Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Sunday Book Review, July 29, 2012: "Bigfoot Sasquatch Evidence" and "Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science"

"Ah," Dear Readers, you may be saying as you read the title of this post, "Madame L is at it again. Who cares whether the creature called Bigfoot or Sasquatch really exists? It's impossible for such a creature to exist, and all those bogus programs on TV where they're supposedly hunting it are a waste of time!"

And so on...And Madame L would not disagree with your assessment of the Bigfoot-hunting programs on TV and most of the books written about the creature.

But Madame L definitely would disagree with your assessment of the value of knowing whether the creature actually exists and of knowing more about it, if it does.

And Madame L thinks this book, written by a scientist, Dr. Grover S. Krantz, is the authoritative book on the subject.

Madame L enjoys Dr. Krantz's peculiarly academic way of dismissing much of the so-called evidence of the existence of Bigfoot. Here's an example, dealing with the people who think Sasquatches have mystical or magical qualities and/or have some special information they want to impart to the human race:

"I have been contacted by several rational-sounding people who say they are or have been in telepathic contact with sasquatches. Each of them presents a very different version of what the creatures really are. If one of them is right, the others are totally wrong. Since all but one version must be wrong, there obviously has to be some explanation of how a false impression of telepathy has been experienced by the rest of them. It then becomes a simple step to appy that explanation to the single remaining version. What most likely occurs here is that a person is having a conversation with him/herself, and is silently verbalizing both sides of the discussion. It is a known psychological phenomenon that many such people, at one time or another, fail to note that both sides of the discussion are their own creation, and ascribe one of them to an outside source. In most instances of this phenomenon, that outside source is attributed to an entity very different from the sasquatch, but the principle is still the same. This is classed as a minor mental disorder, but it is fairly common and generally has no serious repercussions."

If any of Madame L's Dear Readers are interested in Sasquatch, this is the book to read. Another, more recent one, which Madame L recommends is "Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science," by Jeff Meldrum.

Both of these books are worth reading because they put the cultists and lunatic fringe in their proper place and examine the actual physical evidence, from skin ridges and furrows to anatomy and physiology; they dismiss the "paranormal" explanations with appropriate humor (see above quote); and they perform authoritative analyses of recordings, photos and movies.

By the way, because Madame L likes to illustrate her posts and book reviews with photos, she performed a quick Google search for a photo to accompany this one, but (strangely enough) she found nothing. She did find a website, "Paranormal Plus," with a hilarious article titled "My Elusive Friend, Bigfoot." Madame L recommends this article as an object lesson in the improper use of the exclamation point. Here's a quote from the article:

"On one occasion, Bigfoot came up during the day when no one was at home and went into the barn where he normally ate his sweet feed. This time he left three rocks on the barrel top! Pearl told me that this was his way of expressing thanks for the feed and that many scientists including her had witnessed this action many times. Evidently one was for the papa, one for the mama and one for the baby who we learned they had started bringing with them.

"...Weather permitting, I still go over there each day and my time is never wasted! I feel that Bigfoot continues to be looking for new and amazing ways to mystify me and I think he loves doing this.

"...Most who have studied him are convinced that he does indeed have psychic capabilities unlike anything a World-Class Psychic could imagine. To prove this point there have been many times when I have managed to communicate with him on a somewhat successfully degree via thought-emanations but I may never know the true degree of my success!"

Talk about having a conversation with oneself, unaware that both contributors to the conversation are oneself... One can agree at least with the last part of the last sentence quoted here.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Weird Word of the Week: Weird

Did you know that the word "weird," which we usually use as an adjective to describe something strange or out of the ordinary, can also be a noun?

According to the online Merriam-Webster dictionary, the noun "weird" means "fate" or "destiny" or "fortune" (but usually "ill fortune"), or "soothsayer."

Our "weird" comes from the Middle English "werd" or "wird," which comes from the Old English "wyrd," which is related to the Old Norse "urthr" ("fate") and Old English "weorthan" ("to become").

Does knowing this change the way you'll use the word "weird"? It doesn't for Madame L, who will continue to use the word as she always have, with no concern about weird occult meanings or the idea that someone might "become" anything, especially a soothsayer, because of the use of the word "weird."

(Side note: This is one of the few English words that doesn't follow that old rule we used to have to memorize: "I before E, except after C." Madame L will write about the reasons for the exceptions to that rule in the future.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

So: What Is Romney Hiding?

Dear Madame L,

The big question seems to be WHY Mitt Romney won't release any tax returns beyond the one year he's already released and the other one he says he'll release soon.


What's He Hiding?

Dear Hiding,

Madame L, of course, does not know what Mitt Romney is or is not hiding in his past tax returns.

Others have made lots of guesses, including this one.  And of course the problems with his hiding his financial information include the following, as enumerated in that article:

    "A Gallup poll showed that 60 percent of Americans and 43 percent of Republicans think households with more than $1 million in income should be required to pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes. A different CNN poll showed 70 percent of voters and 53 percent of Republicans supporting the Buffett Rule. Anything that further highlights the extent of the shenanigans used under current law will further highlight this super-popular aspect of the president's agenda.

