November 30, 2004

Isn't That Special?


You Can't See Scalia's Left Hand Because It Holds An Electric
Shock Collar Control Keeping Clarence Thomas in Line
(Image courtesy of the Legal Information Institute.)

A good discussion over at First Draft of the recent Supreme Court decision not to get involved in the Massachusetts gay marriage decision:

Merita Hopkins, a city attorney in Boston, had told justices in court papers that the people who filed the suit have not shown they suffered an injury and could not bring a challenge to the Supreme Court. "Deeply felt interest in the outcome of a case does not constitute an actual injury," she said.

Let's reiterate that for those among us who are stupid or have been deafened by the constant cry from the right that anything they think is icky should be outlawed: Deeply felt interest in the outcome of a case does not constitute an actual injury.

Aaron Sorkin said it best in The West Wing, referring to the NEA but making essentially the same point: "I don't know where you get the idea that taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for anything of which they disapprove. Lots of 'em don't like tanks. Even more don't like Congress."

You don't want to see men kissing at National League baseball games? Guess what? You have to see that whether you want to or not. You don't get to make laws against stuff because you don't like it. You don't get to deny those two guys who are making out during the Astros game legal protection. This is America. You pay your taxes, and you get to see all manner of shit you don't want to see.

Same goes for me. I continue to live here, pay my taxes, I get to see George W. Bush sworn in for a second term. I get to see killing done in my name and the name of my family. I get to see our legal rights usurped, our voices muffled, our passions muted. I get to see Wal-Mart economics, Pink Panther law enforcement, and Christmas music in September. I may even, on occasion, have to see the Packers lose.

That's the price of living in the land of the free.

Somewhere during the last 25 years, Republicans have lost really the only part of their whole platform that ever appealed to me. Now they don't even pretend to flirt with libertarianism, unless it is to pander to that paranoid, nutty leadership that speaks for millions of otherwise sensible gun owners who are members of the NRA.

We are officially being governed by the Party of the Church Lady. This Supreme Court ruling is nice, but in the grand scheme of things, it is a "dead cat bounce". They say that in the stock market, after a particularly bad day for the averages. Usually, the market will go down several percent due to some bad news or what have you, but then at the end of the day, it will jump up a little bit due to bargain hunters looking for cheap stocks. The graph of the stock market looks like a deflated ball being thrown off a building, falling a long way, only to bounce up a tiny bit at the end. Stock market analysts say that even a dead cat will bounce if it falls from a high enough building.

Sad to say that the Supreme Court, this same disastrous court that gave Bush the presidency four years ago, is now the only bulwark of sanity left in a government gone to hell, and that's only because Sandra Day O'Connor is a somewhat thoughtful conservative, preventing Scalia, Scalia (oops, I mean Thomas), Rehnquist and Kennedy from overruling Ginsburg, Souter, Breyer and Stevens every single time. All it is going to take is the death or retirement of one of those liberals (or O'Connor) and it'll be a lay-down grand slam for the Church Lady set.

Posted by Observer at 09:45 AM | Comments (1)

November 29, 2004

Riftwar Novels

Continuing a series about books I've put on my teenage son's shelf to read, we come to Raymond Feist's Magician quartet, also known as the Riftwar Saga. This series isn't old enough yet to have two omnibus editions (the first two books were originally one novel, ironically), and the four books have recently been reprinted with abstract covers.

This series is similar in some ways to Edding's "Belgariad" in that it follows a lowly peasant boy's rise to greatness. In this case, though, there's no prophecy central to the story, no free will vs determinism debate, just a boy caught up in events. In this case, a typical fantasy kingdom is invaded from another dimension through "rifts" in the fabric of reality. Characters can go back and forth between the worlds, but I didn't get much of a sense of the geography of the other world.

It's easier to read than Tolkien but nowhere near the quality. I don't recall being swept away by the plot or the characters, so I never read any of the subsequent series that take place in the same world. Some people just *love* this series, though, so I figure it's worth letting an avid teenage reader have a crack at it. I found it mediocre overall, not on the same level with my memorable favorites.

Posted by Observer at 08:04 PM | Comments (12)

November 28, 2004

Smart Survivors

We finally got around to watching our DVR'ed "Survivor" episode last night. Like "All-Stars", we've followed this one from the beginning. It has had its moments, but not the drama of other seasons. Last night, though, was the kind of episode I was waiting for, making the whole season worthwhile. They are down to seven survivors. What usually happens at that point is that a "final four" alliance solidifies and picks off the other three in order to make it to the last show and try their luck for a million bucks.

It has been obvious for the past 6 weeks, even before the two original tribes merged that the final four would be four women, led by Alpha female Ami. The women were picking off the men, one-by-one, despite the fact that two of the older women (Scout and Twila) were sympathetic and *almost* voted with the men a couple of times. The first man off was my favorite by far, Sarge.

What set this up, though, was the same kind of thing that happened in "All Stars". Instead of dealing with a member of the "Alpha group" when they had a chance, the eventual loser group decided to vote on principle and get rid of some lazy guy they didn't like. When "Alpha group" was reunited, they controlled the other two women, and the six of them combined picked off the remaining guys. In "All Stars", they missed their chance to get rid of Boston Rob's sweethaat Ambah, and she ended up winning with him.

In "Vanuatu", they missed their chance to get rid of Julie. Fortunately, though, the other older women who were voting with "Alpha group" got smart and knew that once the last man (Chris) was gone, they would be next. Alpha group had a 4-3 advantage by this past episode, and they were being openly smug about it. Just maddening. But Alpha group made a mistake and decided to vote off one of their own, so confident they were that they could sweet talk the two older women into staying with them.

The one they decided to vote off was the annoying (but smart) Eliza, who is like Jerri from all-stars, only without an ego. Eliza has been in danger of being voted off because of her running mouth since week one, and to her credit, she isn't oblivious to it. Knowing her fate last night, she wised up and voted with the three losers (Chris, the last guy, plus the two older women, Scout and Twila).

The vote count was awesome. The "Alpha group" went in there totally smug, and they acted like they owned the game and weren't afraid to explain to everyone else the mistakes they were making, etc. When an unexpected name (Leann) came up and eventually got four votes, the looks of shock and disgust on their faces were totally priceless. I can't wait to see Ami (Alpha leader) bitch about the vote and have the former losers explain to her all the mistakes she made, etc., next week. Going to be a blast.

I just wish the same thing had happened to Boston Rob. I mean, he was a great character and all, but it would've been more fun to watch him get beat with a stupid look of surprise on his face than watch him and Ambah get to the end. Eliza is really the only annoying one left, and unlike Rob, nobody fears her, so it will be fun to watch.

Posted by Observer at 07:18 AM | Comments (4)

November 27, 2004

Service with a Sneer

We got to do some more shopping today, thanks to a timely assist by Grandma's babysitting. We topped off the day with a trip to a local steakhouse that we really like. I couldn't decide between steak and ribs at first, but then I remembered how good the ribs were last time I ate there. Then I noticed you could get a half-rack of ribs for just five bucks with any entree. So I talked Michelle into getting them with her entree and just asking for an extra plate.

Well, fuck. You'd think we just asked the waitress if she was born ugly or did it happen gradually. When we go out to eat, we're not cheap. We always tip over 15%, usually about 20%. Sometimes we both get water, but even then, we often order dessert (but eat only a little and take home the rest). We usually get something mid-level on the menu, but I often order a Filet at a steak place. As for tipping more than usual, I've always felt sorry for the waitstaff. It's a tough job, and those people survive mostly on their tips. But I guess most people are different.

Anyway, the meal came out (Michelle's meal, anyway) and no ribs. So while we split Michelle's chicken, I was waiting five minutes for my ribs. For the first time in my memory, the waitress didn't come by to check on us shortly after the meal was delivered. Oh, the bill was right, don't worry about that. We think she fucked our order on purpose. It wasn't *that* busy (we were seated immediately with no wait, even though it was a Saturday evening).

Thank God she left a carafe of tea. If I had to rely on her for refills, I'd have been bone-dry for 15 minutes. When she finally brought the ribs, she left them without saying a word. Beeyotch. When she came back at the end, she almost looked like she was expecting some abuse. Instead, I asked for the dessert menu. We split a brownie, and it came out of her tip. We still tipped 10%, but hell, that probably wasn't harsh enough.

They didn't have comment cards, but I'm going to look for the website of that restaurant and see about leaving a nastygram about that waitress. She put an unhappy end on what was a pretty cool day all things considered.

Posted by Observer at 09:08 PM | Comments (6)

November 26, 2004

Hook 'Em

While putting up the Xmas lights today, I was listening to the Texas vs Texas A&M game on the radio. Oh, and I think I'll call it Xmas in my blog from now on instead of Christmas, just to piss off right-wing nutballs who think it fucking matters what I call it. "Happy Holidays", too, instead of "Merry Christmas".

Anyhoo, Texas and A&M always play the day after Thanksgiving (at least lately ... used to be on Thanksgiving Day when I went to UT). The only broadcast of the game we get here is on the A&M radio network, and boy, what a bunch of homers. I mean, I've listened to a lot of homer calls in my time, but nothing compares to the Aggies.

Almost every penalty against A&M, the announcers were talking about how the refs must have screwed up or how they're ignoring Texas doing something similar in the same play, the last play, 5 minutes ago or 5 years ago. When Texas got called for roughing the kicker, the radio guys were watching a replay, and one of them actually had the gall to say "Wow, a horrible call. A big break for the Aggies." The color guy, of course, chimed in with, "Heh heh, too bad for Texas! We'll take it!"

Right before the half, in one of the weirdest plays of all time, Texas was trying to punch it in from the one yard line, but the QB fumbled. Some Aggie defender picked it up and ran it all the way back 99 yards for a TD, putting the Aggies in the lead (it would be one of only two scores on the day for them ... our defense really made 'em look bad). The Aggie broadcasters were fun to listen to for that, boisterous, laughing and talking about how unbelieveable and great the whole thing was. Then to open the 2nd half, Texas blocked an Aggie punt and recovered it for a touchdown, and the energy drained out of those guys really fast. Sounded like a funeral, and as Texas marched on to their inevitable win, the broadcasters just got more and more drained.

And the commercials. Oh my God. Every single sponsor, from home mortgage companies to fertilizer sellers to beer distributors had to throw something in there about how they're loyal Aggie fans or Aggie alums. "We're proud to say our fertilizer has been used on Kyle Field for the last 20 years!" Something about Aggies and the whole ultra-loyalty thing is cool but also creeps me out. Maybe if I were an Aggie alum (instead of a UT alum), it wouldn't bother me. I've heard homer commercials before, but nothing like this steady stream of Aggie worship. There's some connection here between the loyal groupthink of Aggie fans and what goes on in the Bush administration. I'm sure of it.

I like A&M, I really do. I always root for them, except when they play Texas. That's because I want it to count for as much as possible, for Aggie fans to suffer the maximum possible heartbreak, when Texas whoops 'em. When I was at UW, I never cared as much for the Apple Cup (UW vs WSU) rivalry, but I grew up around this one.

