Author Archives: woohoo

This Nifty New Service Shows You Your Mail Before It’s Even Delivered

The U.S. Postal Service just expanded Informed Delivery, a service that lets customers preview their mail in email form. Users who sign up for the free service get a morning email with photos of the envelopes that will hit their mailbox that day.

Informed Delivery was piloted in some zip codes in 2014, and last month it expanded to the majority of the U.S. It?s especially helpful for people who travel often and want to keep track of their mail back home. 

It?s also useful for large households: Family members or roommates can check the email and know if any letters will arrive for them that day, even if they don?t usually check the mailbox.

And on a more serious note, Informed Delivery is also a great way to find out if someone is stealing your mail.

The program is also meant to keep snail mail relevant in our email era. 

“[Informed Delivery] makes postal mail more interesting to millennials, who are on their devices all day long,” Miro Copic, a marketing professor at San Diego State University, told NBC News. “And it just might change the equation of how millennials think about the post office longer term.”

USPS already photographs every piece of mail that runs through its automation system, so this isn?t a new level of surveillance. But there is one tiny thing to note: For now, only envelopes are included in Informed Delivery, though there?s a possibility that packages or magazines may be included in the future. 

You can sign up for Informed Delivery on the program?s website. 

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Trump To Duterte: ‘You’re Just Like Me’

Cross-posted with

In case you hadn?t noticed, as in the Middle East and Europe, we?re in a new Trumpian age in Asia. If you want to confirm that, check out the recently leaked transcript of an April 29th phone conversation between the American and Philippine presidents (published in full at the Intercept). Donald Trump launches the call with a bonding gesture, comparing his own sleepless habits to those of Rodrigo Duterte. (?You?re just like me. You are not a person who goes to bed at all. I know that, right??)

He then implicitly makes another comparison between the two of them, congratulating the Philippine president on his anti-drug program in which he has loosed police and paramilitaries to kill at will, resulting in more than 7,000 extrajudicial executions across his country. ?I just wanted to congratulate you,? says Trump, ?because I am hearing of the unbelievable job on the drug problem. Many countries have the problem, we have a problem, but what a great job you are doing and I just wanted to call and tell you that.? You can feel, I think, his yearning for the powers of an autocrat in that statement, as well as his long-term obsession with the war on drugs.  When Duterte responds by decrying drugs as the ?scourge of my nation,? Trump, in his typical fashion, takes a backhanded whack at his predecessor. (?I… fully understand that and I think we had a previous president who did not understand that…?)

Only then, in full tough-guy mode, does he move on to scourges of his own, bringing up the North Koreans and bragging ? while leaking what was undoubtedly classified information ? that the U.S. has two nuclear subs cruising somewhere off the Korean coast: ?We have a lot of firepower over there.  We have two submarines ? the best in the world ? we have two nuclear submarines ? not that we want to use them at all. I?ve never seen anything like they are, but we don?t have to use this, but [North Korean leader Kim Jong-un] could be crazy so we will see what happens.? In other words, the American president is boasting about being ready for nothing less than nuclear war in Asia, even as he tries to get Duterte to call Chinese President Xi Jinping to put further pressure on Kim.

All in all, it was quite a performance and yet consider it but a toe in the water when it comes to what used to be proudly labeled an ?American lake.?  (As a Tin Pan Alley song title of the World War II era put it, ?To Be Specific, It?s Our Pacific.?)  If you want to take the full plunge into the cold waters of that ocean and of our Asian future ? and believe me, it?s not what you imagine ? then, in his latest piece ?Goodbye Pacific Pivot, Hello Pacific Retreat,? follow John Feffer, author of the dystopian novel Splinterlands, into an era that may be anything but bright for the United States, China, or other Asian lands.

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The Raging Debate On The Difference Between Barbecue And Grilling

Since the very founding of our nation, there?s been a noticeable difference between life in the South and life in the North. And that difference becomes even clearer in the warmer months when folks start cooking meals outside. We?re talking about barbecue.

Barbecue, the coveted cooking method so many of us hold dear to our hearts, is in fact not the same in the mind of a Northerner and that of a Southerner. In the North, the two terms can often be used interchangeably. But in southern or south central states, you had better be talking about meat that?s been cooked low and slow if you use the word barbecue. Just because you?re cooking something on the grill, they say, does NOT mean you?re barbecuing. But don?t take our word for it. Matt Moore, food writer and Southern gentleman, says it best in his book The South?s Best Butts:

?For the Yankees, BBQ in the South is not to be used as a verb. Rather it is a noun. Throwing meat on a grill and slathering it with sauce is never referred to as barbecuing, or barbecue, by any true Southerner. In fact, if you invite me to a barbecue and you don?t serve me slowly smoked pig, I will refer to you properly and promptly as a Yankee. So, instead, when you grill your hamburgers, brats, pork chops, or steaks, invite us to a cookout or simply tell us you are grilling out. Got it? Good.?

