June 30, 2004

Not Listening!


Typical Conservative Response to Liberal War Critics:
"Not Listening!"

Thanks to Atrios for this pointer. Tim Dunlop has found an essay by the famous historian John Keegan which (for me, anyway) summarizes the condescending arrogance and malicious stupidity that so clearly makes Bush-supporters A Part of the Problem. Here is an excerpt from Keegan's essay:

Had the defeat of Saddam's armed forces resulted in a general Iraqi acceptance of the outcome, no doubt the anti-war coalition would have spluttered out, to be remembered only as a footnote to events, a parallel in miniature of the campaign for nuclear disarmament's collapse at the fall of communism.

What has sustained the anti-war coalition, and allowed it to become influentially dominant, is the rise of resistance within Iraq to the Anglo-US presence. The war itself cost the lives of fewer than 100 US servicemen, but in the aftermath 600 have been killed, either in ambushes and car bombings or in gunfights with insurgents in the "Sunni Triangle".

And now Dunlop's fitting response:

Please: take a second to read that again. Follow the logic. If everything had gone just about perfectly, the anti-war movement would no longer be heard from. The only thing that has "sustained" the anti-war coalition is that everything hasn't gone well. In other words, the only thing that has "sustained" the anti-war coalition is ... that they were right!

The rest of the article goes on to explain how those dratted neo-cons failed to understand the situation they were getting into, failed to plan properly for the post-war, badly underestimated the strength of the insurgency, and made a number of overtly bad decisions that have contributed to the mess that Keegan acknowledges is the reality.

So there you have it: if you pointed out all this before the war, argued that the neo-conservatives were on a ideologically inspired power-trip likely to end in tears, and if you urged, therefore, that the invasion not take place, or at least, not take place until some decent planning was done that took into account the risks involved in creating a failed state as an invitation to terrorists and insurgents, then you were nothing but a whining member of the anti-war coalition, beneath contempt.

However, if you were clever enough to be like John Keegan and urge the war to go ahead anyway, in the absence of the aforementioned planning, thus actually creating the mess that everyone--including you--can now plainly see, then you are a wise fellow who can safely stand back and complain that the "neo-cons" didn't plan things well enough and sneer at those who pointed out many of the problems before they happened.

This is perhaps the one thing that drives me the absolute craziest, aside from idiotic claims of "liberal media bias". It's hard to put into words, but I will try. It's the arrogant attitude combined with slap-your-forehead-it-is-so-obvious stupidity. It's like my 15-year-old ABSOLUTELY INSISTING over and over and over that today is June 12 when I know it is June 15. I show him the calendar, I show him my cell phone, I show him the computer clock, I show him the official clock on the damn web, I show him the date on the cable TV menu, and then he finally -- FINALLY -- accepts it with a little "oh". But in his eyes, I have no more credibility (and he has no less) as a result, and so the next day, he's off ABSOLUTELY INSISTING that something else crazy is true.

The difference between the 15-year-old and the Bush-supporter is that at least the 15-year-old has the maturity to admit his mistake. For the Bush supporter, the reaction is to change the subject, to tell me to "get over it", to ask why I hate America, to ask why I'm not going around touting today's date every day and so I must be a hypocrite with a "June 15" agenda.

Long ago, some very smart people decided that what we needed to advance the general state of knowledge was a systematic way to test and discard theories and ideas that don't work. I mean, the idea that doing such a thing is a good idea is centuries old and has led to incredible technological and scientific achievement. But these Republican fuckbrains are so attached to the idea of never admitting a mistake (remember Bush's press conference where, confound it, he just couldn't think of any mistakes he'd made but he would sure get back to us on that?) that they're ignoring what's good for America.

I could go on and on (and I have the archives to prove it), but if you're not listening, you're not listening. Deep down, though, you know if you backed this war in Iraq, you fucked up. If you are mature enough to admit it, then maybe you'll start giving liberals a little more credibility in the future, you'll start considering the alternative to four more years of "Mission Accomplished". If you aren't mature enough to admit it, then at least shut up so the grownups can figure out how to fix what you broke.

Posted by Observer at 07:00 AM | Comments (6)

June 29, 2004

Warehouse Wars


These Chips Would Make a Nice Present Someday!

The Sideshow pointed out this interesting column by Jim Hightower on the differences between Sam's and Costco (the latter being where you can purchase a case of nifty poker chips like the ones pictured above).

Do big-time CEOs – no matter how compassionate and cuddly they might be personally – have to be SOBs on the job?

Yes, says the conventional wisdom of greater CorporateWorld. The bottom line dictates that wages and benefits be slashed and that offshoring be pursued with a vengeance. It's not personal, just business. "Look ye to Wal-Mart," boom the market gods, directing CEOs to follow the anti-labor, low-wage, no benefit, move-it-all-to-China ethic of this giant. The gods decree that no one can out-compete Wal-Mart, so best to imitate the beast.

Apparently, Jim Sinegal has been going to the wrong church. He's CEO of Costco, the profitable warehouse club retailer that's fast growing across the country. He takes a shockingly heretical view of his job, boasting of his company's fair treatment of employees: "We pay much better than Wal-Mart," Sinegal says. "That's not altruism. It's good business."

Indeed, Costco's pay is much, much, much better – a full-time Costco clerk or warehouse worker earns more than $41,000 a year, plus they get terrific health care coverage. Wal-Mart workers get barely a third of that pay, plus a lousy health care plan. Costco even has unions!

Yet, Costco's labor costs are only about half of Wal-Mart's. How's that possible? One reason is that Costco workers feel valued, which adds enormously to their productivity, and they don't leave – employee turnover is a tiny fraction of Wal-Mart's rapidly revolving door.

Another thing Sinegal rejects is offshoring: "We could move [some operations] to Bangladesh or somewhere. But what kind of message would that send to our employees? Not a good one, I think."

While Wal-Mart makes twice as much profit as Costco, Sinegal believes it's better business to make a nice profit, but not a killing, and to invest more in Costco's 92,000 workers. "I don't see what's wrong with an employee earning enough to be able to buy a house or having a health plan for the family," he says.

We have both Sam's and Costco around here, but I have lately been going to Sam's almost exclusively. The prices are pretty much the same, but I find the Sam's carries more of the stuff we like (except the poker chips). After reading this, I'm going to have to take another look at Costco, see if I can find some alternatives there. It would be nice to be able to do business with a place that seems to be going about it the right way.

Posted by Observer at 07:00 AM | Comments (8)

June 28, 2004

A New Lefty Pitching Prospect


First Round Ranger Draftee in 2021

The Rangers are always going to need pitching, and our son Daniel is going to be a big, strapping athlete someday, I'm sure. He seems to favor his left hand a bit, but he's only 11 months so it may be too early to tell. I figure I can get him throwing off a mound in three or four years, and he'll be on his way. I'm actually surprised he can hold a major league baseball with one hand already, let alone throw the thing.

Meanwhile, the Ranger win streak ended yesterday with a 1-0 home loss to the Astros (you get precious few 1-0 games at the Ballpark at Arlington, let me tell you). Maybe they can start up another streak now that they're headed to Seattle. Still, Anaheim and Oakland lost yesterday, so the Rangers are 2.5 and 2 games up on those two, respectively. With a half decent road trip, they'll still be in first place at the All-Star Break, which is still amazing to type.

I'm also very happy that Rick Helling is starting to pitch better. Two back-to-back good starts now in AAA ball. He threw 7 innings and allowed 8 hits, 2 walks and 1 earned run on Sunday. A few more like that and the Rangers will have no choice to make him the next call-up. I just hope he doesn't have to wait until rosters expand in September to get on the team. With 15 straight game days coming up for the Rangers, they might have to call Helling up for a spot start. I'm starting to feel like Charlie Brown and his Joe Schlabotnik fan club with Rick Helling, but I guess we all have our causes, don't we?

In other news Billmon has a fantastic and detailed discussion of the how the "ultra-liberal" New York Times is once again taking dictation from Cheney, Rumsfeld and the whole "Office of Special Projects" crew that sold them the WMD-in-Iraq bill of goods prior to the war, only this time, they're trying to sell a meaningful Iraq - Al Qaeda collaboration. This is the same paper that is also passing around the story, again, about how rich the Kerrys are. Front page stuff, that. Oh yeah. With liberal friends like these, who needs enemies?

On the torture front, Michael Froomkin puts the latest news in context about just how high up the food chain the torture orders go. As Atrios would say, though, it doesn't have anything to do with a 30-year-old failed real estate deal, so why should the "liberal" media pursue it, right?

Oh, and The Poor Man has a funny transcript of a poker game with Dick Cheney. The more you follow the news, the more you'll like it.

Posted by Observer at 06:57 AM | Comments (1)

June 27, 2004

Zahn's Star Wars Books


Meet the New Boss

As a certified Star Wars nut, I have read many of the novels that follow the original trilogy. With Lucas' blessing and the guidance of an overall editor who makes the rules to keep everything consistent, decide who gets to kill off major characters, etc., Del Rey books has a whole bunch of stories that follow the timeline of the Star Wars universe after "Return of the Jedi" (and now they've gone and allowed novels during lots of other times, including before "Phanton Menace", between movies and between trilogies).

The first such book I ever saw was Alan Dean Foster's "Splinter of the Mind's Eye", which I believe was first published before "Empire" came out in 1980 (even though Luke, Leia and Vader appear in the novel, there's no reference to family ties or Vader even thinking Luke or Leia have special significance). That one is more of an alternate history, and I do not think it is part of the official "canon". That's actually an advantage, because it makes it a lot more unpredictable. The plot involves Luke and Leia racing against Vader to find an ancient force-sensitive artifact on a jungle planet. I really enjoyed it, though I'll admit that only time I read it was when I was about 15. Back then, anything Star Wars was cool to me.

Well, it was a long time after that before any significant new Star Wars books came out, and one of the first was Timothy Zahn's "Thrawn Trilogy", first published in 1994. The novels are "Heir to the Empire", "Dark Force Rising" and "The Last Command". The setting is a few years after "Jedi", in which the Rebel Alliance (now just "The New Republic", I guess, since they're in charge) is trying to consolidate power and squash the remnants of the old empire. Much of the military force of the old Empire rallies under the command of the new Head Bad Guy (pictured above from a fan site), a creepy, blue-skinned military genius with seemingly psychic abilities named Grand Admiral Thrawn.

Much like you would find in the works of Lois McMaster Bujold, the plots and battles between Thrawn and the good guys are like elaborate chess matches, each side trying to set traps and counter-traps for the other, with lots of surprises thrown in. Thrawn is trying to rally and rebuild the Empire, and he's offering people a sense of order and continuity. The New Republic is trying to convince people that they really are better and different, but they're finding out that a lot of people thought the Empire wasn't half bad.

