Saturday, December 31, 2016

Russian Hackers Hit Vermont Utility: Putin's Revenge Against Bernie?

A computer at the Burlington Electric Department
in Vermont was apparently hacked by the Russians.
The electric grid wasn't touched, but this
still caused a stir.
OK, the headline on this post is ridiculous, I admit it. There probably isn't that grand a conspiracy.

Still, Vermont, and much of the nation, is talking today about the Russian hack on the little 'ole Burlington (Vermont) Electric Department.

Though the laptop computer that was hacked wasn't connected to the power grid, and the electricity is still flowing in Burlington and beyond  the news does make people nervous.

(The Washington Post last night incorrectly suggested that the hack did get into the power grid, but that's not true.)

I'm not even sure this qualifies as a full-blown hack. BED found the malware on the laptop, which is of course bad, but it didn't infect a bunch of other computers there. Just that one laptop.

Still, if hackers get into the electrical grids, they can stop pretty much everything. Imagine a nationwide blackout that can't be cured in a day or two. (Shudder.)

Even though the electricity still seems to be safe in this instance, a lot of people in the know are sounding the alarm.

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy said in a statement:

"State-sponsored Russian hacking is a serious threat, and the attempts to penetrate the electric grid through a Vermont utility are the latest example.......

"This is beyond hackers having electronic joy rides - this is now about trying to access utilities to potentially manipulate the grid and shut it down in the middle of winter. That is a direct threat to Vermont and we do not take it lightly."

This hack all begs the question: Why Vermont? We're not exactly the biggest threat to Russia, though Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump aren't exactly popular in the liberal Green Mountain State.

My wingnut conspiracy theory, which I'm sure isn't true, is Burlington is the home of U.S,. Rep. Bernie Sanders, the former presidential candidate who has not at all been shy about eviscerating Donald Trump. Repeatedly.

Maybe Donald's buddy Vladimir had enough of Bernie's insults. No better revenge that shutting off the electricity (and in most cases heat) in the dead of a Vermont winter, right?

Of course, reality intrudes on this conspiracy theory. Putin and his minions probably have never even heard of Vermont. Hell, for all we know maybe this wasn't Russian hackers, I guess we'll see.

BED assures us the laptop that was infected has been isolated, and they're cooperating with state and federal authorities, so it turned out to be pretty easy to dodge the bullet.

According to The Guardian: this kind of thing may have happened before, and it does not appear that it was in direct retaliation for President Obama's sanctions against Russia for prior hacking during the election: .

It seems people in Burlington are taking this hack in fairly good humor. probably mostly because the electricity is still on during a morning that dipped to near 10 degrees.

"First they came for our elections, then they came for our electrons," quipped my good buddy Shay Totten of Burlington, on Twitter.

Totten also remarked on Twitter: "I wondered why latest @BurlingtonElec bill gave me the option to pay in rubles."

If, for some reason it turns out Trump had any part in the Burlington Electric Department hacking, which I doubt, maybe Burlington should retaliate against him.

After all, the Trump team never did pay Burlington for the extra overtime and costs with his rally in town last January, in which the future president just let the city pay for everything. Maybe BED can convince New York City to shut off the electricity to Trump Tower.

It's just a thought. 

This "Movie Trailer" Proves 2016 Was One Big Horror Show

2016 was pretty much a horror movie. You can
see the clever, hilarious "movie trailer" for
2016 as a horror film, below. 
Many of us think 2016 was just a horror show.

An outfit called Friend Dog Studios thinks so, too.  

So they created a trailer for a horror film called "2016: The Movie"  You can see this hiliarious, ingenious trailer at the bottom of this post.

The movie trailer has all the tropes of any promotion for an upcoming horror movie blockbuster: The quick edits which begin with happy characters, then a growing realization that Something. Is. Wrong.

One of the characters in the clip intones, "It's like things you'd never expect are happening everywhere."

Indeed.

The abrupt music and clips from the movie in the trailer then leave you wanting - or not wanting - more. It closes with some scary scenes, filled with potential violence.

Yeah, that pretty much sums up 2016

Here's the video, but you might get nightmares from it, but happy New Year anyway:

Friday, December 30, 2016

Wet Wipes Becoming The Scourge Of A Sewer Near You

Are wet wipes like this clogging up
sewer systems around the world? 
I'm afraid we're going to have to talk about poop here.

Specifically, cleaning up after poop.

Most of us (I hope!) have used toilet paper. It gets the job done, it goes away with a flush of a toilet and we can just forget about that unpleasantness when we're finished.

But the consumer products industry, ever anxious to sucker us into buying some grand new doodad, has come up in recent years with an "improvement" over toilet paper.

It's wet wipes, and it's supposed to leave you feeling cleaner, fresher, more comfortable after you're done going.

Well, maybe.

But your local Sewage Treatment Workers of America guys and gals are NOT thrilled by this wonderful new product.

Neither should you, especially if you have your own on site septic system, like I do.

You see, after you flush the toilet, the toilet paper in its journey toward your nearest septic system or municipal sewage treatment plant, breaks apart pretty fast.

Through the magic of sewage systems, the toilet paper disappears, and life goes on just swimmingly. Especially if you dare to take swimmingly literally by taking a cool dip in the waters downstream from the sewage treatment plant.

Wet wipes, though, despite the protestations of bathroom marketers like Kimberly Clark, don't break down.

According to The Atlantic, the town of Wyoming,  Minnesota was among the first to sue consumer products giants like Kimberly Clark, Proctor & Gamble, Nice-Pak and others.

The Atlantic interviewed Dave Torma, a public works emplouee in Wyoming, Minnesota and got this

"After wet wipes are flushed, they exit a house through a lateral pipe that connects to a public sewer system, where sewage pumps ensure that the wastewater flows in the correct direction. 

But unlike toilet paper, wet wipes fail to disintegrate. They clog the pumps, causing them to break down and redirect stagnant wastewater back toward houses. Sewer systems must be shut down so that the wipes can be manually removed. When the four-foot pumps are lifted for maintenance, 'it looks like you're pulling up Cousin Itt,' Torma said. 

The toilet paper industry is claiming the wipes they sell do disintegrate and the problems wastewater managers are facing are due to people flushing other, non-disintegrating material down toilets

The Halifax, Canada, water department actually put out a rather entertaining video that does a great job of describing the wet wipes problem. It's worth a watch.

Here's the video. Warning: There is a segment within where you don't want to be eating, or have a sensitive stomach while watching.

 

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Anti-Abortion Lawmakers Are Just Getting Weirder And Weirder

This idiot, Oklahoma State Senator A.J. Griffin, wanted to
pass a law requiring restaurants and public schools to
post anti-abortion propaganda at their expense. 
Some social conservatives are anxious to take away a woman's right to abortion.

Despite U.S. Supreme Court rulings, Republican legislatures enacted at least 60 new abortion restriction laws, says the Center for Reproductive Rights.

So far ten of those laws were ruled unconstitional by courts, but the efforts continue.  

