February 28, 2003

A Ranter's Reader

Some good articles lately that I've found in various blogs. First is an article by Lou Dubose in the Texas Observer called "From Appomattox to Armageddon" about how Southern culture has now taken over our country since they lost the Civil War. It's actually a review of a book about Bush. Here's an excerpt:

The assignment was my good fortune, because Michael Lind has written a bold, multifaceted book that is a real kick to read. And he tackles a theme that is a favorite of mine: the metastasis of a system of values and a political economy made in Texas. To Lind, Texas is a Southern and not a Western State. The Republican president appointed by the Supreme Court represents the culmination of a process by which the Confederacy has reclaimed the position it held before the last great Republican president led the country to war for the right reasons.

Not only has the South risen again, the values of the states that reluctantly returned to the Union after Appomattox and endured the humiliation of Reconstruction have been imposed upon the North. The guilty party is the Party of Lincoln, which has been hijacked by Southern militarists and evangelicals as primitive as the mullahs who destroyed the Buddhist statuary in Afghanistan.

Then there's a blogger who got so sick of watching Bush lie without being held accountable by the "librul media", so he started compiling a nice list of lies, including:

Toward the bottom of last Friday's Washington Post story on the Woodward book by Mike Allen, the reader learns that Bush was "preoccupied by public perceptions of the war, looking at polling data from Rove, now his senior adviser, even after pretending to have no interest." How remarkable to be told so bluntly about this Bush obsession -- after hearing so many blabbermouths on cable TV and in opinion columns insist that this president, unlike his predecessor, "doesn't care about polls."

The difference between Clinton and Bush isn't that one doesn't care about polls and the other did. The difference is that Clinton never pretended that polling data wasn't part of his political work, and didn't expect anyone on his staff to lie about such trivia. [And didn't lie about it on the campaign trail, as Bush did. --Politex] (This matrix of deception is likewise exposed in Woodward's scoop about the back-channel advice on public opinion provided to the White House by Fox News chief Roger Ailes. An old Bush family employee, Ailes runs a network that frequently promotes the false but uplifting notion that Bush has no interest in polls.)

Finally, here is a good article in Slate by William Saletan about "Sunshine Patriots". In it, Saletan has some great anti-war quotes by hypocritical Republicans (I know, I know, redundant ... sorry) from back when Clinton was president during the Kosovo war. The whole thing has to be read to be believed and is hard to quote without losing the context.

Posted by Observer at 06:42 PM | Comments (0)

Lookback Time

Work-sensitive enough that I decided to delete it. Sorry.

Posted by Observer at 08:43 AM | Comments (1)

February 27, 2003

Cargo Cult Science

I often assign a reading to the students in my class at the beginning of the term. It is a commencement address given by the famous Physicist Richard Feynman called "Cargo Cult Science". Here is a brief excerpt:

In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they've arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head to headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas--he's the controller--and they wait for the airplanes to land.

They're doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land.

Now it behooves me, of course, to tell you what they're missing. But it would be just about as difficult to explain to the South Sea islanders how they have to arrange things so that they get some wealth in their system. It is not something simple like telling them how to improve the shapes of the earphones.

But there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying science in school--we never say explicitly what this is, but just hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific investigation.

It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now and speak of it explicitly. It's a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty--a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid--not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked--to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.

Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be given, if you know them. You must do the best you can--if you know anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong--to explain it. If you make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well as those that agree with it.

There is also a more subtle problem. When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else come out right, in addition. In summary, the idea is to give all of the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgement in one particular direction or another.

The easiest way to explain this idea is to contrast it, for example, with advertising. Last night I heard that Wesson oil doesn't soak through food. Well, that's true. It's not dishonest; but the thing I'm talking about is not just a matter of not being dishonest; it's a matter of scientific integrity, which is another level.

The fact that should be added to that advertising statement is that no oils soak through food, if operated at a certain temperature. If operated at another temperature, they all will--including Wesson oil. So it's the implication which has been conveyed, not the fact, which is true, and the difference is what we have to deal with

That last part, the difference between the intellectual honesty and the deceit of advertising, is really on display in the current administration:

Bush and White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer went out of their way Thursday to cite a new survey by "Blue-Chip economists" that the economy would grow 3.3 percent this year if the president's tax cut proposal becomes law. ...

Deputy White House Press Secretary Claire Buchan insisted Friday that the survey, which mentioned "the likelihood that some version of the Bush administration's latest stimulus package will be enacted," justified the president's claim. [Editor of the Blue-Chip newsletter] Moore said that a survey taken in January before the president announced his plan forecast 3.3 percent annual growth between the last quarter of 2002 and the last quarter of 2003. A survey taken in February reached the same consensus.

So, you see, what the Bush administration is *implying* is that his proposal will cause economic growth. The fact is that if you give the economists' survey any credibility, they feel the plan will have zero impact this year (which if true, makes you wonder about the supposed claims that tax cuts lead to growth which lead to more revenue, etc., which is demonstrably false anyway, even back during the Reagan years). So the reality is that the administration takes a fact that leads to a completely different conclusion and plays that fact as if it supports their case.

They did the same thing with the Al Qaeda broadcast I mentioned previously, claiming that it backed up their claims of alliance between Iraq and Al Qaeda, even though it did the opposite. It's so brazen, it's like a Saturday Night Live skit or something from The Onion. But it's not a skit. It's reality. And the difference is what we have to deal with.

Posted by Observer at 03:50 PM | Comments (3)

Snow Day III (?!?)

As of late yesterday, the temperature had hovered above freezing for long enough that the roads had substantially melted. So my university going back to business as usual was a slam-dunk yes. Unfortunately, the good folks in our school district decided in the middle of the day yesterday (even though temps were still climbing and forecast to do so through the evening) to cancel school again today for our kids. I couldn't believe it when I saw it yesterday. Where was this person calling off school when *I* was 10?!?

I imagine we're not the only put-out parents. Fortunately, Tue and Thu are my mostly free days, so I can stay with the kids while my wife goes to work. Unfortunately, today is the day I'm giving a workshop for K-12 teachers at the university. Basically, the university puts these things on and get a little money (I get paid a few hundred for essentially a few hours work) while the teachers who come get "professional development" credit, which is required.

Since I give a pretty fun workshop, it is always full, but with the weather and the chaos, I don't know about today's. I am going to drag the kids out to buy the workshop supplies in a little while so I can be ready to go in when my sweetie gets home. We're all stir crazy in the house after three days anyway.

Posted by Observer at 10:39 AM | Comments (2)

February 26, 2003

Snow Day II

For the first time since my childhood, the ice is bad enough around here (I think it is even worse today than yesterday) that schools have been closed for two days in a row. There's a fair chance they'll be closed tomorrow as well, depending on the weather. People are acting like just because it is supposed to get up to 34 today, everything will spontaneously melt. The weather forecast keeps changing anyway, so who knows.

The college where I work is notoriously obstinate about closing, and today was no exception. At 6am this morning, pretty much every school district, every church and every university for a 100 mile radius of the city was closed, except my university. They said they'd open at noon. Pfft. Like any students would show up. All that would mean is that I would have to brave the streets (the most dangerous part of which would be pulling out of my slick, steep driveway) to go in for one hour to teach one class (my other classes are before noon). I'd just show a film and tell everyone to get home safely.

Fortunately, an hour ago, the university lawyers probably hit the provost with a clue-by-four, telling him that any wrecks faculty have on the way into campus would probably be lawsuit territory (too bad, maybe I could've faked whiplash and gotten that minivan we're saving for). So now the university is closed for the whole day. This is the 3rd time in 6+ years here that I've had class cancelled due to weather. Last time was during finals week, and let me tell you there was some serious, serious havoc.

