Sunday, September 30, 2007

Silly reporter thinks 1st Amendment means something

"This is America", the reporter told the police officers. "I have the right to talk to anybody I want to talk to."

He found out different.

The Constitution and the freedom of association written into the 1st Amendment, after all, is just a piece of paper. As Chairman Mao put it, power flows from the barrel of a gun. And we have almost a million registered "peace officers" working for governments here in the United States -- or 1 out of every 200 adult Americans carries a badge and a gun and is authorized by the State to use it as required to maintain "public order", Constitution be damned. As a reporter for the New York Times just found out the hard way, though at least they didn't tase him. If he'd gotten one bit more uppity, though, I'm sure they would have.

Welcome to Soviet America, sheep.

-- Badtux the Soviet Penguin

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Why does racial bigotry continue in America?

Friday I was walking with an office-mate from India, and she asked me a question that I could not answer. She says that in parts of the country she can walk into a store or restaurant and they ignore her or say that the store or restaurant is closed or otherwise make it clear that people of her color (about the same color as the typical Mexican) are not welcome there. Sometimes when she talks to them and they realize that she's not Mexican they'll serve her, but her question is, given that the state religion of the United States is commerce and the God worshipped by people in the United States is the Almighty Dollar, why would anybody turn down the chance to make money off of her just because of her skin color?

I threw out some speculations -- maybe they're scared of brown people (I pointed out that our television shows, which are what tells most Americans what they're supposed to think and feel, invariably demonize dark-skinned people as criminals or evil people), for example -- but by and by, I just had to throw up my hands and say, "I don't know!". I mean, it's not as if she's asking to marry their sons or anything. She just wants to buy a soda or get a meal. Why would they turn down her money just because of her skin color?


-- Badtux the Puzzled Penguin
[Cross-posted at the Medley]

RomneyHillaryCare vs. Medicare For All: A comparison

(Note: Bumped to top of blog for the rest of this month).

RomneyHillaryCareMedicare For All
Enrollment method Requires individuals to purchase health insurance either from current insurance programs or from a new government-run insurance program Automatic -- all individuals residing in America are automatically covered by Medicare For All.
Method of Funding Billing of individuals by insurance companies, combined the existing Medicaid tax for subsidizing lower-income insurance purchasers Already-existing Medicare payroll deduction, increased to cover full cost of program and with employer matching of the employee portion, combined with a deduction from Social Security recipients' Social Security checks
Enforcement costs Requires significant enforcement costs, up to and including imprisonment, in order to obtain compliance with the mandatory insurance purchase requirement. Enforcement is against 120,000,000 households, rather than 10,000,000 businesses. No additional enforcement costs -- current already-existing Medicare tax enforcement against the 10,000,000 businesses in America suffices, which is much less expensive than enforcing a new mandate against 120,000,000 individual households.
Additional government bureaucracies created 5 - a new government-provided health plan distinct from Medicare with its own bureaucracies for enrollments, billing, and payments, a new government bureaucracy to handle computing and distributing health insurance subsidies to lower-income Americans, and a new enforcement bureaucracy to enforce the purchase of insurance -2 - eliminates current Medicare enrollment and billing bureaucracies (everybody is automatically enrolled thus no need for a new enrollment bureaucracy, and the funding method eliminates the need to bill anybody unlike Medicare which is required to bill people who are receiving Medicare but not Social Security because they're still working)
Savings in insurance marketing costs Increases marketing costs, since now marketing must be directed at 120,000,000 households rather than 10,000,000 businesses 100 percent savings. No marketing costs -- everybody is automatically enrolled
Savings in billing costs Increases billing costs, since now 120,000,000 individuals must be billed rather than 10,000,000 businesses. Over 100% savings -- total cost of plan piggy-backs on already-existing Medicare payroll tax already taken out of your paycheck and eliminates the current Medicare billing bureaucracy (for working Medicare recipients not yet receiving Social Security)
Savings in insurance claims processing costs slight increase, due to new government bureaucracy Drastic decrease -- dealing with only one program (Medicare For All) rather than with thousands of plans provided by hundreds of insurance companies will result in at least 15% average reduction in costs for the typical physician practice, and probably more.
Savings to businesses 100 percent -- now individuals, not businesses, pay for health insurance. Increases costs for businesses that currently do not provide health insurance because the amount taken out of paycheck as Medicare tax is matched by the employer in the same way as the current Social Security tax. Decreases by at least 50% costs for employers who currently provide health insurance.
Savings in individual insurance premiums Most people will see higher premiums than under their old employer-provided plans, due to higher billing and marketing costs. Inability to enforce the insurance mandate means little savings due to no longer having to bear cost of care for uninsured. Dependent on income, if you count the Medicare payroll tax as a premium. Lower income people will see a drastic savings, upper income people will see a drastic increase, most will pay less than today because total cost of the program is less.
Coverage for pre-existing conditions Mandated Everybody in America is automatically covered
Percentage of individuals uninsured Roughly 10%, consisting of people who do not file income tax statements (and thus are not tracked by RomneyHillaryCare), are here illegally and thus do not qualify for subsidies for low-income households, or simply cannot afford health insurance even with the subsidies provided under RomneyHillaryCare for low-income households. None -- everybody in America will be automatically covered, regardless of income status or immigration status.
Overall savings Increases overall costs of health care in America, due to the cost of the additional federal bureaucracies and cost of billing and enforcement Decreases overall costs of health care in America by at least 25% due to elimination of all billing, marketing, and sales costs and drastic reduction of claims processing costs due to economies of scale.
Consumer choice of physician Limited As is currently the case, you will be required to "choose" a physician who is part of your particular PPO or HMO. Drastically improved. With Medicare for All, you can go to any physician, anywhere, and receive care.
Consumer choice of health care coverage Moderate increase in consumer choice. Right now you are limited to what your employer provides. You will be able to choose any plan you can afford under RomneyHillaryCare. Moderate increase in consumer choice. While everybody's base level of health care coverage will be the same, you can choose to purchase MediGap insurance from private providers at extra cost to provide additional coverages beyond those provided by Medicare under Medicare For All.
Ability of states to create their own health plans different and distinct from the national plan Eliminated. Eliminated

Friday, September 28, 2007

Well that fuggin' sucks

How long does it take the fuggin' cops to search one stupid apartment complex?!. (Sorry for crappy photo, that's all my cell phone will do in these conditions).

Yeah, that's the scene I've been staring at for the last three hours. Other folks tell me the apartment complex was blocked off at about 4:20. It is 9:50 right now (i.e. almost 6 hours later). Meanwhile, I saw a black dude with a very fancy afro walking down the street about half a mile from said apartment complex. Huh. Seems to me the dude done got away.

Oh, BTW, they lie. They say they told us to go to the elementary school? Nobody told us jack fucking shit. We all just stood around and watched the cops, then used our Internet-enabled cell phones (which is what this is coming via) to find out what the fuck was going on. Those of us with spouses in the complex called to see whether they'd been told to stay indoors, and... uhm, no. The only reason they know to stay indoors is because it was on the news, and a couple of folks have had cops draw down on them when they didn't know and they walked out their front door into the middle of this shit.

Oh, the funniest part -- the Santa Clara PD has their police helicopter out. Do you know how fuggin' much that goddamn thing costs per hour to keep in the air? Do you know how fuggin' *USELESS* that goddamn thing is at night? About the only use it could possibly be would be if the guys on the ground needed something spotlighted from the air, because otherwise you aren't seeing jack shit in the dark. But hey, their pilot gets to play fly boy and use this expensive piece of equipment that otherwise just sits in a hangar at the airport sucking up money (it's not as if Santa fuckin' Clara is the goddamn crime capital of the world, after all!), so I guess that's all right...

Sigh. Elementary school, or office. Fuggit, if I'm going to sleep somewhere besides my own bed, I'm going to the office. At least I have high speed internet there, unlike this cell phone shit. And the couch in the engineering conference room is soft, soft, soft...

-- Badtux the "Singin' Alice's Restaurant" Penguin

Aftermath: It's 10:40 and the cops are gone now and I'm safely esconced upon my iceberg. They didn't get the dude. Duh.

A modest proposal on Iraq

The U.S. Senate has voted to recommend splitting up Iraq into three nations. No word yet on whether the three nations will be called "Regular", "Premium", and "Diesel".

This recommendation builds upon success after success insofar as American plans for Iraq go. Why, with such a spectacular record of success at brilliantly imposing Western thoughts upon Arab minds, there's nothing that could go wrong with this plan. Except, well, that 96% of Sunnis and 56% of Shiites in Iraq want a single unified country. But hey, they're just Iraqis. We know better, as is exemplified by the fact that Iraq is such a peaceful, democratic nation today where our troops are showered with rose petals wherever they go and our politicians can walk the streets of Baghdad freely with no armed escorts with no fear except maybe suffocating under the showers of rose petals.

