roundabout way is that after he resigned from Congress he continued sexting pictures of his body parts to other women while his wife was giving birth to and nursing his baby. His wife had this to say today:
"It took a lot of work and a whole lot of therapy to get to a place where I could forgive Anthony."
"This behavior is behind me," asserts Anthony, who still harbors hopes of getting elected Mayor of New York City. Of course, there is this behavior and there is that other behavior that we haven't heard about yet. My advice to New Yorkers is to avoid all that work and therapy and hard delete Anthony Weiner.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Barack Obama Calls Off the Conversation on Race

President Barack Obama's remarks today on the Zimmerman trial verdict frankly exhibited more wisdom than I had expected.

You can pull out and deconstruct the parts where he talks about the African-American experience and a lot of people will. I'm going to pull out several other parts.
"African-American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system, ... they are disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence."
"I think the African-American community is also not naive in understanding that statistically somebody like Trayvon Martin was probably statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else."
"You know, I think it's understandable that there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests, and some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through as long as it remains nonviolent."
"I know that Eric Holder is reviewing what happened down there, but I think it's important for people to have some clear expectations here. Traditionally, these are issues of state and local government -- the criminal code and law enforcement has traditionally done it at the state and local levels, not at the federal levels."
"You know, there have been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven't seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have."
Not everyone wants to take the chill pill.

I got accosted by a black woman on the sidewalk yesterday. She demanded to know whether I had any change. I gave her four quarters. She handed me back a dollar bill, and fed the quarters into the parking meter.

Actually, she asked very nicely. Her children were very excited to be visiting Harvard Square and looked like they were having fun. A funny thing about kids is that they don't know to feel oppressed until you tell them, a very good reason not to have that conversation.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Fourth of July 2013 at the Sean Collier Memorial

I found a new place to watch the Boston 4th of July fireworks while avoiding most of the crowds and not having to cross the Charles River. The left bank has the best views.


The flags are part of a memorial for MIT Police Office Sean Collier, who was killed by the Tsarnaev brothers on April 18, three days after their bombing at the Boston Marathon finish line.

Last year I watched the fireworks from the corner of Prospect Street and Webster Avenue near Union Square, only 2 blocks from what we have since learned was Al Qaeda in Cambridge headquarters on Norfolk Street.

It's said the Tsarnaevs' original plan was to hit the Boston Esplanade crowd during the fireworks. In the dark, with the cover of the fireworks, they might well have killed even more people and gotten clean away with it. This year security was tight and crowds are reported to be lower, but that may have been because it was a very hot muggy day.

In Gettysburg, Pennsylvania they reenacted the Civil War battle on its 150th anniversary. There's an extra verse to The Star-Spangled Banner that was written during the Civil War that seems somehow appropriate both to what happened in Gettysburg in July 1863 and what happened in Boston in April 2013:
When our land is illumined with liberty's smile,
If a foe from within strikes a blow at her glory,
Down, down with the traitor that tries to defile
The flag of the stars, and the page of her story!
By the millions unchained,
Who their birthright have gained
We will keep her bright blazon forever unstained;
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave,
While the land of the free is the home of the brave.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Gunfight at the "Looked Like a Creepy Ass Cracker, F*cking Punks These Assholes Always Get Away, This N*gger is Still Following Me, You're Going to Die Tonight, Motherf*cker" Not OK Corral

I was going to title this "Gunfight at the Racial Swears Not OK Corral" but that just doesn't fully capture the mix of hilarity and sadness I have felt this week in watching way too much of the nightly George Zimmerman murder trial recaps on cable.

There has been a taste of the Old West from the beginning of this case coming to national attention, with George Zimmerman as a would-be Wyatt Earp and Trayvon Martin as Billy Clanton, the teenager who died on the streets of Tombstone, Arizona in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

True, it's hard to call it a gunfight with only one gun and one gunshot, but the way George Zimmerman describes it they each had an equal chance at it:
"I had my firearm on my right side hip. My jacket moved up and he saw it, I feel like he saw it, he looked at it, and he said, "You're going to die tonight, motherf*cker." And he reached for it. He reached like I felt his arm going down to my side. And I grabbed it, I just grabbed my firearm and shot. One time."
That's hardcore sad but the swearing is hilarious. Cable news hosts squirm with reporting words they would get fired for saying, even under the breath heard across the room at a noisy cocktail party. You see the palpable fear of losing their multi-million dollar salaries just reporting the words. Run the tape, run the tape, so I don't have to say it!

