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Jan 6, 2016

Auld and Knew

"Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one--
 the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden
 turnings, without milestones, without signposts."
                                                                     --C.S. Lewis

"[It] is not a milestone ... that I intend to go unnoticed.
 I want to make some noise. I want to make a joyful noise.
 I want to make too much noise. I want the neighbors to complain."
                                                                     --Joss Whedon

commentary by michael j wright

Part One
Before I get to what is almost an obligatory topic of this day, I'd like to express a thought or two regarding Comedy Central's re-re-vamped The Daily Show..., which you already know is now hosted by Trevor Noah, but which form demands I spell out for you: ...with Trevor Noah.

I completely understand his and his producers' need and desire to differentiate Noah from the institution that was Jon Stewart.  Consequently, I was fine with the new set and the new graphics.  I was even okay with the decision to have Noah standing, out from behind the desk, while handing us our tag-riffic (if sometimes obtuse) Moment of Zen.  Such things were no big deal.

When the show returned to the air for this first full week of the new year, however, bigger deals were afoot.  I'd tell you I chose the word afoot with care, but the truth is words like that sometimes just pop into my head.  The reason afoot is particularly fitting here is that the first thing one notices about The Daily Show's most recent cosmetic tinkering is the decision to open "cold," in the parlance of the biz, with Noah standing in/walking from one of the sizeable set's seldom-seen crannies, trying valiantly to fit his South African accent around distinctly American words like "Ar-egon."

I don't yet know whose decision this was.  Perhaps Noah lobbied for it; perhaps the show's producers told him to give it a try.  Likewise, I don't yet know the thinking that went into the decision.  Maybe Noah is more comfortable standing than sitting.  Maybe the obvious fact that Noah's face and physique are more appealing than Stewart's led someone to the, um, epiphany that those assets should be more often showcased.  Whatever the cause, and however awkward it may seem in the short term, the results are nowhere near disagreeable enough for even a curmudgeonly nit-picker like me to raise a proverbial ruckus.

What happens after the cold open, on the other hand, is sacrilege of the first order: they changed the theme music.

Actually, to say they changed the opening theme doesn't do the dastardly deed justice.  It would be far more accurate to say they did away with it.  For years, the straight-outta-central-casting, big-voiced announcer's list of date, location, and title was followed by a stirring snare-drum roll and rousing guitar riff.  It got the blood pumping.  Now, that same litany is followed by a handful of fall-flat notes, probably (judging by the utter lack of soul, depth, warmth, et cetera) generated by a computer.  It is to its predecessor what erectile dysfunction is to arousal: I want to watch the show, but I don't think I can now.  It's depressing.  Instead of being pumped to see The Daily Show's clever take on the events of the past few days, I now involuntarily say, "Nope!" and wonder why I suddenly feel so blue.

{Addendum:  Having seen two additional episodes, I now realize The Daily Show did not "do away" with its theme, but merely substituted a different arrangement or mix.  Maybe yelling "Nope!" isn't the best way to listen for sonic subtleties.  With that acknowledgement, I stand by my characterizations of the new mix's aural impact.}

Daily Show, please take note...
When Disney bought LucasFilm, millions of fans were a little brought-down by the realization that the next installment of Star Wars would not be preceded by the trumpet-laden 20th Century Fox fanfare.  When they went to see The Force Awakens, however, John Williams' familiar opening measures still underscored the sudden STAR WARS logo and opening text on the screen-- and they cheered.  There is a lesson to be learned from that.

Part Two
An acquaintance of mine recently wondered openly if there was an official date when he could stop pretending to give a [negative term of your choosing] how every-damned-body-he-has-ever-known's holidays were.  (I'm paraphrasing.)  I suspect the question was prompted by the phenomenon of every-damned-body he has to passingly interact with asking how his holidays were.  You know the type.  People who can actually convince you they give a [see above] are said to have charisma; people who try very hard and don't quite pull it off are almost always in sales.

Fortunately, there is a firm date when the holidays are over.  It's today.

Centuries ago, the religious clerics who invented Christmas --and by invented I mean they stole it from some sun-worshippers and re-vamped it to differentiate the new host from the old; new set, new theme music, the whole schmeer-- decided the season should be twelve days long.  (Hence the song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas," which appeals mainly to choir directors and autistics.)  The basis for this time frame is the legend that the Magi, or Three Wise Men (who were up-jumped to kings in their theme song), did not arrive to pay homage to the newly born King of Kings for the better part of two weeks.  Because even wise men who are running late can learn something new, the event was called the Epiphany (which basically means realization), and because January 5th is the twelfth day of Christmas, January 6th was dubbed the Day of the Epiphany (or usually just Epiphany).

