Sunday, December 26, 2010

2011: Here's the Year in Preview

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Well, friends, another Christmas Day has come and gone. Meanwhile, serious professional journalists are hard at work on their columns looking back at the year just past, typing furiously to come up with the usual "Year in Review" piece. Not this columnist. I'm always looking ahead, because I'm a forward-thinking kind of guy. So once again, we bring you the high points of the year 2011, or, as we like to call it, the year in PREview.

January: The Republicans formally take control of the U.S. House of Representatives. California Republican Congressman Darrell Issa immediately springs into action, announcing that his House Oversight and Government Reform Committee will begin investigations into the alleged cost of President Obama's trips overseas (which the media dubs "Trip-Gate"), allegedly slipshod training of the Obama's dog ("Bo-gate"), alleged incidents of texting while driving among White House staff ("OMG-Gate"), and alleged use of foreign-made fertilizers in the White House vegetable garden ("Manure-Gate"). "We're gonna get those Obamas for something," Issa proclaims confidently as he signs a subpoena to compel the testimony of "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Milan for the "Bo-Gate" hearings. "Just you wait."

February: Fox News host Glenn Beck is apprehended at the National Cathedral, attempting to break into the tomb of former President Woodrow Wilson.

When questioned by police, Beck explains that he was going to show that the tomb is empty, because his "exhaustive historical research" has determined that Wilson was not only the founder of the Progressive movement that Beck despises, but he is also an immortal shape-shifting vampire who rose from the grave and disguised himself first as Adolf Hitler, then Barack Obama.

"Don't you understand!?" Beck shrieks as he's dragged off to a mental institution. "Income tax! Eugenics! Pearl Harbor! Health care! It's all connected! Let me get my chalkboard and I'll show you! Aaaaaaaahhhh!" Fox News immediately extends Beck's contract and gives him a $3 million raise.

March: Panic ensues when a lone terrorist tries and fails to bring down an Athens-to-New York flight by banging his head very hard against the plane window in hopes of breaking it and depressurizing the cabin. Despite the failure of the attempt, the Transportation Safety Administration institutes security measures that require passengers' heads to be secured firmly to their seats by leather straps, with Hannibal-Lecter-style masks over their faces for the entire flight.

"We understand that passengers may be inconvenienced by being treated like insane serial killers because some delusional lunatic failed to pull off a cockamamie stunt that had no chance of succeeding," says TSA head John Pistole. "But don't you want us to keep you safe? Huh? Don't you? Answer me when I'm talking to you!"

April: Country-pop star Taylor Swift, long known for her autobiographical lyrics, releases what she calls her "most personal album yet."

The record, called "Yeah, I'm Talking About You, Jerkhole," contains songs describing former boyfriends, music critics, a high school teacher who once made a sarcastic remark to her, and the dry-cleaner who ruined her favorite silk blouse. The first single, titled "Bite Me, Kanye West," becomes Billboard's No. 1 hit for 17 consecutive weeks.

May: Failed vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin inks a multimillion-dollar deal to star in a second season of TLC's "Sarah Palin's Alaska." At the same time, daughter Willow announces that she intends to follow older sister Bristol on "Dancing With the Stars," ABC announces that Bristol herself will be appearing on "Celebrity Apprentice," husband Todd signs on to do a five-episode guest spot on "Deadliest Catch," and Fox schedules a three-hour special on son Track's military career.

Palin then takes to her Facebook page to ask why the "lamestream media" won't respect her family's privacy.

June: Frustrated by continued lackluster performances on the golf course and correspondingly lackluster endorsement deals, Tiger Woods' management company, IMG Sports Management, takes out a full-page ad in Sports Illustrated pleading with Woods to start sleeping around again.

"We know it might seem crass," the ad reads. "But you can't deny it. You're a better player when ... well, when you're a player. Come on, man, we've got beach houses in the Hamptons to pay for here."

To be continued ...

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Heartwarming Letters to Santa

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Dear Santa: Thank you so much for the gift of the Republican House majority this year. I will try to be a good majority leader. I'm so grateful, it just chokes me up. In fact, it makes me so emotional, I think I'm going to have to go cry again. So if you don't mind, I'd like you to bring me a gross of handkerchiefs and some Visine (it gets the red out).

- John, Washington, D.C.

(Note to staff: Double-check and make sure Johnny doesn't also want us to bring him another 50-gallon drum of fake tanning lotion like last year. - S.)

Dear Santa:

I know a lot of people think I should be on the naughty list for releasing all those State Department cables. But I think we can both overlook each other's little failings, don't you?

I'm sure you know the ones I mean. Like certain documents showing this past January's vacation in Cancun with that trio of Hooters girls a certain jolly bearded fat man met on his trip to the Macy's parade. Ho-ho-ho indeed, eh, Mr. Claus? You know what you need to do.

- Julian, London

(Note to staff: I have no idea what this guy is talking about, I swear. But just to be on the safe side, get that Ferrari to him anyway. - S.)

Dear Mr. Claus:

Greetings from the Transportation Safety Administration! We are sending you this letter to make sure you have plenty of time to bring yourself into compliance with the latest TSA regulations regarding flight into and out of American airspace.

Remember that all liquids and gels must be properly contained in containers no larger than 3.4 ounces, inside a bag no more than one quart, and not more than one such bag may be carried per passenger. The TSA has decided that Play-Doh and Silly Putty are covered under this regulation, so, those are probably out.

In addition, due to the possibility that explosives may be contained inside electronic devices, the TSA will not allow any Xboxes, PS3s, Wiis, etc., to be carried aboard your sleigh without each one undergoing individual inspection, which may involve complete disassembly (but not, regrettably, reassembly).

Finally, please be advised that neither you nor any accompanying elves will be allowed to enter U.S. airspace before passing through a full-body scanner and/or an "enhanced pat-down." While this may result in several million children not receiving Christmas gifts at all, and some having receipt of said gifts delayed until mid-August of 2011, I'm sure you will agree that it's a small price to pay for security.

We apologize for any inconvenience. Well, OK, actually we don't. But, hey, what are you going to do? We've got you by the short hairs, fat boy, and you know it.

