March 31, 2003

Now Don't Get Cocky

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

Posted by Observer at 03:26 PM | Comments (2)

It's Early

Did I say that everyone thinks the Rangers don't have a chance? Everyone but me, of course. They're my sleeper team of 2003. After one game, their leadoff hitter has an on-base percentage of .400, their bullpen is perfect, they are on pace to hit more than 400 home runs as a team, and their staff earned run average is 3.00. My God, even that pinhead Carl Everett believes in Buck Showalter enough as a manager that he lowered himself to a sacrifice bunt in the first inning (that worked!).

Woo, I love early season baseball projections. Even if the Rangers don't have a chance this year, I'd sure like them to have a nice first month or two so I can hope for a while. The last few years, with the Mariners going crazy in 2001 and then the whole division going nuts in 2002, the Rangers have been out of it before the end of May. The Rangers have always been my team (though I became a Mariners fan, too, when I lived in Seattle, and I was even at Game 5 vs New York in I think 1995 when Edgar won it in the 11th with a double down the left-field line ... I have that on video tape), even back when GW Bush was using his little ownership stake to get rich and get publicity.

Posted by Observer at 06:55 AM | Comments (3)

March 30, 2003

Moving Day

I had to move my office a couple days ago. Our building is being renovated, and this summer, they are doing our floor. My office is right across the hall from the freight elevator (but at least it is spacious) and right in the middle of ground zero of the whole renovation effort. So they are moving me out of there and into the small office I originally had when I first got here several years ago.

I'll get to reclaim my big office at the end of the summer, presumably. But I kinda like my old office. It has a window, even though the view is almost completely blocked by a big column of the building (because the person who designed this building doesn't have to work in it, I figure), and it is closer to the rest of the department. I'm sure I'll be sick of it in a month, though.

Plus I'm now across the hall from ... no, that's a rant I'm not willing to risk here. Suffice it to say he's a theorist. Ok, ok, just kidding! He's not so bad!

Posted by Observer at 12:18 PM | Comments (0)

There's No Lying in Baseball

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

Posted by Observer at 08:49 AM | Comments (1)

March 29, 2003

Bad Cop II

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

Posted by Observer at 02:22 PM | Comments (2)

Bad Cop I

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

Posted by Observer at 08:13 AM | Comments (0)

March 28, 2003

Pearls from Paul

Paul Krugman continues a long series of great columns with a couple within the last week on the budget and the war (red meat for us liberals). I have links for Krugman that don't go to the NY Times and so don't require any registration (hooray!).

One of the more frightening economic developments in the past week has been the reports that a new Bush tax cut has passed the Senate to the tune of $400 billion dollars. The media is portraying this as some kind of "victory" for moderates and a "defeat" for Bush because Bush didn't get the entire $800 billion he asked for. What a bunch of nonsense. Krugman dissects the latest budgetary problems in last week's column:

The Onion describes itself as "America's finest news source," and it's not an idle boast. On Jan. 18, 2001, the satirical weekly bore the headline "Bush: Our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over," followed by this mock quotation: "We must squander our nation's hard-won budget surplus on tax breaks for the wealthiest 15 percent. And, on the foreign front, we must find an enemy and defeat it."

Whatever our qualms about how we got here, all Americans now hope that the foreign front proceeds according to plan. Meanwhile, let's talk about the fiscal front.

The latest official projections acknowledge (if you read them carefully) that the long-term finances of the U.S. government are in much worse shape than the administration admitted a year ago. But many commentators are reluctant to blame George W. Bush for that grim outlook, preferring instead to say something like this: "Sure, you can criticize those tax cuts, but the real problem is the long-run deficits of Social Security and Medicare, and the unwillingness of either party to reform those programs."

Why is this line appealing? It seems more reasonable to blame longstanding problems for our fiscal troubles than to attribute them to just two years of bad policy decisions. Also, many pundits like to sound "balanced," pronouncing a plague on both parties' houses. To accuse the current administration of wrecking the federal budget sounds, well, shrill ó and we don't want to sound shrill, do we?

There's only one problem with this reasonable, balanced, non-shrill position: it's completely wrong. The Bush tax cuts, not the retirement programs, are the main reason why our fiscal future suddenly looks so bleak.

I base that statement on a new study that compares the size of the Bush tax cuts with that of the prospective deficits of Social Security and Medicare. The results are startling. ... [without the tax cut, the government's projected] revenue would have been more than enough to "top up" Social Security and Medicare, allowing them to operate without benefit cuts for the next 75 years. ...

And there's a lesson here that goes beyond fiscal policies. On almost every front the outlook for the United States now seems far bleaker than it did two years ago. Has everything gone wrong because of evildoers and external forces? In the case of the budget ó and the economy and, yes, foreign policy ó the answer is no. The world has turned out to be a tougher place than we thought a few years ago, but things didn't have to be nearly this bad.

The fault lies not in our stars, but in our leadership.

Also in the news is the recent story that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has finally issued a lengthy report documenting the market manipulation that occured in California with Enron et al. Krugman finds a theme between the government's reaction with that and the war:

They considered themselves tough-minded realists, and regarded doubters as fuzzy-minded whiners. They silenced those who questioned their premises, even though the skeptics included many of the government's own analysts. They were supremely confident ó and yet with shocking speed everything they had said was proved awesomely wrong.

No, I'm not talking about the war; I'm talking about the energy task force that Dick Cheney led back in 2001. Yet there are some disturbing parallels. Right now, pundits are wondering how Mr. Cheney ó who confidently predicted that our soldiers would be "greeted as liberators" ó could have been so mistaken. But a devastating new report on the California energy crisis reminds us that Mr. Cheney has been equally confident, and equally wrong, about other issues.

In spring 2001 the lights were going out all over California. There were blackouts and brownouts, and the price of electricity was soaring. The Cheney task force was convened in the midst of that crisis. It concluded, in brief, that the energy crisis was a long- term problem caused by meddling bureaucrats and pesky environmentalists, who weren't letting big companies do what needed to be done. The solution? Scrap environmental rules, and give the energy industry multibillion-dollar subsidies. ...

In fact, the California energy crisis had nothing to do with environmental restrictions, and a lot to do with market manipulation. In 2001 the evidence for manipulation was basically circumstantial. But now we have a new report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which until now has discounted claims of market manipulation. No more: the new report concludes that market manipulation was pervasive, and offers a mountain of direct evidence, including phone conversations, e-mail and memos. There's no longer any doubt: California's power shortages were largely artificial, created by energy companies to drive up prices and profits. ...

In short, Mr. Cheney and his tough-minded realists were blowing smoke: their report described a fantasy world that bore no relation to reality. How did they get it so wrong?

One answer is that Mr. Cheney made sure that his task force included only like-minded men: as far as we can tell, he didn't consult with anyone except energy executives. So the task force was subject to what military types call "incestuous amplification," defined by Jane's Defense Weekly as "a condition in warfare where one only listens to those who are already in lock-step agreement, reinforcing set beliefs and creating a situation ripe for miscalculation."

Another answer is that Mr. Cheney basically drew his advice about how to end the energy crisis from the very companies creating the crisis, for fun and profit. But was he in on the joke?

We may never know what really went on in the energy task force since the Bush administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to keep us from finding out. At first the nonpartisan General Accounting Office, which is supposed to act as an internal watchdog, seemed determined to pursue the matter. But after the midterm election, according to the newsletter The Hill, Congressional Republicans approached the agency's head and threatened to slash his budget unless he backed off.

And therein lies the broader moral. In the last two years Mr. Cheney and other top officials have gotten it wrong again and again ó on energy, on the economy, on the budget. But political muscle has insulated them from any adverse consequences. So they, and the country, don't learn from their mistakes ó and the mistakes keep getting bigger.

Thank goodness someone out there in media land is telling it like it is.

Posted by Observer at 03:52 PM | Comments (1)

Lab Rats

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

Posted by Observer at 06:59 AM | Comments (5)

March 27, 2003

More Mathemagic with Sarah

Oh my God, this is my 101st entry. Oh well.

Me: The math problem says, "If a pint weighs a pound, how much does two quarts weigh?"

Sarah: I don't know.

Me: How many pints are in two quarts?

Sarah: (shrug)

Me: Let's look it up. You just covered that a few pages ago. Here it is. 2 pints is 1 quart. So how many pints is 2 quarts?

Sarah: 4?

Me: Right. Ok, so if a pint weighs a pound, how much does 4 pints weigh?

Sarah: 2 quarts?

Me: (disbelief)

Sarah: What?

Me: If a *PINT* weighs a *POUND*, how much does 4 pints weigh?

Sarah: 2 quarts?

Me: A quart is a unit of volume, Sarah. A pound is a unit of weight. You have to answer in pounds.

Sarah: Oh.

Me: If a pint weighs a pound, how much does 4 pints weigh?

Sarah: 2?

Me: (picking up Sarah's GameBoy) If this GameBoy weighs a pound, how much would two GameBoys weigh?

Sarah: 2 pounds!

Me: How much would FOUR GameBoys weigh?

Sarah: 4 pounds!

Me: If a *PINT* weighs a *POUND*, how much does 4 pints weigh?

Sarah: (thinking) 2 pounds?

Me: (shaking the gameboy like a holy weapon) If a GAMEBOY weighs a POUND, how much does FOUR GAMEBOYS weigh?

Sarah: 4 pounds!

Me: If a PINT weighs a POUND, how much does FOUR PINTS weigh?

Sarah: 4 pounds?

Me: (very exhausted) yes, now go finish your math.

Sarah: I'm in trouble. You are getting impatient with me.

Me: (deep sigh)

Posted by Observer at 05:24 PM | Comments (3)

Oh, It's That Layers Thing

Some highlights from the latest edition of The Onion, a special wartime edition:

BALTIMOREóThe Pentagon has obtained vital information on Iraqi chemical weapons from Alcolac International, the Baltimore-based company that sold them to the Mideast nation in the '80s. "It's terrifying what Iraq has," Pentagon spokesman James Reese said Monday. "Saddam possesses massive stockpiles of everything from ethylene to thiodiglycol, according to sales records provided by Alcolac." The Pentagon has also been collecting key intelligence on Iraqi nuclear weapons and guidance systems from Honeywell, Unisys, and other former U.S. suppliers to Iraq.

KUWAITóWith blacks and Hispanics comprising more than 60 percent of the Army's ground forces in Iraq, the U.S. military is continuing its long, proud tradition of multiculturalism on the front lines of war. "Though racism and discrimination remain problems in society at large, in the militaryóespecially in the lower ranks where you find the cannon fodderóa spirit of inclusiveness has prevailed for decades," Gen. Jim White said Monday. "When it comes to having your head blown off by enemy fire, America is truly colorblind."

There's also a really funny article about Bush bravely leading the 3rd infantry into battle on the front lines. Elsewhere in humor, the latest Daily Show Clip (Bill of Might) has what I think is the appropriate response to the fact that Dick Cheney's own (former) company, big Republican contributor Halliburton, is (surprise!) the winner of one of the first lucrative contracts to help start rebuilding Iraq's oil infrastructure after we either bomb the hell out of it or it gets sabotaged by Iraqis. As Jon Stewart says, "I feel like the government just took a shit on my chest."

Posted by Observer at 02:55 PM | Comments (5)

Dusting Off the Red Robes

My sweetie and I went clanning a couple nights ago for the first time in a long time together as our main characters. We are really out of practice playing healers. Anyway, Gurgi sent out an invitation to all the usual suspects from the usual mob, and this time it was early enough that we figured we'd have a few hours to go, even though it was on a weeknight.

Of course, it took nearly an hour from the declared starting time to get gathered and get to the entrance to Hatred Hollow. Fortunately, there's a new path that lets us skip the long Outback journey, so we took advantage of that. Dred Passage wasn't too bad. I mean, we blundered our way through it on sheer might alone and even then, it took some fancy footwork by Manx to just get out through the path in time, dragging fallens with her.

Then through the foothills. Poor Olmy was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and all of us weren't alert enough. In the space of about 10 seconds, he went from standing around chatting to way beyond pnd. We pushed on ahead, dragging him for company, and after many mishaps and miscommunications and other delays, we finally got to the now-gone crumbling wall. We also got to see the Tao of Trillbane book, which none of us could train from yet, so that was pretty cool.

Then we got to the ubernoids well, and I got to see some pretty neat action there. But we don't have a well-oiled machine, so we got delayed. In the end, it was about an hour past what we originally had decided was going to be our final, absolute final bedtime (11pm, we're such old people), and we had hit another snag, so we told the group we were bailing. Of course, we weren't the only ones. The original group had lost at least 1/3 of its members due to time problems and so on, but our two healers were very critical to the effort.

Sigh. I hate that. I don't like being such a crucial keystone (because of my training, not because I'm some badass) that my leaving can screw everyone over. It's always been that way, which is why I love it when more people start training like me. People got kinda put out with us, and that's totally understandable. I've been on the other side of that.

The most uncomfortable was when different people in the group started asking if I had an afk cadding macro. Oh, geez. I thought we went through this two years ago. Bot-healing is not cool. I deleted my macro way back then, and now people are asking me to be a bot again. Again, I can understand the temptation, but no thanks. I made that decision not to bot a long time ago, and I've never wavered.

So if any of you folks who went along are reading this, I'm sorry we bailed. We're both sorry. We know it sucks to have the group kinda dissolve into chaos when the going starts to get tough or the time gets late, but at some point, there's real life and work tomorrow and I have to take Justin to track practice at 6:30am, roust the other two kids and get them ready for school, get myself ready for three lectures in the morning, etc. And how am I supposed to get some going to bed that late and with us both so tired? :) I was totally draggin' ass today because of staying up so late.

