The Widdershins

Happy Friday the 13th Eve , y’all.  For those with paraskevidekatriaphobia, get back under your beds.  It’s safer there, and you can catch up on all of this over the weekend.  For those of us still up and reading we have a treat – a guest post by our (like The Daily Show)  Senior Russian Contributor, DYB.

I have watched the latest news from Russia, all the while scratching my head.  During the Fabulous Fifties, we were taught to duck and cover our heads while crouching under our school desks whilst the atomic bombs rained down upon us, which is even more of a head-scratcher.  We learned of the Czar, Anastasia, the Revolution, the gulags and so forth, and then Mr. Gorbachov tore down that wall.  Since then, any number of Eastern European nations have emerged from the old Soviet bloc, and I have lost any grasp, tenuous that it may have been.  I am not really capable of assessing the current developments, or even pronouncing the names correctly – just trying saying “Boris Nemtsov” with a Southern accent.  So without further ado, here is D’s most welcomed post:

 On February 27, 2015 Boris Nemtsov was shot in the back four times. He was shot within view of the Kremlin. This may be significant not just for the poetic imagery (Nemtsov was a Deputy Prime Minister of Russia under Yeltsin and was a leading critic of Putin and his policies), but also because one may wonder how the assassins managed to kill a man as famous in Russia as Nemtsov and flee the scene of the crime. There can also be no doubt that Nemtsov, as a leading opposition figure, would be followed by the Russian secret service. There’s also the issue of the security video which shows the killing: except that the actual shooting is obscured by a snow-plow. Unusual not only for the perfect timing of the passing vehicle, but also for the fact that there was no snow on the ground. So how did someone manage to shoot Nemtsov in the back behind a perfectly timed slow-moving vehicle in the most heavily guarded area of Moscow – and disappear?

Boris Nemtsov was a well-known liberal figure in Russian politics. He served in Yeltsin’s government (including as First Deputy Prime Minister, a post Putin would later occupy) and was once introduced to Bill Clinton by Yeltsin as his most likely successor as President of Russia. Gary Kasparov, the chess champion, current opposition leader and Mentsov’s friend and sometimes rival, compared Nemtsov to Clinton in an op-ed he penned for the Wall Street Journal. Nemtsov’s career crashed along with the Russian stock market in the late 1990’s. But he remained in the public eye, taking on Putin’s authoritarian rule, his regime’s corruption and the recent war in Ukraine. At the time of his assassination Nemtsov was in Moscow to lead an anti-war rally in Moscow and said he was about to publish documents proving Russian government’s leading role in the war in the Ukraine. The rally would become mass protests against his murder.

Russian media, at least Putin’s 4 main channels (you can read novelist Gary Shteyngart’s by turns hilarious and horrifying binge-watching of Russian television in this NY Times article: ), didn’t even cover the protests. Instead they showed musical showcases (think Dancing/Singing/Skating/Diving/Etc. With The Stars), movies and TV serials. Putin’s response so far has been of the “well isn’t it terrible” variety. Putin’s minions are blaming the West and maybe other opposition leaders for the death. They claim that either Nemtsov’s liberal colleagues had him killed to create a martyr or Muslims did it or the West is out to make Putin look bad. All scenarios are preposterous, of course, but reason and logic are in short supply. We only know that Putin keeps finding ways to silence his critics. From journalists like Anna Politkovskaya (assassinated), to human rights lawyers like Sergei Magnitsky (beaten to death in jail), former secret service agents Alexander Litvinenko (poisoned by plutonium), businessmen Mikhail Khodorkovsky (imprisoned), musicians Pussy Riot (also imprisoned), and political critics/rivals Alexei Navalny (still imprisoned), and now Nemtsov (assassinated)*, it is fascinating how Putin’s critics find themselves either in jail or dead. Putin has promised to personally oversee investigation into Nemtsov’murder.

The authorities did indeed just manage to arrest some men, claiming confessions have already been given. The men are Chechens, naturally. Well, we will probably never know if these exact men were involved; and most importantly, we are not likely to ever know on whose orders were they acting. But there is reason to fear that Putin’s rule has entered a dangerous new phase: the killing of not just little-known critics (previous victims like Politkovskaya and Magnitsky were not famous), but public assassinations of very well-known leaders. This death is a big threat and few critics of the Kremlin are likely to see it any other way. Going forward it will be interesting to see if the public falls back into indifference and fear of Putin – or if this murder will galvanize the opposition.


