Friday, April 21, 2006


From Reuters:
A heckler from the Falun Gong spiritual movement who disrupted a White House appearance by Chinese President Hu Jintao was charged in federal court on Friday with harassing, intimidating or threatening a foreign official.
You mean the same foreign official treated by the White House like this?
The protocol-obsessed Chinese leader suffered a day full of indignities -- some intentional, others just careless. The visit began with a slight when the official announcer said the band would play the "national anthem of the Republic of China" -- the official name of Taiwan. It continued when Vice President Cheney donned sunglasses for the ceremony, and again when Hu, attempting to leave the stage via the wrong staircase, was yanked back by his jacket. Hu looked down at his sleeve to see the president of the United States tugging at it as if redirecting an errant child.
Incidentally, one more thing about that protestor now being charged with, um, expressing her opinion in public --
If only the White House hadn't given press credentials to a Falun Gong activist who five years ago heckled Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin, in Malta. Sure enough, 90 seconds into Hu's speech on the South Lawn, the woman started shrieking, "President Hu, your days are numbered!" and "President Bush, stop him from killing!"

Bush and Hu looked up, stunned. It took so long to silence her -- a full three minutes -- that Bush aides began to wonder if the Secret Service's strategy was to let her scream herself hoarse.
Hm. So now she's being charged for something that shouldn't be illegal, when it took the normally instant-reaction Secret Service three minutes to do something. They haven't taken that long to move since W insisted on continuing with My Pet Goat.

But go back for a moment to what she was charged with. "Harassing, intimidating or threatening a foreign official."

W, meet Saddam Hussein. Saddam, W. Now move along, George. We still have to remind you about Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez.

Oh, that's right. When a person does it, it's a crime, despite that pesky First Amendment thing. When W does it, it's diplomamcy.

Fucking hypocrites all around. Hu was clearly harassed and intimidated during his visit. Who are we going to arrest for that? Donald Burnham Ensenat?

(Tip of the hat to Atrios for the Washington Post link.)

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Thursday, April 20, 2006



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Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Taxing Times Again 

Interesting article from Capital Hill Blue; basically, and obviously, tax forms are hard.

Now, I have my doubts about a flat-tax, because I think it would somehow manage to penalize the poor and middle-classes. But... the tax code has got to be simplified. Apparently, 99.9% of the people who wrote the code don't do their own taxes; they hire professionals. And it makes no sense. Let's put it this way -- most of you get utility bills every month. The electric company, e.g., calculates how many kilowatt hours you used, applies their formulas, adds the applicable taxes, and gives you a bottom line. Likewise your phone company and gas company and insurance company and -- everyone else you pay.

So, I have to wonder -- why is it different for taxes? After all, in theory, the IRS gets the same forms that we do -- all those W2s and 1099s and whatnot. Is there any good reason whatsoever that things during tax time should be the other way around? That is, instead of us having to figure out mathematics that would make Newton vomit, the government should figure out what we owe and send us a bill?

How much easier would that be? 'Cause, you know what? Despite having all the information necessary by the end of January, I don't think I've ever done my taxes before about April 12th since... forever. Why? 'Cause it's just a farking pain in the ass. Even though I've only ever not done the standard deduction thing once in my life, about five years ago, I've got no incentive to crack the books and do the forms early. I've been doing it by computer (thank you, H&R Block) for at least the last seven years. Have I been doing it right? Who fucking knows.

Again, while I don't think "flat tax" is the answer, I do think that "simple tax" is the way to go. Eliminate most of the fancy deductions and write-offs and whatnot; increase the standard deduction and exemption. Want to give tax relief to the poor? Up the combined exemption and deduction to, say, $20K. If it exceeds your income, you only need to file if you'd get a refund. Otherwise, no problem, no forms, call us again next year. Forget that "deduction per kid" thing; instead, give one big deduction if you have any children, but no bonus for breeding like rabbits. And, if you really want to make taxes equitable, index the tax rates per state. That is -- if you live in an expensive state like California or New York or Vermont, drop the tax rates. If you live in a state without income taxes, and where a family home doesn't cost damn near a million (like Wyoming or Texas), then up the brackets.

Ideally, it would work like this. Around about February, the IRS would send everybody a bill. "You made X, we deducted Y, you owe Z". We'd all then have the option to either a) Pay Z by April 15th, or b) File a form reducing our tax liability based on very simple, very easy, do 'em in five minutes rules, and pay the adjusted amount.

Of course, if we really wanted to make taxes representative, they'd add this twist: every tax form would include a percentage breakdown of where the money goes, and you could opt out of paying for things with which you don't agree. Hate welfare? Opt out. Hate the military? Opt out. Etc.

