August 31, 2003

Elementary Math

Paul Krugman had another great column a few days ago, saying what needed to be said:

It's all coming true. Before the war, hawks insisted that Iraq was a breeding ground for terrorism. It wasn't then, but it is now. Meanwhile, administration apologists blamed terrorists, not tax cuts, for record budget deficits. In fact, before the war terrorism-related spending was relatively small less than $40 billion in fiscal 2002. But the costs of a "bring 'em on" foreign policy are now looming large indeed. The direct military cost of the occupation is $4 billion a month, and there's no end in sight. [...]

Even the government of a superpower can't simultaneously offer tax cuts equal to 15 percent of revenue, provide all its retirees with prescription drugs and single-handedly take on the world's evildoers single-handedly because we've alienated our allies. In fact, given the size of our budget deficit, it's not clear that we can afford to do even one of these things. Someday, when the grown-ups are back in charge, they'll have quite a mess to clean up.

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

August 30, 2003

Whom Would Jesus Tax?

Here is a very interesting article about an upcoming vote in Alabama regarding radical changes to the tax code. Basically, some fundamentalist Christians there have decided that, really, insofar as the Republican party seems to favor the rich and screw the poor, it (*gasp*) really isn't consistent with the teachings of Jesus. And they're trying to change the law as a result:

Last fall, Susan Pace Hamill, a Beeson theology student, published a master's thesis arguing that "Alabama's tax structure economically oppresses low-income Alabamians and fails to raise adequate revenues." [...] Her 112-page thesis, published in the fall 2002 issue of the Alabama Law Review, is an attack not only on Alabama's regressive tax code -- which requires poor families to pay up to three times the percentage of income in state tax that wealthy families pay -- but on the Christians who permit such an injustice to persist. [...]

In a state that raises the least tax revenue per capita, Hamill's thesis -- reprinted as a book titled The Least of These: Fair Taxes and the Moral Duty of Christians -- somehow ended up as a rationale for politicians to imagine and initiate the unthinkable.

In late May, Gov. Bob Riley, a conservative evangelical Republican who'd never supported a tax increase in his life, unveiled a plan to enact the largest tax increase in Alabama history. Riley's plan lays claim to enough revenue to pay off the state's $675 million deficit and still raise hundreds of millions more for public schools and social services. In addition, Riley's $1.2 billion plan substantially shifts the tax burden from poor Alabamians to the wealthy.

"Jesus says one of our missions is to take care of the least among us," Riley told The Birmingham News in May, echoing the same Gospel passage that supplied the title of Hamill's book. "We've got to take care of the poor." [...]

While the Bible is a famously supple text, allowing multiple, even contradictory exegeses on everything from the role of women to the death penalty, its message on the poor has an almost nagging consistency. The Jesus portrayed in the Gospels has enormous respect and compassion for the poor and little regard for wealth.

There is much more history to the article, and it is a good 5 to 10-minute read. Obviously, I support progressive tax structures, but not because of Biblical text. The question is, should I support something that is being promoted because of a religious agenda just because I happen to agree with it in principle? Doesn't that promote the establishment of a religious agenda in politics?

Just shows you what a stupid liberal I am. A Republican would say, sure, if it happens to fit our agenda, we're on board with whatever rationale people want to use. We liberals meanwhile sit uselessly in the corner and ponder the larger issues of right and wrong while Republicans go about the business of looting the economy.

Posted by Observer at 08:22 AM | Comments (1)

August 29, 2003

Party of Incompetents

Michael Tomasky wrote a very good commentary on the recent history of our two political parties and their perceptions by the public. Both BuzzFlash and the Media Horse pointed me to this.:

People are used to hearing liberals talk about how evil the administration is, and those who agree already agree while those who don't probably won't be persuaded.

But there's another argument about this administration, and about the Republican Party in general, that needs to be made, because this argument can alter presumptions about the two parties that have existed for at least a generation and can change the way the parties are seen well into the future. And it is this: The Republicans are total incompetents.

Republicans, at least since the 1980 election, have gotten lots of mileage out of billing themselves as the party of competence. They knew how to deal with the Russkies. They understood a budget. They knew how to crack down on the crooks and hoodlums. They understood the bottom line, and they knew what was right for America. The Democrats, meanwhile, were supposedly more interested in their dainty little social-engineering schemes than in success. Lots of people bought all of this, and of course there was a little bit of truth to it -- then. But the labels stuck hard. Democrats still have to take dramatic steps to prove their competence while Republicans are presumed -- by the mainstream media, anyway -- to possess it until they demonstrate otherwise.

Well, guess what? They've demonstrated otherwise. No one -- no one -- can name a single front on which today's Republicans have shown even the simplest competence. They don't know how to manage an economy. They sure don't know how to balance a budget. They have no idea how to create jobs (though they do have a pretty strong sense of how to make them disappear). Their domestic-security measures have consisted of the usual emphasis on show over substance, first stealing a Democratic idea (the Department of Homeland Security) and then underfunding the result in some crucial respects -- a mistake for which I pray we never pay a price. [...]

And now, it turns out, they don't know how to do the one thing they've spent 50 years convincing Americans that they and only they know how to do: fight a war. The war in Afghanistan is hardly won (did you notice the firefight the other day that left 14 dead?). And the war in Iraq is a fiasco that is fast becoming a huge political problem [...]

And, of course, there are wealthy interests who keep the party alive financially and who must be rewarded on all possible fronts. This, actually, is the one service Republicans do perform competently. They make damn sure of that.

When voters recognize that one party knows how to get things done and the other party does not, they tend to gravitate toward the former even if they don't particularly agree with everything it stands for. Lots of people have voted Republican in the last few elections, and certainly in 2000, because even though they weren't nearly as right wing as the zealots now in power, they felt that the Republicans would do a better job of looking after their money and leaving the world a safer place for their kids. Voters surely can see that the Grand Incompetence Party is doing neither of those things. The Democrats just need to drill it into them.

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

August 28, 2003

Order of Magnitude Error

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

Posted by Observer at 01:00 PM | Comments (3)

August 27, 2003

Friends in High Places

A while back, I mentioned one of the guys on campus here (Greg) who is fairly important and can create opportunities for me to earn extra money, etc. It turns out this guy's son was in one of my summer class, and it really made a big impression.

I found out today that Greg was speaking at the opening luncheon for faculty yesterday. This is a lunch held in the campus coliseum for all faculty and the chancellor's way to officially kick off the academic year. I've never gone because it sounds like a buffet-style beating. Anyway, now I wish I had been there yesterday, because Greg singled me out by name as an example of the great teachers here, sharing a couple of stories from his son about my class. And this in front of our brand new chancellor! Oops. Shoulda been there, but oh well. Greg knows we have a new baby, so I'm sure he understands (not that I would've gone anyway).

I also fired up my iTunes at work again for the first time in a while upon returning to my old office (construction is now over in our building, hooray!). Turns out that the newest version allows you to share your songs in a read-only way over the local are network. So now I can listen to the music of a dozen or more other faculty, who have also dumped all their CD collections onto their Macs. It's a good way to try out new stuff.

And I was talking to a student this morning while we were all getting ready for our TV appearance. Someone made a joke about Fox, and she said she had just finished reading Franken's new book (you know the one, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right"). Further conversation revealed her and her significant other to be frustrated liberals like myself, so I loaned her the VCR tape I have of Franken's appearance on C-SPAN where he ripped Fox's O'Reilly while everyone in the room was laughing. It's gold. Nice to know there are some students out there who can think!

First day of class went fine, too. Small bozo factor today, and I'm actually more prepared than usual (anticipating I'll have less time to prepare once Michelle returns to work). So far, so good!

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

First Day

Well, it is the first day of the Fall semester here, all very exciting. I had to get up at 4 frickin' 30 in the morning to come down here for a PR event, and I got my goofy grin onto local news. I'll be here tonight for about 5 hours for the same kind of thing, and I'll teach 3 classes in between. I'm sure to have plenty of fresh classroom blogging material very soon.

Posted by Observer at 09:48 AM | Comments (4)

August 26, 2003

Origin of Zero Tolerance

We watched Michael Moore's new documentary, "Bowling for Columbine", the other night. It just came out for rental. It was good but also frustrating, definitely worth watching. The question Moore continues to ask but never gets an answer: why is it that we have basically a similar number of guns per capita compared to Canada, yet gun deaths here are so much incredibly higher per capita than anywhere in the world? The sort-of answer is that we are a fearful society, but I am not convinced that's all it is.

Anyway, one point of interest: Moore talked about the effects of the Columbine shootings. One reaction nationwide was the institution of zero-tolerance policies in school districts. Any kid seen as a troublemaker along the lines of the two shooters at Columbine (and "troublemaker" has a fairly broad definition) gets automatically separated from the school, either through suspension or alternative school.

I recall when we first put the boys into alternative school, and we were told that the system was about 4-5 years old. The movie helped me understand the Columbine connection and how it affected us. It is interesting, too, that Moore prominently mentioned a book by Barry Glassner, called "The Culture of Fear", a book I checked out of the library on the basis of a recommendation two days before I saw Moore's movie. Haven't read Glassner's book yet, though.

Posted by Observer at 09:27 AM | Comments (7)

August 25, 2003

Qualifying Exam

Several, including CalPundit, have pointed out more stupid biased media crap. Several weeks ago, Democratic candidate Howard Dean was asked on "Meet the Press" about how many troops he estimated were in Iraq at the moment. He said he didn't know exactly, but he estimated around 135,000 (the actual number at the time turned out to be around 146,000). If this had been Al Gore talking, you can be quite sure the media would've been off to the races with the "Gore has trouble with the truth" stories, reminding us that Gore claimed to "invent the internet", is a serial exaggerator, etc.

But this is Howard Dean, and the corporate media has decided to brand him as both "too liberal" and "not ready to be president" (keeping in mind Bush's *vast* "successful" ventures in Texas as the figurehead-in-chief prior to his ascent to office). Tim Russert, the host of the show, immediately jumped on Dean for not being qualified to be a presidential candidate if he's not intimately familiar with what's going on with our military. Still others in the media, both print and TV, heaped scorn on Dean for his "horrible" performance and so on. The Daily Howler kept track of this at the time and makes for a good reference point. Dean actually did fine, but the media's performance was appalling.

