April 30, 2003

"I've Got a 4.0!" Update

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

Posted by Observer at 03:37 PM | Comments (1)

Pecker Update

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

Posted by Observer at 03:31 PM | Comments (0)

Cheap Seats

Well, I found out why yesterday's game in Toronto was a sell-out. I had been wondering how they'd draw a big crowd as bad as the Blue Jays are sucking and with the SARS scare and all. They repriced every seat to $1 Canadian (which is about 70 cents US now), and the tickets went quick! Good idea.

Posted by Observer at 03:22 PM | Comments (1)

Park Benched

Ranger bats, which came alive during the Yankee series, just whomped all over Toronto yesterday. ARod is 9 for his last 11 with 3 doubles and a homer (that included a huge 5-for-5 in the win over the Yanks). Mr. Contract Year, Carl Everett, smacked 2 homers last night, and he's got 9 as well. Our bullpen was fairly horrible, but we outslugged Toronto 16-11.

Meanwhile, poor Chad Kreuter, who has bounced around without anything more than a backup job for the last couple of years, got cut. He wasn't hitting over the Mendoza line, and I already commented on his atrocious plate discipline, and he obviously wasn't helping Chan Ho Park (he was Chan's "personal catcher" to try to help Chan stay focussed, etc.). Meanwhile, Chan got sent to the disabled list with a "sore back".

Really, he's got a case of the sucks. There's nothing wrong with him physically, but they make up an excuse to get him off the roster for a while to make room for someone to come up from the minors to pitch. I hope when Chan comes back, they stick him in the bullpen. He's certainly not earning his money, so at least make him earn his innings. Make him pitch his way into the rotation just like any other minor leaguer.

Oh well, we didn't gain any ground on Seattle, but they beat the Yankees, so that's fine by me.

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

April 29, 2003

I Don't Take Requests

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

Posted by Observer at 10:01 PM | Comments (2)

Lab Brats

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

Posted by Observer at 07:04 AM | Comments (1)

April 28, 2003

Not All Bad

Ok, we avoided the sweep today by winning 10-7 (and it was a nervous ninth inning, let me tell you). Even though the first two losses were depressing, I still can't complain too much about this past week of Ranger baseball. We took on the two best teams in the AL East and split 3-3 with them. Our pitching staff's ERA against New York was a shade over 5, which isn't great, but given that we had two young kids plus Chan Ho starting (two of our three starters didn't make it to the 5th inning), it could've been a LOT worse.

Our offense played very well, and that's part of what's frustrating. Against any other team, the way we were playing this weekend, we would've won the series and maybe even swept it. Everybody on the team was *on* defensively, it seemed like. They had some give-away promotions at the stadium, and it was sold-out or nearly so for every game. Felt almost like the playoffs. I sure miss having a team I root for in the baseball playoffs.

No team has outscored the Yankees in a series (nor has a team won a series from them), which tells you how damned good they are and how well we played. If we keep up the level of play we had this past week, we should win a few of the series coming up against the Torontos and Clevelands of the world. On the down side, we're 11-14, 5 games out depends on how Seattle plays today, 3 games under .500. Next time through the AL West, we have to pick it up and win some series.

Posted by Observer at 07:01 AM | Comments (1)

April 27, 2003

Plain Speaking

Some quotes from a great Democrat, Harry Truman:

"I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it."

"A President needs political understanding to run the government, but he may be elected without it."

"I remember when I first came to Washington. For the first six months you wonder how the hell you ever got here. For the next six months you wonder how the hell the rest of them ever got here."

"Whenever a fellow tells me he's bipartisan, I know he's going to vote against me."

"A bureaucrat is a Democrat who holds some office that a Republican wants."

"I never did give anyone hell. I just told the truth and they thought it was hell."

Posted by Observer at 08:27 AM | Comments (1)

April 26, 2003

Baseball Karma

Another baseball game story, sorry. Don't worry, the Rangers are going to be out of it soon enough, so I'll stop writing these. For now, though, they are sniffing a competitive record (ok, 10-14, maybe not), and the hated Yankees are in town, so I am officially paying attention.

You know, the thing about the stupid Yankees is that they are so good, they even overcome baseball karma. Like last night. They start the game popping a couple of two-run homers over our overmatched young pitcher, so they're up 4-0. I'm thinking it's over. But no, the Rangers come back with some big hits very soon after and tie it up. So it's a brand new 4-4 ball game after the 4th inning.

But then our young third baseman (the much hyped but apparently overmatched for this season Mark Texeira) makes a bad decision on a throw, taking an easy force out at second instead of throwing home to bust a runner going home with less than two outs. So the Yanks go up 5-4 on a mental error. Then ARod ties it back up, and it is 5-5.

Advancing to the 8th, our setup guy comes in (he normally comes in when we have the lead, so using him now in hopes we get the lead in the bottom half of the inning is a risk). He sits the side down in order, and the crowd is going crazy. They can sense some momentum. I'm thinking we have the heart of the order coming up, so we have a good chance to take a lead going into the 9th. I'm thinking, c'mon baseball gods, let Buck's risk pay off. The old Yank manager beats the current Yanks by rolling the dice. Great story, baseball karma. But our guys sit down 1-2-3. Argh.

In the ninth, manager Buck Showalter is pulling out all the stops, and he brings in our nominal closer, Oogie, who shuts down the Yanks. So now it is bottom of the 9th, tie game, and "any kind of run will win it!" as the announcer excitedly yelled. With one out, the guy who murdered us last night, Yank 2nd baseman Alfonso Soriano, commits his first error of the season on a routine grounder, and so we have a runner aboard.

Ok, I'm thinking, baseball karma. The story line here is that the worm has turned, and now we'll get a win because of Soriano's screwup. The Yanks are better than that. The rest of our hitters are sat down in order, and our pinch-runner doesn't even sniff 2nd base. Oh dear.

Top of the 10th, our closer is still in (which is shaky, these guys are used to pitching for one inning, so their effectiveness tends to drop after that). He allows a walk, and then a mental screwup, and a slow runner steals second base by getting a great jump. Another walk, and it looks like trouble. A big strikeout, and there are two outs. Maybe we can get out of the inning, but no. A sharp grounder past our pinch runner/3rd baseman who just came into the game (and isn't properly loosened up, I imagine, after sitting on the bench for three hours), and a run scores.

Our closer is relieved, and the next Ranger comes in and immediately coughs up a wild pitch to allow another runner to score. 7-5 going into the bottom of the 10th. Ugh. We got a runner on in the bottom half, and ARod was up with 2 outs. But he already hit his home run tonight, and it just isn't fair to expect him to do *everything*. He strikes out, and the ball game is over.

And they beat baseball karma yet again, because in an effort to give the Rangers a boost, I began writing this sad story of us losing right after the Yanks scored their run in the top of the 10th (ignoring a big pile of emails from students I need to answer). I thought maybe if I tempt fate by writing this when the Rangers might still win ... nope, the Yanks are better than that, too. It just isn't fair.

Oh well, the good news is that our bullpen pitched absolutely great so far in this series, allowing 3 runs in 10 innings. That's a huge improvement for us, especially considering how great the Yanks are hitting-wise, and we're playing in the most hitter friendly park in the American League. So that probably means we're due to give up 12 runs tomorrow. Grrr.

It was an absolutely great game, from an objective standpoint. It's just that the f'ing Yankess won.

Posted by Observer at 10:20 PM | Comments (1)

When Will the Other Shoe Drop?

Secretary of the Army Thomas White, one of the most egregious of the Bushco appointees (seeing as how he was appointed shortly after ending a very profitable and corrupt career as an Enron insider), has resigned. Late Friday, of course, is the ideal time for such moves by all politicians, because no one reads the news on Saturday and by Sunday, people are already talking about something else. It's where the stuff Bushco doesn't want you to notice goes off to die quietly.

The question is why did White resign? Is something new about to come out about Enron?

Posted by Observer at 09:52 AM | Comments (0)

Casting Call

So how do you remember the toppling of the Saddam statue in Baghdad? Lots of networks replayed that over and over as a pivotal moment, similar to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. The liberal media reported that thousands of Iraqis celebrated, etc. You know, it probably doesn't matter what the truth of the matter is, because it was all symbolic anyway. Whether we will be cheered or jeered ultimately by Iraqis will be decided five or more years down the road, not the day after we invade.

But I'm still bothered. It appears the event was purposely staged for the media. It wasn't a spontaneous celebration at all. In fact, the plaza where this took place was isolated and surrounded by tanks with only several dozen people present. At least one prominent crowd participant has been postively identified as a member of the 700-man unit of "free militia" that accompanied our chosen next leader for Iraq, a shady character known as Ahmed Chalabi. I wonder how many others in the crowd were from the same unit, if not all.

So how do you remember the stopping of the recount in Broward County, Florida in 2000? Lots of networks replayed that over and over as a pivotal moment. The liberal media reported that dozens of people rioted in city hall where the election committee was trying to count ballots by hand. Photos and video from the event were later matched up with a roster of Republican congressional staffers, and it was a 100% match. Pretty much every person whose face is clearly visible in the photos has been positively identified as a member of the staff of Tom DeLay or some other member of the Republican leadership in Congress.

Turns out they were flown down there on official vacation, at the government's expense, put up in a nice hotel, and given orders to make trouble. And they succeeded. They made it look like a spontaneous, local protest had arisen, the sentiments being exactly what suited the Republican agenda at the time.

For liberals, the moral of the story is: "Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it." For conservatives, it is: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." They've figured out how to get the media to do what they want (in those few cases where they don't actually *own* it and set the editorial policy), and they know they won't get busted for manipulation until it is way too late (and even then, back on page 23A).

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

April 25, 2003

Well, Crap

Stupid Yanks. Their best closer and their best all-around player (Derek Jeter) both out injured, and they are still 19-4. Tonight, one of our young pitchers valiantly stayed in the game, only gave up 3 runs (and two were on a cheap home run, which went off the wall just above the marker line separating a home run from a normal base hit). But he faced Mike Mussina, a crafty veteran who had the Rangers baffled. That freak struck out the side in the 8th, but then, although he had only thrown 102 pitches, manager Joe Torre takes him out.

I'm thinking, great, we have a shot. Even though their substitute closer is pretty tough, Mussina wasn't going to give up anything else. Sure enough with two outs, we get a rally going. Base hit, stolen base, then another base hit, and we have a runner on 2nd who is the tying run. The very next pitch, everyone is all excited, and it is a sharp smash toward the right side. Through some miracle, the Yankees' first baseman dives and barely gets a glove on it, and the ball is slowly dribbling toward the outfield.

I'm thinking, ok, if it goes far enough, maybe our runner from second can come around to score. Out of nowhere, sprinting onto my screen, I watched in horror as the Yankee second baseman runs straight to the ball, picks it up clean barehanded and fires a strike to the pitcher hustling over to cover first. Bang-bang play, and our hitter is out, game over.

I'd like to say the Rangers and Yankees have a healthy rivalry, a contest for the ages. But for that to be true, we'd have to beat them every once in a while, and dammit, we just can't seem to do it. *SIGH*.

Oh well, it's just a game, and life is good.

Posted by Observer at 10:04 PM | Comments (0)

Escaping Reality

I just finished reading a really depressing book kinda summarizing all the stupid stuff that happened during the Florida election and the recount. It's depressing because it was so much worse than even I realized, and I thought I was keeping track of it really closely at the time. A lot of really horrible racist stuff was going on, which I knew, but it was really widespread.

Most Florida media types who keep up with this sort of thing were like: Huh? You're surprised that we screw around with blacks when they're trying to vote? Where have you been for the last century? The only reason anyone is paying attention to it now is that the vote was so close. The worst part is the way Republicans are all, "oh get over it, it's in the past, quit being such a sore loser".

I feel like I got mugged, and it was all on videotape, but some slimy high-priced lawyer got the crook off on a technicality. Now that same crook sees me every day, all smug and telling me to get over it, I must have imagined the whole thing. And the crook is making new rules about what constitutes a crime, etc. I try not to think about it, because it just makes me want to throw up.

I decided to escape back into fantasy, and so I started reading the Miles Vorkosigan series by Lois McMaster Bujold, starting with "Cordelia's Honor". I'll let you know how it turns out, but I'm coming up on end of the semester exams and finals, so it may be a while before I get any quality reading done. Well, that plus I'm halfway through the Armageddon's Blade scenarios in Heroes III now, and that's pretty addictive.

Posted by Observer at 07:37 AM | Comments (6)

Impossible Dreams

My Rangers won a laugher over the Red Sox yesterday (230 combined pitches thrown by the 4th inning, which is usually a respectable game total) to take two out of three for the series. Not bad considering how hot the Red Sox were coming in. We're 10-12 now, still tantalizingly close to .500 baseball, which right now would be mildly competitive in the division. Our pitching and hitting statistics as a team are not great but should improve. Today's game will bring our hitting stats up a little (we're already middle of the pack there on OBA + SLG). And with pitching, we're 2nd to last, but at least now the rest of the pack is in sight, within a run on their ERA. We're at 5.5, and the "pack" is around 4.8.

Here come the Yankees to town, first in hitting (by a LOT in every category that counts). Their team On-Base Average is nearly .400. Yikes. The Yanks are 2nd in pitching, only by a hair, with an ERA almost half that of Texas (3.1). If the baseball gods have a sense of humor (and they do, thank God), we might just sweep New York this weekend and get above .500. Hell, if we could take two of three, I'd be ecstatic. New York is friggin' 18-3!

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

April 24, 2003

Culture Shock

From Jon Stewart and the Daily Show:

Two cultural advisors for the Bush administration have resigned over what they called the administration's failure to protect the antiquities in the Iraqi museum in Baghdad. President Bush responded by saying, "I have cultural advisors?"

Posted by Observer at 08:10 PM | Comments (3)

Do the Math

One point Bushco is repeatedly trying to push is that tax cuts are an engine of economic growth. Tax cuts are the best way to create new jobs to stimulate the economy, etc. They're claiming that their original $726 billion tax cuts would have created 1.4 million jobs (I'd love to see the math to back *that* up). As usual on economic matters, Paul Krugman puts things into their proper perspective:

Let's pretend that the Bush administration really thinks that its $726 billion tax-cut plan will create 1.4 million jobs. ... The average American worker earns only about $40,000 per year; why does the administration, even on its own estimates, need to offer $500,000 in tax cuts for each job created? If it's all about jobs, wouldn't it be far cheaper just to have the government hire people? ...

