July 31, 2003

My Best Advice

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

Posted by Observer at 01:06 PM | Comments (3)

July 30, 2003

Inside Baseball

With that headline, you might think I would be inclined to talk about the history that was made last night at the expense of, who else, the Texas Rangers pitching staff. Yes, campers, you heard right. Some spare number eight hitter for the BoSox smacked two grand slams off of the Texas bullpen last night, one from each side of the plate (he's a switch-hitter, so he hit one batting right-handed and one batting left-handed). Never before in baseball history.

But no, I talk about a much more troubling subject, and that is what the hell is going to happen to the Democratic party. You see, back in the mid-80's, a lot of senior party members got together and decided to form the DLC (Democratic Leadership Committee). The DLC is essentially the conservative wing of the Democratic party, and they thought that by taking some of the centrist issues away from Republicans, they could make Democrats more electable. That's how Clinton won, by promising to be business-friendly, and so he got lots of campaign contributions.

But things have changed. Gore was essentially the same candidate as Clinton, only without the ethical baggage and seedy background. But the media has evolved a lot, and so have Republicans. They responded to Democrats like Gore moving to the center by themselves moving further to the right. And so no matter how many steps the party or a candidate like Gore takes in a conservative direction, they will always always always be labeled a hopeless far left, out of touch, wacko liberal. The media cooperated, and went on to make up all kinds of stories about Gore's credibility, etc. Gore won the election, but even that didn't matter. You know the rest.

So what does the Democratic party do now? Do they continue down the road paved by the DLC and become more and more conservative? If they do, they risk alienating the important base of voters that they need to get elected. If Democratic voters aren't enthusiastic, they won't show up at the polls, and it is likely voters whose opinion matters, not just ordinary Americans. The supposed positive they get by going down the DLC road is that they are trying to earn the mantle of centrists or moderates by bridging the gap between the true liberals in the Democratic party and the moderate wing of the Republican party.

But how will the media portray a Gore-like candidate, say a Lieberman or a Daschle or a Kerry? How will they portray a Democratic candidate who has gone way beyond the pale in squashing out any "daylight" between his position on hot-button issues and Bush's position (i.e. Iraq)? I'll tell you how: at the first sign of any differences on any issues, the media will pounce and affix the derogatory "liberal" label on 'em. The whole right-wing network will join in, and they'll have no problem getting their base motivated and to the polls.

So the alternative is for the Democrats to say screw the DLC and nominate a more traditional Democrat. Someone who doesn't think labor unions are completely useless, who thinks environmental concerns just maybe sometime in some rare situations just maybe might be a tiny oh so little more important than the next Halliburton subsidiary's stock price which might fall 5% if they don't get that clear-cutting contract. Someone who still thinks affirmative action might be necessary because although I know this must come as a huge shock to conservatives, it still pretty much sucks to be a minority in America. You know, the sorts of positions Democrats used to stand up and fight for. Common-sense stuff.

Anyway, more and more it looks like the only likely Democrat who could take on that more traditional mantle is Howard Dean. I have no idea if nominating him will be any more effective than nominating someone like Bob Graham or John Kerry or whomever, but I say let's give it a try. Over at Hullaballoo, Digby has more along these lines:

...The political landscape has completely changed since 1985 when the DLC was created and 1992 when it reached its zenith of power. In 2004 it is losing its relevance to many Democrats, not because of a difference in policy but because it has failed to recognize that while they have not changed, the Republican Party has undergone a complete metamorphosis. They do not seem to understand that when the competition completely changes strategy, you must be prepared to change strategy as well.

The Republican Party of George W. Bush is fundamentally different than the Party of George H.W. Bush. They are playing a form of political hardball that is completely unresponsive to the cooperative, consensus style politics that characterizes the DLC. They will not budge on policy and when it comes to tactics they are knife wielding thugs.

DeanÝs early success isnÝt about liberal spending programs and ýfar leftţ hatred for Junior. ItÝs about opening your eyes and seeing what is right in front of your face --- a dangerously radical Republican party that simply will not compromise or deal fairly. ... And they lost all compunction about tarring the opposition with outright lies and character assassination.

The fact is that it does not matter if our candidate actually supported the war in Iraq or not. If John Kerry is the nominee rather than Howard Dean, do they actually believe that the Republicans will not find a way to portray him as soft on national security? Please.

It. Does. Not. Matter. What. We. Actually. Do.

We could sign on to a 0% tax rate for millionaires, repeal of Social Security, prison terms for homosexuality and oil rigs in the middle of San Francisco Bay and they would still say we are liberal, tax and spend, tree hugging, treasonous pacifists because it is in their interest to do so. ... The way to change the Republican propaganda-created perception that the Democratic Party is a bunch of namby pamby, liberal, pacifist big spenders is to FIGHT BACK.

We should attack the other side with righteous indignation and illuminate for the American people the fact that George W. BushÝs GOP is radical and out of touch with AmericaÝs values. (This also has the virtue of being true.) In the hands of a skilled politician this can be done without sounding ýshrillţ or ýhystericalţ, but rather strong, reassuring and commonsensical.

Many Americans have a feeling that something is going badly wrong. The media is confusing and sensational. ItÝs difficult to cut through the muddy and garbled ever-changing story to get a clear sense of what exactly is causing this discomfort. The Republicans are very effective at offering a comforting narrative of strength and tradition.

But, it is the job of the Democrats to rightly identify the source of this existential unease as emanating directly from the White House and the man whom everybody knows, deep in their heart, was not qualified for the job. The Dems need to be unequivocal in their opposition to this presidency, because there is not even one small identifiable aspect of it that is in keeping with traditional Democratic values (despite Evan BayhÝs evident nostalgia for the ever so successful foreign policy of Lyndon Johnson). The working, taxpaying, regular folk of the ýfar left,ţ notwithstanding, if the Democrat can articulate this case with passion and authority, he might be able to show a few of the mushy middle that the real crazies these days are on the right --- which is the truth.

Most importantly, they need to articulate the difference between the parties, not the similarities. By attacking the Bush administrationÝs radical and mendacious agenda, while promoting the Democratic policies of engaged multilateralism and support for international institutions, as well as common sense tax and social spending policies and respect for civil liberties, I think itÝs entirely possible that many Americans will see things our way.

Politicians, after all, are not only supposed to figure out what the people want and give it to them. They are supposed to convince the people that they want what the politicians have to give.

The Republicans have managed to persuade large numbers of middle class people that the rich not only have no obligation to ensure the continuation of the stable, decent society that enables their wealth, but that the average working stiff does. If they can do that, then surely we Democrats can educate Americans to the fact that allowing Bush and his ivory tower, think-tank radicals to turn this country into an Imperial banana republic is likely to result in a reduction in their standard of living.

The DLC has losttouch with the zeitgeist. They are as irrelevant today as the SDS.

Watching things continue in Texas, I am forced to agree with this assessment. The Republican party is pretty much done with all this compromising nonsense, and they are now pushing every single thing they can as hard as they can. It is happening at all levels, and it is a national effort, managed down to the state and county level in most places. It seems that they figure no matter what they do, the media will report it as a "he said, she said" kind of thing. The old, "Republicans passed a law today proclaming that 2+2=5, but some liberal scientists have continued to promote the idea, now thousands of years old, that 2+2=4." way of reporting.

Posted by Observer at 10:40 AM | Comments (2)

July 29, 2003

Random Little News

Here in the real world, Daniel is continuing to progress nicely as one fine little baby. His circumcision ring fell off last night, much to everyone's relief. His last couple of nights have been more restless than usual, and my sweetie has borne the brunt of the sleeplessness.

Two of the other kids, 9-year-old Cody and 11-year-old Sarah, are going to their first appointment with the new pediatrician today. We switched all three kids to a younger doctor once Daniel was born because their original pediatrician is good but getting close to retirement. 14-year-old Justin went to his first appointment last week, and all is well there. I think Sarah and Cody will check out fine, too, though we may have to check on some bladder/bowel control issues with Cody. Not sure if that is psychological or physical, but probably a bit of both.

