"Joy and pleasure are as real as pain and sorrow and one must learn what they have to teach. . . ." -- Sean Russell, from Gatherer of Clouds

"If you're not having fun, you're not doing it right." -- Helyn D. Goldenberg

"I love you and I'm not afraid." -- Evanescence, "My Last Breath"

“If I hear ‘not allowed’ much oftener,” said Sam, “I’m going to get angry.” -- J.R.R. Tolkien, from Lord of the Rings

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Culture Break: Zoë Keating: Escape Artist

A former co-worker, a violinist herself, introduced me to the music of Zoë Keating, which I find fascinating, so now I'm taking the opportunity to introduce her to you:

She really does amazing things with sound.

Did I Mention Complicit Judges?

I'm sure I must have, in the context of police misbehavior that gets less than a slap on the wrist. Here's a sterling case in point:

U.S. District Court Judge John W. Lungstrum dismissed every one of the Hartes’s claims. Lungstrum found that sending a SWAT team into a home first thing in the morning based on no more than a positive field test and spotting a suspect at a gardening store was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment. He found that the police had probable cause for the search, and that the way the search was conducted did not constitute excessive force. He found that the Hartes had not been defamed by the raid or by the publicity surrounding it. He also ruled that the police were under no obligation to know that drug testing field kits are inaccurate, nor were they obligated to wait for the more accurate lab tests before conducting the SWAT raid. The only way they’d have a claim would be if they could show that the police lied about the results, deliberately manipulated the tests or showed a reckless disregard for the truth — and he ruled that the Hartes had failed to do so.

Read the whole story, if you haven't run across it someplace yet, but keep in mind that 1) shopping in a garden center makes you a suspect for drug-related offenses; 2) the field test kits used in this case return a 70% false positive rate; and 3) your 4th Amendment rights are worthless.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Today in Disgusting People: Christmas Eve Edition (Update)

Yes, it's Christmas Eve, and here's a chance to see how all those good "Christians" out there are observing the spirit of the season:

First, the new governor of Kentucky, Matt Bevin, can't wait to spread the joy of Christmas:

Less than a month after taking office, Kentucky’s newly elected Republican Gov. Matt Bevin reversed a move by his Democratic predecessor that had restored the voting rights of about 140,000 former felons.

Those impacted, who are overwhelmingly African American and lower income, had already completed their felony sentences but remained permanently disenfranchised. The order excluded those convicted of violent crimes, sex crimes, bribery or treason.

Bevin’s move Tuesday night goes against promises he made during the campaign to keep the restoration of voting rights in place. He even told reporters in November that he would stand up to his own party on the issue and convince them it was the right thing to do. Now, thanks to his order, tens of thousands of Kentuckians will not only lose the opportunity to regain their voting rights, they will also be permanently unable to serve on a jury, run for office, or obtain a vocational license.

And he lied about it during his campaign. Another Nine Commandment "Christian."

But it gets better:

In another executive order this week, Bevin reversed former Gov. Beshear’s move to raise the state’s minimum wage for government workers and contractors to $10.10 an hour, bringing it back down to $7.25 an hour. About 800 state workers who have already gotten raises will be able to keep them, but new hires will now have to start at the lower pay rate. In the order, Bevin hinted that he would prefer the state have no minimum wage at all: “Wage rates ideally would be established by the demands of the labor market instead of being set by the government,” he said.

"Demands of the labor market." In other words, let American workers compete against workers in Chinese and Vietnamese sweatshops. This guy's a Koch brothers wet dream.

And as long as it's the Christmas season, let's screw someone for helping out a hungry child:

After Dalene Bowden, a food service worker at Irving Middle School in Idaho, gave a free hot lunch to a 12-year-old girl who said she was hungry and didn't have any money, she was fired even though she offered to pay for the meal.

Then there are debt collectors, for whom no tactic seems to be too low. Add in compliant courts, though, and you have a nightmare for consumers:

Clifford Cain Jr., a retired electrician in Baltimore, was used to living on a tight budget, carefully apportioning his Social Security and pension benefits to cover his rent and medication for multiple sclerosis.

