Donate!

For the price of a video game or a swanky board game (~$70), you can support two to three organizations helping to fight the insanity trying to pull our country apart.  And there are lots of great orgs to donate to.

Here’s a quick pick list of go-to organizations worthy of your dollars right now:

Your dollars help pay for lawyers to win in court, help people in need, help fight for us to have clean water to drink and air to breathe, and help defend our privacy. If we all donate, we will win so much we will get sick of winning.

Also, Matching Donations will help hook you up with people willing to double your donations to the ACLU, the IRC or the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR).

A Single Issue Roads Voter

It’s election ramp-up time!  We’re mumble months out and the commercials have begun.  So let’s talk about politics!  Yay!

I can’t much care about politics on a Federal level in the Midterm elections because the Federal Government has turned into an Insurance company protected by a large and well-funded standing army.  I cannot vote to get the US Government to represent my views on Basic Research or Climate Change or anything so I’ve just sort of table flipped there.  On the local level, though, my vote still carries a teeny tiny bit of weight.

In my old age, on the state level, I’ve become a single issue voter.  I used to pay attention to the postures and positions of the various candidates and vote liberal anyway.  But now a days, I only care about one issue: roads

Here’s what I want out of my representatives and government who take my state and county taxes:

  • Build roads
  • Fix bridges
  • Fix potholes
  • Maintain roads
  • Employ our friends, Civil Engineers

Here’s what I don’t want out of my representatives and government on the state level: much anything else.

My thinking works like this:

… if you’re super into building and maintaining roads …

… you’re probably super into building roads that go useful places or get people to useful places

so you might even be interested in those useful places and the people who work there

… so you might like, oh, say, schools and hospitals and ambulances and the ability for police to answer 911s …

… you might even be interested in some more interesting things like electric car charging stations or running municipal fiber at the outside …

… so, in general, you like modern human civilization.

And thus, I will vote for you.  A vote for roads is a vote for a city, county, and state that is not a crumbling heap of post-dystopian life.

I’m getting to the point where I actually send campaigns emails asking about the candidate’s stance on roads.  Do you like roads?  How do you feel about roads?

As far as I can tell:

Libertarians are morally opposed to roads in any form.  They never leave their homes and teleport from place to place in Ayn Randian teleportation devices.

Republicans, who used to be very pro-road — after all Eisenhower built the freeway system — have crammed their heads up the butts of the abortion/contraceptive/rapey rape caucus.  They no longer have time to stop their moral umbrage to fix a road.  Besides, roads cost money and they no longer pay for things when that money could be going to their buddies.

Greens never build roads.  Why aren’t you walking or riding a bike?  You don’t need a road for a bike.  You can use a mountain bike.   Roads destroy the environment.  Just stop using roads entirely.

This leaves me with the occasional Democrat since we don’t get Independents.   Even they are weak sauce on roads but they do fix an occasional pot hole or fix a bridge.  That’s something.  But if the Democrat won’t fix roads either…

On the local level, I offer my hands in the great greeting of also becoming a single issue voters.  I could care less where a candidate stands on gay marriage or abortion.  All I care about is this: if I elect you, will you ensure that some hole in the freeway won’t destroy my suspension?  That’s what I want to know.

Quote for a Primary Day

“If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.” 

– David Foster WallaceUp, Simba!

The quote was about John McCain and the 2000 South Carolina primary but it still holds truth.

 

Presidential Politics and Sports Fandom

Sorry, political post, but this has been jostling around in my brainmeats for the last few weeks and I’m finally tossing it up on my blog. It started with the Bill Simmons interview with Barack Obama on sports fandom and why it pushed certain buttons in my brain and percolated into this itch. 

I like my leaders to be sports fans.  I don’t know why. I don’t have a rational reason.  Their sports fandom or lack thereof does not impact their ability to make decisions on foreign or domestic policy in any conceivable way.  But it’s one of those things I like.  I like sports, they like sports, even if we hate each other on every other topic we have a common ground to share.  I want my leaders to be honest rabid fans of something.  I want to read their diatribes in interviews.  I want to know they care about stuff I care about.  It’s a thing.

I’m not the only one and it is not only this election year.  Frex, Nixon was a notorious rabid professional football fan.  Here’s an old clip from a Hunter S. Thompson interview about Pat Buchanan, Richard Nixon and football:

Oh, boy. The Raiders were playing against the Packers, which was Nixon’s team, and nobody else on the press bus could talk about it, they were afraid of Nixon on football. He was known to be a hard rocker and very involved. And (press secretary) Patrick Buchanan — I’ve always liked Patrick Buchanan — he was looking for somebody to ride with the boss and talk football, and these other guys, political wizards, nobody volunteered. I was the only one on the press bus who volunteered.