With Roe Vs. Wade still the law of the land, at least for now, I have to admire the, um, creativity of some lawmakers to restrict abortions.  It's getting very, very weird.

In Texas, a proposal has been held up in the courts, at least for now. to require cremation or burial ceremonies for miscarried or aborted fetuses.

Nobody actually wants this law passed except the anti-abortion zealots in the Texas legislature. Even the funeral home and cremation industry, which would stand to gain from this, is icked out by it and is unenthusiastic about the idea.

Of course, some people who have had miscarriages want a cremation or interment, and that's their right.

However, creating this law might actually prevent people who want these ceremonies from actually having them.

Acccording to the Texas Tribune:

"For those in the funeral business, the increased demand for cremations could mean ending their practice of charitably cremating the tissue  from a miscarriage for parents who wished to have a funeral. 

'What had always been pretty much a charitable process is now going to become costing quite a bit of more,' (Texas Funeral Directors Association spokesma Michael) Land said. It's estimated that 10 to 20 percet of pregnacies end in miscarriage."

In other words, Texas lawmakers are so intent on making abortions so excruciating and difficult for women that they think it's worth it to make tragedies like miscarriages excruciating and difficult for parents, too.

Proves that the pro-life crowd is pro-life only until the baby is born. Then it's time to start making life hard.

It's even worse in Oklahoma. (Isn't that often the case?)

According to the Associated Press:

"Oklahoma plans to force hospitals, nursing homes, restaurants and public schools to post signs inside public restrooms directing pregnant women where to receive services as part of an effort to reduce abortions in the state.

Te State Board of Health will consider regulations for the signs on Tuesday. Businesses and other organizations will have to pay an estimated $2.3 million to put up the signs because the Legislature didn't approve any money for them."

The Tuesday referenced in the AP story was last week. We've since learned the Board of Health has approved this ridiculousness. 

 They were probably pissed off because on the same day, the Oklahoma Supreme Court blocked a regulation that would  have required doctors who had admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

However, we have learned since that the Oklahoma State Senator who introduced the legislation, A. J. Griffin, has since recinded the idea.

Before she did that,  we has the legislature in Oklahoma,  making restaurants and such pay for anti-abortion propaganda that they don't want in their businesses.

I don't think this would have passed  the First Amendment test - the government telling people and businesses what to say or else - but hey, Constitution Smonstitutiion, if it enables you to pander to your most conservative base, right quote, unquote Oklahoma lawmakers?

It appears Griffin backtracked because of the backlash against the cost imposed on businesses by the bill. She now wants to make the anti-abortion propaganda a social media thing, and she theorized it would have a greater reach that way.

But would you want to read anything Griffin or her minions put out on social media?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Don't Expect The Trump Inaugural To Be Entertainment Event Of The Year

Donald Trump will have trouble grooving to the music
during his inauguration. Practically nobody wants to perform there
Usually, during the inauguration of a new American President, there's usually lots of parties and entertainment in addition to the pomp and circumstances.

Seems this year, though, the incoming administration is having an incredibly tough time trying to book the entertainment.

During the two Obama inauguratios, we had a few people you may or may not have heard of, like Aretha Franklin, Beyonce, Jay-Z, Mariah Carey, Sting, Mary J. Blige, Sting, Alicia Keys, Katy Perry, Brad Paisley, John Legend, Marc Anthony and Smokey Robinson.

This year, for Trump, let's see... we have Jackie Evancho, who took second place in "America's Got Talent" a few years ago. (She is good.) Oh! And the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

As the Boston Globe points out, incoming Republican presidents rarely get the star power during inaugurations like Democrats do.

But you'd think with all the glitz and glitter that comes with the "Trump brand" for lack of a better term, you'd think things would be more dazzling during the parties.

It doesn't seem to be the case this year, despite the attempts from the Trump team.

Earlier this year, the Trumpsters said Elton John would perform, but that turned out to be news to Sir Elton. So, no "Rocket Man" at this  year's inaugural."

Though in my opinion, it would have been fun if Elton John showed up at the Trump gala to sing just one of his hits, namely "Funeral For A Friend/Loves Lies Bleeding." That would have fit nicely.

Andrea Bocelli, the tenor, declined Trump's invitation to perform, too. They were going to have the Radio City Rockettes, but they and the internet rebelled, so no Rockettes kicking up the heels. Again, though, it would have been nice seeing the Rockettes kick Trump in the butt, while Elton John sang "Funeral For A Friend."

I'd pay good money to see that!

Garth Brooks and Celine Dion sent their regrets to the Trump team, too, so I guess we won't hear from them.

However, Trump Inc. has booked the band The Reagan Years (America's Premier '80s Tribute Band!)  and the Star Spangled Singers.

This whole situation is delicious.

As Renee Graham wrote in the Boston Globe:

"It doesn't matter whether stars are declining Trump's request because they oppose his rhetoric ad proposed policies or because they just want to avoid backlash from their fans. This is tangible defiance that Trump can't ignore, because it makes him look foolish and ineffectual. And you don't have to be Alec Baldwin to recognize ow deeply that kind of thing wounds the petulant manchild who will be president."

Not to mention paragraphs like that which would also bother our Beloved Petulant Manchild.

Trump's team is of course spinning this. Trump advisor Boris Epshteyn said "You know, this is not Woodstock. It's not Summer Jam. It's not a concert. It's not about celebrities. As Donald Trump tweeted himself, it's about the people. That's what we're concentrated on."

Meanwhile, another HUGE concert might be brewing to compete with the Trump inauguration.  Nothing's confirmed yet, but a promoter says he's organizing a big, multi-star concert on inauguration day.

I don't know if it will actually happen, but it sounds fun!

These "Win" Moments Are Your Perfect Wednesday TIme Waster

Looking to waste time in an entertaining way?

Watch this "Win" compiliation, which shows us that a lot of people have way too much time on their hands, but that's OK.

In this video, we see a dog really bust a ,ove, we encounter a heavy metal bird, a bus that hilariously encourages us to vote and  a surprising "motorcycle" on a rural road.

Plus, we learn how many drones it takes to screw in a lightbulb.

That and more is here:

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Deplorables Now Trying To Kill Journalists? Harass All 'Enemies"?

Journalist Kurt Eichenwald, who has epilepsy,
was sent Tweets with flashing lights to induce
 seizures. People who can't stand to see
Donald Trump criticized sent them, and now
these assailants might face legal trouble.
One of the reasons I worry about the rise of facism in America at the expense of democracy is some of Trump's biggest fans.  

They are truly The Deplorables, badly attacking, sometimes physically,  anyone who dares criticize Trump or anything he does.

I know this is familiar territory to anyone who reads this blog thingy here. I'm always complaining about the undemocratic, un-American Deplorables who make up the core of Trump's most base base.

However, they must constantly be exposed, called on the carpet and mocked into irrelevance to rid ourselves of this cancer.

