White House Spokesman Says Tweets are Official Statements

Well, this is awkward.

A day after arguing the national news media was crazy for treating President Donald Trump’s twitter feed with the same weight as official White House policy or executive orders, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer poured gasoline on the fire by saying: “The president is the president of the United States … they [tweets] are considered official statements of the president of the United States.”

The news media, of course, held a triumph. Not only did this validate CNN Editor-at-Large Chris Cillizza’s argument (et al.), but it fed into their narrative of a disorganized and rudderless White House because the statement was at odds with what other Trump advisors have said.

Now, just because Sean Spicer said they are official statements, doesn’t make them so, but it certainly makes it difficult to argue otherwise. The weight of social media is not something that will be spelled out in black and white, it’ll be determined by the conversation we’re having now.

Personal social media accounts should not carry the same weight as social media accounts officially associated with a job or public office. It’s a dangerous road when we can’t separate the man from his position. This was the problem with those National Park Service employees tweeting against the administration. I have no problem with them doing so on their own time, on their own social media accounts, but not their work accounts.

It is illegal for Federal employees to engage in politics while at work, using government equipment, and in their official capacities. This is a little more ambiguous when it comes to the military, where you can be prosecuted for criticizing the president at any time. But, essentially, the idea is that citizens of the United States have a right to express their political opinions on their own time.

@realDonaldTrump is Donald Trump’s personal Twitter account. @POTUS is the official Twitter account of the President of the United States. Is there a difference? Yes! Or at least, there should be.

Civil War Ballads: Lone Pine Hill

Justin Townes Earle wrote and recorded “Lone Pine Hill” for his debut studio album The Good Life, released in 2008 on Bloodshot Records. Earle was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee and is known for a unique blend of folk, blues, and country music. “Lone Pine Hill” is about a Confederate soldier from what was then trans-Allegheny Virginia who becomes disillusioned in the waning days of the war and longs to return home to his sweetheart.

James M. Keller (right), 12th West Virginia Infantry, enlisted in Aug 1862 and fought (for the Union) until the end of the war.

I swear I see her in my dreams sometimes
Held up in the middle of the night
Shakin’ like a pistol in a young man’s hand
There in the pale moonlight

Standin’ up the top of that lonely hill
Spared by the company mines
Is my blue-eyed baby with her best dress on
In the shadow of a lonely pine

It was back before the war
When the company came
These hills grew wild and free
Me and baby we’d hide in the hollers low
Away from the cruel sun’s heat

But then they knocked down the timber
And burned off the brush
To get to the riches below
And when they pulled out
They left a cold black ground
And one pine standing lone

So take me home…
Lone Pine Hill

Continue reading “Civil War Ballads: Lone Pine Hill”

Marley Parker Takes on Urban Legend Killers in Redletter

Squeezing Jagger tighter against my chest, I read the words “Bloody Marley” written in bright red lipstick across the bathroom mirror. The tube of lipstick was laying haphazardly in the bathroom sink, broken and mushed.

Marley Parker, feisty college journalist turned amateur sleuth, is back in her third and final book: Redletter by Maria Sigle. Released in May, Redletter follows Marley Parker as she tries to move beyond the traumatic events of the past and start a career at WKLP News. Her first breaking news story, however, ominously foretells a tough road ahead. When the Candyman Killer appears in Greenbriar, Marley will face her biggest challenge yet.

Halloween is usually a time to celebrate in the small Midwestern town of Greenbriar, a week-long event bringing family and friends together. This Halloween, however, someone begins reenacting urban legends with gruesome results. First, a high school student dies after eating Halloween candy. Then, a woman’s body is discovered floating near a bridge with the letters “OCC” written on her back. Can Marley decipher this clue in time to prevent another murder–perhaps her own?

In Marley Parker and A Rumor of Ghosts, Marley often acted selflessly, even at great personal risk, but also relied on others for help–her sister, Jade; her father, Sheriff Tony Parker; her best friend, Fuchsia Darling; Granny Annie; and even her love interest, wealthy playboy Rob Cummings. This time, she’ll be forced to go it alone as a duo of anonymous killers target the ones she cares about the most.

Continue reading “Marley Parker Takes on Urban Legend Killers in Redletter”

Lakey’s Creek and the Headless Horseman of Illinois

“I almost wept as the spectra placed
The head back into the sack;
Clop, clop… the headless rider
moved on.” –Neil Tracy “The Legend of Lakey”

LaKey Creek drains the farmland northwest of McLeansboro, Illinois and heads south, eventually joining the north fork of the Saline River in rural Hamilton County. From there, the Saline River grows more robust, until it ultimately empties into the Ohio River on the eastern side of the Shawnee National Forest. The creek would have been a strategic place for any early setter of McLeansboro Township. Unfortunately for Mr. Lakey, who would lend his name to the creek, the picturesque tract of land he picked for a homestead was also his place of death. For it was with his life that he purchased the immortality of having both a creek and a local legend associated with his name.

Not long after the death of Lakey, two travelers reportedly were chased by a fearsome black steed, upon which sat a headless rider. The horseman menaced them until they crossed the creek, at which point the phantom turned downstream and disappeared. The headless horseman of Lakey’s Creek is quite possibly one of the oldest ghost stories in Illinois. Passed down as an oral tradition until John W. Allen put the story on paper in 1963, the mysterious man named Lakey, as well as his untimely end, has been immortalized in the folklore of Southern Illinois. Like Jonesboro’s legend of Dug Hill and Provost Marshal Welch, this story may also be preserving the memory of an unsettling event in local history.

