September 30, 2004

Questions You Won't See

Time for Flight-Suit Georgie to Cram for the Debate!

Stealing some ideas from Eric Alterman's astute letter writers, here are some (slightly edited) questions for President Bush. These are questions that would be asked by a competent, let alone liberal, media:

1) Mr. President, you've accused John Kerry of being on indecisive on issues.  But you yourself have changed your opinion on issues including the establishment of a cabinet level homeland security department, an independent 9/11 commission, steel tarrifs, same-sex marriage, nation building, campaign finance reform and more.  What's the difference between being indecisive, and changing your mind?

2) Mr. President--in October 2002 you said the Iraq resolution was a vote for peace.  Now you're saying it was a vote for war.  Which was it?  Is John Kerry really the one who's been flip-flopping on this issue?

3) Mr. President, in planning for the war in Iraq, you and your advisers rejected military advisers' predictions of the insurgency and advance plans for heading it off that they offered, choosing instead to go with your ideology that bringing down Saddam would create a situation ripe for democratic development. If you are re-elected and again find it necessary to implement a military strategy somewhere, will that strategy be based on ideology, or on expert analysis from military leaders?

4) In the interest of national security, why didn't you take immediate action to find out who in the White House gave reporter Bob Novak the name of a covert CIA operative for use in a column?

5) Seedy question time: Have you ever used cocaine? Have you ever arranged for someone to have an abortion? How many times have you been arrested, and what were the charges?

6) Mr President, it is widely suspected that many of the horrific beheadings we have seen are attributed to Abu Musab Zarqawi. Why then, in 2002 and 2003, when you had no less than three chances to attack Abu Musab Zarqawi in Iraq, did you refuse to attack him and his base against the recommendations of the Pentagon?

7) Did you or did you not personally order the April 2004 offensive against Fallujah and did you or did you not personally order the offensive stopped?

8) You have presided over two of the worst intelligence failures in history, your Sec of Defense failed to plan for the occupation of Iraq, your White House staff committed a federal offense in 'outing' a CIA agent, your budget team lied to the US Congress about the cost of your Medicare bill, why, Mr. President, has no one lost their job in your administration?

9) As Commander in Chief, what are the present military goals in Iraq, how will they be achieved, and how many casualties can we expect as a result?

10) Sir, you said that knowing what you know now you would have still gone to war in Iraq. Let's pretend it is February of 2003 and you are about to deliver your address to the nation on the eve of the Iraq war. This time you know there won't be any WMD to find in Iraq and no significant Al Qaida links or 9-11 links to Saddam. What would you say to the American people to convince them we need to go to war?

Will anything remotely like these questions be asked? Oh maybe, in a very milquetoast format that is easy to squirm out of. Will any of these questions be answered. Nope. We'll get a bunch of shit about "We're making the world safer. We're making Iraq safer. Saddam Hussein was an evil man, and he needed to be stopped." Actually, no, the world is more dangerous. Iraq is a lot more dangerous, especially for our troops. As Atrios asked: Iraq has become the flypaper for whom?

Yes, it's good that Saddam is gone. Was it worth the cost? What else could've been done with all those lives and all that money to make the world a better place? Kerry's got a lot of good answers to that question, if anyone bothers to listen.

Posted by Observer at 09:10 AM | Comments (3)

September 29, 2004

Your Smile Is a Thin Disguise

#1 Rule of Holes: Stop Digging.

Time for some exceptions to the rule. Instead of carrying the Bush administration's water on Iraq, which most papers and TV news programs seem to be doing, the Washington Post has a front page story on the reality in Iraq. Bush can go on and on about how we're "turning the corner". He can trot out his puppet Allawi to parrot RNC talking points. He can go on ignoring the dead and the wounded flowing back from over there.

And most of the media will play right along. They'll spend the day wondering if Cynthia Nixon has been a lesbian for all these years (that generated an entire front page of the New York Post). Or they'll talk about how stupid Dan Rather was (hey, at least he apologized and admitted he was wrong ... Bush could only hope to match such an ideal). Or the latest Britney Spears wedding.

Every once in a while, though, the media actually reports what the hell is going on Iraq:

A growing number of career professionals within national security agencies believe that the situation in Iraq is much worse, and the path to success much more tenuous, than is being expressed in public by top Bush administration officials, according to former and current government officials and assessments over the past year by intelligence officials at the CIA and the departments of State and Defense.

While President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and others have delivered optimistic public appraisals, officials who fight the Iraqi insurgency and study it at the CIA and the State Department and within the Army officer corps believe the rebellion is deeper and more widespread than is being publicly acknowledged, officials say.

People at the CIA "are mad at the policy in Iraq because it's a disaster, and they're digging the hole deeper and deeper and deeper," said one former intelligence officer who maintains contact with CIA officials. "There's no obvious way to fix it. The best we can hope for is a semi-failed state hobbling along with terrorists and a succession of weak governments."

"Things are definitely not improving," said one U.S. government official who reads the intelligence analyses on Iraq.

"It is getting worse," agreed an Army staff officer who served in Iraq and stays in touch with comrades in Baghdad through e-mail. "It just seems there is a lot of pessimism flowing out of theater now. There are things going on that are unbelievable to me. They have infiltrators conducting attacks in the Green Zone. That was not the case a year ago."

Powell's admission and Abizaid's sobering warning came days after the public disclosure of a National Intelligence Council (NIC) assessment, completed in July, that gave a dramatically different outlook than the administration's and represented a consensus at the CIA and the State and Defense departments.

In the best-case scenario, the NIC said, Iraq could be expected to achieve a "tenuous stability" over the next 18 months. In the worst case, it could dissolve into civil war.

The July assessment was similar to one produced before the war and another in late 2003 that also were more pessimistic in tone than the administration's portrayal of the resistance to the U.S. occupation, according to senior administration officials. "All say they expect things to get worse," one former official said.

One official involved in evaluating the July document said the NIC, which advises the director of central intelligence, decided not to include a more rosy scenario "because it looked so unreal."

This isn't just some anonymous source reporting on problems in Iraq. This is a document prepared by our own intelligence agencies which jibes closely with what seems to be going on from what little I can see coming out of Iraq. The security situation is horrible. The insurgency is getting worse every day. The casualty count is growing at a faster rate.

Of course, the response by most conservatives is ... wait for it ... yes, they're attacking the messenger, of course, while they go on saying, "Who are you going to believe? Me or your lyin' eyes?"

This week, conservative columnist Robert D. Novak criticized the CIA and Paul Pillar, a national intelligence officer on the NIC who supervised the preparation of the assessment. Novak said comments Pillar made about Iraq during a private dinner in California showed that he and others at the CIA are at war with the president. Recent and current intelligence officials interviewed over the last two days dispute that view.

"Pillar is the ultimate professional," said Daniel Byman, an intelligence expert and Georgetown University professor who has worked with Pillar. "If anything, he's too soft-spoken."

"I'm not surprised if people in the administration were put on the defensive," said one CIA official, who like many others interviewed would speak only anonymously, either because they don't have official authorization to speak or because they worry about ramifications of criticizing top administration officials. "We weren't trying to make them look bad, we're just trying to give them information. Of course, we're telling them something they don't want to hear."

Did you have any doubt they would attack the messenger? Whenever there is legitimate criticism of this administration, the first response is to attack the critic or the media (or both). They never admit problems, never admit mistakes, just keep on forging ahead with the same stupid reactionary bullshit policies (see Fallujah for a prime example). They just keep digging the hole deeper and deeper.

Reports from Iraq have made one Army staff officer question whether adequate progress is being made there.

"They keep telling us that Iraqi security forces are the exit strategy, but what I hear from the ground is that they aren't working," he said. "There's a feeling that Iraqi security forces are in cahoots with the insurgents and the general public to get the occupiers out."

He added: "I hope I'm wrong."

As they say, hope is not a plan.

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

September 28, 2004

One DVD to Rule Them All

Saruman's Evil Plan to Make Me Buy the LoTR
DVD's Multiple Times Is Coming to Fruition

I knew it. I freakin' knew it. I knew that even if I bought the special editions of each of the LoTR DVD's individually that there would eventually be another edition of all three movies that was even better. USA Today confirms my darkest fears:

New Line and director Peter Jackson have hinted at an ultimate Lord of the Rings trilogy DVD package constructed by Jackson. But that would be at least three years away. Jackson is busy for now with his remake of King Kong, due in theaters in December 2005.

Oh well, at least we get some news about the added 50 minutes or so that will be in the extended "Return of the King", which will be out December 14:

Among the added scenes:

• Gandalf (Ian McKellen) confronts evil wizard Saruman (Christopher Lee) after the destruction of Isengard. Lee's scene was cut from the theatrical version.

• After his crazed father nearly burns him alive, Faramir (David Wenham) and Eowyn (Miranda Otto) share an emotional scene in the Houses of Healing, a Middle-earth style hospital.

• Director Peter Jackson's cameo as a character on a pirate ship is longer. His character is killed by an arrow that is misfired by Legolas (Orlando Bloom).

I hope they give some quality time to the cleansing of the shire, because that was the gaping hole (to me) in the third movie.

Posted by Observer at 08:35 PM | Comments (8)

Foosball Is the Devil!

Despite Eddie George's Continuing Mediocrity,
the Cowboys Managed to Beat Washington Again.

Here's what's weird about the Cowboys, and this goes back to when Parcells started coaching here. We can't seem to win pretty. Every time we win (and the two wins so far this season are perfect examples), the games are just ugly. We make mistakes, they make mistakes, we look incompetent, they look worse, but somehow we crawl out of the slime with a victory (we won 21-18 over Washington last night). Maybe that's just the Parcells way, but it's not nearly as fun to win these days as it was during the Jimmy Johnson era. Maybe that's good old days syndrome.

Last night's game was not a very fun watching experience (relative to most Cowboys games), and that's largely because of the refs and instant replay. I feel really sorry for any refs working a Monday Night game, because those poor guys are going to make a call and then the nation will scrutinize their call from about 25 different angles thanks to all the cameras they have there. What was funny was that none of the challenges last night were successful (and none of them should've been), but there were a ton of blown calls.

Hell, there are a ton of blown calls every game, but you usually don't know it as certainly as on Monday night. The Cowboys' first touchdown was a disgrace, set up as it was by an offensive pass interference penalty than was called on the defense. The Redskins got some breaks, too, on spots of the ball and a couple of interference non-calls, but nothing like that. And the Cowboys got a non-call on an end-zone pass that would've been big for the Redskins had they caught it.

In the end, there are a lot of things you can point to that made a difference in a three-point game. One of the few non-ref-related things was the great goal-line stand Dallas made in the 2nd quarter after Washington had driven it all the way down the field in about 15 plays. Ok, maybe Washington's drive should've ended after 4-5 plays when the receiver was clearly down by contact short of the first-down marker, but they had some make-up calls coming, so whatever. Washington ended up with 1st and goal on the 1 with two minutes left in the half, and they couldn't put it in. So we went up at the half 7-3, and after that both teams scored two touchdowns in the 2nd half.

I was glad to see the Cowboys score more than 20 points (despite Eddie George getting 19 yards on 11 carries ... someone please put him out to pasture), but one thing that just frustrates the holy hell out of me (and is going to just murder us when we eventually play the Eagles) is that we can't seem to handle a freakin' blitz. It has been years since we made teams properly pay for blitzing our QB. As an offensive passing team, we should *want* teams to blitz us so that the occasional deep ball opens up due to man-to-man coverage. But we can't seem to pick everyone up for that second or two necessary.

Oh well, a win is a win, and now we have a bye week. We're headed for another year where is looks like we might just barely make the playoffs again, but then we will be quickly shown (like in the Minnesota game) that we just don't belong there.

Another team that doesn't belong in the playoffs, unfortunately, is the Rangers. I had inklings last week that they were going to be a repeat of the '95 M's with all the magic finishes, but they've now lost three of their last four. In two of those games, they had clear chances to come back in the ninth, and they blew it. Last night (caught this at halftime), they were down two runs in the bottom of the ninth and got the bases loaded with no outs thanks to three straight hits to open the inning. But two weak-ass pop-ups and a strikeout, and it was over.