Next time, we'll try to be a lot more vocal about stating our time limitations (in this case, we bailed after 4 hours, which I think is a reasonable stretch for us to contribute). I hope there is a next time, because the trip was great fun. If I thought I could organize a weekend afternoon trip, I'd do it, but I think most of the strength I'd want to take along would be doing Umbrion's Island.

Posted by Observer at 06:56 AM | Comments (4)

March 26, 2003

Exam Aftermath

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

Posted by Observer at 02:12 PM | Comments (6)

Military Intelligence

Router follow-up: I finally decided our year-old Linksys router wasn't working right for whatever reason. In fact, the way we had it set up was a jury rig because a few months after we got it, we realized the WAN port wasn't working right. I guess the jury-rig finally failed (which of course was shortly after the warranty expired). Anyway, I replaced it with a cheap router from CompUSA for half the price, and it just plugged right in and started worked perfectly right away. Hooray.

Interesting summary in Slate of an ongoing story. One of the big reasons we're supposely at war is Saddam's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. The so-called smoking gun that Saddam was pursuing nuclear weapons was paperwork suggesting Saddam tried to purchase some Uranium from Niger. This evidence has now been conclusively proven to be forged, which raises some interesting questions:

The story behind the forged documents and how they made their way from the United States to U.N. inspectors is important because it suggests the Bush administration is 1) incompetent; 2) stupid; 3) corrupt; or 4) all of the above. ...

Still unanswered are these urgent questions: Who forged the documents? Given the documents' transparent inauthenticity, why were they given such credence? Who in the administration pushed the CIA to validate them (if it did)? Why didn't the CIA push back?

This whole thing about the administration pushing the CIA into delivering intelligence that correlates with its policy goals is extremely troubling. The Slate article directs the reader to the New York Times, which has more details:

The recent disclosure that reports claiming Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger were based partly on forged documents has renewed complaints among analysts at the C.I.A. about the way intelligence related to Iraq has been handled, several intelligence officials said. Analysts at the agency said they had felt pressured to make their intelligence reports on Iraq conform to Bush administration policies.

For months, a few C.I.A. analysts have privately expressed concerns to colleagues and Congressional officials that they have faced pressure in writing intelligence reports to emphasize links between Saddam Hussein's government and Al Qaeda. As the White House contended that links between Mr. Hussein and Al Qaeda justified military action against Iraq, these analysts complained that reports on Iraq have attracted unusually intense scrutiny from senior policy makers within the Bush administration.

"A lot of analysts have been upset about the way the Iraq-Al Qaeda case has been handled," said one intelligence official familiar with the debate. ... "On topics of very intense concern to the administration of the day, you become less of an analyst and more of a reports officer," the official said. The distinction between an analyst and a reports officer is an important one within the C.I.A. A reports officer generally pulls together information in response to questions and specific requests for information. An intelligence analyst analyzes the information in finished reports.

Accurate intelligence and vigorous analysis of that intelligence (especially in terms of deciding on a source's credibility) is so vitally important to foreign affairs. It's just hard to fathom anyone (especially Tom Clancy conservatives like these guys in power) treating the CIA with the back of their collective hands like this. I'm sure some great books are going to come out about the Bush years someday, detailing all of this from inside sources. By then, of course, the damage will have been done.

Posted by Observer at 06:53 AM | Comments (0)

March 25, 2003

Chickenhawks

An interesting post about the first Gulf War, the current war and the media from Neal Pollack's blog. He quotes the author of a book about the Somalia conflict ("The Ice Beneath You"), Christian Bauman, who comments on recently released memoirs of the first Gulf War, called "Jarhead" and "Baghdad Express":

Hereís the thing thatís getting me, thatís either cracking me up or making me want to cry, Iím not sure which: the underlying sense of surprise in these reviews/articles. The reviews are positive, and should be. And what you get from the literary side of the press corps is this feeling of surprise at the messiness of war and those who wage it, at the profanity. War is dirty, it seems, and the soldiers who fight it might not be worthy of dinner with Mom. ...

My point: what the fuck exactly did you expect? For goodness sakes, ladies, I know yíall read ìThe Things They Carriedî; Iíve seen your blurbs all over the back of the book. You read ìFarewell to Armsî right? Did you think us tricky novelists made that shit up? So why this polite, literary cough in these reviews/articles, this ìwonderfully written memoir, really; but my goodness the way those boys carry on.î

Here it is, man: kids with rifles in their hands curse. A lot. They curse blue streaks and tell jokes about Susie Rottencrotch and dry ass fucks and theyíre not particularly polite people. Most of them are just a few years past puberty, and theyíve trained to do their day job by jabbing a bayonet repeatedly into the torso of a human-looking model and yelling ìKill! Kill!î over and over again at the tops of their lungs. Experience like that makes for a rather edgy and shall we say less-than-cultivated sense of humor.

The side of humanity that survives the stress of looming combat by having mass faux fieldfucks is very foreign to these people, and they donít want to write about it or frankly even think about it. So they donít. Until those times, like right now, when they have to because they canít avoid it. And then they seem surprised at how filthy dirty it all is.

Itís funny to me, and I think itís the same underlying reason why intelligent, well-educated people have allowed our leaders to take us to this point: because they have no knowledge of how bad war really is.

It really is that bad.

On a related note, here is a pretty good list of Chickenhawks, people who strongly support war but who have managed to avoid military service.

Posted by Observer at 03:20 PM | Comments (0)

I've Got a Golden Ticket!

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

Posted by Observer at 06:50 AM | Comments (2)

March 24, 2003

Disc Golf Primer

More on disc golf. I first started playing a few times a week when I was an undergraduate at UT-Austin. There were a few great courses in Austin, none better than Zilker Park, whose course has since been shortened to nine holes. So who knows what the disc golf scene is like in Austin now, but back in the late 80's, there were a lot of players. I think Zilker got overplayed.

When I moved to Seattle, disc golf pickings were slim. The only nearby course was a nasty, small, brambly thing up by Northgate Mall. If your disc starts getting one of those lazy hooks or slices on a 50 yard throw, odds are it is going into some nasty underbrush. So then you have to do the disc cost vs thorn scratching calculation in your head about 10 times per round if you aren't really good or super careful. There are really no holes where you can just rip it and throw as far as you can (for me, that's about 250 +/- 30 feet). Also, when I was there, the signage (showing you where the basket target is or where the next teebox is) was almost nonexistant.

Now you go down to Fort Steilacoom in Tacoma, and you've got yourself some good disc golf. Last time I was there (7+ yrs ago), you could play 36 different holes (or 72 if you follow a screwy map with basically random teeboxes for random baskets), but it's a beating on a crowded day because you have a lot of people playing in different directions. Most days, it isn't very crowded, and the course is wide open. Plenty of obstacles, to be sure, but no huge bramble patches or murky ponds in which to lose your disk. A nice mix of hole lengths.

Now when I say these are disc golf courses, I don't mean anything formal. There's no green fee, no greenskeeper, no staff at all, usually. They are usually parceled off parts of municipal parks, started up and/or kept up by volunteers. You walk up to the first tee, and if it is a nice course, you've got yourself a 6' x 12' concrete slab and a little map that tells you the hole number and points to the basket (which looks like this). When you are done with the hole, there is often a little arrow on the basket (or maybe little map handouts available by the first tee) that point you to the next teebox. Lesser courses don't bother with teeboxes (just have two-by-fours to mark the launch point), maps, arrows, etc., and you have to find your way around with some help the first time you play (it's a beating).

Lots of strange life forms on a disc golf course. The three best places to buy golf discs are (in order): The back of some guy's van who spends his weekend parked at a course who is usually a representative of the illustrious PDGA (Professional Disc Golf Association), the secondhand sports store, the pot paraphenalia store. So you can imagine the kind of smelly, unwashed stoners who frequent the courses. They represent in some places, half the population.

I think I prefer the stoners to the "professionals", though. These are the guys who carry around 10 different discs, usually in a little carry bag that looks like an oversized fanny pack (sometimes it's a little roller that you drag like luggage through an airport ... looks ridiculous). I mean, come on, a disc is a disc for the most part. Get yourself comfortable with one or AT MOST two (I carry one that tends to hook and one that tends to slice and sometimes a spare third if I'm playing alone), then go play. Don't sit there 100 feet from the hole and take 2 minutes to pick the best disc out of your frickin' bag. It's just disc golf, sheesh! My favorites are the ones with the golf carts (aka bicycles) who are just too lazy to walk around the course, which usually ends up to be around 1-2 miles depending on how far off line your typical throw goes.

The only saving grace about groups of 4 pros on the course moving at a pace of ten minutes a hole is the very relaxed etiquette. Few people will blink if you just walk around a group and skip a hole or two to pass someone (if you are going faster, of course). Try that at a country club golf course (or even a muni course) and watch the fireworks, but at the disc golf course, it's all good.

Anyway, it's good exercise but not incredibly strenuous, like walking++. Playable by all ages. You can find a disc golf course near you by looking at this interactive map. If you are going to play, be sure to get a golf disc first. They cost around $6-$10. It goes a lot further, thrown properly, and makes it a lot more fun. Some of those big frisbees have trouble fitting in the basket targets. Oh, and if you are going to play on a course where there is any water in play, make sure you get a disc that floats. Most don't.

Posted by Observer at 04:07 PM | Comments (2)

Bleak Outlook?

Finished Bleak Seasons as predicted. Hmmm, a definite drop in quality and oh my how confusing. Jumps around between several different plotlines and several different times. It is very difficult sometimes to remember if the narrator, Murgen, is in the past or present or just hallucinating or dreaming. I *think* it was an interesting story, but for the life of me, I had a hard time understanding what was going on (pretty sad considering I read it in 24 hours...what if I had stretched it for a week?).

The biggest weakness for me aside from above was the relative absence of much of Croaker and Lady in this book. Still, the book had its moments. I just felt like I missed a lot. Suddenly, I am reading along minding my own business and it is stated as a simple fact that two major characters have defected from the Black Company and are fighting for the other side. Huh? When did that happen? Oh, I have to wait for a flashback? Ok, um, I'm still kinda waiting. Wait, was that it? Grrr.

Moving on to the next one, also narrated by Murgen it seems (uh oh). 15 chapters into it, though, I have to say it is much, much improved so far. Not confusing, even going to some length to clear up confusion and under-covered plot points from the previous book. I'm getting more used to the idea of someone besides Croaker narrating, and it's funny how Murgen's account of Croaker would probably differ from Croaker's own account of himself (even Murgen comments on it).

I shepherded the kids around the mall Sunday while my sweetie used her birthday money to buy some more cute maternity outfits. The kids were just bubbling over with energy, sometimes good and sometimes bad. It was the kind of day we probably shouldn't have taken them anywhere, because it was a guaranteed lock that they were going to get in trouble a lot, but we really had no choice. Too much had been put off. Poor Sarah gets the maddest when I laugh at her tantrums, but sometimes that's all I can do because the alternative is a bunch of unpleasant yelling.

I taught the boys frisbee golf at the park yesterday morning. I warned them repeatedly not to throw near fences or other people. I am still really fearful of the results of their first unsupervised "round" of golf. Maybe I'll take them to a real course with official baskets and teeboxes sometime soon. The only problem is that the courses around here are mostly way too long for Cody, who can only throw 100 feet at best. Justin could throw a lot further (he's very lanky) if he would just listen to my throwing advice. Unfortunately, my very favorite course, which is usually not very crowded unless it is tournament day, is about 45 minutes away.

Posted by Observer at 07:40 AM | Comments (5)

March 23, 2003

You Say Potato

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

Posted by Observer at 10:34 AM | Comments (0)

Flood of Electrons

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

Posted by Observer at 07:39 AM | Comments (3)

March 22, 2003

Dreams of Steel

Mild spoilers for the 5th, 6th and 7th book here of the Black Company series, just be forewarned. Just finished Dreams of Steel, which I hadn't read before. I stopped the previous series at the end of Shadow Games, when the Black Company got mostly beaten in a big battle and it looked like most of the main characters were dead. For the first time, we have a book that is not narrated by Croaker but rather by Lady, which makes for a pretty neat perspective change. Overall, I like the Croaker journals better. Not sure if that is Cook's writing style changing over the years or an intentional change.

Anyway, this book is pretty good. Lots of surprises, as usual. Just when you think you have a handle on what the main plotline is going to be, the major struggle, the big confrontation, you get the rug pulled out by something arbitrary (yet, in hindsight, it seems very logical and realistic). I think that's the best part of the whole Black Company series, the "realism". A lot of the plot is driven by people screwing up or doing something completely illogical with good intentions or people's personality flaws.

The Lady makes a good anti-hero, too. Looking at the back of the next book, Bleak Seasons, I find it is a journal written by Murgen (Croaker's heir apparent annalist in the 5th book) about events that happens simultaneously with Dreams of Steel, just in a different place from a different perspective. Not sure if it will be that good, what with me already knowing the big stuff that happens based on Dreams of Steel. I already know (I think) the major plot surprises in Bleak Seasons. Oh well, so far, no real complaints. The quality is just fine for me to keep on reading.

Oh, and I did take Cody and Sarah to the smallest branch of our public library system, which is just a few minutes away. They had a ton of kid stuff, including videos, so we checked out some things. Looks very promising. I figure once they get burned out on the selection there, we'll upgrade to the library branch over by the mall which is about four times bigger.

