andysocial: (Stubble)

So many Facebook posts are mindless or poorly-considered reposts of something vastly misleading or irrelevant. Here are some I've seen this week.

For example, "Bibles are not allowed in schools." This is not true, and has never been true. The only prohibition is that teachers and staff can't force or coerce students in religion. There has never been a case that was upheld in which a student was forbidden from bringing a Bible (or other religious book) to school, nor from praying in a non-intrusive fashion.

"The President takes a lot of vacation," claim folks on the Right. No, he doesn't. He takes more than I do, but I also don't have to be on-call even while on vacation. I'm not sure the President could ever be considered to be truly on vacation, as he takes his entire operations center with him everywhere. He does not take more vacation than his predecessors. Let's say he keeps up the pace he's been, which is around 21 days of vacation per year. That will be 168 days in 8 years, or just about the same number as Bill Clinton (174) and significantly less than GW Bush (1020 days according to his Library, with 490 of them in Crawford) or Reagan (335 at his California ranch). I can't seem to find someone with good numbers on George H.W. Bush's full term, but by all accounts he was below average in days away from D.C. in his term (another reason to like Poppy Bush). Obama's vacations do tend to cost more than the Bush or Reagan vacations, since he doesn't own a vacation home and has to pay (OK, we have to pay) for his lodging.

"American soldiers in the Middle East are being forced to observe Ramadan fasting restrictions!" No, they're not. Well, not really. It's complicated. If you're stationed overseas, there are two sets of laws you need to follow. If you're on-base, you follow US laws, as modified by the military and local command. If you're off-base, you follow the local laws. In Saudi Arabia, it is literally illegal to not fast during the Ramadan days of fasting. That's the local law. To ensure that US service members don't run afoul of the local law, there are briefings telling them what they need to do, off-base. They can still go to the chow hall or Burger King on-base, with no problems of any kind.

Any statement that begins with "liberals believe" or "conservatives believe" is probably bullshit. It rises to near-certainty if the terms used are "libtard" or "rethuglican." No group seems to be well-represented by the loudest members of that group in modern politics. Most conservatives and liberals seem to disagree with most of what the two political parties put forward as party platforms, as if "conservative" is not synonymous with "Republican" and "liberal" is not synonymous with "Democrat." Go figure. Most actual people are not cartoon character villains, and pretending they are does no one any good.

I have nothing profound to say, just ranting about nonsense which is easily refuted by two seconds with the Google. Before you repost something that sounds great to you, maybe take a little time to find out if it's got any basis in reality.

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

andysocial: (2ID)

I have a lot of veteran friends, obviously. But, I also have a lot of non-vet friends who may not fully understand what's going on with Bergdahl, or not get why so many vets are ambivalent about his fate.

In 2009, Bergdahl was an odd duck, a leg infantryman (not qualified to jump out of planes) in an airborne unit. He was also apparently a bit of a philosopher, and seems to have become somewhat conflicted about the actions of the USA in Afghanistan. This is not uncommon among both vets and non-vets. It's certainly true that we made some bone-headed moves, as well as smart moves. The balance is not something I'm going to get into, but it's definitely an important backdrop for Bergdahl's story.

He left his forward operating base (tiny outpost in dangerous territory) one morning, and was not seen again by the public except on video until this week.

So...the discussion centers around what the hell this low-ranking soldier was doing leaving a safe-ish zone in the middle of a war zone, while leaving his buddies to take up his slack. It becomes increasingly clear that Bergdahl was, at best, a confused young man. He apparently thought life should be more like the movies, and he was the hero. He may have thought he could change the Taliban into warm fuzzies, he may have just felt guilty about the small part he played in destroying pieces of Afghanistan. There's no way to be certain at this time, but his motivations are almost beside the point.

The biggest point to veterans is this - he left his buddies in the lurch. He was part of a team. That team needed to trust *every* member to do his duty, and be where he was supposed to be, doing the job he was supposed to do. Any person missing not only reduces the effectiveness of the group by his absence, but reduces the effectiveness because they are duty-bound to try to find his ass. Trust and honor are words that carry a lot of weight in the military. These guys all needed to know that the guy sitting next to them would be capable and ready to defend each other without fail. One guy going missing isn't just one guy - he's a wound that is hard to heal in the body of that unit. The unit wants to be complete and whole, and will work to find missing or fallen members.

And this is what they did. His platoon (group of 30-50 men with guns) searched for him, taking away from their mission of defending a small part of Afghanistan. At least six people died during searches for Bergdahl. Some people say that the continuing low-level mission of "find Bergdahl" may have cost many other lives, but the military is not confirming that publicly.

Regardless of his motivations, and regardless of his causing disruption to his unit, there is also the constant reminder over the last five years that we had one prisoner of war in Afghanistan, and we wanted him back. We wanted him back because "No Man Left Behind" is a saying that soldiers believe in. He may have been a soup sandwich, but he was an American soldier, and damned if we didn't want him returned to us. Several of my Army comrades have been posting "Bowe Tuesday" reminders for years, reinforcing that PFC Bergdahl was wanted back in the fold. Later, that became SGT Bergdahl, as without a determination of desertion, he was entitled to automatic promotion while a prisoner.

