June 30, 2003

Learning Experience

Ho ho, my browser tried to grab my whole post out from under me, but it doesn't know that I use Claris Works as my blog post buffer. Nyah!

We tried out our new barbecue grill yesterday afternoon. It's kind of a small square charcoal grill (my brother got it for us as a gift ... if I had bought one, it would be maybe twice as big and come with an attached surface or two). To prepare, I went out and got some supplies: a chimney, thick leather gloves, metal fork, spatula and tongs, and a meat thermometer. Oh, and some decent mosquito repellent. I also got a big bag of hardwood charcoal. The first experiment would be with baked potatoes and hot dogs.

The little chimney is a neat device (you can get 'em for about seven bucks). It's like a gigantic coffee cup with a grate about 1/4 of the way from the bottom. You put a couple of wadded up pieces of newspaper under the grate, and you pile the charcoal on top of the grate. The heat from the burning paper then efficiently channels up into the charcoal, supposedly lighting it without the need for lighter fluid.

Ehh, maybe not. It got some of the wood blackened, but it didn't really get it all the way going, so I had to rebuild the chimney with a few briquettes of Match Light charcoal (which I really don't like because everything ends up smelling like lighter fluid to me). That did the trick, but the chimney held fewer pieces of wood than I was hoping for, so our fire wasn't all that hot.

So 30 minutes after the originally scheduled start, combined with a bucket of sweat from the outdoors heat and a growing accumulation of houseflies, we're ready to cook. Michelle brings out the potatoes in foil, and we put those around the edges of the fire, then sit back and watch the kids play in the sprinklers. What is it about barbecue smoke that draws flies (before any food was even outside or cooking)? Gah, we must've killed fifty flies on our porch, and we never have a problem with them.

Our small female pug, Bella, had a grand time when the sprinklers came on near the porch. She played with one sprinkler head like a cat, batting at the water, pouncing the sprinkler (but then quickly running away realizing it didn't stop the water), barking at it, stalking it, and just generally turning herself into a giant wet rat. Our older male pug, Dexter, had no such plans. He always stays well clear of any falling water.

About 45 minutes later, the potatoes are nowhere near close to done (I was guessing they'd like at least an hour and a half to two hours, and they ended up taking about two and a half), but we throw on the hot dogs so we'll have something to eat because we're all starved. The hot dogs cooked pretty well, if slowly. Probably took them 20-30 minutes total. I think I may buy another chimney just so I can have enough charcoal next time for a much hotter fire. If we had tried to cook burgers, it would've taken an hour.

I need to get one of those instant-read thermometers you can place on the grilling surface to estimate the temperature. I'm really terrible at "rule of thumb" measurements like that, and I'm always worried about burning or undercooking meat.

Posted by Observer at 08:10 AM | Comments (9)

June 29, 2003

The Aftermath

It is too early to say "I told you so" on the whole Iraq war, but so far, I have been depressingly accurate (and no, it isn't difficult). First, I knew it would be a bad idea to trust Bushco on any front, especially something as important as war justification. Those people will lie about anything and everything. The more important the issue, the more brazen the lie.

Maybe WMD will be eventually found (they still haven't been, but because of the way the media reports things, the number of Americans have believe they have been found hovers at around 30% +/- 10%). But it seems clear that they weren't at the ready, and it's possible that the combination of inspections and Clinton's "Desert Fox" strikes back in 1998 may have taken care of most of that infrastructure. In any case, that justification for a pre-emptive strike is looking thinner every day.

Oh, and the ex-post-facto "Saddam was a monster, so he deserved to be invaded" is really lame. Molly Ivins already dispatched this, noting that it was definitely *not* the argument Bushco used going on. And of course, we still support (or at least fail to oppose significantly) some pretty monstrous regimes (Pakistan, Algeria, Liberia, Congo, etc.). So that's a *really* hollow argument.

Another major problem I had with the Iraq war was the lack of an exit strategy. This seems like a basic request, especially considering so many Republicans were making it regarding Clinton's successful campaign in Bosnia. Now that US soldiers are being attacked at a rate of a couple dozen attacks/day, and that rate is increasing quickly, we're really starting to pay the price.

I read an article this morning about a soldier who accidentally shot a 12-year-old kid. The poor guy saw this kid on a rooftop silhouetted in the moonlight, and he thought the kid had an AK-47 in his hands (maybe he did, no way to know for sure). He'll probably be sent home soon, and instead of condolences from the government, he'll find out his hazard pay is being reduced and the VA budget is being cut. How's that for supporting the troops?

And arguably the most harmful thing of all may turn out to be not such a big deal: the whole pre-emptive strike precedent. Bushco may have inadvertantly done the world a favor by making a pre-emptive strike with such laughable credibility that it will never be possible again.

Meanwhile on the home front, I certainly can't argue with the latest Supreme Court stuff. Rulings that actually seem to make some sense regarding consenting adults in private, etc. What I fear is that the old softshoe is now beginning on the Republican side of the aisle with the election coming up.

Bushco is trying hard to pass various things that seem liberal-friendly but in reality are pretty horrible (like the Medicare bills in Congress ... Molly Ivins wrote a good piece about this last week), and the executive branch is doing a lot of "good cop/bad cop" with DeLay and the House Republicans so that Bush seems more moderate than he is.

I'm sure the liberal media and the Moron Americans out there will eat it up. And if they elect Bush, I'll get some satisfaction in knowing they'll get exactly what they deserve. Unfortunately, I love this country, and I live in it, too.

Posted by Observer at 08:30 AM | Comments (1)

June 28, 2003

The Whole Story

Just for the record, one of the major sources Krugman was citing in his previous column that I quoted is this article, the complete version of which is on-line from "The New Republic". There's plenty more reporting on these issues at the New York Times, but I find the TNR piece is fairly comprehensive and convincing. It's long.

Posted by Observer at 03:05 PM | Comments (0)

A New Record

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

Posted by Observer at 07:46 AM | Comments (6)

June 27, 2003

Those Darned Lies

My letter to the editor got published (even though I edited down rather brutally, they made it even shorter! The nerve!), and Molly Ivins has a fine column today about lies:

You've got to hand it to those clever little problem-solvers at the White House. What a bunch of brainiacs. They have resolved the entire problem of global warming: They cut it out of the report! This is genius. Everybody else is maundering on about the oceans rising and the polar icecaps melting and monster storms and hideous droughts, and these guys just ... edit it out.

"The editing eliminated references to many studies concluding that warming is at least partly caused by rising concentrations of smokestack and tailpipe emissions, and could threaten health and ecosystems," reports The New York Times. Presto ˝ poof! ...

I realize the energy industry and auto industry and other major campaign contributors would prefer to think global warming does not exist, but how long do you think it will take before reality catches up with all of us? The White House editors (hi, Karl) instead chose to insert a new study on global non-warming funded by ... ta-da! ... the American Petroleum Institute. ...

Fond as I am of many of API lobbyists I have known over the years, I am not quite sure I want those bozos calling the shots on global warming. I have watched them buy law and bend regulations for decades now, and while I admire their chutzpah, I am impelled to warn you: They have no scruples, they have no decency, and they have no shame. (See 50 years worth of reporting on the industry by The Texas Observer.) Also, they lie.

Well now, danged if that doesn't bring us to the subject of lying and the White House. Let us set aside the vexing case of the missing weapons of mass destruction and focus on a few items closer to home. Anyone remember President Bush's 2002 State of the Union Address? No, no, not the one where he said Iraq had a nuclear weapons program. The one where he said he was going to expand AmeriCorps by 50 percent, from 50,000 up to 75,000, because giving all those young people a chance to work their way through college by doing good for the community is so noble and effective.

"USA Freedom Corps will expand and improve the good efforts of AmeriCorps and Senior Corps to recruit more than 200,000 new volunteers," he said. Last week, Bush and Republicans in Congress cut AmeriCorps by 80 percent. According to Jonathan Alter in Newsweek, Congress, under pressure, restored some of it, but it still leaves Americorps with a 58 percent cut and tens of thousands of fewer participants out there teaching poor kids to read, helping old folks in nursing homes, setting up community gardens, and a thousand other good and useful tasks ˝ many of which get the young people started on careers in that kind of work.

Alter notes that restoring AmeriCorps to its current level would take $185 million, about one-half of one percent of the president's latest tax cut for the rich. ... Speaking of said same tax cut, too bad about the children of the working poor. Congress just announced it's too busy to get around to the restoring the child tax credit to 6.5 million low-income families (known to The Wall Street Journal as "lucky duckies" because, you see, they pay little or no income tax. They only pay 19 percent of their meager incomes in other taxes.).

FYI: If you put "George W. Bush" and "lies" into the Google search engine, you get 250,000 references in nine-tenths of a second.

Make that 250,001.

