Friday, December 16, 2016

In other news: Water is found to be shockingly wet!

In a report released today the Indianapolis Star and USA Today have found a perponderance of sexual abuse directed mostly towards underaged girls in gymnastics, particularly in those facilities associated with the US Gymnastics Team - you know the one that goes to the Olympics and all the international meets.

Why anyone should be surprised at this in the wake of the similar scandal a few years back surrounding figure skating is beyond me.

Young people putting their all into an effort to be the best, under the control of a barely examined cadre of coaches who have the power to stop those dreams on a whim, working for a standard that is always going to be subjective - oh, and with parents, as often as not, who are more invested in having an Olympian as their daughter or son, than the best interests of that individual.

What could possibly go wrong?


I'm glad it's been documented, but anyone who is susprised by this shit in the rape culture we live in is too stupid to be expected to remember to breathe.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Can We Stop Acting Surprised when Our Beloved Leader Stoops to Perfectly Expected Levels of Shittiness?

Look. . .

We all saw the same never-ending campaign.

We all heard the lies, the evasions, the misdirections and the promises.

The election went to the candidate who promised attacks on the First Amendment. To the candidate who promised religious and ethnic tests for refugees, immigrants, and of course, people who have lived here almost their whole lives through no fault of their own.  He made sweeping foreign policy statements without any consideration of the possible effects.  He swindles people with fewer resources to protect themselves in the courts, and regrets that any mere millionaire can play golf just because they've fallen into some money.

He has boasted of being so smart he never needs any education on any topic.  As a former Navy Nuke that's fucking frightening - I'm pretty smart, but I've also had it beaten into my head that there are many, many things that I thought I knew that I didn't, because I'd never been educated in the topic.  He not only never examines his presuppositions or prejudices, but revels in them and thinks that proves his brilliance.

He's courted the Religious Right and by choosing Pence for his VP he's as much as promised that there will be massive, coordinated attacks on gay, transexual, and women's rights.  He's shown he's perfectly willing to gut the US education system in favor of furthering the YEC idiocy.  That he not only refused to consider any evidence for Anthropogenic Climate Change, but is now promising to prevent any Federal Agency from gathering data that might sweep back to support that theory.

He's played the rules for thee but not for me card so many times he's gotten it platinum plated, and shows no sign at all that he believes laws apply to him.  He's chosen a candidate for Attorney General who will cheerfully ignore civil rights for over half the population, and I suspect would be perfectly happy with a means test for civil rights.  "Is your net worth greater than $1 million?  Then you have civil rights.  If not? Go fuck yourself for bothering us Real Americans."  He's endorsed revisionist histories of both the recent and distant past.

He's got a twenty plus year record of admiring and then bloviating to the press how he admires strong-arm tactics, and politicians.  He invited foreign espionage agents to attack his opponent.  He continues to admire a world leader who had gutted his own country's Constitution, and is known to have orchestrated the killing of members of his own country's press.

He continued with the Birther nonsense until 2016, with his baseless "I hear someone tell me there's something fishy with Obama's birth certificate," because he's a flaming goddamned racist asshole.  He's incited violence agaisnt Latinx, blacks, and Muslims.  He's legitimized white-supremacists and the KKK.

He is, in shot a total, and complete shit-hole of a person.

And no one not those of us who hate him, nor those of us who voted for him, have any room to pretend he's been anything but that for his whole time in the public eye.

Stop being surprised when the leopard's spots are still in their accustomed place.

Anyone expressing surprise or shock, now, is a fucking idiot, who obviously needs a reminder to inhale on a regular basis.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Why wait for the new year to be Sauron levels of Evil?

If you're in Ohio, you can get the ball rolling by trying to pass a ban on abortion after six goddamned weeks.

Note that in the state next to Ohio they've already criminalized miscarriage and have jailed women on the presumption of having tried a DIY chemical/medical abortion when they've miscarried.  And the governor of Indiana is going to be our next Vice President.

The ACLU is begging John Kasich to veto this vile Ohio bill, but given that Kasich was the fucktard who decided that stopping STD clinics was a perfectly okay response to the Planned Parenthood hoax, I doubt he's going to listen.

