Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sequestration and Self Inflicted Wounds

Sequester is a funny word.


It’s typically not a word you’d use in daily conversation, unless you’re maybe a bankruptcy lawyer, or a monk.

In general usage, sequester means to seclude or hide away – which, come to think of it, is starting to sound like a pretty good idea.

As a legal term, sequester describes the process of taking valuable property into custody by the court for safekeeping, typically during ownership disputes in order to prevent the property from being destroyed or disposed of improperly.

In the context of the US Congress, sequester is defined as an act of lewd acrobats involving a senator, a underage prostitute, a tube of KY-Jelly, and a squid.




OK, you got me, I might have just made up that last bit.

But, see, likely my flippant definition of the pending crisis is probably just as good as any other.

For the most part, research indicates that Americans have a vague idea that Sequestration is bad, and that we probably ought to blame somebody for it, and that it probably involves the federal government (and maybe a squid), but they really have no idea of the details

A poll published by The Hill on Feb. 11 found that only thirty-six percent of voters could define the Sequester even in the most general terms. Thirty-eight percent thought they knew, but were wrong when questioned in detail. Twenty percent thought the Sequester had something to do with the debt limit – which is incorrect.  Eight percent thought Sequester referred to some kind of ruling by SCOTUS on the budget – it doesn’t and there is no such case.

And, you know, you can hardly blame Americans for their ignorance, since the 2010 elections it’s been one artificially spawned “crisis” after another – from the Fiscal Cliff to the Mayan Apocalypse. It’s getting hard to keep them straight.  Sequester is just the most recent weird word in a long line of weird words, describing an arcane concept most people have little understanding of and less experience with. And to make it even more confusing, congressional leaders who were just last week describing to us just how awful Sequestration is, are now suddenly telling us, wait, hang on, Obama says it’s bad, so it must be good.

We’ve always been at war with Eastasia, right? Or was it Eurasia? I forget.

For most Americans, the Sequester set to take effect on Friday is just the latest vaguely defined dire threat in an endless parade of squawking Chicken Littles.  And, hell, Congress already has the next crisis, the reoccurring debt ceiling showdown, scheduled for the end of March – hard to get excited about this one when we’ve got to get the partisan troops ready for the next battle, right?

Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that Sequestration will negatively affect every American (and a lot of non-Americans too) and the vast majority of them know next to nothing about it – in fact, most of us don’t even know where the word Sequester came from or what it means.

The term itself, Sequester, used in the context of the US federal budget originated in the Gramm-Rudman-Hollings Deficit Reduction Act of 1985. The idea behind the act was to make the size of the federal deficit a conscious choice by congress and the president, rather than an accidental result of the  appropriations process. How it works is like this: each year in the annual Budget Resolution, congress must set a limit on the coming year’s deficit and then build the budget around that limit, instead of cranking out the budget first and letting the deficit fall where it may as a result.

In other words, each year it’s up to congress and the president to determine how large the deficit will be for that year (and  by extension, how much larger the national debt will be allowed to grow).

Now most Americans think of the federal budget as some kind of single massive spreadsheet, but in reality it’s a dozen or so appropriation bills that are passed (or not) separately by congress each year. In accordance with Gramm-Rudman-Hollings, if the total amount of government spending in those various appropriation bills exceeds the limits established by congress in the Budget Resolution, and if congress cannot agree on ways to reduce the total amount of expenditures to meet the limit or is unable to pass a new budget resolution with a higher spending limit (that next crisis I mentioned, the one on March 27) then an automatic form of spending cuts is invoked by law.

The automatic cuts are called sequestration.

So, that’s where the term itself, used in the context of the federal budget, comes from.

Now, under sequestration, an amount of money equal  to the difference between the cap set in the Budget Resolution and the total amount actually appropriated is taken back from the government and held in reserve by the Treasury, i.e. this money is not handed over to the agencies to which it was originally allocated by Congress in the various appropriation bills. 

It shouldn’t take a rocket scientist, or a scheming politician, to see all kinds of different ways that sequestration can be abused – and it would be abused, just like the Filibuster is abused by self-serving partisan politicians in the Senate, if there wasn’t some mechanism to prevent it.

So, to prevent sequestration from becoming a way for politicians to carry out personal vendettas against various political targets (both by the left and the right), the money is supposed to be withheld from every government agency equally. That is, every government agency, program, and project gets the same percentage of its projected budget withheld to produce an “across the board” total spending cut in order to make the federal budget for that year meet the limits set by congress in the Budget Resolution. 

In other words, if you force the government into sequestration in order to stick it to the other guys, you automatically screw yourself too. 

In a very nearly literal sense, sequestration is cutting off your nose to spite your face.

Of course, congress immediately exempted certain programs from Sequestration, such as Social Security and selected portions of the Defense budget, and each year since the passage of Gram-Rudman-Hollings congress has added more programs to the exempt list.

However, the total amount of Sequestration remains the delta between the total appropriations passed by congress and the limit that they set for themselves.

What this means in practical terms is that Sequestration has to take back huge chunks of the remaining non-exempt agency and program budgets to meet the total cutbacks required by law. The impact on those agencies is huge.

This sequestration is by definition a failure of congress. 

It is, in point of fact, the result of multiple failures, beginning with the debt-ceiling fight in 2011. Tea Party conservatives, fresh off their electoral victories in the 2010 midterms, demanded one dollar in spending reductions for every dollar of increase in the federal debt ceiling. The resulting congressional brawl nearly crashed the stock market and undermined consumer confidence in the US economy – and as a result S&P downgraded the country’s credit rating for the first time in history.

Eventually congress agreed to raise the US borrowing limit, the so-called debt ceiling.

That agreement resulted in the Budget Control Act which allowed for a $2.4 trillion debt-ceiling increase in return for about the same amount of deficit reduction over the next decade.  Of that two trillion dollar deficit reduction, about half was to be achieved through spending caps on all government functions outside of entitlement programs – that much they managed to agree on.  The rest of the reduction however, was the sticking point.  Congress couldn’t agree where the other trillion and a half dollars was to come from. 

So they punted.

They created a bipartisan (or perhaps “hyperpartisan” would be a better word) commission commonly referred to as the supercommitte to hash it out.

The supercommittee was born of failure, but it could have succeeded. The committee had immense power and special rules that would allow its recommendations to move through congress without the usual delaying tactics. It could have succeeded. But it was deliberately loaded with folks who refused to comprise and who were determined to fail, and fail they did, right on schedule.

And that triggered the Budget Control Act’s self-destruct clause, Sequestration.

But Republicans weren’t worried.

See, they were sure, absolutely sure, that they’d win back the White House, then they wouldn’t have to deal with Barack Obama.  So they crossed their arms and petulantly refused to do their job – and why should they? They get paid the same whether they work or not.

And now here it is, 2013, and they still can’t believe that Obama won reelection.  It pisses them off.  As a result, they’ve decided to make the entire country pay for their humiliation.

And so here we are.

Sequestration was supposed to begin on the first day of this year, but congress managed kick the can down the road two months by finding $24 billion in reductions, which allowed them two additional months to do the job they should have done a year ago. 

Instead, they failed once again.

This year the sequestration totals a hundred billion and change. Since congress has already found twenty-four billion, they still have to cut roughly eighty-six billion out of the rest of the year.  One hundred billion is about two percent of the federal budget.

Two percent doesn’t seem like a lot, does it?

It's amazing how Obama says that life as we know it will end, when the cuts are only 2% of the whole budget. His scare tactics are just about an impeachable offense, because HE is the one who will decide which cuts are to be made. And if he makes the cuts to make the GOP look bad, instead of making cuts which would be good for the country, he WILL be impeached. Even Democrat senators have been saying that

I don’t think the Yahoo! commenter understands what constitutes “an impeachable” offense – and if he wants to impeach somebody, he should start with congress because they’re the ones who put us in this position. His grasp of the Sequester isn’t any better.  

However, the sentiment expressed in his comment seems to be a common perception of the situation.

Two percent doesn’t seem like a lot, but because certain programs are exempt from sequestration, the remaining non-exempt programs will have to provide the entire amount. And those affected programs will likely be severely impacted, if not outright crippled, by the resulting cutbacks because while Sequestration will only take back 2% of the overall federal budget, agencies such as the non-exempt portion of the Defense Department will end up losing more like thirteen percent of their budgets this year. Non-Defense agencies are looking at close to a nine percent cut.

Those are huge numbers, with huge impacts.

Now, in reality of course, most likely there’s no actual money to withhold – because at the moment the government would have to borrow most of it first.  That’s why a number of folks are saying sequestration isn’t really taking anything away from anybody – because they never really had it in the first place so they should be able to live without it.  That’s a massively oversimplified misconception that while in some cases may be superficially true, in many cases it bears no relationship to reality.  See, those agencies were promised that money, via appropriation bills, and they built their budgets around it more than a year ago, i.e. the Navy ordered ships and scheduled deployments and dry dock repairs, and the Air Force ordered planes and let contracts for repairs on their buildings, and various agencies, programs, and projects hired people and ordered office supplies and bound themselves to contracts and other financial obligations.  State programs such as schools, fire departments, police forces, food and shelter programs, transportation departments, and so on were all promised federal money and they planned accordingly.  And this includes all those Congressional pork barrel projects that everybody hates in other states, but somehow can’t live without in their own. And not all states are affected equally, the poorest states – and ironically the reddest and therefore the ones most opposed to federal spending – are the ones most dependent on the Federal government for police, fire, school, and social services funding.

Now the rules of Sequestration allow for very little latitude when it comes to withholding funds – by law, the cuts are supposed to affect every non-exempt department, agency, program, and project. It was designed that way. 

Sequestration is supposed to be painful.

It’s supposed to be a used only as a last ditch, emergency option when all else has failed.

There is no reason for this. Obama could cut a lot of other things. He is lying again, and purposely cutting really necessary things pretending there is nothing else to cut, in a desperate attempt to keep us form cutting everything we need to. Obama is evil. He is now cutting things we DO need. Impeach and JAIL this MF. Obama is out of his mind. Now he wants to cut necessary things instead of all the things that can easily be cut. He's doing this to scare people into thinking things can't be cut. Obama is so EVIL. We need to cut tons, and letting illegal detainees go like Obama wants to do is NOT one of them. Obama is a criminal! Impeach and jail him!

