It’s not moral relativism to blame both sides.

I was accused of moral relativism on Facebook when I stated that both sides were to blame in Charlottesville.  This was supposedly because, by blaming both sides equally, I was entirely absolving one side from blame in the death of the young woman who was struck by the jerk in the car.

I can’t parse that, and you probably can’t either.  To me, that young woman would still be alive today if both sides had stayed the hell home.  There is indeed blame on both sides.  Both sides are full of hate and both sides espouse hate.  That one side in this particular contretemps espouses hate against non-whites, and the other side espouses hate against those who hate non-whites, seems immaterial to me.  Either side is as bad as the other.

After all, the SS blackshirts were just as bad as the SA brownshirts whom they destroyed.  But that’s history, after all, and not many people actually learn history anymore.  But the analogy holds.

I was so assaulted because I dared (in this person’s opinion, anyway) to diminish the culpability of the white supremacists who, after all, started it all by having their protest in the first place.  However, I suspect the real reason for this assault on my integrity is merely because the person who did so is a rabid neverTrumper who will never back down from his now-untenable position; I mean, come on, the guy was elected and he’s president, and he’s not a Nazi.  And by insisting that I’m letting the Nazis off by including antifa in the mix, this person is implicitly stating that antifa bears no blame whatsoever.  Does he support antifa?  I’m going to guess he’d be horrified if someone told him that.  But that’s what he’s doing by claiming it’s moral relativism to blame antifa equally with the Nazi group for the death of that young woman.

As I told him repeatedly, if antifa hadn’t shown up, that young woman would still be alive.  But it would have been even better if neither side had shown up at all.

However, the main point this person misses in the process of being all het up about spreading the blame around is that any culpability for the young woman’s death is not placed on the group — it’s placed on the person who actually ran that car down the street and killed her with it.  And that’s an important point.

In our system, the group to which that young fool belonged won’t be on trial anywhere except in the court of public opinion.  The court of law that will try said young fool for vehicular homicide isn’t going to be interested in his political views, or what hate group he happens to belong to — they will be concerned only with his disregard for the law and the consequences of that disregard.  And that is because our courts are courts of law, not courts of political justice.

Make no mistake — antifa would like nothing better than for our courts to become courts of political justice, wherein they could, in Stalinesque show trials, condemn the 1% to death and then start in on the bourgeois middle class.  Which is why I oppose antifa as much as I oppose asshole white supremacists who dress up in swastika-festooned clothing, wave the swastika flag, and play at being National Socialists just like the bunch of pin-headed, slack-jawed wanna-be Hitler Youth they are.

These two groups are two sides of the same adulterated coin.  National Socialists vs. International Socialists.  All left-wing, no matter how hard the left tries to push them off on the right (the soi-disant “alt-right” being little more than a fabrication of feverish brains on the left side of the spectrum).  All of the repugnant ideologies on parade last weekend, nay, since it became clear that Donald Trump was a serious threat to Hillary Clinton’s coronation, originated on the left.  The KKK?  A left-wing Democrat institution for many, many years.  Fascists and Nazis were both leftists, and made no bones about being leftists, despite generations of Gramscian historians who have tried to frame them as being phenomena of the far-right.  Black Lives Matter?  Left-wing anarchists with a desire to destroy the police as a force for civil order.  Name a disruptive domestic terrorist group that has been in the ascendant in the past two or three years, and every one of them is a tool of the left.  Hell, even the Southern Poverty Law Center has become a leftist tool of destruction, by tarring innocent and well-meaning right-wing organizations with the “hate group” moniker.

And they are all to blame for what happened last weekend.  Because they have weakened the social structure of this country to the point where such things not only can happen, they are happening — with great regularity.

What is most alarming about this is that the number of people actually involved in these actions is tiny in comparison to the rest of the country.  In other words, we could easily scrum ’em if we chose to.

I fear we’re coming to that.  And sooner than we think.  It’s going to be messy.

And there won’t be a damn thing that’s morally relative about it.

Hell, yes.