It'd be giving the line item veto, that holy grail of the rightwing, directly to the people. Of course, I don't think the wingnuts would be happy with the popular vote results on that issue, since everyone could slash their tax bill by 80% by not giving to the military. But it would be the most direct referendum possible, voted every year by everyone's pocket book.

But again, ask yourself this: is there any other place in your life where you're supposed to figure out what you owe, and then pay it -- and suffer penalties if you get it wrong? Um... no. Try that next time you go to the grocery store. "Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Smith. You underestimated your $42.00 bill by twelve cents, so now you owe us $63.00 for those groceries."

Yeah, um... fuck that shit.

The only thing that Repugnicrats are partly right on but -- if they were serious about tax cuts, they'd just eliminate the whole damn thing outright. They can't and they won't, of course, because, just like everyone else in government, they suck on the public teat and would cry if it were taken away.

And because, in order to make the system equitable, they'd have to wind up taxing the billionaires and the corporations, and leaving the average American alone.

Hint: your elected officials tend to fall into the "billionaire" and "corporate" categories. And so -- Happy Easter, it's tax day, bend the fuck over and take it. And god forbid you managed to misinterpret even a single line of the well-over hundred page instructions that you'd need a master's degree in accounting to understand.

'Cause, fuck knows, our own government is too goddamn lazy to do the work for us. 'Cause, like, you know -- that'd be... like... work. Eeeeew...

And one thing that's pretty obvious -- we are overpaying every last Senator, Congress Critter, Administration Rat and SCOTUSness. Jeebus Krispy -- in an equitable world, the presidential salary would be $15K instead of $400K, and all the others would follow. Or, to put it another way, WHICH PART OF "PUBLIC SERVICE" DID YOU NOT UNDERSTAND? Asshole... Er, assholes.

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Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon 

Yes, a purely non-political, just-for-fun post. I've been playing around with the Oracle of Bacon, a wonderful online program at the University of Virginia that uses IMDB data to calculate the Kevin Bacon number for any actor you pick. (It can also do the same for any actor and, despite Bacon's ubiquity, Sean Connery apparently is even more connected to everyone else).

Anyway, no matter how obscure or weird I try to be, I find most people to have a Bacon number of 2 or 3 -- meaning there are only two or three steps between them and Kevin Bacon. I mean, shiat -- Adolf frickin' Hitler has a Kevin Bacon number of 3. Disturbingly enough, that's the same as my Kevin Bacon number. And even going back for people who made very few film appearances a century ago, Thomas A. Edison has a Kevin Bacon number of 5. I had to look up obscure actors who appeared in what were basically home movies of the 1880s in order to find folk with infinite (aka non-existent) Kevin Bacon numbers.

But -- it's a fun toy to play with. Just try to find someone with a Kevin Bacon number greater than six. It isn't as easy as it looks. I even checked on a distant cousin of mine, who was a Broadway chorus boy in the 50s and had a cameo in one movie in the 80s. His KB number? Three. Which is the same number as my sister, who appeared in exactly two movies as an infant.

To give a random example of Kevin Bacon's ubiquity, I picked an obscure silent film comedian, Ben Turpin, and came up with this: Ben Turpin was in Hollywood Cavalcade with Don Ameche, who was in Oscar with Marisa Tomei, who was in Loverboy with... Kevin Bacon. A Bacon number of 3.


But, on the bright side, Bill Clinton has a KB of 2 (the same as Ronald Reagan), while Bush fils and pere don't connect to Bacon at all. Surprisingly, FDR's KB number is 3, as is Harry S. Truman. And Woodrow Wilson. And Calvin Coolidge and Teddy Roosevelt. Herbert Hoover is a 4. Gerald Ford, surprisingly, is a 2, while Warren G. Harding, JFK, LBJ, Nixon and Jimmy Carter have no connection.

Barbara Boxer? Two. Same as James Carville. And Orrin Hatch. John Kerry and Russ Feingold are not connected. And neither is Spiro Agnew or Nelson or John D. Rockefeller. Jaye P. Morgan has a KB of 2 -- but that's not the J.P. Morgan you're looking for.

Okay, I'll stop now. But it's a fascinating game to play, and I have yet to hit anyone except Edison with a KB number greater than 3.

Tiny frickin' planet, isn't it?

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What's in a Word? 

As breathlessly reported on Drudge, I find the wording of this headline from an AFP article, via Yahoo News to be, well, offensive: Gay parents quietly crash White House Easter party.

Um... excuse me? From the body of the same article: "Despite the opposition of conservative religious groups, Bush and his wife Laura chose not to prevent the gay parents from attending. [emphasis added]"

Now tell me -- how is that "crashing" the party, when they weren't prevented from attending? They stood in line, they got their tickets. Of course, they weren't allowed in until after 11 a.m., three hours after the event started and long after the media (and first couple) had packed up and gone home.