So Mr. Cain was puzzled when he suddenly could not make ends meet. Months later, he discovered why: A debt collector had garnished his bank account after suing him for about $4,500 the company said he owed on an old debt.

Mr. Cain said he never knew the lawsuit had been brought against him until the money was gone. Neither did other Baltimore residents who were among the hundreds of people sued by the collector, Midland Funding, a unit of the Encore Capital Group, in Maryland State Court. Some of them said they did not even owe any money, or their debt had long expired and was not legally collectible, according to a review of court records.

In any case, the Encore subsidiary was not licensed to collect debt in Maryland.

Yet when Mr. Cain brought a class action in 2013 against Midland Funding, the company successfully fought to have the lawsuit dismissed.

If the plaintiffs wanted to try to recover their money, they would have to do so in private arbitration. And because class actions are banned in arbitration, Mr. Cain and the others would have to fight the unit of Encore — one of the largest debt buyers in the country with vast legal resources — one by one.

Note that the debt collector was not licensed, but the judge ducked and ran on what should have been a slam dunk.

I may update this if I run across more -- and considering the way this country is going, I probably will. And I haven't even gotten into the campaign yet.

Update: I knew there would be more: The Texas Department of State Health Service, which is cutting off a federally funded, state-administered grant to Planned Parenthood for HIV prevention and care:

In a notice received by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast late Monday, an official with the Department of State Health Services informed the Houston-based provider that it would not renew its contract for HIV prevention services.

The long-standing grant, which funds HIV testing and prevention services, was set to expire on Dec. 31, according to the notice which was obtained by The Texas Tribune.

“There will be no further renewals of this contract,” a DSHS official wrote in the notice to Planned Parenthood.

The contract is federally funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention but managed by the state. A spokeswoman for the CDC said she was unaware of the state’s notice and did not immediately provide comment.

By ending Planned Parenthood’s contract, the state is cutting off almost $600,000 in annual funding, which the health care provider used for HIV testing and counseling, condom distribution and referral consultations.

They really don't care who suffers, do they? Of course, it's going to be "those people."

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Culture Break: Pentatonix: The Carol of the Bells

This has always been one of my favorite carols, and Pentatonix does a bang-up job on it:

Merry Christmas! (See, I have no trouble with wishing people a Merry Christmas.) And a belated Blessed Yule.

Donald Trump Is Boring

That's really the case -- he's so predictable and so artificial that every Donald Trump headline I see elicits nothing more than a yawn.

And sort of apropos, we have a Trump Tower in Chicago. (Has any major city escaped?) It's on the river, just west of Michigan Avenue and sort of behind the Wrigley Building. The building itself is not what I'd call an architectural masterpiece (remember, this is Chicago, where we have an architectural masterpiece almost every block), but it's not the worst building in town. It still manages to be an eyesore: it's completely out of scale with its surroundings, and ignores the existing context -- it's a big, ungainly, bombastic blot on the landscape.


Keep in mind that this photo more or less flatters it, but you get the idea. It's even worse at street level.

Oh, and to have "TRUMP" two stories tall on the river side, pretty much at eye level for passing traffic, in an area where, if the buildings display a name at all, it will most likely be on a bronze plaque next to the entrance, or quietly stated above the entrance, or in extreme cases, blazoned across the top floors, is really a bit much.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Happy Yule

The solstice actually happened last night, at 11:48 pm eastern time, or this morning, at 4:48 am Greenwich time. Depending.

Courtesy of Mustang Bobby at Bark Bark Woof Woof, here's a graphic representation of the moment:

Winter Solstice 12-221-15
The moment of solstice.

What it means is that the days are going to start getting longer, even though the depths of winter are yet to come -- as of this writing, it is officially 37 degrees, with a forecast high of 45, in Chicago. On the 22nd of December. It's going to get worse. Much worse. It's actually a bit warmer here at my place -- the reporting station is at O'Hare, well inland, and I'm much closer to the moderating influence of the lake -- which is not going to be so moderate once the lake has lost a lot of its stored heat.

Oh, well -- I'll worry about it tomorrow.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Saturday Science: Another Cousin

Scientists think they have found yet another pre-modern human species, dubbed the Red Cave People, in southwest China:

A 14,000-year-old thigh bone suggests a mysterious prehistoric humanoid species may have lived alongside humans in southwest China.