Posted by Observer at 10:48 AM | Comments (0)

Signs of the Times

During this time of year, all over the building which holds my office and the classrooms I use, posters by the dozen get taped up to every blank wall and tacked to just about every tack board. These posters are advertising travel packages for Spring Break for college kids, either at places like Cancun ("Drinking age is only eighteen!") or Vail. They are big, ugly, glossy advertisements, and they are everywhere.

I hate them. Every time I see one, I tear it down. Sometimes, they put them in the lecture halls and classrooms, and they get torn down with prejudice. Sometimes, one of them makes the mistake of attaching one to the tack board outside my office, which I always keep jam-packed to prevent people from being tempted. So by putting something up on my tack board, they are either covering up one of my posters or stealing tacks that are holding up my stuff, or both.

I pity them, in a way. Because as soon as that happens, I make it my mission to ensure absolutely none of their posters remain visible for my building and a one building radius around me. They haven't pissed me off enough yet to walk around the entire campus. Sometimes, I catch one of them going around with a staple gun on our floor, and I tell them politely to just do some other floor because I will tear down any ads I see on any tack boards on our floor (I have the rest of the faculty's blessing on this matter).

Am I just being petty, or do I have some form of obsessive compulsive disorder? Hmmm. Actually, I *know* I am petty, but it is possible that both apply.

Posted by Observer at 08:57 AM | Comments (3)

February 25, 2003

Weather Follies

Afternoon now, the day after the "big" ice storm the night before. We have 1-2" of sleet encrusted over everything, and it is still below freezing. The roads are getting better in some places where there are tire grooves all the way down to the pavement, but in most places, they are getting worse. Cars drive over sleet, melt it, then it refreezes into a smooth sheet. Even on the interstate, cars are piled up everywhere because people are going out assuming the roads have to be getting better because they always do the next day.

Forecast for more freezing stuff tonight, so we might be shut down two days in a row, which would be the first time that has happened down here since my childhood. My favorite site to keep track of things is Weather Pages because they provide links to the National Weather Service raw data, including discussions of various models, future soundings, etc.

Most weathermen around here do a very poor job of translating that information correctly, and they can also be very annoying. A few of them were out and about last night, I hear on the radio, with tape measures to measure the thickness of the ice. Some went as deep as a HALF INCH! People from the north on the radio are saying "what the ... ?!? we measure in FEET with a damned YARDSTICK in Minnesota". One guy put a ruler into the ground, which was pretty stupid because it was such a thin layer that you could see the soles of his shoes still.

The morning guys I usually listen to love getting on the weathermen around here. They get annoyed by what the call the "ten-o-clock-backdown" in which the guy comes on at six and teases some big change in the weather, continuing to tease it throughout commercial breaks through the evening, then on the 10pm news, he comes out and says, "Well, there is a slight chance of (whatever the big change), but ..." just to cover his ass.

Why can't we get a David Letterman to do our weather around here, at least on one affiliate? Gah, they're all so generic.

Posted by Observer at 01:08 PM | Comments (0)

Credibility Gap

From Paul Begala today:

Well, one of President Bush's favorite fibs -- there are so many -- is that he doesn't follow polls and focus groups. He said last week about the massive protests against his Iraq policy, quote, "size of protest is like deciding, well, I'm going decide policy based upon a focus group." But Mr. Bush spent over $1 million on polls and focus groups last year. His closest White House aide is a political consultant. Bob Woodward has written that Mr. Bush is preoccupied with war policy polls. And even a loyal Republican, former senator, Alan Simpson told "The New York Times" yesterday, quote, "they do as much polling as the Clinton administration. I used to think they didn't, but they do."

From Paul Krugman (free registration required):

So it seems that Turkey wasn't really haggling about the price, it just wouldn't accept payment by check or credit card. In return for support of an Iraq invasion, Turkey wanted and got immediate aid, cash on the barrelhead, rather than mere assurances about future help. You'd almost think President Bush had a credibility problem.

And he does. ...

Consider the astonishing fact that Vicente Fox, president of Mexico, appears unwilling to cast his U.N. Security Council vote in America's favor. Given Mexico's close economic ties to the United States, and Mr. Fox's onetime personal relationship with Mr. Bush, Mexico should have been more or less automatically in America's column. But the Mexican president feels betrayed. He took the politically risky step of aligning himself closely with Mr. Bush a boost to Republican efforts to woo Hispanic voters in return for promised reforms that would legalize the status of undocumented immigrants. The administration never acted on those reforms, and Mr. Fox is in no mood to do Mr. Bush any more favors.

Mr. Fox is not alone. In fact, I can't think of anyone other than the hard right and corporate lobbyists who has done a deal with Mr. Bush and not come away feeling betrayed. New York's elected representatives stood side by side with him a few days after Sept. 11 in return for a promise of generous aid. A few months later, as they started to question the administration's commitment, the budget director, Mitch Daniels, accused them of "money-grubbing games." Firefighters and policemen applauded Mr. Bush's promise, more than a year ago, of $3.5 billion for "first responders"; so far, not a penny has been delivered. ...

Mr. Bush's mendacity on economic matters was obvious even during the 2000 election. But lately it has reached almost pathological levels. Last week Mr. Bush who has been having a hard time getting reputable economists to endorse his economic plan claimed an endorsement from the latest Blue Chip survey of business economists. "I don't know what he was citing," declared the puzzled author of that report, which said no such thing.

What Americans may not fully appreciate is the extent to which similarly unfounded claims have, in the eyes of much of the world, discredited the administration's foreign policy. Whatever the real merits of the case against Iraq, again and again the administration has cited evidence that turns out to be misleading or worthless "garbage after garbage after garbage," according to one U.N. official.

Despite his decline in the polls, Mr. Bush hasn't fully exhausted his reservoir of trust in this country. People still remember the stirring image of the president standing amid the rubble of the World Trade Center, his arm around a fireman's shoulders and our ever-deferential, protective media haven't said much about the broken promises that followed. But the rest of the world simply doesn't trust Mr. Bush either to honor his promises or to tell the truth.

This comes to you today from links provided by the Media Horse, always one of my favorite ranting sites. The Horse has a lot of good stuff about the Estrada filibuster, too.

Posted by Observer at 10:59 AM | Comments (0)


From "Cryptonomicon". The setting is that one of the main characters, Randy, has just given his friend Chester a detailed explanation of Randy's business:

Chester nods all the way through this, but does not rudely interrupt Randy as a younger nerd would. Your younger nerd takes offense quickly when someone near him begins to utter declarative sentences, because he reads into it an assertion that he, the nerd, does not already know the information being imparted. But your older nerd has more self-confidence, and besides, understands that frequently people need to think out loud. And highly advanced nerds will furthermore understand that uttering declarative sentences whose contents are already known to all present is part of the social process of making conversation and therefore should not be construed as aggression under any circumstances.

Another funny passage:

There was no room for dust devils in the laws of physics, at least in the rigid form in which they were usually taught. There is a kind of unspoken collusion going on in mainstream science education: you get your competent but bored, insecure and hence stodgy teacher talking to an audience divided between engineering students, who are going to be responsible for making bridges that won't fall down or airplanes that won't suddenly plunge vertically into the ground at six hundred miles an hour, and who by definition get sweaty palms and vindictive attitudes when their teacher suddenly veers off track and begins raving about wild and completely nonintuitive phenomena; and physics students, who derive much of their self-esteem from knowing that they are smarter and morally purer than the engineering students, and who by definition don't want to hear about anything that makes no fucking sense.