Now, he's back, and the cost may be high (how valuable the prisoners we're giving up are is a debate for someone with much more knowledge than I have about the subject), but he's back. I assume there will be an investigation into his departure, but it will probably be very low-key and out of the public eye. I do know that he's unlikely to ever serve another day as a normal soldier. If he's still wearing a uniform in a year, I'll be very surprised. I'm very curious whether his views on the relative value of American vs. Taliban culture and justice have changed.

So, welcome home, SGT Bergdahl. You've got some explaining to do.

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

andysocial: (Scream)

I may have, once or twice, stooped to derogatory name-calling when mentioning a major public figure in the past. If you look, I’m sure somewhere I may have called G.W. Bush “Shrub” as so many others did, thinking we were witty. But, in general, I referred to him as President Bush or Dubya. I can defend Dubya as not derogatory, as that’s what so many of his friends and family called him for decades. On those occasions when I was childish, I apologize for being childish.

It doesn’t seem that anyone on the Right is capable of calling the current President by his actual name. This does not make them seem witty, any more than referring to Bush as “Shrub” did years ago. Further, it seems that they can’t stop doing it, nor coming up with an ever-increasing list of names they think are clever. Not only are they not clever, they serve as a barrier to entry for anyone not already in the bubble where these things circulate. This may be deliberate on the part of some pundits, but certainly the average person one encounters is merely following along in someone else’s script. This has actually been going on far longer than the Obama administration. I can’t tell you how many times I had to ask someone to whom they were referring when they would use a completely impenetrable nom de wit for a public figure. Uncle Joe, Moochelle, Obummer, etc. – the list seems endless. The effect can frequently be that nobody who isn’t already part of the conservative movement even knows what you’re talking about and therefore won’t engage in conversation. This leads to conservatives erecting a wall of rhetoric, never hearing anything that doesn’t reinforce their belief that libtards and commies and nazis are taking over the government and the UN is leading troops into the US to round every True Patriot up and put them in FEMA camps, financed by the Amero coins and the Law of the Sea Treaty, or whatever Jerome Corsi wrote about this week.

I’m not saying liberals don’t engage in name-calling. I know they do. They’re just not as all-encompassing about it. Most of the liberal pundits will call Boehner by his actual name, no matter how tempting it would be to mispronounce it. And they referred to President Bush by his name most of the time. Most liberals do not call Republicans “Rethuglicans” except when a specific group is acting like bullies. Most of the time, these things are true. When conservatives refer to liberal name calling, they most often point to liberals calling conservatives stupid or racist or misogynist. This is a form of name-calling, to be sure, but they are at least actual words with known meanings, as opposed to “libtard” which is pretty darned weird. My theory on the ubiquity of conservative terms, as contrasted with the truly disorganized liberal canon, is that conservatives are just a whole lot better at staying “on message” and on framing debates. Hell, they even made “liberal” into a term so dirty that most Lefties call themselves progressive now. It’s impressive. The out party is much more likely to engage in rhetorical bomb-throwing, which is why the name-calling and general unpleasantness is heaviest from the Right currently. The Left should not get a pass on this either, but they’re just not as noisy about this particular gambit currently.

And then there are the non sequiturs. Yes, we get it, President Obama (sorry, B. Hussein Obummer) wears “mom jeans.” Haha. And this means what, exactly? At least come up with something that is relevant to the discussion, eh? Sure, it’s possible that unflattering casual wear is a thing that has some importance, but most of us do not work for GQ. Oh, and he wore a bike helmet? Yeah, so did GW Bush when he went for a bike ride as President. It’s just being a good example for the children of the country.

If you can’t call someone by their actual name, if you refer to anyone you don’t agree with by derogatory terms, do you expect to influence anyone? Or are you just trying to prove to your imagined audience of sycophants how clever you are, because you can parrot names someone else coined? It’s pathetic, and it’s a sure way to get blocked or ignored by me anyway. Grow up.

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

andysocial: (Default)

Like anyone else with a functioning neocortex and access to modern media, I have an opinion about the Trayvon Martin shooting. And, like almost everyone else, my opinion was worth exactly zero in the legal proceedings that just ended. This is what is supposed to happen; if you’re not part of the case, your vote is not counted. Also, the media don’t share every iota of information that the jury received, but do add a lot of information that the jury is told to ignore from a legal standpoint. This is just how things work in America. There are rules of evidence that are fundamental to ensuring that innocent people don’t get convicted. These rules don’t always work, to be sure (check out The Innocence Project if you ever feel that police and DAs are infallible), but there are rules nonetheless.

The evidence that is agreed true by all legal experts is that Zimmerman saw Martin walking in the rain at night, in a neighborhood that has had a rash of burglaries. Zimmerman was told by the police dispatcher that they would prefer he not confront Martin directly, but that was not a legal order, just a request. Between that moment and the moment that the police showed up, the only other thing we all know for sure is that Zimmerman fired his pistol and killed Martin. We do not know who the original aggressor was. We do not know if Zimmerman was acting under some racist animus. We do not know what Zimmerman and Martin said to each other. If you claim to know, you’re wrong. If you claim that Martin assaulted Zimmerman before he was killed in self-defense, you are making that up. If you claim that Zimmerman gunned Martin down in cold blood, you are making that up. You just do not know.