"Tax cuts are essential to promote long-run economic growth." Yes, that must be it. Just look at a new study by the Congressional Budget Office, now headed by an economist handpicked by the Bush administration. It concludes that the Bush plan may have either a positive or a negative effect on long-run growth, but that in any case the effect will be small. Wait, that's not the answer we wanted. Quick, find another expert!

I just don't see how anyone in the whole Bushco administration or the Republican party can support tax cuts right now and retain any shred of intellectual honesty. Not that I ever thought that was a big selling point for conservatives, mind you.

Posted by Observer at 12:52 PM | Comments (11)

Here Comes the Rain Again

Big storms last night moved across our area. No big hail, though, which is too bad, because we could use a new roof. The county we live in has the highest insurance payoffs due to hail storms in the entire US, but we haven't had a really nasty one since 1995. The Rangers were playing, too, and they got all the way to the 7th before the rain hit. The whole game I was watching the radar, knowing the rain was coming, hoping the Rangers could sneak away with an early lead. It ended up not being that close.

Boston trotted out Tim Wakefield to pitch. He's really neat to watch, a classic knuckleball pitcher. The knuckleball is an extremely difficult pitch to throw, essentially it has zero spin, and that means any wind resistance on the stitches of the ball make it move around a lot more than it normally does when the ball is spinning (in which case the random forces tend to cancel out and the ball moves predictably, sort of). It also travels Below Hitting Speed, which means around 50-60 mph (most pitchers throw around 75-95 mph), and that can screw up a hitter's timing.

Some nights, Wakefield is a genius, and he can totally baffle a team. Plus he'll screw up their timing for the following night (or for relievers in the bullpen). He throws so slow that it isn't hard on his arm, so he can pitch a complete game pretty much any time, and he can also pitch on less rest, etc. When he's pitching well, he's incredibly valuable. Even when he's not, he can chew up innings in an out-of-reach game to preserve your other fast-throwing pitchers for a more competitive game.

So anyway, it's a tie game 1-1 and the rain is about to move in, and the Rangers get something going. A run comes home on a single, and then the bases are loaded, and Mike Young, last night's wild swinging anti-hero, steps to the plate. Whaddya know, a full count. What does he do? He TAKES BALL FOUR, driving in a run. Yay. So we're ahead 4-1 now, and the rain moves in. The game restarted an hour and a half later, and we won 6-1.

We're still four games on the wrong side of .500, and there's one more game vs. the BoSox, then three against an apparently unbeatable Yankees team. You know, if we could sweep the weekend series against the Yanks and then go up there to New York and sweep them again later, I'd be content to go 40-80 for the other remaining games in the season. I just hate 'em, those Yanks.

Posted by Observer at 06:40 AM | Comments (6)

April 23, 2003

Take the Free Pass!

Good game last night between the Rangers and the red-hot BoSox. Boston brought Pedro Martinez to the mound, who has been one of the most dominating pitchers in the majors in the last several years. He's got several nasty pitches, pinpoint control, a deceptive delivery and a champion's mind. In other words, a hitter's nightmare. He's starting to show signs of age this year, though, and last night, he didn't have his control.

The Rangers were down 4-1 in the 7th, and Pedro was getting tired. He gave up a couple of hits, and we ended up with runners on 2nd and 3rd with 2 outs. A single brings the game within reach by scoring two runs. Unfortunately, our backup catcher Chad Kreuter was at the plate. This guy has bounced around the majors for 15 years, mostly as a backup. He's struggling this season, hitting a crisp .071 so far.

He's patient at the plate this time around, and he works the count to 3-1. I'm thinking, "Ok, Chad, take a couple of pitches and get your walk so that someone who can really hit will come up to the plate." Here comes a high fastball out of the zone, but Chad wants to work on his stats, I guess, so he's sitting on it and takes a wild swing. He's terribly behind it and looks like an overmatched minor leaguer with that big flailing swing. Gah, c'mon Chad, be a team player. Take ball four! I really hate it when players swing at ball four.

Now the count is 3-2, and I'm thinking, "Oh crap, here comes a change-up right down the middle, and Chad will strike out." Amazingly, though, Pedro tried another fastball that is so far inside it almost hits Chad (that's the only reason Chad didn't swing wildly at it ... he was too busy getting out of the way). So Chad gets his walk, and we get another chance. Up comes Mike Young, and *he* works the count full. And *he* swings at ball four (an awful pitch in the dirt), only this time it's the third strike and the inning is over.

The Rangers ended up tagging a reliever for a few runs, but we still lost 5-4, and it's because our hitters wouldn't take pitches. That's something the really good teams, like the Yankees and A's, always do consistently. They suppress their egos enough to take some pitches and take some walks rather than trying to win the whole damn game every time they're up at the plate. Good, patient teams know to work counts and get free walks, and those walks turn into runs (plus they tend to increase pitch counts, tiring out starters and bringing in usually more vulnerable bullpen pitchers).

I was hoping Buck Showalter (former Yankees manager) would realize this, come in and try to fix things, but apparently, we still have a long way to go. The training to be patient really has to start in the minors and infect the whole team. We have too much machismo on this team now, too many players who are worried only about their individual stats (so they'll swing automatically on every 3-ball count because they think they'll get a good pitch to hit instead of taking a pitch, usually getting a walk, and helping the team more). We have an old Oakland guy (Grady Fuson) in charge of our minor league system now, so there is some hope for the future, I guess.

Mathematically speaking, unless your SLG is over 1.000, there is almost never a situation in which trying to get a hit is preferable to taking a walk. Now I say all this, of course, as if it were easy to lay off ball four, and I really have no idea how hard it is. I mean, I'm a .625 lifetime hitter ... in slow-pitch softball. All I know is some teams are good at it and some teams aren't, and I wish we could figure it out as Rangers.

Posted by Observer at 12:57 PM | Comments (2)

Cook Books

Ok, so I finally finished all ten books of the "Black Company" series by Glen Cook, which I've mentioned previously here and here and here. I'll try to avoid spoilers here. Obviously, the first three books are the best. This trilogy is the classic Black Company story, about a band of mercenaries and their adventures in service to and in opposition to various kinds of evil things. You can't go wrong with "The Black Company", "Shadows Linger" and "The White Rose" as a series worth reading. "The Silver Spike" is a worthwhile follow-up as the 4th book in the series.

In the fifth book ("Shadow Games"), circumstances change dramatically, and the Company (and the story) moves to a completely different part of the world. This is a bit of a drop in quality, but still a logical extension of the story. But it has a bit of a cliff-hanger that sort of compels you to read the sixth book ("Dreams of Steel"), which is a bit of a step up from the fifth book and definitely interesting because of the new narrator and her perspective on everything.

Unfortunately, another cliff-hanger leads one into the seventh book ("Bleak Seasons"), which is the weakest of the ten, told from yet another perspective. I found this one confusing, depressing and apathy inspiring. By the time the 8th book rolls around ("She Is the Darkness"), the situation is slightly improved and much more interesting, and it is clear that Cook has his second wind. I found this one a better read, but not up to the level of the original trilogy. Very neat ending, as the world expands into new, exotic areas (I'm a big fan of interesting world set-ups).

In the 9th book ("Water Sleeps"), it's all depressing again, and we get another huge shift in perspective. But even though the situation is bleak, the story is a lot better than in the 7th book, and I found myself more and more engrossed as the book went on. Another neat ending, and a lot of surprises along the way.

The 10th book ("Soldiers Live") is as good as the 9th, and it is more like the first trilogy than any of the others (probably intentional on the part of Cook). As the 10th book wound down, though, I found there to be a *lot* of character deaths, characters I had developed a bit of a liking for, and these deaths were given very short shrift. It felt rushed. Still, the overall ending was fitting, and I was satisfied with the way everything turned out. Not a happy ending, obviously, but lots of little silver linings that I thought were really cool.

So my advice is: If you really, really like the first trilogy, read all ten books. If you kinda like the first trilogy, maybe read the fourth, but then that's it. I think the first trilogy is worth reading regardless of the rest of the ten books. It ranks up there with some of the best fantasy ever written.

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

April 22, 2003

Dreams and Reality

A conversation from this week's "This Modern World" strip:

Doofus: "According to the Wall Street Journal, the Bush administration has AUDACIOUS plans to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people! For instance, they want EVERY CITIZEN to have access to HEALTH CARE! And because they're worried about RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISTS setting up PRIVATE SCHOOLS, they're going to spend SIXTY-TWO MILLION dollars to establish a SECULAR, GOVERNMENT-RUN school system by next October!"

Tom: "So in other words, universal health coverage and adequately funded public schools are among our nation's top priorities -- for Iraq?"

Doofus: "ABSOLUTELY! Along with FREE AND FAIR ELECTIONS, of course!"

[long pause]

Tom: "And the irony of all this is, I assume, completely lost on you?"

Oh well, I can take some small comfort in the fact that the "librul media" is just all over this story. It's like Whitewater. You just can't seem to open the paper without reading about another scandal related to the Bush administration.

Oh wait, nevermind.

That's just a dream I had, where the argument against Bushco was being carried through by responsible major media outlets instead of cartoons, comedians and internet blogs.

Posted by Observer at 01:11 PM | Comments (0)

Supporting the Troops

A paper in West Virginia has a really good editorial take on the behavior of corporations these days, especially Halliburton:

Weíve come a long, long way from ìAsk not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.î ... Under Cheneyís leadership, Halliburton found plenty of ìtax advantages.î The number of Halliburton subsidiaries establishing offshore headquarters to evade federal taxes increased from nine to 44 during Cheneyís five years.

The company went from paying $302 million in taxes in 1998 to receiving an $85 million rebate in 1999. Meanwhile, much of the income Halliburton didnít pay taxes on was coming from billions of dollars in government contracts Cheney helped secure. Halliburton isnít the only company sneaking offshore to ease or erase its tax burden. The IRS estimates that eliminating the offshore loophole would bring in $70 billion annually. Coincidentally, thatís almost enough to pay for President Bushís war in Iraq.

Legislation to outlaw this practice, called the ìCorporate Patriot Enforcement Act,î is going nowhere, perhaps because so many of these companies use a small fraction of their ill-gotten gains to shower money on Congress. Republicans in Congress even derailed an attempt to simply prevent corporate ìex-patriotsî from winning homeland security contracts.

So is this how Republicans support the troops then? By cutting veterans benefits because of a fiscal crunch, then giving a nod and a wink to big contributors who move their company headquarters offshore to duck taxes? Or do they support the troops by sinking us so far into debt their kids will spend a lifetime paying it off? Or by cutting taxes for a bunch of rich people (who are disproportionately non-military, I imagine, based on military pay scales)?

The president's advisers have calculated that he can score substantial political points simply by fighting for his plan, regardless of the results. If a smaller version passes, Bush can say he had a plan that would have created more jobs, and blame Democrats if the economy does not rebound. "If the economy doesn't look so good heading into '04, who better to blame than Democrats in the Senate?" said Dan Mitchell of the Heritage Foundation, who consulted with the administration on the economic package.

Who better to blame? Oh, I don't know, how about the conservatives who control all three branches of the federal government? I mean, if we are going to blame anyone in the government (which is a stretch, because I do believe it has more to do with the business cycle, the terrorists, etc), how about the ones who are actually IN CHARGE?

With support like this... All things considered, I think most of the troops would probably just prefer your standard ticker-tape parade and call it a day.

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

April 21, 2003

Fools for Money

For a good summary of the story and arguments on either side of the American Airlines executive pay scandal from a few days ago, I found that the fine folks at the Motley Fool have put together their own analysis that summarizes both sides well.

Posted by Observer at 01:49 PM | Comments (1)

With Friends Like These...

Michael Kinsley has a great column on post-war construction in Iraq and all the sweetheart deals going to companies with very strong ties to the Democratic party. Ha ha. Yeah, right, Bushco doing something for companies sympathetic or donating to Democrats. What a riot. No, the sweetheart deals are going to Halliburton and its subsidiaries and other companies with strong ties to the administration, like Bechtel.

That's not to say these companies aren't well-qualified to do the work. Oh no. They may, in fact, may be able to do the reconstruction in the best, fastest and cheapest way, providing American jobs to boot (which, of course, the government is paying for, but enough socialist nonsense). But we'll never know, because the bidding isn't public, the contracts are not subject to any kind of public review or audit, etc. I guess we'll just have to trust the those great and wonderful Republicans really have our best interests at heart. Awwww, how sweet. I feel better already.

President Bush, who was oh-so-sneery about the idea of "nation-building" during the 2000 campaign, is now nation-building with a vengeance. He plans to spend $60 billion or more over the next three years rebuilding Iraq. The agenda includes everything from repairing the oil fields to rewriting the elementary-school textbooks. Like the Clinton administration he ridiculed, he now realizes that you cannot pour soldiers and bombs into a country, declare it liberated, and come home.

But this is nation-building Republican-style, with huge contracts awarded in secret to politically connected companies. They now say that the "emergency" oil-field contract to Halliburton, formerly run by Vice President Dick Cheneyóand, gosh, who would have predicted that Iraq's oil fields might need to be repaired after a war?óis only worth $600 million, not the $7 billion originally reported. I suppose we should be grateful for that. ...

Misdirected national emotion is turning into a theme of the Bush II years. We're filled with righteous anger at Osama Bin Laden, so we go and pummel Saddam Hussein. We're filled with gratitude toward the soldiers who fought this war and with self-satisfaction as the citizens who will pay for it, so we give a teary hug and a big wet kiss on the mouth to a company practically all of us have nothing to do with.

It's like getting one of those cards announcing that instead of a Christmas present, someone has made a contribution in your name to some charity you aren't interested in. "Dear American Taxpayer: We are pleased to inform you that in gratitude for all the billions you're going to be pouring into Iraq, the U.S. government has made a sweetheart deal on your behalf with a company you've never heard of." Eighty billion dollarsóthe size of just the first expense report the Bush administration has submitted to Congressóworks out to about $1,000 that needs to be kicked in by each household in the United States.

