Are you queer or unpronounceable?

I remember when there was a gay community. Then we started calling it the “LGB” (or “GLB”) community. Then it became “LGBT”, and finally (I thought) “LGBTQ”. The word “queer” can mean pretty much anybody, so “Q” was the last letter we needed.

I just learned recently that more letters jumped on the train while I wasn’t paying attention. Some people say “LGBTQI” (intersex), and some say, or at least write, “LGBTQIA” (asexual). Honestly, can anyone say “LGBTQIA” out loud with a straight face? It’s hard not to break into a song, like this:

Is something quite atrocious
If you say it loud enough
You’ll always sound precocious

How many more letters are we going to add? UC Davis’s LGBTQIA Resource Center has a long glossary of words related to what’s between our legs and what we do with it (but not the word “LGBTQIA”, which would be too obvious). I guarantee you’ve never heard of half the words on that list. Who picked two of those words to add to the initialism, while leaving out all the others?

I’m so old-fashioned, I still talk about “gay rights”. When Ellen Degeneres said “I’m gay,” did you get upset with her for not specifying that she was a lesbian? No, because “gay” is a usefully broad term, and it’s easy to say. So is “queer”. We don’t need to enumerate every possible combination of sexuality. Nobody should print “LGBTQIA” on a bumper sticker or chant it outside the statehouse. If you want people to hear your message and take you seriously, they need to understand what you’re talking about and not think you’re Bert the Chimney Sweep. Can we just go back to “gay” and “queer”?

According to the glossary, some people say “MOGAI” instead of “LGBTQIA”. It’s an acronym, but I don’t care what it stands for. It’s pronounceable and only has two syllables, and that’s fine with me. People might think you’re saying “Moe Guy” or “more gay”, but they’ll get used to it. If you don’t think “gay” and “queer” cover enough bases, how about “MOGAI”?

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Mad Max: Every Which Way but Loose

For reasons I won’t explain, I recently watched Clint Eastwood’s slapstick comedies Every Which Way but Loose (1978) and Any Which Way You Can (1980). Surprisingly, they often reminded me of the first two Mad Max movies (1979 & 1981), though I’m pretty sure they’re not meant to be in the same genre.

Eastwood’s character, Philo Beddoe, fights an inept motorcycle gang that likes to think of itself as the terror of suburban Los Angeles. Meanwhile, in Max’s world, Australian society is collapsing, and he fights a motorcycle gang that’s the terror of the open road. Philo’s enemy gang comes back in the sequel, but Max exterminates his enemies. Max’s sequel, which is called Mad Max 2 in some countries and The Road Warrior in others, is set in a post-apocolyptic world where a new gang terrorizes the Wasteland with a variety of homebuilt vehicles.

Max also had a third movie that combined elements of Lord of the Flies and The Three Stooges, but we won’t talk about that. The most recent installment, Mad Max:  Fury Road, puts things back in gear by retelling the apocolyptic story with ten times as many homebuilt vehicles, ten times as many stunts, and lots of badass women, including one who’s arguably the main character. But I digress.

In the Which Way movies and the first two Mad Max movies, each gang has a leader who’s creepy and unkempt.  Philo’s nemesis is there to provide comedy when the orangutan isn’t onscreen (did I mention the orangutan?).  Max’s first nemesis, who’s played by a Shakespearean actor, is scary in a Richard III kind of way.  His next nemesis belongs in a bad horror movie.

Ever since The Beverly Hillbillies, old ladies have had some badass shoes to fill.  In these movies, if the motorcycle gang comes calling while the hero isn’t home, his mom will fend them off with stern words and a shotgun.

In Philo’s movies, the inept gang keeps getting their asses kicked and their bikes destroyed.  In Max’s movies, the bikes get destroyed with the people on them.  In both cases, the preferred method of motorcycle disposal is to run over it with a truck.

For cars, dragging behind the truck works better.

Sometimes you have to get under your car and work on it.  Then you’re vulnerable to mischievous orangutans and sadistic protagonists, who will threaten to drop the car on you.

If they won’t let you fix your car, just use an aircraft.  In Any Which Way You Can, some zany Texans taxi a jet down Main Street.  In The Road Warrior, the Gyro Captain taxis his damaged gyrocopter down a road after the climactic battle.

