Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Announcing the Second Annual Spring QuizmasterChris All-Quiz Tournament

These ladies are excited because they just learned that the Second Annual Spring Quizmaster Chris All-Quiz Tournament is well nigh upon us.

This will be run same as last year, when Nation of Quizlam of The Draught Horse crushed everyone and walked away with the Prize Package of nerdy books and games plus a signed Chris Pronger NHL Winter Classic hockey stick.

It's pretty simple, folks.  Your team plays once/week at any combination of the venues I host and the team with the highest cumulative score over the next five weeks wins this year's Prize Package.  No one need do anything special to enter; you might want to at least note if you change team names who you were in a previous week to ensure points are tallied correctly.

The usual weekly prizes apply at all venues; this is in addition to those.

I will put up a running tally of the standings on the blog weekly as I did last year, with teams color-coded by bar.  All teams will be posted weekly unless they are mathematically eliminated from the possibility of winning.

Good quizzing!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Weekly quiz schedule

Tuesday, March 29, 9pm
El Camino Real
1040 N. 2nd St.
(2nd St. below Girard Ave.)
Subject Round: THE 1970s

Wednesday, March 30, 7:30pm
12 Steps Down
9th & Christian Sts.
Subject Round: ONE HIT WONDERS

Thursday, March 31, 9pm
The Draught Horse
Broad St. & Cecil B. Moore Ave.
Subject Round: BEGINS WITH Z

Monday, March 21, 2011

Quiz returns to the Draught Horse this week!

Tuesday, March 22, 9pm
El Camino Real
1040 N. 2nd St.
(2nd St. below Girard Ave.)

Wednesday, March 23, 7:30pm
12 Steps Down
9th & Christian Sts.
Subject Round: GEOLOGY

Thursday, March 24, 9pm
The Draught Horse
Broad St. & Cecil B. Moore Ave.
Subject Round: BEGINS WITH Q

WWJC - Who Would Jesus Cheat?

For a combination of sanctimonious BS, unwarranted hubris and plain old meanness it's hard to beat the American evangelical movement.  I've had a couple of run-ins with them lately worth sharing.

A few of the many thrift stores I'm constantly in are run by an evangelical group which raises money for actual charity and what appears to be "charity." (I make two categories here - actually helping people meet their physical needs and proselytizing to people, the latter a unique form of harm inflicted on the stupid by the evil when it works as intended.  A good deal of the many hundreds of billions in charitable giving by the American public is for the latter, without which the world would be a better place.)

Why keep shopping there, you ask?  In a country in which this is true:

"Half of all Americans believe they are protected by guardian angels, one-fifth say they've heard God speak to them, one-quarter say they have witnessed miraculous healings, 16 percent say they've received one and 8 percent say they pray in tongues, according to a survey released Thursday by Baylor University."

... if I started shopping only at places run and staffed by secular humanists I wouldn't be able to buy much of anything any longer.  And if I stopped buying from people with wretched political opinions on top of that, I'm not sure I could even feed myself any longer.  On top of this I've visited and worked in a number of religious nut places around the world, and my money has no doubt supported all manner of holy charlatans and bigots.  It's damn near unavoidable.  At least the places are clean and the staff largely polite.

So I bear the constant Michael W. Smith - apparently God is a mighty God, as opposed to one of those weak ones, and this Jesus fellow likes constant praise - playing in the background while doing my thirft shopping and bite my tongue a lot.  Besides, people who have religious monomania are seldom interested in anything else (Christopher Hitchens derides the religious for proudly proclaiming they only have use for one book) and therefore sometimes let cool stuff go for low prices because they don't know what anything secular is.

The flipside of this dynamic is that they sometimes think that things of absolutely no value are quite valuable, and have the same ease in convincing their born again customers of this that they had in convincing them of the reality of miracles and the necessity of tithing, which is how the money really comes in.  This plays out mainly via silent auctions, in which people bid objects beyond any reasonable value they actually have, in part I'm convinced because an overtly Christian organization has set them aside in display cases so as to add context that implies greater value.

I've bid on only one or two objects out of the hundreds in silent auctions, mainly because to me almost all of the items are self-evidently crap that isn't worth a fraction of even the opening bid.