Posted by Observer at 02:20 PM | Comments (4)

The Big Chair

I'd say more about the big meeting yesterday, but it's just boring internal politics anyway and nothing new. Besides, even though I do try to remain sort of anonymous here so that I am free to talk about some things, there's no need to push it further. You just never know who is reading.

Cody has really turned in to a reading tornado. He plows through books like crazy when only six months ago, he would spend the minutes before bedtime bored silly doing nothing. Actually, his favorite thing used to be taking any furniture in his room and playing with it on his back like a circus seal.

My brother gave us a big round papasan chair because he didn't have a place for it a year and a half ago. We don't really have a place for it either, but Cody sure liked to play with it. He made all kinds of forts with the wicker chair, sheets, pillows, etc. But the walls got a little banged up, and I used to have to replace his broken night light on a weekly basis. Finally, we took all of his furniture away in exasperation (so he played with his laundry basket or emptied out his trashcan and played with that).

Lucky for us, Harry Potter gave him the reading bug, and now he is insatiable. The good side of that is that we can give him the chair back and he won't destroy his room. He'll really sit in it (he wants a comfy chair to read in because the floor is uncomfortable) instead of building forts and stuff. Of course, it completely swallows him up, he looks so cute in it.

He's now read all the Harry Potter books, all the Pokemon books we could find at Half Price, and a mix of a lot of other things. He can read one of those 70-page chapter books for kids in two evenings, and he only has a few left (one is "Planet of the Nose Pickers" that I picked out for him last weekend).

If anyone has good ideas for a good series for a precocious eight year old boy reader, I'm all ears. If I can find the Investigators books, I'll try one or two of those. Not sure if the Goosebumps series would be good for him, not sure if he'll like scary books.

Posted by Observer at 08:32 AM | Comments (9)

March 21, 2003

Mathemagic with Sarah

Hooray, powering everything down and up in order fixed the problem!

I wrote this little story last summer for my wife, describing a math encounter I had with Sarah.

Sarah: Do you know what my favorite number is?

Me: 10? 10 times 10?

Sarah: No, keep guessing.

Me: I don't know. 10 is the only one you always say.

Sarah: It's 3!

Me: Oh, ok.

Sarah: Do you know what 3 times 3 is?

Me: Do you know what 3 times 3 times 3 is?

Sarah: That's too hard.

Me: What's 3 times 9?

Sarah: I'm not sure.

Me: Do you remember your times tables?

Sarah: No, but you can count your way up to it by 3's.

Me: Ok. 3, 6, 9, 12, 15, 18, 21, 24, 27. It's 27.

Sarah: Wow, did you know that?

Me: Sure.

Sarah: I only know 3 times 3.

Me: What is 9 divided by 3?

Sarah: (thinking) That's too hard.

Me: What's 3 times 3?

Sarah: 9. Duh.

Me: What's 9 divided by 3? How many times does 3 go into 9?

Sarah: I said that's too hard!

Me: What's 3 divided by 3?

Sarah: 1.

Me: What's 6 divided by 3?

Sarah: That's too hard!

Me: (laying out 6 table knives, 2 sets of 3) How many knives?

Sarah: 6.

Me: 2 sets of 3 is 6. How many sets of 3 go into 6?

Sarah: I don't know, that's too hard.

Me: 2 sets of 3. So 3 goes into 6 twice.

Sarah: Ok, I guess.

Me: (adding 3 more knives) How many sets of 3 go into 9?

Sarah: 3?

Me: Right.

Sarah: Doug.

Me: Yes, Sarah?

Sarah: I take it back. 3 isn't my favorite number anymore. It's 1.

Posted by Observer at 05:51 PM | Comments (2)

March 20, 2003

Cody's Curriculum Vitae

Cody filled out a personal profile in class by filling in a bunch of blanks on a worksheet. Here's what he turned in (what he put in the blanks is underlined):

I WAS born in 1994

I DID bad in school

I HAVE a trophy

I THINK like a dog

I LIKE to play super smash bros. on the game cube

I DON'T LIKE tornados

I LOVE Doug and Mom

I WONDER if I make a 100 on the reading TAKS

I HOPE I get a bike

I WILL go swimming on my birthday

Posted by Observer at 09:27 AM | Comments (0)

Trying Times

Justin comes home with homework for once. He says he may need help with his worksheet. It has a lot of pretty complex multiplication, stuff way beyond his math level, I think, but it's not impossible. It's just instead of 145 + 763 it is more like 123,455,678 + 23,423,121. I tell him to work on the ones he knows he can do, then when he gets to a point where only the really tough ones are left, I will help him through them.

So he comes in a few minutes later and says, "I need a times table." Justin is a few years behind in his math level, but still, he should know his multiplication numbers 1-12. But oh well, fine, we have a bunch of those printed out for the other kids. So I spend a few minutes trying to locate one to no avail, then I start fishing around for my copy on the computer.

He sees it, then he says, "No, I need one that goes to 50."

Posted by Observer at 07:53 AM | Comments (4)

Bush vs Tic Tacs

Just for fun, here's a detailed comparison of the Bush administration vs a container of Tic Tacs. Which would make a more effective president?

Posted by Observer at 06:38 AM | Comments (0)

March 19, 2003

Full Speed Ahead

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

Anyway, Joe Conason had a good column about the war today. He first talks about why the case for war hasn't been made (and shows evidence that many Americans believe things that have been shown to be false), but then what about the humanitarian case?

This is not to say that Saddam Hussein doesnít deserve to be deposed, or that he may not have hidden some very dangerous chemical and biological weapons somewhere in his domain. While the Bush administrationís plans for a post-Saddam Iraq are murky, the idea of freeing the people of Iraq from hideous oppression appeals to every decent person. It is hard to imagine that whatever regime replaces him could be worse.

The questions remain: at what cost and to whose benefit? The real price of the coming conflict, in blood and treasure, has been concealed rather than debated. While Mr. Bush spoke of the certainty of "sacrifice" of our own young people in uniform, he has barely acknowledged the terrible suffering likely to be inflicted on innocent Iraqis.

The future price of the diplomatic misadventures that have led us to this moment, in ruined alliances and damaged institutions, cannot begin to be reckoned now. For the President and his political advisers, an easy victory promises better poll numbers and election prospects. For the American corporations that are already being invited by the Bush administration to bid on multibillion-dollar reconstruction contracts, such short-term gains may outweigh global problems on the distant horizon.

For the rest of us, however, life amid the diplomatic wreckage may gradually become more dangerous, more difficult and more expensive than Mr. Bush and his optimistic advisers have imagined.

We are all left to hope that this works or at the very least does more good than harm. I am profoundly pessimistic.

Posted by Observer at 03:45 PM | Comments (4)

Idol Thoughts

I guess music is on my mind lately. We've been suckered in by American Idol (after I vowed to swear off all stupid Fox shows because of Joe Millionaire), and I admit it is getting better each week. HOWEVER, I have a REALLY BIG PROBLEM with these half-wits butchering some perfectly good songs.

Like the Greek philosophers, I have this vision of the ideal version of "Against All Odds", and it is sung by Phil Collins. To have that music in my head while listening to that hipster doofus Corey singing it last night is like fingernails on a chalkboard. I think if I ever went into a karaoke bar, I would probably never recover.

A couple of weeks ago, some moron (I can't recall who) had the sheer audacity to try to sing a Steve Perry song (the only slim thread saving him was that at least he didn't try "Oh Sherrie"). He was awful, and the worst part was the judges giving him a standing ovation! Gah, what crap! One judge (Randy) said he worked with Steve Perry, and that was a good rendition! In what fucking fantasy world, you moron?!? I hope Steve Perry wasn't paying any attention or his head might've exploded.

Later on in last night's show, some tarted-up blonde who sneaked in from some Beverly Hills high school I guess tried to sing "Hopelessly Devoted to You". That loud smack you may have heard at about 2:20am Greenwich Mean Time last night was my hand hitting my forehead in horror. By all that I hold holy, that song belongs to Olivia Newton John! And this version totally sucked!

She sang it an octave too low, almost sounded like a monotone, like she was in a hurry to get it over with, which I guess is a blessing. Augh. Oh, and to top it all off, after she was done, Simon (who gave her a "free pass" into the finals out of nowhere, so she must have pictures of him with a goat) says she wasn't bad and she should replace that Dixie Chick! Bullshit.

I do have an antidote, and that is my own CD collection, so as I write this, I am attempting to expunge the horrors of last night by listening to the TRUE, PERFECT, IDEAL versions of these respective songs. Seeing as how many students in my class have probably never even heard these songs as they are supposed to be heard, I am seriously debating using our lecture halls spiffy new sound system before class to clear up any delusions they may have that they heard good renditions on that show.

On the other hand, I always thought that teachers who played music before classes were "trying too hard" to be hip or something, and it just never worked. It just annoyed me as a student. Hmmm. I'll have to think about it. It may be worth the risk.

Posted by Observer at 06:36 AM | Comments (3)

March 18, 2003

Background Music

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

Posted by Observer at 02:34 PM | Comments (2)

Student Quote of the Day

I was not told I needed a student release form from anyone. I discovered this when i was reading the directions.

Posted by Observer at 10:01 AM | Comments (1)

Back to School

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

Posted by Observer at 08:40 AM | Comments (2)

March 17, 2003

Tomorrow's Adjectives Today

Watched Bush's speech. Same old stuff. Take a drink of milk or coffee with tomorrow morning's paper for every appearance of the words "bold" (my favorite, of course), "audacious", "compelling", "daring" or "brave" in descriptions of the speech. I'm sure the editorial columns of George Will, Cal Thomas, Mona Charen, Marvin Olasky et al were written and done days before the speech was even announced.

Despite the fact that it'll make Bush look like a winner, I hope Saddam is smart and goes into exile just so we can see what happens. If making Bush look like a winner is what's best for this country, what will keep us safer in the long run, what will make us less likely to further erode relations with our allies, then that's what I want. The worst part if that happens is that it will give Republicans the foreign policy advantage card for another 20 years if it happens, even after they totally screw up the economy.

Posted by Observer at 07:53 PM | Comments (3)

Coalition of the Stupid

Very long post, sorry. I'm trying to get it all out of my system. I think a good weight loss plan for me might be to watch Bush's speech tonight after supper, so I can just throw it all up.

Anyway, here are some interesting notes as we appear to be on the eve of a war. Did you know that France has never vetoed a UN resolution sponsored by the US? That perfect record will remain in tact since the US didn't bother trying a 2nd resolution, knowing they had only 4 of 15 votes. I picked this up from CalPundit, who also has a very interesting quote about the whole "if you could see classified info, you would feel differently about xyz argument" from Daniel Ellsberg.

Elsewhere, Media Horse has a quote from Arthur Kent, who wishes we could build a "Coalition of the Thinking" instead of the "Coalition of the Willing" that we are stuck with:

I'm still trying to shake from my mind the disbelief that a modern American administration can be as clumsy, as brusque and as crude as this one. Think back to Sept. 12, 2001: Kids in Paris were wearing American flags out of solidarity with the American people. Countries were lining up, tripping over one another, to come and touch the hem of the cloak of power in Washington D.C. The Bush administration had allies and support and emotional empathy from people around the world. It's gone. Where has it gone? It hasn't disappeared by Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein pouring a potion over people. It's gone because the administration has so offended the sensibilities of peace-loving, democracy-loving people that they simply have to take to the streets, or demand of their leaders to tell the Bush administration to stop and to think...

Remember all that talk of Bush being a uniter, not a divider? Oh, we're united all right. With three other countries, against the rest of the world (Bill Maher joked, "If you don't want the world to think you're an imperialist, the countries you want standing beside you are England, Spain and Portugal!").

Oh, then there's the AP story today with a headline that "Bush Has Solid Support for War" when, in fact, a majority (53%) actually *OPPOSE* the war if the US doesn't have the support of the security council (which is obvious now). This is similar to the "Poll finds War Cry Loud in Texas" that appeared in my local paper a week or so ago (as I pointed out in my letter to the editor, which got published, those in favor of war in the poll cited were 41% in favor without the UN's blessing). Good old librul media!

Speaking of which (sorry, this is overkill, but I couldn't resist): Here is an extended excerpt from another excellent article, this time from The Boston Phoenix, about media bias. A lot of very persuasive arguments, one of my favorite articles I've read on this subject in months.

...On November 27, the media landscape shifted ó imperceptibly at first, but with a force that has since gathered momentum. It was on that day that the New York Observer published an interview with Al Gore in which the former vice-president told the truth about the media and their ideological loyalties. "The media is kind of weird these days on politics, and there are some major institutional voices that are, truthfully speaking, part and parcel of the Republican Party," Gore told the Observer, citing Fox, the Washington Times, and Rush Limbaughís radio program. Gore described how conservative talking points come to be accepted as fact: "Something will start at the Republican National Committee, inside the building, and it will explode the next day on the right-wing talk-show network and on Fox News and in the newspapers that play this game, the Washington Times and others. And then theyíll create a little echo chamber, and pretty soon theyíll start baiting the mainstream media for allegedly ignoring the story theyíve pushed into the Zeitgeist. And pretty soon the mainstream media goes out and disingenuously takes a so-called objective sampling, and lo and behold, these RNC talking points are woven into the fabric of the Zeitgeist." ...