Posted by Observer at 06:22 PM | Comments (8)

November 25, 2004

Hollow Victory

Busy day today, lots of fun with family. I caught pieces of the Cowboy game here and there. Drew Henson was awful in the first half, something like 4/12 for 30-something yards and a bad interception (run back for a TD, the Bears' only points ... what the hell was up with our suddenly stout defense?).

And then the Big Magnificent Tuna pulled him for Vinny. WTF?!? Every snap Vinny takes is a wasted opportunity to find out if Drew is our QB of the future. It doesn't matter that Vinny is better (for now). Sure we won, but so what? All that does is cost us draft position at this point. Now we're 4-7, likely heading to at best 6-10. Without today's win, we would instead end up 5-11 at best. No difference in practice.

What is this crap about not wanting Drew to have to deal with an aggressive defense? He has to learn sometime! Why not now? He's a big boy! He can deal with adversity (and if he can't, let's get someone in here who can). No one made these arguments seriously when the 'Boys were going 1-15 (or starting the following season 3-9) with Aikman, and he turned out fine. Aikman is on the local radio here sometimes, and he thinks Henson should play full-time. If Henson is destined to be a good QB, adversity won't affect him negatively long term.

Big bright spot, though, was Julius Jones with numbers to drool for. A very young-Emmitt-like 33 carries for 150 yards and 2 TD's. If Henson works out, we just need a receiving corps that can stay healthy and grow together, then we need some pass rushers. Oh and then we need a decent fullback. And a left tackle who knows enough to move when the fucking play starts and not before. We could probably use an upgrade at linebacker in at least one slot. And a new safety to complement Roy Williams.

Sigh.

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

November 24, 2004

Dark Future


Janeane Garofalo Tells It Like It Is.
Why Can't the Media Do the Same?

Very long (and very good) quoted article today. Hey, it's been a while! Anyway, this will give you something good to read over the holidays while I blather on about the next Cowboy loss. If you like the first excerpt from the article, do yourself a favor, follow the link, and read it all rather than just my excerpts which make up only about a third of it. Thanks to Eric Alterman for the pointer. Michael Massing has an excellent article on the failure of the mainstream media since the Iraq war started. It's a good retrospective on what has motivated me and made me so angry since I started this blog:

In the end, the war in Iraq did not have the decisive impact on the election that many had expected. In the weeks before the vote there were the massacre of forty-nine Iraqi police trainees; a deadly attack inside the previously impenetrable Green Zone in Baghdad; the refusal by an army unit to carry out a supply mission on the grounds that it was too dangerous; the explosion of several car bombs at a ceremony where soldiers were handing out candy, killing dozens of children; the abduction of contractors, journalists, and aid workers, including the director of the CARE office in Baghdad; the release of a report holding the highest reaches of the Pentagon and the military responsible for the abuses at Abu Ghraib; a report by President Bush's hand-picked investigator confirming that Iraq had long ago lost its ability to produce weapons of mass destruction; and the spread of the insurgency to every corner of the country, bringing reconstruction to a virtual halt. All of this, in the end, counted for less to voters (if the exit polls are to be believed) than such issues as whether homosexuals should be allowed to marry and whether discarded embryos should be used for stem cell research.

Massing goes on to tell some stories of a few reporters in Iraq who have written accurately about the horrible security situation there and been rewarded with suppression, despite the amazing barriers (including incredible physical danger). Every media outlet, from TV to radio to magazines to newspapers has been hypersensitive about appearing to come down on one side or the other, and so they don't publish overt criticism of our policy there. They don't even report FACTS that might make us look bad, which makes me wonder what the hell they think the definition of journalism is. There are some exceptions, but they have been few and far between:

After Prime Minister Allawi asserted that most of Iraq was safe,
the Washington Post's Rajiv Chandrasekaran
-- seeking a statistical measure -- got hold of the daily security reports of Kroll, a private firm working for the US government. These reports showed that Iraq was suffering an average of seventy attacks a day by insurgents, up from the forty to fifty that had occurred before the handover of political authority in late June. What is more, the reports showed, the attacks were occurring not only in the Sunni Triangle but in every province of Iraq. "In number and scope," Chandrasekaran wrote on the Post's front page, "the attacks compiled in the Kroll reports suggest a broad and intensifying campaign of insurgent violence that contrasts sharply with assessments by Bush administration officials and Iraq's interim prime minister that the instability is contained [in] small pockets of the country." (Since he wrote, the number of attacks has increased to more than one hundred a day.)

These sorts of reports, however, didn't have the impact that they might have had on public perception and support for the war, and Massing goes into the reasons why (by the way, the embedded links in here are also excellent reading if you have the time):

One journalist who has seen this firsthand is Nir Rosen. A twenty-seven-year-old American freelance reporter, Rosen speaks Arabic (a rare skill among Western reporters in Iraq), has a dark complexion (allowing him to mix more easily with Iraqis), and prefers when in Iraq to hang out with locals rather than with other journalists. (In the late spring, he managed to get inside Falluja at a time when it was a death trap for Western reporters; he described his chilling findings in the July 5 issue of The New Yorker.) Seeing Iraq from the perspective of the Iraqis, Rosen got a glimpse of how persistently and routinely American actions alienated them. "People have to wait three hours in a traffic jam because a US army convoy is going by," he notes. "Guns are pointed at you wherever you go. People are constantly shouting at you. Concrete walls are everywhere. Violence is everywhere."

In October 2003, Rosen spent two weeks embedded with a US Army unit near the Syrian border. In sweeps through neighborhoods, he said, the Americans used Israeli-style tactics -- making mass arrests in the hope that one or two of those scooped up will have something useful for them. "They'll hold them for ten hours in a truck without food or water," he told me. "And 90 percent of them are innocent." Writing of his experience in Reason magazine, Rosen described how a unit he accompanied on a raid broke down the door of a house of a man they suspected of dealing in arms. When the man, named Ayoub, did not immediately respond to their orders, they shot him with nonlethal bullets. "The floor of the house was covered with his blood," Rosen wrote. "He was dragged into a room and interrogated forcefully as his family was pushed back against their garden's fence."

Ayoub's frail mother, he continued, pleaded with the interrogating soldier to spare her son's life, protesting his innocence: "He pushed her to the grass along with Ayoub's four girls and two boys, all small, and his wife. They squatted barefoot, screaming, their eyes wide open in terror, clutching one another as soldiers emerged with bags full of documents, photo albums and two compact discs with Saddam Hussein and his cronies on the cover. These CDs, called The Crimes of Saddam, are common on every Iraqi street and, as their title suggests, they were not made by Saddam supporters. But the soldiers couldn't read Arabic and saw only the picture of Saddam, which was proof enough of guilt. Ayoub was brought out and pushed on to the truck." After holding Ayoub for several hours in a detention center, the soldiers determined that he was innocent, and they later let him go.

Rosen believes that such encounters are common. The American soldiers he saw "treat everybody as the enemy," he said, adding that they can be very abusive and violent. "If you're a boy and see soldiers beating the shit out of your father, how can you not hate the Americans?" He added: "Why doesn't anybody write about this in the New York Times or the Washington Post? The AP always has people embedded -- why don't they write about it?"

One reason, he suggests, is that embedded journalists who write negatively about the US military find themselves "blacklisted." It happened to Rosen: a series of stories he wrote for Asia Times about his experience while embedded elicited an angry letter from the commander and the public affairs officer of the unit he accompanied, and he has not been allowed to become embedded since. Other correspondents told me of similar experiences.

Another reason why news organizations don't write about such matters is suggested in the recently released DVD version of Michael Moore's movie Fahrenheit 9/11. It contains as an added feature an interview with Urban Hamid, a Swedish journalist who in late 2003 accompanied an American platoon on a raid in Samarra. Hamid's experience was similar to Nir Rosen's, with the difference that he caught his on tape. In it, we see soldiers using an armored personnel carrier to break down the gates of a house. We see the soldiers rush in with their rifles pointed ahead, and terrified women rushing out. An elderly man on crutches is rousted up and a plastic bag is placed over his head. The soldiers go through the family documents, trying to determine if this man is connected with the insurgency, but because they don't speak Arabic they can't really tell. Nonetheless, they take him to a detention center, where he joins dozens of others, their heads all sheathed in plastic. Celebrating the arrests, the soldiers take pictures of one another with their "trophies." One soldier admits that he's surprised they didn't find more weapons. "The sad thing for these guys is that we'll probably let them go because their names don't match up," he says.

In the interview, Hamid says he asked many Iraqis if they'd heard of things like this, and they all told him "of course." "It's preposterous," he says, "to think there is any way you win somebody's hearts and minds by imposing such a criminal and horrible policy." Hamid says that he tried to sell his tape to "mainstream media." First he approached the "Swedish media" but got no response. He then approached the "American media," with the same result. "It's obvious," he says, "that the mainstream media exercise some kind of self-censorship in which people know that this is a hot potato and don't touch it, because you're going to get burned."

Self-censorship is really the key here. Worried about getting branded "liberal", worried about getting frozen out of any photo ops from the Bush administration (and why is that such a problem when everything is staged anyway), worried about losing more viewers to Fox, losing advertisers, losing money, the press is filtering the true situation:

Is self-censorship among US news organizations as widespread as Hamid says? The group he's referring to, of course, is television news, and it's here that most Americans get their news. For six weeks before the election I watched as much TV news as I could, constantly switching from one station to another.

Viewing the newscasts of the traditional networks -- ABC, CBS, and NBC -- I was surprised at how critical of Bush policy they could be. When Prime Minister Allawi claimed that fifteen of Iraq's eighteen provinces were fit for elections, Charles Gibson on ABC's World News Tonight asked Pentagon correspondent Martha Raddatz if this was true. "I can give you a two-word answer from a military commander I spoke to today," Raddatz replied. "He said, ‘no way.' And one other commander said, ‘Maybe nine, ten, of the eighteen, and that's being generous.'" On many nights, the networks aired "mayhem reels" out of Iraq, two minutes' worth of cars afire, blood stains on payments, bodies being carried from rubble. In addition to relaying scoops from the daily press, the networks broke some stories of their own. On the Sunday before the election, for instance, 60 Minutes ran a hard-hitting segment about a unit of the Oregon National Guard in Iraq that lacked such basic equipment as the armored plating needed to protect soldiers in Humvees from roadside bombs. Such reports appeared often enough to reinforce longstanding conservative complaints that the networks are inherently "liberal."

Yet even these "liberal" outlets had strict limits on what they would show. On September 12, for instance, a group of American soldiers patrolling Haifa Street, a dangerous avenue in central Baghdad, came under fire. Another group of soldiers in two Bradley fighting vehicles came to rescue them. They did, but one of the vehicles had to be abandoned, and a jubilant crowd quickly gathered around it. A banner from a group associated with Zarqawi was produced and placed on the vehicle. Arab TV crews arrived to record the event. At one point, two US helicopters showed up and made several passes over the vehicle. With the crowd fully visible, one of the helicopters launched a barrage of rockets and machine-gun rounds. The vehicle was destroyed, and thirteen people were killed. Among them was Mazen al-Tumeizi, a Palestinian producer for the al-Arabiya network who was doing a TV report in front of the Bradley. Hit while on camera, his blood spattering the lens, Tumeizi doubled over and screamed that he was dying.

