Oh, FBI. Will you EVER get a clue?

When the Feds announced a while back that using Tor, a tool to ensure online security and anonymity, could be construed as evidence you might be a terrorist, I wrote it off as them being absurdly out of touch and possessed of the same authoritarian taint as most cops — “if you haven’t got anything to hide, why care?” is sort of a mantra for some LEO folks.

However, now the Feds are suggesting that paying cash for coffee might be suspicious, which is just getting ridiculous.

Do you feel safer yet? Does the FBI have anybody who LOOKS at these pronouncements before they go out? Good lord.

Via BB.

Fred Pulls No Punches

Herein he discusses the wide gap between the Catholic laity and their purported leadership, the bishops, and why it makes more sense to listen to the liaty as the voice of Catholicism on issues like birth control.

Here then are the two issues on which the consensus of the laity and the assertions of the bishops are in conflict: contraception and child rape.

The bishops teach that contraception is a grave moral sin. The laity know that it is not. The devout laity know this. They are sure of it. They employ contraception with a clean conscience and an untroubled spirit. Some may be troubled that their doing so is a form of disobedience to the teaching of the bishops, but the only guilt they experience is due to that disobedience, not because they believe the practice to be intrinsically wrong.

The laity have listened to the bishops’ rationale for their opposition to contraception and have not found it compelling. It’s too confusing, contradictory and inconstant to be understood. It changes and collapses back on itself. […] Unpersuaded by the bishops’ case, the laity thus choose to heed their own conscience and ignore the prohibition.

That decision is informed by and reinforced by the second, more vehement, disagreement — the matter of child rape.

For the Catholic laity, overwhelmingly, the rape of a child is considered a moral horror and one of the worst sins imaginable. For the bishops, it’s a regrettable act, but it’s not as bad as the public disclosure of it. For the laity, there can be no greater priority than ensuring that children in one’s care are not abused. For the bishops, there has been no greater priority than ensuring that abusers are not exposed. The paramount concern for the laity is the protection of children. The paramount concern for the bishops has been the protection of their own reputation.

Honestly, it’s amazing people are willing to listen to the power structure of the Roman church at all, ever, about anything until they address this. Because Fred is not wrong here, not even a little.

Dept. of Absurdly Stereotypical Posts, or, New Facts

I shall put down my organic coffee and NPR tote so that I may type on my Mac with both hands to share with you that Ira Glass and Philip Glass are cousins, and that the former interviewed the latter for the former’s radio show.


This is the joke I didn’t do. This is the joke I didn’t do. This is the joke I didn’t do. This is the joke I didn’t do. This is the joke I didn’t do. This is the joke I didn’t do. This is the joke I didn’t do. This is the joke I didn’t do. This is the joke I didn’t do. This is the joke I didn’t do. This is the joke I didn’t do. This is the joke I didn’t do. This is the joke I didn’t do. This is the joke I didn’t do. This is the joke I didn’t do. This is the joke I didn’t do. This is the joke I didn’t do. This is the joke I didn’t do. This is the joke I didn’t do. This is the joke I didn’t do.

Alan Parsons on Audiophiles

This is pretty great, but the best part may be the ref to a Slashdot commenter, who said:

Audiophiles don’t use their equipment to listen to your music. Audiophiles use your music to listen to their equipment.

Aaaand the GOP goes all in against birth control

You may have heard that the White House sidestepped the whining of the wingnut portion of the GOP and some Catholic organizations this week by allowing the health plans offered by religious organizations to omit coverage for birth control — while still requiring the insurers to provide contraception free of charge. The insurers are on board (birth control is way cheaper than pregnancy), and if the GOP was really concerned about “requiring employers to pay for something they find immoral,” this should’ve shut down the debate.

That would’ve been nice. But that wasn’t all the position does: It also means that, if the GOP continues to bitch and moan and whine and say “but this isn’t enough!”, then they’re basically making it clear that what they REALLY want to to reduce access to contraception. Make no mistake: the pivot by the White House was a clever and pragmatic compromise, but also a very clever trap.

And, well, the Bishops and Mitch McConnell have led the GOP directly into it:

Not satisfied with President Obama’s new religious accommodation, Republicans will move forward with legislation by Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) that permits any employer to deny birth control coverage in their health insurance plans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said Sunday.

