New Filibuster Rules for the Texas State Senate

The shoes Wendy Davis wore during her filibuster have some great Amazon reviews
The shoes Wendy Davis wore during her filibuster have some great Amazon reviews

Recent events have led some Texas state senators to conclude that their filibuster rules — which forbid eating, drinking, sitting, leaning, going off-topic, or leaving the senate floor for any reason — are too lax. The following are some new restrictions they’re considering:

1. If you’re a senator engaged in a filibuster, you must speak only in sentences that can be spelled out using a standard set of Scrabble tiles. For example, “the muzzled dog ran through the maze” is permissible, because it can be constructed using one Z tile and two blank tiles, while “the muzzled dog zigzagged through the maze” is not.

2. Vulgar language will not be permitted. Don’t say “pregnant” when you mean “expecting”. Don’t say “trans-vaginal” when you mean “through a lady’s special passageway”. Don’t say “rape kit“, ever.

3. During each sixty-minute period, you must say at least one sentence that uses every letter of the alphabet exactly once. Remember to stay on-topic.

4. The dress code will be strictly enforced. All senators must wear appropriate footwear. Appropriate footwear is defined as brown or black men’s dress shoes for normal senators and shoes of any color with at least a 3” heel for lady senators.

5. The president of the senate may, at any time, interrupt you and demand a numeric accounting of your speech. You will then have thirty seconds to respond with the total number of Scrabble points for all the words you’ve spoken while you’ve had the floor. The calculation should be performed as follows: use the face value of each Scrabble tile. Assume that blanks are used only when absolutely necessary. Assume no double- or triple- letter or word squares. Don’t forget to add the 50-point bonus for each 7-letter word.

6. In the past, senators have said “I yield for a question, but I do not yield the floor” in order to ensure they kept their right to speak after answering a question. This is no longer sufficient; in order to hold the floor, you must say “I yield for a question. Simon says I do not yield the floor.”

7. The president of the senate may, at any time, interrupt you to ask a question from a basic literacy test. You have twenty seconds to answer correctly.

8. Scrabble tiles are not permitted on the Senate floor.

9. The clock says whatever the governor says it says.


Toxoplasmosis or Super PAC? How to Tell Them Apart

Fruit is good for you, but not after you drop it in your cat's litter box. (Image courtesy of the CDC

Have you found yourself acting contrary to your own self-interest lately? Do you ever get the feeling that some external force is exerting undue influence on your behavior? Well, you may be right. Scientists have theorized that infection by Toxoplasma Gondii, a parasite found in raw meat and cat feces (yum!) might affect human behavior. And it’s an election year in the US, so if you live here, you’re probably being bombarded by political advertisements created by Super PACs, a particularly hardy strain of political action committee. This simple comparison chart will help you figure out which one you’re dealing with:

T. Gondii Super PAC
A type of protozoa discovered independently in 1908 by scientists in Tunis and Brazil. A type of political action committee created in 2010 by the US Supreme court.
Forms unhealthy relationships with cats. Forms unhealthy relationships with political candidates.
Cats are unaware of the presence of T. Gondii and have little or no control over the parasite’s behavior. Candidates are aware of the presence of Super PACs and communicate with them via the media; however, they’re not allowed to “coordinate” with them.
Also infects humans, influencing them to behave in ways that benefit cats and, ultimately, T. Gondii. Influences humans to behave in ways that benefit  specific candidates and, ultimately, the Super PAC.
Also infects mice, causing them to behave in ways that make them easy prey for cats. Has no known effect on mice.
Millions of T. Gondii protozoa create cysts within the human body.* Millions of Super PAC dollars create commercials transmitted to television sets within the human home.
T. Gondii protozoa are difficult to see. Super PAC donors are often difficult to identify.
Makes you love cats. Makes you hate people.

It’s important to remember that most cats are not infected with T. Gondii and that infected cats are innocent victims. Also, cats are adorable. Don’t you just love cats?

*I actually have no idea how many T. Gondii it takes to cause an infection.

Land of the Free (Ad-Supported)

One approach to reducing the U.S. federal deficit is to roll back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. This seems like a reasonable approach, but is it really fair to ask the super-rich to give up their tax cuts and get nothing in return (except for a more functional economy, which they’d have to share with everyone)? I don’t think it is. That’s why I’ve come up with this proposal, which will raise revenues by rolling back the tax cuts, but will make the rollbacks more palatable by providing incentives for those who pay the most.
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South California: Most Likely to Secede?

Map of South California
The green part is South California (map created with the map utility at

You may have heard by now that a California county supervisor has proposed that several counties secede from California and create the new state of South California, based on the principles that taxes and illegal immigrants are bad and that state legislators should work part-time. It’s pretty clear that he didn’t really think this through: “South California” is a terrible name for the state he’s proposing, for a couple of reasons:

  1. Parts of regular California would be south of large sections of South California.
  2. Geography was never my strong suit, but I’m pretty sure there’s a state called South Carolina. People are always going to confuse the two, especially when addressing envelopes, since South Carolina already has the “SC” state abbreviation.

Continue reading “South California: Most Likely to Secede?”

A Brief History of the War on Groundhog Day

Timeline showing events in the War on Groundhog Day.
Timeline showing events in the War on Groundhog Day.
Significant events in the War on Groundhog Day.

What do Copernicus, Bill Murray, PETA, and Sarah Palin all have in common? They’re unlikely allies in the War on Groundhog Day. While the War on Christmas has received a fair amount of media attention in the last few years, the equally troubling War on Groundhog Day has gone almost unnoticed.
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Exciting Developments in Walmart’s Partnership With DHS

Pie chart showing types of suspicious activity reported via "if you see something, say something" at Walmart

To: Walmart Store Managers
From: Walmart Executive Leadership
Subject: Exciting Developments in our Partnership with DHS

Dear Store Managers,

As you know, Walmart has partnered with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in their “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign. So far, this partnership has been a resounding success: our customers have reported a steady stream of suspicious incidents to you, you’ve passed that information on to DHS, and DHS has verified that the information we provide to them meets the same quality standards as the merchandise we sell to our customers.
Continue reading “Exciting Developments in Walmart’s Partnership With DHS”

TSA’s New Security Procedures: A Different Perspective

There’s been a lot written about the TSA’s new airport security procedures lately. We’ve heard from airline pilots, passengers, security experts, Constitutional law experts, high-level TSA officials, and low-level TSA agents, but one group has remained conspicuously silent — the terrorists themselves. That silence is about to be broken; what follows is a partial transcript of a recent meeting of a terrorist organization. All participants are referred to by code names.
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Frequently Asked Questions About California’s Proposition 8

Now that Proposition 8 has been overturned, will the California constitution require all public schools in the state to teach gay marriage?

I don’t understand. Schools weren’t required to do that before the election. How does leaving the Constitution unchanged impose a new requirement on them?
Many people are confused by this, but the explanation is really quite simple. In 2004, Californians passed Proposition 59, which added Article 1, Section 3(b) to the California Constitution. Although this addition appears at first glance to concern itself only with public access to government meetings and records, legal scholars discovered in 2008 that language requiring schools to teach gay marriage had been concealed in Section 3(b), using a process known as steganography.
Continue reading “Frequently Asked Questions About California’s Proposition 8”