You know, Gerald Ford played Center for University of Michigan. Ronald Reagan played 4 years of college ball, did sports broadcasting, and played Knute Rockne in the biographical movie (thus “The Gipper.”) Bill Clinton never met a golf ball he didn’t like — dude still sponsors the Bob Hope PGA Classic every year. And George W. Bush, say whatever you want to say about the guy, was some sort of Rhodes Scholar of Baseball. Guy could go in depth on the impact of All Star games from the 40s and 50s on how they play ball today. Hate the guy’s politics, I’d totally listen at his feet for his Baseball Wisdom.  He’s like the Baseball Buddha.*

Obama is a basketball super-fiend.  I keep hoping, when he’s done being President of the United States, he gets a rotating spot on ESPN Sportscenter.  When he was running in 2008, I appreciated a completely random rant on the BCS and why it should die in fire.  I thought, okay, on this, man, we are totally on the same page.  McCain’s responses to the BCS were weak and flaccid but Obama?  Dude thought about the Greatest Issue Facing Us Today and had OPINIONS.  Say what you want, but when it comes to sports, well, I don’t agree with Obama on his love for the Tar Heels and I’m not as big into the Bulls but hey, we can’t have everything.  (I picked the Wildcats to win Tourney.)

When I see stuff like this  I just wince.  Romney, after gaffs about “knowing NASCAR team owners” and “knowing the owner of the Miami Dolphins” coughs up this gem:

The Republican presidential candidate said Tuesday he won’t fill

out a bracket — an annual tradition for tens of millions of Americans — because he hasn’t been playing close enough attention.

“I’m not plugged in well enough this year to do that,” Romney told reporters in Missouri.

He said that in Missouri where Missou is a #2 Tourney seed.  I’m running around going dude stop now.  It’s bad enough he sounds like Richy McRich, but he couldn’t even find some intern on his staff to fill out a bracket for him and brandish it around showing University of Missouri winning.  To even pretend.  For Christ’s sake, dude! And I get from him that in his gilded, closeted life, the guy has no passions about anything — and he went to BYU, a legitimate basketball school.   And Stanford.  And Harvard.  From none of this did he get one ounce of love for Tourney.  The mind boggles.  He is a Rombot.

I have no idea if Santorum or Gingrich watch sports or like sports or even conceive of An Exciting Sporting Event.  What would I talk to these guys about?  As much as I deride the whole “I could have a beer with the President,” I couldn’t have a beer with these guy.  I just… don’t… know.  Do they watch Sportscenter?  Do their eyes glance over the Sports Illustrated page or try to call up one of various apps to get the scores while on the road?  Would they do that sort of thing?  I just don’t know!

What I’m saying in a roundabout manner is that this stuff is important.  I like the passion.  I like the interest in something other than the job.  When they talk about “connecting with voters,” it’s this kind of thing.  It’s NCAA Brackets.  It’s having a Super Bowl party.  It’s Dubya choking on a pretzel during a Rangers game.  It’s being Nixon on the bus terrifying people with his insane football Eyebeams.  

* Buddha was neither short nor fat.  Just so you know.

Nephilim FATE Magic — Summoning Mechanics

Note: I am slowly converting Nephilim, an old Chaosium game, over to Dresden Files FATE. I am just flopping all the posts on my blog because I can tag and collect them all later. This stuff is in no particular order. You can buy Nephilim in PDF from DriveThruRPG for ~$17. You should also buy Dresden Files RPG.

How to Summon 101

1. Determine the Complexity of the Summoning.  This is the target Summoning’s Conviction.  If the Complexity is higher than the Summoner’s Lore, the Summoner must find ways to gain bonus shifts to equal to or overcome the Summoning’s Conviction.

  • If the Summoning’s Element is equal to the Summoner’s Element, the Summoner receives +1 shift to overcome Complexity.
  • If the Summoner is in a Plexus, the Summoner receives +1 shift to overcome Complexity.
  • If the Summoner is in a Nexus, the Summoner receives +2 shifts to overcome Complexity.
  • If the Summoner has a Focus, the Summoner may use the Focus to overcome Complexity.
  • If the Summoner has applicable Aspects, the Summoner may invoke the Aspects for proper shifts.

