So I found myself at the K-Marts yesterday to procure some kid shoes and some mothereffin’ Cold Water Tide laundry detergent LIKE A BOSS, when I walked past a life-sized poster display of THIS:


And I swear to you, my first thought was “It’s official. We’re living in the Fifth Element future.”

there’s no such thing as localized incompetence in politics.

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.” –Michael Crichton

This applies to politicians in equal measure, and it’s one of the reasons why I hold Democrats in as much general contempt as I do Republicans.

I am by no means an expert on a lot of things, but there are some subjects where I know my stuff extremely well. So when I see someone go off on, say, gun control, and then proceed to display a breathtaking level of ignorance about the issue at hand, get basic facts and definitions laughably wrong, misdiagnose the problem entirely, make demonstrably false claims, propose counterproductive solutions, and be deliberately deceptive just to get some pet legislation passed, I automatically assume that the politician in question is equally clueless and dishonest about every other social issue. (That goes for Conservatives and Liberals alike, by the way.)

I think much of the problem with politics these days is that too many people are willing to assume that the politicians they support are more competent and honest when it comes to pushing their pet causes. Me, if I know you’re either willfully ignorant or demonstrably dishonest about one subject, I have a hard time believing you at all.


news from absurdistan, item #2,912.

Fifth-grader points finger in gun-like fashion; gets suspended from school.

“Level 2 Lookalike Firearm” sure sounds a whole lot less idiotic than “pointing your index finger and thumb”.

Public education is on the ropes in this country not because we aren’t spending enough money on it, but because the lion’s share of it goes toward a huge administrative overhead where we pay people eighty grand of taxpayer cash a year to come up with a level system for “things that totally aren’t guns, but may be shaped that way.”

nothing to hide, nothing to fear, part MCVIII.

Feds seek contractor to build federal license plate reader database.

Remember: if Team Us does it, it’s a sensible national security measure, and if you oppose it, you’re a paranoid nutjob and/or want the terrorists to win. If Team Them does it, it’s a totalitarian police state measure, and if you support it, you’re a fascist pig and/or hate America, freedom, and apple pie.

i give it two out of five ches. has a nice little bit of snark on Rolling Stone Magazine’s insipid “Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For” article. For those of you who don’t want to drive up the click counter at Rolling Stone: one Jesse A. Myerson basically repackages the main pillars of the Communist Manifesto to appeal to modern-day ultra-progressive hipster sensibilities and advocates guaranteed public-sector jobs, a basic living stipend, and, oh yeah, abolishing private property. It reads like something a bunch of 19-year-old sociology students cooked up at Starbucks in an hour and a half over MacBooks and $5 lattes.

Look, I grew up in a divided country. Half of us had to live under the tyrannical yoke of capitalism, with private property and landlords and greedy bankers and stuff. The other half got to live in a place where every single item on Jesse A. Myerson’s economic reform wish list was in place. Guaranteed employment and basic living stipend from the state? Check. Communal ownership of everything (“take back the land”)? Check. Social security for all? Check. Public banking system? Check. On top of that, free education, free child care, free healthcare, and the strictest gun control imaginable.

Guess which half of the country had to put up barbed wire and minefields after a few years to keep its population from fleeing to the other half? Guess which half of the country ran its economy and environment into the ground?

Holy balls, that article is so chock-full of starry-eyed, self-righteous coffeehouse Trotzkyism, it practically vibrates with revolutionary fervor. Did you know that landlords, for example, don’t really do anything for their rent money? That they just “claim ownership” of some property and then sit there and collect cash from the working class? It’s true. This is amazing news to this landlord and his wife, who have been diligently paying off two mortgages all these years, and hired a property management company to maintain the place and make sure our tenants’ needs are met. Why, just last month we oppressed our poor working-class tenants by buying a new range and dishwasher to replace the old appliances that were starting to go all wonky on them. But yeah, other than paying the mortgage on the place every month, paying the management company, and making sure anything that breaks is fixed promptly, we do pretty much nothing but collect rent checks and sit on our asses.

<adjusts monocle, twirls handlebar mustache>

Anyway, that’s what you get when you run articles on economics written by professional Occupy Reality folks who have never had to make a payroll. Bet you that article is getting lots of clicks and views, though, which was probably the entire point. It sure as shit has nothing to do with progressivism or upsetting the current order, because Rolling Stone is about as hip and counter-culture as Citibank these days.

click it or ticket.

