Zero Fail by Carol Leonnig

Amazon link: Zero Fail

I found this a compelling book that details serious mistakes in Secret Service management and culture. In many ways the failures of described are human failures of the “I haven’t had a day off in weeks, why not go out to the bar? Why not bring a person I’m attracted to back to my hotel room?” It’s a compelling rationale, if you skip the details like “Need to be on duty tomorrow” or “My hotel room has sensitive information that would be really really useful for any wannabe assassins.”

Details matter.

The book reminded me of software teams I have known, and not just in the “We work hard and you can’t tell us how to change.” Like in tech, doing your job as an agent well doesn’t mean you’ll be a good manager. 

We are shown early in the book that consequences happen – if your misdeeds make the news. Everyone else gets a free pass. And, like many cultures, reformers are fighting both inertia AND specific sabotage from within. There aren’t easy answers, but it’s a good look at a problem culture with some amazing stories.

I confess – I laughed

I live in Seattle, which means The Stranger is a local institution. From The Stranger‘s “regrets” of the previous year — a mishmash of errors they made and regret, errors and non-errors they don’t regret, and various other sarcastic local commentary — comes this sarcastic and possibly blasphemous gem:

Jesus Christ, our Lord and savior, regrets that former Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll was such a fucking pussy that he couldn’t even keep his church from falling to shit this year. What kind of man can’t hold down a job?

This is blasphemous in that Jesus himself didn’t necessarily hold down a job. “Itinerant preacher” doesn’t usually come with a boss, paycheck, or a W2. The Jesus that welcomed women would probably not use “pussy” as a putdown. But the god that Mark Driscoll preached definitely would use that slam, and would definitely be contemptuous of a preacher getting kicked out of the church he cofounded and ran.

So yeah. I laughed.


Buy Nothing Day

I am not a huge fan of Buy Nothing Day.  Not because I feel it’s important to shop today.  But because the campaign presupposes that everyone in the US who doesn’t subscribe to the “Buy Nothing Day” ideal WILL be buying things on Friday.


Some of us don’t have Friday off work.

Some of us don’t celebrate a gift-giving holiday soon.

Some of us have already finished our holiday shopping.

Some of us don’t give a lot of a gifts.

Some of us don’t have the money.

Some of us don’t like crowds.

Some of us … shock, gasp … just don’t really care.  

I’ve also seen tweets pointing out that not buying things on Friday will harm retail workers.  Maybe it will, maybe it won’t.  Still, I’m (probably) going to work a 10-hour day instead of buying things I don’t want or need.

Music Monday

I first heard this song in the spring of 2000, shortly after the police who shot Amadou Diallo were acquitted. I heard an audience recording and read a transcript of the lyrics (Springsteen fandom tends to share such things) and then I heard it live in New York.  Fans called it “41 Shots” or “the Diallo song”; its official title is “American Skin (41 Shots)”.

That was 14 years ago; the shooting of Amadou Diallo was 15 years ago.  When I first heard this song, I thought it (and the Diallo shooting & acquittal) was shameful legacy to a time past.  I was sheltered, or possibly in denial.  Now, I wish this song was no longer relevant.  But it is.  Still.

41 shots, and we’ll take that ride
‘Cross the bloody river to the other side
41 shots, cut through the night
You’re kneeling over his body in the vestibule
Praying for his life

Is it a gun, is it a knife
Is it a wallet, this is your life
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)

41 shots, Lena gets her son ready for school
She says, “On these streets, Charles
You’ve got to understand the rules
If an officer stops you, promise me you’ll always be polite
And that you’ll never ever run away
Promise Mama you’ll keep your hands in sight”

Is it a gun, is it a knife
Is it a wallet, this is your life
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in your American skin

(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)
(41 shots)

Is it a gun, is it a knife
Is it in your heart, is it in your eyes
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)

41 shots, and we’ll take that ride
‘Cross this bloody river to the other side
41 shots, I got my boots caked with this mud
We’re baptized in these waters (baptized in these waters)
And in each other’s blood (and in each other’s blood)

Is it a gun, is it a knife
Is it a wallet, this is your life
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
It ain’t no secret (it ain’t no secret)
No secret my friend
You can get killed just for living in
You can get killed just for living in
You can get killed just for living in your American skin


Food for Thought

From the St Louis Post-Dispatch on the policing in Ferguson, Missouri:

A “best practices” study published in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin two years ago says it’s generally accepted that “crowd violence escalates if people think police offers treat them unfairly.”

