May 31, 2003

Another Book Report

Well, I finally finished that David Wells' book about his life (so far) in baseball. It was probably about twice as long as it needed to be, but I guess the guy has spent so much time half-paralyzed with back problems, he had a lot of time to write/dictate to his co-author. While I've been reading, the Rangers have lived down to my expectations, still struggling at a few games under .500. Argh, I miss seasons where my interest in baseball lasted past the end of May.

While Cody's pal was here for a sleepover, and the dogs were going nuts, and they kids were hyper, etc., I had occasion to stay up late and do a lot of reading, so I quickly finished off Al Franken's latest book, which is quite a poor effort. The hardback costs $20, and I swear I read the whole thing in 40 minutes. Big type, big margins, lots of blank pages, small book. What a joke.

There were maybe two page-long passages throughout the entire thing that made me crack a smile, but everything else was dreck. It's a semi-attempt at a humorous satire of self-help books, with some political commentary thrown in. One of the only highlights was making fun of the "pinpoint your goals and achieve them" advice. Al said this isn't a good idea for everyone. For example, Ken Lay pinpointed his goals to be ripping off his employees, stockholders and anyone else he could to become a billionaire, so maybe not everyone should try to achieve their goals.

Okay, kinda funny. Give me a 200-page book with several dozen riffs like that, and I'd say that's worth reading. Don't give me a padded 120-page book with one or two mildly amusing paragraphs. Oh well, that's what the library is for, right? I lost nothing on the book because I checked it out (and will return it on time ... this book isn't even worth the late fee I'd have to pay for one day).

Thinking about politics lately (surprise!), I was reminded of a couple of visionary fiction books that I really enjoyed by James Halperin. The better of the two (not by much) was "The Truth Machine" (the other is "The First Immortal"). It is a tale of a man who invents a completely 100% accurate, portable, lie detector.

All you have to do is look through a little device at someone while they are talking, and if they are lying at all, a little red light comes on. In this book, they are cheap, and they are everywhere, and they completely change society. This book is about those changes and some of the more interesting and unexpected effects of no one being able to lie effectively.

The other book by him talks about what society would be like if cryogenics works out (freezing people as they die in order to revive them centuries later when the appropriate nanoscale technology exists). Both are good reads.

Posted by Observer at 08:24 AM | Comments (2)

May 30, 2003

What Would It Take?

Well, I was wrong the other day when I said probably 50% of Americans believe we have found WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) in Iraq. According to Paul Krugman, it is only 41% who believe that (or who aren't sure). Thanks, liberal media!

I wonder these days ... just what would any senior member of this administration have to do in order to get impeached or forced to resign? Would they actually have to go out and physically shoot someone in the head with a (non-Fox) news camera rolling tape in closeup with sound and audio? What would it take for enough anger to arise in this country to demand a change in leadership?

How many more jobs lost? How much further into recession/depression? How many more special breaks for the wealthy and corporations? How many more businesses move offshore to stop paying taxes? How many more brazen lies to our collective faces? How many more embarrassing political stunts like the carrier landing? How many more abuses of power (will the abuse of the Homeland Security Dept. by the Republicans ever be a story)?

Bushco must be feeling pretty good right now, considering what they've gotten away with during the first part of their rule. They can pretty much say or do anything, and there's a core of solid supporters who just won't question it. There's a media that will present the "2+2=5" argument on any issue as if it is one aspect of many possible legitimate positions (any other position is thus defined as liberal).

What happened? How did we get to this awful point? The Democrats are now taking all the positions formerly held by conservatives, and the conservatives are going off the absolute deep end, almost as if they're trying to see just how far they can go. I'm going to get, what, a $1200 check from the government in September or something, and I'm depressed as all hell about the prospect of knowing that little bone they're throwing me is about 1% of what they're giving to the top 1% and the corporations.

Why isn't all of this on the front page instead of buried in liberal blogs and the occasional Krugman column? What's it going to take?

Posted by Observer at 12:00 PM | Comments (5)

Free Speech Zones

A guy named Brett Bursey was recently standing in a crowd of Republicans ready to greet President Bush when he got off a plane, but Bursey isn't a Republican. Instead, he was standing there peacefully, holding up a sign that said "no more war for oil". He was told he couldn't remain there, that he would have to go to the official protest zone, which was about a half-mile away, well beyond anywhere the president would see or go. He refused, and he was arrested (!).

The charges were dropped, but then reinstated by a Republican flunky (imagine the coincidence that a guy named Strom Thurmond, JUNIOR would be working for the federal government in a Republican administration!). The charges claim that the secret service has a right to remove anyone from an area if they feel he or she is a threat to the president, but it was clear that the only reason he was removed was because he wouldn't put his stupid sign down. Barney Frank (one of my favorites) helped write a letter to John Ashcroft (who will, I am sure, provide a sympathetic ear ... when hell freezes over).

Of course it is a primary duty of the Secret Service to protect the President, but there is no plausible argument that can be made that Mr. Bursey was threatening the President by holding a sign which the President found politically offensive. Mr. Bursey reports that he was told that he had to either put down his sign or leave the area ˝ in other words, it was not his presence in the area but his presence holding a sign that was expressing a political viewpoint critical of the President that caused his arrest. The fact that Mr. Bursey was told to go to the ýfree speech zoneţ demonstrates how mistaken the Justice DepartmentÝs position is in this regard.

As we read the First Amendment to the Constitution, the United States is a ýfree speech zoneţ. In the United States, free speech is the rule, not the exception, and citizensÝ rights to express it do not depend on their doing it in a way that the President finds politically amenable. It is extremely relevant that the State dropped the trespassing charges, and that the U.S. Attorney, Mr. Thurmond, then brought this serious charge.

Perhaps the problem was trying to convict Mr. Bursey of trespassing when he was standing on public property and doing nothing unlawful. But the StateÝs decision to drop the charge should have been a model for the federal government, rather than an occasion for the federal government instituting a serious criminal prosecution of an individual whose ýcrimeţ was engaging in free speech outside of what law enforcement officials decided was the appropriate ýzoneţ.

We ask that you make it clear that we have no interest as a government in ýzoningţ Constitutional freedoms, and that being politically annoying to the President of the United States is not a criminal offense. This prosecution smacks of the use of the Sedition Acts two hundred years ago to protect the President from political discomfort. It was wrong then and it is wrong now. We urge you to drop this prosecution based so clearly on the political views being expressed by the individual who is being prosecuted.

Those crazy liberals, thinking they have constitutional protections! Whatever happened to that whole conservative "strict constructionist" business, purporting to take the founders' original intent seriously in the constitution? Oh right, these guys aren't conservative. They're fucking nuts.

Posted by Observer at 07:18 AM | Comments (3)

May 29, 2003

Mock Interview

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

Posted by Observer at 06:59 AM | Comments (6)

May 28, 2003

Consider the Source

Though I was pretty confident we would eventually find some damaging evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) over in Iraq, I'm now starting to wonder. It's been seven weeks, and we've still found absolutely ZERO. Despite this, I've seen three front page stories in my newspaper claiming we found some, followed by page 17 retractions a day or two later. I bet if you took a poll now almost 50% would say they think we've found WMD.

I was confident not because of what the media was reporting or what Bushco was saying (ha!). I mean, just about every country with a big enough budget and a repressive government is going to have a stockpile of nasties (even if it is just mustard gas) in the Break Glass In Case Of Emergency locker. But maybe Saddam was smart enough and desperate enough to hang onto power that he really did destroy them (undoubtedly because we were getting belligerent). And if that's the case, should we get "credit" for it? Probably not, because we could never prove it.

What's galling about the WMD business is that our beloved media was reporting the existence of WMD's before the invasion as if it were a fact. Even when Bush directly lied to the nation in his State of the Union address about the aluminum tubes (which at the time, he knew they couldn't possibly be used in a WMD sense), the media pretty much continued treating the existence of WMD there as a given fact.

Who was their source? Well, aside from obviously biased people in the Pentagon, it turns out another source was the guy we were waiting to install as the ruler of Iraq, Ahmed Chalabi. Oh yeah, here's a disinterested, unbiased source for information about Iraq! An internal email in the NY Times was reported today with the following quote in a dispute between reporters over who had rights to a story:

"I've been covering Chalabi for about 10 years, and have done most of the stories about him for our paper, including the long takeout we recently did on him. He has provided most of the front page exclusives on WMD to our paper."

Of course, at the time of these stories, Chalabi was an unnamed source, done because naming him would pretty much destroy the credibility of the story. So why was the story even written? Did these reporters and their editors have any sense at all of journalistic responsibility and integrity? Did they feel any obligation to question the conservative Bushco line, to provide some very much needed perspective? Nope!

Thanks, liberal media!

Posted by Observer at 07:59 AM | Comments (3)

May 27, 2003

Birthday List

Two years ago on my birthday, I was having the time of my life with a bunch of friends from Clan Lord in town, including Kodo and Perkusi (hey, where's yer blog, Rich? Get with the program!), Polerand, Phineas, Shere Khan, Sareth, Aldernon and Kaitlyn (hmm, who am I forgetting?). We had commandeered one of our university's computer labs for a few days, and we ate, drank and made merry. What a blast. One of the best birthdays I've had in a long time.

Meanwhile, I was busy falling in love with Michelle, which turned out to be the biggest birthday present of my life. Every birthday since has been wonderful, surrounded by a great family. Life is so good, I get asked what I want for my birthday, and I haven't got a clue. I've got what I want for my birthday.

Posted by Observer at 07:05 AM | Comments (5)

May 26, 2003

Rationalization, Inc.

Well, the Yu-Gi-Oh experiment has been a smashing success. Ever since the day we got the cards and I spread them out on the table, Yu-Gi-Oh money-earning fever has been hot, especially in the boys. Every time they earn money for any chore, the first question is, "Can I buy a pack?" Cody has a big workbook on Animals (the kind you can buy at Sam's or Costco for $5), and I give him 25 cents per page completed, in order (otherwise, he'd skip through and do all the easy pages). I charge them $3 each for the packs, which is within 10 cents of what I ordered them for in bulk.

In the past couple of weeks, after having done very little while school is going on, Cody has worked in his room after bedtime (usually by his night light) and done about 60+ pages. All of it has gone toward buying Yu-Gi-Oh cards, and now he bombards us with all kinds of animal trivia (like that a hummingbird can beat its wings a thousand times a second, that sort of thing). He also cleaned the bathroom yesterday, a sparkling job worth another pack.

Justin has also earned money doing poop patrol (once a week, picking up all the dog poops in the backyard), dogsitting while we go out and other things (they all get $5 every Sunday if they clean and vacuum their rooms very thoroughly, much more thoroughly than just the nightly "pick everything up so it kinda looks neat" cleaning). Just about every dime has gone toward packs (though a little of it went toward batteries for his CD player ... that kid is definitely getting rechargeable batteries for his birthday next month).

Sarah hasn't really gone out of her way to earn extra money, but she has spent all that she has on Yu-Gi-Oh as well. I wouldn't have thought this before, but I have to say she is probably the most careful and instinctive duelist of all three kids. The only reason she doesn't beat the boys more often is that she just doesn't have the cards to do it. Cody and I still duel every night. Sarah and Justin duel me occasionally during the day, and now that school is about to get out, I'm sure that will increase.

And oh yes, I open the occasional pack to boost my deck as well. I've probably opened about a dozen or so out of the sixty packs we bought. Combined with the cards from my four starter decks, I have a nasty power deck (but I don't have a large enough sample of cards to build a good "theme" deck, like all insects, or all machines, or all dragons, etc).

Pardon me while I shift into rationalization overdrive.

So anyway, we're down to about eight packs out of the original sixty. We've pretty much got all the common and most of the rare cards in Series #1 (Blue Eyes White Dragon) and Series #4 (Pharoah's Servant). But there are still three more series out there (Metal Raiders, Magic Ruler, Labyrinth of Nightmare) and one more (Legacy of Darkness) to be released in June.

And all three kids have birthdays coming up. I had originally bought the first two boxes expecting them to last until their birthdays (May 30, June 23, June 30), but that's not happening. So ... I went ahead and ordered three more 24-pack booster boxes from the three sets we don't have. Yup, I'm an even bigger sucker now. About $400 poorer overall, not counting what we spent on those collector tins and starter decks for Xmas. They should arrive before Friday, which is Cody's birthday.