I grew up with a grandfather who religiously used bywords like "sugar" and "dognabbit" and a father who could very creatively string together swears without ever using the "N" word, the "C" word, or either of the "F" words, such as "bastard sons of bitches!" Once I was having a little trouble with the Case VAC while raking hay on a hot August day, and my grandfather came over the terrace as I was banging on the carburetor while cussing up a blue storm. No words were taken in vain, I meant every murderous one of them.

Yes, I take more after my father than my grandfather or these cable news hosts. I had a 17-year-old intern computer programmer working with me several years back who would often break out giggling while I was working with him on computer problems. It took me half the summer to realize his giggling started every time I took out my computer frustrations by swearing. I spent the rest of the summer taking unfair advantage of that fact.

Swearing has become unoriginal. I give George Zimmerman no points for saying "f*cking punks - these assholes always get away" under his breath while on the phone with the police. Nor for Trayvon Martin telling his friend who was a girl but not his girlfriend, "this n*gger is still following me." Didn't these guys know the NSA was recording all their cell phone scat?

"Creepy ass cracker" on the other hand is brilliant. That's how Trayvon Martin is reported to have described the man who the more-PC paper of record New York Times called a "white Hispanic" who was following him in his truck around a small neighborhood. Think about a guy following you like that who is talking the whole time on his cell phone, presumably about you, all the while leeringly peering over his steering wheel at you.

I should disclose that about 30 years ago, something like that happened to me. I was walking home to my apartment in Allston, my first summer in the city after growing up in small town farm country. A car began trailing me, and when a car trails someone who is walking it has to creep along real slow. I went into a 7-11, in the hope of shaking my tail, but the guy got out of the car and followed me in. I bought a candy bar and a coke (skittles and Arizona iced tea had not yet been invented) and walked out.

The man followed me out, got back in his car, and crept along about a quarter block behind me as I headed on toward the apartment I had just recently moved into. What to do? I didn't want to walk all the way home, because then the man would know exactly where I lived.

If the man had gotten out of the car it would have been go time, fight or flight. I didn't have to decide. At that point, one of my housemates appeared out of nowhere (being still several blocks from home) and spoke to the driver, who then sped off.

I don't put a lot of stock in one guy referring to the other as a "f*cking punk" or as one of "these assholes". Nor in the other referring to him in turn as a "cracker" and a "n*gger". In another context that might be racist, but in this case both guys saw a person acting suspiciously. As a country, though, we are stuck on the racial angle. That's sad.

Or maybe it's just the cable news networks who are stuck. I'm sure a lot of America has not bothered to turn off their video game consoles to tune into the trial. Here in Boston we have the ongoing Billy Bulger mobster trial, the Aaron Hernandez arrest, and of course ongoing developments in the Boston Marathon bombing case. Not to mention Edward Snowden and Paula Deen.

What's sad in a smaller but ultimately more important way is that Trayvon Martin lost his life. "Thou shalt not kill" the Bible says in Genesis but takes back a little in Leviticus.

I think that the witnesses in the Zimmerman trial are mostly telling the truth, as they remember seeing or hearing it. It's a tougher case to me than whether George Zimmerman was getting his headed pounded into the sidewalk or just roughly ground into it. Zimmerman was defending himself, that much is clear. But was he in the right to kill?

The legal question I think this case will come down to is guilty or not guilty on the manslaughter charge based on who the jury finds initiated the use of deadly force. Was it:

(1) The guy who got out of his truck with a gun strapped to his hip to follow the other guy or the guy who may have thrown the first punch at his pursuer.

(2) The guy who took the mixed martial arts classes or the guy who was using "MMA" more effectively. Isn't that what we used to call street fighting?

(3) The guy who said "you are going to die tonight" or the survivor who conveniently claims the other guy said that.