(*the list is nowhere near exhaustive.)




“There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” — Madeleine Albright

Good afternoon, Widdershins! I hope you had a wonderful weekend.

As we have no doubt read on Teh Google and all over the Interwebz, yesterday was International Women’s Day. There were a lot of events and discussions to celebrate it, including one in which yours truly was a panelist.

Now, I generally agree that one day, or even one month, of awareness and activism is not nearly enough to elevate women to equal status in the world. However, I do think that a small stone can cause a large ripple…and just because the patriarchy isn’t giving us a lot to work with, doesn’t mean we can’t use it to do the unexpected and awesome, in the true sense of the word.

Today I’d like to showcase one woman who has gone through a singular journey of self-discovery. First she embraced corporate America and bought into its vision of success; then, she rejected it, and created her own reality to express her female awesomeness – and help others express theirs. Her name is Katharine Zaleski.

At first, Ms. Zaleski was one of those women who belong in that “special hell” described by Madeleine Albright. In particular, she cringes when she thinks about the way she used to treat working mothers. She describes several incidents she remembers in particular, one of which I’ll quote:

4. I scheduled last minute meetings at 4:30pm all of the time. It didn’t dawn on me that parents might need to pick up their kids at daycare. I was obsessed with the idea of showing my commitment to the job by staying in the office “late” even though I wouldn’t start working until 10:30 am while parents would come in at 8:30 am.

What changed her mind? As you might suspect, she continued to avoid the “dawn” until she had a child of her own – a daughter – and realized just how high that corporate ladder had suddenly become.

I read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, thinking it would motivate me. It only depressed me more. To me, the message was clear: put up with the choices made by a male-dominated work culture if you want to succeed. I reread Anne Marie Slaughter’s piece on “Why Women Can’t Have It All.” It just painted another reality that I had contributed to until it became my own problem.

Read the rest of this entry »


Posted on: March 7, 2015

Fifty years ago — March 7th, 1965 — Bloody Sunday!

As gruesome as it was, has the learning faded?

Hope your weekend will be a good one Widdershin friends. I’m still under the weather and not 100% — and true to my exhausting prolix nature, I’m only about 37.632%. Most of the weekend’s stories come from the compilers of weird news and to them I say thank you.

Before I begin, does anyone else think they must be playing that self-satisfied mumbling Matthew McConaughey car commercial on a loop in the interrogation rooms of Gitmo? What is he saying? And why would it make me or anyone else want to buy a luxury SUV for those dangerous four-wheeling excursions in the parking lots of suburban malls? I say have old Matthew “herbed up” like the McCormick aisle in the grocery store and I would gladly listen, but mumbling existentialism from stale Hallmark cards? Really!

I admit it — being sick makes me surly.

Do not pass go, but collect $2.0 MillionKY Jailer

Kentucky loves a big lot of elected offices. The 1890 Constitution provides for an army of elected officials. One such office is each county has its own jailer, but Kentucky enjoys 120 counties. It was easier to create another county than to blacktop a cow path around the mountains.

Today, in 41 counties there are jailers who are without jails since the jails have been closed or consolidated into regional facilities. Guess what? Those jailers are still receiving their salaries and hiring assistant jailers who have no one to jail — instead of no room at the inn, there is no pen or something like that. This largesse costs the taxpayers at least $2.0 million a year. The jailers and their assistants, one jailer has 11 part-timers on the payroll, are grateful. Paying Monopoly is as close as they come to a jail.

There ought to be an App

AirpnpUndoubtedly you have heard about or maybe even used Airbnb — the app for private lodging by homeowners. Using the same idea, entrepreneur Travis Laurendine created “Airpnp” — yes, an app to connect people to bathrooms, ergo “pnp“. Prices vary from free to $20. Amenities also vary from a sweet-smelling room stocked with reading material to a barely maintained toilet with no lavatory and a few more flies than the great plague. While Laurendine thinks New York will be a promising market, his two best cities so far are New Orleans and Antwerp, Belgium. Go figure.

What would Miss Manners say?

A generous resident of South Oakland, Pennsylvania, in the seasonal spirit of Christmas, invited a pregnant, homeless woman home with her for a hot shower, a change of clothes, and a warm bed for the night. This generous homeowner had met this down-on-her-luck woman at the Rite Aid.