Contrast this behavior with what goes on daily with this administration. Bush tells an outright lie, and the press decides it would be too impolite to call him on it. It's just Bush being Bush, you know? Harmless stuff. Aw, shucks, Bush just doesn't know what he's talking about. He's a decent guy, surely he means well and he isn't *trying* to lie to us. How precious.

It even extends to his comments on the military:

Asked about U.S. force presence in Afghanistan, Bush said the U.S. presence is being "gradually replaced" by other troops.

"We've got about 10,000 troops there, which is down from, obviously, major combat operations," he said. [...]

In fact, the 10,000 troops in Afghanistan represent the highest number of U.S. soldiers in the country since the war there began. By the time the Taliban government had been vanquished in December 2001, U.S. troops numbered fewer than 3,000 in Afghanistan. And three months later, in March 2002, when the last major battle against remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda took place in eastern Afghanistan, about 5,000 U.S. troops were in the country.

Nice of the paper to actually point out the contradiction between Bush's words and the facts (back on A27 in the 12th paragraph, but it's a start). So where are all the pundits questioning Bush's credibility? As long as Bush gets away with this kind of crap, there's no way to beat him. This is, of course, exactly what happened to Gore in the debates. When he didn't try to confront Bush is his pure bullshit, Bush just turned on the charm and wowed all the Moron-Americans out there with it (you can bet the corporate media pundits covering the debate weren't going to be so rude as to correct Bush on facts during a campaign). When he did try to confront Bush, Gore was seen as rude, aggressive or otherwise unpleasant.

Gore was in a no-win situation, placed there squarely by the corporate media. Even when he won the debate, he "lost" as the media spun it like crazy (sounds like the election, doesn't it?). You can count on this exact same thing happening in the debates to come. With people like Tim Russert moderating the debates, once again Bush will get a "pass" on any lies or bullshit he spouts off about. Hey, it's just Bush being Bush. But when his opponent tries to point that out, well, they're just being "shrill" and a sore loser because, hey, Bush won the debate due to having a better haircut or a better lame joke. With the way the media acts these days, I'm starting the think it was a miracle Gore even won the election.

The Daily Howler recently posted on this as well with even more sarcasm than I could muster. In other words, it's a great read.

Posted by Observer at 08:07 AM | Comments (2)

August 24, 2003

Farewell, Puddleby

I sort of talked about why Michelle and I have left Clan Lord (an on-line role playing game for the Mac for those of you who aren't familiar) a few months ago, and everything I said there still holds true. Koric and Felicity (our CL characters) gave all of their belongings of value (including 3 albino maha pelts and some other choice goodies) to Kiriel, and we're sure they'll find a good home or make good prizes in newbie tournaments and the like. We officially spent the last couple of puddleyears or so hiding in the library and coming out occasionally to work on building a boat. The boat is finally built, and we sailed off at dawn one morning to return to the mainland.

There are lots of reasons to leave Clan Lord, but precious few to stay. CL will always be an incredible presence in our lives, simply because it led to us meeting in the first place. Who knows how our lives would've been different and undoubtedly for the worse, had we never gotten involved in CL. But that fact doesn't provide for us a continuing motivation for playing.

We have some good friends there, but most of the fun things have to happen on a schedule because they take planning and a good chunk of time. With a new baby and three other kids besides, we just don't *do* schedules well at all.

The two major reasons (for me) to play CL are social interaction and the gaming experience (tactics, whomping things, getting ranks, solving puzzles, etc). Well, it is hard to justify putting a lot of time into on-line social interaction when you have four kids who need interaction. It's also hard to prioritize on-line socializing when, to be brutally honest, we just aren't lonely anymore. We don't have a pressing need for those relationships because we are too involved in building our own in the real world. We're very lucky in that regard.

Another aspect of the social experience is CL politics, which takes on many different aspects. We can both get very passionate about that kind of stuff, very frustrated, very exhilirated, very involved. Like with the other kind of socializing though, I find that I have a far more pressing need to vent about real-life politics rather than vent about on-line gaming politics. I never thought I would say this two years ago, but even though there are some really serious pricks in CL along with some really wonderful people, I just don't care anymore who comes out "on top". I don't have the mental energy to expend on it, I guess. It is much more rewarding and constructive to bash the pricks in the government and media and laud the wonderful people in real life.

I don't know if this would be true, though, if I were still playing CL a lot. I mean, I was hopping mad about politics even back when I was playing CL (some may recall a vigorous debate I had with that complete idiot in the CL newsgroup over the Florida debacle), but not so mad that I would sacrifice a lot of CL time to think or write about it. Oh well.

The other reason to play CL, the gaming experience ... well, I can get my gaming fix from any number of games that I can play (like Heroes III or Diablo II or poker or Pop Cap games), and I can do it when *I* have free time. I don't have to go through the hassle of organizing a group, dealing with late arrivers, sticking to a schedule, etc. I don't have to deal with the social aspect of whom to invite, whom to exclude, who hates whom, etc. Those are some of the negatives that drove us from CL, too.

We never really considered letting other people inherit our characters. I'm in the camp with those who believe main characters should retire and make room for new characters to take center stage. Of course, I actually took over the main character (Biff) of a friend, just in case the clicker decided to return, and I eventually gave Biff to Michelle so she could have a coin hunter, so I guess I'm a hypocrite there. To be fair, Biff wasn't played much, only as a quiet coin hunter, never a major character or critical part of a hunt or what have you.

Some people leave because of frustrations with GM's or the way the game is run, the pace of the plots, etc. That's only a very small part for me. I'm kind of GM-neutral (dislike some GM's, like others). I recognize that I probably only know about 10% of everything the GM's have ever done (including which characters are played by GM's, mystic issues, etc.). If I knew everything, I would either be really mad and bitter or really pleasantly surprised and impressed. I'm curious to know everything, but I don't care enough to stick around and find out (maybe that kind of news will finally spill in a blog someday, but I don't read enough CL blogs to find out).

The bottom line is ... farewell. We feel incredibly lucky and thankful for what we got out of CL. Sure there were some crappy parts, but they were far outweighed by the good stuff. If we stuck around much longer, that balance might start to change.

Posted by Observer at 10:11 AM | Comments (8)

August 23, 2003

See, I Told You So

The bombing of the UN headquarters in Baghdad is prompting war retrospectives in the mainstream media. It seems as though this one event, rather than lots of sporadic deaths and small incidents over the past few months, has finally crystallized the whole war picture for some. And sadly, it is pretty clear that we liberals were right all along:

Every public argument for making war on Iraq has broken down. Let's start with the biggest:

* Weapons of mass destruction: None has been found. I'm sure that, at some point, evidence will mysteriously appear to show Iraq had a weapons program, but we already knew that, and to prove they had a program is a far cry from finding the tons of anthrax and chemical bombs, the armed missiles and mobile labs, the remote drones and nuclear components the Bush team scared us with almost daily in its drive to war.

Speaking of nukes, Bush's allegations were based almost solely on documents he apparently knew were forged. What could be more damning? Bottom line, if WMDs existed, they're now in the hands of terrorists or unfriendly governments or they're up for grabs in the Iraqi desert some place. Either way, it's a bad result.

* The link to al-Qaida: The myth that Iraq had significant ties to al-Qaida was based on a hospital visit to Iraq by one man and another meeting in a third country that likely never took place. No evidence has surfaced for an Iraqi-al-Qaida link. Ironically, Bush's misguided war now has forged just such a link. Osama bin Laden recently called on all Muslims to oppose our occupation of Iraq, and they appear to be responding.

* Iraq would welcome us as liberators: It happened only in a few places, and some of those appeared stage-managed. Now Iraqis are criticizing and demonstrating and shooting Americans. We've become occupiers. In the process we've killed, maimed, destroyed the Iraqi infrastructure and caused the loss of priceless cultural artifacts from the dawn of civilization. Some of our actions can be justified, but being justified and being wise are different things.

* We'd be out in 60 days, leaving behind a democracy that would take root, then blossom across the Middle East: Well, if majority rule flowers in Iraq, Shiites will run the place, as they do in Iran. That's who the majority is.

The truth is harsh. This administration is the absolute, unparalleled worst administration in American history. America's debt is skyrocketing. The government is exacerbating income inequality rather than at the very least remaining neutral or (god forbid) helping to promote social stability by fighting the trend. A spirit of meanness has taken over both the government and the media (i.e. "liberal" is a bad word, the recent Post editorial mocking Gore - remember "Sore Loserman"? - or the one mocking the deaths of the French - remember "Axis of Weasels"? - in the heat wave, the vast right-wing rainbow of talk radio, etc). Our moral standing in the world is shot completely to hell.

I honestly don't think the government, even during the post-Civil War era of Reconstruction, was ever this maliciously inept. The worst part is that so many Moron-Americans just don't give a crap, and they'll vote for Bush again if he tells a good joke during a debate. That's what is truly depressing: as a whole, we sort of deserve this kind of government, even though to be fair and balanced, the majority didn't vote for Bush.

Posted by Observer at 08:37 AM | Comments (4)

August 22, 2003

Fair and Balanced Update

A federal judge (who is almost surely soon to be eviscerated by right-wing loonies) just threw out Faux News' trademark infringement injuction against Al Franken's new book, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right". I like quoting that title in full. It is fun to say.

Among other things, the judge said Fox's case was "totally without merit" and it was "an easy case". Al Franken commented in another news story, "In addition to thanking my own lawyers, I'd like to thank Fox's lawyers for filing one of the stupidest briefs I've ever seen in my life."

Thanks largely to the publicity, Franken's book has been holding steady in the top-five at Amazon for the last 10 or so days. It's currently at #1 as I enter this. Makes you wonder if maybe O'Really (the guy who really hates Franken because he's on the book's cover) and Franken were partners in crime from the beginning. Nah, that would imply O'Really has some class and smarts.

Nice to see one for the good guys.

Posted by Observer at 08:24 PM | Comments (0)

Falsifiability

Joshua Micah Marshall at Talking Points Memo makes an observation that falls into line with what I've said previously about this administration and the notion of Cargo Cult Science:

There is a notion being peddled by certain conservative columnists that the bombing of the UN mission in Baghdad is actually a sign that the bad guys are on the ropes. Now, that strikes me as a rather creative of interpretation of the event. [...]

