Sunday, July 24, 2016

Trump's Handling of Speech Mess Speaks Volumes

You know, I kind of feel bad for Melania Trump.

She seems like a nice enough lady, despite her choice of spouse, and I’m sure she only wanted to help. I’m sure she didn’t mean for a speech which was supposed to be a nice, warm ’n’ fuzzy moment in her husband’s campaign to reveal just how inept and amateurish that campaign is.
At first, Madame Trump’s speech was pretty standard stuff, and a welcome change from a night when we had already endured the ghastly spectacles of, among other things, Chachi from “Happy Days” and a third-tier soap opera star from Italy telling us what’s wrong with America, followed by Rudy Giuliani screaming at the top of his withered lungs like a lunatic on a street corner.
She noted Trump’s loyalty to his family, which must have come as a bit of a surprise to the two wives he’d divorced before her. She asserted Trump’s respect for his former rivals, like “Little Marco,” “Lyin’ Ted,” and the guy whose brother lied us into the Iraq War. And so on.
Then things took a strange turn. Political reporters and pundits who were watching began to realize that, hey, parts of Madame Trump’s speech sounded awfully familiar. And sure enough, a side-by-side comparison of Monday’s speech and Michelle Obama’s speech during the 2008 Democratic National Convention revealed that someone had lifted entire paragraphs from that older speech. We’re not talking about “common words and values,” as Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort lamely tried to assert. We’re talking the exact same words and phrases in the exact same order. We’re talking clear plagiarism.

Now, this may seem like a small thing, easily laughed off, and believe me, I laughed as hard as anyone. Then I started seeing the Trumpista reactions to the situation, and it set me to thinking, which is always a dangerous thing. For one thing, they couldn’t seem to settle on who had actually written the speech. Mrs. Trump claimed she’d written it herself, with “only minimal help” from the campaign. The campaign, however, released a statement saying that Melania’s “team of writers took notes on her life’s aspirations, and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking.”
Finally, staffer Meredith McIver came forward and fell on her sword. She said that Mrs. Trump, who’s “always liked” the First Lady (oh! the heresy!) had read her some of Mrs. Obama’s speeches, and neither Ms. McIver nor anyone in the campaign had checked the final draft against their “inspirations.”
Consider this: The Trump campaign sent the woman who would be First Lady out to make a major speech, apparently without any vetting. That speech contained passages that were clearly cribbed from not just any speech, but from a major speech given at an event that a substantial number of the reporters, commentators and other political junkies watching had already seen and would most likely remember. Then, incredibly, they couldn’t get their stories together on who’d written it.
The whole thing speaks of a level of fumbling and incompetence so great that one has to doubt if these people have enough sense to pour water out of a boot even if you printed the instructions on the heel.

But what about Hillary Clinton, you say? Wasn’t her handling of classified information “extremely careless,” in the words of FBI Director James Comey? Isn’t that worse?
First, we don’t know how Trump and his people would handle classified information, since he’s a political novice who hasn’t had to do it very much, but this level of carelessness with what should be simple stuff doesn’t bode well for his competence with complex information.
Second, “you’re just as bad as me” doesn’t make you better. Third and most important, in his later testimony, Comey admitted that even the “very small number” of Clinton’s emails he’d referenced were not properly marked “classified” in the headers as such emails are required to be by the manual controlling such things. Instead, the designation was indicated by a little letter “c” somewhere in the body of the email. Comey told Rep. Matt Cartwright it would be a “reasonable inference” for Clinton to believe that “the absence of a header would tell her immediately that those three documents were not classified” — a detail almost universally ignored by the so-called liberal media.
The Republican party, this past Monday, spent an entire evening trying to frighten us into voting for Donald Trump’s Daddy State policies by yelling at us that the world is a terrifyingly dark place, full of monsters — then proceeded during the course of the night’s keynote speech to show us they’re too incompetent to handle a softball political convention speech. It doesn’t inspire confidence.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Pokemon A Go Go

Gaah. What a depressing couple of weeks it’s been. Strife and tragedy in your face every time you turn on your TV. Soul-sucking heat and humidity, day after day, with no predicted end in sight.
It’s enough to make you succumb to despair. Isn’t there anything stupidly fun out there to take our minds off this?
Yes, there is. My friends. I bring you the newest viral craze sweeping the nation: Pokemon Go.
In case you haven’t heard yet, Pokemon Go is a game you can download to your smartphone. It’s based on a series of video games in which the player collects Pokemon (Japanese slang for “pocket monsters”), which are cute little critters with various powers (electric shock, poison darts, etc.).
Once you have a few, you can pit them against other players’ Pokemon. The original game has been huge for years, with people snapping up new versions the moment they come out.