It's an evil, evil game. Truly.

Oh, did I mention my birthday is tomorrow? Yeah, well, so it's kind of like my birthday present, too? Right?

Posted by Observer at 09:51 AM | Comments (5)

Three Stars

We broke in the minivan this weekend, driving the whole family around to various places around town. The more I drive it, the more I like it. It's still like driving a boat, but it has great visibility, and it handles like a car. The kids were all very excited and bouncing around in all the new space, so that took a bit of stern lecturing by both of us. Everything (including the individual air vents) is a toy to be tested and played with, etc. Oh well, that will get old for them.

On the way home from swimming, we rented "Star Trek: Nemesis" and watched it for the first time. I haven't missed a movie in the Star Trek series (even the bad ones have good f/x and are a good time waster the first time ... though #5 was blech). This one probably ranks below "Wrath of Khan" (#2) and "Voyage Home" (#4), but it is in the mix of the good ones. The last couple of movies, though, felt like movie-length episodes (which is the intention, I imagine) and didn't advance the larger plot at all (well, ok, maybe a little bit in terms of some of the characters).

Ultimately, that's the problem with Star Trek that makes it unsatisfying. One can only stomach so many canned episodes with a happy ending back on the bridge laughing it up. After a while, you want to see character growth and development, something that makes the whole series worth watching, but you know they are purposely avoiding that so people can catch any episode at any time in syndication and it all makes sense. Babylon 5 went in the other direction, and I enjoyed that. I'd like to see a similar continuous story arc in a Star Trek series.

Posted by Observer at 07:08 AM | Comments (5)

May 25, 2003

Putting It in Perspective

We had our seven-game winning streak snapped last night at the hands of the Orioles, who beat up our bullpen pretty good. So we're at two games under .500. We're on the right track, but it *has* to continue. We're 4-1 so far in this 12 game stretch against Tampa Bay and Baltimore. That projects out to 10-2 or 9-3 (I'd prefer 10-2). That's what we need to get back into contention.

It starts by getting to .500, and we'll need another week of good baseball just to do that. The next step is to kick it to 5-10 games over .500, so even a losing streak doesn't get you down below that demoralizing threshold. Now, once you are comfortably over .500, get out your binoculars, because there are the red-hot Mariners (and probably the A's) way the hell out in front of you. If you want to contend, you're going to need a whole hell of a lot of 9-3 stretches. Even if you don't catch them, you may get a wild card.

The problem is, it's damned unlikely. The Rangers just aren't the kind of team that is going to consistently put together a bunch of 9-3 runs. Their pitching is still horrible. And Doug Glanville (the failed leadoff hitter/center fielder) and Chan Ho Park are coming back to the lineup to push out either old guys who are currently performing pretty well or young guys who need more playing time since we aren't going to contend anyway.

So I will enjoy the win streak while it lasts. Maybe if they finish off this couple of weeks 10-2, I'll even start to have fun hoping for a while. But I'm not going to kid myself. This is not our season, not with this pitching. We need to develop players and look to the future. Finishing above .500 would be nice, just because it gives us a stepping stone for next year, but we're still 2-3 years off anyway.

Today, just to rub in the abysmally stupid decision to sign Chan Ho Park, we get to face Rick Helling. He's one of my favorite all-time Ranger pitchers. He wasn't that good, but he was an inning-eating horse, and he'd be considered our ace if he weren't here. But instead, we let him go sign a free-agent deal for a few million while we got big stud Chan Ho Park for 5 years and $65 million. If we lose to him today, I wouldn't complain. It would be pretty funny if Chan Ho came back from the DL today, just to see the contrast between a pitcher and a stink bomb.

Posted by Observer at 09:08 AM | Comments (1)

When You Ride Alone...

In between all those posts in the comments debate yesterday, we went to the library, and I got a bunch more political books. I actually completely finished reading Bill Maher's "When You Ride Alone, You Ride with bin Laden" in about 2-3 hours between doing other things (it's a big oversized book to properly display a bunch of WW II era posters that have been modified to current times).

I wouldn't buy it, because it's just way too expensive for such a short book. But it was a very good read. Maher really rings true. He's really sarcastic and sometimes goes over the line, but he's also a grown-up about things. His perspective is not something you're going to find in Newsweek or the editorial page, which is a shame. It needs to be a part of the discussion.

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

May 24, 2003

Book Report

I just finished a couple of political books. I really like getting these from the library so I can read them while the topic is fresh, because they are super-expensive in hardback from the bookstore. The first was "Pigs at the Trough" by Arianna Huffington. It is a pretty short book (definitely not worth buying, though it isn't bad ... just not a lot of book for the buck) about corporate greed and corruption.

If you follow politics as closely as someone like me, there aren't too many surprises here. I guess it is a little shocking to see all at once just how much money some CEO's are paying themselves (like the guy from Tyco ... isn't 10 mansions and an island enough ... do you have to buy more?). Of course, all these greedy guys are Republicans, talking up the wonders of the free market while writing laws to guarantee sweetheart deals. Or they're like Cheney, who claimed in his debate that the government had nothing to do with his millionaire success while his company earned billions in government contracts and special legislative favors during his time as the well-connected CEO. They're all laughably delusional about their own greatness and their debt to society.

Anyway, the book isn't very well-written, though it is interesting. Huffington has always given me the creeps. I watched her occasionally on Bill Maher's old "Politically Incorrect", and she comes across as somewhat superficial and arrogant. She has that I'm-smarter-than-you-and-here's-proof attitude that is so annoying in so many pundits on both sides. She peppers the whole book with classical metaphors and cultural "touchpoints" that it is almost like she's saying, "See, this is what a good liberal arts education can do for you, look how smart and clever I am!" A few such clever things is ok, but every other page made it feel like she's was forcing the issue. Oh well.

The other book I read, and I know this is going to *shock* my three regular readers, is "What Liberal Media?" by Eric Alterman. Some of the content here is also in Huffington's book or "The Hunting of the President" by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons. This is a much better book, *very* thoroughly documented (the author is a real journalist, unlike so many political book authors) and authoritative.

Like a true liberal, Alterman occasionally tries to give the conservative side of this debate the benefit of the doubt. He looks for places where the media could arguably be liberally biased and comes up with some examples and arguments (especially on social issues like abortion). The rest of the book is quite damning of the whole conservative media establishment. For me, he is preaching to the choir for 250 pages, but he also offered up a few things I hadn't thought about along with some more detail on issues I was already familiar with.

Just the story of the coverage received by Gore vs Bush, which is thoroughly documented at websites like The Daily Howler, is mind-boggling. And very readable here. Just as a representative sample of the kind of crap thrown at Gore, read the history of the "I intented the Internet" media fiasco (about 1/4 of the way down, it starts on that page) from the Daily Howler. This is just one of dozens of examples served up by Alterman in his excellent book.

Now I'm in the middle of Yankee pitcher David Wells' "Perfect I'm Not", which is actually quite poorly written. So full of cliches and macho guy rah-rah talk. Blech. But is about baseball over the last ten years, and I'm familiar enough with the game to know about most of the stories he tells, so it is neat to hear them from a different persepctive. I just have to wade through his chest-thumping. That's what skimming is for, I guess.

Now that I think of it, this is similar to "Star Trek Memories" (and the sequel, "Star Trek Movie Memories") by William Shatner. Lots of really stupid prose in here, but buried inside are several absolute gems, stories that are a real pleasure to read and perspective you can't get anywhere else. Both books have the same ghost-writer/co-author, Chris Kretski. Not sure if he should get blame or credit.

Oh yeah, don't think I haven't noticed the Rangers lately. Good news for the Rangers means bad news for my readers ... more boring Rangers posts! Woo!

Posted by Observer at 08:13 AM | Comments (15)

The Republican Matrix

What is the Republican Matrix? It is a very, very funny new cartoon from Tom Tomorrow. Actually, the whole archive has lots of good ones. Go waste a few minutes with it.

Posted by Observer at 07:33 AM | Comments (0)

May 23, 2003

With Friends Like These

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

Posted by Observer at 06:57 AM | Comments (3)

Grade Changes

Speaking of changing the scores after the fact, the infamously incompetent Texas School Board is at it again. It seems that too many 3rd graders failed the TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge Skills) reading exam, so they lowered the bar needed to pass from 24 down to 20. Why? Federal funding, of course!

Security was tight when Texas State Board of Education members were given results last fall from a field trial of a new statewide achievement test. Guards stood outside their locked meeting room, and board members were asked to sign a secrecy pledge, reflecting the sensitivity of the situation.

"The results were grim," said Chase Untermeyer, a member. "Few students did well. Many students got almost no answers right." Fearing that thousands of students would fail the new test and be held back a grade, and that hundreds of schools could face penalties under the federal No Child Left Behind law, the board voted to reduce the number of questions that students must answer correctly to pass it, to 20 out of 36, from 24, for third-grade reading. ...

Under the law, states that fail to comply risk losing federal education money. Schools deemed failing several years in a row must offer tutoring to low-achieving students and, eventually, can be forced into complete reorganization. But the law leaves it up to the states to establish their own standards of success. ...

The 600-page law, Mr. Bush's basic education initiative, was passed with bipartisan backing four months after Sept. 11, 2001. Many prominent Democrats, however, have since withdrawn their support, including Representative Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, who recently described it as "a phony gimmick." "We were all suckered into it," Mr. Gephardt said. "It's a fraud."

Gee, thanks for the great leadership there, Mr. Majority Leader, or at least he was at the time.

In a report this month, the General Accounting Office estimated that states would have to spend $1.9 billion to $5.3 billion to develop and administer the new tests the law requires. State and federal officials disagree as to whether Congress has appropriated enough money to help the states meet those costs. Richard F. Elmore, an education professor at Harvard, writing in the spring issue of the newsletter Education Next, called the law "the single largest, and the single most damaging, expansion of federal power over the nation's education system in history."

Those damn government-expanding, states' rights denying Demo--oh, uh, wha? It's the Republicans who passed that? Oooooookay.

Texas's plans for compliance with the law are of special interest because Mr. Bush drew heavily on his record of raising test scores there to sell the federal law to Congress.

But experts have criticized the test used throughout Mr. Bush's governorship as too easy; far easier, for instance, than New York's Regents exam. Partly in response, Texas developed a new, more rigorous test, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. It fell to the Texas State Board last fall to decide how many questions students would have to answer correctly to pass it.

The stakes were high because starting this year, third graders must pass the test to advance to fourth grade and also because if thousands of students failed it, many schools might not meet the federal law's requirement of adequate yearly progress.

Actually, I'm not at all opposed to national standards in scientific education and literacy, kind of like Project 2061 proposes. I think the only way it's going to happen, though, is through a *massive* boost in the funding of our whole educational system. That's not going to happen with conservatives in charge of the government and the media, though.

For now, all there is to get out of this story is that it is yet another example of Bushco's empty, poorly thought out social programs. You can't blame them, though. I mean, their heart just isn't in it. You want smart, well-crafted legislation, you need a good lobbyist to write it for you (the lawmakers sure can't do it, unless they hire some super smart staffers). Teachers and kids don't have very good lobbyists, at least ones that conservatives will listen to.

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

May 22, 2003

Sign Here Please (Gulp)

Well, the minivan we were ogling the other day that Carfax thought had an odometer rollback ... we bought it anyway. Turns out the same dealership had the car the last time it was sold, so they had the records of the certification process. This guy showed me files from Honda's central service website that showed when the van went through certification before it was sold the last time, it was listed with 26k miles.

When the dealer listed the van to sell it on the internet, someone made a typo and claimed the miles were 46k. Then when the van was sold 10 days later, the miles were registered as 26k again. The Honda certification process supposedly checks for odometer rollbacks, so that's why it was so surprising this got through the system with that Carfax flag on it (Carfax bases its flagging on just reports of the mileage at different times).