The Rangers are three games out with six to play, and they're two games behind the Angels. They have to win out and hope the Angels proceed to sweep the A's to close the season, and then they'd win the division. Neither is likely to happen, so we are back on the statistical bubble, out at 5-6 sigma. Next year, maybe we'll get some decent starting pitching. Of course, Ranger fans say that every season, but it is nice to get to wait until late September to say it instead of the usual early August.

Posted by Observer at 07:20 AM | Comments (1)

September 27, 2004

History Lesson

Trolls: Vital Members of the Blog Ecosystem
Or Worthless Electron Wasters? I Report. You Decide.

Yesterday's ridiculously long comment war made me realize that some people clearly need a history lesson. You see, I am apparently "in the wrong" because I have banned a certain troll (Doc) from my site. The original "debate" I had with Doc actually kick-started my idea of a series of "Stupid Conservative Myths" that I still have linked over in the sidebar, so you can see for yourself where all this started (see #1 and #3 especially).

He had posted to his blog one of those endlessly forwarded lists that purported to show why liberals are stupid or something. Well, I offered to debate him on each of the issues in the list, one at a time. He promised me that I would be "overwhelmed by his facts and arguments", so I looked forward to the challenge. I began posting my responses to his myths, one by one, but I never got a substantive response to anything. No facts. No evidence. No logic. Just a bunch of insults.

Doc quickly made the leap from childish I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I comments into irrational madness (and, it was later explained to me, alcohol-induced rage). It wasn't more than a week, I don't think, before he was threatening my life, promising me he would fly down here and kill me. That was back when this blog was hosted by Chuck, who feels that my political opinions could be easily countered by your average two year old. Now, you must understand that when Chuck throws around comments like that, he is being tongue-in-cheek. When I do it, it is profoundly insulting and willfully antagonizing my enemies.

Well, this troll tried to get his friend, Chuck, to shut down my blog. Chuck rightly refused (to his credit), but apparently, to this day, Chuck still thinks that *I* tried to get *Doc's* blog shut down. I guess there's no way to prove my point unless Chuck wants to produce the email in which I asked for this and prove me wrong.

Anyhoo, the troll eventually sent me an apology (and I think he waited a whole week after that to insult me again online), but then he later claimed that he didn't make some of those threats, that someone must've been impersonating him. Well, the IP address of that "imposter" was from a company called Hannaford Bros. in Maine (where Doc and Chuck live). When I pointed out this interesting little coinky-dink, Chuck told me he would "take care of it quietly" and would try to talk some sense into Doc. My timeline on that is a little hazy. Chuck may have told me he would take care of it before I pointed out the IP problems and Doc's denials. Either way, nothing was ever made of it by me or Chuck to my knowledge.

Just as an ironic aside, I actually commented on Doc's blog about this a while back when he made a little noise about how unfair it was that I banned him. I mentioned the "IP address of the imposter" evidence I had in a comment on his blog, and wouldn't ya know it! That comment got deleted! And I know of many relevant, non-spam comments (by me and others) that have been deleted from Chuck's hierarchy of blogs (sometimes for reasons I completely agreed with, to be sure). I know, I know. Hard to believe that two paragons of free speech like Doc or Chuck might be involved in something like that, but it's a strange world we live in. And hey, I'm not criticizing. Just recounting a little history.

Around the same time (all this happened over the space of a couple of months, I believe), my wife and I decided on a three-step approach to the problem. First, we decided not to pursue any legal options, and we certainly had legitimate options there. We felt kinda sorry for the guy and figured we'd leave him alone since he's such a good friend of Chuck, even though Chuck never asked us to do anything like that. Second, we decided to move our blog to our own space just so Doc would quit harassing Chuck, trying to get him to shut down our blogs. We moved for other reasons, too. Third, we decided to bar Doc from our blogs just so that we would be out-of-sight, out-of-mind for him and he wouldn't have the temptation to repeat his mistake.

That was our mistake, apparently, trying to be reasonable and help defuse the situation. Months later, I come to find out that I am "censoring" Doc because I'm some sort of "cowardly liberal", afraid to face Doc's stinging criticism. Even Chuck thinks this, and he knows the whole history (or so I thought ... maybe he's getting feeble-minded from having all those kids running around ... it sure happens to me). I'm apparently guilty of stifling legitimate debate by denying this troll access to my blog. This, despite the fact that I occasionally link to him which I think is a generous gesture on my part ... if the guy wants to respond to me bashing him, he can do it in his own space and I'll point to it if he says something even mildly relevant, interesting or original. I link to him so that my ten readers (hey, I'm an optimist) will have ample opportunity to expose themselves to his high quality opinions and/or entertaining drunken rants.

And so I am left with a quandry regarding trolls that many other bloggers have already faced: Ban them or let them speak for themselves? Personally, I feel like this is my blog written for me, and if someone is going to come on here and act like a third grader with access to guns, then I can ban him. I think the ethics on that are pretty clear-cut. I totally appreciate and support his right to express his opinion in his own space.

He has long since proven that when the chips are down and it is time to put up or shut up with a serious political debate, he will run like the moral coward that he is. You can read the "Stupid Conservative Myths" series comments for yourself and see what I mean (some of the other death threats Doc made when my blog was hosted by Chuck were subsequently deleted by Chuck in what I guess now was a fit of cowardly anti-free-speech hysteria, so I don't have everything online, but I did save the email records of those comments). I do not intend to try to seriously engage Doc in debate again. As the Boy King says, "Fool me once, shame on -- shame on you. Fool me -- you can't get fooled again."

If there's some part of this history that is incorrect, I imagine that Chuck will temporarily abandon his incredibly valuable family time so that he can set the record straight in comments. Either that, or he'll just insult me a bunch of times in return for my jabs at him, continuing our time-honored tradition of huffing and puffing at one another. I have honestly tried my best to remember and reconstruct all of this, but I didn't want to spend hours going through every single old email. I may have missed a few details or gotten some times mixed up. If so, my sincere apologies, especially if I have omitted anything that would slant the story more against me. I'm really trying hard to be complete and fair here. Gratuitously insulting, sure, but fair.

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

September 26, 2004

Media Priorities

"But Rush Told Me the Media's Librul!"

Via Atrios comes this great essay about liberal media bias in the San Francisco Chronicle. I'll quote it verbatim because God forbid I try to paraphrase or interpret any of it. That might lead to an original insight or take the discussion further in the direction of a potential resolution where some common ground is discovered! :)

If ever a story should destroy the myth of liberal media bias, it is the flap over Dan Rather's flub. For CBS, the admission that it cannot verify the authenticity of documents used in a story about President Bush's National Guard service is a serious matter to be sure. People should probably be fired.

But the real and long-lasting lesson of this story lies in the amount of attention being paid to the apology, particularly in relation to another recent case of grievous media error.

Just four months ago, lest we forget, the New York Times issued its own mea culpa, acknowledging the repeated use of dubious information in its coverage of the run-up to the Iraq War and the Bush administration's repeated assertions that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. In the case of one story, the Times flat-out said it was duped, although it used the more decorous phrase "taken in."

The two media apologies have a lot in common. In both cases, the issues involved have major implications for the presidential campaign. In both cases, a well-known national news organization admitted sloppy reporting and acknowledged that critical information could not be verified. In both cases, reporters were overly credulous in dealing with sources who had a political interest at stake -- in the CBS case the former Guardsman who is a vehement Bush opponent, in the New York Times case the Bush administration officials defending the president's decision to attack Iraq.

The critical difference between the two stories is that the Times' mistake was actually the far more serious of the two. The suspect stories touched on a more substantive topic -- the reasons for sending American soldiers to fight and die rather than the service record of a single lieutenant three decades ago -- and the journalistic failures were more prolonged and repeated, involving multiple stories over a period of months rather than a single story on a single day.

Yet against all logic, the CBS mea culpa is getting much more ink and air time than the New York Times case. The Times itself is one example. The paper ran its own apology on Page 10, but, perhaps drunk on schadenfreude, played the CBS confession above the fold on the front page. Other papers showed similar judgment. The Los Angeles Times put the New York paper's goof on Page 10, the CBS one on the front page. Sad to say, The Chronicle did much the same thing: The Times story was reported on Page 2 in an unsigned note "to the readers;" the CBS gaffe merited two stories on Page 1.

Why? The answer lies in the political impact of each issue, and reveals much about political coverage in the mainstream media. The Times' apology, by acknowledging the flaws of the administration's claims, hurt President Bush. The CBS apology obviously helped him, casting a pall of doubt over the entire issue of whether young Lt. Bush did his duty during the Vietnam War. The difference in play given to each of the two apologies is only the latest evidence of a growing, and yet little remarked, conservative media bias.

I do not suggest that conservative apparatchiks crashed news meetings around the country and demanded front-page play for the CBS story. But I do suggest that as the country's political spectrum has become ever more conservative -- dragged "to the right, to the right, farther to the right," as Tom Frank puts it in his brilliant new book, "What's the Matter With Kansas?'' -- media organizations have shifted, too.

For one thing, mainstream media organizations are always in search of viewers and readers, and it's a solidly conservative country. Republicans have won six of the last nine presidential elections. They hold majorities in both houses of Congress and on the Supreme Court. They dominate the business establishment. Newspapers and television stations across the country are competing for the same viewers and readers that have pushed Fox News' audience past CNN's and made the Wall Street Journal one of the largest newspapers in the country.

Second, the conservative movement's hallelujah chorus among overtly partisan media outlets -- Fox News and talk radio are the prime examples -- has amplified the traditional right-wing charge that journalists are all participants in a grand liberal conspiracy. The ironic result is that journalism has become hyper-sensitized to conservative criticism, and, in the guise of trying to be fair, leans farther and farther to the right.

So when a major news organization admits it may have been duped by one source on one story that was critical of President Bush, it's front-page news across the country. But when another news organization admits it repeatedly botched a crucial story of national security, the apology that damages the president's credibility is little-noted and soon forgotten.

If that's liberal media bias, conservatives should want more of it.

You understand, of course, that your typical conservative will just glance right through this, hardly reading a word after the first sentence. After all, there is great danger in exposing yourself to other ideas that might not agree with your preconceived Rush-channelled thoughts on the matter. You see, there was this story, remember, that said this huge majority of working journalists are liberal, and that proves the case there, end of the discussion, right?

Well, yeah, except that all the editors, publishers and owners tilt to the conservative side, and they control the overall bias of the paper. And except for the countless examples like this I continue to bring up. If you think there's still a liberal media bias, I hereby assign you the task of keeping up with Eric Alterman's blog and Bob Somerby's excellent "Daily Howler" for a few weeks. You can't seriously understand a liberal's case against this assertion unless you actually read through the arguments.

I was about to recommend a couple of books, too, but then I remembered to whom I am addressing these comments. Ok ok, sorry, that was gratuitous. I'm just feeling snarky today, can't imagine why. :)

Posted by Observer at 04:28 PM | Comments (0)

September 25, 2004

The Experiment Begins

This May Look More Like a Target Than a Political Ad
To Many of My Neighbors.

We got some Kerry gear in the mail today that I ordered last week. We got a yard sign and a bumper sticker for each car. The yard sign didn't come with a stick, and we don't want to put it out in the yard anyway. Kerry signs are getting torn down right and left across the city, if letters to the editor in the newspaper are any indication, and I don't want to put one up just to lose it. So we taped it to the interior of our fairly visible front window. I hope it doesn't invite a rock.

I put bumper stickers in the back windows of both cars, too. We'll see if that turns people into assholes around us. I told Michelle I'd bet good money that between now and the election, one of us gets vandalized (keyed or something) as a result. There are just too many delusional, self-righteous assholes in the world, looking to spread their own personal word like a dog peeing on every tree on the block.

I hope I'm wrong. It's worth it either way, because people need to know down here that not everyone is an idiot. I know I get a little pick-me-up every time I see a Kerry sign. We are so inundated with Bush-centric media in Texas (not to mention CNN, Fox, MSNBC, etc.) and loudmouth Bush supporters, it's almost a bunker mentality for us liberals. That's how conservatives like it, too. Fuck 'em.