Posted by Observer at 07:10 AM | Comments (4)

June 26, 2003

Time Wasters

Michelle's mom, Elayne, now has me playing these damned java games at PopCap's website. The little diamond mine game is highly addictive, and I started playing Bookworm today, which is like endless Boggle with a Tetris-style twist. I'm still waiting for the Diablo expansion update, following the news at the Arreat Summit website. They are posting tantalizing bits of info about the tons of new stuff going into the updated version, but with their WarCraft III expansion coming out July 1, I have my doubts we'll see the new Diablo version until well after that. I hope I'm wrong.

Posted by Observer at 08:06 AM | Comments (1)

Who Will Stand?

Paul Krugman says what I would like to see more often about all the Iraq lying:

There is no longer any serious doubt that Bush administration officials deceived us into war. The key question now is why so many influential people are in denial, unwilling to admit the obvious. About the deception: Leaks from professional intelligence analysts, who are furious over the way their work was abused, have given us a far more complete picture of how America went to war. ...

In particular, there was never any evidence linking Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda; yet administration officials repeatedly suggested the existence of a link. Supposed evidence of an active Iraqi nuclear program was thoroughly debunked by the administration's own experts; yet administration officials continued to cite that evidence and warn of Iraq's nuclear threat.

And yet the political and media establishment is in denial, finding excuses for the administration's efforts to mislead both Congress and the public. For example, some commentators have suggested that Mr. Bush should be let off the hook as long as there is some interpretation of his prewar statements that is technically true. Really? We're not talking about a business dispute that hinges on the fine print of the contract; we're talking about the most solemn decision a nation can make. ...

Suppose that a politician ˇ or a journalist ˇ admits to himself that Mr. Bush bamboozled the nation into war. Well, launching a war on false pretenses is, to say the least, a breach of trust. So if you admit to yourself that such a thing happened, you have a moral obligation to demand accountability ˇ and to do so in the face not only of a powerful, ruthless political machine but in the face of a country not yet ready to believe that its leaders have exploited 9/11 for political gain. It's a scary prospect.

Yet if we can't find people willing to take the risk ˇ to face the truth and act on it ˇ what will happen to our democracy?

In other news, some idiot wrote to our local paper claiming that they needed to get their facts straight. He claimed that all the recounts showed Bush won Florida, so the Supreme Court didn't "hand" the election to Bush, who would've won anyway. I wrote my own letter in response, which is apparently going to be published in the next couple of days. The thing is, the recounts are clear on the fact that a majority of voters in Florida intended to vote for Gore (remember the infamous butterfly ballot and the thousands of Jews who voted for Buchanan, for example). Also, if the Supreme Court hadn't intervened, the Florida judge would've ruled that all votes in all counties with a clear intent would be counted, including overvotes, which were a landslide in favor of Gore. He would've won by several thousands of votes (still a slim margin, but a lot bigger than 537 or whatever the final tally was).

I could've gone on for a long time about how hypocritical, shameful and embarrassing was the Supremes' use of the equal protection clause and interference in state issues, but I know that if you want a letter published, it has to be short, to the point, polite and factual. Anyway, it's funny how the so-called liberal media framed the recounts. They emphasized that if the recounts had proceeded according to the rules Gore initially wanted (count undervotes, ignore others, avoid the hanging chad issues), Gore would've lost, which is true (but it has no bearing on what really happened). Under virtually every other scenario, Gore would've won, and the most important fact is that everyone agrees that a majority intended to vote for Gore.

And I didn't even bother to mention the fact that the Republicans had planned a massive nationwide protest if Bush won the popular vote but lost the electoral college. Of course, Gore won the popular vote but "lost" the electoral college, so we didn't hear a peep. Oh well, I suppose I should get over it. I also suppose I need to get over the stupidity of the tax cuts, because they are passed, and I should get over all the lies about the gulf war and the gutting of environmental rules, etc. Nah, I can't do it. I'm gonna stay pissed.

Posted by Observer at 07:18 AM | Comments (2)

June 25, 2003

Nuclear Waste Disposal

Well, the kids have now had two days of camp, and they are two for two in bringing home absolutely disgusting lunchboxes. I mean, it is really hot, so the little chocolatey snacks are all melted (even though we put in a little blue ice pack, and the boxes are insulated like little coolers ... a lot nicer than my old "Close Encounters" metal lunchbox when I was a kid, that's for sure). But they eat them anyway and stuff the dirty wrappers back inside the lunchbox (inside-out of course).

Cody even left an uneaten banana in his yesterday (those boxes reach ambient temperature within a few hours, I think, and that banana was in there for eight hours, sealed airtight most of the time), and I'm amazed that the smell came out. Today he managed to top that by coming home with a damned ant farm inside his lunchbox. I guess he must have set it down on an antpile outdoors. Thankfully, not fire ants, but still no fun to clean out. Those ants must've had a real party in there for a few hours before I took the hose to them.

Unfortunately, this camp doesn't allow brown paper lunch sacks, because that seems like the obvious solution to me. What with packing all the lunches the night before, having to buy them the lunch boxes in the first place, freezing the blue ice, getting their water thermos ready, getting fruit/snacks ready, etc. Hell, it would be easier to just drop what I am doing at work, drive all the way to their camp and drop off a Happy Meal for each of them.

I know when *I* was a kid, those old brown apple cores in my lunchbox that had soaked through the napkin didn't stink at all. My lunchbox was always returned home in tip-top shape, no dents or scratches, no mystery smears or smells. At least, I'm sure that's what my mom would say if I were to ask her. Not that I plan to.

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

June 24, 2003

Koch Fiends

It gets repetitive (but fundamentally necessary) to keep pointing out examples in which corporations use their ties to Bushco to avoid trouble with the government for wrongdoing. I mean, that's pretty much what this administration is all about, catering to corporate donors, to the point of allowing them to write legislation, not to mention avoid fines or penalties for illegal actions. All of this in exchange for campaign contributions.

At some point, one would have to hope there were be some sort of logical disconnect between this kind of evil action and the religious sensibility of someone who votes Republican because they somehow believe that party has any relationship to Christian morals and ethics. Yeah, I said evil action. Is there another word for it? Here is a *very small* excerpt from the full story, which is worth reading. You decide if it's evil:

Government prosecutors accused the company of intentionally releasing fumes from benzene -- a suspected carcinogen -- into the atmosphere and then lying about it to state regulators in Texas. If convicted, the company was liable for fines up to $352 million, in addition to heavy jail terms and fines for the four employees. ...

David Koch and his wife Julie alone have $487,500 in campaign contributions to the Republicans ˝ and absolutely nothing to the Democrats. The Koch case was headed for trial last spring ˝ just after Bush took over the White House. But then the funniest thing happened, on the very day that the jury was to begin hearing the case.

On April 9, 2001, the Department of Justice announced that it was dropping all charges against Koch Industries and its employees, in exchange for a one-time $20 million fine. In dollar amounts, the company wound up paying about 5% of what its liability could have been, with no jail time for anyone.

I remember when Clinton got all kinds of flack by our "liberal media" for the Marc Rich pardon. Pundits from all over blasted him for having a cozy relationship with some rich guy who fled the country to avoid a tax dispute. And rightly so. This guy Rich did a lot of humanitarian stuff over in Israel apparently, spent millions of his own dollars, which is how he "earned" the pardon. I think the whole thing was very fishy.

So where is all the hub-bub about Koch Industries? Why are we not still hearing about all this? I mean, this happened before 9/11, and there wasn't any front-page reporting on this (whereas the Rich pardon was on the front page for at least a week in one form or another, along with other turned-out-to-be-fake pardon scandal stories where the corrections were always a lot smaller than the original reports).

Thanks, liberal media!

Posted by Observer at 08:27 AM | Comments (0)

June 23, 2003

Hulk Feel Violated

Do yourself a favor and go read Hulk's review of his own movie. Very funny. Brief excerpt:

Hulk not happy at all! Hulk smash Hulk bio-pic! Hulk have such high hopes at first: top-notch director, Oscar- winning actress, drug-free Nick Nolte: Hulk not think anything can go wrong. Let Hulk tell you something: bigshot Hollywood producers tell lies for living! Hulk feel violated.

Posted by Observer at 12:06 PM | Comments (0)

Happy Campers

Well, "Finding Nemo" wasn't so good. Pretty movie, but boring. I thought the only highlight was Ellen Degeneres as Dory the forgetful fish, especially when she tried to talk to a whale. Michelle that it was annoying. The kids liked everything. We probably should've seen that new Rugrats movie instead. Sarah's party went well, and she got quite a haul of cash from the relatives.

