Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The TSA wants to get to 3rd base with you...

Right now it is harder than it looks to write about the TSA.  There are basically two camps: the righteously pissed-off citizens who don't want their rights violated, and the righteously fearful citizens who want protection from evil terrorists.  Unfortunately, both (especially the frightened ones) are missing the point.

Let's start from a slightly different perspective than most of the articles I have read take.  Let's look at it first from the point of view of the TSA "officers" -- the creeps who are feeling you up if you opt-out of their creepy pornscan machines.

I don't know the requirements to have that job, but based on my interactions with these individuals I am pretty certain they don't set the bar very high.  Most of them are mouth-breathers, and the ones that are smart are assholes -- because to be smart, you would have to be an asshole to want a job like that.  I have no respect for stupid people and assholes should be treated as such, so to those of you who want to ruffle their feathers, taunt them, make them miserable, go for it!  Just don't let it lull you into believing that you are doing anything other than taking some pleasure from a miserable situation.

So the TSA officer or whatever, the guy feeling you up when you opt out of the scanner, he probably can't get a better job, or he wouldn't be grabbing around your tender bits "looking for explosives."  There are probably a percentage of these folks who really get off on violating people, but for most of them, you are just another faceless idiot in a sea of faceless idiots.  They don't want to be looking at you on their pornscan machines all day; they don't want to be grabbing your crotch or listening to you taunt them about the stupidity of their job.  They probably want to be home drinking beer and watching television with their families, just like the rest of America.  Or maybe they want to be rock stars or they just couldn't make the cut for the state police (another bar that is set very, very low).  The point is, they don't want to be there any more than you, and they probably hate the whole process more than you.

So what does taunting them accomplish?  It makes you feel better, but don't confuse that with thinking that you've "done something," or changed anything.  You think that the TSA people dealing with you have any decision-making power whatsoever?  Of course not!  The whole point of the system is to distract you.

You want to piss off the people who think that these airport shenanigans are worthwhile?  Ask them how many terrorists they've caught.  They aren't stopping anyone.  A determined, smart person will not be foiled by the TSA.  They catch what you might call the "crazies," the stupid people who do stupid stuff because there is something wrong in their heads.  Not for political reasons.

The political roots of this go much deeper.  Do you remember a few years ago the hype, similar to this, surrounding the searches of bags on the NYC subway?  Imagine my surprise, a few months later, when I walked into my local subway stop in Boston and saw police doing the same random checks, but nobody batted an eyelash.  This is how they get you: they chip away, they chip away, and they frame things in their own terms.  They are "protecting" us.

This is going the same way.  Do you think this is going to cause anyone to wake up and say wait a minute let's think about this all again from the beginning?  Because it isn't.  They've framed the argument and distracted the opponents.  It isn't "should we have police in airports?" -- it is, "how should the police function in airports?"  Once you frame the argument in a way that is self-justifying, all the rest is just part of the system.

What's next?  How about random searches of homes?  Oh, we've already chipped away at the Constitution a little bit, and this is a new era, you know.  We have to deal with things that our Founding Fathers never did... riiight.  Well, the easiest way is to target the terrorists (child molesters also work well for this) first, then you can start rolling it out to the rest of the population in small increments.  Just wait.

They don't just want to get to third base.  They want it all, and as long as they are allowed to frame the terms they will get it.  Who are "they?"  Well, just remember, it isn't the creep in a uniform feeling you up at the airport.  But have fun with it anyway -- you only live once, and if this is a bellwether of times to come then we're on our way downhill no matter what -- as Jim said, get your kicks before the whole shithouse goes up in flames...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Why drugs should (but never will ) be legal

The only reason I signed up in the first place was to crack some skulls.

That picture above, courtesy of the DEA, is their Acting Administrator, Michele Leonhart.

Recently I wrote that there is no Illuminati, no overarching conspiracy -- no singular group that is controlling everything.  Here is a striking example of how interests can converge to create the appearance of a conspiracy, when in fact the individual agents are simply acting in their own best interests.

I will not deny that the CIA has been running coke and heroin for decades with the aid of the Bush Crime Family, but that is a subject for another article.