I have my own biases and beliefs and feelings about the case, and I think Zimmerman is a well-meaning man who did something stupid that ended tragically. But, I don’t know that for sure, and it’s equally likely that any number of scenarios are true. The problem I had with the case from the beginning was not that a “white” (hispanic is not a race, no matter what Nixon thought) man shot a black “kid” (17 is not a little kid). The problem I had was the lack of a real investigation at the beginning. If Florida did not have a “stand your ground” law, the police would not have been allowed to just let Zimmerman leave the scene that night on his own. If the police weren’t so lenient with their definitions of what “your ground” meant, they would have launched a real strong investigation that night, rather than dropping it until public outcry forced them to investigate. That seems like a problem to me. You may disagree, and that’s fine.

Once the investigation was complete, it seems that the DA didn’t really have a good case but felt compelled to go to trial anyway, because of the same public outcry. This led to the fairly bizarre trial we just saw unfold. If the DA really didn’t think it had a case, it should have dropped it after the investigation. The Zimmerman trial did not help anyone feel good about our justice system.

Now, I’ve seen a lot of posts on Facebook with titles like “What about …” with some other shooting victim’s name at the end. These are all, without exception, some white kid who was killed by a black man. If that isn’t a classic case of race-baiting, the term has no meaning. What about those other people? Well, did their killers get investigated? Did their killers get charged with a crime, if it was deemed appropriate? That’s the difference, not what skin tone the guy with the gun had. If you think the uproar last year was because a white guy shot a black guy and got away with it, you’re not paying attention.

I’m really happy to see that most of the protests about Zimmerman being acquitted are peaceful (what’s up with Los Angeles?). I hope everyone understands that being acquitted in a criminal trial means that the jury found some reasonable doubts about his guilt. It does not mean that he was an angel or a devil, just that there is reasonable doubt. That’s how things are supposed to work. Sometimes, we let people go who might be guilty, rather than lock people up who might be guilty. If you think Zimmerman is a horrible person, it may make you feel better to realize that he’s going to be paranoid about vigilante justice coming for him for a long time to come. That may be irony.

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

Jan. 18th, 2013 10:29 am

Dear Abby

andysocial: (Moon)

There are a number of media personalities who define an era. Those of us in Generation X grew up with a few TV networks and a relative conformity in popular culture until the late 1980s. This led to a few names being instantly recognizable, even if they were originally marketed to our parents and not to us. This was, after all, before the rise of child-centered life in America, when we were expected to be seen and not heard and did not get a veto over things in the home. It seems the icons of the Boomer generation are almost all gone now, and so the comfortable feeling of Gen X childhood memories are tainted as well.

My mother has always been a reader, and the books I read when I was a kid (at least between library visits) were frequently hers. Thus, I became a fan of Erma Bombeck, one of the great humorists of the 1970s and 1980s, who could be considered a precursor to the “mommy blogger” phenomenon of today. Erma died far too young in 1996, but I still remember the cover art for “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank.”

In the days of the Fairness Doctrine, talk radio was not nearly as pervasive and fragmented as it is today. One voice that everyone knew was Paul Harvey. When I attended a broadcast journalism class in the early 1980s, we put together a television news and commentary show. I chose to use the persona of Saul Garvey, which I thought was clever at the time. Paul Harvey died in 2001. And that’s the rest of the story.

We didn’t always have cameras following our every move in public, and we certainly didn’t have YouTube to share our private moments of embarrassment or inadvertent comedy. From 1948 until 1993, we got our dose of schadenfreude from Allen Funt and “Candid Camera.” Rarely mean-spirited, the pranks were hilarious and rather obvious to our older, jaded eyes today. Allen Funt died in 1999. I like to think he was smiling, and in on the joke.

This week, another of the great figures of the latter half of the 20th Century left us. Abigail van Buren was the woman everyone looked to for advice from 1956 until 2002. With wit and empathy, she made us all feel that she could be trusted with any secrets. Pauline Phillips died in 2013. Sadly, she was suffering from Alzheimer’s and was unlikely to be very much like her old self, but we can remember her wit, and her daughter continues the column with some inherited awesomeness.

I don’t think the younger generations will ever know the monolithic nature of popular culture we lived with before 100 channels of television and high-speed internet came along. We have so many more choices today than we did twenty years ago, not to mention the dark ages of the 1970s. Choices are great, and I love the options we have today. But, will there ever again be someone who is going to be remembered as such a pervasive part of everyday life as Dear Abby?

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

andysocial: (Facepaint)
Why do these things happen? Why do they keep happening? What can we do to stop them from happening?

These are the obvious questions asked, screamed, and cried out whenever something as horrific as the Newtown murders or the Aurora murders reach the national news. We want things to make sense, and we want to fix things which are broken. For many years, various groups have worked to demonize various trends, items, and products in order to stop violence. There doesn’t seem to be a simple answer, but we don’t want to deal with complex ones. There may not even be a complex answer.