I notice Sarah developing as only a nervous (step)father can. I only hope her mental development and maturity starts to catch up to that. I told Michelle that if I don't trust Sarah's first boyfriend, I'll make sure that their first date is to some comedy movie. I figure her wheels-off laughing and screaming will scare away any potential "suitors". If that doesn't work, I'll be waiting on the porch when they get home (or better yet, in the car as chaperone) with a shotgun.

Michelle's mom, Elayne, and her friend Wayne left us this morning to drive all the way back to Canada. I was really sorry to see them go, as their company as just wonderful. Elayne was a huge help around the house, and even though we had a grand total of 10 living creatures (4 adults, 3 kids, 1 baby, 2 pugs) in the house for most of the last five days, it really didn't seem at all crowded.

In between everything, I've snuck in some hours playing Diablo II v1.10. I just love my Paladin's Thorns aura, but I guess I've maxed that out so I will now have to invest some skill points into Blessed Hammer, which I've never tried before.

Posted by Observer at 02:23 PM | Comments (2)

July 28, 2003

A Good Response

The Daily Brew has a good response to the oft-posed conservative question: Ok, liberals, if you think the war is so bad, would you rather have Saddam back?

Given the alternatives? Hell, yes.

Posted by Observer at 10:25 PM | Comments (0)

Loyalty or Honesty

Which is more important? This comes again and again in all aspects of life, but especially in politics. Suppose you are working for the president, and you discover facts that completely invalidate his position, whether it be on a domestic issue, like taxes or health care, or a foreign policy issue like war. Is it more ethical to come out with the truth and push that to the media, or is it more ethical to demonstrate loyalty and toe the line?

More generally, if you are associated with someone or something that you generally believe in that does something dishonorable on one occasion, what do you do? You can't really distance yourself from that person or thing you believe in just because of one bad thing. You can't have it perfect. But how many bad things add up to something more important than loyalty?

There are other examples I am thinking of, but suppose you are a staunch conservative. At what point would you no longer support the Iraq war? Suppose you brush off the misleading comment from the SOTU about uranium and Africa. Do you go on and brush off the lie about the aluminum tubes? Do you then brush off the lie about the Iraq/Al Qaeda linkage?

What if the government that replaces Saddam in five years is actually much more dangerous internationally (due to their support of radical Islam, terrorism, etc) than Saddam was? Do you continue to assert that the Iraq war was the right thing to do? I would like to find out where people like George Will or whomever (name your favorite conservative pundit) would finally stop and say, "You know what, Bush is wrong here, and he's hurting the country." Is there a conceivable set of circumstances under which that would occur?

In business, loyalty is pretty much the most important consideration when you are trying to make a sensitive hiring decision. The same is true, I think, when you are talking about intelligence and security in the government. But when does the loyalty become a liability and lead to disaster? If Bush surrounds himself with nothing but loyal "yes" men, who is going to provide the much needed reality check that keeps us from going into another Vietnam-like quagmire?

Posted by Observer at 01:48 PM | Comments (0)

July 27, 2003

Counting Our Blessings

Eleven days into the new baby experience, and I'm happy to say that we still have a terrific little kid. We've been out to eat with company three times in the last three days, and he slept right through them all. He's eating a *lot* (4 oz at a time, about every 3-4 hours on average) and holding it down (except for last night, he ate a bit too much and threw up, but we got him right back on his rhythm pretty quick).

I was helping Michelle change him last night, and she said, "Hand me an undershirt." I opened up the drawer full of newborn baby clothes, and just stared at it for about five seconds.

"It all looks the same to me," I said. Everything is pastel colors with a variety of buttons in different places, some with booties, some long, some short, etc. So I still have a lot to learn about dressing the baby. I am slowly assuming responsibility for all baby input, meaning formula. I wash and sterilize the bottles and the water, mix the formula, fill the bottles, clean up.

Michelle is still in charge of output, but I'll be learning that better real soon. I also am figuring out how to do baby's laundry correctly. I know when Michelle's mom finally does leave, we're going to be a lot busier keeping up with baby and the housework. It's a very rewarding kind of busy, though. We're very lucky.

Posted by Observer at 02:10 PM | Comments (1)

July 26, 2003

Expletives Deleted

The report of the congressional investigation into 9/11 has finally been released, and it was mostly buried in the SCLM by the killing (why not capture?) of two of Saddam's wretched sons. Here's a big surprise: all the stuff that might implicate Bush or his father or any of their Saudi friends in the Carlyle Group (who bankrolled W's early failed oil ventures) have been deleted from the report. There's still plenty left in to make liars out of most all of Bushco.

The Media Horse has a pretty good summary of the meaty stuff. Meanwhile, Bush's 9/11 "bubble" in his approval ratings is now officially over, and his electability ratings are now below pre-9/11 levels. I guess that's good news. I don't really care much about polls because I know Moron-Americans can change their mind at the sight of a slick TV ad.

Posted by Observer at 10:30 AM | Comments (0)

July 25, 2003

What Not to Say

Our Rube Goldberg contraption of a summer plan just about has all the pieces in place. Michelle's mom, Elayne, is just about ready to drive Michelle's car back to Nova Scotia, and her friend Wayne arrived by plane yesterday. He's pretty excited about the whole trip. It's going to be weird in a few days to have "just" the six of us (plus the two dogs) in the house. I'm going to have to get off my ass and start doing dishes again.

I realized last night when telling this story again to Wayne that I forgot to mention it in my retelling of the story of Daniel's birth. Right after Daniel was born, the doctor had cleaned him up a little bit and given him to Michelle to hold. She then walked back around in front of Michelle and said very calmly, "Michelle, you are not going to believe this."

For about a half-second, my heart froze. My gut was telling me that Dr. Bradford is about to tell us she sees another head coming out. I looked at her half-kidding and shook my finger, "Do NOT even think about saying the word 'twins'". She said, "Oh no no no, nothing like that, I was just going to say that Michelle had a perfect birth, no tearing, no complications." Michelle had worried so much about things like that, I guess the doctor wanted to share a sense of relief with her.

I told the doctor that "you are not going to believe this" is most definitely on the top ten of the list of things you do not want to hear during a birth experience.

Posted by Observer at 07:50 AM | Comments (2)

July 24, 2003

McNation

Just finished "Fast Food Nation" by Eric Schlosser. This book is a couple of years old, and it serves as an incomplete but in depth study of the history and impact of the fast food industry on America. Very readable and interesting, and I plan to look for more by the same author.

Schlosser explores how beef is processed with a lot of detail on how the assembly line beef processing plants work. It goes without saying (doesn't it?) that governmental oversight has been bought off thanks to heavy donations to Republicans. Schlosser has a good time pointing out how free-spirited, independent and anti-government all the big beef businessmen are, despite the fact that every single one of them got huge help from governmental agencies like the Small Business Administration to get off the ground.

It goes without saying (doesn't it?) that Republicans have allowed beef industry executives to exchange huge campaign contributions for the right to write their own laws at the state and federal level. The result is that beef we buy at the grocery store is literally full of shit (including the dangerous strains of E. Coli, Salmonella, etc. in the fecal matter). About the only thing that has raised the standards for beef we get from fast food places is the E. Coli scare at Jack in the Box and other places. The resulting threat of lawsuits means that fast food companies place strict rules on the beef they get from processing plants, far more strict than the government imposes.

As for the working conditions, it goes without saying (doesn't it?) that Republicans have hamstrung governmental agencies like the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the National Labor Relations Board, the US Dept. of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration by cutting funding or changing the rules by which they operate. The result is that beef processing plants can hire illegal aliens by the truckload, working conditions are horrible, and the health standards for the workplace and the output are essentially non-existant.

The frequency of injuries and deaths in the slaughterhouses is staggering from what little can be learned (because the government isn't allowed to keep meaningful statistics and the slaughterhouses routinely fake their reports anyway). The average worker lasts less than six weeks at one of these places, which is why they broadcast on Spanish language stations in the barrios of America and in Mexico trying to find warm bodies to fill spots. We organize against Nike sweatshops in Asia, but these places have far worse working conditions, and it seems like no one cares.