The partial femur was discovered in Maludong, or Red Deer Cave, in 1989, but researchers recently published their analysis of the finding in the journal PLoS One, reported Sci-News.com.

The thigh bone is small like the primitive species Homo habilis, with a narrow shaft, and thin outer layer, but the walls of the shaft are reinforced in high-stress areas and the primary flexor muscle is very large and faces backwards, researchers said.

The Maludong humanoid likely weighed about 110 pounds, which is considered very small by pre-modern and Ice Age human standards.

We like to think in nice, tidy compartments -- in this case, a clear line of human descent with one or two offshoots -- say, Neanderthals -- and that's it. But it's not: there were more offshoots running around than we perhaps know about, especially once you get out of Africa, where it all started. And it's worth stressing that this find is really late: 14,000 years old, by which time modern humans had already invited themselves into the Americas.

And this particular portion of Asia -- southwest China, the northeastern part of the Indian subcontinent, the north part of the peninsula commonly known as "Southeast Asia" -- is made for migrants.

If you notice, Yunnan, which is where this find occurred, sits nicely on the edge of a likely migration route, south of the eastern edge of the Himalayas and near a number of major waterways.

Here's the source article from Sci-News.com, with more detail.

(Top image:   Artist’s reconstruction of a Red Deer Cave man. Image credit: Peter Schouten.)

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Culture Break: Arvo Pärt: Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten

I once spent an entire summer going to the lakefront in the early mornings and listening to Arvo Pärt's Passio. That was on cassette, and I think it was the only recording of Pärt's music you could get in this country at the time.

That's a little heavy-duty for this morning, but this is a piece I like, performed by the BBC Symphony (and remember when radio and television networks in this country supported orchestras?), conducted by Edward Gardner:

Pärt's usual drama is somewhat understated here, but enough is there that it still seems that the only appropriate response is silence.

Today's Must Read

In case you missed the latest Republican debate* the other night, Rude Pundit has a brilliant recap:

At the outset of the Republican debate on CNN last night, moderator Wolf "Rejoice in My White Stubble of Journalistic Integrity" Blitzer informed the candidates, "You all have different approaches to keeping the country safe. And that will be the focus of tonight's debate." Yet for a debate on "the security of this nation," the threats discussed were few and, frankly, exceedingly rare. Chances are pretty damn good that you're never going to be attacked by a radical Muslim extremist terrorist supervillain flying Godzilla or whatever the fuck we're supposed to be afraid of.

That's just for starters. Read the whole thing.

Here's Rachel Maddow on the status of facts at the debate -- she's really just hitting the tip of the iceberg:

* I don't watch them. I don't see any point in spending a couple of hours listening to a bunch of posturing liars field softball questions.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Marco Rubio, Marriage Warrior

Marco Rubio has come out strongly against the Supreme Court's ruling in Obergefell. (Big surprise! He needs the "Christian" vote, desperately.) Strangely enough, he misrepresents the entire case. Via Digby:

MARCO RUBIO: As I’ve said, that would be conceding that the current Constitution is somehow wrong and needs to be fixed. I don’t think the current Constitution gives the federal government the power to regulate marriage. That belongs at the state and local level. And that’s why if you want to change the definition of marriage, which is what this argument is about.

Actually, no, it's not. The questions the Court considered were quite straightforward:

1. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?

2. Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out of state?

I don't see anything in there about "the definition" of marriage (as if there were only one).

And we're back to the "will of the people" argument:

It’s not about discrimination. It is about the definition of a very specific, traditional, and age-old institution. If you want to change it, you have a right to petition your state legislature and your elected representatives to do it. What is wrong is that the Supreme Court has found this hidden constitutional right that 200 years of jurisprudence had not discovered and basically overturn the will of voters in Florida where over 60% passed a constitutional amendment that defined marriage in the state constitution as the union of one man and one woman.

First, it is about discrimination, no matter how you try to wiggle out from under it, Senator. And it's not about the definition of "a very specific, traditional, and age-old institution": marriage gets "redefined" every time someone takes a look at it.