Homicide by weapon

Homicide by weapon 1976-2004

First, is gun violence on the rise in the United States or not? If you watch the news, you’d think every public place is only a hair’s breadth from utter annihilation from a nut with a gun. Although gun violence in America is higher than most other industrialized nations by a rather large ratio, it’s actually not at a particularly high level compared to our own historical norm. Many people think that we live in especially dangerous times, but that’s simply not true. We’re no more in danger now than in 1975. Of course, our parents didn’t have four channels of 24-hour news that needed to be filled. We hear about more violence, but that doesn’t mean we are experiencing more violence. So, we aren’t seeing any more gun violence than our parents saw.

Second, is restricting gun ownership a panacea that would prevent gun violence? This seems obvious to many people. More guns must lead to more gun crimes, after all. But, other countries have higher rates of gun ownership than the USA does, and have much lower levels of gun-related homicide. Switzerland is a great example. Every able-boded male between 18 and 50 is a member of Switzerland’s armed forces and there are approximately 2 million firearms in private hands in that country of 6 million people. Approximately 25% of Swiss households have a firearm in the home. That’s about the same percentage as the USA (The Swiss have 46 guns per 100 people and we have 88 guns per 100 people in the USA, since we seem to have a lot more collectors or arsenal-builders here). There were 0.52 gun homicides per 100,000 citizens in Switzerland in 2010. In the USA, that was 3.2 – over six times the rate. So, availability of weapons doesn’t necessarily lead to more gun violence.

Finally, does media violence lead to actual violence? We are not the only country with violent video games and television shows and movies. Yet, we are an outlier in terms of gun violence compared to those other countries. Studies sometimes show that violent imagery can cause violent behavior, but the imagery is usually out of context and not how we actually encounter those images in real media consumption. Further, looking at violent behavior in a lab is only interesting to the researchers; looking at the rise of media violence and whether that correlates to real-world violence is what matters to society. There is no such correlation. As anyone who has lived through the past thirty years could tell you, media violence has not decreased and yet (as shown above) gun violence has decreased. If there’s any causative motion, you might be able to claim that the rise of more violent video games in the 1990s (as opposed to the cartoonish games of the 1980s) has actually caused us to become less violent. There is no proof for that statement, but if you look merely at correlation and ignore plausible causation, you could make that argument. So, media doesn’t make our citizens more violent.

What does make the United States different from other countries? Why do we have more gun violence than societies similar to our own? Why does Canada have one-quarter the gun-related homicide rate the USA has? Is our society so different from Canada and England and all the other industrialized nations? Before we try to make sweeping changes to our laws, it might be educational to figure out whether the things we want to change would plausibly make any difference. It’s not as simple as “more guns” or “fewer guns” or “video games” – it’s not obvious, and it’s not something we have figured out yet. It’s not a new problem, it’s not an increasingly large problem, but it’s definitely a difficult problem. Banning one thing or another might feel like the right thing to do, but it likely won’t make a difference.

This does not mean we should just give up and accept a certain level of murders because we don’t have a simple answer to fix the problem. But, we need to actually identify the cause of the problem before we can fix it.

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

andysocial: (Facepaint)
Why do these things happen? Why do they keep happening? What can we do to stop them from happening?

These are the obvious questions asked, screamed, and cried out whenever something as horrific as the Newtown murders or the Aurora murders reach the national news. We want things to make sense, and we want to fix things which are broken. For many years, various groups have worked to demonize various trends, items, and products in order to stop violence. There doesn’t seem to be a simple answer, but we don’t want to deal with complex ones. There may not even be a complex answer.

Homicide by weapon

Homicide by weapon 1976-2004

First, is gun violence on the rise in the United States or not? If you watch the news, you’d think every public place is only a hair’s breadth from utter annihilation from a nut with a gun. Although gun violence in America is higher than most other industrialized nations by a rather large ratio, it’s actually not at a particularly high level compared to our own historical norm. Many people think that we live in especially dangerous times, but that’s simply not true. We’re no more in danger now than in 1975. Of course, our parents didn’t have four channels of 24-hour news that needed to be filled. We hear about more violence, but that doesn’t mean we are experiencing more violence. So, we aren’t seeing any more gun violence than our parents saw.

Second, is restricting gun ownership a panacea that would prevent gun violence? This seems obvious to many people. More guns must lead to more gun crimes, after all. But, other countries have higher rates of gun ownership than the USA does, and have much lower levels of gun-related homicide. Switzerland is a great example. Every able-boded male between 18 and 50 is a member of Switzerland’s armed forces and there are approximately 2 million firearms in private hands in that country of 6 million people. Approximately 25% of Swiss households have a firearm in the home. That’s about the same percentage as the USA (The Swiss have 46 guns per 100 people and we have 88 guns per 100 people in the USA, since we seem to have a lot more collectors or arsenal-builders here). There were 0.52 gun homicides per 100,000 citizens in Switzerland in 2010. In the USA, that was 3.2 – over six times the rate. So, availability of weapons doesn’t necessarily lead to more gun violence.