- John P., TSA

(Note to staff: We're going to need more coal. And go ahead with that plan to arm the sleigh with Sidewinder missiles. - S.)

My Dear Mr. Claus:

Greetings from His Royal Highness, Prince Charles. The Prince has asked me to convey to you his sincere felicitations for this most joyous of seasons.

The Prince, however, had the serenity of his holiday most grievously disrupted when he and his lady were most rudely accosted by a gang of hooligans while on their way to a show in the West End. Something to do with recent budget cuts, a topic over which the Royal Family has, of course, little control, and, it must be said, little interest.

Therefore, it is His Highness' request that you place said hooligans upon your "naughty" list and forbear from providing them with the customary largesse at this Yuletide season. We trust this request will be honored. On behalf of His Royal Highness, I am, your most humble and obedient servant,

- Chauncey Uppington-Smoot

Royal correspondence secretary

(Note to staff: Geez, you think the fact that this guy's kid is about to have a multimillion-dollar wedding while the country goes broke and college tuition triples might have something to do with why people are cheesed off? Can you guys send Chuck a clue? - S.)

Whatever your holiday wishes are this year, may they all come true.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Christmas Specials That Weren't

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It's that time of year, the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa season, and the airwaves are filled with cheer and cheesy TV specials. We all have our favorites. I'm rather partial to "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" myself, which should surprise no one.

But, as in every creative field, for every holiday special that takes its place in our hearts and on our DVRs, there are a dozen or more that failed to make the cut. It is to those unsung and unaired works of television art that this week's column is dedicated.

This year's almost-rans:

"A WikiLeaks Christmas Card": Santa's made his list and checked it twice, and now WikiLeaks frontman Julian Assange has gotten hold of it and is prepared to spam the information about who's naughty and nice across the Internet. Unfortunately, no network could be found to host the show, and all of the major newspapers refused to run ads for it.

"Basically," explained New York Times editor Bill Keller, "All of us in the media business are outraged at the behavior of Assange and WikiLeaks. Everyone knows that if you're going to leak something, you need to leak it directly to an actual reporter, not just post it on the Internet like some...blogger or something. It's simply not done."

"Sarah Palin's Caribou-Killin' Christmas": The former governor of Alaska was all set to host a warm and tender holiday special to be simultaneously broadcast on The Outdoor Channel and the Food Network.

During the special, Palin was supposed to shoot various native creatures (wolf, caribou, snowshoe rabbit and field mouse) from an aircraft with a high-powered rifle, then take them back to her home in Wassilla and cook them up for Christmas dinner.

Unfortunately, one of Palin's handlers forgot and left a television on in her trailer. When she saw a rerun of the comedy series "The Office" in which a major character uses the word "retarded, " Palin became enraged. Claiming that this was a direct insult by "Hollywood liberals" to her special-needs child and "all of God's special snowflakes everywhere," she stormed off of the set to sulk, then demanded that the entire rest of the show be presented, unedited, via her Facebook page and Twitter feed.

"Who do they think we are?" an executive from the Food Network was reported to have said, "Fox News?"

"John McCain's Christmas in Arizona": Santa Claus and his elves were to make a personal appearance as the climax of this special, held at the palatial home of the senior senator and failed presidential candidate.

The production collapsed when Santa and his entourage, including elves, got lost because they'd been given directions to the wrong one of McCain's houses, then were arrested and jailed because the elves couldn't produce proper citizenship documentation at a traffic stop.

This column has not been able to confirm reports that Arizona plans to balance its state budget by selling the coal they expect to find in all of its citizens' Christmas stockings to China.

"Man vs. Mall": British adventurer Bear Grylls has faced a number of hazardous situations in his TV career: grizzly bears in the Rockies, dehydration in the burning desert, sheer cliffs and poisonous snakes. But when confronted with the prospect of being caught in the rush of shoppers at a Black Friday 5 a.m. "doorbusters" sale in the Jersey Gardens outlet mall in Elizabeth, N.J., Grylls backed out.

"Keep the money," Grylls told the show's producers, "I'm not bloody stupid." A last-minute plan to replace him with "Jersey Shore" star "The Situation" was abandoned when, as one of the producers put it, "we realized he's just a really awful person."

"Barack Obama's Bipartisan Christmas": The president had hoped to get congressional Republicans to appear in a holiday celebration of peace and reconciliation.

However, incoming Majority Leader John Boehner demanded as a condition of his party's participation that the Democrats repeal the estate tax, agree to a Constitutional Amendment making "Don't Ask Don't Tell" the law of the land, abolish the Department of Education, sell the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge outright to BP and Halliburton, and apologize for Obama winning the election.

When the White House agreed, Boehner sent word back that the Republicans couldn't make it to the show because they were "washing their hair that night".

Guess we'll just have to make do with the shows we've got. Happy viewing, and Happy Holidays! All of them.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Are You Effing KIDDING Me?

Nigeria charges Dick Cheney with bribery -
The Nigerian government on Tuesday charged former Vice President Dick Cheney with bribery for his alleged involvement in a corruption scandal.

The African country’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is pursuing Cheney in connection with an investigation of bribes totaling $180 million believed to have been paid to Nigerian officials by Halliburton, the company Cheney headed from 1995 to 2000.
Look, I'm no fan of Shooter Cheney,  but being charged with bribery by Nigeria is like being charged with prostitution by Heidi Fleiss. 

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Wikileaks: So What Else Is New?

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Recently, the website WikiLeaks engaged in another one of its infamous info-dumps, releasing what it says is a collection of 251,287 State Department documents into the public eye.

Most of the documents are copies of cables that were sent back and forth between Washington and our embassies. Many of them contain, shall we say, less than flattering pictures of the people our diplomats deal with. The juicier ones, in fact, read like notes passed by mean high school girls, but with better vocabularies.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, one cable states, is "feckless, vain and ineffective." The prime minister and defense minister of Kazakhstan are a couple of hard-partying drunks. French President Sarkozy is "impulsive," "mercurial" and surrounded by "yes-men." Libya's Muammar Qaddafi is an eccentric nutcase who never goes anywhere without a voluptuous blonde Ukrainian "nurse."