She talked a big game about saving up for a great big stuffed dog that she wants, but as soon as we hit the store yesterday evening, saving money was not in Sarah's vocabulary. She got a movie to add to the four we already got her (this one "Castle in the Sky"), a little stick unicorn to ride around on (which is pretty embarrassing, but it's what she wanted ... her friend expressed some disapproval, but I don't think Sarah paid attention), a barbie make-up head and a new watch.

This morning is the first day of actual summer day camp for all three kids. The two boys earned it by working hard on their chores and assignments over the weekend, and they'll have to earn every day of camp this week by working hard in the evenings (the alternative is sitting in their rooms all day). We had to get insulated lunch coolers, water bottles and the whole nine yards of supplies to get them ready. I'm sure we forgot something. I hope this camp is more structured than the one they were in last summer, which was cheap but was basically "stick all the kids in a gym, throw in about 10 basketballs, then let 'Lord of the Flies' commence for six hours with a half-hour lunch break."

I'm sure it'll be a nice break for Elayne (Michelle's mom who is staying with us this summer). She has basically been a jail warden for the boys since she got here, and even though they've been pretty good, anyone would need a break after such long, hot days. It's so hot and humid now that the rains are pretty much done for the summer, our A/C has a tough time keeping up. And our computer room, which contains no less than five computers and monitors (if you count the Gamecube), plus usually at least three bodies, is the hottest room in the house.

Posted by Observer at 09:34 AM | Comments (5)

June 22, 2003

Party Animals

We went to my stepbrother's wedding last night, about an hour's drive away. My sweetie found a nice dress to wear, and she prettied up real nice like. Thinking we were going to be able to sneak in to the back of the church (because no one knew for sure if we were coming), I dressed casually as I would for teaching. Of course, the stupid usher sits us on the second row among the suit-and-tie crowd. Urp.

Oh well, the focus during the whole wedding was on the three kids who were part of the ceremony (or scheduled that way, anyway) but instead of being good ringbearers and flower girls, they spent most of the time putting on their own show. Still, it went off just fine, and then we went to the reception, which was great for the first hour or so when we could talk to people in our extended family we don't see too often. But then it got really crowded and loud and you had to shout just to be heard two seats away. That's always a beating.

We snuck out of there before the heavy drinking began. Today is another busy day as we prepare for part of 11-year-old Sarah's birthday celebration. We're doing the cake and ice cream today though her birthday is Monday, and she's having a friend over whom we are taking to see "Finding Nemo". I went yesterday morning to snag a copy of the new Harry Potter book for her, and it wasn't hard to find. Even with the reader discount we get at Bookstop, I still had to shell out $17.50 with tax for the damned thing.

Michelle can't wait to read it, but Sarah gets it first. I was amazed later in the day when I went to the library to see about eight copies sitting on a display shelf that, yes, were available for checkout, the librarian explained. Yoink. Now Michelle has a copy of her own to read. I've only read the first two so far, just so I wouldn't be spoiled by the movies, but now I figure what the hell, I'll get caught up so I have to anticipate the next release like everyone else. They are really great books.

Posted by Observer at 08:20 AM | Comments (2)

June 21, 2003

Bits and Pieces

Well, the CD carousel in my office gave up the ghost, so how am I to listen to all of my 80's music? I finally broke down and downloaded the latest iTunes, then I dumped all of my favorite songs from my CD collection onto our external firewire drive. It's 447 songs, 1.2 days worth of music. Surprisingly, it only takes up 1.73 GB. I thought it would be a lot more. We jammed to lots of tunes last night while Michelle browsed my complete collection (we got a cable to hook it up to our stereo, of course).

I'd stuff it onto my internal hard drive except for the fact that my computer here at home, a relatively old G3/300 which only has like a 5-6 GB drive, needs the space for when I finally re-install Diablo II expanded and start playing again. I'm holding out for the new version 1.10, which is supposed to have lots of major rebalancing changes, tougher monsters, lots of new weapons, armor, etc. Blizzard says it will come out any day now, and I figure it will be out right about on the day when I finish all of the Heroes III Complete scenarios (I'm on the last scenario of the last of three sets now).

Also, yesterday, I got an email from "accounts@ebay.com", which advised me that for security reasons, I needed to update my account and confirm some of my personal information. Could I please follow the link to accounts.ebay.com, etc.? Well, obviously, the warning bells are going off, but I click the link anyway. Surprise, it doesn't go to ebay.com, but to some IP address that turns out to be in the Netherlands (the link label text said ebay.com, but the link address was some numeric IP).

Not only do they ask for name, ebay ID, password, address, but also for credit card info, social security number, bank account number, routing number, etc. I mean, basically every sensitive piece of information one could use to screw me over financially. I'm sure they sent out 10,000 of these emails at a time, and they figure all it takes is one stupid person to fill out the form (the email and the form all has little ebay logo graphics to make it look legit) to make the scam worthwhile.

It was one of the better spoofs I've seen, and I bet a lot of people have been taken in (after all, imagine how many stupid conservatives there are in the world who are taken in by Bushco and the corporate media). I reported it to spoof@ebay.com, as their site requests. Apparently, this kind of thing is so common, they have an automated reporting and response process. I never even communicated with a real person to report this. Kinda sad.

Posted by Observer at 08:58 AM | Comments (2)

June 20, 2003

Hate Them You Must Not

Plenty of political stuff to blog about, but I just don't feel like it today. The Texas governor has called a special session of the legislature to try to ram through redistricting again, so we may have another quorum-busting attempt. The EPA is suppressing information about global warming and carbon emissions that might make Bushco look bad. Bushco is suppressing information about 9/11 that might make it look bad.

Everyone is speculating that a Supreme may retire, so we'll get a huge quagmire if that ever happens and I don't want to even think about a replacement that would be appointed by this crowd. The corporate media is continuing to cluck about the Clintons in the wake of Blumenthal's book and Hillary's new book, as if it were the Clintons that were the problem in the whole Whitewater affair instead of the media itself. Any one of these topics would be worthy of a lengthy post, but I just lack the energy right now. The whole conservative-with-a-veneer-of-false-intellectualism-or-fake-populism-or-religious-righteousness-dominated *everything* just saps my energy sometimes and makes me feel hopeless. So. Let's talk Star Wars.

During a class break yesterday, I got into a discussion with one of my students about movies, and he made some comment to the effect of how much "Phantom Menace" sucks. I don't get this. Why is it so cool to think the current Star Wars movies suck? In his original review of "Phantom", Roger Ebert made a comment about the negative preliminary reviews of the movie: How quickly we have become accustomed to wonders.

Truly. I can't believe how many people talk about Episodes I and II as if they were some kind of horrific disease inflicted upon the Star Wars Universe and the viewing public. They're just movies, and they aren't bad at all! I mean, ok, maybe they didn't live up to "The Empire Strikes Back" or whatever your favorite movie in the series was, but at some level, don't you have to just appreciate that someone like George Lucas exists and is willing to make these movies for our enjoyment (he *has* tons of money, so he didn't need all the extra money ... he could've just blown it off and hung out at his ranch for another few decades).

I listened to the DVD commentary on the first two DVD's ("Phantom" and "Attack of the Clones") by Lucas and the producers, and it's really very fascinating. You get an appreciation for how much work and the absolutely astounding amount of thought that went into just about every aspect of these movies. Maybe some parts are overthought and it shows, but to me, the love and attention to detail in the Star Wars movies, all of them, are part of what make them great.

This student of mine went on to say that halfway through "Attack of the Clones" he wanted to shoot himself. Ok, fine, I know it is just a figure of speech, but get real. As movies go in this world, the Star Wars movies are going to be a *lot* closer to the top 20% in quality as opposed to the bottom 20%, whatever your quibbles may be with Jar Jar Binks or whatever. Maybe the writing wasn't so great, but the special effects and the whole fleshing out of the Star Wars universe was really very cool. If I want to go see a movie with great writing, I'll go watch a David Mamet film or whatever.

As an example of this loss of perspective, take your typical critic who gave Phantom Menace, say three out of four stars. Ok, that's fine, you have high standards. Oh, what's that? You gave "Bruce Almighty" three and a half stars? What happened to those high lofty standards from which you are looking down on the fine work of George Lucas? You can't tell me that the latest Jim Carrey vehicle is offering more to the moviegoing public and is a more enjoyable experience than another chapter in the Star Wars saga.

Well, ok, you can, but I *seriously* beg to differ.

Posted by Observer at 06:54 AM | Comments (10)

June 19, 2003

Blair Witch Project

Eric Alterman, author of the very good "What Liberal Media?" has a good column in "The Nation" magazine this week. He talks about the scandal with the New York Times (NYT) reporters, affirmative action, the supposed liberal bias of the NYT, and What It All Means:

Where do I begin? In a week when it became increasingly obvious that the President, the Vice President, the Defense Secretary, the Secretary of State and virtually all their underlings had deliberately misled Congress, the United Nations, the American people and the people of the world about the reasons the United States and Britain invaded Iraq, and when the Federal Communications Commission delivered a potentially crippling blow to media-based democracy and ideological diversity, the biggest story in America is the resignation of the two top editors of the New York Times. ...