The video of Tumeizi's death was shown repeatedly on al-Arabiya and other Arabic-language networks. On American TV, it aired very briefly on NBC and CNN, then disappeared. On most other networks, it appeared not at all. Here was a dramatic piece of footage depicting in raw fashion the human toll of the fighting in Iraq, yet American TV producers apparently feared that if they gave it too much time, they would, in Urban Hamid's phrase, get burned. (I still have not heard of a single instance in which the killing of an American in Iraq has been shown on American TV.)

Massing goes on to talk about specific examples of coverage (or non-coverage) by CNN and Fox. It's actually pretty amazing what kind of crap they broadcast on Fox, just how closely it resembles pure propaganda. The examples are truly chilling.

I was not prepared for just how blatant and pervasive its bias was. This was apparent throughout the presidential campaign, with George Bush forever portrayed as resolute, principled, and plainspoken, and John Kerry as equivocating, elitist, and French.

The slant was evident in the coverage of the war as well. Whenever news about Iraq came on, the urgent words "War on Terror" appeared on the screen, thus helping to frame the war exactly as the President did. "Did the President and his administration take their eye off the ball in the war on terror?" Brit Hume asked one night. For an answer, Hume spoke with Richard Miniter, the author of Shadow War: The Untold Story of How Bush Is Winning the War on Terror. No bias there. After the Washington Times reported the discovery in Iraq of a computer disk belonging to a Baath Party official that contained data showing the layout of six schools in the United States, Fox asked, "Can your school be a potential terrorist target?" This time, Fox turned to Jeffrey Beatty, a former Delta Force commander who, it so happens, runs an antiterrorist consulting firm. In fact, Beatty said, schools are potential terrorist targets, and they had better take precautionary measures now. On The O'Reilly Factor, the central question for weeks was "Should CBS fire Dan Rather?" Bill O'Reilly spent far more time dissecting Rather's mistakes at CBS than he did analyzing Bush's deeds in Iraq.

And that's how Fox wants it. The most striking feature of its coverage of the war in Iraq was, in fact, its lack of coverage. A good example occurred on the Saturday before the election. That morning, the US military announced that eight Marines had been killed and nine others wounded in attacks in the Sunni Triangle. It was the highest US death toll in nearly seven months. After reading the news on the Web, I tuned in to Fox's 11 AM news summary. It made no mention of the dead Marines. The next hour was taken up by a feverish program on hot stock picks. Then came the noon newscast. After spending ten minutes on the Osama bin Laden tape, the presidential campaign, and the tight race in Ohio, it finally got around to informing viewers of the Marines' deaths. It then spent all of twenty seconds on them. As it turned out, that Saturday was a particularly bloody day in Iraq, with a series of bombings, mortar attacks, and ambushes throughout the country. Viewers of Fox, however, saw little of it.

This formula has proved very popular. The O'Reilly Factor is currently the top-rated cable news show, and Fox's prime-time audience is on average twice as large as CNN's. That audience still trails far behind that of the traditional networks, but Fox has much more time to fill, and it does it with programming that is far more overtly ideological than anything else on TV. Its constant plugging of Bush, its persistent jabs at Kerry, its relentless insistence that Iraq is part of the war on terror and that both wars are going well -- all have had their effect. According to election-day exit polls, 55 percent of voters regarded the Iraq war as part of the war on terrorism, as opposed to 42 percent who saw it as separate. And 81 percent of the former voted for George Bush.

In some ways, the coverage of the war featured a battle as fierce as the political one between Democrats and Republicans, with the "red" medium of Fox slugging it out with the "blue" outlets of the Times and the Post, CBS and ABC. CNN seemed somewhere in between, careening wildly between an adherence to traditional news values on the one hand and a surrender to the titillating, overheated, nationalistic fare of contemporary cable on the other. In the end, CNN -- influenced by Fox's success -- seemed firmly in the latter camp. It offered the superficiality of Fox without any of its conviction. This hollowing out of CNN was, in a sense, an enormous victory for the Bush campaign. Overall, in analyzing the reasons for Bush's triumph, the impact of Fox News should not be overlooked.

Now, with President Bush preparing for a second term, what can we expect from the press in Iraq? The initial signs, from Falluja, are not encouraging. Even allowing for the constraints imposed by embedding, much of the press seemed unduly accepting of US claims, uncritically repeating commanders' assertions about the huge numbers of insurgents killed while underplaying the devastation in the city. And little attention was paid to the estimated 200,000 residents said to have fled Falluja in anticipation of the fighting. Amid US claims that the city had been "liberated," these refugees seemed invisible. But, in light of the coverage in recent months, this should have come as no surprise.

The future is dark.

Posted by Observer at 09:58 AM | Comments (2)

November 23, 2004

Iraq Spin


Is It Safe to Ask Yet: Is America Really
Safer Now That This Guy Is Gone?

(Image courtesy of Steve Jackson games).

I went out to dinner last night with Justin at a local Chili's, an end of season celebration of his cross country team's accomplishments. Justin got a team medal from the coach for being the best team player. He never missed a practice or a meet, and he always did what the coach asked without complaining, even when they had extra running, etc. I was really proud of him, and I told him I hope that he can carry over his role model behavior and show Cody how to act a little older at home.

While I was there, I was sitting at a table with a bunch of other parents. The guy I was sitting across from reminded me of Ed (the swinger) from "Raising Arizona". He was a nice guy and interesting to talk to, but he had this mannerism where if he thought he said something funny, he got a real smug expression on his face. He looked like Ed saying, "Get it, HI? You get it?"

The guy I was sitting next to works for the Army Corps of Engineers, and he brought up the fact that he is in charge of the team that is reconstructing the pipeline infrastructure in Iraq. I asked him how the security situation is over there, and he said, "Oh, the press never reports any good news. It's a whole lot better over there than people think. We haven't lost anyone, but we have had a few people shot up and wounded."

I asked him if they have to worry about explosives and if they had armor on their transport vehicles. He said, "It's mostly sniper fire that's the problem. Our guys live in the green zone and then go out to repair jobs, but they don't travel in Hummers. We learned pretty quick that those are high value targets, so instead we go in pickups, and those are pretty much ignored." (I'm thinking here that it doesn't sound to me like the security situation is very good, but I didn't press the point).

I asked him how it's going overall, if we're fixing pipes faster than they are being blown up, and he nodded firmly and said, "Oh yes, definitely," like he couldn't believe I asked such a stupid question. I wasn't trying to be confrontational at all, and I didn't even consider saying a cross word or questioning his assertions. The guy is in the military, and he's probably going over to Iraq soon himself for a six-month rotation, and you have to respect that.

Still, he went further and said, "Look, the oil production there is way past pre-war levels. We're pumping oil now at a rate NINE times bigger than what Saddam was doing before the war." Now that really surprised me. I didn't know the numbers, but I was under the impression that we hadn't reached pre-war production levels yet. I didn't contradict him because I figured, hey, this guy's *job* is dealing with Iraqi oil production, so he would know better than me.

When I got home, I checked the numbers for myself at the Department of Energy's own website. Here are the numbers, in thousands of barrels per day:

2003 Jan 2555
Feb 2490
Mar 1373 (<--- when we invaded)
Apr 53
May 293
Jun 453
Jul 573
Aug 1053
Sep 1403
Oct 1753
Nov 1853
Dec 1953

2004 Jan 2103
Feb 2003
Mar 2203
Apr 2303
May 1903
Jun 1703
Jul 2003
Aug 1803

I wonder why they always seem to end in "3"? I didn't see numbers for Sep/Oct of 2004, but I assume they are pretty much in line with the numbers for the rest of 2004. This article (also based on DOE sources) says that the theoretical maximum output during Saddam's reign given the infrastructure was 3500 (thousand barrels per day). There are a couple of graphs here with oil production info through 2000 for historical background.

I don't know any way to jibe this table with the army guy's assertion. I think I got "spun" (unless there is some reason I shouldn't trust the numbers from the DOE). You know it's got to be hard to find the truth on the ground in Iraq if you can't even trust what you're told by regular people who are deeply involved in the situation. If I saw this guy again and the subject came up, I would be torn between asking him about it or just avoiding the whole issue out of respect for his background.

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

November 22, 2004

Elric


If the Good Guy in a Fantasy Novel Has a Weird
Looking Black Sword, You Don't Want to Be the Bad Guy.

Michael Moorcock is certainly a prolific author, and he's a staple on most fantasy reading lists, even though his stuff isn't even close to Tolkien or any of the other fantasy greats. I guess the screaming black sword mowing down enemies like wheat and stealing their souls has some weird appeal. Worked for me. Moorcock's most famous series is Elric.

Elric is a very weak, albino boy born into a royal line and due to ascend to the throne of a very ancient empire. He uses a combination of potions and sorcery to keep himself strong, but his many vulnerabilities lead to problems. Ultimately, he finds a black rune sword named Stormbringer that basically does his work for him, allowing him to take his revenge on his enemies, ascend to the throne, kill lots of people, etc.

The original Elric series is six short books that have since been combined into two omnibus editions. It's not bad, very pulpish swords-and-sorcery with weak characterization (outside of Elric), off-the-deep-end cruelty (i.e. Doctor Jest the professional torturer) and satisfying revenge scenes. It also fits inside a larger story of Moorcock's that goes on into other omnibus books like "The Swords Trilogy" and "The Chronicles of Corum", which is similar in style and quality. I consider it a cut above Conan-style stories.

The common theme is the "Eternal Champion", who is reincarnated in many different times on many different worlds to essentially fight the same battle with a new cast of characters. Sometimes this concept is brought out into the open, and the gods of Chaos and Order are brought into the fray. There are some parallels here with one of my all-time favorites, Steven Brust, but Brust writes a much more intelligent, funny and complex tale with real people as characters.

Posted by Observer at 06:48 AM | Comments (1)

November 21, 2004

Drilled


Tripped Up Again, Dallas Loses 30-10.

As if to support my very point about soccer vs football, the Cowboys and Ravens played to a 3-0 standoff in the most boring and inept first half of football this side of the Chan Gailey years. The Ravens proceeded to wake up after the half and made the Dallas defense look like it was standing still (and this is the Baltimore offense we're talking about), scoring 30 points.

Drew Henson got to play at last. Poor kid fumbled on his first play, which eventually led to a Baltimore touchdown. After getting that out of the way, though, Henson didn't suck. Sure it was against second teamers, but we Cowboys fans have seen the likes of Chad Pennington at the helm (and Quincy Carter) enough to know a sucky QB when we see one, and Henson isn't it. 6 for 6 for 47 yards and a TD is not a bad recovery for the guy.

Maybe if the Bears get out to a big first half lead on Thanksgiving Day, we might get to see a whole half out of Henson before he takes over for good starting the following Monday in Seattle. Yeah, Vinny wasn't good today, but that's not why we want to see Henson. We know Vinny isn't the problem. We just want to see if we need to worry about drafting a QB next year. Give us a few games to find out, eh, coach?

Rookie Julius Jones also got to pile up some stats today, and that wasn't so impressive. 30 for 81 yards is a very Eddie George-like day, even against Baltimore. I'm willing to cut the kid some slack, though. Glad he's out on the field for a while now.

Tonight, maybe I'll get to watch a top team in action as Chelsea takes on relegation-bound Bolton in some premier league action. It'll be our first chance to see Chelsea in action since we started keeping up with soccer.

