Better than salt money

Work like you were living in the early days of a better nation

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A thousand words

That’s what we say a picture tells. This one does more than that.  It reveals the ugly stain of racism, which like the blood on Macbeth’s hands, cannot come off.  That’s a grim outlook, and one I’d like to think is wrong.  One that, twenty years ago I did think was wrong.  But then I see this picture.

Cop on Stone Mountain

That dude has two weapons.  Some sort of AR-15, and some sort of 9mm pistol.  It’s the pistol I’m looking at, because it’s the weapon he’s threatening people with.

Yes, threatening.  He’s not drawn it, but he’s ready to.  His thumb looks to have cleared the restraint. The guy behind the cop is scared, the cop’s body language is that of someone agitated.  I can’t read the body language of the other cop, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t have a pretty strong focus on this guy.

This guy has put his feet flat, his fingers are around the butt and his index finger is extended; his head is up.  That’s a tell.  He’s braced it which helps draw, and indexed it, so that it will slip to the trigger accurately and he’s put his eyes on target.  He is just short of committing assault with a deadly weapon.  In Florida what he’s doing would justify a “stand your ground” shooting.

The cops “talked him down”.  They had every right to arrest him.  He was posing a menace to public safety (even when one has the right to carry, it doesn’t grant the privilege of using that weapon to threaten: that’s a prerogative we do grant police, and why they need to be held to scrutiny.  Engaging that level of threat leads to escalation, so it needs strong justification).

Then I look back at the past year.  Eric Garner, dead for selling cigarettes. John Crawford, dead for picking up a toy gun in a store.  Mike Brown, dead for… I don’t know, so far as I can tell it’s for mouthing off, and then managing to tear himself away from an abusive cop.  Sam Dubose dead for… driving while black.

The list… is long.  Too long.  It’s more than just the people the cops kill, it’s the way they don’t kill some people, and the ways they abuse others.  The deaths are easy (and the gun deaths easier to list, but the chokeholds, the tasers, the strange frequency people like Sandra Bland end up dead in custody… all of them need to be accounted for), but there are all the other things; the beatings (Rodney King was one of many, the LA Sheriff’s Dept. pays a lot of money for abuse settlements), the framings (Rampart Division of the LAPD ain’t unique).  The petty harassment of Stop and Frisk; well, petty if it only happens once in a while, but when it’s repeated, day after day, month after month, year after; for lifetimes…

I like to think I’m more attuned to it than most.  My second step-father was black, and that caused me to be treated differently on occasion.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I was only ever not-white when in his company (and not always then).  I don’t trust cops, but I don’t expect them to treat me with more than casual disrespect.  I know I am not seen by them as a perp; by default.

I know that, push come to shove, they will treat me more like the asshole on Stone Mountain than they will treat me like Walter Scott.

And that is shameful.

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You need a “guy”

Next week I have to take my bass into the luthier (my “bass guy” 1: lives in reasonable walking distance, and 2: makes guitars, violas, and violins).  While doing some noodling I noticed things weren’t sounding quite right as I got down the neck.

By the time I’d work my way down to 12 (an octave above the open string) it was a bit off.  By the time I got to the bottom (2 octaves up) the E and A were an entire tone sharp, which is a problem.

Because we live in the future I could use my tuning app (which I got to, among other things, suss out the key when playing in a seisún; if I see a C# I know I’m in D, not G, if I see a G# I know it’s A), to see what was going on.

Open strings, dead on.  1st fret, just a couple of cents above dead on.  By 12 frets I’m 2/3rds of they way to being straight up sharp, and by 24 it’s a full tone above.  The E is worst, then the A, D is ok (it never gets past “sharp”) and G is pretty much good all the way down. So I stopped in to ask my “guy” what was going on. I was thinking it might, in a counterintuitive way, be old strings (I’d guess old strings to be slack, and prone to getting flat, the same way that cello strings lose their brilliance as they age).

Nope, even easier, in it’s way.  An electric bass is somewhat odd, in the string family guitar, cello, violin, ukelele, banjo, bouzouki, all have a bridge; a ridge that lifts the strings off the body of the instrument.  The electric bass has one bridge for each string (called a saddle). My saddles are a little out of place; so the ratio from fret to saddle is a bit off.  The open string is in tune, but the stopped string isn’t.