To be an honest defender of affirmative action, one must face up to its failures. As Rick Hertzberg observed in The New Yorker, "Affirmative action is strong medicine, and, as with any strong medicine, no great distance separates the therapeutic dose from the toxic one. It demands close monitoring of its institutional side effects." One of its frequent side effects is the creation of a culture of resentment among those who do not fall into any of its categories. If The Nation, in the name of diversity, gave my column to a less qualified woman or minority writer, I'd be pretty goddamn resentful. This kind of affirmative-action fallout is predictable and probably unavoidable.

But what is the alternative? Do we really want to live in a world like that of the 1950s, when, according to an industrywide survey reported by Eric Boehlert in Salon, "just thirty-eight blacks were working among the nation's 75,000 newsroom employees"? I'd hazard a guess that the number of Asians, Latinos and other minorities didn't make it into double digits and that the total number of minorities in top executive positions hovered near zero.

The problem with Raines's version of affirmative action is not only the patronizing and ultimately self-defeating manner in which he treated the undeserving Blair but also the degree to which he indulged his chosen white cronies, like Bragg, with similar special treatment. Just as conservatives never mention that people like George W. Bush are the beneficiaries of affirmative action for lazy white sons of rich legacy parents, they seem unwilling to admit that race is only one place where people catch extra, unearned breaks. ...

The right's rap on the Times is not that its editorial pages are too liberal--that they can tolerate. It's that its news pages are. Observe the emblematic sleight of hand here by the far-right Wall Street Journal editors: "As readers of the Times, however, our view is that what we have been seeing on its front page in recent years is less straightforward reporting and more advocacy journalism. In this sense, the scandal over Jayson Blair's fabrications is symptomatic of a broader credibility problem that won't vanish merely because Mr. Raines does."

Note the logical incongruity: How, exactly, are Jayson Blair's fabrications symptomatic of advocacy journalism? Just what was Blair "advocating," besides himself? The Journal editors do not, indeed cannot, say. But no matter; a sword is a sword and Blair, Bragg, Boyd and Raines provided a handy one. The fact is that liberals could fill books with complaints about the Times's willingness to compromise its highest journalistic standards in pursuit of stories that gladden conservative hearts. ...

The point here is not that the Times is a tool of the right rather than the left. It is a tool too often of power, and power in this country resides with the right. But the paper is unquestionably less obeisant to the extremist forces ensconced in the White House and dominating much of the media than just about any other major journalistic institution we have left. ... The news pages of the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, Newsday and others offer up some first-rate enterprising reporting on those in power, but none of them enjoy the professional influence that the Times does to decide what's news. ...

And here we reach the heart of the conservative complaint about the Times: not the crusaders in its editorial pages or even the alleged advocacy of its news pages but its genuine editorial independence. For all its many flaws, the Times is still driven by a dedication to the principles of journalism. When, last year, the paper reported on dissension among the military, the Republican establishment and Congressional conservatives over Bush's willingness to rush this country into war (based on what we now know to have been false premises), the Times was not enlisting in the antiwar movement, as the Krauthammers, Kristols and Murdoch minions moaned. It was, almost alone in America, reporting the news.

Powerful people and institutions have a strong self-interest in resisting journalistic inspection and the public accountability it can inspire. But their resistance weakens the democratic bond between the powerful and the powerless that can prevent unchecked corruption where it matters most. Irresponsible attacks by the right on just about all tough-minded, independent reporting come at the cost of the very information citizens need to understand the political, social and economic context of their world. The ability of the Times to report honestly on the forces that govern our lives--and, by doing so, to help set the agenda for the rest of the media--is one of the few institutional obstacles in the path of those who misuse their power. And that's why, for all its flaws, the Times must be defended. We have, alas, seen the alternative.

I think if I couldn't access these breaths of fresh air every so often on the internet, if I were limited to only the local paper, weekly magazines like Time/Newsweek, national and local TV news, I would definitely go crazy. It's the only place anymore I can find anything remotely resembling liberal commentary aside from the occasional Ivins or Krugman article that shows up on the editorial page (followed in the days after by several conservative complaint letters (probably some form letters) about how the whole newspaper has gone off the liberal deep end just for publishing something like Krugman on the editorial page).

Posted by Observer at 07:53 AM | Comments (0)

June 18, 2003

Replay

In a continuation of my occasional series on old speculative fiction books worth reading, I offer "Replay" by Ken Grimwood, which was re-released in 1998. I first read it maybe 15 years ago, and I've read it at least twice more since then.

The premise is that a guy has a heart attack at age 43 and blacks out, then he wakes up 25 years earlier as an 18-year-old. His consciousness has travelled back in time to inhabit his younger self. So he gets to live his life over again with full knowledge of what happens in the 25 years to come in the world as a whole. He tries new things, including some well-placed bets, and he even tries to foil the Kennedy assassination (by placing a call to the FBI pretending to be Oswald, so that the FBI picks him up).

Eventually, he wonders if there are any others experiencing the same thing as himself, at which time he discovers from reading the newspaper that someone else is changing history, too. He dies again of a heart attack at age 43, and this time he wakes up about 20 years earlier, and the cycle goes on many times, each life something different. Fascinating book, and a lot of really good "what if" scenarios get played out.

I can't tell you how many times I wish I could return to my young body to change things with the wisdom of my years. I think the first thing I would do if I were suddenly 18 again would be to get my ass up to Nova Scotia, find a hot 14 year old named Michelle and start creeping her out.

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

June 17, 2003

Penny Ante Stuff

For the record, my links will no longer forcibly open new windows. I figure if you want to open a new window, you can right-click or tab using Safari or whatever.

I'm on to another book, thanks to the local library. This time, it is Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed", the story of an upper-middle-class author of many books in the social sciences who kinda goes "underground" for a year and works a bunch of tough, low-paying jobs. Her idea was to get a handle on how the minimum wage, two-job, paycheck-to-paycheck people actually live.

Well, my first thought was to compare this to another "role-playing" book I once read about the social sciences, the famous "Black Like Me" by John Howard Griffin. Only in that book, Griffin actually goes through a much more irreversible transformation and really immerses himself in the life of a black person in the South (this is in the mid-1950's). Great book, by the way. This book, while good so far, just isn't up to Griffin's high standard. But it *is* entertaining and funny at times.

In Ehrenreich's book, she works as a waitress/hotel room cleaner for a few weeks, then as a maid/nursing home worker, then as a Walmart employee, usually holding down more than one job and living in a low-rent rat trap (she writes that she now aspires to be trailer trash so at least she'd have a place of her own). She sees how difficult it can be to get into a decent place, because if you start out with very little money, how are you supposed to scrape together enough for first/last month's rent plus a deposit? Plus there's so little time even to physically recover when you have two full-time jobs, etc.

I think what works the best are just her own stories from her experiences. She's pretty funny at times, and she has a keen eye for things that most people usually ignore. I don't think this works all too well as a huge social commentary or anything, and I don't think she's trying to do that anyway. She has all kinds of disclaimers about how she "cheats", where she kinda falls back on her middle-class friends and contacts and so on when the going gets rough. She never really "faces the Abyss", I guess, which is a bit of a letdown.

I think the funniest part I've read so far was when she lived out the working woman's fantasy. She was waitressing and had a bunch of snotty customers who were giving her grief, a manager giving her grief and yelling at her, an incompetent cook screwing things up, way behind, and she just walked right out and drove away from her job. I can only imagine the chaos left behind, and I had a good laugh about it. The thing is, I don't understand why more people don't do this.

One thing that is very clear from Ehrenreich's experiences is that most of the help-wanted ads in the paper from restaurants and hotels and such don't represent jobs that are available. They are just an insurance policy against the inevitable turnover since employees only last for a few weeks/months. The job interview usually consists of ascertaining whether you are a citizen and whether you are in any legal trouble or do drugs. With such a lack of background checks and so on, you can pretty much walk off any job with carte blanche and go get another job in the exact same field doing the exact same thing the next day, provided your timing is good and you apply after someone else quit.

Posted by Observer at 07:18 AM | Comments (0)

June 16, 2003

He Said, CIA Said

Nicholas Kristof, in a piece in the New York Times has this to say about about the State of the Union lie regarding Iraq, uranium and Africa. Kristof is responding to an appearance by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, where she was asked about the controversy (rather, she wasn't asked any tough questions ... she was given the opportunity to spout the Bushco position and then they went to another topic):

Ms. Rice acknowledged that the president's information turned out to be "not credible," but insisted that the White House hadn't realized this until after Mr. Bush had cited it in his State of the Union address. ...

