About greg

Just another bozo on the bus.

a deep, fetid reservoir of stupid

Can somebody in Texas or Washington, DC find Congressman Blake Farenthold and attempt to explain to him the difference between real life and fiction? Because, seriously, there is just no goddamned fucking way this maroon should be sitting on Congressional hearings.

Let me just repeat the key sentence in that short video:

“Every outbreak novel or zombie movie you see starts with somebody from the government sitting in front of a panel like this saying there’s nothing to worry about.”

I am totally gobsmacked. Not by Farenthold’s total ignorance of Ebola and its transmission vectors — I mean, the guy is a dolt, so I don’t expect him to understand how the Ebola virus actually works. I’m gobsmacked by the fact that he actually really no-shit truly spoke from the bench in a Congressional hearing and without embarrassment or any sense of irony referenced zombie movies in a discussion on health policy oh Jeebus I still can NOT completely believe this.

I’ve written about Farenthold before. I predicted that “he has the potential to some day be known as the Louie Gohmert of South Texas.” But I had no notion his fetid reservoir of stupid ran so deep.


Are you ready for this? An elementary school teacher in the small town of Strong, Maine attended the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium — an educational conference held at the Hilton Anatole hotel in Dallas, Texas. Dallas is the city in which Texas Health Presbyterian is located. Texas Health Presbyterian is the hospital in which Thomas Eric Duncan was treated for (and died from) the Ebola virus. The Hilton Anatole hotel is almost ten miles from Texas Health Presbyterian hospital.

On her return to Maine, the teacher was placed on a 21-day leave of absence. It takes between two and twenty-one days for a person infected with Ebola to exhibit symptoms.

Strong Elementary School -- Strong, ME.

Strong Elementary School — Strong, ME.

That’s right. The administrators of Maine School Administrative District 58 have placed a teacher on paid leave for being in the same city as an Ebola patient. Why? Because a local parent, Matt Dexter, has a child who is in that teacher’s class. I don’t want to say that Matt Dexter is a complete fucking idjit.

But he is. He complained to the school board:

“[Y]ou sent (this teacher) to a potentially harmful area for exposure, and then to come back and jump into the classroom on Monday seemed a little bit reckless.”

Matt Dexter apparently believes the Ebola virus is very clever — the McGyver of viruses. He seems to think if a patient in an isolation unit coughs or sneezes, those wily Ebola viruses will find a way to escape isolation, sneak out of the hospital, travel ten miles to a nice hotel, infiltrate the hotel’s HVAC ducts, find its way to the room of a visiting teacher from Maine, infect her, then bide its time until she returns to her classroom in Maine, at which point it will leap out and assault his child. Did I mention Matt Dexter is a complete fucking idjit?

“I’m really tired of people telling everyone, on the news, starting at the national level, ‘zero risk, low risk.’ The bottom line is that there is risk. Are we more capable of handling this than Africa? Sure, but why walk around blind and jam people into hot spots we can’t control? It all comes down to personal responsibility.”

You know, maybe the reason everyone is saying there’s a low risk is because there actually is a low risk. And c’mon, ‘low risk’ is an exaggeration. The risk is infinitesimal. Consider this: we had a guy with active Ebola symptoms at large in Dallas for two days, then hospitalized in a facility completely unprepared to treat Ebola — and yet only two other people have tested positive for the virus. The four people who actually shared living quarters with Thomas Eric Duncan while he was symptomatic — the period when he was most contagious — are about to be released from quarantine; they’ve shown no sign of being infected. Why? Because Ebola, despite being incredibly infectious, just isn’t very transmissible.

Possible route taken by wily Ebola virus intent on infecting teachers from Maine

Possible route taken by wily Ebola virus intent on infecting teachers from Maine

And yet Matt Dexter, of Strong, Maine, is about to piss his pants in panic because his child’s teacher happened to spend a few days in the same city as an Ebola patient. But hey, he’s right — it DOES all come down to personal responsibility. Matt Dexter is personally responsible for educating himself before panicking — and he failed in that responsibility. He’s personally responsible for teaching his child the difference between rational fears and irrational fears — and he failed in that. He’s personally responsible for being a role model for his child — and guess what, he failed at that too. Matt Dexter has a personal responsibility NOT to be a complete fucking idjit. Failed.