It’s a simple, but non-trivial fix (which is to say I don’t have the tools to do it myself).  So when he gets back from vacation, I’ll haul it to his shop, and he’ll set me up.

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Going Deep

I broke down recently and bought an electric bass.  The guitar and the banjo were plum evading me.  I play (or did) the cello, and the pennywhistle.  Both of those are pretty straightforward.  One note at a time, read the note, put the fingers where the note lives et voila, music.
So I’ve been poking at the basses in the local music store.  Not quite the thing.  Last week we were in, looking to get a guitar for a friend, after we’d been doing some basic work because he expressed interest, and we only had two guitars in the house, so the three of us couldn’t work together.
Across the street we went.  He looked at guitars, and I poked at the basses some more.  A no name job actually felt good.  The action was nice, the tone seemed ok.  So we hooked to an amp, and took it for a spin.  Sounded good.  Felt good.  Was the least expensive bass in the place.
Home it came, with an amp (Vox Pathfinder Bass 10) a strap, a book, a carry case, and a stand.  The stand means I can just pick it up, jack in, turn on and rock out.  Ok, the rocking out is gonna take a while, but bass is my sort of instrument (to my surprise, what with the orchestral musicians quasi-disdain for Bass [there are jokes about every instrument, but Bass and Percussion get a lot more grief than most]).
Oddly, part of what gives me frustration with the guitar is how one (or at least I) need to understand the theory to make it behave, and there is a lot of theory in those six strings. Everytime I thought about tuning methods, capos, alternate fingerings… I was somewhere between lost and overwhelmed.
The bass is no less dependent on theory, in some ways it seems as if might be more so; at least from the reading I’m doing.  The nature of the beast is to provide support and fill for what the rest of the music is doing.  If the guitars are running blues, you need to avoid building a major tone to the sound.
Lord knows the book I’ve got wasn’t helping, mostly (I think, because it assumes one has zero knowledge of music theory.  Telling me that Dorian mode C Maj, from the second, was confusing, infuriating, and mystifying all at once.  When I figured out that he was teaching the static pattern (because the base is [unlike a guitar] possessed of a completely regular progression from one string to the next) it made perfect sense.
So, for all that I want some of the theory (specifically in re chords), I probably have enough musical skill to make being able to play the bass a matter of practice.  Getting better than “not horrible” will take application, and expertise/mastery/getting really good, will take dedication (in this all things are much of a muchness), but it’s not opaque to me, as so much of the guitar still seems to be.
I can do this.

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Everything old is new again

I got a new laptop: the old one is working well enough, but was a bit cranky at times (being left alone seems to make it unhappy, and sometimes it just locks up if left unattended). I also fell in love with Dragon Age, which meant it wasn’t going to be enough. It can run Dragon Age II, after a manner of speaking (when the graphics card gets overloaded I had to close the window to get it to come back) but it won’t even launch DA:I.

I was, however, planning to keep it because my preferred application for working photographs is LightZone, a program which wasn’t able to compete with the behemoth which is PhotoShop.  It was written for XP, but when I got the last machine (running Win7, and bought because I wasn’t going to let them force Win8 on me: this machine was bought because I knew WinX was on the way, and glad I am of it.  Win8 is so annoying I’d rather be running WinME, but I digress) I discovered it was orphaned.  The team had folded up shop.

But it could still be downloaded and was, fundamentally, stable.

This morning, on  whim, I decided to see if it was stable in Win8.  I popped it into Google and lo!, they have released new versions as open source.  So I called my father and gave him the good news.

I like it because it’s built by someone who grew up using  darkroom.  It’s not “intuitive” (I don’t think that’s a useful word for user interaface in the first place, because it implies there is some Platonic Ideal which all users will “just understand”, that’s bullshit, and leads to assumptions of PEBKAC when it’s nothing of the sort), but once one gets the idea (which is that of Adams/White and the zones between black and white), it’s graspable.  If one has internalised that idea (as one must to become good at black and white darkroom printing) it seems intuitive, because it’s familiar (and if you read Ctein’s “Post Exposure” [available for FREE: here: probably until such time as Ctein does a new edition: it’s not as nice as the print edition, but it’s out of print, and this can be read on a tablet], this is the sort of thing he’s talking about).