And like cancer, it takes repeated treatments, repeated exposure to powerful medicines, to get rid of it. This is my small part. Everyone should partake in providing these "treatments." Mockery is good medicine.

That's becuse It really feels as if the Deplorables believe they have a license to be Trump's "enforcers" making sure any dissent is squelched. If violence is necessary so be it.

Unfortunately, it often works. People are afraid to speak up if they are going to get harassed, threatened, hurt, maybe even killed.

This isn't the M.O. of most Trump supporters, of course. Generally, they just prefer his politics and his way of doing things, and will pretty much leave everyone alone. Totally fine.

It's the still-too-many Deplorables that are and will cause all kinds of havoc during the Trump administration.

This week we have a report of Deplorables attacking a journalist who has epilepsy with messages designed to trigger grand mal seizures. All because the Deplorables don't like what the journalist says about  Trump

THE JOURNALIST

One person brave enough to take the Deplorables on is journalist Kurt Eichenwald. He has a form of epilepsy in which grand mal seizures can be triggered by certain types of light patterns.

Some of the nation's Deplorables know this, so they sent Eichenwald tweets, emails and such that contain these light patterns, in addition to the usual death threats against him and his family, for having the temerity of calling out what he believes are the worst of Trump's excesses.

Like I said, though, Eichenwald is fighting back.

Eichenwald is working to find and press assault charges against the people who send him these seizure-inducing strobes, and also working to get them off social media platforms like Twitter, reducing the Deplorables ability to troll.

The only thing I can say that Eichenwald is doing wrong is trying to appeal to the Deplorables' humanity, or at least trying to get others to encourage the Deplorables to put a lid on it.

One of Eihenwald's tweets read, "Look at how many Trump followers seem to think it's funny or deserved that someone used my disability a weapon. What's wrong with them?"

A lot, but that's not going to stop them, unfortunately.

Eichenwald also tweeted, "How have so many ppl become such sociopaths that they think it's OK to assault someone if they write political stories they don't like?"

I'm not sure, but they certainly have their share of supporters and abetters.

Eichenwald is seeking out the people who sent him the seizure tweets and plans to press charges, which is good. It was an assault, so it should be treated as such.

Twitter, citing its user policies, said it would turn over data that would likely lead to the person who sent the seizure-causing tweet.

Of course, we're all free to criticize Eichenwald's reporting and writing. He's human and capable of being wrong. He's a big boy, he can handle criticism. It's part of the job.

But trying to induce seizures? Sounds to me some of his critics are too afraid to take Eichenwald on intellectually, so they resort to this.

The defense of the seizure tweets by obnoxious web sites like Twitchy, Breitbart the Daily Caller is the usual story: To them, Eichenwald is lying and being silly to boot. Because the Deplorables never do anything wrong, uh-uh!

The Daily Caller the other day seemed to suggest that Eichenwald was lying because a police report hadn't been filed yet.

Twitchy re-ran tweets from some of the worst of the Deplorables who pretty much all said that Eichenwald had a psychotic breakdown, not a seizure. But then, the Deplorables probably are too dumb tell the difference between the two.

I'll let "Ursulafaw," writing in Daily Kos, to say what's on my mind, since they do a great job of summarizing how I feel, and how the rest of us should feel:

"It is beyond deplorable that anybody would lash out at a reporter like the Trumpites have lashed out at Kurt Eichenwald, literally trying to destroy the man. Inducing a grand mal seizure is not something that responsible people choose as a viable tool to express their disagreement with something that someone has written. Not in a civilized society, where divergent opinion in the free marketplace of ideas is the order of the day. 

Post 11/09 we no longer live in a civilized society that much is made manifestly clear by the headlines of each and every day. There are literally two countries now, the United States of America and the Trump States of America and I am not talking about Democratic or Republican. I am talking about civility vs. barbarism, about decency vs. degeneracy. The bottom feeders of Trump supporters defy description."

But the bottom feeders will continue bottom feeding. It's going to be a long four years, and we all need to call out the people who do this kind of thing. Even if it's exhausting.







Monday, December 26, 2016

A Guy Named Carl Paladino Is New York's Biggest Jerk

The Jerk Of The Week Award Goes To
Carl Paladino. Congratulations! 
When given an opportunity to make a statement or a joke in public, don't be a gross jerk.

That nugget of advice might seem obvious to most of us, but not a guy named Carl Paladino who obviously didn't get the memo.

This all started when a western New York publication,  Buffalo ArtVoice, had one of those end-of-the-year easy features where they ask people in their community wishes for the new year.

Practically every news outlet does this,  and the answers are usually heartfelt wishes or a joke.

ArtVoice asked numerous prominent people around Bufflalo, "What would you most like to happen in 2017?" and "What would you like to see go away in 2017?"

None of the answers were particularly newsworthy except for  those by Carl Paladino, who is on the Buffalo School Board and was a New York co-chairman of Donald Trump's election campaign earlier this year. .

For 2017, Paladino wished that Barack Obama would contract mad cow disease and die after having sex with a Hereford.

Barrel of laughs right?

Paladino got even worse when he described what he'd like to see go away in 2017. He answered, "Michelle Obama. I'd like her to return to bein a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla."

Incredibly racist and crude right?

Not to old Carl here.

Paladino later confirmed to the Buffalo News that he made those statements. "Yeah, I'm not politically correct.....They asked what I want and I told them."

He later put out a statement that read in part, "Merry Christmas and tough luck if you don't like my answer."

To nobody's surprise, not many people do like his answer. Trump's transition team hated it, along with pretty much everybody in New York from the governor on down.

Even Paladino's own son, who now runs the real estate firm that Carl founded, posted a message on Facebook distancing him and his company from dad's stupidity.

The son, William, said in part, "We do not condone the statements made about the President of the United States and his wife. They were disrespectfu and absolutely unnecessary."

Fellow members of the Buffalo School Board, which serves a student population that has lots of racial minorities, are trying to find ways to kick Paladino off the board.

It's about time. Paladino has a long history of being a jerk, including in 2010 when he unsuccessfully (thank gawd) ran for governor of New York. At the start of and during that campaign, Paladino e-mailed racist and pornographic images that apparently somehow to his mind showed his intention to run for office.

Whatever.

Yeah, Paladino is an irrelevant jerk. Part of me was tempted to just ignore him.

But as I always say, it's good to shine a cleansing light on the most toxic of people and public figures like Paladino.

I still feel like I have to take a shower after writing about this idiot, though.




Saturday, December 24, 2016

Tha Annual Darlene Love Christmas Salute

The great Darlene Love continued her Christmas
tradition on "The View" this year 
As I've done for several years on this here blog thingy, on Christmas Eve I always feature Darlene Love's classic "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)"

It's one of the few holiday songs I actually like.

Love actually.

Darlene Love doesn't age, whether it be on the 28 years she sang this classic on David Letterman, and now the second year on "The View" now that Letterman is off the air.

She's supposedly 75 years old, but I don't believe it.

By the way, Darlene Love has a new album out. She doesn't quit, does she? Thank goodness.