Of far greater relevance to most of us, with our modern, temporally
expanded, more secular notion of the holidays, is this...

By the church's own calendar, January 6th of every year is the first day of
It Officially Ain't Christmas Anymore, Jack, So Stop Asking.

Part Three
Today, we here at Blasphemes celebrate ten years of impiety.  For reasons loosely tied to the discussion in Part Two, it was on January 6th, 2006 that this here site was officially launched, or founded, or opened, or whatever.  Please honor this milestone, Dear Reader, by engaging in a vice of your own choosing.  At the very least, give a passerby a dirty look and let them wonder why.

Found on Mars this week... a fragment of star map,
                            and a mile post numbered 1138.

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Oct 1, 2015

Pole Position

"Well, I'm a-standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona--
  it's such a fine sight to see:
  It's a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford,
  slowin' down to take a look at me.
  Come on, baby, don't say, 'Maybe.'
  I've gotta know if your sweet love is gonna save me...
  Take it easy, take it easy.
  Don't let the sound o' your own wheels
  make you crazy."                                             --The Eagles

commentary by michael j. wright

Someone once said that a picture is worth a thousand words.  The photograph I wish to discuss is protected by one: a password.  Woe and alas and something else I'm sure, my tech-savvy is insufficient to hackus-packus said image to a pixilated point right before your very eyes.  I would, like, rend my garments and tear out my hair, really I would, were it not for two factors.  One: I feel that my writing chops are up to the task of activating the projector in your mind, and in far fewer than a thousand words.  Two: while it is important that you have some idea of the image itself first, the main point of this post will be the caption that comes with it.  (News Flash! Writer Discusses Words Not Pictures. Video at 11.)

The photo is patriotic porn in an almost-pure form.  It is the sort of image that seems designed specifically for those who have an absurd need to feel disproportionately proud of living in the land in which by chance they were born, but who need, you know, a little help getting their blood stirred.  I'm sure the symbolism in the image is indeed stirring, too, if you're into that sort of thing-- almost enough to make you want to recite "The Star-spangled Banner."  I said recite, not sing.  Francis Scott Key did not write a song, he wrote a poem.  It was his Original Intent that it be recited, dammit-- all four stanzas.  Yea and aye, lo and high, this country started to lose its way or something, fellow citizens, the day we put that [stuff] to music.  Only by getting back to the fundamentals and whatnot will we be able to come together as a People and beat Ohio State or whatever.

By now you are probably wondering about the actual picture.
Oh, fine, then, I guess I'll tell you.

A bald eagle is perched atop a flagpole.
Hanging limply from the pole is a United States flag.

Well, you know what they say about a limp flag: typically, it is a symptom of being in the middle of a large high-pressure center.  Hey, if you can't joke about the weather, what can you joke about?

Admittedly, I am working here with two of the most-recognizable icons in our culture: a bald eagle and a U.S. flag.  Moreover, I spent no time detailing the precise orientation of the bird (a shameful short-shrifting of invaluable info, to be sure), nor did I mention the grey backdrop of an overcast sky, nor did I attempt to capture the technicolor vibrancy of either the stars or the stripes.  Still, "A bald eagle is perched atop a flagpole.  Hanging... from the pole is a United States flag," does put a picture in your mind, right?  Seventeen words.  Just sayin'.

As I stated earlier, the photograph itself is not what spurred me to compose this diatribe.  It was the accompanying caption, which reads:

"Of all the places he could have landed..."

Yes, of all the places he could have landed... this was probably the highest.
Bald eagles are birds-of-prey, which is a cool way of saying they are flying animals who hunt small, non-flying animals.  They like to hunt from on high, because it is easier to both see the prey and attack it.  Conveniently, they're birds, so hunting from above is rarely a problem.  Every now and then, though, all that flapping and coasting and flapping and coasting gets literally tiresome, so they rest.  They don't stop hunting, mind you, they just take a break from flying.  They prefer to take these government-mandated passivity periods in places that are relatively far off the ground and relatively far from surrounding impediments, the better to see a potential target and swoop down upon it.  Flagpoles, it turns out, make for near-perfect vantage points, especially on calm days when that annoying sheet of distractingly colored fabric isn't dangerously dancing about.