Long before a concrete bridge spanned the shallow creek 1.5 miles east of McLeansboro along Route 14, folklorists say, a frontiersman named Lakey attempted to erect his log cabin near a ford along the wagon trail to Mt. Vernon. His task was nearly completed when he felled an oak tree to make boards for his roof. The next morning, a lone traveler stumbled upon Lakey’s bloody body. Lakey’s head had been severed by his own ax, which was left embedded in the stump of the oak. According to legend, his murderer was never found.

But the story doesn’t end there.

Continue reading “Lakey’s Creek and the Headless Horseman of Illinois”

Marley Parker: A Rumor of Ghosts

Marley Parker is at it again in the second installment of her young adult mystery series, A Rumor of Ghosts (2015) by Maria Sigle. Marley is a journalism student at Greenbriar University and daughter of the county sheriff. Still recovering from solving her last case, she has become something of a local celebrity after uncovering that the town’s mayor had been responsible for the death of her mother more than a decade earlier.

This time, she matches wits with a psychopath attacking girls around the campus of Greenbriar University. With a friend caught in the crossfire, can she stop this maniac before he returns to finish the job? Will a mysterious stranger prove to be her best ally, or the maniac himself?

Marley Parker: A Rumor of Ghosts is full of twists and turns that will keep the reader guessing. Just when you think the plot is heading in a certain direction, something will happen that turns everything on its head. In a novella filled with ghosts and larger than life characters and situations, this element adds a touch of realism.

The characters are fallible. They can, and often do, make mistakes and let their emotions cloud their judgement. Marley Parker is led by her emotions, whether it is out of loyalty to friends and family, anger at an injustice, or her fatal attractions. She acts impulsively, sometimes getting the better of a situation, and sometimes getting herself into hot water.

There are two plot strains running through the book: in one, Marley Parker tracks down a psycho stalker, and in the other, she helps uncover the cause of a haunting at a local hotel called the Brass Lantern Inn. Neither is necessarily linked, but the characters intertwine and one case pulls her attention away from the other.

Continue reading “Marley Parker: A Rumor of Ghosts”

Stellaris: An Epic Space Odyssey

I love Paradox Interactive’s historical strategy games like the Hearts of Iron series, Victoria, and Crusader Kings II. Built on the same game engine, Stellaris is something different–an open-ended space exploration and empire-building strategy game. Unlike Hearts of Iron and Crusader Kings, which are confined to a familiar geographic space and time, Stellaris allows you to explore and interact with a multitude of species in a randomly-generated universe. Its randomness adds to the fun, but its open-endedness, well, gets kind of tedious after a while.

Stellaris starts out strong. The initial game play, in which you can choose one of several default alien species (including humans), or create your own, is full of promise. In fact, creating my own alien species, then plopping them in an uncharted universe, is what I enjoy most about the game. You have so many options to choose from, including Humanoids, Mammalians, Reptilians, Avians, and well, you get the idea. The problem is, other than changing the appearance of your population, ships, and cities, species type doesn’t seem to have any affect on the game.

When you start a new game, your species is confined to its home world with a small fleet, a space port, science ship, and construction ship. You begin by researching basic technologies and using your science ship to survey the solar system, hopefully discovering resources on planets and moons, or discovering and researching anomalies (which give bonuses depending on the nature of the discovery).

How you interact with other species is largely determined by your government type and ethics. If your civilization is fanatically pacifist, for example, you can only fight wars to defend yourself or your allies. You can be xenophobic or xenophile. A xenophobic civilization is allowed to purge and displace aliens from planets and enslave them. A xenophile civilization has better relations with other species and benefits from migration. You can set different rights for different species in your empire.

Continue reading “Stellaris: An Epic Space Odyssey”

Are Trump’s Tweets Official Policies?

According to Chris Cillizza, CNN Editor-at-large, not only is there “no difference” between President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed and official policy statements and executive orders, but Trump’s tweets are actually more important than official White House statements. No, this is not satire. An editor at CNN actually made this argument earlier today.

I’ve written before about CNN’s obsession over President Trump’s Twitter feed, but this takes it to a whole new level. I thought the cable TV network was just being lazy by constantly making news out of the president’s social media posts. Now I’m starting to believe they’ve actually lost their minds at the CNN Center in Atlanta. To quote the article:

On “New Day” Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka echoed that sentiment, insisting to host Chris Cuomo that “it’s social media, Chris, it’s social media. You know the difference, right?,” adding: “It’s not policy, it’s not an executive order. It’s social media. Please understand the difference.”

Here’s the thing: There is no difference. And, in fact, Trump’s tweets are actually more important than the more formal statements coming out of his White House because they represent something much closer to what he believes on nearly every issue.

Except there is a difference. One has the force of law, or at least creates policies and rules for federal employees to follow, the other does not.

TIME actually called out President Trump today for signing documents that had no official weight. In a press conference at the Oval Office, the president signed a “a decision memo and letter transmitting legislative principles to Congress” regarding privatization of the Air Traffic Control system. Like a tweet, neither document actually does anything.

But to illustrate their point, CNN actually references a Twitter account that creates counterfeit White House press statements using Trump’s Twitter feed. Thousands of people have already re-Tweeted those documents, and from browsing the comments, it looks like a fair number think they are officially coming from the White House.

If I were president, I wouldn’t use Twitter or any social media. I think it’s a terrible way to communicate with the public, especially for an elected official. But the U.S. president is not a king whose word automatically becomes law. Let’s get real. Tweets and social media posts are not meant to be official proclamations, and should not be taken as such by a legitimate news organization.