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Saturday Morning Rant

It’s Saturday morning, I’m not feeling too terribly well, and I would really like to turn on the television and watch Bugs Bunny or Scooby Doo. But now, due to a lot of factors, including interference from the Department of Education, broadcast television has completely eliminated the Saturday morning cartoon.  I have to pay for cable TV to watch cartoons with my coffee, and those are either commercials for some verdammte toy line or some dreck that I could have drawn in the sixth grade.

The pleasure of watching a well-drawn and voiced cartoon rabbit dance to classical music and then drop an anvil on someone’s head is gone.  The joy of watching a stoner and his talking dog (Seriously, Shaggy, you need to talk to your dealer about what he’s mixing with your weed) search for ghosts while surviving the munchies is gone.   Heck, the soul-searing annoying song of a race of little blue men and their one, count her, one female is gone.

I blame you, America. It wasn’t good enough to teach physics by having coyotes run off of cliffs and then hang there.  It wasn’t good enough to watch a specialized combat team shoot millions of rounds and not hit one darned COBRA trooper.  It wasn’t enough for a group of animated heroes and villains to go on weekly road rallies around the world, thereby introducing the children of America to other cultures and their stereotypes.

No, it wasn’t good enough.  You had to go and make it ‘educational’.  You had to take time away from either the entertainment or the ad revenue to plug some educational or social cause du jeur, and eventually, you had taken away so much of the joy and the money in Saturday morning cartoons that both the audience and the broadcasters just gave up.

So now, I know what I won’t be doing this morning.  I know that I’ll have to pull down the DVD’s I have of Looney Tunes so that I can sand blast the roof of my mouth with Captain Crunch in front of the TV.  I know that I will have to work hard to keep the tradition of sitting in your pajamas and watching desert chase scenes alive.

I know all these things.

And knowing is half the battle.

Put Up or Shut Up – Minimum Wage

So, the social justice cause of the month appears to be another round of “people deserve a raise”.  Basically, it’s been deemed to be unfair that people are having to work part-time at the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.  Government statistics from 2013 indicate that a huge percentage of minimum-wage earners are young (under 25), and that you are much more likely to work minimum wage if you have not graduated high school.  Minimum wage jobs are overwhelmingly in the “hospitality” or “service” industries, meaning mostly restaurant work and menial labor.

In other words, if you are low-skilled and just starting out in the job force, you’re more than likely to be making minimum wage, at least for a while.  I did it when I was a teenager.  Of course, I only made minimum wage for about six months before I got a raise, but that’s probably white privilege at work right there.  Yep, all the white privilege at work in North Dakota got me that extra $.25 an hour in 1986.  Just another example of the Scandihoovian Mafia looking out for one of its own.

Yesterday, several highly publicized protests occurred, in which the organizers were demanding higher wages for fast-food workers.  I’m guessing that the job market for fry cooks, dishwashers, and order-takers is about what it was when I was a teenager, and fast-food restaurants such as McDonald’s and Burger King have a high concentration of minimum-wage earners.  In some places, they were demanding $15.00 an hour for the workers, which is more than double current rates.

Of course, in a lot of places, the state or local minimum wage is over the federal minimum, with Seattle recently raising it to the vaunted amount of $15.00.  To be honest, I prefer that state and local government figure out what they want their minimum wage to be and set it accordingly to the federal government setting a nation-wide floor on wages.  If I were king, and you can all enjoy that shudder of fear that I just induced in you, there would be no federal minimum wage in the states.  Let Alabama, California, and Vermont figure out what workers should get, and let the federal government worry about the District of Columbia, the territories, and military reservations.

Depressing the income of minimum-wage earners is the current practice of severely curtailing hours for part-time employees in order to evade medical benefits mandated by the Affordable Care Act.  If you were working 35 hours a week at $7.25 an hour and trying to either live or raise a family on that, and your boss cuts you back to 25 hours a week, then you’re going to feel the pinch.  The answer, according to the President Emeritus and his supporters, is to force employers to pay more.  So, employers are damned if they do, or damned if they don’t when it comes to employee hours.  They can either pay more per hour or give more hours and then pay for insurance.

Is it any wonder that employers are saying that if they are forced into this, they will be firing people in order to afford it?  Unemployment benefits are cheaper in just about any way you look at it.

Here’s where I say put up or shut up on minimum wage:  If you are currently working for the minimum wage, either the federal $7.25 an hour or a higher local minimum, leave your job until the hourly rate is raised to what you consider a more equitable rate.  Seriously, quit your job and picket.  Have at it.  I’m sure that they won’t be able to find someone to fluff pillows or brown pre-cooked french fries while you’re out there.