I read this sort of thing and I have to ask: Is any of this really new information? Qaddafi's a loon, Berlusconi's an empty suit, and Sarkozy's arrogant and impulsive. Oh, and according to another cable, the Afghan government's corrupt. I mean, stop the presses. Everyone who cares already knows this stuff.

Of more interest are revelations about our so-called allies in the Middle East. The good news is that it seems that we're not the only ones worried about Iran's nuclear ambitions. The bad news is that they all seem to want to leave it to us to do something about it.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, according to one cable, urged the U.S. to "cut the head off the snake before it's too late."

Hey, I've got an idea, Your Majesty: You do it. We're kind of busy right now, and the snake's in your backyard. Meanwhile, while we cast about for al-Qaida in Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen, it's another well-known "secret" confirmed by these cables that it's the Saudis who are among the biggest, if not the biggest, financiers of terrorism, who hope, according to the leaked documents, that if you give the maniacs enough cash, they'll "leave the House of Saud alone."

Again, this is not really news to anyone who's been paying attention the past few years.

It also appears, much to no one's surprise, that many Middle Eastern leaders can't stand each other. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak "hates Hamas" and knows Iran is a sponsor of terrorism, but won't say it because it might "create a dangerous situation" (presumably most dangerous to Mubarak himself).

The above-mentioned King Abdullah says the country of Iraq "is in his heart," but its president, Nouri al-Maliki, is not. As for Asif Ali Zardari, the president of Pakistan, grumpy King Abdullah describes him as "rotten."

There have been demands (including, disappointingly, in this very paper) that WikiLeaks and its founder and spokesman Julian Assange be prosecuted. A former adviser to Stephen Harper, the Canadian prime minister, went further, suggesting that President Obama "put out a contract" on Assange, and "use a drone or something" to assassinate him. Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said the person responsible for the leaks should be executed for "putting national security at risk."

Well, now, let's hold on just a minute here before we fetch the rope.

Assange, to be sure, is an unlikable, pompous twit with an ego so massive it has its own gravitational field. He's under suspicion for rape in Sweden. Also, he has bad hair. There very well may have been a crime committed by whoever released the documents to WikiLeaks. But a capital one? So far, it seems like most of the information released is just embarrassing, not life-threatening or disastrous to our diplomatic efforts.

On a recent trip to Kazakhstan by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Berlusconi and the Kazakh leadership were quick to act as if nothing had happened. The fact is, they might be annoyed, but most world leaders are not going to sulk and jeopardize their own national interests because someone sent a snarky cable about them.

Even Iran's nutball President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shrugged off the disrespect as "psychological warfare" by the U.S. and said "such mischief will have no impact on the relations of countries."

Diplomacy has always been the art of negotiating with people you detest and who you know probably detest you, all the while pretending neither of you knows it. As one wit put it, it's the technique of sweetly saying "nice doggie" while looking around for a suitably large rock.

A bunch of leaked cables isn't going to change that.

Saturday, December 04, 2010


In my interactions on various online fora, I've noted recurring patterns in so-called "debate" technique among the wingnuts and teatards. I'm collecting and numbering them here so you can recognize them. I refer to them as BSWATs (pronounced 'bee-swats.") The last three letters stand for "Wingnut 'Argument' Techiques." You can figure out what the first two stand for.

1) The simple unsupported contradiction and the repeated assertion of a demonstrably wrong premise as “Fact.” This clip from ”Family Guy” illustrates the technique:

2) A similar technique: dismissing the argument out of hand, without attempt to debate:

"Kevin Bacon was the star of Footloose."
"That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard." (leaves discussion).

3) Ignoring what was said in favor of whining about the way it was said.

“Of course Kevin Bacon was in Footloose. Here’s the DVD box, you idiot. His name’s right there.”
”You called me a name! You libs don’t have any arguments. All you do is insult people.”

4) Handwaving away any information that contradicts you by dismissing the source out of hand.

“Look, Kevin Bacon starred in Footloose. It says so right here in the Internet Movie Database.”

5) Dragging some irrelevant celebrity bogeyman’s name into the conversation:

“Keith Olbermann thinks Kevin Bacon starred in Footloose, too. You sound like Keith Olbermann.” Other names used: Michael Moore, Rachel Maddow, George Soros.

6) "Yew thank yer purty smart, don't yew?" Usually expressed sarcastically: “Well, I guess not all of us have your wide expertise about movies. We’re all in awe of your knowledge.”

7) Attempts to change the subject:

“Well, Tom Cruise was in Top Gun and he’s a liberal and he’s crazy!”

8) Projection, or “I know you are, but what am I?” Example:

9) “I’m not your Google monkey”: making a wild and untrue assertion and insisting its the reader's responsibility to back it up for you or to disprove it:

“I know for a fact that Anthony Michael Hall was the star of Footloose.”
“That doesn’t sound right. Can you cite some source that backs that up?”
“I don’t have to back that up. You look it up!”

10) "Help! Help! I'm bein' repressed!" Asserting that because you're "entitled to your opinion." that any disagreement is an attempt to stifle your free speech rights.

11) Extreme leaps, often bizarre, usually off-topic:

"Kevin Bacon was the star of Footloose, not Anthony Michael Hall."
"So you're saying Anthony Michael Hall is a lousy actor and probably a child molester!?"

Watch for these BSWATs . See how many you can tag.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Sorry, Can't Back You Up On This One

Crooks and Liars Calls Sarah Palin A  Traitor

Anyone who reads this blog knows I'm no fan of the Resigning Woman or her belligerent and numerous brood.

But I didn't like it when I was called a "traitor" for criticizing Dubbya, and I don't like it when the Snowbilly Grifter gets the same treatment, even from a blog I agree with 90% of the time.

Treason has a very specific definition and criticizing the President  ain't it. It wasn't treason when I did it, and it isn't when Caribou Barbie does it, no matter how unfairly or stupidly she does it.

Besides, there are so many more accurate things to call the Quitta from Wasilla. "Fuckwit" comes immediately to mind.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dances With Wingnuts

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I confess, I've never watched "Dancing With the Stars." The idea of has-been and never-were pseudo-celebrities shaking their booties has just never had that much appeal to me.

Lately, however, it's been impossible to escape the coverage across all forms of media regarding the participation of Sarah Palin's daughter Bristol on the show.