“[S]ize matters, and Silicon Valley’s giants are just too darn big. Time to chop them up like old Ma Bell. Let’s apply the antitrust laws that were made for taming just these types of octopod monopolies. For example, Google and Facebook’s tentacles have slithered into every corner of the web and strangled the competition. There was a word for that back in the day – what was it? Oh, yeah. ‘Monopoly.'”

Kurt Schlichter: On fire.

And by the way, the same could be said for monolithic media companies like Gannett, too. When everybody’s “local” newspaper is being run by the same company in Tyson’s Corner, VA, copyediting and composition occurs at a central facility in another city two hours down the road, and the local reportorial staff has shrunk to nearly nothing, what level of independent journalism is actually left?

You’re sure as hell not going to get anything like the crusading style that used to keep local government on its toes instead of sitting back dumb and happy while the tax revenues roll in and the local fat cats get fatter. This is how outrageous billion-dollar stadium deals and 10-year bribes, er, property tax abatements, to entice companies to relocate to your city happen with little to no public comment, even as property and other taxes (like the county option tax) keep rising steadily as the years go by.

Case in point: How does the mayor of Carmel, Indiana, keep getting re-elected? He’s destroyed traffic patterns throughout Clay Township, spent hundreds of millions of dollars on infrastructure and grand architecture that I don’t think anybody up there has a clue how it’s all going to be paid for, and to hear people talk, everybody hates him — but they keep voting for him anyway. A good, crusading local newspaper might have chucked a spanner into Brainard’s gears before now, but Carmel hasn’t got one, and the Gannett Star isn’t going to worry itself over what goes on in the next county.

Break ’em up. Go back to local control of media.

Fuck that defeatist shit.

The defeatist bullshit I’ve been reading on Facebook ever since the election has reached a breaking point.

The assholes in Charlottesville yesterday do not represent the vast majority of good, non-bigoted Americans who are just trying to make it through life. In fact, they do not represent America at all.

I just read a post from an old fart like me who has, to all intents and purposes, given up and decided to watch it burn while sitting back and wishing the next generation the best of luck.

Well, to hell with you, old man. My father and uncles didn’t spend several years on a European shooting vacation so I could sit back in my old age watching everything they held dear collapse around me. I have skin in the game — two lovely grandchildren who will have to grow up in the world you’re happy to watch crumble. Well, fuck that. Wake up and fight the future, you unmitigated pussy.  What the hell are you afraid of?  Dying?  That’s coming anyway.

The world does NOT end with our death. Other people have to live in it.  So, why not fight on to the end?  It’s what we were made to do, not to go quietly into that dark night while, unopposed, the forces of evil claim the field.

Fire and fury

Honestly, I do not understand why so many people have their panties in a wad over Trump’s statement regarding what the US would do if Li’l Kimmy fired a nuke at us.  (Or more likely, at Guam, or even more likely, at the little fishies in the sea since his missiles aren’t always successful.  But I digress.)

As has been reported elsewhere, such statements have clear precedent in US history.  It’s not as if measured, diplomatic statements have had any particular affect on the fat boy, in any case.  Let me tell a story in that wise.

Years ago, when I was but a tad, I used to go with my dad up to my granddad’s place in a tiny-ass, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it town up between Peru and Wabash, Indiana.  Granddad had about a quarter-acre lot on which he’d parked an old 40′ travel trailer next to a fair-sized shed.  (Or maybe he bought the lot with the trailer already on it; I don’t honestly remember, that was damn near 50 years ago.)  I could go on and on about this little pied-à-terre of his, but suffice it to say that it was not a place where I would have wanted to live, or even spend the night.  For the first year he was there, all he had was an outhouse, and as I recall, no running water at all in the trailer.  And this was in either 1969 or 1970.