And this whole fucking thing is a non-story. The event is for families and their children, and guess what, you right-wing fundie nutholes? There are quite a lot of families that have two mommies or two daddies, and they have just as much right to take their children to this event as anyone else.

Any single-parent families show up? Any blended families? Any common-law wed parents? No doubt, yes. Any complaints about them from the religiously insane faction? Not that I've heard.

But that a headline writer choses to ignore the content of the story he or she is titling and use the word "crash" is just plain old, utterly offensive. The gay parents no more crashed the egg roll than the producers of... um... Crash crashed the Oscars.

The definition of "crashing a party" is to gain admittance without being invited. All those gay families were given tickets. They were invited.

Ergo the headline, whether it came from AFP or Yahoo news, is homophobic and wrong. Yahoo News, AFP and Drudge can all just suck it.

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Saturday, April 15, 2006

Easter Message 

No Easter this year, kids. They found the body...

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Friday, April 14, 2006

Taxing Times 

Just a reminder for those of you who haven't done your taxes yet: because April 15th is on a holiday weekend, you get until Monday to file. (For once, I've actually filed before the deadline -- whoo-hoo!)

But, as you're either bitching and moaning about what you owe, or planning how to spend your refund (if you haven't yet), chew on this news:
Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife... overpaid the tax man and are looking for a $1.9 million refund.
Which begs the question, how do you overpay by that much? Or, rather, how much did you make in order to overpay by that much? Well, here's how, paraphrasing the article: Their adjusted gross income was $8.82 million -- but they somehow managed to write off charitable contributions (isn't there a 2% limit?) and knock that AGI down to $1.95 million. Net taxes, $529,636.

Yeah, that's a lot of taxes, but I'd love to be able to make 78% of my income vanish before filing time. Effective tax rate, 6% based on the full gross; 27% based on the adjusted gross. Note that the higher figure is the tax bracket for people who make less than $91,400 per year. The top rate is 35%. Six percent is less than people who make under $7,300 would pay. And does anyone who isn't listed as a dependant on someone else's return make less than $7,300 a year?

As for where Cheney's (and everyone else's) taxes go, out of that $529,636, $153,594.44 went to the military; $21,185.44 went to education.

Oh -- BTW, neither Texas nor Wyoming have state income taxes, so the Cheneys luck out no matter which of those states they're officially living in, the Constitution and Presidential election rules notwithstanding. Unlike those of us in, say, California, who get to pay up to an additional 9.3% to the state, assuming you make over $ 40,346 per year. The average rate here is 5.05%.

The only state with a higher top rate is Vermont, at 9.5%, which has a much higher bottom rate, 3.6%, than California's 1%. Suck on that, Jim Jeffords and Patrick Leahy...

In case you're wondering, a breakdown of how state tax rates compare is here. Your mileage may vary.

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Time Check 

For those who are wondering...
Days from Pearl Harbor (12/7/1941) to VJ Day (8/15/1945): 1,347
Days from 9/11 (9/11/2001) to Now (4/14/2006): 1,676
Difference: 329 days, or about ten months
You know, for all those "everything changed" and "mission accomplished" fans.

Or, in other words, despite an attack that crippled the Navy and a major base in the Pacific, the FDR and Truman Administrations came back and won in less than four years.

Or, in other words, despite an attack that did no harm to our military power, the Bush Administration screwed up, attacked the wrong country after a foray into Afghanistan, and has now fought for almost a fourth longer than the entire Pacific Campaign of World War II lasted and has accomplished nothing. Except chaos in Iraq, alienation of a lot of the world and, now, saber-rattling at Iran.

We all know how the end of the war with Japan came about. Let's hope that the lunatics in Washington don't pull the same option for this one. But there's a question to keep asking them: with a superior army and better weapons, how is it that it's taken us longer to win in a pissant desert country (whose government we've already overthrown) than it did to win against a major imperial power that had previously managed to defeat China in armed conflict?

How is it that they've managed to fuck up something that should have been so simple -- hunt down Osama in Afghanistan?

Oh. Right. What W and Company have done is the same as if, after Pearl Harbor, FDR bobmed Tokyo, then invaded Thailand. Put in those terms, the stupidity is a bit more obvious, isn't it? Er, correction: a bit more obvious to the 20-odd percent of Americans who don't get it yet.

The rest of us? We have to do everything we can to keep this War on (Some) Terrorists from spreading to Iran because someone has a jones for cheap oil. We have to tell them "Enough". If they can't manage what they wanted to in more time than it took to defeat Japan (and, simultaneously, Germany & Friends), then it's time for the US to pack up its toys and bring all of our soldiers in Iraq home.

Actually, it's past time. They should have used this option back in May, 2005.