No word, yet, on whether the Senate will now take up the issue of dividing Canada (where tensions between French-speaking Quebec and the English-speaking remainder of the country continue to cause frictions) or Belgium (where the French-speaking Walloons and the Dutch-speaking Flemish have thus far been unable to form a government to rule the nation). As for the notion that these countries should decide for themselves whether to split up, rather than have it imposed at gunpoint by a foreign power... heresy! Traitor! Why do you believe that people who, like, actually live there know more about their own nation than Americans? Why do you demean the sacrifices of brave Americans everywhere? Why do you hate America? U S A! U S A! U S A! Fuck yeah!

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Bath Time

"You want to give me a bath? HAHAHAHA Good luck!"

- Badtux the Cat-owned Penguin

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fear factor

Well, the nation survived Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit to the United States. He didn't set off a nuclear bomb in downtown Manhattan, he didn't release a toxin into the air that, like, KILLED US ALL, he didn't do anything, really, except blather, blather, blather. Duh. That's all the power he has, under the Iranian Constitution, which reserves all real power in Iran to Ayatollah Khamenei. What, Ahmadinejad is going to kill us with his breath or somethin'?

Now, some folks have questioned the manners of Columbia University President Lou Bollinger, whose 15 minute introduction of Ahmadinejad was, well pretty harsh. There's some folks who say that saying bad things about your guest to his face is, well, rude. But those people simply don't get the point. The emotion I saw most on Lou Bollinger's face was not hatred, or disgust, or anything like that. What I saw most was fear. He feared that, if he did not demonize Ahmedinejad in exactly the same way as the media-spread orthodoxy, he would be hounded from his position as doctrinally unsound, and relegated to some ghetto of American existence wherein lie the "kooks" and "cranks", eventually to be found shuffling the streets in a shabby bathrobe occasionally muttering, "brother, spare some change?" to their imaginary friends. Soviet America enforces doctrinal orthodoxy via a variety of ways, the most common of which is to destroy those who dare ask questions that threaten the doctrinal orthodoxy. Just ask Juan Cole if he's ever going to get another university teaching position or ever get a promotion at his current one. Ain't happening, because he refuses to spout the Party line as enforced via our media, talk show hosts, etc.

Reminds me of a day 50 years ago, when if you said hello to one of the black students who were just forcibly integrated into your all-white school, you were shunned as a "nigger-lover" and treated the same as the black students (i.e. like shit). It's the same sociological principle at work, except at a far, far larger scale. Free speech, it appears, is something that happens elsewhere. This is America. If you are in a position of importance or speaking to one of importance (as vs. a random penguin blathering to fellow odd fowl) and speak freely here in Soviet America, you will be demonized, ostracized, or tasered. Compliance with the Party orthodoxy is required, not optional, in Soviet America once you get past the point of being a random penguin on the street blathering to fellow odd fowl.

-- Badtux the Random Penguin

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


In September 1957, Little Rock High School was a racially segregated all-white high school that received more funding than the racially-segregated all-black high school in the community. In response to Supreme Court rulings requiring desegregation and requests by the School Board, soldiers were dispatched to allow the Little Rock Nine to enroll.

In September 2007, fifty years later, Little Rock High School is a racially-segregated all-black high school that receives less funding than the racially-segregated all-white high schools in the surrounding area. There are currently no plans to desegregate either Little Rock High School or the racially-segregated all-white high schools in the surrounding area.

Progress! No more white kids throwing glass at black kids! It is clear that racism is dead in America! Woot!

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Meth heads and shotgun shells

So my property manager calls me this evening and tells me that some meth head stole the copper wiring out of one of my properties. He started at the disconnect from the power company and just ripped out the main feed all the way back to the breaker box.

He said he called the cops, but nothing would happen. Yeah, I know the feeling. Personally, I don't even bother calling the cops anymore unless I need a report for the insurance company. As far as I can figure, all that cops are good for nowdays is catching the occasional drunk driver and writing up reports for the insurance company. It's not as if they actually solve crimes or anything like that. That would be, like, work. The only time a crime ever gets solved is if the victim puts out a reward and someone calls and narcs out the perp. Otherwise, well, the donut munchers get paid the same whether the crook gets caught or not, so why do they care?

So anyhow, I'm out several hundred bucks to get my main feed put back in so that he can move my next tenant in (previous tenant is in the hospital and, alas, doesn't seem like she's going to get out except in a coffin). At least they didn't rip out the conduit or anything, that's all still there. Folks wonder why I have such a piss-poor attitude about cops. It's mostly because they haven't done shit for me except take reports. The only time a crime was ever solved was when I solved it myself -- by noting that the thief had cut his hand on the glass when he smashed in the patio door, then following the blood spots to the door of another apartment in the complex, and gosh darn it wouldn't you know that the cord of the stolen stereo was poking out from under the door? Even there I had to practically cattle-prod the donut-muncher to actually follow that blood trail. Anything else... nada.

So anyhow, Hugo Zoom wonders why folks in rural areas are getting pissed and talking about shooting the meth-heads themselves. Of course they're getting pissed. Of course they're talking about administering justice via the barrel of a gun. That's what happens when the normal machinery of civilization just doesn't work anymore. Folks fall back on an earlier model, where justice is what you render out yourself via the barrel of a gun. Problem is, the final result of that is the situation in failed states like Iraq and Somalia. Something that our Bushevik leaders ought to take heed of, because they aren't going to be any better off than Sheik Abdul-Sattar Abu Risha if things get that bad here in the USA.

-- Badtux the Uncivilized Penguin

Monday, September 24, 2007

In the Deserts of The Heart - Chapter 2, Part 1

Chapter 2

It had been ten years since Jerry Rawlings had prevailed over the Bureau of Land Management and they'd issued the deed for the Wishing Well Mine and Mill Site. It had been fifteen years of legal wrangling before then, over the fact that his granddad had patented the mining claim decades before yet the BLM refused to admit it and indeed had ordered him out of his home. A pair of BLM rangers had come out to his home to burn it down as "abandoned property", that being a time when BLM rangers were regularly spotted burning down backwoods cabins as "public nuisances". That had been shortly after the cell phone tower went up Roger's Peak, and luckily Jerry was line-of-sight. He'd called the judge, the judge had immediately written out a court order, and while the BLM rangers were stomping around outside threatening him, the Sheriff and two of his deputies came by and served the court order on them ordering them to cease and desist or be jailed immediately for contempt of court. It took the two BLM rangers a while of talking to their superior, but they finally left. Two years later, the BLM had finally issued the deed.

Since that time, Jerry had fixed the place up pretty nice. While he had a 30kw propane-powered generator out back, he rarely had to fire it up, thanks to a row of solar panels on his roof. The BLM had cut his water line, claiming he had no water rights to the Wishing Hole Spring, but all he had to do to foil them was drill down 40 feet to the granite shelf that the water from the spring ran along and suck the water out from there. He had a windmill pumping the water back up to a water tower on the hill above his house, and a backup electric pump that he ran once a month just to make sure it worked. It was a damn sight more complicated than a simple pipe to Wishing Hole Spring, but given that the BLM rangers kept coming in and vandalizing his pipe every time he fixed it, well...

His wife had run to Ridgecrest with the grandbabies to do some shopping and he was there by himself when someone smashed into his locked gate with a sound like a small explosion. Jerry grabbed his 30-30 and ran out onto his front porch. Some durnfool was driving a big Chevrolet pickup truck way too fast up the canyon towards his house. Jerry pondered a second, then decided anybody willing to smash through a locked gate was up to no good, and moved out to where he could get a down-the-throat shot at the front tire. Easy now... squeeze... yeah!

The truck veered wildly, almost flipping before it came to a stop sideways in the canyon. A wild-haired man jumped out and looked around wildly, then spotted Jerry sighting down on him with the rifle and jumped back in. The man started the truck back up, turned it around, and drove out the way he'd come, flat tire and all.

Jerry just stood there for a few minutes, listening to the sound of the truck's engine fade away around the bend of the canyon. It stopped for a few minutes. Changing the tire, Jerry figured. Then it started up again, and faded out.

Now that was interesting, Jerry thought. He walked back up to the house, and fished the bag phone out and gave a call to the Sheriff's office. "Is Ray in?" he asked Marlena, the red-headed dispatcher who was seriously hot in a curvy sort of way but way too young for Jerry, something that had crept up on him. How had he gotten old so fast, anyhow?

"Ray's holed up in his office," Marlena said. "Is that you, Jerry? I don't think he has time for fishing. He has a pretty blond thing to worry about."

"Oh yeah. The new woman up Copper King Canyon. I think she said her name was Clair, something like that? I went up there and introduced myself a few months back. Friendly enough li'l filly, but a bit distant. Got that whole thousand yard stare thing going, y'know?"

"Clarissa, I think. Anyhow, she's had someone poking around, and wants one of our deputies to come out and see if he can figure out who it is and what they want."

"Is that so? I was just wanting to talk to Ray about my own visitor. He smashed through my front gate and was driving hell-bent for my house. He mighta accidentally picked up a flat from some lead poisoning, if you get my drift, and decided to leave. Wonder if that has anything to do with Clarrisa's problem?"

"You ain't shootin' trespassers again, are you?"