Why is he [Obama]shutting down airports?!! Usual lib scar tactics is what it is! Give me more of money or I’ll shut down your airport! Want to be all the airports he shuts are in RED states???? What a crock!

Those comments were under a Yahoo! article on the Sequester, the same one I linked to above.  They’re two of thousands of similar comments I’ve read or heard elsewhere, including from supposedly informed commentators and news personalities.  What these people, and indeed a significant fraction of Americans in general, don’t seem to understand is that when sequestration goes into effect, neither the president nor congress gets to pick and choose what gets cut and what doesn’t.

With a handful of exemptions, sequestration cuts all departments, agencies, programs, and projects across the board. 

That’s whole point of Sequestration.

Now, some of those programs and projects can’t be cut back, they either have to be funded in whole or they’ll have to be shut down altogether. 

Let me give you an example. 

In the second comment above, the writer was outraged about cuts to air traffic controllers. I saw a thousand comments just like this one on various Tea Party sites and under various new articles.  What these people fail to realize is that a) many small regional airports are already running with the absolute minimum number of personal required by law to operate, and b) the sequester applies to all agencies equally by law – including Air Traffic Controllers.  The Department of Transportation doesn’t get a choice, by congressional design, the president is not allowed to favor one area over another. Therefore all airports will have their federal employees furloughed by the same percentage – and air traffic controllers are federal employees.  In a number of cases this drops the total number of controllers below the thresholds where it’s safe to operate, so the airports either have to shut down or operate part time. And it’s not just the controllers, it’s the security folks, and the safety inspectors, and so on, and in many cases it’s just not possible to go into part time operation, you can’t start the facility up and shut it down over and over. Hell, from the standpoint of airline scheduling alone, it’s just not practical because the systems are simply too complex with too many moving parts and there isn’t enough leeway.  For example, what if weather forces a delay at a small regional airport, pushing scheduled flights past the point where the tower can be manned and into the time where the airport has to shut down? The passengers, and the expensive plane, would be stranded until the airport can open up again.  Yeah, but can’t the tower guys just work overtime or something? No. Not only no, but hell no. In fact they could be arrested for working when they’re supposed to be on furlough.  No airline can take the risk of operating under these conditions, and neither can an airport for liability reasons. So they’ll have to shut down. 

Another example: USDA food inspectors. If Sequestration goes into effect, 8,400 meat inspectors will have to be furloughed for a total of fifteen days to meet the reduced budget constrains for their agency.  Meat processing plants can’t operate without inspectors for what should be very obvious reasons.  There is a minimum number of inspectors required for each shift at each plant. In a lot of cases, it is impossible to run the plant at reduced capacity, for the most part they simply aren’t designed that way – it’s like running an entire GM assembly line to make one car. So the plants will have to be idled on the days where there aren’t enough inspectors to fill all the shifts. So not only do the federal inspectors lose work, so do the meat packers, and the food plant – which means they all pay less taxes, which means the government has even less money to pay its bills The president doesn’t get the option of keeping the inspectors on at the expense of some other area of the USDA, he can’t take money from salmon research or vaccination programs to pay meat inspectors, because Congress has specifically denied him that flexibility. And again, it was designed that way to prevent either congress or the president from using sequestration to kill or fund partisan programs. 

Likewise, you can’t build a navy ship at reduced capacity – the process is already just about as lean as it can get. There are literally millions, millions, of  subassemblies and supplies and projects that all have to meet to build a ship on schedule and within budget. A delay anywhere in that process will snarl hundreds of timelines.  You’re going to have to idle the entire shipyard and reprogram. There’s just no way around it. If you think there is, you simply have no grasp of the enormous scope and complexity of what it takes to build a modern warship.

There is very little flexibility in sequestration because the process isn’t supposed to be used.

Sequestration is supposed to be the nuclear option, the option with such catastrophic consequences that anything else is preferable – including sitting down at the table with your political opposition and doing your goddamned job.

Using Sequestration to cut government spending is exactly like slamming into a wall and depending on your car’s airbag so that you don’t have to fix the brakes.

It’s stupid and dangerous and as I’ve said, exactly like cutting off your own nose.

Speaker of the House, John Boehner, denounced President Obama, saying, “He’s is going all over the country holding rallies instead of sitting down with Senate leaders. We have moved a bill in the House twice. We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something.”

I don’t necessarily disagree with the sentiment, but still, that’s pretty funny, coming from congress. You know, the folks who gave themselves the last ten days off.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said Obama “needs stop campaigning" and stop trying to "scare" people over the looming sequester cuts. "It's time for the president to show leadership. Every governor here has had to balance their budget during tough economic times, every family has to balance their budget. The reality is it can be done. It can be done without jeopardizing the economy, it can be done without jeopardizing critical services."

And that’s even funnier, given that no state – most especially Louisiana – has ever balanced its budget without federal dollars, especially one still shoveling its way out from under one of the most devastating hurricanes to ever hit an American city.  Who exactly pays the lion’s share of Jindal’s critical services? I’ll give you one guess. Is Jindal saying that he’s prepared to have the state of Louisiana step up and pay the difference when Sequestration takes back funding for his police, firemen, schools, and hurricane repairs?  I’m hip. Sounds good, let’s take him up on it.

And it’s not just Louisiana, according the White House's figures, Pennsylvania will lose $26.4 million in funding for education, while New Jersey will lose $11.7 million and Delaware will lose $1.4 million. In addition, the estimated numbers of civilian jobs that could see furloughs are 26,000 for Pennsylvania, 11,000 for New Jersey, and 2,000 for Delaware. Funding will be cut for some social programs related to daycare, Head Start, meals for seniors, vaccinations for children, and educators who work with the disabled.  What state has the excess funding to make up those shortfalls?  Especially this far into the fiscal year?  I notice that Governor Jindal and his fellow state executives haven’t mentioned any of that to their citizens.

"This is not time for a road-show president," House Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said.

Wrong, this is exactly the time.  The governors aren’t doing it, so somebody has to.

The President isn’t engaged in scare tactics, he’s doing his job telling you, the American citizen, what the consequences of Sequester are going to be. And you should be informed, you should be scared, you should know full well how it’s going to affect everything from your job to your fire department to the food you put in your mouth. Because it is going to affect you, it’s going to affect everybody. And you need to know that. You, the voting citizen need to know that, you need to know because we live in a republic and while Congress refuses to listen to the President, they might just listen to you.

Because that’s how America is supposed to work.

You can’t afford to remain ignorant of the details of Sequestration.

The consequences of Sequestration are dire in the extreme, it was designed to be that way, and in point of fact if the consequences aren’t extreme then congress is in violation of the law.

By  definition, sequestration means that the United States congress has failed in its primary duty – which is why a significant fraction of congress is trying to pretend like this whole thing wasn’t their idea in the first place and that the effects will be limited. 

Then why did you sign [Sequestration] into law Mr. President? Because you made a political miscalculation thinking that the GOP would never allow such defense cuts and that their concession on this bill would allow you to again raise taxes? Whoops.

The commenter is correct.  Obama did underestimate conservatives – he didn’t think they’d be suicidal or insane enough to actually risk crashing the economy of the United States, maybe even the whole world, to make a political point.

Obama underestimated just how much conservatives hate him and how far they are willing to go because of it.

Of course, just like the last crisis, and the one before that, just like the recent fight over Chuck Hagel’s nomination, it’s all a game.

Conservatives will, in the end, make a deal. Very likely they’ll end up giving President Obama what he wants, at least to some extent. But not before they’ve made their point, not before they’ve caused gas prices to go up and stock prices to fall, not before they’ve risked yet another downgrade to America’s credit rating. Not before they’ve idled 700,000 American workers who can least afford it and not before they’ve driven the wedge that divides this country just a little deeper into its heart. But eventually, they’ll deal, they have no choice because they’ve already lost and they know it. And that’s what galls them the most.

Every American, left and right, should be appalled that it’s finally come down to this.

Every American, left and right, should be appalled by this continuous and unending state of self inflicted crisis.

And it is long past time to stop playing games.

It is long past time for congress to stop causing the problems and start fixing them.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Old Yellow Stain: A Tragedy In One Act

The Caine Mutiny is a book that everybody should read.

It’s one of my very favorite novels – and not just because I spent most of my life in the Navy.

On the surface, the book is a war story that chronicles the misery of life aboard a US Navy mine sweeper on patrol in the Pacific during World War II.

At its core, of course, The Caine Mutiny is a coming of age story.

The book follows Willie Keith from callow youth to admirable adulthood against the backdrop of war. The story is told in three pieces, beginning with Keith’s misadventures in training where as midshipman he’s a lousy student who earns the greatest number of demerits in academy history, the middle part where as an immature boot ensign he is assigned to USS Caine’s wardroom and is witness to the events that won the book’s author, Herman Wouk, the 1952 Pulitzer Prize, finally the story ends with Keith as the ship’s last commander and the respected seasoned officer who takes the old destroyer home to New York to be scrapped at the end of the war.

The story is about Willie Keith, but it’s Captain Philip Francis Queeg that everyone remembers.

They remember it because in 1954, Hollywood made the novel’s second act, an adaption of the play The Caine Mutiny Court Martial, into an instant silver screen classic starring Humphrey Bogart as Queeg.

Sixty years later, Bogie’s masterful portrayal of Lt Commander Queeg’s descent into madness is every bit as disturbing as it was the day the movie premiered. We watch as Queeg oscillates between lucid authoritarian commander to crazed outbursts of paranoid accusations against his crew. The bizarre “crime” of the missing strawberries, the steel balls, Queeg’s mental breakdown during the hurricane and the mutiny itself are all uncomfortable enough, as is the resulting court martial – but the truly chilling part is that not only are you watching a man, a fellow human being, disintegrate under the enormous stresses of war, but you’re watching it happen to a once respected figure of trust and authority, the very person the crew looked to for courage and guidance and calm sanity in the most dire of circumstance.

This is the Captain speaking, some misguided sailors on this ship still think they can pull a fast one on me. Well, they are very much mistaken! Since you've taken this course, the innocent will be punished with the guilty! There will be no liberty for any member of this crew for three months. I will not be made a fool of! Do you hear me!

Madness, if you’ve never seen it, the slow dissolution of sanity into all consuming obsession, furtive paranoia, and unpredictable irrationality, is terrible to witness.

Especially when it happens to someone that we should respect and admire and look to for calm and reasoned guidance.

