The Risk of Using Amazon Third-Party Sellers (Or, “Beauty GardenSG” Sucks)

March 1st, 2014 4 comments

At the beginning of February, I decided that I wanted to get some sunflower seeds. Not the kind where it’s just kernels, but the kind roasted and salted in the shell. Yum. However, you can’t get those in Japan. Even the kernels are rare to find (though they can be ordered). But seeds in the shell? That’s considered bird food here. You have to order the roasted & salted in the shell type from overseas.

Normally, I would use the Foreign Buyer’s Club. They offer a box of twenty-four 1.75 oz. bags for ¥2,485. Unfortunately, they charge ¥990 for shipping and customs, and if I haven’t ordered from them for a while, add another ¥1,000 for the membership fee. Even without the membership cost, the total for a box is ¥3,475, or ¥145 per bag. If I order three boxes, that’s cheaper—the shipping is the same, so the total would be ¥8,445, or ¥117 per bag.

The problem: they take more than a month to deliver. FBC quotes a delivery time frame of 39-43 days (if you place the order on the right day). I didn’t want to wait that long.

So I went to Amazon, where I had ordered successfully before. The problem was that the seller I had used before, something called “LA Celeb Style” (um, okay) no longer offered the item. Instead, it was only available through “Beauty GardenSG.” I didn’t care about the name, really. But they offered a 60-pack bucket for a total of ¥8,000. Not a great price point—133 per bag—but they promised a delivery within 17-25 days. That, to me, was worth the extra ¥16 per bag. So I ordered.

Two weeks later, I get a cryptic email from the seller, claiming some sort of unspecified delay. Two days after that, they email me again: they cannot get the item for me, but will ship three of the 24-count boxes at the same price. OK, I think, that brings the price down to even a little under FBC. But then I read on: it will require another 2-3 weeks shipping.

Needless to say, I was kind of pissed. The time frame was the only reason I ordered from them. Had they told me straight off that they could not deliver the item, I would have been fine with that. But wait two weeks and a bit, when the order was supposed to be delivered already, and then say you can’t deliver? Like I said, that pissed me off.

The problem is, these people can more or less abuse you at will. I complained to Amazon, and their policy turns out to be: too bad. They will do nothing at all. You go with third-party sellers at your risk.

So I contact the seller and say that I am very disappointed, but go ahead and ship the item.

Two days after that, they email back: we canceled your order.

Needless to say, I was way more pissed. Hold me back a full three weeks and then cancel my order on me?

Most likely, they did that because they could see I was upset and knew that if they canceled the order, it would cut off any easy way to give them a bad seller review. Fortunately, by doing some research, I was able to find a way to bring up the canceled order and navigate to a page where I could enter a review and a seller rating.

Nevertheless, it was three weeks after my order and I was back to square one.

Fortunately, I found an alternative: The Flying Pig. They’re a firm a little similar to Foreign Buyer’s Club, but are Costco-centric. That is, they will go to a Costco in Japan and buy stuff you want and ship it to you. The cost is higher than going to Costco yourself, and with a Costco not too far from me, I never used them before. Some items, however, they will ship from Hawaii, as “Personal Imports.” I didn’t use that before because the shipping per item is almost ¥2,000.

However, if you order five items or more, the shipping becomes free. In addition, they had a different item I have been longing to get (boneless & skinless flaked salmon, great for a salmon casserole dish I like to make). If I ordered the three boxes of sunflower seeds with the other items, the total for the seeds would be ¥8,694, or about ¥120 per bag.

But their shipping is great: five to eight days. I ordered them last Tuesday, and the takkyubin guy is delivering them in the next hour or so. Excellent.

Had the Amazon seller not canceled, I would still be waiting another week or two for them to deliver.

Needless to say, not all Amazon third-party sellers are such slimeballs. But you take your chances.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2014 Tags: by

Fox News Reports That Arizona Law Is an Attack on Homosexuality, and That God Is Dead

February 27th, 2014 2 comments

Foxhl-2Fox News has reported that a Mississippi woman tried to get Bible scriptures copied at Walgreens, but the clerk at the shop refused to do so on copyright grounds, in an act which is characterized as an “attack on Christianity.” In doing so, Fox is clearly suggesting that denying service to a class of people is equivalent to an attack on those people; thus, the proposed laws in Arizona and Ohio to refuse service to gay people is, by inference, an “attack on homosexuality.”

Furthermore, Fox appears to dismiss the copyright claims baed on the statement that “Copyright law typically covers books for the life of the author, plus 50 years,” clearly indicating that Fox News believes that God is dead, and has been for at least half a century.

Fox News has so far not commented on its new atheist, pro-gay policy.

Seriously, though, this article is a bonanza of bias. First of all, what the hell is a major “news” outlet reporting on a woman having difficulties with the copy clerk at her local Walgreens? Is it that slow a news day? This reads more like an article from The Onion.

Second, the clerk actually had a valid point: it was not just Bible scriptures, there was artwork involved, and the clerk had no way of knowing if those images were copyrighted or not.

Third, the issue has already been resolved, with Walgreens simply asking the woman to sign a waiver to take care of any potential copyright issues.

Fourth, this has nothing whatsoever to do with religion, unless someone has evidence that the clerk was acting on grounds aside from the purely reasonable legal grounds claimed; none whotsoever is presented.

And lastly, acting like any of this is somehow an “attack” on anything is hysteric hyperbole.

In short, this can be safely classified as “Wednesday at Fox News.”

My Right to Deny Yours

February 26th, 2014 2 comments

There’s a very simple rule: your right to swing your arm ends where my nose begins. Your rights, freedoms, and liberties are not to be used as a license to abridge the rights, freedoms, and liberties of others. It’s not hard to figure out.

There’s a whole new strategy amongst the Religious Right: to deny those rights, freedoms, and liberties to groups and classes of people, and to restrict a range of activities, against which religious conservatives are prejudiced, all in the name of their own “religious freedom.”