I'm probably getting certain particulars of this wrong, but there's a basic principle in scientific theory: an hypothesis, to be a real hypothesis, must be capable of disproof. In other words, for an hypothesis to be a valid basis for research, there must be some data which, if found to be true, would prove the hypothesis was false. Otherwise, there's no way to test it.

Now, foreign policy is no science. But some looser version of this principle must apply here as well. To be a policy, as opposed to a theological position, there must be some potential results that would show the policy was not working. The proponents of the policy should be able to say ahead of time that if this or that result happens, the policy has failed. [...]

The utility of requiring this would be that if the result of the invasion of Iraq is an Islamic theocracy, governed by Osama bin Laden, and purchasing nuclear weapons from Pakistan at bargain-basement prices, we'd have the hawks on record saying this was in fact not a positive development.

Now, we've already had the 'flypaper' theory: that guerilla attacks against American troops are a good thing because we're pulling 'the terrorists' out of the woodwork and attacking them on our own terms. And now we have what I guess we could call the 'paradoxically positive mass-casualty terrorism event' theory: that mass-casualty terrorism events show the success of our policy since they are a sign 'the terrorists' are becoming desperate.

For my part, I don't think either guerrilla attacks or mass-casualty terror attacks in themselves show the administration's policy is a failure. This is a difficult business. But they also don't strike me as positive developments.

So I think it's time for the hawks to give us a few examples of events that would show that our policy was not working or at least facing setbacks. You know, just so we can put down some benchmarks, so we can know what we're working with ...

Bush is the same way with tax cuts for the rich. If the economy starts to recover, well, we have tax cuts for the rich to thank! If the economy continues to tank, that just shows that the liberals won't let us cut taxes for the rich enough, and we need more tax cuts for the rich! Deficit? Tax cuts for the rich! Terrorism? Tax cuts for the rich! Two-front war? Tax cuts for the rich!

Posted by Observer at 09:34 AM | Comments (0)

August 21, 2003

The Man Behind the Curtain

The Sideshow pointed me to this great analysis by Liberal Oasis of The Root of the Blackout Problem as framed by the pundits. The basic spin of politicans across the spectrum is that upgrades to the transmission system are going to have to be paid for by consumers, because the need for upgrades is largely being driven by increases in consumer demand. However, according to this article from the San Francisco Chronicle:

Power companies say it so often, and with such certainty, that it has become a virtual mantra: "Skyrocketing" energy use by Californians is a root cause of the state's power crisis, and justification for surging electricity prices.

But a computer analysis of electricity usage data by The Chronicle reveals that the mantra is a myth -- that overall growth in electricity demand hasn't been nearly as great as the industry portrays it. [...]

The Chronicle's findings are based on data collected by the California Independent System Operator, a manager of the state's electricity grid. They show:

* Total electricity consumption in California increased only 4.75 percent in 2000 from 1999, a sharp contrast to claims of industry representatives, who have repeatedly relied on isolated, loose or selective comparisons that make growth appear as high as 20 percent. In fact, the single greatest hour of electricity usage in 2000 was actually lower than any peak demand period in 1999 or 1998.

* Average peak demand -- the average of the highest hour of electricity usage for each day -- increased only 4.79 percent from 1999 to 2000. Even during the months of May to September in 2000, when the greatest spikes in electricity usage occur, demand growth was only 8.31 percent higher than the same period the year before.

* More than 30 days of critical power shortage warnings, so-called Stage 3 emergencies, and two days of blackouts this year occurred at times of moderate energy use -- levels often below those at which neither warnings nor blackouts have occurred in the past.

So...what's causing the blackouts then if it isn't increasing power consumption by consumers? LiberalOasis answers:

Basically, power that used to just go from point A to point B -- from the plant to you -- is now shuttling back and forth between wholesalers, straining the system.

Thanks to deregulation. Thats a deregulation that pretty much no regular citizen ratepayer ever asked for. [...]

Because, since the various corporate interests have showered money all over DC on elec dereg, the debate in Washington is not liberals vs. privatizers. Its power companies vs. other power companies. And so, Richardson, a Clintonite, represents the opposing view on the talkshows. But hes for dereg as well. Just a different approach that would benefit a different set of companies.

In turn, no one was there to advocate why we shouldn't lighten the load on the grid by scrapping the dereg boondoggle. This is one of those issues that drove Ralph Nader to claim there was no difference between the parties. It should be clear to all now that such a claim is wild overstatement. But on this issue, the Dems have not stood on principle.

And we will all suffer for it.

Meaningful campaign finance reform, anyone? Anyone? Publicly financed campaigns with a constitutional amendment if needed to strictly limit the influence of privately funded interest groups. That's my answer. People either have to get educated by something other than 30 second attack ads or they have to vote in complete ignorance of the issues (and hopefully not vote at all if that's the case). Hmm, I understand Dean is in favor of this, too. That's a plus.

Posted by Observer at 08:02 AM | Comments (2)

August 20, 2003

Alternative Lifestyles

Yesterday morning was the boys' first day at alternative school. A brief refresher on the history: At the start of the summer, J*stin (14) and C*dy (9) went down the street to the elementary school (with attached park) as usual for an evening of fun playing basketball or what have you. Instead, they broke $4k worth of windows at the school. We still don't understand why. We paid restitution to the school immediately (yes, it hurt ... a lot). The windows were fixed, and the police did not file charges (nor did the school).

We have been punishing the two boys in stages during the summer, and we've described that in detail in my wife's blog. We got notice two weeks ago that the boys were going to be required by law to attend alternative school for some minimum length of time (C*dy 3 weeks, J*stin 6 weeks), and we pretty much had no way to fight it. So they got themselves dressed up in their prison outfits (white t-shirts and blue jeans), and I took them down there. Very depressing drive for me, passing by both of their schools, both humming with first-day activity. I'm not sure how much it affected either of the two boys, but probably C*dy more.

Poor C*dy is the only kid in his class (they separate the kids roughly by age groups, and there are only about 12-15 students I saw go in even though we were told initially there are 30 students supposed to be there). I picked him up after school (10 minutes there, 10 minutes back, twice a day + 20 minute wait between C*dy's let-out time and Justin's means I just lost an hour of my life per day that this school goes on), and he told me it was great. He has basically *two* teachers in charge of him because he's the only student, so they helped him, and he worked hard to finish everything.

I told him not to get too attached to this school. This isn't the kind of place he belongs. But C*dy really laps it up. He's used to being one of the troublemakers in class, the class clown, and so compared to the other students, he is usually the one getting lectured or the phone call home or what have you. Here, though, C*dy is an absolute shining gem compared to most of the kids who have come through. His teacher came out to tell me that C*dy is amazingly obedient and attentive and had a perfect day and will surely stay only the minimum length of time. C*dy's just not used to getting that kind of positive praise from his teachers (hard to blame them, though, since I don't know everything that goes on in the classroom).

But of course, as the 3 weeks wears on, I fear C*dy will eventually get a little bit rebellious and that may make for some setbacks. He was good at the beginning of his summer punishment as well, but there were some battles after the first week. For now, though, C*dy looks like he will be lapping up the praise and the individualized attention (he commented that with no one talking or laughing and trying to get him to join in, he worked very quickly and had no distractions ... no homework, either).

J*stin kind of had the same reaction, though he is with 4-5 other kids, so the rules are being enforced a little more rigorously. He didn't get in trouble or anything, but the atmosphere for the older kids is decidedly different (they don't really account for the fact that Justin's maturity level is about the same as C*dy's, of course). J*stin got the work done quickly ... no homework. I think he'll soon miss the track team and the socialization of middle school, but I could be wrong. He may prefer the structure at the alternative school, even though he critically needs socializing with peers his own age (instead of his brother).

I told them both that even though they may like this place for now, they had damn well better not stay here a single day longer than the minimum or there will be serious consequences at home. So in a way, I hope it gets worse. I don't want this to be a place that they don't mind coming back to. I want them to fear this place and hate it. At the same time, I think Michelle and I have already punished the kids pretty well this summer, and I'm not convinced they need to go through more hell from the school district (but we had no choice).

Oh well, 1 day down for C*dy, 14 to go. 29 to go for J*stin. Before they leave the school, the principal has told them they'll both need to write a letter explaining why they broke the windows. I reminded them of that today, and I told them it would be nice if they would bother to write their parents one as well if they ever do decide to come up with an explanation for why they did this. Not that it would satisfy us or anything. It's just ... grrr. I hate this whole thing, top to bottom.

On the bright side, C*dy finally beat me at Yu-Gi-Oh last night, making my overall record vs the kids approximately 35-2. Justin won a week ago, but only because I screwed up and misplayed a card, which I subsequently trashed instead of the usual "undo". C*dy's win tonight was a lot more legit. But the kids don't know that. I'm planning to help S*rah strengthen her deck a bit tomorrow with some carefully chosen cards from my unused pile, and she should win sooner or later with that help.

The kids are all getting used to calling me "dad" now (thanks to the bet ... if they lose, they have to call me "dad" and if they win, they get some number of new cards from the new card box), which is great but also still a little unnerving at times. They seem to like it. I told S*rah's teacher this morning that I was "S*rah's Dad", half expecting S*rah to correct me with "*step*dad", but instead she just stood there and smiled. That was nice.

Posted by Observer at 07:57 AM | Comments (4)

August 19, 2003

Blog Tour

For those of you who don't read all the great liberal political blogs out there, some of which I have linked in my sidebar, I offer some excerpts from really good stuff recently (long post today). First, on the so-called liberal media in the latest Nation column by Eric Alterman, of "What Liberal Media?" fame, among many other things:

Gore gave voice to some plain-spoken truths that were just about unsayable in the mass media until he said them. Gore accused George W. Bush of undertaking "a systematic effort to manipulate facts in service to a totalistic ideology that is felt to be more important than the mandates of basic honesty." The President, he said, was "pursuing policies chosen in advance of the facts--policies designed to benefit friends and supporters--and [using] tactics that deprived the American people of any opportunity to effectively subject his arguments to the kind of informed scrutiny that is essential in our system of checks and balances." ...

The reaction was as swift as it was predictable. ... Post editors accused Gore of leading his party "off a cliff" and "validat[ing] just about every conspiratorial theory of the antiwar left."

