Tuesday, October 22, 2013

How Would We Report on the Shutdown if It Happened in Another Country?

Well, after a (thankfully) paid vacation of uncertain duration thanks to Congress's foolishness, I'm happily back to work. I've got one more post about the shutdown I want to share before turning to other things.

Namely, an awesome piece by Joshua Keating at Slate, which I'll post in full here, because it is just that awesome:
WASHINGTON, United States—The typical signs of state failure aren’t evident on the streets of this sleepy capital city. Beret-wearing colonels have not yet taken to the airwaves to declare martial law. Money-changers are not yet buying stacks of useless greenbacks on the street.
But the pleasant autumn weather disguises a government teetering on the brink. Because, at midnight Monday night, the government of this intensely proud and nationalistic people will shut down, a drastic sign of political dysfunction in this moribund republic.
The capital’s rival clans find themselves at an impasse, unable to agree on a measure that will allow the American state to carry out its most basic functions. While the factions have come close to such a shutdown before, opponents of President Barack Obama’s embattled regime now appear prepared to allow the government to be shuttered over opposition to a controversial plan intended to bring the nation’s health care system in line with international standards.
Six years into his rule, Obama’s position can appear confusing, even contradictory. Though the executive retains control of the country’s powerful intelligence service, capable of the extrajudicial execution of the regime’s opponents half a world away, the president’s efforts to govern domestically have been stymied in the legislature by an extremist rump faction of the main opposition party.
The current rebellion has been led by Sen. Ted Cruz, a young fundamentalist lawmaker from the restive Texas region, known in the past as a hotbed of separatist activity. Activity in the legislature ground to a halt last week for a full day as Cruz insisted on performing a time-honored American demonstration of stamina and self-denial, which involved speaking for 21 hours, quoting liberally from science fiction films and children’s books. The gesture drew wide media attention, though its political purpose was unclear to outsiders.
With hours remaining until the government of the world’s richest nation runs out of money, attention now focuses on longtime opposition leader John Boehner, under pressure from both the regime and the radical elements of his own movement, who may be the only political figure with the standing needed to end the standoff.
While the country’s most recent elections were generally considered to be free and fair (despite threats against international observers), the current crisis has raised questions in the international community about the regime’s ability to govern this complex nation of 300 million people, not to mention its vast stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.
Americans themselves are starting to ask difficult questions as well. As this correspondent’s cab driver put it, while driving down the poorly maintained roads that lead from the airport, “Do these guys have any idea what they’re doing to the country?”
No, rhetorical taxi cab driver - unfortunately, the radical faction in the Republican party doesn't have any idea about anything.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Modern Republican Party Isn't Conservative; It's a Pack of Vandals

Whelp, I'm still furloughed, but at least I'm getting out of DC for a few days. Best of luck to all of you staying in DC in the unlikely event that DC is blockaded by crazy right-wing truckers - thank God I'm flying out of town.

Anyway, to the meat of today's post:

This piece by Andrew Sullivan is one of the better pieces I've read that calls the extremism of today's Republican party what it is - constitutional vandalism, not conservatism. I recommend reading the whole piece, but here's the central part:
Even though [Obamacare] is almost identical to that of their last presidential nominee’s in Massachusetts, the GOP is prepared to destroy both the American government and the global economy to stop it. They see it, it seems to me, as both some kind of profound attack on the Constitution (something even Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts viewed as a step too far) and, in some inchoate way, as a racial hand-out, however preposterous that is. And that is at the core of the recklessness behind this attack on the US – or at least my best attempt to understand something that has long since gone beyond reason. This is the point of no return – a black president doing something for black citizens (even though the vast majority of beneficiaries of Obamacare will be non-black).
I regard this development as one of the more insidious and anti-constitutional acts of racist vandalism against the American republic in my adult lifetime. Those who keep talking as if there are two sides to this, when there are not, are as much a part of the vandalism as Ted Cruz. Obama has played punctiliously by the constitutional rules – two elections, one court case – while the GOP has decided that the rules are for dummies and suckers, and throws over the board game as soon as it looks as if it is going to lose by the rules as they have always applied.
The president must therefore hold absolutely firm. This time, there can be no compromise because the GOP isn’t offering any. They’re offering the kind of constitutional surrender that would effectively end any routine operation of the American government. If we cave to their madness, we may unravel our system of government, something one might have thought conservatives would have opposed. Except these people are not conservatives. They’re vandals.
This time, the elephant must go down. And if possible, it must be so wounded it does not get up for a long time to come.
Indeed - today's Republican Party may be lots of things, but it's certainly not conservative - true conservatives don't shut down the government, they don't try to vandalize the ideals of the Constitution, and they don't risk the full faith and credit of the United States to try to undo a law passed by Congress, signed by the President, affirmed by a Presidential election, and upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court.

That's not conservative - that's dangerously radical extremism. It is, quite literally, an attempt to dismantle majority rule in this country - an attempt that is an existential threat to the functioning of our democracy. If anyone tries to tell you anything differently, they're either knowingly lying to you, or they have no idea what they're talking about.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Nobody Cares That 12 People Were Murdered In My Neighborhood 3 Weeks Ago

Oh, suck it up, you crybabies - nobody gives a shit about your murdered mom, dad,
brother, sister, or whoever it was. Get over it, already - the rest of us certainly have!

I just figured I should remind everyone out there that, three weeks ago today, 12 people were murdered in my neighborhood over at the Navy Yard.

You've probably forgotten, but a crazy dude who worked as a government security contractor used his security credentials to get into the building and started shooting people. A lot of people. Just a few blocks from my house.

I was in Toronto at the time, so I didn't live through all of the (astoundingly short-lived) insanity that followed. I have been rather shocked, however, at how quickly everyone seems to have forgotten about such a high-profile mass shooting in the nation's capital, less than 2 miles from the Capitol Building.

Have we really become so desensitized to the spectacle of mass shootings that we just don't care anymore? That we expect them to happen?

Perhaps we are - after all, depending on how one counts, the US might experience as many as one mass shooting PER DAY. Obviously, not all of those can make the national news - otherwise, there would be almost no time for anything but mass shootings on the news, and the news simply must make adequate room for celebrity gossip, mindlessly talking heads, and pointless back-and-forth between partisan hacks.

Furthermore, the US is alone in the number of mass shootings it experiences. 15 of the 25 worst mass shootings in the past 50 years have happened in the United States (although that list was before Navy Yard, so we're almost certainly up to at least 16 of 25); Finland is in second place with 2.

This blog has also been guilty of growing weary of mass shootings - I didn't even bother to write about the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Newtown, CT, in which 20 children were killed. I was tired about writing about mass killings myself - after all, I blogged about the Tuscon shooting (twice), about the Batman movie massacre, and about the Sikh temple massacre - and I just didn't have it in me to write yet another "I told you so" post about mass shootings in 2012.