This collusion results in the professor saying: (something along the lines of) dust is heavier than air, therefore it falls until it hits the ground. That's all there is to know about dust. The engineers love it because they like their issues dead and crucified like butterflies under glass. The physicists love it because they want to think they understand everything. No one asks difficult questions. And outside the windows, the dust devils continue to gambol across the campus.

This book is a real gem for nerds like me.

Posted by Observer at 10:08 AM | Comments (1)

February 24, 2003

Snow Day

This afternoon, we just started our once-every-few-years ice storm. Classes were cancelled starting at around 4pm, and everyone in town left work early and was headed home. Just in the last few minutes, the streets finally went to hell around the house, covered with about a 1/4 inch layer of tiny ice pellets, soon to congeal into a solid sheet. Much more is scheduled for later tonight, so tomorrow will almost certainly be a snow day.

Doesn't affect me much since I only teach MWF mornings, but it screws over the lab schedule (I manage 16 different lab sections which meet all week). Since some of the students will have excused absences from their labs today and tomorrow, I'll have to give a free pass to all 16 labs. Which is fine with me. It actually makes the end-of-semester accounting somewhat easier. I'm just glad there weren't any special events scheduled this week in lab.

In a way, I feel sorry for the guy who teaches once a week on Tuesday nights. He just lost about 10% of his semester. The ice is falling outside with an unmistakably loud hissing sound as the little pellets cascade through the tree branches like a Plinko chip on "The Price is Right".

The street went from dark ashphalt to white-as-a-sheet in five minutes, and now as I finish writing this, it is dark again but glossy as the ice has melted and refrozen in the classic Texas way. Sidewalks and driveways are hell now, too, especially our steep-angled driveway. If I pulled the car out now, it is quite likely I wouldn't be able to get back into the garage until the temps warm up late tomorrow.

As a preventive measure two hours ago, I returned a couple of movies to Blockbuster that were due tomorrow and rented out some stuff for tomorrow (we're up to episode 9 out of 24 in the series). And I got my sweetie a big fat Subway sammich. Good thing. I imagine Pole-cat has it much worse up the road in Stormin' Norman.

The kids are psyched. My oldest stepson, Justin, is out in the backyard screaming like a banshee. He's also pumped that he made the top three finishers in a couple of events in track, so he qualifies to go to the meet on Thursday evening. He's showing off his uniform and everything. So a big day all around here.

Posted by Observer at 04:50 PM | Comments (3)

Spring Broke

Work-sensitive enough that I decided to delete it. Sorry.

Posted by Observer at 07:30 AM | Comments (2)

February 23, 2003


The two boys, Justin and Cody, are currently infatuated by the Nintendo Gamecube we got them for Xmas. I complain to Cody all the time now that most of the conversations he initiates with me now involve whose turn it is on the GameCube. The current big hit game is Super Smash Bros. (pronounced by the kids "Soopahsmashbruhs"), and I started playing it myself. It's kind of like the Street Fighter games I started seeing in arcades just about the time I stopped going to arcades completely, but it is combat involving various Nintendo characters.

They all have secret moves and tactics, most of which are accessed by what I think would require three robotic hands to manipulate the controller in exactly the right sequence most of the time. It's a wonder their controllers are still working, as much abuse as they get during this game. The boys battle each other all the time, and I let them drag me in from time to time. They totally kick my ass. My only strategy is to stand way off to one side so they forget about me and pound on each other.

The game Sarah and I share is Animal Crossing, which kind of a cross between the Sims and Pokemon. The idea is to maintain a little town populated by various kinds of talking animals. At the same time, there's a collecting aspect to the game (you are looking for complete sets of 8-16 pieces of furniture for your house). There are about 500 different items in the game, some of them nearly impossible to come by.

Trading with other players in other towns helps, and you can write letters back and forth between players are to characters in the game (who will usually write back if they understand your letter). The game occurs in real time, unless you screw around with the internal clock when you log in (which is strongly discouraged, but I do it anyway just so I don't miss a shop's open hours or something like that). There are special events on all the big holidays, including a New Year's Countdown, Xmas, Valentine's Day, etc.

Very neat. There's even an expansion island you can visit if you buy some extra equipment, which we had most of anyway. Another expansion involves buying an e-reader, which attaches to a GameBoy Advance (which we have) which in turn attaches to the GameCube via a special cable. Forty bucks for the e-reader and four bucks for a pack of five collectible cards (there are currently 120, I think), which give you new things in your Animal Crossing game. Evil, evil.

Thank God Sarah doesn't know about it, or I'd never hear the end of it. I have a feeling one of the boys will clue her in at some point soon, though. Especially if they come out with similar cards for Soopahsmashbruhs. Oh well, at least the GameCube doesn't take as much gaming time as my old obsessions on the Mac (Heroes III, Diablo II and, of course, Clan Lord).

I've heard PlayStation 2 and XBox are arguably better overall but that the GameCube rules for kids, especially because it has exclusive rights to Pokemon, Mario stuff and a few other things. Plus it was cheaper. So far, the kids have been messing with it for two months and aren't bored with it at all. We own six games, all of which have gotten serious playing time, and there are about 100 more we'll be able to buy (or, for many, rent at Blockbuster).

Posted by Observer at 04:28 PM | Comments (0)

February 22, 2003

Book Snob

I have read quite a lot of books. I'll try to use this forum to mention my old favorites from time to time. For now, I will just advise you to read almost everything you can get your hands on by Steven Brust, especially all the Jhereg related books. There's a certain order you should read them in, but "Jhereg" itself is a fine place to start, then you can figure out the rest from there.

I'm really picky in bookstores these days, but I literally have about 100 unread books that I own from all different genres. I'm working on Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon" right now, which is pretty good. It's one of those books that rotates between three or four different plot lines, alternating about every chapter, which is kind of annoying.

I know they overlap in strange ways, and I do appreciate that, but I would almost rather read four separate short books. Just when I get really interested in a plot line, I've got to wait three chapters to get back to it. Still, there's some really neat stuff about cryptoanalysis, mathematics, computing, philosophy and so on. Also some really funny sequences.

Actually, my biggest problem with the book is that at 1100 pages, it is very tough to read as a small (very thick) paperback. It is awkward and uncomfortable to hold. I felt really stupid last night when I saw a used hardback of the same book for the same price (at the half-price bookstore) that I bought the small paperback.

Posted by Observer at 12:11 PM | Comments (3)

Practice Date

Some student organization was holding a fund-raiser last night, charging $10 per kid to drop them off between 7 and 10pm. That's a little late, and a little short, and a little expensive, but we decided to drop off the two youngest anyway. We got there right at 7, and they were numbers 2 and 3 dropped off. In the past, when we've dropped off the kids at a free "parents' night out" that is held, it has been a five hour deal, 6pm to 11pm, and they get 30ish kids to show up. I guessed this night they'd be lucky to get 15.

So then we went out driving around. First, 20 minutes through one of those nasty windy heavy drizzle rains, the kind where you can't decide what to set your wipers on. Slick roads, dark, crowded, lots of idiots, lots of missed lights. Down to a mattress store to shop for a new bed. Closed. Augh!

So we try to figure out where to eat. It's late for us to eat, but we are hungry and we waited this long so we could go somewhere neat. Another 15 minutes pass, and we're at a really good Mexican place I want to try. We find out it is a 45 minute wait, so on to another option. Next place, 45 minute wait. Forget it.

So it's now almost an hour after we dropped off the kids, and we haven't done anything but drive around through the most miserable conditions you could imagine. We finally find a decent place that serves a pretty good fried catfish basket with no wait. By the time we're done there, our three hours of freedom is half gone.