     "What's more, though traditionally even liberal economists have favored light taxation of capital income, there's something of a backlash against this that Romney personifies quite well. The issue is that though you can certainly construct a model in which you stipulate a sharp distinction between labor income and investment income, in the real world things get fuzzy. A business owner can choose at the margin whether revenue will flow to himself as salary or as profit. A CEO is paid a wage, but paid in large part in the form of equity shares, and in practice is deriving compensation in part from operational control over the enterprise. And through what's known as the "carried interest loophole" hedge fund and private equity managers have contrived to get a large share of their compensation for management classified for tax purposes as capital gains. Normal people probably don't care at all whether Romney's Bain income was in some metaphysical sense really labor income or capital income, but the fact that he and others in his industry are doing this is exactly what a certain swathe of Democratic Party wonks need to point to in order to justify a "Buffett Rule"-style policy."

The only people who know are himself, his wife (and possibly other family members), his various accountants and money managers, and, of course:

John McCain and all the members of McCain's staff who looked at more-than-20-years-worth-of-documents Mitt Romney gave to them in 2008, when he was hoping to get the call to be McCain's vice-presidential running mate.

All of this certainly makes it appear that Mitt Romney agrees with his wife that there's a big distinction between the Romneys and McCains and other rich folk, on the one hand, and all the rest of us, you know, the "you people" of America. 

Or maybe it just means that Mitt Romney is hiding something, for instance, more details about exactly how rich he is, or how little he paid in taxes in all those years.

Madame L does not believe and sees no evidence for anyone to believe that Mitt Romney is dishonest on this front. But his refusal to release his tax information makes him look dodgy, at best.


Madame L

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Madame L On Gun Control

Dear and Gentle Readers,

Some (all?) of you may have suspected that Madame L is a typical wishy-washy liberal who thinks gun control is good.

And you're right, at least about the gun control. 

Madame L, who is by the way a past member of the National Rifle Association (NRA), believes that the buying of guns should be heavily regulated and controlled. In this, she apparently differs from most past and present members of the NRA, the organization which has contributed to the proliferation of guns in our country, which is highly correlated with violence, homicide, and suicide.

Madame L does not believe that any citizen has the need or the right to buy a 100-round assault rifle; and that we should go back to their being banned. (Madame L knows the Aurora shooter got all his guns and ammunition legally. So what.)

Please watch this short segment from yesterday's (Monday, July 23) Rachel Maddow show, when Ezra Klein, subbing for Rachel, rationally and calmly dissected the issue.

As Mr. Klein said on the air and in the blog post below, "The aftermath of the Aurora, Colorado shootings has been thick with calls to avoid 'politicizing' the tragedy. That is code, essentially, for 'don’t talk about reforming our gun control laws.'

"Let’s be clear: This is a form of politicization. When political actors construct a political argument that threatens political consequences if other political actors pursue a certain political outcome, that is, almost by definition, a politicization of the issue. It’s just a form of politicization favoring those who prefer the status quo to stricter gun control laws."

Here's the gist of the piece, including the great graphics, from his Washington Post blog:

1. America is an unusually violent country. But we’re not as violent as we used to be.
Kieran Healy, a sociologist at Duke University, made this graph of “deaths due to assault” in the United States and other developed countries. We are a clear outlier.

America is far more violent than other developed nations, but the violence is declining.
As Healy writes, “The most striking features of the data are (1) how much more violent the U.S. is than other OECD countries (except possibly Estonia and Mexico, not shown here), and (2) the degree of change—and recently, decline—there has been in the U.S. time series considered by itself.”

2. The South is the most violent region in the United States.
In a subsequent post, Healy drilled further into the numbers and looked at deaths due to assault in different regions of the country. Just as the United States is a clear outlier in the international context, the South is a clear outlier in the national context:

3. Gun ownership in the United States is declining overall.
“For all the attention given to America’s culture of guns, ownership of firearms is at or near all-time lows,” writes political scientist Patrick Egan. The decline is most evident on the General Social Survey, though it also shows up on polling from Gallup, as you can see on this graph:
The bottom line, Egan writes, is that “long-term trends suggest that we are in fact currently experiencing a waning culture of guns and violence in the United States. ”

4. More guns tend to mean more homicide.
The Harvard Injury Control Research Center assessed the literature on guns and homicide and found that there’s substantial evidence that indicates more guns means more murders. This holds true whether you’re looking at different countries or different state., Citations here.

5. States with stricter gun control laws have fewer deaths from gun-related violence.
Last year, economist Richard Florida dove deep into the correlations between gun deaths and other kinds of social indicators. Some of what he found was, perhaps, unexpected: Higher populations, more stress, more immigrants, and more mental illness were not correlated with more deaths from gun violence. But one thing he found was, perhaps, perfectly predictable: States with tighter gun control laws appear to have fewer gun-related deaths. The disclaimer here is that correlation is not causation. But correlations can be suggestive:
“The map overlays the map of firearm deaths above with gun control restrictions by state,” explains Florida. “It highlights states which have one of three gun control restrictions in place – assault weapons’ bans, trigger locks, or safe storage requirements. Firearm deaths are significantly lower in states with stricter gun control legislation. Though the sample sizes are small, we find substantial negative correlations between firearm deaths and states that ban assault weapons (-.45), require trigger locks (-.42), and mandate safe storage requirements for guns (-.48).”