“I have seen a number of occasions around here where people have stayed too long…”
                                      - Senator John McCain (R-AZ).

Speaking of mad people who have stayed too long.

Since the recent elections, I’ve watched John McCain with an increasing sense of unease and disbelief.

And I don’t think I’m the only one.

And now, with McCain’s most recent outburst of paranoia, I can’t help but be reminded of the unfortunate Captain Queeg.

Frankly, at this point, I’ve lost track of John McCain’s position on the Chuck Hagel nomination for Secretary of Defense – is McCain for Hagel? Or against Hagel? Or does McCain think somebody asked him if he wanted breakfast? Eh? What’s that, sonny? A bagel? Damn it, speak up!

First McCain was against a filibuster but then he was for a filibuster or maybe he’s actually against a filibuster as long as there’s sufficient delay but meanwhile McCain is resigned to Hagel being confirmed while at the same time McCain claims he and Chuck are “friends” but Hagel is incompetent and unqualified and a lousy excuse for an American however nobody should question Hagel’s character.

You could get whiplash trying to keep up with it.

Last week, before the Senate put on their party clothes and left Washington for two weeks to celebrate President’s Day and the impending economic implosion of the federal government (because really woohoo, right?), McCain went on Fox News (of course) and had this to say about the republican obstructionism of Hagel’s nomination:

To be honest with you, Neil [Fox’s Neil Cavuto], it goes back to there's a lot of ill will towards Sen. Hagel because when he was a Republican, he attacked President Bush mercilessly and said he was the worst president since Herbert Hoover and said the surge was the worst blunder since the Vietnam War, which was nonsense. He was anti-his own party and people. People don't forget that. You can disagree but if you're disagreeable, people don't forget that.

Back when Hagel was a republican?

Isn’t Chuck Hagel still a republican? Or has he been excommunicated from the Church of Conservatism?

Didn’t the liberal President of the United States nominate a conservative, a highly decorated war veteran who still carries shrapnel in his chest, a Republican, for Secretary of Defense?  Maybe Obama should have nominated John Kerry instead, Republicans suddenly seem to love him – almost as much as they’re sweet on Hillary Clinton.

It’s a topsy turvy world nowadays, isn’t it, Folks?

Then there’s that bit about “anti his own people.” Anti his own people? In John McCain’s tortured mind, who exactly are Chuck Hagel’s own people? Veterans? Republicans? Israelis? Americans? Who? Who did Hagel betray exactly? George Bush? I.e. the guy who questioned McCain’s own sanity and patriotism and character during the 2000 republican presidential primaries, that George Bush? Seriously?

And finally, you can disagree but if you’re disagreeable, people don’t forget that?

So, it’s personal then, right? McCain’s nursing a grudge?

A few days later McCain went on Meet The Press and host David Gregory asked him point blank about his accusation that the Obama Administration was engaged in a “massive cover-up.”

Gregory asked simply, "A cover-up of what?"

McCain responded by accusing Gregory of not caring about the deaths of four Americans.

Nonplused, Gregory gamely tried to keep McCain on target, "You said there is a cover-up. A cover-up of what?"

McCain, in his best Old Man Yelling At Clouds impression thundered, "Of the information concerning the deaths of four brave Americans!"

Six month McCain has been digging into this thing and that’s the best he can do?  I believe there’s a cover up because four Americans died and they died because there’s a cover up, damn it!

I was really starting to wonder if Johnny Walnuts was going to go Captain Queeg on us right there:

…Ahh, but the strawberries that's, that's where I had them! They laughed at me and made jokes, but I proved beyond the shadow of a doubt and with geometric logic that a duplicate key to the wardroom icebox did exist!

I was just waiting for McCain to fish a couple of ball bearings out of his pocket. The strawberries! The strawberries! Clink! Clink!

McCain finished up the interview by telling Gregory,

He [Hagel] is my friend. He will be confirmed. I don’t believe he is qualified, but I don’t believe that we should hold up his nomination any further because I think it is a reasonable amount of time to have questions answered.”

McCain considers Hagel a friend?

And McCain believes that Hagel will be confirmed.

And he’s not the only one.

See, McCain’s other friends, fifteen of them led by Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) and fourteen other Republican senators sent a letter to President Obama today, demanding that he withdraw Hagel’s nomination. The logic apparently being that Chuck will most certainly be confirmed as McCain predicted, but without broad support by Hagel’s erstwhile pals in the Republican party.  With friends like these … but I digress.

"In the history of this position, none has ever been confirmed with more than eleven opposing votes"

That’s what those fifteen senators told President Obama.

It’s not that a Secretary of Defense can’t be confirmed with more than eleven opposing votes, it’s just that it’s never been done before. So you probably don’t want to do it, eh, Mr. President? Probably be best if you just withdraw the nomination, for the good of the country and all. We’re about to crash the economy, again, and decapitate the Defense Department, but you, sir, you should do what’s right for America.


Republicans can’t beat Obama, and they can’t win in their own forum, so they asked the president to forfeit the game – just so they can have their strawberry ice cream and eat it too.

In a city chock full of god damned things, that’s the god damnest thing I’ve seen yet.

Funny, apparently John McCain won’t be one of the dissenting republican votes.

Because for McCain it’s really not about Israel, or Benghazi, or even Chuck Hagel.

See, because for McCain it is personal, isn’t it?

McCain is still smarting from his thrashing at the hands of Barack Obama. 

McCain’s poorly captained campaign and his choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate is the political equivalent of Queeg running over his ship’s own towline. 

And just like Queeg, McCain still refuses to admit his mistake. He knows he was wrong, he knows it cost him his election and his credibility. He, war hero, son of admirals, fighter pilot, patriot, warrior, experienced politician, soundly beaten by a jug-eared inexperienced liberal from Chicago. America picked Obama over him. Now, that’s got to leave a few bruises.

And McCain’s shame is Queeg’s yellow dye marker, a stain in the water visible for all to see.

And it grows, day by day. Obama was reelected and every day it’s like a knife twisting in John McCain’s guts, like bamboo under his fingernails, and water poured up his nose. Every success Obama enjoys is torture for John McCain. 

Like Queeg it gnaws at him, that impotent rage and hot eyed embarrassment, and, by God, the innocent will be punished along with the guilty and John McCain will not be made a fool of!


Wouk’s story is now sixty years old, but it endures mostly because it was based, in part, on his own experience as a naval officer onboard destroyer-minesweepers during World War Two. The Caine Mutiny was one of hundreds of similar books written after the war by those that were there, but while many of those works are now forgotten, what makes The Caine Mutiny timeless is this: Queeg, for all his flaws and his cowardice and his insanity, was a tragic figure. He was a man who had served his country when it wasn’t popular. He was a navy man who stood the watch in the dark and dangerous parts of the world, who had sweated and labored and earned his way to a commission and a command – and who had finally broken under the strain.

The real tragedy here is that John McCain, senator, war hero, is somebody we should be able to look up to, somebody we should be able to respect and admire.  Someone whose sage and steady counsel we should be able to seek.

Instead John McCain has almost literally become a caricature of himself, a raging Queeg, dangerous and unpredictable, driven by voices only he can hear. Clink Clink.

He has become a man who has stayed far too long.

And like Queeg, if he’s not relieved, soon, he may very well capsize the ship in the coming hurricane.


The first thing you've got to learn about this ship is that she was designed by geniuses to be run by idiots.
             - Lt Tom Keefer USN, USS Caine, The Caine Mutiny

Monday, February 18, 2013

Bang Bang Crazy, Part 6


A week after the Aurora, Colorado shootings I wrote a piece about gun violence.

I never intended it to be an ongoing series.

But then there was another mass shooting.

And so I wrote a follow up.

And then there was another mass shooting. And another follow up.

And another after that.

And another.

And here we are, a year and six essays later and I can't see where it ends or how many more installments I'll have to write.

The only thing for certain is that there will indeed be more entries in this series – and in fact I’ve already started writing part seven.

Tens of thousands of people have read these posts - or at least pieces of them - and left hundreds of comments here on Stonekettle Station. They've shared some or all of the series across Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and on the various blogs and forums they haunt. I've gotten email, boy, have I gotten email, some in support, some in vehement disagreement, some threatening violence or even legal action (beats me, I'm still waiting to hear from their lawyers). Not a day goes by that I don't get messages from people I've never met pointing me toward reports of more violence, or the NRA's latest hysteria, or even examples of how guns save lives and enrich the perennial American experience. People that I know personally and have been good friends with for many, many years have completely lost their minds over this issue, and they forward me one panicked chain-email after another describing in 24pt bold underlined italic font how the “gun grabbers” are destroying America. I've lost friends. I've lost readers (and gained a few too). I've been asked to speak in front of a number of different groups and I've accepted a few offers to do so. I hear from gun lovers and gun haters and I've been called everything from a "typical America hating liberal" for what I've written here to a "murdering Bush conservative" because I happen to be a veteran and gun owner myself, from a "true American patriot" to a "fucking Nazi traitor" with stops at every point in between.

Not even Jesus and Abortion can get Americans, Left and Right, riled up to the level of frothy insanity the way guns can.

And it's not just the gun nuts you know.

It's not just the gun nuts who are bang bang crazy.

Nor is it just the gun grabbers either.

And it's not just those hardcore yellow-eyed fanatics who have elevated the Constitution to Holy Writ and the Second Amendment to divine license.

It's the other folks too, the ones I’m about to piss right off.

Seems there’s plenty of bang bang crazy to go around.

Apparently it just depends on the target of gun violence:

- Just another ruse by the conservatives in an effort to show the public that minorities are not to be trusted in a position of authority. Even those that deceive the public with their selfless contribution to country and state..

- Poor guy never got to tell his side of the story. They took him out, before the real truth could come out. R.I.P.

- It was a single shot from a sniper ... Why you think they set the cabin on fire . There was no intentions on letting him surrender period !!!!!.

- Just the First Battle of America's beginning Class War primarily between the ultra arrogant government Bully Class and the Working Class.

- The First Battle in America's Second Civil War, a Class War, has been fought and there are casualties. [he] had been in a Higher Class and was crushed down into a lower Class. After five years he realized that his life was ruined. He declared War on the Upper Class. Like most Class Wars this War will be a War of No Quarter and No Mercy.

- What killing rampage? It was all a hoax..

- Hope they don't kill him to keep him from talking. Cops and the military have a history of doing that.