Gah… that lost the plot.  I like it because it plays with images the way I learned to play with them, back when my fingernails were brown from fixer and smelt vaguely of vinegar from slopping in and out of D76.

So, it looks as if I’ll be trying to find a new home (or new use) for my middle aged laptop.  Happy days.


P.S: the HP envy series have less than stellar keyboards.  The click isn’t positive enough and I find I have to work more to be accurate: as well as pressing harder, so my arms get tired faster.  I hope I get used to it.

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Another of the “Lost Secrets” school of stories:

The “Ulfberht” swords:

Ignoring the guy they have chopping away in the opener (his technique is terrible, no way I’d let him play with any of my swords), there is a lot of blather in this, right down to saying the guy they found to make the sword is, “one of the few people on the planet who has the skills to unravel the mystery of how the Ulfbehrt was made”.  It’s bullshit. Lots of people know how it was made.  They talk to several.

The question isn’t how it was done.  I can tell you the basics.  The question is where it was done, how the steel made it to Scandanavia, why it stopped coming, etc.  That the smith they got to take part is good is obvious, but there are a lot of people who could do what he did: sure, in relation to some 6 billion people on the planet, there are only minuscule number who can do it, probably between 20-100,000.  I have a knife worked by a guy in Ukraine which, were you to give him the same sort of steel, I’ll wager he could work up as well (into a knife, I doubt he has a market for swords, and so hasn’t bothered to learn the specifics).

If you look at the documentary, the things they make such a big deal of: how to make steel, mumbo-jumbo about, “the bones of one’s ancestors, burnt to char and used to turn iron to steel…” is rubbish.  The steel came from elsewhere (perhaps from the same area the swordsmiths of Damascus were getting theirs) and when the supply dried up, the blades stopped being that good.

There is no mystical magical “Steel of Ulfberht”, there is just steel, and it got made into a style of (really solid) sword.

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Imma gonna rant some

And it’s likely to be a bit disjointed.


You may have seen the video of the Danish archer who is purported to have “rediscovered” the “lost art” of combat Archery. It’s hogwash. I think I first saw it back in 2013 (because I am the sort of guy who watches such things). I filed it under, “overblown” and forgot about it. Then, last week sometime, a friend asked about it. I dismissed it as being overly simplistic, and moved on.

Then it started popping up everywhere and I started drafting a rant. Then Elizabeth Bear posted her beefs with it, and so I am spurred to actually put pen to paper.

First… it’ s really reductionist. It’s argued that gunpowder so eclipsed archery that it lay fallow for, “hundreds of years” before being reinvented as a sport, and that the “real combat techniques” were lost. Nope. Archery lost out on the battlefield, but in the first case, not so recently as all that (with people still arguing for its merits in European warfare as little as 250 years ago). In the Americas there was still a martial culture using bows and arrows not much more than 100 years ago.

Second, his technique is inadequate to combat: full stop. I’ve been using weapons all my life. I’ve been playing with bows and arrows for… call it 35 years. I’ve used a fair number of types of bows and (because I am that sort of guy) read up on a lot of techniques. Because (in part) I am also something of a nut for military history (as well as having been a career soldier) I’ve read/studied a lot about the actual application of bows, and how they worked.

He’s fast, and (apparently) pretty accurate, but his arrows won’t do squat in a combat environment. As he demonstrates his technique, they aren’t going to be very good at bringing down game either. Why? He short pulls (look at the video, right around the 0:55 mark, he’s not drawing the bow more than a third of its; short, length.

That’s fine for knocking over a lightweight cutout, and it will damage an unprotected person, but it’s not going to be more than a nuisance against someone wearing armor, even so little as what is dismissively scorned as, “quilted”

He argues that speed is the big deal. He’s wrong. It would be if the archer were in a duel, and had to be able to deal with more than one opponent before those opponents were able to engage in direct offense, but that has never been the way archers were used. Archers have always been used en masse, to either deny parts of the field to the foe, or to harass them before the melee phase of the battle (Crecy, Poitier and Agincourt were outliers).

He conflates things to the point of absurdity: seriously… he’s taking prehistoric images from cave walls, to Egyptian tomb paintings, Japanese woodcuts, Assyrian stele carvings, the Bayeux Tapestry, ancient Greek cartoons, Medieval illumination, coinage, and treats them as 1: dispositive, and 2: all showing pretty much the same thing.

