November 30, 2003

Lights! Action!

We just finished our Sunday Thanksgiving turkey fest, and it rocked. My stomach is bloated, and I feel that ache of too much "second helpings." Fortunately, I just finished putting up the rest of the Christmas lights before we ate, because I'm pretty useless now. For now, the total number of lights rests at 12 strands of white icicle lights, 6 strands of plain white lights (wrapped around our three front porch poles), and 6 strands of red lights (framing the two front windows and the front door).

I'm tempted to add another couple of strings of icicles around the side, and Michelle wants our big front bush covered in red, so it may not be over yet! I'm glad lights are so cheap. Only about a hundred bucks (plus extension cords and power strips), and the house is probably the best looking one on our street, or at least the brightest. It's a lot of work, but I really love lights.

Update: I snapped a photo of my handiwork so far. Doesn't really do them justice, but here they are...

Posted by Observer at 02:53 PM | Comments (2)

November 29, 2003

Two Nations

I recently finished the next compilation in the Miles series, "Miles, Mystery and Mayhem", which contains "Cetaganda", "Ethan of Athos" and "Labyrinth". Another winner in the series, though I didn't like these three as much as the first stories in the series.

We also watched the extra crispy extended version of "The Two Towers" yesterday, and it was very good. I was surprised so many critical plot/exposition points were left out of the cinematic version. They were very welcome here. We'll try to find time to watch the extra stuff later today on discs 3 and 4, but I have a lot on the plate this weekend.

I started to put up the Xmas lights yesterday. We use nine strings of white icicle lights to hang from the front of the house, plus six strings of regular red and white lights to frame the front windows and wrap the poles on the front porch. So I pulled out the first string of icicle lights from storage, and about 1/4 of the string was out. It took about an hour total to replace all the bad bulbs, test and retest and finally get that stupid string lit.

I was at the point where if any of the other strings were bad, I would have just tossed it and bought a new one. Hell, they're only a few bucks, and my time is worth more than that. Later, I tested the rest of the strands, and they all work perfectly! Well, that's one less trip to the store. I'll be putting them up today, now that I know they all work.

I went to the store twice yesterday. Knowing it was Super Walmart on the day after Thanksgiving, I feared the worst, but it was no problem. Their big sale was early in the morning, and I missed it. I had to go get stuff for a turkey dinner for us. We went to both my parents' houses Thursday, but we didn't eat much at either place. Both were really crowded, and by the time we got the food, it was cold (that's par for the course at a crowded meal, of course), and we all really like the way Michelle prepares things. Plus we didn't get much for leftovers (I love leftover turkey sammiches), so we're cooking our own turkey Sunday.

There was a huge line in the store for the layaway cashier. I swear it was 50+ carts long, each full to overflowing with big-ticket items. Not a single white person in the whole line, too, I noticed. I guess that's life as a minority in a red (Bush-supporting) state. I'd like to see some anti-affirmative-action asshole from one of those conservative think thanks with the pasty white face, the bowtie and expensive suit (George Will, Tucker Carson, or any of the endless line of clones come to mind) walking around in that 2+ hour long line, talking about life with these people (better yet, trying to convince them of just how *lucky* and *overprivileged* they are to get the benefits of affirmative action). After all these years, it's still "Two Nations".

Posted by Observer at 08:28 AM | Comments (5)

November 28, 2003

Like a Thief in the Night

The Boy King made a surprise visit to Iraq on Thanksgiving. The whole thing was top secret. They flew into Baghdad, spent a few hours with the troops, and then flew out, only releasing information about the visit after they were well away from Baghdad airspace. Not wanting to make it look like a photo op, the Bush team insisted no pictures be taken. Sorry -- ha ha ha ha ha. Are you kidding? Of *course* they took photos! Plenty of 'em, and they knew it would be a jackpot of good publicity.

Now, on balance, this was a very smart, very good thing to do for the troops. No matter how cynical was the political calculation behind this (and given this administration's penchant for stagecraft, you have to believe that was a big part of it), the effect will be very positive for the troops and for the part of the country that doesn't just hate Bush's guts like I do. So good for them. Having to plan the trip like a thief in the night can't be impressive to the Iraqis, the rest of the world, or even a lot of Americans and troops, but better to go than to not go.

If we're still stuck in this quagmire next November, though, this little jaunt isn't going to do Bush one damned bit of good. Even though we'll be hearing about Bush's bold brave and daring adventure for the next several months on Faux News, Iraq is a problem that won't be solved by a photo op. And if I were the Iraqis, I'd be doubly worried, because Bush has a habit of cutting off funding to places he visits for photo ops.

Posted by Observer at 09:02 AM | Comments (7)

November 27, 2003

Counting My Blessings

To keep it a bit shorter, I am only going to talk about things that are a part of my life now, not so much in the past. These are not necessarily in any particular order. On this day, I am thankful for:

- My wife, Michelle. It took me 33 years of the proverbial wandering in the lonely wilderness before I realized I could find such a deep and mutual friendship, respect, kindness and love. I still can't believe we both took such a crazy risk and that it turned out so perfectly right. And as an extra added bonus, she's awesomely sexy (and I got some this morning).

- Justin, Cody and Sarah. They've responded to my clumsy, blind-leading-the-blind, semi-control-freak attempts at step-parenting, and they're growing up fast. It has been great fun to have them in my life, and it has given me a sense of purpose that I can't believe I lived without for so long. Teaching has been great, but it is no substitute for parenthood.

- Daniel. Against my mom's wishes (because I was a colicky baby), Daniel has been an angel for us, a very easy baby. His smiles melt our hearts, and I don't know what we'd do without him.

- My health. Although my diet is rather unhealthy most of the time, I am all in one piece. You know how when you feel really, really sick, you say to yourself, "Oh crap, when I get well and feel normal, I am DAMNED well going to appreciate it." Well, I do. Knock on wood.

- My job. It bears repeating multiple times. I have one of the best jobs in the world. I get to teach science at the University level. I don't have to teach high school five days a week, deal with angry parents, teach to some stupid standardized test, etc. I have the freedom to teach pretty much what I want, and I know that I am good at it. The hours let me stay at home a lot, and even when I work the summer for generous extra pay, I still get the equivalent of 11 weeks off per year. I teach a very demanding course, yet I get the best student ratings in my department and also really high relative to the University as a whole. I've won teaching awards in the past (when I was in grad school), and if I can keep it up here another couple of decades, I might be in line for a bigger honor. I'm thankful that I am good at something I love doing.

- My extended family. We are not as close physically or emotionally as I would like, but we are not distant. I have a good mom and dad, and good step parents. My brother is all right, too, and he didn't beat me up too badly when I was little.

- Michelle's mom, Elayne. She's such a generous person, and she's so helpful to us when she comes down to visit. She is Michelle's lifeline to Nova Scotia, and she deserves the best things in life.

- My blog. If I didn't have this place to vent, I think I would drive my poor wife crazy talking about politics all the time. Writing this blog has also introduced me to an amazing number of thoughtful sites (for which I am also thankful, but there are too many to name) and given me an alternative to the deeply stupid mainstream media. I also have several really thoughtful readers who often leave good comments.

- The library. It has given me and the kids something to do on Saturdays to get out of the house without spending money. It has enabled us to foster the kids' voracious appetite for new books without worrying about buying a million books. It lets me read most of the latest political books without paying the hardcover price (or even waiting six months and paying the inflated trade paperback price). And they let us check out DVD's!

- The pugs. Our two precious little dogs, they always make us laugh and smile. My big beautiful boy, Dexter, is the first creature I've ever met in life who so absolutely purely thinks with his stomach. He also loves to snuggle, which can be a pain sometimes, but you have to love it. And my busy little girl, Isabella, who is quirky like a cat, cute as anything and absolutely hilarious.

- Yu-Gi-Oh. Yes, it has cost us a small fortune, but it has forged a bond between myself and the three older kids that simply wasn't there before (we tried with "Animal Crossing", which was fun, but it is in the end pretty much a single-player video game, and it grew old much more quickly than Yu-Gi-Oh). And is a fun card-strategy game, even more fun than Illuminati, which I didn't think would ever be beaten after I had so much fun with it in grad school.