Over a month ago at one store I noted in the auction binder what was described as a "signed Dali print."  Dali toward the end of his life cranked out a lot of signed prints of generally low quality and there are a lot of them out there, so this seemed a realistic donation for someone to make to the store.

Looking at the item, however, it was easy to determine in a few seconds that this was just a reproduction in a nice frame and not signed by any human.  In fact I was stunned that any adult would not realize that the "signature" on the piece was in fact the signature in the original painting.  We're not talking about needing to call in an art expert - it was like realizing that the Mona Lisa wasn't actually for sale, but that a photo of the Mona Lisa was for sale.

Worse, even though I could see this thing selling for $50 or so as a nice framed repro, bidding was fast and furious on the item and up over $450.  Obviously a lot of the credulous customers thought they were making an art investment for their families, not buying a piece of generic wall art.

I brought the fact that this was a repro up to the cash register girl, who directed me to the store manager.  What I thought was going to happen was that I was going to walk him over to the piece and point out as patiently as possible that an error had been made and a repro was being sold as a signed original.

What actually happened is that a Xian alpha male type who is likely used to "having authority" over his terrified wife and children in his retro household began arguing with me that the fine print of the auctions state that the thrift store could not be held responsible for any specific claims, and that since we couldn't 100% prove that the print was not signed by Dali that he felt he could make claims in that direction.  (Having looked things up later, this is not valid contract language as even fraud through genuine ignorance of the nature of the item is still prosecutable as fraud.  This aside from the print not having been signed by any human hand...)  I argued in return that they had a severe ethical problem and that I would be contacting the police to investigate their fraudulent behavior, as it became clear that the manager was fully well aware of what he was doing, fleecing the flock.

I did call the suburban police force with jurisdiction once I got home, and they indicated that they would only investigate if I filed a claim in person, which was highly inconvenient.  This was on a weekend, so on Monday morning I called the executive offices of the small chain of thrifts and had what turned into a fairly fruitful conversation after I noted that my next steps if they continued to claim they were selling a signed print would be to contact the Better Business Bureau, follow through with local police and with the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office, as well as sending a note to whatever PA agency grants them a non-profit tax status.

I don't much like a George W. Bush-supporting Jesus freak laughing at me in public about assuming that he's going to get away with fraud, and that there isn't anything I can do about it.

Within a day I got a call back stating that the claim that the print was signed was removed and that the most recent bidders were called and told the print wasn't signed after all.

This, I learned today, did not stop one woman from submitting a winning bid for over $500 for the piece.  Lord knows (pun intended) what she thought she was buying, or what its retail value was.  Surely a Christian organization wouldn't screw her... would they?

I was also told that the managers of the stores were being instructed on how to phrase the descriptions of the items so as not to be committing fraud.  (How about this - how about not bearing false witness - maybe we could chisel that into a stone tablet or something so that people could remember..?)

Everything seemed hunky-dory and I thought this sort of thing was unlikely to happen again.

Until this weekend.  At another store, they are silent auctioning (I believe this is ongoing as I type) what are self-evidently (to me) reproduction Confederate paper bills in a cheap frame which thrifts generally sell for $1-2.  I'd hope that an adult with decent vision could immediately tell that 3 notes that were supposed to have been printed in three different states and have been circulated in the 1860s would not be A) in perfect condition, B) the exact same size (this varied by bill and by state or city of issuance) and C) all the same color, that being sepia.  A lot of actual old bills have real human signatures from bank officers on them, but these look photocopied.  I have no idea what the reverses look like since they were in a glass case, but for all I know they might be blank.

According to the link above, in the 1960s alone Cheerios all by itself put out more Confederate money than the CSA itself did as a cereal box prize.  There are also dozens of companies which print repros for reenactments and to sell to children at historic sites.  Until the 1980s no one was required to print something like "VOID" on fake money, so there are billions of dollars of worthless bills out there.  It's as if they were auctioning off Monopoly money.

The bidding sheet in the binder reads "CONFEDERATE MONEY."

As of Saturday afternoon bidding was up to about $30 and climbing.  Some well-meaning person will no doubt end up buying these for over $100 as an "investment" for the grandkids.

