Monthly Archives: May 2015

Patriot Act Expires – At Least For Now

Rand Paul’s 10 hour filibuster on Wednesday, May 20th was initially viewed by many as a failure. Indeed, reports at the time were that even Paul himself knew that the filibuster wouldn’t stop anything.

However, as I predicted on Wednesday, the Patriot Act will expire tonight at midnight. The question of the moment is, “for how long?”

The USA Freedom Act has already passed the House.  The bill contains most of the Patriot Act, with a few sections modified to address concerns about the NSA. The bill has already been voted on once by the Senate, and failed: 57-42. However, at least some of the Senators who opposed it appear to have opposed it because they wanted the increased power of the full patriot act. It is unclear what the vote will be now that we know for certain that the full act will not pass the Senate.

The vote appears to be set for Tuesday morning, so we’ll know soon. The bill already passed a cloture vote tonight, so only a simple majority vote is needed at this point to pass it. Still, that’s seven votes that need to be swayed from the last time the bill was voted on. This is going to be a very interesting week.

Why Longshot Candidates Run for Office

Governor George Pataki
Governor George Pataki

Rick Santorum and George Pataki officially entered the race for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination this week. Both candidates are showing ridiculously low numbers in the polls. And both seem to be lagging behind in money and organization. With the major networks announcing that they’ll be limiting the debates to the few who are doing best in the polls, both men seem to be longshot candidates at best. Pataki, in particular, seems to have basically no prayer at all of winning the nomination.

So… why are they running? For the same reasons that longshot candidates always run. It turns out that there are an awful lot of benefits to running for office, even if you lose.

First, you can make a lot of contacts. This can be a pretty big deal. Good contacts can get you some nice special deals, land you that great job you’re looking for, mentor you in other stages of your life, etc. In short, contacts are nice.

It will help you pad out your mailing lists. As someone involved in the operation of three small businesses, I can promise you that mailing lists are extremely valuable. They can be great for your own purposes. If you’re the unsavory kind who sells them (we don’t, at any of our businesses), they can be literally worth rather a lot of money.

You get to do the whole thing on somebody else’s dime. The campaign itself is ultimately funded by campaign contributions. Whether you can win or not, if you can convince enough people to donate then you’re not going to have to pay for it out of pocket.

You can get away with billing an awful lot to your campaign. There are a lot of rules on what you can and can’t call a campaign expense. But like all federal regulations, there are a lot of clever ways around many of them. There are an awful lot of things that you can bill straight back to the campaign. At the minimum, you can travel around your entire campaign region (which is national, if you’re running for President) on the campaign’s dime. And you can do it all in style: first class seats, luxury hotels, limousines, fine dining – the works.

It can build your name, fame, and brand. These are all highly valuable things, and they can also be translated into money: book deals, speaking fees, lobbying gigs, etc.

When you look at all the benefits, they’re actually pretty big.

The Little Things

This post was originally posted on a now defunct blog on July 30, 2007:

Every now and then something causes me to stop and wonder at how much nicer life is than it used to be. No, I don’t mean all the standard examples of things like medical technology (which is leaps and bounds better than it was even ten years ago), better computer technology (do I even need to say anything?) and so forth. I’m talking about the little things in life.

Take, for instance, t-shirt tags. Yes, t-shirt tags. I was noticing this as I put my t-shirt on this morning after my shower. Instead of adding a hideously uncomfortable tag, modern t-shirts have the tag information stamped right on the inside. No more tag sticking up, no more itchy tag on your neck. Yet all the information is still there. Everybody wins.

Tagless t-shirts: just one more miracle of modern technology.

A Bill by Any Other Name is Still a Turd

If you’re a political junkie, last Friday evening offered one of the most interesting bits of political theater to come along in a good while. At the very least, it’s the most interesting since Rand Paul’s filibuster against drone strikes two years ago. It might be the most interesting since the shenanigans that were pulled to pass ObamaCare.

It’s only fitting that Rand Paul is at the center of the show again. Although the conventional wisdom is quick to announce Paul’s latest filibuster a failure, the reality is that this one may actually succeed where the last one failed. Due to parliamentary rules, it is extremely unlikely that the Patriot Act will be renewed in its complete form. This is good news. Frankly, from looking at the parliamentary rules, it looks pretty likely to me that the bill will almost certainly expire, at least temporarily.