If 20 dead kids aren't enough to make the US get serious about decreasing the number of gun deaths, 12 murdered adult federal employees certainly won't move the needle of public or Congressional opinion.

There have been plenty of mass shootings in 2013 to write about, but I haven't written about any of those either. However, since this mass shooting happened just a few blocks away, I figured I'd break out my old explanation of why we will continue to see more and more mass shootings - it's inevitable, and it's just a matter of time.

Mass shootings like this are inevitable in the United States due to the combination of two simple facts:
  • the mental health system in this country sucks. The Navy Yard shooter was obviously seriously disturbed, but for some reason, he didn't get the help he needed - in fact, he even secured employment with a federal security contractor.
  • as a country, we have decided that citizens should have access to practically unlimited quantities of assault weapons and ammunition. We don't even regulate guns as seriously as we regulate toys.
If you combine those two facts, it is not hard to conclude that massacres like the Navy Yard shooting, the Sandy Hook massacre, the Batman Movie Massacre, Tuscon, etc. are inevitable. We are a big country with lots of people, and a tiny fraction of those people are batsh*t crazy. If you give batsh*t crazy people access to assault weapons, this country will occasionally face massacres like this one in the Navy Yard - it's a statistical inevitability. So, unless the U.S. wants to completely change its approach to mental health and/or assault weapons in the hands of citizens, we are just going to have to get used to paying the price of the semi-regular massacre. Since the U.S. is a pretty violent society, I'm guessing that we'll just stick with the status quo and act "shocked, shocked I tell you" when things like this happen, even though a quick statistical analysis demonstrates that massacres like this are inevitable.

The shooting in the Navy Yard, was a definitely a senseless tragedy, but I'm not shocked now, and I'm not going to be shocked when this happens again somewhere else in the U.S. None of these mass shooters are special or unique - I'm sure there are many (hundreds? thousands?) of people alarmingly similar to them out there. As mentioned above, mass shootings are becoming horrifically banal - the U.S. has averaged at least one high-profile mass shooting each year since 2005, while the US might experience as many as one mass shooting PER DAY - it's just that only one per year usually becomes a media sensation.

You heard it here first, folks - more mass shootings are coming. They're a statistical inevitability, unless the U.S. decides that it wants to do something about preventing its citizens from owning semiautomatic assault weapons and about providing effective mental health care to all its citizens. So, to all you future mass murders out there - you're not going to shock and surprise me, as sad as that sounds.

Oh, and we the public don't care about the mass shootings or mass shooting victims either - unless it happens to us or someone we know, of course. So suck it up and shut up, you friends and family of people killed in mass shootings, and you'd sure as hell not suggest that we need to change our approach to either mental health or gun control. That's just playing politics with a tragedy, don't you know? Just ask the Republicans - they'll explain it all to you.

Sigh ... I just hope that neither I nor anyone I know have the rotten luck to be caught in any of your upcoming massacres. What rotten luck that would be.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Mainstream Media Coverage of the Shutdown Is Predictably Moronic and Terrible

James Fallows over at The Atlantic has an excellent take-down of the predictably moronic and terrible coverage of the shutdown by the mainstream media.

Much of the mainstream media coverage of the shutdown is the stupid "he-said, she-said" coverage that the media has offered for the past ... couple of decades. Unfortunately, what the Republican Party has said over the past couple of decades has become increasingly unhinged from reality, with the mainstream media seemingly incapable of calling out the Republicans out on their blatant falsehoods.

So it goes again with the shutdown, which is not "Washington gridlock," "dysfunction," or anything else like that. Rather,
we have a faction making historically unprecedented demands -- give us everything, or we stop the government and potentially renege on the national debt. And it is doing so less than a year after its party lost the presidency, lost the Senate (and lost ground there), and held onto the House in part because of rotten-borough distortions [i.e., vicious gerrymandering].

You can call this a lot of things, but "gridlock" should not be one of them. And you can fault many aspects of the President's response -- when it comes to debt-default, I think he has to stick to the "no negotiations with terrorists" hard line. But you shouldn't pretend that if he had been more "reasonable" or charming he could placate a group whose goal is the undoing of his time in office.
The real question now is what Boehner, McConnell, et al. can do about their hard-liners. A lot depends, for Americans and many others, on their success or failure.
Yes - unfortunately, a lot depends on Boehner and McConnell being able to reign in the Republican crazies, which they have not yet proven able to do.

And subsequently, the Republican Party has not proven that it is able to govern a country. We'll hope that the voters remember this in 2014.

Post-draft addendum: Also from James Fallows, we have a guide on recognizing and criticizing false equivalence in the mainstream media in the days (I hope not weeks and months) ahead:
Two big examples of problematic self-government are upon us. They are of course the possible partial shutdown of the federal government, following the long-running hamstringing of public functions via "the sequester"; and a possible vote not to raise the federal debt ceiling, which would create the prospect of a default on U.S. Treasury debt.

The details are complicated, but please don't lose sight of these three essential points:
  • As a matter of substance, constant-shutdown, permanent-emergency governance is so destructive that no other serious country engages in or could tolerate it. The United States can afford it only because we are -- still -- so rich, with so much margin for waste and error. Details on this and other items below.*
  • As a matter of politics, this is different from anything we learned about in classrooms or expected until the past few years. We're used to thinking that the most important disagreements are between the major parties, not within one party; and that disagreements over policies, goals, tactics can be addressed by negotiation or compromise.

    This time, the fight that matters is within the Republican party, and that fight is over whether compromise itself is legitimate.** Outsiders to this struggle -- the president and his administration, Democratic legislators as a group, voters or "opinion leaders" outside the generally safe districts that elected the new House majority -- have essentially no leverage over the outcome. I can't recall any situation like this in my own experience, and the only even-approximate historic parallel (with obvious differences) is the inability of Northern/free-state opinion to affect the debate within the slave-state South from the 1840s onward. Nor is there a conceivable "compromise" the Democrats could offer that would placate the other side.
  • As a matter of journalism, any story that presents the disagreements as a "standoff," a "showdown," a "failure of leadership," a sign of "partisan gridlock," or any of the other usual terms for political disagreement, represents a failure of journalism*** and an inability to see or describe what is going on. For instance: the "dig in their heels" headline you see below, which is from a proprietary newsletter I read this morning, and about which I am leaving off the identifying details.

