Wages: two approaches

When companies like Walmart pay their employees so little that they require government assistance to survive, that assistance is paid for by your taxes. Therefore, you are subsidizing companies so that they can keep their costs down and raise their profits. I have nothing against a company making money, but I do have an issue when they are doing so by foisting their employee costs onto the taxpayer.

Isn’t the appropriate response to tax the companies whose employees are paid so little they require public assistance, in the proportion to which that assistance is required? Balance is therefore achieved when employees are paid enough of a living wage that they don’t require assistance paid for by your taxes.

1 in 3 bank tellers in New York makes around $14k a year, which means they are eligible for quite a bit of public assistance, to the tune of about $120 million a year, mostly in food stamps and Medicaid. That assistance is paid for out of your taxes.

Instead, we should be taxing those companies that pay less than subsistence wages (in this case, the banks) enough to cover that $120 million, and reduce those taxes as employees’ salaries are raised to the point that they no longer require public assistance. That way you and I don’t pay taxes to subsidize corporate profits.

..or, just raise the minimum wage so that a person working a full time job can actually not live in poverty. Same result, different method, different way of looking at the problem.



O’Reilly riles up the troops

It’s the end of Hannukkah on Thursday, which means the War on Christmas officially begins. Or rather, Bill O’Reilly ranting about the War on Christmas officially kicks into a higher gear for no reason.

The reason I love this particular video is that O’Reilly is reading verbatim from his cue cards, which are displayed so you can read along with him. It’s like an ESL video for the politically uninformed, but I’m guessing it has more to do with trying to hide the fact that O’Reilly *always* moves his lips while reading.

For what it’s worth, AU, the ACLU, the FFRF and the AHA do not want to “remove religion from the public square”: they want the government to stop promoting and favoring specific religions over others. A subtlety that is lost on those who prefer their politics in bumper sticker sizes: “War on Christmas” just sounds catchier than the truth.

Greece v. Galloway: the day after

The transcript of the arguments in the Greece v. Galloway Supreme Court case is posted at the Supreme Court website.  Background and discussion on the case is available at SCotUSblog, and details of AU’s involvement in the case can be found at the au.org website.

My impression from an initial read? Justices Kagan and Ginsburg recognize that sectarian prayer to open governmental events is problematic, Justice Sotomayor focused on the impossibility of defining any prayer as “non-sectarian” and the issue of coercion (as did Kagan later on), and Justices Kennedy and Roberts (!) narrowed in on skepticism about the argument that it was allowed in the Marsh case because it was “historical” or “tradition” (i.e. the prayer/invocation had been done for a long time, therefore it was somehow acceptable?).

And I certainly got the impression that Justice Breyer was indicating he was an atheist, or at least agnostic (see pages 18-19).

Justices Alito, Scalia and (to a lesser degree) Roberts then focused on the impossibility of defining a prayer that would be acceptable to all religions (or people of no religion). And that’s certainly the right set of questions to ask: since there’s no way to please everyone’s religion, why not realize that there’s no real point in having an official prayer to open a governmental function, and definitely no requirement at all to do so, therefore just get rid of it? If people want to pray to their personal deity, have them do it in their own personal time. They were certainly asking the right questions, if perhaps being led to different conclusions.

But the rest of the discussion seemed to veer towards showing how when the court meddles in this kind of religious issue everyone seems to get angry and agitated (as Justice Kagan notes), and at that point everyone seemed to agree that they’d prefer that this issue would just go away, but that thanks to Marsh it won’t. I got the impression that several of the Justices really recognized that there is an issue here that has no easy resolution if prayer is allowed in some legislative sessions and perhaps not in others, and no easy way to reconcile various precedents with a consistent approach that sets a strict line. Except of course the clear line of doing the unpopular thing and prohibiting prayer in governmental functions, at which point the same people who constantly complain that children aren’t allowed to pray in public schools (which is untrue) would complain even louder.

Sounds to me like the Justices are going to find a way to rule in the most extremely narrow way possible, to affect this case and only this case, in order to avoid any ruling that could be used as precedent over establishing a formal line on what constitutes “too much” government involvement in religion.

Language, intent and depth

The words “fascist”, “Nazi”, “socialist”, “communism”, “libtard”, and phrases like “don’t tread on me”, “death panels” or “activist judges”, as well as referring to the President as “Barry Soetoro” or “Barack HUSSEIN Obama”.