I feel sorry for the teacher. But even more, I feel sorry for Matt Dexter’s child. All children are, at some point, embarrassed by their parents. But few children have such a legitimate reason to be embarrassed.

a little harmless sedition and mutiny

First thing every morning: coffee and the news. That’s my routine. The coffee because coffee is good, the news because it’s so often horrible. If I read the news first thing in the morning, the day can only get better.

I have favorite types of news stories. One of them is the Republican Shocked to Learn Saying Horrible or Stupid Things Might Not Be Universally Accepted category. You know, like when Todd Akin was surprised to learn there were people who didn’t divide rape into legitimate and illegitimate cases. Or Mitt Romney, who was startled to find that some people didn’t share his opinion that 47% of the population refused to take responsibility for their behavior. I love those little reality checks.

This week’s winner is Debbie Dunnegan Waters.

Supposedly Recorder of Deeds

Supposedly Recorder of Deeds in Jefferson County, Missouri

Ms. Waters is the Recorder of Deeds, an elected official in Jefferson County, Missouri. She recently wrote the following on her Facebook page:

I have a question for all my friends who have served or are currently serving in our military … having not put on a uniform nor taken any type military oath, there has to be something that I am just not aware of. But I cannot and do not understand why no action is being taken against our domestic enemy. I know he is supposedly the commander in chief, but the constitution gives you the authority. What am I missing?

What is she missing? I don’t know…maybe some critical cognitive functioning? I don’t expect elected officials at the county level to be familiar with the details of the U.S. Constitution, but this is some pretty basic stuff, right here. Clearly, she’s heard the phrase ‘domestic enemy’ somewhere, and she seems to understand it’s somehow connected with the Oath of Enlistment. She also appears to realize there’s a link between being President of the United States and being the Commander in Chief of the armed forces. It really shouldn’t be that difficult to reason this through. Most folks learn this stuff in a junior high civics class.

So let me help the poor woman. First let’s deal with that ‘supposedly the commander in chief’ business. It’s right there in the U.S. Constitution (Article II, Section 2, if you’re interested). It says the President of the United States, whether you like him or not and regardless of his race, is the “Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States.” There you go. Pretty clear, right?

Okay, now why doesn’t the military take ‘action’ against the president? The Unified Code of Military Justice tells us why. It’s in the section on mutiny and sedition — which is sort of a hint (that would be (Article 94, section 894, by the way). It states any member of the Armed Forces who “with intent to usurp or override lawful military authority, refuses, in concert with any other person, to obey orders or otherwise do his duty or creates any violence or disturbance is guilty of mutiny.” And any member who “with intent to cause the overthrow or destruction of lawful civil authority, creates, in concert with any other person, revolt, violence, or other disturbance against that authority is guilty of sedition.” That bit about the ‘lawful military authority’ and the ‘lawful civil authority’? Yeah, that includes the President of These United States. Oh, another thing: the punishment for mutiny and/or sedition? It’s “death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct.”

Finally, that stuff about ‘domestic enemies’ comes from the Oath of Enlistment. When you join any branch of the military, you have to take this oath:

“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

I don’t think you have to mention God anymore, though you did when I enlisted. But that’s irrelevant. What Ms. Dunnegan Waters needs to look at is that middle part of the oath. The part that says “I will obey the orders of the President of the United States.”

So let’s look again at her Facebook comment.

dunnegan twitter

Some people (and by ‘some people’ I mean a LOT of people) pointed out that it’s probably inappropriate for the Jefferson County, Missouri Recorder of Deeds to suggest members of the U.S. military should engage in sedition and mutiny. This, of course, took Ms. Dunnegan Waters completely by surprise. She said,

“I meant no ill intent toward the president. I meant no ill intent toward anybody.”

