Dumb Things I Have Done Lately

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Teabaggers Branch Out to Lemonade Stands

Here's a roadside "Obama Wealth Redistribution Lemonade Stand" (link from a redlit Fark thread) on the route of the RAGBRAI cross-Iowa bike ride:

It's even spelled correctly and everything

Here's the price list (Hey, look, a valid use for a table):

$0 to $25K$0.25
$25K to $75K$0.50
$75K to $250K$1
Precious, right?

Now, I was wondering what kind of tax rates this pricing scheme actually uses. Since it's a lemonade stand, I'll just use a progressive sales tax, so I don't have to muck around with marginal tax rates and all that. I hope someone else gives it a shot (I've probably already screwed up the math here.)

If the after-tax price at the lowest bracket is 25 cents, let's make the pre-tax price 24 cents, for a nice, easy 1 cent tax, or 4% sales tax. Then, we'll add the other tax brackets:

IncomeTotal Price
Sales Tax PaidSales Tax Rate
$0 to $25K$0.25$0.014%
$25K to $75K$0.50$0.26108%
$75K to $250K$1.00$0.76317%
Wow, a top tax rate of nearly 2000%! What an insightful satire on the redistribution of wealth and creeping socialism. No wonder you got a mention on Hannity!

I respect smart anti-tax arguments. This is not one of them.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

John is NOT my friend.

Here's a freebie for the Obama campaign -- "John is NOT my friend" t-shirts:

Somewhat subtle here, but for "JOHN," I used Optima, the same font the McCain campaign uses.

It's a take-off that works on two levels -- the first, obviously, is for anyone bothered by McCain's overreliance on the phrase "My friends" (going by some versions of the presidential debate drinking game, you'd be completely hammered on this one alone).

The second, deeper level is for the MySpace-savvy (playing to younger folks, one of Obama's strengths), who would know about the "Tom is NOT my friend" parody t-shirts that came about as part of an anti-Tom Anderson/MySpace backlash (I know Busted Tees had them, though I don't know if that's where it originated. They don't carry them anymore, though. Here it is.)


I did watch (well, listen) to the debate. I giggled at Obama's "green behind the ears" comment, but I'm a fan of mixed metaphors. Especially purposefully mixed ones, though I don't think that's the case with Obama here (Especially since that kind of nuance is, at best, wasted in a debate setting. Yeah, I'm an elitist.)

Also, I was amused by Tom Brokaw having to tell a candidate (Obama, I think W0zz says it was McCain), to move because he was blocking the teleprompter during Brokaw's closing script.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Talking About Hedging Your Bets

Cameraphone pic from the Harris Teeter parking lot this afternoon:


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Monday, March 03, 2008

There Is Shit in the Meat

I just finished reading Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser's 2001 look at the societal impact of fast food.

It begins pretty gently, talking about the early chains, the origins of Carl's and McDonalds. It starts to rake a little muck when it talks about the exploitation of teen workers, the de-skillification of fast food jobs (even as fast food companies take millions of dollars in subsidies for worker training, and the problem of theft and robbery at fast food restaurants (usually involving current or former employees).

The bits about french fries, and the science of artificial and natural flavors are really interesting.

Then it gets to the meat of the thing -- agribusiness and the meatpacking industry. It's blood-boiling -- it should be required reading for everyone, especially:

* Libertarians and Grover "drown government in the bathtub" Norquist-types to see just what happens when you neuter the FDA, OSHA, and the USDA and rely on industry self-policing (hint: E. coli 0157:H7 and bloody stools feature prominently). It's where the "shit in the meat" bit comes from -- fecal contamination, combined with sending all the meat through a few big processing plants, equals bacterial fun for everybody. Industry solution? Irradiation. So nuclear shit in your meat.

