Jon Cazares

Jon Cazares

Tuesday, 18 April 2017 16:45

The Taxman Cometh

Today -- April 18th, 2017 --  is the last day you can file your Federal Income Taxes. Uncle Sam has bills to pay and expects your check in a timely manner. I usually do my taxes at the last minute and this year was no different. I have oft wondered, “Is this the year where I don’t get my taxes done in time and have to file an extension?”

 

Thankfully, the answer is, “Nope. Not this year!” But what does one do if one has not yet filed their taxes? You can link jump to irs.gov and fill out: Form 4868, Application for Automatic Extension of Time To File U.S. Individual Income Tax Return. It’s a pretty simple form.

 

Keep in mind if you file for an extension there may or may not be late fee penalties, accrued interest, nasty letters from the IRS, collection agents, tax levies and / or liens. Consequences all depend if you are filing late or not filing at all. There is a huge difference in the amount of consequences between filing late and not filing. All sorts of bad thing can happen to you up to and including jail time if you fail to file your taxes on time or at all. So don’t do it.

 

Even celebrities get in trouble for income tax evasion! And celebrities can get away with nearly anything. Here is a partial list of Celebrities Who Were Forgiven For Their Horrible Acts. I mean, look at that list! Matthew Broderick has killed people! And his grand punishment was that he had to fork over a colossal fee of -- $175. Not $1.75 million or $175 million.Nope. One hundred and seventy five dollars! For killing two people! Like I said, celebrities can get away with a lot of awful stuff. But not tax evasion. Just ask Martha Steward or Wesley Snipes or Willie Nelson or Nicolas Cage.  

 

Point being, the tax man gets his money. It doesn’t matter if it’s your $284 or Nicolas Cage’s $6 million. The tax man always wins. So file today  and you free, free, free from the tax man!


Well, until next year. Or until your extension expires. I guess I take that back. You will not be free. There is a reason, “Death and Taxes,” is a colloquialism. Nothing is inevitable except for … well, you know.

 

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If you like this you might like the GCNlive talk shows: The CEO ShowKorelin Economics, Millionaire Roadshow, Wall Street Raw.    

Monday, 17 April 2017 19:29

May the Divorce Be With You

Hello friends! I just learned of a delightful “holiday” that passed us by all too quickly on Friday, April 14th -- National Ex-Spouse's Day! Now, for many of you, a holiday recognizing your Ex might seem like the unwanted proverbial Red Headed Stepchild. Well, I always liked the Red Headed Stepchild! But I understand your skepticism. Bear with me.

 

You see, the real reason I’m pushing National Ex-Spouse’s Day is for the other discovery I had this weekend. Apparently, there is cake. Divorce cake! And I mean some pretty hilarious divorce cakes. Suddenly I’m all for National Ex -Spouse’s Day! Because of the cake!

 

It’s true you don’t need to a holiday to try some fine divorce cake, but the holiday makes it all the more delightful. And whenever I write the words “divorce” and “delightful” in the same sentence, I immediately think of Louis CK and his volumes of material on the subject including,“divorce is always good news” and “marriage is a larval stage for true happiness.” Check them both out. Both bits are NSFW but are well worth your five minutes.

 

According to the folks at foodandwine.com divorce cakes are on the rise nationally, but sadly, have not yet caught on in my native MN. So let’s spread the word. National Ex-Spouse's Day and Divorce cake. Mark your calendar for next year! Make Louis CK proud!

It’s been widely reported the U.S. dropped the Mother of All Bombs (MOAB) on Afghanistan, demolishing a tunnel lair and killing thirty six Islamic State terrorists. Every news site currently has headlines discussing the tactical details, the ethics and the cost of the weapon. Like many of you I am a bit awestruck in the details of the destructive force of the explosion and the cost of the weapon. The MOAB costs approximately sixteen million dollars apiece so the price per dead terrorist is about $444,000.

 

I don’t want to launch into snarky arguments about where that money could have been better spent, that’s what Facebook and Twitter is for. But it all got me to think about the bomb itself. Where exactly did the “GBU-43/ B Massive Ordnance Air Blast,” come from?

 

Like much of modern warfare, the seeds of the MOAB were planted in WWII. Throughout the Second World War both the Axis and Allies used rotorcraft (mainly helicopters) for a variety of roles; usually for reconnaissance or rescue operations. In fact, during the “China-Burma-India-Theater,” if U.S. military gliders were unable to reach downed American bombers, the Air Force would send helicopters to extract the stranded flight crew.   

 

During the Korean War helicopters played a more integral role. Helicopters played a critical role in medical evacuations, flying wounded to “Mobile Army Surgical Hospitals” (MASH). A term made famous by the television series M*A*S*H, which depicted the fictional 4077 unit, based off the Robert Altman film, based off the book of the same name.  You can read more about the use of Helicopters in the Korean War at the History.net’s article, The Rise of the Helicopter During the Korean War.      

 

During the Vietnam War, the use of the helicopters expanded and the US Army relied on “choppers” as they never had before. The military plan was to use the heavily armed UH-1 “Huey” helicopters as cavalry. Huey’s would be able to offer air support, quickly resupply platoons or evacuate wounded. It was all part of the military strategy to heavily rely on the helicopter.

 

But there was a problem. The geography of Vietnam is a chaotic tangle of rugged mountain peaks, extended forest and flatlands. Sure, the Huey’s had no problem landing in the flatlands but there were no natural landing zones (LZ) in the peaks or the forests.

 

Something had to be done about that.