Posted by Observer at 03:59 PM | Comments (4)

November 20, 2004

Shopping Day


Heroes III: A Top Ten Timewaster

I hear Heroes IV is pretty good, but all I've got is a Mac G3/300, so I paid about $20 a couple of years ago and got Heroes III plus all of the campaign scenarios in a bundle pack called Heroes III Complete. They save money by simply including the instructions as a giant PDF file that you can print out if you like. What a fun game. I like trying the various scenarios at increasingly tough difficulty levels, and I am getting better. I always put everyone in castle towns and start with Caitlin, the hero who gives me +350 gold/turn, which I think is the best special ability of any hero.

There are also places online where you can download scenarios that others have created. I haven't found any consistently good scenario authors, though.

Not much else to say today. It was a long day of Christmas shopping, topped off with a very good meal at the Cheesecake Factory. I saw both "Final Fantasy Tactics" and "LOTR Trivial Pursuit" for 20% off at a Kaybee Toys going out of business sale, but I wasn't shopping for myself today ... so I just made sniveling noises in Michelle's general direction. Cloudy and rainy today, I'm ready for bed, and it is only 730. I guess we'll watch some more premier league soccer tonight, which is always a good way to top off the day.

Posted by Observer at 07:30 PM | Comments (2)

November 19, 2004

What a Magnificent Ball!


2nd Place Arsenal Celebrates a Goal.

Lately, we've been rooting around in the outer fringes of the cable spectrum for something new to watch. I've recorded several English Premier League matches, and we've really enjoyed them. The highlight shows are excellent as well, though they often show results of games that haven't been shown yet. That's because we get all of our games through Fox Sports World, and their coverage is very spotty.

The best match we've seen so far was a 5-4 shootout between Arsenal and my most favorite team name, the Tottenham Hotspurs. The British announcers always say "Totnam!", so I've been walking around the house saying "Another score for Totnam!" in my worst British accent, making poor Michelle think I've finally lost it.

We've also looked at the games from other leagues. They also show German, French and Argentine soccer, but the quality is somewhat less. German is the best ... some of the Argentine matches, the field is just trashed and hardly mowed, and the quality of play is little better than you would expect at the college or pro level in the US, it seems like.

I'm still trying to get up to speed on where we are in the season (looks to be early on) and how the playoff/promotion structure works. I'd also love to see some international play, like the ongoing UEFA cup, but it looks like the only way to do that is via pay-per-view on satellite.

I used to play in various electronic soccer leagues, and I even ran one for a while. From there, I learned a lot of names to look out for in the soccer world, and it is nice to finally see them in person. I wonder if any of the soccer simulations on GameCube are any good?

Posted by Observer at 03:25 PM | Comments (13)

November 18, 2004

Binge and Purge


Too Many Career Professionals Are Getting in the
Way of Carrying Out Political Orders at the CIA.

As you might've noticed, I'm kinda trying to avoid politics these days. Watching Bush consolidate power and purge even the merest hints of dissent from his administration has made me all the more depressed about the next four years. The rhetorical "How can it get any worse?" question is about to be answered. A while back I said that basically the only check on Bush's power at this point is the FBI (which is pursuing the Plame leak still, I guess, among other things).

Well, apparently, the CIA is, too. Josh Marshall has more on the ongoing purge by new CIA boss Porter Goss, who vowed in his confirmation hearings that he felt partisanship had no place at the agency. But hey, you want to lie under oath to the American people? I guess it's ok if it isn't about sex, if you don't shake your finger at them ... if you're a Republican:

There has been a running battle along these 'political appointees' versus 'the professionals' lines at the Pentagon, the CIA and, to a much lesser degree, the State Department for more than three years. And by and large the Bush administration's 'political appointees' have been wrong almost every time. There are a few exceptions at the Pentagon -- the early stages of the Afghan campaign being the best example. But at the CIA it's really been pretty much a shut-out. And a number of those screw-ups have been ones of catastrophic proportions.

Yes, some of the commissions and investigations have worked to muddle or obscure this fact. And that's not to say that the CIA has gotten everything right. But in the cases where they got things wrong, it was always the case the the White House and the rest of the administration was pushing for wrong+1 or more likely wrong-squared.

In our reporting on the Niger uranium fiasco, we tried to get very deep into what people at the State Department and the CIA were thinking about the Niger claims in the final months before the war. And the answer you hear in most cases when you ask why this or that problem with the evidence wasn't scrutinized more closely in those dwindling days, the answer you get, after you push past the rigamarole is that there wasn't much point. The die was cast. We were going to war one way or another, better to spend time preparing for it than churning over evidence the reliability or authenticity of which no one cared about anyway.

We will continue to cover and discuss the particulars. But the larger point is simple and clear. On every significant point of conflict between the Bush administration and the country's cadre of intelligence professionals, the Bush political appointees turned out to be wrong. Often very wrong, and with disastrous consequences. Sometimes the intel folks were wrong too; but when that was so, the appointees were always more wrong.

This is not argumentative or hyperbole or even up for much serious dispute.

And the upshot of all that we've seen, the result of all those struggles over the last three years is that the 'appointees' are purging the 'professionals'. Another way to put it is that the folks who were always wrong and often catastrophically wrong are rooting out the folks who were often right and sometimes somewhat wrong. The answer to politicized intelligence, it turns out, is a more thorough politicization of intelligence and the elimination of those who resisted political pressure.

If you think this is just a Washington squabble or political debating point you'd be mistaken. Because your lives, and those of your families and friends, may very well be on the line.

Sure our safety is on the line, but don't think for one second that anyone in this administration will bear any responsibility for the next screwup. A nuclear weapon could go off in Boston Harbor, and the Republicans would find a way to blame the Democrats (preferably Clinton). They'd also cover their bases by accusing anyone who criticizes the president's lack of port security (which Democrats have been bitching about since 9/11 and the 9/11 commission pointed out with emphasis) or any other mistake as treasonous during a time of war.

We're on a very dangerous slope right now. All it is going to take is one more big surprise, one more 9/11-type attack (or worse) and we'll be off our feet, without much traction, sliding faster and faster down that slope to I don't know what. But it isn't the America I grew up loving. Purges like what's going on at the CIA are supposed to happen in Russia, you know, Eastern Europe, 3rd world banana republics. Not here.

Posted by Observer at 03:06 PM | Comments (4)

November 17, 2004

Mordant's Need


Another Parallel World Needs Help.

In Mordant's Need (two book series: "Mirror of Her Dreams" and "A Man Rides Through"), Stephen Donaldson again puts a world in need in parallel with our own. This time, the world is a bit more of a conventional fantasy world, where mirrors are the key to magic, and they can open up portals to other worlds. From our world, a girl named Terisa is drawn to the land of Mordant to try to save the day.

Like Thomas Covenant, Terisa is loaded with personality problems. She's insecure, sheltered, and she's an emotional wreck. She kind of hates herself, but it is nowhere near the magnitude of Covenant's self-loathing. Unlike Covenant, Terisa is more or less powerless (at first), and it isn't because of paradox or a lack of understanding. She doesn't possess any kind of wild magic equivalent, and she must learn to develop some talent that will help her, make her useful to others, enable her to survive and maybe even help out the people she comes to cares about.

Donaldson is good at writing villains, and the two main bad guys here are deliciously evil. This whole story is more along the lines of a classic romance set in a fantasy/magic world, and it is more suited to a younger audience. I liked it a lot, but I haven't felt the urge to re-read it. I may do that, though, just to check and make sure it is ok and good enough for the kids.

Posted by Observer at 08:07 PM | Comments (0)

Trailer

You know you're going to see it, even if all you are going to do is bitch about how it isn't up to snuff. The teaser trailer is now online.

For Episode III, of course.

I hope it's good. I can't wait to see it.

Posted by Observer at 09:37 AM | Comments (7)

November 16, 2004

Routed


As Usual, Terrell Owens Get the Last Laugh,
and the Cowboys Get Humiliated, 49-21.

49 points is the most points anyone has scored against the Cowboys in the history of the franchise, going back 45 years. We didn't get this kind of beating even during the Campo or Chan Gailey years. I've heard some talk from Seattle fans who think their team looks pretty good compared to ours. Well, duh.

Look, we Cowboy fans know that our team sucks. We've accepted it. We're just trying to talk some sense into our coach by telling him to put a bunch of kids out there so we will at least know what we need to draft next year. Preferably before we get hammered again in Philly next month so at least we can have the excuse that we weren't really trying.

Any fan trying to trash-talk by saying, "Hey, at least we're not as bad as the Cowboys." is just in an earlier stage of dealing with rooting for a crappy team. Four weeks ago, Cowboy fans around here were all saying, "Heh, well, at least we aren't as bad as the Redskins!"

You'll get your chance to revel in the misery of Dallas when we come up there to visit in a few weeks. Be careful, though, because these dummies have about two more wins in them somewhere. They are going to pop up and bite a couple more teams before the season is over, because they are destined to go 5-11 (just like they did in the three years before Parcells got here)

Posted by Observer at 01:27 PM | Comments (7)

Saberhagen Books


The Omnibus Version of Saberhagen's Swords Books.

I figure I'll start reviewing some of the books I mentioned yesterday for the sake of completeness. I'll start with Fred Saberhagen's Book of Swords. This is actually a trilogy that has been repackaged into an omnibus. The setting is ancient times with all the Roman Gods. Vulcan decides to forge some super-powerful swords and throw them into the mix of mortals so the Gods can watch the fun.

The problem occurs when one of the gods decides to play perverse mind-games with a mortal and ends up pissing the mortal off. The mortal gets his hands on a sword and sends it on its way to kill the god. And it works. So now the gods realize that they just screwed up big time, and they have to be really careful with the swords and try to get them back. What ensues is a trilogy of mindless violence in which the swords are more interesting than the characters. Hacktacular, basically.

It's a good one for the kids, because they learn all about mythology in school, and it is a good introduction into a mix of genres. Saberhagen followed up this successful series with a series of 8+ books of "Lost Swords", each one following a particular sword (Farslayer, Woundhealer, Shieldbreaker, Sightblinder, Wayfinder, Stonecutter, Coinspinner, Mindsword are the names that come to mind), but I found the quality was a bit of a dropoff from the initial spark of the first book, so I quit after the 3rd or 4th one.

Saberhagen is probably more famous for his series of "Berserker" titles, about a race of intelligent machines that fly around through space exterminating all living creatures as quickly as possible. I've read a few of those, but I never bothered to try to excavate the whole series and read it from any kind of logical beginning. I found the Berserker stories pretty similar to his other stuff; mindless fun.

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

November 15, 2004

Kids' Library


Our Ultimate Dream House Is Going to Have a Beeeeg Library.

I just finished sorting through all of my books last night, split them into three basic piles. One pile is books I didn't like enough to recommend to anyone of any age really. They aren't necessarily bad, but there are too many good books in the world to wholeheartedly recommend them. Both fiction and non-fiction.

Then I split my "good" fiction into two piles. One pile is stuff I really like that the kids wouldn't appreciate yet (like Covenant but also things like Foundation, Hyperion, etc., just complex novels and/or more adult themes).