* Anti-immigration types, to see just how the meatpacking industry relies on and recruits illegal immigrants to staff their ultra-high-speed, ultra-high-turnover industries (hint: if you don't give full benefits until 6 months or a year into a job, high-turnover keeps employer costs down). Let's see if the neo-Know Nothings will put their money where their mouths when it comes to their food buying dollar.

* Terrorism Chicken Littles who fixate on bioterror threats to the food supply, yet turn a blind eye to agribusiness's steadfast opposition to real food safety and robust scientific testing measures.

Since the book came out in 2001, you can see how things have changed since then (Schlosser's warnings about obesity seem almost quaint now), and then, looking at the largest beef recall in the nation's history, seeing how they haven't changed.

Maybe I'm prone to being unduly alarmed by food threats -- I took a meat vacation for a few years after reading Deadly Feasts (about mad cow disease) -- or maybe because it's because I just really like hamburgers, but just looking at how corrupting the meatpacking industry in its race to the bottom on costs shows the dangers of unfettered capitalism.

Perhaps we need a new grass-roots advocacy group -- something to take food safety back from the vegetarians and animal activists: Hamburger Lovers for Food Safety. (Kind of how Ducks Unlimited is a wetlands conservation group for the purpose of having abundant ducks to shoot.)

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

The Easier an Exercise in Online Activism, the More Worthless It Is

In advance of tomorrow's eDemocracy camp, and because I've been drinking tonight, here's my stating-the-obvious observation about online activism:
The ease of participating in a social or political activity online is inversely proportional to its effectiveness.

In other words, the easier an exercise in online activism, the more worthless it is. High ease = low effectiveness (thanks to Jamy for the correction).

Obviously, this is just a restatement of any number of old adages that say you get out of something what you put into it. But I still see far too many people online who delude themselves into thinking that they've done something worthwhile just because they clicked "OK" somewhere.

  • Signing an online petition or pledge: Ease: Ultralow. Usefulness: Ultraworthless
  • Sending e-mail to an elected official: Ease: Low. Usefulness: Low (worthless if you're not actually a constituent.)
  • Joining a Facebook group: Ease: Low. Usefulness: Low (unless it's in support of a tangible result, like a rally, or would potentially get you killed by the Mafia or guerrillas, or would otherwise require, you know, actual time or effort).
  • Participating in political forums: Ease: Low. Usefulness: Almost universally worthless -- because of the polarized, self-selecting, self-segregating nature of most online political communities, at best, you're preaching to the converted; at worst, you're engaging in yet another worthless online flamewar, convincing no one and simply reinforcing each other's stereotyped views.
  • Political or advocacy blogging: Ease: Varies. Usefulness: Depends -- Are you creating anything original or simply rehashing other people's punditry?
  • Using online activities to organize and mobilize offline activities: Ease: Varies. Usefulness: Well now, this is where things get interesting.
For far too many people, online political and social activism is like prayer: A way to feel like you're helping, without actually doing anything.

The trick, of course, is trying to figure out how to leverage all this online stuff into things that actually matter.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Book Review: Empire -- Orson Scott Cardboard Cutout Coup

I woke up at about 5:30am and couldn't get back to sleep, so I decided to read. I'd just started Fast Food Nation yesterday, but was in the mood for some fiction, so I picked up Orson Scott Card's Empire, fresh from the library.

It's about a new American Civil War, set along the Red State/Blue State ideological divide. I just finished it. It's really bad; so much so that I had to make a determined effort to finish it (I have no problem not starting books, but I didn't want to abandon yet another one.)

The Real World = Walking Robot Tanks

Empire is basically set in the here and now, which is why it's particularly jarring when the 14-foot-tall bipedal tank mechs take over New York. Not to mention the later chase scene in Great Falls Park (Maryland side), featuring a PT Cruiser and rebels on rocket-armed hoverbikes.

[Since Empire stems from a video game treatment, it is perhaps not his fault, but it's still pretty wacky.]