What’s hilarious here is the angle he takes:

“The fact that the White House thinks this is about contraception is the whole problem. This is about freedom of religion, it’s right there in the First Amendment. You can’t miss it — right there in the very first amendment to our Constitution,” McConnell said. “What the overall view on the issue of contraception is has nothing to do with an issue about religious freedom.”

McConnell went on to embellish the argument, claiming Obama is being “rigid in his view that he gets to decide what somebody else’s religion is.” He said that “this issue will not go away until the administration simply backs down.”

House GOP leaders also said Friday they will move forward with legislation to repeal the birth control rule in its entirety. Republicans from both chambers are aligning themselves with the Catholic Bishops who say the new policy remains unacceptable.

Religious freedom isn’t about imposing your will on others. It’s allowing others to worship, or not, on their own. If your employees are getting birth control for free from the insurer, you ought not care. If you still do, you’re trying to control them, and that’s not “religious liberty” anymore. Check out what Fred Clark has to say about this version of religious liberty.

What’s even funnier is that a majority of both Americans and Catholics are in favor of the White House compromise, so the GOP’s rant here is going to become a giant poison pill. It’s a whole bunch of old white men insisting that birth control access be curtailed. Nobody is going to miss that message, I assure you.

Fred has another great rundown of some additional analysis on this that’s also worth your time.

And theaters WONDER why home video eats their lunch

An Open Letter To The Worst Human Being To Ever Sit In A Theater pretty much sums it up in a worst-case scenario kind of way.

I know there exist some theaters (God bless, you Tim) who take this stuff seriously, but the overwhelming majority simply do not. If the options are “wait for video,” “theater full of yahoos,” or “drive half an hour to the closest Alamo,” I’m going with home video every damn time. It’s no contest. I have a great wine list, a comfy couch, two great cats to hang out with Mrs Heathen and I, and the ability to pause it when we need to take a leak. And, most importantly, Heathen World HQ is a yahoo-free zone.

I was just thinking it had been a while since Mississippi did something embarrassing

MS State House Rep. Steve Holland has filed HB150, which would, in summary, rename the Gulf of Mexico to the “Gulf of America” for all “official purposes” in Mississippi.

Folks, I left as soon as I was able.

Update: Turns out it was a joke/stunt. From FFF’s new comment:

Turns out it is a joke. Steve is generally a smarter guy than that. I was saddened to learn of this legislation without more. The problem is, he needs serious messaging help to get his point across. This is what he told the Mississippi Business Journal about why he filed the bill, according to its staff writer, Clay Chandler:
“It’s right in line with all the other bullsh** going on now in the Legislature,” Holland said. “And you can quote me on that in capital letters if you want to. Cutting education, cutting healthcare, going after immigrants, all the things the Rebublican majority seems interested in, that don’t do anything to enhance the quality of life and the economic foundation of the average Mississippian. It’s a spamelot bill. I thought it made about as much sense as some of the other stuff coming through here. We’ll see what happens.”

Fred Shines, Once Again

Go read The Party of Lincoln is not the party of Lincoln; a bit:

The 1960s completed the weird reversal of America’s two political parties. The Radical Republicans brought about a second American revolution with the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments. They were committed to a strong, large federal government, to public education and to expanded voting rights. A century later, Republicans were adamantly opposed to all of those things.

Today, if you hear a politician railing against public schools, or calling for voting restrictions, or for a smaller and weaker federal government, you know without looking that this politician is a Republican. Today if you hear a politician attacking due process, or citizenship for all born here, or equal protection, then you know without looking that this politician belongs to the party that bears the same name as the party that fought to enshrine all those things in the Constitution.

Then click through to the post that inspired him. (Fred’s link is to the blog’s home page; this is the actual post he means.)

Things that will hurt your brane

As a direct result of a delightful yet convoluted series of social connections, last night I was engaged to attempt to repair a broken piece of video installation art at the home of a local collector. The gallery owner who sold the collector the piece is a friend of a friend, and because I’m widely perceived as being generally good with technology (by which I think people mean “he knows how to hook things up”), I got asked to help. I wasn’t able to do anything for them other than confirm that the screen portion needed replacing, but hey, you help your friends.