2. The Summoning arrives.  Social Combat begins.  Deceit, Intimidation and Rapport are typically used to attack; Empathy and Rapport to defend.  The player can throw other skills in for good measure during combat if they fit — Conviction and Discipline may get involved.  Presence modifies the stress track.

3. Rules for combat starts on page 197 of Dresden Files: Your Story.  This includes throwing in bribes, using Aspects, and giving gifts. The Summoner will exchange with the Summoned Attacks, Blocks and Maneuvers until one side or the other is Taken Out.

4. If the Summoned Creature is Taken Out, the Summoned Creature agrees to terms with the Summoned.  The creature carries out the contract.

5. If the Summoner is Taken Out, the Contract Ruptures.

Rupture

Should the Summoner fail the social contest with the Summoned, the Contract Ruptures and the Summoned has the upper hand.  Depending on the Conviction of the creature, the kind of Summoning, the level of failure against the Summoning, and the GM’s perchance for handing out pain, ruptures are from Gentlest to Harshest:

Disappearing: the creature returns to its plane of origin.

Immobility: the creature just sits there in the Pentacle during the entire duration of its Contract. It cannot be dismissed; it just sits there.

Flight: the creature escapes from the Pentacle and flies loose until its Contract expires.  It is fully visible to humans and Nephilim alike.

Befuddlement: the creature executes the Contract in the wrong way.

Attack: the creature turns its powers on the Summoner.  This begins Physical Combat between the Nephilim and the Summoned Creature.  Once the Nephilim defeats the creature, the Summoned returns to its home plane.

Capture: the creature turns its powers on the Summoner and begins Physical Combat as above.  Should the Summoned Creature Take Out the Summoner, the Summoned Creature will attempt to carry the Nephilim off to its home plane.

Possession: the creature turns its powers on the Summoner and begins Physical Combat as above.  Should the Summoned Creature Take Out the Summoner, the Summoned Creature will kick the Nephilim out of its Simulacrum and walk off with it.  The Nephilim must immediately find a new host body or return to its Stasis.  The Summoned Being in the Simulacrum may stay on the physical plane wreaking havoc until defeated.

Closure

I, for one, celebrate the death of Osama bin Laden. He was a pox, a barnacle, a cancer dragging the national psyche into a continuous cycle of fear and hatred. He was a face of national failure. He hit us, he lead us into two wars, and he was still out there, somewhere, lurking. Now we, as an entire people, get closure.

Closure is for everyone. The Middle East can move on. Instead of bin Laden, the face of the Middle East are kids in Tahrir Square bringing down Mubarak or the hideous struggle for freedom in Syria where more are being mowed down by Bashir al Assad’s thugs. Instead of terrorism and drugs and guns and fundamentalism, it’s Democracy. OBL was a tool for dictators to justify the repression of their people. Now he’s gone.

The US needed it, too. A clean break. A victory that feels like a clean victory. And a US-style testosterone laden victory at that. We didn’t use foreign troops or bombs. We sent in Navy SEALS and shot OBL in the head. Movies, television shows, books, video games to follow. After market crash and terrible recession and crazy stupidity and no one feeling good about anything, we needed this.

I disagree that this will dissipate and fade with the next news cycle, too. This is the stuff of mythology. A bad guy, a detective story, a multi-month hunt, a tense President giving the order, brave guys with guns and helicopters flying in the middle of the night, a dramatic firefight. This isn’t reality, this is narrative. Narrative is sticky. The story presses all the little Man with a Thousand Faces buttons.

What have we learned?

– Human intelligence is crucial. Guys on the ground talking to people are infinitely more useful than hoovering up unlimited data and trying to sift through it. The police state is not very effective in finding a guy living in an Islamabad suburb. Who would have thought?

Quality security is infinitely better than quantity security.

– Torture doesn’t work. All the information gleaned that lead to Osama bin Laden came from — shock — standard interrogation techniques. Torture as a method for extracting information should be outlawed. Period.

– Terrorism is a police action, and terrorism is a crime. Sure it took the CIA and the Navy SEALS to take OBL out, but most of the run up was hard-core detective work. Maybe next time the US won’t go randomly invading countries.

– Again, terrorism is a crime. OBL was a criminal. He murdered people.

– Barack Obama has nerves of steel. Man. When he said he had better things to do than mess with his long form birth certificate, the man was not kidding.