Then he argues the things he does is what they show.†

Which they don’t. If you look at the detailed pictures, the Egyptian Pharoah, the woodcuts, the stele carving, all the archers are taking a full draw. As to the “they put the shaft on the outside of the bow”, there is no way to tell. Some of the images aren’t clear enough to tell what the artists thought the subjects were doing. Which is an important point, those pictures weren’t made by the archers, but by artists. Artists can be ignorant of details. Sometimes they change things because it looks better that way.

But those full draws, which he seems to avoid, can be fast. In my teens I spent a lot of time doing archery (and rifle). I had a 35lb fiberglass recurve. I probably shot about 100 arrows at a time, three-four times a week (and the same for the rifle, air-rifles are really cost effective ways to gain/maintain skills, but I digress). M y targets were bankers boxes, about 50 yards away. I’d guess a practice session took about an hour, to an hour and a half. What I was trying to do was keep the arrows bunched. I wanted to have a forest of shafts, about 18” in dia. I started with about 24 arrows. When enough of them got dinged past being useful I’d go and get some more. So I’d have between 18-36 functional shafts at a time. I used a hip quiver, and the “stick ‘em in the dirt method (referenced in accounts of Poitier, Crecy, and Agincourt)

So I’d shoot through my supply, Feel what caused the outliers. walk up the hill, collect them, and do it again. Three or four times in an an hour, using the inside rest style of shooting.

I was working to establish rhythm.

I’m not sure he could get the accuracy I did either. (the one example of distance he shows is 70m, and he’s able to hit a cubical target, about 1.5 meters wide. It would be adequate for hunting… if he was close, and using some sort of point capable of causing traumatic damage, but for war… nope, not the way he talks about archery as some sort of super tool.

War bows (of all their stripes) were brutes. They had draw weights of 50-100 lbs (the lighter draw were shorter bows, fired from horseback, more on that in a bit). They had that heavy a pull because they needed to do two things… punch through armor, and carry a long way. Arrows are pretty good at punching into things, if they are heavy (E=1/2mv^2) but they need the initial V if they are going to be more than a massive irritant§. Reports from the 16th century were that Turkish archers could punch through the curaisses of the Hapsburg cavalry. Turkish accounts say that archers of foot had to be able to fire arrows to a distance of 500-600 meters.

The declaration of the student’s proficiency was possible only when he could shoot a pishrev arrow to 900 gez (594 m) or an azmayish arrow to 800 gez (528 m). This particular shot must have been witnessed by a minimum of 4 persons, two being at the shooting spot and two at the spot the arrow landed. After then the archer was recorded to the Tekke’s Registration Book and accepted to be proficient. One of these books remains until today.

But Lars (or his amanuensis) doesn’t actually cite his sources (and when he does, it’s problematic, either images (some of which contradict his thesis) or mythical figures having propagandistic dialogues.

Archery, as with all human endeavor is a creation of culture, and need. It has never been (and never will be) homogenous.

Archers shooting from horseback tended to have lighter bows (in the 50 lb range: English longbows had a pull somewhere between 75-110 lbs. Modern hunting bows are in the 45-65 lbs rangeº). They may have been shorter (as with the bows of the Huns, Mongols, Turks) or not (as with the bows of the samurai). What they had in common was horses.

The Roman complained of the Parthians, who wouldn’t stand still and fight but rather harassed the marching columns, riding up; firing at them, riding away, all before the Romans could form up and engage.

He blathers about how his archery is superior to all the “sport” archers with their degenerate methods. He confuses differences of technique with deviation from purity, and he pretends the way he likes to shoot is the one and only TRUE WAY OF THE BOW.

It’s nonsense. Take his, “rediscovered” idea of, “two-handed drawing”. First all archers use two hands to draw the bow. I think what he means is a style of draw where the bow hand and the string separate in a somewhat equal manner. This used to be called, “The English Draw”. It’s how we think the archers at Agincourt did it. It’s also faster when one has arrows one’s arrows stuck in the ground (as reports say the English were fond of doing).

Mongols, and Turkish, archers had a “push” style, where they set the string on their chest, and stretched out the bow hand. This was faster for use on horseback from a hip quiver; it also had the advantage of keeping the body in a more contained position when doing the sorts of twisting, turning, horsemanship those cultures were fond of.