TV viewers and entertainment journalists began noting that Miss Palin and her partner, Mark Ballas, kept surviving the cut despite what the show's pro judges, and many watchers, considered weaker performances. Talk began to circulate that viewers were voting for Bristol not out of any particular appreciation for her terpsichorean talents but out of support for her mother, the Resigning Woman.

Some even suggested that the followers of Mama Grizzly were gaming the voting system, rumors that were fed when right-wing radio host Tammy Bruce organized what she called "Operation Bristol" and the wingnut website HillBuzz noted that, while you had to provide an e-mail address to vote online, you didn't have to provide a real one, which allowed people to vote multiple times.

Nonsense, said the show's producer. DWTS, he claimed, uses "a number of security checks" to prevent voter fraud via the Web, text and phone calls.

Still, some people remained suspicious. One particularly irate viewer actually shot his TV out of frustration, shouting "The politics! The politics!"

I certainly understand his frustration at the politicization of the pure and ancient art of the dance on a show that once featured Steve-O from "Jackass" doing the cha-cha. But I've got to say that there are so many things that are more worth shooting your TV over. Those commercials with the talking mucus, for example.

The Palins themselves fell back on their real talent: not for dancing, but for stirring up resentment and the furious certainty among their supporters that somewhere, somehow, there's someone out there looking down on them. They may not know who or where, by golly, but you could stick a finger in their imaginary eyes by voting for Bristol, who told an interviewer that if she won, "it would be like giving a big middle finger to people who hate my mom and hate me."

Even when Bristol came in third in the final episode, an anonymous writer at Hillbuzz claimed a moral victory, saying: "You drove the left crazy for three months. Score!"

Dudes, I hate to break it to you, but no one on the left even watches "Dancing with the Stars," and we certainly don't have time to get our mad on about whether or not one of the numerous progeny of the Quitta From Wasilla took home the trophy.

We're too busy figuring out new and fiendish ways to turn your children into Muslims, force them to marry gay abortionists, ban everything from the American diet except tofu and alfalfa sprouts, and destroy capitalism. (That was a joke, people.)

The Palins and the folks at Hillbuzz were only expressing one of the highest ideals of modern conservatism, to wit: Talent doesn't matter. Competence doesn't matter. The only thing that really matters is annoying liberals. If no actual liberals are involved in the issue, then think about what will annoy the liberals you've made up in your head.

It's the same principle that occasionally motivates some idiot to loudly proclaim that he's going to drive a big SUV and eat a steak, not because he likes those things, but "to make liberals angry." The steak and SUV industries appreciate it, and so do the cardiologists and the oil companies. The rest of us just wish you'd get the heck over yourself, when we bother to think about you at all, which isn't often.

But while I've got their attention, let me just say: You know what would really annoy me? If everyone had affordable health care. That would make me absolutely livid. A sane policy for fighting terrorism that guaranteed that terrorist criminals would face trials and that respected the Bill of Rights? That would really make me mad, too.

Dignity and basic rights for people who love differently from me, including the right to serve openly in the military and the right to marry? That would raise my blood pressure something fierce. A tax policy that gave relief to the middle class and made sure millionaires, billionaires and mega-corporations paid their fair share toward keeping this country running? Man, my head might explode from sheer rage.

Get to it, folks. Make me mad.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Poor Baby

Palin attacks media over coverage of North Korea gaffe

Seems that the most thin-skinned politician in the US today has her knickers in the usual twist over how MEAN people are being to her because she slipped up on Glenn Beck's show and said North Korea was our ally.

Now, a normal person would just laugh it off and go , "Heh, yeah, I misspoke." Not the Resigning Woman, who never misses a chance to stir up resentment and anger among her supporters over how her delicate feelings are hurt. And, of course, she's gone to the old "Obama did it too!" counterattack.

Yeah, Sarah, the President has made a few stumbles, like the time he said during the campaign that he'd been to "fifty-seven" states.

Yes, I cut Obama some slack for a simple slip of the tongue, and you know what? I'd do the same for you, if you and your wingnut dimwit brigade hadn't been clamoring for two years that that slip really meant that Obama doesn't really know how many states there are, or that he meant Islamic states and that that showed he really IS a Secret Mooslim. Or something.

So you can just suck it up, dear. Sauce for the goose, etc.

I cannot WAIT for this woman to run for President. The meltdown is going to be EPIC.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Finally, Enough

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After the terrible events of 9/11, airline passengers found that their baggage was subject to greater scrutiny.

Things that were previously allowed on airplanes, including such deadly implements of war as nail clippers, were being confiscated at the gates by the newly formed Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). A few people grumbled, but there wasn't any serious resistance. After all, it was in the name of security.

After an odd-looking goomer named Richard Reid tried and failed to bring down an airplane with a bomb hidden in his shoe, airline passengers had to remove their shoes and put them into a grimy plastic tub to be x-rayed if they wanted to get on the plane. A few people grumbled, but there wasn't any serious resistance. After all, it was in the name of security.

After another set of screwups tried and failed to bring down an airplane with liquid explosives, airline passengers had to bring any liquids in little tiny containers sealed in little tiny plastic bags. A few people grumbled, but there wasn't any serious resistance. After all, it was in the name of security.

After yet another loser tried and failed to bring down an airplane with explosives hidden in his undershorts, airline passengers were given a choice: They could walk through a "full-body scanner," which showed everything under their clothes, or they could go through what was called an "enhanced pat-down."

Now, after all this time, people are doing more than grumbling. They're getting downright angry.

It started with the pilot's unions, who began to advise their members not to expose themselves repeatedly to the radiation from the so-called "backscatter" or "millimeter wave" scanners, which they regarded with suspicion, even though the manufacturer insists that the additional radiation is no worse than what they get from a few minutes at cruising altitude.

Let me just stop for a moment and pose a question to the readership which no one has yet been able to answer for me: Why the heck are we screening the pilots for weapons anyway? Are we afraid they'll seize control of the plane? I mean, if a pilot really wants to kill all the passengers and himself, he's not going to need to hold a box cutter to his own throat to do it.

But I digress.