I was initially skeptical, but the dealer convinced me. For good measure, I bought the additional 7-year/100k bumper-to-bumper warranty good from the date of purchase. That added about $1k to the price. The price before the tax, title, license, etc. was $19k, which is $3k below used car dealer retail for this model with these options, these miles, etc. (the Kelly Blue Book web site is useful here, and there are other places you can compare numbers). It was $1k above the KBB price you should expect from a private party.

It was also one of only 3-4 available (out of 21 listed in our region on the internet) with the options we wanted, and among those cars, it was about $2-3k lower than their average lsited price. We bargained it down $1k from the listed price of $20k. The dealer explained to me that the car had been on his lot for longer than a few weeks, which caused him to drop the price.

You can never be sure with a dealer or any car seller, I know, but with the big warranty, we have some peace of mind. I had financing arranged in advance, of course, so that was no problem. Insurance is now active on it, and we drove it home late in the afternoon today. The dealer owes us a detailing of the inside (which we will get next week) which will (we hope) get some small stains off the seats. The only drawback is this van will need new tires within 10k miles for sure, which is the lever I used to make the dealer drop his price $1k (well, actually $3k, but the first $2k drop was because we knew it was listed for only $20k on the internet, even if the sticker price said $22k).

Posted by Observer at 09:37 PM | Comments (5)

Hello! Please Hold!

Another visit to the doctor's office yesterday. I posted a brief update about it after I got home to say that all was well. Still, while we were at the doctor's office, I saw something I just had to blog about. We got there at 9am at the doctor's request, because she wanted to put Michelle on a fetal monitor. We didn't have an appointment, so we were the dreaded "fit-in" patients.

As an hour passed, we got bored, and Michelle started to notice something with the receptionist (who we find to be rather rude, but who knows what all she goes through every day). Every single time she answered the phone, she would say, "Hello, doctor's office, can you please hold?" She would then put down the phone for 1-3 minutes and then answer it.

It didn't matter if she was busy or not. It was just her standard practice. Sometimes she was in the middle of something, granted, but about half the time, she would put the patient on hold, put down the phone and go pour herself some coffee, or chat with her coworker about something (it wasn't medically related, we could hear her fine) or just sit waaaayyyy back in her seat and have a nice big stretch. Then she would pick up the phone with a perky, "May I help you?" Often times followed by "Hello? Hello? Is anyone there?"

Then the phone rang with a slightly different tone, and she picked it right up, interrupting what she was writing down for a patient, and said, "Hello, doctor's office, how can I help you?" It was the only time in the whole 90 minute wait that she didn't immediately put the person on hold. We figure it is a private line or a line from the hospital or something.

One time she put someone on hold and then sat back for a big stretch, she looked out from behind her glass and saw me looking at her. I gave her a big smile, and she looked really annoyed that I had busted her. I have a feeling there is a Good Reason for this practice, but it's really impossible to criticize them unless I've worked there for a few weeks and seen all the madness. I've certainly seen a lot of angry people snap at her for their appointments being delayed and so on.

Now that we have cell phones (I just got us signed up yesterday), I think the next time I go in, I will call the office number so I can get put on hold. Then I'll walk up to the window while she's chatting up her buddy and say, "Hi, excuse me, I'm on hold right now, do you think you could pick up?" I mean, I felt like I was in a Seinfeld episode in that place, so I might as well have fun.

Posted by Observer at 06:53 AM | Comments (10)

May 21, 2003

Healthy Profits Initiative

A while back, I posted a summary of the whole Healthy Forests Initiative whitewash that Bushco was trying to push on everyone. The way it works is simple. Buscho says they are trying to prevent forest fires. The bill itself actually *increases* the likelihood of forest-fires by allowing companies to harvest the biggest trees, which are one of the most important fire *prevention* devices in the forests.

Why would they do such a silly thing? If you have to ask, you should be embarrassed. It's because the big corporations who will profit by harvesting the most cost-effective trees are big Republican donors. The bill passed the House today. I wonder if it had anything to do with the resignation from the EPA of Christie Whitman, who (if she is a genuine environmentalist as she likes to claim) should have been embarrassed to work there from the very beginning.

Posted by Observer at 02:26 PM | Comments (3)

Business As Usual

Here's another GIGANTIC surprise. There's a coverup now at both the state and federal level of Homeland Security's role in locating the Killer D Democrats who went to Ardmore last week. The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) ordered all records pertaining to the case destroyed.

Republicans, of course, are not concerned. We have other things to focus on, right, guys? Let's not fight battles of the past. Let's move forward. At the federal level, Tom Ridge said he'd review the matter, but it isn't really appropriate to get Congress involved. After all, Homeland Security has their own Republican-appointed internal watchdog committee to look into it!

What the fuck happened to America?

Oops, sorry. I guess we liberals aren't supposed to get shrill. It makes everyone so uncomfortable. We're supposed to just shut our mouths and move on instead of acting like sore losers. We're not supposed to point out things like facts, logic and law. Holy crap, every fucking day I open the newspaper now, it feels like Florida all over again. Republicans are lying left and right, and the media just lets them brazen their way through everything.

Posted by Observer at 02:09 PM | Comments (3)

Obstetrics Update

We only had to wait an hour and a half this morning to get in and on the fetal monitor, and fortunately, the news was good. Contractions were not evident. The baby's heart is continuing to pump along just fine. Cervix is stable. We'll check back in a week. In the meantime, my sweetie is able to go back to work with the "take it easy and go home early" doctor's note.

Posted by Observer at 12:28 PM | Comments (0)

Know Your History

We have pretty much settled on a 2000 Honda Odyssey. They are in our price range (which is now a bit higher than we first thought, but the budget can handle it). So now it is a question of finding the right Odyssey with the right options, the right mileage, the right condition and the right price. I did some research online yesterday and found two cars locally that fit our criteria pretty well.

One potential was at Carmax, which is a giant used-car dealership with a no-haggle policy (but their no-haggle price was somewhat higher than I could bargain a dealer down to), non-commissioned salespeople, a warranty package you can buy for extra, etc. It seems like a pretty good place to buy a car, all things considered. The minivan they had only had 26k miles on it, which is pretty amazing for a three year old car. Unfortunately, it didn't have a few of the major options we want, and it was dinged up and stained a bit on the inside. It also pulled right noticeably on the test drive (granted, that's an easy one for them to fix).

Only one owner in its history. The price was at the absolute high end of our range. I said I'd think about it and compare it and get back to the guy. If it is sold out from under us, too bad. We are patient and are willing to wait for the right car to come along. In the entire region where we are looking, there are at least 3-4 Odysseys that would work for us that become available each week, so we have the upper hand if we are patient.

Potential #2 was at a Honda dealership, the same place we started our search. Actually, there were two potentials there, including a 1999 model, but I found out the '99 got sold last night. Doh. So I looked at a 2000 model, sticker of $22k, but I saw it priced on the internet at $20k. The salesguy went in and checked and sure enough, $20k. So I saved $2k worth of haggling just by being online. Sheesh. A little suspicious, there, but not a dealbreaker or anything for us.

It had exactly the options we wanted. But the tires were very worn, and the interior needed some detail work (just vacuuming, couple of stains to be removed, very small ding in the windshield). We are also not thrilled with white as the color (would prefer dark green or dark blue). So I got the dealer down to $19k, and I might have been able to get him lower. But given the typical prices I was seeing at places like Carmax and bluebook values I was seeing online and prices from Consumer Reports, it seemed like a good deal, at most a few hundred bucks away from the best I ever expected to get.

I just needed a car history, and as far as I was concerned, it was a done deal. 10 minutes later, the Sales Manager is showing me the history, in which Carfax detected a probable odometer rollback a couple of years ago when it passed through the hands of a dealer between its first and second owners (the fact that it had two owners in three years was also off-putting). Turns out it should have closer to 67k miles, not 47k, and if they rolled back the odometer, who knows what else is going on with it.

The manager was pretty mad about it, because he knows it'll cost him a lot of money. I'm surprised they even brought it in without doing a history check. In retrospect, I should've asked how it got through their vaunted certification process and got put on their lot with that kind of history, just so I could get more information about the dealer and his reliability, but to be honest, as soon as I saw the little red exclamation point and PROBABLE ODOMETER ROLLBACK on the listing, I completely lost interest in the car and was ready to walk out the door.

If we're lucky, maybe the manager will feel he has to make good with me and offer me somewhat of a nicer deal, but I won't hold my breath. We're now officially in waiting mode. I'll be watching the internet for something else to come up that fits our needs, etc., and we'll buy something when we find the car we want. The dealer has our number, but I'll probably know when something goes into his database before he calls anyway.

Posted by Observer at 07:01 AM | Comments (4)

May 20, 2003

Fair and Balanced

A common complaint that I hear about liberal columnists like Paul Krugman, Eric Alterman, Joe Conason, Molly Ivins, etc. is that they are overly partisan. They are just always attack-attack-attack, always talking like Bush can't do anything right, etc. I'm sure if I had a representative sample of readers, a lot of them would feel the same way about me always beating the liberal drum. Paul Krugman had a good response (archived on his own personal website at Princeton University) to this sort of question:

Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that the Bush administration was, in a fundamental way, being dishonest about its economic plans. Suppose that the numbers used to justify the tax cut were clearly bogus, and that the plan was in fact obviously a budget-buster. Suppose that the Social Security reform plan simply ignored the systemÝs existing obligations, and thus purported to offer something for nothing. Suppose that the Cheney energy report deliberately misstated the nature of the countryÝs actual energy problems, and used that misstatement to justify subsidies to the energy industry. ...

Suppose that as an economist able to do my own analysis, not obliged to rely on conflicting quotes from the usual suspects, I was in a position to spot right away that some of the stuff being peddled made no sense - and clued in enough to get hold of experts who could tell me what was wrong with the other stuff. Suppose that I had been repeatedly proved right in my critiques of the Bush administrationÝs assertions, even in cases where nobody else in the media was willing to take my criticisms seriously ˝ for example, suppose that, because I understand microeconomics a lot better than your average columnist, I realized that economists who said that CaliforniaÝs electricity crisis had a lot to do with market manipulation were probably right, more than a year before conventional wisdom was willing to contemplate the possibility.

In this hypothetical situation, what sort of columns should I have been writing? Does the ideal ofŢ ýnonpartisanshipţ mean that I should have mixed my critiques of Bush policies with praise, or with attacks on the hapless, ineffectual Democrats, just for the sake of perceived balance? Given what I knew to be the truth, would that even have been ethical?

If you look at the hypothetical he talks about, it's hard to argue. He was right about all the details of the tax plan. Hell, how could he not be, he was quoting all of the actual numbers from the actual bill itself. He was right about the deficit, which just takes simple math. He was right about California and Enron, and he was saying it publicly long before it became the accepted conventional wisdom.

Given that he is an economist and is writing about issues having to do with economics and government, what exactly should he be saying? Is the appearance of balance more important than being fundamentally honest and ethical?

It reminds me of the way conservatives want creationism to be taught side-by-side with evolution in science classes. Hey, both are just theories, so let's have some "balance" and let kids decide what they want to believe. It's just not valid. You can't say "you can believe 2+2 = 5 if you want to, but mathematicians generally accept that it is 4." That's educational abuse.

The demand that creationism or any other wild fallacy like Bush's economic numbers (tax cuts will create 1.4 million jobs, or the deficit will vanish, etc) be given serious side-by-side treatment with clearly evident facts and analysis is just ludicrous. It smacks of the kind of political correctness and appeasement of morons that conservatives are *supposed* to get all mad about.

If someone tells me 2+2 is 5, and I tell them they are wrong and there's no two ways about it. They respond by telling me I'm closed-minded and/or biased. Who is in the right here? Who is being ethical? Who is contributing to intelligent discourse?

I'm not saying all debates between liberals and conservatives are like this, not by a long shot. But it sometimes feels like it. If someone tells me Bush's tax cut is responsible, good for the economy and an important priority for America, they are just flat-out wrong without question. But the media covers it like both sides in the debate have a point, and that the real debate should be whether the tax cut is incredibly large or insanely large.

If we had a freakin' decent media, the three-inch headline in response to the latest round of tax cuts would be MORE BULLSHIT FROM BUSH with a little table below showing exactly how the middle class is getting screwed. Maybe the next day, we'd have POST-WAR IRAQ DETERIORATING, along with some helpful pre-war quotes about this subject from important leaders and tough follow-up questions asked repeatedly at (rare) press conferences.