You want access to birth control? Well, so long as I am even peripherally involved as a taxpayer or an employer, my freedom trumps your right: I can deny you access, either by restricting what insurance you receive, or even by being a pharmacist.

You want equal rights as a human being? Well, not if I have to interact with you. I have the right to treat you like a non-person if I happen to be any random person doing business with you, even as a doctor or law enforcement officer.

You know what? That’s not only wrong, it’s asinine. It’s so clearly wrong that it should be obvious to anyone and everyone. If any such law is passed, it is an embarrassment; if any such law is upheld, it will be a violation of the most essential principles of our society.

The Religious Right is on a new kick: I get to use my religion to harm others.

No you don’t. You have no such right. Period.

Late note: when even religious bigot Newt Gingrich says you’re going too far, take that as a hint.

Categories: Religion, Right-Wing Extremism Tags: by

Are You Kidding Me?

February 24th, 2014 1 comment

A few months ago, I noted that liberals generally check to see if the latest news story about Republicans is actually satire, while conservatives tend not to check if the latest satire about Obama and Democrats is really news.

This effect hit me today, hard, when I saw an article out of Arizona which I decided had to be satire. No way these guys could be so stupid.

Then I checked the site: The Arizona Daily Star. Checked out the front page (there was no “about” page), then looked at some articles. Looked completely legit. So, maybe this one piece is in the “Entertainment” section? Nope; “Education” under “Local News .”

I still couldn’t believe it. I mean, I have seen some really stupid stuff in American politics, but this takes my breath away. It begins startlingly enough:

Ignoring pleas from business leaders, the Senate Education Committee voted 6-3 along party lines Thursday to bar Arizona from implementing the Common Core standards the state adopted four years ago.

What is “Common Core”? It’s an educational standard set by states to establish common expectations for English Language and Mathematics teaching in K-12. Only Virginia, Texas, and Alaska are not members, and only Nebraska has not adopted the standards yet.

Arizona had adopted the standards, but now it looks like they might reject it.

Why? Well, here’s the good part:

“It got hijacked by Washington, by the federal government,” said Melvin, a candidate for governor, and “as a conservative Reagan Republican I’m suspect about the U.S. Department of Education in general, but also any standards that are coming out of that department.”

Melvin’s comments led Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, to ask him whether he’s actually read the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by 45 states.

“I’ve been exposed to them,” Melvin responded.

Pressed by Bradley for specifics, Melvin said he understands “some of the reading material is borderline pornographic.” And he said the program uses “fuzzy math,” substituting letters for numbers in some examples.

Fuzzy math. Substituting letters for numbers in some examples.

Are. You. Fracking. Kidding. Me.

Okay, maybe this is just some imbecile speaking impromptu and said something completely idiotic by mistake. But even looked at that way, this still pushes the boundaries of “stupid” to pretty cutting-edge extremes. Variables in algebra as a reason for wanting to reject math standards. Wow.

Another aspect to the explanation is that this guy most likely had very little understanding of even his own objections, and was just following a political campaign led by conservatives—another in a long line of attempts to make the Obama administration look evil in some way. The “pornographic” references are the real meat of the issue, as two titles in the list of suggested reading exemplars include Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye and Cristina Garcia’s Dreaming in Cuban; the first is a story which involves a girl who is sexually abused as a young teen, and the second has a brief but fairly explicit description of sexual acts carried out by an adult couple.

The readings are not required—only suggested as examples (ergo, the term “exemplar”) for readings by students in the 11th grade and higher—but have served as fuel for the conservative base to erupt in massive outrage at how Obama is pushing porn on children.

Melvin’s comments spring from that movement—garbage in, garbage out, I suppose would be one way of seeing it.

Categories: Republican Stupidity Tags: by

Still Not Getting It

February 21st, 2014 5 comments

“Joe the Plumber” recently blogged about something I find rather amusing: the Tea Party dislike of the term “teabagger”:

I had three days of orientation, and now I’m “on the job” over here at Chrysler and on Day 4, I’m outside on a break smoking a cigarette and right on cue – some guy calls me a “teabagger.”

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Democrats and liberals, who are supposed to so tolerant and enlightened regarding homosexuals have for three or four years now, have been using a gay slur to describe people who they think are associated with the Tea Party. “Tea Bagger” has traditionally been a derogatory slur used to intimidate, put down, humiliate and otherwise taunt, smear, bully or just discriminate against gays – usually gay men – based on a sex act that gay men apparently made popular.

Decorum prevents me from describing it – they got this thing called “Google” now for that – but suffice it to say that the double-standard for what Democrats can say and what conservatives can say continues unabated, but still I thought to myself, did this guy think I’m gay, or was he making a statement of my political affiliation? I tried talking to him, but he went off about how he was a “journeyman” and started walking away.

Umm… wow. Really?

First of all, let’s not forget that the use of the term “teabagger” in politics was initiated by the Tea Party people themselves. This was not a term that liberals made up. It was made up by the people who now act all offended when anyone else uses it. The initial Tea Party activists gave the name to themselves, using the name on innumerable signs and in many self-descriptions.

Liberals then started pointing out the inanity of the name while no one in the Tea Party seemed to realize what the name meant. In fact, what surprised me was the fact that Tea Partiers continued using the name for themselves months after the cat was out of the bag! (Timeline of the term’s use can be found here.)

Theoriginoftheteabag Screen-Shot-Teabagger-Calls-Self Tea Bagger Teabagging-For-Jesus

Teabag13 Teabag1-300X300

Eventually, however, they caught on, and did what conservatives usually do in a situation in which they’ve embarrassed themselves: they rewrote history and blamed liberals. Remember back before 2006 when Democrats in Congress occasionally used the filibuster when Bush would nominate a particularly extremist judge to a high court? Republicans were so pissed that Democrats used the filibuster, they threatened to do away with it, calling their plan the “nuclear option.” Later, when they realized that that particular term had a negative ring to it, they quickly changed course, using the rather odd-sounding term “constitutional option,” and suddenly claimed that Democrats made up the “nuclear” term. Same thing.