My understanding is that while Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet may not have told Mr. Bush that the Niger documents were forged, lower C.I.A. officials did tell both the vice president's office and National Security Council staff members. Moreover, I hear from another source that the C.I.A.'s operations side and its counterterrorism center undertook their own investigations of the documents, poking around in Italy and Africa, and also concluded that they were false ˇ a judgment that filtered to the top of the C.I.A.

Meanwhile, the State Department's intelligence arm, the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, independently came to the exact same conclusion about those documents, according to Greg Thielmann, a former official there. Mr. Thielmann said he was "quite confident" that the conclusion had been passed up to the top of the State Department.

"It was well known throughout the intelligence community that it was a forgery," said Melvin Goodman, a former C.I.A. analyst who is now at the Center for International Policy.

Of course, the Republican jackasses in Congress will *never* call for any kind of hearing about this (I can only imagine how quickly they'd be burning Clinton in effigy for such a deception), so we won't get to hear any testimony under oath, but Kristof ends with this puzzling statement:

I don't believe that the president deliberately lied to the public in an attempt to scare Americans into supporting his war. But it does look as if ideologues in the administration deceived themselves about Iraq's nuclear programs ˇ and then deceived the American public as well.

Deceived themselves? Come now, these are not stupid people. Quite the contrary, those in charge are quite cunning and intelligent (with the exception of the president, of course). Call a spade a spade, you stupid liberal media! He lied! He knew he was lying, and he lied! Gah, I'm so sick of people like Kristof writing a slum-dunk "he lied" column and then backing off at the end with a wishy-washy, oh well, what a shame, let's hope this doesn't happen again!

I wonder just how much that column was edited by the idiots in charge at the Times. The new regime of editors for now is the same bunch that reprinted Republican crap verbatim during the whole Whitewater business, which I guess isn't as bad as the old regime, which reprinted Republican crap that lead up to the Iraq war.

Thanks, liberal media!

Posted by Observer at 07:16 AM | Comments (0)

June 15, 2003

Old News

I finally finished up Sidney Blumenthal's "The Clinton Wars". The last 100 pages or so were about the Gore-Bush campaign. Very depressing reading, seeing again how the truth compared to the story put out by the mainstream media. Oh well, a very good read. Blumenthal had this to say about the media bias:

The press corps had tilted against Gore, but ultimately the reporters did not make the decisions about which aspects of the campaign or the candidates to cover, how to present them, or what their content would be. Their editors made those decisions -- and the editors and publishers were strongly in favor of Bush. Newspapers (that is, their publishers) endorsed Bush over Gore by a two-to-one margin; editors voted for him in the same proportions, according to one survey. Publishers voted for Bush by a whopping three-to-one margin.

Thanks, liberal media!

Posted by Observer at 09:41 AM | Comments (0)

June 14, 2003

Off the Cliff

Well, the Rangers have turned into everything I pretty much expected and feared. After a few flashes of greatness in the first 6 weeks, they've now lost 15 out of 18 games, including two shutouts in a row. Chan Ho Park came back for a start, sucked again, and blamed it on yet another injury. Every at-bat currently being taken by people like Doug Glanville and Juan Gonzalez is a wasted opportunity to give a younger guy (who will maybe be on the next Rangers' division-winner) some experience. Carl Everett, too, for that matter, although he is making himself attractive trade bait.

If the boys weren't in so damned much trouble, I'd probably take them out to a ball game within the next week or two, just so they get the experience. Good seats will be very easy to find. As it is, the initial two difficult weeks of their punishment is nearly over. After this, they still have to do the same chore/homework stuff twice a day, but upon successful completion, they'll earn small privileges, like an hour of TV or the right to turn on a radio in their rooms, etc.

Posted by Observer at 09:17 AM | Comments (2)

June 13, 2003

Bury the Lead

Page 1 of our local paper yesterday reported that "White House sources" claimed that no one at the CIA told them that the documents claiming Iraq sought nuclear materials from Africa were a crude forgery, quickly dismissed. Apparently, the CIA just plum forgot to mention it.

Page *19* of today's local paper contains a much shorter story that says several people at the CIA in a position to know regularly brief the White House on all things Iraq and have for the past year. There's not a chance such a fact would be left out of a briefing, and in fact, they claim unequivocally that the forgery information was clearly transmitted to the White House.

Why is the second story on page 19, liberal media? Why are unnamed White House sources given any credibility? These are the same jokers who provided all the false leads for Whitewater, but they still feed their pet reporters at the New York Times and Washington Post crap that they know will make the front page (which then gets propagated downstream to local papers).

WHEN (not if, but when) Bush gets a pass for lying to Congress in his State of the Union address drumming up war support (not once, but at least twice on major facts), you'll know who to thank!

Posted by Observer at 08:37 AM | Comments (0)

June 12, 2003

The Dawn of Wind

Molly Ivins has a good non-political column today. It is about the growing wind power industry. Wind power isn't the be-all/end-all solution to our energy problem, because you need too much land surface area to supply a significant amount of power (the fact that wind is not always blowing can be accounted for if the mills are spread out and numerous enough). However, for now, it's 100% Carbon-free energy, and me likey.

About a year ago, thanks to changes in state law, we got the freedom to choose what electricity provider we wanted. No, it wasn't out of the goodness of the hearts of our wonderful Republican legislators. What a laugh. Actually, it was the remnant of the original bill to Enron-ify Texas, though after the disaster in California, most of the egregiously stupid provisions that were really just payoffs to Enron wannabees were stripped out.

So anyway, six months ago, I formally made the switch for our household to Green Mountain Energy, which is essentially 100% wind power. What they do basically is promise to feed X kilowatt-hours of energy into the power grid from their windmills for every X kilowatt-hours that you take out for your home. The two events do not have to occur simultaneously, so as long as they have enough windmills to fulfill capacity, there's no worry about times when the wind isn't blowing.

For extended doldrums, they have backup generators that rely on natural gas. The cost is about 2-3% more per kilowatt-hour than the cheapest alternative. Very small price to pay for guilt-free power. I used to think solar power would be the best Carbon-free energy of the future (and it still might be ... it all depends on technological progress and if we ever discover a way to get stuff into orbit on the cheap so we can place enormous power arrays, which eliminates the low-power-density-huge-land-area-requirement problem), but for now, wind power is the most practical and cost-effective alternative. I'm all for sending my money their way so that it keeps growing.

By the way, the best video I've ever seen about global warming and the whole energy problem is "What's Up With the Weather?", from Nova/Frontline, first broadcast about two years ago. I've showed it to my science classes every semester since (and I make them answer questions about it so they can't sleep through it).

Posted by Observer at 08:34 AM | Comments (3)

June 11, 2003

The Tip of the Iceberg

A lot of bloggers that I read (especially the always interesting Eschaton, from whom I lifted some stuff for my post today) are still sitting around with big fat question marks over their heads about what's going on at the New York Times, and I join them. In response to a recent scandal about a reporter making stuff up and another reporter skirting a few ethical boundaries with sources, the two top editors at the Times have resigned. Why now? It's not like there haven't been numerous examples of bullshit in the past. Take the mainstream media coverage (the Times, front and center) of Kathleen Willey and her claims against Clinton, for example. Or Whitewater for another, as Sidney Blumenthal, Joe Conason, Bob Somerby and countless others have relentlessly documented.

More recent and more mendacious is the major NYT Iraq reporter, Judith Miller. This is the same moron I mentioned before whose primary source for front-page Iraq exclusives was Ahmed Chalabi, the guy in line to take over if we invaded. Here's an article from (as usual) the British press that summarizes the situation plain as day. Keep in mind as you are reading this that all of the facts in this article are in the public domain and 100% correct:

Take the case of staff reporter Judith Miller, who covers the atomic bomb/chemical-weapons-fear beat, and hasn't heard a scare story about Iraq that she didn't believe, especially if leaked by her White House friends. On Sept. 8, 2002, Ms. Miller and her colleague Michael Gordon helped co-launch the Bush II sales campaign for Saddam-change with a front page story about unsuccessful Iraqi efforts to purchase 81-mm aluminum tubes, allegedly destined for a revived nuclear weapons program.

Pitched to a 9/11-spooked public and a gullible, cowardly U.S. congress, the aluminum tubes plant was a big component of the "weapons of mass destruction" canard, which resulted in hasty House and Senate war authorization on Oct. 11.

Months later, when the tubes connection was thoroughly discredited (UN weapons inspectors past and present said the tubes were intended for conventional rocket production), the Times did not think it necessary to run a clarification. Nor was Ms. Miller disciplined for shoddy work; on the contrary, when the A-bomb threat had faded, the Bush administration astutely shifted the media's focus to chemical and biological weapons -- and Ms. Miller fell into line with the program.