Posted by Observer at 10:07 PM | Comments (0)

Adventures in Obstetrics

We had our usual appointment with the OB/Gyn yesterday, Dr. Bradford, at 930am. We mixed our signals as to where to meet before the appointment because I had to pick up Cody at school (he received his first-ever suspension yesterday for what we think was just horseplay, but one teacher says he was hitting some kid ... Cody has never gotten in trouble like this). That means we ended up about 10 minutes late, just a little stress to start a long, stressful day.

Last time we went two weeks ago, the doctor kept us waiting for about two hours due to being at the hospital for someone's labor. That's fine with us, but it would've been nice for them to tell us she wasn't even in the office when we arrived. Oh well, we got through that appointment two weeks ago and everything was fine.

This time, same deal. It was 1100 at least until we saw the doctor, and she was there. Just some people in front of us had real problems, I guess, including one person in labor. At least this time I remembered my book, because I had used up all the decent magazines in that (crowded) waiting room during our last visit.

When we went in, everything measured fine. The baby's heartbeat was a little hard to find, but it came through loud and clear at 140 or so. Michelle told the doctor she had been experiencing some bleeding after intercourse, more than just spotting, and the doctor stopped right down and started a bunch of testing to make sure everything was ok. Even though we have read a lot of stuff, we didn't think the bleeding was a huge deal (our mistake), but after reviewing everything last night in our pregnancy encyclopedia, we understand now why the doctor did what she did.

First, they put on a fetal monitor, which was difficult to keep in place correctly because the baby was moving around like crazy, even had the hiccups at one point. The doctor was saying she could hear the commotion in the next room. The baby's heartbeat looked fine, though the data was a little spotty. The monitor also revealed that Michelle was having mild contractions (that she couldn't feel), about 30 seconds long, regularly spaced at about 3 minutes apart.

Then we went to the sonogram room and got to look at the baby. The doctor was checking to make sure the placenta and the baby were ok, that there was plenty of fluid, etc. The baby measurements peg it at 32 weeks, except the head is big enough that it looks to be 34 weeks. We think we're about 32-33 weeks along (July 14 is the due date, 8 weeks away). The baby's weight right now is 5 pounds. Everything looked great there.

So we were relieved that the bleeding was probably just from something else, not directly related to the baby or placenta or anything. As the doctor put it, there is bleeding, but all the tests I am able to perform on the baby look very positive. But the doctor was worried about the contractions and wanted them to stop, so she sent us over to the Maternal Observation Unit in the hospital to get an injection (actually, she scheduled a set of three but didn't tell Michelle that) to stop things.

We're now almost three hours at the doctor's office, and poor Michelle is stressed out about her workday, and now the rug is pulled out from under us. Mister Suspended is still with us, too, periodically having to step out into the hallway during things like the cervical exam (which showed some effacement, but no dilation, which is apparently ok since Michelle has had three kids already, even though that last one was nine years ago). We're trying to figure out what to do about the kids, who will be coming home from school in a couple of hours (and we don't want to leave them totally alone). A couple of frantic phone calls, and we got hold of my mom, who offered to come down and watch the kids.

We got over to the hospital and got stuck in the waiting room because there were no beds available in maternal observation. Cody and I grabbed something at a nearby Burger King, and poor Michelle couldn't eat (even though I brought her some ice cream) because the nurses said to wait (and she hadn't eaten anything all day). An hour of waiting, and we're finally in.

The nurse first tried hydration, which meant drinking a couple of huge glasses of ice water, but that didn't stop the contractions. Meanwhile, I had gone to take Cody home and let Mom into the house and by the time I got back, they had just given Michelle her first injection. It was very painful and difficult for her, and the bed was very uncomfortable (plus she had been sitting on the doctor's exam table for an hour prior to that).

So I sat with her, and we tried to decipher the readout from the fetal monitor. We thought we knew what the contractions looked like, but then the nurse would come in and say, "No, there's a contraction here and here," but we thought most of them were just an indication of her moving around on the bed. Two hours and another shot later, the nurse was satisfied that the contractions had stopped, so Michelle was sent home with orders of bedrest through today and then another doctor's appointment first thing Wednesday morning to see if contractions have begun again.

I'm probably leaving out a lot of what happened yesterday, but those are the high points, and I figure my wife will go stir-crazy in bed anyway. So she's bound to come out onto the computer and add bits and pieces in her blog or my comments.

Posted by Observer at 08:13 AM | Comments (3)

May 19, 2003

A Bright Spot

Ok, so the Rangers swept the Yankees at New York during the weekend series (first time in franchise history, believe it or not). Three outstanding pitching performances, and our hitting is still doing just fine. John Thomson on Sunday pitched a complete game, allowing just one run. This is the guy we're paying about $1 million to fill a rotation slot for a year just to get a veteran warm body in there once in a while (meanwhile Chan Ho is struggling to stop sucking in the minors, and we're paying him $13 million/year for five years ... have I mentioned that before?).

Hank Blalock hit two bases-clearing doubles to key the first game victory, which was 8-5 in 12 innings. 6 of those 8 RBI belonged to those two Blalock hits. The Yanks ended up scoring a total of 10 runs in 30 innings, so our staff had an ERA this weekend of under 3.00 against the best-hitting team in the majors! I just got the autobiography of old Yankee pitcher David Wells from the library, and I'm looking forward to reading it sometime this week.

Well, that brings them up to 19-24, which is under 10 games out. And they've got two weeks coming up against two of the worst teams in the majors, the Orioles and Devil Rays. I had hope three weeks ago that they'd make some hay during their two weeks against Toronto and Cleveland, and they went 6-6 or 5-7. Now they're in position to do it again and climb back to respectability, but it'll require about a 10-2 or 9-3 streak to do so. And even to get here, they had to sweep the Yankees.

If they go 5-7 or 6-6 again for the next couple of weeks, you can include me out. I'll just hope the young pitchers keep improving, and Carl Everett keeps increasing his trade value. We're 2-3 years away from competing for anything unless there's some huge attitude change in the team regarding the way they approach the game (patience at the plate, take some walks, quit swinging for the fences every damn 3-0 and 3-1 count). Or we get an incredible lucky streak like Anaheim did last year (note how the same players have fallen back to Earth this year and are sucking again).

Posted by Observer at 06:55 AM | Comments (4)

May 18, 2003

Dungeon Master

I picked up Cody from his friend's house yesterday afternoon, and he immediately hit me with some Parenting Advice. It seems that at Samuel's house, they get all the snacks they want. At Samuel's house, they can stay up as late as they want as long as they're quiet. Oh, and it would be nice to be in a really big house like Samuel's house. At Samuel's house, they have lots of different kinds of cereal, and Samuel gets to have cereal whenever he wants as a snack, even in the middle of the night.

I cheerfully ignored his advice and hauled him back to our home, otherwise known as The Dungeon Where Life Sucks and Cody Has to Work His Fingers to the Bone All Day Every Day and We Have No Fun. Cody repeated his parenting advice to Michelle, in the hopes that it would stick with one of us, but no sale. We both explained to him about how rules change when friends are over, how the rules at Samuel's house have nothing to do with our choices, etc. Somehow, he wasn't convinced.

Sure enough, the 8pm to-your-room deadline came, and Cody was a crankbox. "I don't WANNA go to my room!" followed by, more quietly, "Umm, Doug, are you going to duel me tonight after bedtime?" Then, after duel time came snack time, and Cody got all cranky again because he wanted a big giant snack more like what he got at Samuel's house but all he got is his choice among the many standard snacks on The Dungeon's menu.

We let him settle down, then I went in and tried to explain to him why we don't spoil him rotten (long discussion). It came out that he's a little worried about how much attention we're going to be paying to the new baby when he comes (so there's another discussion). We also agreed that when he gets very little (or no) sleep, as was the case last night when he stayed up until dawn playing Sonic Adventure Battle 2 with Samuel (mind you, a game we let them borrow from our house that has been pretty much collecting dust in the six months since Xmas), he can get very cranky and say things he doesn't mean.

I told Cody the famous family legend known as the "Chilled Milk" story. Oh, you haven't heard it? Well, maybe later, I'm hungry for breakfast.

Posted by Observer at 08:19 AM | Comments (0)

May 17, 2003

Minivan Shopping

Our 8-year-old, Cody, was off spending the night at a friend's house last night, and our 13-year-old, Justin, was on a field trip and not due back until 11:30pm, so we took advantage last night and went car shopping. Thanks mostly to Consumer Reports, we decided to avoid the word-of-mouth recommendations of my mom and a friend of Michelle's at work, who both thought the Dodge Grand Caravan is great.

The Grand Caravan has more market share (like 15%) compared to the other vans, but it comes up short in reliability compared to a few others. Plus it is a little overpriced thanks to the high demand. Based on price and reliability and so forth, we narrowed it down to Hondy Odyssey, Toyota Sienna and Kia Sedona. I was originally thinking of spending $15k, but looking at the payments and so on, the credit union and I agree that we could do $20k if we want.

That means used (sorry, "pre-owned"). Like a 1999 or 2000 Odyssey. A 2000 or 2001 Sienna. A 2001 or 2002 Sedona. Each of these three has a basic and a luxury version, of course. So we first went to the Toyota dealership. They had the fourth string guy in, I think because most of the good salespeople must have been over at another dealership. This fourth stringer told me that most of their cars were at another place where they were having a combined sale with lots of dealers during the weekend (this place was an hour away, so we didn't bother).

Anyway, he showed us a Sienna so we could just see the inside and so on. It didn't look too good. Toyota's tend to look a little sparse. Not a lot of room in the back, and the seats aren't laid out well (hard to remove, too). Next we saw an Odyssey. Very nice. We even test drove this one, and it handled like a car, not a van. It was a 1999 model, and the guy was making noises like he'd sell it to us for under $18k total. Plus if you buy a used Honda from a dealer, you get a 12 month, 12000 mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.

We went to a Kia dealership after that and just about got slimed by a pair of rather high-pressure guys trying to talk us into a new Sedona. Just open one up so we can look inside, please? Thanks, now go away. I noticed on the sticker that all Kias come with a FREE TANK OF GAS! Woo! For freakin' $20k for a new Sedona, that had better be Premium Unleaded! What a bargain!

Well, the Sedona wasn't bad at all. It does have that high safety rating, which I read about (and the stupid salesguy must've repeated five times), and it is cheaper (I think if it were exactly the same car but a Honda, that would add about $2-3k to the price). We then went to another Toyota dealership to see if they had a better selection of used Sienna's to look at.

The salesguy there was trying to tell me about how wonderful the whole Toyota certification process is (165 point checklist!). I asked him about the warranty, and he said, "Oh well, you can't beat this ... 7 years, 100,000 miles on the powertrain!"

I said, "Uh, nothing bumper to bumper?"

He said, "No, but ..."

I said, "The Honda guy told me if we buy used from them, they'll give us a 12 month, 12,000 mile bumper-to-bumper in addition to the 7/100k powertrain."

He made a funny noise and gave me a failed-laugh.

I think the worst part of going to all these dealerships is trying to leave gracefully. The salesguys just DO NOT want you to leave. They try every last-ditch trick in the book sometimes to get you to stick around. Just by saying, "Ok, honey, we have to move on to the next place," I was suddenly getting $1-2k off the sticker price in a couple of places.

No, no thanks, really, we are just looking at different models right now, we aren't buying. No, we don't know our price range yet, we're still thinking. No, I don't have a monthly payment in mind. Can I have a business card? Give me a card, you twit, so you can get some small face-saving victory as I walk out the door, because you weren't going to win this one from the start. Argh, let me go without me having to be rude. I can see why people prefer the Saturn or CarMax type lots where there is no negotiation, no commissions, etc.

Right now, the Odyssey is our top choice, I think, followed by the Sedona, followed by the Sienna. We're going to have a friend of the family who is a car broker do some looking around for us. I was surprised at how few used cars the new car dealers had. We didn't want to shop at a used car lot, but we may end up having to go to one if we are pointed there by the broker.