It's not that the whole book is filled with the kind of liberal screed that I've just written. It's just what I thought was the most interesting stuff. Schlosser also talks about the origins of the industry, telling the stories of the first McDonald's restaurant in California and how it grew, etc. He talks about where the fries come from, the flavor industry, how the whole franchise system works. I think the best quote about restaurant operations comes from a typical teenager who said, "I wouldn't eat anything from this place that I didn't prepare myself."

I guess the only advice the author really has other than becoming a vegetarian is that we have to look to buy beef from places that keep the processing humane, sanitary and under control. There are places like this, and they aren't very expensive compared to the normal price of beef. They are just really hard to find.

Posted by Observer at 08:59 AM | Comments (13)

July 23, 2003

Opportunity Knocks

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

Posted by Observer at 09:02 AM | Comments (2)

July 22, 2003

Baby Update

I'm in the process of giving my 2nd exam to my students, so it's a perfect time to blog. Daniel has been an absolute angel. I swear that kid cries maybe a grand total of 10 minutes a day, and that's only when he's getting bathed or changed or gets hungry.

Now if *I* were the one doing the bulk of the changing and so on, I imagine my clumsy hands would make the crying go on quite a bit longer. I will get better as I learn more. For now, Daniel and I are both thankful that we have a professional mom in the house who showers that lucky baby with all the TLC he can handle. Those two are so sweet to watch together.

The last two nights, Daniel has only been up once during the night (though several times, he needs a pacifier from mom to quiet down for another half hour as we try to extend his sleeping time at night). So we get to sleep around midnight, get up for a feeding at 4am, and then Daniel is up again by about 8am. Michelle is doing the wee hours work for now, but she is starting to sneak in more than just a few hours of sleep per night.

I'm trying to help by mixing formula up. It's scary. I mean, I'm at the stage right now where I am carefully leveling off the measuring cup and shaking the formula very thoroughly and pouring it into the bottles right up to the exact 4 oz mark and all that. I'm sure I'll look back and think I was being pretty stupid, but crap, if you don't measure the formula right, the poor kid will either starve or get indigestion. It's a trivial yet scary responsibility.

I'm also trying to keep the other kids occupied. I'm keeping Justin and Cody working on their math and writing assignments as they continue their long summer of working off those broken windows. We also give them chores occasionally. I find that manually watering the yard for about 45 minutes is a good one. Gets them outside, and they prefer that to writing or math. They're keeping up with everything (which is pretty good for Cody), and their privileges are slowly expanding. I hope it all works in the long run. So far, I think it is.

I got Sarah started on her "Cluefinders" software, which is basically an educational game we bought from the school back in the Spring. Cody has one, too, and they both play it occasionally (Cody not as much obviously, because he has to earn what little computer time he gets). I'm not sure how much fun it is. We'll see if it has the staying power of Animal Crossing or Super Smash Bros. Sarah is also earning money so she can buy her own copy of "The Country Bears", which is one of the worst pieces of schlock I've seen in a long time (but it makes her super excited and happy).

Oh well, to sum it up, things are wonderfully busy. I honestly couldn't be happier about the whole experience so far, and that includes the whole nearly two years of life with Michelle and the kids. It just keeps getting better, and I count my blessings every day.

Posted by Observer at 10:38 AM | Comments (6)

Foresight is 20/20

Before the war, like many other people, I openly wondered whether the Iraq war would truly make Americans safer. I guess I must be some flaming Commie liberal for daring to question what was about the happen, but I'm in good company. Turns out the bulk of the intelligence community (as summarized in the recently de-classified and released National Intelligence Estimate about the war) agreed with me:

"Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists," President Bush said in Cincinnati on Oct. 7. "Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints."

But declassified portions of a still-secret National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released Friday by the White House show that at the time of the president's speech the U.S. intelligence community judged that possibility to be unlikely. In fact, the NIE, which began circulating Oct. 2, shows the intelligence services were much more worried that Hussein might give weapons to al Qaeda terrorists if he were facing death or capture and his government was collapsing after a military attack by the United States.

"Saddam, if sufficiently desperate, might decide that only an organization such as al Qaeda, . . . already engaged in a life-or-death struggle against the United States, could perpetrate the type of terrorist attack that he would hope to conduct," one key judgment of the estimate said.

It went on to say that Hussein might decide to take the "extreme step" of assisting al Qaeda in a terrorist attack against the United States if it "would be his last chance to exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him." ...

One of the judgments was that Hussein "appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or [chemical or biological weapons] against the United States fearing that exposure of Iraqi involvement would provide Washington a stronger case for making war."

Another judgment was that Iraq would "probably" attempt a clandestine attack against the United States, as mentioned by Bush -- not on "any given day" as the president said Oct. 7, but only "if Baghdad feared an attack that threatened the survival of the regime were imminent or unavoidable."

Today the situation is changed. Hussein is alive but in hiding, and his alleged stocks of chemical or biological weapons or agents have not been found. Meanwhile, the president and other leaders have yet to mention publicly the intelligence assessment that Hussein may be a potentially bigger threat now than before the United States attacked.

In fact, Bush, in his May 1 speech from the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, appeared to take just the opposite position. "We have removed an ally of al Qaeda," Bush said. "No terrorist network will gain weapons of mass destruction from the Iraqi regime."

Has there been a more foolish and destructive administration in the history of the United States? I mean, yeah, I know there were some bad times during the early 19th century and during reconstruction and of course prior to the depression, but seriously, how can it get any worse? Foreign policy, domestic policy, the environment, everything across the board. What a disaster for our country. And thanks to Moron-Americans everywhere, he's got a decent chance to get re-elected.

Posted by Observer at 10:20 AM | Comments (3)

July 21, 2003

Another Lie

As an example of one of the many other lies in the State of the Union, Paul Krugman asks the reader to consider this one:

Here's another sentence in George Bush's State of the Union address that wasn't true: "We will not deny, we will not ignore, we will not pass along our problems to other Congresses, to other presidents and other generations."

Mr. Bush's officials profess to see nothing wrong with the explosion of the national debt on their watch, even though they now project an astonishing $455 billion budget deficit this year and $475 billion next year. But even the usual apologists (well, some of them) are starting to acknowledge the administration's irresponsibility. Will they also face up to its dishonesty? It has been obvious all along, if you were willing to see it, that the administration's claims to fiscal responsibility have rested on thoroughly cooked books.

The numbers tell the tale. In its first budget, released in April 2001, the administration projected a budget surplus of $334 billion for this year. More tellingly, in its second budget, released in February 2002 ˇ that is, after the administration knew about the recession and Sept. 11 ˇ it projected a deficit of only $80 billion this year, and an almost balanced budget next year. Just six months ago, it was projecting deficits of about $300 billion this year and next.

There's no mystery about why the administration's budget projections have borne so little resemblance to reality: realistic budget numbers would have undermined the case for tax cuts. So budget analysts were pressured to high-ball estimates of future revenues and low-ball estimates of future expenditures. Any resemblance to the way the threat from Iraq was exaggerated is no coincidence at all.

And just as some people argue that the war was justified even though it was sold on false pretenses, some say that the biggest budget deficit in history is justified even though the administration got us here with cooked numbers.

Some point out that Ronald Reagan ran even bigger deficits as a share of G.D.P. But they hope people won't remember that in the face of those deficits, Mr. Reagan raised taxes, reversing part of his initial tax cut.

Furthermore, this time huge deficits have emerged just a few years before the baby boomers start retiring and placing huge demands on Social Security and Medicare. The Social Security system is running a surplus right now, in preparation for future demands; the rest of the federal government is paying one-third of its expenses with borrowed money. That's a record.

But haven't administration officials said they'll cut the deficit in half by 2008? Yeah, right. I could explain in detail why that claim is nonsense, but in any case, why bother with what these people say? Remember, just 18 months ago they said they'd more or less balance the budget by 2004. Unpoliticized projections show a budget deficit of at least $300 billion a year as far as the eye can see.