Remember when the Empire's military leader, Grand Moff Tarkin, is warned of the danger of the Rebel attack in Star Wars, and he scoffs at the idea of evacuation? You get the feeling that Thrawn would not only have had the sense to evacuate to cover all the bases, he would've figured out the planetary dynamics of the Yavin system ahead of time to come out of hyperspace well above the orbital plane of the rebel moon for instant targeting with the planet-destruction laser already warmed up. The battle never would've taken place.

It's that kind of series, where the obvious is countered, and the not-so-obvious is countered as well, and it is fun to follow. In a way, it is refreshing to see somebody in the Empire relying on his wits to win battles instead of a huge fleet, a huge battlestation, and too much overconfidence. There is a subplot in the series involving a dark Jedi, and while it was interesting for most of the trilogy, it pretty much fell flat for me at the end. The major confrontation between Luke and this dark force bad guy is totally anti-climactic, unlike the confrontations between Luke and Vader.

These books were written before the Star Wars pre-history was officially fleshed out by Lucas in the movie form of the prequel trilogy, but you really don't lose much as a result of that. Of all the Star Wars novels I've read (and not counting the novelizations of movies, that's over 25 books), this trilogy is the best. Maybe I'll talk about some of the other decent entries in the genre another time, but I lost the ability and desire to keep up with all the different books (surely there are now over 100) several years ago, after I made the mistake of reading a couple of execrable books for the sake of completeness.

Posted by Observer at 08:07 AM | Comments (1)

June 26, 2004

The Robot Novels


Will Smith Meets Isaac Asimov

We're already getting bombarded with hype for the newest Will Smith vehicle, "I, Robot", coming out later this summer. I guess it will be loosely based on Asimov's Robot novels, one of which has the same name, but if I understand the plot at all, it doesn't look familiar to me. The part of the series that I read includes the original short story collection, "I, Robot" along with "The Caves of Steel" and "The Naked Sun".

"I, Robot" is a really good short-story collection in the classic science fiction tradition. Very little time is spent on character development. Instead, the books are more like expositions on engineering problem solving. What happens when robots encounter "bugs" (such as paradoxical commands or rules to follow), and how does it affect them? How is it resolved? The stories are typically simple, elegant and very clever, and from what I understand (I've only read the Foundation series, these three novels and one other book by Asimov), some of Asimov's best work.

The other two books I mentioned revolve around a detective named Elijah Bailey and his robot partner Daneel Olivaw. They develop a camaraderie similar to Kirk and Spock, and a couple of decent mystery stories are mixed in. There are a lot more robot novels, most of them short story collections. I personally thought that the first book of the Foundation series was his best. In that series, a man uses complex statistical theory to chart the future, guide humanity, etc. Turns out his ideas and predictions are right every time, but he also knows just what is needed to change the future if he doesn't like what he sees. Really interesting premise, and the whole series was quite good.

Posted by Observer at 08:14 AM | Comments (2)

June 25, 2004

Don't Look Now


Alfonso Soriano Belts a Two-Run Homer Over the Left Field Wall
in the Bottom of the 18th Inning

I turned on the TV yesterday afternoon to watch part of the last game of a series between the Rangers and Mariners. It was an afternoon game, starting at 1:05, and I watched the M's quickly get up 4-0 on an Ichiro bases-clearing triple. A half-inning later, the Rangers scored one, loaded the bases, and hit a long fly ball to deep left center field ... that was caught, almost exactly where Ichiro's triple landed. Drat. I figured it would be one of those days for the Rangers. They kept chipping away at the lead, but then Seattle would score again, and they didn't seem to be getting any breaks.

By the 8th, it was 7-5, and I figured it was time for the Rangers' five-game win streak to end. We switched off the game and watched a movie. Afterwards, the kids and I played poker (I won with a set of queens after Justin called my all-in bet while he held an 8-6 off-suit with no pair or straight possible on the board ... I'm embarrassed that I sometimes lose to these kids, but it happens.), then Michelle got home and we had a quick supper. I then sat down to the computer to look at the news, loaded up my Yahoo news page and checked to see what the final score of the Rangers game was.

It showed: Current score: Rangers 7, Mariners 7, bottom 18th.

It took about two seconds for the neurons to fire in my brain and run into the living room to get Michelle to change the channel back to the game. Not 10 seconds after I found the game again, Alfonso Soriano hit a 2-run homer to win the game. Incredible luck. Hell, if every baseball experience were like that, I might even be able to convince Michelle to be a fan. Heh.

Anyway, so that leaves the Rangers with a 6-game win streak, 11 games over .500 and a game ahead of the Hated Athletics for 1st place in the West. I can't believe they're in first and it's nearly the damn All-Star Break. Hard to figure out, because their offense has really fallen back to Earth. Their batting average is thoroughly middle-of-the-pack now, and their walks are still abysmal (12th out of 14 teams ... hell, in this game alone Edgar Martinez of the M's got five walks, and the Rangers got a grand total of four). Their pitching is average, which is actually amazingly good compared to typical Ranger pitching. Somehow that's good enough to be 11 games over .500, which projects out to over 100 wins on the season and a probably division title. If they keep it up.

Coming naturally with an unlikely win streak are unlikely theories. Things like the ARod curse or that Tom Hicks is a smart owner. People are talking about stupid stuff like clubhouse chemistry, largely because Buck Showalter has put together a cast of his favorite players from other teams he's coached, who were picked up off the scrapheap. It seems similar to what Parcells has done with the Cowboys and a bunch of his old players, and for crying out loud, I'm stupid enough to take it seriously.

Chan Ho is still out with the Sucks, and a couple of other good position players are currently injured (like starting catcher Gerald Laird, who is being very ably replaced by an old Showalter friend from Arizona named Rod Barajas, who hit two homers yesterday ... then there's Laynce Nix, due to come back real soon now). Once they're back (not Park), we could be even better. Rick Helling, bless his heart, finally had a decent start in AAA ball earlier this week. I mean, yeah, he gave up his usual pile of hits (11 in 7 innings), but he only allowed 4 runs, and our AAA team won 24-4. I really really really want him to kick it into gear and be in the rotation. I just know he'll be fun to watch, even if he doesn't do well, because he's a sentimental favorite.

I'm still in shock that after we traded Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees, what we got in return (at least for now) is even better and a lot cheaper. Hell, Soriano is leading the majors in all-star voting, and he pretty much deserves it for his play so far.

Speaking of win-streaks, I've started not playing the lottery again, and our win streak is at one. None of my numbers came up in Wednesday's drawing.

Posted by Observer at 07:01 AM | Comments (2)

June 24, 2004

Supreme Flip-Flop


Chief Justice Rehnquist: A Partisan Hack with a Lifetime Appointment
I'm sure I'm not the only one who found this story ironic, coming out as it does during the week everyone is revisiting Bill Clinton's presidency:

The president is not above the law, Kennedy wrote, but there is a "paramount necessity of protecting the executive branch from vexatious litigation that might distract it from the energetic performance of its constitutional duties."

This is the same court that unanimously allowed the Paula Jones thing to go forward. If you've never read Joe Conason and Gene Lyons' "The Hunting of the President" about the whole Arkansas Project, Paula Jones, Ken Starr and the soap opera of Starr's whole operation (and the Ray report that preceded it which completely and totally exonerated the Clintons on Whitewater without any qualification), you really should get yourself educated.

Posted by Observer at 03:39 PM | Comments (5)

June 23, 2004

Keeping It Simple


Lips moving = He's lying

Ok, ok, ok. The nutball brigade is up in arms again, and the cry, of course, is that everything is biased against them, with the major culprits this time being the media and the 9/11 commission (which, you may recall, is headed by a Republican, containing mostly members hand picked by the Bush administration with a few token Democrats thrown in ... but since they aren't chapter and verse with Dear Leader, they must be biased!). To keep it very simple, let me just lay out two simple facts that have been clearly documented.

1. According to the 9/11 commission, there is no credible evidence of a "collaborative relationship" between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. Not now, not in the past. Certainly nothing having anything to do with the actual 9/11 attack.

2. In the time since 9/11, Bush, Cheney and other Bush administration officials have claimed that there *is* a collaborative relationship between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein (Bush used the word "ally" to link them, Cheney used the word "pretty well confirmed" on reports of the collaborative relationship, just to name a couple of prominent examples).

I'm being careful about using the words "collaborative relationship", because that's a little clearer than "link" or other similar words, and it is a more accurate description of what doesn't exist. Heaven forbid, the New York Times has quoted this report, and they pointed out that it directly contradicts statements made by the Bush administration.

So, what's the response from conservatives, you might ask? Did they come out and write columns saying, "Oh my gosh, we were sure wrong about that. Sorry! I guess we should've been more careful since there's a war involved and everything." Or maybe they said, "We feel dreadful about being misled by our own leaders. We really need to think again about our support for Bush."

Sadly, no.

Instead, conservatives are coming right out in the fact of this blatant and horrible display of facts and ... blaming the media. Yes, that's right, friends, it's all the fault of the liberal media. You see, Bush never claimed there was any kind of collaborate relationship! Never said it! Nope! And the dratted liberal media is trying to convince people he did!

Hell, Cheney is worse. He came on MSNBC and claimed he never said the collaborative relationship was "pretty well confirmed". Jon Stewart has been just on fire on this and related topics (and he was really funny talking about Clinton's book, too), and Monday's "Daily Show" actually had Cheney's denial spliced in right next to his old interview on "Meet the Press" where he said exactly what he's denying now. Stewart said, "Uh, Mr. Cheney? Your pants are on fire." Later in the show, Stewart made a fool out of a conservative hack who wrote a book linking Hussein and bin Laden based on the long-discredited work of Douglas Feith.

I'm glad I have a DVR now, so I never miss it. I don't have to wait for the clips to come up on the web site. The DVR has been a big hit here (even though we found out it only has 20 hours of memory). We recorded a bunch of movies over the weekend. I saw "The Natural" for the first time (it was ok, not nearly as good as "Bull Durham"), and nearly-15-year-old Justin yesterday saw "The Terminator" for the first time. Justin has seen "T2", but he had never seen the first movie, so I was able to clear up some history for him. He didn't get the time travel stuff very well, but he understands what was going on in T2 a little better.