I called the same woman back on this that I did on the Dali print this morning and this time my reception was a little hostile.  I was pushing for the inclusion of the word "REPRODUCTION" on the sheet as this would put the onus on the buyer.

I was informed that they might decide to do that, but with the tone of voice suggesting that that wasn't going to happen.  The claims were then made that A) the fine print once again stated that no claims of authenticity were being made (although clearly the opposite is true and the fine print as covered above is legally void) and B) some customer added the word "CONFEDERATE."

The second point, I argued, was silly for three reasons.  The first is that I saw the handwriting myself and the same person wrote both words on the page.  Someone is lying already.  I pointed out that the problem was actually the claim that this was "MONEY", the issue was not who issued it, but that's it's fake to begin with.  The bills are not "MONEY."  Third, the store is legally and ethically responsible for the bidding regardless of who wrote "CONFEDERATE" on the page, and I'm not sure why they would think otherwise.

This is what you get logic-wise from people only interested in reading one book.

I was passed to the CEO and founder, who went off about how Jesus came into his heart and changed his life and how he isn't growing rich from the store, is doing a lot of good (as per above, how much of that is doing material good and how much is just financing missionaries?), etc.  He also had a laugh about how people bid worthless items up in a silent auctions, most recently a steel penny worth less than $1 on eBay selling for over $12.

I largely held my tongue to press for adding the word "REPRODUCTION" to the sheet to put things in the legal and ethical clear.  He seemed possibly open to this, but I don't think it will happen.  I repeatedly asked what the problem would be for Christians to add one honest word to a product description and never got a good answer.  At one point I made reference to the "Christian angle" of the marketing of the store,and the constant playing of praise music in them, and how that might suggest that minimal levels of legal acceptability should not be their ethical target in product descriptions.  Apparently offense was taken to my use of the word "angle" and that was the end of the phone call.

For me the placement of the items in an auction context along with willful omission of pertinent facts is at best shaky ground.  So you can make up your own mind as to how to spend your hard-earned, non-CSA, actual dollar, these are the stores in questionCaveat emptor.

I honestly don't think these people think that they're doing anything wrong (one exception being the store manager with the Dali; that bastard knew exactly what he did).  Religion makes all manner of crime holy if the plunder at least in part goes to promote the religion itself.  And that's the problem.  The people shooting abortion doctors and launching cruise missiles all over the Middle East think they're doing Jesus' own work too.  Who will save us from the saved?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

No Draught Horse quiz this week; Green beer served and green puke mopped up instead

Wednesday, March 15, 9pm
El Camino Real
1040 N. 2nd St.
(2nd St. below Girard Ave.)
Subject Round: BEGINS WITH Z

Wednesday, March 16, 7:30pm
12 Steps Down
9th & Christian Sts.
Subject Round: BEGINS WITH Q

Thursday, March 17, 9pm
The Draught Horse
Broad St. & Cecil B. Moore Ave.
NO QUIZ THIS WEEK - St. Patrick's Day, I will be hiding in the basement not going near a bar, which is my sacred tradition. 

In the drift

The ongoing Japanese disaster (link to donate to the Red Cross) gets a person to thinking.

A few years back my buddy Dave and his family picked up stakes from South Philly and moved to the Austin, TX area for greener pastures, literally and figuratively.  He gave me some cool books and records from his personal collection to lighten the moving load, one of which was Michael Swanick's In the Drift.

Surely, as a Philadelphian who he knew darn well could name the first several actors to portray the Doctor in Doctor Who, I knew the book?  I didn't; he was stunned.

The book, only just science fiction and not a history,  was written in the '80s, and is set in a slightly alternative universe in which the Three Mile Island accident was more serious, and the natural eastward drift of contamination rendered the Philadelphia area a depopulated dead zone from which surviving irradiated residents could not leave.

Socially speaking, having lived on Two Street for a dozen years, I can say the book is also just this side of being fiction and not a documentary, with the South Philly population reverting in tribal fashion to Mummers clubs as a unit of social organization.