The last defense of the budget deficit is that it helps a depressed economy ˇ to which the answer is "yes, but." Yes, deficit spending stimulates demand ˇ but tax cuts for the rich, which have dominated the administration's economic program, generate very little employment bang for the deficit buck. Of the 2.6 million jobs the economy has lost under the Bush administration, 2 million have been lost since the 2001 tax cut.

And yes, deficits are appropriate as a temporary measure when the economy is depressed ˇ but these deficits aren't temporary (see above).

Still, do deficits matter? Some economists worry, with good reason, about their long-run effect on economic growth. But I worry most about America's fiscal credibility.

You see, a government that has a reputation for sound finance and honest budgets can get away with running temporary deficits; if it lacks such a reputation, it can't. Right now the U.S. government is running deficits bigger, as a share of G.D.P., than those that plunged Argentina into crisis. The reason we don't face a comparable crisis is that markets, extrapolating from our responsible past, trust us to get our house in order.

But Mr. Bush shows no inclination to deal with the budget deficit. On the contrary, his administration continues to fudge the numbers and push for ever more tax cuts. Eventually, markets will notice. And tarnished credibility, along with a much-increased debt, is a problem that Mr. Bush will pass along to other Congresses, other presidents and other generations.

What ever happened to fiscal conservatism? Hell, that was about the only thing the Republican party had going for it, and now they've even thrown *that* out the window. I guess that's been true for a long time, though. Not that you would ever get that from the corporate media, mind you.

Posted by Observer at 12:57 PM | Comments (0)

July 20, 2003

In All Fairness

As Feynman put it, if you want to have integrity, you have to report both sides of the story, even evidence that may go against your thesis. And so recent issues of The Daily Howler have done. Howler's point is that of all the lies in the State of the Union address, the one about the Iraq seeking Uranium from Africa may actually turn out to be factually correct (albeit in a Clintonian fashion). The press corps has focused on the claim that Iraq sought uranium from Niger, but the speech claimed that Iraq sought uranium from Africa, which could mean any nation.

It is quite possible the British have the goods on just such a transaction (although to be clear, the evidence so far indicates they did *not* have the goods on any such thing at the time of Bush's claim, which still makes Bush a liar even if Iraq did seek uranium from Africa, if you want to get technical about it). We may never know. The point Howler makes is that the press corps has made up its mind that Bush lied about the Africa claim, and virtually every story ignores lots of facts and explanations to push that thesis. It is very similar to the way the press decided Al Gore was dishonest, and virtually every story simply ignored lots of facts and explanations to push that thesis.

Never fear, though, there are still plenty of other lies about the war to be dealt with. And plenty of lies about everything else, too. The sad truth is that this country was a whole lot better off under the previous liar. The new slogan goes, "When Clinton Lied, Nobody Died."

Posted by Observer at 12:13 PM | Comments (0)

July 19, 2003

Four Aces

An ABC News reporter and several soldiers in Iraq made the mistake of publishing a brutally honest interview the other day. Best quote of the interview was from a sergeant:

The aces in my deck are Paul Bremer, Donald Rumsfeld, George Bush and Paul Wolfowitz.

As you might imagine, reaction was sent down from Washington through the chain of command swiftly. The soldiers were rebuked and no longer comment. Their C. O.'s are in hot water. The White House also contacted the gossip Matt Drudge and got him to headline a story on his web site saying the reporter was both gay and Canadian. The Media Horse is following this very well.

Unfortunately, as I expected, Iraq has been mostly pushed back to the back pages of the newspaper now. Kobe Bryant and the old guy who crashed through the California market are the new topics of distraction. We'll be fed front-page boldface updates on those stories for weeks to come while more soldiers die in Iraq every day.

Republicans are getting smart, though. They are making noises of holding some sort of investigation on the matter, and it will undoubtedly turn out exactly like the investigation of the abuses of the Homeland Security Department in looking for the Killer D's in Texas. They'll make a little show of exhonorating everyone involved, and the media will report it as though the original wrongdoing is just as significant as the Democratic whining, which of course is just rude, shameful and partisan.

Meanwhile, in Texas, they continue to try to redraw political boundaries and redistrict a bunch more Republicans into the U. S. Congress. Republicans are saying it is really unfair that their party got more of the popular vote in Texas while Democrats got more Congressional seats because of the electoral process. Many Democratic letter-writers are reminding them that by this logic, Al Gore should be in the White House. I'd make that trade, sure.

Posted by Observer at 09:33 AM | Comments (0)

July 18, 2003

Baby Story

We went to the weekly ob/gyn appointment on Tuesday afternoon, and the doctor told us Michelle was dilated 3-4 cm (as opposed to 2-3 cm last week). There was a little blood with the exam, but it wasn't as rough as last week's exam. At the end of the appointment, we discussed the possibility of inducing Saturday, because that was going to be the doctor's last day before a long vacation. We said we'd go home and think about it.

About an hour after we got home, Michelle was still bleeding rather heavily. A few maxi pads were filled up, and then one or two pretty big clots came out. Because we had a little scare with bleeding a couple of months ago, we decided it would be best to go in and make sure everything was ok. We called the doctor, and we warned the maternal observation unit that we were going in.

We arrived at about 7pm Tuesday evening, and they hooked her up to the baby heartbeat and contractions monitor. We discovered that she was having some contractions that she could feel, but they really weren't painful. They just felt like tightenings, like the baby was stretching at times. The baby's heartbeat was just fine and steady. The bleeding continued at an erratic rate, but it wasn't anything horribly serious.

The doctor came in to see us. She was still at the hospital after having delivered two babies earlier in the afternoon (delivered after our appointment was over). She told us we were going down to the Labor and Delivery wing and have us a baby. Michelle was pretty scared, and I wasn't really sure what to think. I mean, I was excited, but this wasn't exactly how we had planned it, and I was worried about Michelle's bleeding.

When we got down to Labor and Delivery, it was about 930pm, and the nurse told us she was going to put some numbing cream on Michelle's wrists so that the IV wouldn't hurt so much going in. It was 10pm before the cream was on, and that's when the nurse told us that the doctor had ordered Pitocin (a boost of the chemical the body naturally produces to induce labor) in very slowly increasing doses until the contractions got steady.

That was a bit of a surprise, to say the least. We weren't expecting to be induced, but they couldn't very well let her go home bleeding as she was. I think the doctor just decided that this would be the best way to get it overwith under a controlled environment. At 11pm, the IV went in, and it was a real strain for Michelle. It is what she has feared the most for the past nine months, believe it or not. But she was a trooper, and the IV went in. The numbing cream helped some, but it was still a very tough experience for my poor baby.

They also started her on a course of antibiotics, which they said would need 8 hours to rise to a sufficient level that they wouldn't need to give anything to the baby directly via injection after the birth. They were required to do this due to a positive test a couple of months back for Group B strep. The room itself was very spacious, and there was a hide-a-bed for me that wasn't too comfortable.

Michelle had dilated to about 5 cm by the time the doctor came in at around 1130pm (I think) to examine her. The doctor said the cervix was extremely flexible, and when the baby's head dropped into place, it would go very quickly. So it was a matter of waiting both for the antibiotics to get in her and for the baby to drop down into place. Michelle spent half the night in the rather uncomfortable bed and half in a rocking chair trying to let gravity do some work. I slept from about midnight-2am and 4am-6am, and Michelle really didn't sleep at all.

That's partly because nurses were coming in every half hour to check on her and partly because of the blood pressure cuff that automatically triggered about every 15 minutes. There was no way to sleep. The contractions still weren't very painful. But we were both very, very tired by 7am.

Dr. Bradford had stayed at the hospital with us during the night, with Michelle as her only patient, but she slept in some other room, obviously. At 6am, the nurse told us they worried about breaking the water too early when the baby's head was too high because there was a danger the cord would come down first and so forth, which would lead to an emergency C-section. At 7am, the doctor came in and checked Michelle and said she was 6cm dilated, and feeling the head, she decided to break Michelle's water.

Very scary moment for both of us. This was the point of no return, and even though we trust the doctor, what if this leads to a C-section? Ack. Michelle was very frightened, and I was standing at the head of the bed with her holding her hand feeling every bit of it. After the water was broken, Dr. Bradford said she would return when Michelle was fully dilated and ready to push. Then she left and the first real contraction hit. This is when labor really began.