"Well, sorta," Jerry said, embarrassed. There'd been a big stink when some of them Sierra Club types had cut the lock off his gate and traipsed right on in, and he'd fired a warning shot in their direction. One of them had gotten irate and huffily stormed at Jerry, and Jerry had promptly put a bullet through the man's shoulder. The man had survived. Filed a complaint with the Sheriff's office, of course. Jerry just told the Sheriff, "I'm sixty-five years old, he was a twenty-somethin' youngster with muscles threatening to beat me up for tellin' him to get off my land, I defended myself, ain't a jury in this county that would convict me." Which was true. Everybody knew Jerry, and knew if he shot someone, that someone needed shootin'. But still, it was a lot of fuss, especially the lawsuit.

"Is this guy going to be filing a complaint?"

"Over a spare tire? After he destroyed my gate? I doubt it. Anybody who would smash a pickup truck through a locked gate ain't got no good in mind."

"Well, maybe your visitor has something to do with Clarrisa's problem. I'll tell Ray."

"'Preciate it." He hung up the phone, and went back inside and turned off the television. Satellite TV was ruinin' folks, he figured. When he was younger, the only entertainment was what you made for yourself with the piano or banjo or harmonica. Nowdays...

He strapped on his big .45 automatic and headed out the side door to the workshop. He seemed to recall having some chain there. Ah. Yes. A twenty-footer. He dug around until he found a spare lock that would fit through its links, declared it good enough, and found some yellow marker ribbon. He tossed it all into the back of his old Jeep Wagoneer 4x4, and drove down to his gate to see what had happened.

The gate was a bit dented, but he'd welded it up of some pretty hefty pipe, and it was still pretty much intact. The lock on the chain, on the other hand, had disintegrated. The chain itself still looked fine. Jerry got the other lock out of the Wagoneer, chained the gate back up, then stopped to think a bit. What if this fellow met his wife and grandchildren on the road, coming back from Ridgecrest?

He headed back up to the house and tried to raise his wife on the CB radio. A 20 foot mast got his signal out pretty far, but she either was out of range or otherwise occupied. It was the otherwise occupied thing that bothered him.

Jerry sighed, collected his wife's .38 and his grandchildren's .22 rifles, went back out to the Wagoneer, and headed back out, locking the gate behind him as he left. He figured he was going to go wait where the road hit pavement to make sure that the crazy man wasn't going to bushwhack her. And if the crazy man tried to bushwhack him instead...

Well, that was why the .45 ACP was on his hip, after all.

Hillary Clinton is a scheming bitch

And I have absolutely no problem with that.

I'd rather have a scheming bitch as President than a naive boy scout or an inexperienced orator who thus far is all fluff and no substance, or god forbid any of the Republican assholes. Actually, I'd like to see Bill Richardson, the most experienced guy in the race on either side, as president. But it ain't happenin'. He doesn't have the money to put together a credible organization and as a balding fat guy he's not telegenic enough for the Shallow Hals and Shallow Harriets out there.

Yeah, I know all the negatives about Hillary, like her lame-ass health care plan, her pandering to the Israel lobby, etc. But put Hillary up against, say, Julie Annie, and she'd rip his guts out. She's a scheming bitch. And that's just what's needed right now to feed some Republicans their entrails. She's slick, she can raise a ton of money, she has the best advisors money can buy, she campaigns like an animal and any attempt to swift boat her would get belly laughs from an American public that already knows who Hillary is and who aren't going to get distracted by any nonsense that the right wing comes up with (what, they're gonna say she assassinated Abraham Lincoln next? Nobody listens to that crap anymore). Sadly, we already know Edwards rolls over like a puppy when some Republican front group barks at him, and Obama is in the same position as Kerry was in 2004 -- a position where he's still ripe to get defined by the Republican media in some way. The Republican media can't do anything to Hillary. They've already tried it all, and it didn't work. So, in celebration of my new first lady, here's the song I'm going to use to commemorate my new first choice for Democratic nominee:


-- Badtux the Bitchy Penguin

Ahmadinejad is Hitler

All this week, the wingnuts have been whining about that mean President Ahmadinejad of Iran visiting America. "It's like inviting Hitler to visit!!" they exclaim in that cute hyperventilating manner that they all have, as if they're not getting enough oxygen to the brain and, like, have to use lots of exclamation marks!!! to make up for the fact that, like, they're blue in the face and speaking gibberish!!!!

Okay, so unlike Hitler, Ahmadinejad hasn't invaded anybody. Indeed, he *can't* invade anybody -- the Supreme Ruler (Ayatollah Khamanei) is head of the Iranian armed forces and has sole power to declare war, the President of Iran only has power over limited internal affairs. So unlike Hitler he doesn't have any armies under his control. Ahmadinejad hasn't exterminated any Jews either, indeed there are Jewish members of the Iranian parliament. And because he has no power to declare war under Iran's constitution, obviously he hasn't declared war against anybody. But... but...Ahmadinejad has SAID MEAN THINGS ABOUT ISRAEL! And saying bad things about Israel MAKES BABY JESUS CRY! WAHHH!!!! So *obviously* he's Hitler. Despite having no armies. Despite invading nobody. Despite exterminating nobody. Saying bad things about Israel is WORSE than all that, because saying bad things about Israel, like, HURTS THEIR FEELINGS! SOB!

- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Re-fighting the Vietnam war

So a bunch of South Vietnamese refugees, most of whom fled South Vietnam rather than pick up a rifle and go fight the North Vietnamese, wave South Vietnamese flags and chant anti-Communist slogans and want a shopping strip in San Jose to be renamed "Little Saigon".

Give it up, people. You lost. You and your fellow rich Frenchified Catholic South Vietnamese failed to build a national identity for your country, failed to fight for your country yourselves instead relying on the "little people" that you looked down your noses at to fight for you (the fact that you're here is proof of that -- the North Vietnamese could not have taken South Vietnam if every South Vietnamese had been willing to fight to the death, you ran instead of fighting) and you lost. Get over it. This is 2007, 32 years after your beloved Saigon was overrun because you were too busy looting the government coffers to, like, actually buy rifles and bullets and go out there and kill some NVA. It's time to move on.

These South Vietnamese "patriots" remind me of the Confederate "patriots" after the American Civil War and their mythology of the "Lost Cause". The fact of the matter is that if everybody who'd been drafted by the CSA had actually answered the call to arms, the Confederate armies would have been larger than the Union armies. On paper, Joe Johnston's Army of North Carolina outnumbered General Sherman's army by a factor of 3 to 1. Reality, though, is that the majority of Confederate draftees never showed up and Joe Johnston barely had 18,000 men to deal with Sherman's 65,000 men. They didn't care enough about their country to fight for it, and indeed President Jefferson Davis was the most hated man in the Confederacy at the time that Joe Johnston surrendered to Sherman. It was not until well after the war that statues of Jefferson Davis were put up all over the South and he became a "hero of the Lost Cause". At the time of the final Confederate surrender, Jefferson Davis was widely detested as a haughty dictator who'd managed to lose the war for the South via a pattern of micro-management and consistently bad decision making.

But "Lost Cause" mythologies always seem to follow the same pattern, so I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that one has arisen around the South Vietnamese aristocracy-in-exile. But there's one big difference between the Confederate "Lost Cause" aristocracy and the South Vietnamese one. The Confederate aristocracy actually fought, and died in large numbers, for their cause. The South Vietnamese aristocracy never did. They had people for that.

-- Badtux the History Penguin

A moment of noise

... for Marcel Marceau, who died Saturday in France at age 84. A moment of silence for a mime would be so... ordinary.

-- Badtux the Obituary Penguin

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Guns of November

Over at Balloon Juice, TimF wonders why Republicans appear to want a) a totalitarian police state, but b) also want people to be able to anonymously purchase assault weapons.

Actually, it makes a lot of sense if you think about it. Any totalitarian state depends upon a plentiful supply of anonymous “brownshirts” to enforce their rule. Furthermore, any totalitarian state relies on the fact that people with moral qualms are less efficient and effective at using things like assault weapons and less likely to purchase them than amoral people who enjoy killing. The net result is that any “successful” totalitarianism relies on the support of anonymous amoral murderers for its “success” in keeping the remainder of the populace under control, and by and large does not mind that the majority of the population is heavily armed, because the minority of amoral murderers has far greater combat effectiveness due to their willingness to use their weapons and the fact that there is no list of who is one of the “brownshirts” thus you can’t know whether any particular person you encounter is a “brownshirt” or not. See: Sadaam’s Iraq, where everybody had an AK-47 in the bedroom and an RPG launcher and extra ammo buried in the garden, but Sadaam generally had no problem staying in power as long as he paid off the amoral murderer minority by giving them special privileges and goodies.

In short, there is no contradiction between a nation flooded with firearms and dictatorship. As long as the dictatorship provides special privileges and such to the minority of people who are amoral murderers, the amoral murderers will then keep the rest of the populace in check no matter how many weapons the rest of the populace possesses. It’s much like the reason why despite owning firearms I do not carry a firearm in public, even back when I lived in a state where they handed out concealed weapon permits like candy. The reality is that in a face-off between me and an amoral murderer, I would still be trying to figure out whether the situation called for deadly force at the same time that the amoral murderer was plugging my plump penguin ass. Those “moral qualms” things just don’t make for effective use of firearms, which is why one of the first things that the military does with new recruits is make sure that any moral qualms about use of firearms to kill people get quite thoroughly squashed under layers of training.