GOREíS CRITIQUE has not become accepted wisdom. Nor is it likely to for some time, if ever. The modern charge of liberal media bias goes back to Richard Nixonís vice-president, Spiro Agnew, who, playing Charlie McCarthy to William Safireís Edgar Bergen, denounced the media as liberal "nattering nabobs of negativism." Conservatives have carefully nurtured this untruth throughout the intermittent decades. ... But the point is not that liberals are suddenly winning the argument. It is, rather, that at long last the public is beginning to hear a coherent critique of conservative media bias. ...

[In] "What Liberal Media?" by Eric Alterman, he argues that conservatives have used the liberal-bias model ó indeed, he quotes prominent conservatives such as William Kristol and Pat Buchanan as admitting it was never much more than a handy cudgel ó to "work the refs"; that is, to demand that the media bend over so far backward in an attempt to be fair that they end up favoring conservatives over liberals. Wisely, Alterman concedes that the mainstream media are broadly liberal, especially on social and cultural issues such as reproductive choice, gay rights, and attitudes toward religion. But at the same time, Alterman observes, the media are overwhelmingly moderate to conservative on economic policy, as contemptuous of organized labor and the anti-globalization movement as, say, the average CEO. ...

Conservatives have clearly gotten the upper hand. Three years ago the media lied about Al Gore "without consequence," to quote Vincent Fosterís comment about the Wall Street Journal editorial page in a note found after Foster committed suicide. Yet when New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, a widely admired economist at Princeton University, simply lays out the lies inherent in Bushís economic and tax policies, the right brays for Krugmanís head and the mainstream cowers. ...

Bob Somerby is the impresario behind the Daily Howler Web site, which dissects media untruths ó such as the claim Gore never made about "inventing" the Internet ó with withering sarcasm and argument-ending research: "I would guess that the claim of liberal bias has by now become so completely absurd that it was inevitable that it would be challenged. After the treatment of Clinton, then Gore, itís impossible for any sane person to keep arguing that the press corps is somehow driven by liberal bias.... ëLiberal biasí is the greatest propaganda tool of the past 40 years ó a surefire way to explain away any news report that the right doesnít like."

And though liberals may finally be fighting back, theyíre still losing. Recently, MSNBC canceled its only prime-time show hosted by a liberal, Phil Donahue, even though his admittedly pathetic ratings were nevertheless higher than those of the bellicose Chris Matthews. The latterís ideological views are hard to pin down, but his anti-Clinton/anti-Gore animus presumably makes him a better bet for the long haul in the eyes of the MSNBC brass. Among Donahueís last programs was a rollicking hour during which Al Franken eviscerated the so-called facts contained in Bernard Goldbergís Bias [which claims the media is liberally biased], leaving Goldberg, who was in the studio, to sit and scowl. But Donahue had to go ó perhaps, according to a report posted on the Web site AllYourTV.com, because of an internal study that found Donahueís liberalism made him a "difficult public face for NBC in a time of war" (see "Media Log," BostonPhoenix.com, February 27).

These quotes are only a small part of the longer article which is well worth reading if you give a rat's ass about media bias (which I grant most people don't). Gore's quote at the beginning was right on target, and I do find it interesting that people refer to Paul Krugman as "shrill" when really a better description is "rightfully incredulous". Krugman, to me, sets the right tone for what is going on with this administration, and the fact that he is labelled by many as some kind of zealot way out on the left just goes to show how insanely far to the right the mainstream media is now.

Posted by Observer at 03:46 PM | Comments (4)

Democracy Dominoes? Yeah, Right.

A major argument in favor of war with Iraq has been that by destroying Saddam, we would be free to install a Democratic regime in Iraq. From that, presumably, people in the region would see how wonderful a Democracy is and would bitch for representation in their own countries and so on. It's the Democracy Domino effect, publicly acclaimed by Bush and his pro-war advisors. From the San Francisco Chronicle:

A classified State Department report expresses deep skepticism that installing a new regime in Iraq will foster the spread of democracy in the Middle East, a claim President Bush has made in trying to build support for a war, according to intelligence officials familiar with the document. The report exposes significant divisions within the Bush administration over the so-called democratic domino theory, one of the arguments that underpins the case for invading Iraq. The report, which has been distributed to a small group of top government officials but not publicly disclosed, says that daunting economic and social problems are likely to undermine basic stability in the region for years, let alone prospects for democratic reform.

Even if some version of democracy took root -- an event the report casts as unlikely -- anti-American sentiment is so pervasive that elections in the short term could lead to the rise of Islamic-controlled governments hostile to the United States. "Liberal democracy would be difficult to achieve," says one passage of the report, according to an intelligence official who agreed to read portions of it to the Los Angeles Times. "Electoral democracy, were it to emerge, could well be subject to exploitation by anti-American elements." The thrust of the document, the source said, "is that this idea that you're going to transform the Middle East and fundamentally alter its trajectory is not credible." ...

The report was produced by the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the in-house analytical arm.

So basically, the government's own analysts think that the domino theory is complete bullshit. So let's go back to the beginning... Iraq and Al Qaeda don't have any links. Saddam doesn't have nuclear weapons (the evidence that he tried to purchase nuclear materials from Africa, one key to Powell's famous UN presentation, turned out to be a crude forgery). We know that invading to make our country safer isn't going to work. Everyone pretty much agrees that this invasion will only serve to make everyone mad at us, causing terrorist strikes against the US to increase, not to mention poisoning relations with allies. The Democracy Domino thing isn't going to work.

So why are we going to invade? Because he's violating UN resolutions? What, like North Korea is? Wouldn't we be in violation of the UN security council if we invade? Are we trying to invade to reinforce the credibility of UN sanctions by undermining the UN security council? As Jon Stewart would say: Whaaaaaaaa?

Posted by Observer at 06:56 AM | Comments (0)

March 16, 2003

CL Retrospective

I thought about posting some long thing about Clan Lord, why I got into it in the first place, why I'm in "Full Mystic" mode lately, that sort of thing. I had a dozen paragraphs written (but unlike the Pope, I'm not dumb enough to post it for the record only to retract it later after people have seen it ... har har). But then I decided I just don't want to go there. I probably never will in this blog.

Suffice it to say I'm very, very happy overall with my entire experience with the game, even if it were to come to an end (which may be never, who knows). I have learned a lot about myself and about people in general (though a lot of trust/loyalty issues were things I wouldn't have chosen to learn), and I think I'm a lot wiser now in some ways because of CL. And if finding your soulmate, starting a family and living happily ever after counts, then I think I've found a way to "win" the game (and it doesn't have anything to do with ranks).

No way would I go out with one of those "ha ha, I'm quitting because I'm too good for CL, I have a life now unlike all you morons" sour grapes posts. I do have other priorites right now in real life, but I still respect (almost all of) the people who play. I still follow current events in the game in a variety of ways. I'm really glad that the foothills plot is advancing at last. I'm also glad that all of my friends are right in the middle of it. I got a good (very cynical) laugh out of Michael being the one to "get there first" (ironically, he didn't even gloat about that in the very least, unlike many others who "get there first" at other times). Maybe someday when we know about an expedition going at a reasonable hour on a weekend, we'll come out of pseudo-retirement and join one, if we're welcome. It would be nice to go knowing we'd see something new and to catch up with old friends.

Anyway, I've already spilled my guts out to my wonderful wife about everything Clan Lord, so the need to vent a lot of personal stuff in my blog just isn't there (but I vent about politics because I hate putting her or anyone through a long rant -- at least here you can just skip it if you're sick of hearing about it). Gawd, I just had a funny thought. What if I put my parent-child lectures about behavior and so on into blog format so the kids could skip them at will? Hoo boy.

Posted by Observer at 11:23 AM | Comments (2)

Whistling Dixie

Big news down here in these parts were the comments made by one of the singers of the Dixie Chicks, currently on tour on England. She said to the crowd something like, "I just want to let you know that I'm embarrassed that our U. S. President comes from Texas." Well. Bubba didn't like that down in Texas.

As you are probably aware, a lot of country music these days is tinged with patriotic fervor ("We'll Put a Boot in Yer Ass, It's the American Way" or the latest "Have You Fergottin?"). It is a staple of the dumbass conservative culture. Not all conservatives, of course, but an awful lot. Texans down here have country music stations on their radio buttons on FM and AM (except the channel Rush comes on, save a button for that).

Bubbas all across Texas started calling in to their radio stations, demanding the Dixie Chicks be removed from the playlists. Most stations complied. A few have been brave. One guy published an open letter about it:

The more thought I've given to this, the more I am led to what may be an unpopular conclusion. Our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines are over there fighting for our rights - and one of those is our Constitutional right to express an unpopular opinion. The longer this has gone on, the more I had visions of censorship and McCarthyism. Two wrongs don't make a right! I agree with the 80% of you who abhor what Natalie said in London. On the other hand, I believe in the Constitution. We are putting the Dixie Chicks back on KFKF.

The boycott machine is in motion against the Dixie Chicks. This from the same people who cry about similar attempts to boycott the sponsors of Rush or O'Reilly or the new idiot Savage. Such boycotts are un-American or childish or crude attempts at censorship, they say.

It's funny, the same thing happened around here when one of the basketball players for the Mavericks (Steve Nash, a Canadian) began spouting off similar opinions. People said Nash should just shut up and keep his opinions to himself. The Dixie Chicks are being called "ignorant and hateful". Come on. These same morons would've been leading the parade through Dallas had Nash talked about how he wants Bush to kick some Iraqi ass.

After initially standing behind her statement, it appears that the Dixie Chick in question is sort of backing off, apologizing for disrespecting the office of the president. Too bad. I thought she hit it right on the button. We all should be embarrassed about our president, especially Texans. He's giving us all a bad name.

Posted by Observer at 08:14 AM | Comments (0)

March 15, 2003

Help! Help! I'm Being Repressed!

My mom and stepdad came down to our area to meet us at a local park yesterday. They brought along my two nieces, who are 9 and 7. The five kids had a blast. We had a picnic and fished in the pond for a while, but no bites. Still, our oldest Justin (13) stayed and fished for over an hour. He loved to fish back in Canada, but he doesn't get much of a chance to these days. Mainly because I hate fishing.

My dad used to take my brother and I fishing when we were little. He would stop at a bait store on the way and let us each get some candy. I would always get some gigantic Sweet Tarts (3 in a pack) or Tart 'n' Tinys and suck on them all afternoon while I read a book or two. Sunday afternoons were the best because then we could listen to the Cowboys game on the radio during the Fall. I rarely bothered to actually fish. I wanted both hands free for my book and my candy, plus the car was more comfortable than sitting on a rock.

Anyway, the kids played softball and soccer and had fun on the playground, too. The only real issue that came up is with Justin playing with the other kids. He has a real hard time with his maturity level. He starts playing soccer with us, and he steals the ball from the 7-year-old, sprints down the field with it and scores a goal. He cheers and raises his hands like he scored a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

So I told him he was only allowed to play if he walks and plays nice. Big tantrum. "I don't get to do NUTHIN' fun," he says. I tried to explain to him that what is fun for him isn't fun for anyone else who is playing right now, but he was too busy being repressed.

When Justin and I are alone, he acts his age. He's a big help in a lot of different ways. He's polite and usually thoughtful, more so in fact than you might expect from a typical teenager. But put him around his 8-year-old brother Cody, and he regresses to an 8-year-old level. I try to tell Justin to observe the behavior of Cody and 10-year-old Sarah rather than participate. I ask him to compare their behavior to the behavior of his friends at middle school.

Hell, maybe that's a bad idea. I don't know how his friends at middle school behave. I also am not sure he knows the definitions of observe and participate. Oh well, progress is slow but sure. In the last 18 months, he's made great strides in every aspect of his life, and it makes us very proud and hopeful for his future.

Posted by Observer at 03:17 PM | Comments (2)

A Time For Courage

This lengthy quote is from The Daily Brew, another of the many political blogs that have sprung up in the past couple of years. Really, this is a very well-stated discussion of the problem of the liberal media bias myth.

During the Presidential campaign of 2000, journalists had the ability to compare Bush's mendacious campaign sloganeering with his record as the governor of Texas with little to fear from the White House. They did not, and Mr. Bush was able to convince a large segment of the American public that he was somehow qualified to be the President. The press was then free to point out the breathtaking and criminal tactics Mr. Bush's campaign used to steal the Presidential election in Florida. They did not, and the American public was sufficiently lethargic to embolden the Supreme Court to sweep these tactics under the rug and install Mr. Bush into office.

Early in Mr. Bush's term, the press was again free to point out the easily predictable disaster that would result were Mr. Bush's tax proposals written into law. Again, the press took a pass, and since that time millions of Americans have lost their jobs and slipped into poverty. Perhaps most catastrophically, the press was free to point out that Saddam Hussein had nothing whatsoever to do with the attacks of September 11, and that White House assertions to the contrary were a most odious form of political sleight of hand. The press again failed to make the public aware of these basic facts, and as a result, our democracy stands poised to embark on a war of aggression in violation of both international law and the wishes of virtually the entire world community.

The significance of these failures cannot be overstated. Opinion polls conclusively demonstrate that the American public is fundamentally misinformed about key facts that have driven the Iraq debate. It is these misconceptions that are allowing the Bush administration to pursue a foreign policy that is decidedly not in our national security interests. One can only wonder if support for the war would fall to levels seen in our NATO allies (levels that would make the attack political suicide) were Americans made aware of the same stories that have received widespread attention in the foreign press.