But stop with the whining, OK?  If you’re trying to raise kids, and you’re looking at working minimum wage as a permanent solution, then shame on you.  If  you were born here, and the best you can hope for in life is to flip burgers for $7.25 an hour, then it’s on you.  No matter how shitty your neighborhood or upbringing was, I bet I can find someone from the same background who took advantage of public education, got off their ass, and is making at least double that, even assuming they didn’t go to college or trade school.  Shut your piehole and get to work.  If you show up on time, don’t steal from your employer in money, supplies, or time spent goofing off on the clock, and keep your nose clean for a few months, you’ll be surprised what opportunities await you.

If you live in a place where flipping burgers or picking up cigarette butts is the best job available, no matter how smart and motivated you are, the word you should have in your mind is “relocation”.  Yeah, it sucks to leave the plot of dirt that your daddy, and his daddy, and his daddy before him lived just above the starvation line, but if nostalgia is what’s keeping you in poverty, then it’s your own fault.  I’d say “Go West, Young Man!”, but I wouldn’t tell my worst enemy to go to California.  Texas is nice in the springtime, and there is a lot of austere beauty in North Dakota snowfields.  I hear that both are good places to find a job if you’re willing to actually work.

Of course, if you got a degree in underwater basket weaving, women’s studies, use of the semi-colon in early Elizabethan bathroom graffiti, or any other similarly useless degree and the best you can do is cleaning toilets, well, you’ve proven that education doesn’t fix stupid.  Want to get paid for your knowledge?  Well,then, maybe you should get a degree that comes with a skill others will pay for.

If you’re bitching about not getting as many hours as you used to on minimum wage, you can thank Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi for that.  They’re the ones that gave employers the choice of either going out of business, firing people, or lowering their employees hours, not me.  You elected them, you reelected them, and now you can suck on the exhaust pipe of the bus they threw you under.

But, DB, you say, it’s not fair that the franchise owner of a McDonald’s makes so much more than his employees!  And it’s horrendously unfair that the CEO of McDonald’s makes millions while his employees make slave wages and have to go on food stamps to feed their children!  Multi-billion dollar corporations can spend some of their profits on their people!

You’re right, those with more training, education, experience, drive, and intelligence tend to make more money in our society.  Is it fair?  I don’t know, but I do know that nowhere on the contract for life did it say that it would be fair.  You want to make $5 million a year as the CEO of a multi-national?  OK, then put in years of hard work, get your ignorant ass a useful education, and earn that $5 million a year.

Oh, and by the way, companies do not work for their employees.  That seems to be a common misconception these days.  They work for their owners, usually their stockholders.  Their job is to make money for those people so that those people will continue to invest money in the company, after which the company can either employ more people or find new ways to make more money of the same number of people’s work.  Don’t like it?  OK, then start your own company, and if you do, I truly wish you luck. Entrepreneurs are one of the few ways to truly create wealth in this country.

My point is that the company doesn’t exist as a jobs program.  It’s there to make as much profit as possible and then distribute it to its owners, not to its employees.  To paraphrase Jack Welch, once you cash the paycheck, you are square with your employer.  It doesn’t matter how much you made them, because they’ve paid you the amount you agreed to when you hired on.  If you don’t like it, then please remember that indentured servitude and slavery was abolished over a century and a half ago, so you’re free to find employment elsewhere.

And as for people having to go on welfare while working at minimum wage in order to feed their kids, well, I think this is a tragedy.  But it’s not a national shame that you can work part-time at a wage that was designed for low-skill workers and not be able to feed your family.  It’s a shame that parents continue to look at part-time, low-skill, minimum-wage jobs as a permanent solution and doom their children to living off the largesse of the state.  Seriously, what did people in low-skill, low-wage jobs do before food stamps and WIC?  Oh, that’s right, they got off their asses, worked two and three jobs, fed their kids, and looked for a better job.  Maybe y’all should try that?  Oh, and while you’re at it, quit having babies until you can afford to feed them without taking food out of the mouths of my children, OK?

Now, none of this pertains to someone who is temporarily down on their luck.  If you’ve lost your job or are just out of school and are looking for work, and you use part-time, minimum-wage employment as a crutch until something better comes along, then you’re not part of the problem.  Trust me, I’ve been there, and I understand.  It’s the people who use a McJob as their life-long employment plan, then expect the rest of us to either support their children for them or pay $8 for a dollar’s worth of meat, cheese, and bread who catch in my craw.

So, in closing, to my low-skilled, low-wage brethren: put up or shut up.  Refuse to work for what you consider slave wages, and eventually the evil businessmen will raise their offer a bit. If you’re not ready to do that, shut up.  And while you’re at it, fries are up and the bathroom needs mopping.

Betrayal by Those Who Should Know Better

Disclaimer – In a former career, I worked, along with other members of my unit, with the National Security Agency.  I also have had a professional relationship with the NSA’s current leader, General Keith Alexander, when he was my battalion commander in Germany.  No, I wasn’t a spook, I was a drone, and the work wasn’t anywhere close to as exciting as some people imagine when they find out that I was in military intelligence.