Granddad also had about 14 little yap dogs, and I am not bullshitting about the number.  They were all miniature terriers of some sort and technically I think he was breeding them for sale.  In the winter, we’d get there and all the dogs would be in the trailer with him.  This was sub-optimal because Granddad had big-time emphysema and could barely breathe when the air was clean, let alone stunk up to high heaven and full of hair from all those dogs.  So Dad and my uncles would give Granddad hell and take the dogs out to the shed — which had a little oil heater, so it wasn’t like they’d freeze to death — and the dogs could run around in the little fenced yard next to the shed and come back in when they got cold.

We’d go up the next weekend and all the fucking dogs would be back in the trailer.  Wash, rinse, repeat.

Finally, my dad — who had a bit of a temper — unloaded on Granddad, and used some fairly shocking language (remember, I was only about 10 at the time) in the process of doing so.  I don’t recall him escalating to the “F” word, but there was a lot of “goddamnit” and “hell” in there.

On the way home, I asked my dad why he had talked to his dad that way.  He was quiet for a moment, then he said, “Because sometimes, that’s the only language he understands.”

It’s the same thing with diplomacy, which is, after all, the art of saying “Nice doggy” while you hunt around behind you for a big stick.  Kim Jong Un doesn’t understand that when we talk nicely but firmly about how he needs to back the fuck down, we mean that if he doesn’t, we’ll eventually get around to doing something about it.

Donald Trump has decided that after 25 years of saying “Nice doggy” to Kim and his daddy, it’s time to drive home the point that the US has a very large stick with which we’re going to start beating him if he doesn’t back the hell off, and that soon.  In this, he is operating very much in the mold of Theodore Roosevelt and Harry S Truman, and I don’t really understand why any real American would have a problem with that.

Of course, I’m still not sure why we aren’t actively shooting down his missile tests, since we have THAAD.  But there is that whole thing about allowing him enough rope to hang himself.  And he’s certainly got the South Koreans and the Japanese upset enough at this point to let us start talking about kicking the chair out from under him without causing much more than a few raised eyebrows in the affected nations.  Raised eyebrows signifying, in this case, “Well, it’s about goddamned time; we didn’t think the Americans had it in them anymore.”

MAGA, baby.  MAGA.

 

Frankly, if you’re King Abdullah, I kinda pity you.

A friend reposted a photo of Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah yukking it up after Abdullah apparently made the usual representation to Abbas that East Jerusalem would be the capital of an independent Palestinian state, eventually.  Which of course had Jewish friends up in arms.

But really, this goes on all the time, and it happens because Abdullah has a serious problem, and it’s not his buddy-buddy, hail-fellow-well-met approach to Abbas, either. That’s more than likely an act for the peasantry. Think about it.

He has more Palestinians living in his country than any other Arab country. Jordan’s total population is about 9.5 million, and UNRWA says there are “more than” 2 million Palestinians living there, most but not all with full Jordanian citizenship. There are 10 recognized refugee camps in Jordan containing 370,000 Palestinians, again, according to UNRWA.

If you are the King of Jordan, and more than 20% of your population might just rise up against you if you treat their relatives in Gaza wrong — or, shoot, even if you just look at them funny — wouldn’t you temporize a lot, make supportive mouth noises, and hope the Israelis, whom you know are your only real friends, will keep the Gazans and the West Bankers busy for you while you keep an uneasy eye to the north and east watching the Iraqis and the Syrians?

That’s what Abdullah’s dad did. And I wouldn’t be surprised if Abdullah avails himself of a long hot shower after any meeting with Abbas, just to wash the stink off. The King knows the Israelis are never going to agree to give up sovereignty over Jerusalem, and that probably suits him just fine, since that means he doesn’t have to beat up on the Waqf when they get out of hand.

Make no mistake: This is no apologia for the King of Jordan for looking like an ass, but sometimes a King must do things in his public life that he abhors in private. My money says that Bibi knew all about this meeting and what Abdullah was going to say before it occurred.

I could be entirely wrong.  But Jordan has never really been a place where Palestinians were welcome; the problem was that they didn’t have a whole lot of choice in the matter of letting them in, unlike the rest of the Middle Eastern Arab countries.

An appropriate way to commemorate Tisha B’Av?