Would the American public support the war if they were aware that, contrary to Mr. Bush's assertions, Iraq and al Qaeda are essentially enemies? Would the American public support the war if they were aware that Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were originally provided by the American military? Would the American public support the war if they were aware that the Bush administration had grossly overstated Iraq's military capabilities and the threat posed by Iraq to American interests? Would the American public support the war if they were aware that the White House was spying on UN council members in an attempt to influence their votes? Would the American public support the war if they were aware that Dick Cheney's former employer Halliburton, which still pays him a million dollars a year pension, is all but certain to reap hundreds of millions of dollars in the conflict and its aftermath?

We will never know the answer to these questions, because the press has never informed the American public of these and other key facts. The British press, on the other hand, has informed its public, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair is perilously close to losing his job as a result. One can only wonder if Mr. Bush would suffer a similar fate were Mr. Hersh and his colleagues to finally stand up to the intimidation emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. One thing is certain. Whatever retribution the press might receive pales in comparison to the price that will be paid by American servicemen, Iraqi citizens, and America's stature in the world for their failures. It is long past time for a little courage, men and women of the press.

These aren't the only stories the press ignores or downplays, but they are major. If we had a liberal media bias in this country, I wouldn't have to read about most of these things in British newspapers, that's for damned sure.

Posted by Observer at 08:10 AM | Comments (0)

March 14, 2003

You Can Quote Me on That

This letter by Economics writer Jonathan Weisman from the Washington Post appeared in an on-line media forum (Media News) yesterday. It is being discussed prominently by several bloggers now. Just when you think it can't get any worse with the media...

In the wake of Seymour Hersh's open statements about the way the White House treats the press, I feel compelled to relate a personal story that illustrates how both the White House and the press have allowed manipulation of the printed word in Washington to get out of hand. This is a bit of a confession as well as an appeal to the White House and my fellow reporters to rethink the way journalism is practiced these days.

Recently, I was working on a profile of the now-departed chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, R. Glenn Hubbard. I dutifully went through the White House press office to talk to an administration economist about Hubbard's tenure, and a press office aide helpfully got me in touch with just the person I wanted. The catch was this: The interview would be off the record. Any quotes I wanted to put into the newspaper would have to be e-mailed to the press office. If approved, the quotation could be attributed to a White House official. (This has become fairly standard practice.)

Since the profile focused on Hubbard's efforts to translate relatively arcane macroeconomic theory into public policy, the quote I wanted referenced the president's effort to end the double taxation of dividends: "This is probably the most academic proposal ever to come out of an administration." The press office said it was fine, but the official wanted a little change. Instead, the quote was to read, "This is probably the purest, most far reaching economic proposal ever to come out of an administration." I protested that the point of the quote was the word "academic," so the quote was again amended to state, "This is probably the purest, most academic, most far reaching economic proposal ever to come out of an administration."

What appeared in the Washington Post was, "This is probably the purest, most academic ... economic proposal ever to come out of an administration." What followed was an angry denunciation by the White House press official, telling me I had broken my word and violated journalistic ethics.

I had, of course, violated journalistic ethics, by placing into quotation marks a phrase that was never uttered by the source, ellipses or no ellipses. I had also played ball with the White House using rules that neither I nor any other reporter should be assenting to. I think it is time for all of us to reconsider the way we cover the White House. If administration officials want to speak off the record, they are off the record. If they are on background as an administration official, I suppose that's the best we can expect. But the notion that reporters are routinely submitting quotations for approval, and allowing those quotes to be manipulated to get that approval, strikes me as a step beyond business as usual.

I don't know what is more pathetic. Is it that journalists are doing this sort of thing now on a regular basis? Or is it that the White House got totally steamed that their false quote wasn't completely printed as given? A more important question is: Will this finally be the breaking point for the media covering the White House? Also, will this even be reported by the librul media?

Posted by Observer at 03:07 PM | Comments (0)

Croaker Talk

Humbaba wanted to talk Black Company (wanted to know if the last four books are worth reading), so I figured I'd give him a little place on the off-chance one of the other five readers of this blog is familiar with that series. Heh. I'm through the first three books and now halfway done with "The Silver Spike". Ask me again in a month if the last four are any good.

I'm slowing down now, though, and as usual, it is Polerand's fault (for making me think of Escape Velocity: Nova). Of course, I checked the website and they just came out with a new version. All the upgrades combined have really improved the graphics and (more importantly) fixed just about every plot bug there was (and I ran into a lot of them after it first came out, which was intensely frustrating). So now I'm starting over.

I can't remember where to find the stupid Modified Starbridge, which is the best ship in the game. But I did remember the Opals trade route, so I was able to get money pretty quick so I could get out of my rattletrap shuttle. I think maybe this time I'll do the Wild Geese plotline and see where that leads. I've done most of the others, I think.

Alas, Spring Break is nearly over.

Posted by Observer at 07:51 AM | Comments (3)

March 13, 2003

Honesty Is the Best Policy

Boring political/ethics post with very long quote, so feel free to skip. In the news lately is the Democratic filibuster of one of Bush's conservative robot judicial nominees, Miguel Estrada. A filibuster is an old Senate rule that basically means you need 60 votes to move on to new business instead of a simple majority. It really mucks things up and slows things down, and it isn't used all that often.

Anyway, it is essentially the only tool in the arsenal of the Democratic minority in the Senate, and they are using it to prevent Estrada from being confirmed to a high federal court by a majority vote. Conservatives are bitching hypocritically, of course, claiming Democrats are unfairly holding things up (even though the Dems confirmed judges at a much faster rate than Repubs did) or are racist (which is pretty laughable coming from Republicans) or whatever. I say that in order to prove they aren't racist, Democrats should go ahead and filibuster all the right-wing nut jobs Bush is trotting out, not just Estrada!

Among conservatives who fancy themselves as all intellectual and everything, George Will is the bowtied columnist who usually tries to go through the necessary logical contortions to rationalize whatever new policy they are trying to push. Recently, he's been busted for being blatantly hypocritical (supporting filibusters when they help Republicans but saying they are unconstitutional when Democrats use them). So what? Well, it's not a big deal, but Edward Lazarus has a good article about the whole thing, including (my favorite) the ethics of blatant hypocrisy and so on:

The flip-flop is an embarrassment to Will and his reputation. Sadly, it may also be more than that as well. I fear that Will's adventure in hypocrisy is emblematic of what may well be the worst truth in American political discourse: nothing is shameful anymore. And no sense of integrity - an integrity that transcends politics - remains.

It seems especially ironic (or perhaps appropriate) that Will should come to represent this problem. After all, he - and commentators of his ilk - have spent the last decade or two bemoaning the rise of moral relativism in our society. They mourn the death of "shaming" as an instrument of behavior modification for politicians and citizens alike.

In the culture wars, Will and others like him have been the army defending such concepts as objective truth and personal responsibility. They have been the ones saying there is a right thing to do, independent of politics, independent of the times. They have carried the banner of integrity, in short. Now it's plain, though, that Will has torn up that banner even while pretending to uphold it.

I confess that I'm a sucker. I believe in these kinds of things - integrity, truth, certain absolute moral values, a right thing to do. Maybe it's all that Plato I read in college. I've always believed here is such a thing as a "true" answer (even if we cannot know it with certainty), and that there are ways of discerning better from worse, whether in argument or music or literature.

Nowhere did these beliefs seem to be more important than in the field of law. Courts wield great power to shape the social order and control the destiny of individuals. Their integrity rests ultimately on the belief that their decisions are not merely just that - exercises of power - but are, in addition, principled attempts to discern the proper meaning of the law. And the idea that there is a "proper meaning" in the first place, in turn presumes a universe that recognizes a genuine ability to choose better arguments over weaker ones, regardless of what one thinks of the results the arguments lead us to. ...

Now, however, it seems integrity is being radically redefined, as pure loyalty - fealty to the party, the political beliefs, the results that one prefers. Lying in the service of a cause has become, in some circles, honorable to do. ...

Intellectual dishonesty is pure poison to the enterprise of the law. Yet countless examples show intellectual dishonesty has now become a routine, expected part of American discourse. The most obvious half-truths and hypocrisies are greeted with shrugged shoulders and a grunt of "what did you expect?"

These dishonesties that we have come to accept too easily range from the non-reasoning of Bush v. Gore [the case in which the Supreme Court handed the presidency to Bush by going against all their precedents and basically acting like partisan hacks], to the logic-defying economic rationale for more tax cuts, to the ever-shifting justification of war in Iraq. And they extend to just about every other significant issue of law and policy that affects American life.

Why does this happen? It cannot be because all the people perpetrating these intellectual frauds are bad people. It's been my experience (limited, I admit) that most people who go into government or devote themselves to a life of public policymaking or intellectualism, do so for the best of reasons - because they want to help shape the world for the better.

Then why? I found a partial answer watching, last night, an old clip of Daniel Ellsberg being interviewed by Walter Cronkite, in the wake of Ellsberg's controversial release of the Pentagon Papers. To paraphrase, Ellsberg contended that our society had become so divided, with each side so bent on perpetuating itself in power, that government and the world around it imposed a sustained and terrible pressure on good people to make a choice. They could either leave that world or, far worse, give up the search for truth, in exchange for the search for victory. That was more than 30 years ago. Has anything changed?

It's a long quote, but I'm really fascinated by these sorts of issues, and Lazarus is saying a lot of stuff I wish I had the talent to say myself. The rest of the article is really good, too, if you want to read it.

Posted by Observer at 07:50 PM | Comments (0)

God Bless You, Dammit!

So I'm at the mall, and I am standing in front of the Chick-Fil-A in the food court. Now, Chick-Fil-A is some good food, probably my favorite fast food joint (and they are spreading like crazy). It was founded by Truett Cathy in Georgia a few decades ago, and it is run pretty strictly on Baptist principles. They aren't open on Sundays, for example. I don't know anyone who works for Chick-Fil-A, so hard to say if rumors are true about them pressing the religious angle on employees pretty hard or what. There is currently a Muslim guy suing them saying he got fired because of religious discrimination, but who knows what the truth is there?

Anyway, it is clear that Cathy is a blue-blood Republican. He donates money to a lot of worthy causes, despite that. I dunno, he almost seems like the kind of religious Republican that I can handle. I mean, I don't agree with mixing up religion with government and the workplace and all that, but maybe I can respectfully disagree with Cathy on that. I don't know if he backs all the crackpots like the creationists, the civil war flag wavers, the abortion clinic bombers, the anti-Clinton Scaife nutball Arkansas Project, and that sort of thing.

And I think I would prefer to remain ignorant, thanks, because Chick-Fil-A makes a really good sammich, and I don't want to feel guilty eating it. So anyway, I'm standing in front of Chick-Fil-A, and I sneeze. This girl says "GOD BLESS YOU" about 2-3 volume levels too loud, and she stares at me until I make polite acknowledgement-by-eye-contact. I'm immediately wondering if this is some religious nutball working the cash register, and she's doing one of these "In your face, buddy! I'm born again and going to heaven, and if you don't agree with me, see you in hell!" Or she's just socially inept.

If it were a cashier at McDonald's, I wouldn't have thought twice about it. That's partially because I would have been too busy being overwhelmed by the smell of Sweaty Kid from the indoor playplace. Oh well, I had a lot more to say about discrimination and stuff, but it is mostly vague, unorganized and equivocal comments, and I'm trying to learn how to edit myself a little more effectively.

Anyway, I'm not sure what the proper response is here. Is there any circumstance in which someone says "God Bless You" to me and I have a right to be offended at the tone or demeanor of the blesser (assuming I'm not an atheist)? Maybe I should've completely ignored her and driven her crazy.

Posted by Observer at 07:22 AM | Comments (3)

March 12, 2003

Finish Your Drink

By the way, remember the story I mentioned a while back about the US spying on the Security Council members? As expected, this is getting huge play in the world media (it is arguable whether spying on diplomats is a real significant story, but the world media reaction has made it a big story) and increasing resentment toward the US. What's more is that, as expected, our so-called liberal media is pretty much ignoring or downplaying the story.

Busting the media is so easy you could probably make a drinking game out of it. Every time Iraq and Al Qaeda are linked in a story without evidence, take a drink. Every time "polls say people are pro-war" when actually they are against war unless the UN is on board, take a drink. Every time a Democratic candidate has to "find himself", take a drink. Every time Bush is described as popular while his favorable ratings are below about 60% (which were Clinton's favorable ratings the day after he was impeached), take a drink.

If a letter to the editor complains about liberal media bias, take a drink. If the letter writer is a "lifelong Democrat" or "former liberal", take a drink. If the letter includes the phrase "wake up, America!" or equates liberalism with communism or socialism (including Marxist references, hammer-and-sickle, Red puns, spellings with inappopriate K's such as Klinton), take a drink. If a liberal celebrity is bashed for having a political opinion but no mention is made of the opinions of conservative celebrities (i.e. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Selleck, Charlton Heston, Charles Barkley, Ronald Reagan), take a drink.

Every time Bush is described as bold, take a drink. Breathtaking or visionary is worth two drinks. If all three are used in the same article, finish your drink. Be sure to read your paper *after* you get home from work, not before you go in. Either that or use coffee as your drink.

The latest outrage has got to be the scripted White House press conference last week. Matt Taibbi of the New York press has a very good commentary on it. Here's an excerpt:

The Bush press conference to me was like a mini-Alamo for American journalism, a final announcement that the press no longer performs anything akin to a real function. Particularly revolting was the spectacle of the cream of the national press corps submitting politely to the indignity of obviously pre-approved questions, with Bush not even bothering to conceal that the affair was scripted.