Over the past couple of days, the Guardian has reported on the existence of programs in which the national intelligence services of the United States, including the NSA, have issued dragnet orders to Internet and telecommunications companies to hand over data on all of the activities of their American customers.  Ostensibly, this is done so that the government can rapidly sift through the data to find and fix terrorist networks by analyzing who communicates with whom and when.

As a former professional in the service of our national intelligence services, principally the Army’s Military Intelligence Corps, this sends chills down my spine.  You see, this is not a rigidly defined and constricted investigation of an individual or small group of terrorists or criminals.  This is a “Give us everything, and we’ll define when and how we can sift through it, with permission from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts, of course.” 

Let’s look at this another way.  Would you, as a citizen of the United States or whatever other country you belong to, be OK if the government, acting with the best of intentions and in your best interest, passed a law that required everyone to carry around a national ID card that included an RFID tag?  The government would pay to put up sensors on every street corner, and as each tag passed it, the sensor would put an entry in a database of who passed it and when.  The gathered data would only be used to backtrack the steps and contacts of terrorists in an effort to either prevent attacks or investigate terrorists after one.  This would be coupled with a program at the postal service to track who sent letters, cards, and packages to whom, so that the government could analyze this data in a search for terrorist networks.

I’m imagining that a vast majority of you would object.  But here’s the ugly truth:  We already have that, and you paid for it.  If you have a cell phone, be it a 10 year old flip phone or the latest smart phone, you are carrying a device that talks to your cell phone provider every few seconds, and those companies can and do track which cell towers your phone uses.  They also track, for billing and other purposes, who you call and for how long.  Companies like Google and Facebook, which you use voluntarily, know who looks for what, or who emails whom, or who is where and what they’re doing. All of these companies have been and will continue to be ordered to hand that information over to the government.

So what, you say?  The government has a duty to protect us, and you trust them with this information, you say?  Let’s assume for a moment that the NSA is staffed with living saints and that the President and his lieutenants are philosopher kings who wouldn’t dream of abusing these powers.  Are you sure that this is a permanent situation?  Can you guarantee that the power to sift through the telephone and Internet records of political or social opponents won’t be utilized?   Every power we give those we choose to run our government is open to abuse, and this is one heck of a power to have.

This isn’t a Democrat versus Republican issue, nor is it a liberal versus conservative issue.  These programs have either existed for years or are the logical descendents of programs that existed under previous administrations.  I’m not even that angry with President Obama, although I am irate with the members of the intelligence service on this. 

You see, while we may not have had the technical capability to do what is happening now, when I was an intelligence specialist, we recognized that we had the ability to abuse the technology and methods that we did have.  We had the lessons of the Church Committee pounded into our heads, and it all boiled down to this:  Except in very unique and rare circumstances, the intelligence services of the United States do not use their technology and talents against the people of the United States.  For years, I have been deflecting people I know who hear me mention my military specialty or who read my resume and ask about rumors that the government was monitoring all telephone conversations or was watching what we all did on the Internet, or worse.  If I said anything at all, I talked about the legal and cultural aversion that the intelligence community had against targeting Americans.  I really did believe that, even with the loosening of laws after 9/11, the community as a whole would be honorable and self-restrained in how it did its business.  Now, in the space of a few days, I find just how deluded I had become. 

The members of our intelligence services should be ashamed of themselves.  They are trusted with powerful tools for gleaning and analyzing data about our nation’s enemies, and using them to blindly vacuum up the data of our own citizens is irresponsible and unforgivable.

This morning, I read that the Obama administration has acknowledged these programs and tried to explain away what they were doing.  Here is how Time magazine reported the government’s response.  My thoughts are in italics.

