Saturday, December 17, 2016

American Dirt

It didn't matter much; the citizen in question was already on a US government "kill list."

Our government has a "kill list."

The government also killed that citizen's teenage son, but said it was an 'accident.'

The government apologized.

The author of the memo now sits on a federal appeals court.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

15,842 New Words: Next you'll tell me there's no NOG in Egg Nog!

In Harriet The Spy, which I started reading to Mr F one day at the library, Harriet orders a "chocolate egg cream," and I remembered reading this book as a kid and wondering then, as now, what an egg cream was.

Turns out it's something kind of gross-sounding: Wikipedia says it's a combination of milk, carbonated water, and chocolate syrup.  Like a very thin milkshake, possibly, it sounds like watered-down bubbly chocolate milk.

Although nobody's sure where the name "Egg Cream" comes from, the most likely theories (to me at least) are that it's a remnant of the days when milkshakes were made with eggs. Apparently in the 1880s milkshakes were chocolate syrup, cream, and raw eggs. They were "shakes" because the ingredients were mixed in a cocktail shaker.

If you're wondering, March 15 is Egg Cream Day.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Goddammit Democrats keep this up and I will vote for Trump OUT OF SPITE.

As Democrats continue to flail around wildly trying to prove that they didn't lose the election it was stolen guys honest (behaving exactly the way they pre-emptively chided Trump for during the campaign) the latest excuse is the most ridiculous by far: if it wasn't the Electoral College or Putin stealing the election, it was lack of typing skills.

I'm going to warn you: the person who gave this story to the press is A LIAR.  He is lying. He is lying, and the press believes him. He is lying, and Hillary! & Co. and the press are supporting him because it makes it NOT THEIR FAULT GUYS that Hillary! lost.

Remember: the man who claims this excuse in the following story is lying:

One of the worst and most public email hacks in political history began with a typo, a report in The New York Times revealed on Tuesday.
An aide to Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair, John Podesta, saw a warning email in his inbox back in March, claiming to be from Google. Podesta needed to change his Gmail password immediately, the email said.

The story points out what we all know:

Most adult internet users know by now never to click a link in emails like this ― phishing is fairly common. Even unsophisticated tech types are hip to the scam. 

"We all" not including people working for Hillary!

So, before responding, Podesta’s aide showed the email to another staffer, a computer technician.

That's where the lying starts.

From the Times (bolding is HuffPost’s):
“This is a legitimate email,” Charles Delavan, a Clinton campaign aide, repliedto another of Mr. Podesta’s aides, who had noticed the alert. “John needs to change his password immediately.”
With another click, a decade of emails that Mr. Podesta maintained in his Gmail account — a total of about 60,000 — were unlocked for the Russian hackers. Mr. Delavan, in an interview, said that his bad advice was a result of a typo: He knew this was a phishing attack, as the campaign was getting dozens of them. He said he had meant to type that it was an “illegitimate” email, an error that he said has plagued him ever since.
I was not the only one who immediately realized that the "computer tech" staffer was lying: I (and hopefully you) immediately noticed that the article was wrong: the staffer wrote "a legitimate" rather than "an legitimate." If he'd meant to write "illegitimate" he likely would've put "an" in there, so there are two typos. In addition, telling someone they have an "illegitimate" email is usually not followed by "so change your password."

Further, a computer tech would have known that you don't click in the email if you're at all in doubt: you go to the site yourself, to try to avoid being fished.

In addition, if you Google the phrase "How can I know if a change password request from Google is legitimate" you'll get as a top result a link to this page, which tells you when and how Google will ask you to change your password. 

The Times report that actually discusses this notes that prior to TYPOGATE, the Democratic National Committee was already aware of potential hacking problems, but that (allegedly) nobody had alerted the higher-ups about it.

The Times story then goes on to reveal that the typo did not contribute to the hack at all.  Billy Rinehart, "a former D.N.C. field director" got the email at 4 a.m., clicked on the link, and changed his password. (The Times notes he was "half asleep," because making important decisions about presidential campaigns is okay if you do it "half asleep.")(Evidence of the press coddling Hillary! & Co is shown by the press giving Rinehart that "half asleep" pass as well as HuffPo's cutely noting that the hack wasn't all bad because we got Podesta's risotto recipe. Ha ha politicians: They're just like us!)

The actual "typo" (remember they are lying) was sent by a different computer tech to a different aide who had checked it out when he logged into John Podesta's email; the Times notes that "several" aides had access to Podesta's personal email.