And this is what Joe is riffing on: the revisionist claim that liberals made up the term “teabagger.”

Now, one thing that is undeniable is that liberals—having been so amused that right-wing extremists cluelessly called themselves “teabaggers,” and the same right-wingers continued to call themselves “teabaggers” for quite some time after it was more commonly understood what the term meant—quite cheerfully continued to use the term after the last extremists finally got the hint and realized it was not the best choice of names ever made.

This is when conservatives, who have long made a huge point about despising “political correctness” and insisting that they should of course be able to use terms about people that those people no longer favor, made a complete reversal and suddenly, without any apparent awareness of the biting irony, cried foul and lambasted liberals for using the term.
Here’s what gets me: these self-same conservatives—who don’t even like to hear people call them “right wingers,” for crying out loud, because that’s just offensive—these same people continue to use all manner of epithets about liberals. Remember, these are the same people who tried to make the word “liberal” itself into an epithet! Conservatives now consistently misuse the noun “Democrat” in the adjectival form (as in “the Democrat Party” as opposed to the correct form, the “Democratic Party”), from the lowest blogger to former President Bush, and everyone in between—a practice that began soon after a 2000 GOP attack ad flashed the word “DEMOCRATS” on the screen, freezing for a moment on the last three letters, “RATS,” which they all found just hilarious.

So, a movement which delights in creating and then universally using pejoratives against their political opponents gets all out of sorts when their opposition uses a term these very conservatives created for themselves? It’s hard to miss the irony—unless, that is, you go to great lengths to pretend things never happened that way.

But that’s only the beginning of Joe’s bizarre point-making. To recount:

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Democrats and liberals, who are supposed to so tolerant and enlightened regarding homosexuals have for three or four years now, have been using a gay slur to describe people who they think are associated with the Tea Party. “Tea Bagger” has traditionally been a derogatory slur used to intimidate, put down, humiliate and otherwise taunt, smear, bully or just discriminate against gays – usually gay men – based on a sex act that gay men apparently made popular.

A gay slur? Really? When exactly was this the case? Teabagging is not even an innately gay practice. Probably no one knows when the act began (probably in prehistoric times) or who first used that particular term (it is first popularly noted in the John Waters movie Pecker), but the sexual act is something that is just as heterosexual as it is homosexual. No one orientation “owns” it, any more than anyone “owns” the blow job.

Nor was it ever used as a slur against gay people; this was a complete fabrication made up by Fox News (which itself used the term “teabagger” at the beginning, then quickly got offended by it) when Obama used the term, and they wanted to smear him for using “sexual innuendo.”

Now, maybe I am just not very worldly. Maybe the term was indeed used at some point to insult gays. But you know, I really doubt it. It doesn’t even make sense: a man who teabags could be gay or straight; only if the recipient were male would it be a homosexual act. But a “teabagger” would not automatically be gay. It would be like trying to insinuate that a man is gay by saying, “I bet you got a blow job last night!” It would kind of fall flat.

But then, logic and reason have not exactly been any more a conservative trademark than have facts themselves.

Categories: Republican Stupidity Tags: by

Well, This Is a New One

February 18th, 2014 2 comments

I am used to the idea of splogs—fake blogs which steal content from real blogs so as to generate income from advertising—but today I saw something I had never seen before. Perhaps, in the spirit of “splog” (spam + blog), perhaps you could call what I found a “Spews Site”—Spam + News Site.

I was searching for more information about a news story and was running through dozens of syndicated duplicates, when I came across one which was almost the same as the other dupes… but was worded rather ridiculously. I soon realized that I had stumbled onto a site which took syndicated news stories, but presumably to avoid paying the fees, they had a robot script go through and replace every 4th or 5th word with a random synonym from a thesaurus. Since it was done mechanically, a lot of the words come across as somewhat bizarre.

Here’s an example—real story on the left, and ripped-off version on the right:

Confederate sub made history 150 years ago Monday

On a clear, moonlight night 150 years ago, the hand-cranked Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley glided out over glassy seas off South Carolina, sailing into history as the first submarine ever to sink an enemy warship.

A century and a half later — and nearly a decade and a half after the sub was raised — just why the Hunley and its eight-man crew never returned is a mystery, albeit one that scientists may be closer to resolving.

Monday marks the 150th anniversary of the Feb. 17, 1864, mission in which the Hunley sank the Union ship Housatonic as the Confederates desperately tried to break the Civil War blockade that was strangling Charleston. While the Housatonic sank, so did the Hunley.

Confederate underling done story 150 years ago Monday

On a clear, light night 150 years ago, a hand-cranked Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley glided out over slick seas off South Carolina, sailing into story as a initial submarine ever to penetrate an rivalry warship.

A century and a half after — and scarcely a decade and a half after a underling was lifted — only because a Hunley and a eight-man organisation never returned is a mystery, despite one that scientists might be closer to resolving.

Monday outlines a 150th anniversary of a Feb. 17, 1864, goal in that a Hunley sank a Union boat Housatonic as a Confederates desperately attempted to mangle a Civil War besiege that was slaying Charleston. While a Housatonic sank, so did a Hunley.

Now, to their credit, they link to the original… but it still comes across as pretty shameless.

Categories: BlogTech, Computers and the Internet Tags: by

Insane Amounts of Snow

February 15th, 2014 3 comments

Last week, Tokyo was hit by what was described as the biggest snowstorm to hit the metropolis in 45 years. It was crazy—snow piled higher than I have ever seen it in Tokyo (natch), rivaling even what I remember in Toyama, which had tons of snow.

Tonight, there’s an even bigger one. School was canceled, possibly saving me hours of waiting for trains on the way home.

I couldn’t take photos staged well enough to do it justice, but here are a few small examples:


What you see above is the street. Hard to see from this how deep the snow is, but it’s deep. Here is the view from the porch; keep in mind that the bicycle seen here is not resting at street level, but on ground about 10 inches higher than that—and the snow on the street has almost caught up with it.