 

Enter the BLU-82B/C-130 weapon system, nicknamed “Daisy Cutter"   

 

No natural LZ? No worries! The 15,000lb conventional bomb known as the “Daisy Cutter” is the solution to all your  LZ problems! From the Wikipedia entry on the “Daisy Cutter:”

   

“...originally designed to clear helicopter landing zones and artillery emplacements in Vietnam ... but also powerful enough to strike against specific targets such as warehouses, vehicle parks, and enemy troop concentrations … It is detonated just above ground by a 38-inch fuse extender. This results in maximum destructions at ground level without digging a crater.”

 

A nice range of photos showing the flat destruction of a “daisy cutter” and the type of LZ it creates can be seen here at www.peteralanlloyd.com. Basically, the bomb pulverized the trees in a large radius but the ground remained relatively flat. All your LZ problems have been solved.

 

Later, the “Daisy Cutter” is used in Afghanistan, first in an attempt to clear minefields, and then ,due to its 300-600 yard blast radius, as an intimidation weapon as the bomb can be seen, heard and felt for ten(ish) miles.  

 

At the time it was one of the largest conventional weapons ever to be used.  The BLU-82 was retired in 2008 and replaced with the much more powerful, “Mother of all Bombs.”

 

Albert L. Weimorts, Bunker Busters and the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast

 

Enter Albert L. Weimorts (1938-2005). For his entire civil engineering career, Albert designed bombs for the Air Force and created some of the largest non nuclear bombs ever made. Sometime around 1990, Mr. Weimorts was turned on to a particular “bomb problem.” Apparently, Saddam Hussein's bunker was impenetrable. Well, obviously, the United States had issues with that and so turned to Albert to create a bomb that could penetrate the impenetrable.

 

From a Dec, 25th, 2005, NY Times article by Douglas Martin, “...need for this new bomb came after 2,000-pound bombs failed to break through a hardened bunker used by Iraqi leaders, possibly including Saddam Hussein himself. A book prepared by U.S. News & World Report, "Triumph Without Victory: The Unreported History of the Persian Gulf War" (Times Books, 1992), said "numerous officials" claimed the bomb was built explicitly to kill Mr. Hussein, although the first President Bush publicly said the Iraqi leader was not a target.”

 

The article quotes Mr. Weimorts from the book, "We understand quite well what it takes to penetrate targets -- what it takes in terms of fusing, survivability, explosives and all," Mr. Weimorts said in an interview with the authors. Ideally, such a bomb would have to be dropped from a high altitude, meaning the United States and its allies needed to establish total air superiority in order to use the weapon. "Just three days into the war, it looked to me like that was possible," Mr. Weimorts said. "So I sketched out something that we could carry high, and it would be heavy."

And so the world is introduced to the GBU-28s Bunker Buster, a bomb capable of piercing hardened concrete and exploding only when it had penetrated to a certain depth. The Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) was conceived, designed, created and falling on bunkers northeast of Baghdad, within five weeks.

Based on the success of that program the Air Force looked to Mr. Weimorts to upgrade the elderly “Daisy Cutter.” The Air Force wanted a “shock and awe” bomb for use as an anti-personnel weapon and for soft and medium surfaces and covering extended areas and targets in a contained environment such as a deep canyon or within a cave system.  On March 11th, 2003 the MOAB was first tested at Eglin Air Force Base in FL. Then again on Nov 21st, 2003.

The Pentagon ordered twenty MOAB’s built for a grand total of $314 million. And then, for the next fourteen years, there they sat, in a warehouse, or a hanger or a garage or something. Somewhere. No one ever used them.

 

Until now. On 13 April 2017, a MOAB was dropped on an ISIL cave complex in southern Afghanistan killing thirty six terrorists.  

 

I usually pepper my stories with pop culture wit and personal anecdotes but I think I’ll leave it to Facebook, Twitter and late night comedians to crack jokes about the "Mother of all Bombs". Depending on whom you believe MOAB it is either, “the right weapon at the right time,” or, “an unethical use of power.”

 

I don't know. Perhaps it’s both.

 

 

Thursday, 13 April 2017 17:17

United Airlines and “The Volunteering!”

Much has been written about the man forcibly removed from the United Airlines Flight #3411 but for those that missed it, a quick recap:

 

Audra D. Bridges, a passenger on flight 3411, captured video of a man being forcibly ejected from the plane. Security violently yank him from his seat, smash his face into an arm bar and drag him off the plane. Bridges posted the video on Facebook with, “Please share this video. We are on this flight. United overbooked the flight. They randomly selected people to kick off, so their standby crew could have a seat. This man is a doctor and has to be at the hospital in the morning. He did not want to get off. We are all shaky and so disgusted. #unitedairwaves.” Overnight the video went viral.

 

It is a fact universally acknowledged, that Dr. David Dao, the man forcibly ejected, is not a criminal. He committed no crime on board the plane. He was not even doing anything particularly wrong. He wasn't even doing anything obnoxious; like reclining his chair too far back encroaching on the personal space of the passenger behind him! It had nothing to do with what he did.  No, it was what he didn’t do that was the problem. He didn’t acquiesce when asked to submit to, “The Volunteering!” He didn’t jump high enough. He didn’t jump fast enough. And if there is one thing the AUTHORITY hates, it’s when people don’t instantly, and blindly, obey.

 

When Dr. Dao didn’t comply with “The Volunteering!” the folks at United “had no choice” but to call the cops. Chicago PD was quick to the scene and with assistance from airport security officers, snatch dangerous Dr. Dao from his seat and give him what for!