There’s also, of course, a huge merchandising empire around the game, selling clothes, bookbags, etc., emblazoned with the various critters and symbols of the game.
Oh, yes, and there was a cartoon series, with a theme (“Gotta Catch ’Em All”), which is tremendously grating, even by the standards of cartoon themes.
Well, Pokemon Go (hereinafter referred to as PG) takes that game and uses your smartphone to overlay it onto the real world.
See, your phone, in order to work properly, needs to figure out where it is, which it does by using the signal from local cellphone towers. This is what makes the navigation/maps function work.
Well, the game, once you download it, figures out where you are and populates the local landscape with Pokemon, which can be “observed” through images inserted into your phone’s camera.
So players walk around, looking at the phone screen, hoping to spot a Charmander or Ratata or Squirtle or one of their kin, which can then be “bagged” and added to your collection.

 It’s kind of a genius idea, really, and you can see the potential for all sorts of treasure hunt games.
But the initial rollout has not been without its hiccups.
For example, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., is asking that the game designers and players not “place” Pokemon inside its walls, after players discovered that one could capture a Pokemon called a “Koffing” there.
This was particularly unfortunate, because the Koffing’s power is to attack with poison gas. Placing one of those inside the Holocaust Museum was either the result of total cluelessness or extreme bad taste. Either way, someone at PG HQ may lose his job over that.
One luckless young fellow discovered that an app that records where you’ve been can be a bit of a problem when his girlfriend opened the game on his phone and discovered that he’d caught a creature called a “Zubat”—inside his ex-girlfriend’s apartment. One wonders, as the girlfriend undoubtedly did, what else the luckless Pokemon “trainer” was catching.
One also wonders how a guy who spends this much time playing a game where you chase cartoon monsters across the landscape manages to get not just one, but two girlfriends.
But it’s not all bad. Another player tells the story of how, one night when he couldn’t sleep, he went out into the hushed and darkened streets to hunt. As he was wandering around, head down over his phone, he heard a call of “Yo, man,” out of the darkness. He turned around and saw what he describes as “two sketchy looking dudes” on a park bench. As the man nervously approached, one of the men gestured and said, “Check by the blue truck, my man. We found an Onyx earlier.”
Sure enough, he was able to catch the Onyx, after which he and the two guys started talking about the game.
Then a police officer showed up, suspicious at the sight of “two 20-something black dudes and a 40-something white man” in the park at 3 a.m. I’m sure you can see how this could easily have turned into a bad situation. Once the new friends explained what was going on, however, the intrigued young cop was downloading the game on his own phone and asking them how to get started playing.
So it seems that the game, like any new technology, has the potential to push people apart, but also to bring them together.
I’m sorely tempted to download the thing myself and try it out, but let’s face it, I have enough addictions as it is. If you do decide to play, however, do be careful and try not to walk into traffic as you “try to catch ’em all,” OK? Let’s be careful out there in this brave new world.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Careless, But At Least Not Crazy