For the next 30 minutes, Michelle had contractions roughly every 2-3 minutes. I was spending the short times between contractions keeping family members updated about what was going on by phone. My mom couldn't come down (because she's keeping a close eye on her mom, who is having really bad health problems right now), and my dad was driving our way, hoping to arrive before the baby. I also called work and told them to show my class a film, and I made a couple of other arrangements.

At 730am, Michelle finally agreed to the nurse's repeated requests to see if she wanted painkillers. They had been asking her all night if she wanted any Stadol (not sure how to spell it, it sounds like "STAY-Doll") or if she was changing her mind about not having an epidural. The nurse told us the Stadol wouldn't really stop the pain, but it would make Michelle groggy enough not to care too much about it. They didn't want to give too much Stadol too close to the birth, however, because then too much would be in the baby's system when he was born.

The contractions continued to worsen in intensity, but they remained about 2-3 minutes apart for the next hour. At that time (830), the dose of Stadol had fully worn off, and Michelle was dilated to 9.5 cm. From about 815 to 845, Michelle was pretty groggy, just saying "hurts ... ooooo ... " and that sort of thing, but she did clearly enunciate a few times, "I WANT MORE MEDICINE NOW."

But she was being ignored, because the baby was too close to coming out. The nurse asked Michelle to say when she felt an irresistable urge to push, and at 845, Michelle could only say "urge" and nod vigorously, so I translated for the nurse. She ran to call Dr. Bradford, who arrived after two more contractions had passed. They were about a minute long now and a minute apart and really bad. Michelle gritted her teeth through two of them and didn't push, then Dr. Bradford came in.

The nurses tried to get Michelle's feet up into stirrups attached to the table, but it hurt too much. Dr. Bradford kinda took charge and told them to lay off. She let Michelle lay kinda sideways on the bed, leaning against one rail and one foot propped up on a stirrup. She told Michelle to give the baby a big bear hug, leaning forward while she pushed.

After a few pushes, they could see a bulge. Dr. Bradford commented to the nurse that natural childbirth was so much better than doing it with an epidural, because the pushing is better timed and more effective. Michelle was getting close now, and the next push, the head was visible. One push later, and Michelle let out a really loud yell. The baby's head was halfway out, and the doctor could almost grab hold of it but not quite.

One more push and a really loud long yell, and the whole head came out. Then the doctor said just the shoulders left, and Michelle pushed once more. The whole baby came out along with a big splash of fluid. I couldn't believe how much fluid and how big the baby was, not just the head but the whole torso. It's amazing all that fit inside my sweetie.

They rubbed the baby's chest for just a moment, and he started to cry. The nurse cleaned him up a little, though he really didn't need it that much. His color was just a light shade of pink. His head was almost perfectly round (and big ... the baby hats barely fit him thanks to the big heads from my side of the family). Everything was in place. He got a perfect evaluation at some point, but he was in his mother's arms within seconds of the birth. He had a couple of big poops almost immediately.

Within an hour, my dad and stepmother had arrived to visit. My brother was there shortly after. They brought Michelle's mom to visit. The baby was born at 9:01am. By 11am, Michelle was up and moving and getting cleaned up. She recovered remarkably fast. At that point, we thought about eating food for the first time in nearly 24 hours. By 5pm, they were ready to move us up to the maternity ward.

I'll let Michelle finish the rest of our mostly uneventful hospital stay if she wants. Or maybe I'll talk about it tomorrow. For now, we are home in a timely fashion. Flowers and congrats and phone calls are pouring in, and the kids will be home from day camp in a little while to meet their new brother, Daniel (his middle name is Robert, after my brother and father). We'll sleep when we can.

Posted by Observer at 02:13 PM | Comments (4)

July 17, 2003

48 Hours

I'm just home from the hospital for a little bit to get ready to teach my class today, then I'm going back in. Mom and baby are still doing great. Mom and Dad are both exhausted. We have to spend 48 hours in the hospital from the time of the birth, so we'll be home tomorrow to tell the story.

Since I didn't have class yesterday, I gave Daniel my lecture while he was in my arms. He nodded and fell asleep in about 10 minutes, just like my students. Later, I was explaining to him about Bush's stupid war and the myth of the liberal media, and he was very alert and intent for that. Maybe that's the lecture I should give my class. Hmmm.

Posted by Observer at 08:13 AM | Comments (1)

July 16, 2003

Daniel

Our son, Daniel, was born at 9:01am this morning. 8lbs 2oz, about 20 inches long. Everything went well. Baby got a perfect score and looks great, and mom didn't tear or anything (but it was painful). We're at the hospital until late Thursday or (more likely) Friday morning. Woo!

Posted by Observer at 02:41 PM | Comments (11)

July 15, 2003

Wish Us Luck

Ever since today's exam (where we found out my sweetie is now dilated to nearly 4cm), Michelle has been bleeding on and off, and this evening at supper, there were a couple of big clots. So we're going in. Maybe there will be a baby by the time I post again. Wish us luck!

Posted by Observer at 06:19 PM | Comments (8)

Bush Lied, Our Soldiers Died

It's funny to watch Bushco try to weasel out of this. Their behavior has been described in many circles as Clintonian, and that's fairly accurate (although Clinton just lied about sex, not justification for a pre-emptive strike policy and war, so I'd say there's a tiny bit of difference there in significance). Here's Cheney and Rice on TV saying, "Well, what Bush said was technically accurate."

Actually, to recap, there have been several different spins. Bushco first tried to blame it on the CIA, but that didn't wash. Not only did people from the CIA and State Department contradict the administration, people looked back at the record and found that references to the "uranium from Africa" story had been purposely deleted from speeches both before and after the State of the Union, so someone was aware of the intelligence. Yet someone there made a choice to put it in.

It's funny to watch Bushco use the passive voice. "It shouldn't have been left in," they say. Well, no, it shouldn't have been put in to start with, nor should several other claims (like the Iraq-Al Qaeda links, the huge quantities of nerve gas claim, the aluminum tubes claim, etc). Someone made a choice to put it in and chose misleading language to make (some of) it technically accurate. Remember Cargo Cult Science by Feynman? What a perfect backdrop with which to discuss Bushco.

Well, so the CIA-as-the-fall-guy didn't wash. Next they tried to claim that Bush was ignorant of everything, so how could he lie? The Media Horse has a really funny response to that, showing excerpts from the White House's own web site, showing Bush deeply involved in the construction of the speech, going over every detail, offering pointers, etc. So there's a lie somewhere in there.

Failing that, Bushco is now saying that it might be true in the end, that there might be other intelligence regarding other African countries that makes the claim true. That may turn out to be the case, of course, but that doesn't mean Bush has the right to make that claim when he did. At the time, the British had zero evidence supporting Bush's claim. Maybe there's something else *now*, who knows?

In between all of these spins has been Bushco emphatically trying to say "case closed". Yes, we consider this old news, so it is time to move on. For some reason, that has worked with the so-called liberal media time and time again (remember Florida?). But it isn't working this time. I guess there haven't been any snipers or young blond adolescents kidnapped lately, and no one can really get interested in the Robert Blake trial or whatever other legal trouble celebrities are getting into these days.

But it is only a matter of time until this is dropped. Conservatives are already trying other points to make Bushco critics look bad. They are trying to say it is "just 16 words" or that the case against Iraq was built on far more than just the uranium-from-Africa claim. Actually, I'll agree with the last bit. There were other stated reasons, but they all pretty much turned out to be bogus as well.

About the only legitimate reason to go in there would have been humanitarian reasons, and that's all great. But that wasn't among the reasons given in the first place, nor does it square with American foreign policy priorities in many, many other countries. And it is indeed arguable whether the humanitarian conditions in Iraq will improve much over the length of our occupation. What if we had instead lifted sanctions and continued inspections (with an occasional air strike or what have you if we saw them building a big uranium processor, etc)? Or what if we had just continued on course until Saddam died or was ousted?