(4) The guy who the survivor says first reached for the gun or the guy who drew the gun and fired.

(5) The guy who used the worst racial swear words or the guy whose side creates the most reasonable doubt.

All the cable news shows want to talk about is racial swears and reasonable doubt. That sad display has become a little too easy, apparently it holds a portion of the audience in an angry suspense that keeps them tuned in and brings in the ratings and advertisers. Even so, it's sadly hilarious to watch the hosts and analysts make utter buffoons of themselves.

Meanwhile, I spent an hour or so Saturday afternoon wandering around the Home Depot in Watertown, not too far from where the Boston Marathon bombers were caught. Seeing every color and category of American, and a few non-Americans, restored my faith that we're not all going to kill each other over something stupid. That is, not all of us are.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Incredible Shrinking Massachusetts Electorate

The special election for U.S. Senate we had this week was so uninspiring that I resorted to voting the way I do in city council elections, by computing which candidate lives closest to me. The theory is that a councilor who lives closer will be more likely driving over the same potholes as you and therefore more likely to get those potholes fixed. There are a couple of obvious flaws in that theory, of course.



So how did the election turn out? Hardly anyone turned out. So few people voted for the two party candidates, only 1,168,068 combined in our state of 6,646,144 people, that the total would not have won any of the U.S. Senate elections in the last 30 years, including the special election in January 2010.

Year Massachusetts U.S. Senate races Democratic votes Republican votes Democratic margin
2013 Markey v. Gomez 642,988 525,080 10.1%
2012 Warren v. Brown 1,696,346 1,458,048 7.6%
2010 Coakley v. Brown 1,058,682 1,168,107 -4.9%
2008 Kerry v. Beatty 1,959,843 922,727 36.0%
2006 Kennedy v. Chase 1,500,738 661,532 38.8%
2002 Kerry v. Cloud (L) 1,605,976 369,807 62.6%
2000 Kennedy v. Robinson 1,889,494 334,341 69.9%
1996 Kerry v. Weld 1,334,135 1,143,120 7.7%
1994 Kennedy v. Romney 1,265,997 894,000 17.2%
1990 Kerry v. Rappaport 1,321,712 992,917 14.2%
1988 Kennedy v. Malone 1,693,344 884,267 31.4%
1984 Kerry v. Shamie 1,393,150 1,136,913 10.1%
1982 Kennedy v. Shamie 1,247,084 784,602 22.8%
  Massachusetts Governor races      
2010 Patrick v. Baker 1,108,404 962,848 7.0%
2006 Patrick v. Healy 1,234,984 784,342 22.3%
2002 O'Brien v. Romney 985,981 1,091,988 -5.1%
1998 Harshbarger v. Celluci 901,843 967,160 -3.5%
1996 Roosevelt v. Weld 611,650 1,533,390 -43.0%
1990 Silber v. Weld 1,099,878 1,175,817 -3.3%
1986 Dukakis v. Kariotis 1,157,786 525,364 37.6%
1982 Dukakis v. King 631,911 549,335 7.0%

The drop in voting is so precipitous we may have found the new formula the U.S. Supreme Court says is needed for the Voting Rights Act.

What does this mean for Massachusetts politics? Well, first we will have another special election to fill the House seat of winner Congressman Ed Markey, and unfortunately I live in his district, so that's another trip to the polling precinct at the Cambridge Armory over the same potholed roads that aren't getting fixed.

Then we will have the 2014 elections, where there will be open race for Governor, assuming Deval Patrick retires after two terms or gets appointed to replace Eric Holder in the Obama Cabinet, while Ed Markey defends his new U.S. Senate seat. That will be a non-Presidential election year.

It may be time for the Republican Party to close up shop in Massachusetts, which would open the door for a third party to become a second party. As things stand, our idea of two party politics has come down to Italian Democrats v. Irish Democrats. I am neither, but tend to favor the Italians.

Occasionally we elect a Republican to broker the disputes between the Italians and the Irish, but that's really necessary in the state house on Beacon Hill, not in Washington, DC, so the Republicans have taken some really bad beats in some of those U.S. Senate races.