When these non-nuclear weapons proved elusive after the fall of Baghdad, she placed herself at the service of what I call the Pentagon's pretext verification unit. In her first postwar dispatch, again deemed front-page news, she wrote about a man claiming to be an "Iraqi scientist" with knowledge about destroyed chemical weapons. The problem was, Ms. Miller didn't interview the gentleman, didn't learn his name and agreed to have her story censored by the U.S. army under the terms of her "accreditation."

Thus, the reader wasn't even told what chemicals or weapons materials the "scientist" was alleged to have known about. Readers were told that the man had to remain anonymous in order to protect him from reprisal (despite regime change). What Ms. Miller did reveal (besides her censorship contract) was that she witnessed "from a distance" a man in a baseball cap pointing "to several spots in the sand," where he claimed the awful stuff was buried. This would be laughable if it hadn't help pave the way for war and the subversion of democracy.

When officials leak a "fact" to Ms. Miller, they then can cite her subsequent stenography in the Times as corroboration of their own propaganda, as though the Times had conducted its own independent investigation. On Sept. 8, Dick Cheney cited the Times's aluminum tubes nonsense on Meet the Press to buttress his casus belli.

By the way, that business about the aluminum tubes being discredited as weapons? It is similar to the rumor-treated-as-fact that Iraq had purchased nuclear materials from Africa (which was revealed as a crude fake almost immediately after it was brought to the attention of US intelligence services). Both were brought up during Bush's State of the Union, when he knew both were 100% false, in order to bolster the case for war. Did the media, thinking back to the ginned-up Gulf of Tonkin fake crisis that greatly increased our involvement in Vietnam, sound any notes of caution? Ha!

Thanks, liberal media!

Posted by Observer at 07:23 AM | Comments (1)

June 10, 2003

Movie Watching Is a Sport

Well, aside from feeling helpless and frustrated on the parenting front, Michelle and I did manage to sneak away Sunday to go see a movie while Grammy stayed to watch the kids. I thought we'd try to brand new multiplex at the local megamall, and I have the following review of the movie theater: It was probably the most comfortable, well-constructed, neat-looking place to see a movie I've ever seen, and I will never ever go back.

What I didn't appreciate before going to the movie was just how damned many people go to this mall. We made the mistake of arriving for Matrix Reloaded about 5 minutes before the start time. After snaking pretty quickly through a *huge* line that led to about ten ticket-sellers, we got into the theater to find only the first two rows had seats available. We sat down for about thirty seconds, both got headaches, and decided to walk out to try to catch a movie that started a little later.

Not a problem. Internal security at this place is essentially zero, so we just walked right next door to where X-Men 2 was starting 30 minutes later. So we got good seats for that, and we'll see Matrix next weekend maybe. Now, the X-Men movie itself was pretty cool. I mean, it helps that I am *very* familiar with the characters from the comics (I used to have a collection from the original Uncanny X-Men series that stretched from the Dark Phoenix saga around issue 120 all that way to about 240, right about the time the X-Men titles really started proliferating insanely), so I took everything in stride.

Similar to the Batman movies, there are a lot of heroes and villains to keep track of, but this one didn't feel forced. The plot was very fluid, and the subplots made sense. I didn't have any problem following the story, and I thought the whole thing was at least as good as the first one. This was at least as good as Spiderman, and I liked that a lot, too.

But back to the movie-watching experience. We had the misfortune to end up next to three teenagers, two of whom were making out for half the movie. They were talking softly, giggling, etc., immune from the typical Dirty Look, and it was a mild annoyance. Some genius also decided to let us know he had a laser pointer a couple of times during the movie for a half-second or so. Just another bored kid who probably has spent all day at the movies, sneaking from one feature to the next. Zero security definitely has its downside.

Near the end of the movie, up in the front section of seats, it was hard not to notice the large crowd of people who had arrived about halfway through the movie, fresh from some other movie and there to hang out with their friends (who also brought about a two-year old kid). They were chatting it up, and the kid had all kinds of running commentary going. Finally, some middle-aged couple near the front had enough, and a lady turned around and said, "Shut up!" to them.

Well, God forbid someone tells these morons to shut up. They got all bowed up and pissed off, shouting back, "You shut up!" The movie has about five minutes left, and somehow a fight doesn't break out, although as soon as the credits roll, you've got three huge guys puffing out their chest and jackhammering their fingers with a lot of "Fuck you"'s at this poor, frightened couple who dared confront their self-absorbed rudeness.

I'm trying to guide my pregnant wife toward the exit ASAP, and fortunately right in the middle of all the yelling and stuff, some security did arrive in the form of an off-duty officer who was in the crowd. He flashed his badge and suddenly the bowed-up gangsters were model citizens, "What's the problem? Hey, we're just talkin' here!" No sign of any ushers or mall security or anything, and they all walked out of the theater without incident, almost surely to dive into some other of the 18 movies showing.

The thing is, there's really no hope for that place. There's no way they're going to take steps to chase off teenagers (the teenaged clerk who we went to for ice put us on hold for at least a minute to call her pal over and ask him if he had so-and-so's cell phone number, and she wanted him to call her, and blah blah blah). They account for most of the tickets sold. And they infest that mall, because it is the place to hang out during the hot summers.

Next time, we'll go downtown to the nice, 10-year-old theater by the museum. There's really no hangout place down there except a big bookstore (which is typically the last place you'll find the kind of idiot teenagers we ran into) or the new concert hall/opera house. I'm really looking forward to this Matrix sequel, and we go to the movies so rarely, I'll be pissed if it gets ruined.

Posted by Observer at 07:08 AM | Comments (3)

June 09, 2003

First Draft of History

So I'm now reading The Clinton Wars by Sidney Blumenthal (who was a journalist and then a close advisor to the president during both of his administrations). This is really the first compehensive draft of history from the perspective of someone in the administration (instead of one of the "liberal" journalists with a vested interest in hyping a nothing scandal).

There are passages in here that really make my stomach turn. Blumenthal talks about Clinton as though his core beliefs are truly genuine, that Clinton can barely control his emotion when confronted with relics of the FDR administration, etc., etc. I mean, it sounds like the kind of utter crap that someone like Peggy Noonan spews out about (insert the name of any Republican here). With that aside, there are some very interesting passages here, and I'll try to quote a few of the shorter ones as I come across them.

Like this, regarding Whitewater and the Pillsbury report:

On December 13, 1995, the Resolution Trust Corporation released its long-awaited and dreaded supplemental report on Whitewater. This was the result of the inquiry directed by Republican Jay Stephens ... The report completely and categorically absolved the Clintons -- and answered all outstanding questions about Whitewater.

The RTC report stated that it had in its possession "essentially all of the documents regarding Whitewater" relevant to the Clintons. ... It concluded emphatically, "On this record, there is no basis to charge the Clintons with any kind of primary liability for fraud or intentional misconduct. This investigation has revealed no evidence to support any such claims."

The report made a point of puncturing the conspiracy theories: "There are legal theories by which one can become liable for the conduct of others -- e.g., conspiracy and aiding and abetting. On this evidentiary record, however, these theories have no application to the Clintons. ... There is no evidence here that the Clintons had any such knowledge or intent. Accordingly, there is no basis to sue them."

In brief, every one of the accusations against the Clintons was false. The facts as laid out in the report confirmed Hillary's account and discredited the manufactured theories about Clinton's guilt. The investigation had studied more than two hundred thousand documents and interviewed forty-five witnesses, including the Clintons. The report contained hundreds of documents and thousands of footnotes. And the facts were irrefutable. ...

Understandably, the Clintons were pleased. At last, they were vindicated. The White House sent out copies of this report to more than 150 news organizations. Then, nothing happened. If the report had been launched into outer space it would have received more coverage. The Wall Street Journal ran a straightforward article in its news pages. But days passed and nothing appeared in the New York Times or the Washington Post. No network broadcast any report. As it happened, the Post never mentioned it, and almost two weeks later ... the Times published only a few lines, and somewhat misleading ones at that. ...

In the media's confusion of their work with that of actual government investigation, they made a false analogy between the Clintons and Nixon, who had withheld crucial information, documents, and tapes from government investigators looking into Watergate. The Clintons, on the other hand, had given every document they were aware of to all investigative governmental bodies: the RTC, the Office of Independent Counsel, and the Senate Special Committee, as well as other congressional committees. Now the RTC had made publicly available the significant documents that had been so hotly contested. And the media did not report on their contents or existence.

Lars-Erik Nelson write, "And now the secret verdict is in: There was nothing for the Clintons to hide ... So, in a bizarre reversal of those Stalin-era trials in which innocent people were convicted in secret, the President and First Lady have been publicly charged and secretly found innocent."