In the image below, see all that snow on my scooter? I cleared that off earlier in the evening. The street in front of it we spent a half hour clearing maybe six hours earlier, but when I stepped into it, my leg went down enough so the snow was practically up to my knee.



Tomorrow, the temp is predicted to rise to 10° C (50° F) and there’s going to be heavy rain. I have no idea if that will be enough to help clear the snow, or if it will just turn everything to ice.

We’ll have to see.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2014 Tags: by

The Difference Between Private and Public

February 12th, 2014 4 comments

Let’s say there are two financial managers you might trust with your money. One has a sterling record as a manager of other people’s money, but you find out he kept some of his own money secret from his wife and spent it on expensive nights out with the boys. The other manager also had the exact same personal misdeeds—but his reputation as a financial manager was terrible, to the point where he seemed downright antagonistic toward his clients. Who would you choose?

Ran Paul is trying to make points in a few areas by attacking Bill Clinton recently. He’s trying both to sully Hillary’s reputation with Bill’s, and he’s trying to combat the impression that Republicans are waging a war on women:

“He took advantage of a girl that was 20 years old and an intern in his office,” Paul told host David Gregory. “There is no excuse for that, and that is predatory behavior.”

On Newsmax TV Thursday, Paul – reportedly considering a presidential run himself – tried to connect Clinton’s past to 2016 front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.

“What if that unsavory character is your husband?” Paul asked. “What if that unsavory character is Bill Clinton raising money for people across the country, and what if he were someone that was guilty of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior at the workplace – which, obviously, having sex with an intern at the office is inappropriate by any standard.”

Then he came back to it in a pre-taped C-SPAN interview to be broadcast Sunday.

Said Paul: “The Democrats can’t say, ‘We’re the great defenders of women’s rights in the workplace and we will defend you against some kind of abusive boss that uses their position of authority to take advantage of a young women’ when the leader of their party, the leading fundraiser in the country, is Bill Clinton, who was a perpetrator of that kind of sexual harassment. Anybody who wants to take money from Bill Clinton or have a fundraiser has a lot of explaining to do.”

In one sense, he is correct: Bill Clinton’s sexual antics in the White House were, without question, inappropriate. However, his attempt to label Clinton a “sexual predator” and thus his fundraising activities for Hillary are an unacceptable affront… well, that’s stretching it a bit. To further claim that personal dalliances somehow rise to the level of public policy is an even bigger stretch.

First off, the claim that Lewinsky proves Clinton to be a sexual predator ignores the fact that Lewinsky was herself a predator; her friends reported that she said she would be getting her “presidential kneepads” at the White House. Which sort of makes Paul’s claims fall a bit flat. It’s a bit difficult to call something sexual harassment if Lewinsky showed enthusiasm for entering the relationship before ever arriving at the scene. It’s standard conservative revisionist history, alas—Clinton got into trouble for the affair and for the testimony he gave, not for victimizing Lewinsky. An affair can be overlooked; rape cannot. That’s why Paul and others are trying to smear Clinton as a “predator,” because what he actually did can be forgiven.

To then further say that since Bill had workplace affairs, Hillary is under suspicion for having Bill campaign for her just does not ring true. And the claim will fall flat—people have had fifteen or more years to form opinions on this, and most see Bill Clinton as a cad, but not an egregious one. They saw Hillary as the victim, and accepted the fact that she and her husband worked things out, however they may have done it. It will be difficult to get past such a long-held conclusion. Moreover, this is a party which sports the likes of Newt Gingrich, who not only had affairs before leaving two wives, but cheated on and left one while she was being treated for cancer, all while he was criticizing Clinton and trying to get him impeached. Kinda makes Clinton look like an amateur.

However, there’s another reason Paul’s assertions fall flat: nothing Bill Clinton did sexually had anything to do with public policy. Clinton did not force rape victims to be violated by the state with an ultrasound wand when they wanted to abort a pregnancy caused by the rapist. Clinton did not try to redefine rape. Clinton did not fight tooth and nail to deny women equal treatment in the workplace. Clinton did not do everything he could to deny women access to contraception or access to reproductive health care.

Indeed, whenever conservatives try to point the finger at Democrats regarding the “war on women,” it is always accusations of having sexual affairs, something conservative politicians do just as often. Democrats do not push any public policy issues that are antagonistic to women, which is a huge contrast with Republicans.

Women may or may not choose to forgive any politician’s personal transgressions, but trying make laws which would hurt millions of women nationwide is simply on a completely different plane.

So, no, Paul’s criticisms and similar ones by other conservatives are essentially meaningless.

This Ain’t 12 Centimeters…

February 8th, 2014 1 comment

According to the newscasts:

As much as 12 centimeters of snow was recorded Saturday afternoon in Tokyo…

I just measured 30 cm (1 foot) on to of our car, and that’s in a shielded area. I am pretty sure that we’re getting a good 18 inches at least, with another 6-8 hours of storm left to go.

Img 0044

This image was of our car at maybe two in the afternoon. This is one hell of a big snowstorm, maybe the biggest I’ve seen in Tokyo.

Ponta, on the other hand, loves it.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2014 Tags: by

It’s Important Only When It Suits Us

February 7th, 2014 1 comment

The Wall Street Journal, November 2009:

Grim Milestone as Jobless Rate Tops 10%

Bad news for then. Today, we hear that the unemployment rate fell yet again, to 6.6%, the lowest it has been since Bush exploded job losses in 2008.

So, what’s the Journal’s headline today?

Ignore the Unemployment Rate

Not that I expected anything different. Conservatives almost gleefully pinned the unemployment rate to Obama, making a huge deal of it, even before he entered office. Now that it’s getting back down to more reasonable levels, they’re acting like it’s no big deal. The current WSJ article doesn’t even say what the rate is now.

And in truth, the numbers are in fact deceptive. However, the issue is not how accurate the numbers are; it’s how baldly conservatives claim they’re vital when they can use it as a political weapon.