Passengers also expressed distrust of the scanners, not just for the radiation, but out of a suspicion that TSA employees might be getting their jollies from watching their nekkid bodies as they pass through. Having seen the ghostly quality of the images, I actually find it a little hard to believe that anyone could find them arousing, but, you know, there are some really strange people out there.

The Internet and the airwaves are full of stories of people, including children as young as 3, having their intimate areas aggressively poked, grabbed and squeezed by ham-handed TSA officials who don't even buy you dinner first, let alone send flowers the next day.

Finally, it seems, American airline travelers have had enough.

A video of a passenger declaring to a TSA employee, "If you touch my junk, I'll have you arrested" went viral. A passenger's-rights organization declared the day before Thanksgiving "National Opt Out" day, suggesting that people bring the airports to a standstill on the busiest day of the year by demanding en masse that they be given the "enhanced pat down." More whimsical protesters have suggested showing up in the airport in a Speedo or a kilt (sans underwear).

Meanwhile, a Senate subcommittee began hearings this past week on the new policies, during which Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill immediately wedged her foot in her mouth up to the kneecap when she dismissed the "enhanced" searches as "love pats."

I, for one, am glad to see more Americans finally questioning the TSA and the increasingly ridiculous demands of what security expert Bruce Schneier has dubbed "security theater" - measures that claim to provide enhanced safety but do little or nothing toward actually doing so.

And it only took having the government try to look under their clothes or grope their unmentionables to get them to do it. Hey, it's a start.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

This Just In: Oklahoma Saved From Non-Existent Threat

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One of the stranger things coming out of the recent midterm elections was a ballot initiative in the state of Oklahoma that purported to ban any consideration of "Sharia law" in decisions of that state's courts.

The measure, known as the "Save our State" amendment, also banned the state's courts from "considering or using international law" in their decisions.

When I first heard about this, I confess I was intrigued. I wasn't even aware Oklahoma needed saving. Was there some sort of movement afoot to impose Islamic jurisprudence on the good people of the Sooner State? Were bearded imams ascending the bench in Tulsa, Muskogee, and Oklahoma City and issuing fatwas that thieves have their hands amputated and adulterers be stoned to death in public? (And if so, wouldn't those remedies actually be popular among a certain class of voter?)

Well, no. As it turns out, this was another example of a "solution" without a problem. Even the bill's supporters admit that there's never been a case in Oklahoma - ever - where anyone has tried to apply Sharia law.

But, they say, there was a case in New Jersey (a place probably as foreign and exotic to most Oklahomans as Yemen or Dubai) in which a particularly boneheaded family court judge denied a Muslim woman a restraining order against the husband who repeatedly raped her by basically shrugging and saying, "Hey, it's his religion. He didn't think he was doing anything wrong."

Fortunately, the New Jersey appellate court quickly smacked that decision down, ruling, "Hey, doofus, there's a long line of cases saying you can't use your religion as a defense against criminal laws, like the ones against polygamy and the use of peyote in religious rites. Remember those, dimwit?" (I'm paraphrasing, of course.)

But who wants to hear that well-reasoned, well-settled and existing law can deal with the one case in the country where some county judge made the error of looking at what he thought (incorrectly, as it turned out) was Muslim law? When demagogues want to whip that fear up, the fact that there's no crisis should be no bar to the free exercise of religious hysteria.

In the immortal words of a great Western statesman (Mel Brooks' character Governor LePetomaine in the movie "Blazing Saddles"): "We've gotta protect our phoney-baloney jobs, gentlemen!"

Problem is, while "Sharia law" sounds impressive and scary, the people who are most afraid of it probably would struggle to define exactly what it is, other than equating it with "Islamic law."

But once you start doing the most basic research, the first thing you find is that Muslims themselves argue all the time about what religious law requires. The Sunnis have one view, the Shi'ites have another, and even among those two main groups, there are sub-groups like the Hanafi, the Wahabi, etc. etc.

I thought Protestants were argumentative about fine points of doctrine, but they're practically monolithic compared with Muslims. And don't even get me started on the Sufis. Now that I think of it, maybe that is a good reason for banning even the mention of Sharia law from our courts. The ones we have are complicated enough.

As so often happens, however, laws that seem like a good idea on the surface may well have unintended consequences. A University of Oklahoma law professor has wondered if, since the law purports to ban consideration of "precept[s] of another culture and another nation" in court decisions, wouldn't it also ban consideration of the Ten Commandments? (Contrary to what some people seem to believe, Moses was not an American.)

More seriously, some legal scholars have wondered, how does the prohibition against using other countries' law in the decision process affect the interpretation of contracts with overseas businesses? Are German, Dutch, Japanese, etc. companies going to be less willing to deal with companies in Oklahoma (thus costing the state jobs) as a result?

As of this writing, a federal judge has stayed implementation of the new law, pending further review, on First Amendment and other grounds. So a law passed in the heat of emotion and fear will receive scrutiny in the cold light of the Constitution, while the people who claim to revere that very Constitution scream about "activist judges."

Hey, what's more American than that?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Here Goes Nothing

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So now the Republican Party has won back control of the U.S. House but failed to win the Senate. Nancy Pelosi has lost her job as speaker, while Harry Reid, who’s almost as hated by the GOP as Pelosi, remains as Senate majority leader.

Networks and pundits are all talking about a “historic shift in power.” The only debate seems to be about whether it’s a “hurricane,” a “tsunami” or an “earthquake” for the Democrats.

I keep reading about how historic a change this is, but I keep getting the nagging feeling that I’ve heard all this before.

In 2006, we had a Republican Congress and a Republican president. The voters said, “That’s not working too well,” and presto! We had a “historic upheaval” resulting in a Republican president and a Democratic Congress.

Two years later, the voters decided, “That’s not working either,” and so we had another “historic power shift” that gave us a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president.

Now, in 2010, people look around at a sluggish economy, with high unemployment, and they’re mad that things still don’t seem to be working.

Here’s the thing: It’s easy to get tunnel vision when it comes to Democrats vs. Republicans, liberals vs. conservatives. I’m guilty of it myself. But when it comes right down to it, the vast majority of people don’t care about that. They want a country that works. And their sole criteria for that is how well they think the economy’s doing. If that’s not working, they don’t care which party’s in power. They just want that party gone.