6. Gun control is not politically popular.
Since 1990, Gallup has been asking Americans whether they think gun control laws should be stricter. The answer, increasingly, is that they don’t. “The percentage in favor of making the laws governing the sale of firearms ‘more strict’ fell from 78% in 1990 to 62% in 1995, and 51% in 2007,” reports Gallup. “In the most recent reading, Gallup in 2010 found 44% in favor of stricter laws. In fact, in 2009 and again last year, the slight majority said gun laws should either remain the same or be made less strict.”

Monday, July 23, 2012

'You People' Versus 'We Are VIP'

Dear Madame L,

I heard that presidential candidate Mitt Romney's wife Ann told an interviewer that she and her husband have given out enough information about their finances, and that's all "you people" need.

Do the Romneys think they're special or something? If they don't have to show their tax returns, then why does their party insist that even people who have voted for years have to show some form of government ID that they've never needed in the past?


We, the People

Dear People,

Madame L certainly understands why this kind of talk about "you people" has angered a lot of "us people." 

Madame L has found a clip of the interview and presents it here.

Here are some bits of the interview:

     Ann Romney: Mitt is a very generous person. We give ten percent of our income to our church every year. Do you think Mitt is the kind of person who would try to hide things or do things? Then when he was governor of Massachusetts he took no salary. 

     ABC Interviewer Robin Roberts: Why not show that, then?

     Ann Romney: We just don't want to give more material for more attack. That's just the answer. And we've given all you people need to know and understand about our financial decision and about how we live our life.

Now, to answer your question, which is whether the Romneys think they're special, and different from the rest of "us people":

Yes. They clearly DO think they're special. Wealthy people tend to have, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote recently in "Pathos of the Plutocrat,"  the idea that somehow their wealth gives them more privileges than others deserve. 

Mr. Krugman quotes the famous statement by F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Let me tell you about the very rich. They are different from you and me.” 

Krugman adds that Fitzgerald "... didn’t just mean that they have more money. What he meant instead, at least in part, was that many of the very rich expect a level of deference that the rest of us never experience and are deeply distressed when they don’t get the special treatment they consider their birthright; their wealth 'makes them soft where we are hard.'"

Have You People ever met rich people with this attitude? Madame L can happily say she hasn't met many of them, but must unhappily add that those she has met have fit that stereotype perfectly.

An example recently in the news was the rich woman who asked a security guard at the entrance to a Romney fund raising event, “Is there a V.I.P. entrance? We are V.I.P.” Another person at the same event told a reporter that the "you people" types, like the "nails ladies," just don't get it.

In "Who's Very Important?"   Krugman wrote about these people:

"O.K., it’s easy to mock these people, but the joke’s really on us. For the 'we are V.I.P.' crowd has fully captured the modern Republican Party, to such an extent that leading Republicans consider Mr. Romney’s apparent use of multimillion-dollar offshore accounts to dodge federal taxes not just acceptable but praiseworthy: 'It’s really American to avoid paying taxes, legally,' declared Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina."

Why does this matter? Why don't we all accept that Mitt Romney is a good, honorable person who will make a good President of the United States just because he's a tithe-paying Mormon who didn't accept a salary during his term as governor of Massachusetts?

Madame L submits that being a good tithe-paying citizen does not qualify one for the presidency. Again, to quote Krugman, comparing Mitt Romney with his father in "Mitt's Gray Areas":

"Has there ever before been a major presidential candidate who had a multimillion-dollar Swiss bank account, plus tens of millions invested in the Cayman Islands, famed as a tax haven? 

"And then there’s his Individual Retirement Account. I.R.A.’s are supposed to be a tax-advantaged vehicle for middle-class savers, with annual contributions limited to a few thousand dollars a year. Yet somehow Mr. Romney ended up with an account worth between $20 million and $101 million."

Finally, in "Policy and the Personal," Krugman points out the clinker here: Mitt Romney is not only rich and not only doesn't want us to know the details about how he got his money and where he's hiding it and how much he's paying in taxes on it, but:

He's "...pushing policies that would benefit the rich at the expense of ordinary working Americans meshes with Bain’s record of earning big profits even when workers suffered — a record so stark that Mr. Romney is attempting to distance himself from part of it by insisting that he had nothing to do with Bain’s operations after 1999, even though the company continued to list him as C.E.O. and sole owner until 2002. And so on."

That's the key, in Madame L's opinion: Nobody Madame L resents the wealth of those who have earned their money honorably. But what we all, "Us People," do resent, is when THOSE PEOPLE THINK THEY"RE SOMEHOW BETTER THAN THE REST OF US AND THAT THEY EARNED THEIR RICHES AT THE EXPENSE OF THE REST OF US.