 

United Airlines quickly throws gallons of gasoline on the fire when CEO Oscar Munoz Tweets a tone deaf response: “This is an upsetting event to all of us here at United. I apologize for having to re-accommodate these customers. Our team is moving with a sense of urgency to work with the authorities and conduct our own detailed review of what happened. We are also reaching out to this passenger to talk directly to him and further address and resolve this situation.”

 

Late night comedians have a field day with the corporate goon phrase, “re-accommodate these customers.” The negative press coverage and social media hatestorm cause shares in United Continental Holdings Inc to fall approximately 2.5 percent (about a $500 million loss to its market cap).

 

Munoz, eventually, goes on TV and offers a more legitimate apology but his sympathy is clearly, a day late and a dollar short.  

 

Do you think there will be a lawsuit? Or a made for TV movie? And will you be able to slip in a Scooby Doo reference?

 

There already is a lawsuit. And United will settle for an obscene amount of money. Other repercussions trickle in:

 

At this point, if United had really wanted to make room for their crew, they could have offered every single passenger on board fifty thousand dollars and still come out far ahead of the deal than where they are at now.

 

Though, to be honest, things like this happen all the time. All airlines overbook flights and sometimes a carrier will have to shuffle crew around. Which, in turn, means that sometimes paying passengers will get bumped from flights. Obviously, how you deal with the scenario is the question.  

 

I was bumped from a flight once. About fifteen years ago I was flying out of JFK NY to MPLS and, while awaiting departure, the call came over the speaker asking for volunteers to take a next morning flight. I leapt out of my seat, “Me! Me! That’s me! This guy! Right here! I will! I’ll take that free extra night in NYC! Thank you very much Mr. AUTHORITY!” Wasn’t so bad, actually. Free hotel, free dinner, extra night in the Big Apple. But I’m a white guy who wanted to stay. I didn’t need privilege to help me out, I was all for it.    

 

Dr. Dao didn’t want to stay. He didn’t want to participate in the “The Volunteering!” He resisted. And I don’t mean he physically resisted, because he did not, I mean he resisted the order to comply with the AUTHORITY. And United Airlines severely punished him for his resistance. And then they thought they could get away with it. And they would have gotten away with it too if it hadn’t been for those meddling kids with their pesky cell phone cameras and that social media thing!

 

As for a, “made for TV movie?” Only time will tell. But just in case a network executive is reading, I will totally write and direct that movie! But it has to be a feature. You already know the title, "The Volunteering!” Starring Samuel Jackson. Warning though -- I’d make it a horror film. Imagine the voice over for the trailer:     

 

“Flight 3411. Assault, blood and the screams of an innocent man. Unsuspecting passengers witness horror unlike that they have even known. “The Volunteering” begins, its wrath a terror to see -- and on the morrow -- it comes for thee! (At this point in the trailer Sam Jackson stands up from his seat and yells… wait-for-it...) ‘I've had it with this mother f**king volunteering on this mother f**king plane!’”


Would you watch that movie? I would totally watch that movie!

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If you like this you might like the GCNlive talk shows: The Freedom Feens or Free Talk Live. Both shows often dealt with libertarian freedom and rights.  

Monday, 10 April 2017 21:20

Netflix is wrong. Again.

Remember way back in 2011 when Netflix bungled their streaming/DVD unveiling and announced a 60 percent price increase? Social outrage resulted in an almost 80 percent drop in Netflix’s share price in four months, and cost them over 800,000 subscribers.

Well, Netflix is back at the bungling with its March announcement for plans to drop its five star rating system in favor of a “thumbs up/thumbs down” approach. Netflix has an adorable short video explaining the change. The “ratings makeover” was widely reported online but had little impact on social media, and, in turn, the internet released a collective, “meh.” But now that Netflix has actually gone through with the change, subscribers are not happy.  

The fine folks over at the The Mary Sue covered the Reddit and Twitter hate with their “Backlash Against the New Netflix Rating System Shows That People Want and Miss Nuance.”  Polygon, Variety and even the New York Post jumped on the bandwagon with “Thumbs Down” editorials.  I found Indiewire’sNetflix’s New Rating System is a Terrible Idea” to be the best read.

But Todd Yellin, Netflix's VP of Product, sticks to his guns. “Five stars feels very yesterday now. The five-star rating system really projects what you think you want to tell the world. But we want to move to a system where it’s really clear, when members rate, that it’s for them, and to keep on making the Netflix experience better and better.”

It will make my Netflix experience better, huh? What kind of malarkey is this? It’s actually making me kind of angry. Don’t make me angry, Netflix. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

So, what IS wrong with new approach and is there any chance we can get a random superhero appearance (as often seems to happen in your stories)?

Ugh. And maybe (depends on how angry I get).

My first and foremost thought about the change is the lack of nuance. Netflix’s five star rating broke it down like this:

1 star: Hated it

2 stars: Didn’t like it

3 stars: Liked it

4 stars: Really liked it

5 stars: Loved it

There are problems already. Do you know how many films I want to rate 3.5 stars? Or 2.5 stars? Lots! That’s how many! Lots! Netflix doesn't allow that! One to five stars is already a tad limiting and now they expect me to vote yes or no?  Um, I don’t think so.  In fact, I’m pretty sure I will just not rate movies on Netflix. It’s not improving my Netflix experience, yet.