In political discussions (unless you’re discussing Axis countries in the 1940s), the use of these words and phrases are a clear indication that you are not a serious thinker, and most probably a far-right-leaning one. They also indicate that your political opinions are superficial enough that they would probably fit on a bumper sticker… and inevitably, they do.

They are also usually an indicator that your main form of political interaction is posting GIFs that denote anyone who simply disagrees with your opinion as an idiot.

Any of the above indicators generally lead me to regard someone as not worth having a political discussion with, since they are not willing to allow subtleties or shades of gray into the discussion, or accept that not everyone thinks in lockstep–with them OR against them. My question is: what are the words and phrases that cause people on the right to “switch off” in a similar way when discussing issues with left-leaning people?

I imagine that “gun nut”, “Teatards”, “ReTHUGlicans” are some of those trigger words. What else?

Our goal should be to remove these simplistic (and typically unnecessarily insulting) words from our speech, precisely to avoid that automatic shutdown in conversation. Not in a superficial way (by simply not using the words, while retaining the mindset), but by refining our ways of thinking to avoid simplistic, bumper-sticker philosophies. If the country’s problems could be solved by chanting slogans at each other, they’d be fixed by now.

There are many intelligent, thoughtful and well-meaning Republicans, Libertarians and Democrats in the country. There are mean-spirited, bigoted and destructive ones too: my guess is that they are far fewer, but they do seem to make more noise and attract more attention than they deserve. Words like “DemocRATS” and “ReTHUGlicans” sweep all those differences under the carpet, and paint an entire half of the country with a stereotype that makes discussion impossible: you don’t negotiate or compromise with someone you believe is an idiot. We have seen what this attitude can do, and it’s time to change it.

Start changing yours by not using those stereotyped, insulting trigger words in your speech and online posts. Criticize a person’s actions, attitudes and words if you disagree with them, but do so with substance and without painting an entire demographic with a single brush. Hardly anyone on the Right disagrees with me on every issue, and I don’t share the opinion of every single Democrat. But if the only thing we agree on is that “the other side’ are a bunch of duplicitous, evil morons intent on destroying the country, then we’ll end up with a country not worth saving in the first place.

Nothing new, nothing improved, except the packaging

I’m all for a more open-minded Catholic church led by a more welcoming Pope, but I’m still surprised at the interpretations given to Pope Francis’ recent comments and interviews. To wit, that he is somehow “softening the church’s stance” towards issues like abortion, same-sex marriage, atheists, homosexuality and contraception.  He’s not the liberal-minded reformer some people seem to desperately want to make him out to be.

Let’s be clear: he has done no “softening” of any sort, other than in the delivery. In fact, he mentioned specifically that “the teaching of the church… is clear” on those matters. What he did do in his most recent interview was just decry the fact that people are focusing so much on those particular issues. His complaint is NOT that representatives of the church are misunderstanding or misrepresenting the church’s positions, or that those positions need to change… but that people are talking about them too much, which is bad PR for the church.

Well yes, it is. Exposing these official church positions IS bad PR for them. For good reasons.

But lest we think we have now turned some sort of corner and we are witnessing a major change, in the past few days (post-interview!) we have seen:

  • Pope Francis denounce abortion and tell Catholic doctors to refuse to perform them (even when the life of the mother is in danger and the fetus is not viable)
  • The Vatican excommunicate a priest in Melbourne for his support of women priests and gay people (not exactly the loving approach one would expect from the person interviewed a couple of days earlier)
  • A damning report from MPR on how Minneapolis Archdiocese leaders KNEW about inappropriate sexual conduct from one of their priests covering over a DECADE, and yet failed to do anything about it until after the priest had sexually abused several boys. Way to provide moral leadership, Archibishop Nienstadt.

Sounds like same old, same old to me. Just because the Pope doesn’t want to talk about it any more, doesn’t mean he disapproves, and doesn’t mean the church is changing its position. I’m just surprised people are reading so much more into his statements, when it’s been clear in the past that he has not intention of changing church doctrine. It’s a more sugarcoated message than in the past, sure; but our issues have not really been with the delivery of the message: it’s the content itself that concerns me.