Yet on the very same day that these good citizens of Quinn-Broderville were fulminating about Al Gore, Post reporters Barton Gellman and Walter Pincus published a 5,331-word report detailing how Bush and his aides "made allegations depicting Iraq's nuclear weapons program as more active, more certain and more imminent in its threat than the data they had would support...withheld evidence that did not conform to their views," and "seldom corrected misstatements." ...

It's worth noting, by contrast, that in Britain, Tony Blair is on the ropes for offenses against democracy that--while significant--pale in comparison to Bush's. Blair faces an aggressive, independent-minded media whose members consider it their job, in the words of the BBC's head of newsgathering, Adrian Van Klaveren, "to question governments...to hold governments to account.... This is not passive journalism. This is about trying to get information which others don't want us to know." ...

Here, the mainstream media almost always allow the Bush Administration to lie without consequence. It's not that lies go unnoticed; it's just that it's considered bad manners to worry about so silly an issue--and never more so than when those lies are deployed to justify a needless war. Even frequent Bush apologist Howard "Conflict of Interest" Kurtz could not help noticing that when Bush said, "Did Saddam Hussein have a weapons program? And the answer is: absolutely. And we gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn't let them in," his answer bore "no relation to reality." He asked his guest on CNN's Reliable Sources, "Why has that not been more made of by the press?"

The Post's Dana Milbank, who has established a deserved reputation as the toughest of all the regular White House correspondents, answers, "I think what people basically decided was this is just the President being the President. Occasionally he plays the wrong track and something comes out quite wrong. He is under a great deal of pressure."

There you have it. An American President is said to be "under a great deal of pressure"--unlike, say, Bill Clinton--and so the Washington press corps decide that "people" prefer that he not be held accountable even for his own deceitful words.

In other news, Media Horse reminds us of the latest Bush-looking-at-the-camera-and-lying-directly-to-the-American-public incident:

Last Thursday, when the breakdown of a huge part of the nation's antiquated electrical power grid plunged much of the Northeast into the largest blackout in U.S. history, George W. Bush went on the air, looked into the cameras, and lied through his teeth.

"Of course, we'll have time to look at it and determine whether or not our grid needs to be modernized," Bush said in reply to a reporter's question. "I happen to think it does, and have said so all along."

"Said so all along"?

Since Bush stole his way into the White House, responsible scientists and engineers have pleaded with his Administration to pay more attention to power grid modernization. The problem became especially urgent in the wake of the Enron-spawned California energy crisis and the September 11, 2001 attacks.

And the White House response? Both Bush and his Republican allies and henchmen ignored the advice -- and actually killed modernization proposals.

The most egregious obstructionism occurred in 2001, when Rep. Sam Farr (D-CA) tried to offer an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have channeled $350 million in federal loans and loan guarantees to public and private-sector firms toward electric power grid improvements. Not grants, not subsidies, but badly needed loans and guarantees.

But the Bush Administration lobbied heavily against the measure and the Republicans voted it down on three separate occasions -- on a straight party-line vote in the House Appropriations Committee, on a straight party-line vote in the House Rules Committee, and on a party line vote in the full House of Representatives.

"It's pure demagoguery," then-House Majority Whip (and now Majority Leader) Tom DeLay said of Farr's proposal.

And now Bush tells us that he's supported modernization of the grid "all along"?

"ALL ALONG"?!

Actually, it's all of a piece with the rest of this administration's congenital lying and stonewalling. You know the syndrome. Ignore a national problem. Then ignore direct, dire warnings about that problem. Disallow funding that will help cure the problem. Put on a big show when the problem blows up in your face. Then lie about what you knew and what you did before the problem blew up in your face. ...

Since 1996, two-thirds of all reported electric utility corporation campaign contributions (totaling, in all, more than $60 million) have gone to Republicans.

And in 2000, George W. Bush received 86% of all reported electric utility corporation presidential capaign contributions, compared to the 14% that went to Al Gore.

The mind boggles at what's worse -- the fanaticism or the gross corruption?

It boggles even more at the news media's virtual complete silence over this one.

Media Horse also pointed me to this funny article about a guy returning his Bush action figure (in full military flight suit outfit) for a refund:

With great disappointment, I am returning the George W. Bush action figure, which you will find enclosed in this package. I am seeking a full refund for this defective toy for the following reasons:

Despite its billing as an action figure to pair up with my GI Joes, it was obviously not made to be a soldier. Never mind the lack of any scar on its face. The bigger problem is that I cannot find any weapons of mass destruction anywhere in the box. Heck, I can't find any weapons at all!

When I pull the string to make it talk, the results are muffled and unintelligible or make no sense at all. Is this supposed to be some kind of rotten joke on your customers?

Every time I turn the doll upside down and shake it, white powder comes out. What's with that?

Even worse, my GI Joe dolls don't seem to like this one at all, and I'm beginning to understand why:

All last week, during the grueling sandbox battles in my backyard between my GI Joes and the hideous armies of Grog, the GW Bush doll was missing. I thought it was lost for good. But then, after my GI Joes won the day and made the sandbox safe again, there the Bush doll was, front and center, looking splendid and unruffled in pristine army fatigues. Evidently it'd been playing dress-up all week with my sister's Ken doll but was right there to take the credit for the GI Joe's victory.

My GI Joes are all saying that the GW Bush doll is stealing money out of their pockets and giving it to my sister's Ken and Barbie dolls. I didn't believe this at first, but this afternoon I spied a nice, new dollhouse in my sister's room and now I'm thinking it must be so.

While I'm thinking about it, Daily Kos has some very good perspective on Iraqi oil revenues and the cost of rebuilding Iraq. And Josh Marshall has a great quote from General Wesley Clark regarding Tom DeLay's (the Republican majority leader in the US House of Representatives, arguably the 3rd most powerful politician in the country behind Dick Cheney and Senate leader Bill Frist) credibility on war issues and politics:

TOM DELAY: Frankly, what irritates me the most are these blow-dried Napoleons that come on television and, in some cases, have their own agendas.

General Clark is one of them that is running for president, yet he's paid to be an expert on your network. And he's questioning the plan and raising doubts as he becomes this expert.

I think they would serve the nation better if they would just comment on what they see and what they know, rather than putting their own agenda forward as an expert.

CLARK: Well, first of all, I'd be happy to compare my hair with Tom DeLay's. We'll see who's got the blow-dried hair.

But beyond that, Wolf, he's got it exactly backward. It's upside down. I am saying what I believe. And I'm being drawn into the political process because of what I believe and what I've said about it.

So it's precisely the opposite of a man like Tom DeLay, who is only motivated by politics and says whatever he needs to say to get the political purpose. And so, you know, it couldn't be more diametrically opposed, and I couldn't be more opposed than I am to Tom DeLay.

You know, Wolf, when our airmen were flying over Kosovo, Tom DeLay led the House Republicans to vote not to support their activities, when American troops were in combat. To me, that's a real indicator of a man who is motivated not by patriotism or support for the troops, but for partisan political purposes.

Clark may be jumping into the Democratic race, but I don't know enough about his politics vs, say, Dean's to know whom I'd prefer. They are both saying what needs to be said, that's for sure.

Posted by Observer at 08:01 AM | Comments (2)

August 18, 2003

The Flop, the Turn and the River

One of my favorite sites to lose an hour or two once in a while is the New York Times Book Review. I used to get this about once a month or so, either when I was travelling or when I happened to find myself at a bookstore on a lazy Sunday. I'd throw out four or five bucks for the Sunday New York Times. Most of what I wanted to read, though, wouldn't be in the paper but in the Sunday supplements, the book review and the NYT Magazine, which usually has one or two interesting, off-beat stories.

Well, now you can get this stuff online if you are willing to give the NYT website a cookie that says who you are. So I've been getting a lot of good book ideas lately from them. One of them is the book I just finished, "Positively Fifth Street" by James McManus. This book chronicles a writer for Harper's magazine who was assigned to report on the World Series of Poker in Las Vegas while also covering an ongoing murder trial in which a member of the famous Binion family was killed.

The author decides to use his pay to help him buy in to a satellite table, which he hopes will enable him to qualify for the $10,000 entry fee into the tournament. So his book is about his experience in the tournament but also in part about the history of the gaming industry and the background of the murder trial he's covering. I could've done without the part about the murder trial, especially the weird (even if mostly true) first chapter, and the aftermath. I did enjoy reading about the background of the Binions and the tournament, and of course, his writing about his experiences in the tournament was excellent, a really fun read.

This book made me get a computer program for the Mac (shareware, $10) to play some Texas Hold 'Em, because it sounded like a fun game. I'd never play in real life, because I have absolutely zero skill with maintaining a poker face, as my wife would be the first to tell you, I'm sure. I also couldn't handle the stress in real life. The most gut-wrenching situations in the book involve a player who statistically plays extremely well and has the odds heavily stacked in his or her favor. And then the last card comes up and screws 'em. I couldn't deal with that agony. I'll play with computer money, thanks.

Posted by Observer at 08:15 AM | Comments (14)

August 17, 2003

Nightmare Preference

If you don't play Diablo II, skip this one.

In my spare time during the break before Fall term, I'm getting acquainted with the offensive Paladin in Diablo v1.10s, the new patch out from Blizzard. The patch enhances both players and monsters, giving players new things to play with (like better items) and augmenting player skills, and giving monsters more resistances and so forth. The changes are especially apparent on the Hell level.

The way Diablo works is that if you beat it in multiplayer mode (I always play solo on this mode, hosting my own game) on the "normal" level, you can replay the entire game again in "Nightmare" mode, where the monsters are jacked up in power and difficulty. If you beat "Nightmare", you can then replay the entire game in "Hell" mode, which is almost impossible unless you spend weeks building up your character (even then, it is tricky). The jump from "Normal" to "Nightmare" is not that bad. I was able to make the transition pretty smoothly, but "Nightmare" to "Hell" is another story.

I finished "Nightmare" a few days ago with my Paladin. I had to move away from my usual thorns strategy to do it. Thorns works *great* in normal mode, returning 10x damage to any monster that hits you. It is fun to wade through a swarm of flayers and have them die all around you (but have a rejuvenation potion handy for an instant heal in case you get in over your head ... and also jack your vitality way up to handle all the hits). I can even kill Diablo and Baal using mainly Thorns without swinging much.