Of course we're putting it all on the credit card, to be paid for in the future, with interest. But it's still real money. If we made a contribution that big to our local public broadcasting outlet, we'd qualify for a CD recording by six, nine, or even 12 tenors. From the Bush administration, we don't even get a tote bag. ...

As the folks footing the bill, we should want the reconstruction of Iraq to be as inexpensive as possible. If a firm from Uzbekistan can patch a pipeline for less than a firm from Texas, giving the work to that firm in Texas is just paying too much. Even if the Uzbeki firm is able to underbid the Texas one only because it is getting an Uzbekistan government subsidy, that just means a bit of the burden is being shifted from American taxpayers to the taxpayers of Uzbekistan.

Thanks so much for that Halliburton contract, George. And all the lovely deals for Bechtel and other well-connected companies. You shouldn't have.

I omitted the part in which Kinsley goes into a lengthy explanation of how limiting such international contracts to American companies only is a clear violation of international law (and goodness knows we support and obey international law!). As for the progress of the war so far in Iraq, I have to agree with Kinsley about the ultimate outcome of the whole Iraq situation, who basically says, "I think it's great that the invasion went so well. I'm still waiting to be proven wrong."

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

April 20, 2003

Just Enough Hope

The Rangers escaped with a 2-1 win to avoid getting swept by the A's tonight. Carl Everett, bless his surly little heart, was the player of the game (well, sort of, our rookie pitcher was fabulous, and you can't say that very often). He swatted a home run that proved the difference and also provided a great defensive play in left field, throwing out a runner who strayed too far off first thinking a fly ball out was going to be a double or home run.

Everett has hit homers in five straight games in which he has had an at-bat (one game he came in as a late-inning replacement due to an injury, but he didn't come up to bat before the game ended), and he now shares the league lead with 7 homers. ARod also has 7. It is Everett's contract year (statistically, many players perform better the final year of their contract, extra motivated to make more money when their next contract is negotiated), so I hope he keeps it up.

So now we're 8-11, three games back. As long as it remains in single digits leading up to the All-Star Break at the halfway point in the season, there will be hope. As soon as you are double-digits out (10 games or more), you can generally kiss it goodbye, though there are exceptions to that rule about once every 2-3 seasons for one of the eight playoff spots. Seattle was such an exception in 1995, their first year in, when they caught up with the Angels from about 12 games out with two months to play.

I bought the CD with highlights from that season, but I haven't listened to it in a while. So many great moments. I love the Mariners announcer Dave Niehaus. He's so much fun. My oh my. I also still have on videotape the dramatic game 5 where they beat the hated Yankees in the first round that year (I was at the game itself, but I also had the VCR going just in case history was made). Edgar's double down the left field line, Griffey sliding into home, Cora jumping about five feet in the air. What a moment. You get to witness a season like that for your favorite team maybe once or twice in a lifetime, unless you're a stupid Yankees fan. Bastards.

Ken Levine wrote a neat book about his year as a broadcaster for the M's, by the way, called "It's Gone! ... No, Wait a Minute...". He's a former script writer for Cheers and other TV shows, and he tells a good, funny story. If I couldn't be a teacher, I think my next choice would be baseball announcer.

Posted by Observer at 10:39 PM | Comments (0)

Downslope on the Roller Coaster

After a brief flirtation with coming out of last place in the division, two games with a combined score of 21-2 against the Swingin' A's have reduced Texas to a herd of weakly mewling cats. On the up side, the day before Easter (in which we gave our kids their new bikes) went great. I'll let my sweetie tell that story over in her blog.

Posted by Observer at 08:15 AM | Comments (1)

If a Tree Falls...

The war's not keeping them busy enough, so Bushco is proceeding ahead with the radical right-wing agenda on all domestic fronts, although they are smart enough to try to maintain plausible deniability on screwing with the environment. Now they are doing it through lawsuits. The industry sues the government to lift a regulation, and the government either mounts a poor defense or gives industry a sweetheart settlement, often abandoning the law in question. This kind of stuff on an individual basis just isn't important enough to make the papers (I had to dig to a small summary way back in our local paper and found a longer version online).

The Bush administration is quietly reshaping environmental policy to expand logging and other development by settling a series of lawsuits, many of them filed by industry groups.

As a result of settlements, the administration has announced plans to remove wilderness protections for millions of acres in Utah, has agreed to review protections for endangered species such as salmon and the northern spotted owl, has reversed a Clinton-era ban on snowmobiles in Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks and has softened rules on logging. None of the decisions were subject to prior public comment or congressional approval. ...

Last month, several environmental groups filed a federal lawsuit claiming the administration and the timber industry have been holding secret talks to undermine the Northwest Forest Plan. The suit seeks access to settlement documents under the Freedom of Information Act. ...

Critics suggest the administration is using the lawsuit settlements as an end-run around Congress, which has blocked some parts of the Bush agenda, including efforts to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling and the Healthy Forests Initiative, which would increase logging in national forests to reduce the risk of wildfires.

The Healthy Forests Initiative (HFI) is one of my favorites. They say it is to prevent wildfires, right? Well, how do you prevent wildfires? By getting rid of undergrowth, the brush and small timber and other stuff that is very easily flammable, unproductive and unprofitable for timber companies. So what happens under the HFI plan? Exactly the opposite. Timber companies have the green light to cherry-pick the biggest trees (found in old-growth forests, which if you don't know why they're important, go get educated), whose high canopy often inhibits the growth of the small stuff the fuels the worst fires (and these huge trees often survive forest fires and provide the framework for quick reestablishment of the ecosystem). Welcome to bizarro world, where if you think something is outrageous, that's just because you're way out there to the left in common-sense land. Nutty is the norm.

Even more eye-popping was a Republican resolution passed in 1998 that called for FASTER logging as a way to reduce global warming! Remember, according to Republicans, global warming doesn't exist. BUT JUST IN CASE, let's cut down all the trees we can quickly before they can decompose. That way, we can sequester the carbon they would otherwise return to the atmosphere through rotting and instead have lots of lumber and paper and stuff (which never ever rots). Either Republicans are really profoundly stupid, or they are just ruthless manipulative liars. I report, you decide.

Then they sell the whole drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). I really wish Democrats would just give up on this, because it's really no big deal (ok maybe it is a big deal, I don't know all the facts on the environmental impact of drilling in the ANWR ... they say they would leave a small footprint, but the oil is spread out all over, so it sounds like language conservatives are using to get a proverbial foot in the door), just red meat for conservatives who I'm convinced don't want to win because it is one of the few cases they have some logic on their side with environmental issues. But Democrats are all tied up in using it as a symbol, so they fight tooth-and-nail for essentially nothing while huge stretches of old-growth and pristine wilderness are given away to those fine folks in the Pioneer club of Bushco supporters.

I wish the conservatives would win drilling rights in the ANWR, just so they would shut up about it. It'll provide enough oil for, what, six whole months of our oil consumption (best case). There's a graph here that shows what an insignificant blip this is (according to the US Geological Service, which claims there are 3.2 billion barrels obtainable there).

What would be better, obviously, is to do some heavy research and development on renewable energy technologies like solar power and nuclear fusion (Hydrogen fuel cells are useless without an energy source to isolate the hydrogen from water or natural gas ... if you use fossil fuel power to do it, it's very little help to the environment on balance). On the former, there's lots of room for efficiency upgrades (imagine a solar panel shingle that costs 50% more than a regular shingle), but no research money because Buscho - by which I mean the oil and gas industry - doesn't want the competition hurting profit margins.

On the latter, I have hope that there will be progress. The funding situation is not so bad, which I am convinced is because conservatives are knee-jerk in favor of anything that sounds like nuclear power because they know it would enrage liberals. Oh well, the coming of "Hubbert's Peak" (the time at which oil production will begin to shrink due to simple mathematics and geological reality) within the next decade or two will make it all academic anyway.

Posted by Observer at 08:05 AM | Comments (3)

April 19, 2003

The Free Market at Work

Big news around here is that American Airlines has threatened to declare bankruptcy. No doubt that since 9/11, all the airlines have suffered. American has been no exception, and they are a serious driver of the economy around here. How serious, I am not sure, but our local airport (DFW) is their major hub and headquarters.

So American went to its unions and basically asked them to give up a lot of concessions, salary cuts, benefit cuts, job cuts, etc. in order to help the airline stay afloat. After much negotiating and so on, the union leadership (flight attendants, mechanics, pilots) finally put these concessions up to a vote by their memebers. The airline threatened that if the concessions didn't pass, they would declare bankruptcy. Faced with that, the concessions package barely passed all three unions in very close votes.

Then the day after, some new news comes out. It seems that American has decided to reward senior executives big bonuses and salary increases in order to ensure that they stay on at least another two years. They were required to file this information with the appropriate government agency (SEC) two weeks ago, but they asked for and received an extension to wait until after the vote. Outrageous? Nope, just the Republican free market at work. Well, except for the multi-billion dollar government bailouts passed twice in two years so the executives wouldn't risk losing their country club memberships.

One day after giving a final nod to painful concessions, American Airlines employees blasted top airline executives Thursday after learning that they would receive lucrative bonuses and retirement protection despite American's steep financial losses.

American spokesman Bruce Hicks said in an interview that the so-called retention bonuses, which reward seven top executives for staying with the company for the next two years, are necessary to prevent Chief Executive Don Carty and other executives from being recruited by competitors. ... American's securities filings also disclosed that the company created a special trust fund in October that shields part of top executives' retirement from creditors if American files for bankruptcy. ...

Graef Crystal, a longtime expert on executive compensation issues, said retention bonuses -- which pay top officers for not leaving their jobs -- have become more popular in recent years as corporate earnings have declined. Performance bonuses are much less common and many stock options are worthless.

Companies say the bonuses prevent essential managers from being hired away by competitors. Businesses that are struggling to survive often offer the bonuses because they believe that the company won't recover without consistent leadership, said Mark Rednick, owner of executive recruiting firm Sales Consultants of Dallas.

"You're so important that if you leave, everybody might run for the door," he said. "And certainly the investors and the bond people will." Crystal, however, said he believes that such awards are simply not needed during an economic downturn. "They can't justify bonuses based on the company's performance, because the airline is tanking, so they decide they'll pay them for just sticking around," he said. "It's appalling."

He said that given American's steep losses, it's unlikely many corporations would want to snatch the airline's top executives. "They've run their company into the ground," he said.

My favorite quote from the article was that, "the airline defended it as 'conservative, responsible and well below what other U.S. companies have provided senior management.'" Once again, the nutty becomes the norm. Other U.S. companies like, I dunno, Enron? Halliburton? What the hell kind of justification is that? I guess the whole responsibility ethic is a good game to talk when you are negotiating with unions, but when it comes to making sacrifices, you can leave the executives out of the loop.

Of course, this will likely result in lawsuits, and those lawsuits will likely end up in federal courts under the review of fine conservative judges like Priscilla Owen, Charles Pickering, Deborah Cook, or one of many other Republican contributors who have close ties to corporations (they all come firms that represent big conservative donor corporations, often in lawsuits against consumers or unions). Did you know that Eugene Scalia, son of conservative Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, is the government's Solicitor of Labor? What a coinkydink! Well, I'm sure he'll file plenty of "friend of the court" briefs concerning American's executive compensation package. You only get one guess which side our "labor" lawyer is going to be supporting.

Update:When I wrote this late yesterday, I discovered something new on this. It seems after a day to reflect and hear the reaction, American has scrapped the executive retention bonus scheme (but they are keeping their special pension protection without telling people how much is being put in the pension, so it is probably a sleight of hand thing). The chief executive apologized, saying he did not mean to mislead anybody.

How brazen. But hell, I guess if our president can lie repeatedly in his State of the Union address, anything goes. It's that whole permissive climate thing. I guess it goes to show that everyone lies, but Republican liars are just more effective at getting things done (S&L scandal, Enron, Iran-Contra, Florida, etc).

Posted by Observer at 06:32 AM | Comments (10)

April 18, 2003

A Good Week

We decided to buy all three kids new bikes for Easter. They haven't had any since they came down here, even though they've been whining for them for a year and a half. We didn't quite trust them and didn't feel safe about it where we first lived, but now that we're down the street from the elementary school and the adjacent park, we finally gave in.

I loaded two in the car and brought them home yesterday while the kids were in school, and I'll bring the last one home this morning, pump up the tires, stick the training wheels on poor Sarah's bike (10 years old and still needs training wheels, my sweetie is worried Sarah will get laughed at), and hide them in the barn. I'll padlock it and hide the key in an Easter Egg for them to find. We'll do something like Dandelion suggested and make it like a treasure hunt.

Buying big stuff for the kids that I know they'll love really puts me in a good mood. It's like before Xmas when I knew we got 'em good stuff, and they knew we got 'em good stuff, but they had no idea they were getting a GameCube and a new TV to play it on. I like fun surprises.

So I'm already in a good mood this afternoon (if the kids were a little quicker, they'd pick up on the fact that I'm acting kind of smug and dropping very vague hints), then Sarah comes home and honest to goodness has no homework. I swear her progress with her school work this year has been amazing. She's got to have jumped two grade levels in her work this year, catching up with the other kids just about fully. All her grades this time around were improved, and her teachers have nice things to say about her (at last).

Cody also had improved grades. He's had some trouble with his behavior this week, but all in all, it has been a good year for him. Justin then brought home his grades, and they are going up as well. In addition, his guidance counselor says he's showing real signs of social and emotional maturity, which we both notice here at home. His interaction with his friends on the track team is helping there, I think. He's even taking to playing at the park with what looks like a pretty good crowd of kids near his age (instead of Cody's friends who are 4-5 years younger).

My sweetie came home and we all had supper, then we cleaned out one of the two storage barns in the back yard (the other has the bikes hidden). The kids didn't figure out why we suddenly decided to do this. Right as we finished putting all the trash out on the curb, the ice cream man drove by and we let the kids spend some of their chore money on treats. Sarah got a frozen cookie sandwich that was like $1.50. They were pumped.