Categories: Right-Wing Hypocrisy, Right-Wing Lies Tags: by

The Easy Lie

February 6th, 2014 1 comment

Conservatives hardly need much excuse to baldly distort reality so as to create a completely false meme. Look at the Obamacare “Death Panels,” for example: a minor advisor who had written a medical ethics paper more than a decade earlier along with a now-defunct allowance in the program to provide counseling for the elderly was all that they needed to begin trumpeting the ludicrous idea that Obamacare would empower federal bureaucrats to condemn grandma to an early demise.

Other claims they falsely make are more convincing because they are not so ludicrous, and more insidious because they take ten times longer to explain the truth which is ten times harder to understand. Take Darryl Issa’s quick remark on Bill Maher’s show last week, that most House seats that go unchallenged due to gerrymandering are Democratic ones. Which is a “true lie,” because the seats are more Democratic, but only because Republicans gerrymandered them that way. When you gerrymander, you don’t make incontestable seats for your own party; instead, you balance the makeup of your districts so your candidates can get something like 55% of the vote in as many districts as possible—and pack as many opposition voters as possible into as few districts as possible. If a district has 90% Democratic voters, there will be no challenger—but that’s not good for Democrats, as 35% of those voters could be in other districts making a difference. In a state with 20 districts where normally half the districts would go to each party, gerrymandering by the Republicans could lead to 14 or 15 “win by a comfortable margin” districts for the GOP, and maybe 3 or 4 over-the-top wins for the Democrats. So, Issa made it sound like Democrats were corrupt when actually his evidence points to Republican corruption. An easy lie.

This is what conservatives excel at. And now, due to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office, they have a whole new line of bovine fecal matter to sell.

The CBO report says on what is actually an advantageous effect of Obamacare. Currently, millions of American workers have to work to keep their insurance plans, lest they get kicked off and are uninsurable; alternately, many people with prohibitively expensive insurance must work extra hours to pay for it. Obamacare helps millions of Americans with these problems; so much so, that between 2017 and 2024, workers who would otherwise be forced to work in order to qualify for insurance or pay for health care will no longer be forced to work those hours, and may opt to work less. For example, someone now working 3 jobs for a total of 70 hours a week may drop one of those jobs because they don’t absolutely have to anymore. From page 119 of the report:

….For some people, the availability of exchange subsidies under the ACA will reduce incentives to work both through a substitution effect and through an income effect. The former arises because subsidies decline with rising income (and increase as income falls), thus making work less attractive. As a result, some people will choose not to work or will work less—thus substituting other activities for work. The income effect arises because subsidies increase available resources—similar to giving people greater income—thereby allowing some people to maintain the same standard of living while working less. The magnitude of the incentive to reduce labor supply thus depends on the size of the subsidies and the rate at which they are phased out.

Get that? It’s not about jobs being “cut” or “lost” or “destroyed”; it’s about people who are working more than is necessary just to be able to pay for decent health care. Richard Mayhew at Balloon Juice gives us three examples of people in these kinds of situations:

Jamaal is in his late fifties. He has qualified for a full pension from his union plus he has some money squirreled away in savings and a 401(K). If he retired tomorrow, he would be able to get an inflation protected full life annuity that would replace 70% of his current income and as soon as he is Social Security eligible, his income replacement would be in the mid-80s. He has three young grandkids, an interest in making furniture and a medical history that scares away insurance companies after they see the first page. He works and continues to damage his knees and his back for the health insurance. If he could get affordable health insurance that could bridge the gap between retirement and Medicare, retiring to be a full time granddad and a part time cabinet maker looks really good. PPACA allows him to get out of the labor market a year or two earlier than he thought he otherwise would have.

Sally works as a receptionist at a local theatre company. Her husband makes most of the money in the family as a highly skilled roadie for a variety of not quite indy bands. She works for the health insurance. The theatre pays 90% of the cost to cover her, but she has to pay the full cost of covering her husband. Covering her husband is basically half of her post-tax pay per month. She would like to have kids, she would like to go back to school but they can’t afford to go naked. PPACA allows her to get out of the labor market for a couple of years to go finsih her degree and have a kid while spending the equivilent of a week of her former salary a month for family coverage.

Bob lives in a Medicaid expansion state. He has two young kids. The older kid is going to kindergarten next fall and the younger one will be in kindergarten in 2016. His girlfriend is working full time as a shift leader at McDonalds and he works fifteen hours a week as a security guard. He recently qualified for Medicaid, the kids were always covered by CHIP, and his girlfriend is on a cost-sharing assistance Silver plan. The family is doing well enough right now, so when his boss offers him another 15 hours a week and the ability to get on the Bronze level plan at work, he declines as he would rather stay home and raise the kids.

In short, this is a good thing: people will not be forced to work when they do not need to or want to. Over the span of 7 years, it means a possible full-time equivalent of 2.3 million jobs being shed. Not lost, but shed by people who will no longer need the hours—and possibly opening up those hours to people looking for work but currently not finding it. The “full-time equivalent” part means, for example, hundreds of thousands of people will take earlier retirement, several hundred thousand more will leave jobs they don’t want but felt they had to keep, a million or two may drop their third part-time job, and several million more will opt to not work as many overtime hours to make ends meet. Not due to economic havoc, but because of economic freedom.

Some in the conservative sphere are trying to get around the outright distortion by creating slightly more tangential distortion: The Wall Street Journal, for example, vilifies liberals for what they cast as a choice of millions to become moochers:

The CBO essentially says that because ObamaCare’s means-tested subsidies phase out as cash income rises, some people will choose to stay poorer to keep earning benefits. Some of the giddier liberals even extol ObamaCare for “liberating” workers from the adult responsibility of earning a living.

The article goes on to slam liberals for this viewpoint which they repeatedly cast as more or less evil—but if you also read carefully, you will note that they never get around to actually explaining why it’s evil that millions of people will be able to have more comfortable lives because they can now afford health care by working hard instead of working themselves to death. Other news sources are fact-checking this and trying to give the facts as they are, but you know that enough people will be fooled so as to make it all worth it for the conservatives.

For the most part, they’re are acting like a kid on Christmas, squealing with joy. Obamacare kills millions of jobs! It’s a job-destroyer! We told you so!