It's beginning already.

Civil liberties.   They were nice when we had them, weren't they?

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I am ashamed.

My fellow Americans -

What in the fuck were you thinking?  Are we really going back to the days when it's okay to grope women?  To mock minorities?  To claim that someone isn't American because of where their parents or grandparents were born - no matter where they were born themselves?

Do we not care about civil rights?

Do we not care about standing by our promises?

Say goodbye to The Voter Rights Act of 1965, what provisions remain, let alone any chance of replacing the ones the Supreme Court struck down.  Say goodbye to the ACA.  Say goodbye to the Federal Minimum Wage.  Say goodbye to any attempt for a national policy for carbon emissions.  Say goodbye to Net Neutrality.  Say goodbye to Dodd-Frank, any of its provisions.  Say goodbye to civil rights for all.  Say goodbye to Abortion Rights.  Say goodbye to the VA.  Say Hello to more for-profit prisons.  Say Hello to an expanded School to Prison Pipeline.

Say Hello to newer and more prevalent STDs as more and more clinics get shut down.   Say Hello to a new Jim Crow era.  Say Hello to more for-profit prisons.  Say Hello to an expanded School to Prison Pipeline.  Say Hello to faith tests for citizenship.  Say Hello to even more insane ID requirements that still won't let people of color vote.

And especially to those nominally Christian assholes who voted for The Hairpiece:  You have just made a deal with the devil.  You have made it clear that theocracy is all that matters to you, not mercy, not justice, not liberty, nor any other virtue.  I no longer am going to pretend you're not a font of never-ending hate, out to destroy everything and everyone I care about.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Hipsters can ruin anything

I hate ranch dressing.

I think it is vile.

I would just as soon it dropped off the face of the earth - and never use it at home nor when I'm out in restaurants.

So, when I saw that the Washington Post had published an editorial piece claiming that "Ranch dressing is what's wrong with America," I was all over that!  Not only would it be a welcome anodyne to the various feelings generated by this unending electoral season, but a chance to metaphorically join a pitch-fork carrying crowd marching on The Hidden Valley, planning to burn it down?  I'm all over that.

Then I read the article.

And now I'm wanting to go out and buy some ranch dressing just to delivery an appropriately milk-fat battered invitation for that piece's author to go to Hell.  

I'm going to begin by pointing out the correction note at the bottom of the article.  Once you read that you suddenly understand why the article admits that ranch dressing was invented in California at a humbug dude style restaurant, and then blames it for being too mid-Western to be good food.  That's because the writer managed to fuck up his research because he was sure that the imagined mid-Western link had to be there - and that should have been sufficient to damn the Satan's smegma that is Ranch Dressing in the eyes of any right-thinking person, anywhere.

Yanno what else comes out of the mid-West?  Corn, wheat, and hushpuppies.  So do the Cubs!  Just because something hails from the mid-West is only a damning criticism if you happen to be a NY or Californian hipster.  Or a member of said coastal elites.  (Hmm.... I wonder if there's an a correlation there?)

Then let's consider what ranch dressing really is:  Our friend the hipster idiot thinks that ranch dressing is primarily made from buttermilk, and that is the source of it's astonishingly high fat content.  Hidden Valley's own labels places a single 30 g serving as having 15 g of fat.  (Which if you're wondering really is an astonishingly high fat content for anything.)  But buttermilk has a fat content of about 2 g per cup - or 246 g serving.  There is no way you're getting that fat content from buttermilk - of course since I'm not a hipster idiot, I can do some basic research.

Here's a secret for everyone following at home:   Ranch dressing is flavored or seasoned with buttermilk, but the majority component for the used semen that Americans seem dedicated to putting on everything is actually a fat emulsion, like mayonnaise.  (Or as the Military's commissary chain called it while I was active duty:  Salad Dressing, Type II)  Since we're going to try to stick to at least some facts in this piece let's consider what mayonnaise is:  usually it's some oil (vegetable, or olive) mixed with raw egg, and some lemon juice, and salt to taste.  No kidding it's a high in fat food, but the milk products in ranch dressing are not the problem with ranch dressing.