So the Times story notes that the Democratic National Committee had at least one fairly high-level person working with the FBI on a potential hack, but that person never alerted higher-ups. The DNC also had such lax cybersecurity that "several" people had access to the personal emails of John Podesta, campaign chairman for Hillary! It notes that at least one higher up, while "half asleep" clicked a spam email that set off alarms in at least one other staffer.

And reporters sum that up as "haha a silly typo screwed up the election." Those reporters did not, in repeating this fake news story, mention that the "typo" had nothing to do with the security compromise, but they do describe people like me (and like reporter/writer Tom Scocca) who see the lies about the typo as yet more BS from the Dems, as 'conspiracy theorists.'

The media, of course, generally tend to be sympathetic to Hillary! & Co. The media also do not want to admit that mainstream media sources are as culpable as 'fake news' sites and Facebook for the lack of real information provided to the public. The Dems want desperately to paint the election as "stolen" because otherwise they would have to admit that their candidate was only an ersatz Democrat in the first place, selling warmed-over policies with no real agenda, one they ran simply because it was her time, rather than because she was a good candidate.

For the last freaking time: Democrats lost the election because they did not vote. Russia, the Electoral College, Jill Stein, typos, email hacks, Wikileaks, whatever hobgoblins the Democrats want to throw out there did not lose the election. Democrats lost the election because they did not vote.

Happy Wednesday!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Book 88: A rather humdrum outing in Xanth this time.

If I'm going to rag on guys like Grisham for having a formula for what they write, then I suppose I ought to do so for Piers Anthony, as well; Harpy Thyme, as the 17th book in the Xanth series, is enjoyable enough, but the parts that make it fun are the parts that don't feel like they've been done 16 times before.

In Harpy Thyme, Gloha the winged Goblin-Harpy crossbreed sets out to find true love, and begins with (of course) a trip to the Good Magician. That was also the inception of the plot for at least 1, and possibly 2, other Xanth stories. Once she gets to the Good Magician, she is told that rather than do her year's service, she should go see Humfrey's first son.  This, too, has become commonplace for Anthony: the Good Magician doesn't actually require a year's service of any of the questioners who are the stars of the books; in this case, though, it makes little sense to not require the service because in fact he has answered her question -- so Gloha, who is not a Magician (usually exempt from the service) and who performs no other task for Humfrey (another way of getting out of the service) simply gets an answer that she doesn't have to pay for.

So Gloha sets off to find Humfrey's first son, and there is a rather pointless (but possibly meant to be charming?) series of visits as she goes to one more-or-less random person after another to try to find out who Humfrey's son might be, before she literally just sort of stumbles across him. The [SPOILER ALERT] son turns out to be Crombie, which readers might have known; I can't remember if that was mentioned in an earlier Xanth novel.

Gloha asks Crombie to use his talent for finding things to point to the direction of her dream man; he does, and she then sets out with Magician Trent, who is youth-potioned for this story.  From there the story takes the typical sort of Xanthian twists and turns, all of it very familiar by now to anyone who has read the previous 16 books.

As I said, it's enjoyable enough; I use the Xanth books as filler and I was reading this one while I was tremendously busy and also a bit under the weather, so I didn't mind that it was simple, but it would be nice to see Anthony spread his storytelling wings a bit more with the Xanth books. As I was reading it I kept thinking of the really good Xanth books: Night Mare and Crewel Lye are two of the best, and Castle Roogna also a great one, and none of them really follow the same pattern as what has come to be the typical Xanth storyline: a person sets out with a question for the Good Magician, only to get a nonanswer of sorts, and then work through the question him- or herself on the course of fulfilling the seemingly nonsensical task Humfrey has given them.

The book did flesh out and elaborate on some characters; the demon Metria expands as a character, and Trent becomes a bit more human than he was in the first 2 or 3 novels, where he barely appeared, so there's that (we get to know Trent's Mundanian history, a bit, and it turns out he was friends in some way with Van Gogh, a detail about which I can make up my mind: interesting? or too much?)  The puns are good, as always, but overall the story was only a middle-of-the-road Xanth book, not one of the great ones, not one of the bad ones, either.

A couple of things that particularly stood out as minor annoyances: there was a sequence in the book where two people, I believe meant to be from Mundania, were stumbled upon and put in touch with each other, and it all had the feel of some sort of inside joke or Easter egg type thing, but since the book is almost 25 years old, it was nearly impossible to even make sense of the joke, and it threw me out of the story for a bit.