  • The judicial order that was disclosed in the press is used to support a sensitive intelligence collection operation, on which members of Congress have been fully and repeatedly briefed. The classified program has been authorized by all three branches of the Government. — I want to know which members of Congress knew about this, and why they didn’t immediately shut it down, either through cutting off funding or by going to the press.  A Congressman or Senator who didn’t have the guts to dare either President Bush or Obama to prosecute them for reporting this kind of abuse to the rest of us doesn’t deserve to hold office.  I also want to know who in both the Bush and Obama administrations knew about this and signed off on it.  Just because all three branches knew about it doesn’t mean it’s right or constitutional. 
  • Although this program has been properly classified, the leak of one order, without any context, has created a misleading impression of how it operates. Accordingly, we have determined to declassify certain limited information about this program.  —  Whatever.  Let’s get on with real data instead of rhetorical flourishes.
  • The program does not allow the Government to listen in on anyone’s phone calls. The information acquired does not include the content of any communications or the identity of any subscriber. The only type of information acquired under the Court’s order is telephony metadata, such as telephone numbers dialed and length of calls. —  The ability to figure out who talks to whom, how, and for how long is the meat of just about everything you need to either find a terrorist network or figure out who is leaking embarrassing government information to the press or who is participating in a legal effort to oppose the actions of the government.  The actual content of the phone calls, or the emails, or whatever is contained in the targeted communications should be looked at as a bonus. 
  • The collection is broad in scope because more narrow collection would limit our ability to screen for and identify terrorism related communications. Acquiring this information allows us to make connections related to terrorist activities over time. The FISA Court specifically approved this method of collection as lawful, subject to stringent restrictions. — That’s the point, jackass.  Your ability to collect information on our citizens is supposed to be limited, and it’s not supposed to be easy.  If you believe that someone is a terrorist, then get a warrant specifically for that person, and do your damn job.  And don’t insult me by talking about how you went through FISA on this and they were OK with your methods.  FISA is not much more than a rubber stamp on your efforts.  I’ve seen reports that they reject about 1% of the warrant requests you all make, and if these latest revelations show what they approve of, just how horrendous are the ones they reject?
  • The information acquired has been part of an overall strategy to protect the nation from terrorist threats to the United States, as it may assist counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities.  — Again, if you have specific, actionable information about one of us, build a case, get a warrant from a really impartial court that’s more than a rubber stamp, and investigate away.  This is nothing more than an unconstitutional  blanket acquisition of data on innocent citizens.
  • There is a robust legal regime in place governing all activities conducted pursuant to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which ensures that those activities comply with the Constitution and laws and appropriately protect privacy and civil liberties. The program at issue here is conducted under authority granted by Congress and is authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). By statute, the Court is empowered to determine the legality of the program. — If Congress authorized this, presumably through such things as the USA Patriot Act, it needs to revoke that authorization.  Also, just because Congress said you could do it, doesn’t mean you should do it.  As for your legal regime to govern these activities, don’t insult my intelligence by stating that it’s impossible for someone to get at this data for less than pure reasons.
  • By order of the FISC, the Government is prohibited from indiscriminately sifting through the telephony metadata acquired under the program. All information that is acquired under this program is subject to strict, court-imposed restrictions on review and handling. The court only allows the data to be queried when there is a reasonable suspicion, based on specific facts, that the particular basis for the query is associated with a foreign terrorist organization. Only specially cleared counterterrorism personnel specifically trained in the Court-approved procedures may even access the records. — Again, we’re taking your word that you have better information controls than have ever been devised by mortal man to keep people with nefarious intentions from abusing this data. 
  • All information that is acquired under this order is subject to strict restrictions on handling and is overseen by the Department of Justice and the FISA Court. Only a very small fraction of the records are ever reviewed because the vast majority of the data is not responsive to any terrorism-related query.  — Right, because the DOJ would never abuse positions of trust and authority to persecute the political opponents of whoever sits in the Oval Office.  And if you’re only ever going to use a small fraction of this data, why in the name of Nathan Hale are you gathering it in the first place?
  • The Court reviews the program approximately every 90 days. DOJ conducts rigorous oversight of the handling of the data received to ensure the applicable restrictions are followed. In addition, DOJ and ODNI regularly review the program implementation to ensure it continues to comply with the law.  — Again, we have to believe when you pinky swear that you’ll never even consider abusing access to this data. 
  • The Patriot Act was signed into law in October 2001 and included authority to compel production of business records and other tangible things relevant to an authorized national security investigation with the approval of the FISC. This provision has subsequently been reauthorized over the course of two Administrations – in 2006 and in 2011. It has been an important investigative tool that has been used over the course of two Administrations, with the authorization and oversight of the FISC and the Congress. — Falling back on the Patriot Act is pretty weak tea.  The only good part of this debacle is that it just might give impetus to legislation designed to amend or repeal it. 

  The people who came up with these programs, authorized them, and implemented them need to be staked out and forced to come clean to the American people.  There is a line where protecting our nation from terrorists crosses over into paranoia and tyranny, and the NSA and other intelligence services have not just brushed up against it, but have instead danced across it with glee.  The legal fig leaf of FISA and the Patriot Act need to be reformed or done away with, and those who have abused the trust and confidence of the nation need to be held accountable.

Adventures in TSA Douchebaggery

Over the weekend, I made a trip to Norfolk, Virginia.  Against my better judgement, I flew rather than drove.  Apparently taking an extra day on each end of the trip wasn’t such a good idea, even though the routing would have been simple:

Step 1 – Get on I-64 East

Step 2 – Get off of I-64 East just before you hit the surf.

Anyway, Friday morning I packed up my weekend bag and headed to the airport.  Since I only had my small bag and my laptop, I decided to carry-on everything rather than check a bag.  As I was going through the TSA checkpoint in Louisville, I heard those words that every traveller hates:

“Sir, is this your bag?”