Everything went swimmingly until it didn’t and the police had to be called. It seems as though the pregnant homeless guest had engaged in a series of sexual acts with the do-gooder’s pit bull. The pit bull lovin’ guest was insulted by the interruption and proceeded to vandalize the home before the police escorted her away. What would you give to see Miss Manners’ face when she got this question — “my guest has become romantically involved with my pit bull, how do I ask them to put their relationship on hold for the holidays?”

Munchie Farming

The Territorial Seed Co. of Cottage Grove, Oregon, introduced a plant last year that sprouts both tomatoes and potatoes. It is aptly named “Ketchup ’n’ Fries”. Grafting is used rather than genetic modification — you wouldn’t want the plant to be too weird. The Territorial Seed elves graft the tomato plants onto potato plants. This process produces single plants capable of harvests of 500 red cherry tomatoes and 4.5 pounds of potatoes each. No word yet on whether or not these noshables will be sold at herb dispensaries.

Named for SuccessNutella

A French couple had their dreams smashed by the long arm of the judiciary when the name they had chosen for their sweet baby daughter was unceremoniously nixed. The couple had wanted to name their beautiful daughter after the delicious hazelnut spread, but the judge thought the name “Nutella” was nutty and not in the best interest of the baby.

This article is quite exhaustive on child naming conventions around the world if you are interested. I will mention a few of the highlights.

In New Zealand, you can name your child “Number 16 Bus Shelter,” but not “Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb11116,” “Bishop,” or “Mafia No Fear.” (That sentence just blew up spell check.)

Sweden has blocked the names “Metallica,” “Superman,” “Veranda,” “Elvis,” and this one, I don’t understand at all — they have blocked calling your spawn, “Ikea” — go figure.

Then you have New Jersey where your average infamous white supremacist couple named their children, “JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell,” “Adolf Hitler Campbell,” and “Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie Campbell.” The names had nothing to do with the fact the New Jersey Family Services ended up taking the children after other forms of abuse where reported.

And in Tennessee a judge was fired after changing a baby’s first name from Messiah to Martin since “labeling this child ‘Messiah’ places an undue burden on him that as a human being, he cannot fulfill.” The judge is out of a job and there’s no word yet on how Messiah is filling the sandals of his namesake.

Police Blotter

Timothy DeFoggi, 56, was sentenced in January to 25 years in prison on computer child pornography charges. Before his conviction, he was acting director for cyber security at the Department of Health and Human Services. I bet he wasn’t good at his job.

There was a fire in Innisfil, Ontario. No one was killed since the fire was at the Innisvale Cemetery and Crematorium. Firefighters rescued the 15 who were waiting in line for the crematorium. When asked for comment, none of them said anything.

Hold the Salamander

salamanderOfficials in Shenzhen, China raided a banquet. The feast was illegal under China law since the guest of honor and main course was an endangered six-foot-long giant salamander. Consuming the salamander is supposed to “improve the skin and fortify the heart”. The total cost of the meal was $865, not including drinks and the prep of the dear departed guest of honor. Those attending this salamander soiree: none other than Shenzhen police officers. If you are wondering, their skin was flawless.

Have a great weekend and take the conversation in any direction you might like.

Good afternoon Widdershins. The “Elderly Testosterone-inhibited Personage of the December Solstice” — a prolixous way of saying, “Old Man Winter” just will not give it up. We are expecting perhaps a foot of snow this evening after four to six inches of rain plus all-time record low temperatures — floods, they are a’comin’ and yesterday was the anniversary of the tornado that completely chewed-up and destroyed our little town. Perhaps if Sen. Jim Inhofe were hog-tied to the newly replaced flagpole in our town square, as the leading Koch-head climate change denier, he might exhibit Jethro Bodine’s acumen for science or at least Jed Clampett’s commonsense.

Yesterday was a big day. Speaker John Boehner decided it was moderately unseemly to put the nation at risk based upon nothing more than a robust loathing of the President. He called up the funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security. Unfortunately, 167 members of his Republican caucus felt no such embarrassment or no such concern for our safety by voting against the matter. It’s just plain hard to overcome a good case of the Obama “hates”. If not for Nancy Pelosi once again riding to the rescue, Boehner would have found himself corseted and astraddle of the railroad tracks.

There was another thing happening in Washington yesterday. Something no one, not a single solitary soul, can recall ever netanyahu shifty eyeshappening before. John Boehner, the same one doing his best Nell Fenwick on the railroad tracks, cheekily welcomed Bibi Netanyahu to the well of the People’s House to challenge the foreign policy of this country.