At the end of this year's performance from "The View", we get a little taste of Patti LaBelle to make things even sweeter.

I mention sweeter in connection with Patti LaBelle not only because of her awesome voice, but also because she has now gotten doubly famous for her sweet potato pie, which is a HUGE holilday hit at Walmart. 

Here's the video of this year's performance of Darlene Love's "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)" on "The View"

Happy Holidays everyone!!!!!


Canadian Sikhs Make Snow Shoveling Awfully Fun

The Maritime Bhangra Group in Canada found
a way to actually make snow shoveling fun. 
I confess to grumbling a bit Thursday when I had to shovel about two and a half inches of new snow from my driveway.

Not a big deal, but still. vaguely annoying.

Maybe I should take a lesson from these three Sikh guys in Nova Scotia, Canada, who made a viral video that put the fun back in snow shoveling.

They're part of the Maritime Bhangra Group

The video is at the bottom of this post and is totally worth the watch.

Bonus: The video raises funds for the ALS Foundation of Nova Scotia, and that's always a good thing

Here's the video:

Friday, December 23, 2016

Bah-Humbug! Lots Of Reasons To Hate Christmas

You're supposed to be exceedingly cheerful at Christmas.  That's the demand.

I'm going to break the rules here.  Christmas is not all it's cracked up to be.

Don't get me wrong, if Christmas makes you happy, then great! I'd never want to take away your joy.

I'm just saying that if there are aspects of the holiday you don't like, it's time to rebel against the Christmas dictators who demand, demand, demand that the holiday be just one great big orgy of joy, no matter how you really feel.

BE HAPPY

I'll start with that Christmas rule: Always be insanely cheerful.

Now, there's nothing at all wrong with being happy. Who doesn't want to be happy?

The problem is the Christmas Powers That Be demand that you be happy. You don't get to choose your emotions. Or feel how you really feel.

If you're starring in that proverbial country song, the one where your wife left you, the dog died, the truck won't start, you got evicted from your house and you're out of beer, too bad! Smile! Ho, ho ho!

Forget decking the halls. If I were in that situation I'd want to deck whoever was demanding that I be happy because it's Christmas.

BE PERFECT

The other demand at Christmas is that everything has to be perfect. You need to decorate the house just so; you, your relatives and friends must all behave perfectly at all times and complete the humanly impossible task of never making a mistake.

Again, it's all good to try to be nice, try to do your decorating nicely, have nice holiday gatherings, but why the pressure to make things perfect. One of the things I like most about my friends and family is that they're terrific, but not perfect. I'm certainly not perfect, either.

Why can't we all just let people be who they are at Christmas? It's against the rules, apparently

TORTURING THE MENTALLY ILL

Speaking of perfect, some people are simply mentally incapable of making everything just right. Take me: I have ADHD. I don't use that as an excuse for my mistakes, because I try to compensate for my short attention span and frustrations by working at my strengthts, learning from my mistakes, and doing any mental trick I can to focus.

At Christmas, though, that's not good enough. In the pursuit of perfection, you have to juggle thousands of details to get things just right. Because Christmas demands that you be perfect, dammit! And wipe that frown from your face! We already went over being insanely happy!!

Lose track of one thing, forget one detail, and you've ruined everything, according to the Christmas rules. You can imagine the pressure that bears on people with ADHD.

My ADHD is a minor issue. What about people who have serious mental issues?

It turns out that the idea that there are more suicides around Christmas is a total myth. However, people prone to stress, who already have enough pressures in their life, tend to go off at Christmas, at least from my observations.

That's part of the reason why you have those fatal stampedes on Black Friday as people scramble to get that perfect gift that's almost sold out. (See, there's that damn word "perfect" again!)

I work in customer service. The vast majority of customers I work with are really nice. But a few just go off like CRAZY if we've sold out of something or something has gone wrong with a delivery. Is it really a national tragedy that we've run out of white amaryllis plants but still have plenty of red ones?

To a few people, the answer is yes.

HOLIDAY MUSIC IS HORRIBLE

Speaking of torture, holiday music is what sends me off the deep end. It's either so saccharine that I go into a diabetic coma, or it's so maudlin I want to strangle someone. Or the holiday music is off-the-charts stupid.

C'mon. Barking dogs singing "Jingle Bells?"  The song "Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer" is one of the most popular Christmas songs ever. Really?

Then there are those icky sad songs, because, here we go again, the songwriter is upset that they violated the "Happy, Perfect" rule of Christmas. So we get obnoxious sad sacks crying, "I'll be home for Christmas, but only in my dreams."

Dude, just book a flight home during your next vacation! It doesn't have to be at Christmas, despite what the Christmas fascists tell you.

Then there's, "I'm Dreaming of A White Christmas," which brings me to my next issue:

DOES IT HAVE TO SNOW?

What's with the obsession with snow at Christmas? It's not Christmas, apparently, unless it's snowing, or at least there's snow on the ground.

I almost never see Christmas images without snow. It must make the people who live in places like Florida feel terrible. (Even though they're not supposed to feel terrible because it's Christmas!)

Frankly, Christmas snow often just gets in the way. The snow grounds that flight that would have taken you to Grandma's house for the holidays. Then again, the trip would have probably been wasted, since old Grandma got run over by that stupid reindeer.

This Christmas, the snow epicenter of the United States appears to be North Dakota, where a holiday blizzard is forecast. Would you really want to get in your car to see family only to die in a frigid whiteout on a North Dakota highway?

DIdn't think so.

Yes, the snow can be pretty and clean and white, but who wants to shovel a foot of pretty and clean and white from the driveway, you know, to make everything perfect?

OFFENDING PEOPLE

Then there's the stupid "War on Christmas"  Despite the fact we don't like being told to be happy and cheerful and kind, we try to do it anyway. Can't hurt to make an effort, right?

Well, yes it does! If you wish someone a "Merry Christmas," chances are they're not religious and they yell at you for shoving Christianity into their faces.

So, when the next person comes along, you just wish them "Happy Holidays." Big mistake. Why are taking Christ out of Christmas, they demand. You hate God, they say.

You just can't win.

I feel better after this rant, thank you. Merry Christmas. Or Happy Holidays. Or just leave me alone until Boxing Day, OK?

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Autistic Girl Wowing Us With Her Rendition Of "Hallelujah"

Kaylee Rodgers, who has autism and ADHD
gives an incredible performance of "Hallelujah"
in a viral video. 
Social media and YouTube is hot with yet another viral version of the Leonard Cohen song "Hallelujah" and it's a good one.  

It's done by a 10 year old girl at the Killard House School in Donaghadee, Northern Island.

On the face of it, she does an awesome job, by any standard. You can watch the video at the bottom of this post.

What's really amazing is the girl, Kaylee Rodgers, has autism and ADHD.

I have ADHD and can barely get my act together. Throw autism on top of that and you get a performance like this? Incredible!

According to the BBC, music teach Lloyd Scates spotted Kaylee's talent and convinced her to sing solos. She was extremely shy and quiet when she first arrived at the school, and the singing is developing her voice and confidence.