I make these apologies of my own free will

There are some occasions in which I make poor choices regarding the words I use to request my first cup of coffee of the day. These choices do not really reflect who I am, my true feelings regarding the employees or the establishment, or even my own personal opinion of when it is appropriate to refer to someone as a “glacier-paced incompetent douchenozzle”. I would also like to extend personal, heartfelt apologies to employee J. Hovian, whose mother I freely admit I do not know, intimately or otherwise: she is probably a lovely woman.

I recognize that this is an personal issue that I need to work on, and I agree to appear before my court-appointed caffeine management therapist on the proscribed schedule. I also understand the requirement to NOT approach coffee store employees outside of their places of work, to NOT follow them home, and to NOT light piles of coffee beans on fire in their front yards. I would also like to state that I respect the opinion of Mr. A. Friedman, who states that urinating the words “THIS IS WHAT YOUR COFFEE TASTES LIKE” on the walls of a commercial building he owns, while technically not illegal, is at best a misuse of First Amendment freedoms that may not have been at the forefront of the Founding Fathers’ minds while enacting said amendment. I disagree, but respect his opinion on the matter.

As a final point, I apologize profusely to former Sec. of State Condoleezza Rice, for reasons I am not at liberty to discuss. I repeat my offer to pay for all dry-cleaning costs related to the issue, or to replace the items in question.

This concludes the settlement-required posting. Signed on this day, August 5, 2013, by my hand.

Favorite shows from the MN Fringe

My favorite shows from the ‪Minnesota Fringe 2013 #‎MNFringe‬ (so far):


The story of an unemployed playwright who applies to the Fringe on a whim and gets a slot. The show follows the story of his search for a decent story to tell, and his last-minute decision to tell the story of the search for the story. WARNING: audience responses to the show may be included in subsequent productions.

Good Intentions on the Road to HFL

In this touching autobiographical one-woman show, the author describes her harrowing journey caught between two worlds: the indifference of the cat community, and the rejection and ridicule from traditional Western-medicine doctors after she self-diagnoses with Human Feline Leukemia (HFL) based on a Google search. From her first struggles in getting appointments for treatment, to her tense meetings with the FCLU (Feline Civil Liberties Union), to the endless paperwork from insurance companies who insist there’s no reimbursement code for human feline leukemia because “it’s not a thing”, you will experience first-hand the drama that can be wrought from long unbroken stretches of tedium. Spoken word, delivered in a droning monotone for 50 endless minutes.  TRIGGER WARNING: YARN.


Dance piece.  The audience is alternately sprayed with gluten, MSG, peanut oil, GMO high-fructose corn syrup and lactose for an hour, while strobelights flicker. Presented by Whole Foods and Monsanto.

BANG! An Interactive Murder-Mystery

In the line before the show, a randomly-selected audience member is “murdered”. Over the next 50 minutes, the rest of the audience must piece together the clues until they reach the slowly dawning realization that oh shit that guy really IS dead that wasn’t part of the show AT ALL.

“Most fun I’ve had in years!”
– Audience member (name withheld, currently in witness protection program)

“A Fringe Favorite, Starring Neil Patrick Harris! MUST SEE!”

A one-act study in false advertising and how easily we allow ourselves to be deceived. Free cookies for all audience members!


Mein Summer Kampf

In this whimsical re-imagining of Adolf Hitler’s classic tale, we learn that the Final Solution was originally written as a satirical essay, in the same vein as Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”. But when the manuscript is stolen while Adolf is spending the summer at Kamp Judenplotz, wacky hijinx inevitably ensue!

Some mild swearing, Holocaust denial, Mel Gibson.


There are three types of people in this world, each defined by their different responses to the question: “Do you want to go and see a movie where giant robots fight multiple Godzilla monsters?”

Type 1 will respond: “Hell yes! When can we go?” These people already have car keys in their hands, and are scratching at the front door like labradors who have just heard the word “walkies”. We will get to those people in a second.

Type 3 will respond: “Ummm… why would I want to see *that*?” Those people are safe. They are under the impression there is NO reason for them to see this movie, and they happen to be 100% correct. There are many other perfectly fine activities for these people to consume their time with, any and all of them will be far less painful to them than realizing what they have just spent money on.

The Type 2 group will respond with a tentative “Maybe,” and further questions such as “What is the story? Who is in it? Is anything else playing? Is there anything I should know about this movie before making the decision to see it or not?”