The apparent "conspiracy" in question today is US drug policy.  Why are drugs such a problem in this country?  The answer is that the entire drug industry, including the "prison-industrial complex" supported by our laws, is profitable.

The market in illicit drugs is hard to pin down -- data about price, purity, etc. of drugs on the street is very inconsistent.  For simplicity's sake, I am going to avoid figures but when necessary use what I believe are fairly accurate round numbers, to give a general idea of the drug market structure.  For those of you who want to look for yourselves, here are some historical figures from the gub'mint's own Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) regarding price and purity at different levels of the drug market using 1981-2007 data.  It is far too tiresome for me to quote from, but there are some nifty charts and tables:

Starting at the end-user level, we have people paying, for example, about $100 per gram of cocaine.  They purchase from a low-level supplier who is marking up at least 100%.  He buys from a higher level supplier, who is paying perhaps half of the low-level dealer.  It keeps going up like this, and if you chase the supply chain all the way back to farmers growing opium or coca, the price drops to almost nothing.

Now, there are some good reasons for this pricing structure.  The end user wants the drugs, arguably needs the drugs, badly enough that he is willing to pay whatever it takes (more on that in a minute).  At each level in the supply chain, there is more risk -- larger amounts of cash involved, more serious players, more severe punishment if caught, etc. etc.  This, combined with the high demand for these substances, makes it a very lucrative -- albeit dangerous -- business.  Never mind that the farmers, the actual producers, are getting screwed on the deal -- but then, they don't have to smuggle it out of the jungles, process it, and distribute it in an extremely, ah, harsh environment.  Therein lies the nut.

Between Farmer Joe in Colombia picking his seasonal crop of coca and Joe Blow in Philadelphia smoking his crack pipe, there is a lot going on.  Who benefits?  Clearly the ones who have set up multimillion or multibillion drug distribution businesses are profiting, but who else?  The DEA perhaps?  Other law enforcement?  The industries that support them?

Obviously, yes, the DEA would not exist if Farmer Joe could set up an internet store and sell his product directly to Joe Blow (or even to a larger company that would process it and sell a quality-controlled end product).  But it does exist, and do you think the DEA has any interest in eradicating drugs?  They would be out of jobs if they ever accomplished their mission.

Then there are the more local levels of law enforcement, where small-time dealers and end users are targeted.  Again, law enforcement has no interest in getting ALL of the drugs off the streets, because then people would slowly begin to realize that the police aren't needed anymore.  Instead, we arm them with guns, which makes the other side arm themselves with bigger guns, it escalates and suddenly cocaine and heroin dealers are getting busted with AK-47's and there is a "clear need" for more police, more money for law enforcement, more!

It is not just the police though -- you have a whole system, the "criminal justice system" -- set up to deal with the offenders.  Look at the prison demographics and what do you find?  A lot of people who don't have any money to begin with and can't participate in consumer society to a significant degree.  So what makes sense for us to do with them?  We can lock them up and make our money from the rest of the citizens, the taxpayers.  Because we are keeping the children safe.

Let's look at it from the perspective of the end user.  For whatever reason, this person wants to use a particular drug.  It doesn't really matter why -- we know that people want to use drugs, or none of this would be an issue.  So Joe Blow buys $100 worth of cocaine from a low-level dealer.  This lasts him a day, and then he wants more.  I don't know about you but I don't make enough money to afford to spend an extra $700/week.  What if he bought the drugs directly from Farmer Joe?  Well, he can't.

So what does he do?  He steals.  Look at the prisons.  They are full of not just drug offenders, but people who have stolen to support their habits.  From Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incarceration_in_the_United_States):

"Between 1982 and 2006, $68,747,203,000 was spent on corrections.[48] "The average annual operating cost per state inmate in 2001 was $22,650, or $62.05 per day; among facilities operated by the Federal Bureau of Prisons, it was $22,632 per inmate, or $62.01 per day."[49]

Not a bad deal for the jailors, huh!?  Not a very good one for the taxpayers, though.  Keep in mind that is just the cost of housing inmates, not chasing them down, arresting them, etc.  Interestingly enough, $20,000 is about the wholesale price, according to the ONDCP, of a kilogram of cocaine.  That's enough to give Joe Blow and two of his friends almost a gram a day for free all year long -- in other words, a lot less expensive than incarceration.  And all of that other money, the enforcement money?  Why not pay counselors to help the Joe Blows who decide they don't want to do drugs anymore?