    This isn't "gridlock." It is a ferocious struggle within one party, between its traditionalists and its radical factions, with results that unfortunately can harm all the rest of us -- and, should there be a debt default, could harm the rest of the world too. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Republicans In Congress Are Literally Killing Children Who Have Cancer

It used to be that Congress just killed children through inaction on guns. Now, the Republicans in Congress
have decided to start killing children more directly.

Sure, there have already been a lot of consequences to the government shut down:
  • Yours Truly is furloughed without pay, along with 800,000 of my best federal government employee friends
  • The National Zoo Pandacam is down
  • National parks, monuments, and museums are closed (WILL NO ONE THINK OF THE TOURISTS?!?)
But this tidbit (from the Wall Street Journal, of all places) might be the worst consequence of the shutdown I've yet come across, however:
At the National Institutes of Health, nearly three-quarters of the staff was furloughed. One result: director Francis Collins said about 200 patients who otherwise would be admitted to the NIH Clinical Center into clinical trials each week will be turned away. This includes about 30 children, most of them cancer patients, he said.
Yup - the Republicans in Congress are now killing children who have cancer, in order to try to prevent poor people from getting health care coverage (i.e., "defund Obamacare").

Way to go, guys and (few) gals - hope you're proud of yourselves.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

F#@k Congress. Specifically, F#@k Republicans in Congress. Every Single One.

This is me, today.

Well, it happened - Congress, specifically the Republican fuck-nuts in Congress, have proven themselves utterly unfit to govern and have forced the government to shut down.

Fuck them, the fuckers.

After spending a rather bizarre morning doing my part to shut down the largest organization on the planet, I'm now one of the approximately 800,000 federal government employees who were sent home today, to sit around with my hands in my pants, waiting for Congress to deign to do their jobs and pass some sort of spending resolution.

On the bright side, this means that I have some extra time on my hands - so, I'll be looking to catch up on a few projects around the house and in the Interwebz, catch up on my TV show backlog (I still have a few episodes of Dexter and Breaking Bad to watch before I get to the finales), and catch up on blogging a bit.

Speaking of, I apologize for the saltiness of this post - I just needed to rant a bit. I promise that subsequent posts will return to my usual level of refinement and thoughtfulness. I also apologize for the blogging break I've been on - I took a family vacation to Toronto, and I then came back to a 4-6 month promotion at work, so I had to seriously hit the ground running ... for a week. Then the past couple days have been full of shutting down the government. I guess the Republicans were so terrified at the prospect of me being a middle manager in the federal government that they couldn't tolerate the thought of it for more than a week.

Such idiocy - but that's Congress. Specifically, the Republicans in Congress.

Anyway, more thoughts (and more intelligent thoughts) tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Ultimate Awesome Wedding Advice Post, Four Years in the Making

Two years ago, I wrote a week's worth of posts giving what I thought to be sage wedding advice, to commemorate my wife's and my second wedding anniversary. Yet another wonderful year with my beautiful wife has come and gone - kind of hard to believe that we now have a baby, for whom we were anxiously waiting at this time last year!

Anyway, I thought I'd revisit my wedding advice and update the post with new observations and ideas. So, here's an entire week's worth of wedding advice, combined into one post, to make it easy for friends and family members to share, email, etc. the advice with/to future brides and grooms. Feel free to share your thoughts, disagreements, or wedding tips in the comments!

The Angry Bureaucrat's Wedding Week Table of Contents:

1. The Beginning of a Week of Awesome Wedding Advice, Three Years in the Making

2. THE Critical Wedding Guiding Principle - It's Actually NOT All About YOU

3. Wedding Week, Day #3 - Set a Budget and Then Prioritize

4. Wedding Week, Day #4: Do NOT Have a Destination Wedding

5. Wedding Week, Day #5 - Customize Your Ceremony However You Want

6. Wedding Week, Day #6 - De-Professionalize As Much As Possible

7. Wedding Week, Day #7 - Food and Drink Advice

8. Wedding Week, Day #Last - When the Big Day Comes, It's Already Too Late

And here are all the nuggets of advice!

The Beginning of a Week of Awesome Wedding Advice, Three Years in the Making

Happy Third Anniversary, Everyone!

In something somewhat out of character for this blog, we're celebrating Wedding Week here at The Angry Bureaucrat!

Four years ago this week, my wife and I were in the throes of wedding joy (and stress). Since that time, as we’ve read and heard about weddings being planned or happening, both of us have from time to time talked about writing a wedding advice column - because we both think our wedding rocked, and it rocked for a lot less money than many other people pay for far crappier weddings. As we prepared to celebrate our third anniversary, it seemed like a good opportunity to share some hard won wisdom. As an added bonus, the whole series is illustrated with actual pictures from our wedding, for those of you who are curious as to what it/we/our accessories looked like.

Before I start this series, my wife requests that she be given a disclaimer. She’s more tactful than I am, and although she generally supports my assertions in this series, she would probably not say things the same way I’ll state them. She would also say something to the effect of, “just because something was right for us doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone.” So, there, she is indemnified. I also recognize that not all of these pieces of advice will hold for absolutely everyone, but we think that if most people were to abide by them, everyone (bride and groom included) would have a lot more fun at weddings and would waste a lot less money on them. But, my sincerest apologies in advance, if any of our advice offends anyone out there.

So, we'll spend the next hour or so sharing my/our advice on how to have an awesome wedding that won't break the bank. (Feel free to donate a portion of the money you save to support this site, via PayPal or the Google Checkout button on the right ;) ). First, we'll start with a critical guiding principle that everyone getting married should follow (and perhaps have temporary-tattooed on their foreheads), and then we’ll dive into the details. Below is what will perhaps be my most controversial piece of advice!

THE Critical Wedding Guiding Principle - It's Actually NOT All About YOU

See all these people? Your wedding is about all of them, too - it's not just about you. (These are Grant's family members who made it to the wedding.)

This will be hard for some people to swallow, but our first and most important Wedding Week lesson here at The Angry Bureaucrat is that your wedding isn't actually all about you ("you" singular or "the two of you"). If you approach your wedding in this way, you're already setting yourself up for disaster and/or disappointment. Our experience was that the most fun we had planning our wedding was when we were coming up with fun, creative ways for it to be a community-wide celebration of our joy, love, and union - and that we fought the most when we focused too much on us, on doing things this way or that, or otherwise being caught up in the details.

The whole "fairytale wedding," "princess for a day" bullsh*t was made up by the cynical princess wedding industry to make you feel entitled to everything and to separate you from your money. The truth is that, unless you're eloping, your wedding is bringing together a community of people who love you and care about you - friends and family, whether a few or a few hundred - in order to celebrate your joy, love, and union. You wouldn't be who you are without all of these people; that's why they're at your wedding. When planning your wedding and all the celebrations that surround it, you will have more fun (and everyone else will be happier) if you take into account their need and desire to celebrate with you, instead of focusing solely on your own selfish needs and desires. Much of the rest of these posts will be specific examples of how to implement the guiding principle of "it's not all about you."