I would like to assure these people that they, too, are the wrong audience for this movie. If you have not received every single piece of information you need to know about this movie in the question “DO YOU WANT TO GO AND SEE A MOVIE WHERE GIANT ROBOTS FIGHT GODZILLAS?”, then you are not really supposed to go see this one. None of your questions will be answered, and you will leave the theater with more questions than when you went in. Questions like “Why?” and “What the hell just happened to my face?”

Let me explain: a giant robot just had sex with it. That’s what just happened. You’re either “with” that, or you’re just not.

Let us now return to the Type 1 people. They are the audience Guillermo del Toro has in mind for this movie, and I have a special message for them.


Attention, dear friends: as you already know, this is a movie about giant robots fighting Godzilla monsters. But I must warn you: there are several moments in this movie during which there are NO giant robots on the screen fighting Godzilla monsters. Not a single one.

At those times, you must not be scared; be patient, and your patience will eventually be rewarded by more giant robots fighting Godzilla monsters. Now let’s go buy some candy and soda for you! Remember to go potty before the movie starts!

And give me those keys. You can’t drive, silly!

Exodus: fleeing from themselves

Earlier today news broke that Exodus International, the “gay cure” ministry that provided support for the “Kill the Gays” bill in Uganda, was “shutting down” and offering an apology of some sort from Alan Chambers, President of the organization.  And the apology struck me the wrong way, and it’s been bothering me all day, so I have to write about it.

Specifically, this part:

I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them.  I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage.

Among all the quote-apologies-unquote that the letter included, this was the part that stood out.  Because this is the same old “love the sinner, hate the sin” horseshit.  Here is someone who is supposed to be apologizing for the shame that his organization has caused; for the self-hatred, the trauma and embarrassment and fear it has caused in people who were genuinely confused and looking for help, and were instead told that they were sinners and broken and undeserving of love.

And yet the one thing he won’t apologize for is for continuing to believe the exact same beliefs that are the root of ALL that shame, the reason for the self-hatred and the fear.  He just doesn’t get it: the reason suicide rates among gay teens are so high is precisely BECAUSE of those beliefs that he still embraces, which leads them to be cast out from their families and rejected from their peer groups.  His “deeply held biblical beliefs”, the element that is the absolute core issue at stake, the beliefs that lead him to the conclusion that LGBTQ people are broken and need to be fixed, that they are sinners who need to change: those biblical beliefs that led him to join Exodus International in the first place… those are things he won’t apologize for.  He still believes them, and feels no need to change them.  And is there any reason to believe that his “new ministry” will be founded on beliefs that are any different than the ones he refuses to apologize for?

In spite of his apology, which he presumably believes is heartfelt, he has completely missed the point.  And now that Exodus International is shutting down, they will be launching a new ministry that is “more welcoming” to LGBTQ folks.

You have to consider the context: Exodus International and its members have probably ALWAYS considered themselves “welcoming” to LGBTQ folks.  That is, welcoming them into the therapy that is supposed to “cure” them so they can no longer be sinners and broken and deserving of punishment and definitely not deserving of equal rights.  Do you really think that this new transformed organization is going to start working to defeat DOMA and fighting for same-sex marriage?  Or is this just a re-branding exercise after the board of Exodus came to realize how much they had poisoned the well?  If the board has been discussing this for a whole year before coming to the conclusion that they needed to shut down and launch a new ministry, wouldn’t they already have had a little time to set up their new website and help people understand what the new direction will be, instead of a “coming soon!” web page that contains zero information?  Look for Chambers to make the TV show rounds in the next few weeks, making a big deal and raising publicity and awareness, and yet providing very little insight into what he intends to do to fix the trauma that his organization caused, or how his new organization will be the same in all but name.

Imagine if your favorite bully came to you during one afternoon at recess and offered an apology.  “I’m sorry for all the times I stuck your head in the toilet.  I realize that my beliefs that you were a four-eyed nerd who deserved to be punished caused you some pain.  By the way, I still believe you are a four-eyed nerd who deserves to be punished, and that you don’t deserve the lunch money that I take from you, but I promise I’m going to change my name now, and I’m going to find a way to take your money that is less hurtful to you.  And from now on I will be more welcoming and friendly to four-eyed nerds who have to give me their lunch money.”