So what do we do, legalize drugs and give them out for free?  That is exactly what we should do.  Won't that create more drug addicts?  Let me ask you this: if drugs were legalized today, would you go out and start doing drugs (assuming you don't already)?  I can't imagine that my straight-edge parents would saunter down to the mini-mart for a bag of crack if it was suddenly legal, but I could be wrong...

You and I both know that it will never happen, though.  Crime would disappear, police would lose jobs, and unfortunately there is simply no other work for most of these people.  And if they don't work, the gears of our economic system grind to a halt.  Supposedly.  Were they smart enough to think this up?  No, but they are smart enough to know a sweet deal when they see one, and are not going to give up easily.

The one exception to this is cannabis, if you want to call cannabis a drug (the government does).  There is a strong current moving toward legalization of cannabis, for a variety of reasons.  Perhaps the most important reason for this taking hold is that the black market has largely been subverted in recent years by small-time domestic growing operations.  The government is not getting the same big marijuana seizures that it used to from organized crime, because it has become more of a mom 'n' pop business.  So now the government wants to legalize and tax it, because they can see they are losing money.  And the fact is that cannabis supports consumer society far more than drugs -- the market for entertainment (video games, movies, music, etc.) and food (Twinkies, Cheetos, Taco Bell, etc.) is now driven by stoners.  That last point might sound a bit glib, but watch 10 minutes of commercials and tell me who is the target audience...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

There is no 9/11 conspiracy, and the Illuminati does not exist.

Also, you should quit working on that manifesto.  Contrary to popular belief, it will not get you laid.

Some of you, if you know me personally, might be surprised to see me writing a diatribe against conspiracy theories.  After all, over the years I have made (I think very good) arguments for the Flat Earth Theory, that the moon landing was faked, and against the idea that we live in a heliocentric solar system (in favor of the idea that we live in an egocentric universe at which I am the center).  So why the sudden reversal?

Actually I am not arguing that certain <ahem> conspiracies exist, just that there is no unified coalition of individuals who are running the world.  If there is such a coalition, they are doing a really shitty job of it, eh?  Eh?

My professor in Modern African History* at BU once said something to the effect that in politics, "there are no permanent alliances, only permanent interests."  You can point to the fact that wow, a lot of very powerful companies have incestuous overlap on their boards of directors, and that they all have ties to political power players.  But do you really, truly believe that there is some group, whose interests all line up perfectly all the time?  It seems a bit preposterous.

A conspiracy becomes undetectable when you involve at least 5 principals.  See The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea for a better summary, which I have not been able to find in a few minutes of searching on the internet.  Read the book anyway, it is worth it. 

But if you have 4 parties there are only 24 (4x3x2x1) possible coalitions form; with 5 parties there are 120 (5x4x3x2x1) which makes it too hard to keep track.  So there is no denying that there are certain coalitions who join forces in their own interests in particular situations, but it is unlikely that any five people's interests align all the time.  Why do you think group marriage isn't popular?

A final word, about 9/11.  This was clearly not a conspiracy in the traditional sense -- that is to say, the event itself was not organized by the US government, for example -- it was the logical outcome of US foreign policy.  One way or another, it was coming, and if it hadn't been airplanes it might have been bombs, or something far worse.  Indeed, I think that we will find far worse in store for us in years to come...

* Did mentioning that class make you wonder about my racial identity and/or why would I be taking it?  Oops, you're racist!

The Game

You just lost.

The commercials say, "You can be a winner in the game of Life!  Spin the wheel (I'm on my way!)" -- but whose game are you playing?

This is the ultimate key to happiness, but it is very easy to get swept up in the wrong direction, by playing other people's games.  Our society -- every society -- is very good at appealing to specific things that people value: love, social status, material goods, etc.  This appeal is then used to make you buy into the system.  You play the game.

Big deal, right?  It makes sense, just like a board game.  But are the rules of the game you are playing rules that you agree with?  If so, you are golden.  If not, then there are two games: the one you are playing for the rest of the world, and the one you are playing for yourself.  So what does that mean?