We'd prefer one coming off a three year lease, rather than one that was simply used. My thinking is that sometimes people have good or bad reasons to trade in or sell a used car. With a lease car, they've got to turn it in no matter if they like it or not (they are unlikely to purchase it after the lease because they'd get charged way too much), so we're more likely to get a car that someone was reluctant to part with. Oh well, we will see what turns up.

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

May 16, 2003

Fading Hope

Over the years, I've discovered that the half-life of my interest in Ranger baseball is about 5 games out of first place. Right now, they are eight games out, and that doesn't factor in all the games in their most recent sweep at the hands of the BoSox. So that puts my interest level at about 33% of maximum.

I mean, there are bright spots. Rookie Hank Blalock is just knocking the cover off the ball. Last I checked, he is in the top five in the league in hitting (on-base plus slugging percentage, which is the most accurate indicator of productivity ... not batting average or RBI totals or whatever). So he should be a fixture at third base for seasons to come. Meanwhile, ARod continues to rock, also in the top five.

Our second baseman, Michael Young, has really impressed on both offense and defense. He is also a relative youngster, so we should have him cheap for a few years to come. Over at first base, Raffy Palmeiro (who just hit his 500th, and if my interest in the Rangers were much higher, I could tell you a very long story about all his at bats between #499 and #500) is on a slow decline, but I think he could still be productive as a partial designated hitter, partial first baseman for a couple more years. And he's a sentimental favorite.

Meanwhile, if our other very promising third base prospect, Mark Texeira, starts hitting to his vast potential and makes the transition over to first base... Let's just say that offensively and defensively, we look to have the best infield in the American League except for (maybe) the Yankees, of course. And that's for seasons to come.

The other huge bright spot on the team this season has been Carl Everett, who has been rediscovered as an incredibly productive leadoff hitter, something we have *never* had. He's leading the league in hitting and keeping his on-base way up there (while also leading the league in homers). But, as I've said before, this is his contract year, and he'll be WAY too expensive to keep. Not when we need pitching so badly. The f'ing Yankees will probably sign him. Dammit.

With any luck, he'll stay hot until the All-Star break, then we can trade him at the trading deadline for pitching prospects to some team that is in the hunt. I don't know if he has a no-trade clause or what. Probably does, the bastard. So that's only a very qualified bright spot.

Pitching-wise, the only thing we have going is our closer, Urbina, who is just fine. A couple of the young guys may be on their way to being productive 3rd or 4th starters, but we don't have any horses up front of the rotation. Chan Ho Park is trying to recover from the sucks by pitching in AA ball, but he gave up 6 runs in 5 innings there, too. He's in the second year of a FIVE year, $65 million contract. What a freakin' beached whale. His rotten stink won't leave the ballpark for a decade.

My hope for this season is that at least two of our 3-4 young pitchers really grow so that we can use them as non-sucky starters for the next 4-5 years. I also hope a couple of names stick in the bullpen, but that's unlikely given our track record the last several years. And I hope we can make some good trades for pitching.

In the end, though, I am resigned to the fact that until there is a major philosophy change (teaching more patience to our hitters, but more importantly, getting some good pitchers in here and some good coaching in the minors for them) in the whole system, we're screwed. We need a vast empire of scouts like the Yankees have (we can afford it ... it's nickel and dime stuff compared to these huge wasted contracts, and it's a great investment in terms of payoff). We need a good general manager (the current one, John Hart, has been bad ... not abysmal, but not good). We have a good scouting/assistant GM in Grady Fuson, who built the young talent Oakland has these days (they're still pissed at us for stealing him with a pseudo-promotion and big raise).

Meanwhile, it is about 4 months until the start of the football season. Sigh, I guess I'll go play Heroes III some more.

Posted by Observer at 07:49 AM | Comments (1)

May 15, 2003

Dueling Yu-Gi-Oh's

So I got those Yu-Gi-Oh cards in the mail yesterday evening. I laid 'em out on the table, spreading out the 60 booster packs like a Las Vegas dealer would spread out a deck of cards. The kids went wild. Cody, who had just earned 15 bucks earlier in the day by helping me for about 3 hours with some outside chores, promptly spent it all on five packs. I charge $3/pack, which is slightly less than I bought them for and a *lot* less than the minimum $4 you would pay (plus tax) anywhere around here.

But still, Cody said, "3 bucks?!" as though that were a lot of money! I said, "You try finding 'em cheaper!" He nodded and agreed and then scrounged around in his room for another $3 in change to buy a sixth pack. Justin spent some of his field-trip money (he's going on a big trip to NASA-Houston tomorrow that lasts all day ... I'm getting up at 4am to take him to school so he can get on the bus), but I wouldn't allow him to spend all of it (he would've in a heartbeat). Sarah also spent most of her money to buy some packs.

I only opened four packs so far, and I got some good cards out of each one (I had better luck than the kids, but they got some good cards, too). I continue to duel with Cody every evening at his bedtime, and he's definitely getting better. But I'm still about 12-1 right now against him. He still needs to learn some good card combinations and how to play them, what to hold back, when to attack, etc. He played some great moves on me this evening, but I had the cards to beat him.

I actually spent about a half hour with him a few days ago helping him design his deck (he had a lot of dreck in there), so now our games are a lot more competitive. Justin will be next on the learning curve, I think. Sarah wants to play, too, but she can be very frustrating to play against. She just doesn't take anything seriously. But she wants to learn, so I will try to teach her to play well.

It is a measure of my progress in learning how to live with our lovable pugs that I have typed out this entire post with our cute little Isabella van Hooten sitting in my lap. She's got such big sad eyes and scritch-scritch-scritches so pathetically standing up on her hind legs when I am on the computer. I can't resist. She's got a cute little butt-wrinkle, too, when she's standing up. Now if only we could get her to stop barking non-stop when we have guests over at the house.

Posted by Observer at 09:54 PM | Comments (4)

The Hunt for Red November

Republicans are pretty desperate to get more "red" districts (i.e. Republican voting districts) for the Congressional race next November. But the "Killer D" Texas Democrats who are camped out in Oklahoma until a Thursday procedural deadline passes are standing firm. Hooray! Democrats with backbone!

Republicans have their panties in a huge wad, as is usual when they don't get 100% of what they want. Tom DeLay (the U. S. representative from a district near Houston) tried to pressure Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick (the state representative from Midland, over in oil country West Texas) to get the FBI or U. S. marshals involved to pull Texas Democrats back across the state line, in conjunction with Texas state troopers, who have published this helpful public notice:

The Texas Department of Public Safety is asking the public for assistance in locating 53 Texas legislators who have disappeared. Anyone who has information regarding the current whereabouts of the legislators listed below is asked to call 1-800-525-5555.

Under the Texas Constitution, the majority of members present in session in the House can vote to compel the presence of enough members to make a quorum. Members of the House did so this morning and directed the Sergeant-at-Arms of the House and the DPS to locate the absent members and bring them back to Austin.

Craddick showed that he has an ounce of sense, though, and decided that sending the proverbial "jackbooted thugs" storming into a Holiday Inn in Oklahoma in the name of Republicans in Texas probably wouldn't look good on TV to Joe Six-Pack. However, he wasn't averse to using our brand new Homeland Security Agency to track down the hiding place of the Democrats.

Yes, that's right. The giant, dangerous child of the Patriot Act, which everyone with sense opposes because of the potential for abuse by those in power ... well, it got abused (again). The agency was used to help track down one of the private planes of a fleeing Democratic representative. Anyone surprised? No? Ok, great, let's move on.

Back on the ground, El Paso police were involved in the pursuit Monday. Two officers went to the home of state Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, and quizzed the politician's 17-year-old daughter, asking whether her dad might be in Louisiana.

Pickett's wife, Denise, said she was shocked when she drove into her driveway and saw policemen walking out her front door. "They could have waited for me outside," said Denise Pickett. "I don't think they had any business asking a teen-age girl any questions. She was worried. She started thinking all sorts of things."

Carol Roark of Fort Worth, whose husband, Rep. Lon Burnam, is among the Texas Democrats holed up in Oklahoma, said she pulled into the driveway of her Fairmount-area home about 7:30 p.m. Monday and was confronted by two DPS officers. She said one of them, reading from a document, told her, "I'm here on the order of Tom Craddick to arrest Rep. Lon Burnam."

Roark said the troopers then gave her a toll-free phone number to call if she found her husband. "I just started laughing," she said. "I think it was a pretty silly use of tax dollars."

Not everybody found the police presence a nuisance. Dallas Mayor Laura Miller, whose husband, Rep. Steve Wolens, D-Dallas, is in Ardmore, said DPS officers camped outside her home Monday night. "I felt very safe last night because there were two DPS officers who slept in front of my home," Miller said. ...

State Rep. Craig Eiland, D-Galveston, said he believes that the dragnet went overboard when a Texas Ranger tried to find him Monday night at the neonatal unit of the Galveston hospital where his newborn twins are recovering -- in intensive care. Eiland said he called the agent on his cellphone and told him that DPS agents had already found him in Ardmore, Okla. -- where he and most of his fellow boycotters are in self-imposed exile.

"It's unnecessary, bordering on harassment," Eiland said. "Let the good guys go back to catching the bad guys and let the politicians deal with each other."

That's Texas Republicans for you ... staking out the neonatal ICU so they can ram redistricting orders from Tom DeLay down everyone's throats. How proud all Republicans must be. Late yesterday, Craddick gave up and adjourned the session thus cancelling the arrest order. With any luck, the districts will remain as they are. There was disagreement on the first try at the 10-year redrawing, and it was so bad that a 3-judge federal panel intervened to draw the districts we currently have (I admit I have no idea how fair they are, but most of the time, these panels have a very good track record of pissing off both sides equally).

Posted by Observer at 07:06 AM | Comments (7)

May 14, 2003

Source of the Problem

Paul Krugman on the origins of the present inescapable corporate media bias:

Through its policy decisions ˇ especially, though not only, decisions involving media regulation ˇ the U.S. government can reward media companies that please it, punish those that don't. This gives private networks an incentive to curry favor with those in power. Yet because the networks aren't government-owned, they aren't subject to the kind of scrutiny faced by the BBC, which must take care not to seem like a tool of the ruling party. So we shouldn't be surprised if America's "independent" television is far more deferential to those in power than the state-run systems in Britain. ...

A recent report by Stephen Labaton of The Times contained a nice illustration of the U.S. government's ability to reward media companies that do what it wants. The issue was a proposal by Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to relax regulations on media ownership. The proposal, formally presented yesterday, may be summarized as a plan to let the bigger fish eat more of the smaller fish. Big media companies will be allowed to have a larger share of the national market and own more TV stations in any given local market, and many restrictions on "cross-ownership" ˇ owning radio stations, TV stations and newspapers in the same local market ˇ will be lifted.

The plan's defects aside ˇ it will further reduce the diversity of news available to most people ˇ what struck me was the horse-trading involved. One media group wrote to Mr. Powell, dropping its opposition to part of his plan "in return for favorable commission action" on another matter. That was indiscreet, but you'd have to be very naďve not to imagine that there are a lot of implicit quid pro quos out there.

And the implicit trading surely extends to news content. Imagine a TV news executive considering whether to run a major story that might damage the Bush administration ˇ say, a follow-up on Senator Bob Graham's charge that a Congressional report on Sept. 11 has been kept classified because it would raise embarrassing questions about the administration's performance. Surely it would occur to that executive that the administration could punish any network running that story.

Meanwhile, both the formal rules and the codes of ethics that formerly prevented blatant partisanship are gone or ignored. Neil Cavuto of Fox News is an anchor, not a commentator. Yet after Baghdad's fall he told "those who opposed the liberation of Iraq" ˇ a large minority ˇ that "you were sickening then; you are sickening now." Fair and balanced.

We don't have censorship in this country; it's still possible to find different points of view. But we do have a system in which the major media companies have strong incentives to present the news in a way that pleases the party in power, and no incentive not to.

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

May 13, 2003

Molly on Doin's in Texas

Molly Ivins has a good summary of what's been going on during this legislative session in Texas, thanks to the Republicans:

They just went too far, that's all. This session of the legislature has been as brutal, callous and indifferent to the welfare of the weakest, the most frail, youngest and oldest Texans as it is possible to get. The level of pure meanness is stunning. They have just gone too damn far. ...