But in "Nightmare", the monsters all have too much health, and so you have to go into offensive mode. I've got Fanatacism jacked up to the maximum now, and I'm working on Holy Shield (a great spell which lasts a long time to boost your defense and blocking, so it's like having two auras at once) some more. And when I killed Diablo in "Nightmare" mode, he dropped the jagged star weapon called Aldur's Rhythm, which swings incredibly fast, does a mountain of damage (which is nicely multiplied by my Fanatacism aura) and also has other great bonuses. When I got hold of that, my character basically became about two to three times more deadly.

I also found an Amn rune, which I stuck in Aldur's Rhythm (it has 3 sockets, yay!), so my total life steal is 21%. That means with every hit, I get 21% of my damage back in the form of extra health. My use of health potions has dropped considerably as a result. The upper level runes are easier to find in this version, which is giving me hope I might get to try some of the fancier Rune Words on my items at some point. If I find two more Amn runes, I can get my life steal up to 35%, which I probably need to survive in Hell, assuming I can make contact often enough with my swings.

So I blasted through the rest of "Nightmare", knocking off most monsters in two or three hits (which is saying something in the final stage of "Nightmare") and not facing too much danger. Even Baal, the final monster, and his various minions weren't that tough. I had an easier time on "Nightmare" than on "Normal", in fact. Especially once I got the perfect diamonds in my shield for maximum resistances to poison, fire, cold, lightning.

So I tried wading into "Hell" and got my ass thoroughly kicked. Almost everything you run into is a unique monster + minions, and they do a *lot* of damage. My resistances aren't maxed out in "Hell" either, though I've found some armor and an amulet which will help next time I try. For now, I'm trying to build up my character some more and find some better items by continuing to go back and re-defeat Diablo and Baal.

It probably sounds pretty silly, I know, but it's a good way to channel anger, which can happen when I read too much about politics. Games like this help recharge my mental batteries for work and politics, both of which can be draining.

Posted by Observer at 10:58 AM | Comments (8)

Forked Media

BuzzFlash pointed me to this interesting column about war politics by Michael Wolff. Wolff thinks there are two ways for the current war problems (i.e. lying about WMD, not planning for the "peace from hell" as Molly Ivins put it, etc.) to play themselves out:

1) This postwar (or post-postwar) querulousness is just a blip for the president, and, as so often before, the Bush political and communications experts will make the necessary adjustments (or do the requisite bullying) and, with relative media quiescence, charge on.

2) The war and its aftermathwhich is unfolding pretty much exactly as the antiwar forces said it wouldhave created a situation of great vulnerability for the president, which the media, goaded by the Democrats, will poke and prod with mounting pleasure. The president and his men will become more and more defensive and, as the bullying becomes more brazen, prone to greater and greater mistakes. Hence the stage is set for political calamity.

But which is it?

Wolff seems to think it will depend in part on what happens over in England, where they have a real press with some backbone that is putting the hard questions to Blair's government. Our own so-called liberal media is way behind the Brits. But it could also depend on unforeseen events. I think it will depend on if we capture Osama or Saddam or possibly if we experience any major attack on our soil. If none of those three things happen, I have a hard time seeing how Bush's situation on Iraq and the war on terror can improve (not that a major attack on us would improve the war on terror, but it would make a disastrous Bush re-election more likely as everyone falls into line like after 9/11).

If we capture Osama or Saddam, that will help Bush look a lot better politically. It won't make his overall foreign policy any smarter, and it won't improve the lots of the Iraqis. It also doesn't make Bush suddenly an honest president or fix any of the massive budget problems he's bringing on, but to most Moron-Americans, that doesn't enter into the equation.

Posted by Observer at 09:29 AM | Comments (0)

August 16, 2003

Baylor Busted

Big news around here lately has been the big mess going on at Baylor. One of their basketball players turned up dead with two bullets to the head, and that kicked off an investigation into the whole program. As the local radio stations talked about it, indignant callers (Baylor alums, of course) would come on the air and rant about how dare anyone question Baylor about wrongdoing here. Baylor is, after all, a private fundamentalist Baptist school. A "Christian school" as those callers would say.

As if Baylor is a different animal from all the other programs involved in NCAA athletics. Sorry, Baylor folks, you're down in the gutter with everyone else, and you knew you would have to be in order to compete in the Big 12 athletic conference, where you are still way outclassed by the much higher order of corruption and money at places like Kansas, Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, etc. Hell, you don't even know how to cheat well enough, and you pretend that you are holier than thou.

Turns out it was a lot worse than even I guessed:

Before he resigned as Baylor University's basketball coach, Dave Bliss directed players to provide investigators with false information indicating that slain teammate Patrick Dennehy had paid his tuition by dealing drugs, according to conversations secretly recorded by an assistant coach.

"What we've got to create here is drugs," Bliss said in one of the conversations, which were taped by assistant coach Abar Rouse with a concealed microcassette recorder on July 30 and 31 and Aug. 1.

The tapes also reveal that Bliss knew some players smoked marijuana and that Baylor coaches weren't truthful when they made public statements indicating they had no knowledge of threats allegedly made against Dennehy by Harvey Thomas, the heralded junior-college recruit who arrived in Waco in late spring.

Turns out it was another teammate who supposedly killed Dennehy. Bliss commented on the tapes that they could say pretty much anything they want about Dennehy. Since he's dead, he can't refute it. Needless to say, Dennehy's family are not happy campers. Now we get to watch all the other coaches in the region shake their heads for the media in disbelief and shock, as if they aren't cheating, too. They should just pay the damned players, but that's another post.

Posted by Observer at 04:15 PM | Comments (1)

August 15, 2003

Coming Home to Roost

A very good article by Greg Palast puts the blackout blame where it belongs. It's pretty obvious logic, really. You get a bunch of Republicans coming in, and you let the utilities write their own laws, and of *course* the utilities are going to say "We shouldn't have to spend any money to maintain transmission facilities." So that cost goes away for utilities, but hey, at least those electric bills start falling as a result, right?

Right?

And yeah, Clinton shares much of the blame for being too conservative toward the industry.

Posted by Observer at 01:36 PM | Comments (0)

Rant Mode On

My Fair and Balanced foresight proved correct about the Gore speech in that conservatives basically decided to lie and claim Gore was exaggerating. The Fair and Balanced mainstream media either ignored the speech or only analyzed it in terms of the horse race. Will Gore enter the race? What is Gore trying to accomplish? They ask any question except, "Is Gore right?" They don't ask that one because they know the answer, and they choose not to talk about it, for whatever reason.

And now I will apply my Fair and Balanced foresight once again to current events: Somewhere, somehow right now, some conservatives are trying to find a way to pin 100% of the blame for the power outages along the East coast yesterday on liberals. Even though conservatives have controlled both houses of Congress almost uninterrupted for 2+ years, the executive branch, most of the judicial branch, most of the governorships, etc., somehow the fault for the problems in the power grid will be laid at the feet of Big Government Liberals, in that Fair and Balanced way that only conservatives can accomplish with a straight face (that means STRAIGHT, did you hear me, I'm not a homo, and I don't want the human race to cease existing because godless gays recruit everyone and we stop having babies).

It will happen in the media today all over the place. It will be the topic du jour on all the conservative talk radio stations (who will, every once in a while, go on about liberal media bias of course even though "conservative" and "talk radio" in the same sentence is redundant). If this power outage had been the result of a terrorist attack, can there be any doubt that according to the current administration and conservatives everywhere, Clinton and liberals would be to blame?

This business happening on the wacko conservative end of the spectrum is understandable, and it honestly doesn't bother me. What does bother me is that the stories will bubble up to the Fair and Balanced mainstream media in a "he said, she said" format with the president and other Important Government Officials on one side and then some Democratic spokesperson on the other side like New Mexico governor (and former energy secretary under Clinton) Bill Richardson. At least Richardson is well-spoken (and truly honest about the situation, based on what I know about energy policies and politics), but he'll still be at a disadvantage because of the way the Fair and Balanced media will spin things.

And so the Moron-Americans will continue to say "a pox on both your houses" and plan to vote for the best haircut in 2004. Thanks, Fair and Balanced liberal media!

In case you hadn't noticed, it is Fair and Balanced Friday.

Posted by Observer at 07:15 AM | Comments (0)

August 14, 2003

Lack of Diversity

Funny Doonesbury today:

Radio guy: So life in Baghdad sounds pretty grim, private. What keeps you going?

Caller: My Buds. My boys are total quality, and we got everything in my unit -- black, white, latino, asian, in fact, there's only one group we're missing.

Radio guy: Who's that?

Caller: The children of Washington policymakers.

Posted by Observer at 07:52 AM | Comments (2)

Fun with Deficits

Just a fun little fact to put the California situation in perspective. Californians are pretty mad about the budget deficit of 38 billion accrued on Davis' watch. Nevermind that at least 2/3 of that is related to Enron and energy market manipulation (thanks, Republicans, for the deregulation and privatization, along with stripping enforcement budgets). Anyway, that works out to about $1100 per person in California. I don't know if that deficit stretches out over a two-year period, though. If it does, the per-capita debt is half that.

The Federal budget deficit (keeping in mind Republicans control the legislative and executive branches along with the Supreme Court and most high-level judgeships at the federal level, by the way) is just a wee bit larger. Current estimates by White House number crunching outfits (which can be trusted to make things appear rosier than they are) are in the neighborhood of $450 billion, which works out to about $1600 per person in the United States (including the people in California, of course). And of course that leaves out the cost of the Iraq war, which is so far in the neighborhood of $300 to $700 per person for the first year alone.

Where is this kind of perspective in the liberal media's reporting on the recall election out there? Of course, I guess Gray Davis can't distract everyone by invading Oregon either.

Posted by Observer at 07:17 AM | Comments (4)

August 13, 2003

Simple Math

Very good column recently by Matt Miller about the press and Republican policies:

Proof of the GOP's honesty deficit comes by asking a simple question: What is the Republican position on the right size of government and how to fund it?

Start with basic but poorly understood facts. Seven programs make up 75 percent of all federal spending: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, military pensions, civil service pensions, defense and interest on the debt. That's "big government."

Republicans aren't trying to cut a dime of it but are calling for big increases in every one of these programs. According to the White House, interest on the national debt alone will soar by 66 percent over the next five years, thanks to the red ink oozing from President Bush's budget.