May 20, 2005, to be exact...

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006

We Have Met the Enemy, and He Is Us 

Truer words were never spoken by a cartoon character. For all their scary aspects -- guns, money, force, fear, whatever -- there's one thing that humans have to remind themselves of constantly. Power, government, control -- these are illusions given power by one simple thing. We accept them. We create them, we empower them, we allow them. Because we are nothing but hairless monkeys with brains, we follow the law of the jungle. Whoever screams loudest and throws the most shit with the most deadly accuracy gets to lead us. We don't ask where they're going or why they've decided that The Tribe with the White Stripe on the Left is Bad. We follow them, even if The Tribe with the White Stripe on the Left might be stronger -- because we don't want to get shit thrown on us by the Alpha Guy in Our Tribe with the Loudest Voice. Even if members of The Tribe with the White Stripe on the Left are otherwise just like us; even if our great-grandparents came from the Land of The Tribe with the White Stripe on the Left, and it's only geography that separates us, and we may not have a complete White Stripe on the Left, but have definitely got this white patch somewhere back on our left shoulder where we can't exactly see it but, hey, it's small, and, anyway -- our Alpha Guy would throw shit on us if we pointed that out.

Or, in other words, all human power structures are pure bullshit. Or, well, pure Monkey Shit. It's playground politics. Why was the school bully considered "The Bully?" Simple. Because no one else would kick the shit out of him when he picked on someone else. Interesting phrasing, isn't it? "Kick the shit out of". Totally apt. Because, without their shit, bullies have nothing.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail: "How do you know he's the king?" "Because he hasn't got shit all over him."

Remember: the five original members of Monty Python's Flying Circus all held doctoral degrees in various subjects -- Economics, Medicine and Medieval Studies, if I recall correctly. When they wrote that line, it may have seemed a joke -- but, in reality, it's as an astute an observation of human politics as any ever made.

Mammals mark their territory by pissing and shitting on it. If you own a dog, you know this. Take them for a walk, and the first thing they'll do is intently sniff. Then stop and study. Pause, consider. Does this smell like some other dog's piss or shit? Does it? Oh well, then, only one thing to do... piss on it, shit on it, kick the grass hard so those scent pads in the feet leave only one message. This is mine, motherfucker, not yours. Dare you to come back and mark it.

But, hey, humans are so much more civilized than that, aren't we?

Are we?

Well, we don't piss and shit all over the place -- but we still mark our territory. Maps and borders and lines and rules and "Us" and "Them". And, perhaps, it's no surprise that piss and shit are very taboo and "icky" to human culture -- precisely as a way of pretending that we aren't just mammals. Ask yourself this: when are piss and shit acceptable to humans? Well, in two socially acceptable ways: if you're dealing with your own child's (or dog's or cat's) excretions, or your own. And, in both cases, what's really going on? Ownership. Many a human who'd gag at the sight of another adult's shit has faced up to changing their own child's diapers, or picking up their own dog's poo. And everyone wipes their own ass and, honestly, have you ever been disgusted by looking at your own shit in the toilet? Of course not. Why not? 'Cause, well, you made that.

Of course, shit and piss are also acceptable to humans in non-socially acceptable ways -- people who are into what's called scat, or water sports. Yes, there are some people who love other people's poo, or love to get pissed on -- and they're such a minority that even the most sexually outré of folk look down upon them. Why? Because they break just about every taboo of being human.

And what are the "dirty" words we can't say on TV? Other than sexual references, the rest have to do with shit and piss.

Being human: we piss and shit with ink and paper, instead of the real thing. And oh, do we piss and shit -- endless reams of blots and smears on endless reams of paper. And consider this: we wipe our asses with toilet paper; we consider it a bad deal to be reamed up the ass. Who says language is an accident?

Maybe monkeys have it right. We don't like you -- catch a turd, you asshole. (And why is that an insult, exactly?) And he's a king because he isn't covered in shit.

Rewind, back to the top. Up until the American and French Revolutions, life was decided by inbred assholes, who'd declare a war here or there because they were pissed off at one relative or another. You don't think that's the case, just follow the course of British, French and Spanish history from the 15th Century onward. (and Portugese, although how anyone can tell them from the Spanish except by language is a mystery). The royal families were so entangled by the time that Columbus set sail that any first cousin from any line could have inherited any or all of those thrones in a heartbeat. The Germans and Dutch are also included in this math, along with the Russians... hell, all of them. Despite most of them not going into the new world, although we didn't buy Alaska from the Natives. And no one would have ever heard of Nelson Mandela had not a certain batch of lowland people been ambitious. And the Germans wound up with the British throne anyway, and it was a German/British king who lost the colonies, and the largest country in South America who somehow wound up speaking Portugese, and one state in Canada who screams about their "roots" without realizing that nobody cares and...