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

June 22, 2004

The Real Story

Although the political coverage of the candidates is hopelessly bad, and the paper has many other credibility problems, it is still true that the New York Times remains one of the best sources for in depth reporting on foreign affairs. Sadly, the current picture of Iraq tells the story of a hopelessly misguided war that has been lost:

A superpower invaded an impoverished Islamic nation. Guerrillas responded with AK-47's and rocket-propelled grenades. A generation of warriors was born, eager to wage jihad.

That was Afghanistan in the 1980's. It became a breeding ground for terrorists - most infamously Osama bin Laden - who exported their deadly skills throughout the world. In Iraq, some of the same conditions that nurtured terrorism in the mountains of Afghanistan have emerged in the power vacuum created by the American occupation, Iraqis and terrorism experts say.

"Unfortunately Iraq has become a cause célèbre for radical jihadists the way that Afghanistan did a decade and a half ago," said Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism analyst at the RAND Corporation. "You've got a lot of the same conditions that allowed Afghanistan to become a hub for terrorists."

Those include porous borders, swaths of lawless land and regions of the country harboring well-armed groups that are neither part of the government nor under its control, Mr. Hoffman said.

The Washington Post has more on the current state of affairs in Iraq as a result of the US-led war and the CPA-led occupation:

The American occupation of Iraq will formally end this month having failed to fulfill many of its goals and stated promises intended to transform the country into a stable democracy, according to a detailed examination drawing upon interviews with senior U.S. and Iraqi officials and internal documents of the occupation authority.

The ambitious, 15-month undertaking stumbled because of a series of mistakes that began with an inadequate commitment of resources and was aggravated by a misunderstanding of Iraqi politics, religion and society in occupied Iraq, these participants said.

"We blatantly failed to get it right," said Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution who served as an adviser to the occupation authority. "When you look at the record, it's impossible to escape the conclusion that we squandered an unprecedented opportunity."

Viewed from Baghdad since April 2003, the occupation has evolved from an optimistic partnership between Americans and Iraqis into a relationship riven by frustration and resentment. U.S. reconstruction specialists commonly complain of ungrateful Iraqis. Residents of a tough Baghdad neighborhood who welcomed U.S. forces with cold cans of orange soda last spring now jeer as military vehicles roll past. A few weeks ago, young men from the area danced atop a Humvee disabled by a roadside bomb, eventually torching it. [...]

The Daura Power Plant in southern Baghdad was supposed to be a model of the U.S. effort to rebuild Iraq. Bombed in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and neglected by Hussein's government, the station could operate at no more than a quarter of its rated capacity, leading to prolonged blackouts in the capital.

After CPA specialists toured the decrepit facility last summer, they vowed to bring it back to life. German and Russian firms were hired to make repairs, and it was placed atop a list of priority projects intended to achieve a 6,000-megawatt goal for national electricity production. More power, Bremer hoped, would improve the economy and daily life enough to reduce violence and stabilize Iraq.

Today, the Daura plant is indeed a model -- of how the U.S. reconstruction effort has failed to meet its goals.

The German contractors fled for their safety in April. The Russians departed in late May, after two of their colleagues were shot to death by insurgents as they approached the plant in a minivan.

Inside the facility, parts are strewn on the floor, awaiting installation. Iraqi technicians in blue coveralls lounge around, smoking cigarettes and waiting for guidance. In the turbine room, graffiti on the wall reads: "Long Live the Resistance."

The CPA intended for the Daura plant to be producing more than 500 megawatts of power by June 1. But the best it can do at the moment is 100 megawatts -- half of its output of last summer.

And I know this is going to come is a *huge* shock, but the Bush administration values simpleminded partisan loyalty over actual experience and competence (which, surprise, tends to be associated with a more liberal, open-minded viewpoint). The result has been a bunch of Young Republicans sent to the Green Zone, many of whom have a lot of idealism (however misguided it may be, they do mean well) but no practical useful skills for making Iraq a better place.

Several veterans of other reconstruction operations characterized civilian-military relations in Iraq as the worst they have encountered. "It has been poisonous," the reconstruction specialist said.

The other major conflict within the occupation bureaucracy has set the legions of young staff members chosen for their loyalty to the Bush administration against older, more liberal diplomats from the State Department and the British Foreign Office. Several of the diplomats said they regarded the young staffers as inexperienced and eager to pad their résumés during three-month tours.

These diplomats singled out the Office of Strategic Communications as unsuccessful in its efforts to disseminate information to Iraqis. Instead of creating an all-news television station that would compete with other Arab broadcasters that the CPA deemed anti-occupation, the communications office, with several employees straight from Republican staff jobs on Capitol Hill, set up a channel that aired children's programs and Egyptian cooking shows.

"It didn't put any effort into communicating with the Iraqi people," a British CPA official said. "Stratcom viewed its job as helping Bush to win his next election."

The article is the first of three to watch out for. Again, this is one of those things where if you want to cover your ears and go "LA LA LA! I'm not listening!", then fine, but don't pretend that you are contributing an informed opinion to the debate. If you bother to get down the brass tacks of what's really going on over there, you find that the news is pretty grim, and this corrupt, bungling administration shoulders the blame.

I know a lot of Bush-supporters don't buy that. They think the fault lies with the ungrateful Iraqis or perhaps the "liberal" media which is failing to report all the wonderful news over there. Anyone but Bush. It just makes me wonder: at what point do you accept that the whole Iraq endeavor is a failure? What are the parameters for that? I laid out my parameters for success before the war started, and we are a million miles from that.

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

June 21, 2004

Chips Ahoy

So much was said in comments about poker chips a few days ago that I thought I would update on what more I've learned. It turns out that the poker chips I got for my birthday (and then bought 50 more of so that I have 150 total) are 10.5 gram pure clay chips, so they are actually *lighter* than the ones you would see at Costco or on eBay. Those other ones are 11.5g chips, with the difference coming because of a metal disk at the center of the (composite) clay chips that gives them a slightly different feel and heft.

I am told by the Billiards store that the 10.5g pure clay chips are the ones typically used in Vegas, but as far as I'm concerned, I think I may like the slightly heavier metal-filled chip a little bit better. I'd have to play a couple of rounds on a felt surface with both sets to really see, but hell, if the 11.5g chips can be had for about 1/4 of the price, the choice is obvious. I'll probably ask for one of those monster 11.5g chip sets and a chip case for Christmas (unless my wife talks me into just expanding my current collection by way of gifts ... I *am* hard to shop for, so that's a convenient gift). Until then, I have plenty for me and the boys to use.

Also, I'm banking on the fact that supply is eventually going to catch up with the sharply increasing demand for poker chips. I think prices are going to keep dropping as more people get into the business of manufacturing poker chips, so maybe by Christmas, I'll have more options. The chips on eBay are somewhat cheaper, though it is hard to get a *great* deal because of all the sniping (last-second automatic bidding) that goes on. Most of the time, the chips with cases go for about N/20 dollars, where N is the number of chips in the set, so about 5 cents a chip. I've never seen a set go for less than 20% below that price, and you have to be *really* careful to look at the "shipping and handling" charge (often over $20!!) on those chips.

I suspect it will be closer to 2-3 cents a chip 6-12 months from now as the craze dies down a bit or more suppliers come on board. C'mon, capitalism, don't let me down!

Posted by Observer at 06:58 AM | Comments (4)

June 20, 2004

What's Making News

Well, we've got an ongoing war in Iraq, with the supposed "handover" due to take place in 10 days, at which point the media will ignore Iraq even harder. We've got a few scandals brewing, including the Plame outing, the nonsense about Saddam and Al Qaeda "contacts" (I've had "contacts" with that right-wing nutball Doc. Does that mean we're collaborating?) and, of course, various officials, including Donald Rumsfeld, lying under oath (sigh, remember when that was a big deal?).

So what does your so-called-liberal media feel is the important poltical news of the day? The headlines from the AP newswire pretty much say it all: Kerry Took Money from Arrested Figure (the whole story is that the AP found out that a Kerry donor is a crook, and so Kerry returned the money, all of $2000) and Kerry Vacations with Wealthy in Nantucket (which talks about Kerry's "patrician" manner, immense wealth, etc).

Oh yeah, that's your liberal media, all right.

Posted by Observer at 04:34 PM | Comments (0)

Back and Forth

Along the same lines as my comment on Moore's movie yesterday, I was also reminded of another piece of work that conservatives criticize in a knee-jerk fashion without, of course, actually reading it: the work of Al Franken. Al really gets to the heart of the matter in his books. As he repeatedly explains, the reason one cannot equate his work for the left with the work of someone like Limbaugh, Hannity, etc. for the right is that, unlike those clowns, Franken TELLS THE TRUTH.

Now, of course, they all *claim* to tell the truth, but catching right-wing nutballs out on lies is easier than shooting fish in a barrel. Here is the Center for American Progress picking out 15 lies more or less at random from Hannity, representative of the lies on big issues he repeats every day on radio and in his books. Franken himself has done Limbaugh, and lots of websites monitor right wing talk shows, such as Media Matters.

The right-wing folks are trying to do the same thing with Franken, but they are finding it a lot harder. There's a "Franken Lies" website that lots of conservatives link to, even though it is clear few of them have actually read his book. Well, sorry to disappoint, nutballs, but it turns out that website is full of crap, as documented by its counterpart website, The Lying Lies of Frankenlies.

It's a real headache to get your hands dirty in all this stuff, you know. That's why, when I decided to respond to that idiot's "top 20 liberal beliefs" myths, I took my time and set out to argue each of the "stupid conservative myths" in turn. I tried to deal with it slowly and carefully, rather than having a lengthy multi-topic debate in comments, and the result is a body of work that is informative and open to checking out. It is useful, because it outlines and illuminates the real issues instead of just being dishonest (or at least not serious) in return.

Although it is a pain in the ass to slog through the back and forth, back and forth, it is actually amazingly educational, because it reveals that one side (my side) is dealing with facts (as a general rule ... there are *always* exceptions) and the other side (Bush-supporters) is just throwing shit at the wall in desperation (as a general rule .. there are *always* exceptions), hoping the average Moron American will pull a "pox on both houses" stunt and assume both sides are equally full of crap. It usually works, too. People don't have the time or the interest for this stuff, and that is exactly what Bush-supporters depend upon to sell their message. This is why I agree with the sentiment that they are one of the most cynical campaigns ever run, and they're trolling for fools.

If you actually bother to research what Franken's critics are saying, yeah, you find 2 or 3 minor inconsistencies (and Franken's supporters admit to this, and you can expect corrections in later editions of Franken's books ... try saying the same about any right-wing screed). To give you an example ... I said above that Hannity lies "every day" on the radio. Well, some conservative web site would come back and say "AHA! Liar! Hannity isn't on every day!" Well, ok, fine, but nowhere do Franken's critics ever find a misleading statement or a lie that has any substance or relevance. Hell, nobody's perfect, but there's a distinct difference between simple inaccuracy or insignificant sloppiness and a malicious intent to mislead.