- iTunes. This program plus my huge external hard drive has enabled me to easily manage something I've been doing since I was about fourteen, which is mixing my favorite music. I still have about 30 mixed cassette tapes from my high school days, but with iTunes, it's like having my own personal radio station. I'm checking out Christmas CD's from the library four at a time and dumping them onto iTunes so that when it's time, I can pick off the ones I want and have some great holiday music playing through the house.

- Star Wars. I still listen to the soundtrack to the first movie ("A New Hope" or Episode IV, the first one released in 1977) all the time. I get chills every time I see Han Solo flying out of the Sun and whooping, Leia looking up in surprised recognition and Luke zoning in when he hears, "You're all clear kid! Now let's blow this thing and go home!" I don't even have to see it. I can hear the exact moment on the John Williams soundtrack when it happens. The kids watched it with me yesterday (I've lost count how many times I've seen that movie), and with any luck, I'll turn them into big fans, too.

- Lord of the Rings. The book, the movie, everything about this story has turned to gold. It is quite possible that I will love this trilogy of movies as much as I love Star Wars, and I'm glad the kids have so much cool stuff to look forward to that they don't appreciate fully yet. I could list a hundred more movies, but I think these two are the top of the pile.

- Great authors. Brust, Donaldson, Rowling, King, Crichton. There are so many great contemporary authors out there that are so much fun to read. I can't wait until the kids are old enough to appreciate them. I can't wait until *I'm* old enough to appreciate the classics, because I know there's so much great stuff out there. Just not my thing yet, and I do try once in a while.

- America. I'm thankful for this great country. I sincerely hope that it is strong enough to withstand the selfish, reckless stupidity of so many people.

- My hand/eye coordination. Thanks to a childhood of video games and a timely high school typing class. I can't even begin to think how many things would be different in life were I not blessed with the ability to type 90+ words per minute. If I could only think that fast, I could type even more crap than I already do!

- Bill Parcells. Ok, we're way down on the list here, but he still makes the list. What a genius, and he has made my Cowboys worth watching again after many years of the blahs.

- Dunham and Miller. The sports-talk morning show I listen to for about 1-2 hours every day. Very funny and often on the same wavelength with me about sports. It's also probably the only place on the radio in this part of the country where conservative opinions are regularly mocked (liberal opinions are mocked, too ... it's balanced, unlike everything else on talk radio, but they mention politics only once or twice a week).

I better stop now before I get so trivial that people will be thankful when I finally shut up. Maybe too late.

Posted by Observer at 09:11 AM | Comments (1)

November 26, 2003

Reverse Engineering

CalPundit managed to get an interview with Paul Krugman a couple of months ago about Krugman's book. In the interview Krugman has several interesting points (My ellipses are in brackets):

Most people have been slow to realize just how awesome a sea change has taken place in the domestic political scene....The public still has little sense of how radical our leading politicians really are....Just before putting this book to bed, I discovered a volume that describes the situation almost perfectly....an old book by, of all people, Henry Kissinger....

In the first few pages, Kissinger describes the problems confronting a heretofore stable diplomatic system when it is faced with a "revolutionary power" — a power that does not accept that system's legitimacy....It seems clear to me that one should regard America's right-wing movement...as a revolutionary power in Kissinger's sense [...]

Here's a bit more from Kissinger: "The distinguishing feature of a revolutionary power is not that it feels threatened...but that absolutely nothing can reassure it (Kissinger's emphasis). Only absolute security — the neutralization of the opponent — is considered a sufficient guarantee"....I don't know where the right's agenda stops, but I have learned never to assume that it can be appeased through limited concessions. Pundits who predict moderation on the part of the Bush administration, on any issue, have been consistently wrong [...]

On what issue have they actually said, here's a problem and we have to solve it? There have been none of those, there have just been, here's a problem and how can we use it to advance the base's agenda?

The latest energy bill is a perfect case in point. It addresses zero real problems with energy, such as reducing our dependence on foreign oil by either increasing our efficiency (such as mileage standards for cars which heaven forbid might be good for the environment) or researching renewable alternatives (the money set aside for that is much less than it was even during the 1970's). All it does is advance the agenda of the right-wing/corporate base with a variety of little pokes and prods.

The whole interview is really good. About a 10-20 minute read, I find. More if you read the comments, which about double the length of the piece.

Posted by Observer at 06:40 AM | Comments (0)

November 25, 2003

Outclassed

The Boy King met privately with some (carefully selected, I'm sure) families of soldiers who have died in Iraq recently. Can you imagine the vetting process for that? Someone from the White House calls to express condolences and oh, by the way, how do you feel about the war? Do you think it is justified? How do you feel about the president? And if you give the wrong answer, they hang up. The right answer, and you get some face time. How pathetic.

Reporters aren't allowed to show returning coffins on the air, and there have been over 400 since "Mission Accomplished". Bush won't attend funerals. Hell, freakin' Reverend Al Sharpton (longshot, sorta wacko, quadrennial Democratic candidate) attended a funeral for a soldier killed in Iraq, and he read the eulogy for the guy! You know it's pretty bad when you are getting outclassed by Al Sharpton.

How can anyone be proud of this president? Seriously. What kind of delusional world must you be in to have a feeling remotely like "pride" at what has been going on in this country since Bush took office? What is there to be proud of? The deficit? The Patriot Act? The tax cuts mostly for the wealthy? The rollbacks in environmental protection? Pre-emptive strikes? Misleading speeches? Dress-up photo ops? I admit, I'm at a loss.

Posted by Observer at 01:52 PM | Comments (0)

Stupid Conservative Myth #12

Ok, here's another one:

Liberals believe the NRA is bad, because it supports certain parts of the constitution, while the ACLU is good, because it supports certain parts of the constitution.

I think this myth gets "liberal" and "libertarian" mixed up (a lot of liberals abhor the ACLU, but I tend to sympathize with it). At any rate, this gives me an opening to discuss the constitution and various interpretations. I'm a believer in the idea that the Founding Fathers (hereafter FF's, meaning Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, et al) intended the consitution to be a living document. They knew that it would have to change over time as the country grew and evolved. The history of the Supreme Court has been such that this need has been mostly obviated by a combination of changing interpretations of the law and by amendments.

So, how about the 2nd amendment, the right to keep and bear arms? It is very clear from their writings that the FF's intended for every American to be sufficiently well-armed so as to violently overthrow the government, if needed. That's the original purpose of the 2nd amendment, and if you want to be consistent today, I believe a correct literal reading of the 2nd amendment allows individual citizens to own military hardware (and yes, I'm familiar with the arguments on both sides about the history of the language, about "well-regulated militia", etc).

I don't know about Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD's), though. Those were never really taken into consideration back then. Does this mean every American should have the right to own a shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missile? Yikes. Obviously, the constitution needs updating somehow for things like this.

I don't necessarily like the idea of judicial review being the main avenue of governmental evolution, but given the vast stupidity that the American public has repeatedly displayed throughout history, I accept the possibility that the "mob rule" alternative may be worse. More and more, I find myself believing that judges, who are the least susceptible public servants to the pressures of campaign finance, elections, etc., are probably among the best people to exercise power (even the kind of wingnut judges being nominated by Bushco these days). Not to say there aren't some hideously inept or corrupt judges, but the fraction is lower than among ordinary politicians.

In the end, then, I'm not too troubled by evolving interpretations of the 2nd amendment, and I'm not too troubled by increaing restrictions on handgun ownership (because some people feel the judicial review process isn't going fast enough to keep up with the evolution of firepower). It's not a make-or-break issue for me like it is for the "you can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands" crowd.

And, yes, I know those willing to exchange a little bit of liberty for a little bit of security deserve neither, etc. And by that argument, we should never impose any gun control laws at all or evolve beyond the original intent of the FF's. Whatever. I also believe that there are far more serious threats to our liberties (Patriot Act, anyone?) and that you need to choose your battles wisely (something the ACLU may need to do more).