Posted by Observer at 06:02 PM | Comments (22)

September 24, 2004

I Have You Now

If I Had to Pick a Single Favorite Moment
in All Three Movies, It Has to Be This One.

In order to keep up with the proverbial Joneses, I am feeling more and more compelled to go out and drop 43 bucks on the Star Wars DVD trilogy at Costco. I read more about it today (stupid stupid stupid, that's no way to maintain self control) and found out about how clean it looks, how great it sounds, etc. And of course, it is hard to resist the sneak-peek at Episode III DVD.

This is one DVD that is going to make me wish we had a super-duper surround sound system. I suppose I could hook up my fancy boom-box to the TV, but it's so much trouble. Ooo, maybe I'll hook up the laptop to the boombox and watch it on there. The laptop I have at work has a very nice DVD player on it, but it's a small screen, of course.

Look at me, already assuming I'm going to get it. Oh well, I'm very lucky I have such an understanding wife. I'm sure she'll understand if I also come home with a few 12-packs of Mike's and maybe a Cheesecake Factory cheesecake, right? I also found out today that the super edition of Return of the King comes out December 14. I'll be amazed if Michelle and I can last the 11 days until Xmas before one of us gifts it to the other and we pop it in the player.

Posted by Observer at 09:52 PM | Comments (6)

What It's About

Posted by Observer at 08:38 AM | Comments (2)

September 23, 2004

Funny Feeling...

Yogi Says, "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over."

The Rangers are demonstrating the difference between statistical and mathematical elimination. They were 5 games out with 13 to play on Monday. Two teams (Anaheim and Oakland) were in front of them. Anaheim was headed to play Seattle, which has been stinking it up this year, and Oakland was coming to Texas for three games. This is the same Oakland team that the Rangers managed to split with a week ago and the same Oakland team that took six of seven from Texas shortly after the break, knocking Texas out of first place convincingly. Their top three starters were facing us: Mulder, Zito and Hudson.

I once rooted for another team that was statistically out of it, and that was the '95 Mariners that came back from something like 11 or 12 games back in August to catch the Angels. They beat Anaheim in a one-game playoff 9-1, and I was there for it. It was really a magical season, with lots of amazing games. Down three runs in the bottom of the ninth? BANG. Get out the rye bread and the mustard, grandma, it's a grand salami (by Tino Martinez). The M's were winning games like that right and left.

But it wasn't enough. They got down to the Yankees in the divisional playoffs two games to none on the road. They had to win three in a row at home to win the best-of-five series. They won the first two, so it was tied two-two. Some friends of mine had tickets for game five, but they were emotionally and phyiscally exhausted from the first two (it is quite a rush to go to a baseball game and find the atmosphere and the game so exciting that you are literally weak afterwards).

They figured they couldn't go, because they didn't have the energy to cheer for them. Plus if Seattle won anyway, they would want to be fresh for the league championship series. So I got to go. And I got to see the Yanks go up by a run in the top of the 11th. Then in the bottom of the 11th, Joey Cora drag bunted himself to first base, then Griffey got a single, then Edgar came up and smashed a double down the left field line. Cora scored, Griffey came sprinting around to score, and the place erupted because we had just beaten the Yankees.

I say all that because I get the same feeling about this Rangers team. Earlier this season, they came back from 10 runs down to win a game 17-16. They've been winning all season long when they weren't supposed to. Hell, even the game the kids went to with the grandparents, the Rangers came back and won in the ninth with a grand slam to complete a sweep of the Blue Jays.

Today, Texas was down 4-2 going into the bottom of the ninth, already having won the first two games of the series. A's reliever Dotel (14 out of his last 15 save opportunities) came in to pitch. He got one out, then Blalock smacked a solo homer after a 12-pitch at bat which must've worn out Dotel. Next up was Michael Young who doubled, then an intentional walk to our best hitter, Texeira (who walked five times today, I'm so proud of him). Brian Jordan was fast enough to avoid hitting into a double play when he grounded out to second.

So we had runners on first and third with 2 outs, down one run in the bottom of the ninth. At the plate, 0 for his last 23, is David Delucci. He belts a double down the right field line maybe 2 inches beyond the outstretched glove of Jermaine Dye (who in retrospect should've known he wasn't going to catch it and instead cut it off, but oh well). It went to the wall, and it allowed Jordan to come all the way around from first base to score and win the game. I was screaming with excitement watching it on TV. We all were.

Michelle is the lucky charm, I think, though I know she'll shudder to think that. She has watched maybe three innings of baseball all season long. The first was a game back in June when we were tied going into the bottom of the 18th inning against the Mariners. I didn't even realize the game was on until I saw the scoreboard online. So I ran in to turn on the TV, and not ten seconds later, Soriano hit a two-run homer to win it.

Then she watched the grand slam end the game that the boys were at. We were trying to spot them on TV, and she sat down to watch the end of it. Another win. And then today I was watching pretty much the whole game, and Michelle came in to the living room and sat down at the beginning of the Ranger half of the ninth. And we won. Spooky.


Two games out with 10 to play. 2 series against Seattle (who we've beaten regularly this season, but they're playing well now, rallying around Ichiro who is going after the hits record) and a series against Anaheim. I still stick with what I said earlier that we really can't afford to lose more than 2 games the rest of the way. We're climbing up the slope of the probability curve now, moving from four or five sigma territory into one or two sigma. Still improbable, but this season just feels special.

And if they make the playoffs, I think the hot streak just might carry over. I sure hope so.

Posted by Observer at 05:49 PM | Comments (8)

September 22, 2004

The Hardest Word

Posted by Observer at 10:39 PM | Comments (0)

Media Watchdogs

Brit Hume of Fox News Plays Footsie with the Boy King
Image courtesy of Bartcop.

Via Atrios (you *are* keeping up with Atrios during this political season, right?), Gene Lyons provides some important perspective on the latest blunders committed by CBS and the rest of the so-called liberal media:

CBS bungled big time. But what made the suspect documents persuasive was that, whether it was 1972 or last month, whoever wrote them knew the details of the "Mission Accomplished" flyboy’s long ago vanishing act—facts unearthed not only by CBS, but The Boston Globe, New York Times, USA Today and Salon. The White House hasn’t disputed their content. [...]

The SCLM’s piling on CBS has been something to see. I hold no brief for Dan Rather, but every journalist has been hornswoggled by sources. But that’s the beauty of the "liberal media bias" trope. We live in the aftermath of three of the most egregious press failures in American history: the Whitewater hoax, the Washington press clique’s "war on Gore" during the 2000 election and its disgraceful parroting of Bush’s Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction" propaganda.

All three benefited the Republican right. All were perpetrated not by Rush Limbaugh and The Washington Times, although they did their best, but by The New York Times, The Washington Post and the major broadcast networks. Each involved ethical and professional lapses far worse than CBS’ recent screw-up ; to my knowledge, none of the perpetrators has paid any price whatsoever. It just doesn’t happen.

Three personal examples:

I saw pundit Andrew Sullivan on CNN clucking over CBS’ mistakes. In 1994, when Sullivan edited The New Republic, it ran a cover story accusing Bill Clinton of corruptly enriching his wife’s law firm by changing Arkansas usury laws as governor. In fact, the deed was done by public referendum under Clinton’s Republican predecessor.

On Dec. 19, 1995, ABC News’ "Nightline" aired a deceptively edited video clip of a Hillary Clinton press conference about Whitewater. It accused her of lying about the very information electronically deleted from her remarks. No consequences followed.

On May 4, 1996, The New York Times published an article with a deceptive Associated Press byline stating that an FBI agent’s trial testimony described a $50,000 windfall to Whitewater from an illegal loan. As the actual AP article stipulated, the agent gave no such testimony. Many accusatory editorials and columns followed, helping Kenneth Starr to prolong his fruitless investigation of Bill Clinton’s finances for years. The Times has never acknowledged its blunder.

See Atrios' post for more detail on the Hillary story. Truly amazing. All these ConservaBorg are so busy patting themselves on the back for playing the watchdog role against CBS. Good for them. Where were they during the Clinton administration? Oh, right, they were too busy making up shit about Clinton.

Posted by Observer at 08:59 AM | Comments (0)

September 21, 2004

Audit Time

It's Past Time to Realize That the Last Three
Republican Presidents Have Made a Mockery of the
Idea that Republicans Are Fiscal Conservatives.

Robert Scheer tries to communicate with the rational sector of the brain that some "principled conservatives" supposedly still cling to late at night if they've managed to avoid seeing any video of Bush trying to speak all day:

If they were true to their principles, moderate Republicans and consistent conservatives would be supporting John Kerry. Instead, their acquiescence to the reckless whims of George W. Bush marks a descent into that political abyss of opportunism where partisanship is everything and principle nothing.

How else to explain their cynical support for this shallow adventurer, a phony lightweight who has bled the Treasury dry while incompetently squandering the lives of young Americans in a needless imperial campaign? If Al Gore had been knighted president by the Supreme Court and overseen this mess instead of Dubya, the rational remnant of the Republican Party would be rightly calling for his head.

Instead, a century's worth of conservative ideals are tossed out the window for political expediency. Soaring budget deficits suddenly don't matter, and not a tear is shed for the wasted surplus accumulated during Bill Clinton's tenure. Despite two huge tax cuts for the super-rich, Bush turns out to be a big believer in that old GOP boogeyman, Big Government. An equal-opportunity spendthrift, he throws billions into the sinkhole of Iraq as easily as he doles out corporate handouts. [...]

A true conservative would heed George Washington's warning to avoid such foreign entanglements. This is why in 2000, candidate Bush, pretending to be conservative, said he was against "nation-building." Now, led by radical ideologues way outside the conservative mainstream, he's got us trying to build two nations — and failing — with many in his administration hoping to take on a few more in a second term. Talk about flip-flopping.

On Monday, Kerry made his strongest case yet that Bush was leading us dangerously astray. "Invading Iraq has created a crisis of historic proportions and, if we do not change course, there is the prospect of a war with no end in sight," Kerry said, calling Iraq a "profound diversion" from the war on terror. "The satisfaction we take in [Saddam Hussein's] downfall does not hide this fact: We have traded a dictator for a chaos that has left America less secure."

Kerry has now framed the debate we need to have concerning American priorities. And in their hearts, responsible Republicans and independents must now realize that Kerry is right.

One problem with all this negative campaigning is that people get way too emotionally attached to one candidate or another. They put blinders on and fail to see flaws in their guy or any bad news for their side. They blindly pimp everything that seems to be in their favor without looking at it critically. Liberals have been guilty of this with the CBS memo thing, and they jury is still out over whether it is liberals or Gallup that is in denial over just how big of a lead Bush has right now in the polls.

Conservatives rightly disdain this kind of behavior on the part of liberals. They chastise CBS for not doing enough research into the facts of the matter before making a bold claim (that didn't turn out to be news anyway, even if it were true).

Physician, heal thyself.

It's past time to realize that the Boy King is no conservative. I don't rightly know how to classify him ("incompetent" is too easy and not quite accurate ... they have been decidedly competent at fucking up the country), but he's no conservative. Kerry isn't conservative either, but he's a lot closer to a responsible, sane, sensible conservative ideology than Bush will ever dream of being. Certainly from the standpoint of economic and foreign policy.

Sorry to break the news to all you "sensible conservatives" out there, but Kerry is the only rational choice this time around.

Get over it.

Or at least console yourself with the fact that when the grownups are back in charge (whether it is '04 or beyond), they're going to have to do a lot of unpopular stuff like raise taxes on rich people to get us out of debt, pull out of Iraq gracefully and take care of the health insurance problem in this country. If they manage to get any of that done, they'll probably get kicked out of office in 2008 as a "thank you" from the Moron American.

Posted by Observer at 02:06 PM | Comments (0)

September 20, 2004

Pop Quiz

Mr. Mission Accomplished Can Figure Out Where to Lay the Blame
for Iraq by Simply Pointing in Any Available Mirror.