Personally, by the standards of "their" game, I am doing pretty well.  If you want to look at my place in our society and rate all aspects of my life, I would score above the median.  I have most of the normal things that define success; not all of them, but I'm not out on the street either.  Take it up a level and include the rest of the world, and although my life is not one of opulence you can rate me fairly high on the winning side compared to the billions of folks who are really poor.  They've lost this game, but who is to say if they are winning their own?

The vast majority must be winning on their own, because they happily accept that they are losing in that "other" game that everyone seems to be playing.  Either that, or it is okay to lose, just as long as you get to play.

I don't really know about anyone else, but I started out with my own game, and feel like it has been twisted around to meet the requirements of modern American life.  The only way is to take back control and consciously make up my own rules.  This takes a lot of guile, and is no easy feat.  I'm not saying I am any good at doing it, but the first step is to recognize what must be done...  Wanna play?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Today on MSN

The headline of msn.com's "MUST-SEE" section is "Man wins two jackpots at $3M" with a picture of a regional map showing "Bonne Terre, Mo."  Really.  That's the best picture they could find?  And guess what?  That same story pops up every few months when someone hits their second jackpot somewhere.  I suppose that is also about how long it takes for the average reader to forget about the last time they heard about it.  The guy didn't win two lotteries at the same time, he just won twice this year.  Playing scratch tickets.  Which means he probably played a lot of scratch tickets.  Big friggin' deal, huh?  Well, lottery fantasies apparently get clicks.  Let's see what else is getting clicks today:

"Police investigate 'Sister Wives' family"
"Games use 'super monkey' guards"
"Man climbs 82-foot-pole in seconds"
"'Death ray' at hotel heats up guests"
"Sneak a peek at hot new car models"
"Bing: Teens go all out to get tan"
"Bing: Transgender teen dethroned"

I don't even know where to begin.  Of course I am going to click on a "MUST-SEE" story about "super monkeys!"  Who wouldn't?  Same goes for the "death ray," and that is exactly why they are there.  But what does MSN really think about its readers?  That is to say, what's up with this other stuff?

"Sister Wives family?"  I don't even want to know what that means.  That's even more creepy than a man climbing a pole.  Honestly, who wants to see a man climbing a pole?  Car models might be interesting, but hardly "MUST-SEE" to me. 

The other two are links to "Bing" searches.  That means they aren't actual stories, but they might still generate click revenue.  And is it really news that teenagers want to get tans?  I think we already knew that.  What type of pervert would click on a story -- sorry, do a search -- for teens tanning?

Apparently, "transgender" is not a word according to my spell-checker, interestingly enough.  Whatever.  This headline made me wonder how a teenager could be "transgender," or exactly what they meant.  Evidently (yes, I clicked through) it means a girl who dresses up like a boy and plans to have a sex change operation when she turns 18.  When I was a teenager I grew my hair long and dyed it green, and planned to run for president when I turned 35.  Since I'm only 31 now, I guess that makes me an emo presidential hopeful, or something (and apparently emo is not a word either...).

Now I'm not discounting this individual's feeling about their identity or anything else.  Frankly I just don't care.  She can define herself however she wants, and a lot of people are going to get riled up about it.  People will stick their nose in her business (whether or not she's "asking for it") and raise a big hullabaloo (that is a word!) over something that is only really important to her and the people that know her personally.  But it generates traffic to Bing, which is all that matters.

Clearly, the MSN demographic is weird, or MSN thinks so.  I should get rid of my hotmail account to avoid being subjected to their news page every time I check my email.  But there is great power in inertia, and even if I switch to my gmail, things will still come to the hotmail account and I will have to check it.  There is no escape, except to close the window immediately upon logging out.  From now on, whenever I'm about to log out of hotmail, I am going to click into another tab in Firefox so I never need to see the MSN homepage again.

Aw, who am I kidding?  Where else am I going to read about the super monkeys?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

White Rabbit

It just gets worse every day.  Or maybe the desperate need to "fall back" is finally overcoming me, screwing with my sleep cycles and mood.  In any case, MSN is positively vomit-worthy today.