For most of us, the odds against seeing a bald eagle in the wild are pretty long.  Anyone who finds themselves in such a circumstance, however, with a bald eagle hunting and a flagpole within half a mile, and some time to spend, will likely see him land on it.  He won't care what flag is flying from it, either, be it the U.S. stars and stripes, the Confederate stars and bars, or the proud pennant of the Potentate of the Prickly Pear and Chocolate-covered Prune.  He will be thinking: Is that a field mouse over there by that bush?

A bald eagle is perched atop a flagpole;
hanging from the pole is a U.S. flag;
and the caption reads:

"hay guys, seen a Balled eegle !! wated 20 mins..
for hi to sit still so i could take a pic !! lol"

Found on Mars this week:  A badly corroded
     fishing pole, and a spool of light-duty line.

Sep 21, 2015

Some Reassembly Required

"Everything for me is a reconstruction or deconstruction.
 I would actually say deconstruction.  Mission: Impossible
 would be the exception.  That would be a reconstruction-
 deconstruction."                                             --Danny Elfman

"Fort-- I say, fortunately I keep my feathers numbered for...
 ...for just such an emergency."                       --Foghorn Leghorn

commentary by michael j. wright

This popped up on my Facebook feed.  It would be ironic if I were to say it was blessedly free of photos, videos, et cetera, so that's precisely the way I will say it: It was blessedly free of those things.  Nothin' but good old-fashioned text.  I wasn't even bothered that it was in all-caps, though I will spare you that aggravation.

"A little girl wanted to know what the United States looked like.  Her dad tore a map of the USA out of a magazine and tore it into pieces.  Then told [sic] her to go to her room and see if she could put it back together..."

First of all, this is a very suspect teaching technique.  Most people learn geography by studying intact maps, not piecing together the tattered fallout from a half-crazed Ollie North wannabe who decides to treat the topic like a State secret.  Imagine the hue and cry if her question had been, "Daddy, what's the American flag look like?"  Out of place as it seems, though, this tear-able interactive lesson-plan was a necessary turn to get us to the moral of the story.

"...After a few minutes she came back with the map correctly fitted and taped together.  Her dad was surprised and asked how she finished so quickly.  She replied there was a picture of Jesus on the back and when I [sic] put him back our [sic] country just came together!  Repost if u [sic] agree [sick, sick, sick]"

*ahem* My thoughts:
Oh, that's just too [incestuously] precious for politesse.  Unfortunately for the writer of this little parable, the trick works just as well with any familiar image.

"How did you finish so quickly?"
"Well, dad, there was an advertisement for Jim Beam on the back.  Once I put the bottle together, everything else just sorta took care of itself!"


"How did you finish so quickly?"
"Well, you see, on the other side of the map is this really pretty lady with almost no clothes on.  I think her name is 'Aruba.'  Once I got everything in the right place, and I think you'll agree she has everything in the right place, well, um... Wait, what was the question?"

Found on Mars this week:
Something requiring true commitment...
a chain letter, chiseled into a stone tablet.
Click that, smart guy.

May 2, 2015

Ice? Ice! (Maybe.)

"Ice burns, and it is hard [for] the warm-skinned to
distinguish one sensation, fire, from the other, frost."  --A.J. Byatt

"He who cannot put his thoughts on ice
 should not enter into the heat of dispute."    --Friedrich Nietzsche

commentary by killre

Herr Freddie's admonition aside, I have been given cause to wade waist-deep and gasping into the chunky melt-water of the global-warming debate, feverish of brow and decidedly chilly of loin.

Actually, global warming itself has become a far less, um, polarizing issue in today's socio-political, uh, climate. Relatively few in our society continue to deny the simple findings of thousands of people the world over whose job it is to look at the thermometer and tell the rest of us what it says. True, there are some steadfast outliers. Rumor has it there are still Japanese soldiers defending remote Pacific atolls, too, and that there is to this day a small percentage of the population of this wide, round world who insist this world is not wide and round, but flat. That's discouraging if true.

Also discouraging if true is the dire forecast most climate scientists offer regarding the likelihood of continued world baking, as well as the predicted consequences for those of us who would like to keep living on this mottled blue marble.

While few these days will outright deny that the heat is indeed on, the heat of the debate is hardly on the abate. The war over warming has instead shifted into skirmishes over more narrowly defined issues, such as whether or not it is caused by human activity, how bad it really is, and whether or not something should be done about it.

It is through this newly focused lens that Michael Bastasch recently projected an article onto the page of The Daily Caller, questioning the severity of Arctic polar ice-melt. It was cleverly titled "'Irreversible' Arctic Ice Loss Seems To Be Reversing Itself." I know: seldom has a more viscerally exciting sentence been composed. As I intend to show, the title's connection with the abstract and increasingly outdated concept known as accuracy is a tenuous one. (The key word, for instance, is "Seems.") Latter-day climate deniers of various stripes, eager to agree with just about anything sounding remotely like what they have been telling themselves, seized upon the article as proof of the veracity of their position. As usual, they were a bit too quick to crow.