Pop quiz time. Who said these things?

"I will only answer reasonable questions."

"No. I am not scared, and neither should you be."

"Be assured: Baghdad is safe. Protected."

"We are in control. They are not in control of anything. They don't even control themselves!"

"The battle is very fierce and God made us victorious."

"They mock me for how I speak. I speak better English than they do."

"I have detailed information about the situation .. which completely proves that what they allege are illusions. They lie every day."

"I blame Al-Jazeera."

"The American press is all about lies! All they tell is lies, lies and more lies."

"They are becoming hysterical. This is the result of frustration."

"Just look carefully. I only want you to look carefully. Do not repeat the lies of liars. Do not become like them."

"Search for the truth. I tell you things and I always ask you to verify what I say."

"They think that by killing civilians and trying to distort the feelings of the people they will win."

Quite an array of quotes. Who could've said all these things? Rumsfeld? Cheney? Bush? All of them plausible. But the real culprit is "Baghdad Bob", the famous former propaganda minister of Iraq. Go back and read them again and find one thing that couldn't have been plausibly said within the last month or so by one of these three guys (or pick your favorite ConservaBorg on Fox).

David Corn has a good take on the Bush stance on Iraq. Every time John Kerry criticizes the war on Iraq, they accuse him of flip-flopping or not having a plan of his own. Well, for one, Kerry really hasn't changed his position at all. He voted to give the president the authority to use force, but at the time of his vote, he said he was only doing it because Bush said he would use that as leverage to get the UN to get tougher.

Kerry said that as president, he would want the same authority in the same situation, so he'd do it again, even knowing what he knows today. The "liberal media" is portraying Kerry's stance as a stubborn and stupid refusal to admit a mistake. Either that or a flip-flop. Really, it's neither. I personally think he made a mistake in how he handled this issue. He should've said that knowing what we know now about how incompetently Bush would abuse the authority granted by Congress, Kerry wouldn't have voted to give it to him.

As for the part about Kerry's plan for Iraq, that's easy.

"I have two young daughters at home [...] If one takes a glass jar and throws it on the ground of their bedroom and smashes it into thousands of pieces, I don't point my finger at the other one and say, 'Okay, what's your plan for cleaning this up?'"

You should read the rest of Corn's article, too. He has a lot of depressing news from people in the know about the true state of affairs in Iraq, despite what "Baghdad George" may be telling you about "making progress". Thanks to Atrios for providing so many great links.

Posted by Observer at 08:19 PM | Comments (0)

September 19, 2004

Yay, a Win!

Keyshawn Makes a Big Grab.

All is well in Cowboy land. After last week's sort-of humiliation at the hands of the classless Vikings, we played another sloppy game but won 19-12 over the Clowns. Double-digit penalties two games in a row now ... this reminds me of the post-three-Super-Bowls-we-don't-care Cowboys from the mid-90's only without the three Super Bowls. Eddie George showed a little something in this game, but really his performance was just average. I'd release the guy and let Julian Jones (the rookie) and Rashard Lee have all the snaps. I like Richie Anderson and know he's a sentimental favorite of Parcells, but let's stick him at third string, k?

Vinny was a bit more human this week, slinging it around for over 300 yards but this time with three picks and a few very crucial misses (or passes to the wrong guy) for potential wide-open TD's. He got schooled by a very average Cleveland defense, and so once again the Cowboys were held to under 20 points. We've got a QB who has thrown for 300 yards in consecutive weeks, and we haven't scored 20 points in either game. That's a power-down.

I think the Redskins are going to clean our clocks next week when we visit there. They lost to the stinkin' Giants this week (and it was close despite their SEVEN turnovers), so they're going to be angry. Plus Little Danny Snyder (Redskins owner/prick) will probably give cash bonuses to any player that helps him finally beat the Cowboys. Since that guy bought the team, his #1 goal has been to beat Jerry Jones and the Cowboys, and I think he's done it maybe once in six years, despite the Redskins being better than the Cowboys (by a lot) most of that time. The 'Boys just have the 'Skins number lately, I guess.

We've beaten them so much that I almost don't have a lot of hatred for the Redskins. Naah. I guess I still hate 'em, though not as much as the Eagles (who pound us with crushing regularity except for last season's home-opening surprise when they outsmarted themselves against Parcells' methodical grind-it-out offense). And now that the Eagles have Terrell Owens, who always makes fools of Cowboy cornerbacks, I shudder to think what it will be like in Philly this year. Oh well, first is surviving Washington. A win up there, and I would consider this Cowboy team solid enough to be playoff-bound again, maybe 10-6 or even 11-5. A loss (which I expect), and I'm sticking with my 7-9 or 8-8 pre-season guess.

Oh, and the Rangers are in statistical but not mathematical oblivion still. They have 13 games left, and if they lose more than 2 of 'em, forget it. It's possible if they get hot, and they get to play some of those against Seattle, so I'm still watching them out of the corner of my sports eye, and that's not something you hear a Ranger fan saying very often in September.

Posted by Observer at 10:29 PM | Comments (5)

September 18, 2004

Divided Superhighway

The Latest Set of Polls: Which to Believe?

I was commenting in response to the last entry about all the muck that was thrown at Clinton, but it got too long. Anyway, the idea that Clinton had a "hit list" of murdered people and targets for murder was conventional wisdom on talk radio. I've read plenty on the Clinton years (mostly books). As bad as the attacks against Kerry are right now, they aren't as bad (yet) as what Clinton was being accused of. As soon as anyone close to the Kerry campaign dies for any reason, people will start to "openly wonder" about the possibilities on freeper message boards, then little cartoon pictures of Kerry killing the person will show up on the usual assortment of third-rate nutball blogs, then it will be picked up by the second tier talk radio guys and work its way up the food chain quickly to Rush, Hannity, Drudge and Fox, etc.

Right-wing nutballs have their own completely separate media engine now, with Fox as the faux kingpin of legitimacy. Liberals are about 10 years behind them, but blogs are helping us catch up. The best way to keep track of the nutball brigade without wading through vast wastelands of trash is to check the very useful memeorandom once in a while so you can see what people are buzzing about that isn't going to make most newspapers (at least not prominently).

It's chilling to watch the messages the Republican leadership (Rove, Cheney, DeLay, et al) are transmitting to their devoted nutballs. You can watch them ignore everything else and just echo crazy shit back and forth. Some left-wing sites are starting to do this, too. The controversial CBS memos are a perfect example of both sides claiming absolute 100% certainty and talking past one another. I still don't know which to believe, but if I had to lay money down, I would say conservatives are probably right on this one (the exception that proves the rule).

I didn't take a position on it because for one, the evidence looked ambiguous, and second, I know they really don't matter. As Jon Stewart aptly put it the other night, "Once again, there is a swirl of controversy in the presidential campaign and somehow the issue is not Bush." The documents, even if true, don't say anything that we didn't already know. Nobody is going to change their mind based on whether they are true or not anyway. It's a stupid battle to fight, especially with so much seemingly credible evidence on both sides that no one will know the truth for sure.

The polls work the same way. Both sides listen to the polls that make their situation look the best while trying to pick apart the credibility of the other polls. Like with the documents, I don't know enough about polls to know which to believe, so I'm shutting up about it.

Unfortunately, conservations like these are a perfect indicator of where political discourse is headed in this country. The media has abandoned its role as watchdog for the truth, as objective guardian of our political discourse, and it has turned into just another money machine for shills. Maybe blogs can assume that role someday, but not if they get too addicted to advertising revenue, and not unless they get to a point of saturation like the traditional media.

Posted by Observer at 09:53 AM | Comments (0)

September 17, 2004

With Friends Like These

Hey! Stop Being Such a Fucking Tool! Capiche?
(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games).

Bob Somerby of "The Daily Howler" is readable every single day. I'd quote him more, but then my blog would just a metablog that you should skip over so you can just read the Howler. Anyway, sometimes he really hits on a good theme that explains better than I can why I get so hopping mad at the "liberal media". Today, he takes apart a typical liberal columnist who is all upset about Bush hatred. Where was this "enemy of hate" back when Clinton was getting trash? You got it: he was trashing Clinton, too!

According to Cohen, he hates this stuff—this fearsome lack of moderation. “The demonization of Bush is going to cost John Kerry plenty,” he even declares. Cohen’s views are very clear: “[S]ome of us cherish moderation, recoil from conspiracy theories and would like, if possible, to stick to the facts.” We tend to support those values ourselves. But as we read, we found ourselves wondering when Cohen began to feel them so strongly.

Cohen is troubled by obscure, unread novels. But we wondered: Was he troubled when a famous public figure, Jerry Falwell, pimped a nasty videotape accusing Clinton of multiple murders? A Nexis search produces no mentions in the gentleman’s prior columns. In 1998, was Cohen troubled when Gennifer Flowers began to peddle a Clinton murder list—and was invited all over cable to pimp it? No Nexis mentions. And since Cohen loves “the facts” so much, did he promote the facts in 1995 when the Pillsbury commission found the Clintons innocent of wrong-doing in Whitewater? Sorry—no mention in his columns.

In 1996, did Cohen discuss Gene Lyons’ Fools for Scandal, the important book which first explained, to quote its subtitle, “how the media invented Whitewater?” No mentions from fact-lovin’ Cohen. And how outraged did the columnist get when various people— important people—kept pretending Vince Foster had been murdered? In 1997, Cohen actually wrote a column wondering why Foster’s death got probed so often. And guess what—it was partly Clinton’s fault! Here’s the most outrage he could muster:

COHEN (10/14/97): [C]onsider why so many people spent so much time and money looking into Foster's death. His widow, Lisa, has remarried and moved on to a new phase in her life. Only Washington remained mired, fixated, believing that the Clintons could be so evil that they would—God only knows how—murder their troubled friend, move his body from the Oval Office or where the Rose Law Firm billing records were kept (Iron Mountain, I suppose) and place that gun in his hand. The scenario is so preposterous it wouldn't even make a bad movie, but the investigations came one after another.

Some of this, I grant you, is Clinton's fault. He is not a truthful man, and maybe that accounts for the venomous attacks that come his way. Last week, for instance, Mark Helprin, a Wall Street Journal contributing editor, called Clinton "the most corrupt, fraudulent and dishonest president we have ever known." Helprin is a novelist, so a little leeway should be granted, but has he forgotten Richard Nixon? Nineteen of the president's men went to jail—and not, mind you, for crimes committed before coming to Washington.

Cohen gave leeway to novelists then, even when their nasty claims were being published in important places. But Cohen didn’t show much outrage by the jihad against Clinton, who had brought the venomous attacks on himself. “Now can we have an investigation into why there have been so many investigations?” he quipped. “I ask that question a bit tongue in cheek—but also because I am at a loss to explain what has happened in Washington since George Bush departed the place and Bill Clinton came in.” Today, though, he sees the problem clearly. When an intelligent man complains privately about Bush, Cohen goes into print to describe it as “hatred.” But back then, when crackpots drove the discourse for a decade, he chuckled. He couldn’t figure it out.

Today, Richard Cohen is very upset. But murder lists and fake murder probes failed to make his blood boil then. Neither did the phony facts in the phony probes of that phony Whitewater scandal. “Clinton is not a truthful man?” What about the truth-loathing men who kept producing those fake murder probes? The puzzling drift of American political life can be found in the contrast between Cohen’s columns—between the column that rails against toothless “Bush-hatred” and the columns which winked at real Clinton-hatred and said it must be Clinton’s fault.

Oh yes, we forgot to tell you—Cohen is a “liberal” columnist. He’s driven by the liberal bias being scalded all over the land.

With liberal friends like Richard Cohen, who needs enemies?

Posted by Observer at 05:43 PM | Comments (2)

September 16, 2004

What's That Buzzing Sound?

Michael Crichton's Latest Is a Decent Effort
About Nano-Machines Out of Control.