When Clinton testified under oath, he clearly had an intent to mislead, and he was rightly criticized for that, but people like Limbaugh, Hannity, Coulter and their ilk do this kind of shit for a living, and they are praised to high heaven. Anyway, if you are going to go along with the notion that Franken isn't being honest, you should at least check at the facts and references for yourself. There *is* a level at which these things are documented, at which point the debate ends, and one side is proven right. Follow back-and-forth sites on Franken or Hannity, for example, and you'll see what I mean. You'll see that intellectual dishonesty is the currency of the conservative realm.

The most problematic of liberal pundits is Michael Moore. There *were* many inaccuracies in his work in the past, and for all I know, his latest movie may have a bunch more. I really hope not, and I look forward to seeing what the fact-checkers come up with on "9/11". I know one thing for sure, though. Moore's movie could be nothing but Moore on screen reciting the Constitution, and conservatives would gin up a website in 15 minutes pointing out 20 "lies". It's Moore's own fault because of his past work (in part ... Moore still intentionally misleads *far less* than Bush-supporters do on a regular basis), but conservatives have successfully labelled him as basically the same kind of guy as Limbaugh or Hannity in the minds of most Moron Americans.

If Moore is going to be relevant to this debate, he has to rise above that. I hope he does. I hope this movie is absolutely unimpeachable, because he is a talent, and he has a chance to genuinely change some peoples' minds. There are *plenty* of things you can say about Bush to make the case against the man, and there is no need to lie about it. This is the worst administration in history. The truth will out.

Posted by Observer at 07:35 AM | Comments (0)

June 19, 2004

The Math Tax

Well, the local lottery is up to nearly $150 million, so I bought a ticket today just for fun. I know that mathematically it is a stupid bet. The odds of my numbers coming up are over 500 million to one, and the direct cash payout after taxes is about $50 million, so it's not like an investment. In fact, I go with the famous line from "Almost Live!" (an old late night Seattle show that used to come on before Saturday Night Live) that "the lottery is a tax on people who are bad at math". But I always buy a ticket if I think it will be fun to have one. You don't pay for the prize. You pay for the fun of thinking about what you would do with the money.

I always pick the same numbers. 2, 6, 12, 20, 30, 42 (1x2, 2x3, etc.). That way I don't have to have the ticket handy to see if I won, and I can also vicariously play even when I don't have a ticket. I told Michelle that we've won over $100 in the last year playing the lottery (twice a week), simply by not buying tickets, because those six numbers (or even four of 'em) have never come up. Somehow that wasn't very satisfying to her.

Anyway, it's fun to buy once in a while just so you can dream. As the Washington State lotto used to say, "Chances of winning are millions to one if you buy a ticket. Substantially higher if you don't." If I win, I think I will purchase a local radio station just so I can syndicate Air America and let people listen to something different for once around here. I won't quit my job, though. Too much fun. But I probably wouldn't do summer teaching any more, and Michelle would damn sure quit.

They say money can't buy happiness, but I would like to give it a chance.

Posted by Observer at 04:42 PM | Comments (6)

This One Is Too Easy

Months ago, when some pundits (including a local minister) wrote editorials and/or letters to the editor about Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ", they worried about the potentially anti-Semitic messages of the movie. Right-wing nutballs absolutely crucified them for criticizing a movie without seeing it.

Funny, then, to watch these same groups call for theaters not to show Michael Moore's latest "Fahrenheit 9/11". I mean, they're not just criticizing the movie without having seen it, they are trying to censor it. Look, morons, if you're so worried about propaganda affecting the votes of millions this November, go shut down Fox News.

I hope I get a chance to see it so I can judge for myself.

Posted by Observer at 08:27 AM | Comments (1)

June 18, 2004

Republicans for Voldemort

Face it, we're living in dangerous times, and we need a strong leader, not some wishy-washy tax-and-spend flip-flopper. We need someone who doesn't have a hidden agenda, someone who isn't afraid to make the tough decisions, someone who isn't afraid to take the gloves off when it comes to his enemies.

We need Lord Voldemort.

Posted by Observer at 01:37 PM | Comments (0)

More Advice

After my experience this week during an exam, I have an item to add to my growing list of Advice for Undergraduates. Count this one as #8 under "In-class behavior":

If you plan to approach the professor during an exam to ask a question, make sure your breath doesn't just absolutely reek of alcohol.

I swear, the way this guy's breath smelled the other day, it just about knocked me out. His first couple of exams have been really bad, too, both flunking (and no, not because of his breath ... I always grade exams blind, a page at a time where I can't see names, just to make sure I am fair). What's funny is that after the first exam, he contacted me so I could give him advice on how to do better on future exams. I guess I should've started with "don't get blasted the night before, you dope!"

Posted by Observer at 06:58 AM | Comments (0)

June 17, 2004

Outrage Any Minute Now

From Atrios, remember when people were outraged over not just lies, but lying under oath, also known as perjury. I mean, such blatant disregard for the law was no role model for our children, and it merited impeachment. Nay, not just impeachment but a conviction!

Turns out Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld perjured himself in Senate testimony under oath about the goings-on in the Iraq prisons.

Huh.

And all I hear from the right is crickets chirping.

Oh wait, I know. There must be some deeply classified documents that reveal Rumsfeld didn't *really* say what he said in public testimony. There must be some "black op" by the CIA to *pretend* to torture all those prisoners, to fake these now-public reports of the abuse stretching for months before the photos (obviously faked, and I would know this if I had access to all the classified documents) came out.

My mistake.

Posted by Observer at 06:04 PM | Comments (0)

Turnabout

Steve Gilliard quotes this, which was stolen from comments somewhere, which itself was probably stolen from frog knows what. So I do not know the original attribution. Still, I found it amusing, even though many of these are grossly unfair generalizations. Since my "20 conservative myths" series was sparked by a list similar to this one, I thought it would be fun to post a liberal counterpart.

And you know what? If anyone wants to go through this point by point and say it's full of crap, bring it on. I'll probably agree with you on some of them. On to the list of Things You Have To Believe To Be A Conservative:

1. Being a drug addict is a moral failing and a crime, unless you're a conservative radio host. Then it's an illness and you need our prayers for your recovery

2. The United States should get out of the United Nations, and our highest national priority is enforcing U.N. resolutions against Iraq.

3. Government should relax regulation of Big Business and Big Money but crack down on individuals who use marijuana to relieve the pain of illness.

4. "Standing Tall for America"; means firing your workers and moving their jobs to India.

5. A woman can't be trusted with decisions about her own body, but multi-national corporations can make decisions affecting all mankind without regulation.

6. Jesus loves you, and shares your hatred of homosexuals and Hillary Clinton.

7. The best way to improve military morale is to praise the troops in speeches while slashing veterans' benefits and combat pay.

8. Group sex and drug use are degenerate sins unless you someday run for governor of California as a Republican.

9. If condoms are kept out of schools, adolescents won't have sex.

10. A good way to fight terrorism is to belittle our long-time allies,then demand their cooperation and money.

11. HMOs and insurance companies have the interest of the public at heart.

12. Providing health care to all Iraqis is sound policy. Providing health care to all Americans is socialism.

13. Global warming and tobacco's link to cancer are junk science, but creationism should be taught in schools.

14. Saddam was a good guy when Reagan armed him, a bad guy when Bush's daddy made war on him, a good guy when Cheney did business with him and a bad guy when Bush needed a "we can't find Bin Laden" diversion.

15. A president lying about an extramarital affair is an impeachable offense. A president lying to enlist support for a war in which thousands die is solid defense policy.

16. Government should limit itself to the powers named in the Constitution, which include banning gay marriages and censoring the Internet.

17. The public has a right to know about Hillary's cattle trades, but George Bush's driving record is none of our business.

18. You support states' rights, which means Attorney General John Ashcroft can tell states what local voter initiatives they have a right to adopt.

19. What Bill Clinton did in the 1960s is of vital national interest, but what Bush did in the '80s is irrelevant.

20. Trade with Cuba is wrong because the country is communist, but trade with China and Vietnam is vital to a spirit of international harmony.

Don't forget "Al Gore thinks he invented the internet." I can't believe that was left off the list. A more interesting game to play is: how many of the above are ideas pushed by the mainstream media?

Posted by Observer at 07:21 AM | Comments (2)

June 16, 2004

World Still Not Flat

As Atrios has put it so well, the latest reports of the 9/11 commission aren't surprising: There is still no link between Iraq and Al Qaeda. Now now, not in the past, nothing has changed. It's still bullshit, and it always has been bullshit, despite the paranoid fantasies dreamed up by neoconservatives to justify the Iraq invasion. Just a couple of days ago, Cheney was talking at a fundraiser, and he said there was a link as if it were some obvious fact that the liberal media is hiding from everyone.

You know, if it weren't so damned representative of everything about these clods, I wouldn't bother with it. What they're trying to do is obvious: people like Cheney are using conservative outlets to talk around the mainstream media outlets with a wink and a nod at the base. The mainstream media isn't conservative enough for them, they figure, because they won't just directly transmit every single fucking lie that passes their lips.

And the nutballs out there lap it up. Worse, the Moron Americans (who see themselves as "centrists" without seeing that Republicans have moved the definition of "centrist" so far to the right as to be ridiculous) see stories like this and think, "Huh, well, the 9/11 commission may have reported that there's no link, and that may be what the media is saying, but they just want to bash Bush, so they're probably lying." Without objective facts, without verifiable (and falsifiable) ideas, the debate over what's right and what's wrong simply cannot move forward.

And that, of course, is the goal. Keep them confused. Keep them afraid. Keep enough of them home that they can steal another election. That's why the issue of media bias is so important. There has to be an objective and trustworthy source of information. Otherwise, all of politics is just "he said, she said" nonsense and people vote based on fear, emotion and irrationality instead of logic and reason.

The people who keep screaming liberal media bias in the general direction of the New York Times (which has a breaking story about Kerry having a butler or a "patrician manner" on the front page every other day) are well aware of these issues. That's why they are just plain evil, malevolent liars. Ask yourself what they have to gain by undermining your confidence in what little factual, useful, objective reporting exists out there.

These are the kind of people in power right now. And they're trolling for fools again this November.

Posted by Observer at 02:03 PM | Comments (0)

June 15, 2004

Coincidence?