-- Badtux the Gun Penguin

In the Deserts of The Heart - Obligatory notes

This is fiction, and it's currently being written. It's only up to 13,000 words at the moment (or roughly 1/10th of the way to the 100k words that make a nice-sized novel nowdays), but is going smoothly and I know how it ends (note: not a happy ending). I'm mostly posting it here to keep me focused on cranking out prose. Some notes:

1. Don't think that you know any of the geographic locations that I talk about. I deliberately fictionalized some of the geography in order to protect the privacy of real people who live in the real locations. You'll notice me occasionally talk about real locations that seem to give you a geographic bearing, such as Roger's Peak, or real towns, such as Ridgecrest or Independence, but the actual geography I present is not the real one. While it roughly occupies the same territory as Inyo County, it isn't.

2. Everybody is fictional, of course. The real Inyo County Sheriff's Department bears absolutely no resemblance to the fictional un-named sheriff's department in the novel. That said, some of the background events, such as BLM rangers spotted burning down miners' cabins as "public nuisances" or cutting off the water supply to mining camps that they want to see go away, actually happened, and the tension between the locals and the various Federal agencies actually exist, to the point where the NPS has closed some roads and Inyo County has come right in and re-opened those roads by grading right over the "Road Closed" signs to create a nice smooth road again. Add in the LADWP (LA Department of Water and Power) which maintains a water monopoly in the Owens Valley and uses that as a weapon to punish the locals whenever they get uppity, and you have a nice little stew of tensions going.

3. Don't assume that any character is a character from my first two novels. I haven't made that decision yet. Besides, the second novel didn't go so well, I don't have the skill to do it right yet and pretty much abandoned it in place even though I know what happens and how it ends. Let's just say that if you thought the first one was dark, the second one was virtually infrared on the color scale, and while the second one might tie in to this one, it might not, either. I intend to be deliberately vague on that.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Disaster preparedness: A new approach

They're telling us out here in California that we need an "earthquake kit". Err, okay. I have three gallons of water in the Jeep as well as an axe, chain, and hi-lift (can be used as a poor man's winch), and a couple boxes of MRE's up here in the apartment. But wait. If there's an earth quake, I'm in a multi-floor apartment building and it's likely to at least collapse to the point where it's hard to get any supplies out of my apartment. And, uhm, my water probably has gotten stale. And I need to eat up these MRE's and get some fresher ones, they're getting old too. And while I have several well-stocked first aid kits ranging from the tiny one in my day pack to the mid-sized one in my Jeep to the big one in my linen closet, I have to keep going through them and discarding the expired medicines and replacing them with fresh ones.

While considering all this, I suddenly had a brilliant idea. How about we as a community get together, put a bunch of money into a kitty, and put together a collective set of trained disaster responders and resources in order to keep ourselves alive in the aftermath of a disaster? That way we don't all individually need to stockpile food and water and medical supplies and so forth, we would already have our community stockpiles maintained and available for use and rotated in a timely manner so that they're never stale, all for much less than we'd individually pay to do so because it's cheaper to buy in bulk. The only problem is what do we call this hypothetical organization that we get together and form in order to help us prepare for emergencies and disasters. I could propose the name "government", but that name is apparently already taken by some sort of alien imposition upon the populace that lives only to steal all our money at gunpoint and provide no services in return.

- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Friday, September 21, 2007

In the Deserts of The Heart - Chapter 1, Part 2

From time to time Ray went to a bar. It was down a back road, where the tourists never went. He would go to the bar and drink beer and think about his daughter that he hadn't seen for ten years, think about all the things he'd seen over the years, all the people who he'd grown up with and all who were gone, and he'd listen. You learned a lot, listening. Folks talked in bars, and in a county with as few people as his, the grapevine worked fast.

He noticed the woman when he came in. Women did come to this bar. Hard-scrabble women, woman miners who'd gathered their share of scars, weathered women who drank as hard as the men and were almost as ornery. This woman wasn't like them. She was a small woman, blond, dressed in khaki pants and a dusty t-shirt with sweat stains under its armpits, sturdily built with her arms showing sleek muscle but she was too small and quiet to be one of the lady miners who sometimes swept in like a force of nature. This woman didn't talk loud or curse or join in any conversations. She simply sat there, and drank, and stared at nothing at all.

Ray had seen stares like that before. Plenty of young men and women from the county entered the military, the only real job left to young people other than catering to tourists now that the mines were worked out and the factories gone overseas. Some of them didn't come back. And some came back... changed. He wondered where she'd seen combat, which one of her comrades had died. But all his attempts to talk to her had always gotten nothing more than one-word answers, at best.

He'd asked around, and she was set up on an old mining stake up Copper Canyon. There was nothing back there. You needed a Jeep just to get there. But no one was quite sure what she was doing back there. Some folks had noticed that the mine seemed to be being worked again. But that didn't make any sense, because the copper ore left in that mine was so low grade that it wasn't worth carrying off to be milled, even if the woman re-built the road so that trucks could make it to the mine again.

He sat down beside her.

"Another," the woman said to the bartender, pointing to her glass. The bartender came around and filled up her glass out of a can of lemon-lime soda.

"Drinking the hard stuff I see," Ray commented.

The woman turned and stared at him. "Some of us don't want to forget," she said quietly.

Ray blinked, surprised. This was more words than she'd said the entire last time he'd tried talking to her. "Way I see it, if God hadn't wanted us to forget from time to time, He wouldn't have invented beer," Ray said.

"There is no God," the woman said, and turned back to her lemon-lime, and stared deep into its depths.

"Bleak philosophy," Ray observed.

"Reality usually is."

Ray ordered his beer from the bartender, thinking about that. "So why bother coming here?" he asked.

The woman stared at her lemon-lime for a few minutes. Ray waited. He was in no hurry. The bartender brought his beer, and Ray slurped the foam off the top. The place was a dive, but the beer was good. The owner was some yuppie from San Francisco who'd cashed out, dropped out, and decided to open a beer pub somewhere. Nobody quite knew how he ended up here though. But when he'd bought the dive, he'd installed his beer making gear in the back, and now... it was good beer. The best beer in the county, certainly. Not that this was saying much, when the only other beer in the county was Milwaukee horse piss.

"Weakness," the woman said. "I listen."

"Listening isn't weakness," Ray pointed out. "Listening is the only way to learn."

"I shouldn't need it. It's dangerous."

Ray perked up. "Dangerous?"

"Needing anything. If you need, they can hurt you."


The woman waved her hand, looked disgusted, and took a sip from her drink.

There were a number of reasons why a woman might want to live alone in the desert. Ray had been out here all his life, and the usual stories blurred together after a while. Abusive boyfriends, abusive spouses, horrible abuses in the past that the woman was trying to forget, or just plain post-traumatic stress disorder where they wanted a quiet life that wouldn't set off an incident. Ray had read her as a combat veteran. The thousand yard stare and all that. But "they?" Perhaps domestic violence?

Ray tried again. "Anyone in particular that the Sheriff's department ought to notice poking around looking for your place?"

The woman shook her head. "All dead, or in prison."

"Sounds like a story you have there."

"Yeah," the woman said. That was all she said. She sipped her drink, then stared into it again. She had, apparently, said all she was going to say. Ray knew better than to press a desert rat further once a desert rat was ready to be alone again, even if said desert rat was a tiny blond woman staring into a lemon-lime rather than a whiskey. The desert was full of stories. Some of them, unfortunately, would never be told.

A few minutes later, the woman looked at him again. "You're the Sheriff?"

"That I am," Ray admitted.

"There's someone poking around outside my place. Just watching from the rocks."

"Want a deputy to come out there and check it out?"

The woman considered. "I don't know. I never got a good look. Just a glimpse. Don't think he or she means me any harm. At least, they could have shot me in the back a couple times and didn't. But skulking around like that doesn't sound good."

"Old boyfriend?"

The woman snorted. "Not bloody well likely. They'd be more prone to throwing themselves at my feet and begging me to come back to the city."

Ray smiled. "Sounds like you broke a lot of hearts in your day. So what happened? How'd you end up out here?"

The woman smiled back, and hopped off her bar stool. "You're cute when you do that cop thing," she said, and reached up and touched his cheek. "Just send someone over tomorrow, okay?" She stared up at his eyes for a few seconds that seemed like minutes, still smiling, then turned away and walked out of the bar.

Ray stared at the door for a minute or so. His heart was thumping.

"She's too young for you," the bartender said.

"Yeah." Ray turned back to his beer.

"Awe shit. She stiffed me again." The bartender stared forlornly at the near-empty glass of lemon-lime soda sitting on the counter.

"You want me to go arrest her or something?"

The bartender considered for a few seconds. "Naw. I'll just add it to her tab, and remember not to serve her next time until she pays up."

"She probably just forgot."

"I don't think she forgets," the bartender said. "Maybe that's the problem. Too much remembering. Clutters the mind."