As a couple of Senate races showed, however, there’s a limit to how far voters will let anger take them.

The defeats of tea party favorites Sharron Angle in Nevada and Christine O’Donnell in Delaware demonstrated that when your one and only criterion for vetting a nominee is “she’s not a professional politician,” you’re going to get some amateurs who’ll flail around and blow what should have been easy GOP pickups.

Voters took a good look at the seriously loopy O’Donnell and the far-right extremist Angle (who warned that people might resort to “Second Amendment remedies” if her side didn’t win) and said, “You know what? We’re not that angry yet.”

So what’s likely to be happening in the U.S. Congress for the next two years? My prediction: a whole lot of nothing.

The Republicans don’t really have an agenda, other than “stopping Obama.” Oh, they talk a good game about cutting spending, taxes and the deficit.  But they’re always maddeningly evasive on which spending they’re going to cut. Medicare? Social Security? Defense? Those are the biggies, but good luck with that.

When anyone in the lazy media actually presses for an answer (a rare occurrence), they fall back to the same vague bogeymen they’ve been using for years: “waste” and “pork” (now known as “earmarks”).

But they don’t really get specific on those either, since what “pork” really means to a congressman is “spending money in someone else’s district.” Cut taxes without cutting spending, and up goes the deficit.

 House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, in line for the majority leader position, claims that the first thing the Republicans are going to try to do is “repeal Obamacare,” but it’s going to take more than a House vote to undo the recently passed Affordable Care Act.

They don’t have the votes in the Senate — which, as we’ve seen, is the place where legislation goes to die. There certainly aren’t enough votes anywhere to override the inevitable presidential veto. And as it turns out, people actually like some of the provisions that have taken effect, such as the one that says you can’t be denied insurance because of pre-existing conditions.

Oh, and while you’re at it, Mr. Cantor, good luck on getting any compromises or bipartisanship. Not only did your party run on demonizing Democrats, but the only Democrats that the GOP could hope to sway were the ones in normally Republican districts, who might have seen some political benefit to making deals. Now they’re gone.

On your own right flank, you’ve got your newly minted tea party “allies,” some of whom have sworn to shut down the entire government rather than compromise. That’ll make you real popular when Grandma can’t get her Social Security check because you and Speaker Boehner can’t get a budget passed.

 And so we head toward another “historic upheaval” in two years, when the voters decide that this isn’t working too well, either.

So how’s that “change” thing looking now?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sexy Referee?

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Back when I was growing up, Halloween was pretty much a holiday just for kids. At least that’s the way it seemed to me, but then again, I was generally oblivious to the ways of adults.

In the past few years, though, Halloween has become an “all ages” holiday. Adults aren’t going house-to-house demanding sweets, but they are dressing up in various garb to go out on the town and celebrate. Which is perfectly cool with me. I’ve always been a big believer in the old saying “You’re never too old to have a happy childhood.”

The other day, though, I read something that gave me pause. It seems that a fellow in Oklahoma had a few beers too many and got himself busted shoplifting a Halloween costume at a local shop.

According to the website The Smoking Gun, the costume that 27-year-old Michael Dixon was trying to lift was — are you ready for this? A “Sexy Referee” outfit, consisting of a black-and-white striped halter dress, knee socks and a whistle. The story did not say if Dixon planned to wear the outfit himself or whether he was stealing it for a female acquaintance. Perhaps it’s better just not to ask. Or even to think too much about it.

One of the odd things about what this whole odd little holiday has become is the proliferation of costumes that the makers feel the need to hype as “Sexy.” I looked through some of the costume offerings online (purely for research purposes, of course). I can see the point of “Sexy Harem Girl,” “Sexy French Maid” and the like. Having met a few very nice looking ladies of the Wiccan persuasion, I can even sort of see “Sexy Witch,” although I suspect some actual Wiccans may look at an outfit like that in much the same way an African-American would regard someone in blackface.

But “Sexy Referee”? Most people I know, when they think about the refs at all, are screaming at them for blown calls, not fantasizing about them in a carnal fashion. Unless this is some fetish that even I haven’t heard about, and if so, let’s please keep it that way.

Look, I like to think of myself as a fairly open-minded guy. But I can’t help but wonder about one of the stranger costumes I’ve seen: “Sexy Spongebob.” Ladies, please educate me: What am I missing here? If a guy is hitting on you while you’re wearing the visage of a whimsical, childlike cartoon character who happens to be (1) male, and (2) a sponge, what does that say to you about him?

Likewise, there are the “Candy Striper” costumes. I confess, I’ve never totally gotten the whole “Sexy Nurse” thing. To be sure, a lot of real-life nurses are darned attractive, and some are smoking-hot, but when you actually get into the situation where you see them in an actual uniform in real life, lovin’ is probably the last thing on your mind.

Mostly what you’re thinking of is not dying, or at least not leaving important organs or body parts on the floor of the ER. Still, I understand, it’s a fantasy some guys have for some reason, so I guess the plethora of “Sexy Nurse” costumes is understandable.

But Candy Striper costumes? Really? Aren’t Candy Stripers supposed to be, like, teenage girls? I realize I’m no expert on women (just ask any woman who knows me), but I’ve got to say, if you’re at a Halloween party dressed like a teenager and some fellow starts chatting you up with a “wow, that costume is really hot,” you may want to reconsider him as a potential soul mate. I’m just sayin’.

Ah, well, it’s Halloween. What are you gonna do? We already have a holiday devoted to giving thanks for what we’ve got, and another dedicated to peace and good will. I suppose I should just relax and let one night go by when people can dress in any outlandish thing they want without me over-analyzing it.

I’d go on, but I hit the page in the catalog with the “Sexy Gorilla” costume, and my brain shut down.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Shocked, SHOCKED, I Tell You!

Disney May Cut Keith Richards from 'Pirates 4' Because of Past Drug Use

Although Disney was able to look past Keith Richards' drug face long enough to invite him back to the 'Pirates' franchise for 'Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,' a new book penned by The Rolling Stones guitarist could prove to be too much for the family-friendly empire.