Furthermore, the study says, when a crowd perceives that “officers act with justice and legitimacy,” disorder becomes less likely.

Cops are human beings, and human beings get scared. Their first impulse is to gear-up as if they were patrolling outside Baghdad’s Assassin’s Gate. As in foreign policy, the academic types may say that dialogue and soft power are better, but that defies the average’s cop’s attitudes.

What the public generally regards as “riot gear” — helmets, shields, Kevlar vests — is known in police circles as “hard gear.” Here’s what the FBI bulletin says about that:

“Officers must avoid donning their hard gear as a first step. They should remember the lessons learned from the 1960s civil rights movement and Vietnam War protests. Police should not rely solely on their equipment and tools.”

What we’ve seen in Ferguson is skirmish lines of officers in hard gear and videos of tear gas canisters lobbed onto roofs.

Individual officers generally have shown great restraint. But those images are doing incalculable harm, and not just to community relations in Ferguson. The nation and the world have seen horrible images from St. Louis that suggest that race relations here have a long way to go.

They’re not wrong.

(Links and emphasis from the original.)



This isn’t a Christian blog per se, but I loved this so much I want to share it.

From a comment by Ursula L on Rachel Held Evans’ blog:

When I see Christian churches treat women as second class, and QUILTBAG people as second class, the inevitable and obvious conclusion is that Christianity is a discriminatory and immoral religion, and it is immoral to be Christian.

When you speak up, while it doesn’t redeem Christianity in general or all the awful people who promote and believe in discrimination, it does at least make Christianity look not completely morally irredeemable, not a completely unified force of awfulness.

If they’re worried about how divisiveness looks, they should also consider how it looks to be utterly unified in the cause of oppression and discrimination. (Hint. Much worse.)

I am a Christian. Yes, I believe women belong in the leadership as well as men. I also believe that justice requires treating people as people. To quote Fred Clark at Slacktivist, “Evangelical morality is not losing the argument because it is insufficiently “progressive.” Evangelical morality is losing the argument because it is insufficiently moral.”

On Criticism

Criticism of someone’s work is totally fair game, in public or private.


It is also probably obvious that I have no problem with publishing and promoting one’s criticism, if you wish.  Academics are probably familiar with this phenomena .

Criticism of the person is petty. As a debate tactic, when someone starts in on the person I tend to discount their statements. In dealing with people I know, yes, whether it’s “news” or “gossip” depends on one’s point of view.


  • “[Person] assumes that everyone can and should reach normal weight according to BMI, however, the CDC does not consider this a reasonable expectation in their guide for physicians.” — Criticism of the work.
  • “The author is stupid, fat, and blonde.” — Criticism of the person.
  • “Necessary clues to whodunit were known to the viewpoint character but not disclosed to the reader until much later. I felt this wasn’t playing fair.” — Criticism of a mystery novel, aka, the work.
  • “The narrative implies that gay and lesbian people are untrustworthy and suicidal. This is upsetting, and it’s a recurring motif in the author’s work. I am therefore not going to read (or otherwise support) this author’s work.” — Criticism of the work.

Some feel I crossed the line to criticizing the person in this post.  I consider a TED talk to be a performance and thus subject to critique, and that I was very angry at his performed public repentance. Probably some pettiness there, yes!

Parody of a person works best when it is punching up and disclosed.  My favorite twitter parody account, Queen_UK, is (to my mind) cheeky but not mean-spirited — which is a big part of why it’s my favorite.  (I also follow LOLGOP, which is more snarky — but again, punching up and disclosed.)