"I wonder what she's remembering?"

"I don't think I want to know," the bartender said. "Damned shame, whatever it is. Purty thing like that, too."

"Yeah, a damned shame," Ray agreed. He decided he'd been amiss in not finding out more about his new taxpayer. He had her application for a concealed carry permit on file, he'd pretty much rubber-stamped it once the FBI check came back clean because a little lady like that needed some heat for protection, but that was all he knew about her. There was something strange about this whole affair, not the least the notion that someone was poking around her place. He wondered if that was so, or if she was simply imagining things, having flashbacks. Either way, he decided, he was going to run a couple of checks on her when he got back to the office in the morning, then run out there to see about her mystery guest.

That resolved, he drank his beer, and listened, and thought about a daughter he hadn't seen in ten years, and people he'd known, and people gone. And about a small blond woman who had smiled at him and touched him, touched him in more ways than one, and he wasn't quite sure what to think about that.

A tutorial for the Boston Police Department and Massachusetts State Police

This is a bomb: This is not a bomb: This is a bomb: This is not a bomb: This is a bomb: This is not a bomb. So, uhm, could you guys, like, quit threatening to kill people who are, like, carrying around the "not a bomb" stuff? It's, like, totally uncalled for. Thank you!

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Afternoon health care snark

If the solution to the problem of Americans lacking health insurance is a new law requiring them to purchase health insurance (a.k.a. RomneyHillaryCare), then it is clear that there is an equally viable solution to homelessness also. Just pass a law requiring the homeless to rent apartments. Voila, no more homeless!

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Water cat

Not all cats hate water. Sea lions love it.

-- Badtux the Wildlife Penguin

David Horrorwitch discovers enemy of Israel

This new enemy, which he talks about in his latest email to me begging, begging I say, for me to send money to him that he can use as matching funds to get more Wingnut Welfare(tm) from the Scaife Foundation, is ... uhm ... let's first talk about who it's not. It's not al Qaeda. Not Syria. Not Iran. Not Hamas. Not Hizballah. No. The threat that is so dire, so deadly, that I must, MUST I say, send money to David Horrowitz so he can swing the mighty cannon of his one-man "foundation" into action to counter it is... uhm... Jimmy Carter.

Wha? You mean some wrinkled old peanut farmer from Georgia is a threat to the very existence of Israel?

Apparently so. Seems ole' Jimmy actually is an evil super-villain, Peanut Man, who slides into his spandex super-villain uniform and flies over to Israel every day and.. and.. HURTS THEIR FEELINGS! Why, every day some innocent little blonde blue-eyed Israeli girl or boy falls over dead, clutching their heart, because, uhm, because JIMMY CARTER SAYS BAD THINGS ABOUT THEIR GOVERNMENT!

And oh, that negotiating a peace treaty with Egypt and Jordan thing? All just part of his dastardly plot. Without the Jordanians and Egyptians muddling up things with their bullets or stuff, that allows Peanut Man to swoop in and kill yet more poor innocent little blonde blue-eyed Israeli girls and boys by saying MEAN things about the Israeli government.

I am glad to have heard about that evil super-villain Peanut Man from that great American Hero David Horrowitz who single-handedly takes on evil-doers with his mighty super-powers of... of... BEGGING FOR MONEY ... and will post-forth send him all the money I can spare. In some alternative universe story like the one he wrote, that is. Uhm, David, can you leave the science fiction to Harry Turtledove? His alternative universe novels are FAR more entertaining, and more plausible too.

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

Thursday, September 20, 2007

In the Deserts of The Heart - Chapter 1, Part 1

In the Deserts of the Heart
E.L. Green

Chapter 1

There was somebody out there.

The woman was a small woman, compact, sturdy in the way of someone who had been an athlete when young and worked hard with her body when older. She was wearing khaki pants and a white cotton work shirt and a sun hat and carrying a shovel where she had been trying to clear her grey water drain line to get her sink flowing again. The desert sun beat down upon her, but the air was dry, and her brow was crusted with salt, rather than sweat, as she took a sip from her water bottle and considered. There was nothing to tell her that someone was out there. Just a feeling. A glimpse out of the corner of her eye. That was all. But she had learned, over the years, to trust such feelings, even though they were no longer life or death.

The woman's browe furrowed under her sun hat. She put the water bottle back into her pocket and unhurriedly carried her shovel to the shed at the back of her shack, feeling the weight of the .357 revolver strapped to her hip. She did not think she would need it this day, though. Whoever was out there, watching her, seemed in no hurry.

Then she walked into her shack and sat in the chair near the wood stove and did what she did most days, had done for longer than she wished to recall. She sat, and she remembered, and never glanced towards the framed photos of dead people that occupied the northmost wall.

Ray Olsted hadn't intended to go into law enforcement. His nickname when young had been "Wild Ray". Everybody assumed he would be a criminal of some sort. Then one evening while driving an old lady miner up to her claims, they went through the gate that protected their canyon from intruders, turned into a neighbor's driveway to visit, and were met by a frantic-looking young man pointing a .22 rifle at them. "How did you get in here?" the young man demanded. "With the key," Ray replied sensibly. "We're going up to Miss Polly's claims. But it looks like you don't want company, so we'll just move along." So he backed up, and as he backed up, looking out his back window, his backup lights fell upon the dead body where a pool of blood was still forming.

Rather than turning up the canyon to take Miss Polly to her claims, he went back down the canyon. He drove to the nearest telephone, thirty miles away, and called the Sheriff's office. A deputy showed up half an hour after that, driving a battered Impala.

Ray explained the situation, and the deputy called it in on his radio. Then he scratched his head and thought.

"Are you armed?" the deputy asked.

"No sir," Ray replied, because for someone nick-named "Wild Ray", carrying a weapon was a recipe for disaster and he might be wild but he wasn't crazy. But Miss Polly, who was all of 78 years of age that year, replied "I am", and pulled a snub-nose revolver out of her purse.

"Well, we better make sure the guy doesn't go anywhere," the deputy said. "It'll be a while before anybody gets down here from Bishop."

"You won't get up the canyon in that," Ray said, nodding at the Impala. He pointed the deputy at the other door of his Bronco. "Jump in."

"I'm coming too," Miss Polly added. "You might need the firepower." She daintily placed her revolver back into her purse. The deputy pointedly looked away. In these parts, deputies didn't see a lot of things that big city cops would see. Taking in a 78 year old woman for an illegal concealed weapon wasn't happening. So the deputy went and called in where he was going, and got into the Bronco, and they all headed back up-canyon.

When they got back up, the young man met them with the rifle again, and the deputy shouted "Police. Put the rifle down." The young man threw it down and put his hands up, and while Miss Polly held her revolver on the young man, the deputy cuffed him and brought him to the Bronco and stuffed him into the back seat."

"My, this was exciting," Miss Polly said, as Wild Ray pondered this use of his prized Bronco's back seat.

"Yep," Ray said, and looked at the deputy. "How does someone become a deputy?" he asked.

The deputy replied. And thirty years later, after more work than he liked to think about, Ray Olsted somehow had ended up Sheriff, not quite believing it. For someone who had once been "Wild Ray", it was an unexpected destination, but it suited him fine.

The young man, who had murdered the caretaker of Davidson Camp over money then smashed the caretaker's head in when his rifle jammed, was in prison now, and would be for the rest of his life. Davidson Camp was a ruin, all the Davidsons gone away to the big city to work for money and never coming back. Miss Polly had been dead for ten years now, having survived to the ripe old age of 98, sprightly up until her last year when finally she'd lost her edge and faded away. It'd been thirty years, and the years hadn't been too kind to the lean young man who'd encountered a murderer at Davidson Camp, he had a couple of scars now where he hadn't ducked fast enough in a bar fight or a gun fight, and his belly was bigger than he liked to think about. He'd had a wife, lost a wife, had a daughter, a daughter he hadn't seen for ten years now as she led a life somewhere else in the town his wife had moved to when she divorced him. But that was life. That was life. He was alive, he wasn't in jail, all in all he couldn't complain.

Ve must haff ORDER!

I've been thinking more about the case of the Florida student tasered for asking a question. I've now looked at multiple cuts of two different videos from two different angles including the aftermath once the student was removed, and read the comments attached to these videos by a variety of people. And what I've concluded is that the reaction to this story tends to fall into two categories: "The student deserved it!" or "The student didn't deserve it, he was just exercising free speech!".

Both reactions, I think, misunderstand the job of police officers. The job of police officers is not to enforce nebulous concepts such as "democracy" or "freedom" or "free speech". The job of police officers is not to decide whether a student "deserves" or "doesn't deserve" to be tasered by a police officer. The job of police officers is control, specifically, control aimed at maintaining public order. Public disorder is rather upsetting to most folks and besides it threatens property, which is more important than human beings in our society. Just watch what happens when a Black Bloc anarchist throws a chair through the window of a Starbucks. It is clear from that result that the window of the Starbucks is more important than the health or welfare of the anarchists getting the beat-down. Thus the reason why the student was tasered. He was tasered because he was being loud and disorderly and other students were drifting towards the altercation. Given what the student was yelling, the police had reason to believe that there was about to be a riot -- massive disorder -- if they did not remove the student immediately. Removing the student was required in order to restore order. Thus they acted according to their training and policy and escalated force until they reached a level of force necessary to restore order, which was the taser in its contact (not projectile) mode.

