Archive for the “Off-Topic” Category

Posts having nothing to do with the topic of this blog

The Caneel Bay resort on St. John was heavily damaged. Credit: Hilary Swift for The New York TimesNote: There’s a little more news, since I posted this, about how the president feels about Puerto Rico; see below.

I apologize for another off-topic post, but something really fucking needs to be done. The Groper-in-Chief administration’s latest petulant and childish whine about how the media cover their response to Hurricane Maria’s demolition of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands is just too fucking much (Archive.Is cached article).

First of all, let’s be clear about this. Contrary to what nearly half of Americans think, Puerto Rico is part of the United States (cached). It, and some of the Virgin Islands (St Croix, St John, St Thomas, and some smaller islands and islets) are US territories, and their residents are US citizens … every bit as much as those who live in the 50 states. That the land they live on isn’t in a “state” does not make them any less American. That’s just how it is.

Second, El Morro Castle, Puerto RicoPuerto Rico was particularly hard-hit by Hurricane Maria (cached), and so too were the Virgin Islands to the east, with St John having been whacked by Hurricane Irma previously (cached). They’ve been devastated.

Their local governments, obviously, have been wrecked along with homes and businesses, leaving them unable to render much aid to their own citizens. The federal government has responded, but in lackluster fashion. They’ve blamed damage to ports and airports for their inability to assist, and those certainly haven’t helped, but it’s taken a long time just to begin moving ships into place to render assistance from offshore (via helicopters and small craft). The USNS Comfort can help take the load off island hospitals, but it was only given orders to leave on Tuesday and it will take several more days to reach the islands and begin its relief operation. The GiC himself has been much more concerned with NFL players and being angry that his chosen candidate in the Alabama Senate primary lost, than he has about the hurricane response.

Full disclosure: USVI St. Thomas Charlotte Amalie Fort ChristianI’ve been to Puerto Rico several times, and the Virgin Islands a couple as well. I’ve enjoyed them all. They’re incredible places to go. They deserve much better — and much more — assistance than they’ve gotten so far. I urge you to help out in any way you can, and as much as you can. As I did with Hurricane Harvey 3 weeks ago, I’m providing a list of charities, followed by articles making further suggestions:

Many other viable options can be found at the following:

The Apricot Wonder and his minions might not think much of Americans in the Caribbean, but they do need our help. Let’s all provide it.

Update: This morning (9/30/2017) the Groper-in-Chief unleashed yet another of his infantile Twitter rants about how terrible the Puerto Ricans are, especially San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz (cached). She’s criticizing him, you see, not because his minions have failed her island, but because Democrats forced her to. And Puerto Ricans are nothing more than lazy good-for-nothings, lounging around waiting for a federal handout instead of fixing their own island. He apparently is not aware that Puerto Rico was wrecked by Hurricane Maria and its infrastructure demolished. There are very good reasons they need outside intervention. Now, for the love of all that’s holy, can we please impose a media moratorium on the Apricot Wonder’s tweet-tantrums?

Photo credit: Top, Hilary Swift/New York Times; middle, Wikimedia Commons; bottom, also Wikimedia Commons.

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CT state capitol tower & domeUpdate: There’s a little news about the Connecticut budget; please see below. And now, on with my original post:

Pardon me, Dear Reader, for another departure from the usual topics of this blog. This is something that desperately needs to be addressed … and since it involves immaturity and irrationality, it’s tangentially relevant to things I usually cover here. So here goes.

Oh, and forgive the length of this post. A lot needs to be said about this — for better or worse. OK, on to it, then!

For those of you not familiar with my home state of Connecticut, the government here is in dire fiscal straits. We face a massive budget deficit, which our government has not yet resolved (cached). Our fiscal year began this July 1, but as yet we have no budget. Our legislature convened this past January, knowing it had just under 6 months to get a budget together, but somehow it never happened. The legislature and governor’s office squandered that time, and did absofuckinglutely nothing whatsoever.