I told my wife that we obviously need more practice at going out on a date, because we're really horrible at it. We tried to go by a couple of mattress places, but they didn't have day beds. Then we tried the mall and got five minutes to look at some slightly overpriced beds before they announced it was closing. Thank God the half-price bookstore stays open until late (more on books later), or we'd have had nowhere to go until it was time to pick up the kids.

Finally, at 9:55, we return to pick up the kids. The place looks pretty quiet, and I walk into a room to see 7 student volunteers standing around in their spiffy organizational t-shirts. Two of them are on the floor playing a board game with our 8-year-old Cody. In the other room, the 10-year-old Sarah is watching a video.

I round them up (which takes a while, as they both want one last visit to the snack table, a balloon, say goodbye, where are your shoes, where is your jacket, wait we need to get this crafty thing you made, wait I need a drink, can I go to the bathroom, etc), and I ask one of the volunteers how many people showed up tonight. "Three," she said, pretty embarrassed. I felt pretty bad for them that it took about a dozen volunteers three hours each to earn $30 total (which is easily how much all the snacks, drinks, etc were).

Oh well, the kids took advantage. Cody had a total of eight different snacks and four drinks, and Sarah was a close second. They had a blast. We drove home through the ongoing nasty weather and collapsed in bed with the dogs and our books.

Posted by Observer at 11:24 AM | Comments (1)

February 21, 2003

Strategic Decompression

Ok, time to ask for advice (of course, my lovely wife will read this advice, too, and is probably laughing while reading...). I have an 11 year old stepdaughter who is prone to temper tantrums. At school and home. Really little things set her off, and I'm not sure if I'm handling it correctly.

For example, she came home today and said she had math homework (which is every day, pretty much). She got less than half the assignment done at school, but she forgot to bring that home. It's pouring rain and school is likely closed by now anyway, so I tell her to just start over.

Well, Mount Sarah erupts. I calmly tell her to go to her room to blow off some steam and come out when she's ready to work on it. Stomp stomp yell complain slam the door. 15 minutes later, she seems calm enough, but before she even sits down at the table, she starts building up again for another outburst.

I calmly tell her to go on back to her room and settle down so she doesn't get in trouble. This time, I get a lot of attitude. So I figure it's time for a time out. Well, that's clearly the wrong result in the short run, but in the long run, that seems to calm her down better than just telling her to go to her room for a while. I'm typing this while she stands in a time out. She's just about totally calmed down at the moment, but we'll see what happens when I let her go back to work.

The other day, she was set off when she was told to leave the table (after repeated warnings) because she was eating like a pig. Yesterday, she was set off when her teacher accused her of lying about whether she finished her homework (that one is more complicated, though, and Sarah may have a case, but still yelling and screaming and stomping in the school hallway is never a positive).

So, what to do? Just let her slam bang around in her room, occasionally opening the door to yell and scream at all of us? Time outs? How long do I give her? Does anyone have generic defuse-temper-tantrum tactics? Sometimes I wish I had a giant soundproof rubber room to throw her in. I worry about just letting her go nuts, because how will she learn to control it in public or at school?

Posted by Observer at 04:12 PM | Comments (3)

Question Authority.

Paul Krugman (free registration for NYT required, sorry) has thoughts on Iraq today. I think the three biggest problems anti-war people like myself have are:

1. Bush lies all the time. I don't trust him.
2. Pre-emption in the long run will damage the U. S.
3. We have no exit strategy.

The first one is obvious, but it isn't a good enough reason to oppose the war. After all, Clinton lied all the time, too, but sometimes he did the right thing in foreign policy. Every president has to lie at some point. Bush happens to lie about stuff I care about, and he's so brazen and cocky about it, my blood boils.

The pre-emption strategy was explored last night on Frontline on PBS. All it did, though, was describe how Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz first floated the whole pre-emption idea back during Bush I only to have it shot down. Then they floated it again during Bush II, and it caught on after September 11. I think sitting back and waiting for another terrorist attack is not the answer, but there are other ways to covertly fight terrorism that don't involve throwing all of our military might around.

I will admit that sometimes the threat of force is the only effective way to get things done, and that may be the case here with Iraq. However, we have to have a decent pretext, and there's the problem. People around the world are wondering why Iraq? Why not North Korea? Or continuing to focus on Afghanistan? If people like Wolfowitz think we can build a wonderful Democracy in Iraq and start a trend in the Middle East, why not do the same in Afghanistan and start a trend there, with Pakistan and Iran sharing a border?

The fact that we are forgetting about Afghanistan, don't have a really good reason to attack Iraq (relative to our business with other countries) and don't have an exit strategy are troubling. I think people in the U. S. and around the world are rightfully skeptical about our true reasons. In Sept 2001, countries like France were the first to honor America and declare their solidarity with us. Not just the government, either. There were huge demonstrations by the people of France in support of our fight, grieving over our loss. Those numbers have completely turned around, and that's no accident.

Anyway, Krugman elaborates:

The Marshall Plan was America's finest hour. After World War I, the victors did what victors usually do: they demanded reparations from the vanquished. But after World War II America did something unprecedented: it provided huge amounts of aid, helping both its allies and its defeated enemies rebuild.

It wasn't selfless altruism, of course; it was farsighted, enlightened self-interest. America's leaders understood that fostering prosperity, stability and democracy was as important as building military might in the struggle against Communism.
But one suspects that our current leaders would have jeered at this exercise in "nation-building." And they are certainly following a very different strategy today.


Look at our behavior in Afghanistan. In the beginning, money was no object; victory over the Taliban was as much a matter of bribes to warlords as it was of Special Forces and smart bombs. But President Bush promised that our interest wouldn't end once the war was won; this time we wouldn't forget about Afghanistan, we would stay to help rebuild the country and secure the peace. So how much money for Afghan reconstruction did the administration put in its 2004 budget?

None. The Bush team forgot about it. Embarrassed Congressional staff members had to write in $300 million to cover the lapse. You can see why the Turks, in addition to demanding even more money, want guarantees in writing. Administration officials are insulted when the Turks say that a personal assurance from Mr. Bush isn't enough. But the Turks know what happened in Afghanistan, and they also know that fine words about support for New York City, the firefighters and so on didn't translate into actual money once the cameras stopped rolling.


Turkey has reportedly been offered the right to occupy much of Iraqi Kurdistan. Yes, that's right: as we move to liberate the Iraqis, our first step may be to deliver people who have been effectively independent since 1991 into the hands of a hated foreign overlord. Moral clarity!

Meanwhile, outraged Iraqi exiles report that there won't be any equivalent of postwar de-Nazification, in which accomplices of the defeated regime were purged from public life. Instead the Bush administration intends to preserve most of the current regime: Saddam Hussein and a few top officials will be replaced with Americans, but the rest will stay. You don't have to be an Iraq expert to realize that many very nasty people will therefore remain in power more moral clarity! and that the U.S. will in effect take responsibility for maintaining the rule of the Sunni minority over the Shiite majority.

By the end of today, at least five different prominent conservative commentators will make Goehring proud and question Krugman's patriotism. That comes as no surprise. After all, conservatives and the mainstream media (redundant, I know, sorry) are now blaming anti-war protesters for Saddam's refusal to cooperate. As if he had been wonderful and cooperative for the last 12 years (or even 12 days) without the protests!

Posted by Observer at 08:40 AM | Comments (3)

February 20, 2003

Man of the People

Remember the librul media story about Clinton's $100 haircut by Christophe, holding up traffic at LAX? Or recent stories that John Kerry gets $75 haircuts? Or Al Gore's fashion problems, new suits, earthy colors, pricey designers and consultants, etc?