So if you?re making burgers, you?re grilling. If you?re cooking a steak, you?re grilling. But if you?re spending hours slow cooking some pork butt, you?re making barbecue. There is another side to this opinion, though, and it might come as a relief to all of you guilty of ?barbecuing? your hamburgers.

According to Meathead Goldwyn, best selling author of Meathead: The Science of Great Barbecue and Grilling, barbecue is too global for the South to reserve it to use for their own specialty. 

Meathead told HuffPost: ?The ?that is not barbecue? statement makes my blood boil. I spent 20 years in the wine world as the wine critic for The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, and others, and I hate seeing barbecue getting snobby like wine. The divide is false and it is a myth.?

?The fact is that there are many forms of barbecue around the world and it is the presence of smoke that unifies them all,? he writes on his blog Amazing Ribs.

He also made a graphic to illustrate his point: 

Meathead elaborates, ?Barbecue around the world is far too complex and wonderful to be oversimplified like that. It was not invented in the U.S., and it is not exclusive to the U.S. Barbecue is a big word that encompasses grilling and many cooking methods as shown in the illustration above.?

Whichever side of the line you stand on when it comes to barbecue, we can all agree that anything that comes off the grill ? so long as Governor Scott Walker has nothing to do with it ? is worth celebrating. 

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9/11 Just Claimed Another Life — The Firefighter Who Made Congress Care

WASHINGTON ? While New York City firefighter Ray Pfeifer was slowly dying of Sept. 11-related cancer, he always called himself the luckiest man alive.

Pfeifer, who died Sunday from that illness at the age of 59, would probably say his luck held.

If not for chance, Pfeifer would have died on Sept. 11, 2001, when 343 other city firefighters perished in the collapsing World Trade Center complex, including all the men on duty at Pfeifer?s Engine 40.

?9/11 happened, I?m supposed to work. I lived. Why? Because I switched my tour,? Pfeifer told HuffPost in March before laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in honor of those who have fought and died for America, before and after terrorists struck the twin towers.

His eyes glistened at the memory. One of those who did not survive was the friend who took Ray?s tour, Steve Mercado.

?He lost everybody in his fire house,? his wife Caryn said. ?He was supposed to be working that day. So he does have that guilt.?

While Pfeifer didn?t know it in the wrenching months and years that followed, the Sept. 11 attack that killed the friends he tried to pull from the smoking rubble would ultimately claim Pfeifer?s life, too. Doctors believe the toxic clouds that boiled from the devastation are to blame for his cancer, and for the illnesses afflicting 40,000 other people who suffered exposure.

?So, then a couple of years later I get cancer. So what?? said Pfeifer as he rested in bed before his visit to the tomb at the Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. 

Since getting diagnosed in 2009 with the renal cancer that had spread to his bones, Pfeifer had parts of his legs, hips, ribs, shoulder and brain removed or replaced to slow the disease?s progress.

That?s where, in his mind, the luck came in. He made it almost 17 more years after Sept. 11.

?I had time with my kids, to watch my kids grow up,? said Pfeifer, who would live to see his daughter, Taylor, become a police officer and his son, Terence, follow in his footsteps to become a New York City firefighter. In 2001, his children were both in grade school.

Ray?s luck also turned out to be a boon for thousands of other Sept. 11 responders, and a lesson to a Washington political class that wasn?t especially concerned in 2014 and 2015 that the legislation that was helping people like Ray Pfeifer was about to expire.

With leaders in Congress making no effort to renew that law, the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, Pfeifer and plenty of others who were struggling with their own illnesses had to travel to Washington multiple times to finally secure a permanent replacement for the law in 2015.

It would be a lie to say that the first responders and civilians who sacrificed themselves to restore the nation after it suffered one of its worst terrorist attacks were not angry that their politicians no longer saw them as a priority. But Ray Pfeifer didn?t think the country needed more yelling or partisan political games.

?It was political, very political, believe me, and you know how political it got, but it was more not a Democratic thing, not a Republican thing, but an American thing,? Pfeifer said. ?That?s what we had to drag into it ? because these guys just didn?t get it, it was an American thing ? trying to let them know it happened to America, not to us.?

On one of his many trips to the Capitol in late 2015, Pfeifer was made aware of Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) walking fast across the basement of the Capitol. Portman was one of a few holdout senators whose support could put the Zadroga Reauthorization Act over a veto-proof majority and yield immense pressure on leaders to bring it up for a vote. Pfeifer was riding in a motorized wheelchair donated by the widow of another one of Sept. 11?s fallen. Portman was headed quickly for an exit. The wheelchair had a speed dial. Pfeifer pinned it down, and cornered Portman for a 10-minute discussion that got the lawmaker to back the bill.

Pfeifer never enjoyed embarrassing the politicians, though. He felt he could reach their humanity instead. He was with former Daily Show host Jon Stewart when Stewart and a news crew ran down a hallway to confront Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.).