I decided to post a righteous, whiny rant on my Facebook page and complain about Netflix. I sought solace from my English-y lit friends, and Pat Harrigan, part time editor for M.I.T. Press and author of the novel “Lost Clusters,” does not disappoint, “Dammit! 1-5 is perfect; it maps intuitively onto an A-F grading system, and avoids having to distinguish Jesuitically between things like “9 or 10 stars .. Godfather 1 vs. Godfather 2? No one has the time for that; give them both 5 stars and move on. But thumbs up vs. down is a commercial distinction (“buy vs. don’t buy"). Siskel and Ebert both hated it, and you’re right to hate it too.”

Yes. That! You win!

Actually, though, to be fair, Gene Siskel, the late Chicago Tribune film critic and co-host of At the Movies and The Siskel and Ebert Show, eventually warmed to the thumbs up/down system. Siskel writes, "What's the first thing people ask you? Should I see this movie? They don't want a speech on the director's career. Thumbs up--yes. Thumbs down--no."

Roger Ebert, the late Chicago Sun Times film critic and co-host of said shows, had problems with all the limiting systems. Ebert responds to Siskel: “That makes sense, but in a written review thumbs up/down has the effect of nudging a lot of films from 2.5 (a negative review) to three stars (a positive one). There is never any doubt about giving four stars, or one star. The problem comes with the movies in the middle.” Ebert goes on to wonder if instead of worrying about  Yes/No or the amount of stars attached, perhaps one should just, “...consider actually reading the review?” Roger Ebert’s thoughts on star ratings for film reviews and on reviewing, in general: “You Give Out Too Many Stars.”

I tend to lean more towards Ebert’s thinking. Yes, a star rating has problems, especially with the muddy middle portions, but it’s still vastly superior to a thumbs up/down. Siskel’s, “Should I see this movie? Yes/No” could be answered,  “I can’t just say yes or no to that. Let’s talk about it. What other movies do you like? What do you not like? Do you like seeing movies with strong female leads? Does excessive swearing bother you?” So on and so forth. I can’t just answer that question yes or no. I need nuance and information. I need more and more nuance and information!

But, um, didn’t Netflix say they would keep the star rating in the “My Account” section? So why are you still complaining? And where’s the superhero cameo?

They do. I found it. Let’s see how well it works.  I watched a movie six years ago. I can’t remember if it was DVD or streaming, but I want to see what rating I gave it. I follow these steps:

  1. Go to “Your Account.”
  2. Scroll down to My Profile.
  3. Click “My Ratings”.
  4. My rated movies are now listed by date from most recent watched first. There is no other way to sort them. Begin scrolling.
  5. Scroll through pages and pages and pages of movies until I find the film in question. If Netflix no longer carries the movie or if the film moved from streaming to DVD or from DVD to streaming, you may or may not be in the correct location.  
  6. Check the “Viewing Activity”
  7. Scroll through pages and pages.  For the same reasons listed above it may or may not be there.
  8. Check “Reviews” section. It may or may not be there.

Ugh. Who doesn’t love scrolling through pages and pages of information? I sure do!

It hasn’t even been two full weeks and I find all sorts of dubious recommendations with Netflix’s new system. Based on all our previous ratings their algorithm now creates a “percent” for everything on Netflix. The percent should communicate to you “the percentage chance one will like this particular movie/TV show/documentary.”  So, if I see a movie with a 90 percent green marker there is a high chance I will like it. The opposite should be true as well. Seems easy enough. The more you thumb up/down, the more Netflix will be able to improve your experience!

Except, getting back to the “dubious recommendations,” I see many movies I rated two stars come back to me with a Netflix Approved 98 percent chance of “liking it.” I see many movies I rated four stars come back to me with a Netflix Approved 40 percent chance I will like it. Like I said, “dubious recommendations.” You know what? Maybe it’s time to jump ship for Amazon Prime.

Look, I know the deal. There are more important things going on, and besides, no one will get cancer from Netflix’s new system (at least not that Netflix would ever admit to!). All this does is affect my entertainment consumption. But as for something that affects my entertainment consumption, it’s an obnoxious, time-wasting change.

And obnoxious, time-wasting changes make me angry. And when I’m angry, I smash!   

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If you liked this you might also like the GCNlive talk radio programs Americanuck Radio or Free Talk Live.

Thursday, 06 April 2017 18:03

Alex Jones vs. Newsweek: Round 1

Alex Jones is under fire again. This time it’s Newsweek that attempts to draw first blood with their April 5th  Alex Jones’s Threat to Congressman May Be Felony article. This is not the first time Jones has drawn heat from mainstream media.  It will not be the last.

Talk radio host, Alex Jones, has fierce charisma and a "give zero fucks" attitude. The Alex Jones Show airs live three hours a day, five days a week and draws millions of listeners from around the globe. He is equally adored and despised on both sides of the political isle. Hours (and hours) of his thoughts are internationally syndicated to radio stations all over the country and via satellite all over the world, by the Genesis Communication Network (GCN).  

That would be us.

I’ve never met Alex Jones but for a time I worked on his Sunday show. I use the word “work” loosely. The Sunday A.J. show is a “feed show,” which means all the work is done at the Infowars studio in Texas then fed to us remotely. All we do is broadcast it over our satellites. My job was to make sure the feed wasn’t interrupted and/or make sure the building didn’t catch on fire. Occasionally, but not often, I pressed buttons.

Despite the fact I work at GCN, I do not work for Alex Jones nor have I ever met him in person. I spoke with him once when he called in, as a guest, on a separate show. He was very polite. To me, Alex Jones is one of the hosts on one of our 70+ weekly shows that we syndicate.        