In either case, there wouldn't be hundreds of troops dead or wounded. We wouldn't be spending on the order of $100 billion per year for the forseeable future. We wouldn't be fertilizing new ground for people to become terrorists. We wouldn't be the bad guy in the community of nations.

But no, Bush had to lie. Wolfowitz and friends thought they had it all figured out, even though people like me (and people a lot more prominent than me) were telling them they were nuts. Oh yeah, great job, guys. Iraq is a *real* model for middle east democracy and stability! After our favorite exile front-page unnamed source Ahmed Chalabi was handed his hat by the Iraqis who actually have lived in Iraq for the past couple of decades, the US has had no plan what to do.

Bush lied, our soldiers died. Bush continues to lie, our soldiers continue to die. By the hundreds. Wounded by the thousands. Not the mention the Iraqis, whom we are studiously not counting.

Posted by Observer at 06:46 AM | Comments (2)

July 14, 2003

Phoenix Review

Well, I finished reading Harry Potter book five ("Order of the Phoenix"), so if you don't want to see spoilers, read no further.

For about the first two-thirds of the book, I have to say I was both beaten down and also amused. Here you have a situation where there is a definite wrong-ness in the world, and you and your friends all pretty much agree that it is as plain as the hand in front of your face. Some people you care about, whom you thought were ok, suddenly act like you're from Mars because you think this is so important and they don't see what the big deal is and don't believe you anyway. It's almost as if they're in denial from your point of view.

Then it gets worse, and bigger things you can't control, the so-called powers that be, start to agree and sound just like the wrong side. It's almost as if someone is out there pulling the strings and revealing that everything and everyone you trusted is really just like a puppet waiting to be jerked around by anyone other than you or those who are on your side. You think it has reached just an absolutely hopeless situation when you realize it can get worse, because the bad guys start getting more and more cocky and brazen about it. You wonder at what point will people realize what is truly going on and start to agree with you.

You learn that you have to really value your true friends. You also have to watch what you say and whom you say it to, because it just isn't worth the trouble. You also have to learn to suppress things lest they get in the way of friendships which aren't necessarily as important but also not worth tossing aside over this thing. While this is definitely an overdramatization of politics (or, say, Clan Lord), there are grains of truth to it from my subjective viewpoint.

In a way, I don't want to read about a similar situation. I mean, Rowling just kept piling it on poor Harry to the point it was getting ridiculous. So once I had some time to spare and some reading momentum this weekend, I really rushed through the book. Not so much because I liked it a lot (I thought it was ok, but not as good as Goblet of Fire) but because I was really impatient to see things turn around for Harry.

I like the way Harry's relationship (or lack thereof) is going with Cho Chang. I thought that was pretty believeable for innocent teenage behavior, and Hermione's translations of Cho's actions and words were funny. I didn't like the way Harry's other kind of relationship with Dumbledore went. It was all explained somewhat rationally in the end, but it seemed contrived nonetheless.

I liked Dolores Umbridge. Very juicy villain, but with her and Fudge, I am not sure I am convinced of their motivation to be so vicious to everyone and everything friendly to Harry. The whole motivation behind Fudge and Umbridge in this book was probably the biggest sore spot. I was expecting some sort of magical personality control or something to be revealed at the end for at least one of them. Maybe that will be talked about some more in another book.

I liked the different subplots involving Snape. Harry got a chance to see Snape's motivations, but Harry's dad and his cohort were almost too nasty. I was expecting that to be partially explained because it was Snape's subjective memory, but no, Sirius pretty much copped to it.

My other real beef with this book is that it just doesn't feel like it has a resolution. In the previous four books, there was always an overarching plot (finding the sorcerer's stone, finding the chamber of secrets, finding Sirius Black, the triwizard cup) that you could see progressing. You knew what questions were going to be answered at the end of the book, and you knew what was going to be resolved.

In this one, you really have no idea what is going to be resolved. Is there going to be a confrontation with Voldemort again? Is the whole business with the ministry going to be resolved and explained, or is that just part of life now? Any suspense with Quidditch (well, ok, there basically never is any, but still...) is sacrificed to the "piling it on Harry" concept. Exams are a subplot, but then the grades don't come in until next book.

So in a sense, I was frustrated reading this book, because I didn't know what it was all building toward. Maybe that's a good thing, but it was a definite change from the previous books. Anyway, I guess the biggest resolution occured when Fudge was convinced to completely change his mind about everything, and so we are left to believe that he just persecuted the hell out of everyone because ... why, exactly?

Bottom line is that it was all right, and I am looking forward to the next two books. I really want to see how Rowling finishes this series, and I wonder what she'll do after.

Posted by Observer at 07:27 AM | Comments (3)

July 13, 2003

What Not to Ask

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

Posted by Observer at 08:53 AM | Comments (5)

July 12, 2003

The "Just One Sentence" Meme

As the media finally starts rolling on AT LEAST ONE stupid and harmful thing Bush has done during the past two and a half years, it is worth noting that even in this case, where Bush is completely busted for lying in public (though not under oath, sadly), everyone is going out of their way to say that it's no big deal. My favorite has been the "liberals are mad over just one single little itty-bitty sentence in Bush's entire huge long state of the union speech and all the other speeches he's ever given combined" meme.

Actually, no. We're mad about almost everything he says all the time, it's just that all the so-called liberal media has noticed is one little itty-bitty sentence. The Media Horse has been covering this well, along with the usual suspects in my sidebar.

My second favorite is the Reaganite standby: "Bush is too dumb or incompetent to have realized he was lying." How proud conservatives must be to use this defense to stand behind their president (not their leader, mind you).

My third favorite is: "It's the CIA's fault." This is interesting given that the false statement about Iraq trying to acquire Uranium from Africa was omitted from a speech a month before the State of the Union and omitted from another speech a week after the State of the Union, both times because the speechwriters were made aware (by the CIA) that it was bullshit. So they changed the text a little bit and said "The British government has learned..." Not "A report from the British government claims...", mind you.

Oh sorry, am I parsing too much? I guess it depends on your definition, doesn't it?

Posted by Observer at 09:41 AM | Comments (2)

July 11, 2003

Tour de Department

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

Posted by Observer at 08:55 AM | Comments (1)

July 10, 2003

Quote of the Day

Courtesy of Eschaton, I bring you the following quote from a Reuters article that curiously will almost certainly not make it to the front page (or any other page) of your local liberal media outlet:

"I believe the Bush administration did not provide an accurate picture to the American people of the military threat posed by Iraq," said Greg Thielmann, who retired in September from his post of director of the strategic, proliferation and military affairs office in the State Department's bureau of intelligence and research. ... "As of March 2003, when we began military operations, Iraq posed no imminent threat to either its neighbors or to the United States," Thielmann said.

Posted by Observer at 09:02 AM | Comments (0)

A Bottomless Void

Thanks to the Media Horse for today's link, a Boston Globe editorial by James Carroll about our fearless leader, which I quote in its entirety:

In the Gothic splendor of the National Cathedral, that liturgy of trauma, George W. Bush made the most stirring - and ominous - declaration of his presidency. It was Sept. 14, 2001. ''Just three days removed from these events,'' he said, ''Americans do not yet have ''the distance of history.'' But our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.''

The statement fell on the ears of most Americans, perhaps, as mere rhetoric of the high pulpit, but as the distance of history lengthens, events show that in those few words the president redefined his raison d'etre and that of the nation - nothing less than to ''rid the world of evil.'' The unprecedented initiatives taken from Washington in the last two years are incomprehensible except in the context of this purpose.

President Bush, one sees now, meant exactly what he said. Something entirely new, for Americans, at least, is animating their government. The greatest power the earth has ever seen is now expressly mobilized against the world's most ancient mystery. What human beings have proven incapable of doing ever before, George W. Bush has taken on as his personal mission, aiming to accomplish it in one election cycle, two at most.