As it turns out, the TMI disaster was far worse than we are generally led to believe.  The federal government and Pennsylvania have been hiding and refusing to recognize the true magnitude of the radiation released and the human health toll as a result, with only careful epidemiology and related work unravelling the truth, in spots, decades later.  Never mind if many of the birds in the area died on the spot and people came home to their dead dogs and cats having puked everywhere and gone blind while doing it.  Never mind the leukemia and the infant mortality spikes.  "No one died at Three Mile Island" is the daily lie.

As the link above notes, TMI and the other nuke plants were rushed out to the general public in the '70s in a campaign - well-financed by private industry who make a killing (no pun intended) on contracts - that this "clean" technology would "reduce dependence on foreign oil," with OPEC and later the Iranian revolution as the bugaboo of the day.  The reactor that failed had been in operation only 3 months before the accident happened, and of course was - and amazingly is - still described as being "state of the art" and bearing any number of "fail safes", which kept things from getting "bad."

(As always, I wonder how "bad" things need to get for the average person/machine cog to take note that even their most narrow self-interests are threatened by a system gone mad, and take evasive action if only for self-preservation.  How much propaganda must one swallow eagerly to go down with the ship, or die from radiation poisoning as the case may be, insisting with the last puking breath that "tolerable" radiation levels - nothing more than a sunburn or a chest X-ray, really - are what's making our skin peel off?)

As Japanese government and industry have lied about the safety and stability of their monumentally-stupidly-placed reactors, so too has the multi-hundred-billion American nuke industry, and their wholly owned spokespeople in the Obama administration, lied for a few days, in preemptive fashion, at us about the safety of our nuke plants.  You get what you pay for.

"Barack, for the second quarter in a row, has surpassed the fundraising prowess of Hillary Clinton. To be sure small online donations have propelled the young senator to the top, but so too have his connections to big industry. The Obama campaign, as of late March 2007, has accepted $159,800 from executives and employees of Exelon, the nation's largest nuclear power plant operator.

The Illinois-based company also helped Obama's 2004 senatorial campaign. As Ken Silverstein reported in the November 2006 issue of Harper's, "[Exelon] is Obama's fourth largest patron, having donated a total of $74,350 to his campaigns. During debate on the 2005 energy bill, Obama helped to vote down an amendment that would have killed vast loan guarantees for power-plant operators to develop new energy projects the public will not only pay millions of dollars in loan costs but will risk losing billions of dollars if the companies default."
Exelon owns PECO incidentally. They also own my congressman, and probably yours.

Today I watched Nuclear Regulatory Commission spokesbabblers dodge and duck questions as to what condition our reactors are in, if they could withstand the sort of punishment the Japanese ones have had, and how prepared the US is in the event - and when you think about it it's when and not if - the next nuke disaster gets crammed down the collective gullet. Crammed, it's worth adding, by corporate people and amoral scientists fractionally as wise and in control of the natural order as they think they are.

Most amusing were the simultaneous claims that American plants are better designed than Japanese, along with an inability to name any specific element - even one - which made the two differ, a glaring omission from any honest answer which the neutered and obedient White House press corps failed to ask any follow up questions about.  (This is one of the many times when not pressing the powerful to answer a direct question is anything other than maintaining a semblence of professional neutrality.)  This aside from the fact that CNN has at least once noted that the plant which is currently on fire and has suffered a few explosions in the past few days was designed by General Electric, surely the last time I checked an American corporation which has naturally also designed many of our own plants.

Watching the American nuke weasels back the Japanese nuke weasels out of a sense of pure preemptive self-preservation - with the federal funding necessary for their expansion plans soon up for approval - is a stunning sight.  If Satan ever needs a few one-liners to warm up the crowd at the top of The Nightly Lie Show, I'd put these guys on retainer.

The fact is that nuke plants are inherently dangerous, beginning with the fact that should one have the extreme luck to not have any serious accident for hundreds or thousands of years while the fuel is still radioactive, one is left with the known problem of how to "dispose of" (i.e. tuck away for a time) the profoundly toxic waste generated by the process in the best case scenario.

This little mindfuck is food for thought: scientists are having trouble coming up with symbols that will still warn people in 10,000 years where nuke waste is, because it will still be deadly long after anyone can understand what we're saying or doing as a civilization.