It’s true, Alex Jones has a big show on the network. And he produces a lot of content — 17 hours per week for us at GCN. An additional 10 to 20ish hours of weekly video for his Infowars.com site is uploaded directly to YouTube. I don’t have the Bat-Alex-Jones-Hour-Counter on hand, but my fuzzy math skills tell me these add to, approximately, 30 or 40 hours of weekly content.

Every week after every week. Year after year. For decades. Point being, when you produce such a high volume of weekly content, inevitably, you’re bound to say something — no — a lot of controversial things. And that’s how you stay on the air for twenty years.   

Dude, that’s nice and all, but are you going to get around to this Newsweek/Alex Jones fight?

Yes.

On March 31st, Alex Jones uploaded a video titled, “WATCH LIVE NOW! Plan to Assassinate Trump Leaked” to YouTube. In it, he and guest Roger Stone — um — “discuss” Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). Schiff is the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which is currently investigating possible collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and Russia. Roger Stone has his own controversy with the Russians due to his contact with a hacker called Guccifer 2.0, who may (or may not) be Russian Intelligence. This has led Schiff to publicly call Roger Stone out as, you know, a Russian agent. Apparently, Schiff calls Jones a Russian spy as well, though, I was unable to find an actual quote about that. So that's what leads up to the "discussion" of Schiff, which isn't much of a discussion at all. Alex Jones goes off on Congressman Schiff. The video is more than two hours long but at the 33:00 mark Mr. Jones says:

“I’m not against gay people. OK. I love them, they’re great folks. But Schiff looks like the archetypal cocksucker with those little deer-in-the-headlight eyes and all his stuff. And there’s something about this fairy, hopping around, bossing everybody around, trying to intimidate people like me and you, I want to tell Congressman Schiff and all the rest of them, ‘Hey, listen, asshole, quit saying Roger and I’—and I’ve never used cussing in 22 years, but the gloves are off—‘listen, you son of a bitch, what the fuck’s your problem? You want to sit here and say that I’m a goddamn, fucking Russian. You get in my face with that, I’ll beat your goddamn ass, you son of a bitch. You piece of shit. You fucking goddamn fucker. Listen, fuckhead, you have fucking crossed a line. Get that through your goddamn fucking head. Stop pushing your shit. You’re the people that have fucked this country over and gang raped the shit out of it and lost an election. So stop shooting your mouth off claiming I’m the enemy. You got that you goddamn son of a bitch? Fill your hand.’ I’m sorry, but I’m done. You start calling me a foreign agent, those are fucking fighting words. Excuse me.”

Wow. Okay. That’s very, um, specific. BUT is it bombastic radio personality bluster or is it a legitimate threat? The hard working folks at Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog that monitors Jones’s shows, certainly thought it threat worthy and forwarded said diatribe to Newsweek.com. Newsweek, a tiny magazine that has been around for a year or two took it seriously. On Wednesday afternoon, April 5th, Newsweek.com publishes the “Alex Jones’s Threat to Congressman May Be Felony” article. Nina, for Newsweek, writes:  

“Law enforcement officials are not saying whether they will charge broadcaster Alex Jones, the right-wing conspiracy theorist ally of President Donald Trump, for publicly threatening to “beat” Representative Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and telling Schiff to “fill your hand”—a reference to taking up a pistol.”

Then, Nina quotes Amanda Berman, director of legal affairs with Lawfare Project as, “It seems to be a clear provocation … I think there is a legal basis for a conviction based on Jones’s threat, which as made ‘with intent to impede, intimidate or interfere’ with Congressman Schiff’s exercise of his duties…”

Fair enough. I’m no director of legal affairs with anyone, but I have a common sense thought about this. I suspect law enforcement officials are “not saying anything” because law enforcement officials -- well -- don’t plan to do anything. As in, nothing. No charges. Nada. Because that would be silly.

I seriously doubt anyone in law enforcement believes Alex Jones is a credible threat to Representative Schiff. In fairly typical talk show host fashion, Alex Jones postures and face-anger gesticulates his way through the entire rant. Alex Jones responds to the Newsweek article and says the speech in question was, “tongue in cheek and basically art performance ... all protected by the First Amendment.”

He’s right. It is. But we should all know by now the First Amendment doesn’t protect one from consequences. Alex Jones has the First Amendment right to “Infowars Rant As Performance Piece” and Newsweek has the First Amendment right to call him out for possible consequences. 

Speaking of consequences, Nina Burleigh writes, “It’s not clear whether the video was broadcast on the air before being posted to YouTube: If so, that would bring it under the purview of the Federal Communications Commission. Jones’s Infowars program is carried by Genesis Communications Network, which produces 75 shows aired on 830 radio stations ... The CEO and founder of Genesis Communications, Ted Anderson, also has not responded to messages.”

Whoops! Sorry, Nina. My fault! Someone at GCN absolutely, positively forwarded me your request for a comment, and I absolutely, positively ignored it. (Or, more accurately, with good intention to
“get to it,” I pretty much just forgot about it). Nina, since you ask and since I work here at GCN, it takes me all of three minutes to find out that the Alex Jones speech in question is not part of his weekly syndicated show on GCN and therefore did not go out over the airwaves. It was produced through Infowars.com and uploaded directly to YouTube. The FCC has no jurisdiction over YouTube so Alex Jones violated a total of zero FCC regulations.  