Anyway, the gallery owner had her assistant drive me out to this woman’s house, which was about half an hour away on Houston’s west side. Said assistant is the sort of bright-eyed, right-out-of-school type I remember being, which of course made me feel old because I have shoes older than she is. But I felt much, much older when, on the way back, we started discussing live music venues and bands we’d seen in them, and it came to light she’d never even heard of Steely Dan.


Well, if that hurts you, then what Joey DeVilla has up today will really break you. Prepare yourself for the shock that is What If Back To The Future Was Made Today.

Enjoy, if that’s the word for it.

Notwithstanding the surge of Santorum…


[…] I fear that Barack Obama will in all likelihood be facing a socially maladroit charisma-challenged gaffe-prone filthy rich religious cultist who claims to be middle-class and unemployed, holds no deeply held belief that couldn’t be swayed by a stiff breeze, enjoys making money by dismantling businesses, firing the employees and shipping their jobs overseas and then taking that money and stashing it in off-shore tax havens and who has recently been spending tens of millions of dollars fending off the likes of Newt Fucking Gingrich and Rick Fucking Santorum because, even faced with those horrible choices, most Republicans still find him as palatable as a semen-flavored popsicle.

Even with all of that, he will still be competitive because his opponent is a black guy and this is America.

Sowing Confusion On Purpose

I saw references to the Agenda 21 boogieman first on Facebook, in updates from a college acquaintance whose shop had been destroyed by the tornado last year. She was all up in arms about how the UN was gonna steal everyone’s land, and FEMA was in on it, and it was a giant plot, and RON PAUL RON PAUL RON PAUL WILL SAVE US, etc.

I wrote her off as a crank. Now it seems increasingly clear that some elements on the right, or within the Tea Party, are absolutely spreading these weird misconceptions about loss of local sovereignty as a means of riling up their base against projects designed to preserve green spaces, increase bike usage, and other completely reasonable steps generally seen as increasing livability and decreasing pollution. The point is not so much to preserve the status quo (though that’s surely part of it) as it is to distract the Tea Party dingbats from something that might actually matter, like lobbying.

Across the country, activists with ties to the Tea Party are railing against all sorts of local and state efforts to control sprawl and conserve energy. They brand government action for things like expanding public transportation routes and preserving open space as part of a United Nations-led conspiracy to deny property rights and herd citizens toward cities.

Many are suspicious of environmental initiatives. Ed Elswick, a county supervisor, voiced criticism at last month’s meeting. They are showing up at planning meetings to denounce bike lanes on public streets and smart meters on home appliances — efforts they equate to a big-government blueprint against individual rights.


In Maine, the Tea Party-backed Republican governor canceled a project to ease congestion along the Route 1 corridor after protesters complained it was part of the United Nations plot. Similar opposition helped doom a high-speed train line in Florida. And more than a dozen cities, towns and counties, under new pressure, have cut off financing for a program that offers expertise on how to measure and cut carbon emissions.

It’s the same weird song-and-dance I saw on Facebook, writ large. Some doofus went to Tuscaloosa spreading this bullshit last spring, and hooked lots of scared people in the wake of the tornado, as part of an overall strategy of (as MeFi put it) getting people to worry about the wrong things. It’s classic misdirection, craven and cynical at its core, and unfortunately very, very effective with unsophisticated voters.

Since that’s most American voters, we are, of course, completely fucking doomed.

Via MeFi.

So, how dry WAS Houston in 2011?

The drought in Houston (and Texas) in 2011 came up in conversation with a co-worker today, which set me wondering what the hard numbers were.

First, let’s figure out what “normal” rainfall looks like. Wikipedia says we usually get something like 54 inches of rain a year; NOAA says it’s more like 49.77″.

NOAA also has per-year values. We got less than 25 inches of rain in 2011. That’s less than half normal, which is a lot for a place that typically gets more than four feet a rain a year.

NOAA’s figures since 2000 are below; note that no other year in the list is even close to 2011.