Libertarian/conservative small-government fruitcake New Hampshire doesn’t have a mandatory seatbelt law for adults. The New Hampshire seatbelt use rate is 75%.*

Neighboring Massachusetts, the Northeastern bastion of progressivism and Laws-Will-Fix-It-ism, has a mandatory seatbelt law. The Massachusetts seatbelt use rate is 73.20%.*

Is it that we New Hampshirites have enough common sense that we don’t need the threat of a fine to think buckling up is a pretty good idea, or is it that our Massachusetts neighbors are so much less responsible that they do need that threat to have a seatbelt use rate that’s almost as good as ours?

Of course, you can’t argue this with a fan of mandatory seatbelt laws. They’d take one look at the numbers and claim that a.) NH’s rate would be even better with a mandatory seatbelt law, and that b.) MA’s would be ever so much worse without it, thereby proving the need for it.


*Source for the compliance rate data: NHTSA data for 2011, the most recent year available.

the government shutdown diaries.


Day One of the government shutdown. Park rangers are furloughed. The fires from the grizzly bear riots are painting the night sky over Yellowstone bright orange. Bald eagles are ditching their tracking collars and skipping the country. WHEN WILL THIS MADNESS END



Day Two of the government shutdown. They have begun to tear up roads and dismantle all the utility wires. The garbage trucks sit by the side of the road, abandoned. We are freezing in the dark and can’t go anywhere. THANKS, NRA TEABAGGERS.



Day Three of the government shutdown. Marauding Canadians are crossing the unguarded northern border in large groups. For now we can placate them with hockey shirts and cheap LASIK, but I fear the worst.

The supermarket has no food left. Without anyone to tell them what size apples are safe to sell, they didn’t want to risk killing us all. At least SOMEONE is looking out for us.



Day Four of the government shutdown. Without the FCC, everyone on TV and the radio is just screaming random obscenities. In the next town over, people drank raw, unpasteurized milk, and everyone died screaming.

Because there are no more grocery stores, we tried to go out to eat last night. Restaurant was gone. Some fool installed a bathroom urinal with unapproved water throughput and blew the place up when he flushed. SERVES HIM RIGHT, I SAY.

the net is the word-killer.

My brother-from-another-mother Chang has some thoughts on the proliferation of internet-connected smart phones and the way in which they have shaped our social behaviors.

This is a tricky subject to address without coming off as a Luddite. I love the Internet and the social and professional possibilities it has opened up. There are tons of articles out there about the dehumanizing aspects of our always-connectedness, and I agree with some of them on some points, but overall the Internet has been a good thing for me. Without the blog, Facebook, and Twitter, I wouldn’t be in touch on an almost daily basis with so many of my writer friends, for example. Without the readership of the blog, I probably wouldn’t have gotten that initial sales boost when I finally put Terms of Enlistment on the market, and it may not have climbed up the charts to the point where its visibility generated more sales. Without the blog and Twitter, I would probably still be looking for an agent, and I almost certainly wouldn’t have the agent that was at the top of my wish list from the start. I enjoy hearing from readers, and the Internet makes that easier than ever before. Twitter and Facebook are like my virtual water cooler during the day, where I socialize a bit and hear the latest snippets from my friends’ lives. It makes me feel less isolated.

But here’s the thing about the water cooler analogy: Much like you wouldn’t be able to get any work done if you set up your desk next to the water cooler permanently, Twitter and Facebook and the whole big Internet are absolute poison for productivity.

I have three different processes for writing. Most of the time, I work longhand, then transcribe the draft to the computer later and edit things on the fly. That’s my preferred method. If I need to write something on a tight deadline and don’t have time for transcribing, then I use the laptop and write into Scrivener or Word directly. And when I can’t or don’t want to write longhand but don’t want to have the Internet on my writing machine, I get out the Alphasmart Neo.

Guess which method yields the lowest word count per hour every time?

That would be “writing directly on the laptop”, the method that, technically speaking, should be the fastest. But when I write longhand, my word count per hour is often double or more. Call me weak, call me easily distracted, but writing on a machine that is connected to the Great Diversion is absolute poison for my productivity. WiFi can be turned off, but it turns back on too easily, and my brain is really good at justifying just why exactly I need to stay connected. So whenever I use the computer to do my drafting, I end up spending half my writing time checking email, doing Wikiwanders, or checking Twitter and Facebook.

Truth be told, that’s just about half the reason why I prefer working longhand. I do it primarily because I enjoy it and because it forces me to do a word-for-word revision when I type it up, but I also do it because it’s far easier for me to stay on task and get stuff done when my writing implement can’t also be used to check how many people found my latest Facebook entry amusing.

But Brother Chang’s blog post touches on something a little deeper than my boring inability to control myself when I’m hooked up to the Hive Mind. It’s the way in which our computers and cell phones have commandeered our lives. Go to a playground and see how many parents are sitting on a bench with phones in hand while the kids play with each other. (The other day I even saw a dad reading his cell phone while pushing his kid on the swing with the other hand.) People are just glued to their phones all the damn time now. The new place setting in restaurants is knife, fork, cloth napkin, phone. And don’t get me started on how many people I see texting while behind the wheel.