Of course, Connecticut’s government is still running, metaphorically on fumes via executive orders that continue many programs but have halted others. Since then, all that’s happened is a lot of kvetching, bellyaching, hand-wringing, and whining. A series of budget proposals were offered … by the governor, by Democrats in the legislature, and by Republicans. Some of those were revised over the past few months, but nearly all went nowhere. A lot of the inactivity was because the legislature bided its time, waiting until state employees could ratify a “giveback” package which (cached), unfortunately, still left a gaping hole to be filled (cached). With that deal in place — and because of it, lacking any ability to lay off state workers to save money — progress on a budget ground to a halt once again, with the usual sniveling and sniping between parties.

The only meaningful action took place last week, when Connecticut’s legislature, with a dramatic vote in the evenly-divided state Senate (36 seats are split 18-18 between the parties) approved the Republicans’ most recent budget, which has too many cuts (cached) to suit Democratic governor Dannel Malloy‘s fancy, and he’s said he’ll veto it.

Beyond some more sniping, nothing is happening. There are no budget talks. There’s nothing on the horizon, no progress to report. It’s expected Connecticut will begin October without a budget.

The problem is, even if Malloy signed the GOP budget, it would give the Nutmeg State a budget for the next two years … but it wouldn’t solve the state’s deficit problem (cached). It’d just put off the matter of the budget deficit until 2019’s legislative session, when this whole laughable exercise would start all over again.

There’s an underlying problem with state government finances, which neither party is willing to address — and in fact, they’ve worked hard not to address it, for decades now. That underlying problem is Connecticut’s massive liabilities … mainly in the form of pensions and retiree benefits (cached). Put simply, the state failed to fund pensions adequately (for decades), and retirement payments have blossomed over the last several years. Keep in mind that the state pays pensions not only for retired state employees, but also for public school teachers (hired at the municipal level, and by number of regional districts). As “baby boomers” retire, this will only get even worse than it already is — and it’s already sapping the state’s coffers.

The two parties offer the usual two solutions one would expect: Democrats want taxes increased, especially on the wealthy, to confiscatory rates; and Republicans want taxes cut, because supposedly this will cause an economic boom that in turn will increase revenues. Let me be honest: Neither of these is going to work. Tax cuts of the GOP style fail, as the state of Kansas found out — and as that state’s Republicans, who rule there, were recently forced to concede (cached). The Democrats’ scenario — raising rates on millionaires — isn’t much better. It’s not that they can’t afford it, or that they’ll leave the state if their taxes are raised (which is a common GOP contention); it’s that most of Connecticut’s highest earners run hedge funds, which are volatile, and it’s impossible to anticipate what they’ll be paying in, any given year (or quarter, for that matter). At times, they’ve accounted for up to 30% of state revenues (cached). That’s a big chunk of the state’s coffers to have to leave up to such an iffy income stream. Increasing the sales tax rate, or eliminating sales tax exemptions (say, on prescription drugs) would provide a more even, and thus anticipatable, revenue increase, but sales taxes are inherently regressive (cached) and furthermore, as they go up, the return diminishes. Adding (say) 50 basis points on a 7% sales tax generates less added revenue than adding those same 50 basis points on a 5% sales tax.

The only real solution is to cut the liabilities and (somehow) reduce retirement benefit payments. Ostensibly this was supposed to have happened with the “concessions deal” that was worked out in July. However, this deal is a mixed bag, because while it does save some money, it keeps state government employment where it is, which in the long run will tend to keep liabilities high. So it doesn’t really help much. The state’s GOP has said this since it was first negotiated, and although I disagree with them on many things, on this point, they’re correct.

The state’s other major expense — aside from employee wages and benefits — is Medicaid. While it gets some federal matching funds, this too is a major drain on state coffers. The problem is, there isn’t much left to cut here. Medicaid reimbursements have been pared down, little by little, with each budget that’s been passed since the early ’90s. There’s been a contraction in the number of nursing homes, with many of them folding, but the state’s elderly population is not dropping. It’s not that there isn’t any more that might be shaved off … the practice of having Medicaid patients taken to appointments by ambulance, rather than taxi or some other much-cheaper alternative, certainly needs to be changed and can save money. But there’s just not a lot left to be had.

What Connecticut needs are structural changes to its finances, both spending and taxation, as well as the reining in of long-term liabilities and debt. It needs more reliable revenue streams, and spending cuts, including paring down the state’s employment rolls, along with reducing pension payments. An easy start would be an immediate end to the practice of “double-dipping” such as in this case (cached) And that’s but one example … lots of these guys are getting two paychecks from the state. A state employee should either get a payroll check, or a pension check, but never both. The practice of letting them use spikes in overtime ratchet up their pension checks, also needs to end (cached). These are two reforms which would not only save money every year in payroll, but they’d save more than that in pensions, in the long haul. Thinning out the ranks of state employees would also have a similar cascading effect, saving some money in the short term and even more in the future.