Expect to see this all over the congressional race campaigns this year. Conservatives love the easy lie.

Categories: Right-Wing Lies Tags: by

Offended by What America Is

February 4th, 2014 5 comments

Yeah, time for more right-wing hate at an ad (this time for Coca-Cola) that tries to include more people and more diversity. Conservatives truly hate diversity. I mean, the whole idea of people coming here from all over the world to form a melting pot of cultures where everyone loves America—really, I ask you, how un-American is that?? How can you not be offended?

The commercial, clearly intended to be an outreach to as many people as possible who make up our nation, and a celebration of the fact that we have such richness in culture and language, royally pissed off those who see America as being white and English, as this writer from Breitbart suggested:

As far as the executives at Coca Cola are concerned, however, the United States of America is no longer a nation ruled by the Constitution and American traditions in which English is the language of government. It is not a nation governed in the Anglo-American tradition of liberty. It is instead a nation governed by some all inclusive multi-cultural synthesis of the various forms of government in the world, as expressed by the multiple languages used in the Super Bowl ad to sing a uniquely American hymn that celebrates our heritage.

I think you can call that “reading way too much into the message.” No more Constitution? Really? How the hell can you get that from the ad? Was there some subliminal message against the three branches of government that I somehow missed? And American traditions? Apparently, if it’s not white people singing in English, then it’s not “traditional America”? And “English is the language of government”—seriously, I do not recall seeing any government officials in the ad.

The next line is the giveaway: “It is not a nation governed in the Anglo-American tradition of liberty.” First, how was anything in that ad not about liberty? But “Anglo-American”? How could the writer be more clear without saying “white”? In other words, America must be white to be free; you can’t have liberty with all these foreigners running around speaking other languages. It just won’t do.

Here is someone who sees other colors and other languages, and cannot help but feel oppressed by “various forms of government in the world.” They’re taking over!

Glenn Beck also crystallized the racial fear:

“So somebody tweeted last night and said, ‘Glenn, what did you think of the Coke ad?’ And I said, ‘Why did you need that to divide us politically?’” he said on his radio show. “Because that’s all this ad is. It’s in your face, and if you don’t like it, if you’re offended by it, you’re a racist. If you do like it, you’re for immigration. You’re for progress. That’s all this is: To divide people.”

He’s actually very correct in one respect, though I don’t think he meant to be. If you watch an ad where people of different races join together to sing praise to America, and you are offended by the fact that there were people of different races doing that… well, I hate to say it, but yes—you’re probably at least somewhat racist.

But as far as dividing people? Those who would show unity in diversity are not the ones dividing us. It’s the ones who hate diversity who are dividing us. We are, after all, a diverse nation; it’s the core of what we are. It’s the (original) national motto: e pluribus unum, “from many, one.” People like Beck want to push away anything that is not white and speaking English, or at least trying its best to imitate that. They embrace the “one,” so long as it is the right color and language, and reject the “many.”

You cannot do that. We are many. To deny that, to claim that America is white and English-only is to deny our history, to deny our origins, to deny the core of our very identity.

Categories: Race, Right-Wing Extremism Tags: by

Did We Mention That Philip Seymour Hoffman Is Dead?

February 4th, 2014 No comments

Everything below was on the CBS News home page—all at the same time.


Lemme tell you, this better not be one of those fake Internet rumors.

Categories: Movies Tags: by

Grilling the President

February 3rd, 2014 1 comment

Whatever you might think of the actual content of the interview between President Obama and Bill O’Reilly, what it represents is unquestionable: Obama’s willingness to take on such interviews, the manner in which O’Reilly conducts the interviews, and the right-wing media’s reporting of them, all place excruciating light on the massive hypocrisy of conservatives and the breathtaking contrast between Obama and Bush II in terms of what they were willing to take on.

Do you remember how Bush allowed Keith Olbermann to interview him, multiple times? How Olbermann mercilessly grilled him? How Bush was treated with such blatant disrespect and disregard? And how the conservative media took a pass on commenting on the treatment?

Of course not, because—obviously—such interviews not only did not happen, the very idea of them having happened is ludicrously impossible.

Bush never would have had the balls to let someone even close to him who would challenge him like that. And if any reporter had treated Bush with even a fraction of the roughness O’Reilly did with Obama, they would have had a screaming shitfit about what a traitorous louse the reporter was, how they had no respect for the office, so forth and so on.

Remember how conservatives have, over the years, tried to claim that Obama is “afraid of journalists”?

It boggles the mind how hypocritical their entire paradigm is.

Not that I object to this kind of interview; I think it is much better than most. I think all presidents, in fact, all politicians should open themselves up to interviews by journalists (of which O’Reilly is only questionably a member) who will grill them with tough questions. Preferably non-partisan, fact-based questions instead of what O’Reilly was hurling.

Obama is willing to do that. Bush, in contrast, was a cowering sissy.

Categories: Right-Wing Hypocrisy Tags: by

Network Neutrality Dealt a Heavy Blow

January 15th, 2014 4 comments

The D.C. circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision today to essentially give Telecoms sweeping powers to manipulate Internet access, control content, and do their worst to make the Internet more expensive and snarled.

Telecoms can now freely block content as they please. If there is a competitor to their own services or services provided by an affiliate, they can throttle or block them; if there’s an app they don’t like, they can cripple its traffic.

Consumer advocacy group Free Press lamented the ruling. “We’re disappointed that the court came to this conclusion,” Free Press CEO Craig Aaron said in a written statement. “Its ruling means that Internet users will be pitted against the biggest phone and cable companies—and in the absence of any oversight, these companies can now block and discriminate against their customers’ communications at will.”

More importantly, they can now charge whatever fees they wish for faster speeds. Netflix or Amazon wants to stream video? Well, they better pay huge wads of cash to the Telecoms if they want their current speeds to continue. Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T can now decimate their businesses unless they pay the Telecoms whatever the market will bear.