Don’t get me wrong—I love the technology. I love the way in which my phone lets me perform tasks that were not in the realm of the possible before we had smartphones. When I see an item at the computer store, I can scan the barcode and see which stores nearby have the same item for a lower price, and I can read the reviews of the gizmo to find out if it’s a piece of junk. My phone can direct me door-to-door if I have to go to an unknown address. It contains a high-definition video and still camera. And I have the whole Internet in my pocket wherever I go. If information is power, the smartphone is the single most powerful enabler I’ve ever owned.

But boy, does it have its pitfalls.

Brother Chang likens the compulsive check for email or Facebook updates to a rat hitting a lever for a pellet, and it’s very true that this steady stream of tiny rewards has done funny stuff to our brains, reshaped our behaviors in ways that are in many ways indistinguishable from drug addiction. I’m not proud of this, but I know I have lost entire days to the Internet with no productive output to show for it. Our brains have rewired themselves to dispense a little dopamine kick whenever we hear that new message sound or spot the little red number that lets us know others have commented on our Facebook post, and now we can’t stop pulling that lever. You know you’ve lost the ability to live in the moment when you see something beautiful or funny, and your first thought isn’t “That’s amazing!”, but “I gotta Instagram that for peer approval!” And when you can’t make it through a conversation with a friend over a meal without checking your Twitter feed, then yeah, I think it’s safe to say you have an addiction.

I don’t want to give up my iPhone, or the iPad, or the computer upstairs, or the PS3. I’m not going to turn into a Luddite, put everything on Craigslist, and move into a lakeside cabin without Internet access to bang out my novels on a typewriter. I won’t start delivering hand-written manuscripts to my publisher. But I’m going to be more mindful of the time I spend online. I think I’ll start turning the computer off after checking my email in the morning instead of leaving it on all day long. I’ll leave the gadgets in the car when I go out to scribble a page or three at the coffee shop. I’ll eat my lunches at the kitchen table instead of in front of the computer. And I hereby pledge to never even look at my phone when I’m sitting down somewhere with friends, unless the school is calling me to let me know the kids are bleeding from the eyes or something.

(But I’ll still sign up for the fiber-optic service we’ll be getting in a few weeks. I’m curbing my mobile social media use and online time, not going full-out J.D. Salinger. Daddy needs his megabits.)

yes, but how is his therapy going?

On court-sanctioned liberty from prison, a convicted rapist in Switzerland killed the therapist who was accompanying him to reintegration therapy, fled the country, and was eventually captured by German police just across the Polish border a few days later.

Let’s see where the Swiss court system could have possibly gone wrong, and play “spot the error”:

  1. A 39-year-old man close to his physical prime, with a history of several violent rape offenses, gets to leave the prison for court-approved therapy.
  2. The therapist they assign to him is a young, attractive female.
  3. The rehabilitation therapy sessions take place at an equestrian center, to which the young, pretty therapist drives the offender without any police escort or other chaperone.
  4. On the way to the equestrian center, they stop at a knife store, where the convicted rapist has been cleared to purchase a hoof scraper knife, to be used for care of his therapy horse.
  5. Instead of a knife suitable for hoof-scraping, the violent rapist purchases a knife better suited for cutting and stabbing.
  6. They never arrive at the equestrian center, and the body of the therapist is found a short time later near Geneva, her throat cut.

Sending a known violent rapist out for reintegration therapy with only a pretty female therapist and then allowing him to purchase knives? Holy shit, Switzerland. I grew up in Germany, so I know a lot of “judicial offender mollycoddling” stories, but this one takes the cake.

How do they treat alcoholics there? Letting them drive to their therapy sessions in a car where “Rehab” plays on repeat, then allowing them to stop at the liquor store (“…but remember, only buy a bottle opener!”), and having them escorted by a giant anthropomorphic martini glass?

at least we didn’t fit naugahyde upholstery to the thing.

So Voyager 1 is the first man-made object to officially leave the solar system and travel into interstellar space.

Anyone else bothered by the fact that we sent a thing into space that contains a map to its origin planet and an open invitation?

“Hi, we’re a barely space-faring civilization that you could probably conquer and subjugate with your equivalent of a Boy Scout troop! Here’s a map to our home planet. Stop by anytime!”

Of course, the biggest issue is that we sent out Voyager 1 with an LP on board. We are intergalactic hipster scum.

“These are humpback whale sounds. You’ve probably never heard of them.” <derisive snort by Kurt Waldheim>