Those "big 7" programs come before you toss in everything from NASA to the national parks to the National Institutes of Health, not to mention homeland security, student loans and farm subsidies -- all things Republicans support, and which take up a goodly portion of the remaining quarter on the federal dollar.

Thus, if you pay heed to their votes and not their words, the Republican critique of "big government" is a pure charade. ...

Over the next five years, President Bush figures the "big 7" programs will cost, on average, about $1.8 trillion a year.

Over the same period, he says, the revenue the government will collect, not counting Social Security taxes (which both parties say shouldn't be used for current spending, though it is), will average $1.35 trillion a year -- $450 billion a year less than just the "big 7" on which Republicans want to spend more.

Income tax reduction under President Bush accounts for most of this gap. ...

If we had a functioning press corps -- one that simply presented these facts again and again -- the fiscal and moral fraud of the GOP position would be self-evident.

Instead, today's press corps chews endlessly over the political jockeying. "Does Bush have Democrats in a bind because they have to talk about repealing his tax cuts?" they ask, rather than laying out the facts that show that Bush's positions are an obvious hoax.

So much for our "adversarial" press! And because the White House knows top editors and producers will think that repeating these tougher questions and analyses would seem too "biased," they can count on "he-said, she-said" coverage to leave citizens confused.

Thanks again, liberal media!

Posted by Observer at 07:57 AM | Comments (1)

August 12, 2003

Fair and Balanced

Faux news is suing Al Franken over the title of Franken's upcoming book, "Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right". Apparently, the liars at Faux feel they have a trademark on that cynical slogan. I don't know if they'll win, but I like Al. His political books and commentary (which occasionally turns up on C-Span) are really funny, so like other bloggers, I will join Al in solidarity. It's fun!

Update: Cursor has plenty more.

Update #2: Franken has responded and several articles now popping up online sourced from the same AP article. Among Franken's quotes from the story:

I normally prefer not to be out of the country on vacation when I'm sued. However, from everything I know about law regarding satire, I'm not worried. ...

As far as the personal attacks go, when I read 'intoxicated or deranged' and 'shrill and unstable' in their complaint, I thought for a moment I was a Fox commentator.

And by the way, a few months ago, I trademarked the word 'funny.' So when Fox calls me 'unfunny,' they're violating my trademark. I am seriously considering a countersuit.

Posted by Observer at 01:02 PM | Comments (0)

Time to Stand

William Rivers Pitt, author of a couple of books about post-9/11 America, recently gave a speech to a group of Veterans in San Francisco. It was on par with Al Gore's recent comments, though I think the passion was a couple notches higher. Makes for very good reading if you have about 5-10 minutes:

If the American people fully knew what this war in Iraq was really about, if they fully knew what it means today to be a soldier in that part of the world, they would tear the White House apart brick by brick. If the people had but a taste of the horror and the lies, they would repudiate this administration and all it stands for. They don't know, because they have been fed a glutton's diet of misinformation and fraud. ...

They call it Pax Americana, a plan to invade Iraq, take it over, create a permanent military presence there, and use the oil revenues to fund further wars against virtually every nation in that region. This we call bringing our "values" over there. Norman Podhoretz, one of the ideological fathers of this group of neoconservatives who now control the foreign policy of this nation, described the process as "the reformation and modernization of Islam." That's a pretty fancy phrase. I am a Catholic, and can therefore call it by its simpler name: Crusade. We know all about those.

This is the Project for a New American Century, the product of a right-wing think tank that, in 1997, was considered so far out there that no one ever thought its members would ever come within ten miles of setting American policy. One broken election, however, vaulted these men into positions of unspeakable power. Their white papers, their dreams of empire at the point of the sword, have become our national nightmare and the nightmare of the world. I speak of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, John Bolton, Lewis Libby and the rest of these New American Century men who have taken our beloved country and all it stands for it and thrown it down into the mud.

You will note that I did not name George W. Bush, for blaming Bush for the gross misadministration of this government is like blaming Mickey Mouse when Disney screws up. He is not in charge. Truman said "The buck stops here," and so we point to Bush as a symbol of all that has gone wrong. But he is not in charge. These other men, these New American Century men, have delivered us to this wretched estate, and by God in Heaven, there will be a reckoning for it. ...

Pax Americana. That which President Kennedy spoke so eloquently and specifically against when he said, "What kind of a peace do we seek? Not a Pax Americana enforced upon the world by our weapons of war." This is now the rule of law for this nation. It must be stopped, and we must be the ones to stop it. ...

They can take nothing from us that we are not willing to give, and we are not willing to give this great nation up. Let them be warned. We stand our ground.

And our numbers are growing.

Posted by Observer at 09:20 AM | Comments (3)

August 11, 2003

Left Hand, Meet Right Hand

A good web site to keep up with is Busy, Busy, Busy. This site helpfully summarizes all those bloviating columnists and articles so you don't have to read them. Everything is summarized in just a few sentences. Take the latest summary of this stupid Washington Post editorial, which is another example of the so-called liberal media taking pot-shots at Gore and protecting Bushco:

The Editorial department is so detached from the News department that we can ridicule Al Gore's claim of administration dishonesty even as the guys who traffic in actual facts publish a 5,355-word report essentially validating it.

Atrios has more, but you have to scroll down 5-10 entries to get to it. The Daily Howler is continuing to cover the predictable nonsense reactions from the librul media as well. In all fairness to the media locally, I will gladly report that the Washington Post article was reprinted in Sunday's paper here, with a paragraph on the bottom right corner of the front page and the rest inside. It's a start.

Posted by Observer at 10:35 AM | Comments (1)

Jarhead

I just finished Anthony Swofford's "Jarhead", his account as a Marine scout/sniper during the first Gulf War. Definitely "raw and gritty" as the reviewers say, it is way outside any kind of experience I've ever had, and it was definitely interesting.

Not sure it was well-written, to be honest. It felt disjointed, padded by a few too many stories from the past, but these kinds of things are hard to judge. I guess it depends on how important you think the past experiences are. I was more interested in reading about a soldier's experiences in the war, not a soldier's upbringing, and I got too much of the latter.

I was also hoping to read more about what happened after combat began, but the war was so short and the aftermath so different from what is going on today, it didn't really provide much enlightenment. I am really looking forward to the memoirs that will come out after the current war. After reading two books about wars, though, it is time for something lighter. Maybe poker.

Posted by Observer at 09:38 AM | Comments (2)

August 10, 2003

Gift Horse

It finally rained yesterday, a good thunderstorm moved through the area after about two months of nothing. I sat out on the back porch and watched it blow in. It felt great to be outside in the morning and not feel all muggy and gross. It was cool pretty much the whole day, which is a miracle here in August.

I was in such a good mood that I decided to take the kids to the bookstore after the usual Saturday trip out to the library, etc. I have some coupons for $40 worth of free books at Bookstop (that's from our credit card payback), so I told the kids I would let each of them get a chapter book at the bookstore. Before going in, I warned them that I would not pay for a game book or a comic book or book #24 that is 50 pages with color photo inserts from some TV series. It had to be a chapter book, something new they haven't read.

Well, Justin looked around for a long time and finally found some fantasy series with dragons and such that says it is good for ages 10 and up. I don't even remember the author's name, but I said sure. Sarah found a book fairly quickly, too. Cody comes over to me with a book about magic, one of those Klutz books with a lot of little magic gadgets that come with it sealed in a plastic bag, full of instructions on how to do magic tricks. I told him not only was it 15 bucks (I was trying to limit them to paperbacks) but it wasn't a chapter book.

Well, he was Mr. Mope after that. He was so mad he wouldn't even *look* at the chapter books. I got really mad at him, but I didn't say anything. I showed him "A Wrinkle in Time" because he likes time travel stories, but he just moped. I didn't want to ruin the book for him by forcing it upon the boy, so I put it back on the shelf. In the end, I just got him the first book in the Philip Pullman series, "The Golden Compass", which I know nothing about but hope it is good. I told him if he doesn't want it, he can give it to his brother.

I gave him a good lecture in the car about being ungrateful. I was probably too hard on the poor kid. He's only nine, after all. I was just frustrated, because before going into the bookstore, I had taken such great pains to avoid having any of them get their heart set on a book I wouldn't allow them to get. I think part of his moping was not just realizing that I wouldn't buy the book for him, but also that he can't even save up for it right now because it is only the 9th week of his 16 weeks of punishment for breaking all those windows.

Plus, he's got at least three weeks in the alternative school coming up, and I'm sure he's scared about that. So he's got a lot on his mind (which is fine with me, I want the window breaking to have very memorable consequences). Anyway, 15 minutes after we got home, he was already reading "The Golden Compass", and we dueled later as usual.

I'm now 21-0 against the kids in dueling. Sarah should've beaten me last night, had me down to 100 life points (out of 8000) for a long time, but she screwed up about four different chances to finish me off. That allowed me to finally draw a card from my deck that saved my bacon.

Posted by Observer at 08:52 AM | Comments (2)

August 09, 2003

The Birth Tax

Molly Ivins has come up with a nice one:

The "death tax," as the Republicans so cleverly misnamed the estate tax, which affects 2 percent of all Americans, has now been replaced by the Bush birth tax -- if you're born in this country, you're in debt -- you have to help pay back the money the Bushies took out of Social Security, plus the interest on the debts they're running up.

Actually, that 2 percent figure is a bit misleading. First of all, that will continue to decrease as the gap between the super-rich and the run-of-the-mill rich continues to widen. By 2009, only 0.5% of people will be affected (those with estates valued over $3.5 million or $7 million for couples). Also, if you limit yourself to looking at estates worth less than $5 million, family farms and family business are pretty much non-existent in terms of getting taxed. They account for 3% of the estate tax revenue in that classification, and they get other special breaks as well in any case for all valuations. See here for source info and related documents.

By contrast, everyone is getting screwed by the birth tax, none more so than the poor. Why? Well, because first of all the tax cuts are making the whole overall taxation system more regressive. Also, as the government takes in less revenue, it gives less to the states, who then systematically up sales taxes and fees, which as a whole are profoundly regressive. Republicans talk about abhorring class warfare, accusing Democrats of trying to target the wealthy in their tax plans, but Republicans are doing the exact same thing. Only in their case, the target is the poor.