I will be slicing and dicing quotations from Bastasch's article. I tell myself I do this for clarity, rather than to alter context. Should you wish to police that claim, or read the entire article to inform your own context, or you just still get a thrill from the mild hyperspace-jumping sensation of flitting hither and thither on the internet, you can do so by clicking here.

It is something of a schizophrenic (or --dare I say it?-- bipolar) article, owing in large part --certainly not entirely-- to its reliance on two climate scientists whose opinions on polar ice-melt seem to swing and sway like Sammy Kaye. Their names are Ian Eisenman and Till Wagner, and they are affiliated with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. They have recently published a study in which they try to argue that polar ice-melt is not as bad as has been feared; or, even if it is that bad, it is still not, you know, that bad, or something. As I said, there are times when they --particularly Wagner, who is the lead author of the study-- seem to be arguing against themselves.

Eisenman comes across as the more climate-denier-friendly of the two, perhaps owing to fewer words being ascribed to him. Despite being the study's junior partner, he is quoted first. This is Bastasch cynically applying the logistics of reader tendencies, placing the statements and/or information which support his agenda in the first third and last sixth of the column, while including opposing information in locations that are more likely to be scanned quickly, if read at all, and where even many diligent readers often suffer a dial-down in focus.

You should wake up now, by the way.

Eisenman said in an interview, "[T]wo key physical processes ... often overlooked in previous process models, [are] actually essential for accurately describing whether sea ice loss is reversible."

The translation, in mathematical terms, is this: All prior formulas were incomplete.

Note also the use of "describing," rather than assessing: at this point, Wagner and Eisenman's formula is theoretical, too.

Wagner's initial comments seem to back Eisenman's: "[T]he basis for a sea ice tipping point doesn't hold up when these additional processes are considered."

(About now, you may be wondering what these "two key physical processes" are. Bastasch never reveals them directly. Maybe he thinks they're too esoteric. Maybe he thinks they are a secret... or maybe he just wants them to be a secret for reasons of his own. Following a second cyberspace jump, I found a slightly more direct reference to them. I'm saving it for later. You are free to label that decision a cynical application of logistical et cetera; I prefer to call it a sense of drama. To each his own.) 

Wagner's use of the words "tipping point" alludes to the idea of a point of no return for the melting of the icecap. Imagine a person standing on a precipice, slowly leaning ever-outward over a chasm. A moment will come when the person cannot maintain their balance on the precipice, and they will inevitably fall. Carrying the metaphor through, physics tells us that from the instant the person begins to fall, the speed of their trajectory will continually increase until the instant they crash into the bottom of the chasm.

That notion of acceleration is echoed by Bastasch. He at one point includes several quotes from Joe Romm, a climate scientist and editor at ThinkProgress, a site Bastasch cannot help but describe as a "liberal blog." Romm is concerned over the thickness of the Arctic icecap. Satellite images show only the area --square mileage-- over which the ice cap spreads. To get a true idea of the volume --how much ice there really is-- thickness must be factored in. According to Romm, the news is not good: between 1975 and 2012, the Arctic icecap suffered a 65% reduction in thickness. Bastasch's translation of one of Romm's statements is, "[I]t's melting a lot faster."

My own take: We are all figuratively walking on literally thin ice.

In fact, much of Bastasch's article --though relegated largely to that subtle reader's-lull region between the opening paragraphs and the big finish-- is an admission that the ice has indeed been melting, quickly. His own statements --presented as facts, mind you, not the alarmist bleating of others-- include:
"[T]he Arctic hit its lowest maximum sea ice extent on record during February [2015, less than three months ago]; Scientists ... have already predicted [2015]'s Arctic summer sea ice extent will be the lowest on record...; Arctic sea ice has been declining ... since 1979."

Even Wagner seems unsure. Consider the next two statements, made back-to-back. "[N]o tipping point is likely to devour what's left of the Arctic summer sea ice." (Translation: Not all of the ice will melt.) "[I]f global warming does soon melt all the Arctic sea ice..." (Translation: All of the ice might melt.)

Wait, what?

Wagner, continued: "[I]f global warming does soon melt all the Arctic sea ice, at least we can get it back if we somehow manage to cool the planet..."