The young lady who asked that question, who I’ll call Ms. Respectful, pulled my bag off the x-ray machine, opened it, and took out the baggie that contained my toiletries.  Then I realized I’d messed up:

“Sir, is that a razor?”

“Uhhh, yes, yes it is.”

“Does it have a blade in it?”

“You’re right, it does.  Do I need to remove it?”

“Yes, sir.  Could you open it for me and hand me the blade?”

I unscrewed the head on my safety razor, pulled it off of the handle, and handed the blade to the nice young lady.  She threw it in the trash can, thanked me, and went back to her job.

Now, before I move on, I want to point out that this young lady was courteous, professional, and competent.  She didn’t insist that I throw away my entire razor, and actually thanked me as I left her area.   She was dressed properly, with her hair neat, her uniform wrinkle-free, and her shoes were comfortable, but didn’t look like she’d just come in from the gym. If we have to have TSA agents, I want them to be like her.

Contrast that with my experience yesterday morning in Norfolk.

Remembering my experience in Louisville, I packed my razor with the head unscrewed from the handle.  This was to make it easier to show there wasn’t a blade in it. But again, as my bag went through the x-ray machine, I heard those words again:

“Is that your bag?”

Sigh.  “Yes, it is.  Yes, there’s the body of a razor in it, but there isn’t a blade. Do you need to see it?”

“Yeah, go ahead and come over here.”

The young person who had my bag, who I’ll call Dingleberry, took my carry-on over to the Table of Doom and proceeded to try to unzip it by pulling both zippers at once.   After explaining to him that you only needed to pull on one zipper to open it, he succeeded in getting that accomplished.  He pulled out my baggie-o-toiletries, and peered in . 

“See,” I said, “there’s the handle, and there’s the head.  No blade.”

“All right.  I need to put this through the machine again.”

“Well, OK, if that’s what you have to do.”

Dingleberry took the baggie and went to the front of the x-ray machine.  As he was doing this, another ‘agent’ came over, and grabbed my carry-on.  He proceeded to swab it with those Tucks medicated pads they use to check for explosives residue.  This caused me to stop paying attention to Dingleberry, who apparently decided that the head of my razor, which I’m sure he calls “The razor thing that goes up”, was the dangerous part, so he disposed of it.  By “disposed of it”, I mean he threw away my property without seeking my permission or even telling me he was doing it.  I didn’t notice that I only got the handle of my razor back until I went to shave this morning*. 

So, in a vain attempt to make sure that I don’t make the crew of my airliner kissably smooth, he threw away a necessary, but inert, part of my razor.  I guess when you only have to pluck three scraggly hairs off your chin a couple of times a week and use a Captain Planet neck trimmer to shape your cheese-dick pencil-thin mustache back to your Angela Davis-esque hair-do, you don’t learn what a safety razor is.   Maybe if he could figure out which of the guys at the block party in 1993 was his father, maybe he’d have been taught that the parts of a razor that don’t have an edge aren’t dangerous.

Oh, and since I commented on the appearance of Ms. Respectful, I’ll comment on Dingleberry.  Like I said, his hair was a fright, resembling something that had been pulled out of a vacuum cleaner bag.  His uniform looked like he had not only slept in it, but had also rolled in a vat of bread crumbs on the way to work.  His shoes, while stylish on the basketball court, didn’t exactly fit in with the whole “professional attire” motif he should have been looking for.  In other words, he looked like someone wearing a Halloween costume instead of a professional.

Next on the hit parade we had two TSA goons I will call “Fritz” and “Heidi”.  They were the two individuals that were ‘guarding’ my gate as we lined up to board.  They were kitted out in what I think I will call the “TSA assault vest”, which appears to be a hand-me-down bartender’s vest from a 1980’s cocktail bar, complete with shiny buttons.  But the TSA makes them look classy by clipping on radios, pens, and an embroidered ‘badge’.  

As we got ready to get on the plane, these two refugees from a World War II spy movie ‘randomly’ asked several people in line if they could see their boarding passes.  The impacted passengers consisted of a mother flying with three small children, an old lady who needed a cane to walk, and three uniformed Navy guys.  The lady with the children was directly in front of me, and she was asked, and I shit you not, “Show me your boarding papers”.  You don’t get more stormtrooper than that unless you’re actually wearing jackboots and smacking an old babushka in the face with a riding crop.  Once they were satisfied that a young family, three sailors in their summer whites, and a grandmother weren’t going to rain death down upon the eastern seaboard, they returned to their spot leaning against the wall and glowering at us as we filed onto the plane.

And people wonder why I prefer to drive.  The whole TSA needs to be scrapped.  The two or three people who are worth a damn that wear that uniform will find something either as good as or better to earn their daily bread, and the rest can return to their former jobs of couch surfing, recycling dental floss, and cleaning out the grease trap at the rendering plant.