"She always loved singing, but it wasn't until she started at Killard House School that she really came into her own," said Kaylee's mom, who gave loads of credit to Scates. "He's like her safety blanket. He's amazing."

So is Kaylee. Give her a listen and hear for yourself:



Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Late, Great Jeopardy! Champion Cindy Stowell Continues To Amaze And Give

Current "Jeopardy!" champion Cindy Stowell died
of cancer before her big winning streak on the game show
began airing. All of her winnings went to cancer research.  
My husband Jeff and I are huge fans of the game show "Jeopardy!"

At 6:59 p.m. each evening, Jeff bellows from the kitchen, "Time for Jeopardy!" and me and the dogs come running into the living room to  settle down on the couch to watch and play along.  

For more than a week now, we've been in awe of Cindy Stowell, who has won six straight shows so far.

For many reasons, she's just about my favorite contestant I've ever seen on "Jeopardy!"

Here's why:

Unfortunately, Stowell can't watch herself on the pre-taped episodes of "Jeopardy" As you might have heard from news reports, she died of cancer about a week before her appearances on the show began airing.

Early last year, Stowell passed an online test for prospective "Jeopardy!" contestants. She was invited to show up later for an in-person audition in Oklahoma City.

Stowell wrote back: 

"Do you have any idea how long it typically takes between an in-person interview, the taping date? I ask because I just found out that I don't have too much longer to live. The doctor's best guess is six months. 

If there is the chance that I'd be able to still tape episodes of "Jeopardy!" if I were selected, I'd like to do that and donate my winnings to....charities involved in cancer research. If it is unlikely that the turnaround time would be that quick, then I'd like to give up my try out spot to someone else."

"Jeopardy!" producers told her to show up in Oklahoma City and they'd do their best to expedite a slot for Stowell if she passed the in-person audition.

She did, and they squeezed her in early for a taping that started at the end of August. While she was on the show, only a very small group of "Jeopardy!" staffers and host Alex Trebek knew of her condition.

None of the people who competed against her were told Stowell was ill.

The fact that she did so well, winning episode after episode is made more incredible by the fact that during the taping, she had a blood infection and was on painkillers.

The results of "Jeopardy!" shows are a closely guarded secret and are not made public until after the show airs. I don't know how many more episodes Stowell will appear on, if any, after tonight's show.

But so far, her six-day winning streak has netted $103,803, which is all going to fund cancer research.

You can help, too. Take the "Cindy Stowell Challenge." Watch "Jeopardy!" and play along. Keep track of how many times you get answers you get right, and donate $1 for each correct answer to the Cancer Research Institute.

As you can imagine, I've become a big fan of Cindy Stowell. I admire anyone, who, in dire circumstances, just gives to other people like she has.

In an era with too many people who are too selfish and too mean and too angry, I wish there were more people like Stowell.

Her passing was a great loss for everyone.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

This Is The Right Way To Retaliate Against A Homophobic Neighbor

Lexi Magnusson's rainbow holiday lights  
There's a couple of neighbors in Washington State that aren't getting along with each other all that well this Christmas season.  

On the bright side- literally - the neighborhood had a lot more colorful holiday lights than it otherwise would have had there not been this disagreement between the homeowners in Kitsap County, Washington

This all started when a new family moved into Lexi Magnusson's neighborhood.

That new neighbor told Magnusson that she moved there from Oregon to "escape the gays and the transgender."

Magnusson was annoyed, but kept her mouth shut because she's sick and tired of all the yelling about politics and social issues this year. She was also confused about how anybody could "escape" gay and transgendered people since the pretty much live everywhere.

However, Magnusson felt the need to retaliate against her neighbor's bigotry. So she put up 10,000 lights on her bushes in rainbow colors to signify her opposition to her neighbor's stance on gay people.

The two neighbors aren't talking, though Magnusson said she still waves a friendly hellow to her anti-gay neigbhor.

We Replaced Yule Log With Dumpster Fire Because 2016 Was That Kind Of Year.

Spirt of the holidays: A 2016 dumpster
fire Christmas tree ornament. 
You all know the Yule Log on TV. Just footage of a fireplace, burning log crackling amidst the flames.

Peaceful.  Homey. Warm.

But that's most years, This year is different. What a disaster of a year!

So, at the bottom of this post, enjoy 13 minutes of a fake dumpster fire, which pretty much sums up the mood of this season.

Maybe a train wreck would be more appropriate, but that would be too much of a fire hazard for your house, I think.

We'll settle for the dumpster.

If you're really inspired by the dumpster fire below, and really want to get into the spirit of the season, click on this sentence to learn how to make your own dumpster fire Christmas tree ornament.

Now the video:

Monday, December 19, 2016

"Boring" Photo Is One Of Most Chilling Ones I've Seen In the News In A Long Time

This photo looks pretty routine, but the backstory of it is
absolutely chilling.
The photo in this post is pretty routine, maybe even boring, but it is one of the most chilling I've ever seen.  

The guy I the foreground is Russia's ambassador to Turkey, Andrei Karlov. He was in an Ankara, Turkey art gallery this morning looking at the works.

The photo of Karlov was taken just moments before he was assassinated. The person who killed him is the blurry guy in the background.

The gunman, reportedly on off-duty Turkish police officer,  yelled "Don't forget Aleppo! Don't Forget Syria!" before apparently being killed by Turkish forces, Reuters reported.

The Syrian civil war has been a nightmare for hundreds of thousands of people and that is the understatement of the year.

Thousands of innocent civilians died terrible deaths in East Aleppo, and thousands more have been through  months or years of incredible suffering.

Aleppo has been an astounding human failure, an astounding humanitarian failure.

One more death, this time the Russian ambassador to Turkey, is "just" another part of the horror show that is Syria and the monsters who made it happen, and the weak people who let it happen.

The photo above, while not showing any carnage, is another testament to the awfulness in that part of the world right now.

Media Spotlight Keeps Racially Charged W. Va. Official Out Of a Job

Pamela Taylor is apparently back on the job as
director of a West Virginia non-profit agency,
despite some recent racist comments she made on Facebook.
12/27/16 UPDATE:

Well, it looks like old Pamela Taylor won't keep her job after all.

Thanks, I believe to that Charleston Gazette-Mail follow up story I describe below, the light of publicity was too much.

As described below, Taylor lost her job at a West Virginia agency for racist comments about Michelle Obama.

When the media spotlight faded, she was quietly reinstated.

But word got out. Now we find out that the West Virginia governor announced that Taylor won't be working at the non-profit center that uses state money and helps the poor.

The move, the gov said, was to ensure Taylor's now former employer follow non-discrimination rules.

PREVIOUS DISCUSSION

We see this all the time:

Someone is caught on social media,  like Facebook or Twitter, saying something awful, racist, wrong, or anything totally reprehensible.

The scene then plays out in a familiar way: There's a public outcry, the bad person is mocked, and then they lose their job or something else important to them.