"Kitten with fur that spells C-A-T" (there was a video link; I didn't click it).  "Get a look at Snooki's new hairdo."  Are they serious?  There is one reason I know who "Snooki" is: the awesome clip that you can see for free in a million different places including: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/12/10/jersey-shore-girl-punched_n_388203.html

Let's see.  "Poll: Who should win 'America's Got Talent'? / Photos."  You had me at "poll."  But photos?  Isn't that some kind of non-moving video?  Um.  "Kid Rock in court over lawsuit stemming from [yawn]" what else?  "Klingon space opera makes debut."  I am sure that most of you stopped reading this as soon as you saw the words, and are well on your way to purchasing tickets right now.  Klingon.space.opera.  Of all the times that MSN chooses not to Use Caps Relatively Randomly in Their Headlines, they pick now?  That should have been all-caps.  "KLINGON SPACE OPERA."  In fact, that should have been their "Breaking News" banner.

But seriously, as cool as that might seem to some folk, there are about 50 "things" on the entire MSN homepage that link to content that is not purely advertising.  Links to stories, videos, slideshows, etc.  I am leaving out some things like the weather, but even if we say 100 unique links, is it really worth wasting one of them on a  Klingon space opera?  When so many other "important" things are going on?  Tell me why.  There's one reason, and this is becoming like a broken record: clicks.

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it, just saying: take a good look and think about what's at the end of your fork, especially when feeding your head.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

More Breaking News from MSN...

"Lou Reed makes Susan Boyle cry." How could I not click on that? Out of context (that is, without a picture of her, on the MSN home page), I might not remember Susan Boyle. But with her ugly mug up there in front of a microphone, I could not resist.

Well, it turns out that what actually happened is: "Lou didn't want Susan to perform his song, and he's not a Susan fan," according to a "source" for the New York Post. So he refused permission to use the song, which he can do because he owns the rights. I was hoping the article would say he poked her in the eye or something.

But what else is in the news today? Right away upon signing out of my hotmail account (which is the reason why I get dumped on the MSN home page several times per day), I see in large red letters, "BREAKING NEWS: Pastor says Quran burning won't occur if NYC Muslim center is moved. Developing ..." That's what they call herring font, I think.

The story ends with "Developing ..." but out of everything on the page, it is just about the only thing that is NOT click-able. You can click all of the ads with no problem at all. But this supposed story? It doesn't even show up on the slide-show of the top five newsworthy items. No, that is all "6 Outrageously Overpriced Products" this and "Guys: Here's What Women Really Want" that (and I'll give you a hint on the latter -- you won't find it in some article on MSN that makes gross generalizations based on cultural stereotypes that have been scrubbed clean for our viewing audience). So what's the deal?

Well, this is another non-event that has been manufactured into news. Honestly sometimes I wonder if computers are writing all these stories, but then I think: computers have better stuff to do. Writing articles like the ones on MSN would be a waste of processing power. MSN is still working with more of an x86 chipset mentality... "640k of RAM? Nobody will ever need that much!"

Seriously, though, what is this story about? First, let's find the story. Immediately I scroll down to "What the ... ?" (because you can't say "fuck" on MSN) but all I see is Lady Gaga in a meat bikini, Michael Jackson in chicken wire, and a woman eating 181 chicken wings in 12 minutes (a woman! That's over 15 wings per minute, one every four seconds. Do you know any men who can do that?) but nothing about a pastor or ummm burning books or a mosque...

Well, maybe it is under "Must-see" (sorry, "MUST-SEE") -- nope, that's the Lou Reed story, plus:
- Dog survives crash & finds way home
- Male menopause: Fact or fiction?
- Woman accuses Vince Neil of battery
- Shares of Spam & gas masks soar
- Which city was the hottest?
- Chicago tower gets ice rink in the sky
- Bing: Man sentenced for attacking pelican

Clearly a big news day. Too much to cover any real stories, what with all of the accusations about Vince Neil and the recent spate of pelican attacks. Wait, can a spate be a single instance? Pardon my diction.

In any case, there are clearly more important things that we MUST SEE and MSN is going to show us. But surely they have that manufactured story in the can and you can link to it from somewhere... F5


"Pastor cancels burning, says mosque moving - But sources close to imam behind NYC project deny there's a deal."