On July 5, FBI Director James Comey finally answered the question that’s been hanging out there for months: Will Hillary Clinton be criminally indicted for irregularities having to do with the private email server she used for official business as secretary of state?
In case you missed it, the answer was “no.” The reaction of Clinton’s critics shows another perfect example of the kind of overreaching that explains why they’re always angry and frustrated.
Some of us have been, to say the very least, skeptical of the confident assertions from the Raging Right that Clinton was going to be indicted over what Bernie Sanders called her “damn emails.”
Because let’s face it, we’ve been hearing “Hillary’s going to jail! Real soon now!” since 1992.
Unfortunately for the wingnuts, every investigation — Cattlegate, Travelgate, Whitewater, etc. — all the way up to the latest attempt to politicize the tragic deaths of four Americans in Benghazi — has come up with a big fat zero as far as any criminal charges are concerned. Now it’s happened again.
Even Donald Trump knew it wasn’t going to happen.
On July 2, three days before the press conference, he took to Twitter to inform us that “sources” had announced that “no charges will be brought against Crooked Hillary Clinton. Like I said, the system is totally rigged!”
When the announcement was made confirming this, House Speaker Paul Ryan was equally outraged.
“This announcement defies explanation,” he said.
You know, the Trumpkins remind me of nothing so much as a bunch of spoiled little boys yelling “Cheater! Cheater!” every time they lose a ball game. Except little boys occasionally wait for the game to be over. The problem is, in their obsession with seeing Hillary Clinton in jail, they blow right past some legitimate criticisms in the report.
The director clearly said that “no reasonable prosecutor would bring a case” because the FBI never found any evidence of intent to violate the law or to hurt the United States and no intent to obstruct justice from the deletion of some emails.
He did say that “Secretary Clinton or her colleagues” were “extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.” Further, he went on to say that the State Department as a whole “was generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information found elsewhere in the government.”
That’s actually worrisome, when you think about it.
Faced with a critical-but-not-criminal report, Trump could go one of two ways:
One, he could switch from his tiresome and unsupported “Crooked Hillary” mantra to “Careless Clinton” and use it to question Clinton’s judgment.
Two, he could screw his tinfoil hat on tighter and keep ranting that the FBI is corrupt because she’s not going to jail. As we’ve seen, Trump’s pre-emptively boxed himself into option one. He’s not very flexible when it comes to tactics, so this probably won’t change.
It’s exactly like the Benghazi mess.
There are serious questions that could and should have been asked about what happened there, including but not limited to whether we should have been intervening in Libya in the first place (something which, you may remember, I said was a ‘terrible idea.’ You can look it up).
Beyond that, you could legitimately question whether we should have had rapid response forces closer to Benghazi when we did, and soberly discuss whether that would have made a difference.
But noooooo. After all, how are you going to get eyeballs glued to the Fox News and CNN shoutfests if you talk about wonky policy stuff like that?
What draws the viewers are wild claims like the one that Secretary Clinton or President Obama told rescuers within striking distance to “stand down”; that Clinton personally denied security requests by the ambassador; or even that Clinton “faked a concussion” to avoid talking to one of the seemingly endless witch-hunts (sorry, congressional committees) investigating the murders.
And all of those committees, after spending months and millions of dollars, came up with the following that would lead to Hillary Clinton facing criminal sanctions: another big fat zero.
Come to think of it, though, there’s probably a reason why the Republicans don’t want to get into questions about something as mushy as a candidate’s “judgment.”
They are, after all, about to nominate Donald Trump, a man whose bad judgment in word and deed is truly breathtaking in both its breadth and depth.
So they’ll continue to hope for the criminal indictment that might knock their opponent out, and will once again find themselves fuming and clutching an empty bag while the woman they love to hate stumbles to the White House.
“Clinton 2016: She May Be Careless, But She’s Not Crazy.” Not the most compelling bumper sticker, but it’ll do in a pinch.
THE GOBSHITES SPEAK: Commenter "melocal" had these tidbits of wisdom to impart:

 Hillary is absolutely useless. She needs to go back to doing dishes and keeping an eye on that player she has for a husband.
Hey, good luck with the women's vote there, Trumpkin. 

And of course, you can always count on perennial asshole "Francis" to provide us with a heaping bowl of word salad, with extra bullshit dressing on the side:

I believe Democrats were more surprised than any others, like this columnist/ lawyer/writer, l who is now jumping up and down like a jubilant school girl, clapping like a trained seal, I believe others in the Democratic party thought Hillary would face some type of disciplinary action, after all several had made the comment she was guilty, but they were quick to withdraw from those statements being pressured from within their party, corruption wins again. Hopefully a more qualified will come forward and explain the outcome. The expectations met the reality, so no surprise, just lacks understanding.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Trump Buys Into the "Good Guy With a Gun" Myth