(Note: Based on a dinner conversation I had after I wrote the first draft of this post, I want to add that, of course, your wedding should and will fulfill your need to celebrate in the way you want as well. The point of this post is not to say that you should work to please everyone else above and beyond yourselves - that's certainly not the case. Nonetheless, this post is a strong recommendation to take the needs and wants of the people you love and care about into account when planning your wedding. I assume that your needs will be well-represented in your wedding - my experience has been that most couples don't need much help asserting their own wishes in their wedding planning. But, you and everyone around you will be much happier if you take into account the needs, wants, and feelings of your community as you plan your wedding - and this is something that I think people often lose, forget about, or are even told is wrong when planning a wedding.)

Wedding Week, Day #3 - Set a Budget and Then Prioritize

What's more important to you in your wedding? You should decide up-front - it will make decisions easier later.

Before you do anything else, decide how much money you have to spend, and what's most important to you in the wedding - what you're willing to spend your money on is the best indication of what's really important to you in your wedding. For us, the most important thing was throwing a fantastic, huge dinner and party for all of our family, close friends, and out-of-town guests, so that's what we spent a plurality of our money on. The least important thing was probably the clothes that we and our attendants wore - Ali's wedding dress was a dress she already owned (!), the bridesmaids' dresses were reasonable, and I didn't make my attendants rent/buy tuxes - they just wore dark suits they already owned, and we bought them different but matching ties as part of the attendant thank-you package.

You should know whether your flowers are more important than your cake, or your music more important than renting a car to drive you to the reception (we skipped this and just walked to our reception), and so on - you'll be making tradeoffs as you plan your wedding, and it's important to know what's most important to both of you.

In addition, when setting a budget and prioritizing what's important to you, keep the budgets of your attendants in mind - for example, if your attendants are a bunch of students or underemployed writers, expecting for them to attend a shower or bachelor's/bachelorette's party at a resort in Cabo is probably going to cause some ill will. A recent (positive) trend is letting bridesmaids pull out the trusted old LBD (little black dress) as a no-cost clothing alternative, which should match the tuxes/black suits of the groomsmen nicely. Just a suggestion. Remember - it's not all about you.

When doing your budget, keep in mind these people's budgets too - they hold the power to make your wedding awesome or to make it suck, so don't piss them off!

Wedding Week, Day #4: Do NOT Have a Destination Wedding

One of many fantastic things that would not have happened if we'd had a destination wedding - because few (if any) of these wonderful people would have been able to come.

According to the latest statistics, 24% of you out there decide to have destination weddings. Our apologies to anyone who had/is having a destination wedding, but we think it was/is a bad idea. Personally, I don't think that "do not have a destination wedding" should be advice - I think it should be a rule.

Destination weddings embody the epitome of the "it's all about me" mentality. Think about it - you're essentially forcing your friends and family to take extra time off work and take a vacation to somewhere not of their own choosing while you're the center of attention for the whole vacation. It's so preposterous that I'm surprised this trend ever got started in the first place.

In addition to not being very considerate of the (probably relatively few) friends and family who will be able to afford to attend a destination wedding, you are (unless you run in fabulously wealthy circles) probably cutting most of your friends and family out of celebrating your wedding with you - and remember that they want to celebrate with you; they just don't want to celebrate completely on your terms.

Personally, we have only attended one destination wedding (at a picturesque lake somewhere in Europe), and honestly, we only attended because we just happened to be living in an adjoining country at the time - we never would have come if we'd had to travel from the USA like the rest of the wedding party. The only people who could attend were a few family members and one friend - even the parents of the bride couldn't attend!

By contrast, we held our wedding in our hometown, and we were able to host a gigantic party for 80 of our family members and closest friends - all for far less than what the airfare alone would cost for a destination wedding.

From our (limited) experience, in addition to being a significant time and financial burden on the few people who can attend and shutting out most of your friends and family from coming, having a destination wedding adds even more stress to the engaged couple. After all, you're adding vacation stress (travel and logistics in an unfamiliar place; not knowing the language; dealing with strange food; dealing with strange hairdressers and tailors in a foreign language; etc.) to the normal wedding stress - not a good combination. And unless you're going somewhere so remote that your wedding party is the only group around, everyone else at your destination wedding location will be conspicuously gawking at the bizarre spectacle unfolding before them - I am remembering a town full of Europeans who watched this American girl run around their tiny town in street clothes and a veil, and then in a wedding dress, for an entire day - they were utterly perplexed, and they did not try to hide their confusion.

Please please please, save everyone time, nerves, and money - don't have a destination wedding. Hold your wedding in one of your hometowns (even if you rarely go there anymore, like us), or if you really can't stand either of your hometowns, in an easily accessible, neutral third location, preferably somewhere about halfway between where your respective families live. Trust me - you'll thank me.

I'm guessing at least 24% of you vehemently disagree with this post; feel free to explain in the comments why a destination wedding was the only thing that made sense for you. And please go into a little more depth than "it was the only way to limit the number of guests" - while that may be true, I hope that's not all there is to it, since it's easy enough to limit guest numbers in other ways. (My new favorite way of limiting the number of guests is to hold the wedding on a random day, like a Tuesday.)

Not surprisingly, this post has generated a lot of (sometimes spirited) back-and-forth ever since it was posted last year - if you'd rather jump into that conversation than commenting on this post, head over to the original post to share your thoughts.

Wedding Week, Day #5 - Write Your Own Ceremony, Pretty Much from Scratch

Our rings, and our wedding ceremony (which we wrote ourselves).

Whether you get married in a church/synagogue/ashram/temple/etc., at a courthouse, outside, or at city hall, we think it's critical that you write your own ceremony - pretty much from scratch. And customize it however you want! It's hard work - we spent several weeks combing the web and our favorite books for what we wanted to include, picking the music, rearranging the order - and after we'd finished, we realized that we'd changed the Christian ceremony that we'd picked as our starting point into a largely Jewish ceremony. Go figure.

We also had a lot of fun talking about what we wanted in the ceremony and why - it helped us learn more about each other and grow together as a couple. Customizing the ceremony (especially writing our own vows) also gave us an understanding of what was most important to each of us as we began a life together. We also took out outdated parts of the ceremony, such as "who gives this bride away" and "speak now or forever hold your peace" - if these things are in your wedding ceremony, I'll think that you didn't work on it very hard. (Or, I suppose you could carefully consider the options and decide that you really do want to give someone the opportunity to protest your union in front of all your friends and family - but I'd find allowing that rather odd.)