Then I split off some series that I think the kids might enjoy in the next few years:

Chronicles of the Cheysuli (Roberson) - 1st three anyway,
Swords Trilogy (Saberhagen),
Mirror of Her Dreams/Man Rides Through (Donaldson),
Chronicles of Corum/Swords Trilogy (Moorcock),
Magician quartet (Feist),
Deryni/Camber trilogies (Kurtz),
Darwath trilogy (Hambly),
Lords of Dus quartet (Watt-Evans),
Time Wars series (Hawke),
Memory, Sorrow and Thorn "trilogy" (Williams),
Dragon Prince/Dragon Star trilogies (Rawn).

I'll probably review a bunch of these over the next couple of weeks to see if people think I'm crazy for recommending them to my kids. It's really 15-year-old Justin I'm recommending these to now. Cody is not really ready for most of this, though he did devour Harry Potter just fine. Sarah might like the Rawn books or even the Donaldson pair since they have strong (or at least important) female characters.

I've already given Justin the Elric six-book set, and he liked that. Does anyone know if the "Count Brass" set (also by Moorcock) is any good? He's also working his way through some of my Star Wars books, like the X-Wing series. He finished LOTR on his own months ago (and "The Hobbit"), but I don't think he's ready for "The Silmarillion", which is only good if you eat, drink and breathe Tolkien (or if you like games like Angband).

Funny thing, I was thinking about giving Justin "The Belgariad" to try, but I couldn't find it, not a single book of it. Must've lost it at some point over the years. What's stupid is that I do have every one of the five books of "The Malloreon". Maybe I should just give him that one since it is basically the same as "The Belgariad".

Oh yeah, I also found "The Book of Lists" buried in there. I'll put that in the kids' room, too. I used to browse that thing all the time when I was between books. Always lots of neat trivia in there. I saw Richard Roeper's movie list book in the library the other day, and I would've gotten it but I figure I'll just browse through it whenever I'm at the library waiting for the kids.

Speaking of which, all this reading and all these library trips are apparently working well on Justin. When he moved down here a few years ago, he was in resource Reading/English, a few grade levels behind his peers. Six weeks ago, his teachers thought his progress was fast enough that they wanted to move him into a regular 9th grade English class! He has an 89 average so far, and his teacher says he is great to work with.

I can tell he's come a long way because I can now talk to him about the books he's read, and he can carry on a decent conversation about it (compared to a couple of years ago). A lot of books have helped along the way, but probably the most important was Lord of the Rings. It's a very complex book, but with the movie to help him out, Justin has learned a lot about how to follow a plot and different characters and so on. It has helped him the same way Harry Potter was a big jumping-off point for 10-year-old Cody. We're really proud of him.

Posted by Observer at 07:03 AM | Comments (11)

November 14, 2004

Christmas List v1.0


It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Capitalism.
(Thanks to Steve Jackson Games for the image.)

I took the kids out for some wish list shopping yesterday and today. We hit a ton of different stores, and I got a lot of good ideas for the kids (and a whole lot more bad ones). I also got some ideas for me, and I'm notoriously hard to shop for. Let's see here...

Coupons. Of course, always #1 on my list. I'm talking about personal favor coupons from family members. I don't know which is more fun -- cashing them in or threatening to. I'm pretty sure if I get any this year, they will have rapid expiration dates.

Shawshank Redemption - Special Edition DVD. This is one of the few movies out there I really want to own. It's not enough to just get it from Netflix once in a while or to see it on cable. This is a timeless classic I'll watch at least once a year. I would put ROTK Extended DVD on the list, too, but we're buying that the day it comes out, so no point. We're not waiting for Xmas.

Texas Hold 'Em for Game Boy Advance. Of course, I might just get this for the kids and play it myself. I have no idea if the AI engine on this is any good, but I'm going to do some research online at the video game review sites.

Final Fantasy Tactics for Game Boy Advance. I've heard I don't know how many different people (whose gaming opinions I respect) rave about this game as one of the all-time favorites, along the lines of games like Civ II, Heroes, and other battle/strategy games. I'd like to give this a whirl, and I bet the kids would like it, too.

Costco Poker Set. Only $60 now, and it is such a nice case. This one is pretty far down on the list because I already have good poker chips, and the boys and I don't play too much poker these days. It's just that every time I see it, I drool just a little for no rational reason.

Computer chair. I'm about 3-4 years late getting a new computer chair. This one is squeaky and noisy, and the padding feels like it is compressed down to almost nothing. It is a good shape and height, so I can live without it. I may have to shop for a new one on my own just because chairs are such a personal fit thing.

Chess set. I could probably just get this for Cody. I got a set for him last year, and sure enough, he lost a pawn within a month. Now he's missing 3-4 pieces, and he likes to play once in a while. What I'd love it one of those chess sets that is an entire table with drawers for the giant wooden pieces. We play chess on one of those sets sometimes when we go to the big comic book store.

Cathedral. A classic board game that looks nice just sitting on the coffee table. Unfortunately, nobody else around here knows how to play, and Daniel + kids would ensure one or more pieces gets lost quickly if I leave it out. Maybe I'll seriously ask for this in about 15 years.

Trivial Pursuit (LOTR edition or 90's edition). We don't actually have this game, and I wouldn't mind playing it with the kids if I knew we could (as teams) answer more than half the questions so it wouldn't be a big bog-down like that game always seems to end up.

Stadium chair. At Academy, they make this mini-folding chairs (not the fabric kind -- these are two stiff pads supported by aluminum bars) for use at stadiums. They are only about eight bucks, and they are perfect chairs for the floor of the boys' room right in front of the GameCube and TV station. I'd get these for the boys, but it would sure make it easier for me to sit in there and get some gaming time in, too.

Household furniture items. I would love 4-5 giant paperback bookshelves for the computer room so that I could finally pull my whole collection out of the storage closet. I have to dig through those books it seems like every other month to find things for the kids. We also need a new couch (but we should wait until Daniel grows up a bit and the other kids are older), and we'd need a cover for it so it doesn't smell like pug-butt all the time. Oh, and we need a fridge for the garage.

Computer stuff. While I'm being unrealistic, I'd like a brand new Mac with a huge cinema display. But I would settle for a major hard drive upgrade on my G3/300. 6 GB just doesn't cut the mustard these days. I need more like 60.

Posted by Observer at 07:17 PM | Comments (6)

November 13, 2004

The Belgariad


The Famous Five-Book Series by Eddings.
(Thanks to the Unofficial David Eddings Page for the image.)

This is basically really, really long mind candy. The driving force of this fantasy is a famous prophecy, and it predicts great things for a young farm boy named Garion who doesn't know enough about his own background. The series begins with "Pawn of Prophecy" and goes on for another four books after that. The role of Gandalf here is split between Polgara and Belgarath, two ancient wizards who set Garion's feet along the proper path when he needs it.

As a kid, I really liked this series. It wasn't really dark and foreboding so much as the "Cheysuli" series I just talked about, and it was very easy to read. I probably should loan this to my kids and see what they think, because I'll bet they like it a lot. It's a good "starter set" for fantasy readers, and the quality of the epics that I own goes steadily upwards from here (with a couple of exceptions). Looking back, of course, dims the quality of this series for me greatly, because I can now see just how astonishingly unoriginal so many of the characters and plot devices are.

There is a sequel five-book set called "The Malloreon", and even as a kid, I thought it totally sucked. There was very little original about it (compared to the first series), and what *was* new was boring and/or pointless. I felt the whole time that I was baiscally reading the same series over again, and since I was young, I was too stupid to stop reading until I was done. I guess it is the "J" in my INFJ personality coming out. I have a need to finish things I start.

Posted by Observer at 11:10 AM | Comments (4)

November 12, 2004

The Cheysuli Series


The First of an Eight Book Series by Jennifer Roberson
(Thanks to Fantastic Fiction Images for the image.)

It was a long time ago when I had the time to devour an 8-book series like Jennifer Roberson's Chronicles of the Cheysuli. This is one of those series where it looks like the author was really inspired beyond just one book. There was a really good trilogy here in the first three books, then the quality kinda dropped through the floor for me (maybe the publisher asked for more books, and the creative well was dry).

The idea here is that there are three races in this fantasy world: humans, cheysuli and ihlini. The cheysuli people all have a single unique "familiar" somewhere in the world, an animal with which they can form a telepathic bond, and the cheysuli can learn to change shape into that animal at will. The ihlini (I kept thinking of the University of Illinois mascot when I was reading this) are their eternal enemies, and they're great at magic.

The two races are fighting to either complete or prevent an old prophecy (and nobody quite seems to agree on how to interpret it), somewhat along the lines of the (much worse) Belgariad. I thought a lot of the plot twists were pretty clever, and I was a little shocked by the graphic nature of some scenes (i.e. torture). Unfortunately, the clever ihlini bad guys have this problem where they like to explain their whole plot to the hero, then leave him or her in a situation where they can escape, come back, and kill the bad guy. Haven't they seen any James Bond movies or old Batman episodes?

The story is told from a variety of different points of view (including a strong, but sometimes annoyingly hypocritical, female character named Alix), and I like that aspect of it. Each side has convincing and heartfelt rationalizations for their actions, even though sometimes they have to be stupid to keep the plot moving. If you can find this in a used bookstore (there are now omnibus editions, I think, so four sets of two books each), the first three books are a cut above your standard sword-and-sorcery fare.

Posted by Observer at 03:04 PM | Comments (13)

November 11, 2004

Some Observer History


How I Spent My College Days.
(Thanks to Steve Jackson Games for the image.)

My college days were definitely not a representative experience. I was a geek from pretty early on. I lettered in Math, for crying out loud. That's because I quit the tennis team after spending a disappointing junior year warming the bench as the 7th best player (only 6 are allowed to play varsity). Anyway, I had some good friends in my math classes, and they talked me into it. The best part was that I got to compete in a lot of local competitions in the "novice" division, even though I was a senior. I got a closet full of trophies from that.

My specialty was the calculator competition. I also tried number sense, where you have to solve problems completely in your head, but I wasn't fast enough to be competitive. I still use a lot of tricks from that, though, like I know how to square any two-digit number in my head quickly or multiply anything by 25 or whatever (I can freak out my math-intensive science class sometimes using these tricks while I'm lecturing). Calculator was like applied video games, where you had to quickly and accurately punch up solutions to problems like sqrt[(0.00304 - 0.000875)/(5.67)(4.3e-9)] and solve geometry problems.

I tied for 2nd in the district-wide competition, then I tied for 2nd at the regional competition. In both cases, only the top three advance, so I was only one missed problem away from not advancing. I got killed at the state level, finishing 10th out of the 12 people who made it, but I didn't care. Turns out that if you make it to the state level in an academic competition, you qualify for some very nice scholarships. Since I was going to school in state (and most finalists ended up going to the East or West coast), and that was a requirement for getting the scholarships, I didn't have much competition.

I ended up with a $13k/year + tuition scholarship. It pretty much paid for everything, including books. I supplemented my income by doing some math tutoring over the summers and later by working as a research assistant as a prelude to going to graduate school. And I got a pretty good scholarship for grad school, too. So I really never had any money worries in college.