What the president may not know is that the worst manifestations of evil have been the blowback of efforts to be rid of it. If one can refer to the personification of evil, Satan's great trick consists in turning the fierce energy of such purification back upon itself. Across the distance of history, the most noble ambition has invariably led to the most ignoble deeds. This is because the certitude of nobility overrides the moral qualm that adheres to less transcendent enterprises. The record of this deadly paradox is written in the full range of literature, from Sophocles to Fyodor Dostoyevski to Ursula K. LeGuin, each of whom raises the perennial question: What is permitted to be done in the name of ''ridding the world of evil''?

Is lying allowed? Torture? The killing of children? Or, less drastic, the militarization of civil society? The launching of dubious wars? But wars are never dubious at their launchings. The recognition of complexity - moral as well as martial - comes only with ''the distance of history,'' and it is that perspective that has begun to press itself upon the American conscience now.

Having forthrightly set out to rid the world of evil, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq, has the United States, willy-nilly, become an instrument of evil? Lying (weapons of mass deception). Torture (if only by US surrogates). The killing of children (''collaterally,'' but inevitably). The vulgarization of patriotism (last week's orgy of bunting). The imposition of chaos (and calling it freedom). The destruction of alliances (''First Iraq, then France''). The invitation to other nations to behave in like fashion (Goodbye, Chechnya). The inexorable escalation (''Bring 'em on!''). The made-in-Washington pantheon of mythologized enemies (first Osama, now Saddam). The transmutation of ordinary young Americans (into dead heroes). How does all of this, or any of it, ''rid the world of evil''?

Which brings us back to that Gothic cathedral of a question: What is evil anyway? Is it the impulse only of tyrants? Of enemies alone? Or is it tied to the personal entitlement onto which America, too, hangs its bunting? Is evil the thing, perhaps, that forever inclines human beings to believe that they are themselves untouched by it? Moral maturity, mellowed across the distance of history, begins in the acknowledgement that evil, whatever its primal source, resides, like a virus in its niche, in the human self. There is no ridding the world of evil for the simple fact that, shy of history's end, there is no ridding the self of it.

But there's the problem with President Bush. It is not the moral immaturity of the texts he reads. Like his callow statement in the National Cathedral, they are written by someone else. When the president speaks, unscripted, from his own moral center, what shows itself is a bottomless void.

To address concerns about the savage violence engulfing ''postwar'' Iraq with a cocksure ''Bring `em on!'' as he did last week, is to display an absence of imagination shocking in a man of such authority. It showed a lack of capacity to identify either with enraged Iraqis who must rise to such a taunt or with young GIs who must now answer for it. Even in relationship to his own soldiers, there is nothing at the core of this man but visceral meanness.

No human being with a minimal self-knowledge could speak of evil as he does, but there is no self-knowledge without a self. Even this short ''distance of history'' shows George W. Bush to be, in that sense, the selfless president, which is not a compliment. It's a warning.

Posted by Observer at 08:55 AM | Comments (0)

July 09, 2003

Next!

Here is a good cartoon about the Bush administration foreign policy.

Posted by Observer at 09:30 AM | Comments (0)

Almost There...

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

Posted by Observer at 09:27 AM | Comments (8)

July 08, 2003

The Mootrix

At long last, we got a chance to get away from the house yesterday to catch "The Matrix Reconstructed" before it left theaters altogether. I was pretty excited about it, but my expectations weren't all that high (if that makes sense). While Michelle didn't like it, I thought it was ok.

I liked the way stuff was explained by the architect. I mean, yeah, it's shlock, but I thought it answered most of the questions decently enough. It explained the oracle, the keymaster (who I also thought was pretty funny), Zion, etc., and it did so in a way I didn't really expect. I really didn't like the Zion scenes. They did nothing for me, and they didn't seem relevant in the end. If they had just stuck to the ship and the matrix like the first movie, I think it would've been stronger and tighter.

Of course, you have to massively suspend disbelief for any of this to work. In my opinion, it isn't really fair for you to be worried about whether anything that happens is plausible if you are willing to accept the wildly implausible premise. A recent PvP Online cartoon says it best:

I'm not convinced we need any sequels for "The Matrix". The first movie was cool, but it was based on way too shaky a premise. I mean, if you're a group of sentient machines looking for a powersource, and you decide on bio-electric batteries, why use humans? Cows would be a better idea.

Cows would generate more energy, they would never rebel, and the matrix would just be one endless field of grass. They could call it the Mootrix!

So anyway, if you buy into that, and you just go to see the cool fight scenes and the new ideas, then sure, I'm there. I'll be interested to see the third movie coming out at the end of the year, for sure. I don't know if they can top the freeway chase scene, but even that didn't really top most of the action sequences in the first Matrix movie. Too bad.

Posted by Observer at 07:14 AM | Comments (2)

July 07, 2003

Goblet of Fun

I'm finished with the 4th book in the Harry Potter series ("Goblet of Fire"), and I'm happy to say it is very good. It continues the trend of the other three books, which get darker as the series goes on. The ending was particularly surprising and unlike previous books, there's no way to wrap a pretty bow around it (nor did Rowling try to). It's hard to say which of the four is the best. They're all fun books, and it is easy to read through them quickly. Time to dive into the latest book when I have time.

Today starts the busiest two weeks of the year for me, with summer classes and helping to host a workshop for visiting science teachers. My mom came down to visit for the first time in over a month yesterday, and I had to be on campus to help set things up! Argh. At least she got to spend some quality time with my sweetie and her mom.

Posted by Observer at 07:32 AM | Comments (2)

July 06, 2003

Part of the Problem

I found a good article this morning about the media's role in the lead-up to the current war. The article wonders what happened to the (So-Called Liberal) Media's skepticism about the evidence for WMD in Iraq. After all, isn't it their role to question rather than to become the administration's mouthpiece?

The Bush administration has been taking heavy flak for its yet-unproved claims about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. In fixing blame for the way the public appears to have been sold a bill of goods, don't overlook the part played by the media. Instead of closely questioning the administration's case, newspaper editorialists basically nodded in agreement.

Take their immediate reaction to the administration's most comprehensive case about the Iraq threat -- Secretary of State Colin Powell's blow-by-blow report to the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5. An examination of editorial comment on Powell's speech, in a mix of some 40 papers from all parts of the country, shows that while some were less convinced than others by Powell's attempt to link Saddam to terrorism, there was unanimity as to Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction:

´Ţ"a massive array of evidence"
´Ţ"a powerful case"
´Ţ"a sober, factual case" ...

Journalists are supposed to be professional skeptics, but nowhere in the commentary was there a smidgen of skepticism about the quality of Powell's evidence. Powell cited almost no verifiable sources. Many of his assertions were unattributed. The speech had more than 40 vague references such as "human sources," "an eyewitness," "detainees," "an al Qaeda source," "a senior defector," "intelligence reports" and the like. ...

Some 80 percent of the editorials I examined were written the day Powell delivered his address and ran the next day, Feb. 6 -- no doubt because of the preference of many editorial page editors for editorials "up to the news." That makes for timely comment, but the downside of instant analysis is the scant time it leaves for careful reporting and reflection.

I learned in my many years of editorial writing to follow I.F. Stone's prudent advice to read texts and not to rush to judgment. None of these publications evidently realized, or noted, how Powell had embellished some facts, although that is readily apparent from a close reading of his text. If the first casualty of war is truth, the media will need to be a lot more skeptical and alert to minimize the toll on truth.

Skeptical of Bushco? The corporate media? Sorry, I don't see it happening. Was I skeptical at the time? You bet. But I didn't get mad enough to start blogging about it until a week or so later, when I started this blog. Not that Powell was the reason. Heh.

Posted by Observer at 09:16 AM | Comments (1)

July 05, 2003

Fourth Right

We had a big Fourth of July yesterday. I got a much larger wood charcoal chimney, some mesquite charcoal, and a grill thermometer. Everything went smoothly. Well, at least it did after the mesquite got burning. For the first 10 minutes in the chimney, it released so much smoke that from the middle of our backyard, I couldn't see our back door. The neighbors came out to see if our house was on fire.