Nothing will come from this. No charges filed. No violence against the Congressman. Nothing. You know how I know? Because this kind of thing happens all the time. Madonna said, “I want to blow up the White House.” Nothing came of that. Robert De Niro said he wants to “punch President Trump in the face.” Nothing came of that. Ted Nugent threatens to kill President Obama multiple times! Nugent was interviewed by Secret Service for his comments and nothing came of it. Nothing will come of this, either. Hoping for legal action is, frankly, a little absurd. Perhaps there will be (and should be) social consequences due to the anti-gay language in the speech. Starting a speech with, "I'm not against gays, I love them..." then immediately using a gay, male stereotype as a negative is ridiculous. Homophobia is homophobia. It doesn't matter if the comment is intended to be harmless. So knock it off.     

Anyway, I’m surprised Newsweek even bothered. It’s pretty obvious the speech, like many of his speeches, is Alex Jones posturing for effect. He does have a reputation as a polarizing national radio personality to protect. He's controversial and has plenty of views that I don’t understand. And maybe you don’t either. Or maybe you think he’s a patriot and you love him. Or maybe you think he’s insane and you hate him. Whatever the case, Alex Jones has the right to express his views. Newsweek has the right to express theirs. And if there are consequences then there are consequences. But I really, seriously doubt Alex Jones poses a legitimate, credible threat to the Congressman. The March 31st Infowars YouTube video is, to snatch a phrase from Mr. Jones’s resident State of Texas, “All hat, no cattle.”

The controversial and often ridiculous “gaming leads to violence” argument rears it’s ugly head once again. Multiple sources report that the World Health Organization proposed a revision to their International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) to classify gaming behaviors as a mental disorder, labeling it a “disorder due to addictive behaviors,” and later a “hazardous gaming” section. Responding to the classification, dozens of game savvy scholars paused their Xbox One to immediately pen an open letter to the W.H.O., which saves me the trouble of doing so.

The authors of said letter have more expertise than me, ranging from the obvious “video games, internet and social media” to broad categories like “children’s rights in a digital age” to the slightly obscure “epidemiology of healthy and unhealthy use of new media” and more. Their letter, "Gaming Disorder in ICD-11: Letter of concern" states, “Concerns about problematic gaming behaviors deserve our full attention. Some gamers do experience serious problems as a consequence of the time spent playing video games. However, we claim that it is far from clear that these problems can or should be attributed to a new disorder, and the empirical basis for such a proposal suffers from several fundamental issues.”

Included within the letter are their main concerns:

“The empirical basis for a Gaming Disorder proposal, such as in the new ICD-11, suffers from fundamental issues. Our main concerns are the low quality of the research base, the fact that the current operationalization leans too heavily on substance use and gambling criteria, and the lack of consensus on symptomatology and assessment of problematic gaming. The act of formalizing this disorder, even as a proposal, has negative medical, scientific, public-health, societal, and human rights fallout that should be considered. Of particular concern are moral panics around the harm of video gaming. They might result in premature application of diagnosis in the medical community and the treatment of abundant false-positive cases, especially for children and adolescents…”

(Reprinted with permission under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License from an “open access” article).

But, wait, kids are impressionable and stuff. Shouldn’t we protect them from all forms of possible harm including addictive gaming behavior and/or video game violence?

Well, the CD-11 proposal doesn’t discuss violence, but yes, inevitably a conversation about video games eventually leads to a discussion about the violence within video games. A typical argument of, “this video game will turn your sweet, perfect child who never does anything wrong (ever!) into a chaotic evil homicidal lunatic!” is nothing new, sadly .  

Back in the early 1990s, the hardest game to find (ever!) was Night Trap, an interactive movie/video game developed for the Sega/Mega-CD and released in late 1992. The game is 90+ minutes of full motion video sequences. The player switches the point of view between various hidden cameras monitoring the interior of a house and then can activate traps to capture intruding vampire creatures (called Augers) in hopes to prevent the house women (one of which is played by Dana Plato of Diff'rent Strokes) from having their blood drained.

The game was instantly notorious for “adult themes,” a violent, blood-draining “mechanic,” and a controversial “nightgown scene,” which led to the game being pulled from the market. Today this game would be considered laughably tame.   

This all came to a head in 1993 with the Senate Committee Hearings on Violence in Video Games. I don’t know if Night Trap was solely responsible for the hearings, but I’m certain it was a factor, as the committee often mentions the game citing it as "shameful," "ultra-violent," "sick," "disgusting," and claims it encourages an "effort to trap and kill women.”

Wait. What? An “effort to trap and kill women?” Huh?  

The documentary Dangerous Games, included in the PC version of Night Trap, allows producers and cast members to defend the plot and clear up that fact the gameplay is designed to, obviously, prevent the harm of the women in the house. In addition, “the blood draining device is intended to look very unrealistic to therefore mitigate the violence.” Despite scenes in which the girls are grabbed or pulled by enemies, “no nudity or extreme acts of violence were ever filmed or incorporated into the game.” As is usually the case, no one on the committee had ever played Night Trap and the whole hearing views on YouTube like a posturing mess of out-of-touch, old, white men.  

Night Trap is not the only game that has been under fire over the years. Controversy follows video games like bees to honey. Games such as Doom (violence), Mortal Kombat (violence), The Grand Theft Auto Series (adult themes, trigger warnings, violence, violence against women), hell, even Leisure Suit Larry was controversial (obscenities and mature themes) in it’s time, the list goes on and on. Some games clearly deserve the controversy more than others.  

Wait. Stop. Did you just softball the misogyny of Grand Theft Auto and compare it to the almost non-controversy of Leisure Suit Larry?

Kind of. The crux of the issues with the W.H.O. classification of “Gaming Behavior” doesn’t revolve around violence, but since the two are often intermingled I wanted to bring it up but don’t want to go too far down that rabbit hole.  