Nuke plants are dangerous enough that they can't be built without government backing, seeing as the private sector will not insure them.  (Once again I ask this question: How many right wing Americans actually believe in anything resembling a "free market" for industry..?)

Against this backdrop the Obama Administration is all hot and bothered to fund the building of 20 or more nuke plants in the US.  Note the supportive quote from an Exelon spokesperson.  Not that the hundreds of thousands of dollars they've spent on Barry to get him to this point has anything to do with anything.  No sir, those A-rabs and Iranians once again have the temerity to think that their oil belongs to them, thus for "energy independence" we must once again split our friend the atom and spin the magic radioactivity wheel, hoping for Big Dollars and No Whammies.

One wonders how much fuel we spend daily in Afghanistan and Iraq, at $400 per gallon.

There is an almost comical series of timings for Obama's energy policy shilling on behalf of the corporations which own him.  First he supports offshore drilling beyond the wildest wet dreams of the Bushies weeks before BP shat all over the Gulf of Mexico.  Then he rolls out a plan to sink big federal money into nuke plants right before Japan starts glowing.  If he weren't being such a vicious corporate tool dickwad, crapping all over the dreams of the little people who elected what they thought was an agent for change, I would almost feel sorry for him.  Almost.

Of course no one in this semi-literate 'tarded heir to the Roman Empire seems to give a hoot about the Gulf of Mexico any longer, so it's possible that Obama will be allowed to skate on both issues in 2012, by which point most Americans will have spotted a pretty color or a shiny object, and be sufficiently distracted from anything meaningful.

We can and likely will plod stupidly forward to collective doom, left in the drift.  Or we could go Carbon Free and Nuclear Free, if only someone well-versed on energy issues would only take the time to bang out a detailed plan point by point.  But what are the odds of anyone doing that?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Frack you

This is being submitted by yours truly today to the National Park Service during their public comment period on the plans to frack the living hell out of PA upriver from our drinking water.  You can add your comments to the public record here.

Public Comment on Marcellus Shale Activities Upriver from Philadelphia March 8, 2011

My name is [QuizmasterChris] and I am a lifelong Philadelphia resident. Little needs to be added from my end on the destructive and potentially hazardous activity of fracking in Pennsylvania. The plain fact of the matter, however, is that Philadelphia's government has no jurisdiction over the rest of Pennsylvania, and there is likely little more than symbolic opposition that can be registered from that quarter.

The sad fact of the matter is that Philadelphia's top ranking Democrat, Congressman and city Party Chairman Bob Brady, receives many thousands of dollars annually directly from the industries which promote and profit from Pennsylvania fracking, and at the federal level, where it counts, he has rewarded the industry with legislation and millions of taxpayer dollars which enable natural gas to be more cheaply transported and processed in and around Philadelphia, in Pennsylvania's 1st Congressional District. (That is to say that the industry is receiving subsidy which makes things cheaper for them, but the taxpayer pays multiple times, through subsidy via borrowed money, the opportunity costs of how that federal funding could otherwise be spent, and any risks associated with living alongside, downriver or downwind from these projects.)

These gifts have included working to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding for dredging the Delaware River largely on behalf of the petroleum industry and the shipping corporations which service them.

Although there is no stated plan at present to move Marcellus Shale gas through Philadelphia, there is no particular reason to believe that if the region actually does end up producing 20 years of gas, or anything near that, that a set of politicians on this side of the river would not be happy to continue to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars in the form of pipeline subsidies to see that happen. (Another alternative is apparently to move gas as CNG, which could also be moved through our port.) As is painfully familiar this would be sold as a jobs initiative, as if government monies could not be spent to create more, better and safer jobs in any other fashion. This is the line we're sold on river dregding, military contracts, and too many other similar boondoggles to name here comprehensively.

Until the quid pro quo between extractive industries and Congressman Brady, Governor Corbett and others is confronted by local politicians and activists, events such as this (public comment period) one are rendered moot.

I am appending the relevant URLs of news stories and other data to this statement should anyone wish to fact-check.

I draw your attention to an article from the Philadelphia Business Journal dated Thursday, June 10, 2010 in which it is announced that Sunoco Logistics and MarkWest Energy Partners are partnering to pipeline and ship 50,000 barrels of Marcellus Shale gas per day through the Sunoco facility at Delmont, PA.