As a side note, the only reason I don't really like the NRA is their tactics, which are known to include death threats to and/or actual physical, violent confrontations of elected representatives or anyone else in the public sphere promoting a gun control agenda. I've personally seen death threats used as a debate tactic three times in my life (once recently to me personally), and in every single case, the perpetrator of the threats was a hopeless, ignorant moron (or maybe a nice, decent upstanding citizen who is just really good at acting like a hopeless, ignorant moron when it comes to politics ... who knows?). I wouldn't broaden that to include the typical NRA member, though. I've personally known too many generally nice, normal, cool, level-headed people who are also NRA members. But I guess you have to have a bit of a paranoid streak to support an organization with such well-documented scare tactics.

Posted by Observer at 06:40 AM | Comments (7)

November 24, 2003

Meow!

On a much lighter note...my Cowboys beat the Carolina Panthers yesterday and are now tied with a few other teams for the best record in the NFC. Thanks to head-to-head tiebreakers (the Cowboys have beaten both Carolina and Philadelphia), if the playoffs started today, the Cowboys would have home-field advantage throughout. I still think the Eagles are the team to look out for, but this is still fun.

Yesterday, during the introductions of the Carolina Panthers, Texas Stadium played the Meow Mix song in a 15-second loop. They were talking about it on the radio this morning, using that song as the "bed" for the entire 15-minute segment (so I heard the jingle 60 times in a row), and now I can't get it out of my head. It's so stupidly hilarious. I order you to click on that link and share my pain.

Posted by Observer at 08:09 AM | Comments (3)

Even More Success

According to this story, two soldiers were killed yesterday while they drove through an Iraqi city in a jeep. A mob of teenagers beat the dead bodies with concrete blocks, looted all their stuff and left them for dead for an hour before someone told US authorities. I guess according to Bush's definition, we must really have the terrorists on the ropes now. They're really getting desperate, aren't they?

I'm starting to think that it might be better to just get the hell out. The situation is going to end up in chaos anyway, it seems, no matter how long we stay. The Light of Reason has some historical context on Iraq, including a note about the results of a previous occupation by the British that lasted 40 years (and virtually no Western values of liberty, democracy, etc were successfully imposed). At least if we cut our losses, we won't lose any more troops.

But really, I just don't know what we should do. I think it will become apparent over time that we haven't made the world a safer place because of this invasion. I'm sure, though, that the Boy King will have lots of airports, highways and buildings named after him, just like Reagan. The inmates are truly running the asylum.

Posted by Observer at 06:53 AM | Comments (0)

November 23, 2003

Quotes From a Day Out

On our way to the park, Sarah says to everyone in the car, "Okay. Rule number one is don't talk to any smokers because they're all really mean. Except for Grammy!"

On our way through the city, we are making every light. As about the 5th one in a row turns green for us, Justin says, "Luck is guiding us today." That's his library books talking. Not a badly put together sentence for a guy who had about a 3rd grade reading level a couple of years ago.

On a low, rocky dam across the river at the park, Justin dropped his football and it rolled in, headed downstream. Sarah immediately hopped right down across a few treacherous rocks, balanced herself carefully and leaned way over to snatch the ball out of the water before it drifted out of reach. I told her that was pretty quick thinking and pretty brave. She said, "Really?"

I told her she was pretty talented to get that football. She said, "Wow, well, I *felt* normal. Hey, will you tell mom?"

"Sure thing, Sarah," I replied.

"Great!" she said.

After we got home, I finally by luck managed to catch a poker tournament on TV on the Travel Channel. Some championship in Paris, and I caught it with about six players left in Texas No Limit Hold 'Em. Wow, that was really cool. I've been wanting to see a poker tournament ever since reading that James McManus' book a couple of months ago about a tournament in Vegas.

As I watched it, my sweetie reminded me that we need TiVo. Crap, yeah, but then if we got all that stuff that we want to watch on TV, we'd become couch potatoes instead of ... well ... computer chair potatoes. Hmmm. Might be good for me to not follow politics so closely and just watch silly stuff on TV. Would definitely lower my blood pressure. We'd probably have to get the other TV hooked up to cable because we'd be kicking the kids off so much. What we need is some rich parents to buy us a nice TiVo for Xmas. Or maybe a deep freeze would be ok. Or just a spare fridge for the garage. Or a new oven.

And the last quote of the day. I was reading this fascinating article about the world of online dating (really, lots of "oh wow" details and surprises in here, a good 10-20 minute read from the NY Times magazine). I told Michelle someone should make a movie about it, because there really hasn't been a good one (I have never seen "You've Got Mail") and there sure could be. I said they could make a movie about us, instead! I said I would have Harrison Ford (Han Solo, Indiana Jones, Jack Ryan, I mean come on, that just *screams* Observer, doesn't it?) play me, but now we need to think of an actress who would play you...

"Careful," she warned, and I wisely kept my mouth shut.

Posted by Observer at 08:01 AM | Comments (3)

November 22, 2003

This Isn't Russia. Is This Russia?

From Cursor comes a link to a very good, very long story about the history of our operations in Central America, including Guatemala. Some of the horrors that went on while America sat back and condoned or assisted were unspeakable. The article makes some vague attempts to connect the counter-insurgency back then to the insurgency in Iraq now, but it's really more useful as a history lesson about just how awful some of Reagan's flunkies (who are now working for Bushco) are. These are the people to whom we are entrusting the implementation of our entire Iraq policy.

I remember a time when I was growing up that we were supposed to think of America as a shining city on a hill, a model for all other nations. Now we're stripping people's rights, condoning torture and igniting pre-emptive wars against other nations for no coherent reason. The latest Republican campaign ad says that Democrats are trying to run and hide and prevent Bush from fighting the war on terror, and it says we need to support pre-emptive self defense (if that isn't Orwellian, what is?). I don't like Michael Moore all that much (I think he takes too many liberties with the truth and gives stupid conservatives ammunition to discredit genuine liberal arguments), but his heart is definitely in the right place. Dude, where's my country?

Posted by Observer at 07:46 AM | Comments (0)

November 21, 2003

Generic Sports Talk

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

Posted by Observer at 07:02 AM | Comments (2)

November 20, 2003

Carpet Bomb

Well, we bit the bullet and ordered new carpet for the house a few days ago. A nice light-colored berber carpet that took us an afternoon to pick. We actually selected it a couple of months ago, and we were waiting to give the go-ahead on installation until Home Depot had a "free pad with purchase" sale, which probably knocked $500 off the price. Still, covering about half the house (1080 square feet out of about 2100) is going to set us back $2500. I just hope the installers do a good job. We get to go through that nightmare in about a week or two.

I'm hoping against hope that the two pugs' little claws won't rip it up, that it really will clean easily and that the kids won't ruin it too badly. Sarah is going to find markers forbidden in her room (her carpet currently looks like an exotic pizza with marker stains everywhere that won't come up) among other things. I think we need to find one of those small steam-cleaning devices that acts kind of like a dust buster, only steam-suction powered for cleaning up stains.

In other news that is bad for the credit card debt, I just ordered another $200 worth of Yu-Gi-Oh stuff, including a box of booster packs from the latest edition. The kids cleaned out the two boxes I ordered several weeks ago by earning lots of chore money, etc. I may have opened a few, too. Ahem. This time, I also got some singles, which were on sale, to avoid the need to buy more booster boxes to get certain cards. I know enough now to know which singles are really worth the price and which aren't, and many of those singles I just bought will be Christmas presents. Unfortunately, while valuable singles will be treasured and used, they don't look great under the tree, where bulk and big boxes count for something!

Posted by Observer at 11:28 AM | Comments (5)

Open Wide

I'm taking Justin to the dentist this morning for our six month checkups. More later.

Posted by Observer at 07:01 AM | Comments (0)

November 19, 2003

Energy Bill = Bullshit Squared

Do you remember a time when Republicans told everyone that Hillary's health care plan was unworkable because she developed all the details in secret? I'm just wondering if there will be any consistency ... ever ... among conservatives over the current energy bill and Cheney's famously secret energy task force. The energy bill itself is, of course, horrible (good cartoon at that link, btw). Huge giveaways, "no lobbyist left behind" as John McCain put it, stupid new laws (including lots of lawsuit dodges for friends of Bush, some enacted retroactively).