Ah, yes... IF we cool the planet, there will be more ice. This is news that will surely reverberate beneath every rock and throughout every cave. The use of the word "somehow" is somewhat disturbing, as it seems to indicate Wagner has no idea how that might be accomplished, and/or is skeptical of any plan. There is good reason for skepticism. Wagner is sidestepping the chicken-and-egg nature of the problem, here. The importance of a polar icecap is that it is the most efficient mechanism in the known universe for dampening temperatures throughout a hemisphere. In short, regeneration of a polar cap requires the existence of a polar cap.

I mentioned earlier that Bastasch's article had a big finish. Having given dire and doom their due column inches, he tries to end the essay by saying, in effect, 'Don't worry, though, the reality is hunky-dory.' He uses some slipshod math to do it.

One example is when he says, "NSIDC [the National Snow and Ice Data Center] and European satellite data show that multi-year sea ice made a big comeback in 2013 and 2014." He goes on to say the images reveal an increase in ice coverage from 2.25 million square kilometers to 3.17 million square kilometers. Indeed, that is a growth of nearly 41%.

Let us put aside the insidious technicality that two years (2013-2014) constitute "multi-year" data. Important as it is, let us also put aside that this two-year uptick was immediately followed by a drastic plunge to the aforementioned "lowest maximum sea ice extent on record" this past February. Let us instead note that the apparent growth is expressed in square kilometers, a yardstick meter-stick which describes area, rather than volume. To calculate volume, we must remember that the Arctic icecap has undergone, according to Romm, a 65% reduction in thickness since the Gerald R. Ford Administration. I am admittedly employing thumbnail math, here, but bear with me: a 41% increase in area multiplied by a 65% decrease in depth equals a net decrease of nearly 51% in total volumeIf I were to say, "There is roughly half as much ice sitting atop the globe now as there was the day Saigon fell," it would be in the ballpark.

In fact, it would actually undersell the point. There is not half as much ice sitting atop the globe as there was in 1975; there is half as much ice as there was in 1995-- a year that had already seen nearly two decades of dissipation.

That brings us to a second example of Bastasch trying to convince his readers that life is skittles and life is beer: "NSIDC data shows Arctic sea ice extent is currently within normal range based on the 1981 to 2010 average..." Lest this statement begins to slow your breathing and soothe your jangled nerves, remember one of his earlier ones: "Arctic sea ice has been declining ... since 1979." Everything after that date is below normal. Consequently, the average of everything after that date is also below normal. Bastasch is basically saying, "Below normal is the new normal-- and that's okay." This is like a school administration confronted by a long trend of low test scores; rather than trying to improve their teaching techniques, they simply lower the graduation requirements, pat each student reassuringly on the back, and say, "Good luck out there, kid."

Okay, so I promised you processes. They can be found buried near the bottom of this, a statement released by Scripps Institution of Oceanography representative Robert Monroe. His job title (Press secretary? Departmental director? Suzerain of the Sacred Society of Scupper Scrapers?) is not given. What is given is a quote from Till Wagner, vaguely touching upon those "two key physical processes" that are supposed to be game-changers for the future of polar-related climate science. You might want to sit down for this: "One relates to how heat moves from the tropics to the poles and the other is associated with the seasonal cycle."

I am a layman. The closest I have ever come to being a climate scientist is letting a climate-dynamics documentary roll in the background while I played video games. Still, even I can confidently file this one under "Well... duh," with the sub-heading "Previous designers of icecap-melt models are [f-bomb] idiots for failing to factor this in."

Almost lost in all this rigamarole is a snippet of sentence written by Monroe in the middle of his post's introductory section. It reads: "[S]ea ice loss ... is actually reversible when greenhouse levels are reduced."

THAT'S the big news? THAT'S what's going to change everything? Oh, stop the presses, everybody! Someone just discovered that a reduction of greenhouse gas levels would probably have a positive effect on the climate, of all things! Huzzah! Let the freakin' champagne flow!

I don't know about you, but I have chills. Good luck out there.

Found on Mars this week: An oscillating fan.

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Apr 27, 2015

Dollars & Sense

"I like to pay taxes.  With them, I buy civilization."
                                                                      --Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

"Whatever it is that the government does, sensible Americans
 would prefer that the government do it to somebody else.
 This is the idea behind foreign policy."              --P.J. O'Rourke

commentary by killre

It's back.  I thought it was dead, but like the monster in a horror movie it simply slipped beneath the inky waters of the sea to rear its ugly head elsewhere.  In this case, elsewhere was Great Britain.

A few weeks ago, Americans with too-itchy share-clicking trigger-fingers were passing around a poorly reasoned harangue (an all too common phenomenon) against foreign aid.