Most of us thought it was pretty funny when Rep. Debbie Riddle popped out with her now-classic statement: "Where did this idea come from that everybody deserves free education, free medical care, free whatever? It comes from Moscow, from Russia. It comes straight out of the pit of hell."

Amusing as that was, the House has been doing its dead-level best to destroy both public education and public health. They've taken 250,000 poor children off the Children's Health Insurance Program, and the schools are in dire straits. As the Austin American-Statesman pointed out in an editorial, these same fine thinkers did manage to find $10 million to appropriate for cow research and $300 million for Gov. Perry to woo companies to Texas. ...

I think a special salute for clear thinking should go to the House for its amazing decision to cut the program that pays for medications for mentally ill people who are out of prison on probation or parole. Is this brilliant? Now these people will be wandering around the state without their meds.

The latest flap is over a congressional redistricting map that is so bad it's actually funny. ... That was the proverbial straw for the Democrats, 53 of whom left the state or went into hiding Sunday to break the quorum, thus bringing legislative business to a halt. They've already been dubbed the Killer D's, after the tradition of the Killer Bees in 1979. Believe me, stopping the legislature from functioning at this point is high public service.

Speaker Craddick called it a "stunt." The R's have been pulling stunts every day of this session, and don't write it off as payback for heavy-handed Democratic rule. Speaker Pete Laney ran a fair House, and everyone knew it -- these people are disgracing themselves and the state.

The way things got to such a sorry pass is that the R's have been running on rote, lockstep voting. No Democratic amendment gets considered on its merits, no matter how sensible it is. Shell bills get introduced, and then whole sections are amended on the floor, in a parody of legislative process. Much time has been spent on gay-bashing and trying to take away abortions rights. I'm starting to think right-wing Republicans all have an unhealthy fixation on sexual behavior.

The choices on how to spend money couldn't possibly make Republican "values" any clearer. We can spend money on corporate welfare, but not on people's welfare. We can't cover health insurance for our teachers, but we must have brush control.

The creepy thing about the far-right Republicans, who are definitely in the majority in the House, is not that they are dismantling government because they won't raise taxes, they're dismantling government because they think it shouldn't help people. They really think health and human services should not be provided. It's an old line among liberals that anti-choice people care more about the unborn than they do about the born, but I'm telling you that it's not just some clever line -- these people are writing it into the state budget.

Posted by Observer at 12:35 PM | Comments (5)

Fun in Texas Politics

In a last ditch effort to make a stand against Tom DeLay's efforts to redistrict the Democratic party out of existence in Texas, Democrats have walked out to prevent a quorum from being attained in the legislature. Thus, no vote can be held on the plan which Texas Republicans are not interested in negotiating.

They are currently "hiding out" at a Holiday Inn in Ardmore, Oklahoma, just across the border. I'm personally a little worried about what the Republican-controlled state of Oklahoma will do. I'd prefer the Democrats hide in the more Democratic state of New Mexico, even though it is further away from the state capitol. New Mexico's attorney general had the quote of the day. She was asked by Texas Republicans to arrest and return the Democrats to Austin so they could attain their quorum.

The governor's office, saying it was acting at the request of the speaker, made inquiries about the possibility of making an arrest in New Mexico. But Texas was rebuffed, first in jest and then seriously, by New Mexico's Democratic attorney general, Patricia Madrid.

She joked that police were "on the lookout for politicians in favor of health care for the needy and against tax cuts for the wealthy." Madrid then called the flap "an internal political matter to be handled by Texas government officials."

Our own local paper splashed "Renegade Democrats" across the front page. I can't wait to see the horrified reaction by the librul media around the country at more Democratic "obstructionism". I'm surprised by the Democrats in the Senate and now in my home state of Texas finally showing the backbone to stand up against the party that lost the 2000 election.

How about the "shoe on the other foot" test? Would I support Republicans using minority powers to filibuster things in the Senate and screw up things in the state legislature using procedural tricks? Sure. The founding fathers recognized that the minority party had to have *some* tools at its disposal for a variety of very good reasons, and so far, it has worked fine. It leads to some unfair stuff, sure, but I'm all for the gears of government to grind along very slowly. So give me another helping of checks and balances, please, and not just when Republicans are in charge.

Posted by Observer at 09:01 AM | Comments (4)

May 12, 2003

Me <== Sucker

Ok, so ... um ... I bought a Yu-Gi-Oh starter deck. I mean, I need it to play against the kids so I don't keep getting their cards mixed up. And I, uh, also bought two boxes of booster packs via the internet. Don't ask how much they cost. Honest, they're for the kids. I will sell them to the kids for a lot cheaper than they'd pay at the local rip-off card store. I really do think they'll be an effective way to get the kids to do chores and earn money around the house.

Now, there's 60 booster packs there. They probably won't need all 60. And if I'm going to be competitive, I'm going to have to open a few of those myself to bolster my deck. Oh, did I mention that some cards can only be found in starter decks, and there are four different starter decks? Hmmm, I may have to go get a few more starter decks. I mean, they all have their own different starter decks, and some of them have really great cards that would work extremely well with the deck I'd like to design.

And that 60 packs won't last all summer, and there are four more sets of cards that we'd need to get to have some of the other great cards.

Oh dear.

Posted by Observer at 07:04 AM | Comments (8)

May 11, 2003

The Great Outdoors

The boys (8-year-old Cody and 13-year-old Justin) went semi-camping with my mom on Friday night. I followed my mom and stepdad in their minivan. They brought another boy related to the family on my stepdad's side, Collin, who is 10. So we are trucked out about an hour outside of town to a little piece of property owned by an oil and gas company. They lease it out to hunters, and so my stepdad and some friends have pitched in to build a little cabin there next to a pond.

During deer season, my brother and my stepdad go out there a lot to hunt, fish and relax. This was the boys' first real "camping" adventure, and they were excited, especially Justin. When told beforehand that we were going to fish, Cody announced that he doesn't fish. Ok fine, but of course as soon as he got a pole in his hand and saw that the fish in the little pond were biting, he was having a blast. Those poor fish must've been starving. I swear we caught the same four or five fish about five times each just using lures (instead of live bait).

After fishing, we built a fire (Cody was very enthusiastic about this and moped off for a while after being told to stop throwing stuff into the fire). Justin and Collin roasted hot dogs for all of us, and it was decently cool with a breeze (but sticky with high humidity). We were all completely doused in multiple layers of insect repellent, what with this being tick season and all. That paid off, as we had no incidents on the insect front.

As it got dark, we lit some propane lanterns. Cody went inside the cabin and came back out, "Where's the switch?" I laughed and told him to ask my stepdad, who told Cody, "It's in the bathroom." Of course, this is a one-room cabin about 500 square feet with no electricity, just some windows, etc. The bathroom is the nearest tree. Well, after some thinking, Cody decided that he liked the idea of going around and marking his territory, so he had a grand time peeing on all the trees around the cabin (discreetly, of course).

We cleaned up from supper and then the boys went into the cabin for a few spirited games of Rules Lawyer -- uh, I mean Yu-Gi-Oh. Collin had brought his cards, too, as well as his GameBoy Advance with a Yu-Gi-Oh dueling game on it. We had to shut the door to stifle all the "You cheated!" "No you can't summon that, too!" "No, you can't play that, it's my turn!" "Oh man, you are so dead now." "No, you have to tribute that card with two cards, you can't just put it on the field." On and on and on.

Meanwhile on the porch, I got to catch up with my mom and stepdad. I remember telling my mom to check the minivan doors because I thought some lights were on in there. I had this nightmare vision of them waking up in the morning with a dead battery. The boys kept going in and out of the van, and they didn't shut the doors properly.

Around 930 or so, I headed back home and left the boys and their grandparents on their own. I couldn't stand to be away from my sweetie, plus I didn't want to sleep in that cabin with five other bodies crowding around, no bathroom, no air conditioning, etc. It got pretty stuffy in that cabin, I was told the next day, and they had to sleep with the door open. The boys had to be told a few times to shut up and go to sleep. My stepdad said what finally worked was the threat to make them sleep out on the porch (there were some very impressively sized bugs spotted there earlier).

In the morning, we had been planning on driving to meet everyone after my mom and stepdad had taken them home. Then we'd all go out to lunch, etc. But my mom called me on her cell phone to explain the minivan's battery was dead. "You were right!" was the first thing she said. So I hopped in the car and went out there with some jumper cables. Even if I had known the night before that I would have to drive back out to the campsite the next day, I still wouldn't have changed my mind about going home!

I brought the boys straight home so they could shower and get out of their clothes, etc. They crashed for a while. I'm sure today once he fully recovers, Justin will be talking my ear off about catching all those fish. And they don't know it yet, but it has been a week since they got busted for being out of bounds on their bikes, so we'll give them their bikes back today and hope for the best.

Posted by Observer at 07:55 AM | Comments (0)

May 10, 2003

So Close and Yet So Far

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

Posted by Observer at 08:06 AM | Comments (0)

May 09, 2003

Sound Familiar?

Thanks to Media Horse, from whom I am shamelessly stealing this today. Check out this AP story from a couple years back:

State-run media have inundated viewers with scenes of Putin flying into Chechnya on a fighter jet, downhill skiing with his two teen-age daughters, praying at Russian Orthodox church services.

The images mask Putin's limited political or economic experience, which could proving bruising in a country as troubled as Russia.

``I don't know Putin at all,'' said Larisa Savchuk, a 76-year-old retired kindergarten teacher. Yet she voted for him anyway Sunday, saying she hoped he would continue democratic reforms.

From another article:

Russian voters could soon tire of watching Putin ýplay the presidentţ by riding in a fighter jet or launching an intercontinental ballistic missiles from a nuclear submarine, and demand ýactions of a presidentţ that would address their daily concerns.

And this:

Russian voters were treated to two telling images in the last week before their second-ever presidential elections.

Image No. 1: Acting President Vladimir Putin dominates the news on Monday, making an unannounced trip to war-torn Chechnya by SU-27 fighter jet. The usually staid Mr. Putin cut a dashing figure, climbing out of the aircraft in a bomber jacket and pilot's mask. One news agency reported he took the controls during the flight.

Image No. 2: Desperate for exposure, several of Putin's rivals in the presidential race appeared as contestants this past weekend on Russia's equivalent of "Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?"

And finally this:

Russian Acting President Vladimir Putin took a flight in a fighter jet to Chechnya on Monday, using the extraordinary trip to boost his image as a tough and decisive leader ahead of a presidential election.

Putin already has a strong lead in opinion polls ahead of the March 26 vote and has used such image-building stunts before. The visit to the war-torn region was itself unexpected and had not been previously announced.

Video footage of the 47-year-old acting president sitting at the controls of the jet in the co-pilot's seat and climbing energetically from the cockpit were shown on all Russia's main television stations, dominating the afternoon news programme.

"It's a good machine, beautiful, high-powered and very obedient," Putin told NTV commercial as he stood on the runway after leaving the jet, one of a type which has been used against rebels during Russia's six-month-old offensive in Chechnya.

He wore a bomber jacket and pilot's mask and Itar-Tass news agency said Putin even flew the jet himself during the trip.

I guess if it is good enough for politicians in Mother Russia, it is good enough for us!

Posted by Observer at 06:24 AM | Comments (1)

May 08, 2003

Too Little, Too Late

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

Posted by Observer at 06:56 AM | Comments (1)

May 07, 2003

Backsliding

Very frustrating times right now with the Rangers. They really took the momentum from the split with BOS/NYY and won two straight in Toronto, convincingly. I thought they had turned the corner, but then they lost a very close one to miss out on the sweep, and that seemed to drain the life out of the ballclub. I mean, it doesn't help that one of our best starters is hurt and we have all these unproven kids getting their major league starting tryouts (which is fine by me, because realistically, we have no chance this season, so let's see if one of these young pitchers can stick around so we can have some cheap pitching talent before he becomes a free agent). So I shouldn't blame it all on some impossible to measure "attitude" of the team.