Good luck getting that to happen, though. The legislature’s leadership (namely, the Democrats who’re the majority in the House of Representatives) are closely hooked in with the state’s public employee unions. In fact, in his “day job,” House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz is a representative for one of those unions (specifically, AFSCME). Like his federal counterpart, Aresimowicz drives all legislation in his chamber. That practically screams “conflict of interest,” but no one in Hartford has noticed.

There’s yet another consideration: State aid to cities and towns (while Connecticut has counties, they exist only geographically, there are no county governments). This money typically goes toward funding public education, due to a provision in the state constitution (specifically, section 4 of article VIII). There are also PILOT payments (payments in lieu of taxes) which compensate towns and cities for untaxed property (e.g. for buildings owned by the state or non-profits). Over the last 15-20 years these payments have grown, as the cost of education has gone up. Among the bigger elements of that increasing cost are special education budgets, which in many towns and districts have literally exploded.

The governor has pushed to get school districts to begin contributing to teacher pensions (they’ve never had to before), and both parties’ budgets reduce payments to cities and towns. While this helps state finances, unless costs at the municipal level are lowered, all it will do is cause local property taxes to go up — which won’t help Nutmeggers at all. Ultimately, that sort of cost-shifting is also not a viable long-term solution. What needs to happen is that the cost of running municipalities — and for nearly all of them, that’s education — needs to be reduced significantly.

There has been talk of allowing municipalities to impose an extra sales tax of 1% on restaurant bills, which could ease the property tax burden, but … really? Why just restaurants? Why not on everything that has a sales tax? And what about very-small towns that have few or no restaurants? That this provision makes little sense probably explains why it hasn’t been mentioned over the last few weeks. Still, giving towns and cities an added revenue stream, is probably not a bad idea. Not that I’m a fan of new taxes, but property taxes are problematic.

The long and short of it is: Connecticut needs to restructure its government finances. It absolutely needs to happen at the state level, and ought to happen at the municipal level; and it needs to begin now. Not in a few months, or a few weeks — but now! The city of Hartford is at the edge of bankruptcy, and will soon be forced to make changes (cached) — either on its own, or by state or bankruptcy-court order), but really the whole state needs a drastic governmental-financial makeover.

But … knowing this … what are our leaders in Hartford doing? Nothing. Not. One. Single. Fucking. Thing. No budget negotiations are taking place. Not even the individual parties are discussing their next proposals. Nothing is happening — at all. This is an absolute, fucking shame. Everyone in the state Capitol; the governor, both houses of the legislature, and both political parties, appear to have collectively given up.

It’s time for them to get off their whiney little asses and start doing their jobs. Really, they ought to have done their jobs months ago and generated a new, workable budget prior to this past July 1. They ought to be ashamed of themselves for not having met that deadline. But they should be doubly ashamed for having thrown up their hands, now. It’s time for them to get back to fucking work already and do their fucking jobs, fercryinoutloud.

P.S. I will end this by explaining, especially to those of you who aren’t from Connecticut, that the Nutmeg State’s fiscal disaster is not of partisan origin. It wasn’t caused only by one party or the other. Yes, it’s dominated right now by Democrats, having had a Democratic legislature for what seems like ages, and a Democratic governor since January 2011; but we had Republican governors since 1995 (John Rowland, who was convicted of corruption in 2004, then succeeded by his lieutenant governor Jodi Rell, who was elected in her own right in 2006) and prior to that, an ostensible independent (Lowell Weicker) beginning in 1991. Both parties played a part in consistently and repeatedly putting off funding pension and benefit liabilities, and that tendency goes back decades. Thus, elected officials from both parties are responsible for it. That’s both of them. Don’t let anyone convince you this is solely the fault of only one party … because it’s not. By contrast, the fiscal crisis in Kansas is largely the fault of that state’s GOP (cached), and in particular governor Sam Brownback.