Which means that you, the consumer, will be paying more and more in the long run, because those fees will without any doubt whatsoever be passed on to you. The Internet just got a whole lot more expensive—and the Telecoms, already gorged with profits, will be swallowing all of that up.

Now, remember for the past several years how the Telecoms have been whining about how that excess revenue is absolutely vital to fund rollouts of faster fiber service nationwide? Well, they said that when they got permission to raise fees years ago, and they lied then—there is almost no doubt that they are lying again now:

In the U.S., there’s no practical competition. The vast majority of households essentially have a single broadband option, their local cable provider. Verizon and AT&T provide Internet service, too, but for most customers they’re slower than the cable service. Some neighborhoods get telephone fiber services, but Verizon and AT&T have ceased the rollout of their FiOs and U-verse services–if you don’t have it now, you’re not getting it.

Meaning that, despite years of promising that they would give us all bright, new, shiny bandwidth in exchange for today’s ruling, we will get only what profits them the most and not on baud more.

Expect the Internet to get less efficient and more expensive. I hope I am wrong, but we’re talking about a newly-unfettered corporate will now able to do almost whatever they want in a market ripe for exploitation. It seems impossibly naive to expect anything but a worse consumer experience.

Obama Should Apologize for the New Jersey Bridge Scandal

January 11th, 2014 2 comments

CNN, CBS, ABC, MSNBC, the NY Times, and USA Today all have multiple headlines, and all at least have one large and prominent story, near the top of their pages regarding Chris Christie’s New Jersey bridge scandal.

Guess how Fox News is handling it? Not hard to predict: way, way down near the bottom of the page:

Obama’s apology? The link leads to a video of a Fox talking head showing Christie apologizing and the mayor of Fort Lee accepting the apology—and therefore, the scandal is over. But Obama? He never made multiple, formal apologies for Fast & Furious, Solyndra, etc. etc.—so that’s the real scandal the media should be focusing on.

The Wall Street Journal—also owned by Murdoch—took an almost identical approach, focusing on Obama’s IRS “scandal,” and how he never showed contrition for that.

Not that closing the bridge lanes was an earth-shattering event. It was not insignificant, either; it may have had serious impact on some emergency responses to medical crises, and may even have led to a death. But why is the story deserving of such great attention on non-Murdoch media?

For the same reason why we should have paid attention to stories about drug abuse, desertion, and the drunk driving charges regarding George W. Bush back in 2000: it would have alerted us to the character and behavior patterns of a presidential candidate who could potentially be disastrous for the nation.

Conservatives have worked hard to try to make it seem like there was actual abuse by Obama or anyone near him in the IRS brouhaha; it turned out that there was no such thing.

However, Christie’s bridge scandal is an excellent example of how Christie is far more likely to abuse power in exactly that manner.

Which brings up another interesting point about the abuse of power:

“It’s not obvious what laws may have been broken,” says Stuart Green, law professor at Rutgers School of Law-Newark in New Jersey. “I mean, there was undoubtedly an abuse of power, but in the federal context, there’s no general prohibition on abuse of power.”

Maybe there should be. Unfortunately, as with a lot of other good ideas, it is one that conservatives would instantly begin to abuse, wielding it as a political weapon to spark fishing-expedition investigations, begin witch hunts, and generally harass their political opponents.

Which is what conservatives tend to do. They’re definitely Slytherins to the liberals’ Hufflepuffs, intent on the acquisition of power and completely comfortable with use any means to achieve it.

Cats and Dogs Living Together Is Just Around the Corner

January 4th, 2014 2 comments

The right-wingers’ worst fears have come true. In the wake of recent gay-marriage rulings, polygamy has now been legalized, with Supreme Court validation coming all too soon. Inevitably, incest will be allowed, and anything else you can imagine. Marriage is destroyed, and no longer has any meaning. It was all predicted by Dr. Keith Ablow. Albow, at first glance, seems to have good credentials—a psychiatrist with an M.D. from Johns Hopkins—so, based on that, you would think that what he wrote would, even if opinionated, at least have the facts down well.

He wrote:

More than a year ago, when states began to legalize gay marriage, I argued that polygamy would be the natural result. If love between humans of legal age is the only condition required to have the state issue a marriage license, then it is irrational to assert that two men or two women can have such feelings for one another, while three women and a man, or two men and a woman, cannot. …

Well, now U.S. District Court Judge Clark Waddoups has found parts of Utah’s anti-bigamy law unconstitutional. His ruling comes in a case brought by Kody Brown and his four wives, who are featured in the reality TV show, “Sister Wives.”

I believe the U.S. Supreme Court will uphold that finding, if Utah challenges it. As I predicted, this will officially make marriage the Wild West, in which groups of people can assert that they are married and should have all the benefits of that status, including family health plans and the right to file taxes as married people.

That’s rather startling—a judge ruled that the state must recognize polygamous marriages? Albow does use equivocating language (“parts of” and “assert” in particular), but makes it clear that the government will be required to officially recognize the status of polygamy.

All it takes is a rather cursory check to discover that Albow is either an idiot with an M.D. who did not read beyond the first sentence of some right-wing blog post, or else (more likely) he is intentionally misstating the facts.

In the real rundown of the case, the Utah verdict did not overturn polygamy laws, merely the laws concerning cohabitation, where several adults decide to live in the same house and all have sex together. No one is being permitted multiple-marriage licenses, no government agency is being forced to provide any kind of benefits. All that the court decided was that the government cannot regulate who lives in your house or who you have sex with.

Nor was the verdict in any way, shape, or form based upon or related to any of the recent rulings on gay marriage. And no, it does not allow for any kind of official or sanctioned marriages, nor will it lead to incest or cats and dogs living together. Well, actually, maybe that last thing.

In fact, it simply brings Utah in line with the way most states have handled cohabitation for decades.

Albow apparently just wants to use this news to frighten people into being more conservative and to make people more hostile to a government he wants them to believe are destroying our institutions. He goes on:

It will also, eventually, lead to test cases in which a few unusual sisters and brothers insist that they can marry, because they are in love and promise not to procreate, but, instead, to use donor eggs or sperm.
And, I predict, the courts will agree with them. …

Marriage is over.