Not to put too fine a point on it, bulldoze that fucking abomination currently occupying the Temple Mount, shove both it and the Waqf mullahs off the Eastern side, and start rebuilding the Temple.

Shoot every Muslim who gets in the way.  Nuke Tehran and Qom if the Iranians get uppity.  Remember what God commanded in Deuteronomy 25:

 

יז זָכוֹר, אֵת אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה לְךָ עֲמָלֵק, בַּדֶּרֶךְ, בְּצֵאתְכֶם מִמִּצְרָיִם. 17 Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way as ye came forth out of Egypt;
יח אֲשֶׁר קָרְךָ בַּדֶּרֶךְ, וַיְזַנֵּב בְּךָ כָּל-הַנֶּחֱשָׁלִים אַחֲרֶיךָ–וְאַתָּה, עָיֵף וְיָגֵעַ; וְלֹא יָרֵא, אֱלֹהִים. 18 how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, all that were enfeebled in thy rear, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God.
יט וְהָיָה בְּהָנִיחַ יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְךָ מִכָּל-אֹיְבֶיךָ מִסָּבִיב, בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה-אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ–תִּמְחֶה אֶת-זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק, מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם; לֹא, תִּשְׁכָּח. {פ} 19 Therefore it shall be, when the LORD thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget. {P}

Want tax reform? Exempt “deferred tax liability” retirement accounts.

I keep reading about the tax reform Congress and the President keep talking about, but all I really seem to see is proposals to ease business tax and increase tariffs, which may or may not put the economic blender on puree (as PJ O’Rourke once famously wrote).  Tariffs generally are a bad idea, but if judiciously applied in areas where other countries (cough, CHINA, cough) are dumping goods into our market below cost, then I’m cautiously for them.  Overall, though, tariffs are usually idiotic, as is taxing the income of expatrirate American corporations and individuals.  Repatriating dollars honestly earned and already taxed by foreign governments should not initiate further taxation by the FedGov.

But this has nothing to do with you and me in the middle class, groaning under the weight of income taxes free American citizens never had to pay until 1913.

I read yesterday that Social Security is now on track to run out of money by 2028.  Which is significantly sooner than what we were being told a few years ago, variously 2034 or 2045 depending on what politician was making mouth noises.  Not that anyone can actually live on a Social Security check, but I digress.

This got me to thinking about retirement accounts.  You know, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, Roth IRAs, etc.  All of these accounts are funded by pre-tax deductions from your earnings.  In the case of 401(k)s and 403(b)s, generally this is involuntary on your part — if you work for a company that offers one, you’re in the program, whether you contribute or not, because the company will contribute some minimum amount even if you don’t.  Generally it’s considered stupid not to contribute to these funds, at least up to the company’s “match”, which might be 3% or 5%, or might be some weird construction like “company matches to 3%, then matches half to 5%”, meaning that if you contribute 5%, the company will contribute 4%.  Whatever.

The point is that these are tax-deferred accounts.  That means you have to pay tax on them eventually — just not right now, so there is actually incentive to participate (same with a company insurance plan, if you’re lucky enough to have one in the era of Obamacare, since anything you pay for insurance comes out pre-tax).  So, OK, when do you pay that tax?

Why, at the point when you can least afford it — when you retire and start taking distributions from your retirement account.  And possibly worse, you pay the then-prevailing tax rate for such things, which might be higher than it was when you first started throwing money into the account.  So if between now and several years from now when I hope to retire, if Congress suddenly decides to start taxing retiree accounts at 50%, I’m screwed.  (And so are you.)

In the meantime, your retirement “savings” (generally, investments in mutual funds, which in turn are made up of shares of corporate stock) are subject to the vagaries of the market.  I had a tidy sum in my 401(k) in 2008.  After the crash, I had lost half the dollar value of the account.  Which, at first blush, sounds awful, but as my investment advisor reminded me, I still had all of the fund shares I’d purchased, and with stock prices then in the toilet, it was time to buy.  And historically, the market has always come back.  Which of course it has, and since I was buying 401(k) shares every two weeks (and increased my contribution to the maximum the company would match), the value of my 401(k) has more than doubled since then (particularly since the election, of course).