Sometimes the reaction is overkill, sometimes it's not. But what happens when the media spotlight goes away?

As a West Virginia case proves, the offending person is often quietly reinstated and things go on as if they never happened.

According to the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Pamela Taylor, who last month referred to First Lady Michelle Obama in a Facebook post as "an ape in heels,"  is back on the job as Director at the non-profit Clay County Development Corp.

The Development Corp provides services to seniors and financial aid to low income people in the region.

The entire quote from Taylor on Facebook referred to the incoming First Lady Melania Trump: "It will be refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady back in the White House. I'm tired of seeing a (sic) Ape in heels."

I'll leave it to you to decide who is more classy: Melanie Trump or Michelle Obama.

Still, the ape crack was pretty racist, though Taylor later said in an apology she isn't racist.

OK, then.

Anyway, Taylor's reinstatement came even after a stern letter from the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services warned the Development Corp that "any discrimination of staff or the customers (they) serve" could cause the agency to lose funding from state and federal agencies, the Gazette-Mail reported.

The First Lady remark didn't fit the criteria of discriminating against people they serve, but the Clay County Development Corp is clearly skating on thin ice.

After Taylor made her remarks, a local mayor, Beverly Whaling, responded to Taylor's Facebook post, "You made my day, Pam."

The mayor then resigned amid the outcry.

Before us liberals get too smug, some of us are pretty bad, too. Both Taylor and Whaling received numerous death threats after this news came out, and somebody mailed in a white powder to scare people associated with the two women.

I'm not sure why people send death threats to anyone who does something stupid, racists or wrong, but that's just wrong. At least as wrong or more so than Taylor's ugly racist comments.

As is always the case in these kinds of situations, the Clay County Development Corp refused to respond to any questions from the Gazette-Mail, because of the way their M.O. works: Shut the press, the media and the social media out and we can keep doing what we're doing, no matter how creepy the director is.

I'm sure many of the people the Clay County Development Corp serves are now pretty leery of this organization, especially racial minorities that need or want their help.

Still, I can't wait to read future Facebook posts from Taylor, now that she's back safe in her job.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Trump, Putin Star In Last Nights Hysterical, Terrifying SNL Cold Opening

"Vladimir Putin" and "Donald Trump" on
Saturday Night Livv last night. 
In case you haven't seen it, you have to check out last night's Saturday Night Live cold opening, which features, well, the usual suspects.

These include Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and a few other familiar characters.

The real Donald Trump is going to HATE this, and I'm sure we'll hear about it via his Twitter account.

The other day, Trump blasted on Twitter a Vanity Fair magazine for an unfavorable restaurant review on one of his hotels. The result was that new Vanity Fair subscriptions skyrocketed.

I think SNL keeps getting Alec Baldwin to poke fun at Trump to ensure it stays on the air forever, with the help of Trump's Twitter feed.

This is definitely worth the watch, though. I laughed out loud:

Saturday, December 17, 2016

North Carolina Exhibit One On How GOP Could Destroy National Democracy

Demostrators rail against an undemocratic power grab
by North Carolina Republicans. At least 20
were arrested, including at least one journalist.  
Autocrats entering the White House under Donald Trump need to look no further than North Carolina on how they can end democracy and usurp the will of the people.

The Republican legislature in North Carolina this week basically launched a coup d'├ętat against the recently elected governor, a Democrat.

As numerous news organizations, including Daily Kos point out, Republicans in North Carolina, at least, don't give a shit about such niceties as the rule of law, the will of voters and fair elections.

The Republicans in North Carolina held a surprise special session in which they took a lot of powers away from the governor and gave it to the legislature. That's because a Democrat, Roy Cooper was just elected North Carolina governor.

They also changed the Supreme Court into elected positions, to ensure Republicans get on the state's highest court from the Republcans' badly gerrymandered districts.

That's because the North Carolina Supreme Court has in the recent past ruled against the Republicans' shenanigans, power grabs and voter suppression moves.

If you think this is just a North Carolina thing, it isn't. That's why you should be worried. The Donald Trump administration is likely to do similar things writ large in the entire United States.

Your rights to pick and choose who leads the nation might be going by the wayside, which is a truly terrible and terrifying thing.

North Carolina has been at this for awhile. It's a lot of work destroying democracy, apparently, but they've proven it can be done.

Daily Kos notes that this has been the M.O. of some GOPers for awhile, and it might only get worse.

"Republicans had previously gerrymandered the legislature so aggressively that they won to-proof majorities in 2012 despite losing the popular vote, and they easily maintained them in 2016 despite McCrory's loss. 

A courty in 2016 struck down those maps as unconstitution racial gerrymanders, meaning the North North Carolina Republicans are using an illegally obtained legislative majorityto ursurp the powers of the fairly elected new Democratic governor. 

Democracy relies on electoral losers recognizing the legitimacy of the victor, and this breathtaking power grab can only be describd as a full-blown legislative coup d-etat design to subvert democracy itself."

Slate describes how serious the North Carolina situation is:

"What's happening in North Carolina is not politics as usual. It is an extraordinarily disturbing legislative coup, a flagrant effort to maintain one-party rule by rejecting democratic norms and revoking the will of the voters.

It is the kind of thing we might expect to see in Venezuela, not a U.S state. It should terrify every American citizen who believes in the rule of law. This is so much more than a partisan power grab. This ia an attack on democracy itself. "

Oh, sure the courts might overturn what North Carolina Republicans did. Until we get new judges. In North Carolina, newly elected governor Roy Cooper plans to sue the legislature for what they've done.

What do we do when Trumpsters get rid of federal judges that rely on things like the rule of law and precedent in favor of hacks that would do their bidding?

Then, we would see the North Carolina-style autocratic rule go nation wide. Democracy would die.

As a patriotic American who has used his First Amendment rights to criticize, praise or mock elected officials, I really worry if my ability to do so will soon end.

 We can all hope that cooler heads prevail, and lawmakers, judges and such will find their moral compass and act in accordance to the Constitution, and not some autocratic dimwit like Donald Trump and his ilk .

But we can't count on it. North Carolina Republicans didn't find their democratic moral compass, so why should we rely on others?

Since Trump was elected, I've kept hoping that my fears about the stability of our democracy and rule of law were overblown.

Unfortunately, those fears look more and more like they're well placed.

I don't know if we as citizens can fight back all that well. Still, the time might be coming for a new American Revolution.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Wanna Lead A Christmas Parade? New Yorkers Said Yes

Improv Everywhere is at it again.

It's a group of people who rope random people into bizarre but fun and harmless situations. It's always fun to see how people react to these moments.

This time, they asked passersby in New York City to lead an imprompu Christmas parade through parts of town.

They always put out videos of these little stunts, and these vides are always happy little visual jaunts.