These comments are of course talking about the violent death of Christopher Dorner, ex-navy officer, ex-cop, serial killer, domestic terrorist, who held Southern California at gunpoint for the last week.

On February 12th, Dorner died in a burning cabin in the San Bernardino Mountains - exactly how he died is still under investigation as I write this. Initial reports indicate that he was shot in the head, whether by his own hand or somebody else’s has yet to be determined. But, he didn’t burn to death as some would like to have it. I don’t know if that makes it better or not, but it seems to me that “burned to death by renegade police” is martyr country, “shot himself in the head to avoid arrest” isn’t.  Others may certainly see it differently – and obviously do.

However he died, a significant number of people are suddenly willing to promote Christopher Dorner to hero status.

He stood up to an oppressive government! He fought to the death with honor and courage and dignity! He fired the opening shots of a new civil war, rich against poor, black against white, freedom against The Man, downtrodden against elite, the oppressed against the tyrants!

If these people spontaneously break into a rousing hard rock rendition of The Hero of Canton (The Man They Call Jayne) I won’t be even vaguely surprised at this point.

Good grief, have we Americans truly fallen so far that this is the kind of guy we look up to?

Suddenly a mind boggling conglomeration of lefties and righties and various conspiracy nutters are coalescing around the idea that somehow Christopher Dorner is some kind of hero.

Honestly, how is that possible?

- Where did you get all this info on the people he is suppose to have killed??? Oh yeah, The LAPD, ones directly associated with Dorner's wrongful termination for whistle blowing!!! I was like you the first day, mad as heck he could justify killing the daughter but then I started looking around and realized chances are he never killed anyone except cops that shot at him first...

Well, yeah, except for that part were Dorner himself said he’d “have to kill to clear his name.”

Or the part where he was identified by numerous video cameras and witnesses which included the various people he assaulted, car jacked, tied up, and shot at.

Or the fact that even his own mother and sisters have reason to believe it was him and that he did everything the police say he did.

But yeah, you, Random Outraged Person From the Internet, you know him better than they do. Right.

-  they keep saying he went down in a blazing gun battle??? Baloney!!!Dorner hit what he shot at if he had been able to shoot he would have killed a dozen of them...They burned his body up to most likely hide a torturous death. I think they got their hands on him, why else would they order the media out of there and also let all the evidence burn up???.

Except for that part where there was a major gun battle.

Or that part where Dorner didn’t hit everything he aimed at.

Or that part where there’s no evidence whatsoever to support the idea that “they” got “their” hands on “him.”

- Rest in peace DORNER.Wake up dum fuck small time cops.Get a life dum cops.

More than twenty jurisdictions and police departments were involved in the hunt for Dorner, which ones are “dum fuck small time cops” that need to get a life? (Also, if you can’t spell “dumb” I’d be careful using it to describe others, I’m just saying). They were all corrupt, right? Every one of those cops? Even the one that Dorner shot and killed while running into the wood? You know, the one who left behind a wife and two young children?

Funny isn’t it? After 9-11, cops and firefighters were heroes, and rightly so.  People across the country wore police T-shirts and sang their praises, and still do. I saw one in the store this morning.

How come the terrorists who felt completely justified in their actions on 9-11 aren’t heroes too? They had just as much complaint against the US as Chris Dorner did, probably more, racism, economic disenfranchisement, occupation, invasion, murdered relatives, how come they aren’t heroes too? Why isn’t a confederation of liberals and conservatives and angry libertarians protesting for their rights on the steps of the New York court house today?

Fickle sons of bitches, aren’t we?

- The $1 million dollar reward was for the capture and prosecution of this guy. From the sound of that, is seems that they had no intention of bringing him back alive. No prosecution, no reward. Sounds a little fishy, this guy must have had some low down on someone. I have never heard of a $1 million dollar reward for anyone since I've been around..

Oh, since you’ve been around, eh? Well, then, since you, Random Yahoo Commenter, haven’t heard of a million dollar reward before, well, obviously it must all be a conspiracy!

Except for that part where there are many, many rewards in that price range, say like that $2 Million dollar reward the FBI offered for Whitey Bulger, or the $5 Million they offer for those on the most wanted list, or the $25 Million they’re offering for Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Maybe you should get around a little more, before commenting, I’m just saying.

- LAPD said they didn't intentionally burn the cabin. Whats wrong with telling the truth. Even swinging dick knows the cabin was set ablaze intentionally!!

Well, sure, except for that part where maybe the truth could possibly be that instead of firing bullets into the cabin, the police fired a tear gas canister into the cabin. 

I mean, really, if they wanted to kill him, really kill him, why bother with the tear gas at all?

Now, I’ve only had twenty years of anti-terrorism and security experience but it seems to me that if the police really wanted Dorner dead, for certain, they’d have tossed in a grenade or two or three, instead of tear gas. 

Maybe, and here’s an idea, the police were sick and tired of being shot at.  

I dunno, maybe the police hoped to drive Dorner out of the cabin so that he could be taken alive without any more people other than Dorner getting killed. And maybe those tear gas burners were the best way to accomplish that.  Sure would be nice if tactical tear gas canisters didn’t require heat, but they do.  That’s just the way it is.  But, then again, I’m sure everybody on the CNN, Yahoo, and Fox News forums, and those protesting in front of the LA Mayor’s Office this morning, know that because they’re all obviously experts in special weapons tactics. 

But yeah, Random Person With All The Answers And No Actual Experience, you’re probably right, cops should have to just stand there and take rounds.

Sure. Good luck finding somebody to fill that job, because really, fuck you.

The simple truth of the matter is this, it isn’t TV.  Gary Sinese isn’t going to show up and offer some squinty eyed pithy platitude and the bad guy just curls up and admits everything. It just doesn’t work that way. Dorner was crazy mad, he was determined, and he was well aware of how this was going to go down. There was no way he didn’t. He was trained that way.

The police finally had Dorner cornered and they damned well weren’t going to let him escape.  Which is exactly correct. And you, the public, should be goddamned grateful that it worked out exactly that way, because it usually doesn’t.  They had Dorner cornered. They had him cornered by himself. No hostages. Hostage taking was something Dorner repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to do. Along with allowing innocent people to suffer the consequences of his rampage.

There was, and would be, no better time to end it without any further risk to the public. Something you’ll recall is a police officer’s sworn duty, to protect the public. 

Standard procedure in such a situation is to end it, with the suspect alive if possible, but end it nonetheless.  And end it without any further police or public lives lost. Period. And that is just exactly what happened. 

Again, ex-police officer Christopher Dorner knew exactly how that standoff was going to go down. There was no way he couldn’t have known. And he could have changed the outcome at any time, but he didn’t.

That’s completely and totally on him and nobody else.

- Notice how Dorner didn't kill any of the others he encountered. He could have made it if he had killed the cleaning ladies or that carjacking victum. He was no monster at all. He beef was entirely with the LAPD and anything spawn from it!!!

- I love you Dorner. I am going to find out where you are buried and bring roses and other special gifts. You stood for the weak and suffering when the odd man would have just walked away!!! Nothing good is coming for the LAPD in the future; strictly regarding this incident. I also pry for the cops who died while just doing their duty. But all others were fail game!!!

I love you Chris.

He didn’t kill anybody that didn’t have it coming. 

He was no monster at all. 

I pray for the cops who died just doing their duty, but all the others were fair game.

Fair game.

Right.  Except for that one little part where Dorner begin his campaign of retribution by killing Monica Quan and Keith Lawrence for no reason other than to take revenge on a cop he maybe had an imagined beef with.  I guess you forgot about that little detail.

Answer me this, in what bizarre fantasy land does the hero go around offing the innocent children of his enemies? What hero shoots a woman and her boyfriend while they’re sitting in a car? People who did nothing to him. Nothing. What hero plots this, for five years?  The only reason for this is to make the father suffer, to exact terrible revenge, to engage in terror.

This wasn’t justice, it was retribution.

It was cold blooded murder and terrorism of the very worst kind – it was killing kids to punish their parents

No matter how wrong Dorner may or may not have been done, nothing justifies his actions.

Nothing, nothing, excuses this. Nothing. 

While you’re at it, answer another question for me, how do you tell the cops that were just doing their duty from the ones that had it coming? Because I’m a little hazy on that whole part.  Especially there at the end where it was the San Bernardino Police that surrounded the cabin but somehow it’s the Los Angeles Police who have divine retribution coming for killing Christopher Dorner, how’s that work exactly?

Christopher Dorner murdered people. Murdered them. He wounded others. He carjacked a guy at gun point. He tied up an 81 year old man. He broke into people’s houses and tied them up and and stole their property.  He’s responsible for all of it. Him personally.

I guess we’re all just supposed to be grateful he didn’t do worse.  After all, he’d been maybe, probably, could be, wronged. So that excuses it, right?

What a guy. What a hero.

- This stinks to HIGH HEAVEN! There is a cover up, misdirection, inconsistent stories, and the MURDER of the suspect at the end! I fear "we" will NEVER get the truth about what Dorner knew about the LAPD! Can you say Waco? I knew that you could.

Last time I checked we had gotten the truth about Waco, we just didn’t like it.

I don’t seem to remember much of a cover up. There were plenty of screw ups, but no particular cover up – what with it all happening live and in living color from a hundred cameras and news feeds piped directly into our living rooms. 

As long as you’re answering questions for me, how about this one: What do you call it when a guy robs a bank at gunpoint because they repo’d his house and put his family out on the street? And it all happened because the bank engaged in chicanery back when they were offering easy, easy mortgages.  Now our robber shoots the bank manager point blank in the head – it’s not the same bank manager who sold him the loan all those year ago, but hey, who cares, right? Bank managers are all the same, rotten to the core.  And then the robber publically declares that he’s going to rob more banks and kill more people if given the chance and there’s not a damned thing anybody can do about it … and then he gets shot and killed by the police as he attempts to flee the scene, but not before he manages to kill just one more cop in the process.  Who’s the murderer here? The cops? Who’s the hero? Is it the robber? Sure it is, because don’t we all just hate bank managers? And banks? And the whole damned fat cat Wall Street financial system that’s been ass raping the whole damned world for the last ten years?


But, Dorner, right. He’s a hero. 

He’s a hero because you, you don’t like the LAPD. That about right?