I was a good student, maintained over a 3.5 average with a double major in science and computer programming. I eventually dropped out of computer programming because I just hated it. It's too bad. I could've been a great programmer or electrical engineer, but it was just too damned tedious, even for good money. I knew I wanted to teach for a living, so it was just a matter of picking whatever subject interested me the most and going to get a PhD in it so that I could teach at the college level. Worked out great.

I spent most of my spare time gaming in the student lounge or playing ultimate frisbee with our really crappy dorm floor team (we were all geeks, so you do the math). If there had been online electronic games (like Clan Lord) or sophisticated computer strategy games like Civ II or Heroes or Diablo, I'm not sure that I would've ever graduated or made any friends. Just having games like Tetris around was bad enough.

I have a real soft spot for students who want challenging courses. I always wanted to be the kind of professor that the dumb/lazy students fear. I want to be the one whose name is whispered among the frat houses, "Oh man, don't take *him*. He totally flunked me. I mean, yeah, I never showed up for class and was drunk off my ass for the whole semester, but *still*!" I liked challenging classes, professors who made me think. I didn't mind doing a ton of work if the class was interesting, so for better or worse, that tends to be the kind of student I cater to.

Posted by Observer at 11:57 AM | Comments (4)

November 10, 2004

Skilled Labor for Hire


Someday, Daniel Will Get Paid to Read Just Like Daddy!

As someone who teaches an introductory survey course in the sciences at a University, I am a juicy target for book publishers. They know if they can get me to like their book, I have a captive audience of over 200 students who will pay through the nose to get their required textbook. Of all the books in my field, I have about 5-6 really good ones to choose from, and I always pick the best one for my class regardless of any incentives, etc.

One way publishers sort of bribe me is by paying me to do book reviews. They offer to send me chapters of their latest editions and pay around $50-$100 per chapter for my comments. I try to earn the money honestly, giving them pages and pages of comments (I know it must be surprising to hear that I can be verbose). I love doing it, because it gives me an excuse to scrutinize a textbook closely (which I would do anyway if I were considering it for my class) and I get extra money.

Some of them try to go the cheap route, just to get their book's name out in front of me so that I'll think about it. They don't give me chapters to review, just an overview of the book. Then they ask me to answer some survey questions in return for, say, a $20 Amazon or Powell's virtual gift card. That was a few months ago. Last month, the offer dropped to $10 from one publisher, and I ignored it. Last week, I got an offer to be entered into a *drawing* for a $100 gift card if I completed their survey. Sorry. No sale.

Anyway, the best thing happened last week. I had been talking to a colleague because I'm starting to feel that vague sense of dissatisfaction that always sets in when I've been using the same book for too long. I was ready for a change, and he really sold me on this new book that I hadn't seen before. I dug through it a couple of months ago and found some great diagrams for explaining difficult concepts that my current book just can't match. I scanned them and used them in my lectures.

Those diagrams plus a few other neat features sold me. I'm going to try this book next Fall. Well, last week the publisher of that same book approached me totally out of the blue and asked me if I would be interested in reviewing the book at $100/chapter. I'm starting with two chapters, and I guess if they are happy with my commentary, they'll offer me more. I hope so, because I'm going to go through the whole book anyway, and I could make some serious cash (not to mention get in good with the authors ... someday I would like to co-author one of these textbooks).

Of course, by doing these reviews and accepting the money, I'm contributing marginally to higher textbook prices. All it takes, though, is one Daddy's Girl almost running me over with her brand new Lexus SUV and I'm over it.

Posted by Observer at 05:45 PM | Comments (5)

November 09, 2004

Tournament Twist


The Evil Cartoons Are Chasing Us Again.
(Thanks to Steve Jackson Games for the image.)

The last time the Yu-Gi-Oh road show came to town in January, the boys and I went for a couple of days (Sarah went for one day, but it was a little too intense for her to go back). We participated in the free tournaments and won our way past their hired-gun champions to get little prizes. My wife saved the picture on her blog. I wrote up the whole story here (Part 1) and here (Part 2). A grand time was had by all.

Well, looks like they're coming back. The boys and I haven't been doing any tournaments lately. Part of that is just the cost and inconvenient timing of these events, and part of it is the arms race you have to engage in. At these kinds of events, a lot of times, the kid with the most expensive deck is going to win, and we were losing too often based on that instead of skill. Kinda frustrating. I could probably support a habit myself if I wanted to build a great deck, but I can't support 3-4 of us at once.

Anyway, this new event is being put on downtown at the convention center and is meant to showcase a new set of Yu-Gi-Oh cards that is coming out. The downside is that the cost to enter their tournament is $20 each. The kids are already despairing that they won't be able to save up enough for it. We'll see how bad they want to go depending on how willing they will be to volunteer for chores this week and next (it is Sat Nov 20).

The upside is no arms-race factor. It will be a sealed-deck tournament. When you pay your fee, you get 5 packs of cards (which you could probably buy for as little as $13 if you go online and purchase by the box, $20 retail, so it isn't a bad deal considering you get to enter a tournament, too, and get other free goodies). Everyone has to build their decks from these cards, so there will be some luck involved, but most of it is skill and creativity.

I'm thinking about taking the kids (or at least the two older boys), but if we go, we'll have to bone up on our skills between now and then.

Posted by Observer at 01:19 PM | Comments (4)

November 08, 2004

Extraordinary Claims


Conspiracy Theories Make You Look Deeply Stupid.
Unless They're True.

(Thanks to Steve Jackson Games for the image.)

Ok, look. I know about the problems with the voting machines. I've been following the buzz on non-mainstream news web sites, and I know that there are some troubling statistics about the election. I have looked at the guts of the data myself, but the basic claim is that something screwy happened with the electronic voting in some places.

It looks like in places where there are manual checks and recounts possible, the exit polls and the vote totals match extremely well. In cases where no recount is possible and presumably no way to double-check the output of the vote tabulation software (either because no paper ballot or receipt exists or because the law just doesn't allow it), it seems like the results are a lot more pro-Bush than the exit polls indicate.

The Sideshow provided this handy link which points to all of the main stories circulating through the blogosphere about potential election fraud this time around. Some stories and sources are a lot more credible than others. Reading through those, you will see what I've seen over the past week.

So what to do about it? Right now, nothing. Proclaiming that an election is invalid is an extraordinary claim, and it requires extraordinary evidence in support of that claim. Right now, the evidence is at best statistical and/or anecdotal. So building your election fraud case around that is going to make you look like part of the tinfoil hat brigade.

When there is a specific and credible paper trail that tells me Kerry got more votes in Florida or Ohio, I will be glad to pay attention and bang the table loudly. Until then, the FBI (if it is allowed) needs to quietly and quickly do the work needed to investigate this (either that, or dedicated citizens armed with lots of FOIA requests). And, again, in the interests of BOTH sides, we need to install uniform, transparent and independently checkable voting systems nationwide.

I think it would be safe to say that the blogosphere in general is holding its breath and waiting to see if anything credible appears. Unfortunately, it is likely that the corporate media will be the arbiter of credibility for any evidence that comes forward, and that's not good. Right now, I worry that Jesus Christ himself could return and show us rigged code from an electronic tabulating machine along with the results of a manual recount performed by angels, and Brit Hume would still come on Fox News, scoff, and say we liberals need to get over it, and by the way, Jesus thinks capital gains taxes are murderously high.

Posted by Observer at 03:10 PM | Comments (0)

November 07, 2004

Disc Books


Terry Pratchett's Discworld Is Really That Weird.
(Thanks to Player Gallery for the image.)

Went to a star party last night out west of here. Got to use my shiny new super-bright green laser pointer from ThinkGeek to point out stars and constellations to people. While I was pointing at Cygnus, up near the zenith, an enormous meteor streaked right across our line of sight. Lasted maybe 3-4 seconds and even broke up into a few tiny fireballs at the end. It was the best sighting I've seen in years, maybe even in my life. Really cool. I took it as a sign that God is using Bush's re-election as an elaborate test of the strength of our nation. Anyhoo...

Terry Pratchett has written over a dozen books dealing with Discworld, a Brit-com approach to the fantasy genre (Monty Python meets Robert Jordan, maybe). I really liked the first couple of books in this series, but after a while, it really grew thin. The stories weren't that great, and the laughs were too few and far between for me to invest my time. There are too many other good choices out there. I was able to plow through them and be satisfied for a while, but I eventually ran into a real stinker ("Wyrd Sisters") and that put me off the series for good.

I really bring up this series because we found a illustrated story (if I remember correctly, it was "The Last Hero") in the library yesterday. It was a shorter version of a typical Pratchett Discworld story, written in the same style, lavishly illustrated. Looked pretty neat, so Justin wanted to give it a whirl. He's read enough fantasy now that he might appreciate some of the humor, but we'll see.

On the way home in the car, Justin showed Cody a picture of the worldview of this place, a version of which is shown above. The idea behind Discworld is that it truly is a disk, several thousand miles across, with weird Physics to go along with it, etc. The disk is carried on the back of four elephants, which in turn stand on the back of a gigantic sea turtle swimming through space.

So Cody asked, "Wait. How can the giant turtle swim through space if there isn't any air to breathe?"

Justin responded in all seriousness and even with an air of exasperation, "God, Cody! That's what the elephants are for!"

Posted by Observer at 08:50 AM | Comments (5)

November 06, 2004

Budget Math


This is Just Through 2003. We've Got Five
More Years Past This of Sliding Off the Fiscal Cliff.

It has been pointed out to me that maybe my response (which included a great column by Paul Krugman) did not sufficiently put to rest the myth that "9/11 caused the federal deficit", so I thought I would elaborate here and update the sidebar link.

Krugman's opinions are based on facts compiled by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. He can't include all of the numbers and tables in an 800-word column (if he tried, it would be insanely boring), but he can summarize the information, source it, and explain its significance. That's what he does. If you don't believe it, go check his sources. It's not hard. The deficit is mainly due to the tax cuts. I have claimed that it is ignorant to believe that the tax cuts aren't the most significant reason we have deficits. See here for some help from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

The math seems very simple to me. Tax income to the federal government has dropped by about $300 billion (and that's projected to be a much larger difference in the future thanks to Bush). The other categories (defense spending, $100 billion, discretionary including but not limited to homeland security, $100 billion) don't even add up to that. The economic slowdown (compare average rates of growth for the past 50 years to rate of growth the last four years) has resulted in only about a $60 billion difference in revenues, but that has been offset because the slowdown in growth has decreased interest payments on the deficit by about $60 billion.

You can get this information either from this PDF report by the Center for American Progress or from the Congressional Budget Office itself if you care to. The rest of the difference comes from Medicare and Medicaid, and that just got worse because of the giveaway to the pharmaceutical companies Kerry kept complaining about (but fiscal conservatives happily ignored).

The bottom line is that Bush's tax cuts have caused the majority of the deficit ($300 billion of the $400+ billion budget hole). They are the most significant reason by far that we have gone from a $250b surplus to the deficit we have today. Period.

Posted by Observer at 07:43 AM | Comments (2)

November 05, 2004

Stage Four: Anger


Here at the Carpe Datum News Desk,
We're Still Working Through the Seven Stages.
Please Bear with Us.

(Image from Steve Jackson games.)