Governor Bill Weld, my all-time favorite Massachusetts politician wasn't really a Republican, or to be more precise was a Republican of the old libertarian school. The national Republicans hated him, and even went so far to block him from getting an Ambassadorship to Mexico because he might have once smoked a joint at a wedding weekend party. That block was supposed to help us win the War on Drugs, but very obviously didn't if you've followed what has been going on over the last decade in Mexico.

But, let's face it, the national Republicans hate Massachusetts, and what's the point of voting for a party that hates you. Even Mitt Romney, who was governor of this state, was forced to repeatedly diss us before the Republicans would give him the Presidential nomination in 2012. Really, what's the point?

That brings us to the Libertarians. Carla Howell polled 308,860 votes in 2000 on the Libertarian Party ticket, almost as many as the official Republican candidate Jack Robinson. In 2002, the Libertarian candidate Michael Cloud polled more than both of them. But the Republican voter base won't vote Libertarian, because they seem to think they have some chance of winning they really don't. And it's true that there is a crackpot factor when it comes to Libertarian candidates that has become part of the big-L Libertarian brand.

The Green-Rainbow Party has also fizzled in its attempts to break through. Jill Stein got 353,551 votes in her 2006 race for Massachusetts Secretary of State but only 32,816 votes in her 2010 run for Massachusetts Governor and 20,691 in Massachusetts in her 2012 run for President.

The good candidates who want to challenge the Democratic stranglehold should run as Independents.

So, for example, Scott Brown, who polled enough votes in 2012 to have won 7 out of the last 13 U.S. Senate elections, could simply announce that he has had it with both the Democrats and Republicans in Washington, DC. and run for U.S. Senate in 2014 as an Independent.

Also, it looks like Martha Coakley, my least favorite/most hated Massachusetts politician, may run for Governor in 2014 as the Irish Democrat. The Italian Democrats don't seem to have anyone yet, Mike Capuano being half-Irish, so I may have no one to vote for. But former Governor Bill Weld, who recently moved back to Massachusetts and bought a place in the Back Bay, could announce he is running as an Independent.

Year U.S. Senate and Governor races Democratic votes Independent votes Democratic margin
2014 Markey v. Brown 642,988 1,458,048 -38.8%
2014 Coakley v. Weld 1,058,682 1,533,390 -18.3%

Now that would be an interesting election.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Nothing Special about the U.S. Senate Special Election in Massachusetts

In a week, we will be having another special election for U.S. Senate here in Massachusetts. This one is to replace John Kerry, who was appointed Secretary of State. Or to be more precise, to replace Mo Cowan, who was appointed as his interim replacement. If your eyes haven't glazed over yet, they soon will. Did I mention that the last televised was tonight? I watched and it was hardly worth mentioning.

Longtime Democratic Congressman Ed Markey is the favorite, if you can call someone the favorite who is generating so little interest. President Obama was in town last week to campaign for him, I think, or at least that is the rumor filtering back to those of us who didn't notice. The challenger is Republican businessman Gabriel Gomez, a private equity investor and former U.S. Navy Aviator and Navy SEAL.

Just how little interest this election has generated can be seen by comparing social media followers for Markey and Gomez, with the candidates in the 2012 U.S. Senate race, Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown:

CandidateFacebookTwitter
Ed Markey38,4354,784
Gabriel Gomez14,4547,973
Elizabeth Warren417,56282,904
Scott Brown363,23561,407

Massachusetts has grown used to high interest U.S. Senate contests, Brown v. Coakley in 2010, Warren v. Brown in 2012. Perhaps grown tired is the better phrasing.