Abandoning the time-honored pretense of spontaneity, Bush chose the order of questioners not by scanning the room and picking out raised hands, but by looking down and reading from a predetermined list. Reporters, nonetheless, raised their hands in between questions, as though hoping to suddenly catch the president's attention.

In other words, not only were reporters going out of their way to make sure their softballs were pre-approved, but they even went so far as to act on Bush's behalf, raising their hands and jockeying in their seats in order to better give the appearance of a spontaneous news conference. ...

Reporters argue that they have no choice. Theyíll say they canít protest or boycott the staged format, because they risk being stripped of their seat in the press pool. For the same reason, they say they canít write anything too negative. They canít write, for instance, "President Bush, looking like a demented retard on the eve of warÖ" That leaves them with the sole option of "working within the system" and, as they like to say, "trying to take our shots when we can."

But the White House press corpsí idea of "taking a shot" is David Sanger asking Bush what he thinks of British foreign minister Jack Straw saying that regime change was not necessarily a war goal. And then meekly sitting his ass back down when Bush ignores the question.

They canít write what they think, and canít ask real questions. What the hell are they doing there? If the answer is "their jobs," itís about time we started wondering what that means.

That's our famous librul media for you, front and center. Too bad I don't drink.

Posted by Observer at 11:10 AM | Comments (9)

Sign Here, Please

When we checked into our Motel down in San Antonio, I pulled out my credit card to pay for the room. The drone at the front desk said, "I'm sorry, sir, but you'll need to sign the back of your credit card first." I keep it unsigned, because I think signing it is pretty dumb. I don't see what kind of security signing your credit card gives you. To me, it just seems you are giving a thief a clear idea of what your signature looks like to make forging easier.

Not signing it means you occasionally get an annoyed cashier who says, "Hmmm, this isn't signed, can I see a photo ID?" I gladly pull one out for them. That's the whole point. I want to encourage these people to verify that I am who I say I am when I use my card. Since I always carry my photo ID around with my credit card, it's not a hassle.

So anyway, I tell the drone, "Give me a break. I have a photo ID right here with my signature on it. Why do you need my card signed?" She fell back on the old "my manager will fire me if ... ". Fine, whatever. So I get her blue pen and very lightly sign the back of my card. Then I sign the receipt with the same signature (so explain to me how forcing me to sign my card provides security again?) and hand it to her.

I was tired and cranky from the long car drive, so immediately after I handed her the receipt, I said, "Are you going to need to see this card again?" She said no, and then while she was watching, I licked my thumb and rubbed the signature off the back of my card. So am I just being stupid? It probably doesn't matter one way or the other if I sign my card, I guess.

Posted by Observer at 08:17 AM | Comments (6)

March 11, 2003

Been There, Done That

Since it is Spring Break for me, but back to work for the Mrs., I guess it falls to me to do the lion's share of the vacation slide show narration. Probably boring as hell for most of you, but maybe our kids will want to read it someday. ... Nah, they'll be bored as hell, too.

The kids were pretty well-behaved the whole time, which was a huge relief. A year ago, putting them all in a car for any trip longer than 10 minutes was a battle. I didn't just threaten to "pull this car over". I actually pulled the car over quite a few times and had words for one or more of them. Eventually, the message came across. Or aliens replaced the kids with compliant clones. Something. Now they aren't so bad.

We checked into the Motel 6 (more on that later) and took a little breather, then we headed to downtown. For the record, the condition and signage of the San Antonio highway system totally sucks. I've been there a few times, and I had some idea of where I was going, and I still got lost a few times. I could go into numerous examples, but that would be even more boring than our trip story, and even I have limits.

We got to the Alamo just as they were starting a re-enactment of the famous battle (so we lucked out, I guess, the kids liked it). Azriel is right. It *is* pretty small, the mission part. The walls of the fort that extend out feel about the right size, I guess. I've never spent enough time there to go through all the historical exhibits, and this trip was no exception. We then went down to the Riverwalk.

Wow, so many restaurants, and none were cheap. We had already eaten lunch (at a Denny's where for the first time in my life, I was forced into cutting my pancakes with a knife and fork, they were so tough), so no danger there. After some meandering and getting lost down a dead-end with nothing to see, we decided to take one of the boat tours of the place. We needed to get off our feet (especially my pregnant wife!), and the kids wanted to ride on the boat. 25 bucks and a long 40-minute wait later, we're on the river. Pretty fun. I feel really sorry for the boat tour guides. What a beaten-down job. I mean, it's not scrubbing toilets 40 hours a week, but ick.

After the tour, it was getting late, so we followed the confusing roads out back toward our motel. The kids have been yelping for months to eat at Golden Corral again (an all-you-can-eat buffet), but my sweetie couldn't stomach the thought. That restaurant is a pretty good deal for kids. The food is ok (the rolls are delicious, the only saving grace). But it is really hard to keep an all-you-can-eat buffet clean with a lot of rugrats running around. And it shows.

Every GC we've eaten at feels like it has a thin film of grease over every surface. And oh, the humanity. Pigs at the trough, we are. If I had to work there for more than a couple of days, I think it would shoot myself in embarrassment for being a member of a race of creatures that celebrates gluttony like we do. The desserts are all you can eat, which is the best part for the kids who like to mix all the toppings into a big mush. Anyway, this time, we decided we could handle it since the kids had behaved pretty well all day.

Then we crashed. Took a couple of hours for C*dy and S*rah to calm down, in the adjoining room to ours. C*dy was excited because they have the Cartoon Network in San Antonio (we do at home, too, so I don't see the big deal). Whenever he got bored during the day, he asked when we were going back to the motel room. He would've been content to sit in the room all day and watch cartoons in a new place, I guess.

Next morning, we woke up in a timely fashion and got over to Sea World. Our printed out tickets bought from the Internet worked just fine, and we got in right when the park opened. They played the national anthem at the park entrance, but 90% of people were looking at the maps and show schedules, planning their day or yelling at their kids to get back over here and stop running off, etc. Then other 10% were indignantly looking around at all the people ignoring the anthem.

We went to a few shows first. The sea lions show was the best of the day. Very amusing. They had a clown to warm up the audience who was great, but S*rah thought he was scary. By the time the show started, the amphitheater was about half full, so I knew the park wouldn't be that crowded during the day. After that show, we went to see a show with divers and dolphins. Kind of a low-rent version of Cirque du Soleil with water mixed in. Again, it was a good show.

Then we went to the biggie, the killer whale show at Shamu stadium. By the time that one started, it was packed. I decided to spring for a round of snacks and drinks for everyone. Ouch. Oh well, it was for the best, because we were so tired and hungry by the end of the day, I think that it wouldn't have been pretty without the ice-cream hit at lunchtime. The Shamu show was worth the wait. Lots of gratuitous audience-splashing, but we were spared. I got good pictures from all three shows.

There was another show that we skipped. This was the one where they do waterski stunts and the skier pyramid and so on. I've never been a big fan of that (reminds me of the old Happy Days episodes when they jumped the shark), so we skipped that show. By this time, the park was good and crowded, but still not as bad as a weekend, based on the relatively short lines at rides.

C*dy and S*rah got to play at the kids playground for a while, and it got really warm. The weather was just perfect, about 75-80 and partly cloudy for most of the day. Then we let Justin ride one of the big roller coasters, and he had a blast. He'll be jabbering on about that for a good year, I'll wager. We fed sea lions, too. Cost one buck per frozen smelt, so everyone got a turn. They are so cute.

Later, we went to the dolphin feeding grounds, and they have a giant pool around which everyone lies flat on their stomachs. The dolphins come around looking for food, and everyone gets a chance to pet them. The line for food buying was too long there. We also went to the gaming area. The kids were really excited. We both knew the games were all rip-offs, but I gave the kids five bucks each and let them learn life's lessons.

One of the games was a whack-a-mole contest (where little sharks jump out of five holes and you have to smack them with a fake mallet before they hide again). Once they get at least three contestants at two bucks each, they start the clock and give a prize to the high score. Well, S*rah wanted to try this first, and there was only one other little girl there, so I said it looked like a good idea. I turned my back for a few seconds, and the game started. The other little girl's mother paid two bucks and played! What a rip! Poor Sarah only hit a few sharks, more than the other little girl, but of course, the other mom hit eight, and so she "won".

Boy, was I steamed. When I came back around a couple minutes later, J*stin and C*dy were playing the same game, and again, a parent jumped in to play for his kid and beat them both. Grrr. I lurked. That same parent looked for another chance to con a roundful of sucker kids so he could get his other kid a toy. As soon as he paid his two bucks, I did, too. It's not like it's is something to be proud of or to make a career out of, but I am really good at that sort of thing (from years of video games, I guess). I hit a perfect 15 out of 15, got the little stuffed orca prize, smirked at the other parent, and gave the doll to my sweetie.

S*rah got lucky with one of those ball-in-the-cup games and won a little stuffed toy, then Justin got lucky and got a 6" diameter ball through one of their rigid 6.0001" hoops and get a little stuffed toy, too. C*dy wasn't so lucky, so he went off empty-handed. Poor kid tried twice to knock the milk jugs off the platform. I didn't stop him. There's no better way to learn about ripoffs than to experience them.

We ended the day riding on the Texas Splashdown, one of those log rides where you go down a couple of ramps and get splashed. It was good for all the kids, but like all of the rides, they discouraged expectant mothers, so my sweetie had to wait for us. We picked a time when the line was only 20 minutes long (but still, the park was uncrowded, we walked right past parts of the line where signs said "the wait from here is 60+ minutes, 50-60 minutes, 40-50 minutes, 30-40 minutes, etc.") since a Shamu show was going on, and we had a blast.

Throughout the day, we saw a lot of funny parent-kid interactions. Lots of little toddlers screaming their heads off, "BUT I WANNA GO ON THIS!!!" Lots of parents saying, "If you don't xyz, we are going to turn around and walk right out of this place and go home." Every time one of our kids complained, "I'm hungry, when do we eat?", I would ask aloud, "Did C*dy just say thanks for bringing us to Sea World and letting us have so much fun today, because I could swear that's what I heard." Overall, the kids were really well-behaved, and their behavior was probably one of my bigger concerns going into the trip (car trouble, dogsitter trouble being slightly bigger).

The drive home was uneventful once we got out of the sorry traffic mess that is San Antonio. We were anxious to get home and see the dogs, because we've never left them before. And now if you'll dim the lights, we have three carousels worth of slides to show... (once my wife puts them up).

Posted by Observer at 11:17 AM | Comments (5)

Inching Forward

After our visit to the doctor a few days ago, we went out and had a big celebratory lunch at Pappadeaux's, my favorite seafood chain around here. Their spicy chargrilled catfish fillets on dirty rice, plus the hot bread to cool your mouth off ... mmmm. I talked my wife into fried catfish fillets, and I nabbed one of hers off her plate.

Basically, I ate *WAY* too much, but that's ok, because I just bought four new pairs of 40" inch waist pants and a new belt. Maybe it is sympathy weight. Yeah, that's it! It was about four hours before I was unbloated enough to stop groaning audibly. Didn't even bother with dinner. Or supper, whatever. What I call lunch/dinner, my wife calls dinner/supper, so we always have confusion around here.

Back when I was in high school, I used to buy 29" x 36" pants. Over the years, those numbers have reversed. I think either they are changing how they measure the inseam on pants or my legs have shrunk, because now I wear 40" x 32". It was kind of traumatic when those numbers finally equalled one another a few years ago (when I bought my first pair of 34" x 34"), and I put it off for a long time by wearing uncomfortably tight pants (32" x 34"), but once I broke through it, I haven't stressed about it. Hitting 40 wasn't fun. I hit 40" at about the same time I broke 200 pounds for the first time ever.

My brother, who has always been heavier than me, finally got himself lighter, and he can't stop comparing our weights every time we see each other. We get along just fine, but he's really got a bee in his bonnet about his weight. The first time I realized I was heavier than him, it bothered me a little, but now I don't care. He won't shut up about it, so I humor him and pretend to be stressed. He's got it pretty rough right now in the personal life department, so he needs those little joys.

What you are reading here is a description of a transition process in my mind as I continually come up with new rationalizations to be fat and lazy.

Posted by Observer at 09:54 AM | Comments (5)

March 10, 2003

Family Reunion

We're back. Fun trip. Things kept popping up to blow money on, but all in all, it was a good experience for all concerned. We rushed back home tonight and had our happy reunion with two very excited pugs (we had a housesitter check on them a few times while we were gone, so they were wild when we got home). Time for sleep.

Posted by Observer at 11:35 PM | Comments (2)

March 09, 2003

Sea the World

Well, we made our reservations for the motel room, bought our tickets on-line, and so this morning we are off to San Antonio. Several hours with three kids in the backseat (sure wish we could afford a minivan payment right now, but it has to wait until summer) to San Antonio. We'll try to spend some time at the Riverwalk and surroundings, then crash for the night.

Monday is Sea World day. $170 (with 10% internet discount) for the five of us. Bleargh. I just hope we picked a good day when the crowds will be small. Supposed to be 70 and cloudy and on a Monday right at the start of the season, so I'm optimistic about line lengths.

We were strategic yesterday and took the kids out on a book-buying binge so they'd have something for the car. We're organizing Game Boys, Electronic Football and Baseball, Yu-Gi-Oh cards, CD players, etc. to keep the kids occupied and hoping for the best. When I went on long car trips as a lad, all I had was a couple of books and a walkman, and I was fine for a whole day. Of course, maybe my parents would say differently (but they don't read this, so neener).