Update: It took a couple weeks but Connecticut’s leaders finally decided to try working out a budget. That this is what they should have been doing, back in May and June, doesn’t seem to have occurred to them.

Oh, and despite of all of this, the state’s main teachers’ union is suing the governor to get school funding restored (cached). It doesn’t matter to them that the state’s finances are in the toilet; they just want their fucking money! “Show me the money,” they’re saying. “Show me the money!” I have no idea which stone they plan to bleed in order to get the money they demand, but they’re going to demand it, anyway. I guess.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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crying-babyPardon me, Dear Reader, for yet another largely off-topic post. A lot needs to be said right now — and I’m going to say it.

First of all, let’s clear the air over what happened at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA. The rally hadn’t even formally begun before it became violent and police broke it up. Shortly after that, an angry white supremacist from Ohio drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 19 others (Archive.Is cached article). The driver reportedly had longstanding Nazi sympathies (cached). In other words, he was a card-carrying member of the “alt right” which had assembled in what is, basically, Thomas Jefferson’s hometown, to bluster and fume about the impending removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a city park (cached).

Shortly after, on Saturday, the Groper-in-Chief made some comments condemning the violence at that rally, which had mostly been planned for him, but he added (twice!) an additional “on many sides,” entirely on his own (cached). In other words, he was blaming both sides for the violence and death — which was definitely not the case. He took some heat for that, from his own party, even (cached)! On Monday afternoon, he read a perfunctory condemnation of white nationalists, which he thought would end the matter (cached). But the hubbub triggered by his initial equivocation and false equivalence didn’t die down.

So today, the Apricot Wonder met with some assembled reporters and proceeded to launch into a full-blown, ten-alarm, all-hands-on-deck infantile meltdown (cached).

That’s the only description that fits this fucking debacle. Really. It’s juvenile beyond words. Quoting any of it would be pointless, and give it more dignity than it deserves. If you feel the need to, you can watch it, courtesy of PBS News Hour, via Youtube (cached):

You can also read a transcript, courtesy of CNBC (cached). Some of the more salient points of the Groper’s raging shit-show, are:

  1. He refused to say when he would speak with Ms Heyer’s family, but twice mentioned nice things her mother had said about him
  2. He refused to say when he’d go to Charlottesville, but mentioned his house — and winery — there
  3. He refused to call the car attack “terrorism,” claiming he needed more “facts,” even though he never previously let “facts” get in the way of venting his spleen
  4. His answer to the problem of racism in the US was talking about jobs, and everyone making so much money that it would just die out … somehow
  5. He invented a new word, “alt-left,” and claimed that the car driver had been responding to them “charging” at the alt-right

Honestly, this is about as fucked up a situation as I’ve ever seen from Washington — and I’m someone who remembers the Watergate scandal.

Turning away from the walking trainwreck that is our Groper-in-Chief, I came across something else hideous — and yes, it had to come from the Right-wing’s house organ, of course (cached):

The leader of a Ku Klux Klan group based in North Carolina said he was “glad” that a woman died and others were injured after a man allegedly drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters Saturday at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va.…

Justin Moore, the leader of the Grand Dragon for the Loyal White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, told WBTV’s Steve Crump in a voicemail that he was “glad” Heyer was killed and others were injured in the vehicle attack.

“I’m sorta glad that them people got hit and I’m glad that girl died,” Moore said. “They were a bunch of communists out there protesting against somebody’s freedom of speech, so it doesn’t bother me that they got hurt at all.”

Is this really what’s become of the United States of America? Can it really be that we have such an infantile president and people who actually think it’s justifiable to drive cars into crowds merely because of them have “communist flags”?

This country is fucked. Royally. Right up the goddamn ass.

Photo credit: Brandon Baunach, via Flickr.

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Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers kneels on the sideline during the anthem prior to the game against the Dallas Cowboys on October 2, 2016 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)This might seem a bit off-topic for my blog, but it’s a sterling example of a common form of irrationality, and as such, is quite relevant. So here goes!

By now most of my readers have heard the controversy about NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who last year aroused the sanctimonious ire of football fans around the country by first sitting, and then kneeling, through the national anthem as it was played prior to the start of games (Archive.Is cached article). It’s not for me to say whether he ought to have done this or not — he said it was to protest the killings of blacks by white cops — but many fans were outraged that he would do something so horribly anti-American. He became a free agent at the end of the year, and now arguably has been blackballed by the NFL because of his protests (cached).