Back to the issue of control. The catch-all infraction that you are always charged with, in the event that the cop can't think of anything else to charge you with, is "disorderly conduct", closely followed by "resisting arrest". If you fail to obey a command given to you by a police officer, you're going to get charged with these, period, because obedience is required in our society. Disobedience is disorderly. Disorderly conduct cannot be allowed because it might endanger property. Danger to property cannot be allowed because property is more important than human beings. Thus all necessary force, up to and including potentially deadly force (a taser), is justified if necessary in order to elminate disorderly conduct. If you allow disorderly conduct of the peasants they may decide that orderly conduct is not necessary. Then where would we all be?

The above may seem somewhat tongue in cheek, but actually there is a valid concern behind the requirement for public order, which is that public disorder often ends up with violence against human beings. In our society, the police have been given a legal monopoly on violence. The example of societies such as Somalia or today's Baghdad might give pause to those who decide that we do not need a single group that possesses the legal monopoly on violence. In neither case is life very valuable, or very comfortable. Personally, I prefer living comfortably -- even if that requires acknowledgment of the fact that public order, not freedom or democracy or anything like that, is a fundamental requirement of continuing that comfortable life. Donald Rumsfeld ignored that requirement in Baghdad after Saddam was overthrown. The results should be instructive. Public order is far preferable to the alternative.

In that preference, I am much like the vast majority of Americans, which is also why the notion of "freedom" in America is today as laughable as the notion of "freedom" in Saddam's Iraq. Certainly I am free to blather harmlessly in random web forums. But I am most certainly not free to act in any way which would endanger the position of the oligarchy that rules us. That would be disorderly, and there are many punishments, both legal and extra-legal, that would be applied to me if I ever did act in such a way. The fact that these punishments are nowhere near as crude or drastic as what Saddam would have applied does not in any way cause them to cease to exist. It simply means that our rulers are smarter than Saddam.

-Badtux the Orderly Penguin

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A concise summary of RomneyCare/HillaryCare

RomneyHillaryCare is a giveaway to the insurance industry (which doesn't want to insure sick people, just healthy people) and big business (which wants to be out of the health care industry). It takes the costs of healthcare and passing them directly to the person who decides if they should have the operation to extend their own lives or standard of living or not. Everybody under Rillary care will be forced to buy into plans with huge deductibles. At that point it will all be out of pocket for them and they'll be forced to stop buying healthcare.

As demand is chopped down (at the same rate that Americans are falling over due to lack of healthcare), we'll move down the supply curve until the remaining population is able to afford staying alive. In short, RilaryCare is a mechanism for weeding out the sick people in the economy and planting them under the ground so that insurance companies can make money off the remaining healthy people.

Ration life, it's precious. Remember, the right to life ends with birth!

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

PS -- the same person wrote Hillary2Care as wrote Romneycare (implemented in Massachusetts under Governor Mitt Romney's administration), and the two plans are virtually identical. Which makes Mitt Romney's criticism of Hillary's plan *especially* hilarious. This is on par with Gay Old Pervert Republican politicians making speeches about the "evil Gay lifestyle" bwahahahahah!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Hillarycare = Insurance Industry subsidy?

Hillary Clinton released her so-called "universal health insurance" plan Monday. I have downloaded it and am reading it. News reports suggest that it is another attempt to enrich the wealthy health insurance companies who have contributed millions of dollars to her and her husbands' campaigns by forcing people at gunpoint to send money to health insurance companies (individuals will be mandated to purchase health insurance coverage, regardless of whether they can afford to do so or not). I personally believe that creating a huge government bureaucracy to enforce such a mandate is the wrong way of going about things, and that government should not be in the business of forcing people to buy a product that they either don't want or can't afford. As for the comparison to automobile insurance, we all know how well government mandates have worked there. (Sarcasm intended -- in my state, 1 out of every 3 drivers is driving illegally without insurance and auto insurance is *much* cheaper than health insurance).

As for the question of what to do with all those unemployed insurance company claims processors and such if we really did get Medicare For All, I have a modest suggestion. Farmers in the American Southwest claim that they need Mexican immigrants because they cannot get Americans to work in the fields. Why don't we round up all these unemployed insurance company case workers, payroll employees, receivables accountants, etc., and put them to work picking spinach in Salinas? We get two benefits in one -- lower health care costs, and a solution to the problem of tightened border enforcement causing a shortage of farm workers!

More when I finish reading the plan...

-- Badtux the Health Penguin

Why martial law could happen in America

Do you really believe that cops with no hesitancy about Tasering college kids for asking a question, studying in a library, skateboarding, or just because they ask for it would have any problems using so-called "non-lethal devices" (that have killed over 400 people over the past five years) or worse to enforce a martial law declaration?

C'mon. Let's get real here. Cops believe that civilians are The Enemy. Cops have their own culture, which overlaps with civilian culture only at the edges. Cops have their own values, which are not civilian values. Any cop who has any objection to enforcing ridiculous, unconstitutional laws has been forced out of the profession by the War on Drugs, which violates the Constitution in oh so many ways by outlawing consensual commerce between adults, seizing property without compensation or any meaningful due process, removing voting rights in violation of the 14th Amendment, and so forth. If a cop's chain of command told him to enforce a dusk to dawn curfew in order to prevent rioting over a Presidential decree that elections were cancelled and Congress dismissed due to "terrorist threats", he would do it -- period. Using all force allowed by departmental policies. If a cop's chain of command ordered him to arrest Duncan Black of Atrios fame as a member of a "terror cell" and escort him to a USAF cargo jet for processing to Guantanamo Bay, he would do so, without a thought, or if he did have a thought, said thought would be "I'll just do my job, and if he's innocent the courts will free him." If a cop was ordered to arrest a sitting judge (who had the timerity to rule that arresting Duncan Black was illegal) and escort him to that jet it'd be the same response.

The basic problem is that we have allowed our government to get away from us, through apathy, ignorance, and fear. No government survives without the willing aquiescence of the majority of the people. We have allowed our fear to allow ambitious politicians into stampeding us into giving them more and more power, of which the police are the enforcers of that power. The disconnect between the police and the citizenry they are supposed to serve is not because police are inherently evil, it is because we have allowed our government to become disconnected from the citizenry and the police are, in the end, government employees who similarly have become disconnected. The case of health care is a good example. The majority of Americans want universal health care. They don't want patchwork systems of competing HMO's and PPO's and payment approvals and so forth, they want to be able to go into any doctor's office, anywhere, when they get sick, and get taken care of. Yet the plan of the next President of the United States, Hillary Clinton, is to force people at gunpoint to subsidize the private insurance industry by requiring all Americans to purchase health insurance.

As long as the majority of Americans continue to be more interested in the latest episode of their favorite "reality TV" show than in who rules them, we run the risk of martial law and permanent loss of our freedoms, and our police forces and military, despite all the propaganda about how they "protect our freedoms", would happily cooperate in enforcing martial law. Unfortunately, I know of no way to make apathetic, ignorant, fearful people less apathetic, ignorant, or fearful. Other than shock treatment like what happened in the 1929-1932 time frame, which ended Republican rule of America for a generation. Are we there yet? I suspect that in the next few years, we'll find out.

-- Badtux the Ramblin' Penguin

Monday, September 17, 2007

OMG! Underwear of Mass Destruction!

Left: Beware the terrierists! Yessiree, our brave soldiers at Guantanamo Bay making sure them thare terrierists don't attack America have headed off yet ANOTHER threat to America: Underwear of Mass Destruction. Somebody, SOMEBODY I say, is smuggling UNAUTHORIZED UNDERWEAR to some of the darkies out there!

The administrators at Guantanamo Bay, knowing the real enemy of America -- those dastardly lawyer folks who insist that everybody, everybody regardless of skin color has certain rights guaranteed by our Constitution (how unpatriotic of them!) -- have of course accused the obvious suspects of providing these dastardly Undergarments of Mass Destruction, and issued a stern warning about the severity of such an action. Why, if lawyers give underwear to our clients, the ENTIRE PRISON COULD DISSOLVE INTO RUIN! And then all those dastardly terrierists, armed with their fresh undies, could swim across the Gulf of Mexico from Cuba to Florida with those undies clenched in their Allah-worshippin' teeth, sneak into our bedrooms at night, and STRANGLE US ALL WITH THOSE UNDIES! But the lawyers, being dastardly worshippers of that un-American "Constitution" document, react with ill-considered laughter, pointing out that underwear is not, in general, a function that lawyers provide to their clients.

But don't worry, I'm sure the brave men and women defending our freedoms at Guantanamo will shortly put those un-American worshippers of that "Constitution" thingy into their own jail cells side by side with their so-called "clients"! Yessiree, let's all raise a salute to the brave prison administrators at Guantanamo Bay. They're keeping us safer and defending our freedoms one pair of speedos and one lawyer at a time. God Bless America! U S A! U S A! U S A!