Finally, does media violence lead to actual violence? We are not the only country with violent video games and television shows and movies. Yet, we are an outlier in terms of gun violence compared to those other countries. Studies sometimes show that violent imagery can cause violent behavior, but the imagery is usually out of context and not how we actually encounter those images in real media consumption. Further, looking at violent behavior in a lab is only interesting to the researchers; looking at the rise of media violence and whether that correlates to real-world violence is what matters to society. There is no such correlation. As anyone who has lived through the past thirty years could tell you, media violence has not decreased and yet (as shown above) gun violence has decreased. If there’s any causative motion, you might be able to claim that the more rise of more violent video games in the 1990s (as opposed to the cartoonish games of the 1980s) has actually caused us to become less violent. There is no proof for that statement, but if you look merely at correlation and ignore plausible causation, you could make that argument. So, media doesn’t make our citizens more violent.

What does make the United States different from other countries? Why do we have more gun violence than societies similar to our own? Why does Canada have one-quarter the gun-related homicide rate the USA has? Is our society so different from Canada and England and all the other industrialized nations?Before we try to make sweeping changes to our laws, it might be educational to figure out whether the things we want to change would plausibly make any difference. It’s not as simple as “more guns” or “fewer guns” or “video games” – it’s not obvious, and it’s not something we have figured out yet. It’s not a new problem, it’s not an increasingly large problem, but it’s definitely a difficult problem.

This does not mean we should just give up and accept a certain level of murders because we don’t have a simple answer to fix the problem. But, we need to actually identify the cause of the problem before we can fix it.

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

andysocial: (Tux)

Microsoft’s announced Surface tablets remind me of Zune and not just because of the Metro interface. Sure, it looks nice. Almost everyone who ever touched a Zune said they were built phenomenally well. But there aren’t that many people who touched one. Why is that?

Of course, the “late to market” problem is obvious. Zune came to market after the iPod had already eaten Creative’s lunch and only a few players like Sandisk and Sony stuck around with new devices, all of which worked with Microsoft’s own “PlaysForSure” system. Network effects will lead to a difficult path for pure Metro apps, now that iPad and Android have years of customer buy-in behind them. Would you leave your current environment, just to buy all the programs you use a second time? This assumes that the programs actually materialize. And a tablet without Angry Birds is no tablet at all.

Besides the network effects, the Windows RT experience duplicates the Zune (and iOS too) in the locked-down nature of the entire ecosystem. You can’t boot anything but WinRT on the tablet (UEFI is locked), you can’t install anything except approved Metro apps from the Windows Store, there is no sideloading and no bypassing the paywall. Anyone who likes that sort of thing already has an iPad. Those who find those restrictions onerous won’t buy an iOS device nor WinRT device.

Competing with your own customers is a very Zune-like move I see in the Surface tablet. Zune tried a completely new ecosystem, ignoring the PlaysForSure ecosystem which had preceded it and annoying Microsoft’s former partners in the process. Surface tablets are going to be competitively priced with Microsoft’s own partners’ tablets. That’s not really competitive, it’s predatory in many minds.

Not Zune-like, but still weird to me is the whole announcement itself. I’d have thought that manufacturers would have learned by now that vapor announcements are just stupid. Look at Apple – they announce something when it’s ready for sale. Those few items which they may “pre-announce” have solid shipping dates and prices. Microsoft says their tablets will be competitively priced and will arrive eventually. Also, nobody was allowed to touch the full Windows Pro tablets. It makes one wonder if they’re hiding something there – not ready for even sympathetic tech media to handle?

Those covers do look neat though. So there’s that.

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

Tags:
andysocial: (Cute Pussy)

Seeing as many birthday parties as I do (helping Kat at her job), it’s obvious things are different from When I Was A Kid. The new kid order is further highlighted by the end of the school year, which I’ll get to in a moment. First, parties.

Back when I was a kid, the only one who left a birthday party with anything other than cake in their belly was the birthday kid. I don’t know when it changed, but by the time Alex was attending birthday parties, the gift bag culture had developed. If you didn’t hand out candy and toys to the guests at a party, good luck getting your kid invited to anyone else’s. Are we teaching kids that even on a day when one kid is rightfully the center of attention, everyone is still Special?

When I was a kid, the only graduation ceremony you had (before college) was when you got a diploma after 12th grade. That is graduating. Any graduation that ends with, “See you in the fall” is not much of a graduation. I understand marking major events in a child’s life, but when Alex “graduated” from kindergarten, I don’t think he nor his classmates gave a damn about it. The whole thing was for the parents to prove their kid is Special. When he “graduated” from elementary school a year ago, I’m pretty sure the kids didn’t care much either. The boys seemed uncomfortable in their nice clothes, but otherwise they acted like it was just another day. Which it was!

I suppose in two years, he’ll “graduate” from middle school. It still won’t mean much to him, nor should it. Why have we started doing this? If your child doesn’t know how much you appreciate him on a regular basis, if your child doesn’t know how much you love him every day, do you really think a silly ceremony is going to make him feel Special? It seems like we’d be better off celebrating our kids’ individual (or team) achievements when they happen, rather than just wrapping up the year with one big ceremony. It seems to be an admission that we don’t have time to recognize actual accomplishments if we recognize “not being held back a grade” as worthy of a ceremony. When everyone is special, nobody is.