Blumenthal elsewhere talks about one journalist in particular, William Safire, who started out his political career as a Nixon operative. His career mission ever since has been to try to show that Watergate was no different that what other presidents always do. He was the journalist who started the tradition of calling everything "-gate" (like Travelgate, Whitewatergate, Monicagate) in attempt to equalize their status with Watergate.

Anyway, thanks again, liberal media!

Posted by Observer at 07:15 AM | Comments (3)

June 08, 2003

I Sense a Pattern Here

From The Daily Howler, here are a few lies just from the last *week* by our beloved leader:

- He claimed the cut in the dividends tax was designed to help out the elderly.

- He said the phase-ins in the tax cuts appear because the Congress put them there.

- He said the projections from his Council of Economic Advisors weren't his projections (regarding tax cut numbers).

- He said he's cutting taxes in order to increase federal revenue.

- On Polish TV, he claimed unequivocally that we have found the WMD's in Iraq.

Want some more? Check out this helpful list from the Democratic representatives of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee. It's a list of Bush quotes caught on videotape, followed by an explanation of what was in the actual legislation he proposed or got passed.

Hmmm...massive intelligence failure on the WMD's? Or could it be remotely possible that Bushco knew what was really going on and just lied about it? I mean, they get away with so much, why not throw another whopper into the mix?

Oh well, I guess it's going to be like the election fiasco. It's over and done with, so we liberals shouldn't whine so much. We need to just get over it and move on. Same with the war (although someone needs to convince the Iraqi people to get with the program and stop killing our troops).

Posted by Observer at 09:00 AM | Comments (5)

June 07, 2003

The First Casualty of War

Gah, our power was out for six hours this morning. First time in a long time around here. I still don't know what happened, but something took out power for our whole block. There were cop cars and of course electrical workers swarming all over a place about a half-mile down the street at 5am this morning, so maybe someone ran into a pole or who knows? Oh well, back to the news...

Molly Ivins has a few interesting things about the whole "where are the WMD?" fiasco. She talks about conservative responses to this question, including William Safire:

In Safire's parallel universe, the problem is not that we're not finding weapons of mass destruction -- which means either we were lied to by the Bush administration or there was a massive intelligence failure. No, that's not the problem at all. The problem is rather the people asking the question are "the crowd that bitterly resent America's mission to root out the sources of terror" and are "whipping up its intelligence hoax hype."

Got that? If you ask, "Where are the weapons of mass destruction?" -- a fairly obvious question at this point -- -you are the problem.

That's good, but not as good as my old favorites at the Wall Street Journal editorial board. Their June 1 editorial "Weapons of Mass Distortion" is a masterpiece. In this version, those who ask the WMD question are attempting "to damage the credibility of Mr. Blair, President Bush and other war supporters."

"But who's trying to deceive whom here?" thunders the Journal. "That Saddam had biological or chemical weapons was a probability that everyone assumed to be true, even those who were against the war." So there! And why did everyone assume it? Either because we were lied to or because there was a massive intelligence failure. To get off Orwell and back to the facts here, we were told we were going to war because Iraq had 5,000 gallons of anthrax, several tons of VX nerve gas, between 100 tons and 500 tons of other toxins, including botulinin, mustard gas, ricin and Sarin, 15 to 20 Scud missiles, drones fitted with poison sprays and mobile chemical laboratories.

The ex post facto development of tender concern on the part of hawks for human rights is delightful to see. To repeat, there was always a good case to be made for taking out Saddam Hussein on humanitarian grounds alone -- those of us who work in the human rights movement were making that case back when the Reagan administration was arming Saddam Hussein. It was not, however, the case made by the Bush administration, in part because we are still supplying weapons to other monsters (Algeria, anyone?).

And then another casualty of the war is apparently the whole Jessica Lynch story:

There's an old newspaper saw, "Error runs around the world before the truth can get its boots on." The sad case of the distortions of the Jessica Lynch story (she did not receive multiple gunshot wounds; she was not stabbed; she was not fighting to the death; she was apparently injured in a car accident; the famous rescue at the hospital did not involve any firefights; in fact, there were no Iraqi troops in the area, and there was no one there but the Iraqi doctors, who had been taking very good care of Lynch) amount to what the BBC -- not normally noted for overstatement -- called, "One of the most stunning pieces of news management ever conceived."

Is there any war story that was reported by the mainstream media before or during the war that has turned out to be remotely credible?

Posted by Observer at 11:03 AM | Comments (5)

June 06, 2003

Moore books

So I finished another book, this time Michael Moore's "Downsize This!". Pretty soon I'm going to run out of liberal current-events books that I want to read, but for now, I still have about maybe a dozen left (including some 9/11 and Iraq compilations if I get really ambitious). Anyway, Moore's book was all right. Sounded a lot like James Carville's, actually.

Most of the book talks about Moore's problems with corporate downsizing. Not so much the ethics of downsizing itself, but the way it is viewed by society and the media. Moore also has a huge problem with the whole corporate ethic that their sole responsibility is to their shareholders, to earn as much profit as possible, etc. One of the hypotheticals he talks about is the cost of downsizing vs profits.

For example, suppose General Motors (GM) makes $7 billion in profit in a given year, but by closing a factory and putting 40% of a town's population out of work and moving the factory to Mexico, their profit can go up to $7.1 billion. Is it ethical for them to do this?

If yes, then why not let GM sell crack? It's a lot more profitable. But selling crack is illegal? Why? Because it tends to ruin people's lives. So why do we let corporations destroy communities for a small bump in the profits or the stock price? If profits mean everything, regardless of how much harm is caused to the community, then why not legalize crack? It's not a flawless argument, but it sounds pretty compelling to me.

I mean, I understand the whole Ayn Rand bit, that the people who own the companies are the ones who created the jobs and all the wonderful things that go with moving the economy. But in my opinion, that doesn't free them to do whatever the hell they want. The whole loyalty thing should go both ways. Companies don't exist in a theoretical moral vacuum.

Oh yeah, Moore also had a chapter on why he thinks OJ is innocent, but I'm not even close to being convinced.

Anyway, Michael Kinsley has a relevant entry on this topic recently:

Democracy presumes and enshrines equality. Capitalism not only presumes but requires and produces inequality. How can you have a society based on equality and inequality at the same time? The classic answer is that democracy and capitalism should reign in their own separate "spheres" (philosopher Michael Walzer's term). As citizens, we are all equal. As players in the economy, we enjoy differing rewards depending on our efforts, talents, or luck.

But how do you prevent power in one from leeching into the other? In various ways, we try to police the border. Capitalism is protected from democracy, to some extent, by provisions of the Constitution that guard individuals against tyranny of the majorityˇfor example, by forbidding the government to take your property without due process of law. Protecting democracy from capitalism is the noble intention, at least, of campaign finance laws that get enacted every couple of decades.

Separation of the spheres also depends on an unspoken deal, a nonaggression pact, between democracy's political majority and capitalism's affluent minority. The majority acknowledge that capitalism benefits all of us, even if some benefit a lot more than others. The majority also take comfort in the belief that everyone has at least a shot at scoring big. The affluent minority, meanwhile, acknowledge that their good fortune is at least in part the luck of the draw. They recognize that domestic tranquility, protection from foreign enemies, and other government functions are worth more to people with more at stake. And they retain a tiny yet prudent fear of what beast might be awakened if the fortunate folks get too greedy about protecting and enlarging their good fortune.

That was the deal. Under George W. Bush, though, the deal is breaking down. With Republicans in control of the White House and both Houses of Congress, the winners of the economic sphere are ratting on their side of the bargain and colonizing the sphere next door. Campaign contributions are only the crudest way power is transferred from the economic sphere to the political one. In addition, there are well-financed lobbying organizations, including some masquerading as research institutes. There is the inherent complexity and boredom of tax and regulatory issues, which repel people who don't have a major financial stake. There is the social milieu of the president and most members of Congress. They may not all come from the worlds of posh aristocracy or self-satisfied business success (Bush remarkably straddles both), but these are the worlds they are plunged into as they rise to congressional leadership. And, in the back of their minds, these are the worlds they may hope to find a place in when they lay down the weary burdens of power.

The recently enacted tax bill is such a shocking and brazen gift for the wealthy that it is hard to describe in anything short of these cartoon-Marxist terms. After two Bush tax cuts, consider how we now burden people at the bottom and at the top of the economic ladder.

A minimum-wage worker today must pay the FICA payroll tax of 15 percent (if you include the employer's share, as economists agree you should) on the very first dollar she earns. If she has children, she may qualify for an earned income tax credit, but she may not. If she works hard and moves up the income scale, she'll soon be paying another 15 percent in income tax. You might call this "double taxation," but President Bush doesn't.