-- Badtux the Snarky Penguin

The Russia Threat

In comments below, a commentator asks, " Russia is (and has been for a decade now) preparing for war. The question is... who with?"

Well, that is sort of like a "when did you stop beating your wife?" question, because it presupposes something that may or may not be true. The actual state of Russia's conventional military is most exemplified by the following photo: Yep, that's a front-line Russian tank, stuck in the mud. The good news is that Russia's draftees are no longer shivering in the cold and having to sell their weapons for turnips because of a lack of military funding for electricity and food. The bad news is that they're still mostly stuck using aging Soviet-era equipment that has a bad tendency to break down at the worst time. While there are some good post-Soviet developments in the Russian arms industry, the best stuff is going to China and India, not to the Russian armed services. The most that the Russian armed services have gotten out of Putin's defense budget hikes over the past seven years is the ability to actually operate those Soviet-era weapons, thanks to now having the funding to buy fuel and spare parts for the rattletraps.

This isn't to say that the news has been uniformly bad for the Russian armed forces. Those seven years of budget hikes have not allowed them to buy any major new weapons systems, but it has allowed them to fund some minor but important improvements in current weapons systems. For example, there has been significant acquisition of new warheads for their ATGM's (anti-tank guided missiles) to improve their ability to take out M1 tanks at a distance, as well as improvements to the Russian equivalent of our AMRAAM medium-range air-to-air missile so that Russian fighters can now take out U.S. fighters at roughly the same distance that U.S. fighters can take out Russian fighters. But by and large, these are defense-oriented enhancements, not something useful for offensive purposes. Russia does not appear to be re-arming to invade anybody. Rather, they appear to be re-arming expecting to be invaded by someone. Given that the usual state of Russia over the centuries has been to be invaded by pretty much everybody in the neighborhood -- Mongols, Lithuanians, French, German, you name it, they've invaded Russia at one time or another -- this is most likely an expression of long-running Russian paranoia about how everybody is out to get them, rather than expression of any intent to invade anybody else.

-- Badtux the Military Penguin

Bonus photo: The Russian Air Force!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Is government a "drag" on the economy?

Back to the issue of government: Right-wing ideologues believe that government is a foreign imposition upon the population, rather than a method for a population to get together to provide common services for their community. A typical statement by a right-wing ideologue is "any government program created is always a drain on the economy and makes the population less wealthy". Is that true?

It is hard to prove such a statement, but easy to disprove it. Since it is a blanket statement, all we have to do is find one (1) example where government actually makes the population wealthier, and we've disproven it. So let's start with the smallest unit of government in America today: The homeowner's association.

A home owner's association provides common services for the community such as, e.g., running the community swimming pool, or maintaining the exterior of the property (for condo associations). Right wing ideologues apparently believe that home owners' associations take money from residents' pockets without providing any services in return, despite the very clear and evident presence of a clean pool, neat landscaping, etc., all of which indicates that services are indeed being provided. I think we can all figure out that yes, the HOA *is* providing services in exchange for the money it is assessing from the condo owners.

Now, the question is, how efficiently provided are the services provided by an HOA? Well, let's take condo complex Y which contains 300 units and has a half-mile of roadway through the center of the complex. The buildings of the complex are surrounded by lush landscaping which increase the value of the condo units greatly. There is a single large swimming pool in the center of the condo complex. This single large swimming pool, the roadway, the greens, and the exterior of the buildings including the roofs and paint are maintained by the HOA.

Now, an HOA is the smallest unit of government in the typical metropolitan area, with typical powers of government such as the ability to tax ("HOA assessments"), the ability to foreclose if said taxes are not paid to the HOA, the ability to levy fines for violations of the rules of the complex, etc. So how efficient is this government compared to the 300 individual condo owners doing things without government involved? Well, one large swimming pool is obviously cheaper to maintain than 300 small swimming pools, not to mention that there is not room for 300 small swimming pools (one for each condo). Unfortunately you cannot divide a swimming pool into 300 individual parts for the 300 individual homeowners to maintain. In this case, the HOA is 100% efficient compared to the individual homeowners.

Okay, so that's a special case, says the ideologue. The roadway can be divided into 300 short pieces, and one assigned to each of the 300 homeowners. So how efficient is it for the HOA to provide road-paving services compared to the 300 individual homeowners? Well, the HOA (government) still comes way ahead of individual action in maintaining the roadway. One road repair contract for 1/2 mile of roadway is much cheaper than 300 road repair contracts for 5 feet of roadway apiece, because of economies of scale.

Now, what about the roof? It has a 20 year lifespan. At the end of that lifespan it will need to be replaced. Once again, one roof repair contract for 50,000 squares of roofing will cost far less than 300 roof repair contracts for 166 squares of roofing apiece individually contracted by the individual condo owners, due to the economies of scale.

So anyhow, I think we can dismiss the blanket indictment that government can never provide services in a cost-effective manner, and move on to something more based in reality. Well, for those of us who are not ideologues, anyhow. The next question is, does Medicare provide services in a more cost-effective manner than private insurance? We have numbers for that, and the numbers say "yes", for much the same reason as the HOA's roofing contract being cheaper in the example above -- the economies of scale. It turns out that government is *very* efficient at taking money out of pockets A, B, and C and placing it into pocket D, which is what health insurance is, in the end, and Medicare leverages these already-existing governmental systems (eg. the IRS's already-existing payroll tax system) in order to provide services less expensively than private insurers will ever be capable of doing (because of that whole economies of scale thing -- the IRS is scaled across all services provided by the federal government, not just the insurance portion of the government, thus will always have greater economies of scale than insurance companies can have when it comes to collecting revenues). The ideologue may jump up and down and scream "it can't be!", but reality is reality, whatever the ideologue may scream. We have numbers, no matter how much the ideologue wishes to ignore the numbers.

So: We have numbers that show government (we the people) can provide certain services more cheaply than private enterprise. Does this mean that government should provide ALL services? Don't be ridiculous. Cost is not the only criteria. If I want to go out and eat at a restaurant, I do not go out to the cheapest restaurant in my area, McDonald's, and buy the cheapest items (those items on their "Dollar Menu"). Choice, quality, aesthetics, and other issues of that nature come into play too. Thus while it'd be cheaper for my local government to contract with a painting company to repaint every house in our town beige every 10 years, most people really wouldn't like that, because they don't want their house to be beige. While it is more expensive to write 25,000 contracts for 25,000 different colors of paint for the 25,000 homeowners in our community, the homeowners rightly have decided that their personal choice of color for their homes is worth the additional cost compared to the efficiencies that could be obtained by a mass purchase of beige paint.

In short, the decision of which services should be provided collectively and which services should be provided individually boils down to three factors:

1. Is it even *possible* to individually provide the service? (In the case of the community swimming pool, the answer is quite clearly "No", you can't divide the swimming pool 300 ways or fit 300 swimming pools into the condo complex).

2. Can individuals cost-effectively provide the service for themselves with a reasonable level of efficiency? (In the case of the roadway through the center of the condo complex, the answer is quite clearly "no", and private health insurance's death spiral is increasingly making this answer "no" for private health insurance too).

3. Is choice in the provision of the service important to the individual? (In the case of house color, the answer is yes. In the case of health insurance, most people really don't care as long as they're covered. In the case of medical services, people definitely *do* care, they want to be able to use their family doctor that they trust. What this indicates is that house painting is not a proper government function, health insurance may be a proper government function, and providing medical services is not a proper government function).

Note that I am not in any ways indicating that government own the means of production or any such Marxist statement (government has by and large proven incompetent at producing actual goods, due to issue #3 above, which is that consumer choice is highly valued for most goods produced in the economy). Rather, I am taking the example of the home-owner's association and scaling it up to derive what I feel is the proper role of government in a democracy. The HOA is perhaps the purest democracy we have in America today, and thus an excellent mechanism for examination of real-life data regarding which services are best provided by government (the HOA board elected by the HOA members) and which services are best provided by individuals. Once we have real-life numbers, we can then say "yay" or "nay" to various ideological statements insofar as their truth or falseness is concerned. For example, we have actual data showing that a government program (maintenance of that 1/2 mile road through the condo complex) is less of a drain on the pocketbooks of the people who live in the condo complex than 300 individual road maintenance contracts would be. Thus we can immediately dismiss silly statements like "any government program created is always a drain on the economy", since in this case we have clear data showing otherwise (the individual owners have MORE money in their pockets compared to individually maintaining the roadway as the result of the government road maintenance program, thanks to the economies of scale possible by the HOA issuing one contract for 1/2 mile of road maintenance vs. 300 individual contracts for 10 feet of road maintenance apiece). Money is money, it doesn't matter whether the HOA (government) takes it out of my pocket or the road contractor takes it directly out of my pocket, if less money is taken out of my pocket than would otherwise be taken I'm happy. Same deal with health insurance -- if there is a system that can provide me a good baseline health insurance for cheaper, but still allow me to supplement it as desired with "gap" insurance, and I get less money taken out of my paycheck at the end of the month to pay for all this... well, I'd have more money at the end of the month. Is having more money a "drag on the economy"? Only in the mental world of ideologues who prefer living in their Little Green Book rather than the real world.