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

andysocial: (Default)

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

As our elected putative representatives have, over the past century or so, completely gerrymandered the congressional districts to be mostly safe zones for one party or the other’s incumbents, incumbency rates are generally steady above 90% for national elections. Because of this, each member of the House is probably only interested in pleasing his or her “base” party faithful, rather than some hypothetical constituency which may actually contain people with whom the base disagrees. For example, here in  West-By-God Texas, nobody gives even the slightest lip service to any Democratic Party followers or liberal/progressive issues. Everything is about the conservative agenda, and who among the political class is hewing most closely to the Platonic ideal of perfection. What Democrats do run are obviously only serving as a token sacrifice, as they have no chance whatsoever of beating the 80% GOP voting record. Heck, many of the local offices don’t even have a D on the ballot; we may have more Libertarians running than Democrats.

Might this be part of what led to the current theater taking place in DC regarding the debt ceiling? The GOP House members don’t have to make any noise about compromising what they claim are their principles, even though nearly 80% of the USA says they should. They don’t need to worry about that because we don’t have a national general election for those seats – each of those individuals only has to play to the base back in the gerrymandered district. This means that only primary elections matter, so proving you can work with The Other Side is completely irrelevant. There is no other side, as far as it matters when re-election time comes.

This strikes me as being one really messed up way to run a government.

andysocial: (Default)

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

What are we doing differently, to cause our employment rates to be so out of whack compared to pretty much every other industrialized nation?

andysocial: (Default)

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

Last year, Guiding Light and As the World Turns got canceled. This year, All My Children and One Life to Live are getting canceled. It seems impossible to comprehend, but is this the last gasp of soap operas as a genre?

When I was a little kid, my mom was a housewife who watched Days of Our Lives daily. She joked about how one of the characters was born near the same time as my older brother, but by the time my brother had graduated high school, his Dayscounterpart had grandchildren who were in middle school. Meanwhile, that character’s grandparents remained middle-aged. Such is the magic of soap opera time. Although my mother, like most in her generation, eventually joined the workforce fulltime, soaps continued to survive.

During my teen years, soap operas had followed the changing schedules of women (their target, but hardly exclusive, audience) and infiltrated prime time. In the 1980s, we had Dallas, Knots Landing, Falcon Crest, Dynasty, and I’m sure some others. In time, the viewers grew weary of the recycled melodrama with the same characters, and by 1992 all of them were gone. But somehow, the daytime soap operas continued to survive.

It’s probably difficult for most kids today to imagine a house where mom got them up in the morning and was awaiting their arrival from school in the afternoon. Accompanying those hours in between direct childcare, mothers got to hang out with their neighbors and buy Avon from door-to-door salesladies (sometimes the same people), and watch soap operas while folding the never-ending laundry. Personally, I couldn’t figure out how soaps stayed around after the 1980s, since the stay-at-home mom era seemed over by 1990. But the soaps were still there, with the same characters (frequently played by an array of actors but other times by very well-preserved surgically-altered actors). And now they’re almost all gone.

What changed in the last 20 years? Cable TV, some would say. Ah, but we had cable in the 1980s and we saw a boom in soaps, not a bust. I think it’s the DVR. While we had VCRs in the 1980s (I was in charge of programming our first model, which consisted of an array of wheels and buttons on the face of the strange device), very few people time-shifted many programs. Sure, you’d record some special episode you were interested in, but nothing routine. I knew a family whose mother couldn’t be dissuaded from her belief that the television had to be on for the VCR to work, but didn’t want to see any spoilers from the free movies she was recording off the air, so she covered the screen with a cloth. VCRs were magic. In later years, when I was attempting to replace a nice VCR that had died with a similar quality recorder, I was told that so few people every actually recordedanything on their video cassette recorders that most of the features I liked were discontinued. So, at least anecdotally, it seems VCRs were only disruptive to movie watching, not to television viewing.

In 1999, Tivo and ReplayTV were introduced. Although ReplayTV had the better product by most technical measures (automatic commercial skip for one), today they’re almost completely lost down the memory hole. Still, Tivo survived and thrived and grew from a hipster bragging right to a default home electronics device. There are DVRs in cable boxes, satellite boxes, even in some televisions. In the five years since I built my Mythbox, it has changed the way I think of television schedules profoundly. What time something comes on, what day it is shown, even what channel it is on – all are irrelevant now. I tell the magic box to record the shows I’m interested in when it finds them and I walk away. When I’ve got time, I flip through my personalized library of video entertainment. Twilight Zone is one whenever I want now, and not just during some late night hour or holiday marathon. There’s no need to be concerned that I might miss a show because I’m busy or running late on some errand – the magic box will have it waiting for me whenever it’s convenient for me.

This, I think, is what finally killed the soap opera – easy access to all the other hours of the day. When our mothers and grandmothers were staying at home, baking pies and doing laundry and all the other things we imagined they were doing, they were held hostage by Proctor & Gamble. There were three channels, and all of them had serialized programming that was intended to appeal to women. Now that those women (and men, to be fair) who remain at home during the day have the easy ability to watch 50 channels of programming, from any time of the day or night or week, it turns out they don’t actually want to watch Luke and Laura do whatever it is they do.

