What “astonishingly out of touch” looks like

A recent Wall Street Journal illustration of the upcoming tax changes used four example households.

The lowest household income used? $180,000 per year — for a retired couple! — which is more than 94% of all households.

The other examples:

  • Single person, $230,000 (97th percentile)
  • Single parent, $260,000 (1.5% of all US households)
  • Married couple, $650,000 (top 1% of all households)

Median household income in the US, by the way, is a little over $45,000 per year.

What we don’t talk about when we talk about the debt ceiling

At the Atlantic: The Two Sentences That Should Be Part of All Discussion of the Debt Ceiling:

  1. Raising the debt ceiling does not authorize one single penny in additional public spending.

  2. For Congress to “decide whether” to raise the debt ceiling, for programs and tax rates it has already voted into law, makes exactly as much sense as it would for a family to “decide whether” to pay a credit-card bill for goods it has already bought.

Who the BSA is now

Much has been made lately of the Boy Scouts of America’s retrograde policies regarding gays and lesbians, and they’ve lost lots of funding because of it. Some apologists have tried to make the argument that “well, the national office can say whatever they want, but local groups are free to run things their own way.”

Actually, no. A Maryland Cub Scout pack may lose its charter unless they abandon their explicit nondiscrimination policy.


Which reminds me of another bit of Magnolia State pride

On SNL on Saturday, Seth Meyers had this to say during Weekend Update:

Mississippi governor Phil Bryant on Wednesday asked the state legislature to declare President Obama’s new gun control proposals illegal, though I’m not sure if the Mississippi state legislature has that kind of power since it’s just 30 hissing possums in a barn.

It’s funny because it’s true.

Dept. of Madcap TV, Again

We finally finished up American Horror Story last night, and while not as bananas as some of the mid-season eps, the finale didn’t disappoint.

I want to point something out, though, that I didn’t catch until I read the IO9 recap this morning:

The footage of Lana’s expose on Briarcliff is a direct and explicit homage to Geraldo Rivera’s crowning moment of journalism: a similar expose of a place called Willowbrook in Staten Island back in the early 1970s (i.e., the same timeframe when Lana was shooting). It’s almost a shot-for-shot remake, and much of what Lana says by way of narration is more or less exactly what Rivera said in 1972, including the bit about it smelling like death. Even the fonts used are the same.

So, a great end to a fantastically over the top season, absolutely, but slipping this gem of a callback in there is serious extra-credit territory. After all, most people have probably forgotten that Rivera was EVER a real journalist, let alone a Peabody Award winner.

(The IO9 link has the Rivera footage.)

We do not understand the stock market

Apple (AAPL) has just announced its quarterly results. It has had the most profitable year of any company ever, and the fourth most profitable quarter of any company ever. Year over year results were strong. But the analysts didn’t think it was shocking enough, so the stock tanked after hours, dropping below $450 a share (i.e., only a few dollars up from its 52-week low).

At this price, Apple is trading at a P/E of about 10. Its market cap is about $424 billion — and it’s a company sitting on $184 billion in cash, and that fucking prints money like no company ever before it.

And the stock’s taking a beating. I’m thinking it’s buying time. Except, you know, 100-share lots on a $400 stock are kind of a big bet.

Semi-obligatory cat blogging

The HeathenCats are, as you may recall, rather younger than the Ancient Cat well documented in Miscellaneous Heathen’s deep archives. This leads to more activity, apparently.

They don’t get into MUCH trouble, really; they just have some amusing ideas for self-amusement. Cat the Smaller (hereinafter Sari) enjoys stalking and capturing small (and, occasionally, not so small) textiles. This may include socks, Mrs Heathen’s cardigans, towels, small pillows, etc. We find them, occasionally, in a trail going back up the stairs and into our room, particularly if we’ve left laundry to be folded on the bed or in a basket. She is, clearly, very fierce; the items invariably have feline puncture patterns.

Cat the Larger, who is also Cat the Friendlier (hereinafter Wiggs), has been less prone to such hobbies. She has some — the’s a little thieving magpie when it comes to small shiny things — but even that has been sort of rare lately.

Until we left them alone for a week, at Christmas, and boredom set in. It seems Wiggs — who has always been fascinated by water — has discovered that her water bowl contains water, and that if she slides it around, it’ll move in weird ways. That this results in a splattered mess if of no account; it’s a necessary price to pay, we assume, for her important research. Said research has also begun to include the introduction of a single piece of kibble into the water, presumably to test flow patterns. (No, it’s not an accident, and no, it’s never more than one.)