How poorly reasoned?  I'm glad you asked.  Atop a pile of some legitimate domestic problems, the generator of the post listed having "to dial '1' to speak English" as one of the arguments against sending tax dollars overseas.

Had I been feeling snarkily productive at the time --or productively snarky, or whatever-- I likely would have pointed out that no-one needs to dial '1' to speak English.  They dial '1' to communicate in English.  Failure to grasp this distinction is symptomatic of a failure to grasp a much more important one: the supreme and exhausting effort described --pressing a button-- does not rise to the level of problem.  I'm not even sure it is worthy of all the syllables in the word inconvenience. Even if it were a real problem, rather than a trumped-up one, it does nothing to address the pros or cons of foreign aid, nor does it belong on the same list as hunger, homelessness, and inadequate health care.  It's like the manager of a heavy-hitting ballclub penciling-in as his leadoff hitter the equipment boy from the canasta team.

Fortunately, that fad faded.  As I indicated in my opening paragraph, however, it has risen again, leaner and meaner, this time in jolly ol' G.B.  In the last few days, some of those same itchy-fingered Americans have been click-sharing a similar message posted on a site called "Britain First."  I'm taking wagers on whether they know Great Britain is actually a separate country, or they just don't care.  My money is on the former.  Without looking into it any further than this lone post, it is easy to surmise that "Britain First" is much like "America First": an isolationist-flavored political movement, dedicated to the direction backward.

I suppose I could link, if I really had to, but in this case there wouldn't be much point.  The so-called "photo" being passed around is text-only, and is easily transcribed here:

"Doesn't make much sense, does it???

Homeless go without eating.  Elderly go without needed medicines.  Mentally ill go without treatment.  Troops go without proper equipment.  Veterans go without benefits that were promised.  Yet we donate billions to other countries, and excessive immigration before helping our own first.  1% will re-post and 99% won't.  Have the guts to re-post this.  I KNOW I'm in the 1%."

See, you can tell it was written by a Brit, because there are no misspellings.  Aside from that, it is the same hailstorm of half-truths, unsupported claims, twisted information, and questionable grammar that you'll find in most right-leaning, bumper-sticker-esque, American political rants-- with a dash of intimidation to give it that tangy aftertaste.

Since the Americans who brought this rant to my attention surely intended the message to be applied to American policies, rather than the British ones for which it was actually written (and about which I would feel far less comfortable commenting), I will respond as such.  As is my wont, I'll treat what I see as the less-important points as appetizers, and save the meat for the entrĂ©e.  Let's eat!

"Doesn't make much sense, does it???..."
No, as I will show, your argument doesn't make much sense-- in triplicate.

"...Homeless go without eating..."
True, the homeless often go hungry, but that only tells half the story.  To be more precise, the homeless go without shelter; the poor go without eating.  Yes, the homeless are also poor, and therefore also go hungry, but what does it say about the generator of this post that he or she couldn't be bothered to come up with a complete list?

"...Elderly go without needed medicines.  Mentally ill go without treatment ... Veterans go without benefits..."
Along with the poverty and deprivation mentioned above, these are legitimate issues.  Kudos for caring... or is it just lip service?

"..., and excessive immigration before helping our own first..."
This clause has the rare distinction of being both an incomplete thought and redundant (the word first is extraneous).  I honestly cannot glean why the issue of immigration is being raised here.  I suspect, much like dialing '1' in the American version of the same message, it is simply an unrelated item that sticks in the originator's craw.  Perhaps I think that because excessive is the only dynamic adjective in the entire message.  It is also an unsupported one, both substantively and stylistically.

Now, then...

"...Troops go without proper equipment...
Yet we donate billions to other countries..."
As stated, I am approaching this argument as an American answering other Americans.

In 2014, the United States spent $610 billion training, paying, deploying, supplying, and yes, equipping its military.  The next seven most highly financed militaries in the world received the combined equivalent of $601 billion U.S. dollars.  I'd like to reiterate that: the United States, by itself, outspent China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, Great Britain, India, and Germany COMBINED for military-related concerns.  If it is indeed true that our troops are ill-equipped, the problem is not financing; the problem is management.

(A recent episode of HBO's Veep highlighted a political aspect of the financing/ management problem.  Looking to cut Federal spending, fictional President Selina Meyer induced the Joint Chiefs to offer a way to cut the Defense budget.  They answered with an outdated submarine-building program that would single, uh, boatedly excise $50 billion.  Alas, subs are complicated machines and the manufacture of components for this one took place in about two dozen different congressional districts.  Upon realizing thousands of their constituents were about to lose jobs, those two-dozen congressmen threatened to vote down one of the president's other, unrelated initiatives.  As a result, the $50 billion unnecessary submarine project stayed active and in the budget.)