– Our guys are flat-out awesome. *wave little flag*

– We need to start really talking about the role of the crazy security industrial complex. Want to find things to cut in the budget? I have some interesting ideas!

So yay. Rock. I’m all for moving past OBL forever and ever and seeing what Egypt and Tunisia and the other countries are going to do in a post-OBL world where the world moves on.

I Feel Like I am Taking Crazy Pills!

I have been ignoring politics for the last several weeks to focus on learning Objective-C and knit and read giant security tomes and generally doing other things.  Tonight I made the mistake of reading the blogs.  So let me get this right:

1. Republicans hate ObamaCare because of the universal mandate to buy health insurance.  Fair enough.

2. Republicans have just offered a budget that….

a. Cancels all of Medicare except for those already enrolled in it.

b. Replaces Medicare with a universal mandate to buy health insurance except…

c. It is only for seniors and…

d. It is subsidized by a voucher system paid out of everyone’s 15.3% FICA tax.

Oooookay.  No one listens to themselves speak, I guess. Also…

1. Obama puts down universal mandate.  This is called socialist, communist, Islamofascist (??), atheist, and evil.

2. Republicans put down universal mandate.  It is called courageous, brilliant, and daring.

At this point, I am going back to knitting and learning Objective-C.  Someone can tell me when it’s safe to come out of my hole again because this is more crazy than I can handle.

 

Libya

I am having difficulty forming a coherent and useful opinion on what the US is doing with the UK and France in Libya. I have purposefully kept myself confined to facts and stayed away from opinion but I still can’t really get my mind around it.

On the one hand, enormous massacres of civilian populations by heavily armed militaries defending insane dictators are generally a bad thing from a human rights perspective. Especially when these massacres are broadcast on TV. This creates pressure to “do something.”

On the other hand, I have two major objections. The first is that this isn’t really clear that bombing Libya does anything to further US interests. I am certain it is important from an oil perspective but it’s unclear it is as important as, say, the mess in Yemen or the Saudis invading Bahrain to stop the protests or the rapid militarization of the Iranian government. Second: I have never believed that freedom can be given. I have always believed that it must be earned, even if it means horrible things happen without outside intervention. Freedom forced upon a people from without is just another word for oligarchy.

So what does the US involving itself in a Civil War between a brutal dictator and a bunch of people holing up in several towns with guns in Northern Africa do? I just don’t have a great answer. I’m not sure what the goal is.

I suspect there is no correct answer to Libya. Either you stand by and do nothing and watch the atrocity and listen as people scream that you do something (that ‘something’ being highly undefined) or you ‘do something’ and everyone screams that doing something isn’t the right thing/isn’t good enough/is too interventionist/isn’t interventionist enough. You half do something like firing missiles off submarines and that’s too much/not enough.

And after writing this small blurb on it I realize that there is no answer, it’s a crappy situation, and no matter what happens people who bear no responsibility for the decision are going to sit around and crow and point fingers and scream that so-and-so should do this/not do this/is weak/etc. I find I am personally not crazy about the decision to start bombing the place because either the locals oust Qaddafi or not and find their own way or not. At the end of the day, the locals have to live there tomorrow. It’s their home. And we get to change the channel.

It’s About the CDOs

Pension plan management is traditionally a very dull job.  A huge group of people in a big corporation or a union contribute a chunk of their* monthly paychecks into the collected pension fund where a normally 3rd party company manages the contributes and tries to make them grow more than the rate of current inflation to ensure a fund is viable for future retirees. Traditionally, the managing companies put this money into blue chip funds and treasury bills. It was not an exciting job but there are many Big Pools of Money.

But in the 2002, 2003 time frame, this changed. Surely by now you have all gone and listened to the Planet Money archives, you have listened to the Giant Pool of Money show from This American Life and you even read Michael Lewis’s the Big Short. Money manager for pension funds received bonuses for growing pension plans over the rate of inflation and Wall Street had brand, swanky new cannot-fail products to sell for big fees. First they sold mortgage backed securities and when all the mortgages there were disappeared the junk left behind was sliced and diced into Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs). Who bought all this crap? State pension fund managers. Obviously someone bought all this garbage — otherwise no one was making any money off sales.

In 2007, the market crashed and the pension fund managers were left with huge amounts of the pension plans being zeroed out. The states were contractually obligated to be on the hook to cover the pension funds mismanaged by their third party fund managers. The Obama Administration swooped in, passed a stimulus, and gave giant block grants to the states to help them meet their obligations. This bought the states a couple of years.

