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Saturday, August 10, 2013

IRS official who oversaw Cincinnati exempt operations office during scandal gets promotion

The IRS official in charge of the exempt organizations office in the Cincinnati branch at the time conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status were unfairly targeted just got a promotion.

Cindy Thomas has been appointed to the senior technical adviser team for the Director of Exempt Organizations.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

E.B. White's Letter on Why He Wrote Charlotte's Web

I was thinking about Charlotte's Web yesterday - my eldest grandson (Skylor, who's 14) volunteers, through the auspices of 4-H, to care for farm animals at Frying Pan Park in Fairfax County, Virginia.  He was responsible for showing one of the pigs there (the pig's name is Spot) at the Fairfax County Fair this past weekend, and we were discussing that process.

So here's a letter from E.B. White to his editor on why he wrote the book.  An excerpt:
A farm is a peculiar problem for a man who likes animals, because the fate of most livestock is that they are murdered by their benefactors. The creatures may live serenely but they end violently, and the odor of doom hangs about them always. I have kept several pigs, starting them in spring as weanlings and carrying trays to them all through summer and fall. The relationship bothered me. Day by day I became better acquainted with my pig, and he with me, and the fact that the whole adventure pointed toward an eventual piece of double-dealing on my part lent an eerie quality to the thing. I do not like to betray a person or a creature, and I tend to agree with Mr. E.M. Forster that in these times the duty of a man, above all else, is to be reliable. It used to be clear to me, slopping a pig, that as far as the pig was concerned I could not be counted on, and this, as I say, troubled me. Anyway, the theme of "Charlotte's Web" is that a pig shall be saved, and I have an idea that somewhere deep inside me there was a wish to that effect.

I'm a guy again! ABC newsman who switched genders wants to switch back

ABC News editor Don Ennis strolled into the newsroom in May wearing a little black dress and an auburn wig and announced he was transgender and splitting from his wife. He wanted to be called Dawn.

But now he says he suffered from a two-day bout of amnesia that has made him realize he wants to live his life again as Don.

“I accused my wife of playing some kind of cruel joke, dressing me up in a wig and bra and making fake ID’s with the name ‘Dawn’ on it. Seriously,” Ennis wrote in an e-mail to friends and colleagues Friday, explaining his shock after he woke up from what he called a “transient global amnesia” last month.

“It became obvious this was not the case once I took off the bra — and discovered two reasons I was wearing one,” he said, referring to his hormone-induced breasts.

“I thought it was 1999 . . . and I was sure as hell that I was a man,” Ennis said in the e-mail titled “Not Reportable, Very Confirmed.”

“Fortunately, my memories of the last 14 years have since returned. But what did not return was my identity as Dawn,” said Ennis, who had been wearing lipstick, skirts and heels.

“I’m asking all of you who accepted me as a transgender to now understand: I was misdiagnosed.

Tuesday links

How to Navigate by the Stars.

Real-life Sharknado: 5 actual instances of animal tornadoes, including Gatornado.

Zambian teachers say they live in fear of 'invisible sex' with witches.

10 Textbook Blunders.

Here's the winner of Michigan's Goose Calling Contest.

Straitjacket and Other Control Toys for Badly Behaved Children.

Straitjacket and Other Control Toys for Badly Behaved Children

More information and links at Neatorama.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Game of Thrones Balloon Sculpture

via Neatorama.

4-year-old mayor re-elected in Minnesota

DORSET, MINN. — Robert "Bobby" Tufts hasn't made it to preschool yet, but he's already been elected twice as mayor of a tiny tourist town in northern Minnesota.

Mayor Tufts' name was picked Sunday during annual Taste of Dorset festival to be mayor of Dorset for a second term. It has no formal city government and has a population of 22 to 28, depending on whether the minister and his family are in town.

Anyone could vote as many times as they like — for $1 a vote — at any of the ballot boxes in stores around town. The proceeds go toward organizing the festival.
Read more here:

The Snacking Dead: A Walking Dead Parody Cookbook

Mmmm - Guac and Load Guacamole. It won't be out until October, but you can pre-order at Amazon.

Supercut: Dozens of Sci-Fi Movies Edited Together Into the Most Epic Trailer Ever

Clips from over 50 sci-fi movies - good, bad and in-between - made into a trailer for Eterna, an apocalyptic movie that doesn't exist.  Watch full screen.

Must Read: DEA (and other law enforcement) using NSA database for drug busts

Read the whole thing!  (Reuters) - A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin - not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.

The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to "recreate" the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant's Constitutional right to a fair trial. If defendants don't know how an investigation began, they cannot know to ask to review potential sources of exculpatory evidence - information that could reveal entrapment, mistakes or biased witnesses.

"I have never heard of anything like this at all," said Nancy Gertner, a Harvard Law School professor who served as a federal judge from 1994 to 2011. Gertner and other legal experts said the program sounds more troubling than recent disclosures that the National Security Agency has been collecting domestic phone records. The NSA effort is geared toward stopping terrorists; the DEA program targets common criminals, primarily drug dealers.