Now, if y’all will excuse me, I’m off to buy a new razor.  I’m tempted to mail the handle of the old one to the head of the TSA along with a note of thanks for the ‘professionalism’ of his organization.

*By the way, shaving with one of your teenage daughter’s unused hot pink and lavender disposable razors isn’t exactly the same experience as using a nickel-plated Merkur safety razor.

Really?

A couple of things have come across the newswires that have caught in my craw today. 

First, the former CEO of AIG, a company that received $182 billion from the taxpayers to stay afloat during the 2008-2009 financial crisis, has sued the U.S. government.  His claim, filed in 2011, is that when we were paying AIG to stay in business, we didn’t pay enough. 

The complaint, filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, asserts that the government didn’t provide shareholders fair compensation when it took a nearly 80 percent stake in the insurer as part of its bailout. As a result, the government violated the Constitution, Starr claims.

Now, I never agreed with the bailouts passed around by the Bush and Obama administrations.  All of the companies that were in trouble, from GM to AIG and beyond, were in that situation because of their own stupidity and avarice.  Yes, allowing them to fail and be broken up would have hurt, but then it would have been over.   All we’ve done by keeping them on a slow drip of money after the initial infusion is to keep the pain going.  Yes, we didn’t crash as hard as we might have, but we’ve also bumped along the bottom and the people who caused the situation in the first place didn’t lose anything.

Be that as it may, some feel that we cheated them on the deal.  Apparently $182 billion isn’t enough to pay for 80% of a failing business.  I’m guessing they would have gotten less if the assets were sold on the courthouse steps, but since they weren’t, they feel they should have been paid top dollar for virtually worthless paper.

The board of directors at AIG have to decide in the next few days if they will either take part in the lawsuit, try to stop the ingrates from suing the government for more of our money, or just passively let the lawsuit go forward without their assistance or hinderance.  I hope for the sake of decency that they choose to actively try to stop the lawsuit.  My little mind can’t imagine a sum of $182 billion dollars not being enough for much of anything outside of buying whole countries.  I seriously can’t see how someone could ask for more.

I never thought I’d find myself agreeing with Maxine Waters and Elizabeth Warren, but in this case, I do.  The people behind this lawsuit should be ashamed of themselves and if AIG doesn’t oppose it, then they should pray that they never have to come to us with their hands out again.

The next thing to get my back up was a report from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, that the spouse of a gay Army lieutenant-colonel being excluded from the local military spouses club.  The excuse given by the club is that the lady doesn’t have a military ID card, regardless of her legal marriage to an officer, so she can’t be in the club.  Basically, because the Defense of Marriage Act prevents the military from issuing the ID, these ‘ladies’ won’t let her be part of what is normally a big part of any military community.

You all know my opinion of gay marriage, in that I believe that if I can be allowed to screw up two marriages and then try again with Irish Woman, then I have no business telling other consenting adults that they can’t have the chance to do the same.  The law for me is the law for everyone.  If my marriage is recognized, then the marriage of my gay son should be recognized when he finds someone with whom he wants to spend the rest of his life.  I’ve always thought that if President Obama was willing to burn political capital picking fights with Congress over the color of the sky on a particular day, then he ought to spend some of it to either get DOMA amended or repealed. 

To use a bad law as an excuse to exclude the spouse of one of our soldiers is despicable.  A gay soldier is still a soldier, and their spouse is still a military spouse.  Clubs such as the “Association of Bragg Officers’ Spouses” ought to be ashamed of themselves for doing such things.  Military spouses, gay or straight, provide support to and receive support from such groups, and excluding someone goes beyond the pale.

When I was in the Army, I had a garrison commander who kicked a club off post because it was found that it discriminated against non-white soldiers and dependents.  He decreed that military personnel were forbidden from taking part in the club in any way, and that post facilities could not be used for its meetings and activities.  The commander of Fort Bragg should take just such a step now.

I’m going to climb down off the rant box now and go back to trying to make weak jokes.  Some things just get me up on that box.

An Open Letter

Dear Bob Costas and Jason Whitlock,

I, too, am shocked by the actions of Javon Belcher, in which he killed the mother of his child in front of that child and then committed suicide in front of his coach and staff.  It is a tragedy that someone as talented as he was, with such a bright future in front of him, could do such a thing.  My heart cries out for their child, the people who watched him do this, and for everyone involved.  What happened was senseless and probably avoidable, had Mr. Belcher had the sense to get help or just walk away from a bad situation long enough to get control of himself.

I just watched Mr. Costas quote and agree with Mr. Whitlock’s editorial on the matter during the half-time coverage of the Dallas/Philadelphia game tonight, and I have this to say to both of you:

Bite me.