Richards' new autobiography, 'Life,' presents the musician's "trademark disarming honesty ... [bringing] ... us the story of a life we have all longed to know more of, unfettered, fearless, and true." In other words, he explains how the hell he survived taking all those drugs. If you're like most people, you probably just assumed his body was being preserved by the mass amounts of chemicals he ingested. Richards, however, explains that the secret was quality over quantity: "It's not only the high quality of drugs I had that I attribute my survival to. I was very meticulous about how much I took. I'd never put more in to get a little higher."

Drudge Report tells us that an entertainment insider has suggested "they very well could end up cutting Keith out of the new movie over this."

So Disney's just now figuring out that Keith Richards has done drugs? I thought these people were supposed to be smart.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Party of Love Strikes (or should I say stomps) Again

Rand Paul Supporter Stomps Head Of Female MoveOn Member Outside KY Debate (VIDEO) | TPMDC

..always— do not forget this, Winston— always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face— forever.

But don't's liberals who are angry and full of hate.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Robots Are Coming - Be Afraid

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Everybody's afraid of something. Some people fear spiders. Some are afraid of bears. Right-wingers fear gays, blacks, Mexicans, mosques, headscarves, science, multiculturalism, the census, Rachel Maddow, fancy coffees, and certain kinds of lettuce, just to name a few things.

I'm not afraid of any of those. What scares me are robots.

Ha, you may say, Rhoades has seen to many "Terminator" movies. Perhaps I have, but that's not the point. You haven't seen the things I've seen on the news or the Internet. I have, as they say, "connected the dots." And I tell you, we're in trouble.

First there's the news that Google, the company that seems to be well on its way to ruling the Internet, recently revealed that it had been testing a robotic car.

Equipped with sensors, cameras, and, one supposes, a wireless connection to Google Maps, the modified Prius, with a human observer on board as a safety precaution, reportedly logged more than 140,000 miles with the wheel untouched by human hands. It even navigated San Francisco's tortuous and twisty Lombard Street on its own.

Scientists at the German University TU Braunschweig have reportedly accomplished a similar feat with a laser- and sensor-guided Volkswagen that navigated itself through the streets of Brunswick.

You might think this is a great thing, especially if you like to have a few drinks from time to time. Wouldn't it be cool, you might think, to be able to stagger out of the bar, punch "Home" into the car's computer, and nap till you arrived at your doorstep? Or to catch up on a few Z's, read a book, or fix your hair on the way to work while the car does the driving?

You poor deluded fool. Maybe you wouldn't feel so warm and fuzzy if you knew that a scientist in Slovenia is teaching robots to punch humans.

According to an article n the online tech journal Gizmodo, Dr. Borut Povse of the University of Ljubljana "persuaded six male colleagues to let a powerful industrial robot repeatedly strike them on the arm, to assess human-robot pain thresholds."

Supposedly, the idea is to "define the limits of the speed and acceleration of robots, and the ideal size and shape of the tools they use, so they can safely interact with humans." Or so this mad scientist would have us believe.

It gets worse. The deceptively cute little robot its designers called the "iCub" has a terrifying talent: It can teach itself to use a weapon, specifically a bow and arrow. Using a learning program, it figures out how to pick up the bow, string the arrow, and shoot, adjusting each time until it consistently hits the bullseye.

Oh, sure, it's only using a toy bow with rubber tipped arrows. Now.

Then there's the most terrifying machine of all: the Maker LegoBot.

We all know Legos, the little plastic snap-together building bricks that have provided countless hours of fun to tots and countless minutes of agony to parents who've stepped on them barefoot.

A few years ago, the Lego people introduced Mindstorms, Lego sets with tiny programmable computers that allow geeks of all ages to build and program their own robots. I had a bad feeling the first time I heard about those, and now I know why.

Software engineer Will Gorman has made a robot that can take a 3-D blueprint and some Legos, and build whatever you want, so long as whatever you want is made of Lego bricks. According to an article in Wired magazine, the machine is itself made entirely of Legos, which "raises the possibility - theoretically at least - that the machine could, with some modifications, build a copy of itself." And it could do it again and again, over and over, never getting tired, never getting bored, until it and its progeny overwhelm us all.

The Maker LegoBot is part of what Wired calls "an emerging trend" of so-called "3-D printers": computer-driven devices that can fabricate items you request out of plastic, right there in your very own home.

Right now, the Maker LegoBot has to have instructions, and you have to feed it the Lego bricks, but this is just the beginning. How long do you think it will be before machines can build other machines to drive themselves to your house and punch you in the face before shooting you full of arrows?

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Nope, No Crazies Here...

GOP Candidate: Violent Revolution “On Table” | FrumForum

Republican congressional candidate Stephen Broden stunned his party Thursday, saying he would not rule out violent overthrow of the government if elections did not produce a change in leadership.

In a rambling exchange during a TV interview, Broden, a South Dallas pastor, said a violent uprising “is not the first option,” but it is “on the table.” That drew a quick denunciation from the head of the Dallas County GOP, who called the remarks “inappropriate.”

Nope, no crazies in the Tea Party, none at all....

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Losing the Ability to Cringe

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Last week, in my column about New York City's Naked Cowboy and his run for the presidency under the tea party banner, I mentioned that members of America's newest political movement were probably muttering "Don't let him be one of ours, don't let him be one of ours ..."

Turns out I was wrong. A lot of local TPers enthusiastically endorsed the idea of handing the leadership of the greatest country on Earth (including the codes to its nuclear weapons) to a guy whose chief claim to fame is playing songs on a public street in his underwear.

It was then I realized: These people have lost the ability to cringe.

By "cringe," I mean in the dictionary sense of "to recoil in distaste," especially from something that's over the top or downright embarrassing. The cringe reflex can be especially pronounced when that embarrassing act is perpetrated by someone with whom you might feel an affinity.

You cringe, for example, when a relative regales the guests at your dinner party with the gory details of his bladder problems. Celebrities often do things that make even their fans cringe, like Tom Cruise leaping up and down on Oprah's couch, Kanye West grabbing the microphone from Taylor Swift, or John Travolta making "Battlefield Earth."

People and organizations of all political stripes often do things that are cringe-worthy. Jon Stewart once memorably commemorated a particularly over-the-top ad by by congratulating the group who'd "spent 10 years making even people who agree with you cringe."