  • There’s almost no way to pass the bill without changes under the current deadlines and procedural situation.
  • For the same reasons, the only way that an amended bill could pass would be with Rand Paul’s support – support he may not give.
  • Once the bill expires, it faces the same political pressure that it’s currently under. Renewing it in full will be nearly impossible.
  • It’s not entirely clear that the political will exists to pass the bill again, even if it’s modified.

This is a good thing. Remember, the name that a bill is given bears little reflection on what’s actually in the bill. The Patriot act contains precious little patriotism. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care act does little to protect patients and less to make their care affordable. Look, this is just the way Washington works. They slap whatever name they want on the bill to drum up your support for it. And then the bill itself does whatever it is that they actually want to do to screw us.

A bill by any other name is still a turd.

Just Say No to American Monarchy

americanmonarchyI have to admit to being absolutely flabbergasted that anybody is seriously considering voting for either Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush. It’s not because Hillary is an untrustworthy lying elitist who pretends to be a strong, independent woman but who actually rose to prominence on her husband’s coattails and stood by the lying cod while he abused his position of authority with a twenty-something intern. It’s not because Jeb bush is a pot smoking prep school frat boy who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has admitted that he’d repeat the same mistakes of his brother. All of this is true, and amazingly the voters don’t seem to care. Still, that’s not the real issue.

The real issue is that once upon a time one of the world’s greatest men turned down a third term of office because he was afraid of establishing an American Monarchy. The real issue is that we fought an intercontinental war to rid ourselves of a monarchy. The real issue is that we enshrined in our constitution that no American should be given a title of nobility.

There is absolutely no excuse for any self respecting American to vote for either one of these candidates. As memorial day passes and we remember the honored dead, remember too what they fought for. Remember what they died for. Whatever your politics are, literally any of the big name candidates would be a better choice than either of these two. Whatever your current pet cause is, whatever item you think is the litmus test, whatever single issue is a deal breaker for you, remember that if we allow our nation to slip into dynastic rule, none of those things will matter and all of those choices will be taken away from you.

Just Say No to American Monarchy.

Dragon vs Spitfires

A while back, I responded to the fantasy hypothetical: who would win if a dragon fought an Apache Attack Helicopter? Anybody familiar with modern armament should know how that paring turned out.

This morning, I received the following message over Twitter:

Hiya 🙂 Tell me; if a dragon fighting for the Nazis fought against four pilots flying Spitfires during the Battle of Britain who would win?

Philip Tolhurst

"George and the Dragon" by Philip Tolhurst
“George and the Dragon” by Philip Tolhurst

It turns out that Philip has already taken his own stab at the question in his book George and the Dragon. A book which has just catapulted pretty high up my “to-read” list, because it sounds awesome. Until I get a chance to read it, though, let’s take a look at the question:

Dragon vs Spitfires: Who would win?

This fight is going to be far more interesting than the Apache fight.

The Supermarine Spitfire was an interesting plane, and pretty advanced for its day. The aircraft had several armament variations, which would obvious affect the outcome of the battle. Early versions carried four .303 Browning machine guns. Later versions carried eight of these guns. These guns had a tendency to freeze at high altitude that wasn’t corrected until 1938 – that would definitely put a kink in things.

Unlike the modern Apache, the .303 ammunition would not have been depleted uranium, since the material wasn’t really available until the 1970s. However, they could have had access to steel core ammunition rather than lead, and probably would have used it if needed.

The Spitfire also set speed and altitude records for its day: 606mph and 50,000 feet. Neither of those is shabby. That’s just shy of the speed of sound and nearly ten miles up. The aircraft was known to be more maneuverable than other airframes of the day, which is a definite plus.

However, the Spitfire also needed an average of 4500 rounds to shoot down an enemy aircraft. That’s a lot of rounds, and a typical enemy aircraft wouldn’t be anywhere near as well armored as a dragon. On the other hand, the scenario posits four Spitfires. Four to one seems to improve the odds somewhat.

Whereas an Apache would out and out destroy the dragon, this is a far more interesting match. And at the end of the day, the outcome is going to come down to these factors:

  • How powerful is the dragon in question?
  • How smart is the dragon in question?
  • How good are the tactics of the Spitfire squadron?

Without an element of surprise, my money is on the Spitfires – but I doubt they’d win every time. But more often than not. Probably three out of four encounters, maybe as many as seven out of eight.

This is where an author could have a lot of fun, and create some pretty good drama. Because this is a fight that’s close enough to even that any particular instance of the fight could legitimately go either way. And that’s a great source of drama, which is why I’m definitely interested in George and the Dragon. Also, I love the title and its play on the famous English legend.