The Samurai were mounted archers before they were famous for swordplay, but they liked to ride in straight lines, across the face of units drawn up to fight. They also had bows which were large for their power (because Japan didn’t have good woods, for self bows, nor the understanding of glues, sinew and horn needed for the compact recurves common to the steppes). They stood in flat stirrups, and pulled the bow back.

And (to go back to his technique) he’s got a light weight on his bow… I’m guessing not more than 40 lbs, and probably more on the order of 30-35. He’s not pulling all the way back, so he’s got a lot less than that (which is how he can catch an arrow… the nonsense about “splitting one on a blade… just that. Arrows are spinning, they will deflect off before they can split.  Writers in the past talked a lot of rubbish, he’s just perpetuating it.). Can a 35 lb bow pierce mail? Yeah… if the mail is cheap, and the point is thin. That’s a bit part of the drive for plate armor… to defeat arrows (and it did. Those flutes in “Maximillian” armor… more than just decoration, projectiles have their best penetration at right angles, be it arrows or the main gun on a tank).

I could go on (a lot) about the technical flaws in his arguments (and others have). What really bothers me is the question of how it came to be that this took off.

Part of it is simple ignorance. Most people have not made a lifetime study of things like this. This video paints a coherent (too coherent) picture of the “forgotten past”, and has a lot of flashy stuff, none of which is more than cursorily explained (really… WTF is the thing with the bow at the table?… The time he spends reaching back to grab the bow [and arrows lying loose behind him, is less than the time it took someone to stab Kit Marlowe in the eye. Yes, one can fire that close, but there is a reason for the weapon known as an “archer’s sword”)

But a lot of it, perhaps most, is the idea that we missing some secret knowledge, that there are mysteries which have been lost (and some have e.g. the close fit of the massive drystone construction of the Mayans, or the amazing durability of Roman concrete) and that we can “rediscover” them. This is really common with weapons.

Which is what really pisses me off about this clip. Not the specifics about archery, it’s the idea that we are so much less smart than the people of the past, and that the past had “ONE BEST WAY”, which has been lost until now.

It’s the problem of, “The Katana is Better” I get a lot of this in my day job, where one of the things I do is sell cutlery. Oh My God. The blather I hear about Japanese steel; and the myths of how special it is, and how one must study for years with a master before one can sharpen a knife made in Japan… because the steel is so special, and the angle is so precise. It ain’t so. Knives are knives, and sharpening is, as any other skill, a question of application, and practice. I’ve been sharpening things for 30+ years. If you want me to sharpen it, I can (and probably have). It’s not because I spent years in a mountain cave fetching ice cold water from a stream to boil for my master’s bath… nope. It’s because I’ve spent a lot of time dragging pieces of metal on rocks.

Movies (and television… Kung Fu, anyone?) make this worse. They take short cuts. Luke goes to visit Yoda, and Boom! in twenty minutes we see him listen to a lot of half-baked aphorisms, and do some soul-searching and off he goes… a Jedi. Except that he isn’t, because he didn’t stay long enough to have The Master, show him all he needed to know. Andersen actually makes reference to this when he compares himself to Legolas, and with all the jumping and bouncing and spinning and stuff.  Thats dramatics.  Archers were in groups.  They didn’t need to do that.  Most of them just couldn’t (because they were inside a large formation).  As someone who has been in the Army… running and jumping and the like is exhausting.  Add the adrenaline of people tying to kill you, and the accuracy needed to avoid getting dead… goes down the drain.

Even films which try to show that it’s about work, and practice, and diligence (e.g. The Karate Kid, with the tedium of muscle memory shown in the Wax On/Wax Off, and Paint The Fence) suffer from the limits of time. So we have the trope of it being about learning The Secret. That’s what Lars Andersen is selling, “the secret”. He’s ignoring history (if archery was all that he says it is in the two videos I’ve seen, why didn’t it displace swords, and pikes, and how is it that the pathetic firearms of the 1450 managed to displace it so quickly?… oh right, it took years to get good enough for it to be a combat weapon of limited utility). Our ancestors weren’t stupid. If Archery was so powerful as to be the ultimate weapon… they’d have given it pride of place on the battlefield.