I will say that, of all the games I am aware, GTA is the most problematic, as it’s a game that, arguably, glorifies violence against women up to and including sexual assault and murder. Much has been written about the moral bankruptcy of the game. I’ll let an excellent article in polygon continue the GTA discussion but then I have to move on: Regarding GTA 5 - It’s Misogyny  Can No Longer Be Ignored.

Back to the matter at hand, the W.H.O. and “Gaming Addiction”

The focus of the W.H.O. classification is clearly on the words “obsession” and “addiction,” linking both to symptoms of mental disorders. Which, to be honest, does seem a bit fair.

The most famous case of obsessive gaming is the 1991 “EverQuest suicide” of Shawn Woolley, a Wisconsin kid that struggled with learning disabilities and emotional problems. When he was twenty one years old he found a new job and moved into a new apartment.  Less than a year later, while he sat at his computer desk, he shot himself.  The online game, EverQuest, was on the monitor in front of him.  

His mother, Elizabeth,  has since blamed EverQuest for significantly contributing to Shawn’s suicide.  She told multiple sources that Shawn,  “...in mid 1991...stopped working, stopped cleaning his apartment and stopped seeing his family. He wouldn’t let anyone come in and all he did was sit at home and play EverQuest. That was the beginning of the end.” Her view of online games is that they are designed to include addictive qualities that are unhealthy to the gamer.

After Shawn’s death Liz created the website On-Line Gamers Anonymous or the OLG-AnonElizabeth founded the site in 1992 in order to, “...share our experience, strengths and hope to help each other recover and heal from problems caused by excessive game playing, whether it be computer, video, console, or on-line.” OLG-Anon continues to operate today.

Shawn’s story is tragic, but I suspect you are thinking exactly what I am thinking. Elizabeth describes Shawn as someone who struggled with, “learning disabilities and emotional problems.” I’m inclined to believe, “emotional problems” more so than obsessive online gaming, were the root of Shawn’s sad end. That being said, I 100-percent agree that too much gaming can be unhealthy. Of course, I believe that too much of any one thing can be bad for you. Even drinking too much water can be unhealthy!  

I’ve seen obsession similar to Shawn’s. A former roommate spent anywhere from eight to 10 to maybe 16 hours a day playing World of Warcraft online. He would pause for sleep, restroom breaks and meals (which he would eat in front of his computer). He would not clean his room, the interior of his car was a disaster, he would not do dishes, and he certainly couldn’t be bothered to remove empty bottles, cans or pizza boxes from on or around his computer desk.  

You will be shocked to learn said roommate was notoriously underemployed and pretty damn dateless for the three (or four?) years he was glued to WoW. But then he got over it. So while I agree gaming can be unhealthy, I have yet to read one legitimate study to convince me that even the unhealthiest of gaming choices is a gateway to violence or violent behaviors.

As for “gaming behavior as a mental disorder?” Well, I don’t know. My gut instinct is, “Gaming can’t be classified as a mental disorder ... because that would be silly.”  On the other hand, there are some really silly mental disorders already out there: triskaidekaphobia, explosive head syndrome, the Jumping Frenchmen (of Maine) syndrome. If gaming can become SO obsessive and SO addictive … then maybe it deserves a place in the mental disorder hall of fame along with those listed greats.

But probably not. Referring back to the open letter:

“The healthy majority of gamers will be affected by stigma and perhaps even changes in policy. We expect that inclusion of gaming disorder in ICD-11 will cause significant stigma to the millions of children and adolescents who play video games as part of a normal, healthy life … In brief, including this diagnosis in ICD-11 will cause significantly more harm than good. Given the immaturity of the existing evidence base, it will negatively impact the lives of millions of healthy video gamers while being unlikely to provide valid identification of true problem cases.”

(Reprinted with permission under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License from an “open access” article).

There is a mountain of anecdotal evidence to suggest gaming can be unhealthy. There is an equally colossal volume of peer reviewed actual evidence to suggest gaming has a host of positive benefits (especially for kids) including (but not limited to): helping them learn to follow directions … engaging in problem-solving to find solutions …. learning strategy and anticipation, understanding management of resources, reading, multitasking and quick thinking. The lists just go on and on.  

I’m not going to link every study I’ve read because, trust me, they are real easy to find on your own. And the reason they are real easy to find is because there is a crushing amount of studies suggesting there are many healthy, and some unhealthy, things about gaming (SPOILER ALERT:  But the healthy benefits seem to far outweigh the potential unhealthy aspects). So, don’t take my word for it. Get to that Googling.

Now, if you’ll excuse me I have to Rage Quit  Darkest Dungeon before I can move onto XCOM2. Then I will finally have time for that glorious month long Mass Effect: Andromeda binge!   

 

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For better or worse, Britain's exit from the European Union (EU) begins. In the morning of March 29th, 2017, the British representative to the EU handed in the UK’s separation papers to the President of the European Council in Brussels. You see, the institutions of the EU are headquartered in Brussels, a city now famous for three things: Belgian Beer, Mr. JCVD himself (the “Muscles from Brussels”) and the labyrinthine bureaucracy of the EU.  

Once such point of bureaucracy is Article 50 from the 2009 Lisbon Treaty which lays the groundwork for any EU member to, “withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements … shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.”  

Until now, no state within the EU has invoked Article 50. Greece debated the idea as recent recessions, three recent public healthcare meltdowns and bailouts that seem to have done Greece more bad than good. It seems reasonable the Greeks would want change, but they never actually invoked Article 50. (New York Times coverage Explaining Greece’s Debt Crisis).  