Hell, the Rangers even won three out of four against the Angels this week, and their team ERA is down under 6 (2nd to last in baseball now, instead of dead last). If they could bring their team On-Base-Average up by working the count and taking some walks once in a while (you listening, leadoff hitters??), they'd be right up front in the division.

And I get Friday off. Life is good.

Posted by Observer at 06:56 AM | Comments (6)

April 17, 2003

When Nutty Becomes the Norm

Tim Robbins recently spoke at the National Press Club, reflecting on politics in America and the cancellation of the "Bull Durham" event at the Baseball Hall of Fame by a Republican hack, which I commented on recently. Here are some of the highlights of his speech:

Thank you. And thanks for the invitation. I had originally been asked here to talk about the war and our current political situation, but I have instead chosen to hijack this opportunity and talk about baseball and show business. (Laughter.) Just kidding. Sort of. ...

For all of the ugliness and tragedy of 9-11, there was a brief period afterward where I held a great hope, in the midst of the tears and shocked faces of New Yorkers, in the midst of the lethal air we breathed as we worked at Ground Zero, in the midst of my children's terror at being so close to this crime against humanity, in the midst of all this, I held on to a glimmer of hope in the naive assumption that something good could come out of it.

I imagined our leaders seizing upon this moment of unity in America, this moment when no one wanted to talk about Democrat versus Republican, white versus black, or any of the other ridiculous divisions that dominate our public discourse. I imagined our leaders going on television telling the citizens that although we all want to be at Ground Zero, we can't, but there is work that is needed to be done all over America.

Our help is needed at community centers to tutor children, to teach them to read. Our work is needed at old-age homes to visit the lonely and infirmed; in gutted neighborhoods to rebuild housing and clean up parks, and convert abandoned lots to baseball fields. I imagined leadership that would take this incredible energy, this generosity of spirit and create a new unity in America born out of the chaos and tragedy of 9/11, a new unity that would send a message to terrorists everywhere: If you attack us, we will become stronger, cleaner, better educated, and more unified. You will strengthen our commitment to justice and democracy by your inhumane attacks on us. Like a Phoenix out of the fire, we will be reborn.

And then came the speech: You are either with us or against us. And the bombing began. And the old paradigm was restored as our leader encouraged us to show our patriotism by shopping and by volunteering to join groups that would turn in their neighbor for any suspicious behavior. ...

You have, whether you like it or not, an awesome responsibility and an awesome power: the fate of discourse, the health of this republic is in your hands, whether you write on the left or the right. This is your time, and the destiny you have chosen.

We lay the continuance of our democracy on your desks, and count on your pens to be mightier. Millions are watching and waiting in mute frustration and hope - hoping for someone to defend the spirit and letter of our Constitution, and to defy the intimidation that is visited upon us daily in the name of national security and warped notions of patriotism.

Our ability to disagree, and our inherent right to question our leaders and criticize their actions define who we are. To allow those rights to be taken away out of fear, to punish people for their beliefs, to limit access in the news media to differing opinions is to acknowledge our democracy's defeat.

It's funny when you think back to 9/11/2001. Shortly after that, I remember conservative idiot Ann Coulter said, "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them all to Christianity." I remember that outrage and general agreement across the ideological spectrum that she was way over the line, that her remarks would only inflame already horrific tensions between us and the Muslim world, etc.

Turns out that's exactly what's happening as we prepare to send thousands of missionaries over to Iraq. It's amazing to watch the definition of outrageous evolve over such an incredibly short time span.

Posted by Observer at 11:10 AM | Comments (0)

Jesus Update

Jesus' General has been in good form lately, commenting on the news. Recently, creationists in Tennessee managed to get their crap inserted into the curriculum along-side normal science. General JC Christian, Patriot, comments:

While Christians everywhere should celebrate creation science's recent victory in Tennessee*, we must remember that it's only one battle in God's war. We still have a long way to go if we're going to require public schools to teach biblical truths. Most schools still resist teaching scientific creationism and none have adopted a biology curriculum which includes scientific immaculate conception.

Yes, it's true. Sexual education classes will teach about dirty things like sexual reproduction, but they refuse to discuss non-sexual, biblical reproduction -- better known as immaculate conception. Indeed, many go so far as to claim that sexual abstinence is a 100% effective form of birth control. Christians know otherwise. The bible teaches us that a woman may become pregnant without doing anything dirty. It's how our Lord and Saviour was conceived. It's how all my children have been conceived since Klinton killed my "little soldier."

It's time for this biblical truth to become a part of our children's school curriculum. Please contact your local school board today and make this happen.

He also commented on the recent US victory in Iraq:

Our triumph in Baghdad overshadowed another terrific victory that occurred this week. On Tuesday, boxing's world light heavyweight champion, Roy Jones Jr, knocked out physicist Stephen Hawking in the third round of a championship bout. Conservative Boxing Digest's Peggy Noonan said it best: "It was magnificent. Only three rounds--Jones is absolutely unbelievable."

It's not a surprise to me. Jones won because of the superiority of his training plan. He ate nothing but Cheetos for a month prior to the fight. That's how he was able to beat Hawking so soundly.

Of course there were a few naysayers who said that the plan was insane, but Jones' win proved them wrong. I wonder where they are now. Probably crying in their fancy foreign beers. Assholes.

The blog world is too big. I'm sure I miss so many gems, and I probably keep up with a couple dozen blogs regularly.

Posted by Observer at 07:02 AM | Comments (1)

April 16, 2003

Film Day

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

Posted by Observer at 01:13 PM | Comments (13)

Nation Building

Checking in on Afghanistan today, and much to my surprise, I found some things to be hopeful about in this story. I've been openly worried about Bushco forgetting Afghanistan thanks to the Iraq business, especially after they "forgot" to include any aid to Afghanistan in their 2004 budget.

Looks like that temporary memory lapse was more of a gimmick to make it look like they're trying to keep spending down (they did this in a lot of other budget areas, too). The trick is to send things like that to Congress, and when Congress jacks up the spending to rational levels, the administration can look like the good guy trying to hold the line on all that big spending.

Reagan's guys were real pros at that, which is how we ended up with trillions of dollars in deficits back then (only reversed thanks to Bush Sr. who was brave enough to do what needed to be done and raise taxes, plus Clinton who made taxes a little higher and a lot more fair). Only problem is now that Republicans are in charge of Congress, who do you blame the big deficits on? Oh right, the terrorists. Not the trillion+ dollars in tax cuts, oh no.

Anyway, in Afghanistan, we really are trying to pour some serious money and effort in to rebuilding the country, but there is a long way to go, at least a 5-10 year time horizon:

Sixteen months after the ruling Taliban fell and Hamid Karzai took over as president, Afghanistan is still struggling to establish the basics of a working government. As Karzai and his U.S. and international supporters have found, virtually every significant system in the country is broken.

The military is splintered by factionalism, the police force is untrained, the justice system is dominated by religious conservatives who have more in common with the Taliban than with Karzai, and tax collection is largely ineffective. Even driving rules are in disarray: Afghans drive on the right side of the road, but during the past chaotic decade, most of the cars brought into the country were designed for left-side driving -- a situation that leads to many accidents but is beyond the government's ability to fix.

As a result, when U.S. policy makers discuss rebuilding Afghanistan, they no longer talk exclusively about new schools, roads and services for needy people. Now they talk just as much about establishing functioning government agencies and about spreading the authority of the central government beyond Kabul. ...

A look at the pace and nature of reconstruction in Afghanistan over the past three months shows that the United States is often acting with a sense of urgency and that U.S. rebuilding efforts reach into almost every aspect of Afghan life. U.S. officials say the total budget for Afghan aid this year -- excluding the cost of maintaining 8,000 U.S. troops here -- will probably match last year's $935 million. ...

While spending millions to help train a new Afghan national army that will become the muscle for the central government, the United States is still funding local militias and warlords that its military believes it needs in the war against Muslim extremists. Those provincial leaders are often at odds with the central government and sometimes defy its orders. ...

Still, the United States is trying to build up the Karzai government in other ways. In addition to training and equipping much of the new army, U.S. intelligence officers are advising the Afghan National Security Directorate, a U.S. company is rebuilding the main road from Kabul to Kandahar, valuable vegetable oil from the United States is going to families that send their young daughters to school and U.S. officials helped send 26,000 Afghans on the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. U.S. funds are also helping to train Afghans to become better tax and duty collectors.

Don't tell Republicans we're training people to collect taxes!!! Bring some of these guys over and sic 'em on Ken Lay! There's a lot more to this article, but long quotes (as if this one wasn't long enough) give even me tired-head, so go read it if the politics and economics of building highways in Afghanistan interest you at all.

Posted by Observer at 06:57 AM | Comments (2)

April 15, 2003

I Love This Game

Well, hot damn. Last year at this time, the Rangers were 10 games out thanks to hot starts by Oakland and Seattle. Tonight, they will end up no worse than 2 games out. Our rookie didn't flame out this time, gave up 3 runs in 6 innings and pitched great (last outing, he pitched 3 2/3 innings with 8 walks and a pile of runs given up, so I guess he wasn't due for a flame out this time).

I got lucky and started watching this game when it got good for the Rangers. They had the bases loaded and nobody out in the 4th on the Angels' ace. Then Raffy Palmeiro drew a close walk, and there was nowhere to put him, so a run came home. But then, argh, two strikeouts! Rangers down 2-1, but there is still an out left.

Our catcher, Einar Diaz, has the thankless job of replacing Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, who won gold gloves here 10 of the last 11 seasons and was a real legend. He wanted too much money this season and looks to be on a long downslide, so they let him go to the Florida Marlins. So Diaz comes up, hitting about .250 but not awful, and hits a very key, very clutch (yes, no such thing as clutch hitting, but it is fun to pretend) single that drove in two runs.

Then Ryan Christenson, just called up from the minors to hit leadoff (yay, our normal leadoff hitter is hurt!), somehow smacked a double over the left fielder's head driving in two more runs. I laughed out loud watching our stocky little catcher hoofing it around third, helmet nearly flying off, trying to score. 5-2.

By the time the 9th rolled around, we were winning 5-4, so our shiny new closer, Ugueth Urbina (Ooogie) comes in. Two very difficult outs on spectacular catches by ARod and our 2nd baseman, Mike Young, and then Tim Salmon loops one about 1/2 inch over ARod's glove for a single. Garret Anderson at the plate, currently the highest batting average in the majors.

Pinch runner comes in for Salmon and tries to steal on the first pitch, and hot damn if Einar Diaz didn't throw him out. ARod had to dive for the ball and sweep his arm down for the tag while flying across second base. Best baseball game I've seen in a long time (partly because once the Rangers were 10 games out last year, I stopped watching in disgust). Woo!

Posted by Observer at 10:14 PM | Comments (2)

Another Follow-Up

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

Posted by Observer at 01:20 PM | Comments (0)

Brush with Greatness

We got the kids electric toothbrushes months ago as yet another way to try to encourage them to brush their teeth twice a day. They really think it's a pain, and they resist every chance they get. Many nights at bedtime, they'll all remember to the second that they are due a snack at 8:30 if their rooms are clean, but how do these little Memory Monsters do when it comes to brushing their teeth before lights out? Day after day, week after week, I have to get on them to brush before bedtime.

Before school, too. They eat their breakfast and are supposed to brush before leaving for school, but unless I'm on them most mornings, they'll eat and then sit mesmerized by the Cartoon Network until time to go (and I often have to turn the TV off for them to get them moving). Our 8-year-old, Cody, is the most stubborn about it. I'll ask him before he leaves if he brushed, and he always says, "Oh yeah." Half the time, though, I know that he doesn't unless I am standing there watching him (even then, I know he'll go into the bathroom, run the sink water, and just stand around just out of sheer stubbornness).

It's worse that the batteries in their brushes are worn out. The end of the toothbrush says "twist and pull to remove batteries." My ass. My fingers are killing me. I had to use pliers this morning to replace those damned batteries. But now the brushes are at full rev, maybe they'll use them more. Of course, I tell them to brush normally as they would with a brush, but they like to just hold the brush in their mouth and move it around lazily, letting the spinning head do the brushing.

Yesterday morning, Cody was up to his usual tricks, but I decided to out-stubborn him. I called him back in as he walked out the door, told him to brush his teeth. Nearly crying, hoping I'd just give up rather than face a tantrum, he said, "But I brushed!" I handed him his bone-dry toothbrush and said, "I don't think so."

20 minutes later (and 5 minutes late for school), he finally brushes his teeth, mad at me the whole time. Now when *I* was a kid, I brushed my teeth religiously, all the time, without being told! Yeah. Uh huh.

Oh, by the way, our leadoff hitter went 0-4 last night. He has *TWO* walks in 62 plate appearances. On-Base-Percentage down to .226. He's fairly fast in center field, but I saw him miss a fairly easy catch Sunday which would have saved the game for us (instead we lost in 13 innings). Thank the gods of baseball he pulled a hamstring last night. I'm rooting for an extended absence.

Posted by Observer at 08:09 AM | Comments (6)

April 14, 2003

Random Walk

One of my all-time favorite non-fiction books is a classic by Burton Malkiel called "A Random Walk Down Wall Street". It is basically a mathematician's look at the stock market. Along similar lines is a book by John Allen Paulos called "Innumeracy" which is a mathematician's look at the everyday world.

Anyway, the point of the book is that the only way you make more money in the long-run in the stock market is to take more risk. Aside from insider trading, of course, or any number of the kind of stunts pulled by GW Bush (late of Harken Oil, Arbusto Energy, etc.) and his cronies long ago that make Hillary's cattle futures swindle look like peanuts.

Malkiel says you really can't time the market consistently, and you really should just put your money into an index fund. In a given year, you'll beat at least 80% of the rest of the funds, and in the long term, you'll beat 99% of them. Malkiel also talks about the myth of the successful corporate CEO.

Imagine you have 128 people, and each of them flips a coin. Let's just say for the sake of argument that 64 of them get heads. Take those 64 and have them flip again. Let's say 32 get heads. It will be nearly half every time anyway, so this is a good approximation. Now we keep up with this process until we are down to the two people who have flipped heads 6 times in a row. They flip, and one of them gets heads.