Anyway, we have lost four of five now against very mediocre TOR and CLE teams (both well below .500, even worse than Texas). Tonight was embarrassing. Shellacked for 15 runs. Yeah, I know Toronto has now won five straight, including a sweep of the Angels, but they're still Toronto. Sorry. Hitting-wise, we're doing ok, even improving over time (part of that is we are facing weaker staffs than the AL West brings, but part is just hitting better and smarter like against New York). Pitching-wise, we're going a little bit in the wrong direction (ERA still under six, but we're now in last place there).

Our failed leadoff hitter, Doug Glanville, is still on the DL (disabled list), but he's coming back soon (ugh). Meanwhile, the Oakland A kid (Ryan Christenson) we tried there just didn't show patience and didn't hit well. So for now, I like the fact that Buck Showalter stuck hot-hitting and decently fast Carl Everett at the top of the lineup (on-base of .393 and led off tonight's game with a walk, hooray!). He's getting on base a lot now, and that's helping our offense. When he (inevitably?) cools off, maybe Christenson will be ready for another shot. I just hope we don't waste any more time with Glanville. He's serviceable, but he is not going to be playing for the next competitive Rangers club, so why bother with him?

We've got five more games against TOR/CLE at home this week. We need to win four of them. It only gets tougher after this. If we keep stumbling around this week, I'm afraid we'll never get back to .500 baseball this season. As I post this, we're ahead in the game 5-3, but Michael Young just swung at ball four (which was WAY high) and popped out, and a walk would've loaded 'em up for Carl Everett. Argh.

Posted by Observer at 09:15 PM | Comments (7)

Maybe It's Got Legs Now

Bush's stupid stunt on the aircraft carrier may backfire if it ends up bringing his AWOL guard stint back as a news story (in my dreams). You may get the impression from listening to the "liberal media" now that it is an old story, old news, beaten to death, nothing to it, etc., but actually, it is a relevant story that was never given significant coverage during the campaign.

The Daily Howler is quite exhaustive (as usual) with its treatment of the history of this story's appearance in the media both then and now. As usual, if you care enough and are willing to risk tired-head to actually peruse the voluminous evidence, it's pretty easy to uncover the truth about the whole "liberal media" bullshit.

A columnist in the Chicago Tribune also has some commentary on the story, the Tribune being one of the few papers that has even mentioned this whole thing (apologies for the length of the quote):

The short version: In May 1968 the silver-spoon son of a U.S. congressman jumped to the top of a long waiting list despite mediocre scores on his pilot-aptitude test and was allowed to enlist in the Guard, a common way to avoid being drafted into combat in Vietnam.

In May 1972 he sought a transfer from Houston, where he flew F-102s on weekends, to a unit in Montgomery, Ala. There, he worked on the U.S. Senate campaign of a friend of his father's and, records indicate, blew off his military obligations.

Bush failed to take his annual flight physical in 1972 so Guard officials grounded him, the story went. He never flew again and received an early discharge to go to graduate school. His final officer-efficiency report from May 1973 noted only that supervisors hadn't seen him or heard from him.

Bush's campaign biography obscured or misrepresented these details. In the summer and fall of 2000, his spokesmen offered various and evolving explanations for what Democrats said represented a far bigger "character issue" than any of the windy exaggerations of their candidate, Vice President Al Gore. ...

Yes, but like Bush at the end of his hitch, it didn't fly. A search of all news publications and programs archived in the LexisNexis database for the last seven months of the 2000 campaign found 114 stories referencing Bush, the Texas Air National Guard and Alabama. Over that same span, nearly 10 times that many stories--1,076 to be exact--referenced Al Gore and the expression "invented the internet," an allusion to the bogus charge then haunting Gore that he had wildly inflated his role in the online revolution.

The "Bush AWOL?" story appeared in this newspaper and was based on good reporting and still-unanswered questions. It faded away--a scant 14 mentions in the database for all of 2001 and 2002 due to the age of the allegations, the lack of any new developments and the urgency of current events.

Last week, though, the president all but wore a "Kick Me!" sticker on the back of his flight suit when he decided to land on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in the co-pilot's seat of an S-3B Viking jet. Imagine the derisive merriment in the columns and on the chat shows if former President Bill Clinton revived the skirt-chasing issue by touring a sorority house or if Gore delivered a lecture to the engineers at Netscape Communications Corp. Think of the snickering and the sardonic rehash of history.

But for Bush in flyboy attire, a discreet silence. The only voices I encountered raising this issue were David Corn in the Nation; Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin, who asked, "Tell me if you ever heard of anybody with as powerful a resistance to shame as Bush"; and talk station WLS-AM's token progressives Nancy Skinner and Ski Anderson, who spent a full hour Sunday afternoon savoring the irony of it all.

There was no relentless examination of the damning timeline on cable news outlets, no interviewing the commanders who swear Bush didn't show up where he was supposed to, no sit-downs with the veterans who have offered still-unclaimed cash rewards to anyone who can prove that Bush did anything at all in the Guard during his last months before discharge.

So much for the cynical distortion that has become conventional wisdom in many circles. So much for the myth of the "liberal media."

I remember a few weeks ago, it was business as usual on the "Clinton News Network" as Candy Crowley (one of the ones who fucked over Gore with a barrage of negative reports as a member of Gore's press team - stories about "earth tones", "inventing the internet", "love story", etc) and some other anchor were joking around about putting all the Democratic candidates on playing cards just like they're doing for the Iraqi most-wanted. Ha ha, what a riot! What if they had come up with a deck with Bush as the ace of spades, Cheney, Rove, Fleischer, etc. as the other cards?

The "shoe on the other foot" analysis is useful these days. Whenever you encounter *any* story about a Democrat, imagine if the same story, the same tone, etc. were to be written about Bush. Imagine what the response would be from the likes of Fox, Rush, CNN's media guy Kurtz, etc. Similarly, whenever you encounter a story about Bush (i.e. the top gun story), imagine if Clinton or Gore did something similar, what would the coverage be like?

And it's not just a hypothetical either. You can directly contrast the behavior of the media on lies told by Clinton/Gore with lies told by Bushco. On decisions about war. On budget debates. On judicial nominations. On taxes. It's maddening, all this media bullshit. Just disgusting.

On the up side, I'm done with finals today and have the next three weeks off. So don't worry, I'm just venting. I'm all smiles about life, just not politics and the media.

Posted by Observer at 06:59 AM | Comments (3)

May 06, 2003

Honesty Is the Wrong Policy

Good column today in the NY Times by Nicholas Kristof about Bushco and dishonesty:

Consider the now-disproved claims by President Bush and Colin Powell that Iraq tried to buy uranium from Niger so it could build nuclear weapons. As Seymour Hersh noted in The New Yorker, the claims were based on documents that had been forged so amateurishly that they should never have been taken seriously.

I'm told by a person involved in the Niger caper that more than a year ago the vice president's office asked for an investigation of the uranium deal, so a former U.S. ambassador to Africa was dispatched to Niger. In February 2002, according to someone present at the meetings, that envoy reported to the C.I.A. and State Department that the information was unequivocally wrong and that the documents had been forged.

The envoy reported, for example, that a Niger minister whose signature was on one of the documents had in fact been out of office for more than a decade. In addition, the Niger mining program was structured so that the uranium diversion had been impossible. The envoy's debunking of the forgery was passed around the administration and seemed to be accepted ˇ except that President Bush and the State Department kept citing it anyway.

"It's disingenuous for the State Department people to say they were bamboozled because they knew about this for a year," one insider said.

Wait, no, it can't be. Bush was lying to our faces during the State of the Union address? During his staged and scripted press conference? Oh, it wasn't just Bush, it was the entire administration trying to manipulate and mislead about intelligence information. Whew. Ok. Well, it least it wasn't about a blow job!

Another example is the abuse of intelligence from Hussein Kamel, a son-in-law of Saddam Hussein and head of Iraq's biological weapons program until his defection in 1995. Top British and American officials kept citing information from Mr. Kamel as evidence of a huge secret Iraqi program, even though Mr. Kamel had actually emphasized that Iraq had mostly given up its W.M.D. program in the early 1990's. Glen Rangwala, a British Iraq expert, says the transcript of Mr. Kamel's debriefing was leaked because insiders resented the way politicians were misleading the public.

Patrick Lang, a former head of Middle Eastern affairs in the Defense Intelligence Agency, says that he hears from those still in the intelligence world that when experts wrote reports that were skeptical about Iraq's W.M.D., "they were encouraged to think it over again."

"In this administration, the pressure to get product `right' is coming out of O.S.D. [the Office of the Secretary of Defense]," Mr. Lang said. He added that intelligence experts had cautioned that Iraqis would not necessarily line up to cheer U.S. troops and that the Shiite clergy could be a problem. "The guys who tried to tell them that came to understand that this advice was not welcome," he said.

"The intelligence that our officials was given regarding W.M.D. was either defective or manipulated," Senator Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico noted. Another senator is even more blunt and, sadly, exactly right: "Intelligence was manipulated."

The C.I.A. was terribly damaged when William Casey, its director in the Reagan era, manipulated intelligence to exaggerate the Soviet threat in Central America to whip up support for Ronald Reagan's policies. Now something is again rotten in the state of Spookdom.

Why is anyone surprised that we are reliving the scandals from the Reagan administration? Hell, all the same people from back then are in charge again!

Posted by Observer at 08:28 AM | Comments (0)

Miles to Go

Welp, I finished the first two books of the Vorkosigan series, combined into the anthology "Cordelia's Honor", and they were pretty good. Looking forward to the rest. Very busy this week writing and grading final exams, answering emails, seeing students, etc.

I broke down and bought new glasses last week. My old ones were going on 6-7 years, and one lens kept popping out of the frame. I went swimming, and I had to have Justin dive down to the bottom of the pool to recover one of my lenses. So I got my new prescription (which is quite strong) and got new glasses a couple days later.

I'm still getting used to them. It almost seems like some things viewed at an indirect angle through my glasses are not quite in focus. I don't know if the glasses were made wrong or if I still need time to adjust to them.

Posted by Observer at 07:10 AM | Comments (3)

May 05, 2003

Busted

We got a babysitter for a few hours yesterday and went to the hospital to pre-register and see the whole maternity area. That was pretty neat. We know where to go now when the big moment comes, which is good because the hospital is a big complex. All is going well with Michelle's pregnancy, and we're going to see the doctor this morning.

When we got back yesterday, about half hour early, we were driving up a back street headed for home when I noticed a young kid on a bike. I said, "Hey, that looks like Justin." Two seconds later, here comes a smaller kid in a bright red shirt trying to catch up. I knew it was Justin (the 13-year-old) and Cody (the 8-year-old) then. They were "out of bounds", about a block beyond the area where they are allowed to ride their bikes, and they were headed outward, not back in.

I pulled up along side, kinda sneaking up from behind. I had to keep from laughing because I know we scared the hell out of them. They knew they were stone cold busted, and they couldn't say a thing. Well, Cody still give it a try. First words out of his mouth before we could even say anything (pointing at Justin): "He's the one who came this way. I tried to tell him to stop!"

Uh huh. So they lost their bikes for a while. Not sure how long since this is their first offense (with bikes). Justin has strayed beyond boundaries before, and he's been grounded for anywhere for a few days to a couple of weeks for it. Cody's been pretty good about that, so he'll probably get off with a lighter sentence in the long run.

The two boys are excited now because I told them I'm taking them out to my mother's (and stepfather's) cabin on a small fishing/hunting piece of land known as "the deer lease". I guess my stepfather leases a parcel of a larger property for the hunting/fishing/camping rights, etc. That's Friday, and they'll spend the night out there with my mom and stepdad. My stepdad's grandson is coming, too, and he's 10 and also a big Yu-Gi-Oh player.

Ever since I taught Cody the proper way to play and so on, the Yu-Gi-Oh virus has spread like mad to the other kids. They probably spent five hours of yesterday dueling in various pairings. And I got to listen to about five hours of rules lawyering (because I am the arbiter in an attempt to avoid fights and enforce good sportsmanship). Poor Sarah just can't duel well, but the boys usually help her out so she doesn't just got stomped. I still duel with Cody once every evening at his bedtime, and he's getting better. I helped him with his deck design, and it keeps getting tighter and tougher to beat.