The oddest similarity between these movies is the scarf.  Sure, there are other movies with shotgun-wielding grannies and inappropriate use of aircraft, but can you think of any other movie in which a shirtless man and his silk scarf are inseparable?  Philo’s villain uses his scarf to accent the tattoo on his belly (sorry you don’t get to see that).  For Max’s boss, Fifi, the scarf somehow manages to accent his overall studliness.


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Sorry, no revolution today.

According to online sources, an armed revolt is starting in Nevada in response to the tyranny of the federal government.  Hordes of armed citizens are showing up to help an innocent rancher defend his cattle from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  The BLM brought in federal agents with “big guns,” imposed a “no-fly zone,” rounded up the cattle, and sent the cattle to secret “bovine concentration camps.”  While they were at it, they used tasers and dogs to assault innocent protesters.  Eventually, the armed citizens intimidated the BLM so much that they backed down and gave the cattle back.  Meanwhile, the mainstream media have either ignored the story or told the government’s version, because of course the mainstream media are evil, and only bloggers will tell you the real story.  The BLM’s motive is to protect tortoises while using the land for oil production (by fracking, of course) and solar power — which, if true, would be quite a feat of land management.

According to those same sources, the rancher has been grazing 900 head of cattle on public land without a permit and without paying fees, and the BLM has let him get away with it for 20 years.  In videos that protesters have posted online, you can see the events that preceded the tasing, which included protesters placing themselves in front of a moving dump truck and shouting at BLM rangers.  The dogs are there but don’t seem to be doing anything.  In a separate incident, people with guns blocked I-15, occupied an overpass, and pointed their weapons at BLM rangers below.  After negotiations (which had started before the militia convergence), the BLM returned all the cattle, which obviously survived the “bovine concentration camps.”  They’ll eventually get to go to the feedlot and slaughterhouse like they’re supposed to.  The BLM, recognizing that the situation was out of hand, backed off to avoid violence.  And the no-fly zone?  Temporary flight restrictions are actually quite common, and not because the government is trying to prevent people from seeing bovine concentration camps.

I have personally been chased by a rancher, who fired a gun and yelled that I was on “private property.”  I was, in fact, on BLM land.  I have seen grass growing on the White Sands Missile Range while adjacent land was overgrazed and barren.  When the government lets a rancher make money off public land for twenty years before finally evicting him, that’s not tyranny.  When rangers face an angry mob and do little more than speak sternly and tase the worst of them, that’s not tyranny.  When federal agents decide to leave a bunch of crazy people with guns alone, that’s neither tyranny nor a revolution.  I hate to break this to you, but it won’t inspire the general population to arm themselves.  If the mainstream media aren’t covering an eviction, it’s because it’s not news.  The only news here is that a bunch of nut jobs tried to provoke an armed conflict, and the rangers decided to go away and let them cool down.


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Mechanic A: $1200. Mechanic B: $166.

Here in New England, cars require annual safety inspections. An inspection gives a mechanic a chance to look at your car, find something wrong with it, and tell you it’s not legal to drive until it’s fixed. My tactic is to get the inspection at a convenient chain store, then take the car to a real mechanic if it “needs” anything.

I took it to a chain store recently, and the mechanic told me I needed to spend $1200 to replace my catalytic converter, because the “bracket” (he actually meant “flange”) at the end of the tube had rusted out. I left in a good mood, confident that I wouldn’t really be spending $1200 to fix a rusty bracket.

I’m fortunate to know a good, independent mechanic, who’s less convenient but isn’t afraid to fix parts instead of just replacing them. He got a new flange (it’s a good thing he didn’t order a “bracket”), welded it onto the existing catalytic converter, and charged me $166.

In any kind of shop, independent or chain, you can find good mechanics and bad mechanics. But in a chain store, they’re limited to doing what every mechanic at a hundred other locations can do, and that doesn’t mean getting out a MIG welder and wielding it competently. A good mechanic in an independent shop, or a bold amateur at home, can do things the chain people don’t think are possible.

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Romney’s Fantasy of Blame

Mitt Romney is happy that domestic oil production has increased in recent years, but he wants to make sure we don’t thank the president for it. Today, Romney pointed out that the Red Sox won the World Series while he was the governor, but he doesn’t get to take credit for it, so Obama doesn’t get to take credit for increased oil production.

In the same speech, Romney blamed Obama for high gasoline prices and the lack of jobs. In fact, blaming the president for everything bad that has happened during his term is basically what all of Romney’s speeches are about. Even when something good happens, such as a drop in the unemployment rate or an increase in oil production, Romney blames the president for not making things even better. In other words, we can give the president blame but not credit for anything that happens while he’s in office.