Then our beloved idiot feels the need to castigate ranch dressing for tasting like half-rotted milk.

Buttermilk is a fermented food.  Get it right, bozo!  It's a fully rotted product!   It's just that sometimes when things are rotted, they taste awesome.   (Other fermented foods that are awesome include sauerkraut, cheese, garum, and thousand year eggs.*)

Complaining about something tasting like what it's been flavored with is fucking bizarre.  And if you don't like cheese, I don't care what else you might want to say about food - we're not even int he same galaxy.  There may be some Venn Diagram overlap in our food preferences, but there's no real alignment in our tastes of views.   It's just a coincidence.

Then he gets onto this utterly contra-factual complaint about ranch dressing being primarily a means of getting milkfat into people's gobs.  Which if you'll remember the little lesson I offered earlier, is a bit of a stretch.  I figure what animal product is in ranch dressing is most likely to be overwhelmingly chicken, from the eggs used in the mayonnaise base, than any milkfat from the buttermilk added for flavoring.   Certainly there's going to be more egg fat than milk fat in any given sampling of ranch dressing.

Now, the environmental impact of dairy and meat farming is something I can't argue with - from a simple energy efficiency perspective that should be obvious:  a biological system is doing very well to be able to harness 20-30% of the available chemical energy in the food it consumes.  And when we eat meat, in particular, because we're not hyenas and only care about some parts of the carcass, that efficiency gets even worse.  I've seen some figures that say for every pound of beef consumed something like the equivalent of ten pounds of grain was fed to the cow to produce it.  That 10% figure may be off, but I'm sure it's good within +5%/-2%.  So in a food scarce world that explains why a number of sane and sensible people think that we do eat too much meat, and meat byproducts.
(There are some other things to consider besides that bare bones analysis, but that's beyond the scope of this rant.)

To make the claim that ranch dressing's need for buttermilk is going to affect the scope of dairy or meat farming taking place is blatantly absurd.  It's probably got a bigger effect on poultry production, but I'd think even there that less than 1% of the eggs produced in our nation are destined to be ruined by conversion to that curdles serum that is ranch dressing.  

Let's go back to the only point that should matter:  If you think ranch dressing tastes good you're wrong and bad and evil, and you need to try other things.

But not because of milkfat or anti-flyover state snobbery.  Just remember: it's Satan's smegma and it doesn't taste good.   If you must have a creamy dressing on your salad greens go with Caesar dressing - it's got fermented fish in it!   Yum!  

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Delivery Driver Gets Robbed - Then Gets Shafted

Let's take a moment from our current unending electoral fears and pomp to consider this story out of Michigan where a pizza delivery driver is informed, after being robbed at gun point, he has to repay some of the money he lost to the store.  If you think that sounds fucked up, don't worry the store and the company has a policy that makes it all make sense:  The driver's not supposed to leave the store, ever, with more than $20 in cash on his person.  So anything more than that the driver might have is supposed to be locked into the driver's personal locker at the store.

If you're not rolling your eyes, yet, you're suffering from a case of privilege and ignorance.  You also probably believe that the laws forbidden contact between strippers and customers are obeyed; that HazMat workers always wear proper protective gear; and that people turn off their cell phones at the gas pump, too.

Here's a clue for all you find people swimming in ignorance:  The majority of strip clubs work very hard to make sure that their dancers know they're expected to be available to their customers, without letting them get caught violating the law; Hazmat workers can get very blase about what they consider to be low-level risks; most people with a modicum of knowledge recognize that the spark hazard from a cell phone is so far below reasonable probability that obeying those stupid signs and laws to turn off the cell phone is a waste of time for no material improvement in safety.  (Now, making sure to take steps to avoid static discharge - those make a good deal of sense.)  And pizza delivery drivers are screwed so many ways by their management it's not funny.