If you are really bored there will be a third choice on the ballot, Richard Heos running under the banner of the Twelve Visions Party. Here is his most recent tweet:
That's right, "He's all for himself." The Twelve Visions Party has this mission statement:
"The TVP has 1 Purpose: to bring about an initiatory-force-free, Protection-Only, service-based Government via the Prime Law Amendment and Protection Only Budget, Forever Ending the age old power-based government and its virulent force-backed rule of man, Forever Depoliticizing America and eventually the Entire World."
Here are the twelve visions:
1. Become the Person You Were Meant to Be.
2. Live the Life You Were Meant to Live.
3. Feel Extraordinary Every Day
4. Slow Down Aging Permanently.
5. Land the Job of Your Dreams.
6. Build the Business of Your Passions.
7. Experience the Love Of Your Life.
8. Have the Body You Always Envied.
9. Become a Genius of Society.
10. Have Everything You Ever Wanted.
11. Ride a Prosperity Wave to Riches.
12. Enjoy Nearly Perfect Health.
Be careful clicking those links as some on the internet allege Twelve Visions is a cult, ponzi scheme, or self-improvement racket - just what we need already have in Washington, DC.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Beautifully Dreary Day on the Oregon Coast

My father and I went out to the Oregon Coast, and of course it rained. I actually kind of like beach days like this, with intermittent rain and stoppage.

A recumbent bicycler has himself in harness for the U.S. Highway 101 hill above Manzanita:



Fishing boats at Garibaldi:



Here was the view at Cape Lookout where it was raining:







The beach at Cape Meares:



We spent a good part of the afternoon driving around Tillamook County looking for Dutch Belt cows. There used to be a Dutch Belt herd along Netarts Highway between the Tillamook and Trask rivers. We didn't find any Dutch Belts there or, for that matter, on the beach at Cape Lookout or Cape Meares. After we gave up, we did spot one along the Wilson River Highway going back to Portland. Of course, when we got back to Portland my brother informed us that there is a Dutch Belt herd down at Pacific City.

I don't want to leave the impression we left Tillamook County empty handed. We picked up some smoked clams in Garibaldi and I got this little treat at the Tillamook Cheese Factory:.



Note: this post been backdated to the day trip.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

When It Rains It Doesn't Pour on President Obama

When your friends and enemies start posting the same picture, it may be time to take notice and start doing something different. Last week it was an umbrella. The Baltimore Sun called it The most famous umbrella since Neville Chamberlain went to Munich. John E. McIntyre offered this precipitation:
"Mr. Obama became president by majority vote in two elections whose legitimacy has not been challenged, and he is entitled to the perks that we bestow to our chief magistrates. There is a good deal about his administration that does not bring a spring to my step and a song to my heart, and it would be some service to the public to focus on substantive matters rather than engage in idiotic distractions."
The New Yorker had Obama and the Nixonian Umbrella:



The Blaze had Was It Against Uniform Protocol for the Marine to Hold Obama's Umbrella?



BuzzFeed found pictures of 10 Presidents with Umbrellas and this one of President Obama that makes him look even more ridiculous than in The Blaze:



Zimbio called it GOP Freak-Out: Sarah Palin's Criticism of Obama Over 'Umbrellagate' Hypocritical as Usual, with pictures of a Sarah Palin, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Nancy Reagan all being sheltered by umbrellas. A curious thing in these other pictures is that all the umbrellas are shown being held to shelter both the dignitary and the person holding the umbrella. President Obama's problem may have been a Marine who was too proud to stand under the umbrella. It's a Marine Corps tradition that only female Marines are authorized to carry umbrellas. Or maybe President Obama's umbrella is just too small.

Speaking of which, here's an old reference to Barack Obama's umbrella in a viral video from March 7, 2008:



March 2008 was a simpler time but not so different than 2013. The country had recovered somewhat from the last recession, everyone was disappointed with the sitting President, the long war in Iraq was about ready to be wound down, and Hillary Clinton was on her way to being elected the next President of the United States. It's five years later, substitute Afghanistan for Iraq, and we are in the same place. Or are we? Only the umbrella knows.
Now that it's raining more than ever
Know that we'll still have each other
You can stand under my umbrella
You can stand under my umbrella

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Tea Party Pins IRS to Mat with Reverse Alinsky

Tea Party groups have been wrestling with the IRS over tax exempt status for the last several years. You'd occasionally hear unsubstantiated stories about applications lost in the bureaucracy, inappropriate and invasive questions, and the like. IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman went so far as to categorically dispel such rumors by testifying before a Congressional hearing on March 22, 2012:
"There is absolutely no targeting. This is the kind of back-and-forth that happens when people apply for 501(c)(4) status."
That, it turns out a year and two months later, was a complete lie. The IRS now admits it was intentionally targeting Tea Party, Patriot, and 9/12 Project (Glenn Beck) groups. Bombshell. Glenn Beck's balls just dropped.