Posted by Observer at 09:44 AM | Comments (5)

August 08, 2003

Too Many Secrets

I finally finished reading Daniel Ellsberg's excellent book, "Secrets". The link takes you to the website for the book, which includes excerpts, photos and lots of other stuff related to the book. Ellsberg worked in various capacities with high clearances for the government during the Vietnam escalation. He finally left the government for ethical reasons and eventually leaked "the Pentagon Papers" to the press during the Nixon administration. These papers were a classified history of the decision-making process and intelligence on Vietnam over the previous 20-30 years.

This book tells Ellsberg's story, from his first days in the administration, to his various experiences in Vietnam, to his work for different administrations and so forth. Ellsberg doesn't just recount the history but talks about motivations, which is really interesting, especially in light of what's going on today in the government. Why did Ellsberg continue to function as a part of the apparatus promoting the escalation of the Vietnam war when he knew that it was a hopeless quagmire? Mainly, it was loyalty. Ellsberg talks about what it took to overpower that loyalty and why it was so difficult to do.

He talks about the manipulation of intelligence to promote the government's already-decided agenda (sound familiar?). He also recounts some of the macho-tough foreign policy, even using lots of excerpts from Nixon's oval office tapes. Like this one:

Nixon: "I want this clearly understood. The surgical operation theory [of bombing] is all right, but I want that place bombed to smithereens. If we draw the sword, we're gonna bomb those bastards all over the place. Let it fly, let it fly.

It's a wonder he didn't say "Bring 'em on." There was also a very interesting passage during which Ellsberg advises Kissinger on clearances and perspective:

Henry, there's something I would like to tell you, for what it's worth, something I wish I had been told years ago. You've been a consultant for a long time, and you've dealt a great deal with top secret information. But you're about to receive a whole slew of special clearances, maybe fifteen or twenty of them, that are higher than top secret.

I've had a number of these myself, and I've known other people who have just acquired them, and I have a pretty good sense of what the effects of receiving these clearances are on a person who didn't previously know they even existed. And the effects of reading the information that they will make available to you.

First, you'll be exhilarated by some of this new information, and by having it all so much! incredible! suddenly available to you. But second, almost as fast, you will feel like a fool for having studied, written, talked about these subjects, criticized and analyzed decisions made by presidents for years without having known of the existence of all this information, which presidents and others had and you didn't, and which must have influenced their decisions in ways you couldn't even guess. In particular, you'll feel foolish for having literally rubbed shoulders for over a decade with some officials and consultants who did have access to all this information you didn't know about and didn't know they had, and you'll be stunned that they kept that secret from you so well.

You will feel like a fool, and that will last for about two weeks. Then, after you've started reading all this daily intelligence input and become used to using what amounts to whole libraries of hidden information, which is much more closely held than mere top secret data, you will forget there ever was a time when you didn't have it, and you'll be aware only of the fact that you have it now and most others don't....and that all those other people are fools.

Over a longer period of time not too long, but a matter of two or three years you'll eventually become aware of the limitations of this information. There is a great deal that it doesn't tell you, it's often inaccurate, and it can lead you astray just as much as the New York Times can. But that takes a while to learn.

In the meantime it will have become very hard for to learn from anybody who doesn't have these clearances. Because you'll be thinking as you listen to them: 'What would this man be telling me if he knew what I know? Would he be giving me the same advice, or would it totally change his predictions and recommendations?' And that mental exercise is so torturous that after a while you give it up and just stop listening. I've seen this with my superiors, my colleagues....and with myself.

You will deal with a person who doesn't have those clearances only from the point of view of what you want him to believe and what impression you want him to go away with, since you'll have to lie carefully to him about what you know. In effect, you will have to manipulate him. You'll give up trying to assess what he has to say. The danger is, you'll become something like a moron. You'll become incapable of learning from most people in the world, no matter how much experience they may have in their particular areas that may be much greater than yours."

....Kissinger hadn't interrupted this long warning. As I've said, he could be a good listener, and he listened soberly. He seemed to understand that it was heartfelt, and he didn't take it as patronizing, as I'd feared. But I knew it was too soon for him to appreciate fully what I was saying. He didn't have the clearances yet.

I'm reminded by this of the arrogance of people like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, et al.

Posted by Observer at 02:30 PM | Comments (2)

August 07, 2003

Gore Speaks Out

It is much too long to quote in its entirety, but this speech by Al Gore about recent events is Right. On. The. Money.

If you follow no other links from my blog but one, follow this one and give yourself 10-15 minutes to read this speech. At least if he's going to get robbed of the presidency, he can make the most of being a senior statesman. If you want a good laugh, try to imagine Bush making a speech like this with a straight face.

Right now, there's a very faint scuffing sound you can hear all over Washington, D. C. It is the sound of conservatives rushing through the speech trying to find something that can be construed as any kind of exaggeration, no matter how minor, so that the exaggeration, rather than the speech, becomes the story of the day. With the help of the so-called liberal media, it wouldn't surprise me at all to see them succeed.

Posted by Observer at 01:57 PM | Comments (15)

Lies with Teeth

From a recent edition of Eric Alterman's blog, Altercation, comes this question from the recent presidential press conference:

Q: Thank you, Mr. President. Building on that idea, its impossible to deny that the world is a better place and the region certainly a better place without Saddam Hussein...

Well, for most Iraqis, that proposition is arguable at the moment, and it is certainly arguable for the region. Its far too early to tell what impact the U.S. invasion will have on either. But that aside, why is the reporter apologizing for asking whether the U.S. has lost credibility by building the case for Iraq upon sometimes flimsy or, some people have complained, nonexistent evidence? Clearly it has.

Even if you grant the above premises and I would like to be able to do that some day how is it any more relevant than to say, for instance, Thank you, Mr. President. Building on that idea, its impossible to deny that every single American family who lost a son or daughter, and those who will continue to lose their sons and daughters, must be particularly furious at you for sending their children off to die in a war for which you had to deceive the nation in order to get its support. Thats not particularly relevant either, but it is less pathetic. Tony Blair is on the ropes in Britain for a lot less lying than Bush has done.

And this...

Claim:
Hes trying to acquire nuclear weapons. Nobody ever said that it was going to be the next year. - Condoleeza Rice in PBS interview, 7/30/03

Fact:
[Iraq] could have a nuclear weapon in less than a year. - George Bush, 10/8/02

This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year.- George Bush, 9/28/02

Today Saddam Hussein has the scientists and infrastructure for a nuclear weapons program and has illicitly sought to purchase the equipment needed to enrich uranium for a nuclear weapon. Should his regime acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year. - George Bush, National Radio Address, 9/14/02

Should Iraq acquire fissile material, it would be able to build a nuclear weapon within a year. - George Bush, speech to U.N., 9/12/02

The intelligence community also had high confidence in the judgment that, and I quote, Iraq could make a nuclear weapon in months to a year once it acquires sufficient weapons-grade fissile material, end quote. - Vice President Dick Cheney, 7/23/03

Where's the liberal media on all this stuff?

Posted by Observer at 09:36 AM | Comments (1)

August 06, 2003

Puppy's Advice

Since the beginning of the betting, I am a sterling 12-0 vs the kids in Yu-Gi-Oh battles. Before each battle, I present the bet to them and give them the option to accept or decline. I sweeten the pot a little each day I win. So after four days, instead of "four-cards vs call me dad for a day", the bet is now such that if they win, they get to draw eight cards from the new card pile. If they lose, they have to call me "Dad" for 24 hours.

Every time I present this bet to Sarah, she grabs her giant stuffed dog that she got for her birthday that she calls "Puppy". Puppy whispers in her ear her advice on whether Sarah should take the bet. So far, the answer has been "yes" every time. Sarah is really getting annoyed at losing, though. Of the three kids, she is probably the sorest loser (and that's saying something). Ironically, she is also the best player, the most cautious. She had me down to 250 life points last night (we both start at 8000), but I won in the end. Closest match yet.

Cody is the only one with the claim to fame (and he repeats it every day) of beating me once, back when all I had was a starter deck. His play is improving very rapidly. He even corrected me on a ruling tonight, very politely, and he played strategically without any advice. He just couldn't draw any cards to help himself, so I stomped him. Nice game, son.

Posted by Observer at 08:57 PM | Comments (1)

Fine Whine

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

Posted by Observer at 07:47 AM | Comments (1)

August 05, 2003

Student Update

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

Posted by Observer at 09:46 AM | Comments (7)

August 04, 2003

Let's Make It Interesting

Soon after Daniel joined us, the kids were asking M*chelle's mom, El*yne, about things, and the subject came up of what to call me. Since they've been here, they've called me by my first name. Everyone in the house calls me that, and I'm really fine with it. I'm not their biological father, of course, but on the other hand, their real dads are long gone back in Canada.

J*stin's father has seen him once during Justin's entire life, and then he flaked out and moved to who knows where. C*dy and S*rah's father is an abusive monster who is in and out of jail depending upon the bravery of his latest abuse victim/girlfriend. He has zero custody rights, and if we and the kids have our way, they will never cross paths again.

So, the issue about fathers has come up before. I'm a stepdad, but I'm also willing and able to be a real father to these kids, if not biologically. If it would be best for them, I'd be honored, embarrassed for a while, and surely quite humbled if they would actually call me "Dad". But it really has to be their choice if they wish to do it.

Now that I have a biological son who I would very much like to call me "Dad" (if he called me by my real name, all I would be able to think about is Bart calling his dad "Homer" all the time), I imagine the kids might feel a little anxiety being left out of the mix. Despite all the encouragement and all our efforts otherwise, the baby *is* going to be getting most of the attention in this household for the next few years, I am sure. That's just how babies are.

If the baby and M*chelle and me start having our own little relationship outside of the other three kids, I can only imagine how damaging that would be. So we're starting to think it would be best to ease the kids into the inner circle a little better by having them call me "Dad", too. But again, it has to be of their own volition.

They've asked before about this, all three of them separately and sometimes together. We've told them they are free to do what they want, but we haven't expressed a preference. When they asked this time, El*yne expressed a preference. She told them something along the lines that I am a better father than most kids have, that their biological fathers don't really count, etc. and that they should call me "Dad".

So the other night at the supper table, J*stin piped up out of nowhere. He says, "I've been thinking about it, and I'm going to start saying 'Dad'". C*dy said, "Yeah, I think I want to do that, too." S*rah looked pretty embarrassed, but she also chimed in with mild agreement. We told them that would be fine. They are free to do what they like, but I told them that I would really be honored.