I've been a huge fan of Crichton ever since "Jurassic Park" (which was as good a book as a movie, though each had different strengths). Ironically, even though Crichton is known mostly as a science fiction writer who sells his stuff with regular popular fiction, I consider his most enjoyable book to be the very non-SF "Disclosure" (which was a decent movie and a much better book).

Crichton's latest is "Prey", about a risky biotech company that succeeds in designing a swarm of nanomachines that can not only reproduce but also have emergent intelligence that grows fast. It was almost like reading Niven's "Neutron Star" about three-quarters of the way through, because it Crichton's book, the new beings that the humans observe are already pretty scary and moving past our abilities.

This novel is a bit clunky compared to some of his other stuff, and the plot is full of holes. It's too bad, because I've seen him do much better plot-wise. The speculative fiction part is pretty cool, and this could make a good movie as long as the script is nothing like the plot. I've compared Crichton to Dan Brown in the past, and I still prefer Crichton, despite this disappointing (but readable) effort. Crichton's heroes have some intelligence and depth, as opposed to the cardboard macho patriot types I can't get away from in Brown's novels. Both can come up with some really neat scenarios and keep the action moving, so it's pretty high quality mind candy. Faint praise maybe, but sometimes it hits the spot.

Posted by Observer at 08:42 PM | Comments (0)

September 15, 2004

Cowboy Talk!

God's Team Comes Home to Play Cleveland This Weekend.

They say the hole in the roof of Texas Stadium was put there so that God can watch His Team play on Sunday. Well, maybe that was back in the 70's when the Cowboys dominated (yes, I know about the Steelers, but I'm a Cowboys fan, so shut up) and became known as America's Team. The Cowboys have been mediocre since a brief burst of brilliance in the 90's sparked by Jimmy Johnson (everything after he left was just won thanks to the momentum Johnson created when he was here). Being really good and really arrogant has made pretty much every other team's fans hate the Cowboys. Me, I grew up in a Cowboy fan household less than an hour from Texas Stadium, so my fate was predetermined.

Anyhoo, now that we have another Great Coach, otherwise known as Bill Parcells, the Big Tuna, etc., the Cowboys are kind of interesting to watch again. Unfortunately, for some reason, the owner (Jerry Jones) has not handed the Cowboy scouting department the pink slips they have so richly earned over the past 5-6 years. We draft and draft and draft and only rarely does anything decent come out of it. Parcells has helped on that count somewhat by bringing in guys he's familiar with and drafting a little smarter (so I read, but I think some people are blinded by Parcells worship because I don't see any drafted young players making a contribution since Roy Williams joined the team, and he was a no-brainer).

That means even with a brilliant coach, we're going to be mediocre. Last year, we caught several breaks and ended up 10-6, only to get totally outclassed in the playoffs by Carolina. This year, we may be better, if only because we got rid of Quincy Carter, the worst regular starting QB I've ever had the misfortune of having to root for. The problem is we replaced Quincy with The Mummy. Thousand-year-old Vinny Testaverde is now hurling the pigskin around for the Cowboys, and he looked very good in the first game.

It's only a matter of time before he pulls up lame, though, and then we're back to untested rookie Drew Henson, who may end up being Chad Hutchinson Junior (Chad is the baseball player we paid millions for a few years ago, and all he ever amounted to was an NFL Europe embarrassment when he wasn't fumbling away the ball playing for Dallas once in a while). People say Drew is really good and should be given a chance to learn so we can be good next year. I say, sure, give the guy a try. I don't mind watching a mediocre team if there is hope for improvement.

Right now, with Vinny at the helm, all that ensures is something like 8-8 this year (and that may be optimistic if we lose at home to Cleveland this weekend in a tossup game, because then we'll go to Washington and sail into the bye week probably at 0-3). I'd rather see Henson grow for a season (we seem to have decent pass protection if the first week is any indication) and let the Boys go 4-12, then maybe bounce back next year.

I'm really happy we have some good receivers now. We got rid of the Joey Galloway albatross (which was our karmic retribution for pulling off the Herschel Walker trade with Minnesota under Johnson), thank God, and now we have Keyshawn. At running back, Parcells is apparently playing weird head games with top pick Julius Jones, keeping him out of the first game. I can't understand why. Jones looked great in preseason, and so did another untested guy Rashard Lee (not sure about that spelling).

Unfortunately, we have the second coming of post-three-Super-Bowls-and-I-don't-care-anymore-except-to-pad-my-stats Emmitt Smith in the person of Eddie George. He was atriocious in the preseason, getting an average of about 0.5 yards per carry on 30 carries. He looked a lot better in the first game, but that's not saying anything, and his average of 3.1 yards per carry is not going to cut it (and it is the same as for the past few years). Tennessee fans weren't crying when George signed with us as a free agent, and that should tell you what you need to know right there. They felt about us like we felt about Arizona when they gave Emmitt big bucks: those poor suckers.

We have this new Australian punter guy who is supposed to be wonderful (uh, so why did Seattle cut him then?), but he muffed a hold on a field goal attempt (so a 21-play drive scored zero points ... uff), so he's in the doghouse. I guess time will tell if he can punt ok. Any warm body will be better than poor Toby Gowen from last year, who was kinda hurt.

Anyway, this is the year to try youngsters, and I hope we do a lot of that. We're going to get humiliated often this season, I think, and certainly we're not going anywhere in the playoffs, so why not?

Too bad I can't use the DVR on the radio broadcast of the game. If I DVR the game itself then the only way I can watch it is either muted or with horrific Fox Madden wannabee announcers.

Posted by Observer at 08:02 PM | Comments (6)

September 14, 2004

Chairs and Jeers

Don't Let 'Em Into Your Kitchen, Dummy!

Well, I probably should've posted this during the morning, because the topic has already been the subject of more comments than I usually get in a week, but there was a chair-throwing incident at last night's Ranger game in Oakland. The Rangers lost in dramatic fashion, and they are another couple of losses away from statistical (as opposed to mathematical) oblivion. That should be the story here, but instead, we have a stupid middle reliever who got mad because a fan questioned his manhood or something.

Instead of doing the smart thing, which is contacting security or an usher and having the fan removed (probably to the relief of people sitting around the guy, because nobody likes sitting near a heckler), Ranger reliever Franco Francisco hurled a chair into the crowd. Broke some lady's nose (who may be the wife/girlfriend of the heckler, not clear), and he got booked into jail. Francisco was bailed out, but he faces charges and all kinds of other nasty consequences. The team is officially backing away from him now, releasing a statement apologizing for the deplorable behavior, etc.

It isn't clear to me whether the fan threw something or not. A Rangers blog pointed me to this ESPN column about the incident, which summarizes the basic facts and stupidity of the matter pretty well. As I said in comments on the previous post, I've read probably a dozen or more baseball books in the last ten years, and the best one regarding player/fan interactions is Jim Bouton's "Ball Four", and it is written from the perspective of a bullpen pitcher (knuckleballer). Sure it is more than 20 years old, but not much has changed, and it is a very, very good read. It's the first baseball book any fan should read, arguably.

Posted by Observer at 05:17 PM | Comments (3)

September 13, 2004

How We Got Here

Never Forget? Oh, Don't Worry. I Won't. I Will Never Forget
the Failure of This Sorry Administration to Protect America.
(Image credit: NATCA 9/11 Tribute)

This week's New York Review of Books has an excellent summary of the main points of the 9/11 Commission Report here. As you listen to the Bush campaign talk about how important leadership is in a time of terror, be sure to keep this information in mind. It is from a unanimous, bi-partisan report on the events surrounding 9/11:

The White House brought pressure in several ways. Stung by the charges of Richard Clarke, the former Clinton and Bush adviser on terrorism, that the Bush White House was lax in not heeding his warnings about the dangers presented by al-Qaeda, the White House sought to discredit Clarke as well as the commission, but it didn't succeed. Public opinion was on the commission's side, and, as the polls showed, it believed Clarke. The commission's report essentially supports his charge that, by the summer of 2001, the administration had many warnings of possible al-Qaeda attacks and failed to respond to them. [...]

The commissioners who believed that the attacks might have been prevented knew that they couldn't get unanimous agreement on this question. There was no way to prove that the attacks could have been prevented—al-Qaeda had shown it could adapt to setbacks, such as the inability of some of the hijackers to get to the United States. But the commissioners could and did make the case that this was a strong possibility. They believed that the account in their report would speak for itself.

They also knew that if they explicitly blamed Bush and his administration for failing to prevent the attacks, the energies of the White House and its political allies, including those in the press and television, would have been devoted to discrediting their work. Instead, the commission laid out in its narrative considerable evidence that the September 11 attacks might well have been prevented. The final report presents a clear picture of the Bush administration in the months leading up to September 11 as not much engaged with the problem of terrorism and unresponsive to clear warnings that something was afoot. [...]

As presented by the commission, the evidence of signals missed by the Bush administration is more startling than we had known. To take one example,a memorandum written in July 2001 to headquarters by an FBI agent in Phoenix, Arizona, specifically warned of the "'possibility of a coordinated effort by Usama bin Laden' to send students to the United States to attend civil aviation schools."

Though Bush administration officials said after the fact that no one could have imagined that terrorists would use planes to fly into buildings, the report shows that there had been warnings of attacks very much along those lines before September 11—including information from an informant in East Asia of the possibility of al-Qaeda's hijacking planes, filling them with explosives, and using them to crash into US cities. Richard Clarke had worried about this very possibility in connection with the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. In the commission's words, the "possibility" of this sort of terrorist attack "was imaginable, and imagined."

The most arresting document is the Presidential Daily Brief of August 6, 2001, which, until it was finally made public, had been described by the White House as "historical in nature." A single question by Ben-Veniste to Condoleezza Rice, asking her to state the title of the PDB, exposed that fiction. The title was "bin Laden Determined to Strike in US." That the commission was able to see the President's daily briefings by the CIA during the Clinton and Bush administrations at all was unprecedented. They could only do so, however, under strict rules set by the administration: only two commissioners were allowed to read the PDBs, and—for reasons that later became clear—they were forbidden to copy down their titles.

After the September 11 attacks, administration officials claimed that the information they'd received wasn't specific enough for them to act on it. But it was much more specific than they suggested. The government even received evidence in July 2001 that an al-Qaeda attack had been put off for two months but hadn't been abandoned. And the August 6 PDB itself was far more detailed than the administration admitted. It cited evidence, including reports in the press as well as clandestine information, that bin Laden had "wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US" since 1997; that al-Qaeda members had lived in or traveled to the United States for years, "and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks"; that FBI information "indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijacking or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York." It cited a call to the US embassy in the United Arab Emirates in May 2001, "saying that a group of bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives." It said that the FBI had seventy "bin Laden–related" investigations underway. The President told the commission that he'd found this last point "heartening." Others might have been alarmed. (The commission concluded that the FBI had exaggerated the extent of its investigations.)

The origins of this particular PDB remain something of a mystery. Bush made a point of telling the commission that he had asked on several occasions whether there was an al-Qaeda threat to the United States. In response to a draft of the staff report on the PDB of August 6, the CIA sent an e-mail to the commission taking exception to Rice's statement that the PDB had been produced in response to the President's asking whether there was an al-Qaeda threat to the US. It said, "The author of this piece, and others familiar with it, say they have no information to suggest that this piece was written in response to a question from the President," and that claims to the contrary weren't accurate. Tenet, for his part, told the commission both that the President had asked about the possibility of an attack on the US and that the CIA had produced the brief on its own initiative.

In the week before the final report was to go to the printer, at the urging of Richard Ben-Veniste two commissioners talked directly with the CIA authors of the PDB, who confirmed that they had intended to write such a PDB before they were told about the President's question. The final report states,

Two CIA analysts involved in preparing this briefing article believed it represented an opportunity to communicate their view that the threat of a bin Laden attack in the United States remained both current and serious.

The CIA analysts told the commissioners that they put all the relevant information they could into the PDB in order to get the President's attention. The report tells us that this was the thirty-sixth Presidential Daily Brief so far that year related to bin Laden and al-Qaeda—though the first to warn of a possible attack on the United States itself.