So there is 1 person left out of your original sample who flipped heads 7 times in a row. Would it be accurate to say that this person is a talented coin flipper? Of course not. Now look at the stock prices of companies. They are distributed above and below the market average (so if the market as a whole goes up, about half will be above that average and half will be below the average even if it means the low performers also go up in price).

Over the years, some of these companies beat the averages and some fall behind the averages, and these numbers are similar to the behavior of the coin-flipping experiment. Now, suppose you have a company that beats the market averages seven years running. Would it be fair to say that is an unusually well-run company? Just like the coin-flippers, the answer is "of course not" (keeping in mind we are just tracking changes in the company's price ... the "initial" price is set by the market which factors in the company's quality). Because the distributions look identical statistically.

The moral of the story is don't invest in "hot" companies or sectors of the market. Invest in index funds, with the level of risk inversely proportional to your time horizon. I'm glad I didn't read this 15 years ago. At the time, I had a gift of a few thousand in savings that had built up during my lifetime thanks to my grandparents (who contributed a couple hundred each year on my birthday and gave it all to me when I turned 18).

On the advice of a friend who worked there, and because I was into computers and stuff anyway, I invested about $4k in Intel. Six years later, it had doubled 4 times. I sold it and used it as a hefty down payment on my first house.

Posted by Observer at 07:16 AM | Comments (3)

April 13, 2003

Back to Reality

My Rangers have won two out of three and are now 4-7. The winning pitcher Friday night in Seattle? Chan Ho Stink. He gave up 1 run in five innings, which by most respects is a good performance. He even lowered his ERA to under 10 (just barely). But then you look closer. 3 hits, 7 walks, 1 bean-ball, 1 balk. 11 of the first 22 Seattle hitters reached base, so it's some kind of miracle that only one run was allowed.

Our relief pitcher on loan from God, CJ Nitkowski, also was pretty bad, giving up 2 hits, 2 walks and a run in 1 1/3 innings. I think Jesus wants CJ in Okie City pitching for the AAA club, but manager Buck Showalter didn't get the message coming out of training camp.

Oh well, I guess you can chalk this win up to Seattle's lack of clutch hitting. Clutch hitting is this idea that some hitters are really good at driving in runs when it counts, runners on base, late the game, etc. Except that clutch hitting is a myth (just like the "hot hand" in basketball). So I guess we just got lucky. Lucky works in the playoffs sometimes, but not in a 162-game season. We're 3 games out right now, behind 7-4 Oakland, and my guess is we won't be any closer than that for the rest of the season.

Saturday night was back to reality. Our #5 starter pitched for all of 1/3 of an inning. Ryan Drese allowed 4 hits, 3 walks, 6 runs (5 earned), ending up with a crisp ERA of 135.00. Early-season ERA's are yet another thing that make baseball the greatest game. ARod's 2-run homer in the first was wasted. Oh, and our leadoff hitter Doug Glanville had another 1 for 5 performance. His On-Base-Percentage has dropped to a miserable .255. And there are 151 games left...

Posted by Observer at 08:01 AM | Comments (9)

April 12, 2003


People in all careers seem to have childhood stories that seemingly foreshadowed their ultimate role, and I find this especially true in academia. But I think I don't hear a lot of stuff that is left out which doesn't fit the pattern neatly. For example, I tell my pre-meds that during my teenage years, I once asked a teacher in 9th grade physical science class what holds the nucleus together.

I thought at the time that it was awfully strange that all those positive charges would just sit next to each other without a pretty big repulsive force (I had no idea how big). So I asked my teacher, and she didn't know. I made up something about maybe the attraction to the orbiting electrons cancelled out or maybe the moving electrons made some kind of magnetic field that confined the protons, but I had no earthly idea. Neither did she. She just nodded and said that sounds like it is probably right.

Of course, I found out later that there is this fundamental force called the strong force that has an extremely short range (within the nucleus only) and is attractive and more powerful on that short range than the electric force. Both neutrons and protons are able of exerting this force, and that's what holds nuclei together.

My students were duly impressed that I had told my foreshadowing story, that this showed that all my life I had been destined to teach this sort of scientific stuff. Well, I explained, actually I spent most of my childhood programming simple computer games and playing stuff on the cassette-type drive of my TI-99/4A when I wasn't playing with my Atari 2600 console (Asteroids, Adventure, Missile Command, etc. ... all of which are available now in a little hand-held joystick unit you connect to your TV and buy for $20 at Target).

And when I first entered college, I was a computer science major. But I eventually realized I wanted to teach, not work in industry, and computer programming (especially assembly language but also having to conform to strict guidelines and write programs that did stupid things like balance a checkbook, etc) wasn't much fun to teach. So at that point I switched majors into a field I really enjoyed and ended up with a PhD in it and the rest is history.

But, I told them, there was a point early in my college science career that I'll never forget. I was a sophomore taking a class that dealt with electricity and magnetism, and the teacher was talking to us about how motors work with magnets, current and induction. He couldn't quite make a point, so he stopped the class down and said, "Well, let me put it this way ... didn't any of you ever put together a little flywheel motor as a kid out of magnets and a paperclip? Do you know what I'm talking about?"

Crap. Not me, I was thinking. What the hell is he talking about? I'm so lost in this class, and now here he is telling stories when I need him to show me how to do the homework. Then I looked around and in the classroom of 50-60 students, I saw like 10-20 people looking like, "Oh yeah! I did that!", smiling and shaking their heads with fond memories.

I went on from there to get a low B in the class, but of course, now I'm teaching similar stuff. So it just goes to show you never know.

Posted by Observer at 08:05 AM | Comments (2)

April 11, 2003

Some Follow-Ups

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

Finally, in Patriotic Correctness news, the phenomenon of trying to muffle dissent has reached a new low, thanks to the guy in charge of the Baseball Hall of Fame (a former Reagan flunkie, surprise!). This guy says he doesn't like the anti-Bush views of Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, two of the stars of the great minor league baseball movie, "Bull Durham", so he cancelled a celebration of the 15-year anniversary of the movie out of protest for their political views:

Petroskey, a former White House assistant press secretary under Ronald Reagan, said recent comments by the actors "ultimately could put our troops in even more danger." Reached Wednesday night, Robbins said he was "dismayed" by the decision. He responded with a letter he planned to send to Petroskey, telling him: "You belong with the cowards and ideologues in a hall of infamy and shame."

Instead of commemorating the movie, the Hall canceled the celebration in a letter Tuesday sent to the scheduled participants. "In a free country such as ours, every American has the right to his or her own opinions, and to express them. Public figures, such as you, have platforms much larger than the average American's, which provides you an extraordinary opportunity to have your views heard - and an equally large obligation to act and speak responsibly," Petroskey wrote. "We believe your very public criticism of President Bush at this important - and sensitive - time in our nation's history helps undermine the U.S. position, which ultimately could put our troops in even more danger. As an institution, we stand behind our President and our troops in this conflict," he wrote.

Robbins and Sarandon, his longtime partner, have been active in peace rallies to protest the war in Iraq. In his letter, Robbins said he remained "skeptical" of the war plans and told Petroskey he did not realize baseball was "a Republican sport."

"I am sorry that you have chosen to use baseball and your position at the Hall of Fame to make a political statement. I know there are many baseball fans that disagree with you, and even more that will react with disgust to realize baseball is being politicized. To suggest that my criticism of the President put the troops in danger is absurd. ... I wish you had, in your letter, saved me the rhetoric and talked honestly about your ties to the Bush and Reagan administrations.

"You invoke patriotism and use words like 'freedom' in an attempt to intimidate and bully. In doing so, you dishonor the words 'patriotism' and 'freedom' and dishonor the men and women who have fought wars to keep this nation a place where one can freely express their opinions without fear of reprisal or punishment."

Robbins signed his letter with a reference to an old World Series champion. "Long live democracy, free speech and the '69 Mets - all improbable, glorious miracles that I have always believed in," he wrote.

I wonder when the time when our troops are in danger will be officially over so that us liberals will be free to enjoy baseball again. Probably sometime after the 2004 election.

Posted by Observer at 06:57 AM | Comments (1)

April 10, 2003

Pitching a Fit

This may be better shown in graphical form, but here is a sequence of numbers for you: 2.9, 3.0, 3.2, 3.5, 3.8, 3.9, 4.4, 4.5, 5.4, 5.6, 7.0, 7.3. Those are team ERA's (earned runs allowed per 9 innings) for the American league, and my Rangers are in dead last. AS A TEAM, they are pitching worse than even I could've imagined. Your average pitcher gets sent to the minors if his ERA is over 6, and our TEAM AVERAGE is more than a run higher! Only the perpetually pathetic Tampa Bay Devil Rays at 7.0 are keeping us from being almost 2 runs behind the next nearest team.

I should count my blessings, though. As a team, Texas isn't hitting awfully, despite 8 games against some pretty good pitching. They are (lower) middle of the pack. One (poor) measure of a team's hitting success is the team batting average. A fairly good batting average is somewhere between .260 and .300 (how good that is depends on how many of your hits are singles vs doubles and home runs, also how many walks you get, etc.). As a team, our batting average is .248 and will likely get better.

A batting average of .200 is known as the "Mendoza line", after some really poor-hitting shortstop from long ago. Basically, the thinking goes that if you are really, really valuable on defense, a team can afford to carry you as long as you are hitting at least a bare minimum of .200. Below that, and you are under the Mendoza line, and even with great defense in the field, you aren't worth playing.

As an entire team, poor Cleveland is batting .203. And I'm really counting my blessings that we're not Detroit, batting .144. If you are under the Mendoza line, it is a rule of baseball that you refer to your average with disgust as "a buck forty-four" or something like that. If you are under .100, you just don't talk about your batting average, and no one else talks about your average if they are within earshot. When you aren't pitching, at least sometimes you can win some 12-10 games when your hitters get hot. When you aren't hitting, life is a great big fat 3-up and 3-down zero. Boring as all hell.

Texas isn't as bad as their 2-6 start, I know. Their ERA is sure to come down below 6 eventually, especially when they start playing the Detroits and Clevelands of the world. And their hitting will improve.

But we are two years away from contending, minimum, and that's only if the other three teams in the AL West division fall back to the pack a little and quit winning 100 games all the time. If will also help if the veterans on the team don't act like cry-babies when Buck Showalter starts putting some pressure on them to earn the big bucks.

Posted by Observer at 01:46 PM | Comments (0)

Business As Usual

Dick Cheney's fine old company, Halliburton, is in the news. It appears that one of its subsidiaries (KBR) has been defrauding the Pentagon out of millions (all while the corporate leaders are going to Republican rallies with flags waving, no doubt). Democrats in the House want to open an investigation of problems such as:

- A GAO finding in 1997 that the company billed the Army for questionable expenses for work in the Balkans, including charges of $85.98 per sheet of plywood that cost $14.06.

- A year 2000 follow-up report on the Balkans work that found inflated costs, including charges for cleaning some offices up to four times a day.

- $2 million in fines paid in February, 2002, to resolve fraud claims involving work at Fort Ord, Calif. The Defense Department inspector general and a federal grand jury had investigated allegations by a former employee that KBR defrauded the government of millions of dollars by inflating prices for repairs and maintenance

In related corruption news, free-market-oriented Republicans are trying to increase the limit on no-bid contracts (contracts in which the government does not allow competition) from $7.5 million to $200 million. The new rule is being proposed by the GOP fund-raising leader in the House. What a miraculous coincidence! One of my favorite highlights is this:

To ensure taxpayers are protected, these contractors now must turn over confidential cost and pricing data to government auditors and adhere to tight accounting standards. Under Davis' proposal, the companies would be exempt from these requirements...

Of course, it would be nice for Halliburton to continue to do well. After all, they are still paying Dick Cheney millions per year in deferred pension revenue. But wait, how can they afford that when they had to reduce or eliminate the pensions of the employees of one of the companies they acquired? Another Republican miracle!

In June, puzzling letters began appearing in the mailboxes of hundreds of employees of the Dresser-Rand Company, saying that they had become eligible for retirement benefits even though they were still working. ...

In addition to the current employees who got those notices, some recent retirees received letters saying that they had been paid too much and should return thousands of dollars in pension money to Halliburton. After comparing notes, a few of the employees and retirees have estimated that the group is being stripped of $25 million in benefits, reflecting roughly $50,000 on average for about 400 people.

While Halliburton appears to be within its legal rights as the current sponsor of the workers' pension plan, its handling of their retirement benefits contrasts starkly with its treatment of Vice President Dick Cheney, who was chief executive of Halliburton during the acquisition and then the spinoff. ... When Mr. Cheney left in August 2000 to become the Republican Party's vice presidential candidate, Halliburton's board voted to award him early retirement ó even though he was too young to qualify under his contract. That flexibility enabled him to leave with a retirement package, including stock and options, worth millions more than if he had simply resigned.

Yes, friends, that's the Republican free market at work. But you knew about all this because it was on the front page of the Liberal Media, just like Whitewater, right? Don't make me laugh.

Posted by Observer at 07:03 AM | Comments (5)

April 09, 2003

Next, Please!

Pardon me for a moment. I just want to get this stuff on the record somewhere about Syria:

Richard Perle, a close adviser of Rumsfeld and major supporter of the Iraq war, said in an interview yesterday, "You can arrive at Damascus and ask a taxi driver to take you to one of several terrorist organizations. It is a country that is host to such groups and is quite open about it."

Richard Perle, a close adviser of Rumsfeld and major supporter of the Iraq war, said ... "There are different ways to get people to change and I hope the example of Iraq after Afghanistan will prove persuasive." He told an audience at the American Enterprise Institute on March 25, "There are things we can do and there are things we can't do, and we're not going to make war on the world for democracy. . . . We should be using all the instruments of American influence to accomplish that purpose, and most of those instruments are not military." ...

Now, I know we were all told a long time ago that this war with Iraq was about getting Saddam out of power and setting up an example of Democracy and Freedom that everyone in the Middle-East would follow like dominoes falling. I know we were told that all this talk of this being the first of many pre-emptive wars under the new Bush doctrine was a bunch of paranoid fantasy.

But then I start to think of what happened with Iraq. First, against all of our own intelligence analysis, we started claiming Iraq was doing something it wasn't (like importing aluminum tubes for centrifuges to purify Uranium or buying radioisotopes from Africa, both of which were wrong). So let's compare Bushco's statements on Syria vs our intelligence outfits...