Of course, this is only after the al Qaeda suicide scuba commandos swim up the Potomac, into the Tidal Basin and launch a rocket attack on the White House, killing the President, Vice President, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Oh, and al Qaeda is only a pawn, used by leftist elements in the U.S. Army (?!) as a pretext for a coup by the Progressive Restoration, which is masterminded and funded by billionaire Aldo Verus (a very, very thinly-disguised George Soros), who has his own secret underground lair beneath a mountain lake -- complete with robot army.

Card: Fair and Balanced

Now, in his afterword, Card says he's a moderate, decrying extremism on both sides (he probably believes this), and at points in the book, his characters say the rebellion could just as easily been started by the Right.

But it's fairly obvious where Card stands in his fair-mindedness: All the bad guys are lefties, and all the good guys are right-wingers who watch Fox News (in fact, an appearance on the O'Reilly Factor becomes a key element), save for a few tame, pet progressives.

There's also a lot of Mary Sue-ism in the book, particularly in the early chapters, where there's a lot of unsubtle breast-beating about liberals in the media and academia, as well as throwaway cheap shots at the left and reverence for Bush from the mouths of his protagonists.

You can also see some Mary Sue-ish wish-fulfillment towards the end, where (spoiler alert) a quintessential moderate, who may or may not be pulling all the strings (including those of the Soros-arch-villain, reducing him to the ultimate useful idiot), using only the power of his ideas, becomes president by acclamation after being nominated by both the Republicans and Democrats.

Influences: You, Sir, Are No Jack Bauer

There are many shades of Card's previous works -- particularly the post-Ender's Game Shadow books (including: geniuses, evil and not, orchestrating events; family discussions that turn into graduate-level policy roundtables; a Hegemon-like President relying on a small team ["jeesh"] of hypercompetent Special Forces; portraying those soldiers with fanboy reverence; etc.)

Because it's set in the "real" world, this unmasks some of the shortcomings we'd be more inclined to forgive in the futuristic, military supergenius-soaked setting of the 100-years-from-now Shadow books -- particularly the cardboard-cutout characters and their dialog, which at times devolves to action movie buddy-banter that rings completely false.

Card, in the afterword, also credits watching 24 to help set the action-thriller "rhythms and energy," which may explain the origins of a finger-cutting scene and why they have to break both arms of a prisoner instead of, say, binding and gagging him. Though it doesn't explain why the climactic infiltration of the villain's secret underground lair is so tedious.

He also acknowledges Google Maps for the turn-by-turn descriptions of the chase scenes, which likewise end up being pretty tedious. Though we do see some references to local flavor like Hain's Point, the Borders in Tyson's Corner, and even the Rio Grande in Reston Town Center.

Moderate: You Keep Using That Word

Regarding the politics of the book -- I wouldn't mind so much if it were just a straight-out conservative rant (his characters are definitely two-dimensional enough for it -- "Orson Scott Cardboard" is admittedly juvenile name-calling, but it seems to fit here).

What I don't like is that Card keeps going on and on about how reasonable and fair-minded he is, and that he's a moderate railing against extremism on both sides, whereas it's pretty obvious that he's a right-wing conservative in denial; just because he doesn't buy into the entire traditional conservative package, or that he takes extremist positions from both sides, doesn't make him a moderate -- it just makes him a MINO: Moderate in Name Only.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Two Dumb Ideas to Improve Congress: Remote Voting and Random Drug Testing

Today's Post article on the upcoming legislative calendar ("A Daunting 3 Weeks Ahead for Congress") has this gem about how the travel schedules of the presidential candidates are throwing a wrench into actual lawmaking:
"In the Senate, where schedules are famously unreliable, leaders have to jump at any opportunity to hold final votes. On Nov. 8, at 11 p.m., when such a window opened suddenly to confirm Michael B. Mukasey as attorney general, not one of the five presidential candidates was on hand to vote.