Also, Anthony is replaying entirely too many bits from earlier books: we get another round of "the Curse Fiends force someone to put on a play," and the whole "we have to put on a play to get past this challenge" thing is really a Xanth trope by now.

The whole thing with Crombie and Humfrey was just a throwaway: Crombie was always a fascinating character: a soldier, woman-hater who married a nymph and had had a secret demon girlfriend growing up, Crombie (we're told) hates his father, Humfrey, for how he treated him -- but the two become instant friends again just right smack out of nowhere. Then the story drops them entirely.

And, there were a couple of things that made it seem as if the idea behind the book had changed. For example, the title: at points in the story, there were mentions of the "thyme" plant as it exists in Xanth -- slowing down time for people -- but they never connected up to make it really "Harpy Thyme" in any way, and Gloha isn't actually a harpy; there were some madness-inspired flashbacks that talked about some sort of cave Gloha found that was filled with artifacts and she had to be rescued, but that never went anywhere, either; they were just sort of thrown in there. All of Anthony's other titles for the books ultimately made sense once you read the book ("Crewel Lye" for example was the way they cleaned the Roogna tapestry to see Jordan The Barbarian's story).  This title just felt like it was unrelated entirely

Some things that worked well, though, were the crushes on Trent that both Gloha and a winged centaur Trent transformed 70 years ago had, and Trent's reaction to them; and the final scenes when Gloha and the others have to storm up Mount Pin-A-Tuba (for reasons related to the plot that I won't disclose) are actually pretty exciting.

Overall, the book was a C+, and if it was my introduction to Xanth it probably wouldn't have been strong enough to keep me reading. Then again, who starts a series at book 17? Anthony is lucky that any reader who made it this far is probably like me: willing to forgive the weaker stories in hopes that  the full magic will be restored, as it were.  The first 8 books were really strong, but of books 9-17, only Man From Mundania stands out, although both Harpy Thyme and Demons Don't Dream had their merits.

 I still plan on finishing all of the Xanth books eventually; a man's gotta have goals.  I just hope that in the upcoming 19-already-written (and apparently 7 more planned) Anthony tries to recapture the best of the Xanth writing, instead of just churning out more of these.

Trumpocalypse 9: Everything you always wanted to know about the Department of Energy (But Were Afraid to Ask "Real" News Sources)

As you keep hearing news about 'fake news' and Russia 'stealing the election' and the like, keep in mind that (a) 'fake news' is only available because so often 'real news' is about superficial stupid stuff and makes no effort to understand the issues, and (b) unless Russia actually somehow forced or bribed people to vote for Trump/stay home for Hillary!, or faked up the votes [there is NO EVIDENCE OF EITHER] it cannot "steal" the election from anyone.

I was thinking about those things as I read this lead into a story on The Concourse headlined "Rick Perry's Glasses Qualify Him For Important Science Post, Building Nukes."

Rick Perry, a swaggering idiot who found a pair of glasses on the street one day, is about to become the head of the Department of Energy, according to CBS News. The Department of Energy’s job right now is to develop the next generation of nuclear weapons.

Is it, though? The blogger who wrote the article, Ashley Feinberg, goes on to compare the current Energy Secretary's qualifications with Rick Perry's, finishing up with:

Now, none of this would be as big of a problem if Obama hadn’t just agreed to a a massive modernization program of our existing stock of nuclear weapons. This program is going to cost somewhere in the range of $350-450 billion and take about ten years. And our big, dumb boy Rick Perry gets to kick the whole thing off, as he’s now responsible for the design, testing, and production of all nuclear weapons.

I'm no fan of Rick Perry's, and I think the country would in fact be worse off with him as President. But this sort of reductive news writing is every bit as pernicious as "fake news," because it essentially falsifies Rick Perry's record, Rick Perry's role as Energy Secretary, and the program Obama agreed to.

Let's start with Rick Perry's record and qualifications. Feinberg sums them up as:

In other words, Rick Perry is a figurehead on a few boards that very tangentially have to do with “energy.”

In reality, Rick Perry has a degree in Animal Science from Texas A&M.  Texas A&M is currently the 74th ranked college in the US News rankings of best colleges.  Perry also served 5 years in the Air Force as a C-130 pilot.

Politically, Perry began his career as a Democrat, first elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1984, and worked for the Gore campaign in 1988.  He switched parties in 1989. When Perry ran for re-election as governor in 2006, he was endorsed by a prominent Texas Democrat.