This is the first time for the wife and rugrats to go any place this big. Certainly their first trip to San Antonio. We get to drive through Austin, where I went to UT-Austin (Hook 'Em, Horns!) for four years. The kids also went to see the Alamo, since they've been learning about it in school. We're aiming to drive back late Monday at the end of the Sea World day, if I can keep my eyes open for that long.

Posted by Observer at 08:12 AM | Comments (2)

Lies That Won't Die

The other day, I was listening to the local "guy talk" station around here. Some of their shows are unbearable, but a few are light-hearted and funny without being "Maxim"-style crude. Anyway, they were having a conversation about something, and someone brought up the war. One guy said he thought Bush might not be telling the truth, and he get pounced by the others.

Paraphrasing from memory: "Well, Bush may be skirting the issues for security reasons, but at least he brought some honor to the White House!" Another: "Yeah, when Clinton left, don't you remember, he totally trashed the place!"

This myth was COMPLETELY DISCREDITED two years ago without a shred of doubt. Not by the librul media, mind you. No, when reports of this first came out (propagated by the White House, which absolutely *knew* it was a lie ... there's the real scandal), angry Republicans in Congress like Bob Barr demanded an investigation from the General Accounting Office (GAO), a non-partisan organization affiliated with Congress.

Well, the 200+ page report came back a few months later, and it turned out that the Clinton administration did leave some damage when they left, consistent with the level of damage left by previous administrations (including the Bush to Clinton transition) and consistent with what you'd expect from any office space occupied for several years. Clinton even offered to pay for any damages out of his own pocket. Of course, this didn't make the front page for a full week like the original story did. Corrections never do.

The Moron American is a powerful force in today's politics, fueled as he is by the malicious lies of right wing talk radio (which are documented on a regular basis by organizations like Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) and the mainstream media (documented on a regular basis by lots of bloggers like me). It really disgusts me that obvious lies like this infect the mainstream of Moron American consciousness and become a part of their mental view of the world.

Dozens of these are built up over the years by the media, and you eventually have a mythology that is a lot more powerful than fact (i.e. Al Gore is a pathological liar who can't "find himself" ... watch the same thing happen to Democratic front-runner John Kerry over the next year, already started by his hometown paper, the Boston Globe). It is the media's job to act as a check on the spread of propaganda, not to act as an enabler (or worse, a propagator). It is also the voter's job to get informed, and too many Americans are shirking that role. When that happens, the best PR team is going to win every time.

And if that makes me so fucking mad sometimes that I am rude or arrogant or impatient or whatever, then I very very sincerely apologize. I made the mistake once of arguing politics with my Mom, and we got really mad at each other. My Mom is totally great, and I love her to death, and so I swore never to take politics seriously with family or friends again. Ranting about it here as a way to vent really helps along those lines.

Posted by Observer at 07:56 AM | Comments (0)

March 08, 2003

Mea Culpa

I know I'm breaking my two-posts-a-day limit, but I need to publicly apologize for comparing justmary's comments about Klur to Peggy Noonan's comments about George W. Bush. It was a youthful indiscretion, and I think it is time to get past it and move our country forward.

Posted by Observer at 07:47 PM | Comments (0)

Code Warriors

Exhibit number 1435 that our government is being run by idiots comes from Bill Keller's column today in the New York Times.

Two weeks ago, a group of senior intelligence officials in the Defense Department sat for an hour listening to a briefing by a writer who claims ó I am not making this up ó that messages encoded in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament provide clues to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. One of the officials told me that they had agreed to meet the writer, Michael Drosnin, author of a Nostradamus-style best seller, without understanding that he was promoting Biblical prophecy. Still, rather than shoo him away, they listened politely as he consumed several man-hours of valuable intelligence-crunching time.

I don't even know where to begin explaining my problems with this madness. I guess I'll start by wondering aloud who called this meeting? What high level source recommended that this guy speak to intelligence officials? Thanks to Eschaton for the heads-up on this one.

I'd say more, but you are saved by the fact that I have to go paint my pregnant wife's toenails now.

Posted by Observer at 11:33 AM | Comments (3)

But I've Got a 1.0!

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

Posted by Observer at 08:33 AM | Comments (1)

March 07, 2003

Jesus' General

I'm trying to keep my sidebar links uncluttered, but over time, as I keep coming back to the same places over and over, I find myself accreting links like everyone else. Oh well. My newest link comes from a very funny blog run by General J. C. Christian, or Jesus' General. Here's a sample:

From time to time, I'll use this space to talk about my favorite weapons systems. They are what makes war so cool. Let's start off with the BGM-109 Tomahawk Cruise Missile. It's a beauty. 20 feet long and straight with two small fins standing out like veins against muscle, this powerful little penetrator thrusts out of its tube in a cloud of pulsating white hot fury, slicing through the air like a spear through warm jello until it plunges its rounded, sensitive head into its destination releasing its 1000 lb payload in an unrestrained eruption of explosive ecstacy. I'd could go on all night about this wonderful weapon, but I need to step out for a smoke. Maybe I can talk more about it later.

He also had a comment about the two Washington state legislators who walked out of a session in protest of the opening prayer being led by a Muslim cleric:

I'm glad you walked out on that unbeliever during his so-called prayer. We're a Christian nation. We don't need no stinking Allah worshippers coming around here with their fancy ideas about brotherhood and asking their hoity-toity Middle Eastern God of Abraham to bless our legislators.

Jesus is just alright with me. If he was here right now, I bet he'd have spit on that Muslim bastard. Heck, I bet he would have kicked his butt just like he did with the money changers in the temple. Man that would be cool to see. It would be like wrestling except Jesus would be totally undefeatable. He could like do a flying pile driver from the ropes onto Allah while kicking Mohammed in the Dome of the Rock. That would be so cool.

So much more fun to read than another long discourse by someone like me on the importance of church/state separation, irony, lessons learned, etc.

PS. Notice how I've cut back consistently to "only" two posts/day. I'm really trying to avoid blog burnout. I could post a lot more, but I've saving some ideas for blogstipation days.

Posted by Observer at 02:50 PM | Comments (0)

Bookaholic

Back when I used to read books, I got a *lot* of recommendations from people. Over the years, I've compiled the ones I consider the most trustworthy into a big file I call "books to watch for". I take this file (about a three-foot long, two-inch wide print-out in a teeny tiny font) into half-price bookstores once in a while to shop. The result is that I usually buy books at a faster rate than I read them.

I started reading books when I was very young. I think the first book I remember is Danny and the Dinosaur. I also used to read these thick cartoon books with Bugs Bunny and his pals. They had little animations in the top corner you could flip the pages really fast and see. The books were probably about 5 inches square and 2 inches thick. I would read those over and over until I got a headache, I was so bored and wanting to read (too much competition for the TV, and this was before good computer games were widely available).

Our eight-year-old Cody is at that point now. He didn't read a lick, but he can read. He can read stuff he brings home from school, and is getting along fine there. We gave him the Harry Potter series, and now he's got the bug. He devours everything. We bought him six Pokemon chapter books for Xmas, about 100 pages each, and those were gone in a few weeks (he reads for about an hour before his bedtime). We're taking him to the bookstore soon to restock, but I'm going to make sure he is a bit more well-stocked than I was at his age.

Currently, on my "to read" shelf, I have approximately 100 books, about 20 fiction, 50 speculative fiction, 20 science related books and 10 political books. I've had the best success keeping up with my political purchases as I've gotten more and more pissed off over the past decade. I'm also *really* getting tired of poor writing and stories with about 30 characters whose names constantly escape me. If I'm going to remember all those names, they had better have distinct personalities, and it had better be a ripping good yarn.

Anyway, I've picked up my reading pace again lately, after going really slow for the past few years. I'm now getting through at least a book each week. My strategy is to buy one for every two that I read, and so in about three years at the current rate, I should be all caught up. When the new baby comes, though, I will probably slow way down, so ten years is probably more realistic.

I went ahead and bought anthologies of the first five Bujold books in the Miles Vorkosigan series from Amazon. Nice to have them, but it means that before I buy anything else, I'll have to read ten books (unless you figure it is five books compiled into two, so I only have to read four...). I don't know if I can wait 2-3 months between buying books. Still waiting for them to arrive, so I had to pick what to read next ... time to read Cook's "Black Company" series from start to finish now that I finally have the final book of "Glittering Stone". That's yer 10 books right there.

Posted by Observer at 07:38 AM | Comments (6)

March 06, 2003

It's a Boy!

We had our big 5-month (actually, 21 weeks, it seems) appointment with the doctor today for a detailed ultrasound examination of the baby. I am happy to report that all is well. This will be my first, even though I have three stepkids now. I'm very excited and happy, and I get a thrill every time I see the little guy or feel him kick or anything.

I honestly didn't have a preference about the sex. There are big positives either way. We got a clear shot of the equipment (the tech even outlined it on the screen for a nice embarrassing shot for the baby book), so there is no doubt. My dad will be happy because my brother has two girls, and so I know dad was rooting for a boy. It may be his last chance at a grandson (we certainly don't plan on having any more kids after this one).

We have a fairly good idea of the name (I have pre-emptively vetoed any version of "my name" Junior), but we're keeping that to ourselves until after the baby is born. Just four more months!

Posted by Observer at 03:33 PM | Comments (8)

Cause and Effect

Since our 13-year-old Justin (my stepson) has been diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome (mild form of autism on the spectrum), I am somewhat interested in autism in general, particularly the causes (which are unknown). I have a sneaking suspicion that it is something in the environment today causing an increase in autism rates (you know, like maybe in the water). A recent AP report claimed that increasing numbers of autistic diagnoses were occuring just because of a redefinition of the spectrum of autism and so on.

However, a very interesting post in Wampum shows evidence to the contrary. It turns out that even correcting for the redefinition, that can only account for about 20% of the increase in autism diagnoses in recent years (numbers of autistic kids have climbed by a factor of about 10 in the last 10 years ... very scary).

That is not to say that some children in the early 1990s had been classified as mentally retarded and then relabelled autistic when the new subgrouping was established by the Department of Education. It doesn't, however, explain the accelerating rates of autism diagnoses, nor does it account for the explosion of [autism] among younger children, [and] if "relabelling" discounted an increase in autism, then we should see as many 40 year olds as 4 year olds. This is certainly not the case. As I've mentioned countless times before, the UC-Davis Study for the California Legislature thoroughly addressed this issue in its findings, stating that re-diagnosis could not account for more than 20 percent of new autism cases in the years following the new criteria.

There is a theory kicking around that Thimerosal, a preservative used in MMR (Measles-Mumps-Rubella) vaccinations for kids, may cause autistic disorders because it contains non-trivial amounts of Mercury. The company in charge of MMR vaccinations in the US (in Canada, too, I wonder?) is Eli Lilly, whose patron saint in Congress is the new Senate Majority Leader from Tennessee, Bill Frist. Now it just so happens that at the end of the last congressional session, a little clause was inserted into a bill that would essentially outlaw lawsuits against Eli Lilly for this.

Incredibly, enough outrage was built up about this that the provision was quickly stripped by the new Congress, although the person who was responsible for inserting the provision hasn't been identified (Dick Armey, who is retiring, took the fall, but everyone knows it wasn't him). Of course, Eli Lilly is denying that there could be a link and trying to promote other theories. Purely for scientific reasons, of course...

If you read the article [the AP story claiming the autism increase is just because of changing definitions], you'll see that it looks at other current "hot-button" autism topics. The cynic in me thinks that the media is now laying the groundwork for a resurrection of Majority Leader Bill Frist's payback to his largest campaign contributor, vaccine liability reform. I suspect that we'll see at least a few more of these "public interest" stories reasserting the "mainstream" belief that autism is genetic, never caused by mercury or MMR and in fact, not actually increasing in frequency. A three pronged approach, so to speak.

I smell a rat.

Posted by Observer at 09:33 AM | Comments (4)

March 05, 2003

Damn Lies

In our local "librul media" outfit today, our paper reported "Poll Finds War Cry Loud in Texas":

Fifty-eight percent of Texans support a war against Iraq, and nearly three-quarters of those who favor war don't believe that President Bush needs to wait for U.N. approval before launching military action, according to the latest Scripps Howard Texas Poll. ...

71 percent of Texans who support a war said the United States should act independently of the United Nations and invade Iraq when the president chooses ...

A CBS poll in late February found that 64 percent of those surveyed believe that the United States should wait for U.N. approval. A more recent poll by ABC News and The Washington Post, released this week, found that six out of every 10 people support disarming Iraq by force, but only 34 favor military action without U.N. support.

Pardon me while I do a little math. It seems to me that if 58% support a war with Iraq and 71% of war supporters said we should invade regardless of what happens with the UN, then that means only 41% actually support military action without UN support in Texas, compared to 34% nationally. That doesn't seem like a big difference to me, so why the "loud war cry" headline?

And why quote all these statistics as if a majority favors the war? This is the (complete) list of statistics included with the article:

68 percent of Texans approve of President Bush's job performance.
86 percent agree that Iraq poses a threat to the United States.
58 percent favor going to war with Iraq.
94 percent say it is very or somewhat likely to go to war with Iraq in the next three months.
63 percent agree that the Bush administration has provided enough evidence to justify military action.
90 percent of war supporters favor using ground troops to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
71 percent of war supporters say the United States doesn't need another U.N. vote before going to war.