As for Brexit, England and Wales, they voted “yes.” Northern Ireland and Scotland voted “no:” Why not let England and Wales leave the EU and the other two countries remain? That seems fair. Not that fairness has much to do with the complex international treaties that govern the EU but, whatever. So, here we are, and now the United Kingdom has two years to negotiate its exit.

How Did Brexit Happen (and is Batman solving the problem)?

Through a series of unfortunate events, Brexit, it seems, plays out like a missing bizarro chapter of “Pride and Prejudice.” The “missing” chapter has everything: imperialism, a rise in populism, institutionalized racism, mismanagement of immigration,  welfare provisions and labor restrictions that keep immigrants out of the workforce and in poverty, ever changing demographics and yes, pride and prejudice. I have no doubt each of these and more played significant roles in the EU exit.

I also have no doubt that the immediate impact of the withdrawal will be felt first and foremost by the poor and the disenfranchised. A Scotsman recently turned me onto the plight of the Roma when he said, “... Roma families here rely on EU funding to assist their children getting proper support and education, as we are culturally so prone to isolating and pushing out Roma people they are often forced into poverty”. Precursory interneting shows me the Roma are a group of people so marginalized and maligned I am reminded of the sad history between the United States and the Native Americans.  

So then, who actually benefits from Brexit?  Well, if Brexit were a crime, Batman would be able to solve it by asking his two crime-solving questions:  

1) Who benefits from the crime?

2) Where does the money go?

Fair enough, Batman. Who does benefit? Where does the money go?  Abandoning the EU ends free trade between the UK and all other other members of the union. Do the words “abandon free trade” sound like they will lead you to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? I’m pretty sure it’s easier to move money and products around Europe with, you know, free trade. In fact, it seems to be the only thing economists actually agree on. Will the UK benefit by abandoning open borders? Will it be more secure from terrorism? No. Terrorism is way more of a law enforcement issue than a border issue. Also, I’m no Batman, but I suspect an influx of immigrants fuels an economy and helps pay for public services.   

The enormity of the negotiation deal is way beyond the scope of one snotty American opinion. Obviously, some people will benefit, some people will not. Which people will fall into which category? And what will the ratio of benefited to not benefited be? Will Brexit do the most good for the most amount of people in the UK?  

I guess we’re about to find out.

Weren’t You Going to Explain How Brexit Happened (and is there any way we can get a cameo from Captain America)?

Yes! To the best of my Googling skills, Brexit happened, well, the same way these things always seem to happen -- bumbling politicians! You see, as a last ditch effort to save his political ass, former Prime Minister David Cameron proposed an independence referendum to -- I don’t know appease the rising populist movement?  Then, obviously, he turns right around and actively campaigns against it! Propose it. Campaign against it. Genius!  

How hard did he campaign against it? Imagine Captain America punching a Nazi in the f**king face (because Cap hits hard)! That’s how hard Cameron campaigned against the yes vote to Brexit.

Only Cameron’s plan didn’t work out so well. As we all know, due to the rise in populism, the “yes” vote to Brexit won by a narrow margin and former Prime Minister Cameron stepped down. In 2016, Theresa May became head of Her Majesty’s Government. May, despite having also campaigned for a “stay in the EU vote,” is now tasked with overseeing Brexit. In fact, May publicly warned voters, Brexit would damage the economy, harm security, erode the kindness of dogs, cause the sky to turn a sickly pink-green color and altogether obliterate the taste of strawberries. (I might have made some of those examples up).

Weather Brexit will destabilize the EU or become disastrous to the UK economy remains to be seen. As usual, when any huge political change is announced, the day the “yes” vote passed, the UK stock market took a hit but slowly climbed back up in following months. I believe the pound is still a bit down in value versus both the U.S. dollar and the Euro, making travel to the UK a tad less expensive, but predictions of economic crisis, recession, a huge rise in unemployment and the “Tasteless Strawberry Apocalypse” have not proven accurate. Yet.

The UK now enters unknown territory and pundits on both sides of the political spectrum, and all over the world, have wildly opposing utopia/dystopia predictions. I suspect Brexit results will land somewhere within the usual parameters of, “the poor suffer, the middle class pays for it all” and the wealthy “get some more tax breaks.” Business as usual.

Prime Minister May was correct about one thing, though. May predicted that a yes vote to Brexit would piss off the Scots and that they would vote for another independence referendum. If you recall, way back in 2014 AD, the Scots voted on an independence referendum to break from the UK. At the time, the Queen, the fine folks of England and a whole bunch of wealthy, elite, old, white Scots told the world, “This is a terrible idea! We’re stronger together!” The independence vote failed.  

Guess what? That next Scottish independence vote May feared?  Well, as of Tuesday, March 28, 2017, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (of Scotland) won a Parliamentary vote for a new referendum. In fact, First Minister Sturgeon promised “endless independence campaigns.”

We all know what that means. England was the driving force behind Brexit and now believes that sometimes you must dissolve a partnership in order to move forward, which is why they will be completely sympathetic and understanding about Scottish independence this time around. England will cast off thousands of years of English imperialism and will cooperate fully with the Scots independence. England will, in no way, spend massive political capital and crushing amounts of money on a propaganda, smear campaign against Scottish independence. Finally, England will totally give up their entitled ownership over all that Scottish oil in the North Sea.  

I predict the new Scottish Independence Referendum will be a smooth-sailing, easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy walk in the park victory for the Scots. I mean, that’s all obvious to you too, right? Countries don’t control other countries just because of entitlement, imperialism and/or oil money!  

We’re all on the same page here, right?

--

 

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