All I could think about was the Eagles’ song Lyin’ Eyes and its refrain:

You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes
And your smile is a thin disguise.
I thought by now you’d realize there ain’t no way to hide your lyin’ eyes.

As a way to explain yesterday’s breach of protocol and seditious assault on our national sovereignty, I’ll use some of the words of Lyin’ Eyes to elaborate.  That is if you will suffer the not-so-poetic license I’ll employ.

You see, Bibi “just seemed to find out early how to open doors with just a smile.” His invitation to speak before a joint session was conjured between Boehner and Ron Dermer, the new Israeli U.S. Ambassador. Dermer is a graduate of the Frank Luntz Finishing School of Sewer Politics where the proud motto is “the biggest turd always travels the fastest“.

Netanyahu knows that “every form of refuge has it price” since a joint session of Congress was the way to cushion his falling popularity in the upcoming Israeli election, but Bibi knew he was “headed for the cheatin’ side of town”. What Netanyahu needed to convey back home was simple — he has so badly handled the relationship with the Obama Administration, he had to show he could go over the head of Obama and appeal directly to Congress. Trouble is — there are Generals, the Mossad, former officials, other candidates, Cabinet secretaries, and a majority of Israeli voters who lay the blame squarely on Netanyahu’s shoulders and have publicly stated his decision to speak was a mistake.

netanyahu bombBibi “wonders how it ever got this crazy? Did he get tired or did he just get lazy? He’s so far gone he feels just like a fool.” The premise of Netanyahu’s speech is incredibly inane. Inane is too urbane a word — his whole premise is something just short of a Three Stooges retrospective. Here’s Netanyahu’s logic: Although no deal has yet been negotiated, Netanyahu says whatever the deal might be, it must be rejected.

This leaves two prongs on the Lyin’ Eyes decision tree. Prong One is the incredibly asinine Bibi theory that proceeds like this: Iran is run by crazy, suicidal, apocalyptic mullahs who will suddenly awake under economic pressures of greater sanctions and suddenly, afore-noted craziness aside, come to the realization that electricity for the majority of their country is not such a big deal after all.

Prong Two will ring familiar. It is the military, occupation, regime change option. Since Iran starts with an “I” just like Iraq — all we have to do is dust off those plans since they worked so well last time. Just bombing the sites will delay the enrichment program two to three years at the most. The only long-term solution is forcibly ousting the theocratic Irani leadership and replacing them with something more suitable to Netanyahu’s preferences. Maybe Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld could be on the pledge rush committee? What can go wrong? The last time we installed a Shah everyone seemed to think it was a great idea.

Bibi “gets up and pours himself a strong one and stares out at the stars up in the sky. Another night, it’s gonna be a long one. He draws the shade and hangs his head to cry.” Netanyahu’s ability to forecast the future is as audacious as a slug’s pole vaulting ability. In 1992, as a member of the Knesset, Bibi said, “Iran will have an atomic weapon in three to five years.” In a 1995 book, Bibi wrote, “Iran will have an atomic weapon in three to five years.” That was twenty years ago.

Something more Cheney-esque and cogent to this review is Bibi’s strategic analysis in 2002. One year and one day after Cheney and Netanyahu9/11, September 12, 2002, Bibi, occupying an all important pivot position during a Cheney/Rumsfeld congressional circle jerk, declared Saddam Hussein had WMDs and was actively pursuing a nuclear arsenal. Thirteen years later Bibi made no mention of his 2002 Congressional testimony and his rush to war.

My, oh my, you sure know how to arrange things. You set it up so well, so carefully. Ain’t it funny how your new life didn’t change things. You’re still the same old person you used to be.” Yesterday was Netanyahu’s declaration of war. He made it clear he will act alone knowing full well the U.S., as a doting big brother, will come to the rescue.

But here’s the thing — these negotiations are not between the U.S. and Iran. These negotiations are among the P5 + 1 — U.K., France, Russia, China, U.S., plus Germany. Netanyahu didn’t just call Obama an incompetent fool yesterday. He didn’t just call the State Department a bunch of pikers. What he did was to arrogantly call out all the countries participating in these talks. He also offered not one whit of advice on how we negotiate around the five other powers if we go it alone. Forget a coalition. Forget funding. Forget U.N. participation. The Iranian war and occupation will be on our blood and our dime.

Bibi, “you can’t hide your lyin’ eyes”.