Our minimum-wage worker most likely falls into one of the unadvertised holes in the Bush something-for-everyone tax cut. There is nothing in it for her. This gap around the minimum wage was supposedly inadvertent, and Republicans on Capitol Hill were eager to correct it. But Republican congressional straw boss Tom DeLay said incredibly that he would only allow the alleged correction as part of yet another big tax cut with more goodies for the serious income brackets.

Now look at the fellow who has a few millions or billions. He probably has paid no income tax on most of that pile, since investment profits are taxed only when they are "realized"ˇi.e., cashed in. Any investment profits that he hasn't cashed in when he cashes in himself escape the income tax forever. If he can hold on for a few years, under current plans, the estate tax will die before he does. His investment income also is exempt from the 15 percent FICA tax that hits the minimum-wage worker at dollar 1.

And now the tax rate on both dividends and capital gains is capped at 15 percent. This is supposed to alleviate the unfairness of having both a corporate income tax and a tax on the profits individuals earn on their investments in corporations. This is the one Bush does call "double taxation," and he rails against its injustice. In 2002 the total burden of the corporate income tax was barely one-fifth of the burden of payroll taxes, but it apparently strikes a more sensitive group of people.

So, under the American tax system as designed by the Bush administration and congressional Republicans, the most a person of vast wealth is expected to contribute to the commonweal from his or her last dollar of investment profits is the same 15 cents or so that a minimum-wage worker is expected to pay on his or her first dollar. This does not mean that we have a flat tax. We have a tax system of vast complexity, with wildly different tax burdens on different people. But we have a tax system that, on balance, knows who's in charge.

Moore and Kinsley are both saying similar things, that the people in power right now, whether at the corporate or government level, feel that they have a right to basically screw anyone they want for the benefit of the wealthy. After all, they reason, the wealthy are the ones who have created all the jobs and made this country great (in reality, they are the ones who contribute the most; obviously that's the most important thing). The real question is how long will everyone else put up with it, and how long will the corporate media keep reporting this like it's just business as usual?

Posted by Observer at 07:18 AM | Comments (23)

June 05, 2003

Broken Spirits

It's been a real busy week over here, as my sweetie describes in her latest post. Basically, the boys did $4,224 worth of vandalism, breaking windows at the elementary school down the street. We're really looking for answers as to why (we have many theories, but who knows which is right), but thankfully, we were able to dig deep and pay restitution right away (hello, changes in long term plans), and the longest summer of our two boys' lives is now underway.

Something positive is going to come of this if it kills us or them. And one thing is that by the time this summer is over, those two boys will have had so much handwriting, reading and math practice, they'll each advance at least a grade's worth of understanding and ability in those subjects. We have a bunch of workbooks for them to plow through along with some children's encyclopedia-type articles for them to copy while perfecting their handwriting.

Michelle's mom, Elayne, is here visiting for the summer, and the timing is both good and bad. Bad because there's not much cause for celebration around here right now, so her arrival really kinda got the wind sucked out of its sails. Good because the kids need a "good cop" around the house. I'm definitely the bad cop right now. Also good because we're keeping the boys out of all activities that involve them leaving their respective rooms, and since Michelle and I are both working this summer (though for me it is just a few hours a day), Elayne can stay and make sure the boys behave and work.

Posted by Observer at 07:19 AM | Comments (4)

June 04, 2003

Summer Blahs

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

Posted by Observer at 12:23 PM | Comments (4)

June 03, 2003

Why These Lies Are More Important

Paul Krugman talks about honesty, the media, domestic and foreign policy. As usual, he's just stating the obvious, but he's virtually alone in the mainstream media.

The bald-faced misrepresentation of an elitist tax cut offering little or nothing to most Americans is only the latest in a long string of blatant misstatements. Misleading the public has been a consistent strategy for the Bush team on issues ranging from tax policy and Social Security reform to energy and the environment. So why should we give the administration the benefit of the doubt on foreign policy?

It's long past time for this administration to be held accountable. Over the last two years we've become accustomed to the pattern. Each time the administration comes up with another whopper, partisan supporters ˇ a group that includes a large segment of the news media ˇ obediently insist that black is white and up is down. Meanwhile the "liberal" media report only that some people say that black is black and up is up. And some Democratic politicians offer the administration invaluable cover by making excuses and playing down the extent of the lies.

If this same lack of accountability extends to matters of war and peace, we're in very deep trouble. The British seem to understand this: Max Hastings, the veteran war correspondent ˇ who supported Britain's participation in the war ˇ writes that "the Prime Minister committed British troops and sacrificed British lives on the basis of a deceit, and it stinks."

It's no answer to say that Saddam was a murderous tyrant. I could point out that many of the neoconservatives who fomented this war were nonchalant, or worse, about mass murders by Central American death squads in the 1980's. But the important point is that this isn't about Saddam: it's about us. The public was told that Saddam posed an imminent threat. If that claim was fraudulent, the selling of the war is arguably the worst scandal in American political history ˇ worse than Watergate, worse than Iran-contra. Indeed, the idea that we were deceived into war makes many commentators so uncomfortable that they refuse to admit the possibility.

But here's the thought that should make those commentators really uncomfortable. Suppose that this administration did con us into war. And suppose that it is not held accountable for its deceptions, so Mr. Bush can fight what Mr. Hastings calls a "khaki election" next year. In that case, our political system has become utterly, and perhaps irrevocably, corrupted.

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

June 02, 2003

Loyalty and Politics

Finished another book over the weekend. This one is "Stickin': The Case For Loyalty" by James Carville. Another library find, it is a short book that I've always wanted to read. I don't like Carville a whole lot. He's one of the few liberals who acts like a conservative. He demeans the opposition, he oversimplifies things, he comes off as "just plain folks" when he is actually being quite sophisticated about pushing his political agenda (which I pretty much agree with).

So while I say I don't like Carville a whole lot, I'd say on a scale of 1-10 of my favorite personalities in politics, I might put him at a 5. Someone like Ann Coulter, I might put at a -158. So it's all relative. And the thing is, unlike most conservative shit-spewing blowhards, Carville is right. Not just about the policies he supports, but about the facts and logic. You may think, yes, well, that's a matter of opinion, liberal vs conservative, but actually it isn't. Facts aren't partisan.

Oh well, whatever. Carville actually addresses his book far beyond the political arena to talk about loyalty in lots of aspects of life. But one of the chapters that I like involves a discussion of political loyalty. He says that lots of conservatives tend to call him a sycophant, an unquestioning, unthinking follower and friend of Bill Clinton, and they ask Carville if the whole Monica thing wasn't enough to turn Carville off of Clinton, where would Carville draw the line?

Carville says he actually came closer to leaving Clinton when Clinton signed an unfair welfare bill that screwed over a lot of poor people, because at least that was something important. But on matters of sex and marriage and so on, he compared Clinton to someone like, say, Newt Gingrich. Newt also cheated on his wife, and he pretty much abandoned her and the kids while making millions (they ended up on welfare and only made ends meet with the help of a local church).

Carville said cheating is one thing, but abandoning your family is much more serious, so if you have to draw the line, then it would be somewhere between what Clinton did and what Gingrich did. "There, you happy now? There's your damned line," he writes. And of course there's the obvious line of argument of why Republicans drew that line for Clinton and not for most of their leadership, which had done the same thing.

I suppose I should get back to reading more comfortable fiction books soon, but getting all these current events books from the library is really fun. These are mostly books I would never consider buying (usually way overpriced), but I am interested in reading. So I'm on a real run with them, devouring them left and right. Next is Michael Moore, followed by Sidney Blumenthal. Ok, maybe left and left. Then maybe that New York Times look at 9/11.

On second thought, maybe I need some Child Psychology books.

Posted by Observer at 08:06 AM | Comments (9)

June 01, 2003

Buying Power

Cody (now 9 years old) got a grand total of nearly 50 bucks for his birthday from all the assorted relatives, plus a bunch of presents from us. He was very happy with all the Yu-Gi-Oh cards, and when he saw I (uh...we) had gotten more boxes to sell packs to them, he was pretty determined. "How many packs can I buy with 50 dollars?" he asked.

I told him I wanted to give him a chance to spend his money on something besides Yu-Gi-Oh cards (honest, it's not that I'm trying to hoard the booster packs for myself!), so we're taking them all to Toys R Us today for a little shopping spree. Also, Justin (13) and Sarah (10) have birthdays coming up this month, so they can start making lists.

We also got Cody an oversized plastic bat and some nerf-like baseballs because he and Justin both love to have batting practice. Unfortunately, it was so damned hot yesterday, we couldn't stay out for very long. About the fifth pitch I threw, Cody hit a laser-beam line drive right into my crotch. Thank God those baseballs are soft. That thing was coming at me at what seemed like 100 mph, and I hardly even felt it.

Posted by Observer at 09:36 AM | Comments (5)