I noticed today a front-page, above the fold story that the Justice Department had indicted a man who was supposedly plotting to blow up a mall. For me, my first thought was, "I wonder what they are trying to bury?" The Justice Department, under John Ashcroft, basically makes noise when it is convenient because it will bury some other bad news. Don't believe me? Krugman explains:

For an example of changing the subject, consider the origins of the Jose Padilla case. There was no publicity when Mr. Padilla was arrested in May 2002. But on June 6, 2002, Coleen Rowley gave devastating Congressional testimony about failures at the F.B.I. (which reports to Mr. Ashcroft) before 9/11. Four days later, Mr. Ashcroft held a dramatic press conference and announced that Mr. Padilla was involved in a terrifying plot. Instead of featuring Ms. Rowley, news magazine covers ended up featuring the "dirty bomber" who Mr. Ashcroft said was plotting to kill thousands with deadly radiation.

Since then Mr. Padilla has been held as an "enemy combatant" with no legal rights. But Newsweek reports that "administration officials now concede that the principal claim they have been making about Padilla ever since his detention — that he was dispatched to the United States for the specific purpose of setting off a radiological "dirty bomb" — has turned out to be wrong and most likely can never be used in court."

But most important is the memo. Last week Mr. Ashcroft, apparently in contempt of Congress, refused to release a memo on torture his department prepared for the White House almost two years ago. Fortunately, his stonewalling didn't work: The Washington Post has acquired a copy of the memo and put it on its Web site.

Much of the memo is concerned with defining torture down: if the pain inflicted on a prisoner is less than the pain that accompanies "serious physical injury, such as organ failure," it's not torture. Anyway, the memo declares that the federal law against torture doesn't apply to interrogations of enemy combatants "pursuant to [the president's] commander-in-chief authority." In other words, the president is above the law.

The memo came out late Sunday. Mr. Ashcroft called a press conference yesterday — to announce an indictment against a man accused of plotting to blow up a shopping mall in Ohio. The timing was, I'm sure, purely coincidental.

There's more to the column, mostly about Ashcroft's objectively laughable record as Attorney General. I mean, who woulda thunk it? A Bush appointee turns out to basically be an incompetent partisan hack! Next thing you're going to tell me is that the sky is blue.

Posted by Observer at 03:39 PM | Comments (0)

June 14, 2004

Moral Equivalence

From discourse.net, we have Jay Leno summing up the torture situation in Iraq quite nicely:

According to the “New York Times”, last year White House lawyers concluded that President Bush could legally order interrogators to torture and even kill people in the interest of national security - so if that’s legal, what the hell are we charging Saddam Hussein with?

Posted by Observer at 08:49 AM | Comments (1)

Dangit

Rick Helling had his first start for the AAA minor league team of the Rangers on Saturday. 3.1 innings, 12 hits (2 homers), 1 walk and 7 runs, all earned. C'mon, Rick, pick it up! Ranger pitchers are falling like leaves to injuries and suckiness. This is your chance!

Posted by Observer at 07:27 AM | Comments (0)

June 13, 2004

First Years

Here are a couple of related book reviews about experience in a professional school. First is "One L", a book by Scott Turow (who also writes legal thrillers with about the same talent and readability as John Grisham) about his first year at Harvard Law School. I flirted with the idea of law school a very long time ago. Obviously, I like a good debate, I like research, I like the idea of justice, I'm quick with facts and arguments, etc. I'd probably make an ok lawyer, and I sometimes wonder about the road not taken. You know how it is. So it is interesting to read about what it is like in a prestigious law school, and of course, it is also interesting for me (as a college teacher) to read about student perceptions of professors, even at the graduate level. Turow's book isn't the best of its kind out there, but it is well worth the read if the subject of law school interests you at all.

A better book in the "first year" genre is Robert Reid's "Year One", about his first year at Harvard Business School. It's out of print, so if you're like me, you'll have to find it at a used bookstore somewhere or the library. I've never really considered going this route with my life, but I know a lot of science majors who bailed out for business school. A famous t-shirt at my undergraduate college said, in mathematical symbols, that the limit of one's degree as the GPA approaches zero is the MBA. People who can barely cut a "C" in a basic Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics or Biology curriculum, for example, can often go into the business track and find themselves head and shoulders above a whole bunch of people, many of whom have school as a distant second priority to their social life.

The best of the best go to the top business schools, and Reid tells his story of what comes then. I really liked the first half of this book, but in the second half, Reid's sense of wonder and fascination kind of gets lost as he gets bogged down in the nitty gritty details of classes and assignments. I also got the feeling that a sense of overwhelming cynicism was starting to set in, the kind of thing that repels me from that career path in the first place. It's one thing to be cynical about politics, quite another to be cynical about your career. I'm really lucky I landed in a situation where I got to pursue what I wanted all my life.

On a related note, by the way, I'm currently rereading the Harry Potter series (and I'm now reading about his first year at Hogwart's) for two reasons. One is that it is always interesting to reread a series in light of knowing the events in future books. I'm surprised how well Rowling makes reference to things to come and how complete her world seems to be even in the first story. Did you know that when Hagrid first delivers Harry to the Dursley's, he flies in on the borrowed motorcycle of his friend, Sirius Black? That's an example of a tiny plot point that you might read right over the first time but not after you've read later books, and the first book is loaded with those.

The second reason is that I don't want the movies to be the sum total of my memory of the story, which is so much richer than what they portray on film. I'm sure they'll make a hash (at least, compared to what it could be if given a LOTR Peter Jackson treatment) of the next two lengthy books. What a shame.

Posted by Observer at 06:36 PM | Comments (0)

June 12, 2004

Super System

I bought "Super System" a couple of weeks ago on sale at Sam's for about $16. It was originally published (with the title "Super/System") by the author himself, Doyle Brunson, and ran for over $50. I've heard it mentioned so many times, I figured I had to read it to see what all the fuss was about. I only read the introduction and the part about no-limit hold 'em. There are sections in the book written by contributing authors on other poker games.

Well, it was a very interesting, very quick read. Of course, I could probably gain a lot by rereading it a few times until I get Brunson's strategy down pat, but hell, I only play Hold 'Em with the kids. The thing that struck me most about this book is what a limited audience it is truly for. This book is for people who literally intend to make their fortune and spend most of their life playing poker, so they have to be very, very good. It also assumes your opponents are excellent players.

I mean, I can play Brunson's style all day, but when you're up against players like a 10-year-old who has to be told he has the nut straight when hands are shown and he's getting ready to throw his hand away as a bust, it's not really all that helpful. I can try to represent a flush all day long, but my opponents often don't even realize there's three of the same suit on the board, so as far as they're concerned, their pair of 5's is good, even though there are four overcards on the board. They won't even buy that I'm representing a higher *pair*, for crying out loud. Because of that, it is virtually impossible to "put" them on hands.

The first time I've ever seen pocket aces turn into four aces was when 10-year-old Cody did it a few days ago. He was betting pretty small, even though I was raising since I figured I had the nut flush (I had the king in the hole). On the river, when he got his fourth ace, he bet small, I raised (figuring he had three aces, probably), and then he called. He *called* my raise on the river. I lost the pot, but I was mad that he wasted such a magic opportunity! I couldn't believe he just called with four aces! He said he didn't want to scare me out of the pot. I tell you this, when I got four jacks the next day, I sure as hell cleaned *him* out! Oh, and he went all-in on that hand with King-high. Not very satisfying to win with four jacks against King-high, let me tell you.

Like most poker strategy books I've read, this one isn't really accessible to the masses, the casual players who want to enjoy a game with friends or family once in a while. Oh sure, the odds are there and some general advice, but for playing against amateurs, the only real advice given is, "Wait for the nuts, then break them." That's no fun. I don't want to sit for 5 hours and wait for AA or KK or whatever, mixing in the occasional bluff. I don't want to play every hand either. I would just like to see someone approach it with a bit more of a realistic perspective, but I'm sure that's very difficult.

Of course, this book would be more interesting had I not already pretty much read Brunson's biography in other books (which obviously stole from Brunson's story in this book), the best of which was "The Biggest Game in Town" by Alvarez. Either would make a great Father's Day gift, I would imagine, if I didn't already own them. :)

Posted by Observer at 09:14 AM | Comments (16)

June 11, 2004

Paying Attention

Well, damn, here we are nearly halfway through June, and the Rangers just swept the Pirates to move within a half game of first place in the division, just behind Oakland and just ahead of Anaheim. They are nine games over .500, and as I hoped, they managed to sign Rick Helling to a triple-A contract. I hope they get the nerve to call him up, because I have an inkling he'll pitch his heart out once he's back on his old team (and they're competitive).

The main reason for the Rangers success is that several years ago, they basically decided they were incapable of scouting young pitching talent, so the General Manager at the time (Doug Melvin) decided to basically draft twice as many pitchers as they had drafted before, figuring the only way to develop good pitching was just to rely on sheer numbers. Like buying 10,000 lottery tickets instead of 100.

Sure enough, some of the young arms have hit. Juan Dominguez, who dominated the Yanks last week, pitches tonight against the Cardinals. He's young, so he won't be great every time out by any means, but he's shown many flashes of greatness. Kenny Rogers is pitching great, leading the majors in wins with a respectable ERA. He's a pitcher, like Helling, who should've been here all along. Unfortunately, it's his fault he's not.

A few years ago when Rogers was up for contract renewal, he wasn't pitching so well, and he demanded way too much money for way too long a term. The Rangers had made a reasonable offer, but he walked to test the free agent market. He quickly found the bottom had fallen out of the market for pitching that year, so he ended up signing a one-year deal for less many than the Rangers had been offering to guarantee him per year for 2-3 years. So he bounced around for a couple of years before finally coming back here for the right price. He's another guy it is good to have back.

With Helling and Rogers plus a few good young starters and a half-decent bullpen, we finally have some average (instead of the usual abysmal) pitching to go with the usual above-average offense. The result is that we could end up as much as 15-20 games over .500, and that'll be enough for the division title if Oakland falters (hey, I can dream, can't I?). More likely is that we'll fall back to Earth and end up about 5-10 games over, which is a respectable start with lots of promise for the years to come since almost all the key players are signed for a few years.

I can live with that.

Posted by Observer at 08:38 AM | Comments (0)

June 10, 2004

Justice Eight Assemble!

If you don't normally follow PvP Online, there's a really good series going on now about the characters playing in a massively multiplayer online role-playing game called "City of Heroes". In this game, you play superheroes instead of wizards, fighters, healers, etc. Start with this one and follow it through up to the current strip, and if you have much experience with on-line games, you will definitely be amused.