Ho, ho. Um, wait, what? Is this really happening? Has MSN been taken over by some weird pastor who wants to burn books, or by the imam who wants to build a mosque (which would add to several that I believe already exist) in New York City? Seems like those are the two parties that stand to benefit, at face value. Publicity for both sides, with some pretty crazed followers on both ends of the spectrum. But why is MSN covering this story.

The simple and obvious answer is the same as why do they do anything else: clicks. They want to generate revenue, so they write things that people will click on. This story isn't about anything. The mosque is not at "Ground Zero," nor is it the only mosque in the area. I'm sure that this pastor isn't the only nut with his panties in a bunch about it, too. But it is an angle, and it is easy. It has to be easy to read, or nobody will read it, and evidently it has to be easy to write too, because I'm not seeing anything better.

This isn't even funny anymore. The misdirection is so obvious and in-your-face that it doesn't take much to fail to notice. Tell me: is this a real news story? Take a look at your favorite "news" outlet, at their main page. How many of the stories are "real" stories? How many of them exist only for click-through revenue? How much does that matter to you? What drives your interests? If you are a happy consumer, then there is no problem. Otherwise, where to look for anything?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Follow the Money

Social Security. The mere words set off something inside me, an intense boiling. I came across a random article on the subject which led me to further research as I grew angry about money that I have earned but will never see. The question loomed in my mind: how to make this more than a long, whiny, complaining rant. There is plenty to say about the misuse of tax dollars, the system being rotten to the core, or any of the other easy roads which are, to greater and lesser extents, largely true. But what would be a more interesting approach?

I decided to get personal. I looked at my paycheck, and I think I may need blood pressure medication. Let's follow the money a bit, shall we?

I get paid every two weeks. I don't want to go into all the details of my personal finances, but I am not overly paranoid or secretive about anything mentioned here. For reference, I am paid every two weeks (typically 70 hours). First, let's look at some VOLUNTARY deductions:

Auto Insurance: $40.13
Charity: $10
Union Dues: $16.11
Subway/bus pass: $29.50

So from this we can see a few things. My car insurance is pretty low, I don't give much to charity (if you are looking for a worthy cause, I suggest BITS ETC - www.bitsetc.us - but that is for another article). I am part of a union (and I believe those are dues for two pay-periods), and have a subsidized MBTA pass (the $29.50 is a 50% discount on my monthly pass). Okay, so that all seems reasonable.

Oh wait! There are some other things that are kind of well, hiding. They aren't listed as "Voluntary Deductions" in the HR system, but they are technically voluntary:

Health insurance: $33.23
Dental: $7.38
Flexible Spending Account: $21.54
Long-term Disability Insurance: $3.06
Life Insurance: $1.92

Okay, so once again I will save my rants about the health care system and taxes for the moment and say that this is all fairly reasonable. My insurance premiums are pretty low (my prescriptions alone right now cost over 20x what I spend on insurance), the flexible-spending account is a big pain in the ass -- I have to submit claims for reimbursements for things like office visit or prescription co-pays, OTC medications, etc. -- but it is deducted pre-tax from my paycheck, so I save a significant amount.

The long-term disability is good for 2/3 of my current salary, forever, and well worth it. The life insurance is basic because I am young and don't have any children or debt or anything else...

So now I am feeling a little bit better. At least my paycheck is going to the right places. Never mind that I am contributing to my retirement, and that my employer contributes another 5% of my gross salary on top of that. But none of that adds up to very much money. So why is my net pay -- the amount that gets direct-deposited into my bank accounts -- so low?

Oh wait.

This honestly makes me a little woozy. Just looking at it, I am struck with a mix of feelings. None of them are good. "Total taxes." I can't bear to write the number. So far this YEAR I have paid enough for a down-payment on a house. I know some of you might be thinking well at least you have a job that pays you blah blah blah that is not the point! That is just a distraction from the fact that my money is being stolen!

What happened to all of this money? I did not give it up voluntarily. They were smart enough to take it before I could get my filthy little hands on it, because then it would be a lot harder for them to get back, not to mention all of the interest that I could earn from it in the meantime, which they happily accrue instead. Sure, some of you are making the argument in your head that you can do this or that to circumvent the system, blah blah blah.