No need to be too wistful for the fading of an entire genre. From Guiding Light’s radio debut in 1937 until whenever the final soaps wither away, it’s been a pretty good run. And meanwhile, the networks do occasionally let a show have a long-form serial plot in the background. Sometimes it even stays on the air more than one season.

Feb. 8th, 2011 10:15 am

Mix Tapes

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Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

Inspired by this post from Gizmodo, I began to think of mix tapes this morning. I actually have converted some of my old mix tapes to MP3 playlists in the past, although a combination of a lack of decent backup discipline and misplaced cassettes have rendered them lost to time. Has anyone else gone through that sort of effort, or did you just move from tapes to digital audio with a clean break? For that matter, how many people actually create curated playlists, and how many hit shuffle and hope for the best? Or are you one of those album people who listen to complete albums by one artist? Some combination?

I confess to being one of those wishy-washy “combination” people. I have almost completed my KROQ Top List recreation project. Although some of the playlists from the 1980s are a bit difficult to rebuild, due to the one-hit-wonder nature of some tracks, I’ve done a pretty good job of building year-specific playlists of KROQ tunage. I also have every Barenaked Ladies, Cracker, and Cake album on my MP3 player, plus some dynamically-generated playlists (Top-rated tunes, tunes from the 1980s, etc.) and a few curated playlists I’ve built for my darling bride over the past few years.

I’m still inordinately happy that I kept the LA Megamix tape long enough to rip that to MP3, though. And if anyone has the Madhouse album “16″ I’d appreciate a hookup.

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Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

In the military intelligence community, everyone is given training annually to spot and deal with security risks.  The major espionage cases I’ve seen over the years (Ames, Hanssen, Walkers, etc.) have been committed primarily for personal enrichment.  I don’t think any of those I listed were actually Soviet sympathizers – they just liked money.  There are other, smaller, cases where someone has illegally revealed classified material to unauthorized personnel.  Some of these have been considered espionage, others a mere security violation or classified compromise.  A recent letter to the editor for the Stars & Stripes states a common belief that Bradley Manning is one of those.  I tend to agree, pending actually seeing the evidence, because of Manning’s own statements to the quasi-journalist and hacker Adrian Lamo.

I do question Manning’s motives.  Many of the most right-wing commentators have assumed that Manning was hiding homosexuality and that caused him to get crazy in some ill-defined way and leak massive amounts of information that was probably not being protected appropriately to begin with (why would a lower-enlisted military analyst have access to State Dept cables unless he was working on something for which he had need to know, unless the State Dept cables were woefully over-released within the IC?).  Of course, that leads the conservative mind to say that homosexuals are a security risk, as they were deemed for many years.

But, here’s the thing about gays being security risks – it only applies if they can be blackmailed about it.  If being gay weren’t liable to get someone booted from the military, they couldn’t be blackmailed for it and therefore would not be a security risk because of it.  There is a long-standing understanding in securityland that people are vulnerable to espionage recruiters for many reasons, financial gain being the largest, but the potential for blackmail is brought up as well.  If there’s something in your past you’d rather nobody know, you may do something extreme and shady to prevent it from coming to light.  This is also the plot of some movies, but it happens to be true to some extent in reality.  Some people will leak a tiny insignificant detail to prevent a devastating revelation, and then they have a bigger problem down the road – they’re now blackmailable because of the initial leak and so can be brought into leaking more and more information down the road.

I’m not going to comment much on Manning’s case, as we know very little verifiable truth about it, but the idea that he leaked a bunch of classified and sensitive material because he was gay is just goofy.  From his own statements, he was an idealist who found out that governments are not always perfectly honest with their own citizens and then he decided to help the USA with its truth problem by divulging what he (in his infinite wisdom) deemed fit to release.  As anyone with a clearance would tell you, that boy was doing something he knew could get him put in prison for a long time.  He’s no innocent, no matter what Glenn Greenwald may portray (not that it justifies 8 months in solitary confinement pre-trial by any stretch).

It seems to me that, once DADT is repealed, gays will be much less prone to blackmail than they were in the 1980s, and therefore no longer a security risk.  This will bring the military in line with every other part of the federal government, which stopped considering gays as security risks long ago.

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Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

John McCain mentioned this weekend that most of the people on talk shows have never served in the military.  He said this in the context of condemning them for being out of touch with the needs of the military vis a vis Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  It made me curious.  What talk show hosts, if any, have served in the military?  I wandered through a truly stupendous number of reference articles and was completely unsurprised to find that the only current talk show host veteran is Regis Philbin, who was in the Navy.  Montel Williams, although not currently on television, had the most interesting military career – he was an enlisted Marine and went to Annapolis to become a Navy officer, eventually learning Russian at DLI and serving on submarines.  The only other surprise (because I was not at all surprised that Rush Limbaugh got a draft deferrment from Vietnam) was that Anderson Cooper spent a couple summers as an intern at the CIA.  Not military service, but did you know that Anderson Cooper worked for the intelligence community, even part-time?  Weird.