But tea partiers? No cringe reflex whatsoever. Rick Perry suggests that Texas might secede if things don't go the Republicans' way? Not a problem! Christine O'Donnell says American companies are making mice with human brains? Hey, the media should quit picking on her by quoting things she actually said! Sarah Palin blatantly lies about "death panels" during the health care debate? Sa-rah! Sa-rah! Sa-rah!

The most recent demonstration of the cringe-free tea party occurred in Ohio's 9th District, where the TP candidate is a fellow named Rod Iott. A recent story in The Atlantic magazine talked about Iott's, shall we say, unusual hobby.

It seems that Iott belongs to a group of World War II re-enactors who like to dress up as the bad guys. Specifically, they like to don the uniforms of the 5th SS Panzer, or "Wiking" division, an elite Nazi force which, among their other activities, rounded up and murdered Jews in Ukraine, Austria and Hungary. The Atlantic story featured photos of Iott in full SS drag.

Imagine for a moment if a Democratic candidate, or any candidate for that matter, was photographed wearing the uniform of one of our country's enemies. Heck, right-wingers like Michelle Malkin flipped out over what they called "'jihadi chic" when Rachael Ray wore a black-and-white checked scarf in a Dunkin' Donuts commercial.

Imagine what they'd do if a picture surfaced of, say, Pennsylvania Senate candidate Joe Sestak dressed in a '50s-era Soviet commissar's uniform. Or, more to the point, imagine what Pennsylvania Democrats would do. They'd cringe. They might even start thinking, "We're sunk."

But not your TPers. While some conservative Republicans like Minority Whip Eric Cantor have repudiated Iott, and the National Republican Congressional Committee has removed him from its list of "contenders" on its website, Iott's county GOP chief still backs him, calling the story "political mudslinging."

Iott, for his part, insists that there's nothing odd or untoward in dressing up like an SS trooper and running around the woods pretending to slaughter enemies of the Reich. After all, as the Wiking re-enactor group says, "no matter how unsavory the Nazi government was, the front-line soldiers of the Waffen-SS (in particular the foreign volunteers) gave their lives for their loved ones and a basic desire to be free."

Right. It was everyone else they wanted to oppress, except the Jews, whom they wanted to exterminate. I guess it's that kind of shamelessness, that ability to rattle off specious claptrap that makes venerating a band of murdering fascists seem like a reasonable thing to do, that gave Iott his training for politics in general and the tea party in particular.

And it's the TP's inability or unwillingness to realize just how cringe-worthy that is that makes them so ridiculous.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

In Other News...

The Spanish Version of Breaking Cover Comes Out Tomorrow

No, I have no idea what any of the cover copy means...

The Naked Cowboy

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It sometimes surprises people to know that a simple country lawyer like me really likes New York City. I wouldn't want to live there, mind you (too expensive), but I do enjoy spending time there, walking around the place, taking in the sights, such as the Empire State Building, Central Park, the Naked Cowboy ...

What's that, you say? You don't know about the Naked Cowboy? Well, pull up a chair and give a listen, brethren and sistern, and let me tell you about him.

The Naked Cowboy (real name Robert John Burck) has been a fixture in New York's Times Square for years. He's a street musician who's become so famous that he's got his own stop on the Gray Line tour.

He occasionally goes on tour outside the Big Apple as well, appearing in such places as Austin, Texas; New Orleans at Mardi Gras; and his hometown of Cincinnati for Memorial Day. He's appeared in music videos and TV commercials. He's even franchising the concept - for $5,000 a year, you too can be your own city's Naked Cowboy (or Cowgirl).

It should be noted that the Naked Cowboy does not, in fact, appear entirely naked. That would probably get him arrested, even in New York. He performs his tunes dressed in a cowboy hat, white boots and a strategically placed red, white and blue guitar that covers up the fact he's dressed in his tighty whities.

Now the Naked Cowboy wants to be your president.

On Sept. 29, 2010, the NC appeared, uncharacteristically dressed in a suit and tie and with his long hair cut short, to announce that he planned to challenge Barack Obama in 2012 for leadership of the Free World. And guess which party's banner he plans to run under?

I know some of you tea partiers are probably muttering under your breath, "Don't let him be one of ours, don't let him be one of ours..." I know you've been trying really hard not to look like a party filled with kooks and loons. I feel for you, I really do.

But sorry, guys, he's yours. The Bare Buckaroo is, indeed, a self-declared tea party candidate.

At first, I was thinking that this had to be some sort of joke, like Christine O'Donnell. Then I remembered, O'Donnell's not actually playing it for laughs, even though she begins her most recent campaign ad by denying she's a witch.

(Here's a hint: If you're forced to start off by disavowing earlier videotaped statements that you once practiced the Dark Arts but that you're much better now, you're already way behind on the PR battle.)

No, the Cowboy Formerly Known as Naked was right out there at his opening press conference with a straight face and a mysterious blonde woman (possibly Mrs. Cowboy) by his side. He was spouting that good old tea party line: The Evil Guvmint's taking over everything, so he's going to reduce the civilian federal workforce by 40 percent "or more" (while of course providing no details about which four out of 10 he'd cut).

He also wants to make all welfare recipients take random drug screens (whether there's any evidence they're using drugs or not). He wants to eliminate the federal Department of Education altogether. Asked about his recent occupation, he hesitated for only a brief second before earnestly explaining that "naked is a metaphor for honest."

But wait, he's not really naked, despite the name, so does that mean he's not really honest? If he fakes his nudity, is he faking honesty as well?

Heh. I guess he does fit right into the tea party. He fits right in with the tea partiers who rail against Medicare while opposing cutting payments to doctors like themselves. He fits right in with the millionaires who rant against stimulus money while getting rich off it.

He fits right in with the politicians like Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle, who claims to deplore Washington "backroom" deals and then gets caught on tape trying to make just such a deal, offering an opponent access to power brokers if the opponent will just drop out of the race.

The Naked Cowboy is just trying to do what he's done for years. He's a huckster, a showman, trying to shake a few coins out of the rubes from out of town before hopping on the very gravy train he claims to want to derail.

He's perfect for the tea party.