Harassment of a person (not just criticism) is criminal in many, if not most, jurisdictions. This includes impersonation.  I don’t know why someone would go to this extent; I do know that it is, or should be, illegal.

And if you haven’t already guessed what led to me writing this:

Quotes: Discrimination

I ran away from home. I ran away from St. Louis, and then I ran away from the United States of America, because of that terror of discrimination, that horrible beast which paralyzes one’s very soul and body.
— Josephine Baker

Discrimination isn’t a thunderbolt, it isn’t an abrupt slap in the face. It’s the slow drumbeat of being underappreciated, feeling uncomfortable and encountering roadblocks along the path to success.
Meg Urry

I am often asked why there is discrimination against women in science. And I have given it some thought. With prejudicial attitudes, you can’t really do much. You can point out when people discriminate and ask them not to.
Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard

I’d make a comment at a meeting and nobody would even acknowledge me. Then some man would say the same thing and they’d all nod.
— Charlotte Bunch

What are we having this liberty for? We are having this liberty in order to reform our social system, which is full of inequality, discrimination and other things, which conflict with our fundamental rights.
— B. R. Ambedkar

Back from Norwescon!

As mentioned on Twitter, I was at Norwescon this weekend! One of the most delightful parts was the interview session with special guest Seanan McGuire, who is also Mira Grant.  I don’t have that to share with you, but I do have this from her book tour last fall for her book Parasite (which IS about genetically engineered parasites, and yes, it’s touched on in the video).

Minute 7 – how having a genetically engineered tapeworm could affect weight loss.

Minute 9:45 – could write a very socially-shaming book along the lines of “now that my PCOS doesn’t prevent me from losing weight, you actually think I deserve decent medical care?”

Minute 11:50 – poop transfers & your personal biome

Minute 25 – on bacteria & how antibiotics are overused

Minute 29 – on how drugs are mislegislated and miscontrolled

Minute 39:55 – on morning person encountering a night person

Minute 42 – “Do you honestly think it’s better to be dead than autistic?”

Watch and enjoy ;)

Music Monday: I Made My Bed & I Sleep Like A Baby

This song’s been around for quite a while now, but given the ongoing death threats going around the net it seems a bit timely.

And how in the world
Can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they’d write me a letter
Saying that I better shut up and sing
Or my life will be over.

Yes, that verse was written in response to a death threat.

(I also just love the line “I made my bed & I sleep like a baby.”)

“Not Ready To Make Nice” was written by Natalie MainesMartie MaguireEmily Robison and Dan Wilson.

Labor Day

I created this blog 5 years ago.  Thanks for reading :)

Today is also Labor Day in the US.  I work in a field that is very un-unionized and I know unions aren’t perfect, but I was raised by union members and I support organized labor.  Growing up I didn’t see much like my family in the media — fathers who take steel-toed boots and overalls to work, to wear at work?  Who don’t own a suit?  Then I discovered this song.

Through the mansions of fear, through the mansions of pain
I see my daddy walking through them factory gates in the rain
Factory takes his hearing, factory gives him life
The working, the working, just the working life

— “Factory” by Bruce Springsteen; lyrics are here.

QOTD: USian Healthcare

From currently unemployed teacher Diana Wagman, writing in the LA Times:

Some 700,000 Americans every year declare bankruptcy because of medical bills. The number in Japan? Zero. The number in Germany? Zero.

And the kicker?  It could be worse.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, my new insurance company can’t deny me because I had cancer.   […]  We’re not poor, I don’t want to suggest that we are, but we will have to make some hard choices if I’m not working and we’re paying $1,300 a month to an insurance company.