Senator McCain is correct that the talk shows are populated by people who have never served in the military.  But, they don’t make decisions about the military – Congress does.  I find it much more illustrative that 75% of the members of both houses are non-veterans.  Chickenhawks and bleeding hearts alike – odds are that they didn’t serve a day before spouting about what is best for the military.  As someone who generally finds the current GOP reprehensible, it annoys me further that only one of the freshman class of Democratic Senators is a vet, and none of the freshman Representatives.  Have liberal veterans simply given up on elected office?  One more data point added to my tally of “Reasons the Democratic Party is Spineless.”

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Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

In 1989, I enlisted in the Army, partly because the economy in California was in the dumper. In 1992, I reenlisted for much the same reasons, although the rest of the country had generally recovered from the Reagan-era recession by that time. I thought it was odd that California, a state which by many estimates could be in the top ten countries’ economic stature, would be in such doldrums. California has transportation, tourism, energy production, entertainment, manufacturing, agriculture – in short, everything you need for a robust state. Yet, it continues to be hammered harder and sooner and for a longer period than most of the rest of the country even today. So, the 1980s aerospace collapse isn’t the only reason; there must be some explanation for why California seems incapable of maintaining a healthy economy.

Over the years, as I grew older and more curious, I discovered what seems the most likely explanation: Californians hate taxes but love spending. Since states can’t spend into deficit territory like the federal government can (too bad CA can’t issue money, eh?), they must balance the budget. So, every one of those propositions people vote for has to come from somewhere. I dug around a bit more and discovered the proximate cause of this insane situation: Proposition 13. Whenever someone would talk about how crazy high the housing prices in California were, I would opine about Prop 13 and the caps on property taxes and the 2% limit on valuation increases per annum and the disincentive to selling and friction in the housing market and their eyes would glaze over. When the housing bubble burst and friends and family lost jobs, businesses, and homes, I would think back to the Proposition 13 consequences and commercial properties paying a lower percentage of the taxes every year due to shell corporations and other legal legerdemain. But, I had a hard time tying all the pieces together for my friends who have never lived in California, and I didn’t have a great summary of how far the state has fallen, from the great public schools that my older sister went to in 1974 until the much deprived public schools that my younger sister went to in 1990.

Now, I’ve come across a journalist who writes a very concise and cogent explanation of exactly what went wrong with the California economy. If you’re curious about how the Golden State has become the Gilded State in a mere 30 years, you should read it. I find it interesting that CA had a large budget surplus, and Moonbeam Brown wanted to hoard it, which caused the Governor Ronnie backlash in 1978. Talk about unintended consequences.

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Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

I had the vinyl of this, but all my vinyl disappeared when I joined the Army – it either ended up thrown away or in my brother’s house, and there’s no expectation I’ll see the licorice pizzas ever again.  But, the song is one I’ve been hoping to find digitally for years, and now I’m just giving up. It’s a 12 minute megamix of a crazy assortment of hip hop and rap from 1985, which was called (if I remember correctly) LA Beats Megamix or something like that. Not only is this classic of the era completely missing from any online store, it’s even missing from many people’s memories. Many of the songs which are part of the mix don’t seem to have been preserved even as lyrics on the web today.

The Knights of the Turntable section, from their classic Techno Scratch, is remembered fondly. But what about the section in vocoder that says, “don’t be afraid of these vicious beats” – where is the tribute to that band, whose name even I forget?  Let me up freak, get me some juice, indeed! You only came to the party to rock shock and dance… Ah, memories.

If you’re reading this anywhere but at my actual blog, the little streaming player won’t show up for you.

 

Download MP3

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May. 18th, 2009 06:50 pm

Two Years

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Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

Although I question the existence of a “date-aversary” as much as I question the existence of “Sweetest Day,” I have to point out that my bride is fabulous. It’s hard to believe that it’s only been two years since we first met, as we seem to be perfectly compatible at all times. This level of consistent happiness is something I wish everyone could experience.

Remember, when people say, “relationships are hard,” they’re lying. Only bad relationships are hard.

Now, just five more months until our first anniversary. That’s paper, right? Ooh, origami!

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Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

Do cell phones make schedules permanently flexible?  Is the very concept of a fixed meeting time completely outdated?

Some people believe everyone has a cell phone with them at all times.  This means that, if you’re running late, you can reschedule on the fly.  As a corollary, it seems that a distinct lack of respect for other people’s schedules is common.  After all, you can always reschedule everything on the fly, as well.

Since I don’t have a mobile phone, I don’t understand this attitude.  To me, a decision to meet at 10am at the corner of Hollywood and Vine means exactly that.  To others, it means to try to meet at 10am, but maybe 1pm, and maybe in Santa Barbara.  Hey, it’s all good, right?

What have cell phones done to our society, for good or ill?

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Dec. 31st, 2006 10:02 pm

Same Old

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Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

Two bombs went off at midnight in Bangkok, Thailand. This is part of a series of eight bombs during the night there.  Happy New Year.

Dustin Donica, a 22-year-old Specialist in the U.S. Army from Spring (a town near Houston), is the 3000th confirmed American fatality in Iraq.  Happy New Year.

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