Posted by Observer at 01:31 PM | Comments (5)

Oops, They Did It Again

You know, I just love how cocky some conservatives get when they try to argue the case for Bush. What's one of the first things out of their mouths about Bush's foreign policy, for example? We're winning the war on terror! After all, aren't terrorist attacks down recently? Well, sure, if you believe them. But keeping in mind that they are stupid, pathological liars about pretty much everything, this kind of story was inevitable, you know?

The State Department is scrambling to revise its annual report on global terrorism to acknowledge that it understated the number of deadly attacks in 2003, amid charges that the document is inaccurate and was politically manipulated by the Bush administration.

When the most recent "Patterns of Global Terrorism" report was issued April 29, senior Bush administration officials immediately hailed it as objective proof that they were winning the war on terrorism. The report is considered the authoritative yardstick of the prevalence of terrorist activity around the world.

"Indeed, you will find in these pages clear evidence that we are prevailing in the fight" against global terrorism, Deputy Secretary of State Richard L. Armitage said during a celebratory rollout of the report.

But on Tuesday, State Department officials said they underreported the number of terrorist attacks in the tally for 2003, and added that they expected to release an updated version soon.

Several U.S. officials and terrorism experts familiar with that revision effort said the new report will show that the number of significant terrorist incidents increased last year, perhaps to its highest level in 20 years.

You don't say! Gosh, all of us who said that the preemptive war with Iraq would very likely turn into a breeding ground for new terrorists, especially if Afghanistan was neglected as a result ... well, I guess we crazy anti-war liberals were right all along. Huh, I guess we should get over it. Again.

Now you're probably thinking, wait a minute, we shouldn't call them liars. After all, they were willing to correct their own report. Well, no, actually. Turns out Henry Waxman, a House Democrat, did some of his own research and was about to try to get the so-called-liberal-media to report it on something other than page 19. So the Bush administration decided to preempt and issue their own correction so they can say it was their idea, blah blah blah, and the papers reported it ... yes, that's right, page 19 (at least, that's where I happened to see it in my local paper).

I understand that politicans have to be cynical sometimes. I mean, it's a dirty, sausage-making job. But do they have to be political and cynical about everything, even the really big, important, this-is-why-you-should-vote-for-us stuff? Can't they have some principle beyond "let's just kick some ass" or "dissent is treason"?

If you follow the news (I mean the *real* news, not the Reagan deifications plastering every front page), you know about the big memo by now. You know, the one where a Bush political appointee offers a legal cover-your-ass opinion that says the president has the inherent power to ignore the law, for example, when he thinks torture is a good idea.

Remember, this is the whole torturing thing that was just "a few bad apples". Didn't have any support or direction from higher-ups on this one. NooooOOOOoooo. But will they actually release the full text of the memo, instead of what was leaked by some (God forbid) genuinely patriotic person who is concerned about the direction these nutballs are leading America? Oh no, says, Ashcroft, we can't go around releasing internal memos to the president. Oh, except if the internal memos can be used to smear a 9/11 panel member (and even that attempt was ridiculously misleading and unjustified). Then it's ok.

Another flip-flop, but hey, who cares? Bush is a nice guy with a happy smile, isn't he? He's just an honest, hard-working guy who wears a cowboy hat and would rather be working on his ranch, but dangit, no one else was qualified to be president. "Trolling for fools" is such a perfect summary of Bush's whole campaign strategy, and if it works again, God help us.

Can you tell I'm getting a little pissed off?

Posted by Observer at 07:00 AM | Comments (11)

June 09, 2004

Ogg Man Out

Politics break! Time for pointless video game talk.

My poor Barbarian, Ogg, is awfully neglected these days. I've actually had more success with him that any of the Paladins I've built (for Diablo - Lord of Destruction) in the past. He's level 77, which is higher than any other character level I've ever gotten, but I won't get much further because of the harsh exponential slowdown in experience past level 70. He's got three nasty weapons, including a sword that does immense poison damage and has a "cannot be frozen" tag (and gives me 95% poison resistance) that is very choice. I'm usually too impatient to wait for the poison damage to work, so I pound away with a big axe and a big mace (Aldur's Rhythm), both with tons of increased attack speed and life drain (thanks to Amn and Shael runes). I think each hit steals about 40% damage for my life points, so as long as I'm not fighting undead or a super-boss, I hardly need potions. And I can kill stuff really fast, so even swarms of archers are pretty easy to dispatch.

Having no shield is easier than I thought it would be (I carry lots of charms, almost half my inventory worth, plus I have some of the natural resistance ability, so all my resistances are 75, even in hell mode). My warcries last long enough that they are effectively continous, giving me double life points (over 2000 now where my poor Paladins have never had more than 700, triple defense (over 3000) and seriously lowering monster defense and damage (by about half) in a pinch. The extra life is absolutely critical in hell. Lots of stuff deals out 500-1000 damage very quickly, especially with aura enhancements and death explosions (I call them splorches), which are an incredibly annoying method of dying. Of course, as a Barbarian, I have come to loathe the "Immune to Physical" tag that so many creatures carry around in Hell mode.

Anyway, I've got good magic find (lots of good artifacts and perfect topazes are mixed in, especially with my Holy Freeze Paladin helper, who does around 1000 damage per hit with his spire of honor lance that I found, and he's wearing a total of seven topazes), so I'm working on building a couple of sets (almost got Sigon's complete steel, and close on a few others). I can use my own characters for extra storage by starting up a copy of Diablo in both Classic and OS X mode, so that helps store runes and other neat things (I've found five super high level runes, but nothing I can use yet to make a useful rune word item that is more powerful than the other stuff I'm carrying).

The problem is that since this busy summer schedule started, I just can't find time to play. Awww, poor me. Heh. I'm just starting the third act in Hell mode after pretty much cruising through the first two, and I haven't made it this far with any other character before. I don't think I would have the patience to play a spellcaster or a ranged-attack Amaon. I like the thunk-thunk-thunk of a two-fisted attack up close.

Posted by Observer at 07:00 AM | Comments (2)

June 08, 2004

Reagan and Bush

Although a lot of Bush-supporters are going to great pains to represent Bush as the natural heir to Reagan's legacy, as ridiculous as that is, Krugman offers a healthy dose of reality:

Over the course of this week we'll be hearing a lot about Ronald Reagan, much of it false. A number of news sources have already proclaimed Mr. Reagan the most popular president of modern times. In fact, though Mr. Reagan was very popular in 1984 and 1985, he spent the latter part of his presidency under the shadow of the Iran-Contra scandal. Bill Clinton had a slightly higher average Gallup approval rating, and a much higher rating during his last two years in office.

We're also sure to hear that Mr. Reagan presided over an unmatched economic boom. Again, not true: the economy grew slightly faster under President Clinton, and, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, the after-tax income of a typical family, adjusted for inflation, rose more than twice as much from 1992 to 2000 as it did from 1980 to 1988.

But Ronald Reagan does hold a special place in the annals of tax policy, and not just as the patron saint of tax cuts. To his credit, he was more pragmatic and responsible than that; he followed his huge 1981 tax cut with two large tax increases. In fact, no peacetime president has raised taxes so much on so many people. This is not a criticism: the tale of those increases tells you a lot about what was right with President Reagan's leadership, and what's wrong with the leadership of George W. Bush.

The first Reagan tax increase came in 1982. By then it was clear that the budget projections used to justify the 1981 tax cut were wildly optimistic. In response, Mr. Reagan agreed to a sharp rollback of corporate tax cuts, and a smaller rollback of individual income tax cuts. Over all, the 1982 tax increase undid about a third of the 1981 cut; as a share of G.D.P., the increase was substantially larger than Mr. Clinton's 1993 tax increase.

The contrast with President Bush is obvious. President Reagan, confronted with evidence that his tax cuts were fiscally irresponsible, changed course. President Bush, confronted with similar evidence, has pushed for even more tax cuts.

Mr. Reagan's second tax increase was also motivated by a sense of responsibility — or at least that's the way it seemed at the time. I'm referring to the Social Security Reform Act of 1983, which followed the recommendations of a commission led by Alan Greenspan. Its key provision was an increase in the payroll tax that pays for Social Security and Medicare hospital insurance.

For many middle- and low-income families, this tax increase more than undid any gains from Mr. Reagan's income tax cuts. In 1980, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, middle-income families with children paid 8.2 percent of their income in income taxes, and 9.5 percent in payroll taxes. By 1988 the income tax share was down to 6.6 percent — but the payroll tax share was up to 11.8 percent, and the combined burden was up, not down.

Nonetheless, there was broad bipartisan support for the payroll tax increase because it was part of a deal. The public was told that the extra revenue would be used to build up a trust fund dedicated to the preservation of Social Security benefits, securing the system's future. Thanks to the 1983 act, current projections show that under current rules, Social Security is good for at least 38 more years.

But George W. Bush has made it clear that he intends to renege on the deal. His officials insist that the trust fund is meaningless — which means that they don't feel bound to honor the implied contract that dedicated the revenue generated by President Reagan's payroll tax increase to paying for future Social Security benefits. Indeed, it's clear from the arithmetic that the only way to sustain President Bush's tax cuts in the long run will be with sharp cuts in both Social Security and Medicare benefits.

I did not and do not approve of President Reagan's economic policies, which saddled the nation with trillions of dollars in debt. And as others will surely point out, some of the foreign policy shenanigans that took place on his watch, notably the Iran-contra scandal, foreshadowed the current debacle in Iraq (which, not coincidentally, involves some of the same actors).

Still, on both foreign and domestic policy Mr. Reagan showed both some pragmatism and some sense of responsibility. These are attributes sorely lacking in the man who claims to be his political successor.

As I've said before, comparisons between Reagan and Bush should make true conservatives ill. Bush-supporters, trolling for fools, will be trying to sell that comparison for the next 5 months, and the mainstream media will make the comparison whenever Bush wants them to. Has anyone noticed how the "liberal media" has treated the death of Reagan, by the way? Is *any* criticism of the man allowed, any reminders of the laws that were broken, any reminders of the huge debt accrued, any reminders of the horrific aspects of his Central American policy? Wouldn't a liberal media do a little bit of this?

Just asking.

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

June 07, 2004

Relative Time

We had a big storm blow through a few nights ago, and we temporarily lost power. The kids were responsible for resetting their own clocks, but 10-year-old Cody and nearly-12-year-old Sarah both managed to get it a bit wrong. They both set their clocks about 5 minutes too fast. I sent Cody to his room for a time out yesterday, and he was free to come out at 4pm. Well, out he pops at 3:55 on the dot. I said, "Err, you were supposed to be in your room until 4. It's only 3:55."