I draw your attention to the fact that Congressman Brady, who rarely produces any form of legislation beyond renaming post offices or commemorating anniversaries, is a House Sponsor of:

Bill H.R.6524: To authorize issuance of certificates of documentation authorizing certain vessels to engage in coastwise trade in the carriage of natural gas, and for other purposes.

There was only one other cosponsor of this bill in the House, Alaska Republican Donald Young, a wholly owned pawn of the oil industry. Introduced in December 2010, this bill, which has not yet become law, would instruct the Coast Guard to authorize the vessels LNG Gemini, LNG Leo and LNG Virgo to do coastal trade in natural gas in ports such as ours. LNG of course is Liquid Natural Gas, and the three vessels, steam turbine ships built back in the late 1970s and registered in Majuro, Marshall Islands (no doubt to avoid various regulatory responsibilities), are all operated by the Pronav Ship Management corporation. The apparent proximal purpose of clearing these vessels is to bring LNG into the Port of Philadelphia, but one wonders how long that would be economically viable should Pennsylvania become a major net exporter of gas, with a Sunoco processing facility a couple of hundred miles away, all within one state whose politicians have been purchased. The industry thinks several steps ahead on these issues and we should as well.

If Philadelphia's population could count on the congressman to work this hard to derive LIHEAP fuel from his friends in the extractive industries instead of using our funds to subsidize their business we'd all be much better off for it. The natural gas industry has given over $2.8 million to Pennsylvania politicians recently, Republicans and Democrats alike. The Marcellus Shale Coalition employs Tom Ridge outright, gave over $84,000 to Ed Rendell, over $360,000 to Tom Corbett and over $60,000 to Dan Onorato. That was our choice in the gubernatorial election, vote for the guy who is bought off by Marcellus Shale or the guy who is bought off by Marcellus Shale six times as much.

At least at the state level there were two candidates, which is more that can be said for the 1st Congressional District.

Congressman Brady in the last election cycle alone received $5,500 from Sunoco, $6000 from Sunoco in the 2008 election cycle before that, $5000 in the 2006 cycle, $2000 in the 2004 cycle and so on and so forth. These tens of thousands of dollars alone, not mentioning other funds received from Chevron and other actors in the petroleum and shipping arena, are all part of the millions in campaign funding received and curiously spent by the congressman over the past decade despite facing no primary nor any general election challenger in most races.

In 2010 Brady raised $904,748 and spent $747,603 dollars with some $701,831 still in his campaign fund. Why does a man who is the only candidate on the ballot, receiving over 99.9% of the vote in a Soviet-style election take in and spend three-quarters of a million dollars in reelection campaign funds? How much of this money comes from polluting industries such as Sunoco, Chevron, Exelon and so forth, and what do they get in return? Why does no elected official in this city take note of or speak out about this arrangement?

Until the elected officials and activists of Philadelphia confront this corrupt process, including members of their own parties who are clearly not on the people's side, but on industry's side, and at the federal and state level where real jurisdiction exists and where much of the real damage is done, one wonders what good non-binding events such as this will have at the city level. We are all downriver not only from the pollution of Marcellus Shale but also from a corrupt and malignant party politics which sells out the people of Philadelphia and of Pennsylvania to the whims of business interests.

Thank you for your time.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Note no Draught Horse quiz this week owing to Spring Break

Tuesday, March 8, 9pm

El Camino Real
1040 N. 2nd St.
(2nd St. below Girard Ave.)

Wednesday, March 9, 7:30pm
12 Steps Down
9th & Christian Sts.
Subject Round: FARMING

Thursday, March 10, 9pm
The Draught Horse
Broad St. & Cecil B. Moore Ave.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

This week's schedule

Tuesday, March 1, 9pm
El Camino Real
1040 N. 2nd St.
(2nd St. below Girard Ave.)
Subject Round: MARCH

Wednesday, March 2, 7:30pm
12 Steps Down
9th & Christian Sts.
Subject Round: MADNESS

Thursday, March 3, 9pm
The Draught Horse
Broad St. & Cecil B. Moore Ave.
Subject Round: MARCH MADNESS