There must be something deeply wrong with me psychologically, for I cannot help feeling a sense of solidarity with raging madman of the week Christopher Dorner. Here is a guy with a plan, with real skills, and an intelligent message. Dorner is actually out there taking action, trying to make a real difference, however warped and illogical his message might be. It's more than most of us can say for ourselves when it comes acting on causes we feel passionate about.... So what now? Do we all grab our assault rifles and open season on the LAPD? Not exactly. We need to find a middle ground between killing sprees and Facebook likes. Lets bring Dorner to justice for murder, and then collectively press for reform of the LAPD and police departments all over the nation. We have Dorner to thank for this teachable moment.

That’s Wilson Blair at ITHP, home of the survivalist Libertarian. 

Politics indeed make strange bedfellows.

A teachable moment. That’s what Blair called this. A teachable moment.  And the lesson, well, yeah, murder, but hey, at least Dorner took action! That’s something. Action. I guess the same could be said for Aurora Colorado, right? Or Sandy Hook. Or fucking Charlie Manson – a man of action if ever there was one.

You've got to be kidding me.

And if you are, it's a poor joke in piss poor taste.

You out there, crying over Christopher Dorner, this is who you’re in bed with.  Right here. I hope you at least thought to use protection.

Dorner, whatever he was, was no hero, and he's for goddamned sure not worthy of your respect or sympathy or your tears.  He betrayed every oath he ever took. He’s a disgrace to the uniforms he wore and the men and women he swore to serve beside. He’s an asshole.

This was no preschooler cut down in a hail of bullets. This wasn't some congresswomen shot in the head point blank. This wasn't just some guy minding his own business in a mall or a movie theater or any of the hundreds of others victimized by gun violence this last year. He's no tragic figure from Hollywood, he's not John Rambo or Will Munny or Django Unchained. He’s a guy who, with malice aforethought, chose to become a murderer. He chose this path. He wasn’t forced into it, he deliberately chose it, he planned it, he declared his intention and he pulled the trigger. 

It doesn't make a damned bit of difference if you hate the LAPD.

It doesn't make a damned bit of difference if you hate all cops everywhere and are firmly convinced that The Man is out to get you. And it doesn’t matter even if you’re right.

It doesn't make a damned bit of difference if you think that everybody in a police uniform is a sadistic racist bastard.

It doesn't make a damned bit of difference if every cop in Southern California went absolutely apeshit and swore to hunt Dorner down like a mangy dog.

It doesn't matter if you've got a beef with the government, or you hate Obama, or you hate Conservatives, or whoever you hate. Doesn’t matter.

Those are separate issues.

Now, certainly the police have many things to answer for, but that’s beside the point. 

And yes, it will be many, many years of sincere effort for the LAPD to wipe away the stench of racism and brutality that they've so justly earned.

And most certainly police officers who can't tell the difference between two petite Asian women delivering newspapers or a skinny white surfer on his way to the beach and a six foot tall, 270 pound black man bent on murderous revenge need to be held to public account - or at least need mandatory eye exams and some target identification retraining.

And yes, it sure would be nice if you, the taxpayer, felt like coughing up a bit more of your tax dollars to fund police departments so that they could train and equip their officers with non-lethal weapons, or at least ones that don’t light the house on fire – and yes, there are such things, they just cost a lot more than a standard burner round.  You want to pay for that? I’m hip, let’s do it.

But that doesn’t make Dorner a hero.

Christopher Dorner is not a misunderstood rebel. 

We all understand him just fine. He’s a selfish, self-centered son of a bitch with an axe to grind – and maybe he was justified in feeling that way. Maybe everything he said about the LAPD was correct. Maybe he was discriminated against. And then again maybe he wasn’t. Maybe he was a liar and a scumbag and just exactly the kind of guy people are accusing the LAPD of being, because frankly, a guy who resorts to revenge killing and terrorism instead of legal and lawful actions is very likely exactly that kind of guy. Exactly. 

Maybe, and here’s a thought, maybe the LAPD training officer and the review board who kicked Dorner off the force were exactly correct in doing so.  Maybe they did their jobs exactly the way they should have.

I don’t know one way or the other, but this I do know: once Christopher Dorner chose to become a murderer all his complaints were moot.  I don’t care what his beef was, he’s an asshole and I’m not going to shed one tear over his death.

He’s not a patriot or a symbol of America or some such nonsense.

Taking up arms against your neighbors and former coworkers, taking the law into your own hands, murder, terrorism, kidnapping, car jacking, all are just about as un-American as you can get.

He’s not some poor persecuted whistleblower. 

He had his day in front of the review board.  He had his appeal.  As I said above, given his actions, I strongly suspect that he was removed from the force for a good reason, because he was unsuitable to be the kind of cop we want patrolling the streets.

Be that as it may, Dorner had many, many legal options, many courses of action that he could have taken.  Good grief, look at the sympathy he’s getting now, look at how much people seem to hate the LAPD (even people who have never even been to LA) – Dorner might not have won an appeal, but he very likely could have gotten satisfaction in the court of public opinion and maybe even monetary compensation in civil court.  And there are plenty of lawyers willing to take on just such a case, because after all, who doesn’t hate the LAPD, right?

If Dorner really had a case, he would have won eventually.

So, why didn’t he? Why didn’t he take it to court? And don’t give me this horseshit about “they would have killed him first!” because the LAPD forgot about him five years ago.  Dorner did the killing first, not the police. Dorner isn’t the only guy in the last couple of years to be let go from his job, or even from the LAPD. It happens. And a lot of the time it happens for a good reason.

He is most certainly not a hero in any sense of the word.

I’ll remind you one final time that his first action was to murder an innocent woman whose only “crime” was to be the daughter of somebody Dorner hated.

He killed that exemplary young women and her boyfriend, in cold blood, without mercy, without warning – solely in order to levy retribution on her father.

I don’t care how much you squint your eyes, there’s nothing, not one damned thing, heroic about this act. It’s craven and cowardly and unjustified in any fashion by any social norm or ethical code or moral law. 

Dorner was no hero. Period. He wasn’t cut down defending truth, justice, and the American way – whatever the hell that is. He died trapped like a rat in a box, right after he killed a father and a husband and a guy who got up that morning and put on his uniform and went out to protect the citizens of America – that policeman, San Bernardino Police Department Detective Jeremiah MacKay, was everything Dorner should have been, and wasn’t.

Christopher Dorner was a murderer and a terrorist and a kidnapper and a screwed up excuse for a human being who just happened to have chosen as his enemy a widely hated police department.

There’s only one person responsible for Christopher Dorner’s death.

And that’s Christopher Dorner.



Addendum 1:  Every time I write one of these, I hope it's the last. But it never is, there's always another massacre. Always.
The Seven Stages of Gun Violence
The Bang Bang Crazy Series:
Part 1, What we need, see, are more guns, big fucking guns
Part 2, Gun violence isn't the exception in America, it's who we are
Part 3, Sandy Hook, the NRA, and a gun in every school
Part 4, More dead kids and why we have laws
Part 5, Gun control and a polite society
Part 6, The Christopher Donner rampage, they needed killin'
Part 7, Still more dead kids and let's print our own guns!
Part 8, Let's try blaming the victim, shall we?
Part 9, Armed soldiers on post, sure, nothing to go wrong there.
Part 10, Big Damned Heroes!
Part 11, Two in the Bush
What do we do about it? How do we change our culture of gun violence? Bang Bang Sanity

Addendum 2: As noted elsewhere, I’ve  been around guns my entire life. My dad taught me to shoot when I was a kid – in fact the very first gun I ever fired was my dad’s prized black powder .75 caliber smooth bore Civil War trench piece when I was about four years old. I still own my very first gun, bought from Meyer’s Thrifty Acres in Jenison, Michigan, for me by my dad when I was fourteen years old – a lever action Winchester 30-30. I got my first deer with that gun.  I grew up shooting, at home, in the Boy Scouts, hunting, target shooting, plinking, with friends and with family.  Thirty years ago I joined the military and spent my entire life there. I know more than a little about guns. I’m a graduate of the Smith & Wesson Rangemaster Academy, the nation’s premier firearms instructor school. I’m a certified armorer and gunsmith. I’ve attended pretty much every boarding officer and gun school the military has. I hold both the Expert Pistol and Expert Rifle Medals. I’ve taught small arms and combat arms to both military and civilians for nearly thirty years now. I’ve fired damned near everything the US military owns, from the old .38 revolver to a US Navy Aegis Guided Missile Cruiser’s 5” main battery – and everything in between. I can still field strip a Colt .45 M-1911 pistol and put it back together in under a minute, blindfolded – I happen to own several of them, along with numerous other semi-auto pistols and a number of revolvers. I used to shoot professionally and in competition. I helped to design, test, field, and fire in combat US Military weapons systems. I’ve spent my entire life in places where gun usage is extremely, extremely, common. I have a Concealed Carry Permit. I’m an Alaskan and I typically carry a gun in the wilds of Alaska on a regular basis. I am neither pro-gun nor anti-gun, a gun is a tool, nothing more. If you feel that I’m ignorant of guns, or that I’m anti-gun, or unAmerican, well, you’re welcome to speak your piece – just so long as you can live with what comes after.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Preemptive Pessimism Isn’t A Plan

A new Washington Post poll shows that 70% of Americans think there should be a path to US citizenship for illegal immigrants.

About 60% of Republicans think so too.

Sixty percent.


Unless President Obama also supports it.


When told that president Obama agreed with their position, that illegal immigrants should eventually be allowed to earn US citizenship after paying a significant fine and back taxes and learning English and going to the back of the line, a significant number of conservatives changed their minds and decided they were against the idea after all.

Only 39% of conservatives polled supported the idea if President Obama's name was attached to it – even if the plan was designed by Republicans.

Thirty-nine percent, and frankly I’m surprised it was that high.

Thirty-nine percent, must be them RINO’s I keep hearing about.

If you couldn’t already see it coming, that, right there, should have heralded the oh so utterly predictable conservative response to last night’s State of the Union Address, which is basically the same response we’ve seen for the last four years, i.e: We’re for it, unless Obama is for it, in which case we’re against it, unless Obama is against it, in which case he’s a Nazi, God bless America.

The truly sad part is that this nonsense started long before the President even reached the podium. 

It was pretty obvious that both the so-called Republican rebuttal given by Marco Rubio and the TEA Party response by Rand Paul were drafted way back in 2008 and updated for last night with cliff notes found in the castoff wreckage of the still-smoldering Romney Campaign.