Humans, flinging shit around, and pretending they aren't.

Rewind, wipe the poo off your fingers and re-read: For all their scary aspects -- guns, money, force, fear, whatever -- there's one thing that humans have to remind themselves of constantly. Power, government, control -- these are illusions given power by one simple thing. We accept them. Note the word illusions.

For all of human history, from the first time some monkey picked up a rock and thought, "Ah, weapon", right down to today -- our leaders have no more nor no less power than we give them. But it's much easier for most mere mortals to just roll over for the royal buttfuck and accept them than it is to question this shit -- and shit is the word.

In the case of America -- the founding words were "We, the People." Not "We, the elect" or "We, the royalty" or "We, who can fling our shit harder and farther than you." Nope. We. The. People. Every last elected official is not your leader. No. They are your employee; they are your slave. Every representative, every judge, every mayor, alderman, council member, governor, senator, cabinet member, president. They work for us. Period. And, where they fail us, they deserve the total approbation of all of us. They deserve to suffer a shitstorm (apt words) of disapproval. They deserve to have their asses kicked into the next city, county, state, country, planet.

And I ask myself this: given the huge numbers of people who turned out to protest in favor of criminals today ("We'll bitch and scream about you not giving illegal aliens their... um... 'rights!'") how can we get those same numbers to turn out to protest the real criminals: the people who say they represent us but, instead, fling their own shit against the wall and the world. I mean, seriously -- who the fuck cares about the "rights" of illegal aliens when the real rights of all Americans have been trampled by a shit-flinging cabal in Washington?

Hey, I'll make a deal with the "Si, se puede" crowd now. And, keep in mind, my great-grandfather was an illegal alien, so I've sort of got a dog in that hunt. But, here's the deal: put all that energy and outrage into protesting the real crime and the real problem in this country. Gather together and fling your shit at the real target. Want amnesty? Fine. Earn it. Join with us who protest the bullshit war started by the usurpers in power. Help us kick those assholes out of power. Kickstart the real revolution.

It's not a fight for one law for 4/100ths of a percent of the population -- who shouldn't really count anyway. Nope. It's a fight for power for all of us who, rightfully, own it. You want to not be shat on anymore? Help the rest of us fling all this shit back at its perpetrators, and fling those idiots to the curb.

Viva la lucha. Somos todos inmigrantes. But let's all work together for the revolution that will really change things. Immigration? Maybe. Impeachment? Now. An end to the illusion that, just because they're sitting in their thrones they own us? Definitely.

Viva la revolucion. Viva le gente. Por hoy, y mañana, y siempre.

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Friday, April 07, 2006

A Leak Is Not a Leak 

'Cause it depends on what the meaning of "is" is. Er, "leak" is. Tapped has a good refutation of the Administration's current spinmeistering concerning the revelation that Bush authorized Libby to leak the identity of Valerie Plame to the press.

And, another simple refutation of the "but if the President says it's okay, it's not a leak" spin: if it wasn't a leak and it was okay, then why didn't W himself go on the air way back when and announce, "Valerie Plame works for the CIA"? I mean, if it was okay to release that info three and a half years ago, it should have been a total release to the press and public, right? I mean, if the info was actually declassified by W's magic words.



On the other hand, maybe W himself is finally reading the writing on the wall. Kudos to Harry Taylor for standing up and questioning the president to his face at a campaign event in North Carolina -- also giving us a chance to see that, maybe, W is finally realizing what an unpopular, lame-duck, 36%-er he is. Rather than tactics we've seen in the past -- the "heckler" (or true patriot, take your pick) hustled out and grilled by the Secret Service -- W actually told the crowd to be quiet, and seemed to listen to the man and engage in conversation with him. It was an uncharacteristically gracious moment on both sides.

Who'd a thunk that? Still, it's too little, way way too late. But even as this Administration has tried to act more and more Imperial, more and more people seem to be pointing out that the Emperor truly has no clothes.

Sixty-three percent of Americans seem to believe that, too. I think we have a two-thirds majority for impeachment. Now if we could only manage it without having to go through the wussies in Congress...

Too bad we can't have a special recall election on the Federal level.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

MySpace Cadets 

We hear a lot in the news about online predators stalking underage users, with the latest bugaboo being MySpace. Maybe there's a serious problem; maybe it's no worse than in the real world, and simply educating kids will help. But there's something else going on in society, and it's really clouding the issue.

The problem is, pedophilia has tainted everything, and the rightful need to catch child molestors is causing problems in other areas. It seems that, in the public mind, an eighteen year-old boy who continues to have sex with his sixteen year-old girlfriend is in the same class as a fifty year-old man who rapes an eight year-old boy. Yes, there is a difference there, because the day before the boy turned eighteen, he could mess around with his girlfriend all he wanted -- but there was never a "magic" date when the fifty year-old man suddenly couldn't molest minors. Well, okay, maybe the date when he could play doctor with the boy next door -- but that passed four decades ago.