Even so, the guy is an experienced (if far from stellar) quarterback, and since this is such a crucial position, naturally some teams may have to consider signing him.

One of those, at the moment, is the Baltimore Ravens. The team faces a little uncertainty where their “franchise” quarterback, Joe Flacco, is concerned (cached). Thus, the Ravens’ coach and G.M. have considered hiring the “undesirable” Kaepernick (cached); but the team’s owner reportedly doesn’t want him signed (cached).

The Ravens have denied this report, as might be expected (cached).

But let’s be honest: If owner Steve Bisciotti has, in fact, expressed disapproval for Kaepernick’s hire, there’s good reason for it: As CBS Sports reports, the team’s fans are fiercely opposed to the unemployed quarterback (cached):

If the Ravens decide to sign Colin Kaepernick, it’s a decision that might not sit well with their fan base.

According to NFL.com’s Mike Silver, Ravens fans have spent the past 24 hours letting the team know that they don’t want Kaepernick in Baltimore….

If teams are afraid of fan backlash, the the reaction in Baltimore isn’t going to help things. Fans also had a similar reaction in New York. Back in May, Giants co-owner John Mara said that fans in New York threatened to boycott his team if they decided to sign Kaepernick [cached].

The irrationality of Baltimore Ravens fans getting their panties in bunches over the (possible) hiring of Kaepernick becomes obvious, when one considers this is the team that was home to linebacker Ray Lewis for over a decade and a half … much of that time after he’d been present for a double homicide in 2000 (cached). Yes, that’s right: A double homicide! Although he was never convicted of murder or manslaughter, he did plead guilty to obstruction of justice (since he’d lied to investigators), and he settled with survivors of the deceased (cached). Yet, the Ravens and their fans were saddened by his retirement following the 2012 season, and the team sold Ray Lewis tribute shirts at the time (cached). These folk, then, are the ones who can’t tolerate Colin Kaepernick being on their team after his protests. Wonderful people, no? I’d call them “raging hypocrites,” but that might give actual “raging hypocrites” a bad name.

By comparison with Lewis’s involvement in a double homicide, which doesn’t appear to have cost him the adoration of Ravens fans, their anger against the prospect of hiring Kaepernick makes no sense. In fact, the national outrage he kicked up is virtually incomprehensible. Whether or not one agrees with Kaepernick, makes no difference: This is the United States, for fuck’s sake, and he has a right to protest things if he wants to. Protests are not “anti-American.” They are, instead, “pro-American,” because in America, protests are permissible. The US has a very old tradition of protest, which goes back prior to the country’s founding. There’s nothing wrong with any protest in which no one is hurt and nothing is damaged. The same can’t be said of what Ray Lewis had been up to on the night of January 30, 2000 (cached).

Please note, I only mentioned Lewis here because he was a dearly-beloved Raven. The list of other well-loved NFL players who’ve engaged in all sorts of wrongdoing — including criminal offenses — is legion. Few of them stir up the kind of vicious rage that, to date, has prevented Kaepernick from being hired. The best example I can think of is Michael Vick, who appeared unhireable after serving a prison sentence for animal cruelty, and who also faced the nation’s ire … but even he wound up returning to the NFL (cached).

The kind of militant nationalism that has kept Colin Kaepernick from playing football merely because he sat and kneeled through the national anthem is simply bizarre, when compared with the fact that even convicted felons have been embraced by the league. It’s just that simple.

P.S. I’m aware that Kaepernick’s ability is disputable. He had a couple good seasons, but is certainly no star quarterback. Many teams will pass on him simply because they have no place for him, or because they don’t think he will succeed with them. Sometimes a player is just not good enough to stay in the NFL (Tim Tebow, anyone?) I get that. What’s less comprehensible is why the NFL could take back people like Vick — or Baltimore fans could embrace Lewis — when both were guilty of crimes; yet the NFL has virtually blackballed Kaepernick, and Ravens fans are nearly in revolt over him, when all he did was to sit and kneel through the national anthem.

Photo credit: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images, via CBS Boston.

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stop signI’ll have to ask you, Dear Reader, for another indulgence. I find I must address, for a second time, something that’s off-topic. But it’s something that urgently needs to be said.