It’s the same old crap with these people, the same old tired script, the same old thinly disguised bigotry, and the same old conspiracy theories gussied-up and dressed in a red, white, and blue Elvis Suit decorated with pseudo-patriotic rhinestones.

This morning social and news media are full of it.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, fellow citizens…

It starts right there, doesn’t it? With the very first line.

Fellow citizens.

Still, today, after all the debunking, the repeated certification by the State of Hawaii, two successful presidential campaigns and all the background checking that implies, more intense scrutiny than any other single president in American history – after all of that, a significant fraction of conservatives in this country still refuse to openly admit that Barack Obama is a fellow citizen, that his skinny black ass is just as American as they are. They’ll readily believe every silly poorly reasoned, logically inconsistent, idiotic, ridiculous, asinine, soundly debunked conspiracy theory that comes along from every coked-out, crazy-haired, wild-eyed fruitcake with an Internet connection, but they won’t believe Barack Obama is an American citizen, a Christian, and Capitalist. And there’s nothing you can do to convince them otherwise. Nothing. 

You can’t reason with people who are not reasonable. You just can’t.

This nonsense, literally non-sense, is a disturbing symptom of a much larger sickness – one that expresses itself in a hundred different ways, from Holocaust denial to climate change denial to creationism to seeing commies lurking in every shadow to the belief that you can actually turn an enemy into a friendly democracy if you just drop enough ordnance on them. 

There’s a reason, a damned good reason, why these people are called The Party of No.

It’s because they have institutionalized pessimism.

More, they’ve turned it into a reflex; If Obama is for it, they’re automatically against it. Q.E.D.

And this reflexive pessimism, this reflexive denial, taints everything.

This is why Rubio and Paul had their “rebuttals” prepared in advance.

A real rebuttal, a thoughtful and reasoned response, would have taken at least a day or so and would have countered the President’s address paragraph by paragraph, point by point and step by step with facts and references and deliberation.

Instead, the Party of No did what it has come to do best, they engaged in reflexive denial, in preemptive pessimism.

We don’t like it. You haven’t even heard it. Doesn’t matter, we don’t like it anyway.

Rubio and Paul wrote their rebuttals in advance, engaging in nonsense that we didn’t even have a word for, so we had to make one up: the pre-buttal – which to me sounds like another word for asshat, but hey, if the hat fits…  And that ought to tell you just how damned silly this kind of thing is, we had to make up a word for it.

That’s some real pretty stupid, right there.

And it’s the same thing with John Boehner and Mitch McConnell and all the usual talking heads. It didn’t matter whatsoever what the President actually said, conservatives were already against it, even the parts that were their ideas, even the parts they agree with.

Both Rubio and Paul were so optimistic in their pessimism, that they distributed printed copies of their rebuttals hours in advance of the President’s address. 

You have to wonder what would have happened if the President had walked down the Aisle, stood up in front of Congress, looked out over the crowd, locked eyes with Ted Nugent, and said, “To hell with it, let’s do it all your way. Peace, out” (in my mind, Obama then nods to the Master At Arms, who cranks up the music and The Prez then breaks into an awesome air guitar rendition of Boston’s More Than A Feeling, see my Maryanne walkin’ awayyyyyyyyyyyahaaaayyyy! as he dances like a boss right on out of the chamber to the stupefied open mouthed amazement of the Legislature … ur, but I digress).  Given their reflexive behavior, I suspect Rubio and Paul would each calmly go down their respective position papers and change yes to no and no to yes in every bullet statement, and then they’d continue blithely on as if their handlers had written it that way from the beginning.

Tonight, thanks to the grit and determination of the American people, there is much progress to report. After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home. After years of grueling recession, our businesses have created over six million new jobs. We buy more American cars than we have in five years, and less foreign oil than we have in twenty. Our housing market is healing, our stock market is rebounding, and consumers, patients, and homeowners enjoy stronger protections than ever before. Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger. But we gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded. Our economy is adding jobs – but too many people still can’t find full-time employment. Corporate profits have rocketed to all-time highs – but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.

Our troops are coming home. The war in Iraq is over, the war in Afghanistan will be over by this time next year. 34,000 troops are on their way home right now. We’re making new jobs, not fast enough, not yet, but we’re not losing them anymore either.  American cars are selling, better now than they have in a decade and we’re selling them to the Chinese, you damned right we are. The housing market is finally, firmly, definitively moving in the right direction. 

The state of the Union has improved, it has, provably so. 

We, all of us, have reason for optimism.

We have reason, good reason, to be hopeful, to believe that things will, are, getting better.

Is the economy where we’d like it to be? Are there enough jobs? Is everybody out of the hole yet? Hell no, of course not – as the president specifically noted – but there is reason for optimism.

There is more reason for optimism than not.

But for a certain mindset it’s all doom and gloom.

For them it’s always doom and gloom.

Everything positive that happens on Obama’s watch is a failure, a harbinger of the end, a reason for the blackest of pessimism.  Oh sure, things are improving, or so it seems.  Things are looking up now, but just you wait, mark my words, it’s the end of America as we know it! It’s the Anti-Christ! The End Times. Socialism! Nazis! We’re doomed! Oh woe! Woe!

It is our generation’s task, then, to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth, a rising, thriving middle class. It is our unfinished task to restore the basic bargain that built this country: the idea that if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love. It is our unfinished task to make sure that this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few; that it encourages free enterprise, rewards individual initiative, and opens the doors of opportunity to every child across this great nation.

That’s what Obama said, but what conservatives heard was “Obama wants to destroy the middle class.” 

Rubio spent more than half his rebuttal on that exact message, Obama is destroying the middle class.  Rubio gave credit to the presidents of both parties, “from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan” for recognizing the “free enterprise economy” as the “source of our middle class prosperity” Rand Paul also invoked Reagan, and like Rubio he did it in the first couple of paragraphs of his pre-response. In contrasting Obama to Reagan, Paul said Obama wants “more government, more taxes, more debt.”  And really what kind of conservative rebuttal would it be if Reagan wasn’t invoked at least once? You know, Reagan, Ronald Reagan, the guy who grew the government enormously (it’s just me who remembers the “600 ship Navy” right? And there wasn’t even a war on), and who massively increased the national debt and raised income taxes seven years in a row to pay for it.  So much so that his successor, George H. W. Bush ran on the campaign slogan “Read my lips, no new taxes!” and who in the hell did you think Bush was talking about? But I digress.  Again.

Obama says we must reignite the middle class as the true engine of America’s economic growth, Rubio replies that obviously Obama doesn’t get that the middle class is the true source of America’s economic growth. Meanwhile Paul pines for Adam Smith.

It’s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth.

That’s what Obama said, and has said, repeatedly. But both Rubio and Paul claimed “Obama believes government is too small.” 

Obama talks about opportunity and inclusion for all, Rubio says Obama wants a society where nobody gets a chance.

Obama says he believes America is exceptional, Rubio and Paul say Obama hates America.

Obama implores Congress to reform Medicare and promises to sign the bill when it reaches his desk, Rubio says Obama wants to hurt seniors by not fixing  Medicare.

Obama, the black son of a broken home, says if you work hard and meet your responsibilities, you can get ahead, no matter where you come from, what you look like, or who you love. Rand Paul, the pampered scion of wealth, responds by saying Obama “fails to grasp that […] the American system that rewards hard work is what made America so prosperous.”

Obama says that deficit reduction should be achieved by a combination of cost cutting and increasing revenue by closing tax loopholes, both Rubio and Paul say the president only wants to raise taxes.

Obama implores congress to raise the minimum wage so that those working full time can rise (barely) above the poverty line, Rubio and Paul accuse Obama of hurting business and job growth, because apparently what Americans really want are a lot of shitty jobs with lousy pay and no benefits. That’s the republican version of the American dream right there, a nation of Wal-Mart employees who live on Top Ramen and can barely make the rent.  When they say bring Chinese jobs back to America, they ain’t kidding, folks.

And so it went, predictable as the sunrise.

And eventually we got to guns.

The most anticipated response to that topic was the one most likely to be unreasonable, and The Nuge did not disappoint:

"I'm butt naked. I've never been so naked in all my life. If something happens, you're gonna have to call somebody else because I can't do squat to help you right now. I don't even have a pocket knife on me. Can you feel the pain? I did retain my flashlight though. I said, 'Can I bring a flashlight with me?' This is so weird. This is so un-American!"

So weird.

I can’t argue with that. 

I hesitate to use the word “dignity” when it comes to Congress, but Ted Nugent’s presence as an official guest reduces the gravity of the forum to the level of those clownish goofs who dress up in silly costumes and dance around on the sidewalk outside of the Good Morning America studios waving nonsensical signs and screaming their fool heads off hoping to get on TV for a brief moment. 

The Motor City Madman went as the guest of congressman Steve Stockman (R-TX. Of course, of course) who called Nugent a “true patriot.”  The Nuge was upset that he couldn’t go armed, just in case “something” happened. Apparently his real concern was that he “couldn’t do squat” to help others should “something” happen. Yes, how very un-American, unlike shitting your pants to get out of military service and bad mouthing the country for decades and still ending up as a conservative congressman’s prom-date. A true patriot indeed. No word on if Stockman bought Ted a corsage and slow danced with him at the TEA Party Ball afterward.

You simply cannot reason with unreasonable people, it’s really just that simple. 

You cannot reason with people who seem increasingly incapable of reason, or of reasoned response, or even of modestly reasonable behavior. 

The most memorable moment of Rubio’s rebuttal was his bizarre desperate lunge for hydration – and the fact that he talks like Jiminy Cricket. Republicans claim they picked him to read their rebuttal because he’s a rising superstar in the party, but the sad truth of the matter is that they picked him because they figure Latinos can’t distinguish between Cubans and Mexicans either. They’ve got themselves a Spanish Speaker and that’s all that matters and it doesn’t even occur to them to wonder why the Cuban American community and the Mexican American community don’t seem to have much in common other than similar sounding dialects of the same language.  But then again these are the same people who repeatedly claim black people only voted for Obama because he’s black, and that liberal women would likely vote for Michele Bachman because she allegedly has a vagina. Supposedly Rubio is a leading candidate for a shot at the Republican nomination in 2016, but last night he looked more like a nervous freshman high schooler trying out for the debate club. On her worst day, dizzy from a concussion and seething at her husband’s ongoing Shenanigans, Hillary Clinton would eat this kid alive and screaming and then use his polished bones for toothpicks.