According to Romney’s logic, even though he can’t take credit for the Red Sox, we can blame him for everything bad that happened during his term as governor. He can also take the blame for everything that might have been better. The famous Big Dig ceiling collapse of 2006? Romney’s fault. And why didn’t the Red Sox win every year while Romney was in office? What was he doing to hinder them?

Veering into the realm of fantasy, Romney said, “All of the decline in the rate of unemployment, from 10 percent at its peak to 8.1 percent now, is due, not to job creation, it’s been due to people dropping out of the workforce.” Even when the statistics show that things are clearly improving, you can blame the incumbent. All you have to do is pretend that the numbers are lying.

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Technovictorian Dream Sucker

Back in 2003, my friend Mike Missiaen was planning to make a movie called War Against Sleep. He asked me to make a prop, and he wanted it to have a certain look — I think he called it “techno-Victorian.” Nowadays, we’d call it “steampunk,” but I hadn’t heard that word yet.

I had a lot of fun making this. It’s not often that a project involves welding, woodworking, electronics, and upholstery at the same time.

So far, this is the only product of Profligate Machine.

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Weren’t we talking about a pipeline?

President Obama’s recent decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline has environmentalists celebrating, while Speaker Boehner is accusing the president of destroying our economy. Both reactions are completely out of proportion to what the president actually did, but that’s not surprising. The two sides were already talking about things that had little to do with the proposed pipeline, so of course their reactions had little to do with what the president said.

By imposing an arbitrary deadline, Congress required the president to make a premature decision on a proposal that doesn’t even have a definite route yet. The president did the only reasonable thing he could do — he turned down the proposal but invited the developer to resubmit it. He didn’t put a halt to the pipeline; he just put a halt to Congress’s ploy.

Despite the fact that the idea of a pipeline is still alive, environmentalists were quick to claim victory, and Republicans were quick to claim defeat.

To environmentalists and Republicans alike, this was never really about a pipeline. Sure, some environmentalists are concerned about where the pipe will go, but mostly we hear about where the oil is coming from before it goes into the pipe. Extracting oil from tar sand takes a lot of energy, which translates into more carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere for each barrel of oil produced. But targeting a pipeline is, to put it mildly, a rather oblique way of fighting climate change.

To Republicans, the fight is supposedly about creating jobs and lowering the price of gasoline. In reality, the pipeline would only be a drop in the bucket for jobs or prices, but it’s a convenient way to make Obama look like he wants to kill jobs and make us all miserable. By putting a deadline on approval before the plan is finalized, Boehner and his allies made it clear that either they don’t give a hoot where the pipeline goes or they fully expected Obama to deny it. You might think they were trying to sabotage the proposal, rather than support it.

Personally, I think the pipeline proposal has little to do with jobs, prices, or carbon dioxide. I care about where the pipeline goes and how much damage the actual pipeline, not the tar sands in Canada, might do. I care about greenhouse gases, but that means I want to reduce the demand for oil, not make it harder for suppliers to meet that demand. And from a strategic perspective, if a war in the Middle East — or a blockade — cuts us off from major oil suppliers, we might be really glad if we have a pipeline from Canada.

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You may not have health care, but at least you saved $71.

Here’s a letter I just wrote to the Kennebunk Post:

The Post recently published an op-ed piece by State Representative Paul Bennett, who extolled the benefits of recent state tax cuts. He attempted to play down the benefits to wealthy taxpayers and talk up the measly benefits for the rest of us. He completely failed to mention the state’s budget shortfall and the proposed cuts to crucial programs. The truth is that Maine’s Republicans are playing Robin Hood in reverse, giving tax breaks to wealthy Mainers while cutting services for poor and middle-class Mainers and raising taxes on those who use the circuit breaker program.

Rep. Bennett wrote that “the lower 90 percent of taxpayers will realize 56.3 percent of the benefit” from the cuts in income tax. In other words, the top 10% of earners are taking home a disproportionate share — 43.7%, according to Bennett’s numbers — of the state’s lost revenue. A report by the Maine Center for Economic Policy (MECEP) puts their share of the benefit at 50%. The top 1% will take home 20% of the tax cut, while the bottom 50% of taxpayers will only get 9% of it. These numbers don’t include changes to the circuit breaker program and the estate tax, which will cost low-income Mainers money while helping millionaires.