He said, "But my clock says 4 o'clock!"

I said, "Ok, that's fine. Your bedtime is at 8pm. Can I send you to bed at 8pm by your clock or by the correct clock that is out here in the living room?"

He sullenly stomped back to his bedroom, reset his clock properly and then came out five minutes later.

Saturday morning was the same thing. Sarah has been addicted to Animal Crossing on the GameCube again since about three weeks ago, and so she was itching to play. But we allow no games in the house before 10am. At 9:55 she came out and asked to play, so I offered the same bedtime negotiation that I offered Cody. She didn't take me up on it, but she asked me how come I was right about the time and she was wrong, so I showed her my official source for the time. She wasn't nearly as impressed as she should've been.

Oh well, I can be a petty tyrant sometimes, but we can also spoil them. We took the kids up to see the grandparents yesterday, then we dropped off 10-month-old Daniel while we all went see the new Harry Potter movie. It had a different feel from the first two, and I liked it. I think I would've been hopelessly annoyed and confused about plot developments had I not read the book first. As the books get longer and the movies stay the same length, I'm sure that problem will get worse. "Goblet of Fire" is probably twice as long as Azkaban, and I've read that they thought about making it into two movies, but they're only going to do one. Part of the worry is that if they took too long, their three main child actors would age too much to be believeable in the roles.

I wish they would just do what Peter Jackson did. That is to say, first of all, I wish they would bust their asses for a year and get the movies out faster. Second of all, I'd love to see an "extended edition" of these movies. With the stunning success of that for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, I expect to see other movies try this. Too bad George Lucas didn't think of it, but of course, I say this because I liked "Phantom Menace" and "Attack of the Clones", and I'll eat up anything Lucas wants to throw out there in the Star Wars genre.

Posted by Observer at 06:58 AM | Comments (2)

June 06, 2004

Homecoming

Two years ago before the 2002 season, when John Hart was signed on to be the General Manager of the Rangers, one of his first decisions was to let Rick Helling go. Helling was a guy the Rangers groomed through the minor leagues, traded for Florida for a spell as a player-to-be-named-later, then got back in a pitcher-for-pitcher trade for a lefty reliever. He pitched his heart out here. He wasn't great, not what you would call an ace, but he was a workhorse. His ERA was a barely respectable 5ish, and part of that was pitching a lot in this hitter-friendly park. Rarely did he pitch so poorly that the Rangers would be out of a game, and for Rangers starters, that's a bonus.

Helling would've stayed here for sort-of cheap compared to other similar free agents, but Hart was all hot and bothered to get a new superstar ace by the name of Chan Ho Park. Park had roughly the same numbers overall as Helling, only Park pitched in the National League in the most pitcher-friendly ballpark in the world (for the Dodgers). So I wasn't the only one whose jaw dropped in amazement as Park was handed a gigantic, embarrassing contract and Helling was allowed to walk to Arizona (he was later sent to Baltimore, then back to Florida where he got a little piece of the World Series last season ... did I mention he is 8-2 in post-season appearances, both starting and relieving?). It was a catastrophic moment in Ranger history, marking the beginning of three years of horrific basement-of-the-division baseball.

Helling couldn't get his act together over in the National League very well. He wanted to be back in Texas, where he had home and family, and he was clearly not happy where he was. Hart continued to ignore Helling going into this season, and the poor guy had to latch on to the Twins with a minor league contract, hoping to return to the majors. The Twins stuck him down in AA ball after he broke his ankle in spring training, and he didn't perform well. He finally had enough. On Tuesday, upon being promoted to AAA, Helling pitched a 4-hit shutout, then told the manager he was quitting the team. He said, "I didn't sign a contract to pitch in the minor leagues."

Well, Rick, actually ... you did, but that's ok. It's a good quote. And now the word on the street is that he's negotiating a comeback with the Rangers. This just as Chan Ho goes on the disabled list for the 25th time with back problems (actually, he's just got a case of the sucks, but they always say it is back problems), so we could use some starting pitching. The problem is that the Rangers are in youth mode this year, trying to get lots of young pitchers some innings, so I don't know if there's room for Helling in the rotation. I sure hope so. I would love to see the guy back at the ballpark pitching for the Rangers, especially if it starts to get competitive near the end of the year. I think he would really respond if given the opportunity. He's only 33, after all, and he could have many good years left.

Right now, the Rangers are planning to stick him in AAA for a while to see how bad he really wants to pitch for the major league club, and he's going to agree to it, I think. Now we just need Park to vanish, and there will be a spot for Helling, just like it should've been from the start. Hell, if we had signed Helling instead of Park in the first place, we would've had better pitching, a more lovable player, and maybe enough money leftover to afford more pitching. Which reminds me, all the players the Rangers are winning with right now (except Soriano and Kenny Rogers) are products of the previous GM, Doug Melvin. But now that the Rangers are having some success, there is talk of extending Hart's contract. Just goes to show what happens when a team is controlled by a brain-dead Bush-supporting crony like Tom Hicks.

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

June 05, 2004

You! Grovel!

Well, after a long and sad decline, former president Ronald Reagan died today. Here is a lengthy, informative, non-partisan and well-written obituary by one of his official biographers. Another very good article about Reagan's liberal legacy is here. If you want to read a good Reagan-bashing send-off, check out Steve Gilliard's obituary.

That little clicking sound you hear is Bush-supporters everywhere scouring the internet to find old Reagan-bashing quotes by Kerry so they can make the Moron-American feel like Kerry is dancing on Reagan's grave. They'll also quote various liberal trolls who will bash Reagan on blogs or in comments of blogs that are linked from Kerry's web page, and those quotes will be associated with Kerry, not just by them but also by the mainstream media.

If you don't think that Bush-supporters get most of their mileage out of victimhood (Bush already has the tears flowing as if he ever knew Reagan ... Bush spent the 1980's drunk or high or both), just watch how they focus all their energies on bashing anyone who questions Reagan's legacy (or refuses to sufficiently grovel) in the month to come. Watch your Sunday morning paper to see Reagan turned into a saint and the greatest of all presidents by your so-called liberal media. I can't wait to count how many times I hear that Reagan favored smaller government.

I'm sorry if I sound too cynical. I don't agree with much that Reagan did while he was president, especially not all the illegal stuff that he claimed not to know anything about. But he was president, and he had his good moments, and I do believe that he meant well. He had an ideology, and he spent decades pursuing it trying to make the country a better place. You've got to respect that. What I don't respect is the corrupt jackals who are looting the country and leading us to domestic and foreign disasters now in Reagan's name.

Posted by Observer at 08:34 PM | Comments (9)

Numeracy

I finished reading John Allen Paulos' "A Mathematician Plays the Stock Market", checked out from the library last week. Like his other books I've read (including his first book "Innumeracy" and a few others), this is one is fairly short and very interesting. Paulos mixes in a lot of stock market math with his own personal story of losing his shirt on WorldCom stock.

Along the way, he talks about Malkiel's famous "A Random Walk Down Wall Street" (which I mentioned here if you follow the link) as well as other approaches to investing. I always thought that stock prices follow a normal bell curve, and that the market was pretty efficient at pricing new information quickly, but Paulos has a nice argument that shows why the first assumption isn't quite right (meanwhile, he talks about other sets of data that have unusual distributions) and why the second assumption cannot possibly be right from a logical point of view. Still, unlike a lot of other books on the market, Paulos isn't here to give investing advice, but rather to simply discuss the underlying mathematics of the market, including subjects like technical analysis, insider trading, options, etc.

If you've ever done much stock trading (or stock-watching while you sit on a stock), this is a very good book to read, especially alongside Malkiel's. All my stock is currently in a growth fund as part of my retirement, so I'm not trading or watching the market much at all these days. I once bought some shares of Intel back in 1992 or so with a few thousand I got from my grandparents as a graduation gift (instead of giving me birthday presents, they had invested $100 in a savings account for me on every birthday). During the six years that followed, I watched it double four times. Although it was tempting to stay and try to wait for a fifth doubling, I decided to get out and put the money into a house. Though it went up another 30-40% after I sold, it then quickly dropped back down is now only worth about 6-8 times what I bought it for (instead of 16-20), where it has hovered for the past several years. I'm glad I quit while I was ahead. I don't plan to put that many eggs in one basket again, not after getting a little more knowledge of the market. It was beginner's luck.

Posted by Observer at 09:13 AM | Comments (1)

June 04, 2004

Trolling for Fools

Just read this please. I'll quote about half of it, but the whole thing is right on the money:

In less than a year, the morale of the occupying forces had sunk so low that murder, suicide, rape and sexual harassment became alarming statistics, and now the warriors of democracy--the emissaries of civilization--stand accused of every crime this side of cannibalism. Osama bin Laden has always anathematized America's culture, as well as its geopolitical influence. To him these atrocities are a sign of Allah's certain favor, a great moral victory, a vindication of his deepest anger and darkest crimes.

Where does it go from here? The nightmare misadventure in Iraq is over, beyond the reach of any reasonable argument, though many more body bags will be filled. In Washington, chicken hawks will still be squawking about "digging in" and winning, but Vietnam proved conclusively that no modern war of occupation would ever be won. Every occupation is doomed. The only way you "win" a war of occupation is the old-fashioned way, the way Rome finally defeated the Carthaginians: kill all the fighters, enslave everyone else, raze the cities and sow the fields with salt.

Otherwise the occupied people will fight you to the last peasant, and why shouldn't they? If our presidential election fails to dislodge the crazy bastards who annexed Baghdad, many of us in this country would welcome regime change by any intervention, human or divine. But if, say, the Chinese came in to rescue us--Operation American Freedom--how long would any of us, left-wing or right, put up with an occupying army teaching us Chinese-style democracy? A guerrilla who opposes an invading army on his own soil is not a terrorist, he's a resistance fighter. In Iraq we're not fighting enemies but making enemies. As Richard Clarke and others have observed, every dollar, bullet and American life that we spend in Iraq is one that's not being spent in the war on terrorism. Every Iraqi, every Muslim we kill or torture or humiliate is a precious shot of adrenaline for Osama and al Qaeda.

The irreducible truth is that the invasion of Iraq was the worst blunder, the most staggering miscarriage of judgment, the most fateful, egregious, deceitful abuse of power in the history of American foreign policy. If you don't believe it yet, just keep watching. Apologists strain to dismiss parallels with Vietnam, but the similarities are stunning. In every action our soldiers kill innocent civilians, and in every other action apparent innocents kill our soldiers--and there's never any way to sort them out. And now these acts of subhuman sadism, these little My Lais.