First off, most places only offer drivers minimum wage - or less.  Because you can argue that the driver is in a tipped position, the management can shuck off their labor costs onto the consumer.  Of course to be a delivery driver - you need access to a car - which is gas and mileage for wear and tear on the vehicle.  The pizza shop ain't paying for that shit - that's the driver's problem.  So, that's coming out of the minimum wage the driver is supposedly making.   And remember - the driver isn't even likely to be getting minimum wage in the first place.  Tips are where the delivery driver makes or breaks it on these nights.

The more deliveries a driver can make per trip, the better it is for him.  He doesn't give a shit about how cold your pizza gets (to be fair, why should he?  The store sure as hell doesn't care, either.) nor how many more pies are waiting to go out.  The less back and forth driving he can do, the more real money he'll make over his necessary overhead.  And going out with more than one order and only $20 means that if both parties need to make change from $20 bills, the driver is stuck come the second stop.  In practice most drivers I've known want to have $20 in smaller bills per delivery on their route, when they leave the store.  Just so they don't get caught in a position of being unable to make change for their customers.

Also going to the more deliveries thing - no matter how little time it takes to drop cash into that locker, it's going to be a time suck.  It might be only a minute, but I suspect there's going to be logging involved, and other paperwork crap, too - all of which deducts from the time the driver can actually be doing something that makes them enough money for this evening at the store to be anything more than wasted time.

Let's not forget that drivers are going to be fired for taking too long on their rounds, for letting pies sit too long before taken out on delivery, or if the customer has any complaint about the experience.  The driver has zero incentive, to spend time on anything but deliveries as long as there's something close to ready to go out.

Then there's the effect of the ubiquitous delivery fee:  consumers see that, and assume it's going to the driver, so they don't need to tip.  Which is so many kinds of fucked up I don't care to get into it.  Look up, online, some of the complaints pizza drivers have about delivery fees if you want to see how it works out in practice.  The effect that matters here is that the chain is perfectly willing to impose a fee on the consumer knowing it will harm their tipped employee, with no benefit accruing to said employee.

Finally pizza drivers get targeted for robberies all the fucking time.

As long as the injuries aren't too horrific, they rarely make the news.  But this story's blase, if a driver feels a delivery to be unsafe they can tell the manager is just so much unadulterated bullshit.  The company in this case is washing its hands of any obligation to the driver, and then getting shocked when the drivers try to maximize their own efficiency for their personal benefit.

I am not moved by this story's reporting, nor do I find the store's position very sympathetic.

And please remember to tip your drivers when you order delivery.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Smart Dogs

My dog Bear is a relatively smart dog.

This is, unfortunately, making his life more complicated.

The best example of this, that I can think of, is that he has discovered a very frustrating and annoying triangle of danger and doom in my living room.

Now, to many people this will sound like proof of my dog's stupidity.  The problem is that they'd be judging based upon human standards.  And my human standards, my dog's perception and reasoning is deeply flawed.  But I's argue that his behavior is showing some very intelligent strategies for defining problems, and trying to work out solutions for them.  For a dog.

You can judge an animal's intelligence against two general standards.  The first standard is going to be the human scale of sentience and problem-solving that we use to justify our mastery of the animal kingdom.  The second scale is the scale of relative intelligence within a species - that is, how an individual animal reacts or 'thinks' compared to others of its species (or family, or even genera, if they're closely related). This comparative scale is also sometimes used to prove that, say, crows are smarter than mice, or other such wide comparisons - but I find those to be inherently dissatisfying, and of questionable validity.

Bear has identified a problem when we're playing with his toys in the house.  If I throw them from the couch to the other side of the house, he'll often stumble when he's running back to the couch and jumping back up on for the next round of the game.  Bear has correctly noticed that this only seems to happen in a single general area of the floor - it's what I've laughingly called The Family Room Triangle - a triangle bounded by the two ends of the archway between the dining room and the family room, and the front of the couch.  When he's running through that area he stumbles far, far more often than anywhere else in the house - especially if he's carrying a toy in his mouth.