In addition to the $610 billion the Federal government lavished on the military in 2014, it spent $52 billion in foreign aid.  Let's compare those numbers on a smaller scale.  $610 billion represents almost 20% of the total Federal budget for the year.  $52 billion, then, would represent about 1.6 or 1.7%.  In other words, for every tax dollar sent to Washington, 20 cents goes to the various branches of the armed services.  The total amount of every tax dollar sent to all foreign governments worldwide: slightly more than a penny and a half.

What do we get for that penny and a half?  Well, the effectiveness of foreign aid can certainly be debated.  I won't do that here, because it is both off-point and a lengthy discussion.  Ostensibly, though, it is supposed to work something like this...

For decades, one of the guiding lights of U.S. foreign policy has been the some-what high-minded notion that more democracy (democratic republicanism) and less oppression, more development and less squalor, more openness and less corruption make the world --including our little corner of it-- a better place.  There are essentially two ways of working toward these goals: military intervention, and economic assistance.

(Some might say, "What of diplomacy?"  Diplomacy certainly has its place.  I'm willing to admit there might be aspects of diplomacy that I have not considered in this context.  However, diplomacy is ultimately just a fancy word for conversing with.  One of the harsh realities of this world is that when you are conversing with a contentious party, you need to back your words with either the threat of violence or the promise of a payoff.)

The first option --military intervention-- has many drawbacks, not the least of which is that it tends to run counter to some of the very ideals it strives to achieve.  Invasions are usually destructive, oppressive and undemocratic, and bring with them deprivation, at least in the short term.  Additionally, they are expensive undertakings in both blood and treasure: tens of thousands of people are killed, maimed, or displaced, and hundreds of billions of dollars are spent.  Worst of all, military intervention rarely changes hearts and minds.  Democracy cannot be forced; it must be nurtured.

That's where the second option --economic assistance-- comes to the fore as the better choice, at least in theory.  The generator of the post uses the word donate.  Intentionally or not, this is a misrepresentation of the intent of foreign aid.  Proponents of the policy do not view it as a donation; they view it as an investment.  Some of the money is intended to finance U.S. security-based concerns: counter-terrorism, and the limiting of nuclear weapons-- pseudo-military spending, really, in the guise of what its opponents would call charity.  Much of the money, though, is earmarked for a wide variety of projects ranging from building better roads to improving crop yields.  Such projects, it is thought, will raise the standard of living and foster trade.  This in turn will lead to better education and a freer and more peaceful exchange of ideas and ideals.  Then, if democratic republicanism and other aspects of the Western way of life truly are the best the planet has to offer, the whole wide world will see it for themselves, want it for themselves, and work toward it on their own initiative.

All this, at a cost less than one-tenth the annual price tag of having the mightiest military force in world history... and misusing it.

...Or so the theory goes.  As I said, the real-world effectiveness of foreign
aid --past, present, future-- is a debate worth having.  It deserves to be a discussion, though, rather than an ill-informed rant.

Now for dessert:

"...1% will re-post and 99% won't.  Have the
guts to re-post this.  I KNOW I'm in the 1%."
Oooo.  Guts. Glory. Ram-- right down your throat.  Nothing like a little cyber-based peer pressure to get a message across.  When the argument runs empty, resort to name-calling.  Of note here is that the percentages are completely made-up, pulled from thin air and supported by same.  Even if the (purely theoretical) percentages were accurate, they don't represent the true audience.  The generator of the post is saying, "All who see this will agree with it, but only one in a hundred will have the guts to say so."  He apparently cannot conceive of anyone questioning even some of his assertions.  After all, he made SUCH a cogent argument: seven incomplete sentences, a couple of them wildly off-base.  Additionally, a large segment of the 99% don't care that much, while others just might be put off by the intimation that they are a coward if they don't im-mediately fall in line.  No, it couldn't be disagreement, or apathy, or a strong will; clearly, they lack guts.

Found on Mars this week:
A snowshoe!  Or maybe it's a tennis racquet; the jury is still out.