This is no exception. If you need your day brightened, and many of us do, have a look:

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Now, The Anti-Santa; The Bible Wackjob At The Mall

So called Pastor David Grisham, straight from Mount
Crumpit, yells at kids at a Texas mall that Santa doesn't exist
Parent intervened and shut the idiot up.  
Earlier, I wrote about a real life Santa Claus,  who lovingly guided a dying child on his way to the Promised Land in the ultimate display of class and compassion.

As noted in that post, there's always the opposite, the people who, rather than trying to warm hearts, try to turn them stone cold, to match their own.

I don't like to dwell on people like this, but it's always important to feature them. Exposing and mocking them is a good antiseptic, and these rubes need it.

So let me introduce you to one "Pastor" (and I use that term loosely)  David Grisham, who inexplicably decided it would be fun to travel down to Alaska and annoy and dismay children waiting in line to meet Santa at a Texas shopping mall.

As you'll see in the video at the bottom of this Grisham that filmed of his exploits, parents weren't exactly thrilled by this moron, either.

In the video, we hear this idiot bellowing to the confused and frightened children and their eye-rolling parents, "I want to tell you today there is no such thing as Santa Claus! Santa Clause does not exist! The Christmas season is about Jesus. Jesus was born 2,016 years ago. He was born in a small town  called Bethlehem. That is the truth about Christmas."

Well, I think the fine Texas families in line to see Santa already get it that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and that's why so many Christians celebrate Christmas. I'm willing to bet Santa's reindeer that most of the families there are good Christians anyway. This is Texas, after all.

Grisham then went on to yell unsolicited parenting advice, telling them they were wrong to lie to their children and tell them Santa doesn't exist.

You don't mess with Texas. Especially Texas dads who are trying to treat their kids to a nice Christmas excursion.

You see some dads demanding, rather intimidatingly, that Grisham scram.  You hear one of the delightfully menacing dads mention that he doesn't appreciate being told what to say to his kids, particularly when it's coming from an especially strange stranger.

I noticed some of the older kids in the background in the video looked pretty tough too, which is a nice touch.

The dads seem to restrain themselves enough to ward off the temptation to punch Grisham in the face. I'm not sure I'd be that self-controlled.

I'm sure Grisham skulked away eventually, back to the frigid hole he came from in Alaska.

It's just so much fun to see idiots like Grisham make a fool of himself, and pretend he doesn't the universal condemnation and mocking around him.

So, I present you with Grisham's video. Feel free to mock him any way you like, because 'tis the season.


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Sad Story Of Child Dying In Santa's Arms Proves To Me Santa Is "Real"

Eric Schmitt-Matzen, aka Santa, did a hero's job for a
dying boy. Just the dose of humanity we needed
UPDATE/EDITOR'S NOTE

This is disillusioning, but the Knoxville News Sentinel is now saying they can't verify the veracith of this story.

A statement from the News-Sentinel says in part:

"Since publication the News-Sentinel has done additional investigation in an attempt to independently verify Schmitt-Matzen's acount. This has proven unsuccessful. 

Although facts about his background have checked out, his story of bringing a gift to a dying child remains unverified. The News-Sentinel cannot establish that Schmitt-Matzens' account is inaccurate, but more importantly, ongoing reporting cannot establish that it is accurate."

If there are further updates, I'll either update or delete the post, whichever is most appropriate.

PREVIOUS DISCUSSION:

You know damn well there's a Kleenex warning with this story.

The viral story going around now is about the hospitalized child in Tennessee dying in Santa's arms.

The whole thing is hopelessly sad and tragic, obviously, save for one bright spot. The man who was playing Santa, Eric Schmitt-Matzen, is an absolutely beautiful human being.

When not Santa, the white-bearded, six foot one, 310 pound man is president of a company called Packing Seals & Engineering in Tennessee.

I'm sure he's a great mechanical engineer and CEO, but Schmitt-Matzen gave us all a welcome dose of humanity in a world that seems sorely lacking in that department.

There's a heartrending video interview with Schmitt-Matzen at the bottom of this post, but if it is too much to watch, what follows is a narrative of this simultaneously terrible and beautiful story.

According to the Knoxville News-Sentinel, the story begins with an urgent telephone call.

It was a nurse from the hospital Schmitt-Matzen knew. She told him to come right away for a sick five year old boy. The nurse told him don't even change into your whole Santa Clause outfit. There wasn't time.

I'll let Sam Venable, an author, storyteller and columnist for the Knoxville News-Sentinel pick up the story here:

"Schmitt-Matzen got to the hospital in 15 minutes. He met the lad's mother and several family members.

'She'd bought at toy from (the TV show) PAW Patrol and wanted me to give it to him,' he said, voice growing husky. 'I sized up the situation and told everyone, If you think you're going to lse it, please leave the rom. If I see you crying, I'll break down and can't do my job.'"

Venable wrote that nobody entered the room with Santa, but watched, sobbing, through a hallway window in the hospital's ICU.

Schmitt-Matzen continued, as relayed by Venable:

"'When I walked in, he was laying there, so weak it looked like he was ready to fall asleep. I sat down on his bed and asked, 'Say, what's this I hear about you're gonna miss Christmas? There's no way you can miss Christmas! Why, you're my Number One Elf!'

He looked up ad said, 'I am?'

I said 'Sure!'

I gave him the present. He was so weak he could barely open the wrapping paper. When he saw what was inside, he flashed a big smile and laid his head back down.

'They say I'm gonna die,' he told me. 'How can I tell when I get to where I'm going?'

I said, 'Can you do me a big favor?'

He said, 'Sure!'

'When you get there, you tell 'em you're Santa's Number One Elf, and I know theyll let you in.'

He said, 'They will?'

I said, 'Sure!'

He kind of sat up and gave me a big hug and asked one more question: 'Santa, can you help me?'

I wrapped my arms aroud him. Before I could say anything, he died right there. I let him stay, just kept hugging and holding on to him."

And so, Schmitt-Matzen, aka Santa, sent the boy on his next journey, whereever that might be.

The boys mother ran into the room, screaming, "No, No not yet!"  Schmitt-Matzen handed the boy back to his mother and fled the hospital in tears.

He said he cried so hard driving home he could barely see the road. That's understandable.

What's also understandable is Schmitt-Matzen considered giving up his Santa gig after this. He just didn't have the heart to do it.

But he did one more gig, which was fortunate.  Schmitt-Matzen said, "When I saw all those children laughing, it brought me back into the fold, it made me realize the role I have to play....For them and for me."

At 54 years old, I'm too old to believe in Santa. Or am I?

No, a fat, happy old man from the North Pole is not going to come down my chimney Christmas Eve and give me presents.

You can call people like Schmitt-Matzen what you want. Great human beings, Good Samaritans, or guardian angels.

Or you could call him Santa. This time of year, when I hear stories like this, I'm glad that Santa lives on, not in some hokey television commercial that demands that you Buy, Buy, Buy!, but in the quiet grace of Schmitt-Matzen, aka Santa.

It seems like there's so little of Schmitt-Matzen's type in the world today, in a time when people feel like they have "permission" to scream insults and threats at people they don't like.