Krugman adds, "Thus the entirely true charge that Mr. Romney wants to slash historically low tax rates on the rich even further dovetails perfectly with his own record of extraordinary tax avoidance — so extraordinary that he’s evidently afraid to let voters see his tax returns from before 2010.,,,

"The point is that talking about Mr. Romney’s personal history isn’t a diversion from substantive policy discussion. On the contrary, in a political and media environment strongly biased against substance, talking about Bain and offshore accounts is the only way to bring the real policy issues into focus. And we should applaud, not condemn, the Obama campaign for standing up to the tut-tutters."

As Krugman says, the personal issues of the Romney family's finances are important because not only are they NOT a diversion from policy, but because they actually bring into focus the real policy issues.

So, Madame L, like Mr. Krugman, applauds the Obama campaign for standing up to the pressure from the rich and hypocritical politicians who accuse the rest of us of envy and class warfare. No, there's no envy about it. It's rather like being struck over the head by a hammer wielded by a hypocrite.


Madame L

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Sunday Book Review, July 22, 2012: Donald J. Sobol

Donald J. Sobol died last week (July 16, 2012, age 87 years), but Encyclopedia Brown lives on. 

Quick, what is Encyclopedia's real first name? (Answer at the end. Hint below:)

Madame L loved the Encyclopedia Brown stories as a child and has enjoyed re-reading some of them  since then.  Mr. Sobol said once that Encyclopedia Brown was "... perhaps, the boy I wanted to be – doing the things I wanted to read about but could not find in any book when I was 10.”

Even before Mr. Sobol wrote the Encyclopedia Brown stories, he wrote the Two-Minute Mysteries, which Madame L also enjoyed reading as a child and then again when she re-discovered them as an adult. 

Here's one of the mysteries, "Just a Glaring Error," from, which has several others:

     Detective Nose had just wrapped up a case in the upper town district of Trenton and since he was in the area decided to stop by and pay his friend Dr. Dean Lamar a visit at the museum. Dr. Dean was the director in charge at the museum and had been so for the past five years. By all accounts, he was doing a fantastic job.

      When Nose arrived at his friend's office, he saw that he was in the middle of looking over some résumés.

      "I'm looking to hire a tour guide to help with a new ancient Chinese exhibit that's due to arrive next week" said Dr. Dean. "I expect that this exhibit will attract hundreds of visitors and to tell you the truth, I'm a little worried that I may not be able to find a suitable guide to help with the attraction."

      Detective Nose decided to sit down and assist his comrade sort through the large stack of resumes. They were near the end of the pile when Dr. Dean pointed out a resume to Nose that he felt might be from a suitable candidate.

      Typed on a plain sheet of white paper was the resume of a man whose name was Geoffrey Montgomery. Under his qualifications he had a few relevant jobs listed with all the required references but it wasn't the job history that caught Dr. Dean's attention. Rather, under the heading of hobbies and interests, Geoff had listed that he was very much interested in the Chinese culture and had been studying their language, alphabet, geography, religions, history, and customs for close to ten years. The resume then went on to list other desirable traits and details that would be of some benefit to the position.

      "I think we may have found our candidate," said Dr. Dean. "With his previous job experience and his extensive background knowledge of the Chinese culture, I doubt I will be able to find anyone else that is more suited for the task. I think I'll give him a call and see if we can meet this afternoon."

      "I'd hold off on phoning him just yet if I were you. There's something off about his resume that leads me to believe that he is not being totally honest about his qualifications."

      What mistake did Geoffrey make in his resume?

(Hint: The Chinese use characters instead of letters for their written language.)

All the Two-Minute Mysteries are like this, with clues nicely hidden in the narrative, fun to try to figure out, and challenging enough for kids and adults.

(Answer to first question: Leroy. Leroy Brown.)

From the Virginian Pilot newspaper's commentary on Mr. Sobol's death:

   "The solutions to his stories were always so unexpected, so forehead-slappingly why-didn’t-I-think-of-that because in retrospect the answers were right in front of your face. They never followed a script, like say, 'Law & Order,' where the assailant is always the not-quite-distraught-enough character from the first scene.

     "This week has reopened a cold case for many Gen X-ers and Y-ers. Why do many readers feel such a deep affection for Encyclopedia Brown?

     "The clues are obvious, just like in one of his stories.

     "Everyone loves a mystery."

Friday, July 20, 2012

Weird Word of the Week: Shibboleth

Madame L first heard of the the word "shibboleth" in Sunday School, years ago. It was a kind of password, a trick to distinguish the Gileadites, who had the "sh" sound in their Hebrew dialect, from the Ephraimites, who did not have that sound.

So, in around 1370 to 1070 BC, as Ephraimites warriors were trying to cross the Jordan River to get back to their homes after a battle they'd lost to the Gileadites, the winning tribe demanded that the losers say "shibboleth." If they said "sibboleth" instead, they gave themselves away and were killed as Ephraimites (Judges 12).