And it's a fundamental principle of American law that fundamental rights are not subject to popular vote -- that's been affirmed again and again, the most recent case I can think of being Romer v. Evans, overturning Colorado's Amendment 2, which took away the First Amendment right of gay and lesbian citizens to petition to government for redress of grievances. The Sixth Circuit tried that one, which is what led to the Supreme Court hearing the consolidated cases on appeal. The Supreme Court has found, in fourteen decisions going back to 1888, that marriage to the person of one's choice is a fundamental right. Game, set, match.

This is the substance of the arguments against the Court's decision in Obergefell: total misrepresentation, leavened with a good helping of outright lies. Of course, you're not going to catch any interviewer or moderator or news anchor calling them on it. These are, after all, Very Serious People.

Digby summed up Rubio's comments perfectly:

Also, Marco Rubio is a smarmy little creep.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

A Note on Reviews

Due to some rather dramatic changes at Green Man Review and Sleeping Hedgehog recently, the links to reviews at those sites on the "Reviews" pages are no longer good. I'll be updating them as reviews are published at the new The Green Man Review, so if a link doesn't work, sorry, but it's just going to take some time. (Oh, and if you're doing a search for the site, search for "The Green Man Review." Otherwise, you'll draw a blank.)

As for old Epinions reviews, some of those links work and some don't, depending on whether the "product" appears in eBay's database. I may republish the "disappeared" reviews, once I figure out where and how to do it.

This Is the Way You Should Do It

This is an antidote to the Disgusting Person post earlier -- a national leader who is actually a leader, and a class act to boot:

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau greeted a planeload of weary Syrian refugees landing in Toronto early Friday, telling the first to disembark that “you’re safe at home now” as he handed them winter coats.
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“Tonight they step off the plane as refugees, but they walk out of this terminal as permanent residents of Canada,” Mr. Trudeau told government employees gathered at the airport.

“This is a wonderful night where we get to show not just a planeload of new Canadians what Canada is all about, but we get to show the world how to open our hearts and welcome people who are fleeing extraordinarily difficult straits,” the prime minister said.

And what do we have weighing in on the refugee issue? Donald Trump.

Just another reason to consider moving to Canada.

Via Joe.My.God

Image of the Week

I meant to do this yesterday. Truly, I did.

It's that time of year: the trees are mostly bare (although a whole group of trees in Millennium Park are just turning) and we're getting foggy spells:

Today in Disgusting People

And our focus is on Constable Mike Jones, of Ellis County, Texas (where else?) who is urging citizens to carry their guns at all times to protect themselves from -- wait for it -- refugee children from Central America:

Ellis County Constable Mike Jones, who once referred to Muslims as "rock monkeys" and called for executing the entire family of anyone who kills an American, responded to the plan to house the unaccompanied children on his Facebook page Wednesday.

“Shouldn’t we be moving be moving them closer to the border so we can kick their butts back across the Rio Grande?" Jones wrote. "I am told these illegals are NOT Syrians, but are South Americans. Are you kidding me? Are we supposed to believe anything the Obama administration tells us?"

Jones, whose Facebook page show photos of him wearing 2nd Amendment tee shirts, added that because the federal government isn’t providing security, local law enforcement will be on a heightened state of alert, and noted, "We are oath keepers," a reference to the so-called patriot movement that some see as right-wing vigilantes.

“My advice to everyone is to remain vigilant, to carry your weapon at all times,” Jones wrote. “Do not hesitate to call 911 if you suspect something is going on. Let us check it out. Meanwhile we will be working hard to get these folks out of Ellis County.”

Doesn't he sound like a real charmer? I have a reading suggestion for Constable Jones: first, take a look at Ezekiel 16:49:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.

And maybe follow that with a passage from the Gospel of Matthew, specifically the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.

Because I'm sure he considers himself a good "Christian."