After the alarming PDB was presented to the President, nothing happened. The commission reports dryly,

We have found no indication of any further discussion before September 11 among the President and his top advisers of the possibility of a threat of an al Qaeda attack in the United States.

No meetings were convened to demand that the relevant intelligence officials search for pertinent evidence that might be found within their agencies—such as the Phoenix memo or the various conversations between the FBI's Washington headquarters and an FBI agent in Minneapolis, who warned that he was concerned that Zacarias Moussaoui was planning to hijack a plane and crash it into a major building.

The administration later offered the excuse that the "wall" between the FBI and the CIA kept this information from being shared, and that some of it didn't even get to the top levels of the FBI. But the "wall" didn't prevent the FBI from sharing one of the most important warning signals that occurred in the months leading up to September 11: the arrest of Moussaoui, on August 16, on immigration charges after a flight instructor reported to the FBI on his odd behavior at a flight school. Moussaoui said he wanted the training as an "ego boosting thing." After talking to him, the FBI agent in Minneapolis concluded he was "an Islamic extremist preparing for some future act in furtherance of radical fundamentalist goals." The FBI's report to Tenet and other CIA officials about Moussaoui, on August 23, was headed "Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly." Tenet told the commission that since he saw the report on Moussaoui "as an FBI case, he did not discuss the matter with anyone at the White House or the FBI." However, according to Bob Woodward and Dan Balz of The Washington Post , Tenet, on being told of the September 11 attack at a breakfast with former Senator David Boren of Oklahoma, remarked, "I wonder if it has anything to do with this guy taking pilot training."

No meetings were called to assess the capacities of the government for responding to a hijacking crisis or to check on its communications systems. The numerous failures of communication between the CIA, the FBI, the Secret Service, the FAA, the military, and the municipal police on the morning of September 11 indicate that such preparations were badly needed. The President himself complained to the commission about the poor communications that morning. (For some time after being informed of the attack, he was reduced to using a cell phone.)

Bush is obviously in way over his head. He admitted as much when he ran the first time, but he said he would surround himself with great people. Well, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condi Rice, et al have been anything but, and we're *still* in a situation where no one has lost their job over all the different problems. I will quite seriously fear for the safety and well-being of my country if this bunch finds a way to win in November.

Posted by Observer at 07:36 PM | Comments (7)

September 12, 2004

Malpractice for Morons

A Lot of Otherwise Smart Doctors Were Played
for Fools When They Supported Lawsuit Caps
at the Request of the Insurance Industry.
(Image credit: Steve Jackson games)

It has been a year now since I complained about the stupid and misleading way Republicans were selling a new law to voters in Texas. I pointed out that Republicans are always talking about how malpractice insurance is driving doctors out of business. So they convinced Morons around here to vote in favor of a state constitutional amendment to put a cap on malpractice lawsuits, promising that it would lead to reduced insurance premiums for troubled doctors in the state.

There was a funny Ben Sargent cartoon, too, but the link has expired. It showed a doctor looking into an empty storefront of the snuck-out-of-town-after-dark insurance lobby and saying, "Uh, hello? Where are my lower premiums?" As I guessed, he was prophetic (it wasn't that hard ... it's happening everywhere the exact same way). Well, credit where credit is due, a local paper has actually looked into this issue a year later (unfortunately, the story is buried in the business section, but it's a start). And...

Wait for it. It's a real shocker.

You see, it turns out premiums *haven't* gone down! Ha ha! Joke's on you, morons!:

A year after Texas voters approved a constitutional limit on damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, the changes have yet to achieve one of the primary goals -- cheaper insurance for doctors.

While hospitals and some physicians have seen a drop in their malpractice insurance premiums, many doctors remain frustrated with the price of coverage.

The constitutional amendment, which drew national attention and intensified the battle lines between the state's doctors and lawyers, reinforced an overhaul of trial awards that became effective in September 2003. The law caps liability for doctors, hospitals and nursing homes at $250,000 each and limits noneconomic damages to $750,000.

Since then, only Texas Medical Liability Trust, the state's largest malpractice insurer, has lowered its premiums -- by 12 percent.

Several other carriers attempted to raise their rates, but state regulators blocked them. And the Texas Department of Insurance is in the midst of an ongoing feud with General Electric Medical Protective, which shifted doctors to an unregulated form of coverage and increased their premiums.

Now, a principled conservative would admit that Republicans have been dishonest here. Bush, on the other hand, keeps trying to sell the same tired bullshit because it works to convince your typical Moron-American. I mean, sometimes he gets called on it, but that gets buried on A25 or something:

President Bush misdiagnosed the reason Dr. Mike Ditmore abandoned his medical practice in Missouri.

"He's a doc. He's a neurosurgeon," Bush told cheering supporters in Columbia, Mo., while campaigning last week. "He was, until his [insurance] premiums went up to $108,000 a year. The lawsuits drove him out of business."

Not exactly. Ditmore has been sued -- eight times in more than two decades, by his count, but seven lawsuits were dismissed before trial without financial settlements and the eighth found him not liable.

"I was not run out of business by lawsuits. I decided to retire because of the jump in my insurance premium, and there's not a direct correlation with lawsuits against me," Ditmore said after the president's visit.

Huh. So if you actually talk to the doctors, it is the insurance companies, not the lawyers, who seem to be the problem. Can someone in the media please REPORT this prominently sometime? You know, if I didn't live here, I wouldn't mind so much stupid voters shooting themselves in the foot all the time. It would be nice to have some honest leadership at least and a media that actually holds people accountable for things.

Posted by Observer at 12:11 PM | Comments (6)

September 11, 2004

A Miss for Coupland

"Miss Wyoming" Was a Real Let-Down After "Microserfs"
(Image credit and a nicer review here.)

We had Cody's first soccer game of the season. His team lost a tough one, 2-1, on a last-minute breakaway goal by the other team. Cody played great, though. He's really found his niche as "sweeper", and he saved 1 or maybe 2 goals today for sure, not to mention giving us lots of opportunities by getting the ball down to the other end with some booming kicks. I'm excited for his team this season, because last year, I think the team we played today would've cleaned our clocks.

I had to catch up on a truckload of student emails today, as they are starting to catch up on their work in my class. I still have a homework to grade from another class. Painting and associated chaos around the house have made the days just scream by this week. After reading 3 books in about 5 days, it took me a whole week to crawl through the last 100 pages of Douglas Coupland's "Miss Wyoming".

Part of that is because it just isn't a good book. I wrote a very glowing review with a long, soul-searching and wonderful quote about virtual romance for "Microserfs", but ever since, everything I've tried by Coupland has just been "eh". Wyoming has its moments, its clever insights into society, its funny lines and situations, its neat characters (Vanessa, the Rand Corporation research girl, was by far the most interesting, and I would've rather seen the novel built around her and her video store boyfriend) but the whole thing feels like a disjointed, pointless mess.

The two main characters are a faded former beauty queen and her witch mother along with a screwed up Hollywood producer-type. The novel's timeline is totally out of whack (on purpose), so it can be hard to follow unless you read it quickly, within a few days. I can understand why it was written that way, and at times, it was pretty neat. At other times, it was just annoying. I can't recommend this one.

Posted by Observer at 08:14 PM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2004

Avoiding Reality CLXIV

Another Satisfying Kill for Skull

Gah, I don't want to talk or read about typewriter fonts and old military documents any more. Isn't it pretty fucking obvious that Bush skated by on connections in the military, just as he has during his entire life? Isn't it obvious he's hiding drug use and other random crap? Why do we need to argue over whether an old Selectric typewriter can type a superscript "th"?

I think everyone on both sides agrees that Bush was a cowardly, immoral fuckup when he was young. The right just doesn't want to talk about it because they figure Bush hit the great "morality reset" button in the sky when he was born again. Yeah, right, whatever. The discussion should be about Bush's failed presidency and his idiotic, pointless, expensive and hopelessly misguided war in Iraq. And the sooner, the better.

Meanwhile, here's a funny cartoon that Atrios posted, from one of his readers, who scanned it from Mad Magazine. It's a good one. "The Bush Campaign's TV Commercial If He Were Running Against Jesus".

Oh, and I'm having to screw around with this page a bit, shorten up the number of posts visible just to get that Iraq war counter off the page. Having two counters on one page is not good for my b rowser, apparently.

Ok, on to pointless gaming talk.

In my random spare time this summer, I've been building up my Barbarian in Diablo. My old Barbarian, who had tons of cool items (collected from previous Paladin characters) and was all the way up to level 77, was lost. The computer crashed while I had a game active in the background, and I guess the file got corrupted or something. The worst thing was losing all of that cool stuff.

But now that I know how to build a good Barbarian, I figured I'd start another one. Skull is up to level 84 now, even though his items aren't as good as my older Barbarian. I've run into the brick wall of the test of the Ancients (the three Barbarian fighters you have to kill to reach the final battle with Baal). in Hell mode. Can't get past it, not even close. So it looks like I'll have to build another Barbarian specialized a certain way just to be able to kill these clowns.

So mostly now when I can play I'm in Magic Find mode, trying to find better items (having a higher level character really helps on that count). My best item so far is a Grand Charm "Gheed's Fortune". It increases magic find by +50% or so, increases gold by about +130% and decreases vendor prices by 11%. Wow. Very, very hard to find (they go for $20 or more on eBay), and you can only hold one at a time. I have some other good charms and weapons, too, including a few low level complete sets, but nothing as good as the set of stuff I had before.

When I think I have a good set, I'll start over with a new Barbarian and see if I can't finish Hell mode in this game once and for all. At least with my Barbarian I'm getting a LOT further than I ever did with my Paladin.

Diablo is mostly on hold right now because of the busy start to the Fall term and all the painting we're doing. I also just got my very first Pokemon GameBoy game in the mail today. I figured I'd poke around with it (no pun intended) and see if I can build up a good team so at least Cody has someone to battle and trade with. The GameCube game (Pokemon Colosseum) was pretty fun for a while, but the slow pace of battles and the rock-paper-scissors nature of things got a little too easy and boring.

Posted by Observer at 04:33 PM | Comments (1)

September 09, 2004

The Visitor from Porlock

Please, God! No More Time Travel Paradoxes!
(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

I'm keeping track of all the latest political developments, of course, but sometimes, there's just so much juicy stuff out there, it's overwhelming. Go see Atrios and watch the fun as some elements of our "liberal media" finally FINALLY start asking some hard questions about Bush. Ok, so it is only about his national guard service, but it's a start. Pretty soon, they might ask about something important like, why the hell did we go to war with Iraq, you know, since all of the original reasons given have evaporated like a fart in the wind?

Meanwhile, I'll do the usual thing when reality is too much and escape into book reviews. Today, a time-travel novel: Tim Powers' "The Anubis Gates". This one came highly recommended (which usually just means I'll be disappointed). In this novel, Powers mixes some historical fiction (England in the 1600's and 1800's) in with a plot about an ancient Egyptian sorcerer (think Imhotep in "The Mummy").

Basically, a modern day English scholar goes back in time to England so that he can meet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. And, yes, Coleridge's famous unfinished poem and mysterious visitor from Porlock make their appearance, which is a requirement in any speculative fiction novel in which Coleridge plays a part. Chaos and confusion ensue. Without saying any more about the plot, I will say that this is probably a more carefully crafted and better-written novel than Simon Hawke's pulpish "Time Wars" series, but I was bored silly. On the other hand, I was consistently entertained by the dozen or so "Time Wars" books that I read.

Maybe if I read Powers again (it has been maybe 10 years), I would have the patience to give him more of a chance, but my memory of this book is "eh".

Posted by Observer at 04:18 PM | Comments (1)

September 08, 2004

Ugly Americans

Ben Mezrich Shifts His Focus from
Card Counters to Expat Derivative Traders in Japan
It's Like "Black Rain" Meets "Wall Street"

I liked Ben Mezrich's first book, "Bringing Down the House". It dealt with super-smart Ivy League types who decided to use their brainpower to make money fast by letting the mathematics of blackjack and card counting work for them. In this latest book, "Ugly Americans", super-smart Ivy League types ("expats") trading in the Japanese stock market (among other things) make the card counters look like pikers.