Rumsfeld's recent statement that singled out Syria along with Iran for assisting Iraq surprised not only the White House but also the CIA, which had not reported any major flow of military equipment or Islamic fighters from Syria to Iraq. It was seen by some as a shot not only at Syria but at CIA Director George J. Tenet.

Then we claimed that Iraq had ties to Al Qaeda, even going so far as to release the full video on the Bush News Network (Fox), against our previous policy which said it is a bad idea to possibly transmit hidden messages to splinter cells in the US. Even though the video actually called Saddam an infidel, and bin Laden is clearly no friend of Saddam. So then we were told Iraq harbored "Al-Qaeda-type" terrorist groups. So let's keep in mind about Syria, for now, that...

Since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a new relationship has developed between the CIA and Syrian intelligence because Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network targeted the secular government in Damascus as well as the United States.

This will be useful to remember (for all the good it will do) when inevitably, Bushco starts claiming that Syria and Al Qaeda are best buddies.

Anyway, now that Operation Eye-Racky Freedom is winding down (now where are those plans for interim government and humanitarian aid), here's our esteemed chickenhawk, Paul Wolfowitz:

On Sunday, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz said, "There's got to be a change in Syria," which has been accused by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld of allowing war materials and Islamic fighters to cross its border to help the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "The Syrians need to know . . . they'll be held accountable,"

The Syrian government considered Rumsfeld's remarks a threat, triggering statements from other U.S. officials aimed at easing Syria's concerns. "Nobody in the American administration [has] talked about invading Iran or Syria," Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said in an interview with the London-based Arab daily Al Hayat published April 5. "It seems that there is a constant desire by everybody to accuse us of invasion operations. That didn't, and won't, take place."

Whew! Thanks, Colin! I'm really relieved that we're not trying to start another war on the tail end of our first pre-emptive strike. Errr, right?

One of the main subjects on the agenda of the Belfast summit yesterday was Syria, the Pentagon's next likely target for "regime change" amid suspicions it allowed Saddam Hussein to transfer weapons of mass destruction within its borders.

Although President George W Bush did not include Syria in his "axis of evil" of Iran, Iraq and North Korea in January 2001, since then American officials say they have seen growing evidence of support for terrorism by Damascus.

Some US officials are also convinced that Mr Assad has actively collaborated with Saddam and agreed to take weapons, including Scud missiles, from him so they would not be discovered in Iraq by United Nations inspectors.

"Significant equipment, assets and perhaps even expertise was transferred, the first signs of which appeared in August or September 2002," a Bush administration official told The Telegraph.

"It is quite possible that Iraqi nuclear scientists went to Syria and that Saddam's regime may retain part of its army there."

I mean I know the saying is so old that it is trite, but "those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it."

Ok, so maybe it was premature to say I would cut back to one post a day sometimes. We'll see. Heh.

Posted by Observer at 02:53 PM | Comments (8)

Teachers and Students

I held a workshop yesterday, something I do a couple of times per semester to present some activities and other things related to science for K-12 teachers. I get paid a little on the side, and I like to do it, so it's easy money. These workshops go for about two hours and usually have about 15-20 teachers present.

The teachers come mainly because they have to satisfy some sort of state-mandated enrichment criterion. They have to acquire X number of hours per academic year, so they try to find fun workshops where they can kill off a couple of hours. I have no illusions that many would show up if not for this rule.

Anyway, I try to make it fun, and I always get good evaluations. Some teachers are really apathetic, in some cases worse than some of my normal students. I had a couple of teachers come into yesterday's workshop a half-hour late! Crap, I guess I give them credit, but I don't know the rules.

Thinking of Sarah's teachers always getting on her case, I told the late-arrivers that they were tardy and they lost recess. Got some nervous laughter out of that one. Too bad that mean old Mrs. W from Sarah's school wasn't there. Two other teachers were talking about the job market and ignoring the workshop activity, so I told them I would have to send a note home. They said, "Oh, you must have a child in elementary school." Two, actually.

Posted by Observer at 06:57 AM | Comments (0)

April 08, 2003

Warning Flags

One reason I guess my frequency of political posts has dropped recently is because with the war going on, I guess my heart isn't into criticism of our leaders, as mad as I get about things. It's not that I feel constrained in any way, just more apathetic about it. Anyway, Paul Krugman has a good column today about people who wrap themselves in the flag and question the patriotism of those who disagree with the administration:

Last week John Kerry told an audience that "what we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq, but we need a regime change in the United States." Republicans immediately sought to portray this remark as little short of treason. "Senator Kerry crossed a grave line when he dared to suggest the replacement of America's commander in chief at a time when America is at war," declared Marc Racicot, chairman of the Republican National Committee.

Notice that Mr. Racicot wasn't criticizing Mr. Kerry's choice of words. Instead, he denounced Mr. Kerry because he "dared to suggest the replacement of America's commander in chief" ó knowing full well that Mr. Kerry was simply talking about the next election. Mr. Racicot, not Mr. Kerry, is the one who crossed a grave line; never in our nation's history has it been considered unpatriotic to oppose an incumbent's re-election.

Anyway, what defines patriotism? Talk is cheap; so is putting a flag in your lapel. Citizens prove their patriotism when they make sacrifices for the sake of their country. Mr. Kerry, a decorated veteran, has met that test. Most of his critics haven't.

I'm not just talking about military service ó though it's striking how few of our biggest hawks have served. Nor am I talking only about financial sacrifice ó though profiting from public office seems to be the norm, not the exception, among those who wrap themselves in the flag. (Mr. Racicot himself accepted the job as R.N.C. chairman only on the condition that he remain on the payroll of Bracewell and Patterson, a law firm that specializes in lobbying.)

The biggest test of a politician's patriotism is whether he is willing to sacrifice some of his political agenda for the sake of the nation. And that's a test our current leaders have failed with flying colors.

Consider the case of Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, who also piled on Mr. Kerry last week. As it happens, during the war in Kosovo Mr. DeLay was a defeatist, and blamed his own country for provoking Serbian atrocities; any Democrat who said similar things now would be accused of giving aid and comfort to the enemy.

Mr. DeLay's political agenda hasn't shifted a bit now that we're at war again. He's still pushing for huge, divisive tax cuts that go mainly to the rich: "Nothing is more important in the face of a war than cutting taxes," he says. And he's still eager to slash any and all domestic spending. In the midst of war he pushed through a budget that included sharp cuts in, yes, veterans' benefits.

Lots of critics have gotten all over Kerry for referring to the current administration as some sort of "regime", as if it weren't democratically elected and so forth. Actually, about that whole democratically elected thing ... nah, we're supposed to move past the fact that Bush lost the election, sorry. Anyway, just about every one of these loud-mouthed conservatives used "regime" many many times when referring to the Clinton administration, even during times of war, so they actually look pretty dumb. Say what you will about Clinton, but at least he won a presidential election.

Oh well, on the homefront, Bush continues to fuck over average Americans for the benefit of the super rich. Remember the big scandals involving pension funds (Enron, Halliburton, etc.)? What happened basically is that the companies were going bankrupt and so in order to pay off the golden parachutes for all the executives, they converted the pension plans to cash only instead of stock, then paid out the cash to executives. Then they tell all the rank-and-file employees, sorry, we're out of money.

Of course, everyone was shocked, shocked!, and the Bush administration said they sure planned to do something about all that real soon now. Well, with a war going on, they are burying the news way back in the business section of our Liberal Media, because I guess it just doesn't matter. Turns out the new rules proposed by Congress to protect rank-and-file workers from executives raiding the pension funds? Scrapped by Bush.

WASHINGTON, April 7 ó The Bush administration said Monday that it would scrap ó for now ó a proposed rule that sought to ensure that highly paid workers aren't unduly favored when companies switch to a new type of retirement plan.

Now, what Bushco is *saying* is that they just don't want to throw any unintentional consequences into the mix for companies trying to convert from one kind of pension plan to another, that they want to make the laws simple without putting all these restrictions in place. They say they're going to push *really hard* for a rule that lets workers opt to remain in their traditional pension plans if they desire, etc., without loss of guaranteed benefits.

Yeah, right, say the rich Republican donors ... err, I mean company executives. You want your guaranteed benefits? You can sue me (especially after my pals in Congress and the Supreme Court institute caps on punitive damages in lawsuits to punish those evil evil trial lawyers). Oh, I'll be sipping a tequila on Grand Cayman Island, so you may not be able to get hold of me or my assets, which were held in offshore banks all along anyway so I could avoid paying taxes. But if you do want to come looking for me, I'll be the fat white guy dressed in the hawaiian shirt with an American flag in my lapel.

Posted by Observer at 03:23 PM | Comments (1)

Talked Out

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

Posted by Observer at 06:58 AM | Comments (9)

April 07, 2003

Love Story

Warning: This is an extremely long post with a book excerpt, but it isn't political. I know long posts like this make it hard to find the comments link, but you can always click on the menu of old entries to the left if you like. I got a lot of neat comments over the weekend, for which I am thankful. This will be my only post today, just because it is so long. I may start throttling back to one per day sometimes, just to prolong the time before the inevitable blog burnout.

As I've done before, every once in a while I want to use this forum to mention books and authors I like. One of my all-time favorites is "MicroSerfs" by Douglas Coupland. It's a first-person fictional narrative of a guy who works for MicroSoft (if I remember right) and decides to branch out to try to form his own company. It's Neal-Stephenson-Cryptonomicon-style clever and funny, and a quick read.

There are lots of good plot threads in it, but my favorite is a very brief one about an on-line relationship. This thread is spread out over about 100 pages while other things are going on, but I have excerpted it here below (hence the warning, it's a good 5-10 minute read). It makes me smile still every time I read it.

I'm sure this is some kind of severe copyright violation. Sorry about that. Someone go follow the link and buy the book, and I'm sure all will be forgiven. I won't blockquote it just because it is so long.

Begin quote:

[For reference, the scene opens with a conversation between Daniel, the owner of the company, and one of his nerdy programmers, Michael.]

We arrived and were sitting in the Swift Water Cafe, and Michael ordered a decidedly non-two-dimensional piece of apple pie, flaunting in my face his betrayal of his Flatlander eating code. He seems to be abandoning it of late. It's like an alcoholic going off the wagon. He's changing.

And then, from nowhere, he asked, me, "Daniel, do I seem alive?" I was so taken aback. I think this is the oddest question anybody's ever asked me.

I said, "What a silly question. I mean -- of course you do -- a bit machine-like at times, but..."

He said, "I *am* alive, you know. I may not have a life, but at least I'm alive. I used to wonder, do machines ever feel lonely? You and I talked about machines once, and I never really said everything I had to say. I remember I used to get to *mad* when I read about car factories in Japan where they turned out the lights to allow the robots to work in darkness." He ate his apple pie, asked the waitress for a single-malt scotch, and said, "But I think, yes, I *do* feel lonely. So alone. Yes. Alone."

I said nothing.

"Or I *did*."

Did... "*DID*? Until when?" I asked.

"I'm -- "


"I'm in *love*, Daniel." Oh man, talk about a gossip bomb.

"But that's great, Michael. Congratulations. With who?"

"I don't know."

"What do you *mean* you don't know who."

"Well, I do and I don't. I'm in love with an entity called 'BarCode'. And I don't know who he-slash-she is, how old or anything. But I'm in love with ... *it*. The BarCode entity lives in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. I *think* it's a student. That's all I know."

"So let me be sure I understand this. You've fallen in love with a person, but you have no idea who the person is."

"Correct. Last night you were all talking about getting bar code tattoos, and you kept saying the word 'bar code' over and over, and I thought I was going to go berserk with love. It was all I could do to contain myself. And then Bug was so open and honest I thought I would die, and I realized things can't go on as they have been going."

Michael's scotch arrived. He rolled the ice around and gulped -- he's shifted from Robitussin into the hard stuff.

"BarCode eats flat food, too. And she-slash-he's written a program with immense game potential. BarCode is my soulmate. There is only one person for me out there, and I have found it. BarCode's my ally in this world *and* ... "

He paused and looked across the restaurant.

"Sometimes when I'm loneliest, life looks the most dreadful and I don't want to be here. On earth, I mean. I want to be ... out there." He pointed to the sun coming in a window, a beam coming down, and the sky over the Bay. "The thought of BarCode is the only thing that keeps me tethered to earth."

"So what are you going to *do* about it, Michael?"

He sighed and looked at the other businessmen in the restaurant.

"But what are you going to *do* about it?" I asked again. He looked up at me. "Is *that* why I'm here, Michael? Am I getting involved in this?"

"Can you do me a favor, Daniel?"

I knew it. "What."

"Look at me."

"I'm looking."

"No, *look*."

Michael put himself under the microscope lens: pudgy; eyeglassed;
ill-clad; short-sleeve shirt the color of yellow invoice paper; pale complexion; Weedwacker hairdo--the nerd stereotype that almost doesn't even really exist anymore--a Lockheed junior draftsman circa the McCarthy era. But for his almost Cerenkovian glow of intelligence, he might be mistaken for a halfwit or, as Ethan would say, a fuck-wit. I said, "Is there something I should be seeing?"

"*Look* at me, Daniel -- how could anyone be in love with *me*?"

"That's ridiculous, Michael. Love has almost nothing to do with looks. It's about two people's insides mixing together."

"Nothing to do with looks? That's easy for all of you to say. *I* have to work everyday inside our body-freak world of an Aaron Spelling production. You think I don't notice?"

"Point *being* ... ? From what I can see, if one person is feeling something, there's usually a pretty good chance the other is feeling the same thing, too. So looks are moot."

"But then they see me -- my *body* -- and it's over."

In a way I was losing my patience, but then who am I to be an expert in love? "I think you're perfectly lovable. Our office is a freak show and no indication of the world at large."

"You say that like a father whose son just got braces and headgear."

"What do you want me to *do*, Michael."

He paused and looked both ways and then to me: "I want you to visit Waterloo for me. Meet BarCode. Offer ... it ... a job. BarCode's the smartest programmer I've ever conversed with."

"Why don't *you* go, Michael?"

He looked down at himself and clamped his arms around his chest and said, "I can't. I'll be ... rejected."