There's basically nothing in there that's constructive. There are no meaningful measures to encourage auto manufacturers to increase fuel efficiency. Hell, pretty soon the freakin' Chinese will be ahead of us in terms of energy efficiency! There is virtually zero investment in further research into renewable energy. Oh, but there is a $7.5 billion giveaway (that's about $30 per person in the US just for construction, not to mention all the other stuff larded on to support the plants which will cost even more) to the for-profit nuclear power industry (you think we taxpayers will see any of those profits, any of those executive bonuses, golden parachutes, stock options?) to build six new plants.

Where are they going to build those plants? That should be fun. Try to build them in a rural "red" Bush-supporting state and watch the backlash. Try to build them in a "blue" state, and the (probably) Democratic governor and/or legislature will put the kibosh on it. Not that I think the nuclear industry is all that bad. Hell, coal-burning is probably more hazardous to the public health in the short term. But nuclear power is incredibly expensive unless they cut corners on waste disposal, plant construction, personnel training, etc. like you would expect in a for-profit company, in which case the danger level goes up a few orders of magnitude.

And there's always the proliferation issue, and what do you do with the waste from digging up all the uranium, and what do you do with the depleted uranium (this is the stuff causing all the health problems in Iraq due to the dust from spent weapons, but this bill wants to reclassify it as low level waste, which essentially means it can go into landfills)? You think they've answered those questions in this bill? This Republican bill written by a bunch of energy lobbyists? Nuclear power could be a great energy source, if properly managed, but that's not possible in the current climate where the EPA basically lets polluters off the hook (another good cartoon at that link), and the fact that they have all donated heavily to Bush in the past is just a coincidence, as is the fact that the EPA is largely staffed by former employees of the same polluters who still have ties to the companies and will be rehired later thanks to the usual revolving corporate/government doors).

Meanwhile, Bush wants to pay his respects to British families who have lost loved ones in the war, but only if they support the war.. He's going to avoid speaking before parliament as well, so as to avoid any annoying negativity about everything. We also know that he never reads the papers, just relies on his news to come from briefings from his staff. Is he really this stupid or are his people purposely keeping Bush in a bubble?

Say what you want about Tony Blair, but you've got to respect a guy who is willing to stand up and face "Prime Minister's Question Time" on a regular basis. All Bush can muster is the occasional scripted press conference, and most of the reporters there are too ridiculous to ask a tough question and a follow-up. He's not even brave enough to show his face unless it is a scripted photo-op.

In the objective annals of American history, this administration will without question be considered an abomination. The fact that the 2004 election might even be competitive is a deeply shameful but sadly predictable comment on the American public and the media that purports to inform it.

Posted by Observer at 06:43 AM | Comments (1)

November 18, 2003

Just Asking...

Thanks to Cursor for yet another good pointer. These are questions for the next Bush press conference by Calvin Trillin:

Sir, now that you’ve acknowledged that there was never any evidence of Iraqi involvement in the September 11th attacks by Al Qaeda, does it remain your policy that in the event of any future Al Qaeda attack against this country we would still retaliate against Iraq, and, if so, how would you avoid hitting our own troops?

If not, then did you have some other country in mind to retaliate against?

If, as you’ve said, Mr. President, the interim report stating that no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq justifies our having gone to war to remove weapons of mass destruction, what would a report stating that weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq justify, if you know?

Speaking of Iraq and Al Qaeda, sir, do you think it’s fair that Arabs don’t have to use a ‘u’ after a ‘q’?

I have one to add to the list: If the New York Times would be willing to start running topless photos of women on page 3, would Bush then be willing to agree to a one-on-one interview? Ah, Bushco. They're all about restoring honor and dignity to the White House, aren't they?

Posted by Observer at 07:11 AM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2003

Any Backbone Here?

Thanks to Cursor for the pointer. From an address given by Bill Moyer to the recent National Convention on Media Reform:

Courage is a timeless quality and surfaces when the government is tempted to hit the bottle of censorship again during national emergencies, real or manufactured. As so many of you will recall, in 1971, during the Vietnam War, the Nixon administration resurrected the doctrine of “prior restraint” from the crypt and tried to ban the publication of the Pentagon Papers by the New York Times and the Washington Post – even though the documents themselves were a classified history of events during four earlier Presidencies.

Arthur Sulzberger, the publisher of the Times, and Katherine Graham of the Post were both warned by their lawyers that they and their top managers could face criminal prosecution under espionage laws if they printed the material that Daniel Ellsberg had leaked – and, by the way, offered without success to the three major television networks. Or at the least, punitive lawsuits or whatever political reprisals a furious Nixon team could devise. But after internal debates – and the threats of some of their best-known editors to resign rather than fold under pressure – both owners gave the green light – and were vindicated by the Supreme Court. Score a round for democracy.

Bi-partisan fairness requires me to note that the Carter administration, in 1979, tried to prevent the Progressive magazine, published right here in Madison, from running an article called “How to Make an H-Bomb.” The grounds were a supposed threat to “national security.” But Howard Morland had compiled the piece entirely from sources open to the public, mainly to show that much of the classification system was Wizard of Oz smoke and mirrors. The courts again rejected the government’s claim, but it’s noteworthy that the journalism of defiance by that time had retreated to a small left-wing publication like the Progressive.

In all three of those cases, confronted with a clear and present danger of punishment, none of the owners flinched. Can we think of a single executive of today’s big media conglomerates showing the kind of resistance that Sulzberger, Graham, and Erwin Knoll did? Certainly not Michael Eisner. He said he didn’t even want ABC News reporting on its parent company, Disney. Certainly not General Electric/NBC’s Robert Wright. He took Phil Donahue off MNBC because the network didn’t want to offend conservatives with a liberal sensibility during the invasion of Iraq. Instead, NBC brought to its cable channel one Michael Savage whose diatribes on radio had described non-white countries as “turd-world nations” and who characterized gay men and women as part of “the grand plan to cut down on the white race.” I am not sure what it says that the GE/NBC executives calculated that while Donahue was offensive to conservatives, Savage was not.

And then there’s Leslie Moonves, the chairman of CBS. In the very week that the once-Tiffany Network was celebrating its 75th anniversary – and taking kudos for its glory days when it was unafraid to broadcast “The Harvest of Shame” and “The Selling of the Pentagon” – the network’s famous eye blinked. Pressured by a vociferous and relentless right wing campaign and bullied by the Republican National Committee – and at a time when its parent company has billions resting on whether the White House, Congress, and the FCC will allow it to own even more stations than currently permissible – CBS caved in and pulled the miniseries about Ronald Reagan that conservatives thought insufficiently worshipful. The chief honcho at CBS, Les Moonves, says taste, not politics, dictated his decision. But earlier this year, explaining why CBS intended to air a series about Adolf Hitler, Moonves sang a different tune: “If you want to play it safe and put on milquetoast then you get criticized…There are times when as a broadcaster when you take chances.” This obviously wasn’t one of those times.

Granted, made-for-television movies about living figures are about as vital as the wax figures at Madame Tussaud’s – and even less authentic – granted that the canonizers of Ronald Reagan hadn’t even seen the film before they set to howling; granted, on the surface it’s a silly tempest in a teapot; still, when a once-great network falls obsequiously to the ground at the feet of a partisan mob over a cheesy mini-series that practically no one would have taken seriously as history, you have to wonder if the slight tremor that just ran through the First Amendment could be the harbinger of greater earthquakes to come, when the stakes are really high. And you have to wonder what concessions the media tycoons-cum-supplicants are making when no one is looking.

All in all, a very good (and very long) speech. I hope some people in the audience were listening. If you have 10-20 minutes, go read it.

Posted by Observer at 06:40 AM | Comments (0)

November 16, 2003

Warning Bells

Maybe I'm just the champion of lost causes, but I actually really liked Episodes I and II of the Star Wars series. I'm a gigantic fan of the original trilogy. I still play music from the soundtracks occasionally (especially the Death Star battle sequence from Star Wars) and get goosebumps. I didn't think the prequels were let-downs. They weren't as good, but I thought they were very entertaining.