  • 2011: 24.57″
  • 2010: 42.72″
  • 2009: 47.01″
  • 2008: 53.00″
  • 2007: 65.52″
  • 2006: 57.86″
  • 2005: 41.21″
  • 2004: 65.06″
  • 2003: 45.76″
  • 2002: 59.68″
  • 2001: 71.18″ (19″ in June alone thanks to Allison)
  • 2000: 47.61″

So, yeah. Pretty dry.

I don’t care how rich you are. That’s still creepy.

Houston millionaire, polo patron, and drunk-driving enthusiast John Goodman has legally adopted his girlfriend, presumably to give himself access to the trust he set up for his children.

Goodman, you may recall, has been charged with vehicular homicide for killing 23-year-old Scott Wilson with his Bentley two years ago, and is predictably also being sued for wrongful death by Wilson’s family; in that matter, he is also seeking to hide the fact that he now has unfettered access to 1/3 of the trust from the jury.

And, frankly, we have Komen to thank

Yeah, really. I mean it.

Heretofore, the Heathen Household has been sort of generally supportive of both Komen and Planned Parenthood, but really moreso the latter. We attend parties and PPYL functions, and drag people to fundraisers, and give money when it occurs to us. We’ve made the odd donation to Komen, too, but frankly their approach (“Hey! Let’s paint everything pink, and sue folks who get too close to our charitable model!”) suggested to me that they didn’t need as much help from us as PP did.

Now this new development has made it clear they care far more about pandering to right wingers than they do actual boots-on-the-ground health care. Clearly, Komen doesn’t need ANY of our money. Clearly too, Planned Parenthood does more than ever. And it turns out, it’s pretty easy to make this happen.

I’ve just signed up to donate to our local PP affiliate every month via my Amex. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it means I don’t have to think about it, or write a big check at the end of the year. Pick your credit card carefully, and you’ll even get frequent flier miles out of the deal. What’s not to like?

Oh, and Komen? I gave them your money, too. Good luck with that backlash.

We Keep Reading, Unalloyed Crap Edition

So during some interval of excess travel a year or two ago, I found myself reading an excerpt of one of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels on my Kindle, courtesy of an ad in the New Yorker. I remember thinking the combo seemed odd, but now that I’m 7 books into the series I guess they knew better than I.

The Reacher books are pretty dumb. Let’s get that out in the open immediately. I tend to see Child’s “clever plot developments” coming a mile off, mostly because they aren’t all that clever. But these stories of a wandering vigilante former Army major (who, famously, keeps neither a fixed address or even a suitcase) came along at pretty much the right time: we were all out of Dresden at the time, and Robert Parker is dead, and now what antisocial chaotic good badass is going to entertain me on plane rides or when I’m otherwise too braindead to read the next really good book on my stack?

So, Reacher. Six novels in, he’s fought bloodthirsty counterfeiters, insane militia separatists, megalomaniacal, crazed Vietnam vets from central casting (by way of Blofeld), a really lame serial killer, and weirdly obsessed would-be assassins of a fictional vice president. None of them are very good, but the thing is you run through the book in only a couple hours anyway. (Seriously, I never would have read so many without the Kindle’s ability to buy on the run.)

I thought briefly about a more detailed discussion of these pulp delights, but that seems pointless. I will say that order does sort of matter — each book is self contained, but later ones refer to previous adventures — so if you’re inclined, start with Killing Floor. It’s a bit more graphically violent than the others, and was published in 1997, so it’s mildly outdated, but still fun.

Susan G. Komen Can Pound Sand

The well-heeled pink-ribbon brigade has bowed to pro-life ninnyhammers and will no longer contribute to Planned Parenthood.

This will of course coincide with heathen HQ discontinuing any support for Komen. We encourage you to go and do likewise. Planned Parenthood provide a cornucopia of well-women services, including family planning; cutting its funding impacts underserved populations far more than the middle class. Given that the Komen dollars were earmarked for breast cancer screening, it seems particularly obnoxious that they’d discontinue the donation.

Let’s also make something completely clear: Komen is a marketing organization. They don’t actually DO anything but raise money and give it away. Planned Parenthood is about providing medical services.

So, as Nonsequiteuse puts it, “If you want to look pretty in pink, give to Komen. If you want to create opportunities for women to access life-saving care, give to Planned Parenthood.”

I think that about sums it up.