In other words, big difference between the two, but we're suddenly seeing the wrong people caught in the right trap. I'm all for locking up the way-past adult predators who seduce underage kids online. But suddenly we're seeing (or at least hearing about) an upswing of cases of the "children as child pornographers" variety -- e.g., recent cases of several teenages arrested for posting indecent photos or videos of their friends on MySpace or YouTube. Stupid? Yes. Cause for seperating them from a computer for a few years? Definitely. Criminal? Not so clear. Criminal, perhaps, in the civil sense. Criminal in the lock 'em up for twenty years sense? Nah.

The correct description of these actions is stupid and juvenile. The trouble is, it makes it difficult for the grown-ups online when kids don't realize they aren't the only ones in the sandbox. Long before the internet, we had to do our sexual experimenting in treehouses or homes without parents or other out-of-the-way places, and we sure as hell didn't take photos and pass them around. Kids seem to think that the net is this big, anonymous place that no one ever sees -- and they're wrong.

And that can make problems for adult users who have no interest whatsoever in seeing underage kids naked or doing the nasty or whatever. For example, I have a lot of adult friends in the arts who use MySpace for networking. A couple of wrong clicks, they could wind up with illegal stuff in their cache, and possibly be none the wiser. Another problem I've run across is that kids lie online about their age. Why? First, because it's so easy. A box asks your age, you can put in 18 or 105 or 15. Second, when that box asks your age, if you answer under 18, you can't get access to all the good stuff out there.

A few years ago, I used to do a lot of online chat, and it became clear pretty quickly that kids were hanging out where they shouldn't. I used to have a prelim line of what seemed like casual questioning that would usually flush them out. I remember one exchange where a "19" year-old said he didn't have a webcam anymore because his parents took it away. Oops. Anyway, whenever my alarm went off, I'd persist until I got the truth, then tell the kids to get the hell out of the adult rooms. I think Yahoo finally took care of the problem, but in the wrong way. I've heard that they closed down all the adult chat rooms. Or, in other words, they punished the normal grown-ups for the behavior of the kids. And the criminals -- whose work was no doubt made easier by those kids.

Censorship -- for adults -- is not the answer. The answer is the same solution we have for bars, strip joints, adult bookstores, NC-17 movies, etc. Proper ID, or b'bye. Of course, in the real world, that's a much easier solution than online. For example, as far as I know, anyone can access this blog, unless it's been blocked by a filter on their end. So I can write shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker and tits here and most anyone can read it. Should I be able to type those words, as an adult, without being censored? Hell yes. Should we have mechanisms in place to make sure kids can't read them? Of course. Do I have any idea how to do it?

Yes and no. The trick is maintaining the anonymity of the internet while being able to have an absolute (or as close as possible) identifier, at least as far as age goes. The idea sort of exists with various Age Check systems used as porn portals online -- but the problem is that people have to pay, and then those systems only provide access to the sites that subscribe to them on the other end.

Another problem is determining where to place the access -- user or computer? We could give every adult their own unique ID/password after verifying their age through some clearing house system, but that would require a massive system of ID checking and verification and etc., etc. And, having to show ID in person really doesn't play into the anonymous idea, even if the ID were never recorded, but just noted before a password could be issued; even if there were no link between that password and the original ID. Another problem with this system is that a user would have to enter the info for every site they visited that was deemed adults only, unless the ID lived on the computer, but that brings up a whole other bunch of issues.

The problem is, not every family with kids can afford a computer for everyone, and not every user can (or will bother to) figure out how to configure multiple users on one machine. Cookie that ID or make it a computer level filter, you might as well take the kids to the adult sites yourself.

Filtering software? Yeah, maybe -- but it needs work. For example, I once quoted "the pen is mightier than the sword" in an email to a friend at his work account and it bounced, because the filter read "pen is" as something else. XXX domain? Not a bad idea, although, a) it really should be something less loaded, like .adu, and b) deciding what goes there would be a bitch. Only hardcore porn? Anything unsuitable for kids? Would creating a separate adult domain leave other sites open to penalties if, say, a blogger used a few expletives on a .com?

Of course, we could eliminate 90% of these problems if parents would bother to do their job as parents. Install filtering software. Do not put the computer in the kid's room. Know how to look at history files and the cache, or install logging software. Check-up on your children's MySpace or Yahoo profiles, talk to them about inappropriate content. And remind yourself you're not a bad parent if you don't get your kid the latest camera phone/digital camera/camcorder/webcam, no matter how much they whine that all their friends have them. I mean, seriously -- webcams were invented for online sex. Why the hell would your kid need one? Grandparents want to see the kids? Email a digital photo from your own camera. It'll last longer.