I have no idea what the most memorable part of Rand Paul’s response was, because nobody bothered to watch it, including me (I read the transcript, it was mostly a  Greatest Hits compilation of TEA Party slogans run through a spell checker). Paul continually blames congress and government for the country’s supposed plight, and somehow seems to completely miss the part where he himself is a congressman and part of that very same government. Paul is said to be considering a run at the White House in 2016, frankly I think he’s got about as much chance of making it as his father. 

Both rebuttals, or prebuttals whatever, were messages of despair, of depression, and hopelessness.

There’s nothing particularly surprising about that, given that the Republican Party has become the party of the intentionally disaffected, of preemptive pessimism. These days they’re less GOP and more EMO and it’s probably only a matter of time until they start dressing like anemic vampires and sleeping with dead girls. 

Both Rubio and Paul were notable for what they didn’t say – and that’s why they’ll be quickly forgotten, right along with all the other rebuttals.

In contrast, the most memorable part of President Obama’s speech wasn’t any specific word, it was his ringing endorsement of America.

It was his unflagging belief in this country and his boundless enthusiasm for her people and their future.

It was his steady and unrelenting optimism.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

State of the Union Open Thread

I had intended to live blog the President’s State of the Union Address.

Unfortunately I was stuck in a meeting that went long and I couldn’t get out of.

Then I was stuck in traffic – which at least gave me an (almost) uninterrupted hour to listen to the speech live.

And I got to listen to the Republican TEA Party rebuttal, and really, what a treat that was.

So I don’t, as yet, have a blog post for you on this subject, but I will. Be patient.

In the mean time, you may consider this an open thread to discuss the SOTU address.


I’ll get the ball rolling with a brief exchange I was part of a couple days ago:

Him: This guy [Obama] just needs to shut the fuck up.  What’s the point of this stupid speech? It’s just another opportunity for Dear Leader to grandstand and he already did that once this month [via his inaugural speech apparently]. He sure loves the camera, hope his teleprompter doesn’t crap out. Maybe they should put the Constitution on it and he can read that.

Me: You do know that Constitution requires the President to report the state of the union to Congress on a regular basis, right? This isn’t optional, I’m just saying.

Him: You’re just saying. You’re just saying. No it doesn’t. It’s just something presidents do. God, you liberals really need to try reading the actual Constitution sometime!

Me: Are you kidding m… ah, to hell with it. I guess you’re right. Maybe I’ll take your advice and reread the Constitution. Where’s a good place to start? Article Two, Section Three maybe?

Him: Try reading it from the beginning instead of cherry picking!

Me: Whatever you say.


Also, Dear NPR, it is not, repeat not, goddamned necessary to interrupt the speech to tell us we’re listening to the speech. Your idiotic broadcast format sucks giant hairy donkey balls, please stop it.

Also, was I the only one waiting for Ted Nugent to rush the podium? I would have paid money to see the Secret Service taze him into a drooling cucumber.


It’s been just one of those weeks, you know? 

So anyway, feel free to discuss the Address, the rebuttals, the prebuttals, the head buttals. Also, if anybody knows exactly what speech Marco Rubio was talking about, do tell, because it sure as hell wasn’t the same State of the Union Address I listened to.

Try to stay on topic, please. 

A detailed analysis of the speech and it’s various responses will follow, likely tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Open the Pod Bay Doors, HAL

Facebook keeps asking me, “How are you feeling, Jim?”

How am I feeling?

What the hell is this?

Recently, without warning, Facebook started asking questions. What’s going on? What are you doing? What are you thinking?

As I said on Facebook itself (or is that herself?), I find this sudden change in behavior creepy and unsettling and maybe just a bit like the first warning signs of an overly attached psychotic girlfriend.

How am I feeling? It’s just me, right?  Or do the rest of you hear that question in Glenn Close’s Fatal Attraction voice?

I expect my machines to be cold and logical and completely uninterested in atavistic human emotions.

And I like it that way.

I don’t want machines interested in how I’m feeling, I don’t want them to feign human concern and I for damned sure don’t want them feeling human emotions.  Seriously, don’t you people watch crappy science fiction movies? Nothing good can come from human emotion imprinted on machines. There are far worse scenarios than SkyNet, Folks. Far worse. Worse even than Edgar, the creepy jealous 8-bit PC with 128K of RAM and the mind of a horny adolescent who lusts after Virginia Madsen in Electric Dreams. Worse even than Proteus, the malignant evil computer who tried to impregnate Julie Christie in Demon Seed.  Worse even than Hector, the eight foot tall clockwork psychopath intent on hooking up with Farrah Fawcett in Saturn 3 (In the Hector’s defense, the robot rape part was marginally less revolting than Fawcett’s nude scene with Kirk Douglas). And, sure those are pretty bad (OK, really, really bad), yes, but as terrifying as those cautionary tales were, they’re nothing compared to true horror: Robot Robin Williams as a self propelled  sex toy getting it on with Embeth Davidtz in Bicentennial Man (That sound you hear? That’s the ghost of Isaac Asimov upchucking through his muttonchops).

How am I feeling? 

That’s how it starts, folks, right there. Facebook asks you how you’re feeling, next thing you know you’re having greasy jungle monkey sex with a Cuisinart.

And where does it end?

More and more machines are being plugged into the internet, first they act all concerned and ask you how you feel, but once you’re involved and it’s too late to back out of the relationship without becoming rabbit stew, well, then it’ll be all about them

Call me a selfish bastard if you must, but frankly I just don’t care why my clothes dryer is feeling sad today. 

And just wait until they start making smart toilets… but, I digress.

Look, I’m just saying be careful what you wish for. Back in my day, everybody my age wanted to see Farrah Fawcett without her clothes on – but when we finally did it was indelibly combined with Kirk Douglas’ wrinkled flabby gray ass. The mere mention of Charlie’s Angels nowadays and I have to bite down on reflexive dry heaves.

I know, I know. It seems we’ve wandered far afield in a few short paragraphs and you wonder where I’m going with this.

I’m going here: for some folks, the rapid evolution of technology and the resulting change to social structures can be more than a bit unnerving. 

If you live long enough, there will come a point where you start to feel like the world is passing you by. That things are changing faster than you can keep up. And eventually you reach a point where you just stop trying and assume a permanent state of boggle. Every time I hear the “music” my kid listens to, I feel exactly this way. This really isn’t anything new. Back in the 1970’s a guy named Alvin Toffler coined the term “Future Shock” for too much change too fast. Toffler wrote a book with the same name and they made it into a movie narrated by Orson Welles. They made us read the book and watch the movie when I was in high school, and I remember laughing about it.  Future Shock? More like Old People Shock, nothing in the book or the movie seemed all that shocking or strange to my sixteen year old viewpoint. Technology was awesome, get in, sit down, and keep both arms inside the ride at all times.

Do you realize that there are still folks alive today who once farmed the Midwest behind horse teams?

Imagine how much the world has changed in the short eight decades or so of their lifetimes.

Technological advance has been accelerating geometrically since the beginning of the last century.  And that technology continually transforms society.  Advances in technology affect all aspects of our civilization.  Sometimes changes come in small incremental ways over time, say, such as how we grow our food or manufacture products or fight our wars, those changes lead to slow measured alterations in the way we interact with each other. Sometimes change is sudden and profound, such as the advent of the birth control pill or the internet, and then we see radical transformation of traditional roles, rituals, and long established customs – and to most human beings, there is little more unsettling than that.

It’s no wonder why the older we get, typically the more conservative we get, the more we pine for the good old days when things appeared to be simpler and easier, and change didn’t seem so much like a car careening down a hill out of control. The world that was once familiar has become increasingly alien and strange, bit by bit, faster and faster.

And a simple thing like a machine casually asking “How are you feeling?” can bring it all into uneasy focus.

Nowadays, we tend to call it information overload

And it’s happening faster and faster as we rush headlong towards the Singularity – i.e. that point in time as defined by writer and futurist Vernor Vinge where our technology so radically alters society that what comes after is no longer human as we currently define it and cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty from our present vantage point.

At the moment, I suspect society is on the cusp of another profound change, one that will push us a crucial step closer to Vinge’s Singularity.

This time one driven by social media.

Social media is transforming our civilization in a thousand different ways, big and small, all profound. It’s changing how we define traditional interpersonal relationships,  power structures, politics, information gathering, viewpoints, right on down to the syntax and grammars of written language.

Last week in St. Louis, a customer was a jerk to a waiter in a restaurant. Nothing special, it happens a thousand times a day all over the world, most of the time the waiter just has to stand there and take it. But this time the customer’s obnoxious behavior was made public on the media sharing site, Reddit.  And as a result another waitress was fired, which then also went public via social media. And suddenly a Christian Pastor (the obnoxious customer) and Applebee’s (the obnoxious employer) found themselves on the receiving end of a monstrous tidal bore of scorn and condemnation, one that is having very real financial consequences.  Obnoxious customers and obnoxious employers have long treated those in the service industry as serfs and chattel, after this incident, and others like it, they may have to think twice about that.  Social media and a simple smart phone will very likely change that one sided relationship, shifting social power to a more equitable footing.   I suspect that you’ll eventually see a de facto rating system similar to the formal one on eBay where both sellers and buyers rate each other on their mutual transaction – you’re seeing that happen to a certain extent on Applebee’s Facebook page right now.  Once upon a time, those with power and money controlled the information flow and defined the social narrative, no longer.  And the Restaurant chain’s ongoing public self immolation on social media is an abject lesson in why companies need to understand the changed landscape sooner rather than later (and in Applebee’s case, why they really need to just shut the hell up right now on Facebook, because, whoa).