It was always at least a little funny that a huge percentage of people swore to stay together until death, then divorced and remarried.

But, now, it is, officially, judicially, a joke.

If two men can marry, and three men can marry, and five women and a man can marry, and three men and two women can marry, then marriage has no meaning.

As you can see, he quickly slides down the slippery slope, albeit using incest instead of the usual bestiality scare tactic. But his primary thesis is what is interesting: that marriage is an institution that can be rendered meaningless by whom the judiciary may allow to enter it.

He casually sets aside the manner in which people actually regard and sometimes even abuse marriage—high divorce rates, and, from the article’s graphic, exceedingly short celebrity marriages—as being “at least a little funny,” and instead notes that what really destroys the institution is which people are allowed to join it. One can easily imagine that if Albow were writing this article 40 or 50 years ago, he would be decrying the overturning of miscegenation laws with almost the exact same argument.

People have been marrying for horrible reasons for as long as the institution has been around. It was initially based more on the concept of women as chattel, hardly a pristine foundation. Marriage has been used to trap people into lifetimes of abuse. People have battered the institution with widespread infidelity, have used it for technical financial purposes or for illicitly gaining citizenship. People marry for all the wrong reasons—accidental pregnancy, desperation, marrying into status or wealth, and yes, even to get the government benefits.

However, despite centuries of widespread abuse, marriage stood strong and did not lose its meaning.

But now, two men or two women can get married! It apparently does not matter one bit that these people are almost certainly going to have no more and no less abuse of the institution than heterosexual couples; nothing that they actually do in or with the institution will be a change from what it has been before.

No, it is simply that we are allowing same-gender marriages, by itself, that marriage is now “a joke.”

As if marriage is somehow not mostly about the commitment between the wedded and their own internal desire to share, commemorate, and make official that commitment before their community.

Albow seems to be saying that, now that gay people can be married, or even (completely unofficially) more than two people can cohabit, marriage is meaningless.

Which brings me back to a conclusion I made some time ago: to these people, even if marriage is mostly about love, or commitment, or any significant, deeply fulfilling relationship, it is only meaningful to them if it is an exclusive club to which only people they approve of can join. Because if those damn Negroes can join my golf club, or if women are allowed into my boy’s club, it will ruin everything.

It’s pretty clear that Albow has some huge personal bugaboos about gender and sexuality, and is severely distorting the facts to frighten people into acting the way he wants.

Of course, the fact that the article was published on Fox News should have been a big hint right from the start.

Categories: Right-Wing Extremism Tags: by

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

December 20th, 2013 12 comments

Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty voiced his personal opinion about homosexuality:

Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.

Robertson was “indefinitely suspended” by A&E over his remarks. Sarah Palin, who I usually ignore because of the Ann Coulter Rule, made a public statement on Facebook which is noteworthy because it is a conservative meme far overused:

“Free speech is an endangered species,” Sarah Palin wrote on Facebook on Wednesday night. “Those ‘intolerants’ hatin’ and taking on the Duck Dynasty patriarch for voicing his personal opinion are taking on all of us.”

That’s the conceit: when a person speaks out and is criticized or punished in some way, their “free speech” rights are being violated.

And that’s the problem: free speech is about saying whatever you want (so long as it does not harm or endanger others) without fear of punishment by the government. The actual text in the First Amendment is “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” First Amendment freedom of speech says nothing about how others in society are suppose to lay off you no matter what you say.

Nor is this view by Palin and other conservatives based upon a principle. Imagine, for example, if someone on a popular TV show said hateful things about Christianity, maybe that it is a genocidal cult subscribed to by idiots and liars, which promotes the abuse of children and the killing of women. Do you think that this person would not be similarly treated? Would Palin be as ardent about protecting their right to say that and upset if they lost their job? Hell, no—she and other conservatives would be the ones calling for them to get the exact treatment that Robertson got.

For example, Palin called on MSNBC to fire Martin Bashir for calling her a “world class idiot” for her comparison of the national debt and slavery, and because he suggested, after noting a particularly cruel punishment meted out to a slave, that Palin was an “outstanding candidate” for such punishment for making the remarks she did.

Palin also called for Obama to fire Rahm Emanuel for using the word “retarded” as an epithet.

The term to describe this is “hypocrisy.”

But let’s just see if we can get one thing straight: getting criticism and losing a high-profile job in the media as a result of hateful remarks is not in any way a violation of anyone’s free speech.

It’s Relative, I Suppose

December 8th, 2013 6 comments

Did you hear the news? Oklahoma had a big earthquake! A 4.5 on the Richter scale!

OK, nobody’s actually calling it a “big” quake. But it’s making the news. The thing is, hearing about this in Tokyo, it’s kind of risible. I mean, we had a 4.2 just two days ago, on Friday, and a 4.3 the day before that.

In the news report, however, they make note of Oklahoma’s “strongest earthquake on record,” back in November of 2011—a 5.6 on the Richter scale.

Yeah, we know what that’s like. We had a 5.5 last Tuesday. Right after a 4.7, with a 4.6 two days before that. Fact is, we tend to have at least four or five quakes in the 4-range every week, and a five-point-something every week or two. And we tend to get a quake around 7 on the scale every few months.

As for 2011, well, you know what we got that year.

It reminds me of living in Toyama, on the Japan Sea side of Japan,where we got several meters of snow each year, and it was typical to have several feet of snow on the ground at any one time. Then we would watch the news on TV and laugh at the big reports of Tokyo getting a few inches of snow, and everything shut down.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2013 Tags: by

iPhone in Japan

December 4th, 2013 1 comment

This is kind of crazy. After two months, the iPhone still dominates the top 9 rankings in smartphone sales in Japan. Consistently. That’s something like 9 weeks in a row. And not just because DoCoMo is in the picture now, they occupy only the #5 and #9 spots, compared to Softbank’s dominance of the #1, #3, #4, and #6 positions.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2013, iPhone Tags: by