I felt the same way about the Matrix sequel. I appreciated it for what it was: a violent, pseudo-intellectual-nonsense, kung fu, neat special effects thriller with occasional moments of movie brilliance (like the way the doors worked or the keymaster having the key to the motorcycle). I accepted that the freeway chase scene was totally over the top ridiculous, and I enjoyed it for what it was. In other words, I wasn't disappointed. I wasn't particularly impressed, but that's ok.

So naturally, I want to see the third installment, but wow, the supremely negative reviews are rolling in. This one is so angry that it is very funny. Gah, maybe I will wait for the DVD after all, but when the holidays roll around, once we've seen "Return of the King", I imagine I'll try to drag poor Michelle kicking and screaming to see it just out of morbid curiosity.

Posted by Observer at 07:50 AM | Comments (7)

November 15, 2003

Foresight is 20/20

Eric Alterman has a good column up now about the current big picture in Iraq and what we could've done differently.

What makes this catastrophe all the more infuriating is how predictable it was--except, of course, by those blinded by ideology and unwilling to listen to more experienced voices. If only the Administration had not turned a deaf ear when those former military men not under "color" contract to the networks spoke candidly about the proposed war. None did so with greater force or credibility than Maj. Gen. Anthony Zinni, who headed the US Central Command from 1997 to 2000 and was later George W. Bush's special envoy to the Israeli/Palestinian negotiations.

Just over a year ago, Zinni gave talks, one to the Middle East Institute in Washington, in which he predicted many problems now facing US occupation authorities. Among Zinni's warnings:

The war party itself: "It's pretty interesting that all the generals see it the same way, and all the others, who have never fired a shot and are hot to go to war, see it another.... We are about to...ignite a fuse in this region...we will rue the day we ever started."

Is this a liberation? What comes next? "If it's short with minimal destruction, there will be the initial euphoria of change. It's always what comes next that is tough. I went in with the first troops that went into Somalia. We were greeted as heroes on the street.... [After] about a month...a group of prominent Somalis...wanted to talk to me. I met with them. The first question out of their mouths was that we'd been there a month, hadn't started a jobs program, and when were we going to fix the economy? Well, I didn't know it was my Marine unit's responsibility to do that. Expectations grow rapidly.... It's not whether you're greeted in the streets as a hero; it's whether you're still greeted as a hero when you come back a year from now."

Is Iraq likely to become a democracy? "If we think there is a fast solution to changing the governance of Iraq, then we don't understand history, the nature of the country, the divisions, or the underneath suppressed passions that could rise up.... If you think it's going to be easy to impose a government or install one from the outside, I think that you're further sadly mistaken."

What are (were) the alternatives? "If I were to give you my priority of things that can change for the better in this region, it is first and foremost the Middle East peace process and getting it back on track. Second, it is insuring that Iran's reformation or moderation continues on track and trying to help and support the people who are trying to make that change in the best way we can.... The third is to make sure those countries to which we have now committed ourselves to change, like Afghanistan and those in Central Asia, we invest what we need to in the way of resources there to make that change happen. Fourth is to patch up these relationships that have become strained, and fifth is to reconnect to the people. We are talking past each other.... We have based this in things that are tough to compromise on, like religion and politics, and we need to reconnect in a different way.

"I would take those priorities before this one [deposing Saddam]. My personal view, and this is just personal, is that I think this isn't number one. It's maybe six or seven, and the affordability line may be drawn around five."

General Zinni is a brave and patriotic soldier. After he made those remarks, he was informed by Bush Administration officials that he "will never be used by the White House again."

It's not just that these guys in the White House are manifestly unqualified to make any decisions about Iraq, they're just so damned childish and spiteful towards people who tell them they're wrong. The sum total of the response of this administration to critics like Zinni before the war was, "Nuh UH!"

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: Unlike the situation before the war, when I was certain of the correct course of action for our country (not to invade), I really don't know what's best now. I don't know if we should keep ramping it up in the hopes that we can somehow win and install a democracy over there or if we should cut and run immediately and risk the place becoming the next Afghanistan. All I *DO* know is that I do not want this miserable failure of an administration making those decisions.

It's funny, conservative columnist George Will said in a recent column that Howard Dean has an insufferable amount of "moral vanity" because he never changes his mind or admits he's wrong. First of all, there's the whole pot-meet-kettle thing. Second of all, has George Will been paying attention AT ALL to the behavior of this administration on virtually every single political issue that comes to the table? Is he familiar with Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Dick Cheney, you know, all those clowns?

And by the way, isn't Will uttering political hate speech?

Posted by Observer at 03:14 PM | Comments (0)

Political Hate Speech

As detailed here, "political hate speech" is becoming the new darling catchphrase on the right. Yes, that's right. Those crazy conservatives who deride political correctness at every opportunity, who scream bloody murder at any college campus that attempts to control "hate speech", who called Bill Clinton a rapist and a murderer are now all sad-eyed and remorseful about the gwowing wevel of nasty and partisan attacks fwom those mean ol' puddy-tats ... uh, I mean Democrats.

Saying George Bush can't find countries on a map? Why, that there is hate speech. Bringing up evidence that Bush lied during the run-up to the war in Iraq? Hate speech. Pointing out that deficits are now spiraling out of control. Hate speech! And shrill, too! Very shrill!

I wonder what you would call the intentional leaking of the identity of Ambassador Wilson's wife? Treason speech? I'm sure we can all see by now just how eager Bush was to "get to the bottom of this". He might as well join OJ out on the golf course in the hunt for the real killer. But, yeah, let's focus on political hate speech. That's much more important than treason, Iraq, massive deficits, crony capitalism, legislation drafted by corporate lobbyists, etc.

Posted by Observer at 08:48 AM | Comments (0)

November 14, 2003

Born on Third

Molly Ivins has a must read article in the latest Mother Jones magazine about Bush's background and personality. I will only quote a small part:

In order to understand why George W. Bush doesn't get it, you have to take several strands of common Texas attitude, then add an impressive degree of class-based obliviousness. What you end up with is a guy who sees himself as a perfectly nice fellow -- and who is genuinely disconnected from the impact of his decisions on people. [...]

The Reverend Jim Wallis, leader of Call to Renewal, a network of churches that fight poverty, told the New York Times that shortly after his election, Bush had said to him, "I don't understand how poor people think," and had described himself as a "white Republican guy who doesn't get it, but I'd like to." What's annoying about Bush is when this obtuseness, the blinkeredness of his life, weighs so heavily on others, as it has increasingly as he has acquired more power. [...]

There was a telling episode in 1999 when the Department of Agriculture came out with its annual statistics on hunger, showing that once again Texas was near the top. Texas is a perennial leader in hunger because we have 43 counties in South Texas (and some in East Texas) that are like Third World countries. [...]

When the 1999 hunger stats were announced, Bush threw a tantrum. He thought it was some malign Clinton plot to make his state look bad because he was running for president. "I saw the report that children in Texas are going hungry. Where?" he demanded. "No children are going to go hungry in this state. You'd think the governor would have heard if there are pockets of hunger in Texas." You would, wouldn't you? [...]

So what manner of monster is behind these outrages? I have known George W. Bush slightly since we were both in high school, and I studied him closely as governor. He is neither mean nor stupid. What we have here is a man shaped by three intertwining strands of Texas culture, combined with huge blinkers of class. The three Texas themes are religiosity, anti-intellectualism, and machismo. [...]

Jim Hightower's great line about Bush, "Born on third and thinks he hit a triple," is still painfully true.

There's a lot more, and if you've got 10-15 minutes, it is an excellent read. She's always been such a great Texas writer. Too bad that it took such a monstrous campaign and presidency to bring out the best in her.