Make no mistake, the Tea Party has managed to embroil the IRS in a huge scandal. David may not have slain Goliath, but this scandal is going to leave a mark. It's even possible some IRS officials may have to go to jail. Given that TEA stands for "taxed enough already" and the IRS is the national tax collection agency, this is a major coup for the Tea Party.

How did they do it? At first it would appear the Tea Party has taken its tactics out of Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals, the left-wing radical organizing bible all the Tea Partiers ran out and bought after they heard the winning tactics of the 2008 Obama campaign were based on it. At first look, this seems to be textbook Rule 4:
4. Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules.
How it went down was simple. Local Tea Party groups around the country applied to the IRS for tax exemption under section 501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code for "civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare."

Now, I know what you are going to say, that these Tea Party groups are involved in politics, and what does that have to do with social welfare? I'll spare you the lesson on how civics is about government, how we as citizens relate to it and each other, and how we relate to our elected officials. We're not talking talking about public charities under 501(c)(3) to which you can make tax-deductible contributions. What do you think a civic league is?

But don't listen to me, this is what the IRS itself says the criteria are for 501(c)(4) Social Welfare Organizations (emphasis added):
"Seeking legislation germane to the organization's programs is a permissible means of attaining social welfare purposes. Thus, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may further its exempt purposes through lobbying as its primary activity without jeopardizing its exempt status."
And this:
"Promoting social welfare does not include direct or indirect participation or intervention in political campaigns on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public of­fice. However, if an or­ganization is organized exclusively to promote social welfare, it may still obtain exemption even if it participates legally in some political activity on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office. Political activities may not be the organization's primary activities, however."
That negative above in reference to political campaigns and candidates sounds discouraging but there is significant caveat:
"A section 501(c) organiza­tion can set up a separate segregated fund that will be treated as an independent political organization. The earnings and expenditures made by the separate fund will not be attributed to the section 501(c) organization."
Let's review. A 501(c)(4) can:
(A) Engage in lobbying as its primary purpose.

(B) Engage in some political activity on behalf of or in opposition to candidates for public office, so long as its primary purpose is lobbying.

(C) Create a separate segregated fund to function as an independent political organization.
So if your Tea Party group is going to hold meetings and rallies inviting people to hear discussion and speeches on civic affairs and public policy, engage in lobbying for your Tea Party viewpoints, and get involved in a few political campaigns, you're still eligible for a 501(c)(4) tax exemption. All the IRS had to do was review the documents and stamp them "Approved."

This is where the Tea Party pulled the Reverse Alinsky by directly contradicting Rules 2 and 3:
2. Never go outside the expertise of your people.
3. Whenever possible, go outside the expertise of the enemy.
What did these Tea Party groups know about applications for tax exempt status? Nothing. What did the IRS know? Everything.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Markey Drops Cooter, Will He Also Drop Coakley?

Ben Jones has been unceremoniously disinvited from performing at an Ed Markey for U.S. Senate fundraiser tonight.

Ben has two claims to fame. The first is that he played the garage mechanic Cooter Davenport on the lovable 1979 to 1985 hit TV show The Dukes of Hazzard. That's become a lifetime occupation for Ben, who now plays country music under the name Cooter's Garage Band, organizes Dukes of Hazzard fan fairs around the country, and generally tries to make a living off his website Cooter's Place. Just a good ol' boy, never meanin' no harm.

Ben's second claim to fame is that he served 4 years in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Democrat from Georgia from 1989 to 1993. He got squeezed out by redistricting following the 1990 census and then lost U.S. House races to Newt Gingrich in Georgia in 1994 and to Eric Cantor in Virginia in 2000. Just the sort of fellow Democrat you might have play at your political fundraiser.