Even before the sprint to the Iowa caucuses, the senator-candidates have been increasingly absent from the chamber. McCain has missed more than 53 percent of roll call votes this year and has not cast a single vote since Oct. 24. Biden, Dodd and Obama have missed more than a third of all votes this year, according to washingtonpost.com's congressional database. Clinton has missed just 18 percent of votes, but was on hand for only three days of voting in the month leading up to the Thanksgiving recess."
This is nuts. Are we still living in a world where messages travel via horseback?

To remedy this, I suggest that we allow remote voting for members of Congress. Naturally, you'd need to enforce some kind of limits, and to ensure some measure of transparency, you might require telepresence or secure videoconferencing.

I'm sure others can tell me how many people have previously suggested this and why it's a bad idea.

In return for this revolutionary measure to ease the lives of members of Congress in the 21st century (no doubt linked to generous contributions made to me by the electric telegraph and horseless carriage lobbies), I would extract one significant concession:

Mandatory Drug-Testing for All Members of Congress.
Naturally, a testing regime would have to be ironed out, but there would be regularly scheduled drug tests, with additional random tests to keep members of Congress... honest.

If members of Congress objected to the indignities of monitored urine tests (though I don't see why any patriotic, non-drug abusing person would -- I think the American voting public has the right to know that their representatives are not voting under the influence of illegal drugs), they could make provisions for using hair tests (which have the bonus of substantially longer detection windows).

I've never had to take a drug test either for school or work, but it always irked me that the people who said mandatory drug testing was such a great idea were rarely the people who actually had to piss in cups.

So in the grander scheme of things, if you're a legislator, elected official, school administrator, athletic commissioner, senior executive, whatever -- if you're pushing for mandatory drug testing, you also have to undergo mandatory drug testing.

Mandatory drug testing in return for remote voting. What say you?

(Because of the ridiculous pre-emptive presidential primary scheduling situation, I was going to throw in a third idea about how a state's position in the primary schedule should be determined by its number of electoral votes -- with the states with the fewest votes going first -- but that's already been covered by people more politically in tune than me.)

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Friday, July 13, 2007

Please Do Not Offer My Senate a Hindu

I guess I'm a bad person, but sometimes I can't help but enjoy watching a good trainwreck unfold.

Specifically, I'm curious to see how the conservative blogosphere reacts to today's disruption of the Senate's morning prayer, which was delivered by a Hindu and interrupted by three Christian protestors:

Politics and religion. The only way it could get better if it had been delivered by a lesbian. Or possibly a terrorist.

[Title comes from here. Wav here.]

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

An Epic Bait-and-Switch: Filtering Software and the Communications Decency Act

I started this entry last month, when there was that whole fuss about gun raffles and NYC Mayor Bloomberg's anti-straw purchase stings.

It was originally a supposition about how the gun lobby typically says that 'we don't need new laws, we just need to enforce the ones we have' -- then, when there's a bit of enforcement, like Bloomberg's pursuit of straw purchases during out-of-state gun sales, they flip out.

I never posted it, since I came to the conclusion that I didn't have enough information on which to post an informed opinion. Shocking, I know.

However, it got me thinking about the whole topic of famous bait-and-switches. And one in particular, the likes of which we haven't seen since the debate around the 1996 Communications Decency Act.

The CDA: Remember That Bit of Drama?

For those youngsters (or oldsters who've forgotten), the CDA attempted to regulate indecency and obscenity on the Internet -- for the sake of the children, of course.

There was a lot of talk about chilling affects. And slogans: "Take Back the Net" started with the CDA, not the DMCA, kids.

There were also snazzy blue ribbon icons. It was a big to-do at the time.

The legal arguments centered on how obscenity was already covered under current law; how "indecent" and "patently offensive" were undefined and unconstitutionally vague; and that the CDA, in the name of protecting children from indecent content, had the effect of restricting free speech for adults.