Now there are plenty of fish-out-of-water books (and movies) out there about the experience of Americans living in Japan. A good one I read several years ago was "Funny Business" by Gary Katzenstein. That's more of a "regular guy gets a job at a Japanese company" book. It's good. Lots of nice touches about how street addresses and directions work a bit differently, how "salarymen" live, how foreigners are treated in everyday life.

Mezrich's book is an account of the life of the millionaire living-on-the-edge day-trader set in Japan. Both stories have a certain appeal, and they both have a lot in common. For example, regardless of how wealthy you are or how much you try to assimilate, in Japan, you are always "gaijin" or foreigner, and there are some things you will just never be accepted as. It's hard to pin down whether it is a racism thing or just a culture thing or both.

The traders also inevitably have to deal with the Yakuza, the Japanese mob. There's even a character interviewed who has his pinky cut off, just like the mobster guy in "Black Rain", and Mezrich talks a little bit about how the Yakuza culture works in Japan, why the police won't deal with them, etc. You may remember the Barings bank trader from several years ago named Nick Leeson who lost billions by making a bunch of bad trades on fraudulent credit, and the characters here have many interactions with Leeson and feel the aftershocks of his actions.

I said above that it's like "Black Rain" meets "Wall Street" (both good movies with Michael Douglas as a major character), but there's also a little Neal Stephenson thrown in. Lots of quirky little explanations about what goes on behind the scenes, how complicated things work, how people deal with sudden wealth (in Japan, apparently, it's all about the "Water Trade"), how they interface with the "real" world. Anyway, I liked it.

Posted by Observer at 05:21 PM | Comments (0)

September 07, 2004

What Is It Good For?

As we get closer to the somber benchmark of 1000 dead American soldiers in Iraq, the financial costs, tallied above (via ""), continue to soar. You should visit the web site to find a list of other things we could've funded instead of spending the money on this pointless war.

It's worth asking today, just like every day that we are at war: Is it worth it? As to the war in Afghanistan, I say "yes". I wish we had stuck with it, and maybe we'd have Osama by now and control more of the country than just the region around Kabul. Of course, they could be waiting to unearth Osama just before the election. Who knows? Hard to put anything past these guys.

But war in Iraq? It hasn't made us safer, and from the looks of it, all we've done is turn a relatively stable, if crappy, country into another Afghanistan while ignoring the real threats in the region (Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, for example). Bush wants to run as a war president. As Krugman notes, that will only work if he can convince everyone that the war was necessary and is going well.

Kerry is going to have to convince people that Bush is the crappy leader that he is without the corporate media whispering what Zell yelled: that Kerry's talk isn't much different from treason. That's why the war is here, in part, because it enables Bushco to assert the "dissent = treason" meme and have the media obey.

In other news, Al Franken's radio show is going to go on the air tonight for a one-hour compilation broadcast on the Sundance channel. I'm glad to see this starting up because now I can DVR it and listen to a little Al any time instead of being stuck near a streaming connection. Maybe the TV exposure will encourage Al open up the throttle a little bit and get madder.

Posted by Observer at 11:47 AM | Comments (5)

September 06, 2004

Chondrules of Crap

Chondrules Have a Role to Play in "Deception Point"
(Image credit: The Meteorite Exchange)

I just finished another Dan Brown book, "Deception Point", and it's quality is somewhere between the other two books of his I've read, "Digital Fortress" being worse and "The Da Vinci Code" somewhat better. He seems to be getting better with time, which makes me pessimistic about reading "Angels and Demons", which was written after "Fortress" but before "Deception".

The plot of this book involves a new meteorite discovered by NASA up in the Arctic. This meteorite supposedly has signs of fossilized advanced life, which would be proof of extraterrestrial life, if verified. The problem is that some of the people sent to check out the meteorite pretty quickly discover that it is an elaborate hoax NASA is trying to put on in order to save itself from political oblivion.

Now I'm willing to suspend my disbelief on some things, but when it comes to meteoritics, that's kind of tough. I mean, it's a pretty boring field of study, but I happen to know an awful lot about it. I also know how scientific research works. If any meteorite had this kind of stuff in it, teams from all over the world would be wanting a piece of it for independent analysis, just like with the famous Martian meteorite, ALH 84001.

The characters in this novel are too smart (sort of) to think that this would not get shot down. The idea that you can get an intact fossil in the same body that also contains chondrules is also a pretty amazing stretch once you realize chondrules can only form in certain conditions that just aren't compatible with sticking a fossil in there with them! But ok, suppose I'm willing to ignore the gaping scientific plot holes (I guess now I can understand why some religious/art history types were really pissed at Brown for pretending he knew something in "Da Vinci"). Was it good?

It was another good airplane book. A good book to sit down a kill a few enjoyable hours with and then promptly forget about. I continue to assert that when it comes to techno-thrillers, Crichton beats Dan Brown convincingly.

Posted by Observer at 12:01 PM | Comments (2)

September 05, 2004

Bouncing in the Mud

Get Ready to Spend the Next Two Months in the Gutter
(Image credit: Steve Jackson Games)

The ConservaBorg convention is history, and it looks like Bush is getting a really big bounce in the polls. Time and Newsweek both report that previously a nationwide neck-and-neck race has turned into a 10 or 11 point Bush lead. And so as a liberal, like many others, I am left to wonder what's up with America? I mean, I know it is a temporary swing in the polls, but how is it that people were positively moved by that spittin' mad hatefest. How can a party that is in control of everything be *SO FUCKING MAD* at American government when they are the ones in charge? And people are buying it! What is it going to take to get through to people that Bush is bad for the country?

Objectively, by any across-the-board measure, he's bad for the country. Huge deficits, unfair polices, environmental destruction (without at least the fig leaf of economic process as a result), brazen lies, and a country ruled by fear. But as a scientist, I know very well that once people get a stupid idea in their heads, no matter how wrong (like, say, creationism), they'll defend it to the death rather than admit they are wrong. You can throw any kind of credible evidence at them, and it just rolls off like water off a duck's back.

There has got to be a better way than joining the Republicans in the sewer and smearing them back, but crap, I sure can't think of it. Digby has a great post on this, with a couple of citations and a lengthy conversation that any depressed liberal should read:

Throughout the Swift Boat Liar controversy, I have been posting and exchanging e-mails and talking with various people who believe that Kerry should have been prepared and "fought back" sooner. But, we've mostly concluded that "fighting back" would have come down to more effective responses to the charges, a good rapid response team, better more pithy retorts, well prepared surrogates, more righteous indignation on the stump. And, my feeling is that none of that would have made a bit of difference. The whole point of smears is to raise doubts and get them out there however you can. And with the Mighty Wurlitzer and the cable networks being what they are, even if the major papers had debunked them on the first day --- with sheaves of refutations and rebuttals from the Kerry campaign, it still would gotten out there. It was an entertaining segment of The Politics Show and there was no stopping it.

I reluctantly concluded that the only effective response was probably to engage in the same kind of smear and hope it becomes a zero sum game. And, in the process, we would be forced to drive our politics further and further into a fetid sewer. I find the prospect of that deeply depressing which is what distinguishes me from a Republican. They do not have that emotional reaction. Indeed, they are energized by the prospect. It's a problem.

Still, the stakes are so high that we have no choice but to try to win today by any means necessary and begin the hard work of repairing our politics --- and honestly, our culture --- after we have wrested power from those who have brought us to this place.

Dirty, hate filled, testosterone fueled, phony political spectacle is what the public wants to buy. They are not going to turn off their car radios and TVs and suddenly reject the entertaining pageant they are enjoying so much. They will continue to assure pollsters that they hate all this negativity, but they will tune in to absorb the bloodlust and feel vicariously empowered by this show of masculine prowess. They want action. They will vote for the one who gives it to them.
As God-fearing, all-American winners in the game of politics and life, we have no choice but to give them what they want. It's time to dive into the mud. It's the only hope we have of saving the country.

Do we really have to "destroy the village" (in this case, the rational debate of ideas) in order to save it? Wouldn't that be the ironic if a Kerry victory were to require such a thing? I mean, here's a real poser: If the only way to win the election were to, say, question the president's sexual orientation, will Democrats do it:? Should they? The depressing answer may be "yes". It has become clear that what's true isn't what's important in this election. What's important is whatever the hell works, and the uninformed, easily persuaded Moron Americans have only themselves to blame. Which would be fine in theory. I'd say, hey great, let them get what they deserve as a leader. But in practice, it is my country, too.

Just remember this: In six weeks when everyone is sick of hearing all the charges about Bush's cocaine snorting, drunk driving, jail time, boy toys, 9/11 cowardice, whatever ... they started it. The difference is that about 90% of the crap being thrown from our side (for now, at least) is actually true. Not that it matters to the media, who will report Democratic tactics as "desperate" and "hypocritical" or "unhinged and angry like Dean".

Republicans are mad about Michael Moore? Who the hell do they think created him?

Posted by Observer at 12:25 PM | Comments (2)

September 04, 2004

Pundits and Poodles

This Metaphor Is Actually an Insult to Poodles.

On Atrios' recommendation, I read James Wolcott's "Attack Poodles" about the ridiculous figures that make up the mainstream corporate media. It would be a quick read if I weren't already immersed in this kind of stuff every day. I think it would be a good thing to read for someone who isn't all that familiar with the punditocracy and the problems with our media.

For me, it was a little too snarky. Don't get me wrong, the media figures getting put down deserve it. Richly. But for me, I'd rather see more examples and less clever wordplay. Don't just tell me someone is an attack poodle. Go through several examples and deconstruct them. Make it convincing. Both this book and Al Franken's "Lying Liars" deal with Bill O'Reilly, but Franken spends about three times as much space and uses it wisely, with lots of examples and devastating, dry humor. Wolcott covers more ground, but I like a more thorough treatment. This book reads like the Cliff's Notes for Bob Somerby's "Daily Howler" web site.

Not bad, but I already read the "Howler" every day anyway. It rocks, by the way.

Posted by Observer at 06:03 PM | Comments (0)

September 03, 2004

Zell on Earth

Republicans Have a Lot to Be Angry About.
After All, They're Responsible for the Mess We're In.

They replayed the Zell Miller fiasco on "The Daily Show" last night (stole my post title from them, by the way), and it was awesome. I couldn't believe how much anger that guy was radiating from the podium. One part of his speech that bugged me (and Jon Stewart commented on it, too) was the part in which he criticized Kerry and the Democrats for trying to "bring down" the commander-in-chief in a time of war. As Stewart put it, "How DARE the Democrats field a candidate! And during an election year! How DARE they!"

And to be honest, that's pretty close to the gist of the speech. William Saletan has a very good analysis of the whole convention, and I'll quote just a small part of it that relates to my point today. Really, though, the whole thing is excellent.

In a democracy, the commander in chief works for you. You hire him when you elect him. You watch him do the job. If he makes good decisions and serves your interests, you rehire him. If he doesn't, you fire him by voting for his opponent in the next election.

Not every country works this way. In some countries, the commander in chief builds a propaganda apparatus that equates him with the military and the nation. If you object that he's making bad decisions and disserving the national interest, you're accused of weakening the nation, undermining its security, sabotaging the commander in chief, and serving a foreign power—the very charges Miller leveled tonight against Bush's critics.

Are you prepared to become one of those countries? [...]

So now you have two reasons to show up at the polls in November. One is to stop Bush from screwing up economic and foreign policy more than he already has. The other is to remind him and his propagandists that even after 9/11, you still have that right.

Even the Republicans are getting smart and backing off from Zell's nutty speech (he was disinvited from his special box seat for Bush's speech). But I thought it was great. Summarized the whole pro-Bush nutball mindset perfectly and let everyone know what they'll be voting for (or against) come November.

I didn't see Bush's speech, but I figure since he didn't swallow his tongue, the pundits will be falling all over themselves to call it "masterful" and "remarkable"

Posted by Observer at 02:19 PM | Comments (0)

September 02, 2004

Big Bag of Nothing

Doesn't Zell Miller Look Like the Nazi
Who Just Drank from the False Grail?