No, of course not. She just wants the military to take action against him. You know…in the kind, gentle, supportive sort of way the military takes action. And besides, she says, people are just misinterpreting her Facebook comment. In an interview with the local public radio station, she said this:

“I just wanted to know what oath (the military) took. I’m not calling the president a domestic enemy. I’m not calling the president anything.”

Like so many Republicans who say outrageously stupid things, Ms. Dunnegan Waters appears mainly to be surprised that anybody was offended. I mean, how could anybody possibly be upset that she called the president a domestic enemy (which she totally didn’t do, though maybe she did, but if she did (and she did) she didn’t really mean any ill intent, so that’s exactly the same as she didn’t)? And like so many Republicans, she blames all the fuss over how she phrased it, not because of what she said.

“I should have known better than to use certain phrases. Maybe my choice of words was bad.”

No, you said exactly what you meant to say. You just didn’t expect anybody outside your usual circle of Republican nutjobs to notice it. You just didn’t expect anybody would hold you accountable for the things you said. Like so many Republicans who like to talk about stuff like civility and personal responsibility, you just didn’t think it should apply to you.

By the way, Debbie Dunnegan Waters is up for re-election in a few weeks. I hope the good people of Jefferson County, Missouri will give her a lesson in responsibility.

just stop already

I declare. It’s no wonder folks fret so much about Ebola. In the last couple of hours I’ve seen three or four magazine and newspaper articles with variations of this deeply stupid headline:

Ebola ‘could become airborne': United Nations warns of ‘nightmare scenario’ as virus spreads to the US

Anthony Banbury, chief of the UN’s Ebola mission, says there is a chance the deadly virus could mutate to become infectious through the air

I’m not including any links to those articles (I’ll explain why in a bit). Here’s the quote from which the headline above was taken:

The longer it moves around in human hosts in the virulent melting pot that is West Africa, the more chances increase that it could mutate. It is a nightmare scenario [that it could become airborne], and unlikely, but it can’t be ruled out.

Sure. There’s also a chance we could resurrect a T-Rex from DNA extracted from a mosquito trapped in amber 66 million years ago. Unlikely, but it can’t be ruled out. I could be bitten by a radioactive spider and develop superhuman strength, perfect balance and a spider-sense that would alert me to great danger. Adam Sandler could win an Oscar in the Best Actor category. Unlikely, to be sure — but it can’t be completely ruled out.

Also, Adam Sandler gives emotional acceptance speech at Academy Awards ceremony

Also, Adam Sandler gives emotional acceptance speech at Academy Awards ceremony

Here’s a true thing: there have been exactly the same number of viruses that have mutated from transmission through contact (like Ebola) into airborne respiratory viruses as there have been T-Rexs cloned from DNA obtained from amber-trapped mosquito guts.

In the entire history of epidemiology, it’s never happened. Not once. Ever. And there are a LOT of viruses that can be transmitted through contact with bodily fluids. HIV, for example, or Hepatitis B. Have those viruses mutated? Sure. Have any of them suddenly become airborne? Nope. Will Ebola become airborne? Nope.

Will we see more headlines like this? Absolutely, because scary headlines draw readers and readers draw advertisers and advertising keeps newspapers and magazines alive. It may make them sick, but it keeps them from dying.

Adam Sandler in his Oscar-winning role of an Ebola-infected T-Rex

Adam Sandler in his Oscar-winning role of an Ebola-infected T-Rex

And you know what? That’s exactly what an effective virus does. It infects a host, replicates itself, and finds a way to infect other hosts in order to perpetuate itself. But an effective virus does NOT kill the host; it just keeps it sick. A dead host is of no use to a virus; a sick host allows it to continue to replicate and spread itself, infecting as many new hosts as possible.

If you’ve read any of the articles I mentioned at the beginning, you could have been infected with advert-borne stupidity. That’s why I didn’t include links. Think of the absence of links as a form of prophylaxis — a measure to prevent infection, as opposed to treatment after being infected. But happily, there IS treatment available if you happen to become infected. The treatment isn’t always easy, but it’s widely available.