However, a big part of the argument hinged around the fact that there were better and less-infringing ways to shield kids from offensive content on the Internet. Especially the PICS content rating system, used in conjunction with... filtering software.

Yes, there was a time when filtering software was seen as a tool for the good guys.

The CDA's indecency provisions were struck down (June, 1997 -- 10 years last week or so), and the CDA's greatest legacy to the modern Internet will probably be the Safe Harbor provisions given in section 230.

As for the filtering software? It's kind of like something out of Le Carre's Circus -- its usefulness as a lever against the CDA spent, it was thrown to the wolves. Shortly afterwards, someone flipped a bit, and people started saying:

"By the way, we're against filtering software, too."

Only now they called it "censorware." And they never looked back.

Hell, if you look at the Censorware Project's about page: "The Censorware Project was formed by a group of writers and internet activists in late 1997."

I'm not saying it was a conspiracy. But it was a pretty masterful piece of timing.

(As an aside, I can only hope that Bennett "Peacefire" Haselton winces a little every time he thinks about their old slogan, "It's not a crime to be smarter than your parents." I mean, there's provocative, then there's sounding like an arrogant prick. Geez.)

Anyway, I guess the CDA takes up a disproportionate section of my mind, if only because it occurred during my formative Internet years.

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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Tactical Ninjas, Islamic Terrorists, Zombies and Mall Shootings

I read a bunch of Web forums that focus on tactics, self-defense, military strategy, disaster preparedness/wilderness survival and other various manly he-man pursuits. It's part of my training to become a well-rounded ninja and to better face the impending zombie apocalypse.

Even in the more enlightened of these sites, the politics tend towards staunch, rock-ribbed (though it's probably more like dunlapped) Republicanism. Though the presence of socially-progressive Libertarians, gun-toting liberals and the token Democrat/European is usually tolerated.

However, on some of the other, harder-core tactical forums, if you don't conform to a certain political mentality, you're a lieberal, freedom-hating terrorist sympathizer, and your opinions, and even your membership, are not welcome.

Defining characteristics of these inhabitants include:
  • Thinking that Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh really do make a lot of sense
  • Using terms like homicide bomber, comlib (commie liberal) and Islamofascist in a sincere, non-ironic fashion
  • Having a definition of liberal that comes from a Jack Chick or John Birch Society tract
  • Abilty to read NewsMax and Free Republic without laughing, crying or vomiting
Fetishizing Fear and Gear

It's a world that's incredibly fearful, but it's a kind of fear that thrives under the guise of preparedness.

I'm all for maintaining awareness of your surroundings at all times, knowing how to defend yourself, and being prepared. And I also know that the world is a dangerous place.

However, some of these guys (and they're invariably guys) fetishize this fear by imagining themselves in scenarios that belong in a tactical Penthouse Forum ("I never thought it would happen to me..."), where a father-raping, baby-killing, meth-abusing, home-invading ex-con is hiding in every shadow.

If you don't believe me, you haven't read any discussions about the tactical use of public bathrooms. The extreme practitioners are kind of like me in high school -- avoid at all costs. My teen self parts company, though, when they say if it's an emergency, go with a buddy, use the end stall, and if you have to take a dump, take one leg completely out of your pants so your feet aren't shackled together by your pants. I'm not kidding.

There's also a fetishization of tactical gear, where the pantheon of saints includes Kydex, Cordura nylon, paracord, anodized aluminum, and stainless steel (in your choice of flat black, desert tan, or olive drab). They say they don't do it, since it's about the man and mindset, not the materiel ... but they do it anyway.

And I'm not even getting into the guns...

Like 9/11-Truthers, Only Better-Armed

Now, getting into political discussions with these people is useless. It's like trying to discuss politics with my Dad (sorry, Dad). They see the world not just as black and white (which would be manageable) but as part of an apocalyptic conflict between good and evil that's driven by the fervent belief that their own wacked-out religion is superior to everyone else's (but most especially Islam.)