A couple months ago, I said it was time for the mass media to enact a moratorium on reporting our Groper-in-Chief’s tweets. At that point, he’d already tweeted something that had triggered something of a crisis in the federal government, and sent people running to deal with it — even though what he’d tweeted was not based on any evidence, and turns out to have been untrue. It’s one thing for the insane and infantile GiC to tweet stuff; it’s another for the media to treat his drivel as though it’s worthy of being reported. Most of his tweets are not, and it was clear to me, then, that the media needed to act that way.

Well, they didn’t take my advice. Instead, they continue indulging the Apricot Wonder, treating his every utterance as worthy of being repeated, relayed, analyzed, and otherwise worthy of being read by Americans. The GiC, naturally — having been given so much deference by the media — managed to outdo himself in imbecility and immaturity. On Thursday he fired off a crude, childish tweet about a pair of cable-news hosts (WebCite cached article), and earlier today he tweeted a childish, manipulated video of him attacking “CNN,” the cable-news channel personified (cached).

The Groper’s deputy spokeswoman defended his nasty Thursday tweet as a natural, expected, “tit-for-tat” thing (cached):

“The president has been attacked mercilessly on personal accounts by members on that program, and I think he’s been very clear that when he gets attacked, he’s going to hit back,” [she] told reporters during the afternoon briefing.

The deputy spokeswoman lied. No one — and I do mean absolutely no one — “attacked” the Apricot Wonder. Have people criticized him? Sure they have. Of course! Why would they not? And why should they not? No one in the US, not even the president, is above critique! But even with that said, no one has “attacked” him … “mercilessly” or not. An “attack” would be if someone had punched him in the face, or held him up at gunpoint. Nothing of the sort has ever happened to the Groper. And it won’t — because the Secret Service would never stand for it. (And they shouldn’t.)

The “attacks” the GiC and his minion are complaining about, are simply the natural, expected consequences of his own immature words and actions. The Groper is not entitled to flattering press coverage. He is not entitled to never have his insanity or folly commented on. He is not entitled to never have to see or hear news reports, or commentary, he dislikes. No such entitlement exists — not even for the president of the US. It simply doesn’t.

Quite the opposite: As a public servant, the Groper’s job is to take criticism in stride, and react to it like a grown adult. That’s just how life is. He doesn’t have to like it, or be happy about it … nevertheless, he has to just take it, and walk away. That’s his fucking job!

The Groper himself laughably contends the media are actually trying to silence him (cached). Nothing, however, could be further from the truth! In reality the mass media actively comply with his wishes, by reporting on his every tweet instantly. They couldn’t do a better job of relaying and propagating his ridiculous, juvenile bullshit if he were paying them to do so.

The problem with the media relaying the GiC’s numerous tantrums, is that his fanbois in Flyover Country feed on them. They like that he tweeted a vile comment about two cable-news hosts (whom most of them have never seen or heard, but who somehow know — because they’ve been told so by their talk-radio and alt-right overlords — are dastardly commie Leftists deserving only of condemnation). They also thrive on the reactions they engender; they love seeing Democrats and “the Lame Stream Media” aka the “Bicoastal Media Elite” condemn the Groper’s childish bilge. They love seeing their ideological foes are outraged. They’re fueled by such things, which is why the GiC keeps spewing them. It makes them happy, which for him is the most important thing in the world.

The media could, if they wanted to, break this feeding cycle. By not reporting the Apricot Wonder’s juvenile tweets, his fanbois may not hear about them, but even if they do, there won’t be any reaction to them, so they’ll be deprived of the joy of watching that. A moratorium would starve the Groper for the attention he pathologically craves, and would starve his fanbois of the sanctimonious outrage they love to sense.

The time for a moratorium on the GiC’s tweets has come. It’s time for the mass media to grow some cojones, stop indulging the Groper-in-Chief, and get off his fucking payroll already.

Photo credit: Clover Autrey, via Flickr.

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Radar loop of WS StellaLast Tuesday’s winter storm (named “Stella” by the Weather Channel, but “Eugene” by WFSB-TV here in Connecticut) turned out to be a bust, in the mid-Atlantic and New York City regions. And there’s been a lot of grumbling about how it was forecast. Those places all ended up getting much less snow than had been predicted.