But it burned nicely, and there was plenty to make a good, hot fire for burgers. The first ones cooked in about 8-10 minutes flat with the grill open, but by the fourth batch (kind of a small grill, and I was keeping everything in the center), it was taking 15-20 minutes with the lid closed. Very tasty. If there had been another batch, I would've had to replenish the coals.

Later, we went to the big fireworks show. There are actually several shows all across the area, but this is the big one for our city. We went last year and kind of followed the crowd because it was (for me) in a different place than usual. We got good seats and had a good time, but getting out with nothing short of horrific. We were in traffic, parked, for about an hour. We must've been in the last lot they were letting out, just more or less at random (because we arrived plenty early).

Well, I swore after that fiasco I'd plan it better the next time. So this year we parked much closer to the main road and found a little park to sit in where a few dozen others were already seated. This was much closer to the fireworks than the main crowd. And there was even a cool breeze with some rain in the area, so it was a very pleasant night. The only drawback to this spot: no bathrooms. But we knew that going in, so the suffering was only mild, mostly on the part of my very pregnant sweetie.

After the show, we not only got out into the main traffic flow almost immediately, we were *home* in maybe 5-10 minutes longer from that spot than we would on any normal day. After the 90+ minute trip last year, it was a real relief. Michelle's mom got a real kick out of our big fireworks show, and I'm glad we dragged her along (because I know she was fearing the heat).

Posted by Observer at 07:49 AM | Comments (3)

July 04, 2003

Halfway Home

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

The only problem is that my sweetie's due date is any day now, and I'm sure it'll be a lot of chaos when it does happen. Fortunately, the guy I'm working with on the workshops just had a new baby last year, so I know he'll be sympathetic. And the few faculty who are still here over the summer have promised to cover for me in a pinch, so I should be all set. In theory.

Poor Cody (9 year old) got his two front teeth chipped off two days ago playing in his room (just when you think they are safe from trouble!). One is worse than the other, with about half the tooth gone. So I got to spend a few hours with him at the dentist yesterday. I was surprised they had an opening. They put a filling on there and basically built it up like you would some kind of plaster. The color matched, and his teeth look good as new. We'll see how long those fillings last. No more apples or corn on the cob for Cody.

The dentist said if the fillings are a lot of trouble, he may have to do crowns (which isn't a good idea until all of the teeth are fully in when he's a teenager). And if either front tooth ends up dying, he'll need a root canal on that tooth and a crown regardless. We have a decent dental plan, but yuck. I hate to put the poor kid through that. Just the needles in the mouth for getting his teeth done had him in tears. He was very brave, so I let him out of his evening assignment yesterday so he could play on the GameCube when he got home.

Posted by Observer at 07:29 AM | Comments (8)

July 03, 2003

Bush Bows Up

From Fanatical Apathy:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Bush on Wednesday challenged militants who have been killing and injuring U.S. forces in Iraq, saying "bring them on" because American forces were tough enough to deal with their attacks. "There are some who feel like that conditions are such that they can attack us there," Bush told reporters at the White House. "My answer is bring them on..."

"...in fact," the President continued, "I don't think Iraqi militants have the guts to kill more Americans. I think they're yeller." Bush, who during Vietnam war bravely combatted an extremely inconvenient schedule, made his remarks a mere 6,211 miles from the front lines.

Military reaction to Bush's words was joyous. "Finally," said Lt. Pete Bundt of the Army 3rd Armored Division, "I was beginning to worry that the Iraqis might stop shooting at us and ambushing our convoys and wounding our men. Now we can be sure that there'll be more action."

In case you hadn't seen it, the first paragraph of that quote is actually what happened, the rest is just satire. Good news for the blog world, too. In addition to regular good stuff from Eschaton (where I found this link), I'm happy to report that the Media Horse is back after a long vacation. I also updated my side links to include an excellent political blog I just found called The Sideshow. It takes the place of Jesus' General, who sadly has retired from service.

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

Azkaban Review

Well, it took me about 24 hours to read the 3rd book in the Harry Potter series, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban", and it was pretty good. I mean, these books aren't Lord of the Rings or any great literature, but they are good fun. Real page turners. I haven't been disappointed yet, and I am really looking forward to the longer 4th and 5th books, because I would love to see the magic school and some of the minor characters fleshed out a bit more.

My only complaint about the 3rd book is that the ending was quite complicated and felt very rushed. Many new characters were introduced only at the end of the story, and I had a hard time keeping up with who is who, now and in the past. I do like the little mystery aspect of each book so far, how they place clues in front of you that are obvious in hindsight. Though I guess there was one little device in this one that was supposed to detect something untrustworthy and it went off a few times. That was just kinda dropped at the end. I was thinking, "Hey, a truth machine! Just like in Haplerin's book!"

I thought it would be a bigger, more interesting plot device, but it wasn't used. I think things like that would be explored in more depth if Rowling had written an 800-page behemoth like she did for books four and five, and that would be fine by me.

Posted by Observer at 07:14 AM | Comments (0)

July 02, 2003

Begala's Book

I finished reading "It's Still the Economy, Stupid" by Paul Begala. I was surprised to find this the most comprehensive treatment of Clinton's economic/budget success, much more so than Blumenthal's book (which largely focussed on Whitewater, Starr, etc. while this book completely ignored it). Begala spends much of the book rattling off an array of facts comparing Clinton's policies to those of Bush.

Now, I have to be fair about one thing. Begala is being a little dishonest about some policies. He claims there was a Clinton policy to do XYZ for the environment, workplace, etc. that Bush rescinded when he was in office. While technically true, I know there are a few of those that Clinton only ordered in his final days. If they were such a big deal, why didn't Clinton order them from the very beginning? If Begala had been up front about this, I would've trusted the book a bit more.

However, that's only a small fraction of the overall book. Begala talks extensively about the tax burden, showing that pretty much everyone except the top 5% or so got a tax cut during the Clinton years, and the budget balanced. And this was after the 1993 stimulus plan Clinton passed that all the Republicans were moaning and groaning about that it would wreck the economy, etc. It probably didn't have much of an effect either way, but did the Republicans take things back and say they were wrong? Are you kidding me?

Actually, on that Amazon page that I linked, there's a really funny review (but I don't think it is satirical) by some foaming-at-the-mouth conservative conspiracy theorist. One of those types that can't give Clinton credit for one iota of any good thing that happened during his administration. Everything good is a result of some Republican action or Reagan or Bush, while everything bad is squarely Clinton's fault. It's worth a read just to see what passes for dittohead thinking these days.

The book also details the policies put in place during the first two years of the current administration, with lots of details about how Enron screwed things up. The comprehensive list of every single thing Bush has done to put the environment dead last behind corporate needs is nothing short of incredible. It's doesn't really hit you until the whole list, the result of years of one scheme after another, is right there in front of you. Very depressing.

I'm taking a break from political books for a few days while I tear through the last three Harry Potter books. I finally decided there's no sense waiting for the whole series since I read the first two anyway (so the movies didn't spoil the books).

Posted by Observer at 07:46 AM | Comments (1)

July 01, 2003

Money Talks

I found a link to this editorial from the Army Times thanks to Eschaton. It kinda shows you all you need to know about how Bushco supports the troops:

In recent months, President Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress have missed no opportunity to heap richly deserved praise on the military. But talk is cheap ˇ and getting cheaper by the day, judging from the nickel-and-dime treatment the troops are getting lately.

For example, the White House griped that various pay-and-benefits incentives added to the 2004 defense budget by Congress are wasteful and unnecessary ˇ including a modest proposal to double the $6,000 gratuity paid to families of troops who die on active duty. This comes at a time when Americans continue to die in Iraq at a rate of about one a day.

Similarly, the administration announced that on Oct. 1 it wants to roll back recent modest increases in monthly imminent-danger pay (from $225 to $150) and family-separation allowance (from $250 to $100) for troops getting shot at in combat zones.

There's plenty more where that came from, including screwing military folks out of tax breaks that the wealthy get, lowering the military budget, etc. Of course, when the election rolls around, we all know what the media will say: Bush and the Republicans are traditionally strong on defense and trusted. Will they report what Bushco has actually done? Do I need to answer that?

Posted by Observer at 07:13 AM | Comments (1)