Why isn't the librul media all over GWB's $2,000 - $14,000 suits? Turns out he bought several pricey suits from some place in England. He also wears designer Italian shoes from the same place Saddam orders his shoes (in fact, the same shoes, just a different size).

In a perfect world, neither of these stories would matter. In our world, the only stories that get any media attention are the ones about Democrats. Yeah, I know, you probably still think the media is librul. That's ok. I doubt reading a blog will change your mind, but I'll keep on piling on the evidence anyway because it makes me feel better. Hell, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting some evidence these days.

Posted by Observer at 10:33 AM | Comments (2)


We are starting to plow through the first season of "24" (which should really be called "18.3" if you don't count commercial time) on DVD. First two episodes were pretty good, and this has promise. It's really really nice to watch without all the long, ill-timed commercials that beat down everything on Fox. We get a good laugh out of a mini-cliffhanger, watching the show's clock go in and out of commercial immediately rather than having to wait five minutes. I've always liked Kiefer Sutherland.

Posted by Observer at 08:38 AM | Comments (4)

February 19, 2003

Brain Dump

Looking back over the past week, I am truly amazed at how much crap I am capable of saying in this format. I promise things will slow down so you don't have to read a freaking novel every day. I am aware of the dangers of blog burnout. I think this first experience has been pretty cool, and I had a lot of pent-up things that have been building for the last few months (which is what pushed me to start this thing in the first place until they finally built up to a critical mass that I had to vent, and not just in comment fields of other blogs).

Things will slow down, I am sure. Until then, please bear with me and liberally skip over all the boring crap.

Posted by Observer at 07:06 PM | Comments (2)

Head for the Hills

This is a Clan Lord related entry (so skip if you like), an edited form of something from the newsgroup, about the history of the foothills quest. It was posted in response to a GM request for feedback about the whole thing:

I know DT is really into the "GM-less" gaming experience, but the opening of new areas should be an exception to that rule. One of the most frustrating things I found about the foothills was that it had so much promise that was wasted. The DP tree was found not by following clues left in the footprints but rather by systematic tree humping. Maybe I'm wrong and there is a decipherable code in the footprint patterns in the Outback that pointed to the DP tree.

If there was and someone figured it out, good for them. If there was and no one figured it out, then it was way too hard. If there wasn't, then why bother with all the footprint patterns? Would've been better (imho) to make the footprint pattern a little easier to figure out, combined with a good Outback map, so that finding the tree would've involved intelligent (rather than random) effort.

Then we got to the foothills. The first encounter of each exploration group with Katpus was really nice. In retrospect, more shovels would have been nice, but that's only because there was stupidity involved on the part of the players. Katpus gave us some tantalizing clues (transcripts are in the archives of Koric's Journal, which hasn't been updated in months).

Then the GM's dropped the ball, and the foothills became another Outback tree-humping exercise, only more dangerous and difficult because it was further from town. There was no systematic way to find the passage to the Dred Wood, just lots of really, really boring (imho) path-searching, often revisiting the same sn'ells over and over.

What made this more maddening was the fact that we couldn't know if the path was always there and we were clumsy or that the path just popped up after an update. We never knew, in other words, if our efforts were advancing the plot. That really let a lot of the air out of the collective player balloon. I'm not saying it was bad for everyone, but people voted with their feet and stopped going to the foothills. Groups that were pretty fun were soon disrupted by apathy, carelessness and other negative things associated with hitting our heads against walls over and over.

Then we finally break through to the Dred Wood, and there's yet another needle-in-the-haystack hunt for paths. We kept running into dead ends until new paths were "installed" for us to find, so again, we never knew if we missed paths because we were clumsy or because we hadn't gotten to the next chaos storm. Very disheartening.

Then we break through again, and we find something only a tiny bit better than searching for paths of questionable existence ... the "crumbling rock wall" that never crumbled. The wall we couldn't affect, no matter how many clever ideas were concocted.

Ok, enough summary ... what would I do differently? First of all, Katpus encounters an average of one exploration group per update. Sometimes the PMF'ers get to see her, sometimes Yor's group, sometimes Gurgi's mob. Katpus can talk vaguely about any changes, deepen the legend by telling stories of the orga, etc. In sum, Katpus can provide us some reassurance that the foothills haven't been forgotten by the GM's, as many of us felt happened over the past couple of years.

Secondly, make sure that there are some clues that people can figure out as to where the next path could be found. Maybe a few red herrings, but keep them to a minimum, because it is hard to tell a red herring from a dead-end-due-to-GM-apathy. There should've been *something* in the SE sn'ell of Dred Wood, in the rock formation flanked by trees, because it matched up with what Katpus first told us.

Katpus could've told us stories about the cave in Dred Wood, about the waterfall, about the noids, about the shimmering pool, about the tree giant area, etc. Some clues could've been dropped about paths opening ("I haven't felt a landslide there in a long time, I think the rocks are pretty stable there and unchanging...") or not opening. Or there could be clues to be found in footprints, easier to decipher.

Finally and most importantly, Katpus should *NOT* have told us about the orga stronghold unless that plot was ready to advance. It really got our hopes up, and then a year later, we're still looking at a stupid wall and waiting for another chaos storm. Basically, Katpus should've made it clear what our limitations were at the time so we didn't expect things beyond what we found.

If you tell a kid that they'll get a new bike for Xmas and then you give them a book instead, they'll be disappointed. If you just give them a book for Xmas, they'll be happy. Don't oversell new areas if they aren't finished. Nurture them. Expeditions are a rare, fun, wonderful thing. Encourage them whenever you can, with just a little GM involvement.

I mean, it is abundantly clear by now that CL is scalable in theory, but in practice, it will never scale up to thousands of players. It just doesn't seem to be a part of the vision, as far as I can tell. So let's take advantage of the small size and get some GM's more directly involved in story-telling and plots. Don't pretend that can't be done because eventually the game will be too big for it. We've been hearing that for many years now.

Posted by Observer at 06:46 PM | Comments (1)

That Sinking Feeling

On my way in to work today, right before my exit, I hear a sudden sound like a snap or sharp bump coming from my front driver's side tire. Now a fast paced slap-slap-slap-slap like you hear when going over segmented pavement. I'm thinking oh please let that be road noise, but no, it continued as the pavement changed.

I continued on to work, figuring it couldn't be a flat tire because the car wasn't pulling. Of course, that means it is probably worse, something in the suspension maybe whapping the tire. I get to work, stress out about it all day. On the way home, it starts up again, but then halfway there, it just stops without any warning. I'm thinking (hoping) that I picked up a piece of trash on the inside of my tire where I couldn't see it, then it finally fell off.

After just getting $600 worth of repairs three weeks ago, that's a relief. Thank God it did fall off today or I'd have taken it to the dealership in the morning and shelled out $80 for their analysis that it was a piece of stupid trash, not to mention dealt with the inconvenience (would've taken them two days just to look at the stupid car, I'm sure). I wish I knew of a good auto shop around here I could trust. Or maybe if I lived down the street from Mr. Handyman, I could bum a free diagnosis, at least.

Posted by Observer at 04:09 PM | Comments (3)


Work-sensitive enough that I decided to delete it. Sorry.

Posted by Observer at 01:58 PM | Comments (0)

Advice for Undergraduates

This was written with the help of many cynical friends long ago. Enjoy.

Part 1 - In-Class Behavior

#1. If you are reading the newspaper or other non-class-related material in class, the professor will notice. You should hope you are reprimanded directly because the alternative is that the professor will do something evil to you that you can't detect until too late.