So, to avoid this hazard he will, when coming back with his toy, skirt around the edges of this triangle, cautiously, and carefully stepping until he's close enough to the couch to leap up onto it.  This has significantly improved his rate of successfully reaching the couch without stumbling, but it's not perfect.   So he's recently added a new curlicue:  he's going first into his crate, then coming out to the couch.  So far this new strategy for dealing with the perfidity of The Family Room Triangle has been successful.

So Bear's identified a hazard:  The Family Room Triangle; he's clearly worked out a theoretical framework for how the hazard works:  There's just something in that particular area that likes to trip him!  And now he's taken actions to minimize his exposure to the risks inherent within The Family Room Triangle.  And, as I said, those actions do work within the framework of what he's considered.

All in all, a very intelligent response from a dog.  But it's still a dog's solution, based on several flawed understandings of the issues involved.

There are two factors that have escaped Bear's consideration when facing the problem of the evil force that's tripping him when he plays with me on the couch:  friction and transient obstacles.

Friction comes into play because I have laminate flooring on the first floor in my house.  Dogs and laminate flooring do not always get along.   He'll skid on it, especially when chasing balls outbound from the couch, and can adjust for that, because the skidding happens every time he reaches sufficient speed.  It's not a variable hazard, and so the rules for dealing with it are pretty easy.  Coming back from retrieving his toy, however, he's moving at a slower pace and only really risks overcoming the coefficient of friction between his foot pads and the floor, i.e. slipping, when he's making the last leap up onto the couch and using more force than he does while trotting back with his toy.  That's one major cause for his slips.

The other cause is, well, Bear's a dog.  And spoiled.  He's got several toys, and since they're all large and relatively easy to spot, I don't insist that they get put away regularly.  Bear has a distinct tendency to leave his toys where they lie when he decides that play time is over.  Because of the simple frequency of traffic through The Family Room Triangle, many of his toys come to rest in that area.  And Bear has a dog's rather sanguine attitude towards blunt hazards, particularly familiar blunt hazards:  I'll just walk through them because even if I bump against them, they're not going to poke out an eye.  But that ignores that when his feet land, or more properly attempt to land, on his toys, they do not give purchase for his feet, and he often stumbles.  i.e.  the transient hazards trip him up.

But he doesn't recognize them as part of the problem for The Family Room Triangle - even when none of his toys are lying within that area he's still playing it safe by skirting the edge.  And so, with the best of intentions, and with the most determined reasoning available to him, my dog is making himself look pretty ridiculous - because he's a smart dog.  (And before people try telling me that he's not so smart, ask yourselves how many children you may know who would find Bear's treatment of the challenge before him to be a perfectly appropriate model for them to follow, rather than worrying about cleaning up their own play space?)

YouTube video demonstrating some of this behavior.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Making Legislation FUN!

Representative Jimmy Martin, of the Alabama Legislature is bummed out.

"Whoever was the mastermind of this ethics bill totally screwed up the camaraderie and fun in the Alabama Legislature."

Representative Martin is a horrible representative.  I am even willing to grant the idea that he's being honest when he claims that he can't be bought for the price of a steak dinner.  But what he deliberately is choosing to ignore is that when lobbyists are the ones with access to representatives, when the voice that inform our representatives are the lobbies and not the voices of voters, that colors how the representatives are going to see various issues.  The danger of outright vote-buying is real, and I'm convinced the price on a vote is a Hell of a lot cheaper than Representative Martin wants you to believe - I'm remembering the Monroe County's LDC Scandal involving the former County Executive's husband scheming to award a no-bid contract to some buddies - at significantly above market rates for the work being done - and all that the man got from this was about $2000 in house work, as I recall.  While the county is locked into a long term contract that is going to cost millions of dollars more than it might otherwise - because he swung the business to some buddies of his.  

But that's not the only thing that should concern the public when our legislators talk about ethics and especially ethics reform.  Certainly I'm particularly focused on this issue because, well, I'm in New York.  And I got to see the comedy show when the new governor was all for ethics reform and investigation - until it started to sniff around some of his deals.  And he unceremoniously, and prematurely, shut it down.  