It's always awkward at school upon meeting a teacher, for example. The teacher will say, "Oh, you are C*dy's father?" And I'll say, "Well, uh..." and C*dy will say "stepdad" real quick, and he looks embarrassed about it because I guess most of the other kids have real dads around. Or a teacher will ask me, "Oh, is S*rah your daughter?" and I'll say, "Well, uh..." and S*rah will say "stepdaughter" real quick, etc.

Anyway, so I told the kids it goes both ways. If they want to call me "Dad", I will be glad to call them "son" or "daughter" if anyone asks. I told them I would be glad to adopt them legally and make it formal, but what gets in the way is needing the consent of their biological fathers in Canada (one impossible to find, the other impossible to reason with). I told them that when they are older, they can probably make their own choices, but I don't know how old they have to be.

Despite the seeming agreement around the table, it is still very awkward. None of the kids can get into the habit of changing what they call me after two years, and I don't think they want to go out of their way to correct themselves because it feels so awkward. They still call me by my first name. Only once or twice in the few days since that conversation at the supper table has anyone used "Dad". So I have tried a novel solution.

After the halfway point in their punishment (a week ago now), we decided that the boys could have their Yu-Gi-Oh cards back. C*dy had to pay for his original cards because of the stealing earlier, so he used up his birthday money (which we are holding in escrow for both boys until the punishment is up, but I allowed C*dy to spend for this). They are doing well with their chores and such, and they need things to do during their time out. Also, I really do think the time I can spend with them in the evenings gives us a chance to bond one-on-one, and so I have promised each of them I would duel them at least once per day.

The cards that C*dy opened up are now in a box. The kids can buy new cards from these opened expansion packs at a cost of 25 cents per card, if they earn money. For J*stin and C*dy, they would have to earn money outside of the two big chores/assignments they have to do every day, so it will be very tough for them. Still, they are getting good at laundry and dishes, so there are opportunities.

So...the solution. I told the kids that I would make a bet with them, if they chose to accept. With each duel, if they win, they get to pick 4 cards for free at random from the new card box (kids' eyes light up as I explain, but then very quickly, especially for C*dy, the question comes up, "And if I lose...?"). If they lose, they have to make every effort to call me "Dad" for the next 24 hours, and I get to correct them if they don't (provided *I* can remember ... it's such a habit).

So we had our first round of duels this evening after returning from a day visiting both sides of my family. I offered each of them the bet, and they accepted (S*rah was the most reluctant and embarrassed about it, I think, but there was never any question she would accept the bet). As usual, I won all three matches (although C*dy gave me a real battle and could've won if he had played slightly better). Everyone had great fun and even gathered around to watch my match with J*stin, which was a brutal drubbing.

After I beat C*dy, I said, "Good match ... SON." He just blushed and bowed his head and started giggling. I did the same thing for J*stin. S*rah was a little upset because she says she never wins (which is true, against me ... only C*dy has beaten me so far one time; the others usually don't even take anything off my life points at all during the match), but I told her I would help her build a better deck tomorrow. She said, "Ok, Dad-head".

I need to decide soon if I need to throw a match or two, just to keep it amusing for the kids.

Posted by Observer at 07:33 AM | Comments (2)

August 03, 2003

Beat the Press

A good news summary from Jon Stewart The Daily Show this past week, regarding the Bush press conference. The whole video clip is pretty funny, but I guess my favorite moment was this:

Bush (video clip): Remember on our TV screens -- I'm not suggesting which network did this -- but it said, "March to War," every day from last summer until the spring -- "March to War, March to War." That's not a very conducive environment for people to take risk, when they hear, "March to War" all the time.

Stewart: Yeah, it wasn't like there was some asshole actually leading us to war or anything!

The whole press conference wasn't quite as sad as the scripted one prior to the war, but I think Bushco realizes that they needn't bother with a script. The White House press whores won't ask the tough questions. Bush won't give coherent, consistent answers to even the softball questions, and the whole thing is reported in the 12th paragraph on page 18A or relegated to a "tsk tsk" editorial. Thanks, liberal media!

Posted by Observer at 08:21 AM | Comments (2)

August 02, 2003

This is Conservative?

As I've said before, presumably one of the objective points in favor of conservatives historically has been their role as "fiscal conservatives", but really, when is the last time a Republican president was actually a fiscal conservative? I mean, Reagan just plain wasn't, and you can't blame that all on the Democratic Congress, because Reagan's official budgets sent to Congress were higher than what spending was eventually improved. Yes, I know all spending bills originate in Congress technically, but for all intents and purposes, they can originate anywhere.

Anyway, according to a Cato Institute Study (Cato is a libertarian think tank with a strong conservative bent), Bush with a *Republican* Congress is far, far worse than any Republican, and he was WAY worse than Clinton (even when Clinton had a Democratic Congress):

The Bush administration's newly released budget projections reveal an anticipated budget deficit of $450 billion for the current fiscal year, up another $151 billion since February. Supporters and critics of the administration are tripping over themselves to blame the deficit on tax cuts, the war, and a slow economy. But the fact is we have mounting deficits because George W. Bush is the most gratuitous big spender to occupy the White House since Jimmy Carter. One could say that he has become the "Mother of All Big Spenders."

The new estimates show that, under Bush, total outlays will have risen $408 billion in just three years to $2.272 trillion: an enormous increase in federal spending of 22 percent. Administration officials privately admit that spending is too high. Yet they argue that deficits are appropriate in times of war and recession. So, is it true that the war on terrorism has resulted in an increase in defense spending? Yes. And, is it also true that a slow economy has meant a decreased stream of tax revenues to pay for government? Yes again.

But the real truth is that national defense is far from being responsible for all of the spending increases. According to the new numbers, defense spending will have risen by about 34 percent since Bush came into office. But, at the same time, non-defense discretionary spending will have skyrocketed by almost 28 percent. Government agencies that Republicans were calling to be abolished less than 10 years ago, such as education and labor, have enjoyed jaw-dropping spending increases under Bush of 70 percent and 65 percent respectively. ...

That the nation's budgetary situation continues to deteriorate is because the administration's fiscal policy has been decidedly more about politics than policy. Even the tax cuts, which happened to be good policy, were still political in nature considering their appeal to the Republican's conservative base. At the same time, the politicos running the Bush reelection machine have consistently tried to placate or silence the liberals and special interests by throwing money at their every whim and desire. In mathematical terms, the administration calculates that satiated conservatives plus silenced liberals equals reelection.

How else can one explain the administration publishing a glossy report criticizing farm programs and then proceeding to sign a farm bill that expands those same programs? How else can one explain the administration acknowledging that entitlements are going to bankrupt the nation if left unreformed yet pushing the largest historical expansion in Medicare one year before the election? Such blatant political maneuvering can only be described as Clintonian.

But perhaps we are being unfair to former President Clinton. After all, in inflation-adjusted terms, Clinton had overseen a total spending increase of only 3.5 percent at the same point in his administration. More importantly, after his first three years in office, non-defense discretionary spending actually went down by 0.7 percent. This is contrasted by Bush's three-year total spending increase of 15.6 percent and a 20.8 percent explosion in non-defense discretionary spending.

Sadly, the Bush administration has consistently sacrificed sound policy to the god of political expediency. From farm subsidies to Medicare expansion, purchasing reelection votes has consistently trumped principle. In fact, what we have now is a president who spends like Carter and panders like Clinton. Our only hope is that the exploding deficit will finally cause the administration to get serious about controlling spending.

No, the only hope is that in 2004 the Moron-American vote stays home.

Posted by Observer at 11:44 AM | Comments (1)

August 01, 2003

A Small Victory

I have discovered that enthusiastic lecture mode is useful not just in classroom and parenting situations. Yesterday, I was at the store buying fried chicken (always much cheaper at the grocery store than at a fast-food place). I explained to the Chicken Lady that I wanted a 16 piece box, but only dark meat.

She looked confused, "You want just dark meat?"

I said, "Right, just thighs and legs."

She shook her head, "Oh no, we don't sell that way."

I said, "Excuse me? The menu says 16 pieces of chicken right there for 11 bucks. It doesn't say what kind."

She said, "No, you have to buy whole chicken. Eight pieces. Two breast, two thigh, two leg, two wing, and you do that twice, and that sixteen pieces."

I said, "Has something about the menu or prices changed in the last week?"

She said, "No."

I shook my head with Genuine Bemused Scientific Curiosity, "Well, that's funny then. Because the last five weeks I've come in here, I've explained to them what I wanted, as I just explained to you, and I've gotten exactly what I wanted for that price."

She shook her head with Obstinate and Petty Bureaucrat Grimace, "Well, you weren't talking to me."

"Obviously," I shot back, irritated.

She looked at me.

I let out a big Beaten-Down-By-The-Man sigh and said, "Well, let me look at the menu again for a minute and see what it is that I can order then."

I peered carefully and studied closely while it slowly dawned on her that I had turned the tables. The only weapon I had against the Obstinate and Petty Bureaucrat Grimace was Well-Meaning, Studious, and Oblivious-to-All-Concept-of-Inconvenience Patience. I had nothing else in my hands, nowhere to go, nothing to do but continue to waste as much of her time as possible until I got what I wanted.

I said, with Fake Lecture Enthusiasm, "Okay, so let's see here, you have eight pieces. And that's two breasts, two thighs, two legs and two wings, right?" I'm in the gear I have to shift to when I am explaining a concept to a student for the tenth time in a given day.

She hoped I was about to give up and let her just sell me the standard box of chicken, "Yes, right."

Wrong. "Now you are selling individual breasts for $1.59, and individual thighs for $1.19, so if you let me substitute two thighs for two breasts, then you guys can charge me the exact same price and save yourselves 80 cents!", I exclaimed. "Isn't that like a great deal for you? And the wings and legs are only 10 cents different, so if you substitute 2 legs for the two wings, you still come out ahead by 60 cents!" I was on a Fake Enthusiasm roll here, trying to explain to her how wonderful and aesthetically interesting this new economics of chicken is, hoping she could share in my excitement.

She looked down at the tongs in her hand and with the unmistakeable Slumped Shoulders of the Defeated Bureaucrat, proceeded to fill the box with exactly what I wanted in the first place.

Another victory for science.

Posted by Observer at 08:44 AM | Comments (1)