Cooter got himself canceled because of the stand he took against political correctness a year ago during the NASCAR controversy over whether the 1969 Dodge Charger from the TV show would be allowed to take a lap at a Phoenix racetrack. What could be wrong with a car from an old TV show? The orange car has a Confederate Battle Flag painted on its roof. For Cooter it was personal:
"At a time when tens of millions of Americans are honoring their Union and Confederate ancestors during this Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, NASCAR has chosen to dishonor those Southerners who fought and died in that terrible conflict by caving to 'political correctness' and the uninformed concerns of corporate sponsors."
Now, I will point out Team PC was fooling around with Ben Jones's livelihood. Nonetheless, Andrew Zucker, U.S Senate candidate for Massachusetts Ed Markey's spokesperson, was unequivocal:
"Ed Markey only learned about Ben Jones's comments today, he strongly disagrees with them and has asked Jones not to be part of tonight's event. Ed believes such Confederate relics are highly offensive, and should not be displayed in public settings, period."
Is the relic he's talking about the flag, the car, or the man? Only the man can be accused of racism. I'll have to side with Ben Jones on this:
"While it is true that the Confederate Battle Flag has been desecrated by bigots and racists, these groups also misuse the American Flag and the Christian cross in their shameless rituals. The vast majority of the display of the St. Andrews Cross Flag is in a benign spirit of remembrance and reverence."
Don't get me wrong. I'm from a Northern family that saw service on the Union side. I believe we should have made the surrendering Confederate officers who had previously taken the oath to support and defend the Constitution draw lots for execution as traitors at the end of the war, the traditional decimation of the ranks for mutiny. But since 260,000 of the 1,000,0000 Southern men who took up arms against their country during the conflict were killed in battle or died of decease, their ranks were decimated.

Let's take Ed Markey at his word. What about his fellow Democrat and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and her two Labradors, Jackson and Beauregard, who are named after Confederate General Stonewall Jackson and Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard? I can understand a certain ancestral remembrance from a Southerner like Ben Jones. It's all about context. But what's the excuse for an Irish-American from Massachusetts giving her dogs racist names? We'll see how fast Ed Markey denounces Martha Coakley.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

George Jones Has the Wreath Placed upon His Door

George Jones passed away at age 81 yesterday. For a quarter century, from the late 1950s until the early 1980s, George was one of the biggest stars in country music. Jones specialized in songs that ripped your heart out like He Stopped Loving Her Today - here's a recording from The Ronnie Prophet Show in July, 1980:



He was country before country was cool. In truth, George Jones was never cool, but his great specialty were duets with a lot of cool country women. Here George Jones has I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool sung to him by Barbara Mandrell at the 1981 Country Awards (I remember circling the drive-in, pulling up and turning down George Jones):



For a while, 1969 to 1975, George Jones was married to country queen Tammy Wynette, and they performed a number of beautiful duets together, such as We're Gonna Hold On (something in real life they were unable to do):



Tammy should have seen it coming in her 1968 hit Stand By Your Man:



My favorite George Jones and Tammy Wynette duet is Jet Set from 1974 (No we're not the jet set, we're the old Chevrolet set. Our steak and martinis is draft beer with weenies ... But ain't we got love?):



His first big hit was White Lightning in 1959:



The original White Lightning was by the Big Bopper, Jiles Perry "J. P." Richardson, Jr., who died plowing corn in Iowa with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens in February 1959. Here's the Big Bopper version of White Lightning:



As you can see by comparison, George Jones had his own square style. He personified the Nashville country sound, love it, hate it, or love to hate it. The legend, though, developed a reputation for unreliability, with too much white lighting leading to missed concert dates and the moniker No Show Jones, which of course became a a country song, performed here at Farm Aid in 1985 (the man could make fun of himself):



The George Jones Show appeared briefly on television in 1998. Here's an episode with Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Vern Gosdin:



If George Jones was the king of Nashville, his daughter with then-wife Tammy Wynette, Tamala Georgette Jones is his princess, all summed up in the tear-jerker Daddy Come Home:



The absent father also showed up some years later for a bittersweet You and Me and Time duet with Georgette:



You can see a real affection in that video. That's the nicest tribute of all. Meanwhile, I imagine the old possum is up there in heaven, trying to strike up a duet with Patsy Cline.