But to get back to Representative Martin and his missing fun - when a lobbyist takes a representative - at any level of government - out to dinner, or other vaguely trivial perks - it comes with a hook.  Not necessarily the outright buying of a vote - but more insidiously, it colors the representative's view of the group being that perk.  And in particularly, this is a tactic that's most easily used by people who are already on the top of the social and economic pyramid:  So, say, the payday loan people can afford to pay lobbyists to do this wooing of representatives - and garnering goodwill.  But a lot of the groups that are fighting what I see as unconscionable abuses by those same groups can't afford more than a bare lobbying presence in the state capitol.  Sometimes all they can do is pool time, not money, to try to meet in person with a representative to present their side of the issue.  And frankly, if you expect that, most of the time, most representatiaves won't give a more open ear to the group that can afford to take them out to a nice steak dinner, than the often desperate and shrill people trying to yell at him outside his office - you're living in a fantasyland.  

And it seem to me that Representative Martin is happy in fantasyland - because it's good to him.  And no one else matters a good goddamn.

One hopes his constituents remember this come November.   


Friday, July 22, 2016

Harris County, Texas: Here's your Badge!

The People of Harris County, Texas, are presumably good Texans - steeped in the conservative values that the State is so proud of:  Individuality, Honoring Slave-Keeping Land Pirates, Defense of Business to Blow Up Towns with Impunity - you know all those things that Texans are famous for in our modern times.

They have added a new honor to their constellation of self-made ribbons for which Texans should be justifiably proud:  They incarcerate rape victims for the flaw of suffering mental illness!  I tell you, Saudi Arabia is very proud to see one of the so-called Liberal Democracies start down the proper path of punishing those disobliging persons who dare to report sexual assaults.

A young woman, named Jenny in court proceedings, broke down on the stand in her attempt to testify against her rapist at trial.  The People of Harris County, in the form of their District Attorney, and the presiding judge, chose to react with the compassion that any Texan can be proud to see in the halls of justiice:  They immediately remanded Jenny to the County Jail, because in her own words she had become a flight risk as a witness. And they kept her there for almost a full month.  During this time she was kept in a county holding facility - a category of facility notorious throughout the union for the lax supervision, care and safety compared to State and Federal prisons.  But I'm sure that the DA and judge made certain that Jenny was getting care for her mental illness.  They wouldn't just throw someone in the fit of a depressive breakdown into prison without any care or therapy, would they?

Oh, of course they did.

Therapy and care are for the State prisons, after all.

All this because a prosecutor was justifiably concerned that the only thing that matters in the criminal justice system:  The prosecutor's own batting average, might be at risk.

I was going to offer a badge here for the residents of Harris County to proudly wear to show their support for the actions of their elected officials.   Instead, I think I'll wait til the people of Harris County have shown whether they agree with the DA's office that this was a completely justified use of legal powers to incarcerate a rape victim when she had a mental health attack.

I honestly expect the incumbent to be re-elected, but let's face it sometimes they do get voted out.  So, Harris County - here's your chance to prove to this damned Yankee asshole that you're not the bass-ackwards redneck women-hating justice as a score-card jackasses I think of when I think of Texans.

Choose your pride!

Oh - links.  I forgot links:

P.S. given how easy it will be prove or disprove the woman's attorney's statement about her housing status, I can't imagine that he would be lying about that.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Example of the Evidence of an Unhealthy Relationship with Firearms in the US

In the wake of the Orlando shootings last weekend, there have been a lot of things said by people all over the issue of firearms rights and gun control.  I'm sick of it, and I believe that there is nothing that will ever be done by the people nominally in charge because our nation has become a bunch of gun-loving lunatics who will fight to the bitter end to defend a myth and right that are increasingly irrelevant to the largely urban population of the nation.