Notice how every single one of those numbers sounds like a majority, but on closer reading, you see that several of them are not majorities. "71% of war supporters" sure sounds better than "41% of Texans" when you're trying to sell a war, I guess.

But that's ok, you go right on believing that we have a liberal media in this country.

Posted by Observer at 09:32 AM | Comments (4)

Burning Bush

More news from the librul media front. This week's Newsweek story on Bush and God is really off the deep end. The whole thing is just such a huge Bush blowjob, it reads like a Republican National Committee press release (which it is likely based on). Even the poll in the sidebar is slanted ("What's wrong with bringing morality to the White House?").

Unfortunately, this kind of coverage represents the rule in today's mainstream media rather than the exception. Eschaton is chock full of good stuff and good links lately. That guy must surf and blog 16 hours a day.

Posted by Observer at 06:55 AM | Comments (0)

March 04, 2003

Used Card Salesmen

Since Xmas, our 8-year-old (Cody) has gotten a Yu-Gi-Oh starter deck and a total of about twelve expansion packs (9 cards per pack). Justin has a bunch, too, and Sarah wants some for herself (but the poor girl never has enough time after homework to do chores for money, so we are thinking about buying her a deck).

For those of you without regular contact with boys ages 8-15, Yu-Gi-Oh is the latest collectable card game similar to Pokemon. Kind of like "Magic" for young kids. The rules are fairly complicated, and I am convinced none of our kids knows them well at all. But they watch the TV show religiously, and they hunger for more and more cards. And the cards are expensive.

I did some pricing on the web and found that buying starter decks and any of the expansion packs ends up costing somewhere around 40 cents per card. And of course, you have your rares, super-rares, ultra-mega-rares and so forth, so you can't just spend your 40 bucks and get the 100 card set. No, you have to buy probably ten times that many cards to have a chance at a full set, or you can buy singles for outrageous prices.

Anyway, Cody *should* have in his possession something on the order of 160 cards. I asked to see his cards today to see what expansion packs would suit his needs and so on, and I found that he currently has 30. Crap, you need at least 55 to play the game by the rules, so he can't even do that now! I asked him what is happening to his cards, and he wouldn't give me a straight answer.

From what little I could gather (emphasizing all the while that he's not in trouble, I just want to help him and make sure he isn't getting ripped off), he has given away at least 30 to his "friend" Marcus, a kind of creepy looking kid a year or two older than Cody who started hanging out with him after Xmas (when Cody acquired his first Yu-Gi-Oh cards). Sometimes, Marcus gives Cody Pokemon cards in return, which is fine for Cody since he likes Pokemon cards, but from a collector's standpoint, Cody is an idiot because no one plays Pokemon any more (not even his brother) and even if he were interested in selling, he couldn't get a dime.

Is Marcus getting all of Cody's cards? If not, who is? Is he getting anything in return for his cards? I know Cody well enough (I think) that I can believe he wouldn't give away cards expecting nothing in return. I imagine he is getting snacks at lunchtime or candy or what have you, but he is afraid if he admits that, he'll get in trouble (if that's really the case, I'd be relieved since at least he's getting *something* in return that he really wants). I told him that his deck has shrunk in size and value so much, it's like he lost fifty bucks, but I don't think he believes me.

Oh well, if these kids who are (presumably) hustling Cody are doing it in the hopes of making some cash, they are in for a nasty surprise. First of all, they may read in their collector magazine how much these cards are "worth", but good luck finding anyone who will pay that price. And these cards are played with, handled, carried around in backpacks, dogeared, etc., and in no way close to the "mint" price that captures everyone's attention. In fact, they seem very poor quality compared to most baseball cards (I used to collect Fleer Ultra and still have a couple of unopened boxes from 1991 in the closet).

I still don't like the idea of Cody getting hustled. I wouldn't even think of asking Cody's friends to tell me what he's doing with his cards. After all, they are Cody's cards to do with as he pleases, and I wouldn't want to encourage some other kid to rat on Cody ... he thinks I boss him around enough as it is, God knows. I worry that Cody is giving them away to win friends. I probably would've done the same thing when I was his age.

One thing is certain, though. I'm not going to help him financially buy any more cards until I have some idea of where they're going. If he wants to spend all his chore money on cards, that's fine, but I'm not going to line some other sneaky brat's pockets with valuable cards just because Cody is gullible. I wonder what will happen with Sarah's cards when we buy her a deck.

Posted by Observer at 04:37 PM | Comments (2)

A Good Walk Spoiled

I just finished John Feinstein's "A Good Walk Spoiled", a sugary summary of the pro golf tour in the few years before Tiger Woods came along. This topic is interesting to me for nostalgic reasons more than anything. I used to sit with my dad and watch golf all day Sunday when I was a kid, so I know all the names from the recent past: Nicklaus, Watson, Faldo, Price, Norman, etc.

Feinstein really treats his subjects with kid gloves, except for John Daly. After a while, I got so tired of reading all the ass-kissing that I was skimming the last few chapters. It's really hard to sympathize with the struggles of someone who is making $200k per year and whose day is ruined by someone coughing in his backswing. Oh well, I still enjoy remembering Jack's final Masters win, which I watched during a lazy Sunday afternoon working at my stepdad's gas station when I was in high school. And I also fondly remember the US comeback in the Ryder Cup from about three years ago. Beyond that, golf isn't on my radar these days.

I decided to link to it through Amazon instead of Barnes and Noble. We did some book shopping here last night, and I hadn't compared the two sites in quite a while. Wow, Amazon prices are almost always significantly lower than the BN website. For "Good Walk", the difference is $14.20 (with a special card discount at BN) vs the standard $10.47 at Amazon. How can Amazon be so much lower? Why haven't they gone under yet?

Posted by Observer at 08:08 AM | Comments (2)

March 03, 2003

Water Works

Justin and I went to Sooper Wal-Mart yesterday evening to get stocked for the coming week. One thing we needed was to refill our five-gallon bottled water jugs. I usually put Justin in charge of that while I go around and acquire other groceries. That place was a madhouse. 15-20 minute lines worse than any I've seen since Xmas, and it wasn't for a lack of employees.

I don't trust the tap water around here. You just never know what kind of stuff is in there that doesn't get filtered out, especially gasoline additives (MTBE's), nasty Chlorine related complex organics (THM's), lead and bacteria like cryptosporidium. And even if the stuff leaves the plant fairly clean, the pipes it travels through make me stop and think. The bottled water also tastes a little better, especially in the Fall and Spring when the reservoirs here begin to "turn" (convection which apparently promotes the growth of nasties or digs them up from the bottom or something).

Of course, it's not that drinking bottled water will make us safe from anything in the tap water. If you eat much fish, a lot of the nasty stuff gets concentrated there. And from what little I've learned, taking a hot shower is a lot worse than drinking the water, because your pores open up and a lot of the water just goes directly into your skin and so forth. They sell filtration systems that go on the main pipe leading into your house, but I've never priced them. It's so much trouble, and I guess I'm just not that paranoid yet.

Of course, one possible drawback of using bottled water is that we're missing out on flouridated water, but some people think that sticking flouride in water is a very bad thing. I don't know enough about it to say one way or another, but I imagine if the kids brush twice a day with a good toothpaste (here's an argument that Colgate Total is the hands-down best), they should be fine.

Posted by Observer at 05:17 PM | Comments (6)

Long Bomb

Very good article by Thomas Friedman sums up my hopes and fears about Iraq pretty well, although I am a lot more cynical about Bush than he is.

And don't believe the polls. I've been to nearly 20 states recently, and I've found that 95 percent of the country wants to see Iraq dealt with without a war. But President Bush is a man on a mission. He has been convinced by a tiny group of advisers that throwing "The Long Bomb" ó attempting to transform the most dangerous Arab state ó is a geopolitical game-changer. It could help nudge the whole Arab-Muslim world onto a more progressive track, something that coaxing simply will not do anymore. It's something that can only be accomplished by building a different model in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world. No, you don't see this every day. This is really bold. [There's that stupid adjective again.]

My dilemma is that while I believe in such a bold project, I fear that Mr. Bush has failed to create a context for his boldness to succeed, a context that could maximize support for his vision ó support vital to seeing it through. He and his team are the only people who would ever have conceived this project, but they may be the worst people to implement it. The only place they've been bold is in their military preparations (which have at least gotten Saddam to begin disarming). ...

What do I mean? I mean that if taking out Saddam and rebuilding Iraq had been my goal from the minute I took office (as it was for the Bush team), I would not have angered all of Europe by trashing the Kyoto global warming treaty without offering an alternative. I would not have alienated the entire Russian national security elite by telling the Russians that we were ripping up the ABM treaty and that they would just have to get used to it. (You're now seeing their revenge.) I would not have proposed one radical tax cut on top of another on the eve of a huge, costly nation-building marathon abroad.

I feel as if the president is presenting us with a beautiful carved mahogany table ó a big, bold, gutsy vision. But if you look underneath, you discover that this table has only one leg. His bold vision on Iraq is not supported by boldness in other areas. And so I am terribly worried that Mr. Bush has told us the right thing to do, but won't be able to do it right.

Friedman is a fairly well-respected Middle East analyst. He wrote a pretty good book about 15 years ago, called "From Beirut to Jerusalem" and a few other books about similar issues since then that I haven't read, including a quickie about post-September-11 politics.

Another quote I found out there summed up the hesitant feelings very well: "I support the Iraq policy that the administration says it has (though I still take issue with the way it has been implemented), but I oppose the Iraq policy that I believe they will, in fact, implement."

Posted by Observer at 06:52 AM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2003

Taxed by TAKS

This year, our school district is in an uproar because lots of kids have to pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge Skills (TAKS) test in order to promote to the next grade. Well, sort of. Some of them don't have to pass this time, but they have to take it anyway, and the passing requirement is being slowly phased in. And it's a tough test.

Right now, Cody is in the kitchen with his head down in frustration because he has to read a long passage and summarize every paragraph. He says he doesn't even know what summarize means. I told him, for example, that just about every 15-minute-long lecture I give him about behavior can be summarized in three words, "PLEASE BE GOOD."

I went through and summarized the first four paragraphs for him and then asked him to try paragraph five, but he won't budge. I wish I had time to sit in on some of his classes so I could see what passes for teaching around here. I have a bad feeling a lot of the day is crowd control and busywork.

After growing up in Canada and then being thrown into a much harder school system down here, Cody is extremely frustrated. He's going to be a really smart kid, I can tell. He's very crafty and manipulative, just like I was at his age. He really thinks things through, and he's already so good at lying that it scares me to imagine him as a teenager, five years from now.

Posted by Observer at 06:19 PM | Comments (2)

Secrets

The two boys (8-year-old Cody and 13-year-old Justin) went down to the park yesterday during their GameCube downtime. After a while, Sarah and I went down to check on them (actually, she wanted to brag that she caught a purple emperor butterfly on Animal Crossing). They were just sitting on the playground when I came around the corner.

I let Sarah run the rest of the way to them to spread the good news, then she came back and said, "I better not tell you what they're doing." I asked her why, and she said, "They're telling each other secrets." I told her that was fine, she doesn't have to tell me anything.

I'm a little worried about what secrets Justin feels like he wants to share with Cody, and maybe more worried about the secrets going the other way around. Oh well, I'm successfully repressing my control-freak nature and pretending that ignorance is bliss. I'm sure I'm better off not knowing.

Posted by Observer at 12:53 PM | Comments (2)

March 01, 2003

Rogue Nation

Apparently, word has been leaked that someone is spying on the wavering security council members, trying to ascertain their votes and who knows what else. They are:

'mounting a surge' aimed at gleaning information not only on how delegations on the Security Council will vote on any second resolution on Iraq, but also 'policies', 'negotiating positions', 'alliances' and 'dependencies'

You can find more information in this article from a British newspaper, "The Observer".

Of course, you only get one guess as to which nation is doing this. The thing is, I'm sure such intelligence operations are routine and expected, but I'm sure this story will do wonders for our standing in the world. That distant wail you are hearing is the ghost of Woodrow Wilson, founder of the League of Nations (after World War I), howling in despair. Will this get any play in the "librul media" on Sunday?

Posted by Observer at 10:46 PM | Comments (0)

Card Shark

I said earlier I'd mention neat books I like every once in a while, so I might as well start at the top of my list (after Brust). This is probably one all of you have read, but in case you haven't, one of the best stand-alone books to come along in recent times (imho) is Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game". If you want (very mild spoiler) reviews, you can see them on the Barnes & Noble site.

The book is actually the first of a four book series, but it works just fine as a stand-alone. The rest of the series, while interesting, would probably not be your cup of tea unless you are an avid speculative fiction reader. I think Ender's Game works regardless of your favorite genre, and in fact, it is a good introduction to what speculative fiction can offer over standard fiction (whether it is literary or pop fiction). One of the things I like most about most Card books is that he usually takes a lot of space to explore the ethics of a situation. This is very true for this series and the "Homecoming" series.

Some of Card's stand-alone stuff is pretty good, too. I thought "The Lost Boys" was really good. A little preachy, but it really surprised me. Card is a Mormon, and in real life, he's also a royal jackass, from what little I have read. Oh well, good books anyway.

I suppose I could link to these books using Amazon's "finder's fee" system, where if someone buys a book by following your link, you get a small kickback. I've always thought that was a little trashy. It's like turning an honest book review into a promotional ad, and I don't want anyone thinking I'm talking about how great a book is just so I can make a dime.

Posted by Observer at 08:51 AM | Comments (4)