All you have to do is learn some facts. Facts won’t make you immune to advert-borne stupidity, but it’ll decrease the odds of infection and any long-term effects.

Oh, and wash your hands too. Can’t hurt. And avoid contact with Adam Sandler.

omg the ebolas are here

Okay, just chill the fuck out. We’ve got one guy — one guy — with Ebola in the United States. One guy. It’s not a big deal (unless you’re that one guy, of course).

Here’s the thing about Ebola: it’s only transmissible when the patient is exhibiting symptoms. Also, the only way you can be infected is if you come into contact with the patient’s bodily fluids.

This Ebola guy, he wasn’t exhibiting any symptoms when he flew in from Liberia. How many symptoms was he exhibiting when he flew in? None. He didn’t begin to display any symptoms until four days after he arrived. And what did he do then? He went to the hospital. Which is exactly what he should have done. The hospital checked him out and sent him back home. Which is a perfectly fine thing to do if a guy has the flu. It’s exactly the wrong thing to do if the guy has Ebola.

Couple days later, the guy returned to the hospital, still sick. Still the right thing to do. This time, though, the staff apparently learned he’d recently arrived from Liberia, and they isolated his ass. And they identified and checked on all the people he’d had close contact with.

This is the wicked little bastard that's causing all the trouble

This is the wicked little bastard that’s causing all the trouble

But there’s three pieces of good news: First, Ebola isn’t that transmissilbe, despite what you may have seen in the movies or on television. Popular entertainment media are NOT reliable sources of epidemiological information. Unless somebody — his family, the nurses, the doctors — happened to dip their fingers into the Ebola guy’s bodily fluids, they’re not going to contract the disease. Second, you can bet your ass that from now on when somebody arrives in the E.R. with a fever and other symptoms that might indicate Ebola, somebody is going to be asking the patient if he’s recently been in western Africa. Third, right now researchers and epidemiologists are swarming all over that hospital in Texas with all the fervor of spawning salmon. It won’t take long before they know every detail of that poor bastard’s life.

There’s also bad news: Ebola might not be as transmissible as once thought, but it appears to be more infectious. Even minimal contact with an infected person’s bodily fluids may be enough to pass on the infection. Still, no need to wet your pants. Why? Because First World folks generally tend to be relatively fussy about touching other people’s bodily fluids.

Here’s a simple test to determine if you might have Ebola:

Question 1: Have you touched anybody’s saliva, sweat, vomit, urine, feces, or blood?
If the answer is No — you don’t have Ebola. If the answer is Yes, go to Question 2

Question 2: Did that person have Ebola?
If the answer is No — you don’t have Ebola. If the answer is Yes, go to Question 3.

Question 3: Why are you taking this test instead of checking your ignorant ass into the hospital?

So there it is. Yes, we have an Ebola patient in the U.S. No, it’s not a threat to national security. No, you’re almost certainly not going to catch Ebola. No, it’s exceedingly unlikely that it’ll spread here like it has in parts of western Africa.

This is why doctors and nurses have become infected

This is why doctors and nurses have become infected – inadequate protection

Don’t get me wrong — Ebola is some wicked bad shit. But it’s only a serious threat in nations with really lousy public health systems. Every time Ebola has shoved its nose into some country with decent basic health care — and I mean basic, we’re talking about stuff like trained health care professionals, access to gloves and masks, maybe some isolation wards — it got dough-popped on its ass.

You know how you can tell if a nation has a shitty public health system? When the people dying of Ebola include doctors and nurses. Because that usually means they don’t have enough gloves and masks. They don’t have enough gloves and masks. Weeping Jeebus, what fucking tragedy. Regular folks in those nations get Ebola because they care for their sick. I don’t just mean they take care of their sick; they care for their sick. They hold their hands, they lave their fevered brows, and they personally wash the bodies of their dead. It’s wonderfully intimate. And if the sick guy has Ebola, it’ll kill you.