Posted by Observer at 06:39 AM | Comments (10)

November 13, 2003

Plain Speaking

I happened to pick up USA Today yesterday morning, and I couldn't help but notice the front page trashing of Howard Dean. Yes, the script is in. Just as Al Gore was a stiff, uncomfortable, smarty-pants, un-hip exaggerator, we can now look forward to months on end of stories about Howard Dean as an angry, mouthy, out-of-control bitter Bush-hater. You know the article has gone off the deep end when one of the best examples it cites is him (gasp!) *pointing a finger* whie getting mad at one of his political opponents in Vermont. And even that guy says it was just one time in ten years and no big deal at all.

But the very next quote is some Republican operative saying something like, "Oh my God, what if that out-of-control Dean gets his finger on the nuclear button!!!" Twice that subject was brought up in the brief article. Hesiod notes that another Democratic candidate suffered from a similar portrayal in the press during his election campaign: Harry Truman. Wouldn't it be nice to have a little plain speaking "the buck stops here" leadership back in the White House?

Posted by Observer at 02:16 PM | Comments (15)

Signs and Portents

In one week, the Boy King will visit London, and unlike here in America, the British media isn't cowed about war coverage. The population over there is much better educated about the war and what an unprecedented disaster it is for both the US and England, and they plan to let their feelings show. Massive protests are planned, and in response, the Bush security team has basically asked that all of central London be shut down to keep protesters out.

Not going to happen (partly thanks to the fact that London's mayor believes that protests are legitimate political speech), but I will be interested to see what sorts of tactics will be used to keep protests under control. Over here, you don't even get to be close to the president if you are protesting. You get put in a free speech zone a few miles away if you've got a problem. At least over in socialist England, they seem to understand what real free speech is (how ironic, given the history of the two countries), and they plan to let the protesters have their say. Exactly how, I'm not sure.

Protesters and Bushies are likely looking at this as a dry run for the Republican convention in the heart of New York City in 2004. Tom Delay has already talked about parking a luxury cruise ship in New York harbor as kind of a safe house for delegates and lobbyists, which would piss off the city even more and send an excellent message to the rest of the country, I think. Those cynical bastards trying to capitalize yet again on September 11 will get the rude and unpopular reception they deserve, I trust. In my fantasy world, it will be the final nail in the coffin of arguably the worst administration in history.

Posted by Observer at 06:42 AM | Comments (2)

November 12, 2003

Aw Shaddup!

This essay excerpt was originally said in another context, but I find that it mirrors my thoughts exactly regarding judicial confirmations and the circus that is ongoing in the Senate.

If you hadn't heard, the Republicans are planning a 30-hour talkfest this week to protest the fact that four of the worst right-wing nominees have been filibustered and not allowed to come to the floor for an up-or-down vote. Leaving aside the confirmation mess on both sides of the aisle for a moment, let's keep in mind that the Dems have only blocked four of the judges they consider to be the most egregious. Another 160+ have been confirmed.

But that's not enough for Republicans. They want every single thing to go their way, and (more importantly) they want to take every opportunity to show that Democrats can "play dirty" to in order to reinforce the lazy "pox on both houses" reporting that passes for journalism these days. The stupid story about the Democratic memo (see here and earlier posts for good insight and summary of this story) is similar.

Anyway, here's the insightful quote I mentioned at the beginning:

Extremist conservatives control the Presidency and both houses of Congress, and conservatives exercise virtually unchallenged control of the political agenda; conservatives control their own massive network of media outlets (talk radio, Fox news, The Wall Street Journal editorial page, etc.); they have convinced most other media outlets to shift their message to the right by relentlessly repeating the “liberal bias” mantra; they have established a massive and incredibly well-funded network of think-tanks and institutions to develop, distribute, and defend their message; and they have underway a long-term plan to take control of the judiciary.

Never in my lifetime has one end of the political spectrum so dominated American public life. And yet, even given their almost unchallenged hegemony, they just can’t seem to stop their damn whining.

I really do find it amazing how much is still being blamed on liberals when about the only shred of power they have left exists thanks to a few crumbs thrown to the minority in the form of Senate rules. These Republicans sure are all about taking responsibility, eh?

Posted by Observer at 06:40 AM | Comments (4)

November 11, 2003

A Grownup Speaks

The man who should be president right now spoke out a couple of days ago, and as usual, he makes a lot of sense:

It makes no more sense to launch an assault on our civil liberties as the best way to get at terrorists than it did to launch an invasion of Iraq as the best way to get at Osama Bin Laden.
 
In both cases, the Administration has attacked the wrong target.
 
In both cases they have recklessly put our country in grave and unnecessary danger, while avoiding and neglecting obvious and much more important challenges that would actually help to protect the country.
 
In both cases, the administration has fostered false impressions and misled the nation with superficial, emotional and manipulative presentations that are not worthy of American Democracy.
 
In both cases they have exploited public fears for partisan political gain and postured themselves as bold defenders of our country while actually weakening not strengthening America.
 
In both cases, they have used unprecedented secrecy and deception in order to avoid accountability to the Congress, the Courts, the press and the people.

Indeed, this Administration has turned the fundamental presumption of our democracy on its head. [...]

The question before us could be of no greater moment:  will we continue to live as a people under the rule of law as embodied in our Constitution?  Or will we fail future generations, by leaving them a Constitution far diminished from the charter of liberty we have inherited from our forebears?  Our choice is clear.

Read the whole speech and then ask yourself just how much better shape our country would be in today, how much brighter our outlook would be, how much better our relations with other countries would be, how much better our deficit scenario would be, if they had counted all the votes in Florida. I pray for America's sake that the grownups are back in charge after the 2004 election.

Posted by Observer at 06:39 AM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2003

Probabilities

Now that we are in Iraq, we have to see it through and make Democracy succeed there because the whole world is watching us. Steve Gilliard responds:

Well, I have to make Ashley Judd leave her husband and fall in love with me. The odds of both are equally low.

Given that it "has" to work in our favor, at what point should we give up? We "had" to win Vietnam, too, but we didn't. How many body bags will have to show up before we decide the cost is too high for this "must win" battle? Sooner or later, you know, one of those shoulder-launched missiles is going to bring down something a lot bigger than a chopper. Anyone flying on a plane in or out of Baghdad has got to be crazy.

So what are the answers to these questions? I don't know the answers. I don't know about the probability of our success. What I *DO* know is that this administration is the absolute opposite of qualified to answer the questions.

Posted by Observer at 06:39 AM | Comments (5)

November 09, 2003

How 'Bout Them Cowboys?

My Cowboys are now 7-2, and thanks to some inept play by some good teams in the NFC, the Cowboys are not only likely to enter the playoffs, they are also tied with Carolina for the right to home field advantage in the playoffs thanks to having the best record. They play Carolina in two weeks at home. Who would've circled *that* game at the beginning of the season as one to watch?

Big test next week at the 7-2 New England Patriots, one of Parcells' former teams. Being a pessimist has worked all season, so I'm going to assume they'll get properly shellacked by the Patriots and eventually limp into the playoffs at around 9-7 or 10-6. I'm not expecting a Super Bowl (which is really hard to say for a Cowboys fan), so making the playoffs suits me just fine. After years of wandering in the wilderness of mediocre 5-11 teams, it will be nice to watch some Games That Matter over the holidays.

It would be even nicer if we had a decent quarterback or running back.

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

Political Compass

If you've got 10-15 minutes of time on your hands, go find where you rest on the Political Compass and see what historical figures your beliefs most closely relate to. For me, I got scores of:

Economic Left/Right: -6.25

Libertarian/Authoritarian: -4.15

People close to me in my quadrant include Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. Furthest away from me in the opposite quadrant is George W. Bush. Surprise.

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

November 08, 2003

Stupid Conservative Myth #11

Here's another myth from stupid conservatives:

Liberals believe the military, not corrupt politicians, start wars.

I'm really not sure where this one comes from. Which war is it that liberals are blaming on the military? Definitely not Iraq. That was a political thing all the way (and people had better NEVER forget whom is responsible for that mess). Vietnam? From what I've read, the military didn't start that one, but it was the stupid politicians, and I'm not sure who believes otherwise. Korea? Politicians. World War II? Hitler. I mean, I'm going mentally back over the history of recent wars, and I can't think of one that people are saying was started by some gung-ho military over the opposition of the political "branch".