#2. If you do decide to read something non-class-related, at least have the decency not to try it on the first couple of rows. Remember, there is a difference between an in-class reprimand and a public humiliation. Direct insults like reading a newspaper or shuffling through another class text while sitting on the front row will likely meet with the latter result (and, in some cases, "accidental" physical harm).

#3. Yes, the professor notices you talking. See (1).

#4. Yes, there are stupid questions. They are questions that make it very obvious you missed a previous class (such as questions that make it obvious you missed an important announcement about an exam date or review session).

#5. Before you openly challenge a professor's factual assertion in class (or, in some cases, even offer a correction), think of the tone of voice you would use when faced with a gun-wielding maniac and try to go one step more submissive than that.

#6. It is a fairly common (and dangerously mistaken) practice for students to engage in silent (potentially embarrassing) commentary either to themselves or to neighbors in the margins of their notebooks. Should you make the (even larger) mistake of badmouthing the professor or the course in your notebook, take care to ensure that you don't leave your notebook behind in class. The next place it is likely to wind up is in the professor's office.

#7. Don't bring your cell phone to class. Sooner or later, you will forget to leave it turned off. And For The Love Of God, don't *answer* it when it rings. This goes double for office hour visits.

Part 2 - Grades

#1. Low grades, in and of themselves, are not necessarily an injustice. Professors feel quite strongly on this matter, and it is not a good idea to contradict that belief in their presence.

#2. Avoid insulting your professor until AFTER grades are in.

#3. If you intend to argue with a professor over the grading on an exam, be sure you have valid points. Leading off such a conversation with, "I only need 3 points," for example, is to guarantee failure.

#4. Brown-nosing is more likely to help at the A/B threshold and not the C/D or D/F threshold. If you're making a D or an F, you're probably not coming to class, and encouraging the professor to remember your face (so that he/she can therefore notice your frequent absences) is probably not a good strategy.

#5. No matter how much you delude yourself into thinking otherwise, a comprehensive final exam will not improve your overall average.

#6. Claiming that you got a low score on a test question because the professor misled you is something you can do exactly once, because it has the side effect of causing the professor to subsequently examine and remember everything he says to you and you say to him.

#7. Using the lecture notes as research paper source material (when you are asked to search the library for references) is like getting a date to the Senior Prom with your brother or sister. It shouldn't count. If it *does* count, you should both go to prison.

Part 3 - Absences

#1. Don't skip class. Ever.

#2. Remember that, regardless of what pieces of paper you may hold in your hand, no professor considers any absence "excused".

#3. There is never a good time to tell a professor, "Oh, I've missed so much class; I have no idea what's going on." Saying this before an oral exam is probably the worst possible time.

#4. If you call your professor with the intention of pretending to be sick, be sure to clear your throat frequently, noticeably pause or otherwise make an effort to display symptoms over the phone.

#5. If you are flunking the class and/or skipping frequently, be sure to pick up your most recent exam/homework so that you are aware of your grade. This also helps hide from your professor the fact that you aren't attending class.

#6. There exist no professors who feel that your athletic event SHOULD have priority over classroom attendance, so don't rub it in if you have an excuse. Professors can be vindictive when provoked.

#7. When asking questions about class topics, try to avoid making it obvious that you skipped class; otherwise, your professor will respond with, "Well, what do your notes say about that?" and (worse) possibly call your bluff and ask to see them.

#8. There exists no situation more suited for abject grovelling than the visit to the professor's office after an unexcused absence from an exam. "Oversleeping" is really only an acceptable excuse for classes that begin before 9:00 am, according to most professors.

Part 4 - Cheating

#1. Don't EXPECT to be able to cheat.

#2. You may feel that it is your right or even your duty to cheat on multiple choice exams. Professors don't share this sentiment.

#3. Don't write cheat notes on anything that can be easily identified as belonging to you, such as a favorite baseball cap. You can't write enough on there to make it worth the risk anyway.

#4. If you secretly copy some notes onto a desk for the purposes of cheating, make sure to do it in erasable pencil, and don't forget to erase it after you get up to turn in the exam. Since professors who have fallen victim to this will typically perform a "desk check" prior to exams, you'll probably either be caught or too stressed to concentrate anyway.

#5. Most professors think that burning at the stake is too lenient a punishment for cheating, but they'll go along with it anyway because it is cheap and convenient.

#6. If you've cheated at some point during the semester and your parents don't know about it, be sure to avoid any kind of formal grade appeal situation in that class. It is certain to be the first thing brought to the attention of your parents.

Posted by Observer at 01:01 PM | Comments (4)

Lucky Duckies

A good column recently came from Jim Hightower regarding the famously idiotic editorial board of the Wall Street Journal:

They singled out a poor, hypothetical schmoe who's making $12,000 a year and is in the lowest tax bracket. This person, the editors complained, "pays a little less than four percent of income in taxes." The editors dubbed such people, "lucky duckies."

This was part of their argument as to why taxes need to be increased on the poor, so that they can join the rich in complaining about taxes, so they can see what it feels like to have high taxes. What a riot. It reminds me of people who complain about affirmative action. You know what? If you've got a problem with some minority kid getting a few extra points on his application to some University ... if that kid is just lucky because of his skin color or whatever ... would you switch places with that kid?

Say I had a potion that would turn you, right now, into an African American. Nothing else about your past would change, but in the future, people would treat you as though you've always been a minority. How much money would I have to pay you to take it? Would you do it for, say, a million dollars? Think about a price while you consider how "lucky" are those people who get the benefits of affirmative action.

Hightower goes on about one of the biggest misconceptions about taxes (the one detail rarely reported by the media in stories about this):

Plus, when they talk about who pays the most taxes, they're referring only to federal income taxes, leaving out the thoroughly regressive burdens of our payroll taxes, state and local taxes, sales taxes, gasoline taxes, fees, and a host of other assessments. Add these in and we slobs at the bottom are paying the same rates or higher than the swells at the top. For example, state and local governments sock the poor with taxes that are more than 11 percent of their paltry income. But they let the rich skate by with half as much.

You don't hear about the total tax burden in the liberal media. Instead you hear things like the richest 5% pay 20% of federal taxes or what have you. Well, yeah, if you want to even the burden out a bit, federal taxes will be progressive, but if you compare the total tax burdens, you find that it is generally still regressive. If you care enough to explore, there's lots of good articles on file at the web site of the Citizens for Tax Justice.

They have references to the appropriate federal, state and local tax burdens, etc. Basically, very boring reading instead of some pie-in-the-sky conservative bullshit about "lucky duckies". Of course, most people in their right mind wouldn't dream of going to all the trouble to look up the facts. Understandable, but in that case, you end up having to trust someone to tell you the truth.

If you are trusting conservatives like the WSJ guys, you will simply hear misleading facts or outright lies. If you are trusting the so-called liberal media, you aren't going to hear the whole story. The real trick is finding a source you can trust to give you all the facts in a concise way so you can make an informed decision, if you want to be an informed voter. Let me know if you find one. Best I can do is read *lots* of different news sources and decide for myself which has the most credibility.

Posted by Observer at 09:39 AM | Comments (7)

February 18, 2003

Quotable Nazis

Of course the people don't want war. But after all, it's the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it's always a simple matter to drag the people along whether it's a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger.

- Herman Goering (Hitler's chief deputy) at the Nuremberg trials

Posted by Observer at 08:24 PM | Comments (0)

When Pigs Fly

HEADLINE: New internal documents show that Bill Clinton's administration sold anthrax to Iraq.