What are some modern-day shibboleths? Madame L knows an American lady married to a man whose first language does not have the "p" sound we have in English. The wife always thought it was funny when her husband would order at a fast-food drive through, as he said, in almost unaccented English, "I'll have a cheeseburger and fries and a Bebsi." (Fortunately, nowadays our shibboleths don't usually result in a death sentence!)

Forensic linguists have used similar linguistic clues to find criminals. Written language, certain expressions common only in a certain area, speech patterns, and accents all give clues as to who we are.

But what does the word "shibboleth" mean in the original Hebrew? According to Wikipedia, it means the part of a plant that actually contains the grain, such as an ear of corn or a stalk of grain; it can also mean "stream" or "torrent."

The Wikipedia article gives some more fascinating details about historical and current usage of the word and the idea of the shibboleth.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

You Buried the Lede, Madame!

Dear Madame L,

What's wrong with you? You should have learned in Journalism 101 not to bury the lede.


Then, you buried the main point of your tirade on Romney's tax returns. The point was that McCain chose Palin over Romney not because of the 20 or more years of tax returns Romney gave him in 2008 but because HE THOUGHT PALIN WOULD MAKE A BETTER VP THAN ROMNEY WOULD!


Then, you buried the main point in your explanation of Michele Bachmann and her gang'crazy conspiracy and anti-Muslim theories. The point was that THE LYING RAVINGS OF THESE CRAZY PEOPLE ARE BEING USED AGAINST THE U.S. IN OTHER COUNTRIES, TO OUR DETRIMENT.

Please, Madame L, give us the meat of the story, not so many trimmings.


Hello, Madame L, Where Did You Learn To Write?

Hello Dear Reader/Writer,

Thanks for pointing out this huge mistake on Madame L's part. Madame L happens to agree with you that each of these four recent "rants," as you call them (not a bad characterization, by the way), could have led with --- and should have focused on --- another part of the story at hand.

Madame L has only one explanation and one excuse for this journalistic faux pas: 

Explanation: Madame L sometimes gets carried away by a story and it's only in retrospect that she sees that one part of it was actually more important than the part she started with.

Excuse: Madame L has never taken a journalism class. 

(By the way, for Madame L's other non-journalism majors, here's an explanation of the term "bury the lede.")

On the other hand, Madame L would like to point out that there were other points to each of these stories. For example:

In the Romney/Bain story, another major point which Madame L was trying to make was that Romney has an unfortunate history of lying about essentially every aspect of his political life, from his support-to-condemnation of women's health rights to his business practices.

In the Romney/McCain/Palin story, another major point is that Romney was willing to give 20 years of tax returns to the McCain campaign 4 years ago, but thinks two years worth is enough for the rest of us.

In the Romney/Adelson story, another major point is that Adelson and other rich folks are able to buy candidates while the rest of us can have no motivation to contribute our paltry pittances to any campaign.

And in the Bachmann/Muslim Brotherhood story, another major point is that Michele Bachmann is just one of a large number of conservative conspiracists and, yes, crazy people, who hate everyone who isn't just like themselves and will do anything they can to stir up the ignorant masses to agree with them, minus any facts or logic.

Still, thanks for the corrections,

Madame L

Craziness, MIchele Bachmann, and the Muslim Brotherhood

Dear Madame L,

I heard that Rep. Michele Bachmann has accused Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of having ties with the Muslim Brotherhood because her close assistant, Huma Abedin, is Saudi by birth.

Does Ms. Bachmann realize that not everyone who's a Muslim is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood? 


Who's Crazy Now?

Dear Crazy,

Perhaps you and Madame L and most of the educated, thinking, reasoning world are crazy not to make the connections Rep. Bachmann and other crazies keep making.

Here's what CNN's Anderson Cooper had to say about Rep. Bachmann's ridiculous statements.

Here's the truth: Huma Abedin is NOT a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hello, Michele. 

In fact, she's an American citizen, born to a Saudi father and Pakistani mother in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She's a Muslim, which means she believes in the same God ("Allah" in Arabic) that Christians and Jews believe in. She's married to a Jewish New Yorker and has stuck with him even though he's a foolish philanderer. And Secretary Clinton is a reasonable and experienced and world-traveled person who has employed Ms. Abedin for her intelligence and hard work and cultural sensitivity and maybe even her ability to speak Arabic.  

As Cooper said, "So that's how many degrees of separation Bachmann's claim is based on. Huma Abedin's deceased father, who started an organization decades ago, had the support of a guy who had another organization that might have had the support of another organization, the Muslim Brotherhood. And because of that, Huma Abedin might be some sort of spy or infiltrator and deserves to be investigated."

(Of course the crazies have answers to that, too. To read about them, follow the link in this article. Madame L  is so tired of this nonsense that she's not going to repeat it here.)

Rep. Bachmann and company get their so-called "information" from a website run by a crazy conspiracy theorist who says the God of Islam is "less" than the God of Christianity. Again, Madame L is not going to go into more details and this time won't even provide the link. As if.

Because here's the rub: Because of these statements by Rep. Bachmann and her idiot friends, some Egyptian idiots now believe that the U.S. government must have been responsible for the election of Mohammed Moursi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, as president of Egypt. 