Gloves and boots drying out after being disinfected with bleach so they can be re-used

Gloves and boots drying out after being disinfected with chlorine so they can be re-used

There’ll be other Ebola cases in the United States in the future. Count on it. And there’ll be cases in Europe, and other places with decent public health systems. That’s just the way the world is now; viruses have no respect for borders and they love air travel.

But we can keep it in check; there won’t be any bodies in the street. In the U.S. you’re safer from Ebola than you are from getting tagged by some camo-wearing mall shooter. That’s a complete different fucking tragedy.

i’ll tell you

You guys! You know who’s a fuckwit? I’ll tell you. Speaker of the House John Boehner, that’s who’s a fuckwit. How big a fuckwit is he? I’ll tell you. He’s a colossal fuckwit. A fuckwit of immense proportion. Do you know what this colossal fuckwit said yesterday? I’ll tell you. He said this:

“This idea that has been born, maybe out of the economy over the last couple years, that you know, ‘I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.’ This is a very sick idea for our country.”

And do you know what colossal fuckwit John Boehner did then? I’ll tell you. He ended the Fall session of Congress. Seriously, the Fall session. I know! It’s still officially summer. How big a fuckwit do you have to be to end the Fall session before Fall even begins? I’ll tell you. Colossal. That is fuckwittedness of herculean magnitude. And when will Congress return and get back to work? I’ll tell you. Sometime after the elections in November. November, you guys!

Massive Fuckwit, John Boehner

Colossal Fuckwit John Boehner

And do you know what’s even more fuckwitted than that? I’ll tell you. Congress just returned from its Summer vacation on September 9th. How many days has Congress been session since their holiday? I’ll tell you. Ten. Ten days. How many bills did Congress manage to pass in those ten days? I’ll tell you. One.

One bill. What was that bill about? I’ll tell you. It was to approve funding that will allow the U.S. to give money and training to Syrian rebels so they can fight ISIS. Or ISIL. Or Da’esh. Or Tanzim Qaidat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn. Or whatever the fuck they’re calling themselves today.

One bill. Then they took off. Do you know how many days Congress has been in session this year? I’ll tell you. Fewer than a hundred. Ninety-seven, to be exact.

I really don’t have to work. I don’t really want to do this. I think I’d rather just sit around.

Jeebus. Jeebus on a fucking pretzel. You know what would have been nice? I’ll tell you. It would have been nice if they’d stayed away those last ten days and kept us out of another war in the Middle East. That would have been nice. I’d have liked that.


warm boot

Ninety percent of the work I do takes place in my head. The other ten percent involves shifting that work from my head to the computer through my fingers. Because so much of my work involves the creative writing of other folks, I spend a lot of time thinking about odd stuff, asking myself odd questions, researching odd topics.

Example? Sure, here’s one. Last week, I found myself exploring the history, function, and evolution of the lapel — complete with tangents on why we only see peaked lapels on formal evening wear, and the sad decline of the boutonnière loop on the reverse of the lapel. Here’s another issue I dealt with last week: at what point, in a science fiction mystery set in a massive orbiting space colony, does the number of sapient species living in the colony cease to create the illusion of the diversity of life in the known universe and begin to become a distraction from the story?

Where the gravel road intersects the line of trees is a bridge spanning a river.

Where the gravel road intersects the line of trees is a bridge spanning a river.

I do most of this thinking and wondering and questioning and researching in a small office with a window that looks out on a deeply uninteresting suburban street. I periodically shift to the kitchen table, where the windows look out on some deeply uninteresting suburban back yards. The absence of anything visually interesting is usually a good thing; it makes it easier to stay inside my head, where almost everything is interesting.

But I also need to regularly reset my brain, so once or twice a week I either bang into the city or I go lounge around the countryside — which I tend to think of as either a cold boot or a warm boot (do people even use those terms anymore to describe different levels of rebooting a computer?). The city is a cold boot. A complete re-start. The countryside is a warm boot. Restarting without going through the rigorous Power On Self Test.