Perry ran for Agriculture Commissioner in 1990; he 'narrowly' defeated the Democratic incumbent -- who at the time had his office embroiled in an FBI investigation into corruption that would eventually lead to three aides being convicted. The incumbent wasn't charged, but keep in mind: Democrats supported a man who at best was so out of touch that three of his aides could be taking bribes. He was re-elected to that position, then served as either Lieutenant Governor or Governor.  He has since also worked at the chief strategist MCNA Dental, the nation's largest privately-held dental insurance company.

Again: I am not a fan of Perry's, but falsely presenting his background is fake news of the sort that people like Ashley Feinberg credit with 'stealing the election.' "Fake news" is any news that creates a false premise, and lying can be done by omission as well as by commission. Feinberg lied about Perry's background, to create the impression that Perry was a himbo.

Then there's the Department of Energy.  Again, a few minutes of Googling shows how reductive Feinberg's article was, in a misleading way.  Here is the organizational chart for DoE:

The Department does, in fact, police nuclear weapons, but also nuclear reactor production for the Navy, waste disposal, and a variety of energy-related research projects. It has just over 106,000 employees, only 12,000 of which are actual federal employees; 93,000 people on DoE's payroll are contract employees.

Among the things DoE does that are far more concerning than nuclear weapons stockpiles are the Loan Guarantee Program; enacted in 2005 (under the last Republican president) this law was in part funding for 'green' energy projects, and in part clearing the way for natural gas fracking and in part a change in how public utilities were held. Obama voted for this law; Hillary! criticized him for it. Under Trump's DoE, we should be more concerned about a curtailment of green energy and climate change research than we should that Rick Perry will somehow bumble our nuclear weapons program, but it's not as cool, right Ashley, to write a headline about how Rick Perry's nomination may signal that the Trump administration might take a law Obama voted for and water it down so that funds don't go for greenhouse gas research? I'm pretty confident that we face far greater risks from loosening energy controls and use of coal and fracking than we do from rogue nukes.

By the way, did you remember that Hazel O'Leary was Bill Clinton's first Secretary of Energy? Her qualifications? She'd been a prosecutor, and had been both a consultant and the head of an energy commission. Those credentials are remarkably similar to Perry's.  While Feinberg faults Perry for sitting on the board of a company trying to build the Dakota Access Pipeline, O'Leary prior to her nomination had been an executive VP at Northern States Power Company.  Northern States was in the early 1990s trying to merge with a company that was building the controversial Point Beach Nuclear Plant in Wisconsin.


As for that "nuclear program" Perry will be in charge of? In July, the Washington Post reported that Obama "wants to cut back" on plans to spend $350,000,000,000 over 10 years modernizing our nuke program. 

By October, though, Obama had authorized a modernization program set to cost $1,000,000,000,000 -- nearly three times as much as the earlier proposal.  The New York Times, hardly a bastion of Tea Party politics, called the plan "unnecessary."

According to Arms, which Feinberg links to, some of the money will address "ethical lapses and poor morale" under the Obama administration. The overall modernization effort is too complicated to sum up in a brief note, which didn't stop Feinberg from doing just that.

So again: I'm not saying Perry is a good choice. I'm not saying he's a bad choice. What I'm saying at this moment is that the 'news' a lot of people will read about Perry and the Department of Energy will be fake and will omit those facts which are uncomfortable for people like Ashley Feinberg, and will inappropriately summarize facts people like Ashley Feinberg can't bother to get across to their readers as they race for pageviews.  Feinberg's article is no less propaganda than anything you'll read on Breitbart, and liberal media sources are also to blame for Hillary! losing the election.

Quotent Quotables: Yes, I suppose it would be.

Brad narrowed his eyes. “Wait a sec,” he said. “This isn’t the thing about being eaten by the lions again, is it?”

“It will always be the thing about being eaten by the lions, Brad. From here on in, until it occurs.”

-- From Torn Apart, And Devoured By Lions, Jeffrey Wells (in the Machine Of Death anthology.)

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Update On Parenting

Early one Sunday morning, Mr F was sitting in his underwear wrapped in a blanket, something he likes to do and so gets every now and then to do as a treat.  He began to get a bit mischievous (we call it frittery): messing with stuff, wanting to play with the water, trying to dump out the coffee pot.  After the third intervention I said to him: 

You've got to be good. You keep getting in trouble, I'm gonna make you wear clothes.