That's not what I'm talking about. I am merely pointing out that we are being tricked. On one level, yes it is armed robbery, because if I refuse to pay, they will send thugs called "police" with clubs and guns and chains to take me away. But by and large, it is more like pick-pocketing. They're filching a third of your dough, and there's nothing you can do about it. So where is it going? Let's keep following the money.


There's even a keen pie-chart: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Fy2010_spending_by_category.jpg

After looking at the pie-chart, I am feeling more than a little nauseated. Mind you that we're running about a $1.2 trillion deficit as part of this awesome budget. That's "trillion" with the "tr" which you won't ever see in your pocket until our currency is completely devalued (though by then I am sure that the Bureau of Printing and Engraving will be too worried about the Zombie Apocalypse to bother printing trillion-dollar bills, much to the chagrin of Simpsons' fans everywhere).

So there must be some pretty gosh-darned important stuff that we're spending all that hard-earned cash on, right? Instead of a down-payment, let's take a look at some general items:

$677.95 billion - Social Security. It would be way too easy for me to write about how I'm never going to see this particular money again, so let's just leave it at that.
$571 billion - "Other mandatory programs." Okay, I know that actually means something I don't like, but would prefer to lighten the mood a bit and imagine that these are programs for things like happy rainbows and making sure that the butterflies have safe passage when there is a hurricane. Everyone loves butterflies.

$453 billion - Medicare
$290 billion - Medicaid

Sigh. This just makes me tired. Let's pretend that all of the money going into Social Security, "Other mandatory programs," Medicare, and Medicaid, all goes to provide health care. That's a total of almost $2 trillion. That's also with a "tr." Most sources I have found say that we have 50 million people in this country without health insurance. That works out to what, about $40,000 per uninsured person? Seems like it should, on average, be enough. According to Wikipedia, "In 2006, per-capita spending for health care in Canada was US$3,678; in the U.S., US$6,714. The U.S. spent 15.3% of GDP on health care in that year; Canada spent 10.0%.[5]" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_the_health_care_systems_in_Canada_and_the_United_States for the whole dreary article).

But wait, some of that money isn't for health care, right? The Social Security money, that was originally supposed to be about retirement. So let's take that out. Where else do you think we might be able to find some money in the budget? How about:

$663.7 billion - Department of Defense
$42.7 billion - Department of Homeland Security
$51.7 billion - Department of State
$23.9 billion - Department of Justice

Surely, I don't mean to cut all of it? Ho, ho. These are just some of the big numbers. Where is this money going? Well, we're killing lots of people. And we're making lots of people angry at us. The Department of Defense (which should really be called the Department of Offense, for more than one reason) and the Department of Homeland Security, along with the State Department, make sure that everyone who doesn't get killed by us at least dislikes us. And State does that to our own citizens, as does the Department of "Justice."

Think for a minute about this spending. You pay dollars to kill people. You like that? If you don't, then too bad. If you do, then you are lucky, because you are on the side of what is Good and Right. Do you like the idea that predator drones are blasting people with the dollars you earned today in, let's say the last third of your day? I hope you do.

Do you like that we have multiple overseas conflicts going on, but very little news coverage of them? Does this make you curious? The government depends on a population that is easily overwhelmed by the appearance of facts and the easily tricked out of doing any critical thinking. Have you bothered to check any of the numbers in this article? Do you intend to? I took them directly from Wikipedia. Do you trust them?

Let's accept that my numbers are, at least roughly, correct. Does that make them meaningful? How meaningful is a number like $663.7 billion? How do you put that in terms that are understandable? Well, it is a lot of hamburgers.

What is in the rest of the budget, though? What doesn't merit the same level of importance (assuming that funding is a proxy for importance)? Let's see:

$13.3 billion - Department of Labor
I wonder what all those unemployed folks think about that... What does the DOL actually do, anyway?

$12.0 billion - Department of the Interior
$10.5 billion - Environmental Protection Agency
Aren't these people supposed to keep things nice for us? Seems like they could use more money, if we're going to play that game, than the people who destroy shit.