And this story from last year, in the LaCrosse Tribune shows it better than any argument I can imagine:

(In case the link expires or for those people too lazy to read the link, while it's still up:  A man was using the laser target on his pistol to play laser tag with his cat.  The pistol was loaded, so when he accidentally gripped the trigger, he ended up shooting his roommate and friend in the leg.  Now this guy has no previous record, had done all the necessary stuff to own his gun, except think about the most basic safety requirements.  And yet - the prosecutors in the case argued for the judge to allow the guy to plead to a charge that would allow the guy in question to have his felony record expunged, for fear that his right to own a firearm would be restricted otherwise.)

When we're cherry picking charges that could have been gross negligence or even assault, simply to allow the person who behaved in a criminally stupid manner that goes against everything I know of firearms safety to continue to own a gun. . .

Guns are too goddamned important to Americans.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Wall between the US and Mexico

I just thought I'd take a moment here, to document some of what I've found when I choose to look up the known or estimated costs of the sort of wall that certain politicians of the GOP want to see built on the US-Mexico border.

Historically, I can think of two borders fortifications that would be adequate parallels between the sort of wall that these GOP idiots want:  The Demilitarized Zone between North Korea and South Korea, and the Berlin Wall.  While there are certain reasons that the DMZ might have been the better example to use to estimate costs - the use of military troops from more open governments would probably allow for a better baseline for estimating the manpower costs of maintaining such a border fortification being the biggest one I can think of.  Having said that, there is effectively zero official sanctioned communication between the two Koreas - so there's no need for the DMZ to worry much about rail traffic, tourists, or any other large-scale legitimate crossing.  For this reason I'm more inclined to base my estimates from the model of the Berlin Wall, instead.

Now, there's going to be someone out there telling me that I'm barking mad to think that the Berlin Wall is a good model to choose - I mean the fortifications of the wall were manned 24/7 with pillboxes guard towers and estimates of thousands of troops being occupied to keep East Berliners from making illicit crossings into the West.  But an unmanned wall is going to be worse than useless.  We already have significant environmental barriers between the US and Mexico - if the pressure pushing people North from Mexico weren't already terribly strong, there would be no need nor desire to risk having a coyote smuggle one across the desert border - often in atrocious, and life-threatening conditions.  The existing segments of wall have already been defeated countless times, by direct measures - not simply people walking past the edge of these existing walls.  Tunnels, catapults, rockets, balloons and other means have all been used to get contraband and people across the border.  If the proposed wall is not manned, and patrolled, it will not achieve any of the goals that its supporters claim.  So the proposed wall will be a manned wall.  And given the rhetoric of some of the people supporting this wall, it will be armed with shoot-to-kill orders.  

So - the Berlin Wall it is.

The Berlin Wall, according to Wikipedia, was 155 km long.  Or just over 96 miles.  According to this article from the August 17, 1963 Milwaukee Journal pegs the cost of the then existing wall at $25 million.  Now, we're going to ignore that, even as late as the mid-80s the Berlin Wall was in a constant state of flux and continually being improved.  We're also going to ignore that the Berlin Wall was constructed in many different ways - only some of the wall being the iconic three point something meter tall concrete wall.  For a ballpark figure we're talking about $260,000 per mile to build the Berlin Wall.  This doesn't include anything but the physical artifact of the wall, so manning costs and I think weaponry costs are still to be figured.  For the purposes of a quick and dirty examination this will work, however.

Inflation counters across the web are pretty consistent when dealing with US dollars.  The ones I checked all gave a 2016 value for that $260,000 per mile figure derived above of about $2 million dollars per mile of wall. The US-Mexico border is, according to Wikipedia 1954 miles.  At this point, I'm just going to call it a 2000 mile long wall, at $2 million per mile - that's a four billion dollar wall they're talking about.  It doesn't figure anything for manning costs.

That same 1963 article claims about 11,000 trooops were involved with manning the positions along the Berlin Wall.  That's a Division strength unit being used, or about a company of troops for every mile of fortification.  Simply extrapolating that would leave us with a requirement for over two hundred thousand troops to man this money hole.

Let me say that again:  two hundred thousand troops.  The current size of the US Army is four hundred and fifteen thousand active duty and another six hundred thousand in the various reserve formations.  Depending upon how you want to look at it that means that this boondoggle would suck up anywhere from 20% of the Army's personnel to almost 50% of it.