Despite all the hooplah about cutting taxes, the savings for most Maine taxpayers are miniscule. Rep. Bennett describes a family of four with an adjusted gross income of $50k (their actual income would be higher) saving $300. That’s less than a dollar per day. According to MECEP, taxpayers earning between $28k and $48k (the median household income is $46k) will only save $71 in 2012 and $83 in 2013. Taxpayers earning under $21k will only save $5 in 2011 and $6 in 2012.

Meanwhile, those in the top 10% will have their income taxes reduced by $874 in 2013. The top 1% will save an average of $2,770 in 2013.

Rep. Bennett points out that the top ten percent of earners in Maine are those households earning over $119k. Oddly, he suggests that a cop and a teacher or a nurse and a plumber would make this much. The starting salary for teachers in our district is only $33k, while an experienced teacher with a Ph.D. can earn just under $60k. State troopers make $37k to $49k. A teacher and a cop might break into the top 10%, if the teacher has a Ph.D. and the cop works a lot of overtime, but it’s more likely they’ll earn about $90k. By definition, households in the top 10% are not typical.

The most blatant giveaways to wealthy Mainers are changes to the estate tax. Rep. Bennett mentions the estate tax several times but never by name, instead calling it the “death tax.” The estate tax is not a tax on death; it’s a tax on wealth. Everybody dies, but only millionaires pay the estate tax. Actually, only multimillionaires pay the estate tax, since the exemption just rose from $1 million to $2 million. According to the law firm Pierce Atwood, “Through proper estate tax planning, married couples essentially will be able to shield $4 million of assets from Maine estate taxation, and other techniques may also be used to further reduce the tax burden.”

According to MECEP, the increase in the estate tax exemption only benefits 550 estates, but it’s costing the state $30 million, or about $55,000 per estate. In other words, the state is donating $30 million to help people who inherit over a million dollars, because they could really use that extra $55k. This is what Rep. Bennett calls “much-needed relief for hard working families.” Meanwhile, the median hard-working household gets $71.

Rep. Bennett tries to relate the estate tax to ordinary Mainers. He says that “many Maine families are land- or asset-rich and cash-poor,” and he suggests that cash-strapped families might have to sell off the fishing boat or the farm that’s the source of their income. Imagine that you’ve worked hard all your life as a fisherman, but you don’t have much cash. While you’re making out your will, you realize that your fishing boat is worth one and a half million dollars. The priciest boat I can find in Uncle Henry’s is under a quarter million, but let’s assume your boat is worth six times that much. Do you (A) leave the boat to your kids in the hope that they’ll continue your dangerous occupation or (B) sell it and find a better investment so your kids won’t be cash-poor fishermen? If you had to pay an estate tax, would you be upset that your kids were only getting $1,460,000 instead of $1,500,000 (assuming 8% with a $1M exemption)? Would you move to New Hampshire before dying to avoid the tax? I ask because Rep. Bennett says the tax change “makes Maine more competitive with other states.”

While we’re on the subject of Mainers who are land-rich and cash-poor, did Representative Bennett mention the circuit breaker program? Ah yes, he said he’d like to make it easier to use. He didn’t mention that while the legislature was cutting taxes on millionaires, they cut the Maine Residents Property Tax and Rent Refund Program by 20%. The program benefits over 75,000 households, some of which will now have to pay $400 more in property taxes. If you make enough money to save $400 under the tax cuts, you can thank somebody in the circuit breaker program for funding your tax break. If you’re in the top 10%, thank two of them.

Meanwhile, the governor is proposing massive cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services. Legislators from both parties have balked at specific cuts that the governor asked for, but Republicans haven’t said no to the overall idea of slashing the DHHS budget. Supposedly, Maine simply can’t afford to provide low-income residents with basic services such as nursing homes, addiction treatment, and preventative care. But apparently we can still afford to give handouts to the rich, and we can pay the indirect costs when poor people and addicts go to the emergency room or to jail.

Rep. Bennett cites a study by the Beacon Hill Institute, which was founded by a Republican politician, that says the tax cuts will create 3,700 jobs in Maine by 2015. It’s not clear why the institute thinks that spending by Maine households creates more jobs than spending by the state government. The study includes the bizarre assumption that taxpayers “work less in response to higher income taxes,” and when income taxes go down, “workers are encouraged to put in more hours which results in higher take home pay.” If your tax rate goes from 8.5% to 7.95%, you get to take home 0.55% more of your income — a few cents for every hour that you work. Does that inspire you to work more hours? Does the change in the estate tax inspire you to work more hours? Does your loss of circuit breaker benefits… oh yeah, that one might.