If there is shame in all of this and shame had a color, it should be orange. John Boehner wears it so well.

Take the conversation in any direction you might like.

Good Monday, Widdershins! Thanks to the FCC’s finally making a decision, telecom giants won’t be able to control which Internet sites load quickly and which ones load slowly – they will need to remain neutral. (They’ll still be able to charge a ridiculous amount of money for us to use Senator Ted Stephens’ “Series of Tubes” – but that’s beside the point.) And why did this happen? Because of activism – some of which may have included you. If so, well-done!

The chain of events leading to yesterday’s vote began when a federal appeals court in D.C. struck down existing net-neutrality rules in 2014 and the FCC began to consider whether broadband companies should be able to charge websites for better access, among other changes coveted by that industry.

The FCC opened up the debate over these possible changes to the public, and the agency was flooded with millions of public comments being filed — taking the telecommunications outrage record from those who complained about Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction in 2004. The Sunlight Foundation analyzed the comments and found that a majority seemed to support net neutrality.

The Sunlight Foundation’s analysis was scientific enough to determine that about 80% of the comments from the second round, released in October, were form letters submitted by the Koch brothers’ foundation American Commitment. Despite this phishing, the FCC voted the right way on this one.

Surprisingly, President Obama’s affinity with big business in general, he’s also been supportive of net neutrality. He even gave credit where credit was due.

After the commenting period closed, President Obama — who is on the record in support of net neutrality since at least 2007 — weighed in with a pro-net neutrality statement and mentioned that the FCC should listen to what the public was telling them. On Thursday, he tweeted about the FCC’s decision, again calling attention to the activists: “That’s the power of millions making their voices heard.” He also sent a note to Reddit congratulating the efforts of its users: “Earlier today, the FCC voted to protect a free and open internet — the kind of internet that allows entrepreneurs to thrive and debates over duck-sized horses and horse-sized ducks to persist.” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest noted yesterday that the new rules were “in line and consistent with the position that the President had articulated last November.”

What does it mean for you and me? Per CNet, not a heck of a lot will change – it just means that whatever access speed we expect, we will continue to get for all sites. In other words, when we pay for fast access, your sites load quickly. If our corporate Interwebz overlords had had their way, we would have no way of guaranteeing access speed, no matter what we did individually. Each website would have to pay for load speed in tiers…and if the site owners weren’t rich enough to afford the high-speed tier (like many liberal and left-leaning organizations out there), then TS! Any guesses about how quickly this would skew web traffic to larger, corporate-owned outlets…the chilling effect it would have on free speech online? And knowing this, is it any wonder that there was so much pressure from big business to defeat Net Neutrality? Evil bastards.

I think we can all feel good about how this one went, Widdershins. It’s an outcome that Leonard Nimoy, whom we tragically lost to CPD on Friday, would have approved of most heartily. May free speech online continue to live long and prosper.

This is an open thread.

Happy weekend, Widdershins.  It’s time to extract what’s left of our psyche from the primordial goo of the previous week, and chill out.  This weekend, we’ll take chill to a whole new level.

As you may have heard, the District of Columbia has voted to legalize marijuana.  The House of Representatives (basically Jason Chaffitz) begs to differ.  Indeed, Congress does have oversight of the District, but I am personally rather amused that virtually all resistance to D.C.”s plan comes from the far-right wing of the Republican Party.

The Republican Party made its bones on the strenuous assertion of “Washington interference”.  Yessir, there should be more rights given to the individual, and laws should be written to lessen their impact upon ordinary citizens, leaving decisions to be made more so at the local and state levels.  Absolutely, except for the really important stuff, such as women’s health care and marijuana.  Those particular burning issues require scrupulous oversight.  Rep. Chaffitz advised residents of the District that they should move if they were bothered by this.

At any rate, D.C. passed the law, and they plan to go full speed ahead ignoring Congress.  This should be wildly entertaining, and I propose that we give them a playlist of pot-appropriate music.  Some explicitly refer to marijuana, and many are more nuanced.  Anything relevant will be welcomed, as usual.  Roll on, D.C.

This is an otherwise open thread.

(1) Rainy Day Women #12 and #35 – Bob Dylan, 1966

(2) Puff the Magic Dragon – Peter, Paul, and Mary, 1963

(3) One Toke Over the Line – Brewer and Shipley, 1971

(4) Let’s Go Get Stoned – Ray Charles, 1966

(5) Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam – Steppenwolfe. 1968

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