I didn’t murder my girlfriend and then kill myself. If Javon Belcher hadn’t had a gun, he would have found another way to hurt either the mother of his child, or himself, or both.  The gun didn’t do this; it was merely the tool chosen by someone who wanted to do another harm.

The “gun culture” didn’t kill those people. Javon Belcher did. Don’t lump me in with him and everyone else who uses a gun to do evil. Would you go after our “car culture” if he’d run her down in the road? Would you have attacked our “kitchen culture” if he’d killed her with a butcher knife?  How about railing about mixed martial arts if he’d beaten her to death?  Of course you wouldn’t have, because that would be foolish, almost as foolish as blaming the gun and everyone who values their rights for the actions of Javon Belcher.

Rather than attacking me and people like me, why don’t you attack the culture of the parts of our society that look on human life as something to be traded and taken? Why don’t you run off at the mouth about men who haven’t been taught to control their passions and take out their frustrations by harming others?  Instead of treating Javon Belcher as a sad victim of circumstance, why not denounce him for what he was:  a coward who chose to orphan his child instead of working through his problems?

I am not responsible for this murder, so stop blaming the things that I hold dear for the actions of the young man who committed them.

Sincerely,

Daddy J. Bear
Louisville, Kentucky

On Parenting

A couple of thoughts here, and I beg your indulgence while I get a bit preachy.

First, a picture one of my FaceSpace friends:

When my parents split up, they violated each and every piece of advice the good judge would have given them.  We were sources of income, tools to harm each other, and inconveniences.  I’ve been divorced.  One of the most important promises I have ever kept was one I made to myself, and that was to never deride the mothers* of my children or allow anyone else to do it where it was at all possible they could hear.  Some of the worst arguments that Irish Woman and I have had were over me not showing anger over something the ex had done or letting Irish Woman complain to me in front of the kids.

My reward to my parents for the way they acted during and after their divorce is to make them non-entities in the lives of my children, and I will never put my children in the position of having to question whether or not being around me would be healthy for their children.  I bite my tongue, I deescalate to the point of prostration, and I give way more than should be asked just so that my kids never hear or see anything from me that will make them think that I believe that 50% of their make-up is wrong.

Anyway, it’s better for the ex’es to demonstrate their ignorance to the kids themselves.

Next, a note on stepchildren:  You divorce the spouse, not their children.  Little Bear was already baking when I met his mother, and he has known no father but me.  He is as much my son as Junior and Boo, and he always will be.  When you marry someone with kids, you take on an awesome responsibility, one that I believe is harder than if they were biologically yours.  You not only have to be a parental figure, whether you want to or not, you usually also have to deal with the other parental figure in the body of the ex.  You can either be a bad example, such as the wicked stepmother syndrome or the jerk stepdad, or you can just be a good parent.  If the marriage to their parent doesn’t work out, if the child still wants and needs you to be there for them, you should at least consider doing what it takes to be a part of their lives.

Finally, we get to the subject of an excellent post by cybrus.  As fathers, we don’t babysit, we parent.  I don’t spend time with my kids because I’m being forced, I do it because it’s what a father does. I agree with cybrus:  Dads need to get off their butts and parent, either solo or in tandem.  One of the reasons I haven’t spoken to my father in over 25 years is because his children were an imposition on his life, and we knew it.  Unless you want that for yourself, spend some time with your kids.

One last thought – Most of the people I know who have kids are excellent parents.  They love them, care for them, discipline them, and enjoy them.  It’s the parents who drop the ball that make life harder for everyone else.  If you’re taking care of business, you have my thanks.

*Yes, plural.  Quick hint to the young people out there:  Never get hitched when you’re on the rebound from a marriage.  It doesn’t end well for anyone involved.

Thought for the Day

Kevin linked to and commented on an incident in Tucson where a man overcame the magical incantation surrounding a restraining order and murdered his ex-girlfriend.

Things like this make my blood boil.  I am sick and tired of reading about women who are murdered by these animals because society has convinced them that a pice of paper will stop an abusive husband or boyfriend.

So I make this pledge:

If my children survive to adulthood before I die, and Irish Woman passes away before I do, I promise to create a charity with the proceeds from my estate that will pay for people who can legally own a firearm, have a protective order out against someone, and do not have and can’t afford a gun of their own can go to a designated gun store, be given an inexpensive 9mm handgun, 200 rounds of ball ammunition, and 50 rounds of defensive ammunition.  They will also be given one hour of individual instruction on using said firearm safely and effectively, and will have their concealed carry class and permit fees covered so that they can take the gun with them when they leave the house.

In the meantime, I am making it known that any woman with a protective order in the Louisville area who can provide her own gun and ammunition can be my guest at a range and I will show them how to safely and effectively shoot it.  I’ll bring a .22 pistol to get her started and then we’ll transition to what she’s got to defend herself.  I can’t promise she’ll be able to blow the balls off a gnat at 40 paces, but I think I can get her to the point she can put a magazine of 9mm into the chest of someone across the room.