Down in Florence, Alabama, a high school football coach and part time psychology teacher was suspended for ranting on in front of his students about “Fat Butt Michelle Obama” and voicing his dislike for gays and other people he feels aren’t living in accordance with his personal version of Jesus.  A student recorded the teacher’s off-curriculum rant via the usual means and posted it to Facebook.  Where it went viral.  A number of folks of similar bent (including the seriously disturbed commenters here) have complained that the coach’s civil rights and freedom of expression are being suppressed.  Nonsense.  A teacher in front of classroom full of students has no reasonable expectation of privacy, certainly there’s no reason whatsoever for a student to keep a teacher’s public assholery private – and why should they?  A teacher’s freedom of speech while in front of a classroom is sharply constrained and for good reason (usually), ask any teacher (Hell, in many cases a teacher’s freedom of expression is constrained outside of the classroom as well, just ask the former-porn star turned middle school science teacher who was fired in California last week for doing absolutely nothing wrong). The difference is that in the past, the coach’s excuses – he claimed the students took him out context and that he was just talking in a debate type environment, obviously untrue once you watch the video – would have to be taken at face value. His word against a bunch of kids. And he’d keep getting away with it. Just as Mitt Romney’s “Forty-Seven” percent comment and Todd Akin’s “Legitimate Rape” comment could have been dismissed as being taken “out of context.”  Which is exactly the excuse they both tried. But, with social media, those traditional excuses and political damage control measures no long work. In this brave new world, freedom of expression has consequences, real ones, immediate ones. If you’re going to say it, you’re going to have to take responsibility for it, better start getting used to that.

Social media is giving us eyes into the Syrian civil war – and it is a civil war, not an uprising, not an “unrest.” It’s a civil war, and we know this because those in the middle of it are using twitter and Facebook and blogs to get the word out.  The totalitarian Syrian government cannot control the narrative, cannot hide its brutality and oppression – neither can the rebels, for that matter. Imagine if the Jews had such a tool in 1938.  In a very real sense, social media enabled revolution, the Arab Spring, and drives it still.  And that should serve as a heads up to both the rulers and the ruled.  In this day and age, twitter and Facebook give you far more real power than the Second Amendment ever did.  If you value liberty, Americans would be well served to amend the Constitution to ensure unfettered access to communications and social media instead of unrestricted access to guns.  This is one of the reasons I am foursquare against laws that, for example, prohibit the of recording police officers and other authority figures in the routine performance of their duties, or ill-conceived restrictions on public access to information such as SOPA/PIPA. I feel the same way about this that the NRA does about guns.  And on that note, regarding access to social media over firepower, nobody ever slaughtered an entire school with a smart phone and a twitter account – they have, however, toppled governments. Q.E.D.

But for a lot of people, it’s frightening, this shifting power balance, this changing social structure.

For a lot of people, it’s scary as hell, because it strikes right at who we are.

Yesterday I read an article on Yahoo! News about people taking a “vacation” from social media, from Facebook in particular.

According to the article:

More than 60 percent of adult Facebook users say they have taken a break from the social media site, according to a new study released on Tuesday by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. And 27 percent of users say they plan to spend less time on Facebook in 2013.

Note the part where it says “adult” users – Old People Shock, looks like my sixteen year old self got that part right.

And it’s not just Facebook.   A number of people report that they need to periodically take a break from social media in general, from the news, from TV, from information overload.  But Facebook for some reason seems to generate more passion and hatred than other forms of social media. There were more than two thousand comments under the Yahoo! News article yesterday, I read every one of them. Only one was positive, the rest were like these:

I quit cold turkey. that place is a time suck with few redeeming benefits.

Could have saved yourself a lot of stress and BS by just avoiding it all together from the start. Fecesbook is a virus.

Fecesbook is not a virus, it's the Devil!

Facebook is rather stupid, nobody needs to know every move you make, especially Big Brother as he is watching it too

I'm going to bed!! Ok, I'm up now!! Really?! Wow, Facebook SUCKS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Facebook sucks! Never been on it never will.

I wish Facebook and Twitter would die swift deaths. Social media has helped ruin this country

Maybe Zucker#$%$ can bring back 8 track tapes too. If a person uses Facecrap, they are a (r)etard.

TAKE A BREAK??? J0ou Zuckerberg better hope they come back, ever.... even 10% of those that left.... Thank God i never had an account....PlSS ON IT

Facebook is a fad.

A fad that will burn-out soon.

At present, one eighth of the world’s population has a Facebook account, I think we’ve long since passed the fad phase.  

It sucks! It’s of the devil! The comments that amuse me most are those which claim they’ve never had a social media account, but purely hate social media anyway and blame it for all the perceived ills of the world. These people are future shocked indeed. They hate something because it’s different and they don’t even know why.  These are the folks who see the word “change” on a bumper sticker and are reflexively terrified. Change? Oh no, anything but that! Put it back the way it was! For these people, change must be bad, by definition – and yet, these are the very people who when they do eventually join Facebook, are the ones that invariably send me endless, endless, requests to play online games and want me to “like” page after page of special interest forums.

The simple truth of the matter is that social media is a powerful tool, it’s a way to experience the world in ways that we never could before. It’s allows us to experience differing viewpoints, meet other cultures on an equal basis, see things we would never see otherwise (ok, not all good), laugh and cry and sing along with other people’s joy and sorrow. 

In the real world, I sailed the seven seas from one end of the globe to the other and walked on every continent but Antarctica, and yet, everyday Facebook and Twitter and YouTube and Google and this very blog show me things I’ve never seen before.  To me, it’s amazing, exhilarating, mind expanding, challenging.  I’ve never felt the need to take an extended formal break, but then again you’ll notice that I don’t post every day either.  

But for some people that same experience is terrifying.

Facebook and all Social Media....WORTHLESS and a Complete WASTE OF TIME!!!! Get a LIFE PEOPLE!!!!

Here's an idea. Go outside and do something. Quit living vicariously through a digital screen. 'Facebook People' don't have any clue how ridiculous their existences are.

That's only like taking a break from breathing toxic air. You need to quite entirely, and you will find how your real life is more meaningful and rich. Those "omg" and "lol" only litter your mind with useless pointless garbage. Are you a domesticated mutt or a free eagle?

This is by far and away the most common sentiment among the Luddites, get a life. Get a life!

As if the people saying “Get a life” are shouting the message down from their hang-gliders. As if they’re scuba diving on WWII wrecks in the Tonga Islands after base jumping from the Empire State Building. Last week they were mountain biking the Appalachian Trail and the week before that they were backpacking across Morocco with a squad of Legionnaires in search of the fabled lost city of gold. 

Actually, you know who does that sort of thing?  

People on social media. 

When Felix Baumgartner jumped from the edge of space and fell towards earth at supersonic speeds, he broadcast the whole way to the ground on social media.  And the whole world followed him right on down to the victorious landing.  Get a life? Hell, on social media we get share tens of thousands of lives, from the mundane to the extraordinary and everything in between.

And for those people who can’t go outside, who for one reason or another be it age or infirmity or poverty, social media is life.

Get a life.  Right. Says the guy afraid to live.  Get a life.

I dumped (f)agbook in 2011. It is waste of time and really only for the socially lame. Suckerberg has got everyone by the balls and for no good reason people just continue to use the site. Oh well I guess if you cant have real friends make virtual ones.

I prefer to meet my friends at the cafe or bar for a drink and catch up on old times. Way better than FB. Sometimes I even try to bring real pictures.

Why live a virtual life when you can choose to live a real life? Meeting in person, face to face and interacting with others is more meaningful.

Look at me! I’ve got five hundred friends! Well guess what dumbazz, their not real!

Social media “friends” aren’t real friends. 

A fairly famous writer whose website I used to visit says that the people who comment on his blog, who comment on his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter, are just words on a screen. They come and go and mean nothing to him – except as a source of income.

You know, a couple years ago I might have agreed with that sentiment. But I’ve come to see it in a different light.  As someone with a somewhat larger than average online footprint, it seems to me that these online “friendships” are more than just words on a screen.  I care about people I’ve never met but interact with regularly nonetheless, the ones from all over the world who follow along with me here on Stonekettle Station and on my Facebook and Twitter pages, I would miss them if they were gone (for the most part). Sure they irritate me sometimes, just as they often make me laugh and make me think. Isn’t that the definition of friendship?  Is it the same as my long time friends who are made out of meat? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not.

But they are more than just words on a screen and without social media I would likely have never met them.

And that would have been a shame.

I never joined FacePlant. I find most people boring and don't have tolerance for stupid Bullsheet. George Carlin did a skit on Boring People that is a classic. Look at it on youtube. Very funny.

I have a low tolerance for bullshit, that’s why I hang out on YouTube.  Uh, okay.

I never use social media, I don't post in comment sections because I am not full of myself and want attention

I don’t post in comments sections, except that I posted this in the comments section of Yahoo! Doh.

"Look me I am on FaceBook". Like if you think I am as wonderful as I do.

I do not like FB~~Everybody seems so happy on FB~~2 happy~~It is very phoney~~

The pettiness of humans was never meant to be put on public display as FB has done.

Because people aren’t petty and self centered and narcissistic in the real world, right?

What was that Bill Cosby joke? So I asked him, why do you do cocaine? And he answered, because it amplifies my personality. And I thought, amplifies your personality? But what if you’re an asshole?

Sure, social media can, and does, amplify the assholes, I don’t think there’s any disputing that (really, let me show you my hate mail) – but it also filters out many of the biases that serve as barriers between people. Skin color, weight, body type, bad breath, sex, accents, and so on.  One of the comments up above asked if you’d like to be a free eagle, well on the internet you can be exactly that, free of the chains that drag so many of our relationships down.

Your cell phone is your personal tracking device. RFID chips are already implanted into several products such as food and especially clothing. Kraft is already doing this and has been for years. If you have a web cam in your home you can be spied on at any given moment. I just read a disturbing article in Good Housekeeper about the "home of the future". Very, very scary. 50 years from now babies will be chipped at birth. You will not be able eat, buy food, essentially purchase anything without it. Step out of line, all they have to do is turn off chip which will have the capability of killing you in seconds.

You can't even delete your facebood account. It's creepy. And they link it to your email and find your contacts without you knowing. It's linked to your cell phone. Maybe even address if you'r stupid enough to post that. And Otraitor was bosom buddies with Zuckerberg which makes it even more interesting. They are spying on you!!!

FB was made for the FBI to keep track of people so going to homeland security won't do any good. When I was asked for my ID to log in I knew it was time to log out for good. Just say no and never log in again

Certainly there a downsides to this new technology – not the least of which is that it allows crazy people a much larger platform. Any technology has both benefit and bane, same as with anything. We’re tool users, it’s how we choose to wield the tool that makes all the difference.

The advance of technology, especially technology that changes the very fabric of society is exciting – and frightening.

Our world is changing.

How we connect to each other, how we relate to each other, how we see people and the larger world is changing.

Social media wants to know how I feel about that.

How do I feel? Fascinated.

I can’t wait to see what happens next.


Just as long as it doesn’t involve greasy jungle monkey sex with killer robots.