Donald Trump may be bucking the conventional Republican wisdom on many things, such as whether George Dubbya Bush lied us into the Iraq War and whether or not a presidential campaign actually requires you to have money or a campaign staff.
But on the subject of gun violence, he’s right in line with Republican (which is to say NRA) thinking on the solution: MOAR GUNZ!!
In reference to the recent tragic shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, the Prince of Orange had this to say:
“If you had guns in that room, if you had — even if you had a number of people having them strapped to their ankle or strapped to their waist where bullets could have flown in the other direction right at him, you wouldn’t have had that tragedy.”
It seems that The Donald has fully bought into the “good guy with a gun” doctrine that’s so prevalent among the ammosexual community. It’s the doctrine which holds that, in an active shooter situation, every armed citizen becomes a steely-eyed gunslinger ready to take out the shooter with one perfectly aimed round, after which they will presumably twirl the gun around one finger before sliding it back into the holster like Val Kilmer in “Tombstone.”
It also appears that in Trumpworld, all of the “good guys” with guns will be on one side of the room with the shooter on the other so the bullets will only be flying in one direction.
There are so many problems with treating this fantasy like reality that it’s hard to know where to start.
For one thing, there was actually a “good guy with a gun” in the Pulse nightclub. His name is Adam Gruler. He’s a 15-year veteran of the Orlando Police Department. He was working security at Pulse, armed, when Omar Mateen showed up and began shooting.
According to the OPD’s own press release, Gruler “engaged in a gun battle” with Mateen before Mateen went “deeper into the club” and “the incident turned into a hostage situation.” The Orlando Sentinel’s investigation states that Gruler, quickly realizing that Mateen had him outgunned, “retreated and called for backup,” which promptly arrived in the form of nearby patrol officers Lt. Scott Smith and Sgt. Jeffrey Backhaus. Smith and Backhaus also “exchanged shots” with Mateen, who then grabbed hostages and retreated to the bathroom where he made his final, fatal stand.
Three “good guys with guns.” And 49 people still died.
So much for that idea, unless you’re saying that everyone in a crowded bar in the wee hours of the morning would be so much safer if all of them were carrying AR-15s and 9mm pistols, just so they’d have parity with terrorist nutballs like Omar Mateen.
Yeah, I can’t think of any way that combination of alcohol and semi-automatic weapons could possibly go wrong. At that point we wouldn’t even need terrorists, because we’d be stacking the bodies like cordwood.
The reports that officers Gruler, Smith and Backhaus “engaged” the gunman, without lethal result, points up another problem with the “good guy with a gun” fantasy.
The RAND corporation did a study in 2008 of the New York Police Department’s performance in gunfights. The average hit rate was 18 percent. That means trained law enforcement officers, who have to qualify on their weapons and keep up their proficiency, missed 82 percent of the time.
This isn’t a slam at law enforcement. Getting shot at tends to be, to say the least, an upsetting experience for anyone. Killing is even harder, even for trained professionals acting in self-defense. And we’re supposed to believe that amateurs will do better?
Hey, look, I write thriller fiction when I’m not doing this column or practicing law. I understand the attraction of the fantasy where Joe Everyman can rise to the occasion and take down the bad guys with the gun he just picked up. Sometimes it even happens in real life. But I’m not putting all my faith in that as a solution.
“Good guy with a gun” is a classic example of trying to shut the barn door after the horse has left, come back with a torch, and burn the barn to the ground. Why not do things like close the gun show loophole, make background checks universal, and try to keep bad guys from getting guns in the first place?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Summer Travel Guide 2016

Summer is here again, and for a lot of folks, summer means vacations. Vacations mean travel.
So, as is our custom and practice in this column, we once again bring you our annual compendium of weird, wacky and occasionally fascinating vacation destinations:
— If you’re a fan of bizarre incomprehensible gibberish, you could stay home and catch one of Sarah Palin’s stump speeches for Donald Trump on YouTube.
Or you could head down to northern Georgia and visit the Georgia Guidestones, the origin of which is something straight out of “The X-Files.”
Seems that a mysterious gentleman calling himself “R.C. Christian” showed up in the little town of Nuberg, Ga., with $50,000, a shoebox with a replica of Stonehenge in it, and a request: He wanted a monument of his own built.
And what a monument it is: four towering granite monoliths, inscribed in multiple languages including Egyptian hieroglyphics, Classical Greek, Sanskrit, Babylonian cuneiform, Chinese, Swahili and Hebrew, with the words “Let These Be Guidestones to an Age of Reason,” along with certain “commandments” supposed to bring about said age.

Those commandments include “Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with Nature” (I think that horse left the barn a while ago) and “Guide reproduction wisely, improving fitness and diversity.”
After arranging for the construction of the Guidestone, Mr. “Christian” (who admitted that that wasn’t his real name) disappeared without a trace. Ooo-EEEEeeeee-oooo …
— You wanna see something really scary? Then head out to the little desert outpost of Tonopah, Nev., midway between Las Vegas and Reno, and check yourself into what might be the world’s most terrifying place of accommodation: The Clown Motel.
The travel website tells us: “Not only is the lobby filled with hundreds of menacing clowns, but each and every room is clown-themed as well.
On each of the walls are hung portraits of famous clowns, from Bozo to Pagliacci, their soulless eyes intent on watching your every move from their faux-gold frames.”
But wait. It gets worse. Next door is a graveyard, filled with the corpses of miners who died of plague. To top it all off, according to online reviews, the Wi-Fi is terrible. Definitely not a place for the faint-of-heart.