It’s pretty straight forward. State unions entrusted the management of their pension plans to the state to manage. The state outsourced it to a company that bought the Wall Street line of fast, easy money. The market crashed. The money taken from the State unions went *poof*. Now the states have, instead of firing the money managers and pressing the Federal Government to force regulations to protect their future obligations, decided to Union-bust. Which is ridiculous policy.

What galls me most about what is going on in Wisconsin are the lies. The argument is essentially this:

“We have a multi-decade agreement in place with our workers to assist in their retirement that they pay into. We lost it all gambling. But we love gambling on exotic bond instruments we don’t understand so very much we have decided gamble more and fire them all! Aren’t we great civil servants?”

Why not tell people the truth? The state lost the money on a shell game. The money managers were trying to make big bonuses and lost the whole fund investing in crappy developments in Florida. The state has contractual obligations and has to make up the shortfall because that’s how legally these things work. So that means either the unions have to take some kind of cut until the pension plan is repaid in full or the revenue will have to be raised. The holes were somewhat covered by the stimulus but with the Republicans in charge and no second round of stimulus, there’s going to be a change and it will have to come in the form of a raise in gas tax/sin tax/etc. Oh, also, we have new money managers. It’s their fault, they need to own up, and come up with a solution.

But no. “UNIONS ARE EVIL ALL MUST DIE DIE DIE.” In this day in age, our politicians don’t have the balls to tell the simple truth. Instead they grandstand. I would pay good money for a single politician who could be bothered to read a damn newspaper or understand the problem.

It might have helped if the Obama Administration could explain anything they do to people but that is, as they say, another story.


* Yes, theirs.

On Egypt

I have seen on the Internets: “The Iraq War cost $3 trillion. We could have saved $2.99 trillion and given the rest to Al Jazeera to get the same net result.” I am not positive it’s a misplaced sentiment. Free and unfettered political speech combined with political corruption is a terribly powerful force for change.

What Happened in Egypt?
Food insecurity is at the root. Food prices have risen as much as 30% in much of the Middle East. When people live on $5 a day are faced with food insecurity, people riot. The root is right here in CNN.

In Egypt alone, food prices soared 17% — in part because of the worldwide surge in commodities prices but also because of local supply imbalances.

Egypt also has a recorded unemployment of ~9.5% but the real numbers are likely much harder.

Then there was the story of Khalid Said. Young businessman Khalid Said saw a drug deal go down between two corrupt policemen in Alexandria, caught the video on his cellphone, and uploaded it up to YouTube. The police came around and beat him to death. It was a year ago — but long enough for him to become a symbol.

And then there was January 25th, a date Hosni Mubarak put on the map for the very first time as “We Love the Secret Police Day.” No really.

Mix in Tunisia, Wikileaks, Facebook organization, a little bit of twitter, SMS, Al Jazeera, and *kerpow*

What Next?
Mubarak is playing the Iranian waiting game. He believes he can wait out the people in the streets by shutting down the banks, unleashing prisoners, destroying property, pulling the police out to allow mayhem, and terrorizing people with the military. But people with no jobs and no food have no where else better to be. And thus there is an impasse. It’s not even clear a Tienanmen Square-style massacre would disperse people at this point.

Perhaps Mubarak is simply waiting for the protesters to starve.

Either way, he is critically weakened as a strongman. He no longer has the backing of his people and his leverage is rapidly vaporizing.

On the other hand, Egypt has never had anything resembling a democracy. It’s unclear it can get there itself without some help. But, unlike lots of people who are wringing their hands, I’m sort of certain where there is a will there is a way and once people have a taste of lovely free speech and freedom to assemble and free press they have a hard time giving it back up. We’ll see.

Everyone is talking about the Muslim Brotherhood. If there were parliamentary elections in Egypt, they would take a number of seats. That is certain. Mubarak carefully terrorized and destroyed all of the secular political parties that might have threatened his reign but left the Brothers in a stunted state. They are the only ones with a political apparatus in place. The Wikipedia page isn’t bad. If they will be become crazies or if they will participate in the political process is to be seen.

The clear winner in all this is Al Jazeera. They have had a 2500% (yes, the number is right) growth in traffic to their site, most of it from the US. The servers came down for a while on Friday but donations and half the IT in Qatar is busy trying to keep them online. They’ve always been goofy but no goofier than our cable news — they just have a different point of view.