Anyway... things seem to be moving the right way in one regard, and that's with the online stings. Any adult who'd arrange a tryst with someone they believe to be 12 or 14 or even 17 deserves to be arrested and humiliated and jailed. And, in those cases, it's just a matter of guilty adults exposing themselves by taking the bait, leaving the rest of us with nothing to worry about. But as for the rest of it, we really need to do something before the childish actions of children ruin the online world for the responsible, law-abiding grown-ups, and we have to do it in a way that... um, doesn't ruin the online world for the responsible, law-abiding grown-ups.

It starts with responsible parents, people who don't expect me to help raise their children. The rest? We need a technical innovation, and the person who comes up with it could wind up very wealthy. No, I'm not that person. But somebody out there is. Put on that thinking cap. It could be as simple as a rating algorithm that automatically and passively tags a page in the FTP or indexing process, combined with filtering software on the user end -- sort of an online version of the V-Chip.

As long as the lazy parents out there bother to learn how to use it -- although, given the continued bitching of some groups despite the V-Chip, I'm not optimistic about that.

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Or Did He Mean "Toss My Salad?" 

UPDATE: As of April 21st, 2006, Senator McCain still has not responded to my application for those $50 lettuce picking jobs. They must have gotten an overwhelming response

(Kudos to TotalFarker my_word_is_poontang for the joke in the headline)

John McCain continues to implode. First his bizarre blow-up in a Jon Stewart interview, now this rather bizarre offer:
One audience member obliged with a pointed question on his immigration plan.

McCain responded by saying immigrants were taking jobs nobody else wanted. He offered anybody in the crowd $50 an hour to pick lettuce in Arizona.

Shouts of protest rose from the crowd, with some accepting McCain's job offer.

"I'll take it!" one man shouted.

McCain insisted none of them would do such menial labor for a complete season. "You can't do it, my friends."

Some in the crowd said they didn't appreciate McCain questioning their work ethic.

"I was impressed with his comedy routine and ability to tap dance without music. But I was impressed with nothing else about him," said John Wasniewski of Milwaukee.
Anyway, I couldn't help but respond to Senator McCain's generous offer, so I sent him the following:
Dear Senator McCain:

I understand from comments you made recently that you are offering positions in Arizona picking lettuce, for $50 an hour, and am writing to inquire as to whether any of those positions are still available.

I am a citizen of the United States, born and raised here, so I have all the necessary documentation for employment. I would also be willing to temporarily relocate to Arizona for the season.

Thank you for offering this program to American citizens. I had begun to think that the Republican Party had no interest in helping the middle class. Clearly, you've found a forward-thinking way to both help American citizens earn a living wage and give a disincentive to illegal aliens to come here and take these jobs.

Feel free to cut 'n paste if you're so inclined; contact him at his official website. I'll report any reponse from his office here.

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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

President Feingold 

The more he speaks, the better he sounds. And, unlike other politicians, Russ Feingold (D-WI) doesn't seem to let politics get in the way of his views. The more issues he speaks out on, the more I like him. A short recap of his views, from his website: he's against the death penalty (or at least a reconsideration of the way it's used); he's in favor of (and co-authored legislation on) campaign finance reform; he has in the past and continues to work to reduce the federal deficit; he favors maintaining Medicare and Social Security; he lists Education as his number one priority for the country -- and has explained why "No Child Left Behind" does and will not work.

On top of that, he's now spoken out on that favorite "culture war" bugaboo of the rightwing fundie fringe. His latest, from this article:
Gay and lesbian people in our country are fighting a mean-spirited movement to harm them and to discriminate against them... I stand with them against that movement, and I'm proud to stand with them.
This is his response to placement of a proposed ammendment to the State Constitution of Wisconsin, which is on the November ballot. And, as I've said before, people need to be reminded that Constitutions do not exist to tell the people what they cannot do; it's to tell the government what it may not do to the people.

At a time when too many candidates try to pander to some imaginary "base", Feingold has been a refreshing voice that has reflected growing public sentiment. His base is not imaginary, though. He speaks for those of us tired of years of Republican bullshit and Democratic spinelessness. Maybe his campaign slogan in 2008 should be: "Feingold. All spine, no BS".

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Sunday, April 02, 2006


Okay. I'm tired of it now. Tired of all the whiny-ass fascist fundie Christians in this country claiming that they're "persecuted". Persecuted my Aunt Fanny. You think you're persecuted, go talk to a Jew who survived the Holocaust, or a veteran of fighting in East Timor or Kosovo or The Sudan. Talk to a Muslim in England or America. Talk to any gay man or lesbian who was an adult pre-Stonewall, or who is an adult in certain parts of the country today.