In my field, I could make more money in the short term, and probably have less stress, if I were to focus on temping (which includes overtime) instead of being a full-time salaried employee (which doesn’t).  But the full-time salaried job at a big company includes affordable access to better-than-average health insurance.  I have asthma & allergies, which means maintenance meds — and allergy shots.  I am also OMG FAT & have a history of depression, which makes me expensive to insure.  So yeah, I’ll do the big company salaried job if they want me.  At least they gave me a signing bonus (which helped make up for the overtime) and stock (which I try not to count on, because I’ve had employer stock become worthless).

Things to Read

Some links I thought worth sharing:

Lara Frater on the word “fat”.

Grief moves at its own pace, despite the “rush to normal” common in our society.

You know how kids will bulk up a little before a growth spurt?  That’s now a strange thing to be studied, not a normal thing.

Swimming laps & self-acceptance.

On the US government, but likely applies to others: Fewer secrets would also be smarter secrets.

Anyone have others to share?

US: Where Your Taxes Go

It’s tax season in the US.  It feels like it’s always tax season, since we’re always debating taxes, but now’s when we’re actually doing our own personal returns.

Last year the White House put up a calculator to show the breakdown of where taxes go in the system.  It’s still up, even if it’s a bit out of date, and I plugged in some numbers.

Tax breakdown from

Screenshot from

Tax policy can be boring and complicated. It also affects society. The US has varied tax rates (and it’s certainly not alone in that) for the federal income tax. It also has a flat payroll tax on wages for Medicare and on the first $110,100 earned for Social Security.

What does this mean in practice?

I have a higher-than-average income from my job and no investment income, so I pay the payroll and income taxes.  OTOH, I live in Washington State, so I don’t have a state income tax.

Wealth Inequality

You may have seen this chart on the actual, perceived, and ideal distributions of wealth in the US.

Graph showing actual, perceived, and ideal distributions of wealth in the US.

Graph showing actual, perceived, and ideal distributions of wealth in the US.

Wealth inequality refers to this unequal distribution of financial assets among US residents.  It’s related to income inequality, but refers to what you keep as opposed to what you get.  Income inequality has also been increasing in the US.  If you’re wondering where the numbers come from or why this is a problem, check out this video:

And, of course, poor people are less likely to be healthy and more likely to be fat.


NY Times Topics: Income Inequality

NY Times: Inequality is Most Extreme in Wealth, not Income

Washington Post: How fighting income inequality became Obama’s driving force

Wikipedia: Economic Inequality

Thompson and Smeeding, Inequality in the Great Recession – The Case of the United States (PDF)

Oxfam: The cost of inequality: how wealth and income extremes hurt us all

Australian income & wealth inequality

BBC: The Wealth Gap – Inequality in Numbers (UK)

Feel free to include more links in the comments.

Five Things Make A Post

1) I am sooo looking forward to tomorrow morning, when Mark Reads will post the second-to-last chapter of Deadline.   Mark Reads reviews books a chapter at a time, progressing through books every other weekday, and it’s been building to this OMG HUGE second-to-last chapter for weeks.  (Need I say “spoilers”?) Some of the books he’s done this with in the past are the Harry Potter books, The HobbitThe Lord of the Rings,  and The Hunger Games.  Deadline is the middle book of the Newsflesh trilogy & Mark’s reading the whole thing, starting with the first chapter of Feed here.

2) I got myself a Fitbit Zip to help me be more consistently active — I use it as a pedometer that does built-in recordkeeping, so I can get a sense of how active I am in general, not just a single day. Since I got it I’ve found myself at work focusing deeply for one to two hours and then getting up to walk and get water or coffee or tea or something.  I’d quit feeling guilty about it because I found that a brief break to walk and stretch lets me focus better afterward.  This article helps me rationalize it more ;)

3) A year ago today I signed my father’s hospice paperwork as his medical power of attorney.  The anniversary was a bit freaky this week.  At the moment I’m at peace with it all, but I know my reactions will likely continue to change.

4) I’ve been posting on fat discrimination at It’s not a subject I want to dive into a lot, so posts are somewhat sporadic.

5) Like Paul Campos, I probably wouldn’t vote for Chris Christie.  But it’s not about his weight.