I may not be able to do much, but I will do what I can.

Update – TinCan Assassin and Six have been gracious enough to link to this and echo the sentiment.  Thanks guys!  If enough people in danger seek out people who will help them to know efficient ways to defend themselves, maybe stories like this will become rarer.

A few thoughts on life

I’m not going to go into where this comes from because I truly care about the people who riled me up, and the incident that caused this is far enough back that I’ve had time to chew this over and get most of the bile out.

But here are my musings* on life:

  1. Life is not fair.  The trick is being strong enough and prepared enough to deal with when it’s not fair to you.  Whining is not dealing.
  2. In most of life’s situations, there will be winners and there will be losers.  Real life keeps score.
  3. In order for a human being to live, something else must die.  Maybe it’s a plant, maybe it’s a lamb.  But in order for you to eat, someone is killing something else. Whining to me because I prefer my food to come from something that has legs or fins is annoying.
  4. Not every person who joins the military is Audie Murphy or Gunnery Sergeant Hartmann.  As a matter of fact, most aren’t.  Most are ordinary people doing their job.  They just do it in circumstances and conditions that 99% of our population will never fully understand, and because of that they are exceptional.
  5. Not every veteran has PTSD.  There are a lot of men and women who will bear scars, both internal and external, and we have a debt of honor to provide them with everything we can give them to heal.  But some people are just assholes.  Need to tell the difference?  Let’s try this:  Was the dickhead who beats his wife and kids a dickhead before he deployed?  If so, then it wasn’t the deployment.  Corollary:  Just because someone served, please don’t assume that they’re a ticking time bomb. It’s annoying and insulting.
  6. Every child is a wonderful gift from God.  But not every kid who gets into trouble, or has trouble with math has a learning disability.  Quit looking for a biological excuse for the fact that your kid isn’t the next Stephen Hawking or that you never taught them to obey adults who are placed in authority over them.
  7. Life is hard.  Has been ever since Mother Eve decided to talk to the snake.  You can either deal with that or sit down on the side of the trail and die.  Your choice.  But please choose quickly.  Some of us are trying to deal.
  8. Not everyone needs to go to college.  Remember that kid who didn’t do so well at math or English, no matter how hard they tried?  Putting them in a four year liberal arts or hard science program is nothing but a formula for someone to either bail out of school with a huge student loan debt and no degree or for someone to get a huge student loan debt and a degree that means next to nothing.  There is no shame in learning a skilled trade, and the guys who took shop classes in school and went on to learn a trade when I went to high school are for the most part making at least as much money as I do.
  9. When you get in trouble, you either have mitigating circumstances or you have excuses.  A mitigating circumstance is “I had to steal bread so that I could feed my children”.  An excuse is “My father ran off when I was young and I never got enough hugs”.  Guess which one I have an iota of sympathy for?
  10. No-one owes you anything just because they share a biosphere with you.  Get up, brush your teeth, and earn a living.

*musings, rant, ravings, whatever

Dear City Planners

Does the way you have laid out your roads in Louisville make any sense to you?  Do you just randomly put in roads and their layouts, or do you do it with a sinister grin?  There are scores of things in the layout of this little burg that make me want to tear my hair out.

Today’s example:

Irish Woman and I were trying to take Boo to an educational evaluation this morning.  We looked at the address given, and decided to give ourselves an hour to get there, which should have given us a 10 to 15 minute cushion.  Somewhere along the way, our cars got separated, but hey, no problem, I know where the street is, and I’ll just go down the street to the school indicated on the appointment.  I got off the freeway, made two right turns, drove for a moment, then took a left turn onto the road in question.  So far, so good.

After driving around suburban Louisville for 30 minutes, having not one, but two arguments with my wife over the cell phone, three turn-arounds, and one stress headache later, I realized that I was no longer on the road in question.  I had driven in a straight line, but somewhere along the way, the road had changed names.  It hadn’t stopped, it just changed its title.  Looking at a map after pulling over, I found that the road changes names at an intersection with another major road, moves over two blocks, and starts again.  It’s not a T stop, it’s two four-way stops.

We found the place, and had a good appointment, but not before I realized that I had gotten pissed off at my wife for something someone probably did before she was born.

Basically, I got lost because I assumed that roads a) keep their names consistently and b) don’t just up and move two blocks to the west.

I am going to have to do a lot of groveling with Irish Woman over the way I acted while trying to find an address that’s not connected with the rest of the road it’s on, and I probably deserve a couple of nights on the couch.

But I will be sending the bill for the roses to the city planning department.  I expect payment promptly.

Sincerely,

Daddy J. Bear
Pissed Off Taxpayer

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