So they did the crazy thing, the Egyptian equivalent of Michele Bachmann making a statement on TV: they threw tomatoes and shoes and other objects at Secretary Clinton's car as she left the U.S. Consulate in Alexandria yesterday.

This means that Michele Bachmann has achieved her immediate goal of getting some attention, which she'd been lacking in recent months, and her mid-term goal of poking sticks at the Obama administration, AND her long-term goal of turning people against the U.S. government.

As Jason Linkins wrote at Huffington Post, "[I]f the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to infiltrate Congress, why wouldn't they do it the way everyone else does -- cut huge campaign checks and get their lobbyists to offer legislators lavish rewards for writing legislation?"

Hey, maybe Michele Bachmann has another goal the rest of us hadn't thought of yet: simply pulling in more money from conservative crazies, to keep herself in Congress. 

Oh, perish the thought,

Madame L 

Buying the Election!

Dear Madame L, 

I keep getting solicitations from various political candidates, acting like if I'll just donate my $20 or $37 or $250 or whatever it will make their day and turn it into a fair election.

But I don't think my little bits here and there will make much difference at all, especially when I read about these Super-PACs for Romney raising three times the amount that the Democratic Super-PACs are raising for Obama, and so on. 

Either way, what's the point? If I give the the Republicans, my donation is a drop in the bucket. But if I give to the Democrats, it's like spitting into the wind.


What's the Use?

Dear What's the Use,

Madame L absolutely agrees with you. Since the Roberts Supreme Court, in its Citizens United ruling,  made corporations into "people" for purposes of donating a couple of years ago, the little people, like you and Madame L and everyone we know (unless you know some really rich people), are not going to make much impact with their donations.

Here's a clip from Rachel Maddow's show last April on some of the effects of the Citizens United ruling on American politics and government.

In fact, Sheldon Adelson --- remember him? --- he's the multi-billionaire who donated more than $10 million to the Newt Gingrich campaign to try to beat Gov. Romney in the Republican primary, but since then has spent even more on Gov. Romney --- has promised to spend an "unlimited" amount now to beat Pres. Obama in the 2012 general election.

Why does Mr. Adelson care so much? He's so rich that, according to Rachel Maddow, his donating $10 million is the equivalent of someone like you and me donating $40. 

And that's apparently why he cares: He wants to buy the government of his choosing, one that will, among other things, drop the investigation of his possibly illegal (according to his own former employees, anyway) dealings in the gambling business in Macau.

From the NPR-ProPublica article on the subject:

"Adelson instructed a top executive to pay about $700,000 in legal fees to Leonel Alves, a Macau legislator whose firm was serving as an outside counsel to Las Vegas Sands. 

"The company's general counsel and an outside law firm warned that the arrangement could violate the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. It is unknown whether Adelson was aware of these warnings. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act bars American companies from paying foreign officials to "affect or influence any act or decision" for business gain. 

"Federal investigators are looking at whether the payments violate the statute because of Alves' government and political roles in Macau..."

Meanwhile, the Republican in the Senate today killed a bill (the Disclose Act) that would require disclosure of the names and donations given by people like Adelson to candidates like Romney. These same Republicans a few years ago were pushing this same disclosure bill. These same Republicans are demanding that every voter, including people who don't have driver's licenses or the ability to obtain such "approved" forms of government-issued IDs, must have this impossible-to-get ID if they want to vote.

Apologies for that digression; but Madame L thinks it's a perfect way to point out the hypocrisy in the Republican Party's current goals and policies.

Madame L hopes that you will still give your widow's mite to the candidates you support for office. It's the best you can do for now.

You should volunteer to help your candidates by making phone calls, stuffing envelopes, whatever they need help with.

You should write letters to your current elected officials. If you have a so-called Representative, for example, as Madame L does, who has signed the Grover Norquist  anti-tax pledge and/or spouts nonsense about getting away from tax-and-spend policies, let that person know he/she is not representing you.

Finally, you should vote in your local primary elections (probably coming soon) and in the general election in November.

Do everything you can so at least you will not be responsible for the ruining of our political system by big money and tax-dodgers and law-breakers.

Here's the 15-minute segment from Rachel Maddow's July 16 show about Sheldon Adelson's gambling concerns in Macau and the way Adelson is trying to buy the election. This clip sheds a bright light on the entire Republican Party's attempts to disenfranchise the rest of us, the 99%, for a few shekels. Madame L hopes you'll follow the link to watch the clip. When it's available on YouTube so Madame L can embed it here, she'll do that.

Meanwhile, here's Rachel Maddow's interview with Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown  on what Democrats can do in the wake of the Citizens United decision:

Best of luck,

Madame L

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Romney's Tax Returns and McCain

Dear Madame L,

If Mitt Romney gave something like 20 years worth of tax returns to the 2008 John McCain presidential campaign, how come he won't give more than 2 years to the rest of us now?


Where's the Money?

Dear Money,

Madame L doesn't pretend to know or understand what's going on with the 2012 Mitt Romney presidential campaign. But she does wonder, as you do, what Mitt Romney is trying to hide.