James Wolcott, whose book I thought was a little too snarky, sure sounds refreshing these days:

The election was a victory for George Bush and Rovianism, a victory for Grover Norquist. It was also a victory for Osama Bin Laden. I don't believe for a moment Bin Laden was trying to sway voters to Kerry with his taped address. This was the outcome he wanted, a gift from us to him: an unapologetic Christian Crusader in the White House whose reelection giving lie to the notion that Abu Ghraib was an aberration and that the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians weigh upon America's conscience. This morning America could not look more like a grinning aggressor to the Arab world, an aggressor with fresh marching orders.

After the last few days, I figured it would be useful to add a few more handy references to more conservative myths, such as Iraq-Al Qaeda, Saddam and 9/11, 9/11 and the Deficit, etc. I already addressed these myths, though not in the formal way I did the first 20, but any time I see a common (false) meme resurface in comments or in other blogs, I will point to it if I've already debunked it. Today, I'll add a new one to the list, and that has to do with Al Qaqaa. Looks like it was fairly representative of Iraq as a whole:

In the weeks after the fall of Baghdad, Iraqi looters loaded powerful explosives into pickup trucks and drove the material off the Al Qaqaa ammunition site, according to a group of U.S. Army reservists and National Guardsmen who said they witnessed the looting.

The soldiers said about a dozen U.S. troops guarding the sprawling facility could not prevent the theft of the explosives because they were outnumbered by looters. Soldiers from one unit -- the 317th Support Center based in Wiesbaden, Germany -- said they had asked commanders in Baghdad for help to secure the site but received no reply.

The witnesses' accounts of the looting are the first provided by U.S. soldiers, and support claims that the American military failed to safeguard the powerful munitions. Last month, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the interim Iraqi government reported that approximately 380 tons of high- grade explosives had been taken from Al Qaqaa after the fall of Baghdad on April 9, 2003. The explosives are powerful enough to detonate a nuclear weapon.

During the last week, when revelations of the missing explosives became an issue in the presidential campaign, the Bush administration suggested that the explosives could have been carted off by Iraqi forces before the war began. Pentagon officials later said that U.S. troops had systematically destroyed hundreds of tons of explosives at Al Qaqaa after Baghdad fell.

Asked about the soldiers' accounts, Pentagon spokeswoman Rose-Anne Lynch said Wednesday, "We take the report of missing munitions very seriously. And we are looking into the facts and circumstances of this incident."

The soldiers, who belong to two different units, described how Iraqis had plundered explosives from unsecured bunkers before driving off in Toyota trucks.

There was little the U.S. troops could do to prevent looting from the ammunition site 30 miles south of Baghdad, they said.

"We were running from one side of the compound to the other side, trying to kick people out," said one senior noncommissioned officer who was at the site in late April 2003. "On our last day there, there were at least 100 vehicles waiting at the site for us to leave" so that they could come in and loot munitions.

"It was complete chaos," another officer said.

He and other soldiers spoke on condition of anonymity, saying they feared retaliation from the Pentagon.

A Minnesota television station last week broadcast an April 18, 2003, video of U.S. troops from the 101st Airborne using tools to cut through wire seals left by the International Atomic Energy Agency at Al Qaqaa, evidence that the high-grade explosives were still inside at least one bunker weeks after the start of the war.

After opening bunkers, including one containing the high-grade explosives, U.S. troops left the bunkers unsecured, the Minnesota station reported.

According to the four soldiers -- members of the 317th Support Center and the 258th Rear Area Operations Center, an Arizona-based Army National Guard unit -- the looting of Al Qaqaa occurred over several weeks in late April and early May.

The two units were stationed near Al Qaqaa at a base known as Logistics Support Area (LSA) Dogwood. Soldiers from the units said they had visited the ammunition facility soon after the departure of combat troops from the 101st Airborne Division.

The soldiers interviewed by the Los Angeles Times could not confirm that powerful explosives -- known as HMX and RDX -- were among the materials looted.

But one soldier said U.S. forces had watched the looters' trucks loaded with bags marked "hexamine" -- a key ingredient for HMX -- being driven away from the facility.

Members of the 258th Rear Area Operations Center came across the looting at Al Qaqaa during patrols through the area. The 258th unit, which comprised 27 soldiers, enlisted help in securing the site from troops of the 317th Support, the soldiers said.

The troops visited Al Qaqaa over a week in late April but received no orders to maintain a presence at the facility, according to the soldiers. They also said they had received no response to a request for help in guarding the facility.

"We couldn't have been given the assignment to defend a facility unless we were given the troops to do it, and we weren't,'' said one National Guard officer.

A senior U.S. military intelligence official, who corroborated some aspects of the four soldiers' accounts, said there was no order for any unit to secure Al Qaqaa. "No way," the officer said, adding that doing so would have diverted combat resources from the push toward Baghdad.

"It's all about combat power," the officer said, "and we were short combat power.

Great article, because it addresses and destroys pretty much all of the main conservative myths about Al Qaqaa one by one.

Posted by Observer at 06:59 AM | Comments (4)

November 04, 2004

Post-Game


Republicans Will Descend on Washington in Full Force
Now to Govern. Who Here Thinks the Federal Government
Will Be Smaller Four Years from Now? Anyone? Bueller?

(Image from Steve Jackson games.)

For those of you liberals looking for consolation and words of wisdom in the light of the election, I recommend the following readings, some of which I've excerpted: Eric Alterman and Charles Pierce:

Let’s face it.  It’s not Kerry’s fault.   It’s not Nader’s fault (this time).  It’s not the media’s fault (though they do bear a heavy responsibility for much of what ails our political system). It’s not “our” fault either. The problem is just this:  Slightly more than half of the citizens of this country simply do not care about what those of us in the “reality-based community” say or believe about anything.

They don’t care that Iraq is turning into murderous quicksand and a killing field for our children.  They don’t care that the Bush presidency has made us less safe by creating more terrorists, inspiring more anti-American hatred and refusing to engage in the hard work that would be necessary to make a meaningful dent in our myriad vulnerabilities at home.  They don’t care that he has mortgaged our children’s future to give trillions to the wealthiest among us.  They don’t care that the economy continues to hemorrhage well-paying jobs and replace them with Wal-Mart; that the number without health insurance is over forty million and rising.  They don’t care that Medicare premiums are rising to fund the coffers of pharmaceutical companies.  They don’t care that the air they breathe and the water they drink is being slowly poisoned and though they call themselves conservatives, they even don’t care that the size of the government and its share of our national income has increased by roughly a quarter in just four years.  This is not a world of rational debate and issue preference.

It’s one of “them” and “us.”  He’s one of “them” and not one of “us” and that’s all they care about. [...]

As Mo Udall once put it, the people have spoken, goddamn them.

They showed up.  The Republican base, that is.  The people who believe that their marriages are threatened by those of gay people, the people who believe there were WMD in Iraq and that Saddam waved a hankie at Mohammed Atta, the people who believe His eye is on every embryo.  They all showed up, and there are more of them than there are of us.  This was a faith-based electorate and, for whatever reason, their belief was stronger than our reality.  This is a country I do not recognize any more.

From Atrios:

The people who voted George Bush and the Republicans into office this year didn't do so because they were conned by a right wing asshole posing as a compassionate centrist. They did so precisely because he is a right wing asshole. Yes, the modern Republican party consists of nasty bigots and liars and the media rarely bothers to point out just how nasty they are (all the talking heads talking about the role of "moral values" in the election know that what that really means is "fag hating," but they won't say it). But, don't be fooled - people know what they voted for. [...]

This is exactly right. Democrats and liberals have spent too many years running away from the Right's caricature of what it means to be a liberal that they've managed to obliterate from the public consciousness any coherent concrete narrative. It isn't as many seem to think about precisely where on the Left/Right spectrum a candidate or the Party chooses to position itself. I'm not arguing that Democrats need to be "more liberal" or "less liberal" or anything like that it all. But, they have to be something other than "not Republicans."

From First Draft (lots of good stuff there plus the comments, this is only a small part):

We stuck to our principles while the GOP abandoned theirs. We campaigned against hatred and fear while throwing everything we had into the fight. My chin is up.

From Josh Marshall:

Setting aside my general political leanings, my personal views and feelings of partisanship, I think the result portends very bad things for America's role in the world and the well-being on all levels of this country. Changes in domestic politics, in theory at least, can be shifted back at a following election. The world, though, is different. There we are just a ship -- though the largest one -- on waters we can never truly control. And I fear that this result will set in motion dangerous dynamics that even the relatively young among us will be wrestling with and contending with for the rest of our lives.

I've referred to this in the past, and hopefully will have a chance to return to it, but here's the essence of the matter, as I see it. Before today, the course that America had charted in the world over the last three years could be seen as the result of a traumatic event (9/11) and the choice of a president who was actually put in office by a minority of the electorate. This was a referendum on what's happened in the last three years. And it's been validated. [...]

Take time to feel the desolation and disappointment. But I remain confident that time is not on the side of the kind of values and politics that President Bush represents. It took conservatives two decades to build up the institutional muscle they have today. Though I was always nervous about the result, I thought we could win this election. But it was always naive to believe that that sort of institutional heft could be put together in 24 or 36 months.

President Bush and the Republicans now control the entire national government, even more surely now than they have over the last four years. They do so on the basis of garnering the votes of 51% or 52% of the population. But they will use that power as though there were no opposition at all. That needs to be countered.

Leave today for disappointment. Tomorrow, think over which of these various groups and organizations you think has made the best start toward what I've described above, go to their website, and give money or volunteer. After that, okay sure, take a few more days for disappointment, maybe a few more weeks. But this takes time. And you shouldn't lose heart. The same division in the country remains, the same stalemate. The other side just got the the ball a yard or two into our side of the field rather than the reverse. And we have to deal with the serious consequences of that. Tomorrow's the day to start.

Plenty of other good comments elsewhere. Follow my sidebar link to Steve Gilliard or go to some of my favorites like Pandagon (who links to interesting comments from the Gadflyer and an excellent game-plan summary for Democrats that was written before the election assuming we would lose just like this, by Todd Gitlin). Dwight Meredith over at Wampum is telling me to stop calling people morons, but sorry, a spade's a spade.

If you think Kerry is an "extreme left-wing liberal" or that he threatens gun rights in any meaningful way or his health care plan is some scary big government takeover, then I'm sorry, you're either lying, ignorant, deeply stupid or in some sort of state of denial. I'm not angry about it as much as I am simply frustrated, really. Just tired of hearing the same stupid shit over and over. No matter how many times you say 2-1 = 4, it just isn't. It just isn't. I shouldn't have to show you a grade school math book to prove it, but if I humor you and do so, then you can't come back to me a month later, say 2-1 = 4, and expect me to say, "Oh, well, let's all be respectful. Everyone has a valid opinion, after all." Apparently, if I don't make nice, I am suddenly some kind of elitist. Sorry, that's fucking bullshit.

The bottom line is that people in this country have a responsibility to get informed. If you claim to love your country, then you damn well better cast an informed vote. Otherwise, we get mob rule. I shouldn't have to kiss your ass to get you to see that Republicans right now threaten the very foundations of our country. I shouldn't have to politely ask that you maybe rethink the idea that Iraq has something to do with the War on Terror, that you rethink whether Iraq had anything to do with 9/11, whether Saddam had WMD. You should fucking look it up and stop making an ass out of yourself. Not for my sake. For the country's.