More than fixing the individual income tax, fucked up as it is, what would really make me sit up and take notice would be if Mr. Trump would come out for permanently exempting post-retirement distributions from any market-based retirement account that contains less than (say, for the point of argument) $5 million from being taxed.

That said, there should be the following restrictions:

  • If you take money out before you retire minimum retirement age, you pay income tax on what you take out.  [Edited a bit to better indicate what I meant.]
  • If you borrow money from your retirement account that you have to pay back, you can’t deduct the interest (and if you don’t pay it back, you pay income tax on it).
  • If you take more than the maximum allowable distribution in any given tax year, you pay income tax on the overage.  That said, the maximum allowable distribution should be generous, probably on the order of $50,000/year per person in today’s dollars.*  That means that a couple like my wife and myself, IF we had that kind of money in our 401(k)s (we don’t), could get along pretty well after retirement.

Also said, the government would have the following responsibilities:

  • If a retirement account contains more than the suggested $5 million maximum when its owner retires, income tax is paid on distributions taken only until the account drops below the $5 million threshold.
  • The baseline threshold at inception would be subject to increase or decrease annually, based on inflation/deflation as reported by the CPI.
  • The exemption from taxation of retirement accounts would be permanent, all future Congresses would be bound by it, and there would be a provision to shoot or hang any Congressman or Senator who proposed or voted for the re-institution of income tax on retirement account distributions.  And yes, I am serious about the last bit.

In other words, because you risked your money on a gamble that the stock market would continue to rise, and because you thereby contributed to the growth of the economy, you should get a pass on paying taxes on that money if you follow the rules and use it properly for your retirement.

Come on, Mr. Trump.  Be bold.  Throw this out there and dare Congress to ignore it.

_______________

* I believe this differs from the current program, where after you’re 59-1/2, there is no limit on distributions, you just have to pay income tax on whatever you take.

Publishers are idiots.

SF novels published on Kindle that cost $13.99 are nothing short of insanity.  There is nothing special about such expensive novels; they’re no longer than any other novel, they don’t have “extras” like (say) a Blu-Ray movie does, and often they don’t even have a full-sized copy of the cover bundled in.  And any illustrations from the print edition, if included, are often poorly-reproduced.

There are many self-published SF authors charging $3.99 and $4.99 for full-length novels that are just as good or better than the crap coming out of Tor or Macmillan or Penguin, which Amazon can’t discount because “the price was set by the publisher”.  And often the Kindle price is double or more the price of the mass-market paperback edition (I rarely buy hardback SF, or even trade paperback, because again, too fucking expensive).

The major publishers are trying to squeeze hardback price out of something they’ve already put into electronic format to print.  It ain’t that hard to reformat for Kindle; even a guy like me can do it, with something like Calibre.  So for a work product that has nearly no work* in it, and as such is as near to being pure profit as anything in the world, they’re going to try to stick readers who prefer e-books with full paperback production price.

I don’t think so.  In fact, I’ve often waited over a year after publication of certain series that I follow for the price to come down after the mass-market paperback is issued.  One example, George RR Martin’s Wild Cards series.  I read the first two and politely said “no thanks” when the third one came up at some horrendous hardback level price — and I’ve never gone back to see if the price went down, because I found plenty else to read at affordable prices.  I’m happy to go back and re-read stuff I already own, or grab something off of Gutenberg, or buy indie.

(And yeah, this is coming from the guy who spent over $200 purchasing the 20-novel Aubrey-Maturin series some years ago — but, fooled ya!  About half of that was from a gift card I got from my in-laws.  So it wasn’t “my” money.  And I’ve read the entire series front to back three or four times since.)

The big publishing houses have a problem — the rise of independent self-publishing at a fraction of their inflated prices — and they’re not handling it well.  They should remember what happened to the buggy-whip makers.