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Today's Must Read

In light of the previous post (not the Haydn part), found this post by John Cole to summarize perfectly what I've been thinking about the Hairpiece phenomenon:

Brian Beutler puts it all together in long form:
While closing the country to foreign Muslims altogether is a radical idea relative to our founding ideals and current policy, it is but an incremental step relative to the outer bounds of legitimate debate in the GOP primary. Republican presidential candidates have supported discriminating against Muslims in our refugee policy, and opposed the very notion of a Muslim-American president, all without subjecting themselves to universal condemnation. The most surprising part of the latest Trump story is that it proves a Republican candidate can take Islamophobia too far for his party’s tastes.
For most liberals, and for the Trump-backing or Trump-curious segments of the right, the Trump phenomenon needs little further explanation. The only people who claim to be befuddled by the Trump phenomenon are officials on knife-edge in the party he leads.

Which supports my contention that Trump is merely a symptom.

I Know, I Haven't Been Posting

Because the news is all about Donald Trump, who is not going to be president (but just in case, can we apply for asylum in Canada? Is Canada far enough away to be safe?), and quite honestly, there's not a lot to be said about a bombastic bully who says outrageous things to get attention. (And I'm one of those who doesn't think he's the cause -- he's a symptom. Digby nails it.)

Here's a little Haydn to wash the trump taste out of your brain:

About All Those Jihadists Infiltrating the US

A little perspective, via Digby:


Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Be Careful What You Boycott

Or you may wind up doing more good than harm -- at least, if you're a group of "Christian" bigots out to safeguard everyone else's "morals."

You may have run across this story, about American Girl profiling a particular family in the holiday issue of its quarterly magazine:

Five years ago today, a young girl named Amaya was legally adopted by her foster parents.

Two weeks ago, Amaya was featured in American Girl magazine. In her own words she shared the story of coming from the foster care system, becoming part of her permanent family, as well as the charity work she and her parents do in support of other foster kids.

Not long after the magazine was published, right-wing watchdogs One Million Moms called for a boycott of American Girl Doll and their magazine, warning parents against exposing their daughters to such a family.

Here's Amaya and her family:

(L to R) Greyson, Daddy Rob, Makai, Amaya, Dada Reece, Tristan

So, how did that boycott work out? Well, as seems to be the case with these things, Mattel is not hurting. But there's another wrinkle here:

As I mentioned, Amaya and her family are involved in charity work related to foster kids. Amaya’s father, Rob, is also a former foster kid. As a child, he recalls arriving at the home of foster parents with his few earthly belongings in a trash bag. This is not an uncommon occurrence. This is still happening today.

Rob co-founded Comfort Cases with the mission of providing a brand new suitcase, duffel bag, or backpack (along with toiletries, pajamas, stuffed animals, etc.) for every foster child in need. Since the organization’s start in October 2013, Comfort Cases has assembled and donated over 10,000 cases.

The results for Comfort Cases have been rather astonishing:

• Comfort Cases held its annual Holiday Packing Party on November 21, assembling 500 more cases than the previous year, a 70% increase.

• The total number of cases collected and distributed in 2015 topped 10,000 — 4,000 more than 2014, and an increase of 65%.

• With contributions coming in from all over the world, monetary donations to Comfort Cases will triple what they were in 2014. That’s 300%, folks.

It occurs to me that One Millions Moms (a wholly-owned subsidiary of the "American" "Family" Association) and like groups have done more for acceptance of gay people in this country than any other single factor aside from the increased willingness of LGBTs to come out -- their hateful rhetoric has repelled most people, because most people are decent.

Maybe I can get them to boycott me -- I can always use a little extra money.

A Footnote: On the backlash against the "Christian" right's bigotry, I thought this was interesting. It seems an Episcopal school in Texas has made the decision to welcome a trans student during her transition. There was, of course, the expected backlash -- sort of:

Headmaster Thomas McLaughlin told KSAT-TV that three of the school’s 241 families have removed their children in protest of the decision.

“There have been some [pushback] based on this communication and the direction that the school is moving that have concluded that this school may not be the right fit for them and their family,” McLaughlin said, adding that feedback from an overwhelming majority of families has been positive.

Three. Out of 241. Not a good showing.

Culture Break: Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 7 in A Major, 4th Movement

Here's a nice wake-up for you: I can listen to Beethoven any time, any mood, and the 7th Symphony is pretty much my favorite Beethoven. Zubin Mehta has this one cold: he's got the momentum, he's got the lyricism, he's got the power, all perfectly controlled. Enjoy:

Wow. Just "Wow!"