Now imagine that this bully had caused you so much pain that you had been led to consider suicide.  Imagine that this bully HAD ALREADY LED OTHER PEOPLE TO COMMIT SUICIDE.  Imagine if this bully had traveled to another schools in the past to help show other bullies how best to lead other people to suicide.  Imagine that in his apology to you, the bully crowed about the “thousands of people” his bullying had “positively affected.”

In an interview with the LA Times, Chambers said last week “We need to change the way we do things.”

Not WHAT we do.  HOW we do it.

“I’m sorry for what I did, but I’m not sorry for the beliefs that led me to do them.”


If you truly understood the reasons you should be sorry, Mr. Chambers, you would understand why your “apology” should taste like the ashes of the dead in your mouth.

The scandal was in 2001, today we just see the results of ignoring it back then

I am still uncertain about my position on the recent NSA/PRISM “scandal”, mostly because (a) we knew that things like this would happen because of the Patriot Act, we warned against it at the time because of EXACTLY this type of situation, and yet it passed overwhelmingly and has been re-extended by huge margins ever since.

But also: (b) I’m not convinced that it’s as bad as the people WHO HAPPEN TO BE THE ONES WHO WOULD BENEFIT FROM HYPING IT THE MOST are… hyping it up as much as they possibly can. Especially when those hyping it up the most as a huge scandal are the people who voted for it to be allowed in the first place <ahem>members of Congress who seemed to be OK with the program and its sweeping powers when there was a different President in place AND when other evidence of the program came out in 2006<sub-ahem>anyone remember wiretapping?</sub-ahem></ahem>

Don’t get me wrong: I do take, and have always taken, the position that the Patriot Act was hugely misguided, as is the NDAA. Both were railroaded into law by fear, and trample significantly on important civil liberties in order to provide some tiny semblance of security theater that makes us feel safer without actually being so. What I don’t understand is the pearl-clutching outrage of people who are shocked… SHOCKED that the government actually USED the powers that they were given to legally use, and by all accounts seem to be using within the confines and constraints that they were given by law, approved by your legislators.

If you are outraged and shocked right now because of the NSA doing what they were legally enabled to do, then I suggest you must have been in a continuous state of shock and outrage for the past 12 years, because this is exactly why we were against the Patriot Act back then.

That being said, if more information about actual abuse comes out I am free to change my stance. But as of right now, I see the side trying their damnedest to turn this into a scandal happens to be the same group who has been obsessed with turning the Benghazi attack into some massive coverup by a President who hates the troops and is a secret Muslim. The other side (who by all accounts, actually know what they are talking about) seems to be far more rational and reasoned about the discussion. See this article as an example, from Vanity Fair writer Kurt Eichenwald, an author and self-described civil libertarian who spent a long time post-9/11 investigating and publishing a book about the NSA data-mining programs.

The core takeaway, which has now turned into a significant crux issue of the whole conversation, is that the reported “direct access” the NSA had/has to Google/Facebook/Yahoo/etc. did NOT mean they could tap into those companies’ servers whenever they wanted to retrieve information. It means that when the government requested information, those companies put that information onto specific shared servers (FTP servers, in Google’s case) that contained only that information that was requested and approved. It appears that these companies did their best to ensure that the data being requested was done so legally and with the appropriate approval as well.

To me, those two scenarios are VERY different. I expect the second one to happen: it’s good security practice. The “direct access” that was implied in the original article was spun to imply that first one, which is incorrect, misleading, and hype intended to spin up outrage.

Which is exactly my point. The government asking for data from a company, with legally-approved methods, processes and set of approvals for doing so, and getting ONLY that data on an intermediate server that is isolated from the rest of the company’s data? That’s the process I would expect to see, and is a normal part of law enforcement.

Again, don’t get me wrong: do I hate the Patriot Act and the NDAA with all my tiny black and shriveled heart? Yes, yes I do. Do I hate the government snooping on everyone’s conversations? Absolutely, I do. In addition, the “what do you have to hide?” responses to this issue terrify me: if the government showed up at your door and demanded this information in person, you would be up in arms, and rightfully so. I don’t want the government snooping on me without significant protections, without due cause, without a WARRANT.

But when you give the government the legal right to do so, you give up your right to be indignant about it when they actually take you up on the offer.