It works like this: 

A former federal agent in the northeastern United States who received such tips from SOD (Special Operations Division) described the process. "You'd be told only, ‘Be at a certain truck stop at a certain time and look for a certain vehicle.' And so we'd alert the state police to find an excuse to stop that vehicle, and then have a drug dog search it," the agent said.

After an arrest was made, agents then pretended that their investigation began with the traffic stop, not with the SOD tip, the former agent said. The training document reviewed by Reuters refers to this process as "parallel construction."

Previous post: US federal agencies want NSA data to help nab copyright violators.

State Seizes Two-Year-Old Because Parents Smoked Pot, Child Dies in Foster Care

Via Reason:

Another victim of the war on drugs. From KVUE in Texas:
On Monday night, [Joshua] Hill’s daughter Alexandria, or Alex as they liked to call her, was rushed to a Rockdale hospital with severe head injuries, then flown to Scott and White Children’s Emergency Hospital in Temple and immediately placed on life support. 
Alex was living with foster parents after DFPS removed her from her parent's home last November for "neglectful supervision." 
Hill admits they were smoking pot when their daughter was asleep. 
“We never hurt our daughter. She was never sick, she was never in the hospital, and she never had any issues until she went into state care.”
Alex spent time at two foster homes. Her parents noticed bruises on her body and mold in her bag when they saw her while she was at the first home. Her father says he told Child Protective Services they’d have to put him in jail because he didn’t want to return her to the foster home, and in January she was placed in a second home. Alex is now dead, and the foster mother was arrested after her description of what happened to Alex didn’t match the injuries Alex sustained. The mother admitted to slamming the two-year-old girl’s head and is charged with murder.

Statistics on child abuse in foster care are, perhaps unsurprisingly, hard to come by, but children in foster care may be up to 10 times more likely to die than children in the care of their own parents; one estimate places the number of children who die in foster care in the US every year at about 1540.

City of Concord (NH) Confuses Concerned Residents with Domestic Terrorists

A city that has had two homicides in the past decade needs an armored vehicle to protect itself against weapons of mass destruction, as well as chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosive attacks, according to City Manager Thomas Aspell. In an application for Department of Homeland Security federal funding of a $258,024 BEARCAT tank (photo below), Aspell named three New Hampshire groups as presenting “active and daily challenges”: Occupy New Hampshire, Free Staters, and Sovereign Citizens. This information was only uncovered after a public records request from the ACLU, which has been focusing on the trend of the militarization of police forces in peaceful, small-town communities.

“These claims are appalling and inaccurate,” said Free State Project president Carla Gericke. “The Free State Project is a NH-based non-profit organization with the sole mission of attracting 20,000 pro-freedom people to the Granite State. In the decade of the FSP’s existence, to my knowledge, no participant has ever been implicated in a violent crime. In fact, Free Staters subscribe to the non-aggression principle, believing no one, including the state, should aggress against peaceful people.”

In March 2013, the ACLU, concerned about the extent to which local police departments are using federally-subsidized military technology and tactics that are traditionally used overseas, launched a national program called “Towns Don’t Need Tanks: The Militarization of Policing in America.” According to NBC News, “The Department of Homeland Security now hands out more than $3 billion a year in grants to boost anti-terrorism tools around the country. The Lenco BearCat — which starts at about $190,000 and can top $300,000 with options — can easily qualify as a necessary tool under several different grant programs.”

US federal agencies want NSA data to help nab copyright violators

The primary defense of the necessity of the US National Security Agency’s broad spying powers—including, apparently, recording pretty much everything anyone anywhere is doing on the internet—is that its activities are necessary to protect against terrorists and violent criminals. But a report published Saturday in the New York Times indicates that federal agencies with far more mundane mandates are unable to resist the lure of the NSA’s vast trove of data.
via @PaulHsieh.

Real-life Sharknado: 5 actual instances of animal tornadoes, including Gatornado

The antics in Sharknado, which involve tornadoes filled with man-eating sharks, might seem beyond ridiculous. (And well, for the most part, they are.) But the film's central premise — that a tornado could pluck creatures from the sea and deposit them on land — actually has some scientific merit.

In fact, there are numerous accounts throughout history of animals raining from the sky, most likely the result of getting sucked up by a tornado. Although no shark tornadoes have ever been reported, tornadoes and waterspouts have been known to lift animals like fish, frogs and even alligators and drop them ashore, often still alive and kicking.

Mother Nature Network has information, links and examples of fish, frogs, jelly fish, worms and even alligators raining down from the sky:
This story might be the closest thing to a real-life sharknado. According to a report from 1887 in the New York Times: "Dr. J. L. Smith, of Silverton Township, while opening up a new turpentine farm, noticed something fall to the ground and commence to crawl toward the tent where he was sitting. On examining the object he found it to be an alligator." 
Smith went on to find himself surrounded by eight alligators in total, which had apparently been dropped from the sky by a distant waterspout. If his account is to be believed, then this was history's first and only documented case of a genuine, no joke, gatornado.