Stop and think for a moment how that makes you feel. Pretty mad at Clinton? Would you trust this headline if you saw it in the paper? Figure it is about par for the course for Clinton because he's such a scumbag? Do you imagine there would be a forthcoming book from someplace like Regnery publishing with "treason" and "Clinton" in the title, that sort of thing?

Humor me and think about it for a minute. Think about how you would think about it and how you think it would be treated in the media.

The true situation is described on-line in a New Republic article by Peter Beinart (who is a definite war hawk right now). It turns out that during the Reagan administration, middle east envoy Donald Rumsfeld (our current Secretary of Defense who is oh-so-popular in Europe just now) was instrumental in helping Saddam arm himself with chemical weapons such as anthrax, bubonic plague and so on.

That's right. Our current Secretary of Defense was instrumental in arming Iraq. And that's not even a fraction of the problem...

Saddam first used chemical weapons, in particular mustard gas, in 1983, in his war against Iran. By October of that year, according to recently declassified documents, the United States knew he was using them "almost daily." But the Reagan administration wasn't bothered. To the contrary, that December it sent Middle East envoy Donald Rumsfeld to Baghdad. According to the book Spider's Web: The Secret History of How the White House Illegally Armed Iraq, by Financial Times reporter Alan Friedman, Rumsfeld presented a letter from Reagan that proposed restoring diplomatic relations and offered U.S. military and economic assistance. When Iran launched a new offensive in February 1984, Saddam added tabun, a lethal nerve gas, to his chemical repertoire. In the spring of 1984, Rumsfeld returned for another visit. By November, the United States and Iraq had restored diplomatic relations.

It gets worse. Records from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a 1994 Senate Banking Committee investigation show that during Reagan's presidency, the United States sold Iraq anthrax, bubonic plague, and botulinum toxin, all supposedly for medical research. In 1988, the Commerce Department approved Dow Chemical's sale of $1.5 million worth of pesticides to Baghdad, even though many in the administration suspected Saddam would use them for chemical warfare. Over congressional opposition, the Reagan administration sold Iraq twin-engine Bell "Huey" helicopters, which appear to have been used in Saddam's chemical attacks on the Kurds. ...

It would be nice, then, if prominent Bush officials acknowledged their past moral culpability and vowed not to betray the Iraqi people again. Rumsfeld should have trouble sleeping at night given his role in abetting Saddam's crimes. Instead, last fall on CNN, he insisted that in 1983 he "cautioned" Saddam about chemical weapons. But State Department notes from the meeting show no such thing. (Rumsfeld did mention chemical weapons to then-Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, but only in passing--as one of various issues that concerned the United States.) In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee last September, Rumsfeld said, "It would be a shame to leave this committee and the people listening with the impression that the United States assisted Iraq with chemical or biological weapons in the 1980s. I just do not believe that's the case." But, according to recently declassified State Department documents reviewed by Newsweek, The Washington Post, and the Associated Press, it is the case.

It is a testament to Rumsfeld's immense arrogance and lack of moral reflection that neither on CNN nor before the Armed Services Committee did he betray the slightest hint that he or the administration he served did anything wrong in the '80s regarding Saddam Hussein.

I'm sure the regular liberal media, you know, newspapers, CNN and the like will fill us in on all this. I mean, yeah, they haven't already, but they intend to. They'll do a good job of getting this information out, over and over, to make sure it has a chance to sink in to the casual news consumer because of its significance. I mean, it's more important than something like Whitewater, right? Especially considering we are headed to war. So I'm sure we'll see this reported at length in the liberal media.

When pigs fucking fly.

Posted by Observer at 08:00 PM | Comments (6)

Sins of Omission

Here is a very good article by Ted Rall about what the media leaves out when it reports the news. Usually all it takes is one little missing detail, and it changes the effect of the whole story. Here's a good excerpt:

The closest thing to a "smoking gun" found by U.N. arms inspectors in Iraq is 12 warheads found at an ammo dump south of Baghdad. Americans know that the White House considers this discovery a "material breach" that justifies war. Few are aware that, as reported Jan. 17 in the U.K. Telegraph, the canisters were empty, and are probably American-made shells sold to Iraq by the Reagan administration. Not much of a "smoking gun."

Scratch the surface and you find this sort of thing all over the "news." Democratic complaints that the Bush tax cuts only benefit the "richest one percent" of Americans are duly reported, but leave out a definition of the term. Did you know that you have to earn more than $330,000 a year to be in the top one percent? Nineteen percent of Americans don't. They told Time that they think they're in that top one percent.

That latter part is kind like the Estate Tax debate. About 1/3 of Americans think they are affected by this tax, but in fact, something like 95% of the revenue is collected on a total of about 3000 estates per year. That's THREE THOUSAND, and they all have assets greater than FIVE MILLION DOLLARS (another missing detail in most media reporting on this). Oh, don't get me started on the whole Estate Tax thing. If you're interested, Bill Gates' father co-wrote a about why the Estate Tax is a good thing.

Posted by Observer at 05:31 PM | Comments (0)

It's the Little Things...

My favorite time of day is when my sweetie gets home from work (or when I get home if I'm later, but since I'm a lazy, absent-minded professor, that's rarely the case). I love to give her a hug and a kiss and then we both tell stories about our day, stopping every few minutes to answer a homework question or what have you. Sometimes she jumps me or I jump her. No complaints there, buddy!

My second favorite is coming home, seeing our two pugs shake and shimmy with SOOOO much excitement. I say, "Who let these dogs in this house? Oh my gosh, we have dogs in our house, and they are so happy! Come here, you crazy dogs!" and then I get down on the floor and they crawl all over me, tails wagging, mouths slobbering, paws scratching and so on. And then I quickly let them out to the backyard, especially so the puppy can get herself outside and cut loose with a big pee before she does it on me.

Third favorite is when the kids come home and they've avoided getting in trouble at school. Especially if they don't have homework, because then we can all just settle in for a relaxing evening around the house. As mad as I get about stuff in the world, I try never to lose sight of the little things that make life grand.

Oh yeah, I also like quiet mornings with the newspaper, my Cinnamon Toast flavored Eggo waffles, a couple of microwaved Jimmy Dean sausage biscuits and a big hefty cup of skim milk I can gulp down. And I like nights falling asleep next to the woman who makes me so happy.

Get busy livin' or get busy dyin'. Damn right.

Posted by Observer at 02:37 PM | Comments (1)

Zora! Zora! Zora!

Dave Barry has an excellent summary of last night's Joe Millionaire episode.

Posted by Observer at 01:19 PM | Comments (0)

Through the Looking-Glass

Political rant again, feel free to skip.

Another great Paul Krugman column (registration for NY Times required but is free and painless) talks about the role of the media and the upcoming war:

Surveys show that a majority of Americans think that some or all of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi, while many believe that Saddam Hussein was involved in Sept. 11, a claim even the Bush administration has never made. And since many Americans think that the need for a war against Saddam is obvious, they think that Europeans who won't go along are cowards.

Europeans, who don't see the same things on TV, are far more inclined to wonder why Iraq rather than North Korea, or for that matter Al Qaeda has become the focus of U.S. policy. That's why so many of them question American motives, suspecting that it's all about oil or that the administration is simply picking on a convenient enemy it knows it can defeat. They don't see opposition to an Iraq war as cowardice; they see it as courage, a matter of standing up to the bullying Bush administration.

Although I am sure a large number of Americans, including the tiny few who read this blog, probably have pretty well-informed opinions on this matter, I can't help but wonder about the ignorance of so many Americans. Why do you suppose a large number of people have such misinformed views about Iraq and Al Qaeda?