This is adorable and all, but standing water on the wood floor has more annoying features than just wet socks, so we’ve set out to provide alternative methods of distraction. Oh, and a heavier water bowl.

It’s in this pursuit that I realize I have just come home from the pet store with what amounts to two robots to amuse our cats. First is one of these, which automates the already delightfully futuristic fun of cats plus laser pointers. Second is a circular captured-ball toy, but with a little difference: the ball blinks and squeaks in response to motion, which in turn triggers a strong magnet inside the centerpiece that encourages further motion.

It’s safe to say this one is also a success:

2013 01 24 15 29 48 edit

More Evidence That Carmen Ortiz is a Goddamn Disgrace

The politically-ambitious US attorney proximately responsible for Aaron Swartz’s suicide has a history of legal bullying, including an ongoing attempt to seize a locally-owned motel under vague civil forfeiture laws.

Of course, it’s not just Ortiz. It’s entire bully-friendly criminal prosecution infrastructure. Civil forfeiture laws are fucking totalitarian, but law enforcement loves them because it means more toys for them in their endless and feckless drug war.

It’s got to change. But let’s start with Ortiz and her gang.

Who the GOP is

An internal memo makes abundantly clear what many on the left have been pointing out: the only reason the GOP has a House majority is gerrymandering; their own memo notes that Democratic candidates received more than a million more votes than Republican ones in this election.

How does this produce a House majority? District-line chicanery, made possible by stacked state houses. They can’t win on the merits, so they game the rules.

As it turns out, simplicity is HARD

Inspired by the Up Goer Five XKCD cartoon, Ten Hundred Words of Science invites you to review similarly constrained job descriptions, or even contribute your own. It’s harder than it looks.

My own attempt:

On very big jobs like power places or space cars or flying cars , people have a hard time telling how much is done, or how much money it is going to take, before they are finished. They might spend too much money, or take too long, without knowing first, and that makes the people with money mad or sad. This is very bad because of how much money and time these big jobs take.

There is a way to tell, and people have to use it or be in bad trouble, but doing it right is very hard and takes lots of time and hard work. This makes the worker people have to work very very hard, because the big job is hard work already.

We make computers do some of the hard part better than the old way, and better than the old computers, but it is still hard. Computers need help from people. We work with the worker people and ask questions to help them tell the computer how to do the hard thing. People have to work with each other and computers to get the answers, and they have to do it every week or month to keep getting money for the big job.

Then the people who give the money and want the space car or power place or air car come and look at the answers, and say if the big job is doing good.

(Via MeFi.)

In case you’ve heard this little bit of snark, allow Heathen to set you straight

It’s all over the news and opinion feeds that Mitt Romney did not attend the inauguration, and as such was the first losing candidate in 24 years to skip the ceremony.

That’s technically true, but only technically. As Talking Points Memo notes:

But that’s not really fair. By my count, he’s the first losing nominee since Michael Dukakis (24 years ago) who didn’t have a current elected position in DC when he was running. Bush (92), Dole (96), Gore (00), Kerry (04), McCain (08). In other words, the other guys basically had to be there, as presidents, vice presidents or senior members of the Senate.

So slam that job-gobbling Mormon for all sorts of other things, but not this. This one’s not fair.

My early favorite is #19, “Being pushed down a mountainside by a Bigfoot impersonator,” but the list keeps getting better

Someone has taken the time to document the 131 ways in which Dr. David Banner was provoked into Hulking-out during the run of the TV show.

Other favorites:

  • Dealing with a pesky operator in a phone booth (“I DON’T HAVE TWENTY-FIVE CENTS!!!”) (#20)
  • Being trampled by a crowd AND having the hot coffee spilled on his hand while trying to get to the sniper (#23)
  • Somehow running into a bear trap (#36)
  • Placed in a small room with a ravenous black panther (#38; I hate it when this happens!)
  • Being horsewhipped by same crazed man who is understandably upset that David will not accomodate his polite requests to “turn back into that thing” (#77)

Via BoingBoing.

Quotes worth re-reading

From John Roderick, in conversation with John Hodgman:

It’s one thing to outlaw discrimination, an entirely other and much more difficult thing to end discrimination; one thing to raise taxes, an entirely other and much more difficult thing to persuade people that higher taxes benefit them. We have the harder job, and the onus is on us to do a better job. Conservatives base their appeal on greed and fear. If we truly believe that liberalism appeals to people’s generosity of spirit, we should be prepared to try harder and set a higher standard for ourselves than just shouting down the opposition. The Republicans own the tone of our national discourse now, and it’s a disgrace. High-mindedness is not naive, it is the soul of liberalism: an appeal to reason on behalf of justice.