Lots of people wonder how meteorologists could have been as wrong as they were. Well, it turns out, they actually knew — as the storm approached — the storm wouldn’t live up to their stated projections. Yet, as the New York Post reports, they chose not to change their forecasts to match what they knew would fall (cached):

On the eve of Tuesday’s Winter Storm Stella, the National Weather Service got reports that its dire prediction of up to 2 feet of snow for New York City may have been exaggerated — but decided not to change its forecast.

Fears of a massive blizzard led officials to close city public schools and for above-ground train service to be stopped — but in the end, only about 7 inches fell in Central Park.

After announcing that snow could reach record levels in the city, NWS meteorologists in New York and other Northeast cities held a conference call Monday afternoon about computer models that dramatically cut predicted totals.

But they decided to continue forecasting deep snow, claiming that they didn’t change their forecast for fear people would mistakenly think the storm was no longer dangerous.

Their excuse? They wanted to make sure people were still “cautious”:

[Chief of forecast operations at the Weather Prediction Center in Maryland, Greg] Carbin said a last-minute change downgrading snowfall totals might have caused people to let their guard down because ice was still a potential danger for cities such as New York and Washington.

Full disclosure: It may have seemed to New Yorkers that this storm was a dud, but that’s not quite true. Where I live, in northwestern Connecticut, we’d been told we could get between 16 and 24 inches of snow, and that turned out to be accurate. So not all the predictions failed to pan out … just some of them.

In the northeast, and especially here in the Nutmeg State, folks often joke that our weathermen punch up their forecasts to make them seem more dire than they ought to be, in order to glue the public to their TV sets, radios, whatever. Perhaps this is just a perception error, as well as a function of the basic uncertainty of weather forecasting. Or, maybe it really is the play for ratings it seems to be. But in this case — and in the case of the January 2015 blizzard — it’s clear this actually happened, and that meteorologists do exaggerate; and moreover that they feel entitled to do so whenever they see it as necessary.

We’re used to politicians lying to us, and have come to expect it. And maybe we kid around about weathermen grubbing for ratings by predicting cataclysm when none is on its way. But clearly, they lie. And they know they lie. And they admit they lie!

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

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'Ten time NCAA National Champions in Women's Basketball: UCONN' / via TrueBlueUConnPardon me, Dear Reader, for another off-topic post. As an alumnus of the University of Connecticut, things have reached the point where I just can’t help but weigh in on this topic. So here goes:

In case you didn’t know it, there’s a big basketball tournament underway. No, not the NCAA men’s tournament; I refer, instead, to the women’s NCAA tournament (WebCite cached version). Over the last few years there’s been a lot of grousing in the sports world over UConn’s dominance of this sport. They’ve won the last three national championships in a row, but even more than that, have been dominating in the games they play. Lately they’re 120-1 and have won all of those 120 by at least double digits. They haven’t just won a lot, they’ve blown people away … staggeringly. The main reason for this is that Breanna Stewart — who’s been called the best collegiate athlete in the country, male or female, in any sport — plays for them. But as someone who’s watched them since the 1980s (when they were really bad), I can tell you, it’s not just “Stewie.” The UConn women’s basketball team has a full complement of excellent players. There are no significant holes in their lineup.

At any rate, several years of consistent blowouts has led many in the sports media to wonder if the UConn women’s basketball team is “ruining” their sport. Among the latest sports media figures to do so was Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, who tweeted a week ago (cached):

Now, Shaughnessy’s sports beat is the Boston Red Sox, so expecting him to expound cogently on a women’s college basketball team is probably asking a bit much. Later on, he said he wasn’t really blaming the Huskies for what they were doing — even if the text of his tweet clearly says otherwise (i.e. “they are killing women’s game,” emphasis mine). He just objected to how lame the other teams are, I guess. UConn coach, Geno Auriemma, responded by telling Shaughnessy it’s fine if he doesn’t watch (cached). Since then, the rest of the sports world has weighed in on the matter. Some of it is ridiculous, such as these comments by Fred Toucher of WBZ-FM — on whose show Shaughnessy appeared, in an effort to rehabilitate himself after the tweet (cached):

Do you understand that you’re not allowed to have an opinion on something in your hotel room while watching something on television? It exists, so you must like it. That is what’s going on now.