Looks like a straw man to me. If I were a conservative and I had the delusion that liberals think this way, I'd be embarrassed.

Posted by Observer at 08:33 AM | Comments (2)

November 07, 2003

Just Wondering

Does anyone believe that if we hadn't invaded Iraq, we would have experienced a 9/11-equivalent terrorist attack supported by Saddam Hussein?

Posted by Observer at 09:18 PM | Comments (0)

Another Bush Legacy

Well, Bushco is at it again. They've basically told the EPA to drop investigations of power plants that have illegally upgraded their equipment without installing proper pollution controls. This is a result of Dick Cheney's famously secret energy task force recommendations, where once again, the corporations have been asked to police themselves. As usual, the results are predictable, and anything that doesn't result in profit can go to hell.

Some crusaders, like Eliot Spitzer, the New York attorney general who is a real thorn in the side of conservatives these days, have said they'll take up the cases on behalf of the states and continue to hold the polluters accountable. Yeah, that'll work until it gets appealed to a federal court with a Bush appointee.

Basically, what Bush is doing is retroactively changing the law to help out his buddies. He's creating new rules out of thin air without any kind of participation from the public. I swear these guys are just doing as much damage as possible before the clock runs out. They make Reagan and Bush I look like total amateurs.

About the only grim satisfaction I can get out of seeing America's domestic and foreign situations going to complete hell is that the children and grandchildren of all these wingnut conservatives are going to get to inherit the mess their parents made. Of course, they'll blame it all on Clinton, but deep down, they know that history will damn them. Unfortunately, they're screwing my kids and grandkids in the process. And yours.

Meanwhile, here is another good article (thanks to BuzzFlash for the pointer) about Bushco doing its best to shield polluters from consequences. It's our old friend, MTBE, and there's some very interesting history here (sorry for the kinda long quotation):

In that era of carburetors and distributors [the 1970's], so-called cleaner-burning fuels could have greatly diminished our nation's smog problems. But by late 1993, when I read the [Clean Air Act], tinkering with gasoline was already unnecessary. Our automotive fleet was already migrating toward fully computerized engines, which adjust the fuel-air mixture with precise combustion cycles, ensuring the cleanest possible emissions under virtually any conditions. Automotive technology had far outstripped the need for these newly named oxygenated fuels, and so one article on the coming of MTBE struck me as remarkably disingenuous: An oil industry expert mentioned that MTBE had been in light use since the seventies, calling it a "miracle additive." [...]

I first called the United States Geological Survey, the non-partisan government agency responsible for tracking such chemicals in our soil and water. Their reply that day stunned me. Not only was MTBE virtually worthless for lowering smog levels, but of all gas additives it was the most dangerous. It had already been found in our nation's water supplies. And, unlike benzene and other chemicals that make up gasoline, MTBE travels fast - at a 1:1 rate with water - doesn't break down or become nontoxic, and, in amounts as microscopic as 15 parts per billion, can contaminate a whole city's water supply.

Had these dire warnings had been passed on to our representatives? Yes, and no one had cared.

Shortly after I broke the story, I received a fax from the then head of Fort Worth's vehicle maintenance yard, on the south side of the city. It was a letter that he had sent to the city of Fort Worth, and its contents were even more disturbing. Many cars in the city's fleet had been tested at the centralized emission test center in Grand Prairie, and those test results revealed a serious problem. Having a supply of MTBE-laced gasoline on hand, Fort Worth sent cars with both reformulated and regular gas to be tested: The IM240 emission tests showed that gas with MTBE created more vehicle emissions than other vehicles using the standard grades.
That city employee's letter, warning of a potential environmental disaster, went unanswered.

The EPA's Website actually carried a letter from the Centers for Disease Control blasting the agency for its support of this chemical. However, by late 1995, as the distribution of MTBE was about to go nationwide, the EPA removed those incriminating letters. [...]

Dr. Peter Joseph, Professor of Radiologic Physics at the University of Pennsylvania, conducted studies on this additive. He concluded that the mass introduction of MTBE was the primary cause for the sharp rise in U.S. asthma cases. Other scientists believed MTBE to be carcinogenic. [...]

As it turns out, Maine first found MTBE in its water back in the mid-eighties, and the EPA was aware of the problem shortly thereafter. Sensing a disaster in the making, our government dismissed all scientific studies, and further scientific inquiry seemed to have been discouraged.

Meanwhile, you and I started driving in traffic, breathing in the fumes of those vehicles ahead of us, some not well-tuned and spewing unburned gasoline and yes, unburned molecules of MTBE. And, as Dr. Joseph's work had foreshadowed, some individual's chemical sensitivity caused skyrocketing rates of asthma in areas where MTBE laced gasoline was introduced.

And our politicians did nothing, for the lobbyists had won. Reporters would keep referring to this gasoline as "cleaner burning," though no legitimate scientific study backs that claim. And somewhere in the files of the city of Fort Worth lies that letter, written by our own head of vehicle maintenance in 1995, certifying MTBE as a sure-fire smog producer. [...]

Given all this knowledge, I found in the provisions of the new energy bill weaving its way through our Congress something more damning than distressing: The bill will grant blanket immunity to the makers of MTBE, leaving the rest of us with the $29 - $40 billion clean-up costs. This adds insult to grave injury: We've already paid hundreds of millions more to have MTBE in our gas supplies for years, without seeing even a minute reduction in smog.

I wonder why we are chasing "evildoers" in Iraq when they can be found so much more easily here. And I do not reference "evil" lightly.

Posted by Observer at 06:37 AM | Comments (5)

November 06, 2003

The Truth Laid Bare

If you think I'm prolific or verbose, you should check out Art Silber's "Light of Reason" blog, which I've referenced numerous times lately. He's really got some great stuff on the war, well thought-out and meticulously researched, and he's often got takes on the issues that I haven't thought of. In this post, he uses a debate over evidence for crony capitalism to launch into the details of just how intimately various government contractors are related to the agencies from which they procure funding (for operations in Iraq, to cite the most relevant example).

I remember when Clinton tried to set a rule that barred government employees from working for lobbying companies and other businesses that work with the government for 5 years or so after the officials left office, but then he rescinded it in his final days (to be fair, if he hadn't done that, Bush would have without grandfathering in Clinton's staffers, and Clinton knew this -- so Clinton rescinded the rule so his staffers wouldn't get screwed). Nobody really cares about this stuff, of course. People are just too disinterested, and when they do gain a modicum of interest, political interest groups (and the media) use their ignorance to their advantage, after which the issue is promptly forgotten (California recall, term limits, most of the Clinton scandals, Gore's coverage during the election, etc).

We have freedom in America, but with freedom comes responsibility, and too many Moron Americans shirk their responsibility to educate themselves. They are easily led, and so consent is manufactured (as Noam Chomsky or Upton Sinclair would say). It would be nice to see a decent political leader elected who would use these manipulative powers to do some good, like start up publicly financed elections and pass some stringent ethics rules about the relations between the government and corporate world.

I mean, in this last appropriations bill, during the secret conference committee that supposedly irons out the differences in House and Senate versions of a bill, they stripped the bill of language that would penalize companies working in Iraq and Afghanistan that defraud American taxpayers. So they have a free pass (and there is *very* little oversight on this) to commit all the fraud they want, including overcharging for various things, like $600 hammers and the like, and even if they do get caught, there's no penalty! But does anyone care? Holy crap! Just when you think it can't get worse!

Our only hope with such a pathetic electorate is strong, principled leadership, but of course, we have Republicans in power. And those fuckbrains are going to do everything in the power to make the next election a referendum on the most important issue. What's that issue? Iraq? The Bush doctrine? Economic policy? The reinstatement of the draft? Bzzt. Try gay marriage.

What, you're worried that we're stuck in a Vietnam-like quagmire, that Bush lied to get us into this? You're worried that we're actually going backwards in the so-called "War on Terror"? You're worried that the Patriot Acts are gutting the constitution? You're worried that the national debt is turning into a five-digit birth tax on your kids? Well, that's all fine, but look over there! Two guys kissing! And you, the American taxpayer ... well, you can't just CONDONE it like some liberal queer-lover! If you let the Democrats back into power, gays will take over, and our civilization will end because we'll all stop procreating!