Why didn’t Europe have horse archers? Because they couldn’t compete with mounted knights. You can’t really wear heavy mail while managing a horse and handling a bow. The guys who were wearing heavy mail (and later plate) would ride up and fetch you a serious knock with a sword, mace, or spear.

A solid shield wall meant that most arrows were nuisance. If there were spears to chuck , life was gonna suck for the people who were having them rain down on them… while guys they couldn’t do much do were marching up to hack at them with swords.

So the idea that someone, somewhere, was keeping The Secret of ancient archery, and it was “lost” (except that it wasn’t, anyone who wants to look around the internet can find the things Andersen found, and the things I found; and a lot more besides), and now it’s been found is selling something.

What Andersen is selling is Andersen.


†: I don’t know how much of the drivel in the narration is his argument, or the producer of the video trying to sex it up… at root it doesn’t matter, since the video, as seen, is what people are talking about.

‡: Quilted armor was layers of wool, and wool felt. It wasn’t great against arrows, but much more effective against swords than people give it credit for. Being light it also made it easier to run away if the enemy was encumbered with armor.

§: Don’t underestimate the irritant value of arrows. Reports are that cuts, and piercings get ignored (by accident, or design) in ways that having an arrow stick out of one don’t. This is one of the reasons most military arrowheads, even bodkin points, had a protrusion of some sort. It’s also why, the story goes, the Mongols wore undershirts of raw silk… because it let them extract even barbed arrows. That it might also function as a self-administering bandage was a secondary feature.

¶ There are at least two videos of showcasing his arguments, one discusses ambidexterity, the other is more vague, and seems to be talking about the method of draw, not the choice of bow hand.

° Most modern shooters used a “compound” bow, this is a complex arrangement of pulleys, and leverage to cause “fall-off”. The longer the draw, the more energy the archer has to put into pulling the string back, then one has to hold that to the moment of release. When used en masse, the time of holding was minimal, when making sure one is spot on the target it may be a bit longer. The resting energy of a compound bow can be as much as ½ the resting energy of a non-“compound” one. I remember the first time I pulled one (about 40 lbs). I got to the point of “fall off” and thought I’d broken it, so dramatic was the decrease in pressure on my fingers.

Endnote: Some of the comments at antipope are about how hard it is to make a bow… long list of materials and skills. Not so much, at least not for potting small game. I’ve done it. A simple self bow, draw weight of about 15 lbs. The tricky part stabilsing the arrow. I used twine (which is pretty easy to make). Yeah, it cuts range, a lot, but it works, and if I wanted to get a rabbit/squirrel, it’s just fine. Has the advantage of “drag-trapping” a wounded animal.

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An Open Letter to the Democratic National Committee

Stop sending me e-mails.

The substance of your emails is such that they insult me. On any given day I get desperate pleas for 2, or 3, or 5, or 10 dollars. Often more than one, sometimes as many as a dozen.

If I were to respond to one in ten (for three dollars each), I’d be looking at not less than $21 a week, or $1,092 a year. If I were to respond to all of them, it would be $210 a week, or 10,920 a year.

That’s about half my annual income.

I get it. Believe me, as a vet: as a disabled vet who has to have a part-time job to have more than $18,000 a year after a career in the Army, I get it. As someone who sees the people he works with who are working harder than that to have as much as that, I get it.

As someone who cares about women’s rights, and civil rights, and economic equality, I get it.

As someone who cares about the environment, I get it.

As someone who cares about the effects of our foreign policy, I get it.

And I see that you don’t get it.  You have caved in on things like reforming Wall Street. You’ve caved in on things like holding the people who committed torture accountable (as a career interrogator that pisses me off more than you can imagine).

You’ve caved in on women’s rights (both economic, and reproductive).

And still you come to me asking for a substantial piece of my income, so you can continue caving in.

Stop. Stop caving in. Listen to Sen. Warren. Listen to Sen. Sanders. Listen to the people who are out working to get unions in Wal-mart and MacDonald’s.  Listen to Warren Buffet when he says we need to fix the tax code so secretaries aren’t paying a bigger share than CEOs. Listen to The People.

Stop listening to Big Business.

Stand for something other than being not the Republicans. Do that, and I might be willing to let you beg for my money again.


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