We also involved our community a good deal in the ceremony itself - my parents sang a duet; Ali's parents gave us a blessing; a family friend played the trumpet; our attendants did readings; and we sang some songs/hymns (upbeat ones!). We tried to give our community as much opportunity to be involved and celebrate with us as possible (or as much opportunity as they wanted, anyway). Your community is bursting with talent, and you should take advantage of that by inviting them to participate in your ceremony and celebrations! Some folks might decline, but most people will jump at the opportunity to play a special role in your special day.

Perhaps more so than with any other part of the wedding, you only get out of your wedding ceremony as much as you put into it - though it's true that you end up just as married all the same. However, if you overlook this part of the wedding and don't customize it to fit you as a couple, you're missing a serious opportunity to get to know your future spouse more deeply, in a way that is difficult to replicate in a different setting, and you're missing an opportunity to knit your community together more tightly. So, get to work!

Below, we'll talk even more about getting your community involved in your wedding, in ways that will save you serious time, stress, and money and will get them excited to participate in your celebration - a major win-win-win-win!

Wedding Week, Day #6 - De-Professionalize As Much As Possible

De-professionalizing as much of your wedding as possible accomplishes three major goals - it gets your community much more involved in the planning and execution of your wedding celebration; it can take a lot of responsibility off your shoulders (if you let it); and it will save you a TON of money.

You can imagine how lovely the uncensored version of this
invitation looked - and the bride did it herself.

De-professionalizing as much as possible was one of the reasons why we were able to have a fantastic wedding and throw three (3!) separate parties celebrating our marriage for about 1/3 the cost of just the average US wedding ceremony and reception.

Part of de-professionalizing is decentralizing. We gave away entire swaths of our wedding to other people to plan and execute with minimal attention from us, so we could focus on what was most important to us - having a great time with our family and friends. This also gave our family a good excuse to come a couple days early, so we got to spend more time with everyone.

We de-professionalized (and decentralized) our wedding in many, many ways:
  1. We didn't have a professional wedding planner. We were our wedding planners. Everyone should do this - it's a bit of work, yes, but it will save you a ton of money, and you'll have a much better chance to put together the wedding that you want to have.
  2. Ali did our invitations (see above), with a little spare time and a couple of free fonts we liked. You can do this, or you have a friend who knows enough PhotoShop or InDesign to do this in exchange for dinner or a bottle of wine. You then get them printed yourself and have beautiful invitations at a fraction of the cost of paying a professional to do it all.
  3. Ali also did the program for our ceremony.
  4. Ali's mom planned and catered the rehearsal dinner.
  5. My mom planned and (with the help of her female relatives) executed most of the post-ceremony reception.
  6. My mom baked the bride's cake.
  7. One of Ali's best friends decorated the bride's cake.
  8. A family friend baked and decorated the groom's cake.
  9. A family friend decorated the reception space.
  10. A former high school teacher/mentor did the flowers.
  11. Church friends provided the music.
All of these were done by non-professionals for our wedding. You know people who can do stuff like this too.

I'm probably missing a few, but you get the idea. Granted, we paid some money towards some of the things on the above list, but they cost us far less than if we had paid professionals to do everything for us. As an added bonus, our whole community was involved in and excited about our wedding, and they were (or at least acted like they were!) happy and glad to help us out and be involved. We couldn't have done it without them, and we wouldn't have had nearly as much fun without their contributions.

Your community has an enormous pool of talent you can tap, and they have friends and family who are also talented - just ask them to contribute their talents to help you celebrate your wedding. Of course, I expect you'll give them general boundaries, parameters, guidelines, etc. - but within those boundaries, leave them the creative license (remember: it's not all about you) to see what they come up with to help celebrate your union.

Many people think it’ll just be easier to hire someone, but that's often simply wrong. That person you hire has to be directed (by you) and is only going to do exactly what you are able to direct them to do (how much do you know about flower arrangements or cake decorating?). Furthermore, they don’t care about you personally - it’s their job, so why would/should they go the extra mile for you? Your community cares, and their contribution will make the day more meaningful and less about money.

Now, we'll delve into the details of a part of the wedding that is often misguided - food and drinks.

Wedding Week, Day #7 - Food and Drink Advice

If this had been slathered with fondant, I would have refused to eat it.

Advice #1: Do Not Have Fondant Icing on Your Wedding Cake

Although it looks good, fondant (Wikipedia calls it an "icing-like substance," not icing) tastes like a mixture of ground-up cardboard and sweetened silly putty. If you absolutely have to have a fondant cake because of the way it looks, make it one that no one actually has to eat, and have sheet cakes with better-tasting (real) icing for people to eat. Seriously - no one wants to eat a fondant cake. No one. Fondant - not even once.

Advice #2: If Serving a Meal, Serve a Real Meal

One consistent complaint I've had about several weddings I've attended (and that I've seen repeated ad nauseam online) is that the food served at weddings is often sub-par catered fare. Here's how we avoided that.

We ended up having 3 large, semi-public, semi-organized parties to celebrate our marriage: 1) the rehearsal dinner (open to family, wedding party, and out-of-town guests, as usual), 2) the reception at the church right after the ceremony (open to everyone), and 3) a dinner and party at a local restaurant for family, close friends, and out-of-town guests a couple of hours after the reception at the church.

Since we had a lot of friends coming from far away to our little Southern town for this wedding, they wanted to have a taste of the South while they were visiting. We weren't terribly excited by this - but our wedding wasn't all about us. So, Ali's mom organized a bunch of proper Southern ladies to whip up a huge, traditional, home-cooked Southern feast for the rehearsal dinner. The food was a smörgåsbord of home-cooked deliciousness at almost no cost.

My mom (with the rest of the female members of her family) catered the reception right after the ceremony. This was probably the most traditional food of the weekend, as it was somewhat standard reception fare, but they did a great job - and people were walking around and interacting with each other and us, rather than being trapped at a table trying to cut warmed-over chicken Kiev with a butter knife and making small talk with people they don't know very well.

As an added bonus, we gave our mothers near-free reign to organize the above parties as they wanted, so they got to put their touch on the weekend, and we had a lot of responsibility lifted off our shoulders - a serious win-win!

With our mothers taking care of those two parties, we focused most of our attention on the party we cared about most - the semi-formal sit-down dinner and party that went from about 6PM until well past midnight. To put together an awesome event at a reasonable cost, we contacted a local restaurant (thanks again, Matt!) and promised them that we would spend at least a certain minimum amount on food and drinks if they would close the restaurant to everyone but us. It was a smallish restaurant, so our ~80 people just about filled it to capacity.

Part of our mostly pre-decorated dinner/party venue.