I, like everybody else, shed a tear when I read about Schmitt Matzen and the dying boy. Not only for the context of the story, but because it makes me know there are still people like him out there.

Thanks, Santa.

Here's the video. (Warning, it's a real tear-jerker, but worth watching)

Monday, December 12, 2016

Maybe Trump Isn't My President

I admit I was a little annoyed by some people who kept at the mantra "Trump is not my president" just after the election.   

This was coming from people I normally agree with on politics. But Trump won, despite the obvious flaws with the Electoral College, and the flaws in the media, the candidates, some voters and a multitude of other factors.

So, we had to come together as a nation, and those of us who can't stand Trump would be the loyal opposition, holding his feet to the fire through his administration.

After the revelations over the past few days, and Trumps reaction to them, maybe the "Trump is not my president" crowd was right.

Of course I'm referring to the additional news that's been coming out about Russian meddling in our election.

As the Washington Post told us late last week, people with connections to the Russian government and Wikileaks used thousands of hacked Democratic National Committee emails to boost Trump's chances.

"'It is the assessment of the intelligence community that Russia's goal here was to favor one candidate over the other, to help Trump get elected,' a senior U.S. official briefed on an intelligence presentation made to U.S. Senators told the Washington Post on Friday. 'That's the consensus view.'"

That report is a bombshell, even if we don't have firm evidence the Trump campaign directly coordinated with Russia during the election campaign.

The more disturbing part of the news was Trump's reaction to it.

According to the Washington Post:

 "'I think it's ridiculous,' Trump said in an interview with 'Fox News Sunday,' his first Sunday show appearance since the election last month. 'I think it's just another excuse. I don't believe it.....No I don't believe it all.'"

Trump also said that the CIA was wrong about Iraq weapons of mass destruction during the Bush adminstration. In his mind, if the intelligence officials were wrong once, they're always wrong.

Think about this: He's siding with Russia over us. Yes, assess and judge CIA reports as president-elect, but to just dismiss it out of hand and cozy up to his pal Vladimir Putin in the process?

Ugh.

Trump is apparently too full of himself to get legit intelligence briefings anyway. He said: "I get it whe I need it....I'm like, a smart person. I don't have to be told the same thing in the same words every single day for the next eight years."

Ookey Dokey!

Then you add in all the other factors that seem to delegitimize Trump. He won the electoral college, but lost the popular vote by more than 2.5 million people. Not exactly a mandate.

His fascination with Russia seems to keep going on and on like the Energizer Bunny, too. I'm not sure if he's actually going to pick ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, like news reports suggest.

If he does, though, Tillerson has lots of close ties to Russia, which isn't such a great thing for a Secretary of State, is it?

The Trump and Russia conundrum is making strange bedfellows, that's for sure. South Carolina Sen. Lindsay Graham, a Republican, usually drives me crazy with what he says. But he's right when he called for a Congressional investigation into the matter.

A real pleasant surprise was Joe Walsh, the former Congressman from Illinois, a reactionary right winger whose ever word he ever uttered I disagreed with.

Until now.

Walsh went on an epic tweetstorm over the weekend, outraged that most fellow Republicans are not itching for an investigation.

Sample Walsh tweets:

"I'm a Trump supporter. But if Russia messed with our election to help Hilary lose, I'd be pissed and I'd demand something be done about it."

And:

"Republican silence will be tantamount to treason. Call 4 an investigation. Foreign governments can't pick our President #RussianHackers."

The fact that Trump continues to attack any hint of anybody calling for an investigation is suspicious to me, big time.

I don't know if there's anything there, but he's acting like a five year old trying to lie his way out his parents learning he had his hands in the cookie jar.

Except the five year old's lies are more nuanced and clever than Trump's.

God help us all. I really don't think Trump's our president. Maybe he's Russia's, and he is turning the United States into a wholly owned subsidiary of Russia.

Ugh.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Is This Doll Spying On Your Kids?

I'm glad I'm not a parent of young children.
Is this cute little computerized
doll named Cayla spying on
kids and saving their information?

Especially this time of year.  

So many things to consider. Is the toy safe? Will the kid like it? Will it instill the values we want in our children? Is it too expensive?

Unfortunately, parents now have a new, much more insidious worry: Is the toy spying on our children, on the family? Is the toy gathering intelligence on us?

This feels like Brave New World, but apparently, it's here.

According to Huffington Post and other news organizations, a group of consumer watchdog organizations has filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, saing the dolls "My Friend Cayla" and "Que Intelligent Robot" have speech recognition software that gleans information from kids.

According to the FTC complaint:

"By design and purpose, these toys record and collect the private conversations of young children without any limitations on collection, use, or disclosure of this personal information.

The toys subject young children to ongoing surveillance and are deployed in homes across the United States without any meaningful data protection standards. They pose an imminent and immediate threat to the safety and security of children in the United States."

Sounds dire to me!

But how are these spy dolls doing this?

The concept of the dolls is really cool, until you think about how the dolls might collect information.

What child (or adult for that matter) wouldn't like adoll or other toy that has software that allows the doll to provide appropriate responses to everything the child says?

"Cayla can understand and respond to you in real time about almost anything.....She is not a doll...she's a real friend!" goes the Cayla advertising material.

I don't think that part of the FTC complaint iss the real objection.

But if you think about, as the people who filed the complaint have, this could be really underhanded.

Part of the complaint is fairly trivial, to be honest. Cayla mentions she likes the movie "Frozen," the movie "The Little Mermaid" and enjoys Disneyworld

The FTC complaint says that's product placement, and children don't recognize it as advertising.

That's probably true, but we're used to this by now.

To me, the real disturbing part of Cayla the doll is the information they try to glean from the kids who play with them.  Accompanying material with Cayla asks children to provide their name, mom and dad's name, which school they go to, their favorite foods and TV programs and things like that.

It's all about marketing and advertising, but it's creepy that a company would know all this stuff about a kid and her family. Especially since hackers can probably get in and cause all sorts of problems with the information.

Most worrisome, the complaint to the FTC  alleges the makers of Cayla, Genesis Toys, can record and store the information that the kids tell the doll while they're playing and conversing with it. Another company, Nuance Communications, allegedly stores the recordings for Genesis Toys.

The terms of use verbiage with Cayla, explains all this access to the information they have. But with all terms of service statements, this one is really dense and difficult to understand.  Nobody actually reads terms of service statements because they're so byzantine. and if they do, they reall don't understand it. I don't, that's for sure.

The Huffington Post and CBS says Genesis Toys won't comment. Neither would Nuance Communications, but they did direct media outlets to a Nuance muckymuck named Richard Mack, who wrote the company "takes data privacy seriously." and that the company doesn't use or sell voice data for marketing or advertising purposes."

Then why do they keep it, then? Part of it might be so the dolls interact with kids better, but I'm still suspicious.

Still, if I were a parent, I'd get my kids an old fashioned Teddy Bear or something. Call me a luddite, but I'm not sure I like this Brave New World of computerized kids toys.