— It’s entirely possible that someday you may be on the road, turn to your significant other, and go, “Honey Pie, I don’t think we know enough about hobos.”
Well, the cure for that particular brand of ignorance is in lovely Britt, Iowa, where you will find the Hobo Museum and Gift Shop, which says it “commemorates America’s first migratory work force.”
At the museum, you can see authentic hobo wear (old clothes) hobo gear (upturned buckets seem to be prominently featured), as well as “books written by hobos, music recorded by hobos, (and) crafts created by hobos,” according to the museum website. There’s even a Hobo Convention, where a Hobo King and Queen are elected.
Yes, it appears there are still hobos, even though the site does allow as how most of them drive these days rather than hop freight trains. I don’t know. That seems to kind of blur the classic definition a bit. But then, what do I know about hobos? Just shows how much we need the museum.
— Regular readers of this feature know that we often enjoy discussing freakishly large representations of everyday items: ketchup bottles, baseball bats and the like. Well, not this time.
It’s the creation of local artist Erika Nelson, who, like your Humble Columnist, seeks out the aforementioned large objects. Except she then creates tiny replicas of them and puts them in a vehicle, which she drives around as a traveling exhibit. Actually, now there are two vehicles, because the only thing cooler than one WLCoWSVoWLT is two of them.

Mysterious monoliths, scary clown hotels and small versions of big versions of ordinary sized things — it’s all part of the rich pageant that is the American road.
Happy traveling, and I hope you see something that makes you laugh and go, “Did we really just see that”?

Monday, May 30, 2016

America? I Don't Love It

Opinion |

OK. On this Memorial Day weekend, I have a confession to make. I really don’t care much for America.

Oh, no, not the country. I still love America, the country, a lot. I’ve gone back and forth a few times on America, the band, although I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for that “Sister Golden Hair” song.
But America, the beer? Not so much.
If you’re unsure what I’m talking about, Anheuser Busch recently announced that, for the upcoming summer, they’re changing the name of Budweiser beer to “America.”
Now, it should be noted that back in the glorious days of my misspent youth, I did drink Bud. I drank a lot of Bud.
On one beach trip, during a period when all the preppy girls were sporting those cute little “add-a-bead” necklaces, I strung a bunch of Budweiser bottle caps on a leather thong around my neck and told everyone it was an “add-a-Bud” necklace. This was widely regarded as hilarious, but only by people who were also drinking a lot of Bud.
In college, I switched to Stroh’s for a long time, but only because my favorite bar offered a 32-ounce cup of the stuff for a dollar.
There’s nothing that builds brand loyalty in a college student like enabling him to get blissfully hammered, play the Stones and George Jones on the jukebox (it wasn’t just cheap beer that made it an awesome bar), and have change left over at the end of the night from a five dollar bill. Good times.
But as the Good Book says, eventually you put away childish things. In the ’90s, beer choices exploded like a can of brewski left too long in the freezer. “Craft” beer became a thing that people talked about, admittedly sometimes to the point of absurdity.
Some discussed beer in the same sort of highfalutin’ terms we’ve come to expect from wine connoisseurs: “It’s a presumptuous little domestic brew that provides subtle notes of clove cigarettes, vinyl siding and motor oil, with a clean finish reminiscent of the 2013 batch of Lemon Pledge.”
Whatever, dude. Whose round is it?
All pretentiousness aside, the fact is that beer choices have gotten a lot better. Beer drinkers can actually find a brand with some taste to it, some personality. So, with all those choices out there, Anheuser-Busch apparently felt that it needed to do something to make its watery, bland flagship brew stand out. What better way for a beer made by a Dutch-owned company to stand out than by renaming it “America” and redesigning the already red, white and blue can to include an insignia that says “U.S.” and an “E Pluribus Unum” banner?

Wait. There’s no “In God We Trust”? Do those tulip-sniffing social democratic Dutch atheists hate God? Bill O’Reilly needs to get right on this.
The rebranding raises other questions. Since the can redesign makes it look like even more like a flag, will it be considered flag desecration to crumple it up and throw it in the garbage when empty?
Am I going to need to stand up off the bar stool and put my hand over my heart when the barkeep puts a tray full of them up on the bar? Will there be an “America Lite,” or will they just call the light version “Canada”?
When Donald Trump says he’s going to “make America great again,” does this mean he’s going to do something to make Bud taste like something other than weak battery acid?
Ah, well, it’s all moot. I’ll continue to drink good American beers, made in America, by Americans. Like Fat Tire, out of Fort Collins, Colo.; Shiner Bock, out of Shiner, Texas; and our own locally made brews, like the wonderfully named Man of Law, from Southern Pines Brewery. And Railhouse English Ale, from down Aberdeen way.
(If I missed any local or N.C. breweries that I should have mentioned, then please feel free to educate me, preferably with a cold draft in a frosted mug.)
God bless them all, and God bless America (the country).