I've read the transcript and heard snippets of the two speeches last night. From what I can tell, Zell Miller's keynote address sounded a lot like the infamous hate-filled Pat Buchanan speech from 1992 that drove undecideds away. Molly Ivins famously reported that Buchanan's speech "sounded better in the original German", and Zell was very similar. Very angry old white man.

The right-wing nutballs lapped it up, to be sure. They think Zell was the greatest, they were saying "Amen!" throughout his speech, no doubt. That's why it was so great. The people who think Zell Miller is the greatest were going to vote for Bush all along. Hell, they'd vote for fucking Barney if he had a (R) next to his name on the ballot, arguing that "Well, he may seem simple, but he's got sharp teeth, and he'll surround himself with real professionals."

The people who are undecided, though, really need to see speeches like this (that kind of reasoning is why I always say that right-wing nutballs often make the case for liberalism more eloquently and forcefully than I can). Compare Miller's speech with Obama's keynote address, and there's no question which party is prepared with an optimistic plan for America and which party governs using fear, hatred, lies and divisiveness. There were so many lies in Miller's speech, but the saddest ones involved the old, tired attack line about Kerry voting against certain weapons systems.

This is the keynote address of what both parties agree is "the most important election of our generation", and a riff on Kerry voting against weapons systems is all they could come up with? It is so fundamentally dishonest on so many different levels. No one who is the least bit informed can buy this line of reasoning. Fred Kaplan demolished this months ago in Slate:

Before George W. Bush's political operatives started pounding on John Kerry for voting against certain weapons systems during his years in the Senate, they should have taken a look at this quotation:

After completing 20 planes for which we have begun procurement, we will shut down further production of the B-2 bomber. We will cancel the small ICBM program. We will cease production of new warheads for our sea-based ballistic missiles. We will stop all new production of the Peacekeeper [MX] missile. And we will not purchase any more advanced cruise missiles. … The reductions I have approved will save us an additional $50 billion over the next five years. By 1997 we will have cut defense by 30 percent since I took office.

The speaker was President George H.W. Bush, the current president's father, in his State of the Union address on Jan. 28, 1992.

They should also have looked up some testimony by Dick Cheney, the first President Bush's secretary of defense (and now vice president), three days later, boasting of similar slashings before the Senate Armed Services Committee:

Overall, since I've been Secretary, we will have taken the five-year defense program down by well over $300 billion. That's the peace dividend. … And now we're adding to that another $50 billion … of so-called peace dividend.

Cheney proceeded to lay into the then-Democratically controlled Congress for refusing to cut more weapons systems.

Congress has let me cancel a few programs. But you've squabbled and sometimes bickered and horse-traded and ended up forcing me to spend money on weapons that don't fill a vital need in these times of tight budgets and new requirements. … You've directed me to buy more M-1s, F-14s, and F-16s—all great systems … but we have enough of them.

The Republican operatives might also have noticed Gen. Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at the same hearings, testifying about plans to cut Army divisions by one-third, Navy aircraft carriers by one-fifth, and active armed forces by half a million men and women, to say noting of "major reductions" in fighter wings and strategic bombers.

Granted, these reductions were made in the wake of the Soviet Union's dissolution and the Cold War's demise. But that's just the point: Proposed cuts must be examined in context. A vote against a particular weapons system doesn't necessarily indicate indifference toward national defense.

Looking at the weapons that the RNC says Kerry voted to cut, a good case could be made, certainly at the time, that some of them (the B-2 bomber and President Reagan's "Star Wars" missile-defense program) should have been cut. As for the others (the M-1 tank and the F-14, F-15, and F-16 fighter planes, among others), Kerry didn't really vote to cut them.

The claim about these votes was made in the Republican National Committee "Research Briefing" of Feb. 22. The report lists 13 weapons systems that Kerry voted to cut—the ones cited above, as well as Patriot air-defense missiles, Tomahawk cruise missiles, and AH64 Apache helicopters, among others.

It is instructive, however, to look at the footnotes. Almost all of them cite Kerry's vote on Senate bill S. 3189 (CQ Vote No. 273) on Oct. 15, 1990. Do a Google search, and you will learn that S. 3189 was the Fiscal Year 1991 Defense Appropriations Act, and CQ Vote No. 273 was a vote on the entire bill. There was no vote on those weapons systems specifically.

On a couple of the weapons, the RNC report cites H.R. 5803 and H.R. 2126. Look those up. They turn out to be votes on the House-Senate conference committee reports for the defense appropriations bills in October 1990 (the same year as S. 3189) and September 1995.

In other words, Kerry was one of 16 senators (including five Republicans) to vote against a defense appropriations bill 14 years ago. He was also one of an unspecified number of senators to vote against a conference report on a defense bill nine years ago. The RNC takes these facts and extrapolates from them that he voted against a dozen weapons systems that were in those bills. The Republicans could have claimed, with equal logic, that Kerry voted to abolish the entire U.S. armed forces, but that might have raised suspicions. Claiming that he opposed a list of specific weapons systems has an air of plausibility. On close examination, though, it reeks of rank dishonesty.

Another bit of dishonesty is RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie's claim, at a news conference today, that in 1995, Kerry voted to cut $1.5 billion from the intelligence budget. John Pike, who runs the invaluable Web site, told me what that cut was about: The Air Force's National Reconnaissance Office had appropriated that much money to operate a spy satellite that, as things turned out, it never launched. So the Senate passed an amendment rescinding the money—not to cancel a program, but to get a refund on a program that the NRO had canceled. Kerry voted for the amendment, as did a majority of his colleagues.

An examination of Kerry's real voting record during his 20 years in the Senate indicates that he did vote to restrict or cut certain weapons systems. From 1989-92, he supported amendments to halt production of the B-2 stealth bomber. (In 1992, George H.W. Bush halted it himself.) It is true that the B-2 came in handy during the recent war in Iraq—but for reasons having nothing to do with its original rationale.

The B-2 came into being as an airplane that would drop nuclear bombs on the Soviet Union. The program was very controversial at the time. It was extremely expensive. Its stealth technology had serious technical bugs. More to the point, a grand debate was raging in defense circles at the time over whether, in an age of intercontinental ballistic missiles and long-range cruise missiles, the United States needed any new bomber that would fly into the Soviet Union's heavily defended airspace. The debate was not just between hawks and doves; advocates and critics could be found among both.

In the latest war, B-2s—modified to carry conventional munitions—were among the planes that dropped smart bombs on Iraq. But that was like hopping in the Lincoln stretch limo to drop Grandma off at church. As for the other stealth plane used in both Iraq wars—the F-117, which was designed for non-nuclear missions—there is no indication that Kerry ever opposed it.

The RNC doesn't mention it, but Kerry also supported amendments to limit (but not kill) funding for President Reagan's fanciful (and eventually much-altered) "Star Wars" missile-defense system. Kerry sponsored amendments to ban tests of anti-satellite weapons, as long as the Soviet Union also refrained from testing. In retrospect, trying to limit the vulnerability of satellites was a very good idea since many of our smart bombs are guided to their targets by signals from satellites.

Kerry also voted for amendments to restrict the deployment of the MX missile (Reagan changed its deployment plan several times, and Bush finally stopped the program altogether) and to ban the production of nerve-gas weapons.

At the same time, in 1991, Kerry opposed an amendment to impose an arbitrary 2 percent cut in the military budget. In 1992, he opposed an amendment to cut Pentagon intelligence programs by $1 billion. In 1994, he voted against a motion to cut $30.5 billion from the defense budget over the next five years and to redistribute the money to programs for education and the disabled. That same year, he opposed an amendment to postpone construction of a new aircraft carrier. In 1996, he opposed a motion to cut six F-18 jet fighters from the budget. In 1999, he voted against a motion to terminate the Trident II missile. (Interestingly, the F-18 and Trident II are among the weapons systems that the RNC claims Kerry opposed.)

Are there votes in Kerry's 20-year record as a senator that might look embarrassing in retrospect? Probably. But these are not the ones.

Keep it coming, Republicans. All of your "best" attacks are outrageously dishonest. All Kerry has to do is ask "are you better off?". All Kerry has to do is ask "Was the Iraq war really a good idea? Were they honest about that with everyone?" All Kerry has to do is ask "So, Mr. National Security, have you 'gotten to the bottom' of that whole Plame thing yet? And, hey, how's that port security coming along?"

I can't believe there are enough Americans who will not listen to at least some of these kinds of questions and answers to give Bush a victory. I mean, I can even see how someone could be lukewarm about returning a Democrat to power, just because Democrats have a lot of stupid stuff in their history. But how can you be enthusiastic enough about Bush to vote for the guy? The man's a menace to this country!

Posted by Observer at 09:29 AM | Comments (5)

September 01, 2004

Hanging Curveballs

This Has Nothing to Do with This Post,
But I Saw It on Steve Gilliard's Blog
and Just Had To Put It Here for Posterity

Speaking of baseball (that scoreboard is the Yanks worst loss in history, which occured yesterday), I think the Rangers' catastrophic moment happened last night when Minnesota hit a home run to win a game in the bottom of the 11th inning. That puts the Rangers 4 games back in the Wild Card and 4.5 back of Oakland (which has won 13 of 14, and where are all those Moneyball critics nowadays, hmmm?) with more road games against tough teams coming up. I fear they'll be out of it (6+ games back) by the end of the weekend.

I'm not watching the Republican convention. My life is happily very low on stress, which may surprise you given how much I get pissed off about politics and given that we have four kids and two dogs, but it is true. My secret is that I don't go looking for stress. If it finds me, I deal with it, find my "happy place" and make the most of whatever life deals out. Life is too short to dwell on unhappy things when there are so many wonderful things (like my totally kick-ass wife, my crazy kids/dogs, my awesome job, my only-slightly-dysfuntional-but-still-pretty-cool family). This blog helps vent some of that stress that comes from politics, which is part of the reason I started it.

Anyway, the text of the various speeches is all over, and people like Steve Gilliard and Atrios are providing wonderful commentary. My favorite moment so far, the most obvious lie (and let me tell you, it is hard to choose from so many), occured when Ahnold shared a touching memory of watching a debate between "socialist" Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon, and that's supposedly when Ahnold decided he was a Republican.

As Randi Rhodes pointed out, uhhh, those two never debated. Not that it matters. I mean, Lord knows when a politician tells a stupid lie, it isn't the media's job to run him or her down and ridicule him for months over it (unless it is Al Gore). It's just funny that with so many lies being told (and I mean really easy to check lies), why isn't that part of the story from the "liberal media"?

By the way, after months of listening to Air America on and off, though not to every show, I have to say that so far, Randi Rhodes is the best. Franken is funny in small doses, but he drones a little bit too much and has too much of an NPR kind of voice to stick with him for three hours. Franken is also a little too polite to really nail people when they lie to him in interviews. He lets people like Ben Stein get away with stupid comments about Democrats that aren't true because Stein has too many practiced one-liners and Al doesn't have time to break every single lie down in a 2-3 minute discussion. Al needs quicker, more incisive talk.

I mean, he's good, and I'm glad he's on the air, but right now, Randi is the one who is the skilled soldier on the front line actually making things happen. She's the one the bad guys are afraid of when they see her coming. Al is kind of the general way behind the lines who meets with the enemy over tea and talks about terms of surrender while the enemy is busy butchering prisoners of war. Randi is the one who busts into the prison camp, lobs a couple of well-placed grenades, shoots up the bad guys and then stands by while the officers tour it later and declare victory.

I haven't listened to enough of the nighttime show (Majority Report) to have an opinion, but I haven't heard too many good things along the lines of why I like Randi. They're ok to listen to, but I want someone to get really mad and call people liars and then back it up with quick, precise and devastating points. Randi does this 5-10 times an hour whereas with the others, you get a good riff maybe once an hour. Randi is much more polished, not necessarily better informed. All of the shows will obviously get better with time (after all, even monsters like Rush were really embarrassing when they started out on radio). I hope they get a chance to.

Posted by Observer at 04:00 PM | Comments (0)