This was fantastic on several levels - we got to pick a fun, dynamic venue that needed almost no additional decorations, instead of having to (pay to) decorate a relatively sterile event hall. We didn't have to rent anything for the dinner - not the venue, silverware, tables, chairs, glasses, napkins, etc. - all the stuff that adds up to serious cash if you're having an event catered in an event hall. All we paid for was the food and drink. We worked with the chef beforehand to come up with menu options that were personally meaningful to us and that everyone would like. Everything was cooked to order and delicious. And speaking of food, this brings us to:

Advice #3: Have Plenty of Alcohol

Pay for everyone's food, and have plenty amount of alcohol available (unless there are strict religious reasons not to) - your guests are all there to celebrate with you; they're giving you gifts; you're only going to do this once (you hope); and good food and alcohol really aren't that expensive. If you really can't afford to do this, then just don't serve dinner or make alcohol available - go with hors d'oeuvres alone.

You may have to look around a bit to find the right restaurant to host this kind of event (and that will only charge you for food and drinks). In this economy, however, you should be able to find a restaurant that will do this for you (city-dwellers, you may have to look at smaller restaurants out in the 'burbs) - and you'll have a much better time (and much better food) at much lower cost if you arrange a dinner and party in this way.

Aside from the ceremony, our dinner and party was the most important (and most fun) part of the whole weekend - everyone had a fantastic time, and it didn't break our bank, even though it was the most expensive part of our wedding. But for us, celebrating with our family and friends was the most important part of our wedding - so that's where we put a plurality of our money.

Wedding Week, Day #Last - When the Big Day Comes, It's Already Too Late

When things go wrong, take it in stride ...

I wish I knew where I got this piece of advice, so I could credit them, but I just can't remember.

Anyway - with weddings, you plan the best you can and set up everything to run as smoothly as possible. However, on the wedding day, don't sweat things that go wrong - because things will go wrong. Usually just some small things, occasionally a big thing, but at that point, there's nothing you can do, so don't worry about it. If you decide beforehand that you've done everything you can and that you're just going to let the day play out as it plays out while enjoying and savoring every moment, you (and everyone around you) will have a much better time than if you freak out because:
  • your ring-bearer refuses to walk down the aisle;
  • the order of events in the reception gets messed up;
  • your bride gets a sinus infection and has to be hopped up on steroids for the big day;
  • a drunk cousin "borrows" (read: steals) someone's phone;
  • or one (or more) of a billion other things goes wrong.
(Note: All of those things actually happened at our wedding. Feel free to share your own not-to-be-sweated horror stories in the comments.)

You did your best, and if you followed the advice from The Angry Bureaucrat's Wedding Week, everyone else will be having a blast. Besides which, you need some funny mishap stories from your wedding right? So just relax, laugh, and have the best day of your life too. And, if you’ve followed the advice in this series, you'll have done it all for far less cash than the average American.

(I also wanted to mention that most of the photos featured this week were taken by Lindsay Gross - if you have professional photography needs in Middle or Eastern TN, we highly recommend her!)

That's it for Wedding Week here at The Angry Bureaucrat - I hope you've enjoyed reading these posts as much as I have enjoyed writing them. No matter what, you're going to enjoy and cherish your wedding day, and I hope my reflections on my own wedding help you have an even more awesome wedding than you were going to have.

... and everything will be awesome!

Happy 4th Anniversary (a little late), My Dear!

P.S. I'm sorry for this, but I felt the need to add a small legal disclaimer - I retain all rights to all the photos and text in this post. No one is allowed to use the photos or text without my written permission.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

MLK Jr. Knew There Is No Real Freedom (or Justice) Without Jobs

That's MLK Jr. front and center - and a plurality of the marchers are carrying signs about jobs,
not about voting / segregation in schools / etc.

This blog thinks a lot about economics, especially the plight of the poor. In that vein, I think it's useful to remind ourselves, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington this week, that the official name of the 1963 March was the "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom":

I think it is often (perhaps intentionally) forgotten that the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was organized by a bunch of socialists who were looking to radically reshape not only America's political structure, but also it's economic one.

While it's certainly appropriate to celebrate the success of the March in achieving its immediate political goals of federal civil rights and voting rights legislation (although those achievements are now under attack by the Republican Party and Supreme Court today), we should not forget that many of the economic goals of the March remain painfully unfulfilled. As today's WaPo notes:

Even as racial barriers have tumbled and the nation has grown wealthier and better educated, the economic disparities separating blacks and whites remain as wide as they were when marchers assembled on the Mall in 1963.
When it comes to household income and wealth, the gaps between blacks and whites have widened. On other measures, the gaps are roughly the same as they were four decades ago. The poverty rate for blacks, for instance, continues to be about three times that of whites.

“The relative position of blacks has not changed economically since the march,” said William Darity Jr., a professor of public policy, economics and African American studies at Duke University. “Certainly, poverty has declined for everybody, but it has declined in a way that the proportion of blacks to whites who are poor is about the same as it was 50 years ago.”
Much of this lack of progress came about because of the way that the US economy broke in the 1970s - while increasing national wealth was widely shared among all classes until the mid-1970's, from the mid-1970s onwards, most of the increase in national wealth went to the richest (almost exclusively white) Americans, even though all Americans were working more productively and producing more wealth.

This disparity has hit the poorest Americans (who are disproportionately black and Latino) the hardest - today, the unemployment rate for African-Americans is 12.6 percent, double the white unemployment rate of 6.6 percent.

So, yes, as a country, we have made a lot of progress in the last 50 years - but much of MLK Jr.'s dream remains unfulfilled. Although the soaring rhetoric of many of today's speeches serves to lift one's spirits, I wonder how much effect the 50th anniversary of the March will have on the USA. Unfortunately, I'd guess not much, since one of America's two major political parties seems to have dedicated itself to the cause of denying MLK Jr.'s dream, and to even rolling back the parts of the dream that the USA has been able to fulfill.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How to Use Google Street View to Measure Inequality

This is a neat project / recently published paper from a former professor of mine at the Harvard Kennedy School, transformed into an infographic. The project used online images and crowdsourcing to map urban perception and measure the contrasts of a number of cities, with very interesting results. The infographic below gives the highlights - enjoy!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Congressional IT Dept. Endorses Software That It's Dumb Laws Make Illegal

The wonderful VLC - made illegal by Congress, but
recommended by Congress's IT department.

On a few different occasions, this blog has pointed out how stupid US copyright laws are, on several fronts:
Well, we can add one more story to show just how far the letter of the law and the spirit of the law have diverged in this country when it comes to copyright in this country - this time, courtesy of Congress itself.