My take: if the dragons catch the English by surprise, it goes badly at first. Then they adjust their tactics, maybe tweak some weaponry, and end up winning in glory at the end of the tale. Which is probably exactly what happens in the book. But that’s a great layout for a story that has an awesome setup and promises to be a lot of fun.

I will let you all know after I’ve had time to read it!

Fear Is the Mind-Killer

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

–Frank Herbert, Dune

To fans of classic science fiction the above quote is nothing new. And yet fifty years after Frank Herbert’s masterpiece was first published we find ourselves in a society where these words would be utterly alien. Fear is everywhere and ever present.

But fear truly is the mind killer. Fear kills us in tiny ways each and every day. Whether it keeps us from talking to the pretty girl, prevents us from starting that side business, stops us from asking for that raise, or causes us to flip out over “trigger warnings” fear is everywhere. Fear of terrorism, fear of immigrants, fear of crime, fear of a poor economy. Worst of all, today, seems to be the ever growing fear of “badthink” that is overtaking modern politics – the fear that somebody, somewhere doesn’t agree with all of the “right thinking things” that some group or other has declared is now ironclad.

Our modern society is becoming more and more fear driven every year. Every aspect of our lives is ruled by it.

Fight this. Face the fear. Let it pass through you. Face your life as your life and move forward.

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Babylon 5’s Final Season

"Babylon 5" - my favorite television show of all time.
“Babylon 5” – my favorite television show of all time.

My wife and I recently finished watching the final season of Babylon 5. This is a minor miracle in our house for two reasons. First, although we watch quite a bit of television-on-DVD (or, more often these days, on streaming services such as Amazon Prime or NetFlix) it’s actually fairly rare for us to finish an entire show together. Eventually one or the other of us will become generally bored (her much more frequently) or decide that the show has jumped the shark and is no longer worth watching (probably a tie between us). Second, we started watching this show nearly a decade ago.

Now, to maintain my SF cred I must point out that I had watched the entire show end-to-end before – nearly twice. In fact, I began watching the show only two or three episodes in to the first seasons (thankfully, I got to watch those few episodes I missed very early on in reruns thanks to the show’s unconventional airing schedule). From that point on I never missed an episode – until season five when Babylon 5 jumped to TNT. We didn’t get cable at the time, so I had to wait to catch season 5. And wait. And wait.

For my college graduation, my aunt made me a collection of VHS tapes of the entire series that she’d recorded off the air. I had nearly a month between finishing classes and starting my job, so I sat down and binge watched the whole series again, finally getting to see season 5 (as I said, I had previously watched the series nearly twice). This, of course, was in the days before binge watching was really a thing.

Fast forward a few years and my wife and I began watching the show (which at that point she had not seen) together. We watched through season four… and then she had a burst of ADD and got interested in something else. A month or so ago I finally convinced her to pull out season five again and finish off the series.

Watching season five in isolation was an interesting experience. I should preface the discussion with the note that Babylon 5 is my favorite television series of all time. It was also unprecedented. Today, it is common for television shows to have a season long story arc. Each episode is watchable individually, but when you watch an entire season together a larger storyline unfolds. And most shows have this planned out about a season or so at a time. Back in the mid 90s when B5 aired, nobody did that. Most major television basically returned everything to status quo at the end of every episode.

But Babylon 5 did something even bigger than what we do today: the entire five year story arc was planned out in advance, from beginning to end. My wife knew this going in. Still, when watching the final few episodes this weekend, she commented on how striking it was to see a television show that actually resolved its story and actually ended – as opposed to just being canceled.

Also, every time I rewatch the series I’m stricken again by how good the show actually is. The best parts of the series, by a good margin, are seasons two and three and the first half of season four. But when Morgon and I first started the series together all those years ago, I was hit by how good the show even started. Straight out of the gate with season one it was a solid show – and only got better after the usual first few episodes of “finding their footing.” And although I recall season five as being the “weak” season (which I still believe), it, too, was really good.

The pre-planning of the storyline really shows through, and it really ups the quality level – even when you have to watch it fifteen years later with some seriously dated CGI and some clear signs of low-budget production and a couple of mediocre actors. The writing on the show is phenomenal, and together with some really standout actors who step above the pack it really carries the day.

You can’t say “they don’t make shows like that anymore” because they never really did make shows like Babylon 5. But it’s a shame, and they really should.