_________________

* Of course, I don’t mean the author’s work.  I mean the publishing house’s work, that they had to do anyway to put the book in print in the first place.  E-books for big publishers are pretty much an afterthought, and it often shows in the formatting.

“We see that you’re using an ad-blocker.”

Fuck all sites that say this.  If your fucking ads weren’t so annoying, maybe I wouldn’t feel like blocking them.

Most so-called “ads” today are nothing more than click-bait to enrich someone who isn’t giving you value for your clicks. The ones that aren’t click-bait are, by and large, malicious sites trying to botify your machine. No thanks.

So again: Fuck you if you don’t like my ad-blocker. I’ll just go somewhere else.

Here’s a non-political rant, for a change.

Spam callers.

Otherwise known as assholes.

Being on the do-not-call list (either at the state or federal level) is a joke.  It’s a lot like gun control (OK, sorry, I did say this wouldn’t be political, but it is actually relevant), in that the do-not-call lists place restrictions only on the law-abiding.  Anyone who wants to run an illegal boiler-room call center that uses spoofed numbers to get around “unknown number” call blocks and so forth is not going to be stopped by a silly list of people who don’t want them calling.

Lately it seems that a lot of spoofed calls are coming “from” numbers in our own area code.  On our cell phones, the usual approach seems to be even more granular, with the numbers matching both area code and exchange (as if I would pick up a call simply because it came from the same exchange; I got my cell number from a vendor in Noblesville, many years and two carriers ago, and I can’t think of anyone I know who has a cell number in that exchange.

It seems to me that there are two things that need to happen.

First, phone companies have a duty to ensure that the information coming through CallerID is not spoofed and is accurate.  Unfortunately, it is all too easy to take a modern phone system and program whatever number you like into it.  This actually has a legitimate purpose — it is done to provide for direct-inward-dial systems where it is preferred to broadcast the main switchboard number of the company rather than the individual’s extension, and that makes sense.  But in turn, the phone company should be vetting the CallerID information being sent against a list of numbers registered to the phone “line” in question.  And yeah, with VOIP not using physical copper like the old POTS systems, that may be difficult to do, but I’ll bet it’s not insurmountable.  If a phone company can determine that the CallerID being sent by one of its customers is not on the list of authorized numbers for that line, it can either substitute the known main switchboard number for the line, or simply refuse to place the call at all.  I’m sure this is all a SMOP*, but nothing is impossible if you throw enough money at the problem.  And if the phone companies courteously excuse themselves from fixing their broken systems, then the Feds should step in and force them to do it.  There is no point in creating law and having a regulatory system if you’re not going to use it.  That is hardly the libertarian point of view that I would prefer, but since I’m enjoined from going after these spamming bastards with a shotgun, the gummint needs to get on the ball.

Second, the FTC needs to start actively cracking down on boiler-room operations.  Which is like asking the FCC to start actively cracking down on bad hams.  It happens once in a while for some of the more egregious violators, but even then, the regulatory agencies have no law-enforcement authority and for anything more than a proposed liability (otherwise known as a fine), they have to get the DOJ involved.  So, OK, do that.  Or call on local law enforcement.  But stop pretending to enforce the law by having people send in complaints that (so far as it seems) rarely end up with spammers in hot water.  (That goes for junk fax laws and the CAN-SPAM act for email, too.)

There is simply no sense in having these laws if they aren’t enforced.

_____________

*SMOP [Simple (or Small) Matter of Programming] 1. A piece of code, not yet written, whose anticipated length is significantly greater than its complexity. Used to refer to a program that could obviously be written, but is not worth the trouble. Also used ironically to imply that a difficult problem can be easily solved because a program can be written to do it; the irony is that it is very clear that writing such a program will be a great deal of work. “It’s easy to enhance a FORTRAN compiler to compile COBOL as well; it’s just a SMOP.” 2. Often used ironically by the intended victim when a suggestion for a program is made which seems easy to the suggester, but is obviously (to the victim) a lot of work. Compare minor detail.

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