A little background, for those of you new to thinking about copyright laws in the USA, courtesy of Project Disco:
The DMCA bans distributing tools that circumvent copyright holders’ “digital rights management” usage restrictions. And not even 13 years ago, two federal courts held it illegal not just to post an evolutionary ancestor of VLC’s DVD-playback code, but even to link to sites offering that software for download.
The software in question was a Linux package called DeCSS that brought DVD playback to that operating system when commercial DVD licensees had ignored it. Movie studios focused on the fact that DeCSS had to break DVD encryption to do this job and sought to scrub it from the Web.
(Often-ignored fact: Manufacturers and movie studios brought DVD players and movies to the US. market in March 1997, months before the DMCA was even introduced in Congress.)
When a group of them took the publishers of the hacker quarterly 2600 to court for this offense, they won. In August of 2000, District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan prohibited 2600′s editors from “knowingly linking […] to any other web site containing DeCSS, or knowingly maintaining any such link, for the purpose of disseminating DeCSS.” A year later, a panel of circuit-court judges upheld the ruling.
That was a breathtakingly foolish decision–as I wrote at the time, the ruling didn’t stop 2600 from posting non-linked Web addresses, nor did it prevent posting the source code of DeCSS in a variety of forms.
Nobody should have been surprised to see the Internet route around this censorship–DeCSS never went offline, nor did the successor code libdvdcss that helps VLC do its job.
And it didn’t take too many years for the media to ignore the ruling and start linking to VLC and other unlicensed DVD-playback programs in stories, even though the same arguments that went against DeCSS could be aimed at VLC.
VLC, as I'm sure many of you know, is perhaps the best media player in the world - it is free, open-source, and will play pretty much any file or disc you throw at it - and, as described above, the way that it plays DVDs is by decrypting the DVDs in such a way as to likely violate the DMCA.

So, according to the letter of the laws passed by Congress, VLC is an illegal piece of software.

However, the Congressional IT department explicitly recommends that Congressional websites link to VLC to ensure that everyone can watch any videos posted on the website with ease (see this .pdf, p. 153) - VLC, a piece of software that is almost certainly made illegal by the DMCA.

Even Congress, who passes the USA's copyright laws, can't abide by the letter of the laws, since the laws are so dumb. If Congress can't follow them, how can they expect us to?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

New NSA Leak Confirms NSA Knows All You Do Online; Here's How to Stop Them

In rather depressing news (not that it should surprise anyone, however), it does indeed appear that Edward Snowden wasn't lying when he said that just about any lowly NSA analyst can find out literally everything that pretty much anyone does online (warning to those who work in the military-industrial complex: clicking on that link [or indeed, probably reading the below] will technically turn your computer into a machine covered by Top Secret clearance protocols):
A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its "widest-reaching" system for developing intelligence from the internet.
The latest revelations will add to the intense public and congressional debate around the extent of NSA surveillance programs. They come as senior intelligence officials testify to the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday, releasing classified documents in response to the Guardian's earlier stories on bulk collection of phone records and Fisa surveillance court oversight.
The files shed light on one of Snowden's most controversial statements, made in his first video interview published by the Guardian on June 10.
"I, sitting at my desk," said Snowden, could "wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email".
US officials vehemently denied this specific claim. Mike Rogers, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee, said of Snowden's assertion: "He's lying. It's impossible for him to do what he was saying he could do."
But training materials for XKeyscore detail how analysts can use it and other systems to mine enormous agency databases by filling in a simple on-screen form giving only a broad justification for the search. The request is not reviewed by a court or any NSA personnel before it is processed.
If you want to check out the original training slides, you can read them here - scary stuff, though again, and unfortunately, I'm not particularly surprised.

So, it turns out once again that the government was lying to us, while Snowden was telling the truth. Surprise, surprise.

Obviously, this is terrible news. As has been repeatedly pointed out by courts and privacy advocates, the right to privacy is a fundamental right that should be enjoyed by all, and the government should have to prove probable cause and obtain a warrant in order to be able to violate the privacy rights of an individual, whether a US citizen or not.

The NSA is apparently wiping their collective asses with the right to privacy by attempting to suck up all internet data about everyone all the time.

Here's how you can protect yourself from the prying eyes of the NSA.

Disclaimer: This is not easy or cheap. I do not and am not going to bother to go through these steps to protect my own privacy from the NSA, as the inconvenience of doing so would simply be too great, considering that I am doing nothing that I can possibly imagine would make me even a remotely interesting target to the NSA (with the possible exception of writing this article, I suppose). However, since I value the right to privacy, I will vote for any politician who promises to reign in the NSA's abuses, and I will vote to reelect any politician who follows through on reigning in the NSA's abuses. Furthermore, I believe that anyone who wants to should have the right (and knowledge) of how to escape the prying eyes of the NSA, if they want to embrace the burden of undertaking this difficult task.

0. The easiest way to keep away from the NSA's prying eyes is to simply go off the grid - no internet, email, Facebook, or anything of the kind. You will only communicate through the U.S. postal system. However, since the U.S. post office photographs the outside of every piece of mail and logs it for law enforcement purposes, you'll have to invest in non-see-through envelopes, you can never write return addresses on your letters, and (preferably) you'll drop all your letters into random post office boxes around your city/town (or, even better, in nearby cities and towns you don't live in). Of course, everyone you correspond with will have to do the same, and there's no way to confirm that the person received your letter. But this, in theory, should keep the NSA out of your affairs, and in theory, the government should require a warrant to read the contents of your correspondence.

1. However, we are going to assume that you want to continue to use the Internet in some fashion or another. Nevertheless, in order to do this, you have to go somewhat off the grid. The first thing you'll have to do is close all of your banking, credit card, and other accounts (or if you HAVE to have a bank account to receive your paycheck, pay some bills that don't accept cash payments, etc., then you can keep one checking account) and put your money in cash. You are now going to be a cash-only (well, not quite, but we'll get to that in a minute) person. (Strictly speaking, this step isn't necessary to protect your Internet activities from the NSA, but you should assume that the NSA has access to every single transaction you make in any financial account you have.)

2. With your new wad of cash, go buy a new computer (either a laptop or tablet, but I'd recommend a laptop, as they're more versatile than a tablet). You are ONLY going to use this computer for Internet activities you want to keep secret from the NSA. NEVER USE THIS COMPUTER FOR ANY OTHER ACTIVITY EVER - ONLY FOR THOSE ACTIVITIES YOU WANT TO KEEP PRIVATE FROM THE NSA. And, obviously, never do anything on this computer that might be personally identifiable.

3. Take your new computer to a public place with free wi-fi - a cafe, hotel, etc. Download the Tor Browser Bundle. Disconnect from the wi-fi. Install the Tor browser bundle.