The only "persecution" you're suffering is that you can't have your own whiny way. No, correction -- that you can't make everyone else follow your silly rules and regulatons. And I'm sorry, but if by "I can't forcibly convert this country into a Christian Nation" you're being persecuted, well... in the words of Martin Luther: "Bumst dich."

Other than a few Southern Churches being burned as part of a... well, it might have been an art project or something, or maybe just a joke gone wrong and covered up -- you're not getting persecuted. Other than when you're being belittled and ridiculed by people who find your brand of religious lunacy utterly risible. Now, if you'd like us to persecute you, we can. There are lions at most zoos, and even at three bucks, a gallon of gas is cheap for certain purposes. I mean, like a book burning. You know, nothing major. A bunch of us go and buy out a local Zondervan's, then torch all of those evil writings in the parking lot. Toss in a few Chronicles of Narnia DVDs to boot. There. A bit of persecution in the real sense.

The fundies screaming "persecution" at the world today are like a woman who cries "date rape" because her steady boyfriend tried to hold her hand at the movies. But, for us to not give you what you want -- that ain't persecution, baby. That's presevation -- of self and sanity. To quote one of the wing nuts, Rick Scarborough of Vision America:
High on the list (of our issues) are a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and a judiciary more sympathetic to religious expression, like permitting the Ten Commandments in government buildings and allowing pastors to endorse candidates from the pulpit.
And right there, in one sentence, is a beautiful tryptich (plus one) of Constitutional violations. To wit:
  1. The Constitution does not exist to tell individuals what they can and cannot do. In fact, the Constitution does not apply to citizens at all, except insofar as it protects them from the government. The purpose of the Constitution, despite what all the anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-flag burning nitwits would have you think, is to tell the government what it cannot do to the people or the States. Period.
  2. A judiciary more sympathetic to religious expression, eh? WTF does that mean? More sympathetic to your religion, to the exclusion of others? What if the entire SCOTUS were, say, Buddhists? Would you then object if they used their religion to render every opinion? Yeah, of course you would. All the while conveniently forgetting that the supreme law of this land isn't your Bible; it's our Constitution. And any justice who does not regard that document as the highest of all laws does not deserve to be on the High Court -- or any court.
  3. Again, sticking those religious monuments in public places is verboten, per the First Amendment. When it comes to the government and public money, it's all or none. Hey, tell you what -- if I let my State House put the Ten Commandments out front, will you then let me sponsor placing the Satanic Commandments, just as big, out front? Your only consistent choice is to say yes, but, of course, you care nothing for religious freedom. What you want is "freedom for my religion". Screw that, if it impedes anyone else's free practice of (or freedom from) religion.
  4. As for allowing pastors to endorse candidates from the pulpit -- I'd have no problem with this on one condition. As soon as a pastor expressed such an opinion in public, their entire denomination would lose all tax exemptions. Period. Hey, if it's that important to your church, it should be worth the money, right? Dude, if you really want what you say you want, pay for it. Pony up your piece of all those contributions. Pay property taxes on all your land holdings. Hell, let's make that tax exemption loss retroactive. Make that sacrifice, then let your pastors and priests and rabbis extol candidates and issues all they want. But... if you want to hang onto that great perc of religion -- STFU about politics in the pulpit, or in any other place where a church representive speaks officially. And yes, this goes for churches that espouse liberal causes from the pulpit as well. The cause doesn't matter. The intent does. And if you want the government to stay out of religion, you damn well better keep your religion out of politics.
Anyway, all of this is documented in an article in the Dallas Morning News. Read it. And, when you're done, go shopping here.

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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Culture Jam 

Chevy has inadvertently done a wonderful thing -- although no one over there in a suit will ever figure out why.

Chevy and NBC's "The Apprentice" are having a contest online for people to make their own commercial for the 2007 Chevy Tahoe. Straightforward enough -- except that the process has been subverted by the Internet, creating hundreds if not thousands of counter-ads basically trashing Chevy's SUV, the effect in general of SUVs on the environment, and the lifestyle of their owners. If this keeps up, anybody who enters a vaguely ass-kissing commercial is guaranteed to win. Which brings us to the second way to subvert the contest, of course.

Anyway, I've been playing along, and some of my work is linked below. Please try your own hand at this -- you have the option to make your own movie at the end of any of these -- and then send me the results if you do.

And take comfort with me in this knowledge: a bunch of marketing people somewhere are looking at the results and scratching their heads, utterly baffled...
Big as All Outdoors...
Go Places
Feed Your Greed
Nature Awaits
Buy Now
Takes Too Long
Suck on that, Chevy...

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