On the other hand, there’s no question that cutting the state budget will cause jobs to disappear. A study by MECEP indicates that some of the governor’s proposed cuts to health care could cost 4,400 jobs. Tell that to Bennett’s hypothetical nurse. Restricting access to MaineCare also violates federal law, but the governor is hoping to get a waiver from the feds, even though no state has received a similar waiver.

If you get laid off in 2013 and can’t get MaineCare because of budget cuts, look on the bright side — hopefully you saved some money on your 2012 taxes.

Jason Wise

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Voodoo Economics Today

The Tax Policy Center has reviewed the tax plans proposed by Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry. All three would drastically reduce taxes on corporations and wealthy taxpayers. Romney would take things a step further by actually raising taxes on the poor, while Gingrich and Perry might raise taxes on the poor.

Romney would eliminate the taxes on capital gains and dividends for couples earning under $200k, while Gingrich and Perry would eliminate them for everybody. All three candidates would eliminate the estate tax and drastically reduce the corporate tax rate. All three would also eliminate the 0.9% tax introduced with the 2010 health care legislation, which only affects individuals earning over $200k and couples earning over $250k.

But enough about capital gains and dividends — how do these plans affect poor people? Romney has said that although he would extend the Bush tax cuts — the ones that mostly help rich people — he would allow the more recent tax cuts and credits to expire. The expiration list includes a tax credit for education, the expanded child tax credit, and the expanded earned income tax credit. Gingrich and Perry haven’t really specified how they would handle expiring tax cuts. Depending on what assumptions you make, each candidate’s plan might raise taxes on poor people (see examples for Romney, Gingrich, and Perry, and note the “percent change in after-tax income”). No matter what assumptions you make, all three plans are fantastic for rich people and corporations.

All three plans would drastically increase the deficit. The cost of the tax cuts would be somewhere between $180 billion and $1.28 trillion, depending on which plan you look at and what assumptions you make. NPR cited the lowest of these numbers, then reported that “Romney’s campaign disputes the estimate, saying tax cuts in the plan would help improve the economy, leading to more revenue.”

Ah yes, cutting taxes leads to more revenue. That’s what Reagan said, and it’s what George H. W. Bush called “voodoo economics.” We’ve already tried it for thirty years, and all we’ve succeeded in doing is destroying the economy.

In the 1950s, the top tax rate was over 90%. In the ’70s, it was 70%. Was the economy better in the ’70s as a result? I don’t think so. Under Reagan, the top tax rate went down to 28%, and it’s now 35%. According to Reagonomic theory, the economy should be much better now than it was in the ’50s. Rick Perry would like to have a flat tax at 20%, and Gingrich would like 15%. For corporations, the current tax rate is 35%, but Romney would like to reduce it to 25%, Perry to 20%, and Gingrich to 12.5%.

Supposedly, Republicans hate deficit spending, even though they created the current deficit. They love to complain about the 2009 stimulus package and its one-time cost of $787 billion. The tax cuts that the candidates are proposing would cost a similar amount every year. But instead of helping the economy and keeping teachers and construction workers employed, the tax cuts would simply be a gift to the wealthiest Americans. As Robert Reich pointed out eloquently in his book Aftershock, giving more money to rich people doesn’t help the economy — it just makes the economy more volatile.

When you vote, remember this: If your income is under $200k, these candidates’ plans would not help you. If your income is under $50k, the plans are likely to cost you money. And no matter what your income is, consider the effect on the economy when deficits rise and spending falls at the same time. Revenues are already unrealistically low; we can’t afford to slash them further. Cutting taxes on the rich while cutting benefits for the poor is exactly the opposite of what we need to do.

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Do-it-yourself nut (in both senses)

What do you do… ahem, what do I do if it’s Independence Day and my wife’s bike is missing a metric nut? Make a new nut, of course!

Drilling the bolt on a lathe.

I made it out of a bolt head. First, I measured the bike’s bolt (where the nut was supposed to go) to see what kind of thread it had. Then I put a different bolt on my lathe and drilled a hole in its head. I step-drilled it, meaning I started with a small hole and gradually used larger drill bits. Next, I cut the head off the bolt, and finally I cut threads in it with a tap.

It doesn't look like much...

...but it works!

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