Jameson and Peanut

Jameson and Peanut

A couple of days ago I did a warm boot. Got in the car late one afternoon, went looking for a bridge over a river. Any bridge, any river. It’s really a pretty easy task. There are rivers, creeks, brooks, and streams all over the Midwest. The same with roads. At some point all those roads have to intersect with all those rivers, creeks, brooks, and streams. And that means a bridge.

Fifteen — maybe twenty — minutes later I was standing on a classic steel truss bridge spanning the South Skunk River. These used to be pretty common bridges; easy to build, practical, sturdy. They began making them out of wood in the 1870s, moved to cast iron a few decades later, then to steel in the early 1900s. Engineers still make various forms of truss bridge, but these old steel units on secondary or gravel roads are gradually being replaced by safer, more easily built, less expensive (and much less interesting) concrete beam bridges.

Perfectly understandable from a governance perspective. But it’s still rather sad. There’s simply no romance in a concrete beam bridge. No struts on which Peanut and Jameson can record their love.

Skunk River

Skunk River

It’s a nice river though, the South Skunk. Hundred and eighty-five miles long. Add another ninety-five miles after it joins up with the North Skunk and they both meander down into the Mississippi.

It’s not actually named for skunks, by the way. Back in the mid-17th century when the French coureurs de bois and voyageurs were wandering around in the wilderness, they often (and I mean seriously often) failed to properly translate the names given to local geographical landmarks by the native peoples. The local Sauk and Meskwaki tribes told the French explorers that the river was Chicaqua, a term meaning ‘having a powerful smell.’ The Indians were apparently referring to the onions that grew wild along the banks. But since they’d also used the same term in describing skunks…well, there it is. The Skunk River.

Long and straight, heading due east.

Long and straight, heading due east.

I noodled around on the bridge for a while, no longer thinking about aliens or the sociology of fashion, then got back in the car and headed farther upriver. But this is the Midwest, and the roads rarely follow the course of geological features. The secondary highways and gravel roads are long and straight, laid out east-west and north-south on a grid.

That’s the work of Thomas Jefferson. I don’t mean to suggest Jefferson was out in Iowa with a surveyor’s theodolite (that’s that little telescope-looking thing). It’s just that he came up with the concept of the Public Land Survey System. After the Revolutionary War, the new U.S. government needed to raise some cash, and find a way to reward the soldiers who’d fought. The solution was pretty obvious: there was a whole lot of land unoccupied by white folks — give it to the troops.

But first that new land had to be surveyed. It took years to actually implement the system. It wasn’t until white folks began to ‘civilize’ Ohio that the government began to apply the system. It’s really pretty simple. They established east-west baselines and north-south meridians, divided the territory into square townships (never mind if there were any actual towns there yet), made each township six miles by six miles, divided the townships into thirty-six sections of 640 acres each, set aside one section (always Section 16) for a school, and when it came time to lay down roads all they had to do was follow the grid.

Canoe access farther up the South Skunk.

Canoe access farther up the South Skunk.

Which is what I did. I followed the grid. A couple of miles east, eight miles north, a few miles west, cross over the soulless, ugly little concrete beam bridge, and there’s the river. With a canoe access marker, telling me how far downriver the next canoe access point is.

The brain is rebooted. I go home and the problem with the alien species saturation point seems a lot more clear. Later when a friend asked “How was your day?” I replied, “It was busy.” “Yeah? What did you do?”

And really, what could I say? I drove on roads laid out on principles designed by the third President of the United States, and stood on a bridge probably built during the Depression of the 1930s over a river mis-named by French explorers a hundred years before Thomas Jefferson was born — all to distract myself from thinking about aliens and lapels.

Instead I said “I went for a drive and thought about some stuff.” Which sparked a long, long silence during which I swear I could hear my friend thinking “What? Are you fucking kidding me? That’s what you call busy?

“And I made my final selections for my fantasy football team,” I said. That seemed to satisfy him.