3.5 [Post-publishing addition]: The TOR Project just announced a vulnerability in older versions of the Tor Browser Bundle for Windows that apparently is currently being exploited by the NSA to identify TOR users. As best I understand, even IF you had been using a vulnerable version of the Tor Browser Bundle, you still would have been safe, IF you had followed my entire guide to the letter. However, just to be ridiculously cautious, it would be best for you to build your own Linux Live CD / USB with Tor and OpenVPN preinstalled (if you're tech savvy enough to follow the rest of this guide, you're tech savvy enough to build your own Linux Live CD - there are a bunch of tools out there that let you do it with just a few clicks) - that way, you'll be using only Linux on this computer, and nothing that you do will be saved from one use of the computer to the next.

4. Go to a DIFFERENT public place with free wi-fi. Fire up the Tor Browser Bundle (in case you didn't realize, you'll be doing ALL of your interneting through the Tor Browser Bundle). Read up on how to deal with Bitcoins - you'll be paying for all of your online activities you want to hide from the NSA with bitcoins. After you have a comprehensive understanding of bitcoins, go to https://localbitcoins.com/ and arrange to buy some bitcoins with your wad of cash. I'd buy a few hundred dollars worth - bitcoin value is still quite volatile, so you don't want to buy too many extra at once.

5. Go to a THIRD public place with free wi-fi. Fire up the Tor Browser Bundle and go to AirVPN.org - it's a Europe-based VPN service with complete emphasis on privacy. Sign up for a year's worth of VPN service with bitcoins, and read up on how to use VPN with TOR (https://airvpn.org/tor/).

6. Go to a FOURTH public place with free wi-fi. Fire up the Tor Browser Bundle with VPN over TOR. You can now do what you want online while being relatively secure that the NSA cannot associate your online activities with you personally. Keep in mind that, while doing this, you should not engage in any activity that is associated with your real name, address, email address, social security number, or anything else that might be personally identifying. You should sign up for a new anonymous email address (https://www.hushmail.com/ is a good choice) if you want to do email and only use it with VPN over TOR on this computer and never use it at any other time or on any other computer.

7. Now the truly hard part begins - anyone else you want to communicate with online has to go through all the same steps above. You can never mention each others' real names in any communications. To exchange your anonymous email addresses, you should use semi-anonymous letters as described in Step 0.

8. There are a few other tools that will help you communicate with others online (as long as they've gone through all the steps above as well) - you can use an extension called Off The Record ("OTR") to encrypt your chats. There are also ways to try to make video or voice calls securely, but honestly, the performance of your VPN over TOR internet connection will probably be too poor to allow for such things.

There are without a doubt a few downsides to keeping your Internet activities private:
  1. It is expensive.
  2. It is ridiculously inconvenient.
  3. You'll have to stop many of your current internet activities (e.g., regular emailing, Facebook, anything associated with any personal information, etc.).
  4. This system is only as secure as the weakest link in the chain, which is probably the other person you're trying to communicate with securely - they have to follow all of the above rules too.
  5. The NSA will still be keeping your data, potentially for a long time, since it will be encrypted. However, it will be doubly (and perhaps triply, if you're using encrypted email or chat) encrypted, making it very hard for the NSA to crack. And even if they do crack it, there shouldn't be any personally identifiable information for them to crack. Furthermore, you'll be hiding all important metadata from them as well.
As I said at the outset, jumping through all these hoops just isn't worth it for me to keep my internet habits out of the hands of the NSA - instead, I'll support politicians who promise to stop the NSA's blatant, unconstitutional abuses.

However, if you value your privacy so highly that you are willing to go to great lengths to protect it from everyone, including the NSA, I figured you should at least know how to do it, since I think you have a right to your privacy.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Arrested Development Season 4 Was Terrible; Here's How to Fix It

That's right - your big comeback season was bad, and you should feed bad.

I don't often comment on popular culture here on this blog - for one thing, there's not much popular culture that interests me, and what little pop culture I consume I don't take seriously enough to think and blog about. But, today, I'll make an exception.

Many, many people (including me) were looking forward to the return of Arrested Development - it was an excellent and funny show, cancelled during its prime. After a multi-year hiatus, Netflix picked it up to develop a 4th season as an original production - hooray!

The only problem - the 4th season is terrible: "Essentially they've taken a typical Arrested episode, blown it up, and dissected it into fifteen parts. Thus all the swiftness and brisk efficiency has been sapped, each overly long episode struggling to get through a lot of plot in order to justify its existence as a standalone entity." Oh, and let's not forget repetitive - good God, the episodes get so repetitive. Think Pulp Fiction, but done really, REALLY badly.

Ouch. But that's not the worst of it - according to some critics, it's Jar Jar Binks terrible. Now THAT is harsh.

Fortunately, there's a way to fix most of the 4th season - namely, by chopping up all of the disjointed episodes into individual scenes and editing all the scenes back together in chronological order. The result is a much better, funnier 4th season that much better showcases how the characters interact with each other, that doesn't leave you wondering why something happened for 10 episodes (seriously, in the original edit, things that happened in the first and second episode weren't explained until the last two episodes), and that is generally possible to understand.

Even more fortunately, someone has already done this for you - Reddit user morphinapg took all 15 4th season episodes, hacked them up, and rearranged the pieces into 12 chronological episodes that are FAR better than the original 15.

Undoubtedly due to copyright reasons, the only place to watch this chronological edit of season 4 is via a certain Bay of Pirates - link here. Obviously, I wouldn't suggest clicking on that link at work; otherwise, you'll have some explaining to do to your IT department. Furthermore, since the only way to get them is via public torrent, there's a small chance that you yourself might get a nasty letter from your ISP for downloading them - but if you're following my advice to protect your internet habits from the prying eyes of your ISP and (somewhat) from the NSA, you shouldn't have anything to worry about. You're protecting your online privacy as a matter of habit anyway, right?

"But, Angry Bureaucrat, aren't you advocating piracy?" Well, the law might say so, but no, I don't think so. I have a Netflix account, so I have unlimited access to watch the original (terrible) season 4 - since I'm already paying for the original, why shouldn't I have the right to watch the remix as well? US copyright law is ridiculous - if it is considered infringement for someone with a paid Netflix account to watch this remixed season 4, that's just another example of US copyright law being extremely outdated, to the point of being pointless and useless.

(I'll note that if you don't have a Netflix account, you can sign up for a 1 month free trial, and then watch the chronological edit of season 4 guilt-free, as far as I'm concerned.)

If you're so inclined, I supposed I'd recommend watching the original season 4 first, so you see it how the director intended first (and so that you can appreciate how much better the remix is from the original).

But if you're only going to watch season 4 once, watch the chronological edit - trust me, you'll thank me for the tip.