“You don’t like it; you’re a hater!”

“Oh, you don’t like women’s college basketball?! You’re sexist!”

Nice to see how he was able to turn this into a childish, anti-political-correctness tirade. Well done, dude! You must be so proud!

As much as Toucher would like it to be otherwise, this isn’t about whether or not someone likes women’s basketball, and it’s not about misogyny. It’s about whether or not a Division I basketball team should be permitted to play to its full potential, against opponents who — by and large — simply don’t match up to them. You see, as this piece from Deadspin (cached) makes clear, the UConn women’s team itself pretty much doesn’t care. They’re going out to play … and that’s all there is to it. They’re not about to slow down, or worse, purposely throw a couple games, just to satisfy a bunch of whiney sports writers. Nor should they! This is the kind of professionalism that’s gotten them where they are, and it will help those on the team who get to the WNBA.

As I said, this isn’t about the UConn women’s team. What they’re doing is what they’ve been doing for over 20 years now, which is to go on the court and play their hearts out. And that’s precisely what they should do. No, the problem is the rest of women’s college basketball. Aside from a very small number of other teams which are really good (e.g. Notre Dame, Stanford, Baylor, South Carolina), women’s college basketball teams are really afterthoughts in the minds of athletic departments. Very few resources are assigned to them. It’s a program they’re obligated to provide by virtue of Title IX, but it’s not something they’re invested in.

Now, one factor here is marketing and television revenue. Few schools have contracts covering their women’s basketball games, aside from a handful each year that ESPN might pick up via conference contracts. UConn has a contract of its own with New York sports network SNY, which picks up all the women’s games not served by the American Athletic Conference contract with ESPN. Prior to that, this contract had been with CPTV, Connecticut’s public television outlet. It’s a luxury many schools don’t have … but it’s not something they can’t exploit, if they wanted to.

Another consideration here is that, back in the 1980s when Auriemma was hired, UConn women’s basketball was lousy. Auriemma and the rest of the athletic department built it up over the course of years. A tipping point came with the recruiting of Kerry Bascom (cached). UConn began its consistent run of NCAA tournament appearances once she was on board, and it hasn’t let up since. But before that, there was nothing to speak of. If little UConn, out in the wilderness of eastern Connecticut, can build a relentless women’s basketball powerhouse from literally nothing, there’s no reason other schools can’t do the same. Their athletic departments just have to work at it. Nothing can stop them, if they wish to. Some schools are doing this: South Carolina is the most recent example I can think of. There’s talent out there to be had — UConn can’t take on every McDonald’s All American every year. Schools just need to hire good coaches, then go get the athletes.

The bottom line is, it’s time for people like Shaughnessy and his friend Toucher to stop bellyaching that women’s college basketball isn’t interesting because UConn wins too often. That they win a lot isn’t the problem. That other schools don’t try as hard to compete, is. They need to get off their asses and work at it … just as UConn has done since 1985 when Geno Auriemma was hired.

I won’t even get into the fact that dominance of any given sport by a team is something the sports media usually likes. For example, they’ve largely praised the Golden State Warriors, who are nearing the end of a possibly record-breaking season (cached). Each year there’s talk about which college football teams have been unbeaten. And on and on it goes. But they just can’t seem to view UConn the same way. Is it because it’s a women’s sport we’re talking about? Maybe. There are a lot of people who think all women’s sports are, by definition, lame. Is it because of geography? A lot of Americans can’t place Connecticut on a map. For some reason, New England sports teams get little or no respect in other parts of the country (I can’t travel outside the region with Red Sox, Bruins, or Patriots garb, without putting up with some nasty comment or other). I seriously wonder if that has something to do with it, as well.

But really, it shouldn’t matter. People who work in the sports media ought to be above their own petty subjective tastes. The problem is not with the sport of women’s college basketball, it’s how schools run their programs. And it needs to change — the sooner, the better.

Update: The UConn women’s basketball team defeated Syracuse, by a score of 82-51, last night to end the tournament (cached). It’s their 11th national championship, their 4th in a row, and it capped their 6th perfect season. Seniors Breanna Stewart, Moriah Jefferson, and Morgan Tuck have played to 4 championships, something no other college athletes have done before.

Photo credit: TrueBlueUConn.

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