Madame L doesn't even suspect in a million years that Mitt Romney has done anything illegal with his money or his taxes. After all, rich people like him have lawyers and accountants to help them avoid breaking tax laws while still. keeping as much money for themselves as possible.

So Madame L suspects that he might be simply hiding more facts about his wealth and his tax shelters. He might be hiding behind not having paid any taxes at all in some years, or having paid more in tithes and offerings to the LDS church than he did in taxes to his country. Again, none of this is illegal, but all of it may add fuel to the fires being ignited against him by the Obama campaign and liberals, particularly in light of the fact that Candidate Romney seems to have no problem with the right-wing-nuts in his party who want to increase taxes and penalties on the poor and the middle class while lowering taxes on people like him to even lower levels than their current all-time lows.

As you're undoubtedly aware, even prominent members of the Republican Party are now urging Mitt Romney to release more tax returns.

As you point out, he was willing to give 20 years worth of tax returns to the McCain candidacy when he was being considered as John McCain's VP running mate.

Here's the funniest thing of all: When asked if he chose Sarah Palin instead of Mitt Romney for his running mate because of the tax returns, John McCain said, "Of course not. I don’t know what depths these people won’t reach. Obviously, it’s just outrageous. That’s just outrageous. It shows the—it’s so disgraceful for them to allege something that they have absolutely no knowledge of."

So, why did McCain reject Romney? "Oh come on, because we thought that Sarah Palin was the better candidate," McCain told Politico. said. "Why did we not take [Tim] Pawlenty, why did we not take any of the other 10 other people. Why didn’t I? Because we had a better candidate, the same way with all the others. ... Come on, why? That’s a stupid question."

Really? Sarah Palin was a better candidate than Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty? 

What does that say about the 2012 Republican presidential candidate that he was passed over in favor of the know-nothing half-term former Alaska governor? 


Madame L, AKA "Where's the Brain?"

Romney Retired Retroactively?

Dear Madame L,

I don't know what to think now about Candidate Mitt Romney, who seems to be wavering on whether he was really in charge at Bain Capital when it was firing people and exporting jobs to China and India.

But how could he have retired retroactively?



Dear Huh, 

Madame L thinks it's impossible to retire retroactively. Madame L thinks Candidate Romney has to have been at Bain or not; he has to have been a Massachusetts resident or a Utah resident; he has to have instituted a universal health-care plan for Massachusets or not; he has to have approved of birth control and abortion or not; and so on.

Clearly the candidate's wafflng indicates that he will do and claim whatever necessary to achieve a pressing goal. To that end, he was a Massachusetts resident and still presiding at Bain when he wanted to run for governor there. But he was not in charge now that he's running for president. He supported universal health-care and women-friendly reproductive choices when he wanted to run for governor. But he thinks those are all horrible now that he's running for president.

Thanks to your question, Madame L has found an article with a good summary of the issues surrounding the Bain controversy:

As the Boston Globe reported last week, Romney was listed on SEC documents as Bain’s president, CEO, chairman and sole shareholder for years after his 1999 “retroactive retirement” date.
  • A February 12, 1999, Boston Herald report on Romney taking the Olympic post noted that “he will stay on as a part-timer with Bain, providing input on investment and key personnel decisions.”
  • A July 1999 Bain press release listed Romney as CEO and said he’s “on a part-time leave of absence to head the Salt Lake City Olympic Committee.” Romney himself is quoted in the release signaling his approval of a new venture launched by two Bain employees.
  • In a November 2000 interview with the Globe, Ann Romney indicated that her husband remained involved with Bain, just not on a full-time basis.
  • A 2002 Globe story quoted Marc Wolpow, a Bain employee, saying that “I reported directly to Mitt Romney” while Romney was in Utah and that “you can’t be CEO of Bain Capital and say, ‘I really don’t know what my guys were doing.’
  • Upon returning to Massachusetts to run for governor in 2002, Romney told the state’s ballot law commission – which was determining whether he met the residency – that he’d left Bain in 1999 “on the basis of a leave of absence, indicating that I, by virtue of that title, would return at the end of the Olympics to my employment at Bain Capital, but subsequently decided not to do so and entered into a departure agreement with my former partners.”
Madame L sticks to her decision not to vote for Mitt Romney for president, not just because of these issues, but because she thinks Pres. Obama is doing an incredibly good job and can get our country back on track to greatness---and will be able to do that even better in a second term.


Madame L

Monday, July 16, 2012

Rest in Peace, Stephen R. Covey

Madame L was sorry to learn this morning that Stephen R. Covey, author of the "7 Habits" book and an inspirational speaker, has died. From the news:

"In a statement sent to employees of a Utah consulting firm Covey co-founded, his family said the writer and motivational speaker died at a hospital in Idaho Falls, Idaho, early Monday due to complications from a bicycle accident in April.

"'In his final hours, he was surrounded by his loving wife and each one of his children and their spouses, just as he always wanted, the family said.

"Covey was hospitalized after being knocked unconscious in the bicycle accident on a steep road in the foothills of Provo, Utah, about 45 miles south of Salt Lake City."