$7.0 billion - National Science Foundation
$0.7 billion - Small Business Administration
I'm so glad that we are supporting science and small businesses.

Are you depressed yet? I am depressed that instead of mortgaging my future on a new house, I am forced to mortgage my future on weapons of mass destruction and other toys for those in charge to play with. Oh well. If you don't pay your taxes, those toys you are paying for will be used against you...

And don't forget, every year, you are going to be paying at least:
$164 billion - Interest on National Debt

Good times for years to come!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Journalism Rocks

So the original idea for this blog was to use it to post responses to the many ridiculous articles that I see on a daily basis. My hope was to find one per day.

Day one. And I can't find an article. I decided that varied "news" sources would be the best things for me to to address, so my first thought was to check my RSS feed subscriptions. But then I thought -- what about other people who don't share my screwball taste in journalism? So instead I started with a fairly prominent news outlet -- Guardian UK.

Great. So what are they writing about on their web site? Well, apparently Bjorn Lomborg (sorry for getting rid of that crazy "ΓΈ" in the first name, but SEVIS II is coming, so get used to it, Bjorn!), a prominent "skeptical environmentalist" is releasing a book that admits to climate change, blah blah blah I am practically falling asleep just thinking about trying to respond to that article.

The rest of the Guardian home page seems foreign or somehow indecipherable. There's a headline that US "Homeowners flock to Florida in bid to save properties," and this just doesn't sound like America to me. Perhaps "US Homeowners flock to Florida for apparent cheap deals, get swindled..."

I scroll down and it is just garbage upon garbage. I could have just stuck with MSN. Seriously. Let's look at their front page right now... Okay they do five slides now so this is going to be tiring:

Slide 1:
"Earl Upgraded, Clemens in Court & More News," okay so there's a hurricane. That's always exciting, but is it a real story? Does it merit the top spot? You tell me. How about "Clemens in Court?" I could not possibly care less about Roger Clemens. The only reason I should know his name is because I went through a phase when I liked baseball as a kid. And I am from Boston. That name, however, has been pounded into my brain by foolish talking heads and "journalists" for months -- no, years! "More News?" How about, "more stuff that will make you want to jam a pencil in your eye?" Christ below!

Okay, Slide 2:
"Who Were the Emmys' Best & Worst Dressed?" Um. Really? There's a "good" picture of Tina Fey on the left, and a "bad" picture of some redhead with too much cleavage on the right. Not sure who the one on the right is, but more importantly, who cares? What are "Emmys?" Is that even a word? My spell-checker says no.

I'm not going to even bother going on with that, so Slide 3:
"'I Can't Spend All My Time With My Birth Certificate Plastered on My Forehead," quoting US president Obama. Apparently, his majesty the president likes to capitalize words, unless they are prepositions, except for "With." Or maybe he just doesn't like the word "On." I guess this would be a real story, if the "exclusive interview" they mention reveals that the president was not born in America, and hence not our president, but if that were the case it would have surely been on Slide 1. I don't think it would fly if they just titled it: "Obama: Still American." Next, please.

Slide 4:
"Celebrities Caught in Bad Romance Songs." For those of you who have been wearing earplugs for the past year or so (and I applaud you), "Bad Romance" is a reference to a song by an artist named Lady Gaga. The story itself is evidently about celebrities whose amorous endeavors have inspired various songs about love/heartache. Yawn.

Slide 5:
"The Fresh Factor." The subtitle reads: "
Make sure you know the lifespan of bread, meats & cheese to keep your food tasting great & your family safe." What is with MSN & their love of ampersands? This is the most appealing of the slides, because it has a picture of cheese and meat. Also, I know that I can rest safe at night knowing that my food will taste great and my family will be safe. My family, safe at last.

This is worse than the Guardian. Okay, so maybe I am being a little harsh here. Maybe I should remember that the "M" in "MSN" stand for "Microsoft," a software company. Not a news company. Maybe I am just looking in all the wrong places. Let's check out the New York Times.

Middle East, victims, soldiers, suffering.
Problems with our eggs.
Resurgence of bedbugs.
Chilean miners trapped for months.

I think I'll just stop here. Let's go find out how long salami lasts in the fridge...