Since the defining moment of the Bush presidency, the preposterous flight-suit, Fox News-produced photo-op on the Abraham Lincoln in front of the banner that read "Mission Accomplished," the shaming truth is that everything has gone wrong. Just as it was bound to go wrong, as many of us predicted it would go wrong--if anything more hopelessly wrong than any of us would have dared to prophesy. Iraq is an epic train wreck, and there's not a single American citizen who's going to walk away unscathed.

The shame of this truth, of such a failure and so much deceit exposed, would have brought on mass resignations or votes of no confidence in any free country in the world. In Japan not long ago, there would have been ritual suicides, shamed officials disemboweling themselves with samurai swords. Yet up to this point--at least to the point where we see grinning soldiers taking pictures of each other over piles of naked Iraqis--neither the president, the vice president nor any of the individuals who urged and designed this debacle have resigned or been terminated--or even apologized. They have betrayed no familiarity with the concept of shame. [...]

I'm aware that there are voters--40 million?--who don't see it this way. I come from a family of veterans and commissioned officers; I understand patriots in wartime. If a spotted hyena stepped out of Air Force One wearing a baby-blue necktie, most Americans would salute and sing "Hail to the Chief." Cultivating these reliable patriots, President Bush cultivated his patriots by spending $46 million on media in the month of March alone. Somehow I'm on his mailing list. (Is that because my late father, with the same name, was a registered Republican, or can Bush afford to mail his picture to every American with an established address?) Twice a week I open an appeal for cash to crush John Kerry and the quisling liberal conspiracy, and now I own six gorgeous color photographs of the president and his wife. I'm sure some of my neighbors frame the president's color photographs, and fill those little blue envelopes he sends us with their hard-earned dollars.

I struggle against the suspicion that so many of my fellow Americans are conceptually challenged. I want to reason with my neighbors, I want to engage these lost Americans. What makes you angry, neighbor? What arouses your suspicions? Does it bother you that this administration made terrorism a low priority, dismissed key intelligence that might have prevented the 9-11 catastrophe, then exploited it to justify the pre-planned destruction of Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with al Qaeda? All this is no longer conjecture, but direct reportage from cabinet-level meetings by the turncoat insiders Richard Clarke and Paul O'Neill.

If the Pentagon ever thought Saddam had "weapons of mass destruction," it was only because the Pentagon gave them to him. As Kevin Phillips recounts in American Dynasty, officials of the Reagan and first Bush administrations eagerly supplied Saddam with arms while he was using chemical weapons on the Kurds. They twice sent Donald Rumsfeld to court Saddam, in 1983 and 1984, when the dictator was in the glorious prime of his monsterhood.

This scandal, concurrent with Iran-Contra, was briefly called "Iraqgate," and, yes, among the names of those officials implicated you'll find most of the engineers of our current foreign policy. (They also signaled their fractious client, Saddam, that it might be all right to overrun part of Kuwait; you remember what happened when he tried to swallow it all.) Does any of this trouble you? Does it worry you that Dick Cheney, as president of the nefarious Halliburton Corporation, sold Iraq $73 million in oilfield services between 1997 and 2000, even as he plotted with the Wolfowitz faction to whack Saddam? Or that Halliburton, with its CEO's seat still warm from Cheney's butt, was awarded unbid contracts worth up to $15 billion for the Iraq invasion, and currently earns a billion dollars a month from this bloody disaster? Not to mention its $27.4 million overcharge for our soldiers' food.

These are facts, not partisan rhetoric. Do any of them even make you restless? The cynical game these shape-shifters have been playing in the Middle East is too Byzantine to unravel in 1,000 pages of text. But the hypocrisy of the White House is palpable, and beggars belief. If there's one American who actually believes that Operation Iraqi Freedom was about democracy for the poor Iraqis, then you, my friend, are too dangerously stupid to be allowed near a voting booth.

Does it bother you even a little that the personal fortunes of all four Bush brothers, including the president and the governor, were acquired about a half step ahead of the district attorney, and that the royal family of Saudi Arabia invested $1.476 billion in those and other Bush family enterprises? Or, as Paul Krugman points out, that it's much easier to establish links between the Bush and bin Laden families than any between the bin Ladens and Saddam Hussein. Do you know about Ahmad Chalabi, the administration's favorite Iraqi and current agent in Baghdad, whose personal fortune was established when he embezzled several hundred million from his own bank in Jordan and fled to London to avoid 22 years at hard labor?

That's just a sampling from my haystack. Maybe I can reach you as an environmentalist, one who resents the gutting of key provisions in the Clean Air Act? My own Orange County, chiefly a rural area, was recently added to a national register of counties with dangerously polluted air. You say you vote for the president because you're a conservative. Are you sure? I thought conservatives believed in civil liberties, a weak federal executive, an inviolable Constitution, a balanced budget and an isolationist foreign policy. George Bush has an attorney general who drives the ACLU apoplectic and a vice president who demands more executive privilege (for his energy seances) than any elected official has ever received. The president wants a Constitutional amendment to protect marriage from homosexuals, of all things. Between tax cuts for his high-end supporters and three years playing God and Caesar in the Middle East, George Bush has simply emptied America's wallet, with a $480 billion federal deficit projected for 2004, and the tab on Iraq well over $100 billion and running.

"A lot of so-called conservatives today don't know what the word means," Barry Goldwater said in 1994, when the current cult of right-wing radicals and "neocons" had begun to define and assert themselves. Goldwater was my first political hero, before I was old enough to read his flaws. But his was the conservatism of the wolf--the lone wolf--and this is the conservatism of sheep.

All it takes to make a Bush conservative is a few slogans from talk radio and pickup truck bumpers, a sneer at "liberals" and maybe a name-dropping nod to Edmund Burke or John Locke, whom most of them have never read. Sheep and sheep only could be herded by a ludicrous but not harmless cretin like Rush Limbaugh, who has just compared the sexual abuse of Iraqi prisoners to "a college fraternity prank" (and who once called Chelsea Clinton "the family dog"--you don't have to worry about shame when you have no brain).

I don't think it's accurate to describe America as polarized between Democrats and Republicans, or between liberals and conservatives. It's polarized between the people who believe George Bush and the people who do not. Thanks to some contested ballots in a state governed by the president's brother, a once-proud country has been delivered into the hands of liars, thugs, bullies, fanatics and thieves. The world pities or despises us, even as it fears us. What this election will test is the power of money and media to fool us, to obscure the truth and alter the obvious, to hide a great crime against the public trust under a blood-soaked flag. The most lavishly funded, most cynical, most sophisticated political campaign in human history will be out trolling for fools. I pray to God it doesn't catch you.

Thanks to The Sideshow and Progressive Gold for the pointer.

Posted by Observer at 04:07 PM | Comments (0)

June 03, 2004

Gore Speaks Out

It's too much to quote, but you just have to go read the last two Daily Howlers by Bob Somerby about Gore's recent speech. Basically, Somerby points out that even though Gore gave a pretty measured, slow tempo critique of the war (except for the part where he called for a few resignations), a lot of pundits are comparing Gore to Howard Dean, saying he was yelling, red-faced, etc. when he clearly wasn't in the speech. No matter, they are (AGAIN) trying to discredit what Gore is talking about by trumping up some personality flaw (hey, at least he didn't *sigh* this time).

Somerby also points out that Gore gave another important speech a couple of years ago in the run-up to the Iraq war. He wondered aloud what the plan was for post-Saddam Iraq, he wondered why Bush was in such a hurry for Congress to vote on giving him the authority to invade, he wondered if we were going to drop the ball in Afghanistan by diverting forces to Iraq. You know, all the kinds of questions people are seriously realizing now are important. Guess what the mainstream media's reaction to Gore's speech of two years ago was?

Do I really have to tell you? Go read the Howler and ask yourself just how much better off this country would be with Al Gore as its president.

Posted by Observer at 06:13 PM | Comments (0)

June 02, 2004

Priorities

I remember a couple of years ago when Congress was considering creating the Department of Homeland Security. There was a provision in the bill that basically screwed over labor unions and said any kind of union activity was going to be disallowed in the new agency. Senate Democrats tried to have the provision removed, and they were essentially accused of treason, of holding up a bill that was incredibly vital to national security (even though Bush was against it for a while and then flip-flopped)

Of course, some others tried to put in a provision to provide at least a little bit of protection for American workers, saying that the agency couldn't do business with companies that use offshore islands to avoid paying their taxes. Makes sense in a patriotic way, but that got in the way of Bush's cronies who don't give a goddamn about this country when the chips are down. Now Bush is paying them off, providing a multi-million dollar contract to Accenture, which of course is headquartered offshore. And so the Circle of Life continues in all its glory.

Now Bush has said that he thinks the "Bermuda" loophole should be closed, but he has actively worked in favor of the loophole behind the scences. So you be the judge. Is it a flip-flop or just a blatant lie? If you don't already believe that this is the most corrupt administration since at least the 1920's, you either aren't paying attention or you have a serious personality disorder.

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

June 01, 2004

Shoot the Messenger

Very good Tom Tomorrow online now. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, the right wing nutballs continue to "work the refs" complaining that the media is hopelessly liberally biased, unpatriotic, seditious, etc. There was a letter in the local paper this morning calling for the complete shutdown of "The New York Times" for its anti-war reporting. Good god, man, I was thinking, that's the paper that put the fake WMD evidence on the front page! Not conservative enough? It just goes to show how far through the looking glass many Bush supporters are these days. You just can't have a serious political discussion with these people.

Man: Gosh -- I want to sustain my unquestioning support for the war --

Woman: But the news from Iraq is so depressing!

Sparky: Don't despair, citizens!

Man: Why, it's Sparky the Republican Penguin! Sparky -- how can we stay upbeat when things are going so badly?

Sparky: Easy! Blame everything on the people who tell you that things are going badly! For instance -- whose fault do you think it is that the Abu Ghraib torture photos have inflamed anti-American sentiment worldwide?

Man: Uh -- the torturers?

Woman: Their commanders?

Sparky: Wrong!! It's the news media's fault -- for publishing those photos!

Man: I see! So we shouldn't blame the chaos in Iraq on the Bush administration -- but rather, on the media which report the chaos!

Sparky: Exactly! If they didn't tell us -- we'd never know! And a few years from now, when we're trying to figure out who's responsible for our humiliating defeat -- rather than pointing the finger on Donald Rumsfeld, or Condi Rice, or Paul Wolfowitz--?

Man: Oh -- I know -- we'll blame it all on Michael Moore!!

Woman: And the anti-war protesters!

Sparky: My work here is done.

Indeed.

Posted by Observer at 04:12 PM | Comments (0)