Well, if there's one thing I know, it's Michael and his unbudgeability. "Michael, if I were to do this, under no circumstances would I be willing to pretend, even for one MICROsecond, that I were you."

"No! You wouldn't have to! Just say that I couldn't make it and you came in my stead."

"What if BarCode turns out to be a 48-year-old man wearing a diaper -- a diaper with spaghetti straps?"

"Such is love -- though I *hope* that wouldn't be the case."

"How long have you and BarCode been emailing each other?"

"Almost a year."

"Does BarCode know who you are? *What* you are?"

"No. You know the joke: On the Internet nobody knows you're a dog."

"Oh *God*."

"You'll do it!"

"BarCode could be *anybody*, Michael."

"I love their insides already, Daniel. We've already blended. I'll take what fate throws me."

"But tell me one thing -- how can you talk to somebody for over a year and not even know their age or sex?"

"Oh, Daniel -- that's part of the *thrill*."


Back at the office I went on a walk with Karla and told her about it right away and she said it was the most romantic thing she's ever heard of and she smooched me right there in the middle of a downtown street. "Michael is so brave to love so blindly."


After flying to Waterloo, Michael arranged for me to meet BarCode at a student union pub.

BarCode, given the possibility of making a flesh-to-flesh connection, admitted on-line that ... *it* was, as Michael guessed, a student -- so at least the 48-year-old-man-in-spaghetti-strap-diapers scenario was averted.

"Don't be so sure, Daniel," said Michael on the phone from California with a touch of worry in his voice. "Mature students, you know. Well -- we can only hope not..."

Waterloo's student pub is better than others I've seen. "The Bomb Shelter," with an all-black inside, a large bomb painted on the wall, big screen TV, video games, pool and air hockey.

The outdoor temperature was about minus 272 degrees and the students wore thick, gender-disguising outfits to ward off the gales of liquid helium sweeping down from Hudson's Bay. I thought of how in-character it was of Michael to fall for someone's insides and not even know their outsides. I sat there in a seat next to the wall, drinking a few beers, wondering if whoever came by could be ... *it*.

I was getting all mushy and lonely and missing Karla when suddenly a hand grabbed my throat from behind and yanked me toward the wall, like an Alien from "Aliens". Fuck! Talk about terror. It was a small hand, but God, it was like steel, and a voice whispered to me, a girl's voice: "Talk to me, baby. I know who you *aren't*. So speak -- gimme a sign, send me a code -- let me know that you're *you*."

Oh man, I was meeting Catwoman .. with an Official Chyx Wristband!

My head blanked. Only one word came into my head, Michael's code word for our meeting: "Cheese slices," I squeaked out from my snared vocal cords.

The hand loosened. I saw a bare arm. I saw a bar code tattoo below the vaccination bump. And then I saw BarCode, revealed at last, as she let go of her grip and climbed down off the railing and into my view: smaller than Karla, more muscular than Dusty, and dressed so tough that Susan looked like a southern belle in comparison: filthy down vest on top of an oily halter top; hot pants; gas station attendant's boots; haircut with a blunt Swiss Army Knife; both eyes dripping with smudged mascara and melting snow ... all underneath an ancient hand-knitted Canadian-type jacket with trout knitted into the front and back. She was small and tight and the natural embodiment that everything Karla, Dusty and Susan self-consciously were trying to turn themselves into. She was the most aggressive female I've ever seen and so young -- and man, she was so IN CHARGE.

She looked both ways. She looked me in the eyes. She said, "You're Kraft singles's friend?" She narrowed her gaze. "*You're* here to interview me? Why didn't Kraft come himself/herself?"

"It's uh ... himself ... and I'll be honest with you right now -- I'm here because he didn't think you'd like him if you saw *him*.

She smashed a bottle on the ground and scared the wits out of me. "Man, what sort of pussy does he think I am? ... that I give a shit whatthefuck he looks like?" But then her demeanor changed. She got sweet for a second: "He's a *he*? He cares what I think about him?"

"'Kraft singles,' as you call him, is stubborn. You should know *that*."

She relaxed a bit. "You're telling *me*. Kraft is one stubborn motherfucking entity."

She giggled. "She." Pause. "*He*..."

"You mean," suddenly I was beginning to understand, "you didn't know who he was .. what he was? I mean, sorry for being blunt, but *you* didn't know either?"

"Don't make me feel like a wuss." She picked up an empty 7-Up can, crushed it flat on her knee and then got sweet again. "Is Kraft, ummm ... like ... *married* or anything?"


I could tell she was relieved and it was beginning to dawn on me that Michael wasn't the only one who had fallen for an entity.

"Do you want to see a picture, BarCode ... do you have another name?"


"Do you want to see a picture of Michael, Amy?"

Quietly: "You have one?"


"His name is Michael?"


"What's your name?"


"Can I see a picture, Dan?"

"Here." She greedily snatched the group picture taken at a barbecue at Mom and Dad's earlier on in the year. Nine of us were in the photo, but she spotted Michael right away. I think I had just transacted the most bizarre matchmaking transaction in the history of love.

"That's *him* ... *there*."


"Dan, you're gonna think I'm an asshole, but I had a dream, and I knew that's what he looked like. I put a diskette under my pillow for weeks waiting for a sign, and it came to me, and here he is. I'm taking the photo."

"It's yours."

She looked at Michael's image. She was tentative and girly. "How *old* is he?" Her voice up-inflected at the end.

I was slightly drunk, and I laughed and I said, "He's in love with you, if that's what you want to know."

She got all cocky again.

She grabbed my right hand and shouted, "Arm wrestle!" and after a
two-minute tussle (thank heavens for the gym), broken up only because a group of drunk engineers lollygagged up to our table and one of them barfed one table over, cutting the moment short, did we speak again. "It's a draw," she told me, "but remember, I'm younger than you and I'm only getting stronger. So tell me about ... *Michael*." She paused to think this over -- the *name*. "Yes. Tell me about *Michael*."

The waiter brought us both beers. She clinked mine so hard I thought it would shatter and she said, "Tell me again, what does Michael feel? You know -- about ... *me*?"

"He's in love."

"Say it *again*."

"He's in love. Love. L-O-V-E. Love, he loves *you*. He's going to go insane if he doesn't meet you."

She was as happy as I've ever seen another human being. It made me feel good to be able to say this with a clear heart.

"Go on," she said.

"He doesn't care who you are. He only knew your insides. He's smart. He's kind and he's always been a good friend to me. There is nobody like him on earth, and he says that you're the only reason he stays tethered here to the planet." And then I told her the diaper-and-spaghetti-straps scenario.

She leaped backward into her seat.

"I'm gonna fuckin' explode! Dan! I'm gonna tell you, I'm in love, and I'm in love like an atomic bomb detonating over industrialized Ontario, so watch out *world*!"

I realized that Michael was BarCode's first love, and I realized that I was seeing something special here, as if all of the flowers in the world had agreed to bloom just for me, and just for once, and I said, "Well, I think it's mutual. Now could you relax just a bit more, Amy, because you're frankly scaring the daylights out of me, and I don't think my right arm can deal with another wrestle."

She gushed a bit, flush with happiness. She sat and smiled at the undergrads who, it seems, regarded her with no small tinge of fear. She surely must be some sort of campus legend.

"You're the bearer of hot news, and I'll always remember you for that, Dan," and she kissed me on the cheek, and I thought of Karla, and my heart felt so happy yet far away from her.

"Man, I'm so happy I could crap," she said. "Hey -- over there -- that table of engineers -- let's go trash 'em!"


Michael and BarCode -- excuse me -- *Amy* -- are now engaged. Amy and Michael have been having a John-and-Yoko lovefest at the Residence Inn Suites down in Mountain View. Karla and I went to visit them, and their suite was all a-rummage with pizza boxes, diet Coke cans, dirty laundry, unread newspapers and gum wrappers. Michael had transformed from a lonely machine into a *love* machine.


Amy, 20, is going to finish her degree in computer engineering, and is going to come to work for us starting in May. We're all in love and awe and terror of her. She and Michael together are like the next inevitable progression of humanity. And the two of them are so happy together -- seeing them together is like seeing the *future*.

Oh, here's something I forgot to write about earlier. At the bar, I asked Amy what it was -- or rather, *how* it was that two people could not *know* each other and fall in love and all of that. She told me that all her life people had only ever treated her like a body or a girl -- or both. And interfacing with Michael over the Net was the only way she could ever really know that he was talking to *her*, not with his concept of her. "Reveal your gender on the Net, and you're toast." She considered her situation: "It's an update of the rich man who poses as a pauper and finds the princess. But fuck that princess shit -- we're both *kings*."

We both got drunker and she said to me, "This is it, Dan. This is the way I always wanted to feel. This is *it*."


"Love. Heaven is being in love, and the love never stops. And the feeling of intimacy never stops. Heaven means feeling intimate forever."

And I can't really say I disagree.

End of quote.

My wonderful wife has definitely shown me the truth of Amy's concept of love. I'll be forever thankful for that.

Posted by Observer at 06:59 AM | Comments (0)

April 06, 2003

This Isn't Right! It Isn't Even Wrong!

Some of the homework Sarah is bringing home involves practice tests in science for the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge Skills) that is coming up soon. I want to speak to the editors. About one out of every 10 questions is either completely ridiculous or a matter of opinion. For example, one question asked which planet has the hottest weather. The choices were like Mercury, because it is closest to the Sun; Venus, because it is closest; Mars because it is 2nd planet from the Sun; Jupiter, because it is the 3rd planet from the Sun.

Ok, so the only one of those statements that can possibly be true independent of the question is Mercury, which is the closest planet to the Sun. But not only does Mercury *not* have weather (it doesn't have an atmosphere), the surface temperature on Venus is actually about 40 degrees Kelvin higher than the maximum surface temperature on Mercury, thanks to the intense greenhouse effect on Venus.

I haven't read carefully through her science book lately, because it would both give me tired-head and also make me angry. Even for the practice questions that make sense, they are often quite difficult for a 5th grader. At least, I think they are. I sure don't remember learning anything about most of this stuff until after around 9th grade. I do know that the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has published their benchmarks for scientific literacy for schools to follow (see the website for Project 2061), but this seems ambitious even compared to those.

Sarah works so hard on homework that she doesn't have time for chores, so I went out and bought her something she really really wanted: Pokemon Ruby for the GameBoy Advance. She plays Pokemon games for hours on end. She was *sooo* excited to get it. I bought the hint book for her, too, but I made her pay me part of the cost out of her money she's earned from her report card and a couple of chores.

The only problem there is it made Cody really jealous. She kinda rubbed his nose in it. Cody got all mad. I explained to Cody that he doesn't have nearly as much homework as Sarah. He spends most of his afternoons playing at the park or playing on the GameCube or watching TV. If he wants to earn money, he knows there are opportunities all over the house for chores he can do. He just chooses not to, so that means he doesn't get to buy stuff.

Despite my impeccable logic, Cody had a sarcastic and surly attitude for the rest of the evening. Imagine that.

Posted by Observer at 01:43 PM | Comments (11)

Dr. Big Mean Bully

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

Posted by Observer at 08:10 AM | Comments (8)

April 05, 2003

I'm the Good One!

A few years ago, the faculty member in the office next to mine was a good friend whose two daughters were attending the university. Well, she told her daughters that they should probably take my course, because it has a good reputation, and she trusted me to do a good job teaching them. The first one came through the course and didn't do so well. Barely scraped out a C, skipped a bunch of classes, generally underperformed.

But my colleague didn't say anything. She never accused me of being unfair or anything. She knew her first daughter got what she deserved. So the following year, her second daughter arrived on campus for her first year. Once again, my colleague recommended my course to her, but it was full. So second daughter drops by my office a week before classes start. "Hi, there, Dr. Observer! I was wondering if I could get a closed class permit for your class?"

It was one of those bubbly questions that ends on a high-note that makes me reflexively want to say no. But my colleague had warned me that her daughter might come by, and I had already promised a closed-class permit if needed. Her daughter noticed my hesitation, so she helpfully added, "Oh, don't worry about me. I'm the good one!"

As I later found out, the younger daughter is referred to as the "good" one in the family, even by my colleague, and she did end up getting a high A in my class.

Posted by Observer at 02:59 PM | Comments (7)

Pomp and Circumstance

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

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

April 04, 2003

Uh, What Kind of Exam?

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

Posted by Observer at 03:51 PM | Comments (4)

Stupid Crap That Makes Me Mad

Hooray! My favorite blogger, the Media Horse is back. As everyone suspected, Bush is using the war to divert attention away from an increasingly stupid domestic agenda. He keeps passing more and more tax cuts for the rich, while at the same time asking for more spending. It's getting to the point where you need a scorecard to keep up with all the crap.

Remember the good old days for our economy, when Clinton was announcing record budget surpluses? Some of it is due to the effects of September 11, but as this graph makes abundantly clear, most of the mess started happening well before then with the stupid tax cuts for the rich. Argh, I know Clinton was a disgraceful liar who treated the office with incredible indecency, but he sure ran a good budget. Of course, there's lying about sex, then there's lying about stuff like national security, war, foreign policy, etc., which is what the Bush administration does on nearly a daily basis. So which is more important?

Oh well, he sure makes a good wartime president, that Bush. As the latest stories indicate, our brave leader his given up sweets since just before the war began! I guess it must be the guilt for going AWOL during his National Guard service, a plum position he got to duck Vietnam.

Meanwhile, thanks to our guiding conservative philosophy, we are allowing market forces to run our economy in the most efficient way possible ... oh, except when industries need bailouts and their Republican party soft money sources ... err, I mean executives' huge pay packages are threatened. From Molly Ivins:

Another special salute to the executives of Delta Airlines, who have just awarded themselves a $42 million "perk package." The airline is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy and is begging Washington to have the taxpayers bail it out. Duane Woerth, president of the Air Line Pilots Association, said: "Thousands of airline workers have lost their jobs or given significant wage, benefit and work-rule concessions since Sept. 11 to help save their companies. Therefore it is disconcerting, if not outrageous, that airline executives are lining their pockets while employees are subsidizing these bonuses and bankruptcy-protected retirement plans."