Which brings up another reason that I'm sure these cost figures are low:  the housing of the troops required for this wall haven't been accounted for.  In an urban environment it's relatively easy to add another ten thousand people without having to worry about building water facilities, waste treatment, housing, cooking, stores, etc- all the things that people need to be healthy and functional.  (I don't believe the GOP candidates give a flying fuck about the people manning this boondoggle to be happy.  Knowing the way their alleged minds seem to work they probably think that homicidal anger and frustration will make the troops manning this fiasco more effective killers of would-be crossers.)

And again, using the Berlin Wall model - it will still be doomed to failure.  I realize that the human costs are beneath the contempt of the politicians putting forward this idea, but those will be abominable.  The human cost associated with the current methods of smuggling people across the border is already horrific, and while I'm sure the coyotes will be able to find ways around this proposed wall, too, the risks will be going up.  And some people will be losing that gamble.  Yet even at its most effective and efficient the Berlin Wall never stopped everyone from making the crossing.  Many crossings were later shown up as the sort of daring-do that makes for good TV movies, other crossings were more mundane - but they happened through the whole history of the Berlin Wall.

So, can we stop talking about a wall between the US and Mexico as something that makes sense in any kind of reality?

Friday, February 19, 2016

No Cake For You!

Senator Ritchie’s proposed State Law is a bundle of mixed assumptions, misleading justifications, and utterly vile insinuations against those people in NY who are using SNAP benefits to maintain their basic nutrition. 

While the Senator is undeniably correct to discuss the obesity epidemic in the US and here in NY in particular, her attack on SNAP recipients is utterly reprehensible.  While she makes an argument against foods that have minimal nutritional value and are often considered junk food – such as cookies, soda, and energy drinks, it’s her repeated claims that something has to be done to prevent people receiving SNAP from getting “better cuts of meat, or lobster,” that is getting the most attention in the press.  Not only would it be impossible for the use of SNAP benefits to purchase these items to be contributing to the obestity epidemic that the Senator claims to be trying to deal with, there’s no reason to assume that any significant fraction of SNAP benefits are being used to purchase such items.  Until evidence of such widespread purchases can be produced it seems to this writer that there’s little more behind this bill that the continued vilification of the poor that is a constant refrain from the GOP – even as they keep enacting policies to bankrupt more and more workers.

The most offensive part of the whole proposal, however, comes when one looks at what the Senator thinks the financial costs of enacting this boneheaded piece of maliciousness would be:  None.  Yes, you read that right.  This woman, who seems to think that your neighbors who have to take two jobs to pay the rent, and heating costs, and then still qualify for SNAP benefits to be able to feed themselves and their families but are somehow magically overeating on steak and lobster this woman also believes in magical accounting from state employees:  Her proposal claims there will be no costs associated with implementing this change in the law – even after specifically tasking two different offices to come up with policies, and lists of foods and beverages to be added to the list of things one can’t buy with SNAP benefits.  Either the Senator is so ignorant of the way that the state government works that she assumes there are hordes of underworked staffers in the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance who will have the time to make up her required list of further items to be barred. 

Let’s be honest here – this is the same sort of fraudulent thinking behind the claims of wanting to help poor people get into drug rehabilitation programs that is used as a justification for drug screening and testing of applicants in several states – testing that has overwhelmingly found that contrary to the assumptions of the rich and powerful most poor people are too damned poor to afford drugs.  It is a moral judgment that if someone is receiving public assistance the public has the right and responsibility to restrict what those people can choose to do with themselves.  And far too many people in the public believe that all the poor deserve is gruel, or something equally disheartening because all they need is motivation to be able to go out and get a good paying job.  And this in an America where billion dollar companies feel no guilt in telling their employees that, in order to live on the wages paid them, they’ll have to take a second job (which will also not be full time- because that would cost the company more money in required benefits) and make use of SNAP benefits to feed themselves.  

And Senator Ritchie begrudges these people so much as a cupcake for celebration?  To Hell with her.  And the gold-plated SUV she rode in on.