The Sunday Book Review, July 15, 2012: The Mitford Series and Father Tim (Jan Karon)

Madame L apologizes for again posting the Sunday Book Review on Monday. Madame L has considered changing the Sunday Book Review to the Monday Book Review, but you know what would happen if she did that: She would start posting the Monday Book Review on Tuesday.

Madame L just finished reading "Home to Holly Springs," which ties together the Mitford books and Father Tim's life story very nicely, and she recommends this book as one of the best she has ever read. In fact, instead of reading Dickens or Salinger or the Harry Potter series any of the classic authors, Madame L would love to read all of these books again, in a series.

Jan Karon said in an interview that she would never have written about Father Tim, "a balding, pudgy, sixty-something cleric," on her own; the inspiration came from God; and, in fact, the books seem to be more about Christ Himself --- or about how to live a Christ-like life --- than any thing else. 

Into Father Tim's life comes a huge dog, Barnabas, and a son, Dooley. Later come Dooley's brothers and sisters, and a wife. (And if you want to think about living a Christ-like life, think about having a full-size pool table put in your living room because that's what is needed to keep one of Dooley's brothers out of trouble.)

Madame L realizes that not everyone likes this kind of writing; there were times in her own life when she might not have liked it. It's full of love and kindness and sayings from the Bible. Not that there's no conflict --- there's plenty of that --- but it's resolved, as all of our life's conflicts should be, by love, patience, and time.

So, when the 70-something Father Tim goes home to Holly Springs, he finally sees resolved some of those conflicts that have been simmering ever since he was a boy, which is, after all, how long it takes for some conflicts to be resolved.

Here are the books from the Mitford series:
  • At Home in Mitford
  • A Light in the Window
  • These High, Green Hills
  • Out to Canaan
  • A New Song
  • A Common Life: the Wedding Story
  • In This Mountain
  • Shepherds Abiding
  • Light From Heaven
Here's the Wikipedia entry on Jan Karon, with more information about the author and her books, and here's the author's own official website.

All the book are available at, of course, for varying prices; and they should all be available at your local library, too. Check 'em out!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

NAACP Conference Cheers VP Biden

Dear Appalled,

This is an update to Madame L's response to your question. Vice President Joe Biden spoke to the NAACP conference the day after Candidate Mitt Romney spoke, to a very different reception.

The audience cheered the vice president, who fiercely defended the work Pres. Obama has done on health care reforms, jobs, education, bailing out the auto industry (which, remember, Romney said we should let fail), weeding out terrorist leaders, and helping the economy---pointing out that all this was done in the face of stiff opposition from Republican leaders.

Here's the full speech:
You may not have time to watch the whole thing. 

But take a few minutes to listen to the introduction, where we learn about Joe Biden's humble beginnings and hard work to get to where he is today. 

Take a few minutes to think about Biden's exhortations to imagine what the future would be like with Romney as president:

"Imagine what the Romney Justice Department will look like. Imagine what the Supreme Court will look like after four years of a Romney presidency." 

(Did you know that Romney's advisory team includes Robert Bork, the conservative jurist whose 1987 nomination to the Supreme Court was rejected in part because of his past criticism of some civil rights laws?)

And here's the crowd asking for more when Biden tried to close his speech:

Madame L also wishes we could hear more like that speech from Joe Biden.


Madame L

NAACP Conference Boos Candidate Romney

Dear Madame L,

I know you've written that you support Pres. Obama's re-election, but aren't you appalled at the way the members of the NAACP booed former Gov. Romney at their recent conference?


I'm Appalled

Dear Appalled,

No, Madame L is not appalled at that, but she does thank you for throwing her that soft pitch. 

It is apparent that Mitt Romney was not really speaking to the members of the NAACP at that conference, but to his conservative Republican and Tea Party base.

Did you watch a clip of his response to the booing? He smiled. He loved it. He was reassuring the racists, among others, that he was in their camp.

Here's the part of the speech where he was booed:
Here's some of the response from NAACP and other African American leaders:

And here's what Candidate Romney said later in response to the unfavorable responses to his demeaning and insulting pokes at his audience:

“Remind them of this: If they want more stuff from government, tell them to go vote for the other guy—more free stuff. But don’t forget, nothing is really free.”

Does that sound like a candidate who is really trying to win the votes of an audience, or someone who is poking them with a stick?


Madame L 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Weird Word of the Week: Ridonk

"Ridonk" is an adjective referring to something so ridiculous it's beyond ridiculous. So "ridonkulous" is also a word.

Madame L guessed these meanings from the context of something she was reading, but looked it up in the Urban Dictionary to be sure. 

(Warning: If you're offended by offensive language, don't bother to look up this word, or any word, in the Urban Dictionary. Trust Madame L.)

(Here's where Madame L read the word "ridonk" first. Again, don't follow the link if you're offended by offensive language and/or ideas. Yes, in this case, it's not just the language, but the very ideas [ideas about weight and women's bodies], that offend Madame L's and many of her readers' delicate sensibilities.)