Pretty soon, I'll have to buy my own cards instead of borrowing Justin's. I have to admit, I've been doing some price-shopping now. I may just shell out about $70 this week for a box of 24 booster packs. I'll take enough to build a good deck and then sell the rest to the kids at $3 a pop. I bet I can get them to do some chores pretty fast if I dangle a rare card or booster pack out as a prize.

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

May 04, 2003

Just Wondering.

If Bill Clinton had landed in a jet fighter on the deck of an aircraft carrier after we fired some cruise missiles into Baghdad or after we had successfully completed the "war" in Bosnia, would the "liberal media" have treated him as a conquering hero, talking about the magnificent stage, the brilliant symbolic gestures, etc.? Or would they have brought up the fact that he's just a cynical politician who dodged the draft, etc? I'm still wondering why the media has missed out on this most perfect opportunity to remind everyone about Bush's military record.

As it is, I feel lucky to find some buried news reports on the web (thanks BuzzFlash! ... there was certainly nothing in the newspaper) about the incredible lengths the Navy went to in order to accomodate Bush's political stunt:

Officials also acknowledged positioning the massive ship to provide the best TV angle for Bush's speech, with the vast sea as his background instead of the very visible San Diego coastline. Bush's aides were delighted by the saturation television coverage and front-page pictures of Bush's visit Thursday to this ship homebound from the Persian Gulf. Press secretary Ari Fleischer dismissed any suggestion that the overnight trip was custom-ordered to provide campaign footage for Bush's re-election campaign. ...

Fleischer had said last week that Bush would have to fly out to the carrier by plane because the Lincoln would be hundreds of miles offshore, making helicopter travel impractical. As it turned out, the ship was just 39 miles from the coast when Bush scored a presidential first by landing on the flight deck in a small S-3B Viking jet that was snared by a restraining wire. He climbed out of the cockpit wearing a flight suit and carrying a helmet under his arm, and was swarmed by crew members. The scene was captured on live television and replayed again and again. ...

Commanders gauged the wind and glided along at precisely that speed so that sea breezes would not blow across the ship during Bush's speech. That could create unwanted noise, Daniels said. When the wind shifted during the speech, the ship changed course to minimize the breeze, said Petty Officer 3rd Class Terrance Rice. The camera angle also was arranged by the White House to ensure it did not show the nearby coastline. A huge banner reading "Mission Accomplished" was strung along the bridge and loomed behind Bush.

The Navy sent all but a couple of fighter jets off the plane Wednesday and Thursday. Those left behind were left on the flight deck as props for Bush's speech. The 1,100-foot-long carrier steamed near the San Diego coast all night to come in at its appointed time Friday morning.

Who, me? Cynical? Naaaaah.

If there's any doubt that Bushco defines the boundaries of mainstream media debate, you need to look no further than coverage of the tax cut. The "liberal media" has defined a $350 billion tax cut as a "devasting political setback" for Bush. They are framing the debate as if the liberal end of the spectrum falls at a huge tax cut while Buscho is at $750 billion and "moderates" (in reality, between "cynically stupid" and "criminally awful") look to win with only a $550 billion tax cut. Ohio senator Voinovich is being portrayed as a brave champion for making a stand in the face of Bushco pressure and saying "not a penny more" than $350 billion! My hero! (?)

Oh well, at least they couldn't shut up the Dixie Chicks.

Posted by Observer at 07:47 AM | Comments (4)

May 03, 2003

Quote of the Day

From UPI:

Conservative author of "The Book of Virtues," Bill Bennett, concedes he has wagered millions of dollars in Las Vegas and Atlantic City casinos during the past decade but says it's not a moral problem, Newsweek Magazine reported Saturday.

Posted by Observer at 08:27 AM | Comments (7)

Little Pleasures

Every once in a while, I go crazy buying office supplies. I can't walk past an office supply aisle in any store without at least glancing around. I don't know what I'm looking for. Just something about all those brand new pens and pencils and pads and erasers, etc. I went to Wal-Mart and bought a bunch of new pens (click pens, not capped, because I lose the caps, and they write really smooth thick lines). Ball point only. Those gel pens make me feel like I'm scratching my fingers across a chalkboard. And the way I write (which is usually printing, not cursive), I pick up and put down the pen a lot, which leads to skips unless it is a good pen.

I have to buy a lot of red pens, obviously, and it is hard to find places that sell red in bulk. Usually you can only get them one at a time or as add-ons to sets of 10 black pens or something. I also really love mechanical pencils. I got some really thick ones with a rubberized grip (PhD model, and they make similar pens). They even have a twist-up eraser that lasts a hell of a lot longer than those dinky little things you find on most narrow mechanical pencils. But I got a couple of Clic erasers anyway because I love 'em. I ended up spending $40 of the University's money on writing supplies, which will lost about a year before I lose them, if I'm lucky.

I also like to have lots of little legal pads around the house for making lists, counting up coins from a CL hunt, doing a monthly budget, etc. I'm a legal pad maniac. I like to buy the bulk 12-packs at Sam's or Costco.

Posted by Observer at 07:57 AM | Comments (8)

May 02, 2003

Suckered In

I've started playing Cody in Yu-Gi-Oh duels every night at his bedtime lately. Many reasons. One is that I like those kinds of card games. Similar to Magic and also Illuminati: New World Order, both excellent and fun games. But very complex. Cody and Justin both have a truckload of cards from Xmas and other buying sprees with chore money, etc., but neither of them have the foggiest idea of how to play the game.

The rules are very poorly written (when I'm done writing this entry, I plan to hunt around for a better version online .. any suggestions?), and of course, virtually every good card has a rule change on it of some kind. I hate to see their mutual investment end up unused on the shelf (which it has been for a couple of months). I mean, about the only pleasure they get out of buying new cards is showing them off to friends at school (a couple of whom, I am convinced, have ripped Cody off in trades because he doesn't know the values of his various cards).

Anyway, I don't have cards of my own. I just borrow Justin's. Sarah even bought a deck of her own last week, but she hasn't played yet. I think she just didn't want to be left out. I can't imagine her mastering this game, but she is hooked on the show. From what little I have seen of the show, it is basically a bunch of incredibly overwrought dialogue, cut-rate animation and lots of duels. So you would think the kids would learn the basic rules from this, but no, they've basically been playing like a more advanced version of "battle", where they just lay down cards and the biggest attack points card wins.

I did some shopping around online for a good card store tonight where I could get some more booster packs at competitive prices. The local GameStop is pretty outrageous, and Wal-Mart has a few (including very good prices on the Joey and Pegasus starter decks, which are a fairly new product) things on sale, but their prices on booster packs are also pretty bad ($4 for 9 cards). I found on online source with free shipping that sells booster packs for about $3 each, and I haven't found anything better than that yet.

Oh yeah, the quality of the Yu-Gi-Oh cards is absolute crap. These things fray around the edges like nobody's business. A $2 deck of standard playing cards has more life to it. And in the hands of young boys, you can imagine how fast cards get torn up. Of course, we aren't going to sell them to a collector or anything, but it would be nice if they stayed usable for a few months.

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

Surprise, Another Lie

I saw that Bush was trying to show off his machismo yesterday by landing on an aircraft carrier. Of course, the initial story is that he was going to do a tailhook landing himself, and that was big news. The subsequent change in the story (that he was being flown, which I guess makes sense because his pilot's license got suspended after he didn't show up for duty at his cushy guard duty to defend Alabama from communists) didn't get very big coverage, which is the usual thing in the liberal media to leave a wrong impression. I was thinking, hey, if you've got such great pilot skills, why did you waste them going AWOL during Vietnam?

Excellent post recently in the New Republic online's blog. It seems that (SURPRISE!) the Bush administration has been publicly lying to our faces yet again. As usual, it is about something more serious than a blow job:

Macroeconomic Advisers [which makes economic forecasts using the same algorithms and assumptions as the Bush administration] has concluded that the administration's new tax cut proposal actually hurts the economy more than it helps, at least once you forecast out beyond 2007. And the reason for that, according to the company official Weisman talked to, is that the deficits created by the tax cut will have sufficiently driven up interest rates by 2007 to create a drag on the economy.

But, of course, the White House has spent months denying any meaningful relationship between deficits and interest rates. So now that ... we know its own internal forecast suggests the opposite, it's worth asking how the administration has managed to make this claim without appearing to contradict itself.

It turns out--surprise!--that the White House has simply been suppressing the information it doesn't find convenient. For example, consider [the report from the White House in pdf format linked on the TNR page] describing the macroeconomic effects of the tax cut, which the White House Council of Economic Advisers released in early February. According to the report, the tax cut would raise economic growth by an average of 0.2 percent per year between 2003 and 2007, and create an average of 140,000 new jobs each year during that period. But what happens after 2007? Oddly enough, the report doesn't say. Go figure.

These conclusions are based on a longer article by Jonathan Weisman in the Washington Post (not a front-page article, mind you, though some might consider this to be important, what with Bushco lying and the deficit spiraling and all that nonsense). Oh yeah, the US federal debt limit is about to be raised again. This time to $6.4 trillion (that $21k per person in the US). Thanks a lot, all you fiscal conservatives in Congress! You shouldn't have!

Posted by Observer at 07:03 AM | Comments (4)

May 01, 2003

Laugh or Cry

From the Daily Show's Jon Stewart:

The defeat of Saddam Hussein may just be an appetizer on a banquet of American whoopass. Though the United States military has digested and passed an entire middle eastern country, its maw hangs slack and drooling for more. Syria in particular has been the subject of much saber-rattling among the hawks in the Bush administration -- or, as they're collectively known ... the Bush administration.

There is also this, a debate between Bush the president and Bush the candidate. Too long to quote, but it is very effective. Candidate says America shouldn't go bossing around other countries, trying to export our way of life and our values, because that will only breed resentment around the world. Candidate Bush says America shouldn't be in the business of nation building, that we shouldn't use force where diplomacy will serve, etc.

Posted by Observer at 05:01 PM | Comments (1)

Willpower ... Fading!

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

Posted by Observer at 08:13 AM | Comments (4)

If You're Scoring At Home...

For the first 20 games of the season, the Rangers scored fewer than 10 runs in every game (no coincidence all of these were against teams in the AL West, which all have decent staffs, except for the Rangers of course). Now in four of the last six, they've scored more than 10. Everyone is hitting, and ARod is really tearing it up, now 12 for his last 17 (a .706 batting average if you are scoring at home ... or even if you're alone), which is nothing short of incredible.

Our leadoff hitters are still sucking. A guy we stole from Oakland because they are too damned rich with good young patient outfielders is Ryan Christenson, and he's taken over for our original sucky leadoff hitter, Doug Glanville, who is on the DL for at least a few more weeks (yay!). Unfortunately, Ryan isn't hitting like he oughta, and his on-base-percentage isn't a whole lot better than .300 (still a world better than Glanville, who swats at everything).

Crap, if we had a .400 OBP guy leading off with still-hot Blalock, Everett, ARod, Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez, we'd be scoring a truckload of runs all season. Three Rangers (ARod, Gonzalez and Everett) are tied with the Yankees' Soriano with the American League lead in home runs (9), and Blalock is pretty close to the lead in batting average at .388. They should have *him* hitting leadoff.

Tonight, we clouted 11 runs off hapless Toronto, and we're now just a game below .500! Woo, and we have two whole weeks against Toronto and Cleveland, so if we keep up the good play, we could come out a few games over .500 and be ... well ... not completely out of it (because by then Seattle or Oakland or both will probably be 8-10 games over).

You can tell it is going to be a long season for Toronto. Now that Canadian dollar night is over, the stands are empty. Last night, the Rangers received their first intentional walk of the season (this is done to set up a force-play in a close game, maybe a double-play on a ground ball, etc). I've never seen this before in a live game (seen it on highlights, of course), but the pitcher actually threw such a bad one that the catcher couldn't catch it even though he was *standing* a couple feet off the plate essentially playing catch with the pitcher. So our runner on second advanced and ended up scoring.

Cue the dugout camera, and it's always fun to watch a manager smolder. You can tell he's trying to invent to cuss words to yell at his players after the game. Usually that's our guy.

Posted by Observer at 06:52 AM | Comments (3)