-- Badtux the Economics Penguin
Cross-posted at the Medley

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The elephant in the health care room

Over at economist Angry Bear's site, a hypothetical 67 year old former carpet installer named "Joe" with a bum knee was presented, and the hypothetical question was asked by a free market ideologue, "in a universal health care system, does Joe get his knee replacement?" The entire question is stupid, of course, because Joe already is part of a universal health care system -- Medicare, which is universal health care for all those who are age 65 or above. You don't need to ask a hypothetical question. All you have to ask is, "does Medicare pay for knee replacements for 67 year old men?" (The answer, BTW, is "Yes"). The only reason to invent a new fictitious "universal health care" system for Joe is to push a particular ideological line. Simply look at the data for the existing REAL universal health care system that Joe is a member of, and tell me whether it pays for his knee. Don't make shit up when we have real data!

My point: We have numbers for Medicare, a universal health coverage system for all those age 65 and up. So what's the big deal about giving us those numbers, rather than giving us hypothetical scare stories about some hypothetical universal health care system that isn't Medicare? It's as if Medicare is the elephant in the room that nobody wants to admit exists. Whenever a discussion of universal health care breaks out, it's as if everybody goes out of their way to ignore the elephant in the room -- the already existing universal health care system for all those age 65 and up. Ideologues of all stripes, whether carrying Little Green Books (free market ideologues) or Little Red Books (socialist/Marxist ideologues) seem to suddenly lose track of their entire chain of thought whenever you bring up Medicare as a universal health coverage system (which it most assuredly is), or like a blind man in a room with an elephant, come up against the trunk of the elephant, feel it with their hands, and say "An elephant is like a snake."

The current system of private health insurance is in a death spiral, as increasing costs force people to drop their insurance coverage which in turn raises the cost of insurance coverage for the remainder since they're paying for the cost of the uninsured too which in turn forces more people to drop their insurance coverage etc. Within ten years the majority of Americans will be uninsured and as I explained in my posting The Coming Epidemic the likelihood of a public health disaster such as a plague that uses this pool of unhealthy Americans as its vector (and kills insured Americans too) will be approximately 100%. We have three choices: 1) figure out some way to stop the death spiral in the private health insurance industry (thus far the only way I've seen proposed to do that is the Massachusetts plan, which forces people at government gunpoint to subsidize the private health insurance industry but which thus far has had limited success due to the inability of government to have enough guns to force enough people to buy health insurance at gunpoint), 2) extend a still-working, if creaky, system (Medicare) to all Americans to at least provide some baseline coverage which would require an increase of the Medicare insurance payroll tax but at least we know whether it works or not and "Medi-gap" private insurance could be bought to fill the primary care gaps, or 3) invent some new system with unknown implications and unknown drawbacks and flaws. Of the three, #2 is the cheapest and has the least risk -- we *know* Medicare. It already exists. We know it would provide a sufficient baseline of catastrophic health coverage to make it possible to patch up the existing health care system to the point that it functions again. We *know* that its administrative overhead costs (less than 3%) are less than 1/3rd of private insurer's administrative overhead costs, and that's not even counting the administrative overhead costs that doctors have when it comes to dealing with private insurers. Of the three options, the second one is the least risky, in that we know its flaws, we know its benefits, it doesn't require excessive amounts of government force to obtain compliance the way that the Massachusetts plan is currently working out, and unlike option 3 we don't have to jump off a cliff and just hope that some new system won't kill us all.

What irritates me is that ideologues of both stripes hate option b because it doesn't comply with their Little Green Book or Little Red Book ideological beliefs. But as a sane project manager, the conservative choice (extending an already-working system that, while flawed, is at least going to provide the baseline functionality required by our customers) is the one I would make every day as compared to the risky choice of a complete re-implementation of the system. And indeed, this is exactly the choice that my employer is making in the context of a specific software system -- we have decided to abandon system (a) which is horribly expensive to maintain and doesn't provide all the features that our customers want, extend system (b) to provide those features of system (a) that it doesn't already provide where system (b) is a somewhat clumsy and creaky system but far less expensive to maintain meaning we can provide it to our customers at a much lower cost, and defer option (c) (an entirely new "ideal" system) into the far future. Why is this okay if private enterprise does it in the context of designing software systems, but horrible if we as a society do it in the context of designing a medical care system? If I ran my business the way that ideologues suggest, I'd try to prop up option a) forever and go bankrupt, or spend an outrageous amount of money and time on option (c) which may not work in which case we go bankrupt, rather than do the sensible thing which is to extend option (b) to provide the core functionality of option (a) in a much more cost-effective manner. But what's good for a business apparently, according to the ideologues, is not good for making societal decisions.

Bah. Ideology, whether free-market Little Green Book ideology or marxist/socialist Little Red Book ideology, has no place in the decision process. We should focus on facts. And when it comes to Medicare, we have plenty of facts showing that despite its many flaws and limitations it is a more cost-effective way to provide universal health insurance as compared to attempting to patch up the current employer-provided system to be universal, without the risks of trying to devise an entirely new system from scratch. But when it comes to facts, suddenly Medicare becomes the elephant in the room that nobody seems to see because it's not ideologically correct to acknowledge that we already have a working universal health coverage system here in America, albeit only for those age 65 or older. But disease doesn't care about ideology. Ideology is going to kill us, in the end. And as long as we allow our decision makers to ignore the elephant in the health care room, ideology is going to kill us sooner rather than later.

-- Badtux the Health Care Penguin
Crossposted at Mockingbird's Medley

Friday, September 14, 2007

Another failure of the War on Drugs

This poor addict has been just rolling around in the Demon Weed and his glazed eyes and tormented nasal passages are staring downwards at his next fix. Clearly, the War on Drugs has been an utter failure for this catnip addict, who has no trouble getting access to his demon weed (or heroin) despite all efforts of our brave leaders in Washington D.C. and elsewhere.

-- Badtux the Addiction Penguin

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Oh the penetration!

So Russia claims they have a new superbomb. Then the Pentagon responds, our bomb penetrates better, saying that the Russian bomb, well, just doesn't penetrate well, it's all noise and no penetration I guess is the story sorta like one of the members of the 101st Fighting Chickenhawks when they emerge from their mommies basements and, like, encounter this really hot chick? With all this talk of penetration, oh the manly manly penetration, this penguin simply swoons, SWOONS I say! So, when are Pooty Poot and Dear Leader going to get together and, like, drop trow and see who's REALLY got the bigger penetrator? Huh? Curious penguins want to know! And what's this about the manly, manly surge? Oh the surge, the manly surge! (Penguin falls over in dead faint).

-- Badtux the Nasty Penguin

A wonderful opportunity

We should just re-post Jonathan Schwartz's damning indictment of the so-called "leaders" of the hairless monkeys that infest this planet on every anniversary of 9/11. He said all that needed to be said. You might think that the following photo, of a now-orphaned girl who just had her family slaughtered before her very eyes by U.S. soldiers jumpy about suicide bombers, as a tragedy: But that is because you are a follower, not a leader. You are the ruled, not the ruler. To the deranged sociopaths who are the rulers of the hairless monkeys infesting this planet, this is an enormous opportunity. The money quote:

For normal people, it's an unmitigated tragedy when their fellow citizens are killed in terrorist attacks or wars. Normal people cry, become afraid, and think of children who now have no parents and parents who now have no children.

For our would-be "leaders," however—in every country—the situation is different. Of course, they pretend to feel the same as normal people. They give teary-eyed speeches about sorrow and suffering.

And yet, behind their tears, there seems to be something else. When they think no one is looking, you glimpse another expression flitting across their face. You think it couldn't be. But—yes, incredibly enough, they're smiling. Because before the bodies are cold, before the mothers have stopped shrieking, our leaders are thinking:

This is really a FANTASTIC OPPORTUNITY. And for them it is. It's an opportunity for them to do whatever they wanted to do before, but couldn't get away with. It's an opportunity for them to smear anyone who criticizes them as disloyal. It's an opportunity for them to become much more powerful than they ever could be in peacetime. Leaders love war. That's why there's so much of it.

Will the sheeple look up? Probably not. They never have before, after all. It is the very nature of a monkey to blindly follow its alpha male and hoot and howl and throw feces at monkeys from other troops of monkeys. Expecting more of the hairless monkeys called "humans" is futile. Sadly, a penguin in a time of chimpanzees is doomed to disappointment.

- Badtux the un-snarky Penguin

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

That "Law" stuff only applies to the little people

Google founders fly out of Moffet Air Force Base. The base is currently leased to NASA, but it is still illegal to use it for private jets. It's called "misappropriation of Federal property". And no amount of wink wink nudge nudge "it's being used for RESEARCH purposes!" is going to change that.

But hey, that "law" stuff only applies to the little people. Or to pesky black preacher men asking inconvenient questions. It doesn't apply to, like, the people who really rule America, i.e. the handful of billionaires who control over half the wealth of America. Alrighty, then!

Badtux the "I like cake" Penguin