Delta's top five executives got full salaries plus bonuses totaling $4.8 million, while the company is hemorrhaging money. Another 55 second-tier executives got six-figure bonuses totaling $12.5 million. Delta also spent $25 million setting up special accounts to protect certain executives' pensions in the event of bankruptcy. The plan calls for two more payments this year and next.

I can't wait to help bail them out.

I don't post much about politics lately. It's just so bad I get too mad or depressed about it. Humor helps. Here are some good comments from late night comics about the war, from BuzzFlash:

"President Bush said this Iraq situation looks like 'the rerun of a bad movie.' Well sure, there's a Bush in the White House, the economy's going to hell, we're going to war over oil. I've seen this movie, haven't I?" -- Jay Leno

"President Bush has said that he does not need approval from the UN to wage war, and I'm thinking, well, hell, he didn't need the approval of the American voters to become president, either." -- David Letterman

"In a speech earlier today President Bush said if Iraq gets rid of Saddam Hussein, he will help the Iraqi people with food, medicine, supplies, housing, education ñ anything that's needed. Isn't that amazing? He finally comes up with a domestic agenda ñ and it's for Iraq. Maybe we could bring that here if it works out." -- Jay Leno

"Democrats were quick to point out that President Bush's budget creates a 1 trillion dollar deficit. The White House quickly responded with 'Hey, look over there, it's Saddam Hussein.'" -- Craig Kilborn

"War continues in Iraq. They're calling it Operation Iraqi Freedom. They were going to call it Operation Iraqi Liberation until they realized that spells 'OIL.'" -- Jay Leno

Pretty sad that most of the liberal commentary we get these days has to come disguised as comedy, out of fear that the patriotically correct crowd will get all pissed off.

Posted by Observer at 06:56 AM | Comments (3)

April 03, 2003

Line of Doom

So I go to the Walgreen's pharmacy near work yesterday to pick up a prescription. It is around 4pm, and as I pull in, I notice the drive-through line is 5 deep. So I decide to go inside to the pharmacy counter. Crowded. But not as bad as the drive-through, so I get in line about 4th and wait.

It quickly becomes apparent that there are five people working there, one of whom is working a computer in the back, three of whom are actively filling out prescriptions and one person in charge of both the inside line and the drive-through. So our cashier (call her Jane) starts talking to the first person in line inside. Oops, can't find the prescription. Is the customer sure someone else didn't pick it up? Hmmm, let me go check.

So Jane walks to the back to talk to one of the other workers. After a few minutes, she flags one down long enough to explain the problem, and the two of them walk up to the front counter together. On the way, the helper sees where this bag of prescriptions is being stored under the counter and moves toward it. Meanwhile the phone rings, and Jane (remember, the only cashier in the pharmacy) decides to answer it.

Helper gets the hell out of the front after handing off the bag to customer #1, so now here we are inside and outside, thumbs up our collective butts while cashier Jane takes a phone call. It's a refill order. There's an automated system for this, of course, but apparently caller wanted to talk to a real person and make sure it was right, etc.

This took no less than five minutes.

Five minutes during which the line inside grew to about eight people long, and who knows what's happening in the drive-through, where they have been completely ignored since I came in the store. If I had a cell phone, I would've called the store, waited for Jane to pick up, and asked her if she could help me now, hello, I'm right over here standing in line. No such luck.

A supervisor wanders to the back to see what's going on. She realizes the train wreck and tries to start the process of getting more cashiers on duty (which will take at least another 10 minutes). Jane peeks over at the drive-through and tells both lines, "We'll be with you shortly, sorry, thanks."

On to customer #2. Another problem. Oh, let's look this up on the computer, blah blah blah. About 15 minutes have now passed since I got in the store, and I'm now 2nd in line. The drive-through is still untouched. Another two minutes, and I'm first in line. Finally, it is my turn.

Jane looks at me, flashes an apologetic smile and holds up the "one minute" finger, and I quickly speak up, "I just need to pick up something, and I know it is ready right there behind you." Hooray, she bought it! It was actually in the back, but it was ready, and I escaped after 25 minutes.

While she was finding my prescription, I turned around to the guy behind me and said, "Damn, I'm sure glad I'm not outside. Those poor saps."

He said, "Hey, I know, I was out there for 20 minutes and the line didn't move before I came in here. This is crazy."

The question I pose: This is not a unique experience for me at pharmacies, regardless of their location. Pharmacies are sprouting up all over the place, and they are (aside from restaurants) the most prolific kind of business I regularly see. With this much of an increase in capacity, how can they consequently be getting slower and slower in service? Isn't there some natural conservation law being violated?

Posted by Observer at 04:43 PM | Comments (4)

Holy Crap

My blog isn't turning into all baseball or anything, but it is early, and I better talk about the Rangers while I can because the half-life of my interest is about one Chan Ho Park start.

Another day, another atrocious starting pitching performance for the Rangers. John Thomson, a retread we pulled off the scrap heap and paid a little money to (he's now our #3 starter!) pitched 4 and 1/3 stunning innings, giving up 10 hits and 6 earned runs, WHICH MEANS HIS ERA IS EIGHT RUNS LESS THAN CHAN HO.

At least this time the Rangers put up a fight (even if most of that was in the form of ARod's 3-run home run, his 300th). ARod reached the 300 homer mark younger than any player in history, a factoid sure to be in today's papers.

So for the opening series of the season, our offense put 11 runs on the board. Could be better, but no complaints. Our leadoff hitter and center fielder Doug Glanville, who really sucked last year with an execreble .300 On Base Percentage (a good leadoff hitter should be near .400 OBP), is now hitting .385 with a walk or two mixed in (so his OBP, which counts hits plus walks, is a bit over .400 now). So far, he's been a bright spot, as has ARod offensively. You are what you are, though, and I really fear a week full of 0-for-5's from Glanville.

Our pitching staff has coughed up 24 runs. Most of that is the fault of the crappy starters. The bullpen has been ok. About the only reliever who has looked bad so far has been CJ Nitkowski. Back when he pitched for the Tigers, he was one of the first major leaguers to keep a public blog, and there was often some interesting stuff there, just day-to-day funny stuff, etc. Well, about a year ago, he became a born-again Christian, and now he can't stop talking about it in his new blog.

That's all well and good, but I guess Jesus wasn't by his side when he relieved Chan Ho on Tuesday, because he gave up 6 hits, 2 free passes and 3 earned runs in 2 and 2/3 innings. Actually, wait a minute, that performance is *EXACTLY* twice as good as our #2 starter, so maybe God is trying to send our manager Buck Showalter a message!

Oh well, I kid, but I don't want to be mean. That's all well and good to be saved and live the straight and narrow path and so on. I just don't like it when sports figures win something and point to God as if God had something to do with it (I don't think CJ does this, btw). There's a famous baseball quote (maybe from Sparky Anderson, but could've been anyone) related to this: After a hitter hit a game-winning home run, he told reporters afterwards that he thanked God for helping him win the game. Sparky said after hearing that, "Where was God for the poor bastard who hung the curveball?"

Posted by Observer at 06:54 AM | Comments (5)

April 02, 2003

Biting Off Too Much

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

Posted by Observer at 06:20 PM | Comments (1)

Drinking From a Firehose

I sometimes post new stuff so fast that I'm sure it can be a drag to catch up. Sorry about that. I *do* try to usually limit myself to a couple of posts per day. It's not like homework, though, you don't have to read everything. :) As I've said all along, I'm mainly just writing to vent.

Ultimately, maybe I'll collect all these student stories into a book now that I have an excuse to put them to paper, in a manner of speaking. Anyway, sometimes I go so fast that I squash a lot of cool comments under a barrage of new posts, so I wanted to point out that people have still commented (and I have responded) to various threads over the past 3-4 days. So please go look and add more if you like.

I have the advantage in that I get an email as soon as someone makes a comment to any post, so I know there's something to read and maybe respond to.

Posted by Observer at 03:00 PM | Comments (1)

It's Over

People around here hate Chan Ho Park, and I guess I don't blame them, but the real culprit is John Hart, the new general manager of the Rangers. A year ago, Hart was putting together a new pitching staff for the Rangers. One of the choices he had to make was whether to re-sign Rick Helling, a serviceable #3 or #4 starter who has been with the club for years (except for a brief stint when he was traded away and then came back). Helling isn't great, but he is a bulldog, and he turns in big starts when it counts. Hart, new to the Rangers, felt none of that. He looked at the numbers and decided Helling was expendable.

Instead, Hart brought in Chan Ho Park at about quadruple the salary. Park pitched a while for the Dodgers and was supposed to come in here and be "the ace". Well, any baseball idiot could see there was no way that was going to happen. Hell, Park had the same ERA in 2001 as Helling! *AND* Park was pitching in the National League *AND* pitching at Dodger stadium, a notoriously pitcher friendly ballpark. Park's Earned Run Average (ERA) away from Dodger stadium was atrocious.

But this was Hart's big fish to land. Well, good old Chan Ho came in here and stunk it up in 2002 even worse than I thought possible. His ERA was over *NINE* at the All-Star Break. In garbage time at the end of the season, when the Rangers were a million games out of it, Park had a "strong" second half and got his ERA down to about 6.00. Big freakin' deal. For "an ace", your ERA should be down around 3.00. For even a half-decent starter, it should be around 5.00.

He had his first start of the season for the Rangers last night against the Angels and basically killed any optimism any of us Ranger fans had. Here is a guy placed at the #2 spot in the rotation (so God help us, because the guys in charge think the rest of our starters are worse than Park) who coughs up a 6 hit, 6 run (all earned), 3 walk, 0 strikeout performance in 2 + 2/3 innings. ERA of 20.25 at the moment. Sparkling.

Ranger hitters, just like they did last year, pretty much gave up as soon as they were more than 5 runs behind. They ended up getting shut out 10-0. Oh, Helling signed a one-year deal with Arizona last year and did mediocre (which is a light-year better than Park), and so he was available again this year. I think Hart didn't want to sign Helling because he was afraid of the side by side comparison with Helling making far less money, so Helling wandered off to the Orioles.

Did I mention the Ranger pitching staff, part left over from the previous GM (Doug Melvin, who wasn't all that bad but never got us anywhere but pounded by the Yankees once in the playoffs) and mostly put together by Hart from free agents ... that pitching staff was by far the worst in baseball last season. With a "new" bullpen this year (which I'll admit looks a lot better on paper) the Rangers still had the worst pitching in baseball during Spring training. These are hard years for Ranger fans, let me tell you.

Posted by Observer at 07:11 AM | Comments (9)

April 01, 2003

Rowling Fun

I got to experience the annual April Fools fun in Clan Lord this evening, thanks to a pointer from Perkusi, who reminded me of it. That was really fun. The pac-man game really takes me back. I used to work in an arcade in the 80's when I was growing up. More on that someday...

The shuffle-board type game was called Rowling, and I really liked it. Kind of an elegant mathematical problem with multiple solutions. It took a while, but I finally figured out the right pixel to stand on and the right pixel to point my cursor at. Very difficult, but also really cool to slide right into that perfect spot. I got eight out of ten a few times, then nine out of ten (missing the last one, argh), then I finally found my groove and nailed 50 perfect shots in a row (for five high scores of 500 ... sorry I spammed the high score list).

Pretty sad, I know. It's just pixel registering. But fun for me! Didn't like pinball much, too frustrating. Someone got mad at me for knocking them off a bumper. They yelled at me! I was like, crap, if I could control my character well enough to screw with you, you would think I'd have a 5000 point score by my 50th freakin' try so I could get my gold star and get outta here. I got 4500 or so three times before finally getting my star.

If I could live without sleep (and if my wife wouldn't beat me up for not coming to bed), I'd probably stay up all night and try to get a high score in the pac-man game, because that one is a blast, too.

I wish we could visit April Fools stuff all the time. They should just open up an April Fools Island with all the old April Fools places. I'd be glad to spend an evening playing last year's Nethack or doing the movie stuff from the year before. Or the Clanward Ho from the year before that. I can't remember what was before that. May have been before my time (which was v78 or so when I started).

Posted by Observer at 10:17 PM | Comments (2)

April Foul

Sarah came home today, "Guess what! I don't have any homework! Ha ha, April Fools!" That was *so* not funny.

Posted by Observer at 03:27 PM | Comments (1)

Turning the Tables

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

Posted by Observer at 03:18 PM | Comments (5)

Down Time

I'm in a little lull right now, school-wise. No exams coming up any time soon, no committees beating me down, etc. So I'm spending a lot of spare time reading. I've really torn through the Black Company series in just a few weeks. I'm halfway done with the ninth book ("Water Sleeps"). I'm happy to say that although the first book of Glittering Stone (which is the 7th book of the whole Black Company series, "Bleak Seasons") was fairly awful, I really thought the second ("She Is the Darkness") was a big improvement. Much more like the first few books, though I think he'd have a hard time getting all the way back up to that level.

I also started playing Heroes III again. I know Heroes IV is out, but I am always about two years behind the times as far as computer games go. I don't keep up with the newest stuff, mainly because of the price. Maybe in a few years when we upgrade again, I'll have a Heroes IV capable machine (not to mention Warcraft III), and then I'll buy Heroes IV for about 10 bucks. Heroes III is a lot of fun but really engrossing and time-consuming. I get whacked a lot by my sweetie for neglecting her when I'm deep into a campaign.

But it is nice to play a game that you can pause/quit at anytime, unlike Clan Lord. And nice to play a game where you control the pace of what happens and don't have to rely on recruiting or hoping an adventure organizer picks you from the crowd. And of course, Heroes III is a very different challenge. I've always liked turn-based strategy games over real-time games (like Civilization over Warcraft, for example). Optimizing my strategies for endless hours is fun for some reason.

When I get time off in May while the kids are still in school and my sweetie is at work, I'll probably give a different kind of character another go in Diablo II. All I've ever played on either version of Diablo is a Paladin (fancy that!), and I think I would like to see how other kinds of characters play. Not sure I want a magic user, just because keeping up with mana is annoying. Maybe a barbarian this time. Hmmm...

Sorry, I know video game talk is boring as all hell unless you are a guy who happens to play the same games. Oh well, you get what you pay for in blogs.

Posted by Observer at 06:56 AM | Comments (7)