TechDirt explains why Carmen Ortiz is a horrible human being

Just go read. This woman and her office are proximately responsible for Aaron Swartz‘s death. They are government sanctioned bullies of the worst sort, emblematic of the excessive reach of prosecutors and law enforcement everywhere.

More at HBR.

Also, note that the supposed crime and charges were hogwash anyway. Seriously, I hope these people never get a decent night’s sleep again.

You know somewhere else Alabama whips Notre Dame?

In the “girlfriend” category.

On one hand, we have AJ McCarron’s no-shit beauty queen girlfriend Katherine Webb — famously so attractive as to get ESPN’s on-air talent in trouble, and gain over a 100,000 Twitter followers over the course of the game. As we will see, however, it’s not her pulchritude that wins the day here.

On the other hand, we have Manti Te’o’s Stanford-grad companion. Lennay Kekua was famously and tragically struck down earlier this season by leukemia only days after he lost his grandmother, and the double loss became a key piece of his myth and narrative — and, indeed, of the “team of destiny” story increasingly told about the Irish this year, right up until last Monday night.

Te’o, unfortunately, loses this race by an even wider margin than the Heisman balloting, and not just because AJ’s gal is Miss Alabama. It’s not even that Kekua is dead. As it turns out, it appears she never existed at all. Pictures of her circulated in the media are of a completely unrelated woman who has never met Te’o, and is alive and well.

Manti Te’o did lose his grandmother this past fall. Annette Santiago died on Sept. 11, 2012, at the age of 72, according to Social Security Administration records in Nexis. But there is no SSA record there of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua, that day or any other. Her passing, recounted so many times in the national media, produces no obituary or funeral announcement in Nexis, and no mention in the Stanford student newspaper.

Nor is there any report of a severe auto accident involving a Lennay Kekua. Background checks turn up nothing. The Stanford registrar’s office has no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. There is no record of her birth in the news. Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there’s no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed.

The photographs identified as Kekua—in online tributes and on TV news reports—are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua. She is not a Stanford graduate; she has not been in a severe car accident; and she does not have leukemia. And she has never met Manti Te’o.

Deadspin’s story on this is long, but the reporting seems pretty solid, and paints a picture where it’s very, very hard not to see Te’o as part of the hoax.

There is no comment as yet from Notre Dame, Te’o, or his family, but this story is bound to get more interesting.

Books of 2013 #4: Cold Days

Mrs Heathen and I (as well as our pal R.W.S.) got hooked on Jim Butcher’s urban fantasy series back in 2007, when I was traveling full time. I devoured and passed on the first eight books in a couple months of long flights and hotel rooms, and since then we’ve snatched up the new installments more or less as quickly as Butcher could write them — even as, we must admit, the quality of the stories became a little uneven.

The books concern a “wizard for hire” in modern-day Chicago named Harry Dresden; he works as sort of a paranormal PI, and some of those cases turn out to be connected to giant plots by evil powers (as is so often the case). The early books are pretty stand-alone, but starting around the 7th book or so, hints of a broader over-arching plot begin. By book 10 (Small Favor, from 2008) the self-contained stories are completely in service, one way or another, of the longer narrative.

As with any “multi-installment” series, staying fresh is an issue. Butcher has done a reasonable job with worldbuilding over the years, and hasn’t exactly painted himself into a corner, but for whatever reason the last couple books weren’t quite as much fun as the earlier ones (aside, maybe, from the body count in Changes). Our little Dresden fan club was pretty unanimous in a “meh” rating for Ghost Story last year, so it took me a while to snag the 14th and latest installment, Cold Days. (Fun fact: despite the plural title, aside from a handwaved introductory period, the action takes places within a single 24-hour day.)

Yeah, well, read it in about 2 days. Loads of fun, but it’s entirely unclear to me where we’ll go next — despite the fact that Butcher apparently plans for 6 or 8 more books before Harry’s story is done. Harry’s experiencing some pretty serious power inflation to go with the ever-higher stakes, but at least this time around it worked. I reckon I’ll stay along for the ride.

Like you NEEDED more evidence that beauty pageants are stupid

I’m not sure there’s a more insipid part of the astonishingly vapid pageant process than the Q&A, but at least it’s given us some serious comedy gold in the past.

This time around, it’s almost better; Miss Iowa, as it happens, was asked about the legalization of pot. In response, she was firm and clear in her belief that it should only be used for medicinal purposes, or recreation, but nothing else.

Glad that’s clear, Brainiac.