I guess we're getting what we deserve, but I sure as hell didn't vote for this horseshit. God damn but I'm mad today.

Posted by Observer at 06:41 AM | Comments (0)

November 05, 2003

A Simple Solution

Digby has a good response to the oft-asked conservative complaint to liberals: What would you do about Iraq if you're so unhappy?

They should say that the central Iraq policy problem is George W. Bush. He can't get essential international support because after the way he handled the run up to the war, with the insults and the lies, the rest of the world doesn't trust him. He can't run the occupation because he refused to listen to those, even in his own administration, who have experience in post war occupation and planned accordingly. He followed bad advice.

To solve the emerging problems in Iraq immediately, George W. Bush needs to fire his foreign policy advisors, every one of them, and go on a world tour designed to reestablish trust in America's motives and intentions. He needs to repudiate the Bush Doctrine, which has fueled the notion that the US believes it has the sole power to launch preventive wars and resolves to do so whenever it chooses, based upon modern intelligence techniques that we have just proven are completely unreliable.

If he refuses to do those two things, the only answer is to replace George W. Bush. That one act alone will completely change the international dynamic and immediately increase the liklihood of a renewed international effort in Iraq with both financial and military support. The world doesn't mistrust the United States, it mistrusts George W. Bush.

We have problem in Iraq because George W. Bush arrogantly and short-sightedly alienated the rest of the world. Unless George W. Bush personally rectifies that situation immediately, the only solution is to replace George W. Bush.

Of course, Art Silber also answered this earlier, though not very helpfully, by saying to conservatives: You are the ones who got us into this, so the burden of proof is now on you to show this can work. If it doesn't, then you are discredited. Silber is a libertarian, not a liberal (though we share common ground on the war). I don't agree with him about some things (I am more of a liberal than a libertarian), but unlike the way I feel about conservatives, I actually have a lot of respect for the differences of opinion I have with libertarians like him (he's a big Ayn Rand supporter, though I gather there is a struggle among libertarians over which branch of that philosophy truly can claim her ideas as their own). I can see that he has an intellectually honest philosophy, even if we may not agree on some basic assumptions.

I have yet to meet an intellectually honest Bush supporter who isn't just a single-issue (anti-abortion or anti-tax) opinion-holder. Though I think single-issue voting is pretty silly, I can at least find a level of respect for it. Not so for anyone who supports the current president broadly when he is running our country into the ditch in every single aspect of policy that is important to me. He's not even effective on typical conservative bread-and-butter issues like national security (none of his policies make us safer) or fiscal responsibility.

In other news, Atrios pointed me to this interesting blog, which has some interesting (and very funny) background information on why CBS decided to cancel the Reagan miniseries as well as a thoughtful post on why a draft won't work to restock our forces in Iraq (there are rumors floating around about the reinstitution of a draft due to the military's recent and very quiet attempts to repopulate local draft boards for the first time in decades).

Posted by Observer at 06:50 AM | Comments (0)

November 04, 2003

In Country

Argh, I hate when bloggers do this to me, but the Media Horse went out to pasture until 2004. I'll put him back in my sidebar when he (or she?) returns to regular blogging. The Horse will be missed.

Oh well, Cursor points to this excellent Guardian article (the Guardian being a British newspaper, of course, so you get the best, most honest reporting about the war, imho). A US Sergeant is talking about recent attacks on troops in Falluja, where the helicopter was tragically shot down:

Attacks are conducted in return for money, added the sergeant, who asked not to be identified. "It's a pay scale: $700 for an attack on a tank, $200-$300 for a Humvee, but $1,000 for a helicopter. That's a lot of money here."

Abdul Hamid al-Jumailly was at his tyre workshop when he witnessed yesterday's attack on a US convoy in Falluja.

"It was a roadside bomb. I think all who were inside must have been killed, but I and my friends ran away, because when these things happen the US always start shooting at random." ...

[One resident said,] "Ramadan has been Allah's gift to us. The streets are empty then, so we can attack the Americans without the possibility of killing our people."

The brilliant Bush plan when we took over to Iraq was to immediately fire everyone in the Ba'athist party, which was Saddam's party. Half the population called themselves Ba'athist just because they knew that was the way to get the best patronage jobs. Now they're all on blacklists, even the vast majority of them who really have no loyalty to Saddam, so they can't get jobs. If they didn't have resentment toward Americans before, we keep giving them more reasons (see the article for more plus this one), plus they have nothing better to do, so why not blow something up? It's just a horrible cycle we're caught up in over there, and with the current leadership, I don't see an end in sight.

Posted by Observer at 08:35 AM | Comments (0)

November 03, 2003

Cody-San

Damn, Cody is getting good at Yu-Gi-Oh dueling. He beats me about one time in four, and I think his average win percentage is constantly increasing. He's been doing a little trash-talking this past week, having beaten me three times in about ten duels, so I'll have to talk to him about that. When he gets a few more great cards in his deck for Christmas, he's going to be a mean tournament player (the local mall is having a big Yu-Gi-Oh festival in mid-January, and they're very excited). The other two are improving, too, but not as fast as Cody.

We let them look through the miniature Toys R Us catalog yesterday and use little stickers to mark what they wanted for Christmas. I think a good one-third of their stickers were used on the Yu-Gi-Oh page (GameCube game, GameBoy game, action figures, cards, etc).

On a random note, we checked out "Spirited Away" from the public library and watched it. That has got to be the weirdest movie I've ever seen, and that's saying something. Maybe I just don't remember "Akira" well enough. It was a good, watchable, creative movie. I think one of the things about Anime movies in general is that they throw a lot of really, really weird images at you for no real purpose other than the neatness of being able to do that. There's no real symbolism or deeper meaning involved most of the time. It's just shock-value. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with that...

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

November 02, 2003

Amateur Psychology

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

Posted by Observer at 07:45 AM | Comments (1)

November 01, 2003

Candy Time

I escorted Cody and Sarah out for Halloween last night. Poor Cody was wearing a velour lizard outfit, and he was sweating by the 10th house. Sarah's witch-hat (which was quite an adventure to find yesterday after discovering she lost her hat from last year's outfit) kept falling off as she ran to various houses. At first, the kids were both running so much (and Cody is very quick on his feet) that Sarah was complaining she didn't get to ring any doorbells.

Sigh, can you kids please just take turns ringing doorbells then? I don't want to keep track of whose turn it is and all that. Well, it turned out not to matter, because about the middle of the second street, Cody was already so tired and hot that he was scolding Sarah, "Hey! It's not a race!" Ha ha, right, Cody. After about 50 houses (and one unloading of candy from their pumpkins into storage bags I was carrying), they were both out of gas and ready to go home.

They split and traded their spoils with Justin (who got to grab generously from our own Halloween candy stash), so now they all have lots of candy. We're letting them keep their candy and eat it whenever they want, but the catch is they don't get afternoon or nighttime snacks for one week. We'll see if they can learn to budget it. They were all pretty sick last night from all the candy they wolfed down.

New Halloween pet peeve: People who leave their porch lights on but don't answer their doors. Come on, people, you know the rules. Don't make the kids tramp all the way up to your front door and wait for a minute before having to move on to the next house. What a beating. Sub-peeve: people who take about a minute to answer their doors on freakin' Halloween when kids are at the door every two minutes. One parent with her kids got to a non-answering house with light on and was so mad she rang their doorbell about 10 times. Rude, yeah, but I was sympathetic, I must say.

Obvious old peeve: Gangs of uncostumed teenagers roaming around scoring free candy and scaring the hell out of parents with little kids. Dangerous peeve: Cars of teenagers "cruising" the streets for no good reason when there are a million rugrats criss-crossing in dark costumes. What a recipe for disaster. One group was throwing water balloons. I didn't see them or I'd have chased them, but they splashed a poor lady carting her little baby around in a wagon. Poor kid was crying his eyes out, and if that had been Daniel, there would have been damage done to the car in question, I guarantee.

Posted by Observer at 08:34 AM | Comments (1)