Posted by Observer at 06:25 AM | Comments (14)

November 03, 2004

Sad

Now that I'm more awake, I'm looking at more numbers. The final exit polls, turnout numbers and election results look to be pretty well in line (close enough within the margin of error that there's no point engaging in conspiracy theories that can't be proven either way, I'll just say what I said before that I hope we get verifiable paper trails and consistent voting for everyone ASAP; it's more important now than ever). Ohio is almost certainly going to Bush, but you never know. Kerry is made of sterner stuff than me if he wants to fight it out on principle, and I respect him for that.

Even though Bush won 51% of the vote, he will proceed to run the country as if he has 95% of the vote, just like last time. While some liberal blogs are pretty bitter, along the lines of "It looks like America is going to proverbially choke on its own vomit now." I'm more sympathetic to the ones who are saying that it will take some time to recover, but the loyal opposition has never been more necessary than it has been now. Pretty sad when the only check on the power of the federal government is basically the FBI.

There's plenty of blame to go around, and we have four years to fix what's wrong, starting with the corporate media. It may be impossible, but I don't see any realistic opportunities right now. Maybe tomorrow.

Posted by Observer at 07:47 AM | Comments (26)

The Worst Case


Looks Like the "Trolling for Fools" Campaign
Was Very Successful. Or Was It?

(Thanks to the website associated with Micah Ian Wright's book.)

The worst case is that someone wins and the other side doesn't trust the results (and has good reason not to trust them). And now we have it. Maybe the exit polls are just wrong, but how is it that Florida ends up so clearly Bush when the (preliminary) polling indicated people voted otherwise, especially the national polling? What are we going to find out about the voting machines down there? How can that result be trusted? I hope the later polls make sense in that respect.

Ohio is the same mess squared, it looks like. Preliminary polling and turnout numbers show Ohio shouldn't even be close in Kerry's favor and yet it is. Maybe later polls and numbers will be more consistent with the voting results. I hope so. Will there be a way to recount electronic votes that people trust? Is the evidence on the machines even now being erased? And then there are all the lawsuits and voting irregularities.

You may be in the camp that says we absolutely cannot have another Florida 2000 mess and we should just call it for Bush again. But suppose the voting machines REALLY ARE crooked and Kerry should've won. Just suppose that's true for a moment. What is our duty as citizens of this Democracy, regardless of which party we're in? Our duty is to fight until we get the truth that we know we can trust. Unfortunately, I don't think we'll know the truth. We need a paper trail if only to shut up the conspiracy theorists out there.

My #1 hope would be a Kerry win, of course. If Bush wins, what I hope we find out is that ok, the national polling and state polling was wrong, and here's why, etc. The worst case would be that Bush wins and we never find the answers to these questions that can be trusted, and so Republicans will argue until the end of days just how wonderful and trustworthy the voting machines are and how dare we not get behind our country's president, etc., and Democrats will not accept the result.

The same doubts about the credibility of the results also need to be erased for other close races, and there were a lot in the Senate. That's nothing compared to the presidential election, of course, so the Senate is definitely going to the Republicans (again, seemingly against the polls and turnout numbers, so that is troubling). Even if Kerry were elected president at this point, he'd face a hostile Congress and so we'd end up with Clinton's 2nd term all over again.

The worst part about Democrats capturing neither house is that again, the investigative apparatus of government (outside the FBI, which is sure trying to fill the gap, but political appointees within the agency are getting in the way at every turn) will be ineffective as a check on the power of the executive branch.

There is, of course, a bright side if Bush wins, and that is that he'll have to face the consequences of the enormous messes he's created. We always knew that whichever candidate won was going to face an incredibly difficult four years. Now we get to find out if there are any fiscal conservatives left in the Republican party, and we get to find out if Bush really would have avoided a draft. I predict a draft (and another false "trifecta" joke) is on the way if Bush remains in office. Either that, or we pull out of Iraq.

The dark side is many-faceted. The Supreme Court is going to be screwed for a generation. Quality of life in the US for the non-super-rich will continue to erode, largely due to the ever-increasing income gap (and Clinton didn't do much to help this either, I realize). If Bush's estate tax eliminations get passed, we'll be that much closer to a permanent aristocracy, not to mention further in debt. Something major is going to get cut from the budget, and discretionary spending on things I believe in (scientific research, education being at the top of the list) is going to go way down.

And on and on. I guess it's time to reset the countdown timer (once the results are "final", if ever). Either that or I'll just remove it because right now Representative democracy (in which leaders are held to account for their mistakes by both the media and the voters) is nothing but a distant dream. Especially from the deep in the heart of the reddest of red states.

Another couple of elections like this, and I'll start to really deeply understand where Feff is coming from, I think.

Posted by Observer at 04:50 AM | Comments (1)

November 02, 2004

Last Ticker...

Pennsylvania goes for Kerry by a huge margin, and assuming Kerry holds his big leads in MI, MN and WI (?), all he needs is one of FL or OH. I'm surprised that the Florida numbers don't look good right now, looks very much like 2000 with the big Democratic cities yet to come in which will make it agonizingly close again. Ohio looks better, but I read that there are a zillion lawsuits flying back and forth about people trying to keep polls open, etc. I'm going to give it another few minutes, but then I'm going to bed.

If Florida goes to Bush, I hope someone was watching all of those damned electronic voting machines. I hope we know by the time I wake up, because 2000 sapped my will to live (and *then* Bush won).

Posted by Observer at 10:13 PM | Comments (0)

Ticker 3...

Kos posts the last exit polls we'll see today, and things are slightly more comfortable in Florida and Ohio:


PA FL OH MI NM MN WI
Kerry 53 51 51 51 50 54 52
Bush 46 49 49 47 49 44 47

I think now it is just a matter of waiting to see when the news organization will have the balls to call Ohio and Florida for Kerry. Combined with the not-so-close Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania means game over. Don't know about the popular vote, but my guess is 52-48 Kerry in the end.

The most optimistic scenario I had probably will not play out in which the turnout is so great we contest a lot of House and Senate races we normally shouldn't. I'm watching Senate contests closely now, hoping we can take control. I don't know as much about the numbers there, but what I have read makes me optimistic.

For what it's worth, Bush shares on market-style trading sites are plummeting.

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

Ticker 2...

More exit polls, courtesy of Atrios, who got 'em from Kos, who got 'em from Slate(?)

          NV  CO  NC  PA  OH  FL  MI  NM  WI
Kerry     48  46  49  54  50  50  51  50  51
Bush      50  53  51  45  49  49  47  48  46

Things are tighter now. Maybe this year, Democrats are so fired up, they are the ones who voted first. Still, even though things are close, there's nothing here that goes against what I was thinking earlier (yet).

Kos reminds us that exit polls aren't terribly reliable. The high turnout numbers for our side are by far the most encouraging sign of the day, and if they are true across the nation, we could be looking at big gains in Congress, too. Exit polls also don't include early voting and absentee ballots which in the places polled so far (swing states) showed a big lead for Kerry.

Posted by Observer at 04:14 PM | Comments (1)

Ticker...

According to MyDD, turnout numbers are very, very impressive, and that means good news for Democrats. Enormous turnout in minority regions. Precincts that voted Gore in 2000 are turning out much higher now than before, as I expected, Republicans are not showing an equal enthusiasm for Furious George.

Early exit polls (which historically tilt Republican) are showing, well, see for yourself:

         AZ  CO  LA  PA  OH  FL  MI  NM  MN  WI  IA  NH
Kerry 45 48 42 60 52 51 51 50 58 52 49 57
Bush 55 51 57 40 48 48 47 48 40 43 49 41

I'm really surprised at the huge spreads in PA, WI and NH, which were supposed to be very close. So far, OH, FL, MI and NM look just like the pollsters predicted, with Bush stuck at about 47/48 and Kerry picking up a huge fraction of the undecideds. So far, so good...

Posted by Observer at 03:45 PM | Comments (0)

Rangers for Kerry


There May Come a Day When the Courage of Men Fails.
But It Is Not THIS Day!

(Blatantly stolen from First Draft.)

You know when you're voting with Aragorn, you're making a good choice. And yeah, I know Gimli is for the other guy, but I've never trusted the dwarves.

Posted by Observer at 12:00 PM | Comments (1)

Election Day


Supporting the Troops Means
Supporting the Geneva Conventions.

(Thanks to the website associated with Micah Ian Wright's book.)

I went to vote at about 7:30 this morning, but the line was over 40 people long leading to a half-dozen little booths. So I went back later with my 1-year-old Daniel in tow and there was no waiting. The way we vote here is by connecting a line on a paper ballot for each issue. There is a place right at the top that lets you vote a straight ticket, and I really hate to see that. People should vote for each race individually, but I guess that's another argument.

I voted for Kerry, and I voted for the poor Democrat running for Congress against the Republican slam-dunk candidate (turns out I'm just a mile or so away from the district with the nutso fundamentalist running as a Republican, so at least I don't have a bunch of stupid Aggies in my district). This being such strong Republican country, a lot of races don't even have a Democratic candidate. I voted for a few Republican judges that I've read about in the paper who seem to be doing a good job (they're Republican in name only because any competent judge who tries to run outside the party will be overwhelmed by straight-ticket idiot voters). I even voted for a couple of libertarians.

The woman who lives down the street from us who has the trampoline in her backyard (so she's Cody's favorite neighbor) showed up at the polling place at the same time as me. She has the only Bush/Cheney sign I've seen on our street, so I figure we just cancelled out each other's vote. Her kid was with her (guess he's home-schooled or something), and he said as we were walking in "Vote Bush! Yeah!" His mom tried to shut him up. I just said (politely), "Hey, now, you can't be telling people how to vote so close to the polling place!" Poor brainwashed kid.

Nothing I've seen in the past two days has changed my mind as far as my reasoning from Sunday's post that Kerry will win. I'm going to be keeping up with all the election day stories from the blogs in my sidebar, among others. I imagine we'll see about 20 Republican dirty tricks (voter suppression mainly) for every one stupid Democrat who tries to pull something, but the media will of course report it as if both sides are equally guilty.

I plan to get the bulk of my election news from CNN, but I will definitely switch over to the one-hour Daily Show special at 9pm Central (shown live simultaneously all over the country, so 10pm Eastern, 7pm Pacific) for some laughs. I bet before that hour is over, it will be clear that Kerry is president (they can't call it until all the West Coast polls close, of course, at around 9pm). We'll know by the 9pm Central whether Kerry wins Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida. If he wins all five of those, Bush has no chance.

That's my prediction, anyway.

Posted by Observer at 09:59 AM | Comments (2)

November 01, 2004

A Simple Choice


Which America Will You Vote For?
(Thanks to Abuaardvark.)

This one has gone around, and I think it is an important part of the case against the Bush administration:

Vote for this or against it.

It really isn't that complicated.

The world is watching. The world wants to know which America is the real America: the one which offers a vision of a better world, a more liberal and free world, a safer and more just world... or the one in this picture, a world brought to you by George Bush and his administration and for which no-one of any consequence has been held accountable.

Vote for one.

It would be nice to live once again in a country with some accountability and honesty in the executive branch.

Posted by Observer at 06:59 AM | Comments (6)