I think the corporate media is largely to blame. There are other factors, but outlets like Faux News aren't helping by misinforming their viewers about the peaceful protests of millions of Americans, as Krugman continues:

"On Saturday, news anchors on Fox described the demonstrators in New York as 'the usual protesters' or 'serial protesters.' CNN wasn't quite so dismissive, but on Sunday morning the headline on the network's Web site read "Antiwar rallies delight Iraq," and the accompanying picture showed marchers in Baghdad, not London or New York."

I remember when Clinton tried to take the battle to the terrorists and was accused by right-wing nutjobs of "wagging the dog" (trying to distract the public from government scandals with the old bomb-bomb). Now those same morons accuse Clinton of letting the terrorists grow into the problem they are today. As if they would've given him the freedom to suspend liberties in America and saber-rattle his way into the world hall of shame like Bush!

God, we are *so* through the looking-glass these days.

Posted by Observer at 01:06 PM | Comments (0)

February 17, 2003

I Want My PBS

This Frontline special on Iraq Thursday night looks like it might be good. I hope it doesn't conflict with anything like American Idol (which I guess is on Tuesday).

And yeah, I'll be watching Joe Millionaire tonight. I'll probably bake some cookies during the first hour, though, which is sure to be dreck.

Posted by Observer at 03:11 PM | Comments (4)

But I've Got a 4.0!

Work-sensitive enough that I decided to delete it. Sorry.

Posted by Observer at 09:25 AM | Comments (6)

February 16, 2003

NATO: Expendable

Oh my God. Some of the people in the executive branch of this administration are talking about pulling all troops and bases out of Germany, with the intention of harming their economy in return for their "treachery". I hope this isn't true, but I am worried that it might be. What in the hell is going on? Are we going to toss NATO aside now?

I wonder if this story will appear in even one single newspaper in the United States tomorrow. Come on, "liberal" media, get with the program! You already missed the story of how the Bush administration filed a brief asking federal judges to deny protesters in New York City the right to march. Is the dissolution of NATO big enough to appear on your fucking radar screen?

Posted by Observer at 10:17 PM | Comments (0)


Recently, there has been an upsurge by conservatives in "fake grass roots" (hence the name AstroTurf) campaigns. Basically, they have an email list or a website where you sign up and if you click a button, it will automatically send a pre-written letter-to-the-editor to N newspapers in closest proximity to your zip code.

One web site, Failure Is Impossible, has been keeping track of these. Through them, I learned of the "demonstrating genuine leadership" letter and sure enough, a couple of days after I read about it, that same damned form letter appeared in the local paper here (and USA Today the next day).

I fired off a letter to the editor myself, refuting the stupid claims in the letter and identifying it as AstroTurf, and I'm happy to say it was published the next day. One of my favorite claims is that the Bush tax cut gives the average business something like a $2,000 tax break. Well, that's because a few business get millions while everyone else gets nothing.

It's like Bill Gates walking into a homeless shelter. You can then say the average net worth of those in the building is $2 billion, but there's still only one rich guy. That helpful analogy comes from the New York Times's Paul Krugman, whose columns on economics lately are really required reading.

Posted by Observer at 11:42 AM | Comments (0)

February 15, 2003

Rally Recap

Here's a reaction to today's massive anti-war protests that I really like.

Posted by Observer at 07:15 PM | Comments (4)

Lucky Pecker

Work-sensitive enough that I decided to delete it. Sorry.

Posted by Observer at 04:40 PM | Comments (0)

February 14, 2003

A Crown Jewel from England

One of the better articles lately analyzing the pathetic state of the US media was, of course, written by the Brits.

Posted by Observer at 07:32 PM | Comments (0)

Daily Stream

Wait a minute, you mean to tell me that you *HAVEN'T* been keeping up with "The Daily Show" via RealOne streaming video clips? Jon Stewart is a national treasure.

Posted by Observer at 04:33 PM | Comments (1)

My Heart Pumps for Her

Valentine's Day has almost never been a happy day for me. From the age at which I first became Aware of Girls (12?) until I was about 23 years old, with only a couple of exceptions, I was subject to one of the Crappy Things in Life, which is being Alone on Valentine's Day.

Even when not alone, I've never really enjoyed the pressure of Valentine's Day. I don't like taking one day out of all the rest of a relationship and putting all kinds of extra meaning and stuff in there. I'm lucky that I have a great wife who agrees with me. Every day is so great with her.

But still, I sometimes can't resist doing a little something. So today I bought her a little Valentine's Day gift that she wasn't expecting: 10 gallons of gas. I snuck off with her car this morning and filled it up so she wouldn't have to worry about it making her late for work, standing in the cold wind and rain and all that.

My students got a good laugh out of my idea of a romantic gift. Or maybe they were just humoring me because I gave them a curve that raised the class average on the exam by about 15 points. I'm such a pushover.

Posted by Observer at 04:01 PM | Comments (0)

February 13, 2003

Bush Haiku Poetry

Courtesy of the Media Whores Online contest...

My history class
Learning the Constitution
"Hey, he can't do that!"

The country needs me!
"Here I come to save the day!"
(After my workout)

Posted by Observer at 10:28 PM | Comments (0)

The Horns of a Dilemma

Work-sensitive enough that I decided to delete it. Sorry.

Posted by Observer at 02:20 PM | Comments (3)

Reality Check

I'd link to Maureen Dowd's latest column in the NY Times, but I think registration is required, and I don't link in those cases. She is usually just amusing, rarely useful or informative, but this column addressed a point that was the first question in my mind after I heard a new audiotape had been supposedly produced by Osama bin Laden:

In the past, Condi Rice has implored the networks not to broadcast the tapes outright, fearing he might be activating sleeper cells in code.

But this time the administration flacked the tape. And Fox, the official Bush news agency, rushed the entire tape onto the air.

So the Bushies no longer care if Osama sends a coded message to his thugs as long as he stays on message for the White House?

Most stations aired only parts of the message, because of earlier security warnings not to allow such a broadcast, which might send out some sort of coded signal to terrorist cells in the US. But not Faux News, not this time. Makes you wonder.

I have a lot to say about the potential war with Iraq, but for now, I'll just say this so you have some frame of reference. I'm ambivalent about it. I doubt we'd get anywhere without a credible threat of force, and I would very much like to see Saddam out. HOWEVER, I think the idea that he will be replaced by some kind of representative democracy in a region sorely lacking in that tradition ... that is a fantasy.

I think we'll get a replacement who is just as bad, or possibly worse considering that Saddam represents the (generally) corrupt faction of Muslims instead of the fanatic-great-satan-kill-America faction (like Iran), which is the majority of Iraq's population. The alternative is that we stay there long enough to completely change the culture of the country, and I mean stay there in force, effectively becoming the entire governmental apparatus. And we simply don't do that. See the current state of Afghanistan for a prime example.

Posted by Observer at 07:03 AM | Comments (2)

February 12, 2003

Taking the plunge

I have some things to say, but some of them could get me in trouble, so names and such can and will be changed for my protection. Sorry about that.

Some of the things I have to say are just silly stories about my students. You see, I am a teacher at a university. I teach courses in the hard sciences, some large and some small courses.

Other things have to do with family life. I have a wonderful, beautiful wife whom I married about a year ago, and she has three kids. So I learned how to become a (step)father very quickly. We are pregnant, expecting a new little one in July.

Still more things have to do with politics. As you will see, I am an angry
liberal. So I will probably vent a bit, and if current administration proposals are passed, maybe I'll get expatriated for exercising what I thought were my first amendment rights.

Anyway, welcome. Hope you enjoy.

Posted by Observer at 07:21 PM | Comments (3)