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Nov 26, 2014

The Comeback Conceit

"Nothing made sense in this place.  The maid was an heiress,
 her husband talked in alliteration, the handyman kept missing
 the point of things, and then there were these three woodsmen...
 but only one of them talked."
                                                                                      --Bob Newhart

"It's a show within a show!  My real name is Tracy Morgan!"
                                                                                      --Tracy Morgan

commentary by killre

For two or three weeks now, I have seen, heard, and read a variety of Hollywood insiders and the types who report on same --critics, recappers, and other ilk who are not insiders but who spend an inordinate amount of time with their noses pressed to the window-- tell me what a great show The Comeback is.  In case you're unfamiliar, The Comeback is an HBO offering starring Lisa Kudrow.

So, I tried to watch it.  I think I might have made it almost all the way through the season premiere.  I'm not really sure.  I kind of nodded off toward the end.  I had no intention of watching episode two, but by accident I caught most of the second half.  That is my disclaimer: Everything I have to say about the show is based on about an episode and a third, maybe an episode and a half.  It seemed more than enough.

It strikes me as just so much inside baseball,
liberally spiced with emotional-torture porn.

I beg your indulgence in carrying the baseball metaphor another pint-sized paragraph.  A few years back, I read a book of baseball analysis.  Written by Bill Felber, it was called The Book on the Book.  The premise of The Comeback reminds me of that tome's title.

Here is the show's kaleidoscopic framework.  See if you can follow.  Actress Kudrow plays an actress who is the star of a reality show about an actress whose current role is that of an actress.  Not just any actress, mind you, but herself --herself the actress, not the actress Kudrow-- or at least a reasonable facsimile.  Confused yet?  Let's review.  (*deep breath*)  The Comeback is a semi-scripted show about an actress who is the star of a behind-the-scenes reality show about an actress whose current role is that of an actress --not-so-loosely based on the actress who is portraying her-- on a scripted show whose premise is a thinly disguised, behind-the-scenes look at a scripted show in which the actress once starred.

I didn't make any of that up.

In Freudian terms, it is like watching the super-ego giving the ego a hand-job while the ego goes down on the id and the id goes down on the amygdala, as recorded by the hippocampus, starring Lisa Kudrow blowing Seth Rogen.  I sincerely hope that doesn't clear it up one damned bit.

Here's why: sooner or later --and I'd prefer it sooner-- We the People need to rise up and shout in unison in the general direction of the lower left coast, "Stop it!  Just stop it already!  Okay?  We are not nearly as enamored with all your mutual mental masturbation as you think we are.  There are two simple reasons why we sift through the torrent of b-grade s pouring out of the greater L.A. basin.  One, to gain a tiny bit of insight into the polished product-- just a starter kit of insight, really.  Two, to maybe see some of you at least partially naked.  That's it.  So knock off all the other crap!"

Worse yet, the show is supposed to be a comedy and... it isn't funny.  Kudrow's character is neither likeable nor dis.  It cannot even be said she is particularly sympathetic.  More than anything, she is pitiable.  Once upon a time (I surmise), she was a throttle-wide-open jerk to almost everyone she knew-- what past generations (and certain segments of the current one) would have called a bitch on wheels: arrogant, entitled, and nowhere near as smart as she thought she was.  Somewhere along the way (I surmise), her ride came to a sudden and near-complete halt.  The hungry years that followed taught her humility, and even imparted a small portion of tenuously grasped wisdom.  (She is smarter than she was, though still not as smart as she thinks she is.  The central character's standard comeback on The Comeback is on par with, "Oh, yeah?  Well, huh, you're a, you're an even worse one.  Of those.  So, yeah.  Chew on that!"  It is the sort of line Kudrow has made a career of.)

Here is where the emotional torture part of the equation comes in.  Kudrow's character was a bad person.  Not evil, just bad.  Dislikeable.  Then she got knocked down.  It made her a better person.  Her efforts to redeem herself (and, yes, her career), however, are now rife with people kicking her while she is down.  That is the show in a nutshell: people kicking her while she's down, teaching her a lesson she has already learned.  From this, we the viewers are supposed to derive satisfaction.

Personally, I can't do it.

P.S.... Bud "Turkey" Selig must go.

Oct 30, 2014

Maddon Men

Former Tampa Bay Rays Manager Joe Maddon will likely become the new manager of the Cubs, according to reports from CBSSports.com

The Cubs and Maddon are on the verge of making a deal that would pay him at least $5 million a year, according to CBS.

Other outlets have confirmed the story, although the Cubs say the report is inaccurate, and MLB sources will not confirm it until after Wednesday night's Game 7 of the World Series so as not to overshadow it.


Oct 9, 2014

Damn it feels good to be a gangsta

Vice President Joe Biden, right, gets ready to pay for an ice cream cone after a campaign rally for U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley in Portland, Ore., Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2014.  (AP Photo/Don Ryan)