?There was this poor woman, deer in the headlights, trying to figure out what these guys are saying,? Pfeifer said. ?And here?s Jon Stewart saying ?I know you?re a patriot, but this is what you?ve gotta do.??

Pfeifer called her office the next day to apologize, and eventually won her over.

?We did good-cop/bad-cop,? Stewart recalled. ?But I didn?t know that?s how it was going to go. He?s just such a good guy that I was immediately the bad cop. And I was a bad cop. Ray was the most effective emissary.?

Stewart also traveled to Arlington in March. He was there when Pfeifer and Caryn laid the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

It was one of the things on Pfeifer?s bucket list. He had helped pass the Zadroga Act, won the key to the City of New York, and been feted at center ice of an Islanders game. He?d helped Joe Biden with his cancer ?moonshot? initiative, and was grand marshal for the fire department at the St. Patrick?s Day Parade in Manhattan. He was also living in hospice care. But still he wanted to make the tiring car trip from New York to Virginia to honor America?s soldiers.

John Feal, the founder of Sept. 11 advocacy group the FealGood Foundation, encouraged Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to get Pfeifer that opportunity.

?The fact that he was willing to tell his story, and be heard, and fight for what he believed in ? our democracy only works when regular people stand up and demand action. Ray was willing to come here week after week, month after month, year after year,? Gillibrand said. ?He?s someone we all look up to. He inspires us. He?s someone who?s selfless, who?s given of himself his whole life. When he asked to lay this wreath, I said of course.?

He made it with a little over two months to spare.

?My fight is over,? Pfeifer said that day. ?I don?t think I have any more fight in me to be honest with you. We got the 75 years for the health [program], got the compensation. But I don?t know if I have any more left. I wanted to come down here, pay my respects to the military. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers is an honor. I?ve had many things bestowed on me, but to do something like this is an honor.?

It was act of service and one more example that Pfeifer?s friends hope the country?s leaders understand and take to heart.

?Ray?s legacy, what he leaves behind is, hopefully ? we live in such a time when everyone screams and yells at each other, we point fingers ? maybe we could find some peace and tranquility, and a wave of calm,? Feal said. ?Because I think that?s what Ray would want. Because that?s the way Ray lived his life.?

Pfeifer will be mourned in a Friday funeral at the Holy Family Church in Hicksville, New York.

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Here’s How A Landmark Ruling On Trans Teens’ Rights Could Have A Colossal Impact On Schools

Texas legislators are at this moment considering a special session, and, as Zack Ford notes, that means the threat of a statewide transgender ?bathroom? amendment applying to public schools is still a very real. LT. Gov. Dan Patrick, who?d earlier in the year introduced a broader anti-trans bill, is the force behind getting a special session, since the legislative session ended on May 29, solely for the purpose of passing anti-trans legislation.

But a landmark ruling from the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday could complicate, diminish or thwart Patrick?s effort, or even eventually help roll back the law if it is passed and signed by Governor Greg Abbott. 

That?s because the big win out of the 7th Circuit could have ramifications nationwide, even before the issue of transgender students rights gets to the Supreme Court. Ashton ?Ash? Whitaker, a 17-year?old high school senior, sued his Wisconsin school district, which wouldn?t allow him to use the boys? restroom. The appeals court upheld a district court injunction and ruled that the school?s bathroom policy violated the 14th Amendment on equal protection and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

The ruling comes after the Supreme Court recently punted on the case of Gavin Grimm, the Virginia teen whom the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled had the right to use the boys? room at his school. The high court, after first taking the case, vacated the lower court ruling after the Trump administration rescinded the affirmative guidelines to schools on transgender students, which were issued by the Obama administration. The 4th Circuit?s decision had relied in part on those federal guidelines. But the 7th Circuit Court handed down its ruling without relying on the guidelines. As HuffPost?s Christian Farias reports

That change in positions led the Supreme Court to duck the issue altogether, leaving plaintiffs like Whitaker and Grimm to argue that Title IX itself ? which doesn?t expressly cover gender identity ? nonetheless covers claims of ?sex? stereotyping against trans students.

The 7th Circuit embraced that approach in Tuesday?s ruling, suggesting that because ?a transgender individual does not conform to the sex?based stereotypes of the sex that he or she was assigned at birth,? it?s unlawful to stigmatize a student based those stereotypes.

The ruling not only opens the door for trans students? rights to get to the Supreme Court again, but it could influence other circuit courts around the country to rule similarly. It could have an impact on legislators like those in Texas, and on school districts in Texas ? which would be given the choice to allow trans students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity (or not) if the law is passed in a special session. Many of those districts, as well as many across the country, may be swayed to support equality now. 

?This is a big, big, big, huge, huge deal,? noted Shannon Minter of the National Center for Lesbian Rights about the ruling. ?This sends the strongest possible message on where the federal courts are heading on this issue. As a practical matter, this will probably motivate many school districts across the country to treat transgender students equally.?

Amidst a lot of terrible realities we?re facing on civil rights in the Trump era, that is very welcome great news.

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