In this world, moderates, and even advocates of realpolitik, are, at best, useful idiots.

Their hypocrisy is rampant, they consume information only from trusted resources, and they refuse to accept information that runs contrary to their worldview.

So they're like 9/11-truthers, only better-armed.

Holding a special place in their hearts is Islam (and not just radical Islam), which seems to have taken over where Communism left off. Just do a search-and-replace on Communism and Islam, right down to the the "fighting them over there so we're not fighting them over here" rhetoric, the sentiment that the politicians/media are losing the war, and the omnipresent threat of the domino effect.

Plus, throw in the Crusades and a dash of "GLASS PARKING LOT."

I'm no apologist for radical Islam. It can't be ignored that most of the world's active terrorist groups are associated with radical Islam, and no other terrorist ideology has embraced suicide bombing as readily (save for the Tamil Tigers, I guess -- remember folks, just because you're brown, doesn't mean you're Muslim).

"No greater love" is one thing, but as I said to Chuckie a while back, when your religion is being used as a justification for suicide attacks, maybe it's time for a hard reboot for your belief system.

Why is this? The denizens of these boards will say that Islam is inherently prone to this (they would probably just say "evil") and consider the part to be the whole.

These supertroopers forget that Christianity basically had a 1,300-year head start, a schism, a Reformation, a whole bunch of religious wars, and its own history of expansionism and ethnic cleansing, before we finally had a couple of hundred or so years of secularism that's helped to moderate things to the point where religious wackos look like wackos.

Chuck Norris and the WOLVERINES!!!

Anyway, many of these board denizens are insane, but the forums do provide some useful information for gearheads and mall ninjas. I stay out of anything resembling a political discussion, though when they see something like the Salt Lake City mall shooting (which was stopped by an armed, off-duty cop), they have a collective orgasm, since their online existence is validated.

Plus, some see that the mall shooter was originally from Bosnia, and they get all twitchy, looking to blame Islam and jump on the front lines of the impending Muslim invasion, to better set up their Invasion U.S.A. fantasies (which are moderately less implausible, though infinitely less amusing, than their zombie outbreak scenarios).

I've even seen a few folks try to characterize the 2002 Beltway Sniper Shootings as domestic Islamic terrorism ("OMG, his last name was Muhammed!"), when if you actually know anything about the case, it's kind of obvious that it was domestic crazy terrorism (viz. his utopian vision for Crazy Black Boystown in Canada).

(These are the same folks who go nutso if you point out that if you use that same criteria, then Tim McVeigh and Eric Rudolph are Christian terrorists. Also, suggest that maybe some Iraqis see themselves as the WOLVERINES!! side of Red Dawn and their heads might explode.)

Anyway, I will continue reading the useful sites and keeping my mouth shut (as I said, it's pointless to argue, and I prefer to not get banned because I like having my saved preferences), since it's a window into the mindset of a completely different reality and you can usually find good information on knives, flashlights and deals on ammunition.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The State of the Onion, 24 and the H&R Block Box Bitch

You know, I think the chimp-in-chief didn't do all that bad of a job giving the State of the Union this time around. At least in terms of delivery. Well, except for that whole "assed/asked" thing. And I have mixed feelings about that bit of pandering to the fairer sex when he referred to Pelosi (who, truth be told, does have an incredibly annoying voice.)

Though Dikembe Mutumbo?

The Jim Webb rebuttal was hardcore, though.

Looking over at my catchup viewing of '24', I think the primary takeaway is that Rocket Romano's wife Marilyn is HOT. (She's also apparently wheelchair wife from Heroes, so there's that Monday night connection.) Also, Milo, Chloe and Mick Schtoppel are going to have a three-way in Tech One. And soon.

Finally, if you've seen that H&R Block TaxCut software commercial -- the one where the husband and wife are getting audited because they used Turbotax, and the wife keeps going on about how they should ask the box for advice?

Man, what a bitch.

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